Jan 7 2010

Why believe in Christianity?

It seems that I just can’t stop reading the terribly unimaginative things that most atheists blog about; for me, it’s like watching a train wreck.  I just have this morbid fascination.  Perhaps it is more of a fascination with modernism, as atheism – or at least materialism, which results in atheism – is a logical conclusion.  I use “logical” here not to agree that materialism is logical, but to say that if you start down that road based on the false premises of modernism, materialism  and atheism are expected destinations.

This morning I happened across an article called Vetting Supernatural Knowledge by Matt McCormick on his blog Atheism: Proving the Negative that I at least found interesting. He begins

I frequently get accused of making the mistake of narrow mindedly demanding empirical proof for things that are not empirical, tangible evidence for the intangible, or applying scientific standards of proof to all knowledge claims when not all knowledge is empirical or scientific.

He goes on to explain how Christians typically argue that atheists ask for material proofs of the supernatural, which by definition is non-material.  He thinks this is changing the subject, and explains that asking for reasons for belief is not asking for material proof:

In looking for an answer to this question, the atheist does not need to insist, at least in principle, that the only way to acquire knowledge of the world is by empirical or scientific means. We can grant that this supernatural, subjective, or non-empirical knowledge is possible. A lot of things are possible, and we’d be foolish to try to argue for their impossibility on the basis of insufficient information.

Matt is the one of the few atheists I’ve read to actually recognize this point, which is a very good one. The problem with Matt’s point is that the vast majority of modern atheists are materialists, and they typically ask for empirical proof.  So, in response to most atheists, there is no changing the topic; it’s a very valid response to the demand, “Show me scientific proof!”

So if the theist has another method for learning about the reality of God, we’re prepared in principle to accept that. First issue: if it is not something publicly tangible that can be experienced by the rest of us, what is that method? Is it a voice in your head? A strong feeling? A powerful sense of presence? An overwhelming awareness of a transcendental reality? Something ineffable? Do you come by that knowledge by praying? By thinking? By talking to yourself? Do these ideas come to you when you get yourself into an altered state by fasting? Hallucinogenic drugs? Chanting or meditating? Does it feel like what you figure being overcome by the Holy Spirit must feel like?

Second issue: What are the criteria that you are employing to determine the reliability of this method to acquire supernatural knowledge? How can we tell when the voices or the feelings are lies?

Now, at least, we have something to discuss, although Matt is still a modernist, and still would like everything to fit neatly into one or more boxes.

Last week I came across a passage in G.K. Chesterton’s book Orthodoxy that is perhaps the best response I have seen to the question why does one believe in Christianity.  While opposing turn-of-the-Century British Modernism, he maintains that he is still a rationalist, and so provides a very rational answer:

If I am asked, as a purely intellectual question, why I believe in Christianity, I can only answer, “For the same reason that an intelligent agnostic disbelieves in Christianity.” I believe in it quite rationally upon the evidence. But the evidence in my case, as in that of the intelligent agnostic, is not really in this or that alleged demonstration; it is in an enormous accumulation of small but unanimous facts. The secularist is not to be blamed because his objections to Christianity are miscellaneous and even scrappy; it is precisely such scrappy evidence that does convince the mind. I mean that a man may well be less convinced of a philosophy from four books, than from one book, one battle, one landscape, and one old friend. The very fact that the things are of different kinds increases the importance of the fact that they all point to one conclusion. Now, the non-Christianity of the average educated man to-day is almost always, to do him justice, made up of these loose but living experiences. I can only say that my evidences for Christianity are of the same vivid but varied kind as his evidences against it. For when I look at these various anti-Christian truths, I simply discover that none of them are true. I discover that the true tide and force of all the facts flows the other way.

Chesterton’s book is well worth reading, so I won’t quote any more here.  If you don’t mind the lack of formatting, the book is available online here.

While science has indeed progressed since Chesterton’s day, man’s intelligence hasn’t, and Chesterton’s thoughts are as pertinent now as ever.


Feb 11 2009

Overcompensation and the return to oppression

James Robertson writes:

Europe’s war on free speech is the result of a profound identity crisis, one that is being generated by the blanket abandonment of traditional Judeo-Christian values coupled with mass immigration from Muslim countries. But in their zeal to criminalize free thought and free speech, the leftwing guardians of Orwellian political correctness are systematically destroying European democracy.

Not only are European elites using hate crime legislation to silence people with opinions that do not conform to official state policies. They are also dividing Europeans into two groups (the majority and the minority), each with different rights and responsibilities. The minority (Muslims, homosexuals, Socialists) is imposing its will upon the majority (non-Muslim, heterosexuals, non-Socialists) by aggressively prosecuting those who refuse to fall into line.

He provides some recent examples of what’s going on in the rest of the West.  It’s bizarre, but not unbelievable.  And, America is not immune from this kind of thinking.  We have our own history of overcompensation, with so many incentives given to “minorities” that leaves a white male as perhaps the most disadvantaged person of all, as jobs and scholarships are given out based on diversity rather than on ability.  I have no problem with equality – I don’t believe that “all men are created equal,” but I think it’s great that our Constitution created that equality.  Of course, the Constitution is not what it used to be; and if we don’t watch it, in a few years it will be just a shadow of what it is today.

What happens, I think, is that what starts out as a very good and admirable desire for justice quickly turns into a shallow, mindless self-righteousness. We who have a new-found “tolerance” or understanding start to believe that we are perhaps better than those who may not be so tolerant.  There is then created a New Elite, a self-righteous minority who out of force of will become the new majority. But, as G.K. Chesterton said, “Tolerance is the virtue of a man without convictions.”  Where does that leave us?  As the perception grows that overcompensation – and the corresponding oppression of contrary opinion – is the high moral ground, right and wrong become so convoluted that a voice of reason is looked at with suspicion.  It is Orwellian, indeed.

Who, now, is the disenfranchised in the US?  Note that some of Obama’s first acts as President were in direct opposition to the majority opinion.  Note that a majority of people would like all the facts about evolution taught in our “public” schools.  I could go on, but all you have to do is pick up the newspaper for more examples.

Roberton asks if the U.S. will follow in Europe’s footsteps.  I think that as the issues become turned upside down, it is quite possible; and for some of our leaders, I think that this is actually the desired goal.