bigger question


email me if you want to purchase the original cartoon. Or buy a fine art print of it here.

The other day I drew a cartoon and wrote a short commentary called via de la question in which I shared my journey with the question, “Does God exist?“. One reader asked, “So what answer did you come up with?

The answer I came up with was a bigger question. In exchange for a smaller question… if we can handle it… we are given a bigger question. Double the mystery! Deeper the profundity! More intense the awe!

Sometimes we’d like just a straight yes or no answer. I haven’t had one of those in a long time. But I hope I am the more wise for it.

If you haven’t bought my book of cartoons, you simply must. Nakedpastor101: Cartoons by David Hayward“, from amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.de. Great for laughs and serious discussion!

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THE COMMENTS DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT OR EXPRESS THE OPINION OF THIS BLOG, NAKEDPASTOR, OR THE WRITER, DAVID HAYWARD, BUT ARE SOLELY THE OPINIONS EXPRESSED BY THE WRITER OF THE COMMENT.

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52 Responses

  1. lydia says:

    I find the more I question the deeper I question, that’s why I now like the saying question everything! I think, I think…I am glad he doesn’t give me pat answers, black and white answers. Don’t you think it’s kind of more flattering that way, lol!!

  2. MLE says:

    I get yeses and nos from people, and I find them largely inadequate. Give me complexity and depth any day. In allowing myself to doubt, seek, and question, I tend to be more able to embrace the mystery, more okay with being in awe and not caught up in trying to pick the lock on the God answers box.

    I think it’s other people, not God, who try their hardest to nip questioning in the bud. Why would a God want that? How are we to grow if we don’t question? Or, for that matter, if we only ever received yes and no answers? How insipid.

  3. I love the cartoon and agree with the sentiment! But in my experience many people who pay lip-service to “searching” often cling on to their little question mark, never having used it, and never having let it go. (This is not a comment aimed at you or your readers).

    Instead of asking what answer you came up with, I think it more interesting to ask how you went about pursuing the answer.

  4. Richard says:

    If I am “in awe” of Him, then I always am “seeking” and sometimes “I find”. To me Christ is not only my Saviour but since all things were created through Him, then to me Truth goes far, far beyond the Christian faith but into all of creation, seen and unseen. I have had unusual, truthful answers. Because of these things I am a skeptic about those who sound like they know it all. I sure don’t.

  5. Connie says:

    Hi!

    Love the message in your drawing, David! It’s true, questions are where it’s at as far as growth goes. Just like our four year old children badgering us with “WHY this, and how come that”…we follow the same course in growing up.

    I’d like to say, though, that at this point in my journey, I’m finding that the essentials for living life are things that we already “know”. There’s a knowing for the major stuff,,,everything else is proving to be filler.

    -Connie

  6. Connie says:

    I’d like to add…..the question you present is just the context. In your drawing, the fact that you show His hand handing back the question, or another question, shows that the existence of God is not in question at all.

    It’s so ironic how we actually play out the mystery. It’s going on right under our noses and we might miss it. Missing the forest for the trees thing, I guess.

  7. Ed says:

    I love it. Christianity is about being relational with God. I don’t think the bigger question is meant to torment us, but to stimulate dialog!

  8. …“Does God exist?“. One reader asked, “So what answer did you come up with?”…
    What does the evidence indicate? More to the point, does evidence even play a part in all of this discussion?

  9. Tiggy says:

    Wasn’t that the ‘answer’ Job was given? Also put forward in Jung’s ‘Answer To Job’.

  10. OneTrueKinsman says:

    “What does the evidence indicate? More to the point, does evidence even play a part in all of this discussion?”

    That’s the problem, TGM, evidence doesn’t play a part. It is all based on ‘faith’. When I read comments on this site or on others where the ‘faithful’ comment, there is always a glum arrogance that god exists and knows what each of them wants, that he caters to their every wish and whim. Why can’t people give credit to themselves for achieving their own goals, without an external ‘supernatural, unseen’ agent pushing things along? Why can’t people say ‘boy, that was a lovely coincidence’ when things happen to go their way?

    It’s intellectual dishonesty at its worst.

  11. @OneTrueKinsman,
    I was once one of the “faithful”.
    I think if someone had pointed out my flawed logic or told me I was being intellectually dishonest, I most likely would have dug in my heels even harder.

  12. @OneTrueKinsman,
    BTW, I wasn’t being critical of your comment. I actually agree. I’m just dwelling at the moment on a post on The Friendly Atheist that speaks to the whole “backfire effect”. I’m not very good at taking criticism, so I can relate to the basic premise of the article.
    Here’s the link:
    http://friendlyatheist.com/2011/06/14/can-we-really-change-anyones-mind/

  13. SocietyVs says:

    Truth is, who really knows? I tend to think and believe God exists – but the proof is severely lacking. I admit even with these obvious draw-backs I really do think there is God out there somewhere.

  14. @SocietyVs,
    Would you agree that the burden of proof rests with those who make extraordinary claims?

  15. OneTrueKinsman says:

    SocietyVs,

    You’re thinking is much like my sister-in-law’s. She believes that Jesus may have been a real person, but not the divine embodiment of god that most Christians think he was. That said, she always says during one of our debates ‘I still believe that there is something out there that’s bigger than us’.

    I simply respond ‘prove it’, to which I get silence. :)

  16. Johnfom says:

    ‘It’s intellectual dishonesty at its worst.’

    Indulging in a wee bit of polemic hyperbole there, Kinsman?

    There’s no cause to disrespect, or accuse, those who wrestle with the evidence in search of a workable worldview, even if they do come to conclusions you wouldn’t necessarily come to.

    For me to maintain intellectual integrity I have to affirm the God of the Christian scripture. I would have to dismiss large swathes of experiential data (albeit unrepeatable and therefore untestable in the scientific sense, but hey, life’s like that sometimes) to disregard that notion of God, at least until/unless I discover and adjudge there is a superior worldview which can account for my experiences.

