Was I ever saved in the first place?

I was recently sent the following challenging response to a previous post regarding the deconversion of those who once claimed to be Christians:

Apply your reasoning to any other area of life, and no one can ever stop believing something that they really believed in. True belief PRECLUDES assimilating newly discovered evidence which causes re-evaluation of what you once would have given your life in defense of????

So an Amazon tribal person who once believed that the sun revolves around the earth, who is shown through diagrams and scientific language he understands, then stops believing that and then believes that the earth revolves around the sun, DIDN’T REALLY BELIEVE IN THE FIRST PLACE THAT THE SUN REVOLVES AROUND THE EARTH????

It’s ridiculous isn’t it? And yet that is the same faulty logic you are applying to us former Christians (in my case, a Th.B. from Multnomah Bible College, several years as a missionary in Europe, and 46 years as a witnessing, praying, worshipping, fervently passionate evangelical.

If you apply your logic to all of life, no held belief can ever change, and if it does, it was never a true belief. The only infallible test of true belief is DEATH. If you can make it to the grave without ever denying a belief, then that proves it was “true”. There is NO OTHER WAY to prove whether the belief was genuine, according to your test of belief.

I started penning a response but it quickly grew past the size that could be comfortably included or contained within a comment field. So I’ve chosen to include my response below and post it outside of my normal post schedule. Enjoy!

You raise some interesting questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them in the following.

I think it would be a useful exercise to step back and define what we mean by terms such as belief, faith, and knowledge. Generally these terms are the concern of epidemiologists and admittedly there is not, strictly speaking, widespread consensus even among them.

Since greater men than I have been exploring this subject longer than I have been alive I must apologize in advance for any confusion I may inadvertently bring into the discussion and encourage you to, instead, seek out works by epidemiologists such as Alvin Plantinga, Thomas Flint, etc. if you seek a more academic discourse on the matter.

At any rate, I’ve written elsewhere in regards to how beliefs are formed and would like to simply cite the following from Alvin Plantinga’s “Warrant” series as the basis of how “true beliefs” are formed:

A belief has warrant (and can thus be considered true) if and only if:
1. it is produced by cognitive faculties functioning properly,
2. in a cognitive environment sufficiently similar to that for which the faculties were designed,
3. according to a design plan aimed at the production of true beliefs, when
4. there is a high statistical probability of such beliefs being true

With that definition in place I would like to turn to your underlying question of objectively claiming to have held a belief or not. Specifically I would like to examine the case of the African bushman you mentioned above.

I freely accept that the bushman held a belief in the sun’s rotation around the earth and that he believed such a belief to be true. However one factor was working against him and at least one more, I believe, likely played a part in working against him which caused his resulting belief to not be true and thus not to constitute knowledge.

1.) He lacked the epistemic faculties (or access to the proper epistemic sources, rather) required to detect the truth regarding the relationship of the earth and the sun.
and
2.) He lacked an environment that was geared towards the production of true beliefs. That is, his culture more than likely played a role in the continuation of the belief that the sun revolved around the earth. Thus the environment he was a part of was not, strictly speaking, wholly interested in the pursuit of truth and thus not geared towards the production of true beliefs, at least in this instance.

Absent these crucial pieces we can see that there was a clear breakdown in the epistemic process which, while producing many other true beliefs, failed to obtain to the production of a true belief in this case.

Now I want to apply the same criteria to the subject of whether a person who no longer believes in Christianity (or Christ moreover) ever was a Christian in the first place.

This is a fairly complex subject and I apologize if my initial treatment of the issue failed to be as well defined as it could have been.

Let me begin by saying at the outset that not being omniscient I cannot, of course, know what epistemic warrant you or anyone else who has since renounced their once-held belief in Christianity has had access to. That is, I do not know how your belief was formed, what it was formed on, or how it was sustained for such a lengthy amount of time. However I am curious since, as a person who holds Christianity to be objectively true, if sufficient defeaters were to exist (along with sufficient positive competing explanations) for the facts Christianity is based upon (specifically the resurrection of Jesus Christ) then it would stand to reason that no one ought to be a Christian and we ought to prefer the competing explanation over the one we currently hold.

Were you a believer at one time? I believe you were, and I would further concede that your actions at least appear to back up your claims. However this does not answer the question as to what your beliefs regarding Christ were or were based on. Many times I run across even professing Christians who are unable to clearly articulate what they believe much less why. If these believers were to renounce their faith tomorrow I would be hard pressed to make a case of their ever truly having held a clear and objective belief in Christ in the first place.

