Hi, everyone.

My goal here is not to argue that Christianity is true, but that I'm reasonable to be a Christian. I don't care if you agree with me about Christianity, but I do want to persuade you that I'm not stupid, crazy, insane, or in any other epistemically lamentable state, for being a Christian. What follows is a sketch that I can expand as people ask reasonable questions.

Keeping this as short as reasonably possible, I'm a Christian because I think that God exists and that God resurrected Jesus. As Pascal suggested, if I think both of these claims are probably true, then it makes sense for me to foster a belief in the Christian religion by going to church, praying, and so on. Christianity will be the "best bet" in that event, such that it will make more sense for me to foster a belief in Christianity than to foster a belief in another religion or foster no belief in any religion. So, the question is whether or not I can justify my belief that both of these claims are probably true.

My justification for my belief that God exists is an inductive argument for the existence of God which it isn't easy to express briefly, so I won't try. However, I will say that it pulls on the following versions of the following arguments.

(1) A cosmological argument from the existence of a complex physical universe
(2) A teleological argument from temporal regularity
(3) A teleological argument from spatial regularity, or "fine tuning"
(4) An argument from beauty
(5) An argument from moral awareness
(6) An argument from consciousness
(7) An argument from our ability to make significant decisions, or "providence"
(8) An argument from miracles
(9) An argument from history

The above arguments come together to form a cumulative case which I think is sufficient to justify the following.

(10) Therefore, it is at least as likely as not that God exists.

I then introduce the following propositions.

(11) If X is as likely as not to exist based on the other evidence, and if additionally I have an experience that seems to be of X, then X probably exists.
(12) I have had experiences that seemed to be of God.

So, from (1)-(9) I inductively infer (10), and from (10), (11) and (12) I deductively infer that God probably exists.

I have my belief that God exists based on the above arguments, but I have my belief in the Resurrection partly in the basic way. The idea of a properly basic belief takes off from the observation that we all have to begin building our structure of knowledge from certain plausible assumptions, and to me, one of these assumptions is that the Resurrection occurred. This, in combination with my belief that God would have reason to resurrect Christ if he had the moral character displayed in the Gospels, seems to me to warrant a belief that God probably resurrected Jesus.

So, given that I think God probably exists and that God probably resurrected Jesus, it's reasonable for me to cultivate a belief in the Christian religion by the methods suggested by Pascal.

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Comment by Robert Karp on May 30, 2012 at 11:52am

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Comment by William Occam on May 30, 2012 at 11:54am

Understood, Robert Karp. Thanks.

I hope it's clear that I'm not here to proselytize or insult people. I just want to persuade people that I'm reasonable to be a Christian, and have good conversations.

Comment by Arcus on May 30, 2012 at 12:10pm

Don't worry, I don't immediately jump to the conclusion that people are crazy even if they are religious, communist, vegetarian, goldbug, WoW player, or hold any belief I tend to find unreasonable. ;)

-------

My main contention would be: How do you know it's the Christian God you had an experience with? And which "flavor" of Christianity is it that you find the most compelling? This is essentially the geography objection to religion.

To be frank, it seems a bit silly to me that people tend to have divine experiences with the supreme being which just happen to be the same supreme being the majority of their peers believe in. It's also a bit odd that so many groups can have such widely different interpretations of words which are supposedly eternally true and flawless.

Comment by Mabel on May 30, 2012 at 12:45pm

I just want to persuade people that I'm reasonable to be a Christian, and have good conversations.

@ William - I don't think it is unreasonable to believe in God under certain circumstances. I almost feel bad for you wanting to have exchanges with atheists because it will probably make you doubt and may lead to your getting depressed.

Comment by Cara Coleen on May 30, 2012 at 1:09pm

Are your arguments taken from Lee Strobel's A Case for a Creator?

I can't take on all of your premises, but I will take issue with 3, 4, 5, 8, & 9.

3.
"Fine tuning" is an illusion. Here is an argument against it. Even if the likelihood of our universe, in its current form, is only 1 in a trillion trillion trillion... when dealing with infinity, everything is possible, and our universe is simply proof of that. Have you heard of the multiverse hypothesis? There may be multiple universes with different frequencies, if you will, that do not follow the same rules ours does. Our universe may be contained inside a black hole. 

