Contesting Christianity: Personal Experience

Sign with line through Christian cross(This post is part 8 of the series entitled “Contesting Christianity.” Please see the index for the other posts in this series.)

 

The Empyrean, by Gustave Doré

The Empyrean, by Gustave Doré

The next argument I would like to deal with concerns personal experiences. While this argument is widely used by Christians and believers of other religions, it is difficult to pin down and make explicit. It is odd that something which seems to be one of the primary factors for religious belief is so notoriously hard to put into words. Often it comes down to, “I just know God exists.” But I find that a deeply unsatisfying answer when there is nothing to back up that knowledge—other than perhaps a vague feeling. Nevertheless, considering the impact it evidently has on believers around the world, I think it is important to deal with it. As I have already written about prayer and miracles, those topics will not be covered here. Instead, I would like to talk about three things: visions and other strange occurrences, the “changed life” phenomenon, and personal feelings.

Visions and Coincidences

Not all Christian denominations recognize visions as messages from God. However, in the tradition in which I was raised (Pentecostal), I often heard people talking about receiving a “vision” from God which would provide them with some important information. In addition, visions are mentioned numerous times in the Bible, especially in the prophetic books, where fantastic images of strange beings with a mixture of human and animal characteristics are found. If a Christian takes these books to be accurate, then he or she must acknowledge that some of their beliefs rest on information from visions.

Temporal LobeOf course, the modern scientific mind is immediately skeptical of such experiences. Are these visions messages from God, or indications of mental disturbances? Considering the number of visions that were recorded in the past, when such people would not necessarily be diagnosed with mental illness, it seems likely that at least a fair number of these stories are describing people with schizophrenia, which can cause visual or auditory hallucinations; or temporal lobe seizures, which can also cause visual and auditory sensations, out-of-body experiences, or feelings of the “presence” of others. Visions can also be produced with the aid of drugs, from dehydration or other extreme deprivations, or fatigue. While these may not explain every case, it seems as though some (or many) may be explained by these factors. A schizophrenic prophet wandering through the desert without sleep is in ripe conditions to see visions.

Ezekiel Vision of Chariot

"Chariot Vision" of Ezekiel, by Matthäus Merian

But regardless of whether science can or cannot explain every case, there is a more important reason to be skeptical of visionary claims. Visions have occurred throughout recorded history, and in a dizzying variety of human cultures around the world. From tribal shamans, to mystic Sufi Muslims, to Buddhists and Christians (both Protestant and Catholic) and Hindus and Jews and Greeks and Romans and Egyptians, it is more unusual to find a culture without descriptions of visions than to find cultures with them. This is fascinating from an anthropological perspective, but it can pose some problems for theology. If one listens to a Christian describing a vision they had, how does one differentiate between that and an Native American describing their “vision quest“? It seems like a double standard to take the Christian vision at face value and immediately discredit the vision of the Native. If the Native is simply hallucinating, then perhaps the Christian is as well. And if one claims that the Native is under the influence of demons, perhaps it is instead the Christian who is being influenced by evil spirits. Without some objective way of determining which one is “true” and which is “false”, one cannot assess the validity of either vision. It seems that one should either accept all visions as valid, or none.

A similar conundrum is found for other strange occurrences. I have heard many people claim extraordinary events as being cases of God’s intervention: “God kept me safe in that car crash,” “It was a miracle that the falling tree missed our house,” “He said something about me that no one could have known unless God had told him,” “God brought us together at just the right time,” etc. These are all fortunate coincidences—and somehow all the good ones get attributed to God, and the bad ones get chalked up to “bad luck” or “just a bad break” or “it just wasn’t in the cards.” But of course, coincidences happen all the time, every day, to people around the world. They don’t indicate anything; they’re just coincidences. Instead of embracing the fact that randomness is a part of our lives, however, some believers claim that it must have been God. If they are prepared to claim that the fortunate coincidences happening to a Hindu are also the result of God’s actions, then fine. But otherwise, why believe that the good things happening to non-Christians are just coincidences, but God is looking out for them? And why believe that the good things happening to them are from God, but the bad things are just unlucky coincidences? These seem like double standards, meant to convince themselves that the world is an orderly place, rather than an actual, justifiable explanation. Instead, it makes more sense to just embrace randomness as a fact of life and understand that life is unpredictable—for better or for worse.

