A Chronology of My Life’s Paradigm Shifts

by Luke Muehlhauser on November 29, 2010 in General Atheism

I thought it might be interesting to chronicle some of my major paradigm shifts (what Robin Hanson calls “viewquakes“). Memory is faulty, but here goes…

  • The way to be like Jesus is not to try to do it but to fall in love with God, and then I’ll do it naturally. (2005, age 19)
  • Woah, the Bible is full of contradictions, and Jesus and Paul preached different messages. (2006)
  • Holy shit. God doesn’t exist. (2007)
  • Science is messy and social, but it works better than anything else. (2007)
  • Huh. I don’t have contra-causal free will. Kinda cool, actually. (2007)
  • Darn. There is no non-arbitrary way to choose fundamental moral principles. (2008)
  • Libertarianism fails, and we can do better than capitalism and liberal democracy. (2008)
  • Huh. Actually there might be some non-arbitrary ways to choose fundamental moral principles. (2009)
  • Most philosophical problems are pseudo-problems of language or else result from an ignorance of science, probability theory, and decision theory. Philosophy sucks, but I love it. (2010)
  • No, I can’t do good philosophy without being highly proficient in math. Science, logic, and the universe are written in math. I need to spend a few hundred hours on Khan Academy. (2010)

I’m not interested to defend these propositions here. Instead, whether or not they are correct, I’d love to hear what some of your paradigm shifts have been, if you’re willing to share!

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{ 50 comments… read them below or add one }

juhou November 29, 2010 at 9:54 am

Interesting post Luke. Some of mine:

religous:
Shifting from vague atheism to deism around 2000.
Vague lutheranism (my childhood church) 2000-2007.
Theology studies 2004.
Catholicism 2008.
Studied more theology with Opus Dei 2008-2009
First religous crisis after reading Russel on hell end of 2009.
Crisis gets deeper (Common sense atheism blog, other atheist bloggers, Bart Ehram and so on) 2010.
Atheism end of 2010.

Political:

Social-democrat since childhood.
Shift to anarcho-socialism 2002.
Realize anarcho-socialism wouldn’t work in practice (without human costs) 2005.
Libertarianism 2006.
End of utopia 2008.
Happy new keynesian 2009- (or whatever works).

Philosophy:

Still learning.

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JS November 29, 2010 at 10:03 am

1968 (age 5) Thinking about God and the universe while lying in bed. Decide that the universe could be infinite, and therefore have no beginning and therefore there is no need of God. Tell God that I do not believe in his existence and close my eyes in apprehension. Nothing happens, I decide God does not actually exist.

1981 Like to debate with ignorant high school christians. Ran across one who used an argument I couldn’t answer. I discover this argument is from CS Lewis. Start reading CS Lewis to “better know the mind of the enemy”.

1983 After much wrestling, I decide that I really do believe that the idea of the “True, Good, and the Beautiful” actually means something real, and think that nihilism is the only alternative. I decide to become a theist. In deference to my ancestors I first look at Christianity. I become a christian and join the Catholic Church.

1985 Think about becoming a monk. I want to live a life of intimacy with God. Go to Rome to study Theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas. Discover that I don’t really want to become a priest, although the monastic lifestyle I lived there was wonderful. Return to US to complete university degree.

1988 Marry a protestant, have to struggle with what faith to follow, decide to become a reluctant protestant.

1998 End up in a reformed somewhat controlling protestant church. Experience first hand the noxious effects of a cult of personality.

2003 Convince family to leave the cult and join/rejoin the Catholic church.

2007 Studying for periodic professional board recertification, start taking more seriously the idea of evidence based thinking. Am amazed how much of the techniques of my profession are not scientifically verifiable. This starts a skeptical purge of personal practice which spreads to all areas of life. Discover Pyrrhonism and lose faith in God. This produces a minor crisis in the family which is resolved by continuing to practice as a Catholic.

2008 Discover the Stoics and study their philosophy formally and try to live out its precepts. I decide my high school/ college dichotomy between nihilism and theism was false, as non belief did not have to lead to nihilism. Start to look at secular theories of aesthetics, epistemology and ethics/morality. Still believe in the reality of the “True, the Good and the Beautiful”. I fall in love with the greeks and their ideas of eudaimonia and virtue.

2010 Studies of Stoic theology lead me to consider the idea of the nature of consciousness. I agree with the materialists that there is no “spirit/matter” dualism, and conclude that one way I could understand this is to say that the qualities usually meant by “spirit” are inherent in matter, rather than having to say that the characteristics usually meant by “matter” explained all we called as “spirit”. I begin to consider more seriously the pantheistic ideas of the Stoics. I wonder if I can still consider myself an atheist.

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Bill Maher November 29, 2010 at 10:29 am

Luke,

I am glad you are a fan of the many-world’s interpretation. Have you read Tegmark’s awesome stuff on the subject?

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Luke Muehlhauser November 29, 2010 at 10:34 am

juhou,

That’s quite a journey!

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Luke Muehlhauser November 29, 2010 at 10:34 am

Bill Maher,

Not yet.

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Patrick November 29, 2010 at 10:42 am

Early 90s: I found the Bible fascinating as a book of mythology about a barbaric tribe and their ways of life. I read it for a while, in particular the Old Testament.

Mid 90s: I realize that people around me actually believe that the Bible is real. This sounds like a stupid realization, but as a child I genuinely thought that fervent religious belief was something out of the past in my grandparent’s generation and before, like racism. I didn’t know what a secular Jew was, but I figured that the people in my church were the Lutheran version of that archetype. Realizing that people really believe this stuff puts a whole new spin on all the horrific butchering and rape carried out at the order of the Old Testament God. I poke at this issue for a while, and am amazed that almost no one who I know who believes in the Bible is aware that this stuff is here, and am doubly when confronted with it, immediate defends it. This begins a life long fascination with the mechanisms by which religious identity can get a modern, 21st century American to defend things like obtaining sexual rights to a woman by the conquest of her people and murder of her family.

Late 1990s: I realize that I am actually very, very good at math, instead of bad at it like I thought. In fact, I am probably the best math student in my entire school regardless of grade. This drastically changes my outlook on education.

Early 2000s: I start feeling very critical of the Republican party. I feel like I was sold a bill of goods by the more intellectual conservative talking heads, and that the party they represent doesn’t match their representations of it. In particular, I used to care a great deal about deficit reduction, and now that Republicans are running the government, the pundits who taught me to feel that way are reversing position. I still remember the specific George Will editorial where he straw manned a position he had advocated only a few years before. This makes me question not only whether the Republicans match my political opinions, but also whether my political opinions are justified.

2002: I correctly call the fact that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction, based on analysis of the Bush Administration’s efforts to sell the idea that Iraq does. Their efforts closely match the actions I would expect of a group of people pushing an idea for which they have no evidence. The fact that I say this out loud earns me so much abuse that it breaks the emotional ties I had with the Republican Party. The intellectual ties had broken long ago, so by default I find myself an unenthusiastic Democrat.

Mid 2000s: Law school teaches me the unintended lesson that legal principles don’t really matter in the broad scheme of things, but that you should never, ever say so out loud. In particular I notice that legal principles that are considered absolute and unquestionable in some areas of the law are completely unknown in others, and the only plausible explanation for why is a mixture of historical contingency and that this inconsistency produces outcomes that people can live with.

