Tuesday, February 06, 2007

What Would Be Your Tipping Point?

Returning to one of the basic concepts of this blog, "rational," "reasonable" humans generally review evidence both before and after making a decision. Even if the decision is taken at an early age and fully due to the influence and authority of respected elders, teens and young adults will almost always need to own their own decision at some point. This need to take ownership is at the root of most "positive" rebellion. (Disrespect being the negative type.)

So it is the contention of this blogger that both sides of this debate come to their positions, at least to some measure, by reviewing the evidence available to them. Then, once having come to a decision about faith in God, they are in a constant battle to hold on to that decision. There may be a natural inclination to indoctrinate oneself by selection of input (friends, reading material, memberships, etc.), and their will be the normal tendency to dismiss materials that don't fit into the belief system. However, both sides will find plenty of information slipping past these filters to challenge basic assumptions. Thus, the weighing of the evidence is a never ending proposition.

If this is true, then evidence matters. The questions then becomes: "What was your tipping point?" and "What might tip you back?" Note that the two questions are not specific to either side of this debate.

For me the tipping point out of the church was hypocrisy. The tipping point back in was realizing that there was plenty of that everywhere I looked, and church folks actually had less of it. The tipping point to agnosticism was 5 points in evolutionary theory. The tipping point back to God was to learn that those 5 points were either fraudulent or found to be not true.

So what was your tipping point? What would it take to tip you back?


Cordin said...

I'm not sure how to write this without being self-indulgent or long-winded. Here goes:

The tipping point 'into' faith was the reading of the New Testament at the age of ten. Throughout my teens I was convinced that a thorough, prayful study of the Bible would prove it's truth. In talking with others (Mennonites, Catholics, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, and Evangelicals), I realized there were good people in all these religions. Everyone seemed to have logical and/or scriptural reasons as to why they believed what they believed. I couldn't accept that any deserved death, let alone hellfire, for not agreeing on doctrines such as the trinity, the soul, resurrection, sin, and death. It became obvious to me that either all of these people were somehow committing sins (thus not allowing the Holy Spirit to guide them), or the understanding of doctrine was not the important point.

That opened my mind to accept anyone as long as they based their beliefs on the Bible. I made it my goal at that point to prove, not specific doctrines, but rather that the Bible, OT & NT, was inspired by God. The best way to test it, I figured, was to show that the Bible had made accurate predictions with inspired prophecy. The more I studied the Old Testemant and its rituals that were 'fullfilled' spiritually in Christ; the more I examined the prophecies of Daniel, Joel, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Revelation, the more I realized that these books were best understood in the context of when they were written. The prophecies continued to be 'stretched' to each generation that interpreted them. I was no longer able to honestly tell others that the Bible was God's word.

Evolution did not come into play until later.

In the end I realized that the simplest answer to all the theological theories and contrivances, was to finally admit that everything I saw fit in with one law based on natural selection / survival of the fittest. I see it everyday, from the fish in my aquarium to human reproduction. It is not what I want to believe and so I have settled on Agnostism with the hope that there will still be justice. Many of my honest answers to others involve the phrase 'I do not know'. I cannot however 'go back' to the Bible knowing what I do know now.

As to a new 'tipping point' I would have to see evidence that all the errors, contradictions, and moral evils were somehow due to the 'tampering' of the original texts by others. If we removed all such spurious scriptures, I believe we would hardly be left with a Bible at all.

Cordin said...


Curious what those 5 points in evolutionary theory were if different from your posted topics. I'm not interested in debating them in this post, but I was hoping for a quick point form list. (What was fraud and/or false in your opinion?) No hurry. Wait til others have had a chance to comment on their 'tipping points.'

bernardo said...

I really don't think there's anything I could observe, any event or "fact", that would tip me back. Like I keep saying, the only reason I would have to believe in God is if I find "Why" questions compelling. And I haven't encountered anything that makes "Why" questions seem important. You can tell me all the arguments from Pascal's wager to ID arguments, from quantum uncertainly and Godel's Incompleteness Theorem to the unexplained mechanisms in the human brain, but those things won't make me care any more about "Why" questions. I'll even admit that, if I witness what seem like miraculous or divine events, I would find it more likely that they were made by technologically advanced aliens than directly by the creator of the universe.

