Category Archives: Dialog

David Encounters a Protest Rally

Persons of the dialog: David, Amy Hipsterical

Setting: A park.

David: Excuse me. What is going on?

Amy: We’re just finishing up, so I’m afraid you missed your chance to join in!

David: Join what?

Amy: This was an awareness march. It’s basically a protest march to raise awareness for a worthy cause.

David: I see. What cause were you raising awareness for?

Amy: We were raising awareness for the fact that we all need to (points to sign) coexist.

David: Interesting. What does that mean?

Amy: Well, a lot of people are hating other people these days. They say it’s in the name of some religion or belief, but I think ultimately all religions say that we should love one another. So this sign is a reminder that we need to love people, even if we have different religions.

David: I certainly agree that we need to get along. Do you see violence between these groups?

Amy: Well, I think there are certainly places in the world where they actually go to war against one another, but not here in America. But that is only one small portion of what this is about. In the safer places in the world we still have hatred, and that’s probably even worse than war, if you think about it.

David: I see. So what do you mean by hatred?

Amy: Well, I think it’s a refusal to love people, and that comes out in different ways.

David: Alright. How do we go about loving people?

Amy: That’s a good question. I think it has to do with choosing to be nice, even if you disagree. I mean, you can disagree with what someone believes, but you don’t have to hate them for it. You should just keep that to yourself, you know?

David: I’m not sure I follow you. What if you want to talk about the things you disagree about? Is there a way to do that where you don’t end up showing hatred?

Amy: Yeah, but I think it’s tricky because we live in a society that has made it easy to hate, you know?

David: Ok. So what advice would you have for me if I wanted to talk to someone about something we disagree about?

Amy: Well, I think you have to be really loving about it. Just because you think someone is doing something wrong doesn’t mean it’s wrong for them. Like you might think a certain belief is wrong, but that might just mean it’s wrong for you, and not wrong for someone else. We need to be really tolerant of other people. That’s a big part of what it means to coexist.

David: That’s an idea I’ve heard a lot about lately. So how does that work when you want to have a friendly disagreement with someone? Or think it’s an important discussion to have.

Amy: Well, I think it’s important to realize that if they’re not hurting anyone, then what they are doing is ok. I mean, ultimately, if we have disagreements it’s really more of a matter of taste. For example, we might like different types of music, and so it’s ok to discuss why we like what we like, but I don’t think it would be right to tell the other person their type of music is bad or wrong or something.

David: Hmm. That may work in terms of music, but do you think it would work in more important areas?

Amy: You mean like religion?

David: Well, I think there are all sorts of areas that are more important than music taste. Religion would be one of them, but even politics and public policy or banking have more significant consequences on life.

Amy: In these areas, it’s important to remember that all sorts of things can work. It’s just a matter of different cultures, and if the religion or political system doesn’t hurt anyone, then it doesn’t really matter what else they do.

David: So I’m getting the idea that you’re ok with just about everything, so long as people don’t hurt one another. Is that accurate to say?

Amy: Absolutely! If you don’t hurt people, then everything else really just boils down to differences in taste, really.

David: Why is it important not to hurt people?

Amy: Seriously?

David: Yes.

Amy: Well, would you like someone to hurt you?

David: No, I certainly would not.

Amy: Then there you go. Nobody wants to get hurt, so therefore it’s wrong to hurt people.

David: I get that. But I can think of instances where it might be ok to hurt others.

Amy: I can’t.

David: What about if someone tries to attack someone you love deeply? Would it be ok to defend them, even if it means hurting the attacker?

Amy: Well, I suppose so. But that’s an extreme case. That’s self-defense.

David: So, in at least one case, it is ok to hurt someone else.

Amy: I don’t think I would phrase it that way. I would say that it is ok to defend yourself or someone you love.

David: Ok. So would you say that if someone has an idea or belief that says it’s ok to hurt others, that that would be a bad belief?

Amy: Yes, certainly.

David: And would you think it would be a good idea to talk about why that idea is a bad one?

Amy: Education can fix a lot of the ignorance in our society, and I think it can solve a lot of problems.

David: Sure. But even outside of a strictly educational context, would it be a good thing to do? Like if you meet someone who has a religion, for example, that says that you must convert or die. Would it be a good idea to try and discuss why you think that religion is wrong?

Amy: It doesn’t sound like it would be safe!

David: Haha, well let’s suppose that this person might not be a practitioner of that aspect, for the sake of argument.

Amy: If I would be sure that I would be safe, then I suppose it would be a good idea to discuss it, sure.

David: How would you go about having that discussion? It seems like you can’t go the “whatever is true for you, works” route, since you feel so strongly that hurting people is almost always wrong. Yet since that belief is there, it is important to discuss it.

