Friday, March 22, 2013

From Fundamentalist to Atheist - My Deconversion Story



This video is going to be a bit different than the other videos I’ve put out since I don’t have an actual argument that I’m putting forward or refuting. I’m going to talk about my deconversion from being a fundamentalist Christian to being an atheist.  And I really want to do this because I think it’s something that all of us who’ve deconverted want to put out there to maybe help other people who may be going through the same thing.  I’m hoping it’s also useful for life long atheists to help understand where the “faithful” are coming from. 

I’m going to give a brief overview of what my religious background was growing up, there’s a much longer and detailed post about thison my blog that I’m going to link to in the description box.  The long and short of it is that I was born a Catholic and then my family converted to being fundamentalist Christian, specifically Baptists, when I was about 9 years old.  


I was always in Catholic school or Evangelical Christian school up through high school.  I pretty much did the AWANA where you get candy for memorizing bible verses, youth group, youth retreats, the whole nine yards.  I had Young Earth Creationist science classes, Sunday school, church service, bible class, bible tests, and then weekly chapel at school.  The point is, I knew my theology about as well as you could expect for someone who hadn’t gone to seminary to understand theology.  In fact I’d put myself up against most Christians on a test of theological knowledge and I think I’d come out ahead. 

Now I don’t want to say this as a condemnation on my parents.  They actually sacrificed quite a bit to send me to Christian schools.  They were almost always a better option than the public schools and even when they weren’t I was begging them to let me go.  So they sacrificed a bit to do that for us and I have no right to complain about my childhood, it was very good.  So this isn’t anything on them. 

I went to college and I went to a non-Christian school for college because pretty much engineering programs at Christian colleges generally aren’t all that good.  Now you’d think that this is where a Christian kid goes and loses his faith, but it’s not.   I still believed even though I “backslid”.  I started having sex, largely because hormones are more powerful than Jesus, and there was a schism in the church I was in and my parents went through a divorce at the time.  So things happened, and I wasn’t going to church, but I still believed.
Now in fact I actually had a renewal of my faith towards the end of my college experience.  So when I got out of college I took my girlfriend who’s now my wife and I converted her to being an Evangelical Christian.  We went looking for a church, we stopped having premarital sex, and then we got married.  We settled into a very conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church although I have to admit that by this point I was no longer a Young Earth Creationist, I actually had a Muslim professor explain how the big bang and evolution was still compatible with theism in general.  The church we had was very conservative, but they were open minded enough to let that kind of a view in. 

So I got really involved in the church.  I was their “sound guy” for seven years, I was a trustee, I did small group bible studies, I worked in various ministries, and in general things were very good.   But there was one left over problem, my circle of friends expanded as a result of my wife and college.  You see back before college, I didn’t know anybody who wasn’t my specific brand of Christian, let alone wasn’t a Christian at all.  Through the course of meeting someone and working with them at a Gamestop while I was in school, and they turned out to be friends with my wife, we became good friends.  Eventually they came out as gay and I freaked.  My wife pointed out “you’re an asshole, you’re not supposed to be freaking out about this” and she pointed out that I had no problems with this person before he was gay and that I had no good reason to stop associating with him.  So eventually after my wife and I got married, our friend found a partner.  Us being geeks, we hung out more with our “geek friends” more than our “church friends” which meant that they were hanging out with us all the time.  We became very, very good friends with them and my church at the time said the way to deal with this was we were supposed to be a “light for Jesus”, you were supposed to live and be good, and your life would exemplify the values of Christianity, and that would eventually convert your friends who were gay. 

Now something you need to know about my growing up, someone being gay was pretty much the worst thing ever.  They were pretty much the most out there “demonstrably wrong” thing ever.  So my wife actually did quite a bit of work making me not as bigoted towards gays and so did my friends.  They put up with a lot of shit.  I learned to stop using the word “gay” as an insult.  I stopped using the word “faggot” because that made people I cared about uncomfortable.  

So I stopped being a bigot, yay me!

