Atheism, the Bible and Doubt

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Robert Arvay
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Atheism, the Bible and Doubt

Post by Robert Arvay »

I am not an atheist, nor even an agnostic. Keep that in mind, because I am not saying that the Bible promotes atheism. Quite the opposite of course—but there is a passage in the Bible that helps us Jews and Christians to understand why some people are atheist/agnostic, and why we cannot persuade them otherwise. The reason may humble us.

From 1 Corinthians 2:14 (King James Version)
. . . the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

This passage rebukes atheism, but it also reveals to us the central difference between those of us who believe in God, and those who do not. We are given no reason to hold ourselves above atheists, for we are not the authors of our own faith. We are instead, the recipients of a free gift, having done nothing to earn it.

There may seem to be, at first, every reason to reject spiritual faith in God, and to accept a purely material (i.e., natural) explanation of reality. Indeed, many a believer in God experiences doubt when confronted by the vast array of influences from physical science. Only when we further investigate the core of materialist science do we find at its center, emptiness and futility.

Bear in mind that this is not a condemnation of science, but rather, a rejection of the unscientific philosophy which underpins the beliefs of many modern scientists. That philosophy avers that the only explanation for physical reality is, well, physical reality.

That circular philosophy makes no mention of right or wrong, of good or evil, or of the inherent worth of humankind. It leaves no room for our spiritual nature. Indeed, it is at a loss to explain the most obvious scientific evidence of our nonphysical nature, our consciousness, which is the only observed phenomenon which observes itself. Finally, in rejecting the independent agency of the human soul, that is free will, physical science abandons all notions of personal accountability.

Such a philosophy offers nothing useful.

As for accountability, the atheist cannot say, the devil made me do it; he says instead that nature made him do it. Indeed, according to him, everything you think do and say, is forced upon you by the unknowing, uncaring and blind, forces of nature. In that paradigm, nothing is ever anyone’s fault, nor is there any virtue in doing right.

The atheist says that there is no purpose in our existence, unless we imagine one, but that sort of imagination is not purpose, it is illusion.

The atheist and agnostic demand proof, and finding none, reject God. The Bible gives an example of the futility of trying to prove God by physical means:
Acts 26:28 (King James Version)
Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.”

Almost, but not quite.

While one cannot proceed by logical steps from atheism to faith in God, one can, instead, if beginning with faith, explain the place of physical science in the spiritual life of man.

As Bishop Fulton J Sheen (1895 – 1979) wrote so eloquently:
The great arcana of Divine Mysteries cannot be known by reason, but only by Revelation. Reason can however, once in possession of these truths, offer persuasions to show that they are not only not contrary to reason, or destructive of nature, but eminently suited to a scientific temper of mind and the perfection of all that is best in human nature.
(The Life of all Living; Garden City Books reprint edition 1951; copyright 1929 by The Century Company, printed in the United States at The Country Life Press, Garden City, N.Y.)

We cannot, then, persuade the atheist. Only God can do that. What we can do, however, is to stand fast in our faith, and not let it be taken from us, neither by force nor guile.
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AshvinP
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Re: Atheism, the Bible and Doubt

Post by AshvinP »

Robert Arvay wrote: Tue Oct 19, 2021 2:23 am I am not an atheist, nor even an agnostic. Keep that in mind, because I am not saying that the Bible promotes atheism. Quite the opposite of course—but there is a passage in the Bible that helps us Jews and Christians to understand why some people are atheist/agnostic, and why we cannot persuade them otherwise. The reason may humble us.

From 1 Corinthians 2:14 (King James Version)
. . . the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

This passage rebukes atheism, but it also reveals to us the central difference between those of us who believe in God, and those who do not. We are given no reason to hold ourselves above atheists, for we are not the authors of our own faith.We are instead, the recipients of a free gift, having done nothing to earn it.

Robert,

Is there not a tension between the bold and the underlined? What do you take "discernment" to mean here? It may help to also consider the previous context of 1 Corinthians 14 (KJV):

10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. 13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
“It is your presumption that freedom is something which you already possess that ensures that you will remain in chains."
ParadoxZone
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Re: Atheism, the Bible and Doubt

Post by ParadoxZone »

Hi Robert,

I'm happy to engage, even at the risk of revealing my own ignorance (I'm used to that now). I won't be able to respond more fully until tomorrow night (your time) at the earliest, I may learn something by trying to synthesise my own understandings and perhaps the same goes for you.

Just a three questions that'll help me first.

1. Have you being paying attention to the Anthroposophy/Spiritual Science/Steiner threads over the last few months? If so, what are your impressions?

2. You say that you are not the author of your own faith, that it is a gift. Is that part of the faith itself (that it is a gift) or is it an add-on to the faith you already have?

