Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Human Experience

Nontheists (atheists more often than not) often ask the Christian to prove that their God exists. The Christian then will generally put forth the reasons they believe (e.g. anecdotal, logical). The nontheist questioning the Christian will then generally proceed to "explain away" the reasoning the Christian had for believing in God, legitimate or not. Subsequently, the nontheist will generally insist that the Christian, having no logical reason to believe, dismiss their belief. To their surprise, more often than not, the Christian remains devout in their belief.

Conversely, when the atheist's position is logically refuted (i.e. no evidence for the nonexistence of God, only that -at best- we don't know), and the Christian insists upon the dismissal of their atheistic belief, the atheist remains steadfast in their belief also.

When presented with "evidence" contrary to their belief, both parties seem to shrug it off and continue as if nothing had ever happened. Days go by, until the next week they find themselves at it once again. The process is repeated, and both the Christian and the nontheist come to the same conclusion: that the other is irrational, illogical, and (sometimes) deluded. This is par for the course in Christian Apologetics.

The reason for this blog is simple: I want to talk about why we shrug it off and try again.

It seems to me that despite whatever "evidence" one might bring to the table, there is always other baggage, metaphysical or not, that affects our perception. That baggage, in my experience (and in others': Christian, nontheist, and pagan alike), is always affected by and dependent upon the human experience. We each experience life, observe, participate, and understand things in varying ways and means.

A group of people watching a sunset will all experience it differently; those who witness some tragic or horrific catastrophe will have their own specific experience and observations. We are like snowflakes, vast a varying in shapes and sizes, but also in how we float along, always singular in our experiences, never the same as another.

Sure, it is certainly possible that there are others who experience life in the same way we do, but generally speaking, the way in which we experience life, observe, participate and understand things is distinct to each individual person.

What does this mean? It means that none of us, and I mean none of us, can definitively comprehend what precisely the other has experienced in life and how it has affected their beliefs, observations, perceptions, and understanding. Not even the most rational among us is capable of diverting the human experience, and getting rid of the baggage we carry, for it is only within our life's experience that we find the rational and logical.

So when someone comes to us with what they call "evidence", we listen, we think about it and, if it goes against our belief system, we generally reject it. Why? Because the things we have experienced, observed, participated in, and understood have all led us to the exact point at which we find ourselves at this precise moment. I am a Christian because of not only the events that have led me to this point, but the manner in which I experienced, observed, participated in and understood those events. Similarly, my atheist, agnostic, and pagan friends are who they are because of how they have experienced the events in their lives.

Is that to say that I won't stray from my current beliefs at some point in time? Not necessarily. I may have some experience tomorrow or next week which opens my eyes to an entirely different viewpoint. Similarly, any one of my atheist, agnostic, or pagan friends may have an experience in the future that opens their eyes to Christ. And that is why we shrug it off this week and try again; because what we say might not affect someone this week, but could forever change them the next.

7 comments:

John said...

Conversely, when the atheist's position is logically refuted (i.e. no evidence for the nonexistence of God,


How can you disprove a negative, anyway? Since the theist is making an affirmative statement -- that there is a god(s) -- then the burden of proof is on the thiest, not the atheist.

Fenton said...

A lack of [convincing] evidence is not evidence for the lack of God. That's just the logical fallacy of argumentum ad ignorantiam.

zeraygazette said...

Really? Let's try out that line of thinking:

There is a magic elf sitting on my shoulder. Prove that he doesn't exist.

Fenton said...

You've only given an example (like Russell's teapot) for burden of proof. That's fine and dandy. I'm all about burden of proof in argument. It still says nothing, however, of the fact that the lack of evidence for something is not evidence for the lack of that something. Such requires infinite knowledge.

Besides, what do I care if there's a magic elf sitting on your shoulder? :)

John said...

1. True, the absence of evidence for a thing is not evidence that the thing does not exist. But why should a thing be accepted as existing if there is no evidence to support it?

2. To follow your reasoning:

Conversely, when the atheist's position is logically refuted (i.e. no evidence for the nonexistence of God,


If there is no evidence for the non-existence of the magic elf, then any argument that denies its existence has been logically refuted.

Fenton said...

“True, the absence of evidence for a thing is not evidence that the thing does not exist. But why should a thing be accepted as existing if there is no evidence to support it?”


I’m not saying that a thing should be accepted without evidence, not at all. I’m merely saying that atheists use the lack of convincing evidence (to them) as a defense for believing there is no God/god(s). At the very most, a lack of convincing evidence (or of any kind of evidence at all) could lead one to a position of agnosticism.


”If there is no evidence for the non-existence of the magic elf, then any argument that denies its existence has been logically refuted.”


Precisely. And that is why atheism (at least the type that says boldly, “There is absolutely no God!”) cannot be logically defended. You could take a more ambivalent or apathetic stance and say that based upon evidence you have seen you’re inclined to say that such and such is more than likely improbable. Saying it with absolute authority, however, would be illogical.

All that aside, there is certainly evidence, and there are arguments against that evidence. The issue isn't whether or not there is evidence for God's existence, but whether or not it is convincing.

John said...

I’m not saying that a thing should be accepted without evidence, not at all. I’m merely saying that atheists use the lack of convincing evidence (to them) as a defense for believing there is no God/god(s). At the very most, a lack of convincing evidence (or of any kind of evidence at all) could lead one to a position of agnosticism.


Okay, I get that. But I think that the burden of proof remains on the theist (or anyone making an affirmative statement). Assuming that something does not exist in the absence of proof thereof is a sound way of preventing one's mental world from becoming cluttered with all manner of imaginary elves, pixies, sprites, and gods.

There's no need to, say, make a daily offering of bread to the forest fairies, just because one isn't certain that they don't exist. It's reasonable to say "These things don't exist, and I shouldn't worry about the dire warnings my fairy-fearful friends make to me."