    In a nutshell, I am scientifically skeptical of, but philosophically persuaded by, the Christian God. I don’t know about the one that ‘caters to their every wish and whim’ though. ;)

    TGC, yes, evidence does play a part in the discussion. Many of those who question the most tend to be concerned with evidence and the interpretation of the evidence. Most of the ‘faithful’ I hang out with came to the ‘faith’ via evidence, and the ones I respect the most hold their conclusions based on that evidence lightly such that ‘the merest breath of fact might dislodge’ them.

    Those ‘questioners’ are the same people who tend to, once they have found an ‘answer’, discover multiple, or sometimes bigger, questions arising from their answer, which keeps them looking at the evidence available to them. In other words, people like the bloke I see in the cartoon.

  17. Christine says:

    TGM, OTK – I think we have to go beyond the popular view of scientific practice, and back to its roots, back to epistemology – theories of knowledge.

    At its heart, science offers no guarantees, only probabilities. And, ultimately, we have no way of knowing if our sensory experience, on which science is based, can even be trusted. (Think Decartes – or, for a popular reference, The Matrix.) Science is still restling with the nature of matter – which at the moment looks all probabilities and something out of nothing – and attempting to resolve the macro and the quantum. These are ultimately still metaphysical and philosophical questions, in which theology plays an important role.

    That leaves a place for evidence (inductive) and also room for a discussion not based on sensory experience (deductive) – also the realm of things like mathematics, as well as literature and philosophy.

    But I don’t think there is a burden of proof – we are talking about questions and beliefs, after all. Why would that even make sense in this context? Unless we’re talking about trying to make people affirm a religious belief by force, in which case I agree with you.

  18. SocietyVs says:

    @Godless Monster and OneTrueKinsman

    I agree, the burden of proof (if one is needed), should stand with the one making the ‘claim’ (extraordinary or not).

    I make the claim that I think there is a God, something bigger than this small tangible reality I am stuck calling ‘a life’. I just get a sense that what I think and sometimes what collective society thinks cannot be all there is to life? My brain leaves a pretty good spot for such a claim, I always wonder why.

    Plus, I like to think that at the end of this I will be held 100% personally accountable for all my actions and that I am not an island – concerned only for myself and my needs. That my life meant something even more than I had hoped. It’s a fun hope, I cannot prove a single iota of it, but it makes me a happier person and less selfish in life.

    Same reason I like Mormons, I don’t believe one iota of what Joseph Smith wrote, but are they not nice people? Strange, but very nice.

    I tend to think everyone has a form of this building and hoping they do, if it’s not God then it will be something else.

  19. Ian says:

    It would be nice though if God did reveal himself in a tangible way that doesn’t take a membership for Mensa intellect – whoever or whatever God is – he remains hidden to most. From the stories in the Old Testament where God spoke, was heard, manifested visually and audibly and orchestrated supernatural events and the transition to the new testament records where Jesus was flesh and blood and engaged in physical actions and relationships.

    And then into Acts where things begin to go pear shaped … where it all becomes “spiritual” with little or no connection to what we experience. And now after 2 millennia we live in a world where God is reduced to a belief and faith is a set of propositions to inherit an afterlife. What went wrong?

  20. @Christine,
    We’ve been down this path before. Nothing has changed in my worldview since the last time.
    To have a fruitful exchange (and I REALLY WANT TO!), we need to agree on the most basic definitions and terms, don’t you think?
    I beg of you to examine your own ideas and challenge them…REALLY challenge them by reading arguments from the other side of the aisle. I did, and that is why I am an now an atheist.
    The arguments you use now are identical to the ones I put forth myself before my deconversion. I cringe when I read them now; not because I think you are stupid (you’re not and I certainly wasn’t), but out of wonderment that I could have used them with such confidence in the past.
    I suggest reading Carl Sagan’s The Demon Haunted World.

  21. Alexander says:

    This blog just seems to attract interesting people!

    Ian: I like this question; like all of us, I’m one subjective human being, but my response would be this: things were ‘going wrong’ long before the New Testament. God revealed Himself to His chosen people, and look how Israel behaved. Moses went up to commune with God and in less than 6 weeks Israel had forgotten and their own High Priest was making a golden calf. Look at the history coming out of Judges into the era of the Kings – child sacrifices, killing of prophets, apostasy on a grand scale… Philip Yancey has made this point better than any other writer I have read so far – namely, that if this is what happens when God reveals Himself, what on earth makes us think we’d accept God any differently if He gave us a ‘sign?’ The fact that Jesus the Son was rejected by His own is in fact unbelieveable. But He was. But God gave two gifts – not only His Son, but also the Holy Spirit to lead us into truth. So God goes from being revealed in signs and wonders to being incarnate to being Emmanuel – “God with us!” But we have become so comfortable with “God-as-Idea” that many Christians worship the IDEA instead. And many theologian and philosophers have joined in!

    Christine: I liked your comment too and followed along. A question must be asked – is Cartesian epistemology preferable to Aristotelian epistemology? What about the epistemic framework for something such as ‘faith?’ I tend to regard faith as being a form a knowledge rather than a form of mere hope and ungrounded belief. Excellent point regarding our capacity to know via our sensory experience – this has a huge impact on the role of the concept of ‘evidence’ and this word-concept is both understood and defined. Is every form of human knowledge easily articulated in words? Is it possibly the case that those who insist that the burden of ‘proof’ be placed on those who make bold claims about God might not always be capable and willing to truly engage in either inductive or deductive reasoning processes because the internal logic of the concept of a Creator God might just be one which they are emotionally not ready for?

    Johnfom: you are the first person I’ve seen use the word ‘hyperbole’ for absolutely ages! Nice response to Kinsman – very measured, and as I would want to put the boot into that particular comment with great force, I salute you for not doing that and I will restrain myself from saying any more on that!

    Connie, Ed, Tiggy: hear hear!

    MLE: I’m really happy to hear that you are comfortable in awe before God. As someone who has certainly tried to pick the lock of which you speak, I hear you loud and clear.

