No Longer Defending the Silence of God

Editor’s Note:  Second in our series on fundamentalists, is “Charles Henry” a former Southern Baptist minister, who still peppers his writing with bible verses, now using them to question religion, not defend it.

In 1972, Christian philosopher and apologist Francis Schaeffer wrote He Is There and He Is Not Silent, the third in a trilogy of apologetic works. The basic premise is clear from the title: God is present and active in the world with his voice going out through all the earth. This premise can be challenged with a single sentence: Schaeffer had to write a book in order to fill what would otherwise be silence.

Most Christians will acknowledge dealing with doubt at some point or another. Certainly most pastors are familiar with various questions raised about the claims of truth of Christianity. Apologetics has been a staple of Christian ministry for some time now. Perhaps the question most commonly asked is why God fails to answer prayer. We have all heard (and perhaps used) the refrain, “God always answers prayer. Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes the answer is no, and sometimes the answer is not yet.” We pray; God does not answer; and we explain away.

I saw this recently in a tragic series of blog posts. A Christian minister was seeking prayer for his wife during her battle with cancer. A particularly significant medical test was coming and he called for people to pray. He said we must pray boldly and directly, asking for specific needs while trusting that God will do what is right. When the day came, the test did not turnout as they had hoped. This did not deter the minister’s faith. His response: “God answered our prayers by using this time to teach us to trust in him.” But they did not originally pray for faith; they prayed for healing. When healing did not come, some other explanation was provided.

A similar pre-packaged response is provided when a loved one dies. We pray. We pray for healing, for relief, for suffering to end through a miraculous restoration. But, more often than not, the loved one dies. We grieve and offer words of cold comfort: “God answered our prayers. She is truly at peace now, she is fully healed of every infirmity for she is in Heaven.”

These kinds of failed prayers are a particular problem when we consider the words of Jesus. Time and again, Jesus taught his followers about the power of prayer. In John 14, Jesus promised that his departure would turn out to be a good thing: yes, he was leaving them, but they would then receive the Holy Spirit, the unseen presence of God, to dwell within them. Because of the Spirit, “whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12, ESV) Jesus healed the sick. He gave sight to the blind. He raised the dead. He rose from the dead. And he promised his followers that they would do even greater things than these. Soon after, in John 14:13-14, he says – twice – that whatever we ask for in his name, he will do for us. He promises power in prayer.

But he is silent. And he is absent. And prayers go unanswered. And hospitals remain full even though Christians today – supposedly bearers of the Holy Spirit – outnumber the population of ancient Rome.

Christian theology is chock full of explanations and ways to explain away God’s silence. Even in the New Testament people were already asking why prayers weren’t being answered, leaving James to assign God’s inaction to sin in their lives: “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (James 4:2-3, ESV) If God is not answering your prayers, it is your fault. Either you prayed the wrong way or your motives were selfish.

It is my belief that virtually every area of Christian theology spends a significant portion of time explaining away the silence of God. For example:

  • We cannot see God.  He must be an invisible spirit.
  • Who created God? He must be eternal and self-existent.
  • Why does the world look like it operates without God? Because he made an orderly creation which was very good and it wouldn’t be very good if it kept falling apart on its own.
  • But what about evil in the world? God loves us too much to impose himself on us, so he gives us free will.
  • What about natural disasters? Our sin broke the world and brought about these groanings of creation.

Response after response after response argues that God is not silent even though it sure seems like he is.

It should at some point strike us as ludicrous that we even have to debate the existence of an eternal deity. If he is powerful enough to create everything with the word of his mouth, then surely he is powerful enough to reveal himself to all men. Christians believe he has done just that, appealing to passages like Romans 1:18-25 to argue that all people really do know that God exists but suppress what they know because of sin in their lives. In one fell swoop, all doubts are cast aside, all questions are squelched, all legitimate arguments and observations are ignored. You don’t believe in God? You are a sinner with something to hide.

Let me encourage you to consider the silence and the absence. If God were here and not silent, he wouldn’t need books and preachers and theologians and apologists to make him known. The Bible describes the church as the bride of Christ. I don’t need a preacher to prove my wife’s existence. I can see her standing before me; I can touch her; I can hear her voice – and so can all those around me. No books have to be written.  She is there, and she is not silent.  If I want to prove her existence, I have only to ask for her to step forward, and all can see for themselves. Meanwhile, oceans of ink are spilled alongside gales of words, all seeking to defend the silence of God. Theists cannot place God before you, and let him speak for himself. They must speak his words, write his Scriptures (while claiming the guidance of that invisible Holy Spirit), present his presence – and expect you to take their word for it.

The result? There came a point when I had to set all this aside and draw the only reasonable conclusion: God is not there – thus the silence.

How do you explain God’s Silence?

===================

Bio:   “Charles Henry” was licensed and ordained in a Southern Baptist church and went on to serve four churches in three states as youth minister and senior pastor. He recently exited the ministry for a technology position. He is currently enjoying a much bigger world than he previously imagined while living with his wife and their six children. He also blogs at The Book of Wonderhttp://www.thebookofwonder.org/

*photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/brent_nashville/3633687212/”>SeeMidTN.com (aka Brent)</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a> 

 

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About Linda LaScola

Linda LaScola is co-author, with Daniel C. Dennett, of Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind (2013) and “Preachers who are not Believers” (2010). She is an independent qualitative research consultant who works out of Washington, D.C. She holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the Catholic University of America and is a co-founder of the Clergy Project.

  • Jim Smith

    This was actually a rather interesting read. I am amazed that even to this day, people will come up with the most, amazing to lame responses as to why a god would let their creations suffer. I know that if I play Civilization V on my computer, or any other god sim… I really want my people to prosper and kick arse, yet, the real life god ignores us. Mind you, seeing the way people are behaving these days, I would probably leave home and hit the pub if I were a god and my creations do what we do on a daily basis.

    • http://www.thebookofwonder.org/ Charles Henry

      In fairness, I do enjoy springing disasters on my creations in SimCity. :) But that is clearly my capricious, tyrannical nature whereas Christians claim everything God does is good, that his goodness is shown even in the midst of – perhaps even because of – tragedy.

      • Jim Smith

        Yeah, there is nothing like the alien invasion disaster on Sim City.. That thing was just epic, and volcanoes. The thing I think Christians don’t like about a lot of godsim games, is that they truly understand that either there is no sign of god because the event continues, or they realize that god is some sadistic dick who likes to make people die of the most insanely random thing, and just let it happen. I wonder what “God’s” psychopathy rating would be on a psychiatric assessment.

        Question: You see a person on stuck on one fork of a railway track, and 5 people on the other, you can control who dies. Which would you let live. They are all praying really hard.

        Answer: Heehehehe.. Well I would duplicate the train and wipe them both out because they didn’t pray hard enough.

    • Jeff

      I play Civ much more old-testamently: I want MORE cities, MORE power, MORE people. Always. Oh, they’re unhappy? Too bad, keep settling and populating. Happiness comes when you win at the end.

  • John Lombard

    I actually wrote a (much briefer and less scholarly) post in TCP just last week that addressed almost exactly the same issues. Here’s a copy of that post:

    As someone who once believed absolutely in the power of prayer, it
    rather amazes me now just how blinkered my eyes were. I was absolutely
    convinced of the power of prayer, and of many examples of answered
    prayer in my life. In fact, every single prayer got answered. There were three possible answers:

    1) Yes, I’m answering your prayer

    2) No, I’m not going to do that

    3) I’m going to answer your prayer, but in a different way/time

    Thus, if I’m searching for a job, and I pray for god’s help, there
    are three outcomes: 1) I get a job, which means that god said yes; 2) I
    don’t get the job, which means that god said no (and therefore has other
    plans for me); or 3) I don’t get the job, but am offered an opportunity
    to work for a charity, meaning that god answered my prayer in a
    different way than expected.

    Of course, it rapidly becomes obvious how logically ludicrous this is.

    I’ve therefore been thinking for awhile now of starting a ‘prayer
    blog’ where I choose some fundamentally ludicrous target to pray to (a
    burned pen cap, an old shoe, a rotting banana, etc.), and then log the
    results. Every day, I will make specific prayers to that object, and
    then keep a record of the results.

    Just like Christians, I’ll have three possible results. If what I
    prayed for happens, then the rotten banana answered my prayers. If what
    I prayed for doesn’t happen, then the rotten banana decided not to
    answer my prayers. If a good result happens that is different than what
    I asked for, then the rotten banana answered my prayer in a different
    way than expected.

    • Jim Smith

      Try a small statuette of Cthulhu.. just to be on the safe side.

  • http://www.yearwithoutgod.com/ Ryan Bell

    I also spent years defending God’s silence. I never expected God to chat with me on the phone the way I do a friend or family member. It seems unreasonable to expect that God would be a chatter box, talking with all of us all the time. But I do think it is reasonable to expect that God would say SOMETHING to SOMEONE. The prophets and apostles claim to have heard from God but it’s been since John the Revelator and nothing.

    The Psalms are full of laments about the silence of God. Even Jesus heard nothing back when he cried out in despair from Gethsemane, finally exclaiming from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

    Why, indeed?

