Navigating Uncertainty

Hi Nathan,
Welcome to the Forum and thank you for sharing all of this. I’m a bit late to the discussion so I’ll just pop in right where you’re at now. I appreciate your honesty and I have, at times, experienced sentiments similar to what you express. It made me think about the same Psalm as @Jay313 referred to, Psalm 22:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.

It helps me to remember that Jesus Christ Himself uttered the first verse of this Psalm when He was dying on the cross (Matthew 27:46). Such utter defeat, uncertainty in God (!!!), and even despair were a much more cruel torture to Jesus than any whiplash, cross, or thorny crown could ever do. Yes, the physical suffering finds its supreme value in being a pointer to that deeper suffering which Jesus underwent. In that moment, with the last of His strength, Jesus chose to speak those words of Psalm 22. Any of the Jews around Him would have no trouble remembering that the Psalmist started this song in utter despair, while ending it in a song of praise and renewal:

All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
even the one who could not keep himself alive.
Posterity shall serve him;
it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
that he has done it.

In that sense, by quoting the beginning of Psalm 22 full of despair, Jesus was already pointing forward to His resurrection. All of this serves to clarify that in Jesus, God united us fully to Himself, even to the point of sharing our worries, uncertainties and despair. That’s the best advice I can give, to look towards Jesus Christ. Ponder how His work on the Cross, full of true pain, despair and defeat, preceded His Resurrection, full of true joy, fulfilled hope and glory. In the same way glorious restoration is awaiting us, as Paul described:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Besides this, I have some thoughts on the more “intellectual” side of your uncertainty.

I’m a graduate student in Neuroscience and I wouldn’t tie it all to the neurons because there are many more levels of analysis at play, even physically speaking. As human beings, our identity is not defined by our brains per se, but by our relationships to our surroundings and others, and most importantly, to God. On the other hand, what would be wrong with us being “emergence phenomena”, as creatures made by God? Let’s see what the Psalmist says in Psalm 103:

For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.
As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.

Of course, I also believe there is something eternal about who we are, but this derives from our relationship to God who is eternal. In our relationship with Him, our existence becomes more than temporary. God gave everyone of us a body for engaging in that relationship and we have the promise of receiving a glorified body in the End of Times, like Jesus. Maybe the following book would be interesting concerning the theoretical side of the story “Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies?” by Nancey Murphy.

Blessings,
Casper

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I appreciate your intentions but I fundamentally disagree with your line of reasoning. I think it’s a dead end. In fact, there are also respectful neuroscientists and philosophers of mind who argue against epiphenomenalism based on evidence of the functional role of consciousness. For example, there’s a large body of evidence that explores the “broadcasting” role of consciousness, exerting top-down influence on diverse regions of the brain. Also, on basis of evolutionary reasoning, one can argue that the emergence of such an “esoteric” ability without any inherent usefulness whatsoever would be a very large stretch. See for example this recent article “Conscious Intending as Self-Programming” published in the Journal of Philosophical Psychology by Slors.

Cheers,
Casper

@Casper_Hesp

Are you sure that research is demonstrating what you think it is demonstrating?
It is certainly fair for researchers to identify the role of neural systems that are notorious
for being connected to Conscious human activity. And I’m sure we are learning quite
a bit from that kind of research.

But on the metaphysical level, how do you prove that anyone other than yourself has Consciousness? We are also learning from scientists exploring the indications of what
we consider Conscious thinking … but without the individual being aware of it at all.

Patients with “split brains”, either from birth or due to an accident or disease, frequently
report in tests that what one part of the brain sees… they cannot communicate orally - -
and have to let the hand connected to that side of the brain write down the name of
the object. This behavior is happening without consciousness… but it is certainly
the very basics of behavior we usually attribute to a conscious mind!

For science to prove Consciousness is not an epiphenomenon is tantamount to being able to prove that a human (or any other creature) is conscious.

Are you prepared to accept that?

That’s not the only thing researchers did. The author of the article I cited also made an argument that we don’t see such “broadcasting” efficiently happening without consciousness. I encourage you to read the article if you have access to it!

Patients with split brains are an excellent example of where the “broadcasting” role of consciousness is impeded. For example, this video shows a man who receives the word “toad” on one side of his brain and the word “stool” on the other side. Due to his split brain, he is unable to combine these words into the concept “toadstool”.

I was not talking about “proof”, but about “evidence”. There’s no way to “proof” consciousness, but there’s a lot of evidence indicating that it has a functional role…

@Casper_Hesp

The issue of Epiphenomenon, in an Atheistic Universe, is one of proof. How do you prove anyone other than yourself is conscious? This is the riddle of Solipsism.

Attaching electrodes on a subject’s shaved head, and concluding: “yep, he is awake!” - - is not the same thing as concluding “yep, he has Consciousness”.

@DrebNay

Here is another topic you should become comfortable discussing. It drives me “crazy” ! … but it underlies the claim that consciousness is an epiphenomenon in a Universe with no God.

Sorry that I missed this yesterday.