Now, to switch gears slightly.

So far I’ve dealt with this issue primarily from an epistemological and philosophical standpoint. However I would like to turn to the theological standpoint since I believe it also has some bearing in this discussion. After all, Christianity is not merely about the cold acceptance of facts, but also work of a being we hold to have objectively occurred at one point in history which opens the door for a real relationship with this same being.

I’m speaking, of course, about Jesus and his work on the cross. Now I’m not sure where you’ve come from theologically, but what I am going to outline I believe is a fairly orthodox position ascribed to by most of the major creeds down through Christendom.

What saves a man?

Is it merely our mental assent to a cold hard fact? While I believe such a mental assent and acceptance of at least a bare minimum of facts is required (such as the ones outlined by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8), I do not believe that our mental assent to the facts alone is what saves us or brings us into relationship with Christ. What saves us is the righteousness imputed unto us from Christ in such a way as to be irrevocable . Such an event, I would maintain, is also an irreversible event in time in much the same way as the decision to jump off of a cliff or walk through a door.

So the question becomes: Could you have been imputed Christ’s righteousness at one point in the past and still be saved even though your current belief structure no longer affords the same degree of warrant you once held? Possibly.

You see, one of the curious things about mankind’s ability to form, change, and reform beliefs is that while we do grow in our epistemic capacity and acquisition of new beliefs (and rejection of previously held beliefs) we don’t reject ALL of our beliefs. If that were the case we would never be able to grow at all since we would merely be in a constant state of flux.

The same holds true when it comes to Christianity and it all hinges on how our beliefs in Christ were formed and what our basis was (if any) for the rejection of those beliefs.

We must also keep in mind that when 1 John 2:19 was written, there weren’t such things as cultural Christians who had grown up on the church. Believers in that day, for the most part, either accepted or rejected the claims of Christ’s objective historical actions and claims. In John’s case the people who “went out” were (according to the context of the letter) not even claiming what Paul proclaimed as a minimum criteria of one being a Christian in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 and were, instead, attempting to essentially hijack the Christian religion for their own ends (and we later see from the Gnostic movement that many were unfortunaly successful in their efforts).

So, the answer to “was I ever a Christian in the first place” is a lot more complex and more often than not it cannot be answered by a simple “yes” or “no”, even by the person asking the question. The evidence of a person’s present state of unbelief, while making it very hard to accept that the initial state of belief hard to accept, is ultimately not a question that is of no import if asked of a fellow human.

You see, the final question here must be directed at God.

It is his answer that ultimately matters and if you no longer believe that he exists then I suppose you will have to wait until you meet Him (or not) after you die in order to ask Him.

Share/Bookmark

37 Responses to Was I ever saved in the first place?

  1. Excellent post!

    I appreciate the honest attempt to answer the question about whether my/our belief was geniune or not. I sense a backing off from your position I was referencing, that we ex-evangelicals were never true believers in the first place.

    The main concession that we ex-evangelicals want from you folks that still believe, is that we were once true believers in every classical sense of the word, according to Plantinga's four points that you listed. Many of us never were cultural christians (my parents were gave their hearts and lives to Jesus in their early 40's out of alcoholism and non-church culture, and I gave my life to Jesus shortly after I witnessed the change in them).

    The argument does not hinge on the object of belief, it's existence or veracity (does God exist, is Christianity true, etc), but on the NATURE of belief: Was that belief genuine, regardless of whether the belief itself was true or not.

    I trust you christians WILL accept as authoritative words from the author of Hebrews, whoever that might be:
    Hebrews 6:4: For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,
    5 And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,
    6 If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

    The author had no doubt that it was possible to believe, to have tasted, to have once been enlightened, and experienced it all, and yet to FALL AWAY, making it "impossible to renew them again unto repentence".

    If the author of Hebrews believed that it was possible to believe in Jesus, and then fall away without hope of salvation, then you christians should be able to believe it as well. I know I do.

    However, with all due respect, if past experience is anything to go by, I expect that this passage from Hebrews will be taken by twisted exegesis and turned into something that says the opposite: that once having tasted and experienced, it is impossible to fall away. I will be very interested to see how these 3 verses will be explained away . . .

    • Wow, I am thankful that you managed to make it through my whole post. I apologize for the length but I wanted to attempt to do at least some justice to the topic.

      I think you are missing a crucial piece if you think the argument does not hinge upon whether the object of our belief, the proposition of truth, is not, in fact, true.