    • http://www.thebookofwonder.org/ Charles Henry

      There are people today who claim to hear from God just as the prophets of old claimed to hear from God. The problem isn’t that we don’t have people making such claims, it’s that the claims are not verifiable. Susie Saint telling me she heard from God means nothing to me if I can’t verify the experience. Charlie Christian speaking forth a fresh word from the Lord is meaningless without external support. This is why Christians like to point to prophecies and miracles as validating the word of God, except we have the same problem: we have to take someone else’s word that those prophecies and miracles were delivered from God, came to pass as promised, and did not spring from natural causes. It’s a massive game of hearsay.

      • John Lombard

        Charles…to add to your above point, what makes such claims all the more ridiculous is that almost all fundamentalist Christians will entirely reject such claims if they come from another religion. A Christian leader says god talked to them? Must be true. A Muslim says god talked to them? It’s a lie, or the work of the devil. A Christian points to a particular miracle? Proof of god’s power. A Hindu points to a particular miracle? It’s a fake, or the work of the devil.
        But there’s no objective criteria to differentiate the legitimate claim from the illegitimate; inevitably, it comes down to “claims that support my beliefs are true” and “claims that do not support my claims are false”.

        • http://www.thebookofwonder.org/ Charles Henry

          Actually, there is an objective criteria, according to Christian apologist William Lane Craig. He deals with the problem of other religions in his book “Reasonable Faith”. His conclusion: “But someone may insist, ‘But how do you know that your experience isn’t also spurious?’ That question has already been answered: the experience of the Spirit’s witness is self-authenticating for him who really has it. The Spirit-filled Christian can know immediately that his claim to the Spirit’s witness is true despite the false claims made by persons adhering to other religions.”

          In other words, Christians know they are right and others are wrong because… Christians know they are right and others are wrong.

          • John Lombard

            One of the first realizations that set me on the path to atheism was the realization of just how many times Christians proclaimed ‘truths’ that they knew came from the Holy Spirit…only to later change their minds and proclaim different truths, which they also ‘knew’ were from the Holy Spirit. I’m afraid that as a standard for ‘objective criteria’, it fails rather miserably ;-) (I’ll bet that even a brief persual of William Lane Craig’s life would reveal areas in which his own beliefs have changed. Perhaps the Holy Spirit is playing practical jokes?)

          • http://www.thebookofwonder.org/ Charles Henry

            The same thing comes to mind every time I hear a politician say he believes God wants him to run. I suppose that when they eventually lose (i.e., Rick Perry in the 2012 presidential primaries) they would argue, “God told me to run, he didn’t tell me I was going to win!”

          • Maine_Skeptic

            William Lane Craig is a puzzle to me. He’s a philosophy professor, he’s intelligent, and he’s a skilled debater. He’s too intelligent not to realize when he’s being deceitful. In a debate, this creates a surreal experience for skeptics.

            It’s like a sick joke that he shares with skeptics at debates. It’s a joke at the expense of his followers and fellow believers, because they’re the only ones in the room who are fooled by his arguments.

            I wonder how he lives with himself. The only thing I can figure is that he feels lying is justified if it gets people “saved.”

    • Jim Smith

      Because back then they didn’t have anti-psychotic medication and were fond of taking herbal supplements? I dunno, but I think it has more to do that we are starting to unravel how this universe of ours works, and found answers, unlike we did back then. Most answers were an invisible force (wind/gravity/electrical current) to a lot of the mysteries in the bible. Even the Red Sea parting has been shown to occur naturally on certain freak weather events.

      Sadly, but also awesomely, we are understanding the world better, and instead of insisting that the magic has gone, or that the world was happier when it was a simpler place (for those in power maybe not those working the fields), we should actually see how beautiful all this knowledge we have collected is. The problem as I see it, especially in the US southern states, is that firebrand preachers and all these little churches can gain such grasp over people due to the plummeting education rates in the smaller towns they start up in. Could you imagine a Westboro Baptist Church starting up in say central London, Paris, Washington DC?

      No, because the education level and religious indoctrination rates are lower in big cities due to an abundance of source material and data, not only in media and internet form, but in daily data we collect with our own eyes. The entire universe, even without a deity in charge, is a fantastic and beautiful place, and it is about time we learned to understand the beauty there than try to figure out why we have lost our gods of old. And then maybe, all the stuff they wanted in the bible, peace/love/happiness for all humanity may just actually happen as we all realize we are in this together and not my sky person is better than your sky person.

      Sorry for the skeptical language of deities, but being on the receiving end of constant preaching in this area really makes you cringe.

  • kashicat

    That claim that God either answers “Yes” or “No” or answers in a different way is a very handy way of arranging it so that no matter *what* happens, you can credit it to God. The answer you want to end with (God is there and is not silent) is the assumption you make BEFORE you look at any of the “evidence” that God is there. When you’ve already decided on the only possible answer, no amount of real evidence is ever going to be allowed to count against it.

  • http://dashifen.com/ David Dashifen Kees

    Fascinating read. One of the reasons I like noodling around on other Patheos channels is that I encounter articles like this one. In my Paganism, the gods are neither omniscient nor omnipresent. As such, when I seek to work with one of them and I feel as if they’re not present, there’s no need for philosophical gymnastics to try and explain why I might feel that way. The answer is simple: they probably actually weren’t there. This, of course, presupposes the existence of the gods, which is clearly not the case for everyone.

    • http://www.thebookofwonder.org/ Charles Henry

      Why presuppose the existence of anything not inherently axiomatic? It is axiomatic to me that I exist, otherwise I wouldn’t be thinking about this (cogito ergo sum). Belief in the existence of anything else has to be demonstrated along the way.

      • http://dashifen.com/ David Dashifen Kees

        Belief in deity has been demonstrated to me both through my own experience and through the experiences of those I value and trust. That said, I think that while there are fundamental truths that make up an objective reality, that questions such as the existence of the gods and their characteristics are inherently subjective.

        To be honest, my belief in them fluctuates sometimes from hour to hour, but overall I find myself returning to theism. Perhaps it’s a security blanket, but in then end I’m not sure that matters to me.

        • Linda_LaScola

          Hi, David – thanks for joining the conversation. I don’t know much about paganism, but am interested to know more. Tell me — would it be fair to say that is has rituals but does not have a set theology — that is no creed, no ancient story, no holy book, etc.?

          • http://dashifen.com/ David Dashifen Kees

            Depends on the Pagan tradition to some extent. There is no universal Pagan creed, story, or holy book, no. But, for Hellenic Pagans, the writings and mythologies of the ancient Greeks are informative with respect to ethics, morality, rites, and ceremonies. And I think that some Heathens and other Norse practitioners would consider epics like the Havamal and the Poetic Eddas to be about as close to a holy book as you can get, though I’m not well versed enough personally in those traditions to say for sure.

            Things are a little murkier for the more ecclectic, modern traditions because their much more syncretic. Some Wiccans, for example, will still seek inspiration in the mythology, theology, and culture of the ancient world, but that doesn’t mean they seek to perform the rites and ceremonies as the ancients did; reconstructionists would do so.

            Edit: Jumping back to the lack of a universal creed/book/story — that one Pagan tradition does have such things also doesn’t mean that they feel other Pagans are wrong for not having them. By and large, Pagans don’t proselytize and don’t tend to see heresy/blasphemy instead of difference.

        • Maine_Skeptic

          I once had an evangelical Christian professor who said that, if religious people are honest, they’ll admit that all of them move back and forth between belief and unbelief. None of the Christians in his class disagreed with him.

      • http://infiniteoceanoflightandlove.blogspot.com/ Daniel Wilcox

        Well I don’t know. A number of atheists have been trying to convince us that “we” as subjects are illusions. As I recall, Harris claims that the “i” of our human consciousness doesn’t exist.

        It’s more that everything just happens including the illusion of self because of the materialistic determinism of existence.

        However, these thinkers do behave in daily life as if they exist:-)

        • http://www.thebookofwonder.org/ Charles Henry

          I’m not familiar with their argument, but I suspect they do not deny the existence of individual consciousness, but rather speak of consciousness itself as a kind of illusion. I would be sympathetic to this, particularly since this illusion of consciousness is what so often leads people to make a distinction between the mental self and the physical self (which some extend further to a spiritual self). There is not a physical me and a conscious me, there is only me. My conscious existence is not separate from my physical existence.

          • http://infiniteoceanoflightandlove.blogspot.com/ Daniel Wilcox

            You say “I would be sympathetic to this….consciousness itself is a kind of illusion”.

            So our dialog right now is one illusion talking to another illusion;-)

            When (to use an old cliche), when Einstein figured out the theory of relativity, it was an illusion doing this amazing creative mathematical theorizing ?

            I think there is more validity in a Process Philosophical view that human consciousness is real, but that it is a real process, not a substance.

            The idea that Bach didn’t create his music, because his consciousness is an illusion. Then it was the Cosmos, and ultimately, the Big Bang that did it?

          • http://www.thebookofwonder.org/ Charles Henry

            Daniel,

            I may not have explained myself clearly enough. I am not saying individuals are illusions. Individuals are very real and each human being is conscious and alive. I am saying that what we call consciousness, that which we typically identify as the “me” part of myself, is not separate from the rest of what we are. To quote Steven Novella’s paraphrase of Marvin Minsky, the mind is what the brain does. Our interior experiences often convince us that the consciousness is separate from the physical person, but this is just not the case. It is an illusion. What happens in my mind is the product of my physical body, not separate from physical reality. Consciousness is real in that it is a genuine experience of human beings, but it is not its own distinct thing. It isn’t even comparable to an arm or a toe – it is not an organ, it is not a unique part, it is the product of biological processes at work in the organs of our bodies.

