O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith


God and Gardens and a Big Question

posted by Jason Boyett

The December issue of Intelligent Life magazine describes a certain horticultural parable first told by the mid-19th century British philosopher John Wisdom.

Here’s the parable:

Two people return to their long neglected garden and find, among the weeds, that a few of the old plants are surprisingly vigorous. One says to the other, “It must be that a gardener has been coming and doing something about these weeds.” The other disagrees… They pitch their tents and set a watch. No gardener is ever seen. The believer wonders if there is an invisible gardener, so they patrol with bloodhounds but the bloodhounds never give a cry. Yet the believer…insists that the gardener is invisible, has no scent and gives no sound. The sceptic doesn’t agree, and asks how a so-called invisible, intangible, elusive gardener differs from an imaginary gardener, or even no gardener at all.

—————-

Wisdom’s parable raises a pretty important religious question: is the world watched over by a loving God? Since we can’t touch, taste, see, or hear this God — at least in the verifiable laboratory sense — is it reasonable to assume that this God (or, um, gardener) exists at all?

Here’s what the article’s author, Anthony Gottlieb, had to say about Gardener’s old parable:

It seems that no evidence could make the man who believes in a gardener concede that he was wrong. Come what may, he will hang on to his faith in a guiding hand with green fingers.

The guy who believes in the gardener won’t accept the lack of evidence as disproof of his invisible-gardener theory. The obvious follow-up question, then is What would have to occur or to have occurred to constitute for you a disproof of the love of, or of the existence of, God?

I think that’s a really interesting question, so I thought I’d pose it to you guys. Aside from a few of the atheists who read my blog — and I love that you folks are here (stick around, please!) — most of us believe in God. Despite the lack of physical, demonstrable evidence, we believe.

So here’s the question: What would it take to make you stop believing? Is there anything that, once and for all, would disprove to you the existence of God?

Let’s discuss.

[Thanks to my friend, Matt, for the H/T.]



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Rob Swick

posted January 11, 2010 at 9:25 am


I've doubted my fair share, and have even considered that Christianity couldn't be the only way to know God. But I don't think I've ever considered that there is Nothing. The invisible gardener parable I think sum's the idea that there is something, or someone who has greater control of this crazy situation more than I do; and that always seem's to be re-assuring. The loving God and Christ element just has come naturally from that point; but I had to get to that point first.



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Danny Bixby

posted January 11, 2010 at 10:14 am


I have doubts at times, as I think most do. But to make me truly stop believing at all? I'm not sure what it would take.I've thought of scenarios before that would bring that change…and really the only thing that I could feel confident in saying would definitely cause it would be my death.Once I die, I'll no longer believe. I'll know at that point. One way or the other.



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Shoot Son Dang Girl Alissa

posted January 11, 2010 at 10:20 am


This is an interesting question, but I kind of think that nothing but my own unchecked sin would cause me to abandon my faith and belief in God. I also know that the Lord perseveres his saints and through our suffering we often grasp a bigger and more grandious picture of our salvation and the grace of God, so I dont think that really either a devastating or extravagant situation could cause me to abandon my faith in God.. That would mean I never really had any in the first place I reckon.



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Amy B.

posted January 11, 2010 at 10:31 am


Because I don't believe in God for any provable reason, I cannot think of any one thing that could possibly prove to me that God is not real. You cannot, after all, prove a negative. Like Alissa, the only thing that could do it would be my own sinfulness and willful rebellion. But even that I don't believe would last, because I believe God comes after the sheep that are His.This makes me think of something I have thought about for a while. This may sound cold-hearted and callous, and I really don't mean it that way! But I am always a bit baffled by people who lose their faith when something bad happens TO THEM. It seems so self-centered and small. As if the millions of starving people in the world, the centuries of genocide and murder, the misery of famine and hurricane and tornado…as if the sum total of the suffering of the world was not enough to talk them out of faith in God, but once something bad happens to them…well THEN God just can't be real. Now I know the psychology of grief plays a HUGE part in that, so I would never accuse a grieving person of being self-centered! But my point is that if you think personal suffering is proof that there is no God, there is no reason to wait for your own personal tragedy in order to make the leap into atheism.However, I don't think the problem of suffering is reason enough not to believe in God, so I still do.



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DTDorrin

posted January 11, 2010 at 10:32 am


I've never doubted the existence of God, just the existence of a loving God. Rather, that He loves equally at all times and doesn't "play favorites." Which I guess boils down to doubting whether God knows best and is omniscient.I can't imagine a scenario where I'd completely stop believing in God, but I can think of plenty of scenarios where I'd be tempted to stop following Him out of anger, self pity or pride.



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rf

posted January 11, 2010 at 10:38 am


To doubt certain aspects of any religion (Christianity among them) is not only understandable, but something that I have experienced many times.However, to doubt the existence of God, would require the complete absence of logic.So, barring that criterion, I'm guessing it's not gonna happen.



