Christian Theological/Philosophical Book Club discussion

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message 1: by Jeffrey (new)

Jeffrey (telemantros) | 48 comments I’m genuinely curious about people’s experiences with taking with atheists in person vs the internet. It seems to me in my experience that if I want to have a somewhat deep conversation on the issues internet atheists typically are those to have those discussions. But with that also comes a level of name calling and red herrings. Anyone know a good forum to chat on, where this isn’t the case? I’m at a loss.


message 2: by Hannah (new)

Hannah (bookwormhannah) | 6 comments They even act the same way on my neighborhood forum, so I think it just comes with the territory. (You should have seen the neighbors coming to virtual blows because one guy omplained that the atheist didn't capitalize God in the Pledge of Allegiance.) You'll always get called names and have to see through all sorts of convoluted arguments. I haven't run across a respectful atheist online in a decade.

Most in-person ones prefer not to talk about religion at all and change the subject quickly.

Christianity continues to be the reasonable choice, and science only confirms that more every year. The athiests have less of a platform to argue from and they tend to get stuck on the same major talking-points.


message 3: by Timothy (last edited Aug 26, 2020 07:11AM) (new)

Timothy Rg | 17 comments I am not sure that I understand what you mean, Jeffrey, when you talk about "deep conversations" on the internet. Like Hannah, I have witnessed attacks from strong-minded atheists both on forums and over email (all over the scripture that I added to my signature, of all things).


message 4: by Eclaghorn (new)

Eclaghorn | 11 comments once you realize their hero, Richard Dawkins, has told his followers not to debate but just to mock Christians, it all makes sense. militant atheism has given up rational debate and instead has invested in redefining terms like faith, which they claim to not have, rather than having the belief in no God (see how that works?). unfortunately, in a content heavy format such as the internet is, true disciple making is difficult because relationships are near impossible to form when anonimity is rampant. still, I recommend using Greg Koukl's book 'Tactics' even online. just remember, no one really goes online for life change but mostly for escape and entertainment. so what's more entertaining (to atheists) than watching us Christians get fed to the lions?


message 5: by Hannah (new)

Hannah (bookwormhannah) | 6 comments It's funny because atheism is billed as the "logical" belief, and yet they can't even engage with logical arguments.


message 6: by David (new)

David Knott | 26 comments To me the advantage of written communication of the gospel is being able to think carefully about what we say, but also how we say it.
This is where I think 1 Peter 3:15 is vital:
"But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,"
One of the best books that I have read on sharing our faith is "The Allure of Gentleness", by Dallas Willard.


message 7: by Peter (new)

Peter Kazmaier (peterkazmaier) | 192 comments David wrote: "To me the advantage of written communication of the gospel is being able to think carefully about what we say, but also how we say it.
This is where I think 1 Peter 3:15 is vital:
"But in your hea..."


Well said, David!


message 8: by Jeffrey (new)

Jeffrey (telemantros) | 48 comments I appreciate what everyone is saying.

I suppose Chris that by deep I simply mean willing to talk about something and have read into their own position. My own experience suggests that most atheists don’t want to talk about their atheism, or they do but haven’t actually done much reading on the matter. At least the online atheists have opinions.


message 9: by Jeffrey (new)

Jeffrey (telemantros) | 48 comments Timothy not Chris my bad.


message 10: by Hannah (new)

Hannah (bookwormhannah) | 6 comments They would rather try to shame people into doubt than to actually prove anything, because to be honest there isn’t anything to prove. They trot out the same Dawkins-style talking points and if those don’t go over well, they fling a few insults and run on to the next combatant.


message 11: by Amanda (new)

Amanda Rose | 1 comments As a former atheist, the problem really isn't a intellectual one but rather, a problem of the heart. I dealt with lots of trauma and loss in my life that led me to an extremely hardened heart. I hated people, I hated life, I hated God and anyone who claimed Him. I was really broken on the inside and nothing, I repeat nothing healed me but Christ. Even though I had attempted other "self-help" outlets, these attempts never provided any real, lasting peace. They were a farce, a substitute for the True and Everlasting peace only Christ provides - a "peace that surpasses all understanding".

A short testimony and not all atheist's have exactly the same reasons as I did for rejecting God. But the anger, malice, debate and pride you see in the common day atheist, at it's root, is that they've rejected God in their heart, just as scripture tells us:

"Therefore, as a tongue of fire consumes stubble
And dry grass collapses into the flame,
So their root will become like rot and their blossom blow away as dust;
For they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts
And despised the word of the Holy One of Israel." Isaiah 5:24


Ask yourself - why do unbelievers who claim God to be nothing but a fairy tale fight so adamantly and aggressively against something they believe to be a fable? Logically, it doesn't make sense - although they claim their reasoning to be based on nothing but logic.

Take Dawkins as a prime example - he's a very miserable man and many of his followers are just as miserable. He'll reject and mock Christ until the sun goes down, but what is life like for him in his personal, alone time? As mine was very empty, I'm certain his is too. As Christ said "Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch."

