Why Do You Believe in [fill in the blank]?

I came across this quote today (attributed to Chicago Sun-Times journalist Sydney J. Harris) while reading Howard J. Van Till’s “FROM CALVINISM TO FREETHOUGHT: The Road Less Traveled“:

“It is impossible to reason a man out of something he has not been reasoned into. When people have acquired their beliefs on an emotional level, they cannot be persuaded out of them on a rational level, no matter how strong the proof or logic behind it. People will hold onto their emotional beliefs and twist the facts to meet their version of reality.” Why do you believe in evolutionism, special creationism, atheism, or [fill in the blank]? Did you come to believe it through a reasoning process, or do you admit that you have (or may have) an emotional attachment to it that’s stronger than your intellect? Heck, is that even a fair question?

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22 Responses to Why Do You Believe in [fill in the blank]?

  1. RBH

    With respect to (at least) two of your categories, “evolutionism” and atheism, the question of “believe in” is the wrong question.

    Take the first, “evolutionism.” I put it in scare quotes because it’s a strange term. I believe that the modern theory of evolution is the best available scientific explanation of the diversity of life on earth. That belief is justified by the evidence, which I’ve been reading and thinking about for 40 years, not to mention spending the last 15 years using evolutionary mechanisms and processes in my work. To put it plainly, they work as advertised.

    I’ve also read the offerings of alleged competitive accounts, ranging from young earth creationism (e.g., Gish, Morris, Parker, Slusher), old earth creationists (e.g., Ross), even Lamarck (in translation), and none are even faintly competitive. I’m an evolutionist in that sense, but I don’t “believe in evolutionism;” I believe in the human capacity to do science and come to at least partial understandings of the world via science.

    To ask if one “believes in atheism,” of course, is simply a non sequiitur. I am an atheist, in the sense that I see no reliable evidence for the existence and worldly activities of some supernatural agency(ies), but I no more “believe in atheism” than I believe that not collecting stamps is a hobby. What I believe — again based on a lifetime of reading and thinking about it — is that there is no evidence that requires a deity to explain, no phenomena that cannot be at least provisionally explained without invoking an inexplicable supernatural agent(s). Further, there is no reliable evidence to distinguish among the thousands of deities on offer. There is no reliable evidence for the existence and activities of the God of the Christians any more than there is evidence for the existence and activities of Ra or Thor. They are on equal footing as far as the evidence is concerned: there’s none for any of them. Hence I do not believe in any of them.

    I did not come to those views on account of a particular emotional attachment to them. I was raised in an evangelical church, fairly conservative, but was encouraged to read and think. There was some regret as I moved away from that belief system, mostly because there is a strong emotional attachment to belief in belief — it feels good to believe something definite, and ambiguity and uncertainty are (at least) uncomfortable, at least at first. It’s hard work to think for oneself, to think through morality, values, and life issues on one’s own without canned answers. But the result of that hard work is worth it. One becomes a whole human person, not an appendage of some putative deity.

  2. RBH,

    You don’t know how much I appreciate your comments. Your response dealt directly with my query as to whether I was asking a fair question. A breath of fresh air, to be sure. =)

    I agree with your first two points, that (1) evolutionary theory is the “best available scientific explanation of the diversity of life on earth,” and (2) that “the human capacity to do science and come to at least partial understandings of the world.” Notice, however, that I mentioned “evolutionary theory,” not the “theory of evolution.” I think it’s important to distinguish between fact and theory. That evolution occurs is fact; how evolutionary mechanisms actually occur is, for now, theory.

    You wrote: “…there is no evidence that requires a deity to explain, no phenomena that cannot be at least provisionally explained without invoking an inexplicable supernatural agent(s).”

    I would strongly agree. In fact, I don’t believe for a minute that science will ever prove the existence of God. Hence, my strong objections to the ID movement. But my subjective experiences have led me to place my faith in the Judeo-Christian god. And therein lies the difference between you and I. But it’s a difference that I’ve learned to greatly respect, which is why I’ve enjoyed your contributions.