      I would maintain that Hebrews 6:4 is in reference to the Jews who, having heard about Christ's atoning death on the Cross and having rejected it, have no other sacrifice (they were looking for another messiah and in the meantime still relying on the continued sacrifices offered in the temple) left to offer them any hope of being reconciled with God.

      The phrase "once enlightened" is also used in John 1:9 so it does not immediately follow from Hebrews 6:4 that Paul (whom I maintain as the author) is referencing saved persons who have since "fallen away". Also found in Psalms 19:8.

      The phrase "having tasted" is also used in Matthew 16:28, john 8:51, and Hebrews 2:9 and is generally used in the sense of "experience" and also does not immediately mean that the one who has had the experience has necessarily accepted it (for example, Jesus tasted death for all men but did not remain dead himself).

      Finally, interpreting Hebrews 6:4-6 to allow for a loss of salvation would pose some significant problems elsewhere in the text where we are told (in Romans 8:38 for example) that our salvation, once obtained and actualized, is not predicated on the conditional of our continued state of belief.

      I'll concede that this is a hotly-contested verse, however, and recognize that there are many other professing Christians who disagree with me on this point.

      Ultimately I suppose this question is really an in-house debate among Christians and is only an issue if one holds (as I do) to the doctrine of eternal security.

      Thank you for taking the time above to answer my question as to why it matters so much. If you don't mind, I would like to ask another one by way of follow-up which is:

      It seems that the catalyst of your conversion was an experiential event in your parents' lives. While I wholly accept that such events can and are used by way of producing genuine faith (per the system outlined by Plantinga above) I am left wondering what steps you took to ground your faith in anything more substantial.

      What objective facts did you base your belief in Christ upon? I'm looking for things like historical facts/evidence, logical/philosophical arguments, etc.

      • And what about 2 Peter 2:20-21?

        • There's a big difference between knowing (cognitive knowledge) and accepting (placing one's trust in). I believe (though I know there is division on this point) that 2 Peter 2:20-21 is referring to Jews who have been exposed to the truth of the gospel but were, instead, looking for another messiah other than Jesus.

          • 20For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.

            21For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them.

            22It has happened to them according to the true proverb, "A DOG RETURNS TO ITS OWN VOMIT," and, "A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire."

            You can argue semantics all you want. I guess your point is that the people in question knew about Jesus, but they weren't truly saved. I've heard the argument that knowledge isn't enough before, but that doesn't address what the verses say.

            These people are said to have escaped the defilements of the world through this knowledge, so it is doubtful that the passage is meant to indicate that having knowledge is insufficient. The analogy in verse 22 also supports my case: once dirty, then clean, then dirty again.

  2. A few more questions, for example, to show my point:

    1) Is it possible for a solid, doctrinaire Democrat to become a Republican?

    2) Is it possible for a solid, doctrinaire Republican to become a Democrat?

    3) Is it possible for a genuine, ideological agnostic/atheist to become a Christian?

    I think most christians would say yes to all these examples (and more that I could give) and that there is no reason to doubt that the former belief wasn't as genuine as the new belief. And to go one step further, I know that christians would do all they could to affirm that the ex-atheist was as genuine an atheist as could be.

    And yet the one exception you folks make is this: no genuine, real, born-again christian could ever turn into a non-believer. Why the inconsistency? Why make an exception for this one, single area of life? If God grants us the ability and freedom to chose to believe in him and the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross (it's called Free Will), then why not the freedom to change our minds? If we lost the ability or freedom to dis-believe, then we become ROBOTS.

    It's not about who is right or wrong about faith and god and miracles. It's about you folks admitting that we could have been geniune christians at one time. Hardly any of you can bring yourselves to admit that. And that is what mystifies me.

  3. I wonder if you're not making this too complicated. It seems to me that it's still reasonable to think that "true belief" is unchangeable. If a Christian accepts the Scriptures as axiomatic truth, then everything is judged in the context of Scripture. But, if someone judges the Scripture to be false, then they must be judging it according to some more fundamental standard. This being the case, someone who believes something is more fundamental than the Truth, then they can change their minds when this more fundamental thing is in error. I'm inclined to think that the Scripture is foundational to a Christian's epistemology, otherwise they make themselves judges of God.