The best advice I could give is to pray for any unbeliever (atheist or not) you come across, even if you feel you haven't reached them through witnessing to them. You'd be so pleasantly surprised how God may use you. If there was hope for me, their certainly is hope for them too. Have grace and show grace friends. :)


message 12: by David (new)

David Knott | 26 comments Hannah wrote: "They would rather try to shame people into doubt than to actually prove anything, because to be honest there isn’t anything to prove. They trot out the same Dawkins-style talking points and if thos..."

Thanks for sharing this Amanda. Your testimony is very powerful, as are all our testimonies, because they are our experience, and cannot be argued with - "they overcame by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony" (Rev 12:11)

I've thought for a long-time, as you say, that for most people faith is not an intellectual, but a moral issue. Richard Dawkins said that Christians are people who are afraid of the dark. Prof John Lennox replied that, "Atheists are people who are afraid of the light."

By the way, the debate between Dawkins and Lennox on YouTube is very good, and a great resource. I can also recommend John Lennox's books:

"God's Undertaker" - which is a great resource for addressing scientific issues
"Gunning for God" - which is good to addressing the philosophical issues raised by the "New Atheists".


message 13: by R.J. (new)

R.J. Gilbert (rjagilbert) | 93 comments What I have discovered is that most atheists are really anti-Theists. They say they don't believe in God, then spend a tremendous amount of energy attacking something they just claimed is not real. And that's fine with me, since I have discovered that I, as a Christian who is (reluctantly) engaged in spiritual warfare with the princes and authorities of this dark world, have something in common with most anti-theists.

The demonic world is full of beings who want to be seen as gods; since I serve the Creator of the Universe, I cannot put any other gods above my God. So, technically, I am anti-gods in a very similar way (except maybe a little less vicious in my hatred). The only difference is that I realize there is a Higher Power and that the spiritual forces who want us to worship them as gods are worthy of our rebuking. And, of course, because I have a relationship with that Higher Power, I have an advantage over the supernatural darkness that those poor atheists do not have.


message 14: by Jeffrey (new)

Jeffrey (telemantros) | 48 comments Good thoughts. I’ve also observed that often it is not God who they complain about but Christians. In some way they seem to believe that the historical or moral mistakes of Christians invalidates the existence of God.


message 15: by Hannah (new)

Hannah (bookwormhannah) | 6 comments Have any of you read Forensic Faith: A Homicide Detective Makes the Case for a More Reasonable, Evidential Christian Faith? I heard the author speak in January and really enjoyed his logical approach. He has loads of free material online to help with witnessing to atheists.


message 16: by Jeffrey (new)

Jeffrey (telemantros) | 48 comments That’s by J Warner Wallace I believe? I have read that one but I’ve read his book on the New Testament. He’s a good one.


message 17: by Didymus (new)

Didymus (tumelty) Recently read 'Patience with God' by Tomas Halik, it shines a positive light on atheism and embraces atheists as seekers. Would like to know what others think about his perspective. To be honest it was a joy to see how atheism could be a strengthening factor to push the spiritual journey of otherwise idle behaviour on the topic of faith and relationship with divine matters.


message 18: by Jeffrey (new)

Jeffrey (telemantros) | 48 comments I really like that perspective I’ll have to check out his work. We are all on a persist for God


message 19: by David (new)

David Knott | 26 comments I have found this perspective very helpful, as I have the tendency to want to "win the argument":

"Apologetics is not a contest of any kind, with winners and losers. It is a loving service. It is the finding of answers that strengthen faith. It should be done in the spirit of Christ and with his kind of intelligence, which, by the way, is made available to us (Phil. 2:5).

... If I, as a Christian, am going to debate someone who is a non-Christian, I want to be able to put my arm around that person’s shoulder and say, “We are looking for the truth together, and if you can show me where I’m wrong, I’ll take your side.” I’m not there to beat someone into submission. Jesus never worked that way. The only people he rapped on pretty hard were precisely the people who were positive they were right, when in fact they were totally blind to the truth."

From The Allure of Gentleness: Defending the Faith in the Manner of Jesus. by Dallas Willard.


message 20: by Eclaghorn (new)

Eclaghorn | 11 comments Jim Wallace is awesome! Listen to the podcast and watch his you tube channel and get the app!


message 21: by David (new)

David Knott | 26 comments I've just listened to one of Jim Wallace's talks on the evidence for the NT. His approach on evidence as a detective is really helpful and compelling. Thanks for pointing him out.


message 22: by Wildman (new)

Wildman | 1 comments I started using gab recently and joined a group called “The Philosophy Zone”, able to have very good, productive discussions....


message 23: by Peter (new)

Peter Kazmaier (peterkazmaier) | 192 comments David wrote: "I have found this perspective very helpful, as I have the tendency to want to "win the argument":

"Apologetics is not a contest of any kind, with winners and losers. It is a loving service. It is ..."


I like your point, David, of making our mutual search for the truth a point of commonality. Then comes the question of what we regard as evidence. At that point we might likely differ.


message 24: by Annie (last edited Sep 11, 2020 05:10PM) (new)

Annie | 1 comments Eclaghorn wrote: "once you realize their hero, Richard Dawkins, has told his followers not to debate but just to mock Christians, it all makes sense. militant atheism has given up rational debate and instead has inv..."

Not all atheists have read Richard Dawkins or are that rude. I live in one of the lowest churched states in the US, but many are hardened to the idea that God exists, etc.

