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Confessions

What and Why I Believe

Robert P. George on Friendly Disagreements

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Like my Swarthmore peers, I wanted to be sophisticated and enlightened — and to be regarded by others as sophisticated and enlightened. So a lot of what I believed simply as a matter of tribal loyalty was reinforced by a tendency to adopt views that conformed to the beliefs of what the late Irving Kristol dubbed “the knowledge class” — professors, elite journalists, and the like. With the exception of abortion, which I had thought about a lot, I hadn’t really thought myself into the positions I held. Rather, I had taken the short cut: I was content to believe what I thought sophisticated and enlightened people believed, or at least were supposed to believe. I simply, and rather unselfconsciously, assumed that an approach of that sort would reliably place me on the correct side of the issues. And, of course, it would give me access to a world I wanted to enter more fully — the elite world of important people who really counted and made a difference. If I got the right credentials, beginning with a Swarthmore degree, and held the right views, I could be someone who mattered. It was then, as it is now, a common motivation for students at elite colleges and universities.

Letting Others Help You Find the Way

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Gregory Alan Thornbury relates the crucial role for his faith of a responsible Christian thinker: [Carl F. H.] Henry helped secure my faith because he was doing more than responding tit-for-tat to higher critics of the Bible’s historical reliability. Henry did that, but he went one step further: He brought philosophical gravitas … His focus was broad. He addressed epistemology — how we can know the truth, which was my primary concern as an undergraduate philosophy student. I had come within a whisker of losing my faith. But because Henry was a philosopher defending biblical authority, I rallied. ¶ I had come within a whisker of losing my faith. But because Henry was a philosopher defending biblical authority, I rallied. ¶ Humanly speaking, had it not been for … the theologian with a titanic brain and a journalist’s pen, I could have gone the other way. Henry showed me how to be both a scholar and a follower of Jesus. From that moment in my undergraduate days, I covenanted with God to help people like the 18-year-old version of myself — people who are on the boundary of leaving the church, and are looking for just one good reason to stay.

Jeffery Jay Lowder on Three Facts and Naturalism

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In my life, I’ve identified as a non-denominational Christian, theist, agnostic, atheist, and atheist plus metaphysical naturalist, in that order. … My research has led me to the conclusion that metaphysical naturalism, which entails atheism, is more probable than theism. This conclusion follows from three facts. 

50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists

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Fifty Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists presents a collection of original essays drawn from an international group of prominent voices in the fields of academia, science, literature, media and politics who offer carefully considered statements of why they are atheists. Features a truly international cast of contributors, ranging from public intellectuals such as Peter Singer, Susan Blackmore, and A.C. Grayling, novelists, such as Joe Haldeman, and heavyweight philosophers of religion, including Graham Oppy and Michael Tooley. Contributions range from rigorous philosophical arguments to highly personal, even whimsical, accounts of how each of these notable thinkers have come to reject religion in their lives. Likely to have broad appeal given the current public fascination with religious issues and the reception of such books as The God Delusion and The End of Faith. ~ Product Description

Did the Resurrection Happen?

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In 2004 philosopher Antony Flew, one of the world’s most prominent atheists, publicly acknowledged that he had become persuaded of the existence of God. Not long before that, in 2003, Flew and Christian philosopher Gary Habermas debated at a Veritas Forum at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Habermas, perhaps the world’s leading expert on the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, made a case for the reliability of the evidence. Flew argued for alternative understandings of the data presented. For two-and-a-half decades Flew and Habermas have been in friendly dialogue about the plausibility of the resurrection and the existence of God. This book presents the full content of their third and final debate, as well as transcripts of the Q & A session with the audience afterward. Also included are a 2004 conversation between Habermas and Flew shortly after Flew’s much-publicized change of position, as well as editor David Baggett’s assessment and analysis of the full history of Habermas and Flew’s interactions. Listen in on a conversation with two of the greatest thinkers of our era about one of the most pivotal events in human history. Follow the evidence wherever it leads. And decide for yourself whether a man really rose from the dead. ~ Product Description

A. N. Wilson on Easter and Proving the Resurrecton

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My own return to faith has surprised no one more than myself. Why did I return to it? … And it is true to say that no one can ever prove – nor, indeed, disprove – the existence of an after-life or God, or answer the conundrums of honest doubters (how does a loving God allow an earthquake in Italy?) ¶ Easter does not answer such questions by clever-clever logic. Nor is it irrational. On the contrary, it meets our reason and our hearts together, for it addresses the whole person. ¶ In the past, I have questioned its veracity and suggested that it should not be taken literally. But the more I read the Easter story, the better it seems to fit and apply to the human condition. That, too, is why I now believe in it. ¶ Easter confronts us with a historical event set in time. We are faced with a story of an empty tomb, of a small group of men and women who were at one stage hiding for their lives and at the next were brave enough to face the full judicial persecution of the Roman Empire and proclaim their belief in a risen Christ.