To be perfectly honest, of all the things we have been discussing lately, the only one that triggered in me a desire to ask "Why" (the first time this happened in many years) was in a series of emails I exchanged with Kathy, who comments on Randy's blog. She reminded me that entropy gives the universe a limited lifetime, and that unless there's a "Big Crunch" coming then this one life is the only life that the universe has. (This in turn reminded me of this excellent Asimov short story, totally worth the read). Of course, if we learn more about how the universe works, there might be ways to sweep entropy under the rug or get energy from nothing, but if not, then the universe itself is as mortal as we humans are. That thought made the "God's Plan" point of view very compelling for a few seconds. But then I remembered that this universe is probably one of many, that they probably form and disappear like bubbles over eternity, an effective infinity of them each embodying one set of possibilities of how things could turn out. So the mortality of one universe does not require a God any more than the mortality of one bacterium, dog, or human, any more than the impermanence of a snowflake or the fleeting nature of a rainbow. But once you have the life of the universe in perspective, it does become easier to wonder about what is beyond each edge.

I have had similarly "spiritual" reactions when I first learned about quantum mechanics (the role of the observer in collapsing the probability function... the fact that it is impossible to know what a particle is doing, that it has the ability to do anything, that it does many things at once...) and when I understood Godel's Incompleteness Theorem (even logic is incapable of proving or disproving ideas that come from within a logic system). Exploring the edges of what we can know makes me realize that some "black boxes" might never be opened (although these black boxes are neither "Why"s nor "How"s but "What"s), and this leaves room for God where uncertainty is unbreakable.

So, to be honest, a better awareness of how little we can know about the universe might make me more curious for what's beyond it. If I were to devote more time to exploring these limits, I'd probably be more spiritual, probably be better at "reading between the lines" (since only then do I trust that we have reached the best "resolution" we can on the natural world, that there is no way to explore the underlying phenomena).

Or maybe not. I could spend some time exploring these edges and, after that, still not see the value of "Why" questions or of speculating beyond what we can know. Who knows. I'm just guessing. The only way to know for sure would be to try. And unlike praying, this is something I actually could try without feeling embarassed...

And PS:

Randy Kirk said...


Loved the PS. Wish it was my masthead.

So, you've never believed in God? Do you remember a time when naturalism became your "creed?" Was there a tipping point for that?

If you can't potentially imagine a possibility for changing your pov on a subject, doesn't that create its own question?

bernardo said...

I could spend several hundred words on the development of my views on spirituality. But here's a short-ish version: I was brought up catholic. When I was 8 I started to figure out that at least some parts of the Bible were not literally true - I was certain by the time I was 10. When I was around 14 I started to think that deism is much more elegant than miracle stories - but I still believed in a soul, and in a creator. Through high school I was what you might call a pantheist. But at the end of high school and beginning of college I was exposed to skepticism, and to explanations for why a soul is not necessary to explain the mind and why a creator does not have to necessarily precede the existence of matter. I really enjoyed how clean the naturalistic world view is, without all the mysteries, contradictions, and unexplainable black boxes - none of which are necessary to account for the phenomena we observe. Like most "new" atheists I was at first quite disapproving of religion, and wished more people would realize it's stupid and dangerous. But at that point I was lucky to become very close friends with two Christians who were happy to let me ask them about how they deal with doubt, contradictions, etc. They encouraged me to talk to other religious people... and I slowly came to understand some of how and why an intelligent, reasonable person has faith. So now I am still mostly interested in figuring out what differences cause some people to have a hard time accepting the naturalistic possibility, and other people to have no need for a creator or for the answers to "Why".

"If you can't potentially imagine a possibility for changing your pov on a subject, doesn't that create its own question?"

I suppose. It's just that I can't think of anything that would have "God" as the most likely explanation. But that doesn't bother me. I suppose if God exists, he'd be able to do better than my imagination.

I bet you can't think of anything that would have as its most likely explanation the work of an intelligent winged pink talking alligator who likes blueberry muffins, enjoys playing Nintendo games, and listens to Weird Al Yankovic. Does that bother you? Probably not.