  • Marcus_Aurelius5

    some denominations actually encourage their flock to develop their imaginations around talking to god like the imaginary friends of their youth to address the silence (unless they are already wired to hear voices). An anthropologist wrote a a book about them called “When god talks back”.

  • Neels

    Interesting perspective. To me it seems this is aimed mainly at theistic dogma, I’d love to know the perspective concerning the deistic understanding of this issue.

    • Guest

      As far as I’m concerned, deists are just undercover atheists ;-) They believe that some sort of god started everything, but that god has no interaction with us now. So the deist attitude towards prayer would be pretty much the same as the atheist.

      • Neels

        Haha interesting thought! And thank you, I largely agree.

      • viaten

        I’ve heard it said that deists are really agnostics but don’t want to admit it, and similarly, agnostics are really atheists who don’t want to admit it. (As if agnostic is a “halfway point”.) I think there are people who prefer to precede slowly with what they are willing to admit to others and maybe even to themselves. I wonder if there are any deists in the clergy project. I’m guessing not.

        • Linda_LaScola

          The Clergy Project is for clergy who do not hold supernatural beliefs — so you’re right — that would exclude deists.

          Deists are welcomed here on the Rational Doubt blog, however – as are religious believers, doubters and everyone else.

          • viaten

            I was wondering if deism was far enough removed from religious practice to be allowed in the clergy project, but it seems anyone wanting to leave the pulpit, especially those already in or wanting to join the project, would not make the slightest compromise to any kind of supernatural belief.

          • maturallite

            I don’t think deism necessarily has to be supernatural. See my other post in this thread. I could be incorrect on my definition, but it is my understanding that deists don’t define who or what the creator is.

          • http://brmckay.wordpress.com/ brmckay

            How can anything be ‘supernatural’? God, being Nature in the all inclusive sense of the term.

            The problem with religion, is that it boxes people into formulaic and often sophomoric conceptions and expectations.

            Real awareness, as the all inclusive, ever present, OneSelf, turns into brief glimpses of purposeful interaction with a powerful other self. This gets deemed *supernatural*.

            The seeming silence of God, is just the echo of our ignorance and inattention.

            Prayer, cultivated as a skill, motivated by, and combined with, the furthering of this understanding, does not go unfulfilled.

      • maturallite

        While I don’t consider myself a deist, I think it is possible to get there through rational thought and careful consideration of the best evidence we have about the formation of the universe. The first cause argument is about the only reasonable argument I’ve heard from believers, and there is a growing number of respected scientists entertaining the hypothesis that the universe is all a giant simulation (like a computer simulation). Now if that’s the case, it begs the question…who created the simulation? If the universe is a simulation, then our “god” could be nothing more than a nerd with a supercomputer in another dimension. Just food for thought.

      • http://infiniteoceanoflightandlove.blogspot.com/ Daniel Wilcox

        Let me add a caution on this concept of deists. It’s true that some deists fit that description, but other deists don’t.

        From Thomas Paine to the present, other deists think God does interact with the cosmos, though not in fundamentalistic ways.

        I’m an old American literature teacher. There was a very wide variety of views among the deists of 1700′s in the United States. And still is.

    • http://www.thebookofwonder.org/ Charles Henry

      It is aimed at the theist who believes God hears and answers prayer. Since deists don’t believe in any sort of power of prayer, the argument does not apply.

      • Neels

        Thank you :)

  • Maine_Skeptic

    Edited- to explain further

    I don’t think I believed there was silence until after I’d already left Christianity. I was pretty good at imagining messages from the scripture or from daily life. Every coincidence was potentially a “word from God.” I was so good at denial, that I just don’t think I let myself accept that nothing was happening until after I was already questioning EVERYTHING.

    The things I questioned that led to my leaving Christianity were only the tip of the iceberg. It’s been years since I left, and I still keep finding new layers of of bullsht that make me wonder: “why didn’t this bother me when I was a believer?”

    • http://www.thebookofwonder.org/ Charles Henry

      In my opinion, the absolute best example of finding a “word from God” in everything comes from popular devotional writer John Eldredge who in his book Beautiful Outlaw tells us that God has taken to leaving heart-shaped stones all over the place to remind Eldredge that God loves him. In one particularly strong period of doubt, God really got Eldredge’s attention by showing him a heart-shaped cow pie: “I looked down midstride, and there in the grass, about as big as a dinner plate, was a dried piece of cow manure—in the perfect shape of a heart.” In the same book, he speaks of Jesus appearing to his son in a pirate costume.

      As you say, Christians are primed to sense the presence of God behind everything, including every steaming pile of cow manure (though in fairness even many Christians were highly critical of Eldredge for this bit).

      • Linda_LaScola

        I bet a lot of sincere Christians would question the cow pie example. Talk about working in mysterious ways!

        Thanks for the good laugh, though.

  • http://ripplingbrainwaves.blogspot.com/ Gideon

    Your list of theological justifications reminds me of another from way back in my former Christian days, which is that God is silent and inactive in order to force humanity to develop faith. It’s in a chapter of the Screwtape Letters: “God cannot ravish. He can only woo.” And I’m pretty sure I also heard it used to explain the reason why Christ used so many parables. The actual message is only apparent to someone with enough faith to unlock the parable.

    In essence, this excuse is saying that God intentionally raises the difficulty level because it only wants to interact with those who excel at thinking something is true despite a lack of concrete proof. I sometimes feel pity for the disciple Rational Thomas, who was scolded for not quickly accepting what he was told…

    • guest

      Thomas still gets to go to Heaven though, and is made a saint, which raises the question- why can’t we get the same level of proof as Thomas? I’m sure I’d believe if Jesus appeared to me and let me stick my fingers in his wounds. Thomas was chided, yeah, but he wasn’t forced to leave the disciplines, so what’s wrong with asking for proof, exactly?

  • KeithCollyer

    I was once at a church service and someone spoke about her family’s troubles and how they had prayed. And how god did the most powerful thing he could: nothing. The only way that they could reconcile their faith with the complete lack of support they got was to claim this made god more powerful. I just can’t imagine the cognitive dissonance involved in that and the unresolved emotional stress it must have caused.

  • http://brmckay.wordpress.com/ brmckay

    Even inspired people are projecting from within their own limitations. How is this author’s essay any different?

    If God isn’t what I expect then God isn’t?

    Drawing conclusions heavily bounded by expectation should be the give away.

    • http://dashifen.com/ David Dashifen Kees

      “If God isn’t what I expect then God isn’t?”

      Actually, that was my exact experience when I was younger. I was raised Jewish and much of my family still practices Judaism. But, even when I was young, I saw more of the feminine aspects of deity than the masculine. Probably had a lot to do with my own experiences with men which were largely poor (nothing abusive, but as a young man more interested in music, books, and computers than sports, cars, and sex, I didn’t have much in the way of good experiences with my male peers). When it became clear to me that my other Jewish peers weren’t comfortable with the idea of a Goddess, I thought that my only other option was atheism.

      • http://www.thebookofwonder.org/ Charles Henry

        So essentially your understanding of God was shaped not by a particular experience with God but by your experiences with other people – as you mention, shaped by negative experiences with other men? Which leaves the question wide open: why believe in God in the first place?

        • http://dashifen.com/ David Dashifen Kees

          Simple version: because I choose to. I choose to interpret experiences of my life as having been divinely inspired or having been actualized through the assistance of the gods. Could I have chosen otherwise? Sure, but I prefer my life with the gods than without, and I’ve tried it both ways having eschewed religion and the divine pretty much fully for some time following my Bar Mitzvah.

          • Gehennah

            So you don’t care what is real or fake, just what makes you feel warm and fuzzy?

          • http://dashifen.com/ David Dashifen Kees

            I certainly do care about what is real and what is fake. But, when presented with a situation which can be either real or fake depending on how I choose to see or understand it, in that case I’m going to include my personal preferences along side scientific evidence and the experiences of my life in that decision.

          • George Romaka

            You care about what is real and what is fake, just not when there is a question about it. Then you’ll choose whatever you want.

            So you care, just not enough for it to allow you to critically examine your belief.

            Including “personal preference” in a determination of ‘true or fake’ doesn’t fit. What is true is true, whether you like it or not. That is what truth is. There is no “my truth” or “your truth.” Truth is the description of reality independent of subjective bias. It is hard enough to tease the “truth” signal out of the noise as it is, without deliberately injecting subjective bias (which is what “personal preference” would be) into the equation.

            I stopped believing when I allowed myself to admit that I had no good reasons, and a handful of bad reasons, for believing. That got me from Christian to not-Christian.

            The rest of the path to “atheist” was covered by learning that there were other, better fitting explanations for *insert whatever here, * and that I in cases where an explanation wasn’t available, “I don’t know” was a perfectly acceptable pause point.

          • http://dashifen.com/ David Dashifen Kees

            “Including “personal preference” in a determination of ‘true or fake’ doesn’t fit.”

