Last updated March 9, 2015
Throughout the course of this journey my opinion on the viability of the Christian worldview vs the naturalistic worldview will inevitably vary. This page is intended to present a snapshot of my overall opinion, as a collective consideration of all topics.
Topics which point me toward Christianity or Theism
- Origin of the universe: I find the cosmological argument reasonable, though not decisive, and fine-tuning to be a compelling argument for the first cause having intentionality. The naturalistic alternative explanations are all still very speculative, though the multi-verse does seem to be a natural consequence of several of them. On the flip side, theistic accounts only fit because of their ad-hoc nature and the discrepancies between the biblical account and the scientific evidence severely damages the more specific Christian account, despite the attempts to work-around this by interpreting the Genesis account allegorically.
- Jesus’ resurrection: When you do not start with a low prior probability for the miraculous, it seems to me that the resurrection is the best explanation for the evidence. That said, the evidence is very one-sided, is not always consistent and is all rooted in Christian belief, which has any number of possible origins. There are multiple naturalistic theories that collectively offer a significant counter to the resurrection hypothesis and do not presuppose the existence of supernatural forces. This topic carries a strong “chicken and egg” tension for me. I feel like the resurrection is only the best explanation if we can get past the historical limitations of assessing miracle claims, but this effectively presupposes the existence of God – the very thing for which we are seeking evidence.
Relevant topics which do not point me toward theism or naturalism
- Origin of life: While there are not any detailed and well-evidenced theories on how we arrived at a the first self-replicating life forms, my recent introduction to the concept of dynamic kinetic stability and the field of systems chemistry has tempered my prior leanings against an autonomous emergence of life. In short, the first “life form” need not have been highly complex and was perhaps better defined as a network of molecules rather than a singular entity. Furthermore, once established, the drive of dynamic kinetic stability would induce the subsequent rise in complexity. For more information on these ideas, see Addy Pross’ book “What is Life”.
- Morality: Honestly, this has been one of the biggest question marks for me. I really don’t know where I land in the morass of ethical theories out there. I can sense the emotional appeal of moral realism, and I see how it favors some type of theism, yet I cannot understand why I should think that it is more likely true than non-realist theories. I am perpetually uncommitted to any moral framework but if I survey my options strictly from an evidential standpoint then I currently find myself leaning toward a type of relativism.
Topics which point me toward Naturalism
- Origin of humans: The evidence for common descent is substantial. Attempts to fit it with the bible (theistic evolution) feel forced and, while the immense complexity infers design, there are also many “design faults” that don’t reconcile with a divinely guided process. In addition, the concept of depravity and death as a consequence of sin seems to be so deeply ingrained in Christian theology that I find it difficult to reconcile with common descent. Conversely, I also recognize that there are many evolutionary outcomes that are difficult to comprehend under a purely naturalistic model. If theistic evolution could be better harmonized to divine revelation then it would be much more convincing.
- The mind: I’m still learning about theories of consciousness but I’m strongly leaning toward a purely materialistic understanding. There is good reason to believe that interaction with the physical world is the only source for the stimulation and training of the faculties which are commonly attributed to some immaterial part of us (mind/soul/spirit). That said, I’m also discovering that there are many Christians who do not view the soul as something distinct from the body. This makes this less of a purely naturalistic argument, though I don’t yet have a handle on the theology behind such a view. Lastly, it’s also clear that the mind is quite susceptible to bias and toward constructing an internal reality that doesn’t align with the external reality that is corroborated by others. It’s reasonable that these internal constructions are a good explanation for many, if not most, forms of religious experience.
- The inspiration of the bible: It seems to me that the bible is an extremely human book. I find it difficult to believe that the end result is what God actually wanted. The internal inconsistencies, external incompatibilities and similarity to other purely human writings are too prevalent to attribute to divinity. This is perhaps the most significant issue for me because the majority of difficulties with Christianity can be dismissed if the bible is a purely human product. However, without divine revelation there is very little to support the Christian faith as we know it. Regardless, one must still acknowledge the undeniable power and influence this book has held through the centuries.
- The problem of evil (especially the suffering of innocents): I’ve yet to encounter a satisfying explanation for how a perfect, loving, moral God can allow the senseless suffering of the most undeserving. This makes a lot more sense in the context of an indifferent natural world. I understand the free will argument, where eternal joy far outweighs temporary suffering but that also leads to more questions. If God is personal and will intervene, say as a response to prayer, why does he allow cases of senseless suffering of innocents? Free will also does nothing to explain the natural disasters that cause so much suffering.
