An open letter to a friend

This is the latest installment of my ongoing dialogue with “Havok”, who while he disagrees with me on the existence of God, does his best to remain civil and respectful, and to make his case using logic and conviction rather than hyperobole.  I respect him for those qualities, even while I profoundly disagree with him on his final analysis.

It’s strange.  You and I have this fundamental disagreement on one of the more important issues in life, yet strangely, I feel like we’re developing a kind of friendship.  It makes me want to press forward to share some things with you that logic tells me will be a waste of time.  Somehow I can see a human quality in some of the things you say that keeps drawing me back to our discourse.

Let me try to explain.  It seems to me that if one believes, down deep inside, that this is all there is – that there is no God, no heaven or hell, no anything after this life is over — It seems to me that you would feel like you are completely alone in the world, that nobody really values you beyond what they get from you, that your life is a flash, a vapor, that when you die it will not matter to anyone, and that life itself was completely without any meaning or purpose.  If I really believed as you do, I don’t see how I could avoid living that ‘life of quiet desperation’ that Thoreau wrote about.  Yet you do not seem to feel that way.

My life revolves around my family and my church.  The most important things in life are not things.  They’re people.  I’ve been married for 43 years to the same woman.  Neither of us takes credit for that – we would have been divorced long ago if not for our kids who kept us together for a long time, just being devoted to them and wanting to raise them right.  Then for the last 10 years, we give credit to God, who came into our lives and not only kept us together, but showed us how to fall in love with each other again.  We’re blessed with two daughters, both of whom married great men who have become great Dads, each for two children.  We live close to each other and we are intricately involved in each other’s lives.  We just enjoyed a week at the beach together, and we had a great time.

The next circle of relationships is with people I serve with through church activities.  It is not exageration to say that they are like an extended family to me and my wife.  We are always doing something with them, and have grown to love many of them in a much deeper way than most people ever experience.  Truthfully, the friendships I had before I became a Christian were all based on either proximity, occupation, or recreation.  I was a necessary part of whatever activity we were engaged in, and if activity changed, we drifted apart.  I know that some people have lasting friendships that transcend those activities.  I just never seemed able to do that.  Since joining my church, though, I have friends I care deeply about, and those bonds of friendship are among the most valuable parts of my life.

Do you agree that human beings seem to be hard-wired for caring relationships?  I hope so, because I can’t imagine why life would be worth living if not for them.  And it’s because Christ is the center of my lfe, that my friendships with other Christians are so strong.

Now, let me quickly acknowledge that there are plenty of Christians out there who act like they were weaned on lemons or pickle juice.  I don’t like them much either.  They are actually among the strongest reasons I stayed away from the faith for so long.  Christians seemed to fall into one of two categories – either they acted piously in church, then cursed, drank and slept around just as much as anyone, or they were the sourpusses who didnt seem capable of relaxing, laughing or, for that matter, loving.  But trust me when I tell you that Christians who are part of a healthy body of “disciples” (people who are following and learning as students), under the leadership of a strong and devoted pastor, are good people.  They know that they are sinners and hypocrites (the church is a hospital for sinners and hypocrites, they’ll say) but they believe that God’s Word changes people, and they’ve witnessed first hand how powerful and life-altering that change can be.  Nearly all of them have a story to tell of how their lives were transfixed and transformed after surrendering to “the way”.

I have – we all have this one life to live.  Not everyone approaches it the same way.  Most people do poorly because of the choices they make.  It took me over 50 years of living before I was finally able to admit that many of the choices I had made had not worked out all that well.  So when I met and got to know likable, successful, happy, fun people who were also humble, spiritual, and quick to express their gratitude to God for who they were and what they had, I started to wonder what they knew that I didn’t.  I was open to hearing how I could make better choices in my life.  I am reminded of a passage from Isaiah 30 – “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”  Like many things in the Bible, that’s probably a bit allegorical, but it does paint a kind of picture.  It says, keep reading scripture, do it every day, keep it in your mind and in your heart.  Then when you encounter a need to make a decision, your conscience, having been properly “trained” by scripture, will tell you what is the right choice.