The “Changed Life” Phenomenon

Anytime one hears the testimony of a Christian, one is almost virtually certain to hear a form of the “Changed Life” Phenomenon. Let me provide a short (fictional) example to show you the basic form:

I was raised in a Christian home. However, in high school, I started drinking with my friends, and I experimented with drugs. I started sleeping around as well. As I got older, I decided I didn’t want anything to do with God, and I started spiralling down into depression. I got into harder drugs, and my alcohol consumption became an addiction. Eventually, I got to the end of my rope. I cried out to God and asked him, if he was there, to help me somehow. One day I wandered into a church and the pastor talked to me about Jesus. I broke down and told him the whole story of my life, and the pastor told me that Jesus loved me, regardless of my past. That very day I accepted Jesus into my life. Since that time, I’ve cleaned up my drug habits, and I haven’t touched alcohol in six months. God has given me such joy and peace, and I trust and serve him completely. Hallelujah!

The details often change, but the form is almost always the same: Person spirals downward until he can go no further, and then God steps in and miraculously changes his life. Growing up in the church, I have heard countless variations of this theme. And on the surface, it seems clear: If God changes lives for the better, then how could it be wrong?

But such a theme is not only present in Christianity. One can find stories of the changed lives of Muslims (here and here), Hindus (here and here), and Buddhists (here and here), and more. These people experience the same things: A broken life, then an entrance (or a return) to a religion, then a much better life filled with joy and peace. Is the Christian God responsible for these changes as well? It doesn’t seem likely. If one is going to explain this “changed life” phenomenon with appeal to God, then one must accept that Christianity has no monopoly in the market of changed lives. In other words, there is nothing special about Christianity.

Star Wars Changed My Life T-shirtThe truth is that people experience “changed lives” for all sorts of reasons. Any major decision or life event can cause feelings of “starting over” or “becoming a new person.” People talk about miracle cures or doctors or therapy groups or new hobbies as “changing their lives,” and it doesn’t seem that entering a new religion would be any different. If one is hurting and broken, and then makes a significant life change (along with a decision and concerted effort to change their previous course), it is likely they will feel it has made a difference. When that change also involves entrance into a loving and supportive group, the effects are amplified. Who wouldn’t feel more joyful when they finally feel like they have someone who loves them? Who wouldn’t feel more peaceful when they found some place they “belonged”? It’s nothing supernatural—it’s a part of being human! Humans are social creatures, and we thrive on being connected to others. We are also creatures who like having answers; any life change which gives us answers (whether right or wrong) is bound to feel good. There is simply nothing inherent in the “changed life” phenomenon that must be explained by some supernatural being or revelatory truth. It is just human nature in action.

Personal Feelings

I Know God Is Near bookThe final issue I want to talk about is the most vague issue of all. It’s the argument one sometimes hears when discussing religion with Christians: “I may not have all the answers, but deep down in my heart, I know God is real.” This sense of “knowing” that God is real seems to come from some vague feeling, like the sense that one “knows” that one’s parents are really one’s parents, or that one “knows” what chocolate tastes like. It is, of course, incredibly difficult to put such feelings into words, and so I don’t want to dismiss it as “just a feeling” with no merit to it. Much of what we do in our lives are motivated from feelings—some intuition or subconscious judgment about what the best course of action is. We don’t know our family members by a strict set of definitions: nose is such-and-such a shape, eye colour is blue, height is five feet ten inches, and so on. We just know them because we feel some connection to them or recognition of them when we see them. So far be it from me to say that such “knowing” is not real; I don’t want to discount the possibility that someone out there could possibly have such “knowledge” of God. But I want to offer some reasons why we can’t depend on it for the truth of God’s existence.