    David: It was worth the wait! Look forward to spending more time here with you and the community of folk who have gathered here.

  22. nakedpastor says:

    this blog DOES attract interesting people! thanks alexander!

  23. Alexander says:

    Godless Monster:

    To write your pseudonymn is quite a challenge for a serious conservative Christian like me – for at least 2 reasons: a) you are most likely a person with some sense of morality and ethics, which to my mind means that you are not completely godless (yes, I’m sure you’ll challenge that, but I’m putting down my marker here); b) I would like to think that you are not a monster. It’s easy for us to call folk like Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy ‘monsters’ and while I’d possibly have done that myself a long time ago, God is in the process of showing me that if I am to reflect His image, I need to be able to love even those whom society might decry as ‘monsters.’ They are flawed and broken human beings in which things have gone very badly wrong mentally and spiritually and socially – and who knows how many more folk would have done as they did had it not been for the grace of God? So I will call you by the name you have chosen out of respect for you –

    …and while I know that you are here to dialogue with Christine, I would also be willing to engage with you. I’m always interested in folk who say that they have become atheists when they really challenge their own ideas, because I’ve yet to find ANYONE who can successfully marshall an argument that qualifies as an argument that can literally invalidate religious faith – including Christian faith.

    So – let’s get into it. What are the words and terms and phrases etc that you think need to be defined more clearly?

  24. Joshua says:

    If you could help us out a little. What answer exactly are you looking for, David? Would a “yes” beaming from the clouds be enough? (That can be manufactured with existing technology.)

    Well, I think it lies in knowing what we’re going to accept as an acceptable answer to the question; we’d need to know a little bit about what we’re going to look for. Otherwise, how are we going to know our question(s) has / have been answered?

    Evidence for the existence of God must (and does) lie in areas beyond the reach of humans to manipulate / manufacture it or explain it away as the product of natural means (see voice beaming from cloud example above). If it doesn’t, people can always rely on those explanations for it, justifiably so.

    Does such evidence exist? Yes. It’s right there in the information that creates DNA; the laws that govern chemistry and biological systems. Random chance and mutations are not going to create anything — especially a code system.

    Now, maybe all that does make bigger questions: “Which God?” or maybe even “Why ‘God’?”

    And that is a worthwhile search indeed.

    Take care,

    Joshua

  25. Alexander says:

    Hang on, hang on….Joshua, is that last comment directed at “David” or did you actually mean “Ian?”

  26. @Alexander,
    I can assure you that I do have a sense of morality and ethics, but I give no credit whatsoever to the supernatural. I also accept complete responsibility for my negative behavior and less than appealing personal traits.
    Allow me to clarify what I meant by “engage”. I was referring to the specific topic at hand and nothing more. Going beyond that is out of my scope for the purposes of my involvement in this blog.
    Allow me to explain.
    I am here neither to deconvert or to be converted, Alexander.
    If, however, deconversion of the “faithful” was indeed my goal, I submit that my job would be an impossible one.
    Supporting my last statement are comments such as, “I tend to regard faith as being a form a knowledge rather than a form of mere hope and ungrounded belief.”
    You’ve thrown up an impassable barrier, Alexander and one which was constructed specifically to deflect logical and/or science based arguments and reasoning. Once you conflate faith and science the exchange becomes meaningless and we operate in a universe in which anything is possible if Alexander just believes strongly enough in it. So you see, the exchange is at an impasse and it hasn’t even begun! You (like many others on this blog) will claim to be open to questioning, but the truth of the matter is that questioning can only go so far before things become uncomfortable, and once they become really uncomfortable, the obfuscations and rationalizations begin…and reason and science are always -without fail- the first casualties. I refuse to argue with or debate creationists or the “faithful”, I merely put things out there for them to ponder once in a while. When a person is ready for reality, they’ll accept it on their own. Nobody is going to be forced,argued or humiliated into non-belief. It didn’t work with me and I see myself as being fairly representative of the human race.
    You wrote, “I’ve yet to find ANYONE who can successfully marshall an argument that qualifies as an argument that can literally invalidate religious faith – including Christian faith.”
    Judging by what I’ve read you’re not a stupid man, so I’ll gather that there is a good chance that you knew exactly what you were doing when you wrote that. However, instead of flaming you and moving on, I’ll respond with patience.
    Alexander, you set up a straw man. I cannot prove a negative and you should know that. Also, to extrapolate from that comment that ‘TGM cannot prove there is no god, therefore there is a god.’ is fundamentally flawed reasoning. No, you didn’t write that, but it certainly was inferred. This is known as a false dichotomy.
    As I stated to Christine, the arguments you are putting forth and the statements you are making are identical to the arguments I used when I was one of the “faithful”. Been there, done that.
    One intensely irritating phenomena I’ve encountered regularly since my deconversion 7 or so years ago is the inference that I don’t really understand the religious or Christian argument, implying that perhaps I wasn’t a true Christian in the first place (the ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy). I’m a former member of the Churches of Christ and a former Catholic with Jesuit training in Catholic doctrine. I was also raised Muslim, as my father is from southern Lebanon. I’ve read the Bible several times, which is more than most Christians can say for themselves, unfortunately. But I digress…
    Methinks you may have a fundamentally flawed idea of what atheism is. It’s not that I believe there is no god or gods, it’s that I don’t believe in gods. I don’t believe in the supernatural because there is not sufficient evidence to convince me otherwise. Again, I don’t need to come up with arguments to destroy your beliefs. I am not the one making claims of the supernatural…you are. I stand by my statement that those who make extraordinary claims should provide evidence to back those claims. You will respond by saying that it isn’t necessary or that my standards of proof are invalid or excessive. This is a game that I’ve seen played out time and time again. This is a game that has no end, Alexander, and it’s a game that I am no longer willing to play, sorry. Watching others engage in mental masturbation while they dance around the issues is not my idea of a good time.
    In regards to my moniker, The Godless Monster, “godless monsters” was the term I used to describe communists and atheists in general. I was a rabid anti-communist and I harbored a deep hatred for atheism. As a young man and former Cold Warrior, I was involved actively in raising money for fighting communism and supporting conservative, Christian causes.