Mid 2000s: I notice that one of my professor’s big, published thesis is total crap. As in, it relies on the assertion that a particular way of interpreting statistics is the only possible way, and that assertion is mathematically false: other methods exist. I then realize that this doesn’t invalidate his data, only his prescriptive interpretation of his data… and that this problem is very widespread amongst attempts to apply science to social problems. The is/ought gap is rearing its invincible head once again: you can prove what exists, but you can’t prove why people should care. Not with math, at least.

Very recent: It occurs to me that the best explanation for why people live as they do, believe as they do, vote as they do, engage in the political practices that they do, etc, etc, all of the questions that have fascinated me for so long… is that they don’t actually BELIEVE the things they say they believe. They believe them in the way that people believe in a rich fantasy life. I understand now why Christianity as a social practice looks, to me, like a yawning gulf of horror. I am unable to abstract ideas like infinite torture premised on one’s religious beliefs, bombed civilians in modern Iraq, or sobbing, raped girls orphaned from their murdered families by Israelite butchers screaming the name of Yahweh. But the people I’m talking to are thinking about these things like they think about persons and events in storybooks. In the context of fiction, the Israelites raiding the Moabites because they need women for breeding stock, or even God replacing Job’s murdered children with new, improved children, doesn’t seem so horrible or inhuman. Its just a story! Like stories about pirates! Everybody loves pirates, right?

Even more recent: It occurs to me that it is ENORMOUS HUBRIS for me to assume that I am immune to the phenomenon described in the above entry, and that I am uniquely unqualified to identify when I, myself, am engaged in that style of thinking. This… sets me back a bit. I haven’t worked out what to do about this.

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Luke Muehlhauser November 29, 2010 at 10:42 am

JS,

Fascinating.

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Patrick November 29, 2010 at 10:44 am

In paragraph 2, this

“I poke at this issue for a while, and am amazed that almost no one who I know who believes in the Bible is aware that this stuff is here, and am doubly when confronted with it, immediate defends it.”

should read,

“I poke at this issue for a while, and am amazed that almost no one who I know who believes in the Bible is aware that this stuff is there. I am doubly amazed that when confronted with it, they immediately defend it.”

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Garren November 29, 2010 at 11:32 am

Starting out — God is so loving. (Existence of God not even a question.)

Age 15 — Oh, there are people who think we’re not really Christians and vice-versa.

Age 16 — If Christianity is true, then the “good news” of salvation for a few doesn’t even come close to making up for the bad news of eternal hellfire for many.

Age 19 — Oh, there are decent people who honestly believe another religion is true.

Age 21 — It turns out all the reasons I thought Christianity must be true aren’t good reasons. So it’s probably not true.

The years I had no doubt that God existed and was evil were pretty bad.

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Justfinethanks November 29, 2010 at 11:42 am

I was a Christian and went to a theologically moderate Lutheran high school in the 90′s and started becoming interested in other religions in the early 2000s when I went off to college. I think I read everything Huston Smith wrote at the time. Slowly, it started to dawn on me that as insane as these religious teachings were, they really weren’t any more or less insane that what I believed. That lead to reading a lot of Christian apologetics to see if my beliefs could indeed be better supported, which only deepened my sense that believing that God on Earth walked on water and magically withered fig trees is no better supported than believing that God on Earth lifted a hill above his head. And since I couldn’t consider myself a Christian without rejecting competing claims of the supernatural for essentially arbitrary reasons, I thought it followed that God doesn’t exist. (I understand now that it doesn’t really follow, but at the time I thought that the Christian God had the best shot of all possible Gods of actually being real) That happened around 2002.

I initially thought living in an atheistic universe was a horrible devastating thing, but I soon realized that it is actually extremely fortunate and uplifting. (starting around 2003 or so)

The following years were pretty according to the apostate’s script: a sudden interest in science, acceptance of naturalism, a rejection of libertarian free will, and an interest in what positive case atheists and secular humanists had to make.

Deconversion hit me hard, but not as hard as it hit my brothers. (They went to a different, very theologically conservative evangelical high school where they showed Kent Hovind videos in science class.) My youngest brother was so devastated at the realization that all of the authority figures in his life were telling him blatant falsehoods that he went through a pretty nasty “angry young man” phase late in his senior year of high school where he wore all black and read Anton Lavey. He grew out of it, but he still has a highlighted and dog eared copy “The Satanic Bible.”

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stamati November 29, 2010 at 11:45 am

-Age 11: Attempted suicide
-Age 13: Converted to evangelical Christianity
-Age 15: Became serious about Jesus
-Age 18-19: Date and then break up with my first love (yes this was a paradigm shift!)
-Age 20-21: Throw myself into religion, considering seminary or monasticism
-Summer 2009: 3 month crisis of faith following study of Calvinism and Arminianism. Lack of sleep, food leads to chest pains and two hospitalizations.
-August 2009: I am Baker Acted for four days, continuing to be Christian and fight my doubts. In retrospect, at this point I didn’t believe. The night after being discharged, I admitted to myself that I no longer believed in Jesus. Immediately I fall into first uninterrupted sleep in 3 months.
-September 2009- Discover Buddhism, practice meditation for the first time.

I suppose that was the last ‘shift,’ although I continue to ‘study’ atheism and Buddhism, and consider myself somewhat of an Independent Atheistic Buddhist. Politically I don’t know… I’m not a fan of maxims.

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stamati November 29, 2010 at 11:48 am

@Justfinethanks: “I initially thought living in an atheistic universe was a horrible devastating thing, but I soon realized that it is actually extremely fortunate and uplifting.”

Absolutely! I’ve never been more sane or happy in my life as I have this past year as an atheist.

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Muto November 29, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Raised catholic, reject it early(around 12), as I was very into science and the universe is a very chaotic place.
Out of some reason I adopt a kind of anarchism.
15, Sent to a catholic private school. I have a lot debates, that lead me to reject anarchism in favor of libertarianism.
16, I finally am able to connect the dots between materialism, which seemed obviously true and the nonexistence of free will. I get into a heated discussion with my philosophy teacher about the subject. This discussion leads me to discard all belief in something like morality
18, During my military service, I adopt some kind of utilitarianism, but I did nt have any real justification for it and discard it again, in favor of error theory.
19,I totally reject libertarianism.
As I begin to study advanced mathematics, I begin to view the world quite differently and question if it is anything but an arbitrary formal system in the space of all systems.
20, My formerly neutral stance towards religion changes since I am influenced by the new atheists.

In between many changes in paradigm occured, but I think they happened subconsciously.

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Enter_Skitarii November 29, 2010 at 12:36 pm

I grew up and still live in a Christian home, though my parents weren’t really that devout when I was younger. During those younger years my mom inculcated in me a boundless love for reading and knowledge, and though I at first quite uncritically accepted everything they told me at church this quest for knowledge would soon prove to be the greatest catalyst in unravelling my faith.

