Problem with faith, in a nutshell

So, here's my problem with faith, in a nutshell. There is absolutely no means for validating a supernatural (hence why we call it faith). All we have access to is material. From all that we can determine, our feelings, choices, and beliefs all have a natural, material basis.

If we presume a supernatural exists that acts on our natural world, then this supernatural power must act on nature through some sort of natural<->supernatural communication channel. The problem with such a communication channel is that there is absolutely no way to validate the authenticity and proper translation of the messages/events. Again, this is a call to faith because the identities, actions, interpretations, and motives of the supernatural powers cannot be known. That is, there is no way to determine if the natural message to the supernatural has been properly delivered and interpreted, nor can we have any validation of if, when, why, or what supernatural-to-natural messages there are. Therefore, miracles (supernatural acts on the natural) either don't happen or if they do, we have no possible way of making sense of the event.

Therefore, since all we have access to is the material, then a belief in God will only raise more questions than it can ever possibly answer. Furthermore, such superstition will only serve to cloud ultimate, truthful discovery.

Why the need for a vulnerable God?

The Christmas season is a bit peculiar for atheists, especially de-converted ones like me. Choirs and the songs they sing are especially poignant. "O Holy Night" is beautiful and "Silent Night" is so wondrously simple. However, the religious pomp is no longer part of my life.

When I recollect the nativity story, it begins with a weary Mary who has traveled so far to Bethlehem, and a penniless Joseph who is panicking to get his wife somewhere where she can deliver a baby. There is no hospital, home, or quarters available, just a barn. Then there He is. Between runs from Herod and the life that is to follow, there is this moment where all has stopped and the universe looks on at God incarnate, this tiny, needy baby on a bed of straw. While "Hallelujah's" are part of the scene, it's really overwhelming peace that is iconized in the nativity.

Christianity is strong on symbols and the two biggies are the cross and the nativity. The cross is violent and the nativity is peace, but both exhibit a vulnerable God. It is this God-made-feebly-human characteristic that ironically makes the Christian God so attractive and able to yield strong convictions in followers. No wonder the broken hearted, lonely, and strung out reach out to Jesus. But what about us suburban upper middle-class kids? What is it really about the vulnerable-God story that hooks so many and can even make a formerly religious, now anti-religious atheist like me nostalgic?

Beyond the Firmament - Book Review

My first essay to read in College English was How to Read a Book similar to this one. The essay implored readers to really be active about the books they read --- writing comments and questions directly on the pages, making notes in agreement or disagreement, and re-read. I’ve never done that...until I read Gordon J. Glover’s Beyond the Firmament. The reason I scribbled so much is because I was able to treat the book like a conversation as if I knew the author and could go point by point and say where I agreed and disagreed. Perhaps not having the ear of the author kept me from doodling in books before. However, in this case I do have the ear of the author as he frequently comments on this blog and I can also converse with him on his blog.

As demonstrated on this blog and in his book, Gordon has a passion for science and God. He and I have a similar history of belief in creationism and Christian upbringing. In many instances through the book, I found myself nodding at the similar experiences and thoughts we’ve shared in our journeys. For example, Gordon asks, “No matter what “side” you find yourself on at the end of the day, there will be consequences. The question you need to ask yourself is this: what are the consequences of your beliefs and can you live with them?” Compare this to my Faith in... and Flight of the bumblebee posts.

When I accepted evolution, I turned atheist. When Gordon accepted evolution, he did not. What was the difference? Like all of us, we have a model of how the world (with or without God) works. With this model, we interact with the world and receive more information. Then we repeat, modifying our model, then getting more information, etc. When Gordon realized that evolution, as far as anybody can tell, is true, he dug deep. Instead of trying to dispute the evidence like many Christians do (well, okay, he tried for a bit and realized that was a dead end), he looked at how Christianity keeps screwing up with science --- how they keep losing the forest for the trees as our egocentricities get pummeled by science.

I appreciated Gordon’s efforts to keep the scientific and religious view separate. The term "Theistic Evolution" is an oxymoron. Supernatural beliefs should not guide evolutionary science. A person can simply be a theist and an evolutionist.

While I’m certainly not Gordon’s target audience, reading the book helped me clarify my own stance and begin to understand people who believe in both evolution and theism. It solidified my self perception that I am a materialist. I therefore took several issues with his casting of materialism as empty, meaningless, having no place in philosophy, and that the universe requires God’s sustenance. It also made me realize us materialists can have our cake and eat it too. Meaning must have a physical basis so philosophy and the religion-of-materialism can coexist with material science. Yes, that may corrupt material science or promote strange, detrimental philosophies, but they are not incompatible with natural sciences like philosophies that incorporate a supernatural. And why not merrily choose to have material science and materialist philosophies coexist? All we have to work with is what we know about the material world! (Other posts to follow on these issues).

So what are we to make of the Genesis account? Gordon argues that the creation story presented in Genesis was for the Hebrews who understood nature in terms of the creation myths of their near eastern contemporaries, not so much saying that God spoke this, that, and the other into existence and performed the first surgery to get a rib from Adam to create Eve, but that the simple message of creation was that God was behind it all --- not several gods, but just the one singular God to be worshipped. In this way, the Bible was culturally relevant at the time, but the timeless message remains intact keeping the Bible inerrant. Convenient.

Gordon provides the fundamentals of logic, cosmology, physics, geology, and evolution through accessible language, humor, and metaphor. He gently, clearly, and empathetically implores Christians to face the music with the facts presented in the natural sciences. This is a tall order. It’s not easy to get somebody to up-end their model of their world and the way their God operates. The reader is left with the realization that they have tough decisions to make, an understanding of what doesn’t work in responding to scientific knowledge, and a sympathetic author, but that’s it. In the end, the reader is not given any positive options other than to avoid evil materialism. There is no inkling of why God uses evolution and what that could possibly mean in terms of "God’s image", salvation, and God’s relationship to man. Gordon simply acknowledges that evolution raises extremely difficult questions for the theist, but if we can accept the three-in-one God, a virgin birth, and resurrection, then we should be able to simply accept evolution as God’s mode of creation, leaving his sovereignty intact.

I guess the difference between Gordon and me is that my faith and model of the world were not so independent. I could never (and still can’t) build a God that makes sense when evolution is part of the mix, but materialism gives it to me. Christians’ accepting of evolution should cause a lot of discussion to be dealt with immediately and without reverting to the "all will be revealed someday" excuse for not getting to the meat of tough issues. Hopefully that’s coming in the next book!