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indymavs

posted January 11, 2010 at 10:52 am


God, Himself, would have to appear to me and tell me He did not exist in order for me to believe that He doesn't…. ;)



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Dominic

posted January 11, 2010 at 11:01 am


I don't know if there is anything that would shake my faith so much that I would stop believing all together. Maybe if there were some irrefutable, EXTREMELY reliable source that completely decimates the Bible I might lose my faith…but it would have to be an AIR TIGHT, solid thing. As for the parable, it has one very large loophole I think. I don't think there are many Christ followers who would argue that if left to it's own, unwatched life will abound and grow. The question really is, who put the garden there to begin with? It would be a better story if two gardeners came across an isolated, lifeless dirt pile after a couple of years to find a lucious bio-sphere had sprung up…just my opinion. Great question though, very thought provoking.



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Jason Boyett

posted January 11, 2010 at 11:04 am


I, too, think it would be completely illogical to abandon belief just because something bad happened. After all, none of us believe conditionally on everything going our way.But for me, the best reason for me to believe in God is through the person of Jesus, who points to a loving God. I am a believer because of Jesus. If somehow we were to discover and prove that Jesus was not resurrected — if we found the bones of Christ — then I wouldn't see any reason to keep believing. Like Paul, if Christ isn't resurrected, then our religion is useless.(But even then, I'm sure there would be many MANY believers who would dispute that discovery for centuries, like those who still dispute the fossil record…)



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Kristian

posted January 11, 2010 at 11:20 am


"However, to doubt the existence of God, would require the complete absence of logic."I think we have already established that the question about God's existence is beyond things like reason, logic and proof. It's a matter of faith. To state that mere doubt implies absence of logic is ridiculous and quite possibly offends most believers as much as it offends nonbelievers.Personally, some sort of proof would be required for me to begin believing in a god. "What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof." Since proof is unlikely and would go against the whole idea of having faith, I'll likely remain faithless.



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Kevin Leggett

posted January 11, 2010 at 11:54 am


That's like asking me "What would cause me to stop believing my wife and kids exist?" Impossible.



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Tom

posted January 11, 2010 at 12:12 pm


I think it's totally normal to have doubts. If not, then I'm weird.But to answer your question, I'm not sure what it would take for me to stop believing. I mean, there are things that I wrestle with – age of the Earth, is much of the OT metaphorical or allegorical to prove a point or did it all really happen just like that – but when it comes to Jesus and who He was, what He did, and how He lived, I can definitely prop against that. I don't think anything's gonna change my opinion on Him either.Donald Miller has a quote that I really dig because I thin it sums up my opinion 100%: "My most recent faith struggle is not one of intellect. I don’t really do that anymore. Sooner or later you just figure out there are some guys who don’t believe in God and they can prove He doesn't exist, and there are some other guys who do believe in God and they can prove He does exist, and the argument stopped being about God a long time ago and now it’s about who is smarter, and honestly I don’t care."



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Kristian

posted January 11, 2010 at 1:08 pm


"bones of Christ"That's interesting. It's like the Christian version of the Precambrian Rabbit :)



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Xander

posted January 11, 2010 at 1:09 pm


I went through enough personal tragedy and suffering as a child, I rejected God. It was more out of anger, but the logic of how could a loving God allow this to happen to me pretty much drove me away. 10 years, later, I was believing God for salvation. I don’t think there is a tragedy or argument that can be made that would stop me from believing again. I have already been there and it didn’t work for me.@Kristian – what proof would be required for you to start believing? I doubt I have it, but just curious as to what it would take.



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nethandle:jerryrigg

posted January 11, 2010 at 1:47 pm


I think what is being overlooked is the plants' abilities to thrive and prosper on their own, with their own strengths, despite their surroundings. Corollary to that, is the assumption that there is or is not a Gardener in the first place(notice the capitol G?). I'm of the faith of I don't know. But then again I guess that's the point of the whole discussion in the first place. What would it take to prove the existence of God to me? Probably the rapture…or some other Divine Providence that makes His presence known to the world. What disproves the existence of God to me?? Adam Lambert.



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radosh

posted January 11, 2010 at 2:04 pm


A slight tangent, but for me this parable called to mind an old Jewish saying: "If you are in the midst of planting a tree and word reaches you that the Messiah has arrived, do not interrupt your work; first finish your planting and only then go out to welcome the Messiah."Now I suppose that can be interpreted in several ways, but to me it says that what matters is our work and our lives here on earth. The garden is here. We're here. Get planting. Debates about whether the messiah has come (or, by extension, whether there is a god) are distractions and ultimately irrelevant to the meaning of life.This is why I think of myself not as an atheist or agnostic, but rather an ignostic. (Though I will still stick around, if you don't mind.)



