Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Why I’m a Christian 1: God vs. no God

http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-19272-Seattle-Faith--Agnosticism-Examiner~y2009m10d6-Why-Im-a-Christian-1-God-vs-no-God


I remain a Christian simply because I haven't found more compelling (to me) truth-claims that answer specific questions that I have. Materialism simply avoids these questions or says they are nonsense. (Possible) Other religions have some interesting ideas, and I think ultimately the Answers we seek are simply over our collective heads anyway. I have the feeling that all religions are merely symbols for things that we 4-dimensional beings can't comprehend. Maybe some symbols are closer than others. But since religion deals with that which is by definition transcendent, our comprehension will necessarily be imperfect. So I'm ok with not having crystal clear Truth in a religion simply because religion deals with things that science can't touch. Origin, meaning or purpose, are not things that science can speak to. Religion is the human endeavor to do so, even though it's far from perfect.



You can take that assertion to mean, “All religions are nonsense.” Or “All religions are equally right, or equally wrong.” Or “Some are closer to Truth than others.” Or “Some are closer on some issues and further away from Truth on other issues.” Or “One religion is all-True and every other religion is all false.” I’m going through the pains of laying this all out so no one assumes my assertion is endorsing any one of those statements. The idea that our religious symbols point to a reality that we can’t truly apprehend is, I think, something most serious religious people would agree with if pressed. The point I’m trying to establish is that religion is an inexact science. (Or “field of inquiry” if that makes you more comfortable.) And it MUST be inexact, for two reasons. First, as stated, if answers to God and purpose exist, they are not within our normal senses, but reside within our conceptual and emotional spheres of experience. And second: the evidence for God or purpose is not subject to testing in a laboratory with controlled experiments.



I think the materialist’s dissatisfaction with religion stems from an inappropriate expectation that our Western Christian enlightenment cultural heritage has burdened us with. That is: the melding of scientific process with religious assertions. It’s impossible to test and falsify most religious claims, (Except for declarations of specific contemporary miracles.) But materialist’s are correct that religion offers us unfalsifiable claims such as the existence of God or a specific historic event. There is more than one possible reason for this. One possibility is that there are no Truths to be found in religion. (A typical atheist charge.) Another is that the Truth is simply too complex or 'other' for any human system to articulate. You cannot falsify that which you cannot articulate. Just as you can’t test scientific propositions if those propositions remain in the metaphorical or analogy phase. So while religion does not offer us the comparative certainty that science offers, it may still be a frontier in Truth-searching none-the-less.



Religion provides less-certain answers that can only be held to self-consistency standards. Most of the religions that offered nature phenomena explanations have gone extinct as we’ve discovered their postulations to be wrong. Goodbye Thor and Zeus. But there are still potential answers to the bigger questions of origin and purpose that simply cannot be ‘discovered’ by any means other than the speculative institution we call religion.



Each religion offers specific answers that can be held up to nature, examined by the imaginative mind, and examined for logical consistency. (Note I’m ignoring the whole emotional dimension of intuition, faith, and revelation.) I’m a Christian not because I find Christianity to be The Truth, but because I find that with some modification it provides a very good theory for the origin/purpose questions, while remaining true to what we observe in nature and our fellow man. I hope that it is a True theory. And I will not deny my emotional attachment to this system of thought that brings me peace and hope. But ultimately I am not relying on existential warm fuzzies to determine what I want to believe. It is not a specific system that I desire, but what that system points to. If there seems to be evidence concluding that my chosen system is untrue I would abandon it as an emotional crutch. I desire Truth over comfort.



Like the theory of evolution, there has been much speculation, dead-ends, and false assumptions interwoven with a larger arch of truth. Evolution as a phenomenon is not disproven by these accidents. A mislabeled skull, a poorly dated rock, a misinterpreted strata or a fraudulent skeleton do not invalidate the theory as a whole. Even major challenges like irreducible complexity can’t disprove the theory since the objection is based on a lack of specific mechanisms for independent development that coincidentally end up integrating with other systems to create more complex ones. That mechanism may be some unknown natural phenomena, or some miraculous intervention from God, but the point is that there is such a huge amount of explanatory power and evidence supporting the theory of evolution that it’s ok to work with it despite the holes. So it is with Christianity. I find some interpretations and emphases within my religious tradition to be wrong, and that’s ok. I find some doctrines such as eternal torment, literal six-day creation and substitutionary atonement to be at odds with a larger picture that does stay logically consistent and speaks to the origin/purpose questions we all have. Can it be proven? Of course not! It’s a theory. All religions are. Just because many religious adherents claim them to be absolute Truth that does not change the reality of the situation.



“So why let a theory shape your psyche and affect your decisions?!” Simply because we don’t have a choice in the matter. The materialists let their theory of non-origin/purpose/God shape their psyche and affect their decisions and they have exactly the same amount of proof that a religious person does that their theory is correct. (Zero) Everyone operates based on unproven assumptions. It’s just an unavoidable fact of life.



I’m not advocating the notion that religious ideas are as sound for creating policy and motivating actions as scientific ideas. I’m saying that there are deeper questions and answers that animate a particular aspect of human thinking regardless of your opinion of God or religion. If, as a materialist, you think religion is simply a process of pulling answers out of the ass and slapping some stamp of authority on them, you better examine your own process for addressing these deep questions. It doesn’t matter if you think them unimportant or try to ignore them. They remain. Your answers to them will shape your actions and attitudes. Freud himself –the man who called religion wish fulfillment- said that the existence of God was THE most important question that there is. (Armand Nicholi: The Question of God) Why? Because of the fact that before science, before religion, before society… a person fashions their heart according to how they answer this question.



Then there is the ‘purpose’ question. Every human finds some kind of answer to this whether it’s found in religion, community, family or self-created. And the answer any individual chooses is… are you ready for this?... Unfalsifiable. And that unfalsifiable theory about purpose drives every human to do what they do. To think what they think. To seriously consider some data and disregard other data. The theist may disregard some ideas such as evolution. The atheist may disregard some ideas such as the existence of a soul. Both ideas are damned important and have many ramifications if true. To say one is more important than the other is to show some huge bias.



Oh, I know one can point to physical evidence that evolution occurs, but cannot point to physical evidence that souls exists. The relevant question is whether or not that inability actually affects the state of reality. It does not. Souls exist or they do not. Our ability to find evidence does not change that. Some atheists will then say that belief in things that don’t have falsifiable evidence is literally insane. That is the whole thrust of the Flying Spaghetti Monster parody. This is simply a straw man. The existence of a God or gods and purpose that is derived from said entities can take any form, from chariots in the skies to talking trees, to angels, demons and such. These are all proposed explanations for certain phenomena. If the phenomena is shown to be explained in another way those entities fade from the public consciousness as anything real. But my point is that materialists don’t base their decisions on “science”, as though that is a monolithic ‘thing’ that one can base anything on. They base their decisions on the same thing that religious people do: their intuition and opinions about unfalsifiable assertions.

To me, this is the hilarious irony of the angry atheist mocking the religious zealot’s misplaced motivations. The atheist is making up their own sense of purpose rather than accepting one handed down from a traditional source, and that’s all well and good. But it’s laughable that they consider their newly self-derived purpose to be superior to any other. Superior in what way? To what end? Those ways and ends are pulled out of their asses! Is the continuance of the human race the ultimate end? Well why? There is no good reason for this preference. It’s just another random choice in a random universe. A materialist will say that they work for the continuance of humanity because they love their children. Again, the sanctity of human life is unfalsifiable. It’s a preference. (One I am happy to agree with them on!) Any motivation that a materialist produces is just as likely or unlikely to be “true” as that of a religious person. There is no logic, reason, or “science” to back up your hopes, loves and dreams. Behind faith and reason lies the heart. The desires, emotions, and longings that push our minds down certain roads while avoiding others.



