evidence

Love Letter – – part 8

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My difficulty began in earnest the next year when there was no Mrs. Gibbon and the years of Dad’s commuting dragged on.  A postscript to this story that I haven’t thought about much until recently?  I won the contest.  Love Letter – – part 7   from the beginning

Why was seventh grade so much harder?  Like P1 and P2, I hit my growth spurt a little late but hormones and the acne they brought rose.  I retrenched my identify in grades and lost much of my joy in work.  Then I couldn’t sleep.  It was very different from the early rising that I do now – – that is who I am.  No, this was the dreadful racing mind and unstoppable anxiety that fed on itself and would not let me rest.  Many, if not most nights I was in bed trying to sleep for four hours or more.  Beginning band became symphonic and second chair was not enough.  Pre-algebra came and was much more difficult for me than arithmetic.  Math is rarely taught well and it was not (is not) my native tongue.  Then the mystery of girls.  The ones I admired were too shallow to matter.  The ones that liked me were too shy to say.  Junior high became the worst experience I could imagine.  At one point on a Sunday afternoon I tried to explain my distress to my parents.  They must have perceived it true.  My Dad called into work, did not drive back to San Antonio, and pulled me from school the next day for an emergency trip to NASA.  That impromptu field trip means the world to me.  They were stopping the world so that I could get off.  And like a boy escaping from a cruelly pushed playground merry-go-round I stumbled, fell and vomited.

I can’t remember many details about this time J, but I remember it was dark.  After the Fall came, after daylight savings was rescinded, I awoke, lived, and tried to sleep in darkness.  Depression?  Normal reaction to pre-teen angst?  Foreshadowing of something much worse.

Over Christmas break I knew how seriously Mom and Dad saw this.  They asked how I liked school.  For the first time ever I said without irony, “I hate it.”  What I meant by saying that was, “I hate myself.”  It was cold, smooth, black, hard and true.  They did so many things right.  The income disparity between myself and my classmates was about to reach a high not equalled until present day when I interact with Harvard faculty and alumni.  They enrolled me in Northland Christian School – – a 40 minute drive away.  I had to quit band and was so grateful to do so.  Talent alone can’t dictate passion.  I was good at more things than I could love.  I joined a class of 40 (split 7A and 7B) seventh graders instead of 400.  I played sports for the first time, beginning with track.  My lifelong love of running was nourished and at my best I could run a quarter in under a minute.  The girls I liked were shallow, and very rich, living in subdivisions populated by Houston Rockets.  The girls who liked me were not shallow, or stunning, or super rich.  Kelly Amos wrote me a note to declare her interest.  I stopped pursuing shallow Shannon.  Kelly was pretty, quiet and kind – – not gorgeous, boisterous and spiteful.  Our 7th grade commitment maintained innocence and presaged what I would find in Mrs. Pascal – – also struggling through middle school 1,000 miles to the north in Michigan.

I came to love school again.  The sacrifice that my parents made was big.  Mom worked.  Dad worked more.  They may have taken loans.  How did I repay their kindness?  With a growing desire to wear shirts with little horsies of the left front pocket.  My father and I, raised in humble circumstances, struggled with materialism.  My mother, raised in wealth, privilege and alcohol’s legacy did not.  I regret my attitude to this day.  God has been gracious to deliver me from the bondage of desiring wealth and into the life changing concept of stewardship.  I grew in the second half of middle school – – in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.  It was a Church of Christ school – – most of my teachers were members there.  Mrs. Gibbon never said a word about Jesus to the best of my memory.  These teachers taught Bible and many professed faith.  Many were kind and dedicated.  The 8th grade Bible teacher who preached the loudest and justified the bizarre belief that instrumental worship was wicked?  Not a nice man.  Why was I loved by one who never mentioned Christ and discounted by one who couldn’t shut up?  Is it what we say or what we do that matters?  If only more people, myself included, would recognize the leverage of both.

-to be continued-

Pascal

-1:16

 

Photo credit:  Handwritten letter by Descarte: by PHGCOM [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) via Wikimedia Commons

Another Year?

