I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the reasons that people have for disbelieving God or for questioning his nature. I myself have struggled and continue to struggle with doubts. In fact, I struggle to believe those who say that they have not struggled with doubts. It’s hard to believe in God. Bad things happen. Prayers go unanswered. Then there are the contradictions between the biblical narrative and scientific discoveries. Not to mention contradictions between the biblical narrative and the biblical narrative. Finally, and most devastatingly, there are the walking contradictions, those who claim to follow Christ yet do violence to his name through their behavior.
We’ve all encountered contradictions in various forms. What we do with them will shape our souls and the course of our lives. By spending some time recently reading literature from unbelievers, I have discovered a pattern in the way they tend to process these contradictions. Their thinking tends to follow an “if, then” heuristic. For instance, “If God is all-powerful and completely good, then why is there suffering?” That’s a great question to ask as are many others posed by those who do not believe in God. It’s a logical question. I respect people who ask good questions and I feel indebted to them for helping to take my thinking to a higher level. I don’t want a faith which is untested or based on assumption.
Having said that, I want to challenge the atheistic challenge by suggesting that drawing conclusions from the “if, then” heuristic presupposes that all variables are known. For instance, a child whose parents take him to get a shot might question the love of his parents for him since he has built a heuristic that says, “If you love me, then you won’t hurt me.” We can easily see that while for this child the dilemma is very real, the contradiction exists only in his faulty perception of reality. Here is another example which I found in Scripture the other day: “The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” (Luke 23:36-37) Roman soldiers standing at the foot of the cross could not possibly understand how or why a king would submit to crucifixion. They possessed a heuristic which said, “If you have power, then you will use it in your best interest.” Looking back at this event through the lens of redemption, we can easily see that not only did the cross not challenge Jesus’ identity as the Christ, it validated it. So, there was more to be understood and the soldiers reached a conclusion too early.
Perhaps in the debate over the existence of God, some humility is called for. Perhaps at the beginning, we should all acknowledge that there is much we do not know. I’d like to challenge myself and anyone else who will accept it, to allow contradictions to elicit further discovery rather than premature conclusions. After all, the first definition for “heuristic” in Dictionary.com is, “serving to indicate or point out; stimulating interest as a means of further investigation.”
Thanks for your excellent article. 2 Corn.5:7 For we walk by faith, not by sight. You bring up many good points God Bless.
Thanks, Leon. I think both camps, believers and unbelievers, make similar mistakes. We could all use a dose of humility, couldn’t we.
“the contradiction exists only in his faulty perception of reality.”
So you imagine that somewhere child abuse, rape, slavery are all good things?
No, I don’t. I believe that there are more things at play to create those things than fit into the supposed dilemma.
Another question has been raised (by C.S. Lewis I believe) in response to “why is there evil in the world?” – Why is there any good in the world then?
We want to God to intervene upon our propensity to destroy and hurt ourselves and those around us, but then want Him in the same turn to stay out of our lives and our free will. But He does give us that free will, because freedom was His plan from the start. We are free to leave a path of ravaged lives behind us, or turn to Him and be delivered from this bondage of sin.
So, the question is why does God ever intervene in this elaborate mess of humanity at all? Perhaps that is why they call them “miracles.”
go within your spiritual heart and experience the living presence and power of God directly
“Be still and know that I am God”
meditate, connect and listen for God
“I am with you always” “I will never leave you or forsake you”
don’t believe in God, KNOW God directly
There is no longer a mediator needed. We are all one with Christ (see Galatians 3:25-29
Just wake up and know God directly
It is time now. Now is the acceptable time….
It was a pleasure to read one blog on the issue of theism vs atheism where the author doesn’t go on to rant against the “other” side. 🙂
For me however, the primary issue is still whether god exists or not. The question of his “goodness” or “badness” arises much later. If we can be quite sure he ‘is’, then we can try and decipher his motives and his aims. As for the argument that god exists because there is “some” good in the world, it’s inherently flawed both in its inability to explain the presence of evil and in its implication that the devil (a presumed cause for evil?) is stronger, but that is an immature argument at best.
My first question remains, does god even exist? And that is to what any thinking man should, I feel, first exert his attention.
I see your point. I merely ask that if a person rejects faith in God that he do so after a bit more deliberation than I’ve witnessed occurring. It seems to me that many approach the issue with an a priori assumption that the world is divided into “thinking” people who disbelieve and “superstitious” people who believe. From my point of view, reason points toward God and atheism is a leap of faith. I agree with your argument regarding “good” in the world. I don’t think that the guy who related that idea was using it as support for the existence of God. That you thought he was is case in point that neither side is really hearing the other. Again, my point isn’t to argue theodicy. I only ask that atheists and believers reserve judgment on what the other holds to be true while considering all of the evidence. Heuristics should inspire exploration not create conclusions.
Yup – I was saying what I did based on the assumption that God exists – we were talking about why God allows evil or not. Whether He exists or not in the first place is a different discussion.
But I will say this – it would be very convenient if God just revealed Himself with an awesome display of power, lights and music, explosions and lightening, etc. etc. etc. but would it change our response or desire towards Him? Perhaps God has other motives in mind for not revealing Himself in a way that crushes our resistance? And if, as St. John’s gospel account states, His plan was to reveal Himself to the world in the person of Jesus Christ, then what possibly could His plan and motive be for humanity? And what kind of insanely mad plan did He have in mind by having this Jesus die on the cross? As St. Paul would argue, I think this is the essence of Christianity, and our argument for both God’s existence, His nature and person, and what His plan is for both good and evil are tied up in that. Every so-called believer and every atheist should dig into this for themselves.
