The cordial
atheist (street epistemology).

 

(Originally sent between church members and the pastor on the 1  st   of December 2017).

 

Hello pastor, it's Ty. I often write; essays, articles, or simple conversations I'll have with others online. So last night I watched a video uploaded by an atheist on the subject of epistemology (the subject of how we know the things that we know). The couple were an atheist named Reed and a young Christian girl named Svetlana. Svetlana wasn't really equipped to explain her faith, so their conversation goes by with an awful lot of unanswered questions. Would you mind if I held a session going through issues like this?

 

I decided to play along with the conversation and answer as they went, pausing the exchange so that the questions didn't get lost in the speed of the exchange. The video goes on for about 45 minutes, and with me answering the questions and writing points down it took about two hours to complete everything. It's like a quiz, a game. So I wanted to share the video and the questions Reed asked with you.

 

If you have some free time, try and play along yourself. I've written my answers on the bottom, although I didn't stop the video to research or look up answers as they went along, rather I wanted my answers to be totally natural. It helps reveal a lot about what believers know. So yeah, give it a try, watch along with the video and stop at the points I've noted down below. If you find it's interesting or fun maybe I could try something similar with the congregation. I left the questions and when they occur in bold, although watching along helps and should be done if you're interested.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KMseUREw0t0


If the link isn't working simply write into YouTube “It's Not Nice to Test God –Svetlana | Street Epistemology.”


Q@ 1:30 “What's your confidence level in God's existence from 1% to 100%?”


Q@ 2:10 “What are the best reasons for your belief?”


Q@ 3:30 “Is this belief true regardless of whether others believe it or not?”


Q@ 5:25 “Is it possible to have a changed life by something that's not true?”


Q@ 6:45 “When Christians have their lives changed, it's more special than when others say their lives have been changed?”


Q@ 7:45 “Is this reliable when other religious people experience this too?”


Q@ 9:10 “Have people stood up for a belief that's untrue?”


Q@ 9:30 “Is there any way to tell who's more accurate in their beliefs?”


Q@ 10:00 “You're currently 100% confident that your beliefs are true?”


Q@ 11:35 “We don't test the proof?”


Q@ 12:11 “Is there anyway to tell if this is true?”


Q@ 12:50 “Is there anything you could learn that would lower your confidence?”


Q@ 13:30 “Does it matter to you if it's true?”


Q@ 14:20 “Are these experiences sufficient to have a belief LIKE THIS?”


Q@ 14:35 “Does the experience make it true?”


Q@ 14:50 “If you found personal experience to be an insufficient reason for believing in these things, where would your confidence be?”


Q@ 15:50 “Do we need to be able to disprove something to disbelieve in it?”


Q@ 16:30 “Should we believe in people who say they're walking their invisible dragon?”


Q@ 17:20 “It's an incorporeal dragon.”


Q@ 19:50 “If the Bible mentioned dragons, would we believe that too?”


Q@ 20:15 “Is everything the Bible says true?”


Q@ 20:30 “If you found the Bible to be an insufficient reason for believing in these things, where would your confidence be?”


Q@ 21:5 “Is it up to the person not believing to prove / disprove something?”


Q@ 21:20 “Is it up to us to disprove the dragon?”Q


Q@ 23:50 “If someone from another religion comes up and tells us to just have faith in their god, is that a sufficient reason to have faith?”


Q@ 24:40 “How does the ugliness of a belief relate to the truth of it?”


Q@ 25:45 “If you found personal experience, miracles, healing and the evidence from the Bible weren't sufficient for your beliefs, where would your confidence be?”


Q@ 26:00 “What's the best example of prophecy?”


Q@ 26:10 “What makes a good prophecy?”


Q@ 26:35 “Is the Bible reliable because it makes general predictions like that?”


Q@ 26:50 “Would more specific prophesies make the Bible more credible?”


Q@ 27:30 “What's an example of prophesy that's not credible?”


Q@ 28:30 “So for you it's all about faith?”


Q@ 28:50 “How much of the 100% is made up of faith?”


Q@ 28:50 “If all of the proof were insufficient, you'd still be at 100% because of faith?”


Q@ 29:35 “What's the faith for if you have proof?”