Praise God for that! I am glad that our musings were helpful in some way. I pulled a few quotes from your post to highlight a theme …

[quote=“DrebNay, post:16, topic:5722”]
For some reason I can’t explain on any level, the desire to know the truth is more powerful than the desire to be comfortable.[/quote]

My response may seem a little off the wall, but I think that arguments and books will not solve your problem. Just as Abraham, the father of faith, was tested, God eventually brings all his children to the place of testing. Will we follow, despite the darkness and cloud of unknowing? Remember also that you have an adversary, who attacks faith at its weakest point. Not surprisingly, our weakest point is where we think we are strongest, because of pride. In your case, that is your intellect, which is why more books and more arguments are unlikely to help. It is just more fuel for the fire.

You are right. God was willing to die to restore relationship. He desires your heart above all, more than your mind. He wants your love, not your arguments on his behalf. The body of Christ lacks unity because too many of its members are focused on being “right” rather than loving their neighbor. Consider a few things that Paul calls “acts of the flesh” – hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” As he says earlier in Gal. 5: “For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

My advice, then, is to stop seeking God in books, other than his book, and to seek him in everyday life. This is the thing that brought you some temporary relief. God does not desire you to express your faith in argument with unbelievers. Express your faith, however strong or weak it may be, through love. Rather than seeking opportunities to debate, seek opportunities to show the love of Christ to others. You prayed for the Spirit to show himself in some way. In my life, the times when I was engaged in doing for others provided the context for the Spirit of God to act.

I want to tell a story, even though I am not sure that it is even pertinent. Anyway, one day after a storm, I went out in the back yard to clear out the broken limbs and cut back the trees. In the midst of it, I noticed that my neighbor, an elderly widow, had a huge limb hanging on her power line. It was just over the fence, but I could reach it with my pole trimmer extended all the way. I started cutting it down, and it was much bigger than I thought. I cut and cut and cut and then the saw got caught. For 15 or 20 minutes, I tried everything I could to free it. Nothing. I cussed my head off and stomped around and was completely angry with myself for getting into this mess. I thought, “Why am I even doing this!? No one sees, and no one will even care!” Then I thought, “No. God sees. God cares. Even if no one else does.” Eventually, I freed the saw and finished the job. I was going around the yard collecting limbs when the woman’s daughter, who was visiting from out of town, came outside. She said, “We were watching you from the window. Thank you so much!” So … there is someone who cares. There is someone watching. He reveals himself when you least expect it.

Hang in there!

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Hi, Nathan.

I’m so glad you and others have managed to find some mutual encouragement here, lately at least, from skimming through some of your exchanges above.

Like you, I’ve read quite a bit of Dawkins and Dennett both. And like you, I’ve found that such contemplations can begin to have an erosional effect (as they no doubt intend!) on spiritual vitality. But paradoxically for me, I’ve discovered also that thinking about their propositions alongside other intelligent resources of more benign influence (such as here!) that the anti-faith influences can also begin to dry up under the onslaught of fellowship with (and work with) other believers in community. So your continued interactions (here, but hopefully elsewhere in person as well) with believers who are struggling through or have struggled through the same things is (I suggest) a key to vitality that God has designed us to thrive in. Now when I read Dawkins (as I still do on occasion – he’s a very smart man and I learn a lot from him when he’s not embarrassing himself with his anti-religious rants) I am often reminded of how little they actually believe their own shouted proclamations. They declare that there is no meaning apart from what we freshly manufacture for ourselves, but yet they ironically manage to find plenty of passion to do what they do --and to happily inflict it on other people besides as if there was some important reason for them to do this. And so by their own passionate writings and debates, they reduce their own central thesis into shambles – apparently thinking that their personal views ought to be privileged over any other outlook that somebody else might manufacture. When Jesus asks his closest disciples (after a really difficult teaching) “do you all want to leave me now too?”, Peter’s response essentially was: “Lord, where else would we go?”. That may seem like a pretty weak apologetic — “oh --so we’ll have to put up with this as our only choice I guess”. But sometimes that is what suffices. I find that the most faith-disturbing book I can study is the Bible. And for exactly the same reasons, the best way to see through the arguments of the anti-theists is to relentlessly pore over what they have to offer as well. If you hold on to the same philosophical skepticism while regarding their works that they want you to cling to while reading the Bible, then their works don’t fare well at all. And for me, my brief morning Bible reading --as troubling, or difficult, or uninspirational as it can sometimes be, now seems to me like walking out into the light in comparison – and bringing with me into that light, the best of what the selective-skeptics had thought that only they could monopolize (such as science!).

So despite this allegedly foundationless situation some of these authors want us to imagine for ourselves, they sure do carry on with passion, finding much meaningful work to do. This should be an encouragement for the believer who, after all, can also find much in the way of work to be done, but also has the added benefit of acknowledging that there actually is a foundation, even if we must live with some uncertainties about the details we so crave to completely know about it.

As a lifelong Christian myself, I still many times hover along these same kinds of edges, needing God’s grace just as much as the next sinner over. And Jesus is the one who I trust as, not only the identity of that foundation, but the one who even chases me when I run away. He is chasing you too – I just pray that you will sense that in times of most desperate need. Like Casper noted above, even Jesus had those points of desperation of crying out to God from a feeling of despair. So we surely are not immune.

Thanks for sharing of your own tough times here. May you feel blessings in the midst of it to help carry you through.