  4. No, you're missing my point. And not meaning to sound disrespectful, but I think it is the christians who are making this thing far too complicated. If any of you had known me during my christian years, you would have heard my testimony (and I myself led several people to a "saving knowledge of Jesus Christ"), discussed theology with me, worshipped and prayed with me, waited expectantly for Jesus' return, and basically would NOT have for a second questioned whether I was a genuine christian.

    But now that I have turned my back on my former belief, you (without knowing me) assume that my original belief was somehow faulty, flawed or not real like yours, or else I could have not denied it.

    THAT is the sticking point: can you admit I was a christian, or not? You guys won't, or can't, admit to that. Like Paul said, "I was a pharisees' pharisee". I was an evangelical's evangelical. Yet you deny that my evangelical faith was real. That's what bugs me.

    I am not discussing whether WHAT I believed in was true or not. That is what you guys seem to be stuck on. I'm just saying I used to be a real believer like you, and you say that's not possible.

    Read my lengthy previous reply very carefully again, and don't skim over it. Hopefully you will see that it's a very simple thing I am asking for!

    Wes, thanks for answering my question point-by-point, and especially your comments on those verses. Although I think that Paul's (or whoever) mention of the Holy Spirit – given on the day of Pentecost – makes it problematic to think that these verses apply mainly to pre-messianic jews. Anyway, I think maybe the key here is your mention of eternal security. It logically follows that if one believes in eternal security then a de-conversion like mine is much more problematic. An arminian approach could much more easily cope with de-conversion than a calvinistic view.

    As far as answering your further probings into weaknesses in my own conversion experiences (such as implying that MY conversion wasn't as motivated as my parents, that somehow theirs was more dramatic and genuine), I find condescending and trivialising. It sort of confirms my point in all these discussions: somehow you folks are going to find a flaws in our conversions, making them faulty and defective, and therefore easy to eventually "prove" that one cannot de-convert from a geniune conversion. Thus it's waste of my time to further elaborate on the theology and experience of my own conversion, because nothing will ever convince you that it was a genuine conversion.
    Regards,
    Wes from Portland

  5. My point was made to Mr. Widner. If I made a point to you, it would be that Scripture makes it clear that Christ doesn't lose sheep. So I don't care how real you thought your conversion was, it wasn't. All real conversions are permanent in the Bible's view.

  6. All real conversions are permanent in the Bible's view.

    And herein lies the rub. It's because you believe this proposition that all de-converts MUST NOT have been true believers in the first place. Rather than taking the existnence of many real deconverts as a reason to re-evaluate that Biblical claim, you pre-suppose it true and thus try to gerrymander a rationalization for the existence of de-converts.

    For Wes:

    I think you are missing a crucial piece if you think the argument does not hinge upon whether the object of our belief, the proposition of truth, is not, in fact, true.

    You have yet to demonstrate that what YOU believe is true. So, why do you get to claim this special status in your belief whereas de-converts do not?

    • "You have yet to demonstrate that what YOU believe is true. So, why do you get to claim this special status in your belief whereas de-converts do not?"

      I have not attempted to verify the truthfulness of Christianity here but I also do not think that I am guilty of special pleading or claiming special status for Christianity.

      What I am asking for is the objective grounds that were used in order to claim your belief in Christ was true at one point and what objective defeater (as well as credible positive alternate explanation) caused you to reject your previously held belief.

      You see, according to the formula laid out by Plantinga, a belief can only be true (and, therefore garner "true believers") if it is in fact true. If you believed in a lie then you were deceived and your belief was never true in the first place no matter how strongly attached to it you were emotionally or psychologically.

      It seems that the people here who really "want to have their cake and eat it too" are the de-converts who want to claim to have been "true believers" and who have subsequently come to the conclusion that their previously held beliefs were false, rendering their previously held beliefs untrue. Which is it? Are your beliefs now true or were your beliefs then true? It would be relativistic and paradoxical to claim that both beliefs were "true beliefs" in spite of their clear contradictions.

      You are right that we, as Christians, must demonstrate our beliefs to be true (as per 1 Peter 3:15) however the same burden of proof lies at the feet of the unbeliever as well. And a logical paradox exists when one claims to have been a "true believer" in two conflicting sets of beliefs.

      The only way you could claim to have been a "true Christian" at one time while disbelieving now is if you presuppose there is no objective truth to be found in Christianity and that being a Christian is merely a subjective experience or preference along the lines of favoring the color blue over the color purple.

      You see, for those of us who claim to believe in Christ because we understand Him to be a real person who performed real miracles in a real historical timeline.