Q@ 30:00 “Can you know God's kept His promises without faith, or do you need proof?”


Q@ 30:30 “If someone from another religion said that their faith is enough for them, would they have good enough reason to believe?”


Q@ 34:35 “Have you observed a healing?”


Q@ 35:00 “Could others attribute healing to their god?”


Q@ 38:50 “If you pray to a tic tac box would things be any different?”


Q@ 39: 20 “If we can pray to anything and have similar experiences, how do we know what we're praying to is real?”


Q@ 43:20 “Is there any way to test the effects of voodoo on Christians and non-Christians?”


Q@ 44:30 “Can you make tarot cards work with Jesus' name?”


Q@ 46:00 “Is there any way to prove that God doesn't exist?”


Q@ 47:00 “If we can't disprove an invisible dragon, should we believe it to be true?”


God bless, pastor. Try and ignore my ramblings until you've given the quiz a try yourself.

====================================================

Ready, Quiz!

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Q@ 1:30 “What's your confidence level?”

 

Mine is 100%, maximum confidence my friend.
 

Q@ 2:10 “What's the number one reason for your belief?”
 

The immediate experience of God. I believe that experiencing the presence of a separate person is sufficient reason for me to believe a separate person exists. Svetlana gives other reasons, so I'll add some extras too.

 

Applying the historic method to the earliest sources surrounding the life of Jesus and His resurrection leads me into believing the events really happened. I believe the historic method is sufficient to establish beyond reasonable doubt whether or not something happened in history past.

 

And lastly I'll say the moral experience leads me into believing in an absolute ground of that moral dimension. I believe having an experience in which I attach certain moral dimensions to people and actions is sufficient for believing that there are objective moral values, and logically I believe the source of that objectivity is grounded in God.

 

Q@ 3:30 “Is this belief true regardless of whether others believe it or not?”


Yes. Doesn't matter if people believe or not. That's the only definition of the word truth that makes any sense. “Living your truth” and things like that are modern inventions.

 

Q@ 5:25 “Is it possible to have a changed life by something that's not true?”

 

That's possible. Still, if Christianity's true, then none of those other changes caused by different beliefs have as their source God's Spirit. The Christian is regenerated by the Spirit of God to do good works and to continue in the faith, which would be entirely different from someone who, being empowered by their new beliefs, flings paint on a starlet for wearing fur or somebody who's changed from being an addict into joining the teetotal Mormons.

 

So, yeah, there are Glen Becks out there, but his change and the change in the Christian, if Christianity's true, are of two different varieties of a thing. Meditation, self-help and medication are entirely different from being born again.
 

Q@ 6:45 “When Christians have their lives changed it's more special?”


Of course, one life has been made spiritually alive by God (totally different from anything else).


Q@ 7:45 “Is this reliable when other religious people experience it too?”


I don't know any other religion where their believers say they're indwelt by the Spirit of God's son. So yes it's reliable, others aren't experiencing whatever the Christian's experiencing. Insisting that a Muslim (for example) has been experiencing what I'm experiencing really isn't within the realms of Reed's epistemological purview, because he'd be having to have the experience of both myself and the Muslim believer to do some kind of compare and contrast.
 

Q@ 9:10 “Have people stood up for a belief that's untrue?”
 

Certainly, people have died for atheistic political beliefs. Those beliefs were very false.


Q@ 9:30 “Is there any way to tell who's more accurate in their beliefs?”


If we're discussing epistemology that's not relevant. Epistemology's about knowing not showing, although if you'd like to have some evidence for the sakes of showing, then historic criteria and modern cosmology eliminate many different faith viewpoints.

 

So yes, there are many ways by which people can help themselves choose one religion over another. Christianity is a religion rooted in history, no others are.


Q@ 10:00 “You're currently 100% confident that it's true?”
 

If I could be more than 100% confident right now, I'd be more than 100% confident. Also Svetlana's personal experience is fantastic reason to believe.


@ 11:35 “We don't test the proof?”


Svetlana said don't test God, that's similar to the scripture which teaches “don't put the Lord your God to the test.” (Luke 4:12). In this chapter Jesus, who's God, is being tempted / tested by Satan, Christ rebukes Satan by scripture. Why you've changed the words “don't test God” into “don't test proof” doesn't make sense.

