In “John W. Loftus and the Ideologue Barometer” I proposed the following test to discern how ideologicallly committed a person is to their beliefs:
Ask yourself this: if I were invited to discuss the three things that most bother me about my belief system, how quickly could I come up with a list and how long could I talk about them? The longer it would take you to compile the list and the shorter the ensuing speech, the more ideologically committed you are to your beliefs.
This isn’t a perfect tool. For example, a theologian may be much more ideologically committed to his or her beliefs than the average layperson, and yet simply in virtue of their specialist knowledge in the field of theology they may be able to speak at much greater length about the problem areas they do identify. This suggests that just as a compass doesn’t work particularly well at the magnetic north pole, so the ideology barometer (or at least the length of time stipulation) doesn’t work well with professional theologians. But even if no tool is perfect, it still is helpful and well worth thinking about.
And my readers did think about it. In the thread that soon emerged dangling from that post like a Christmas vine, thoughtful readers hung problems like so many Christmas ornaments. There were so many intriguing thoughts that I compiled them into two lists below, one for atheists and one for Christian theists (though other theists are welcome to contribute too!). I decided to supplement the Christian / theist list (which was a bit on the light side) with some suggestions of my own.
Incidentally, there is some overlap in some of the entries, and it would be nice to standarize them since they were not presented in any common template. But I didn’t want to start editing the thoughts of others and so instead quoted them verbatim for inclusion in the list.
Things that keep atheists up at night
Nobody to thank for all my “blessings” and nobody to blame for the converse.
Implications of nihilism.
Failure to rebut moral relativism.
Classical theism makes the strongest case for (what I would label) objective morality.
Relationship with God is transformative in the life of a believer in ways that the atheist will never experience. One example is the hope believers have in the face of death.
Our experience is the one thing we cannot deny – I think, therefore I am. Naturalistic explanations of this qualia are inadequate to say the least.
How can a material brain give rise to my subjective sensations?
How can there be binding moral judgments?
Why is there something rather than nothing?
Abiogenesis. Scientists do not know, and to my knowledge there is no widely accepted theory, how that first self-replicating molecule appeared. Evolution is an elegant and well-supported explanation for the complexity and diversity of life, but it starts at a point where life already exists.
The complexity of DNA. While science has clearly shown that complex organisms naturally develop from simpler ones, even the simplest ones are incredibly complex at the cellular level. I’m not aware of any theory that explains this phenomenon satisfactorally.
Infinite regress. My obviously flawed intuitions about time tell me that there cannot have been a first moment, and also that there cannot not have been. So my intuition must be wrong about one or the other of these, or maybe even both. Likewise, it doesn’t seem possible that there was a first event, nor does it seem possible that there wasn’t one.
Things that keep Christian theists up at night
If God exists, why isn’t His existence as obvious as the physical world?
Why is there so much pain and suffering?
Why isn’t there better historical evidence for Jesus and his resurrection?
How can God know the future and there still be free will?
Why are there so many morally questionable things in the Bible about God (Canaanite genocide, etc.)?
Why are there so many contradictory religions to my own?
The existential hiddenness of God
The driving out/slaughter of the Canaanites
The immortality of the soul
The remote possibility that Calvinism might be true.
Footnote: Things that keep Randal up at night
A theory of Atonement. How does the atonement function to reconcile human beings — and the rest of creation — to a holy God?
Biblical violence. How best do we explain the extent and intensity of violence that appears to be sanctified in the Bible?
Resurrection of the unregenerate. If unregenerate human beings are resurrected to destruction then why doesn’t God just snuff them out of existence? Why raise them only to annihilate them? If they are resurrected to eternal torment then how can that be consistent with the infinite justice and mercy of God and the existence of a heaven of maximal bliss where God is finally all in all?
There you go folks, several wonderfully difficult problems to qualify your self-satisfied certainty. Whatever your worldview, there should be more than enough there to keep you up at night.