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Aug 29 2009

Trying to find God – could he at least yell “POLO!”?

I don’t get too many overtly religious comments on my blog, but since I read all the comments you guys leave, I do read the occasional “you’re wrong, love Jesus” remarks. I have no problem with people disagreeing with what I say – I don’t pretend to be infallible or anything. But recently someone commented with a religious remark that I hear all the time and is a big pet peeve of mine (emphasis mine):

“…See the whole picture. There is plenty of proof there is a God, but you need to see what you see and believe what is clear. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.” So… there is evidence… look for it and you will be satisfied. ...

The old “you’re just not looking hard enough” idea. It drives me nuts, particularly because I hear it over and over. They don’t claim God is making it difficult for me to believe in him or anything – I’m just too lazy or in denial to see the truth. One, it’s an ironic statement since it usually comes from the very same people who deny scientific facts in order to support their faith, and make no effort to actually understand said science. The vast majority of people who don’t believe in evolution don’t even know how to define it.

But the main reason it bugs me is because it implies atheists haven’t tried. Most atheists were at one point religious, and many of them had religious experiences that theists would say were evidence for God. They, however, realized such experiences were just their mind playing tricks on them or pure human emotion, not some supernatural force. And often those people take a long time to actually become atheists because there’s a period where they investigate their faith closely and look for proof of god. And you know what? They don’t find any. Are they really not looking hard enough?

I would even hazard a guess that many life long atheists have tried this at one point. I know there was a time in my life where I really wanted to believe in a God. I asked for all sorts of signs for evidence, I hoped beyond hope, and I got nothing. You know why my prayers weren’t answered? Not because I wasn’t trying hard enough, not because I hated God and I didn’t want him to exist – but because he doesn’t exist. I was talking to no one.

The idea that atheists aren’t trying to find truth is mildly insulting, honestly. We’re not sticking our fingers in our ears and screaming “LALALA GOD IS DEAD” every time someone tries to present religious “evidence.” No, we listen, think about it, and then (so far) come to the conclusion that it’s all bunk based on reason and facts. I say “so far” because I, like others, am open to the idea of God if given real proof. Our lack of belief isn’t based on faith or hope. We aren’t wishing that God doesn’t exist, or going around ignoring all these pieces of “evidence” theists claim to have.

On the contrary, this is exactly what most theists do. The commenter said it himself: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for.” It’s not based on truth, it’s based on your desires. If you desire a God, your mind will start creating “evidence” to support your position. That doesn’t make the evidence true or real. Think of it like flirting. Sometimes you’re so infatuated with someone, that you interpret every smile to mean that they like you back. It’s because you desire that they like you, and you start looking for things to confirm this – not necessarily because they actually do.

So Christians, we have been trying. Maybe your God isn’t too keen on giving us any evidence, but until I see it, I’m remaining an atheist. What does he have to do for me to be convinced? I don’t know, but if he’s all-knowing, he can surely figure it out.

23 comments

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  1. 1
    Veritas

    The more I look for evidence of the divine, the more I find evidence of the natural order of things; and the more I find evidence that the words of the various holy books are not only wrong, but complete fiction.

    Jen, a brilliant post. Hats off.

  2. 2
    Joé McKen

    Damn you and your perpetual quickness to comment, Veritas! Almost had me a first post. *Hmph*

    Anyway. I wish I could've written something like this a while back and posted it on my blog, but I didn't. Instead, you just did, so I'm diminished to merely quoting it/you on my blog. Ah well. ;-)

    Seriously, that was brilliantly phrased. Felicitations, miss. *bows*

  3. 3
    Rev. Ouabache

    One of the main problems I have with theists is that they separate the world into two piles: Good/Evil. Everything Good in the world is obvious evidence that God exists, He loves us, and wants us to follow Him. Everything Evil is caused by Satan or "our sinful nature". Evil is never ever God's fault even though He is supposedly omnipotent and created everything. He set up the rules which means that he is responsible for everything, including Satan.

    (I'm not sure if that actually had anything to do with what you posted…)

  4. 4
    WCLPeter

    Insightful post. Don't have anything else to say really.

    Other than, for me, the one thing that could get me to believe in a god is if he came down and talked to me directly. No signs, no portents, no guessing; just him, me, a doughnut and a TV news crew to document the whole thing. ;-)

  5. 5
    Sili

    «the evidence of things not seen." So… there is evidence… look for it»

    So …

    We need to look for evidence, but we cannot see it even if we do?

    Sorry, I can't quite wrap my materialistic brain around that one.

    (I wish I could write half as well as you, but I fear I'm much too lazy to even try. It's so much easier to just bemoan my lost youth.)

  6. 6
    Thesauros

    That WAS a good post.

    It's seems to me that both of our presuppositions (yours as an atheist, and mine as a Christian) taint our interpretation of the "evidence."

