In the summer of 2017, I visited the University of Oxford and walked the flower-covered grounds of Magdalen (oddly pronounced “Maudlin”) College. I imagined myself retracing the steps of C. S. Lewis as he first wrestled with the idea of faith in God. He describes his conversion this way: “You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In … Continue reading Should I Change What I Believe?
I came across this wonderful post by Liz Jackson, a Notre Dame PhD candidate in philosophy. She argues for the rationality of faith by taking an argument against her view and showing that it fails. Of course, this doesn’t “prove” anything, but it does undermine several common attacks made against the rationality of faith. I’d be interested to hear from skeptical readers whether they think Jackson succeeds, or if they have an alternative way to argue for faith’s irrationality. One point that stands out to me is that skeptics shouldn’t just define faith as irrational. She explains why in the post. … Continue reading Is Faith Irrational?
(That literally happened to me one time.) Ok, this joke still needs writing, and that’s not my thing. But I do want to try and tease out a related conversational knot that’s been giving me trouble. In short, the knot involves the answers to the following questions: What does it mean to be an atheist? What does it mean to be a theist? What does it mean to be an agnostic? Why does this matter? Because labels matter to us. If someone called me a “feminist,” my reaction might depend on what they mean by the term. If it just … Continue reading An Atheist, an Agnostic, and A Theist Walk Into A Bar
In the iconic scene, Darth Vader tells Luke that his feelings will lead him to the truth. Is this true? My feelings aren’t helping here. If you rely on feelings to tell you what is true, are your beliefs less stable? Are they less likely to be true? (This is a post about a post about a post about a podcast about beliefs and evidence. I’ll thank the relevant people as I go.) Experience v. Evidence In a recent Unbelievable podcast, hosted by Justin Brierley, this question jumps onto the table. Brierley interviews two sons-of-famous-Christian-fathers, Bart Campolo and Sean McDowell. Both … Continue reading Feelings, Beliefs, and Evidence
My junior year of college (I was studying to be a band director), I met Steve. Steve was, by all accounts, a talented, intelligent, rational person. Like me, he played the saxophone, but unlike me, he *played* the saxophone. I mean, he flew up and down the scales unconsciously, as if he were playing with 14 fingers instead of the standard 10. Oddly, despite his intelligence and talent, he was a conservative Christian. I thought that was crazy. At the time, I viewed religion and God as ridiculous, only for the weak-minded. Despite this, we became fast friends. I still … Continue reading Are They Crazy?
In the wake of recent noise about Mike Pence and his alleged conversations with the Son of God, I though I’d offer an epistemological perspective. How do we evaluate claims like “God spoke to me?” Some Guidelines First, these claims can only be evaluated inductively. That is, we can’t “prove” them true or false. We can only gather reasons and evidence for or against the claim, and then see where these reasons point us. The evidence may point so strongly in one direction as to virtually settle the matter, or it may be closer to 50/50. I’ll discuss what reasons … Continue reading Hearing from Jesus?
God came quietly. The arrival of the divine on earth was much subtler and cloaked than most of us would expect, or demand. It’s worth asking, “Why?” I could launch into a theodicy about the strategicness of God’s particular mode of infiltration. How God values seekers more than mere believers. In other words, if God just wanted maximal belief in his existence, he would have come differently. But the subtlety of his visitation leaves the path home only partially traversed. He waits for us somewhere in the middle, sending word of his presence. Only those who sincerely want to meet … Continue reading The Epistemology of Christmas
An atheist, an agnostic and a Christian walk into a bar. For real. I sat in the Bird Dog Bar in Lawrence, Kansas with my fellow panelists from the “Beliefs Matter” event at the University of Kansas. Friends of various religious and secular persuasions surrounded our table. The event, completed only an hour earlier, featured three distinct perspectives on meaning, justice and morality. We each presented a short sketch of our view, followed by about an hour of Q&A. Now we continued the conversation over drinks. But what is the take away from all this, and how is it relevant … Continue reading Burden of Proof, Pt. 2
Matt, a PhD student, studies how microbes influence the immune system. Matt is also an atheist, and since he’s exceptionally smart, I thought it would be interesting to interview him about his beliefs. I wondered about the “whys” behind his atheism. During our conversation, the concept of the “burden of proof” came up. Matt believes that in the dispute over God’s existence, it is the theist who bears the burden of proof. In other words, atheism is the simpler, more natural position, and the theist has a lot of extra work to do in defending claims about gods. After all, … Continue reading Burden of Proof
I love Legos. My wife says I only wanted kids so that I could buy Legos “for the kids” and play with them. That’s false, of course. I also wanted to buy video games. But Legos were truly my favorite childhood toy. Nowadays, one fun game I play with the kids is when we each grab a handful of Legos from the box and see what we can build. We may end up with some of the same pieces–a 2×4 brick, a 6×10 plate–but our “sets” will be unique. Thus, our creations turn out unique. There’s an interesting parallel when … Continue reading Evidence Is Relative