An atheist does not have better credentials for prescribing action than a religious person. Both could be right or wrong. This does not mean that a political leader ought to start a war because “God told me to.” Or that scientific evidence should be ignored in policy making. But when it comes to living one’s life according to some system, a materialist can’t be more rational in choosing a godless system than a religious person is in choosing a spiritual system. There is no scientific evidence for the nonexistence of God. Unless that system is shown to be wrong with evidence or self-contradiction, it can’t be more or less valid than materialism. Remember, religion is man’s attempt to apprehend things that are by their very nature impossible to articulate without symbols. It’s possible that there is nothing there to apprehend or symbolize. But there’s no way to prove that or even to determine its likelihood. Thus declaring a system that doesn’t even try to account for a spiritual dimension to be superior is simply stating a preference, not a fact, and certainly not backed up by science.



There are all sorts of unfalsifiable things we arrange our lives around and base our decisions on. Our love of family, community, political ideals… all the real stuff of daily living. No one is considered foolish for dedicating their lives to these things that could turn out to be illusions. Your political party could have ideals based on inaccurate assumptions. Your local baseball team might suck and be full of horrible people. Your spouse might cheat and leave you. And my God might not exist. So what? There’s life to live and decisions to be made! We just gotta go with what convinces us. And what convinces us changes with time and experience. Liberals get older and wiser and become conservative. Conservatives get older and wiser and become liberals. Christian children can become atheists in college and return to their faith later in life. And visa-versa. Since there is no clear path that the majority take to reach some obvious Truth, you can’t point to a single answer and say; “A-ha! So THAT’S what mature, smart, good-looking people believe!” The ideas that compel us change as our values change. And values are unfalsifiable. Personally, I value the guesses that mankind has made about God and purpose. I value them because I think the answers are important.



When one jettisons religion from their life it’s not as though the questions it answers lay dormant. You can repress the instinct for a developed narrative that explains your purpose all you want, but it will still manifest. Rather than a sudden personal salvation and future eternal life, an atheist will weave their story into the evolutionary tapestry of history. They see themselves as part of the maturing essence of human society, leading it away from the hell of ignorance and superstition, towards a salvation of knowledge and technology. Some even interject alien life forms leading the way as some sort of angels or Christ-figures. Personally, I don’t find any more evidence for this narrative than I do for the Christian one. It’s all conjecture based on emotions and particular interpretations of historic claims. Does the atheist motivation make more rational sense than the Christian’s? Can their hopes be falsified? Proven in a court of law? Dissected and examined on the altar of science?


The whole question comes to this: Do you build your life on a theory that explains purpose with the help of thousands of years of speculation on the subject, or do you build your life on a theory of purpose that lets you make it up yourself? And is one more rational than the other? I say if a specific theory is crazy, then yeah, it’s more rational to go with another or make one up yourself. Atheists claim that ALL religious theories are crazy. But it is not more rational to assume that there cannot be a ‘spiritual’ dimension, a God, miracles, etc. It’s simply a preference for how they want reality to be. And while materialism has some great theories about how morality, spiritual urges, and such evolved, it has no answer for the origin of everything. If I’m going to pick a theory that attempts to explain the world, I prefer one that actually proposes answers to everything, not just leave stuff out because it’s unimaginable, or impossible to fully articulate. A partial answer is better than no answer.



Would anyone accept a scientific theory that explained half a phenomenon but simply ignored the other half, dismissing it as unimportant or nonsense? Life, as a phenomenon presents us with a range of data and sensory impressions. It begs the question of origin. Our minds hound us with emotions and intuition about concepts like love, morality, beauty, the sanctity of life, etc. One can take all this input and put it through a materialist sieve, throwing out everything that doesn’t fit ones preconceptions. Or one can accept the holistic range of data and attempt to formulate a theory that accounts for all of these phenomena including the validity of our intuitive assertions that puts ontological weight on them. I think the latter is the less biased approach.



I am not advocating that a religious concept that denies or contradicts a scientific precept should be used by anyone for anything. Such as literal six-day creationism or appeasing rain gods. A materialist will jump in here and say: “God is a contradiction of science!” But the existence of God is not a scientific concept, it’s a philosophic/religious concept. Science cannot prove or disprove it. Science has nothing to say about the concept unless a god is posited that has demonstrable qualities in nature. Science has done humanity a great good by winnowing down the options for what a God or gods are. In that way, the field of science has been a great asset in the religious quest for Truth. I welcome all logical assaults on any religion. “Logical” being the key word here, as opposed to emotional or biased. The more the heard of possible gods are culled, the better we will be able to define and thus “know” God. Now we know God is not a bearded giant on top of a mountain. Thanks science! Now we know God is not driving a chariot across the sky. Thanks science! Keep it up!



The popular materialist narrative pits science against religion in an Armageddon of ideas; a fight to the death. Reason and logic versus ignorance and superstition. I won’t deny that many have used religion as an excuse to persecute and slow scientific progress. But the whole battle is really a silly fabrication based on a flawed philosophy that views the spheres of science and religion as fundamentally opposed. They are not opposed. It’s people that oppose each other. And they will find whatever pretense is at hand to wage their wars. Both science and religion are quests for answers to the phenomena that we perceive. Science helps religion by shooting down wrong theories. And religion should help science by reminding us that the particular questions they answer are not the questions that matter the most to us humans. Faith, at its best, organizes our values in ways that benefit all. Religion may be a bunch of educated guesses, but due to the subject matter, it’s the best we humans can do. So when it comes down to what is directing out decision-making faculties, it’s not science versus religion. It’s one guess (There’s a God) versus another guess. (There is no God.)



So as a guy who understands and sympathizes with the materialist impulse, I ultimately reject it for two reasons. It makes a claim to Knowledge about something that can’t be Known. And it does not respect all fields of inquiry. And I do.


_______________________________________________________

Responses:

Palpaerpa: Why is "I don't know" so difficult to accept?

JF: I don't know IS my position.

Db2: Generally when someone takes a noncommittal stance on something they don't commit to one side of it. If you're being honest with yourself you wouldn't believe in something unproven. You do believe though which means you're claiming some form of god is real which means you're not saying you don't know.


JF: Well this article builds off of previous ones dealing with this dilemma. Here's the last one that relevant if you're interested:

http://www.examiner.com/x-19272-Seattle-Faith--Agnosticism-Examiner~y2009m9d22-The-continuum

Basically, I disagree with your implicit claim that "I don't know" = a noncommittal stance. One can be convinced of certain ideas without Knowing them to be true.


Db2: If you believe something you're also not saying "I don't know". If you're not saying you don't know then you are, by definition of the word "know", saying you do.

Either you know something or you don't, the middle ground in which you're learning a new thing is called "still not knowing" because you haven't learned it yet therefore you don't yet know.

As god has seen fit to make sure that one cannot learn enough to know, that means all that's left is belief which means that you're claiming knowledge you don't have.

(I'm just exploring the thoughts with this comment, don't take offense)


JF: No offense at all. I really think you should read my link. It's specifically about this. But yes, if there is a God, then it made us in a state of epistemological darkness. I take that as a big fat clue as to how we ought to conduct ourselves when we are in disagreement with one another.

"If you believe something you're also not saying "I don't know". If you're not saying you don't know then you are, by definition of the word "know", saying you do."

I use words like belief and convinced, rather than know and certain, specifically to avoid this. Since I think there is not a single thing that is certain it's simply a matter of ordering ideas from most compelling to least.


Db2: “I use words like belief and convinced, rather than know and certain, specifically to avoid this.”

Belief though is a leap from the middle ground to "knowledge". By stating that belief you are stating that you believe it to be true, which is a positive knowledge claim just as much as "god is real" is a positive knowledge claim, the only difference is semantics.

“Since I think there is not a single thing that is certain”

So do you worry you'll wake up tomorrow and gravity will cease to be a universal force? You're also overlooking the two most basic certainties in life: that you must be born to live and you must continue to live until you no longer do.


JF: "the only difference is semantics."

I profoundly disagree. To claim belief is not to claim Truth. The only way this would be implicitly true would be if one was to first claim that they are a perfect arbiter of Truth. Which I do not. I recognize that my opinion is subject to a million potential deceptions.