    There is no reliable evidence for the existence and activities of the God of the Christians any more than there is evidence for the existence and activities of Ra or Thor.

    I’m curious as to what you do with the resurrection accounts of Jesus and the subsequent change in His disciples’ attitudes, that being a change from mortal fear to a boldness that transcends their survival instincts, all within a matter of several days. (Granted, you’d have to admit the New Testament accounts as historical evidence.) As I wrote elsewhere in the blogosphere, I have yet to hear an adequate explanation for the rise of Christianity in the face of severe persecution. It is not clear that something happened?

  3. Pete

    I accepted the reality of common descent based on the evidence. I had to get over quite a bit of bias and fear to finally accept it as true.

    But I will admit, now having accepted it, I sometimes put some emotional baggage on it as well. So now when it is attacked with reasonable sounding objections; I often get emotionally defensive and will accept any evolutionary explanation to account for it no matter how contrived. In other words, the same way I was emotionally attached to instant creationism through emotion I often now fall into the same trap for common descent, even though I was convinced on it solely by the evidence.

  4. the same way I was emotionally attached to instant creationism through emotion I often now fall into the same trap for common descent

    Pete,

    Excellent admission, and one which I should keep simmering on LOW in the back of my mind as I discuss these things with non-evolutionists. Of course, like you, I had no emotional investment in the scientific evidence for evolution; rather, I was convinced of the facts after I gave up my emotional attachment to an overly literal interpretation of Genesis 1.

  5. Dan Werner

    Mike,
    My emotional attachment is in two places. First, I’m emotionally attached to what the community of scientists believe in as far as evolution. All peer-reviewed papers support evolution. Even if I come across an argument from a non-evolutionist that I can’t immediately refute that emotional attachment keeps me stable. I have an impossible time believing that the scientific community could be wrong about something this important for so long especially when it’s yielded such fruit and application (e.g. health and agriculture). Perhaps in the future in there will be refinements or even a whole new way of looking at things (e.g. quantum vs. classical mechanics), but my emotional commitment at that point will remain unchanged.

    My other emotional commitment is to the Spirit and His spirited community of believers. Believers have constantly held tight to the authority of scripture and revelatory manner in which God speaks through it. So when the vast majority of believers throughout the ages believe in say the fall, miracles, resurrection, the deity of Christ, I take that very seriously. Fortunately, I’ve been able to resolve any apparent conflicts between my two emotional attachments in seeing the Genesis accounts as a complementary account of Creation that science cannot ever provide.

    My commitment to both communities allow me to live holistically as a Christian. In the science realm I can be honest when analyzing empiricle data. In my church environment I partake in the communion of the Saints and try to participate in what God is doing in our midst.

    Hence, I’m emotionally stable.
    Dan

  6. RBH

    I wrote

    There is no reliable evidence for the existence and activities of the God of the Christians any more than there is evidence for the existence and activities of Ra or Thor.

    In response, Mike asked

    I’m curious as to what you do with the resurrection accounts of Jesus and the subsequent change in His disciples’ attitudes, that being a change from mortal fear to a boldness that transcends their survival instincts, all within a matter of several days. (Granted, you’d have to admit the New Testament accounts as historical evidence.) As I wrote elsewhere in the blogosphere, I have yet to hear an adequate explanation for the rise of Christianity in the face of severe persecution. It is not clear that something happened?

    Well, for openers, the New Testament accounts considerably post-date the (alleged) events they describe. The earliest, Mark, was apparently written a generation or more after the events it purports to describe. The Gospels are roughly comparable to what we might get if someone today wrote a description of the Battle of Bull Run in the Civil War based solely on the stories passed down orally for two or three generations in the families of friends of some of the men who fought in the battle. As a consequence, the reliability of the descriptions is chancy.

    And as you no doubt know, there are resurrection accounts in other religious traditions. Resurrection of the dead was a popular religious theme across religions in those days. See Richard Carrier’s essay for an overview. As Carrier notes, at that time gods were expected to raise people bodily from the dead. The Christian resurrection story adds a bit in its shift to the god raising itself from the dead.