4.
Beauty if subjective. Period. What one person finds beautiful, another finds repulsive. In fact, I'm sure animals perceive "beauty" in a completely different way than we do. This is a weak, weak premise, and proves nothing.

5.
Morality does not necessitate the need of a higher power to be implemented. All we need is trial and error, and an agreement that works for everyone involved. First of all, working together improves everyone's chances of survival. Instead of being a lone huntsman, hunting in a pack is much more efficient. When you live in a pack, or group, you must cooperate or you're going to be tossed out. If I steal from you, everyone will find out and I'll be distrusted, possibly expelled from the group, or worse. Also, I don't want to be stolen from. We all agree not to steal from each other because it works. It's not rocket science, and it's not so hard to figure out we need to consult a higher power. This applies to murder, cheating, and generally being kind to one another. To expand on the Golden Rule... "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you... because if you don't, no one will like you and you'll be on your own."

Also, animals are capable of "morality" as well. This stuff just works.

8.
No atheist believes there are miracles. This is probably the wrong premise to propose to a group of people who do not accept supernatural "explanations" for anything. Science has consistently shown there are logical explanations for things once considered mysteries. If there is no logical explanation right now, one will eventually be discovered. Even if the explanation is never found out, it is simply irrational to jump to the conclusion that it's a miracle. Also, no miracle can be demonstrated to ever have occurred. You may believe in specific miracles, but beyond hearsay, you cannot prove there ever was one.

9.
Your argument from history is quite vague, so I'll assume you mean Bible history. Most atheists will agree that there are real events, people, and places in the Bible. That, unfortunately, does not mean the entire book is a work of non-fiction. Just about every book on the planet references real events, people, and places. Unfortunately for Christianity, the two main characters that cannot be accounted for are Jesus and Yahweh. Jesus left behind no physical evidence he existed. There are only rumors, and Paul's version of things, first of all, contradicts the first four gospels; second of all, he never even met Jesus. Jesus is less accounted for than Harry Potter!

There are glaring inconsistencies, contradictions, and simple inaccuracies strewn throughout the Bible. Light was created before a source (i.e. the Sun and stars), which makes zero sense. The Sun was created before the stars, which shows a lack of education on the part of the author (not realizing the Sun is a star). In fact, the entire creation story is a joke, obviously written by someone without the slightest inkling of cosmology. Each account of creation in Genesis contradicts the other... and that's just the beginning of the problem with the historical accuracy of the Bible.

Most of your premises are merely assumptions. I don't think you're crazy, but I do think you haven't studies the responses and oppositions to them. They've all been easily overturned. And no, a god's existence is not a 50/50 likelihood, no more than the existence of fairies is 50/50. The universe, by no means, necessitates the existence of a disembodied mind that operates outside the laws of nature. We have explanations for the origin of our universe, the origin of life, and the process that led us to our current state that make far less of a leap (actually not a leap at all; more of a slow gradation) than insisting there must be a god who did it all.

You cannot deductively infer anything since your premises are not at all strong arguments or widely accepted. None of your assumptions can be undeniably proven, or even given a strong probability. And you've jumped from there is a god (unlikely) to my god (Yahweh) is the one, true god (even less likely). There are thousands of gods to consider, but you've discounted them all in favor of this particular one... and simply because of your confirmation bias and the fact that you were raised in a country where Yahweh was the most widely accepted deity of this age.

Like I said, I don't think you're crazy; I once believed all that as well. But I don't think you've researched this as much as you would like to believe you have.

Comment by William Occam on May 30, 2012 at 1:18pm

Don't worry, I don't immediately jump to the conclusion that people are crazy even if they are religious, communist, vegetarian, goldbug, WoW player, or hold any belief I tend to find unreasonable. ;)

Okay, cool. :)

My main contention would be: How do you know it's the Christian God you had an experience with? And which "flavor" of Christianity is it that you find the most compelling? This is essentially the geography objection to religion.

