Response to Michael

I get a lot of email from religious people.  Most of it is affable, just poorly reasoned.  Long ago I ditched the practice of responding in private.  Without public pressure it allows people to take on the role of a skipping CD: “nuh uh!  Nuh uh!  Nuh uh!  Etc.”  Instead, I always say I’d be happy to engage in public where dedication to unreason is punished with disapproval from those watching.  Usually this is enough to get their concern for my everlasting soul to dry up real quick.

However, Michael said I could print his email.  His willingness has earned him a response.

Hi JT,

My name is #######, I’m a physics major at AASU in Savannah, GA. I’m also a Christian, and I’m emailing you in response to something you posted on a blog where you said that you would be open to finding proof of God…or something of that extent. Well, this message is probably not what you expect. I’m not Kent Hovind, and I’m not going to try to prove God with science. I don’t think it’s impossible, but I’m writing this because I think that it’s not nearly as important as the subject I’d like to introduce to you.

In the book of Matthew Ch 16:13-18, Jesus asks His disciples questions, saying “Who do you say that I am.” And they tell him what some people say, how some people think that He’s one of the prophets. But then Jesus asks again who they say that He is, and Simon answered him and said “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus tells him that he’s blessed because flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in Heaven. And Jesus gives Peter his name, which in the Greek is Petros (little rock), and He says on this rock, he will build his church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. The greek translation for the rock on which Jesus was to build his church is petra (big rock). So why did I share this story? And why am I talking to you about rocks? Lol. Because the members of the church are the ones who have a revelation as to who Jesus is.

I can’t prove God to you, JT. I really wish I could. But I can’t convert you, I can’t do anything. It is only by the Holy Spirit that your spiritual eyes can be opened to who Jesus is. I umm…I understand that maybe you’re scoffing (I’d understand why) at this, or maybe you’ve heard this before but, as a physics major one of the things that I have to keep contending with is the fact that I can’t write some equation, or some elegant proof and present it to you as proof of God. Neither could I go into a lab and design some incredible experiment to empirically prove that there is a spiritual realm that we can’t see. But I can tell you this, this is the most thrilling, most electrifying, most frightening revelation ever. God is real. I couldn’t believe it. I mean I went to church all of my life, faithfully for almost 20 years; I was baptized, went to Sunday School, sang songs, all that stuff, but it wasn’t until after this moment that I actually began to understand what preachers were in the pulpit screaming about as if there were no tomorrow. When we are born into this world, we are blind, but it is when we cry out for God and don’t let go that He begins to open our eyes to spiritual realities that seems like foolishness to the rest of the world.

I’ll end with this. Last January, I was beginning to ask myself questions about my spirituality. I am a big believer that one should be strong in every aspect of life; we ought to be strong spiritually, strong academically, strong financially, strong politically, etc. And unlike all these crazy Christian people I had never “heard from God. God had never “spoken to me” or anything. I just thought that maybe they just had a random thought and they called it God speaking to them. But anyway, I decided that either I was going to find Jesus or become a flaming atheist. I sought God for a while; I spent hours in prayer every day with seemingly no response.  But one day in mid February, the Holy Ghost fell upon me…and it was…insane. I can’t even describe how I felt. I began to have dreams and visions of things to come, I began to commune with God, and actually get to know Him. There’s nothing like having a friend who is perfect. I can’t explain how great it is to know Him. There are many times when the future is not a surprise. And I’m definitely not psychic or anything. I’m writing this because even though I don’t know you, or anything about you besides some of the books you’ve read on your site, I really care about you, and what happens to you when the dust is settled. I hope to see you later man! Hopefully in Heaven, or maybe sooner.

Maybe you get a lot of stuff like this, so if you do, I hope maybe sharing my personal testimony with you will help in some way. Don’t listen to people who don’t know Jesus as spiritual counselors. As most people cannot see the symmetric, simplistic beauty behind the equations that describe out world, so too are most people blind to the spiritual realm. God has made it so that the simple things confound the wise. Anyways, good luck in college! And I’ll be praying for you. Set your heart to eek the face of God. He will allow himself to be found. It is the glory of God to conceal a thing, but it’s our glory to search a matter. Seek the Lord, and you’ll find answers to your questions.

God bless,

*sigh*  I feel like a fly in a nudist colony…I’m not sure where to start.  First, Michael, you are very nice.  However, your arguments were scarcely endurable to read.  Your niceness, sadly, mustn’t stop me from hacking them apart.

I’m not Kent Hovind, and I’m not going to try to prove God with science. I don’t think it’s impossible…

Then why has nobody done it?  Why isn’t god’s existence represented in science textbooks?

Because the members of the church are the ones who have a revelation as to who Jesus is.

Not the historians?  Which members of which church?  You must surely realize that there are likely people sitting beside you at church who have a different opinion of who Jesus is/was than you.  There are people in the church across the street who have a different identity of Jesus than them.  Some members of churches think Jesus loves homosexuals.  Others think god will burn America to cinders for not imprisoning them.  What you call a ‘revelation’ looks a lot more like people developing an opinion of their own and then ascribing it to god.  God would not allow his message to be so muddled when he has made other lesser facts about the universe so undeniable.

God is either a shitty communicator (which doesn’t gel very well with that whole omnipotent thing) or he is fucking with his followers (which doesn’t gel very well with the ‘god is not the author of confusion‘ thing).

When we are born into this world, we are blind, but it is when we cry out for God and don’t let go that He begins to open our eyes to spiritual realities that seems like foolishness to the rest of the world.

Evidence?  Why not just make spiritual realities as perceptible to our physical and rational senses as the rest of the world?  What is the utility to making the truth of his existence look like foolishness to anybody in the first place?  This keeps many open-minded, well-intentioned people from heaven, not for a lack of character or effort, but for an inability to believe absurdities.

I’ve read the book (multiple times).  I’ve gone to church.  I’ve spoken with more believers than virtually any other atheist you’ll come across.  If this is not reaching out to god, what is?  Must I abandon my standard checks against being taken advantage of?  If so, then reaching out to god has become synonymous with being credulous, which is an embarrassment in every other part of our lives.

Last January, I was beginning to ask myself questions about my spirituality.

I’m very skeptical of this.  What questions?  “How do I know a dude rose from the dead 2,000 years ago?  As a physics student, why do I believe a some dude walked on water?  Why is the book of genesis a bunch of vague weirdness – shouldn’t it look more like my physics books?”  These questions?

…we ought to be strong spiritually, strong academically…

Bad news, Michael.  Take the claim that Jesus walked on water.  You can either be strong spiritually and believe that physics stopped working, or you can be strong academically and realize that you use the consistency of physics for even the most elementary conclusions, and that conclusions working in opposition to the rules of the universe are considered wrong in every other capacity.

You can either be strong spiritually and believe that the same rules of biology that allow us to genuinely (and consistently) heal the sick were abdicated so a Canaanite Jew could rise from the dead, or you can be strong academically and acknowledge that, given our understanding of the universe, that such a thing is impossible in the real world.  You cannot have both.

The truth of the matter is obvious: spiritual ‘strength’ is the most magnificent misnomer.  Spiritual ‘strength’ is academic weakness.  It is gullibility pursued and it is not a virtue.

It is only by the Holy Spirit that your spiritual eyes can be opened to who Jesus is. I umm…I understand that maybe you’re scoffing (I’d understand why) at this, or maybe you’ve heard this before but, as a physics major one of the things that I have to keep contending with is the fact that I can’t write some equation, or some elegant proof and present it to you as proof of God.

Yes, I am scoffing.  Yes, I have heard this before.  No, you can’t prove god.  But rather than stop believing in god, you persist with lousy arguments like, “It is only by the Holy Spirit that your spiritual eyes can be opened to who Jesus is.”

What a magnificent way to seal off any investigation into your claims.  Of course it’s not through evidence or science, you have to wait for god to reveal it to you secretly.  And anybody who feels otherwise, well they just don’t have their eyes opened by god so that things deemed foolish by the rest of the world seem reasonable!  What did you expect me to say to this?  If it didn’t happen so often, I would say I can’t believe you’re advancing such an indescribably lame position.