    As to the change in the disciples’ attitudes, again that’s not an extraordinary event, if it occurred as reported. Once again, we are reading accounts written considerably after the fact, by people who did not themselves observe the events. Moreover, those most closely associated with the early church in Jerusalem were probably dead, either of old age or in the Jewish War in 66-70 A.D. which apparently wiped out the Christian group in Jerusalem (see the Carrier essay). So we again are dealing with documents that are themselves part of a larger effort to establish the bona fides of a religious splinter off Judaism, making the best case they can in the absence of direct evidence. (I’ve often though of Paul as the traveling salesman of early Christianity, telling the best story he could given the paucity of direct evidence.) The reported changes in the disciples are plausibly interpreted as part of that effort to tell the best story one could.

    As to the rise of Christianity, it is far from the only religious sect that has arisen, survived and prospered by spreading widely. Islam just passed Roman Catholicism in the number of adherents and it took less than 1400 years. The Mormons have gone from zero to over 13 million in just over 175 years. The Unification Church (Moonies) claims around 3 million members, all gathered in the lifetime of one man, Sun Myung Moon — the church was founded in 1954. And consider the difficulties that modern scholars have in reconstructing the very beginnings of the Mormon church, hidden as they are behind the fog of Joseph Smith’s words and actions and subsequent actions of the church.

    So religious movements can grow very fast. Also relevant is what in investing is called “survivorship bias.” Given a large number of startups, most will fall by the wayside early, not necessarily out of any grave fault but due to chance events, while a few will survive and prosper. Remember, 99% of all species that have lived on earth are extinct. To think there’s something special about the survivors is potentially a mistake, particularly when they have descended from earlier forms that had some successful traits that were inherited. Same for religions: Some go extinct, but others adopt the successful parts of their ancestors — predecessors — and add to them, along with some lateral meme transfer — borrowing. The Old Testament adopts a fair amount of material from the ANE religious environment (the Flood, for example), and Christianity pares away some of that ancient material (the detailed laws of Leviticus, for example), while adding some new material (the resurrection).

    Finally, that Christianity survived and has grown says nothing whatsoever about the truth of its tenets. If mere longevity were the test there are other extant religions that are older, Judaism being the obvious monotheistic example, with Hinduism beating them all among surviving religions.

    BTW, I should tell you that I still carry my dogtags nearly 50 years after they were issued to me at Great Lakes. They say “USN” on them. 🙂

  7. Thought-provoking, Mike. What RBH is saying suggests that it’s people of faith that are the likeliest to accept things on an emotional level, whether we call it “emotional” or “spiritual”. It’s one of the reasons I was arguing with Leah on my blog: the need for us Christians to believe what we do based on good rational arguments is paramount, because if we just accept doctrine from the pastor, books we read, or popular trends among evangelicals, we may be wrong, and it will be hard to “undeceive” ourselves.

    This is not to say, however, that rational arguments are all that matter. But they are important.

    Pete, I don’t think avoiding emotional reaction to something held rationally is necessary, or even really possible. I don’t think anyone is truly dispassionate about a belief they had to fight to attain. Emotion becomes a cement, or the mortar between the bricks, and it’s as hard to negotiate the facts themselves as it is that mortar of emotion.

    I’ve found that the only way I can combat the tendency to stake out a position based only on how hard it was won or how hard it would be to forsake it is to value Truth itself higher than any conclusions I come to about it. I love Coleridge’s comment:

    “He who begins by loving Christianity more than Truth will proceed by loving his own sect or church better than Christianity, and end in loving himself better than all.”

    Ouch!

  8. Dan Werner

    RBH,
    I’ll let others, if they want, tackle the excellently presented arguments you pose against the resurrection. They are certainly well thought out and deserve an equally rigorous response.

