Creating Atheists: Made, Not Born

This entry is part 8 of 15 in the series Peter Boghossian

Atheists Are Made, Not Born

Dr. Peter Boghossian’s book A Manual for Creating Atheists is due for publication on November 1. What the title implies is true: atheists are made, not born. Some atheists seem to think that atheism is a sort of default position that requires no proof to support it. Both anthropological and human developmental research, however, indicate that belief in God (or gods) is the human’s natural position. It takes effort to make an atheist.

Boghossian Is Right (Up to a Point) …

As national field director for Ratio Christi, an alliance of students focused on reasons for confidence in Christianity, I’ve given a lot of thought to what makes people into atheists. Though there are many directions I could go with that, I’m writing this post with Peter Boghossian on my mind. As far as I understand his method, based on pre-publication interviews, he’s on the right track: the way to create atheists is to cause Christians to question why they believe.

It’s what he calls “street [glossary id=’18002′ slug=’epistemology’ /]” and though it includes a fifty-cent word, it’s simple: just ask believers where they get their beliefs from, and then question whether that’s credible. You’re bound to see at least some believers realizing their faith is built on a vapor, and just giving up on it. Again, there’s research behind this: The National Study on Youth and Religion found that among American teenagers who turned against the religion they were brought up in, the main reason they did so was because of intellectual questions about their faith.

… But Boghossian Can’t Do It On His Own …

Boghossian’s methods wouldn’t work without some help. I’ve summarized part of his approach in a BreakPoint column. It’s as simple as asking, “Do you believe x about the faith?” — for example, Do you believe Jonah lived three days in the belly of the big fish? And then following that up with, If so, how do you know?

More often than not, the answer eventually turns out to be, “Because I have faith,” or, “Because the Bible says so,” or something similar. The problem is, both those answers work just as well in in Mormonism, Islam, or any other religion; or I should say, they work just as poorly in all faiths. There’s no substance to them. They’re bad reasons to believe.

(The problem with “the Bible says so” is this: although it’s true, it’s a true answer to a different question than the one he’s asking. It doesn’t explain how we can count on the Bible to be true.)

Boghossian’s questions wouldn’t work with most Christians, though, if he didn’t have some people behind the scenes helping him. And those people, I am sad to say, are fellow Christians. In the unforgettable words of the classic Pogo comic strip, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

This is how we’ve helped create atheists: we haven’t asked ourselves those same kinds of questions. We haven’t searched out the answers for ourselves. We haven’t trained the next generations to do it either. We’ve left ourselves wide open to doubt, just because we don’t know how to answer, “why do you believe?”

… Because Even Though His Strategy is Savvy …

Boghossian knows this. His strategy is brilliant. He’s poking at the soft underbelly of Christian belief: our careless teaching, our taking belief for granted, our emphasis on what to believe apart from why we should believe, and all the time we spend on how to behave without also teaching why the whole thing makes sense in the first place.

The church is complicit in the creation of atheists. By what we’re not teaching, we’re contributing to Boghossian’s success. We’ve opened the door of opportunity, and he’s walking through it. Why wouldn’t he?

… Boghossian Is Wrong

But it need not be so. It certainly ought not be so—because Boghossian is wrong. He’s wrong in multiple ways. In public lectures he presents bad reasons for belief and puts them up for laughter. What his audiences really should laugh at are his own silly caricatures of belief. (I promise, if I ever get to attend a lecture like this one I will laugh out loud at appropriate moments. It’s really the best, first line of disputation to arguments as bad as his were that day.)

I don’t know whether he knows he’s wrong, and is being dishonest with his distortions of Christian belief; or if he is unaware of his error, which would amount to professional incompetence on his part. Either way, he has a strategic stake in preserving the illusion that he knows what he’s talking about, since his methods will work only where people don’t know the truth.

For there really are good reasons to believe in Christ. I know why I believe Jonah survived his experience in the belly of the big fish, and it isn’t just because “I have faith,” or “the Bible says so.”

More than that, I know why I believe that Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again from the dead. I know why that’s an historically credible belief, and how it helps make sense of all reality. The resurrection really is the point, after all. Suppose the Jonah story were just an allegory, or suppose no one had any idea why they believed it was true. The resurrection trumps all that. If Jesus really lived, died, and rose again—and if we can really know that he did so—that’s enough to establish the reality of Christian belief.

(And that’s not to mention the many, many other reasons we have to believe in God rather than in atheistic explanations for reality.)

Solid, Believing Christians Are Born (Twice), Then Made

Atheists are made, not born. Solid, firm believing Christians—people who can’t be made atheists by Boghossian’s “street epistemology”—are born, then born again in the Spirit, then made by good training. They know their reasons to believe because they’ve been taught. They know how to handle questions because they’ve been trained. They’ve studied: they know their reasons for believing in God, Jesus Christ, the historical reality of Christ’s death and resurrection, the trustworthiness of the Bible, and more. They’e even practiced: they’ve put their beliefs to the test, whether in the safety of a simulated training environment, or in real-world situations where the questions are real and the questioners really care about the answers.

Churches that take this training seriously produce believers who will stand solid, no matter what strategy atheists might throw at them—because they will know the truth, they will know that it really is true, and they will know why they know it’s true.

Series Navigation (Peter Boghossian):

<<< What Do Peter Boghossian and Josh McDowell Have In Common?On “Creating Atheists” >>>

Comments 85
  1. Ray Ingles

    I promise, if I ever get to attend a lecture like this one I will laugh out loud at appropriate moments. It’s really the best, first line of disputation to arguments as bad as his were that day.

    Be careful! Remember all the flak that Dawkins caught when he said that “Religion makes specific claims about the universe which need to be substantiated and need to be challenged and, if necessary, need to be ridiculed with contempt.” 🙂

  2. Tom Gilson

    I promise to be just as careful as I need to be, Ray.

    In the lecture I linked to, Boghossian made a specific claim about religion, viz, that Christians refer to transubstantiation as evidence for miracles, which is hilarious enough to laugh at. You can follow the link and find out more.

  3. BillT

    I do wonder though just who is it that’s going to take up this great cause of creating atheists. I mean I get why Boghossian does this. For the money, notoriety, etc. But who is it that will be spending their time actually going out to spread the “good news” of atheism. Is this something that animates some core group of people who will dedicate their lives to spreading their gospel. And all this sounds so good coming from Boghossian with his straw man opponents. How many will continue this enterprise when faced with someone who can actually answer their questions.

    On the other hand, Tom could not be more right that Pogo’s observations on the matter are quite on target. I go to a church that emphasizes understanding the reasons for our faith. However, even with this there are certainly many there that can’t defend their faith to any great extent. But I would gather this probably evens out. Given what we’ve seen here, atheists are no better, if not quite a bit worse, at defending their beliefs.

  4. Melissa

    I think also, apart from not hearing the answers many haven’t seen that Christianity is good. They need to see our faith seeking understanding but also our faith working itself out in our lives. They need to see faith lived in community otherwise many won’t feel there is a reason to go looking for the answers to their questions. I guess the challenge for us is to be an authentic witness to the truth in every aspect of our lives.