For what it's worth, the percentage of Biologist who are Christian was 40 percent at both the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries, but the percentage of agnostic vs atheist changed dramatically. It's not longer okay to express your faith in scientific circles, and that started at a similar time to when Sir Karl Popper published his book suggesting how to demarcate science to separate it from other fields. That said, I have met more than one Christian who was raised as an atheist and became Christian only after studying science or philosophy.

BUT, people who are adamant about being atheists won't listen to anything you point out, in my personal experience.


message 25: by David (new)

David Knott | 26 comments I have a theory that very few people have the intellectual rigor or integrity to come to faith purely from discussing the evidence, C S Lewis being a notable exception. There has to be something more.
In my case (I share my testimony in my book) the thing that moved me to want to seriously explore Christianity, was a friend, who had recently become a Christian, saying to me that God wanted a relationship with me. I didn't believe in God, I thought that science had made him irrelevant, but it seemed to me that if this could possibly be true, it was a big deal.
Only the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit can open our hearts to the truth, but sharing our testimony, what we believe and why, can be part of the journey.


message 26: by David (new)

David Knott | 26 comments Peter wrote: "David wrote: "I have found this perspective very helpful, as I have the tendency to want to "win the argument"...

Then comes the question of what we regard as evidence. At that point we might likely differ.


What do you regard as evidence Peter?


message 27: by ·naysayer· (new)

·naysayer· | 13 comments David wrote: "I have a theory that very few people have the intellectual rigor or integrity to come to faith purely from discussing the evidence, C S Lewis being a notable exception."

Are you saying that most believers did not come to faith by intellectual rigor or integrity, either?


message 28: by Kingdom (new)

Kingdom (kingdomexpansion) | 5 comments Interesting question.


message 29: by David (new)

David Knott | 26 comments ·naysayer· wrote: "Are you saying that most believers did not come to faith by intellectual rigor or integrity, either?"

Thanks for the question. The short answer is certainly not. It is just from my own experience and reading of human psychology, it appears to me that belief in anything is rarely, PURELY intellectual and evidence driven.

Thomas Cranmer said "What the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies." I believe that we are all subject to this heart-mind connection to one degree or another. Psychologists describe this effect in the "Cogitative Biases" that we all have, and particularly relevant is the "Confirmation Bias, the tendency to process information by looking for, or interpreting, information that is consistent with one's existing beliefs." This means that most people will readily accept evidence that supports what they already believe, or want to believe, and tend to challenge or dismiss evidence that does not support what they want. I think this underlines the role of grace and the Holy Spirit in salvation, because as Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" Evidence is important, but no one comes to faith by intellectual rigor alone, because our deceitful hearts won't allow it.

Now just because I want something to be true, does not make it true. That is equally true for Christians and atheists. Many people find it hard to look objectively at the evidence for Christianity, because they don't like the idea of being accountable to God. Stephen Hawking is reported to have said, “Religion is a fairy tale for people afraid of the dark.” In response John Lennox has said, “Atheism is a fairy tale for people afraid of the light.” Therefore, what we want and what we fear, drive what we choose to believe.

I take this to mean that in helping people come to trust in our Lord Jesus, we need to help them answer two questions:

1) What would be the point of believing in Christianity even if it was true?
2) What evidence is there that Christianity is true?

If people don't have an answer to 1), then they will probably not take 2) seriously. Tim Keller, has done a great series of talks on 1), this being a good example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2KGL...

People are different, and I certainly don't want to say it has to be this way, but it was for me. Some level of evidence was certainly a factor in my interest in Christianity, but what really pushed me to take a step of faith was when someone said to me that God wanted a relationship with me. This seemed like a big deal to me! If you would like to read more about my story, you can find it in this article:
https://medium.com/pelos-press/openin...

Sorry for the long reply, and sorry if I have misinterpreted your question, but I hope you find it interesting.


message 30: by ·naysayer· (last edited Mar 14, 2021 01:14PM) (new)

·naysayer· | 13 comments David wrote: "Sorry for the long reply, and sorry if I have misinterpreted your question, but I hope you find it interesting."

Please do not apologize. I appreciate all of it and thank you for taking the time. And I think it's quite on point.

David wrote: "...from my own experience and reading of human psychology, it appears to me that belief in anything is rarely, PURELY intellectual and evidence driven."

I'm totally with you on that, there. I understand that naturalistic knowledge leaves many unsatisfied and liable to fill in the gaps with faith - either in some divine power or in some pseudo-scientific machinery. No "big story" appeals to everyone equally.

I find it very enlightening to read about people's conversion stories back and forth between belief and unbelief. Have you read Antony Flew's account? In C. S. Lewis' case, one must keep in mind that he was raised a Christian, and he admits to having had at least lukewarm faith as a child. This might have played a role in his return to the fold. I'm not aware of a cool, objective approach on his part to singling out the most worthy religion to join, while doing the utmost to cut out his preconceptions. Possibly, it was a dichotomy between the Christian God and no god at all, all along, at best with a little wiggle room between churches and denominations. It was a personal path that started long before he was even an atheist (if he ever really was).

David wrote: "Confirmation Bias, the tendency to process information by looking for, or interpreting, information that is consistent with one's existing beliefs."

