Agnosticism, Skepticism, Pick an ‘ism’ | Evidence

The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict

This is the fairly large book by Josh McDowell that I found in my closet the other day. I remember buying it years ago when the left side of my brain took over and started looking for proof of many things in the Bible. I was already embarking on other Bible studies and reading the entire Bible cover to cover, though. By the time I finished those, I was satisfied … for a while.

I read “A Case for Christ” and was also satisfied with this historical facts listed in that book. I believe Jesus existed, and he was a good man. What I still struggled with were the supernatural acts of a being that no one could see, hear, or touch, and that this being was Jesus’s father and also Jesus himself. Immaculate conception???

So I picked up “A Case for a Creator” and was overwhelmed because it was a much harder read than the other book. I never finished it and have no idea what happened to either book. So I’m hoping that this Evidence book will fill in some blanks for me.

The series of posts I write while reading this book will be called “Evidence”, and it will be a place where I share my questions, feelings, doubts, answers, and revelations. My first question that I even jotted down right in the book after reading the author’s note in the beginning is this…

Why do people need to rely on something (God, Jesus, etc.) to be a loving, forgiving, generous, unselfish person? It is possible to be all of these things without believing in something you can’t see, touch, or know is real.

Josh (the author) said it himself in his note…

How could something as flimsy as Christianity stand up to an intellectual examination?

This is something very personal, and I know there are a lot of people out there who think you shouldn’t discuss “religion”. I think they’re wrong. You probably shouldn’t push your own beliefs on others, but there’s nothing wrong with discussing religious or spiritual beliefs. So feel free to reply to any post in this series with your thoughts, insight, or questions. {All replies are subject to approval. Any blatant attacks on other comments will not be approved. I invite healthy, civilized discussion only.}

I want to describe where I stand going into this study, but I don’t know how to explain thoroughly enough and still keep it brief or easy to follow. My mind is hyperactive!

OK, so I’ve already mentioned my struggle with the supernatural-ness of it all. My mind wanders to all the cults out there and how people say they’re so bad. People are easily swept into believing all sorts of things that Christians say are false. How do I know Christianity isn’t also a cult? I’m not saying it is! Don’t get your panties in a bunch! I know it’s so much bigger than any other following, but it clearly has many of the same characteristics of what we call cults.

My biggest issue with organized religion is the recitation of creeds in unison to profess our faith. These things are not in the Bible. Why do we have to do this? The Lord’s Prayer is in the Bible. I have no issue reciting that one in unison.

Then there’s the belief that “the Lord will provide”. This is even straight from the Bible, but it’s certainly tossed around by many. How do we know this supernatural being will provide? What if things turn out how they do simply because that’s how they were going to turn out – period? If God knows the number of our days and knows what will happen, then how can prayer change things? Those two things are contradictory. If we change things through prayer, then what God already knew would happen isn’t going to happen that way anymore. Is your head spinning yet? Do you have an answer for that one? Where does this free will come into play if He has already planned our days? Do we have a point A and point B in place but alter that path along the way by our own free will? Is that how it works?

These are just a few of the things I psychoanalyze. How do I know the whole concept of God isn’t purely psychological? The power of suggestion is a just that – a powerful thing! Couldn’t the idea of a Holy Spirit dwelling within us be a powerful psychological suggestion?

To the other extreme, science would have us believe that humans began as an amoeba and slowly evolved over time. They also have said that we evolved from apes. If so, then why are they still in existence? However, if you think about how life develops now from two single cells that join together and create an entire body full of vital organs and an elaborate central nervous system in just nine months, there’s no denying how amazing that is!

I see how happy and content people with strong faith are; how full of joy they are. I want that. I also see how uncomfortable some people are around those who are exuberantly overflowing with their love of Christ. I don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable. Then I see the worst – people who call themselves Christians but turn their backs on people who don’t believe exactly what they believe. I can’t accept that. Love others as you love yourself. Live as Jesus lived. I don’t remember reading anything about Jesus turning his back on anyone. If I’m wrong, please give me chapter and verse so I can look it up.