Amy: …yeah.

David: To quote Jack Sparrow. If I may lend a machete to your intellectual thicket.

Amy: Haha. Go for it.

David: I think you need to develop a lot of your ideas. I think you have a genuine heart for people, and that’s a good thing. However, in order to be effective, I think you have to better understand what tolerance, love, and hate are.

Amy: What do you mean?

David: There are some older ideas about what those words mean. They aren’t very popular these days, and nobody marches to raise awareness for them (though maybe they should). However, I think they are more sustainable, and they make dealing with difficult situations a bit easier. Maybe we can meet up and talk about them over coffee some time?

Amy: That sounds like a good idea.

Advertisements

David Meets Jacob Freeman

Persons of the dialog:  David, Jacob Freeman

Setting: Pastor’s office, after service.

————————————————————————————————————————–

Jacob: Hey, thanks for coming in David. I understand you wanted to talk to me about my sermon?

David: Yeah, thanks for making time for me. You tackled some tough topics in your sermon, and I was just hoping to get some clarification.

Jacob: The topics of divine sovereignty and human freedom are certainly heavy topics, so I’m happy to help out in any way that I can.

David: I appreciate that. What you said about the responsibility we all have makes a lot of sense. I guess I was just a little lost on the divine sovereignty aspect of it.

Jacob: Ok, where did I lose you?

David: What do you mean by sovereignty?

Jacob: I mean that God created everything, and that He has exhaustive foreknowledge of everything that is going to happen before it happens. It also means that God upholds everything, in an ongoing fashion.

David: It’s those last two that I’m interested in. What do you mean by foreknowledge?

Jacob: I mean that He knows things before they’re going to happen. The Bible talks about God knowing our thoughts and our actions before we think or do them in the first few verses of Psalm 139.

David: That make sense, but how is it possible that God knows things before they happen?

Jacob: Well, I would say that He knows them because He’s God. Also, He is outside of time, so He sees things differently.

David: So, would you say that being outside of time is the aspect of His being God that allows Him to know everything before they happen?

Jacob: That is one way to put it. I think God’s omniscience necessarily includes His being outside time.

Jacob: There is an analogy I heard many years ago that helped me to understand the idea that God is outside of time. Imagine that you are inside a box, traveling down some train tracks. You cannot see out of the box, except for one small circle in it. This circle is fitted with a pipe, about an inch and a half or so wide. From this opening, you can see only a small fraction of what is actually there. You see small bits of scenery moving by quickly, but that is all you know. That is like us, trapped in the universe, inside time. God would be like the person who is seeing the whole thing play out on a screen. He is able to see the entire railroad, the box/pipe contraption, and the landscape.

David: I see. Since God created everything, this includes time and space, right?

Jacob: Right.

David: In your analogy, it seems like God knows everything instantly, because He is outside it, and is able to see it all at once. Am I following you correctly?

Jacob: It seems like you’ve got it, yes.

David: So, did He have this knowledge prior to creating everything? Or did He create everything, and then instantly observe it, and gain the knowledge?

Jacob: That is a good question. I believe He knew everything before creating it.

David: Ok. I’ve heard the view that God knew everything before creation because everything happens via His decree. So He knows things before they happen because He created everything in such a way that they will happen how He wants them to.

Jacob: Yes. That is what the historic reformers believed, but that is not the view that I would take. I believe that God knew in advance decisions that free creatures would make, were He to create such and such a universe, and then chose to create the universe based on that prior knowledge.

David: So that all took place in the mind of God, if you will, prior to creation?

Jacob: Yeah, that’s a good way to look at it.

David: I’m wondering about these free creatures then. So, He chose to create a world based on what He knew the free creatures He would create would do beforehand? That’s confusing.

Jacob: Haha, well we are getting into some pretty deep things. There have been a number of theories proposed as to why He chose to create this world instead of another. I think it has something to do with the fact that this world gives us the maximum amount of freedom, and ultimately brings about the most good or the most people that would come to salvation through faith in Christ.

David: It seems like God’s actions are dependent upon our actions, or at least the actions that we will do as soon as creation happens. I don’t think I quite understand how that works. How is it possible that God has thoughts about what free creatures will do before those creatures even exist?

Jacob: Well, I think God desires that we are free. The passages I used in the sermon demonstrated the freedom that we have. If we take that into account with the creation narrative in Genesis, I think we have a pretty solid biblical foundation for this.

David: If I remember correctly, you used Matthew 23:37, 1 Timothy 2:4, and 2 Peter 3:9. Is that right?

Jacob: Those were the main texts, yes.