 

Why you'd scramble those words into something else isn't very fair. Now Svetlana's going to have to make herself clearer and become frustrated because you've chosen to be dishonest like that.
 

@ 12:11 “Is there anyway to tell if this is true?”


Presence of God. Historic criteria. Moral experience. In terms of knowledge numbers one and three are sufficient without further evidence. However if you're conflating knowing with showing again, you already know how applying the historic method to the earliest source material around Jesus' life and ministry is more than sufficient (intellectually sufficient) for people who refuse to humble themselves before God in prayer.


Q@ 12:50 “Is there anything you could learn that would lower your confidence?”


Of course.


Q@ 13:30 “Does it matter to you if it's true?”


To me it matters if it's true.


Q@ 14:20 “Are these experiences sufficient to have a belief LIKE THIS?”


“like this” (with emphasis). The presence of another person is sufficient for believing in another person. The historic method's sufficient for believing in the truth of an event in history. The appearance of a beautiful woman (for example) is sufficient for me to believe in the reality of beauty.

 

If people don't believe in morals or beauty while they experience the reality of morals and beauty, that's not something I can make right on their behalf.

 

Q@ 14:35 “Does the experience make it true?”


No, although it's perfectly reasonable to be persuaded by an experience.


Q@ 14:50 “If you found personal experience to be an insufficient reason for believing in these things, where would your confidence be?”


I'd have high confidence nevertheless. History, cosmology, genetics, they're perfectly fine evidences for an omnipotent creator of the universe. Me having an issue regarding personal experience wouldn't bother other areas of my life in which the case for Christ shines brightly.

 

Q@ 15:50 “Do we need to be able to disprove something to disbelieve in it?”

 

You could just ground yourself in agnosticism, rather than disbelief and atheism. Me having no particular beliefs about whether or not giant ship gobbling squids exist isn't the same as my very firm belief that the cartoon mice in the kid's TV show Rescue Rangers are fiction.

 

Anyhow, to be blunt, no, no you don't have to disprove anything in order to disbelieve, that's entirely your choice. No atheists can disprove God, yet they're denying Him bold as brass.

 

@ 16:30 “Should we believe in people who say they're walking their invisible dragon?”
 

No because invisible dragons aren't untouchable dragons, they're not soundless and without odour, so if they're not open to any of our other senses, and the people walking said dragon can't produce any greater reason to believe in the supposed beast, I'd simply disbelieve.

 

Again you and I ought to be discussing on what grounds do our hypothetical couple believe they're out walking their pet dragon, because their grounds for belief would certainly be different from the grounds upon which I have set up my own beliefs.

 

@ 17:20 “It's an incorporeal dragon.”


That's ad hoc, I'd have to ask them if they're absolutely sure we're discussing a dragon. Because so far as I'm aware dragons are massive, visible, material, scaly and they're able to breath fire. If they're just playing with words they could be honest and say.

 

@ 18:20 “What's the difference between the dragon and God?”

 

God's revealed Himself in history, creation and conscience. The invisible immaterial dragon who's not an actual dragon didn't do anything, although if anyone would like to be factious and insist the dragon has, they're welcome to.
 

@ 19:15 “Do we have sufficient reason to believe that the resurrection of Jesus is true?”


If you're open to the minimal facts as established by the historic method then yes. There's more reason to believe in the post burial resurrection appearances of Jesus to friends, enemies and the undecided than to believe in an entirely naturalistic explantation of the facts.

 

Although if you're wedded to atheistic naturalism, you're going to have to mount an attack on history, because “history” is “His story”, as one writer explained.

 

@ 19:50 “If the Bible mentioned dragons, would we believe that too?”


I'd find no more reason to deny the reality of one animal I can't see than to deny the reality of the Dodo bird or the Tyrannosaurus Rex. Although that's not necessarily an issue we can prove historically, you'd have to give me some context into the supposed dragon material.

 

@ 20:15 “Is everything the Bible says true?”
 

Of course. Although you have to understand the material in context and as the original authors have intended, for example, when Jewish authors wrote idioms, they're “true” in that the thing they're representing is accurate in the metaphorical / idiomatic description.

