From: Brian Holtz []
Sent: Wednesday, March 09, 2005 7:44 AM
To: ''
Subject: RE: About your Atheist Deconversion page - ASA Jones

BH: And yet my performance in our contest was so below "grade" that I guess you refrain from publicly citing it in order to spare my "arrogant", "vain", and "conceited" sensibilities?  Perhaps the only thing we can agree on here is that your motives for thus refraining are prototypically Christian.

AJ: Don't get all bent!

That I'm trying to invoke an emotion (viz., shame) in you does not establish that I'm acting on some emotion of my own. I'm quite used to Christian apologists calling me names and ducking from debate with me.

You know a lot of things and a lot of words. But you don't know how to debate. If you did know how to debate, you would know how to focus in on the key points of an argument and tear them apart. But you didn't do that. Instead of narrowing the scope, you widened it.

Since you ignored both my direct request that you substantiate this charge as well as my explanation of why I consider it baseless, I still don't know what you're talking about. My best guess is that you're deliberately ignoring the topic that I've always said I want to talk to you about (viz., your atheist past), and instead imagine that I have some obligation to debate some single topic (atheist meaning of life? Yahweh's morality? your idiosyncratic epistemology?) that you haven't even bothered to identify. Even if you don't think any of your writings can meet my challenge, I'd be happy to debate your choice of the essays on your site if it will increase the odds of you divulging details about your atheist past.

I'm not going to waste my time chasing after frisbees.

Again, when you say things like that, I just don't know what you mean. What would you claim has been my most unreasonable discussion request of you?

I think that your interest in religion stems from your need to criticize, belittle and bully people.

I think your perspective is skewed by being a prominent subject of my atheist deconversion survey.  I scrupulously try to criticize only people's statements and actions, rather than the person himself (which can change so much, as your case shows). I would love for you to identify what you think are the most egregious examples of me belittling or bullying anybody. For example, is it bullying to challenge you to substantiate your previous slurs on my character ("arrogant", "vain", "conceited")?

I think that you were bullied as a child and that you feel safe being able to throw your virtual weight around in a text playground.

Sorry, but my childhood was bully-free. I freely admit that I enjoy debating not only because of how it improves my understanding and worldview, but also because it's fun to put one's faculties to competitive test. How I do so shows I'm not a bully, because in debating (just as in tennis and basketball) I seek out the best competition I can find, and try to minimize my contests with the rest. The latter effort is often in tension with my policy of answering any serious criticism of my writing, but that's why I try to construct an oeuvre that lets me point to existing material rather than refuting each opponent personally. (A good example of this is here.)

Awe, are you saying that I'm not fit to be a Christian?

On the contrary, I told you once that "I suspect your moral intuitions are better [than the moral standards of orthodox Christianity] since you sometimes seem to admit your god's prima facie immorality".  Rather, I'm saying you seem to have converted to Christianity to replace your angst and animosity with meaning and magnanimity, but that you should get your magnanimity checked while your conversion is still under warranty.  (I hope it's not belittling for me to point out the hostility that you in effect admit immediately below.)

I honestly can say that no one brings out the worst in me as you do, Brian.  Why is that? Perhaps I see too much of my past nature in you and I hate it. I really don't know.

It's a mystery to me too. I once ventured a guess about this part of your character, but you weren't interested in talking about it.

BH: I've been corresponding with you just to see if there's any chance that the influences or arguments involved in your deconversion could ever lead to my own deconversion.  All you've said (and not said) so far has been very helpful in answering this question.

AJ: Well, I'm sorry about that.

If you're saying that you could have given me more information about whether the influences or arguments involved in your deconversion could ever lead to my own deconversion, then it's far from too late to share more.

I usually answer questions with the same amount of sincerity with which they are asked.

I just don't see how you have any grounds here to question my sincerity. I'd ask you what they are, but you've proven your reticence in justifying your attacks on my character.

I doubt that I could ever change your mind through intellectual arguments, since my own conversion didn't take place through intellectual arguments. In fact, I did say that no amount of debate or talk could have changed me.

Yes, and elsewhere you've stated that you think the case for Christianity is by divine design less than a convincing one. That's why I'm less interested in debating the ex-atheist Amy, and more interested in finding out what precisely were the skeptical arguments that failed to keep the atheist Amy on my team. (I'm sorry if this makes you feel like a test subject, but after all, you bought a domain name that starts with "ex-". :-)

I'm in the process of gathering every paper shred of evidence that I have for my past atheism. I'm even soliciting statements from family, friends and co-workers and having them notarized. I may or may not post this information online. I've not yet made that decision.

I doubt anybody on either side is hoping you choose reticence over revelation.

But just in case one day some affluent Christian finds worth in anything I wrote, I want this information available for those, like you, who would attempt to discredit me.

I indeed seek to discredit (i.e. promote disagreement with) the arguments you make and the decision by which you came to stand by them. I have never questioned your fundamental sincerity, but rather just the psychological influences on your conversion to Christianity and the philosophical grounding you had as atheist. You yourself have stated more firmly than I that you don't count as what I seek -- an "atheist having long-term experience with both sides' arguments [who] later converted to Christianity primarily because of comparing those arguments".  In my study I even admit that I don't count as an inverse example. Am I attempting to discredit myself?

How good was my game when I played for the other side? Well, it all comes down to the mind of God, doesn't it?

For me, it comes down to what you read and what you wrote at the time.

How can a mind pre-exist existence? How can a mind function without input? How can a mind exist without any physicality to allow for thought? If in the beginning was God, God and nothing else, how can a mind manipulate nothingness into somethingness? If a human being has never heard a word, how does that human being think thoughts? Perhaps he thinks in pictures. But if a human being has never heard a word and has been blind since birth, how does he think and to what degree can he think. Helen Keller was taught through touch.  But God does not have hands. If God does not learn and grow, how can His thoughts rise above nothingness? How can a being with no physicality cause anything to happen?

This was and still is THE argument against theism, as far as I am concerned.

You could ask most of these questions to an atheist about the universe (except you'd want to reformulate the mind-related ones to ask about mind arising from non-mind). I think your first question is the key, as it gets to the core issue of parsimony.

Since you brought it up, I would say that the two main problems with theism are both parsimony-related: 1) Any ontological assertion about God -- e.g., necessity, self-causation, etc. -- can be transformed into a similar assertion about the universe, yielding a simpler theory.  2) Any teleological work done by one's God theory (i.e. God as designer) can be done more simply by an ensemble theory such as modal realism. That is, it's simpler to say the multiverse contains zero net information than that this universe had a personal designer. One way I've tried to describe this is to say our world might be just a logically possible dream for which no dreamer exists.