To be frank, it seems a bit silly to me that people tend to have divine experiences with the supreme being which just happen to be the same supreme being the majority of their peers believe in. It's also a bit odd that so many groups can have such widely different interpretations of words which are supposedly eternally true and flawless.

I disagree with several of the assumptions packaged into this passage. I'll just make the following points in response.

(1) I wouldn't say I know that I had an experience of the Christian God, but only that I know that I had an experience of a God. That it was the Christian God in particular is something I accept on faith - and by "faith" I mean that I cultivate a belief in it in myself for Pascalian reasons.

(2) I attend a Presbyterian church, which, as you predicted, is the same church that I grew up in. I don't attend that particular church because I find Presbyterianism particularly compelling, however; it's just the most convenient way to cultivate Christian beliefs in myself.

(3) As a liberal Christian, I don't think that the Bible is "eternally true and flawless."

Comment by William Occam on May 30, 2012 at 1:19pm

Don't worry, Mabel, I've been discussing things with atheists for years. It's unlikely to make me doubt my religion to any significant degree.

Comment by Robert Karp on May 30, 2012 at 1:29pm

I cultivate a belief in it in myself for Pascalian reasons.

This doesn't account for other religions. How can you be sure your version is the correct one? A muslim can use Pascalian reasoning exactly the same way. 

As Cara mentioned, expand on the "miracles" point in your post. Do you have evidence of miracles? And if so, why does your god pick and choose?

As the saying goes "If the sincere prayers of a child to god, cannot stop sexual abuse at the hands of a man of god, what does that say about god".

Comment by William Occam on May 30, 2012 at 1:51pm

Hi, Cara Colleen. Thanks for such a careful and thorough response.

Are your arguments taken from Lee Strobel's A Case for a Creator?

No, I haven't read that. I've heard that Strobel is a terrible apologist. I'm heavily influenced by Swinburne and Plantinga, though.

I'll address your objections to my arguments using the same numbering that you did.

(3) I don't see how you can use the idea of a multiverse to object to the fine tuning argument if the fine tuning argument is made inductively. Sure, it's possible that there are a lot of universes with a lot of different configurations, but it seems simpler to posit one designer than to posit a whole lot of additional universes. The multiverse hypothesis is only a problem if you want absolute certainty that God exists, but I'm not aiming for absolute certainty.

(4) I agree that the premise is less than certain, but it's not meant to be a very strong argument, only a part of a cumulative case. I don't think it's unreasonable to believe, even if with a small degree of confidence, that beauty isn't subjective.

(5) I agree with everything you wrote in response to this point. The argument from moral awareness takes off from the observation that we're aware that some actions are moral and others are not. The account of morality you give doesn't conflict with that argument, because it's an explanation of how we became aware than some actions are moral and others are not rather than an objection to the claim that we possess such awareness.

(8) The argument from miracles is really more of an argument from miracle reports. There are certainly reports that miracles have occurred, and it seems to beg the question against theism to just assume that they're all fictitious, so we have some evidence for theism here. The objection you're making is circular, in a way: It asserts that miracle A didn't occur because miracles B-Z didn't occur, and miracle B didn't occur because miracles C-Z didn't occur, and miracle C didn't occur because miracles D-Z didn't occur, and so on, but at no point is a serious investigation into any particular miracle conducted.

(9) The argument from history isn't an argument from Bible history, but rather an argument from things like, for example, the existence of great leaders. It seems slightly more likely that there would be great leaders on theism than on atheism. This isn't a killer argument by itself, but it's not supposed to be.

Like I said, I don't think you're crazy; I once believed all that as well. But I don't think you've researched this as much as you would like to believe you have.

Well, I'm glad you don't think I'm crazy. Since you don't think I've researched this enough, could you point me to some specific sources that I could read to catch up?

Comment by kris feenstra on May 30, 2012 at 2:03pm

(11) If X is as likely as not to exist based on the other evidence, and if additionally I have an experience that seems to be of X, then X probably exists.

I disagree.  If humans merely invented X, then X represents some level of human experience.  Whether X is a fabrication of humanity or it is something (super)naturally occurring apart from humanity, it is likely that humans will have experiences that seem to be of X.

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