3. You say that consciousness is the only "phenomenon" (your word) that observes itself. When does it do this?

Your post refers to materialism and science. There have been a couple of crystal clear posts about these topics recently (from Cleric and Eugene in particular), so I will probably be linking to those at some stage.

As I said, I won't be able to do this at all quickly. I'm busier than usual right now and perhaps organising my own understandings will be an even taller task than J think.

If you're happy to proceed roughly along the above basis, that would be great
findingblanks
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Re: Atheism, the Bible and Doubt

Post by findingblanks »

"The atheist says that there is no purpose in our existence, unless we imagine one..."

Most of the atheists I know believe passionately in purpose. They have all kinds of ways of justifying it and makign sense of it. Some are exactly like Idealists who don't feel the need to have an exact theory, the kind of idealist that might refer to their passion for service to the cosmos and say, "I have no clue what it's all about but I guess MaL is the cause..." Others could right volumes explaining the nature of purpose.

Same with many materialists. Sure we idealists like to say that the materialist makes no sense. We are just being honest, I know. Yet if you are a materialist who works passionately to protect the Earths creatures and get more people to feel the magesty of being near a waterfall or a goat, you probably lose interest when somebody tells you that your experience isn't coherently grounded.

My friends who love nature and are dedicating much of their lives towards trying to protect and celebrate it might not be intellectually savvy enough to realize that they should be idealists :) But many of the selfish and greedy people who believe strongly in God might not be as spiritual as my buddies in other important ways.

At the end of the day, I am still curious about what is going on when we limit the human experience of awe and reference to one or two abstract principles that person is intellectually aware of.

"We cannot, then, persuade the atheist. Only God can do that. What we can do, however, is to stand fast in our faith, and not let it be taken from us, neither by force nor guile."

Well put. I don't think my naturalist friends can change the mind of a greedy and egoic believe in God. Most of them would not try. And I don't believe that my Idealist friends (the ones who care deeply for the future) can get very far in changing the minds of greedy and egoic materialists.

The best people seem to be in the same boat. Together.
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Brad Walker
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Re: Atheism, the Bible and Doubt

Post by Brad Walker »

Abrahamic monotheism is more complicated than the questionable primary sources and theologians describe. Creation lies outside of omnipotence due to infinite regress and the physical Universe is uncreated, which seems atheistic. However, there might be finite duration transcendent experiences between lives. More importantly, there is a nonphysical powerful force that acts autonomously, immanence.

Responsibility becomes problematic when the illusion of free will is discarded, not (a)theism.
findingblanks
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Re: Atheism, the Bible and Doubt

Post by findingblanks »

I like that. I find that my materialistic friends (those who deny free will) are just as good and just as bad at mustering up their will power as my idealist friends. So far I simply don't believe we have any evidence that the content of one's intellectual stance on free will helps us predict a person's commitment and dedication to the beautiful and the good. I fully grasp the various ways we can cherry-pick data but nobody really enjoys that. At least not on purpose.

We can imagine a planet (somewhere out there) filled with people respecting each other (despite real differences in world-view) because we already know that this capacity acts independently of the intellectual schemas we use to 'explain' it. And we've seen how the all the major ontologies have provided strong examples of justifications for the best and for the worst of human actions.

The problem seems to be when a given metaphysic insists that it's the only way fruitfully forward.
ParadoxZone
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Re: Atheism, the Bible and Doubt

Post by ParadoxZone »

FB said

"The problem seems to be when a given metaphysic insists that it's the only way fruitfully forward."

Agreed, though when a particular "metaphysic" gives clear reasons why the fruitful way forward is the best way, does that change your outlook?

Leaving aside free will and whatever constraints might exist in that regard, "will power" can be used to good or bad effects, extreme for an individual or group or latterly the whole planet.

Will power is often lauded as a good thing in isolation. It's not, as it can be used to do horribly destructive things.

And if I am getting your drift right in various threads (I might not be) you are making the case for a variety of ontological beliefs (however explicit or implicit) being useful. Sure, in retrospect they can be seen that way. Prospectively though?

It seems manipulative to me. Do we have a budding wannabe shadow dictator here?

Or put another way - do the ends truly justify the means? Maybe that's the point that needs to be confronted head-on.

I would appreciate clarification on your position on the above. It might also avoid me butting in on other threads. Thanks.
findingblanks
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Re: Atheism, the Bible and Doubt

Post by findingblanks »

"Agreed, though when a particular "metaphysic" gives clear reasons why the fruitful way forward is the best way, does that change your outlook?"

I may not grasp the question, but on the surface I feel like it smuggles in the presupposition that there is only one way forward ('the' fruitful way). When a massive group of diverse humans (thinkers, feelers, poets, activists, lazy bums, confused weirdos, the hopeful, the terrified, and the terrorized) need to generate wise maps that will help move us all forward, I'd worry if anyone insisted that only one map would save us.

