Atheists Love Jim

I have a friend, well probably several who fit this description, who I will call Jim. Jim is a Christian and very proud of that fact (and I’m glad for that). If you talk to Jim you will know quickly that God and his church are very important to him. If you ask Jim about the Bible you will get very straightforward answers, Jim doesn’t mince words. Ask Jim about Genesis 1 & 2 and you will hear a strict literal understanding of those chapters (and every chapter thereafter). Jim only knows one definition for “day”- the period of time it takes the sun to go from east to west and back. I said Jim is straightforward and so he looks at the Bible in a straightforward way– whatever is the simplest way to read the text is best. Atheists love Jim because he is so matter of fact; in fact, when I read The God Delusion I thought Dawkins was writing a caricature of him. Dawkins, like so many atheists, is a committed materialist who only subscribes to a scientific understanding of the world, meaning they like to deal in falsifiable claims using the scientific method. The friend of this way of thinking is a theory with fixed points to research and very little flexibility. Jim’s understanding of God fits well into this description. Jim’s idea of God fits neatly into a box that can be measured– after all, Jim’s idea is that totaling the genealogies in the Bible will amount to a correct date for creation. Once these atheists hear Jim’s perspectives on the Bible they assume (like Jim) that God fits nicely into this box. For many atheists with a predisposition to science, this box is readily destroyed and with it God.

Atheists love Jim because they can “disprove” God because Jim’s understanding of God and the Bible is in some senses narrow. But of course this leaves atheists like Dawkins dumbfounded because people like John Polkinghorne & Francis Collins continue to believe. Dawkins (I think laughably) knows these and other Christian scientists exist and is puzzled by their belief but never seems to actually listen to them to find out if his picture of God and faith is accurate. Rather, Dawkins assumes he understands belief in God and so these individuals are a quandary. Atheists have a difficult time with the God Polkinghorne & Collins present because that God has more flexibility. Their God is not as easy to pin down and so more difficult to falsify. But this is what we should expect from God. If God created the universe then we should expect that God would be difficult to pin down and thus prove or disprove based on observation. If God makes the rules then it is difficult to prove God because of the rules (though many argue– with some merit– that because there are rules God exists). We should expect that a God greater than our cosmos would be difficult to pin down by us limited to thinking within this cosmos. The God expressed by Collins & Polkinghorne is, in many ways larger and more complicated than Jim’s picture of God. Their picture is not nearly so easy to falsify as Jim’s– perhaps this is why Dawkins only confronts a straw man version of Jim’s arguments and avoids the other picture.

It is easy for me, who learns from Collins & Polkinghorne and shares many of their ideas, to simply call out atheists like Dawkins and tell them to challenge the intellectual giants of the Christian faith instead of creating these straw man arguments or attacking people like my friend Jim. But Jim’s faith also confronts the atheist claims, and in a way they are completely unprepared to see. Jim’s life reflects a deep and committed relationship with God in the way he talks and acts. His understanding of God is rich and expresses itself in ways I cannot always comprehend and it is amazing how many “coincidences” surround Jim’s prayer life. Atheists might love Jim because his scientific understanding of God and creation might be easily disproved, but his life reveals a level of knowledge to which they are often blinded. Those in the Dawkins school are blinded by scientism, a misguided notion that all questions can be answered by scientific means. Yet, Christianity is based on a claim that is inherently unanswerable by science– Jesus rose– there is no scientific experiment which can falsify this claim. Science deals only in repeatable events (every scientific truth must be measured at least twice) and this was a one off event. We also know that relationship words like love, trust, caring, & compassion are not scientifically measurable (at least not completely). In other words, though people like my friend Jim are often discounted when we talk of proofs for God, he is actually a tremendous proof. The requirement, though, is that we recognize there are means of knowing truth other than scientific means.

