Nick Wright's responses to comments from people online (Jan - Jun 10), initially prompted by his short video, Tough Questions - Suffering & God on YouTube. The most recent comments are posted first. Opening comments in inverted commas are direct quotations from other people's postings that Nick is responding to.
@ A person may say, ‘What I think is true and I can’t possibly be wrong’ or, ‘I have good reason to believe what I think is true, but I may be wrong’. Sometimes theists and atheists alike talk as if they know the absolute truth about whether God exists or not. What they actually hold is a faith position because neither can prove in absolute terms that God exists or that God doesn’t exist. What each can say, however, is 'I have good reasons for believing that my faith position is true'.
@ 'your delusion'. I can understand why you might hold that view. Since God cannot both exist and not exist, and cannot be proven definitely to exist or not exist, and since you appear to hold the view that God does not exist and I hold the view that he does, one of us must be deluded! In the final analysis, it may transpire that on this issue I am deluded, just as it may transpire that you are.
@ Yes, those passages in Deuteronomy 21 and 28 are tough ones to understand and come to terms with. It seems to me that it's partly about trying to imagine and understand the historical and cultural context within which the Deuteronomy was written and, in light of what the wider Bible teaches, to interpret what point(s) those passages may have been intended to convey. I've heard that in Jewish teaching, people often use hyperbole (that is, grossly exaggerated statements to emphasise a point) and perhaps that's something of what's going on in Deuteronomy 28. We see similar exaggerated statements in Jesus' teaching (e.g. 'If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters - yes, even his own life - he cannot be my disciple.' Luke 14:26). If that is the case, we may be misunderstanding passages like Deuteronomy 28 because, in our culture today, we wouldn't communicate like that. It comes across to us as deeply shocking. It may be a cross-cultural misunderstanding, superimposing our 21C Western cultural framework onto the text in such a way that misinterprets it. This is one of the reasons why I believe atheists are naiive to rashly dismiss the Bible without having ever really understood it. The passage in Deuteronomy 21 is interesting too. Ironically, I imagine that to the original hearers, it would have sounded shocking that (a) a woman and (b) a prisoner from an enemy nation should be treated with any dignity and respect and provided with any rights at all (see v14)! In other words, although it sounds shocking from a 21C Western cultural perspective, it would probably have sounded shocking for the opposite reasons for the original hearers. By way of explanation, some theologians comment that in the Bible, God was speaking to people within their own historical and cultural contexts, gradually revealing something of his purposes and values. He tolerates our human weakness, our blinkered perspectives, our distorted sense of reality and truth and, by his grace, speaks to us within it, gradually leading us forward towards his greater revelation. It's why we need to seek his truth with genuine humility and open heart and mind. As Paul says in 1 Cor 13:12, 'We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright!'
@ Another tough question! I'm not sure what specific groups of people you had in mind that God condemned to death but I can guess where you may be referring to. I will do my best to offer a response. The Bible portrays God as pure, just and loving. I guess it's hard to hold those things in tension when relating to fallen humanity in a fallen world. On the one hand, God is absolutely intolerant of sin (i.e. that which by its evil nature separates us from God) and, on the other hand, he is absolute love - love beyond our wildest dreams. It's hard for us to imagine what these qualities mean in absolute terms because we can only relate to them within the confines of our own limited human experience. So when we talk about God as 'love', for instance, it's as if we are using that language analogically. (There's a great section on this point in the book I mentioned). In the Old Testament, we see God's judgement of (i.e. righteous reaction to) sin portrayed in very graphic terms. You could say that God is making the point in no uncertain terms that he is absolutely intolerant of sin and, thereby, revealing something of his nature and character. His punishments seem very harsh and, at times, incomprehensible to us because we struggle to grasp the absolute horror, significance and eternal implications of sin. Only in the most extreme cases (e.g. Nazi genocide) do we gain a glimpse of what sin exposed really looks and feels like. At the same time, the Bible does not say that people whom God punished in the Old Testament were thereby condemned eternally. God sees the eternal frame whereas our perspective is restricted to the temporal one. At the same time in the Old Testament, we see glimpses of God's mitigating actions, even in the Garden of Eden (e.g. Gen 3:21) that you referred to. God's ultimate solution to the problem of sin is to send his own son as a supreme sacrifice in our place. It's hard for us know or comprehend what Jesus' life, death and resurrection really mean in eternal terms - it's beyond our ability to grasp or imagine. However, the Bible reveals that the cross is somehow God's way of resolving and reconciling absolute intolerance of sin with his absolute love. In that sense, Jesus' execution on the cross parallels the Old Testament punishment of groups of people that you refer to. The good news of the gospel is that, through Jesus' sacrifice, God freely and passionately offers love, forgiveness, freedom from sin and eternal life. As to the question why God chose to send Jesus into the world at that particular point in time (rather than, say, in Genesis 3) - it's a Divine mystery!
@ On 'how do we know a result of a prayer comes from God or from coincidence', I guess it partly depends on how specific the request was and how specific the outcome was. Sometimes, we simply don't know. I don't believe that prayer can be viewed mechanistically - it is at heart a profoundly mysterious engagement and relationship with a real Person; a Person who is able to see way beyond our limited human perspective and horizons. After all, that's what we believe about God. I guess that's where issues of faith and trust come in, and why I disagree with atheists' reductionist calls to prove the power of prayer empirically - as if prayer is simply a mechanical force that can be tested and repeated in a science lab. For me, there is also an intuitive dimension - what some might describe as spiritual discernment - a sense of 'knowing' God's presence or hand at work, including in situations I haven't prayed about or where my prayers haven't apparently been answered, as well as where they apparently have. One could offer all kinds of explanations for that phenomenon but I believe that kind of discernment is a sign and result of the Holy Spirit's presence within us. The same principle applies when a person reads the Bible in humility, seeking God with open heart and mind. It's as if God (at times) opens his or her heart and mind to discern glimpses of his profound reality, truth and love - a profound, transcendent, spiritual experience (see 1 Cor 2). On the gospels, I can understand your reservations. On the face of it, the gospel narratives do vary in certain details of, say, the resurrection of Jesus. I'm not sure I can offer a straightforward answer. I tend think about it from a number of angles. Firstly, the gospels certainly do not differ on the central point that the resurrection took place. That strikes me as critical. Secondly, the disciples were prepared to suffer and die horrible deaths on the basis of what they believed and reported had taken place. That tells me they were certainly convinced! Thirdly, I have heard people reconcile the different gospel accounts, although I don't believe it is necessary. Let me try to explain. Question - did the apparent contradictions in the gospels slip the notice of those who compiled the Bible, or did they seek to preserve genuine authentic accounts, just like those of different witnesses at a crime scene today? The compilers could have easily harmonised the accounts to ensure more obvious consistency. We are left to draw our own conclusions. Some (in my view, unreasonably) rashly dismiss the accounts in light of those inconsistencies. For me, it adds to the Bible's integrity. I will try to explain further. I've worked for years in human rights and disaster relief organisations where people face traumatic and, at times, psychologically and emotionally overwhelming experiences. It's fairly common in such circumstances for different people to recall different aspects of an event and even, at times, to provide apparently contradictory accounts of some details. It results from a range of factors, e.g. differences in physical proximity and viewpoint, differences in timing on the scene, differences in what stood out as significant etc. The death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus Christ was certainly a psychologically and emotionally overwhelming experience for the disciples. I wonder if that's the most natural explanation for the discrepancies.
@ Sounds to me like the question points to issues like attribution theory and confirmation bias? Here’s my thinking. Firstly, I would agree that it seems to follow logically that the phenomenon (in this case, 'receipt of $100 having prayed to a jug of milk for it') does not of itself provide an explanation for the cause of the phenomenon. When the person prays to the jug of milk, it represents at some level a belief in the milk’s willingness and ability to provide the $100 and also, psychologically, sets up a specific expectation. Hence, the person who holds that particular combination of belief and expectation is likely to attribute the outcome to the milk when a result consistent with that belief and expectation materialises. In this case, it begs the question whether a person could hold good reason to believe that a jug of milk is willing and able to answer prayer. And now the analogy. The Bible reveals God as willing and able to answer prayer, specifically although not exclusively in the gospel accounts of Jesus Christ’s ministry. This sets up a corresponding belief and expectation, hence the Christian’s attribution of results to God if he or she prays for something that is, as far as he or she can discern it, consistent with God’s purposes and values. This begs a number of questions, e.g. is there more reason to believe that God responds to prayer than a jug of milk can or would? I would say, on the basis of the gospel accounts - which I have no good reason to doubt – ‘yes’. Does it mean therefore that every time a result materialises that is consistent with something a person prayed for, the result should be attributed to God? I don’t think so – although some theologians would say, ‘yes, by his permissive will, even if not by his active will.’ To me, the prayer phenomenon is profound mystery – after all, if our Christian theology is at least approximately consistent with reality and truth, we are engaging in relationship and conversation with a Person who is well beyond our ability to fathom or control. Incidentally, you may be interested to have a glance at 'Philosophy of Religion' by C Stephen Evans?
@ 'People can feel the presence of God...the fact of the matter is that they feel it...I would consider that an objective truth.' An interesting perspective.
@ 'lack of evidence isn't proof that the evidence doesn't exist.' Agreed.
@ 'all humans, believers and non- alike, observe and are agents in their reality'. Agreed. Are you familiar with social constructionism and personal construct psychology?
@ 'faith and reason can help us discover the truth...those two gifts are really amazing and work in tandem.' Agreed. Thomas Aquinas had some interesting things to say on that topic.
@ ''I didn't choose to have faith. That would be rather simplistic of me.' Yes, that resonates with my experience too. Since becoming a Christian, I've had a profound intuitive sense of God's reality, truth and presence, but I'm not sure how far it would make sense for me to say that I've chosen that experience. It's why some Christians talk about knowledge of God as grace, or a 'gift of faith'.
@ 'Religion is a lot more than reading the Bible and countless people are witnessing the presence of God every day'. Agreed.
@ 'It's knowing what the Bible is...it refracts the truth so that you can see its richness in the same way that refracted light displays its wonderful colours'. Well said - and striking imagery. :-)
@ 'debate between religious people and scientists/doctors'. Interesting idea, but false dichotomy.
@ '9%...32%...32%...18%...20%'. Interesting figures. It's notoriously difficult to collect, analyse and make sense of demographic statistics on issues of faith and belief. Results are influenced by a complex range of factors, e.g. who is asking the question, how the question is framed, what the respondent understands by the question, what the respondent means by their answer, how representative samples are, what the perceived implications are of responding in certain ways etc. Very tricky!
@ 'the percentage of people submitting to religious beliefs is on a down slide'. Sounds like that may be true in the United States and some other contexts but I'm not sure that's the overall case globally. It's tricky to know for sure what's the facts and trends are globally because there are no universal reliable measures. 'quite unexpected directions'. Yes, some commentators say, for instance, there is a surge of interest in 'non-traditional religious spirituality' in the UK.
@ 'crappy science book'. I can see your point but I'm not sure the analogy follows because the bible contains many different types of literature and each should be interpreted according to its own genre. 'how can anyone be expected to know which parts are true and which parts are metaphors?' That's a very good question! It's a tough one for biblical scholars because the writers didn't leave signposts throughout to say, 'this is meant literally' and 'this is meant metaphorically'. There are various techniques, e.g. identifying the literary genre for different books of the Bible, e.g. narrative, wisdom, poetry, letter; seeing how different books in the Bible appear to view each other; employing various methods of discourse analysis; viewing passages in their specific context and co-text; looking at how Jews and Christians have interpreted the Bible from its earliest compilation; using a subjective-intuitive sense of what seems the most natural reading etc.
@ 'you are absolutely wrong...the Bible is meant to be taken literally...every word, sentence, paragraph etc.' Many Christians believe the bible is one of God's principal sources of spiritual revelation and some regard it as infallible. That is quite different, however, to insisting that everything within it should be interpreted literally. There are some Christians who try to interpret and apply it literally throughout but that is by no means true of all Christians globally.
@ 'taking the bible as a literal piece of literature is ridiculous'. I can see what you mean. I don't believe that everything in the bible is intended to be taken literally - including by those who wrote it - although it seems that some Christians and atheists alike insist that it should be. Communicating truth through, say, story or poetry does not of itself make the story or poem a lie. It's about understanding the literary genre and intention.
@ 'people who take it (the Bible) literally are taking intellectual progress in a rearward direction.' I guess I see it as more complex than that. The Bible contains lots of different kinds of literature - e.g. narrative, poetry, wisdom, letters, apocalyptic etc. This means that, when attempting to interpret the Bible and unearth it's 'truth', the reader needs to take into account a wide range of factors including literary genre and (-hypothesis-) author's intention.
@ 'At the end of the book of Daniel, Daniel himself claims not to understand it'. Yes, that's one of those things I love about the book of Daniel - his ability to convey a profoundly mysterious sense of God, spiritual dynamics and reality that lie way beyond our limited human abilities to grasp and comprehend. My sense is that theists and atheists alike often try to squeeze God into constructs that are highly simplistic and reductionist - quite unlike the God of the Bible.
@ 'every major religion teaches intolerance and bigotry towards non-believers'. I wonder if there's an inherent risk that every defined group (religious or not) creates the social-psychological conditions for both inclusion and exclusion. Interestingly, the new testament portrays Jesus Christ as overtly and persistently challenging exclusive attitudes in the religious authorities of the day.
@ ‘God is the ultimate artist...and the Bible is a jewel'. I like those images of God and the Bible. I too see no necessary inconsistency between developments through what we regard as 'natural processes' and an underlying Divine origin, intentionality and design. Religious and atheist fundamentalists alike sometimes, in my view unnecessarily and unhelpfully, apply a literal interpretation to all aspect of the Bible which, as far as I can see, the Bible itself doesn't appear to demand.
@ 'consider all sides of argument'. I know what you mean. I frequently see atheists (and sometimes theists) on this channel framing the conversation in such a way that excludes any possibility of truth in any perspective other than their own. It's one of the reasons why some theists get frustrated with some atheists' claims to 'logic' - it's often a logic that only applies within their own predefined frame of reference.
@ 'if you cannot prove something over the course of 2 millennium'. I agree with X's response on this point: 'proving something true doesn't have a set time limit'.
@ 'you specifically answered your proof lies within the gospels'. What I actually said is (quote): "the gospel accounts are sufficient for me." I didn't say the gospel accounts prove the bible is true.
@ 'As for science, it will never disprove God'. Agreed. I don't believe science can prove or disprove God per se. As far as science is concerned, the question of God is out of scope.
@ 'the only truth'. I find the truth issue quite complex. Insofar as God and salvation are concerned, I have a view of what is true. It's a partial view - I certainly don't have a total view of truth. It's truth as I see it at the moment, and I believe it is important. 'bit more humble'. I agree absolutely. Tolerance and humility enable people with very different worldviews to dialogue, learn, co-exist, build together.
@ 'religion is not the only reason for all wars'. Agreed. 'it's definitely one of the prominent ones throughout history'. Many different groups and nations have gone to war under the banner of religion. Religion, like any unifying social, cultural or political phenomenon, carries that potential. It's not always clear what hidden agendas lay behind specific conflicts and, ironically, so-called religious conflicts are often entirely inconsistent with the beliefs and values of those religions.
@ 'A tale of two cities'. Interesting challenge. I would prefer to live in a city where people live by the Spirit - characterised by genuine freedom and love for God and for one-another. That's how the NT writers summarise the spirit of the 10 commandments. It's easy to reduce such principles to oppressive legalism, the very thing that Jesus Christ challenged in the religious authorities of the day.
@ 'Fundamentalism generally leads to injustice, suffering and pain'. Yes, it does seem to carry that inherent risk. It's one thing to seek truth with a passion and to seek to live with integrity, according to what one believes. It's quite another thing to force one's own worldview onto other people. That's one of the critical challenges of an increasingly globalised world where people holding diverse and, at points, conflicting worldviews come into increasing contact with one-another.
@ 'everywhere I go religion is forced down my throat'. Yes, that would be annoying. In what ways is religion forced down your throat? 'common ground we all should have is logic and common sense' - I can see your point but 'common sense' is socially constructed and varies between cultures. 'not believing in man-made ridiculous fairytales'. Agreed, although I would question whether religious belief necessarily equals ridiculous fairytale.
@ 'I cannot honestly say there are definitely no god(s)'. That's a wise statement. :-)
@ 'The comparison between fearing grass growing and fear of no longer existing is absurd'. Agreed. It trivialises the profound existential significance of an issue like life and death - which is sometimes a psychological or conversational tactic to deny or avoid something. I notice similar absurdities when some people compare belief in, say, the tooth fairy with belief in God.
@ 'put 24 infants on a desert island'. Yes, I agree. I would expect that most of the children would believe whatever worldview was taught to them by the adults. I believe that would be the likely outcome irrespective of whether that worldview had any religious content. 'Same principle applies for God and all religions'. I would broaden that to, 'same principle applies for all worldviews'.
@ 'belief does not equal reality'. You are correct that there is no necessary relationship between what a person believes and what is real, although one's beliefs could correspond with that which is real. 'without evidence'. I have reasons to believe what I believe - which is why I believe it - but that isn't the same as being able to prove what I believe to be true in a definitive empirical sense.
@ 'Santa isn't real, therefore there is no Santa. The President of the United States is Barak Obama, therefore Barak Obama is President of the United States.' I assume you would agree that neither of those statements represents a meaningful logical argument. They each simply represent two ways of stating the same thing; i.e. the conclusion in each case is the same as the premise on which it is based - i.e. circular reasoning.
@ 'it is simple logic'. I can understand the point you are making but it sounds like you may be confusing whether or not something is true with whether the structure of an argument is logically valid. Circular reasoning, logical validity etc. are technical terms in the field of logical reasoning, concerned with the way in which an argument is constructed, not with apparent self-evidence or 'truth' per se.
@ 'circular reasoning'. It's about the logical structure of an argument (not whether or not the conclusion is true), usually indicated by an implicit or explicit 'therefore'. A circular argument is one in which the conclusion is, in effect, the same as the premise on which the conclusion is based. So, for instance, if a person were to assert, 'God is real, therefore, there is a God', that would also be circular argument.
@ 'The (behaviour of) church...will never invalidate God'. Agreed, although it sometimes makes it harder for those who don't believe in God to consider there may be genuine validity in Christian beliefs.
@ 'circular reasoning.' I agree. To say that you base your beliefs on what the Bible teaches isn't circular reasoning. It's a simple explanation of what you base your beliefs on. You are correct that to assert, 'God isn't real, therefore there is no such thing as a god' is an example of circular reasoning.
@ 'that seems to be the only logical conclusion I can see after examining the evidence, or lack of.' Sounds like you haven't seen or heard evidence for the existence of God that you have found convincing. I've drawn different conclusions to you on the basis of what I've seen, heard and experienced, hence my Christian faith, but I can appreciate your honesty and understand how you could draw a different conclusion.
@ 'billions of people on earth will vouch and die for God’s existence...that is not a fact to be taken lightly'. Agreed. It is interesting in the UK how some areas of secular thought are now re-engaging in the dialogue about spirituality in a positive constructive way, having decided they may have been a bit rash and arrogant dismissing it outright 20-30 years ago.