1998(age 6)-I come home with a library book on dinosaurs (content aimed at junior high students) and notice a discrepancy between the dates quoted in the book and what I’d been taught at church. I ask my mom, and she sys the hard working and well respected scientists who wrote the book are lying and I shouldn’t take heed of what they’re saying. I obediently say “ok”, but the seed of doubt is planted in my mind. Why would these people want to lie? I decide to continue reading their work and make up my own mind as to the veracity of their claims. I continue as a lukewarm Christian, though.

2004-I get baptised, largely due to peer pressure. My heart’s really not into it, and by this time serious doubts have crept into my mind.

2006-After having read materials from lots of different religions, I find equal merit in all of them and convert to deism.

2007-I’m not sure when the switch happened, but I become an agnostic. I also begin reading Velikovsky and von Daniken at this time, and am sold onto their theories, vigorously evangelising at every opportunity(save to my parents, of course).

2009-It’s really not that great a leap from believing in catastrophism and Ancient Astronauts to embracing the New Age, and upon reading The Secret, watching What the Bleep Do We Know and a few other similar publications, I make that leap.

Late 2009-My enthusiasm for the New Age wanes, and I begin critically analysing my previous “wisdom of the ancients” beliefs. Needless to say, they don’t stand in the face of unbiased scrutiny and soon crumble. Also, the Law of Atrraction fails to get me the PS3, Mini Cooper S and myriad other stuff I’d taped to the wall to meditate upon, just as prayer failed to get me a bicycle a decade earlier. I become an agnostic, though I still hold some mystical beliefs.

Mid 2010-In light of a great many blogs and works I have read on the internet, I become an atheist, and still maintain that world view today. Thanks to the TalkOrigins archive, I also unreservedly accept the theory of evolution as the best, most scientific and coherent explanation for our existence, something I have not really done until now.

I believe that becoming an atheist has led me to become a better person, both morally and with respect to my ability to make a positive contribution to society. I have also enjoyed many debates with my believer friends, and have managed somewhat to get them to question the dogma they so vehemently follow(just like Satan, some have been prompted to say when all defence fails). I’m also campaigning for people to analyse everything they hear skeptically and rationally, modes of thought which are woefully rare here in Africa where superstition is still rife.

As for politics…I don’t bother myself too much with it, and my beliefs have been pretty much static from the beginning: liberal, with socialist leanings.

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Tony Hoffman November 29, 2010 at 12:47 pm

Age 5. Santa Claus is MY MOM!
Age 10. Girls have a certain something.
Age 17. Candy is not the most fun thing you can ingest.

I grew up in a religious home, went to Sunday School, etc. I’m sure I believed as a child (I remember reading a classic comic of the Gospel stories, and thinking how brave Jesus was.), but I do not remember when it occurred to me that I do not believe.

Age 20. The New Testament is even more of a train wreck than I had thought it was.
Age 22. No one outside your family cares to be your mentor; you’ll have to figure it out yourself.
Age 26. Falling in love with someone compatible with you is way better than falling in love with someone who isn’t.
Age 30. There really are educated people who don’t believe in Evolution, that “carbon dating is something that scientists just made up,” etc.
Age 34. The Democrats are not the worst of the 2 political parties.
Age 35. There really are educated people who don’t believe that humans are contributing to global warming, that history does not repeat itself, and that scoundrels are patriots.
Age 40. No, there aren’t even any intellectually satisfying arguments to be religious.

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mx November 29, 2010 at 2:03 pm

1. (0-8) Early evangelical training. Didn’t understand it, fascinated by parts of it, confused by most of it. Three people in one? You want me to eat what? The earth is coming to an end?

2. (8-12) Continued fringe evangelical training. Started accepting oddities and odd stories as truth. Watched as congregations destroyed their rock and roll, argued about evil, and even watched some who sold their houses in preparation for the second coming. Stopped trying to make sense of it. God is going to destroy the earth? Non-believers are evil? I’m evil?

3. (13-15) Handed out leaflets with funny comics, wondering if non-believers really looked that crazy. Started realizing that it was the believers who looked that crazy. Tried hard to fit in and believe, but questioned everything. Noticed believers faking it, wondered if I was faking it. Realized people really want to fit in. Am I filled with the Spirit? The spirit made you do what?!

4. (15-20). Tried really hard to believe. Attended Bible study groups, prayed real hard. Wondered why God didn’t talk to me. Realized that nature talked louder. Was God nature? Started debating and questioning everything, kicked off school paper, ejected from youth group, kicked out of church. Met a great teacher who made me think about God objectively. I discarded my dogmatic beliefs. Is God beauty or nature? What makes Christians so angry? Where is this Love anyway?

5. (20-25) College and seminary. Realized what my instinct told me earlier: the Bible is a complex fabric, imperfect at best. Compelling literature, but many variants exist. Learned that beliefs are the same: many different opinions, many make no sense. Met another prof who clearly did not believe. Realized science was at least more objective. Why do people pretend to believe? The Bible says what about science? The Bible says what about Women? Gay people are evil? God: kill those who are evil or forgive them, which is it?

6. (25-35) Limbo. Continued learning, studying, thinking, but walked away from religion. Looking back at believing leaves me feeling embarrassed and confused. I wonder why I don’t feel embarrassed about believing in Santa? I guess Santa never fooled me into thinking horrible things about people. Still confused at why religion is so angry when it’s about love. Realizing that God is either horrible or not there at all, but unable to talk about this thought with other people. God, did we imagine you? What do I believe if I don’t believe in God? Does this make me amoral?

7. (35-now) Acceptance. There is no God, or if there is it’s a metaphor for something we don’t yet understand. I’m no longer embarrassed about my past beliefs, although I wish I had persisted and figured it out sooner. I now enjoy thinking about philosophy, questioning what we think about God, life, the universe, and everything. I have found happiness without God, something I was convinced wasn’t possible for an atheist. I am happier now that most people I know.

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Cyril November 29, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Age 10 – Withdraw from Christian private schools in favor of Christian home-schooling.
Age 14 – Return to Christian private school at a non-denominational church, which had some issues.
Age 15 – Confirmation in the Lutheran church. This ends my having to keep asking “Why should I care what Luther said? He’s not in the Bible!”
Age 16 – Take my first Philosophy course and, in reading J.P.Moreland’s “Love God With All Your Mind”, come across the idea that ‘Christianity is true’. This raises the obvious corollary that Christianity could be false, and I begin to investigate. At this same time, I also read some physics books by Hawking and Michio Kaku. These don’t help much with my Biblical literalism.
Age 17 – It’s time to start thinking about going to college, and that means public schools. And that means unbelievers. And that means evangelism. In preparation, I intensify my reading of a lot of apologetics, Christian history, and philosophy. Basically, I take the “Outsider’s Test of Faith”. Christianity does not do well.
Age 18 – I come out to my parents as having lost my faith. It didn’t happen all at once (namely, it went orthodox Lutheran -> Arian Christian -> Son of Noah -> Deist -> Agnostic). When I say that I’m no longer a creationist, my brother drops his spoon. (It could’ve been the term ‘talking snake’). I join up with the local Freethought Society and spend a brief stint as a self-described atheist.
Age 22 – I’ve relaxed a bit, and prefer the term ‘agnostic’, if only often to smooth relations with my family. There are other things to think about right now than religious matters.