David: You mentioned the historic reformers before. I believe they had different understandings of the verses you mentioned.

Jacob: That is true, but I don’t think they are convincing. If everything happens because God decrees it to happen, how are we able to “freely” love God? It seems like we would be forced to love, making us like robots.

David: That’s a good question, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about lately. It occurred to me that we may have a strange aversion to being robots. Why would being robots be bad? I don’t think it’s a fair assessment of the reformed position, from my reading of it. But even if it were true, why don’t we like that idea?

Jacob: Because we know that we are free, and if we were robots, then there would be something controlling us or limiting our freedom. If someone were forced to love, that love wouldn’t be genuine.

David: That’s possible, but would it be a bad thing if the person doing the controlling were perfect?

Jacob: If everyone were saved, and nobody did anything bad or wrong, then that might be ok. Though I would still contend that our lacking freedom would mean that our “loving” God would be insincere. However, the bigger issue would be that if God was controlling everything, then He would be sending people to hell. That doesn’t seem very loving to me, especially since we know from 1 John 4:8 that God is love.

David: Well, I think we have a lot to discuss there. It’s my understanding that reformed people have always understood freedom to mean that you are only free to do what is in accordance with your nature. So, they would say that the idea of God sending someone to hell against their will is an inaccurate picture of their position. In their mind, people love their sin, and are in rebellion against God from the time they are born. So nobody is getting forcibly sent to hell against their will. A helpful analogy would be that there are two groups of people. One group God chooses to save, giving them mercy, and the other group are left to the love of their sin and rebellion, and proceed to hell, receiving justice. In the end, mercy and justice has been displayed, but there is no injustice in God. Does that make sense?

Jacob: Well, so far you have mentioned a lot of philosophy, and not very much Bible. This is why I, and by extension this church, prefer to avoid the terms Calvinist and Arminian. Those terms seem to imply that we are following various philosophies and traditions of men, whereas we seek to call ourselves Biblists.

David: I appreciate the desire to follow the Bible, as I believe all people in this discussion desire to do. I believe the Bible seems to teach compatibilism, which is the idea that the answer to the question “is this God willing or man willing?”,  would be “yes.” You can see this pretty clearly in a couple examples from the Bible, though there are many. The story of Joseph shows the clear intent of the brothers to do harm to Joseph, and to sell him into slavery. However, in Genesis 45:8, and even more prominently in Genesis 50:20, we see that while his brothers intended to harm him, God clearly sent him there to ultimately bring about good. The second example is the crucifixion of Jesus. Used by people on all sides of this discussion as the supreme example of both justice and love, it is also a perfect example of compatibilism. From Acts 2:23, and Acts 4:27-28 we see that Jesus was delivered up to be crucified according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, yet in all the accounts of the crucifixion, we see the people doing exactly what they wanted to do, even going so far as to say that His blood would be upon them and their children , and not Pilate.

Jacob: That may be all well and good, but how does that apply to the issue of free will or love and being robots?

David: I merely wanted to mention that to lay some of the biblical foundation for my earlier statements. If it is true that the Bible teaches compatibilism, then it would be possible for the definition of free will that I gave above, to stand. This would allow God to be completely sovereign, controlling everything, while still giving people the desires of their hearts and not “forcing” people to do things they don’t want to do. We believe that all people are born in sin (Psalm 51:5) , and that unless God chooses to change our nature, to remove the heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26), than nobody will voluntarily choose Him (Romans 3:11). Instead, people are chosen from the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4) , before they are born and not based on works (Romans 9:11-13), and God will bring them to the end He has designed for us (Romans 8:29-30). If that makes us robots, then it is by Him who is perfect, and works everything according to the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11) , to His glory, while leaving our greatest desires in tact.

Jacob: Hmm. Well, I think there are still some problems in your view, but I’m afraid I have another appointment.

David: Thank you for giving me so much of your time. I hope we can talk more about this soon.

David Meets Richard Nogod

Persons of the dialog: David, Richard Nogod

Setting: Outside the lecture hall

———————————————————————————

David: Professor! My name is David, and I attended your lecture on science and reason and found it very interesting. You are a gifted speaker.

Richard: I appreciate that, young man. It is my hope that by holding events like the one tonight, I can help to erode away some of the blinders put on this nation by christianity, and other faith groups.

David: In your presentation, you mentioned that many of the arguments for the existence of God amounted to arguments from ignorance, or a “God of the gaps” argument. It seemed like you were saying that there have been so many advances in the field of science that trying to use logic and reason to support God is a failed endeavor, and that reason would be better used in other ways, is that correct?

