“Coming Out” as Religiously Unconventional

Many of us have friends and family members who think we share their religious views. But what if we are religiously unconventional – atheists, agnostics, naturalistic theists, neo-Pagans, or just too creative to classify? Shall we tell others about our theological differences? And if so, how?

I’ve recently read a series of thoughtful comments about this issue on a web site called THE CLOSET ATHEIST.

This blogger is a young woman who attends a Christian college and has Lutheran parents. She recently wrote about a successful effort to tell a friend about her non-belief, but indicated that it’s still hard to imagine telling family members. Here are a few comments posted by her readers:

“Ask them whether they think someone should be free to believe in Christianity if they live in a Muslim community, or Judaism if they are in a Hindu community. Being an atheist is no different to that.” I agree, and this approach could be helpful in dealing with friends who are fairly open-minded. But I can’t agree with the next comment:

“Ask them if they consider themselves to be a Fascist, because if they don’t respect your right to freedom of belief, that is undoubtedly what they are!”

I’m confident that this line of questioning will shut off positive communication. It may indeed seem odd that so many people don’t grant others true freedom of belief. But this just points up the limitations of human nature as it’s developed so far. People live by agreement with others. Disagreement about such a fundamental point is deeply unsettling to many, many people. Another comment:

“… to the majority of people who are religious, I try to put out the concept that we have a common interest -to have a more loving, peaceful world.” Yes, look for common ground!

“Personally, if I knew you IRL [in real life], I would want to know how you really think and feel. I don’t want you to be afraid to live as yourself and not as a dancer in a masquerade.” Lovely, well put.

“… it’s OK not to tell them everything all at once. For many de-converts, including me, it took a while to discard belief … If you just drop this whole thing on your folks, that’s expecting them to be able to deal with your change all at once. If there’s any way to let them in on your journey a little at a time, with time in between to see that you have not become an evil person, that might help ease them into it.”

This line seems well worth repeating: “with time in between to see that you have not become an evil person.”

“It’s not because YOU’RE atheist it’s because it challenges THEIR own belief and they were all comfy and secure in their belief and now you’ve resigned from the club. Yikes!!”

Yikes indeed.

“…  I tend to use the term “non-believer.” Whether we agree or not, Christians have been taught that ‘atheist’ is a bad word (almost as bad as a ‘cuss’ word!” Right. Some words tend to shut down clear thought and constructive communication.

If in doubt, watch the other person’s body language and facial expressions. Start with less threatening comments, notice reactions, and keep going if it seems safe to do so.

And good luck to us all, believers and unbelievers alike!

Roger Christan Schriner

For my main web site, click http://www.schrinerbooksandblogs.com

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Possibilianism (Are You a Possibilian without Knowing It?)

I’ve recently re-viewed Dr. David Eagleman’s terrific TED talk on science and religion. Some of his comments tie into the series of posts I’ve recently completed about the fine-tuning argument for God’s existence.

Eagleman sees problems with both traditional theism and the New Atheism. We know too much, he suggests, to commit to a particular religious story. And agnosticism seems “weak” to him. Because the number of possible theories of Reality is so enormous, we should not limit ourselves to saying that either traditional religion is true, or the current scientific world-view is true. I appreciate his open-mindedness and his willingness to explore.

See: https://www.yhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LENqnjZGX0A

Roger Christan Schriner

For my main web site, click http://www.schrinerbooksandblogs.com

The Fine-Tuning Argument for God’s Existence, Part Four

Today I’ll conclude my series on “fine-tuning.” Some scientists claim that if the basic physical laws of the universe had been just slightly different, intelligent life could never have existed. Does this show that the universe was designed by God as a home for humans? In my previous post I quoted an imaginary conversation from my book, Bridging the God Gap. Theodore, a theist, Althea, an atheist, and Agnes, an agnostic, are debating this issue, and Theodore has said:

The idea of a godless cosmos offends my intelligence. … [A]n alarm goes off in my mind when people claim that all this wonderment happened for no reason at all.

The conversation continues:

Althea: Theodore, my nonsense-detector is ringing so loud it hurts my ears. You are forgetting what is completely obvious. SOMETHING basic and wondrous did have to happen for no reason we can ever know, whether it was the universe itself or a hidden reality which gave birth to the universe.