So I guess my point is that I love my life.  I love it because of the relationships I have with Christ.  The relationship with Him makes my relationship with my wife and family better, adds the bonus of great friendships outside of family, and is itself a source of great joy on a spiritual level.

Now, right there, you’re probably thinking ‘There he goes again, weak-mindedly conjuring up a deity who doesn’t exist, and basing his whole life on it’.  But stick with me here.  I believe that Jesus was and is the Christ, the Messiah.  But what if that’s not the truth?  What if men made him up, and that all of the things in the New Testament are just a made-up story, cobbled together by men with who-knows-what motive?

Well then, they said that He said that the most important commandment was to love God with all your heart, soul and mind.  Also to love your neighbor as if you WERE your neighbor.  If everybody did just those two things with every ounce of study, creativity, diligence and devotion they could muster, how could we not make the world a better place?  Can you think of anything we could do that would be more effective in making the world a better place to live?

The Bible is a wonderful manual for building lives and whole societies.  The USA is the only country ever built on a creed, and it’s the one found in the Bible.  It works, because its teachings are rock solid and undeniable, even if you reject its main character.

So with that background, let me address a few of your specific points.  You said:

You don’t have to justify yourself at all, though you should accept these many and varied “truths” along side your own. Either that or accept that Christianity is simply “true” for you, and that truth is subjective. I don’t think you’d accept that level of subjectivism, though.

I know you don’t mean to suggest I adopt the postmodern view that all truth is relative.  My position is that there are absolutes, and some of them may actually be knowable.  The postmodern view that ‘your truth is just as valid as my truth’ is just a patent absurdity.  You may be right that there is no God.  That would make me wrong.  The absolute truth canceled out all other contenders.  Yes, I arrived at that conclusion subjectively.  I know of no way to avoid making some subjective decisions.  But I also believe that objective truths do exist.  As for justification, I said I didn’t care about justifying myself to YOU.  Sure, I’d like you to like me, and I’d like you to agree with me.  But I have to choose for myself what or whom to serve.  I choose Christ.  You said:

If you’re claiming that I have no basis for morality, or that I have to accept some extreme moral subjectivism/relativism (which you seem to be lead up to), I say you’re mistaken. There are moral/ethical theories which don’t require a deity, which give me grounds to claim Singer is right or wrong. In fact, it seems as if Singer’s own ethical theory is one such system. If you disagree with it perhaps it is not the ethical system, but your own subjective morality which is mistaken?

It’s not that you have no basis for morality, it’s that your basis is a construct of prevailing cultural opinion, and is vulnerable to corrupting influence by powerful and articulate personalities.  (Think Hitler and Stalin, Kinsey and Hefner, Sanger and Nathanson.  All were able to reinvent culture to suit their needs because the masses had no moral basis on which to object.)  The Bible is at least a book of identifiable moral doctrine.  And it’s better than any of the contenders.  Shouldn’t a society have a coherent doctrinal guide for moral conduct?  If so, what would you base it on?

If you live in the USA, you live in a culture built on Judeo-Christian moral beliefs.  Some have been discarded as we careened toward secular “utopia”, but some have been retained.  Compare our society and it’s moral grounding to countries that have never been influenced by Christianity in any meaningful way.  Somalia, which seems to be one of the worst places on the planet to live, comes to mind.  Also Cuba, although there is apparently a Christian ‘revival’ of significant magnitude going on.  Cuba some time ago declared that they were no longer an atheist nation, but merely secularist.  Since then, they cut back dramatically on the killing and imprisoning of those trying to express their beliefs.  They still do it; they just do it in more subtle ways.

Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have given large amounts to “charity”.  Two points.  First, for them a few billion here or there makes zero difference to their lifestyles.  I know people who give small amounts of money, but large amounts of time and heart to helping marginalized human beings.  Which one deserves higher praise?  Luke 21 contains this statement from Jesus:  “…Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins.  “I tell you the truth,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

The second point is really a question.  Planned Parenthood qualifies under the law as a charity.  If I give money to them, what exactly have I done for society?  If Peter Singer gives, somehow I find it hard to believe he’s actually a humanitarian.