Randy Kirk said...

Your flying teapot example is not your best work. : ) There is no one claiming, nor is there a shred of evidence for the "teapot." There is evidence of God, no matter how you might weigh such.

You and I seem to be on similar tracks. I want to understand and be understood, as you do. So, I'm still looking for your tipping point. Your narrative talks about what you didn't need, but doesn't say what aspects finalized your push into deism and then into anti-theism.

The other side of the question isn't necessarily what would tip you back believing God did it, but what might cause you to think that naturalistic explanations may not explain everything. This, especially in light of the fact that you are intrigued by the idea that smart, even wise, individuals in your group of friends believe naturalism comes up short.

I can think of scientific findings that would cause me to lean back towards naturalistic explanations for life from non-life or macro-evolution.

bernardo said...

Yes, but those findings would not make you stop liking the idea that the universe was deliberately created as part of a plan.

I can't think of anything that would be more convincingly (to me) explained by a miracle than by some naturalistic possibility.

It still seems to me that, if you want to know the "Why" for the universe, you need God. If not, you don't. I have come to not really care about the Why. If you did too, you would probably not find those naturalistic explanations so unsatisfying or so far-fetched. To me, the real question is, what could get me to want to ask "Why"? I can't think of anything, but I suppose it could happen. Until I want to ask "Why", though, I don't see my mind liking the idea of God, finding it worth the trouble. Because imagining that one lives in a world ruled by a mysterious God is quite unsettling. Like I have said, I do prefer to live in a universe not ruled by a whimsical, mysterious, unpredictable, unclear God, especially if (like the God of the Bible) he is jealous, insecure, not all knowing, and not particularly merciful, and expects people to believe in much more than is reasonable.

As for the teapot/alligator, I wanted to express not how unknowable it is (which is the point of the "teapot agnostic" idea), but how unnecessary and complicated and unlikely and unsatisfying it seems to someone who is used to not thinking of it as the cause of the phenomena we see around us.

Duck said...

I was born into the Catholic faith, so there was no tipping in. The tipping out was not a single point, but an accumulation of perceptions over time that the Christian faith was just not what it claimed to be.

Probably the earliest sign of trouble was a struggle I had with something my mother told me about the soulds of children that died without being baptized. They were denied Heaven and had to remain in exile in Limbo. I was 5 or 6 and I could just not accept that an innocent child that could have done nothing to sin against God or against anyone would be treated by God in such a shabby way. The doctrine of Original Sin never sat well with me.

Evolution was a big challenge, but surprisingly it was a bigger blow to my faith when I heard a priest in Cathechism class say that the Church accepted the T of E, and that the Genesis creation story was a fable. I started to sense that there was something rotten under the floorboards. Learning of other misrepresentations of the truth by the Church, as with the trial of Galileo, undermined my faith in the institution of the church and the clergy.

I drifted out of Catholicism in my early 20s but hadn't left Christianity, but there was really no sticking point on which to make a stand, so the slide toward agnosticism progressed slowly but inexorably. A literal interpretation of the Bible is absolutely untenable with the scientific knowledge that we have of the world today, but it is the only interpretation that could makes Christianity a logical faith. The Passion and Resurrection as historical acts are meaningless without the Fall as a discrete, historical event.

The other factor that I will mention is my utter moral revulsion over the central idea of Christianity, that God holds the innocent liable for sins that they did not commit, and that He demanded the blood sacrifice of an innocent in repayment of the sins of the guilty. I cannot square this set of beliefs with any moral philosophy that I can fathom.

What would tip me back? Having Jesus appear to me in a miraculous vision would do the trick. Nothing short of that would.

Randy Kirk said...


Are you sure that having Jesus appear would do the trick. It could be a trick, part of a dilusionary episode, etc.

I think I was asking the tipping point question as a walk back along the path that tipped you the other way. This, as opposed to some "big event." It may be hard to imagine such a series of events with a final tipping point, but I guess that seems to me to a logical way that folks change their mind about things. The evidence starts to chip away at a strongly held belief. At some point the pile of chips is bigger than the original structure, and boom.