@ 'no matter how many people believe...has no effect on its existence'. I agree with you. It's curious to me how some people dismiss outright the possibility of God's existence when so many people claim to have an intuitive sense of God, but you are right in saying that there is no necessary correlation between the number of people who believe something and the truth of that belief.
@ 'how many versions of the bible are there?' I don't know exactly. There are many different translations. All translating across languages and cultures involves a degree of interpretation - hence the variations in language or 'versions'.
@ 'there was a time before your religion was invented...Christianity didn't exist until then'. Agreed - just as there was a time before whatever worldview you hold was 'invented' too.
@ 'Why do you say Jesus existed?' Because I have never seen or heard any good reason to doubt the historical accounts of his existence.
@ 'Christians stole the Jewish religion and twisted it into something new, that doesn't strike you as odd and telling?' Yes, if I thought that was the case, I would find it odd and telling - although not sure what it would tell me! Jesus fulfilled the Jewish religion but not in the way that the majority of Jewish people had anticipated. In that sense, I would agree that Christianity represents something new.
@ 'What would convince you it’s all a fabrication and a lie?' Fair question. Not sure really, since I don't think it can be proven or disproven definitively - at least in this life. I don't think attacks on God or the Bible would be likely to convince me, but I can certainly imagine life circumstances that could cause me to have serious issues with my personal faith. I'm not invulnerable.
@ 'you must have something to prove it, otherwise it’s hard to believe'. I liked the way you framed that. I find 'hard to believe' a far more helpful construct than 'it's a lie' in these type of conversations. It shows awareness and ownership of subjective perspective, in contrast to claiming objectivity.
@ 'The problem with your statement about truth claims is that those claims are nothing but personal opinion, and have no foundation in reality at all.' No foundation in reality = don't fit with your view of reality? A more intellectually sound response could be something along the lines of, 'I have seen no evidence that has convinced me that [specific] religious truth claims correspond with reality.'
@ 'Science - Fact, Faith - Belief, Fact - True, Faith - wishes it was true'. Nice formula. One could add, of course, that there is no necessary relationship between what a person wishes to be true and whether the object of that wish is true. So, for instance, you or I may wish for something to be true that turns out to be true.
@ '2+2=4'. I was reading about Socratic thinking and methods recently and the idea that, for instance, 1+1 necessarily =2 in mathematics but not necessarily in other areas of experience. For example, a raindrop merges with another raindrop and produces one raindrop, in which case 1+1=1.
@ 'all claiming the same thing at the same time'. Competing truth claims do add complexity to the issue. However, logically-speaking, the fact of different truth claims does not, of itself, say anything about the relative merits of truth claims or whether or not any one claim is true. That same logical principle follows irrespective of whether truth claims represent a religious, atheistic or any other worldview.
@ 'personal experiences don't count'. The fact that different people attribute different interpretations to personal experience adds to the complexity of the issue but does not, of itself, say anything about the relative merits of different interpretations or whether or not one interpretation is true. It makes no sense to me, therefore, to dismiss personal experience simply owing to the complex issues that surround it.
@ 'Theists can't imagine a world without a god and therefore can't imagine someone not believing in that god'. Wrong, at least as a generalisation. I'm a 'theist', can imagine a world without god and can imagine someone not believing in god. Conversely, I encounter some atheists who can't imagine a world with god and therefore can't understand someone believing in god.
@ 'intellectual honesty...blind faith'. I think I've been quite influenced by social constructionism over the years, or at least there's something in it that resonates deeply with how I see and experience the world. Blind faith in that paradigm is a belief that a person or group can see, comprehend, grasp reality in an objective sense - and that goes for scientism as well as for religion.
@ 'I don't think I know anything for certain.' Wise words.
@ 'When you don't believe in the supernatural you think the gospels are false, not the other way round. Those who get indoctrinated with the gospels are made believe in the supernatural. See the difference?' I agree with the first clause in your first statement. I'm wondering if you see the logical inconsistency in what you have posted though. Why should the 'indoctrination' principle only apply to those who believe in the gospels and the supernatural, not vice versa?
@ 'metaphors and myths'. Are you proposing that if, say, the opening chapters of Genesis are intended to be understood allegorically (i.e. if that was the author's original intention), that somehow of itself refutes God's existence? 'god a metaphor?'. Good question. In one sense, as far as I see it, 'God' language is always used analogically in theism - an attempt to express a glimpse of the infinite within finite human experience, language and constructs.
@ 'no great historical significance...Jesus...the embellishment of the character that was based off the real man'. Sounds like that's your hypothesis. I see it differently. Neither of us can prove the validity of our perspective objectively. I can live with that. I would be interested to hear more about what you see as the embellishments and what drives that hypothesis for you.
@ 'Do you have any actual evidence as to the authors of these books, or are you just willing to take them on 'faith'?' I take it on faith because I have heard no good cause to disbelieve it, just as I take it on faith that someone somewhere out there calls themself ST* and occasionally posts comments to me on YouTube. Having said that, I could be wrong.
@ 'Do religion in private.' Although I can understand and share some people's concerns about undue religious influence in, say, social policy in the US, it makes no sense for religious beliefs to be confined to the personal and private sphere because like, secular equivalents, such beliefs invariably have intrinsic social, ethical and political implications. The issue for me is more about how to build a society and world that can deal with diversity positively and constructively.
@ 'that's basically all it comes down to: no one would have a problem with religion if it were done in privacy'. In what sense is it meaningful for someone to, say, outwork his or her social and political ethics in privacy? Would you argue the same position for secularism - that it should be done 'in privacy' - as if it has no corresponding social and political dimensions?
@ 'what believers believe is reality for them, just as the voices in the head are real for schizophrenics'. One could argue that what anyone believes is reality for that person - it's not a phenomenon confined to religious beliefs or believers. If you believe, say, that God does not exist, that's your perceived reality, irrespective of whether or not it corresponds with truth in an absolute sense.
@ 'supernatural evidence? I don't think so'. To reach that conclusion, one would need to discount the gospel accounts. The risk here is of a circular argument along the lines of, 'Miracles don't happen, the gospels describe miracles therefore the gospels are false, since the gospels are false any accounts within them of miracles happening are false, therefore miracles don't happen.'
@ 'Are you open minded...?' Fair question. To clarify, would you say that, in your view, the validity of the evidence that supports the historical existence of, say, Jesus Christ is equal to the validity of the evidence that supports the existence of Henderson's FSM parody as a real entity? I would say I have good reason to believe in the God of the Bible, but I would not say that I can prove his existence empirically.
@ '...therefore a god must have created everything.' You appear to be pointing to the 'God of the gaps' argument. To be logically consistent, one could equally argue that, having found good scientific explanations for certain natural phenomena, that somehow disproves a supernatural origin or influence. I don't believe science proves or can prove or disprove God per se. As far as science is concerned, the question of God is out of scope.
@ 'Everyone is free to believe whatever he wants. As long as he says "I believe that this or that exists" instead of "I know that this or that exists". Agreed. In your commitment to 'showing people the illogical', as you put it, I hope you apply that principle equally to all worldviews, not just 'religious' ones. 'shut up and watch the misery' - is misery something you equate specifically with religious people?
@ 'best advice...for religion and atheists alike is to remain open minded.' Agreed.
@ 'I often wonder just how different I would be and what world views I would hold if certain family members hadn't died when I was young.' I'm so sorry that happened to you - sounds deeply traumatic - and thank you for being open and courageous enough to share something so honest and personal in this space. Respect and peace to you.
@ 'I often ask Theists what they think they would be like if they were born in another country and time. Would they believe the same things they do today? Probably not. That is the point. Religion is irrational, illogical, and based purely on emotion.' To be consistent, you would have to apply the same principle to whatever worldview people hold to be true, including atheism.
@ 'evolution disproves creationism'. I guess that, logically speaking, evolution (in its various forms) provides an alternative explanation to creationism (in its literal 6-day form), rather than necessarily proving itself to be true, or disproving 6-day creationism per se. Evolution is science's best theory to date, based on analysis and interpretation of the physical evidence, to explain how life is as it is at a biological level. Would you agree?
@ I was fascinated by your comment: 'I can't tell you how liberated I felt when I became an agnostic atheist. I can just compare it with shackles being released. I realized that I had complete control of my life and unlimited possibilities.' It feels very curious to me because, coming from a liberal secular background, that's incredibly similar to and a great description of how I felt when I encountered Jesus Christ in a serious way. Before I became a Christian, I was a left wing, liberal thinking, visionary idealist, civil rights and human rights activist, spending any free time reading philosophy and provoking debates to stimulate critical thinking. I hated right wing politics and any kind of repressive regime, mostly because I had read a lot about Nazi atrocities in WW2 and it had depressed the life out of me. I read Richard Bach's 'Jonathan Livingstone Seagull' as a teenager and it fuelled a deep thirst for truth, reality and perfection. My favourite song was Supertramp's Logical Song - it really expressed how I felt at the time. (That's telling you something about how old I am!). I met a Christian at work. He was a deeply humble and spiritual man and I found him inspiring but nevertheless argued against him. He challenged me to read the Bible for myself. I opened the Bible randomly, read Matthew and James then a book called, 'The Cross and the Switchblade' by David Wilkerson. Don't know what happened, it was as if my head and heart exploded with light. Completely blew me away. Can't explain it. Still the same person, still the same passions but something deep changed. I still feel that same passion for God although I should confess that the more I read and reflect on the incarnation, life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the more I find it deeply puzzling, profound and paradoxical. Whereas some like Dawkins dismiss God and the Bible as ridiculous nonsense, for me God, life, the universe are intriguing and inspiring mysteries that continually draw me forward on an exciting, on-going journey of faith, discovery and commitment. Perhaps that's why I feel a degree of affinity with agnostics like Mark Vernon (I just read his book, 'After Atheism'). I did a degree in a theological school (renowned in the UK for critical thinking) and majored in philosophy. A few years later, I did a masters in applied psychology based on social psychology, social anthropology, psychodynamics and systems theory. I've also spent the past 30 years engaged in human rights, community development and international NGO work.
@ 'I assign that possibility equally to ALL god entities...including...the FSM.' To clarify, would you say that, in your view, the validity of the evidence that supports the historical existence of Jesus Christ is equal to the validity of the evidence that supports the existence of Henderson's FSM parody as a real entity? Then tell me, is your answer based on the evidence itself or, as you put it, on laughable opinion?
@ 'the fact that someone may imagine Jesus talking to them through voices in their head does not mean that is actually happening, it simply means they are imagining it.' Yes, I guess that was implicit in the first 'imagine'. In principle, Jesus could talk to someone through voices in their head, although there could equally be other explanations for that experience or phenomenon.
@ 'atheists are ineligible for jobs in public office'. The political and cultural context over there does sound very different indeed to how it is over here. In the UK, an employer for instance would have to demonstrate with sound and convincing arguments why it is necessary for someone to hold Christian beliefs to be eligible for a post, including within Christian agencies.
@ 'have you bothered to read your little magic book?'. If by magic book you mean the Bible, I've read it. Even spent 3 years in full-time theological school. Yes, Christians are called to share the good news that God has made it possible for humanity to enter into intimate and eternal relationship with him through what Jesus Christ did on the cross. No, Christians are not called to impose that news on others. That would be unethical and counterproductive.
@ 'cannot hold public office unless you renounce your superstitions'. Is that how it is for atheists in the US? Interestingly, in the UK, there is growing frustration at the increasing number of cases where Christians are being unfairly discriminated against on the basis of their beliefs and values, to the extent that the secular civil rights organisation Liberty is now defending certain Christians in human rights cases.
@ 'your cult is based on trying to impose itself on others'. That comment demonstrates how little you understand about the Christian beliefs that I hold. In fact, it sounds like a projection of your own intolerant beliefs onto what I believe. Incidentally, when you use the word 'cult', are you using it as a simple derogatory term of do you have a more technical definition in mind?
@ 'sick and tired...shove their superstitions down my throat...live and let live has to be a 2-way street.' I can understand that. Interestingly, in the UK, I can sometimes feel that way about over-zealous secular humanists who seek to impose their view on all others as if it is the absolute truth. I wonder if that's how it feels for some atheists in the US, except at the hands of religious fundamentalists.
@ 'christ is imaginary......nothing more...the bible is fiction...that's why it has no evidence'. Curious comment. You sound very definitive on those points.
@ 'Religion...nobody really believes it anymore. At least no one that has cable tv and internet access.' Curious comment, especially since as far as I'm aware, something like 80% of the people in the country that has the highest level of cable tv and internet access in the world (i.e. the United States) claim to believe in God. Or am I missing something..? :-)
@ 'Recorded history is unjustified belief then because it can't be empirically tested.' Interesting point. Paradoxically, the belief that 'only that which can be known empirically is real and true' can't be proven empirically either.
@ Yes, I too have noticed that some Christians appear to feel the need to have an answer for everything - perhaps they feel that they are somehow letting God down if they don't. I don't know. The risk is that they (we) extrapolate well beyond anything that the Bible itself teaches and end up creating all sorts of fanciful religious dogma that has little to do with authentic Christian teaching or values and even, at points, ironically contradicts them. The example you gave of a Christian blaming a rape victim or her family for the crime that she suffered is a shocking and tragic example. Interestingly, the things you describe are the same kinds of thing that, according to the gospels, Jesus confronted in the religious people and authorities at that time. In fact, Jesus' harshest words were directed at religious people (not 'pagans') who excluded others from knowledge of and relationship with God by their legalistic teaching and hypocritical actions. I believe that's (or should be) a sobering warning for Christians today. I agree that people are capable of doing good things and having moral values without belief in God. I've had some amazing friends and colleagues who have been a real source of challenge and inspiration for me, particularly some open-minded and socially-committed Marxists and secular humanists. I don't believe that Christianity per se 'propagates intolerance and ignorance' although I've certainly encountered people who call themselves Christians who have expressed some of the unfortunate views and behaviours you listed. The social and political policy dimension is one where I share some of your concerns, particularly in terms of the influence of right wing fundamentalism in the United States. I don't believe people can or should divorce their beliefs (whether religious or not) from how they vote etc. The wider question for me (being UK/European) is how to balance the needs and interests of people holding different beliefs, values and worldviews in a secular pluralist society. That's quite a challenge but an important one for our societies to address. I'm making the assumption from some of the things you have described or encountered in Christians that you are in the US? I watched the Story of Suzie video on YouTube. Found it interesting that, although it came across as a parody, I could nevertheless identify both with Suzie and the feelings of someone who might parody Christianity in that way.
@ The whole 'suffering' question is a fair and difficult challenge. I've spent most of my life working in the human rights, social work, international development and disaster relief fields and am married to a wife who is a nurse working in hospices etc. I guess you could say, therefore, we've spent much of our lives up close to some of the things you described. We have lost family, friends and colleagues through senseless murder (in the human rights work) or illness. I work with Christians and others all over the world (I work for an international NGO) who have been inspired by our faith to do something to bring light, care, hope and transformation in a world of pain. I don't know if you've had a look at the 5 mins video I posted on my channel in response to some of the questions you have posed. It's called 'Suffering and God'. It feels inadequate in the face of the challenge you and others have posed and the circumstances that some people experience in this world. Nevertheless, it's my best and most honest answer to this question.
@ 'convince'. I can understand your point and will try to clarify my meaning and intention because, on reflection, I can see that my original comment was ambiguous. Do I hope you or others may find my arguments, perspective or experience convincing? Of course, yes, but only if they are sound. Do I hope to somehow coerce or manipulate others into believing what I believe? No. Do I believe I can somehow convince you to believe that, say, Jesus Christ is the son of God and that by placing faith in him you will find eternal life and relationship with him? I doubt it. We can read the same words but it's partly about the paradigm within which we each read, interpret and understand them. You have decided you don't believe it; in your view, for lack of evidence and I very much doubt that I could provide the evidence that would convince you. Your paradigm excludes the evidence I find convincing. It's also that, if the Bible is true, no-one can discern and respond to the spiritual reality and truth that lies behind the statement without God's own revelation. Therein lies the paradox.
@ 'their reality is the only one'. Tell me, are you prepared to concede the possibility that there may be spiritual reality and truth that lies outside of your own current ability to discern or comprehend? To clarify, I'm not asking you whether you have yet seen or heard evidence that you have found convincing. I'm asking whether you are prepared to accept the possibility of that reality.
@ 'you are trying to get others to agree with your point of view'. I do hope others will at least consider my point of view before dismissing it. It may in some way add to, elucidate, enrich the views they already hold. If each of us is open to listen, inquire, wonder, we have the opportunity to learn something new. It's your choice whether to consider my views or simply to dismiss them and my choice whether to do the same with yours.
@ 'don't have any evidence.' Not true, although apparently I don't have evidence that you would find convincing since you have already decided that any evidence that doesn't satisfy your own criteria for evidence is invalid. 'at least 20%'. I can accept that, quite possibly more than 20%. My perspective isn't governed by how many others may or may not find it compelling.
@ You commented: "Excellent question :). I did a quick Google search and found some traits in evidence that I believe to be desirable. Five Principles of Good Evidence:1. Relevant, 2. Verifiable, 3. Representative, 4. Cumulative, 5. Actionable (leads to predictability or insight in my opinion). An experiment that had the potential to provide good evidence involved a national study in the effectiveness of prayer. Patients were isolated from people who prayed for them and recovery rates were observed." I too was interested in the 'effectiveness of prayer' study and saw a fascinating if not a little bemusing TV documentary about it. :-) I find it difficult to imagine that the God described in the Bible could be measured and evaluated in such a mechanistic way. I don't believe we can expect to test God in the way we might test, say, chemical reactions in a science experiment. I do believe, however, that it is reasonable and understandable to inquire into why a person may or may not believe in God's existence. I will offer my own reasons for belief and how I make sense of them and would be interested to hear your response. I would be interested to hear more about your own story too. Firstly, since becoming a Christian at age 21, some 29 years ago now, I have had an intuitive sense of God's reality and presence. Is it possible that I am attributing a spiritual explanation to a natural phenomenon? Yes. Does a natural phenomenon necessarily exclude a spiritual explanation? No. Secondly, that intuitive sense often feels strongest or clearest when I pray, read the Bible or act in a way that's consistent with Jesus' teaching. Is it because those things resonate with what I now believe, in a self-reinforcing way? Possibly, although they also influence, inform and challenge what I believe. Thirdly, since becoming a Christian I have had a number of specific paranormal experiences that defy natural explanation. Does it mean those experiences are necessarily the result of the Christian interpretation I place on them? No. Do they correlate with what I expect to experience in light of what I read in the Bible? Yes.
@ Interesting comment, 'you will need to look into the Bible yourself and test it to see whether it is really true or not'. I agree, and it's a really tricky one. The Bible seems to indicate that, at one level, a person needs spiritual revelation to perceive God's truth. It means approaching God in humility and seeking his discernment. A person cannot test God in the way he or she might expect, say, to test chemical reactions in a science experiment.