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Tess Mallory

posted January 11, 2010 at 2:35 pm


This is going to sound strange probably. I love that the scenario given is a garden, because when I have been in my greatest doubt, my lowest ebb, my deepest lack of faith, looking at the sky, the clouds, a sunset, the stars, the moon, the night, the day, a rose, a kitten, LIFE in all of its beauty and glory, will always keep me believing in a God who is not only a loving Father, but an amazing Artist. And having said that, there is another mental picture that always reinforces my faith–the image of the Shepherd holding the little lamb. I have been that lamb too many times, and been held in the Shepherd's arms too many times. Never say never, but I hope nothing could ever make me stop believing.



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Kristian

posted January 11, 2010 at 2:40 pm


Xander – I'm not entirely sure what would constitute as sufficient evidence, but I think it would be things that would render faith irrelevant anyway. Rapture would be a good start.While I don't see evolution and faith as mutually exclusive, evidence that would debunk all scientific alternatives and leave only divine origins as the only viable alternative would also be compelling enough.Of course, this is purely hypothetical. Religious faith by nature shouldn't require evidence or logic. Since I've been irreligious all my life and have never witnessed anyone going from faithlessness to faith, I'm not sure how the transformation happens.I've seen the opposite development a couple times, and that process involved a doubts rising from question of Evil, questions about God's goodness (to an outsider, Christian God is largely an evil creature, I assume the process between faith and faithlessness involves a gradual realization in this area), disillusion with clergy and religious organizations and realization that godless heathens can be equally happy, good, ethical, altruistic and balanced creatures as the religious. And quite possibly many, many other reasons I couldn't understand :)



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Kristian

posted January 11, 2010 at 3:39 pm


For most atheists, the perceived likelihood of god's existence is small enough to be irrelevant. Not even Dawkins considers himself to be 100% certain god doesn't exist.I think the truth value in statement like "God exists" is largely irrelevant. Those who rely on their faith will believe in God whether he exists or not, and those who have no faith will lack that belief.It's a whole different thing to staple attributes to the said god. Mere existence is irrelevant. Whether he cares about our faith (rewards us or punishes us for it) or not could be relevant. I see no reason to assume any specific stance on this. The probabilities of positive outcomes remain the same, believe or not.



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Beth G.

posted January 11, 2010 at 3:47 pm


I think a lot of posters are not answering the real question. It's easy to say nothing but your own rebellion and sinfulness could stop you from believing in God when you're assuming that you would cease to believe in a God who does not, in fact, exist. But let's just pretend for a moment that we Christians have been deluding ourselves for a couple thousand years and God does not, in fact, exist. What would it take then for us to stop believing?I agree with Jason, and I had this thought even before he posted. I guess I should have posted this morning so I wouldn't look like a copycat :). In any case, if I were presented with incontrovertible proof that Jesus didn't rise from the dead, then I would cease to be a Christian. There are some theologians out there who have tried to construct a Christianity without a risen Christ, but their arguments don't impress me. The apostle Paul said something along the lines of, "If Jesus did not rise from the dead we are of all men most to be pitied." That is, Christianity is worthless without the resurrection.Now whether that would cause me to cease believing in a supernatural power or powers altogether is another question. Since I believed there was some sort of supernatural power long before I became a follower of Jesus, it's unlikely that the demise of Christianity would cause me to abandon faith in everything. However, without Christianity, God isn't all that attractive, and I'd probably just eventually abandon belief because it was useless for my life.



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Matt

posted January 11, 2010 at 4:34 pm


Interesting comments from many places on the spectrum of belief. My questions for the people who say there is nothing that would make them stop believing:(1)How are you able to tell your belief apart from self-delusion? and (2)do you care about that distinction?It's important to note that Jason posed two separate questions: the first suggested a modest jump from belief to agnosticism; the second posited an actual disproof of god (atheism).To actually answer the questions, I am surprised at how little it took to shake my affirmative belief in god. It was a combination of things, really: looking at scripture and belief with a more mature (for me) understanding of human motivations, study of comparative theology, beginning from first principles, etc.As to the second question, I don't think anything could ever push me into full-fledged atheism. As Kristian points out, even Dawkins admits there could be a god, and I'm not as far down the line as him.



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Kristian

posted January 11, 2010 at 5:06 pm


Most people who have had faith but have abandoned it for one reason or the other, have probably held equally firm beliefs about the solidity of their faith.That, I would say, is a problem with something that isn't anchored to neither reason and evidence nor abandoning all reason and evidence.Liberal Christians who accept scientific explanations to things like evolution, and hold modern morals, have very little difference with secular atheists. We share largely the same world view, ethics and political stance. While this is much less challenging view than something that would require complete suspension of logic and reason, like biblical literalism, it also offers less absolutes to anchor your faith to.While faith in Jesus might feel like an important distinction, in reality it hardly is.



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Emily

posted January 11, 2010 at 7:06 pm


Hello, I am new to this site. I found it through Hemant Mehta's "Friendly Atheist" blog. I really like the spirit of open and honest discussion between believers and non-believers that seems to be the norm on this site. Now, on to your questions:What would it take to make you stop believing?I grew up Catholic. I first doubted when I got involved in politics in high school. While talking to someone about a point we disagreed on, we both started to quote the Bible to make our point. At one point, she said to me "What makes you so sure that you're right?" That question resounded with me, and I started to question. I questioned everything, including the very basis of my faith. I read books, articles, and blogs on all sides of the issue, and gradually came to realize that I agreed more with the atheists than with the Christians. So to answer your question, the thing it took for me to stop believing was the right question.Is there anything that, once and for all, would disprove to you the existence of God?I don't like the word "disprove". It implies that it is possible to disprove the existence of a god. This is not possible, so the question is impossible to answer.@rf: What makes you say "However, to doubt the existence of God, would require the complete absence of logic"?



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Tyson

posted January 11, 2010 at 7:12 pm


I don't mean to make myself out to be holier than thou, but I have never once doubted the existence of God. Therefore, I can say that NOTHING would cause such a reversal of faith. It's really pretty simple for me. Now I do have doubts about some of the "science" I've been taught over the years.



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Kristian

posted January 11, 2010 at 7:53 pm


I don't think unquestioning faith makes you sound "holier than thou" :)Lack of doubt is a weakness, no matter what you believe in. If you don't question, your beliefs get stale, lack depth and meaning.



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Anonymous

posted January 11, 2010 at 10:02 pm


Jason, I would think there are actually several different related questions that could be explored:1) What evidence would convince you that the Christian denomination you belong to is incorrect but the church down the street is it? Most people people seem to shop for Churches and end up in something different then the denomination they grew up with (aka Catholics -> Lutheran -> Mormon -> Southern Baptist -> etc.). I suspect many readers here have such stories.2) Now a harder question: What would make you give up Christianity (say become a Jew or Moslem or Hindu….)? This happens less frequently then Church shopping, but I suspect most here can name at least someone who jumped religious faiths.3) Now even a harder question… What would make you give up a belief in any sort of organized religion (be it Christianity/Judaism/Islam/Hinduism/etc., yet still retain a belief in a God/Supreme Being (aka, becomes a Deist)?4) And of course your question which is probably the most radical change, just dropping belief altogether.I think the point many commenters are missing is for most people, the journey from religion to atheism (or visa versa) is usually a lot of steps and changes. Most atheists I met either started out in homes where Christianity was not a major component of their upbringing or they went through the four steps and God became a more and more abstract and meaningless concept (if you really want a very abstract, God concept, check out Karen Armstrong – I really don’t see how that is satisfying to most theists and sounds ridiculous to most atheists/agnostics)- Fastthumbs



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Xander

posted January 12, 2010 at 12:02 am


@Kristian: I think you have to have some degree of faith in order to believe evolution is responsible for life. I agree there is evolution within the species. There is proof of that. But to think that life started from the amoeba gave way to the fish which became a monkey and now we are here? Too much for me. I am not saying that is current evolution theory, but you know what I am getting at. It is just easier for me to believe that God did it.I not sure where people get that Atheists are miserable people sitting around being unhappy. I know a few that are that way, but there are miserable Christians as well. And the belief that you need God to make you a better person, that is a crock as well.



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Travis Thompson

posted January 12, 2010 at 12:21 am


I don't think anything could convince me that God certainly doesn't exist (especially since the chapter of Richard Dawkins book with that title didn't do it). As a previous poster said, it's impossible to disprove the existence of God. However, I agree with Jason that if I could be convinced that the resurrection didn't happen, or that Jesus Christ did not actually exist, then I would cease to be a Christian. I can definitely say that I would not go to any other religion, so I suppose by cultural standards I would be an "atheist" or "agnostic". However, at this point I think in order for this to happen, I think I would have to travel back in time and really see that he didn't exist. I have read and heard quite a bit on the historicity of the Gospels, and I'm pretty convinced they're true. If anyone out there has a suggestion on what to read regarding that, I'd happily take you up on it!@Xander You should read some books on evolution. There are some really good ones that explain the simplicity in the progression from single cell organisms to the variety of life we have today and how scientifically, there's just no other option. (I especially recommend "The Language of God" by Francis Collins, who is a Christian).