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JS Allen November 29, 2010 at 2:24 pm

My paradigms change more frequently now than in the past, but I’m interested in different topics. I consider atheism, libertarianism, and Nietzsche to be part of my adolescent past. There was a time I was interested in questions like “Does God exist?”, “What is the one economic system to rule them all?”, and “What philosopher is the baddest badass?”. Now I’m only interested in these adolescent debates to the extent that I can help my kids navigate the issues for themselves.

Personally, I’ve moved on to other interests. After atheism there was Buddhism, Islam, and then some varieties of Christianity, but I also consider “theism-shopping” to be a part of my past.

Parallel to the “theism-shopping” phase, I became very interested in consciousness, myths, stories, relationships, and history. Practically every month I’m exposed to some new paradigmatic way of understanding the relationship of consciousness to stories that I find convincing.

I’ve never believed that there is any disconnect between science and theism, so I’ve never abandoned scientific paradigms. I remain very interested in things like bounded rationality, game theory, complexity theory, machine learning, and so on. I can easily be seduced by new paradigmatic ways of putting the math together, and often am. I’m suspicious of any paradigms that are too clean or simple, and am a sucker for paradigms that appear paradoxical.

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Luke Muehlhauser November 29, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Good stories, all.

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Tony Hoffman November 29, 2010 at 4:08 pm

I forgot two others:

Age 14: Being confirmed as a Lutheran and thinking, “Sweet, I don’t ever have to go to church again!”
Age 15: Having my Christian father ask me to read The Selfish Gene, finishing it, and feeling as if everything just made more sense from then on.

Good stories, all.

This of yours was an inspired idea.

PS. JS Allen, are there two of you? Are you on medication? Because whereas I imagine I come off as being consistently snotty and faux-humble, you are like at least two different people.
PPS. Compare to some of these, I feel as if I have lived a small and very uninteresting life. Thanks all for taking the time.

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JS Allen November 29, 2010 at 4:28 pm

Because whereas I imagine I come off as being consistently snotty and faux-humble, you are like at least two different people.

Don’t worry, the spider monkey can always be provoked by a sufficiently stupid argument.

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Rob November 29, 2010 at 5:07 pm

Age 7: Realize Bible stories are indistinguishable from Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Am I the only one who notices this?

Age 9: Study India and Hinduism in social studies; classmates think silly superstitious beliefs of Hindus are hilarious. Why am I the only one that realizes Christian beliefs are just as bizarre and implausible? Read every entry on religion/gods in The World Book Encyclopedic. A skeptic is born.

Age 15: Read Slaughterhouse-Five. Huh. Free will is non-sense. But nothing consequential follows, except I become more compassionate.

Age 18 – 19: Take two semesters of Bible survey and one semester of Philosophy. Yep. The emperor has no clothes.

Age 20 – 35: Post-theism. Never think about religion/gods. Science rules. I know everything worth knowing.

Age 36: 9/11. Holy Fucking Shit. Religion is not only false, but dangerous. Transition from post-theism to militant atheism.

Age 40: Encounter presuppositional apologetics on the internets; flummoxed by the problem of induction. Crap! I don’t know anything. Read a bunch of philosophy. Philosophy kind of sucks. Science works bitches, so I’m hitchin’ my wagon to that.

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stamati November 29, 2010 at 5:13 pm

@JS “[I] am a sucker for paradigms that appear paradoxical. ”

There is something about that, isn’t there?

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Ryan November 29, 2010 at 5:24 pm

Ok, here’s an effort:

Spiritually here’s how I started:
When I was younger I was a “Christian”, that is that my parents were nominally Christian, and so was I. We didn’t really know much about the Bible, only to pray and that this figure named Jesus was important. For this reason, my religious beliefs are harder to trace as they weren’t that important to me.

Around 15-16 or so, I have the idea that religion ought to be a “Noble Lie”, that is that religions should be used to promote social values that further human efforts and progress. Not really a theist at this time though.

At the age of 18, I convert to Christianity. I didn’t know what I was getting into, but I thought my move was practical, in that it would secure me stronger social relations thus promoting my interests.

Later that year when I was 19, I start thinking that Christianity is a BIG deal in terms of the intellectual shift.(part of this was arguments with other people. I had joined a very conservative religious group) This started impacting me greatly.

Still later that year, I become a Calvinist. Something had happened in my life that removed my belief that I could effectually have free will. I start defending Calvinism, and even dabble in presuppositional apologetics.

Next year, still 19, the entire ground shakes underneath my feet. I made a decision that was greeted a LOT more harshly than I had expected. Church turned against me. Life crumbled. Lost many social ties. Lose a lot of belief in a reality that makes sense from a first-person perspective. (We could perhaps conceive of the whole of reality in terms of atoms and laws. However, from the first person view, we often conceive of reality in terms of ideals, social ties, interpersonal rules, emotions, etc, so the real shift is an emerging belief that the sum of all of those “first-person” things can’t really be made coherent)

Later become a collapsed theist. God still exists, but he hates me.

Then become an atheist, around 19-20, either a few months before my birthday or pretty close after. Psyche still a mess, but order starting to be created.

I am now 23. Stayed an atheist. Reinterpreted emotional reasons into logical reasons, such as those involving the evil in the world, and the nature of Christianity. Emotions longing for Christianity persist, but dulled over the years, as increasing awareness of the failure of the religion sticks to my mind, as well as doubts. Still have a side sort of in-tune with the Christian religion. Still have an interest in theology. Do not think I will ever return though, as the world is too…. absurd for the Christian religion to make sense.

———–

Politically:
Around middle school and high school, I was probably sort of a neo-fascist. I had taken in my parents relatively conservative values and come to believe that the best way to inculcate them in society was to instill them across the population. Basically, “bad beliefs” were the source of bad things, and as such they needed to be suppressed. I also distrusted market forces, seeing them as forces of corruption within society, because they rewarded greed, not virtue.

During late high school, I start becoming conservative. While I still upheld the cultural values issue, I started recognizing that incentives were important, and really start going a market-oriented direction. This was probably furthered by the fact that I would now argue against socialists, rather than support them, also given that a friend directed me to mises.org and I began reading the material there.

During my first year of college, I became a libertarian. The whole “culture” thing started wearing thin. I had less ability to justify it. My nationalism started coming undone as well.

Around the summer after the first year of college, I became an anarcho-capitalist. Part of the issue was that whole “Christianity is a major shift” recognition, as I began to recognize that if the only moral values are Christian values, then there are two real choices, either run a state by Christian values, or remove it. I chose the latter. (the middle option didn’t make sense to me, as the choosing between various false values seemed a bit absurd, what was the real difference? It bears some mentioning that I am naturally a rather black and white thinker though.)

Over time, the anarchism has cooled off. I didn’t leave it when I became an atheist, however, I grew less interested in political discussion. I will say that I am still some form of libertarian. I will say that I have some anarchist leanings. I do not think I have a whole political view at this point in time though. On some level, the question doesn’t interest me as much, even though I might still get into an argument over some more theoretical/philosophical issue.

————

Ok, now intellectually:
Growing up, I was a voracious reader, very interested in the sciences.

At the beginning of middle-school/end of elementary school, I become less concerned in all of this.

8th grade, interest in philosophy booms, after I recover from a significant depressive period.

High school, it all dies down again.