Then I asked about groups of atheists doing good work.  You said:

First, “atheism” is simply a lack of a belief. It’s like asking if all non-stamp collectors have a “group”. I doubt there’s any organisation which is based on strict theism which you can name.

Second, Secular Humanist organisations do conduct charity work. Other secular/non-denominational organisations also count, I would claim. I think you could even include foreign (and internal) aid given out by secular governments, at least to some degree.

I don’t see how an atheist can claim to have a lack of belief.  Agnostics may be able to make that claim, but not atheists.  You believe for some things and against others.  You believe that there is no God.  And there are organizations of atheists, are there not?  American Atheists is one.

What do these charities do to serve the sociological needs of our world?  You can contribute to your local PBS channel, and that’s fine, but is that it?  And even if the causes are worthwhile, and even if you gave more than you could afford, what did YOU do?  Where did YOU go and whom did YOU serve?  I’m not trying to put you down personally.  Without Christ in my life, if asked those questions, my answers would have been nothing, nowhere, and nobody.  We all need to be encouraged to do the right thing. And that’s part of why I asked about atheist organizations.  You may have the noblest intentions, but it’s tough to build a fire with only one log.  You need mutual encouragement and accountability.

Jesus said “‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”  Then added “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

We love our Lord because he first loved us, and because he taught us how important it is to love, and to demonstrate that love through loving acts.  Mother Theresa came close to getting that right.  Her total lifetime charitable donations don’t add up to a rounding error for Bill Gates’.  But she gave without ceasing.  She gave everything she had to give.

I hope you can see this attitude coming through from what I have said here:  That whether we agree on certain things or not, I respect you as a person, and I sincerely hope nothing I will or have said is taken as a personal affront.  Peter Singer may see some people as expendible, but a central doctrine of the Christian faith that I adhere to is that every human being has dignity, and should therefore be cared about, cared for, and treated with respect.  We are taught to be humble.  That does not mean weak.  It means treating you as I would want to be treated, were our situations reversed.

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10 thoughts on “An open letter to a friend

  1. Havok

    Sorry for the length of the comment, and the “fisking” – you gave me a lot to respond to.

    John: Yet you do not seem to feel that way.

    Not at all. I take great joy in my fellowship with people. I love my life, and the knowledge that this is all there is means that I value it even more. That there is no ultimate meaning does not serve to bring about Nihilism or a life of “qiet desperation”. On the contrary, it makes it all the more important and valuable to make my own meaning with those around me. I don’t get to be intellectually lazy and have my “meaning” provided to me on a platter 🙂

    John: Do you agree that human beings seem to be hard-wired for caring relationships?

    As social animals it is completely unsurprising that this is the case, and would be unexpected were it not. Chimpanzees, wolves (and by extension, the dogs we’ve bred from wolves), dolphins, and I think even some Cephalopods are also “hard wired” in this fashion – it’s not something which is unique to us.

    John: And it’s because Christ is the center of my lfe, that my friendships with other Christians are so strong.

    And again, it is unsurprising that people with a passion for something find solace and companionship and become intimately aquainted, with those who share that passion. You’ll find it happening for all sorts of reasons, not just the belief that “Christ” is the centre of your life.

    John: But trust me when I tell you that Christians who are part of a healthy body of “disciples” (people who are following and learning as students), under the leadership of a strong and devoted pastor, are good people.

    Some of my best friends are committed Christians, and some are not. I don’t see that being Christian is what makes them such great people – as far as I can tell they’d be great people regardless of their beliefs (or lack of them).

    John: I have – we all have this one life to live.

