Thursday, November 17, 2005

Bringing Back the Draft

I think Ernie has done a wonderful job of helping us make progress toward a common understanding. One of my secondary reasons for blogging is to work on my writing skills, which I honestly have not practiced as much as I should. Ernie's "brickman" device is, I think, a useful tool for this kind of situation, and he has used it cleverly by writing a letter from "me" to himself. And while not a perfect representation of my position, he has gotten very close, and written it well. Now I get my turn to practice, and hopefully help move things along still further.

(I ended up making more edits to this than I originally expected. I started out trying to mark my changes to make them obvious, but in the end, this "draft" diverged from Ernie's draft too much for that to work. You may still want to compare the two versions.)

Draft 2, 11/16/2005

Dear Ernie,

While I appreciate your sincere efforts to explain your viewpoint, I fear you are making things needlessly complex and missing the essential points. In particular, I don't think you've really confronted the core issues underlying my objections to Christianity. As far as I can tell, every strain of fundamentalist, evangelical, or orthodox Christianity makes the same hard claim: each individual must accept Jesus Christ in order to get to heaven. Do you believe that is true, or don't you? If you don't, then I would argue you really don't have anything in common with traditional Christianity, and this whole discussion is moot.

Conversely, and more importantly, do you also believe that everyone who does not choose to accept Christ is going to hell for eternity? Or, is there no eternal existence of any kind for non-believers? Or, are there other ways to heaven? Again, traditional Christianity is clear on the answer to these questions.

This brings me to the crux of my argument. I believe that it is fundamentally unjust to punish someone eternally for choices he makes based on uncertain, incomplete and seemingly contradictory or incoherent information, while being subject to imperfect rationality, having only a finite amount of time and while lacking any methodology, process or other means to overcome these limitations. With regard to believing that Jesus is God and the means of salvation, I claim that:

a. it is not manifestly obvious that this is true

b. nature does not provide complete and certain evidence that this is true

c. while the Bible purports to provide the needed information, it is not itself manifestly true nor proven by nature, and evidence both within and outside the Bible makes its claims to authoritative truth suspect and therefore uncertain

d. men are not perfectly rational

e. men have a limited amount of time available to them prior to death

Four of these are clear: (a), (b), (d) and (e). Some people would dispute all or parts of (c), but you indicated that you only find the Bible to be "generally useful in an illustrative way." So, if you accept all of the minor premises I listed, but yet not my conclusion, then you must either dispute my major premise (that God cannot justly condemn someone to hell for eternity given his stated limitations) or else the structure of my argument.

This is not yet a perfectly formed argument. It assumes, for instance, that we are concerned whether God is acting justly or not. If God is capricious or evil or in any case not just, this line of reasoning fails (but we have bigger problems than that). Again, I do not think we would be discussing Christianity any more in that case. I can think of a few other possibilities that I would likewise consider to be out of scope, but you may disagree. For that matter, we have not yet established that you believe that people are sent to hell at all.

I hope you can see why I might want to address this argument before wrangling over epistemology, because this might help us to set a standard against which an epistemological system might be measured. If you agree with my argument, any epistemology that does not provide certainty is insufficient. If you disagree with my argument, then I would much rather discuss that than have a discussion about epistemology that may prove irrelevent.

Yours truly,

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