    I’ll tackle things from a different angle. My faith based assumptions of a relational God revealed in scripture lead me to believe in the authority of scripture and the resurrection (and much more). Building on this, I enter the scripture to determine how I ought to behave in bringing justice and grace to the world through Jesus. I’m curious what faith based assumptions that you work off of are. Is it empiricism? If so, how do you determine a way of living ethically in the world? Science alone surely can’t answer that question. What are your philosophical presuppositions, or better yet, your emotional attachments?
    Dan

  9. RBH

    Dan asked

    My faith based assumptions of a relational God revealed in scripture lead me to believe in the authority of scripture and the resurrection (and much more). Building on this, I enter the scripture to determine how I ought to behave in bringing justice and grace to the world through Jesus. I’m curious what faith based assumptions that you work off of are. Is it empiricism? If so, how do you determine a way of living ethically in the world? Science alone surely can’t answer that question. What are your philosophical presuppositions, or better yet, your emotional attachments?

    Atheists and theists are in exactly the same boat with respect to the assumptions that underpin choices of moral principles. The thiest appeals to a deity or religious authorities (they’re different) — or really, to the purported words of a deity mediated through humans who claim to be authorities — to sanction the moral judgments humans make. The atheist appeals to principles that are consistent with the kind of world he (I’ll use “he” as a gender-neutral pronoun)wants to live in, raise children in, and be a part of.

    The theist actually has two quite distinct choices to make. First is the choice of which religious system he will adopt. There are thousands on offer with any number of deities, and the theist has to choose from among them that which he will accept. (That, incidentally, is one of the things that makes nonsense of Pascal’s wager.) Almost universally theists don’t actually make a choice in this respect: The great majority of theists follow the religious tradition of their parents. There may some shifting around at the margins, but the generalization holds for the great majority. One is a Protestant Christian almost certainly because one or both of one’s parents were Protestant Christians.

    Second, the theist must make choices from among the (often mutually inconsistent) moral principles within the chosen religious tradition. For example, the theist who chooses the Protestant Biblical religious tradition must choose between the Old Testament’s ‘eye for an eye’ principle and the New Testament’s ‘turn the other cheek’ principle. He must choose from among the literally hundreds of Biblical rules governing behavior which he will follow and which he will disregard. Those choices are purely subjective. People may offer reasons, but in general those reasons appear to be rationalizations for choices made on grounds very similar to those used by the atheist: choices that are consistent with the kind of world he wants to live in, raise children in, and be a part of.

    There are clear exceptions to that last sentence among theists. Those whose perceptions and cognitions are completely ruled by anticipation (or fear) of the afterlife will make choices that increase the (perceived) probability of a good afterlife and/or minimize the probability of an infinitely long afterlife in Hell. I deem those people to be pathological in a very real sense. Those who are moral in hope of reward or fear of punishment after death are operating on a 5 year-old’s level of morality.

    The atheist has only the second problem, the choice of moral principles to use to guide behavior. Once again, the choices are made in the light of the kind of world he wants to live in, raise children in, and be a part of. Some fundamental principles that guide the choices are things like reciprocity and inclusive fitness because those principles seem to underpin the characteristics of societies I want to live in. A personal example: For more than 30 years I’ve done an average of 30 hours of community service per month, year after year. While the service has some personal emotional rewards (it’s plain fun to drive big trucks with red lights, sirens, and air horns!), it is also an expression of my considered belief that being part of a community means that one contributes to the well-being of the community. That’s how I was raised: My father (not himself a religious man — my mother was the strong Christian) was what one can only call “a good man,” and I learned from him. I’m almost certainly not as good a man as he was, but I still learned from him. That’s one of the sources of an atheist’s morality: Like Christians, we learn from our parents. One thing I learned from my father was that one doesn’t have to be a theist to be a good man.

    We can find guidance in a variety of scientific disciplines (guidance, not justification!) Comparative anthropology, for example, has the potential of telling us something about the relation between societal moral values and the nature of the society they produce. A set of moral values that emphasize communal duties and submission to authority and devalue individual choices will be a very different society from one that has the reverse set of values.

