In Defense of the Unmiraculous

There is a fear that causes Christian legs to tremble, a fear well-exploited by the New Atheism, and — all things considered  – a very stupid fear — that of the unmiraculous.

The Christian runs to the atheist, silver cross sailing in the wind, filled with joy, saying “I felt the presence of God!” The atheist looks up from his Macbook and says something along the lines of, “Religious experience is just the result of decreased activity in your right parietal lobe.” And he’d hardly be alone in the effort to reduce religious experience to the alteration of brain activity. Evolutionary biologist Lionel Tiger called religion “a secretion of the brain.”

To which the Christian has three available responses. He may go home, cry, and spend the rest of his life reading Dawkins’ tortured prose, or he may do the fundamentalist dance. This, of course, would involve putting his pinkies in his ears and his thumbs up his nose, shutting his eyes and spinning in circles, singing “This is just a test of my faith, a test my faith” to the tune of Chris Tomlin’s Everlasting God.

Or he might reason as follows:

The fact that religious experience manifests itself in an entirely unmiraculous way — in the physical activity of the brain — does not call into question the reality of religious experience. In fact, it strengthens the possibility that religious experience is a response to a reality, not delusion. Why? Because effects require a cause. Your amygdala, for instance, that part of the brain that controls fear and anxiety, does not randomly ‘turn off’. It turns off in response to the chemical oxytocin released during orgasm. Orgasm is caused — usually — by having sex, which is a real, tangible, human experience. The man who would say, “the pleasure of sex is the result of decreased amygdala activity, and therefore you aren’t really having sex” is on the exact same plane of logic as the atheist who says, “the feeling of religious experience is just the result of decreased activity in your right parietal lobe — therefore you’re not really having a religious experience.”

If there is an effect — the decreased activity in the right parietal lobe — it stands to reason that there must be a cause. We could say “it’s just random,” but in doing this we would not only deny the fact that the majority of religious experience is habitual, not random, but also the functionality of the human mind: If the functions of my parietal lobes are random, and humans have religious experiences uncaused by anything rooted in reality, then it may be equally true that the functions of the left side of my brain — that part responsible for the logic that leads us to make statements such as “there is no God” — are entirely random, with no bearing on reality, and may be discounted as such. We could say it’s all coincidental stimulation, but we dismantled that.

The unmiraculous facts of religious experience go much further in testifying to the existence of a God than if they were purely undetectable miracles. For as it stands, there exists parts of our brain that seems to respond to a spiritual world, parts that respond to prayer, to adoration, etc. Either there is a God and our brain is doing its job, or there is no God, and we have an inexplicably misleading part of our brain that distorts reality and makes us stupid with no conceivable benefit. (Note that if the atheist were to belligerently affirm the latter proposition, saying, “Well, it simply must be the case,” “evolution isn’t perfect,” or something of the sort, the Christian is obliged to answer, “Then how can we trust our brains at all?”)

The Christian, erroneously seeing himself as a soul trapped within a body, thinks that for a spiritual event to interact with and alter the body somehow devalues it, and is thus frightened of any scientific analysis of religious experience. But we are not a soul rattling inside a machine. We are human. What changes our soul should invade our body — our brain, our lungs, our guts and our blood, for when God interacts with us he does not do so as a magician, but as a person, meeting us in the entirety of our personhood, which includes the body.

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  • chiphopr

    My brain tells me the chances of there being another scrum in the comments section have now gone up. Getcha popcorn ready.

  • God is a good idea

    Great article.

    Actually there is a Darwinian survival mechanism at work here: The experience of spiritual presence allows us to remain calm in the face of fear, to sooth stress and to feel a sense of purpose and connection within ourselves. In the absence of these feelings, people have been known to suffer from depression, anxiety and loneliness — not a good survival mechanism.

    So the health “benefits” attributed to a relationship with the man upstairs could be the same ones that have caused the evolution of this neurological process.

    Does that make sense?

    Throughout history, humans have used myth to explain the unknown. Whether it is the Vikings attributing a loss in battle to an angry Loki, or the Greeks attributing stormy seas to Poseidon — I think God is our way of explaining the things that scare us or stress us out. “It’s all part of God’s plan.” It creates meaning in the face of uncertainty. Uncertainty itself is the most stressful state. Like an antelope in the jaws of a cheetah, once we are certain of the outcome — whether that outcome is ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ — we relax.

    • Joe the Seminarian

      Addressing Mythology –> Yes, humanity has used mythology to explain the unknown, but you’re making an illicit logical jump to conclude that Christianity is in the same boat. It doesn’t even neccesitate that the mythmakers weren’t right to make myths. The fact that all cultures, in some regard or another, sought to discern meaning out of what appeared to be cosmic entropy. It is only until recently that people seem to be content with a meaningless life. The big whole in your arguement lies in the question “Why aren’t we content with cosmic entropy?” The fact that we seek the supernatural within the natural shows there is a hunger in humanity that is not fed in natural means. We’re hardwired to desire the divine, we hunger for God.

      • God is a good idea

        “It is only recently that people seem to be content with a meaningless life.”

        What a profound statement, Joe. I wonder if this has been your experience of other people? Of people you have interacted with? I don’t know if I could agree from my experience…

        If there is a “meaning” to life, I would have to imagine that it’s far beyond our intellectual comprehension, for believers and non-believers in an intelligent designer.

        And, I think that sometimes people really hurt for that lack of meaning. It is truly frightening to imagine an existence void of meaning. I feel that myself. In fact, I am sure that we ALL feel this at some point. It is a BIG deal. I think that if we really consider it, it may be the ONLY deal. What could be more important in life than asking this question?

