Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Answering Lowder part 2: Sincere Deniers

Björnstrand and Thulin in
Winter Light

I use this picture from a great film, Winter Light, by my favorite film director Ingmar Bergman because this piece deals with the issue are there sincere people who hear the Gospel, reject it, but are sincerely seeking. Do they die without becoming Christians but their seeking was of a quality we can say it is sincere? I use Bergman not only because I consider him to be such a man, also because that film is about sincere seeking of God when one remains an atheist. Although it's more directly about a minister who is almost an atheist.

This is part 2 in a 3 part article answering Jeff Lowder of the Secular Web and Secular outpost. He writes:

Can anyone sincerely lack belief in God? And even if they can, can anyone sincerely lack belief in God for the rest of their lives? Many people, including nontheists but not just nontheists, think the answer to both questions is plainly “yes.” But some (many?) theists, no doubt motivated by beliefs such as divine goodness, Biblical inerrancy, and Christian particularism, deny this for the second question and possibly the first. We’ll call people who deny a “yes” answer to the second question “sincere lifelong nontheist deniers” or “sincerity deniers” for short.[2]
He points out that the denial is offensive, and not hard to understand why. The denial of sincere seekers ho never find God  "...can come across as a not-so-veiled accusation that nontheists are lying when they claim they lack belief in God or that God’s existence isn’t obvious to them." He acknowledges that a believer could understand a sincere denial as self deception rather than outright lying, Moreover, he also acknowledges that the believer could see rejection of belief as temporary. The bottom line to all types of believer's take on the sincere seeker who does not find God: "In any case, what’s important to notice is that, regardless of the flavor of sincerity denial, the one thing all sincerity deniers seem to have in common is this. No one dies a sincere, nonresistant nonbeliever." In other words.  anyone who is a sincere seekers and dies not knowing God is resisting the truth (on some level, and thus the sincerity is undermined).

At that point he starts in n Craig. Craig is one who doesn't accept the sincere seeker who doesn't find God and he also denies that there could be "a sincere, lifelong theistic non-Christian (e.g., Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and so forth)." He quotes Craig in a long passage that, summed up says, people are good at deluding themselves, their rejection may not be life long, and the evidence for Christianity is good enough that they have no excuse. [3] He quotes Craig as saying: "Therefore, if a person ultimately fails to come to faith in Christ, it is never just because of lack of evidence or because of intellectual difficulties with the faith. At root, he refuses to come because he willingly ignores and rejects the drawing of God’s Holy Spirit on his heart."

Do I agree with that? It's a bit more complex than that. I agree in principle that there could be sincere non resisting life long seekers who don't become Christians. But I don't believe that such people will die unsaved and be lost in eternity. Such a person will not be lost because they are seeking and God would not turn them away. I believe that because I believe the Bible. There could be people who don't consciously come to Christ because they never hear or when they do hear it's too foreign they don't have a chance to really study or they don't have good Christian witnesses. People don't fail to come to Christ because the faith lacks sufficient intellectual fiber to satisfy a true investigator. Now that's not to say that case is so strong that people should believe based upon that. But it's not so stupide anyone should see through it.Of course atheists want to believe that, that's part of the self deceived nature of an ideology. Those intellectual matters can be real stumbling blocks if one doesn't understand the real decision is existential, phenomenological, and spiritual (in the heart). The intellectual matter can seem like real justifications. It's very hard for an intellectually inclined person to realize that a major decision of life is not entirely an intellectual matter,

As to the part here Craig is quoted as saying: "At root, he refuses to come because he willingly ignores and rejects the drawing of God’s Holy Spirit on his heart." That is true but many people think it means that the person fails to join the church and sing about Jesus because of resisting God. The person in remote regions who never hear of Christianity could be saved if  in their hearts they are seeking the good, the truth seek to do what's right or they could reject that and be lost having never heard of Jesus. That's not Craig's view as far as I know, but my view.

Lowder has has three major responses to Craig's view:

First, notice that sincerity deniers are committed to a universal generalization: there has never been (and never will be) a single sincere, lifelong nontheist. If even just one sincere, lifelong nontheist existed, exists, or will exist, then this universal generalization is false. Thus, it does Craig little good to refer to former atheists who claim that they engaged in all sorts of insincere rationalizations when they claimed to be atheists. Even if that is an accurate description for those former atheists, it doesn’t follow that it applies to all atheists or, more broadly, all nontheists.

He's created his own false category to represent all Christian views. I do actually accept in principle that there could be such a person. So having example would not contradict my view. Of course all atheists want to think they fit that view. It is easy to be self deceived even the best of motives. Human psyche is too complex to let ourselves off the hook. We need to search our hearts and that can be a daunting task. We need to be sensitive to the possible conviction of the Holy Spirit.
 While I agree we can't assume all atheists are deluding themselves, we can be sure that one one is delusion proof in that way.

His second point has five sub-points. I put them all in foot note because since I agree in principle his need to prove that point goes away. To be scholarly I'll make them known, [4] The major point 2:

Second, we have strong inductive evidence that this generalization is false. There are several lines of evidence which combine to create a powerful cumulative case for the existence of sincere, lifelong nontheists. Following the outstanding work of the Canadian philosopher John Schellenberg (in his recent book The Wisdom to Doubt), we may summarize this evidence as follows.
It's not really empirical proof since these are matters of the heart. That means we can't know who is truly sincere and who is not.  That's why I keep saying I agree in principle.