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Dear Russell & Friends,

Another year.  Another year?  I remember us sitting at this table the Friday night before our first post setting up the parameters of the blog.  It leaked into Saturday morning.  We had picked our pseudonyms a week before.  No one has mentioned the connection to Ender’s Game.  Perhaps we have forgotten too – – am I Demosthenes or Locke?  I can’t remember.  I do remember the hesitation I had in titling my first post Why I am Not a Christian.  Would anyone get the irony?  It felt like an opening move in chess.  Then two weeks later, your post Why I am Not a Christian.  43 reasons.  Damn.  At least drop one and claim to have the answer to life, the universe, and everything.  Have I understood at least one of those reasons better?  The question has significance.  I used to argue. In honest truth, I enjoyed it – – probably still do.  What changed? Maybe years have added maturity.  I’m 42 now.  I do have the answer to life, the universe, and everything, so why flaunt it?  But I don’t think maturity is the answer – – maybe part of it, but not the answer.

You are the answer.  After two years of meeting we are becoming friends.  It takes time and we’re spending it. The more I know you, the harder it is for me to be irritated when I disagree.  You have no idea how much I disagree.  That’s not true – – I think you know very well.  But I see your motives, see your family, see you (African sense) and I’m not offended anymore.

What of our others – – those who join to read and write?  Where did they come from?  Our first other is your first other – – CC.  I hate that name, but love her.  She is an authentic doubter, not a Counterfeit Christian.  CC writes and thinks like me but with a woman’s perspective and with more talent.  She wanted me to befriend you, hoping I would change your mind.  That may never have been the goal – – we’ll have to ask her.  She loves you and wanted you to have another friend besides her.  I hope you know now that she’ll never leave you even if you never come back to faith – – and neither will I.

Why have others joined?  She brought some.  In the longest tail called the internet we have found an eclectic micro-niche of people who may wish to understand each other and build bridges.  We have called for and tried to model humility from both skeptical and believing perspectives.  Others just came.  You thought it was my posts on Romans.  Good gracious.  You could paper the walls of Grand Central Station with commentaries on Romans – – it was written almost two thousand years ago.  You may be right – – I’m just not sure.

Regardless of the reason, I have to balance my unattractive tendency to rejoice in growing statistics with a deeper and more noble desire to share what we’re building here.  I look forward to your post today.  It may be (insert sardonic smile) longer than mine.  It will be you – – someone I have grown to love.

Your brother,

Pascal

–1:16

 

photo credit:  old calendar, wikimedia commons, public domain

Why Church?

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Dear Russell & Friends,

Our family went to church yesterday as we do on most any given Sunday.  In our audience of believers and skeptics I realize that some have been uplifted by church and some off put.  All humans are flawed.  Gatherings of humans compound the mess.  Add that church is designed for the broken and you can get a special kind of mess; in my part of the US, fondly and wryly referred to as a hot mess.

Why church?

Our readers know that I lost my mother last week after a long illness and over two years of debility and pain due to a series of strokes – – the last 17 months confined to a bed.  From my viewpoint her passage was an alloy of relief and grief that will be familiar to the loved one of any who has suffered.  As we made arrangements I expected my phone to ring.  And it did – – hospice nurse, funeral home, other agents of necessary arrangements.  Then a second wave.  This friend.  That family.  My pastor, associate pastor, small group leader, Sunday school teacher.  I lost count.  They knew Mom had suffered.  They fondly recalled our three generations worshipping together before she took to bed.  They offered not an explanation, but comfort.

Then yesterday in person – – it took 15 minutes for me to walk 100 yards – – stopped and hugged at every new sight line or corner.  People patiently waited to bring comfort.  And Mrs. Pascal, and our sons, and I realized how much we needed and appreciated the empathy and compassion.

Then the coincidences.  The scripture my mother had chosen for her tombstone in a moment of lucidity six months ago:

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!  Psalm 103:1 (ESV)

Yesterday’s sermon was Psalm 103.

Then the hymn that made my father weep and that my mother loved as well:

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is Well with my Soul, Horatio Spafford

Those from a Christian tradition may recall the haunting power of the echoing chorus.

This is not an argument for theism.  It is only the evidence of my life and of the community that means so much to me.  Are there other communities?  Yes there are.  Atheists may even have church.  Humans need and crave human connection and comfort.  I would never mock the desire of skeptics to gather and comfort each other.  Is music tapping into something deep within our brains, causing the release of salutary neurotransmitters that given you a brain hug?  Of course.  I’m not arguing the contrary.

