Monday, January 25, 2010

Debate Dump #2

The following is a record of the responses I got from my Examiner article 'Why I'm a Christian 4: Utility' on the Atheism forum on Reddit. I really wish I could get such an extended conversation on a Christian forum, but I haven't found any that will just let people explore ideas without getting shut down or shouted out or just plain banned. (I've never actually been banned myself as I always strive to follow the community rules. But I see others who bring up points of view similar to my own getting banned.) Anyway, I'm not unaware that one is influenced by the communities in which they spend their time. And even though I am actively debating these atheists it's still surprising how much common ground we share. It's possible that my world view is being subtly bent to the shape of their hammers since they are the only people who will give me in-depth criticism. But let me explain why I keep coming back. First of all, I'm under the impression that if one wants a strong and robust worldview they should subject it to its toughest critics. In my case, that would be atheists and the conservative religious. Second, the plurality of voices in a forum ensures a rich mixture of critical style and perspectives. Of course a lot of it is simply insults or semantic debates, but there is still wheat to be separated from the chaff. New directions and sources to be explored. Points that I had never considered. Etc. This is the bending that I was referring to. It's not that I accept everything that they throw at me uncritically. It's simply that the amount of sources from the atheist/materialist perspective is greater due to the conservative religious forums letting me down.

And without further adieu, here's a lot of words:


 

pubjames

Watch the video. It is kind of f*d up.

I think it is great when parents do different things with their kids, and climbing to the top of a snow covered volcano would be pretty great, and memorable for the kid. But putting rocks in his backpack and making him crawl on hands and knees blindfolded is just weird and bizarre.

If the guy wants his kid to grow up to be a real man then he should act like a real man himself. Real men don't put rocks in their kids back-packs and force them to crawl on hands and knees. They pick them up when the kids get tired and give them a piggy-back to the top.


 

JoshForeman

This is a valid criticism. When I created this ceremony I thought it was important to push my son hard enough that it would be a memorable experience that was challenging enough for him to feel proud of accomplishing. There is definitely a fine line between pushing your kids to achieve, and driving them past brokenness.

As to how f*d up it is... have you read anything about traditional coming of age ceremonies? If you believe that evolution fitted us with these ideas of manhood, and ceremonies, and provings, and such, than I don't see how you can complain about my incredibly mild ceremony. There's a tribe in South America that weaves hundreds of bullet ants into mittens that they put on the kids, letting them get stung hundreds of times. And they repeat this several times over a period of time. There's and African tribe that ties vines to the kids ankle and they have to jump off the top of huge trees. If their heads don't touch the ground before they bounce they fail the test.

As to being a man myself, I DID carry the rocks for him after wards. And I've done much more difficult survival training myself when I was younger than him. Giving him a piggy-back ride to the top would have obviously missed the whole point of the exercise.

Voerendaalse

I now read some other articles by Joshua Foreman and I just give up. There are so many illogical things in there; I think he just doesn't get it.

For example an article "Do you believe that the Nort Pole is cold" and apparently this should lead to the reasoning "Jesus exists, because so many people tell me so".

I give up and go get ready for work. There's where I can really do something useful.


 


 


 


 

JoshForeman

haha... Not exactly my argument. That article is about radical skepticism, which I encourage, rather than the half-baked kind that simply rejects what you don't want to think about. None of my article are attempts to prove anything about Jesus.

But thanks for looking!

Voerendaalse

Indeed... weird. He needs a third party to make sure he can show his love to his kids and to his wife. He is glad he believes because now he has this god-person to use as this third party.

You cannot believe in a God, just because he can be a nice "tool" in your life. It's nonsense to create such a person in your mind to help you in everyday life, if he just doesn't exist!

Here's the post I put on the blog:

I am an atheist too. And I think that you cannot use this "doesn't God come in handy at some occasions" as an argument to believe in God. I agree that a God-person WOULD come in handy at many, many occasions in life (not only personal, but on a worldwide scale as well)... But he just isn't there, unfortunately.

So to me, you are creating yourself a God-person in your own brain, and you derive your morals from that and show your love to your kids via that fictual person. I think you could to the same, maybe even better, without that.

JoshForeman

"He needs a third party to make sure he can show his love to his kids and to his wife".

No, not at all. My point is that Christianity provides tools that facilitate that love. They don't generate it.

"You cannot believe in a God, just because he can be a nice "tool" in your life".

I agree with this. Did you read the first three paragraphs. I thought I was pretty clear about NOT being a Christian simply because it is useful. I think that's a flawed way to approach any belief.

"I think that you cannot use this "doesn't God come in handy at some occasions" as an argument to believe in God."

I was not making an argument for God. Notice this article is part 4 of a series. This article is about why I'm a Christian, not why there's a God or why Christianity is true. I have no desire to try to convince anyone of those things.

"So to me, you are creating yourself a God-person in your own brain,"

That's totally possible. So what? I'm just a guy doing my best to figure out the mystery that is life. We've come to different conclusions about God. That's fine.


 


 

berlinbrown

I am an Atheist and I used to want to leave Christians alone but this blog makes me sick.

Here is my response:

"I am an Atheist and I will respond to your post. Your post is absurb. It is filled with your opinion and how you think things should be. It is even hard to respond to.

Without going into detail into your article. People are just people. Just like dogs are just dogs and monkeys are just monkeys. There isn't a real purpose to the madness. We all try to survive and work within a system to make life better."

Humans have better tools to make life better and a rich history to build upon. I don't believe that anyone person has a better life or better answer than the other.

JoshForeman

Thanks for your response. And I'm sorry I made you feel ill!

"Your post is absurb. It is filled with your opinion and how you think things should be."

I have a feeling you are projecting some bitterness about how Christians have treated you onto me and my article. My opinions are simply my opinions about how I run my life. I'm not trying to force anyone to adopt my methods or beliefs. I'm expressing what I think works for me and my family.

"There isn't a real purpose to the madness."

You could be correct about this. But in case you are wrong, I'm going to go with my gut and act otherwise. I will believe that every human has purpose, value, and deserves love and respect. And I will teach that to my children. I have a hard time seeing why this would make anyone "sick".

"Humans have better tools to make life better and a rich history to build upon."

Agreed. Christianity is certainly a part of that rich history, and I build upon that.

"I don't believe that anyone person has a better life or better answer than the other".

So you think a drug addicted child prostitute's life is just as good as college educated personal trainer? I'm not sure what you mean by this. If you simply mean that no person is better than any other, I agree with you! I think we are all equal because we were all created for a purpose. As to answers, I think ones that come closer to Truth are better, and those that are further are worse. If there is no God than most Christian answers will be worse. If Jesus is God, than Christian answers will be better. I don't know which is which. But I believe one, and reject the other, just as you do. We are in the same boat, you and I, guessing our way through a very complex life. I wish you the best, and I hope your not offended that I value you as a human equal to me since I believe God made you and loves you.

berlinbrown

"As to answers, I think ones that come closer to Truth are better, and those that are further are worse." "Every human longs for purpose and direction. Some are better at generating or finding these things than others. Christianity provides them."

Think about this, really think about it. There are 6 billion people on the planet. Every decade there will be more and more from the previous decade. Billions and billions of people.

No one person is better than the other. There is no prize for being nice, there is no real penalty for being mean. Most of us try to live within the society, following the rules so we do not cause further frustration. Most of us do not commit crimes because we do not want to go to jail. But there isn't anything that says that going to jail is bad or not going to jail is good. It just means that you went to jail. For example, sometimes protesters are fighting for some cause and get lock up. Does that mean they are bad people? Probably not.

We try to find better ways for all of us be better humans and help out each other to advance the human cause. But no one person is required to follow that rule. In fact, a lot of people are cruel and unjust and they aren't punished. Maybe they shouldn't be?

Here is my point, none of us are really special. We all are given the same average lifespan. There aren't any serious penalties for say, "cheating on your wife" or "stealing money from poor people and not getting caught". To be honest, I don't think there should be. I recommend not cheating on your wife because then your divorce will be tough but there isn't any force to stop people or punish people from cheating.

There aren't any special privileges for being a great person, contributing to science or whatever. It seems that a lot of the great scientists of the past, lived normal lives. Sometimes people only realize their greatness long after they died. It is great that they advanced humanity, but they weren't required to. And neither is anyone else.

Why is being a drug addicted, child prostitute bad? I wouldn't recommend some be a drug-addicted, child prostitute because it will lead to a more difficult life. But what is the penality for being a drug-addicted, prostitute ...outside of breaking the law?

JoshForeman

I'm afraid your point is escaping me. I see the Nitsche Beyond Good and Evil thing your are reiterating. But since we fundamentally differ on whether or not life has purpose imbued by a transcendent being, all this stuff your saying is sort of like me quoting Matthew chapter 5 to you. I realize this is your opinion. I realize you think morals are a human construct that can be dispensed with at will and the ultimate arbiter of goodness is the individual and what makes them happy. I simply disagree with that. I'm not sure what evidence you can proffer that would make your position seem more tenable. It's simply preference.


 

berlinbrown

We differ on the purpose, but there is no proof that humans have a purpose. There is no evidence that one human lives a better or worse live from the other. And especially, he is not given a better life from some greater force. A human is as special as a monkey as a dog or cat. People are just animals trying to survive on the planet. Or lets get specific. Does any one person live a guaranteed shorter or longer life based on what they do in their life besides maybe thrill-seeking, smoking, etc? Does any one live a happier life?

You can quote Math

JoshForeman

"there is no proof that humans have a purpose."

Right. That's why I said the belief one way or another is simply preference. If you want to believe that it's fine with me. But I don't. So your affirmations about humans being equal to animals simply doesn't have any traction with me.

"Does any one person live a guaranteed shorter or longer life based on what they do in their life"

I don't think so. I also don't see that as indicative of purpose or purposelessness.

berlinbrown

"So your affirmations about humans being equal to animals simply doesn't have any traction with me."

It is just fact. When I mean there is no evidence, I mean that you can't make any conclusions. And if you did, what conclusions could you make?

I believe that plants, animals, viruses all exist in the same earth biosphere but that is all.


 

JoshForeman

"I believe that plants, animals, viruses all exist in the same earth biosphere but that is all."

And I agree, except for the "that is all" part? When you say this is "just fact." you are simply stating a preference. Neither of us can prove the other wrong no matter how many times we state our preference. That's hardly worth getting upset over, is it?

berlinbrown

Look at it this way, if there is a big earthquake tomorrow and all people die. And there are no more humans. Then there is as much purpose in them dying as if they didn't die.


 

JoshForeman

Only if your premise -that there is no transcendent agent bestowing purpose- is true. But if your premise is wrong, than even death has little to do with purpose. If there is life after death, or our consciousness continues in some form, there's no reason to assume that this life is the important one where all purpose finds its focus.


 


 

rooktakesqueen

"I pray for my sons every night after I read to them, and every morning on our way to school. I do this out loud, while physically touching them, connecting us, relaying and reinforcing my love and care for them."

Hahahahahaha.

Ahem.

But no, I think most of the supposed benefits he gains from his Christian faith could be gained in a better way with no faith at all.


 

JoshForeman

I thought some pervert might take that the wrong way... ;)

I'm curious if you have children, and how your parenting differs.

db2

"I pray for my sons every night after I read to them, and every morning on our way to school. I do this out loud, while physically touching them, connecting us, relaying and reinforcing my love and care for them."

Or just creeps them out!


 

JoshForeman

Just for the record, I touch their shoulders. Any psychologist will tell you the benefits of physical contact to communication.

And no, they are not creeped out. Whenever I forget to pray for them, they remind me.

db2

Well the whole thing you're describing there is creeping me out.

edit: I don't mean anything toward you personally, it's the situation that's making my skin crawl.

JoshForeman

Oh, ok. I understand. Hunting and going to strip clubs creep me out. Nothing against those who do it. It's just not for me.


 

Captain_Midnight

A person is a Christian because they believe Jesus is the son of God, died on the cross, and was resurrected. That is the oath you take when you become a Christian, and within this oath is the assertion that all other religions are false. You may have chosen Christianity for additional reasons, but this oath is required of every one of you.

But your obligation does not end there. You must assert that Jesus walked on water, turned water into wine, cast out demons, and healed the blind and leprous, but deny that Mohammad flew up to heaven in a chariot. You are expected to at least politely disagree when Jews tell you the Messiah has not yet arrived. You are expected to hold your religion above all others -- that there is no path to the Father but through Jesus.

Hopefully, such a bold assertion can be documented. This assertion is necessary because it forms the theological core of your faith. So your documentation needs to be pretty good. Unfortunately, your basis for this assertion is a series of gospels whose traditional history diverges quite a bit from what we've come to know about the actual historicity of the Bible. For example, the author of Mark is to this day undetermined, and it is believed to have been dictated second-hand. These gospels, perhaps because they were written several decades after the events in question, are packed with factual inconsistencies and historical inaccuracies, such as the Slaughter of the Innocents.

But I'm not here to debate the Gospels. I'm saying that the documentation that backs up the theological assertions you are required to make as a Christian are rather problematic. You are professing your faith on the basis of a book that has been added to, excised, rearranged, re-worded, and inconsistently translated over the course of hundreds of years. A book that also contains favorable depictions of genocide, mass murder, rape, incest, torture, slavery, and human sacrifice.

"Regardless of my feelings for her (of which I have bucketfuls) I simply don't desire other women because of my deep belief in the way God brings all things to be. I believe he brought us together for good reasons, and no matter how I feel, my faith in that process will keep us together. So my faith brings a stability and security to my marriage that I don't think could exist without appealing to God. This is not to say that an atheist or Buddhist can't have a stable secure marriage. But that stability and security must come from other places, and I don't know of other sources. Will power and loyalty only go so far without an ultimate, ontologically real force to attach them to. (ie God) We used to have social pressure from our families and society to stay married, but that's pretty much gone now. To attempt a lifelong commitment without a transcendent reinforcement seems to me like rock climbing without a rope. If your emotions slip, the firm conviction that there is a God holding you accountable can be all that keeps you going through a rough patch."

The notions of morality, common sense and impulse control have been around for a lot longer than religion. If they had not been around, the human race would not have survived long enough to write those books in the first place. We were holding ourselves accountable long before we transferred accountability to supernatural agents.

But now, you cannot even take credit for the stability of your own marriage. You feel compelled to transfer your accomplishment to a God, since pride is a sin and all glory goes to Him. As you say yourself, you cannot even conceptualize a framework that is not based on this lopsided arrangement. Yet you characterize your situation as empowering.

"the advantage to accepting it is a deeper, more stable moral structure that can be taught to kids easier than abstract tenets backed up by nothing more than a vague notion that we'll all be happier if we follow these rules."

Abstract tenets? What's so abstract about treating people as you wish to be treated, as Confucius wrote five hundred years before the arrival of Jesus? "All men are created equal," a notion derived from the secular philosophies of people like John Locke, Thomas Paine, and Hegel, forms the basis of the American republic. The right to free speech, to reasonable search and seizure, to a speedy trial by a jury of our peers. These sentiments are no less moral because they came from the minds of men instead of the Word of God. They are no more difficult to understand than the parable of the Samaritan, for example, which teaches that a man is not judged by God on the basis of his faith, but by the rightness of his actions.

If you want a modern day version of the Samaritan, I recommend checking out Sweden. They're doing much better than we are, despite their insufficient godlessness.


 

JoshForeman

"That is the oath you take when you become a Christian, and within this oath is the assertion that all other religions are false."

I'm sure this is true in some form of Christianity. But in my little corner of Christendom that was never a ritual that I've encountered. I've never taken any religious oath. I also reject the idea that "all other religious are false." in a comprehensive or total way. Please understand, I'm an agnostic before I'm a Christian. This distinction will be important as I reply to the rest of your comments.