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Anonymous

posted January 12, 2010 at 5:42 am


Hi Jason,I'm a student at the University of California, San Diego in…yes, San Diego!Some students and I (both from my and other campus fellowships) have been praying for healing for sick people for the last couple of years (yes, that means going up to people with casts and asking if we can pray for their leg/arm/other injured body part because we believe Jesus loves them, cares about their bodies, and wants to heal them), and we have seen literal, physical, instantaneous healings. (Not all the time, but many. We also have videos of some of the testimonies.)I think that constitutes as "physical, demonstrable evidence," right?While I'm quite certain my fellowship (Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship) has all of its speakers scheduled for this year, my friends and I would love to meet with you and hang out if you're ever in the San Diego area. You can even come pray with us for sick people, if you'd like :) It's a lot of fun. You can also check out our praying-for-sick-people group on Facebook: Dunamis. Hope to hear from one day!-Z



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Jason Boyett

posted January 12, 2010 at 6:39 am


@Emily: Thank you for the kind words. I'm thrilled that this is becoming a place where people of faith and non-theists can interact without screaming at each other. Please pull up a chair and hang out for awhile.@Z: I think it's great for Christians to pray for each other, and if you're building relationships and seeing beneficial results, then that's great. But I always am skeptical of claims of "instantaneous" healing. How do you know? Is there a doctor who can verify it? Are these external healings (a wound closing up) or something internal (my broken arm is no longer broken!)? Are you following up a week or two later? Have you seen an amputated limb grow back? I hate to be cynical about it…but I am cynical about it. I know too many people who were "healed" of something or other until a few days later when the spiritual glow wore off. False hope makes me angry, and that's why it rarely works as the "physical, demonstrable evidence" I seek.



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Kristian

posted January 12, 2010 at 10:15 am


@Xander, the claim that evolution takes more faith than the corresponding version in Genesis does is an often repeated fallacy.If science was discussed at the same level of detail as genesis describes the origin of species, it could be expressed in a sentence or two. The point being, Genesis gives no details on anything, while science can, and will, drill deeper into details.When you read more about evolution, you'll understand that it doesn't take any leap of faith to understand and accept. You'll learn that all often-repeated criticisms towards evolution have been thoroughly and completely debunked ages ago, and the only reason they are repeated is in the hopes of convincing those who are less likely to actually look into the claims.I'd recommend Dawkins' "The Greatest Show on Earth" for anyone interested in evolution. It's not "anti-religion" in any other sense that it provides evidence for theory that isn't accepted by some fringe groups like YECs.As for leaps of faith, for me, believing in creation would first require belief in a creator, and anything capable of coming up with something as complex as the universe would have to be far more complex than the universe itself – a watchmaker is nearly infinitely more complex than a pocket-watch. How did such complexity come to be in the first place?But, I think we're drifting away from the original topic :) Sorry, Jason.



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Jason Boyett

posted January 12, 2010 at 10:17 am


@Kristian: Don't apologize. I love the direction this conversation has gone. It's fascinating to me. I appreciate all of you who are carrying on the discussion with kindness and grace.



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Kristian

posted January 12, 2010 at 11:46 am


Regarding prayers, there's been quite a few studies on the matter. Some have found positive effects, some neutral, some negative effects on recovery of patients.Cleaning up for bias and placebo effect (which seems to go both ways; do help and harm), I think we're left with a conclusion that overall, prayer makes no measurable difference whatsoever.I'm not a huge fan of religious inroads to areas of science, be it medicine or biology. For one, in areas of medicine, we've all seen on the news how some religious parents opting for prayer over conventional medicine are effectively killing their own kids. It can be a nice gesture, or, at best, a complementary addition to proper medical care.The bigger problem with it is that religious claims in scientific fields subject matters of faith to scientific falsification. I can understand the need (of some people) to go beyond faith itself to get evidence to support the said faith, but it hasn't worked so far in the history of mankind, it probably won't work ever. All this does is providing reasons and evidence where religion doesn't help. It seems counter-productive.I have great doubts about miraculous, instantaneous healing through supernatural means. If they really happened, we'd have scientific papers confirming them by now.I don't assume many people of faith would agree with my position, but if I was religious, I'd be quite upset with those people who ruined prayer by subjecting it to scientific studies in a vain attempt to prove its power.