        But which of these wonderful religions that fill our world today provides the correct answer to that question? Which is the true faith? Does the answer to that question depend on where you are born? On your parent’s religion? On our political affiliation? Under what circumstances has the thirst for knowledge of meaning been quenched in our own lives? How fortunate are we to have meaning through God? At what expense does meaning arrive?

        For instance, is our meaning defined in conquering Jerusalem and converting Muslims to the true faith? Is our meaning defined in living in solitude as a monastic? Is our meaning define in the phrase “go forth and multiply”? Is our meaning defined in our choice to argue about abortions on blogs like this one? When I read what people write here, I have to admit, I have a lot of questions like these.

        I think that unfortunately people tend to look for solace in self-destructive behavior sometimes — drugs, sex, rock and roll music (jk) — in religion, and also in science. I think it is just as easy to be brainwashed by science as it is by Christianity. It is just as easy to put our fingers in our ears and shout “science! science! science!”

        But, maybe neither science, nor religion, nor drugs and rock music is the right answer? I think for me, the important thing is to keep asking. Keep asking. Keep asking. Keep asking. Hello?

        • Tally Marx

          “He’s been that way for years–a born questioner, but he hates answers.” -Ring Lardner

          Asking questions and wanting to learn is good, but it’s a process which necessitates an end, a goal. To ignore and dismiss answers given just so you can ask the question over and over again, defeats the purpose of asking the question.
          I’m not saying you do this (I don’t know you) but I’ve seen a lot of people doing that, and just thought I’d warn against it.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KDQFQTMD56CJAKMLXRFYUDNCPQ Montague

    I’ve had the idea that sometimes, the reason me make myths is not because they are afraid of Ignorance, so much as that they are afraid of what they DO know. Like matter is not everything, that certain people, places, and things are holy or sacred, that God is strong. That blood is necessary payment. That nature laughs, cries, and groans.

    Additionally, only a person who believes in a God-of-the-gaps can be “hurt” by “Science”. So the enlightenment was just a whole bunch of atheists and deists (practically the same when it comes to the gospel) coming out of intellectual camouflage.

    Due honors to my friend, Shane, who helps me think this stuff up.

  • Lauren G

    Once again, congrats on the more triple parenthesis. :)

    And really great post! I’d love to read more like it!

    • Marc Barnes

      You know I do them for you Lauren

  • Mark

    Chesterton said that atheism is an abnormality — as in, outside the norm. Yet the atheistic worldview holds a disproportionate and undeserved sway in our culture. And this small, self-important minority have seized the “rules” of the metaphysical debate. By ignoring, dismissing or distorting the classical philosophical arguments, materialism becomes the only “logical” worldview by default. That’s a very convenient position for those who want to appear part of the smart-set and intellectually superior those ignorant, superstitious religious types. They’ve loaded the metaphysical dice so that “science”, on their terms, wins every time. Don’t play their game by their rules.

    Real reason, in the classical, Catholic tradition, is the only thing that will always defeat scientific imperialism and the new atheism, because it’s the only thing that still knows what it is for a human being to be normal and complete. Chesterton again, “I do not feel any contempt for an atheist, who is often a man limited and constrained by his own logic to a very sad simplification.”

    • what a funny reference

      I don’t get it. Who is this “Chesterton”. Is that your last name?

    • God is not catholic

      “Real reason, in the classical, Catholic tradition, is the only thing that will always defeat scientific imperialism and the new atheism”

      To me, this sounds like the statement of an insane person (no offense).

      Let me ask: If you were born a Muslim, would worship in the Muslim tradition be the only tradition that teaches what it means “to be complete”? How a bout a Jew? a Hindu? How about a protestant scientist? How about an atheist?

      A ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to reason can’t be affiliated with a specific religion. There is a genetic component to belief systems — but the family, community, country that you are born in cannot, in the end, define your ability to reason, to know oneself and to achieve some spiritual happiness.

      Atheism is not an argument against spirituality. It is an argument against a religious idiocracy — an argument against the arrogant stance that we, humans could possibly understand the true nature of some all knowing, all loving, creative force. As soon as we make the foolish attempt to format a methodology for interacting with God, we lose ourselves. It’s the reliance on religion that removes all truth from a personal experience of God.

      Also, just because someone wrote something a long time ago doesn’t make it correct. Chesterton could have been a complete moron, for all we know. Think for yourself.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-A-Carlson/100001401488797 David A. Carlson

        Ive been readin Chestertons Orthodoxy lately, and I do agree with some of what he says, and disagree with some of what he says. Epsecially the part about insanity. Some of this section makes sense, and some parts of this section of his book leave me sitting there thinking, “Oh, if only you’d ever lived with an insane person. Then youd really know what they are like.” After having lived with an insane person (my father was diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, bipolar manic depressive, and psychotic, along with PTSD from the Vietnam war. I do not believe that all of these manifested from the war and the PTSD, but many were there before) for the large part of my life, I can honestly say that Chesterton is wrong in some respects. So I do think for myself, and in doing so, I choose to view the world around me to better understand it and to better improve and expand my thoughts. I do so by examining the thoughts of others, such as reading Chesterton.

      • Mark

        “Think for yourself.”