    Well, you believe that is not the case – eternal life is a part of your world view.
    On a related note, I don’t understand why, in your world view, our death is such an important event, associated as it is with the choice of suffering or salvation. It seems nonsensical and incoherent to say that you can make a choice up until this point, but after that, whatever decision you’d made, is binding for eternity. It’s a powerful motivator, assuming you accept it, but it seems like a poor rationalisation to me 🙂

    John: So when I met and got to know likable, successful, happy, fun people who were also humble, spiritual, and quick to express their gratitude to God for who they were and what they had, I started to wonder what they knew that I didn’t.

    It simply sounds like these people were comfortable. I know people like that of many faith traditions, and none. I don’t see Christians as having some kind of monopoly on those attributes. I’m thankful for what I have, and know that much of it I had no input to (such as being born healthy), and much that I did (education and cultivating friendships). People are complicated things 🙂

    John: Well then, they said that He said that the most important commandment was to love God with all your heart, soul and mind. Also to love your neighbor as if you WERE your neighbor.

    Assuming Jesus said those things, neighbour was likely to mean other Jews (the tale of the good Samaritan seems to support this view). He seems to have been a fairly traditional (for the time) apocalyptic prophet after all.
    Various forms of this last commandment have been espoused by people before and after the gospel accounts of Jesus, by people of many different faith positions (and none).
    The message of Jesus (apart from his Apocalyptic pronouncements) seem to reflect Cynic thought at the time, and Jewish Apocolypic prophets were also quite common.

    John: If everybody did just those two things with every ounce of study, creativity, diligence and devotion they could muster, how could we not make the world a better place? Can you think of anything we could do that would be more effective in making the world a better place to live?

    I don’t see the “love god” commandment adding anything useful, except perhaps as an attempt to break down tribal “us and them” mentality (but with the proliferation of Christian sects and the ideological differences between them, it doesn’t seem to be a great way of doing even that).
    Again, I don’t dismiss the second “commandment” as being a good thing. I simply see no reason to either attribute it solely to Jesus, nor to put Jesus on a pedestal for having it attributed to him it.

    John: The Bible is a wonderful manual for building lives and whole societies.

    I disagree. The OT paints a terrible picture of Yahweh as a cruel and jealous tyrant. The NT, while a little warmer and fuzzier, does introduce eternal suffering and hell. Sure there is some good to be taken from it (bot OT & NT), but there is also bad.

    John: The USA is the only country ever built on a creed, and it’s the one found in the Bible. It works, because its teachings are rock solid and undeniable, even if you reject its main character.

    Sorry, you’re being a revisionist of history here. The US was not based upon the teachings of the bible, nor on the ten commandments. Most of the founding fathers appear to have been either very liberal Christians, Deists or agnostics. The mentions of God in the documents is, as far as I’ve read, not a hat tip to the Christian god, but simply to some “higher power” (something I guess the Christian and Deist founding fathers could agree on).

    John: It’s not that you have no basis for morality, it’s that your basis is a construct of prevailing cultural opinion, and is vulnerable to corrupting influence by powerful and articulate personalities.

    I would disagree. While it is true that laws do tend to be made by those in power, I don’t think morality is as subjective as you imply here.
    I find Desire Utilitarianism to be quite compelling, and it seems to be both applied and normative. I’ve not read much in the way of valid criticism of it either (though perhaps that is due to it being a fairly new moral theory).

    John: (Think Hitler and Stalin, Kinsey and Hefner, Sanger and Nathanson. All were able to reinvent culture to suit their needs because the masses had no moral basis on which to object.)

    Not so. Both Stalin and Hitler changed the culture of strongly Christian nations (and a case can be made that Hitler was a Christian all his life). I’m not sure what you’re implying about the others, nor do I know enough about them to comment.
    If you look into it, Hitler based the persecution of the Jew on the bible. There are quite a number of anti-jew passages in the bible, and a very long history of ant-jewish sentiment (based upon those passages). Your statement then, seems to suggest that biblical morality either has no moral base, or is not a good guide to morality.

    John: The Bible is at least a book of identifiable moral doctrine. And it’s better than any of the contenders.