  27. OneTrueKinsman says:

    Johnfom,

    There’s no cause to disrespect, or accuse, those who wrestle with the evidence in search of a workable worldview, even if they do come to conclusions you wouldn’t necessarily come to.

    I am sorry if I have shown any disrespect; however, since I’m an atheist and have an opposite opinion on this matter than most others, how can I come across respectful in my arguments? We can use the matter/anti-matter analogy in this case.

    Also, I’m glad you brought up the topic of worldview. While I get that the bible has some small tidbits of goodness documented (love thy neighbor, the Golden Rule), how is this superior to any other philosopher that has ever lived? Why can’t we just look at a general worldview (like Thomas Hobbes’ Natural Law) and remove the whole supernatural aspect out of everyday lexicon? The laws of the ten commandments (for example) make little sense in today’s world (aside from not stealing and not murdering parts). The laws that Hobbes outlines (see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_law#Hobbes) can stand the test of time, in my opinion.

    And, yes, it is intellectual dishonesty. Maybe you’re different, so I’d be wrong in painting everyone with the same brush. However, which works better: praying or actually pitching in to help resolve an issue? If you say ‘praying’, that’s intellectual dishonesty. Which makes more sense: giving people the rights they deserve, or limiting the righs of people because the bible says so (read: gay rights)? If you agree with the latter, that’s intellectual dishonesty.

    Sorry for being disrespectful.

  28. OneTrueKinsman says:

    @ TGM,

    “I can assure you that I do have a sense of morality and ethics, but I give no credit whatsoever to the supernatural. I also accept complete responsibility for my negative behavior and less than appealing personal traits.”

    Here, here!

  29. Alexander says:

    @ TGM,

    Thank you very much for your response and for laying your cards on the table. As you have defined the terms by which you used the word ‘engage’ in your last post, if I am to respect you by the appropriate social protocols, then you have neutered my ability to provide a suitably comprehensive response without this degenerating into the kind of negative exchange which gets no-one nowhere. I would, however, like to suggest that if it is a serious and respectful debate which you are after – albeit on your own terms(which is the impression I gathered from your reply to Christine) then accusing others of ‘mental masturbation’ does provide a searching insight into how your mind works. I’m not sure that anything I have said or even alluded to qualifies for a rubric such as this. But then, then you have also made it clear that you recognise that you have negative behaviour and less-than-appealing personal traits, so I guess I will let that ride. As I now need to leave this page so that I am not late for a meeting that I am chairing, I will depart and return to not only see what is new but also to defend the specific statements of mine that you have seized upon. That much, I think, I can do without becoming the kind of blog-post-commenter that I find personally very unappealing.

  30. @Alexander,
    Thank you very much for your response and for laying your cards on the table.
    You’re welcome, Alexander.
    As you have defined the terms by which you used the word ‘engage’ in your last post, if I am to respect you by the appropriate social protocols, then you have neutered my ability to provide a suitably comprehensive response without this degenerating into the kind of negative exchange which gets no-one nowhere.
    Au contraire, my friend, I did nothing of the sort and it is unfair for you to attempt to turn the tables on me. Let’s call things as they are, not as we wish them to be. I merely refuse to participate in an exchange in which reality is given short shrift for the sake of your comfort and/or expediency. Obviously, we both feel the other asks the impossible of us. I can live with that. To say that I neutered your attempts at communication is disingenuous and gives me more influence and power over others than I care to wield. I merely recognized and described the paradigm that you operate in and explained that such a construct is not conducive to a meaningful exchange with someone like me.
    I would, however, like to suggest that if it is a serious and respectful debate which you are after – albeit on your own terms(which is the impression I gathered from your reply to Christine) then accusing others of ‘mental masturbation’
    To paraphrase what I stated earlier, I assert that it is impossible to have a serious debate with someone who conflates reality with the unreal (the supernatural). There’s no accusation of mental masturbation, it is a descriptor…a simple observation. You or I could call it something more palatable, polite or pleasant, to be sure, but that is the term I chose to use. As a former sailor and private soldier, I can be a little, shall we say, “rough around the edges” at times. I make no apologies for what I am, and ask nothing of the kind from you either, my friend. Feel free to substitute another if you wish, but the meaning remains the same…for me.
    does provide a searching insight into how your mind works.
    I’m sure it’s safe to say that wasn’t intended as a complement. :-)
    I’m not sure that anything I have said or even alluded to qualifies for a rubric such as this.
    If you are offended by my comment, then it is because you have chosen to take umbrage. No personal insult was intended, Alexander. I am often critical of behavior, but rarely choose to tear down the person.
    But then, then you have also made it clear that you recognise that you have negative behaviour and less-than-appealing personal traits, so I guess I will let that ride.
    Really, are you sure you did? :-)
    As I now need to leave this page so that I am not late for a meeting that I am chairing, I will depart and return to not only see what is new but also to defend the specific statements of mine that you have seized upon.
    So, if I respond to specific comments then I am ‘seizing upon’ specific statements? What do you suggest as an alternative approach? :-)
    That much, I think, I can do without becoming the kind of blog-post-commenter that I find personally very unappealing.
    You seem like a very nice guy, so I’m sure you can. :-)