It is unwise to think that every uneducated Christian represents the same level of proof for God as Jim. In fact, I know many who are simply ignorant, they have plumbed the intellectual or relational depths of life with God. And yes to some degree Dawkins is right to caricature the picture of God they paint, it is neither intellectually nor emotionally fulfilling. But what I want to highlight with Jim is the reality that sometimes we need to ask ourselves what true evidence for God looks like. Jim is not likely the first person apologists would look to for propositional support and when atheists look at Jim they discount the evidence he truly has to offer. But we should recognize the value implicit in the relational knowledge which individuals like Jim possess. I would accept such knowledge as factual in many other aspects of my life (I write letters of recommendation for people regularly) why not allow the same degree of certainty to impact our knowledge of God? The adage goes the proof of the pudding is in the tasting, and the tasting for the Christian life is one’s relationship with God. Atheists often forget this fact and they will love Jim for perceived intellectual shortcomings and forget that Jim is not claiming to have great scientific (or intellectual) answers for questions about reality; rather Jim (like all Christians) makes the claim to understand God through a deep and committed relationship. With this in mind we need to ask different and better questions about God, like “How has God changed your life?” I suppose if more atheists do this they will love Jim less.

10 thoughts on “Atheists Love Jim

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  1. “But of course this leaves atheists like Dawkins dumbfounded because people like John Polkinghorne & Francis Collins continue to believe.”

    It dumbfounds no atheist that Christians make up their own god in their own image so they can continue believing in it. It’s no surprise that all theists do this, picking and choosing through their religion to make something like them. Selfish greedy hateful people get one god and compassionate loving people get another. And each claims that they have the one and only.

    All you are giving is the “sophisticated theology” argument that so many Christians love since they get to make up a god harder to show doesn’t exist. This is where the silly “ground of being” from Tillich comes in. Ah, but you all still cling to silliness like dead people wandering around. You aren’t any more educated than the christians you are sure are wrong.

    And every theist makes the same claims Christians do “But we should recognize the value implicit in the relational knowledge which individuals like Jim possess.” I have feelies for “x” god and I think he has feelies back”. None of you have any evidence of this thing you claim to have a relationship with. So no reason to believe any theist when they have nothing but the same evidence the next does. And you all disbelieve each other.

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    1. Dawkins himself admits he cannot rationalize the reasons these men are Christians. But your argument misses so much inherent in the concept of God (let alone the person). You fundamentally discount the idea of relational knowledge. Ask five people to tell you about a sixth they all know, how many opinions will you get? Now conceptualize that sixth person is vastly greater than the other five. Your concept of sophisticated theology is rather striking. If God is greater than our universe then our understanding of God is going to expand as we understand creation. We would expect the people who “love God with their minds” to continue to have thoughts on God. The true question is are we internally consistent.

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      1. So, quote him, Wesley.

        You discount the relational knowledge that other religions claim. So, why should I think you have anything different? And it’s always fun to see more excuses why Christians can’t agree. A shame your omnipotent god can’t make it any clearer. It’s just like it doesn’t exist at all.

        You can’t show your god even exists much less that is somehow “greater” than our universe. No understanding of something you can’t even define.

        and nope Chrisitans aren’t internally consistent at all. You all make up this nonsense, all claiming that your version is the one TrueChrisitanity(tm).

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      2. Among contemporary British scientists, the same three names crop up with the likeable familiarity of senior partners in a firm of Dickensian lawyers: Peacocke, Stannard and Polkinghorne. All three have either won the Templeton Prize or are on the Templeton Board of Trustees. After amicable discussions with all of them, both in public and in private, I remain baffled, not so much by their belief in a cosmic lawgiver of some kind, as by their belief in the details of the Christian religion: resurrection, forgiveness of sins and all.

        Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion (p. 125). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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      3. Yep, chrisitans win prizes from Chrisitans, like the Templeton group. Still nothing shows your god exists.

        good quote. thank you. I don’t recall it but I haven’t read it in a while. And do you know why Dawkins is baffled? Because there is no evidence for such myths and these people still believe, ignoring their training for a childhood belief. Peacocke tried to claim “fine-tuning” which we have no evidence for. Stannard appears to be appealing to similar things, with his dualism which also can’t be shown to exist. Polkinghorne is the same. Templeton loves people like this since they are needy for anything that supports religion.

