Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Questions about The Geography Argument

Recently I wrote a post on the Geography Argument. A commenter on that blog (here is the original post) posted some questions for me, which I've decided to tackle in a post.
Have you heard of the Aumann Agreement Theorem, and what response to it do you have to it in this context?
There seems to be a misunderstanding with this questioner, and perhaps it is because I was not clear. The geography argument is solid. It “saves the data” as they say. It explains why religions, including whatever the true one is, if there is one (obviously I think there is), occur in pockets. Maybe it is even the correct explanation. However Christianity (and I assume other religions) also have simple explanations for the geographic pockets, as I discussed in my initial response. It is not a tough question for us. Calvinists, for example, would say that God placed the elect in communities for mutual support.
If [the Geography Argument] was presented HERE in a condescending manner, you should explain how. If it was not, then whether how it is allegedly "usually" presented is irrelevant and bad-faith argumentation.
The argument was presented as if the party conjurer was demonstrating something profound and/or surprising, especially to religious adherents. But it was nothing of the sort. The party conjuror could have been a devout Christian, Muslim, Jew etc. And the “parlor trick” as described would have been boring to the point of tears (or at least to the point of eye-rolling and suppressed groans.)
So, let me ask you this. Have you looked for the Muslim equivalent of a missionary? Have you patiently listened to their argument, and done everything else your missionaries are trying to get Christians to do? Have given Muslim missionaries the same chance to convert you, as you are trying non-Christians give to Christian missionaries?
Much to reply here. As an academic and as someone who conducts research at a world-class laboratory that attracts nuclear physicists from around the globe, I live in a multicultural environment. I have, among my colleagues, many Muslims. Now, I suspect that they are mostly the equivalent of cultural Jews or cultural Christians, or at most, analogous to liberal Christians. So I have never been proselytized. (I do find that many Muslims love to talk about faith and theology in a comparative sense.) I would find it fascinating to talk to a Muslim missionary. Then again, I’m on record as saying that if we could get Satan as a commencement speaker, I’d go listen to what the man had to say, with no worries. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4). 

But there is a gross misunderstanding here, given that I am a so-called Calvinist. I do not believe missionaries convert anyone. If someone responds positively to the presentation of the gospel from a missionary, it is either because they are already converted (before the missionary arrived) and the missionary is just providing the context for their conversion, or God has been pleased to covert the person contemporaneously with hearing the gospel message. For a Calvinist, it is not the response that is important, it is the message.
The point is that if you're willing to accept the proposition that these other people have adopted the wrong religion, are you willing to entertain the possibility that you have adopted the wrong one, and if not, why not?
Yes I am willing to entertain that proposition.
Do you believe that you are more knowlegable about the religions of the places you are sending missionaries than the people there are of Christianity?
Probably, on average. And that is certainly true for the missionaries. If you go to a Muslim country where study of Christianity is forbidden, or only caricatures are taught, then it seems likely that a properly trained missionary will know more about Islam than the typical native would know of Christianity. Likewise, if Saudi Arabia sent Muslim missionaries to the streets of our cities, trained to proselytize Christians, I suspect the average person they meet would know less about Islam than the missionaries knew about Christianity.
Suppose we take "Christianity" out and replace it with a variable: You are saying that there is a religion X such that X is true, but there are lots of places where people don't believe X because they haven't heard X and responded, and they haven't grown up in an X home and seen examples of X lived out. Now, on what basis do you say X is Christianity? How is Christianity distinguished other than you happened to be born in a Christian culture?
It is distinguished for me only that I believe it is the true religion; otherwise I wouldn’t be a Christian. I’ve already addressed why it is not at all surprising why Christians are in geographical clumps.
Sure it [the clumping of religions] does [says something about the truth of the religion]. Just compare it to nuclear science. Nuclear science has developed over a few decades, and new developments spread in a matter of months, and all through the power of persuasion. I don't know of anyone who believes in nuclear physics because they were brought up in a nuclear physics culture, or because their country was conquered by nuclear physicists, or because a bunch of rich (by local standards) nuclear physicists came to their village. While there are occasional people who are convinced by argumentation, the vast majority of the spread of Christianity has not been through people being rationally convinced. When someone needs to be forced at the point of a sword to adopt a belief, that IS very strong evidence that the belief is false.
Religion isn’t science. I agree with Luther that (paraphrasing) reason has nothing to do with it. Luther always gets quote-mined for this—as if he disavowed reason in all circumstances—but he did not. He was saying that conversion is a supernatural process, and not the product of logically reasoned study. I agree. I was not raised in a Christian home. I was not pursuing God. I was already a professional scientist when I became a Christian. I did not reason myself into a faith position. I only have two explanations: either a) I’m insane or b) God chose me and converted me and I had nothing to do with it.

If someone “needs” to be forced at the point of a sword, that is indeed a bad sign. But it might be that adherents of the true religion, if there is one, are misguided and take that approach. So some can be (likely) fake converts to the true religion at the point of a sword—they just don’t need to be.
If there were dozens of major branches of nuclear physics (as in, disagreeing about fundamental issues, not stuff like "should 11-dimensional string theory be pursued, or 16-dimensional") and thousands of sub-branches, and the primary predictor of which someone accepted was geography, rather than deliberate choice after careful study, would that not give you pause?
Sure. But again, science is not religion.
So, God has this important message for humanity. So important he takes corporeal form and suffers on the cross to deliver it. It is arguably the most important message anyone could hear. Yet he presents this message only to a few people in one area of the world, leaving it to them to spread it, knowing that it will take hundreds of years for them to reach even a small minority of the population, and even then they will have nothing but their audience's gullibility and fear on which to base conversion. Sorry, that's really not consistent with a loving God. Mainstream teaches that hell is a punishment. But it also teaches non-Christians go to hell. If hell is a punishment, and God is just, then non-Christians must deserve punishment. So, what, Muslim countries are just full of evil people?
That’s a different argument (and even older) than the geography argument. It’s the “this is what I’d do if I were God” argument. Or the “God is a monster” argument. It is not persuasive. You have many false assumptions (God is all loving? As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Rom. 9:13)) And it doesn’t really teach that non-Christians go to hell, by the working definition of a Christian. It teaches that people who do not have the privilege of substituting Christ’s righteousness for their own sin go to hell. Who knows who is contained in that group? I wouldn't presume to know.
So, what, Muslim countries are just full of evil people? 
Every country is full of evil people. We call that Original Sin. It means that you are born a sinner, you don't have to learn it or be taught. That is what the water symbolizes when we baptize infants.

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