GvNG: “Tipping Point”

Continuing my responses to Randy Kirk and The God vs No God Debate, I’m going to tackle “the tipping point,” which he described in a comment he made over on The Bronze Blog and a post earlier this month. Here’s what he said at BD’s:

I merely asked what the tipping point would be for the atheists and agnostics who were involved. The tipping point in question? To faith in God.

Now, I’ve discussed my deconversion before, and it could be described as a “tipping point” experience (used here in the more colloquial sense where little things add up until eventually they are too much to support). There was the cursory nature of my religious indoctrination (which included stories about “what may have happened” to Jesus in his youth in Sunday school, with almost as much frequency as stories from the Bible) and the fact that every time I tried to read my Children’s Bible, I couldn’t get past Noah’s Ark without being bored out of my skull (which was kind of a shame, because the picture that accompanied the Nebuchadnezzar story looked pretty cool). There was the fact that I had a pretty well-developed sense for the difference between fact and fiction as a kid, and the story of Joseph Smith seemed to be a particularly ridiculous fictional one (magical breastplates?). There’s my life-long love of science, which included the genetically-corroborated theory that the Native Americans emigrated from Asia over the Alaskan land bridge, and thus were not Middle Eastern Jews who sailed across the Atlantic. That was a big factor; it was the first time I remember telling my mom some esoteric fact, having her say “no, that’s wrong, [insert church teaching here],” and coming away thinking “no, the church is wrong, I believe history and science.” A similar experience happened when we briefly studied the LDS movement (which my mom’s church broke off of) in 8th Grade History class, and I realized that my history book told a significantly different story from what I vaguely remembered of the church’s official history. That seemed pretty fishy. And I guess the ‘last straw’ so to speak was when I rethought my position on homosexuality and started actually reading some of the more absurd parts of the Bible. After that, it was a quick descent into agnosticism/weak atheism/whatever I want to call myself.

Let’s face it, if my parents didn’t want me doubting the faith, they shouldn’t have named me “Thomas.”

But tipping back is another matter entirely. See, Kirk’s question implies that there is this great scale, where “Evidence for God” is on one side and “Evidence against God” is on the other, and you’re constantly adding to both piles, creating a tension and perhaps an oscillation between belief and nonbelief. From my perspective, it’s not like that at all. Once I “tipped,” I saw that the scales were never balanced. There was no credible evidence for the existence of any deity, let alone Jehovah. The only things weighing down the other side of the scale were tradition and indoctrination, and perhaps a misguided desire to believe that the world is other than what it seems.

I found a poem some years ago (around the time I found the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible and started reading up) which pretty well summarizes my take on the “scale” analogy. It’s a parody of a familiar little glurge, but lacks the hollow, saccharine conclusion.

Footprints in the Sand

One night a man had a dream. He dreamed he was walking along the beach with the LORD. Across the sky flashed scenes from his life. For each scene, he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand: one belonging to him, and the other to the LORD.

When the last scene of his life flashed before him, he looked back at the footprints in the sand. He noticed that as the path of his life grew longer, one set of footprints grew fainter until only the other remained. He also noticed that the faint set of footprints vanished when the very highest and happiest times of his life began.

This really bothered him and he questioned the LORD about it: “LORD, you said that once I decided to follow you, you’d walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that the most successful times in my life begin when there is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why you would leave me and not share my joy.”

But the LORD was silent and unseen.

The man walked back and looked for the LORD. He noticed that, as he approached, the two sets of footprints appeared to merge and become one. He realized that the faint set of footprints had not vanished; it was not there. It was merely an illusion, an echo of the other footprints, visible only to a weak and gullible perception.

And the man knew there was only one set of footprints: His own.

© 1997-2000 Dov Wisebrod

Now, I’ll freely admit that there’s a problem with my scales analogy; namely the tricky idea that there is “evidence against God.” I recognize that it’s impossible to prove a negative (“only God can prove a negative, and there is no god“), especially when the object of disproof not only defies the natural world, but also lacks any clear and specific definition. However, if we assume that the various readings of the Bible reflect an accurate definition of the Christian God, then we can look to elements of the natural world as evidence against. The apologist will ultimately argue around such objections, but such arguments require successively greater departures from the textual “evidence.”

Anyway, the way I’d prefer to look at deconversion (my own, anyway) is with a different sort of scales analogy. I was raised in an environment which wrapped me up in various trappings of religion and tradition and superstition. As I have grown and matured and become my own person, I have shed those trappings as a snake sheds its skin, little by little, until I am no longer burdened with them. And looking back, I see that burden for what it really was: fragile, restrictive, and utterly empty.

2 Responses to GvNG: “Tipping Point”

  1. Randy Kirk says:

    Did I miss the part where you talked about tipping back? Or was that an explanation for why you wouldn’t be giving such.

  2. Doubting Tom says:

    I’ll get to that in the next post. Although it should be pretty obvious where I’m at with the whole “tipping” business. “Tipping point” suggests that a lot of little things (here, pieces of evidence, presumably) add up, until the structure tips one way or another. Like I said here, once I “tipped,” I realized that there was no pile of evidence on the other side, and that the analogy was flawed.

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