Michael Shermer gave such an example at the recent Global Warming Conference I attended. He slowly became a believer in global warming. Now, since it a future event, NO ONE can KNOW if we will get 3 degrees in 50 years or go back down one. But where he was once a skeptic he now believes that we are headed towards global chaos.

Randy Kirk said...

By the way Duck, Baptists believe that all innocents go to heaven. An innocent is defined as a child who has not reached the age of accountability with regard to belief. There is great argument about what that age is. Some say 7, some 13, some other ages. I think it is 17. That seems to be the average age that children determine that they are no longer going to believe something because their parents do.

Duck said...

I can't see walking that path back. It would be like putting the toothpaste back in the tube. My initial belief was based on an assumption of authority on the part of the people who were telling me that Christianity was true. Such an assumption of authority is natural for a child, but not for an experienced adult. I can't look on the Biblical stories afresh with the credulity of a child, that moment has passed.

Another reason that it is unlikely is that I really have no desire to return. There is no emotional pull to the old faith. I'm doing fine without it - better even. Living without faith is not a bleak existence, despite all the propaganda to the contrary.

Randy Kirk said...

Just to be clear, I'm not asking anyone for their tipping points in order to use it for future proseletyzing. Nor would I want my story to be used to convince me to leave my faith. It really is more of what I hope to accomplish here. How do our minds move and change.

For instance, I just suspect that if some major underpinnings of your belief in evolution were found to be totally bogus or even fraudulent, you would be foreced to either rationalize or consider alternatives. Or, if there was a major archeological find that proved some elements of Biblical History that atheists commonly use as a major debate point. Or if you were confronted with a miracle that was really personal and beyond your ability to make any natural sense out of it.

Years ago I tested 100% on five very difficult ESP experiments. How could I walk away without thinking there must be something to it. If there is, then how do we come up with a naturalistic explaination for such phenomenon?

Randy Kirk said...

I put this question up on an atheist site as part of a comment. Didn't get any actually serious answers. A couple suggested a complete regrowth of a severed limb without scientific intervention.

I'm a bit disappointed that those who are otherwise so disposed to think outside the box are finding it so difficult to imagine the event or series of events which might move them.

I suppose the Christians that are visiting here are likewise guilty.

Hey Skipper said...


Having been brought up Episcopalian (a Catholic once removed), a choir boy, then an acolyte, my story is similar to Duck's.

What did it for me was the more thorough Bible study associated with confirmation classes.

The tipping point for me can be encompassed in two words: particular revelation.

No amount of theological jury rigging and hand waving can hide either of the two conclusions that must attend particular revelation.

1. God is real, but so hates humanity that He would, though He could easily do otherwise, reveal his word to a specific locale and the people in it. The consequences would have to be obvious to even the most casual observer of humanity: endless religious savagery. That kind of God is worthy of worship only through the good German defense.

2. It is all a put up job, concocted out of whole cloth, to substantiate the kind of tribalism that humans are so good at.

I favor explanation 2.

Absent God appearing and making His revelation, whatever it is, equally apparent to everybody, there is no tipping in point for me.

If He was to appear and confirm that, say, the Quran was what he really meant, I'd rather rot in hell than kowtow to that kind of monster.

Randy Kirk said...

hey skipper,

Sorry to leave your comment without comment for so long. If god revealed himself in a way that was as unmistakable as the table in front of you, and you were absolutely certain that this god created you, and that you were created for a purpose, and that god had extremely good reasons for all that he had done, but told you that these reasons were beyond your understanding. However, he wanted you to trust him, and he provided you with directions for your life that were reasonable if counterintuitive, would you reject all of that for "hell" because of your limited understanding of past events?

Hey Skipper said...


My understanding of past events may be limited, but with respect to particular revelation, it is correct.

The "reasons beyond your understanding" is religion's get-out-of-jail-free card, and it makes a colossal, and very questionable assumption: that the reason must be inaccessible to human understanding.

That is why I prefer answer 2, and find the notion of a God that would indulge in particular revelation nothing more than tribalism with trumped up divine imprimatur.

But to answer your question directly, I would hope that the free will God gave me would come with the self respect and courage to decline the offer.