    Recent work on the evolution of morality indicates that at least some pro-social behaviors are innate. (Don’t mistake “innate” for “everyone has exactly the same value of some variable.”) Marc Hauser (Moral Minds) argues that like the underlying cognitive machinery for language acquisition, humans have an underlying capacity to acquire moral rules, the specific form(s) of the rules conditioned by the immediate cultural context. Knowing that, there is the potential to construct a moral system that takes into account the biological underpinnings. Important NOTE: This is not an instance of the naturalistic fallacy. It is saying that moral systems that take into account our evolutionary history are more likely to prosper than those that don’t. If our chosen moral system is inconsistent with the evolutionary underpinnings we need to work harder and devise smarter ways of circumventing the biological constraints. Just as medicine is improved by knowing something about the evolutionary past of humans, so morality can be improved.

    Humans are the only animal that we know of that can know about, and thus circumvent, its purely biological heritage. Richard Dawkins has argued in several venues that we have the capacity to do so. He has said that he would not want to live in a Darwinian world. See, for example, the The Selfish Gene. In an interview Dawkins said

    I am very comfortable with the idea that we can override biology with free will. Indeed, I encourage people all the time to do it. Much of the message of my first book, “The Selfish Gene,” was that we must understand what it means to be a gene machine, what it means to be programmed by genes, so that we are better equipped to escape, so that we are better equipped to use our big brains, use our conscience intelligence, to depart from the dictates of the selfish genes and to build for ourselves a new kind of life which as far as I am concerned the more un-Darwinian it is the better, because the Darwinian world in which our ancestors were selected is a very unpleasant world. Nature really is red in tooth and claw. And when we sit down together to argue out and discuss and decide upon how we want to run our societies, I think we should hold up Darwinism as an awful warning for how we should not organize our societies.I am very comfortable with the idea that we can override biology with free will. Indeed, I encourage people all the time to do it. Much of the message of my first book, “The Selfish Gene,” was that we must understand what it means to be a gene machine, what it means to be programmed by genes, so that we are better equipped to escape, so that we are better equipped to use our big brains, use our conscience intelligence, to depart from the dictates of the selfish genes and to build for ourselves a new kind of life which as far as I am concerned the more un-Darwinian it is the better, because the Darwinian world in which our ancestors were selected is a very unpleasant world. Nature really is red in tooth and claw. And when we sit down together to argue out and discuss and decide upon how we want to run our societies, I think we should hold up Darwinism as an awful warning for how we should not organize our societies.

    This is a long comment and I’m not sure if I’ve answered Dan’s question satisfactorily, but at least I hope I laid a foundation. Like atheists, theists have to make subjective choices of moral principles, and they have no more (or less) objective warrant for those choices than do atheists.

  10. Dan Werner

    RBH,

    Thanks for your well-thought out response. I agree partially with you about living for the afterlife, in that I believe Christians need to be much more focused on the here and now and less on heaven. As to theists making the same subjective choices about morality, I believe that God reveals himself to us personally in scripture. There is both an objective element in it (God) and a subjective element (me/us). The subjective element, as well as the fact that God reveals himself to different cultures in different ways, goes a long way in understanding why Christianity has so many variants. We also, of course, believe sin is involved. As to the choice of religions, I know of no other where God is so personally engaged in healing creation. This grips me at a deep emotional level.

    It seems what might go a long way in convincing someone like you of some sort of theism is that it could (and sometimes has) creat(ed) a people who change the world around us in a way that transcends anything that humans could ever come up with on their own. But to see this, one must have faith, or an emotional attachement other than “principles that are consistent with the kind of world [one] wants to live in, raise children in, and be a part of.” Yours is a faith in humanity’s wants and dreams whereas mine is in God’s.

    Dan

  11. Dan Werner

    RBH,

    BTW, also wanted to commend you on your community service and agree that many atheists and non-religious folk are good people. And I don’t doubt there are many things that we can all learn from such systems as comparative anthropology.
    Dan

    Dan

  12. RBH,

    Firstly, thank you for your prior service! Always good to meet another Navy man. What was your rate?

    Now, back to our regularly scheduled discussion …

    Well, for openers, the New Testament accounts considerably post-date the (alleged) events they describe. The earliest, Mark, was apparently written a generation or more after the events it purports to describe. The Gospels are roughly comparable to what we might get if someone today wrote a description of the Battle of Bull Run in the Civil War based solely on the stories passed down orally for two or three generations in the families of friends of some of the men who fought in the battle. As a consequence, the reliability of the descriptions is chancy.