  5. Crude

    BillT,

    I think a lot of people are likely going to punt to, ‘I don’t know how to defend that, but I’m pretty sure The Experts would, so I defer to them.’ (With ‘The Experts’ being theologians, philosophers, etc.)

    Honestly, I’ve really liked Tom’s series – but I think there is one blind spot that tends to plague Christians on this topic: they are extremely reluctant to decouple ‘the existence of God’ from ‘Christianity’. And in my view, that is precisely what needs to be done, at least in part, in order to help get their message heard by more people in the West.

    Even WLC, whose main arguments and focuses are often about the existence of God rather than Christianity, still links those things together in a supreme way – he is the Christian Philosopher, not the theistic philosopher. I understand the motivation for that, and I’m Catholic myself so I suppose many of those associations intellectually. But I think it’s often counter-productive, and a common Christian blindspot.

  6. Mike Spaulding

    Tom – amazing timing on this article. Teaching tomorrow on discipleship within the context of Revelation 17 – if that is the future what must we do today. This piece will be used as support for our continued apologetic thrust within the body and in the community.

    Thanks!

    Mike

  7. BillT

    Crude,

    That would be a welcome bit of wisdom from the believing. You read so many stories about people (especially students) who have their faith shaken by atheistic questioning. You’d think they would say, “Hey, I haven’t really though about that but I will” or “I can’t answer those questions but I know someone who can.”

    As far as your separation of the existence of God from Christianity isn’t that similar. You have to be able to discern what the subject is. The existence of God is a separate question than the validity of Christianity. Let’s hope folks can keep on topic.

  8. Oisin

    If there are good reasons to believe in Christianity, why then do the people who claim to value evidence claim that Christianity is nothing more than ancient mythology? Boghossian is sure that these reasons do not exist, and that if he asks enough questions people will be forced to admit that they have no reason to believe Christianity is true. His examples of faith arguments come from his experience at these ‘faith interventions’, he does not make them up to be insulting to Thinking Christians.

    It’s interesting that you say that “Atheists are made, not born” when the exact same thing is true about Christianity, if you had a child and they were brought up without being told that there is a God and that Jesus is their savior and all that kind of thing, they would not be a Christian. Maybe Christianity helps them make sense of reality, but then why not Islam or Judaism or Buddhism or Hinduism? What reasoning methods have been used to show that these religions are wrong and Christianity is right?

  9. Tom Gilson

    Oisin, I am a person who values evidence and I claim that Christianity is a reliably true account of history and reality.

    I never said Boghossian’s intent was to insult, and I have recommended that Christians ask ourselves the same kind of questions he asks. The difference between him and me is that he thinks there are no good answers.

    I did say in this post that Christians are not born that way; did you miss that?

    Your final question is the big one: it is the whole point of this blog. Too big to answer in a comment, but not something I’m evading, just something I’m dealing with all the time in many different ways.

  10. BSquibs

    If there are good reasons to believe in Christianity, why then do the people who claim to value evidence claim that Christianity is nothing more than ancient mythology?

    Merely claiming to value the evidence isn’t in an of itself a compelling case.

    Let me ask you this, Oisin, and in doing so you might get an answer to your own. Why do you think that people who claim to value evidence claim that Christianity is true?

    As for Christians being made, of course they are! Did you think that the claim being made was otherwise? Religions such as Hinduism, world-views such as naturalism and philosophies such as scientism* all attempt to make sense of reality. That isn’t startling. Indeed, it’s a fairly trivial observation. The important question that arises out from these competing truth claims is “which one of these is objectively true”.

    What reasoning methods have been used to show that these religions are wrong and Christianity is right?

    Forgive the cynicism, Oisin, but this strikes me as a set-up question. One where Tom gives an answer and *BOOM* you shoot it down like a clay pigeon. Possibly by drawing comparisons with the scientific method. Hopefully I am wrong about your motivations.

    This whole blog is in one way or another about examining Christianity and promoting the Christian message as being objectively true. By extension would have the effect of showing that mutually exclusive truth claims are false. Christians are not obliged to show that all other religions are false. To my mind we aren’t even obliged to prove (and I use that word in the colloquial sense) to the world that the central claims of Christianity are true. Instead, what we should do is offer the reasons why we have confidence in our beliefs. At best these reasons will speak on spiritual, emotional and intellectual levels. I think that Tom and others besides do this, and do it well.

    * I suppose there is some very definite distinctions to be made between what makes a worldview and what makes a philosophy but to my mind the above categorisations make sense.

  11. BillT

    What reasoning methods have been used to show that these religions are wrong and Christianity is right?

    I know Oisin that you haven’t been around here forever but is this a serious question? You’re on the blog of Thinking Christian a site dedicated to answering this very question. Just here alone are dozens and dozens of resources that would answer this question. In the blog posts are references to dozens more and hundreds of posts that engage in discussion of this topic. You’re posting on part 8 of a series that addresses just one aspect this question. ????

  12. SteveK

    …if you had a child and they were brought up without being told that there is a God and that Jesus is their savior and all that kind of thing, they would not be a Christian.

    This is not just false, but obviously false.

  13. Tom Gilson

    And if you think it means anything that “Boghossian is sure” that reasons for Christianity don’t exist, then you ought to look at how thoroughly he mangles and misrepresents reasons for belief. If he knows what he’s talking about, he keeps it well hidden. He’s no authority on the subject at all: and that’s a statement of objective fact, not mere opinion.

  14. bigbird

    Do you believe Jonah lived three days in the belly of the big fish?

    Incidentally I think there’s actually a better explanation that doesn’t require living in a fish for three days (although it does require a miracle).

    Perhaps Jonah drowned and was swallowed by the fish and resurrected (still in the fish) 3 days later. Read Jonah’s prayer of how “from deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry” – it seems to imply that he died.

    When you consider that most theologians consider Jonah to be a type of Christ, this interpretation seems to make sense.

  15. Oisin

    I was asking why do atheists exist when they claim to value evidence.

    Children are not born Christian, SteveK, I don’t see how you can claim otherwise.

    Again, Boghossian is representing what he has been told in one to one faith interventions, he is not talking about apologists like William Lane Craig. This is not misrepresentation, and further I would call claims like that insults against Boghossian that are not justified, as you assume wrongly that other Christians believe the evidence you have chosen to justify your belief.

    We can talk about the evidence that works for you, but it makes no sense to say that him dealing only with general public opinion is misrepresentation of Christian faith.

  16. Billy Squibs

    And I asked you why Christians exist when they claim to value evidence. I then suggested that you could answer your own question by answering mine.

    Short answer: we all interpret evidence.

    My reluctance in providing anything more substantive is because:

    a) The answer should be obvious to you;
    b) I can’t but help shake the feeling that this is going to go down a predictable route of argumentation.

  17. Oisin

    My view is that Christians believe in their religion due to indoctrination, for example here Tom believes the story of Jonah due to his reasons for believing that Jesus was God incarnate and rose from the dead. Confusing to an outsider.

    It generally reduces down to whether you think that the laws of nature can be broken or changed, and if you are taught to believe these things as a child and have a community based around these claims that do not question their validity, then it becomes clear how what I see as old mythologies survive into the present day.