"You must assert that Jesus walked on water, turned water into wine, cast out demons, and healed the blind and leprous, but deny that Mohammad flew up to heaven in a chariot."

You are apparently unaware of the broad range of Christian interpretation. You've got your literalist, inerrantist, young earth creationists like the televangelists. These people are basically the straw men of Christianity. They represent a very small fraction of Christians and Christian belief. On the other end of the spectrum you have scholars like Marcus Borg who deny the literal resurrection of Jesus (along with any other miracles) and consider most of the Bible as redacted materiel. In future conversations with Christians, it might be helpful for you to inquire where on that scale your Christian lands before making arguments that don't apply to their positions as you just have.

"You are expected to hold your religion above all others -- that there is no path to the Father but through Jesus."

I do hold Christianity as superior to other religions, and agree that Jesus is the only way to God. I also hold that I could be wrong about any of this, and that I don't have the experience or supernatural wisdom and knowledge to properly ascertain all Truth claims and know which is correct. Also, I am a Universalist Christian, which means I believe every single human that ever lived will be redeemed through Christ. I don't think death is an obstacle to redemption or that some random assertion of some random doctrine is what God wants from us.

"Hopefully, such a bold assertion can be documented."

And it what format would you accept such documentation?

"So your documentation needs to be pretty good."

I guess. But again, since my interpretation of God is about relationship, the documentation is ancillary.

"Unfortunately, your basis for this assertion is a series of gospels whose traditional history diverges quite a bit from what we've come to know about the actual historicity of the Bible. For example, the author of Mark is to this day undetermined, and it is believed to have been dictated second-hand."

Yes, I've read many books from very conservative to very liberal scholars on this topic. I don't believe the Bible is inerrant. I believe it's a collection of many different kinds of documents that reflect people's opinions and beliefs. Even many conservative Bibles note where likely redaction took place. I don't need a perfect document in order for some Truth to be present.

"A book that also contains favorable depictions of genocide, mass murder, rape, incest, torture, slavery, and human sacrifice".

Not to mention contradicting visions of an alternating omniscient God with one who changes his mind, needs to come out of heaven to see what's going on, and has business meetings. Like I said. These are obviously perspectives of a society as its theology developed. This is only a problem if you believe every word has to be perfect.

"The notions of morality, common sense and impulse control have been around for a lot longer than religion."

Agreed. And my point was not that I can't teach my kids morality apart from religion. Only that it provides two very helpful tools. First, a narrative that helps us understand and remember. And second, a transcendent authority that puts us all under a common set of expectations.

"But now, you cannot even take credit for the stability of your own marriage. You feel compelled to transfer your accomplishment to a God, since pride is a sin and all glory goes to Him".

Yeah. Sure. Is that bad? Do I need pride to accomplish something greater?

"As you say yourself, you cannot even conceptualize a framework that is not based on this lopsided arrangement. Yet you characterize your situation as empowering."

Uh... I don't think I said that. I totally see other frameworks for marriage working just fine. I was saying I find the one with a transcendent authority to be superior because it kicks in when our fragile human emotions and will power fail us. That doesn't mean there aren't plenty of good, moral atheists out there with fantastic marriages. I hope every married couple has a blissful marriage whatever their framework.

"What's so abstract about treating people as you wish to be treated, as Confucius wrote five hundred years before the arrival of Jesus?"

What is abstract is its lack of foundation in anything beyond "some guy had this good idea." Your list of wonderful moral ideals is great. I'm not disparaging them in any way. But one thing most of them have in common is their instantiation in government institutions. Governments transcend individuals, so you see the same mechanism in place as moral claims that are rooted in religious systems. The only problem is that governments rise and fall, and with them come and go our freedoms of speech, jury of our peers, etc. The other problem is that governments are not transcendent enough. Without a God, there is no accountability that puts equal pressure on the people and the government. Thus tyranny is always a possibility. I recognize that tyranny is a constant feature of human societies regardless of how religious they are. That is not the point of my argument. My point is that transcendent authority that two parties feel they are under produces superior moral results than when one or both parties feel they are not obligated to a transcendent authority. (As is the case when governments choose to take rights away from their citizens.)

"If you want a modern day version of the Samaritan, I recommend checking out Sweden. They're doing much better than we are, despite their insufficient godlessness."

I have read that they are the highest donation per capita society in the world. If so, I would say they are the most Christian nation on earth, regardless of their religious beliefs.

Captain_Midnight

"I'm sure this is true in some form of Christianity. But in my little corner of Christendom that was never a ritual that I've encountered. I've never taken any religious oath. I also reject the idea that "all other religious are false." in a comprehensive or total way. Please understand, I'm an agnostic before I'm a Christian. This distinction will be important as I reply to the rest of you comments."

Formally and publicly accepting Jesus as your lord and savior, who died on the cross and was resurrected, is in fact the basis of mainstream Christianity. If you do not accept those claims, then most mainstream Christians will not consider you a Christian. Either that, or you're a charismatic, in which case you're in pretty wishy-washy theological territory.

"You are apparently unaware of the broad range of Christian interpretation. You've got your literalist, inerrantist, young earth creationists like the televangelists...In future conversations with Christians, it might be helpful for you to inquire where on that scale your Christian lands before making arguments that don't apply to their positions as you just have."

I am very aware that there is a spectrum of people who selectively interpret some aspects of Jesus's life as "metaphorical" or "symbolic" while insisting to me that other aspects are indisputable, despite being no less extraordinary or fantastic. In future conversations that you solicit about your religion, perhaps you should be more forthcoming about your denomination and what particular testimony it cherry-picks.

Also, you bewilderingly missed the opportunity to address the very question you brought up. You tell me there are a lot of different kinds of Christians, scold me for not asking you which one you are... and then you proceed to offer no information on that front. Am I missing something?

I do hold Christianity as superior to other religions, and agree that Jesus is the only way to God.

I also reject the idea that "all other religious are false."

By asserting that Jesus is the only way to God, you are, in fact, declaring that all other religions are false, because no other religion besides yours asserts the superiority of Jesus. You can't have it both ways. Your Assertion A, by its very nature, denies Assertions B through Z.

"since my interpretation of God is about relationship, the documentation is ancillary."

I'm definitely leaning towards charismatic now. Or are you uncomfortable with the messy parts of the Bible and prefer a spirituality that just makes it a supplementary memo of some kind? Or are you asserting that you have a direct line to the creator of the universe? Your theology is a little shaky here, my friend.

"These are obviously perspectives of a society as its theology developed. This is only a problem if you believe every word has to be perfect."

Ah, I see, so the unfavorable depictions are "developing theology," but the stuff you like is not. Respectfully, you're starting to lose me here, Josh. Not many people have patience for selection bias.

"Only that it provides two very helpful tools. First, a narrative that helps us understand and remember. And second, a transcendent authority that puts us all under a common set of expectations."

It's not very difficult. When a child does something bad, you punish them. When they do something good, you reward them. We've been doing it for tens of thousands of years, and we never had to write any of it down to keep track. How do I know? Like I said earlier, if we hadn't been doing it, our species wouldn't have survived long enough to write it down and say God told us to do it. We understand it now as something called "behavioral conditioning." Believing in a god does not make us any more effective at it, and not believing in a god does not make you any less effective at it.

"Uh... I don't think I said that."

("Yet you characterize your situation as empowering.")

Think harder:

"I simply don't desire other women because of my deep belief in the way God brings all things to be. I believe he brought us together for good reasons, and no matter how I feel, my faith in that process will keep us together. So my faith brings a stability and security to my marriage that I don't think could exist without appealing to God."

You're not being honest about your own convictions.

"I totally see other frameworks for marriage working just fine. I was saying I find the one with a transcendent authority to be superior because it kicks in when our fragile human emotions and will power fail us".

That's a pretty arrogant claim. You're saying that being a Christian makes your marriage indefinably better.

"The only problem is that governments rise and fall, and with them come and go our freedoms of speech, jury of our peers, etc. The other problem is that governments are not transcendent enough. Without a God, there is no accountability that puts equal pressure on the people and the government. Thus tyranny is always a possibility. I recognize that tyranny is a constant feature of human societies regardless of how religious they are. That is not the point of my argument."

Then why mention it? Clearly you have a problem with secular authority. Are you saying that we shouldn't have a separation of church and state?

"My point is that transcendent authority that two parties feel they are under produces superior moral results than when one or both parties feel they are not obligated to a transcendent authority. (As is the case when governments choose to take rights away from their citizens.)"

I see, you're rolling back to the "atheist don't have morals" territory. Or as you would hedge it, "atheists can't be as moral." What an incredibly arrogant and insulting assertion. You are declaring that the belief in a supernatural agent makes you a better person than me. "Superior moral results," Josh. You can't hide from wording like that.

You apparently cannot accept that a person can be as "good" as you but not have any belief in a supernatural agent. You prefer to think that morality comes from God in the form of the Christian Bible, instead of letting the human race take some credit for its own development.

Such is the mindset of a person who has been taught to believe he is a shameful sinner -- from birth. That his only path to "salvation" from a sin he had nothing to do with is from a religion whose mascot has no more historical authority than Homer's Oddysey.

"I have read that they are the highest donation per capita society in the world. If so, I would say they are the most Christian nation on earth, regardless of their religious beliefs."

How curious that you would co-opt a secular society -- as long as it behaves. But as for Soviet Russia, they failed because they were atheists, right? Piffle. Again, Josh, you're trying to have your cake and eat it too.


 

JoshForeman

"or you're a charismatic, in which case you're in pretty wishy-washy theological territory."

Hahaha... now an atheist is determining what kind of theology is wishy-washy? As to who considers me a Christian... I don't really care about that.

"perhaps you should be more forthcoming about your denomination and what particular testimony it cherry-picks."

Ok, fair enough. My little bio on top of the article says: "Josh claims to be a socially conservative agnostic Christian universalist."

"Also, you bewilderingly missed the opportunity to address the very question you brought up. You tell me there are a lot of different kinds of Christians, scold me for not asking you which one you are... and then you proceed to offer no information on that front. Am I missing something?"

Oh wow... you got me there. I'm pretty sure I meant to explain, but must have forgotten. Sorry! I can make it simple by saying I'm closer to Borg than I am to Jimmy Swaggart. Because I'm agnostic I don't make any absolute claims concerning what did or did not happen in history. I believe that in some manner of speaking Jesus was God. And whatever mechanism for redemption that Jesus represented, He accomplished it. We cool now?

"By asserting that Jesus is the only way to God, you are, in fact, declaring that all other religions are false, because no other religion besides yours asserts the superiority of Jesus. You can't have it both ways. Your Assertion A, by its very nature, denies Assertions B through Z."

I disagree. I used to think that way when I was a fundamentalist. My current belief is that whatever we humans do, say, or believe in this life, we will be set straight by Christ in the next life. Here's a handy chart I made that shows the difference between traditional Christianity, Universalism, and Unitarianism:

http://joshuaforeman.blogspot.com/2008/10/unitarianuniversalist-clarification.html

"Or are you asserting that you have a direct line to the creator of the universe? Your theology is a little shaky here, my friend."

Heh... again with the theological reprimand! Since I'm not claiming that what I believe is Truth, I don't really see how you can criticize me for not being inside mainstream Christianity. I know I'm not. I never claimed to be. I am who I am and I believe what I believe. If I speak in error feel free to point that out. But knocking me for not being a particular brand of Christian seems like an odd angle for an atheist.

"Ah, I see, so the unfavorable depictions are "developing theology," but the stuff you like is not. Respectfully, you're starting to lose me here, Josh. Not many people have patience for selection bias."

Your strategy seems to be the creation of two unappealing boxes for me to fit into. You think I need to be a mainline inerrantist, or a radical wacky cherry picker. I don't fit either of those boxes. To address your question directly: Yes, I believe the depictions of God as less than perfect were developing theology. Most mainline scholars agree with this assessment, it's not some random thing I thought up. The accusation about cherry picking only holds if the verses I choose as "the good ones" are cited as absolute authority. I don't do that. I think the Bible as a whole points in a general direction.

"We understand it now as something called "behavioral conditioning." Believing in a god does not make us any more effective at it, and not believing in a god does not make you any less effective at it."

I agree that I am doing behavioral conditioning with my children. I don't know if the God element makes it more effective or not, but I think that it does.

"That's a pretty arrogant claim. You're saying that being a Christian makes your marriage indefinably better."

How is that arrogant? Yes, my faith makes my marriage better. I believe that. What does that have to do with an evaluation of others? I'm not implying that I'm better than anyone else. I'm saying my faith helps my marriage. You seem to be reading a lot of outside stuff into my words.

"Then why mention it? Clearly you have a problem with secular authority. Are you saying that we shouldn't have a separation of church and state?"

Ah... I see now. You really do have me read wrong. And no, I'm not saying we should not have a separation of church and state. I love our secular government and wouldn't trade it for any other in history. I love that we are free to be any religion or non-religion we want.

"What an incredibly arrogant and insulting assertion. You are declaring that the belief in a supernatural agent makes you a better person than me."

No... No I'm not. If I didn't say it in this conversation I've said it at least twice in this thread. I am absolutely sure there are many morally superior atheists to me. My faith makes... are you ready for this... makes me better than I would be without that faith. As to whether or not it would make you better... how the hell should I know?

""Superior moral results," Josh. You can't hide from wording like that".

I'm not trying to hide. I'm trying to articulate my point fully. And that is this theory that seems true to me: Making moral choices that go against one's interests can be difficult for anyone. Our resources for making those tough decisions are as follows: fear of government punishment, willpower, habit, emotions, fear of supernatural punishment, love of supernatural agent... maybe there are some others I haven't thought of... But the point is that when you remove some of those resources... doesn't it make sense that more moral failings will occur? Does that make me a better person than anyone else? NO! Maybe your reliance on willpower and emotion works better than mine because you have superior willpower and emotion. How can I possibly know that?

"You apparently cannot accept that a person can be as "good" as you but not have any belief in a supernatural agent".

Nope. There are plenty of morally superior atheists who are better Christians than I. (As in they embody the teachings and love of Christ.)

"You prefer to think that morality comes from God in the form of the Christian Bible, instead of letting the human race take some credit for its own development."

Well, I believe God designed the human race to have the dichotomy of our animal instinct in conflict with our longing for moral transcendence. I believe we evolved both through a process that was designed by God. And that He made human psychology such that every so often a great teacher would emerge and instantiate these moral proclivities.

"Such is the mindset of a person who has been taught to believe he is a shameful sinner -- from birth."

If by "shameful sinner" you mean fundamentally selfish, then yeah. I am. It's specifically that animal instinct to take and not give that our moral systems conflict with. I assume you're using the old riff that as a Christian I'm full of shame and guilt and I need God as a crutch for my weak mind. Whatever. I feel guilty when I act selfishly or unloving. My faith helps me course-correct. I'm happy for you if you are a morally grounded person who doesn't need faith to be unselfish and loving. Kudos!

"That his only path to "salvation" from a sin he had nothing to do with is from a religion whose mascot has no more historical authority than Homer's Oddysey."

Since I believe that "salvation" is the destiny of all humans, this doesn't really apply to me.

"How curious that you would co-opt a secular society -- as long as it behaves. But as for Soviet Russia, they failed because they were atheists, right?"

I'm not co-opting. I'm describing their actions as Christ-like. And yes, Soviet Russia failed morally when its government starved and killed tens of millions of it's own citizens. I'm not saying that happened because they were atheist, any more than the travesties that theocracies have brought about happened because they were religious. I'm saying that's an example of a state not being held to the same standards as its citizens.


 

Captain_Midnight

You keep bringing up the word "agnostic." It does not mean what you have been apparently taught it means. "Agnostic" is a philosophical position where you believe it's impossible to prove or disprove the existence of God. An agnostic does not believe in any religion. You may be agnostic towards other ideas, but that is a different matter.