Very important element. The human mind is demonstrably subject to a host of fallacies. Bounded rationality. We often find it more convenient to rely on quick-and-dirty heuristics because engaging our rationality at every twist and turn of our daily life would prove too time-intensive. The consequences are varied: irrational groupthink, blind submission to authority, failure to heed evidence and probabilities (e.g. in the rejection of stereotyping), etc.

David wrote: "If you would like to read more about my story, you can find it in this article:..."

I haven't watched the video yet, but thank you for sharing your story. May I ask why you chose such a name for your publication? "Pelos" means hairs in Spanish. Also, "pelosi" literally means "hairy ones" in Italian. I better leave this tangent ungone off on, now. xd


message 31: by David (new)

David Knott | 26 comments ·naysayer· wrote: "Have you read Antony Flew's account? In C. S. Lewis' case, one must keep in mind that he was raised a Christian, and he admits to having had at least lukewarm faith as a child."

Thanks for this. I've marked Flew's book as want to read. I read Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life, by C S Lewis, which is about his conversion. You are right, it certainly was not purely intellectual. I remember his account of leaving to go on a bike ride not believing in the virgin birth, and returning from the ride believing in it.

Pelos is Greek for clay. I didn't know about the meanings in other languages! :)

This appealed to me, because we are "jars of clay", that contain the treasure of the knowledge of God's glory (2 Corinthians 4:6,7). And also because I like to design and make ceramic vessels that aim to be functional, simple and novel. Hence the series of articles on Medium about Life Lessons from the Potter's Wheel.


message 32: by ·naysayer· (last edited Mar 25, 2021 07:28AM) (new)

·naysayer· | 13 comments Eclaghorn wrote: "having the belief in no God"

This qualified atheistic position (also called "positive atheism") is not the inevitable alternative to theism (i.e. the belief in a god or gods, e.g. the Christian one). Instead, there's a middle ground: not having any belief as to any god. This is called "negative atheism" or, more recently, just plainly "atheism". While it is common for (negative) atheists - in light of scientific evidence, rational arguments, the problem of evil, etc. - to find the absence of a god more plausible than its existence, it's by no means a logical necessity. As I understand, Dawkins decidedly denies a god (especially the Judeo-Christian one) and turns out to be a prime example of a positive atheist. This position is itself a "faith" leaving no room for debate.

Unfortunately, Dawkins has gained a huge reputation as an atheist leader, but he's merely a leading scientist who happens to be a staunch atheistic activist. It saddens me to observe atheists the world over blindly giving in to his authority, instead of thinking it through for themselves, as well as apologists focusing their effort solely on rebutting him at the expense of other, less rambunctious but perhaps more deserving, atheist thinkers. How reductive. One cannot simply dismiss on the grounds of recent "science" all the arguments and counterarguments in this long-standing debate, whose historical development has pitted countless theologians against philosophers such as Spinoza, the Enlightenment philosophers, Feuerbach, the existentialists, and, more recently, Mackie and the like.


message 33: by David (new)

David Knott | 26 comments Thanks for the recommendation of There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind by Anthony Flew, I'm halfway through it.

I'm not a philosopher and so some of it goes over my head, but I am an engineer and so I liked the calculations on the immense improbability of DNA forming by chance, and how that was instrumental in changing his mind.

You have to respect someone who changes their mind, in light of the evidence, especially when the reputational costs are high.

I also like his critical assessment of Dawkins.


message 34: by ·naysayer· (new)

·naysayer· | 13 comments David wrote: "Thanks for the recommendation of There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind by Anthony Flew, I'm halfway through it.

I'm not a philosopher and so some of it goes over my head, but I am an engineer and so I liked the calculations on the immense improbability of DNA forming by chance, and how that was instrumental in changing his mind."


You're welcome.

Unfortunately, as I mentioned in my review, the probabilistic argument is liable to serious foundational pitfalls. Authors such as Russell and Smullyan showed the problems that may arise from a naive approach to logic and set theory.

A rigorous mathematical treatment is only possible within a limited scope. Mathematical probabilities cannot reliably be known a priori. For example, calculating the classical probability of life on other planets in this universe would basically require knowing from the get-go how many planets exist in the universe and how many of them harbor life. But since we would already be in possession of these details, the numeric probability would add no new information toward proving or disproving the existence of alien life. Other models such as Bayesian statistics also rest on the observation of multiple events (e.g. a sequence of planets or universes).

The necessity of sticking to repeatable, observable events severely limits the scope of probabilistic treatments. In particular, probability propositions involving times far in the past or future, branches of the universe beyond the observable horizon, and spacetimes that are not physically connected to ours are bound to remain speculative until we discover a way to go beyond.


message 35: by David (new)

David Knott | 26 comments ·naysayer· wrote: "Unfortunately, as I mentioned in my review, the probabilistic argument is liable to serious foundational pitfalls. Authors such as Russell and Smullyan showed the problems that may arise from a naive approach to logic and set theory...."

Yes, I can understand that the statistical argument might not help some people. I find it helpful, but then I'm an engineer not a mathematician.

Someone who is a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, and who I have a lot of respect for is John Lennox. He first came to my attention through his debate with Richard Dawkins on YouTube.

