Renouncing/refining my arguments

My arguments for God are not always good.  One  argument that I often felt, seldom expressed, was that atheists do not have the same sense of awe that theists do.  I was wrong.  I’ve learned that from friendship with Russell and it is very well expressed in this article by an atheist scientist.


Loveleet Jain, CC license

I’m going to refine my argument based on the feedback of my friend and a thoughtful author.  Atheists are indeed awed by nature.  They have no one to thank for it.  Gratitude for me requires an object, and gratitude has been one of the most redemptive emotions that I have experienced.  Is my need of gratitude driving me to God?  I think it is a big part of it.





  1. I have felt this way–the need to have a recipient of my gratitude for things in nature that inspire awe. I feel it on a morning or evening run when the sky is on fire. I felt it every time I walked through Tollymore Forest or hiked through the Mountains of Mourne, through the very landscape that inspired C. S. Lewis’s Narnia. I like what Lewis wrote—“Nature has that in her which compels us to invent giants: and only giants will do.” Of course, my interpretation is not the one he intended. It is still, however, wise to ask the question—did a giant deity invent nature to compel us to him? Or does nature compel us to invent giants?

    Sometimes nature inspires awe and gratitude. Other times it inspires fear and anger. Are we to feel thankful for the splendor of sunsets, yet not forsaken in the devastation of earthquakes and tsunamis? Splendor and devastation are both found in nature and both demand awe. They demand nothing more. If a God causes both, the gratitude he deserves for one should be negated by the other. We can’t give him credit for the splendor without attributing blame for the devastation. It doesn’t make sense to call one a display of God’s majesty while calling the other a consequence of a fallen world.

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    1. Why wrath and violence? I don’t know. But I cherish your question and won’t avoid it.

      As one who spends time in nature camping and hiking, I do know that nature is as violent as it is beautiful. Are you imagining that a good God would author a world without death? Would there be population control, or alternate methods besides decay and bacteria to handle waste? I’m transferring my past silly questions to you! But they aren’t silly questions — they are reasonable questions from one with a scientific mind who wrestles the spiritual realm if it exists. I just don’t expect an answer this life. I retreat to the fallback question — if I don’t completely understand God, then do I know enough about him to trust him?

      Splendor and devastation are impersonal. Impersonal things cannot be thanked or hated. If, however, we attribute splendor or devastation to God, then he can inspire passion: either loving gratitude or bitter hatred. I’ll expose myself. I have hated God before. The very passion that rises in me when I consider him – – love or hate – – in part has validated his existence. His grace to me when I hated him went far beyond my intellectual checkpoints and gave me a home.

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      1. Yes, I am imagining that a good God would author a world without death. He did, actually—right? The way I read the story, death was a consequence of our sin. You mention population control and waste as if death and decay are necessary to keep things in balance. But are God’s resources so limited that our population could outgrow them? Could he not figure out an efficient way to transfer energy so that waste would not overwhelm us? Your questions in response to mine are indeed reasonable—but you’re thinking inside a small box. Yes—death and decay are necessary players in keeping the current system going. But why are we so accepting of the current system? Couldn’t God have done better?

        Believers are quick to remind me that God did do better, but we ruined it with “the fall.” I have a feeling that you might say that the Genesis depiction is allegorical—that it was not so much about being deceived by a snake and eating the wrong fruit as it was about having a nature that demands our own way and says “no” to the authority of God [As a side note, writing to you is always difficult for me, because I anticipate your responses and have a full conversation with you in my head before I ever post—so please correct me if I’m wrong in my assumptions]. Then I have to question the goodness of a God who creates us with that nature and then punishes us for acting on it.

        Many Christians ask, “So would you rather have been an automaton?” Absolutely. I would have never known the difference, and I would escape the consequences of sin. “But would it mean anything to you to be loved by someone who didn’t have the option of NOT loving you?” No, it wouldn’t. “Then don’t you see why God created us with the nature that we have?” Okay, sure—but that doesn’t explain the eternal damnation for those who choose not to love him. He might as well have just programmed us to do so in the first place—because some of the people who claim to love him might only be doing so to escape the consequences of not loving him. Pascal, you might interject some ideas about eternal damnation here and what you suspect that it entails. You might try to soften it and say that perhaps hell is actually just “getting our own way forever.” I think that’s how you justify continuing to call God good, but it’s not Biblical. The Bible describes a rich man in hell who wanted relief—even wanted to warn his family about the horror if it. That doesn’t sound like someone getting his own way. I like your own version of the Bible better than the real one, but it’s interesting to me that I haven’t seen you make any changes to the virgin birth, the resurrection, or the idea of heaven—are you okay with those the way they are written? How are they more reliable than the Bible’s depiction of eternal damnation? How do you know what is allegory and what isn’t? How do you know where to stand? Sometimes I wonder if your interpretation of scripture actually reflects what you would submit to God’s suggestion box, if he had one.

        You’re right—splendor and devastation are impersonal and cannot be thanked or hated. But I’m getting to where I don’t feel a need to thank or hate those things. My husband and I hired a babysitter and went on a run last night at sunset, and we ran until after dark. It cost us $26 for 2 hours and 10 minutes, but it was well worth it to run after the girls’ bedtime and with my best friend. It was a partly cloudy evening, so the sunset was spectacular. The thought that such beauty could result from randomness inspired more awe than the thought that this was designed. Random beauty is a much rarer thing. I didn’t feel the need to be thankful to someone for the beauty in nature—the awe was enough. I was thankful to my husband for running with me—it’s my favorite hobby, and we don’t often do it together. And I accept the devastation along with the beauty—I understand that it’s inevitable, and I don’t feel anger if I don’t believe that someone with the power to prevent it is allowing it to happen. Beauty and devastation inspire awe in me, but not passion. People inspire me to be passionate. I feel drawn to beautiful people. I feel called to devastated people. Nature points you to a creator, and inspires passion within you toward that creator. I find that if I appreciate the randomness of nature without attributing its beauty or devastation to a creator, I can focus my limited bandwidth—my passion—on the beautiful and devastated people that I walk with on earth.