But then there was another problem.  You see, I realized how much I was and am still in love with my wife.  I knew what love was, and through my friends, let’s call them Jason and Tom, that after knowing them for 8 years, it was clear they had the same kind of loving relationship that my wife and I had.  They went through the same kind of couple issues, we were just so alike.  Basically, I knew what love was, and it was clear as day that they had it.  

I could not call that wrong.  There is no way you could tell me that love is wrong.  Having a loving relationship is probably the most wonderful thing you could ever experience, and to call that wrong just doesn’t compute for me.  

This view on their relationship is in direct contradiction with the bible.  And it was about this time that I was going online and debating politics and eventually came across some criticism of religion.  And while normally this is something I’d blow off, but I couldn’t do that once I started seeing problems with the bible.  And I started finding lots of problems with the bible. 

The biggest problem I found with the bible was now that I actually had friends that I cared about that this applied to, my friends who were clearly in love, and were wrong for their love according to the bible, were going to hell – aka eternal conscious torture.

And that shook me quite a bit. 

As a result all this criticism of religion stuff I read started to stick with me for once.  What didn’t help my faith was that this all came to a head for me while I had taken a temporary work assignment in another country for six months.  During that time I was working so many hours that even though I had my wife with me, we ended up not going to church during that time just because the schedule was just insane. 

I was able to do a lot of reading however, though I kept it to myself.  I started investigating arguments against theism and I finally broke through and asked myself a question that I realized I never asked in the 20+ years I was Christian: “Why do I believe in a god?”

I had no answer for this.  Now one of the things I realized when I asked myself this question was that I was taught this Jesus stuff since I was an infant.  In fact I was taught this by the same people who taught me more concrete things: Ice was frozen water, 2+2=4, and Jesus Christ was the son of god who died for my sins. 

Ultimately every argument I found for Christianity fell back on “you have to have faith” or if it was a problem with Christianity it was “Well we can’t expect to know god’s reasons because he’s so far beyond us.”  And really that’s not a satisfying answer. 

So I read the arguments, the counter arguments, the counter-counter arguments, and eventually when I came back home and started talking to my pastor and church friends about these doubts I was having, they really couldn’t get past the first set of counter arguments and things came back down to the whole faith thing. 
The argument that did it for me was the argument from Hell.  This is because if you believe in Christian theology, then the only thing that existed eternally is god. And eventually god had to decide to create the universe, and god knew that if he gave man free will, which apparently he really had to do, then he would have to create a hell. 

 So god is faced with a choice at this point either he creates the universe and create a hell, and according to Matthew 7:13-14 we’re explicitly told that the majority of mankind will be condemned to hell; or not create.  And for the vast majority of creation it’s far better off to not have been created if you’re going to eventually be condemned to eternal conscious torture. 

So why create? If god is the perfect being and before the creation of the universe he exists in a triune godhead of mutual fulfilling love in the most perfect state possible.  He literally is perfection according to Christian theology.  So he had to create for creation’s benefit, not for his own benefit or any need or want on his end.  

But most of creation is better off not being created!  Hell even if it was a small subset of creation that was better off not being created, the only moral choice is not to create anything!

And that’s pretty much the argument that made me lose my faith. 

One day I eventually broke down and started crying.  I realized I didn’t believe this crap and this was a problem because I converted my wife, the most important person in my life, to being an Evangelical Christian.  

It all hit me at once.  My entire family was Christian.  I realized I’m not seeing my dead relatives ever again.  I might get disowned, what was going to happen to my marriage? Why was I lied to my whole life? Why did I convert people to this terrible religion?

All that hurt, but it was also freeing at the same time.  Unfortunately, the “freeing” part only lasted a little bit before the social fear took over.  I told my wife and she became very upset. She still believed, she wasn’t nearly as conservative as I was and so didn’t see the problems I did since she didn’t have the indoctrination that I had.

So when I showed her things in the bible saying that “No see, hell has to exist.  See, homosexuality is wrong, etc” she was shaken but she still believed in a god and she was still a Christian.

So I threw myself into apologetics. Hardcore.  For two years.  