I have also arrived at a logical argument which asserts that a free will theodicy (explanation for evil) either requires limiting God’s power or abandoning the free will theodicy and acknowledging that God is the author of evil, pain and suffering (e.g., Calvinism). Until somebody demonstrates the flaw in this argument, this leads to a pretty uncomfortable picture of God.
- Efficacy of prayer: This bothered me even as a Christian. I have always noticed that people tend to disregard unanswered prayer and exalt answered prayer. In most cases, it seems to me that answered prayer either comes down to normal probabilities or the desire to find an answer regardless of the result. Unanswered prayer is explained away as “God said no”. It’s difficult to find evidence that prayer ever actually changes anything, except perhaps in the mental state of the person that is doing the praying or the person who knows that they are being prayed for.
- The end of time: The Old Testament frequently infers that God will restore Israel to an everlasting kingdom in the near future and the New Testament strongly suggests that Jesus’ second coming will occur shortly after his death. Obviously neither of these have happened and attempts to explain this away are quite unsatisfactory. It is also difficult to understand why God would create us, let us run around for a while fighting and dying, and then fix everything. If God can establish an eternal kingdom that does away with all the troubles of this world, why didn’t he just do that in the first place?
- The diversity of religious experience: Religious belief is grounded in religious experience, either a personal experience or the experiences of forerunners that have resonated with subsequent generations. I can’t say that I have any personal experiences which defy naturalistic explanations. Regardless, reports of these experiences are widespread, so we have to account for them. A good explanation for their ubiquity would be that there is an objective source, but when we examine them we see great variety. This would seem to indicate that they are subjective in nature and that they are only widespread because we are all human with the same subjective capacities. Personal testimony is perhaps the most important evidence for God and the disagreement between testimonies damages them all unless all religions point to the same God, a God who is seemingly disinterested in accurate revelation.
- The hiddenness of God: If God wants all to “come to repentance” then why make it so hard to find him? There are typically two responses: (a) God isn’t hidden, his presence is obvious and you’re missing it, or (b) God wants genuine love or worship, which requires that his presence is hidden enough to eliminate obligatory or artificial love. To (a), I simply call BS. To (b), I ask whether our experience of everything else even remotely compares to this. Do we achieve our closest relationships by keeping our distance? No, our relationships are strongest when we express our love and adoration in clear and tangible ways. Assuming the truth of the Christian worldview I will agree that Jesus’ death and resurrection would be a clear and tangible expression of God’s love, but only to the immediate witnesses. The power of that expression is significantly diminished for the rest of us.
Though I’ve given considerable thought to a large number of topics I still have much to learn. The scope of that task is almost overwhelming, but that is what this journey is all about. Regardless, I want to offer occasional updates on where I’m at. Here’s how I would currently rate my leanings:
The most recent update was to go from 20/80 to 15/85. At this time I added the section to capture neutral topics and moved the origin of life section there along with a new section on morality (which had always been a glaring omission on this page due to the fact that I did not see it as favoring either theism or naturalism). I also made some clarifications to other sections.
It’s fair to ask which version of Christianity I am comparing to naturalism. The diversity of Christian doctrine is almost overwhelming and I don’t think that it’s unfair to point out that this is a problem – that God’s communication was so unclear so as to lead to such diversity. Conversely, most Christians would attest that denominations other than their own are equally saved. That realization then makes the revelation almost seem ingenious in that it achieves salvation while allowing people to incorporate their own realities in different ways. Of course, this then runs into another problem – where do you draw the line? Universalism is, as far as I can tell, accepted in a very small minority of Christian circles and is often chastised due to the extreme lack of support in the bible.
All that said, the Christianity that I’m supposing in this comparison is whichever Christianity I find to be the most reasonable at the time. At the time of my most recent update to this post, I find that the most reasonable Christianity is one which does not hold to biblical inerrancy, allows for evolution, defines the soul as an intricate part of the body (not something ethereal), holds to either some form of universalism or annihilationism and, perhaps, embraces limitations on God’s abilities as an answer to the problem of evil. I expect to be putting some time into better understanding the theology of NT Wright, CS Lewis and Karl Barth, who have for the most part expressed some form of many of these views while still establishing a highly regarded Christianity. This also seems to be similar to the theology of most scientists that subscribe to a Christian faith.