    As a moral guidline, the bible has a terrible track record. It’s very ambiguous, and passages can often be found to support almost any view (and its antithesis). I would think that Buddhism and/or Jainism would be much better examples (or Secular Humanism, Singer’s ethical system, or Desire Utilitarianism).

    John: Shouldn’t a society have a coherent doctrinal guide for moral conduct? If so, what would you base it on?

    See above. It should to be coherent, rational, based in reality, as objective as possible, and able to be changed should new evidence come to light. Biblical morality seems to fail on all of these accounts 🙂

    John: If you live in the USA, you live in a culture built on Judeo-Christian moral beliefs.

    Saying it doesn’t make it true. The democratic principles of the US owe more to the ancient Greeks than they do to Christianity, from my understanding.

    John: I know people who give small amounts of money, but large amounts of time and heart to helping marginalized human beings. Which one deserves higher praise?

    To use Gates as an example, he has pledged to donate basically his entire fortune (to do so in one go would have killed Microsoft and others he is invested in), as has Buffet (I’m not a sure of this however).
    So far he and his wife have donated $28billion (a significant portion of his fortune). As far as I can tell his wife, Melinda, works with the charity full time, while bill spends a significant portion of his time on it. It seems that they’ve invested and spent time. Are you still going to belittle their contribution?

    John: Luke 21 contains this statement from Jesus:

    And John 12 4But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, said,

    5″Why was this perfume not sold for [a]three hundred denarii and given to poor people?”
    6Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it.
    7Therefore Jesus said, “Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial.
    8For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.”

    The above could be used as a counterpoint to your claim.

    John: I don’t see how an atheist can claim to have a lack of belief. Agnostics may be able to make that claim, but not atheists. You believe for some things and against others. You believe that there is no God.

    I do not believe your deity exists (well, as I’ve said before, I’m more of an Igtheist – the Christian concept of god is incoherent), nor any other – hence atheism (lack of belief in a god or gods). I’m agnostic when it comes to some “god” concept. Perhaps there is one which is coherent?

    John: And there are organizations of atheists, are there not? American Atheists is one.

    Yes, but there is no doctrine specifically associated with “atheism”. I do not know the charter of American Atheists, but I suspect it is simply to provide resources for non-belief. In the same way a theistic organisations may praise “belief” without pushing for any specific religious view or doctrine.
    Christianity has a whole host of other doctrines, which is why you’re better of comparing it with secular organisations (Secular Humanism probably being the most likely candidate), in my view.

    John: What do these charities do to serve the sociological needs of our world?

    Promoting rationalilty and critical thought (for the American Atheists)? That seems to be a very important sociological need, given the state of the general populace, especially in your country, where a very large percentage (I think it is around 50%, perhaps higher) think the Earth and Universe were created 6,000-10,000 years ago.
    As for Doctors without Borders, the Red Cross and Oxfam, I think we both have some idea of the good works that they do.

    John: But she gave without ceasing. She gave everything she had to give.

    yet she seemed to revel in suffering, doing little to alleviate it. I have no doubt that she thought she was doing her best, but given the amount of money donated to her charity, I would expect them to help. At best they gave palliative care to those who could have been helped.
    That would be an example of ideology getting in the way of “good works” 🙂

    John: That whether we agree on certain things or not, I respect you as a person, and I sincerely hope nothing I will or have said is taken as a personal affront.

    No affront – I enjoy the discussion, and respect you and your right to your beliefs. You sound like a nice, generous person, and we would probably find much common ground were we to meet face to face 🙂

    John: Peter Singer may see some people as expendible, but a central doctrine of the Christian faith that I adhere to is that every human being has dignity, and should therefore be cared about, cared for, and treated with respect.

    I think you have been and are misrepresenting Singers ethical views here. Even more than Christianity, Singer’s extend rights to other animals, not just homo sapiens sapiens. He has a rational explanation for the value of someone, and works from there (It seems based upon cognitive ability, or desires or intention or similar).
    He is part of an effort to extend “human rights” to other Great Apes, because they show much of the same cognitive ability that we posses. I find I agree with this position, and see no justification for it under Christianity.