"So do you worry you'll wake up tomorrow and gravity will cease to be a universal force?"

Nope. Like everyone else I make due with functional certainty for most things like gravity and my existence. Then other things are on a continuum from most convincing to least convincing. I don't rule out any possibilities unless they are logically inconsistent. But I do find a lot of things like the Locness monster to be very unconvincing.


Db2: “The only way this would be implicitly true would be if one was to first claim that they are a perfect arbiter of Truth.”

But the religion does that very thing, and you follow the religion correct? It's once-removed but I don't think that is sufficient to act as a buffer between a weak belief and a truth claim.

“I don't rule out any possibilities unless they are logically inconsistent.”

So do you reject the idea of a trinity god?

“But I do find a lot of things like the Locness monster to be very unconvincing.”

"Loch Ness", loch being a term for a body of water, Ness being the specific body. (sorry for being pedantic there, that just kinda bugged me)


JF: “But the religion does that very thing”

Well "religion" means a lot of things to a lot of people. I recognize that I'm in the minority when I call religion a theory. But religion, like politics and such are things that people gather round like-minded folk to reinforce their beliefs and establish authority. I just don't use it that way.

“a weak belief and a truth claim.”

I don't think that a belief has to be weak in order to avoid being a truth claim. There are plenty of things I strongly believe, yet I would refuse to say they are absolutely certain. Again, it comes back to one's opinion of their own capabilities. Personally I'm a flawed person with biases, fears, loves, talents and deficiencies. All of this stuff makes me prone to error. Therefore when I say I believe that Christ is a manifestation of God and a savior for all, I am simply stating what I am convinced of. I can not make the epistemological leap to convert my belief to a universal certainty. I hope it's true. I believe it's true. I don't Know it's true. Does that still seem merely semantic?

“So do you reject the idea of a trinity god?”

I believe that I don't have a firm enough grasp of whatever dimension of being that a transcendent God 'dwells' to make an educated guess on the matter. I tend towards a rejection of most Trinitarian doctrine because I think they are all too pedantic and literalistic. And also because they do usually end up with logical paradoxes. The trouble that all humans have epistemologically is that we know of apparent paradoxes that are the result of a limited perspective or knowledge. So it's quite possible that a doctrine or scientific precept that appears paradoxical at one time may not actually be so.

The practical ramifications of this are pretty startling, and open up a huge can of worms for every sphere of intellectual inquiry. So I, like most people, simply get along as best I can by relying on what makes logical sense "to me". This is by no means an attack on the structure of logic or to say that logic is relative, it simply points out that any human premise may be wrong; so a perfectly sound logical argument can still be at complete odds with reality.

“"Loch Ness", loch being a term for a body of water, Ness being the specific body.”

Yeah, I knew that... but didn't know how to spell Loch, and since I'm at work I can't spend as much time as I'd like looking up words!


Db2: "I believe it's true. I don't Know it's true. Does that still seem merely semantic?"

That depends, do you act upon this belief? If you do then you've moved from simply giving weight to it to utilizing it as a positive truth claim to determine your actions.


JF: Yes I act on my beliefs. I don't think that 'promotes' it to a claim of Knowledge. I don't have a binary paradigm where I act on what I know is true and don't act on what I know to be false. Because I've jettisoned the whole concept of 'Know' from my epistemology, I simply have a continuum of beliefs. I act MORE on the things that are highest in my continuum and LESS or not at all on those things that are lower.

Here's a simple example anyone can relate to: You are lost in a cave and it starts collapsing. You see two tunnels you could run through. One of them is pitch black, another has a glimmer of light in it. Most people will ACT on the data by choosing the lit tunnel despite recognizing that they don't have true Knowledge of where the exit is. Perhaps the light is from a flashlight or an opening too high to reach, and the dark passage is the true exit. But the immediacy of need compels you to make a decision and act on it despite the lack of certainty.

In other words: utility does not equal certainty.

Db2: So every decision you make is a blind guess because you don't know anything, is that an accurate characterization?

JF: That's a very binary way to put it. I don't have to choose between perfect clarity and blindness. Life never presents us with that option. We simply deceive ourselves into thinking our actions are based on Knowledge because it makes us feel better. Even if I grant you that you can Know with certainty that you exist and physical reality is in no way illusory, you are still making millions of decisions every day based on incomplete information. You are not committing to pure certainty when you take back roads instead of the freeway to avoid traffic; but you can still act on that impulse. You use previous experience to guide your decisions. You are not making "blind guesses", you are making educated guesses.

Db2: Good answer. Someone was paying attention in class. :)

Iggymans: You seem to adopt Christianity as the default position and then go on to explain you see no particular reason to change,and finish with rejecting materialism because it makes claims about things that cannot be known.

Considering the extraordinary claims Christianity makes about the unknowable, both the default position and the conclusion seem a bit, let's say ...strange.

JF: "You seem to adopt Christianity as the default position"

Well I was raised as a Christian, so this is natural. It would be impossible for me to escape the trajectory of ingrained thought patterns and pretend to be an unbiased observer of all philosophical systems.

"Considering the extraordinary claims Christianity makes about the unknowable, both the default position and the conclusion seem a bit, let's say ...strange."

I was hoping that the thrust of the article would make it clear that any theory about a transcendent being or reality will by necessity be ... strange. In that common descriptions of experienced phenomena will be insufficient. That is what the old polytheist religions did: made stories explaining nature using didactic analogies of common experience. They knew what it was like to ride a chariot. So maybe the sun was a chariot being pulled across the sky. Everyday life, just bigger. But a more philosophically sophisticated God is not that. (Despite popular depictions of a bearded old man or what-have-you.)

Therefore I expect a realistic theory about a God to be surprising, unnatural, and strange. However, in order to accept any theory it must be self consistent and not contradict our observations. ANY theory that addresses origin and purpose will be incomplete and full of metaphor. I feel I can accept those conditions since my curiosity is more powerful than my need to be placated with false certainty about reality.

Iggymans: I believe I grasped the main line of your article, it is therefore I must reject your conclusion or at least the way you arrived at it.
Nougat already made some valid points, so will approach it from another angle:
I fully understand one cannot totally escape from the shackles of one's upbringing. a truly curious seeker understands this, and is therefore obliged to hold his default position to a more than usual scrutiny. The notion that Christianity is as good as (some) other religions will simply not do. I might be thinking too straight and narrow, but reconciling "I don't know" with "I find Christianity to be The Truth" is a feat I cannot accomplish.


JF: "The notion that Christianity is as good as (some) other religions will simply not do."

I'm not asserting that. I'm saying that I find Christianity (with my buffet style of doctrine selection) to be superior to other religions.

"reconciling "I don't know" with "I find Christianity to be The Truth" is a feat I cannot accomplish."

Here's a line from my article:

"I’m a Christian not because I find Christianity to be The Truth, but because I find that with some modification it provides a very good theory for the origin/purpose questions, while remaining true to what we observe in nature and our fellow man. I hope that it is a True theory."

Iggymans: Point taken, I totally misread that.
The central point however, deconstructing one's starting beliefs as the prime directive, stands.


JF: Agreed. I'm doing my best. But, you know... I'm human.


Iggymans: “I'm doing my best.”

That's all one can ask for.

Don't misunderstand me, I applaud your serious attempt to search for answers and your courage to go public with it. In that respect you surpassed, including yours truly, most.
But then again, you specifically asked for criticism :)

JF: Yes, and I like the criticism. I consider it a purifying fire.

Railboy: Please take this as constructive criticism. It's going to sound like a list of cheap shots, but it's coming from a good place.

Some of your ideas are interesting. However:

Your grammar, punctuation and general writing skills are poor. These errors tempt me to dismiss your ideas altogether. I'm sure many have.

There is no structure to your thoughts & arguments. This isn't always bad, but the topic of god requires some rigor. Topics are stacked in piles without any clear connection to each other. Your goal is only partly clear and seldom followed. Worst of all, the whole thing ends abruptly, with no real resolution.

It's also far too long. Your arguments aren't complicated. With more structure and a clear goal, you wouldn't need half as many words.

All of these issues obscure your point of view, and only a disproportionate amount of effort on my part can reveal it. Most people aren't willing to do this kind of work when comprehensible alternatives are available.

Anyway, good luck!


JF: Thanks, I really appreciate this kind of feedback. You are absolutely correct on all counts. In fact I came close to scrapping the whole thing and starting over several times specifically because of these issues. And I guess I should have. My problem is that every time I go over my work in progress I can't "kill my darlings"... I feel like every point is important to the overall message I'm attempting to communicate. That's what editors are for I suppose. It also doesn't help that I write these article during my lunch break over a week or so.

The other other issue is that I'm still attempting to integrate ideas from so many disparate conversations from places like Reddit and others that I lose focus.

Anyway, I deeply appreciate your crit, and will endevor to be braver with my editing in the future.

Oh, if you're up for it, can you read this slightly shorter article I wrote and tell me if it suffers the same issues?

http://www.examiner.com/x-19272-Seattle-Faith--Agnosticism-Examiner~y2009m9d22-The-continuum

Lungfish59: In your posting, you wrote:

“But the whole battle is really a silly fabrication based on a flawed philosophy that views the spheres of science and religion as fundamentally opposed. They are not opposed.”

I would suggest you consider the possibility that they are not even in the same "problem domain." Religion searches for why things are they way they are. Science seeks to answer how things work.

By its nature, science tries to find reasonable models for processes found in nature that will help explain reality. But it doesn't (or at least shouldn't) pretend that it ever has complete grasp of ultimate Reality. Whether there is an ultimate, objective reality and whether there are supernatural forces behind what we can perceive are questions outside science's realm.

If a new model explains nature better than the old model, that's cool. We don't have any emotional attachment to a model. If two models are both useful, even if they apparently conflict (e.g., light as a particle vs. a wave), it isn't a huge deal. The model isn't reality. It's just a framework for helping us understand reality.

I did not become an unbeliever because of science. Gaining a little understanding of evolution, cosmology, and quantum physics shook my faith in fundamentalism, of course. But fundamentalism has always been the province of the infantile mind.

What I think really started me down the path to become an unbeliever was the internal inconsistency of all religions. God cannot be all-powerful and infinitely merciful and send the majority of humanity to eternal torment. God cannot be omniscient, omnipotent and permit free will. God can't be unchanging and in motion.

Finally, you can't assert that everything has a cause, and then break that rule with the first "causeless" cause -- well, I suppose you can, but I don't feel obligated to think that makes any sense at all.

I think believing in God is a lot like falling in love. It is a non-rational decision. I "fell out of belief" many decades ago, but I didn't stop caring about what it means to live a good life. The philosophic quest doesn't die just because there's no god. If anything, that quest is renewed and freed from unsettling Bronze-Age sensibilities.


JF: "I would suggest you consider the possibility that they are not even in the same "problem domain.""

Thanks. That's a good way of putting it. Though, there is interplay, as I pointed out with the diminished pool of possible gods thanks to science.

"What I think really started me down the path to become an unbeliever was the internal inconsistency of all religions."

I think because I'm more conservative than you, those issues drove me to discover older traditions that were not contradictory. They do exist, you know.

"God cannot be all-powerful and infinitely merciful and send the majority of humanity to eternal torment."

Agreed. Hence Universalism, taught by Origen and probably St. Paul. Teaches that Christ's work saves every individual human. Fell out of favor around Augustine's time as the original Greek texts were largely replaced with Latin, and the word aion/aionios got translated as eternus.

"God cannot be omniscient, omnipotent and permit free will."

Agreed. Hence Calvinism's theistic determinism.

"God can't be unchanging and in motion."

Agreed. But every orthodox doctrine that I've ever seen on the issue states that God is unchanging in character, leaving room for action.

"you can't assert that everything has a cause, and then break that rule with the first "causeless" cause"

That is the entire philosophical motivation for conceptualizing a God. It is the point of God to stop the infinite regress. No one wants a turtle on a turtle on a turtle on a turtle ad infinitum. I don't think the infinite regress is a better solution than an unmoved mover. I don't buy the Occam's razor on this one because there are logical paradoxes in an infinite regress. It is His transcendence that makes God a solution.

"The philosophic quest doesn't die just because there's no god. If anything, that quest is renewed and freed from unsettling Bronze-Age sensibilities."

Agreed. I hope I didn't imply otherwise.

Nougat: Last time I read your stuff, you were all about "I'm not an atheist and I'm not a theist, but I believe in a god that I refuse to define." I pressed you pretty hard to define that god you said you believed in, and you stood your ground.

Now you're saying you are a theist, and most specifically, a Christian. Have you changed your mind since then, just a few weeks back, or which one of these positions was disingenuous?

“But the existence of God is not a scientific concept, it’s a philosophic/religious concept. Science cannot prove or disprove it.”

Science is a method for vetting the truthfulness of assertions, not a doctrine or dogma. You can apply this method to any assertion.

“Science has nothing to say about the concept unless a god is posited that has demonstrable qualities in nature.”

A god which has no effect on our universe is exactly the same as no god at all. If you're positing a god that doesn't have demonstrable qualities in nature, how do you distinguish that from no god at all?

JF: "Last time I read your stuff, you were all about "I'm not an atheist and I'm not a theist"

Either I was unclear or you misread. I have always been a theist and never denied that.

"but I believe in a god that I refuse to define."

If a God exists than it is as I've said in this article: transcendent. For that reason I don't believe any human mode of communication can capture an adequate definition. Analogies can be made. I think the Christian analogy is a good one, albeit with some modifications to fix some self-contradictions.

"Have you changed your mind since then, just a few weeks back, or which one of these positions was disingenuous?"

No change of mind. There must have been a miscommunication based on an assumption on one of our parts or lack of adequate detail.

"You can apply this method to any assertion."

Can you scientifically test your love for your wife and kids? Too many variables and contested definitions. Same with God.

"A god which has no effect on our universe is exactly the same as no god at all."

True, but I never said He has no effect. In fact, I argue that every effect is derived from His will. You see, I'm a determinist. I believe every effect has a cause. If there was an initial Will, then every event is ultimately traceable to that Will. (If we had the power to do such a complex task.)

Nougat: For the sake of review, here's the thread I was referring to.

I first asked you to define the god you believe in here.

The only qualities you would define were that this god was a creator, and that god is "personal, implying a rational, sentient intelligence."

I responded to address those characteristics here, after which you began to devolve into nonsense.

You made every attempt then not to define the god you said you believed in. I didn't misread anything. You weren't unclear; you were evasive.


“Can you scientifically test your love for your wife and kids?”

Yes. Studies are performed on human behavior all the time. You could measure the behaviors of people with spouses and children towards those loved ones, and compare those behaviors with people who have no spouse, no children, or both. Also compare the behaviors of people towards strangers in the same situation. You could measure brain activity and neurochemicals. I'm sure there would be plenty more detail and control to it than I've put here (because I'm not a psychologist), but I'm sure it's doable.

“You see, I'm a determinist. I believe every effect has a cause. If there was an initial Will, then every event is ultimately traceable to that Will.”

As I posed last time: If all my actions are intended by a supernatural god, doesn't that excuse me from adhering to any code of values, whether those be my own, societal, or supernatural?

I think you may have invented Calvinism.

JF: "after which you began to devolve into nonsense."

Well, ok. Although that doesn't really help move the conversations forward. A blanket assessment like that or "stupid" or "ridiculous" is simply a rhetorical device. I enjoy your deconstruction of my specific statements a lot more than general dismissal. (That's your prerogative of course!)

"I didn't misread anything. You weren't unclear; you were evasive."

I'm totally open to the idea that my own inner tergiversation is driving me to evade ideas I don't like. But I still think you are being over-literalistic with what I'm trying to communicate. My point is that any potential dimensions of reality that are not perceived by our common senses can only be communicated between humans with symbols and analogies. That is why I'm hesitant to say: "God is X, Y, and Z! Absolutely!"