Am I aware that I am a pattern-seeking creature?  Yes.  I realize that the constellations are constructs of our human minds.  And yet . . . I needed comfort yesterday.  I had a community where that comfort was freely, physically offered.  I hope that for you dear friend, whether you believe or not.  If you don’t believe, I offer this virtual table (soon this literal table) to be your friend and stand with you in times of grief.

I saw the best of the church yesterday – – not a building, but a community.  I appreciate Russell’s unwritten and respectful pause as I began to process what I thought was already resolved in my heart and mind.  He and CC are actually part of my healing, as are you.  Back to the thoughtful questions of our readers next.  I, as usual in times of trial, will probably return to scripture.  As this space evolves, we’ll have multiple streams of thought and conversation.  You are welcome to read and write in any, all, or none.

Next up for me:  Romans 3.

Pascal

–1:16

 

photo credit:  Stained glass Brussels St. Michael and Gudula Cathedral, by Pbrundel (Own work)(http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Convinced, not Beaten

 

Mr Carson

 

Greetings Russell & Friends,

I have a confession to make.  I am a closet Downton Abbey fan.  It started with me mocking Mrs. Pacal – – asking why well dressed British accents were spending time discussing lace and tea.  It continues with me plopping down on the recliner to watch every Sunday, gladly spending that time on lace, tea, and human behavior.  I officially apologize to Mrs. Pascal – – she was right, I was wrong.

I am a man of conventional tastes in feminine shows so I doubt that I’m the only reader who enjoys the character of Mr. Carson, pictured above.  Last night Mr. Carson said something to Lord Crawley which caught my attention.  It had not yet made it to Google’s first page this morning:

I want to be convinced, not beaten.

That, in the context of our recent discussions, explains the raison d’être of this space.  As a Christ follower welcoming skeptics, I do not want to beat you.  And, honestly, I don’t want to be beaten.  I want to convince and I’m willing to be convinced.  That is what we’re about.  My friend and favorite atheist Russell ironically chose our blog’s missional scripture:

…but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you:  yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame…  I Peter 3:15-16 (ESV)

Thank you Mr. Carson.  Thank you Peter, or whoever was inspired to write in your name.  Thank you Russell and friends here – – we wish to convince, not to win.

Pascal

–1:16

photo credit:  pbs.org

Is It Possible To Convince An Atheist To Change Their Mind About God?

Thank you, thomashwalker2 for your comment on the recent post titled Ask an Atheist (or Christian) Series – Please Comment With Your Questions. I’ll write a follow-up post in a few days about what it would take to convince me (Russell) that God exists. This post is a more general response to your comment that follows:

It is not possible to prove scientifically that there is a God or that there isn’t a God to a mind that has already decided. Nobody is neutral and unbiased that has lived for even a short period of time. Trying to get an atheist to believe in God by changing their mind is an exercise in futility. People don’t become Christians because they changed their minds or were convinced by studying pile of scholarly data, but by a change of the heart. This isn’t an esoteric statement, but a simplified answer as to how spiritual enlightenment is achieved as opposed to intellectual advancements. There is a physical and a spiritual reality.

Thomas, I would like to seek clarification for a few things you mentioned and ask a question of you. I’ll start with this excerpt. Please forgive and let me know if I misrepresent or misinterpret you. A warning – I fear I’m going to be far too literal more than once in this post as I try to work out my objections to an argument that you might not even be intending to make. I hope that, if nothing else, making it through this will help you (or I) better understand the way I think. 🙂

It is not possible to prove scientifically that there is a God or that there isn’t a God …

I completely agree that it is not possible to prove the nonexistence of everything which might be considered a God (e.g. logically invalidate every God-claim). I also think it is possible to demonstrate that at least some specific God-claims cannot exist as coherent conceptual models in our minds (e.g. if said God’s nature is self-conflicting in a way that solidly breaks fundamental laws of logic as we understand them). Perhaps such a God could still exist outside of our reality, but it would be hard to justify confidence that these types of God-claims reflect something that could exist, since we couldn’t understand them (I’m reminded of Flatland). Also, depending on your meaning of proof (I will resist getting deep into epistemology here), I could think of ways to satisfy a level of certainty approaching proof that a certain type of God does exist (assuming He does and we could distinguish His actions from those of intelligent, advanced natural agents, which isn’t so clear). Lacking sufficient evidence for proof, I can think of many God-claims that are plausible – one or more of which could potentially represent a God that exists and governs the natural order. All of this assumes we have a working definition of the God-claim(s) that we can agree upon. So, I agree with your statement in general, but I thought it worth hinting at my thoughts on some of the more complicated specifics.