"Will power is often lauded as a good thing in isolation. It's not, as it can be used to do horribly destructive things."

Yes, I did not mean to imply otherwise. I just scratch my head when somebody suggests that one's intellectual abstractions about the nature of 'the will' is a good predictor of how rich and productive that person's expression of intention is. According to some people we should expect that people who intellectually deny that we could have chosen differently will be nihilists. And that comes with the error of assuming that because we certainly will find nihilists who deny free will, it is that belief that drives their fractured psyches. Most of the nihilists I met back in my college days were sadly striving after goals just as passionately as their depressed religious coevals. And of course that goes for the joyous non-believers and the joyful religious as well.

"And if I am getting your drift right in various threads (I might not be) you are making the case for a variety of ontological beliefs (however explicit or implicit) being useful. Sure, in retrospect they can be seen that way. Prospectively though? It seems manipulative to me. Do we have a budding wannabe shadow dictator here?"

I know I don't follow all of that, but I want to. Yes, if we are talking about just general broad stroke metaphysics (say, idealism, dualism, physicalism, and panpsychist), I'd say that we should not expect the viewpoint itself to be driving much of the resourcefulness and vital connection life. In other words, noticing how the person/group is living and then attributing their general metaphysics to whatever qualities we appreciate or bemoan is a mistake. A common one.

And, yes, in retrospect we can continually re-interpret the role of a belief system. But, for me, unless that belief system explicitly includes edicts that prescribe specific behaviors and attitudes (like if it says, "brown eyed people are not to be trusted" or "slavery is fine"), we are mostly likely eroring in giving it the lion's share of credit for why a person is acting/living the way they are. We know that believing everything is mind leaves plenty of room for people justifying horrid specific belief systems. Same with physicalism. If you are already an idealist (like me) then of course you'll find it much easier and much more obvious that a strong ethical code/impulse can come from idealism. And, then, of course a physicalist will find it much more easy and obvious to understand their ethical codes/impulses by referring to material models. And if each of them is in the category of "fairly convinced my ontology is correct), of course they will be inclinded to cherry-pick the examples they show from the other side as representative of
"what that view leads towards."

I'm not sure what seemed manipulative to you. I sense some fun playfulness mixed with a solid point in your 'shadow dictator' comment, but I'm not exactly sure what you're saying there. What I am sure of is I appreciate your clarity of expression and juicy questions about these topics.

update............I just noticed your last two sentences....wow, sorry, I"ll add to the above below :)

"Or put another way - do the ends truly justify the means? Maybe that's the point that needs to be confronted head-on."

No, for me while there are certainly neutral cases where a wide range of means is fine...I could never say that 'any' act (religiously or secularly justified) is justified by some supposed positive net gain.
Last edited by findingblanks on Tue Oct 19, 2021 7:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.
findingblanks
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Re: Atheism, the Bible and Doubt

Post by findingblanks »

"The atheist and agnostic demand proof, and finding none, reject God."

I'm an atheist to Zeus and do reject Him in that sense. But my atheism to Zeus isn't very 'active', in that I acknowledge I am not a scholar and haven't spent much time trying to be convinced. I guess I am an atheist to many core claims about Gods or a particular mythos of a particular God. That a concept like MaL is the best in terms of grounding my most sacred (and even most basic) experiences might mean I am not an Atheist to God. But if MaL needs to be called "God" then I guess I'd have to claim not only an Atheism to Zeus but an Atheism to the Abrahamic God. It isn't my style to cut up categories like this, but if we are in a conversation that comfortably says things like "Atheists demand proof and reject God" I think we should get very clear about the nature and range of such 'demands' and the nature and range of those rejected Gods. And my atheism to any particular account of God, Zeus or otherwise, certainly doesn't suggest that I think a person who believes in them won't be guided by strong moral codes or moral intuitions.

It reminds me of the way a certain kind of atheist characterizes 'the religious believer', an element of truth shrouded in cherry-picked distortions. And in many cases those distortions are not intentional at all.
ParadoxZone
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Re: Atheism, the Bible and Doubt

Post by ParadoxZone »

FB,

You said :

"In other words, noticing how the person/group is living and then attributing their general metaphysics to whatever qualities we appreciate or bemoan is a mistake. A common one."

100% agree with this. However, if someone is in a position of power and influence and exerts those things, it is right and proper to wonder how those things are grounded in reality (ie metaphysical beliefs, regardless of how explicitly those beliefs are acknowledged).

In the vernacular, "Where's all this coming from, I wonder?"

My questions are coming from a belated realisation of the urgency of the moment in a collective sense. This then prompts ethical considerations about tactics and wonderings whether more gentle bluntness might meet the moment.

That's not to suggest there is only one path. Though does the path need to be truthful as well as accurate? My answer is yes, hence my mention of manipulation above.

None of the above implies that good things cannot come from faulty foundations in the short-term.
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