@ 'attempt to force it on others'. Sounds like we are in agreement that attempting to force beliefs on others is unethical and counterproductive. This is a particular risk when sectarian beliefs are, say, institutionalised in social and political policy and practice. It sounds like that's one of the things that fuels atheists' anger and frustration in the US - feeling forced to live with the consequences of choices determined by other people's beliefs (e.g. the 'Christian right wing fundamentalist agenda') that are contrary to your own.
@ 'trying to convince everyone else that you are right...'. At some points, I have offered an alternative view to your own and explained why I hold it. At others, I have questioned whether the position you have advocated, or way in which you have presented, it is logically tenable, fair or constructive. 'your call' means 'it's your choice'; it doesn't mean 'you must thereby accept my position'.
@ 'intolerant extremists'. I'm learning that the atheist vs theist debate is only one dimension to some of the conversations on this channel. Fundamentalist vs liberal is another intriguing dimension. It's interesting to me how some atheists display the same basic characteristics as the religious fundamentalists they so vehemently criticise, e.g. closed-mindedness, over-confidence in their own beliefs, intolerant of others. It's very curious.
@ 'unsubstantiated nonsense'. By 'logic and evidence' you appear to mean explanations that are consistent with the position you already hold and evidence that supports the position you already hold.
@ 'Historical evidence'. Yes, it's curious how some people dismiss the mounds of historical evidence for Jesus Christ on a whim yet take evidence for all other historical figures at face value. No research bias there then .
@ I've noticed that 'atheist' and 'atheism' are used differently by different people. The more open-minded may say, 'I don't believe in God'; the more dogmatic, 'God does not exist'. Some simply don't believe in God and that's it, some have a more thought-through belief system or ideological position, some appear to avoid stating that God does not exist or claim that atheism is absence of belief to avoid burden of proof.
@ A person doesn't need to wear jezus glasses to reach the conclusion I explained. It's simply about understanding something of the culture within which Jesus was speaking and reading individual texts against the wider text. In context, the explanation I offered is the most natural reading of the text. Is it really that you are determined not to consider or understand any explanation that doesn't fit with the conclusions you have already drawn?
@ Luke 14:25. Allow me a moment to clean my jezuz glasses. :-) Yes, tough passage that on face value. You need to understand how Jewish hyperbole works. It's a way of exaggerating a point for emphasis - not intended to be taken literally. You can see many examples throughout the gospels. Jesus point is: if you want to be my disciple, you are going to have to put me first in your life.
@ 'Convert or burn'. On a technical point of logic, I'm assuming you would agree that the motivation that one may have for faith has no bearing on the validity of that faith or object of faith. If faith in Christ really is true and necessary for salvation, that fact it is unaffected by whether people know, believe or are motivated emotionally towards or away from it.
@ I agree, a lack of belief in something does not of itself constitute a belief system. The notion and criteria that one uses for, say, 'proof' does, however, rest on an implicit or explicit worldview or belief system. I don't think I would describe atheism as religion because religion tends to carry connotations of spirituality for me. However, some followers of say, Dawkins, display characteristics commonly attributed to religious believers.
@ 'reasons of fear'. I have no doubt that fear has motivated or sustained some people vis a vis religious adherence. It seems equally clear that, for some people, atheism is based on a negative emotional motive or reaction too - e.g. a rejection of the notion of God because of disappointment or trauma in life or bad experiences of those who profess religious faith. For some, it's simply, 'If this God stuff were true, it would spoil what I want to do with my life!'.
@ Do I believe atheism is a religion? Curious question. For some people, 'I'm an atheist' simply means, 'I don't believe in God'. The notion of atheis-m, however, points to an implicit or explicit worldview or belief system; expounded by e.g. Julian Baggini. Atheists who argue that, say, empiricism is the only valid measure of reality and truth are certainly subscribing to a specific metaphysical paradigm. Is that what you meant?
@ I could simply counter-argue that your 'atheizt glasses' (can't find a way to include 2 z's in atheist so you win on that one!) are the only explanation that makes sense of why you auto-reject any evidence that doesn't fit with your own preconceived psychological and philosophical paradigm; why you can't see the truth in the Bible even though you are apparently reading the same text as those who can see it. It's inescapable - we all see the world through our own lenses.
@ 'no-one can know whether God exists...I do not believe God exists because I have not been provided with sufficient evidence that he does'. That sounds like a fair and open-minded position to me. If an atheist states categorically that God does not exist, it seems to me that is a definitive truth claim that carries a burden of proof, albeit logically impossible to fulfil. I'm curious - what evidence would convince you that God exists?
@ 'Fool'…fairy tale' is a derogatory term in this context and reveals your prejudice. I would agree with you that we do well to weigh up reasons for believing or disbelieving a truth claim. The criteria we use for evaluation are influenced by what we already believe about truth, reality etc. and therein lie the opportunities, challenges and risks.
@ Yes, the passage in Luke 22:36ff is a curious one. I can't see any connection with enforcing the law in the way your describe and, almost immediately afterwards, Jesus confronts Peter, telling him to put down his sword (read on to vs 51). It's as if Jesus had meant something metaphorical by 'buy a sword' which Peter had taken as literal. I could hypothesise about what Jesus meant but the passage itself isn't clear.
@ 'supernatural claims without any sort of evidence to back them up'. Sounds like you hold a worldview that excludes the supernatural, in which case you automatically dismiss any evidence offered that doesn't fit within the confines of your own metaphysical paradigm. It's an implicit decision, and it's very different to, say, an agnostic view that is more open-minded to exploring other possibilities that may lie outside of one's own current understanding or experience of reality and truth.
@ For point of clarity, Jesus said that he came to fulfil the law; that is, God's truth and intended purpose, not in the way that some of the Jewish authorities had misinterpreted or manipulated it. Hence, again, a fundamental and recurring cause of conflict with the religious authorities of the time. Where does Jesus talk about enforcing the law at the point of a sword..?
@ 'Men and women'. You appear to have missed a fairly fundamental point in the gospels (which the gospels themselves and subsequent epistles etc. are at pains to emphasise) and that is how radically counter-cultural Jesus and his teachings were in 1st century Palestine, including vis a vis interactions between men and women. This is one of the main reasons why, according to the gospels and Acts, Jesus and his followers came into conflict with the religious authorities of the time.
@ What I meant by 'integrity' is that those who collated the material into what we now call the Bible didn't attempt to smooth over or harmonise the inconsistencies. I was not arguing that the testimonies have greater integrity on account of the inconsistencies per se.
@ The case for the resurrection can be demonstrated using the 'means, motive, opportunity' principle: I'm sure you are aware there are many books that have demonstrated this, including by those in the legal profession. There are variations in the gospel accounts, just as there often are in witness statements in a court of law, but not on whether the resurrection itself happened. The most common reason I've encountered for dismissing the resurrection as a literal-historical fact is not minor inconsistencies in witness statements (which a. courts of law often have to deal with and exercise reasonable judgement and b. sometimes turn out to be apparent rather than actual) but presuppositions such as, 'people don't rise from the dead, therefore Jesus can't have risen from the dead'. It's a kind of circular argument. It can be a bit like saying, 'Miracles don't happen, the Bible describes miracles therefore the Bible is false, since the Bible is false any accounts within it of miracles happening are false, therefore miracles don't happen.' So, when a person describes the resurrection as a 'fairy tale', it's usually because that person has already drawn conclusions about what is real and possible and the resurrection falls outside that field of reality or possibility. Final comment on the fact of variations in the resurrection accounts. Question - did it slip the notice of those who compiled the Bible or did they seek to preserve authentic accounts, just like those of different witnesses at a crime scene today? We are left to draw our own conclusions. Some (in my view, unreasonably) rashly dismiss the accounts in light of those inconsistencies. For me, it adds to the integrity and intrigue.
@ 'A court of law embraces faith every time a person is called to the stand to testify.' Good and interesting point. 'In a court of law, the resurrection story would stand.' Agreed, unless of course a hostile judge, jury or magistrate was determined to reject outright all evidence that contradicted its own prior assumptions and conclusions.
@ 'three different stories'. It's true, there are variations in the resurrection accounts. I find that interesting. Did it slip the notice of those who compiled the Bible or did they seek to preserve authentic accounts, just like those of different witnesses at a crime scene today? We are left to draw our own conclusions. For me, that adds to the integrity and intrigue. 'different language'. Yes, Jesus probably spoke Aramaic. Greek was the lingua franca of the day.
@ 'Bible wasn't written until hundreds of years after Jesus supposedly existed'. It sounds like you have missed out on credible scientific research that, e.g. dates certain fragments of the new testament texts that have been discovered to within a lifetime of those who were with Jesus (30 years or so, from what I can remember). I assume you are also aware of research into reliability of oral traditions in relatively non-literate cultures?
@ 'we have eye witness accounts from soldiers'. I guess that's a parallel with the new testament accounts in the Bible, written by those who had, in the main, direct encounters with Jesus or interviewed those who had. I'm interested in how emphatic this point is made in the Bible itself and how the new testament writers are at pain to explain that, incredulous as it sounds, what they're reporting really did happen.
@ 'no conclusive evidence that Jesus ever existed'. Sounds like the evidence that does exist isn't evidence that you find reliable or convincing. Since the primary evidence for Jesus' historical existence is in the Bible and you don't find the Bible reliable or convincing, that source of evidence is insufficient to convince you of Jesus' historical existence. Is that, in essence, what you are saying?
@ It strikes me that in some of these historical matters it's less about producing physical evidence and more about asking whether there are reasonable grounds for believing that an account is true. Are there reasonable grounds for believing that someone called Jesus Christ actually lived? I would say 'yes'. Not sure I follow the logic of why the Bible should be discounted simply because it claims that Jesus existed. Firstly, that appears to assume from the outset that the Bible cannot be relied on as a historical account which is a presupposition rather than a conclusion. Secondly, we do not automatically dismiss all other historical accounts simply on the basis that people have believed them to be true. Would you agree?
@ 'there is no historical fact that Jesus ever lived.' Could you say more? I've never encountered a serious historian questioning whether Jesus actually existed, although some clearly question whether the supernatural events recorded in the gospels happened in a literal-historical sense. There are interesting parallels with other historical figures, e.g. Socrates of whom, as far as far as I'm aware, we only know because of what others recorded about him.
@ I guess the issue partly depends on what constitutes proof. Some people seem to use 'proof' to mean 'definitive empirical evidence', some to mean 'irrefutable rational argument'. Unless I'm missing something, I can't imagine how anyone could prove or disprove God in those terms, although someone could have good reasons for believing or disbelieving in God. I can't imagine anyone would believe in God if they thought they had no reason to do so.
@ I can understand your comment, 'people like myself see no reason to believe'. In fact, I can honestly say that I've hardly ever met anyone who believes in unicorns, giants, talking snakes or an invisible magician in the sky. :-) Are you are saying that, in your view, the totality of reality and truth is necessarily confined to that which can be tested empirically? I'm curious - how can you know that hypothesis to be true?
@ Interesting Could you say more about the 'mountains of evidence and theories supported by countless discoveries' that support atheism? Also, could you say something more about what you meant or were pointing towards when you said 'atheists actually have logic'?
@ To clarify, are you saying that many of the most notable and scientifically-respected scientists of the past believed in the God of the Bible? I guess it partly depends on who you include in the list. From what I understand, many notable scientists have believed in the God of the Bible, some have had very different notions of God and some were what we would call atheist.
@ 'preconceived conclusion...high improbability'. I believe that theism and atheism alike are built on metaphysical and epistemological presuppositions that govern what seems true, real, probable for those who hold them. That's why, at one level, belief in God seems obvious to one person and nonsensical to another. In my view, the reasonable approach is to inquire into reality and truth with humility and an open heart and mind. Would you agree?
@ 'Not all the reputable scientists believe in God. Most scientists do not believe in God'. Agreed, as far as the statistics I've seen seem to show. What isn't clear is whether most scientists do not believe in God as a result of their scientific outlook and research or whether more atheists are drawn to science in the first place. There are also issues around what a scientist feels comfortable to disclose in terms of personal faith. It's hard to know for certain. Interestingly, in the UK, there appear to be a greater proportion of scientists who claim to believe in God than there are people in the general population who claim to believe in God. It's still a minority. In this secular context, one might expect scientists to disclaim belief in God for fear of being mocked in much the same way that the reverse could be true for scientists in a more 'religious' context like the US.
@ 'a rock thrown into a pond'. Another good image, although I assume you would agree that the notion of 'thrown' points to intentionality. :-) lol. I agree with much of what you say and acknowledge the risk of egocentricism. There's an equal risk of egocentricism from an atheist who dismisses any notion of reality or truth that doesn't fit with his or her preconceived views or conclusions.
@ 'the natural world and the cosmos are full of mysteries.' Agreed. I've noticed how one scientist studies the heavens and the earth and sees evidence of God's hand everywhere. Another studies the same heavens and earth and concludes there is no God. I don't believe science itself can prove which is right and which is wrong. That is a matter of faith. Both scientists are engaged in a journey of discovery - and that's the exciting part.
@ What you are pointing to is the need to weigh up carefully any claims of hearing God. I would agree, especially if, as in your example, someone claimed God told them to do something directly contrary to what the Bible teaches. That doesn't, however, rule out the possibility of God per se. It's one thing to say, 'I can see no good reason to believe in God.' It's quite another to say, 'God does not exist.'
@ Sounds like we both value rationality, logic, reason and evidence and agree that some people look for 'fantasy to get lost in' and that 'religion (can) meet that'. The metaphysical challenge for each of us is: (a) what is real and what isn't, (b) what can be known and what can't and (c) how we can be certain that our answers to (a) and (b) are true. I believe the profound difficulties we have in answering such questions warrants deep humility when approaching questions of 'God'.
@ Have you noticed how some atheists try to preset the rules of the conversation in such a way that any non-material, spiritual or supernatural account or 'evidence' is regarded as non-admissible? Since spirituality is by definition concerned with non-material or supernatural phenomena, the atheist has in effect set up a form of circular argument within which whatever the theist proposes as 'evidence' of God is ruled out of court.
@ I can understand the point you are making and the position you are taking. If by 'testable evidence' you mean definitive empirical evidence, it seems to me that the challenge itself contains presuppositions that logically beg the question. God is by most definitions spirit, supernatural, non-material. By analogy, it’s something like being challenged to paint a vivid colourful rainbow using only charcoal and white paper. Unless I'm missing something, I can't imagine how anyone could prove or disprove God in those terms, although someone could have good reasons for believing or disbelieving in God. I can't imagine anyone would believe in God if they thought they had no reason to do so. Does that make sense?
@ 'atheism is a belief system in the same way that off is a TV channel'. I like that. :-) The point I was making is that some atheists appear to subscribe to a reasonably coherent atheist belief system whereas others simply mean by atheist, 'I don't believe in God'. On 'evidence-based', how can you be sure that atheism isn't simply a product of similar psycho-social influences and phenomena?
@ I agree with you that atheism isn't a religion in the traditional sense of that word. Some atheists (e.g. Dawkins) subscribe to an explicit atheistic belief system whereas some simply use the word to mean, 'don't believe in God'. Where some scientists, philosophers and theologians disagree with Dawkins is that he attempts to go beyond describing the 'actual' to prescribing the 'possible'. That moves beyond science to ideology and faith.
@ I can understand psychologically and anthropologically how religion can function in the ways you describe. I guess where I see things differently is that those explanations of themselves don't answer, for me, the question of whether God actually exists. One could hold the view, for instance, that the human psychological disposition towards 'spirituality' is consistent with what one might expect from a God who designs people as relational beings, including for relationship with God.
@ 'personal evidence is worthless'. I think the 'some guy...drunken haze' is a fair challenge and cautions us to weigh up personal accounts carefully. However, do you think it is valid or reasonable to dismiss all personal testimonies as worthless per se or, say, to dismiss everything that can't be tested or substantiated empirically in the way that Dawkins proposes? With best wishes.
@ If by 'proof' you mean definitive empirical evidence, it seems to me that the challenge itself contains presuppositions that logically beg the question. God is by most definitions spirit, supernatural, non-material. By analogy, it’s something like being challenged to paint a vivid colourful rainbow using only charcoal and white paper. Would you agree?
@ 'don't have any proof.' I guess the issue partly depends on what constitutes proof. Some people seem to use 'proof' to mean 'definitive empirical evidence', some to mean 'irrefutable rational argument'. Unless I'm missing something, I can't imagine how anyone could prove or disprove God in those terms, although someone could have good reasons for believing or disbelieving in God. I can't imagine anyone would believe in God if they thought they had no reason to do so.
@ 'religion kills more people than anything in the world'. I guess my impression is that people kill people and nations go to war for all kinds of reasons. Some claim to have been inspired by their religion, some misuse religion as an excuse or means of galvinising support. Most conflicts and wars historically and currently appear to be driven by quests for power and resources rather than religion, or atheism for that matter, per se.
@ 'feed the needy, clothe the infrequently dressed, provide community service'. I felt heartened to read your posting as I believe what you described lies at the heart of the Christian social ethic, although certainly not confined to Christianity alone. When I became a Christian, it inspired and spurred me to get actively involved in social work, human rights, community development and international relief and development work.
@ 'If someone can prove to me'. I guess the issue partly depends on what constitutes proof. Some people seem to use 'proof' to mean 'definitive empirical evidence', some to mean 'irrefutable rational argument'. Unless I'm missing something, I can't imagine how anyone could prove or disprove God in those terms, although someone could have good reasons for believing or disbelieving in God. I can't imagine anyone would believe in God if they thought they had no reason to do so. This is my experience and my way of making sense of it...insofar as I am able. Since becoming a Christian at age 21, some 29 years ago now, I have had an intuitive sense of God's reality and presence. Is it possible that I am attributing a spiritual explanation to a natural phenomenon? Yes. Does a natural phenomenon necessarily exclude a spiritual explanation? No. Secondly, that intuitive sense often feels strongest or clearest when I pray, read the Bible or act in a way that's consistent with Jesus' teaching. Is it because those things resonate with what I now believe, in a self-reinforcing way? Possibly, although they also influence, inform and challenge what I believe. Thirdly, since becoming a Christian I have had a number of specific paranormal experiences that defy natural explanation. Does it mean those experiences are necessarily the result of the Christian interpretation I place on them? No. Do they correlate with what I expect to experience in light of what I read in the Bible? Yes.
@ I was interested to read your comments on the meaning of 'atheism'. I've noticed that some atheists (e.g. Dawkins, Baggini) subscribe to an atheist belief system (by your definition, a 'religion') whereas others simply mean by 'atheist' a lack of belief in God. What both types of atheist (and there may be others too) hold in common is a worldview that excludes the existence of God.
@ 'Christianity is about profit, not about philanthropy'. Did you mean Christianity per se or some expressions of organised religion? Whilst I can see evidence supporting that view in, say, the behaviour of some US TV evangelists, it certainly hasn't been my overall experience of Christianity or Christians per se. Interestingly, for what it's worth, the Bible itself condemns such behaviour in 1 Tim 6:5 as corruption and evidence of apostasy.