Thanks for responding, but see my response to Nathan …
The Argument from Evil is a good one but for me it seems like a blame game, an attempt to evade responsibility. If God exists then how is it God’s fault that there is evil? I’m more of a realist, We are adults now, time to grow up. and take the responsibility be as a good a person as you can and the courage to make amends when you are not.
I am convinced that through education and persistence from the rest of us the existence of God and evil can be become irrelevant as we begin to understand our own brains and how to keep ourselves from doing bad things.
“I am convinced that through education and persistence from the rest of us the existence of God and evil can be become irrelevant as we begin to understand our own brains and how to keep ourselves from doing bad things.”
I would like to hear some more on that. What have you found that has convinced you, and what suggestions do you have to help people overcome doing bad things? I think we all struggle with the problem that while we know what we should do often times, we still do not do them. I have found some things like Family Systems Theory to actually be quite practical and helpful, but at the same time have other experiences that convince me of what is perhaps deeper spiritual realities that come into play.
I think that for many of us, our despair at overcoming our own propensity towards evil is what drove us in search of spiritual things in the first place. I know that many have accused religion as a “cop out” to personal responsibility and understanding one’s self, and in some cases I think that can be true. Religion in and of itself is nothing but a systematic way of applying behavior based on a shared set beliefs and values. However, I also am convicted that there is a God who actually does a transforming work in people’s lives in both their physical and spiritual person. In some cases, I have personally witnessed what people would call miraculous transformations – I have seen the x-rays of a friend whose football sized tumor “mysteriously disappeared” after prayer. I have another friend whose drug addiction (cocaine) and mental illness was broken in an instant after being baptized into Jesus. These things are realities in my life, and I have to weigh these experiences as well.
It was thirst for truth that brought me out of the fold as it were. My first step out wasn’t atheism though. I went through a stage of non – personal Deism. I had to redefine myself to understand the reasons for morality. My reasons now are completely based in philosophy, and I find myself on Terra Firma. I have always wanted to do and be right, and am always willing to bow to evidence.
I fully realize why people believe the things they do. My major issues with the judeo-christian faiths of today are its origins, specifically its scriptures and how they paint a less than perfect and coherent image of a loving creator. I have no problem with peoples of any faith as long as it treats all fairly and don’t pretend their predecessors or their deities ever did otherwise.
So would you say that you’ve “arrived.”
“… its scriptures and how they paint a less than perfect and coherent image of a loving creator.”
I would agree with you there. I think that is why the Jews did not recognize or receive Jesus when He showed up on the scene. What He did and said did not line up with what they believed about God. And yet that is who He claimed to be – “if you have seen me, you have seen the Father from which I came.” I feel that the Old Testament needs to be reinterpreted through the lens of who and what Jesus was about, but too often we have Christian doctrine and teaching that paints a picture of the Father that has more in common with some ancient pagan deity than with the person of Jesus. Or it could all just be a sham and Jesus was simply nuts. 🙂
Yes, I feel that I have arrived. I am open to change considering evidence, but until then I do feel as solid as an atheist as would Richard Dawkins. Even he admits that he is only like a 6.7 on his seven point scale of belief. I am not sure where Christopher Hitchens (pbuh) would have placed himself, though I’d think he probably considered himself a seven.
Okay, I see. Thanks for sharing and for your honesty. I especially like that you use the word “belief.” One of my concerns regarding atheism is that most atheist believe that everyone else relies on faith while they rely on reason. Atheism is a religion complete with adherents, evangelists, and prophets, like Christopher Hitchens 😉 As long as everyone acknowleges that fact, we can move forward with a comparison.
Also, you mentioned that you would consider “evidence.” What sort of evidence for faith in God do you feel is lacking?
Thank you all – I am enjoying the amicable conversation and glad that no one has been called a Nazi yet.
I am curious to hear from any atheists what they do with personal accounts of the supernatural or spiritual encounters, etc. I know for me personally that if I did not have a number of my own supernatural experiences, I would most likely be some kind of atheists. I tend to toss things that seem unlikely or inexplicable, and if it were not for these personal encounters, I would be a skeptic for sure. But because of these, I had to personally reassess a lot of assumptions. And I continue to have things happen that I feel are “God encounters” – they are not all lightening bolt out of the sky moments, but they are tangible in a variety of ways to me and continue to alter my worldview.
So, let’s be honest – as atheists do you think I’m nuts, delusional, or what? What do you do with anecdotal personal things like this? Have you had anything happen like this, if so, what did you do with it?
“I am curious to hear from any atheists what they do with personal accounts of the supernatural or spiritual encounters”
We do nothing. Or rather, I do nothing…I can’t speak for anyone else.
I, personally, have never experienced anything I would consider supernatural. Perhaps you have. But all the evidence I have witnessed seems to indicate that the supernatural doesn’t exist. Unless or until I am presented with evidence (personal or otherwise) to the contrary, that will be my position.
“as atheists do you think I’m nuts, delusional, or what?”
I think you’re wrong. And I don’t have enough information to guess why you’re wrong. You could be ‘nuts’, you could be deluding yourself, or you could just be mistaken. I don’t know.
I am willing to grant you’ve experienced something. I just think you’re probably wrong about what you think that something is.
“What do you do with anecdotal personal things like this?”
I view anecdotal evidence as the worst kind of evidence there is. So I don’t see much to do with it, unless I have a personal experience myself.
This is a great, great post. Thanks for writing it!
My pleasure. Thanks for reading.