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Xander

posted January 12, 2010 at 11:53 am


I will have to read it. I hadn't realized they had linked everything together to show that man came from the monkey. I thought it was still a theory based on intelligent observation and deduction. I agree that Genesis is such a high level discussion of what Jews and Christians believe, that it holds no real how or why answers to any of the questions. Science has come a long way, and we still cant answer how. How was the universe formed? How did the gravitational pockets pull matter together to pull planets together in just the right spot? What made the planets rotate at the correct speed so gravity could happen? Science holds tons of theories that are based on observations. Those are good. Science has been able to document and prove many, many things in the world. That also is good. Science has not been able to give us a "this is the only possible answer" response yet. We are supposed to believe the hypothesis that is begin given to us because other areas of science are correct. You don’t buy that logic with religion, yet it is wrong if I don’t buy it with science. Dawkins wont say there isn't a god, but if I say there is I am wrong. I wish more Christians could describe their knowledge of God in terms other than a feel good sensation. Would that be evidence to His existence, no, but it would make the argument more tangible. When I spend time with God, I can feel Him. Not just a sensation of peace or happiness, because those are emotions and emotions aren't credible. I physically feel Him on my skin. That could be my brain playing tricks on me. When I talk to Him, I get real answers back. In my mind, I have a two way conversation. Again, that could be my mind playing tricks on me. If I have a burn heal in a couple of hours, I can see the difference. Jason brought up the placebo effect, which is a valid argument. The mind could be strong enough to heal the body like that. If I give a prophetic message, they usually deal with areas that I have no knowledge of. I guess that they could be lucky guesses, but that is a lot of lucky guess to occur by chance. Maybe it is a subconscious thing the brain does. To me, these are evidence that God exists. To you, they could all be attributed to different aspects of the mind. Who is right? I know several people who experience God in this way, so maybe there is some strange genetic brain condition that allows this to occur. It has never been discovered or documented by science though. Does that mean it isn't happening?This is why I say evolution requires more faith for me to believe. It doesn’t take as much faith for you. You probably have never experienced God the way I have and most likely don’t have the strange brain disorder that causes me to have them.



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Matt

posted January 12, 2010 at 12:24 pm


Xander, did I read that right? You have been able to predict the future?Please share the content and circumstances of your prophetic messages. If I could see into the future, I might believe in god more affirmatively. Or I might start betting a lot.



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Kristian

posted January 12, 2010 at 12:53 pm


:shrugs:Science doesn't claim absolutes. That can be seen as its strength. While evolution has overwhelming evidence going for it as of now, it's still subject to falsification like any other scientific theory. If enough contrary evidence surfaces, the theory changes.Right now it's the best explanation we have, that is supported by all the evidence we have so far. It's supported by practically every scientist in related fields. There's no reason why we couldn't accept it as a fact and base our actions on it.Seeing how amazingly quickly natural selection does its work in observable present makes the "leap of faith" required to imagine what it can do over millions of years not a leap at all.It's not only scientific theories that evolve. Religion evolves too. While its texts remain largely the same, their interpretation changes over time. Most Christians accept the theory of evolution over literal accounts of creation. Religious morals have evolved alongside, or slightly behind, secular morals to eventually condemn things like slavery and racism. We're in the middle of religious morals following secular morals in accepting homosexuality. Nothing is really absolute.Anecdotal evidence on God's presence still leaves us with a few questions. People have had conversations with their gods, be in Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or Ancient Norse god. If we accept one conversation as genuine, we must accept all. If we accept all, then we must conclude that the god of monotheistic religions lies when he claims to be the only one.If we accept that anecdotes about one god is true and rest are lies, how can we determine which one is true?If you were born in an Islamic nation, you'd probably be a devout Muslim, having conversations with Allah every day, being eternally grateful that you were born in a country where you were lead to the one and only true faith.If you were born in Israel, you'd probably feel the same way about Judaism.If you were born in the US, you have similar feelings towards Christianity.That is the main problem of having personal, anecdotal evidence for your faith. All the other religions have it too, and each are equally sure about theirs. You might have reasons to discredit the evidence of the others, their reasons to discredit your evidence probably mirrors yours.



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Jason Boyett

posted January 12, 2010 at 1:14 pm


Just as a sidenote, since Kristian brought it up: the evolution of Christianity/Judaism is one of the things I struggle with the most. It's probably too complicated a subject to get into here (it gets a full-chapter treatment in O Me of Little Faith), but the evolution of the doctrine of hell from early Judaism into the Exile and into the New Testament is of great interest to me. Why? Because it clearly seems to have borrowed elements from Zoroastrianism. Hell is a big part of the Christian worldview. What does it mean when one of those "big parts" seems to have evolved from roots not in the Jewish tradition but from an outside source (the Babylonian captors)?I'm not asking for any explanations. Don't want this to turn into a discussion about hell. Just saying that "religious evolution" brings up a lot more questions than answers for me.



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Kristian

posted January 12, 2010 at 3:55 pm


Not discussing hell per se, but the evolution of religions is a neat example of evolution by means of natural selection.We can all agree that where democracy and freedom prevails, cultures evolve towards more liberal view of the world, human rights, et cetera (while we might only see and accept this in retrospect). This happens even in nations where democracy and freedoms are suppressed, albeit at a much slower pace, and not without setbacks. International pressure helps along.In the free world, a religion that doesn't adapt to the changing environment will eventually die of extinction. You can hold on to conservative values for a while, but when the gap between contemporary morals and religious morals that have been anchored to a certain past date grows too wide, you pay by diminishing support. You'd be hard pressed to find (popular) religious organizations who would support slavery and racism these days.As a non-religious person, I don't see this as horribly complex issue. I can certainly understand how the concept of fluidity of beliefs and lack of absolutes could feel uncomfortable. We easily see "religious truths" as absolutes.I don't see this as something that should be exceptionally difficult for Christianity either. Changing morality and abandoning certain rules and regulations that have no bearing on modern environment isn't a bad thing. The important bits are about Jesus as the son of God, and his sacrifice for the sins of mankind. The rest is more or less optional or a matter of emphasis.It's a bit vague, but religions work best in the area of vagueness. The exact details are for science.