    I agree with you that the gospel accounts were written a good 20-40 years after the events took place. But to equate the oral tradition method that gave rise to the gospel accounts with Civil War stories passed on over a comparable period of time isn’t fair. You have to remember the the quality of oral tradition in a culture that prized oral tradition is higher than that of modern-day Westerners. And considering that some of those who witnessed Jesus’ ministry were still alive up to and beyond the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, I would strongly hesitate to say that the accounts are unreliable.

    there are resurrection accounts in other religious traditions. Resurrection of the dead was a popular religious theme across religions in those days.

    A perfect example of the principle of accomodation wherein God presents theological truths through a medium that the audience can understand. Why didn’t God present a scientifically accurate account of the creation of the universe and the evolution of man to the Hebrews? Because they wouldn’t understand. Similarly, God takes advantage of a people’s literary, religious, and cultural traditions (or exposure to said traditions) to get His message across. Thus, I am not bothered in the least by similiarties to other so-called resurrection stories.

    In fact, I’d like to think that if God hadn’t intervened in human history as He did (according to the Bible) and decided, in our present day, to “intervene” so as to commune with his most noble creation, the Bible would look much, much different. The creation account would be presented very similarly to current scientific theory. Jesus wouldn’t necessarily need to be sacrificed at all (or, at the very least, in the manner in which he was executed), for blood sacrifices don’t mean anything to us modern Westerners. The “end of the age” might very well be described in completely different terms. But the theological truths in this modern-day version of the Christ story would assuredly remain intact.

    the Jewish War in 66-70 A.D. which apparently wiped out the Christian group in Jerusalem (see the Carrier essay).

    Can you provide me an exact location of this allegation in Carrier’s essay? From my research, the Christian community actually escaped Jerusalem during a lull in the Roman siege and found refuge in Pella. (See http://www.preteristarchive.com/StudyArchive/p/pella-flight.html

    As to the rise of Christianity, it is far from the only religious sect that has arisen, survived and prospered by spreading widely.

    He he. You’re getting ahead of yourself, RHB. I didn’t appeal to that argument. In fact, I wouldn’t for the very reasons you stated.

    The Old Testament adopts a fair amount of material from the ANE religious environment (the Flood, for example)

    I’m in total agreement, as you can see from reading my series on the ANE perspective.

    that Christianity survived and has grown says nothing whatsoever about the truth of its tenets.

    Agreed.

    BTW, I find your presentation of atheism and related arguments compelling and well-reasoned. If it weren’t for my personal encounter with the risen Christ, I’d probably follow a similar path to yours. And therein lies the difference.

    Of course, the fact that a disparity exists between my experience and yours begs the question. What would it take for you to experience what I have? Is there anything about the Christian message (in contrast to the method) that offends your “moral” sensibilities? And please don’t mistake flawed paradigms (e.g., a global flood, a 6-day ex nihilo creation of the universe, scriptural inerrancy, a literal “end of the world,” etc.) for the Gospel. I certainly don’t hold to those paradigms, so I wouldn’t expect you should have to.

  13. BTW, here’s a great quote I just came across that has (I think) some relevance to the conversation, especially in terms of how God’s message is transmitted through human words.

    “Man cannot make a redemptive art, but he can make an art that communicates what he experiences of redemption as a man and what he knows of it as an artist. God in his infinite wisdom may use an art work as an instrument of redemption, but what serves or can serve that purpose is beyond the knowledge of man.” [John W. Dixon, Jr.]

  14. RBH

    First, sorry for the doubling of the Dawkins quote — slip of the Ctrl-V.

    Dan wrote

    Thanks for your well-thought out response. I agree partially with you about living for the afterlife, in that I believe Christians need to be much more focused on the here and now and less on heaven. As to theists making the same subjective choices about morality, I believe that God reveals himself to us personally in scripture. There is both an objective element in it (God) and a subjective element (me/us).