      The notion of going from belief to disbelief entails the notion that you have come into awareness of facts and evidence that has not only disprove such factual claims as the resurrection, but you've also come into awareness of good competing alternative explanations and sufficient defeaters with which you ought to be able to persuade all Christians to abandon their faith provided they are looking at objective facts (as Paul was when he said our faith was "in vain" if Christ had not been raised form the dead).

  7. Thanks BigHouse, you stated it perfectly. They want to have their cake and eat it too.

    Shfengoli: thanks coming right out and stating it without apology: that no "real" christian can ever de-convert.

    You have just proved my case, if your position is true, that once a person is a true convert, he becomes a ROBOT. God no longer allows that person the free will or ability to his mind. (By extension, his ability to reason and analyze is also turned off completely . . . except for maybe arguing the finer points of christian theology, like how many angels can dance on the head of a pin).

    • Do you believe there are, as I mentioned above, some decisions which are time-bound such that they can never be undone no matter what we wish later? I used the example of jumping off of a cliff or choosing to walk through door A as opposed to door B (where the doors represent decisions made in moments of time).

      In this respect, I would argue that some may still be saved even if they later decide to believe otherwise.

      • No, I don't believe there are any decisions which cannot be undone, save through death or lesser physical limitation such as a coma or unconciousness, or other law of nature. Your point of jumping off a cliff is a perfect example. The law of gravity prevents him from changing his mind, once he steps off the cliff. Or at least, reversing his decision.

        But this whole discussion is about changing your beliefs from one thing to another, unrelated to the physical environment. Even then, unless door B disappeared or was boarded up, I would still be free to reverse my decision and go back and use the other door. Again, the only limitation is physical, and in this discussion, I cannot see where any physical aspect intrudes upon this topic of changing beliefs.

        It's pretty clear, again, that this is going to be a debate between christians with either arminian or calvinist theology. We ex-believers will continue to know that we were once true christian evangelical believers, whether you calvinists accept it or not. Hey, if you choose to believe either that we're still saved in spite of our de-conversion, or that we never were really saved, I'm cool with either one. I've realized through this exchange of comments that it doesn't matter any more whether my former brothers and sister in Christ believe that my faith was ever real. I'm movin' on . . .

        • You were never a "true christian evangelical believer" unless the objective truth claims of Christianity were, themselves, true.

          You can certainly claim to have believed in Christianity, but without a belief grounded on true objective facts (as opposed to personal preference or subjective experience) you could not, by definition have been a "true believer". Nor could I. Nor could anyone. If Christianity is not true then we are all under a delusion. Perhaps that is what you and other exchristians are trying to argue, that Christianity is false and merely a means of wish-fulfillment not based on objective facts.

          However if such is your position then you are still under obligation to provide a more rational explanation (along with sufficient defeaters) for the truth-claims of Christianity.

          Whatever the result, you cannot claim to have been a "true believer" and, at the same time, claim to be a "true unbeliever". That's simply a rationally incoherent paradox.

          As a friend of mine has also said elsewhere:
          If a "true" belief is based on true evidence= true
          If a "true" belief is based on false evidence=false
          If a "false" belief is based on true evidence=false

          It appears that the ability to discern and the integrity of the facts are essential to form a true belief. It does not seem logical for a person to become an unbeliever unless they initially lacked discernment or the evidence changed.

          So; Was there evidence? Did the evidence change? What is the reason you thought Christianity was objectively true (required for Biblical faith)? What sufficient defeaters did you encounter? What better explanations have you found for specific Christian claims such as the resurrection of Jesus?

          This discussion is not merely about changing beliefs from one thing to another but about "true beliefs" since you want to claim to not only have vaguely held to Christianity at one point but to have also been a "true believer" in the same sense that someone such as I am.

          Simply put, from my previous post on the subject (and it seems we have come full circle here) "No you aren't."

          • I think you meant to say: "No you weren't".

            Go have your discussion with a christian with arminian theology. He would probably agree with me, "Yes I was". You want to keep arguing whether the claims of christianity are true or not, which in my mind has nothing to do whether I was a true believer. That is a chasm that will never be bridged. We are both arguing at cross purposes (sorry about the pun!)

            Have a nice life .

    • I don't really expect an unbeliever to accept Scriptural propositions, but it says, "…He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." Now you have this argument that YOU began to believe, and YOU stopped believing, whereas Scripture says that regeneration is a work of God, and not you. (Mr. Widner can't really go here because in his theology, the belief begins the regeneration.) If God had begun this work, it would not have stopped (perhaps He hasn't stopped; you're not dead yet). You believed perhaps, but there was no conversion.