"I disagree."

You are free to do so. That does not change the irrefutable theology of your position. Taking Jesus as your lord and accepting that he is the only way to "salvation" necessarily dismisses all other competing theologies, since none of them accept any element of your claim.

"I used to think that way when I was a fundamentalist. My current belief is that whatever we humans do, say, or believe in this life, we will be set straight by Christ in the next life."

Which anyone who does not believe in Christ will find offensive, and also kind of arrogant. And unprovable.

"How is that arrogant? Yes, my faith makes my marriage better. I believe that. What does that have to do with an evaluation of others? I'm not implying that I'm better than anyone else. I'm saying my faith helps my marriage. You seem to be reading a lot of outside stuff into my words."

You seem to be revealing sentiments that you do not fully acknowledge.

"My faith makes... are you ready for this... makes me better than I would be without that faith."

You have no comparison with which to make that claim, or at least you have not provided one. Regardless, believing that God exists should not in itself make anyone a better person. It should have no impact whatsoever on the quality of their character. Furthermore, following the teachings of Jesus to make yourself a better person does not necessarily have anything to do with believing he's the son of God.

Also, you appear to be lying to yourself or me about your arrogance. Because you were clearly not referring to yourself:

"My point is that transcendent authority that two parties feel they are under produces superior moral results than when one or both parties feel they are not obligated to a transcendent authority. (As is the case when governments choose to take rights away from their citizens.)"

There is nothing specific about this statement whatsoever. You are generalizing to the entire human race. When I pointed this out to you, you claimed you were only referring to yourself. Your assertion is very clearly false. Again, it appears that there is a lot going on in your perception that you are not fully aware of.

"Maybe your reliance on willpower and emotion works better than mine because you have superior willpower and emotion."

Willpower and emotion are just aspects of decision making. As I said earlier, behavioral conditioning determines how you react, and you shouldn't need a supernatural agent to validate that conditioning.

You are relying on a crutch that you have been convinced you need as a sinner, Josh. But you are no less valuable than any other human being, and it's not right for anyone to tell you otherwise or even claim they have the right to. You have the right to take credit for your accomplishments and responsibility for your actions.

"Well, I believe God designed the human race to have the dichotomy of our animal instinct in conflict with our longing for moral transcendence. I believe we evolved both through a process that was designed by God. And that He made human psychology such that every so often a great teacher would emerge and instantiate these moral proclivities."

If you're going to basically dismiss evolutionary biology, then you're further down the rabbit hole than I thought. Your depiction of supernatural involvement in this process is scientifically offensive, and its factual claims are arrogant assumption. And I notice again that you once again forbid human kind to take credit for its accomplishments by invoking the "great teacher" canard.

And I can't help but ask: Does God make people gay as well?

You see, once you start attributing human development to God, you can't stop with the characteristics that make you feel warm and fuzzy. You obligate yourself to explain why God would create a homosexual, psychopath, or Glenn Beck. You also deny humanity its involvement in developing itself. You trump both nature and nurture with a supernatural agent.

Or is God's will suddenly unknowable?

"I'm not co-opting."

You are free to think so.

"I'm not saying that happened because they were atheist, any more than the travesties that theocracies have brought about happened because they were religious."

I'm sorry, but that statement is not consistent with this one:

"My point is that transcendent authority that two parties feel they are under produces superior moral results than when one or both parties feel they are not obligated to a transcendent authority. (As is the case when governments choose to take rights away from their citizens.)"

Not only is your theology hazy, but your thinking process appears to be clouded by denial.


 

JoshForeman

Response Part 2: Return of the Character Limit

"You are relying on a crutch that you have been convinced you need as a sinner"

Ok. Or... maybe all humans are fragile and require psychological mechanisms for living in complex societies. I'm glad your big and strong and don't need my pathetic mechanisms. Again: kudos!

"you are no less valuable than any other human being"

Yes, I've said we are all equal. Thanks for the pep talk though.

"it's not right for anyone to tell you otherwise or even claim they have the right to."

I don't think anyone has told me I'm less valuable than anyone else. But you sure make me feel that way when you say I need a crutch. ;)

"You have the right to take credit for your accomplishments and responsibility for your actions."

Hm... As an atheist I'd be interested in seeing how you justify free will. Hell, I'm a theist and even I don't believe in free will except as a much needed illusion.

"If you're going to basically dismiss evolutionary biology"

I didn't dismiss it. I affirmed it. I believe that evolutionary biology is the mechanism that God used to create life and humans. Our only difference is that I don't think it's an accident that we have that little reptile nub in our brain.

"Your depiction of supernatural involvement in this process is scientifically offensive, and its factual claims are arrogant assumption."

There you go getting offended again. Or are you simply channeling "science" and getting offended by proxy? Take it easy, man. I have opinions like everyone else. I'm sure a lot of them are wrong. I'm not holding a knife to your throat and telling you to change yours.

"And I notice again that you once again forbid human kind to take credit for its accomplishments by invoking the "great teacher" canard."

Uh... the great teachers were human. And exactly what do you want humans to take credit for? According to you our moral systems are the result of random mutation and such. I don't think "random" deserves an award.

"And I can't help but ask: Does God make people gay as well?"

Yes. I suppose I should have also noted in my bio that I'm a theistic determinist. I like consistency. Either God is all powerful or He is not. If humans have the power to thwart His will than He is not all powerful.

"You obligate yourself to explain why God would create a homosexual, psychopath, or Glenn Beck."

Yes, my theory of everything does obligate me to do so. And I do. I've written extensively on the topic but I'm sure you don't care. I'll just say I believe in the soul making theodicy and leave it at that. You can look it up if you're interested, which you aren't.

"You also deny humanity its involvement in developing itself. You trump both nature and nurture with a supernatural agent."

Yep. Sorry to offend you. Don't take it personally.

"Or is God's will suddenly unknowable?"

There is no "suddenly" about it. Of course it's unknowable. Everything is unknowable. Unless you have some work around for radical skepticism that I've never heard of. I have my beliefs about what God's will is. Hopes. You know... desires. But that doesn't make them so. Just as your belief that there is no God doesn't make it more or less True.

"Not only is your theology hazy, but your thinking process appears to be clouded by denial."

Yes. One thing I can be pretty certain about is that my theology is hazy. As I think it must be if one is attempting to be open-minded and humble. As for my thinking process... Well, I'm hardly in a position to evaluate it myself now am I? If I was in denial I wouldn't be able to recognize it. So I thank you for your critique.


 

Captain_Midnight

"Ok. Or... maybe all humans are fragile and require psychological mechanisms for living in complex societies. I'm glad your big and strong and don't need my pathetic mechanisms. Again: kudos!"

No one requires religion, however. They're just conditioned to think that they do, or they don't encounter a perfectly suitable secular system. I keep thinking of Sweden, but you don't seem to be factoring them in.

"I didn't dismiss it. I affirmed it. I believe that evolutionary biology is the mechanism that God used to create life and humans. Our only difference is that I don't think it's an accident that we have that little reptile nub in our brain."

When a natural system explains a phenomenon, there is no reason to apply a supernatural agent to it. There is nothing about evolution that requires a God. At all. Ever. Not even a little bit.

Also, I'm not sure what you mean by "accident." There are gradual mutations that are inevitable when copying information from one area to another, which is basically what you do when you procreate. And I sincerely hope you are not taking "reptile nub" literally. There is nothing reptilian in human DNA. In the context of neurology, "reptile" refers to the R-complex, which is the area of the brain that includes the brain stem and the cerebellum. Scientists refer to it as "reptilian" because reptilian brains are dominated by a brain stem and cerebellum. The human brain includes an additional area, called the neocortex.

"As an atheist I'd be interested in seeing how you justify free will. Hell, I'm a theist and even I don't believe in free will except as a much needed illusion."

I see, you're saying that you can't take credit for it because God made it happen on your behalf already, or he knew it would happen, and therefore you can't take credit? This is a rudimentary perception of omniscience that comes from a linear time perspective. Imagine a God who knows all possible actions, and knows all outcomes of all possible actions. This is actually much more complex than simply knowing the future. It makes God (or whatever a person chooses to call this force) even more powerful than a deterministic God, while giving you the ability to call your own shots.

"There you go getting offended again. Or are you simply channeling "science" and getting offended by proxy? Take it easy, man. I have opinions like every one else. I'm sure a lot of them are wrong. I'm not holding a knife to your throat and telling you to change yours."

Your opinions in this particular area are offensive, arrogant and presumptuous to a non-theistic person. You have nothing to base your claims on save for a belief that it's just true. You have come to this conclusion because it pleases you, rather than because it is true or may be true.

"Uh... the great teachers were human. And exactly what do you want humans to take credit for? According to you our moral systems are the result of random mutation and such. I don't think "random" deserves an award."

I didn't really say anything of the sort. In fact, I have explicitly said, twice, that our morals are largely the result of behavioral conditioning. These can be indirectly affected by gradual evolutionary processes, I suppose. But evolution works on such a long time scale that our species, which is estimated to be at least a hundred thousand years old, has not been around long enough for evolution to have a substantial effect on our neurology.

There appears to be a lot you don't know about evolution and natural selection.

But my objection to your statement was the implication that these "great teachers" were the result of a completely unsubstantiated, supernaturally-induced process that caused them to appear on a cyclical basis. You just can't tell that to a non-theistic person from whom you have requested feedback and expect them to smile and nod. If you wanted polite respect for mystical notions that lack any kind of evidence, you're in the wrong neighborhood.

"Yes. I suppose I should have also noted in my bio that I'm a theistic determinist. I like consistency. Either God is all powerful or He is not. If humans have the power to thwart His will than He is not all-powerful."

Everyone has the power to say no when someone tells them to do something. Clearly, God does not take over your body and mind and force you to do it. But what you don't appear to be addressing is why God would create someone who was designed in a way that would could cause incredible suffering to themselves and the people around them. Why does God let people be born who will starve to death at the age of six, while surrounded by disease, drought, and violence. Why does God allow millions of such people to live lives of brief, intense misery.

There are answers to these questions, but you will certainly not find them in Christianity. They will instead tell you that God works in mysterious ways.

But it was God's will that Haiti was essentially destroyed. They're certain of that. Certainly, since God did not not will it, he willed it. That is the fatal trap of determinism.

"Yes, my theory of everything does obligate me to do so. And I do. I've written extensively on the topic but I'm sure you don't care. I'll just say I believe in the soul making theodicy and leave it at that. You can look it up if you're interested, which you aren't."

I don't know why you would say that, since we've been having an extensive discussion.

Also, per theodicy: Have you ever wondered why proving the existence of God is so incredibly complex? Shouldn't such a thing be inherently simple? The problem of course, is that your supernatural agent is so reluctant to make his presence known that it is almost as if he doesn't exist. So the gap between doubt and atheism is filled with circuitous reasoning and belabored thinking, because there is nothing really to go on besides arguments from reason.

Also, to say you ascribe to theodicy is like saying you're a "Christian." Theodicy itself it so circuitous and belabored that it contains a large number of mutually incompatible theories.

"There is no "suddenly" about it. Of course it's unknowable. Everything is unknowable. Unless you have some work around for radical skepticism that I've never heard of."

Oh, you have heard of it. It's the Bible. It lays out God's personality in great detail. Remember the menu? Genocide, mass murder, human sacrifice, incest, et cetera?

Also, you were quite sure what God's will was a second ago:

_____________________________________________

"I believe that evolutionary biology is the mechanism that God used to create life and humans.

I believe in the soul making theodicy

I believe God designed the human race to have the dichotomy of our animal instinct in conflict with our longing for moral transcendence. I believe we evolved both through a process that was designed by God. And that He made human psychology such that every so often a great teacher would emerge and instantiate these moral proclivities.

I think the Bible as a whole points in a general direction.

My current belief is that whatever we humans do, say, or believe in this life, we will be set straight by Christ in the next life.

I believe that in some manner of speaking Jesus was God. And whatever mechanism for redemption that Jesus represented, He accomplished it.

I believe every single human that ever lived will be redeemed through Christ. I don't think death is an obstacle to redemption or that some random assertion of some random doctrine is what God wants from us."

_______________________________________________

I think we can dispense with you backpedaling on God's will, Josh.

"Yes. One thing I can be pretty certain about is that my theology is hazy. As I think it must be if one is attempting to be open-minded and humble."

Open-mindedness does not mean entertaining a belief until it has been largely disproven. Please watch this 10-minute YouTube clip on the subject.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T69TOuqaqXI

I think you will find it brisk and fairly civil on the subject.

"As for my thinking process... Well, I'm hardly in a position to evaluate it myself now am I? If I was in denial I wouldn't be able to recognize it. So I thank you for your critique."

Sure you are able. You're evaluating it right now.


 

JoshForeman

"No one requires religion, however. They're just conditioned to think that they do"

A fine opinion. I could just as easily say: "Everyone requires religion, however. Some are just conditioned to think that they don't." How do you know you're not just especially well equipped to handle life? How do you know that you won't need it in the future? How do you know that you don't need it now, but are in denial because you find the concept of a God distasteful?

"I keep thinking of Sweden, but you don't seem to be factoring them in".

Perhaps not in our little convo. But certainly in this thread. I've called them the most Christian country, twice. If they are feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and caring for widows and orphans at a better rate per capita, they are fulfilling Christ's admonition and description of true religion. I care about fruit, not didactic doctrine affirmation.

"There is nothing about evolution that requires a God. At all. Ever. Not even a little bit."

Life from non-life? And even if that was a natural phenomenon, my belief in God is not predicated on a god-of-the-gaps structure. My belief in God is predicated on my family/cultural trajectory, philosophical inquiry, and existential needs.

"There are gradual mutations that are inevitable when copying information from one area to another"

Yes, I understand the word "accident" implies agency. I'm using common parlance here. I can be more technical if you like, but I thought you would understand my meaning.

"And I sincerely hope you are not taking "reptile nub" literally."

No, not at all. I was just watching Cosmos at lunch and Sagan was pointing to that spot in the brain and using the word reptilian. I understand it's not literal.

"This is a rudimentary perception of omniscience that comes from a linear time perspective."

Yeah... I've been a part of many a debate, and read several books on this subject. I can't do compatibilism simply because of its ramifications for logic and hence communication. I do believe in perceived compatibilism. I think we were designed to perceive ourselves as moral agents for very good reasons though.

"Your opinions in this particular area are offensive, arrogant and presumptuous to a non-theistic person."

Well I guess there comes a point when I have to just say... I can't really apologize for this. I can't believe what you believe. I mean no offense, and I'm a polite person who wishes the best for all. If that's not good enough I don't have any other recourse for propitiation. I assume you understand how offense your statements are to most theists, right? Does this bother you, or do you assume that since your opinion is right, and theirs is wrong, any offense is their own problem?

"You have nothing to base your claims on save for a belief that it's just true."

Sure I do. But the basis is dependent on a particular set of assumptions that we don't share. And they are so fundamental that no evidence can be proffered to support either one.

"You have come to this conclusion because it pleases you, rather than because it is true or may be true."

It's a mixture. As I believe it is with everyone.

http://www.examiner.com/x-19272-Seattle-Faith--Agnosticism-Examiner~y2009m10d21-Why-Im-a-Christian-2-I-want-to-believe

"our morals are largely the result of behavioral conditioning."

I'm sorry, I thought you were the one that posted the link to the evolutionary biologist's article which makes the case for biological encoding of morals. For the record, I think it's both.

"evolution works on such a long time scale that our species, which is estimated to be at least a hundred thousand years old, has not been around long enough for evolution to have a substantial effect on our neurology."

This guy disagrees.

http://edge.org/3rd_culture/hauser09/hauser09_index.html

"There appears to be a lot you don't know about evolution and natural selection."

I'm sure we both have gaps in our knowledge of the field. If yours is superior to mine, Kudos!

