Posts Tagged ‘Dan Barker’

Book Plunge: Godless Part 4

February 18, 2015

Where does a preacher go after they apostasize? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

So now that Barker is no longer a preacher, what’s he to do with himself? Part of what he does he says is to continue growing with nicely pointing out that religious conservatives don’t want to move on. This is after saying that for some, growth and progress are a threat. You see, those of us who are religious conservatives have always resisted progress because we’d rather hold on to tradition.

Okay Barker. Just because you were like this does not mean the rest of us are. It’s a comment like this that makes me sure that Barker holds to the Dark Ages myth as well. If you’re a religious conservative like myself and reading this blog, this I hope means you are interested in growth and progression.

Of course, the word progress is tricky. Yet I think it is trickier for the atheist than for the theist. Progress implies a goal, a purpose, something to move towards. That also implies that each of us has a nature and progress is befitting that nature. This is much easier to account for on theism where such things can be grounded in an eternal mind. For many, progress is defined as just going where you want. But what if man has a specific nature and a specific end and it might not be based on what we want but what we need? Could that not change things?

To get back to Barker, Barker is clear that he is still in essence a preacher. He just preaches a different gospel, though it could hardly be called a gospel. He now does this as part of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. He talks about doing several debates, with most notably saying that his first one was in Nashville and it was on the topic of the historicity of Jesus. It’s revealing to know that when Barker pulled a 180, he immediately went to the total fringe extreme on the opposite side of the spectrum. (As we’ll find later in the book, he has a whole chapter devoted to arguing Jesus never existed.)

Barker also has a statement in here saying “Faith is what you need when you don’t have certainty. The more you learn, the less you need to believe.” This would be news to all the epistemologists out there who hold that whatever knowledge is, it is at least justified true belief. Even if we bring up the Gettier Problem, there is still agreement that knowledge is at least these three things. Why so many atheists like Barker want to put this radical dichotomy between knowledge and belief up is a mystery.

As will be no shock to anyone, Barker also does not have any clue what faith is. For all the talk that I hear about definitions like this and that faith is believing something without evidence, I just wish that I could get some evidence for this position. I guess those who espouse it just want me to take it on faith and ignore all the evidence to the contrary. Again, Barker is just assuming his old mindset is the same as Christians today. Sorry, but most of us are not that fundamentalist as Barker was and still is.

One other point is that during a debate, Barker asked a Christian “If God told you to kill me, would you?” What Barker misses is that when Christians are to think God is telling them something, it’s not because we’re driving down the road and get an impression that we should turn in various directions until we realize we’re in the middle of nowhere and then think God is congratulating us for testing our faith. (Incidentally, this happened to Barker.)

In fact, in their book Did God Really Command Genocide?, Copan and Flannagan spend a chapter on this. They point out that there must be strong evidence that God is behind it, this evidence needs to be public, and it needs to be verified by miracles of such a scope that they call them G2 miracles. These are miracles that you can be sure are not just sleight of hand but are actually the work of a supreme being.

In describing his debate with Swinburne, he states that he argued that God is not a simple being but infinitely complex. Barker makes the same mistake that Dawkins does. He assumes God must be like a material being and thus have composition, such as a massive brain that connects this part of God to that. This has not been the historical view of the church. Indeed, we have said God is simple. He is simple in that He is not made of parts. It is not that He is easy to understand.

Barker also tells of another debate where he says theistic claims are not falsifiable and if a statement is to be seen as true, there must be other statements that if true would make that false. Does this follow? Is the principle of falsifiability falsifiable? If so, then perhaps the principle is wrong. If not, then the principle itself cannot be true. Barker could not have it be both ways. Besides, it seems odd to show that he thinks it is not falsifiable when he has done debates on the existence of God.

But besides that, it still doesn’t matter. Theism is falsifiable. You can show a necessary contradiction in the nature of God or give another positive disproof for his existence. You can also try to show that there are fallacies in all of the theistic arguments. The latter would not show that theism is false, but it would show that theism was believed for poor reasons. Yet it gets worse for Barker’s case as he goes on to say

“Falsifiability cuts both ways, of course. I am often asked what would cause me to change my mind. “What would you accept as proof that there is a God?” I can think of dozens of examples. If you were to tell me that God predicted to you that next March 14 at 2:27 a.m. a meteorite composed of 82 percent iron, 13 percent nickel and 3 percent iridium, approaching from the southwest and hitting the Earth at an angle of 82 degrees, would strike your house (not mine, of course), penetrating the building, punching a hole through your Navajo rug upstairs and the arm of the couch downstairs, ending up 17.4 inches below the basement floor and weighing 13.5 ounces, and if that happened as predicted, I would take that as serious evidence that atheism is falsified. If Jesus would materialize in front of a debate audience, captured on videotape, and if he were to tell us exactly where to dig in Israel to find the ark of the covenant containing the original stone tablets given to Moses—well, you get the idea. Atheism is exquisitely vulnerable to disproof. Theism is not”

So please note this. Barker wants theists to tell some evidence that would change their mind. What evidence does he say would change his mind? Something no theist could provide. That means already that if I were to debate Dan Barker, he’s already set the bar for what would count as falsifiable evidence of atheism and it’s not rational argument. Instead, it’s dependent on his having an experience.

As I have said before, this is atheistic presuppositionalism.

Barker also claims at one debate that he had a list of 75 highly qualified Bible scholars, most of them believing Christians with at least one Ph.D. in biblical languages and other subjects related to the topic. He also showed where they taught at and that each of them is convinced the resurrection is a legend or a myth.

One would like to see such a list. For one thing, if they’re Christians, they do not hold that stance. A believing Christian is one who believes Jesus rose from the dead. I cannot help but be suspicious of this and wonder if this is anything like Ken Humphreys had in his debate with me. When he told me he had a list of scholars who upheld his view of the Gospels, I asked him for that list. Knowing what list he was speaking of, I asked his definition of a scholar. That’s when the wiggling really started.

Maybe someday I’ll get to see this list.

For now, we’re going to let this be a wrap-up. Next time we post on this, we’ll have a look at why Barker is an atheist.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Godless Part 3

February 17, 2015

What was the fallout on Barker’s relationships with coming to atheism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and fall out.

Barker writes in his book about how he decided to mail everyone he had a significant relationship with and let them know he had abandoned Christianity and become an atheist. The sad reality in this chapter is that this is not one that is revealing of Barker, but rather is revealing of the church at large. As I read many of the letters that came back, I too felt great frustration, though no doubt for different reasons than Barker.

You see, too many Christians argued from their worldview back. Now in a sense, we all who are Christians argue from the position that our worldview is true, but when you meet an opponent, you don’t start with what you believe. You start with what he believes. Consider someone who says “It’s the devil! He’s out there trying to steal your joy!” Can you really imagine any atheist just saying to that “My gosh! I hadn’t realized that! I must go and repent right now! Please tell me where the nearest church is!”

And an emotional reaction is quite likely because of an emotional panic. This is because these people have never been trained to go this route. I would have preferred to have heard someone say “Wow Dan. That’s quite a remarkable choice that you’ve made. Can we maybe arrange a meeting or at least a few phone calls and talk about this decision and why you’ve made it and I can tell you why I think you should reconsider Christianity?” (And of course, be sure to give actual reasons there that show that you’ve done your homework.)

Then of course, there were the responses of indignation. I’m sure there were also quite likely some along the lines of “You were never a Christian to begin with.” This is one that I really don’t think we should make. After all, if any of us asked if we were a Christian today, we’d likely point to the same kinds of evidences. We remember when we gave our lives to Christ. We do our Christian service and we grow in holiness. Yet apparently someone can have those and still not be a Christian supposedly because of this rule that if you apostasize, you never were one. It gives the impression that you can never know unless you make it all the way. In the end, it will make us more followers of works-salvation.

Also, Barker says he received numerous letters asking how he was hurt. Now I do think there are emotional reasons for atheism, but that does not mean they are immediately apparent. Still, I don’t appeal to those unless there’s some reason that I think it necessary and I have evidence of those reasons. The data is what matters. Christians like this were trying to psychologize Barker instead of actually dealing with the data of what was being said to them.

Of course, there’s also the question of Barker asking two people “If I go out and get hit by a car and die, will I go to Hell.” For the talk about emotional appeals, this is about as emotional as it gets. Whether the answer is liked or not does not change it. It does not even say if the judgment is deserved or not. The truth of the matter is being determined by how one feels about it.

