Feedback on the Theist’s Guide

Feedback on the Theist’s Guide March 27, 2007

Earlier today I was notified of a post on a blog titled Naked Pastor, “An Anti-Response to An Atheist“, which is a response to my essay on Ebon Musings, “The Theist’s Guide to Converting Atheists“.

Below is the text of a comment I left on that site in response to the post and some other commenters in residence.

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Hello all,

I’m the author of the essay this post is responding to. If I may, I’d like to offer some thoughts.

First, on Heidi’s comment:

The atheist writer surely deserves to be commended for attempting to be open-minded, though his requirements for proof would cause even his own belief-system to fail.

Do tell – why do you say that? The items I listed are applicable only to supernatural belief systems, which atheism is not. Atheism is, rather, the default position. It is what we should rationally conclude if no religious faith can offer persuasive evidence of its truth.

And for Rick Cockrum:

His conditions are impossible to achieve under any belief system, whether theistic, atheistic, polytheistic, or panentheistic.

Again, I’m puzzled by this comment. My conditions are impossible to achieve? So you’re saying it’s impossible for prayer to have any measurable effect on anything? It’s impossible for God, if he exists, to simply show up at my doorstep in a form I can perceive? It’s impossible for a god who inspires holy books to convey any knowledge beyond what was already available in the culture at the time? Not only do your statements imply that God is not omnipotent; they imply that he is completely impotent. And how is a god who cannot affect the world in any way substantially different from a god that does not exist?

He says I will judge the eternal based on mind and matter.

Yes, that is exactly right. And I say that for one very simple reason: mind and matter are all I have. I cannot make decisions based on evidence I cannot see, senses I do not possess, or knowledge I do not have. Of course I make decisions using my own mind based on the facts that have been presented to me. What on earth do you imagine is the alternative?

Of course, I know what you’re going to say: faith. But faith is not a means of gaining knowledge at all: it is a way to convince yourself of the truth of beliefs you already hold, nothing more.

David Hayward’s post is a good example of this. Mr. Hayward says he believes in God because he perceives God as an immediate reality not dependent upon evidence. Surely he is aware that millions of people have relied on that same method throughout history, and through it have come to diametrically and often violently opposed conclusions about the identity, nature, and desires of the being they claim to be perceiving.

The vast divisions and endless squabbling among humanity’s many religions show clearly that religious experiences do not reflect a single, unchanging reality. If they did, our beliefs would have converged by now, but they have not. In fact, religious confusion and division are more rampant than ever, and unanimity seems farther away than ever. Compare this to science, which in just a scant three hundred years (compared to the many millennia already allotted to theologians) has reached an astonishing degree of agreement about many of the most fundamental facts regarding the nature, origin and fate of the universe we live in.

Mr. Hayward, you say that God has “pressed upon your mind” in a way that is “beyond knowledge” and “beyond proof”. I invite you to consider the possibility that, fervent and sincere as your beliefs plainly are, they are mistaken. As a human being, and particularly as a Christian, I assume you agree with me that human beings are fallible, and that we can be wrong even about things which we deeply and passionately believe to be true. I propose for your consideration that this may be one of those things. Clearly you’ve had some kind of powerful experience; I would not seek to deny or downplay that. But I would politely suggest that it may not represent what you think it does.

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