Dave Walker

Mad Skillz: Dave on how to argue with me…

I meant to post this yesterday – I think I may have mentioned that Dave Walker was contributing two Mad Skillz. Here’s his second. It’s timely – perhaps – given some of the discussions this week. And I didn’t even bag out U2.

If you have a Mad Skill and would like to contribute I would be happy to keep posting these as long as material keeps coming in – feel free to go for a second bite of the cherry.

Anyway, here’s what Dave has to say. I don’t necessarily agree with all of it – but I’ll let the disagreements slide.

Nathan is one of the best people I know to have an argument with. You cannot argue with Nathan without being forced to think about what you’re saying and to consider fresh, creative, and insightful ideas. But arguing with Nathan can be a bit of an art form! Having been a sparring partner with Nathan in the North for the last four years, here’s my 5 tips for friends ‘down south’ on how to have a good argument with Nathan:

  1. Don’t. At least sometimes. Arguments with Nathan sometimes end with (metaphorical) blood on the floor on both sides, so a level headed assessment of whether it’s sensible to enter the fray is well worthwhile. Nathan will argue for arguing’s sake, so a release valve is important.
  2. Remember that the thinner the basis for Nathan’s position, the more strenuously he will defend it. You might think it’s stupid, but he really likes to do that. It helps him work out whether there’s anything in his position that he wants to hang on to, and whether your criticisms of the idea have any merit to them. Nathan’s whole philosophy is to test ideas to their absolute limits — so rather than be exasperated by that, just enjoy watching him defend the (sometimes) ridiculous. But don’t think that just calling an idea ‘ridiculous’ will somehow cool Nathan’s enthusiasm for it — it will do quite the opposite!
  3. The better the point you make, the less likely Nathan is to acknowledge it out loud. This is related to #2 — he’s not looking to agree with you, he’s looking to test ideas. So when you make a good point, he’ll ignore it and argue his point on different (and sometimes only loosely related) grounds. This can be very frustrating, but don’t bite on the deflection unless you think it’s relevant and call him on it if he needs it.
  4. Tell him to pull his head in every now and then. Nathan needs good friends who can see through his obstreperousness and self-confessed moments of arrogance, and remind him that there are often real people attached to the ideas he’s arguing against.
  5. You can never end an argument with Nathan. He is not interested in finding a position of agreement (see point 3) and he is psychologically incapable of letting you have the last word. So when it’s time to finish, make your point, let him have the last word, and either shrug your shoulders at him or say ‘thank you for highlighting that we don’t agree’!

Mad Skillz: Dave on regional ministry

Dave Walker is the boss of AFES in Townsville. Or the “executive pastor”. Really he’s just the senior staff worker. He has been in North Queensland for nine years. He has, on occasion, blogged here. He is so skilled that he has actually made two submissions to this program.

Dave is, of course, an “expert” in regional ministry and this input is so timely one might assume I asked him to write it.

Here are his tips.

  1. Keep heaven, hell, the bible and the gospel clearly in focus. Soon, no one’s going to care where they lived here.
  2. Be content for your gifts to be used less than they could be, or for your reputation to be smaller than it might be — for the sake of loving people. (And if that feels too hard, then think of your wife’s pattern of life raising children. Or Jesus. Either’s fine.)
  3. If God enables you, have children and grandchildren – spiritually. Most regional places suffer because there are no evangelical grandparents, ministers who have stuck around in the area for a generation or two. They don’t stick around because it’s hard, and often it’s right they move on. I’m guessing, though, (I’m only 9 years in!) that persuading other people to stay and minister with or near you is a key to going long term. (But if it is time to go to the big smoke, then do it!)
  4. Grow up. It’s lovely having some older, senior leader around to tell you that what you’re doing is great, or where you should go next, or that you’re ‘really needed’ where you are. But it’s a luxury, and God may put you somewhere where you don’t have that kind of leadership around. (And if I can facetiously slip in a corollary: Don’t stay in Sydney just because Phillip says you’re needed there!)
  5. Live in a nice house, where possible. This is pure pragmatism, and fraught with danger. But it helps.

Why I’m not an atheist #2 – Scientific Naturalism is powerful, but not enough.

I resist naturalistic explanations of my belief in God.

Atheist still use philosophical arguments, but it seems they are more a tool for unsettling Christians rather than the lifeblood of atheism. What seems to give much of modern atheism its strength is that in scientific naturalism it has found a way of explaining the world that doesnʼt need God. The philosophical argument still has its place of atheism, but it is less urgent and less pressing. The best argument against understanding the world in a theistic way is to provide an elegant, attractive, powerful mode of explanation that has no need for God.

The scientific naturalist mode of explaining the world is very powerful. It is indeed an impressive and elegant human achievement to have come up with this naturalist explanation of the world.

And yet I hold out on this very powerful way of understanding the world.

Why maintain a belief in God, when there is a very reasonable explanation of the world that doesnʼt require God? Indeed why am I not an atheist?

A couple of reasons:

Firstly, I maintain a difference between the conclusions reached by science, and the
assertions made by naturalism
.

Science is a methodology. It takes as its starting point observation – physical evidence of
one sort of another is the means by which science discovers physical causes.
You can do lots with the methodology of science. Itʼs very powerful! But one thing you cannot do with science is prove that physical causes is all there is. You assert a conclusion if it has already been woven into your methodology at the start. Naturalism conscripts science — it says: Look at all the physical causes science has discovered, and science can explain how it all works, so there must be no other causes.

But the interpretation of your scientific conclusions depends not on your science, but on your philosophy.

I look at the conclusions of science, and I see in them a discovery of how God has done things in the world.

A naturalist looks at the conclusions of science and says, There is no need for God.

Both assertions are beyond the realm of science — there is no scientific experiment you can do that can prove one over against the other. Any observational data you find will just fit into a prior philosophical framework you have established for yourself.

This is why some of you are agnostic rather than atheist. You are committed to the scientific method, but have seen that it is not in itself sufficient to say anything about God, for or against. We decide on other basis. Science is like a big bucket — an enormous bucket — that you can plumb the depths of the ocean with. But just because youʼve got a full bucket doesnʼt mean youʼve got the whole ocean. Itʼs far too imperialistic to claim that!

But secondly, I reject naturalism as a philosophy because it is too powerful.
Iʼll need to explain what I mean!

Naturalism explains my convictions about God in evolutionary terms. This is one of the humorous back and forths that always happens when atheists and Christians engage: the Christian will present some sort of reason or fact why the atheist should believe in God, and the atheist will respond with: Well I can explain fact using just natural physical explanations. I point to the fine tuning of the universe as evidence that God made it; the naturalist says, that doesnʼt prove God, because, as unlikely as it is, sheer random forces just made it like this.

I point to the number of people around the world, and throughout history  who believe in God, as evidence that we are hardwired for God — but the naturalist explains all such belief as a kind of  by-product of our evolutionary development … religion has helped us survive, but that doesnʼt prove thereʼs a God. I point to the beauty and design in the world and all the things we value, as signs that we are built and created by and for someone greater than ourselves; but the naturalist will encourage me to be suspicious of my perceptions “The illusion of design is a trap that has caught us before” Dawkins writes.

Thereʼs a long list of things that evolutionary naturalism is powerful to destroy and tear down, and the harder atheists use it with entertaining and formidable skill.

But hereʼs my question: why stop with religion? If religion is the product of evolutionary
adaptation, then why not rationality? Why ought I to be suspicious of my perceptions of design, but not suspicious of my perceptions of whatʼs rational?

If evolutionary naturalism is true, then ʻrationalityʼ is not to be explained as some characteristic of our species that connects us with the real world — it is merely a characteristic of the species that  helps us survive better in the real world. The power of reason depends on its objectivity — that it is really true and connects me to the world in a way that is true. But evolution is not interested in truth — itʼs just interested in survival. What we think about the world may be nothing more than a dream, an invention of our pragmatic minds.

Darwin himself realised this, and wrote to a friend:

“With me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of manʼs mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy.”

Naturalism is a very powerful sword. Naturalism does away with God, to be sure. But in the process, it does away with everything. Nothing we know or perceive can be depended on as connecting us to the real world — anything our brains tell us are merely the product of evolutionary adaption. If physical forces really do explain everything, then they must truly be allowed to explain everything — even my own explanations. It is just a case of special pleading to ʻexemptʼ naturalism from its own razor.

Naturalism, and atheism, in terms of what it actually teaches, seems to me to be a counsel of despair. My love for my family, my concern for others, the reasons I get out of bed in the morning — all of them are illusions, and irredeemably so.