He has written 2 books which I have found really helpful:

1) God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?
This book is very scientific and mathematical.

2) Gunning for God: A Critique of the New Atheism
This book focuses more on philosophical issues.


message 36: by ·naysayer· (last edited Jun 18, 2021 09:18AM) (new)

·naysayer· | 13 comments Thank you David. I've been taking a look at Lennox's work, it's quite stimulating, but far from a slam dunk against philosophical atheism. With regard to the usage of probabilistic arguments mentioned upstream I recommend The Challenge of Chance: A Multidisciplinary Approach from Science and the Humanities, in particular Klaas Landsman's chapter, also available freely here. Essentially, he remarks how the fine-tuning argument presupposes that life (even admitting it can only occur as a result of an extremely unlikely chain of events) is somehow special in itself. But this assumption is already enough to argue for design, without the need to take into account fine-tuning. The challenge is in proving life (and in particular intelligent life) is special.

(BTW I still owe you an answer in the other thread.)


message 37: by Eclaghorn (new)

Eclaghorn | 11 comments Whether you have a positive atheism or a negative one, you still hold beliefs. Saying I merely lack a belief in a god is convenient when you don't have enough evidence one way or the other. But it is decidedly inconvenient if you die withholding belief. Some of us recognize this and this feel as if all this talking doesn't really help... sometimes. I hope it does but I recognize that it is not in my hands. If you truly believe you have no reason to fear God, I would challenge you to consider Pascal's wager. It is not a proof of God's existence, only a thought about the value we place in our decision to trust God or ignore God. Either way, I can see no reason to give up on my belief in God, if atheists goal is to get me to quit God.


message 38: by ·naysayer· (new)

·naysayer· | 13 comments Eclaghorn wrote: "Whether you have a positive atheism or a negative one, you still hold beliefs"

Absolutely! I believe the sun will "rise" tomorrow (albeit probably behind a curtain of clouds) and plan my today accordingly. I believe the person that is now greeting me at my mother's doorstep is practically the same that I waved goodbye to a couple weeks ago, not some cunning impostor, and will accord her the same treatment. I believe scientists' consensus on the behavior of an indivisible negative electric point charge as a particle (and a wave), and, if I ever take up a career in particle physics, I'll assume their results when designing a new experiment.

Were any of these beliefs to turn out to be incorrect, I'd definitely be surprised. But for the time being, my best course of action is to go with my beliefs, as they haven't let me down so far. Humans rely on heuristics such as these in order to circumvent the bounds of their rationality, based on the empirical credit they gained over and over, and amend them as needed.

Now, when it comes to extraordinary claims, it is said that they require extraordinary evidence. Statements on the existence or nonexistence of a creator aren't as extraordinary as statements on its implications (especially, moral ones). That's why, lacking compelling evidence in either sense, I happily suspend belief on the former question. I'm good with one or the other option, because in itself, the existence or nonexistence of a creator is of no further consequence to my material life. It is only when ideologies are being pushed, deriving a host of consequences from the existence or nonexistence of a creator (this applies to theistic ideologies as well as secular ones, e.g. humanism), that I demand further evidence.

In his gambling strategy, Pascal seems to neglect that there are more than just two horses in the race. One could think of many different "demon gods" that demand different kinds of obedience in exchange for being spared eternal punishment: which one should we pick? It already sounds like a lose-lose proposition.

Of course, who would give up on eternal (albeit hypothetical) bliss if the entrance ticket cost nothing? But there's a chance that betting on Pascal's favorite horse could lead to a negative outcome (due to the avoidance of sinful - selfish - behavior), so the cost is not really zero. Wouldn't it be preferable to bet on a slightly improved horse, one that doesn't demand one to give up his material life, while at the same time promising an afterlife devoid of pain? Given the plurality of (religious and secular) ideologies, one doesn't have to spend much time searching for such a horse.

Even a belief in something intangible can be rational to hold, if its net effect is beneficial. I'm not one to deny anyone the solace they get from the thought of an imperceptible father figure. For many, it's a revolving door. It's rational to amend one's beliefs for better fitness, taking into account new evidence, and rejecting counterproductive heuristics (and at best ignoring indifferent ones). Unfortunately, dogmatic absolutistic ideologies do not allow for amendment (that's why "interpretation" is used instead in order to fit them to one's complexion). Instead, they demand pure obedience. Mind you, I'm not opposed to give obedience to that which clearly deserves it, but a set of extraordinary claims passed on by mere humans like me without providing any extraordinary evidence is not compelling enough for obedience.


message 39: by David (new)

David Knott | 26 comments You have raised a number of very interesting points here naysayer, which have stimulated a number of thoughts for me. I will try to be a brief as I can, although it might not look like it…

·naysayer· wrote: "The challenge is in proving life (and in particular intelligent life) is special."

I was watching a documentary by Prof Brian Cox recently and some words he used jumped out at me to such an extent that I wrote them down, thinking that perhaps God might want me to use them somewhere in my writing. Perhaps your comment above is the reason. The documentary series is called, “Brian Cox’s Adventures in Space and Time”. The episode in question is called “Aliens: Are We Alone?”