@ 'son of God'. Yes, it's curious. In the gospels, Jesus most frequently refers to himself as the 'son of man' which appears to be a reference back to the mysterious figure in Daniel 7:13. When Jesus is challenged to respond directly to whether he is the 'son of God' (Greek: huios tou theou) e.g. in Luke 22:70, his and his accusers' responses point to the answer 'yes'. This apparent 'blasphemy' was the religious leadership's principal reason for wanting to have him put to death.
@ I think I can agree with pretty much everything you said. At deeper philosophical and psychological levels, I believe our underlying metaphysical and epistemological worldviews influence what each person or community perceives, what we believe is true and real, what we consider know-able, what constitutes valid evidence etc. It's complex and mysterious - and a great motivator for launching and sustaining exciting journeys of discovery.
@ The challenge for all of us is to remain open to possibilities that lie outside of our own existing paradigm and experience whilst, at the same time, to act with integrity in light of what we do know and believe.
@ ‘why are so many Christians hostile to homosexuals?’. In my experience, different Christians have different views and attitudes towards this issue. I'm by no means an expert and the pastoral, theological and social policy-related issues seem very complex indeed. In the UK, society as a whole seems to have become increasingly tolerant of homosexuality over the past 20 years or so and many Christians have taken a live-and-let-live approach, even if some have felt uneasy about homosexual practice as 'natural' or 'moral' in light of biblical teaching in those 6 verses. Perhaps partly as a result, the gay and lesbian lobby has grown in confidence and, understandably, pushed its agenda forward on a whole range of human and civil rights issues, e.g. civil partnerships to mirror heterosexual marriages, equal child adoption rights for gay and lesbian couples etc. At the same time, the dominant secular humanist worldview in UK politics has sometimes left Christians feeling marginalised or unfairly discriminated against. In that sense, it sounds a bit like an opposite image of what has happening in the US social and political arena re Christianity and atheism. Within this uneasy mix of social, political and cultural dynamics, some Christians view the new self-confident gay and lesbian agenda, supported by a largely secular government, as threatening to their own ability to live and act according to their own beliefs, values and conscience within the UK. For example, recent legal cases have included Christian individuals and institutions (whose consciences dictated otherwise) being forced to perform civil partnership ceremonies and arrange adoptions for gay and lesbian couples, rather than simply referring those cases to secular individuals or institutions instead. It's all very controversial - e.g. whose human/civil rights should take precedence in these complex cases etc. Unfortunately, this means that the homosexuality issue has, in some ways, found itself at the crux of this wider ideological and human/civil rights conflict. The UK, like the US, is struggling to work out how to balance the needs and interests of diverse constituencies within an increasingly pluralist society. When things become polarised and heated in this way, I guess it's easy for people to rally around positions that they feel a passion for or affinity with. The specific issues become iconic emblems for wider concerns and aspirations. The risk is that positions blind people to common ground and deeper sense of shared humanity.
@ I too share the view that science has helped us understand certain aspects of the physicality of the universe in amazing ways. Much is still a scientific mystery (e.g. dark matter, dark energy, accelerating speed of expansion of the universe) but that, for me, adds to the exciting challenge and journey of discovery. 'it depends on interpretation of evidence and personal experience'. I agree wholeheartedly. This is my experience. Since becoming a Christian at age 21, some 29 years ago now, I have had an intuitive sense of God's reality and presence. Is it possible that I am attributing a spiritual explanation to a natural phenomenon? Yes. Does a natural phenomenon necessarily exclude a spiritual explanation? No. Secondly, that intuitive sense often feels strongest or clearest when I pray, read the Bible or act in a way that's consistent with Jesus' teaching. Is it because those things resonate with what I now believe, in a self-reinforcing way? Possibly, although they also influence, inform and challenge what I believe. Thirdly, since becoming a Christian I have had a number of specific paranormal experiences that defy natural explanation. Does it mean those experiences are necessarily the result of the Christian interpretation I place on them? No. Do they correlate with what I expect to experience in light of what I read in the Bible? Yes.
@ Your words reminded me of these from a song by the Late Late Service in Glasgow: 'In the beginning was the Word, this early Word, the first Word, mysterious voice talking behind the back of the universe, back before its beginning. The I am who I am Word, the with God Word, the was God Word. A voice that called us into being across the reaches of infinity, the without whom nothing Word, an unheard of Word behind words, world making Word, speaking the language behind language.' Mysterious and profound.
@ Yes, I agree that human beings appear to be wired psychologically with a disposition for what might be described as 'supernatural awareness', 'spiritual desire' or 'religion'. I can also understand anthropologically how religion can fulfil an important functional purpose in the ways you describe. I guess where I see things differently is that those explanations of themselves don't answer, for me, the question of whether God actually exists. One could hold the view, for instance, that the human psychological disposition towards 'spirituality' is consistent with what one might expect from a God who designs people as relational beings, including for relationship with God. I became a Christian (and I feel a bit hesitant to use that word because it carries very different connotations for different people) from a secular background. I can see, understand and agree with much of what you say but I believe, too, that I have good reasons for believing that God exists. I cannot not 'prove God' in an empirical sense. It's a kind of intuitive knowing-beyond-knowing experience. Struggling for words!
@ It sounds like the position you are proposing is that, since science offers an explanation for certain natural phenomena for which some theists previously attributed a supernatural explanation, the notion of God is no longer relevant. In that sense, it's as if (using occam’s razor) science has replaced God as a satisfactory and sufficient explanation for 'what is'. Have I understood you correctly?
@ I was interested to read your comment on the meaning of 'atheism'. I've noticed that some atheists (e.g. Dawkins, Baggini) subscribe to an atheist belief system whereas others simply mean by 'atheist' a lack of belief in God. What both types of atheist (and there may be others too) hold in common is a worldview that excludes the existence of God. Would you agree?
@ The way I view it is that different metaphysical paradigms lead to different conclusions about, say, the nature and value of human life. Stalin held an atheistic worldview based on the philosophy of materialism. I don't believe it's so simple as to say 'Stalin's actions weren't based on his atheism' (Dawkins) because his whole worldview, politics and actions were based on that foundation. True, he was also quite possibly clinically insane.
@ On agnosticism, I agree with you, although I guess it begs a question re. what it means to 'know'. In the totality of ‘what is’, three questions I grapple with continually: (a) what is real and what isn’t, (b) what can be known and what can’t and (c) how can we be certain our answers to (a) and (b) are true? I believe the profound difficulties we experience in answering such questions warrant deep humility when approaching questions of ‘God’. Would you agree?
@ 'Absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence'. Good quotation. Theists have good reasons to believe that what they believe is true, even if they are not reasons that an atheist like Dawkins would find convincing within the confines of his own metaphysical paradigm.
@ Julian Baggini, brilliant atheist philosopher, commenting on Dawkins’ ideology and approach: ‘(Dawkins') new atheism gets atheism wrong, gets religion wrong, and is counterproductive.’ (article: The New Atheist Movement is Destructive, 2009).
@ 'What do Jesus and the Bible say about homosexuality?' I guess there are a number of ways to approach this deeply complex and sensitive issue. I don't recollect Jesus saying anything about it at all in the gospels and I seem to remember it is only mentioned something like 6 times in over 30,000 verses in the Bible. I guess one could say that on that basis, statistically speaking at least, homosexuality doesn't feature very high on God's agenda or priority list. Having said that, there's an interesting article on this topic if it's something you have a particular interest in researching further from diverse Christian perspectives: http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_bibi.htm. What is clear from Jesus' teaching and example is that Christians are encouraged and expected to demonstrate genuine value, care and respect for all people and not to point the finger in judgement, irrespective of what they (we) may believe about other people's values and conduct. Sadly, that critical vision, ethos and practice seems to have been lost at times in the heat of debate over sexual and relational ethics, related social policy etc. I don't know if that answers your question but I hope it goes some way towards it.
@ Good questions - the kind that theologians and ordinary Christians alike have been grappling with for centuries! I will have a go at responding to some of your specific queries but have to acknowledge that the issues are pretty complex. Firstly, the 'x who beget y' point. Some key principles of Biblical interpretation include understanding the author's intention, the context within which the author was writing (e.g. contemporary issues of the time) and the original audience for whom it was written. Many believe that Matthew's gospel, which starts with such a genealogical record, was targeted specifically at a Jewish audience for whom establishing ancestry was very important. I guess we might think of it as providing the right cultural credentials for credibility purposes. How to know which parts are literal and which aren't. That's a tough one for biblical scholars, the reason being that the writers didn't leave signposts throughout to say, for instance, 'this is meant literally' and 'this is meant metaphorically'. There are various pointers, e.g. identifying the literary genre for different books of the Bible, e.g. narrative, wisdom, poetry, letter; seeing how different books in the Bible seem to view each other; looking at how Jews and Christians have interpreted the Bible from its earliest compilation; using a subjective-intuitive sense of what seems like the most natural reading. There are fairly diverse views among Christians on specifics of interpretation, even if they (we) agree over fundamental beliefs, e.g. Jesus Christ is the Son of God. For example, to use broad categories, 'fundamentalists' would say that virtually everything in the Bible should be read literally; 'liberals' that we should test the Bible's claims against our ordinary human experience; 'evangelicals' that the Bible is true but needs to be interpreted correctly; 'charismatics' that the most important thing is what God speaks through it in the here and how. I particularly liked your comment at the end, "I don't like saying 'God doesn't exist' out loud if I'm honest, it gives me a kind of unpleasant twinge on the inside.” It made me smile but also somehow felt deeply heartwarming and profound.
@ In all honesty, the short answer to the question why some people believe in God whereas others don’t is, 'I don't really know'. As far as I can see, the Bible points to two prompts: (a) creation - as evidence of God's general design everywhere and (b) an inner personal experience (or 'enlightenment') of the Spirit. The immediate difficulties are, of course, that not everyone who looks at creation attributes what they see to God's design and not everyone who senses an inner prompting attributes that experience to spirituality or God. For me, faith feels like a mysterious intuition. It's not something I can do, make happen, prove or demonstrate to others. I don't know why I believe. It's a curious phenomenon. Atheists on YouTube often challenge me to prove God empirically. I can understand why they do that but I can't explain God in those terms. It's a kind of knowing-beyond-knowing, I'm stuck for words. When I read the Bible, trying as best as I can with open heart and mind, relaxing into its words, I sometimes experience an intensifying of that knowing, discerning, faith experience. It's as if God hides himself behind the words and then, unexpectedly, reveals himself as if shining his light through them. That's how it seems to me. At other times, it just feels like reading a dry textbook. I don't know why, I can't explain it. I've spent the last 30 years trying to build my life on what I've understood through it. I've encountered what I recognise as 'spirituality' (in Christian terms, the activity of the Spirit) in people of other faiths, secular humanists etc, although the other will not necessarily attribute that explanation or meaning to their own experience. I find the whole phenomenon very curious.
@ ‘What about other faiths?’ I haven't studied other faiths formally. I did a 'world religions' course in my school days but that was very basic indeed. I've read the Qur'an from cover to cover, albeit in English not Arabic. I've worked with Moslems, Hindus and Sikhs but had significantly more contact, including friendships, with Moslems than with people of other religions. I've spent the last 12 years working for international NGOs and I’ve visited, lived or worked in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, former Yugoslavia, Albania, Greece, Israel, Lebanon, Uganda, Thailand and Vietnam. I guess that's brought me into contact with a wide range of different people, religions, cultures, worldviews. I honestly don't know what, if anything, I would believe faith-wise if I had been born in Pakistan. The likelihood is that, if I had an orientation to religious faith, I would probably have sought and expressed that in Islam as the majority religion. I don't know what I would have thought, felt or believed if I had encountered Christians or the Bible in that context. How about you - have you investigated other faiths?
@ To clarify, when you say, 'theistic belief - not possible' do you mean it is impossible for God to exist or that you find it impossible to believe that God exists, or something else? Yes, there are different creation accounts. Are you using the term 'myth' to mean not true in a literal historical sense, or something else?
@ Dawkins himself acknowledges atheism as a belief system in a BBC HardTalk interview - you can view it on YouTube. Baggini, an atheist philosopher, has written books on the subject. That doesn't mean it's the way that all atheists use the term. I agree there is no necessary relationship between belief per se and religious faith.
@ 'Science and religion cannot prove or disprove that God exists'. Agreed. I've noticed how one scientist studies the heavens and the earth and sees evidence of God's hand everywhere. Another studies the same heavens and earth and concludes there is no God. I don't believe science itself can prove which is right and which is wrong. That is a matter of faith.
@ Interesting comments - and sounds like you've had some interesting debates with believers. :-) What, if anything, would convince you that there may be merit or even possibility of truth in what a believer believes?
@ I would certainly agree with you that it isn't necessary to believe in God to be a good, kind and compassionate person. Interestingly, from a Christian theological perspective, such qualities are evidence that we are created in God's image, whether we are aware of it or not. I also agree that it can be difficult to identify and understand motivation, even our own motivation at times. We are complex psychological, emotional and social beings. I agree with you that religion has been and in some situations still is used as a vehicle for personal and social control etc. From a Christian theological perspective, it's evidence of what the Bible calls 'sin'. One way of thinking about 'sin' is a distortion or negation of God's truth, values or intention. Unfortunately sometimes religion, like all sorts of other ideologies, has institutionalised sin in its practices, e.g. along the lines you vividly described. It strikes me that the relationship between religion and science is a complex one, particularly where interpreting the Bible is concerned. The Bible consists of various types of literature and the challenge when reading certain parts is knowing whether they are intended to be read literally. The creation account at the start of Genesis is one such example. It doesn't read to me like a historical-scientific account but it does communicate certain fundamental theological truths (e.g. God as creator). Fundamentalist Christians and atheists alike (particularly in the US) seem to hold the same view that, if the creation account isn't true in a historical-scientific sense, then the Bible is somehow untrue. I don't accept that view - it makes no sense to me because, say, communicating truth through a story doesn't necessarily make the story a lie. It's about understanding the literary genre and intention. It's also about being prepared to say humbly, 'I don't know'. I felt very moved and inspired by your description of platonic love and the example you gave: 'I know that if I can't carry my pack any more, other soldiers will help me out and we'll pull through, and they know I'll do the same for them.' I'm curious that you contrasted that with God's love because it sounds to me like an amazing, compelling illustration of the sacrificial, compassionate love that Jesus Christ demonstrates and encourages us to follow.
@ 'an atheist can live a spiritual life'. I guess that depends on how someone defines 'spiritual'. Some atheists define spiritual as something along the lines of 'committed to living a moral and meaningful life' whereas theists would see a supernatural dimension as fundamental. 'you're an atheist in regard to other gods you don't believe in.' True.
@ The conversation between atheists and theists is clouded by examples of what people do or have done in the name of, or at least apparently influenced by, religion or other ideologies. It's difficult to know what really motivates/ed people and the debate seems to revolve as much around what people have done as whether or not the underlying beliefs they claim/ed or subscrib/ed to can be regarded as true.
@ Sounds like we share common concerns about right wing extremism. Before I became a Christian, I was a left wing, liberal thinking, visionary idealist, civil rights and human rights activist, spending any free time reading philosophy and provoking debates to stimulate critical thinking. I hated right wing politics and any kind of repressive regime, mostly because I had read a lot about Nazi atrocities in WW2 and it had depressed the life out of me. I read Richard Bach's 'Jonathan Livingstone Seagull' as a teenager and it fuelled a deep thirst for truth, reality and perfection. My favourite song was Supertramp's Logical Song - it really expressed how I felt at the time. (That's telling you something about how old I am!). I met a Christian at work. He was a deeply humble and spiritual man and I found him inspiring but nevertheless argued against him. He challenged me to read the Bible for myself. I opened the Bible randomly, read Matthew and James then a book called, 'The Cross and the Switchblade' by David Wilkerson. Don't know what happened, it was as if my head and heart exploded with light. Completely blew me away. Can't explain it. Still the same person, still the same passions but something deep changed. I still feel that same passion for God although I should confess that the more I read and reflect on the incarnation, life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the more I find it deeply puzzling, profound and paradoxical. Whereas some like Dawkins dismiss God and the Bible as ridiculous nonsense, for me God, life, the universe are intriguing and inspiring mysteries that continually draw me forward on an exciting, on-going journey of faith and discovery. I'm intrigued, therefore, by how you and I appear to have had such different experiences of Christian faith. (I'm reluctant to use the word 'religion' because it carries too many negative connotations for me, e.g. artificial conceptual frameworks and institutionalism). Perhaps it's something to do with the very different contexts we have lived in.
@ The way I view it is that different metaphysical paradigms lead to different conclusions about, say, the nature and value of human life. Stalin held an atheistic worldview based on the philosophy of materialism. I don't believe it's so simple as to say 'Stalin's actions weren't based on his atheism' (Dawkins) because his whole worldview, politics and actions were based on that foundation. True, he was probably also clinically insane.
@ If by 'prove' a person means provide definitive empirical evidence, it seems to me that the challenge itself contains presuppositions that logically beg the question. God is by most definitions spirit, supernatural, non-material. By analogy, it’s something like being challenged to paint a vivid colourful rainbow using only charcoal and white paper.
@ 'Enlightenment' is a very good word. When I first became a Christian, it really did feel as if my head and heart had exploded with light. Completely blew me away. As a result of this weird, amazing and unexpected experience, my whole world turned into colour-3D. My journey of faith since has felt like progressive degrees of enlightenment amidst the complex twists and turns of clarity, confusion, happiness, sadness – the realities of life.
@ Is what you are saying essentially something along the lines of: everyone should have the right to believe what they choose; no-one should force their beliefs on another; by extension, social policy should seek to reflect fairly the rights and needs of people holding different beliefs? If so, we are in agreement. :-)
@ Yes, the UK is largely secular but appears to have transitioned/be transitioning from Christian to post-Christian atheist to postmodern agnostic. It's a curious phenomenon and one which I doubt many Christians or atheists had anticipated. Spirituality is very definitely on the emergent agenda again but certainly not in the traditional sense of organised religion. It's as if both organised religion and atheist materialism have felt too mechanistic and reductionist, disconnected from what many people experience as the complexity and richness of real life in the world, especially in an increasingly globalised world where people with different belief systems continually interact with one-another, including via social media e.g. YouTube. I find it difficult to imagine how I might feel living in the US where Christian beliefs have such influence in political and social policy spheres. US Christianity often sounds more fundamentalist than I would feel comfortable with and, in that sense, I would rather live in an open-minded secular context. The secular vs Christian conflict feels less militant and polarised here. Interestingly, I didn't become a Christian until age 21, having being brought up in a secular family and environment. My journey of 'enlightenment' in some ways parallels your own, albeit through finding faith rather than vice versa. I find that intriguing. I was interested in the relationship you mentioned between your atheistic point of view and free-thinking, logic, reason and research. Would you be happy to say more? I was also interested to hear your thoughts on the role of groups in supporting belief. I think that's a fascinating observation in terms of psychological and cultural reinforcement.
