Wednesday, February 29, 2012

How Do You Know It's Real?

First, I highly recommend giving this page over at Unequally Yoked a read.  In summary, the author examines two conversion anecdotes, one from a Christian and one from a Mormon.  She makes the point that, while both seem quite sincere, they are either mutually exclusive, or God doesn't give a rip about which church you join (or perhaps, more charitably, God directs different individuals to different churches).  This seems in stark contradiction to the religious tradition of every major religion, essentially all of which claim to be the only way to God.  The point that she calls out very nicely is that this causes us to ask some very difficult questions- firstly, is there any way of differentiating a true conversion experience from a false one, and secondly, if there's not, what does that say about God?  In point of fact, it says that he places us here, expects us to get the right answer about who and what he is, but gives us absolutely no way of differentiating a conversion experience to the correct religion from a conversion experience to the incorrect religion.  Unless someone can offer up a convincing filter for religious experience that passes the conversion stories of one and only one religion, this problem seems very, very difficult to overcome.

At this point we must ask ourselves, what would be considered "good enough" evidence for God?  Certainly God could show himself in a clear and persistent way (i.e. he could come down in a physical manifestation).  Provided that manifestation was clearly supernatural and remained in perpetuity, that would probably work.  But then again, maybe not?  Maybe we would study it and doubt it and be skeptical of it until we managed to find a reasonable explanation for how this pillar of fire that could talk existed.  A more likely argument against this, I think, is that this does seem to relegate God to the role of lapdog, somehow tied to our beck and call whenever we want reassurance of his existence.  If I was God, I'm not sure I'd be cool with that.

Miracles provide another possibility.  Essentially every religion claims to have the power of miracles on their side - indeed, most early Christian theologians say that we ought to be convinced of the truth of the Bible on the strength of Miracles and Prophecy.  But curiously, all substantive, verifiable miracles have happened in periods of history where there was little to no scientific skepticism, and a great deal of religious fervor.  And there have been none (that I know of) since I've been alive that can be conclusively classified as miracles.  As Ethan Allen wrote, "In those parts of the world where learning and science have prevailed, miracles have ceased; but in those parts of it as are barbarous and ignorant, miracles are still in vogue."  While this does not disprove God's existence, it certainly casts a bit of a shadow, doesn't it?  Why go from performing all kinds of miracles to performing none, and at a time when we seem to need them the most?

Bear with me here as I take a bit of a tangent.  Let us consider the case of two new clinical tests.  These tests will tell us if you have contracted a disease which is highly contagious and highly deadly.  Each iteration of the tests is independent (no one is systematically untestable by either test).  Test A has a 95% chance of catching the disease, and a 5% chance of giving a false positive.  Test B has a 100% chance of catching the disease, but a 15% chance of a false positive.  If you're administering this test to thousands of people, which do you choose?  In this case it seems pretty obvious to me that a false negative is much more costly than a false positive, and therefore test B is far superior for our intended use.

Let us apply this logic to the question of God.  Clearly we're dealing with a binary distribution here- either there is a God or there isn't a God.  But which is better, a false positive or a false negative?  Do we want the highest overall certainty that we're correct, or do we want the highest chance that we catch the positive case?  The easy answer here is to bias towards a God, because the cost seems much higher if we're wrong.  But on the other hand, religion has the option of making the cost of a false negative arbitrarily high (say, eternal suffering and torment).  If what they're after is converts, isn't it in their best interest to make the cost as high as possible?  Should we really be kowtowing to threats? (bonus points if you didn't have to look up the word kowtow)

I bring this up not because I have an answer, but because it's an important question.  If we're biasing towards catching 100% of the cases where there is a God, then color me a Christian, because I am not 100% convinced that there's NOT a God- but that's mostly because it's impossible to ever be 100% convinced of that.  This is the logic offered by Pascal's wager (If I'm wrong I lose nothing, but if you're wrong you lose everything).  But this fails for me three counts.  First, Christianity is not the only religion that claims eternal damnation for those who don't fall in line, and therefore this argument gets us no closer to picking a God amongst the many options. Second, taking a test that catches 100% of positives but also gives 100% false positives is the same as taking no test at all.  The function of the test is to exonerate the disease-free just as much as it is to catch the diseased.  Third, I simply resent the threat.  I don't think fear should be the motivation for anything we do, much less choosing a God (who by the way, supposedly loves us).  It strikes me as a method of control, not as a legitimate argument.