            That’s not what I said. I said when the truth or falsehood of a situation is not in question, then preference applies.

            I might prefer that the sun set in the north or south so that my west-facing window wouldn’t result in a warmer afternoon in my office. But, that preference won’t somehow alter the celestial path of the Earth in our solar system. But, when attempting to cool my office, I can certainly take my own preference in to account. My preference for energy savings and lower utility bills means I hang curtains rather than setting up an air conditioner, for example.

            “There is no ‘my truth’ or ‘your truth.’”

            I agree that there are objective truths in this world. But, I notice in your comment above (and the excerpt of it I used at the top of this comment) you switched the word I used, “real,” for “true.”

            Reality is not simply the sum of objective truths. Instead, it is the sum of those truths and our understanding of them. That understanding is different for different people and is inherently based on individual and collective subjective biases. These biases may be based on characteristics of our existence (e.g. race, sexuality, gender identity, etc.) but are also tempered and altered by our experiences, preferences, and desires.

          • http://brmckay.wordpress.com/ brmckay

            “Reality is not simply the sum of objective truths. Instead, it is the sum of those truths and our understanding of them.”

            This is the pivotal point. It is always missing from the empirically fixated atheistic argument.

            The Universe i.e. God i.e. Reality is all and nothing. The seamless infinitude.

            Without this as the starting point we are not playing with a full deck. Mix that with a political agenda, and watch the nonsense fly.

          • Gehennah

            It doesn’t matter how you choose to see it, it is either real of it is fake.

            I can believe in unicorns (specifically the horses with a single horn from mythology, not the other types). It doesn’t matter if I choose to see it as real or not, it isn’t real.

          • http://dashifen.com/ David Dashifen Kees

            I agree, unicorns are not real. But, that’s because I’ve seen no evidence for them. I have, on the other hand, seen evidence for the gods. Therefore, I say that they are real. I assume that you have seen no such evidence, therefore you say that they are not real. Both of our opposing viewpoints reached by the evidence gathered through our life experiences.

            The crux of the situation is the simple fact that people, based on a variety of influences, can choose to accept or reject evidence that we find spurious, as I suspect you would with respect to the evidence that leads me toward theism.

            That’s where interpretation enters into the equation. I could (and have) just as easily decide that the experiences I’ve had that I interpret as having something to do with divinities as simply being the result of random chance, coincidence, and the subconscious desire to see causal relationships where there are none.

          • Gehennah

            What evidence do you have of a god.

            Because if your god isn’t immoral, he’d provide testable evidence that we can have verified, otherwise said god damns us to hell because he can.

          • http://dashifen.com/ David Dashifen Kees

            My evidence is situational, subjective, and not based on something that can be empirically tested.

            For example, this very morning, while meditating following the request for guidance during said meditation (a practice not uncommon for people who practice similar traditions of Paganism to myself) I had the sudden thought that, in order to honor one of the goddesses on my path, I should take certain steps on a specific day.

            I received no visions; no bushes were burnt in the process of this meditation. I heard no voices nor saw no signs. There was nothing that would have alerted my sleeping partner (she works graveyard shift at the moment) to my experience. I suppose my brain chemistry or waves may have evidenced my delight at having that thought.

            But, there’s absolution no reason what so ever that I would expect anyone other then myself to accept this morning’s experience as evidence of anything other than my own suggestibility.

          • http://dashifen.com/ David Dashifen Kees

            Wow. Poor grammar and mixed up words in the prior comment. Very sorry; end of work day brain drain, evidently.

          • http://brmckay.wordpress.com/ brmckay

            I wouldn’t worry about your grammar. The sense was perfect.

            But maybe ask him what machine he would have you run your experience through, to confirm it wasn’t delusional.

          • http://dashifen.com/ David Dashifen Kees

            Same machine we all do: the one between our ears.

          • http://brmckay.wordpress.com/ brmckay

            I think of machines as lacking that quality we call life.

            No matter how clever the digital mimicry becomes.

            I suppose my point was, that empiricism has it’s place, but it cannot represent the fabric of experience in a particularly helpful way.

            Most especially when aligning self with the sacred.

            A practice like Zen on the other hand, might represent an evolutionary adaptation that resolves the impasse.

            Someone should suggest it.

          • Gehennah

            Since your evidence cannot be verified what so ever, how do you differentiate it from a delusion?

          • http://dashifen.com/ David Dashifen Kees

            Definitively? I can’t.

          • http://brmckay.wordpress.com/ brmckay

            What evidence do you have that *you* exist? Who is it that experiences *you*?

            Are you immoral because you can’t prove that you exist?

            What is hell, other than the difficulty of this existing? Especially in a stew of unbalanced and incomprehensible repercussions?

            Would proving that you exist free you from hell, or make sure it happens?

            In Zen, they practice Beginners Mind.

            In Christ become as a child.

            It’s all True.

          • Gehennah

            While technically I cannot prove that I am not just a mind in a vat, I do experience this reality as far as I can tell, as well as everyone else around me since we all seem to be experiencing the same reality.

            As far as the immorality goes, no, I am not immoral because I cannot prove that I do exist, yet your god is if your god is willing to punish someone for all of eternity because someone didn’t have enough evidence to rationally believe that the he exists. And the mere existence of a god does not mean that that god is worthy of worship, therefore the mere knowledge of the existence would not “take away our free will to love him of our own accord.” But providing sufficient testable, and verifiable evidence of the existence would allow us to make an informed decision rather than one of irrational faith.

          • gimpi1

            I don’t think David believes in a god that would punish someone for all eternity because someone didn’t have enough evidence to rationally believe he exists. I think that’s mostly a Christian or Islamic conceit.

            I have no problem with anyone’s beliefs, as long as they aren’t trying to force them down my throat, or compel me to follow their beliefs by enshrining them in law. I know a few Pagan folks, and that’s really not their cup of tea. I doubt that it’s David’s either.

          • http://dashifen.com/ David Dashifen Kees

            This is pretty close. There are Pagan traditions (or, more accurately reconstructionist traditions that sometimes use the term Pagan) that do have a structured belief in the afterlife (e.g. Heathens tend to follow the myths of Valhalla). The Wiccan and Witchcraft traditions (sometimes termed Neopagan) tend to be reincarnative. I’m not personally familiar enough with the former to speak about it, but it’s my very loose understanding that should someone not receive their reword (e.g. entrance into Valhalla) they can still earn it in the afterlife in some way.

            As for the latter paragraph, that’s pretty much spot on. There are Pagans that are fairly vocal about the merits of their particular tradition, but we tend to be secularists (with respect to the public square) at heart.

          • gimpi1

            Thanks for the confirmation, David. I, personally, find common-cause with secularists, atheists, agnostics and theists of all sort who want to keep a secular public square and recognize the common humanity of all. The Pagans I have met share that attitude. I’m glad you do, too.

          • http://dashifen.com/ David Dashifen Kees

            To be fully honest, I struggle with the idea of a fully secular public square because, while I don’t want anyone to be forced to act based on the dictates of someone else’s religion or lack thereof, I also want the freedom to practice my own while in public. Stories like the bans on religious dress and stuff of that sort worry me, for example, even though many Pagans, including myself, are not personally impacted by them.

          • gimpi1

            Well, a neutral secular public square would, for example, allow any straightforward religious dress. It just wouldn’t allow Amish head-coverings for women but ban them for Muslim women. Massive head-dresses that required doors to be re-cut (to site a ridiculous example) could be banned as overly difficult to accommodate.

            As I understand it, the public square can’t favor one group over another. When it comes to personal matters such as dress, diet, and such, one’s own beliefs are not the government’s business to regulate. When things must be regulated, such as displays in public schools or courthouses, the public square must allow for all beliefs desiring a voice to speak, or permit no displays. No picking and choosing favorites. Does that make sense?

          • http://dashifen.com/ David Dashifen Kees

            100% agree, I just hope we get to a point where we can allow rather than are forced to forbid. Unfortunately, the more fundamental voices and one-true-way types are likely to mean that the latter is more likely than the former.

          • http://brmckay.wordpress.com/ brmckay

            So the self that is experienced as *you* is ineffable?

            But the *god* that you are railing against is quite clearly defined? And defined in some pretty dubious terms.

            Does this help?

            Perhaps the next exercise could be an examination of *existence* and *experience*. Both, as dyad *and* singularity, if possible.

          • Gehennah

            I didn’t say that, now did I? I said technically I cannot prove that I am not a mind in a vat. This is highly unlikely, just as there is a chance that the next time I drop my pen, it will float instead of fall to the earth. But the chances are extremely slim therefore I’m not going to live my life as if I am in a vat or if gravity will quit functioning.

            But if your god does affect the world in a meaningful way, that affect should be able to be seen and tested. If your god has no effect on the world, then we have no reason to believe in said god rationally, because we have no evidence of it.

          • http://brmckay.wordpress.com/ brmckay

            “I didn’t say that, now did I? “

            Well no, actually I did. But what is this *I*?

            As for the question of the shorthand term God, it seems best to not apply fixed conception to it.

            But let’s at least ponder things a bit.

            When we ponder what God is, the place to start is Infinitude. This to me seems obvious. Anything else opens up the big can of worms called a pantheon.

            Next, can we agree that *existence* seems to exist?

