The Pastor Strikes Back

My recent posts are based on a presentation I sometime make in which “Pastor Chris” debates “Dr. Schriner” about whether God exists. (I take both sides, wearing an ecclesiastical stole when Pastor Chris speaks.) So here is the pastor once again:

How sad that such a smart fellow as Dr. Schriner has to fall back on such outdated atheistic ideas. It is so “Twentieth Century” to proclaim that the grand march of science is closing every gap in our knowledge. Today new discoveries are opening up astonishing new mysteries! At one time we had no idea that the laws of nature are fine-tuned for the existence of life. Not all scientists have realized this is so, but it is revolutionary to hear brilliant physicists say the cosmos seems precisely designed to make our existence possible. Schriner quotes Bradley Monton to dispute this idea, but Monton himself is an atheist, so he’s hardly unbiased!

In the Twentieth Century biologists said we were on the verge of explaining the origin of life. Today we’re no closer than we were then. And many philosophers now admit that we have no idea how to show that consciousness could exist within a physical brain. I realize that Dr. Schriner has written a book on consciousness and the brain* but I have read his book and I am not convinced! The gaps in our knowledge remain, and in some cases are widening.

Schriner complains that people go to church and still do nasty things. But I once heard a preacher say that the church is the only organization in the world for sinners only. We sinners need churches and temples to help us become better people. But since sinful humans are in charge of religious institutions, they will sometimes pervert religion for terrible purposes. That’s why Jesus himself warned us against false prophets and corrupt priests.

Even fair-minded non-believers admit that religion is good for us. The atheist philosopher Daniel Dennett acknowledges that “for day-in, day-out lifelong bracing, there is probably nothing so effective as religion:  it makes powerful and talented people more humble and patient, it makes average people rise above themselves, it provides sturdy support for many people who desperately need help staying away from drink or drugs or crime.”**

Notice that Schriner never denies that the vast majority of people have sensed the presence of this sturdy support, for centuries, all over the world. The overwhelming testimony of this “great cloud of witnesses” speaks far more eloquently than the outdated arguments of atheism.

* This little joke refers to a book of mine called Your Living Mind: The Mystery of Consciousness and Why It Matters to You, available on Amazon.com.

** Daniel C. Dennett, Breaking the Spell, p. 55.

So – if you’ve been following this series, how are you feeling? Are you applauding ideas that you already favor, and inwardly arguing with the “other side?”

If you’d like to become more open-minded, see if you can identify the mental and physical warning signals that occur when you start blocking out another person’s idea. Watch for moments when you hear a persuasive argument that disturbs your preconceptions. Then notice what you’re experiencing. You may discover a vague unease, anger or irritation, or physical tension such as holding your breath. Once you know what you experience when you mind is “threatened with expansion,” you can learn to take a second look at ideas that seem unsettling.

Roger Christan Schriner

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