@ It sounds like we're in agreement. :-) I do share your view that all beliefs should be open to inquiry, especially where they have social and policy implications. I guess I tend to favour an inquisitive, dialogical approach where possible. This contrasts with Dawkins' reductionist imposition of a single evaluative framework onto all possible dimensions of reality and truth.
@ 'I don't respect Christians’ beliefs...blind faith is wilful ignorance'. Although some people appear to hold beliefs (religious or otherwise) completely irrationally, my impression is that theists often have good reason for believing that what they believe is true, but clearly not the kind of reasons that an atheist finds convincing. Has your experience of believers been very different to mine?
@ 'I would strongly disagree with the assertion that atheism is a belief system'. Often, people I've encountered who regard themselves as atheist simply say, 'I can see no good reason for believing in God' rather than, definitively, 'God does not exist.' Most haven't developed a sophisticated atheistic belief system. Dawkins’ aggressive anti-theism strikes me as something quite different - an ideological position, not simply an absence of belief.
@ 'Don't lump scientists who believe in testing by evidence with people who believe by way of faith. That is a false comparison.' On the face of it, you seem to be contrasting scientists with people who hold religious faith. Is that what you meant or were you really meaning to contrast atheists (rather than scientists per se) with people who hold religious faith?
@ I can understand your comments about religion, faith etc. I've had periods in my own life since becoming a Christian when I've wondered whether I'm simply deluding myself and have spent plenty of time puzzling over things I really don't understand either in the Bible or in life more generally. It sounds like I haven't drawn all the same conclusions as you but I can understand how someone could reach those conclusions. I often hear Christians say, 'How could anyone not believe in God?'. I sometimes find myself answering in all honesty that I'm more amazed that anybody does, including me. Faith feels like a mysterious intuition. It's not something I can do, make happen, prove or demonstrate to others. I don't know why I believe. It's a curious phenomenon. Atheists on YouTube often challenge me to prove God empirically. I can understand why they do that but I can't explain God in those terms. It's a kind of knowing-beyond-knowing, I'm stuck for words. When I read the Bible, trying as best as I can with open heart and mind, relaxing into its words, I sometimes experience an intensifying of that knowing, discerning, faith experience. It's as if God hides himself behind the words and then, unexpectedly, reveals himself as if shining his light through them. That's how it seems to me. At other times, it just feels like reading a dry textbook. I don't know why, I can't explain it. Nevertheless, I've spent the last 30 years trying to build my life on what I've understood through it.
@ Three questions I grapple with continually: in the totality of 'what is', (a) what is real and what isn’t, (b) what can be known and what can’t and (c) how can we be certain our answers to (a) and (b) are true? I believe the profound difficulties we experience in answering such questions warrant deep humility when approaching questions of ‘God’. :-)
@ I'm a Christian, have a particular interest in philosophy and often feel empathy and sense of connection with agnostics and open-minded atheists. My favourite atheist philosopher is Julian Baggini. Baggini recently commented that, '(Dawkins') new atheism gets atheism wrong, gets religion wrong, and is counterproductive.' I agree. I have noticed parallels with religious fundamentalism and how some atheists appear to treat Dawkins with unmerited devotion, cf a prophet. I'm reading Mark Vernon's 'After Atheism' at the moment - have you read it? An interesting account of a person's journey from Christian to atheist to agnostic. I guess where I'm at personally is that the more I read and reflect on the incarnation, life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the more I find it deeply puzzling, profound and paradoxical. Whereas some like Dawkins dismiss God and the Bible as ridiculous nonsense, for me God, life, the universe are intriguing and inspiring mysteries that draw me forward on an exciting, on-going journey of faith and discovery.
@ Although I understand the point some people are trying to make by using the flying spaghetti monster analogy, I too find it irrational, illogical and prejudiced. If most people everywhere and throughout all time had believed in such a creature, it would add credibility to the argument as a valid analogy for God. As a point of fact, they haven't. The notion of a FSM sounds as ridiculous to the theist as it does to the atheist.
@ To be clear, when you say the Bible was 'written by primitive man', would you describe, say, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle in that way too? I guess I'm wondering what you are inferring by use of the word primitive. I think all Christians would share your view that the Bible was written by people, but differ with you on the source of its inspiration.
@ Easter: 'where's the sacrifice' etc. Good questions, difficult to answer. John Stott wrote a whole book on it (The Cross of Christ). The more I read and reflect on the incarnation, life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the more I find it deeply puzzling, profound and paradoxical. It's an intriguing mystery that has drawn me forward on a journey of life, faith and discovery.
@ I can understand and empathise with the objections you have raised. Yes, I too wonder about the social policy implications of fundamentalism (...of all kinds...) in the US. I think 'Christian ignorance' is a fair explanation for some things that people do or have done in the name of Christ, along with underlying cultural and political motivations for certain actions.
@ “Science and faith are more than compatible – they are complementary, like two wings to lift us off the ground and help us see more than we can down here.” (Rosalind Picard, Professor of Media Arts & Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Director of Affective Computing Research Group at MIT; Co-Leader of Things that Think Consortium, April 2010).
@ Easter represents a crux point in human history and hope. The cross of Jesus Christ demonstrates in the starkest possible terms that no matter who we are or what we have done, we really matter to God. Some believe it's simply a 'mythological account' with no historical substance. For others, it represents an amazing revelation of presence, peace and possibility beyond our wildest dreams. :-)
@ I can understand and respect what sounds like your agnostic position on the question of 'God'. I guess 'ridiculous' and 'far fetched' point to a particular perspective on what the Bible says and what it means when it says it. As far as I can understand it, what a person finds convincing depends on what metaphysical paradigm that person already holds and, thereby, what appears consistent (i.e. makes most sense) within that paradigm.
@ We are in agreement that believing in eternal life is a matter of faith, not 'knowing' in a hard empirical sense. Theists have good reason for believing that what they believe is true, but clearly not the kind of reasons that an atheist finds convincing! :-) As a point of fact, I was brought up in a secular family and culture, not a Christian one.
@ One could create an equally simplistic and sarcastic counter-argument along the lines of: ‘Atheism is blind faith. It’s the product of a closed system and a closed mind. It is dogmatic (‘atheism is the truth’), reductionist (‘material is the only reality’) and irrational (‘atheism is un-belief’). Atheists claim to know with certainty what is real and true and dismiss all other possibilities that don’t fit within the confines of their own preconceived paradigm and experience.’ Sad.
@ The paradox of the incarnation is at the heart of the Christian faith. I don't know if you saw the 1-minute video I posted at Christmas on this very topic (it's called 'Christmas Paradox': http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=suYDbmRZ29A) - it was aimed at stimulating Christians to reflect more deeply on the same kind of issues you raised. As Christians, the reality of the incarnate God should shock, confuse and amaze us too.
@ I've noticed how one scientist studies the heavens and the earth and sees evidence of God's hand everywhere. Another studies the same heavens and earth and concludes there is no God. I don't believe science itself can prove which is right and which is wrong. That is a matter of faith.
@ Yes, I agree. Paul explains that paradox in 1 Cor. He describes a completely different dimension or kind of ‘knowing’, that is by spiritual revelation and discernment. Christians have had that problem ever since when trying to convey spiritual reality and experience to those who don’t believe in that same reality or share that same experience. It feels difficult if not impossible to communicate. ‘Unfortunately, no-one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.’ (Morpheus, The Matrix)
@ Whilst arguments for or against the existence of God may influence whether or not a person believes her or she has good reason to believe in God, such arguments have no material bearing whatsoever on the actual existence of God.
@ Yes, it's possible that I've subconsciously skewed my interpretations of my experiences etc. It's possible that I could be partially or even completely deluded. Like you, I prefer to believe as many true things as possible and disbelieve as many false things as I can. I'm actually only 99% sure there is a God/afterlife/hell/heaven.
@ I guess the issue partly depends on what constitutes proof. Some people seem to use 'proof' to mean 'definitive empirical evidence', some to mean 'irrefutable rational argument'. Unless I'm missing something, I can't imagine how anyone could prove or disprove God in those terms, although someone could have good reasons for believing or disbelieving in God. I can't imagine anyone would believe in God if they thought they had no reason to do so.
@ On metaphysics and epistemology. In the totality of ‘what is’, three questions I grapple with: (a) what is real and what isn’t, (b) what can be known and what can’t and (c) how can we be certain our answers to (a) and (b) are true? I believe the profound difficulties we experience in answering such questions warrant deep humility when approaching questions of ‘God’.
@ Yes, 'prove God exists' is an understandable yet difficult, perhaps meaningless, challenge. If by 'prove' a person means provide definitive empirical evidence, it seems to me that the challenge itself contains presuppositions that logically beg the question. God is, after all, by most definitions spirit, supernatural, non-material.
@ We are agreed the Bible is a good book (but not all of it just 2000 years old), that it is not principally a science book and that it does contain moral principles. I haven't condemned atheists as idiots or disputed evolution - apologies if that's how my comments sounded to you.
@ I'm amazed how some atheists on this site appear to claim to know definitively that God does not exist or that, somehow, the existence of God is necessarily impossible or even scientifically disproven. Such claims strike me as curious and bemusing and reveal all kinds of weird and wonderful metaphysical and epistemological prejudices and presuppositions. What do you think?
@ When a Christian tries to reframe the conversation by proposing a different metaphysical paradigm to the materialist one, atheists will often revert to a 'prove it with empirical evidence' approach. It is difficult for the Christian to know how to progress the conversation at this point. It is like being asked to express and depict a magnificent, awesome array of colours using only charcoal and white paper or to explain what 3+3= mathematically whilst being only permitted to use a single odd number. Impasse.
@ I believe that standing up for the truth of God is the greatest thing in the world. This is the end of life. The end of life is not to be happy. The end of life is not to achieve pleasure and avoid pain. The end of life is to do the will of God, come what may. I believe that love is the most durable power in the world. (Martin Luther King)
@ I'm pleased we share a belief in God. I have no desire to enter into debate or argument about whose view of God is the 'right' one. That's tricky for both of us because, as you know from your Christian background and Islamic faith, both religions believe in truth and that human decisions have eternal consequences and are, therefore, committed to convincing respective 'unbelievers' about God. I can say to you that my favourite verse in the Qur'an is sura 9 ayat 51. So, having said that, if you are interested in open dialogue as fellow human beings who share an interest in truth and God, I would be interested to hear more of your story of faith.
Morgan on psychic prisons comments that , 'human beings have a knack for getting trapped in webs of their own creation'. The closed system paradigm of the materialist-atheist is one such example that restricts further inquiry and conversation, as is equally the anti-rational fundamentalist paradigm advanced by some theists. It takes courage and humility to explore profound questions of reality and truth with a genuinely open heart and mind.
@ The question of whether it is possible for a person to 'convert' someone is an interesting one. It links back to some things in my earlier posting under, 'Ultimate Fate of Others' and also to your own masterful paraphrase of Aquinas on reason and faith. According to what I understand from the Bible, I can explain what the Bible teaches, even perhaps rationally persuade someone of its validity and truth. Becoming a Christian, however, is more than becoming rationally convinced. According to the Bible, it is a 'spiritual rebirth' and that is only possible by the activity of God's Spirit. It's not something I or anyone else can make happen. I agree with you that people do convert to religion with the aid of people who already believe. Perhaps at one level it is about bringing a person to the point where they are prepared to consider the possibility of God, even seek him in their own way, which leads to God himself doing something miraculous in that person's life - which Christians call spiritual rebirth.
@ 'What about the ultimate fate of others?' Another good question. It's a particularly difficult one to answer as a Christian because the Bible doesn't actually say that much about it. The Bible paints a picture of how God has made it possible for humanity to enter into intimate and eternal relationship with him through what Jesus did on the cross. It describes how God's desire is that all people should have that relationship with him and talks about exercising faith in Jesus as a means to and expression of that relationship. Interestingly, Jesus' harshest words in the gospels were directed at religious people (not 'pagans') who excluded others from knowledge of and relationship with God by their legalistic teaching and hypocritical actions. That is a sobering warning for Christians. The picture we see in the Bible is of God revealing himself through creation, which is why Christians see evidence of God in material reality, order in the universe etc. It's as if he has left signposts that anyone can discern if they are prepared to see them in the right way.
We also see in the Bible the notion that people only able to perceive spiritual reality if (a) they really desire it and (b) God reveals it to them. The gospels articulate this paradox explicitly. For example, Jesus says, ‘No-one can come to me unless the father who sent me draws him (Jn 6:44); ‘No-one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again (spiritually)’ (Jn 3:3); ‘The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you (Jesus’ disciples), but to others I speak in parables, so that ‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.’ (Lk 8:10). It’s as if, according to the Bible, God has created opportunities for spiritual revelation and discernment but then deliberately places obstacles in people’s way to prevent them from grasping it. It’s as if he poses the implicit question, ‘How much do you want this?’ or, perhaps more accurately, ‘How much do you want to know me?’ since relationship with God is the ultimate goal of revelation. According to the Bible, his desire is that we should find him but it will demand a certain attitude of mind and heart characterised by humility, desire, imagination, perseverance, faith.
So, back to your question. The Bible indicates that a person can only enter into intimate and eternal relationship through Jesus. My hypothesis is that if a person honestly and earnestly seeks to follow their heart and conscience, perhaps within their own theological or philosophical framework, and to live with integrity, he or she may be responding to God's spirit (the Spirit of Jesus) at work in his or her life without even realising it. Even a person who rejects Christianity may be rejecting it because they have never really perceived the reality and truth of God in what they have seen or experienced of it.
@ ‘Which part of the church?’ OK - do I consider myself as part of one particular church? Another good question. I don't tend to feel a special affinity or alignment with any particular denomination. I became a Christian through the influence of a Roman Catholic friend, I've spent time including in leadership in Pentecostal, Anglican, Methodist and United Reformed churches. I trained as a Baptist minister. I studied theology at an inter-denominational theological school. I guess that makes me pretty eclectic really. I do tend to feel an affinity with Christians who have an honesty and integrity in their faith, who seek to follow God in the messiness of life, who try to make a difference for good in the world. I similarly feel an affinity with people who aren't Christians yet who share similar values and commitments in the world. Does that answer that question?
@ Is the Bible true?’ - great question and really hard to answer. I believe the Bible is true insofar as it is God's vehicle to reveal truth. It doesn't seek to reveal all truth (there is, after all, truth that isn't in the Bible) but rather, in Christian terms, that which is necessary for salvation, i.e. that which leads us towards intimate and eternal relationship with God. The Bible consists of various types of literature and the challenge when reading certain parts is knowing whether they are intended to be read literally. The creation account at the start of Genesis is one such example. It doesn't read to me like a historical-scientific account but it does communicate certain fundamental theological truths (e.g. God as creator). Fundamentalist Christians and atheists alike in the US seem to hold the same view that, if the creation account isn't true in a historical-scientific sense, then the Bible is somehow untrue. I don't accept that view - it makes no sense to me because, say, communicating truth through a story doesn't necessarily make the story a lie. It's about understanding the literary genre and intention.
@ Thanks for the note. I'm assuming your studies will have included elements of political philosophy and encouraged you to exercise caution when, say, making generalised statements on the basis of limited data or superimposing your own presuppositions (e.g. what constitutes 'enlightened' or 'civilisation') onto a global social-political landscape. How many countries, for instance, track specific statistics on conversion to atheism (or religion) and, where they do, what might influence or explain what the results point towards?
@ 'Proven wrong'. I can see the point you are making and I could give two responses. Firstly, to offer an alternative explanation for a phenomenon is not the same thing as proving that your own explanation is true or that a different explanation is false. Secondly, I assume you are aware that there are different views among Christians about how literal certain parts of the Bible are intended to be read and understood, e.g. the creation account in Gen 1?
@ I live in Europe and have spent time in most European countries. I have also visited the US, Canada and Australia. I wonder if you are confusing atheism with secularity. Britain, for instance, appears to be transitioning from Christian to post-Christian atheism to post-Christian spirituality. Your view that 'advanced' = 'atheist' points to all kinds of interesting ideological presuppositions.
@ When you say 'the Bible has been proven wrong thousands of times in many respects', I'm assuming what you mean is that the validity of the Bible has been challenged by some of those who don't believe it is true. ‘'Vigorously challenged' - yes. ‘Proven wrong' - no. We agree there are different truth claims about God.
@ Good question. Firstly, I believe we are able to comprehend something of God but we are not able to comprehend him fully. It's hard for a person with a finite mind and experience to grasp or imagine the infinite. Secondly, if what the Bible says is true, there are certain things we can work out about God by ourselves but other things we can only know if he reveals them to us.
@ Firstly, since becoming a Christian at age 21, some 29 years ago now, I have had an intuitive sense of God's reality and presence. Is it possible that I am attributing a spiritual explanation to a natural phenomenon? Yes. Does a natural phenomenon necessarily exclude a spiritual explanation? No. Secondly, that intuitive sense often feels strongest or clearest when I pray, read the Bible or act in a way that's consistent with Jesus' teaching. Is it because those things resonate with what I now believe, in a self-reinforcing way? Possibly, although they also influence, inform and challenge what I believe. Thirdly, since becoming a Christian I have had a number of specific paranormal experiences that defy natural explanation. Does it mean those experiences are necessarily the result of the Christian interpretation I place on them? No. Do they correlate with what I expect to experience in light of what I read in the Bible? Yes.
@ If you are interested in the science and faith question, you may find 'Test of Faith' interesting. You may also be interested to have a glance at the following website, recommended by a scientist friend: http://www.jesustheevidence.com/index.html At a more personal level, since becoming a Christian 29 years ago, I have had an intuitive sense of God's reality and presence and paranormal experiences that correlate with those of other Christians and the Bible.
@ I understand what you mean by the scientific method of verifying or falsifying a hypothesis and subjecting it to peer review. I struggle, however, to imagine how one might prove or disprove the existence of God in those terms. We could not, for instance, recreate Jesus performing miracles in a laboratory. You may be interested to have a glance at the following website, recommended by a scientist friend: http://www.jesustheevidence.com/index.html.
@ I haven't claimed to know the unknowable. I agree with you that belief is not the same as knowing definitively in an empirical sense (if that's what you meant by knowing). If however, my beliefs are necessarily the result of 'indoctrination and irrational fears and hopes' as you claim, an 'extension of my ego and imagination', 'self-delusion', how can you be so certain that your own beliefs are not the product of similar psycho-social phenomena?
@ In my original posting I said, ‘This certainly does not mean that a majority worldview = truth’. I agree that atheism is growing in certain contexts, e.g. the US, but I have seen no evidence to suggest this is a global phenomenon. In fact, it appears to be quite the opposite. Sounds like neither you or I believe in an ‘invisible sky daddy’. I guess that, according to your definition, that makes us both ‘enlightened’?
@ Yes, I read the whole of the Qur'an once, albeit in the English language, not Arabic. Have you read the Bible?
@ ‘at best imagination or hallucination...irrational and child-minded’. OK, let me pose a response. In the totality of ‘what is’, three questions: (a) what is real and what isn’t, (b) what can be known and what can’t and (c) how can we be certain our answers to (a) and (b) are true? I believe the profound difficulties we experience in answering such questions warrant deep humility when approaching questions of ‘God’. God is, by definition, eternal, mysterious and way beyond our ability to comprehend. To imagine we can squeeze God into our own conceptual frameworks, the limits of our own understanding and experience, and evaluate him on that basis strikes me as naive, arrogant and bemusing.