    “External” and “objective” are not synonyms. Even if God is real, that does not make the moral principles He enjoins us to adopt “objective,” but only external, imposed from outside. (I will not here raise the question of whether something is moral because God tells us so, or if He tells so because it is moral. The former is still subjective — God’s subjectivity — and the latter means that there is an objective basis independent of God.)

    Dan wrote

    It seems what might go a long way in convincing someone like you of some sort of theism is that it could (and sometimes has) creat(ed) a people who change the world around us in a way that transcends anything that humans could ever come up with on their own. But to see this, one must have faith, or an emotional attachement other than “principles that are consistent with the kind of world [one] wants to live in, raise children in, and be a part of.” Yours is a faith in humanity’s wants and dreams whereas mine is in God’s.

    The first sentence is a kind of empirical claim, though one that would be real hard to operationalize. It has the disadvantage of being a universal negative claim — “humans couldn’t have done this on their own” — with all the attendant difficulties of universal negatives. But then you abandon the empiricism when you add the necessity for faith. That makes it impossible to assess empirically. So I’m left still with the necessity to make a subjective commitment prior to being able to accept or (apparently) even evaluate the claim.

    (By the way, my use of the “principles that are consistent with …” phraseology is shorthand — there’s a richer basis than just those few words. The phraseology is suggestive but not exhaustive.)

    Mike asked

    Firstly, thank you for your prior service! Always good to meet another Navy man. What was your rate?

    FTM-2 — Polaris Fire Controlman (Missile) 2nd Class. That was during a 6-year study break taken halfway through my sophomore year in college. 🙂 I’d have stayed in the Navy as a career if at that time it had supported undergraduate education in anything but engineering, physics (where I started), and chemistry, but I knew by then I wanted to do degrees in anthropology and psychology, so I got out and went back to college on my own.

    Mike, if I may, I’ll circle back to your comments later — we’ve been out running around with those red lights and sirens tonight (emergency squad, not fire) and I’m beat. Later.

  15. Mike,

    I just caught up with this post and its comments. Great post, and a very engaging thread of comments. I appreciate how your discussion with RBH gets to the heart of the question.

    I’d like to go back to your original point. Excellent Van Till quote, btw. As for the baggage that attaches to our belief system, you mention an “emotional attachment” that may be stronger than the intellectual underpinnings of the system. I have always attempted to be rational in all my beliefs, but when I am called upon to defend them, my own adrenaline belies my idealistic dispassionate approach. So, while I’d like to think that my belief in Jesus and my acceptance of evolutionary science have been arrived at intellectually, emotional attachment seems to be an involuntary human defense mechanism.

    But beyond this internal emotional attachment, most of us have invested a lot in our particular belief systems in the community which shares them. That is, we are relationally bound to our world-view. Maybe you are including this in “emotional attachment”, but I find community to be more powerful force for inertia than the inner emotional attachment.

  16. Dan Werner

    RHB,

    You said
    “External” and “objective” are not synonyms. Even if God is real, that does not make the moral principles He enjoins us to adopt “objective,” but only external, imposed from outside. (I will not here raise the question of whether something is moral because God tells us so, or if He tells so because it is moral. The former is still subjective — God’s subjectivity — and the latter means that there is an objective basis independent of God.)

    Not sure I understand your overall point. I have no problem understanding objectivity as God’s subjectivity. I do have a problem seeing morality as something static beyond God–that’s a platonic concept of God. And I also believe he is not merely external telling us what to do. God is influenced by us in prayer, although his overall goals of flooding creation with his presence remains unchanged.

    So if God is involved in my (our) life there is someone hugely bigger than my finite self, guiding me. Thus my choices aren’t purely subjective. Yes, I have to decide to follow God’s plan, but his plan for me (us) is at least revealed in part through his interaction through scripture and other means.

    On your other point I would agree partially on both of your points. My first claim would be very hard to substantiate since it is a universal negative, hence the need for some sort of faith that transcends what we can empirically observe. Still there will be empiracle evidences that at least give partial validation to our faith.