To begin, “know” is a word with multiple meanings. I may know that the pyramids are in Egypt, but that is a different sense of knowledge than the idea that I know who my parents are. One is a factual claim, and another is one of recognition. I could also say that I know what chocolate tastes like, which is similar to a claim of recognition, but has more of an idea of recollection. I can recall the taste of chocolate without actually having it in my mouth at the time. We can use the word “know” to refer to perception or understanding of a subject (I know calculus), or to an ability to perform a task (I know how to ride a bicycle). All of these are legitimate senses of the word “know.” But which one are people using when they say, “I know God is real”? Well, if one examines the object of the claim—“God is real”—then it seems that it is referring to a factual claim. In other words, to say “I know God is real” is to say that I am aware that the proposition “God is real” is true. But how does one “know” this sort of a claim? If I say, “I know the table in front of me is real,” I can refer to specific sense experiences—sight, touch—that back up my claim. If I say, “I know electrons are real,” I may not have direct physical evidence of their existence, but I can point to measurements and scientific experiments to back up my claim. But how does one back up the claim that God is real? We certainly can’t sense him directly. As I showed in the article about prayer and miracles, it doesn’t seem that we have indirect measurements of his existence either. So how does one support the claim that God is real, if one does not have direct or indirect evidence? In what other area would such a claim be accepted? You (presumably) wouldn’t accept my claim that “I know unicorns are real” if I had absolutely no evidence other than a vague feeling that unicorns were real. You’d dismiss me as crazy, or stupid, or both. So why should anyone accept the claim that “I know God is real” if there is the same lack of evidence there?

I know I know I knowBut perhaps this is not convincing to you. That’s fine. Perhaps you are willing to accept the reformed epistemology school of thought that essentially accepts direct knowledge without evidence.1 However, even if this is accepted, one still has the difficulty of dealing with the fact that people all over the world have these same feelings. While Christians say that they “know” Yahweh is real, Hindus say that they “know” Brahma is real, Muslims say that they “know” Allah is real, the ancient Greeks said that they “knew” Zeus was real, and so on. Each religion has individuals who would say they “know” that their God is the true God, and each bases it on exactly the same vague feeling. So how does one distinguish between the “real” feeling and the “fake” feelings? Without already knowing which God exists independently of these feelings (based on some sort of evidence, presumably), it seems impossible to figure out which feeling is the real one and which ones are just wishful thinking. Otherwise, one would have to accept that the feelings of each religious believer are equally valid. This, I’m sure, will not appeal to many Christians.

Conclusion

I’ve tried to deal the best that I can with these vague feelings and indefinable “evidence.” However, when it comes to subjective experiences, what I think best to remember is that most, if not all, religious believers have these sorts of experiences. Since this is the case, there is no basis for distinguishing which ones are “true” and which ones are “false.” My argument does not conclude, “Therefore they are all false.” Rather, I am trying to conclude, “Without additional evidence, there is no reason to conclude that any one particular subjective experience is true. Therefore, no one is justified in claiming ‘knowledge’ based on these experiences alone.” In other words, I am rejecting subjective experience as a basis of knowledge, and arguing that one must provide actual evidence for God’s existence if one is to be justified in believing in him. I understand that for many religious believers, this is really all they have to go on. The only real reason they believe is that they have some indefinable feeling that “there must be something up there.” But I think it is reasonable to conclude that such a feeling is not a valid basis for claiming the actual existence of God.

More Information

Notes:

  1. I am aware that this is an extremely simplified description of reformed epistemology. My intent is not to present a full explanation of it, but rather to acknowledge it as an existing theory that would deal with my previous objections. []

9 responses to “Contesting Christianity: Personal Experience”

Jeff

Jay, if I didn’t post so many articles, I would have folks like you telling me the opposite. If I dealt with all of Christianity in one post, I’d get people saying, “Well, you didn’t deal with this, this, and this, so you don’t know what you’re talking about.” And after deciding to do a ten-part series to cover it all, I get comments like this saying that I’m trying too hard to “convince yourself you [sic] right”. It’s damned if I do, damned if I don’t. I fail to see how investing a significant amount of space to dealing fairly with the numerous arguments advanced to support Christianity is a bad thing.