Finally, we must tackle the question of internal conviction.  As previously discussed, every faith has believers with authentic sounding conversion stories.  In this way, they at the very least negate each others effectiveness as an apologetic tool, and at the worst are a condemnation of the idea of a non-generalist God.  However, we must consider the case where you yourself feel such a conviction.  In light of the fact that humans are clearly capable of experiencing earnest but false conversion episodes, are you justified in believing one of these episodes if it happens to you?  My answer here is a weak one.  I think you need to be highly suspect of these episodes.  I think you need to verify them against other experience.  I think you need to see if the conviction lasts a few weeks, even months before making any real decision (my general theory on life includes not making big decisions while you're in a highly emotional state).  But ultimately, I think you must judge for yourself the strength of your own conviction.  I think a person is rationally justified in believing something if they are strongly enough convicted about it.  Particularly in the case of Christianity, which claims just this experience as justification of it's truth.

My ultimate conclusion to the question "how do you know?" is that you don't.  In fact, you can't, because with the supernatural you have no objective standard by which to measure truth.  I suppose this is the point and purpose of faith.

Each of us must therefore account to themselves what level of conviction they deem compelling enough to accept as truth.  For me, it concerns both intensity and duration.  I must be convinced of the truth of my conviction with such intensity as to have no choice but to believe it, and this conviction must remain in perpetuity.  If this conviction fades, then so does your justification for believing it- even if you happen to be rightt!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Christian view of Conviction

I want to enumerate my understanding of the Biblical Christian view of conviction- how the Bible says we are supposed to arrive at the doorstep of Jesus.  The sources I use for this are many- "Reasonable Christianity" by William Lane Craig, Mere Christianity, my own knowledge from my history with Christianity, and of course the Bible itself.

Christianity isn't scientific, and it's not supposed to be.  God is by definition supernatural, and the supernatural cannot be measured and quantified in a repeatable way by the natural.  If he could, he would not be God, but gravity, or magnetism, or some other as of yet unnamed force of nature.  Moreover, science allows for no act of will by the natural forces, but rather a deterministic application of rules.  And that is not God.  Boxing God in in this way is a fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship between God and existence.

To look for God by scientific means is therefore nonsensical.  How, then, are we to look for God?  I am reminded of the classic xkcd comic, "my normal approach is useless here".

I cannot offer an answer to the previous question, for I am not convinced one way or the other myself.  Is it even rational to look for answers in a non-rational framework?  Or perhaps non-rational is a poor choice of words.  Is it rational to look for truth in a framework in which nothing is objectively verifiable?  Suppose you do find truth in such a way- or at least the conviction of truth.  But that's just it, isn't it?  How do you differentiate truth from the conviction of truth if its not objectively verifiable?  For certainly people of all faiths have obtained the conviction of truth, despite the mutual exclusivity of each faith.  It seems to me that we are left at the whim of the human psyche.  Is there any amount of subjective conviction of the soul that is enough to be sure?  But I leave this question for another time.  For now, I will equate finding religious truth with finding religious conviction.

The Biblical understanding of how we reach this truth is that the unbeliever feels the conviction of the Holy Spirit.  In John 6:44, Jesus says “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him”.  As William Craig puts it, “The Holy Spirit... convicts the unbeliever of his own sin, of God's righteousness, and of his condemnation before God. The unbeliever so convicted can therefore be said to know such truths as 'God Exists', 'I am guilty before God', and so forth”.  This is either a quite ingenious lie, or a frustrating truth.  For those of us who do not feel such a conviction, the Believer is perfectly justified in saying "The Father has not drawn you in (yet)".