@ Interested that you should regard atheists per se as 'enlightened people'. Enlightened in what sense? Interested too in your hypothesis that atheism is growing and faith in religion waning around the world. What global evidence do you have to support that hypothesis? Have you read, say, 'The Twilight of Atheism' by former atheist Alistair McGrath? Interested too that you should equate validity of an argument with how many people believe it. :-)
@ Can you say more about the question that lies behind your question? I could say something about the qualities and characteristics of God I believe in but 'define' somehow sounds more definitive and precise than that to me. I don't think I could define God in a definitive way because, although I believe he reveals a glimpse of himself in terms we are able to grasp (sometimes only almost grasp), I believe his total reality is mysterious and beyond human comprehension.
@ 'Prove God'. Firstly, what constitutes ‘proof’? If by proof you mean provide concrete empirical evidence that is only explicable in terms of God, the challenge itself begs the question. God is by most definitions spirit, supernatural, non-material and, therefore, to insist on material proof assumes that what is real and true is confined to that which is material.
@ ‘Not very solid is it’. I guess that really depends on (a) what you (or anyone else for that matter) believes constitutes valid 'evidence' and (b) how you explain that evidence in terms of causality. Your response to both those points will be governed by your existing metaphysical paradigm and presuppositions so there's risk of a circular argument here. On your generalisation re. science and scientists' views, have you read e.g. 'Test of Faith' (2009)?
@ 'prove God'. An atheist may state that only empirical evidence for the existence of God is admissible or valid as 'proof' in this conversation. This asserts implicitly that a materialist metaphysical paradigm is the only valid paradigm for determining and evaluating reality and truth and pre-sets the rules of the game in such a way that any non-material, spiritual or supernatural account or 'evidence' is necessarily non-admissible. Since Christian spirituality is by definition concerned with non-material or supernatural phenomena, the atheist has in effect set up a form of circular argument within which whatever the Christian proposes as 'evidence' of God is ruled out of court. By denying that 'God does not exist' is equally a definitive proposition, the atheist attempts to avoid having to prove a universal negative using the rules of his or her own game, that is, using only empirical evidence.
@ Your comment is a fair challenge and I can understand the position you hold. I will try to explain. It's a complex discourse! It partly depends on what you believe constitutes valid 'evidence', and that likely reflects your implicit or explicit metaphysical belief system or paradigm. To rule out all 'evidence' that doesn't fit within your own paradigm risks arguing in a circle, i.e. proving the presuppositions you already held at the outset.
@ Fair challenge. I can follow your argument that the burden of proof, insofar as there is a burden of proof, is ordinarily on the positive claim. One could argue, however, that a definitive statement such as, 'God does not exist' is a positive claim. On your point vis a vis 'evidence', it depends on what a you consider constitutes valid evidence and that is governed by other questions such as your metaphysical beliefs about reality, truth, etc. Can you prove them?
@ Sounds like we are in agreement that people throughout history have sometimes created supernatural explanations for some things that we would no longer attribute such explanations to, e.g. thunder and lightning as the gods being angry. It the phenomenon known as the 'god of the gaps'. Not sure I follow your 'grown up...face the truth' argument, although I agree that being kind and respectful to one-another is a value we can and should share and commit to.
@ As far as I can see it, the agnostic who says, ‘I don’t know if there is a God but I haven’t yet found any reason or evidence to believe there is’ demonstrates greater humility and is in a stronger position logically than the atheist who claims definitively that, ‘God does not exist.’ To want to claim that 'God does not exist' and, at the same time, to try to avoid any burden of proof for that claim strikes me as ducking and diving, analogous to the proverbial 'wanting cake whilst eating it'.
@ ‘burden of proof’. To support the atheist’s view, he or she may propose an illustration along the lines of: ‘If I claimed that a blue gremlin lived in my garden, it would be reasonable that the burden of proof should be on me rather than on the person who doesn't believe my claim is true.’ This analogy attempts to place the burden of proof on the theist, as if belief in the blue gremlin equates to belief in God. However, asserting belief in a blue gremlin would be an ‘abnormal’ claim in that it is inconsistent with how most people experience reality most of the time. Since most people throughout the world and throughout time are and have been theists, the actual dynamic equivalent to the gremlin-believer is the atheist. This certainly does not mean that a majority worldview = truth but it does challenge the assertion that the burden of proof is necessarily on the theist.
@ ‘burden of proof’. An atheist may state that the burden of proof for whether or not God exists lies with the Christian because the Christian is making a definitive proposition ('God exists') whereas the atheist is not making any such proposition. In the same vein, the atheist may state that Christianity is belief whereas, in contrast, atheism is simply absence of belief or un-belief. This attempts to avoid the counter challenge that 'God does not exist' is, equally, a definitive proposition.
@ We say, ‘prove God’ and God’s response is, in one sense, ‘prove yourself.’ Some experience the Bible as a wall, get frustrated with it, bang against it, graffiti on it, urinate against it, walk away. Others encounter it as a window, kneel before God in humility and invite him to reveal himself to them with open hearts and minds. God ‘proves’ his reality by revealing himself in a way that only those who seek him in humility and faith can grasp or understand it. It’s a profound mystery.
@ I don't believe it's possible to 'convert' somebody to the Christian faith, even if I wanted to. The Bible itself says the things of the Spirit are spiritually discerned - that is, they can only be known if God reveals them. Trying to convert people to anything risks coercion or manipulation and usually proves counterproductive anyway. Christians are called to share their faith openly whilst respecting others' freedom to choose.
@ Yes, 'prove God exists' is an understandable yet difficult, perhaps meaningless, challenge. If by 'prove' a person means provide definitive empirical evidence, it seems to me that the challenge itself contains presuppositions that logically beg the question. God is by most definitions spirit, supernatural, non-material. By analogy, it’s something like being challenged to answer the question 3+3= mathematically using only a single odd number or to paint a colourful rainbow using only charcoal.
@ ‘Unfortunately, no-one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.’ (Morpheus, The Matrix)
@ Yes, I've seen those films too. The thing I liked about The Matrix was the way it portrayed the idea of a coexistent reality that most people are completely unaware of. That's how the notion of spiritual reality seems sometimes. It's when Neo takes the pill (a step in faith) that his eyes are opened to a whole new reality that he could never have imagined existed. I hear the story was written by a Christian who wanted to illustrate that point.
@ I can definitely relate to the 'huge mental and emotional flip', although that didn't happen to me until age 21. It feels virtually impossible to convey that kind of spiritual reality and experience to someone who don’t believe in that reality or share that experience. It's like trying to describe the colour red to someone born blind. ‘Unfortunately, no-one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.’ (Morpheus, The Matrix)
@ 'Freedom of religion must include freedom from religion'. That's a good phrase. I guess it points to a desire for freedom of choice between different worldviews, not just religious ones. Yes, some people misunderstand 'secular'. I liked your comment, 'people need to be free to believe...but not at the cost of others...'. That strikes me as the crux point, the intrinsic dilemma, at the heart of human rights and democracy in a complex plural society and globalised world.
@ It starts with an existential question: 'who am I' and, by implication, 'who are you'? If you were asked by a stranger in an elevator, ‘tell me who you are’ with just 1 minute to answer and without saying your name or what you do for a job, what would you say? What essentially defines you? What best expresses who you are? I find it an intriguing question with profound implications for life, relationships etc. The most real and meaningful answer I have found for myself is, 'I am a child of God'.
@ "Don't look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don't fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention." (Matthew 7, the Bible)
@ I could say something about why I believe it but that certainly wouldn't be the same as proving the truth of it definitively in, say, an empirical sense. I came from a secular background, opened the Bible randomly, read the gospels. Don't know what happened, it was as if my head and heart exploded with light. Completely blew me away. Can't explain it. As a result of this weird, amazing and unexpected experience, my whole world turned into colour-3D. That was 29 yrs ago.
@ I can understand your concern about undue influence of religion in government, public policy, education etc. I can similarly understand those who hold concerns about undue influence of secularity in those same spheres. It strikes me that it's something about how to balance and safeguard different worldviews, cultures and values within a plural society - something which globalisation and population movements are making increasingly challenging and critical.
@ “This is the crisis we're in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God. Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won't come near it, fearing a painful exposure. But this is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn't go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.” (The Bible, John 3) I guess that puts the ball in our court.
@ “What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn't put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.” (Mt 13)
@ As I read through your list of points, I saw many things that we hold in common, in fact most things on your list. That interests me because the atheist vs theist debate tends to polarise people by focusing purely on that which is different. I'm a Christian (not sure what connotations that word will carry for you - the language is problematic) but I can understand a secular humanistic worldview and why people may hold it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
@ A book that inspired me to step forward with vision and excitement into the Christian faith: “Why is it,” Jonathan puzzled, “that the hardest thing in the world is to convince a bird that he is free, and that he can prove it for himself if he’d just spend a little time practicing? Why should that be so hard?” "We can lift ourselves out of ignorance, we can find ourselves as creatures of excellence and intelligence and skill. We can be free! We can learn to fly!" (Jonathan Livingstone Seagull)
@ Biblical theology isn’t primarily academic, abstract, theoretical. It’s about lifestyle, a journey of discovery, living in the open question with a humble and inquiring spirit. It’s about a personal encounter with the eternal God, an extraordinary personal relationship that results in radical transformation of everything that was, is and ever could be. It’s amazing - and it's a choice.
@ Yes, I agree, the notion of a ‘bearded skydaddy pupeteer’ does sound too ridiculous to take seriously. I can understand what you mean. I've seen theists and atheists alike on these comment boards that ‘run the gamut from innocent and harmless to deluded to dangerous and scary’! I'm interested, what is your understanding of yourself and your world? How can you (or anyone else, for that matter) be sure that your understanding and experience of reality is ‘the truth’?
@ Your posting reminded me of a philosophy professor who tried to articulate a naturalist's version of the big bang as, 'Once upon a time when there was no time, nothing happened because nothing existed and, suddenly, when nobody expected it because there was no-one to expect it, everything appeared' (Hicks). I have no idea what precipitated the big bang but it does present science with the possibility of mystery and phenomena that lie beyond normal understanding and experience.
@ I can understand what you are saying and I guess I've come across some pretty stubborn and irrational theists and atheists alike. Perhaps at times I've been one of them(!). I guess, of course, it partly depends on what we mean by 'rational'. You mentioned 'the biggest fairytale of all'. Interesting. In your view, what is the biggest fairytale and, if you don't mind saying more, what led you to that conclusion?
@ I too have encountered people of all kinds of faith and persuasion who appear blinkered, angry and aggressive, including Christians. I feel ashamed that I, too, have sometimes conducted myself in an unhealthy competitive spirit. It's easy to get locked into arguments over things I feel passionately about and, in doing so, to inadvertently devalue the other person and, thereby, betray the very beliefs and undermine the values I'm trying to advocate. In light of this, I try not to think in terms of 'my side' or to engage in debate. So many of the debates on YouTube appear to be really about asserting one's own views over that of another, defeating the opposition etc. It's about win-lose. I'm more interested in dialogue, exploring issues, ideas and experiences together with people who share an interest in reality, truth, making the world a better place etc, irrespective of whether we share the same belief systems. Perhaps what helps me is that I believe (a) it's not possible for me to 'convert' anyone to belief in God even if I wanted to and (b) if God is who I believe he is, he doesn't need me to defend him. I've had the privilege or knowing and working closely with some amazing secular humanists over the years who've conducted themselves with real thoughtfulness and integrity. I wonder if YouTube attracts some of the more fundamentalist types on all sides which is why there's so much conflict. I have really struggled to cut through all the assumptions and projections people place on me as a 'Christian', especially by anti-theists in the US.
@ The Bible is a wall and a doorway. Beyond it lies life, light, love and hope beyond our wildest dreams. What we are able to see depends partly on the attitude in which we approach it. If we approach the Bible in humility, God promises to reveal his reality and truth through it. ‘Ask and keep asking and you will receive, seek and keep seeking and you will find, knock and keep knocking and the door will be opened to you’. So, what do you see…a wall or a doorway?
@ Often, people I've encountered who regard themselves as atheist simply say, 'I can see no good reason for believing in God' rather than, definitively, 'God does not exist.' Most haven't developed a sophisticated atheistic belief system. Dawkins’ anti-theism strikes me as something quite different.
@ I have the sense that, for all kinds of psychological, social and cultural reasons, it can be very difficult for people to let go of or modify deeply-held beliefs. My sense is that's true of all people, not just those holding religious beliefs. Would you agree? Pleased to hear you weren't forcefed any fairy tales!
@ I have the impression that some people who regard themselves as atheist or even anti-theist have had such bad impressions or experiences of people who call themselves Christians that they really can't see beyond that. They may couch their arguments in rational or scientific terms but it often sounds like the product of deep hurt, anger or prejudice. It's as if any potential for truth or integrity in what Christians may say is auto-blown away with all the dross.
@ What do you think it is about religion, faith etc. that seem to evoke such strong, abusive or dismissive reactions from some people, especially in the US? I can understand people holding strongly different views and values. I've worked with some radical, assertive and intellectually brilliant secular humanists who, in spite of our differences, always conducted themselves with dignity, integrity and respect towards people with different beliefs and worldviews.
Good comments and interesting distinctions between science as trade and science as philosophy. Interesting statement: ‘An examination of the evidence for God by a scientist using science leads to only one conclusion.’ It begs two questions: (a) why so many scientists believe in God and (b) whether scientific methods are genuinely the only means of determining what is true and real.
@ Actually I was brought up in a post-Christian secular family and culture and didn't become a Christian until age 21. I don't regard the author of the video as 'the opposition' - I really can empathise with his or her perspective. I have a fair understanding of what I believe as a Christian :-) but I can't claim to be able to explain suffering. Rather than try to explain it in an abstract way, I try to demonstrate empathy, compassion and respect.
@ I read this statement by a scientist: 'Most scientists that I know who are not people of faith would say, ‘I'm not sure whether there's a God or not, but my science doesn't help me to know.'’ (John Bryant, Professor Emeritus of Cell & Molecular Biology, Exeter University, 2009). I find that approach refreshingly humble, open-minded and honest; completely different to Dawkins' anti-theistic crusading approach. To Dawkins' credit, he's open and honest about his underlying ideological position.
@ I met a Christian at work. He was a deeply humble and spiritual man and I found him inspiring and intriguing but nevertheless argued against him. He challenged me to read the Bible for myself. I opened the Bible randomly, read Matthew and James then a book called 'The Cross and the Switchblade'. Don't know what happened, it was as if my head and heart exploded with light. Completely blew me away. Can't explain it. Still the same person, still the same passions but something deep changed. I was a philosophical and political idealist beforehand but, as a result of this weird, amazing and unexpected experience, my whole world turned into colour-3D. That was 29 yrs ago.
@T-O-Q. ‘I don’t make assumptions’. Would you ever be prepared to say, ‘I don't know whether God exists. Your notion of God lies outside of my own worldview and experience. I can see no good reason to believe in God. However, I am open to the possibility that dimensions of reality could exist outside my own paradigm and experience’?
@ ‘born into religion’. You appear to hold a view that, for those who hold them, Christian beliefs are simply a product of social conditioning, mirroring the prevailing culture into which they were born. I can see your point - I find it difficult to imagine how anyone’s psychological worldview could not be socially influenced, unless they lived in total human isolation. How can you be sure, however, that your own beliefs are not simply the product of a different social conditioning? I grew up in a post-Christian secular family and society in which agnosticism is the norm and Christian beliefs are largely regarded as irrelevant, quirky or delusional. Paradoxically, perhaps that's how it feels as a counter-prevailing-culture atheist in the US. Christian faith came to me as a revelation, a sudden and unexpected awareness of a whole new dimension of reality. By analogy, you could describe it as my own ‘big bang’ experience at a deeply personal level. As a side issue and point of logic, I’m sure you would agree that there is no necessary relationship between what a person may believe as a result of social conditioning and whether or not the content of that belief is true. I believe you are right however to point out that a person's belief system is very likely to be influenced significantly by the prevailing belief system into which they are born, even if it means they react against that system rather than choose to accept it.
@ What I'm talking about is the difference between debate and dialogue. Debate tends to be concerned with proving, defending, arguing our own position and, at worst, trying to beat the other party or position into submission. Dialogue is concerned with open inquiry, exploration, discovery, suspending our own beliefs and judgements and wondering whether there may be other dimensions to reality and truth that lie outside of our own current experience and presuppositions.
@ ‘stubborn bigotry’. I can understand your view that some Christians appear to be absolutely fixed in their viewpoints and unable to consider for a moment that there could be truth in others people's viewpoints. I don't find that characteristic confined to Christians however. The challenge for each of us is to consider, 'could there be truth in what you are saying?' before automatically reacting and dismissing what you say because it doesn't coincide with my existing view.
@ ‘Is faith reasonable?’ Whether or not something seems reasonable depends on our awareness and understanding of the facts. In a court room, for instance, a jury tries to understand as best as it can the circumstances surrounding a person’s actions before determining whether that person’s actions were reasonable and justifiable. In the case of God, eternal reality and truth, the full facts are not available to us. Faith therefore demands the courage to commit oneself in the face of human finitude.
@ I agree. Paul's message lay completely outside the conceptual frameworks of his listeners who, therefore, concluded he was speaking nonsense. It was like trying to describe the colour red to someone born blind. Christians have had the same problem since when trying to convey spiritual reality and experience to those who don’t believe in that reality or share that experience. ‘Unfortunately, no-one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.’ (Morpheus, The Matrix)
@ I would love to be able to say that my involvement in the charity/NGO world is purely alturistic but, truth is, I chose and continue to choose it because, apart from any intrinsic value in the work itself, I need to do something with my life that feels meaningful to me. So, at best, I guess it's with mixed motives that I do it. Before I became a Christian, I did an apprenticeship in industry, not because I had any interest in it but purely because I was sick to death of school and wanted to earn money to buy motorcycles etc. After doing it for a few years, I remember sitting in a pipe trench and asking myself those same questions that you mentioned: ‘Why am I doing this..?’ It's not that there's anything wrong with working in industry per se but somehow for me it felt completely and utterly meaningless. I was already quite idealistic. I read Jonathan Livingstone Seagull and, for some reason, it really fired my heart and imagination. I got involved in trade union work, partly because I believed in the cause but largely because it was the only way I could bring sense of meaning and purpose to my working day. The trade union movement was quite radical in those days, at least where I worked, but also quite corrupt so I set about trying to reform it from within. I was very naiive, stirred up a real hornets nest and got shot to pieces for it (metaphorically, of course) but I had rarely felt so alive. It was wonderful. I say this because your admirable sense of service and willingness to sacrifice for your country isn't something that has ever been strong in my own character. When I became a Christian, it gave me the confidence and the motivation to throw my industrial career to the wind. I felt so free. I had been studying for 5 years alongside working on the shop floor. This entailed day release plus 3 hours per evening 3 evenings per week. I left 3 months before my finals to work as a full-time volunteer in social services in the inner city. My family and friends thought I had gone completely mad. They were frustrated by my apparent recklessness, compounded, in their eyes, by this new wide-eyed religious enthusiasm. It was tough for them. I couldn't explain what had happened, it was as if my head and heart had exploded with light. Still the same person, still the same passions but something deep had changed. For the first two years, I couldn't stomach being in a church. I did try to go to occasional meetings but usually had to leave half way through feeling literally nauseous. I hated so much of what I saw, heard and experienced there. I couldn't reconcile churchianity with what I saw in the Bible or had now experienced of God. I felt and still feel horrified (in the way you do too) by how some people would abuse the Bible to justify villifying or marginalising people. Over time, I realised that my attitude was incredibly judgemental and decided to try, as I had in the trade union previously, to reform from within. It hasn't always been easy. I remember one large meeting where a famous preacher had been invited to speak. I had been asked to lead guitar from the front. During his talk, the preacher actually said, 'homosexuals should be shot like dogs'. I couldn't believe it, put my guitar in its case and walked off the stage. I didn't go to theological college until some years later. I wanted to deepen my theological understanding and even trained as a Baptist minister. I learned a lot through the studies but couldn't cope with church life, so much of which felt meaningless and had very little to do with what I saw in the Bible as touching on the really important things in life and the world. So I returned to the social work, community development, international NGO arena and have been in that field since.