    John: We are taught to be humble. That does not mean weak. It means treating you as I would want to be treated, were our situations reversed.

    The “Golden Rule” has been expressed by many people throughout history. Chimpanzee’s seem to follow it. As such it appears to be a “social” norm – a group of animals, to work together as a cohesive social unit, needs to follow something similar, else there will be little to no benefit to be had from working socially. I don’t see it as a uniquely Christian attribute.

    This whole post seems to boil down to “I find solace in Christianity. I think it makes me (and others) better people. I see it as a motivation to do ‘good works”. It works for me, and lets me find communion with like minded people, which I value.”
    It doesn’t address the issues I brought up concerning personal subjective testimony and intersubjective evidence 🙂

    1. Well, it seems we have come full circle. I thought there might be a basis for a friendship, but sadly, based on these and other of your comments, it does not seem possible.

      Several of the things you said were logical in their agreement, several others merely offensive. But for you to (and I am aware that both you and others have done so before) to contend that Hitler was a Christian is absurd and offensive in the extreme. Hitler was an evil, delsional madman. He could have taken the noblest ideals known to the mind of man and twisted them to suit his purposes. Come to think of it, he did.

      “There are quite a number of anti-jew passages in the bible”. Really? And you understand the context of those passages? Really, those are just ridiculous assertions.

      And now you sidle up alongside Peter Singer, of whom it has been said that even atheists find him too extreme!

      I must tell you once again that I plan to disengage. I know that you are not beyond redemption. My heart was as hard as stone, right up to the time when God drew me, heart-first to himself. He’s done it with others far more high-profile than me: C.S. Lewis and Lee Strobel to name a couple from recent times. The Apostle Paul was a “religious” man and a Christ-hater and killer of Christians until Christ called him. So I’ll keep praying for you.

      But you are beyond my poor abilities, so I’m going to leave it up to you and God. I hope the two of you can work things out. I know He wants to…

  2. Havok

    John: But for you to (and I am aware that both you and others have done so before) to contend that Hitler was a Christian is absurd and offensive in the extreme.

    And yet he considered himself a Christian, and was a member of the Catholic church (he was never excommunicated, nor is there evidence he left). He seemed to have been critical of some doctrines of the Church, but still felt he was doing the work of the Christian Triune God (the one you also claim).

    There is information regarding Hitler’s Christianity if one is interested in finding it.

    John: Hitler was an evil, delsional madman. He could have taken the noblest ideals known to the mind of man and twisted them to suit his purposes. Come to think of it, he did.

    I’m pretty sure Hitler thought he was doing what was good and right for Germany (and for humanity in general). Germany was (and still is, to a lesser extent) a nation of Christians. “Got Mit Uns” (God with Us) was on the belt buckles of the Germany Uniform.
    This point ties in with your remarks concerning Singer below, and should provide us with pause whenever anyone claims their subjective feelings on right and wrong are “correct”, even if it is simply that you feel the morality in the bible is “right” and Singer is “wrong”.

    John: Really? And you understand the context of those passages? Really, those are just ridiculous assertions.

    There is a long history of hatred of Jews in Christianity, justified by reference to the bible. That you interpret these passages differently than earlier believers does not mean these passages are not anti-semetic, just that you don’t see them as such (something which would seem to be a good thing).

    John: And now you sidle up alongside Peter Singer, of whom it has been said that even atheists find him too extreme!

    I’ve not read Singer’s book(s) (though it is on my increasingly long list of things to read), but by the sounds of it neither have you (nor have many or his critics). That his ethical philosophy results in conclusions which you feel are “wrong” is not cause, in itself, to say it’s actually “wrong”. You should probably try to demonstrate that your feeling of immorality concerning these conclusions is “right” 🙂

    John: I know that you are not beyond redemption.

    I’m pretty sure that I’ve committed “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit” (depends on how you define it), so by all accounts I am beyond redemption.

    John: My heart was as hard as stone, right up to the time when God drew me, heart-first to himself.