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Solipsism is not a riddle, in my opinion. I view it as a faulty application of the principle of Occam’s Razor. It reminds me of the discussion with @pacificmaelstrom some time ago. His claim was that the material universe does not exist and that reality is only consciousness. This is one quote from my response to him:

I hope that makes clear why solipsism is not a simple explanation of reality.

Although humorous, that’s a gross mischaracterization of current research on consciousness. I admit the construct is difficult to define straightforwardly, but that does not mean it completely evades empirical research. To dismiss it in such a way also comes across as very condescending towards the scientists who are devoting their careers to this topic. Wouldn’t it be wiser to speak more humbly on topics of which you don’t have much background knowledge? I know you have strong opinions about many things and you are surely entitled to hold them, but the extreme confidence with which you profess your own opinion becomes tiresome at times.

Anyway, I believe it is intellectually unfair to say that it’s impossible for an Atheist to incorporate the existence of consciousness into his or her worldview. That’s overstating your case. Atheists don’t necessarily need to be able to have definite “proofs” of everything.

Instead of just disagreeing with your statements, I will try to present a line of reasoning which is more palatable to me. I would actually be comfortable phrasing the emergence of consciousness through evolutionary processes as an important and convincing pointer towards the higher, timeless form of consciousness of God and even of angelic beings. The source of a reality which allows for the emergence of consciousness, would most plausibly (to me) be an even higher form of consciousness. I don’t want to get awkward with analogies here, but one could compare it to a computer simulating a virtual computer. The host computer would always have to be more powerful than the simulated computer. In the same way, God’s consciousness would have to be in some way “more-than-personal”, of a higher order than ours. But note that this would be just a pointer indicating God’s existence, nothing more. That avoids overstating our case and renders the argument more convincing in the final analysis.

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I certainly don’t assert that Solipsism is true. But it is at the core of the problem with a Godless Universe.

“I think therefore I am” is at the core of Solipsism.

And the point I’ve been slowly working towards is the fastest way to exit the turmoils of Epiphenomena and Solipsism is to presume there is a God!

In my view, the most persuasive evidence in the whole wide Universe that a Universal Mind exists is that my mind would be useless and irrelevant without the existence of a Universal Mind.

Nathan, you are asking very very good questions.

HOW DO WE KNOW ANY PERSON LIVED? 500-2000YR AGO
Answer: Some type of quality written evidence + quality eyewitness + truthful records.

OUR PROBLEM: WE HAVE NO ORIGINAL WRITINGS ONLY COPIES
Written on – clay tablets, stone, papyrus (Egypt- placed in between the legs of the dead, in a coffin, in a closed tomb some have survived, then bone (China) which still exist. Back to the Bible, last month the University of Kentucky digitally unfolded burnt stick - eg Leviticus was dug up (1970’s) Edi Grun from a burnt synagogue on Sea of Galilee dated after Christ and up to early Church fathers but matches the Masoretic text for the OT. Although there is a dbate re: Septuagint Greek is a better later version than the Masoretic, it is argued but the burnt scroll point to consistency over 700 years. The Dead Sea scrolls also play a part. Put together, we doing good. But that is not your question. It is the content of the OT - the miracles - the events that appear almost impossible.

Nathan, your real question, then is the content. Can I trust the writer? Can I trust Moses words? Did Moses make stuff up? You then look for internal evidence matching external evidence. You may find a name location or event, rewritten n stone somewhere - but that still doesn’t answer the miracle -water parting - fire from heaven - mountain shaking - earth splitting- cloud of fire in front -angels etc open stuff. Does it?

Or the usual thesis, JEDP the entire OT was all made up in captivity to give Israel a fake history. Many liberal theologians have run that story for years.

WHAT ABOUT POMPEI - DO YOU BELIEVE IT WAS DESTROYED BY A VOLCANO?
It is easy to say - yes today because it has been dug up. But for years nobody knew.
Pliny the Young was the only eyewitness –Vesuvius erupts Yr.79. Pliny told story to Tacitus - 25 years later
Original lost - earliest copy - 850AD – only 7 copies. Do you believe Pliny the younger’s report or was it made up?

WHAT ABOUT HANIBAL THREE YEAR WAR WITH THE ROMANS VS CARTHAGIANS?
Did this man exist? Did these wars even happen? How do we know? Same question - reliable trustworthy witnesses, accurate records…etc. There are no documents from Cathage at all of the events just Roman versions. Polybius (bias – made Rome look good) wrote 50 yrs after and did say he went to a temple and saw a bronze plaque with the expolites all listed. Do you believe him? He was biased and wanted to write a report which extolled the virtues of the Romans. Recently, they found frozen horse poo on the Alps - with many believing this evidences his journey from the bottom of Spain and over to Italy.

HOW ACCURATE WOULD THESE COPIES BE?
Aristotle died 322BC –Earliest copy 1110AD – Gap 1400-49 exist. Yet we believe he existed?
Homer wrote 900BC – Earliest copy 400BC –Gap 500yrs Yet we trust him? 647 scrolls exist 95%- only 190 complete copies, the rest fragments.