Trying to get an atheist to believe in God by changing their mind is an exercise in futility.

I want to spend some time trying to process this concept in words. I’m curious about what I believe is your claim here, but I may be misreading you. Perhaps you can clarify in a response. Here are my initial thoughts.

I’ve heard this sentiment on many sides of the (a)theistic divides. [Christians|Pentecostals|Muslims|Jehova’s Witnesses|Mormons|Atheists|etc.] are beyond convincing with reason because their minds are already made up. I think I understand where you are going – belief in God is often thought to ultimately be a heart/spiritual/God-orchestrated change, not a mental one. I think I understand the argument, but I’m struggling to understand how it is sound. I’m hoping you can help. We would probably both agree that beliefs aren’t always fixed and unchangeable for life. I’ve written about beliefs in many posts here, including how we come to them, how they change, the roadblocks to change, the effect that the certainty of different beliefs has on the framework of other beliefs in our mental model of reality (e.g. the crossword puzzle analogy I came up with to describe this interdependence with other beliefs – which I recently learned was already used widely when discussing coherentism), Bayes’ Theorem, my own feeble attempts at equations to represent the belief cascade, neuroscience, etc. My experience has been that my beliefs are not chosen, but are a consequence of evidences and the relative weight I put on those evidences based upon what I understand at the time.

As for the mind vs heart comments, I think we need to break it down a bit more. I believe things through a combination of factors including heart – which is really just inner/core parts of the brain – and the outer reasoning parts (that structural analogy is oversimplified and there’s a whole lot of overlap in brain functions, but I’m going to use it for this post).

Our predecessors created and repeatedly modified the rules and process of science (the modification is continuing today) as a way to train ourselves, not just to avoid cognitive biases and other logical fallacies (common traps for both the “outer” and “inner-minds,” reason and emotion, working together), but to combat our natural tendency to overly trust the “heart” parts when assessing reality because they are tuned more for achieving survival, comfort, pleasure, pain-avoidance, etc., not objective truth. Might they be right in the spiritual areas? Sure. But how do we measure one person’s subjective spiritual experience from another person’s and objectively justify a statement about who was right? There is efficacy in things like hope which are often believed to have a spiritual source. However, in almost every case, exposing testable spiritual claims to tests continually fails to objectively demonstrate that such claims lead to reliable physical outcomes (beyond the odds of chance by consistently disproving their null hypotheses) – as you alluded to in the idea that we can’t scientifically prove God.

If God can cause a spiritual change in the “heart” portions of the brain to bring about salvation, does that remove the burden of trying to convince non-believers with written words, an open breakfast invitation, and a life well-lived, as my great friend Pascal is doing? I don’t believe you think so. I’m just clarifying. It may be true that we can’t convince people who are certain in their opposing beliefs. However, “heart” changes often start from “head” changes. People think differently. Also, not all atheists are certain in their beliefs. I actually don’t know of any who are. The newest trend is for agnostics to take the label atheist, because it is more accurate and relevant (describing their belief position rather than just their knowledge position). My guess is that most people who call themselves atheists today are what you would traditionally think of as agnostic, because many choose the definition a(without)-theist(god) – which means they lack a positive belief in God claim X, but doesn’t imply that they positively believe their is no God.

Given all this, the notion that it isn’t possible to convince an “atheist” (read this to mean what many people think of as agnostic) to believe in God seems counterproductive. Aren’t these lost souls we’re talking about? Is the cold calculus that it is better to spend time on the low-hanging fruit (which atheists, as opposed to unreached people groups, are not)? How far does The Great Commission reach? If trying to convince atheists is futile, what physical thing other than prayer are you advocating that believers do in order to reach the skeptics? Shouldn’t believers use every possible method available to win people over? Is the solution to pray for them, but if they ask questions or try to engage, just turn away or deflect the argument? I’m honestly just curious. I’m definitely not presuming you’re saying this, but some people I know in the fold feel this way, very strongly. I hear it often in our Sunday School class. It’s anecdotal, but their approach when hypothetically finding out someone is an atheist is to say this conversation isn’t worth my time because nothing can convince the atheist except a “heart change.” They literally will stop all engagement with the person. I know this happens in all belief circles, not just Christian –> atheist. Every reader can likely think of examples.