 

If I text messaged a friend to explain how “I'm hopping mad” that's “true” in the sense that it's an appropriate way in which to describe the anger I've been feeling (not because I'm actually hopping).


@ 20:30 “If you found the Bible to be an insufficient reason for believing in these things, where would your confidence be?”
 

(Again) I'd have high confidence. Something being “insufficient” doesn't translate into disbelief or even low confidence, not to mention how our hypothetical Bible being insufficient would have no impact upon an immediate experience of God, the witness of the Holy Spirit, moral experience or even something simple like inference to design due to the creative hand visible in nature.

 

My confidence in God would be undisturbed, whilst my confidence in Christ as God isn't grounded in the Bible's stand-alone “sufficiency”, albeit sufficient, rather I've grounded much of my point today in the historic method properly applied to the Bible.

 

It's the sufficiency of the historic criteria which explains beyond any reasonable doubt why people ought to be convinced of Christ's claims.


@ 21:5 “Is it up to the person not believing to prove something?”


Doubters and believers would have a shared burden of proof when making claims, especially when those people are clearly atheists who've made the claim to knowledge. Atheists aren't impartial observers who've made no knowledge claims.

 

@ 21:20 “Is it up to us to disprove the dragon?”


Only if you want to insist that the dragon isn't there, then it's part of your responsibility to show this. See if I were an atheist I'd never set up a booth to disprove the evidential foundation behind some poor couples' belief in dragons, and if someone tried to I'd consider them exceedingly touchy.
 

@ 23:50 “If someone from another religion comes up and tells us to just have faith in their god, is that a sufficient reason to have faith?”


No because you're not simply being told something in the Christian faith. Faith's “properly grounded trust” in the Christian world-view, meaning to rest faith in anything else isn't to properly ground your faith, rather it's highly improper, and only becomes more improper when you're introduced to Christ in plain. Religious relativism isn't reasonable.


@ 24:40 “How does the ugliness of a belief relate to the truth of it?”


Morally ugly beliefs (AKA immoral beliefs) don't come from a morally perfect God.
 

@ 25:45 “If you found personal experience, miracles, healing and the evidence from the Bible weren't sufficient for your beliefs, where would your confidence be?”


It's almost as if you're wanting to progress towards asking “if you disbelieved in everything you currently believe in, where would your confidence be?” If in my mind I doubted my experience of God (AKA whether experiencing the presence of another person meant another person existed), then my confidence be it high or low would be based upon confused and faulty reasoning. I'd have already disavowed the foundation upon which honest views are formed.

 

@ 26:00 “What's the best example of prophecy?”


Isaiah 53, although taking on our entire case from the New and Old Testament the odds of anybody fulfilling the prophesies of Christ are something like one in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 to the hundredth power. The odds of anybody satisfying the prophesies are incredible, in addition to many of these points being detailed without fabrication from later authors.


@ 26:10 “What makes a good prophecy?”


Depends on how you're using “good.”


@ 26:35 “Is the Bible reliable because it makes general predictions like that?”


The Bible makes highly specific pronouncements, not predictions.


@ 26:50 “Would more specific prophesies make the Bible more credible?”


Of course. People could always be more exhaustive, more specific.


@ 27:30 “What's an example of prophesy that's not credible?”


False prophecy.


@ 28:30 “So for you it's all about faith?”


For Svetlana, if they've had an experience with the risen Christ, that's not blind faith, and I'm fairly confident the only definition being used during the conversation would be the caricature “blind faith” straw man.

 

After insisting on the prophesy point it's obvious how Svetlana grounds her beliefs in more than simply “blind faith.” Leading her into saying otherwise isn't charitable nor honest.


@ 28:50 “How much of the 100% is made up of faith?”
 

Yeah, blind faith is how you're using the word. That question makes no sense. Faith isn't something people yank into an issue to get themselves onto 100% belief because evidence alone won't get the job done, that's an inaccurate & non-Christian caricature of how the church has believed & used the terms for over a thousand years. So let's not assume atheistic vocabulary upon the Christian's behalf.

 

@ 28:50 “If all of the proof were insufficient, you'd still have 100% because of faith?”


