GvNG: “Tipping Point” query

This is something of a sidebar to the previous post, which ended so naturally that I could not bring myself to continue it. In the his tipping point post, Kirk says this about his own balanced faith:

The tipping point to agnosticism was 5 points in evolutionary theory. The tipping point back to God was to learn that those 5 points were either fraudulent or found to be not true.

I’m curious to know what 5 points these are, and if his claim that they were “found to be not true” would be re-evaluated in light of the Index to Creationist Claims. I suspect, however, that this story is quite a lot like the similar “I was an atheist/nonChristian” stories told by evangelists like Kirk Cameron and Lee Strobel, where it means “I didn’t really care about religion until I converted,” “I went through a period where I kind of doubted my faith, but now I don’t,” or “I made up/exaggerated this story to demonstrate how bad nontheists are/that I know where they’re coming from/that they’re just in denial/etc.,” and not “atheist/agnostic” in the way those words are used by anyone who actually is an atheist or agnostic, where it represents a conscious decision based on self-evaluation and introspection. Seeing that the “deconversion” here was based on points in a scientific theory leads me to believe that Mr. Kirk’s faith is rather weak, or that his agnosticism was more doubt than deconversion.

Incidentally, to the question of “tipping back,” I think I showed fairly well in the post (and again in the comments) that I think the “scales” analogy is flawed, because it posits equal, or nearly equal, evidence for both points of view. However, like any agnostic, and like most atheists, what I would need to believe in God are the following:

  1. A definition of “God.” As Bronze Dog is always saying, it’s meaningless to ask “do you believe in Flarschnikit” until you define what a “Flarschnikit” is. Pantheists define God as the universe, most Christians define God as a three-part being with the qualities of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence, but beyond that there’s nothing but debate. The classical Greeks defined gods as elemental beings with physical bodies and ill-defined magical powers. Until we have some definition for “god,” there’s no sense in debating its existence. A falsifiable definition would be great, but anything specific will do.
  2. Proof of God’s existence. The best proof would be something repeatable, reliable, and amazing. Passing Randi’s Challenge would be a good start. But if God came down from the Heavens, proclaimed himself, and did half a dozen impossible things under controlled conditions, I’d be pretty inclined to believe. I don’t do the “faith” thing, not anymore. It’s all positive evidence from here on out.

That’s the important stuff. Of course, I don’t know that that would entail “belief” so much as “acceptance.” I don’t “believe” in gravity, or grass, or air, I accept that they exist. Similarly, if I were shown God conclusively, I’d accept his existence. Now, that doesn’t mean I would necessarily worship him. After all, he’s got quite a lot of explaining to do. There are two God questions in my mind: “does God exist?” and “if he does, does he deserve our praise?”

I have to say, though, I’m not holding my breath until those terms get satisfied, because it seems increasingly unlikely. But if I die and end up in a burning pit for all eternity, my reaction will have to be “fair enough.” And that would be a great answer in the negative to my second question.

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.