• The ‘Why I am a Christian’ series – Vincent Torley of Uncommon Descent (Part 4)

    After having looked at Randal Rauser’s reasons for being a Christian, and having had my reasons and his defences intensely debated on his blog, I have in a previous posts (linked below) offered Dr Vincent Torley’s account. Some readers may know Vincent from the Uncommon Descent website which attempts to refute evolution. I have argued with him at length when I used to write for John Loftus more often at Debunking Christianity. Here is his bio:

    Vincent Torley is originally from Geelong, Australia. After obtaining a B.Sc., a B.A. and a B.Ec. from the AustralianNationalUniversity (all at no cost to himself), he worked for several years as a computer programmer in Melbourne, during which time he obtained an M.A. in philosophy from the University of Melbourne. In 1999, he moved to Japan to take up a job as an English teacher, returning to Australia for a year in 2001 to complete a Dip. Ed. in high school teaching before going back to Japan, where he has resided ever since. He obtained a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Melbourne in 2007, while studying in Japan. He currently teaches English in high schools, as well as teaching English conversation and business English. He is married and the father of a seven-year-old son. His personal Web page is at http://www.angelfore.com/linux/vjtorley/index.html

    I have split this up into multiple parts as it is very lengthy (He did have a lot of paragraphs paragraphs and he made them massive!). I have also taken it upon myself to split it into Points so that it makes it easier to reference. I hope both of these actions are OK with Vincent.




    and three

    can be found in the links above.

    Please make every effort to have a civil and discursive back-and-forth. I hope some interesting discussion can be had. Thanks to Vincent, as it takes some guts to put your beliefs in the firing range, but it is what we should all do. Over to Vincent for the second part of his account:

    Point 12

    By now, we can discern, in broad outline, the answer to Gauguin’s three big questions: “Whence came we? What are we? Whither go we?” We come from God; we are children of God, with rational minds that are capable of inferring His existence; and finally, since we are capable of knowing God and thereby partaking of the Infinite, it is a fair bet to say that our ultimate destiny lies with God. Trifling questions about where Heaven is and how our consciousness will survive the death of our bodies need not concern us: this universe is God’s universe, and if He wants us to be with Him forever, then no doubt He has arranged the universe in ways that make it possible for that to happen. God is the master physicist of the cosmos: leave the fine details of immortality to Him. Our job is to live the kind of moral and spiritual life that can prepare us for eternity with our Maker.

    Point 13

    But at this point we realize that we fall badly short of what we should be. We cannot lift ourselves up by our own moral bootstraps: trying to be good won’t make us good. Instead, it tends to make us self-centred. This point was personally brought home to me after fifteen years of spiritual wandering, after having rejected Christianity at the age 28. I explored everything form pantheism to Buddhism to Quakerism to Bahaism, but I never did find a form of spirituality that satisfied my intellectual needs and that provided me with not only a way to resolve moral questions but also a way to become a good person myself. Curiously, though, over the 15 years that followed, I found that many of the arguments against Christianity which seemed utterly unanswerable to me when I was 28 seemed to lose their force over the years: they gradually melted away. In 2004, at the age of 43, I found myself an expectant father-to-be. The prospect of impending parenthood concentrates the mind wonderfully, and I realized that New Age self-help spirituality was not what I wanted to pass on to my child. It hadn’t made me a good person; it had only made me more self-centred. I adopted a radical solution: I needed to find a religion that took me “out of” myself and provided me with an exemplar of moral perfection. That exemplar was Jesus Christ: the Way, the Truth and the Life.

    Point 14

    The Incarnation is the central mystery of Christianity: 2,000 years ago, God came down and lived among us as a man. Either the Incarnation grabs you at the level of the heart or it doesn’t. If it does, then you’ll always experience a sense of something missing in other faiths, and they will ever satisfy you. When I was 28, I thought the Incarnation was impossible; when I was 43, I finally realized that it was both true and beautiful. Reading the Gospels after a long interval, what struck me was that Jesus was a man without an ego or a human personality; what He had, I realized, was a human mind and will, which were wholly assumed by the Mind and Will of God. His freedom was of a different kind from ours. We each have our own little personality, and we are capable of defying God. But because Jesus is a Divine Person, that’s not a choice His human will can make: sin is out of the question for Him. What He does have is the freedom to do good in whatever way He chooses. “Why didn’t God make all of us like that?” I hear some of you ask. Short answer: if He did, then you wouldn’t be “you” anymore. You’d have to give up your human personality in order to be like that.