One interesting conversation he talks about is with his Uncle Keith.

“One day as we were driving back to southern California from a computer show in Las Vegas, he pointed to a huge rock formation in the landscape and said, “Isn’t that beautiful!” I looked at it for a moment and said, “Yes, it is beautiful. You can see how the multicolored ancient sedimentary sea beds were thrust upward after millions of years of tectonic pressure and are now tilted at an improbable angle.” He turned to me and snapped, “Do you have to ruin everything?”

And I read this wondering “How is this ruining?” Barker and Keith both have the wrong idea here. Barker thinks that if you provide a natural explanation for how it happened, then that means there cannot be any deity involved. Keith thought that if you gave a natural explanation, then you had killed the wonder of it. Both can be true. You can have a God who sets in play wonderful magnificent processes that produce beautiful things like rock formations.

So there’s not much to say about this chapter really. Before too long, we will be getting into the main arguments, the part I look forward to the most.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Godless Part 2

February 10, 2015

How shall we continue our review of Godless by Dan Barker? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We now get to the part about Barker’s fall. He starts out by telling us it was 1979 and Jesus still hadn’t returned. (Yes. Barker was caught up in last days madness. Perhaps he could have avoided that had he had access to a work like DeMar’s at the time.) This again is a reminder of the hyper-fundamentalism of Barker. Jesus is returning and well, you know, every other generation was wrong about them being the generation, but we are the ones! Really!

Barker is visiting a church and he’s told that there are some members of the congregation that don’t think Adam and Eve were historical people. The pastor doesn’t deny that they’re Christians. This was a shock to Barker who was surprised they were allowed to be members. Barker goes on to describe how some people think some events in the Bible are not fully historical but meant to teach us lessons. Of course, Barker was just thinking it was liberal talk.

This experience for Barker would be akin to the experience Bart Ehrman regularly talks about where he got back a paper on Mark 2 trying to deal with what he saw as a Bible contradiction and was told “Maybe Mark just made a mistake.” Now yes, Ehrman says the problem of evil was the real clincher for his deconversion, but it cannot be denied that the breaking down of inerrancy in his mind had a lot to do with it and prepared him for that deconversion.

Barker tells us this was a big deal and started his slide towards where he is today. As he says “Those initial and timid movements away from fundamentalism were psychologically more traumatic than the intellectual flying leaps that came later. When you are raised to believe that every word in the bible is God-inspired and inerrant, you can’t lightly moderate your views on Scripture.”

Some of you wonder why it is that I have a problem with inerrancy being treated the way it is in the church as if it was the fundamental doctrine of the church.

This is why.

What happens if the resurrection of Jesus is made your focus? What happens if you can say Jesus rose from the dead even if the Bible is just a collection of ancient documents? Is something like Adam and Eve not being historical going to shake your trust? Nope.

Now Barker goes on to say he had read a lot of Christian writers, but had not interacted with the other side at all so he began reading everything he could. Now this part I do not condemn at all. However, there is one danger that I do stress to people. We cannot all be sufficient in every field. There are areas I do not read on because these are not my areas of interest. I do not study them. Oh I know the basics, but I am in no way a specialist. I know enough psychology that I could counsel someone in a pastoral way if need be. I know the basic science that most of us know, but that does not mean I am an authority in these areas.

Too many people can often jump into waters they know nothing about and they are very impressionable at that point and they get overwhelmed. If you do not know the field well, you really have no way of accurately judging the claims in that field and you can just believe whatever you are told. Barker says he did not get the liberal arts education he would have got at a real college. (And yes, there are Bible Colleges that teach these matters as well. Mine did.)

So again, could it be that the lack of education in the church is a problem? People don’t know how to interact with the other side and aren’t prepared in their own side?

Barker talks about visiting other congregations and seeing that they can all open the Bible and prove that theirs is the correct interpretation of the text.

No. No they can’t.

What it would mean if they could do that is that a text could mean in fact two contradictory things. The person can argue that theirs is the correct one, but proof is something else. What this does is raises the question of “Is there a correct interpretation of the text?” Unless Barker wants to go all postmodern on us (And it’s doubtful he does since he argues later on in the book for what the text says which seems to indicate the text can be understood) then it must be accepted that the text has a meaning. Maybe we don’t know it. Maybe we do. Maybe in some cases there is data missing that we can’t know it. It does not mean the text can mean anything or has no meaning and it does not mean the original recipients would not have understood the meaning.

