Tuesday, November 4, 2014

An Atheist's Prayer Request, pt. 2

An atheist writes:

If you don't mind, please ask God to reveal himself to me. Maybe group prayer will help. . . . I have sought God for many years, but I have received no confirmation of his existence. Please pray. Also, if you could share your experience of receiving confirmation, I would enjoy hearing it. How did you come to know that God exists?

Below is part 2 of my response. Part 1 is here.

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You ask for “confirmation” of God’s existence based upon “experience.” This seems very odd.

CS Lewis (a Christian professor and author) once observed: “What we learn from experience depends upon the philosophy we bring to experience.” This is undoubtedly true. (For example, you and I experience the same universe yet what we learn from our shared experience—at least in regards to the Christian faith—is most dissimilar.)

Experience settles what?

Theists claim to “experience” God and non-theists claim to not “experience” Him. However, I’ve “experienced” or “felt” things which are untrue and then I’ve not “felt” or “experienced” things which are quite true.

Hence it seems to me that “experience” (or the lack thereof) is a very poor determiner or arbiter of truth. Frankly, “experience” (or the lack thereof) to one may be “psychosis” to another.

Correlatively, you inquire: “How did you come to know that God exists?

This, of course, is not a question of ontology but of epistemology—the justification of knowledge. In other words, how does one “know” things?

Well, we “know” different things in different ways. I “know” my wife loves me differently than I “know” 2-2=0; and I “know” George Washington was the first President of the United States differently than I “know” I drank coffee at breakfast this morning. And so on.

That being said, Alvin Plantinga insists (convincingly to my mind) that belief in God is “properly basic.” That is, our knowledge of God is not predicated upon arguments or evidences (though these things do exist). Rather, such knowledge—the knowledge of God—is innate.

I know this to be true in my experience, and I’d wager that it’s true in the experience of ninety-eight percent of all people past, present, and future. 

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