Now that I’ve laid this all out here, it should be interesting to document what I learn from this book, which is technically not a true book but a compilation of notes prepared for the author’s lecture series, “Christianity: Hoax or History?”

20 thoughts on “Agnosticism, Skepticism, Pick an ‘ism’ | Evidence

  1. {reply copied from Facebook}

    Well well well. I think you have brought up every question about religion known to man LOL. Seriously, Sheila, first off, you have to keep in mind that you will never find 100% proof of the reality of God or proof of Christ’s miracles or proof that Christ Himself was God. Not in this world. Or unless, of course, God chooses to reveal Himself personally to you at some time.While Christians believe the Bible is the Word of God Himself as revealed to us through those who wrote it, belief in Christ as the Son of God and the Messiah is based on faith. There is much historical documentation to prove Jesus existed and did pretty much everything that was reported in the Bible, with the exception of the miracles of course.

    I, too, wonder about those who go about every day uber happy and smiling and exhuberent and full of zeal for the Lord! In fact, I know of one such minister who took his life last month. A long, long struggle with depression that few knew about. New Christians sometimes tend to feel this extreme happiness, but it seems to me that most who have been secure in their faith for a long while feel more peace and security from their faith than anything else.

    I don’t know how anyone can do a study of the Bible on their own, relying on other publications they pick up here and there. There are thousands of such books out there and all are written from a different perspective. And unless you can read Greek and Hebrew you can’t know you are even getting the correct meaning from the Bible itself! Contextually it takes years of study to be able to connect the historical Bible with the theological Bible and have it make sense. This is why our Lutheran seminaries consider it vital for pastors to know both languages. And this is why I think it is vital for you to be in the study of the Word within a congregational setting. Now this is NOT to say you should not continue to ready and study on your own. I would encourage this! But some guidance on WHAT you are reading might prove helpful in answering some of the questions you brought up.

    Of course it is possible to be a good, loving, kind person and be a non-believer. But, according to the Bible, if that is all you are it is not enough to get into heaven. In fact you cannot earn your way at all into heaven. I am curious too if you reject any and all supernatural behavior in the world? How about miracles? Ghosts? Let me stop here till you can answer.

    • Thanks for commenting on Facebook. I’ve moved your comments here so that others coming in from the all over the interwebs might benefit from further discussion as well.

      I believe Jesus existed and was the kind of person we should all strive to be like. Sadly, many fall way short! The compassion and forgiveness of Jesus alone is something to stand in awe of. It feels so much better to hold these qualities than to be hateful, impatient, and uptight about everything. No doubt!

      Believing in God by faith alone is what agnostics struggle with. There are many “faiths” out there that center around the belief of supernatural beings. Through prayer, meditation, or whatever other means incorporated by such faiths, we reach state where we actually feel “something”. The left side of my brain wants to analyze that. There is something happening with all those neurotransmitters and coursing through our central nervous system at that moment. Picture the people running up the aisle on a televangelist show waving their arms in the air – or, more often seen, people in a contemporary church service lifting their arms during praise music. There’s something almost electric that they feel. Holy Spirit moving within or a natural physiological response? This is my question. Either way, it’s a pretty awesome feeling for sure! There were a a few songs that gave me that feeling when I sang them with a worship team. That was when I just gave in and “let myself” believe by faith that there is something greater out there. I dropped off the worship team when my brain took over again because I didn’t want to be a hypocrite. If so many faiths believe in “something greater out there” (by whatever name they choose to give it), isn’t it possible that this great thing is really the same for all? Everyone is capable of feeling that powerful, almost electric feeling. If you’re not expecting it or ready for it, it can scare the beejeebees out of you! It’s not exactly an out-of-body experience, but it’s certainly outside the norm and leaves you feeling quite vulnerable – especially in a public worship environment.

