Proofs, Pastafarians & personal testimony

I have been reading the Catechism of the Catholic church, in an attempt to better understand what it is that Protestants are supposed to be so opposed to. While there are things that I really disagree with, they aren’t really that surprising to me, it’s the things I agree with that are surprising. I found this little piece early on and have been meaning to comment on it:

35 Man’s faculties make him capable of coming to a knowledge of the existence of a personal God. But for man to be able to enter into real intimacy with him, God willed both to reveal himself to man and to give him the grace of being able to welcome this revelation in faith. The proofs of God’s existence, however, can predispose one to faith and help one to see that faith is not opposed to reason.

This is surprising, not because I agree, but because it goes against what many of the protestant evangelicals I speak to often tell me, but more on that later. While I do agree that people’s capacity for reason should logically lead to the acceptance that some kind of deity does exist, I do wonder how far past deism reason alone could take one. It may even be possible to accept some kind of moral argument for the existence of a god would lead one to believe that this deity has a personal interest in people. I find moral arguments somewhat uncompelling by them selves, but if one has accepted that a deity is possible by some other means, perhaps some kind of moral argument is reasonable to get “a personal God” (I found the use of the proper noun here a bit strange, since it refers to a non-specific deity).

The big problem, I feel, is making the leap from the personal deity, to the Judeo-Christian God, (if you can’t see the problem, give the Old Testament a read sometime). It may not be unreasonable for critics to wonder about the vengeful God of Israel, but that is an issue for another day. I’m really more interested in the evangelical response to the problem of God’s existence, since I agree with the Catholic Church here, that apologetics can be useful (although perhaps some of theirs are a bit dated).

The evangelical solution is personal testimony (what God has done for me/in my life), which is pretty one dimensional and, let’s face it, unreliable. I have been told (more than once) that it’s pointless trying to reason with people about God, because it’s not about reason, it’s about faith. While I admire that level of faith these people have (it far surpasses my own), I have to wonder if it would really be any different from faith in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Perhaps that assessment is unfair, so I’ll examine two problems with testimony briefly and objectively.

All religions have records of religious experience, how can a Christian claim their testimonies are superior? This is a pretty obvious problem, why should the testimony of an ex-evangelical Christian moving to Islam be any weaker than the testimony of an atheist to Christian convert?

Testimonies are cherry picked. Consider this from Frank Viola’s There is no proof of God’s existence:

Get clear on this: God will let you down. He won’t meet all your expectations. He will allow things that will cause you to conclude that He is unfaithful and doesn’t keep His promises. If you haven’t met this side of God yet, you will. And at that moment, you will discover if you are serving Santa Claus or if you’re serving the God who is.

Read the whole post, it is interesting. The point here is when did you last here a testimony saying, “I became a Christian, my wife has died; my children don’t talk to me anymore, & I’ve been diagnosed with terminal cancer. On top of all this, I lost my job last week, and crashed on the way home, writing my car off.” Testimonies tend to create high expectations, which results in people being let down, and having no rational reasons to believe, therefore they will likely leave the church. Reason and testimony go hand in hand, we are emotional and intellectual beings & neither of those should suffer for a blind faith.

One more note that surprised me, it may be reasonable to accept a personal god, but the use of the word “proofs” in the catechism (go back and check if you like) I found odd, check out the Frank Viola post above for reasons why.

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