JESUS CRUCIFIED – 30AD - DID HE EXIST - DO MIRACLES -ETC
NT written 50-100AD –John 70AD Earliest copy - 100-150AD
–5800 Greek NT fragment copies 95%
-10,000 Latin manuscripts 200AD-1600AD
Various languages 25,000 handwritten NT copies
Quotes - Ancient Church Fathers

What i find interesting is that the Pharisees asked Jesus to come down from the Cross and then they would believe. Jesus spoke to Martha before raising Lazarus - believe and you will see. It is a matter of faith - but not blind faith.

I did not mean to imply that you hold to Solipsism. I meant to explain why Solipsism would not be a convincing option even in a hypothetically “godless” universe.

I understand, but I think that’s a dead end on philosophical and scientific grounds. We can draw an analogy with a certain argument from Intelligent Design here. The fastest way to exit the turmoils of irreducible complexity may appear to be to presume there is a Creator. But that does not mean that this is a strong or a fair argument for the existence of God. In fact, if future research explains the origin of a certain “irreducible” complexity, the argument falls apart. Something similar could be applied to the arguments you use. There are good reasons internal to Creation that can lead to the rejection of Solipsism and pure Epiphenomenalism. For example, as I said, current evidence is already indicating an important functional role of consciousness and therefore an evolutionary advantage. There is good and accumulating scientific evidence to argue against the idea that our minds would be useless or irrelevant without a universal mind.

Hello everyone,

I am extremely thankful to all of you for wading into this thread. For some of you this is may be an intellectual exercise, but for me the stakes feel very, very high. I appreciate the sincerity and empathy of your responses.

Because of the many posts since yesterday, I will try to be brief in my responses.

@GJDS - you indicate you “put down your own contemplation and reflections regarding the Bible” - meaning you have written a book? To you what is the strongest argument in favour of faith, and the strongest argument against atheism?

@gbrooks9 - I am versed in solipsism, less so in epiphenomenalism as a term. I have read the wikipedia links and think I grasp the basic premise. I am in total agreement that meaning and purpose are illusions of our biology in atheistic naturalism. My crisis began when I found myself unable to refute this position. Just because I want the universe to have purpose and meaning, doesn’t mean that it does. Just because I don’t like the idea that my mind may be a rare and unusual adaptation to the natural world doesn’t mean it can’t be explained by biological processes. Even if consciousness is purely epiphenomenal(?), in the sense that it may be incidental and not adaptive, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist because of a selective process, or necessarily reveals something about the presence or absence of God. Please convince me that I am wrong; I would prefer to be wrong.

@Casper_Hesp - Thanks for wading into the conversation. I appreciate the back-and-forth between you and George, and your words of encouragement. I am also very intrigued by your perspective as a neuroscientist. I will add Nancey Murphy’s book to a growing list. In response to your post and keeping to the question of mind (one of many parts to my current struggle), I would say that there is nothing intrinsically wrong scientifically or biblically in determining that consciousness is emergent, and that we are just dust. What is distressing to me is that I had hoped that in consciousness we had strong empirical (or at least philosophical) evidence for something that cannot simply be reduced to a naturalistic process - some inherent quality of humanity (or at least biology) that could give us a big pointer to God. In that sense I hope that George can sway me, or that when you earn your doctorate you are up to the task of refuting Sam Harris when he completes his own neuroscience education and attempts to claim the field for atheism. Honestly, I would love for consciousness to have no evolutionary explanation. You have chosen neuroscience as your discipline. Do you see any evidence of God there?

@Jay313 - I certainly don’t expect a post from you every day, but you are among the most encouraging here, so I am always glad when you have posted. On days when I can continue to think within a Christian worldview, the idea of testing, or refinement, or other purpose in suffering seems acceptable. On other days, when the doubt that there is God at all, much less knowable one, has cut my legs out from under me, nothing makes sense at all. In the midst of this praying as you have advised, for relief of suffering rather than understanding, has actually coincided with me doing pretty well the last 2-3 days (like a 4-4.5/10 most of the time, which for me is actually quite a relief). However, this has led to another conundrum. Do I simply push aside the arguments and books and focus on the here and now as you suggest, hoping I can remain attached to life long enough to experience God directly? While I may be able to worship God by loving others while putting my doubtful faith to the side, it is harder when it comes to prayer or making strategic life decisions, which tend to intrude. It also feels in some sense irreverent and intellectually dishonest, though perhaps wise. On the contrary, the available evidence and arguments may not be adequate to resolve my intellectual concerns, in which case I may simply exhaust myself in a futile effort to ‘prove God’. The temptation is that I have previously experienced great confidence in my faith, so it seems rational to believe that that state can be reconstructed with the right materials. How would you suggest I proceed? Do I build a comfortable house intentionally not looking to see if it is on sand? Or do I scour the countryside for the most solid ground, when it has already begun to storm and I have no roof?

@Merv - Thanks for joining in. Prior to this crisis, its not as though I never struggled with questions before. Peter’s “where else can we go” always seemed adequate and was a favorite scripture of mine. That changed when atheistic naturalism kind of all gelled suddenly for me, and I wasn’t able to break it back apart. I would love to hear your strongest arguments against such a worldview. While I agree that the Neo-Darwinists seem to totally contradict themselves when they espouse morality, virtue, or meaning, it is not actually a contradiction of their worldview. If altruism, empathy, and socialization are qualities that are beneficial adaptations, we would completely expect Dawkins to hold to them in defiance of logic - his biological programming forces him to do so.

