How I researched my way into Christianity

Jeff of The Atheocracy (note: some PG-13 content) asked in the comments to this post: “What are these ‘intellectual reasons’ of which you speak that led you to Christianity?”

Great question. I frequently refer to the fact that I converted to Christianity for intellectual reasons (usually when talking about how I initially didn’t “feel” God’s presence), yet I haven’t attempted to summarize what I mean by that. As you can imagine, an entire book could be written on the subject. Here’s an attempt at fitting it into a post:

At some point I began to believe that it could be possible that there’s more to life than just the material world at hand. A lot of things led me to consider this possibility: the universal human belief in some other world and/or afterlife; the universal human sense that there is objective “right” and “wrong” with a source above human opinion; a realization that our five senses are very limiting; personal intuition that there was an essence to myself that transcended the chemical reactions in my brain (a “soul“), etc.

One of the big roadblocks for me in terms of believing in any kind of spiritual realm had always been the lack of repeatable, systematic, observable results: if there is some kind of God or gods or spirits who are aware of what’s going on here on earth, why can I not simply snap my fingers and tell them I want to hear from them and get an answer? All my life I’d assumed that this proved that nothing else was out there. But at some point I realized that this shouldn’t be a deal-killer. Maybe our communication with the other side is spotty for a reason: perhaps it’s a test, perhaps we’re in a Flatland-esque situation where it would be impossible for us to fully see anything that exists in other dimensions — who knows. But I was willing to set aside the issue for the moment and do a little exploring.

Here is where religion came in.

I started to see religion in a different light, realizing that perhaps the universal human tendency to seek religion was based not on superstition or power grabs, but on an attempt to explain the reality of another realm. But, given that lack of repeatable evidence in matters of the nonmaterial world, how is a person supposed to determine which religion has the most accurate information?

There are three criteria I used for evaluating this. For each religion, I asked:

  1. Where does it claim to get its information?

  2. What are its teachings? Specifically:
    - What does it say about death?

    - What does it say about suffering?

    - What does it say is the meaning of life?

    - What does it say about how we can have communication with or knowledge of the nonmaterial world?

  3. What are the fruits of following its teachings?

I took these questions and started reading. It seemed to me that the obvious place to start when evaluating world religions would be Christianity, since it’s the only one whose founder claimed to be God.

As you can guess from the subject matter of this blog, I was blown away when I evaluated Christianity against these questions. Truly, I was shocked. My entire life, Christians had been “the others,” people with whom I had nothing in common, whose lives were based on some odd belief system that someone made up. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would be one of them. And yet, if I were to be honest with myself, I had to admit: I think this is true.

Though I didn’t do as much deep investigation into other religions once I started exploring Christianity, I did enough to see that it did seem like almost all religions had elements of truth and probably did facilitate contact with the divine; but this one, Christianity, was by far the standout in terms of seeming to have the fullness of truth.

In order to avoid turning this post into a small book, I’ll only briefly touch on the answers I found when evaluating the religion of Christianity against these questions (I can go into it more in other posts if anyone’s interested). Here’s what I found:

1. Where does it claim to get its information?

The founder of Christianity claimed to be God. I found that compelling. No other major religions made that claim, and it’s a tough one to pull off if it’s not true.

2. What are its teachings?

I’ve said before that reading the Catechism was like reading the natural law that was written on the human heart poured out into words. The way the Church of this religion explained itself, its Scriptures, its God, its teachings — and, really, the entire human experience — was stunning. It was imminently reasonable and intellectually consistent. In particular, I had never seen such a compelling treatment of the subjects of suffering, death, prayer, and the meaning of life.

Obviously, there was no laboratory experiment in which I could prove whether these Christian claims were true. All I could do was evaluate it against the claims of other belief systems and see how it compared. And after reading the Catechism and the New Testament cover-to-cover, the verdict was in: this religion offered the most coherent, sensible explanation of “life, the universe and everything” than any other belief system I’d encountered — including atheism.

3. What are the fruits of following its teachings?

This was a tough one. Growing up as an atheist in predominately Christian areas, I witnessed (and was sometimes on the receiving end of) plenty of unkind behavior by Christians. It’s something that hurt me and stuck with me for a long time. Also, I’d read enough history to know about some of the terrible things done during the Crusades, and could list plenty of other examples of behavior by Christians throughout history that ranged from questionable to deplorable.

If this religion truly comes from the Source of all love, would you not expect to see better behavior from its adherents? This was probably one of the bigger stumbling blocks for me.

What I realized, however, was that this religion does not claim that merely saying the words “I am a Christian” conjures up some magic spell that automatically makes someone an angel. Anyone can claim to be an adherent of this religion, regardless of whether or not they are truly seeking to follow Christ. Also, I saw that it is actually a tenet of Christianity that even people who truly seek to live a Christian life can expect to mess up sometimes, since everyone — including even the most dedicated Christians — faces constant temptation to sin.

Also, I began to see that there is tremendous anecdotal evidence of people’s lives being transformed in powerful, unimaginable ways by conforming their lives to the teachings of this religion and seek deeper communion with Christ. I was particularly struck by reading about the lives of the saints and the early Christians, many of whom went to their deaths for their beliefs.

And, finally, once I became a Christian, I saw the fruits of this religion for myself. I saw that by seeking to follow the founder of this religion, Jesus Christ, and to live the way he said we should live (even the hard parts), my life was transformed inside and out. These teachings worked a little too well, fit a little too perfectly, and brought me too much deep peace for them to have been made up by men.

That’s the quick (well, as quick as possible) summary of what I mean when I say I converted to Christianity for intellectual reasons.

It’s worth noting, though, that this is really the least important part of my conversion. The only result of all this research was that it ruled out the notion that faith and reason are incompatible. Once that was cleared up, my conversion really began. And what I found is this: God is not something you prove; he is Someone you come to know. To know God is to know love. And love is not something you find in a book.

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Enter the Conversation...

51 Responses to “How I researched my way into Christianity”
  1. Tertium Quid says:

    Great apologetics.

  2. Lizzie says:

    Jennifer -

    Once again, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Gosh I wish I’d discovered your blog months ago when I wea first investigating this faith thing :P

    It’s interesting how you’ve brought all this together because prior to ‘finding faith’ I also kind of veiwed Christians as “The Others” (to borrow a phrase from one of the most frustrating and addictive shows on TV, grrr, LOL) To be perfectly honest? I thought they were all completely crazy because even though I understood faith to be the belief in something which can’t be proven, I also thought those that actually BELIEVED in the unprovable were nutcases. Not to be too blunt, but I did. Even now, I keep coming up against The Big Issues (reconciling a commonly held secular view like evolution with Creation) and its genuinely difficult to decipher where I stand on some things when the internal part of me has 27 years of agnosticism under its belt and only one year of faith. There’s plenty there I just kind of say to myself ‘a debate for another time’ and move on to the ‘nice and fluffy’ Christian bits. Having an unbelieving spouse who was/is even more forceful in his agnosticism (probably more an atheist in worldview but he concedes he can’t prove there ISN’T a God so therefore by definition he classes himself agnostic) doesn’t help matters. Throw a few kids into the mix who have (until now) been raised without religious influences AT ALL. It’s really hard!

    Anyway, once again, great post, something that will definitely be linked to from A Whisper of Grace. One of the things that frustrated me most right at the beginning of the faith thing is that coming into it from a ‘non-believer’ viewpoint, all that ‘Jesus is real because we believe he is’ seemed really airy-fairy. At that point, using a systematic approach to discovering whether there was something in Christianity – well it just didn’t seem to mesh very well. Using a scientific approach to prove faith? Bunkum! So it’s fantastic to see such a well though out post on the subject.

    Cheers,
    Lizzie

    http://whisperofgrace.blogspot.com/ (encouragement and resources for the new Christian)

  3. Rebekka says:

    Beautiful!

  4. AmyDe says:

    Thanks for sharing. I grew up in a Christian family and I’ve never understood WHY people think faith and reason must be excluded from one another.

  5. Nicole Coffin says:

    Thank you for this post. I am a Christian, but I am most definitely in a spiritual funk right now. Discovering your blog a couple of weeks ago has been really helpful in simply beginning again; a quest to know God.

  6. Jeff says:

    Jen-

    Thanks so much for taking the time to address my question. I’ve found that many Christians are unwilling to do the same for us heathens. I enjoyed the read. And am I PG-13? I always thought of myself as more of a hard R. I think I need to work in more nudity, though not my own for reasons obvious to anyone who knows me.

    That having been said, what I read doesn’t strike me as particularly “intellectual,” at least so far as I understand the word. It reminds me a good bit of Lee Stroebel’s first book, full of pleasant-sounding Christian platitudes that will be seen as some sort of “proof” to the converted but have no real meat on the bones.

    For one thing, you don’t really address how you “intellectually” came to religion, just how you chose Christianity over the other religions. Of course, that was entirely my fault for wording my question the way I did. It’s still an interesting question to answer, but it’s not quite what I was looking for when I asked it.

    Secondly, the old reason you state for not believing (“why can I not simply snap my fingers and tell them I want to hear from them and get an answer?”) was rather weak. There’s nothing to say any “God” would choose to do that for every single person if he did exist. As they say, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

    Third, isn’t there some serious debate as to who the “founder of Christianity” is? The New Testament was around long before Jesus. Many credit the Apostle Paul with founding the religion. That’s the way I always thought of it. And he never claimed to be “God.” But that may not matter all that much to the overall point, just something I thought about when I read your post.

    Finally, you write “this religion offered the most coherent, sensible explanation of “life, the universe and everything” than any other belief system I’d encountered — including atheism.” Well, it certainly does better than atheism, since atheism offers no explanation of anything. All atheists believe is that no deity exists, based upon the evidence currently available. No doubt, saying there is a deity is a more satisfying, explanatory answer than saying there isn’t, but that by no means makes it any more likely to be true than not.

    Again, interesting stuff, Jen. Thanks for posting it. Hope your Sunday is going well.

  7. Heather says:

    The whole is very well put and very similar to C.S. Lewis’ take on it intellectually speaking. But this: “God is not something you prove; he is Someone you come to know. To know God is to know love. And love is not something you find in a book.” is absolutely, positively, spot on. Perfectly put.

  8. Sara says:

    I put up my own post in response to this.

    Thanks especially for the link to Flatland–I hadn’t run across that before.

  9. Jennifer F. says:

    Thanks for all your comments!

    Jeff -

    For one thing, you don’t really address how you “intellectually” came to religion…It’s still an interesting question to answer, but it’s not quite what I was looking for when I asked it.

    All those words and I didn’t even address your question?! Ack! Could you give me a more detailed question that would help me address what you’re thinking of? Sorry about that.

    he old reason you state for not believing (“why can I not simply snap my fingers and tell them I want to hear from them and get an answer?”) was rather weak.

    I think I might have sacrificed clarity for brevity here. I could write a post double this length of the reasons I didn’t believe in God. The first two words in this sentence are operative: “One of the big roadblocks for me…” I felt that that reason was relevant to this post so I mentioned it, but that was not by any means the only reason I didn’t believe in God.

    Atheism offers no explanation of anything. All atheists believe is that no deity exists, based upon the evidence currently available.

    OK, maybe not “atheism” per se. I should have said “all the various worldviews and explanations of life that are founded on the atheistic perspective.” Everyone attempts to make sense of the world. And while there might not be one, single atheist viewpoint, all atheists I know do have a coherent worldview that answers the basic “how’s” and “why’s” behind life and the human experience.

  10. Jeff says:

    Well, you were very close to my question, Jen. I was thinking more in terms of what led you “intellectually” to religion in the first place. This read like you had already decided there was something, and you just needed some direction on which religion was the most true. Either way, it’s an interesting read.

    I think I might have sacrificed clarity for brevity here. I could write a post double this length of the reasons I didn’t believe in God. The first two words in this sentence are operative: “One of the big roadblocks for me…” I felt that that reason was relevant to this post so I mentioned it, but that was not by any means the only reason I didn’t believe in God.

    Gotcha. That makes sense, although I still maintain that was a really flimsy reason. I certainly don’t share it. Personally, I couldn’t “write a post double this length of the reasons I don’t believe in God.” In fact, I can squeeze my reasons in right here: God’s existence is not supported by the evidence currently available. That’s it. No need for many stumbling blocks. Just one. Though, admittedly, it’s a doozy.

    OK, maybe not “atheism” per se. I should have said “all the various worldviews and explanations of life that are founded on the atheistic perspective.” Everyone attempts to make sense of the world. And while there might not be one, single atheist viewpoint, all atheists I know do have a coherent worldview that answers the basic “how’s” and “why’s” behind life and the human experience.

    So, in other words, your contention is that the existence of a deity offers a more coherent worldview than the absence of one. I’d say that could be true, currently, since there are so many things that science can’t explain … yet. So what you’ve got is a situation where plugging “God did it” into the gaps in scientific knowledge provide a “more coherent worldview” because that answers questions while allowing you not to have to ask any further ones. The existence of a God basically answers all the big questions and is a comforting thought. Again, though, none of this brings “God did it” any closer to being true. It only makes it more satisfying.

  11. Katie says:

    I remember years ago when Time or someone did a piece on how the desire to know God is hard-wired into our brains, and I thought “There! Proof that it’s all in our heads.” Years later, when I cracked the CCC for the first time, I saw these words-

    God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Savior. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life.

    I was pretty floored. I had never thought of it in those terms, but it’s still so obvious that it sends shivers up my spine. Of course we desire to know our Creator; of course He wrote that desire onto our hearts.

  12. Dorothy says:

    Jeff said “I’d say that could be true, currently, since there are so many things that science can’t explain … yet.”

    My question to Jeff, do you have time to wait until all the science completely answers all the questions before you decide whether whether or not God (as an existing person) offers the most cohesive explanation to life’s questions or not? If he doesn’t, move on, if he does, follow Him. What if science doesn’t find all the answers in your lifespan? What consequences do you face if you wait too long?

    BTW, I’ve never heard of serious arguments that the New Testament was around long before Jesus. The first four books of the New Testament tell of his life here on earth, as a traveling Jewish rabbi, so they couldn’t have preceded him. The balance of it is mostly letters from the Apostle Paul to churches he founded AFTER he’d converted to following Jesus. Perhaps you mean the Old Testament (the Jewish Scriptures)?

  13. Jeff says:

    dorothy-

    Good questions.

    Before I answer them, let me correct my previous error that Dorothy pointed out. I did, in fact, mean that the Old Testament was around long before Jesus. My mistake. Thanks for bringing that to my attention.

    Now, on to Dorothy’s questions …

    do you have time to wait until all the science completely answers all the questions before you decide whether whether or not God (as an existing person) offers the most cohesive explanation to life’s questions or not?

    Well, unless modern medicine makes some tremendous strides, I feel rather certain I will not see scientific answers to all cosmic questions within my lifetime. However, I don’t need them to know that God does, in fact, offer the most cohesive explanation to life’s questions. An all-powerful, omniscent being could do, literally, anything. Therefore, natural explanations are nice but unnecessary, if you believe God exists. Unfortunately, the fact that it offers a “cohesive” explanation does not necessarily mean it offers a correct one. The Flying Spaghetti Monster, for instance, offers just as cohesive an explanation to the same questions.

    What if science doesn’t find all the answers in your lifespan? What consequences do you face if you wait too long?

    Science won’t. And I’m cool with that. I’m certainly a curious cat, but I feel only a desire — not a need — to know everything about everything.

    What consequences do I face? None. God is not real; therefore, heaven is not real, hell is not real, etc., etc. I don’t even believe death is a “consequence” so much as it is an inevitable end. Of course, your question echoes Pascal and his famous, flawed “wager.” But I say that if there is no evidence to support God’s existence, I’m not going to claim “belief” for the selfish reason that I want to have a more enjoyable afterlife. If I ever end up Christian, it will be for the right reasons.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Jeff, I think that you haven’t looked at some of the places where evidence might exist. If you examine the happenings at Lourdes you’ll be shocked at the level of scientific proof that is demanded before a miracle is declared to have happened. A doctor has to attest to a person’s debilitated condition and there must be no possible treatment that brings about the cure. If you have cancer and have had chemo and go to Lourdes, even if you lose all symptoms there, it won’t count. Only instantaneous cures count. This doesn’t answer all questions. It leaves wide open the question of why some are cured and others are not.

    There have always been great Catholic scientists because believing in God doesn’t answer all questions about how the universe has been put together and inquiring minds want to know.

    I’m not saying this proves they are right. I’m only saying that believing in God doesn’t mean you think all possible questions about the universe have been answered. How and why are very different questions.

    Jane M

  15. MikeF says:

    Wonderful post, Jennifer! I’m amazed how closely your conversion story parallels my own… and the last paragraph is a classic… Amen!

    Thank you so much…

    Mike

  16. Jack says:

    Jennifer,

    As promised, been going through some of your prior posts off and on all day today. You are clearly thoughtful, wicked smart and, more importantly, have a serene sense of the universal. I think I’m smart enough to know that I can learn a great deal from you. And it’s not just because I’ve become a complacent, fair weather Catholic and your analysis (not to mention the back-and-forth with the Jeffs of the world) is thought-provoking. Given where my own journey is taking me, I need to learn from those who have found certainty and clarity in the universal. I will be checking back a lot so keep it up!

    J

  17. Jeff says:

    Jane-

    Another good comment. Thanks for taking the time to craft a response.

    If you examine the happenings at Lourdes you’ll be shocked at the level of scientific proof that is demanded before a miracle is declared to have happened.

    I’m not shocked at all because I’ve actually read a tremendous amount about this. I looked a lot into it when I was a practicing Christian, especially. But it just seems to be more “God of the Gaps.” The “miracles” are only “miracles” because we don’t understand how they occurred. Our lack of understanding does not mean God did it. And even if these healings were, in fact, inexplicable outside of the interference of a supernatural force, that would do nothing to prove the Christian God, nor any other individual God.

    There have always been great Catholic scientists because believing in God doesn’t answer all questions about how the universe has been put together and inquiring minds want to know.

    It actually does answer all cosmic questions of how everything happened (“God did it”), but that doesn’t mean people who believe that don’t want to know how “God did it.” These Catholic scientists believe God is the force behind everything that happens in the universe, but that doesn’t keep them from wanting to know how said universe operates. Works for me.

    How and why are very different questions.

    Not necessarily. Depends upon how you use them. Often, they’re pretty much exactly the same question. For instance, I can ask, “How does the Internet work?” Then, I can ask “Why does the Internet work?” The answer is basically the same either way. On the other hand, science has a pretty elegant answer to the question of “How did humans get here?” But if we ask “Why did humans get here?” science doesn’t have an answer, and religion fills that void for many people. I don’t necessarily see that as a good thing, but I don’t rail against it too much unless its believers trying to affect public policy with the tenets of their religion.

  18. Pentimento says:

    This post makes me wish I were a convert. I have rarely if ever felt the peace of which you speak. But a priest told me once that it was better to be without peace and with God, than at peace without Him.

  19. Chaotic Joy says:

    Jennifer,
    I am fairly new to your blog but it seems since I have discovered you you are monopolizing the positions in my “shared posts” spots. Thank you for taking the time to try to explain this part of your journey, it is something I have often wondered about. Beautifully, thoughtfully, done.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Your path to Christianity sounds similar to Freiman’s in Current Events, Conservative Outcomes. He writes a chapter on the meaning of life and he also found in the time he spent thinking about religion and why we are here on this planet led him back to Christianity. Some people simply can not be taught, they need to learn on there own.

  21. Lerin says:

    What an amazing, inspired post. Thank you so much for writing that out.

  22. Ashley says:

    Jeff-

    I think the question we actually need to ask you is this:

    What would you accept as proof of the existence of God?

    We cannot offer you any proof because you have already decided that there is no proof. Anything we bring to your attention you will explain away. Are you truly willing to accept the possibility of God, or are you completely closed to the idea? By believing there is no proof, you are making the same leap of faith we are; and you can’t change your mind if your mind is closed.

  23. Jeff says:

    ashley-

    Another very good, if oft-repeated, question. Thanks for taking the time to ask.

    What would you accept as proof of the existence of God?

    We cannot offer you any proof because you have already decided that there is no proof. Anything we bring to your attention you will explain away. Are you truly willing to accept the possibility of God, or are you completely closed to the idea? By believing there is no proof, you are making the same leap of faith we are; and you can’t change your mind if your mind is closed.

    This tends to be where Christians go once they’ve attempted going down a few unsuccessful avenues with an atheist. Claiming it’s not their argument that’s lacking but the other person’s refusal to accept that argument which is the true problem allows them to sidestep any evidencial responsibility. By turning the debate around on their adversary (“We don’t have to prove it; you have to accept what we’ve given you.”) and then making the odd, contradictory statement of “You’re making the same leap of faith we are,” you’re able to maintain the lesson that Christianity’s legitimacy is immune to all arguments.

    Now, as I’ve said before, I haven’t “decided that there is no proof.” I’m not “completely closed to the idea.” I’ve only decided the evidence with which I have been presented is woefully lacking. What would I accept as proof? It’s a high standard of proof, no question. When you make a claim that there’s an invisible man who is all-powerful and all-knowing, who created the entire universe, loves us, watches our every move and chooses whether where we’ll spend our eternity, you’re clearly relying on people to take a leap of faith because it’s — by design — almost impossible to prove.

    But it would at least help if some evidence could make it more likely than not. If God appeared before me, that would be something. If I was falling off a cliff, and he grabbed me and pulled me back onto the mountain, that’d be a mark on his side. Or if God left some evidence of his existence behind for science to snag, something that would lead us toward him and no other logical conclusion. Tough to say what that would be, but we’ve learned a heckuva lot to this point. If it were something physical, testable and observable, that’d be something to seriously consider.

    It has nothing to do with “faith,” though I know that’s the common refrain. But trying to claim someone is biased without any supporting evidence is not an intellectually honest way to have a discussion, sara. I think I’ve been pretty respectful of your position, at least partly because Jen has been so kind and fair to provide this forum on which I can ramble. All I can ask is that you return the favor.

  24. Touchstone says:

    Jennifer,

    As someone who has been a committed, lifelong Christian for nearly 40 years, since my gradeschool days, and who is rapidly moving away from it on the basis of (what I see as) reasoned anlaysis of the evidence and application of logic, I’m struggling to see the “intellectual” factors in your story. If anything, it strikes me as the breakdown of intellectual discipline. Maybe you could expand on a couple things for me.

    (By the way, I have your blog bookmarked from some time ago, but can’t remember why — are we connected by the Sonlight homeschooling forum, somehow?)

    You said:
    One of the big roadblocks for me in terms of believing in any kind of spiritual realm had always been the lack of repeatable, systematic, observable results: if there is some kind of God or gods or spirits who are aware of what’s going on here on earth, why can I not simply snap my fingers and tell them I want to hear from them and get an answer? All my life I’d assumed that this proved that nothing else was out there. But at some point I realized that this shouldn’t be a deal-killer. Maybe our communication with the other side is spotty for a reason: perhaps it’s a test, perhaps we’re in a Flatland-esque situation where it would be impossible for us to fully see anything that exists in other dimensions — who knows. But I was willing to set aside the issue for the moment and do a little exploring.

    Pedagogically, the Flatland story is useful, here, but I think it works right against your conclusion. The additional dimension, *as* a dimension, falls squarely within the requirements for ‘real’, even if that reality isn’t apparent in 2D world. What makes the 2D circle a *sphere* in 3D is the symmetry of that third dimenion – it has spatial and extensive characteristics just like either of the two dimensions in Flatland.

    But supernaturalism doesn’t have anything like that to attach to, an existential basis for giving meaning to the words ‘real’ and ‘exist’.

    This isn’t an abstract problem for us even now. There are a number of additional dimensions conjectured in theoretical physics that do not have direct evidential support, and won’t until we can perform experiments in very high-energy contexts (10 years out at least, it seems). But those additional dimensions, that additional aspect of reality *does* have theoretical coherence. If it is borne out empirically, we will already have meaning for what those dimensions represent as part of our reality.

    Supernaturalism doesn’t provide this.

    Also, let me say it’s troubling that not being able to “snap you fingers”– even reading this as figurative language — and get an answer would be any kind of a roadblock one way or another. Is there an intellectual basis for that expectation? I can’t think of one.

    But let me focus on what seems to be the most egregious problem here in terms of your intellectual support for Christianity. You said:
    1. Where does it claim to get its information?

    The founder of Christianity claimed to be God. I found that compelling. No other major religions made that claim, and it’s a tough one to pull off if it’s not true.

    You found this compelling? Just like that? What makes that compelling? That’s quite an extraordinary claim, and as such it demands extraordinary evidence, just to manage “plausible”, never mind “compelling”. What evidence would that be? That people believed it? That cannot be the intellectual basis for your ‘compelling’, can it?

    I can see, as a lifelong Christian, the emotional and psychological appeal of that kind of narrative, but as a matter of reasoning, it just doesn’t work at all, I think. Does it strike you as odd that so many billions of people in the world don’t find that circumstance compelling? There are more than a billion muslims, who consider the idea of Isa (Jesus) being God, rather than just a prophet, blasphemous. Hardly compelling to them, right? Why? Are muslims intellectually undisciplined? (They might be!)

    Anyway, that first point seems to send you right off onto very shaky ground, intellectually, if it is ground at all. Maybe you could expand what “compelling” means in intellectual terms for you, there?

    -Touchstone

  25. Dean says:

    Thank you for another excellent and insightful blog. I too came to the Catholic Church as a convert. I am a former Presbyterian minister whose liberal seminar education destoyed his faith and sent him into years of atheism before re-converting first to the faith and later to the Catholic Church. I agree with all you say about the Church’s beatuy, truth and goodness. There is such misinformation in the USA and Europe about the Church’s teachings. It is wonderful having this blog as a counter to the heavy secularism out there.
    I always visit your site and always find it interesting, but today’s revisiting of the foundational ideas is an excellent reminder to us all. I am trying to interest my brothr (an atheist) and my son( gay) in reading your comments.
    If you ever think of putting your story and thoughts in a book, I am sure it would do much good.
    Thank you-

    Dean in Wisconsin

  26. Anonymous says:

    I found God when I committed myself to going every day to church to pray for 10 minutes. I decided that if I was not sure that I believed in God, I would just start acting like I did, and maybe it would come. It was really almost an experiment, which in business speak could be crassly called “believe it before you achieve it.” So the openness came first, and then a bit of effort and struggle on my part, and then, the faith started coming (although by no means has there been a road to damascus moment).

    And then. . . . intellectually everything fell into place. One of the things I realized was how ignorant I was of the history and the church teaching. I was really an easy target for those who would anthropomorphize God into just a bearded white man in the sky. I still find atheism, as set forth by people like Bertrand Russel and Camus, to be intellectually coherent, but I just do not think anymore that it does as good of a job explaining the whole of reality.

  27. Jennifer F. says:

    Touchstone -

    Your first point about the possibility of other dimensions just confused me with all the big words. I don’t know what some of those words mean, so I can’t really answer you there. Are you saying that it’s impossible that some other realm could exist with which we have spotty communication and/or that if we can’t know about it empirically then it can’t exist?

    Also, let me say it’s troubling that not being able to “snap you fingers”– even reading this as figurative language — and get an answer would be any kind of a roadblock one way or another.

    I’m sorry you’re troubled by that. What I was referring to was that I had a predefined set of criteria for what I considered “evidence” and was not open to any kind of evidence that fit into the mold I had created.

    You found this compelling? Just like that? What makes that compelling? That’s quite an extraordinary claim, and as such it demands extraordinary evidence, just to manage “plausible”, never mind “compelling”. What evidence would that be?

    Like I said, I was trying to avoid turning this into a book. As a brother in Christ, I hope that you can throw me some goodwill on that one that I didn’t go into detail there. You say that you’re a lifelong Christian. Do you not find Christ to be a compelling figure? Have you seen no evidence of his claims in your life?

    Gotta run change a diaper…

  28. Jennifer F. says:

    Oops! Correction:

    What I was referring to was that I had a predefined set of criteria for what I considered “evidence” and was not open to any kind of evidence that fit into the mold I had created.

    That should be: …was not open to any kind of evidence that didn’t fit into the mold I had created.

  29. Touchstone says:

    Jennifer,

    Your first point about the possibility of other dimensions just confused me with all the big words. I don’t know what some of those words mean, so I can’t really answer you there. Are you saying that it’s impossible that some other realm could exist with which we have spotty communication and/or that if we can’t know about it empirically then it can’t exist?

    Sorry if that was confusing. Let me take another swing at it.

    If we can’t know about it empirically, then it’s an open question as to whether ‘exist’ is even a meaningful term. That is, some other “realm” may “exist” in some way we don’t understand, but that’s a serious problem, intellectually. If we have no basis for what ‘exist’ means in that case, it’s interchangeable with ‘made up’ or imaginary. This is precisely how we conceptually address the idea of non-existence — the subject has no basis for being understood to exist in an actual sense.

    So, the possibilities are wide open. But the possibility is not the evidence for a thing. To embrace something as ‘real’ or actual as a matter of reasoning, needs to be some meaning provided for real. In a materialist sense, ‘real’ and ‘exist’ point at something like: extended in space/time. That’s a coherent, meaningful basis for understanding what real (and conversely, ‘unreal’) means.

    I’m sorry you’re troubled by that. What I was referring to was that I had a predefined set of criteria for what I considered “evidence” and was not open to any kind of evidence that fit into the mold I had created.

    Please understand that by ‘troubled’, I mean it in the *intellectual* sense. I’m not upset or anything. My reasoning process hits this, and alarms go off, is all. I don’t know what you mean by ‘mold’ here, so I think I’ve gotten confused by your small words. ;-)

    In any case, what we accept intellectually as evidence proceeds from its performance as a matter of observation, and from what we can logically infer or deduce from that. As a matter of reasoning, the viability of evidence isn’t arbitrary, but proceeds from our experience in building reliable, performative models of reality. If there’s something out there that’s performative, and can be demonstrated, it should be treated as evidence to be considered.

    But, if you’ve decided there might be evidence-that-doen’t-work-like-evidence, you’re free to embrace that idea, but it takes leave of the intellectual discipline that has accumulated what knowledge we *do* have. The reasons for taking the path you have seem entirely non-intellectual, in other words. That’s OK, you’ve every right to do that. But if so, I’m just pressing for some more accurate labeling.

    Like I said, I was trying to avoid turning this into a book. As a brother in Christ, I hope that you can throw me some goodwill on that one that I didn’t go into detail there. You say that you’re a lifelong Christian. Do you not find Christ to be a compelling figure? Have you seen no evidence of his claims in your life?
    I’ve been a Christian for going on four decades, it’s true. But, as a matter of reasoning, and thinking about precisely the claims you offered as simply “compelling, I’m happy to advance you all the good will you’d like, but that won’t rescue the claim as one that stands up to reasoned scrutiny. That is, my support for that claim, whatever it is (and there’s not much anymore, if any), did not obtain from reasoning, but from other motivations — emotional, psyschological, social, etc. There are clear and convincing reasons to embrace such an idea — that Jesus was God — but they’re not intellectually rigorous ones.

    As to my own experience, I think the right answer is that as it pertains to your story, to your “researching your way” to Christianity, it doesn’t matter. For example, let’s assume for the sake of argument that I *do* claim to see much evidence for Jesus’ claims in my life, but that I do so because I’ve been trained from birth to believe it, and because I have strong emotional and psychological motivations for *wanting* to see such (I have confirmation bias, in other words), and worse: I understand that my denial of such confirmation, even if that is my most honest internal assessment, represents a huge social crisis for me in my circles.

    I have huge, heavy factors weighing on me to confess such a thing, even if its not the truth, in other words.

    Now, knowing about these interfering factors, there must be some broad skepticism applied to my claims, even if I *did* say “Oh, yes, God has worked powerfully in my life”. But only if we are proceeding on an *intellectual* basis. Are we? Reading through all this, it seems there’s a disconnect on what ‘intellectual’ implies here. As you started to consider the claims of religion as an atheist, Touchstone’s testimony of his experience of God should intellectually be seen as begging the question, by you, an outside investigator. Of course if I believe Jesus is God, I’m going to see Him in all sorts of “gaps”! That’s not evidence of God as an objective matter, but just simple human psychology, a way to work out cognitive dissonance, if nothing else.

    Thanks for the comments in reply!

    -Touchstone

  30. Jeff says:

    Excellent stuff, touchstone. That’s sort of what I’ve been trying to steer toward but clearly lack the, um, “intellectual” ability to do so effectively :).

    From what I’ve read, I really like Jennifer and appreciate the way she treats my words with respect, and I hope I am sufficiently able to return that respect to her.

    However, her claim of an “intellectual” basis for her belief in God seems specious. It reminds me a lot of Lee Stroebel, whose books probably did more to solidify my disbelief than just about anything else. Because Jennifer is a former atheist, not anything approaching a raving lunatic fundamentalist and a very pleasant, intelligent person, it’s easy to not look at her “intellectual” religious pursuits with quite as critical eye as one usually might, much like with Stroebel. But none of it sounds “intellectual” to me, by any definition of the word of which I’m aware.

    And I also agree with touchstone that there’s nothing wrong with this, and she shouldn’t have to apologize for it. She took a leap of faith just like all Christians, and I honestly don’t have a problem with that. She shouldn’t feel the need to convince herself of the intellectuality of her beliefs, a la Stroebel, to defend them to herself or others.

  31. SteveG says:

    Touchstone:
    The essential problem with your critique is that you are in reality in no better/different position than the believer.

    You offer this comment…

    …what we accept intellectually as evidence proceeds from its performance as a matter of observation, and from what we can logically infer or deduce from that. As a matter of reasoning, the viability of evidence isn’t arbitrary, but proceeds from our experience in building reliable, performative models of reality.

    …which is loaded with assumptions for which you have no real proof.

    Among other unspoken things, you assume…

    *That our observations are reliable and meaningful.
    *That our logic and reason is sound and its deductive powers are reliable and meaningful.
    *That the method of testing evidence (via its predictive power) is reliable and meaningful.

    Why should any of us accept any of these assumptions?

  32. MikeF says:

    I’ve been reading this conversation with the increasing impatience I often feel when reading “intellectual” arguments for/against Christian belief; but your “leap of faith” comment, Jeff, hits the nail on the head.

    In fact, Jennifer herself did, with her own final paragraph in the actual post: “…God is not something you prove; he is Someone you come to know. To know God is to know love. And love is not something you find in a book.”

    Yes! “Credo ut intelligam” – and not the other way about!

    (By the way, I’m off on retreat tomorrow – so if anyone replies directly to this, and I don’t reply to them, it’s because I’ll be a long way from a computer, not because I don’t wish to, etc.!)

  33. Touchstone says:

    Hi Steve,
    You said:
    Among other unspoken things, you assume…

    *That our observations are reliable and meaningful.
    It’s necessary to the ongoing project of living for humans. If you doubt this, see how long you can hold your hand over an open flame. Reality is real, and our natural observations attest to this. So it certainly *is* and assumption, but like all valid assumptions, it’s there because it’s necessary. We cannot survive or function, let alone communicate with each other, without a fundamental commitment to the reality of reality, and the correspondence between natural observation and the state of the real world around us.

    Individuals are free to reject this assumption, but to the extent the act on it, they diminish and destroy their ability to *live*, let alone pursue life’s projects. In some cases, like holding your hand over an open flame, your physiology is such that you are “hard-wired” to reality, and will pull your hand from the flame, reflexively, in spite of your solipsism. In the case of wandering casually onto a busy freeway, unconcerned about oncoming traffic because you’re unconvinced any of that is ‘real’, your solipsism isn’t overridden by reflex, and you just end up getting run over by reality. Literally.

    *That our logic and reason is sound and its deductive powers are reliable and meaningful.

    Our logic and reasoning may *not* be sound. Its soundness is only proved out by performance. If you can predict, to exacting tolerances, the trajectory of a ball before it is thrown, time after time, you have established correspondence (to the margin of error, in this case small) between your reasoning about the behavior of the natural world, and the actual behavior of the natural world.

    Reliability is established through demonstration, then. Meaning is derived from the interlocking, coherent set of propositions that make up the theory or the knowledge. For example, when I say a baseball in my hand ‘exists’, I can demonstrate meaning by providing a coherent definition for that term — “extended in space/time”. Pressed on what that means, I can deconstruct that all the way down to the quantum physics level, and show that an integrated, coherent model for the behavior of light and matter as physical realities provides the basis for the semantics of “exists”, when I say that ball in my hand ‘exists’.

    Meaning is demonstrated by showing the semantic freight carried by the term, expressed in coherent, rational constituent concepsts.

    *That the method of testing evidence (via its predictive power) is reliable and meaningful.

    It’s reliable by virtue of being predictive! You’ve provided your answer inside your own question there. Having predictive power *is* demonstrating reliability. If I can predict the path of a thrown baseball given the input parameters (initial trajectory, velocity, spin, environmental conditions, etc.) consistently, I have achieved reliability; that’s what consistency in predictive success entails.

    Testing is meaningful because it provides the evidence of consistency and predictive success. This is how we come to expect to board a Boeing 757 in Laguardia and land safely at SFO six hours later, time after time. Testing is extraordinarily meaningful as it is the reasonable basis for our assessing the future behavior of physical law, and technologies and systems that operate on those understandings.


    Why should any of us accept any of these assumptions?

    That reality is real cannot be denied for those who wish to live and function as human beings. The assumption that reality is real and that observation generally reflects the objective reality around is NECESSARY to living and functioning.

    Empirical analsysis and testing are the evidence of the validity of our assumptions about reality being real. The more we test and analyze, the more results we have in view that will support (or not) available propositions about how reality works. Empiricism is the enterprise of accepting that reality is real and observation reflects that, and building validated knowledge on top of that — ever more precise and performative models of reality.

    One needn’t accepts the second or third propositions, expect insofar as they may be necessary to survival. One may fully accept the reality of the car approaching in the opposite lane, and swerve to avoid it if it looks to be drifting over the line, while at the same time imagine that God provided the parking space they just used at the grocery store. Humans have a pronounced ability to compartmentalize their epistemology, being hard cold realists on the road, and magical thinkers as they walk away from their parking spot.

    -Touchstone

  34. Tausign says:

    Here’s my take why we over rely on difficult ‘proofs’, weak ‘logic’ and mostly faulty ‘reasons’ for our faith. Just a thought: Living and Suffering Through Sacred Text

  35. Craig says:

    I think some of the people who are complaining that what Jen describes isn’t intellectual aren’t seeing it the same way I am.

    What I see happening is a comparison of worldviews. Everybody has one, more or less coherent and more or less complete. If you examine any of them closely and honestly, I think you’ll find that there are features of the world that are puzzling under it.

    If you look at the Catholic worldview, and you find that the world viewed through that lens makes more sense than the world viewed through other lenses presented for your consideration, it’s reasonable to accept it.

    That is an intellectual process, although it’s not as simple as a rational argument.

    I think that’s more or less what Jen was saying. Certainly it’s *my*, though as a Catholic born my intellectual history is deepening rather than conversion. There are aspects of the world that confuse me, which I don’t know how to reconcile with my beliefs. But I can say that if I converted to one of the other popular worldviews I would be left with more problems rather than fewer.

    For instance. If I were an atheist of the standard materialist sort I would be at a loss to account for the existence of moral obligation, or to explain the experience of beauty. If I were a nihilist, I wouldn’t have any intellectual problems with how the world is (because I wouldn’t expect it to be coherent) — but my intuitive reaction to the world (all that’s left, at that point) would be dominated by bewilderment.

  36. amy says:

    I agree with jeff re: the complete failure of Lee Strobel to move me any closer to faith, and in fact, his book “The Case for Faith” moved me away from faith. I don’t know exactly what it was, his “I’m a hard-nosed reporter” persona, or the fact that he was interviewing “experts” who already had a bias toward Christianity. And for me, trying to come to faith from an “intellectual” angle has proven very difficult. And yet I feel pulled toward faith.

    What has been working best for me lately is to put aside my mental gymnastics (as much as possible — it is difficult) and simply try (as tausign suggests in the blog post he linked) to immerse myself in the practice of the Christian faith (prayer, reading, church), and see where it takes me, not worrying so much about belief and intellectual assent for now. It seems like a backwards way of approaching it, especially for one who likes to think about and puzzle over and analyze everything, but it seems to be helping.

    For me, trying to approach faith from a solely intellectual angle was not working, and it was making me miserable, so for me that means putting some of my intellectual arguments against faith aside (as lizzie mentioned) for now. I think the trick is to find a balance somewhere between my head and my heart.

    That doesn’t mean that no one can come to faith solely through intellectual wrangling — just that I know I can’t.

  37. SteveG says:

    Touchstone:
    Let’s back up a moment first. Your initial criticism of Jen’s post was that her intellectual pursuit was not rigorous enough, and that in fact her motivations for holding to what she believes and values were other than intellectual or reasoned (you referred to it as a break down in disciplined reasoned).

    In my post, my implication was not that we should not accept those assumptions, but to begin to point out (as I stated), you are simply in no better position than Jen, or any other believer.

    We can both agree to see those assumptions as valid for working in reality (though if I am honest, I think the logical philosophical end of atheism almost certainly is solipsism…but that’s a different discussion), but past that each of us is required by mere fact of existence as human beings to draw meaning from those observations.

    You seem to sort of get this, but your description of meaning is not meaning at all, but mere mechanical explanation.

    For example, when I say a baseball in my hand ‘exists’, I can demonstrate meaning by providing a coherent definition for that term — “extended in space/time”.Pressed on what that means, I can deconstruct that all the way down to the quantum physics level, and show that an integrated, coherent model for the behavior of light and matter as physical realities provides the basis for the semantics of “exists”, when I say that ball in my hand ‘exists’.

    But it does nothing to explain why you care to have a catch with someone you enjoy spending time with. The point in that being that despite your comments here, you most certainly live by some set of values, and with some meaning in your own life, that will have very little real basis in what you’ve described here.

    By virtue of the fact that you are human, I am certain that most day to day decisions you make are driven as much by emotion, as by intellect.

    The moment you make any value judgment, including that empiricism and intellectual rigor are worthy of pursuit (after all the ‘human project of living’ did fine for many millennium prior to the enlightenment), you have likewise made some leap of faith based on what you value.

    At that moment, you are in substantially the same practical position as the believer.

  38. Anonymous says:

    This is a really interesting discussion. Jeff, what do you mean exactly when you refer to “believers trying to affect public policy with the tenets of their religion.”? Just out of curiosity. Last time I checked, Jews weren’t trying to introducte legislation to force all infant boys to be circumcised, and Catholics aren’t trying to force anyone to attend Mass and receive communion. Are you refering to issues such as abortion and gay marriage?

    I think it is a stragely narrow approach to say that “intellect” and “reason” can only mean empiricism. Of course, reason applied to the physical world got us to the scientific method–and it’s impossible to beat when attempting to understand physical reality. But there was reasoning about non-material things (that is, virtue, divinity, etc.) going back to the beginning of recorded history. Maybe the real question here is: Is it even possible to reason about the non-material? Just a thought.

    -Elizabeth

  39. Touchstone says:

    SteveG,

    You said:

    But it does nothing to explain why you care to have a catch with someone you enjoy spending time with. The point in that being that despite your comments here, you most certainly live by some set of values, and with some meaning in your own life, that will have very little real basis in what you’ve described here.

    By virtue of the fact that you are human, I am certain that most day to day decisions you make are driven as much by emotion, as by intellect.

    The moment you make any value judgment, including that empiricism and intellectual rigor are worthy of pursuit (after all the ‘human project of living’ did fine for many millennium prior to the enlightenment), you have likewise made some leap of faith based on what you value.

    Throwing a baseball with my son (I have six kids, so I get a lot of practice!) gives me joy, and that is definitely meaningful to me. But that value doesn’t obtain from some cosmic abolute or divine intervention, it’s meaningful because I enjoy the activity and the relationship building with my son; it serves my personal goals, so it’s gratifying, and those value judgments are not some existential problem for me, or any one else.

    Jennifer may express her values as the pursuit of research and reason, as she seems to have done here, and if that’s what she values, that’s great. Others don’t value reason so highly, and place other things higher on the priority list. That’s fine, too. My comments here haven’t objected to the use of reason, or the avoidance of it. Rather, I’m observing that I don’t see intellectual discipline at work here, as claimed. The rationale provided comports with an emotional/psychologically driven process rather than “research” or some intellectual endeavor. She’s free to embrace Christianity for whatever reason she’d like. All I’d ask for in this post is some more clarity on what the real dynamics were. The more I read, the less it sounds intellectual.

    I don’t pretend choosing to play catch with my son is intellectual, and don’t feel the need to call it such, or defend it such. It seems sensible enough, but what drives that is relationship and personal goals and connections. Those are very good reasons, just reasons that ought not be confused with applied reason and empirical analysis.

    Does that clarify things a bit?

    -Touchstone

  40. John Morales says:

    I’ll first say that I think this is a nicely-written post, Jennifer, and that you express yourself clearly. It was good reading.

    Now, to the nub.

    It certainly seems you have considered your beliefs and their rationale and feel satisfied with your rationalisations.

    I’m surprised at the list of claimed intellectual reasons, however.

    0. At some point I began to believe that it could be possible that there’s more to life than just the material world at hand. A lot of things led me to consider this possibility: 1. the universal human belief in some other world and/or afterlife; 2. the universal human sense that there is objective “right” and “wrong” with a source above human opinion; 3. a realization that our five senses are very limiting; 4. personal intuition that there was an essence to myself that transcended the chemical reactions in my brain (a “soul”), 5. etc.

    Brief comments on each:
    0. How is this important? Anything not obviously impossible is, by definition, possible.
    1. This sense can’t be universal; I don’t have such a belief, and I’m pretty sure there’s been people like me in every age.
    2. Naturalism convincingly accounts for human moral traits.
    3. Which is why science has extended them with technology; but, even if there were more to reality than could be observed, so what? If it interacts with nature, it’s naturally detectable and science can address it (and the converse).
    4. This is an more of an emotional point than an intellectual one.
    5. More of that ilk, presumably, and just as convincing.

    By now, you’ll not be surprised that I find none of those reasons (either individually or in aggregate) even remotely intellectually persuasive and I’m surprised you did so.

    Still, each to their own, eh?

  41. Jeff says:

    Elizabeth wrote: “Are you refering to issues such as abortion and gay marriage? “

    … and the Pledge of Allegiance and “In God We Trust” and “Intelligent Design” in science classes. Yes, those, although abortion less so since I can see reasonable non-religious reasons to oppose it. So I guess it actually goes a bit beyond “policy,” per se. It’s basically anything that appears to be trying to push this country toward endorsing religion and religious doctrine.

  42. Anonymous says:

    Jeff,

    So, you don’t think there are non-religious reasons to oppose gay marriage? I agree that abortion can be opposed on non-religious grounds.

    As for “push[ing] this country toward endorsing religion and religious doctrine.” Don’t you think that this country was founded at least with a strong endorsement of some theism, however vaguely defined? Our country was also founded with a strong sense of at least the utility of religion’s influence in public life. So, aren’t atheists like yourself actually the ones “pushing” for change? And why shouldn’t religious believers be able to push back, if they want to, particularly in a democratic republic such as our own? Now, you may simply answer because you are right and believers are wrong, but in a country that embraces religious freedom and freedom of conscience there has to be a lot of toleration of those who are wrong (atheists inlcuded, of course).

    I just can’t get excited either way about the Pledge of Allegiance–if you really believe God doesn’t exist, what’s the harm? It’s like saying “under Santa.” Or is it that you think it forces atheists to lie, and that’s morally repugnant to you? I guess I could see a point there… but if believers are simply deluded then I just don’t see the big deal about humoring the majority a little.

    As a side note, there are some Catholics out there who agree with you about “Intelligent Design.”

    –Elizabeth

  43. Ronnica says:

    I really liked your post. I just have a minor issue that I don’t agree with, which is your last two sentences:

    “To know God is to know love. And love is not something you find in a book.”

    I believe that love IS something you can find in a book, but not just any book. THE book. The only book that God has ever written for man, the Bible. The very Word of God. The book oozes with truth and love.

    Thanks for sharing with us. It is always exciting to see how God works uniquely in our lives.

  44. Perambulator says:

    “1. Where does it claim to get its information?

    The founder of Christianity claimed to be God. I found that compelling. No other major religions made that claim, and it’s a tough one to pull off if it’s not true.”

    Maybe I’m being picayune, and not to take away from your well written post, but can’t Judaism lay the same claim?

  45. CherBear says:

    Another fantastic description of the conversion process! While I didn’t convert from atheism, I did convert after discovering the profound beauty of the Church’s teachings, which I think is only possible because, as you say, they do speak to the truth that is written on every human heart.

    One of my other favorites of yours is the toolbox. That was awesome.

  46. helena says:

    The Flying Spaghetti Monster, for instance, offers just as cohesive an explanation to the same questions.

    Jeff,
    Jesus was a historical figure, whose life and death was recounted by outside sources and whose words were recorded in the Gospels. Even those skeptical of his divinity agree that he existed and that the Gospels have some historic value. Also, the directives he left for how to live, if actually followed, would lead to a pretty near-perfect society.
    You may not believe he’s God, but there is at least some evidence that links Jesus to humanity’s story. Not so for the FSM, or Zeus, Apollo, etc.
    Also, I think you misunderstand what was meant by “cohesive explanation.” I don’t think the reference was akin to a “theory of everything” in the way a physicist might mean, but one that offers a cohesive view on morality, psychology, and spirituality. It offers a plan of action that can make life feel worthwhile and keep a person’s attention on others instead of oneself.
    That’s not a “god-in-the-gaps” argument since it doesn’t use God to explain physical phenomena yet to be disovered.

  47. Bender says:

    Apparently, I’m a little late to this particular discussion, but nevertheless . . .

    For those struggling with the God Question, I can sympathize. The idea of the existence of God is absurd. Completely, outrageously absurd.

    The only problem is that the idea of a world and universe without God is even more absurd, irrational, and lacking in reason.

    One problem with looking for sufficient proof of God’s existence is that we all too often have a false conception of who and what God is. We are not really sure of who and what it is that we are searching for. For many of us, even if He were sitting right next to us, we would never know that He is God. Indeed, people walked by Jesus everyday for years without ever giving Him a second thought. As a result of not knowing what to look for, many of us have constructed caricatures of God, silly mythological constructs, which are easy to shoot down as childish.

    Another problem with demanding proof of the truth before we will believe it is that such an approach necessarily puts ourselves before the truth. And when you put yourself before the truth, the truth will always be behind you, and you will never be able to see it.

    Ultimately, if one is honest with himself, he must admit that it really does not matter what the proof is or not is. Either God exists, or He does not exist. It does not matter if there is one miniscule piece of evidence for God’s existence or non-existence, or if there are a million-billion pieces of evidence — either God is true or He is not true. Our demand for evidence is irrelevant.

    P.S. Jen – excellent article over at America – thank you

  48. Bender says:

    It also bears mentioning that, often, the beginnings of the answer to the God Question can be found, not in demanding evidence of his existence, not in asking questions about God, but in asking questions about ourselves —

    What is man? merely a mass of walking hydro-carbons, a thing? or a being, a person? are we simply biological entities, without any more significance than a tree, or is there something else, something beyond a string of bio-chemical-electical reactions?
    Is this all there is to human life?
    Is this all there is to the world?

    Indeed, this was the beginning of the road on the search for truth for our own former athiest.

    The realization that we are more than a collection of molecules, more than a mere rock or clump of dirt, and that reality goes beyond that which we can see and touch, is the beginning of truth, which sets one free.

    Conversely, the conclusion that we are not anything more than what you see, that we do not, in fact, have any greater significance than a worm in the great scheme of things, is to be enslaved by error, which leads inevitably to existential angst and the nihilistic abyss.

  49. guy says:

    Jeff, in one of your posts at Atheocracy you say: But if it[god]’s just a thing, and it has no effect on your life nor your afterlife, mightn’t it just as well not exist? Why believe in it? What makes you believe in it?

    In practical terms, you are right. There is really nothing worth getting worked up about if god is impersonal–because that would probably mean it wouldn’t have any more interest in us than do rocks.

    Since this kind of rules out an impersonal god, I am going to jump to the conclusion that the only god you might be interested in finding would be a personal (or supra-personal) god.

    At Et tu? you posted: But it would at least help if some evidence could make it more likely than not. If God appeared before me, that would be something. If I was falling off a cliff, and he grabbed me and pulled me back onto the mountain, that’d be a mark on his side. Or if God left some evidence of his existence behind for science to snag, something that would lead us toward him and no other logical conclusion. Tough to say what that would be, but we’ve learned a heckuva lot to this point. If it were something physical, testable and observable, that’d be something to seriously consider.

    But, in your heart of hearts, I think you know that none of those would do the trick either. If God appeared before you, you would explain it as a psychic phenomena caused by bad pizza and too much beer. If God saved you from plunging to your death, you would explain it as a freak wind and good luck. And if there was scientific evidence, you would say that there could be other explanations we just haven’t figured them out–yet.

    Because, really, God has done all those things, you just don’t accept the evidence. He did walk the earth 2,000 years ago, and taught, and died, and rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven. That can’t be proven empirically, which is what you seem to want, but it can be proven reasonably well historically/legally–which, as it happens, is an intellectual, if not scientific, argument. (I could not possibly do justice to the argument, but if you are skeptical ;-) pick up a copy of The Testimony of the Evangelists by Simon Greenleaf.) And remember, every belief you have about events and people you didn’t personally experience, you accept on historical/legal evidence. The same is true of all the miracles at which you scoff. You disdain the source, so you disbelieve the evidence.

    As far as the last proof goes, any God that could be proven in a laboratory, by testing and observation, would be a thing, not a person. So based on your prior statement, that wouldn’t interest you anyway. But it will be an rough day for the logic professors when scientists catch up with politicians and discover how to make something out of nothing.

    I know these words won’t convert you and, from what I understand, God isn’t going to force you to believe in Him either through personal experiences or scientific evidence. But I do hope you will be open to a God worthy of the name, rather than battle against a god of your own imagining.

  50. Anonymous says:

    A quick word on Jeff and “God of the gaps.”

    This is one of those accusations we seem to hear all the time. As soon as we say some natural event might have been caused by God or the result of God’s work, we’re committing the “God of the gaps” fallacy.

    But here’s a little problem with that argument. Atheists seem to act as if one day all the gaps are going to be filled in by science. One day science will have just told us everything there is to know and when that day comes we can stop writing new science textbooks and just move on with our lives.

    However, as science progresses, it answers one question and creates fifty more. In other words, as we make progress, there’s always more gaps opening up, and thus always more room for God. God is always unreachable by logic, He requires a leap of faith to even begin to comprehend (and it’s a very small beginning.)

    However, just for the record, it is therefore rather reasonable to go for some “God of the gaps” arguments because “gaps” are always going to be there. We will never know everything, because to do so would be to become gods ourselves.

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