Friday, November 9, 2007

Book Review: A Secret of the Universe

A Secret of the Universe by Stephen Gibson
A Secret of the Universe is one of the most unique books I have ever read. While the basic plot is solid, the documentation of research sources is impeccable, the joy is from walking with the characters as they discover the secrets for themselves.

The story revolves around two friends, Ian and Bill. When the book begins they share similar beliefs about life, religion and their place in the world. As the next 20 years pass, their philosophical paths will diverge in very different directions. Bill to follow the traditional road of Evangelical Christianity, Ian will take a skeptical path, which eventually leads him to a place where he doubts and attempts to prove the physical existence of Christ. Although not always easy, the two are able to maintain their friendship through it all. What a lesson for us all to learn.

As time goes on, they each experience tragedy which molds them in to maturity. As these personal losses envelop them, they find that these philosophical questions are to just academic.

Much of this book is a rehashing of Gibson’s book on critical thinking, “Truth Driven Thinking.” Although much of the information is the same, it is saved by the difference in the presentation. “Truth Driven Thinking,” presents the subject in a clear 3rd person presentation. A Secret of the Universe, presents critical thinking through a 1st person perspective, as we follow the characters walking a labyrinth of philosophy. The fiction work emphasizes the points made in the non-fiction and I would recommend reading both to get to full impact.

The most unique part of this book is the respect Gibson pays to the differing beliefs. Normally when an author tries to illustrate his views through a work of fiction, he creates weak and foolish (straw man) characters who have beliefs different from the author. An example of this would be Frank Peretti’s series of Christian fiction. Gibson take great care to show how reasonable, smart and critical people can come to different beliefs.

This book is a model of how people can follow the example of Ian and Bill as they let love and compassion supersede their religious differences.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

My de-conversion testimony

My de-conversion testimony

Since I started this blog, I have received much great feedback which I appreciated. Several people who knew me in my former life of evangelical Christianity were understandably shocked to read that I now counted myself as an atheist.

In the last few years I have entertained questions regarding my Christian faith quietly. I shared this with very few people. I thought the as Thomas Moore described, this was the “dark night of the soul.” I figured that this would pass and all would be back normal in time.

Almost by accident, I discovered the Skeptic movement. Like more boys and men who think they are still boys, I have an interested in Bigfoot, UFOs and other paranormal phenomena. I found the skeptical point of view to match my point of view on such matters. For purposes of clarification, I see skepticism as a middle ground between cynicism and unquestioning belief. In my view of skepticism, no theory is dismissed out of hand but those presenting the theory have the burden of presenting compelling evidence.

I has having a difficult time looking at the essential parts of the Christian faith, summarized in the Nicene Creed and finding anything credible. I held it up to scrutiny the way I would look information regarding any paranormal claim. I found it was harder to believe in the Christian fundamentals than ET prowling through trailer parks.

I pulled out my old apologetics books. What I once saw as air tight explanations, suddenly I saw were truly nothing but one logical fallacy after another. Circular reasoning, straw men and special pleading were the essential foundations of nearly every argument in Josh McDowells “A Ready Defense” and other lesser known apologetic sources.

I began seeing the great wisdom of Descartes, doubting everything then rebuilding his world view from scratch. This led him to state, “I think, therefore I am.” In a sense, I took everything I thought I knew or believed and threw it in the air and let everything fall where it may. The first thing that I found to be true is from Dr Michael Shermer’s rephrasing of Descartes, “I am, therefore, I think.”

I found myself in a considerable depression at this point. My foundation was gone and there was no going back with any honesty. My identity as a Christian was shot. When combined with all the existential questions I now faced, I was in a very dark place. I started to search for something to fill that gap. After much searching, pondering, reading and soul searching I think I found it. Truth.

I have learned that it is not the answers we come to that define who we are. It is the questions that we ask and the process we use to address the questions that is of the prime importance. I believe that this is the path to Truth.

I found Stephen Gibson’s book and podcast “Truth Driven Thinking.” He seemed to be a little further along the same path I found myself wandering. He wrote a pledge for truth which states so clearly all the things I have been thinking.

When I look at what I believe to be true, I recognize all I really have are opinions in various stages of development. Many variables such as age, additional information, education or exposure to other viewpoints could change what I believe in the long run. In the meantime, I can passionately argue on behalf of what I believe. Doing so is my democratic right – perhaps even duty. But none of my beliefs will own me or hold me hostage. I will forever be willing to entertain challenges to what I know, and ultimately even be willing to give up any belief if I do so in the interest of truth, when faced with credible and valid evidence. If I don’t stand for and honor truth above all, I know that the hard wiring of my being prioritizes survival, self-preservation and the path of least resistance. And when ego, self-interest or self-affirmation is allowed to take over, my own worth is less than it could potentially be if I pursue truth. Caving to that kind of “dark side” is not who I am or what I want to stand for. Pursuit of TRUTH is light. I want to be a “net giver” to the world, not a “net taker,” and to do so I simply have to prioritize truth ahead of all else, with the sober knowledge that I’ll never in this life even know for sure whether or not I’ve found it.

- Stephen L. Gibson

OK, back to why I state that I am an Atheist. It is simply that at this point in my life, with all the available knowledge, I do not find credible evidence for the existence of any gods. Therefore, I am a non-theist or an atheist.

In this short statement, I have only been able to touch a fraction of the pieces that came together to make me re-evaluate this change in my life. I am more that willing to discuss, not argue or debate, these issues with anyone who is willing to talk respectfully. I put this limitation up because if you are reading this, you are most likely someone I love dearly and I choose not to place our differences of faith between us.

I will sign off with these thoughts which may give some additional insight to what is in my heart.

If there is a god, my search for the Truth will lead me there.
If there is a god, he will not be intimidated but will rejoice in honest inquiry.
If there is a god who is to intimidated by an honest search for Truth, he is not much of a god.