@Paul_Allen1 - Thanks for taking an interest. Yes, my question absolutely is can I trust the content of the OT, and hence the NT. Its probably half of my crisis. I completely agree that the NT has the best attestation of any document of antiquity. The problem in comparing Jesus to Homer is that it makes no difference to our understanding of the universe whether the details of Homer’s life are true, or whether the content of his writings are accurate. His work (or what modified version we have of it) has whatever intrinsic artistic or intellectual value it has, independent of whether it was written 3000 years ago or 30 years ago. The Bible claims divine authorship and authority. Depending on your reading of scripture, the eternal fate of billions of souls in our generation rests on the credibility of the Bible, the evangelism of the Church, and the work of the Spirit (all interwoven, intertwined, and to lesser or greater degrees). Why did God allow any major controversy about the credibility of events of scripture to exist? Why not permit more archaeological verification of scripture? Perhaps in His wisdom, scripture is as it is perfectly to accomplish the purposes for which He allowed it to be prepared and perpetuated. But it still makes God feel very alien and unknowable to me. How I long for the Spirit to be visibly at work in our time as in the early Acts church. They had no NT, probably limited OT, but they had the Spirit in abundance. I wonder why that Spirit seems so absent in our churches today - it’s hard to envision the early church without it.

It is difficult to condense matters that take years of contemplation and also reflections regarding one’s self, feeling, thoughts etc., especially when these are both personal (on an individual level) and also communal (involves other people, especially those in your immediate community). So when I began to formulate my thoughts and feelings, I “looked back” over many years, but also had records of the days that I was contemplating. I hope this makes sense to you.

I will try and be brief: (a) I asked myself, how do I know anything. If I answered this, how can I decide that what I know is true, or simply something I imagine. (b) when I say, “I”, what does that mean? What are other people like? © How can I say “God”?

These initial questions meant I had to come to a view on what it means to be a human being. Since I am a scientist, trustworthy knowledge was closely aligned to scientific laws. Since I accepted that knowledge of God was revealed, than I had to ask, "How can a human being participate in revelation?

On “others”, we human beings form communities and we communicate via language - so I wrote poetry as the most essential form that language can take, and also the best way to self-expression. I also read poetry and literature to be part of communal communication.

I will not add too much to this, but I think it illustrates a point, in that it is important to understand oneself - science enables us to examine and analyse knowledge, but in the final analysis, the only person who knows, feels, and believes, is oneself - after that we may communicate these things. Suffice it to say, that things like science laws, biological evolution, and philosophical schools of thought, were given a different role to my outlook, and people and what it is to be human, took centre stage. What does God have to do with this? Simply stated, we can only be truly human if we are human spirit (soul), and moral and aesthetic matters that deal with humanity are important in this. Religion is the way that we may examine and understand our spirituality, and from this point, one considers revelation, truth, faith, and sense-of-being.

I have tried to be brief, but these matters require a great deal of thought and discussion - in any event, if you have specific matters I will try and provide a shorter response.

@Casper_Hesp

I think I would choose a different wording from above. It would be:

“Solipsism would not be convincing to some people even if we had conclusive proof.”

What makes something convincing to a person differs considerably. In a population of individuals, all tested and confirmed as “Reasonable People” …we have far more Theists than Atheists. But 100% of them think they are being reasonable.

Of the Atheists, who we presume are all eminently reasonable, and reasonable in the same way no less!, we get some who think Free Will is the reasonable conclusion…and another bunch who think Determinism is the reasonable conclusion.

In our discussion with @DrebNay, we are in the realm of “psycho-logic-cal” discussion … where he has managed to work himself out onto a limb … where only what he can prove seems to be acceptable reasonable.

You and I don’t share this position, obviously, but your methodology where you simply accept that your reality applies to everyone else’s reality - - is probably not DrebNay’s view of the Cosmos.

@DrebNay

The more you describe your situation, the more similar you seem to be to my old minister friend who had worked himself to the very end of a tree limb - - because he couldn’t prove that he shouldn’t.

The thing to remember is that you and your life is not a legal case in front of the Supreme Court. Different courts have different standards of evidence. There is “Evidence Beyond a Reasonable Doubt”… and there is the “Preponderance of Evidence” standard, just to name the two most commonly known standards.

But as we know… even court cases where juries have decided against the defendant “beyond a reasonable doubt” … Can Still be Wrong! That’s a pretty chilling fact of reality right there!

My baseline is based on the mystery of Consciousness. I think… therefore I am.

And part of this viewpoint is that I don’t believe an Atheistic Universe would produce something as ephemeral and irrelevant as Consciousness. When you reach the point that this conclusion is Reasonable to you … then you can proceed from there.

@Casper_Hesp, you are a big fan of Consciousness research … but if I understand you correctly, you reject the idea that being Conscious helps determine anything else, right?

Finally, DrebNay, just because you can’t prove that your Evolution-based-Brain isn’t imagining things is hardly a reason to conclude you must be imagining things. That is a classic “Beyond Here Be Dragons” mentality. Nobody ever said that all things about reality are provable or subject to cognitive dissection.