    I don’t understand how rational people can come to these conclusions, which is why I’m asking questions, personally I’d prefer if the Christian God did exist but I don’t know how one could think that were true.

    I think it’s fair that you answer my question now, and I promise I will try not to assume I know what you think if you will do likewise, asking questions should be enough.

    Why are there atheists if there is evidence that the Christian faith is true? Why have the atheists who complain that there is no evidence that God exists not been furnished with this evidence?

  18. BillT

    “It generally reduces down to whether you think that the laws of nature can be broken or changed…”

    Oisin,

    Perhaps you might consider this. Your above question needs a context to be answered reasonably. That context is the question of the existence of God. If there is a God that created the universe ex nihilo then it would reasonable to believe that God would be able to perform miracles within His own creation. So, it really doesn’t reduce to whether you think that the laws of nature can be broken or changed. It reduces to whether or not God exists. It’s important to have the right starting place for the discussion. What do you think?

  19. SteveK

    Children are not born Christian, SteveK, I don’t see how you can claim otherwise.

    I agree and didn’t think that this was the point you were making. If it was, then my comment doesn’t apply.

  20. Oisin

    BillT: Actually, not necessarily. From a deistic/pantheistic viewpoint, God can have created the universe (or whatever phrasing you prefer) with the laws of nature arising and controlling every aspect of the universe and the God plays no other active role in affecting the universe. Generally this viewpoint assumes God’s omnipotence so He planned every occurrence in this universe in advance and created it with intent. This God would fit with the current evidence of how reality works, so I have no objections to this conception. This means that God created every religion, however.

    Christianity generally holds to an anthropomorphic God who has the power to make things happen that do not obey the general rules of nature/physics, for example making the dead come back to life, making someone survive in the belly of a whale for 3 days under conditions that result in death in nature.

    The law of conservation of energy means that God cannot naturally affect the universe unless he exists in it, otherwise he needs to be able to change the laws of nature at will, which I presume is being claimed. As someone who studies science and values evidence, I have never heard evidence supporting something like this can happen, so I am sceptical of this anthropomorphic type of God.

    Why would God create competing ideas of himself?

  21. BillT

    Oisin,

    The God I described is the God of Christian theism and as you said “…has the power to make things happen that do not obey the general rules of nature/physics…” That’s the God I believe in and the one I’d be glad to discuss with you.

    As for your question “Why would God create competing ideas of himself?” My answer would be, he didn’t.

    BTW, as to God being subject to the law of conservation of energy or any other natural law? He’s not subject to those laws, He created them and is sovereign over them (as you yourself described above).

  22. Oisin

    BillT, thank you for talking the time to talk with a mangy old non-believer.

    Why are there atheists, then?

    In true Boghossian style, how do you know that this God exists? (would you know if he didn’t exist?)

  23. BillT

    Oisin,

    There isn’t any way to adequately answer your question in a blog post like this. I get the impression you haven’t been exposed to much that has been written about the evidences for God or Christ. If you’re really interested you need to take some time and read up on these yourself.

    There are many ways to approach this. Here’s a couple. First, the arguments for the existence of God are numerous and cover many ideas. The books that have been written about them would fill a library. Here is a list of twenty with brief explanations. Many have found these arguments to be persuasive. I find the argument from morality powerful. If you want to understand some reasons why people believe God exists some familiarity with these might prove helpful.

    The other approach is to move directly to the what I think might be more accessible set of evidences and understandings. Those would be the ones that concern Jesus Christ. As He lived just a couple of thousand years ago there are numerous historical, archeological, logical evidences and arguments that would give people reasons to believe he was who he said he was. Many here have recommended
    J. Warner Wallace’s Cold Case Christianity. Available for Kindle for $9.

    I hope you will take the time to get acquainted with some of these ideas. I’m sure there are many here, most more qualified than me, to answer questions about specific evidences or arguments you may encounter. BTW, Tom’s “The Truth Holds Us” in the core articles section of this site is great.

  24. Melissa

    oisin,

    Why are there atheists, then?

    Billy Squibs has already answered your question – we all interpret the evidence.

    But while you’re on the subject of why we believe things you said:

    “My view is that Christians believe in their religion due to indoctrination”

    and this:

    “if you are taught to believe these things as a child and have a community based around these claims that do not question their validity”

    You give the impression that you think this is the only reason why Christians believe, a view that is falsified by easily available evidence so I wonder why you believe what amounts to New Atheist propaganda that is so clearly not based on the evidence. Maybe because you are loosely part of a community that does not question the validity of this belief?

  25. Oisin

    @BillT
    Those arguments certainly justify belief in a deistic or atheistic version of God, I would note it specifically says that miracles are not a proof of God’s existence. The reason I doubt the historicity of the miracle stories is the fact that they are in no way unique to Christianity, Hinduism even today reports numerous miracles performed by their gurus, with hundreds or thousands of educated Western eyewitnesses. This in no way makes their claims more believable, and this is the view I taken to Christian miracles too.

    I can accept that Jesus may have somehow come to known the mind of God and spread a transcendent gospel of love and spirituality, I see no reason to think he could break the laws of nature at will. Neither way of saying this: I don’t believe in magic, and no display of any seeming miracle has ever been justified scientifically or even just caught on video.

    @Melissa
    Atheists say there is not evidence, Christians say there is. Muslims say they have evidence. Hindus say they have evidence. Who should I turn to? I turn to the people who I know have successfully exposed the true nature of reality repeatedly, scientists, and scientists have found no aspect of nature indicating anything other than the forces of nature at work.

    Religions claim miracles used to happen and don’t now, historians agree that some of the people in these religious books existed, philosophers devise proofs for God based on deductive reasoning (a lot of which relies on a creator God, for which alternative explanations have arrived via theoretical physics and such explanations can actually be tested to see if they work).

    Science checks to see how the world works, comes up with explanations, repeatedly checks to see if the explanations hold up, and changes its mind when proven wrong. Religions start with an explanation, then try to find evidence to support it, so confirmation bias leads them astray (in terms of magic and miracles, which are the main things I think aren’t justified).

  26. Melissa

    Oisin,

    You do realise that your response to me ignores the content of what I wrote. Are you prepared to drop your beliefs that have been falsified or not? You first paragraph just confirms what Billy Squibs has already said. You ask what to do? Consider the totality of the evidence, because evidence does not just come from the scientific method.

    I turn to the people who I know have successfully exposed the true nature of reality repeatedly, scientists, and scientists have found no aspect of nature indicating anything other than the forces of nature at work.

    I have a PhD in chemistry, so I qualify. Are you going to trust me? Science alone cannot determine whether there is anything that science cannot study. Science has nothing to say on the God question or whether there are causes that operate outside the efficient physical causes that science is equipped to study. Anyone who claims science has something to say on the matter is either confused or is using the high respect many hold of science to buttress their personal ideology. Philosophy on the other hand has a lot to say, and I would suggest you take seriously the rebuttals of materialism. Anyone who doesn’t is just sticking their head in the sand.