      I’m not studying the Bible directly right now. It’s more a study of history – something I hated in high school but am intrigued by now. This is exactly the type of study I’m hungry for but can’t seem to get my church to take on as a group study. I keep holding out for something meaty, but they keep throwing out fruits & veggies. :P Beth Moore and her sisters in Christ are great. Love them! But I need MEAT! I understand the whole need for exegesis when studying the Bible. This is exactly what bothers me when people throw out a Bible verse for something that when considered in its original context at the time it was written really doesn’t fit the situation at all. So for this type of information, I have to go it alone.

      I did find a non-denominational church that does not require recitation of creeds that really digs into the Bible throughout the service, but there were two problems with it: 1) nearly a whole half hour of music starts each service, and 2) it’s a mega church with HUNDREDS of people, and I felt completely invisible there.

      Your last paragraph brought up a whole other issue I hadn’t touched on: Heaven. Before getting to what happens after mortal death, what happens spiritually while alive needs to be covered. If one can’t toss all rational thought out the window and believe in something supernatural by faith alone to begin with, one can’t possibly believe that there’s something beyond death.

      Finally, to answer your questions honestly … I don’t know. I’m not putting up walls and rejecting all supernatural behavior in the world/universe. That’s why I’m seeking information. I, personally, have not seen anything that I consider a miracle. I’ve seen things that others would consider a “miracle”, but I consider those same things to be simply how they were meant to be or how they were meant to work out. As for true miracles (divine intervention; perceptible interruption of the laws of nature), no, I haven’t seen any. Ghosts? Mind trickery at best. I haven’t seen or felt anything that can’t be explained by coincidence and memories, and even the two working together.

      In a nutshell, to be told that you just have to believe by faith alone is like a parent telling a child, “Because I said so.” As a parent, I’ve always tried to at least give some sort of explanation without going overboard. That’s what I’m seeking now. Must have input!

  2. Let me preface all future comments with the explanation that when I say “we” here in the context of religion, I am speaking of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod church body. I was baptized into this church as an infant, raised and confirmed in it, fell away, as many (maybe most) youth do, and really never came back seriously until 1985. I make no claim to be a Biblical scholar of any sort, yet every day I am reminded in some way how important that upbringing as a child was. There are many times I am in a Bible class and the answer to a question pops into my mind and lo and behold! I’ve got it correct! Shocks the heck outta me! So that’s my basis for my comments.

    Faith. You claim to not have it, but you really do. Every day of your life. You have faith when you had your kids you would raise them to be decent, loving people, And you have done that. Did you have doubts along the way? Oh heck yeah, I’m sure you did, as does every parent! But all have faith of some sort, in SOMEthing. You have faith your employer will send you your paycheck on time. You have faith the lights will go on when you flip the switch. So faith is not something you have no experience with.

    Meat. How well I understand that hunger! And I applaud your refusal to continue in activities that go against your heart at this time. But don’t refuse to do something you enjoy that might indeed be feeding your soul, even though you can’t see that. What I have learned is that God feeds our soul in so many ways that we cannot recognize at the time.

    Jesus was indeed a real person and ALL fall short of his example. No one can ever live up to it fully, but we are called on to strive for it every day, in response to what He did for us. Not out of duty, but out of love.

    Your second paragraph deals with what so many non-denominational churches build on – feel-good Christianity. Rev ‘em up, wind ‘em up, raise your hands and shout it out! But the question is – is the message of Christ crucified being preached? Is the assurance of forgiveness and salvation being preached? Or is a message of “you can have a wonderful life here on earth if you believe in Jesus” the focus ?

    A lot of denominations believe what you DO impacts your salvation. If you pray enough, if you give enough, if you evangelize enough, if you knock on enough doors, if you work hard enough, you WILL be saved. To those we say…no. There is nothing we can do to earn salvation. Nothing. We as sinful human beings do not have the power within us to earn our way into heaven.

    I have always been a skeptic of those who claim to have those “FLASH!!! THIS IS A MESSAGE FROM GOD!!” kind of moments that turn them into instant, believing Christians. And yet, God DID speak directly to many according to the Bible, and I don’t doubt He can and does today. It’s just the message that people claim to hear I usually have a problem with. (Harold Kamp are you listening??)

    While I LOVE Ghost Hunters, I am not convinced what they experience or what others experience in those places is anything more than some kind of residual energy. The experiences the Hunters have with the flashlights and when they get the ghosts to interact with them, I would be very wary of. Our interpretation of them is that they are very likely to be demons attempting to trick us. Satan has no bounds in his attempts to draw us away from God.

    Miracles. Sometimes we have big ones. Sometimes small ones. It’s all about perspectives and what you would consider a miracle. An unexplained healing when you have been told there is no cure? THAT would be a miracle. But the question would remain, what is the source? Christians would say God is the source. Agnostics would have no answer. I consider myself currently a minor miracle. My lung condition has a ratio of 85% unresponsive to prednisone. 85% for whom nothing can be done to slow the progression of tissue hardening and rendering that portion of the lung unusable. I am part of the 15% it is working for. My last tests revealed that my lung function has decreased a bit since March. The miracle here is that my capacity to diffuse oxygen has INcreased. Those two things don’t go together. I continue to shock and amaze my doctor LOL. (He is Jewish BTW).

    Miracles, to me, don’t always come in big packages. I look at the trees changing color and see a miracle. I look into the face of a newborn baby and see a miracle. (Yes, as I did with your twins boys 21 years ago.) I even looked into the face of sweet Brianna who never drew breath and saw a miracle, in that even though we did not get to keep her here on earth, I would see her again in heaven.

    If you are expecting to find faith or a determining act somewhere in history to convince you of the existence of God, give up now. You won’t find it. You will find evidence pointing there but you will also find evidence pointing away. God will put that faith in you when He and YOU are ready for it, I suspect it is already there since you are “searching” for answers. Maybe He will send you a big miracle to convince you. Maybe He will keep you on this lifelong journey of study before you come to that realization that He was there all along. Maybe…He is using me to help you along that journey, as others are being used to help me. I DO believe that we are on this earth to help one another. And my motto always is…God puts you WHERE He wants you WHEN He wants you. Whatever the answer is, I am so glad you are open to this conversation.

    • I really appreciate your input! Again, Jesus … really good guy! God … a supernatural spirit moving within us, or a natural physiological response to praying, meditating, or hearing a message? I can wrap my head around the latter, even if such a response is labeled “God”.

      • If God were simply a physiological response, wouldn’t everyone believe in him? Let’s entertain a more basic question – where did the universe begin?

      • If a person were in an environment where they were being taught about God, yes, they could. This same physiological response could be triggered in any number of settings and teaching situations, which is how they are drawn into other religious beliefs or even “cults”. Where the universe began is far from a basic question, though. I have a lot to tackle before I dive into that one. :)

  3. But then a physiological response would come from someone being taught about anything, not just God. Is it your contention that purposely NOT being taught about God enables one to make that decision on their own as an adult? That would preclude a person’s ability to reject that teaching as an adult.

  4. Well, I’m not sure about which point is the best point to bring up first, but since you asked for some thoughts, let me open with something that’s fresh in my mind because I’ve been teaching on it recently … the Bible itself.

    So, what is it? What’s the point of it? How did it come together? And most importantly, how should we read it? I think these are key questions that need to be answered, and perhaps, those answers might help shape answers to other questions and reactions (or they might prompt us to say, “Well, the only reason someone would say that is because they’re totally missing what the Bible’s about.” … I see a lot of that in popular Christianity these days).

    When exploring these questions, I like to start with the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament). This collection of 37 books is largely the telling story of God’s work in, through, and for the people of Israel (some of which is quite miraculous, and some of which is rather mundane). It doesn’t matter if it’s a history book, the teachings of a prophet, or the Psalms, it all fits into that general story.

    Now, when you’d come to Jesus’ day, there were various groups who were all reading the same texts, the same story differently. You have the Pharisees and Saducees mentioned repeatedly in the Gospels. We also know from the Dead Sea Scrolls that there was a community in Qumran that used pretty much the same Jewish Bible (they scrapped Esther and added a couple other books). So, just there we have three groups (there were more) who took almost the exact same set of documents but came up with vastly different images of God and what it means to be faithful (we see the same thing happening both within and outside of Christianity today … this ranges from various denominations to those who like to read the Bible as some sort of divine self-help book or a collection of moral teachings).