So I no longer have the time nor the inclination to keep addressing people who merely attack my motivations. I will consider all further comments like this to be “trolling”, and ignore them accordingly. If you have something to say in response to what I actually wrote in my articles, fire away–I’d love to hear it and discuss it with you! That’s what they’re here for. What they’re not here for is for folks like you to attack me as a person without any sufficient basis for making claims such as that I’m trying to “convince yourself you right”. So from now on, address the arguments I’ve made, or your comments will simply go ignored. Thanks.

Frank

Jeff,

Without attacking your belief let me respond to this post.

The Pentecostal denomination is very-charismatic and like you said not all denominations recognize visions and messages from God. In fact, most don’t. Are Vision’s possible? Sure, everything and anything is possible, but I think you can’t accept everything at face value.

The difference between mental illness and visions from the Bible is that the Visions in the Bible are from individuals who have a good reputation and in fact because of their vision have a following of some sort.

In the contrary, I have never seen a schizophrenic individual who has a following and is highly reputable.

You said, “It seems like a double standard to take the Christian vision at face value and immediately discredit the vision of the Native.” I think the response of anyone to ‘spiritual’ visions is that one must put the vision and message to a test. A simple test may be this,

1. What’s the message? Is it a good message or a bad message?

Evil spirits, well I would assume there message would be evil. In being a Christian, I would suggest that if there can be good ‘God’ messages, there must be bad ‘Demon’ Messages.

2. Who’s the source? Does this person have a history of lies, drug abuse, etc.

Natives and other tribal religions use hallucinating drugs to bring about visions. With all the visions recorded in the Bible there is no logical reason to belief that they were drug induced.

You said this, “why believe that the good things happening to them are from God, but the bad things are just unlucky coincidences?”
Jeff, good things and bad things happen, because people make good choices and bad choices. But more so, it also is about perspective. For instance, Canada losing the Gold Medal this past week, is a bad thing for us Canadians, but for Russians it’s a good thing. Everything occurrence in life is about perspective.

Also is it possible that some Christians misrepresent Christianity as a religion that is all about having a good, wealthy, healthy life? I think so. The Christian belief is about accepting all of life’s circumstances, the good, the bad, and the ugly and giving glory to God. God isn’t a vending machine or a good luck charm. If you look at the Bible we see that God allows the good, the bad, and the ugly to happen.

Now to point 2.

Transformation cannot be a deterrent to believe in the Christian faith. For instance every belief system, Hindu, Christian, Islam, Buddhism, and yes, even Atheisms, is about living your life a certain way.

When someone beliefs something to be true, there life and values will coincide with those beliefs. That is true for me as a Christian and you as an atheist. Your worldview defines your values and the way you live life.

You said, “Any major decision or life event can cause feelings of “starting over”…” well yes I guess that is true, but those major decisions and the feelings towards those major decisions are determined by your set of beliefs or worldview.

You said, “There is simply nothing inherent in the “changed life” phenomenon that must be explained by some supernatural being or revelatory truth. It is just human nature in action.”

Sure if that is your worldview, then of course you’ll believe that. Your perspective of human nature in action is based on the way you view life.

Point 3:

You said this, “I don’t want to discount the possibility that someone out there could possibly have such “knowledge” of God.”

So, are you saying that there is a possibility that God exists? Sounds like it. But yet, you’re an atheist? Interesting…
Now, to your point about is God real. Well, simple experiment! Do you know that I exist? Have you met me? Have you talked to me in person? Heard my voice? Felt me? Smelt me? Do I exist?

Well, I would have to, to write this. You see the product of my existence. Correct?
Is it possible that we can see the product of God’s existence? Well, that depends on how you look at everything around you. You could come up with all kinds of explanations to explain the existence of this universe, the existence of your brain, the existence of you name it.

Now Jeff, have you seen the wind? No. You have never seen wind. But you hear the wind? You see the impact the wind has? But you have never seen the wind.

Have you seen God? No. Have I? No. But I have seen the impact God has had on creation and on the lives of friends.

It all comes down to perspective.

Now you said this, “Otherwise, one would have to accept that the feelings of each religious believer are equally valid. This, I’m sure, will not appeal to many Christians.”

Well, it kinda does. You ask the question, how do you know God is real? Well, there’s your answer. If billions of people have an idea of a god, does that not prove the existence of God?