Junior year, I become interested in becoming an engineer for financial reasons.

End of Senior Year, I become interested in economics, after rejecting it a year before as some sort of “capitalist apologetics”. My interest builds over time, and I actually ended up getting a BS in economics and a BS in finance.

Middle of Freshman year, I change my major from electrical engineering to economics and finance. I continue to read on the subject of economics.

Beginning of Sophomore year, I become very interested in theology and philosophy. This interest does not fade, and ends up surpassing my interest in economics.

When I started losing faith, I started gaining interest in the sciences. I am not *that* interested, and mostly am curious about psychology, with more minor interests in other subjects, and even then mostly related to issues that have broader concern. (like, straight quantum theoretical concerns might not be as interesting as quantum consciousness would to me)

My interest in philosophy ends surpasses that of theology, and I just continue reading it, with I’d guess stronger interest in philosophy of science, philosophy of religion, pragmatism, and I’d guess some aspects of continental philosophy. I don’t know whether I am less than an undergrad in my knowledge of this topic or more, I think I know enough to fake being smart to someone who doesn’t know much.

That’s probably more than lengthy enough, and more than sufficient.

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piero November 29, 2010 at 5:36 pm

Wow, interesting stories here. Some of mine:

1961: Life is good, God is good, my guardian angel protects me and my family.
1962: Holy shit, everybody dies! I will die! My parents will die! Maybe we’ll go to Heaven?
1970: If I wank I have to tell that funny looking guy in a cassock? Are you kidding me?
1973: God does not exist. It is possible, however, that we do not perceive everything that is there. Anyway, I have this exam tomorrow…
….
1997: Internet is cool.
2000: Randi is a bit over the top. Why all the fuss?
2001: Randi is cool. Dawkins is cool. Muslims are nuts. Just as Chistians were, and some still are.
2004: Harris and Hitchens are cool.
2008: Luke is cool.
2010: I only know that I know very little.

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Geoff November 29, 2010 at 6:49 pm

Luke-

Could you please direct me toward information on why libertarianism fails?

Thanks for the post.

Geoff

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Chip November 29, 2010 at 8:30 pm

8 days: baptized into the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church

8 years: “Dad… I think I’m having some doubts about my faith.”
“Oh! Uh, well you should doubt enough to doubt your doubts, too.”

22 years: I opened my mind for the first time to the possibility that evolution might be true. Stumbling upon the Talk.origins website showed me that — guess what, it was! My whole worldview came crashing down around me. I didn’t know what I believed, but I couldn’t really call myself a Christian. My parents were devastated when I told them.

Over the summer, I read C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. It’s not so much that I was persuaded by his arguments, but they made me realize I hadn’t thought of everything, and I had been too hasty in abandoning my faith. Now I returned to a Lutheran environment, but with an increasing sense of feeling out of place.

Later that year, I began to explore the Orthodox Church more seriously, at the same time as my family (although through a very different path; none of them made a months-long detour through atheism! I was returning to faith, while they were seeking a truer faith.). I found a radically different perspective on all the issues that troubled me, and a mature wisdom honed over 2000 years of Christianity. I also began corresponding with another convert to Orthodoxy, and the happy marriage we built upon our shared faith has lasted 4 years (and counting).

Starting grad school in 2005, I certainly had the zeal of the convert. I was probably the most openly religious among our incoming class, a memory which makes me smile. But the doubts persisted subconsciously as the years went by.

In fall 2009 I decided to confront them head-on. True things survive scrutiny, after all, and I intended to apply that scrutiny! The investigation is ongoing. I still continue to participate as fully as I can in the life of the church. Nevertheless, I feel fairly certain there is no God. I strive to keep an open mind and an “open heart”; for instance, I’ve accepted Tim Mawson’s suggestion that (some) atheists should pray (based on this podcast). Either my Christian Naturalism is a transient phase, or it will grow into something mature and coherent, or I will simply die first.

Obviously, much of this is severely abridged! Though it is really true that I had no doubts to speak of until my 20′s, after I was told to “doubt my doubts”. :)

But, I need to get to bed, so I’m editing a little less carefully than usual.

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E.M. November 29, 2010 at 9:14 pm

2 – Mt. St. Helens turns the sky black causing him to fear for his eternal, 2 year old soul.

12 – CCM and church camp make him like Christianity and fear hell more.

16 – C.S. Lewis makes him think Christianity is reasonable.

21 – Francis Schaeffer makes him realize it’s all actually real; he gets a job at an evangelical fundamentalist publisher.

28 – He gets a position as a sort of “bible answer man” email correspondent at said publisher; email questions force research which causes many “evidences” for Christianity to erode.

29 – Thomas Talbott talks him out of hell, Martin Zender talks him out of free will, Ehrman talks him out of inerrancy. He embraces universalist Christianity ala George MacDonald, becomes enamored with grace and peace, and quits job at publisher.

30 – Elaine Pagels, Ehrman, Philip Pullman, and Philip K. Dick help talk him out of Christianity. His default position: “I believe absolute truth exists, I’ve just lost all faith in humanity’s ability to ascertain it.” Eckhart Tolle and Alan Watts introduce him to mindfulness.

31 – Circumstance finds him back working at the previously mentioned publisher in a production line position, and he soon begins attending school to avoid the recurrence of such circumstance.

32 – The Atheist Experience, Common Sense Atheism, Point of Inquiry and a whole mess of podcasts help him embrace science as the most reliable way to approach anything like objectivity, and atheism as the most honest position. He listens to these while duplicating, assembling, and shipping bible commentaries, ID and pseudoscience lectures, and fringe bible prophecy theories on cd and dvd.

33 (now) – He is still attending school, and still listening to atheist podcasts while duplicating commentaries; he is closeted and feels like a hypocrite alienated by his evangelical, “red state” culture but he’s very glad he has a job that helps support his family until he can get sufficient education for a better job; he wonders why he just typed his first self identification as an atheist in third person to strangers; he then thanks the strangers for reading it.

Thanks for reading this,
E.M.

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Mastema November 29, 2010 at 9:37 pm

1997 – Realize LDS church is full of shit. Become an agnostic, and start researching other religions in earnest.

1998 – Girlfriend takes an intro to philosophy class at college. It is the first time I was introduced to philosophy in a non-Monty Python form (Mormons do not use the traditional arguments for the existence of God, and instead focus on personal experience). Her textbook is written from a theistic perspective by the class’ teacher. I am absolutely fascinated, but find the arguments unconvincing. Realize that I would be better described as an atheist, but don’t tell anyone other than my girlfriend and a few close friends for many years.

2006 – Publication of The God Delusion brings atheism out in the open. I come out, and become interested in philosophy of religion. Additional publications, podcasts, websites, and so on help.

Reading Hume on morals makes me seriously reconsider ethics and morality. After being unable to find a satisfactory account of moral realism, I become an uncomfortable moral skeptic.

Become extremely intrigued by libertarianism thanks to Penn Jillette’s radio show.

2007 – Despite serious misgivings about the effectiveness of a free market to regulate itself, I decided to go straight to the source of what many libertarians cited as a source of inspiration (Ayn Rand). I quickly realized she was insane, and moved away from libertarianism towards a nebulous liberalism.

2008 – Become a democratic socialist.

