Sunday, April 08, 2007


I had a discussion with a friend recently. I was trying to make the point that, depending on your point of view, some things that seem irrational might make sense. I don't recall the context, but the example that I came up with was the fact that I was fairly concerned about his not being a Christian.

"If you really believed in Hell, that would almost certainly motivate your behavior towards those friends of yours who you think might be headed there. Which reminds me, that I'm pretty concerned about you."

"It doesn't concern me. It doesn't match my world view."

"Which is what?"

"That there's insufficient evidence to conclude that there's god or hell or anything after you die."

"Ok. But you believe lots of things that don't rely on proof, don't you?"

"Like what?"

"Imagine this scenario: you're in New York, and you look out your hotel window and witness a murder. This particular murderer is very thorough and manages to very effectively conceal what had happened. But nevertheless you are completely convinced that what you saw was a murder... but you can't prove it. You're sure it's true, but the murderer was so thorough that you can find no trace. Moreover, you didn't get a good enough look at the victim or the suspect to really identify them. In this scenario, would you attest that what you saw was true, even if you couldn't prove it?"

My friend changed the subject, "Eye witness accounts are incredibly inaccurate. This has been thoroughly documented and tested."

"That's not the point. The point is that there are things you believe but can't prove."

He conceded the point and we went on to discuss other things. But I've been thinking about his response. I don't think it's a very good one. Ok. Sure, eye witness accounts are incredibly inaccurate. But they're not so inaccurate as to cause us to not trust anything we witness. For example, I hand someone a fork and they take it. Their intial reaction is not to distrust the fact that there's a fork there. We act like the things we see are real. We act like it all day long and react accordingly. Our reactions tell us what we really need to know about our beliefs about the validity of witness.

Does that make eye witness testimony entirely thorough? No, of course not. Do I trust entirely my experience of God? Could I be wrong? Yep. There it is. I could be wrong. But I don't think I am. I could be wrong that I'm typing into a computer right now. I could be imagining it. But I don't think I am. I act like it's real. Similarly, even though I could be wrong about God, I don't think I am.

There is some part of me that feels a pull to doubt God's existence. I've decided to actively ignore that pull. My friend hasn't. I remember being on his side of that decision. I'm sure he's convinced that I'm deluding myself. Which is ironic, because I would now say that he's deluding himself into ignoring the obvious. We're both in reciprical situations. He's unwilling to experiment with Christianity. He's convinced it's not worth anything. I'm also unwilling to experiment with non-Chrsitianity for the same reason. I would say that I've already run that experiment and it failed. Of course, he'd say the exact same thing.

I don't have a whole lot of hope that he's going to change his mind. The good news for me is that it's not entirely my responsibility to change it.

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