Regarding the search for extra-terrestrial life, and intelligent extra-terrestrial life in particular, he says this:

“Given the importance of the question, “Are we alone in the universe?” It is inconceivable to me that we would not continue to look as hard as we can for evidence of life beyond earth.”

This underlines for me that we human beings seem to have a deep-seated desire to know that we are not alone. Where does this desire come from? It reminds me of this C S Lewis quote:

“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

Science is looking to the stars to try and answer the question, “Are we alone…”, when all the time:

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” (Psalm 19:1-4)

The stars are giving us the answer to the question, and yet their speech cannot be heard by minds limited by materialistic and reductionist thinking.

In clearer language still, the Bible tells us that we are not alone; it tells us that aliens from another dimension have visited earth; it calls them angels. The Bible also tells us that the one who made the universe, who dwells in another dimension while simultaneously filling the universe, invaded human history 2,000 years ago, in the form of Jesus of Nazareth.

But, what if we are the aliens? What if we are the ones who are invading and abusing the creator’s rare, and possibly unique, blue planet? In a way this is true, because as Colossians 1:21 says:

“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.”

Without Christ we are aliens, because we are not as we were created to be, in harmony with God and his creation.

So how can we know if this is true? Well as Brian Cox said in the same episode:

“As a scientist, the only way you are going to know is to look.”

What is true of the material world is true of the spiritual world, “the only way you are going to know is to look.” Regarding this quest for truth, God says:

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)

Which brings me onto your second interesting comment…

·naysayer· wrote: "I'm good with one or the other option, because in itself, the existence or nonexistence of a creator is of no further consequence to my material life."

If Brian Cox sees answering the question about the existence of alien life as very important, albeit for presumably psychological or philosophical reasons, since alien life would probably be too far away to make any material difference to our lives, then is not the question about the existence of a creator even more important? As I shared previously, it was the very possibility of having a relationship with the creator of all things that set me on the path to find out if this was true or not. I suppose that if we see the creator as a being who has wound up the universe and is now just letting it play out with no further interest or involvement from him, than I can understand the view that his existence really does matter one way or the other. But, if we are truly able to have a relationship with him, then surely it changes everything. Would not the Bible be a very short book if we took out all the accounts and explanations of how believing in God had enormous impact on the material lives of believers and unbelievers?

·naysayer· wrote: "I'm not opposed to give obedience to that which clearly deserves it, but a set of extraordinary claims passed on by mere humans like me without providing any extraordinary evidence is not compelling enough for obedience."

The first question this raises for me is, “What evidence would you like?” Would a certified miracle of a blind person being able to see be enough? Would a person being raised from the dead be enough? I suspect that the answer would be no, because it certainly was in Jesus’ day. Even when Jesus was healing all kinds of physical and spiritual conditions, including raising people from the dead, it was not enough evidence for some, the religious leaders in particular. Many people believed in him because of his miracles, but many saw the miracles and did not believe:

“Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.” (John 12:37)

It is for this reason that I said in my first post in this thread that I think few people have the intellectual rigor or integrity to truly and objectively come to a decision purely on the basis of “evidence” alone. Our thinking is usually coloured to a large extent by moral issues such as, “Do I want there to be a creator, to whom I may be accountable?” Jesus’ own verdict on the power of “evidence” was:

“If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (Luke 16:31)

In fact, as with many things Jesus turned the issue on its head. In the kingdom of God, it is not our knowing the truth that leads to our obedience, but rather it is our obedience that leads to our knowing the truth:

“Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” (John 8:31,32)

Perhaps it comes down to understanding, or at least sensing, the true value of things. Jesus told us this parable:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” (Matthew 13:44)

The treasure Jesus speaks of is knowing God. If we truly understood a tiny fraction of what that meant, we would gladly give all we had to attain it. As Jim Elliot, a missionary who died for his faith, once said:

“It is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose”.


message 40: by ·naysayer· (new)

·naysayer· | 13 comments Hi David, your insights are highly appreciated, as usual, and no bit too verbose, I assure you. Let me address a few points.

David wrote: "What evidence would you like?"

We're talking about obedience, which is itself based on authority.

A human performing (to all appearances) "miracles" would certainly be displaying uncommon power or knowledge. Their unusual feats could go so far as to inspire awe, but this reaction alone would still fail to rationally compel obedience (whether to the miracle worker directly, or to whatever ideology or being they're purporting as the miraculous source).

Take athletes, for instance: they're often praised for performing "superhuman" feats, but I wouldn't take their word on any metaphysical (or moral, political, etc.) claim. Or again, a newly discovered physical phenomenon can bring everlasting fame to the discoverer, along with suppositions of high intelligence and hard work, but this fame alone wouldn't justify his authority on unrelated subjects.

The approach that makes the most sense for human existence is to grant obedience (i.e. to allow for authority to be deserved) always and only in relation to the particular ability (usefulness) shown. A physician is just as deserving as he cures people; a researcher, as his method provides repeatable results; a thinker, as his arguments are sound. Even inanimate or unconscious things can gain respect, if nurturing this respect proves useful for human existence.

The fundamentalist condemnation of science, medicine, psychology, psychotherapy (e.g.) as the attempt at expelling God from human issues and from the role in their solution, by suggesting an alternative approach to knowledge as well as physical and mental health that is based on obedience to a preordained system, implies a reversal of rational (in the sense of life-affirming) forms of thought and behavior.

