An Atheist vs. a Christian: Round 3


I thoroughly enjoyed our radio debate last week on the Nick Givas Program! For those that did not get a chance to listen live, I have a recording up on my website:

Until our next live event, let us continue our dialogue!

Thanks so much for your feedback on my “approaches”. And great question on my definition of “approach” as I think it brings up an important distinction between worldview and epistemology.

It sounds as if we both agree that one’s worldview is a conclusion and destination, while epistemology (by way of reason and empiricism) is a route, method, and justification of that worldview. Judging by your response, it sounds as if we share a Kantian openness in terms of the possibility of existence containing both physical and metaphysical realities. To date, based upon empiricism, you‘ve found the evidence for a metaphysical reality unconvincing and have withheld belief.

On my “existential approach” to God’s existence, allow me to clarify as to remove any apparent contradictions as I neither wish to confuse my worldview, nor my position on the value of epistemology.

“What use would it be to be able to propound the meaning of Christianity, to explain many separate facts, if it had no deeper meaning for me and for my life? Certainly I won’t deny that I still accept an imperative of knowledge, and that one can also be influenced by it, but then it must be taken up alive in me, and this is what I now see as the main point.” (Søren Kierkegaard, Papers and Journals)

I am not espousing a radical fideism blind to rationality or empirical evidence; I am not a Christian because “I want to be absurd” or “it is to be believed because it’s absurd”. We agree that prescribing to any belief – while closing your mind to reason and empiricism – is just simple fanaticism. I deeply value epistemology – of course reason and empiricism should guide any worldview. The existential attitude, however, feels that reason and empiricism, within themselves, are deficient in making a subjective and passionate worldview commitment.

I’m a Christian because I feel the human condition itself is absurd and I have made a subjective faith commitment based on an ideal that I feel speaks uniquely to the human condition. But I would not be a Christian if I didn’t feel there were strong rational and empirical tenants to Christianity specifically.

In that case, I am not “an existentialist” per se – nor am I a dogmatic rationalist or strict empiricist. In my opening statement of principles, I stated that I hold an “empi-rational-existential” check and balance. That is, reason, empiricism, and subjectivity together allow logical intuition, independent verification, and subjective authentication of a given truth.

Call me a truth-seeker with an existential flair.

You suggested a contradiction which would be true if these views were mutually exclusive. But that would be to both misunderstand my position as well as preclude the possibility that God’s existence as well as other concepts such as certain logical and mathematical truths (and I feel morality), could not be approached in this manner. With this check and balance, they are not contradictory, but complimentary.

Consider the worldview of the passionate mathematician:

  • Rational: “There are a priori truths of logic and mathematics.”
  • Empirical: “A priori truths of mathematics are greatly expanded by empirical validation.”
  • Existential/Subjective: “Math is queen of the sciences and I will give my life to that pursuit.”

Again, I do not see any contradictions, rather a complimentary and authentic worldview.

As relates to our discussion and your question, I feel that if God exists, He can be experienced rationally, evidentially, and existentially. Furthermore, and speaking how I relate mostly to the existential, I find the subjective (passionate faith commitment, subjective experience of God, why one embraces God as a God worth loving, etc.) the most interesting and compelling.

In considering God in an abstract sense, I believe one could accept God’s existence as a warranted, properly basic, and foundational truth. In the words of Voltaire, a deist:

“What is faith? Is it to believe that which is evident? No. It is perfectly evident to my mind that there exists a necessary, eternal, supreme, and intelligent being. This is no matter of faith, but of reason.”

Though I see warrant in accepting God rationally, I am far from a “strong presuppostionalist”, as I empathize with the empiricist and existentialist in claiming the problem with a rational proof of God’s existence would at best result in deism.

I believe one could relate to empiricism to investigate phenomena to look for evidence of God through the natural sciences and history – time, the cosmos, fine tuning, life, love, consciousness, and the historical tenants of the Christian faith (or the other faith traditions as you mentioned). But now I empathize with the rationalist and the existentialist in that evidence alone is not enough.

I believe a Christian can relate existentially, that existence itself is absurd, and that Christ speaks uniquely to the human condition – a God worth loving. But of course now I would empathize with the rationalist and the empiricist in that reason and evidence need to ratify the worldview.

So I want to be clear in that mine is certainly a cumulative case for Christianity. Though I’ve made a passionate and subjective faith commitment, I would not have done so for Zeus, Thor, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

So, to your question, where does tradition fall?

Am I surprised that I am a Christian in a Christian nation? No. Am I surprised that person “X” is an atheist in an atheist nation? No. Am I surprised that person “Y” is a Hindu in a Hindu nation? No.

As a truth-seeker with an existential twist, I’m equally unimpressed with any view that is founded solely on tradition as it says nothing of the truth of that view. Perhaps most raised atheists remain atheists, most raised Lutheran remain Lutheran and most raised Hindu remain Hindu. Worldview by tradition just speaks to the sheepish human condition, as Kierkegaaurd called “the Christendom” and Nietzshe called “the herd”.

To me this is obvious not only in religion, but politics, or any social structure. You bring up a good point though. For many, this is how it goes. But I like to rage against the machine. To quote Descartes-

“‘If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.”

 By way of my introduction, I’ve revealed to you that I am a “doubting theist”, that I have spared neither my Christian faith, nor atheism, from this doubt. I’m drawn to friendship and debate with you specifically because you’ve allowed yourself to roam as a truth seeker. You’ve investigated the arguments for and against a number of worldviews and you have taken a position. As I said at our debate, I am empathetic to atheism as I’ve enjoyed its utility – I am an atheist for every other god. For a number of reasons – rational, empirical, and existential (all kept in check) – I have not been able to look past Christ.

I think it was wise for both of us to clarify our worldviews and perspectives on epistemology and tradition as we’ll be juggling a number of topics and it’s good to know where we’re both coming from.

Shall we advance to morality?

As I stated prior, my take on objective morality follows the same cumulative approach for which I outlined. As I did with the question of God’s existence, I would throw out tradition. Not to say that we should ignore tradition as morality can be largely affected by tradition (no doubt a key area of research in anthropology, sociology, and psychology), but I think we both agree that certain actions are moral abominations independent of a particular culture’s tradition.

Perhaps a good starting point in contrasting our views on morality is to start where we agree: sanctity of human life, objective moral truth, and that you don’t need to believe in God to act morally. Where we agree, where we do not, and your feedback on my cumulative approach – I feel we’ll have much to discuss.

The floor is yours.

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About Andrew Murtagh

Andrew Murtagh is an entrepreneur, engineer, and author with an interest in philosophy, theology, science, and culture, and how these areas intersect. To read more about Andrew click here. Or click here to read about his book, Proof of Divine.