"my objection to your statement was the implication that these "great teachers" were the result of a completely unsubstantiated, supernaturally-induced process that caused them to appear on a cyclical basis."

No. As a determinist I don't think specific interventions are necessary.

"You just can't tell that to a non-theistic person from whom you have requested feedback and expect them to smile and nod. If you wanted polite respect for mystical notions that lack any kind of evidence, you're in the wrong neighborhood."

Well, I didn't say what you thought I said. And I'm not expecting a smile and a nod. I've posted on here for a long time now. I know the drill. I come here for the harshest criticism I can find.

"Clearly, God does not take over your body and mind and force you to do it".

He doesn't have to. Determinism is not predicated on possession. It's predicated on a cause/effect string that goes back to the big bang. If you are a naturalist you have no way of interjecting free will into the mix. If all our thoughts and emotions are chemical and electrical processes they are caused by physical mechanisms and their effects are determined. It simply happens at a scale, both numerically and physically, that is too intense for us to conceptualize. You can try to escape it by multiverses and quantum dichotomies but ultimately if you succeed you've just broken logic and the basis for rational communication.

"But what you don't appear to be addressing is why God would create someone who was designed in a way that would could cause incredible suffering to themselves and the people around them."

That's what the soul making theodicy does. It's quite a simple concept, and I've covered it in a very, very long book review here if you're interested.

http://joshuaforeman.blogspot.com/2008/12/book-review-john-hick-evil-and-god-of.html

"But it was God's will that Haiti was essentially destroyed."

I previously insisted in theistic determinism. My stance is that everything that happens is God's will. Including things that we find terrible and horrible and evil. That's only a problem if this life on earth is all there is, and there is no compensatory mechanism after death.

"That is the fatal trap of determinism."

Why is that fatal?

"Have you ever wondered why proving the existence of God is so incredibly complex? Shouldn't such a thing be inherently simple?"

Yes. I've wondered. Then I realized how stupid it is to try to prove God exists. I don't do that. Should it be simple? If a God exists, He obviously doesn't want to be proven. I don't see that as evidence for or against His existence.

"So the gap between doubt and atheism is filled with circuitous reasoning and belabored thinking, because there is nothing really to go on besides arguments from reason."

Well, your bleak adjectives aside, I essentially agree with you. The concept of God takes place within the arena of the interpretation of the world and us humans. There are interpretations that exclude God, and ones that include God. I happen to find the most satisfying one in the later group.

"Also, to say you ascribe to theodicy is like saying you're a "Christian.""

I'm sorry, I should have capitalized the "Soul Making" part of that sentence. It indicates the precise theodicy I was referring to.

"It's the Bible. It lays out God's personality in great detail."

"the" Bible (Not sure which one you are referring to) gives a lot of cultural perspectives on God. I approach it critically and don't assume every word is revelation.

"Also, you were quite sure what God's will was a second ago:"

I will speak carefully here. I am not sure about anything. The thing of which I am most convinced is that I know nothing. I have beliefs, opinions, feelings, etc. But I refuse to declare any of them as absolute Truth. I, as a human, am in no place to do so. I am here, conversing with you because I love ideas. I love comparing ideas. I love criticizing ideas and having mine criticized. Your lists of my beliefs are not declarations about what I am sure of. That is why I am generally very careful to start declarative sentences with words like "I believe", "I think", "it seems to me", etc.

"I think we can dispense with you backpedaling on God's will, Josh."

I'm not convinced that you understand my fundamental epistemological position. There is no backpedaling going on. I have beliefs, just like you do. I simply strive for the humility to acknowledge my limited perspective and the ramification that has on my beliefs.

"Open-mindedness does not mean entertaining a belief until it has been largely disproven. Please watch this 10-minute YouTube clip on the subject. I think you will find it brisk and fairly civil on the subject."

Thank you. It was very enjoyable. And I totally agree with it.


 

Captain_Midnight

"A fine opinion. How do you know you're not just especially well equipped to handle life? How do you know that you won't need it in the future?"

As I've been telling you, there is nothing about religion that makes a person better equipped than anyone else.

"How do you know that you don't need it now, but are in denial because you find the concept of a God distasteful?"

I think you misunderstand. I find it distasteful to live my life on the basis of a claim that has no evidence or argument that establishes a factual basis for that claim. Within this framework, it is not possible for me to be in denial. Respectfully, it appears that one cannot say the same for you.

"Determinism is not predicated on possession. It's predicated on a cause/effect string that goes back to the big bang. If you are a naturalist you have no way of interjecting free will into the mix. If all our thoughts and emotions are chemical and electrical processes they are caused by physical mechanisms and their effects are determined. It simply happens at a scale, both numerically and physically, that is too intense for us to conceptualize."

Cause and effect is only linear in retrospect. And you still don't seem to grasp the importance of behavioral conditioning.

"I previously insisted in theistic determinism. My stance is that everything that happens is God's will. Including things that we find terrible and horrible and evil. That's only a problem if this life on earth is all there is, and there is no compensatory mechanism after death."

I would certainly agree. You don't appear to appreciate the full implications of your own conclusion.

"There are interpretations that exclude God, and ones that include God. I happen to find the most satisfying one in the later group."

I take that to mean that you gain psychological satisfaction from the concept of a supernatural agent, and perhaps psychological discomfort with absence of an agent. I hope you realize that this will inevitably lead to cognitive dissonance that will cloud your judgement. Specifically, selection bias. You decide that a thing is probably true simply because you want it to be true.

I'm not saying that I'm never guilty of that myself, but you don't seem to be aware of this problem.

"That is why I am generally very careful to start declarative sentences with words like "I believe", "I think", "it seems to me", etc."

Except when you declare that religious people behave better than non-religious people, simply because they are religious.

"I'm not convinced that you understand my fundamental epistemological position. There is no backpedaling going on. I have beliefs, just like you do. I simply strive for the humility to acknowledge my limited perspective and the ramification that has on my beliefs."

I'm not convinced that your epistemology is concrete enough for you to be making the claims that you are. Particularly because of how you seem to know what God wants in one instance, but not know when the implications of that knowledge undermine the benevolence of your god. Or, as when I mention the horrific behavior of the Old Testament, you basically dismiss it as a theological work in progress. I think the Jews would disagree with that.

"Thank you. It was very enjoyable. And I totally agree with it."

No, you don't, and the trouble is that you don't see why.

Your "open-mindedness" incorporates supernatural agents, divine miracles, an immortal afterlife, a god fiddling with human genetics, and several other elements that are completely unprovable and essentially fantastic. By asserting that Jesus is the Son of God, you are asserting that God exists, and that Jesus performed all of those miracles attributed to him in the Bible, and is waiting to give you a warm, fuzzy hug when you die and go up to an eternal paradise. In so doing, you are really only open-minded about Christianity. Unless it involves the Trinity. Unitarians don't buy into that, either, from what I understand. So really, you're not even open-minded about Christianity, since the Trinity is a fundamental facet for about two billion of you. I'm not saying that they're right because they're in the majority. I'm saying that's a lot of people to not be open-minded towards.

You're also not open-minded toward Islam, which does not believe that Jesus was the son of God and even depicts him in the Koran as a liar, albeit a repentant one and a prophet. You're not open-minded about any religion that does not worship Jesus. You have chosen your side, to the point of basing your perception of reality on it.

For example, you are not open-minded to the notion of evolution, or the creation of the universe, as a purely natural process, despite the overwhelming supporting evidence. You are, in fact, in disagreement based on objectively less-convincing data. Less convincing because your supernatural claims about it cannot be tested, reproduced, or falsified.

You are not open-minded about secular societies being equally as capable as religious ones. You are not open-minded about free will. So far, you have demonstrated far more things that you disagree with (with factually baseless supernatural arguments), than you are "open-minded" about.


 

JoshForeman

"As I've been telling you, there is nothing about religion that makes a person better equipped than anyone else."

I know you've been telling me that. I respectfully disagree. Affirmation one way or the other is pointless without evidence. All of my evidence is anecdotal or existential, so I understand why you don't accept it. I'm not asking you to. I'm just explaining myself.

"Within this framework, it is not possible for me to be in denial"

I agree. I disagree with your fundamental framework. It's possible that your framework for interpreting reality is imperfect, and if there is an aspect you are not accounting for, you can indeed be in denial. I'm not making that claim, mind you. Only stating it's possibility.

"Respectfully, it appears that one cannot say the same for you."


 

You're right. I could be in denial. I'm sure I deny plenty of facts without even realizing it.

"you still don't seem to grasp the importance of behavioral conditioning."

I have no strong argument with your assertion about the power of behavioral conditioning. But that has nothing to do with determinism. If all actions are determined, so is the behavioral conditioning.

"You don't appear to appreciate the full implications of your own conclusion."

Please fill me in. I'm here to learn!

"I hope you realize that this will inevitably lead to cognitive dissonance that will cloud your judgement."

Cognitive dissonance is caused by holding two contradicting ideas simultaneously. What contradicting ideas are you saying I am or will be holding?

"Specifically, selection bias. You decide that a thing is probably true simply because you want it to be true."

And this does not apply to an atheist? We aren't talking about facts within the context of consensus like the size of the earth here. We are talking about fundamental assertions about an unprovable being. I want one to exist. There is no controverting proof. There is a compelling framework for interpreting the universe and our place in it that includes God.

You don't want there to be a God. There is no controverting proof. There is a compelling framework for interpreting the universe and our place in it that does not God.

In this position we are left with nothing BUT preference determining the direction of our thoughts. Outside of this context neither of us applies I wish or I want thinking to our observations. But within the context of interpretation or synthesis we are back in the world of preference because we have to make judgment calls which are based on our values.

"you don't seem to be aware of this problem."

I'm exceedingly aware of it. I've written on it at length. I don't like it any more than you do, but I've accepted this limitation as part of being a human with flawed senses and reasoning capabilities. Why don't you join me rather than pretending you are on some fictional perch from which you can survey all of reality, making your declarations of absolute truth?

"Except when you declare that religious people behave better than non-religious people, simply because they are religious."

Not "simply because", and not "religious". It's the transcendent reality part that's important. In my opinion. I just realized that secular, governmental authority fills this gap for most situations. Most citizens recognize the transcendent authority can come and put them away if they transgress. So they don't. And many mistake this compliance for morality. The true test of course is what you do when no one's looking. And at that point, I submit, a belief in a truly transcendent authority will increase morality. In my opinion. Feel free to call that arrogant if you like.

"I'm not convinced that your epistemology is concrete enough for you to be making the claims that you are."

Haha... My epistemology is this: "The thing of which I am most certain is that I Know nothing." It's quite simple and the ramifications are pretty plain.

"Particularly because of how you seem to know what God wants in one instance, but not know when the implications of that knowledge undermine the benevolence of your god."

I never said I "know what God wants". I said I have beliefs. Why are you having such difficulty with this? I believe God wants certain things. I don't know that because ^see above^.

"Or, as when I mention the horrific behavior of the Old Testament, you basically dismiss it as a theological work in progress. I think the Jews would disagree with that."

Heh... I'm sure that they would. After all, it was their opinion.

As an aside, I should point out that if God indeed was accurately rendered there would be two potential ramifications for my belief system that turn out not to be all that revelatory. 1. It would not change how "good" God is, in the sense that He made us all mortal and subject to death and pain. He is ultimately responsible for every death, so His command to slaughter, rape and maim are all within that system. Again, a compensatory mechanism in the afterlife is all that is required to justify any horrific life and death. Second, it would remove God from the position of moral role-model. A revelation that I've already dealt with. Even a simply parent analogy works for this: Mom and dad can have sex with each other, yet it's morally wrong to little-Billy and little-Susan to have sex with each other. A Judge can sentence you to prison, your neighbor cannot. There are states of being that affect what actions are moral, and God occupies one we do not.

"Your "open-mindedness" incorporates supernatural agents, divine miracles, an immortal afterlife, a god fiddling with human genetics, and several other elements that are completely unprovable and essentially fantastic."

Actually, the genetics fiddling is not among my beliefs. He has no need to "fiddle" He determined all before He spoke the universe into being. IN MY OPINION!!! Now, for improvable and fantastic, yeah. So? That means they can't be True? You believe that either the universe always was or that it came out of nothing. Both improvable and fantastic. So what?

"By asserting that Jesus is the Son of God, you are asserting that God exists, and that Jesus performed all of those miracles attributed to him in the Bible, and is waiting to give you a warm, fuzzy hug when you die and go up to an eternal paradise."

Again, let's make it clear we are talking about my beliefs. I'm not saying these things are True. I'm saying I think they are true. But go on...

"In so doing, you are really only open-minded about Christianity."

My goal is to apply the same criteria of evaluation to as many beliefs that I can. Am I more open to Christian ideas? Yes. Am I completely closed to other ideas? No.

"I'm saying that's a lot of people to not be open-minded towards."

I'm not sure what your point is. I have beliefs that include some ideas and exclude most. Isn't that the way it is for all humans?

"You have chosen your side, to the point of basing your perception of reality on it."

Yes. In a sense. On a continuum of how settled I am on any one idea, I'd say I'm quite up in the air. But I accept your charge.

"For example, you are not open-minded to the notion of evolution, or the creation of the universe, as a purely natural process, despite the overwhelming supporting evidence."

Oh, now you're just being silly. There is no conclusive evidence either way. No one even has a testable theory about either.

"You are, in fact, in disagreement based on objectively less-convincing data."

Well of course it's less convincing to you. You dismiss transcendent agency out of hand. With no more evidence than I. With only your preference to guide you.

"Less convincing because your supernatural claims about it cannot be tested, reproduced, or falsified."

Neither can your basic assertion about the absence of God.

"You are not open-minded about secular societies being equally as capable as religious ones."

Well you are wrong about that one. I'm totally open to that. I don't find "religion" in general as a very positive influence.

"You are not open-minded about free will."

Now you're just listing my beliefs. What are you trying to establish here? That I have opinions? Really? You just typed that much just to tell me I have opinions? Maybe you think my highest moral icon is open-mindedness? It's not. Like you, I think being correct is more important. But I recognize open-mindedness as a necessary step (one that must be repeated frequently) to Truth.

I mean it all really comes down to this. IN MY OPINION!!! We are two guys stuck in tiny malfunctioning machines with meat computers trying to figure out what the hell we are and what this world's all about. Our meat computers have been shown to be full of errors and misdiagnoses. Our senses are all suspect. Our tools may or may not be picking up all that there is of the world. I'm saying, "Hey! This interpretation works for me! As far as I can tell it's internally consistent and doesn't contradict what our faulty senses and tools are telling us. Check it out. Let me know what you think." If I'm a nut, dismiss me as such. I'm fine with that. I don't Know anything. (I just claim that you don't either.)


 

JoshForeman

Response Part 1

""Agnostic" is a philosophical position where you believe it's impossible to prove or disprove the existence of God."

That is my position. Why don't you believe me?

"An agnostic does not believe in any religion."

This does not follow. And agnostic can believe in anything. They simply acknowledge the impossibility to prove their beliefs. As I do. You can extrapolate the idea into any sphere of life from politics to art.

"Taking Jesus as your lord and accepting that he is the only way to "salvation" necessarily dismisses all other competing theologies, since none of them accept any element of your claim."

