Joel Berry: The Petty Prophet

20 Questions With a Believer, Critique of Apologetics, Podcast, Podcasters, Secular Grace
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My guest this week is Joel Berry, the podcast host of the Petty Prophet Podcast. Both hist blog of the same name and the podcast are from the Christian believer and politically conservative perspectives. Joel is very much a believer. He had listened to the Graceful Atheist Podcast and was curious enough to initiate a conversation.

[Due to fundamentalism] I think that I was teetering, when I was 19,
…, and I was deciding which direction to go with my life, teetering in my faith a little bit, and I joined the military, became a Marine Corps infantry man. Within a year I was in Fallujah.
[I was] a sheltered kid, [a] home schooled fundamentalist. I am taken out of the [United] States, out of my Christian bubble, and I spent a year in Iraq.
… I had a little Bible in my flak jacket that I read when I could.

Joel meets me in an honesty contest in which we both push each other but also take the time to listen to one another. I think it makes for a compelling conversation.

What compels me about Christianity? I think the first thing was that, and this is experiential … ,
I was taken out of a Christian world …
and I open my Bible and I read the words of Jesus in the Gospel and the words of Jesus really drew me in, there was something about that man that seemed other worldly and amazing to me.

Joel experienced a deconstruction from a fundamentalist form of Christianity. He left the IFB. He left a fundamentalist Calvinist theology. But he maintains in his words “a childlike faith.”

[I got into] aplogetics, the reasons to believe, the reasons for my faith, but all that stuff it’s all arguments, none of it is completely conclusive, and there is still an element of childlike faith involved.

This is a 20 Questions with a Believer episode. Joel and I take turns asking each other questions and then crucially allowing the other person to answer.

Links

Joel on Twitter:
https://twitter.com/JoelWBerry

The Petty Prophet Blog:
https://thepettyprophet.com/

The Petty Prophet Podcast
https://thepettyprophet.com/homepage/petty-prophet-podcast/

Interact

In the final thoughts section I make reference to this:

Joel brings up several episodes he has listened to. Here are links to those episodes:

Laura Anderson: Adverse Religious Experiences:
https://gracefulatheist.wordpress.com/2019/10/31/laura-anderson-religious-abuse-and-religious-trauma/

Matthew Taylor: Confessions of a Young Earth Creationist:
https://gracefulatheist.wordpress.com/2019/06/20/matthew-taylor-confessions-of-a-young-earth-creationist/

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Attribution

“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats

Alice and Bob Make a Wager

Critique of Apologetics, Thought Experiments

Thought Experiment

Setup

Alice and Bob believe in contradictory theistic gods, Theo and Uja respectively. Both faiths require belief in their mutually exclusive gods or dire consequences are at stake.

Carol does not believe in a god, but she is an open and honest seeker of truth. Carol has separate conversations with both Alice and Bob in which the believers try to convince the non-believer why she should believe.

Independently, Alice and Bob both use variations on Pascal’s Wager to try and convince Carol to believe. However, Alice wants Carol to believe in Theo but Bob wants Carol to believe in Uja.

Alice and Bob’s argument goes something like this:

If you are right about the nonexistence of God and I am wrong,

I lose nothing.

If I am right about the existence of God and you are wrong,

you lose everything.

Questions

  • Why might Carol not be convinced by either?
  • What happens when Alice and Bob talk to each other?

This post is in the series Thought Experiments for Believers.

Shazam Cosmological Argument

Critique of Apologetics, Philosophy, Thought Experiments

Thought Experiment

Setup

Alice and Bob believe the universe was created by the Great-Universe-Creating-Thingy (GUCT). According to Alice and Bob’s faith GUCT is ineffable and cannot be described nor understood. The GUCT is eternal and beyond time and space. It is powerful and wicked smart. Also the Great-Universe-Creating-Thingy is blue.

Alice and Bob use the famous, unassailable and air tight Shazam Cosmological Argument to prove the Great-Universe-Creating-Thingy created the universe.

1) Whatever begins to exist has a cause;
2) The universe appears to have begun to exist;

Therefore:

3) The universe has a cause.

1) The universe has a cause;
2) If the universe has a cause, then an uncaused, ineffable Creator … um Thingy of the universe exists that sans the universe is outside of time and space, powerful and wicked smart. It would also help if it were blue;

Shazam!

3) An uncaused, ineffable Great-Universe-Creating-Thingy exists, that sans the universe is outside of time and space, powerful and wicked smart. Also clearly blue in color.

Questions

  • Are you convinced by this argument that the Great-Universe-Creating-Thingy created the universe?
  • What flaws do you see in this argument?
  • Does the blueness of the Great-Universe-Creating-Thingy seem arbitrary?
  • How is the Great-Universe-Creating-Thingy different than your tradition’s explanation for the beginning of the universe?

This post is in the series Thought Experiments for Believers.