A. N. Wilson on Doubting Atheism

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This creed that religion can be despatched in a few brisk arguments (outlined in David Hume’s masterly Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion) and then laughed off kept me going for some years. When I found myself wavering, I would return to Hume in order to pull myself together, rather as a Catholic having doubts might return to the shrine of a particular saint to sustain them while the springs of faith ran dry. ¶ But religion, once the glow of conversion had worn off, was not a matter of argument alone. It involves the whole person. Therefore I was drawn, over and over again, to the disconcerting recognition that so very many of the people I had most admired and loved, either in life or in books, had been believers. … Of course, there are arguments that might make you doubt the love of God. But a life like Gandhi’s, which was focused on God so deeply, reminded me of all the human qualities that have to be denied if you embrace the bleak, muddled creed of a materialist atheist. It is a bit like trying to assert that music is an aberration, and that although Bach and Beethoven are very impressive, one is better off without a musical sense. Attractive and amusing as David Hume was, did he confront the complexities of human existence as deeply as his contemporary Samuel Johnson, and did I really find him as interesting?

A Brief Inquiry into the Meaning of Sin and Faith

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John Rawls never published anything about his own religious beliefs, but after his death two texts were discovered which shed extraordinary light on the subject. A Brief Inquiry into the Meaning of Sin and Faith is Rawls’s undergraduate senior thesis, submitted in December 1942, just before he entered the army. At that time Rawls was deeply religious; the thesis is a significant work of theological ethics, of interest both in itself and because of its relation to his mature writings. “On My Religion,” a short statement drafted in 1997, describes the history of his religious beliefs and attitudes toward religion, including his abandonment of orthodoxy during World War II. The present volume includes these two texts, together with an Introduction by Joshua Cohen and Thomas Nagel, which discusses their relation to Rawls’s published work, and an essay by Robert Merrihew Adams, which places the thesis in its theological context. The texts display the profound engagement with religion that forms the background of Rawls’s later views on the importance of separating religion and politics. Moreover, the moral and social convictions that the thesis expresses in religious form are related in illuminating ways to the central ideas of Rawls’s later writings. His notions of sin, faith, and community are simultaneously moral and theological, and prefigure the moral outlook found in Theory of Justice. ~ Product Description

James F. Sennet on Doubtful Belief

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I have doubts. I think I know too much for it to be otherwise. And I think I’m far too honest with myself about the best that unbelief has to offer. I have not mastered the blissful ignorance or self-deception that so many conservative or evangelical Christians manage to shelter themselves with. I don’t mean that to sound perjorative, but the fact of the matter is that I find it very difficult to convince very many "Bible believing" Christians that the case for unbelief has a single shred of intellectual strength, and that really bothers me.

Kenneth W. Daniels on the Negligence of God

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In October 2001 there was an incident reported in the local news that tipped my perspective farther from deism toward an atheistic-leaning agnosticism. A driver struck a pedestrian on a freeway in Fort Worth and continued the journey home, parking in the garage with the victim still on the hood of the car. The victim was conscious and pled for help, but the driver simply left him there for four days until he died, then with the help of a friend, dumped the body in a local park. The universal reaction to this incident was one of shock and outrage. Yet as I considered the millions of children who have died of starvation, wasting disease, and natural disasters, knowing that an omnipotent god could have come to their rescue in response to their pleas but did not, it was difficult not to see a parallel between God and the negligent driver. The more I contemplated the world in which we live, the harder it became to identify any clues that a benevolent, omnipotent Personality intervenes and orchestrates any of the events in our lives.

Why I Became an Atheist

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For about two decades John W. Loftus was a devout evangelical Christian, an ordained minister of the Church of Christ, and an ardent apologist for Christianity. With three degrees in philosophy, theology, and philosophy of religion he was adept at using rational argumentation to defend the faith. But over the years, as he ministered to various congregations and taught at Christian colleges, doubts about the credibility of key Christian tenets began to creep into his thinking. By the late 1990s he experienced a full-blown crisis of faith, brought on by emotional upheavals in his personal life as well as the gathering weight of the doubts he had long entertained. In this honest appraisal of his journey from believer to atheist, Loftus carefully explains the experiences and the reasoning process that led him to reject religious belief. The bulk of the book is his "cumulative case" against Christianity. Here he lays out the philosophical, scientific, and historical reasons that can be raised against Christian belief. From the implications of religious diversity, the authority of faith vs. reason, and the problem of evil, to the contradictions between the Bible and the scientific worldview, the conflicts between traditional dogma and historical evidence, and much more, Loftus covers a great deal of intellectual terrain. For every issue he succinctly summarizes the various points of view and provides references for further reading. In conclusion, he describes the implications of life without belief in God, some liberating, some sobering. This frank critique of Christian belief from a former insider will interest freethinkers as well as anyone with doubts about the claims of religion.