      Your assumption that sensation, or science (or whatever) furnishes final truth is just as circular as any other axiom because you can't prove a first principle. It's *first*, you see. Christians have their epistemology changed by the power of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 16:17); not that expect you to accept that either. The Christian ought to be allowed his first principles too.

      Your last paragraph is poppycock. Inasmuch as empirical epistemologies can't account for logic, your ability to reason is borrowed from Christianity. It's the result of God's image in man (Jn. 1:9).

  8. You were never a "true christian evangelical believer" unless the objective truth claims of Christianity were, themselves, true.

    Then you are currently NOT a true Christian believer either unless these claims are true.

    Do you think Christianity can be objectively known as true by humans today with certainty?

    • As to your first point, exactly!

      As you your question; Yes and yes. Provided you don't define certainty as "Cartesian certainty" which artificially places the bar of certainty outside the grasp of non-omniscient beings like us.

  9. I feel this discussion has veered into absurd semantics. From dictionary.com:

    Believe: To have confidence in the truth, the existence, or the reliability of something, although without absolute proof that one is right in doing so: Only if one believes in something can one act purposefully.

    Plantinga's defintion sounds more apt for the word "know". Given God supposedly currently resides on a plane outside of ours, who is it possible to establish the truth of his existence to the degree required by this absurd definition of "believe"?

    I believed in Santa Claus when I was a kid, because many parents whom I trusted more than anyone in the world told me he was real. Thousands of others kid/parent combinations and mainstream culture ratified this believe. To day may belief wasn't "true" is to bastardize the real process I went through to arrive there and the real position I had staked on the matter.

    • Im sure you as well as I have believe many absurd and false things in our past. However the question here, as I've said above, is not whether we have merely believed something to be true. The question here is whether what we have (or still do) believed in is, in fact, true. You see you were right above when you said that if Christianity is not true than there ARE no true believers. There are only believers who have been horribly deceived. However, Biblical faith entails the commitment from us to actually believe that the claims set forth in the Bible (and especially the ones regarding Jesus per 1 Corinthians 15) are objectively true.

      The question I keep coming back to with people who claim to have believed at one point is: What did you believe in the first place? Was it based on objective truth and evidence? What caused your disbelief? Did you find objective evidence discrediting any of the claims of Scripture? Did you also find a credible competing theory explaining core Christian beliefs like the resurrection?

      You see, if your initial faith was devoid of objective facts, evidence, and reason then it was merely wishful thinking. Without an objective grounding a belief in Christ is as subjective as belief in a favorite flavor of ice cream (mine's chocolate) and it's only with a view of belief as being subjective (and inherently non-objective) that you can claim to have been a "true believer" of two competing and opposing views.

      You know, in all honesty I really do feel sorry for people like you who have left the faith because it does reveal a serious failing in most Christian church communities to provide clear and concise teachings regarding basics such as what Biblical faith is, the bare minimum objective facts one needs to accept in order to be a "true believer", and what the evidence is that has no other valid explanation outside of the ones provided in Scripture.

  10. BigHouse, you're fighting a losing battle! "Absurd semantics" is exactly his game. As long as Wes can make up his own definitions for words, it will be impossible to hold a rational conversation with him. He's got his own precious definition for "belief", for "truth", for many other words. He does not see or agree that it is possible to believe anything that is not true. It is the weirdest definition for "belief" I have ever seen. According to his definition, no one ever "really" believed that the earth was flat, or that the sun revolved around the earth, or in Santa, etc. etc. Belief in something has nothing to do with whether the object of belief is true or not. And ESPECIALLY in the case of religious belief: empirical evidence is just not available to know whether there is "truth" behind the claims. There is nothing in the world more subjective, than religious belief. You won't know until you die whether what you believed in was true or not. Not possible to prove it with any conventional modern scientific methodology. Though in his own religious bubble, it is the most real thing in the world (and it was to me at one time as well).

    • "He does not see or agree that it is possible to believe anything that is not true."

      To the contrary, you can believe it all day long. You just won't have a "true belief" and therefore can't be anymore of a "true believer" than a lunatic in an insane asylum.

      "Belief in something has nothing to do with whether the object of belief is true or not. "
      I would agree with you if we were talking about mere belief, but we are talking about "true belief".

      "And ESPECIALLY in the case of religious belief"

      This assumes that religious beliefs are not on the same par as other beliefs. Like scientific beliefs.