Barker, like many others, uses the “God is not the author of confusion” at this point, though the text is about order in worship and saying when it comes to worship, God is not responsible for confusion. Yes. Barker is still a fundamentalist. He has just switched sides.

Barker also says when he preached, he talked less about hell and more about love and spent time talking about this life instead of an after-life. You can’t help but wonder what kind of preacher Barker really was and probably the only ones that would really like that style that is hinted at of hellfire and brimstone would be the rabid fundamentalists. As I’ve said before, we can too often create little safety bubbles in the church in an escapist mentality

On page 37, he talks about the fall more saying his experiences did not get weaker and that even today he can produce those feelings that he had. (He also says elsewhere that he can still speak in tongues and just practices every now and then to see if he still has it.) This is a reminder once again that too many Christians are rooting their faith in their own personal experience. Your faith is ultimately all about you then. This is why I get concerned when I meet Christians who only have their personal testimony. That is something that will hamper your evangelism in this day and age.

Barker goes on to say that it was beginning to look like there was no personal God. He ends the paragraph saying “What a strange and wonderful thing to realize.”

I must agree with my friend Jerry Walls. Why would anyone hope this?

Exactly how awful was Barker’s personal God?

Later on, Barker says he realized the counter-response to the information he says he was “learning” is just faith. For Barker, faith is a way to believe something. Biblically, faith is really a response to what you already believe. Let’s consider a scholarly source on the matter.

Faith/Faithfulness

“These terms refer to the value of reliability. The value is ascribed to persons as well as to objects and qualities. Relative to persons, faith is reliability in interpersonal relations: it thus takes on the value of enduring personal loyalty, of personal faithfulness. The nouns ‘faith’, ‘belief’, ‘fidelity’, ‘faithfulness,’ as well as the verbs ‘to have faith’ and ‘to believe,’ refers to the social glue that binds one person to another. This bond is the social, externally manifested, emotionally rooted behavior of loyalty, commitment, and solidarity. As a social bond, it works with the value of (personal and group) attachment (translated ‘love’) and the value of (personal and group) allegiance or trust (translated ‘hope.’) p. 72 Pilch and Malina Handbook of Biblical Social Values.

It’s noteworthy that Barker admits that while he was an atheist, he was still preaching. To be fair, he did go and get a job doing something else, but it is a concerning issue to know that someone would go on preaching while still being an atheist. Barker talks about being invited to go to Mexico to do some ministry there while still an atheist and while there looking at the stars out the window, he says he realized that he was utterly alone and there was no “supernatural” realm. There was no one watching and judging him. He was all alone in the world in a universe that would burn out after it lost its fuel.

His thoughts?

“It was simultaneously a frightening and liberating experience.”

Okay. Frightening makes sense, but again, why liberating, unless Barker did have the god who was really a tyrannical judge all along and he hadn’t realized it? Why would anyone consider it liberating to be a universe where you are alone and that all you want will die eventually and any dreams will die with them? As Bertrand Russell said in a Free Man’s Worship:

“Such, in outline, but even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the world which Science presents for our belief. Amid such a world, if anywhere, our ideals henceforward must find a home. That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins–all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”

All he needed to do was end this with a cute little smiley face.

Again, as Walls says, it’s understandable that someone can be convinced this is true intellectually and come to that conclusion with regret, but this strange speak of hope and liberation is just baffling.

But thus ends the story of the fall at this point. We’ll look at the fallout next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Godless Part 1

February 9, 2015

What are my thoughts on Dan Barker’s book published by Ulysses Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Godless

I’m working on something right now studying the atheism of Dan Barker. He’s well known for being a minister who became an atheist and for his influential position with the Freedom From Religion Foundation. When you read a book like Godless, you won’t learn a lot about atheism really, but you’ll sure learn a lot about Dan Barker and you’ll learn a lot about how the fundamentalist mindset works.

