Monthly Archives: January 2009

doubt, part 1

Lee Strobel continues to answer questions in typical Lee Strobel manner on Friendly Atheist.  This week, he answers a question with many questions.  Very pathetically.  The only question I find worth answering is this one:

Historian Mike Licona:  “Irrespective of one’s worldview, many experience periods of doubt.  Do you ever doubt your atheism and, if so, what is it about theism or Christianity that is most troubling to your atheism?”

Yes, I do sometimes doubt atheism.   For me, there are a number of different kinds of doubt.  There are two types that I have experienced as an atheist, and one type I have not.  (I experienced all three kinds as a Christian.)

First of all, there are  spontaneous moments of irrational doubt caused by acute anxiety, distress, or boredom.  Of this kind of doubt, I have plenty of experience, as I’m sure most people do.  Occasionally, on a dark and stormy night, I think that there may be a ghost lurking in a dark corner.  Occasionally, I think that maybe the Earth and humankind are an experiment created by aliens.  Occasionally, I think that there may be a God who is watching my every move and foiling my plans by making a volcano erupt near Anchorage so my flight to Chicago will be canceled by ashfall.  Maybe if I pray, Mount Redoubt will hold on to its magma for another month.

I don’t think it’s necessary to squash out those moments of irrational God-thoughts completely, anymore than I would want to eliminate momentary thoughts of “oh crap, what if alien spaceships really landed in that cornfield?”  Life would be immeasurably boring without momentary “what if?” lapses of reason.  As a Christian I also experienced these moments when the thought “what if God doesn’t exist?” suddenly plopped into my head for a moment or two.  They were quite common and perfectly harmless, because they weren’t based on anything other than a whim.

On the other end of the spectrum there’s serious intellectual doubt, which is grounded in scientific, historical, and logical evidence.  This kind of doubt comes quietly, gradually, and remains for days or weeks or years.  This was the kind of doubt that caused me to become an atheist.  For a rationalist, especially a scientist, this is the most compelling and legitimate kind of doubt.  On Leaving Eden I wrote about some of those seeds of doubt that led me here.  (For example, in these posts: the simple answer, the convoluted answer.)

As an atheist, I have not experienced this kind of doubt.  I have to admit, part of the reason is because I’m no longer actively looking for intellectual affirmation of atheism.  (This also explains why I’m not so excited when Christians ask me if I’ve considered such and such evidence or argument for God.  My atheism is a little past the point of negotiation.)  When I first became an atheist I did actively look for intellectual defenses and explanations of my atheism.  My first year of atheism, I seriously revisited my original reasons for becoming an atheist at least weekly, if not daily, just to make sure they were still sound.  Now that I’ve been an atheist for almost two years, I only revisit my intellectual reasoning once every month or two.  I am convinced enough of atheism that I am willing to make periodic commitments to it.  But if I were to come across a viable reason to rationally doubt atheism, I would explore it.  However, I would probably never take seriously anything that comes from the mouth or pen of Lee Strobel.

The third kind of doubt is the least rational and also the most compelling.  (To be continued…)

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von einem der über machte

postsecretdeutsch

Last week this card was posted on Postsecret auf Deutsch, the German Postsecret site.  I find the original Postsecret to be kind of gimmicky and predictable, but Postsecret auf Deutsch is new enough and German enough that it is still fresh and interesting.

I made this card over three years ago, by adding the text to a photo I had taken of a sunrise.  The verse is Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,” which is also the opening text of Brahms’ German Requiem, one of my absolute favorite works of music.  I like to translate the German verse literally: “blessed are those who carry sorrow”.  I took it on as a sort of theme verse for my life.  I have carried sorrow, and there was a time when the promise of this verse was the only thing I could hang on to. When I made that card I was in the thick of struggle and suffering, and I needed it as a tangible promise.  I assumed that I would always carry that sorrow; I thought that my suffering and grieving would never end, and the most I could hope for was to be comforted in my sorrow.  It seemed like the comfort that I wanted was so little and yet so unreachable.

For three years I looked at that card every day. Even after I became an atheist, even after I moved a couple of times and left my bibles and other religious items behind, I still kept that card framed in my apartment.