    My heart is not hard at all, I just require more rigorous evidence to accept fantastic stories than you do. You’ve said you were always something of a Theist, even before becoming a believing Christian.

    John: He’s done it with others far more high-profile than me: C.S. Lewis and Lee Strobel to name a couple from recent times.

    I’ve not read much of C.S. Lewis, but his apologetics works, from what I have read, are rather poor. Lee Strobel also presents a low quality apologetic for Christianity, from where I’m standing. I’m sure both are very convincing if you already accept their conclusions.

    John: But you are beyond my poor abilities, so I’m going to leave it up to you and God. I hope the two of you can work things out. I know He wants to…

    I wonder why you think I’m simply beyond your abilities, and not, perhaps, closer to what is “real” than you?
    What makes you so convinced, that you’re certain it is a failure on your part, and not simply error in your beliefs? I would be very interested in your response.

  3. An Observer

    No one was ever argued into a set of beliefs – because by definition belief is something that is not “immediately susceptible to rigorous proof”. John can not “prove” to Havoc that God is real, and neither can Havoc prove he isn’t. You cannot shout at a blind man and demand he see – it is not in his abilities. The power belongs entirely outside of himself.

  4. Havok

    Observer: John can not “prove” to Havoc that God is real, and neither can Havoc prove he isn’t.

    In the same fashion that I can’t prove to John that Mithras, Heracles, Zeus, Thor, Dionysus, Osiris, etc are not real. I’m not quite sure why there is anything to demonstrate at present with regards to the atheist position – the theist/Christian is in the position of demonstrating that his/her deity is more likely than not given the current state of human knowledge.
    As far as I’m aware, the Christian concept of God is not even coherent, let alone more likely than not, given what we know of reality.

  5. Observer

    Havok,

    This is true. We can’t prove a whole lot – like why are their different means of reproduction, and why is there color? – many things we have to just take on faith, “given what we know of reality.”

    “As far as I’m aware, the Christian concept of God is not even coherent,” is an acknowledgement that there exists some things outside of your realm of knowledge and experience. Your humility in this statement is evident. But isn’t it possible then that someone else may have knowledge and experience of God that you have not?

  6. Havok

    Observer: This is true. We can’t prove a whole lot – like why are their different means of reproduction,

    Biologists are likely to have a good answer to this one, depending on what you mean.

    Observer: and why is there color? –

    You’re referring to qualia? Or simply that there are differing wavelengths of light. Qualia is an open problem, granted, but progress is being made (from philosophy of mind, neuroscience etc)
    For light being present in different wavelengths, and why our eyes perceive it at certain wavelengths, physics and biology would be your best bets.

    Observer: many things we have to just take on faith, “given what we know of reality.”

    And given what we know of reality, some things we can discount due to lack of evidence and lack of any plausible mechanism, and in many cases the existence of plausible/probable alternative explanations.
    Things such as an interventionist deity, a soul, the “supernatural” in general etc 🙂

    Observer: …is an acknowledgement that there exists some things outside of your realm of knowledge and experience. Your humility in this statement is evident.

    Well, obviously I don’t know everything, but all I have to go on is what I know. Which is why I continue to learn – perhaps I’m wrong?
    So far however, the Christian deity is incredibly implausible if not outright impossible, and seems to be incoherent as presented in the bible as well as most “sophisticated” theologies I’ve read of.

    Observer: But isn’t it possible then that someone else may have knowledge and experience of God that you have not?

    If there is reasonable evidence for the existence of this or any other deity, I’m all ears. If there are reasonable arguments supporting this deity’s existence, again, I’m listening.

    Can I assume you’ve had an experience you attributed to the Christian triune God?
    If so, how do you know it was not simply psychological in nature (some delusion or hallucination or other), and that it was your particular deity and not something else?

  7. Observer

    Hi Havoc (I feel funny calling you that) –
    “Biologists are likely to have a good answer to this one, depending on what you mean.” What I mean is, what is the need for a variety of means? Why doesn’t ‘one size fit all’? You can explain the biological function of it, but I still ask Why?