Trying to make myself go back and believe this shit again so my life could go back to normal.  I spoke to pastors, I spoke to friends, I did everything you could think of – I read William Lane Craig, CS Lewis, Tim Keller, even more liberal theology stuff by like Kenton Sparks.  I read debate after debate online, reading every possible argument I could get my hands on.  I tried to go back, I really did.  And it didn’t work.
There was no argument that could make me believe that shit again. 

Now fortunately for me everything eventually worked out.  My wife and I had stopped talking about the religion thing after a while, but eventually one day my wife told me that she didn’t believe anymore – she wasn’t a Christian.  She is more of a deist but doesn't really like being specifically labeled. That’s good enough for me.  We spent a long time working out what we did and didn’t agree on, specifically what to do if we had kids. 

That last part was good, because I can’t tell you how happy I am that my wife and I were finally able to have kids, and it was after we deconverted, which is pretty much the best thing ever. 

We eventually did have to tell the extended family at that point, especially now that a kid was involved, that we weren’t Christians.  This has caused some problems, but it wasn’t a disowning like I thought it might be.  It’s been kind of rough but we’ve mostly been good. 

So that’s pretty much it.  As a result of all this I found out that I kind of like philosophy, and having read apologetics and seeing what bullshit it is, I want to help other people who might be going through what I went through.  I want to let people know that it’s OK, you can leave religion.  Life is so much better without cognitive dissonance or thinking that the vast majority of people are going to be suffering eternal conscious torture.  Now I think that there are better reasons than that to leave Christianity, but that’s a topic for future posts/videos. 

Pretty much I wanted to get this out there to let people know my deconversion story and why I’m doing posts and videos.   So if you’ve made it this far through this story, thanks.

38 comments:

  1. Reposted here:

    http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/2013/03/23/real-deconversion-story-5-counter-apologist/

    Good stuff.

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  2. Thanks a million for your bio on this.
    --Bob

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  3. Thanks, the positive reaction I've gotten to this on YouTube, Reddit, and here has been really amazing.

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  4. The argument from hell doesnt exist in all faiths though right?
    Ie the problem of Hell.
    Whats your view on Islam? Its view of God and its evidences and the historical preservation of their holy book?

    Cheers!

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    1. I'm fairly certain Islam holds that hell exists, that's one of the main reasons/justifications they use to justify execution of apostates.

      As far as preservation of their holy book, Islam gets more props than Christianity does, but I fail to see how that's evidence for a god. Similarly they claim that it's the perfect word of god, but it shows an old man marrying a 9 year old girl and consummating the marriage when she was 11 is somehow "moral". There are other issues I'd take with the book, but that's the most popular level objection to what's in there I can think of immediately.

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  5. I'm not sure about this argument from hell. I can see why it might damage one's case in Christianity (although I'm uncertain that a sound argument can be made out of it; if it can, why can't I find it in an of the main atheist books?).

    But if Christianity is false, this doesn't mean theism isn't true. So where is the argument that brings us all the way to atheism?

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    1. It's there, most books just leave it at discussing how hell as a concept is immoral and leaves it there. Lots of atheists don't work on coming up with clever syllogisms since the point can be gotten across rather plainly.

      I'm actually working on putting together some video's on this topic now and I will have multiple syllogisms related to hell (the argument and problems with Christian theology is multifaceted).

      Your final question is a very good one, and it's one I'm hoping to address soon in a video that leads to the hell ones. There's the reasons for being an atheist, and then there are arguments against Christianity.

      There are many reasons I deconverted from being a Christian, and that's largely detailed here. But there is one supreme reason that I am an atheist.

      I am an atheist because I see no reason or good evidence to believe in the existence of a god.

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    3. >I am an atheist because I see no reason or good evidence to believe in the existence of a god.

      What do you think about Aquinas' First Way?

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    4. I think it fails rather spectacularly. Did you see my whole series on the Kalam? http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/search/label/Countering%20the%20Kalam

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    5. Sure, but Kalam is not Aquinas' First Way, so criticisms of the former have no force against the latter.

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    6. "First Way" is the First Cause argument if I'm not mistaken? I'd imagine you wouldn't be speaking about his actual original argument in terms of the "unmoved mover?" since that sort of argument got undercut ages ago with the notion that matter is not static (ie. atoms) and fundamental forces.