Of course, if the only way for me to know is by the holy spirit opening my eyes, that makes your email a little superfluous, doesn’t it?

What of all the other people who think the holy spirit has opened their eyes and given them different conclusions than yours?  Are they just mistaken?  If the vast, vast majority are simply mistaken, but believe they are individually special, what reason do I have not to put you in that same camp?

I sought God for a while; I spent hours in prayer every day with seemingly no response.  But one day in mid February, the Holy Ghost fell upon me…and it was…insane. I can’t even describe how I felt. I began to have dreams and visions of things to come, I began to commune with God, and actually get to know Him.

It felt good and you had dreams?  Dreams?  You realize that one of the defining traits of a dream is that they’re not real…right?  I mean, just last night I dreamed I was speaking to Napoleon and he told me wear to go pants-less to work tomorrow.  It’s a good thing I don’t look at dreams the way you do.  Hell, I’ll wager you don’t even look at dreams that way: except when you had dreams that mirrored what you have already told me you were thinking about for hours every day.  You’d think god could do better.

The sad part is that this is likely the most convincing anecdote you have, otherwise you would have led with a better one.  What am I supposed to say to you aside from pointing out the banality of your circumstances, which you should have easily seen on your own, and how extensively you overreached in response?

You don’t think Muslims have this same experience?  You don’t think Hindus have this same experience?  You don’t think they use it to try and convince people like me (or you) that their god/gods are the real deal?

There’s nothing like having a friend who is perfect.  I can’t explain how great it is to know Him.

Because you have dreams about him?  I can think of a lot of things better than having a friend like that, not the least of which is having an imperfect friend I can play video games with, or who has a tangible shoulder for me to cry on when things aren’t going well.  How about a friend who nurtures me as a person without starting off with the assumption that I’m filth without them (otherwise, the whole concept of Jesus dying so we could be forgiven is a bloody waste…literally)?

In fact, I think just about every friend I have is better than one who only shows up in dreams.  Hell, some of my enemies are better than that.  Your concept of perfection is very odd.

And even if I grant how great it is to know Jesus, what’s his hold up with me?  For one, why give me a brain incapable of accepting illogical claims and then make access to him dependent on accepting illogical claims?  That’s kind of a dick move, especially if hell is on the line (since we already know you believe in heaven).  I’ve read the book, felt for six years that god had revealed himself to me (and would have exclaimed as much as sincerely as you or any other believer), and I feel I am more acquainted with both Christian theology and general science than most non-experts.  I’ve put in more work, and yet I’m doomed, whereas someone who got raised in Christianity but hasn’t put the mildest thought into it is not doomed.  This is ‘great’?  This is a great friend?

Frankly, Michael, your friend’s an asshole.

There are many times when the future is not a surprise.

Really?  Can you always predict the future or is it just anecdotal (as prophecies are for all other religions, as well as yours)?

You know what?  The future is often not a surprise for most people, and it has nothing to do with god.  This is the power of reason: the ability to say if x, then y.  We can look at our situation and predict the future through reason.

If I drop a stone from a certain height at a certain time, it will hit the ground at another certain time.  Were I to look at this event through the lenses necessary to accept stories of rising from the dead and walking on water, I could also accept that the stone would fall upward.  That conclusion would be wrong.

We can predict when hurricanes will hit.  We can predict when there will be meteor showers.  And the best part?  We can do it consistently.  Show me you can even come close, with god’s help, to replicating the achievements of mankind, and I will entertain the idea that you are speaking to god.  You would be the first human being in history to manage this.

I’m writing this because even though I don’t know you, or anything about you besides some of the books you’ve read on your site, I really care about you, and what happens to you when the dust is settled.

I am grateful you care.  I really am.  I know you write out of concern.

But being nice doesn’t save you from being wrong.  It also doesn’t alter the fact that failing to be reasonable is immoral.  These are things for which I hold you accountable and for which you should hold yourself accountable.  Irrational beliefs often corrupt good intentions into cruelty, which is always a travesty.  We cannot foster a world where people believe it is acceptable to be unreasonable, which is precisely what you and your religion are doing.

Maybe you get a lot of stuff like this, so if you do, I hope maybe sharing my personal testimony with you will help in some way.

