Here's what I am dealing with.

I have been on a long road to recovery from faith.  I know, it's a cliche to refer to myself as a recovering Catholic/Christian, but if the shoe fits...

Perhaps not surprisingly, I am still attending a church because I have made some friends there that I care about, my family is Catholic (cafeteria, at best) and my in-laws are devout Christians.  My congregation is fairly young (most are in their early 20s or 30s), and it appears that many have an unflinching adherence to dogma.  One friend of mine said that she was saved at age 4, which I find utterly ridiculous.  Her husband is a young-earth-creationist, and an MD-in-training (the combination of which, in and of itself, is unsettling).  My neighbors across the hall are Campus Crusaders for Christ, which I found out the day my wife and I moved in.  At the time we met them, I was yearning for an authentic connection to faith, so this seemed like a "blessing from above."

As part of this church, my wife and I have, at times reluctantly, attended community groups focused on bible study.

I used to approach these "study groups" with a degree of skepticism that I kept at bay as I learned I was in the minority.  Evolution is often a topic of discussion, but too often the straw man argument rears its ugly head.

A year or two ago, I started reading atheist literature.  Specifically, "The God Delusion," "Climbing Mount Improbable," "The End of Faith," "Letter to a Christian Nation," and several others.

I have spoken to pastors, friends who happen to be Christian, my parents, my father-in-law, and fellow students, and I have come to the conclusion that those with a Christian bias have nothing intellectual to offer in terms of defense of their position other than to resort back to the only document that serves their purpose, the Bible.

I have some burning questions to which I would like to find some answers.

1) With some 2000 years of advances in our understanding of natural phenomena, with the added advantage that findings in one branch of science are routinely corroborated by findings in other branches, how can one argue that the answers to skeptics of Christianity in the Bible are at all similar to skeptics of religion today?  They're not!!!

2) I usually re-read something if it doesn't make sense to me the first time.  As a biologist, this is a necessity.  I may not agree with what I read, but it's not because I have some a priori position, but because I may weigh the findings against what others have said in the field or relevant to the topic at hand.  I never expect to have a revelation of being convinced by something as a function of mystical inspiration when I read secular material.  Why, then, do my theologically inclined friends tell me to read the Bible, e.g., Romans 4:1-25, when I express doubt in faith?  And if it doesn't convince me, read it again until I feel the Holy Spirit within me.  Is the "truth" supposed to magically jump off the page?

3) I understand when people experience hardship (addiction, divorce, death of a loved one, etc.) they need support.  Faith in Jesus is often explained as a factor in people's recovery.  It is perhaps when people are at their most vulnerable that people of faith come to prescribe a course of prayer.  I am not against people getting back on their feet, but praying blindly without a concrete course of action or pulling together resources at your disposal or reaching out to others, is quite a foolish course of action.  Why is prayer still a default setting in this day and age?

Anyhow, some direction would be appreciated, but not back to a book written by illiterate goat-herders eons ago.

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Note to self: Will come back and answer this, Andrew - but am dashing out right now.
(1) You're right, they're not. This also shows the bias I have seen shown by many Christians who express the opinion that non-theists have a personal problem with their God specifically. This isn't true of course; nontheists hold an intellectual position that seriously doubts or refutes the existence of all deities.

(2) In my brief opinion, yes. That is what things like prayer and meditation are used for by people in all religions; reading holy books is a devotional experience as much as it is a rehearsing of material. There is nothing mystical about the experience of course. But to many people it feels mystical and that feeling can be a very important one to them; so important, that they can't imagine how anyone, let alone someone they care about for whatever reason, could live without it.

(3) I think many humans expect there to be one solution per problem. This is probably a learned behavior and we should try to unlearn it. Many problems need more that just one solution; just praying doesn't put you any better position to solve your problems than just taking pills. This is a problem I came across a lot as a neo-pagan, where young men and women who were facing serious problems turned to magic to solve it for them. They were frequently advised to do more than just that but they refused, choosing to let their faith see them through. There never seemed to be an end to their problems; maybe they just need something to talk about?
And I'm back...only to discover Sarah basically has said just about everything I was planning on. Still I'll give it a go.

1) I think you have you're answer, the progress of science in the last 400 years give or take, and you'll know this as a biologist, is to have created a generalisable method for testing for evidence-based reasoning to find some ideas credible. It is the very correlation of differently determined but intersecting lines of evidence that makes science not only spectacular useful but wonderfully brilliant.

I have no end of fun with this going over the age of the earth with Young Earth creationists (I hunt 'em for sport!) but the same is true of biology, the work that went into cracking the molecule of inheritance in cells yielded DNA which just happens to confirm Darwin theory. it's how data correlates that is the real the strength of science.

The sceptic in the bronze age had nothing to compare to this.

2) Because religion is for the credulous. I don't mean to speak ill of your theologically inclined friends but I think you've again accurately diagnosed the problem. When you say you do not read a text like a biology report with a preconceived apriori position on it's truth or falsity, but this is precisely what they do do So inured are they to avoiding critical thinking that they expect others to have similarly lower standards of evidence. Primarily this is because to have faith is to hold and vouchsafe a belief without any evidence (and frequently, fanatically in the teeth of actual contradiction) I imagine like most of us you read the bible and think "eh?" how is that relevant/possible/persuasive?
And of course it isn't but that is precisely what an outlook steeped in faith obscures.

3.) There is some published studies I believe on how having a structure of religious belief can do wonders for lowering the stress hormones, institute a sense of control and predictability, and an offloading of pressure into a comprehensible narrative (The cancer may be back but god never gives a challenge we can't handle.) not to mention a close-knit society of supportive relatives and friends. Being religious can be good for your health.

There is a sting in that tale, when reality bit back and their illusions were shattered the biochemical response of these living in denial was to have all the stress indicators leap through the roof, which makes perfect sense, it's one thing to live in hope it's another to falsely believe one has hope only for it to be snatched away at the last possible moment.

Why people turn to prayer is not becuase they think "jinkies, my glucocorticoid levels are quiet high, I must engage in some meaningful social reinforcement immediately, it's all unconscious and heavily influenced by upbringing and culture. It is no accident therefore that they feel at ease and comforted by the familiarity of ritual and the comfort of friends who encourage them to pray which is meditative, triggering a lowering of blood pressure and a release of endorphins and other hormones when people touch them through kindness and share that emotional burden and so on. It's not really a mystery why people pray to make themselves feel better. Being prayed for however does bumpkiss. There's a very amusing study in the journal of cardiovascular medicine about a double blind study of the efficacy of intercessory prayer on recovering bypass patients. The ones who did worst of all were the ones who were prayed for and were told that people were praying for them.

The paper noted with a certain black humour, this may have been becuase the recovering person having been told they were being prayed for, might have assumed the dr's were 'simply "being nice" that their condition was actually a lot worse than anyone was letting on, that their recovery was going worse than it actually was, all of which robs control and instead institutes anxiety inciting symptoms of stress, which did in fact slow healing.

I don't think there is anything wrong in principle with telling someone you are keeping them in your thoughts at a time of difficulty, provided the other person is charmed by it. That's kind, even praying for them if that's your deal can be kind (provided you don't tell them you're doing it thereby potentially exacerbating matters!) just don't expect it to work.
Sorry, didn't mean to steal your thunder, but you said it so much better than I did. :)

I hadn't considered the role of standards of acceptable evidence in looking for mystical truths in religious texts. This is an idea I come back to time and again, but in other ways; does an acceptance of a logical fallacy in one area necessarily lead to acceptance of the same fallacy in other areas? Are were ever fully logically consistent? It's not keeping me up at night, but I do wonder about it.




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