@ It's that question of 'evidence' that I find particularly interesting - and perplexing. I will try to explain my thinking. The presupposition appears to be something along the lines of, 'only that which can be proven empirically is real, meaningful and true' (or something along those lines). If we accept that presupposition, it appears to me that it automatically rules spirituality or the supernatural out of court. But how can we know for certain that the presupposition itself is true?
@ I believe the logic of what I said is valid, even if you don't agree that the belief held by Christians is true. The question of 'evidence' is a more complex one because it begs the question of what constitutes evidence etc. That isn't a theological point, it's more of a metaphysical and epistemological (if that's how you spell it) one - i.e. if what we believe is real and how we can know it.
@ I agree with you that you can't prove a universal negative. In logic as I understand it, to offer an alternative explanation for something does not of itself prove which explanation is true. Your comment about Genesis and 'factual' is an intriguing one. When you say 'factual', what do you mean? This seems to be a common point of conflict between some Christians and some atheists in the whole faith debate, especially in the US from what I can see.
@ ‘fear of death’. You seem to be saying that Christians believe in God as a way of comforting themselves in the face of painful realities. If someone finds comfort in belief, it does not for that reason mean the belief is false. ‘Why do Christians cry at funerals?’ I can’t speak for all Christians but I have cried at funerals when I have felt traumatised by the loss of family and friends or seen others traumatised in this way. To not grieve would feel both inhuman and unhealthy to me.
@ ‘wilful ignorance’. Whilst it’s true that some people appear to hold strong views in spite of evidence or reason that point to contrary conclusions, I would be more cautious than you about asserting that the beliefs of those who are unable to substantiate what they believe empirically are, for that reason, necessarily false. It’s one thing, for instance, to say ‘I can see no good reason for believing in God’ but quite another to assert definitively that, ‘God therefore does not exist’.
@ ‘resist change and growth’. While it’s true that some religious groups seem to oppose science and some other forms of learning, I work in leadership and learning in one of the world’s largest NGOs and am a fellow of a secular institute that promotes professional learning research and practice. Whereas Christians may hold different views to some others (and at times to each other) on certain ethical issues etc, I certainly don’t see Christianity as resistant to change and growth per se.
@ ‘intellectual laziness’. While it’s true that some religious groups seem to discourage critical thinking, since becoming a Christian I’ve had the privilege of studying a degree with honours in theology, majoring in philosophy, and a masters degree with distinction in organisational psychology, majoring in psychodynamics. I wouldn’t describe myself as an academic – I’ve just had the right opportunities. I don’t believe for a minute that Christianity is anti-intellectual per se.
@ It's easy to assume that my own worldview makes good sense and to try to communicate with others from that place without really understanding how it sounds to them or where they are coming from. One thing I've noticed on YouTube is how hard it can be to have open conversation because we each find ourselves struggling to cut through 'noise' generated by previous experiences, existing beliefs, strong emotions, projections etc.
@ It's true that some Christians and Christian institutions have done terrible things. I wish that wasn't the case but history speaks for itself. It's both confusing and ironic because Jesus' teaching emphasises love above all things: 'Love the Lord your God and love your neighbour as yourself.' I worry about some Christian fundamentalists who, in their apparent zeal for God, risk dehumanising others rather than honouring them as created in God's image.
@ I agree with your comment about free will. I can also see your point about holy men breaking commandments. Interestingly, Jesus had harsher words to say about religious people than he did about so-called pagans. That's a word of warning to those of us who call ourselves Christians today. I've known and worked with some amazing secular humanists and people of Christian faith and other faiths. We're all just people at the end of the day and share our common humanity.
@ If I say, 'I'm a Christian', what do you imagine about me? What thoughts, images, feelings does 'Christian' evoke for you? I'm curious because some people sound so vehemently anti-Christian, anti-God, anti-Bible. I'm wondering what it is about Christians, God or the Bible that fuels such strong mental and emotional reactions. Is it about specific bad experiences that become projected onto the whole? Can anyone offer actual examples or rational explanation for this phenomenon?
@ The Christian-atheist conflict in the US sounds like a complete war zone. Perhaps, by contrast, we've had so many wars in our own history in Europe that we've had to learn to live with and accommodate our differences to avoid tearing each other and our societies apart. We still fall into terrible conflict from time to time (e.g. Bosnia - complete nightmare). Where will the aggressive debate in the US lead to? Is there room for difference and dialogue instead of anger, dismissal and abuse?
@ I can understand your comments about faith, the Bible etc. I've had periods in my own life since becoming a Christian when I've wondered whether I'm simply deluding myself and have spent plenty of time puzzling over things I really don't understand either in the Bible or in life more generally. I haven't drawn the same conclusions as you on faith or the Bible but I can understand how someone could reach those conclusions. I sometimes hear Christians say, 'How could anyone not believe in God?'. I sometimes find myself answering in all honesty that I'm more amazed that anybody does, including me. Faith feels like a mysterious intuition. It's not something I can do, make happen, prove or demonstrate to others. I don't know why I believe. It's a curious phenomenon. Atheists on YouTube often challenge me to prove God empirically. I can understand why they do that but I can't explain God in those terms. It's a kind of knowing-beyond-knowing, I'm stuck for words. When I read the Bible, trying as best as I can with open heart and mind, relaxing into its words, I sometimes experience an intensifying of that knowing, discerning, faith experience. It's as if God hides himself behind the words and then, unexpectedly, reveals himself as if shining his light through them. That's how it seems to me. At other times, it just feels like reading a dry textbook. I don't know why, I can't explain it. Nevertheless, I've spent the last 30 years trying to build my life on what I've understood through it. I spent three years studying theology. I've also studied philosophy and applied psychology. I'm intrigued by philosophy, seeking to live in the open question, and by psychology, a journey of discovery into human experience. I've spent 30 years in human rights, social work, international development and relief. It's been an incredible privilege, tough and enriching experience. I would love to say I have God, Christianity, the Bible and faith all worked out but it really does feel more like a glimpse, a moment of insight, an intriguing relationship.
@ I'm a Christian and have spent most of my life involved in human rights, social work and international development and relief. I've seen, heard and experienced some terrible things. I feel motivated by Jesus Christ's teaching and example to try to make a positive difference but there's much in the world I honestly wish didn't happen and certainly don't understand.
@ It's one thing for someone who doesn't have knowledge or experience of what Christians call 'God' to inquire in an open spirit and invite Christians to say something more about what they believe, on what basis and how they experience God etc. Like you, however, I don't feel any need or desire to somehow 'prove' God to those who have already decided what they believe and who then demand that Christians prove their beliefs.
@ ‘Prove God’. That’s an understandable but difficult challenge to pose to Trail. If by 'prove' you mean provide definitive empirical evidence, the challenge itself contains presuppositions that logically beg the question. God is by most definitions spirit, supernatural, non-material. By analogy, it’s like being challenged to answer the question 3+3= mathematically using only odd numbers, to paint a colourful rainbow using only charcoal, to walk naturally with one's legs tied together.
@ Interested to read your postings. Reminds me of a philosophy professor who tried to articulate a naturalist's version of the big bang as, 'Once upon a time when there was no time, nothing happened because nothing existed and, suddenly, when nobody expected it because there was no-one to expect it, everything appeared'. I have no idea what precipitated the big bang but it does present science with the possibility of mystery and phenomena that lie beyond normal understanding and experience.
@ Good comment on Nietzche. It makes me wonder what the relationship is between philosophy, ideology and experience. Not sure it's possible for anyone to approach philosophical questions neutrally. Being aware of our own prejudices and presuppositions is part of the journey of discovery. It also comes down to attitude - how open we are to consider and value perspectives and experiences that are different to our own.
@ ‘look at any object’. Interesting question. It reminded me of a question a philosopher friend once posed along the lines of, 'Look at an object across the room. Are you seeing the object 'out there' or internally as an image on your brain?' It's one of those questions that aims to challenge whether what we ordinarily perceive, experience and believe as 'reality' is really the 'truth'.
@ Three metaphysical questions for the atheist group you mentioned previously. In terms of 'what is', (a) what is real and not real, (b) what can be known and not known and (c) how can we be certain that our answers to (a) and (b) are true? I would be intrigued to hear what they say. It bends my brain and reminds me that 'reality' and 'truth' may not be as obvious or straightforward as we think they are.
@ It's a real challenge for Christians to explain or demonstrate convincingly what they believe and experience as reality and truth when that same reality and truth, according to the Bible, can only be discerned spiritually. Spirituality is a profoundly different phenomenon and field of 'knowing' to some other fields (e.g. science) where empirical evidence or rational argument would probably suffice.
@ Some of the Christians I’ve had the privilege of being lifelong friends with: Rudi (German), a social worker who has spent his life trying to build an alternative society to that advocated by neo-Nazis; Isabel (Spanish), a psychotherapist who has spent her life supporting refugees and providing counselling for victims of torture; Mike (Jamaican), an urban pastor who has spent his life working with marginalised young black people at risk of drugs and violent crime. Respect is due.
@ ‘xians, world's biggest liars and cowards.’ Are you asserting that as a universal principle or were you basing it inductively (...if that's the right word, I can never remember the difference between 'inductive' and 'deductive' reasoning) on selective experience?
@ I too feel concerned by what I hear from some Christians in the US, plus those who espouse and promote a 'prosperity gospel' and manipulate the vulnerable. We have some similar issues in the UK but they tend to be more subtle and low-key, e.g. when the Church of England churches fly English flags and pray only for British soldiers serving in Afghanistan or Iraq; never for the victims of violence and oppression on all sides of these conflicts. It feels to me like a betrayal of Christian beliefs, a 'sectarian-tribal' worldview that denies Christian values. I'm conscious that when I post comments and engage in conversation on sites like the one where we met, it often feels like having to fight through and disentangle a barrage of projections based on what people in the US (in particular) have experienced, understood or misunderstood from Christians, especially those of a 'fundamentalist' variety. In particular, science seems to be misused by some as a weapon against Christian beliefs (especially 6-day creationism) and some Christians seem to retaliate by ridiculing and rejecting science with all sorts of strange-sounding rationalisations for doing that. To be honest, I am intrigued by how other people see and experience the world. I also feel absolutely no need to defend or protect God. If God is who I believe he is, he certainly doesn't need my protection! I do believe that there is nothing more profound, exciting and important in life than knowing God. I don't believe for a minute, however, that God is somehow confined to what I know, believe or can make sense of.
@ ‘spiritual experiences’. You are with Dawkins on that point. I agree that religious predisposition does not of itself mean that the object of a person's disposition is necessarily real. How we can know whether the supernatural is real, or a specific individual's experience of 'spirituality' is genuinely supernatural, is a more complex question and one that, in my view, cannot be answered by science. 'Just a feeling of transcendence and belonging to it all' is one hypothesis.
@ My point is that science could be used legitimately to test and explain the physical phenomenon (e.g. snow) - although in this case that would be problematic since the snow had already melted(!). But the totality of the experience was so much more than the physical presence of snow. It would be highly reductionist in my view to assert that, because it was the only thing that could be known empirically, the only real or meaningful thing that happened was the snow.
@ I can understand the point you made about the difficulty of different people who hold different religious beliefs reporting similar experiences. I believe that's a fair challenge and I'm not sure it has a straighforward answer. Dawkins admits that (in his words), ‘our brains are predisposed to be religious’ and my hypothesis is that there's something in our human make up that makes spiritual experience possible.
@ I've been trying to think how I might better explain the point I was trying to make about metaphysics. If I understand it correctly, science seeks to understand and explain material reality using certain principles and methods. An atheist materialist may assert that, therefore, science focuses on the totality of what is 'real' and 'true'. We awoke yesterday to unexpected snowfall overnight. The sky was now blue and filled with sunshine. We rushed to get dressed, pulled out boots on and spent the next two hours playing in the snow. My children marvelled at the beautiful patterns in the ice, were thrilled by the crisp crunching sounds as they stepped in frozen puddles and we laughed until we almost cried as we chased each other around the field with snowballs. It was an amazing, dramatic, shared experience. Now, imagine today we meet two sceptics. They didn’t see the snow and it has now melted. The first states that unless we can prove empirically that we had that experience, our account is invalid. The second states that unless we can repeat that experience in all its detail, our account is unreliable. When we can’t satisfy the criteria they have set for evaluating 'reality' and 'truth', would they be justified in concluding that our account is therefore deluded, untrue and ultimately meaningless?
@ You are right in saying that science doesn't deal with the supernatural. Agreed. Would you agree that science confines its focus to that which can be known (tested, proved etc) empirically? It makes no sense to me philosophically to assert that all that is real is that which can be proven to exist empirically, as if science per se can somehow prove that definitively. It's a presupposition.
@ I agree Dawkins is a scientist. He is also a committed atheist who tries to use science to support this atheist viewpoint. In saying that the only truth and reality is that which can be known empirically, Dawkins is going beyond what can be known scientifically and making a metaphysical assertion. In doing so, he attempts to define truth and reality in such a way that defines God 'out of existence'. That's my point.
@ On God and existence. I can understand that what you are describing is an atheistic worldview but you seem to be presenting what is known in logical terms as a circular argument. A kind of position along the lines of: (a) only that which science can prove exists, (b) science can't prove God, therefore (c) God doesn't exist. It begs the question of how you can know for certain that God doesn't exist. Sounds like presupposition rather than empirically proven fact.
@ I think your distinction between atheism and naturalism is an interesting one. What I've noticed is that different people use the terms 'atheist' and 'atheism' to mean different things. Some call themselves atheist, meaning simply 'don't believe in God'. Some go further and assert 'God doesn't exist'. Some subscribe to atheism as a philosophical and ideological paradigm. My own view is that all such variations represent implicit or explicit worldviews.
@ I agree with you that science cannot prove God's existence. I also believe that simply creating a metaphysical framework that necessarily excludes the supernatural doesn't of itself disprove God's existence either. Some atheists like Dawkins seem to assert that, because they have created a definition of what is 'real' and 'true' and God doesn't fit within that definition, they have somehow defined him out of existence. I find that kind of logic really bizarre.
@ Dawkins describes atheism as a belief system which regards only that which can be proved empirically as real and true. It excludes the possibility of any other reality or truth. Atheism thereby finds itself in the same position as any other belief system, with a burden of proof to demonstrate that what it believes about reality is true. Ironically, atheism cannot prove the truth of its own worldview empirically.
@ It's good to see someone who refers to him or herself as a 'strong atheist' acknowledging that to be an orthodox atheist requires faith. So many atheists talk as if God has been 'empirically disproven'! Interesting that you called it 'religious faith' because some atheists (e.g. Dawkins) to seem to carry similar hallmarks to some religious leaders; e.g. belief in absolute truth, belief that he has the truth and that those who don't agree with him are mistaken, devoted uncritical followers etc.
@ ‘who is correct’. That's a fair challenge. It is confusing and, in an increasingly globalised world, I reckon it's going to get even more confusing as people with different worldviews come into ever closer contact with each other in the same virtual and physical spaces. I wish I had a straightforward answer, but I don't. I can explain something of my own reasons for and experience of faith but I can't explain or make sense of everyone else's worldviews and experiences in the world.
@ I agree with you (a) that an atheist cannot disprove God and (b) science offers alternative explanations for some things that were previously attributed to God (e.g. thunder and lightning). I don't agree with your view of 'real science'. A Christian friend is a chemistry professor and world expert in Xray absorption spectroscopy who travels internationally lecturing in this field. What he sees in science does not prove God empirically but it does point towards the possibility of God.
@ ‘no such evidence has been found’. I believe that really depends on (a) a person's prior metaphysical assumptions and (b) what he or she believes constitutes 'evidence'. I've noticed how one scientist studies the heavens and the earth and sees evidence of God's hand everywhere. Another studies the same heavens and earth and concludes there is no God. I don't believe science itself can prove which is right and which is wrong. That is a matter of faith.
@ I'm sure some of the things religions, including my own, have created are human projections. People have also sometimes used 'God' to explain things for which science now offers alternative explanations. I'm interested, though, on what do you base your own belief that God doesn't exist? You sound quite definitive about something that you can't actually know with certainty and can't prove empirically.
@ I agree with your point of logic that the fact something can't be proved empirically doesn't of itself mean that it doesn't exist. Sounds to me like trying to use science per se to ‘disprove’ or ‘prove’ God, however, is a bit like confusing physics with metaphysics. Science answers many important questions in the world but it feels inauthentic to me to use it in the 'atheist vs theist' debate. To do so not only risks discrediting science but also those who misuse it.
@ I've noticed too how some people seem to drift away from the faith after having being brought up in churches including being confirmed. Yes, at times religious (and atheistic) individuals, groups and regimes have done terrible things - often in the name of their religion or ideology. It feels even worse when Christians have misused the Bible to justify such actions. I pray to be a better example in my own life, although I don't find it easy.
@ Seems to be a common thing for people to turn away from the faith whose honest questions were avoided or suppressed in childhood. I had a very different experience. Didn't grow up as a Christian, had no religious background, lived for money, motorcycles and girls, became a Christian in my early 20s. To be honest, spent the first 2 years feeling literally nauseous every time I went to a church service - couldn't stomach some people and attitudes I encountered there.
@ I too look at conflicts around the world, including those with a religious dimension, and feel deeply sorry and bemused at the tragedy of it all. It's terrible what happens when people lose sense of our common humanity, focus on the differences and then use the differences as a reason for oppressing, marginalising and brutalising each other. I went to Albania during the Kosova crisis - saw and heard some horrifying things there.
@ Yes, at times religious and atheistic individuals, groups and regimes have done terrible things in the world - often in the name of their religion or ideology. It feels even worse when Christians have misused the Bible to justify such actions. All such evils are symptomatic of what the Bible calls 'sin'.
