Atheism seems more plausible. What else can I do to grow in certainty or find reasons to believe?

I seem to be doing many of the right things: praying for more grace (an increase in the gift of faith), reading spiritual books, listening to EWTN, reading the Bible, receiving the Eucharist at least weekly, praying (though perhaps not as much as some), trying to obey God and refrain from sin … So I’m trying to live as a devout Christian, as some call me, yet I feel like a closeted agnostic, and it appears to me that I am believing in spite of the evidence, rather than because of the evidence:

Atheism seems to me more plausible. For every argument I’ve seen in favor or in defense of the Church, I can point out some uncertain premise (rendering the argument unsound) or an equally plausible alternative theory (rendering it unnecessary). My pain and the absence of God I feel then tips the scale in favor of atheism, after noting how well materialism accounts for the world. The agnosticism I feel pushed into is of the technical sense: It seems to me impossible to know Christianity is true without private revelation or experiencing a miracle. Knowledge it seems to me is true, justified belief with practical certainty, and although my beliefs in the Church – as demonstrated through my actions – may be true, I lack this certainty, and it seems to me only the aforementioned occasions or a deficit in intellect can supply it.

Trent Horn and others have recommended advanced philosophical works to me – Trent has implied one of his recommendations will likely answer objections I have to various philosophical proofs for God’s existence, but I lack both the time and money to read them. It also seems to me that having to spend this much effort to prove to oneself that God exists in fact demonstrates that He does not – or else, it seems bitterly unfair to make us body-spirit hybrids and then make us so numb to spiritual reality.

So what can I do? Are we not supposed to know the Church is correct? (Perhaps I should read again the Catholic Encyclopedia’s entry on knowledge.) How can I believe with the help of the evidence, instead of in spite of the evidence? Put another way, what solid evidence is there? How can I have confidence that the historical record – or narrative put forward by Christians – is correct about Jesus’ Resurrection? How can I continue studying history when I lack both time and money?

In resolution to all these problems (i.e. answering all these questions), it seems to me that God will heal me miraculously if I refrain from sin long enough – if I seek first His kingdom long enough – but I am tempted to despair of my ability to refrain from sin (to last this long), and history makes me think I must not rely on God for any material blessing in this life, since He is willing to let people die in concentration camps, be born with worse disabilities than mine, etc. (The material blessing in this case would be the healing of a crippled and mutilated body, crippled in some ways and mutilated in another.) But Jesus tells us we must believe if we are to receive healing (Matthew 9, Matthew 13, Mark 11), so I am in what might be called a cruel situation psychologically: Studying reality leads me to think I shouldn’t expect it from God, but studying the Bible leads me to think I must expect it from God.

Hmm… this seems like an error in logic.

If you find an “uncertain premise”, that only renders the argument ‘unproven’; it would only be rendered ‘unsound’ if the premise were refuted, not simply uncertain.

Similarly, finding “an equally plausible alternative theory” doesn’t render another theory ‘unnecessary’, it only says that the two are ‘equally plausible’; the other theory would only be ‘unnecessary’ if the alternative were proven true rather than found to be plausible.

You’re throwing away ‘theories’ that you haven’t disproven. That’s not a productive approach. Mind you, I’m not agreeing that Christianity is ‘unsound’ or ‘uncertain’ – those are your conclusions, and I bet I’d be able to refute your conclusions if I knew what points you were pondering – but, at the very least, it appears that you’re abandoning ‘plausible’ theories in favor of others that are just as ‘unproven’. :shrug:

My pain and the absence of God I feel then tips the scale in favor of atheism

Hmm… so, God’s existence hinges on your feelings? :hmmm:

after noting how well materialism accounts for the world.

Umm… materialism, by its very definition, can only speak about this world, and nothing else! Therefore, if its account of this world is good – but incomplete, because it cannot even approach an account of what is Spirit – then it cannot refute an account of what is spiritual…

The agnosticism I feel pushed into is of the technical sense: It seems to me impossible to know Christianity is true without private revelation or experiencing a miracle. Knowledge it seems to me is true, justified belief with practical certainty, and although my beliefs in the Church – as demonstrated through my actions – may be true, I lack this certainty, and it seems to me only the aforementioned occasions or a deficit in intellect can supply it.