      His original arguments were based on ancient Greek assumptions that are largely undercut, which is why First Cause arguments have been amended often since his time has passed.

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    7. The First Way concerns the unmoved mover. Nothing in the argument requires matter to be static, nor does it involve assumptions that have been proven false. The background assumptions are Aristotle's four causes, form/matter distinction, and the actual/potential distinction. None of these are clearly false. I have made somewhat of a career out of explaining this argument to people, and I've had several atheists admit to me that it is compelling, properly understood. One actually became a Catholic! I don't know about all that, but I think the argument is strong enough that it cannot be easily dismissed.

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    8. I guess I'd need more explaining on it then, since my first view of it is that it's just assuming some metaphysical rules that appear to be counteracted by our modern understanding of how things actually work.

      My first inclination is that the first mover idea is wrong because it seems likely to me that the "necessary something" is material, which is governed by some set of physical laws, and those laws plus the interaction of these things would be sufficient to cause change. Sort of like things being in a "meta-stable state" that will eventually break down.

      That's probably a way too simplistic way of describing it, but I'm trying to not write a book here. :P

      My assumptions here could be wrong, so if you had something you could point me to for more information I would take a look at it.

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    9. I also have a series of articles on my blog defending the classical theist point of view, although it is more neo-Platonic than Thomistic: http://rocketphilosophy.blogspot.com/2012/10/a-defense-of-classical-theism-1.html

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    10. Martin,

      I’m actually sorry to have not responded, I did read your blog series and I intended to write something up and due to other conversations/life I forgot to get back to you. I will completely disagree, but I hate to have you comment here in sincerity and then be ignored for almost a month.

      The short version of it is that like so much of metaphysics, I see no reason to accept many of those premises. I think the main parts that start to fall apart with potential and actual (or at least the rules you use to govern them), and then with structure. I see no reason to assume that there must be some kind of platonistic form, things can equally (or be better) explained in terms of material existing (which we can know exist) so that the “forms” aren’t needed.
      Like so much of metaphysics, if it’s not testable, we have no way to know if the premise is true other than logical impossibility, and it’s certainly logically possible for the forms to not exist.

      So sure, while our current science can’t contradict your metaphysics, that’s only because you’ve retreated beyond anything that’s possibly testable, but we’ve no reason to accept your distinctions either. The key thing being that we can explain things without accepting your metaphysics, so why accept them?

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    11. Thanks for your reply. There is no obligation to reply to blog comments. It's kind of a shitty place for a discussion forum, anyway. :)

      Actual and potential are concepts Aristotle used to respond to Parmenides, who claimed that change did not occur. If we reject potentiality, then we are in essence going back to Parmenides and saying that nothing ever happens. But clearly, things do happen. You are actually reading this comment right now, and potentially replying to it.

      The universals mentioned are not necessarily Platonic ones. Aristotle was an empiricist, and did not think Platonic Forms were tenable. So he said forms were in the objects themselves, rather than floating in an immaterial third world.

      All I'm saying there is that there could not be science in the first place if every individual were its own thing. You could study Individual1, but then have no knowledge of Individual2. But if individuals are part of a species or class, then we can abstract from the individuals and have knowledge of the class to which it belongs. And knowledge of the class is scientific knowledge. If this were not the case, science would not be possible, because every single thing you studied would be its own class.

      >ou’ve retreated beyond anything that’s possibly testable

      If by testable you mean physically testable, then clearly not. But it is testable in the sense that if it were false, science would be impossible. You would study individual1, but since it is entirely a different object from individual2 then you could never have knowledge of "one" over "many." Articles like this would be impossible. But clearly they are possible, and clearly the article in question is not about a particular elephant located somewhere but rather about the class "elephants", in general, over and above any individual elephant.

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    12. It was more of the fact that you come across like a nice enough guy and what you've posted is of a quality worth replying to.

      This will be a bit quick and dirty, but the idea is that "change" can be described in the rearrangement of material, but it's perfectly consistent to think that the underlying parts of material reality actually doesn't change.