I wish people (myself included) focused less on being right and more on the value of the process – listening, challenging and being challenged. Where most beliefs are concerned, be it spiritual enlightenment for this God or that, this political platform, that soccer team, etc., the focus is usually on getting the right answer as soon as possible, reaffirming that answer to ourselves to reduce our anxiety, and digging in our heels and holding onto it to preserve it as a system of beliefs grows up around and supported by it. In science, it’s different. The overall process of science is more important than any particular conclusion. Perhaps that’s why I’m struggling with this. I’ll press on.

Evidence shows that many people successfully reason into and out of strong beliefs during their lives (often multiple times) depending on the strength of the data at hand and how their present experiences/knowledge lead them to interpret that data. One could try to claim that it isn’t reasoning they’re using, but rather reasoning is how they describe the “heart” change after they’ve been convinced. Without compelling evidence, however, that claim is either just a change of definitions about what constitutes “reasoning,” or it’s an unjustifiable assertion of the source of complex and conflated mental processes. Either way, isn’t that very statement, that only a heart-change will convince you, an argument itself – one meant to be processed by the mind?

I was convinced that the Bible was trustworthy partially because of all the scholarly data I believed, in addition to the heart change. It came together. As a young child, that scholarly data was essentially in the form of my natural trust in my parents and authority figures who told me Christ was real (and loved me and was always with me – just what any child in similar circumstances would long to believe). If I’d been born in Iran I would very likely have believed in Muhammed, peace be upon him. In my early adult years scholarly data played a large role in convincing me about new areas of belief and faith. It also provided a buttress against doubt, as did worship music.

Worship music is still surreal to this day. It’s both compelling and haunting. I find it interesting that such a high percentage of Christian music is about reaffirming the worshipper that God is real. As a skeptic, lately I’ve wondered if He desires worship because He desires it, or if we project upon an anthopromophipsed God-figure that He desires worship partially so that we can fulfill our own need to convince ourselves through yearning, song that he is real. An evolution of faiths, if you will. The ones that had or adapted a way to fight off doubt (and won the birth rate race) survived and the others did not. Either way, worship touches the “heart” and I want to engage in it, but I can’t because the “mind” won’t be quiet about the fallacies it perceives.

Mind/heart is a nice historic analogy, but isn’t it all really just the head? The mind at work, making complex decisions based upon many arguing systems, some of which are more traditionally heart (emotion/survival) driven and some of which are prefrontal cortex/reasoning driven, but most of which have intricate dependencies and overlapping functions? Aren’t beliefs arrived at (at least in part) by the strength of argumentation relevant to the mind based on what it can process at certain stages in life? In the end, whether there’s a spirit world fighting for our hearts (manipulating the neurochemistry in our lower/back/middle-brain regions) or not, we know that argumentation is demonstrably effective and convinces people of things – and isn’t limited to just the prefrontal cortex. Chemical responses from other parts of the brain can influence, support, overwhelm and overcome it. And those parts are susceptible to the effects of relevant argumentation. When the “heart” is changed, by any means, it can rarely if ever be demonstrated that the agent of change was outside of the scope of what constitutes an “argument for the mind” (e.g. a car crash kills a friend and the emotion helps to convince someone to wear a seatbelt from now on – it’s still an argument to be evaluated, but one backed by the added power of emotion/heart portions of the brain which can tip the scales in favor of seatbelts).

Phrased in this language, it sounds like your stance is that in order for something to be convincing, it must originate from a change in the structural arrangement of the specific neurons in the emotional sections of their brain (what we call the “heart”). I know you’re not being this specific. Haha. I’m just getting it out. I’m unclear of how one could elicit such a thought from those areas of the brain without also involving at least some of the physiology in the non-emotional areas (since they overlap so much and are so interdependent). The traditional theistic thinking is that’s where the spiritual element steps in and tweaks the neurochemistry to make such a thought or belief occur. I don’t even have a problem with that. It might happen. However, it seems clear to me that unless someone is pulling my spiritual strings consistently at the right times, my beliefs are highly correlated with the arguments I hear. As such, it’s hard for me to say that rational argumentation isn’t a valid means of effecting and emotional/heart position. I’m of the view, and my guess is that you would agree, that we should not dismiss discussing facts and evidences just because they sometimes don’t work. That doesn’t make them futile.

