I’ve been a believer for almost 30 years. During that time, I’ve dealt with various doubts. Another believer has likely had any doubt I have. So, my first strategy in dealing with doubts is to read what has been written by others. Many times their response is a stretch but their argument is conceivable, so I accept it and move on. I began to deal with my most recent doubt (An old earth, for which I feel the evidence is very strong, implies God freely chose to create through suffering, contradicting His scripturally revealed nature) in the same way.
However, seeing the unsatisfying and poor explanations once again, I began to feel that though atheism has a number of things it explains poorly (e.g. early apostolic resurrection testimony and the conversion of Paul), they pale in comparison to the host of things that the Christian faith explains poorly. For example, the creation story vs. observed paleontology and paleogeography. The lack of destruction of freshwater or oceanic creatures due to the sudden salinity change in their environment. The survival of host-specific deadly parasitic fungi. The number of species needed to fit on the ark (all authors I’ve read on this seriously skew the data). The lack of confirmatory records of Joshua’s long day. The many instances where Old Testament prophecies need to be taken grossly out of context to get the New Testament interpretation. The strong resemblance of many Psalms to propaganda intended to strengthen a Davidic dynasty. The big change in the interpretation of the Law from the Old Testament to Paul (Paul said the law was intended to condemn not to be kept. Moses said (Deut 6) that God commanded him to teach them the law so that they would do it.) These are just a few that I list off of the top of my head. I am confident that I could write many more.
Note, I am not saying the Christian faith does not explain the things I listed. I am just saying that the explanations are poor quality. God COULD have caused the waters of different salinity to not mix. All species could have been originally salt-tolerant and God COULD have caused them to lose this tolerance in a few thousand years. God COULD have written His revelation in a way easily subject to misinterpretation. But all of these explanations seem strange, not the way one would expect. The combination of so many tenuous explanations makes me doubt the underlying theory.
I spoke to my wife. She says I think too much and just need to enjoy the Lord more. I spoke to my small group. They just encouraged me to go forward because God will eventually have a more useful vessel after I’ve dealt with my doubt. I spoke to an elder. He recommended that I not deal directly with the issue but rather groan before the Lord and then to confess my sins, offenses, disposition, upbringing, and pride, then to read the Bible, pray for others, and read Watchman Nee’s book, “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
I decided to try the elder’s advice until October. However, I did not find my doubts dealt with. Additionally, in that time, I became more comfortable with the thought of myself as an atheist. I went from feeling ashamed of the possibility of becoming an atheist to seeing it as a result of pursuing the truth. I went from mourning the loss of many of my dreams (preaching the gospel with my sons, training them in the Bible, practicing hospitality along with my wife to shepherd visiting brothers and sisters, having an exemplary Christian home that others can admire and thus be drawn to the faith), to feeling that if Christianity is not true, I don’t want my sons wasting their time. I went from seeking to build an eternal kingdom to thinking that maybe the only part of me that will survive my death is my genes and the culture and knowledge I impart to others younger than myself.
Since the procedure the elder suggested hasn’t helped, after a week of getting the nerve up to do it, I went to the rest of the elders yesterday (the one I had originally spoken with is out of the country) and told them that I would no longer be coming to the church service coordination meeting. I told them that according to my subjective assessment, I was an atheist, but that I would not make a final decision at least until February. I told them that I would use the time I liberated in not coming to the meeting to investigate as thoroughly as I can so I could come to a conclusion more reliable than just my feeling that the evidence for one outweighs the other.
My current (embryonic) thoughts on how to carry out such an investigation are to:
1. Make a list of all the problems I see with Christianity and with atheism.
2. Quantify how important each is to the truth of the beliefs concerned. I’m not sure how I’ll do this. My current though is to use some sort of statistical model, maybe a Bayesian model (with which I am familiar) or maybe an Imprecise Probability model (which I will need to study before using).
3. Assign initial plausibilities and/or confidences to each part of the model that needs it/them. Possibly involving a rudimentary investigation.
4. Do a sensitivity analysis on the individual parts of the model to see which parameters would shift the conclusion the most.
5. Investigate more deeply those areas that could change the conclusions the most.
6. Repeat 4-5 (potentially refining the model as I uncover new details) until I am satisfied with the confidence.
7. Live according to the conclusion, adding new facts as they arise.
Until I come to a more certain conclusion, I have decided to continue living as a Christian with three exceptions. First, I will not preach the gospel – how can I try to convince others when I disbelieve to such an extent. Second, I will put my offering in a special bank account. If I decide for Christianity, it will be used for the Lord’s work. If I do not, it will become savings. Third, I will only pursue minimal church service: nursery duty, hospitality, distributing the announcements. No organizing VBS, making web-sites or traveling for this or that.
I choose to live as a Christian during this questioning time for a few reasons:
1. It is easy to stop, hard to start.
2. I already have been living this way almost my whole life.
3. Christianity has a track-record of being generally good for believers.
The consequences for my life and my family are quite severe if I decide on atheism (even if I decide for Christianity, there are costs, but I’ve already paid most of them). So, I want to make the right decision. On the other hand, I don’t want to sit on the fence for the rest of my life. Even the Lord said to the Laodiceans, “I wish that you were either boiling or cold.”
Today, looking for this site, I ran across the Habermas book, “Dealing with Doubt” and was somewhat encouraged by his chapter on factual doubt. However, I know from previous investigation that the evidentiary issues he touches there are more complex than he presents. I am a bit intimidated by the enormity of the task ahead of me. But I don’t see any other way to go. I can’t just ignore the problem – a wishy-washy life is not for me. Nor do I know of a simple way to quickly analyze everything in a way I will believe after I finish. Nor can I just delegate my responsibility to authority figures because there are brilliant and committed men on both sides of the issue. So the choice will come down to my evaluation of which authority I want to follow. I may as well analyze the issues themselves. Thus, the only way for me is forward: to do the best I can to come to a conclusion I can keep to in the future.