2009 – Find Common Sense Atheism and realize how little I know. Renews my interest in philosophy in general.

2010 – My uncomfortable moral skepticism ends with a comfortable acceptance of error theory.

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juhou November 29, 2010 at 11:17 pm

Geoff,

In the last podcast Luke referred to Chomsky: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxPUvQZ3rcQ .

I just had another of my anarchist facepalm experiences while watching that. I have a hard time believing that Chomsky ever read the wealth of nations :). Quote Smith: “the greatest improvement in the productive powers of labour, and the greater part of the skill, dexterity, and judgement with which it is anywhere directed, or applied, seem to have been the effects of the division of labour.” And on his first book he goes on to explain how this division of labour creates the wealth of nations.

Anyway the idea is that libertarianism leads to corporate dictatorship without democratic control of companies. Now people can still advocate laws and regulations for example for companies in the financial sector but under libertarianism such laws are not accepted. Only most basic laws and regulations would be in place. So business cycles for example would lead to a devastating human cost (unemployment) and inefficiencies in the market.

Personally I really don’t like the fact that libertarianism and it’s leftist counterpart libertarian-anarchism demand that most people be subjected to the same ideology. Coming from Finland I know what that meant in Germany and in our neighbour Russia. There was even a time when in Finland you could never speak against the USSR. I think most libertarians and anarchists deny this analogy but I think they’re mostly mistaken. In capitalism when I say I want to be super rich I can to wall street and try my best to make money. If on the other hand I say I want to be a green party PETA advocate I can go and live in a hippie commune and we can all share our money and we can all eat carrot’s together and advocate our half-witted world view to our favourite green party politicians. I don’t see that happening in either form of libertarianism. Both will fall if they allow people to think for themselves.

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Luke Muehlhauser November 30, 2010 at 1:07 am
Luke Muehlhauser November 30, 2010 at 1:14 am

Lots of errors theorists here. I certainly have much respect for the position.

Basically, error theory has two steps:

1. X is essential to moral discourse.
2. X is false, or does not exist.

X is usually “intrinsic prescriptivity” or “absolutism about value” or “motivational internalism” or a few other things.

Like Stephen Finlay, I agree with (2) and disagree with (1), because I think morality and its terms are quite clearly essentially contested concepts (Gallie, 1956), and this opens a door to moral realism through philosophy of language, not through exotic metaphysics or moral epistemology. Also see Foot, “Morality as a System of Hypothetical Imperatives.”

But that’s all very complicated, and will take me a long time to argue with the rigor I would prefer. Error theory is much simpler, and a very attractive position.

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Luke Muehlhauser November 30, 2010 at 1:22 am

Rob,

“Philosophy kind of sucks.” Lol. I “kind of” agree, of course. :)

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Michael November 30, 2010 at 2:18 am

“Show me a young Conservative and I’ll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old Liberal and I’ll show you someone with no brains”.

That’s not far off explaining a lot of us older folk.

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Bram November 30, 2010 at 2:49 am

Luke,
If you like the many-worlds interpretation of Quantum mechanics, you should read Roger Penrose’s “The Road to Reality”. (Yes it is a massive 1000-page book, but you could just read the chapters about quantum mechanics.) He is very clear on why he doesn’t think the many-world interpretation works. Very interesting stuff.

But now, more on-topic.

age 0 – 15: I am a Christian, just like everybody I know. We go to some protestant chruch.

age 16 – 18: I discover strict Calvinism and hate it, but still think the usual protastantism is true. I also read books about how evolution is false.

age 19 – 24: Continue being a somewhat critical christian, without thinking a lot about the core of my beliefs.

age 25: Accidentally discover Bart Ehrman’s “Lost christianities” and become fascinated by theology.

age 26: The bible is nowhere as reliable as I thought is cannot be the foundation for faith.

age 27: The dogma’s of orthodox christianity (the fall, salvation through faith, return of Christ) are illogical and there is no way to defend them. Liberal chistians just try to keep on believing the same, but by wording it a little different hope to avoid the problems of orthodox christianity. I therefore am an atheist.

age 28: I discover the Dutch theologian Kuitert, who is kind of an atheistic christian (god only exists in the stories; first there were humans, then there was god). Maybe this is also an option for me?

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poban November 30, 2010 at 7:48 am

Regarding religion
1985- Born in a very rural hills. hindu parents .

1989- Found out many of the friends in the schools were dying day by day by chickenpox and the reason given was they pee’d inside the temple(few boys of them really had group-pee’d).

1990 – escaped school on the break for the and pee’d beside the temple on the way home and ran home downwards. having done that still hoped that prayers really would be answered and dreamed of being the best prayerer in the school and village(As I knew that my cast wouldnt allow me to be a priest).

1991-1994- Started studying short versions of Ramayana and Mahabharata, along with Puranas(most of them were all about respecting and donating the priests, one of the important things to fulfilled to go the heaven),

1994 – entry to small town in a hostel, learnt ABCD, intro to “cow eating language”,

2000 – exposed towards the law of conservation of energy, it sounded very realistic, no extra mass could be produced in a isolated space, then stopped believing in every gods, magic, and stopped wasting time in dreaming

2001 – Entry capital city, Found out what was taught in English School was true i.e. there were other religions like, Muslim, Christianity in addition to Hinduism and Buddhism.

2001 – defeated by Muslim friends in every discussions regarding a true god, even though they really seemed to be convinced that their Allah was the one that run the buses and make rain and we were “science” students. Hence converted into “hope hinduism fares well” from passive atheism.
2002 – 2007 nothing, read few well known books, watched movies, music and all those things.
2007- came to Denmark, new muslims friends plus Jeovah’s witness(JW probably regarded Hindus and chineses as soft targets regarding conversion) started “defeating” me again (pretending being a good and curious listener sucks), then searched internet about existence of a god, started watching debates, getting relevant books from library,
Now I dont listen to them anymore.

2009 July- After searching for hitchens craig debate, I found commonsense atheism and I have read most of the posts in archive including post atheism posts.

Now I feel I am an atheist except I am agnostic regarding that deist god, just started reading “lesswrong”, trying to make a list of understandable and “interesting” items so that I could tranlslate into my native language.

Should be a boring story.

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Rob November 30, 2010 at 9:58 am

E.M.,

Thanks for the story. Fiction has also played a big part is my understanding of the world. Vonnegut, Philip Jose Farmer, Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor, etc.

Luke,

Philosophy ‘kind of’ sucks because it can be so readily abused by hucksters like Feser and Craig. Also, it sucks if you expect it to provide any definite answers. It cannot. But science cannot either, although it seems to have the tools to get us something near enough.

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Chris November 30, 2010 at 11:15 am

This is a great thread. Here I go.

Childhood: Raised a moderate, happy Roman Catholic. Jesus loves me and He’s such a nice guy. Good guys go to heaven, bad guys go to hell. Altar boy. Private Catholic school.

Adolescence: Public High School. There are other denominations of Christianity? There are other religions, and not just in far off lands? There are people who don’t believe in God? Jesus wouldn’t send good people to Hell. Liberal Catholicism. The Church is wrong about a lot but Jesus is cool and God is real. Weed. Booze. Rock and Roll. Cool English teacher. The Catcher In the Rye. Dropping out of Confirmation class.