It's obvious, then, that the necessarily required authority cannot spring from natural reality or human acts. An omnipotent being could make itself and its power directly evident, to any degree of convincingness required. "Evidence" has to "be evident". That's the only requirement.

David wrote: "the question, “Are we alone in the universe?”"

...is undoubtedly relevant to our existence. It relates to the question whether a planet with life on it (such as the Earth) is at all special in our universe, and whether the answer fits with, complements or amends current beliefs and theories. Tax reasons aside, whole religions have formed around (so far) imaginary alien beings.

However, I was thinking more in terms of the general possibility of life arising in any universe at all, possibly even in a simulated one. No matter how general we figure the concept of a "universe" (of nontrivial complexity), it seems plausible that it would contain something like "matter", made up of something like "elementary particles" obeying certain "laws of physics" (even if wildly, unimaginably different from ours). "Rocks" and "gases" seem plausible, even a substrate for a kind of "life" to exist. Given enough complexity, is life (and, eventually, consciousness) unavoidable? A wide open question.

David wrote: "In clearer language still, the Bible tells us that we are not alone; it tells us that aliens from another dimension have visited earth; it calls them angels. The Bible also tells us that the one who made the universe, who dwells in another dimension while simultaneously filling the universe, invaded human history 2,000 years ago, in the form of Jesus of Nazareth."

The wording of this passage is delightful. However, due to my limited biblical knowledge I can't tell whether you mean it literally or are merely paraphrasing science (fiction) vernacular. Is it explicitly written that these divine beings inhabit "another dimension"?

David wrote: "Would not the Bible be a very short book if we took out all the accounts and explanations of how believing in God had enormous impact on the material lives of believers and unbelievers?"

This real-life impact cannot easily be written off. As you probably know by now, I follow such anecdotal accounts with great interest, and add it to my own experience and that of people around me. But as with any anthology, one has to remain aware of the risk of selection bias.

David wrote: "C S Lewis quote:

“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”"


I agree that "desires" and their "satisfaction" (i.e. the "pleasures" themselves) go hand in hand. However, our desires systematically turn out to be much more far-reaching than the resources available for satisfying them. A major tenet of economics is precisely the realization that needs and desires are unlimited, while resources aren't. This endemic imbalance is the source of a widespread, lingering dissatisfaction with one's situation and results in competition.

But desires overshoot resources also in a qualitative sense. When we lust after someone, we neglect the fact that any number of people would work just as well for quenching our sexual thirst. Not even procreation requires a specific mate. In fact, if our goal is merely to satisfy our urge, no other person is needed. The Cynic philosopher Diogenes of Sinope was all too fond of demonstrating this latter point. Yet our power for idealization leads us to give special importance to a specific individual at the expense of all other alternatives. Love is a strong enough feeling, accompanied with cultural tradition just a strong, for us to circumvent that rational control that would have us (rather not romantically) calculate our best option. This holds true for other instincts as well.

Our imagination multiplies and differentiates our desires. Again, economics teaches that one can create demand for an existing product by merely differentiating it (e.g. many people own several versions of the Bible, although the Word of God is supposed to be only one). Homosexuality, which arguably does not lead to increased reproduction, is such an example.

When it comes to the desire to make acquaintances, whether in our own backyard or in the vastness of space, it's our social instinct at play. This same instinct might be the main contributor to belief in a higher power.

However, unlike homosexuality, neither divinity nor aliens have ever yielded the pleasure that stirred the desires in the first place. That satisfaction remains elusive. The former can only be attained after death, while the pursuit of the latter is fraught with technical difficulties. Meanwhile, people have to content themselves with titillating representations, chimerical religious or alien "porn" that lifts their spirits and corroborates their endeavor but is ultimately dissatisfying. This applies just as well to the other ideologies that promise some final release, such as socialism, humanism, even democracy.


message 41: by David (new)

David Knott | 26 comments Thanks for another interesting set of replies naysayer. Your following points particularly caught my eye:

·naysayer· wrote: "A human performing (to all appearances) "miracles" would certainly be displaying uncommon power or knowledge. Their unusual feats could go so far as to inspire awe, but this reaction alone would still fail to rationally compel obedience (whether to the miracle worker directly, or to whatever ideology or being they're purporting as the miraculous source)."

Your point about COMPELLING obedience is very interesting, because it seems to me that one of the core messages of the Bible is that God is not interested in compelling our obedience. God wants the motivation for our obedience to be love! It would be easy for God to compel our obedience just by revealing a tiny fraction of his glory to us. But such obedience would be without real choice, it would rather be like the obedience of a slave, extracted from us by virtue of overwhelming power. Disobedience under those circumstances would be irrational, and any obedience would also be dead in the sense of enabling the kind of relationship that our creator desires.

This is why God hides himself from us, so that we might be free to seek him, love him and obey him, or not to do those things. But the story of the Bible is also one of God seeking us, lovingly calling to us, revealing himself to us, giving us evidence of his existence, of his love for us and that he can be trusted. Indeed, the nature of the relationship he desires with us is this:

“The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)

This is the reason that miracles and evidence will never be so overwhelming as to give us no choice but to believe and obey. However, I do think that the evidence that God gives to us IS sufficient to enable us to have a rational basis for placing our trust in him, and yes, falling in love with the one who wants to rejoice of us with singing.