Alice and Bob’s Historical Evidence

Critique of Apologetics, Thought Experiments

Thought Experiment

Setup

Alice and Bob worship Theo, a theistic god. Their revered book, “The Revelation of Theo,” was written and compiled 1919 years ago by Theo’s early followers and has many amazing accounts of the miracles performed in Theo’s name. This includes the wonderful story of Theo’s representative on Earth, Jose, who swam up what is now called Victoria Falls, in order to demonstrate the great power of Theo to release the people from the net of transgressions that bind them.

Alice and Bob are well aware that there are many religious writings from other faiths with equally amazing accounts. These writings come before, during and after the time of the writing of “The Revelation of Theo.” They are also aware that other believers point to their respective writings as evidence for their own faiths. However, these writings are in direct opposition to their own sacred book, “The Revelation of Theo,” and cannot be harmonized.

Alice and Bob are smart and well educated in history, ancient writings and languages. They want to apply an accurate and principled historical standard to review the sacred writings of others and crucially, to use the same standard on their sacred book to show that Theo is the one true God.

Questions

  • What would the historical standard look like?
  • What standard do you use when evaluating religious claims?
  • Does the standard rule out the miracle stories of other faiths?
  • Do you apply the standard equally to your own sacred writings?
  • How would you use this standard to disprove the miracle of Jose swimming up Victoria Falls, while simultaneously proving the miracles from your preferred ancient text?

Use the following statements to complete the question:

Would you be more or less inclined to believe in Theo … 

  • If the story of Jose included 707 eye witnesses testimonies?
  • If the story of Jose indicated there was no water at Victoria Falls before this miracle and now there demonstratively is?
  • If the early followers of Theo were persecuted even to death by their neighbors and yet kept the faith?
  • If we currently had tens of thousands of partial pieces of copies of “The Revelation of Theo” from two to three hundred years after its initial writing?
  • If the first independent historical reference to Jose was written 103 years later?
  • If there were 3.1 billion followers of Theo today?

Final Question

  • Is it wise, even in principle, to use ancient texts as evidence for supernatural miracles?

This post is in the series Thought Experiments for Believers.

Two Smart Believers Disagree

Critique of Apologetics, Thought Experiments

Thought Experiment

Setup

Alice and Bob are bible believing Christians and they go to your church. They both also happen to have an education in interpreting the bible. One day, you ask them both a question about a particular interpretation on a significant passage (or doctrine) that has been troubling you.

Alice and Bob both give compelling, well thought out and equally biblically supported answers which just so happen to be mutually exclusive.

Questions

  • How do you as a person of faith determine which is true and which is false (or neither is true)?
  • Is revelation an effective method to discover truth?

This post is part of the series Thought Experiments for Believers.

Two Islanders Thought Experiment

Critique of Apologetics, Thought Experiments

Thought Experiment

Setup

There are two isolated islands which have no contact with the outside world or each other. In a twist of fate, Alice and Bob find themselves alone on these separated islands just as they have reached the age of reason.

After a short time Theo, a theistic god, reveals itself to Alice and Bob independently. The revelation is the same in both cases. Theo miraculously provides writing utensils and parchment for both of them.

Ten years go by, in which, Alice and Bob on their respective islands independently worship Theo and write down the revelation they received including how to properly worship Theo. Remember they don’t know about each other and have no contact with anyone else.

After ten years Alice and Bob are rescued from their islands and tell their stories to the world.

Questions

Do you believe Alice’s and Bob’s written accounts of the revelation of Theo and how to properly worship Theo will be the same?

From the perspective of Theo, is revelation an effective way to transmit truth?

This post is in the series Thought Experiments for Believers.

Thought Experiments for Believers

Critique of Apologetics, Thought Experiments

I am creating a new series of blog posts called “Thought Experiments for Believers.”

Unlike my typical verbose 1000+ word posts, these will be short setups with one or more probing questions. And that’s it. I am not going to answer them myself. The purpose of the questions is for the reader to decide for themselves. In many of the thought experiments, we will have three characters: Alice and Bob, of mathematics and encryption fame, and Theo, our generic theistic god.

Ironically, the thought experiments will take very seriously the premise of the existence of a theistic god. They will be predicated on the assumption that such a god exists and then ask the reader to consider the implications if that were true. My argument has always been that it is not that believers take god too seriously it is that they do not take the implications of a theistic god seriously enough.

There are a couple of hurdles the believer will have to overcome in order for the thought experiments to be useful. One, I am not suggesting that there will not be explanations for these thought experiments. Apologists will always have an answer. What I am asking of you is to seriously consider if it is the right answer. Do these explanations satisfy you? Two, many times apologists and believers will outright reject hypotheticals on principle. They can say to themselves, “well, this isn’t real so it doesn’t matter.” My challenge to you is to overcome this hesitation and take the questions seriously.

These are the types of questions I wish someone would have asked me early on in my faith. Even if you are convinced of the answers you have and are more confident in your faith after having asked yourself these questions, it will have been worth while.

I’ll continue to add broad topics here with links to the specific questions. If you happen to have a particularly good question you would like added here please contact me. If you are a believer and want to respond, please either comment or contact me.

Apologetic Arguments

Is revelation an effective method for communicating truth?

Does your theistic god intervene in the world?