Who said that ‘certainty’ was goal of the game? Yes, you’re right, in a sense: we cannot be ‘certain’, if we define that state in a strictly empirical sense. Yet, neither is science ‘certain’ – just ‘reasonably well-attested’. If science were ‘certain’, then there’d be no such thing as ‘scientific inquiry’, since science’s own assertions would be unable to be disproved. Without that ‘lack of certainty’, science would – by definition – be unable to make progress. So, I think we see that your notion of ‘certainty’ as the definition of ‘success’ in this arena… is a notion that’s somewhat mistaken.

It also seems to me that having to spend this much effort to prove to oneself that God exists in fact demonstrates that He does not

Ahh, but… “absence of evidence does not imply evidence of absence”… right? :wink:

In resolution to all these problems (i.e. answering all these questions), it seems to me that God will heal me miraculously if I refrain from sin long enough – if I seek first His kingdom long enough

Hmm… no, I don’t recall that being one of God’s promises – unless, of course, you mean that you “seek first His kingdom” while you are alive, and then, when you pass from this world, God will heal you in heaven.

But Jesus tells us we must believe if we are to receive healing (Matthew 9, Matthew 13, Mark 11), so I am in what might be called a cruel situation psychologically: Studying reality leads me to think I shouldn’t expect it from God, but studying the Bible leads me to think I must expect it from God.

No – Jesus said it to those particular individuals who He was about to heal, during His earthly ministry. These healings were meant as signs that would lead others to believe in Him. We cannot extrapolate and presume that He meant that He would physically heal everyone in the world – in fact, He pretty much said that this wasn’t His mission.

I was led to think that we included in the category of ‘unsound’ any valid arguments whose premises were of unknown truth value – that we only call “sound” any argument that is valid whose premises are known to be true. Thus any argument that isn’t in this category is unsound (and possibly invalid as well). I suppose one of us needs to consult some dictionaries or professional philosophers. Interesting …

What of Ockham’s Razor, then? One theory that explains everything without postulating an additional being is to be preferred, no?

Well, you can message me and pick any argument you like, and I can tell you what problem I see with it that renders it “unproven” at best. There are multiple arguments, regrettably even some “Catholic Answers Live” loves to share with a frustratingly confident tone, that I think are outright false.

No, I was talking there about plausibility of a theory, not existence of a being; and I was talking about my personal experience, an observation, not a sentiment.

You’re assuming it’s incomplete, but even more fundamentally, I’m talking about explaining my experience; I can say nothing of “the world” in terms of the universe, since most of it is utterly beyond my access.

I want peace of mind, and I don’t know how to obtain it under Christianity: Living as a Christian means to suffer, and I can only suffer well if I do not doubt that good will come of it, but I frequently doubt, hence I desire certainty.

Please be careful to regard what I actually said. I said practical certainty, not absolute certainty. (Edit: Sorry, in case it is unclear, I mean certainty that enables practice i.e. action, like the way that a stone floor enables us to walk whereas quicksand doesn’t. I don’t mean “practically certain” as in “99.9% convinced it’s an irrefutable fact”.) Science has that practical certainty, hence we have a basis for experimentation – a confidence, if you will, that when we drop something from the Tower of Pisa to measure gravity, we expect it to fall down rather than up.

In a way it is ironic, because – sharing my philosophy of science briefly – science does not even generate truth claims. I wonder if it has practical certainty precisely because it doesn’t make absolute truth claims. (Scientific theories are mathematical models approximating our observations; they should not be construed as claiming how the universe exists in an absolute sense. Scientific theory aims to simulate what we observe, and our observations are limited, not absolute; hence our models are representations of our observations, not necessarily “laws” that the universe absolutely follows. From this thinking we note that both the fine-tuning argument and the Big Bang argument rest on uncertain premises: They describe our models more than the universe itself.)