Mostly though, when you press Christians on this, they will admit their suspicion that you are in fact convicted in such a way, and are simply choosing to ignore it.  This sentiment is echoed by Craig when he says "Therefore, when a person refuses to come to Christ it is never just because of lack of evidence or because of intellectual difficulties: at root, he refuses to come because he willingly ignores and rejects the drawing of God's Spirit on his heart. No one in the final analysis really fails to become a Christian because of lack of arguments; he fails to become a Christian because he loves darkness rather than light and wants nothing to do with God."  I think it would be disingenuous for me to respond to this at the moment, as I'm trying to give a voice to both sides of the argument, and that statement frankly makes me very angry.  So in response, I will simply quote what I wrote in the margin of my copy of Reasonable Faith: "Wow... quite a claim.".  I suppose it's not so different from the Atheist who thinks that all Christians share his doubts and simply refuse to acknowledge them.

For the believer, the Bible teaches the Holy Spirit is a constant and present companion.  Experiencing the Holy spirit is for the Christian as real and tangible as any other experience in life.  Craig says "the experience of the Holy Spirit is veridical and unmistakable (though not necessarily irresistible or indubitable) for him who has it”.  And again, "How then does the believer known that Christianity is true? He knows because of the self-authenticating witness of God's Spirit who lives within him”

The self-authenticating nature of both the Holy Spirit and the Bible is an important claim of Christianity.  The claim is that both the Holy Spirit and the Bible are knowable as truth based on the strength of their character.  That is, someone who has experienced the true Holy Spirit simply cannot deny its reality, just as one who has read and experienced the Bible with a truly open mind cannot deny that it is the word of God.  I have not yet seen this second claim, that the Bible is a self-authenticating work, anywhere but in Craig's theology, though I will look for it as I read through the Bible.

As you can likely guess, I have two points of contention here.  The first is that I did not experience the self-authenticating nature of the Holy Spirit and the Bible when I was a Christian.  That is not quite fair; there were several cases when I was a Christian that I would no doubt have claimed to have these experiences, and been quite well justified in claiming them, for I truly did believe them.  And therein lies the problem- if we depend on self-authentication, we depend on belief rather than truth, on conviction instead of substance.  A Christian could quite rightly, by their worldview, claim that I was correct in my earlier conviction of the truth of Christianity, and have simply resisted the Holy Spirits conviction for the last three years.  But that is a bit like the movie Inception- if this is a dream within a dream within a dream, how am I to know which is the outermost reality?  How many reversals of belief are proper to undergo before finally being convinced that the current reality I live in is the real one?  Moreover- and this is paramount for me- how am I to know this won't happen again?  I was once in this exact same position, with the exact same evidence, but on the other side of the fence.  And I turned.  I changed.  I was unconvinced of the veracity of the Christian Doctrine.  Without something new, something more, how can I claim that my belief is not simply driven by my current (and no doubt fleeting) desire to believe?

My second point of contention is that I do not feel particularly convicted right now.  I feel rather like a good, moral person who occasionally makes mistakes.  I cannot for the life of me see how that makes me "guilty before God" to such an extent that I am deserving of eternal torment in Hell.  I understand it from a doctrinal perspective, but it simply does not ring true to me.

I must confess here that as much as I question the first point, that of Christianity's self-authenticating nature, it is the only thing I can imagine bringing me back into the Christian fold.  I suspect that, given an internal, non-verifiable conviction of sufficient strength, I would indeed be forced to accept Christianity as true.  The question remains, then, if that inward conviction would be stable and lasting, or short-lived and fleeting.   I've been to too many Christian summer camps and seen too many alter calls to think conviction above the slow, numb fade of time.

I leave this as an open question that I will tackle in my next post- probably with lackluster and unsatisfying results: even if you are convicted by the Holy Spirit of the truth of Christianity, how are you to know that conviction is true?  Particularly for someone like me, who has seen that conviction disappear in the past? (Whether that disappearance happened through a lack of evidence or through a willful act of disobedience to the Spirit, it matters less than you would think)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Message vs. Doctrine, Reasonable vs. True

*Edit: Upon reflection, I find that "Christian Doctrine" is much too broad a brush to use in this context, as there are a great many Christians who believe a great many Doctrines.  When I refer to it here, I simply mean the Christian Doctrine which I was taught and raised with- the Conservative Non-Denominational Christianity common to America*

Reasonable vs. True

Something being reasonable is not the same as that thing being true.  For a position to be reasonable, all that is required is that it not be irrational for someone to hold such a position.  For something to be true, it must actually conform to the nature and being of reality.  Reasonability is therefore a much weaker standard than truth- many theories can be concurrently reasonable, but only one can be true.  This leads directly to the notion that a theory can be reasonable but not true.