            And from this, the question, does thought exist? In all it’s manifestations and results?

            And from this, self? Does self exist?

            Now, can we think of an aggregate of all existence?

            But what about the potential to exist? Does this potential exist? Seems logical to assume so.

            I suppose then, that the potential to exist must also be included in our aggregate.

            From what does this great and ponderous aggregate arise? Oh, wait! It’s not ponderous at all. It’s actually lighter than a feather. No weight at all. Nothing to compare it to. So it doesn’t even exist.

            Gehennah will be glad to hear about this and I don’t have to prove anything.

          • Gehennah

            You are right that you don’t have to prove anything to me. But your belief is irrational as you are believing it without evidence. Your beliefs seem benign, for the most part, so your belief in your god(s) don’t bother me.

            Thought exists, we can test it. You can use a brain scan to actually see the reactions in the brain when someone is thinking. You can even tell generally what type of thoughts are going through people’s heads depending on what parts of the brain are lighting up. Its actually really neat.

            As far as the potential to exist, it is a concept. Existence is merely the results of a reaction. Basically it all boils down to physics (and probably quantum physics in the end).

          • http://brmckay.wordpress.com/ brmckay

            “But your belief is irrational as you are believing it without evidence.”

            Irrational?

            The evidence is that is satisfies common sense.

            I stayed within the bounds of a priori reasoning as best I can tell.

            I’m not sure what you are doing?

            “Existence is merely the results of a reaction. “

            Please define “merely”.

          • Gehennah

            merely means only or just.

            Existence is just the result of a reaction is a reworded version of the sentence.

            I exist because of the reaction between my parents when they had sex approximately nine months before I was born.

            As far as satisfying common sense, that isn’t rational to begin with since common sense is often wrong.

            It is common sense that the world is flat (using only your senses), it isn’t. Its common sense that a heavier object should accelerate at a faster speed when falling, it doesn’t. There are many things that should be common sense using only your reasoning and senses that don’t play out once you test them.

          • http://brmckay.wordpress.com/ brmckay

            Well ok then.

            But it is clear that you don’t have what it takes for the God contemplation business.

            Best not quit your day job.

            I have enjoyed the workout though.

          • http://www.theunderstandingapp.com Kevin Osborne

            I suspect that every individual has a very different reality. We see proximity but we do not see from the same viewpoint or the same time stream. How different we are can be evidenced by fully understanding another’s individual viewpoint, then moving back to one’s own. That is a very instructive operation, if you can accomplish it.

    • http://www.thebookofwonder.org/ Charles Henry

      Christians believe the Bible to be the self-revelation of God, it is the means by which he has allegedly told us about himself. Thus it is not about what people are projecting from within their own limitations, but about whether revelation matches reality. If God really did give us the Bible, we would expect to see the Bible’s claims matching up with human experience. But that’s not what we find. This essay is not a response to every dogma of every religion but focuses on people who claim a holy book that does not live up to its own claims.

      That said, the argument can be broadened to address most religious claims based on what I say in the essay: if there truly is a God that fits any meaningful understanding of the word “God” then we would expect him (or her or whatever) to do a better job of making himself known. The fact that we have to argue about whether or not a god or gods exist is in itself all the answer we need.

      • http://www.theunderstandingapp.com Kevin Osborne

        If God offered up the Bible, then, logically, everything else is also offered up. Therefore God is found not in what is offered, but in what is understood.

        • http://brmckay.wordpress.com/ brmckay

          Beautiful.

        • http://www.thebookofwonder.org/ Charles Henry

          I’m really not sure what you are saying.

          • http://www.theunderstandingapp.com Kevin Osborne

            Thank you , Charles. You said above that we deal in definitions and meanings where all entails. God as entity encompasses all. Therefore all includes what you are aware of in addition to what you could be aware of, or what anyone could be aware of or imagine, now and forever This is quite a stretch, but in practice works out that if you accept everything as real you move toward God entire, all dimension, all understanding, as existence. This is different from human reality but may be available as needs must. Your choice.

          • http://brmckay.wordpress.com/ brmckay

            Entity or Entirety? May be a typo or not. The latter is safe and familiar while the former still scares me.

          • http://www.theunderstandingapp.com Kevin Osborne

            Hi, brmckay, I’m enjoying reading your comments. I meant entity. God is a personage IMO, as we all are, just jumbo size. However everyone’s opinion on God has to be right, for obvious reasons.

          • http://brmckay.wordpress.com/ brmckay

            Thanks, cool. Just checking really. I count on your input and wanted to be sure I got it right.

          • http://www.theunderstandingapp.com Kevin Osborne

            You got it right, but please don’t count on me to be right. I suspect I am learning more from you than the reverse.

          • http://brmckay.wordpress.com/ brmckay

            Ok. “Right” is a strange word anyway.

      • http://brmckay.wordpress.com/ brmckay

        “if there truly is a God that fits any meaningful understanding of the word “God” then we would expect him (or her or whatever) to do a better job of making himself known. “

        I would really like to see this meaningful understanding of the word “God” that is not loaded with expectations and bounded by limits.

        • http://www.thebookofwonder.org/ Charles Henry

          If we are to deal with language, then we deal in things that have definition and meaning and all the connections those entail. No word can be defined without association with other concepts or constraints. If we are to talk about God in any meaningful sense, we must use words so we cannot avoid expectations and limits. If we avoid expectations and limits about the meaning of words, then we cannot even begin to have a conversation. Hopefully a conversation will change and expand how we understand certain things – it may modify our beliefs about the meaning of certain words or the reality referred to by those words – but we remain within the unavoidable realm of rationality.

          • http://brmckay.wordpress.com/ brmckay

            You have said this well.

            But you must realize (or perhaps not), that language and thought are always left behind when full understanding ripens.

            Language sets the stage. That is all it can do. This is why poetry is often employed. Or koans.

            The full capacity of human beings is not bounded by rationality.

          • http://www.theunderstandingapp.com Kevin Osborne

            Thank you, I don’t believe I had ever heard the word “koan” before. That was a fun experience.

    • Madison Blane

      No – if ‘God’ isn’t what the Bible (his word) says that he is, the the God of the Bible doesn’t exist.

      • http://brmckay.wordpress.com/ brmckay

        Is that what the author was saying?

        “It should at some point strike us as ludicrous that we even have to debate the existence of an eternal deity. If he is powerful enough to create everything with the word of his mouth, then surely he is powerful enough to reveal himself to all men.”

  • Anonymous

    Most of the questions raised in this article have been answered centuries ago by theologians (and continue to be answered for each generation). Google Sovereignty and Prayer and you’ll find references to Augustine, Calvin, Sproul with satisfying theological thoughts with regard to your arguments.

    The root problem however is not satisfying answers to questions, but the desire not to believe over the desire to believe. Even the Jews who saw the miracles still did not believe and obey. Even followers of Christ after his resurrection still did not believe.

    It’s a mistake to think that if our generation had signs and wonders that broke the laws of physics, if we could see the fire and bread from heaven then we would all believe. That’s simply not true. People didn’t believe then because they chose not to. People saw much more convincing evidence and still did not believe. We are no different today.

    • http://www.thebookofwonder.org/ Charles Henry

      I am familiar with the theological answers and interact with them some in the essay. As I noted, much of theology is designed to try and explain away the silence of God – which is what Augustine, Sproul, et al spend a lot of their time doing.

      As for the desire to believe, I began wrestling with these issues while serving as a pastor who very much wanted to believe that these things were true. It was with some degree of difficulty that I ultimately concluded that the facts do not support the claims of the Bible. At this point I am quite content with my atheism but things were not always thus.

      As for your example of signs and wonders: the first problem is that we only have the Bible’s word to take for it. We don’t actually know how people will respond since we’ve never had an occasion to see for ourselves how people will respond. Second, even in the Bible, it’s not that people would not believe that God was real – the supposed wonders were enough to show people God was real – rather, the people refused to serve him in the way he demanded. Take a look at Old Testament Israel. They never explicitly rejected God nor denied his reality; they denied that he had an exclusive claim over their lives. They supposedly had the signs and wonders, and they supposedly believed in God’s existence. We don’t even get that opportunity since we don’t have signs and wonders.

      Many in the charismatic camp claim such wonders continue to happen, but they have a slight problem providing verifiable proof. Those not in the charismatic camp offer a range of arguments which tend toward the cessationist “God doesn’t do things that way anymore because we have the Bible” argument which means we’re supposed to believe a written account without any external justification.

    • rdnaskela

      I think the assertion that “people saw much more convincing evidence and still did not believe”, is actually evidence against them seeing “more convincing evidence”. There is no rational explanation for the sudden absence of supernatural signs, except that maybe there is no “sudden” absence. Things said to have happened, didn’t, and they still don’t. I don’t think it’s shocking to anyone, that along with our improved capacity to verify, came a sharp drop in miraculous claims.

      • http://www.thebookofwonder.org/ Charles Henry

        Great point.

    • Maine_Skeptic

      “Most of the questions raised in this article have been answered
      centuries ago by theologians (and continue to be answered for each
      generation).”
      I think you’re confusing a result with a cause. The title of the article says nothing about the author having left Christianity because of silence. It says that now that he’s not a believer, he doesn’t defend the silence.