His third point:

Third, the fact that human beings have an “amazing ability to rationalize things” is a double-edged sword. Those of us who reject sincerity denialism — “sincerity denial” deniers? — could just as easily argue that sincerity denial itself is an example of the amazing ability to rationalize things, such as how to reconcile the existence of nontheists–not to mention the existence of theistic non-Christians–with the doctrines of God’s moral goodness and the exclusivity of salvation through Christ.

He's right it is a two edged sword. I am acutely aware of that because I remember the rationalizations I used as an atheist to ward off belief. O I was sincere! But that means nothing to atheists they just pull the old "no true Scotsman" thing of which they accuse us. In the final analysis we can only search our own hearts and that's all we can say: I am trying to be sincere, the bury the little still small voice that says you are not. It is entirely possible to be sincere about seeking but refuse to accept because we want it on our terms.

The only safe course is to determine in your heart to trust God and seek God.  Hey I heard that. If you said "why should I?" cause it's neat.

[1] Jeff Lowdwe, "WLC Denies That Anyone Has Ever Died a Sincere Seeker Without Finding God"
Secular Outpost, January 2, 2016 , blog URL:

[2] Ibid. All quotes of Lowder from this source.


[4] His 5 sub-points on major point 2. these are from Lowder quoting John Schellenberg (in his recent book The Wisdom to Doubt).

"There are several lines of evidence which combine to create a powerful cumulative case for the existence of sincere, lifelong nontheists"

(a) The prima facie evidence of nonresistant nonbelief. In Schellenberg’s words, “in the actual world persons who do not believe that there is a God, and that in at least some of these people the absence of theistic belief is not in any way the result of their own emotional or behavioral opposition towards God or relationship with God or any of the apparent implications of such a relationship.”
That is not proof. All he';s done is assert that it's so.
(b) The prima facie evidence of former believers. To paraphrase Schellenberg, such individuals, from the perspective of theism, were on the right path when they lost belief in God. In other words, if theism is true, then such individuals already were in relationship with God and the loss of belief has terminated that.
That doesn't prove they were lost, norv does it p[rove that they didn't abandon God for some emotional and illogical reason such as anger or feelings of spite.
(c) The prima facie evidence of lifelong seekers. Schellenberg describeres these individuals as people “who don’t start out in what they consider to be a relationship with God and may not even be explicitly searching for God, but who are trying to find out where they belong and, in their wanderings, are open to finding and being found by a Divine Parent–all without ever achieving their goal. These are individuals who seek but do not find.” (233) 

Again saying they sdo is  ot proof they exist. I am willing to think they do but that's not proof.
(d) The prima facie evidence of converts to nontheistic religions. Paraphrasing Schellenberg, these are individuals who investigate other serious conceptions of the Ultimate and who turn up evidence that produces religious belief in the context of nontheistic religious communities and/or on account of nontheistic religious experiences–and the truth of atheistic claims may be seen to follow by implication. (236 
(e) The prima facie evidence of isolated nontheists. Schellenberg defines these individuals as “those who have never been in a position to resist God because they have never so much as had the idea of an all-knowing and all-powerful spiritual being who is separate from a created universe but related to it in love squarely before their minds–individuals who are entirely formed by, and unavoidably live their whole lives within, what must, if God exists, be a fundamentally misleading meaning system” (238).
what I said



Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

Interesting. It seems to me that quite often arguments against sincere deniers could just be turned around and applied to sincere believers.

7th Stooge said...

I think that sincere denial is possible. God knows our hearts better than we ourselves do and will judge us accordingly. Because this is a potentially unanswerable because unknowable question, we should hold out at least the possibility of sincere denial.

BTW, I recently saw a documentary about Bergman made a few years before his death. It sounded like he was much more open to theism.

Don McIntosh said...

Another very insightful post.

"Those intellectual matters can be real stumbling blocks if one doesn't understand the real decision is existential, phenomenological, and spiritual (in the heart)."

Yes. That is precisely why apologetics is valid ministry. Scripture says that unbelief happens when we "suppress the truth in unrighteousness," but that doesn’t mean this tendency is conscious or deliberate. Sometimes it's the unintended consequence of education. That is, as we learn, we begin to know things, and as we begin to know things, we can easily become intellectually arrogant. In resisting the intellectual humility required to trust God, such arrogance resists God himself.

Joe Hinman said...

Funny you should say that Mike because if I had to nominate one sincere denier I actually know you would be it. Yes everything cqn be turned around. I know that from studying Derrida.

Joe Hinman said...

Jim, good point about we don't know so we have to hold out the possibility. Just what I was thinking, more to the point than my thing. I noticed that about Bergman. what tipped me off was Wild Strawberries.

Joe Hinman said...

Don, t5hat is good insight,. The pit fall of intellect is we tend to think education is always the answer we don't like to think that there are aspects of truth that5 intellect can't manage.