Notice that reasonable is a dynamic term- whether or not a belief is reasonable changes based on what data we currently have available.  There was a time in which strict Newtonian physics was a reasonable theory.  Newtonian physics, as it turns out, is a great approximation for physics operating at a scale within a few orders of magnitude of our own- anything from insects to a single planet.  Before we had data that included observations about large bodies (planets) and small bodies (atoms), a person would be rationally justified believing the Newtonian model was correct (insofar as we believe any theory about the physical world to be correct).  It was, of course, eventually superseded by Quantum Mechanics and Relativity, which better explain such phenomena.  Newtonian physics was rational, but ultimately not true. (Not true on the grander scale, that is.  Newtonian physics is still an applicable theory, but in a much more limited scope than it once was)

It is also, curiously, possible for something to be true but not reasonable.  The Platypus is perhaps my favorite example.  Even its discoverers had trouble accepting that an egg-laying, venomous, duck-billed, beaver-tailed, otter-footed mammal existed, because it flew in the face of so many evolutionary norms.  To presuppose such an animal without evidence would not be rational, and so a belief in a Platypus-like creature would have been an unreasonable belief before the discovery of the animal itself, much like a modern day belief in the Chupacabra, the Yeti, the Unicorn or Bigfoot.  These are unreasonable beliefs to hold, but that does not make any of them patently untrue.

Message vs. Doctrine

I would also like to differentiate the Christian Message from Christian Doctrine.  The Christian Message is what Lewis argues for in "Mere Christianity"- that there is an objective moral standard, that there is a God, that humans are broken, that we need reconciliation with that God, and that Jesus was the vehicle of that reconciliation.  The Christian Message is short, pure, and it seems to resonate very strongly with people (myself included)

The Christian Doctrine is another beast altogether.  It contains a great many claims (A 10,000 year old earth, a non-evolutionary creation cycle, a global flood, the inerrancy of Biblical text, and a great many old testament laws that make the true believer blush) that are either unsubstantiated or flat out in contradiction with modern scientific understanding.

Is it possible to reconcile these claims against the world we observe?  Maybe.  Most Christians do it by denying the facts (evolution, the fossil record, cosmology, etc.) and explaining moral inconsistencies as cultural norms.  As I said in my accepted axioms, I believe that if science contradicts faith, we ought take the side of science.  Is it possible to discount Genesis (or indeed, much of the old testament), as exactly what it is- an oral history of the nation of Israel- rather than as the unaltered spoken word of God?  Maybe.  I think it depends on how Jesus treats this part of the scripture.  If he claims it is inerrant and from the mouth of God, then either Jesus was wrong or every scientific observation we've made for the last 100 years was put there by God himself to test us - or rather to intentionally confuse us!  If Biblical inerrancy is a claim made by others, a claim made by the modern church even, then perhaps there is a non-literal interpretation of old testament scriptures that can coexist with modern scientific knowledge?  But I digress- I will examine what I believe to be the scientific conflicts of the Christian Doctrine in a later post

In regards to the Christian Message, I find it to be reasonable.  It is not scientific, nor does it claim to be,  but I can conceive of a framework of existence in which Christianity is in fact true.  It is not therefore inherently irrational to accept the Christian Message.  If it is in fact true, however, we would expect to see some observable consequences.  We would expect that, upon accepting Christ, we would feel the active and real self-authenticating presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  This is the evidence I lacked the last time around, and the reason I walked away.  But again, I digress.