    For my question about color – I am not referring to why do I perceive it a certain way, or even the way wavelengths work – I mean, why do we need it? Why do we need more than 2 or 3 colors. I’m not sure that you truly can come to a logical conclusion on this one. (In fact Logic doesn’t always explain everything – psychiatrists understand this).

    “Given what we know of reality, some things we can discount due to lack of evidence”. And yet, because we cannot necessarily produce evidence, does not mean that it does not exist. Many things could not be proved 100 years ago, that we can prove now – does that mean they were no less real until we “discovered” them.

    I am grateful for the ability to continue to learn too – and I also rely on what I know. Part of that reliance is knowing that there is much I do not know.

    I have been to a psychiatrist before, who pronounced me of sound mind. I do not take drugs. I am a rational, open-minded, intelligent being. These are all facts, and I can probably detail quite logically how I know what my experience was NOT. I cannot convince you why I have faith – because it is my own. It is not a science. All I can do is tell my story.

    If you have a child or a spouse, and someone asks why do you love them, you could point to a myriad of reasons, but you would likely still feel as if there is at least a drop of reason that you cannot pour out in explanation. And yet, I would have to believe that what you said about your child or your spouse must be true. It is your relationship with them not mine.

    It is fun to discuss these heady things, and we could probably talk about such philosophical ideas for millennia if we weren’t finite. I wish/think-with-eagerness/hope/pray (whatever word you like here) that you will come to an answer about things you cannot explain – or at least find some peace in the absence of explanation. And if you believe that you can explain everything (I’m not saying you have said that-just speaking in a general “you” sense) then you will indeed have words enough for the biggest book ever written. 😀

    Peace and Logic,
    Observer

  8. Havok

    Observer: You can explain the biological function of it, but I still ask Why?

    Divergent and convergent evolution. If you’re asking for some teleological reason, then you’re stuck – evolution is not directed.

    Observer: Why do we need more than 2 or 3 colors. I’m not sure that you truly can come to a logical conclusion on this one.

    Our eyes really only perceive 3 wavelengths of light, but I suspect that’s not what you’re getting at. Why do more than 2-3 wavelengths of light exist? Well, you again seem to want a teleological explanation. Light doesn’t exist for us, nor does it exist so we can see.

    Observer: And yet, because we cannot necessarily produce evidence, does not mean that it does not exist. Many things could not be proved 100 years ago, that we can prove now – does that mean they were no less real until we “discovered” them.

    True, but that doesn’t mean we should just believe in things. There’s no evidence for fairies at the bottom of the garden, or the Invisible Pink Unicorn, but I suspect you don’t think we should believe in those. Theres no evidence for a whole host of things we don’t accept.

    Observer: Part of that reliance is knowing that there is much I do not know.

    Again, this is something I try to stick with as well. It doesn’t mean, however, we should accept any hypothesis presented, regardless of how appealing or how fervently it is believed, or how popular it is.

    Observer: These are all facts, and I can probably detail quite logically how I know what my experience was NOT. I cannot convince you why I have faith – because it is my own. It is not a science. All I can do is tell my story.

    Just because you are pronounced “sane” by a psych, doesn’t mean you brain can’t be fooled, and can’t fool itself. Look at the tricks which magicians and mentalists use. There is a host of literature detailing how suggestible we can be/are.
    To say “my experience is veridical because I’m sane” is to misunderstand what we understand about the mind (which appears to be simply a product of the brain).

    Observer: …that you will come to an answer about things you cannot explain – or at least find some peace in the absence of explanation

    I’m completely at peace concerning things which I can’t explain. I do not have any issue with proclaiming that I don’t know something. Thing is, on many subjects, we know an awful lot. So much that we understand invoking a supernatural cause without supporting evidence to be premature. That most things (minds, biological and cosmological evolution) have explanations, and other things which don’t have a more “complete” description (abiogenesis, origin of the universe etc) are likely to either have one we haven’t formulated as yet, or possibly be beyond any ability we have to explain (Invoking God is not an explanation).

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