Inquiring minds want to knowMarch 14, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
Commenter cl has some questions for me.
[Y]ou say you’re not an atheist. So do you go the agnostic route? If so, how would you describe the effective differences? At any rate, I’m glad you can appreciate my questions. People are different. One person says a miracle of type X will do, others cannot be persuaded by any miracle of type X, Y or Z. You yourself argued that God needs to personally accompany the miracle – but even that has room for error, no? You could be hallucinating. You could be having a neurological misfire. Etc, etc. So, I’m left thinking that no miraculous event would or could convince DD. Is that a correct assumption?
I like the sneaky insinuation that I’m simply biased and unwilling to consider the evidence. It’s a subtle touch, but it’s not founded in reality. My most fundamental belief is that the truth is consistent with itself, and therefore all that’s really required to convince me is to show me that something is more consistent with the facts than other possibilities are. I believe I have already demonstrated this by my willingness to take a hard, honest look at my lifelong and deeply-cherished Christian faith. Though it pains me to this day to admit it, the things I believed and wanted to continue believing turned out to be less consistent with the truth than the simple observation that Christianity is a myth. Therefore I changed my beliefs to fit the facts.
As for my beliefs, no, I am not an agnostic either. I’m an Alethian. I worship the god Alethea, Who is the personification of Reality as a whole. You might classify it as a sort of pantheism, except that pantheism tends to rob God of Her personality, and thus fails to win much of a following among ordinary people. She is real, in the same sense that other people think their gods are real, and She also transcends the boundaries of what our limited imaginations can conceive of as a “person.” But it helps us, in our feebleness, to relate to Her personally, and it’s not an entirely inaccurate approximation of something that exceeds human comprehension, so it still has value.
I’ve outlined my beliefs regarding Alethea under the “Patron God” link above. I realize there is a risk that some people will read it and think I’m speaking facetiously, or that Alethea is the same kind of “god” as the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but I’m quite serious. I mean that Alethea is just as much a god as any of the deities man has ever bowed down to. She is Anselm’s “that than which nothing greater can be conceived,” because Alethea is the totality of reality, and thus anything which lies outside of Her is not greater, because that which is real is greater than that which is not part of reality.
So if anyone wants to convince me that their god is part of Alethea (and thus less than Alethea, because they are only part of Her), all they need to do is show me that their god is consistent with real world truth. I would believe that there was a personal, almighty, loving Heavenly Father if I could look at the world and see the consequences that would reasonably be expected to result from such a being’s existence. If we lived in a world where everyone knew his or her Heavenly Father because He frequently showed up to spend time with them, teaching them and nurturing them and leading them in the way they ought to go, then I would believe in His existence. The only reason I don’t is because the real world facts aren’t consistent with such a belief.
Conversely, if someone asks me, “What would it take to convince you that X was true despite the fact that it is not consistent with the facts as we observe them in the real world?” I’m going to respond the same way as I would to the question, “What would it take to make you decide to be gullible, ignore the facts, and just believe whatever I tell you just because I say so?” They’re really the same question. If someone wants to know what it would take to get me to abandon the principle that truth is consistent with itself, I have to say they’re asking the wrong question, because if what they were preaching was the truth, they wouldn’t need for me to reject the principle of self-consistency.
My Alethian faith is superior to the Christian faith, in terms of being consistent with itself and with real-world truth. For example, let’s take cl’s next observation:
And, as far as wanting dad to spend time with the kids, and knowing when dad is talking to them, believers will tell you that this happens during prayer. Believers will tell you they know God’s voice. Believers are familiar with God – they will tell you this – so you are arguing against a strawman in that regard.