Your personal testimony is fraught with bad reasoning and it mirrors the ‘personal’ testimony of almost every other Christian I’ve ever spoken to, almost all of which begin with “I cannot prove my position, but you should believe it.”  It is nothing new.

So let me ask you, Michael, since you’ve given me some reasons to accept your position and I have explained why I find them lacking.  I’d like to know what it would take to convince you that you are wrong.  What would it take to convince you that a human being cannot walk on water or rise from the dead?  What would it take to convince you that you are just as wrong as all the other religious people who believe wildly different things than you for the exact same reasons?  Where is the bar for me?

Don’t listen to people who don’t know Jesus as spiritual counselors.

How can I tell them apart from you?

God has made it so that the simple things confound the wise.

I don’t think they confound the wise so much as the wise reject them for being, well, unwise (or foolish to the rest of the world, as you put it).  It’s kind of the definition of being wise that you get complex things as well as simple things.  If you’re unwise, you only get simple things.

And I’ll be praying for you.

Pray all you like.  However, if god is unwilling to help the starving children in this world who are undoubtedly praying at least as fervently as you, then there is probably little he can do for me.

Set your heart to eek the face of God.

As I said, I have sought god.  I have found only bad arguments and natural explanations for everything humankind has explained.  The only reasonable conclusion is that god does not exist.

He will allow himself to be found.

The truth of his existence, if heaven and hell exist, is more important than any other fact.  Why has god made virtually every other fact so much more perceptible?  I mean, you said yourself you cannot prove he exists, that there is no equation to prove his existence.  Why not, if he so desperately wishes to be found?

Then, in the next sentence, you say…

It is the glory of God to conceal a thing, but it’s our glory to search a matter.

If god wants to be found, why is it his glory to conceal his existence?  Why conceal his existence if he wants a relationship with me?  Why conceal his existence if acknowledging it is the means to escape eternal torture?  Was he just hoping that the threat of hell alone was sufficient?

The way you present it, it’s as if god wants me to burn forever.

Seek the Lord, and you’ll find answers to your questions.

I have done so for the better part of a decade.  I have found no answers, only excuses.  I have found nothing resembling intellectual nobility, but have instead found emotional commitment to beliefs and a willingness to abandon reason to maintain them.  In short, I have found the worst of humanity, even as they claim to occupy the high ground of integrity.  You are very nice, Michael, but you are in this camp with the exception of your politeness.  I say this because I want to give you the honor of being honest with you because, just as you care for me, I care for you and for this world in which we thrive because of reason.

  • Sarah

    I had a dream last night that I made out with Katy Perry. Does that mean it’s a vision from God and it’s going to come true?

    …because that actually wouldn’t be so bad.

    Also, wtf about the part where we should be “strong financially?” Didn’t Jesus call for people to reject money and follow him in poverty?

  • http://songe.me Alex Songe

    I’d also like to add that the approach from personal experience that seems to be the centerpiece of the argument doesn’t exceed the validity of the personal experience arguments from various faith traditions. Simply on a matter of standards of evidence and lack of special pleading, you cannot count on the validity of the personal experience of others. Very loosely paraphrasing Thomas Paine: “Upon recitation, personal experience is hearsay. The Christian God should speak to everyone, but he hasn’t spoken to me. And until he does, you shouldn’t witness to me.”

  • Goldarn

    I’d like to relate story from my personal experience, if you please.

    I had cataracts blocking more and more of my vision. Each eye had one. Did I pray to God or have a priest bless me or something? No, I went to a doctor, they did two surgeries, and now my cataracts are gone.

    Once I was (very nearly) blind, but now I see. Thank you, science and reason.

  • http://songe.me Alex Songe

    @Sarah I think this comes from the Dave Ramsey phenomenon in the Christian world (he doesn’t sound like “prosperity gospel” flavor). He advises being debt-free and self-sacrifice in the most hokey of ways (one should be wary of taking on debt and try to save…but damn his advice is sometimes weird).