It should be noted that there are competing impulses in my religious system. One is to Know, driven by curiosity. The other is the conservative sense of caution, believing that these answers I'm exploring are contingent and ultimately sloppy analogies. My curiosity drives me to explore different concepts for God and purpose. My caution keeps me from making declarative statements of Truth about said concepts. Does that make sense? Does it still feel evasive? I honestly want to know if I'm avoiding stuff.

"Studies are performed on human behavior all the time."

And all these tests are predicated on a definition for love that is highly subjective and contingent. Synapses and chemicals can be associated with what one calls love. Specific behaviors can be as well. So can existential feelings. I think we can both agree that love is a combination of all of the above. But I think there is a Gestalten whole that creates a thing that is greater than the sum of it's parts. And that "thing" is better expressed through the metaphorical language of poetry and music than numbers and graphs. So my response to your original statement that "You can apply this method (science) to any assertion." is that yes you can. But the results you get will not bring as full a comprehension of the subject as it does when applied to the "hard sciences".

"If all my actions are intended by a supernatural god, doesn't that excuse me from adhering to any code of values, whether those be my own, societal, or supernatural?"

Not to be Bill Clinton here, but it depends on how you define "excuse". As a theistic determinist I believe that all action is ultimately God's intended will, and thus serves a purpose. The purpose is really at the heart of the moral matter. If our purpose is nothing more than mere existence in a confusing world, then yeah, we are all "excused" from moral obligations. But my feeling is that our overpowering sense of freedom is a vital component of our purpose, and points to a process of learning something. I could go on and on about this theory, but I'm sure you're not interested.

"I think you may have invented Calvinism."

Haha... Here's a simple breakdown to help explain where I fit in the Christian menagerie:

Armenians and Free-Will Christians believe that God WANTS to save everyone but can't due to the free will he gave humans.

Calvinists believe that God CAN save everyone but doesn't want to for whatever reason.

Universalists (me) believe that God WANTS to save everyone and CAN save everyone, therefore He WILL save everyone.

Nougat: “As a theistic determinist I believe that all action is ultimately God's intended will, and thus serves a purpose.”

"All action" - if that includes my actions and decisions, then aren't all of my actions and decisions "God's intended will"? That stands in sharp contrast to the sense of freedom you speak of in the very next breath. Beyond that, and to clarify my original point, if my actions and decisions are God's intended will, then I am not actually responsible for anything I do. Rape, murder, pillage - it's all God's will.

I have every respect for your acknowledging your own competing impulses. We all have them. But when those competing impulses are mutually exclusive, they can't both be right. When you're trying to figure out what the universe is actually like, the internal consistency of your description is important.

Unless you think the way the universe actually is is not internally consistent, but that way lies madness.

JF: "That stands in sharp contrast to the sense of freedom you speak of in the very next breath."

Contrast, yes. Contradiction, no. I was careful to use the phrase "sense of freedom". No one can deny that we feel like we are making our own choices rather than be compelled to them by an outside force. I'm saying both those are wrong. Unless you consider the incredibly complex web of cause/effect chains that determine our thought processes as an "outside" influence. So we are not free. And we are not controlled as one would first visualize the word... sort of using an analogy of a remote control car or videogame character. But ever since the first atoms started spinning every subsequent effect had no other options.

"Rape, murder, pillage - it's all God's will."

Yes, that is what I am asserting. That would be a huge problem if this life were all that there was. God would be a huge monster. But if the suffering and other existential stuff that happens to us in this life is a necessary part of a process by which a person becomes something far greater than the flesh and bone meat computers we are now, and every person recognizes what that suffering was accomplishing, they will be grateful, and God would not have been a monster after all.

"when those competing impulses are mutually exclusive, they can't both be right."

The freedom we perceive and the ultimate reality that transcends our emotions are not mutually exclusive. You can feel all sorts of things that are not true or that appear to be true. We see the sun cross the sky every day and every natural "common sense" impulse we have tells us it's moving across the sky. We even still use the words rise and set to describe it even though we know those are ultimately false an inaccurate. So it is with free will. It is such a powerful perception that it shapes us in (ironically) deterministic ways. My theory is that this was the plan. The complexities of what determines our thoughts is so great that we cannot fathom it and interject a god-of-the-gaps, placing ourselves as the ultimate source of our actions. This perception is absolutely necessary for any sort of morality, and hence society, to exist. But just because it serves a useful purpose does not mean it is True, right?

"the internal consistency of your description is important."

Did I make my case more clear and consistent?

Rudd-O: “Can you scientifically test your love for your wife and kids?”

Yeah, you can. This is a bad example.


As your interlocutor Nougat said, science is a methodology to test the truth value of assertions and claims. According to science, the claim that a God exists is overwhelmingly likely to be false.

But the interesting thing is that the Christian God, specifically, does not need science, materialism, experiments, none of that to be disproven. It only requires logic. The Christian God is a self-contradictory proposition (akin to the propositions "anything that doesn't exist, exists"), and self-contradictory propositions are a priori false -- there is no need to resort to science and its evidentiary rules to test it any further because logical consistency is a necessary -- not sufficient -- requirement for a proposition to be true. Here's a video that will explain more.

The important observation to recognize and accept is that, if you can think about proposition X, then it follows that you are going to be able to apply both philosophy and science to proposition X to ascertain its truth value. You may not get a conclusive answer for every proposition X, but in terms of at least the existence of the Christian God, there is a conclusive answer and it is no, for the reasons described in the video.

You may want to refuse to apply philosophy and science to your propositions -- and, to be honest, that is the only way you can continue entertaining the idea of Gods -- but that choice of yours doesn't mean Gods may still exist. It only means that you are being intellectually inconsistent by way of compartmentalization... or that you have psychotically removed yourself from any intelligent discussion.

Sorry, man. I sincerely advise you to learn some philosophy so you can enrich your life with true knowledge.

JF: Thanks for the feedback and the links. I’ve watched the first and have the following comments:

Every single argument this guy makes is riddled with the question-begging logical fallacy. His definitions are based on materialist assumptions, and therefore his definitions of a non-material God are logically incoherent. His arguments basically boil down to, “All that exists is material. God is not material. Therefore God does not exist.” But that is exactly the question in contention.

For example:
"When we are talking about existence, we are talking about and objective material presence (matter/energy) or objectively measurable effects of that material presence (gravity)"

Here I will quote Empiricus: “But we may also be lacking enough powers of sense to understand the world in its entirety: if we had an extra sense, then we might know of things in a way that the present five senses are unable to advise us of. Given that our senses can be shown to be unreliable by appealing to other senses, and so our senses may be incomplete (relative to some more perfect sense that we lack), then it follows that all of our senses may be unreliable.”

To assume that everything that exists must be measurable to us here and now is laughable and arrogant.

"Thus, God must be detectable in some objective manner."

Why?

"Existence is by definition the presence of some sort of objectively detectable matter and/or energy."

Again. Circular.

"Consciousness is empirically an effect of matter, in that no consciousness is ever present without a physical brain."

Sure, every consciousness we are immediately aware of. So?

"God is defined as the most complex life in existence which did not evolve from any simpler form of life."

By whom? And what is meant by "complex"?

"Placing God in the category of "future potential existence" is meaningless..."

Positing an entity or dimension that we can’t fathom or describe is not meaningless at all. We have the direct analogy of a 2-dimensional being attempting to comprehend a 3-dimensional world. There is nothing unnatural about proposing that there are further dimensions that we can’t describe adequately.

"Faith is the belief in the existence of a deity in direct opposition to reason an evidence."

He might as well have pulled this one out of his ass instead: “Faith is what stupid people do.” How can you take this guy seriously? To be honest, he reminds me of many of the Christian philosophers I’ve read, in that he has such a huge ax to grind he doesn’t mind cutting corners, getting sloppy and building straw men to do so.

Back to your crit: “You may want to refuse to apply philosophy and science to your propositions”

No, I want to. I really, really want to!