        And when that very advice is taken, an intellectually honest person just might pluck up the courage to face the incredible idea that something in the world is wiser than he is. He might put some stock in the notion that the greatest minds throughout history have reached profound insights into human existence. He might conclude that religion is a normal and natural part of being completely human. He might understand that formatting a methodology for interacting with anything, including God, is normal, rational and wise. He might compare the world’s religions and be drawn to the one that withstands the most intellectual, philosophical, and historical scrutiny. He might conclude that only one religion offers true intellectual and spiritual emancipation. He might realize that within that religion we find the truth of ourselves and real freedom. He might conclude that one religion is true, and that to fall away from it is to fall into falsehood. He might conclude that being Catholic is not to stop thinking, but to learn how to think. He might then think that it is pointless to argue with children.

    • Joe

      No, you mean Physicalism, not Materialism. They do not mean the same thing

  • Alexandra

    This point is very neutral. It neither proves nor disproves the existence of a god.

    However, I’m interested in how you explain people who have never had a religious experience despite having faith? Why doesn’t god communicate with them?

    I’m a former Catholic, and despite years of faith and dedication to trying to strengthen it, I never had a religious experience. If there’s a piece of my brain intended for me to experience god, shouldn’t I have been able to experience him?

    • http://www.facebook.com/kickintheface Jacob Timothy Michael Hughes

      Most people never do have a religious experience, in the most narrow sense. (God physically manifesting himself in a very obvious way.)

      If you were a Catholic, however, and have ever received the Eucharist(I’m assuming you have), then you have experienced God in a way more intimate than any vision of fire and glory. You have received Him, in the most literal sense that one can imagine, into yourself. You didn’t receive a symbol of him, but you put him into your mouth(or if you were cool, the priest put him into your mouth(I’m making a lot of sidenotes(that was another one(I’m beating you, Marc)))), and you ate the Lord of the Universe. So you have experienced God.

      But not everyone is Catholic. Everyone experiences God, in everyday miracles. The fact that we care about beauty points to a creator. It couldn’t merely be evolutionary. The cavekid who sat around painting on the wall was more likely to starve to death than the one who hunted. Yet we have art. It doesn’t benefit our survival in any way, but we still have an instinctive urge to make it. Is God not there? Does he not reveal a small piece of himself in art? I say he does. I say that in all things beautiful, (nature, art, etc.) he reveals himself to us. All of it helps to portray his love for us, and you laugh when you realize that it’s all for you. He made all of this stuff, for you!

      As for me, no, I’ve never had what is usually thought of when someone says “religious experience”. The times when I “feel” God’s presence are few and far between(I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve “felt” his presence.) Catholicism isn’t about feelings. God is with me whether I feel him or not. God loves me even if I’m speaking in English and not Tongues. God died for you, even if you don’t believe.

      • Alexandra

        My problem with your argument is that it relies wholly on faith, instead of experience or evidence. If most people never actually have a moving experience of god, how can he expect us to have faith? Why would he make us thinking, rational, logical beings, with the hardware necessary to have a religious experience, and then never satisfy the curiosity that he made us with?

        Moreover, how can salvation rely on faith, when not everyone is capable of faith. Faith isn’t something you can develop, believe me I tried. I live my life in an ethical fashion, but by the Christian logic I will not be able to be saved because of my lack of faith. To me, that is the plan of a very cruel god. To create me with an analytical mind and then condemn me for not being able to achieve faith because of the way that he created me, despite the fact that I lead an ethical life.

        I hope I don’t come across as trolling, that really isn’t my intention. This is a question that I struggled with for years and ultimately lead me to the conclusion that god is either evil or imaginary. If anyone has a more enlightened answer than I could come up with, I’d love to hear it.

        • Dan

          Alexandra, this word, faith – if I may quote a great cinematic swordsman, I don’t think it means what you think it means.

          Faith is not a scientific proposition to be proved by experiment. It is the conviction of things unseen. On the other hand, it can be enlivened and nourished by a humble view of the world, meaning that if you look around you with an unjaundiced eye, you may find the marvels of this life are far more suggestive of creation than of accident. Read Cardinal Dulles account of coming to faith by meditating on the emergence of a springtime bud.

          Some people, it’s true, have been blessed by divine experience, by Damascus Road conversions. Most people have not. And yet faith endures. You think are are incapable of it? I would guess you already have it, but don’t recognize it. I think this is so because these questions still nag at you after all these years.

        • Alexandra

          Dan, I think I made it clear in my first line of my post that I get the distinction between faith and science.

          I definitely do not have faith. I’m very assured of my atheism, though only very recently. I will just never understand how people can truly believe that good people will be damned to eternal damnation because they couldn’t find faith. The religious claim that morality comes from god, but that doesn’t follow if it is a god that rejects his creation if they do not have absolute faith in his existence and love.

          If faith is that central of a point, it is dismissive and cruel of god to not provide the evidence that is necessary to cultivate a belief. I have 12 years of Catholic schooling and continued to try to believe through college, but nothing gave me faith. I could pretend to have faith, but never in my life have I experienced faith. It will just never develop until there is evidence, because that is the way that my mind works. I can either believe that that is the mind that god gave me, that he set me up for failure, or that there is no such god and I will live my life morally without him.

          • Dan

            Are you suggesting that the creator of the Universe owes you some sort of special revelation to you, beyond what He has chosen to reveal?

            That seems a bit presumptuous, but because I have often longed for the same thing – everyone does – it can’t be held it against you. But I would suggest you re-read Job and pay mind to what God tells that poor man in answer to his challenge.

            You said it’s “dismissive and cruel” of God not to provide evidence that is necessary to cultivate a belief. But Alexandra, that evidence is inside you and all about you.

            Start from the very basic premise of your own existence: of your ability to reason, to communicate, to invent.