When I say the truth is consistent with itself, I’m talking about the whole truth, and not just some individual notion considered in subjective isolation. So let’s look at the phenomenon cl mentions. Yes, people do feel that God speaks to them and that they know His voice. Gay Christians feel like God is telling them that homosexuality is only a sin when practiced by those who are not naturally homosexual; Fred Phelps is equally sure that God is telling him He “hates fags.” George W. Bush feels like God is saying that He loves America and blesses it in order to help defend freedom and democracy throughout the world. Osama is just as sure that God is telling him He hates America and regards it as a Satanic evil that corrupts and opposes everything that is holy.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg, of course. But let’s compare the Alethian perspective with the Christian perspective and see which makes more sense. From the Alethian perspective, what we’re seeing is people having self-prompted subjective experiences, enhanced by the social and cultural reinforcement of their peers in the Christian (or Mormon or Muslim or other) faith. From a Christian perspective, each believer thinks God is really speaking to them, for real, but those other folks are just fooling themselves.
Right away, the Christian has a problem, because he has to admit that it’s possible for people to sincerely believe that God is speaking to them when He really isn’t. On what basis, then, does he assume that he is not one of the “fooling themselves” group? Ultimately, he ends up relying on his own heart (which the Bible calls “deceitful above all things”) and on his own personal sense of what seems right in his own eyes. He’s putting his faith in men, in other words—namely, in himself and his own ability to discern who God is really speaking to. Yet this method clearly does not work, because it’s the same method being used by everybody in the “fooling themselves” group as well.
The Alethian has a much more objective basis for deciding what’s going on. Instead of starting with the conclusion (“God is speaking to men”) and then reasoning backwards to try and find some set of premises that will lead there, the Alethian can start with different sets of premises, derive the consequences that would reasonably result from each set, and then compare the predicted consequences to what we actually observe.
If God speaks directly to men, in a voice that each hearer knows and understands, and assuming that God is sane and coherent, there are a number of consequences that ought to result. For example, everybody ought to hear a consistent message, and this message ought to be telling them the truth. But more than that, if the same God is speaking to different people, we ought to see information sharing going on. The God in one person’s heart ought to be the same God as the One in someone else’s heart, and therefore ought to know the same things. And He shouldn’t be ashamed or bashful about letting people know what He’s doing, because it’s nothing to be embarrassed about.
Conversely, if all we’re seeing here is people having self-prompted subjective experiences, there are a number of distinctive consequences that we ought to see in real life. For example, it ought to be impossible for God to show up in real life, to speak in audible words that can be captured on audio or video recordings, or overheard by bystanders. All “messages” would have to take place entirely within the realm of intuition—each believer’s subjective, non-sensory “experience” of something happening that no one else can perceive. It should also be impossible for God to tell people something they can’t come reasonably close to knowing, or at least guessing, on their own. And the “God” in each person’s heart ought to be completely separate from the “God” in someone else’s heart, such that one person’s “God” has no way of knowing what is being told to someone else’s “God.”
There’s another consequence that would arise if His “voice” were actually just people indulging in a bit of self-flattering self deception: He would need to be protected against being exposed as a fraud. That means we would expect people to have a number of safety barriers around Him, to keep Him from being subjected to tests He couldn’t pass. Alternately, if some tests were unavoidable, people would need a ready repertoire of excuses for why He did not behave as expected. As a purely imaginary being, He would be unable to perform any task that required independent, objective existence on His part, and therefore would need a strong defense from His believers, in order to perpetuate the (self-)deception.
Other sets of premises might also be proposed, but for purposes of illustration we can compare these two hypotheses in terms of how consistent their predictions are with what we actually observe. You can defend the Christian premise that God really is speaking to people. You can try and think up some reasons why God does not manifest any of the behaviors we ought to see if He really were willing and able to speak clearly and unmistakeably to men. But as an Alethian, I don’t need to defend my fact-based beliefs because the real world is already consistent with what we would expect to see if people were only deluding themselves with fantasies and autosuggestion.
So my Alethian faith is better. It’s more consistent with real-world truth from the very start. It does not require defense or rationalization to explain away its inconsistencies, because it doesn’t have them. And having been a fervent, Bible-believing evangelical Christian for most of my adult life, I can tell you, that’s a very satisfying improvement. It’s nice to have a God, but it’s even better to have one that shows up, and is perfectly consistent with real world truth.