@ Aquinas believed that a limited number of truths about God could be discerned by reason (e.g. by observing predictable patterns in nature) whereas knowledge that, say, 'Jesus is the son of God' could only be discerned and known to be true via God's revelation. His view does, of course, assume God's existence which is counter to the modern atheist-materialist worldview.
@ I was listening to an interview with Richard Dawkins this week where even he was forced to admit that, say, the protestant vs catholic conflict in Northern Ireland is really about political, cultural and socio-economic issues rather than religion per se. Religion is a convenient banner. Even the crusades, tragically carried out in the name of religion, took place in a historical context within which various geopolitical entities were vying for political power.
@ It doesn’t seem logically contradictory to me to say the universe is not eternal and yet God somehow is. Having said that, eternity itself is a pretty mind-bending concept that I struggle to get my head around! I feel dizzy even if I stand outside at night gazing into space, imagining that it somehow goes on forever. It's beyond our imagination and yet somehow we believe it's true.
@ Sounds to me like using science per se to ‘disprove’ or ‘prove’ God is a bit like confusing physics with metaphysics. Science answers many important questions in the world but I think it's unhelpful to manipulate it for sectarian purposes in the atheist vs theist debate. To do so not only risks discrediting science by also those who misuse it.
@ I find it deeply ironic that to assert that 'reality' and 'truth' are confined to what can be known and proved empirically is to assert a metaphysical belief system that can't be known or proved empirically. Weird that an atheist should put so much faith in a hypothesis that can't be verified or falsified according to the very same criteria they often advance against Christians and other theists.
@ I can see your point about the big bang. Not sure I would say is has been 'proven' in the hardest sense of the word but there is certainly compelling evidence to support the theory. On the question of 'who created the (eternal) God', it's actually logically self-contradictory. To me it's like asking, 'how fast is a triangle?' It's impossible to answer because, on examination, it makes no sense. By the way, what or who do you believe triggered the big bang..? It’s a profound mystery.
@ By 'evidence', are you asking a theist to prove God's existence empirically? To do so risks asserting empiricism as the one definitive metaphysical paradigm, something which, as far as I can understand it, can't itself be proved empirically.
@ Yes, human beings are subject to the laws of physics. Interesting: what do you mean when you say, 'nothing is beyond explanation'? Re 'chemistry', are you saying you believe that a whole range of phenomena such as self-awareness, intention, free will and emotion are simply to the body what a magnetic field is to a magnet? If so, that sounds more like a metaphysical worldview to me than the conclusion of science or something that could be substantiated by empirical evidence alone.
@ The atheist who demands that the Christian ‘prove God’ empirically is like the scientist who dismantles a rose to understand the secret of its beauty. It’s like a mathematician setting up a game with rules that state only odd numbers are valid then demanding that someone answer what 3+3= mathematically within that framework. It’s not the answer per se that makes no sense, it’s the reductionist framework that evaluates and excludes it.
@ At times, we Christians really don't live up to the vision and values we profess and aspire to and, worse still, expect of others. I look back on 30 years since I became a Christian and can see how my own life and behaviour has been absolutely all over the place at times. I look back over church history too and see many things I'm shocked and ashamed by. I wish that wasn't the case, but it is part of the mixed-up, complex reality we all find ourselves living in.
@ There are some who try to use science to prove the existence of God and some who try to use science to disprove the existence of God. Dawkins comes very close to the latter. A close friend is a chemistry professor and world expert in Xray absorption spectroscopy who travels internationally lecturing in this field. He’s a brilliant, humble scientist and a committed Christian. What he sees in science does not 'prove' God empirically but it does point towards the possibility of God.
@ On the Bible. The atheist finds a closed door and struggles to unlock it. The Christian opens the same door and somehow walks through it. It’s a profound mystery - but the key seems to lie somewhere in how we approach it. I have a friend with 5 degrees and a PhD from Harvard who’s a trained psychotherapist and speaks 4 languages. She’s an academic and she’s bright but her word of advice on this topic: ‘If you really want to understand the Bible, you have to study it on your knees.’
@ The way I view it is that different metaphysical paradigms lead to different conclusions about, say, the nature and value of human life. Stalin held an atheistic worldview based on the philosophy known as materialism. I don't believe it's so simple as to say 'Stalin's actions weren't based on atheism' because his whole worldview, politics and actions were based on that foundation. True, he was probably also clinically insane!
@ I can understand your perspective but, ironically, it isn't one that Dawkins himself holds, e.g. check out the interview I referenced below. Dawkins alludes to atheism as a 'belief system'. I don't know how many atheists have a highly-developed conscious belief system as such but those who, for instance, assert that empiricism is the only valid measure of truth and reality are certainly asserting a metaphysical paradigm, i.e. worldview or 'belief system'.
@ Be careful of insisting the Bible is bull**** or that God doesn't exist simply because a Christian has failed to offer an explanation that you find convincing within your own frame of reference. I will quote a well-respected atheist philosopher on this point: ‘If a conclusion is not supported by an argument, that means only that support for a conclusion is lacking, not necessarily that the conclusion is wrong.’ (Baggini) This calls for open-minded humility when approaching questions of 'God'.
@ Are you saying that the research findings of someone who doesn't give a f*** are necessarily more reliable than someone who does give a f***? If we were to apply the same principle to, say, cancer research, would we say that the research conclusions of someone who cares passionately about finding a cure for cancer should be - for that reason - treated as less credible than those of someone who couldn't give a f*** about finding a cure?
@ There is no necessary relationship between atheism and evolution. I'm bemused by how many atheists seem to assert that evolutionary theory necessarily leads to atheism, as if atheism is the only possible rational and logical conclusion that a believer in evolutionary theory could come to. Ironically, some Christians appear to accept the same illogical conclusion and then find themselves denying evolution per se as a way of 'defending the faith'.
@ Science provides an explanation for observed phenomena and, at times, predictions based on tested hypotheses. Evolutionary theory is one example, although I understand from a science professor friend that there are in fact numerous theories of evolution rather than one unified theory. Science cannot be expected to answer questions about non-empirical phenomena, e.g. life, spirituality, meaning, beauty, love...and that's OK by me.
@ I believe it's true that evolutionary theory is feasible without reference to God - we agree on that. I don't agree, however, that that necessarily renders the notion of God as an 'irrelevant addition'. To draw that conclusion on the basis of that point alone would be, in logical terms, 'ignoratio elenchi'.
@ I don't agree that 'couldn't give a f***' of itself leads to greater objectivity but I can understand the risk of research bias that I think you are pointing towards. I don't think spirituality per se is empirically verifiable or refutable and I don't believe that empiricism is the only measure of reality and truth.
@ I think that, insofar as they believe such theories are humanly, socially, scientifically, politically (etc) significant and valuable, those who believe evolutionary theories have a responsibility to explain those theories. Incidentally, I don't subscribe to the view that evolution as possible process and God as originator are mutually contradictory concepts.
@ I agree with Barth that God reveals himself objectively but we experience him subjectively. Secondly, you are right that in terms of my own conclusions and beliefs, eternity is on the line. If I may reference the Bible, the things of the spirit are spiritually discerned. I can't easily describe, explain or prove spirituality to anyone who doesn't share that experience any more than I can describe to someone born blind what the colour red looks like. It's a profound mystery to me.
@ Philosophically speaking, I don't subscribe to a positivist view of 'objective'. I agree with Barth that God reveals himself objectively but we experience him subjectively. Secondly, you are right that in terms of my own conclusions and beliefs, eternity is on the line. If I may reference the Bible, the things of the spirit are spiritually discerned. I can't easily describe, explain or prove spirituality to anyone who doesn't share that experience any more than I can describe to someone born blind what the colour red looks like. It's a profound mystery to me.
@ ‘burden of proof’. I question the logical basis of your argument. For example, hundreds of millions of people throughout time and the world have held theistic views and claimed spiritual experiences as real, arguable the vast majority of humanity. One could argue the reverse to your point, that is, the burden of proof lies with those who, for whatever reason, seek to disprove the validity of what the vast majority of humanity has experienced as 'true' and 'real'.
@ I have to admit the notion of advancing an explanation 'without any assumptions' is bemusing to me philosophically! I don't accept that science per se 'determines' anything, although it does formulate hypotheses, conduct empirical research and seek to offer explanation. Philosophy doesn't only discuss subjective impacts of apparent 'objective reality', it discusses, e.g. 'what is', 'what can be known' etc. Your position sounds quite reductionist to me.
@ ‘Prove God’. You challenge me to depict and express a world filled with an amazing and wonderful array of colours and, at the same time, insist I only use charcoal on white paper to do it. When I refuse because the task itself is absurd, it appears to confirm your belief that colour is a meaningless concept, that people who claim to experience colour are necessarily brainwashed or deluded, and you return home feeling even greater pride and confidence in your own colour blindness.
@ Different people use 'material' to mean different things? Philosophers and theologians have struggled for centuries to understand whether consciousness, intention, choice, emotional experience etc are purely a product of a physical generative system (in this case, the human body) or evidence of non-material realities that interact with material realities. I don't think science can resolve that puzzle but it can certainly add to the conversation.
@ I'm really not questioning the reality of emotional experience(!), although a strict atheist-materialist may challenge the notion of feelings as 'existing'. On the contrary, my whole point is that atheist materialism dismisses everything that cannot be verified or falsified empirically. I'm challenging that paradigm. I don't believe love or hate as emotion require a spiritual or supernatural cause, although I do believe that sometimes they may have that origin.
@ I can understand what someone means when they claim 'non belief', usually meaning 'I don't believe'. However, if you are saying, 'I don't believe in God', are you saying 'I believe God does not exist'? The former statement could apply to an agnostic or atheist. The latter is atheist. Since the existence or non-existence of God cannot be proved empirically, 'I believe God exists' and 'I believe God does not exist' are both statements of belief. Unless I'm missing something.
@ Atheism as ideology is a reductionist philosophy. Although often atheists challenge theists to defend the notion of God using empirical evidence only - as if that is the only valid measure of reality - I have yet to meet an atheist who lives as if only that which is empirically verifiable is real, meaningful and precious in life.
@ The atheist materialists cannot logically believe in ‘love’, yet they fall in love and marry. They believe that man is a random swarm of non-rational atoms no different than stones, qualitatively speaking no different to bricks and bats, yet they value people and relationships – they do not treat their children or mates as random atoms. They experience the mystery and beauty of this world and the wonderful, inexpressible, intangible qualities of human life while, nevertheless, denying such things exist.
@ I don't believe science per se supports atheism any more than it supports theism. Atheists and theists alike take the same scientific facts and attribute different meanings to them. The meanings they attribute are based on underlying worldviews or belief systems, not on the scientific evidence per se. That's why the same scientific evidence points different people to different conclusions.
@ Firstly, I'm not convinced the Biblical creation story was ever intended to be read as a literal historical narrative in the way we would think of that within a 21C secular-scientific paradigm. That doesn't make it 'untrue'; it means we may be using the wrong paradigm to interpret and evaluate it. Secondly, I understand there isn't a single uniform scientific theory of evolution but, rather, diverse theories representing diverse viewpoints.
@ I don't believe that critical thinking, reason, rationale and logic necessarily lead a person towards atheism any more than they do towards theism. It could be argued that many scientists already had strong atheist backgrounds, rather that science per se led them to atheism. Atheism as ideology and psychology can no more be substantiated by science than theism can. Atheists and theists alike take the same scientific facts and attribute different meanings to them.
@ Atheism as ideology and psychology is fundamentally reductionist. It selects one element of reality as absolute and attempts to reduce the rest of reality to that one category. Anything it can’t reduce to material tangibility is relegated to non-existence. People who dare challenge this view are often mocked as fanciful and ridiculous. Atheism claims ‘non-belief’ but reveals its underlying position by the arguments it advances to attack the beliefs of others. Nevertheless, Dawkins is entitled to his view.
@ Do science and intellectuality really lead to atheism? That's a simplistic myth designed to boost atheists’ self-confidence, ironically unsupported by empirical evidence. A close friend is a chemistry professor and world expert in Xray absorption spectroscopy who travels internationally lecturing in this field. He’s a brilliant, humble scientist and a committed Christian. There are brilliant atheist scientists too, but let’s not debase science by misusing it for sectarian purposes.
@ I can understand why someone could draw the conclusion that there is no God, I really can. It partly depends on what, in each person's view, constitutes 'evidence'. By analogy, if a biologist dissected a human brain and didn't find physical evidence of mind, consciousness, thought or emotion there, we wouldn't for that reason draw the conclusion that a psychologist deals with fanciful, meaningless, baseless concepts. Does that makes sense?
@ One scientist studies the heavens and the earth and sees evidence of God's hand everywhere. Another studies the same heavens and earth and concludes there is no God. Science itself cannot prove which is right and which is wrong. That is a matter of faith.
@ When you say, 'I don't believe in God', are you saying 'I believe God does not exist'? The former statement could apply to an agnostic or atheist. The latter is atheist. Since the existence or non-existence of God cannot be proved empirically, 'I believe God exists' and 'I believe God does not exist' are both statements of belief. The more fundamentalist theists may say, 'God exists' and atheists 'God does not exist'. Although these sound like definitive truth claims, they still amount to statements of belief for the same reason as above. It's one thing to say, 'what I believe is true' and another thing to say 'I have good reasons to believe that what I believe is true'. The latter position allows a person to hold their own views with conviction and yet still allow space for inquiry and dialogue.
@ The notion of atheism as 'absence of belief' rather than a belief system in itself sounds curious to me philosophically.
@ The notion of atheism as 'non-belief' is an interesting philosophical position, as is your view that theists somehow have to substantiate something. Curious too that you don't like generalisations about 'atheist' (and I agree with you on the reasons why it is unhelpful and unreasonable to do so) yet you then make wild generalisations about Christian worldviews.
@ Atheism is a belief system just as theism is. You can no more substantiate atheism with scientific evidence than you can theism, although people at both ends of that spectrum talk as if they can. I agree that our beliefs should not be determined by what others have believed in the past. You have to make your own mind up.
@ Although you and I have reached different conclusions, I believe there is truth in what you say. People's beliefs are definitely influenced by the prevailing culture and belief system. I believe you are right, too, in saying that atheists can't prove the non-existence of God any more than theists can prove it, although some people at both ends of that spectrum talk as it they can, laying all sorts of wild claims to science, reason etc.
@ Different scientists and different fields of science point to different and, at times, conflicting conclusions. e.g. ‘Nine-tenths of the talk of evolutionists is sheer nonsense, not founded on observation and wholly unsupported by facts. This museum is full of proofs of the utter falsity of their views. In all this great museum, there is not a particle of evidence to support the transmutation of species.’ (Colin Patterson, Senior Palaeontologist, British Museum of Natural History).
@ Let's not understate or overstate the explanatory power of science. Allow me to illustrate: 'I believe Jesus Christ is the son of God and saviour of the world.' Science can explain how I was able to type that statement physiologically and how the technology works that I used to communicate it. It can't however, prove whether I meant what I said, what my intentions were, whether the content of the statement itself is true or not.
@ I have met religious people and atheists alike who are incredibly closed-minded, arrogant or defended. I've also met religious people and atheists alike who are incredibly open-minded, inquiring and inquisitive. I wouldn't therefore conclude that religion per se necessarily discourages questions any more than science does. Nevertheless, religion may well pose different questions to those posed by science and require a different frame of reference for answering them.
@ I empathise with your comments: 'we are all just trying to figure out life' and 'there's no point in fighting'. Both science and religion attempt to answer some of the most important questions in life. Science is a journey of discovery, so is faith. I'm not convinced, however, that science should be the single definitive framework for evaluating the 'truth' of the Bible, any more than the opposite case.
@ Yes, atheist regimes have murdered millions of people. That doesn't excuse religious regimes. It should, however, cause atheists to pause and reflect on whether atheism is necessarily superior to theism as a governing principle for life. I've worked with some very principled and impressive secular humanists as well equally principled and impressive Christians.
@ I was a left wing, liberal thinking, visionary idealist, civil rights and human rights activist, spending any free time reading philosophy and provoking debates to stimulate critical thinking. I hated right wing politics and any kind of repressive regime. I had read Jonathan Livingstone Seagull as a teenager and it had fuelled a deep thirst for truth, reality and perfection. My favourite song was Supertramp's Logical Song - it really expressed how I felt at the time. I met a Christian. He was a deeply humble and spiritual man and I found him inspiring but nevertheless argued against him. He challenged me to read the Bible for myself. I opened the Bible randomly, read Matthew and James then a book called 'The Cross and the Switchblade'. Don't know what happened, it was as if my head and heart exploded with light. Completely blew me away. Can't explain it. Still the same person, still the same passions but something deep has changed.
@ It's curious how some (but not all) atheists appeal to things like 'good', 'right' and 'true' as if there is some absolute standard or value out there somewhere that is self-evident to all.
@I agree with you that human beings don't know everything about the universe. That's probably the necessary starting point for human inquiry and discovery. I've encountered atheists and Christians alike over the years who make all sorts of rash claims (I've made them myself, to my shame), as if they know more than they really can. It's so arrogant. My starting point these days as a Christian is: there is much I don't know or understand in the world and yet, somehow, I believe.
@ I didn't become a Christian until 21yrs old. Created a lot of hostility in my family, mainly because I was zealous and undiplomatic in how I expressed my new found beliefs. Really annoyed them. Lost most of my friends for the same reason. I don't blame them. That was almost 30 yrs ago. Since then I've studied theology, philosophy and applied psychology. I can understand why people struggle with the notion of God.
@ ‘It is possible for two people to have the same sensory input and yet have two different experiences. A technician who is examining a telescope mirror for flaws may gaze into a telescope and see only a mirror with various reflections. An astronomer may gaze under the same conditions and see an interesting galaxy. The one individual sees the medium, the other sees something else through the medium.’ It's like that with the Bible. What you see depends to a degree on what you are looking at and for.
@ It's possible to explain the creation account in the Bible as symbolic rather than literal. That is, the story could be regarded as 'true' in terms of the underlying theological truth it intends to convey rather than 'true' in a literal historical sense. That comes down to what kind of literature the creation story is - and that's open to debate. I wonder if the same question applies to the global flood account. I don't know.
@ I don't believe in God because someone finally won the argument and convinced me. Faith is a different kind of 'knowing', a mysterious phenomenon beyond normal experience and explanation.
@ That's a fair challenge. In certain parts of the Old Testament, God is described as advocating actions that we would certainly regard as 'evil', e.g. genocide. I might try to explain it theologically but it still feels shocking. The Bible as a whole, however, points definitively to God as ethically 'good'. Jesus Christ's teaching and example has inspired millions of people to engage in social care, health, education, social justice, human rights etc. That can't be bad.
@ Yes, at times religious and atheistic individuals, groups and regimes have done terrible things in the world. It feels even worse when Christians have misused the Bible to justify such actions. All such evils are symptomatic of what the Bible calls 'sin'. I'm wary of pointing the finger because I am so aware of my own weakness and failings. I pray that, with God's help, I will live a life that demonstrates something more of the true character of God.