Here is my problem with your version of theology. (And fundamentalists as well.) In order to establish precise definitions for the words that theology must use, one must seek an ever diminishing pool of consensus. I'm sure you understand that language is symbol. I mean, the sounds our throat, vocal cords, mouth, tongue, etc. make are meaningless aside from a socially constructed consensus that determines what those sounds signify. There is an easily accessible consensus for nouns like "man", "dog", and "toilet plunger". But things start to get hazy when you venture into verbs. When does one stop "jogging" and start "running"? At what point does a "hop" become a "jump". The reason we have the gray area is because consensus is starting to break down because individuals have to make judgment calls. Now venture into the world of adjectives and you will find some radically divergent opinions. I find my favorite music "moving", "beautiful", "somber", "exiting" and such, and most others find it "annoying", "awful", "depressing", etc. We can all be pointing our words at the same signified with contradicting signifiers. Such is the inevitable state for things that are subject to interpretation. Now, beyond adjectives we have words that are necessary to use when we talk philosophy and theology, and these are even more contentious and difficult to nail down because consensus is so scattered. Words like "God", "eternal", "salvation", etc. have millions of shades of interpretation. So that when you and I have a conversation about these things our minds could be in completely different places. Our signifiers are the same, but our signified is completely different.

This is your fundamental error when you accuse me of being exclusionary or of having wishy-washy theology. The fact is that ALL theology and philosophy is "wishy-washy" in the sense that most of the words suffer from very little consensus. When I, or the Bible says Jesus is the only way to God, that can mean SO many different things it's not even funny. You seem to think that whatever your particular interpretation of this statement is must be the correct one. Just like the exclusionary fundamentalists. Well I reject that. I'm not playing that game. I'm acknowledging the epistemological dilemma that hounds all thought and communication. That is why I'm agnostic. I am humble enough to recognize that my particular assumptions about what those words mean could be absolutely wrong.

So when you say that a statement about Jesus' necessity for salvation is arrogant and exclusionary, you are speaking as though any of us know what those words actually mean. We don't! I could be wrong and maybe God damns most people to eternal torment for not being lucky enough to believe a specific set of doctrines. You could be right, and there is no God. We could both be wrong in ways we can't imagine because we are talking about stuff that is so far over our heads it would like pre-preschoolers debating foreign policy or quantum physics.

"Which anyone who does not believe in Christ will find offensive, and also kind of arrogant. And unprovable."

Again... I believe every human will eventually find God and salvation. (whatever that means.) Not sure how anyone could be offended by that. But if anyone is offended by my beliefs, I don't see how that should shape my thinking. I'm sure you are aware that many of your beliefs offend a lot of people, right? (Not me, personally.) As to arrogance... Are you saying that a belief that claims one thing is correct, and others are incorrect is arrogant? If so, how do you handle the accusation of arrogance? You claim there is no God, which excludes the possibility of a God. Is that arrogance? Or opinion? As to unprovability... Well duh. I've never tried to prove it. That would be ridiculous.

"You seem to be revealing sentiments that you do not fully acknowledge."

Well I know that the human mind is incapable of all sorts of trickery and sublimation and such. One of the main reasons I'm here, talking to lots of atheists is to reveal as much of that sort of stuff as possible. So I appreciate your time.

"believing that God exists should not in itself make anyone a better person."

That's a fine opinion... but how can you possibly back that up with evidence any more than I can back up my claim that my faith makes my marriage better? You can look at broad societal trends, but there are so many other factors in a society besides religion that I can't imagine a way you could make any conclusions from that.

"Also, you appear to be lying to yourself or me about your arrogance. Because you were clearly not referring to yourself:"

Ok, to be clear, I'm responding to about a dozen different people throughout the day, and it's hard to keep a flow of a single conversation. If I have been deceptive, I apologize, and assure you it was not my intent and probably happened due to poor organization of thoughts, not any duplicitous intent. My purpose here is to learn, not to preach or teach.

"There is nothing specific about this statement whatsoever. You are generalizing to the entire human race."

Yes. You are correct. I'm making a general claim that applies to all people in general. But I insist that this is not the same as saying that any particular individual -such as yourself- is inferior based on this theory. It's like saying that, in general, Asians are good at math. That doesn't mean that all Asians are good at math, or that all non-Asians are horrible at math. It's simply a demographic. My contention is that two parties who truly consider themselves as being under a transcendent authority will fair better in the long run. This does not mean that all those types will, or that all those who do not acknowledge such authority are doomed. It is simply a demographic theory that I believe. I think to deny this is to deny basic psychology. But you're free to do so. (I'm also not a psychologist, so I could be totally wrong!)

"behavioral conditioning determines how you react, and you shouldn't need a supernatural agent to validate that conditioning."

Maybe, maybe not. Maybe there is more to the equation than behavioral conditioning. Maybe not. I stated my belief, and you've stated yours. I don't think either of us has any sort of data to bring to the table, so I suppose there's no further this particular line of debate can go.


 

Captain_Midnight

"That is my position. Why don't you believe me?"

Because you have said quite explicitly that you believe Jesus is the Son of God. Therefore, the existence of God is proven to you. There is no definition of agnosticism that allows your claims.

"In order to establish precise definitions for the words that theology must use, one must seek an ever diminishing pool of consensus."

Let's not go there. What you're struggling with has pre-existing and quite sufficient counter-arguments that I don't have the time or interest to educate you on. If you don't understand it, I can't let that be my problem. It has to be yours.

"That's a fine opinion... but how can you possibly back that up with evidence any more than I can back up my claim that my faith makes my marriage better? You can look at broad societal trends, but there are so many other factors in a society besides religion that I can't imagine a way you could make any conclusions from that."

But you're not really incorporating other factors into your argument. In the world view that you have presented, believing in God necessarily makes a person "better," and not believing in God necessarily limits that person in a way that you have yet to really define. This is one of the problems with unitarianism. While its doctrine is wide, it is also shallow.

"If I have been deceptive, I apologize, and assure you it was not my intent and probably happened due to poor organization of thoughts, not any duplicitous intent. My purpose here is to learn, not to preach or teach."

I think you may be convincing yourself of certain poorly supported, unsupported, or debunked theories.

"Yes. You are correct. I'm making a general claim that applies to all people in general. But I insist that this is not the same as saying that any particular individual -such as yourself- is inferior based on this theory. It's like saying that, in general, Asians are good at math. That doesn't mean that all Asians are good at math, or that all non-Asians are horrible at math."

You made an absolute claim. Let's go over it again:

"My point is that transcendent authority that two parties feel they are under produces superior moral results than when one or both parties feel they are not obligated to a transcendent authority."

There is nothing generalized about this statement. It does not make or imply an exception. You even repeat it:

"My contention is that two parties who truly consider themselves as being under a transcendent authority will fair better in the long run."

While not understanding that its phrasing makes no exceptions:

"This does not mean that all those types will, or that all those who do not acknowledge such authority are doomed."

Actually, Josh, that is exactly what you are claiming. You are making absolute statements. When I repeat these statements to you and tell you what you what it really means, you insist that your statement don't contain claims actually apply to everyone. When they clearly do.

There is a very important phrase you are missing in every single instance:

"I believe."

I would still attack your preposterous claim. The problem is that your phrasing doesn't even acknowledge it as an opinion.

"Maybe, maybe not. Maybe there is more to the equation than behavioral conditioning. Maybe not. I stated my belief, and you've stated yours. I don't think either of us has any sort of data to bring to the table, so I suppose there's no further this particular line of debate can go".

Oh, there is quite a bit of data. For one, millions of years of archeological and paleontological record, not to mention about a century of psychiatry, plus neurology and anthropology. "Any sort of data," Josh? Really?

Tell me, what are your claims based upon? The Bible, is it? Or something your pastor told you? Or something one of your community members just kind of figured out, and it clicked with you? Because you certainly aren't consulting millions of years of archeological and paleontological record, not to mention about a century of psychiatry, plus neurology and anthropology. Because if you were, you would be coming to a much different conclusion. One based on, you now, evidence.

This particular area of our disagreement is not a "my word versus yours" conflict. It is, once again, arrogant to put your hazy theology on the same footing as hundreds of years of scientific evidence. There are some things your religion does not cover, and you end up looking foolish when you stretch your God tarp to cover it.


 

JoshForeman

"you have said quite explicitly that you believe Jesus is the Son of God. Therefore, the existence of God is proven to you."

Not every belief can be predicated on absolute certainty. I can swing on an old rope swing that may break, but still believe it will hold. I told you that I am a radical skeptic. I don't think any true Knowledge is possible. Everything we think we know is on a continuum of certainty. Did I quote this atheist for you yet?:

"Gnostic atheist = Someone who believes there is no god, thats it, nothing more

Agnostic atheist = Someone who has no belief in a god but doesn't believe there can't be one. Nothing more

Agnostic theist = Someone who believes in a god but does not say there definitely is one. Nothing more

Gnostic theist = Someone who believes there is a god. Nothing more."

I'm not the only person in the world who recognized the category of agnostic theist.

"Let's not go there. What you're struggling with has pre-existing and quite sufficient counter-arguments that I don't have the time or interest to educate you on."

I'm not struggling with anything. I'm stating a fact about the nature of language. It works as a signifier/signified system. Consensus is broad for nouns, get's murkier with verbs and adjectives, and becomes absolutely fragmented with theological and philosophical words. I know your binary, science oriented mind doesn't like that, but it's reality. If you are frustrated, or feel this conversation is like wrestling in the mud, it's because of this fact. I didn't make it up, it's not my fault!

"But you're not really incorporating other factors into your argument. In the world view that you have presented, believing in God necessarily makes a person "better,"

I hope I never said that, and that you are interpolating my words with your assumptions about what I mean. There are some awful, terrible bastards who believe in God. Whether or not they would be worse without that belief is beyond anyone's knowledge.

"and not believing in God necessarily limits that person in a way that you have yet to really define."

I thought I was clear. I think that when two parties both consider themselves to be under a transcendent authority, there is an added psychological layer that can help when will power fails. If one or both parties doesn't take this seriously, the safety net is gone. This does not mean that every person needs this, simply that it can be helpful. As I said, some have very strong will power and don't need the safety net. Kudos to them!

"This is one of the problems with unitarianism. While its doctrine is wide, it is also shallow."

I find it vastly entertaining that an atheist is making these kinds of theological determinations. And for the record, I'm a Universalist, not a Unitarian. I made a chart to help:

http://joshuaforeman.blogspot.com/2008/10/unitarianuniversalist-clarification.html

"I think you may be convincing yourself of certain poorly supported, unsupported, or debunked theories."

I'm sure I'm full of them! But I'm working on it.

"You are making absolute statements. When I repeat these statements to you and tell you what you what it really means, you insist that your statement don't contain claims actually apply to everyone. When they clearly do."

I'm not sure how we are still talking past each other here. If it is due to my own stupidity I apologize.

"There is a very important phrase you are missing in every single instance: "I believe.""

Hrm.... I'm generally pretty good at inserting those. (check my last reply to you for evidence) But yes. Every opinion I express is a belief. Not a statement of fact.

"I would still attack your preposterous claim. The problem is that your phrasing doesn't even acknowledge it as an opinion."

I kind of feel the entire tone of my writing implies that. But I could be deaf to my tone. I would ask you though... when have you ever said "I believe" before an assertion in our conversations?

"Oh, there is quite a bit of data. For one, millions of years of archeological and paleontological record, not to mention about a century of psychiatry, plus neurology and anthropology. "Any sort of data," Josh? Really?"

You just wrote a list of things. None of which is evidence that "you shouldn't need a supernatural agent to validate that conditioning." You are making an existential claim about felt needs. It's like if I gave you a list as follows: "the Bible, Jesus, the Nicean creed, Augustine." Unless you have some specific data - not simply fields of study - I have nothing to go on.

"Tell me, what are your claims based upon? The Bible, is it? Or something your pastor told you? Or something one of your community members just kind of figured out, and it clicked with you?"

I'm sure it's a mixture of all these things.

"Because you certainly aren't consulting millions of years of archeological and paleontological record, not to mention about a century of psychiatry, plus neurology and anthropology. Because if you were, you would be coming to a much different conclusion. One based on, you now, evidence."

Ok. Point me towards the evidence. I can't very well type in "neurology" or "anthropology" to Google and see what you're talking about.

And now please, tell me how this comment is not arrogant. It sounds to me like you are saying that if one is as smart and educated as you are, they will believe the same thing as you. I don't think this is epistemologically sound.

"It is, once again, arrogant to put your hazy theology on the same footing as hundreds of years of scientific evidence. There are some things your religion does not cover, and you end up looking foolish when you stretch your God tarp to cover it."

I've been talking about applying a particular philosophical/theological perspective to child rearing. If there is evidence that this is damaging or wrong, I'd like to see it. (No, "hundreds of years of scientific evidence" is not specific enough.) I've expressed my opinions about some basic psychological premises involving morality and relationships. I hardly think that can be counted as arrogant.


 

Captain_Midnight

"I told you that I am a radical skeptic."

Respectfully, your statements in this thread have put you about as far from "radical skeptic" as a person of sound mind could be.

"I'm not the only person in the world who recognized the category of agnostic theist."

Again, you say that Jesus is the Son of God. You cannot make that statement unless God's existence has been proved to you. Additionally, you believe in a specific God, the Abrahamic one. There is no "nothing more" in your belief system. At all.

"I'm not struggling with anything. I'm stating a fact about the nature of language. It works as a signifier/signified system. Consensus is broad for nouns, get's murkier with verbs and adjectives, and becomes absolutely fragmented with theological and philosophical words. I know your binary, science oriented mind doesn't like that, but it's reality. If you are frustrated, or feel this conversation is like wrestling in the mud, it's because of this fact. I didn't make it up, it's not my fault!"

"Science oriented." That's an interesting way to put it. I have some scientific knowledge, and I believe that a supernatural claim must be backed up by evidence. I have just described a million people who have no particular interest in science but perhaps remember some things they were taught in high school or college.

This indicates to me that you believe we are in two separate equal camps when it comes to analyzing a question and coming to a conclusion; that the tools you have chosen are equally as effective; and that therefore your conclusions can be equally as valid. You do not appear to appreciate that perhaps God gave you science to understand the natural world that you believe he created.

"I hope I never said that, and that you are interpolating my words with your assumptions about what I mean."

We went over this already. Twice.

"I think that when two parties both consider themselves to be under a transcendent authority, there is an added psychological layer that can help when will power fails."

Unless they're collaborating to do something terrible that they believe God told them to do, or they are conspiring to manipulate people who have come to your conclusion. The problem with supernatural authority is that it tells you whatever you think it's telling you. By definition, that person becomes untrustworthy. Your claim has at least an equal number of historical examples of failure as it does successes. If God's authority was so helpful, then how do you explain the Spanish Inquisition, for example? Shouldn't that sort of thing have been inherently impossible? Do you realize that it lasted for hundreds of years -- a large percentage of the lifetime of Christianity?

"Every opinion I express is a belief. Not a statement of fact."

Then be aware that, grammatically, the absolute is assumed when the statement is not qualified.

"I find it vastly entertaining that an atheist is making these kinds of theological determinations."

So because I am not convinced that God exists, I'm not qualified to describe a denomination? That there was perhaps no point where I might have been a believer?

"You just wrote a list of things. None of which is evidence that "you shouldn't need a supernatural agent to validate that conditioning." You are making an existential claim about felt needs."

You're really resisting this, aren't you?

"It's like if I gave you a list as follows: "the Bible, Jesus, the Nicean creed, Augustine.""

Hardly. Those are belief systems and people who believe things, not a staggering body of physical evidence. Your God tarp is starting to rip, Josh.

"Unless you have some specific data - not simply fields of study - I have nothing to go on."

And now that corner of the tarp is flapping in the wind. You want specific data? Tell me, Josh, what is the reasonable conclusion of high school biology? You have already seen overwhelming evidence, you just don't like it's implications.

"Point me towards the evidence. I can't very well type in "neurology" or "anthropology" to Google and see what you're talking about."

That would apparently be a good start.

"And now please, tell me how this comment is not arrogant. It sounds to me like you are saying that if one is as smart and educated as you are, they will believe the same thing as you. I don't think this is epistemologically sound."

