I need to preface this with something I've been pondering for quite a while that I think contributed to my experience. It's a wonderful article by Keith Sewell called Truth?. I found it extremely thought provoking and actually found myself agreeing with it almost from the start, even though it suggest some fairly radical concepts. For a sampler, some of the highlights in the article are:
- Do we need the words "true" and "truth" in our language at all?
- What does the statement "X is true" have that is not contained in simply saying "X"?
- Is there a qualitatively superior form of knowing beyond sensory input and cognition?
- Does saying "X is true" but not being able to provide any Y's for the basis of believing X ever allow belief X to be justified?
- To piggyback on the last question and intertwine it with a previous one, if the previous answer was "no," do all statements that "X is true" ultimately reduce to "X because of these Ys"? If so, again: what does the word "true" add to the statement?
I did have some hesitations. From interacting with Justin at Faith Heuristic I'm quite accustomed to being told that atheism has only self-defeating epistemology choices available. Justin is quite convinced that everything other than moderate foundationalism and perhaps reformed epistemology fail the evil demon problem and the issue of infinite regression. I brought these up to Keith a fair amount. I was more or less satisfied with his responses. In essence, if we are in a dream or illusion created by an evil demon such that there is no way to tell... then the dream or illusion is as real as we'll ever know. One goes on living life in the illusion. Perhaps the response would be that secretly I'm holding a "basic" belief that life is real since I'm living as if it is, not as if I'm agnostic on whether it's real or a dream. That's probably true. I'm open to wrestling more with this concept.
As for the regression problem, Keith's response was interesting -- the regression problem targets unvalidated justified beliefs. It keeps asking, "But why do you believe that?" until the responder can only answer, "I just do!" There will reach a point when there are no more Y's to justify your believe in X. Keith, building on the work of Karl Popper, somewhat undercuts this challenge by simply stating that no belief is certain. All beliefs are provisional and subject to further revision by better input via senses of repeatable observations or further developments/modification of the cognitive process about such external input. Now, one issue might be with the potentially self-contradiction statement, "Nothing is certain." As the joke goes, "Only one thing is certain: nothing is certain." Keith responded with a reformulation, embodying Popper's position, like this: "Nothing – specifically including the proposal that nothing is certain – is certain." I'm still chewing on that!
Perhaps I should apologize for building expectations so much if the simplicity of my thoughts ends up being disappointing. All that passed through my mind as I laid in bed was this:
"I don't have to prove that Christianity is false. All I need to claim is that I haven't found it to be true."
Perhaps this is cryptic or too nuanced to make any sense. I have been seeking to definitively show that Christianity is true or false primarily to my own satisfaction but also with the aim of being able to demonstrate it conclusively to any inquirer. I don't exactly want to be an "evangelist for atheism" but do want to have the confidence associated with being as certain as possible with a conclusion and having a grasp on the reasons for that conclusion so well understood that I can walk anyone through it and lead them to rationally conclude the same thing.
Even though I'm far more convinced of "not-Christianity" than of Christianity, I'm not where I would like to be given the above aims. I'm also unable to even crack the shell of any believer I've talked to when I voice my concerns. An objection like, "Why would Paul, writing to others about Jesus and supposedly teaching Jesus' doctrine, fail to mention anything whatsoever about his words or actions (okay, except for a last supper transcript)?" is met with "Paul never met Jesus, so what do you expect?" I'll spare you the boredom of reading through every formulation of this type of interaction. It's got to be the most frustrating aspect of those of us trying to find out what is and what isn't. The religious realm is one in which it is scandalously easy to hold a viewpoint and remain immune to conclusive refutation (for the most part). There is always a hiding place, a "mysterious ways" card to play, a set of historical details to support claims for ever set that challenges others, an accusation of close-mindedness for ever statement of incredulity toward miracles, and so on. Very few have their minds changed... in either direction.
So, why the relief in this simple statement? Simply because I can be put to rest from the constant anguish of feeling like I need to be the local version of anti-William-Lane-Craig. I don't have to prove anything to anyone. I simply need to assert that in my journey and exploration, I have not been convinced that Christianity is true.
Now, you may call foul and notice that I've used the word true a few times even after that lengthy preamble about eliminating it from one's lexicon. I did that on purpose because immediately after I thought the italicized thought up there (...haven't found it to be true.) I thought to myself, "But what would that mean?" What would it mean to say that Christianity is not "true"? That's my "X", and the obvious question of the hearer would be, "What are your Y's for thinking that?" At this point the circle would begin and all my doubts/difficulties/issues would be met with apologetic responses. Using that little word, true, means that I'm back in business to attempt a categorical defense of "not-Christianity." True connotes something universal; something that can never change. That's not where I'm at, nor is it the kind of belief (at least I'm coming to think this) that I'll ever have, at least about Christianity. What emerged was a hybrid:
"I have not found Christianity to be accurate."
That's it. That's what you (perhaps) endured all these words for. But it works for me. Accuracy, to me, connotes the classic scientific image of darts on a dart board. Think of the bullseye (for each of us) as those things we have come to be more or less certain about by conscious or unconscious testing. I consider the bullseye to be in the class of things that can be verified repeatably and which offer predictive power as the result of one's hypothesis and testing of that hypothesis. As one sways from the bullseye, things are less certain. Variations occur. Mechanisms are less understood. Inconsistencies are found.
This is where I'm at with Christianity. I simply don't find it accurate based on the "bullseye" I'm working with -- the aggregate of my experience, education, genetic tendencies, Myers-Briggs type (I/ENTP), emotions, instincts, etc. In other words, all that defines "me" as a data-input and processing system has not found Christianity to square with the class of knowledge I consider reliable enough to trust as accurate with reality.
And that's all I have to show. Until something from Christianity enters the realm of repeatable, verifiable, offering of predictive power, etc... there is really nothing that can lead me, personally, to belief (at least that's how I currently see it). And that's all there is to it. I can stand at odds with my circles and 1/3 of the world. I simply have not found the propositions put forth by the Christian religion about history, who Jesus was and what he did, the special type of knowledge contained in the Bible, miracle stories, any fall scenario, etc. to be accurate. To attempt to change this may near be impossible as it will require a personally tailored set of sensory input or cognition adjustment to make Christianity's "darts" migrate closer to my bullseye area. At some "ring" of my dart board closer to the middle, I believe that the belief could be formed that Christianity accurately describes the world: history, supernatural realms, etc. That time has not yet come.
P.S. On that last note, I continue to hold that belief is mostly or entirely involuntary. I do not think that Christians "choose" Christianity. I think that a stream of input and how one sees that input "forms" a belief. I theorize that we all have a "threshold of belief" that we cannot specify or define. When the weight of evidence for any particular proposition meets that threshold, we become believers. Since god knows us better than we know ourselves, I believe that if he exists, he knows where this threshold is and has decided not to meet it. Or else he does not exist. To the objection that some do "choose" to be Christians, I would argue that those who have wrestled with doubt but "choose" to "remain" Christians are probably somewhat agnostic and only following a set of rituals and practices. Or somehow they've just tried to forget about the doubts by keeping themselves distracted or flooded with apologetics without thinking about the answers they receive. I could be wrong, but I have an extremely hard time at present thinking that someone can actually manifest internal belief by merely choosing to do so. Having some kind of revolutionary thought or series of thoughts is not choice -- input and interpretation (cognition) led one to belief and was almost certainly not predicted. What I'm talking about is "jumping a fence of belief" literally by choice alone without any contribution from external evidence or a change in thought/perception about the evidence already possessed.