  31. @OneTrueKinsman,
    I have found that more often than not, there is an insistence by the “faithful” that we show deference or respect for their beliefs, no matter how destructive or absurd they may be. This is not because they are idiots, but because they have invested so much of themselves in these beliefs that they see an attacks on their faith as an attack on themselves. This goes for just about any ideology, not just religion. I was just as guilty of this when I was a true believer and would not have reacted with the calm and grace that Johnfom did.
    I have a different perspective on the following statement of yours:
    “Which makes more sense: giving people the rights they deserve, or limiting the righs of people because the bible says so (read: gay rights)? If you agree with the latter, that’s intellectual dishonesty.”
    I’d say the latter is being more honest, not less. At least their arguments are consistent with the instruction manual (such as it is), even if they are not in sync with the concept of a loving, forgiving creator. Of course, one could argue as to what it means to be a true believer or follower of their faith. I submit that anyone who adheres faithfully to the precepts and concepts put forth in the religious documents they claim their religion to be based upon are better examples of that particular religion.
    Al Qaeda is a good example of what it means to follow the Quran as it was meant to be followed. To say they are intellectually dishonest with regards to their faith is to accept the G.W. Bush idiocy that they aren’t following the real Islam, but a corrupted form of it. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Islam that I, my father and my friends and relatives practiced was the corrupted, watered down form. As to how this applies to Christianity, while Christianity is nowhere near the evil, bloody mess that Islam is, at its core, it often conflicts with the basic humanist and rational concepts that developed in Europe and the New World during the period of the Enlightenment. Most Christians today believe in and practice a “user-friendly” form of Christianity that does not (overly) conflict with the cultural values developed during the Enlightenment. Christianity had to adapt or it would have gone the way of Hellenic polytheism and so many other religions before that. Some studies suggest that eventually it will find it’s way to the trash heap of history as well.
    I would suggest that on this particular blog, Steven Martin is closer than anyone else to being a doctrinally “correct” Christian. I may find his beliefs repulsive, but at least his “arguments” are internally consistent and he is unapologetic for being what he is. I see little to no hypocrisy there, just solid obedience and unquestioning faith.

  32. OneTrueKinsman says:

    “At least their arguments are consistent with the instruction manual (such as it is), even if they are not in sync with the concept of a loving, forgiving creator.”

    I agree. Perhaps I should frame it otherwise, maybe pull in the Golden Rule itself, or use the analogy of ‘walking in another man’s shoes’?

    Point is we all look at the world through our own eyes, our own perspectives and seldom consider what the opposite perspective is. Many atheists that I have met online were once religious (I, for one, was religious, although not at a fundamentalist level), so I think there is an advantage there when we argue our points (we’ve seen one perspective, and now have a new perspective which makes more sense, at least in my opinion).

  33. Christine says:

    TGM – Thanks for your response and the interesting conversation.

    Before I get into your response to me, just a word on your post to OTK above:

    Do not conflate a religion with its central text. Islam = Quran and Chistianity = Bible are oversimplified and inaccurate depictions. Religions are belief systems which change and evolve, with view and role of central texts evolving as well. This is, admittedly, a mistake that Christians make more than anyone, so the impression seems reasonable under the circumstances.

    On your message to me: Be careful not to make it sound like you are assuming that you were just where I am, just because some of the arguments sound familiar. I’m sure you find it just as annoying when people of faith assume they know where you from something you said and act like you’re “just on the road to discovering Jesus”.

    To give you a bit of back story, we probably have had a similar church experience at some point, but likely also had a similar deconversion process. Mine was from a fundamentalist, evangelical Christianity and, while I remain Christian now, it may lean closer to agnoticism than literalism.

    I was always a split personality. My religious community was hostile not just to science, but to intellectual, and especially academic, anything. Being smart was not viewed as a blessing, but a temptation. But, as a gifted student, I ignored most of that, embraced a dibiltating cognitive dissonance, and continued with secondary and graduate work anyways. It was when I saw the potential for reconciling those two halfs that the conversion process begain.

    And I say reconciling, because they were both me. Like split personalities, the solution was to find a way to incorporate them… But I’m getting ahead of myself.

    In academia, I had proficiencies for science, mathematics, philosophy and social sciences. I was a Arts major taking calculus to improve my GPA. I loved logic and epistemology most, but I ultimately decided that it was the soft sciences that could teach me most about the world. I held and continue to hold a belief that what goes on within us and between is more real than what goes on around us – and I came to feel that way not at church, but in university, where I mostly set aside my religious convictions and was required to challenge, question, analyze and examine.

    I maintain a pragmatic approach to empiricism. Ultimately, none of my physical surroundings may be real. Ultimately, whether I am in a real physical world, a computer program, or a mass hypnosis, as long as other people are real, then it doesn’t really matter. (Actually, you could go further and say there is no way to even define real in that context, or that they could all be simultaneously correct and not correct, but I’m getting side-tracked.) My experience of the beauty and tragedy of this world is real, and if the ice cream tastes good, it tastes good, real or not.

    So, when I talk about the underlying epistemology, it isn’t a hail Mary pass to save my faith from the threat of reality as revealed by science – it comes from my strong belief that it is valid to question reality – or even the idea that reality exists. My brain continues to live in that worldview, as it did even when it was at odds with the variety of the religion I belonged to. I’m honestly not sure if reality exists. Ironically, this is supported as much by quantum mechanics as philosophy, but in any case, I’m more inclined to elevate philosophy – pure thought and deduction – over science – dependent on sensory preception.

    So, it’s not always as simple as it looks.

    I know our worldviews, then, are dimetrically opposed. You’re a near positivist, and positivism has never seemed more than arrogance and small-mindedness to me – a blind comfort in the face of uncertainty.

    What I need you to understand is that from my perspective, you’re the one who’s view is limited, who is truly not examining or questioning your belief – your belief in science as the ultimate answer, the means to truth. To me, it’s rediculous to have that kind of faith in science when it sits on such shaky ground.

    But, I’m happy to agree to disagree – I’m enjoying the conversation.

  34. @OneTrueKinsman,
    I certainly concur that much of the bible is at odds with the concept of a kind and loving god. Still, I see the character of Jesus as generally being okay. Much of what is attributed to this character is positive and genuinely good by any standard.

  35. Christine says:

    Someone asked about the relative merits of Cartesian and Aristotelian epistemologies.

    I didn’t mean to give the impression I was advocating a Cartesian worldview, but Decartes remains strong in my mind as a pioneer in logic and religious belief. Ultimately, I think the attempt to prove God was misguided, beyond which there are logical fallicies in the implementation (not the circularity that is often assumed but the need for certain assumptions about the necessary nature of a god, should one exist).