    And theoretical physics does not offer an alternative to the Creator, Krauss etc are answering a different question to that asked by Aristotle and later philosophers. Aristotle’s First Cause argument was not developed because of his need to justify a belief in God, but in response to some of the fundamental questions of philosophy on being and change. You have shown in your comments that you believe a lot of things that aren’t supported by the evidence, are you willing to change that?

  27. Oisin

    Melissa,

    What evidence have you been presented to show you that the laws of nature can be broken or changed?

    What I find here an awful lot is that people talk about an abundance of evidence that for some reason I am not privy to, nor directed to. Philosophical arguments are fine, but every side on every argument has detractors, whatever you would call the opposite of materialism has a wealth of logical holes, including a dearth of any empirical validity.

    I’m willing to change my opinions on things, I do so regularly. For example I used to be an atheist, now I’m toying with the idea of pantheism and deism. It seems to me that religions are wrong because they have exclusive claims to knowledge of the mind of God, and claim to have evidence for miracles, evidence which is shared in content by loads of other world religions for their miracles.

    I see no reason to think that God interferes with the workings of the universe, and the fact that science can explain most aspects of reality as if they were randomly emergent results of the laws of nature would lead me to think God does not use magic.

    Summary: the Christian God specifically is not what is justified by philosophy, and the deistic/pantheistic god doesn’t do magic to help his chosen people.

  28. Crude

    Oison,

    What I find here an awful lot is that people talk about an abundance of evidence that for some reason I am not privy to, nor directed to. Philosophical arguments are fine, but every side on every argument has detractors, whatever you would call the opposite of materialism has a wealth of logical holes, including a dearth of any empirical validity.

    So, people mention arguments and evidence you are completely unfamiliar with by your own admission… but you know the arguments ‘has a wealth of logical holes’?

    The Last Superstition by Ed Feser is a good place to start, for the record.

    It seems to me that religions are wrong because they have exclusive claims to knowledge of the mind of God

    Since when, and in what way? Last I checked ‘knowledge of God’ was something even very orthodox Christians typically believed was innate – if incomplete – in the minds of man, and in many cultures.

    I see no reason to think that God interferes with the workings of the universe, and the fact that science can explain most aspects of reality as if they were randomly emergent results of the laws of nature would lead me to think God does not use magic.

    Science doesn’t have any test or way of divining whether or not even the most basic processes in our world are or are not guided. (If you believe otherwise, a simple request: give me the peer reviewed research and experiment showing as much.) It doesn’t even know if it’s discovered ‘most’ of our universe.

    It’s worth remembering that there is no such thing as ‘science’ out there, performing experiments. There are people who use a particular method and come to tentative conclusions – all within a limited scope.

    Summary: the Christian God specifically is not what is justified by philosophy, and the deistic/pantheistic god doesn’t do magic to help his chosen people.

    Actually, philosophy justifies belief in the existence of a God who is entirely capable of being the Christian God. And the whole point of a ‘deistic’ God is that He is approachable through reason, and that we aren’t necessarily privy to His mind. He may well be intervening. But how can we know?

  29. Oisin

    You are deliberately misinterpreting what I said, Crude. Philosophical arguments exist for both sides and both sides have detractors, choosing a side in philosophy is not evidence.

    By saying Christianity is true and Hinduism is false you claim exclusive knowledge of the mind of God.

    There is no reason to think God intervenes at all, there is no evidence of him ever having done so.

    It is time someone started backing up their side of the argument rather than solely being sceptical of mine.

    What evidence do you have that God intervenes in nature?

  30. Melissa

    Oisin,

    Philosophical arguments exist for both sides and both sides have detractors, choosing a side in philosophy is not evidence.

    And we can evaluate the arguments from each side to determine which we believe are sound.

    There is no reason to think God intervenes at all, there is no evidence of him ever having done so.

    I suggest Keener’s “Miracles” or NT Wright ‘s “The Resurrection of the Son of God”.

    It is time someone started backing up their side of the argument rather than solely being sceptical of mine.

    We have offered up a critique of some of what you have written here with reasons why you are off base and backed up our position with reasons plus we have pointed you to some further references. What do you expect in a comm box? If you don’t want to go to the library then you could start by looking round this blog.

    and the fact that science can explain most aspects of reality as if they were randomly emergent results of the laws of nature

    I have no idea what you even mean by that, but I will point out that there are massive parts of our everyday experience that are not explained by what we might term the out workings of physics and frankly the labeling of properties as emergent, in many cases, is no better than magical thinking: Yep, we’ve no idea how physical states can be about anything but let’s label it emergent and ignore the problems associated with our view, including the arguments that claim that there is an I principle problem.

    I suggest you do a bit if reading and lay off the claims of “no evidence” and “no reason” until you know enough to make that judgement call.

  31. BillT

    Oisin,

    It seems that you are far more interested in arguing points that you are only marginally familiar with rather than actually learning something about Christianity and the evidences that support it. Your positions regarding miracles and exclusive knowledge of God are so far from being valid expressions of Christian thought or even basically rational it’s hardly worth discussing. For example, Christians don’t believe that they have “…exclusive claims to knowledge of the mind of God.” As Melissa said, “You do realize that your response to me ignores the content of what I wrote.” You have certainly ignored what I wrote as well. I hope you will take the time to come to a better understanding of what we believe.

  32. Oisin

    Melissa:
    Well I suggest you read Hume’s ‘Of Miracles’. How arbitrary and unhelpful to discussion is that?

    All evidence of miracles lie in eyewitness testimony, which Christians only value in miracles that confirm what they already believe about their religion. This is called confirmation bias.

    God may have created the universe such that he planned every event that has and will occur, thus guiding physics and history by himself establishing the laws of nature, this lends no credence to miracle claims.

    The aboutness problem relates in no way to claims of the laws of nature being violated.

    BillT:
    What do you believe about miracles, then? How do you know miracles have occurred or do occur?

  33. BillT

    Oisin,

    As I explained in my post #21 the question of miracles is secondary to the question of God. Therefore, it’s not a helpful starting place for the discussion of the existence of God or the validity of Christianity. As far as the evidences for miracles those are only a part of the overall evidences for Christianity in general. Again, they are not an appropriate or logical starting place for questions regarding our understanding of God or Christ. Are you really seeking an understanding of our faith or is there some other motivation here?

  34. bigbird

    All evidence of miracles lie in eyewitness testimony

    I expect pretty much anything you know about science is due to testimony rather than you having performed any experiments yourself.

  35. BillT

    Oisin,

    For this to be productive at all we need some common ground. Here is an 18 minute interview with Gary Habermas where he explains his “Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection.” This will give you at least a basic understanding of the kind of historical evidence that Christians rely on for our understandings. Got a few minutes?

  36. Oisin

    Thank you for that, you are right, common ground is needed. I watched that video, I think it falls down with the near death experiences argument.

    Near death experiences can easily be explained by materialistic processes alone, for example extreme electrical activity occurs in the brain before death which could result in powerful hallucinations, and the experiences seem to match those of people who use the drug DMT. DMT is a naturally occurring chemical in the brain, which in large doses gives users experiences of hyper-reality, communication with higher beings and infinite time. It lasts for 15mins, and would be a possible explanation that doesn’t require divine intervention.