Also, your statement sounds like you’re advocating giving up. Again, it’s very possible I’m misreading you. I apologize for that. I don’t want you to give up on me. I want to have faith and be able to believe as you, Pascal, and the other believing readers do. If you are giving up on engaging with atheists, I urge you to reconsider. Successful argumentation of any form results in “planting seeds.” You can’t know what argument will be effective for an individual until you make it. I’ve heard many stories of atheists who turn to Christ (and people in other belief circles that moved to still others) based largely on the information and arguments they heard. The “heart” probably changed along with their change of mind, but many of them describe decisions that were based upon the arguments. They were convinced.

It’s also not about proof. Science doesn’t prove things, only disproves them. Just because things can’t be proved doesn’t mean evidence isn’t helpful in justifying belief for or against them.

Consider engaging non-believers in these issues, or at least be supportive of and promote those believers who do. At the end of the day, the fisherman will bring home more fish than the ostrich. Yes, I thought that line up myself. Yes, you can use it. 🙂

This is what I’m asking myself based on some possible implications from similar comments I’ve heard. Why would we want to put trust in something that is immune to challenges against its veracity? What does it say about a belief system if it can’t be swayed by evidence? How much confidence should we have in a set of beliefs that we can’t be reasoned into, but must be convinced of by our most untrustworthy brain regions (those that constitute the “heart”) until we believe strongly enough to push past the doubts of our more trustworthy regions – just long enough for pattern matching, confirmation bias, argumentum ad populum (among many others) to kick in and keep it going? If science and the philosophers of science through the ages have told us that we should avoid these logical fallacies if we want the best chance of finding answers that accord with both transcendent logic and physical reality, should we ignore their warnings and give our mind free reign to follow our “heart” just because the topic is related to the supernatural? The supernatural is a philosophical realm that is technically unknowable by definition. I’m of the opinion we should bring to bear all the tools we have acquired over the last 2500 years for keeping our beliefs in proportion with the evidence, especially when it comes to unknowable things. If not, we may find ourselves committing murder and suicide with a bomb in order to demonstrate that our beliefs are worthy. Or we may end up with the strong opinion that those who think differently aren’t worth the effort it takes to learn from and reason with them.

There is a physical and a spiritual reality.

Almost certainly and maybe. We can be most certain in the existence of a physical reality of some sort (if only conceptual depending on your philosophy, e.g. solipsism, some forms of rationalism, etc.). I think most people would agree with high confidence that there is a physical reality. What we consider the spiritual reality may exist, and some or all of it may even be definable under the umbrella of physical reality if we could understand it. There are many ways to define it, so I don’t want to assume too much on your meaning. This is getting very long so I won’t get into examples. If you count transcendent reality as spiritual reality, then I agree that there is a spiritual plane of existence (though I wouldn’t call it that). If you mean something beyond laws of logic, numbers, etc., (and I think you do) it seems a tough subject to have high confidence in. It seems to be, by definition, something we can’t grasp, or can’t learn enough about to understand and that which is very difficult to distinguish from the imagination. It’s also unfortunate that beliefs or actions that are claimed to have been spiritually influenced have failed to be demonstrably different in nature from beliefs or actions that are perfectly explainable by natural, non-spiritual influences. If the only way it communicates with us is through our heart – which is an inner, older, and less-trustworthy part of our mind – and if that just happens to be the same exact way our subjective imaginations, dreams (literally sleeping dreams and waking aspirations), fears, loves, hurts and hopes manifest to our conscious/thinking outer reasoning brain – how are we to distinguish the bad taco from the numinous?

Just because the thought that bubbles up to our conscious mind is in line with scripture doesn’t mean we can trust it is from the spiritual realm, right? I’m suspicious when the information claimed to have been given to different people from the spiritual realm doesn’t seem to agree. The physical reality, at a base level, is very likely real. Without a good understanding of what is from this spiritual realm and what isn’t, it’s hard to have high confidence that the spiritual reality you’re speaking of is a real thing, possessing authority and handing us certain thoughts or beliefs. It might be. I have hope, but unfortunately, not enough confidence for belief.

Thomas, after writing all this, my guess is that we actually probably agree on most points, but I got caught on some specific wording that confused me. You didn’t even ask a question. Haha. Thanks for reading all this, if you did. 🙂

My question for you, Pascal, and anyone else who made it this far is this:

How do you confidently distinguish the spiritual from the imaginary?