Richard: I’m glad you picked up on that. I’m willing to grant that there have been people in the past that are considered intelligent that have used their reason to attempt to argue for the existence of a god. However, this is largely because they lived in times when Atheism was taboo, and could have cost them a great deal. Were these people living today, I would have no doubt that they would be Atheists.

David: You mentioned how the church, particularly in the middle ages and earlier, stifled scientific advancement. In your opinion, do you believe that this be part of the reason that these people wrote specifically Christian material?

Richard: Absolutely. It’s a basic fact of human nature that we will do what we have to do in order to survive. If these men would have come out in support of scientific advancement that went against some of the dogmas of the church, they would lose their job, their livelihood, and probably their lives.

David: During your presentation, you attempted to give naturalistic understandings for many of the arguments that you believe were gaps in our knowledge in the past that people used to justify needing God to explain. I think there were a couple important omissions that I was hoping I could get your thoughts on. First, how do you account for the fact that nature is understandable to us? For example, we can understand scientific and mathematical laws.

Richard: It seems you have things exactly backwards, and I’m beginning to suspect that you have had the unfortunate experience of wasting your time with the so-called apologists for christianity.

David: I do my best to listen to or read multiple perspectives on issues to get the best understanding that I can.

Richard: Be that as it may, it is patently false that we need to posit a god in order to explain how we understand nature or the laws of science. We evolved from nature, as did all life, so of course our brains would evolve to “understand” nature. The things we call the laws of science or math are simply human inventions or explanations of what we see nature already doing.

David: I see. So you would use that same line of reasoning to explain how we can reason at all, or how the laws of logic came to be?

Richard: That is correct. The so-called laws of logic were simply a way of understanding how we worked in conjunction with how nature works. While being a remarkable discovery for that time by Aristotle, it was not a discovery of something that needed a god to explain. He simply observed the way things work, and the way we work, and was able to put the two together in an eloquent way.

David: But is it not true that natural selection is “blind”? Meaning that it doesn’t so much select for truth value, but rather on what works towards the advancement of a particular species?

Richard: There you go again, trying to smuggle in ideas without proving them. What you refer to as “truth” is simply saying that natural selection works, and we apply the term truth because it is an easy way to communicate human ideas.

David: Allow me to explain what I mean. Let’s suppose that a man is in the woods and sees a grizzly bear. In his mind (for some odd reason) he doesn’t feel fear, but views the bear as a big, warm, soft, animal that would be a good candidate for a hug. Also, in his mind, the best way to acquire a hug from this animal is to run as fast as possible and to get away from it at all costs.

Richard: No human being could possibly think that.

David: Perhaps not, but this could be a more primitive man (to use your terminology) or even a child, and this is some sort of a game. That part of the story is not important. Supposing that the man manages to escape from the bear, he will live to be able to pass on his genes. Natural selection, then, will have selected him for his fitness, survivability, or at least his ability to pass on his genes, even though his reasoning for his survival is ludicrous.

Richard: I suppose so, but I don’t believe I see your point. Like I said before, natural selection simply works. The reason for the man surviving has nothing to do with his beliefs, even if those beliefs were the reason for his survival.

David: That is exactly my point. If natural selection simply selects on survivability or “what works” as you say, then I don’t know how we are able to trust what our brains tell us about anything. It seems like, on your view, that if what we call the reasoning process or the laws of logic are simply mental constructs that make living easier, and are ultimately the bi-product of a mechanistic system, then there is no point in trying to make truth claims or moral judgments of any kind.

Richard: My dear boy, I think you are entirely missing the point. Evolution may not be as comforting as a sky god who is a father to you, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. We don’t need a god to tell us what logic is, as I’ve been trying to tell you. The laws of logic or science and math are our way of describing how we work and how nature works. They aren’t objective to us. They are considered “laws” because they work, and we are able to function if we assume them. The whole issue of truth is really a distraction. As I pointed out in my lecture, our reasoning processes should be devoted to things that advance society, things like science, and not in service of things that hold society back, like religion. We got here because natural selection works, and we have evolved to this point. It is actually a privileged position because we now have sufficient brain growth to be able to influence change at a very fast rate. If we continue to work toward the betterment of our society, we will continue the process of natural selection, in the sense that we will continue sharpening the idea of what works. That is our goal.

David: Even if I were to grant what you say is true, it would seem to be pointless, on your system. If what is true is simply what works, then I don’t see any reason to promote or strive for the continuation of our species. Surviving for the sake of surviving seems to be like a hamster running on a wheel.

Richard: Again, this may not be as comforting as the fairy tales that religion tells people, but these are the simple facts of life. But I can see that this conversation is not getting through to you.

David: Well, I thank you for your time, and I hope that we are able to talk again in the future.