    Modern philosophers, however, are even taking this a step further, questioning “cogito ergo sum” (the premise “I think, therefore I exist”) altogether. Cognitive specialists, although by completely seperate means and motives, have come to do this as well, questioning the existence of an “I” at all. It is these concepts I actually find most unsettling – albeit fascinating.

    My point was simply to move beyond the assumption that sensory experience is analogous to truth (which Aristotle would disaprove of much more than Decartes).

  36. @Christine,
    And heeeeere we go…
    Do not conflate a religion with its central text.
    I didn’t. Reread what I wrote. That is not what I wrote.
    Islam = Quran and Chistianity = Bible are oversimplified and inaccurate depictions. Religions are belief systems which change and evolve, with view and role of central texts evolving as well. This is, admittedly, a mistake that Christians make more than anyone, so the impression seems reasonable under the circumstances.
    So, aside from the hymnals or missals, what are those other funny books I find occupying every pew in most Christian churches today? What purpose do they serve? I’ll venture a wild guess that your statement is at odds with the overwhelming majority of Christian theologians. I say that the Bible either has a key importance in Christianity or it does not. You can’t have it both ways, depending on your mood.

    On your message to me: Be careful not to make it sound like you are assuming that you were just where I am, just because some of the arguments sound familiar.
    I didn’t infer that, nor did I state that.
    I’m sure you find it just as annoying when people of faith assume they know where you from something you said and act like you’re “just on the road to discovering Jesus”.
    I’m mostly numb to it now.

    To give you a bit of back story, we probably have had a similar church experience at some point, but likely also had a similar deconversion process. Mine was from a fundamentalist, evangelical Christianity and, while I remain Christian now, it may lean closer to agnoticism than literalism.
    I was agnostic for many years as well.

    I was always a split personality. My religious community was hostile not just to science, but to intellectual, and especially academic, anything.
    It’s all part of the same thing, really. They are afraid of reason.
    Being smart was not viewed as a blessing, but a temptation. But, as a gifted student, I ignored most of that, embraced a dibiltating cognitive dissonance, and continued with secondary and graduate work anyways. It was when I saw the potential for reconciling those two halfs that the conversion process begain.
    You’re singing my song.
    And I say reconciling, because they were both me. Like split personalities, the solution was to find a way to incorporate them… But I’m getting ahead of myself.

    In academia, I had proficiencies for science, mathematics, philosophy and social sciences. I was a Arts major taking calculus to improve my GPA. I loved logic and epistemology most, but I ultimately decided that it was the soft sciences that could teach me most about the world. I held and continue to hold a belief that what goes on within us and between is more real than what goes on around us – and I came to feel that way not at church, but in university, where I mostly set aside my religious convictions and was required to challenge, question, analyze and examine.

    I maintain a pragmatic approach to empiricism. Ultimately, none of my physical surroundings may be real. Ultimately, whether I am in a real physical world, a computer program, or a mass hypnosis, as long as other people are real, then it doesn’t really matter. (Actually, you could go further and say there is no way to even define real in that context, or that they could all be simultaneously correct and not correct, but I’m getting side-tracked.) My experience of the beauty and tragedy of this world is real, and if the ice cream tastes good, it tastes good, real or not.

    So, when I talk about the underlying epistemology, it isn’t a hail Mary pass to save my faith from the threat of reality as revealed by science – it comes from my strong belief that it is valid to question reality – or even the idea that reality exists. My brain continues to live in that worldview, as it did even when it was at odds with the variety of the religion I belonged to. I’m honestly not sure if reality exists. Ironically, this is supported as much by quantum mechanics as philosophy, but in any case, I’m more inclined to elevate philosophy – pure thought and deduction – over science – dependent on sensory preception.
    I go where the evidence takes me. That doesn’t mean that I am right or that my interpretation is correct. However, when a preponderance of evidence indicates something to be correct, I am going to go with that until something better comes along. To simply state that reality may or may not exist is not an answer. If you feel so strongly about this, then I’ll be happy to test your hypothesis by accepting any and all gifts you may be willing to bestow upon me. It’s not real after all, so what’s the difference, right? You think it’s valid to test reality? Then by all means, let us test it!!! It’s one thing to make statements about the universe based on your philosophical leanings, it’s quite another to live your life based on those leanings. To date, you have demonstrated nothing in your writings to convince me that you do not believe in the reality of the world you are currently occupying.Talk all you want about this or that not being real, but until you’ve demonstrably tested your claims they just remain unsubstantiated rhetoric and nothing more. Convoluted reasoning and obfuscation meant to impress the ignorant and soothe the weak minded.

    So, it’s not always as simple as it looks
    It’s as complicated or as simple as you make it out to be. From my vantage point, the more complicated and convoluted you make it, the more confident you feel in the validity of your argument.

    I know our worldviews, then, are dimetrically opposed. You’re a near positivist, and positivism has never seemed more than arrogance and small-mindedness to me – a blind comfort in the face of uncertainty.
    Arrogant and small-minded? Thanks.

    What I need you to understand is that from my perspective, you’re the one who’s view is limited, who is truly not examining or questioning your belief – your belief in science as the ultimate answer, the means to truth.
    Truth? Where did you ever get the impression that I’m searching for truth? As far as I’m concerned, there is only probability. Something has a degree of probability of being correct or not being correct…that’s it. Anyone who makes claims to the truth is a person to be watched with suspicion and treated with derision.
    To me, it’s rediculous to have that kind of faith in science when it sits on such shaky ground.
    Straw man arguments. You are projecting and putting words into my mouth, one right after the other. Unfair and definitely not cool in the least bit. My belief ‘in science as the ultimate answer’? What a crock.
    When did I ever write or even infer such a thing? No, I put my trust in reason and critical thinking. Science is just a tool and nothing more. Science can and does give answers, but it can also raise more questions. That doesn’t invalidate it, of course, but it does mean that science is not 100% reliable. But so what? To date, science is the best way we have of understanding, benefiting from and interacting with the universe we live in. To infer that because science is not perfect that religion or pseudoscience has a legitimate place alongside it is faulty reasoning in the extreme.