If you can share a simple way to do this that seems reliable, it might be the beginning of an argument that could convince an atheist to believe.

Gentleness and respect,
–Russell

Ask an Atheist (or Christian) Series – Please Comment With Your Questions

“If you don’t believe in God, why be good when nobody is watching?”

“What would it take to convince you that God exists?”

“I just can’t imagine anyone believing that God doesn’t exist. How does that happen?”

One of our primary goals for this blog is to increase our understanding of those with opposing views in a friendly, respectful environment. What you see above are a few of the more common questions that I’ve heard recently (in person by the very few people who know my stance) regarding my atheistic position. They are sincere questions and I’ll attempt to seriously answer each them in my next few posts.

Your turn

Pascal and I have a great friendship and have enjoyed learning from one another in the back and forth discussions encompassing (a)theism, science, skepticism, the Bible, meta-physics, theology, meta-cognition, philosophy, evolutionary psychology, epistemology, how to live/love/reason, etc. His recent posts on Romans have been matched by a steady growth in blog followers – probably mostly Christians. As such, I’d like to formally welcome our new readers (Welcome!) and invite you to comment with questions for Pascal (the Christian) or Russell (the atheist). We’re both interested in addressing sincere questions from you. It is the real questions from real readers that impact our hearts the most. We take you seriously, and we learn when considering our answers and your responses.

  1. If you’re an atheist or agnostic, is there something you find unreasonable about Christianity or theism in general? Pascal has a heart for skeptics and doubters and is both kind and humble enough to respond honestly and seriously to questions about his faith (see Why I Respect Pascal).
  2. If you’re a believer, is there anything you don’t understand, don’t find reasonable, or are just curious about regarding atheism?

You can comment anonymously if you prefer. You’re safe here. Welcome. 🙂

Gentleness and respect,
–Russell

Two Smart Guys

Dear Russell,

I’m up early again, but the pressure of work is easing.  I’m looking forward to the weekend and time to finish up Christmas shopping.  The boys start holiday Friday afternoon.  I really enjoyed our breakfast time as always.  I’m posting the video that you recommended.  I primarily listened to it in the car on my short, but cummulative commute this week.  I finished it at home this morning.  I found Sean Carroll’s nerdy voice to be comforting and familiar after spending 12 hours with him here.  Hans Halvorson was new to me.  Rebecca Goldstein is currently my philosopher of choice.  I digested the last 20 minutes of the discussion from my laptop this morning.  What did that add above the voices?  Body language and facial expression.

These two smart guys did not really debate.  They discussed.  They did not talk past each other.  I enjoyed hearing Carroll’s story and was humbled to hear a Christ follower share his struggles.  I think we need more of this type of dialogue.  So – – you and I agree that we’re not as smart as these guys, but I do think our attitude is similar.

More this weekend – – until then blessings on you and our friends.

Pascal

–1:16

 

Atheists and Believers – Join Us at the Breakfast Table

From About Pascal:

Why have this conversation?  Why have it in public?  Why adopt pseudonyms?  We don’t think that we are alone.  Many in our generation need a safe place to come and reason together.  My orientation to the skeptic, agnostic, and even atheist has changed.  It has changed like a compass needle with the orientation of my heart.  As I follow Christ I realize . . . he loved me, I will love them.

From About Russell:

Now, let us let down our defenses. Let us grow past the “us versus them” classifications that tear this world apart, and seek instead to learn about one another. Only then can knowledge lead to understanding, and understanding lead us to love those who disagree with us.

In an effort to fulfill these common goals, I’d like to invite our readers to join the conversation as we push against the barriers formed by our differences. My friend, Pascal, experienced a change of heart toward people like me after hours spent in conversations and thousands of written words. Through that investment of time and reasoned discourse we found a way to respect, understand, and love one another despite our fundamentally different worldviews. It is our desire to help atheists and believers alike realize each other’s value. Pascal and I recognize the importance of dispelling false assumptions about one another’s beliefs. This is an important part of our breakfast meetings, and we invite you to join us at the table.

Atheists – What are some things you wish believers knew about your position? What misconceptions or false assumptions would you correct?

Believers – same question for you. What would you like atheists to better understand about your beliefs or the reasons for them?

What questions do you have for each other? What questions do you wish others would ask of you? We look forward to your responses and to addressing them in future posts.

Gentleness and respect,
–Russell