In regards to the Christian Doctrine, I find it to be unreasonable.  To accept as true unsubstantiated scientific claims at the expense of substantiated ones is the sign of a dogmatic faith, a blind faith.  The Christian will claim that their faith is not blind, but justified by experiential evidence- and rightly so, for experiential evidence is what Christian theologians, the Bible, and Christ himself claims to offer.  However, Christians who make this claim must recognize that they are accepting the entirety of the Christian Doctrine because specific parts of it (forgiveness of sin, salvation by grace, freedom in Christ, etc.) ring true to them.  Christians, however, have no more experiential evidence for the beginning of the universe than Atheists do.  Moreover, where atheists have a plethora of scientific evidence, Christians have essentially none whatsoever supporting their claims about creation.  Belief in such things is therefore an appeal to Authority, not an appeal to reason.  Rather, it is an appeal to Authority in direct contradiction to evidence.

It should be noted that I have had several conversations with Christians who assure me that no, the evidence really does support the Biblical view.  However, in the research I've done so far, the Atheist offers much more compelling arguments, much stronger evidence, and a much more comprehensive view of the facts in regard to the early history of the earth (to say nothing about the historicity of the flood).  It seems to be the case that almost no serious scientists without a significant bias (and let us be honest here and admit that the Christian Doctrine is a steep bias) doubt the common descent model of Evolution.  Third digression is the charm.  My problems with the Christian Doctrine will receive several posts later on.

The Christian Doctrine was, historically, reasonable.  For a long time, there was no reason to doubt the age of the universe was a few thousand years old, no reason to suspect that all life shows signs of common descent.  But new data, particularly data gathered in the last 150 years, has changed our understanding of the world.  If the Christian Doctrine cannot coexist with this new data, then it is not the data we ought reject.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

My Accepted Axioms

In order to effectively judge the rationality of competing viewpoints, it is necessary to first clarify your "Basic Truths"- things you are willing to accept as axiomatically correct.  That is to say, things you do not need external justification to believe.

We all have some basic truths we're willing to accept.  For example, most people accept that what the can sense through their five senses is real, and not a projection in their mind.  They accept that we are not brains floating in vats hooked up to computers, a la The Matrix.  Some people do not accept this, and there are a great many philosophical discussions to be had about just this topic (My own opinion is that this is a rather silly debate, as it is in no way positively or negatively verifiable.  No presented evidence could alter your view on this, regardless of what your view happens to be, and the question itself is therefore not a particularly meaningful one)  Suffice it to say, for the sake of my pursuit of an answer between Atheism and Christianity, I'm prepared to accept this as fact.

It's important also to note that our beliefs often carry with them implicit assumptions that act as axiomatic truths, some of which we don't admit even to ourselves.  For example, many of my beliefs as a Christian relied upon the notion that things I have been taught since I was a child deserve the benefit of the doubt.  Since I love and respect my parents, there is an implicit trust in whatever they have chosen to pass down to me.  On closer examination, however, I came to the conclusion that while my parents themselves are trustworthy, that does not always make them correct.  Indeed, things I have been taught since childhood ought to be questioned even more fiercely than the next, because they are the things I have probably accepted with the least critical thought.

Finally, I know from personal experience that these can change for an individual.  For instance, I was once prepared to axiomatically accept the existence of God.  This is the argument made by many Biblical Apologists (particularly classical ones, like Aquinas and Augustine), and by the Bible itself- that God is plainly evident in the beauty and wonder of the world around us.  As we as a human race have gained more understanding of the world, however, what once seemed mystical now seems perfectly rational- moreover, perfectly natural.  The processes by which animals, trees, even galaxies live and die are now clear and, for the most part, understood.  God, therefore, is no longer necessary to describe and understand the world in which we live.  If God is not a necessary part of existence (that is, if we can conceive of a logical framework of existence in which God is absent), then God can no longer be considered axiomatic.  My belief is that such a framework exists, and therefore I do not consider the existence of God as a Basic Truth.