      As for the “answers” of theologians, they’re only sufficient for those who have presupposed the beliefs are true. Christians would never accept the arguments of theologians from other religions. Why? Because Christians are free to practice critical thinking about other people’s religions.

      • Steve Willy

        I think you are confusing pseudo-intellectual Hitchens-Dawkins parroting, faux-analytical blather with having a point.

    • Gehennah

      And those theologians were wrong.

      God is nothing but a filler in in the gaps of our knowledge, and as we learn more, the less room there is for a god.

      And the stories of the Bible, many of them are absolutely false. Noah’s flood, the Exodus, Battle of Jericho, to name a few. In fact, it is likely that Moses is even a myth, which pretty much means most of the founding events or Christianity are, well, false.

      • Steve Willy

        Pure argument by assertion. Typical Fallacy of the Neck Bearded Douche.

    • http://infiniteoceanoflightandlove.blogspot.com/ Daniel Wilcox

      “Augustine, Calvin, Sproul”?!

      Most of us would rather not hear from a deity (or his defenders) who foreordained most humans to eternal damnation.

      No thank you.

    • guest

      They’ve been answered by human theologians, maybe, or a least an answer has been attempted, but God Himself still remains silent.

      There’s no proof that the non-believing Jews did see miraculous things. The claim was made by someone who had never met jesus at least 40 years after his death. Jesus himself is not around to prove the claim and if you ask him about it, what you get is…silence.

  • http://skepticmeditations.wordpress.com/ Scott SkepticMeditations

    Silence is not evidence of Presence. At the last church I attended for many years, before the meditations, the minister would often quote: “Peace is the first proof of God’s presence”. Then we made the silence mean whatever we wanted it to be. Now I find the “absence” is peace, the silence is peace, more so, without any worship or credit going to some divine.

    • Steve Willy

      In my experience the atheistic/agnostic mantra of “there is no evidence” is typically premised upon an arbitrary and subjective definition of evidence. Because evidence is a legal term, and this discipline has written the most about the concept, it would make sense to consider the legal definition of evidence before declaring that there is none.
      “[E]vidence is defined as ‘all the means by which any alleged matter of fact, the truth of which is submitted to investigation, is established or disproved.’” Forshey v. Principi, 284 F.3d 1335, 1358 (Fed. Cir. 2002). “[E]vidence includes all the means by which any alleged matter of fact is established or disproved, and is further defined as any species of proof legally presented at trial through the medium of witnesses, records, documents, exhibits, concrete objects, etc., for the purpose of inducing belief in the minds of the court or jury.” People v. Victors, 353 Ill. App. 3d 801, 811-812; 819 N.E.2d 311 (2004).
      Notice the use of the terms “any” and “all” in these definitions. A whole lot of things count as “evidence.” Testimony is included within the definition of evidence, although it is “not synonymous with evidence” because evidence “is a more comprehensive term.” People v. Victors, supra at 811-812. In other words, personal religious experiences, COUNT AS EVIDENCE as that term has been legally defined, something atheists find hard to accept. This also means that the Gospels, for example – as “records, documents” – fall within the definition of “evidence” as well. Atheists and skeptics may say that these are not reliable forms evidence, but to say there is NO evidence is simply false.
      Also, the philosophical evidence for God’s existence (First cause, argument from contingency, argument from reason, moral argument, apparent fine tuning) might not strictly meet the definition of evidence, but the philosophical evidence does – coupled with the existence of the universe and consciousness itself – give rise to a “presumption.” A “presumption” comes about when the “finding of a basic fact gives rise to existence of presumed fact, until [the] presumption is rebutted.” Wilner v. United States, 24 F.3d 1397, 1411 (Fed. Cir. 1994). “Although not evidence, a presumption can be a substitute for evidence if it is not rebutted.” Id. Most atheists will freely admit that they have no evidence disproving God – they usually fall back on the fact that it is not their burden. However, if there is a presumption of God’s existence (and at least 4 1/2 billion people would say there is), then atheists do in fact carry the burden of rebuttal.
      Most atheists/skeptics confuse “evidence” with “conclusive evidence,” sometimes termed “conclusive proof,” which is defined as “evidence so strong as to overbear any other evidence to the contrary.” Black’s Law Dictionary 636 (9th ed. 2009). It is also defined as “[e]vidence that so preponderates as to oblige a fact-finder to come to a certain conclusion.” Id. There may not be, in the atheists/skeptics view, evidence that “obliges” them to accept God’s existence. But this does not mean there is no evidence at all, only that he has not seen what he considers to be “conclusive evidence.” Also, note again the first part of Black’s definition – “evidence so strong as to overbear any other evidence to the contrary.” Atheists admittedly have no “evidence to the contrary,” so ANY EVIDENCE AT ALL(i.e., personal religious experience) becomes “conclusive proof” by courtroom standards.
      So in summary: why do you reject the evidence? Because you consider the idea of God absurd. Why is the idea of God absurd? Because of the lack of evidence. Your entire atheistic world view flows from this circular reasoning, which itself flows from a fundamentally flawed concept of what “evidence” is.

      • lonbo

        I find the idea of your god to be absurd. I’m not sure about the other thousands of gods. Nah, they’re absurd too.

        • Steve Willy

          Wow, this comment really blew my mind! I’m going to have to re-evaluate a lot of things. Except, well…. Let’s put the faux-analytical hyperbole away for a while and look at reality: Kalaam Cosmological Argument, teleological argument, First Cause/Unmoved Mover, the impossibility of infinite causal regress, the necessity of at least one unconditioned reality, the Argument from Reason, Fine Tuning of Universal Constants, irreducible biological complexity, the argument from morality… While you sit there in your Hitchens-Dawkins parroting bubble and regurgitate pseudo-intellectual douchisms, your entire world view lies shattered at your feet. If you truly honor the gods of reason and critical thinking half as much as you claim, you would plant your face firmly into your hand, step away from the device, find a quiet place, and rethink your life. But otherwise, thanks for your steaming pile of regurgitated pseudo-intellectual neck bearded blather, you r/atheism inspired, GNU obsessed, faux-analytical proto-basement dweller. Yours is a worldview so petty, so trivial, so earth bound, so unworthy of the universe.

          • lonbo

            Okay Steve, what’s really bothering you?

  • EqualTime

    Well said. I previously approached this line of thought with the concept that believers have created, and therefore accept, a “heads you win, tails I lose” relationship with their God. If prayers are answered, great. If not, He is testing our faith, teaching us, or “it’s not for us to question God”.

    • http://dashifen.com/ David Dashifen Kees

      I’ve encountered this a lot. The second the concept of “God’s will” enters a discussion, I consider that discussion over.

      • Steve Willy

        Wow, you’re an atheist? You must be really smart. A real free thinker. Except, well…. Let’s put the faux-analytical hyperbole away for a while and look at reality: Kalaam Cosmological Argument, teleological argument, First Cause/Unmoved Mover, the impossibility of infinite causal regress, the necessity of at least one unconditioned reality, the Argument from Reason, Fine Tuning of Universal Constants, irreducible biological complexity, the argument from morality… While you sit there in your Hitchens-Dawkins parroting bubble and regurgitate pseudo-intellectual douchisms, your entire world view lies shattered at your feet. If you truly honor the gods of reason and critical thinking half as much as you claim, you would plant your face firmly into your hand, step away from the device, find a quiet place, and rethink your life.

        • http://dashifen.com/ David Dashifen Kees

          Actually, I’m not an atheist. I’m a Pagan and a polytheist. But, as an author elsewhere on Patheos, I subscribe to the Twitter feeds for all of the various faith and philosophical channels and make it a point to read at least one article per channel per day that peaks my interest.

          • Lady in Maine

            That’s “piques”, not “peaks”. Just a friendly correction to an author who I’m sure wants to write correctly.

          • http://dashifen.com/ David Dashifen Kees

            Really!? I’ve been doing that one wrong for decades! Stupid language. Telepathy … that would have been the way to go. Oh well. Also: thanks :)

        • http://richardzanesmith.wordpress.com/ Sohahiyoh

          Steve Willy, as a person supposedly filled with Gods Spirit why is it there is no sense of loving concern from you? only sarcasm, bitterness and depreciating remarks?

  • http://thetimchannel.wordpress.com/ The Tim Channel

    It’s widely known that God can’t exist on the internet because he’s got stalkers waiting to pounce on him like a bloodthirsty Republican gun nut setting up a pizza-baited kill zone in his driveway next to the daycare. Enjoy.

  • http://thetimchannel.wordpress.com/ The Tim Channel

    It finally dawned on me one day that people who THINK they hear voices in their heads aren’t ALL defacto crazy and are ACTUALLY HEARING VOICES in their heads. I’m not zeroing in or narrowing down on people who think the voice is GOD, because that’s just a subset of people who hear voices AND are mentally consumed by them. However, there exist a fair number of what you and I would consider ‘sane’ or normal folks who do hear voices in their heads and they are not psychotic or deluded enough to believe the voices are anything other than illusory, but that said, they readily testify as to the indistinguishable nature of hearing these imagined voices in comparison to those they know are real. It’s some kind of biochemical brain fart. They know it and seek treatment based on that. That said, what a Catch-22 situation for somebody with a preconceived notion that such demons or Gods do exist and are able to take over your mind because they’ve been taught to believe that since birth! My kid starts telling me about God babbling in his head and we’re off to the hospital for some cat scans in search of a probable brain tumor. Some redneck’s kid does the same thing and they set up a congregation around him. Enjoy.