    I would also like to make comment to your point that there are other religions that believe in resurrection. N.T Wright in his book, Resurrection of the Son of God, argues quite persuasively that resurrection (i.e. a permanent physical rescusitation that occurs in the earthly domain) was inimical to the Greek world view. Resurrection came from the Jewish belief that God would vindicate his people. For Jesus and his disciples, it would at the very least mean his own vindication even though he died scandalously. A non-raised messiah for Jesus’ Jewish followers would have been perceived, from their world view, to have been a failed messiah.

  17. Cliff,

    attachment seems to be an involuntary human defense mechanism.

    Excellent point, and not one that I thought of when I posted this. I’ll admit that, from time to time, I’ll forget this possibility and (arrogantly) mistake my “emotional attachment” for the excitement inherent in coming to recognize (objectively, I hope) and accept a particular truth and/or reality.

    That is, we are relationally bound to our world-view.

    Another good point, Cliff!

    I’m learning a lot from you, Dan, and RBH!

  18. Anonymous

    I thought a Jesus Creed blog, on a book called I Want To Believe had some appropriate things to add to this discussion

    http://www.jesuscreed.org/?p=3672#comments

    Here’s a quote from the first paragraph:
    “Apologetics is changing in the 21st Century, changing from arguments that rationally prove the truth of Christianity to a gospel that, as Mel Lawrenz calls it, summons humans because of the “divine allure.” In his book, I Want to Believe, what Mel — senior pastor at Elmbrook Church outside of Milwaukee — does is focus on one theme: the human yearning to believe that is prompted by the reality that God wants us.”

    On comment #3 John Frye writes:
    “If the Great Commandment (the Jesus Creed) is relational and love-permeated, why did we ever lose the mystery and wonder of these non-scientific realities? Why did we pin God to the examining board and dissect him like we do rats and frogs? Why was allure replaced with analysis? It seems that eggheads and nerds want to calculate everything, including making a science out of relationships. Another word for that is manipulation.”

  19. Dan Werner

    That last comment was from me, Dan Werner

  20. RBH

    I have to apologize for apparently abandoning this thread. Real life reared its ugly head and has had me by the throat for more than a week. Dan’s questions deserve answers, and I’ll try to get back to it in the next few days.

    Again, apologies.

  21. RBH

    On second thought, I guess I’ll let it go. Since I do not believe that there is a personal god somehow speaking to me in ways that are not accessible to other people independent of their beliefs, there’s little I can say about the claim that one’s moral behavior stems from that source except to say that mine doesn’t.

  22. Tom

    Mike,

    I look forward to following and contributing to your blog. As an atheist, it is hard to add anything to the conversation that RBH has not already covered, which he does so eloquently and respectfully. It’s a pleasure to read the arguments presented here.

    As far as emotional attachments to beliefs, we all have them. Scientists are driven by curiosity and strongly held convictions that come out of their history. I am emotionally attached to my scientific work. I’m passionate about it.

    There was a time when I was also passionate about Christianity. However, I came to atheism through reasoning. I struggled with leaving the emotions of Christianity and dealing with the emotions of leaving. I miss many parts of that life, but I have learned to enjoy, appreciate, and get scared and frustrated about life through a godless lens. That is, I have gained an emotional attachment to atheism.

    As a human, we define success as emotional balance. We seek out ways to be happy, feel loved, recognize harm and avoid pain. We find courses to be emotionally fulfilled. There is a contentment one finds when also being rational. Atheism awards this. I get a nice dose of being rational and the emotions of pride, self-contentment, and sense of my place in the world. A (re)conversion to theism for me would require losing these emotions.

    Now, I’m sure you will argue that God demands you to be rational and gave you brains for just that purpose, which also boosts your self esteem just as I described. However, the demand for faith is a call for being irrational, humble, and vulnerable. These actions and emotions are certainly part of many social relationships. Perhaps it is no surprise that religions with a personal God would anthropomorphize their God and that relationship with such features. To have this as the crux of the relationship, however, is too difficult for me to be comfortable with. Despite all the extra goodies/emotions Christianity purports, it’s not worth the feelings of living a life that is built on something that is somehow beyond the material when all we have access to is the material.

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