Noam Chomsky once explained that anything biological has limits… including the Brain. So to believe that the brain has, de facto, the capacity to understand everything about how the brain works, is an exceptionally optimistic (and perhaps foolhardy) position to adopt!

Hi Nathan,
Thank you for taking the time to respond to everyone and to me in particular. I’m really impressed by the kindness expressed in your writings. Since kindness is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, it shows that the Spirit of God is at work in you right there!

[emphasis mine]

Let me start out by saying that I believe that any human being can clearly see and understand God’s power and nature by looking at what has been made (Romans 1:20). You don’t need to be a theologian, an astronomer, or a neuroscientist for that. Understanding the reality of God’s existence does not require any amount of esoteric philosophizing at all. The obvious and honest question is then, why do so many people still reject His existence? Why do sincere believers such as you experience such strong qualms of uncertainty? Well, one first response would be to say that the evidence for God is so “in your face” that it’s easy to get used to it. As people, we have the tendency to take things for granted. Yet Jesus pointed us at how even the most basic things are a sign of God’s care and sovereignty (“Look at the flowers of the field…” Matthew 6:28). God is just not the kind of person who is going to advertise how much He is actually doing for us. Around the time I first came to believe in God (I was 19 back then), this triggered in my heart the image of a perfect host. Imagine being welcomed into the house of a loving host. In my vision, the perfect host would not only give you everything he has to offer, but he would remain humble in his giving, never forcing you as a guest to recognize all the attention you are receiving in his home. In the same way, God does not force us to recognize His great and continuous providence, even though the evidence is right there in front of us all the time! This holds for the farmer and the garbage man as much as it holds for the politician and the professor. Everyone can see God’s providence basically in every single element of their daily lives, no matter what their profession is. The answer is so mundane that it’s easy to overlook.

Now, beyond that, God also grants us specific insights into His creative work. Surely I find many reasons to praise God while studying Neuroscience or, for that matter, Astrophysics (which is my other graduate program). The brain is an amazingly intricate feat of art, bridging many orders of magnitude both in time and in space. I see how God provides for us through those natural phenomena. That’s why I highlighted the word “naturalistic” in your writing above. For me, natural processes are not “naturalistic” because they do not exclude spiritual realities. In fact, I see how natural phenomena are often expressions of spiritual realities. I understand that what is seen, has its being in what is unseen (Hebrews 11:3). Surely, human consciousness is the most intriguing natural phenomenon that I know of. It is the most desired terrain on the spiritual battlefield, where the most heated spiritual battles take place (such as the one you are experiencing right now!). I am not troubled the least by the idea that God chose to provide us with consciousness through evolutionary processes. But that does not subtract at all from the idea that the fact of the existence of consciousness is indeed an amazing pointer towards the higher, timeless form of consciousness that belongs to God. For what else can express or bring forth human consciousness (even through evolutionary processes), except for a higher form of consciousness? In that sense, I can partly agree with @gbrooks9. I just don’t agree with the way he argues for this conclusion, because (1) there is plenty of evidence for a functional role of consciousness and (2) I think the idea that human consciousness arose through natural processes (evolution) fits well in the larger picture of God’s Creation.

Now, let me come back to your question. The short answer is: yes, I find God’s presence and activity in my everyday life as well as in my studies. It’s just so abundantly evident that I sometimes take it for granted too much. That’s when the doubts come in.

Nice anecdote. One of my relatives is agnostic. He told me he would never become an atheist because they are practically saying “Please give me one insane miracle for free, then I’ll explain the rest to you later.”

Hi George, calling me a fan of consciousness research would be an overstatement, but I certainly respect the work of academics who have dared to devote their careers to that phenomenon which is somewhat of a black box…

It’s good that you ask because that is not true. I certainly do not reject the idea that consciousness can exert top-down causal influence on other processes. Quite the opposite. I believe consciousness plays a causal role in the natural world, although that role is interdependent with other lower-order processes in very complex ways.

Thanks for the conversation, both of you!
Casper

In other words … [if Dawkins’ worldview is correct] he doesn’t have any rational or logical argument. What he’s got is … “biological programming” just playing itself out. So the vapors accompanied by patterned sounds gassing from his facial orifice may occasionally appear to form into meaningful patterns that we mistake for interesting ideas. Such an assessment must be pure illusion, right?

But of course that’s not right. We see real meaning invested in his words as he himself does too. So we already have in place the conviction that not everything can be reduced to only biological programming. But here’s the rub (for me). We can’t prove this to each other. There are a lot of things that are beyond proof and even beyond the lower bar of even just being reachable by evidence or probability.

So I guess my main response to you is that it seems you are still investing your hopes in an intellectual arena where you hope you (or somebody on your behalf) will win a decisive debate that vanquishes the enemy of doubt once and for all. It is a dream shared by many and realized by none (while they walk on this side of the vale anyway.) I’m not saying that battles shouldn’t be fought in that arena --or that it hasn’t been used by God to corral his sheep toward some needed direction. But let me suggest that in the end the Christian cannot set up permanent residence there and pretend that it makes a sufficient foundation.

