Time for a Personal Question

A reader asks:

Please think back to the time during which you were a determined and aggressive atheist. At that time, you must have felt strongly that the statements:

that He is one god ….
that He is personal ….
that He is providential ….
and He legislated ….

were either outright falsehoods, or possible, but unproven (the latter being my position). Certainly you must have at least concluded they were unreasonable, for otherwise you could not have remained an atheist.

You now contend that unaided and correct human reason should lead to a conclusion that all four are true.

Was this change in your thinking connected in any way with your conversion experience (which I understand to be not entirely voluntary)?

My answer:

Please note that you have missed my point. I am pointing to those argument, not to show that they are true, but merely to show that they are arguments. They are not appeals to faith. They are not appeals to feeling. They are appeals to reason.

All reason is voluntary, by definition. When a jury weighs evidence and comes to a decision, or when a scientist or philosopher studies a discipline, the process must be voluntary or else the results are untrustworthy.

Do you understand this point? Do you agree?

Moving on to the question:

Previously, I did not “feel” that the proposition were true or false. We are discussing conclusions of reasoning processes, not feelings. My conclusion was that there were no gods of any description, personal or no, providential or no. If there is nothing divine, no question of a divinity’s hypothetical properties need be reached. It is like arguing about the color of the nose of Santa’s flying reindeer. If Santa is make-believe, he owns no deer.

However, to be sure, it gave me great satisfaction, once I was convinced, that I had reached convictions so flattering to myself. But the emotional reaction (that smugness which is the inevitable hallmark of the atheist) came after and was a by-product of, not a cause of, the conclusions.

This self-admiration, I confess, made me reluctant to revisit the reasoning, since I did not want to be proved wrong, but it was not the cause of the reasoning.

Previously, I was convinced that the supernatural did not and could not exist: that the concept was a contradiction in terms.

If “natural” means “all that there is” then supernatural means “more than all that there is” or “above all that there is”,

This is like promising to give more than one hundred percent of your effort. It is a poetical metaphor, not literal.

I asserted that if there were a supernatural realm it was in fact a hidden quarter of the natural realm, called by the wrong name. Any gods that existed would be natural beings, in that they were governed by the laws of nature, the laws of morality, and the laws of cause and effect. In that regard, they would be no different from Martians or Mutants or Magicians, that is, creatures with great and mysterious powers, above me in strength, but having no natural claim on my loyalty: if Jehovah existed, he was a super-villain, not a father.

On that ground, no matter how coherent the arguments might be for a single, personal and providential supreme being, I would never find such argument convincing, since a supreme being was supernatural and the supernatural did not exist.

Now, there is an error in this reasoning, and when it was brought to my attention, I was in a tizzy, and began to have doubts about the soundness of my atheism.

I believe you are making a similar error in your reasoning which has not yet been brought to your attention.

To answer your next question: This particular change came several months before my conversion experience.

The words voluntary and involuntary cannot be used with any clarity in reference to that experience, since either has misleading connotations. Falling in love is voluntary in that the lover spends his every waking moment doting on the beloved, and his will, his voluntary faculties, are entirely engaged in the effort; falling in love is involuntary because a man is struck through the heart by the dart of Cupid, which flashes forth from the beautiful eyes of his beloved, and he is helpless.

So you tell me: is falling in love voluntary, or involuntary?

Because, on the one hand, the marriage oath is voluntary, and so is the act of pinning poems praising Roselind to trees; on the other hand, every poet describes falling in love as a flood, a fire, or a whirlwind that carries the lover’s senses away from him.