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Kristian

posted January 12, 2010 at 4:01 pm


I guess my reply could boil down to, if I were to defiantly answer a question you specifically stated you didn't want answers to, that the concept of Hell is one of those fluid values that might not fit well into contemporary worldview (or at least quite likely wouldn't fit into the worldviews of future).So it's likely that the entire concept will eventually disappear by means of natural selection.



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Kristian

posted January 12, 2010 at 4:52 pm


(I wish I could edit replies!)Where it specifically came from (borrowed from non-Abrahamic religions) is not important if the concept itself makes an useful allegory that is relevant to the spirit (pardon me) of the faith.



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Matt @ The Church of No People

posted January 12, 2010 at 9:07 pm


I personally cannot picture what it would take to get me to stop believing, but I guess that's the caveat. No one becomes a Christian with the intention of quitting. Great post. The topic of doubt has been on my mind a lot lately!



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Travis Thompson

posted January 13, 2010 at 12:39 am


The evolution of religion is certainly an interesting concept. I think Kristian is right that in any religion there's some central tenets an then some details that can get a bit vague and might change with time. This is actually scripturally verifiable in some of Paul's writings. He mentions that there are things of "first importance", implying that there must also be things of second and subsequent importance as well.I think in the same way that God could have used evolution and natural selection to bring life about on earth could have done the same with religion to serve his purpose as well. I don't claim to have any concrete theories about that, but it's a thought.@Krisian: you're right that religious morals evolve right alongside secular etc, but I think judeo Christian values have at least occasionally been ahead of the curve. "an eye for an eye" wasextremely graceful compared to the status quo when it was written and Jesus' sermon on the mount (found in chapters 5-7 of the book of Matthew) was radical in it's moral challenges (as itstill is today in many respects). Also, I have to add that while I believe Dawkins was completely sincere in his efforts to write a book about evolution without being anti-religious, I think that would be like asking The pope to write something that wasn't religious at all. "the greatest show on earth" is full of thinly veiled anti-religious statements that would make a Christian who wasn't ready for it pretty defensive.So @Xander: if you read any dawkins, pray for grace as you do. He is a brilliant scientist if you can handle his unending spite for religion.One more for @Kristian: I agree that it takes less faith to believe in evolution than a loving personal God. But at the same time, we're putting faith in the people who write about evolution right? We can't all go out and observe the experiments, especially the highly technical chemical ones. Obviously the hundreds of years now that we've had for honest scientists to debunk evolution makes this easier; but I still think it's an exercise in faith, especially with scientific concepts that are brand new. I think if you look at it this way you might see other areas in your life where you are employing greater measures of faith than you might have previously thought. I don't know you, so maybe not; but maybe. Then (maybe) it just might be possible to make a gradual climb up "mount improbable" to a real leap of faith. @JB: as always, thanks for spurring great conversation and raising challenging questions.



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Travis Thompson

posted January 13, 2010 at 9:42 am


AH! Just remembered one more thing for @Kristian: You brought up Dawkin's argument from his chapter that I referenced earlier (if a complex universe requires a creator, then the creator must be even more complex). The problem with this argument is that it makes one big assumption: the creator of the universe must follow the laws that govern the universe. If you can justify this assumption then I guess that would be one more answer from me to the question that started this whole thread. However, in the same way that I don't think (and most people agree) that you can't disprove God's existence, I don't think it's possible to justify this assumption.This is exactly the kind of problem that I see in examining the God hypothesis with science. Science is the study of the natural world (and universe). God is by definition super natural.



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Travis Thompson

posted January 13, 2010 at 10:07 am


Let me rephrase that assumption from my last comment: "the creator of the universe is subject to the laws of the universe" I think that's a bit clearer…



