Sunday, June 10, 2007

Self-Evident

So my little conversation with Mr. Cline got me thinking.

I wrote my posts on atheism as a way to express, in writing, thoughts I was having during a week of having viewed Nightline's "Proof of God" debate, Jonathan Miller's A Brief History Of Disbelief, and having listened to Christopher Hitchens plug his book, god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, on Charlie Rose. All in one week. It was as if the atheist planets had aligned--not on purpose, of course, but merely by random processes, over long periods of time, with no intention of any sort.

I have no illusions that a dyed-in-the-wool atheist will come across my posts and in a burst of light from Heaven, accompanied by the Hallelujah chorus, suddenly convert to Christianity. It doesn't work that way for most people. Apologetics(a defense for a belief system) does little to sway the masses. So, why engage in intellectual discussions with people from opposing viewpoints? What purpose does it serve?

It is important, not as an evangelistic tool aimed at the opposition, but as a way to give a thought-out defense for those who are making up their minds, or those who are left wondering about their faith when confronted with what seems like a good argument from the other side.

They can seem so daunting; these scientists, writers, and philosophers. They can clothe their arguments in fine words and turns of phrases, very articulately. It can seem intimidating to the average person. But there is really no need to fear.


"We hold these truths to be self-evident"

Most Christians trying to give a semi-intelligent response to atheism, are pressed on every side to provide evidence for God. Some will respond that they don't need evidence; that's why it's called "faith"in God. Others will flounder about to try and glean what they can from science to defend their position.

In truth, many of the standards imposed by atheism are arbitrary. It implies that belief in something should only exist if there is measurable proof of it. This might work for math, physics and many of the hard sciences, but begin to move into biology, neuroscience, and sociological studies and there is a lot of grey uncertainty. That is the realm of Human existence.

Certain truths are self-evident. Perhaps they can be proved, perhaps not, but lack of proof does not necessarily negate them. Our country was founded on beliefs considered to be self-evident; that men were created equally and that they should not be tyrannically oppressed. Can we prove that every man is equal? Can we prove that tyranny is bad? No, we can't, but we still know it's true.

About a year ago, leafing through my newspaper, I came across a brief article. The headline read: Scientists Conclude Fish Feel Pain. I laughed as I thought about scientists hovering over aquariums in white lab coats, examining fish hooked up to electrodes and all manner of equipment. I thought it was funny simply because of the silliness of supposing that fish wouldn't feel pain for some reason. It was self-evident to me that of fish would feel pain. They have flesh, nervous systems, and flee certain death. Why wouldn't they feel pain? I had no scientific study to prove they feel pain. Should I have refused to form an opinion on something so obvious because scientists hadn't yet stamped their seal of approval on my assumption? That would be ridiculous.

Over the past few decades, we have learned more about animals and their level of intelligence and social interaction. We have discovered that primates behave much like people in certain situations; Ravens are quite intelligent and cunning; and animals can remember things for many years. It is really quite amazing.

Many years ago, scientists would have said we were reading into these behaviors, anthropomorphizing animals. Anyone with a pet, or who works with animals, knows differently. It is self-evident that animals have a certain level of intelligence, and even feelings. They may not be exactly like ours, but you can see it in the faithful dog that follows its master, in the chimpanzee that mourns the death of one of its group. Countless anecdotes are found among friends, relatives, and even mythological sources. Would those who claimed to believe such things have had no basis for their thoughts simply because science hadn't proved it? No.

There is a point at which discounting belief for lack of evidence becomes outlandish and lacking all sense.

Some might say that I am trying to use science to prove that we don't need science to support our beliefs. That is not the case. I am only using science to show that many beliefs can be held dear and be true long before any scientific evidence comes along to support it.

I am not calling for a rejection of using reason and understanding to examine our beliefs. Without some self-reflection and questioning, we can easily be led into bizarre beliefs and actions. However, we must throw off the self-imposed chains of meeting some extreme from of evidence before forming our opinions. It really isn't necessary, despite what atheism might claim.

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