Sunday, February 08, 2015

Sceptics, Seekers and Opponents

Some fences are not for sitting
Vox Day has an interesting piece on the subject of A Manual for Creating Atheists by Peter Boghossian, a book written with the purpose of teaching, in Boghossian’s own words, “how to talk people out of their faith”.

Day makes the point that Boghossian’s position could not be more distant from that of authentic scepticism: “Boghossian’s very stated purpose is in direct and explicit opposition to everything Sextus Empiricus advises, beginning with ‘suspension of judgment’ ”.

Naturally a reader engages him on this.

Day responds (with my italics):
“Scepticism does not mean ‘I am dubious about X.’ It does not mean ‘I am going to convince you that X is better than Y’. It does not mean ‘I will only believe X if there is sufficient evidence to justify it’. It means: ‘I have no opinion about either X or Y, and if you assert that X is better, I will argue that Y is better in order to produce a contradiction of equal weight and thereby allow me to suspend my judgment.’ What virtually no one who talks about scepticism seems to understand is that for the sceptic, suspension of judgment is not the method or the initial approach, it is the objective.”
— Vox Day
I had not thought of this before, but it provides a good jumping-off point for looking at the issue of how people respond to the preaching of the gospel.

The Lord Jesus taught that there is no middle ground. There is no fence. There is no lofty position upon which a human being may safely perch to pass intellectual judgement on the truth of God. In other words, scepticism itself is a false position, a lost cause.

People asked the Lord why he spoke in parables, and he replied like this:
“Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:
‘You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’ ”
His teaching was not offered for the purpose of being subjected to the sort of emotionless, intellectual criticism characteristic of scepticism. It was offered so people would “see”, “hear”, “understand” and — most importantly of all — “turn, and I would heal them”.

Because the sceptic, like all men, is a sick man in need of medical attention, he just doesn’t know it. He sees himself outside and above the issue, when his own healing is desperately necessary.

But there is no fence. Jesus said:
Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”
(Matthew 12:30)

“Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.”
(Luke 9:50)
That pretty much covers all the bases. With respect to the gospel, nobody is outside the discussion. You are either for or against.

Peter Boghossian completely fails to qualify as a sceptic, but even if he did, sceptics are intellectual poseurs, however they may see themselves. There is no fence.


  1. I believe in the concept that an atheist doesn't actually not believe or doubt God exists, they actually do believe in God and hate him.

    Tom, this is totally off topic but how about a post on VD's opinion and God's omniscience. I can't figure out how to insert this as a link for some reason.

    Quotes from Vox:

    "This is the same difference and distinction that I draw between omniscience and voliscience, between God knowing everything at all times and God knowing whatever He decides He wants to know."

    "As for prophecy, this is pretty simple. The fact that you don't know everything doesn't mean you don't know something in advance, especially if you are the one who is arranging to make it happen. There is absolutely no need for omniscience to support the concept of accurate Divinely-inspired prophecy."

    What do you think about his argument?

    1. Can I field this one, Tom?

      Vox Day, or Theodore Beale, is an Open Theist. Apparently, he is a friend of Greg Boyd, a "pastor" who writes and preaches on that view.

      This is a tough place to give you a full take on Open theology, but they're a kind of overreaction against Calvinist Determinism. They don't like the Calvinist idea that the future is all "predestined" or preset by God, and that there is no reality to human freedom or choice.

      What they do is to redescribe the idea of "time." For them, God knows the past and the present thoroughly, but the future is "open." God does not control it nor preshape it in a "tight" way. What they say He does instead is to foreknow only those elements of it He decides He wants to know, and leave the rest "loose" so human beings can make decisions freely within it.

      Admittedly, this creates huge problems theologically, does a fair bit of injustice to Scripture, and provides fodder for Calvinists to complain (yet again) that anybody who does not accept total Determinism is bound to go heretical.

      If you want more info on that, Boyd's starter book is "God of the Possible." I have it here as I type. It's not a great read, I must confess; but it's quite simple and accessible and lays out the starting points of Open Theism.

      I don't really know of many Open Theists other than Mr. Boyd and Mr. Beale themselves. But I'm sure there are some around somewhere. After all, Boyd has a church, allegedly.

    2. What IC said.

      No, it's actually an interesting subject, Micah, and maybe when I'm not up to my eyeballs in personal stuff it's something I'll dig into at some length. I admire a number of things about Vox Day (he's one of the most fearless people I've come across) and he was kind enough to link to us in our first year, but I can't swallow Open Theism either.

      Short version: I think it's unnecessary. To feel compelled to take every word of God with such excruciating literalness seems to minimize the reality that God is spirit, not man, and of necessity some of his language must be an accommodation to man. Things like "I will remember their sins no more" are impossible to imagine of an omniscient God. I find it perfectly reasonable to read such a statement as something like "I will not count your sins against you legally and I will not bring them up with you personally".

      No doubt more to come on that subject ...

    3. I'll admit I know very little of the entire concept of "open theism," I do find the idea of voliscience intriguing. The idea can be taken all the way back to the fall of man when God asks Adam "where are you"? He then follows it up with another question as to whether he ate from the forbidden tree. Is God asking questions that He already knows the answer to? Is God giving Adam the opportunity to come clean about the sin he just committed and God already is fully aware of? Could it be that God truthfully doesn't know and is hopeful that something else has happened besides what had in fact happened? Can God hope or be hopeful?

      Also, at Sodom, why does God have to ask Abraham about how many Godly people are left in the city? Is it semantics or is it a truthful question?

      BTW, VP is how I found your site.

    4. I'll admit to diving in over my head here to even address the question, Micah, as it's something on which I need to do further study and meditation before trying to express a strong opinion either way. I haven't read Greg Boyd either, though I do remember Vox referencing him at least twice.

      Honestly, I cannot imagine a God that DOESN'T know exactly how many godly people were in Sodom. If "the Lord knows who are his" is really the foundational principle Paul makes it out to be in his letter to Timothy (2 Tim. 2:19), and if God cannot change, then he knew who was his in Abraham's day just as clearly as he knows who are his today.

      Is it "semantics"? Hmm. I tend to use the phrase "the language of accommodation" a lot in talking about these things. God, in communicating with vastly lesser beings, must necessarily use language we can comprehend, and that includes not just Hebrew or Aramaic words, but the emotional language and modes of expression by which we are able to understand one another.

      For example (and I'm sure you've done this almost as often as I have), we often ask our children questions to which we absolutely know the answer when we ask. Most people in authority do similar things with respect to their employees, and psychologists, among others, employ the technique regularly. We are not being disingenuous when we do so. Rather, we are seeking to get the person being asked the question to express the truth to us. In many cases we already know that truth. In EVERY case, I believe God does. The exchange is a way of getting the sinner to understand where he stands.

      So when God asks Adam "where are you?" and whether he has eaten from the tree, I rather think he knew full well what had happened, but he was looking to get Adam to disclose, not to God but to himself first and foremost, what had actually occurred.

      As I say, I'm firing off the top of my head here, so take it for what's it's worth ...