Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Genesis

1. Format: I think we should avoid ranting too much, but ranting will most likely be to some extent unavoidable. For the most part, if you have an intersting thought/question/comment...post it. Use the comment section to respond to that given topic.

2. Use this post as an opportunity to introduce yourself. Most likely you are either a friend of mine or a friend of Kellys (or both). Say Hi.

3. Topic 1: I just had a conversation with kelly about the relationship between intelligence and "religiosity". Is there a connection, or is it a bogus connection that is insulting to the believers?
Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion in response to several sociological studies: "the higher one's intelligence or education level, the less one is likely to be religious..." But then again, for you CSB/SJUers, some of the smartest people we know (R. McGraw, V. Smiles...etc) are intensely religious.

4. Right now we are a tad unevenly balanced, lacking on the religious side. If you know of any thoughtful believers, see if they'd like to join us and send me an email address. Or just play devil's advocate....er... god's advocate.

28 comments:

John Kamman said...

or is it insulting to atheists/agnostics. There I go assuming things.

kmprosen said...

Hello,

I'm Kelly. I'm a devout Roman Catholic, a former Theology major at CSB/SJU, and will be applying to graduate school for systematic theology next fall.

John, as far as your comments about the connection between intelligence & faith (religiosity) are concerned, I disagree whole-heartedly. I think that it's dangerous to assume someone's intelligence (or lack thereof) based on their private ideas about faith.

While we were on the phone tonight, you were said something to the effect of "Well, Christians who don't consider their faith, I would venture, are lacking in intelligence" and that people who were of an atheist/agnostic persuasion thought more about the ramifcations about their beliefs than those of us who have been brought up in a faith tradition.

1. Your arguement about "believers" (followers of a specific faith tradition, for my purposes here) who don't consider their faith is applicable to almost every facet of life, not only religion or God and I'm confused as to why you would use this as a support.
2. Honestly, I think that the proportion of thoughtful atheists/agnostics to believers is probably about the same. You happen to have met quite a few thoughtful of the former. I have come into contact with many of latter.

Sorry if much of this was abrupt--I'm typing quickly to avoid falling asleep. More when I mull it over.

Cheers,
Kelly

John Kamman said...

Two quick (hopefully) points of clarification:

1. (with respect) To me, factual belief in the details of any given religion,in the absence of evidence, is irrational. I don't think that's unfair. Faith is inherently not rational, I suppose. Being a scientist, I believe there is a hugely strong correlation between ability to think rationally and intelligence. I, perhaps unfairly, connect the dots.

2. My argument on the phone was something more clearly put like this: Christianity is, more or less, the default religion in the U.S; it takes a great deal of thought and intellect to break outside of that box and decide whether you want to get back in. I decided not to. Many decide to (these are the ones I consider "thoughtful believers"). This leaves a whole lot more Christians who have given little or no thought to the religion to which they were born. Very few people are raised atheist/agnostic; most have converted - broken the box and decided to stay out. I’d agree with you that the number of “thoughtful Christians” and “thoughtful atheists” is probably close, my argument is that there are a whole lot more unintelligent Christians than there are unintelligent atheists… But that’s just sociology, no cause-effect in these numbers.

Fitch said...

Greetings,

I'm Joe. I'm a devout atheist, but raised Roman Catholic (and attended SJU). I'm currently a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, getting Masters in both Rhetoric and Philosophy, and PhD in Rhetoric.

I shall post a response soon (hopefully), but I've got to teach in 15 minutes and want a little bit of time to mull over the ideas.

sbowe said...

Hi all, I'm Shane. I am a formerly devout Lutheran. For a couple of years I taught bible school, wore a cross, prayed daily, and thought a lot about god and jesus. I was raised to believe unconditionally in a god that knew my innermost thoughts, a devil that would tempt me, and place called hell where I would be sent if I didn't believe. I now consider this to be a form of child abuse.

I am now close to what one would call a "militant atheist." I not only believe that religion is false but also that it is more damaging than helpful.

I should clarify that my definition of "atheist" means: I do not believe in god, especially those that have already been described by humans. This is not the same as the definition often painted by theists trying to win an argument which is: I know there is not a god. It's a subtle difference, but an important one. I'm not claiming to know something that I can't possibly know. Theists are.

OK, that's me, now in response to John's post. I don't think you should group intelligence and education level together. They are not the same thing, so I'll tackle education first.

On a world wide scale, the least educated countries tend also to be the most religious and vice-versa, with the exception being the US. Why? Well, if you haven't even heard of evolution, how could it possibly conflict with your ideas about the origin of man. Likewise for all of the sciences. You'd also be lacking the philosophical and historical background to even begin an informed conversation about the origins of religion.

Intelligence on the other hand doesn't seem to be such a deciding factor. M. Shermer has an excellent book called "Why People Believe Weird Things." One chapter discusses why intelligent people believe weird things and I really like his argument. Basically, intelligent people argue well. Therefore, even though they may be wrong, they are still able to develop a very convincing argument for their case.

This may explain some of our government's amazing blunders as well.

Ishmael said...

Greetings Everyone,

Call me Ishmael (no plagiarism charges here please, I just needed a catch phrase). I was a theology--and chemistry--major at CSB/SJU, and am currently doing systematic theology at the St. John's grad school.

John, I'm afraid I'm probably grossly underqualified to answer your points, but if you'd indulge me, I'd love to put in my two cents here. With regard to your second point (your argument on the phone), you make the claim that there "are a lot more unintelligent christians than there are unintelligent atheists," and quickly qualify that by asserting that that statement carries no cause-effect overtones. Since I don't have any empirical evidence to the contrary (yes, I'm certainly driven by evidence as well), I'm inclined to let your statement stand at the moment. However, you also said that there are a great deal fewer people who are raised atheist/agnostic than are who are raised christian, so it seems to me that if that statement stands as well, the only conclusion we can reach by the premises is that though there are more unintelligent christians (though I really don't like that word, applied to christians OR atheists/agnostics) than unintelligent atheists/agnostics, the percentage in each group could actually be very close to the same. Once again, no cause or effect here, it's simply numbers (and the claim that the numbers--percentages--are larger or smaller in one group or the other WOULD necessitate some citation of empirical evidence).

This I think leads to your first point, where you say that "belief in the details of any given religion, in the absence of evidence, is irrational." I'd actually like to agree with this statement also, but I was hoping you'd be ok with a bit of clarification; and I'd like to begin from the scientific side if I may. In the vast majority of scientific inquiry, one does not begin with evidence and arrive at a conclusion; rather, it's much more the reverse. One begins with a conclusion (hypothesis), and tests it until it is either supported or discredited BY the evidence. Look at what you do when applying for research grants; you have an idea that you think (and/or sometimes hope, I suppose) is correct, and you ask for funding to find out whether it actually is or not. Very rarely would one ask for money to research something without any idea where that research will go. Anyway, my point is that in the scientific world, the hypothesis is the starting point most of the time.

I'd like to argue that the same is true with the thinking person in matters of faith (or religion-- we can clarify the difference later I guess). One begins with a hypothesis--that God exists, or God exists in the way articulated by some religion, or (notably) that God does NOT exist--and by the evidence one comes into contact with, as a result of one's research, reading, or life experience, one may determine whether the evidence supports one's faith or not. The main difference between your original assertion about evidence and the one I'm making here is that I'd like to suggest that life experience constitutes evidence when one is hammering out personal belief (a point about which I'm sure we will argue later, or even very soon). If one chooses to adhere to--or disregard--faith while IGNORING evidence (here including life experience), then I suppose that person has made an irrational choice. However, I don't think it's fair to assert that there simply IS no evidence one way or the other (i.e. your statement about the "absence of evidence").

At any rate, I've gone on for quite a while here, and I should probably stop for now. Please forgive me if I've misinterpreted any part of what you said, and please correct me if I have. I much anticipate your response and everyone's responses/thoughts, and I'm very much looking forward to more of this conversation!

Peace!
Ishmael

Ishmael said...

Sorry everyone, I just want to put one more thing in. Sbowe, I completely sympathize with you about the whole hell=child abuse thing. Many christians hold exactly that image of God torturing people forever because they got his name wrong on earth, but it's not one that I would--or could--subscribe to, and certainly not one I could defend. It just contradicts too many of the most fundamental ideas of christianity. I believe there is a way of articulating hell and heaven that is consistent with informed christian belief, but I (and a great many theologians with me) really don't think the above image is it.

Ok, I'm really done for now.

Peace!
Ishmael

John Kamman said...

I’m liking where this is going. Thanks everyone. This is fun. I’ll keep this brief because I think we’re digging at a larger issue which we can post sometime soon. The numbers of “unintelligent”…etc…unimportant in the scheme of things. We can drop it… just wanted to clarify for kelly.

Ishmael, I like your comparison between science and theology. It’s a perspective I hadn’t thought of before. One comment:

God is a hypothesis – one worthy of being explored and studied. It is a hypothesis, however, that has been examined and “tested” for over 2000 years (much further if we incorporate the B.C. religions). Yet, despite this long running examination, very little evidence (excluding personal experience) exists in support of it; ample evidence to the contrary does exist. Any reasonable scientific grant foundation (without an explicit agenda) would readily cut funding. Perhaps our disagreement is merely on whether “personal experience”, gut feelings, and inklings counts as “evidence”. I would argue they don’t.

Side note: something we’ll need to discuss in a later post is the semantics of “atheist” “agnostic”…etc. I included the words “details of any given religion” intentionally in a previous comment. I am not referring to evidence of a transcendent metaphysical being (metaphysics is inherently not physical and will, therefore lack physical evidence). I am, however, pointing out that Christianity (or any religion for that matter) as a channel to that “being” has hardly a shred of (non-gutfeeling) evidence to stand on.

John Kamman said...

oops, that wasn't brief

John Kamman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fitch said...

Semantics is also important when considering our interpretation of "intelligence." From the various posts, I'm assuming intelligence does not amount to the mere amassing of facts, theories, etc.; rather, intelligence amounts to the extent to which an individual is able to critically engage with, in our case, religion. Thus, one's ability to quote Proust or solve complex mathematics has nothing to do with one's critical perspective. Consequently, many religious individuals (especially extremists) rely solely on archaic dogma, which blunders through numerous logical fallacies. For example, a few weeks ago several busloads of Evangelicals were trying to convert heathens such as me outside my office. I attempted to engage the younger ones (my age) in debate, but once the questions became tougher, they directed me toward an older man who talked in circles. Nonetheless, atheists may just as easily fall into this dilemma. However, as John referenced, the likelihood of that happening in the United States is quite small given the Christian tradition has enculturated most individuals, rather than an atheistic one (however, an atheist nation such as China would most likely struggle to defend its belief as well).

Given the prodigious Christianity throughout the U.S., I think that atheists NEED to be more intelligent and have more robust arguments because they have such a pejorative connotation associated with them. Atheists are the least trusted group in the United States, so the mere mention of one's beliefs (or lack thereof) sparks preconceived notions.

I'm trying not to ramble, so I'll just end it there and use a different comment if I want to address other issues.

Ishmael said...

John—I’m glad you were ok with the science/theology comparison. I think I might disagree with you however, on the length of the testing period. I’d like to make the claim that the “God” hypothesis was not indeed tested (in the sense of being subjected to empirical verification or lack thereof) until the Enlightenment. Up till then, the existence of god(s) was by and large an assumption rather than a notion.

Be that as it may, I’d like to touch briefly on “personal experience” as evidence. You’re right, that may be the real point at which we disagree, but I think I’m using “personal experience” in a different sense than you are. I don’t see personal experience as merely gut feelings and inklings (which, while perhaps valuable in some sense, constitute rather fluffy evidence by themselves), but rather the lens through which humans see their reality. No observation is ever made by a human except through the lens of his or her experience. I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but would you agree with me that far?

The reason I want to make this point is that then I want to say that ALL kinds of evidence (at least all kinds that I can think of at the moment) for or against any hypothesis are experiential. Even scientific evidence is humans’ experience of the world, defined systematically and reproduced multiple times. The big question then becomes (I think) “is what I believe about God (God’s existence, lack thereof, or whatever) consistent with what I have experienced in the world; including scientific evidence and all the rest?” As Abraham Joshua Heschel (Jewish scholar) once put it, “there are no proofs for the existence of God, only witnesses.”

P.S. I’m not one of those Christians who thinks that since there are no absolute proofs for or against the existence of God, that’s a good reason to believe in God. That line of reasoning strikes me as a bit silly—one really should, I think, have a reason for believing what one does.
P.P.S. John, out of curiosity, what “ample evidence to the contrary” of God’s existence were you thinking of?
P.P.P.S. Fitch, I see where you’re coming from, and I think for the most part I agree with you—atheists do have it tough in America, because some (even a lot of) Christians sometimes like to think that they have the answers and atheists are just too ignorant to have them yet. Ick, ick, ick, and yuk. Unfortunately that usually translates into the more educated Christians clamming up (because they realize that really intelligent people can be atheists, just as really intelligent people can be Christians), and the less informed Christians yelling at the atheists to convert (and as you said, this can also work in reverse). I can’t speak for all Christians, but I know that I am really sorry that that is the state of affairs.

Peace!
Ishmael

John Kamman said...

Ishmael, in response to your PPS: Sorry, I may not have been clear. My “side note” was a disclaimer to clarify that was not implying ample evidence to the contrary of god’s existence; I meant ample evidence to the contrary of Christianity (or any religion) as truth. If you would still like examples, let me know. I think we are all familiar with the typical examples of evidence against the bible/christian doctrine as fact. We can save that for another discussion.

As far as your “personal experience as evidence” argument is concerned, I’m sure Fitch (aka philosophy-Joe) would be a suitable candidate to dive into the guts of epistemology and other fancy ways of talking about what we know and how we know it. Yes, all observations come through the lens of the observer. That being said, good science supports hypotheses by removing nearly all subjectivity of the observer and letting the results speak objectively. Do you believe there is a way to make objective conclusions based on “personal experience”? We used to believe the world was flat. We used to believe earth was the center of the universe. We used to believe nature was created and immutable. We used to believe earth was only a few thousand years old. All personal experiences with these hypotheses suggested it was the case or provided no reason to doubt. It was not until an objective viewpoint offered by science showed otherwise.

Thanks for taking part in this, Ishmael (and everyone). I hope you’re enjoying it as much as I am. It’s rare to find places to have these sorts of discussions without severely offending people.

kmprosen said...

Crap! My comments are outdated!

1. I want to echo Ishmael's comments/apologies for some idiot Christians making life sucky for atheists in the US. Ugh. As a group, we can suck sometimes.

2. John, I see your comment about the metaphysical nature of what I would term God as being a gigantic part of the above problem. I know it was meant to be an aside, but I want to draw it out a bit, because I think it's important when connected to point 1.

a.Way, way too often, Christians forget their own teachings on Divine Revelation. Revelation in a vacuum may be perfect, but it is always conducted through the imperfect human, who is ABSOLUTELY influenced by circumstances (era, philosophy in fashion, whether or not they ate in the past 12 hours). This is super-easy to forget for the faithful. Consequently, we have Pat Robertson forgetting what revelation means and all the implications thereof.

The reason I bring this up is because I see these imperfections as being intricately interwoven with science. The same lenses can (and maybe do--I don't know. I'm a Humanities person myself) color scientific inquiry. I may be off-base here.

3. As far as your comments about 2,000 years of testing the God hypothesis, I would object pretty strongly to that. I think that Hume and his peeps were the first to really object to theology, and good for them! I think their inquiries about Truth were a more authentic quest (and maybe experience of) the Divine than the churches were providing.

4. That being said, I want to clarify something before I go any further. One of the final objections that you raise is that there's no empirical evidence that faith traditions are a channel to the Divine. Did I get that right?

Best,
Kelly

kmprosen said...

John, I think you're way to quick to dismiss personal evidence.

I find it hard to ignore that when people of differing faith traditions speak of a mystical experience, they use much of the same language and talk about similar experiences. I suppose it's possible that they're all just copying from one another or projecting some evolutionary need for that experience, but I (imagine this) don't buy it.

John Kamman said...

I'll address your points a tad later, Kelly and give other people a chance to contribute. I've said too much already :). I think you make some good arguments that need to be addressed. One clarification I want to make:

I am making arguments about organized religion and getting refutations about a metaphysical god. I have no problem with the metaphysics... I lean that way myself (this is the agnostic vs. atheist semantics problem i wanted to bring up later). Personal experience is as good as any tool when approaching the metaphysical world, physical evidence is obviously inadequate. My argument is that it is not an appropriate tool with which one can judge truth/fact-based organized religion.

Fitch said...

This is just a follow-up/clarification on some of the historical stuff. Although Hume may have be the first true skeptic, he and the others from the Enlightenment were not the first to question the existence of God (at least an omniscient, omnipotent one. Aristotle’s notion of God was that of the “Unmoved Mover,” which doesn’t necessarily have to be a conscious, caring agent as Christians believe. The pre-Socratics also challenged some of the notions of religion. In addition, we’ve only been talking from the perspective of Western Philosophy, which may be beneficial given our focus on Christianity, but it leaves out so many useful insights from Buddhists, Taoists, Hindu philosophers, etc…

As far as the epistemological stuff goes, a short explanation would be nearly impossible. Do we view the world through our own, unique lenses of perception? I think so, but the pragmatics of scientific discovery relies upon testability and verification. Can this lead to false results? Absolutely, just look at Kuhn’s Structures of Scientific Revolutions for a detailed description of that happening. However, science has continuously engaged in paradigm shifts after the empirical data no longer adequately supports the present paradigm and, as a result, become more precise. Yet, when scientists discovered these problems, they more or less attempted to explain the phenomena, rather than having the phenomena molded around the inadequate theory. One complication in this whole mess is the ontological beliefs one holds; whether Truth (with a capital T) can ever be attained. I don’t think so, but that may be getting a bit off topic.

Ishmael said...

Greetings all--

There's a bunch I'd love to say, but I've sort of been a blabbermouth so far, so I'll try to keep this short.

John, I'm afraid I have to ask for some word clarification again. Thus far you've used "fact" and "truth" interchangably, but I think it may be helpful to distinguish between the two. For example, certain facts that the Bible presents as such are not in fact facts, becuase they did not occur historically (I assume this is a portion of the "ample evidence" you were citing). However, merely because these are not verifiable facts does not negate outright the possibility that their point contains truth. I'm sure we're all familiar with the example of poetry (which a good portion of the Bible is); a poem may not be factually accurate, and it may even make up certain facts, but it may also still contain profound truth. Anyhow, that's the only point I wanted to make for now-- I'll let other people talk.

P.S. I know I'm trodding close to Fitch's question about (T)ruth, but like Fitch, I don't want to delve in because I think it might be too off topic.

Peace!
Ishmael

Fitch said...
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Fitch said...

(Note: I deleted the last comment because I wanted to add something to the end in this one.)

There seems to be two threads here. One, which involves facts, looks toward arriving upon an empirical truth. E.g. We see a lot of fossils and, via inductive reasoning, conclude some stuff about how they lived, when they lived, etc. The second, which gets at the poetry example used by Ishmael, reflects an existential/transcendental interpretation of truth. E.g. A poem may offer some insights into aesthetics or virtue, but these are not applicable to scientific discourse as it takes the poet or reader away from the tangible. This is often the case in the Romantic period, when authors like Thoreau sought "timeless moments" or "eternal instants," reflecting an inexplicable mysticism. Thus, I find it complicated to use the language of one (say, science) to prove the other (say, beauty). John makes a good point in suggesting we're rational beings (for the most part) and the existential/aesthetic/religious/etc... cannot adequately fit within the scientific model because its interpretation of fact and truth are completely different.

Ishmael said...

Fitch, you said exactly what I wanted to and didn't. The only thing I'd want to add is that I don't think the scientific model or way of looking at the world has a monopoly on reason. It seems to me that a statement like that is itself unreasonable, because it is rather untestable. There are certainly a heck of a lot of unreasonable ideas and people that do not subscribe to the scientific model, but there are also quite a few reasonable ideas and people which do not lie completely within the scientific model.

At any rate, I'm scooting off for a weekend with the family this weekend, so I don't think I'll be posting until at least Monday. I very much look forward to reading everything you all have written by then though!

Peace,
Ishmael.

Grace said...

Hello. My name is Grace. I have to say I lack credentials that would lend to my adding anything particularly profound to this discussion beyond personal observations and insights. I was raised Roman Catholic and now, well, I don't consider myself anything in particular, although I suppose at the moment I fall under the agnostic category.

I'm going to try to be brief and will probably mostly take up space.
There is a lot going on here and that can't be avoided. The tapestry of this discourse has many many threads: “organized religion”, the metaphysical, God (+ other names), Western religions, Eastern religions, Truth, belief, evidence, Divinity, science, intelligence, philosophy, etc. That makes what we're trying to do here difficult and beautiful. We're bound to get on tangents or place our personal definition of words used by another people who may have intended it to mean something entirely different or not even be sure of what we ourselves are saying or how to say it. We're going to have to find a way to navigate it all/keep going on like this. This is good. Negotiating the John/Kelly divide has become a group project!

Super stuff has been posted and I'm still churning it all around my little head. In tackling the original question we've touched on the variations/troubles associated with the word intelligence and how we can relate that to a given religion or belief (although just assigning it to a belief steps out of the “religion” box and then there's the whole “empirical/science, personal lens, human fallibility on both sides of that” debate—entirely significant and entirely not something I'm going to get into right now)...anyway, here's a thought crumb:
Some believers in organized religions (let's say Roman Catholic here, seeing as that seems to have won the popularity contest so far) may not “believe” every bit of dogma and/or they may not agree with everything the Vatican espouses. They may find Catholicism their best way to personally realize the Divine (Kells?). They may consider themselves a Believer in an imperfect, but nonetheless worthwhile system (of many things). Might this be where those “smartest people we know” that Johnny mentioned in the Genesis post fit? Can they call themselves Roman Catholic? Can we? This is straying a bit from the religion/intelligence topic, but I think it touches on an important element embedded within the original question and points raised in recent posts straddling Truth and truth.

John Kamman said...

Sorry for using “truth” and “fact” interchangeably. I am a novice in the world of theology/philosophy vocab. “Truth” and “Fact” are interchangeable in a scientific world (where I am coming from). Again, that little difference of perspective might be at the core of this debate.

Quick counter argument:
I think Grace's question:
"Can they call themselves Roman Catholic?"
gets at an important part of this. We could argue endlessly about what in the bible should be considered “fact”, and what is not fact, but “truth”. But, correct me if I’m wrong(…and I may be wrong), my understanding is that all religions have a foundation of both “truth” and “fact”. The evidence argument comes into play because I feel there is insufficient evidence supporting the “facts” behind Christianity. For example, “Jesus is the son of God”, “Jesus is our lord and savior”, “There is a heaven”. These are not mere poetic truths. These are statements of fact, very large ones at that. If you believe in the facts behind these statements, you must provide palpable evidence. The same would be true if I said, “I, John, am the son of god”. I would not be taken seriously without sufficient evidence.

I have heard some “Christians” say something along the lines of: “well, I don’t think I believe in the facts, but I use Christianity as my channel to the spiritual world. Other religions are just as legitimate.” I like this perspective, and think it is the only proper approach towards religion, but would also argue that if you are of this mindset you are kidding yourself and those around you when you say “I am a Christian, I am a believer.”

kmprosen said...

This may seem like splitting theological hairs, but there's a difference among the "Truths" in which Christians claim to believe or disbelieve. Again, speaking from a Catholic perspective it's one thing to say "I believe that Christ was the Son of God" and quite another to say "I believe that the Vatican's 2005 letter concerning gay men and the priesthood is a direct communication of the divine" These two statements are talking about "Fact" (as far as Catholics see it) and "truth" or "Truth" (depending on your perspective).

I don't want to over-post, so I'll pause here.

Best,
Kelly

Ishmael said...

Hey everyone, looks like it was a good time this weekend-- the comments are awesome!

John, you're certainly right that religions (well, at least christanity) claim to have a basis in both truth and fact. Or, perhaps more specifically, christianity claims to have named the truth of Jesus of Nazareth that goes beyond verifiable fact. What I mean is this: certain events like the empty tomb, the cross, or the existence of Bethlehem are verifiable by historical evidence, and as such are testable facts. I in no way want to suggest that claiming Jesus is Lord and Savior or the Son of God is a verifiable truth in the same way; though this does not, like you said, make them "mere poetic truths." Evidence (other than witnesses) simply cannot support those claims, and I don't really see any reason to try and make it so it can. However, witnesses to the christian faith have from the very beginning claimed that there was something special going on in the person of Jesus. Of course it took a little bit to articulate that he was the Son of God and all the rest, but that (to me) just makes the witness all the stronger, because they were reluctant to articulate such an outlandish vision. Anyhow, since its birth, literally billions of people have "subscribed" to the story, and there exists a direct historical connection from us back to the story's birth. Please keep in mind that I'm not trying to present this as empirical evidence-- rather, just as a witness. To me, the christian story is a powerful witness to the divinity and salvific role of Jesus, and as such I have dedicated my life to trying to live that witness. I'm not trying to be melodramatic here-- it's just sort of the way things are.

All that being said, since I have "subscribed to the story," and since my worldview is shaped by it, my reason must also inform my faith. Believing a witness that contradicts reality or the way the world works is not something I'd be interested in doing. Please note that the witness should not CONTRADICT reality (since I believe God gave us reason, it'd be silly for my view of God to blatantly contradict reason in an irreconcilable way)-- I'm perfectly content to let the witness speak of things beyond verifiable reality, and even stand in tension with reality (since the natural world often tends to stand in tension with itself).

Anyhow, I think the point I'm trying to make here is that if we're looking for some concrete, natural, verifiable evidence for christianity's truth claims, we not only won't find any, but we're completely missing the point. Christianity does not (and I don't think it needs to in order to be reasonable) make the claim that all its precepts are verifiable by natural means. The question of christian faith seems to me to rest on believing or disbelieving the christian witness. If one has as a criterion for faith that all its claims must be verifiable fact, then of course one will ultimately reject faith. BUT, that is not a conclusion resulting from a careful working-through of the problem. It's a simple result of one's methodological assumptions. Please forgive me for repeating myself, but I really love Heschel's quote here: "there are no proofs for the existence of God, only witnesses."

Sorry I went on for so long-- even as it was I had to really fight the urge to elaborate more. At any rate though, thanks again to everyone for creating an environment here where we can really hash out these problems and remain respectful to one another. John, I hope you don't feel like I'm torpedoing you-- you just happen to have the thoughts and insights that I feel most compelled to respond to.

Peace!
Ishmael

sbowe said...

Hi everyone. Wow, I leave for a weekend and come back to a brain-numbing load of comments to sort through. Bravo everyone!

I do think we should make a future effort to stay on topic and shift over to new posts if new topics arise. Otherwise navigating through comments will become impossible.

Ishmael, It seems that you're saying you'd choose to believe a story that has been passed on for thousands of years rather than believe the facts about the natural world that contradict said story. If you choose to believe "the christian witness" (I may be misunderstanding exactly what that means) regardless of the evidence then what's left to discuss? I'll follow up with new post.


Shane

sbowe said...
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John Kamman said...

No worries, Ishmael. I'm glad that people like you and Kelly exist to have these discussions. I enjoy them. In fact, I don't want you or anyone to feel like they are being ganged up on. If you have any other people you think should be included (to even out the balance), please invite them (send me or kelly an email address).