      "empirical evidence is just not available to know whether there is "truth" behind the claims"

      This assumes that empirical evidence is the only test for truth we can apply. There are several fields that would be surprised by this claim. Like historians for example.

      "There is nothing in the world more subjective, than religious belief."

      Wow, thats quite an epistemic leap there. One which I'm afraid tips your hand as to the underlying issues between your worldview and mine.

      "You won't know until you die whether what you believed in was true or not."
      That's also a rather large assumption.

      "Not possible to prove it with any conventional modern scientific methodology."
      That's again assuming that scientific methodology can adequately account for all truth claims. I would submit that it can't, specifically it can't account for itself without some outside philosophical basis (such as causality which underpins the empiricism you cited earlier.

      "Though in his own religious bubble, it is the most real thing in the world (and it was to me at one time as well)."
      Scientists the world over are consistently polled at around 50% who believe in "god" or some other form of "religious babble (I assume that's what you meant)". Are they all merely delusional unthinking idiots too?

  11. "The notion of going from belief to disbelief entails the notion that you have come into awareness of facts and evidence that has not only disprove such factual claims as the resurrection, but you've also come into awareness of good competing alternative explanations and sufficient defeaters with which you ought to be able to persuade all Christians to abandon their faith provided they are looking at objective facts (as Paul was when he said our faith was "in vain" if Christ had not been raised form the dead)."

    This pretty much says it all…

    It is of course by no means established that Jesus was resurrected any more than it is established that Mohamed ascended to heaven and toured hell and spoke with Jesus. Nor is it any more established than Xenu's placement of billions of people into volcanoes. Nor is it any more established than the various reincarnation claims of Hinduism. I find it altogether equally or more plausible that Athena truly was Odysseus's guardian.

    So, no, you don't get the right to demand disproof of such extraordinary claims without first offering more convincing evidence than the writings of one leader of a cult movement who was writing decades after the relevant "history" occurred. And a shout-out by Josephus isn't exactly convincing. I see your Josephus and raise you a Homer and an Ibn Kathir.

    And finally, what makes you think that an absurd thesis needs an alternative? My core claim is that there isn't any phenomena to be explained outside of human fallibility, dishonesty, and greed. We have plenty of charlatans alive right now that claim (and give demonstrations!) that they are born of virgins and can walk on water and have survived death, to say nothing of similar claims at any point in history. And when exposed, these people are invariably crazy or crooks. In the famous words of C.S. Lewis:

    "I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.' That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."

    I agree, and add an additional alternative: fictional. Without stronger evidence, I think it most likely that Jesus was a liar, a lunatic, or fictional. Why not call him what we call anyone else who claims they can do what he claimed to do?

    • Anthony Flew, the once-prominent atheist and protoge of Carl Sagan apparently thinks there is a compelling subset of minimal historical facts (as laid out by Gary Habermas and my friend Mike Licona) which are unanswerable from the viewpoint of philosophical naturalism/materialism.

      Here is an interview of him on his journey from atheism to theism: http://www.biola.edu/antonyflew/flew-interview.pd

      And here is a page containing the minimal facts regarding the death and resurrection of Christ:
      http://www.garyhabermas.com/audio/audio.htm

      Finally, to answer your question, "..what makes you think that an absurd thesis needs an alternative?"

      Because facts cry out for explanation and the grave of Christ, the last time I checked, is still empty.

    • Anthony Flew, the once-prominent atheist and protoge of Carl Sagan apparently thinks there is a compelling subset of minimal historical facts (as laid out by Gary Habermas and my friend Mike Licona) which are unanswerable from the viewpoint of philosophical naturalism/materialism.

      Here is an interview of him on his journey from atheism to theism: http://www.biola.edu/antonyflew/flew-interview.pd

      And here is a page containing the minimal facts regarding the death and resurrection of Christ:
      http://www.garyhabermas.com/audio/audio.htm

      Finally, to answer your question, "..what makes you think that an absurd thesis needs an alternative?"

      Because facts cry out for explanation and the grave of Christ, the last time I checked, is still empty.

      • Because facts cry out for explanation and the grave of Christ, the last time I checked, is still empty.

        This is a weak retort. Just because you are not comfortable with "I don't know" doesn't mean that filling that void with supernartural hooey is a better alternative.

        And really, an empty grave is enough for your supernatural theory to be true? Talk about chasmic leaps of conclusion.