So here is my personal list of Basic Truths that I am willing to accept, with the caveat that I reserve the right to change this list at any time.  Any future change to this list will be accompanied by an edit describing the change and why it was made

1. I am real
I exist, both as flesh and as a mind capable of conscious, rational though

2. Reason, if properly applied, differentiates truth from non-truth
I say this in a strictly natural sense- I believe that in natural matters, reason and logic can be applied in a meaningful way.  That which reason contradicts, cannot be true, and that which reason supports can be true, although is not necessarily true.  This, it should be noted, represents an implicit assumption of the veracity of the rules of logic (my definition of reason being nothing more than applied logic)

3. What I sense (observe) is reality
This is covered above, so I won't rehash it here.  I will add, however, that what I sense is not necessarily ALL of reality.  But it is necessarily at the very least a subset of reality.  This also does not imply that I cannot misinterpret or misunderstand my senses, nor does it have any difficulty coexisting with dreams, hallucinations, or mirages.  This is simply a claim that my senses are not being faked to my brain in a consistent way (I'm not suffering from some long-term disease that makes me imagine the existence of all other people in my life).  Where this gets dicey, of course, is when we get in to the realm of confirmation bias and things that you "feel" to be true.  When you "feel" God in you, around you, speaking to you, my view is that this feeling must be treated with the greatest suspicion.  I will talk about this in more depth later, but for now let me simply say that this "feeling" is not direct sensory input, but rather a synthesis of something much more complicated.

4.There is a right and a wrong
C.S. Lewis calls this the moral law, or the natural law.  It is an acknowledgement that I believe in right and wrong, despite not having an explanation for the existence thereof.  This does not connote a perfect understanding of this law, nor is it a claim that all men follow the same law, just that there is some standard that I appeal too, however imperfectly.  It is also not clear to me, as Lewis claims, that all men are appealing to the same standard.  Or rather, if we are, I have trouble imagining how we could end up with such very different ideas about Right and Wrong.  Moreover, it is not clear to me why I consider my own interpretation of this Moral Law superior the interpretation used by others (particularly if we ultimately are appealing to the same standard), but I very clearly do. In regards to the Old Testament itself, I cannot stomach some of the moral actions and decisions- often times morality that is either not condemned or even actively encouraged by the God of the Old Testament

5. Humans are fundamentally different from every other living thing
I would call this the weakest of my axiomatic beliefs.  It is the one I find most likely to disappear from this list.  It seems to me both fundamentally true and fundamentally absurd that humans are different from every other living thing.  The gap between us and the next smartest animal (probably dolphins?) is unimaginably vast.  Humans have the spark of something that is unequaled on any scale in the natural world.  I suppose this is not so different from claiming that humans have a soul, but that is curiously something I'm not prepared to accept.  It's also not so different from the schoolchild, who, upon their first broken heart, is convinced that no one has ever felt what they have felt, no one suffered such poignant loss or cruel fortune as they.  It is a self-centered and indulgent conclusion, but one I can nonetheless not, at this point, deny.

6. If Science (Reason) contradicts faith, we are obliged to believe science
I use the word “believe” in the Bayesian sense- we don't actually "believe" anything with certainty, we just accept the theories with the highest probability of being true given our current set of data.  This is an important truth, because I think this is where I differ from most Christians, and why so many Christians never end up truly questioning their beliefs.  I think if experience, reason, science, and the general weight of human intellect can convincingly show something to be true (or not true), then to continue to hold an opposing belief trespasses into the realm of dogma.  Religion and faith are not above challenge.  Indeed, if they were, our faith would be childish and arbitrary, for there is no better reason to cling to an irrational Christian faith than there is to cling to an irrational Muslim faith, or Taoist faith, or Buddhist faith.  Faith is verified by experience and reason, not the other way around.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

My background- the cliff notes

I was a Christian for 20 years.  Or more accurately, I was a child in a Christian family for about 8 years, then a believing practicing Christian for 12.  I went to Bible study, I went to church, I joined Campus Crusade for Christ (of my own volition) when I got to college, and even rose to a leadership position within the group.  I was, for all intents and purposes, an all-star Christian.