Then one day I decided that the card was moot and I no longer needed it.  I was being comforted from the sorrow that I carried, but in a different way and on a completely different wavelength from what I had imagined when I made that card and took that verse as my mantra.  It is still significant to me because of the hope it gave me at a time when religion was the wavelength of sustenance that I needed.  I didn’t want to just discard it.  So I sent it to Germany, because the German language has also been a source of sustenance for me.

I didn’t realize how far I’ve come until I was watching a movie recently where a woman was weeping, wounded, and mourning as if her soul depended on it.  I recognized it deeply because I have wept and mourned like that– what seems like a long time ago.  I have spent entire days and weeks lost in my own tears.  Seeing an expression of despair that touched on the degree of despair that I had at one time, seeing it as an outsider and not being pulled down by it, I made a discovery:  I have made it through to the other side.

a cautionary tale

College professors like to tell stories about past students to their current students.  For the most part, students like to hear them.  At Wheaton, in addition to the regular stupid student stories about extreme acts of procrastination, single-digit exam scores and laboratory mishaps, professors also like to tell another kind of story: the one about the students who lost their faith.  These are often accompanied by their rhetorically close relative, the one about the students who laughed in the face of the Community Covenant and smoked weed on campus. Continue reading

my foundation is hope

There was no alt-text until you moused over.

That’s my favorite comic from xkcd.  I think it’s hilarious.  I just wanted to have something funny at the top of the page.

I was pretty into philosophy during my first couple years of college.  At my secular college before I transferred to Wheaton, I found that many of the people in the philosophy department, both students and professors, were studying philosophy because they were atheists and wanted to disprove the existence of God.  Many of them were very passionate and outspoken about it, but they were also bitter and cynical.

This made me more determined to study philosophy there, because as a strong Christian I felt God needed me in the philosophy department.  At the same time, I found it incredibly sad that so many people would dedicate their academic career, and some their life’s work, to disproving something that they didn’t believe in, instead of working for something that they do believe in.

I now understand them a little better, and I understand that it is about working for reason and truth, not just working against God.  But I still don’t want to be like that.  I still find it a little sad.  I want to always spend more time on things that I am passionate about, in a positive way, than on things that I don’t believe in.  I want to focus positively on the person that I am and the things that I love.  I want to work towards a positive vision of what I want in the world.  I do think that it’s important to fight for reason and truth, and I know that working for something often means working against something else.  But I don’t want to get mired in negativity, sarcasm, and cynicism.  I don’t want bitterness to form the foundation of anything in my life.  I want my foundation to be hope.

I don’t want to be just another atheist blog where people debate the existence of god, although that is the surest way of getting a lot of blog readers.  I want to share who I am and what being an atheist means to me.

Is God scientifically testable?

I don’t like to debate the existence of God.  I have no wish to prove or convince.  But this thought just came to me on the tangential end of another thought, and I wanted some feedback from someone who has thought about this before.

In general, Christians say that God is not a scientifically testable hypothesis, while many atheists say otherwise.  I see it as a little of both.  God is supernatural, yes, but as a Christian I believed that Christianity was a fusion of both the natural and supernatural worlds.  Wheaton did a lot to hammer this point out in me, teaching me that body and soul are both important.  Christianity claims to be more than Gnosticism; that Jesus was both man and God; that the dead are bodily resurrected; that the body matters as well as the soul.  If Christianity claims that its domain includes natural materials and natural processes, then it must be subject to at least some measures of natural analysis.

In my view, the logic behind Christians saying that God cannot be scientifically proven or disproven is that God is more powerful than science, and has the ability to transcend scientific methods of detection.  In that case, if we rule out scientific arguments against God’s existence, wouldn’t we also have to rule out philosophical arguments for and against the existence of God, since God could also transcend all logic and reason?

Inconveniently for atheists, it seems that natural processes can only confirm, not falsify Christianity.  If something provides evidence to support the existence of God, it’s accepted by Christians.  If there is no evidence or evidence against God, it’s not because he’s not there, it’s because he’s being transcendent.