In my last post, I described what a wake-up call it was to realize that the “godless evolutionists” had been right all along. Still, I continued as an evangelical Christian who had more than made his peace with evolution. I even led a study at church based on the pro-evolution, pro-God book, Finding Darwin’s God. (Kudos to my pastor for allowing me to do so!)
I do not say I emerged from the creation/evolution wars unshaken. Although I was still firmly in the evangelical camp, I had learned that my method for discerning truth had been flawed. I knew that in the future I should require more evidence before believing something, even something that seemed to be God-honoring.
And I had a new question: Why would God allow creationists — some of the most devout Christians I knew — people who assiduously submitted their every thought to their Creator — to make such a colossal mistake? I could understand how I could fall into error, but Duane Gish and Henry Morris? Why hadn’t God granted their prayers for wisdom and guidance? All prayers aside, why had God allowed such an important falsehood to take hold among people who loved him and sought him?
It was not long before another area of mysteriously declined but worthy prayers would reveal itself.
In late 2007, I visited a web forum on Christian marriage. I had some questions about my own marriage and wanted guidance from other believers. Much of the discussion was positive and it was clear that many Christians were enjoying their marriages. However, I was shocked to see how many serious problems there were.
The most heartbreaking posts were from spouses who had been completely refused sexually for years or even decades. I had had no idea such problems existed in the church. One poor husband who lived in the country didn’t even like to go into town because there he would see young couples in love, and he would weep all over again over what his marriage had lacked for its entire 20-year course.
The Bible says that healthy sexual relations are God’s will for a marriage. So why hadn’t God granted the prayers of this man and so many other refused spouses? In some cases, it was the refusing spouse who was praying for normal, loving desire, but still … nothing. Where was God?
I realize that these anecdotes do not represent a scientific sample, much less a scientific study. And they did not move me away from my faith. Still, on the heels of learning the truth about creationists, I could not help feeling that something was amiss. Does God grant worthy prayers or not?
(And let’s have none of the cop-out that I’ve heard so many times: “God always answers. Sometimes he answers Yes, sometimes No, and sometimes Wait.” Verses like James 1:5, John 14:13 and Matthew 17:20 know nothing of that. They are talking about God granting prayers, not just “answering” them.)
It may have been at this time that I had a new take on the denominational divisions within Christianity. I had always thought it a good thing that we had a variety of worship styles, etc., to choose from. But by and large, don’t the tens of thousands of denominations also represent tens of thousands of holy people seeking God’s will and being led in contradictory directions? No matter who you believe is correct, that’s a lot of error. James 1:5 promises that God will give wisdom generously to those who ask in faith. Why had he not done so? (In this connection, you may also recall my recent post on the changing evangelical position on abortion.)
Although God had not granted the devout creationists’ prayers for wisdom and discernment, and he had not granted the pleas of so many on the forum for healthy marriages, and had not given the promised wisdom to many illustrious denominational founders, I had heard of scientific studies that proved he did respond to prayers for healing.
In a bid to strengthen my faith, I decided to look into them. That will be the subject of my next post.
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This is the first time that I have ever seen a Biblical argument for the fallacious, “God always answers. Sometimes he answers Yes, sometimes No, and sometimes Wait.” While I have explained this cop-out with logic, I love the way you addressed with with verses from the Bible.
To me, Biblical arguments are more useful in debate than purely logical arguments. You get to wrap their own words around their neck with a source that, in their mind, supersedes all other arguments.
(Also, if you see some extra hits coming through today, I posted a link to the first part of your story on Reddit last night.)
>> if you see some extra hits coming through today…
Man, oh man, have I ever! Today’s volume is about 200 times normal, and the day is only a few hours old. Thanks!
I’ll have to look into how I can use Reddit myself, more proactively.
/r/atheism is not necessarily the best atheism group on reddit, so if you don’t like it, don’t give up. Others are /r/trueatheism , /r/republicofatheism , /r/freethought , /r/skeptic , /r/humanism
If you go to reddit, don’t judge the whole non-theist community on there by /r/atheism . There are other fora like /r/republicofatheism , /r/trueatheism , /r/freethought , /r/skeptic and /r/humanism .
Got linked here through Reddit, so thank you James.
” But by and large, don’t the tens of thousands of denominations also represent tens of thousands of holy people seeking God’s will and being led in contradictory directions?”
Not only the Christian denominations, which I take to be your meaning here, but all the other religions in the world represent this same problem. If a god or gods exist, how have he/she/they not given the “correct” religion to all groups of people across the world? how can they possibly see it as fair for a person to be condemned to everlasting torment simply because a child was born to parents in the wrong part of the world?
Thank you for telling your story!
Here from Reddit as well (Thanks James). Really enjoying this! When’s the next one? 😉
The next installment should be up within 24 hours. Thanks for your interest!
Here from Reddit too. Was a fantastic read, keep it up.
here from Reddit. while i wait for the next one i will read your previous posts.
was raised catholic.I was dragged to mass on a regular basis. Same time my father stopped drinking alcohol and smoking. He is still catholic and has picked up alcohol again since my mother passed. I have finally set myself free from the chains of religion and have never been happier.
I’m yet another person from Reddit (Yes, thank you for posting the link James). This is a really nice read and I’m looking forward to the next post and to see this blog explode
Reddit reader reared with Bible as ‘real’. One idea that continues to stick in my head as the God/Man debate rages around me is that, no matter what side of the fence you are on, you must choose to put your faith in something. Those who subscribe to Science (capital S) must be willing to acknowledge that Science does not contain all of the answers we seek, and historically it has been proven time and again that some of prevailing ‘facts’ of Science are refuted. Furthermore, many of the more grandiose concepts in Science (think God particle) are truly understood by so few people that the common understanding is more like a facsimile of a facsimile. Belief in God, though it’s proponents tend to guard their beliefs more jealously, must be willing to make the same acknowledgements, and the zealotry around creationism is a stark example of how poorly some people are equipped to do that. However, at the end of the day I don’t see any alternative than to take a leap of faith in one direction or the other.
One difference between Science and Faith is that Science has a much better track record. Yes, there have been mistakes but those mistakes have always been caught by the methods of science, not by faith. The Faith method has made mistakes, too, and those have been caught by … science again!
You might be interested in this post Myth, Meth, Math. Also this pair of posts: Sound Method and Hierarchy of Methods. Finally, one on a related topic: Is Atheism a Faith?.
Please understand the distinction I am making is between Science and belief in God, not Science and faith. Faith is the means of reconciling yourself to one of the two beliefs. That is the fundamental misconception I believe many have; that to believe in Science circumvents the necessity for faith. I cannot see how it does, as there are still so many questions that Science cannot provide the answer for. I am not trying to establish the credulity or incredulity of placing your faith in Science rather than in God, just trying to illuminate the reality that either belief system requires a measure of faith (or unfortunately in too many circumstances ignorance & close-mindedness but that is another issue altogether).
>”Why would god allow … ?”
You are absolutely correct, god would not allow these things, but do you know who would? The priests would. They are not representatives of god, they are false prophets, teaching false doctrine, for nothing more than to fulfill their own greed.
There is no kingdom of god, there is only the kingdom of the priest.
The very priests who stand before you on the altar are ATHEISTS who no more believe in a god than does Richard Dawkins.
LOL. Sad but oh so true.
Sucker were all born athist then the god squad get there bullcrap bronze age fairytale myths to control the week minded like yourself lol so true
I was home-schooled and grew up questioning as you are now. It wasn’t until I left home and really experienced the world for myself that I came to many of the same conclusions you’ve expressed here. One thing which continues to puzzle me is the comparison between religion and science. I think that it’s a false equivalence of argumentation. Science concerns itself with the material whereas religion concerns itself with the immaterial. The statement is not entirely accurate but rather is intended to illustrate what I think is the futility in comparison. I the term “faith” has a very distinct meaning distinct in these paradigms that is rather obfuscated by the language. Faith in science means assumption: assumption for the purpose of logical induction. Faith in religion means acceptance: acceptance for the purpose of inspiration (or indoctrination, or inculcation).
>> Science concerns itself with the material whereas religion concerns itself with the immaterial.
Would that it were so! The moment religion makes predictions about what will happen in the material world, it has stepped into the realm of science: it has made claims that are testable. “God grants wisdom generously to those who ask in faith” is a testable claim, especially when paired with the biblical idea that God’s truth is unchanging. The test is to see whether many people who ask in faith are given compatible wisdom. That’s not what we see, so the claim is falsified.
I hope you’ll read Part 3 of my story, due tomorrow, for another example.
>> Faith in science means assumption: assumption for the purpose of logical induction.
That’s how math works, but not it’s not the emphasis in modern science. Scientists generally do not reason inductively from assumptions. Instead, they pose a hypothesis and try to disprove it. If the hypothesis withstands decades of assault, it gains respect and may be considered a “theory” (e.g., atomic theory, the theory of gravity or the theory of evolution). (Note that “theory” in science has a different meaning than in common discourse.) If the hypothesis is disproven, it is scrapped or revised and the cycle starts again. More on this theme here: You’re an Idiot and a Genius.
>> Faith in religion means acceptance.
There, I agree with you completely!
I agree with your premise, but believe another distinction must be made (talk about word obfuscation!). You speak of faith in science being assumption for the purpose of logical induction, which I agree with, as long as science is being used in the relative, or lower case sense. Capital “S” Science (which would probably be more accurately described as Humanism) is not a hard science at all, it is a philosophy. On the other hand, you say, faith in religion means acceptance. Religion is a human institution, multifaceted to be sure, but can be labeled, studied and charted using scientific sociological methods, and does not require faith. So rather than attempting to compare science and religion, the more pressing matter lies in understanding the fundamental contrast between Humanism and Theism. Notice I don’t say atheism. Atheism, ontologically, is nothing more than the denial of something and I cannot find an ethos within it (other than atheists have never forgiven God for not existing). Humanism seems to be more at the crux, if you will, of what many atheists believe. It’s a minefield in semantics, but the difference, to me, is crucial.
hi read your blog look for what makes sense ,god is just a word for not understanding and being scared of the unknown ie death.I have neve belived in a god since I was 9 years old.As a none beliver I am not stressed out with the mess in the world as its what it is no plan no game just reality you live you die just injoy your life and be a free thinker
Faith is beliving in anything without evidience its not worth anything made up for made up belife systems no point but if you whant to belive you will anyway
Everything answers prayers with yes/no/wait – it’s the default answer! My toe nail clippings answers prayers with yes/no/wait, my petunia answers prayers with yes/no/wait – actually everything answers prayers with yes/no/wait!
Another Reddit Army member here great posts. As a college student I struggled with much of the same issues years ago when my parents kept praying for jobs and stuff and they never appeared… I lost my faith then.
I am encouraged to read your posts – that someone so invested in an exclusionary model of life had the courage and the internal motivation to see if what he was being told about `the other side’ was actually true.
The way I put it: “Knowledge is the acceptance of an idea in light of the evidence; faith is the acceptance of an idea in spite of the evidence.”
I am encouraged by your posts – that someone so `invested’ in an exclusive- and exclusionary view of the workings of the world (and the universe) had the courage and personal motivation to see whether what he was being told about `the other side’ was actually true. And that you did this to enrich and improve the lives of your children is all the more gratifying (since so many home-schoolers use this as a paranoid means to keep their children from knowing more than they do).
As you have no doubt learned, a life based upon knowledge is no less rich- or fulfilling than a life based upon faith.
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The way you have embraced new information and been able to freely admit it are an inspiration. Many of us are or have been guilty of defending points of view just to save face. You, however, have chosen to man-up and I find that extremely admirable. I have read several of your posts so far and look forward to reading many more. Dare I say you should write a book.
Thank you for your kind words. I would consider writing a book except that some excellent ones have already been written! Ken Daniels’ Why I Believed is almost point-for-point what I would have said, and is available for only 99 cents in the Kindle edition.
Redditor here as well. I’ve enjoyed reading your story thus far. It’s obvious that you’re very intelligent, and it’s difficult for people that are very intelligent to maintain belief as it is the nature of the intelligent to question. I’m an agnostic atheist. My father is Jewish (by blood, not belief… in that, he’s an atheist), and my mom is Greek Orthodox. So, I started out agnostic. I never believed in creationism, so I didn’t get hit with the same kind of betrayal that you’ve endured. I just read up on everything having to do with philosophy and religion that I could get my hands on (Old Testament / New Testament / Qu’ran / Buddha’s Teachings / Taoism / Nitzsche / and so forth). God just never fit into anything. Rational thought and scientific method are the only things that give answers that made sense, and if some long explained scientific theory is found to be erroneous, it will be relentlessly tested and peer reviewed until the correct answer is found. There is no faith involved, only study, experimentation, and observation.
I look forward to your next installment. Your transformation is intriguing, Thank you for posting it. BTW, how did your wife and kids take your paradigm shift?
>> BTW, how did your wife and kids take your paradigm shift?
This blog is not quite anonymous, so I want to respect their privacy. I’ll just say that after a very difficult period I’m confident that my wife and I are going to be OK. That’s fortunate because many couples in our situation divorce, from what I’m told. My kids have been very accepting. They see that I’m the same person I was before. We had great relationships when I was a believer, and continue to do so.
>I realize that these anecdotes do not represent a scientific sample, much less a scientific study.
I think this is the main fallacy in your logic: To ask for scientific proof where none can be given, ever, in any way, and by definition.
As I was taught, it would be entirely possible that God as an omnipotent being created the universe nanoseconds ago, with everything that we know in it, and with all its contents including humans being in the exact state that they are now. How would you know the difference? No scientist could ever tell, as all of the scientific evidence would still point to the earth having followed the rules of evolution. So this is an argument creationists can ALWAYS fall back on, like by saying that God created radiometric signatures in such a way that things appear to be older than they are.
This claim can never be falsified – and by the rules we nowadays hold to be the foundations of science, it can thus never be scientific. A scientific theory is defined by the property that someone could prove it wrong some day if the corresponding evidence is given, which has happened innumerable times in the past but is impossible for faith-based claims.
For this reason, believing is science or God is not mutually exclusive: Science can in any case be thought of as a means to accurately describe our existing universe, and faith may serve as a way to explain the alpha and the omega. You may choose to ignore either the former – “God’s kingdom is going to come, separate yourself from this world” -, the latter – “We do not need reason or purpose, we just are” – or neither. None of these positions are any that could be argued with on a logical basis, because logic just doesn’t apply in such cases. It’s up to the individual to choose whether they want to believe or not, and once they have made their choice, no-one is able to challenge them on a rational level.
What can, however, be challenged is describing yourself as a theist or an atheist, as both stances claim that there is definitive truth in them. Yet, neither of them can be proven, as it is both impossible to prove a being that encompasses all of human existence (think of Sartre’s analogies when he defines the basics of Existentialism) and to prove its non-existence (think of Russell’s Teacup). So from a logical perspective, everyone should be agnostic, and the rest comes down to individual choice. And even if one does not hold any belief as an individual, it is just pointless to go around telling people that their God doesn’t exist, just as pointless as it is to explain to atheists that they will be going to hell.
PS: As a foreigner, I have to acknowledge that I cannot tell what religion does to people if it is applied in such a broad scale as it’s the case in the US – it seems like a strange and silly place to me. I’m guessing that there are many more practical debates to be fought before such abstract concepts can be introduced to a wide range of people. But still, IMHO, calm logic is the best way to combat the entrenched positions your country seems to be suffering from right now.
For the record, I do not quite consider myself to be an atheist. I am with respect to the God of the Bible (Jehovah) because I consider the Bible’s claims to be disproven (more on that in Part 4). But with respect to all the other possible gods, how can anyone know? I have heard some very strange stories, and who knows whether there’s something supernatural behind them?
>> …it would be entirely possible that God as an omnipotent being created the universe nanoseconds ago, with everything that we know in it, and with all its contents including humans being in the exact state that they are now. How would you know the difference? No scientist could ever tell…
Very true, and for a while I even considered the possibility that God created the Earth to look old and evolved even though it wasn’t. Ultimately, I had to pick the view that seemed most likely. Would a God who valued Truth do such a thing, or was it more likely that the writers of the Bible were mistaken?
P.S. – You submitted your comment twice because you weren’t sure if it had been accepted the first time. I have my blog set up to require my approval on all comments (to avoid the truly obnoxious ones) so your first post was just awaiting approval. I’ve never actually NOT approved a comment, so maybe I’ll change the setting.
Have you told your kids about your developing ideas? I’m curious to how they would react. Hopefully in a positive way.
Yes, I told my kids a few months after telling my wife. They have all been very accepting. They see that I’m the same person and the same dad as always. I made it clear that I was not out to deconvert them, and would support them in being the best Christians possible if that’s what they wanted to be. For example, one of them was too young to drive but wanted to attend a church that was 45 minutes from our house. I was happy to drive her there every Sunday for months, until her circumstances changed. All I want is for my kids to think for themselves. They know that, and have done so. Whatever they decide is fine with me because I know they will continue to be good people. (Sometime soon I’m going to write a post that encourages non-believers to treat believers as they wish believers would treat them. One aspect of that is that we non-believers wish believers would allow for the possibility that we can be good without God. So let’s return the favor and allow believers to be good with God.)
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> And I had a new question: Why would God allow creationists — some of the most devout Christians I knew — people who assiduously submitted their every thought to their Creator — to make such a colossal mistake?
Well, presuming it was a mistake, the Lord is patient. Somehow, He saw fit to “permit” the egregious theological errors, for hundreds of years, that the Reformation addressed (e.g., selling indulgences, worshiping icons). Human beings will always make mistakes, and certain others will create misunderstandings for their own benefit.
Why waste time with errors? Why not go to the heart of the matter. You might as well ask, why did God permit evil to exist at all? It’s much more to the point.
> The Bible says that healthy sexual relations are God’s will for a marriage. So why hadn’t God granted the prayers of this man and so many other refused spouses?