You said this, “My argument does not conclude, “Therefore they are all false.”” Therefore, if they are not all false, it is possible that they may be true.

And last but not least you said this “In other words, I am rejecting subjective experience as a basis of knowledge, and arguing that one must provide actual evidence for God’s existence if one is to be justified in believing in him.”

Alright, prove to me that I exist? Show me. Name me. Draw a picture of me. Do something to prove that I exist. Am I male? Female? Black, Asian, White, Purple? Tall? Skinny? Fat? Thin?

Prove that I exist? You’ve never seen me! You know nothing about me, except for that I can put words together and make sentences, and sometimes logical thought.

Is it possible, that God has shown us himself, not by visions, but by the product of his imagination, displayed to us through creation. See it’s illogical to propose that God doesn’t exist, because the simple fact is that I do exist, I am created but more importantly I am capable of thinking and questioning the reality of God. I am capable of thought. Can I see my thoughts, no. Do I know they exist, yes. But you may argue, that my thoughts are neurons and chemicals, and biology doing its job.

See, life is about perspective. The fact that you have to write long essays on why God does not exist, probably means that a god exists. You’re simply trying to not believe it and justify it, because if you can justify it, and make it fit into your worldview, then you can live the way you want to live, without God.

Jeff

Well Frank, you’ve written quite a long comment, but I’ll do my best to respond. Thanks for responding to the actual content 🙂

First off, let me say that of course Christianity is diverse, so not all people will accept visions or whatever. If a certain point doesn’t apply to you, fine! Not everything I’ve written will. That’s not a mark against me, but just something that some Christians might agree with me on. Nothing wrong with that. So I agree that we shouldn’t take visions at face value.

The difference between mental illness and visions from the Bible is that the Visions in the Bible are from individuals who have a good reputation and in fact because of their vision have a following of some sort.

I’m not sure where you’re getting the idea that people in the Bible had “good reputations”. How do you know this? Do you know them personally or something? Of the examples I can think about in the Bible where people talk about visions and whatnot, most of them were the prophets—many of whom were hated and shunned. Of course, it might also have something to do with the fact that they were preaching doom and destruction all the time (not the best party guests). But regardless of that, many examples of people talking about visions in the Bible were hated, if anything. But for most, I just don’t think we have enough information to know about their reputations.

In the contrary, I have never seen a schizophrenic individual who has a following and is highly reputable.

How many schizophrenic individuals do you know? Seriously, schizophrenia has a wide variety of symptoms, ranging anywhere from people who seem otherwise normal but have one very persistent and ridiculous delusion, to people who are essentially catatonic and stare off into space for hours at a time. It’s a broad range, and it’s quite likely that there are people who could be diagnosed with schizophrenia, but their delusion is not interfering with their life enough for them to see a psychiatrist. And back in the olden days when psychiatrists didn’t exist, this seems more likely rather than less. And remember, prophets were known for being pretty eccentric (locusts and honey, anyone?).

1. What’s the message? Is it a good message or a bad message?

Evil spirits, well I would assume there message would be evil. In being a Christian, I would suggest that if there can be good ‘God’ messages, there must be bad ‘Demon’ Messages.

I think this is a test that’s ripe for failure. Aren’t evil spirits supposed to be liars? And if their goal is to get you to follow the wrong God, wouldn’t that make them likely to tell you a “good” message but say it’s from the “wrong” source? I mean, I don’t believe in either good or evil spirits, but if you assume they’re out there, it seems like it would be pretty difficult to pick out which are the “right” ones.

2. Who’s the source? Does this person have a history of lies, drug abuse, etc.

Natives and other tribal religions use hallucinating drugs to bring about visions. With all the visions recorded in the Bible there is no logical reason to belief that they were drug induced.

Not all indigenous religions used drugs to bring about visions. Some would send people out into the wild to fend for themselves (often leading to exhaustion, starvation, or stress). Some use ascetic methods like fasting or long periods of meditation. And some of these processes were common in Hebrew culture as well (fasting in particular). I don’t think that it’s unreasonable to think that a starving prophet out in the heat of the wilderness is more likely to hallucinate.

Jeff, good things and bad things happen, because people make good choices and bad choices. But more so, it also is about perspective.

Here we are, back to another point of agreement. It’s certainly all about perspective here. My only point is that the Christians who think this way just seem to attribute the good things to God and the bad things to their own failure, bad luck, coincidence, other people, etc. That just seems like a double standard as far as perspective is concerned.

Sure if that is your worldview, then of course you’ll believe that. Your perspective of human nature in action is based on the way you view life.

Frank, I’m not sure I completely understand what you’re saying about the “changed life” idea. I agree with you that people’s values coincide with their beliefs. My point is that we see this happening all the time in other areas. But I don’t think you’d be willing to say that it was God who “changed my life” when I became an atheist. If we are perfectly fine with a natural explanation of that life change, why would it be that Christian life changes are different? It’s not a matter of worldviews, it’s a matter of being consistent.

I’ll continue this in another comment…

Jeff

So, are you saying that there is a possibility that God exists? Sounds like it. But yet, you’re an atheist? Interesting…

It sounds like you have the misconception that atheists believe that God can’t exist. From my own experience, I’ve found that 9 out of 10 atheists don’t claim this at all. To most of us, we merely say that we have no good evidence in favour of God’s existence, and therefore we do not believe in him. I don’t claim that it’s impossible for God to exist, just that, as far as I can tell, the evidence in his favour is poor. This is what the majority of atheists I’ve met say as well.

Now, to your point about is God real. Well, simple experiment! Do you know that I exist? Have you met me? Have you talked to me in person? Heard my voice? Felt me? Smelt me? Do I exist?

While I have never met you before, I have met other people before, and based on my own past experiences with people, it seems far more likely that there is another person that wrote your comments, rather than an alien, or a robot, or a unicorn, etc. I could, of course, be wrong—I don’t have ironclad proof—but the probability that it is a real person on the other end of this is far more likely, simply because I don’t have to posit the existence of a completely new life form to explain something entirely as mundane as a comment on the Internet. This is not the case with God, who is supposed to be supernatural and immaterial and, in general, wholly unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.

Is it possible that we can see the product of God’s existence? Well, that depends on how you look at everything around you. You could come up with all kinds of explanations to explain the existence of this universe, the existence of your brain, the existence of you name it.

Sure. I could explain the existence of my brain by saying that a hyper-intelligent race of space aliens materialized from an alternate dimension at the moment of my conception in order to deposit the seed of a brain tree that grew inside my head as I developed and created my brain. But Occam’s Razor gets rid of that explanation pretty quickly. There’s no reason to invent an entirely new type of being when a natural and mundane explanation will do the trick just fine.

Now Jeff, have you seen the wind? No. You have never seen wind. But you hear the wind? You see the impact the wind has? But you have never seen the wind.

Have you seen God? No. Have I? No. But I have seen the impact God has had on creation and on the lives of friends.

It all comes down to perspective.

You’re right that it comes down to perspective. But that’s not an excuse to use any old explanation. There are better and worse explanations. There are explanations that work better and give us better results than others. And when it comes down to explaining the world, normal, natural explanations do an excellent job. Ideas about invisible supernatural beings give us nothing. Changed lives are much easier to explain by using psychology, since we know that humans can be changed through simple psychology. Saying that no one could ever stop drinking or stop smoking or stop beating their spouse without the help of God is simply a bad explanation. And if your perspective includes bad explanations, I think it generally means that you should change your perspective.

Well, it kinda does. You ask the question, how do you know God is real? Well, there’s your answer. If billions of people have an idea of a god, does that not prove the existence of God?

No. It proves that billions of people have an idea of a god. But do you really think that the idea of Krishna, a four-armed, blue-skinned man really provides proof of Yahweh? Or how about Ganesha, a man with an elephant’s head? Do you think that these Gods, or the many other Gods with characteristics and personalities entirely different from yours, really gives you evidence for the existence of your own God? Does a horse give evidence for a unicorn?

We know that people all over the world have experiences that they attribute to God. However, we also know that virtually all of these people have been brought up since young children to believe that such a being already exists. They’ve been told, “This is what God is like, this is what he does, and if you feel this, this is God.” So it’s no wonder that when they feel a certain thing, or they witness a certain event, they immediately jump to the idea, “It must be God!” But nothing in there actually needs an actual God in order to explain it. In fact, if there were an actual God, it might actually end up being even worse of an explanation. For instance, if the real God cares what people believe, he might be more likely to correct the ones who have it wrong. The experiences people have of God probably wouldn’t have nearly such great diversity that they do. But regardless, I don’t find it at all credible to use Ra, the ancient Egyptian sun God that had an eagle’s head, as evidence for Yahweh. Do you?

See, life is about perspective. The fact that you have to write long essays on why God does not exist, probably means that a god exists.

I don’t have to write long essays about why God does not exist. I choose to. And my own choice to write long essays or not says absolutely nothing about whether God actually exists. No offense, but this is a terrible argument. If Stephanie Meyer has a need to write long, terrible books about vampires, this says nothing about the existence of vampires.

You’re simply trying to not believe it and justify it, because if you can justify it, and make it fit into your worldview, then you can live the way you want to live, without God.

And here we are, back to speculating about my reasons for writing this. Let me ask you something: If I just wanted to live the way I wanted to live, why would I care to write long essays trying to justify it? I mean really…if I’m that disinterested in finding the truth because I simply want to live a certain way, wouldn’t that make me less likely to write these things? I write these articles because I think they are important, and I think that the arguments for Christianity are poor. You may not agree, and I appreciate the time you’ve taken to voice your criticisms of what I’ve said, but at the very least, my conclusion is that the arguments for Christianity are poor. I think truth is important, so I have taken the time to point out why I believe them to be poor. There’s no need to resort to these childish accusations that, “You’re just saying that because you want to live a sinful lifestyle!” Notice how I never say that you write your comments because “You’re just too weak of a person to live without the crutch of religion”? Or “You just want to believe in God because you think that makes you better than the rest of us!” It’s easy to dismiss people’s arguments by just saying they’re stupid, or childish, or selfish, or depraved. But that just turns this into a mud-slinging competition. Let’s keep the focus on the arguments I’ve raised and on your counter-arguments, and this will all work out a lot better.

Thanks again for your comments, and I look forward to what you have to say in response!

David

Jeff:

The great thing about being in this place at this time, is that one is free to believe what they will. I look forward to the day, though, when you become as skeptical of the motivations and rationale of the skeptics you cite, as much as those who would defend the Bible.

When I really push your ideology to its logical end, I would say that you’re a young man who rationalism masks a subtle, prideful demand for proof in all things. From your own background, you should know that Jesus NEVER said, “Woman (or Man), great is your philosophy!” or “Great is your rationalism!”, but rather “Great is your faith!”.

If God were to reveal Himself to the satisfaction of Jeff’s present rational demands, there would be no such as thing as faith, and no such thing as love. Hence, the entire Divine purpose for Life would be thwarted. Is that REALLY what you want?

By all means, Jeff, keep questioning. It is healthy. But do not fail to question the questioners, do not fail to be skeptical of the skeptics, and do not forget to be cynical of the cynics.

Grace to you…

PigeonHeart.

This is a very interesting argument. I appreciate your thirst for truth, as I am witness to a world where seemingly no one realizes they have the ability to philosophize and use higher thinking. I’m interested in what you think love is, or any abstract concept for that matter.

It is often easy to contribute all that is and was and ever will be to science, but would an omnipotent god not be capable of inventing such methods? Why does the Big Band theory have to be so far removed from the theory of creationism? Personally, I feel like God certainly could have been lounging in his chaise one day, chalice of His Son’s blood in hand, while angels fanned him with giant leaves, and thought, “Hey, I think I wanna make some shit today. I’ll make all this space-junk spin around really fast and then compress and explode and then like, on this one rock chunk stuff with evolve and then little dudes that look like me will run around and fsu. It’ll be hilarious.”

The vague feelings one experiences about the existence of God are basically the same feelings as loving someone else, and the reciprocation of their love. One might argue that actions prove their love, but you can copulate without love, you can give a gift with out love, spend all your time together, without love. It happens All the time. You can’t prove someone’s love for you, it’s solely based on faith. Just as the existence of any type of God. We all justify, or “disprove,” His existence with the same type of evidence we use for love between humans.

Personally, I Do believe in God and I was not raised in a Christian home or “taught” to believe. I was a classic change of life story. But now, my faith in him is strong, infallible actually. I’m a thinker, a philosopher, and skeptic and yet I can’t shake Him. And I don’t want to. I feel His love the same way I feel anyone else’. Admittedly, it is difficult to feel it as plainly, as human show affection in many concrete ways, and I can’t hug Him. But I have that “knowledge” of Him that I can’t explain. I just Know. And it sounds silly, I’m fully aware, but I heard a quote once, “Hope is believing [something] is; faith is knowing.” I feel it relates because I have a whole lot of faith. Love and morality and positivity and whatnot come easily to me. My brain suffers no hindrance in belief without concrete evidence where abstract concepts are involved. For me, concrete concepts require concrete evidence and likewise for the abstract.

Perhaps love is another thing that you chalk up to biology or human nature. But where does human nature come from? How are random firings of electricity and synapses in the brain converted into thoughts? It’s all so interesting to ponder. Keep wondering, my brother. Godspeed your journey. 🙂

Jeff

Hi PigeonHeart,

Other than the fact that the Big Bang theory is not about anything “exploding” (it’s expansion, not explosion), I agree with you. There’s nothing inherently contradictory between God creating the universe and the Big Bang. It could just have been the method he used. Of course, if that’s what he did, it really leaves no need for God to be part of the scientific explanation, since the Big Bang is a process that occurs through the natural laws of physics. But if you’re okay with that, fine! As long as you accept the science in the Big Bang theory and in evolution, I’m fine with it.

But I do have to challenge you on this point: “You can’t prove someone’s love for you, it’s solely based on faith.” Really? Really? That seems absurd to me. If you are in a relationship where you believe the other person loves you, yet there is not a single shred of evidence that you can point to in order to demonstrate this…you are simply not in a loving relationship. Sure, there is always an element of trust in relationships. And sometimes people do “loving” things without actual feelings of love. But evidence for love builds up over time. It would be absurd to observe the loving acts of one’s partner for 30 years and still say, “It’s solely based on faith.” Regardless of how much trust may or may not be involved, it’s simply not true that love is “solely” based on faith. On the other hand, belief in God seems to depend much moreso on faith.

I also am not sure what you mean by the word “skeptic”. Skeptics continually test statements in the light of evidence, but you claim that your belief is “infallible” and that you have “knowledge” that you can’t explain. These seem contradictory. And of course, you must know that I would challenge you that “faith is knowing”. Faith is strong belief—it has no bearing on knowledge. One of the problems I have with religious people is that they often say, “I know God exists” when they really mean, “I believe really, really strongly that God exists.” The two are simply not synonymous.

Perhaps love is another thing that you chalk up to biology or human nature. But where does human nature come from? How are random firings of electricity and synapses in the brain converted into thoughts?

Yes, I do believe that love comes from the biology of the brain. Feelings can be complex, but they are understandable in psychological and neurological terms. (Just so you’re aware, you’re talking to a psychologist right now.) “Human nature”, although somewhat of a vague term, comes from bio-psycho-social processes as well. We are a result of our biology, our psychological predispositions, and our social group with its cultural framework. I’m not sure what else there really is to add, to be honest. As far as your last question, (a) the neurons firing in your brain are absolutely not “random”. If they were, you’d be dead, or at least having a seizure. They are in highly structured networks and fire in very precise ways. And (b) the electrical impulses are not converted into thoughts…they are the thoughts. The fact that you experience them as thoughts is a result of the fact that you are your brain. But at any rate, I’m not sure what these questions are intended to show. The brain certainly is an amazing organ! But were you trying to say that God is sticking his hands in there, firing our neurons at the right time? Even if God created the brain, he still created it in such a way that it follows the laws of physics and chemistry.

At any rate, thank you for stopping by and leaving your comments! Best wishes to you, and feel free to come by and chat again sometime 🙂

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