      • Notably absent is any acknowledgment that mutually exclusive alternatives to Christians also claim that "facts cry out for explanation" for their kooky beliefs too. This displays the same willfully obtuse logic that the false dichotomy of Pascal's wager does. Why does neither Wes nor Pascal's wager acknowledge that some "facts" are just as supportive of Islam or Mormonism or Zoroastrianism as others are of Christianity? (That's rhetorical. We all know why.)

        And Mark Twain had a pithy response to such wrong-headed thinking:

        "The easy confidence with which I know another man's religion is folly teaches me to suspect that my own is also."

    • Yes, and CS Lewis' famous postulate assumes that the reported words and actions of Jesus as reported in the 4 gospels are guaranteed historical fact, witnessed and notarized. In fact nothing could be farther from the truth. Anyone who has studied the formation of the NT canon seriously cannot be unaware of the many, many direct contradictions between these four biographies. The likeliest scenario would be that there may have been a charismatic itinerant teacher that the bios were based on, but that the miracle stories, etc, were added as the oral tradition ballooned out of control in the next 40-60 years, before the first words were first put down on parchment. So yes, the Jesus portrayed in the gospels is at the very least partly fictional. Otherwise, we have to give the story of Joseph Smith the same amount of respect!

    • In addition, J.J.E., addthe option : historical man, embellished powers and purpose attributed to him by human writers.

  12. Wes, again, where are you getting the support for use of "true belief" in this way? I believe standard parlance puts "true" in this context on par with "sincere", not the way you are using it.

    • I am getting this from the accepted parlance of respected epistimologists like Alvin Plantinga who all agree that there is a vast difference between a sincere belief and a true belief. This is not a redefinition on my part, but an attempt to not muddy the waters by using unclear and vague terms.

      If you want change the question to ask whether it is possible for a person to sincerely believe something and be wrong (be it about Christianity, atheism or anything else) then I would wholly agree. However sincerity of belief in itself does not mean that one is a "true believer". As Paul writes in Romans 10 regarding his fellow Jews, "For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge."

      You see, the hallmark of the Christian faith is not whether someone is merely sincere in their belief but whether what they believe is actually true (1 Corinthians 15:17 tells us this plainly). This is why we, as Christians, are called to continually examine our beliefs and make sure they are true as opposed to holding on to "blind faith".

      Hence, the very notion that one was a "true believer" while having unexamined beliefs in the face of potentially faith-crippling doubt, by Biblical definition, excludes one from being able to claim to have been a "true believer".

      Another way to put this would be; If you believe the right things for the wrong reasons your belief is not a "true belief" even if your belief proves to be true in the end because it was formed under false pretenses. No matter how sincere you were in your belief, if your belief is either wrongly formed or is itself false then you cannot be a "true believer" because, by definition, the truth involved in the belief is invalidated.

      Sorry gentleman, truth is not subjective and beliefs are not merely preferences akin to which flavor of ice cream one likes. You cannot have your epistemic cake (the notion that you were once a "true believer") and eat it too (that is, your present persuasion that Christianity is, in fact, false).

  13. Wes, you are strongly begging the question then. Do you think the truth of Christianity is as clear to the average person as if it were a headline in the newspaper? Do you think it wholly unreasonable for anyone to doubt it's truth for good reasons? How can you have a "true" belief for something which definitionally will come to fruition after one dies and thusly, well after a "last chance" of then believing in it?

    • Yes, I believe Paul is right when he states in Romans 1 that the truth of God is made known plainly and I believe that James is right in chapter 1 when he says that anyone who asks "expecting to receive an answer" will find it.

      The claims of Christianity are not only verifiable after death. Since they depend on real events in a real historical timeline they are open for investigation even now.

      Doubt in itself is not the probably, it's how that doubt is dealt with that may or may not prove to be problematic. Doubt, however, is actually quite helpful as it provides an opportunity to grow.

  14. Logical conclusion from Wes' and Shfengoli's statements:

    "True" believer = can never de-convert = no free will = robot

    • Allow me to tweak your formula a bit:
      "True" believer = _will_ never de-convert = freely chosen = loving and loved by God

      If you follow any of my previous posts on the matter you'll find that I am a very big proponent of the notion of limited free will given to us by God so the charge of turning men into robots is truly novel. By definition a robot has no free will and can neither choose nor refuse to choose to accept any evidence whatsoever.

  15. I been pretty confused too about whether or not I had ever been saved. I thank you for sharing, but I must go back and read the gospels soon.

Leave a Reply