“that is the only way you can continue entertaining the idea of Gods”

I can’t even begin to fathom how a well-read person could make this statement. Unless ALL of your reading is from atheists?

“I sincerely advise you to learn some philosophy so you can enrich your life with true knowledge.”

Thanks. Been working on it. One thing I’ve learned so far is that there are hundreds of philosopher stars throughout the ages and they all make fantastic sounding arguments when taken alone. So if you confine your reading to one particular school of philosophy (i.e. materialism) you’ll probably end up with a false sense of security in that world view. The reason I stopped reading only Christian philosophers was specifically for this reason.

Rudd-O: "No, I want to. I really, really want to!" [apply science and philosophy to your propositions]

No, you don't. You say that you "want to" apply philosophy and science -- when you say this, you lie. Why do you lie? It doesn't really concern me -- the fact is that you do and I know it.

I know this because I know you are perfectly willing to rationally apply the materialist definition, "to exist" used in the video, to every claim and every perception about the universe, from the real to the superstitious, to your Wii game, to the very conversation you are having with me, to the Sun, to leprechauns. But when it comes to God, oh boy, instead of applying the rational concepts and methods that you apply every day, suddenly everything turns so metaphysical and, surprise surprise, now "to exist" means something different! That's an arbitrary exception. That's inconsistent. That's a refusal to apply philosophy and science.

Plus, you glossed over the non-materialist (purely logical) basis for disproof of the Christian God in the video (that which is defined as omnipotent and omniscient is as logically contradictory as a square circle).

"Existence is by definition the presence of some sort of objectively detectable matter and/or energy."

Again. Circular.

He starts with the definition. How can it be circular to start with a definition (a dictionary definition, even) and apply the definition? You start with the definitions as the first premises, and then you apply the definitions to the claims (specifically, "God exists" is the claim here). Don't you know anything about logic?] You are the one begging the question here, by pretending that the definition is "circular" or "wrong" because it unfortunately disproves the claim that "God exists".

"Here I will quote Empiricus"

Funny how you resort to empiricism to keep the claim that God may potentially exist, but for everything else that you do, surprise surprise, "your senses" seem to suffice. "I believe in empiricism when it lets me protect my superstitions, but for everything else I rely on my eyes, ears, cochlea, computers, microscopes, scales, rulers, the written word...". Ha. Real "consistent" application of principles there.

It's good, though, that in every circle of rational thinkers, empiricism is a throughly discredited ideology -- boy, we wouldn't have microwave ovens, disc brakes, or even the wheel, if our senses, cross-checking between them, and sensory augmentation devices weren't enough. The only ones clinging to empiricism are the ones selling snake oil, and several other anti-intellectuals.

"Thanks. Been working on it."

Work harder. So far, either you know nothing about philosophy, logic or science, or you deliberately refuse to apply what you know in the search for what is true. For now, I can't waste my time with someone who refuses to engage the methodology to protect his pet superstition. You need to outgrow your emotional defense mechanisms and shed some of your stop signs before you can make the leap and have this conversation with me.

JF: "Why do you lie?"

Haha... Well... I suppose everyone is very capable of self-deception. But a debate about what I WANT... an existential statement of desire... it seems that you may not have the authority to determine my wants.

"I know this because I know you are perfectly willing to rationally apply the materialist definition, "to exist" used in the video, to every claim and every perception about the universe,...to leprechauns."

It is true that I generally apply materialist criteria to claims of existence. Our difference is that I'm open to the possibility that there are realms of existence that we don't know about. That's not logically flawed, is it? And I find convincing philosophical arguments that support an unmoved mover. And I discovered a theory that makes sense of our purpose beyond a self prescribed pursuit of happiness. I'm not claiming to Know any of these assertions as fact. I'm saying they are theories that are self-consistent and have explanatory power. They are "flawed" in that they are incomplete, which one would expect from theories about transcendent concepts.

"suddenly everything turns so metaphysical and, surprise surprise, now "to exist" means something different! That's an arbitrary exception"

It's not arbitrary at all. It's a proposed solution to the philosophical dilemma of infinite regress. And because I don't define "to exist" in ONLY materialist terms I'm not being inconsistent.

"Plus, you glossed over the non-materialist (purely logical) basis for disproof of the Christian God in the video (that which is defined as omnipotent and omniscient is as logically contradictory as a square circle)."

That one really didn't make any sense to me. His statements: "If God knows exactly what he is going to do tomorow he is all-knowing, but cannot be all-powerful, since he does not have the compasity to change what you are going to do tomorrow."

"If God has the capacity to change what He is going to do tomorrow, he can be all-powerful but he cannot be all-knowing."

I don't see how this follows. Why can God not know every possible effect of His causes? Maybe this is caught up in a free-will paradigm of which I am not a part. Feel free to make this clearer to me.

"for everything else that you do, surprise surprise, "your senses" seem to suffice."

Actually, I don't feel that my senses suffice for attaining Knowledge. I don't believe anyone can know anything with certainty.

"How very "honest" and "consistent" of you. "

I am honest in my assessment of my biases, my limitations as a being without the possibility of attaining true Knowledge, and I am consistently applying those ideas to my philosophical explorations.

"in every circle of rational thinkers, empiricism is a throughly discredited ideology"

Ah... no-true-Scotsman, eh? Anyway, I'm not an empiricist. I simply agree with some ancient Greek dude about the logical conclusion that our senses could be inadequate for apprehending all that exists.

"You need to outgrow your emotional defense mechanisms"

I agree.

"before you can make the leap and have this conversation with me."

Hm. So you can only have conversations with those that agree with you? How very open-minded.

"He starts with the definition. How can it be circular to start with a definition (a dictionary definition, even) and apply the definition? "

It's circular because he chose a definition that is in contention. Here's what Mariam Webster says about existence:

" 1 a obsolete : reality as opposed to appearance b : reality as presented in experience c (1) : the totality of existent things (2) : a particular being d : sentient or living being : life 2 a : the state or fact of having being especially independently of human consciousness and as contrasted with nonexistence b : the manner of being that is common to every mode of being c : being with respect to a limiting condition or under a particular aspect 3 : actual or present occurrence "

If there is a debate about whether or not a Platypus is a mammal, a dictionary won't help you because it's specifically the DEFINITION that is being debated. Words are symbols for concepts and those concepts are mailable because they are products of human minds. They represent a consensus, but that consensus has no bearing on what is.

Greg B: If God is something that can't be known... how do you know?

Enjoy your double standard.


JF: I don’t, and I don’t claim to. Check out my previous articles for more on that.


Matthew:

"Religion may be a bunch of educated guesses, but due to the subject matter, it’s the best we humans can do."

No, it's not. Not by a long shot. Philosophy and neurology, and critical examination of the human mind (to name just a few) are absolutely superior to any "best guess", whether religious or otherwise. Just because something is unknown, does not make that thing UNKNOWABLE. (Life's origin, for example).

Although I disagree with your simplification that we are pitting one guess against another, even if I grant you that point, it doesn't create equivalency between the two guesses. If I roll a die, and guess that I will roll a 3, that's a valid guess. If instead I guess that I will roll a 67, that's no longer within the realm of possibility. God is for atheists, 67.

RE:Purpose - Why is that such an important question to you? Isn't living your life and enjoying it, enough? That's all atheism really is - living our brief life simply because that life is worth living.


JF: “Philosophy and neurology, and critical examination of the human mind (to name just a few) are absolutely superior to any "best guess", whether religious or otherwise.”

Those fields of inquiry are wonderful for illuminating many things. I don’t see how they can give us answers to origin or purpose. Since they cannot, we have another field of inquiry that does propose answers. It is within that specific context that I mean “It’s the best we humans can do.” Naturally, if you a priori disregard the origin question and find self-defined purpose makes you happy, then religion will simply be silly to you. That’s fine.

“…absolutely superior...”