    So, Jesus comes along and essentially spends three years offering a corrective teaching (think Matthew 5 and all of the, “You have heard it said … but I say to you …” or Luke 24 when he’s on the road with the disciples opening the Hebrew Bible to them). Along with teaching, he does the miracles which point to two things: 1) who he is (ie God … “Who is this that even the wind and the waves obey him?”) and 2) what things look like when sin isn’t in the picture (of course, only God can forgive sin so …). Finally, we have the cross and empty tomb where you have this trifecta of things happening: 1) the new Exodus from slavery to sin, 2) the sacrificial lamb offered for the sins of the world, 3) the first fruits of the new heaven and the new earth.

    The question is, “Now what?” Initially, as the disciples go forth, they take the message forth but, very early on, there’s confusion about what Jesus actually taught, how to take it to people who aren’t Jewish, and what it means to be faithful in various situations. This becomes the reason the books we have in the New Testament were written. Of course, because it wouldn’t be until close to 70 years later that Paul’s letters were passed around as a collection, and 100 years before the Gospels were used the same way, the Church had to do something to normalize teaching … which is where the Apostles’ Creed comes from (yes, in its earliest form, that creed is older than some books in the Bible).

    Now you might be wondering why I’ve written all this. Jumping back to the beginning, my goal has been to address some basic questions about the Bible, what it is, and how to read it. My answer would be that the Bible is a collection of words (sentences, paragraphs, and books) about the Word, Jesus (see John 1). Therefore, we read the Bible with the primary question, “How does this point us to Jesus and what he did through the cross and the empty tomb?”

    So that’s where I’m coming from, and I think, in one way or another, my response touches on everything you brought up and lets you know the angle from which I’ll answer any clarifying question you toss my way.

    Thoughts?

    • Thank you for jumping in, Joe. I was hoping someone with the amount of education on the subject as you have would add to the conversation!

      I’m stuck on the main hang up that many get stuck on: belief in the supernatural (God). Yes, miracles are told about in the Bible. People also say that God will catch us if we fall (or something to that effect). I have a visual of walking a tightrope between two buildings and falling. The only thing I would believe at that moment is that there’s going to be an awful splat at the end of that fall! I know, I know! Spiritual falling and physical falling are vastly different. There don’t seem to be many “maybes” in this, though. Either you believe in God, spirits, and ghosts, or you don’t. Are we perceived as nutty holy-rollers if we do believe? Are we just plain crazy for grasping at something we can’t prove is there? If I “give in” and just believe on faith alone that God exists but I can’t back that up to others that question or don’t believe, what will they think?

      I hear people say they put everything in God’s hands – that God will take care of everything, and I think they rely too heavily on that belief without taking responsibility themselves at all. Things will happen as they will, and life will go on (or not) whether we worry about them or not. It’s true that worrying won’t change things. We’re told this in the Bible, I know! We’re told a lot of common sense things in the Bible that so many choose to ignore. Or is that explained as being Satan’s stronghold on us? Another supernatural being. UGH!

      Too much ADHD in this reply?

      • Just the right amount of ADHD! “Either you believe in God, spirits, and ghosts, or you don’t.” Well that’s not quite what people tend to believe. Plenty believe in ghosts and the supernatural and disdain a belief in God.

        “Are we perceived as nutty holy-rollers if we do believe?” by the unbelieving world, we may. I tend to think it depends on your behavior.

        “Are we just plain crazy for grasping at something we can’t prove is there?” There will always be those who say we are. Are you really that worried about what others think of you?

        “If I “give in” and just believe on faith alone that God exists but I can’t back that up to others that question or don’t believe, what will they think? ” Again – is that your driving force about what you are prepared to say you believe?