    To clarify: I have no intention of disputing God’s existence, a creator God who designed the laws of nature works fine for me. A God that manipulates the universe and changes the laws of nature is one I doubt, and people who read the bible as the exact word of God think this happens.

    To justify the literalist Christian God, miracle claims must be proven. If the bible is read as guidelines on how to live well written by some of the wisest people who ever lived, I can take that. Supernatural claims I doubt, for the same reason you doubt that Hindi gurus regularly walk on water and are born of virgins. The bible to me is historical mythology, to be replaced by increased study and understanding of the mind of God using modern techniques.

  37. Melissa

    Thank you for that, you are right, common ground is needed. I watched that video, I think it falls down with the near death experiences argument.

    Has Habermas changed his minimal facts approach?

    Pop quiz:

    List Habermas’ minimal facts.

  38. Crude

    Oison,

    You are deliberately misinterpreting what I said, Crude. Philosophical arguments exist for both sides and both sides have detractors, choosing a side in philosophy is not evidence.

    So? You can find detractors for just about every scientific claim too. Are you going to deny that arguments and evidence don’t count there as well?

    By saying Christianity is true and Hinduism is false you claim exclusive knowledge of the mind of God.

    Not at all. In fact I specifically reject this, and always have. Aquinas certainly thought Aristotle had valid insights about God. William Lane Craig would have to believe that Kalam had valid insights.

    There is no reason to think God intervenes at all, there is no evidence of him ever having done so.

    No, there’s plenty of evidence, and also good reason to think God would intervene. What’s your evidence and reason to think God would not?

    What evidence do you have that God intervenes in nature?

    Philosophical and empirical arguments that reasonably and powerfully either establish and infer the existence of a God who is entirely capable of such interventions, and reports of miracles and intervention that I regard as credible to accept.

    Now, what evidence do you have that God doesn’t intervene in nature?

  39. bigbird

    To clarify: I have no intention of disputing God’s existence, a creator God who designed the laws of nature works fine for me. A God that manipulates the universe and changes the laws of nature is one I doubt

    If you are prepared to go as far to believe 1) there’s a God who designed the laws of nature, why not accept that 2) such a God might suspend or override those laws as he sees fit? If you are prepared to accept 1), there’s no point in doubting 2).

  40. Billy Squibs

    Actually, I believe that Keener attempts to systematically dismantle Hume’s argument in his book. (Interview with him here.) The best deconstruction I’ve heard came from the apologetics.com radio show in a show entitled David Hume, Sceptical Mastermind. If you are interested I can provide you with a link.

    There is no reason to think God intervenes at all, there is no evidence of him ever having done so.

    Forgive the impermanence, Oisin, but you strike me as someone who is so sure of the truth of his position that he needn’t go to the trouble of investigating the soundness of it. But you’ll have to explain to the rest of us how you can you possibly justify the claim that there is no evidence to show that God has ever intervened? Remembering that you didn’t frame this as an opinion, what special knowledge do you posses that the rest of us lack?

    You speak of the impossibility of God breaking the laws of the universe but I don’t believe that you have ever explained why this is so or what these laws are. How do you defend this contention? What powers do the laws of nature posses that makes them immutable and, as you seem to think, prescriptive? What power indwells these laws that even the highest conceivable being can not break and bend and twist to his own ends?

    Why are there atheists, then?

    I could have joined you and made some sweeping statements about atheists in general. For example, I could have stated that atheists are indoctrinated at a young age (or did you think this accusation was a one way street?) and some of them had poor relations with their fathers and are really pissed off. These ideas are certainly possible. However, I don’t want to go much further than to say that people are atheists for all manner of reasons. Some of these reasons may be good reasons, some of them may be deeply irrational. In a very broad sense, I think it’s down to our preconceptions and how they colour our interpretations of the evidence.

    For example, Michael Shermer was in a debate with Greg Koukl some years back. When he was asked what would constitute a miracle he trotted out the the standard sceptic response about God moving the stars to spell “I’m here, Michael!” or some such. Later in the debate he corrected himself. This wouldn’t be evidence, Shermer said, because there is always a more plausible explanation then God intervening. If you are committed to the cause the bar can always be raised a notch higher.

    Finally, while it has been a number of months since I last listened I seem to recall that Glenn Peoples did a good job in addressing your question.

  41. bigbird

    When he was asked what would constitute a miracle he trotted out the the standard sceptic response about God moving the stars to spell “I’m here, Michael!” or some such. Later in the debate he corrected himself. This wouldn’t be evidence, Shermer said, because there is always a more plausible explanation then God intervening.

    At least Lawrence Krauss concedes this would be enough for him 🙂

  42. BillT

    Oisin,

    My apologies on the Habermas interview. I thought I had watched that interview recently and believed it contained a more detailed description of his minimal facts approach. It does not. BTW, near death experiences are not really part of his minimal facts approach. I’ll look for something else but it remains a problem that we don’t have a common ground to keep this discussion moving forward.

    In general though let me add this. I believe in the validity of the New Testament (NT) and the facts as presented there. The NT is the most reliable ancient document in existence and it’s historicity is not just good but multiple orders of magnitude better than any other ancient text in existence. Historians don’t doubt they have reliable knowledge about Caesar or Alexander the Great or accurate texts of the plays of Sophocles. Christians can quite fairly have a far greater confidence in the NT than historians have in similarly dated historical facts.

  43. SteveK

    Interesting.

    In the debate that Tom linked to, notice how Keith Augustine regularly speculates how each story *might* not be accurate without giving any evidence specific to that claim. On the other hand Gary Habermas offers evidence for each story and he relies on that evidence for why each story *might* be true.

    Which “might be true” explanation is more likely true – the speculative “might be true” or the evidence-based “might be true”?

    As Habermas said repeatedly, Keith has to explain them all away.

  44. Oisin

    Hi everyone,

    I hope you realize that you have linked about 3-4 hours of podcasts to me just there in response to my questions on evidence. I did my best, but I do have a life outside of online discussions (or I try to have one, anyway, they are ridiculously addictive…)

    Essentially what I think I am hearing/seeing is that there are huge amounts of miracle reports that these men study, the study of which would lead us to believe that it does happen that scientifically unexplainable events occur sometimes. Once this has been accepted, we can then view biblical miracles accounts without the level of scepticism that I would show. Is that a fair summary?

  45. Tom Gilson

    Oisin, you wrote,

    I see no reason to think that God interferes with the workings of the universe, and the fact that science can explain most aspects of reality as if they were randomly emergent results of the laws of nature would lead me to think God does not use magic.

    God and science actually do mix, in ways that are relevant to this objection of yours.

    Naturalism, by the way, does nothing to explain why the laws of nature are not themselves random…

  46. Tom Gilson

    Oisin,

    Muslims say they have evidence. Hindus say they have evidence.

    Hindus don’t present evidence in history. Muslims don’t present evidence in history, at least nothing even remotely approaching that which Christianity presents. Really. Check it out.

    I turn to the people who I know have successfully exposed the true nature of reality repeatedly, scientists, and scientists have found no aspect of nature indicating anything other than the forces of nature at work.

    This is really blinkered, Oisin. Science is successful precisely because it seeks to understand a limited aspect of reality. It’s good at what it does because what it does is the easier part: the part that’s susceptible to experimentation and quantification.