        Unsurprisingly, Christians are desperate for any evidence at all for their beliefs. They know they have none and try to hope that the sciences will support them. They don’t. The sciences do not support a magic flood, the exodus, a creation where animals magically appear as they look now, etc. All Christians have are god of the gaps arguments, just like these scientists try to claim. It’s a shame that compartmentalization has infected them so much; ignoring the need for evidence for *any* claim.

        The quotes from Polkinghorne are rather pathetic

        “One would anticipate that evolutionary selection would produce hominid minds apt for coping with everyday experience, but that these minds should also be able to understand the subatomic world and general relativity goes far beyond anything of relevance to survival fitness.”

        Why? we need to know both to know how we fit into the universe and to move into it. and why would we need either for worshipping a god?

        Fine tuning is no more than the puddle assuming that the depression it is in was made just for it since it “fits”. We are a product of the universe and fit that niche. It’s rather idiotic to think that a universe that is 99.999…% is lethal to human life is “made for us”.

        This is when Christians decide to invent that parts of their myths are metaphor and some are literal as the sciences show that their nonsense fails.

        “”As a Christian believer I am, of course, a creationist in the proper sense of the term, for I believe that the mind and the purpose of a divine Creator lie behind the fruitful history and remarkable order of the universe which science explores. But I am certainly not a creationist in that curious North American sense, which implies interpreting Genesis 1 in a flat-footed literal way and supposing that evolution is wrong.”” and yet again, Chrsitians don’t agree on what they want to pretend their bible means.

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      4. If universal agreement is your measure for truth I’m afraid you are going to have a difficult time finding any group which speaks truth, including scientists. Your last paragraph seems to reflect an expectation that Christianity is a series of intellectual beliefs one ascents to instead of a person one relates with, and the gap between those concepts is wide. I do like the fine tuning argument (not because it proves God, science can neither prove nor disprove God) but because I think Hawking and others have made plausible arguments for it. Though admittedly Hossenfelder has made me reassess that some.

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      5. Oh my. So, we have a Christian who has a god that can’t make itself understood so it can get universal agreement from its worshippers.

        Good to know. Christianity is full of claims of supposed facts. And now you have to run back to subjective claims of relatoinships, that other religions make and that none of you can show are real.

        Science can indeed disprove god by showing that the claims of the bible are false. Taht’s all you have to support your claims for your god, Wes. Everythign else can be claimed as evidence for some other god.

        Again, no evidence for fine-tuning either. As I pointed out, no reason to think that the universe was made for us, but plenty to know that we were a result of the universe.

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      6. While I appreciated your earlier comments this one is simply flawed. 1 the opening paragraphs are lack any real appeal to reason. 2 paragraph 3 is flat wrong, science deals with repeatable events within the universe God cannot fit into that description by definition.3. I’d suggest you read Stephen Hawking on fine tuning, there are scientific reasons to believe in fine tuning (it stands behind the idea of the multiverse). Your argument rests on a conflation of science and philosophy.

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      7. and more false claims from Wes, who cannot show that any of his claims are true.

        “1 the opening paragraphs are lack any real appeal to reason. ”

        baseless opinion.

        “2 paragraph 3 is flat wrong, science deals with repeatable events within the universe God cannot fit into that description by definition.”

        nothing indicates this god can’t repeat events or is defined somehow by that.

        “3. I’d suggest you read Stephen Hawking on fine tuning, there are scientific reasons to believe in fine tuning (it stands behind the idea of the multiverse). Your argument rests on a conflation of science and philosophy.”

        Hawking was very smart, not always, and all you have is a poor attempt at an appeal to authority. Alas, Hawking doesn’t agree with your claims.

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