This post is an email exchange between an atheist friend and myself. I will add to this as the conversation continues.
I have a story below I would like to use to initiate a conversation. Please don’t look at this as a set up for a trap and try to find a way around it. You know I’m not out to “win” and I won’t “rub your nose in it”. I really want to learn from you and I think you are willing to have your mind pushed a little by me too. Yes, I am leading to a point here but I hope you are more interested in seeing my point because we are friends and respect each other’s opinion, than you are defensive or worried about being “right” or “wrong”. I think we both accepted a long time ago that we would not “prove” each other right or wrong.
A True Story
There once were two men who both had a lot of land. In some places their land was very, very close to each other, in other places more distant. For the sake of storytelling, lets name them Edwin and Alfred.
After a while Edwin decided he really wanted a certain piece of Alfred’s land. He knew it was a prized piece of land and Alfred would not sell him the land at any price. So after some thought, Edwin hired 10 men to simply go and take the land. He gave them weapons and even some training. He then sent them to take the land from Alfred. They were not to seek innocent people to kill, but if innocents died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, that was just the way it was. If they found Alfred, they were free to kill him or anyone who was defending him. They were to take the land.
The men agreed and set out. When they reached the spot of land Edwin wanted they discovered Alfred had also hired men to protect his land. Alfred wasn’t stupid. He knew Edwin wanted the land and was suspecting something like this for a long time. Alfred’s men killed all 10 of Edwin’s men without mercy. Later, historians learned that Edwin knew that Alfred would defend his land. Edwin also expected all 10 of those men to die but he chose to send them anyway.
Please tell me exactly what you think of both Edwin and Alfred.
My Friend’s Response:
Sorry it has taken me so long to reply. I am learning to balance work and school. It is very hard for me to keep appointments these days with the addition of work to school and the new onset of panic attacks (which I have almost fully mastered).
Let me start with Edwin. Edwin is in the wrong. He had no right to take Alfred’s land in the first place but the cherry on top was that he assumed that Alfred would not sell the land to him. It never hurts to ask, and if he had said no he could then attack. He adds fault to fault in that respect. Sending his own men to die when he “expected all 10 of those men to die” is absolutely terrible of him. Had he had the notion that he had some chance of winning it would be more justified. But he anticipated his own men’s deaths. Edwin is wrong in every sense.
Now, Alfred (in my opinion) is somewhat justified. I am a libertarian and a supporter of Ayn Rand, who states that the use of force is for those of low intelligence. Laissez-faire, fair trade, consensual agreements, etc. are the only noble things in this world. The once of force is for those too weak minded to logically debate their topics. So Alfred was justified in defending himself from Edwin’s neanderthalic approach to the situation. Now, this spurs the debate of whether killing someone out of defense is justified. Some would say Alfred is wrong for killing for any reason. I however think that if it is between your life and someone else’s then you deserve to live. So I think Alfred was justified.
Did you win?
My Reply – The Perspective Explained
Ok, I’m way late on this but here I go.
Edwin is Dwight Eisenhower and Alfred is Adolf Hitler and the event id D-day. I believe everything I said was 100% factual but I drastically narrowed the perspective. I left out the big picture.
If you know about Hitler taking France in the first place and his cruelty and treatment of the Jews and his racist desires for world domination, then sacrificing men seems reasonable. If you know that the first men on the beach who will likely die are paving the way for the men who will someday parade through a free Paris it changes things. No general could win a war, or even a battle if he is not willing to have some of his men die. I believe it was General Meade for the Union who simply couldn’t bring himself to attack the southern army when they were trapped by a flooded Potomac river. The war lasted 2 more years and cost many more lives.
The point is that someone can purposely not give a complete picture, tell the truth, but be completely misleading. It could also be that someone could not know or understand the “Eisenhower Perspective”, as I call it, and be both misled and misleading without it being intentionally deceitful.
So how does this relate to Christian philosophy? I was reading the book “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins with the intention of keeping close notes and writing my rebuttals to his points. However, I simply was complete uninspired because his philosophical points almost all revolved around this perspective issue and when I viewed them from the “Eisenhower Perspective” or God’s perspective, they were so understandable that I felt true pity for Dawkins and honestly just couldn’t sacrifice the time to rebut such weak points. I recently read a review of his book by the scientist who led the human gnome project in which he describer’s Dawkins’ book as a practice of setting up straw men, and then patting yourself on the back when you can tear them apart. I couldn’t agree more.
Most of the philosophical arguments against Christianity, and some of the scientific ones, fall apart if we truly look with an open mind at the big picture Christianity purposes. In other words if we take the time to try to understand the characteristics, motivations, and goals of God as described in the Bible, as well as the characteristics, motivations and goals of men, as we see them and the Bible reveals them, then by far the majority of the actions of God make a lot of sense.
Now I’m not saying that in discussing things we always have to assume the Bible is correct, but when we are trying to understand the characteristics and motivations of the Christian God so we can discus the logic or illogic of Christianity, the Bible is the source of authority on what and who the Christian God is.
Really, this story of mine is not just a lesson about how some atheist use perspective to make Christianity appear completely illogical, we really should learn that the same technique can be used by almost anyone, knowingly or unknowingly, for almost any reason. We will likely use it ourselves way too often and sometimes we use it on ourselves because we want to rationalize our behavior.
Now I’ll end with a short example of this being use. There is a story in the Bible about an Israelite keeping some loot after a battle when they had been commanded to destroy it all. When it was discovered by Joshua they stoned the man, his wife and children, killed all their livestock, burned all their possessions, and buried it all under a pile of stones. Dawkins thinks this is proof that either God is not real, or he is not loving, or both. But if Christianity happens to be true then the entire story makes some sense. Israel was going into a land with many destructive pagan practices and God wanted it to be very clear that all idols were to be destroyed. The people stood no chance of succeeding if he wasn’t abundantly clear about it. We are all immortal (according to Christianity) so if the wife and children are innocent, there is all eternity to make things right and a few minutes of stoning compared to eternity are irrelevant. In the story the man finally confesses and repents but is still executed, but again if immortality and heaven are real the lesson is more important than the miniscule pain of the execution. The family is like the soldier on the beach. Sadly sacrificed but worth the cost because the stakes were so high.
This isn’t a full proof argument at all. All I’m pointing out, is that a wise and opened minded person needs to take the time to know and understand the big picture of the Christian God before they make up their mind. “The God Delusion” and Richard Dawkins do not show this wisdom or openness. I think I truly want people to challenge my Christian ideals because the testing, to this point, has made them stronger. I think a truly wise atheist would not want to wrestle with the weakest points of Christianity, but with Christianity at is strongest.