Ever since I had become an atheist and started to listen to podcasts such as the one by Sam Harris or shows like the Atheist Experience, I began to think that it is my responsibility to believe as many true things and as few false things as possible. In order to ensure that my beliefs are rationally justified, I started to follow logic, reason, and evidence. I cannot say that all my beliefs are true, but I can definitely say that I make the efforts to ensure that they are at the very least reasonable.
I also became willing to debate people. I do not mean to say that I argue aggressively in the sense that I participate in yelling contests or anything of the sort; rather, it is the case that I try to be as calm as possible. I think that this kind of debate can be quite healthy for one's belief system. It forces you to be able to justify your claims.
This is the exact thing I wanted this one elder to do. I think it is needless to say that I failed to make him see reason; however, I did not think that I would ever succeed. I realize this is merely a fool's errand, and I would never presume to think otherwise. Many, if not most, of the attempts to de-convert Jehovah's Witnesses fail. Surely, it is also safe to say that many, if not most, of the attempts to make them at least see reason—not necessarily de-convert them—fail as well. However, that does not stop me from conversing with them on occasion, and this is indeed something I made very clear to some of the elders. If they want to talk to me about my beliefs, they are free to do so. (I actually will have one more discussion with another elder, but I am not sure when this will take place.)
As I said, the e-mail exchange wasn't successful. Firstly, it was a waste of time purely because after each e-mail, I had to wait another day to receive a response. For that reason, I asked this elder several times whether we could have this discussion verbally—such as on Facebook, Google Hangouts, or Skype. He did not address my question in any of his e-mails. It was as if he never saw it. It would be my guess that he simply did not want to talk about this verbally because he knew I would be able to challenge him on his beliefs, and whenever that were to happen, he wouldn't be able to respond without looking for an answer
on the Internet in the Watchtower publications. Writing e-mails ensured that he was able to do exactly that, and that he wouldn't betray his ignorance of the topics I wanted to discuss.
The second reason why it was unproductive was his arrogance and willingness to make unjustified assumptions about why I believed certain things, such as evolution. Before we began our e-mail exchange, he called me on the phone to verify whether I had actually disassociated myself from Jehovah's Witnesses. I confirmed that the information he received from other Jehovah's Witnesses was accurate, which was followed by his remark on the theory of evolution. He explained to me, by use of analogy, that my belief in the theory of evolution was caused by my association with Catholics as I attended a Catholic high school in the past. His analogy was that if you drop a sponge in a bucket full of vinegar, the sponge will be soaked with it. Over the phone, and in the e-mails as well, I tried to point out to him that my conviction that evolution is true had nothing to do with the Catholic church. I told him that when I attended high school, I still didn't believe in it. It was after I had graduated that I finally started listen to science. As expected, he ignored all of that.
Thirdly, his only argument was extremely faulty. He began our e-mail exchange by introducing an experiment. He wanted me to take 24 coins, toss them, and count how much time it took for the coins to drop to the ground and stop rotating. The average time I got was 3.5 seconds. I asked him twice what was the purpose of this experiment because I thought his argument was that the universe couldn't have come into existence by chance. If this were the case, I wanted to forget about the experiment completely and tell him right away why this argument was problematic. He said that this was not the argument, so I let him continue. In the next e-mail, he finally presented his argument. He said that in order for all the 24 coins to fall to the ground heads up, I would have to continuously repeat the experiment 8 hours a day every week for 5 years. The argument was that life, not universe, could not have begun by chance. In my next e-mail, I pointed out to him that when I asked him about his argument, I meant to include life in the universe as life is part of it. I also asked him, for the last time, to discuss this argument verbally on Facebook, Google Hangouts, or Skype because of the numerous problems I have with it. I told him the e-mail would be too long to write, and that if he failed to understand something, I would have to wait a day to receive a response from him. I remarked it would be just more productive to discuss this verbally so that any misunderstandings could be clarified immediately.
In this same e-mail, I also asked him to get familiar with a list of terms which would inevitably come up when discussing this argument. This is the list:
Validity (of a logical argument)
Soundness (of a logical argument)
Dichotomy (in logic)
Argument from ignorance
Argument from personal incredulity
Theory (in science)
Hypothesis (in science)
In his response, he said that he didn't want to spend time discussing philosophy and hypothesis. To him, it was clear as day that every house was built by someone; similarly, he claimed, life had to be created by God. It was his last e-mail, and this leads to the fourth point. In our conversation, he betrayed a double standard. On the phone, he said that I wouldn't be convinced of "the Truth" because I had already assumed that Jehovah's Witnesses' beliefs were false. Of course, I tried to tell him that this wasn't the case at all, and that I was open-minded, but he simply just cut me off. Then, in his last e-mail, when I wanted to challenge him on his argument, he simply stated that, to him, it was clear as day that life had to be created. This was my last e-mail to him:
In this case, it seems this will be my last e-mail. However, before we inevitably part ways, I wanted to bring something to your attention. Please do not think that I am trying to be rude or otherwise unkind; if the tone of this e-mail seems to be so, I apologise. All I wish to do is share with you some thoughts for the sake of your own meditation. [I used the word "meditation" because in one of his first e-mails, he asked me how much influence the Catholic church had over my belief in evolution. He said it was a question "for my meditation."]On the phone, you said to me that I'm close-minded because I have already assumed what's true, and based on that assumption, I disassociated myself from Jehovah's Witnesses. You thought, and you probably still do, that it does not matter what you say to me, for my mind will stay the same. And that's fine; it's your prerogative to think of me and my beliefs whatever you wish. Nevertheless, it also remains your prerogative to care about your own beliefs. If you care about my potential closed-mindedness, should you not also care about your own? You entered this conversation, and now you don't want to continue it because you have already assumed that you have the truth. Is it not the same thing that you have accused me of?You say that it is a fact that God constructed all things. But is it really? This notion that you have the absolute truth is what I wanted to challenge, and indeed it is something you should challenge as well. It's something everyone should question. Do I have the truth? Do you have the truth? Does the stranger walking down the street have the truth? What remains a puzzle to me is why you think of philosophy so negatively. I can conceive of metaphysics being useless to some people, and I personally also don't have much use of it, but what about the three other branches of this field: logic, ethics, and epistemology? These should not have a negative connotation. Take logic as an example. We all use logic in our lives, and without logic, we cannot know the truth. Logic (along with reason and evidence) is the path to determining what conforms with the objective reality.I apologise if I have the wrong idea, but it seems to me that you escape this conversation the second I mention logic, one branch of philosophy. I think this is the wrong course to take. Construct as many logical arguments for your faith as you can, and then work towards falsifying those arguments. This is why science is so reliable. Science relies on scientists' attempts to falsify their hypotheses and theories. See whether your conclusions are valid; moreover, challenge your premises and see whether your conclusions are sound.I write this e-mail knowing that either you will not respond, or you will respond but will try to criticize my thoughts. This is fine. Criticize whatever you want, but it is best for people to criticize their own ideas. I am my worst critic, but I am also my worst delusion, for the easiest person to delude is yourself.
It is very unfortunate that this seems to be a trend among Jehovah's Witnesses. In the past, I have already debated a circuit overseer (who said he wouldn't watch the recordings from ARC) and other Jehovah's Witness elders. They are taught to be biased and to consider only their point of view. They are discouraged from learning about the opposing view, and this is a serious problem. This tendency to be biased and not even see that is the reason for my remark: "I am my worst delusion."