Agnes: People who say God made the universe don’t ask where God came from, because they don’t know how to even begin thinking about something so far beyond their own experience. They just shrug their shoulders and change the subject. As Steven Wright says, “A conclusion is the place where you got tired of thinking.”

Theodore: Nevertheless there are brilliant scientists and philosophers who say that it looks like the whole shebang was set up as a home for creatures like us.

Agnes: This is all speculation on top of speculation. Sure, some scientists say the universe seems to have been designed to enable life to exist, but other scientists disagree. It’s easy to go on TV and proclaim that “researchers believe Blah Blah Blah,” but there is no clear consensus about this issue. I have a sneaking suspicion that in ten years, or ten thousand years, a bunch of sheepish physicists will publish an apologetic news release: “Sorry, everyone. We now realize that there are an unbelievably large number of ways that a universe could support intelligent life. For one thing, ‘intelligent life’ doesn’t need to be anything at all like us. Please disregard our previous statements about this matter.”

Althea: Besides, if a super-duper mind created the universe, why would it resemble our traditional concepts of God? It would have to be an incredible information-processing system with the power to shape matter, but look at all the ways that a matter-shaping mind might not be godlike. It might not be conscious. It might have no emotions, and no sense of right and wrong. It might be unaware of (or uninterested in) Homo sapiens. It might not be eternal, and in fact it might not even exist anymore. “It” might be several different entities, working together. Its attention might even be focused on some other universe, and our cosmos might be an accidental by-product of what it’s doing “over there.”

Theodore: Regardless, when I try to think about the universe reasonably, I reject the idea of existence without an intelligent cause. To me that is nonsense, pure and simple. If I am going to use my own reason, I can’t ignore what my reason is telling me.

Agnes: Theodore, I agree with you that there is evidence of intelligent design. I do find that intriguing, and I’d like to believe that it proves there is a god. But I agree with Althea that if we claim that the world had a cause, and call that cause God, we are only substituting one puzzle for another. Why not just assume that the world has no cause? Some physicists, such as Stephen Hawking, say that a causeless cosmos makes excellent sense. It seems backwards to drag in a mysterious extra entity in order to solve a mystery. Something must exist for no reason, either God or the cosmos.

Reviewing this discussion, which statements felt right to you? Which ones seemed far-fetched? What comments sounded reasonable even though they contradicted what you tend to believe? The controversy about how the cosmos began is a classic example of the way people can look at similar data and reach diametrically opposite conclusions. (From Bridging the God Gap, pp. 108-110, boldface type added.)

Roger Christan Schriner

For my main web site, click http://www.schrinerbooksandblogs.com

The Fine-Tuning Argument for God’s Existence, Part Three

The fine-tuning argument says that if the laws of our universe had been just slightly different, intelligent life could never have existed. Some say this shows that the cosmos was carefully designed by a supreme intelligence as a home for people like us.

I have explored this question in a fictional conversation in my book, Bridging the God Gap. In this discussion, Theodore is a theist; Althea is an atheist, and Agnes is an agnostic. Obviously I do not agree with everything these three people say, and some of their arguments are persuasive but fallacious. Here are excerpts from the book, pp. 106-108:

To get the most out of these dialogues pay particular attention to what the “other side” says. Notice what happens when you encounter a good idea that disturbs your preconceptions. What emotions do you feel? What impulses do you experience? At such uncomfortable moments it’s only human to look for an exit: “I’d better catch up on my emails.”

Ancient peoples tended to assume that there were only two possible explanations for the existence of heaven and Earth. Either “everything just happened” or “God(s) did it,” and the latter seemed far more likely. Although they realized there was a lot they didn’t know, it did not occur to them that their limited understanding also limited their awareness of alternatives.

Physics and biology have already given us another candidate: The universe radiated outward from the Big Bang and life-forms evolved through natural selection. Some of us agree with these theories and some do not, but at least they offer a conceivable alternative. So now we have at least four options rather than two: “it just happened,” “a Creator made it,” “Big Bang plus evolution,” or a combination in which God caused the Big Bang and included evolution in the divine plan. Importantly, future scientists and philosophers may develop other credible theories about how the cosmos could be “a watch without a watchmaker.” And of course, even if we had a million legitimate options, the right answer might still be, “God did it.”

