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Discussion 9 to Talk Back 89
Seeking clarification, continued.

by: Will Petillo

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Ben,

First of all, please don’t feel pressured to lose sleep over this, I am willing to wait a few weeks for your response. Even if you don’t respond, I will not be offended, nor will I assume that I have “won the argument,” whatever that means.

In case it wasn’t clear, #1 (“State whether the above argument is an accurate representation of your views. And, if it is not, explain why not”) was a paraphrase of what I thought your views were, not an expression of my own. For example, I do not consider Agnostics to be inherently passive by any means. Some are, but I (and many other Agnostics) have actively sought reasons to believe or disbelieve in God, have found ourselves convinced by neither, and have made a reasoned and heart-felt decision not to pick a side—personally, I find the Atheist case to be more compelling, but not so overwhelmingly so that I am willing to discount the possibility that there is some sort of Supreme Being since there is so much about the universe that I don’t know. Also, I have no intention of throwing out apparent contradictions in the Bible, I was merely pointing out that the Bible has many things in it that seem rather strange on a first read and therefore working out an contradiction-free interpretation is far from easy—notice I did not say impossible.

That said, I have one question about your response to my paraphrase. You said:

Jesus said, “When you seek me with your WHOLE HEART, you WILL find me.” You must be desperate! He will not reveal Himself to people who still think they have it all together and don’t need anyone else to figure things out.

And then later:

If you read it and paid attention, you would know that among a zillion other examples, Jesus revealed himself to Paul on the road to Damascus, while Paul was enroute to arrest followers of Jesus, whom Paul rejected as a false prophet. Jesus also himself CLEARLY stated that he came to seek and save those which were lost.

I am a bit confused here. How was Saul (he changed his name to Paul after the conversion) seeking Jesus with his whole heart? How was he desperate in his search for Jesus—other than to kill him? How was he not someone who thought he had it all together and didn’t need anyone else to figure things out? And if Jesus is willing to reveal Himself to people like Saul and others who are lost, why should I bother seeking Him out? I point out this apparent contradiction in your biblical interpretation not for the sake of saying “gotcha!” I am just confused as to what you mean here.

As for the “watchmaker” argument, I was kinda hoping you would research that for yourself, but here’s the gist of the debate I was referencing. Quite some time ago (I’m thinking around 17th-19th century), someone[1] wrote a “proof” for God’s existence that went something like this:

Suppose you were walking in a field and came across a working, ornate, gold pocket-watch. You might think to yourself: “What a beautiful watch! Surely this watch could not have come about by chance, some intelligent being, some watchmaker, must have created it.” Now, look around at the world. Look at all the life, the complex ecosystems, the beautiful geology. Surely, this world could not have come about by chance, some intelligent being, God, must have created it.

This was a seemingly valid argument until Darwin’s theory of natural selection came along, which goes something like this:

There are two basic processes that affect the way species change over generations: genetic mutation and natural selection. Because of genetic mutation, offspring may be slightly different from their parents. Some of their mutations are beneficial to their survival and reproduction, others are harmful. According to the theory of natural selection, those offspring with beneficial mutations will be more likely to survive and reproduce than others and will therefore become dominant. After a very large number of mutations—preserved and made dominant through natural selection—species will evolve and diverge, fitting every conceivable niche to which they can adapt.

The above theory may seem innocuous enough to those who believe the world was created by God, but the bizarre thing about Darwinian evolution is that it does not presuppose any intelligent, guiding force—although it does not deny the existence of such an intelligence either. Thus, the watchmaker argument fails to prove God, as it relies on the assumption that complex things must have been made by an intelligent creator and Darwinian evolution directly undermines this assumption. The theory has some gaps, as one would expect given that it relies on fossil records and only certain kinds of life-forms in certain conditions leave fossil records, but it is incredibly well-supported by the evidence that is out there and has been universally accepted by the (legitimate) scientific community. Nevertheless, people dishonestly claiming scientific authority in their attempts to have Intelligent Design (i.e. Creationism with a thin pseudoscientific veneer) taught in schools attack the theory of evolution, often employing the thoroughly discredited “watchmaker” argument. When you say: “the world is replete with beauty and order. It could have no more come about by chance than could a bomb going off in an auto parts store result in the formation of an automobile,” you sound like one of these people.

As for your personal experiences with Jesus, I do not think you are mentally unstable. You have clearly had different experiences than I have. Perhaps if I had similar experiences as you, I would have been led to similar conclusions. If such is the case, we are at an impasse and thus must be content to agree to disagree. Or…perhaps our experiences are not so different and our different opinions are the result of differing ways of interpreting experience. For example, I have had two dreams where I have visited the afterlife, but I do not consider these to be good reasons to be sure that an afterlife exists because:

  1. The dreams depicted such different portrayals of the afterlife that I find it hard to believe they could both be accurate.
  2. I have also had dreams where I have been chased by giant spiders, played LaserTag with Jackie Chan, and forgot my lines for a school play. What does it all mean? I have no idea, and I don’t subscribe to Freudian analysis.
  3. Neither of the dreams indicated that where I go after death will be determined in whole or in part on whether or not I believe in God (indeed, both implicitly allowed Agnostics into the good place), so I feel no motivation from self interest to believe to suppress my rational doubts.

For another example, I noticed you mentioned as one of the types of experiences that led you to follow Christ: “It’s in the reading of a verse that just hits you like a hammer, speaking right to where you are, and a confirming presence in your soul.” Why is it that those verses hit you so hard? Because you agree with them already? That seems like a problematic way to assess the accuracy/value/truth/sophistication of a text…

As a final note, I am not particularly interested in challenging your beliefs about God and Christianity, but I have every intention of challenging your preconceptions about nonbelievers. We are not all passive, many of us have read the Bible, and our lack of certainty does not come from stubborn contrarianism but from reasonable doubts.

Footnotes:

  1. William Paley, 1802