Indeed, but again, going back to practical certainty, when there is no police officer in sight, many Americans drive above the speed limit.

More to the point, I want to confidently believe, i.e. know that God exists – not be hopefully-pleasantly surprised to find that He does. Perhaps that’s a way to summarize my problem: I want to face God and say, “I’m sorry it looks so bad, but here’s what I made for you,” not, “Wow! The Catholic Church was right!” I’d like to make it to the wedding feast without being surprised that there really is one.

Would you please elaborate on this theory, especially your last statement? Why should I read the Bible on my own if I am not able to discern – and if the Holy Spirit does not tell me – which parts God intends for me personally, and which parts God intends to be for the historical record? That leads me to another question: How is your interpretation of these passages, “That was only for the Apostles and those healed”, useful? It seems rather to render it inconsequential and obsolete, like much of the Old Testament or St. Paul teaching about fashion (regarding veils and length of hair).

Hey ethereality,

I know exactly what you’re going through. I think just a few atheists would understand you as well.

I was talking to an atheist online who had laid out his conclusions in a little list; some of the first ones at least seem similar to yours. He had brought it up:

If we can’t agree on how we can know what we know, and some basic axioms, we are wasting our time debating any difference of opinion.

Thus, I spent considerable time thinking about and laying out my epistemology and world-view.

Take a look. Work in order. Don’t talk about #2, if you disagree with #1. Some of the later points will be tempting for you I’m sure, don’t cheat. I don’t want to talk about the later points, unless you fully agree with all prior ones.

But I’d appreciate skeptical analysis of it, if I’m wrong on any point, I want to know, so I can change it and be closer to truth.

  1. Objective truth is more important than subjective belief. If we have sound reason to think our belief is false, or unjustified, we should reject it.
  2. Since we are not omniscient, and in fact must use our fallible human minds to understand ANYTHING, Fallibilism should be the foundation of all honest philosophy.
  3. Because of #2, we cannot know absolute truth with certainty. Beliefs are either justified, or unjustified, it’s rather incorrect to say they are true or false, unless we have full knowledge of all details of the proposition. (Only seems to be possible in highly limited systems we have exterior knowledge of.)
  4. We justify most propositions, by using known evidence, to gauge probabilities. Without evidence, it isn’t even relevant to us, because anything relevant, would be evidenced.
  5. Something being merely possible, is no reason to believe it. If it isn’t the most probable hypothesis, as indicated by known evidence, it shouldn’t be believed.
  6. In order to engage in critical thinking, using evidence, one must consider all the known evidence, in light of all the most plausible hypotheses. If you only consider only your pet hypothesis, you aren’t engaged in critical thinking.
  7. In an area where there is no evidence, judgement should be reserved. To make a decision without evidence only closes your mind and biases your opinion, for a proposition that is unjustified.

Let me know if you find my response below helpful at all. Also I have a book recommendation; hopefully an easier-going one than Trent Horn’s.

If we can’t agree on how we can know what we know, and some basic axioms, we are wasting our time debating any difference of opinion.

I’m foreseeing getting bogged down in an argument about one of your points and never getting back to the topic, but I also see that this is important. Here I go then…

Your point in #2 is misleading. A better version would be: Since we are not omniscient, and in fact must use our fallible human minds to understand ANYTHING, fallibility should be a consideration in all honest philosophy.
The ‘-ism’ on the end could scare people off, like it did me. I went and read a bunch about fallibilism before posting.

Most importantly, you made an assumption here: that we “must use our fallible human minds to understand anything.” This is where the difference between our philosophies is really born.
You assumed that the only way to know things is to know it under your own steam, by your own efforts, with your own reasoning. You assumed our intellects are isolated. For the sake of being completely objective, it is illogical to assume that we have or don’t have any ‘outside help’ in knowing things.

This leads to problems with your further points… For example, clearly #3 is only true if our intellects are isolated.

