Sunday, May 30, 2010

Approaching Belief Naturally (Part II)

Some time ago, I wrote this essay outlining the rational basis for a belief in God. And while the late notorious atheist Antony Flew (whose recent death came just days before my precious wife’s) found similar reasons adequate to change his mind about God’s existence, I have more recently reconsidered the basis for my belief. It is not, in the end, those “reasons for belief” that give rise to my theism. Nor is it the testimony of the Bible. My approach to belief, as I explained in the earlier post in this series, is along the path of Natural Theology. As I whittle away at my own lifelong assumptions, shedding presuppositionalist and, for the moment, my own a priori thinking, I have arrived at a somewhat surprising basis for my personal belief.

I am a believer in God, first and foremost, because I choose to be.

I have not abandoned those reasons for belief. I still value the rational approach of the Thomists (the Natural Theology espoused by Thomas Aquinas), but I recognize that my belief does not begin there. Nor can it logically stem from the Presuppositional approach favored by many Christians (who claim that belief must begin with the presupposition of divine revelation contained in the Scriptures), a view which I completely reject. My belief in God must, at its inception, be a matter of choice. I believe in God because I wish to.

Belief does not end with a choice. Those who choose to believe can (and likely will, in my view) find ample confirmation of that choice, a stream of rational and experiential evidences more than suffice to validate belief. And though my faith is bolstered and reinforced by observation, reasoned consideration, spiritual experience, etc., my faith begins with this simple admission: I believe in God because I choose to believe in God.

Each of us faces this choice. In this most important of existential questions, every human being has the same set of options: God, or no God. Some will claim the convenient “middle ground” of agnosticism. But the agnostic merely acknowledges that we cannot know, a fact with which thinking theists and atheists alike will all agree. And that is why we are confronted with a choice. We cannot, at the outset, know. We all choose. The agnostic chooses to live his life as if there is no God, or as if there is. No one can evade this choosing. We all line up on one side or the other, and we do so as a matter of choice.

And this choice will color all subsequent observations and experiences, predisposing the theist to see evidence for God’s existence everywhere he looks, while predisposing the atheist to see none.

So my theism, at its outset, is a preference. I prefer to believe that this cosmos has ultimate meaning. I prefer to think that my existence is intended, that it has purpose and profound significance. I prefer to believe that human life is something more than a very brief flash in the pan of accidental cosmic existence. I prefer to think that there will be a meaningful consummation of human history. I prefer to believe in one to whom I owe my very existence, even with the personal accountability implicit in such a choice. I prefer to live my days in a constant search for that ultimate reality, for transcendent truth, as opposed to shrugging off the possibility and abandoning such a search. (My search, by the way, has been more than sufficiently rewarded!)

All of which leads to this question: why would anyone choose not to believe these things?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Personal: Life without Ginger

I will get back into writing about topics like Natural Theology. I promise. But it seems unnatural right now to write about anything other than that one who still occupies most of my thoughts. I wrote a letter to a friend earlier today. Below is an excerpt.

The days string together in an unabated tempo. It doesn’t seem like they should. There ought to be some “stop action”, or “pause” button ... but no, life goes on. I’m actually doing better than I thought I would, at least on some levels. Those who look on probably think I’m doing just fine. It might appear that way, but I usually feel like I’m just going through the motions, doing all the things that demand doing – eating, sleeping, working. Almost everything I do has a hollowness, a strong sense of diminished purpose. I now know how much Ginger was at the heart of everything I do. Everything! When I salt the eggs, I do it to suit her taste. When I pull the weeds, it’s to win a smile (always more than enough reward!!). If I shave, its for her touch. When I drive to work, its for her. When I shop, I’m filling out her list, her way. While I wash the car, I’m imaging my pretty lady getting into it. If I sweep the kitchen, take out the garbage, clean up the dishes ... its always all for her.

