Interactions with a Self-Confessed Atheist

Nathan Acks (at his blog, The Practical Communist) has gracefully interacted with my first post in the Apologetics and the Postmodern Turn series. He connected here at VanguardChurch because of Becky Vartabedian's post at flip the pig that astutely connected his thoughts on why he is an atheist with my thoughts on how a postmodern apologetic will harken back to a Augustine's "I believe in order to understand."

(He cracked me up by writing: "Now that I've linked to both Becky and Bob, all we need is for Bob to link to Becky and myself, and we'll have completed an amusingly self-referential loop." Well, Nathan, here ya go!!)

Nathan first talks about science and its appropriate definition of “certainty:”
“When a scientist speaks of a ‘certainty’ these days, what they really mean is that ‘the consensus of the experts who study this topic is that the present conclusion has a high probability of describing the observational evidence.’”

He says that even science has “articles of faith”:
“The most basic articles of faith within science is (sic) the existence of an external, objective world and some form of causality.”

With these as his premises, he begins to refute those of us who believe in God (though not maliciously but quite graciously):
“It seems to me that most folks who believe in God would also accept these first two assumptions, but then add the existence of a god or gods to the mix as well…The real problem I have with religion occurs when a further assumption is added to the mix --- that human work _______________ (fill in your favorite set of books or oral traditions) is the inerrant work of God. This not only seems improbable, but often leads to contradictory conclusions unless one assumes that God periodically adjust the situation to his own liking. The problem with such an assumption is that it essentially throws causality out the window (since we're now subject to events that occur at the arbitrary whim of some unknowable super-being), and I think that what you're left with is a pretty jumbled mess of events whose interpretation is simply given, without any justification as to why that interpretation is correct.”

My Comment:
Yes, I think that a Christian view of reality affirms that it makes sense that God created an objective place that is separate from God, and that God made a cosmos that has order and causality.

However, your presumption is that any book or oral tradition must simply be the work of humans. What if the God who created the objective world wants to be known? What if, just as we humans seek to know and love each other, God wants to be known and loved as well? What if our capacities to know and love each other is actually a reflection of his capacities to know and to love? I know that none of this can be proven by scientific proofs, but it is the witness of the Christian community (and not just the fundamentalists that you rightly are stand-offish about!). Our testimony is simply this: We have actually met this God; this God is not just stuff of legend written down in dusty old Bibles. We believe that this God actually created a world that makes sense and can be studied scientifically; and at the same time this God holds all things together so that the creation does not fall prey to the entropy of the second law of thermodynamics. And our witness is that the Christian God is not capricious; therefore to caricature a healthy faith in this God as setting us up to “the arbitrary whim of some unknowable super-being” and leaving us with a “pretty jumbled mess of events” does not resonate with our experience and seems unfair to those of the Christian faith. I hope that helps you to understand a little more about where we are coming from!

Nathan goes on:
“Now, I suppose you're free to believe that, but you've pretty much cut off any hope that human knowledge can be meaningfully expanded, and you've also given yourself the daunting task of fitting the entire world into a fairly complex existing narrative. I might think that adding the "God assumption" is unnecessarily complex, but the task that any fundamentalist interpretation of reality sets itself verges on the absurd.
In the end, my disagreement with those who simply believe in a God is more a matter of preference as to our set of basic assumptions (essentially, I've come to believe that the ‘God assumption’ is much weaker than they believe). My disagreement with fundamentalists of any stripe (and that includes fundamentalist atheists, who I think do as much to give atheism a bad name as fundamentalist Christians and Muslims do for theism) is that such hard assumptions about the world posit a degree of certainty that is logically and observationally untenable.”

Again, I appreciate the fact that you have not interacted with enough thoughtful Christians who would embrace the idea that human knowledge can be meaningfully expanded. This is, sadly, the way many American fundamentalist Christians come across today. But this is not always the case. As you know, science was originally advanced mainly because of a Christian mandate to do so. Today, thoughtful Christians seek to continually expand human knowledge, for it is part of what we call the “Cultural Mandate.”

Now, about the “God Assumption:”

In Nathan's original post, called "Why I am an Atheist", he wrote,
"I always remember my folks stressing the importance of empathy and responsibility to me, and from a very early age I was encouraged to learn as much about science as my little mind could possibly hold. When it came to questions of why we should act a certain way, rather than invoking God they spoke of the Golden Rule. And when it came to questions about creation, I was simply told that we don’t know — that different people had different beliefs and stories of how it all came about, but that nobody really agreed yet. And so it was that I wasn’t so much raised to disbelieve in gods as just never given a reason to believe in them."

My upbringing was very much the same. I could echo every one of those words. And yet, deep down inside, I often times thought about the idea of a "god." Your experience is obviously close to, and yet very different from mine, for you contend that you never thought about the existence of God. Is that really true? If it is, I really would like to hear how that could be!

My contention is that the “God Assumption” is not "unnecessarily complex" (as you say). I am saying that I have seen a human predilection to believe that there is divinity, and that this very raw and basic belief (I'm not saying a "Christian" belief, I'm not even saying a belief in a "personal" God) is pretty much a basic belief in most human beings. It is usually those with complex arguments (like the excellent ones you offer) that have convinced themselves to think otherwise. It seems that at least recently you have been wrestling with the idea of the existence of God, or else you would not have blogged about it. Hear me, though: I do affirm the fact that you were raised in a situation in which you had no interation with parents that fostered in you a belief in God. I had the same experience.

And, contrary to appearances, I am not seeking to prove that all people believe in God with any amount of certitude. People’s belief in the divine is something I assume unless its proven otherwise to me. I have yet to meet a person who can admit to me that they have never at least toyed with the idea of the existence of God. I do not pretend that the “God Assumption” can be logically and observationally proven. This is why I am a postmodern apologist. Sure, I can rattle off the “proofs” of God’s existence that were prevalent in the Modern Era (mentioned in the post above), but I think that this is a waste of time for postmodern people.

Instead, I sit down with people and get to know them. I invite them to see how the community of faith I live in is making a difference in other’s lives. I ask them to open themselves up to the possibility (not the certainty, just the possibility) that God is real and that he actually invaded our time-space in the person of Jesus Christ.

technorati: , , ,


Ted Gossard said...

Thanks for sharing this, Bob.

Good conversation here. And well expressed on both sides.

beepbeepitsme said...

I don't understand why so many christians are in conflict concerning science.

Bob Robinson said...

That's an excellent question.

Perhaps too many Christians have been indoctrinated to think that science and faith must always clash.

Maybe its because too many scientists have been indoctrinated to think that science and faith must always clash.

So, we had probably better decide that this clash has got to go by the wayside and accept both.

Anonymous said...

I think that the reason that science and faith clash sometimes is that some individuals tend to use one as a substitution for the other. they arent the same thing.