You could say well, fine–if our intellects have been influenced by something outside them on any kind of significant scale, would’t it have been evidenced?
Well, it has been evidenced. This is the personal evidence I was mentioning earlier.

In a way your worldview is correct. Attempting to understand reality on one’s own, through purely objective material study, only by one’s own epistemical efforts, does not and should not lead many to theism. There are curiosities, yes, in Kreeft’s quote above and especially in the fact that pure naturalism must eventually involve an infinite regress of causes. But the truth is, epistemically, these are dead ends. The above link undoubtedly merits exploration, but inherently cannot be explored. Speaking purely objectively, Christianity does not even follow absolutely from many of the miracles mentioned above for which there is still evidence today.

The fact is that 0% of Christians became Christian by their own epistemical efforts alone. …I’m telling you nothing new when I say your world-view as it is is incompatible with Christianity.

No Christian came to believe in God through their efforts alone, each and every one of us can tell you about how we were pursued, or called, or wooed. It’s not at all like studying evidence and choosing the most probable hypothesis, it’s like gradually giving in to a persistent admirer. Christian faith isn’t something I do at all; it’s something I receive. If I was alone in this, I would be called a lunatic… but the fact that a third of the world’s population makes a similar claim suddenly makes the whole thing dead serious. At the very least, this claim merits honest exploration.

I have really and truly known God’s love–this is inarguable; it’s my own experience. But this is immaterial to non-Christians until, who could have known, it happens to them too.

My book recommendation is Surprised by Joy by CS Lewis. It’s not really an ‘argument for God,’ but it is wonderful. Chiefly, it’s Lewis’ own story of how he was lead to the Christian faith. Sounds boring, but I promise it’s well, well worth your time to read.

Greg

OP,
I would suggest you hold atheism to at least the same degree of scrutiny you hold Christianity. You find hints of doubt in God and believe materialism may be a better solution but do you find hints of doubt in materialism that prove God is not just a better answer but the ONLY answer.

Be careful of praying for earthly riches; God is not the only one who can provide these. So can the evil one. Didn’t he tempt Jesus in the desert? But the evil one cannot provide spiritual riches; he can only give moral destitution and sin.

Trust in God! :thumbsup:

A solid, short, and inexpensive overview of Thomas Aquinas’ metaphysics can be found in Edward Fewer’s book Aquinas. It’s only an overview, but it may be of interest to you.

We’re all kind of indoctrinated (not maliciously) to view the world through a mechanistic lens. It’s just prevalent in today’s society, so we just grow up thinking that way. This viewpoint is relatively new and, if you assume this is true (and it is an assumption, not fact) it seems to make God only a matter of faith, not knowledge. God can be known, but the modernist philosophy we’re all exposed to and grow up with seems to start by assuming that God isn’t true, then we struggle to try and place him into it. But ultimately since the very assumptions of the mechanistic view is that God isn’t necessary, then it’s going to be impossible to prove his necessity. This way of thinking (and again, it’s not necessarily the right way of thinking) gets in the way.

But these metaphysical assumptions we grow up with aren’t necessarily correct. Aquinas’ metaphysics just starts with a basic fact: there is being and there is non-being, then proceeds from there. He doesn’t even start with the assumption God is true, only Being and Non-being.

My suggestion is to read Aquinas. Again it’s short and cheap, and while not exhaustive it is very good for what it is, and may at least help open the door to God again. And I’m not saying it’s just an alternate view, but it also addresses many problems inherent in mechanistic ways of viewing the world. I’m not asking you to just take it on faith.

I think I’ve been trying to address an obvious question: “Why should I have to learn a new philosophy to be religious?” I feel like that’s a false question. The modern metaphysical principles you assume today haven’t always been assumed. The common philosophy used to be much different. Many of the objections you raise may not have made sense in a different time simply because the assumptions are different. It’s not that you have to learn something new, it’s that the metaphysical assumptions ingrained in society have themselves changed. If Thomistic thought was prevalent you’d have just grown up with it, but alas, we live in a very secular world today, and that has imposed its own assumptions, so we need to actively expose ourselves to different things and judge for ourselves.