            As an atheist, you would argue that these sublime abilities and all the other marvelous elements of your existence came about quite by accident because of the collision of particles, or vibrating strings, or what have you.

            Now, can you really have faith in that notion, but not in the notion that things bearing all the hallmarks of design were in fact designed? That an intelligence is attaching those particles one to the other or pulling those vibrating strings just so?

            You deny faith, Alexandra – religious faith, anyway – but God’s faith in you is abiding. He gave you an analytical mind, and it might take a day or a year or the rest of your life, but I wager you will analyze yourself right into Heaven in the end.

          • Alexandra

            You’re not actually addressing my point here. You really believe that a wholly good person will be damned to eternal torture because they could not find faith? If our eternal souls are at stake, how does a loving god not want to help a good person find faith?

            How do you rationalize a loving god that will punish good people for eternity simply for not having faith?

          • Elaine

            To clarify, the Catholic church doesn’t teach that anyone is damned… we can’t say who goes to Hell. That’s not our place.

            God does help people find faith… that’s why we’ve got the Bible, Sacraments, apologetics, theology, and the Church in general. All these point to Him. If, after being exposed to all those things, a person still does not believe… that’s a heavy cross to bear, for sure, but I don’t think it’s fair to say it’s God’s fault.

          • Dan

            God is helping you find faith, Alexandra. He led you here, for one thing.
            God doesn’t punish people for lack of faith. People punish themselves by cutting themselves off from God, even though He has given every good reason to believe.

          • John S

            If there is no god, nor a spiritual world, nor any dimension to the world apart from the matter and energy of which it physically consists, how can you live your life morally? There is no morality. “Good” and “bad” behaviour are two ends of some kind of socially-constructed ethical spectrum ultimately derived from pragmatics – there is no absolute “should” or “shouldn’t”, only what serves particular goals. Don’t bother with living life “morally”. Or just do it when other people are watching, so as to make them like you, and to get things you want, and to avoid unpleasant consequences.

            As to faith… did you ever sit in a chair without testing it first to make sure it wouldn’t collapse under you? If so, you exercised faith, or at least trust. If that seems too prosaic, consider: do you know anyone who loves you? Could you prove it to someone else? Could you prove it in a way that could not easily be dismissed by someone saying “That’s just physical attraction, a mating instinct” or “That’s just family/friend love, which evolved hundreds of thousands of years ago from the pragmatic need to forge community bonds” or so on? If the world is exclusively material, “love” can be dismissed as simply as “right” and “wrong”. Best not to believe you are experiencing it if it cannot be proven.

            But this isn’t your experience, is it? You say you try to live morally, and you clearly have people you love and who love you. Living as though there is right and wrong behaviour and as though there is a love separate from mere affections and attractions is living by faith. You don’t have to manufacture belief in God to feel an impulse to do right or to feel a pang of conscience when you do wrong, nor do you have to exercise “absolute faith” to say “I love you” to someone and believe it when you say it. Furthermore, you don’t consume yourself trying to prove that right and love exist or answer why with scientific or mathematical proofs: you just do them, as if they were real. So you already have faith. You don’t have to believe in God, but you already live by faith.

            And as to eternal damnation: do let me know if you can find any passage in the Bible that explicitly states that non-Christians suffer eternal torments in Hell or any other place. Because as far as I know, the Bible mentions eternal flames and demons or fallen angels being consigned to them forever, but not human beings. The story of Dives and Lazarus appears to portray someone going to Hell forever, but it is also a parable illustrating a separate point, and it makes no claim to represent a true and accurate description of the afterlife. (Christians can choose to interpret the parable literally of course, but then they also have to believe that all poor, sick or suffering people go to Heaven, regardless of belief.) I am interested to see that a Roman Catholic below has commented that the Church does not teach that anyone is damned, since I myself am not Catholic and do not know its doctrines in detail. So… it is not necessary to Christian belief to imagine that God throws anyone into eternal tortures. Some sects and denominations do… that’s their business.

            My business is typing.

        • http://www.facebook.com/kickintheface Jacob Timothy Michael Hughes

          I do rely wholly on faith, but that isn’t the only evidence I have. I may not have “felt” God, but I’ve definitely “experienced Him in a way that goes beyond the senses, or even emotions. It is something else within us.

          Faith isn’t something that is felt. Faith is a choice. Whether you can intellectually bring yourself to God or not, you can have faith. Faith comes in trusting God. The reason that most Christians can’t fathom atheism is that they’ve never known it. I have. I have not come to accept God through scientific evidence, and that I will admit that. I came to accept God because I knew that science and reason would always fall short. I haven’t intellectually accepted him(although my belief doesn’t violate my intellect.) I’m not sure what you would call it, if there’s a word for it at all. I just believe.

          • Alexandra

            I really like that response Jacob! I’m sad I didn’t see it until just now.

            I was talking to my husband over dinner and we were talking about how we cannot fathom how people can see the evidence in support of an atheistic world view, and that theists probably have the same kind of difficult time grasping how we cannot find faith.

            It’s interesting to hear that you haven’t been able to intellectually accept god, but choose to trust in him anyway. I can understand that, and I guess if I wasn’t convinced of my atheism I could definitely simply trust.