Post-High School: No more Church on Sunday, despite parents’ worries. Taking “a year off” before college (turned into 7 years). Discovering books are cool. Jack Kerouac. Lazy Buddhist-Catholic mixture phase. Sex (finally!). Residual Catholic guilt. Not thinking about it much though. The Doors. Livin’

Early-mid twenties: Drugs and booze aren’t all that. Maybe I should go back to school. Going back to school. Evangelical girlfriend. Let’s give Christianity another try. “Born again” experience. What now? Yikes, a lot of people are going to Hell. Deep depression. Fear. This can’t be true, it’s so vile, but how to explain that Born Again experience? Internet. Lots of people telling me lots of different things. Atheist blogs, Christian blogs. Apologetics and Counter-apologetics. I can’t just reject Christianity because I don’t like Hell. More depression. Ok, let’s finally read the Bible.

Mid-late twenties: Holy shit, look at that Bible. Apologetics are lame, Biblical criticism is cool. I have biases, but I can look at this in a cool-headed manner. Spending lots of time and money on books. Hmmm, Christianity doesn’t have the historical foundation it claims to have. Jesus was kinda crazy. History of Israel in Old Testament is mostly fiction. Theology of Old Testament is different from theology of New Testament. Evolution doesn’t really fit the Biblical story, despite what sophisticated theologians say. Christianity is false!

Post-Christian: Hell is not real, thank God. Back to life. I still better watch my biases though, and keep and open mind. Is there a God? Who knows. No reason to really think so. Weak atheism.

Now: Reading more widely than ever before. Agnosticism. Phisophical Skepticism. WWSD (What Would Socrates Do?) I know nothing. It’s cool though.

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Katie's mom November 30, 2010 at 4:45 pm

Early childhood, raised in a Lutheran family. The best part of church was the benediction and going out for lunch to a restaurant after.

Age 9, realize there are other religions. How do we know ours is the right one?

Age 13, confirmation classes. The pastor incoherently tries to explain the trinity. I’m thinking this sounds like BS.

Age 14, confirmation. I have some kind of flu and faint during the ceremony. Not sure if I’m actually confirmed or not. My brother tells me God intervened because He knew I was faking it.

Teens and twenties, having fun being young and single. Pretty much a non-believer, but don’t give it much thought.

Age 25, witness my roommate have a born again experience and watch him change from growing pot in my basement to smashing all his devil music.

Age 29, marry a non-believing lefty, feel pretty lucky that we agree in these areas.

Age 33, bored with nothing to read, I pick up my husband’s copy of Wonderful Life by Stephen Jay Gould. It’s an epiphany for me. I start reading a lot of science, history, anthropology etc.

Age 35, become a mother. HOLY CRAP, I can’t believe how much I love this child!

Age 35, lying in bed with my newborn when my mom calls to tell me about what just happened in New York. Realize that religion is actually not just a benign belief. There are nut-jobs out there who don’t care if they destroy my world, because they’re sure that they’re getting another one later.

Become a vocal atheist, start spending a lot of time and money on books and overdue library fines, reading all I can about religion.

Spend way too much time on the internet, but this interest now seems insatiable. Good thing I only work part time.

Age 43, join a local humanist group. Consider myself a happy atheist.

Age 44, discover this blog, realize I don’t know shit about philosophy, but love coming here to stretch my brain.

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Luke Muehlhauser November 30, 2010 at 9:08 pm

Man I hope people keep posting these stories.

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Al Moritz December 3, 2010 at 4:45 pm

Below summary is partly about paradigm shifts, partly simply about steps in my worldview.

I was raised Catholic.

Age 17: By some good fortune, I learn about philosophy, with central focus on Thomas Aquinas. This would later prove important, see below.

Age 18: Decision to study chemistry, which later would be specialization in biochemistry. No conflict whatsoever perceived between science and religion, as there is indeed none. I never had reason to believe there was a conflict anyway, given that my father converted to Catholicism from being non-religious at age 36, in the middle of a brilliant scientific career. Through the years I am embarking on a, less brilliant but still satisfying, scientific career myself.

Age 38: Discussion on the internet about Intelligent Design. When I hear about it, I immediately agree with Behe on irreducible complexity of biochemical pathways, since that concept had crossed my mind earlier, even though I never had been aware before of the Intelligent Design movement and its cultural history in the American intellectual landscape (I came to the US in 1997, so didn’t grow up here). As both a theist and a biochemist it is easy to have these thoughts, as I have noticed among some of my colleagues at work as well. Not that this is right by any means (see below). I have an extended debate with an opponent on the issue, which I easily win given my biochemical knowledge. Again, not that I was correct, but my opponent simply did not have the knowledge to back up his claims in a substantial manner — I believe few non-scientists, or also scientists who are not biochemists, would (most of those who know that ID on biochemical pathways is wrong do not know it because they can argue it for themselves, but because they were, correctly, told by others that it is so).

Age 43 (2006): Renewed interest in the evolution issue as my father and sister (who is a biologist) collaborate on an article about it. I read Jaques Monod’s Chance and Necessity. I stumble across an exchange between Ken Miller and Michael Behe. I go “What on Earth does this Miller guy want?”. But then I read his article:

http://www.millerandlevine.com/km/evol/lgd/index.html

which makes good sense to me. Read also Miller’s book Finding Darwin’s God, which quotes a scientific article about biological pathways that argues against irreducible complexity. I read this article and become convinced that the argument from irreducible complexity with respect to biochemical pathways fails. I continue with Dawkins’s The Blind Watchmaker. All in all, within a few weeks time, I become convinced that evolution is a self-sufficient process indeed and drop all sympathy for the ID position with regard to evolution. (If as a scientist you learn about evolution, and even work with evolutionary principles like I did and still do, using comparisons of genes among species, it does not necessarily mean you learn about all the details of the process.)

From there I study the origin of life. For this, I dive deeply into the primary scientific literature. After about two and a half months of study I suddenly discover — open-minded as I am — against all previous convictions that more recent scientific studies have made the origin of life by natural causes highly plausible. This comes as a complete shock for me.

It feels like the ground is pulled away from under my feet. Is atheism perhaps plausible after all??

(At the time I had already heard about the cosmological fine-tuning argument — Miller mentions it in his book — but given lack of closer study had failed to see its impact.) At this point, only the philosophical argument from the Unmoved Mover keeps me from abandoning theism (the argument, even though it is based on quite different premises –act and potency, not necessarily physical ‘movement’ –, correlates well for me with the argument from science against a perpetuum-mobile like eternal matter, given the second law of thermodynamics) My theism hangs by a single philosophical thread, as it were, for a few weeks.

Then, after some more study of the issues, I start to realize the impact of the cosmological fine-tuning argument. After a while I go, “You got to be kidding me! This completely demolishes the atheistic argument from evolution for nature not being designed”. I still feel that way and think it is a strong argument for the existence of God. I have encountered no objections, also in discussions here, that in my view would diminish the argument as defended in my article:

http://home.earthlink.net/~almoritz/cosmological-arguments-god.htm

(Of course, my opponents think they have raised substantial objections, but that’s the nature of the game.)

I guess the fine-tuning argument forms a deep divide between theists and atheists. I think that once a theist has fully understood the argument in all its implications s/he cannot easily become an atheist anymore, whereas atheists, for whatever reasons they may bring forward, are not easily convinced of the merits of the argument.

Anyway, the argument brings me firmly back on theistic ground. Meanwhile I become so enthusiastic about an origin of life by natural causes that I write an overview about the scientific research, which is accepted by the leading evolution website Talkorigins.org:

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/abioprob/originoflife.html

Further support, starting 2007, for my renewed embrace of theism comes from the Argument from Reason, in one of its forms brilliantly outlined in Modern Physics and Ancient Faith by Stephen Barr. Over the four years until present it becomes, in other expressions as well, an ever stronger argument for me.

Given my conviction of the existence of God, the likelihood of divine revelation follows, and with this, on historical considerations, the likelihood of Catholicism being true — once I accept the existence of God, for me personally Catholicism or not becomes a secondary question. BTW, much of atheist arguments are simply irrelevant to Catholicism. I read them and think, what is all the fuzz supposed to be about? This holds, for example, for certain Bible criticisms (Old Testament), or the “why so many religions” argument (Catholics hold that you do not necessarily have to be Catholic or even Christian to be saved).

I continue to consider the evidence, but find now atheism simply an intellectually unacceptable option for myself (Gary Drescher’s Good and real, for example, according to Luke the best book on naturalism he has read, and standing among atheist books in high esteem by me as well, only is ‘successful’ because it avoids or brushes over the really hard questions). Emotionally I am rather neutral about the issue. Faith provides certain advantages and support, but in some ways being an atheist is simpler. Fear of death does not enter the equation. I am thankful for the promise by God of an afterlife, but could just as well imagine that life simply ends — if I were able to embrace atheism based on convincing arguments. I love God but I am not ‘in love with’ Him.

While I personally cannot intellectually accept atheism, I do understand how someone can become an atheist. Had I been, instead of a Catholic, an Evangelical who would have experienced that his religion clashes with science (like Luke and others), I would probably have become an atheist (like Luke and others). Not that this would have been right and ultimately justified by the data, but nonetheless. Also, had I not had, by good fortune and *before* the challenges to my worldview, a solid philosophical background (which also allows me to sharply see the boundaries between philosophy and science, an area of constant confusion among many atheists), I would probably have been an atheist by now as well. Not that I find this justified either by any means, but I also can understand when people who were not raised as theists find the sheer concept of God as understood by classical theism (certainly not the white-bearded superman in the sky) unintelligible or incongruent (when former theists claim the same I find that funny though — what kind of an odd concept of God must they have had before?).

I am thus aware that I got lucky.

My journey has lead me to see my theism in a completely new light, and made it more conscious and vivid than ever before.

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Luke Muehlhauser December 3, 2010 at 5:37 pm

Thanks for sharing, Al.

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Al Moritz December 4, 2010 at 12:56 am

You’re welcome, Luke. Thanks for the opportunity.

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Zeb December 4, 2010 at 12:37 pm

Age 6: Baptized Catholic, introduced to God and religion

Age 8: Atheist – Decided God was probably just Santa Claus for grownups

Age 11: Became theist – For reasons I can’t recall, decided I liked being Catholic, and if I want to be Catholic I had to accept the infallibility of the pope, which I thought must include the innerrancy of a literal interpretation of the Bible. So I switched to that.

Age 14: Read the New Testament, switched from Republican to pacifist/anarchist

Age 19: Lost Faith, became global skeptic – First semester at Catholic university, planning to enter the seminary there, introduced to literary and historical criticism of the Bible (by a priest professor). Realized there was no way to know what in the Bible was true, extended that to all books, all statements by others, my memory, and my senses. Oddly, did not extend it to my reasoning. Tried to develop my own foundationalism without knowing anything about philosophy, came to belief in God via a sort of argument from contingency. Religiously unaffiliated.

Age 19: Became a mystic – Dropped out of college since I had no clue what was true or good. After interacting on some philosophy message boards, decided there were equally solid arguments for and against believing in God, and so decided philosophy was just dealing with concepts, not reality, and that the only way to find truth was through direct experience. I gave away all possessions and set out walking, figuring that if God was real and good, as I felt he was, that he would provide what I needed. Also I was extremely depressed and basically a nihilist skeptic save for my faith in God, so if God didn’t provide then I didn’t care what happened to me. My plan was to talk to seek out mystics of various religions and see if they could help me get a grip on anything real and good to base my life on. My first destination, if I didn’t get pulled in a different direction, was a Trappist abbey in Kentucky, and then a Sufi scholar in Georgia, and then see if I could find a Zen monastery that would accept an non-sectarian theist. On the way to Kentucky I had a experience of revelation that Christ is true, and over a few days discerned God’s will for me to return to the Catholic Church, to my chagrin. Convenient, I know.

Age 20: Radical activist, “lesser-of-two-evils” Democrat. Getting involved with various human rights and anti-war groups as a way of following Christ’s teachings, I realized that while anarchy with voluntary communism is ideal, if you are going to have a government then liberal socialism, not conservative free market capitalism, is the better form of government.

Age 30: Renewed interest in philosophy. Philosophy Bites podcast makes me think philosophy is worthwhile. Common Sense Atheism makes me realize there are much better arguments against theism than the New Atheist ones I’d confidently dismissed.

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Rob December 4, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Al Moritz wrote that his “solid” philosophical background

“allows [him] to sharply see the boundaries between philosophy and science”

Really? Bold claim. The overwhelming majority of philosophers of science do not think such hard demarcation lines are possible. You seem to have perceptual abilities that most of us don’t.

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Tony Hoffman December 4, 2010 at 1:45 pm

Rob, two things: I think that what everyone writes here amounts to a statement of personal beliefs, and as such these statements are incorrigible. In other words, I think that Al is saying that the events he lists are those he believes were the most affecting for him, and anything that amounts to his present worldview is a similar belief. I don’t think we can debate each other on such statements.

Secondly, I’d hate to have anyone here hesitate to come forward with the kinds of stories we’ve heard so far because they thought they’d be challenged on this or that particular; the stories have all been too interesting so far, and I’d hate to see this post’s comments dry up because of conflicts in beliefs. In other words, the journeys are interesting in themselves, even if we don’t find ourselves agreeing with where that leaves any of us.

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Rob December 4, 2010 at 2:29 pm

Tony,

Al claims that atheists are confused about the demarcation problem. However, it is him that is confused, or at least him that holds a very fringe view.

Why can he take a pot shot at atheists, and me not respond?

I too hope these comments don’t dry up.

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Al Moritz December 4, 2010 at 2:58 pm

Thanks, Tony.

Rob, I could derail this thread by extensively replying to your objection, but I will not. Just one small point:

Al claims that atheists are confused about the demarcation problem.

I am cautious how I formulate things. I said “many atheists”, not “atheists” (in general). There are atheists who are acutely aware of the boundaries, such as Eugenie Scott from the National Center for Science Education (I admire her, not just for that).

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Al Moritz December 4, 2010 at 3:01 pm

I too would like to see more stories. Thanks to all who have contributed so far.

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Rob December 4, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Al,

No problem. Perhaps in the future you can outline how to sharply demarcate science from philosophy.

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