Sooner or later the believer has to leave the womb of intellectual comfort and bring her/his beliefs into the real world of community and work. And in that real world of debased, degraded, changed, and redeemed lives, all that mixed together in community will make the real difference to you that makes all the argumentative victories and losses both fade into insignificance (for better or for worse, depending on where/with whom you invest your work and life). But even if you make the most horrible choices in that regard – God has a way of reaching in when you are ready. And even if you make the best choices of friends – the devil has a long reach too! There are no “rest easy” spots for the spiritual pilgrim.

I don’t speak as some sort of veteran who has successfully navigated all this already, but I’ve had enough tastes and listened to enough people who have spent most of their adult lives showing their professed faith by much work and few words that I have confidence and hope in aligning myself as best I can by the same star [Christ] that they set their compasses by. And after living like that, the need for fool-proof apologetics has significantly receded for me. It would seem you aren’t there --and if not, I’m not trying to say you should be right now. I’m just telling you there is also spiritual life beyond these intellectual ruminations we all love to throw ourselves into.

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Hello again everyone.

Thank you once more for your comments, ideas, and support. This last round of input has had a noticeably positive impact on my well-being. I’ve been able to hover around the 4.5-5/10 mark for the last few days, which may not seem like much to celebrate, but its a world of a difference for me.The intellectual side of my issues has been pressed to the periphery a little bit, and I’ve been able to re-engage with prayer and scripture (and real life) to a greater degree. While often it still feels like I am waiting for an inevitable re-emergence of questions and anxiety, it is a relief to have any reprieve. Thank you all for being a part of that.

I noted something of a pattern, or at least a theme, in the remarks of the four of you who responded. Although I’m still trying to connect the dots, the process seems to be helping.

@GJDS - Thank you for the effort you have put into condensing your thoughts into a succinct and digestible summary. As I try to rebuild from the carnage of doubt, where would you suggest I start that process? In trying to consider oneself and one’s humanity, what assumptions do you use to ground yourself, and why choose those? If I followed your process, what does beginning with a) look like?

@gbrooks9 - I think you are absolutely accurate in your assessment of my “out-on-a-limb-edness”. Thank you for your insight. Somehow having a deterministic atheistic biological paradigm crystallize suddenly as plausible has caused me to accept assumptions about what is reasonable in terms of proof from within that framework. The plausibility structure has altered. I don’t really know how that happened, or the best way to shake it. It seems tied to this idea of “biological programming” that has had me convinced all that I am may be the output of DNA algorithms. But its more than that - I have needed the evidence to refute that position to be acceptable within the atheistic paradigm. I guess I’m obsessively looking for a way for atheism to be self-defeating, so that it can no longer be plausible to me, in the same way that it wasn’t before this crisis.

“just because you can’t prove that your Evolution-based-Brain isn’t imagining things is hardly a reason to conclude you must be imagining things”

Sell me on this. Therein lies the rub for me with this consciousness question. I don’t think anyone’s experience of being human naturally leads them to the conclusion that all is meaningless, purposeless, reproduction-enhancing illusion. But few would deduce quantum physics is true from the experiences of their daily life. Evolution makes this option possible. Evolution also seems to undermine the primary evidence of the Christian theistic narrative, which is the revelation of scripture, in that it seems to weaken the plausibility of the Genesis account. So an atheist would argue that based on existing evidence, “I” am more likely to be an illusion than a creation of God. Of course, such a view assumes that our own experience of humanity is not credible evidence. Which is odd since it is our experience of humanity that gives us all of the data that we find credible in our refutation of the legitimacy of our own experience. Which leads me to. . .

@Mervin_Bitikofer - Thank you so much for joining the discussion! I was truly comforted by your refutation of my “biological programming” problem, and everything else you wrote. Please refute me more.

“I guess my main response to you is that it seems you are still investing your hopes in an intellectual arena where you hope you (or somebody on your behalf) will win a decisive debate that vanquishes the enemy of doubt once and for all.”

You are right, but forgive me this position, faulty though it may be. When in pain, it is natural to grasp at relief wherever hope may reach.

I can accept that if I am to experience God afresh, I must necessarily experience Him in the present, and neither in an epiphany of logic nor even a remembrance of past closeness. As I have mentioned previously, its the seeming plausibility of atheistic naturalism, and the undermining of my trust in scripture that have played a significant role in my crisis, which has led to a detachment from my sense of the present, which in turn may limit how I “invest [my] work and life”. When I have a meeting with a prospective donor to a capital campaign to build a Christian elementary school, and I am supposed to ask them to sacrifice $200,000 to make the project happen, and on my way to that appointment I feel cut adrift from God and uncertain of His existence and whether or not any school of any kind has any importance, it effects not just how well I conduct that meeting, but also whether or not I can accept that God may be working through that situation.

So if I can gain some encouragement from those that are stronger in the intellectual arena, and that helps to undermine the “program plausibility” gripping me, I’m going to make use of that. And if someone can help me regain a cohesive, plausible theology of the fall and atonement in the context of a full-on Darwinian origin scenario, that will help too (George Murphy, your book should be on its way in the mail). And if between reinforcements on the intellectual side, remembrance of what I have experienced of God in times past, and anything else that can calm me down long enough to experience the present and chase after God in an authentic way, perhaps I may get enough clarity in my head to see God when He shows up. Or maybe He will just show up without me doing anything, which would be even better! But I owe it to my family to do whatever I can myself.