Faith's the confidence with which you hold to something after having 100% rational warrant to believe. So again your questions are assuming the kind of vocabulary you're already comfortable with as an atheist, after which you impose these things upon young Svetlana. As you've been doing for awhile now. You don't allow the girl her own vocabulary.

 

@ 29:35 “What's the faith for if you have proof?”


As an example, you could have every good reason to believe in your wife's faithfulness to you. You could have everything in terms of evidence, does this mean you've got faith your wife isn't cheating with your best buddy behind your back? Not necessarily.

 

You could be uncontrollably insecure, jealous and short-tempered. Blessed with every good reason to have faith yet choosing to opt for none of the God given faith He's so gracious as to gift you.

 

“Belief in Vs. belief that.” Even the demons “believe that” God exists, they won't “believe in” Him however. It's standard Christian theology.


@ 30:00 “Can you know God's kept His promises without faith, or do you need proof?”


The assurance of the Holy Spirit actually fits the definition of knowledge (so He's offering pure proof). The Holy Spirit having indwelt an individual ensures faith in addition to being an actual proof of God having kept His promises.

 

@ 30:30 “If someone from another religion said that their faith is enough for them, would they have good enough reason to believe?”


No because we're discussing totally different definitions of faith, not to mention distinct epistemological events. Svetlana said she's grown “in Jesus”, nobody grows “in Muhammad”, nobody's “in Krishna”, Hindus may say Krishna is in all things, but nobody is in Krishna.

 

So how someone from another religion could say they're “in” their holy man makes no sense. Again, religious relativism doesn't function as an answer to these problems.

 

@ 34:35 “Have you observed a healing?”


Yes, in the life of both family and friends. Not in my own life, what's more that's not a regular part of the make-up of my church. People of my church attest to having been healed. Thank God my views are grounded in more things, not simply in things I haven't experienced in my own body.
 

@ 35:00 “Could others attribute healing to their god?”
 

They could even attribute Christian healing to their god. Everybody's free to attempt attributing anything to anybody.


@ 38:50 “If you pray to a tic tac box would things be any difference?”


Comparing God to a box of mints? Wasn't the name of your channel “Cordial” curiosity? Even if you only believed in the kind of placebo effects of prayer you'd have to admit that if I were to pray to an object, an object and not the Creator, my lack of belief in the object would cause for the effect of the prayer to be thoroughly ruined. Although I'd never pray to any boxes.

 

@ 39:20 “If we can pray to anything and have similar experiences, how do we know what we're praying to is real?”


We're not having similar experiences. Furthermore, being born of the Spirit isn't to be confused with having said your prayers before bedtime, they're entirely different events, I've experienced both.

 

@ 43:20 “Is there any way to test the effects of voodoo on Christians and non-Christians?”


Occultism is the idea you can manipulate the other world of spiritual things for your own benefit, and that's an untrue belief. Without making any pronouncements on anyone's findings, I sincerely doubt God's going to be manipulated into behaving in some very specific way because of your experiment.


@ 44:30 “Can you make tarot cards work with Jesus' name?”


Svetlana: “No.”


Reed: “No?”


Svetlana: “No.”


Reed: “No.”


Me: No.


@ 46:00 “Is there any way to prove that God doesn't exist?”


That depends entirely on the god we're discussing. Gods in the Greek world who used to function as mechanisms for certain natural phenomenon (e.g. gods who're supposed to be the cause of lightning) can be totally disproved by us finding the actual mechanisms behind the supposed gods' actions.

 

As our knowledge of the event grows the space in which the supposed god was acting is decreased, growing smaller and smaller until it's not longer reasonable to believe in them. If someone says thunder is the gods bowling in heaven, and we're able to show they're not doing that, writing mechanically now, then they're disproved.

 

You could “disprove” my God in the eyes of the historian by the historic method, for example. However history's on my side.


@ 47:00 “If we can't disprove an invisible dragon, should we believe it to be true?”


If someone's had an experience which causes sufficient reason for belief in dragons to arise, then their choosing disbelief would be intellectually dishonest. It's especially dishonest when someone's expected to choose disbelief based upon Reed's continued confusion between knowing something to be right and showing something to be right, their refusal to be convinced in no way impacts my life of experiences. Remember we're discussing epistemology.

― Ty