Conservative Christians and Atheists/Agnostics have two very different views of Reality

Evangelical Christian:

Hi Gary, as an evangelical Christian. . .

It doesn’t make sense to break up evidence in categories of natural and supernatural. Typically evidence is divided into categories like scientific, sociological, historical, experiential, etc. There can be evidence for supernatural coming from these. But first, when we talk about supernatural, we first must define natural. Usually, it is what we gather from phenomenological experience and scientific theorizing. All categories that transcend these two are “supernatural”. Examples include: existence itself, self-existence, the substance of mental life, consciousness, experience of beauty, conscience, etc.

Now, you might disagree that these are supernatural. You are likely a physicalist saying passionately, “The mind is the brain”. Fair enough (better than eliminative materialism). Even so, in order to draw a coherent picture of reality, you must at the very least account for existence itself and self-existence. The naturalist worldview falls embarrassingly short on these questions and remains incoherent compared to theistic or even Buddhist worldviews. But, coherence is not what concerns us here. What concerns us is, what is supernatural? Well, at the very least those two features of reality are supernatural — existence (i.e., of anything) and self-existence (why do you exist? what are you fundamentally?).

Now you as a devout atheist, could accept all of naturalism with a tinge of supernaturalism. You could say that the universe is self-existent purposeless entity of mass and energy, which is a supernatural claim, and that Gary is simply a particular arrangement of neurons and neural activity that just happened to occur randomly out of the near infinite combination of neurons and neural activity according to genetics and neurogenesis. Note also, you cannot “see” or generate a scientific theory about why this random arrangement if Gary and not Brad Pitt, so this is also a supernatural claim.

So with regards to this kind of supernaturalism, there is no real point to having a superiority complex thinking your worldview is somehow vastly better than Christianity. It’s absurd to think this, you’d have to put your brain in a frying pan to actually conclude this. Or, just be that intellectually arrogant. But, I suspect neither is true for you.

I suspect you are most concerned with the additional supernatural elements of the Christian faith. Namely, the resurrection of Jesus. I’m surprised to see you fall short on identifying at the very least the four gospels and Paul as testimony to weigh in considering this manner. But, I can see you are not one of those skeptics thinking, “No amount of testimony is sufficient to prove a miracle”. Instead, the testimony is somehow reduced to Paul and Papias? Really Papias? That’s new for me. And, after being reduced these authors are profiled as “first century vision-prone rabbi” and “second century mystic”. I will ignore Papias for now. I am more curious what specific evidence you have that Paul’s testimony is not credible? How does your profile of him make him not credible?

Lastly, you boldly claim, “. . . millions of Muslims, Hindus, and Mormons claim to have the same personal experiences with their gods. . .” This is problematic. First, very few people claim that their experience is the same as other religions. Maybe some New Age religious pluralist folks would. Otherwise people in different religions have different experiences, that should be obvious since they have different rituals and doctrines. But, more importantly, who in the world is arguing that because of their personal experience, you should believe? This is not a line of argument in any apologetic circle I am familiar with. Same with the converse. What atheist thinks to herself, “I don’t have religious experiences, therefore no one should hold religious beliefs.” More likely you mean neither of these. Instead, you are advancing an attack on people for believing because of their personal experience. You are telling people they should doubt their experiences, right? Almost all apologetic circles talk about the conviction that comes from the Holy Spirit upon reading the scripture or hearing the gospel. But, you say this is a misinterpretation of reality. This conviction is false and should be rejected, right? Do not insult my understanding of the scientific method, science cannot disprove the existence of the Holy Spirit. You can only give me reasons to doubt my interpretation of reality. I would be curious to hear any. And, if it amounts to the problem of evil or problems with historical testimony, I will gladly admit these are good reasons to doubt. But, not good enough to me personally.

Gary:

Very interesting points, let me try to address them.

“What concerns us is, what is supernatural? Well, at the very least those two features of reality are supernatural — existence (i.e., of anything) and self-existence (why do you exist? what are you fundamentally?).”

Often when I get into discussions with conservative Christians regarding the evidence for the resurrection and other supernatural claims of the Bible, they want to divert the conversation to a philosophical discussion of reality.  I once was told by a conservative Christian that until I could prove that I exist…he would not debate the evidence for the resurrection.  “How do you know, Gary, that you are not just the figment of someone else’s imagination?”

I am not a philosopher, nor am I interested in debating such profound issues as to the reality of my existence or how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.  I am a naturalist.  I believe in the natural world and I use the scientific method and reason to explore and understand that world.  That is my reality.  Christians can choose to live in another reality, one filled with (holy) ghosts and ghouls (devils and demons), I choose not to.

Bottom line, unless we agree on a common definition of reality, skeptics and Christians will never come to an agreement on the “evidence”.

And that is another issue:  What constitutes “evidence”?

I consider evidence to be any information that would be considered evidence in a court of law.  So the following would NOT be evidence:

1.  I know that John Smith killed Mr. White because God tells me in my heart that he did it.
2.  I know that John Smith killed Mr. White because four anonymous authors in my holy book, three of which borrow heavily from the first, say he did.
3.  I know that John Smith killed Mr. White because a Jewish rabbi traveling in Syria had a vision in which he saw John Smith kill Mr. White, and due to this vision, the rabbi changed religions and suffered terrible persecution and execution.  No rabbi would do that unless he had really seen a murder.
4.  I know that John Smith killed Mr. White because a guy named Pappy, living 90 years after the death of Mr. White wrote a couple of sentences in his diary stating that a guy named John told him that a guy named John Mark had written a book describing the sermons of a guy named Peter, who said that he was a witness to the murder of Mr. White by John Smith.
5.  I know that John Smith killed Mr. White because all the early leaders of my church, who are now dead, believed that he did it.

So in my reality, the Christian “evidence” just doesn’t cut it.  Maybe in your reality it does.  My bet is, however, that more and more educated people in western civilization are abandoning a worldview/reality that involves ghosts and ghouls running the universe and are adopting reason and the scientific method as the basis of reality.

Bottom line:  I choose not to debate you on the issue of what constitutes reality.  If we are to have a productive debate, either I must adopt your reality or you must adopt mine.  If not, we will simply be speaking past one another, which is usually what happens when conservative Christians and atheists/agnostics/naturalists debate each other.

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