Philosophers without Gods

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These highly engaging personal essays capture the marvelous diversity to be found among atheists, providing a portrait that will surprise most readers. Many of the authors, for example, express great affection for particular religious traditions, even as they explain why they cannot, in good conscience, embrace them. None of the contributors dismiss religious belief as stupid or primitive, and several even express regret that they cannot, or can no longer, believe. Perhaps more important, in these reflective pieces, they offer fresh insight into some of the oldest and most difficult problems facing the human mind and spirit. For instance, if God is dead, is everything permitted? Philosophers Without Gods demonstrates convincingly, with arguments that date back to Plato, that morality is independent of the existence of God. Indeed, every writer in this volume adamantly affirms the objectivity of right and wrong. Moreover, they contend that secular life can provide rewards as great and as rich as religious life. A naturalistic understanding of the human condition presents a set of challenges — to pursue our goals without illusions, to act morally without hope of reward — challenges that can impart a lasting value to finite and fragile human lives.

Francis S. Collins on C. S. Lewis’ Moral Argument

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I had never really seriously considered the evidence for and against belief. … Did I not consider myself a scientist? Does a scientist draw conclusions without considering the data? Could there be a more important question in all of human existence than “Is there a God?” And yet there I found myself, with a combination of willful blindness and something that could only be properly described as arrogance, having avoided any serious consideration that God might be a real possibility. Suddenly all my arguments seemed very thin, and I had the sensation that the ice under my feet was cracking.

A Natural and Supernatural Conversion

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My conversion was in two parts: a natural part and a supernatural part. Here is the natural part: first, over a period of two years my hatred toward Christianity eroded due to my philosophical inquiries. Rest assured, I take the logical process of philosophy very seriously, and I am impatient with anyone who is not a rigorous and trained thinker. Reason is the tool men use to determine if their statements about reality are valid: there is no other. Those who do not or cannot reason are little better than slaves, because their lives are controlled by the ideas of other men, ideas they have not examined. To my surprise and alarm, I found that, step by step, logic drove me to conclusions no modern philosophy shared, but only this ancient and (as I saw it then) corrupt and superstitious foolery called the Church. Each time I followed the argument fearlessly where it lead, it kept leading me, one remorseless rational step at a time, to a position the Church had been maintaining for more than a thousand years. That haunted me.

Why I Am a Christian

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In a time when many Christian authors recommend the claims of Christian faith by descriptions of faith encounters and invitations to “dance with the mystery,” Stott, author of many foundational apologetic works, offers a clear and compelling account of the theological basis for his own belief. He begins by explaining the sense of God’s own pursuit of him, providing illustrations from the lives of famous Christians with similar experiences. He continues with a logical examination of the claims and character of Jesus as seen in Scripture. The last section discusses the nature and needs of human beings, explaining how those needs are fully met through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The book concludes with a simple invitation for the reader to respond to the claims of Christ personally, offering a sample prayer. For some readers, the book will seem overly structured, since Stott frequently reviews the logical points of each section. For those accustomed to arguments conducted by way of emotive stories, his reliance on logic may feel a bit dry. But readers of a more analytical temperament will find a compelling discussion of the claims of Christ in a remarkably readable, brief form. It’s the sort of book that Christians who need a more reasoned, thoughtful approach to their faith will read and then pass along to skeptical friends. ~ Publishers Weekly

Dear Harper

Go I hope you'll be interested to know that I — near the start of a new millennium and at the age of 67 — am still able to believe, with no serious effort, that the entire universe was willed into being by an unsurpassed power whom most human beings call God. I believe that God remains conscious of his creation and interested in it. I believe that his interest may be described, intermittently at least, as love.

Reynolds Price on Believing in a Loving God

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I hope you’ll be interested to know that I — near the start of a new millennium and at the age of 67 — am still able to believe, with no serious effort, that the entire universe was willed into being by an unsurpassed power whom most human beings call God. I believe that God remains conscious of his creation and interested in it. I believe that his interest may be described, intermittently at least, as love (and I say “his” with no strong suspicion that he shares qualities with the earthly male gender).