        “I hear people say they put everything in God’s hands – that God will take care of everything, and I think they rely too heavily on that belief without taking responsibility themselves at all. Things will happen as they will, and life will go on (or not) whether we worry about them or not. It’s true that worrying won’t change things. We’re told this in the Bible, I know! We’re told a lot of common sense things in the Bible that so many choose to ignore. Or is that explained as being Satan’s stronghold on us? Another supernatural being.” Yes, yes and yes. Oh and yes. People sometimes use that first sentence as a cop-out. Life does go on, with and without us. Worrying does not change anything. Only acting on that worry can change anything. The Bible IS indeed full of common sense. And, we, as stupid human, sinful creatures, ignore it all too often. Even Christians. Every day. It is indeed what makes Satan happy.

        I can only add to this that I have never cared much in my life for what anyone else thought about me. Was I secure in who I was? Oh, gosh no. That didn’t come till about 10 years ago. But I always knew that I was my own person and owed no one on this earth any apologies about my likes or dislikes or much of anything else. I was just who I am.

        Sheila, I still say if you are looking for physical, written PROOF of the existence of God you will not find it. If that is what you base your belief on, then the Holy Spirit might not be working on you yet. But I suspect He is, since you have often brought up this topic and truly seem to be searching for answers. I can’t say how He will make you sure. Or what might make you equally as unsure. That isn’t up to me.

      • One more thing – if you worry about not being able to anwer questions of those who might ask you about believeing – this is often brought up in Bible studies I have been in. Probably the best answer is, I cannot explain to you quite why I believe it, but if you want to , you can come to church with me and Bible study and ask the pastor.

    • Maybe its time to view this.

      http://www.lhmmen.com/studydetail.asp?id=12754

      You can see the videos for free. This is an excellent study of how we got the Bible we understand as the Bible.

      FYI – Dr. Maier is probably the foremost historian on the Bible. Jeff Kloha is considered a world-reknowned New Testament scholar. He also happens to be my immediate boss :).

      All that aside, I would add one more thing to Joe’s comments at this time (on short notice). The Old Testament is not just about the Israelites. It is also intended (and does) point the way to Jesus’ coming.

      • It’s funny you should post a link to Lutheran Hour Ministries and mention Joe in the same post. Joe once worked there! He also studied theology at Concordia Seminary in Missouri! :)

        Yes, there’s something gnawing at me. There’s a thirst or hunger or both. There are also those correlations that I mentioned (craziness) that make me uneasy … no – unwilling to just “give in”. Maybe, if I allow myself to be totally honest, it just completely scares the hell out of me!! 8O How’s that for putting all that intellectualizing and over-analyzing in a little bitty blunt nutshell?

      • Scary I can understand. But what is it that scares you? Is it that you think you have to be one of those “holy roller” types if you consider yourself a Christian? Well, that’s the behavior thing I mentioned. And no you don’t have to jump around and shout HALLELUJAH!! Is it that you think you have to have all the answers anyone would ever ask you if they knew you were a Christian? Well, the answer to that is also no, you don’t have to know everything there is to know about the Bible. Is it that someone might ask you to defend your faith and you won’t be able to? Or maybe it’s that the whole concept of God is just so…huge.

        So I have to ask, given that I have 5 FB friends in common with Joe Burnham…how do you know him?? Chime in here, Joe.

      • I can guarantee I wouldn’t be spouting off scripture and babbling on a street corner like we’re told not to do in the Bible. See, I do pay attention! I also know that I wouldn’t have answers for everyone, which admittedly would bug me a bit because I like to be able to fully stand behind and defend things I feel strongly about (or believe). It’s absolutely that the whole concept of God is just so HUGE. It would be a giant step outside my normal comfort zone to relinquish such control.

        I first met Joe when he came to our church as a Vicar. Since he wasn’t raised in St. Louis (was only there for seminary), he didn’t have an appreciation for Imo’s pizza. I think he referred to it as pizza on a cracker.

      • Which church was that?

        Imo’s is NOT the pizza it used to be, in my estimation. Have to agree with Joe on that LOL.

        Control…ahhhh…methinks me hath been enlightened. LOL

      • Peace with Christ Lutheran (MO Synod). Technically, we’re still members, but we’ve been MIA for a long time due in part to work schedules and in part to all of the above.

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