Welcome to the Patchwork Blog! I hope you enjoy reading my random thoughts about life, Jesus and the freedom he offers.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Banging my head against a brick wall

Every time I think I have decided what that there is/or is not  a God I read or hear something else that makes me think the opposite. As I said in my last post,  some of the countries more intelligent people can't agree on whether there is a God or not. This surely means it is really hard, or impossible,  to prove  that there is a God one way or another. Is trying to work it out intellectally really the right way? But I don't want to leave my brain out of it, God gave it to me, if there is a God, so would he not want me to use it.

I've had these verses going through my head for a few days, "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. ............. without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. ." (Hebrews 11:1, 6). Trying to combine faith with using my brain seems to be like banging my head against a brick wall - pointless and just leads to pain. If this is some kind of test of faith I don't want to fail it, but if I am believing a lie I want to know as well.

Even as I write this, I am suddenly reminded of essays I used to have to do after a practical placement during my ministry training. We had to look at a particular issue or situation that had arisen during our placement and work through it theologically, using Scripture, reason, tradition and experience. So I guess I can apply the same things here. I could look at it from those 4 angles. Looking at Scripture, using reason, what is traditional thought, and what does my experience tell me.   Some of the people I have read on various sites for ex-christians seem to concentrate on reason but I want to use all of the resources that I can.  I have had experiences of God (or what I thought was God at the time). Traditionally speaking most (but I am guessing not all) cultures have some sort of deity that they worship. It seems to me that it is ingrained some how in human kind as a whole to believe in God (obviously not all individuals believe in God within that society).

If it was just people who were not intelligent who believed in God I would think that maybe I could use reason and work it out. But some very clever people believing in the existence of God. Maybe to the list of Scripture, tradtion, experience and reason I can add looking deeper into my psyche, for reasons why I might not want to believe in God. What are the reasons that I am so keen for there to be a God? What is the payback for me if there is a God, or if there is not a God?

All food for thought over Christmas - the first time in years I will have the whole of Christmas off!


  1. Ugh... I typed up a long response and the browser ate it. Lets see how much I can remember... Basically I outlined why I think that scripture, tradition, and experience are not nearly as strong in backing up an idea as science and reason are.

    Scripture can only have as much authority as you ascribe to it. If you believe in scripture then you must believe in the God of the bible. If you do not believe in the God of the bible why should you believe in the scriptures that tell of him? They aren't a strong historical document, and are actually quite full of inconsistencies. Those who still believe in them are able to rationalize those inconsistencies away, but if you are using them as a proof them you must deal with those inconsistencies.

    Experience is based on our own perception of events that occur. Our perceptions are woefully inaccurate and we are easily fooled in to believing things are other than they really are. This is why magicians can have a trade at all. This is also why psychics can have a trade at all. It is why people will believe all manner of things from cryptozoology to alien abduction to homeopathy.

    Our ability to believe something that isn't really true is no reflection on our intelligence but a byproduct of our evolutionary development. Our brains are quick to recognize a pattern where there may not actually be one. This is sort of a natural early warning system we developed to ensure our survival. If we assume that sound we hear or that shadow we see in the woods is a predator we will be cautious and avoid it. If we assume that the sound we hear or shadow we see is nothing then we will not be so cautious and will be attacked if it really were a predator. Thus those who are overly cautious and see creatures where they are not tend to survive more. It also has the wonderful side effect of making us very easy to fool and quite willing to personify inanimate objects and see shapes where they don't exist (how many kids have spent an afternoon looking at clouds and imagining them to have specific shapes?).

    Here is an interesting article in The Scientific American on this very subject. While I don't agree with the conclusion that creationism is here to say because it goes against our natural inclination of belief (we naturally assume the earth to be flat, but the fact that the earth is not flat has been proven sufficiently enough that there is only a small minority that believes otherwise and they are considered to be loony) but the general idea is what I'm getting at above.

    (to be continued in next comment)

  2. The argument against tradition is the same as the argument against experience. Since tradition is based on past human experience then it can't really be trusted. Especially since in times past the science of things like natural disasters, thunderstorms, and the cosmos weren't understood and people sought out explanations based only on their experience which is so easily fooled.

    This is why we atheists and those who call ourselves free-thinkers rely so heavily on reason and science. Science is based on evidence gained through repeatable experiments. It is only after much experimentation and repetition that a scientist will make a claim. Then the science used in the experiment is picked apart by other scientists, and the experiment is repeated by other people. Only then is an idea considered to be proven (and even then it may come up for review later upon the discovery of new evidence).

    Extro1 has a very good description of the scientific process, much better explained than I did here. You should check it out.

    So to sum it up: Scripture only holds authority you give it and thus it is not reliable as a proof. Experience is too easily based on false perceptions and our all too easily fooled pattern recognition abilities. Tradition is based on past human experience and thus prone to the same weakness as personal experience. Science is based on repeatable experimentation and reason and thus the strongest tool we have to discern the truth.

  3. By the way, I want to say that I am very impressed with your willingness to post openly about your struggle. It was only after I had come to my own conclusions about my belief and admitted them to myself that I was able to openly talk with people about it. Before then I kept it all inside, and felt like a terrible person for my doubts. I spent over 15 years doing that, it probably wasn't the most effective way to deal with these issues. I hope that you are able to answer your questions with less guilt and sooner than I was, what ever the outcome is.

    Also, I'm sorry for making my response like four times longer than your initial post... My original response was shorter, so blame the browser!

  4. I just did what you did! Lost my repsonse to your reply!!! Here goes again. This time coping what I have written as I go along in case it disappears again!

    Firstly Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog and comment on it. I find it very useful indeed to have feedback on what I am saying. It stimulates my thought further.

    I can get what you are saying about Scripture, tradition and experience. All three do assume an existence of God, but also not using them because they assume an existence of God conversely assumes there is not a God. I want to be as open as I can about whether there is a God or not. I don't want to start looking at things from a definite perspective either way.

    Maybe I can look at Scripture, tradition and experience from two ways, firstly assuming there is a God, then assuming there is not a God. If there is a God then to my mind using faith, Scripture, tradition and experience as well as reason would be necessary. If there is no God then everything but the reason is worthless, and a waste of time. So that takes me back to square one really - is there a God or not! I want to remain open.

    Perhaps my starting strategy should be not to get anxious about it and see where the journey takes me.