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Kristian

posted January 13, 2010 at 12:45 pm


I don't think the creator of the universe necessarily needs to follow the laws of the universe he himself created, but in my view, that doesn't mean he wouldn't need to be more complex. Quite contrary, to assume there's entirely another ruleset and another "universe of gods" that allows such feats, makes the argument for creation even more complex.From evolutionary point of view, we have an established, well tested theory that shows how natural selection can cause complexity from simplicity.I agree some "faith" needs to be placed on the scientific community to come up with honest experiments and journals, but, to me the difference is like between open source and closed source programming models.Science works like an open source community. All the work is available to the general public for review, and for other scientists to disprove (doubt and attempts to disprove and come up with better alternatives are encouraged). In the open source community, problems are discovered and fixed fairly quickly due to, well, it's being open to everyone, expert or not. Incompetent additions get weeded out along the way. Certain geniuses contribute more along the way.Religion is more like a closed source software. In fact, it's like a closed source application where the company who published it went bankrupt long time ago, the programmers went on their merry ways, original source was deleted and all we're left with is the software itself, as a big binary blob, and a manual that was originally written in Spanish, then translated via Norwegian to English by a semi-literate German street sweeper.We have no means to get to its details. We know it has some bugs, so we avoid the features that are known to cause problems. It might not be properly Y2k compatible. We can rely on external help, who even at best can give educated guesses on how things work.Of course, this kind of thinking doesn't describe the truth values of either way. Some use one, some use another.If the application gets us where we want to go, it makes little difference to the individual which model its built on. Most open source users don't have the knowledge required to modify their own software, or troubleshoot it referring to the code, but they're more or less aware of what principals its built on, and put their "faith" on that.Equally, most users of deprecated closed source applications are happy that the familiar application works for them, with all its bugs and missing features. They have no interest in details, even if some would be available. Even if it means they can't upgrade their operating system without totally breaking the old application :)



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Travis Thompson

posted January 13, 2010 at 1:48 pm


Interesting analogy! I kinda like it. I would say I use both open source and closed source. I don't think they're mutually exclusive (and I'm not saying you're implying they are).In regards to your first paragraph about God following the rules of our universe, or another, my point is that I don't think we can make ANY assumptions about this. Science is by definition not able to answer questions about the supernatural. So I therefore think it does mean that he doesn't need to be more complex. It doesn't mean is isn't, but I think that's all we can say. Even if he is more complex, we can't make any deductions from that fact about the probability or plausibility of his existence. Therefore Dawkins' argument is invalid.If we ever create "supernatural science" then we might get somewhere on this, but I think we might have to call it something like philosophy or theology…



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Kristian

posted January 13, 2010 at 3:37 pm


Indeed they can be compatible. Funnily enough, I run Open Source OS with Open Source applications at home.I suppose the point for me was that, while exact probability calculations would be meaningless, I resent the mentality that "God made it" is a sufficient answer to everything while "Nature made it" isn't. I resent the point of view that I should accept as smaller leap of faith something that is void of any observable or otherwise known details, compared to something that can get into extreme amount of detail and has an observable counterpart.I could write up my own imaginary creation account in few minutes, offering slightly lower level of detail than Genesis does. That doesn't make my theory automatically better, more likely, or preferable for its "smaller leap of faith footprint".I don't really oppose the co-operative use of our metaphorical open source and proprietary "applications". I think it's an important survival feature of religions to be able to adapt to known science.I don't even really have the passion to strongly oppose the flavours of religion that require a vast suspension of logic and reason, such as Young Earth Creationism, as long as they're practised in the privacy of the proponents own bedrooms.I only get mildly riled up if such ignorance is attempted to be sold as "science", or offered as an equal counterpart to science.



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Travis Thompson

posted January 13, 2010 at 4:41 pm


couldn't agree more!



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jenny

posted January 14, 2010 at 9:21 pm


I grew up in a home that had lost two children, one to a congenital heart defect ("sudden death" in high school), and it was a quiet home, full of grief never spoken about. I came to believe that I could stand anything in my Christian faith, but I would remind God I would be unlikely to survive having a child with a heart defect. You can guess where this is going, I am sure.My youngest child was born with a congenital heart defect, and I spent over a year struggling to believe God would see my son through it all. In the meantime, my marriage was in the crapper (not a pressure that helped my faith), and then we were facing surgery. Surgery went perfectly. I thought God had seen me through it because He knew I could not stand having anything go wrong. He knew what was my boundary, and where I would stop believing.Well. 4 days after the surgery came a massive stroke in my 2 year old, and then a year of rehab. Standing by a crib of your child, being told "we don't know what is left of his brain, or if he will know you when he wakes up…if he wakes up…" is a circumstance that will bring faith into a cold, terrifying, horrifying-ly beautiful place of decision: will I believe now? is this the final resting place where my faith dies?God was tangible in a circumstance I thought I would never survive. I thought I would stop believing, but I did not. It deepened my belief more. Not that this is a simple answer, but just what I am adding to the thoughts here. Great question.And, my son is doing amazing, he is wonderful, marriage is reconciled and good…never thought I would get here, but am glad to be here.



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Jason Boyett

posted January 15, 2010 at 9:18 am


@Jenny: Just wanted to say thanks for your honesty and for sharing your very personal story. I'm glad to hear that everything is looking up for you and your family.



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jenny

posted January 15, 2010 at 9:29 am


Thanks, Jason. Really appreciate your site, and the depth of the content.



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