Re: Religion and evidence

From: Ben Dawson (
Date: Tue 17 Jan 2006 - 18:25:41 GMT

  • Next message: Jean-Olivier Noreau: "Not evidence, but experience [was Re: Religion and evidence]"

    On Tue, 17 Jan 2006 15:51:50 +0000, you wrote:

    >So unlike Lynda La Plant, the second part of your two-parter
    >does live up to its billing :)

    I agree with Chris. That was a very interesting story! Bravo!

    Kate - thanks for sharing so unreservedly an issue so close to your heart. It always helps to get a much clearer idea of someone's viewpoint if you get the overall picture - background and all - and I think we all now have a much clearer grasp of where you're coming from.

    I guess what you're saying is that in your particular case, the subjective evidence of your own personal experience outweighs, for you, the objective / logical evidence that you encountered during your philosophy studies and beforehand. That's really interesting, because it's so unusual to hear a story of such a die-hard atheist (as you clearly were) making such a drastic shift in opinion - going completely from one end of the scale to the other!

    Interestingly, it has some analogy with my own story, except that I have had no personal experiences that would lead me to believe the presence of a God.

    My parents, despite having religious convictions, were pretty relaxed about their faith and never forced their beliefs down my throat. We'd go to church occasionally, say the Lord's prayer before a meal and I was told a few Bible stories, but that's about as far as it went. I grew up believing in God, until I reached my late teenage years when I became more interested in science and evolution and began to question my beliefs a bit more. From then on, I knew I was an atheist.

    What is interesting, is that my sister, who had exactly the same upbringing, took entirely the opposite path, and about the same time that I realised my own atheistic views, she became insanely religious.

    I've never really enquired about the reason for the strength of her beliefs (kind of a difficult subject to raise), but I think you're right when you say it's all down to interpretation. Maybe our interpretations of our own experiences were just different.

    Personally, I think that any subjective experience of my own would have to be a pretty damn *major* thing to cause a rethink like yours, and I think too that it must have been a pretty *major* thing in your case to overturn so radically, what would seem to me to be such a sensible outlook.

    Do you think there's ever a chance you might switch back to atheism? Say for example, if your prayers went unanswered or something occurred that made you doubt God's power? Or do you think you'll be Christian for life?


    (I realise this is straying away from memetics now, so apologies to the list, but to be honest I'd always be punching above my weight there anyway, so I may as well try to contribute something whilst I can!)

    >> As a result of my investigations into Christianity, atheism and other
    >> world religions I became convinced that a lot of what I believed were
    >> good arguments against Christianity were in fact good arguments against
    >> things that have nothing to do with Christianity. For example I had
    >> thought that science disproved religion and then I read thoughtful,
    >> intelligent debates amongst people who were Christians, scientists and
    >> able to engage in rigorous discussion of the issues that this throws up.
    >> And they all seemed to believe in evolution, too.
    >> When I began to discover what Christianity actually says it made a lot
    >> of sense to me. When I began to put its claims to the test they held
    >> water. When I made changes to my life in accordance with those claims
    >> my life got a whole lot better, in lots of ways. People who knew
    >> nothing about my changed outlook commented on the difference in me.
    >> Most of all, the best explanation of what happened when I prayed seemed
    >> to be that I was really in some sort of communication with a loving God.
    >> At first I was nervous; inevitably unsure about whether I'd jumped down
    >> on the wrong side of the fence. I began to avoid awkward
    >> conversations. Then I suddenly thought - idiot - if you really believe
    >> this is true then asking a few questions isn't going to change it. And
    >> if it isn't true: even more of an idiot for leaving the lush grass of
    >> atheism on the other side of the fence.
    >> So I really began to grapple with the bits I still found hardest to
    >> believe, to grasp, to live with. I'm still grappling with some of them.
    >> But I didn't come across anything that fell down when I pushed it. When
    >> I couldn't see my way out of a situation, and I prayed about it, the way
    >> inevitably appeared. And even more remarkably, I cannot tell you how
    >> many of the people I love I have prayed for, when they've been in some
    >> sort of difficulty; and they haven't known anything about my prayers
    >> because frankly not many of them would be interested; and the changes
    >> that have happened have been astounding.
    >> OF COURSE there are a thousand-and-one alternative explanations of the
    >> things that I have experienced over the last twelve years. But here's
    >> why I believe that my interpretation of events could be valid.
    >> The ways in which we test religious claims have to be different from the
    >> ways in which we test scientific claims. This is because science
    >> explains how the natural world works, but religion interprets the
    >> meaning of those events. So you and I can be in complete agreement
    >> about the events that have happened, but argue over their meaning.
    >> This applies to any field in which interpretation is necessary. Creative
    >> endeavours of all kinds - musical or literary, artistic or cinematic -
    >> are argued over endlessly and simply pointing to the picture, watching
    >> the film again, or whatever, will not resolve the argument. The same is
    >> true of the ways in which we respond to other people. We make
    >> inferences about their personalities, from the ways in which they
    >> behave, and we often come up with different explanations of the same
    >> behaviour.
    >> Similarly, when I examine the events of the past twelve years the most
    >> plausible explanation of them, as far as I'm concerned, is that I have
    >> actually had a relationship with a loving God throughout that time.
    >> There are alternative interpretations, to be sure. But the Christianity
    >> interpretation is coherent, consistent with the facts, and keeps
    >> throwing up accurate predictions. In my life. So much so that I am
    >> prepared to say that I believe the Christian interpretation of life to
    >> be the truth.
    >> Now I'm feeling so off-topic that memetics is but a hazy image in the
    >> distance. The modern dominance of secular thought/atheism in the West -
    >> as per your other post - is a whole other, fascinating memetic question.
    >> Hmmm . . .
    >> Kate
    >> ===============================================================
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