Philosophers Who Believe

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Eleven American, British, and Canadian philosophers contributed to this collection of essays, addressing the theme of their practice of Christianity. Both the Roman Catholic and various Protestant traditions are included here, but the majority of writers are affiliated with or have been influenced by the philosophy staff at Calvin College and Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Alvin Plantinga, Mortimer Adler, and John Rist number among the authors, all of whom write well and many of whom write compellingly. However, an overall lack of clear audience focus — some are writing for scholars, some for the convinced, some as though they were addressing the callowest undergraduates — calls into question the usefulness of the volume as a whole. The best place for this in the library may be where undergraduate students browse for relaxation or inspiration. ~ Library Journal

God and the Philosophers

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Twenty professional philosophers tell how they combine intellectual rigor with religious commitment. Although most of the great philosophers have believed in God, argues Morris , many Americans today reckon that religion and reason are diametrically opposed. With this collection of essays, Morris assembles a cross section of scholars who effectively challenge this assumption. In brief chapters, the philosophers touch on themes such as their upbringing, conversion or religious development, and the ideas and thinkers who have most influenced them (Immanuel Kant, William James, and C.S. Lewis are among the most often mentioned). The general tone, however, is more personal than scholarly. We are treated to insights into the connection between spiritual life and the love of learning, as well as discussions of more obvious philosophical problems such as the nature of objectivity and the rational grounds required for religious assent. Eleanore Stump offers a moving account of how confrontation with the problem of evil can cause us to seek, rather than reject, God. Peter van Inwagen questions the basic assumptions of the Enlightenment, which he believes continue to distort our view of religion. David Shatz speaks of the dual program of Torah and secular studies at New York’s Yeshiva University and of the intense relationship between religion and study in Orthodox Judaism. Morris lets his authors speak for themselves, without attempting to draw together what has been said. Although he provides a broad spectrum of Christian viewpoints, some readers will regret the absence of Islamic and Buddhist perspectives and of any discussion of the classical syntheses of faith and reason, such as that of St. Thomas Aquinas. The honesty and humanity with which these controversial themes are treated make for attractive reading. ~ Kirkus Reviews

A Philosophers Way Back to the Faith

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I must begin by confessing that I am quite unaccustomed to testifying, which is what I have let myself in for by agreeing to write this essay. Abstract reasoning is more my line. Therefore, I must ask you to bear with me if I sound like a fish out of water. If I am to speak of my way back to the faith, I must say something about where I was coming back from. And for this, a little background is needed. I was raised as a Methodist in the South–Shreveport, Louisiana, to be exact. My undoubtedly imperfect recollection of this particular religious ambiance is that it was perfunctory and lacking in warmth of conviction. No doubt, a lot was going on there that was not getting through to me. But when, many years later, I came to learn something about John Wesley and the origins of Methodism, I was surprised to learn that great store was set on personal religious experience. It is a plausible conjecture that the fact that I have spent a large part of the last fifteen years working on the epistemology of religious experience represents a development of seeds that were planted during my childhood as a Methodist in Shreveport. However, as I say, none of this made any strong, conscious impression on me at the time (to the best of my recollection), and on attaining the age of reason (or what I thought of as such in early adolescence) and becoming acquainted with atheistic arguments and attitudes, I readily abandoned ship.

Why I am a Christian

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Philosopher William Alston articulates why he returned to Christianity after discarding his Christian faith not once, but twice. Alston notes that it was not any of the classical arguments for the credibility of Christian faith that beckoned him back, but rather something more intangible: “My coming back was less like seeing that certain premises implied a conclusion than it was like coming to hear some things in music that I hadn’t heard before, or having my eyes opened to the significance of things that are going on around me.” Alston goes on to say that what has kept him faithful ten years on is a real sense that God remains active in his life… that his faith “is working; the promise is being fulfilled”. For what it’s worth, here’s one man’s testimony. ~ Nate

The Intellectuals Speak Out About God

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I read this book some years ago and wish that it had not gone out of print. In essence, it is a series of interviews with great thinkers, both traditional theists and scientists and philosophers whose work and thought have led them to consider a traditional God as a reality. The thesis of the project, and it was borne out by the interviews, is that the leading, cutting edge thinkers in any field are far more likely to consider God seriously than the rank and file who are often still mired in the muck of warmed-over logical positivism and misplaced hyper-rationalism. This book can have a profound effect on your faith and your life. This was an excellent project and needs to be revisited. ~ Kristav Childress at Amazon.com

Thomas Paine on His Beliefs and Disbeliefs

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I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life. I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavouring to make our fellow-creatures happy. But, lest it should be supposed that I believe many other things in addition to these, I shall, in the progress of this work, declare the things I do not believe, and my reasons for not believing them. I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish Church, by the Roman Church, by the Greek Church, by the Turkish Church, by the Protestant Church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church. All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit. I do not mean by this declaration to condemn those who believe otherwise; they have the same right to their belief as I have to mine. But it is necessary to the happiness of man that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe.