Remember graduating from High School? And everyone asking the proverbial question—“So what are you going to do?” Most of us didn’t have a clue; we would make up some acceptable answer, “Be a Doctor,” “Go into business,” and receive the requisite nod of acknowledgment that the reply was satisfactory.
Not me. I knew what I was going to do—be a computer programmer. My father and brothers were. My uncles and cousins were either actively involved in computers or hobbyist programmers. My younger cousins were going to be in computer information fields. (My family at Thanksgiving sounds like a nerd convention.)
When filling out forms for colleges, with all the possible occupations one could be interested in, and I was to check a little box (“Please check only three (3)”); I went right past “Animal Husbandry” and checked “Computer Information Systems.” One box. Every time.
In the summer between my first and second year of college, my family was actively engaged in some debate around the dinner table, and I was making my point as vociferously as possible. My father said, “You should be a lawyer!” I thought for half a second, and concluded being an attorney sounded quite fine. I changed from checking the computer box to the one marked “Pre-Law.”
After law school, we wander off into our various careers. Some become transactional lawyers. (Prepare legal documents. Never see the inside of the courtroom.) Some tax lawyers, immigration lawyers, family law lawyers, drunk driving lawyers, criminal lawyers, prosecutors, estate lawyers, and so on.
I have landed on a broad field of civil litigation (with an extensive past in criminal law) resulting in trials as well as quite a bit of general practice work. Simply put, what this means is on Monday I may be retained by a female in a custody dispute, in which she is attempting to retain physical custody of her children. On Tuesday I may be retained by a male, attempting to obtain more parenting time with his children. On Wednesday, I could be retained by a builder, attempting to collect a fee from a homeowner. On Thursday, I could be hired by a homeowner attempting to recoup a fee paid to a builder.
Eventually, it seems, we represent about every possible party in every possible dispute in every possible situation. (This is not true, of course. Human ingenuity being what it is, coupled with variety presents new twists on about everything.) I have represented Fathers, Mothers, Grandparents and Relatives in child disputes. I have represented contractors, sub-contractors, homeowners, building inspectors, landlords, tenants, purchasers, and sellers in real estate transactions.
When you come into my office, as I get the information from you, I am already thinking what the other side will argue. Because I have probably already represented another client in a similar position as the person I am about to oppose. I cannot be an effective counselor, if I am biased for your story, simply because you are paying me. In order to do my job, I need to point out the problems, the possible solutions, and the resolutions, as well as the likely outcome, based not only on what you say, but on what the opposing party will claim. I know it will judged by a person who is neutral, and uninvolved. Not someone prone to either believe or dis-believe you.
After doing this for a bit, we lose much of our biases towards particular types of clients. I am not more inclined to represent a Mother or a Father in a custody battle. I have represented both. Won and lost on both. I will represent someone suing for money, or being sued for money with equal vigor. Again, won and lost on both. As time progresses in a file, being human we naturally start to favor our own client; but always with the premise in mind we will be opposed by someone who opposes our client’s position, and we will receive a ruling from someone who is not prejudiced for or against either our client or the opposing party.
In a nutshell, we learn what arguments will work (whether they favor our clients or not) and which ones are not persuasive. We have to, in order to effectively advise people who retain us.
But in order to know all the arguments, we need to know the facts underlying the case. Receiving the facts from just our own client is too one-sided; we need to know what facts the other side will be relying upon. We need to do some research. That is why we have “Discovery.”
Discovery is precisely what it sounds like—we “discover” things about the other side while they “discover” things about us; usually in the form of document requests, depositions, and lists of questions. With a few exceptions, if the other side does not ask for it—you do not have to voluntarily provide it. For this reason, we spend much of our time within litigation trying to find out what the other side has, as the basis for their claim, while attempting to NOT provide what we have.
See, every trial lawyer gets all tingly with the thought of having a bit of evidence that is so compelling, and so damning, we will completely lambaste the other side, and they will never know. To have the “secret witness” who testifies in our favor. Or a document completely contradicting the other person’s position. We even have a term for it: a “Smoking Gun.” (As in evidence that is so compelling and so immediate as to destroy any possibility of defending it. Like a defendant caught still holding a gun that is smoking from the spent bullets.)
Attorney: Is it true you threatened to kill my client?
Witness: I never said that!
Attorney: You left a voicemail message on October 3, 2007 at his place of employment, correct?
Witness: I…ah…don’t remember.
Attorney: Can you identify your voice? [hits “play” on laptop]…
I don’t even have to say what comes next—we all know what we are about to hear. E-mails and voicemail are prevalent in cases in which people claim one thing, but leave a totally different message. The voicemails and e-mails become the “Smoking Gun.”
This is why much of our time is spent learning facts about the case (both favorable and not so favorable) while assessing the plausibility of the arguments derived from those facts, in light of our opposition and a neutral trier-of-fact. It is important to understand this occupies the majority of my professional life each day to follow what happened next…
Life comes down to inches and seconds. We miss hitting a car and having a terrible accident by mere moments. Or falling off a roof by our foot being only inches on the correct side. Sometimes our life can take a drastic turn, that had we been a few minutes late, or a few feet in a different direction would never have happened. For all I know, I would still be a Conservative Christian, completely unfamiliar with even the term “deconvert” but for a posting on a thread in a forum. Something easily missed by inches or seconds.
I enjoy home theater. It is my primary hobby. I was the first of anyone I know who owned a DVD player. (I cringe at the thought of how much I paid!) I was the first who used more than just two speakers running through a stereo system. The first with High Definition Television. I have 1/2 meter interconnect wires that cost more than some of my wife’s jewelry. (And are twice as pretty, in my opinion.)
Since I enjoy this hobby, I regularly followed a home theater forum. Debating over TV brands, Speaker sizes and that sort of thing. As many forums do, this particular one had a sub-forum for a “catch-all” where people could discuss anything not related to home theater. Threads on “How to cook chicken,” or “Who will win the world series?” Someone started a thread on a topic (I don’t remember what) and another member said, “Hey, if you want to discuss creationism vs. evolution, go to iidb.org.” Because the forum wisely prohibits any postings whatsoever regarding religion or politics, the thread was either closed or quickly ignored, disappearing down the scroll as threads do.
In December of 2003 I happened to catch this particular thread, and out of half-boredom, half-interest in the topic, took 1 second to click on the link and was introduced to Internet Infidels Forums. My life came down to that inch and that second.
Here was a wonderful thing! It appeared to be a group of atheists, agnostics and non-believers, discussing a variety of topics, but most importantly, discussing theism. Primarily Christianity. I was captivated. In life, it is considered rude to inquire as to people’s beliefs. Certainly it is rude to argue with them over their beliefs. The only situations in which discussions were acceptable were with other Christians. Who believed just…like…me.
I had never debated with an atheist or agnostic before. To my knowledge, I had never met an atheist or agnostic (although obviously I must have.) And here was a whole forum, teaming with non-believers and a few believers—all discussing theism. Most discussing Christianity.
Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. We have a forum discussing Christianity (a topic I love), with an opposition (great—a challenge), in a medium I adore and cherish (free debate.) But it was even better—I could lurk and read all I wanted. I could follow their links and read their articles. I could research and review Christian articles countering their position. I was getting free and full discovery!
Barrel. Fish. Shooting.
I must confess to being naïve. 20-20 hindsight is not always kind. I had been informed all my life we held “Truth.” We were as close to correct regarding the reality of God that one could be this side of heaven. I had read and learned the arguments infidels used, and expected to see the same such arguments here. I knew (because God told me) most of these individuals actually believed in a God, deep, down in their heart (Rom. 1:20), and while a few were probably too hardened to turn, many would still be open to the concept of God.
I had Truth; they didn’t. I had God; they didn’t. I had background; they didn’t. I had faith; they didn’t. This, THIS is what I was designed for—debating theism with non-believers. (Being Calvinist, obviously I did not expect to be a great evangelistic tool—that was up to God. If he didn’t elect ‘em—no amount of arguing would make a difference.)
And with a mood of euphoric giddiness, I began to read. It was only a matter of time before I posted, of course, but first I needed to get my ducks in a row. I needed to learn. I needed their facts, their arguments, my entire discovery, before I came in with the “smoking gun.”
As I started to read, I became disconcerted. Here was an agnostic that read Greek and Hebrew. I can’t read Greek or Hebrew—how was I to argue with that? Sure, there are on-line tools available, but even I was not so naïve to understand this is nothing like actually studying the language. Or over there were people discussing the nuances of alternative solutions to the Synoptic Problem.
The Synoptic What? How can I discuss what the correct solutions were, if I didn’t even know what the problem was?
Further, they were quoting the Bible. Yes, some of it was out of context, or not well-researched, but the fact they knew it at all, and knew so much was a little surprising. I understood atheists to be people that hadn’t been informed; not people that already knew. Worse, they raised some of the troubling questions we Christians had discussed long ago and came up with answers only barely satisfactory to ourselves. How did they know those? Pretty easy to resolve a problem with another Christian by saying, “Some day we will know the full answer. When we get to heaven.” Not so easy with a person who doesn’t believe in heaven.
Textual Criticism? Weren’t those problems resolved? Aren’t we 99% accurate? Archeology—it always supports the Bible. Right? RIGHT? Who could question the inspiration of the Bible? How could a person not see the resolutions are sufficient to the claimed contradictions?
See, as a lawyer, we know not only our own arguments, but the other sides’ arguments as well. We know the case backwards and forwards; the pro’s and con’s of each position. We know our own strengths and weaknesses; we know our opponents’ too. We become so familiar with the other side we can anticipate what they will claim and what they will argue. Because if we were in their position (as we might very well be next time) it is what we would argue.
I realized I needed to know their arguments better than they did; not equally as well. I needed to know their strengths and weaknesses. So my focus changed. I put down my sword, and recognized numerous areas of study in which I was severely uninformed. This was going to take a little more time than originally anticipated. Time to start researching in earnest.
I was still not concerned. Christianity was true; that was a given. I had just learned there were more topics to digest, investigate, and come to the correct conclusion. The non-believers were still as wrong; there were just wrong in more areas than I originally anticipated!
In fact, this is quite common in court cases. What we originally anticipate will be the focus or arguments, later changes upon new developments. Further, as lawyers, we may start the litigation with very little knowledge in the field, but by the end could almost qualify as experts. We may know nothing about the sprinkler systems. Have a case regarding them, with experts testifying for all sides, and soon we know more than we ever dreamed about laying pipe, the size of pipe, configurations, sprinkler head types, etc. Because we have to know it as well as, or even better in order to explain it to the jury.
This was another one of those situations. Although I did not know Documentary Hypothesis going in, I would be sure to study it and come to a conclusion. Since Christianity was true and tested true, I had little doubt as to what that conclusion would be.
I became a regular visitor at sites familiar to many reading this. EarlyChristianWritings. Tektonics. AnswersInGenesis. TalkOrigins. I ordered Books with familiar names. Strobel. Zacharias. Metzger. Armstrong. And every thread on iidb within the Bible sub-forum, I followed post-by-post, linking where links were provided, googling when they were not, looking for other positions.
I started to have an unpleasant tingling feeling. The arguments presented by non-believers…well…I am used to arguments; I can see what sells and what does not. And these arguments were not half-bad. They were certainly not as bad as I was taught or thought they would be. In fact, some of these arguments were pretty good.
Having never studied Documentary Hypothesis (the concept the Torah was written by four distinct authors or groups, J, E, P, D), I had no pre-conceived idea as to its viability. I was always taught and knew that Moses wrote the Torah. After reading about the Hypothesis, especially in seeing the two (2) stories of Noah’s Flood intertwined, I could not help but read that story and SEE that it was two different tales smashed into one. It looked (dare I say?) obvious.
For the first time, I was forced to recognize my Christianity was not the only viable option. Other views could present alternative views which were not only possible, but more plausible than my own. It would be acceptable to modify my beliefs upon learning this new information, as long as it didn’t go too far. But how much was “too far”? It was time to test the waters and begin posting. How would it shape up in a real debate?
To be Continued…