Not every espoused Christian loves the Lord enough, at all times, or seeks always to perform His will. In fact, it’s in our nature to turn away from Him. I don’t know this gentleman’s circumstances, but I think it’s safe to say one or both spouses have not submitted to the Lord’s will. Either the wife has not respected the husband, or the husband has not loved his wife as Christ loved the church.
> Does God grant worthy prayers or not?
God does answer prayer. Here’s one He answers so very emphatically, I’m very often afraid to pray it: “Dear Lord, please show me my own sins.” He answers that one every time. It’s a worthy prayer, but it takes a brave person to pray it. I don’t think He shows us all of our sins all at once; it would probably kill us.
But whether He answers a specific prayer, or whether we like His answer, we need to understand that it’s all according to His will. I’m sure Paul prayed many times to rid him of the “affliction” he spoke of in his epistles, but perhaps the Lord liked him better with that affliction. In the case of the man and his unhappy marriage, maybe what He wanted was for the man’s case to be raised to the elders of the church and an exploration done to find the sin in their lives, and to address that. I don’t know.
But we take on faith that the Lord works things out for the best on behalf of those who love Him. But He is not a wish machine. The idea of submitting to Him means accepting His decisions, and to question them is to believe He is holding out on us. That’s pretty much the Original Sin right there: Satan convinced Eve that God was holding out on her. Why, you can be like God!
I see a failure to recognize the reality of man’s free will here. Yes, something may be God’s will on Earth but that doesn’t mean God will force his will on everyone. That would make him a tyrant. God is not in charge of this world, man is with a little help from the Prince of Darkness….
Problems in the bedroom? Maybe the wife needed to see an OBGYN and the husband a urologist. After 50 the prostate gland starts growing and the sex drive sometimes goes out the window… Some medical help might have been in order. Some marriage counseling to improve communication may have also helped. Lots of women are not comfortable talking about their bedroom issues with their husbands.
What I am seeing in the first three sections on why you left the Evangelic Church seem to be centered around a failure to see Young Earth Creationism for what it was, yes, they deceived you, no their case cannot be made with modern science nor is it biblical (in my opinion), and that you don’t see God answering prayer and there are lots of denominations that don’t agree so therefore God does not exist.
I have to agree with Reformed Trombonist’s comment on Part 3 that you are a bit short of substance. Just say’in, not trying to be rude. I understand many of your issues, I left the Evangelical Church in January of 2004 for many of the same reasons you left, but I didn’t throw my faith out the window in the process. Perhaps you might find Francis Schaeffer’s books, Escape from Reason, The God Who is There and He is There and He is Not Silent helpful. Schaeffer also faced the same crisis you have, as have many others.
You may also like Crazy for God by his son Frank Schaeffer, he also had a spiritual crisis and had some interesting things to say about the Evangelicals. One of the best laughs I have had in a long time….
Another interesting book I read leading up to my leaving the church was When Bad Christians Happen to Good People. Humans have free will and at the end of the day, most of us are driven on by our limbic brain, while our higher brain rationalizes what we do.
>> I see a failure to recognize the reality of man’s free will here. Yes, something may be God’s will on Earth but that doesn’t mean God will force his will on everyone. … Some medical help might have been in order. Some marriage counseling to improve communication may have also helped.
I don’t know the particulars of these situations, such as whether they had already sought medical help and marriage counseling. All I can tell you is that they were at their wits’ end and turned to God in desperation. He did not grant their prayers, nor did he make it plain to them that they should take care of the problems through secular means. That isn’t proof that God does not exist, but for me it did cast doubt on the very plain verses in the Bible that say God will grant our worthy prayers.
>> I left the Evangelical Church in January of 2004 for many of the same reasons you left, but I didn’t throw my faith out the window in the process.
I did try to maintain a modified faith but, after 4 years of struggling, I could not find any evidence for even a more-liberal form of Christianity. As I related in the first post of this series, I was no longer going to believe things without evidence.
>> I have to agree with Reformed Trombonist’s comment on Part 3 that you are a bit short of substance.
Well, these are blog posts, not books. Most often in real life, the complaint I get from Christians is that I’m too intellectual and not willing enough to take things on faith. It seems I can’t win.
>> Perhaps you might find Francis Schaeffer’s books … helpful.
I did read The God Who Is There and am familiar with his arguments more broadly. I have some real problems with him both as a philosopher and as a human being. I’ll leave it at that.
Thanks for your other recommendations. I do pick up Christian books from time to time on people’s recommendations, so maybe I’ll turn to yours someday.