    It’s not just blinkered, it’s frustrating. It’s frustrating to hear people saying how successful science has been when science hasn’t even begun to explain the most important and personal aspects of reality: human worth, consciousness, morality, free will, identity, persistence/continuation of ego/self, and mathematics. Science can’t explain mathematics or logic, and it can’t explain explanation.

    Finally this is also short-sighted on your part, because if there are miracles in human experience they are just the kind of thing that science is least likely to be able to explain, because science doesn’t know how to enter them into a theoretical structure.

    Why you make such an idol of science, as the one grand god of knowledge that answers every question, is completely beyond me.

    Science has, however, contributed to providing evidence of miracles: x-rays before and after, for example, or in the case of my friend Connie in Hampton, VA, science has observed and quantified the massive improbability of her complete and lasting remission from serious epilepsy while being prayed for.

  47. Tom Gilson

    C.S. Lewis said of Hume’s argument from the uniformity of human experience, “If miracles have never happened, why then, they never have.” The question obviously is not whether miracles are impossible on that account, but whether they have happened.

    I’ve witnessed at least two definite miracles in my life. When I posted them here on this blog they were dismissed as mere coincidence. One of those stories is posted here, except I just discovered some files are missing on the server, and you might have to wait as long as an hour before you’ll be able to access this one. Comments are missing because the third-party commenting service I used back in those days closed its doors.

  48. Tom Gilson

    You say,

    The aboutness problem relates in no way to claims of the laws of nature being violated.

    Of for Pete’s sake. This is completely off track. The aboutness problem relates to yet another phenomenon that science cannot begin to investigate, much less explain; yet aboutness is at the very foundation of science itself.

  49. CW

    Faith is defined as: “Strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.”

    No proof.
    Fear.

    You are making up your own slippery definition of faith.

  50. Tom Gilson

    Oh for Pete’s sake, CW. Who defined it that way? Who made that source the ruling authority? Is that the only definition provided by that source? Does it apply in all circumstances? If it came from a standard dictionary, do you really think that it can be relied upon to tell the whole story? By way of comparison, is that same dictionary’s definition of “science” perfectly complete, able to demarcate what is science from what is not, in all circumstances? The answer, regardless of which dictionary, is no: see Laudan on the demarcation problem. The point is that you can’t get all truth from a dictionary.

    Anyway, supposing we run with your definition just to humor you: does the lack of proof entail the lack of evidence? If so, then what about every scientist’s awareness that his or her theory is never completely proven, even if it is very strongly supported by evidence? Conversely, what about all the classical proofs for the existence of God, which many of us take to be highly persuasive: you may not call them proofs, but just because you don’t, does that mean we do not regard them as proofs, or at least strongly persuasive by way of evidence and sound reasoning? Or do you mean to tell us that our epistemic attitude toward them is ruled by yours?

    What about all the Christian writers down through the centuries, named in my most recent post on this topic, who defined faith differently than your unnamed source? What about the Bible itself, which is the literary and cultural source of the Western world’s understanding of faith, and its insistence throughout on presenting evidences to support and encourage faith?

    What is the source of your idea that this means “fear”? Is it the word “apprehension”? It certainly appears that way. I suggest you get out your dictionary (again?) and compare “apprehension” to “apprehensiveness,” with which you have obviously confused it.

    And what about your own strange confidence in yourself as the authority who has no need to cite any authority or present any argument? Does your misapprehension of “apprehension” tell us anything about your credibility as a source of proper definitions? What is it about your short comment that prevents the rest of us from concluding, as I think really is the case, that you are relying on (if not actually making up) your own conveniently selected and slippery definition of faith?

  51. Tom Gilson

    Okay, this wasn’t hard after all. I searched Google with your definition and came up with this from the Oxford dictionaries

    noun
    1 complete trust or confidence in someone or something:
    this restores one’s faith in politicians
    2 strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.
    a system of religious belief:
    the Christian faith
    a strongly held belief or theory:
    the faith that life will expand until it fills the universe

    And are we to understand that this constitutes the whole story???

    Just to help you along, though:

    apprehension:

    1 anxiety or fear that something bad or unpleasant will happen:
    he felt sick with apprehension
    she had some apprehensions about the filming
    2 understanding; grasp:
    the pure apprehension of the work of art
    3 the action of arresting someone:
    they acted with intent to prevent lawful apprehension

    I will grant that “apprehension” can be synonymous with “apprehensiveness,” and I apologize for jumping on you for mixing it up with “apprehensiveness.” I will guarantee you, however, that the sense in which it was used in that definition of faith was not “fear” but “understanding” or “grasp.” It fits the context better, for one thing, and for another it’s at least believable in some contexts, e.g. (just for convenience’ sake), the comments here and following, and the linked article.

  52. Oisin

    Time for me to go cold turkey again for a while, fun as this is. A few parting thoughts:

    When police investigate old murder cases, they look for peripheral pieces of evidence to use to piece the story together. Many times, some pieces are missing, and in some cases the murderer has left bizarrely few clues for a crime so extravagant and chaotic. Never do police explain this by saying some external force acted on the crime to hide the evidence, the explanation is always completely naturalistic (though of course not evidential).

    There are many examples of extremely unlikely things to happen to people; some terminally ill patients are magically cured of illness, or some unexplainable phenomenon suggests a powerful external force acting on nature. These stories are compiled when researching miracles, and are used as evidence to say that God intervenes.

    No one ever does the same with events of extreme and mysterious misfortune. We no longer use the devil as an explanation for the ills of the world, we do not even try to think that some transcendent external force acts on the laws of nature to cause misfortune to humans, bad things have uniformly naturalistic explanations.

    Why do we not say that these events are evidence of an evil God, or that God is sometimes bad? What about the child that dies in bed with no medical explanation? What about the family who die of radiation poisoning because their house was built 100 years ago on a radon gas deposit? What about the town in Africa here the entire population were found suffocated in their homes and walking down the street and going about their business, all simultaneously dead? Why are these things not miracles? To me, this reason applies in the exact same way to your positive miracles.

    Thank you all for your time, sorry I didn’t engage with the last few arguments!

  53. bigbird

    What about the child that dies in bed with no medical explanation? What about the family who die of radiation poisoning because their house was built 100 years ago on a radon gas deposit? What about the town in Africa here the entire population were found suffocated in their homes and walking down the street and going about their business, all simultaneously dead? Why are these things not miracles?

    The answer is very straightforward. People die. There are a lot of people in the world, so occasionally people die in unusual and unexpected ways. All the time never violating the laws of nature.

    To me, this reason applies in the exact same way to your positive miracles.

    No, it doesn’t. We know people die. We know there are many ways people can die.

    And we’ve always known that in the natural realm people do not come back to life after they die. Advances in science have not changed that view.

    That’s what a miracle is – something happening that goes against what we believe to be the established laws of nature.

  54. bigbird

    Bigbird, I hope you can see how ironic I find your comment to be.

    Nope, you’ll have to enlighten me …

  55. Patrick Reynolds

    Solid, firm believing Christians—people who can’t be made atheists by Boghossian’s “street epistemology”—are born, then born again in the Spirit, then made by good training. They know their reasons to believe because they’ve been taught.