    • http://www.thebookofwonder.org/ Charles Henry

      There’s a pretty significant difference between the person who is startled because he thinks he hears a whispered word or phrase and the person who believes a whole dialogue has been spoken to him.

      But for most Christians, it’s not about hearing voices in their head. Many believers will clarify that they don’t audibly hear the voice of God, but God leads them through a very subjective set of impressions. When the preacher says, “God told me to do X,” if you press him, he will typically readily admit that God did not audibly speak these words, but he felt moved in his spirit – i.e., he had the desire, the thought to do these things, and he ascribed them divine status.

      This is even more dangerous than the person who thinks he literally, audibly hears God. The literal hearer is relatively rare, but anyone can take their own feelings and impressions and imagine that God implanted them in his mind. Thus we have our situation today, in which a multitude of Christians are running around, believing their personal prejudices are the result of divine prompting. It makes their beliefs much, much more difficult to dispel.

      • http://richardzanesmith.wordpress.com/ Sohahiyoh

        Charles Henry, I think this is an important point. sometimes I wish we were confronted with more blatant black and white scenarios ie. people hearing voices of God, it would make it easier to show error. Someone who has been groomed as a Christian for their whole life, takes years to develop “divine prompting”and finding the spiritually correct verses that support it.
        The interesting thing is the Bible is full of people “hearing voices” and we are asked to believe all of them…but at the same time Christian doctrine makes a point to enforce a distrust our own inner promptings or reasoning.

        • http://www.thebookofwonder.org/ Charles Henry

          On that last point, I think it gets even more bizarre – the Bible is full of people hearing literal voices, seeing literal angels, having literal burning bushes, etc – very dramatic encounters with God. We’re supposed to believe those things actually happened. But today, people experience highly subjective promptings. They go to an emotional church service and come away saying, “God was with us” even though there was no definite manifestation of a divine being. So we no longer have claims of physical manifestations, but we’re still supposed to believe people truly have encountered/heard from/received a word from God. It’s highly nefarious – no need to provide evidence, no need to demonstrate reality, just unverifiable subjective claims that are supposed to be trusted (assuming they align with your biblical interpretation of choice, of course).

          • http://richardzanesmith.wordpress.com/ Sohahiyoh

            I think much of the “God was in it” , and the “answers to prayer” come from a deep human desire to control nature and the world around us…and even to manipulate any unseen realms. We were conditioned as Christians to give God his list of instructions for the day. When a prayer feels answered, there’s a sense of euphoria like winning at a casino machine. It keeps people coming back to feed that chemical state of the brain. When someone loses, or doesn’t get what they want, they “let God off the hook” by clever rationalized explanations as you’ve mentioned…but it was that occasional “win” that makes us feel significant…after all, our humble correctly given prayer had enough faith in it to sway the GOD of the Universe to move…and THAT is Power.

  • http://infiniteoceanoflightandlove.blogspot.com/ Daniel Wilcox

    An anthropologist, Tanya Luhrmann, Watkins University Professor in the Stanford Anthropology Department, of did an interesting scientific study on these issues,
    When God Talks Back.

    • lonbo

      I presume that no gods participated or had anything to say.

      • Steve Willy

        You do realize that God has a specific definition in classical theism that has very little to do with the lower case, pluralized ‘gods’ of the pagans, don’t you. When you declare that ‘we’re all already atheists towards Thor,’ you betray such an existential ignorance of the basic issues that you should ashamed to have even commented. Your only possible motive for equating God to gods is to intentionally sow confusion.

        • lonbo

          There are not words enough in the English language to express just how much i don’t give a damn.

          • Steve Willy

            Then you concede that your atheism is an emotional reaction and not the result of any kind of reasoned inquiry or desire for truth.

          • lonbo

            I concede nothing.

  • Andy

    Love the article. It describes my experience in the church as well, and it reminds me of Anthony Flew’s great parable of the ‘Invisible Gardener’ (God), whose existence has to be sustained by so many exceptions that the thesis ‘dies the death of a thousand qualifications.’ (Unfortunately Flew seems to have wavered in his atheism, and in his later life, was graced with the moniker of ‘convert’ to theism/deism.)

    • lonbo

      Just some jebus people lying for jebus as they so reliably do.

  • pennyroyal

    I can’t stand the language of ‘groaning’– which is a female metaphor for the pain of birth (as in the ancient curse against Eve). It’s subtle but it’s there.
    So, here it is again, the notion of original sin and women bringing it upon all humankind, the pain and suffering women cause. The eternal curse.
    Why worship a god who curses?

  • Steve Willy

    Steve Willy • 15 days ago
    Wow, this is powerful stuff. I mean, these ideas really blew my mind! I’m going to have to re-evaluate a lot of things. Except, well…. Let’s put the faux-analytical hyperbole away for a while and look at reality: Kalaam Cosmological Argument, teleological argument, First Cause/Unmoved Mover, the impossibility of infinite causal regress, the necessity of at least one unconditioned reality, the Argument from Reason, Fine Tuning of Universal Constants, irreducible biological complexity, the argument from morality… While you sit there in your Hitchens-Dawkins parroting bubble and regurgitate pseudo-intellectual douchisms, your entire world view lies shattered at your feet. If you truly honor the gods of reason and critical thinking half as much as you claim, you would plant your face firmly into your hand, step away from the device, find a quiet place, and rethink your life. But otherwise, thanks for your steaming pile of regurgitated pseudo-intellectual neck bearded blather, you r/atheism inspired, GNU obsessed, faux-analytical proto-basement dweller. Yours is a worldview so petty, so trivial, so earth bound, so unworthy of the universe.

    • vito

      time to take your medication.

      • Steve Willy

        Thanks for this steaming slice of regurgitated pseudo-intellectual neck bearded blather, you Hitchens-Dawkins parroting faux-analytical basement dweller.

        • https://plus.google.com/103783311760679881592/about Ophis

          You’re accusing someone else of regurgitation? How ironic. Every time I see your comments they consist of the same stock phrases and insults. I’m not even fully confident I’m replying to a human here, and not a bot.

          • Steve Willy

            Shut your butt you pseudo-intellectual Hitchens-Dawkins parroting, faux-analytical proto-basement dweller.

          • lonbo

            Isn’t the love of Jeebus something wonderful!

          • http://richardzanesmith.wordpress.com/ Sohahiyoh

            Steve Willy, I’m happy in some ways you’ve loosed yourself from the “Jesus loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” talk. But Its your bitterness that confirms why so many have turned away from your fierce loyalty to church doctrine…which provoked gets vicious.

    • http://www.thebookofwonder.org/ Charles Henry

      Steve,

      You have done a fantastic job of proving my point. There are a million arguments out there which attempt to demonstrate the necessity of God. None of these arguments demonstrate God himself. None of these arguments prove God – as the apologists usually admit. They will say, “None of these on their own prove God, but taken together they should at least make us think.” A million lies don’t create one truth, but when you tell a million lies, you’re more likely to overpower people into believing them.

      Meanwhile, God has yet to make an appearance. He still has not shown himself. He is missing from the scene and we are left with nothing more than faulty logical attempts to prove God.

      • JohnH2

        And yet the greatest theologian that has lived called his entire body of work straw when he received the answer of what he was seeking.

        I live in a world where Martin Luther King Jr. claimed to have seen the promised land from the top of a mountain and to not be worried about his death. I live in a world where in six days threatened extermination was turned into the long prophesied and longed for return. I live in a world where holy men throughout the world have through the giving of their lives via peaceful means preached liberty to the captives. I live in a world where a promise made thousands of years ago of death, destruction, fear of survival, but also eventual ingathering has and is being kept. I live in a world where there were those who claimed visions from on high of seeing the coming destruction who tried to warn others to flee. I see a remnant yet remaining.

        I live in a world where God Himself appeared to a boy who lacked wisdom. I live in a world where books upon books of those that are dead are speaking from the dust. I live in a world where angels have appeared to many and there is a fire that water can not put out.

        I am sorry that you do not see the light shining in darkness. Even if every detail were proven right that actually isn’t what matters; One must come to know God for themselves and have experience with God.

        • lonbo

          Any god in particular? Yours i presume. Thanks but no thanks. Been there. Done that.

          • JohnH2

            The one that exists.

          • lonbo

            Well now, aren’t you one lucky John!