      In terms of identity, I lean towards the combination of matter in systematic ways. Science just needs that matter behave consistently, at high enough scales/strengths we can observe things consistently in a deterministic way to make predictions. So what we would ascribe as an "identity" is merely our own conventions based on an arrangement of material. Identity would be more of a classification we ascribe to certain systems that are similar enough in composition (or identical depending on how low on the material chain we go).

      We do have issues with extrapolation, we can make general predictions, but ala Hume's problem of induction.

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    13. Thanks for your reply, Mr Apologist (Ha! Sucks to have that as your last name, huh?). :)

      But even if that were a description of change, it doesn't alter the fact that change, in fact, does occur. And that is all the argument requires to get going.

      More pertinent to your original post, I am in the process of writing my deconversion and reconversion (almost) story. I've come three quarters of a circle. A lot of that has to do with my discovery of classical theism and the difference between it and evangelicals. There really is no comparison. My studies of the older arguments has made evangelicals look even more ridiculous. These older arguments are not based in empirical science like the evangelicals like to do ("Science is showing more and more that God exists!!1!"), but rather in much more fundamental axioms. Parmenides argument is that "being is, and non-being is not". That is, things either exist, or they don't. Something cannot kind of exist. But what actually exists is the domain of empirical science. Note how this consideration is much more fundamental and abstract than the natural sciences.

      The First Way of Aquinas is based in such abstract and fundamental assumptions like that. I've been sinking my teeth into it for years, and it still looks pretty shiny to me. An atheist on reddit told me that it is pretty convincing properly understood ("properly" being the key word here). Another atheist became a Catholic! I accidentally converted him to a Catholic via my explanations of the First Way!

      I highly recommend you take a look at it. Take a quick gander at my newest article. Even if you don't accept it, it's very rewarding to learn about and I would say quite on the up-and-up. Noble philosophy instead of bad science like the evangelicals engage in.

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    14. Yes, but the issue here is that the change in terms of recombination can be explained in terms of purely materialistic methods.

      We both can agree that "something" must exist necessarily, but I've never seen any argument that tells me why this necessary "something" can't be some form of material reality, especially when we know that matter is really just energy in a specific form in a spacetime. Further, the argument from motion doesn't really work since we know matter existing entails motion in itself, and if a spacetime can be created out of an eternally existing quantum vacuum - then once energy takes the form of matter in the spacetime, then gravity provides the motion we need.

      I certainly have more respect for a generic theist/deist than I do for an adherent of a specific religion, and I don't claim to be able to "prove you wrong". This is where the "agnostic" part of "agnostic atheist" comes into play. What do think is that your case isn't really established, and I simply don't believe that this deity exists.

      In this case of discussing things with a generic theist/deist, I like this quote that gets mis-attributed to Marcus Aurelius:

      "Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones."

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    15. The argument from motion, as I explain it, subsumes the existential argument as well. It isn't speaking of Newtonian motion, but rather the actualization of potentials. Think of a frozen lake. The lake is actually frozen rather than just potentially. This might have been the case from all eternity. Nonetheless, the lake is actually frozen because of the cold air, the air is actually cold because of the unequal warming of the Earth's crust, the unequal warming is made actual by the sun, the sun is actually burning because of nuclear reactions, the nuclear reactions because of gravity, gravity because of Higgs (or gravitons), and so on. Each item receiving it's actuality from a further member down the chain. Since they are receivers, they necessitate a giver, and hence something that can give actuality without having to get actuality from anything further.

      As I emphasized, this argument is not about physics. It's much more fundamental than that. Think of Parmenides dividing the world into being and non-being. What exists is the domain of science, but that things exist or don't is a much more fundamental and abstract consideration.

      The First Way is operating on a similarly fundamental level just like Parmenides, with actuality lining up with Parmenides' "being". What actually IS actual is up to science, but THAT things are actual (or not) is more fundamental, and in the foyer before science even gets started. Things have to exist in order for science to work.