            Thanks for your respectful discourse! :)

    • Tally Marx

      Alex, I’m not exactly certain what you mean by “experience” but if you are using it as most use it, then it is synonymous with “feeling”. Why doesn’t God give everyone a certain feeling? I think it is because God expects Love from us, and Love based solely on feelings isn’t really Love. Imagine if you were only devoted to your husband when you felt warm and fuzzy about him! It wouldn’t be a very strong relationship. Imagine if you were only kind to people when you felt happy about doing it! You wouldn’t really be a good person. Feelings are a pick me up, but they are a poor substitute for Love and certainly aren’t necessary for it. In fact, Love proves itself most when it doesn’t feeling like being loving. Maybe you never had the experience and feeling you expected because you are a person of great fortitude, perseverance, and courage capable of great Love and God knows that. What if He just wanted you to realize it? In other posts you say you tried to have faith, and can’t be saved without it, etc. But if you can recall…it is written that there is Faith, Hope, and Love, and the greatest is Love. Hope this helps a bit. Pax et bonum!

  • Michelle Thuldanin

    … Is that Jackie Chan??

    • lolz

      yea, its a rageface. when people make internet comics they use random expressions to tell a story. this expression is “are you serious?”

  • Jack Heron

    Reminds me a bit of what C.S. Lewis wrote in ‘The Screwtape Letters’ about the errors people make about what experiences mean – there is a tendency to think that positive experiences aren’t, in some sense, real. They are ‘just a mood’ or subjective impressions. Negative experiences, on the other hand, reveal what the world is truly like. Same here – the arguably subjective sense of God’s presence is irrational and meaningless, the equally arguably subjective sense of His absence is having the rose-tinted glasses removed.

  • Alexandra

    (I hate this posting format! My eyes can’t handle those skinny columns.)

    That’s a pretty waffley answer, Dan, but I’m guessing this is not something that many believers think about because they do have faith and don’t have to face the idea that god would reject them because they just couldn’t find faith.

    Christine, I’d forgotten the Church’s exact position, but I do know there are sections in the Bible that are clear on the point that faith is essential for salvation.

    I spent a large part of high school and college agonizing over this point, because I have never ever actually had faith. It was a huge cross to bear. It was pure torment to have been exposed to everything that you describe, trying earnestly to understand and welcome god into my life, and never find faith. My lack of faith is definitely not from lack of trying.

    The realization that there really is no god was the most relieving moment of moment of my life. Realizing and really believing that being a good person is good enough, and that I’m not less of a person for lacking faith freed me from the guilt I was tormenting myself with.

    My atheism doesn’t keep me from living a moral life, indeed it’s actually made me a more moral person. Knowing that this is my one life, and that there is no punishment for evil beyond this world makes it even more important to work towards good and eradicating evil while I am alive. If there really is a god, then I say he’s a cruel one to expect me to continue to live in torment instead of using the mind he made me with to accept myself as the human incapable of faith that I am.

    • Dan

      The skinny columns are maddening :-)

      A waffly answer? No. A frightening one, yes. It speaks to the freedom God gives us, a gift in addition to all the other gifts. He does not compel us to do anything, not even to believe. He asks us, but does not compel us, to cooperate with grace.

      From Leon Bloy:

      “Freedom, that prodigious, incomprehensible, indescribable gift by means of which we are given the power to vanquish the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, to kill the incarnate Word, to stab seven times the Immaculate Conception, to excite at a single word all created spirits in the heavens and in hell, to hold God’s Will, Justice, Mercy and Pity in abeyance on His Lips and to prevent them from flowing down upon His creation; this inexpressible freedom is nothing but this: the respect God has for us.”

      So we are free to believe we are his creatures and one day be called home to him, or we are free to reject this idea and be lost. Our choice.

      Alexandra, I don’t wish to make you think for a moment that faith is easy for those who have it. It can be a burden, in a sense, because it demands us to accept that what is not always visible exists nonetheless. It is an act of the will.

      Bear in mind, too, that God is not measuring you with some sort of Faith-o-meter. There are not degrees of faith. There is faith.

      Perhaps you might revisit some of the more dynamic writers and thinkers of the Church. I lost my faith for many years because I had a childish conception of what the Church teaches, about what God is. I had never progressed beyond the Old Fellow With a Beard image of God until I started studying teachers who respected my intelligence and did not paint God that way.

      Anyway, I hope I give no offense when I tell you that I will pray for you.

      • Alexandra

        I think I do understand what the Church teaches and who the Church believes god is. I was approached by someone recently who wanted to try to convert me, who laughed at me when I told him that I’d already heard it all and was set in my decision.

        I don’t want to have faith, I know it is incorrect, and I know what trying to pursue it did to me. I definitely revel in the universe and recognize the need of humanity to be stewards of it and each other, but I will never again try to believe in a god that loves me with the caveat that I have to go through mentally agony to show proper appreciation for what he gave me.

        The idea being good and honoring creation isn’t good enough for salvation will always confuse me. I’ve made peace with the belief that in the unlikely event that there is a god, a good god would be able to see that I tried.

        • Dan

          Showing appreciation for what God gives you is not agonizing.

          Listen to Palestrina. Was this music composed by someone in existential pain? It is the poetry of one in love with creation and its Creator. If pursuing faith caused you pain, then I suspect you misunderstood your quarry as a thing, an object that could be lassoed and brought to heel and examined, rather than as a way of seeing and receiving God’s gifts.

          You used the word creation. Creations have creators. More to the point, Creation has a Creator. Notwithstanding your decisive declaration, it is not at all unlikely there is one. Indeed, it is preposterous to say there is not – I refer again to the evidence all around us, the order, the beauty, and the ugliness that arises when we drift away from what is Godly.

          Challenge yourself. Go to Mass on Sunday. I am partial to the beauties of the Extraordinary Form, the beautiful old Latin rite, but any Mass will do.

          You needn’t participate. Sit in the back. Don’t kneel, don’t sing, don’t bless yourself. But do, by all means, watch and listen as the priest and the people give glory to God.

          Then return here and tell me what agonies you witnessed, beyond the representation of the one particular Agony. None of these people have any claim to knowledge that you don’t have. But they have chosen to believe and they have chosen to give thanks and this brings not agony but peace.

          There are no caveats on God’s love. We are not as Mass to beg our way into Heaven but to give thanks for what is good. Again, if you reject this, it is your choice to do so. But remember that God is not rejecting you. You are rejecting him.

          • Alexandra

            I used the word creation somewhat ironically. The universe absolutely makes sense without a creator.

            I really don’t think you can ‘chose’ to believe. Or at least I can’t. I can’t will myself to believe in something. I could delude myself, and I’ve tried that tactic, but any god would see through that. I spent a long time hating myself for the fact that I don’t have faith. I’m done with that.

            I’m not concerned with the consequences of rejecting god, because god isn’t real. I guess I could play Pascal’s wager, but I have no fear that I am wrong that there is no god, so I won’t.

            I have respect for those that believe and wouldn’t want to take their faith away from them. I hope that people can respect that they don’t necessarily have any deeper understanding than I do and allow me to live my life as an atheist without judgement.

          • Dan

            “I’m not concerned with the consequences of rejecting god, because god isn’t real.”

            Well, I suppose I will have to await the Summa Alexandra to teach me the folly of my faith.

            Until then, I will thank God for granting me the blessing of being one of his creatures.

            You know, just in case. :-)

          • Alexandra

            That was just obnoxious.

            I specifically said that I have no interest in trying to challenge your faith.

          • Dan

            How is declaring “god isn’t real” not challenging my faith?
            If we are going to cast accusations of being obnoxious, I would draw attention to your lower-casing of “god.”

          • http://www.facebook.com/kickintheface Jacob Timothy Michael Hughes

            Hey, quit being a jerk. She isn’t attacking anything. She’s defending.

            I don’t know why you implied earlier that atheism is “preposterous” , which it is not. If there was no way that God didn’t exist, that would make atheists stupid, which generally isn’t the case.

            You are making this into more than it needs to be. Not every discussion between an atheist and a Christian need to be battles. They can be discussions.

          • Alexandra

            Thank you, Jacob.

            I was civil and never attacked anyone. I had questions and I thought we were answering them in a productive and insightful way.

            You encouraged me to challenge my atheism, but I never directly advised you to challenge your faith.

            I do not believe in your god, so I don’t capitalize it. I don’t throw out insults about your god, but you really can’t expect me to follow your convention when I don’t believe he exists.

            I’m out, this was pleasant but you ruined it.

          • Dan

            I didn’t imply atheism is preposterous, Jacob. I said it outright.
            I can understand and sympathize with the agnostic, who doubts. I find preposterous the certainty of the atheist. But he find my assurance preposterous, too, so we at least achieve balance there.
            I apologize that I offended with my Summa Alexandra quip. It was meant only as a lighthearted way of pointing out that greater minds that ours – well, mine anyway – have found the evidence overwhelmingly in favor of God.

        • http://www.facebook.com/kickintheface Jacob Timothy Michael Hughes

          Alexandra, faith isn’t a feeling, or even a logical conclusion to a problem. Faith is a choice. I don’t do it because I had a sudden flash of God, of some perspective the spiritual realm. It wasn’t, as some claim has happened to them, struck by a deep emptiness without Him. (both perfectly valid reasons to believe, by the way.) I began my belief out of obedience. I chose to take God at His word. I tried my best to follow His teachings. I prayed(at the time, I wasn’t really sure why, other than that He told me to.) And although I hated the time I “wasted” in prayer, and I despised the fact that I “missed out” on life, I realized I had fallen in love with God. That falls flat in a way, because “in love” is just the closest thing that I can think of to describe it. In many ways, it isn’t even close.

          But that’s not the point. The point is that I didn’t worry about the explanations for God. I didn’t care whether I could “bring myself” to believe. I still struggle with whether or not He exists. It doesn’t matter though. I trust.

          Another point, you don’t, as you state, “know it is incorrect”. You later pointed out that “in the unlikely event that there is a god, a good god would be able to see that I tried.” There can never be certainty about there being no God. Trust that in that uncertainty. I wouldn’t recommend leaps of faith at this point. I would tell you to give in, just slightly.

          If you have issues believing in God, after what you’ve described to me as your experience, I recommend that you examine your trust. I could be very wrong, but I’m sensing some issues there.

          • Alexandra

            Thanks, but I’m really not looking to find faith. You’re right, there’s no way to know for sure there isn’t a god. I could probably be convinced of a deistic worldview, but I think that there is enough evidence to reject the Christian god. Not that I think that anyone should do that if it isn’t what is right for them, but it certianly is right for me.

            I’m looking to understand why and how other people have faith. Also to have good engaging conversation. I have no illusions that Christians are stupid or anything hateful of the sort.

            The majority of the theists I know are wonderful people who I can have really great discussions with. From lurking the comments on this blog for a couple of days I saw that this seems like a place to have good civil conversation.

          • http://www.facebook.com/kickintheface Jacob Timothy Michael Hughes

            Well, there are as many reasons for faith as there are Christians. If you want to know how, it would take having faith.

    • 3abdulmesii7

      Whose definition of “good person” are you using when you say that you just need to be a “good person?”