I'd like to think that a given person would want evidence when someone claimed that Jesus was the son of a god who created the universe and knows everything we've done and are going to do. I'd like to think that people can think critically and skeptically about supernatural claims. Is logic arrogant, Josh?

"I've expressed my opinions about some basic psychological premises involving morality and relationships. I hardly think that can be counted as arrogant."

And you've back up your "opinions" loudly and repeatedly when they are challenged. That is not the characteristic of an opinion. That is the characteristic of a claimed fact that you are not willing to acknowledge as such, either to yourself or the rest of us. Also characteristic is your determined denial of arguments that undermine your position. You say they are opinions, but you are defending them as though they are facts.

Edit: I think it would be more accurate to characterize your "opinions" as beliefs. Beliefs that do not appear to have much factual basis.


 

Captain_Midnight

Let it me put it for you succinctly, then: You describe yourself as "open-minded." However, you are also a "radical skeptic." However, you say you are an "agnostic theist." However, you believe Jesus is the son of the God of the Bible.

Your beliefs -- or, as you like to backpedal, "opinions" -- originate from a clearly broken self-interpretation that contains a stunning level of mutually incompatible philosophies. There is absolutely no getting around this. The truth of the matter: You are not a skeptic, you are not open-minded, and you are not an agnostic theist. Laying claim to these three dominions reveals a massive mental dissonance.

"Now you're just listing my beliefs. What are you trying to establish here? That I have opinions? Really? You just typed that much just to tell me I have opinions? Maybe you think my highest moral icon is open-mindedness?"

I am establishing that your opinions are not open-minded. Also, don't backpedal and call them opinions, as if they could change in the course of a minute. They are your beliefs, informed by your uniquely bizarre world-view.

"Neither can your basic assertion about the absence of God."

Where the fuck did I say that God doesn't exist? How many times have I been very careful not to say that?

"There is no conclusive evidence either way. No one even has a testable theory about either."

I fear our future. I really do.


 

JoshForeman

"Your beliefs -- or, as you like to backpedal, "opinions""

Are beliefs and opinions different? I have always used them synonymously.

"originate from a clearly broken self-interpretation that contains a stunning level of mutually incompatible philosophies".

It's all very well to simply declare that these are mutually incompatible. It's another thing to show how.

"Laying claim to these three dominions reveals a massive mental dissonance."

Or perhaps you lack the proper interpretive framework for understanding how complementary they all are. Please point out a specific incompatibility! It's possible that your opinion is based on misunderstandings of my statements or the labels we are using.

"I am establishing that your opinions are not open-minded".

I guess that depends on your definition. Like you, I have a system of interpretation that I apply to all ideas. I find some things less likely than others. Things like telepathy and alien abductions fall low on my openness scale. But the important thing is that I am careful to always leave some room for my mind to be changed. I'm open to the fact that my whole worldview could be predicated on key falsehoods that keep me blind to certain possibilities.

"don't backpedal and call them opinions, as if they could change in the course of a minute."

So you consider the difference between belief and opinion to be how firmly, or long they are held?

"Where the fuck did I say that God doesn't exist?"

My bad. I'm on an atheist forum carrying on a dozen conversations simultaneously. No need to get upset.

"I fear our future. I really do."

And this is a mere rhetorical devise designed to dismiss through emotional detachment. If your done conversing, that's fine. A parting insult as your last statement is just immature.


 

Captain_Midnight

It's all very well to simply declare that these are mutually incompatible. It's another thing to show how.

You're... I'm sorry. You're kidding me, right? I can't really be patient with you if you're going to say something like that. If you're going to try and tell me that radical skepticism is compatible with agnostic theism or "open-mindedness," and claim that radical skepticism or agnostic theism are at all compatible with specifically being a Christian*... then...

How do I put this... I consider myself a pretty easy-going guy. I rarely actually lash out at people unless they really deserve it and the confrontation is unavoidable. That said, I have no problem at all saying that you are a goddamned retard.

Call it ad hominem. Call it anything you like. I cannot respect you or your views if you are going to hold such an intellectually insulting position and not even entertain the possibility of innacuracy. You need profound help in the way you look at the world. Your perception horribly broken. This starkly obvious conclusion is proved by the very terminology that you use and claim is somehow compatible. I have absolutely no obligation to elaborate, because your relationship to your terminology speaks for itself.

If you cannot entertain the notion that you may in fact be incredibly confused intellectually, then I have to wonder what it is you're putting in your mind and body that leads you to your bewildering, migraine-inducing perception. I can only wonder, because I can think of nothing that would lead a rational person to end up where you are. Nothing. At all.


 

JoshForeman

"I can't really be patient with you if you're going to say something like that."

I understand that we all have limited resources, and determining who gets our time is an important aspect of life. However, I think your stated criteria is clearly hiding another, more emotional motivation for quitting our conversation. If I were asking questions like, "How is a fish not like an apple?", or "Why do you hate all that is good?" you would be well within your intellectual rights to refuse to continue. When in fact, I am simply asking you for one single example of how the interpretive frameworks you mentioned are incompatible. You made a claim. I asked for an example. This isn't rocket surgery.

"I consider myself a pretty easy-going guy."

Really? Me too. I wonder if a dispassionate reader of our conversation would make the same determination.

"That said, I have no problem at all saying that you are a goddamned retard. ...Call it ad hominem."

My guess rather that it's insecurity. You don't seem to have the ability to articulate the substance of your assertions, so you make simple, sweeping categorical judgments the basis of your argument. Sort of related to the No True Scotsman fallacy. You say I can be a Christian. But no true Christian is a skeptic. Or I may be a skeptic, but no true skeptic can be a theist. You are creating artificial and arbitrary boundaries in worlds of thought that you apparently have spent little time investigating.

"I cannot respect you or your views if you are going to hold such an intellectually insulting position and not even entertain the possibility of innacuracy."

I'm not sure I know what "intellectual insult" constitutes. If you simply mean that you are offended, or that all intelligent people would be offended by what I say, I think you might benefit from some self examination of your emotional ties to your worldview. As to my entertaining the possibility of my own inaccuracy; I'm not sure how much more I can entertain that when, as I've said, "The thing of which I am most certain is that I Know nothing." That is what differentiates, in my mind, the mere issue-oriented skeptic from the true, radical skeptic. You seem to be of the former class, and can't comprehend how the latter thinks.

"You need profound help in the way you look at the world."

I believe we all do. Do you feel that you have the final and irrevocably correct view of all things? I certainly don't. That's why I hold my views to close scrutiny and enjoy the process of criticism, even from those who are hostile and insulting. I don't limit my pool of critics because I never know where Truth may be found.

"I have absolutely no obligation to elaborate, because your relationship to your terminology speaks for itself."

This is again, avoiding any sort of substance in the argument.

"If you cannot entertain the notion that you may in fact be incredibly confused intellectually,"

Oh but I can and I do. Quite often. Do you?

"I can think of nothing that would lead a rational person to end up where you are."

Yes. We all have limits in our creativity, intellect, emotions and imagination. That's ok.


 

ABTechie

Ancient Judaism is filled with rape, murder, cannabilism, racism, mysogyny, fear mongering, and belief in magic and myth.

He shouldn't have threatened ignorant and fearful people with eternal fire and punishment from God.

He was a Jew and if you wanted salvation, you had to be a Jew. John 4:22.

He never said slavery was wrong. He never said women had a right to choose whom they married. He never said women had a right to refuse to have sex with their husbands.

People pick and choose. You can gain some wisdom from him, but he is far from the perfect savior many people believe him to be. I have been going to church for 37 years. He is definitely not accurately portrayed in church.


 

JoshForeman

"He shouldn't have threatened ignorant and fearful people with eternal fire and punishment from God."

I don't believe that he did. The word rendered as "eternal" is based on the Latin word that was used in place of the Greek word aion/aionious. Careful study will show that aion/aionious does not mean eternal. Even if He did threaten eternal punishment, it's only a bad thing if it's not true, right?

"He was a Jew and if you wanted salvation, you had to be a Jew. John 4:22."

He clearly came from a Jewish context and saw His earthly ministry as for the Jews. You can also see lots of windows open for the rest of the world. Pretty much every parable He told was about Israel assuming they had God's number one position and finding out they were left out in the cold.

"He never said slavery was wrong. He never said women had a right to choose whom they married. He never said women had a right to refuse to have sex with their husbands."

Or that raping pigs was wrong, or eating brains. Please remember we don't have all His teachings. Even if we did, we have His total apathy for political change when He said to "give unto Caesar that which is Caesar's." He clearly had a mission that transcended earthly, political corruption which has been and always will be with us.

"People pick and choose."

Yes they do.

He is definitely not accurately portrayed in church.

I totally agree. I don't think our European sanitized version of Him is very helpful.


 

ABTechie

Matthew 25:46

Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.

Greek word for eternal is aiónios which is what is used in my example.

"You can also see lots of windows open for the rest of the world."

Anyone can use his wisdom, but he was meant for the Jews. You had to follow him to get to the Father.

  1. Matthew 10:6
  2. Matthew 15:24
  3. John 4:22
  4. Matthew 27:11
  5. Mark 15:2
  6. Luke 23:3

"raping pigs was wrong"

You said put him in context. For hundreds of years, Jewish men treated women like property, even offering up their daughters to be gang raped. Jesus said that he came to fulfill the Law. So, unless he comes out and speaks specifically against the Law or updates it, the Law still applies, as said by Jesus.

"we don't have all His teachings"

We can't say for sure that we have any of his teachings. He didn't write anything down himself. The Gospels were written at minimum 60 years after his possible existence, and Paul, his biggest supporter, never met him or quoted him. And, we are only talking about the Gospels that made it into the Bible.


 

JoshForeman

I understand all of this. Since I don't need the Bible to be perfect to get a general idea, it still works fine. General historical scholarship acknowledges that the Gospels are very close to the source by their standards. I believe we get a pretty good picture of Jesus from them. That's a judgment call. As to how exclusive Jesus was during the 1 -3 years recorded, I agreed with you that He felt his ministry was to the Jews. But I think you're getting into very shaky territory if you think you know what He meant by "fulfill the Law." I certainly don't. There are plenty of Christian doctrines built up around that statement, but I don't know how accurate they are.

And I think this is where our fundamental disagreement lies. I see language as very malleable, vague, and mysterious when it gets into the realm of religion and philosophy. I've noticed that atheists almost always want a sort of binary approach to language. Either a thing is On or Off, True or False. But I don't think that works with life outside the lab and the computer. For example, the definition of the verb fulfill can go a thousand directions depending on how metaphorical you want to get, especially in this context. Here's an article I wrote about the Binary/Continuum perspectives and how they apply to language.


 

ABTechie

I really like this comment. http://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/comments/aiypb/im_glad_aggressive_atheism_exists_listening_to/c0htg1i Please read it.

It is time to move beyond Jesus, God and the Bible and the flawed system that supports them.


 

ABTechie

"fulfill"

He may not have explained what he meant by fulfill. But, he said that you should follow the Law.

Matthew 5:17-20

I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

"-I see language as very malleable, vague, and mysterious when it gets into the realm of religion and philosophy."

Fine, then whenever you interpret something, it is your understanding that you get from the passage not necessarily the intent of the author. It is humanism and relative to the individual.

"Either a thing is On or Off, True or False"

I like doubt. What I don't like is the portrayal of Jesus being the savior for everyone. His opinion matters more than everyone else's. In my opinion, he is fallible and antiquated, and subject to interpretation, ancient culture and ancient language. It is time to move beyond constantly trying to understand WWJD. We can do better. There are more examples of good and understanding other than Jesus. There are easier examples to understand than Jesus.

We are spinning our wheels. Bogged down in understanding ancient Jewish culture, ancient Greek, different interpretations... Forcing ourselves to have to come to an understanding to all important document from God when it is not necessary to have a good and moral life.

We need to be studying psychology more. Sociology, biology, physics... It would produce a better understanding of this world and the people in it.

"Here's an article"

Where?


 

JoshForeman

"he said that you should follow the Law".

Yes He did. Well, He told the Jews he was preaching to that they should follow the Law. Again... His 1- 3 year ministry was very clearly for the Jews, then and there. The Christian understanding is that His existence changed everything. He was the mechanism by which the world was redeemed. Whether or not that is nonsense is a matter of interpretation. If you dismiss the existence of God or miracles out of hand, of course it's nonsense!

"whenever you interpret something, it is your understanding that you get from the passage not necessarily the intent of the author."

Well, yeah. That is not the ideal. That's why those who really care about what Jesus said and meant try to study the milieu and such. Even so, our vision can never be perfect and our assumptions will always fill in gaps. That's why I don't believe in doctrine any more. There's too much conjecture to sign on the dotted line.

"It is humanism and relative to the individual."

As with all pursuits of knowledge, we seek to get beyond that state, to find evidence with which to form larger and larger consensus.

"What I don't like is the portrayal of Jesus being the savior for everyone."

Ok. I don't like the idea of no God. So what?

"His opinion matters more than everyone else's. In my opinion, he is fallible and antiquated, and subject to interpretation, ancient culture and ancient language."

Yes, that is your opinion. And that's fine with me. Maybe you're right.

We can do better. There are more examples of good and understanding other than Jesus."

"Isn't that kind of like saying there are better bands out there than the Beatles? I mean, what is your criteria for making this claim? All you can do submit criteria that you like and omit criteria that you don't. This is completely subjective.

"Bogged down in understanding ancient Jewish culture, ancient Greek, different interpretations..."

Some of us find that fun! And some of us find it worth the effort. I mean, a claim has been made that is amazing. If God became a man at a particular date and time, I'd like to know as much as I can about it. If you didn't dismiss the very notion out of hand you probably would too. Perhaps the claim is fallacious. Perhaps not. It's fun to look into it. Especially when the information is informing and transforming your life.

"Forcing ourselves to have to come to an understanding to all important document from God when it is not necessary to have a good and moral life."

Some people force themselves to sit in the stands all day for the Indianapolis 500. I guess they like it. And is the Bible necessary to have a good and moral life? Of course not. I never claimed it was. I claimed it was helpful.

"We need to be studying psychology more. Sociology, biology, physics... It would produce a better understanding of this world and the people in it."

I agree! Let's do that!

"Where?"

Oops! Sorry. here it is. If you like doubt I think you'll like my article. Let me know.

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


 

ABTechie

I believe that everybody comes to conclusions based on the information they have, the order they received it and the trustworthiness of the sources.

Your belief in the existence of a personal God and Jesus is subjective. The physical reality of a personal God is not. I don't care if a god exists or doesn't. What I care about is the truth, as I understand it, matching up reality as closely as possible.

I don't have time to find and show you the better examples than Jesus. There may not be one source that is better than Jesus and all the examples of conduct that he gives. But, if you are as smart and knowledgeable as I think you are, then you know enough about the history of Christiantiy to know that the reasons that is was able to spread around the world include far more than love, kindness and following Jesus' example.

I am going to stick with the Scientific Method and all of the -ologies, except theology, and leave religion to the people who care about it. I have had enough. It is time to move on to a better understanding of the world and humanity.


 

JoshForeman

"I believe that everybody comes to conclusions based on the information they have, the order they received it and the trustworthiness of the sources."

I totally agree. I would add that we choose our authorities based on our desires.

"Your belief in the existence of a personal God and Jesus is subjective. The physical reality of a personal God is not."

Agreed. What we believe has no sway on reality.

"What I care about is the truth, as I understand it, matching up reality as closely as possible."

Me too. I define Truth as "All facts rightly interpreted".

"you know enough about the history of Christiantiy to know that the reasons that is was able to spread around the world include far more than love, kindness and following Jesus' example".

Yes, I'm well aware, and I'm not a fan of the institutional church.

"I have had enough. It is time to move on to a better understanding of the world and humanity."

Well, maybe it's better, maybe it's not. Thanks for your time!