  • http://www.sbsoapbox.blogspot.com/ Susi Bocks

    spot on, as usual… bravo!!! thanks for the chuckles too with ‘fly in a nudist colony’, ‘dreaming about meeting napoleon’ and ‘wearing only a t-shirt to work’. your humor only adds to this brilliant piece! thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • http://tasteofmore.blogspot.com Kay

    If only my dreams indicated reality… I would have a lot more shoes…

    Really though, I think you (once again) did a fabulous job dissecting these arguments. And I’m also impressed that you did so without -totally- ripping him apart. Kudos.

  • http://withau.blogspot.com/ Laurence

    I love the “but I experienced it!” argument. I know that when I’m waiting for a car to arrive, I often hear cars pull up when they haven’t. The brain is pretty awesome at playing tricks on us.

  • http://healthyhumanist.blogspot.com Healthy Humanist

    Jt, I became a subscriber when you made this new site. I love your writing style and your ability to keep the kid gloves off. Well done sir, well done. Keep up the outstanding activism!

  • jonathan

    The rhetorical stregnth of his this dudes argument is that one seems mean spirited to deny his personal experience so no one goes there. Thanks for taking hisa logic apart.

  • Drakk

    “Spiritual reality”

    Contradictio in terminis.

    “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing, but it’s our glory to search a matter.”
    “God has made it so that the simple things confound the wise.”
    “It is only by the Holy Spirit that your spiritual eyes can be opened to who Jesus is.”

    [citation needed]

    Funny how the god he’s so convinced is real is the christian god he was taught about, and not allah, or zeus, or minerva, or krishna…

  • http://aofg.blogs.com/ Vandelay

    Michael, you can have a dream that you ejaculated the second coming of Christ. All it will get you is a trip to the laundromat.

  • Craig

    Very solid, assertive but still cordial response. I’d have leaned even more heavily on the contradiction between revelations, though. I think its the strongest argument against “personal revelation” as argument for God. Christains of various brands, Muslims, Hindus, etc. are all equally convinced of their own personal revelation, equally sincere in their beliefs and their attempts to convince others of such. Any argument that all the OTHERS are wrong holds just as true toward your own. There is no way to discern among them. Either ONE is right, or none are right, and there is no way to pick which one is right because none are based on empirical evidence, all on feelings. You COULD pick one (usually the one your parents handed down to you, or second most likely one common among people familiar to you; rarely would an American just become Hindu or an Indian Christian based on nothing but personal revelation) and pretend you’re right while everyone else is wrong. Or you could see it for what it is and withhold belief in any of them until one can show you with good evidence that they’re right and the others wrong. As it stands, there is no evidence for any of them, or for any sort of deity or spiritualism whatsoever. However, if some omnipotent being exists, he’s deliberately withholding himself and making us play this game (or, perhaps, is completely indifferent toward us), so I have no interest in seeking it out given that I have no good reason to assume it exists as all.

  • pk

    Woah, woah, ‘we ought to be strong financially’?
    Really, Michael? So your great friend was totally wrong when he said his followers should sell all their possessions and give all they have to the poor, then?
    Can you point me to where Jesus tells his followers that they ought to be strong financially, not to mention ‘politically’?
    I mean, you’d be a whole lot more ‘blessed’ if you were persecuted and cast out by society, right? ‘Woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you! for in the same manner did their fathers to the false prophets.’
    Can you not see that humans – vulnerable, power-desiring humans – have made up these ‘oughts’ that you cling to, and ascribe them to a god as justification? If you actually tried to follow your great friend’s advice to the letter, I’d still think you were wrong, but at least I could respect your consistency. At the moment, I’m sorry to tell you you’re a (very nice) hypocrite – well, actually, not even that, as it’s not a case of ‘not practising what you preach’; you’re simply preaching what happens to suit you (as we humans, of course, have a strong tendency to do).

    In support for JT’s points about personal revelation, I’d also recommend Greta Christina’s article, ‘Why ‘I feel it in my heart’ is a terrible argument for God’. I’m happy to accept that you have undergone powerful subjective mental experiences. I don’t think that anyone would argue with that. Our brains are pretty weird and wonderful things. But it’s unreasonable, and dangerous, to ascribe external reality to powerful mental experiences which are not corroborated by anything outside yourself.


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