Let’s see what our three friends have to say about this topic. Theodore leads off.

Theodore: Even if I try to convince myself that the universe could have appeared out of nowhere, it just doesn’t seem plausible. Everywhere I look I find intricate order and regularity. Unbelievably complicated systems have to work with finicky precision for me to stay alive a single second. To me all of this just screams “intelligent design!” Don’t either of you ever feel that way?

Althea: Of course it’s hard to imagine how everything could function without an invisible guiding hand. But it’s hard for me to imagine a great many things that have been well-established. I am only a moderately intelligent mammal living on a little planet near a smallish sun. Why should I be able to comprehend how the whole universe works?

Agnes: We’re just a bunch of curious little critters trying to grasp infinite subtlety and complexity. Even so, I prick up my ears when I hear that physicists have found evidence of creative intelligence. Remember that YouTube video of the debate between Daniel Dennett and Dinesh D’Souza? D’Souza claimed that if certain cosmic laws had been infinitesimally different, “we would have no universe. We would have no life.” He concludes that a creative intelligence wanted us to be here, and some scientists agree with him. This is one reason I’m an agnostic instead of an atheist. …

Althea: Right, but Dennett pointed out [in Part Seven] that there may be  lots of other universes which operate according to laws that prevent life from occurring. Some cosmologists even say there could be an infinite number of universes. Life might be impossible in almost all of these systems, but some of them might be suitable homes for living creatures. If these creatures didn’t know about all the other universes, it would seem as if “the” universe was specifically designed for their benefit. “Wow, how come everything is arranged so precisely? I guess there must be a God!” …

Theodore: The idea of a godless cosmos offends my intelligence. I had a logic teacher in college who often spotted a fallacious argument just by noticing that it sounded fishy. He relied more on hunches than on tight little syllogisms. His mind was equipped with a built-in nonsense-detector that sounded an alarm, and an alarm goes off in my mind when people claim that all this wonderment happened for no reason at all. [End of excerpt from Bridging the God Gap.]

So – which statements felt right to you? Which ones upset you? Which ones made you squirm because you didn’t agree but you weren’t sure how to reply? We’ll finish this conversation in my next posting.

Roger Christan Schriner

For my main web site, click http://www.schrinerbooksandblogs.com/

The Fine-Tuning Argument for God’s Existence, Part Two

“The Closet Atheist” has received several comments about her recent post on fine-tuning. The basic idea is that the laws of our universe might have been quite different from the way they actually are. But if they had been even a tiny bit different, life as we know it could never have existed. So perhaps the cosmos was carefully designed as a home for living creatures, including humans. That implies a designer – a god.

This theory is actually controversial, and the Closet Atheist herself rejects it. But a fellow named Zane replied: “I’m not a physicist, … but I think there are better motivations for positing a multiverse than the fine-tuning problem …”

Zane points out that there are several different concepts of the multiverse. For example, if the universe is infinite, “everything possible is bound to happen,” so … “there are regions within that space that will never influence one another, making them functionally separate universes.”

In addition, a many-universes theory might help explain “some of the weirdness in quantum mechanics.” Some interpretations of quantum theory suggest that every single instant gives birth to a great many futures. “So at each point where multiple things could happen, everything possible thing happens, resulting in an infinite budding of minutely differing universes.”

Question: Why would the manifold futures that are perhaps implied by quantum theory result in futures with new sets of fundamental laws? Any comments?

Next time I’ll mention some ideas about the multiverse from my book, Bridging the God Gap.

Roger Christan Schriner

For my main web site, click http://www.schrinerbooksandblogs.com/

The Fine-Tuning Argument for God’s Existence, Part One

A while back on this web site I posted a series in which I debated with myself about the existence of God. “Pastor Chris” and “Dr. Schriner” argued about various aspects of this topic, including the claim that the laws of the universe are fine-tuned for intelligent life. Continue reading

My Series on Abortion and the Bible

Earlier this month I posted info on another blog of mine, Did God Really Say THAT!? A Blog about the Bible, and I recently completed a three-part series on that site about Abortion and the Bible. Suppose, I suggested, we assume that the Bible was “written” by God, so that every word in that book reflects a divine will. Then let’s try applying that assumption to a famous passage that is used on both sides of the abortion controversy, Exodus 21:22-23. Continue reading