This is part of a series of notes in response to "Why I Became an Atheist" by John W. Loftus
Chapter Twenty-Three: Why I Became an Atheist
I'm going to end on this chapter (there is one more) because I absolutely loved it. I think it might have been the best chapter in the whole book for me due to one little quote and the discussion surrounding it.
John quotes Terence Penelhum in what I consider a truly brilliant bit of wisdom:
An ambiguous world is one in which there are always reasonable grounds for hesitation, and is therefore one in which such hesitation is probably not blameworthy. The world could not be ambiguous if there were no people in it who could reasonably interpret it in more than one way. We appear to be confronted not with a simple theist-naturalist ambiguity, either side of which can justify itself at least in negative terms; we are confronted, rather, by a world that exhibits multiple religious and ideological ambiguity... It is possible to be conscientiously unable to decide between two or more worldviews and life-options... Thos who insisted that unbelief must be willful, and not merely that it may be, have the onus of showing that the world is not ambiguous . Only then can we be sure that unbelief is due to the willful refusal to grant what the accuser thinks is true... I think there is one unqualified obligation for all rational beings, whether they have a faith or not: to remove it--to seek the disambiguation of their world. To find some truth that eliminates some alternative reading of the world, or a truth that establishes some essential part of a hitherto merely possible reading of the world. But we can't all wait, can we, for the philosophers to determine what is rational to do before we make life-forming decisions? Of course not; but this is a problem. There are many beliefs we have to go on holding whether philosophers can sustain them for us or not. But an ambiguous wold is a world in which it is rational to go on holding this or that or the other worldview, but also rational to hold many others, and in which the informed thinker knows this...what committed but intellectually responsible adherents of a faith should do [is] to try their best to find a disambiguating argument in favor of the position they are living by.
I absolutely love this and think it speaks tremendously to the unbelievably frustrating environment of debate I have encountered. When my doubt struck, I naively dove into trying to research my way to or away from god toward the truth. I thought it would be clear cut, that one side or the other would have the clearly superior arguments. I thought it would be like finding out if the earth is flat or round. It was nothing like this. It was filled with intelligent people on both sides using what seemed like solid evidence for their positions. I was incredibly frustrated.
I can't say enough about how much the above passage spoke to me. My responsibility is not to prove, not can it be at the present moment or perhaps ever given the topic. My responsibility is to disambiguate. I can only do the best I can with my reading of the evidence, my environment, my cultural and familial heritage, and my genetically inherited traits/predispositions. What more could I do? If I find x convincing, I find it convincing. If I don't… is there a moral culpability attached to this fact? God is said to deal with each where he or she is at. I currently don't find the Christian story convincing and I've tried to read a lot about it. The objections seem so numerous that I don't see much hope for reconciling all of them. With a religion like Christianity, if any one of the objections is actually true… it's all false.
John concluded the chapter by mentioning that his wife's argument against god is that he simply does not reveal himself to her. I would say that my current state is quite similar. I'm trying to read the intellectual arguments for and against but find them troublesome as I'm not sure anyone can prove either side to be correct, especially considering that it hasn't been done by the millions of people before me who were far smarter and devoted their lives to this topic. Granting the possible intellectual stalemate and the point made above that either side in an ambiguous scenario can be a rational position… it seems that the tie breaking is up to god. Here I am, waiting. My prayer these days is a very infrequent, "Jesus, give me that which I can't deny." That's all it would take: something I can't deny. I don't know what form that something would take, but god does.
I watched Angels & Demons today and absolutely loved a line from Tom Hanks when a priest asks him if he believes in god. After beating around the bush a couple times, Hanks simply says, "Faith is a gift I have not yet been given." Brilliant, I thought. That's me.
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