To correct everything wrong in the book would require a whole volume in itself. The foreword by Richard Dawkins doesn’t really help make the volume better. If anything, it just feeds into the mindset because when it comes to studying religion, Dawkins is often just as fundamentalist. A point I wish to look at is how Dawkins describes Barker’s mother who having been a Christian for practically all her life in a fundamentalist background threw it out shortly after Barker told her about his atheism. Dawkins says

“In his mother’s case, it only took her a few weeks to conclude that “religion is a bunch of baloney” and a little later she was able to add, happily, “I don’t have to hate anymore.”

Many will be wondering what style of fundamentalism Barker grew up with. If so, consider someone like Pat Robertson or Bob Jones.

Now multiply that by about 100.

Even supposing that religion is a bunch of baloney, it is not a simple subject and why should one think that just a few weeks is enough to conclude? Let us suppose I said this instead.

“Yeah. I had a relative who tried to convince me of evolution. I just went out and studied it and in a few weeks, I knew it was a bunch of baloney.”

That’s the kind of conclusion not reached in a few weeks. That requires much more time, but in our generation, we too often think the answers are quick and easy.

Consider the case of an atheist who I am sure would love to be mentioned but is someone who really likes to try to make a habit of debunking the faith he once says to have defended. He had a post talking about a man who went into a Barnes and Noble browsing and picked up this atheist’s book. He looked at some arguments about the Bible and then went to look up the verses in the Bible in the store in their context. He then says that hours later he renounced his faith.

Again, maybe the arguments were valid, but you really think a few hours qualifies you to make such a huge decision?

And as for not having to hate any more, we can’t help but wonder what it is being talked about. First off, there are some things you ought to hate. You ought to hate all manner of evil for instance. You ought to hate that people are abusing children right now and that women are being sold in the sex slave market. You also ought to hate that there are people living in poverty.

So this blanket statement is hard to understand and an odd focus as well. But then, such is the way it goes in fundamentalism.

Dan Barker starts the book off largely with his personal testimony. (Some things never change do they?) As we go through it, we see a young man with a lot of passion, but not a lot of information, which is a disaster waiting to happen. Unfortunately, it’s also a formula we have too often with our own youth. We send them out on youth retreats and such where they get a lot of entertainment and a lot of personal motivation, but they get very little in content.

Barker also talks about the moral differences between believers and nonbelievers. Somehow in his environment, he got the impression that atheists must just be wicked people somehow. I don’t know any Christian intellectual who holds to such a position. The moral argument is one constantly misunderstood as if it is being argued that an atheist cannot be moral. It’s a straw man made over and over despite it being answered time and time again. The moral argument argues that atheism has no ontological basis for morality. The moral truths are still there and they’re still followed, but they’re just not explained.

Much of Barker’s life relied on what he thought was a personal experience of God. On page 22, he says it’s interesting that God called Him so often exactly where he wanted to go. This is not a shock. I have noticed the same phenomenon. It seems interesting that the call of God seems to match so well for some preachers with where they can go and get a bigger church and a bigger paycheck.

Barker also gives us a good look at the fundamentalist mindset on page 33. “To the fundamentalist there is no gray area. Everything is black or white, true or false, right or wrong. Jesus reportedly said: “I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:15-16, and not a very nice image.”

It’s also worth pointing out it’s a false interpretation of the passage. The city had hot water that served a purpose and cold water that served a purpose. Lukewarm water was useless. Jesus is not referring to spiritual condition here at all, as if He would prefer they be cold. Is the image pleasant? No, but it’s not supposed to be. This is yet another part of the fundamentalist mindset. “If it’s from God, it should not offend me.”

Barker’s story is one that most every feeling and inclination was seen as from God and every event that was happening was the hand of God at work. Now of course, every event is used by God for the Christian, but it is not directly caused by Him. It’s like the story of the woman who drives in a parking lot and sees a spot near the door and thinks God has blessed her. (And sometimes she drove for twenty minutes in the parking lot before she found that spot)

Barker talks about not accepting money for his services even though he had a family to take care of and about the music that he wrote. Any intellectual development however is not really talked about. This is one reason that it’s so important for churches to be preparing the people intellectually. If a pastor cannot be prepared intellectually and thus fall away, how much more the laity? How many apostates is someone like Barker making because no one took the time to train him up properly and if he was not willing to listen to others, why give a place of authority?

There was a man once who made a statement about the danger of zeal not in accordance with knowledge…

Godless has a lot in it that needs to be taken care of. This is just the start. We’ll continue our look at this book later.