·naysayer· wrote: "The fundamentalist condemnation of science, medicine, psychology, psychotherapy (e.g.) as the attempt at expelling God from human issues and from the role in their solution, by suggesting an alternative approach to knowledge as well as physical and mental health that is based on obedience to a preordained system, implies a reversal of rational (in the sense of life-affirming) forms of thought and behavior."

I believe that this kind of rejection of human knowledge is misguided. The Bible talks a lot about the importance of knowledge. I like the way John Lennox talks about this:

“We should trust God and use our head, and not the other way round.”

I think that idolatry (replacing God with human solutions), like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. I see no fundamental conflict between trusting in God and seeking medical, psychological, or any other kind of help from other people who are using their God given abilities and knowledge to help other people. I have been thanking God recently for the people who invented a medicine that is helping our daughter, but we have also been praying for her. As the apostle Paul points out, what matters is where we ultimately put our hope and trust:

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” (1 Timothy 6:17)

As John Lennox also warns, if we “Trust our head and use God”, then we are making our own thinking an idol. What basis do we have for trusting our thinking above what God has said? This is an important balance to get right, we should use our heads to do what is wise and prudent, and also to understand what God has said and use scripture correctly. A topic deserving much humility.

·naysayer· wrote: "It's obvious, then, that the necessarily required authority cannot spring from natural reality or human acts."

I’m not sure what you mean by this, but for the reasons given above, I agree that God will always leave room for an interpretation of natural reality and human acts so that we can choose to reject God’s authority if that is our desire. But I was struck recently how many, but not all, who met Jesus were amazed at his authority:

“When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” (Matthew 7:28-29)

The ones who were closest to him saw his authority over nature first hand and were amazed by it:

“The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Master, Master, we’re going to drown!’
He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. ‘Where is your faith?’ he asked his disciples.
In fear and amazement they asked one another, ‘Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.’” (Luke 8:24-26)

·naysayer· wrote: "Is it explicitly written that these divine beings inhabit "another dimension"?"

The short answer is no, but I think it is a reasonable interpretation of the way the Bible describes the way heaven, or the “heavenly realms” interact with the material world. Since “dimensions” are a concept from modern physics it is not surprising that the Bible does not use the term, but I think it is a helpful way to think of the “non-material” realities that the Bible refers to.

There are heavenly realms that God is concerned about. “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 3:10)

Angels seem to be able to phase in and out of the material world, appearing for example to the shepherds at the birth of the Son of God. The spiritual dimension can impact the material world, and we in the material world can impact the spiritual dimension through our actions and prayers. Some prophets have been able to see the spiritual dimension:

“When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. ‘Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?’ the servant asked.
‘Don’t be afraid,’ the prophet answered. ‘Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’
And Elisha prayed, ‘Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.’ Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all round Elisha.” (2 Kings 6:15-17)

There are even modern-day examples of this kind of interaction between the dimensions of heaven and earth. In his book “Angels”, Billy Graham relates the story told by Rev John Paton, a missionary in the South Pacific.

One night Paton and his wife found themselves threatened by hostile natives who surrounded their mission headquarters. The Patons thought for sure that the natives would burn down the headquarters and kill them both. They prayed throughout the night asking God to protect them from harm. The next morning they were astonished when they realized that the natives had gone away. They had no idea why they had left. The missionaries thanked the Lord for saving them.

About a year later, the chief of the native tribe who had threatened them became a Christian. He came to visit the Patons. When he was asked about the incident of that night of terror, the chief told the Patons that he and his men were too fearful to carry out their attack. They had seen an army of giant men in “shining garments with drawn swords in their hands” surrounding the mission grounds. Paton and the chief agreed that there was no explanation other than God had sent angels to protect them. (https://www.godsotherways.com/stories...)

·naysayer· wrote: "neither divinity nor aliens have ever yielded the pleasure that stirred the desires in the first place. That satisfaction remains elusive.”

There are a number of things about life and the Christian life in particular that are contradictory. For example, the Bible says that if we trust in Jesus as our saviour we are saved (past tense), we are also being saved (present tense), and we will be saved (future tense). This emerges from the understanding that once we accept the free gift of God’s forgiveness through Jesus, then we are saved from the eternal consequences of our sin, we are no longer separated from God. However salvation is also a process by which we are transformed in to the image of Jesus. This is called sanctification. The full effects of our salvation will not be realised until we enter heaven, because then there will be no more pain, suffering or death, and we will be forever with the Lord.

Being satisfied by our desire for God is also like this. As you say, our desire can only be fully met when we are in heaven, because as Paul acknowledges our knowledge and understanding is currently limited:

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

But that does not mean that we cannot experience some satisfaction of our desire for God, and joy in his presence now. King David describes his experience:

“Surely you have granted him unending blessings and made him glad with the joy of your presence. For the king trusts in the Lord; through the unfailing love of the Most High he will not be shaken.” (Psalm 21:6,7)

In fact, increasing joy is described as one of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives.


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