    If Christians are born again and have the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit why do they need training? Won’t the Holy Spirit guide them in all matters spiritual?

  56. Pingback: Really Recommended Posts 11/8/13 | J.W. Wartick -"Always Have a Reason"

  57. william francis brown

    Oisin said (Oct. 20) “……….if you had a child and they were brought up without being told that there is a God and that Jesus is their savior and all that kind of thing, they would not be a Christian. ….”

    I do no think this is true at all re. the knowledge of God. Knowledge of Jesus however does require a dedicated and rational following of the evidence to arrive at the truth. But that’s why God gave us a mind, isn’t it?
    I think the natural in-born wonder and awe seems innate and it only gets driven out when it is not naturally followed to its proper object. This seems to be the task of the world and it’s atheistic institutions. Atheism is completely unnatural and must be actively inculcated for assent to occur in a developing child.

  58. Istvan

    I think the natural in-born wonder and awe seems innate and it only gets driven out when it is not naturally followed to its proper object.

    I agree. Curiosity about the universe is the most important thing we can foster in children.

    People follow different paths in their search for wonder and awe. Some people are attracted to religious and spiritual activity, and others pursue careers in disciplines having to do with scientific inquiry. There’s that same drive to discover and understand, it’s just directed in various ways.

  59. Billy Squibs

    People follow different paths in their search for wonder and awe. Some people are attracted to religious and spiritual activity, and others pursue careers in disciplines having to do with scientific inquiry.

    False dichotomy again, Istavan.

  60. Istvan

    I didn’t mean the two are mutually exclusive, Billy, and I never said these were the only two ways someone’s sense of wonder could be directed. I just wanted to point out that the sense of awe and wonder isn’t always religious.

  61. Billy Squibs

    That’s good, Istvan. I suspected as much but was of the mind that it was worth highlighting.

  62. Istvan

    I’ve witnessed at least two definite miracles in my life.

    I’ve often thought that people’s personalities determine whether they view coincidences as meaningful, and whether they ascribe intent or agency to highly unlikely events.

    I’ve personally experienced so many kooky coincidences that I can’t accept that unlikely events never happen except through some supernatural agency. To give just one example, one time I bought a last-minute ticket to a baseball game at Fenway Park. When I got to my seat I found that an old friend of the family was sitting in the seat next to mine.

    I’m always relieved when people tell me about people’s health improving against the odds, or that they avoided suffering by not going to a place where a deadly disaster later happened. I have no reason to doubt that they’re describing events that actually happened. But because our temperaments are different, we interpret the events differently.

  63. Tom Gilson

    I see.

    Apparently it’s personality and temperament that determine the difference between one person thinking they’ve experienced a coincidence, and another person thinking they’ve experienced a miracle. And you are able to conclude that apart from any knowledge of the facts of the cases.

    I wonder whether I might be able to conjecture that it’s personality and temperament that permit you to draw an evidence-free conclusion like that one.

    I’ve experienced coincidences, too, Istvan, some of them pretty amazing, and I haven’t called them miracles just on that account. It seems to me the implication of your comment is that people with miracle-oriented personalities have trouble telling a coincidence from an act of God. If only you knew….

    Still wondering, by the way, what your answer was to my last question to you. I know it might be somewhat vexatious that I keep asking. But look at it this way: if you can dismiss me by psychologizing me the way you have here, I can respond by refusing to let you dismiss a question you’ve been sidestepping.

  64. Istvan

    I wonder whether I might be able to conjecture that it’s personality and temperament that permit you to draw an evidence-free conclusion like that one.

    Sorry, I didn’t realize this matter had any evidential basis. I was just commenting on different people interpreting coincidences differently. You pointed out an instance where your prayer was answered through an unforeseen improvement in the weather. I recounted an incident where I met a good friend completely by mistake. If you’re the type of person comfortable in our universe’s pachinko game of randomness, you’ll marvel at how often incredibly unlikely events happen. If you’re the type of person who attributes great significance to such unlikely events, then their degree of unlikelihood itself suggests some sort of intent or agency behind the event.

    I wasn’t “dismissing” you. You really need to stop taking everything I say as some sort of personal attack.

  65. Tom Gilson

    Istvan, you’re amazing. Would you show where I have previously taken anything (much less everything you’ve said as a personal attack? (If you thought the question I’ve been pressing you on had to do with my feeling attacked, you’ve misread it badly.)

  66. Istvan

    Oh well, in that case, I take it back.

    It seems to me the implication of your comment is that people with miracle-oriented personalities have trouble telling a coincidence from an act of God.

    Or, conversely, that people without such personalities can’t tell the difference between an amazingly unlikely event and divine intervention. I’m glad that the friend you mentioned elsewhere no longer suffers from epilepsy. However, as someone who’s had various loved ones die of illnesses, I have a hard time believing that we can ascribe the course of diseases to anything other than luck. For everyone who (to the everlasting relief of friends and families) improves against every reasonable prognosis, many more succumb.

    It’s just that even million-to-one odds are, biologically speaking, not bad.

  67. Tom Gilson

    Thank you for that.

    The distinguishing factor with miracles I’m aware of is timing: that they have come at the moment of prayer.

    Of course not everyone experiences a miraculous healing. I have more than one chronic disease and long-term injury. I’ve been off my left foot or (at best) limping for two years, often with considerable pain, and I’m scheduled for my second surgery on that foot just over a month from now. My church will be praying special prayers for me this morning. I don’t know God’s will, so I can’t tell you what the outcome will be. I do know that sometimes people are healed at the moment of prayer. Your “million-to-one odds” are multiplied massively when timing is taken into consideration.

    If I read you right, the question you’ve raised is not, “do miracles happen?” but “why don’t they happen more often?” Or maybe, “Why do they happen to someone else and not to me or to people I care about?” Or maybe also, “Why haven’t I ever had the chance to see or experience a miracle?” I’m not sure whether you’re asking any or all of those question, but I think you might be. They’re well worth dealing with, but they are not the same question we started with.

  68. Istvan

    If I read you right, the question you’ve raised is not, “do miracles happen?” but “why don’t they happen more often?” Or maybe, “Why do they happen to someone else and not to me or to people I care about?” Or maybe also, “Why haven’t I ever had the chance to see or experience a miracle?” I’m not sure whether you’re asking any or all of those question, but I think you might be.

    No, what I’ve been saying is that highly unlikely events happen. Some people interpret them as “miracles,” because they attribute them to some divine will. Others see them as evidence of how unpredictable our universe often is.

    I remember reading that the Mongol invasion of Japan in the 13th century was thwarted by a freak typhoon that decimated Kublai Khan’s ships. The Japanese interpreted this event as evidence of divine favor. And it’s not as if I could provide evidence that it wasn’t! It’s just that the very unlikelihood of the event itself is the basis for interpreting it as a “miracle.”

    The universe is beautiful as often as it’s brutal, and we have every reason to rejoice when things go our way. But it’s a matter of perspective. The most unlikely events don’t constitute proof of divine intervention to an nonbeliever, and a believer interprets the same events in the exact opposite way.