So, this is my adjustment. I must find new reasons to be. Ginger left me an incredible family, for the health and beauty of which I give all the credit to her. It is her parting gift to me! And I do find much joy and comfort in our children and grandchildren. Tim is amazing. More the executive, take-charge person than I ever was, ever could be. And his strength through this whole process, his leadership in the family, is a unique and wonderful blessing to me. Charis has amazed me too, with her willingness to cook, tend to the house, show initiative in the garden and grounds. Luke, Kirsty, and Amy are all still at home for now. What a blessing to have a full house! Lisa has made special effort to be with us a lot, and her husband is very supportive. Surely my family is all the earthly motivation I should need. Without doubt, this will become my reality, in time.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Approaching Belief Naturally (Part I)

Explore with me two launching points for Christian Theology. Natural Theology builds upon a foundation of observable nature, mixing reason with common experience. Understandings about God derive from reason and insights gleaned from nature. In Natural Theology, science informs the search for transcendent truths, and human reason, though far from infallible, becomes a useful tool. Natural Theology may make use of Scriptures, even come to rely upon them, but it will do so in the course of its reasoned search for truth. Though Natural Theology is an accepted starting point for many Roman Catholics (beginning with Thomas Aquinas), it has been looked upon with suspicion by many Protestants dating back to the Reformers. Revealed Theology begins with Scripture and religious experiences. Revealed Theology rejects nature and reason as starting points. Truth about God, it contends, can only be discerned from special writings, inspired by God himself, and given to man to be the basis for our understandings about him. Theologians who rely upon Revealed Theology often have a deep distrust of both science and human reason. The Fallen state of humankind, it is argued, predisposes us to error, and so we must not trust our own rational processes, our own observations.

For most of my Christian life, I was taught to rely upon Revealed Theology. My belief in God, and all my understandings about him, were sourced in the Bible texts. This was the only “safe” approach. I regarded the Bible as God’s message to man. My own Reformed background instructed me that we could know nothing about God except what he chose to reveal to us through the avenues of special revelation: The Scriptures and our personal spiritual experiences (the Holy Spirit).

All of this changed for me when my study of the natural world began to turn up data which was often at odds with the story told in the Scriptures. Big Bang cosmology, entropy dating back to the beginning of time, billions of years of evolutionary struggle and massive quantities of death and species extinction all preceding Adam and Eve, powerful geological evidence that the earth was never inundated à la the world-wide Flood of Noah; these things, and many more, demonstrated that the Bible must be read differently than I was accustomed to reading it. They touch directly upon the historical narrative; and by extension, they effect many traditional theological assumptions. They strongly suggest new understandings about the Creator of this Cosmos. Most of this data, unavailable to previous generations, results in understandings which, when placed alongside the Bible, alter, enhance and expand upon Christian Theology.

Thus, my personal journey lead me to rely heavily upon Natural Theology. My thoughts about the nature of God, what he is doing with this created order, the narrative of which we are a part ... all of these things are informed as much by observations of nature and the application of reason as by Scripture. Michael Dowd calls this “Public Revelation” (that which can be known by all) as opposed to “Private Revelation” (that which can only be learned through special revelation.) While the Reformers might have allowed for some input from nature, such input would merely supplement a full systematic theology derived from Scripture alone. On the other hand, Natural Theology advocates may include the “private revelation” of Scripture and spiritual experience, but only as they are guided to do so through their reasoned approach to Theology.

In my next post, I want to describe the starting point for my own Natural Theology. In the meantime, I invite your questions and comments.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Defeat circular questioning with the wheel of power

This graphic has been making the rounds on the internet:

Atheists, of course, love it! Why do I post it here? Quite simply because it identifies a huge fallacy at the foundation of many a Christian's faith.

Sometimes, in order to set a structure on a solid foundation, it is necessary to first dismantle the old, unstable one. Comments?

(Tip of the hat to Mike Beidler, who in turn credits James McGrath. But this thing is all over the internet.)