    For example, I've heard many atheists say that, "If Jesus would show Himself to me, like He showed Himself (they should say “supposedly” but rarely do) to His disciples, then I'd believe."

    That is simply not true. If for example, Jen, Jesus showed up in your office or car and said, "Hi. I'm Jesus" you would rationalise it away. Why? Because that would be a miracle and atheists don't believe in miracles. My guess is that God has given you this amount of evidence because any more would just be a waste. If you’re interested, my August post “Not Enough Evidence” talks about this a bit more.

  7. 7
    mcbender

    I saw that comment as well, but all I could think of to say in reply was "Have you ever heard of confirmation bias?", which I don't think is a very useful way of putting it.

    My favourite take on this particular argument is Dan Barker's, in Godless. On page 56 he writes:

    "…nothing less than intellectual dishonesty. One of my friends asked me simply to 'pretend that Jesus is real and he will make himself real to you.' Had either of them ever 'cried out to Buddha' or 'pretended that Allah is real' as an acid test of their existence? These people were asking me to lie to myself. They should have known better. [...] They didn't seem to realize that I was not seeking inner confirmation – I was seeking objective, external evidence. And isn't 'pretending Jesus is real' simply begging the question?"

    Speaking personally, I think the problem here is actually a semantic one. The people who make these arguments don't know what we mean by "evidence".

    (As an aside, the comment by Makarios above mine is a stellar example of "missing the point").

  8. 8
    Jen

    Makarios, you're right. If a dude standing by my car claimed to be Jesus, I wouldn't believe him. If he then turned my bottled water into wine in a controlled experiment and I could use chemical tests to verify that it happened, then I would be more inclined to believe.

    For someone so concerned in people believing in him, God sure is pretty vague. Convenient, no?

  9. 9
    Rev. Ouabache

    Miracles are almost always caused by a bad understanding of statistics. ;)

  10. 10
    Rev. Ouabache

    Jen is exactly right. If God exists then he knows the exact amount of evidence necessary to make me believe in Him. The fact that He hasn't presented this evidence yet shows that He doesn't want me to belief or He just doesn't care. Either way it's His fault that I don't believe, not mine.

  11. 11
    The Artful Nudger

    @Rev – or, of course, He doesn't exist. ;)

    @Makarios – Because that would be a miracle and atheists don't believe in miracles. We don't believe in miracles because there is no compelling evidence to do so. If something happened that was plainly miraculous – say, a person's amputated leg/arm growing back, and other avenues were exhausted (alien/bizarre mutant), we would be willing to add "miracles" to the list of things that occur in real life, rather than in fiction.

    Of course, that alone would not leave us inclined to believe that the source of the miracle was your god, per se – but the reason we don't believe in miracles is that there's never been a case of anything plainly miraculous of that nature being documented in anything other than entertaining fiction.

  12. 12
    The Artful Nudger

    In fact (and I should have included this in my original comment), that would readily hit the level of "something that would induce belief in me". If God (or a god, anyway) caused an amputee to regrow a missing limb and provided some sort of signature to indicate He had done it ("I did this. – God" tattooed on the limb would do), I (and, I suspect, quite a few others) would be inclined to believe.

    (After the event had been investigated, of course, to make sure it's a miracle and not a scientific breakthrough.)

  13. 13
    SamanthaBella

    I agree, another VERY good post!

    It really hit-home when you mentioned atheists TRYING to believe in God because I know I have in the past, and like you, I'm sure many many others have tried too. Truth of the matter is, there was nothing overly convincing to get me to change my mind or "find my faith" as it if often put.

    It's like when I tell (usually older) people that I'm an atheist and they say something nonsensical like, "just wait until something happens in your life and you'll find God/Jesus/Religion" and they never assume that I HAVE thought about it, or that I actually WAS one, and that I've also had to go against the tide of humanity, so to speak, by not believing. Further, it is, in my opinion, harder NOT believe in a God(s) and accept the truth: I wasn't created by a man in the sky, there is no plan for my life, and when I die there will be no eternal salvation or damnation. I lived and I will simply die and cease to be, just as I was before I was born.

    They won't listen to it because their God, their preachers and their book tells them not to. We don't have anything as "big" as that… oh no, wait, we do: our freewill, our good sense and reason!

  14. 14
    Veritas

    Bwahahaha, Joé. The wonders of RSS.

    I just re-read this, and I am still impressed. And I, like many atheists, was in that spot for awhile where I desperately wanted to believe. But perhaps some can take a leap of faith; unlike Indiana Jones, I can't. If only the penitent could pass, I'd lose my head. And in the Latin alphabet, Jehovah is spelled with an I.

    There was always that nagging thought. Who recorded this? When did it actually get put down? Why didn't others record the same events? Sure, I'd ask questions like this of the various faith folk involved in my life, and the questions would be rebuked, normally. I found this so unfulfilling…

  15. 15
    The Jules

    They really don't need any evidence at all do they? In a discussion with a Jehova's Witness on my doorstep a few weeks ago, we couldn't get past the strange impasse of him believing the Bible was the absoulte word of god, and why couldn't I just see that.

    The numerous logical arguements that tripped off my tongue were simply repelled by some mystical force field of faith, impermeable to sense or free thought.

    It was a surreal experience, talking to an essentially nice person yet getting no flexibility or agreement. I wonder if he thought the same? Only I didn't have a book telling me what to think.

    There was a flicker of uncertainty when I asked him why god had designed us with just the one hole for food AND air.

  16. 16
    Anonymous

    Ever heard the story of the Russian cosmonaut who came back from space and said "he couldn't find god"?

    Well, it's just like Hamlet going into his attic looking for Shakespeare.

  17. 17
    FUG

    @Anonymous: Establish that existence is a play, and you might have an argument. Extra bonus points for not using the obvious Shakespeare quote to support your point.

    I am in agreement with this post and with your pet peeve for pretty much the same reasons you've written here. Just wanted to send an e-thumbs up.

  18. 18
    Anonymous

    I feel that I am a person who falls in to the category of struggling with faith, yet my logical mind is telling me that there is no god. I would like to believe, but I know that there is no reason to. My husband and I actually just had a discussion about this very topic yesterday. I know that there is no god and that if I pray absolutely nothing will happen. I know that the bible holds no truths. I am a firm believer in evolution and how this earth actually came to be. I think that there is a pressure, though, that you are supposed to believe in god. So many people do, that it seems like it is what you are supposed to do.

    I know for me, this struggle will soon be ending. I can't put any faith in religion or god. However, it is a very difficult struggle. I appreciate your comments, Jen, because it helps me understand that I am not the only one who has struggled with this. I told my husband that I am too logical to believe in a god. Maybe I just can't overlook all the facts of our true existence, or the lack of evidence to support something that "created" us.

  19. 19
    Anonymous

    I think that God gave up on miracles for proof a long time ago. Only days after wowing the Hebrew people with signs and wonders and delivering them from bondage in Egypt, His chosen people crafted a golden image of a cow and gave the cow the credit for the miracles. This pattern repeats itself for pretty much the entire old testament, and in some ways is still occuring today.

    People forget. Ever get dumped by someone you love? You know that feeling when you're thinking back about all the intensely passionate moments in your relationship when you were just certain they felt the same. They probably did. And yet you can see now how the light that was once in their eyes for you has been extinguished forever. They've forgotten you. Those feelings are gone.

    People forget, and it's fast and it's brutal. The apostle Peter was one moment ready to give up his life for the man he himself declared to be the Messiah, the son of God… and the same night he denied he ever knew the man, three times.

    Perhaps God has revealed Himself to you as well. Perhaps you've explained it away or forgotten. You're not lazy, you're just human. You're rational… but it doesn't follow that you are correct.

    Maybe God hasn't revealed Himself to you. Perhaps He knows that this is not the right time. But some people have experienced God just as clearly as if He had come down to them in the flesh, shared a cup of coffee, performed a miracle, beat up agent Smith, and flew away. If you'd seen it, you wouldn't be able to convince a soul that it really happened.

    I might look like an idiot to other rational folks in the world, and I can't prove to any of them that the God I know is real, but I know He is real nonetheless, and it has given me purpose. Faith is a gift from God, and it is powerful even if it is not rational.

  20. 20
    Techskeptic

    I just have three questions for people who claim I am just not looking, or an denying god.

  21. 21
    Gwenny

    I'm an atheist and have been for going on two decades after spending three decades trying to understand god and his will for me. Raised Catholic, converted to Protestant, converted to LDS, studied with Jehovahs Witnesses and Adventists and got born again. I've read the Bible cover to cover six times. I've read at least parts of every major religious work. NO ONE has tried harder than me to find god.

    And finally (after getting lithium for bipolar disorder) realizing that my search was in vain.

    But the need to believe is still there. Sometimes one of those awesome Christian rock songs will come on on my Pandora station. And I will feel intense sorrow . . .an intense need for there to be a god . . .and for him to love me. But there is no god to love me or anyone else. We just need to love each other.

  22. 22
    genomics

    @Makarios:

    Someone claiming to be Jesus would not be a miracle. (Nor would it mean that what he says is True. The Devil might also be able to perform 'miracles'. I dont think anyone would claim his teachings to be true)

    Jesus is supposed to have powers to suspend natural law. Lets see some of that.

  23. 23
    Anonymous

    @Makarios:

    Someone claiming to be Jesus would not be a miracle. (Nor would it mean that what he says is True. The Devil might also be able to perform 'miracles'. I dont think anyone would claim his teachings to be true)

    Jesus is supposed to have powers to suspend natural law. Lets see some of that.

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