  69. Tom Gilson

    You say you see them as evidence of the universe’s unpredictability. I’m curious how that squares with your understanding of natural law or regularity. I know you have at least some level of conviction that the universe behaves in a regular fashion.

    Science is mostly inductive: we know what we know because of repeated observations. That’s what empiricism is all about. When repeated observations show that, for example, serious epilepsy never resolves itself spontaneously, and yet it happens to a friend of mine while she is being prayed for, how does your understanding of natural regularity account for that?

    Also: You won’t find a temperament or personality test that will tease out whatever you think it is that differentiates believers from unbelievers, so I doubt that you’ve identified the right distinguishing factor there.

    Is it possible that the difference in our interpretations has less to do with temperament or personality, and more to do with a willingness to acknowledge a personal God and his involvement with his people?

    (I’m sure someone will point to some instrument that has found some large-population belief/personality/temperament tendencies, since they do exist. If you want to do that we can talk about it. In the meantime, though, be assured that those differences are useless for making predictions about beliefs on the level of the individual.)

  70. Istvan

    I don’t think there’s any inconsistency. The regularity of our universe doesn’t preclude statistically unlikely events: it merely makes us expect such events very rarely. There’s nothing about a typhoon, a chance meeting, or a disease going into remission that violates natural law.

    You’re right that certain people are more willing than others to see divine intervention in unlikely but fortunate events. But others are simply more consistent in the way they interpret the unpredictability of life. We’re thankful when good things happen and disappointed when bad things do. We fervently hope good accidents happen more frequently than bad ones. And we don’t believe that our hopes make the difference.

  71. william brown

    Istvan said…..”I agree. Curiosity about the universe is the most important thing we can foster in children.

    People follow different paths in their search for wonder and awe. Some people are attracted to religious and spiritual activity, and others pursue careers in disciplines having to do with scientific inquiry.”

    Istvan, I’d argue that we need not so much foster their natural curiosity as it’s just in the nature of infants and children to explore and want to know everything. But rather, we must be careful to direct it and not squelch their fascination and awe. Ie: get them reading good books, protect them from the brainwashing and mind-deadening effects of pop culture, TV, government “schooling”, techno-obsession, etc., etc.

    Re. the second point, do be aware that many of us, in our attraction to
    religious and spiritual activity, have followed that through a career in science, research, and medicine. In my case I spent many years in molecular biology research on the regulation of DNA transcription followed by a career in medicine as an anesthesiologist and intensive care physician. These naturally followed my faith in Jesus Christ and lent a tremendous spiritual component to my work. Through the eyes of faith I can see aspects of reality that are of great benefit in research and healing.

  72. Tom Gilson

    Istvan,

    I think you’re sincerely trying to “get” what Christianity is all about. I think you would be amazed, though, at how many ways you demonstrate you don’t understand. It shows up in your faith-or-science statement, and also here, for another example:

    You’re right that certain people are more willing than others to see divine intervention in unlikely but fortunate events. But others are simply more consistent in the way they interpret the unpredictability of life. We’re thankful when good things happen and disappointed when bad things do. We fervently hope good accidents happen more frequently than bad ones. And we don’t believe that our hopes make the difference.

    You make two unwarranted and false assumptions.

    1. That there’s some inconsistency in the way Christians view the world when we interpret certain events as miracles. We see them, as someone once said, as God doing occasionally in small things what he constantly does in great things: ruling over his creation, breaking through the noise with a signal of his presence and love, being who God is in relation to the world he made.

    2. That (in contrast to you) we believe our hopes make the difference between statistically likely and unlikely events. (Obviously there are some outcomes that are more likely when persons have positive attitudes, but I don’t think that’s what either you or we are talking about.) We don’t believe hope makes the difference. We don’t even believe prayer causes change in the material world. We believe that God makes the difference.

    What you’re doing is subtle, and I doubt you’re even aware of it. I doubt you’ll believe it when I point it out to you. (Members of majority groups often doubt it when minority group members point out their subtle prejudices toward them, too. This is another instance of the same kind of human social psychological effect.)

    So this, then, is what you’re doing: you are issuing subtle but real digs at Christians. For example, when you contrast yourself with us by saying you don’t think your hopes make the difference, what you’re saying is that we don’t know what you do: that hoping has no causal efficacy in the material world. But we do know that as well as you do, and we ascribe no causal powers to hope (other than what I stated parenthetically before). We ascribe causal power to God himself. That’s not as stupid as the mistake implied in what you wrote about how you’re different from us.

    I think something similar might be going on in your implication that we’re inconsistent thinkers with respect to unusual events.

    I could show you other instances from your comments in the past week or so.

    The fact is, Christianity is an intellectually coherent worldview, and Christians come out empirically more emotionally healthy, on average, than non-believers. It does not do for you to belittle us in this way: not because it matters to me so much what you think, but because it probably represents a serious disconnect between your own values and your own actions. I really doubt that putting people down is something you plan to do when you get up in the morning.

    So I wonder whether you would be willing to move into a learning mode with Christians rather than an assumption-making mode. What do you say?

  73. Istvan

    It shows up in your faith-or-science statement

    Which I already explained wasn’t a black-or-white statement. I didn’t say people couldn’t indulge their sense of wonder both in spiritual activity and scientific inquiry. I just pointed out that there are different ways that people deepen their sense of wonder, not all of which involve religion.

    I think something similar might be going on in your implication that we’re inconsistent thinkers with respect to unusual events.

    Well, let me ask you. You interpret certain unlikely events as being divine intervention, such as when a friend’s epilepsy goes into remission or when the weather inexplicably improves because you prayed. However, there’s some ten thousand people dead already in the Philippines because of a typhoon. But let me guess, you don’t think that’s the will of the Almighty, do you?

    Now I interpret both things the same way: things happen, and we rejoice in the good and lament the bad. I don’t ascribe divine intent to weather patterns. You appear to interpret certain weather conditions as divine intervention, particularly when you would benefit from them and that you hoped and prayed for the event. But divine control over the weather doesn’t seem to apply when thousands of people are suffering in the Philippines.

    I’m not saying my way of thinking is right and yours is wrong. But at least my way of thinking is more consistent.

    So I wonder whether you would be willing to move into a learning mode with Christians rather than an assumption-making mode. What do you say?

    As long as you drop the drama-queen antics and stop feigning outrage at my “belittling” Christians. I’ve been very civil and polite and you know it.

  74. Billy Squibs

    Not sure I see the outrage – feigned or otherwise. It looks to me like Tom is honestly trying to challenge you by highlighting what he sees as the errors in your posts.

    I don’t suppose this will end well.

  75. Tom Gilson

    Istvan, here’s how I’ll deal with the “drama queen antics” and “feigning outrage.” I’ll interpret it as your deciding you really don’t prefer to deal with me for who I am. I’m trying to raise honest challenges, and you don’t want them.

    You say, “I’ve been very civil and polite and you know it,” but the fact is you’ve been civil and polite—and simultaneously belittling and dismissive. Now you’re resorting to blatant insult along with being belittling and dismissive. That’s not what this blog is for, it’s not welcome here, and it’s time to part ways. This ends your participation on this blog.

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