During my third year at college, I walked away from God.  This is not the "walked away" that Christians talk about- there was no slow slide of amoral behavior, no gradual move towards reliance on myself instead of God, and most assuredly no sin that I wanted to do so badly that I was willing to give God up (an idea that's been suggested to me several time, to my general amusement).  I made a rational, reasoned decision that I simply did not believe in the Gospel of Christianity.  Moreover, I did not believe in God at all.  In particular, my Christian experience did not live up to the claims that Christianity makes about itself.  I felt no Holy Spirit indwelling in me.  I felt no passion for the lost.  I saw these other Christians claiming supernatural direction ("I feel led to ___") and supernatural experience, and I realized that I'd never seen or felt or experienced any of that.  What I had was a conviction based on what I'd been told, not what I'd experienced, and not what made sense.  And on the basis of this, I walked away from Christianity.

My journey the last three years has led me to atheism.  I don't claim to know a lot of answers with certainty- indeed, anyone claiming anything with absolute certainty has a fundamental misunderstanding of the word "certain"- merely that the explanations given by atheism are more compelling than the explanations given by Christianity.

Lest the reader think this a flippant decision, it is worth pointing out that making this choice cost me the most important things in my life.  Firstly, it cost me a piece of my identity.  I had been a Christian for my whole life, and didn't know who I was without it.  Going from believing that an all-powerful God has your back to believing that you're all alone in this tragically random world is a jolt to the psyche.

Second, it cost me my friend group.  For the most part, they were actually quite good about being non-judgemental, but, as Clifford Williams puts it, "A group of like-minded people cannot easily tolerate members who are perceived to challenge the group’s shared beliefs, or who even honestly and innocently ask questions about those beliefs".  This is not particular to Christians (try mentioning you are entertaining the thought of Creationism to a group of scientists), and not something done by my friends with any intentionality, malicious or otherwise.  After all, I had jumped ship on the most important thing in their lives- what exactly did we have in common now?

But most importantly, It cost me the girl I loved.  I know.  It's trite, and it's overused, but it's true.  She was, and still is, a Christian, and 2 Corinthians 6:14 implores the Christian to not be "unequally yoked" with a non-believer.

My goal in this blog is to chronicle my experiences trying to find the God that I lost years ago.  I hope that it will be a good read for anyone going through something similar. Above all, I hope that it will be honest, open, and truthful, both in argument and in conclusion.  I will reserve judgement on the reader, whether Christian or Atheist, and simply say that if you are sure of yourself, you are father along this path than I.  And if you are not sure of yourself, good for you for being willing to question.

Friday, February 24, 2012


Welcome to The Thoughtful Atheist! My intention is for this to be an honest, open place to discuss the triumphs and shortcomings of both Christianity and Atheism. I am myself a skeptic, someone entirely devoted to the truth but highly suspicious of anyone who claims to have found it. I am currently an atheist, and have been since I gave up Christianity three years ago.

I am on a journey at the moment that includes reading through the Bible (10 pages a day = 1 Bible every three months!), something I would recommend for anybody with the slightest interest to do. The Bible reads quite differently when read in large portions, as opposed to exhaustive study of small pieces, as is the practice of most who read it.

My hope is that this blog will be a resource for anybody, Atheist or Christian, who is questioning the validity of their belief system.  Questioning is good, no matter which side of the fence you start from.  It's what confirms our beliefs and convictions as truth, and the only thing that allows us to escape false belief in favor of truth.  It should be noted that there are a plethora of useful resources for this on the internet.  Unfortunately, they are almost exclusively atheist in their leanings.  When I find resources I believe would be helpful to the reader, I will include them in the Resources section of this blog.

The ability to say "I am willing to give this up if it's not true" is in fact quite rare, both among the religious and the non-religious.   Most of us espouse this as an ideal, but few of us live up to it (myself included).  We are psychologically predisposed to defend our past choices, and therefore our current beliefs.  Moreover, a challenge to our beliefs is a challenge to our very personhood- for what are we but the sum of our beliefs and our actions?  This blog is my attempt to forgo my own personal intellectual placebo, and have honest, rational, real discussion about what I do, don't, can, can't, will, and won't believe.

Any thoughts or comments are most welcome- particularly challenges to my conclusions or my way of thinking.  In my experience, you learn very little from the people who agree with you