Now please donʼt misunderstand me: I donʼt mean that every atheist is living in despair!
Iʼm glad to say thatʼs not the case. But if the physical evolutionary causes are the only explanation for life you have, how can you assert the reality of meaning of any kind? Itʼs not enough to say that you do assert the existence of meaning and love and beauty! When I hear atheists do that, I just think they are talking as a semi-Christianised atheist, still spending some cultural credit hanging around from Christianity! Itʼs not enough to say evolutionary naturalism doesnʼt lead to meaningless for you — you have to show why it shouldnʼt?

About Dave

Speaking of atheism… which I’ve been doing a lot lately…

Dave Walker has kindly agreed to post his talk that he gave to JCU’s Society of Atheist Philosophy last week as a series of posts here. It’ll be online as an audio file as soon as I get it off my iPhone (provided the recording actually audibly worked).

Dave works for AFES in Townsville. He has one wife and four sons. He studied sciency stuff at University so isn’t completely ignorant when it comes to matters of science (like I am) and shouldn’t be dismissed on that basis.

This is a photo of Dave in silhouette form.

He is a real person. He has feelings. Be nice to Dave.

At liberty

For those of you reading from the top of the page down – in the last post I mentioned some comments from Dave on a previous post, you should read that… anyway, he also had this to say:

“I think it taps into broader questions of what the role of the government is. Liberalism says the role of the government is to provide as far as possible for the liberty of its citizens and should interfere as little as possible with the choices citizens make. This depends on a shift from ‘government’ to ‘individual’ as the centre of moral decision making.”

I’d be interested in your thoughts on whether or not the government ever had a role to play in “moral decision making”… I would have thought that always essentially occurred via the individual because the government is not operating behind closed doors.

I probably lean towards classic “liberalism” but not so far as libertarianism as suggested by others in previous clean feed debates.

But you know who is a libertarian? WWE’s Kane. That’s who (or at least the guy who plays the character – Glenn Jacobs) – don’t ask me how I know this, but if you’re political views align with a guy who looks like this it’s probably time to reassess…

Lobbying for God

Dave (Walker – there are far too many Daves for this just to be a first name thing) and I have been thoroughly enjoying a discussion on the role of government (and Christians in relation to government) back on this post.

Dave, for the uninitiated, is the same guy who spoke at a conference in Brisbane recently and made a joke about me without realising that very few people in the audience knew who I was… this time round he’s called my doctrine of creation anaemic. I would have thought it was slightly lumpy myself, congealed perhaps…

Anyway, I was relaying the debate to my wife (who probably agrees with Dave)… and considered for the first time that while the government in the New Testament era was far from democratic, the model we see of Paul relating to those in authority while on trial is almost, almost, an example of Christian lobbying. With Paul playing the role of the advocate. I would stress that the distinction I see is that he’s not seeking to impose Christian morality on others, but to protect the rights and freedoms of Christians. I’d never really considered Paul in that light before. I see some inconsistencies between this sort of advocacy, and that practiced by the Australian Christian Lobby.

Spurious claim

Robyn and I went to a session of Spur on Saturday morning – Brisbane’s equivalent to whatever Sydney’s MTS conference is now called.

It was mind boggling. After a 4 year exile from Brisbane I knew almost nobody there. There’s been a complete generation change. It seems most of the guys of my generation are either doing ministry already, in theological education or doing some sort of MTS (and perhaps some have ruled it out).

That’s greatly encouraging – and is another prod that suggests college is the right thing for us next year. Enough thinking and talking – now it’s time for acting.

It must be said that the conference was “targeting” uni students so we didn’t quite fit the demograhpic.

The speaker was Townsville AFES staffworker Dave Walker – who used the pulpit to exhort and encourage the people there towards “reliability” – not flippancy or a reluctance to shoulder responsibility. He included a little dig about me in that – which was funny because we were in the back row, had arrived late, nobody knew we were there, and very few people knew who I was. It was like he assumed my notoriety still existed. Haha.

One memorable moment from his sermon though – that is worth recording for posterity – was his “first law of theodynamics” – which must surely rival “Walkers Ultimate 500” (still on the Wikipedia entry for 500) as one of the wisest things he’s ever come up with.

Roughly paraphrased it states:

“(Christian) Glory always follows suffering”…

Nice.

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