And after living like that, the need for fool-proof apologetics has significantly receded for me. It would seem you aren’t there. . .

No, but I have been, and I know what you are talking about. It is my goal to be there again.

@Casper_Hesp - You are a blessing to me. It is such an encouragement even to hear of someone coming to Christ at age 19, and your host analogy is elegant and comforting. I guess one of the things that has been missing for me is even if I get back to a place where a creator God seems probable (a thought that I have been able to grip onto at times during this struggle) how do you get back to the God of the Bible? How does that connect for you?

Your comment to George on consciousness exerting a top-down causal influence on other processes is interesting also. One of the atheist physicists (whose name I cant recall) in a discussion of why he rejects Searle’s view on consciousness and prefers a strong emergence position is that, in his view, there are no examples of a higher level phenomena effecting the properties of a lower level. I.e. you may have mathematically true laws of fluid motion, but those laws emerge necessarily from the dynamics of the particles at a lower level. The dynamics of the property of fluidity does not direct the interaction of the particles themselves. He does not rule out that future discoveries may prove this to be possible, but he suggests that it is unlikely and would constitute the greatest ever discovery in the history of physics. What’s your view? Does consciousness move the molecules, or do molecules maketh man?

Not dissimilar to what I wrote to Mervin above, I was encouraged even by your relative’s quote:

“Please give me one insane miracle for free, then I’ll explain the rest to you later.”

Chipping away at the assumptions of naturalism helps bring things back into perspective for me. If we all have to choose an insane miracle to start from, it makes it easier to choose the Resurrection.

Also, recognizing that certain subversive assumptions have infiltrated my thinking, as George helped bring to light, allows them to be exposed and refuted. That can make the idea of natural phenomena pointing to God seem reasonable again.

It is a weird thing to be trying to “back into” faith. I.e. try to disrupt other ideas so that God feels more likely. But since George says I’m “out on a limb”, I guess a few steps back from the edge is not a unreasonable route to travel before navigating the rest of the tree. I accept the position of many of you that it is not a tenable long-term approach. Right now it feels like a process of gathering all the pieces together and tossing ones that don’t belong before trying to make them all fit, while simultaneously trying to decide if the puzzle reveals anything in the first place. And there must still be more to it that I don’t quite understand. For instance, I don’t know why the historicity of the gospels doesn’t seem as convincing as it once did, or why the apparent fine-tuning of the physical constants of the universe to support life, or the big-bang itself, don’t scream “God” to me the way they once did. I guess I am still just reeling from half-believing myself to be a genetic automaton.

Once again, thank you all so much for being a part of this thread. I am so thankful for all of you. My wife and four daughters don’t know how much you have helped even this last week, but they are thankful to have me operating even at 50%. God bless you all.

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Hi, I would be happy to discuss various aspects that may interest you, but for now, I thought this extract from my poetry may take the conversation to “… use to ground yourself …” (some features that I have added for visual aspects have not come through in the paste, but perhaps the poetry may be worth a read).

Jesus, hear
our great sorrows;
Christ, heal
our many afflictions;
Jesus, forgive
our sins.

Christ the Redeemer
Our High Priest
Went to the mountain, saying:
Blessed are those
Who are poor in spirit
Blessed are those
Who hunger for what is right
Blessed are those
Who are merciful
Blessed are those
Who are of a pure heart
Blessed are those
Who seek to bring peace
Blessed are you who hear his words
You shall be the sons and daughters of God.

I have come to fulfil the law and the prophets.

This is the law of God;

Do not have hatred in your heart
Forgive your brothers and sisters
Then come to the altar of God.
This is the law of Jesus;
Do not look with lust at a woman,
If your eye causes you to sin
Pluck it out and throw it away.
This is the law from God;
If any-one strikes you, turn the other cheek
Love your enemies
Do good to those who despise you.
This is the law from Christ;
Our Father causes the sun to rise
For the evil and the good
Be perfect like your Father in Heaven.
This is the gift of Jesus Christ;
Be not anxious about your life
Seek first the kingdom of heaven,
And all of life’s goodness will be yours.

His disciples asked him, “Show us God”.
You have seen me
You have seen God
If you have a small amount of faith
You will say to a mountain of troubles
Be drowned in the deep blue sea
And it will be so.
The faith in Christ;
We are born of water and Spirit;
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son
So that we may have eternal life

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Beautiful. Thank you.

Yes, I suggest you push aside the books and arguments. Read Isaiah. Read it slowly. Meditate upon it. Pray about those passages that touch your heart. Consider the prophetic word. Who but God can know the future? If God speaks through his prophet of things to come, clearly the message is not of human origin. Do not pray for certainty, but for humility. Do not pray that God would show himself to you, but that you might be granted opportunity to show his love to others.

Once you have gained your footing again, if you must read something, I suggest Pascal’s Pensees. He addresses many of the things that are bothering you.

God bless, and hang in there. The spiritual life is not a constant upward trajectory, at least not in my experience. Fear no evil in the valley of the shadow of death. The Lord is with you.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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