Monday, December 7, 2009

International Hot Tub: Round 4 part 1

(For an introduction to the intent and explanation of the name of this series, please see the introduction. Though this is presented as a two party debate on one level, comments and responses are still fully welcomed to all posts in the comments section as a way to help extend the debate and bring other voices into it.)

There is simply too much here to deal with in a single post, at least one anyone would want to wade through. So I'll do a few separate posts. On with the first.

Openness to the supernatural ought to be the natural result of recognizing our limitations. By supernatural we mean what is beyond nature, or more explicitly, what is beyond the physical universe that we are all contained within and a part of. Within the universe we can describe all kinds of relationships and experiences, tangible experiences that indicate objective realities. But the universe gives no explanation for itself. It can't. No self-contained field of relationships can explain its own existence; it can only explain the realities within it. To explain the field itself, reference must be made to something beyond it. As I understand it, this relationship is reflected in the fact that arithmetic, while working fine internally, can not be used to prove its own legitimacy but must defer to algebra to validate it, which then must defer to calculus to validate it. Thus each self-contained field of math is open upwards to levels of reality beyond its nature (super-natural) for its own justification. Likewise, it is the fact that your tangible experiences and the universe they rely on offer no explanation of themselves that ought to lead you to a profound sense of their limitations, which in turn ought to produce an openness upward to a reality beyond the physical universe from which it must derive its meaning. (To clarify, this is NOT the classic cosmological or 'first cause' argument for the existence of God because I'm not here arguing the existence of God, only a basic openness to allow God to reveal himself.)

On the other hand, I think abstract arguments like this are a bit of a dodge and a waste of time. What ought to produce openness to the supernatural is your personal experiences of your limitations, the struggle with your personal nature which we all endure, our inability to fully determine ourselves, to do what we know is right and not do what we know is wrong. It is in our sin that God really finds us, not in our intellectual recognition that he might actually be there.

But even here there is a problem; ultimately it should not be either our abstract reason or personal experience that leaves us open to God, but God himself that opens us up to him. The attitude that demands a reason to be open to this is the very pride and arrogance God must save us from, and judge in the saving. This attitude reduces God to a concept to be considered rather than the Almighty who must be faced. Accordingly, I cannot give you an argument for why you ought to be open to God; the only alternative is to be closed and no truth can come from that.

The claim that taking Jesus' teachings seriously is anachronistic and fails to take seriously the modern scientific world view is faulty because this very claim fails to take seriously the fact that the modern scientific world view changes nothing about Jesus' teaching. Let me say that another way: Jesus' teachings had to do with the relationships of humanity to God, to each other in their personal, political, economic, moral, and familial dimensions, and to the world God has placed us in; he didn't teach physics except the scientifically foundational principle of creation out of nothing, ex nihilo. The progress of modern science can make no judgement on Jesus' teachings because it does not and cannot address them; they have entirely different subject matter, methodology, and authority; the progress of modern science has no corollary in something like a progress of modern morality or civility or culture.

You are formally correct in saying that Jesus never directly addressed himself to atheism; however, materially, Jesus was constantly addressing himself to those who had no real experience of God, giving true objective experience of God in his very presence and address as God. As I've said earlier, he taught his disciples the reality of the kingdom of God and poured out his Spirit on them, enabling them to do the same for others. I am hopeful to do the same for you. In my presence (being on another continent not withstanding) and friendship in the Spirit of faith in Christ, it is my hope that God will open you up to his presence and activity in your life and yours in His. Either way, the reality of millions upon millions of lives who have been changed and brought into contact with the living God up to this very day through the teachings and deeds of Christ read in the Gospels overwhelms your claim of their irrelevance and anachronism.

More to come...


  1. My argument for being open to God: ETERNAL LIFE. Where are you going when your earthly life ends? Don't hope you know. Be certain you know. Your certainty comes from faith, which IS a supernatural experience. Faith is also a choice. I CHOOSE to believe, therefore I know. As long as one "wrestles with God" by intellectualizing the possibility or lack thereof of His existence and the possibility of a relationship with Him, the door to their heart will remain closed. Let go of the stronghold and cast your net. Give God an opportunity to reveal himself to you. He can and he will, but you first have to loosen your grip of resistance.

    "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened." -Matthew 7: 7-8

    "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me." -Revelation 3:20

    These verses do not refer to material "things," but to the eternal life offered by God and the direction and insight within our lives from the Holy Spirit.

    My sense is that you are open to the Lord, otherwise you would not be interested in hearing arguments "for" Him. Give Him a try. He loves you and is just waiting to do an amazing work in your life!

  2. Adam, very well stated. A more developed exposition of one of the points I was trying to raise about the treachery of using sense experience to explore the supernatural.
    I also think it is important to distinguish which "atheist" position we are talking about. Is it (1) God does not exist (2) God may exist but cannot be known, or even known to exist (3) Don't know if God exists and don't want to know (4) Don't know and want to know. It seems to me that only #4 can generate any conversation at all,and that conversation has to start with the openness that has been talked about already. All the seekers after God that I have ever known or read about started with a challenge to God to show Himself, but the challenge came with an implicit listening attitude.
    The confirmed atheists I have known or read about have based their conclusions on observations of the evil and injustice in the world or on their personal negative experiences.
    I still would like to hear if the atheists in this group feel like they ever had faith and if so how they lost it.

  3. Steve,

    I'm pretty firmly in the #1 "God does not exist" camp in my thinking these days. #2 is self-contradictory, #3 is for cowards, and #4 is the guy you should hand the track to.

    On the faith issue, I had faith God was real and was who he said he was in the bible; my faith was as legitimate as anyone’s. I lost my faith by realizing I had no experience of God whatsoever. All the so-called “reality of God” in my life was only people being kind to themselves and each other; there was nothing inherently supernatural about it. I finally had the guts to say so for the first time to your son in law about a year and a half ago and have been solidifying my atheism ever since.

    I recently promised Adam to pray and read the Bible everyday for awhile in an effort to be "open" to God…it’s been interesting.

  4. Andy, thanks that clarifies the discussion for me. I find your position much stronger than the typical atheist viewpoint, and much more honest. If I understand you correctly it was the fact that every experience you had of God and Christianity could be explained without the supernatural. I'm assuming this means that a large part of your current investigations are to determine what if anything that means. In other words, what is "natural" and how would we recognize something outside of it if all we have is natural tools. I'm encouraged by the fact that you are still interested in pursuing the question, and I hope you are putting all your effort into it, as it is the most important question to solve.