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        1. Couldn’t God have done better? Is hell real or just? Why couldn’t I add my suggestions to the box? I asked and ask similar questions. Unless you sincerely ask those questions and are answered in patience or not answered in forbearance, then the response that God is God and is above you will always remain a hollow platitude. Non-existence is tempting to ascribe to him when I don’t understand him. Oblivion becomes longing when I’m not sure that I even want to live the meager fraction of a century that I’m given. I didn’t come to the other side of this as one fords a river. I’m resting in my restlessness and trusting him. Your marvel at creation and passion towards people are the same to me. I consider people his greatest creation – – imbued with dignity, deserving of respect because he is.

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          1. Existence is tempting to ascribe to him when we don’t understand the world around us–and don’t value it intrinsically.

            Pascal, is life worth anything to you if there is no God? If you could know for a fact that this is all there is, would you live out the next four or five decades with any kind of passion, or would you end it all?

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            1. To be or not to be? Many great existential thinkers ending their lives in suicide. I faced deep depression and considered suicide when I was a young adult. Knowing God, even in perhaps especially in, a time of despair stopped me. Your question reminds me that I speak not from a place of superiority but from a place of weakness. You know that I love the scriptures and have a hard time assigning a favorite. Here is one of them: Jeremiah 9:23-24

              23 Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”


              1. What if Habakkuk 3:17 is all there is? What if there is no verse 18? I’m still forming my answer. The past year and a half for me has felt a lot like Habakkuk 3:17. Of course it hasn’t really been that bad, but it has felt that bad to me a lot of times. Maybe that’s depression. My way through it has been verse 18. If I take away verse 18, what does that leave me with? Is life worth living?

                I think it is—but you might ask why, and that’s what I need to articulate. I’m rewriting verse 18.

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                1. Okay — not exactly verses I had committed to memory.

                  18 starts with yet, one of my favorite words.

                  We both think much of what we require of God.

                  Could 18 refer to what he requires of us?


                  1. Those verses have kept me alive—I committed them to memory as a 15-year-old and they have sustained me through what felt like famine, like being cut off from the group and far from home. Now I’m in another desert, and I’m looking for the joy in 18 and waiting for the strength in 19…I have nothing left of my own.

                    Anyway, I recommend memorizing these words—you’ll find that you recall them often.

                    I’m in the final ten days of a 12-week work project, and from this moment until the end my focus will be on finishing strong—but you have given me much to think about, and I have really enjoyed the conversation over the past couple of days.

                    Blessings, friend.


            1. Ha! That was an error – – and one I don’t know how to retract – – I was trying to like yours. Of course I like my own comments. If I didn’t like them I wouldn’t post them. Silly rabbit.

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              1. I love teaching old people technology tricks–just hit the star again to “un-like.” Or don’t, because your accidental like and inability to correct it is quite endearing.

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  2. Yes! As an atheist I love in awe at the world around me. It’s not just nature, but the wondrous interactions each thing has with the other, creating complex and unexpected relationships.

    ‘Religious’ gratitude for me seems shallow. Most believers don’t dig into the meaning being grateful, it becomes a surface ‘Thank you god’, instead of a reflection on what has been received or given to them.

    When last did you see a religious person honour the person that rescued them or saved someone, {more importantly} without including any reference to the good-thing?

    For me, gratitude is an active reflection on what I have and receive in my life, with a sincere and deliberate expression of appreciation of both the thing I get and the person who has given to me.

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    1. EMil,

      Thanks for your thoughts, and please don’t worry about the grammar. Russell and I chronically catch ourselves and change posts in the background!

      I have experienced sincere gratitude from atheists as often, perhaps more often, than I have from believers.

      What does that mean to me? It means I was wrong about awe. My further interpretation could certainly be problematic, but I appreciate your patience with me. The 19th chapter of Psalms in the Hebrew and Christian bible speaks of the wonder of creation. The author found it to be an astonishing work of art and he thanked the artist. I suppose that is the difference. If all things very big, very small, or intricately related (some of the things that awe me) require no cause or no direction beyond the physical realm then there is no one to thank, and I am a fool to even dream of meeting and talking with the author. That saddens me.

      What of believers expressing shallow gratitude? You’re right there too. We should be open to the audit of all – – not just those in our pew or echo chamber. We should change.

      I enjoy your posts and I’m grateful that you take the time to visit here.


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      1. Pascal, Thank you 🙂

        I’m really enjoying Your and Russel’s conversation. I’m not priviledged enough to have this in my own life, so watching the two perspectives interact is something of great interest to me. Though I’m happy and pretty set in my position as an atheist, how your posts develop thrills me, and gives me a bit more hope that we can find a way out of the ‘us vs them’ social attitude.

        On the post though – I often express grtitude for a non-gift (for lack of a better description of a scene or random find) by simply enjoying it and thinking on it, or even sharing it with someone if possible.

        Why is essential to you to have a being/object/deity to give gratitude to?

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        1. I can’t call it essential. I sometimes forget to thank the very God I credit and still enjoy, marvel, and share. It’s more of a personal longing. Sometimes awe bubbles up in me to the point that I yearn to thank someone personally. I can’t argue that the yearning proves God, rather that it makes belief more reasonable for me.

          What you said about changing the us vs. them approach — both here and on your own blog is right. Why would an internally consistent Christ follower or secular humanist treat the other with derision or disrespect? Only at the betrayal of her own values.

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