So when you say these other fields of inquiry are “absolutely superior” you are implicitly making a claim of materialism. But the entire field of religion is predicated on the philosophical idea that there could be other dimensions of being that we can’t apprehend. If philosophy (I assume you mean materialist philosophy) neurology, etc. are superior for finding Truth, it would only be so if materialism is correct, which is exactly what is in contention here. An argument in which the proposition to be proved is assumed implicitly or explicitly in the premise is circular. To avoid that you would have to first establish that materialism is True.

“Just because something is unknown, does not make that thing UNKNOWABLE. (Life's origin, for example).”


I agree with this statement but take exception to your example. Because any origin (I’m speaking more broadly of the origin of all matter/space/time.) that we can discover with our tools would be a matter/space/time explanation. Which simply pushes the question back one step without actually solving anything. All material explanations will necessarily be an infinite regress, a philosophical dilemma that the concept of a God “fixes”.

“even if I grant you that point, it doesn't create equivalency between the two guesses. If I roll a die, and guess that I will roll a 3, that's a valid guess. If instead I guess that I will roll a 67, that's no longer within the realm of possibility. God is for atheists, 67"

This is a fantastic analogy for the basic difference between a theist and atheist mindset. As a theist I simply don’t accept your premise that the die we are rolling only has six sides. It may appear to our senses to be that way, but every scientist will admit that our senses are flawed and potentially incomplete for understanding our universe. I think the oversimplification occurs on the part of atheists who take our sensory data input to be complete enough to make truth claims regarding reality.

“RE:Purpose - Why is that such an important question to you? Isn't living your life and enjoying it, enough? That's all atheism really is - living our brief life simply because that life is worth living.”

It’s important to me because I’m curious. When I combine the mystery of origin with the existential felt need for purpose, it sets a trajectory of investigation that materialist philosophy and science can’t speak to. I am personally unsatisfied by atheist answers… it’s just a personality thing. Or, who knows, maybe it’s just an intelligence or maturity thing and I’ll eventually get smart or mature enough to understand things the way you do. I’m happy for you that those answers satisfy you and bring you a good life, and I have no desire to undermine your beliefs. I’m just sharing my mind on what makes ME tick.

Joe: It seems like you're covering two sides of he same coin... one view is to label all of creation as "God" and another is to call all of creation "Atheism". Both views are applying one grand label to the whole concept.

I guess you're trying to say that the difference is that God is somehow slightly knowable (through mediums like emotions, though I think you need to re-examine what those really are with a bit more clarity), whereas a materialist just gives up on the whole idea. But as Matthew says above, perhaps a materialist is just a bit more pragmatic about creation and sees God in everything, and because of that they can just eliminate the idea of God altogether for the sake of simplicity.

And since you included an illustration of Buddha, look into how they view the idea of creation... it's very much in alignment with modern quantum physics.

You're getting sloppy with your labels about heavy subjects and I think you need to take a more careful approach to your generalization.


JF: “It seems like you're covering two sides of the same coin... one view is to label all of creation as "God" and another is to call all of creation "Atheism". Both views are applying one grand label to the whole concept.”


I’m not sure what you mean here.


“(through mediums like emotions, though I think you need to re-examine what those really are with a bit more clarity)”


What emotions really are? I understand the brain-chemistry and synapses and such that are associated with emotions. Is that what you mean?

“perhaps a materialist is just a bit more pragmatic about creation”


I don’t think accepting infinite regress and the accompanying logical problems are “more pragmatic” than proposing a creating entity.


“...Buddha, look into how they view the idea of creation.”


I’ve done my comparative religion classes. I’m familiar with the basics. Also in alignment with quantum physics: “And God said…” ‘Voice’ = waves/vibration.


“You're getting sloppy with your labels about heavy subjects and I think you need to take a more careful approach to your generalization”

Can you give me a specific example or two?

Question: It's interesting how you mock the atheist by saying their "beliefs" are "pulled out of their asses", yet your whole article never offers any fact that religion points to a capital-T truth with some sort of proof. Religion is the very definition of "pulling something out of my ass".

You accept God because you like that idea better then there being no god.... that's faith and that's fine. But I think you confuse hundreds of generations of Culture, Tradition and Tribalism for Truth.

"I desire Truth over comfort."... yet everything you describe is exactly the opposite. It seems the atheist ascribes to that statement more than you.

The general idea that man would be in a world of hurt without God, therefor He must exist is a nice idea, but it isn't Truth... but it is an individual truth with a small "t" and that's perfectly fine.

I think more religious people (including myself) should stay away from the capital "T"s and be more accepting of the lowercase ones.

One question your article gave me is whether you see God as Something that creates and is separate from His creation, or whether all of creation is God? Perhaps that would be a good next article to explore.


JF: “It's interesting how you mock the atheist by saying their "beliefs" are "pulled out of their asses"


I’m sorry if I came across as mocking. That is really not my heart. My point is that all our ideas are guesses. We are all motivated by our opinions on whether or not there is a God, and no matter how you answer that, the answer can only come from some human authority or emotion-based opinion. Science has nothing to say on the subject. Philosophy is obviously split on the issue. Our senses give us contradicting impulses. How is one supposed to obtain certain Knowledge on the subject? The only solution: pull it out of your ass.

“You accept God because you like that idea better then there being no god.... that's faith and that's fine. But I think you confuse hundreds of generations of Culture, Tradition and Tribalism for Truth.”

Nope. As this article and previous ones say: I don’t believe any human can Know Truth. But we sure do strive for it, and I think that’s healthy.

""I desire Truth over comfort."... yet everything you describe is exactly the opposite. It seems the atheist ascribes to that statement more than you.”


Please be specific. “everything” being opposite doesn’t help me isolate problems in my logic. Also, please tell me how an atheist suffers less comfort for their chosen belief than I do.

“The general idea that man would be in a world of hurt without God, therefor He must exist is a nice idea, but it isn't Truth... but it is an individual truth with a small "t" and that's perfectly fine.”

I don’t accept the utilitarian arguments for God. If a God does not exist there is really no reason to pretend one does for the perceived benefits unless you have no character.

“I think more religious people (including myself) should stay away from the capital "T"s and be more accepting of the lowercase ones.”

If one accepts logic than one has to accept the existence of Truth-with-a-capital-T. I don’t accept the notion of multiple truths. There are only multiple opinions. Some are closer to Truth, and some further. My contention is that no one on this planet can Know-with-a-capital-K where they are on that spectrum. I am convinced that I’m full of frailties, strengths, loves, hates, and other biases that all mean I could be deceived or deluded about any of my beliefs.

But I think I agree with the spirit of your point, that is why I’m not saying I AM RIGHT AND YOU ARE WRONG!!! I’m simply saying what I personally believe and why. Take it for what it’s worth.

Check out my older articles for more on this subject.

“One question your article gave me is whether you see God as Something that creates and is separate from His creation, or whether all of creation is God? Perhaps that would be a good next article to explore.”

I try not to speak in detail about what I have so little grounds for speaking when it comes to declaratives like this. What I currently find most convincing is something akin to Panentheism. (Not to be confused with Pantheism) From Wikipedia:

Panentheism (from Greek ??? (pân) "all"; ?? (en) "in"; and ???? (theós) "God"; "all-in-God") is a belief system which posits that God exists and interpenetrates every part of nature, and timelessly extends beyond as well. Panentheism is distinguished from pantheism, which holds that God is synonymous with the material universe.

Lelia: If Christ is not risen from the dead, we are of all men most miserable.


Matthew: Yes, our senses are limited to interpreting the world we can apprehend. But that's what we have to work with. We COULD all just be brains in a jar that are imagining a shared reality. No one would be able to prove or disprove such a claim, and it's even relevant if that claim were true, because we have to live in this life that we perceive. I don't think that assuming such claims as default positions is a good place to start though...You use the term materialism in an almost deorgatory manner. But what's the opposite viewpoint: Immaterialism? Anyone is free to believe in the immaterial, but if you do you might just have to accept the criticisms of others who like to know what's real and make our decisions based on those things.

