Questions on Theism

Long time lurker, but I’ve barely posted any­thing. I’d like to ask Less Wrong for help.

Read­ing var­i­ous ar­ti­cles by the Ra­tion­al­ist Com­mu­nity over the years, here, on Slate Star Codex and a few other web­sites, I have found that nearly all of it makes sense. Won­der­ful sense, in fact, the kind of sense you only re­ally find when the au­thor is ac­tu­ally think­ing through the im­pli­ca­tions of what they’re say­ing, and it’s been a breath of fresh air. I gen­er­ally agree, and when I don’t it’s clear why we’re differ­ing, typ­i­cally due to a dis­pute in pri­ors.

Ex­cept in the­ism/​athe­ism.

In my ex­pe­rience, when athe­ists make their case, they as­sume a uni­verse with­out mir­a­cles, i.e. a uni­verse that looks like one would ex­pect if there was no God. Given this as­sump­tion, athe­ism is ob­vi­ously the ra­tio­nal and cor­rect stance to take. And gen­er­ally, Chris­tian apol­o­gists make the same as­sump­tion! They as­sert mir­a­cles in the Bible, but do not point to any ac­counts of con­tem­po­rary su­per­nat­u­ral ac­tivity. And given such as­sump­tions, the only way one can make a case for Chris­ti­an­ity is with log­i­cal fal­la­cies, which is ex­actly what most apol­o­gists do. The thing is though, there are plenty of con­tem­po­rary mir­a­cle ac­counts.

Near death ex­pe­riences. An­swers to prayer that seem to vi­o­late the laws of physics. I’m com­fortable with dis­miss­ing Chris­tian claims that an event was “more than co­in­ci­dence”, be­cause given how many peo­ple are pray­ing and look­ing for God’s hand in events, and the fact that an unan­swered prayer will gen­er­ally be for­got­ten while a seem­ingly-an­swered one will be re­mem­bered, one would ex­pect to see “more than co­in­ci­dence” in any uni­verse with be­liev­ers, whether or not there was a God. But there are a LOT of peo­ple out there claiming to have seen events that one would ex­pect to never oc­cur in a nat­u­ral­is­tic uni­verse. I even re­call read­ing an athe­ist’s ac­count of his de­con­ver­sion (I be­lieve it was Luke Muehlhauser; apolo­gies if I’m mis­re­mem­ber­ing) in which he states that as a Chris­tian, he wit­nessed heal­ings he could not ex­plain. Now, one could say that these ac­counts are the re­sult of peo­ple ly­ing, but I ex­pect peo­ple to be rather more hon­est than that, and Luke is hardly go­ing to make up ev­i­dence for the Chris­tian God in an ar­ti­cle pro­mot­ing un­be­lief! One could say that “mir­a­cles” are mi­s­un­der­stood nat­u­ral events, but there are plenty of ac­counts that seem pretty un­likely with­out Div­ine in­ter­ven­tion-I’ve even read claims by Chris­ti­ans that they had seen peo­ple raised from the dead by prayer. And so I’d like to know how athe­ists re­spond to the ev­i­dence of mir­a­cles.

This isn’t just idle cu­ri­os­ity. I am cur­rently a Chris­tian (or maybe an ag­nos­tic ter­rified of end­ing up on the wrong side of Pas­cal’s Wager), and when you ac­tu­ally take re­li­gion se­ri­ously, it can be a HUGE drain on qual­ity of life. I find my­self be­ing fright­ened of hell, feel­ing guilty when I do things that don’t hurt any­one but are still con­sid­ered sins, and feel­ing guilty when I try to plan out my life, won­der­ing if I should just put my plans in God’s hands. To make mat­ters worse, I grew up in a dys­func­tional, very Chris­tian fam­ily, and my emo­tions seem to be con­vinced that be­ing a true Chris­tian means act­ing like my par­ents (who were ter­rible role mod­els; em­u­lat­ing them means los­ing at life).

I’m aware of plenty of ar­gu­ments for non-be­lief: Oc­cam’s Ra­zor giv­ing athe­ism as one’s start­ing prior in the ab­sence of strong ev­i­dence for God, the ex­is­tence of many con­tra­dic­tory re­li­gions prov­ing that hu­man­ity tends to gen­er­ate false gods, claims in Ge­n­e­sis that are sim­ply false (Man cre­ated from mud, woman from a rib, etc. have been con­clu­sively de­bunked by sci­ence), com­mands given by God that seem hor­rify­ingly im­moral, no known rea­son why Christ’s death would be needed for hu­man re­demp­tion (many apol­o­gists try to ex­plain this, but their rea­son­ing never makes sense), no known rea­son why if be­lief in Je­sus is so im­por­tant why God wouldn’t make him­self blatantly ob­vi­ous, hell seem­ing like an in­finite in­jus­tice, the Bible claiming that any prayer prayed in faith will be an­swered con­trasted with the real world where this isn’t the case, a study I read about in which pray­ing for the sick didn’t im­prove re­sults at all (and the group that was told they were be­ing prayed for ac­tu­ally had worse re­sults!), etc. All of this, plus the fact that it seems that nearly ev­ery­one who’s put real effort into their episte­mol­ogy doesn’t be­lieve and more­over is very con­fi­dent in their non­be­lief (I am re­minded of Eliezer’s com­ment that he would be less wor­ried about a ma­chine that de­stroys the uni­verse if the Chris­tian God ex­ists than one that has a one in a trillion chance of de­stroy­ing us) makes me won­der if there re­ally isn’t a God, and in so re­al­iz­ing this, I can put down bur­dens that have been hurt­ing for nearly my en­tire life. But the ar­gu­ment from mir­a­cles keeps me in faith, keeps me fright­ened. If there is a good ar­gu­ment against mir­a­cles, learn­ing it could be life chang­ing.

Thank you very much. I do not have words to de­scribe how much this means to me.