My thoughts are rambling today. Maybe someone else can explain it better.

Newman has said:

This brings me at once to the saying to which I have committed myself in “Apologia,” page 198, viz., “that there is no medium, in true philosophy, between Atheism and Catholicity, and that to a perfectly consistent mind, under those circumstances in which it finds itself here below must embrace either the one or the other;”.

To learn more

Then rejoice you are blessed indeed!

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” – John 20:29

You may find it helpful to find a good spiritual director.

You are doing the right things, keep up the prayer and frequenting the Sacraments, that will give you the graces. Then get to know Jesus in the Gospels that is where you will find God.:thumbsup:

i suggest that instead of trying to find absolute proof for the existence of God, if you do not find the Resurrection of Jesus to be proof enough, you concentrate on proving what the atheists teach and believe. the atheists’ teaching and belief is, of course, the concept that God does not exist.

what kind of proof have you discovered that proves that God does not exist?

I would be interested in learning what it is that makes atheism so believable, what proofs, to use your words.

I have never heard an atheist provide evidence of any kind that God does not exist. you apparently have heard or read such evidence.

[quote=ethereality]"…after noting how well materialism accounts for the world"
[/quote]

Really?

I thought materialism/determinism was becoming increasingly unsustainable as a worldview with each and every new quantum discovery and theory. Stephen Hawking famously capitulated and despaired of humans ever realising a grand Unified Theory of Everything

According to renowned physicist George Ellis, we are rapidly approaching the ‘dead-end’ point at which it will be impossible for us to know ‘more’ about physics unless and until we transcend the laws of physics - which as far as humans are concerned is impossible. In other words, there is so much we don’t know - so many gaps - and we simply lack the tools to discover the answers.

Many (atheist) scientists are realising this and effectively conceding that on many big… “meaning of life” questions, the supposed underpinning materialism in question is untestable in a scientific sense. Theoretical physicist Sean Carroll recently declared that if theory is “sufficiently elegant” and explanatory, it need not be tested experimentally.

Can you imagine if a biblical theist said the God Conclusion is so sufficiently elegant that it need not be tested experimentally? :eek:

14.3 billion years ago, there was universe, no space, and no time Then, in an instant, the universe (and space/time) was created. Out of nothing. This is settled science.

So, either the universe created itself, or it was created by an external actor. An actor beyond space and time.

There is no possible Door #3. There are no other possibilities.

Can you give me an example of something besides the whole flippin universe that ever created itself?

In fact, there’s a law of physics that says self-creation is impossible. It’s called the Law of Conservation of Mass. You can’t make something from nothing.

Something can’t make itself. That’s both logically and scientifically impossible.

When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. [Sherlock Holmes]

OK, Sherlock, what must be the truth here?

Most atheists will argue that we cannot know the universe is all that is. It may very well exist in a multiverse which gave birth to it, hence the cause. When you point out that this multiverse must also have had a beginning, they will respond that you cannot know this, and go so far as saying you can’t even know if the laws of causality apply outside of our universe.

This is why I prefer Thomistic arguments. His metaphysics lead to God whether the universe is eternal or had a definitive beginning. His arguments aren’t about proving there must have been a God to set things in motion, he shows how there must be a God because of the way things work in the here and now. Not intelligent design, mind. That’s not what I mean.

Hence the farcical religion of the Flying Spaghetti God (or something.) I’m of the belief that atheists do not need any proof for their belief system beyond what they conjure in their own minds.:shrug:

filling the world with maybe’s, what ifs and who knows would not be my idea of proving God does not exist.

just ask the atheists to PROVE God does not exist and then wait for their proofs. I will tip you off, the atheists have no proof God does not exist and they know they have no proof.

It is a bit peculiar for you to respond to me by instead responding to someone else. To be honest, I don’t see the value in spending the time to read your refutations of this guy, because I myself object to most of what he said (and I already understand my own reasons for not agreeing with him). Your response to him would only address my questions here if I had agreed with him.