I can't agree with your assumption that the burden of proof lies on secular and rational minds to "prove" that materialism is true. First of all - The burden of proof lies with the claimant :in this case, that God exists as does an immaterial 'world' (forgive me if I've misused that word in this context). Secondly, revisiting a point about perception from my prior post, I don't believe anyone could make a claim that it is "True", except in the sense that it may "seem true". (Samuel Johnson, in defense of the material world, kicked a rock and declared "I refute it thus!". However, even in the absence of materialistic "truth", faith is not the best tool for finding such truth in my estimation, because it leads people down many different paths, all claiming to have the ONE true answer. This is why rational minds pursue and value science as the road to finding truth. It may never get us there, but it gives us the tools we need to test and verify our "guesses" to the best of our ability.

Lastly, God doesn't "fix" the problem of origin because you run into the same infinite regress problem. The difference being - science may (and that's a big may, I grant you) someday be able to tell us what happened before the big bang (the big crunch is the theory I happen to find particularly cogent personally). The problem with inserting a mystical beginning is that you topple the initial premise that "everything needs a creator". (God created the universe, who created God?) I know the standard answer is "But God is outside of space and time, etc.". But then if you are OK with assuming that God has always existed, what makes it so implausible to assume the universe has always existed, in some form, without the need for any supernatural crutch to hold it up? As Darwin said (although he was speaking purely of evolution) "There is grandeur in this view of life..." - that's precisely the sentiment I feel when thinking of the cosmos and its many natural mysteries, including its origin.

JF: “You use the term materialism in an almost deorgatory manner.”

I don’t feel derogatory feelings when I say or write it. To me materialism is a curious way of approaching life. It seems close-minded to me, but that would be the extent of my derogatory feelings. I think I understand the emotional/intellectual attraction of the philosophy, but don’t find it a compelling way to holistically approach life. I’m sure that has something to do with my upbringing and personality, etc.

“But what's the opposite viewpoint: Immaterialism?”

No. I don’t think there is an “opposite” view to materialism. Even the most ecstatic mystic lost in zen all day has some interaction with the world of our senses. I don’t know of any school of thought that completely denies the material world. Maya/illusion Buddhism and strains of Hinduism propose something close to an opposite to materialism, but it’s still within the context of beings existing in this common world, illusory or not. And I’m not advocating those. I’m simply advocating a philosophy that is open to the idea that there could be realms, worlds, dimensions, or whatever you want to call it, that are beyond our senses and our sense-extending tools and technologies. I don’t feel like that’s irrational or even counter-intuitive. I find an insistence that there can NOT be these things to be irrational.

“you might just have to accept the criticisms of others who like to know what's real and make our decisions based on those things.”

That is precisely why I hang out in atheist forums and submit my ideas to them. I accept their criticisms and try to keep an open mind to weaknesses in my arguments or person. But I just can’t accept your assertion that you “know what’s real”. I accept that we understand a subset of reality within the range of our senses and I live in that world with you and make most of my decisions in a very materialist manner of common-sense. I’m not attacking that world or that knowledge base. (Besides pointing out that we could be wrong about everything, but I’ve written about that in previous articles.)

“I can't agree with your assumption that the burden of proof lies on secular and rational minds to "prove" that materialism is true.”

I don’t. I’ve stated clearly that no one can prove or disprove materialism or the existence of a spiritual dimension. We have a hard enough time proving scientific theories! Look how much they have evolved over the centuries. So I’m not sitting here saying my ideas are True and yours are False unless proven otherwise. I’m simply critiquing a system of thought for what I perceive to be a big weakness. (Close-mindedness)

faith is not the best tool for finding such truth in my estimation, because it leads people down many different paths, all claiming to have the ONE true answer.”

I want to be clear about the context here. For material questions, science is our best tool, hands down. For questions about purpose and God, science is simply not applicable. It is within the context of these specific questions that philosophy/religion comes into play as “the best we’ve got” for finding answers. And as I said in the article, those answers by necessity cannot be certain. I think you are conflating the systematic doctrines and practices of religion with its underlying philosophical motivations. Yes, religious institutions claim to have the ONE true answer. So do most political, business and educational institutions. The multiplicity of claims does not negate the possibility that there could be truth in some of them.

“This is why rational minds pursue and value science as the road to finding truth.”

And this I agree with. I simply add that I don’t think one can find holistic truth if one relies only on science as an arbiter for interpreting all of life, especially when it comes to the interpersonal realms. And specifically if one wants answers to origin, God, and purpose. (and by “answers” I don’t mean THE CORRECT answers. I mean educated guesses.)

“but it gives us the tools we need to test and verify our "guesses" to the best of our ability.”

Yes, science is the right tool for our material theories. It is not a rational tool for our philosophical theories. Logic and observations are useful to both, and analogies are very helpful, but limited.

God doesn't "fix" the problem of origin because you run into the same infinite regress problem.”

But don’t you see, infinite regress is ONLY a problem for materialists.

“The problem with inserting a mystical beginning is that you topple the initial premise that "everything needs a creator".”

But that’s not the initial premise. The premise is specifically that effect has a cause. The theory of God is that God is not an effect. (You could also say that every created thing needs a creator, but I think that’s a bit circular as the definition of “created thing” is begging the question.)

“what makes it so implausible to assume the universe has always existed, in some form, without the need for any supernatural crutch to hold it up?”

What makes that implausible is that it just blows my little monkey mind. Every intuition we have tells us that complex things require minds to make them complex. Atoms and the physics that control them are incredibly complex. Chemical reactions more so. DNA exponentially more so. Cells and the machinery in them… Well, I’m sure you know the drill. Those intuitions could be wrong, sure, and ultimately my answer to “Why do you think there’s a God” is “I just do.” Just like your answer to “Why do you think there’s no God” is “I just do.” We can cover our tracks with all the fancy source-pulling and authority pointing we want, but it really does boil down to that, which is the point of my article. We are working with emotions and intuition when we answer questions that science can’t speak to. A common mistake I believe atheists make is to assume that their love for science somehow puts it in their corner in this debate. But it’s not. Science doesn’t care about God one way or another. We are just left with our conflicting emotional desires to form our opinion.

“As Darwin said "There is grandeur in this view of life..."

Without a doubt, God or no, the universe in mind boggling.


Daniel: You talk about being a Christian like selecting something from a menu in a restaurant -- because it is attractive and tastes good. Is that the essence of what it means to you? If not, why are you one and what specifically is its impact on you?

JF: Yeah, I’m familiar with the buffet analogy. I wrote lyrics for a Christian metal band I started in High School and one line went: “If you don’t accept the whole, why accept any at all?” (Referring to my modern Christian denomination’s definition of Christianity.) I found people who took parts of Christianity but rejected the system that it was institutionalized into to be foolish, weak-minded folk who weren’t serious about Truth. So I know where you are coming from with these questions. I assume you are referring to my picking and choosing of doctrine as “selecting something from a menu”. My motives for this are not as I once assumed them to be: as simply seeking what sounds nice to me so I don’t have to do the hard work of actually following God or His commandment. Instead, my motives are to find a theory that explains our existence without self-contradiction. I could easily be mistaken, but I’ve bashed my brains against the doctrines that caused me trouble for many years, studying them in depth, reading all the best article and arguments for them, because I really, really wanted to maintain my comfortable state wrapped in the authority of my institutional denomination and its particular interpretation of the Bible. Despite my best efforts I simply could not find a way to justify the circularity of these interpretations and the serious ramifications they had in limiting God’s power and goodness.

But this research did bring me to discover other doctrines from various times and places that “solved” the self-contradiction aspects. The circularity is still there, but that is the case with all claimed revelation.

So no, the essence of being a Christian is not about ordering the stuff that is attractive and tastes good to me. It’s about finding a framework for interpreting reality in a way that maintains logic, the goodness of God, a purpose for humans, and a positive way to organize my life and that of my family. As to why I am a Christian, and its impact on me, that is what I’m developing in this and subsequent articles. Stay tuned.



1 Comments:

Blogger David S Reif said...

Nice work.

D S Reif

6:13 PM  

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