  • Steve Willy

    So, if you are so confident in your neck bearded presuppositions, why are you even bothering to comment at all? No atheistic position can be taken seriously until two threshold questions can coherently be answered. 1. Why is the atheist even engaging in the debate. On atheism, there is no objective basis for even ascertaining truth; there is no immaterial aspect to consciousness and all mental states are material. Therefore, everyone who ever lived and ever will live could be wrong about a thing. By what standard would that ever be ascertained on atheism? Also if atheism is true, there is no objective meaning to existence and no objective standard by which the ‘rational’ world view of atheism is more desirable, morally or otherwise, to the ‘irrational’ beliefs of religion. Ridding the world of the scourge of religion, so that humanity can ‘progress’ or outgrow it, is not a legitimate response to this because on atheism, there is no reason to expect humanity to progress or grow. We are a historical accident that should fully expect to be destroyed by the next asteriod, pandemic, or fascist atheist with a nuke. In short, if atheism is correct, there is no benefit, either on an individual or societal level, to knowing this or to spreading such ‘knowledge.’ 2. Related to this, why is the atheist debater even alive to participate. If there is no heaven, no hell, no afterlife at all, only an incredibly window of blind pitiless indifference, then the agony of struggling to exist, seeing loved ones die, and then dying yourself can never be outweighed by any benefit to existing. As rude as it way sound (and I AM NOT advocating suicide) the atheist should have a coherent explanation for why they chose to continue existing. Failure to adequately address these threshold questions should result in summary rejection of the neckbeard’s position.

    • Artemis

      I can answer your questions quite easliy…at least from my own viewpoint.

      1. I choose to engage Christians in debate because Christianity has unjust and vicious laws embedded in the secular government of my nation. Additionally, Christianity has, historically, been guilty of the most vicious abominations and, if the rank and file didn’t actually do the deeds, they did nothing to stop them. I debate the falsity of Christianity to show that it’s members must be kept from gaining political power. The reason that the auto-da-fe is no longer Saturday Night Entertainment is because our secular government disallows it. I don’t care if you worship the lint in your navel but, until you keep your god(s) in your little, white churches or your Wal-Marts For Jesus, I’ll continue to fight you.

      2. I’m surprised that you have such a horribly miserable view of life. I thought that Christianity was supposed to bring a life of joy, yet you characterize it as “the agony of struggling to exist, seeing loved ones die, and then dying yourself”. That is beyond sad and I wouldn’t be you for anything.

      3. Life is extremely enjoyable. Every day is a new adventure. I had a meaningful (to me) career, have hobbies that I enjoy, love nature and the outdoors and even take pleasure in waxing my furniture. I don’t find existence an “agony of struggling”. I love it. And, my joys don’t require some god with a fiery whip.

      4. Christians also see loved ones die and, eventually, die themselves. So what? If we live long enough, it’s an experience common to all of us. Imagining those loved ones continue to exist or that we will continue to exist is just wishful thinking and I have no use for it. I want to accept as many true things and reject as many false things as I possibly can and I have seen zero evidence that anything commonly described as a “spirit” or an “afterlife” exists in reality.

      5. When we die, we die, and I don’t have a problem with that. So, I live my life with as much joy to myself and as little harm to others as I can possibly manage. My life is rich and I like to think that I’ve done some good in this world. That alone, from womb to tomb, is enough.

      • Steve Willy

        By what objective standard do you condemn “unjust and vicious laws” (even assuming that is meant to be anything other than meaningless hyperbole)? What transcendent principle is violated when a state enacts and enforces such laws? Have atheist governments of the past, such as Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot, refrained from enacting “unjust and vicious laws”? Your entire world view lies shattered at your feet. If you truly honor the gods of reason and logic half as much as you claim, you will step away from your device, plant your face firmly into your palm, find a quiet place, and rethink your life.

    • http://www.thebookofwonder.org/ Charles Henry

      Steve,

      I am not at first concerned with what makes me feel good, but with what is true. A cancer patient may feel emotionally better for a time if he is told he has no cancer, but feeling better does him no good. He needs truth. He needs reality.

      As it happens, I believe the reality of atheism is tremendously liberating. The world has exploded with meaning and majesty now that a divine watchmaker is no longer part of the equation. Life is no longer dictated according to the whims of an all-powerful tyrant who demands perfect allegiance upon penalty of eternal torture. Meaning and purpose for life are found in each individual’s self-determination rather than one over-arching plan over which we have no control.

      As for truth, you seem to misunderstand objectivity and subjectivity. We have an objective means of determining the nature of reality. It’s called science. Science is not a perfect process, but it is ultimately self-correcting, weeding out earlier errors as knowledge progresses. Science cannot tells us whether it is right or wrong to steal from your neighbor, but it can tell us with unwavering certainty the genetic composition of your neighbor.

      In this sense, science is far superior to dogma. While scientists do disagree all the time, science converges toward uniformity. Discoveries happen, tests are done, results are evaluated, truth is found, science moves forward. We know far, far more today than we did 2,000 years ago. Things that were debated then are common knowledge now. Today’s debates are much different. 100 years from now, things we debate today will be common knowledge and there will be a whole new set of debates.

      Do you know what has not changed an advanced in the last 2,000 years? Theological debate. Christians continue to fight over the same things. The same arguments run the gauntlet. The idea of progressive revelation sounds nice, but it carries only a grain of truth. On the whole, the same debates run around and around again. There is no objective means for determining truth. Christianity is far more a relativistic religion than atheism could ever be.

      As an aside on morality, because science cannot tell us whether or not it is wrong for me to rob from my neighbor, society itself must work to determine what sort of society we want to be. What sort of behaviors do we want to promote or suppress? Do we want people killing and raping and pillaging or do we want justice and equality and opportunity? In religion, there is no freedom for self-determination. God speaks, we must do. But religion leaves a gaping hole: what about the starving person? Is he justified in stealing if it means saving the life of his family? What about telling a lie to save someone’s life? What about divorcing a spouse who is a chronic abuser, when the Bible only justifies divorce in the case of sexual unfaithfulness? Christians must look for loopholes and caveats because the rules are rigid yet unclear. This difficulty does not exist within atheism.

      • Steve Willy

        thanks for your steaming pile of regurgitated pseudo-intellectual neck bearded blather, you r/atheism inspired, GNU obsessed, faux-analytical proto-basement dweller. Yours is a worldview so petty, so trivial, so earth bound, so unworthy of the universe.

        • http://richardzanesmith.wordpress.com/ Sohahiyoh

          Steve Willy, Its interesting to me how when reason doesn’t help, you rely upon “belittling” and expressing “Black and White, Good and Evil,” kind of responses. Unfortunately it doesn’t lend value or beauty to your own world view. The world is a place of amazing color and you might consider that there are options other than your own. Though I’m not an atheist, atheists have some extremely valid arguments against religion, and to belittle by insults doesn’t help you.

    • OooShiny

      Scientists have never had to reformulate because the bible proved them wrong.

      But, on the other hand…

  • Dave

    This song- Say Something- sums it up for me:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iC8tP9Oo52Y

    I came across this song some many months after I finally admitted to myself and others that I no longer embraced Christianity as true; and no longer believed in God.

    “Say something, I’m giving up on you”
    I’ll be the one if you want me to
    anywhere I would have followed you…” and so on

    That describes my life as a Christian and minister for over 30 years. I finally just got tired of wondering about and defending and excusing the silence and absence of God. I wasn’t mad when I left…I was sad.

  • Rachel

    I had to comment on this because for years I couldn’t understand the silence of God in my life. When I was first told I had to ask Jesus in my heart in order to be saved and go to Heaven, I went home and prayed and asked Jesus in my heart. I expected to feel differently. I was young. I thought God would help me not be scared. I thought God would immediately work through me and make me an exceptionally good person. I thought God would automatically remove bad thoughts. I started to doubt that I had really been saved. I thought maybe God didn’t think I was ready or that I was sincere. I think between the ages of 10 and 15 I was saved about 4 times. When after the last time I was saved and still felt like nothing new was happening, I decided God must have decided that I wasn’t ready and that He wouldn’t reveal Himself to me unless I put more effort into it. I decided I hadn’t tried hard enough. I didn’t ask Him to remove bad thoughts – I thought he would automatically remove them. I didn’t read the Bible. I kept giving up when I tried because there was just so much there I didn’t find useful and I had expected God to direct me to the parts I needed to read. I figured when I was truly ready to accept Jesus, I would know it. God would tell me. When He hadn’t told me by the time I was 18 and I was liking less and less of what I was learning about relgion despite attending two churches (the Catholic I was raised in and the Protestant that sort of adopted me) and going to Bible camp every summer, I considered that maybe, just maybe, there wasn’t a God.

  • http://richardzanesmith.wordpress.com/ Sohahiyoh

    My family having had a close relationship with the Schaeffer family, and raised in the L’abri cloud through my teens and early adult years I agree with you. Why are there so many “non-inerrant” Christian books written to explain what the “inerrant” Bible REALLY teaches? Why shouldn’t inerrant text speak for itself? The assumption, of course being, that “it” teaches a united message. I was taught that C S Lewis became a Christian after being confronted by Tolkien about Lewis “not having enough imagination to believe” which somehow startled Lewis. IF it happened this way, it seems it was an attempt at shaming an artist to consider being more creative. True, It may take an amazing amount of imagination to believe in Christianity, but it also requires imagination to also consider MOST alternative ways of thinking. Imagination and Reason are not incompatible but can be partners.

  • Kevin Harris

    I think the problem of Divine Hiddeness is challenging and extremely interesting. And far from bringing God into serious question, it actually does the opposite! It brings into sharp focus exactly what and who it is we’re dealing with: the transcendent, eternal, immaterial God who is ontologically ultimate!

    I’m convinced God does not desire that people merely acknowledge God’s existence, but have a relationship with God. That requires humility, seeking, and God’s grace. Interestingly, nothing of profound or ultimate worth can be effectively pursued without those three things!


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