    But, I’m happy to agree to disagree – I’m enjoying the conversation.
    I was until the ad hominem snipe.

  37. Christine says:

    I didn’t mean to attack you personally, TGM. I may have made comments about my feelings about your particular viewpoints and positions (not about you specifically), but nothing beyond what you’ve said about religion and faith generally.

    Based on your response, I really don’t think you understood what I was saying. It didn’t indicate you were able to step outside your perspective to understand mine, even for a moment, even if you would never agree with it. That’s just as likely my fault, but sometimes that’s all you can do.

    So, as we seem to just be talking over each others’ heads, now, maybe I’ll take a break and try again later.

  38. nakedpastor says:

    i love ALL you guys. thanks for helping me with such a great comment section to my blog!

  39. @Christine,
    No, it’s just me being over sensitive. You didn’t write anything offensive or wrong.
    Got a little cheese to go with my whine? :-)
    Apologies, dear.

  40. Johnfom says:

    Sorry for the lateness of rejoining this conversation. By way of reason, not excuse, I have been missing some of the replies on my feed reader so missed the reply from the Kinsman.

    Kinsman, thanks for that. I think TGM was pretty close in his assessment of what I found a tad irksome. What I took slight offence at, and it was only slight, was the characterisation of intellectual dishonesty for those who were ‘the faithful’ (like myself). I suppose it was the all encompassing tone I perceived (rightly or wrongly) in your post. It seemed to me you were saying that faith was intellectually dishonest, and hence a characteristic of those who professed faith. It was that seeming dismissal of the countless hours I and others have taken to educate ourselves, and to test and retest our theocentric philosophy, with the words ‘intellectually dishonest’ which raised my ire. My aim was to offer an example of intellectual integrity as a counterpoint.

    You asked, ‘ Why can’t we just look at a general worldview (like Thomas Hobbes’ Natural Law) and remove the whole supernatural aspect out of everyday lexicon?’ Hey, if Hobbes has described your experience of life, go for it. If you have no experience of the supernatural, or you have found a reasonable description of your life experiences without the supernatural, it would be a ‘sin’ for anyone to attempt to coerce you against it. To challenge is fine, to coerce is to seek to create intellectual dishonesty. You must maintain your intellectual integrity!

    I like what TGM said, He said it better than me:

    ‘I go where the evidence takes me. That doesn’t mean that I am right or that my interpretation is correct. However, when a preponderance of evidence indicates something to be correct, I am going to go with that until something better comes along.’

    That is the sense in which I meant ‘superior’. It is the philosophical worldview which is the ‘best fit’ (superior) for the experiences of MY life, until/unless something better comes along. I realise I was guilty of implying a similar dismissal of your, obviously, carefully obtained philosophy with that word ‘superior’. Please accept my apology, it was careless and unintended.

    Intellectual dishonesty does occur, and I suspect I dislike it as much as you do. It pains and frustrates me to see people, Christian leaders in particular, deliberately avoiding information in case it might challenge their world view. It’s almost as enough to make one drop the identification as a ‘Christian’. There are no worries with people challenging a viewpoint. That’s an important part of questioning.

  41. Alexander says:

    It is almost 3am where I am as I begin typing this, and I cannot believe I have ended up in such a situation as this where despite my best intentions I have had to deal with life beyond this page. I haven’t been so exercised in a long time, but I don’t plan to make the mistake I made yesterday of thinking that I understood the types of folk on this page or their relations. Seems some of you know each other rather well, and have found ways to relate to each other despite opposing worldviews.

    @Christine: thanks for clarifying your perspective regarding Descartes and Aristotle. From what you said, I wondered – but now I agree. I’m getting back into epistemology now after a few years doing other things, but what you said in your response chimes with what I too have understood.

    @Johnfom: thanks for your comment above and for pointing me towards a way to relate to people like OTK and TGM. Once again I must hit the road – so I’ll not unpack – but I’m glad to read what you have said, even if I might not personally agree with every last sentiment (and this would pose you no problem, so all is well).

    @TGM: I’m happy to have encountered you on the blog. I am someone who is happy to claim to be on a journey, and in times past persons holding the types of views that you hold and expressing them in the way I have witnessed so far have brought out the pugilist in me. I have spent an inordinate amount of time wrestling with questions of faith and belief and I have drawn opposing conclusions to yourself. Unsurprisingly, I take issue with much of what you have said to me and am frustrated that time and circumstances are against my responding to you in the way that I would like. However, we don’t always get what we want in this life (maybe you will counter that, but I’ll stand by it). I do regard patience as a virtue and will wait for an opportunity to respond to you without rancour. This ‘mental masturbation’ business is something to which I would also like to respond.

    Wishing everyone well.

  42. Crystal says:

    Wow! Interesting reading here. Loved the intellectual discussions – clever people all of you – I love that because you challenge my mind. I didn’t have that in my church at all. It was like everybody was some little robot, quoting bible verses as the answer to everything. God was responsibe for every good thing that happened ( never us) and the devil was responsible for every bad thing ( never down to our stupid mistakes or ignorance) and it appeared that us humans didn’t have much to do with any of it. Puppets on a string, so to speak. Very uplifting and life affirming – NOT! No questions, no doubts, no individualism. We were all supposed to follow the herd wherever the lead animal decided to go. Obey obey, or face correction for rebelling. If he took the wrong turning and fell off a cliff, well, we all fell with him, and too bad. Martyrs to the cause. I got out of that and do not intend going back.

    Although I am still a believer and have had some supernatural experiences which I certainly cannot explain or prove, I have to state that my faith is mine. It belongs to no- one else. Despite my intellect (I do consider myself to be an intellectual – I’m a writer, and read copiously) I cannot deny my supernatual experiences because they happened to me and therefore mean much. I think I’ve escaped from the cage (the institutional church) which was my prison for so many years, but it doesn’t mean that I’ve thrown away everything I learnt while in the prison. I’ve walked out of the gates and am set free, but I retain my deep spiritual beliefs.

    That said, I do believe that many Christians have lost their ability to think for themselves intellectually, and that’s very sad. Mostly within the evangelistic churches, I see this trait. They have become narrow minded and set in their ways. They have what they call a simple faith, and they think that that will see them through the minefield of the changing world. Their churches are losing people daily,and they don’t understand why. They don’t realise that they have not grown up with their faith. They cling to the old black and white views of their forebears and have let hate, rather than love, dictate their actions. That’s why I prefer to fly solo for the time being. Trying out my wings and seeing where they will take me.

    By the way, my son is an atheist, yet says that he respects my faith because I don’t try to ram it down his throat, and he knows what it means to me, and he knows it is authentic to me. He also says that IF he ever decided to be a Christian ( he was,once) my brand of Christianity would be what he would be attracted to because it isn’t judgemental and hateful. Sadly, the judgemental was mostly presented to him as he grew up in church.

    Keep the dialogue going between you all, if only for people like me. This blog rocks!

  43. Christine says:

    Thanks, TGM.

    I only got a chance to skim the articles, but it seems bizarre.

    Sometimes the whole epistemology question gets too confusing for people and they get confused, which may be what happened to the Bishop in question, hard to tell. Obviously, asking for evidence to support the scientific method indicates a complete lack of understanding.

    In my view, science is pragmatic. i.e. If I’ve droped an object 100,000 times and it’s fallen each time and at the same rate each time, there’s probably something to that so it’ll probably drop the next time too and the time after that. From which we get proven laws and grounded theories. And I don’t mean to dispute any of that.

    Science is the best means of understanding the physical world – real or not :) (and it matters, real or not) – and has the best track record for predicting and manipulating that world. It’s important and extremely useful. And in that sense, I believe in it just fine. I have much respect for, and interest in, science.

    But science operate within only one way of viewing the nature of existence – not just an “experiential” one, but also a quantifiable/empirical/experimental one. Which makes it not one iota less important or valid for everything I describe above. Science, ultimately, only attempts to make claims within a certain realm, claims it lives up to. So, science is not making any errors here.

    I just find that sometimes people conflate the claims of science (and evidence in the scientific sense) with claims about absolute truth. Mostly along the lones of: if science can’t find/explain it, it isn’t real – but also in other ways.

    That just wouldn’t exclude god(s) or heaven/hell, but also love and emotions beyond brain chemistry and beauty beyond aethetics, and much of human relationships. Some people do try to reduce all of human experience to that which we can quantify through measurement. Not sure if that’s where you are or not, TGM, but much like Johnfom, that would go against my experience of life.

    While I’m pragmatic, and therefore interested in probability, I’m also interested in truth. (Wasn’t trying to claim I knew either, just that both are worth looking for.) Science doesn’t make any claim (definitiely or probabalistically) on truth, so it’s not a matter of probability versus absolute certainty – it’s about the types of questions being asked, the knowledge that is being sought.

    Maybe we are just asking different questions.

  44. @Christine,
    “…Some people do try to reduce all of human experience to that which we can quantify through measurement. Not sure if that’s where you are or not, TGM,…”
    To some extent I am, but that does not in any way diminish the joy I get out of my love life or the wonderment I feel when looking at a beautiful flower. This is something that many theists just do not seem to grasp about atheists. They often stereotype us as unhappy, unfulfilled killjoys. Nothing could be further from the truth! I am happy to find meaning IN life instead of endlessly spinning my wheels looking for the meaning OF life-if indeed there is such a thing. I have finally found peace in my life and things make more sense to me now than when I was a theist.
    You seem closer to one of my favorite atheist authors, Sam Harris, who gets much inspiration from the Buddhist approach or Eastern influences in general. That’s not a bad thing or a good thing…it just is. :-)

  45. Christine says:

    I didn’t mean to imply any of that, TGM. What you said about still experiencing joy without a “meaning of” is much like my saying above that my experience of something would be just as full whether or not it is real. Same concept really.

    I think the difference is that is doesn’t seem plausible to mean that all of human experience can be boiled down to things we can currently quantify. That would not correspond to my experience, that’s all.

  46. @Christine,
    “I think the difference is that is doesn’t seem plausible to mean that all of human experience can be boiled down to things we can currently quantify. That would not correspond to my experience, that’s all.”
    Understood. This would confirm what I stated earlier about your having something in common with Sam Harris.
    One of my sisters is Buddhist and would tend to agree with you as well. I’m not ideologically committed to the materialist camp, but it provides the best answers for me.

  47. All,

    I highly recommend taking a few minutes out of your day and reviewing this video.

  48. Christine says:

    I’ve never really seen it as Buddhist-like, or having a correlation to Eastern philosophy. Interesting. My dad’s been on a total Buddhist kick for years – maybe it’s rubbing off. :) Now I’m curious – maybe I’ll do some research to see if I see the similarities as well.

  49. @Christine,
    I think the bottom line with you is that you feel or believe that we are greater than the sum of our parts…that there is something spiritual about us.
    I’m not convinced that this isn’t so, but for now I see no evidence to think this is the case.
    Sam Harris and a very few other atheists propose that there IS evidence to show that there is a spiritual side to our existence, even if there is no spirit. I find the argument to be a form of fence sitting and somewhat silly, but I don’t claim to be an expert in this area of human experience. I hold out the possibility that I could indeed be wrong.

  50. Christine says:

    Thanks, TGM.

    And, yes, that’s part of it. I think that’s it for a lot of people.

    But I would add that I feel strongly that my relationships with other people are more than the sums of their parts – more than two purely bilogical creatures interacting solely through sensory experience.

    It’s in the relationships, in human interaction in general, that I am most convinced.

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