      The First Way is not so easily defeated. Any objection you can think of in two seconds has almost certainly already been dealt with. Trust me. I've been knee deep into it for three years, coming from an atheist perspective. My eyes are blackened, and my shirt is ripped. It beat me up pretty good. And it's a major reason why I've come halfway back to towards theism.

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    16. I'm not sure what more I can say other than the fact that science has shown that matter/energy doesn't follow those distinctions.

      Quantum tunneling/nucleation, the idea of virtual particles in the quantum vacuum, etc. The energy existing in itself follows a set of laws (it's properties) that have things change and be created constantly, and it's been shown to be possible to have spacetimes come out of this kind of material.

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    17. >I'm not sure what more I can say

      I know. Believe you me. I felt the same way. There is a reason that Aquinas is on the short list of top philosophers of all time. You don't get on that list by being an idiot. And that includes formulating your arguments around science which may be shown false in the future. That's another reason Aquinas rejected Kalam. It hinges on contingent facts that may be falsified in the future. He wasn't interested in such weak tea.

      The atheist community has failed spectacularly in this regard, by reading evangelical lunacy back into classical philosophers.

      So energy in the quantum vacuum has a certain structure and properties that leads to it birthing virtual particles and perhaps spacetime. So we could say that "object X has a structure which leads to it doing Y."

      That is to say, the quantum energy has a formal and final cause. Which is at the foundation of Aristotelian and Thomistic philosophy and hence the First Way.

      For example, let's talk about a quantum field that reliably produces Santa Clauses. That object potentially exists (I see no logical contradiction in the idea), but actually does not. In our universe, however, we have something called the quantum vacuum which reliably produces virtual particles. So this object actually exists, rather than just potentially (like my Santa Claus example). And that is how that would be properly analyzed in terms of the Thomistic arguments. And since the quantum vacuum cannot make itself actual (because then it would have to not exist, being potential, and also exist in order to make itself actual, which is logically contradictory), it must be made actual by something else.

      You think theism is probably false? I say, a proper adjudication of classical theism will make you considerably less certain of that.

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    18. >I know. Believe you me....

      I think you mistook what I was saying, not sure if it was intentional.

      >There is a reason that Aquinas is on the short list of top philosophers of all time.

      I care not what lists he's on or what he's considered, I really don't think this is a good argument and it's largely been disregarded by the vast majority of modern philosophers - and I don't think it's because they don't properly understand the argument.

      This isn't to discredit Aquinas, the man was clearly brilliant, but genius's still believe crazy shit. Newton derived Calculus before he was 26, but he majority of his works was on things like Alchemy.

      >That is to say, the quantum energy has a formal and final cause. Which is at the foundation of Aristotelian and Thomistic philosophy and hence the First Way.

      I see no reason to grant that there are formal and final causes, things can be explained with only efficient and material causes, and there's a case to be made that it could be done with only material causes.

      >"That object potentially exists (I see no logical contradiction in the idea), but actually does not. In our universe, however, we have something called the quantum vacuum which reliably produces virtual particles. So this object actually exists, rather than just potentially (like my Santa Claus example). And that is how that would be properly analyzed in terms of the Thomistic arguments."

      What says this quantum energy/vacuum is only potential and not necessary? This really is what gets at the heart of the matter. You have absolutely no reason to rule out that this energy is what's necessary rather than your god (this is the main problem with metaphysics, in my view).

      The more I read on this the more it is starting to smell like the ontological argument in disguise. Where god just gets defined as "necessary" so therefore it's logically impossible for him to not exist, therefore he exists.

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    19. >I really don't think this is a good argument and it's largely been disregarded by the vast majority of modern philosophers - and I don't think it's because they don't properly understand the argument.

      For the most part, it's been rejected not because of any problem with the argument itself, but rather because of the rejection of Aristotelian metaphysics and its replacement with mechanistic (i.e. devoid of formal and final causes) metaphysics. As someone put it, Thomism was never given the courtesy of a refutation; it was simply set aside.

      >I see no reason to grant that there are formal and final causes

      If we say "object X has a specific structure, and has effect Y", then we are speaking of formal and final causes without actually labeling them so.

      >What says this quantum energy/vacuum is only potential and not necessary?