Well, thanks. We’ll see if I ever get to it: Every dollar I spend adds 43 cents to my debt (assuming a 25-year repayment period with static interest rate), and I’m at a Japanese university so English library contents are limited to scientific journals and secular classics like Charles Dickens.

I came to that same conclusion, again another reason for agnosticism: That the evidence was equal between theism and atheism (i.e. both sides have equally strong/plausible arguments), that God requires us to make “a free choice”, one that is not simply logically following evidence to a “most reasonable conclusion” (as if following a garden path to the center of a park). However, this seems to be at odds with that Vatican Council declaring that God can be known by reason alone.

Wes, I understand what you’re saying, but at the same time, if God exists, and if God is everywhere, then we shouldn’t need to think a certain way to experience Him.

That’s basically my problem with Aquinas, where I see no reason for agreeing with him, though I’ve only seen his arguments in terms of potential and actuality: His arguments require assuming that “potentiality” and “actuality” are states that exists, and that to move from one to the other requires an agent that “actualizes” them. There is no need to overlay these assumptions on top of observed reality: We can instead talk immediately about motion and objects set in motion, without any loss in explanatory power. We don’t actually observe the ball’s “potentiality to be moving”: That is an idea, a “useful fiction” we have invented to describe our observation that sometimes balls are moving and sometimes they aren’t.

This observation – noting that we can describe reality directly without overlaid assumptions – likewise falsifies one of Aquinas’ Five Ways (varying degrees of perfection), the one where he argues that we declare one object to be hotter than another “insofar as it resembles that which is hottest” (fire?). No, we don’t: We compare them directly. (x-y > 0 hence x > y) We don’t first compare them to “pure hotness”. (a-x < a-y hence x > y)

It’s been on my reading list for what seems more than a year, after it was recommended to me here earlier. It seems I’m not in a position to read it, since I haven’t yet read it. See my other comments about lacking time and money.


Taking a step back, I suppose it could be true to argue that created objects are in states of potential that must be actualized. I suppose my skepticism for philosophy – especially as a means for discovering God – is that human beings are overall so ridiculous and foolish. Nature is reliable (the strongest argument for God, if it isn’t an inexplicable brute fact) and my experiences are reliable, whereas men and their thoughts are not. So it seems better for me to focus on nature and my personal experience and for God to reveal Himself through these two venues. My anxiety, then, arises whenever I realize that He hasn’t (e.g. when receiving the Eucharist I experience nothing more than a bread wafer, mediocre music, and all my bodily suffering).

Sorry, I lost sight of things for a moment: More to the point, if we are to be reasonable, then we must hold to Ockham’s Razor, right? When no explanatory power is gained between two competing theories, the simpler is to be preferred, right? That is the real reason for rejecting the “potentiality/actuality” worldview: Because it is an assumption overlaid on the motion we observe that is not needed to explain it.

I should adopt it, of course, if I could be convinced that miracles occur, because then God’s existence would be known, and He being the ultimate cause for motion (in this sense of being the uncaused cause, pure act) would add sophistication to our understanding of the world. But researching the miracles surrounding Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and Our Lady of Akita, and others, none of them have risen above the level of rumors or not-yet-known natural causes.

How can I rejoice in something that is undefined? What Jesus means by “blessed” here I do not know, and heaven is likewise unclear to me.

I’m getting sick of people telling me this, because there is no one here in my city in Japan who can be my spiritual director.


I replied to posts here somewhat out-of-order, but rest assured, I do intend to answer every question asked of me (e.g. those wanting the case for atheism fleshed out a bit). I’m just pressed for time, and need to get to work now.

Your struggles show that You want to be with God. You cannot fully understand why, but You are not supposed to. Understanding is not a human thing, it is one of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

So, You should pray to the Lord for more Understanding. But even if something remains incomprehensible - try not to preoccupy Yourself with it. Millions of people struggled before You - but the faith remained.

It is always easier to be non-believer and not to care about anything. A prayer is always a struggle. Remember - the more You struggle in this life - the more You get in the world to come! :getholy:

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