  • Elizabeth
    • Malakh

      …and after you’re done reading about theories by some random guy, you should read “The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Case For The Existence of the Soul” by Dr. Mario Beauregard from the University of Montreal who conducted experiments with Carmelite Nuns.
      “Mario Beauregard’s groundbreaking work on the neurobiology of mystical experience at the University of Montreal has received international media coverage. Before becoming a faculty member there, he conducted postdoctoral research at the University of Texas and the Montreal Neurological Institute (McGill University). Because of his research into the neuro-science of consciousness, he was selected by the World Media Net to be among the “One Hundred Pioneers of the 21st Century.” He lives in Montreal, Canada.”
      Btw, McGill is the number ONE university in Canada, the 17TH in the whole world. It is famous for science and medicine most of all, specifically Neurology… This man has credibility, unlike Mr. Banana Hammock in the article above!

      • Alexandra

        As much as I really don’t like Jesse Bering, the man does have real credentials. He is Dr. Bering. Regardless, having degrees doesn’t count for a whole lot, in terms of whether or not you are credible. Jesse Bering is no less qualified than your Dr. Beauregard.

        • Malakh

          Oh trust me, he IS less qualified than “my” Dr. Beauregard! First of all, see who Dr. Beauregard was dealing with, who he led his researches with, and then look at what Bering does usually. He has the full blown support of LGBT organizations…. I doubt he will be doing any “open to the theory of the Divine” research sometime soon! What is funny is that Dr. Beauregard discussed the FULL BLOWN AGGRESSIVENESS in the field of science against his research before he did it and got the results. (If I find the video I’ll post it!) Yes, of course degrees don’t count, what only counts is that he’s RIGHT when he agrees with you, “oh look scientific method bla bla…”, and he’s WRONG when he has a
          whole stack of degrees, yeaaaaaaaaaars of experience, is a leading pioneer in neurology, (much more knowledgeable than a mere psychologist “Dr.”), actually LED the research with final PROOF, instead of just assuming theories written by someone else, yeah, THAT ONE is wrong or equally qualified to the other “Dr.”, just cause he disagrees with your beliefs, though he has more credible research under one finger than “Dr.” Bering has under both arms!

          • Malakh

            oh sorry if it sounds mean, I missed a quiz at uni and am having a bad day, please don’t take it personally, I do stand by what I said, just not HOW I said it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=506549838 Jonathan Augustine Stute

    Awesome post! I’ve been thinking this for a while, nature doesn’t create needlessly. Somethings may lose their necessity, the appendix for instance but it is there because it had a use at one point. Atheism is silly, it kills me how they think science answers all questions and it makes me wonder how they came to that point…

    • Alexandra

      What makes you think that there isn’t a function for this part of the brain?

      Atheists don’t think that science answers all questions. There’s somethings that we might not yet understand, and some things we might not ever be able to answer, but the scientific method does a very good job at helping us answer questions.

      Atheism is anything but silly. What makes you think that it is?

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=506549838 Jonathan Augustine Stute

        I agree that the Scientific method does a very good job at helping answer questions about how things work. I was hyperbolizing when I said that they think science answers all questions but it does miss some very important questions such as:
        1. Is an action ( any action ) right or wrong?
        2. Is this beautiful?
        3. Are logical and mathmatical truths provable by science or are they simply presumed by science?
        4. Are there other minds other than my own?
        5. Can science itself be justified by the scientific method?

        • Alexandra

          And your hypothesis is that a god can explain all of those things?

          I would suggest that science can answer some of those questions, we might not have a good answer for them yet, but that doesn’t mean we need a deity to fill those gaps in our knowledge.

          • Tally Marx

            Atheists, in clinging to science as the sole rule of reason, have abandoned philosophy and even the very possibility of metaphysical truth. They have limited their higher thinking, obvious in the fact that they think God is merely a substitute for science. There is more reasoning behind the idea that God exists than just, “He has to until we find the ‘real’ answer.” Oh, and Alex, I answered your question about religious experience farther down; don’t know if you saw it.

          • http://twitter.com/elasmobranchii sarah

            Tally – first of all, define god.

            If I remember my 13 years of Catholic schooling correctly, God is defined as the father, son, and holy spirit. Or, in a broad sense, an intangible being that exists outside of our current understanding of time and space.

            Can he be proven?

            Is he falsifiable?

            Can he be tested, retested, and refuted?

            If not, then he is nothing BUT a substitute for science.

          • Alexandra

            That’s not entirely true, Tally. Many atheists have great interest in philosophy and the metaphysical. I’m only just recently coming into actually learning and talking about atheism and haven’t done a lot of reading on philosophy yet.

            I think the idea that a god is a substitute for science is historically evident. Cultures create gods and creation stories to explain things they do not understand. And over time cultures will abandon pieces of their myths as they learn new things about the world.

            There is nothing that is best explained by the existence of a god. Many people believe otherwise, but there is no evidence to show that a supernatural deity can answer any of our questions.

            Not believing that there is any higher power doesn’t limit higher thinking, it just changes what kind of questions are asked.