      Strictly speaking, there is no "necessary" and "contingent" in this argument. However, the reason why the quantum energy cannot be the explanation for its own existence is that it does not contain "existence" as part of its very "essence". An essence is simply the list of properties that make something what it fundamentally is, and without which it would lose its identity. The essence of a triangle is to have three sides, but what color it is is not part of a triangle's essence.

      This principle is appealed to all the time by atheists when they reject the ontological argument (which Aquinas rejected as well), when they say that you cannot define something into existence. That is, you cannot know what something is, and from that know that it exists. One must go out into the world and see if it does or not.

      So in most objects, essence and existence are separate in this way. That is, objects are not their own source of existence. This includes the quantum vacuum. Someone could know the properties of the quantum vacuum but not know if such a thing actually exists or not.

      So if they are not the source of their own existence, then the source must come externally and again trace to a giver: something whose essence is identical to its existence. That is, existence itself, or pure actuality.

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    20. >For the most part, it's been rejected not because of any problem with the argument itself, but rather because of the rejection of Aristotelian metaphysics and its replacement with mechanistic (i.e. devoid of formal and final causes) metaphysics. As someone put it, Thomism was never given the courtesy of a refutation; it was simply set aside.

      Because it doesn't need a refutation since it starts from faulty premises, we've rejected the premises.

      >If we say "object X has a specific structure, and has effect Y", then we are speaking of formal and final causes without actually labeling them so.

      Well we don't really regard things as having "structures" anymore. And as you said the metaphysics has changed so the "laws of nature" are just properties of material, but that is different than how Aristotle viewed causes.

      >However, the reason why the quantum energy cannot be the explanation for its own existence is that it does not contain "existence" as part of its very "essence". An essence is simply the list of properties that make something what it fundamentally is, and without which it would lose its identity.

      And this is again where "existence" as a property is rejected, for good reasons.

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    21. >Because it doesn't need a refutation since it starts from faulty premises, we've rejected the premises.

      Perhaps. I think this is where it gets the most interesting, though. It could be argued that the mind cannot be accounted for in mechanistic terms, because the mind thinks about things and "points towards" goals and ends. And if so, then there is final causality in nature, and hence some form of Aristotelianism is true.

      It could be argued that mechanistic theories of mind always collapse into eliminativism, which ends up being incoherent. Thus, one cannot have a theory of mind without presuppose final causality.

      It also could be argued that the mechanistic metaphysics was developed in order to get more precise explanations of things, which can best be accomplished by focusing only on the quantifiable aspects of nature: that is, matter and motion. Material and efficient causes.

      But from this, it would be a non-sequitor to infer that formal and final causes do not exist. If one has a tool that is good at measuring one particular aspect of the world, it does not follow that no other aspects of the world exist. Even if that tool has succeeded spectacularly at measuring what it is focusing on.

      I find this all incredibly interesting, far from clearly true or false, and considerably better than evangelical modern stuff.

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    22. Actually, a refutation is a rejection of premises, so it actually was refuted.

      Next up, there's the idea that even if we had the other causes, then we still have reasons to reject "existence as essence" for the reasons that Hume, Kant, etc gave us.

      Finally, the appeal to consciousness is another "appeal to the unknown" as to something that's not yet explained, therefore there must be something immaterial at play here.

      You can say an eliminative view of the mind moves towards being self defeating or absurd, but that doesn't mean that suddenly we're into the old metaphysics again. The dualistic view is incredibly more ridiculous, since we know that physical changes in the brain cause changes, including drastic changes in "mind", and we also know enough about particle physics where there isn't anything that would be strong enough or operates at a small enough range that it couldn't effect the material in the brain.

      This points largely to the fact that the "qualia" or whatever you want to call it that dualistic people tend to favor to try and argue against materialism could very well be "brute facts" about the mind, and that they're just the subjective effects of the operation of our minds and nervous systems.

      >I find this all incredibly interesting, far from clearly true or false, and considerably better than evangelical modern stuff.

      The main issue here is that metaphysics generally doesn't tell us anything that we can know to be true or false.

      I have to say that our exchange has been both quite pleasant and illuminating. I had your posts (and blog posts) along with some work by Ed Feser thrown at me on Twitter that on reading has helped clarify some ideas on answering this type of thing.

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    23. >Finally, the appeal to consciousness is another "appeal to the unknown" as to something that's not yet explained, therefore there must be something immaterial at play here.

      Well, to be fair, the arguments in question do not appeal to consciousness as something unknown, and that therefore there must be a soul. The Thomistic argument is that the Cartesian rejection of Aristotelianism is exactly what caused dualism in the first place.

      For example, it is often said by post-Cartesian philosophers and scientists that colors as we experience them do not really exist "out there" in the world of matter. John Locke called them secondary properties. Descartes and buddies wanted to keep the world of physical science down to just what was mathematically describable, such as matter and motion, and all the rest needs to be gotten rid of somehow. Since a red apple might look green to someone else, these subjective properties are not part of the external world but are only a product of our minds.

      But that's where the problem comes in. If consciousness consists of such secondary properties (seeing a red apple), and matter is devoid of such properties, then it follows that there will be no material explanation of consciousness. One may be tempted to say that matter when so arranged can give rise to such properties, and that it is a fallacy of composition to claim that just because matter has no such properties, mind cannot have it either.

      But to agree that material processes can give rise to non-material properties is to concede the argument, because such a view is property dualism.

      The Thomist would respond that dualism is an evil created out of the very materialist conception of matter, by removing such properties from the world and saying that they are "just in the mind." That putting them back out there is the only way to solve the dualist/materialist problem, both of which are too extreme in either direction.

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    24. I am perennially late in my reply to you as usual, hope you don't mind.

      The main issue I have is that to state that seeing red is some form of qualia is to ignore what we know about colors, light, our eyes, and all the rest. We know that certain wavelengths of light represent a specific color.

      That in and of itself isn't quite enough to completely rule out what you're saying (if it could ever be falsified at all). However, things like color blindness is something that does definitely exist and we can identify people that can't distinguish between it and other colors they can see.

      This seems to strongly favor the materialist view of the mind.

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    25. T'would be nice to discuss this stuff with you outside the comment box, if you would like: martinkulp at gee! mail.

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    26. Please don't. It was very interesting debate and I, as a silent watcher, really enjoy it. I'm sure other people too.

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    27. Heya Anon,

      Just FYI, Martin and I have moved this discussion over to an email exchange. That said as a result of your post I think we will be posting respective sections of our exchange in a future blog post on our respective blogs.

      It's rather nice when you can find people from the other side to have a good exchange with, so hopefully the back and forth will be a good read.

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  7. It's fundamentally different from Kalam and other modern arguments, in that it does not make use of scientific arguments, but is rather metaphysical, more abstract, and would in principle apply to ANY universe that could be scientifically examined. So it doesn't interfere with the normal workings of science, like modern evangelicals are always trying to do.

    It rests on the metaphysics of Aristotle. Contra Parmenides, change does occur, and to unpack what it means to change means that something is actually one way now, but potentially a different way in the future. So that is the actual/potential distinction.

    Then there are the famous four causes. Something causes a thing to be, that thing is composed of stuff, the thing has a certain structure that distinguishes it from other things, and, if it does something, then it has a specific effect it produces. These are the efficient, material, formal, and final causes.

    These are the basics of the metaphysics that the argument rests upon. The early modern thinkers essentially rejected formal and final causes as being able to do any explanatory work. They wanted to focus on what could be precisely measured, and so they focused on matter and motion instead. Which would roughly be equivalent to Aristotle's efficient and material causes.

    The thing is, science does it's thing on the side without having an opinion one way or the other about Aristotle's metaphysics. I think a plausible case can be made, though, for it.

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  8. Thanks for your blog and for sharing your experiences. I am a 28 year old white male, work with statistics and analytics, spent many years as a preacher and youth pastor. I have recently realized the absurdity of Christianity and fallacious lies that are spread by most apologists.

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  9. The religion of Hill Evidencism is only based on evidence and logic: http://hill-evidencism.blogspot.com/.

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