I really appreciate your interest in having this exchange! I sought you out specifically as I felt we shared in the fellowship of a common pursuit: “Quid est veritas?”
We agree on many views, though arrive there differently, and disagree on many others. As I said from my first communication, I am genuinely interested in your views and sincerely appreciate your interest in mine! I feel humility, empathy, and friendship is sorely missing in these discussions and I look forward to learning more about your views as a secular humanist. As you said, it’s always more fun when sparks fly and opinions contrast.
Before we proceed, I have to do a recap of our event at the Midtown Scholar.
First and foremost, I wanted to thank you again for driving in from The Big Apple to Harrisburg! It was no small feat considering it was practically a blizzard and you had to stay overnight due to the weather. I promise to do the next one in your neck of the woods. I posted a couple of pictures so we could share in the memory of this event and hopefully partake in many, many more!
I had a feeling that our kicking off the debate with a little ping pong match to the tune of “Happy Together” would set the tone. By the way, we got some great feedback on that one!
I must say, I learned much about your views. I have to compliment you on how intelligent, well-informed, and eloquent you were at the debate. This is not just coming from me, but from a number of Christians that were in the audience, so I wanted to pass that along.
Even though we had an official “moderator” and disagreed on a number of issues, the entire afternoon felt more like a discussion with a friend than a debate. For those that expected arrogant discord and character mudslinging, they would have been sorely disappointed. If anything, they would have seen more of a philosophical tussle between friends (our moderator Alan in the middle):
The debate, getting to know you personally, introducing you to my friends and family, the “post-debate party” – spending the day and the evening with you was truly a pleasure. I now call you my friend and look forward to many more events, discussions, and pleasantries. On that note, and the “you can’t triple-stamp a double-stamp” vibe – let’s proceed with our dialogue!
You first asked about my “doubting theist” calling card, so I think that would be a great starting point in my reply.
As I said at our debate, I feel we are both passionate truth seekers and philosophers of religion. I just take it another step further as a theologian, where you do not. I am certainly empathetic to the position that “we’re all atheists – some of us just go one god further” – I myself am an atheist for every other god. For some reason, I can’t get passed Christ, which is an entirely different conversation that I am sure we’ll be having! But, do I doubt my faith?
How could I not? I relate, more than you know, to the late, great Christopher Hitchens in that snakes typically don’t talk, virgins don’t typically bear children, and dead men typically don’t walk – that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. And yet I still passionately believe.
And so here goes…
I prescribe to the notion that faith has both rational and irrational components; rational in keeping our feet on the ground and exploring the natural world, irrational in taking an awe-inspiring empirical discovery (such as cosmological/biological “fine-tuning”) or mystery (such as the Big Bang) to theological conclusions. That being said, I believe one can approach the question of God’s existence in three ways: presuppositionally, evidentially, and existentially.
Presuppostionally: God exists as an axiom, starting point, a self-evident, ontological certainty, and foundation for knowledge. You might say this approach begs the question.
Evidentially: The evidence for God’s existence – the usual suspects such as the Cosmological Argument, Fine-Tuning, Theological Appeal to Objective Morality (I’m sure we’ll be discussing these more later) – as well as evidences for specific faith traditions. You might say that God is an unnecessary explanation, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and that we have nothing of the sort to support theological claims.
Existentially: In the tradition of Tertullian’s “Credo quia absurdum” (I believe because it’s absurd) and Kierkegaaurd’s “leap of faith” – believing is to embrace the absurd. Time, life, love, consciousness – these things are totally absurd (and empiricism is only furthering their absurdity and irreducibility) so a leap of faith towards God as their author isn’t that far off. Rather, belief in God helps “makes sense” of these things. You might say I’m being irrational (it’s ok – my wife tells me this frequently).
As a philosopher and theologian, I have interest in all three approaches though I personally relate most to the existential. As I said, I believe there are certain rational and evidential foundations for Christianity but I will not pretend for one second that a leap of faith to belief in a man-God, born of a virgin, crucified and resurrected – doesn’t have irrationality written all over it.
In embracing this view, there are two interesting consequences:
1) The “leap of faith” portion of Christianity is irrational
2) The “leap of faith” portion of atheism (naturalism specifically) is irrational
I think we agree on the first point and disagree on the second, which I think will make for an interesting discussion, and that morality specifically would be a great starting point.
But, before we get into morality, which I envision will be quite a discussion in itself – I would love your thoughts on these three approaches to God’s existence. You’re an atheist, so you obviously haven’t been compelled by any of these approaches! But, would you say, based on your experience, that most people (believers and skeptics) approach the question of God’s existence in a similar way?
What about you personally? From the time we’ve spent together, your writing, and your statement of principles – I’ve gathered that you have genuinely considered God’s existence and found the evidence completely insufficient. Furthermore, I believe you’ve concluded that the secular humanist worldview is much more beautiful and inspiring than a theistic worldview. But I did want to confirm those points with you first hand as I value your perspective.
Also, since my “doubting theist” calling card caught your attention – I assume you found that to be a breath of fresh air? What grabbed your interest there – that a Christian actually approached the conversation with humility or perhaps my upfront admittance that my faith has irrational facets? I think knowing this would be helpful for my own edification, and perhaps a reminder to many others, on how to approach the discussion.
Just a teaser on morality – we agree it’s objective. As one might expect, we arrive there differently. I have answers to your questions as well and some more questions for you!
More on that in Round 3…