          • Tally Marx

            I’ve been studying philosophy for years. I have discussed and debated with atheist philosophers extensively. They sound more like scientists than anything else, and if they are not limiting themselves to the concrete and provable, they are denying that any of their philosophical thoughts can/should impact the world. The questions *have* changed, and that’s my point, really. They’ve become scientific, concrete…limited by what can be proven in a lab. If you are just beginning to study philosophy, I would suggest “Aristotle for Everyone” by Mortimer Adler. Thinking philosophically is a totally different manner of thinking, but Adler gives a good grounding and is easy to understand. As for what a deity can answer, there are lots of inquiries. “What is existence in itself?” and “Where does it come from?” and “What is choice?” Some atheist philosophers have come up with alternate answers–but don’t throw out the hypothesis of a deity just because you’ve come to the preconceived scientific conclusions that a deity can’t exist. There are also very good philosophical proofs for the existence of a deity. I recommend Aquinas, or–more easy to comprehend–the first two or three chapters of Anne’s Carroll’s “Following Christ in the World.”

          • Alexandra

            I’m sorry but Aquinas’s work is not a real proof. Having gone to Catholic schools K-12 I’ve read it, and there’s no real proofs of a deity in there.

            I’ve done my reading, just not a lot of philosophy, I’ve spent years struggling with this and finally have found the answer in atheism.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=506549838 Jonathan Augustine Stute

    Hint: it wasn’t by science :D

  • Lemon

    It’s a great post marc, thanks! It’s amazing how the posts on your blog go over a lot of thing covered in previous posts and in books by people much smarter than myself, a and much older than the two of us combined.

    Thanks for your take and for my 6 pack from laughing at all of your humour!


  • http://twitter.com/elasmobranchii sarah

    Yeah. Way to perpetuate another inaccurate stereotype regarding a minority. I know it’s tough being oppressed as a Christian in the southern US, and all.

    I’ve got a few responses to that article. First of all, attributing a divine explanation to an already explainable idea is not evidence of a deity. If I sneeze today, it’s probably not because an invisible hand is tickling my nose with an invisible feather. If I get goosebumps, it’s probably not because the holy spirit is influencing my biological responses supernaturally.

    The fact of the matter of this – you can prove a body. You can prove a brain. You can prove physical responses and the physiological responses that occur between them. It doesn’t prove anything except itself, and to claim that it is influenced supernaturally is no different than my sneezing analogy. Why do you feel the need to attribute supernatural reasoning to something that is already perfectly explainable? And then go a step further and claim it PROVES it?

    You are using very natural occurrences and using them as proof of a divine deity that you desperately want to believe in. I will completely agree that it’s in our nature to look for answers. But just because we don’t have all of the answers doesn’t mean we get to start making stuff up to pawn everything off on an idea that feels good. You know how far behind we’d be with all types of technology if we just accepted an idea that we thought felt ‘natural’?

    Another thing he mentions is that there MUST be a god since it’s in our nature to search for answers. Okay, which god? The ‘loving one’ you worship, or the god of the Westboro Baptist Church? Vishnu? Thor? Odin? Remember, people once thought the sun was a god, and we’ve proved them wrong, too. People once thought the earth was flat, and we’ve proved them wrong. Technology is showing us some amazing things and will continue to do so. We ARE searching for answers, every single day.

    I also find it quite amusing that this Catholic priest’s ending statement is go and ‘be human’. I’m as human as possible because I have the ability to own up to my own shortcomings and my own future. I don’t believe in god – I believe in people, because between the two, they are the only one that can be proven. I also don’t believe that ANYBODY deserves to be thrown in hell to be tortured for eternity. I don’t believe ANYBODY should feel guilty about their lifestyle or limit the quality of their own life based on an idealogy that can only be boiled down to ‘just having faith’. I don’t want to limit people’s rights, or tell them what two consenting adults can do. People seem to choose all of the horrible baggage that goes along with their faith (belief with no evidence) because the thought facing reality and living knowing that there’s no afterlife scares them shitless. It’s horrible and completely strips one of their own humanity.

    • epluchar

      Sarah, I’m not sure if we’re going to have the pleasure of conversation, since you posted a year ago, but I only want to ask one question to see if you’ll get this reply in your inbox.

      How do you go about proving you have a body, or that other people exist?

  • Valtarov

    Miracles do not lead to faith. Faith leads to miracles.

  • Daniel Singleton

    I think this article misunderstands what atheists mean by explaining religious experiences simply as electrochemical reactions in the brain. Atheists don’t argue that religious experiences doesn’t occur at all, it is obvious that it occurs but atheists argue that it is just the product of chemical reactions in the brain not from a divine source. Our brain interprets these experiences as religious because most people are raised to identify feelings of transcendence of euphoria with religion or god. Our evolutionary background encourages us to listen to our elders in order to better survive so children have the idea of god locked into their brain at a young age and this drastically alters their perception of reality. Religious experiences are real occurrences but they have no connection with divinity, they are just the result of chemical reactions just like everything else we perceive.

  • Tamir Strauss

    Put simply, the fact that our brains evolved the structures and processes that can induce the sensations people associate with spiritual experiences shows that no external source is required for inducing said sensations.

    Thus, we are left with the question of whether said evolution (and I do hope you do not dispute they have evolved), was either directed by a sky daddy, selected to detect his presence as you suggest, or came about through selection pressures completely detached from any supernatural causes.

    We can easily discount the first option, since evolution is riddled with “mistakes”, dead-ends, and a host of “errors” that an omnipotent and omniscient being would never make.

    Your hypothesis then relies heavily on the assumption that the third option is incorrect. However, evidence would suggest otherwise. The misappropriation
    of many of our survival mechanisms is clearly evident and heavily researched. From the entire basis of faith – false pattern detection, to anxiety driven by flight or fight urges, etc. It is becoming clearer and clearer that all our emotions and sensations can be traced back to their survival enhancing effects at one point or another in our evolutionary history.

    I highly recommend reading The Believing Brain by Michael Shermer for a much more detailed explanation.