    By the way, I happen to adopt a Scotistic view of the Incarnation: I think God would still have become man, even if there hadn’t been a Fall, simply because He loves us.

    Point 15

    The Trinity is another doctrine that bugs many people. I like to keep it simple: God knows and loves Himself perfectly. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are the Mind of God, God’s Understanding of Himself, and God’s Love of Himself. They are irreducibly distinct modes of God’s innermost being, which is why when we pray to God, we should have not a two-way but a six-way relationship with Him.

    Since God is our Father, He must love us like parents love their own children, only immeasurably more so. If God has created us for eternity with Him, then it would be absurd to imagine that He would let us separate ourselves from Him forever, without exhausting all possible options to bring us back. The notion of a God Who delights in punishing people in Hell, or in making the road to Heaven as difficult as possible, is absurd. I have family members who are not Christians; indeed, some are agnostics and atheists. I do not agonize about whether they will be saved; I simply assume that somehow, God will take care of that, since I know that they have a lot of goodness and love in their hearts.


    On Point 12

    We need not concern ourselves with the problems that a concept such as heaven give to the overall notion of God? etc These are the real problems which a Christian needs to deal with in order to robustly believe their worldview. As for partaking int he infinite God, does he mean to claim that God is a real and actual infinite as denied by proponents of the Kalam Cosmological Argument?

    On Point 13

    So, Vincent found it easier to find and maintain a morality within a religious framework? I suppose one strength of Christianity is that there is a central focal point person and book  in order to deliver (at times downright ambiguous and even wrong) moral messages. This makes being a Christian morally easier! It can be tough rationally defining ones morality as opposed to having it handed to you on a rather dubiously prescribed plate. But hopefully, with some deep thought, it can be more robustly and rationally defended. That Christian morality comforted Vincent enough to sign up is a subjective thing. I can’t argue with that other than to say that is utterly not my experience.

    On Point 14

    So, Jesus.

    Either the Incarnation grabs you at the level of the heart or it doesn’t.

    Well, if it doesn’t, then that is hardly fair of an all-loving God that one person is emotionally affected, but another isn’t. Taking into account the fundamental issues with doxastic voluntarism, this claim is problematic. The rest of the paragraph is vague deference to historically unsure texts. WE get to circularity and reliance on the historically dubious.

    By the way, I happen to adopt a Scotistic view of the Incarnation: I think God would still have become man, even if there hadn’t been a Fall, simply because He loves us.

    Again, this is fairly meaningless to me. Punting to an unknown about a fictitious entity revolving around an utterly incoherent event (Fall) doesn’t cut the mustard. All relying on the notion that an abstract entity, constrained by its own characteristics, and with no ability to have a discernible personhood, could actually love (whilst simultaneously designing and creating creatures in the full knowledge he will commit them eternally to hell). Wow.

    On Point 15

    The Trinity bugs people? Er, for sure! It makes no logical sense whatsoever. For things to be clearly definable as separate entities, they must have discernibly different properties. But for the Trinity to have different properties and to somehow remain part of the same whilst being in some way equivalent defies logic. The Father cannot have all of the same properties of Jesus or the HS and remain distinguishable. They must contain different properties which leaves them being distinct. But in being distinct they cannot be the same. If they have access to each property, then they take those properties on by extension. It is a muddled post facto rationalisation mess. The old Thai phrase “same same but different” springs to mind!

    By using the term “distinct modes” perhaps Vincent is trying to get out of admitting that these three persons make God polytheistic. If God is omnipresent, then these three aspects are just one indistinguishable mass of abstracta.

    And using the ontological argument, is this the greatest conceivable construction of God? I would have thought ONE is more supreme and elegant. But if we are going numbers, then perhaps 4 is better than 3 and so on.

    And unless Jesus exhibits the full properties of God then he is not fully God and fully man. In fact, as I mentioned in my Nativity book, Jesus cannot be fully human if he had his genome divinely selected! There are so many problems associated with Jesus=God=man thesis that it beggars belief that people actually believe it.

    I do not agonize about whether they will be saved; I simply assume that somehow, God will take care of that, since I know that they have a lot of goodness and love in their hearts.

    That’s all good and well, but it sounds like an argument from desire. Since many other Christians disagree, it is not a case of faith in God, but faith in your particular interpretation of God.

    That should do it for now. The FINAL piece will be the next one. Thanks to Vincent for this and happy critiquing!

    Category: ApologeticsGod's CharacteristicsTheology


    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce