Seeking a Reasonable Faith

Posted: February 8, 2011 in agnosticism, atheism, Christian, faith, Religion
Tags: , , , ,

Is it possible that God exists?

When confronted with this essential question many Atheists/Humanists do a delicate dance of dodging the question, and with good reason. There are three possible answers: yes, no, or maybe. But only one is intellectually honest. There are tremendous repercussions associated with the answer and the “dodgers” recognize that. Yes, I am talking to you, Hitchens. It is a coping mechanism: better to not answer than to have to face the crushing reality of their unreasonable worldview. It takes great faith to be an Atheist, unreasonable faith.

To be fair, let’s explore the options. Any die-hard Atheist will want to answer “no” to this irritating question. But to remain consistent with this claim requires a denial of anything immaterial in this life, including the existence of one’s own soul, free will, love or the possibility of miracles. A consistent belief in an exclusive material reality requires a denial of any objective standard of truth which is self-defeating. To affirm the impossibility of a spiritual reality also requires omniscient knowledge. People in our culture who consider themselves to be omniscient end up modeling strait jackets in padded rooms. If one’s worldview must deny so much of what we know to be true and it is apparently inconsistent with reality, then there exists a very real possibility that one’s worldview is false; hence, the dodging dance.

So you may think the safe option is to answer “maybe.” Not so fast. Agnosticism is a deceiving alternative. Blissful ignorance embraces the Agnostic view that says, “We cannot know if God exists.” Really? How do you know that? To claim I cannot know about a thing presupposes knowledge of the thing being denied. Agnosticism is a self-defeating claim that can never be true, but many people think it is a safe alternative to acknowledging God. Perhaps they think it buys them time or excuses them from seeking a viable alternative. We have incomplete knowledge as humans after all. A true statement to be sure, but it does not follow that we have no knowledge. Incomplete does not mean non-existent. We can know about God, even if we cannot understand Him fully.

So that leaves us with the possibility that God exists, but what is God? What is His nature? Is He many or one? We can neither create nor sustain our own existence, so we know that we are not He. But who is He? An overwhelming majority of the human population since the beginning recognizes the possibility of God. If God exists, then we can know about Him without any supernatural revelation even if we cannot know Him personally.

There are some acknowledgments about reality which correspond to the possibility of God, some directly some indirectly.
1. Truth is knowable.
2. Truth is objective.
3. Truth corresponds to reality.
4. Opposing claims cannot both be true.
5. Miracles are possible.

You might consider yourself a Seeker if you concede the possibility of God, but haven’t discovered yet whoever or whatever that may be. Seeking the truth in all things is a reasonable and worthy endeavor, don’t you think?

“You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” Jer. 29:13

“I permitted Myself to be sought by those who did not ask for Me; I permitted Myself to be found by those who did not seek Me. I said, ‘Here am I, here am I,’ to a nation which did not call on My name.” Is. 65:1

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Comments
  1. R P says:

    Hello again. This is a very thoughtful post, but I particularly like the picture! That’s awesome.

    I have to say though, I’m not sure of your treatment of agnosticism. The strong form certainly says that knowledge of God is not possible, but most self-described agnostics subscribe to the weak form, which simply says that the existence of God is not known. (I have not in fact ever met anyone who claimed strong agnosticism, although I know people have.)

    You say, “To claim I cannot know about a thing presupposes knowledge of the thing being denied. Agnosticism is a self-defeating claim that can never be true, but many people think it is a safe alternative to acknowledging God. Perhaps they think it buys them time or excuses them from seeking a viable alternative.”

    That first sentence might be true of the strong form, which is actually making a factual assertion about the thing in question, but it doesn’t work at all for the more common weak version, which just says we don’t know, not that we cannot know.

    Obviously ‘agnosticism’ comes from the Greek roots meaning “without knowledge”. I don’t have knowledge of lots of things, Mandarin Chinese for example, or unicorns. That is not the same as saying I can’t have knowledge, and I am not being self-contradictory when I say I am agnostic on the existence of unicorns. That’s not self-defeating. I wouldn’t label myself agnostic, but there’s nothing explicitly wrong with it.

    And I’m not sure why you say people think it’s a “safe alternative” (safe from what?), or that it “excuses them from seeking”, both of which imply there is some kind of normative obligation to seek God, and anyone who doesn’t is simply hiding (from what?).

    You might believe that, and that’s fine, but such a view presupposes a danger we are trying to be “safe” from or a God we are hiding from. Thus it presupposes not only that theism is right, but a particular form of theism where God commands your obeisance. Most Unitarians for example, or just about any Deist, would make no such claim about God. So I’m not sure that’s a fair philosophical criticism of agnosticism, although it’s a fine “strong theistic” one.

    Finally, it’s simply unremarkable to say miracles are possible. They are possible. But then so are unicorns, or leprechauns, or Santa Claus. Asserting that something is, strictly speaking, possible doesn’t convey much factual weight. It only goes so far as to put miracles in the same bucket as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster.

    The interesting things are what we can demonstrate, and that’s a problem for miracles. We could theoretically demonstrate the existence of Nessie. People keep trying after all. But miracles, by their very definition, have no natural explanation, so cannot be demonstrated by evidence. If they had an explanation, we couldn’t call them miracles.

    Since they are, by explicit definition, not directly demonstrable, they are something that must be inferred indirectly from supernatural appeal, which is to say believed based on something like faith. That’s small point perhaps, but worth noting.

  2. Nance says:

    Your assessment of agnosticism is correct regarding soft versus hard agnosticim. My point is that we are assessing truth claims about reality and only hard Agnosticism applies here. The claim, “I don’t know or don’t care” of soft agnosticism is a subjective claim. If pressed for intellectual honesty, one who holds this opinion will move to the the hard Agnostic or the Seeker camp that allows for the possibility of God. I suggest the Seeker identity to allow for the acknowledgement of the possibility of the supernatural and includes those who do not know, but want to know without presupposing the Theistic God. We are not there, yet.

    If you wish to hold a belief in the possibility of Leprecans and Unicorns, that is up you of course. I think those claims will be fleshed out in time. I only ask that for the sake of a productive discussion that we remain intellectually honest about our claims and continue to build upon our truth claims about reality. So far I think we can both identify ourselves in the Seeker camp as we both allow for the possibility of a supernatural realm of reality. As to the claim that “miracles are possible” is unremarkable, well, I’ll leave that to my next post, but in the future I will be more consistent about clarifying my terms.

    Thank you for continuing in the discussion. I have recieved positive communication from readers of varying belief systems who have enjoyed our civil discussion and look forward to reading our interaction.

    I am snowed in with kids again today and am not looking forward to another humiliating defeat of chess with my 10 year old, so I am grateful for the respite! Have a great day and stay warm!

  3. Robert says:

    Hi Nance, there are a number of flaws in your reasoning I’d like to point out. You wrote,

    Is it possible that God exists?…Any die-hard Atheist will want to answer “no” to this irritating question. But to remain consistent with this claim requires a denial of anything immaterial in this life, including the existence of one’s own soul, free will, love or the possibility of miracles.

    First, most atheists I’ve read, and it’s likely far more than you have, grant the possibility that a god (or gods) of some kind exists, just that the evidence we have does not indicate it does. Theists like yourself are fond of asserting the existence of certain things, such as the soul or miracles, but do a very poor job of actually demonstrating their existence.

    Second, you don’t explain why atheists “want” to answer no to the question. If it’s true that denying the existence of a god requires you to deny the existence of such things as love, it seems precisely the opposite desire would be in effect. Your reasoning is incoherent.

    Lastly, it’s downright false atheism requires the denial of anything immaterial. Words are immaterial. So are mathematics and law. Are you really claiming atheists deny these things too?

    To affirm the impossibility of a spiritual reality also requires omniscient knowledge.

    Straw man. A “spiritual reality” may exist. However, this hasn’t been demonstrated in any reasonable way – and that’s what’s being objected to. It’s not incumbent on us to disprove your claim, but on you to prove it.

    What if I told you an “ultra reality” exists. In the ultra reality, matter, energy, and spirit all exist not separately but as one. Do you deny the existence of the ultra reality? How can you? That would require omniscient knowledge, right?

    If one’s worldview must deny so much of what we know to be true and it is apparently inconsistent with reality, then there exists a very real possibility that one’s worldview is false; hence, the dodging dance.

    Rather like Christians’ denial of evolution…

    In any case, you’ve failed to substantiate the atheist’s inconsistency with “what we know to be true”. So far, you’ve conflated “what we know to be true” with your assertions and claims.

    I won’t go into your arguments about agnosticism because RP already did a fine job refuting them.

    If God exists, then we can know about Him without any supernatural revelation even if we cannot know Him personally.

    When you speak of God, you naturally have a specific conception in mind. However, this conception is a minority view, so it’s misleading to equate yours with every one else’s. One of many different conceptions of god would have him/her/it be a disinterested “creator” or “prime mover”. There are conceptions of god that require supernatural revelation (e.g., gnosticism). So your claim above is invalid as a universal. Maybe it’s true for the god you have in mind, but it’s not true for others’ ideas of god (or even gods).

    Finally, while it’s impossible to disprove every conception of god(s), there are arguments which very well demonstrate the near impossibility of some particular conceptions, such as the Christian’s conception. For example, the problem of evil is one such argument that I think is fatal to the Christian god. This argument has no force against the Deist’s god, however. Another argument is the Christian claim – as stated in the title of this blog post – that their god is “reasonable”. No one who threatens you for disbelieving them, as the Christian god does with eternal torture, is ever described as “reasonable”. Such is another example of the incoherency of Christianity and its god.

    • Nance says:

      I was wondering how long it would take for an Atheist to drop by and tell me how stupid I am. Less than 24 hours, not bad. OK, I’ll bite. I’m very curious to hear how you can affirm Atheism while denying Materialism. That’s a new one. Go.

      • R P says:

        I have seen this car crash before! I don’t want to butt in, but I might suggest you both agree on a definition of materialism (specifically, on what it is not) before anyone jumps into why it is or is not compatible with atheism. Just a thought.

      • Robert says:

        Hello again. I think I was very careful not to attack you personally, but to attack your arguments. I have no idea about your level of intelligence, but I do know that even highly intelligent people can make unsound arguments.

        In any case, it seems you’ve misunderstood what materialism is. It’s not the view that everything is material. That’s plainly false, as my examples of words, mathematics, and law illustrate. To suggest otherwise is to argue against a straw man.

        What I understand materialism to be is “the theory that physical matter is the only reality and that everything, including thought, feeling, mind and will, can be explained in terms of matter and physical phenomena.”

        I hope that suffices, and look forward to your defense of your arguments.

      • You know, Nance, I’ve added this blog to my daily blog circuit as I really want to stay abreast of informed, intelligent Christian opinion (I found your blog after seeing this post. I assume you’ve been busy with other areas of your life, and that happens to us all, but just so you know, I’m waiting with interest to see your response to Robert. Your attack on him left me rather stunned, and I went over his reply once more to see where precisely he’d told you how stupid you were, and how he’d managed to step on your toes hard enough to deserve the vitriolic reply. I’m still very puzzled why you reacted so viciously.

        I noticed in another recent comment you made that you referred to RP as “the Atheist”. Coupled with the above response, I have to ask myself whether you don’t perhaps think of atheists as horned monsters with goats’ feet who eat babies. What have any of the commenters on here – who have all been nothing but courteous – done to elicit this animosity?

  4. R P says:

    Let me see if I got this right. I am genuinely asking (not being sarcastic) so please correct me if I didn’t.

    1. Not everything is material: words and laws for example.
    2. Everything can be explained in terms of physical phenomena, including thoughts and minds.
    3. Therefore words and thought must exist immaterially outside thoughts and minds.

    Okay. Where? I mean, I suppose you could argue that, but I’m not sure you want to? Let me know what I missed.

    Thanks.

  5. Robert says:

    R P, not clear how you come to the conclusion that thought must exist immaterially outside thought. All I’m arguing is that things we consider immaterial (e.g., words, law, thoughts), ultimately have a material basis.

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