 

ABTechie

"we have in Jesus a perfect example of God in a person's life"

He had better go back and read the Gospels again. Jesus can be a rude, racist, bigotted, fear mongerer. He is only perfect because of picking and choosing of Bible verses and the human tendency to suffer from confirmation bias.


 

JoshForeman

"Jesus can be a rude, racist, bigotted, fear mongerer."

  1. I won't deny that some of His words can be interpreted that way. Especially when viewed through modern frameworks.
  2. Without a basic understanding of ancient Judaism and the cultural norms of the day it can be hard to understand when Jesus was using symbolism or making spiritual points of which the physical reality was simply a springboard.

In case this particular conversation goes anywhere, let me make the following clear up front:

  1. I'm not an inerrantist. The Bible ain't perfect.
  2. I understand modern scholarship regauding redaction, Q document, etc.
  3. I've read plenty of Skeptic's Bible and other related material.

Tinidril

Without a basic understanding of ancient Judaism and the cultural norms of the day"

But this is the problem. The whole moral argument for Christianity is based on the theory that there has to be an ultimate standard for right and wrong that is independent of fallible human beings. You can give Thomas Jefferson a pass based on the principal of cultural norms, but not God.


 

JoshForeman

I'm not giving Jesus or God a pass. I'm saying that what can appear to be racism, cruelty, etc. in once cultural setting can be understood differently by another, especially when you are dealing with a wandering sage who used every possible example he found to create a metaphor for something spiritual.

And again. Everything in the Bible is people's perceptions. Jesus never wrote anything himself. We are left with imperfect interpretations of Him and His work and sayings. Unlike Jefferson, who has many many writings to look at. And I wouldn't give him a pass either. For morality to mean anything it cannot be contextually derived. You can say he had some blind spots due to his cultural milieu, (as we all do) but you can't say his affairs or slavery was ok without losing any power to promote any moral concept as right.


 

Tinidril

So all the unquestionably bad stuff in the Bible is obviously a misinterpretation by the writer? Ridiculous. Why not assume the opposite and claim they only got the absolutely evil stuff right.

As bad as the Bible is as a historical resource, it is all that really exists to tell us about Jesus. If it is truly that untrustworthy, and you seem to think it is even more so than most atheists would claim, then what can possibly be gained from it?


 

JoshForeman

It's like any other historical document. What can be learned from Ab Urbe Condita or Herodotus? All sorts of things! As to which version of God I gleam from the Bible, you are correct that if there is a God, it could be the asshole demiurge described in many places. If that were the case I would not worship it.

"If it is truly that untrustworthy"

I didn't say it's untrustworthy. I said it represents a large variety of perspectives. It's only untrustworthy if you impose the wrong interpretive grid onto it like the inerrantists and atheists do. It's untrustworthy if you presumption is that every word must be True and accurately represent a physical reality. It's not a science book. It's not doctrine book. It's not a history book. (At least not according to the modern definitions of these things.)

"what can possibly be gained from it?"

A life-changing and enriching set of idea, challenges, perspectives, and most importantly, a glimpse at what God may have been like in human form.

Tinidril

You can learn all sorts of things from Lord of the Rings too. Any moral lessons gleaned from the Bible at this point are nothing but our current cultural values being imposed on the text.

Any picture of God that is derived from the text is one of an abusive, capricious, self-important bigot. Even Jesus' greatest act is a thin veil over the outrageous idea that God requires blood sacrifices for our sins, and that guilt can somehow be lifted from one person and placed on another.

I don't think that Jesus gives us the slightest idea of what God may have been like in human form, if such an idea even made sense in the first place. I would be willing to concede that it at least makes an interesting story, if not for the harm that is done to society by the billions of people who take it seriously. You act like your version of magic thinking is harmless, but it isn't.

Theism is like a virus. It spreads from person to person, mutating all of the time. Some people are immune to the virus and never get it. Others get the virus, but live as carriers, largely unaffected by the potential damage it can do. Then we have fundamentalists who, for whatever reason, lack the immune response to keep the virus in check. The virus seems harmless enough to the carriers but, unless they are 'vaccinated' as well, the virus will continue to mutate and wreak havoc on the rest of society.

If you look at the history of any religion, the one consistency is that they always splinter, generally becoming more fundamentalist as they go.


 

JoshForeman

"Any moral lessons gleaned from the Bible at this point are nothing but our current cultural values being imposed on the text."

I would say that some are, some are not. I agree that every person is hopelessly colored by their time and place. I disagree that this coloring completely blocks all communication from other time/places.

"Any picture of God that is derived from the text is one of an abusive, capricious, self-important bigot."

That sounds like cherry picking to me. What about the God who made a covenant with Israel and symbolically threatens Himself with punishment if they broke it? What about the God who rains mana on them? What the Biblical text presents us with is a perspective that is clearly colored by tribal political concerns. Beyond this, your accusation that God can be "capricious" or "self-important" can only stand if you know and understand what God is. If God is All powerful all knowing, etc. He can't very well be "self-important" in the sense that you and I can be. There would be no falseness in His importance. And "capricious" depends on motivation, which there is no way to determine from a God who knows all. Yeah, If god was a dude with a gray beard sitting on a cloud and making decisions like your me, then your descriptions would be apt.

"Even Jesus' greatest act is a thin veil over the outrageous idea that God requires blood sacrifices for our sins, and that guilt can somehow be lifted from one person and placed on another."

What you are referring to is a doctrine called substitutionary atonement or penal substitution which developed in the middle ages as our court system evolved. It is by no means the only interpretation of Jesus' work.

"You act like your version of magic thinking is harmless, but it isn't."

I hope it's not harmless. That would mean it had no power. I think my "magic thinking" is pretty radical and changes lives for the better. And like anything powerful, the stronger it is, the more perverted it becomes when used with evil motives.

"Theism is like a virus".

All social memes are. Including atheism.

"the virus will continue to mutate and wreak havoc on the rest of society."

I could say the same about all sorts of ideas like marxism or atheism. But both or our accusations could not be proved. Life is too complicated to make accurate assessment about how one part of a person's thinking affects them and society at large. We are left with our gut feelings about it. I'm sorry you feel I'm dangerous and spreading evil. But I guess until I'm convinced of the same thing there's not much I can do about it.

"If you look at the history of any religion, the one consistency is that they always splinter, generally becoming more fundamentalist as they go."

Yeah, same with philosophy, political parties, and other human institutions. Not sure about that last fundamentalist part. Seems to me there are plenty of very liberal religious folks and institutions out there. The Boy Scouts, Harvard, the YMCA, Salvation Army and the Episcopalians have gotten much, much less fundamentalist.


 

Tinidril

"I disagree that this coloring completely blocks all communication from other time/places."

I do as well. My comment was specific to moral lessons from the Bible. There is literally nothing there to draw from that the modern moral zeitgeist hasn't done far better. About the best you can find is "He who is without sin cast the first stone", which from textual analysis is the least likely to have actually come from Jesus.

"All social memes are. Including atheism."

I disagree with the idea that atheism is a viral meme. It is the rejection of a meme. In this analogy it would have to be a shared antibody or something. Religious memes are dangerous because they are not constrained by empiricism. Rational memes are dampered in their ability to mutate by the fact that their replication is harmed when they conflict with evidence. In the words of Sam Harris, "There is no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable."

"Yeah, same with philosophy, political parties, and other human institutions."

Philosophy doesn't change at anything close to the scale of religion. It gets more refined, but due to it's anchor to empiricism there are far fewer offshoots. Political parties, and other human institutions are driven by popular opinion which in the absence of secularism is largely driven by religion.

"The Boy Scouts, Harvard, the YMCA, Salvation Army and the Episcopalians have gotten much, much less fundamentalist."

I did say generally, and only one of the items in your list is a religion, and it doesn't have nearly the members of more fundamentalist sects. And all of these have been softened by the pressure of secularism.


 

JoshForeman

"There is literally nothing there to draw from that the modern moral zeitgeist hasn't done far better."

I would argue that modern western society is so thoroughly saturated with Biblical concepts that despite any trends away from religion they still maintain that character. Zeitgeist is the accretion of the ages, and while Platonic morality and some eastern platitudes are mixed in there, you cannot deny that Christianity has been a dominant feature of the intellectual landscape for most of our culture's development. I think that fact may obscure in an age-old echo chamber the stark moral imperatives that Christianity offers.

"I disagree with the idea that atheism is a viral meme. It is the rejection of a meme."

Atheism is an idea. And like every idea it accepts some things and rejects others.

"Religious memes are dangerous because they are not constrained by empiricism."

And I could say that atheist memes are dangerous because they are not constrained by the concept of a transcendent authority. But all this talk of danger is a red herring without any evidence to back it up. If a large majority of religious people went around shooting others because their god tells them to that would be one thing. As it is, that is a vast minority of religious people. If every atheist were an immoral scoundrel that would be one thing. But that's the minority. And statistics about atheist vs. religious are meaningless because most "religious" people simply call themselves that for cultural reasons. They are check-box religious, and their "faith" in never utilized except for the occasional ceremony. Because of this single fact, the efficacy or evil of religion can never be established.

"There is no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable."

Haha... I like that.

"Philosophy doesn't change at anything close to the scale of religion."

I assume you don't read a lot of philosophy?

"due to it's anchor to empiricism there are far fewer offshoots."

Empiricism is a fairly late development. And it can hardly be called an "anchor" for philosophy. It defines a general school of philosophy, but other modern movements like Existentialism, Romanticism, and Epistemological anarchism are reactions against Empiricism. They came about because Empiricism fails to adequately address the human experience.

"and only one of the items in your list is a religion"

My point was that they were all started as religious institutions.

"softened by the pressure of secularism."

Agreed. I'm no enemy of secularism. To be honest, I'd be quite pleased if institutional religion was outlawed. I don't think it has done its job. I think it's actively promotes spiritual lethargy.


 

Tinidril

"I would argue that modern western society is so thoroughly saturated with Biblical concepts that despite any trends away from religion they still maintain that character."

Try a thought experiment. Make a list of what you believe would be the 10 most central moral precepts in modern society. Then look in the Bible for the origins of those beliefs. I suspect you will find one or two might have some concrete connection, and probably about the same for those with no connection. The rest will require a massively liberal interpretation of the text, not justified by any qualified textual analysis. For those that do have a solid connection, I guarantee you will find older and unrelated sources as well.

Then start going through the bible looking for moral precepts, and see how many are still accepted in secular society today. You will find that the vast majority of the moral information in the Bible is abhorrent to modern society. Of course there is plenty of wiggle room if you want to interpret broadly enough, and try to apply the precepts to situations for which they were never intended. Maybe "slaves obey your masters" just means you should try to do a good job at work. But that doesn't mean that nobody would be working hard if not for the 'biblical roots' of their moral views.

As I posted in the other thread, we are pattern finding organisms, and we will find them whether they exist or not.

"I assume you don't read a lot of philosophy?"

I have read a lot of philosophy. Do you have a point? And have you ever heard of a philosopher blowing themselves up in a crowded market because of disagreements over the the nature of consciousness? The history of philosophy is closer to the history of the other sciences than it is to the history of religion. Yes there have been major splits, and many still exist.

General relativity is a massive change from Newtonian physics, and there is no significant segment of the scientific community that thinks the latter is more correct. But the Newtonian formulas are still preferred for the vast majority of applications because they are simpler, making them more appropriate. Disparate philosophies work in much the same way. Most professional philosophers understand that philosophical frameworks are tools, and the best tool for one application isn't going to be the best for another. You don't get philosophers claiming that some truth is divinely inspired and unquestionable.

When religions splinter, each side thinks they have divine guidance. The split is absolute. Each side is sure that they have divine information that has been withheld from the others. There is no basis for discussion. No way for one group to prove their point. The best you can get is a weak ecumenicalism, where they agree to disagree. There is no progress, because there is no foundation of fact from which to measure it.

"Empiricism is a fairly late development."

No, empiricism has been with us since before we were human. What is new is that we finally have the tools to apply it. How do you apply empiricism to an earthquake when you have barely mastered language? You can't. But you can notice that sharper spears pierce flesh more easily, or that fewer people get sick when you cook the meat. We have also learned a lot about our own consciousness that has resulted in a tuning of empirical methods, but the roots of empiricism are ancient.

"They came about because Empiricism fails to adequately address the human experience."

Empiricism failed to explain the earthquake too, but that doesn't mean that magical thinking did any better. I think it is safe to say that sacrificing virgins and burning witches did little to stop future quakes.


 

JoshForeman

"Try a thought experiment."

This is a good experiment. Thank you.

"one or two might have some concrete connection, and probably about the same for those with no connection."

Do you mean things like the equality of all, freedom of assembly, and the right to a fair trial? If so, it's not hard to trace their development back to the middle ages, and see where their inception was informed by Christian values. I note that secularists seem to see the enlightenment as the birthplace of a lot of these ideas as if the appeared ex nihilo. But I think rather that they are mostly of the follow-the-logic variety of ideas. Established truisms lead to conflict with established norms, as the norms erode, the truisms are given room to flourish. So it was with the enlightenment. It cleared away so many norms that many of the flowers of morality we so enjoy were given room to bloom.

"But that doesn't mean that nobody would be working hard if not for the 'biblical roots' of their moral views."

I want to be sure that I'm not misunderstood as having said that the Bible is the basis for all morality. I believe the basis for morality is, as Paul said, written on our hearts. Which I interpret as evolved out of the necessity of group survival in our primitive states.

"have you ever heard of a philosopher blowing themselves up in a crowded market because of disagreements over the the nature of consciousness?"

Heh.. true. But I wasn't arguing that religion is socially benign, only that schools of philosophy, like all institutions, suffers from fractures and schisms all the time. Your initial statement about philosophy being rooted in empiricism gave the impression you thought it was a stable, monolithic thing. I would also point out that although philosophers themselves don't blow themselves up, (neither do the priests or mullahs) those caught up in philosophical movements that turn political (ie Marxism, communism) certainly do.

"You don't get philosophers claiming that some truth is divinely inspired and unquestionable."

No but most do insist that theirs IS the correct view.

"The best you can get is a weak ecumenicalism, where they agree to disagree. There is no progress, because there is no foundation of fact from which to measure it."

I agree and for that reason I'm not the biggest fan of institutionalized religion.

"empiricism has been with us since before we were human."

Of course. I thought you were referring to the official movement. Empiricism with a capitol E. Though what you are describing could hardly be called empiricism, but simply observation, reason and logic. It's a rhetorical device to associate the two, as if empiricism is the only natural conclusion of observation, reason and logic. I assume you are merely using the word as a misnomer.

"I think it is safe to say that sacrificing virgins and burning witches did little to stop future quakes."

Well, when I start advocating those actions your argument will hold some validity for my position.


 

Tinidril

"If so, it's not hard to trace their development back to the middle ages, and see where their inception was informed by Christian values."

Trace for me how these are "Christian values". You are still assuming patterns where there are none. Plato and Aristotle both wrote about equality, and I assume you don't think they got the idea from Christianity. As for "Freedom of Assembly" and the "Right to a Fair Trial", you have to be absolutely delusional if you think that the church of the middle ages held these values.

And you can find movements based on these principals happening in Asia long before Christianity had any influence there. Native Americans also held many of these modern principals.

"I believe the basis for morality is, as Paul said, written on our hearts. Which I interpret as evolved out of the necessity of group survival in our primitive states."

Yes, I'm sure that's what Paul meant. Please forgive me for accusing you of imposing your own beliefs on the text. Obviously I was mistaken.

"No but most do insist that theirs IS the correct view."

Reference please. Certainly some, but most?

"Though what you are describing could hardly be called empiricism, but simply observation, reason and logic."

I really hate semantic arguments, so I'm going to just ask you to look the word up.

"Well, when I start advocating those actions your argument will hold some validity for my position."

I wasn't criticizing something that you advocate. I was criticizing the idea of knowledge without evidence and reason, so don't act like I was attacking a straw man.


 

JoshForeman

"Trace for me how these are "Christian values"."

There are far better sources than I for this sort of historical source. I'm sure there are better sources as well, but the first that comes to mind is the book The Discarded Image.

Besides, I am not attempting to say that the values must reside within Christian thought to work. I'm saying that the "Christian" milieu of medieval Europe was soil in which our enlightenment ideals gestated.

"Plato and Aristotle both wrote about equality, and I assume you don't think they got the idea from Christianity".

That such ideas existed in other times and places makes no difference to my argument that one can learn great moral lessons from the Bible. (I'm aware of Code of Hammurabi/Ten Commandments connection) I'm not trying to denigrate other great moral ideas. If God is the origin of morals then He has written them large, across the planet and time. If the Bible contains examples of immorality I contend they are not God-breathed. One of many reasons I don't consider the Bible inerrant.

"As for "Freedom of Assembly" and the "Right to a Fair Trial", you have to be absolutely delusional if you think that the church of the middle ages held these values."

I agree that the institutional Church was a force for much repression and denial of liberty. (To be fair they also preserved most of what we know of western history.) When I speak of roots I'm not talking about inside the hierarchy of the institutions of religion, which clearly had a lot of evil going on. The Church was one of those institutions that needed to be knocked down for the Christian ideas it suppressed to bloom. The basic idea that men are equal could only make logical sense in the absence of a state religion that made demands of the masses that it did not hold itself to. All men being created equal is not a natural presupposition, (I know there are far stronger and smarter men than I.) and ascribing that idea to a creating God gives it meaning outside of an abstract political state setting. That verses to this affect were repressed by Latin-only scripture reading and other doctrinal devices designed to repress knowledge does not mean the sentiment wasn't there.

"Yes, I'm sure that's what Paul meant."

I wasn't claiming that's what Paul meant. I gave my interpretation informed by modern scientific theories. Is that ok?

"Reference please. Certainly some, but most?"

Wait... you want me to source a bunch of philosophers proclaiming their views to be correct? If you've read much philosophy you'll get the idea pretty fast.

"I really hate semantic arguments, so I'm going to just ask you to look the word up."

Main Entry: em·pir·i·cism Pronunciation: \im-ˈpir-ə-ˌsi-zəm, em-\ Function: noun Date: 1657

1 a : a former school of medical practice founded on experience without the aid of science or theory b : quackery, charlatanry 2 a : the practice of relying on observation and experiment especially in the natural sciences b : a tenet arrived at empirically 3 : a theory that all knowledge originates in experience

Yes. It means what I think it means. What you have been doing (it seems to me) is taking the utterly obvious idea that observation and experiment lead to facts, (The second definition) and leveraging that into the capitol-E-Empiricism. (The third definition) The problem with the third definition is that it is epistemological untenable. To say that observation and experiment leads to facts is wonderful. To assume that this implies that observation and experiment are the only way to ascertain facts is patently unprovable. It is mere opinion. Preference. I'm not dancing on semantics here. This is a very real distinction that you have been conflating.

I was criticizing the idea of knowledge without evidence and reason, so don't act like I was attacking a straw man.

"Oh, sorry. I thought you were doing the typical wrap-up straw-man: designed for maximum emotional reaffirmation."

Anyway, I attack the idea of Knowledge. But we agree that evidence and reason is the closest we can get to it. :)


 

bretticon

A lot of wishy washy thought here.

tl:dr; Author can't be bothered to grapple with moral questions and doesn't know how to teach his kids right from wrong so he falls back on reading the bible and going to church to ensure his kids 'grow up right'.


 

JoshForeman

Well, I'm certainly not perfect, but I've been grappling with moral questions for many years. Perhaps I just suck at it. But I'd be interested to learn what you have learned from your own grappling. Have you come to different conclusions about right and wrong? It sounds like you are critical of my methods for imbuing moral ideas, not so much the moral ideas themselves, no? When you say I "fall back" on my religious tools to ensure my kids grow up right, what does that mean? Are you saying I'm passing over superior tools in favor of inferior ones? If so, please point me to the better tools. (preferably ones you have experience raising your own kids with.)

bretticon

"When you say I "fall back" on my religious tools to ensure my kids grow up right, what does that mean? Are you saying I'm passing over superior tools in favor of inferior ones?"

All humans possess a moral capacity independent from religious upbringing. Religions just piggy back on and distort this in order to sustain themselves. There are many tools for educating your children on right and wrong but first you have to understand that some of the selfish behavior of children (especially younger ones) is because their brains aren't fully developed they haven't the sufficient grey matter to entirely understand other people beyond themselves.

Fully explaining how to raise a kid outside of going to church on the internet is simply impossible. So let me give you an analogy instead.

Reversetrol is a chemical found in Red wine, it's the active ingredient that makes doctors proscribe it to people with high blood pressure. Taken in large enough doses it has been shown to extend lifespan of mice by as much as 30%. So it's good. But drinking the alcohol in the red wine is damaging to your liver, and in order to access that active enzyme in the degree necessary for the life prolongation you'd effectively kill yourself through alcohol poisoning. Religion is like that red wine, drinking a glass of it once in a while won't kill you and it has positive benefits but in my mind getting at the good stuff requires filtering out a lot of toxins that'll do bad stuff to you.

If you want a start to thinking about right and wrong without the Bible check out Plato's Republic. It's quite readable and many of the ideas in it formed the basis for Christ's moral teachings. I'm sure other people on here can recommend other material for raising kids outside of religion.


 

JoshForeman

"you have to understand that some of the selfish behavior of children (especially younger ones) is because their brains aren't fully developed they haven't the sufficient grey matter to entirely understand other people beyond themselves."

Yes, I understand this.

"Religion is like that red wine, drinking a glass of it once in a while won't kill you and it has positive benefits but in my mind getting at the good stuff requires filtering out a lot of toxins that'll do bad stuff to you."

That's a fine opinion. But I could easily reverse it and say atheism is like red wine... There is nothing in your analogy to insist on attaching any particular signifier to the signified. Any system can have beneficial and detrimental elements simultaneously. And I doubt there is any indisputable study done to back up a claim that an atheistic rather than religious upbringing is superior for producing moral children.

"If you want a start to thinking about right and wrong without the Bible check out Plato's Republic."

I enjoy the Republic. Especially his admonition to teach children to love morality. But again, what we have with this work, and Confucius, et. all is some guy with some ideas. They may be great ideas. They may be True ideas. The point I've been trying to make is that there is a fundamental difference between citing some guy in history, and grounding your moral precepts in a transcendent authority. Doing so is not an attempt to prove that transcendent authority, it is simply placing another mechanism in place for when one's self-control or emotions fail them. It's not a panacea, it doesn't always work. But neither do back up parachutes. That doesn't mean it's a bad idea to pack one.

bretticon

"But I could easily reverse it and say atheism is like red wine..."

Except that atheism is not a belief system, it is the absence of a belief. If you want to talk studies you merely need to look at countries with higher atheism rates (non-believers). There is a distinct coorelation between places where religion is practiced less and performance in the sciences, mathematics and human health. Atheists also compose a statistically less then representative percentage of the prison system.

Why is atheism superior? Because I can read the bible or any religious text, I can enjoy the stories and moral message but because I hold no personal attachment to the book itself I can reject freely without any form of hypocrisy those parts which run contrary to my own innate sense of morality. I don't need to believe in magical zombies, or be confused at the contradictory passages which are obviously written by different authors.

"It's not a panacea, it doesn't always work. But neither do back up parachutes. That doesn't mean it's a bad idea to pack one".

An imaginary parachute fails 100% of the time. It might make you 'feel' safe but in actual fact you aren't.


 

JoshForeman

"Except that atheism is not a belief system, it is the absence of a belief."

Well that "absence of belief" has ramifications which permeate every sphere of life. So while the single idea: "there is no God" is not a belief system, it does impose a very specific framework on the world and so create a belief system.

"If you want to talk studies you merely need to look at countries with higher atheism rates (non-believers)."

Two issue here. First: societies are incredibly complex entities. To choose one statistic and say it's the determining factor in a society's character seems a bit silly to me. You might as well say it's Norway's love of black metal that makes their streets so clean. Ok, that's an exaggeration, but you get what I mean.

Second, I don't believe you can treat all religion as equal. Despite what Civilization IV has to say about it, religions are distinct and have different societal ramifications. And statistical numbers about beliefs are in my opinion pathetically inaccurate due to the fuzzy word definition mentioned above. Also, I deny doctrinal assent as any kind of measure of a person's spirituality. I believe in fruit. And if Scandinavia is the most generous area in the world I will say it is the most Christian, regardless of the people's theological beliefs.

"I can read the bible or any religious text, I can enjoy the stories and moral message but because I hold no personal attachment to the book itself I can reject freely without any form of hypocrisy those parts which run contrary to my own innate sense of morality."

I think most people do this, religious or otherwise. Very few Christians send their wives out of town when their period hits. They are exercising exactly what you are: common sense. As to miracles, that is a basic philosophical stance. Either you believe that an outside force can interrupt our natural world or you don't. I'm not sure how that makes atheism superior. Unless one uses miracles as a crutch to be lazy about research or responsibility. But I don't see that happening much in my faith community.

"An imaginary parachute fails 100% of the time. It might make you 'feel' safe but in actual fact you aren't."

Well that's true! But of course the analogy is pointing to something psychological. And the belief that there is a transcendent authority does have literal psychological repercussions. (If it didn't you wouldn't take umbrage with theism, would you?) It is, in fact, another line of defense in one's brain when other character traits fail to resist temptation. You can call it placebo or imaginary, but it's effects are not.

bretticon

"First: societies are incredibly complex entities. To choose one statistic and say it's the determining factor in a society's character seems a bit silly to me."

I didn't say that. I said there was a strong correlation. You also didn't address the high prison populations nor the predominance of atheists within the sciences. Your point here is a non sequitur.

"Second, I don't believe you can treat all religion as equal. Despite what Civilization IV has to say about it, religions are distinct and have different societal ramifications."

First of all this statement is mildly bigoted. All religions are equal in the eyes of the law if not in demographics or practically. Worse still it's a straw man, I made no allusion to Civilization. You also reject the statistics out of hand with a hand wave and 'fuzzy word definition'.

"Unless one uses miracles as a crutch to be lazy about research or responsibility. But I don't see that happening much in my faith community. "

So do you believe in miracles? You haven't been clear on this point. If Jesus were alive today it would seem you guys would reject him as a charlatan, why not reject the bible?

"But of course the analogy is pointing to something psychological. And the belief that there is a transcendent authority does have literal psychological repercussions."

You claim that your belief in a 'transcendant God' somehow makes you a better person. Sometimes you would do bad actions but a belief in something 'bigger than yourself' allows you to carry on or 'do the right thing'. There is no need to give this a supernatural gloss. No need to believe that there is something noble about an omnipotent being killing itself to satisfy some sort of barbaric blood sacrifice.

Next time you feel you might be 'overcome' try taking a deep breath, think about something else and stop doing whatever it is your doing. See if you can do it without thinking about fairy tales. Pondering absurdities is a good way to distract yourself from negative thinking but you don't need to affirm them for it to be successful in taming impulses. Sometimes when I'm frustrated I imagine I can just fly away or move objects with my mind, I don't believe I can actually do these things but they are pleasant distractions. I agree with you that the mind is a powerful tool but filling it with lies does not make it a more effective actor. Teaching kids to believe in lies when they grow up is to my mind a kind of child abuse.

Religion is damaging and dangerous because it hijacks reasoned evidence based debate with absolutist nonsense. Hateful speech, inciting violence or the oppression of women and minorities is protected by law while life saving medical research is banned by law because ignorant minds hide behind superstition.

Just consider your own few posts on here, when I pointed to facts that challenged your view, or mentioned that your arguments had no weight you fell back on your feelings and rejected evidence that contravened points about the benefits your faith might provide. If your faith is built on belief in truth I'd encourage you to consider the consequences of a belief that calls upon you to reject evidence out of hand. There could be 'literal psychological repercussions' to the realization that you don't need to buy expensive snake oil to feel better you can do it with safer alternatives.


 

JoshForeman

"I didn't say that. I said there was a strong correlation."

Oh, ok. Well I don't know enough about international statistics to argue with you. Perhaps there is a correlation between atheism and saintliness.

"You also didn't address the high prison populations nor the predominance of atheists within the sciences."

I thought my point about causation/correlation applied to these as well. And I still do. People call themselves all sorts of things without actually letting the title impact their thoughts and behaviors. You can say there are 99 out of 100 Christians in prison, and I'd say "How do you define Christian?" I'm betting we define them differently.

As to the field of science, I can see a clear personality type that is drawn to the sciences. As I can see a clear personality type that drawn to sports, politics and the arts. Never a 100% sort of thing. But enough to significant impact statistical analysis. I love scientists and read a lot of work by them, so I have a pretty good feel for how they think. I see a group that cares deeply for facts within a very small niche of interest. I see a group that has very little interest in philosophical matters. I see a group that clamors for consensus in order to justify their work. (as we all do) But unlike the arts or politics, consensus is ideally won with an appeal to material processes and logic. Such a focus can easily turn myopic, to the exclusion of the non-material. So a culture of materialism has developed in the sciences. It's been entrenched long enough that all the institutions of science from the classroom to the journals have instantiated materialism as the litmus test for acceptance. As a result, those who don't share the Zeitgeist are excluded or marginalized. I don't need to describe group-think in any more detail to you, I'm sure.

Of course group-think pervades all human associations, including religion, and I don't find a generic "religious" outlook on life any better than a generic "materialist" outlook. Both inform my life and both are good in some respects until they start making demands to be the sole arbiter of Truth or reality.

"this statement is mildly bigoted."

Well at least I'm only mildly so!

"All religions are equal in the eyes of the law if not in demographics or practically."

I was pretty sure we weren't talking about law.

"Worse still it's a straw man, I made no allusion to Civilization."

Sorry, didn't mean to place words in your mouth. I was only citing the game because It's one of my favorite games of all time and features all religions as equal. My point is that if you are going to appeal to statistics, you shouldn't put a radical Muslim in the same group as a radical Christian. One kind has (in modern times) been far, far more violent than the other.

"you also reject the statistics out of hand with a hand wave and 'fuzzy word definition'."

I hope to avoid hand-waving, and address your points as they stand. What I thought my statements showed, is that your correlations do not stand up to scrutiny when one considers how any person, no matter how horrible they are, can call themselves a "strong Christian", and thus contribute to statistical studies with very flawed premises and results.

"You claim that your belief in a 'transcendant God' somehow makes you a better person."

Better, yes. Better than you, or anyone else? No.

"Sometimes you would do bad actions but a belief in something 'bigger than yourself' allows you to carry on or 'do the right thing'."

Correct.

"Next time you feel you might be 'overcome' try taking a deep breath, think about something else and stop doing whatever it is your doing."

Ok, I'll give it a try. Although… That's really what I do. In addition to prayer. Or rather, prayer is the medium for those processes.

"I agree with you that the mind is a powerful tool but filling it with lies does not make it a more effective actor."

Well, who can establish that a God is a lie?

"Teaching kids to believe in lies when they grow up is to my mind a kind of child abuse."

Fun tip: I never accused any atheists of child abuse. But feel free to attack me personally. I know my heart. It doesn't bother me.

"Religion is damaging and dangerous because it hijacks reasoned evidence based debate with absolutist nonsense."

You've just quoted me a verse out of your bible, shall I do the same?

"Hateful speech, inciting violence or the oppression of women and minorities is protected by law while life saving medical research is banned by law because ignorant minds hide behind superstition."

Yes, humans have used religion as an excuse for all sorts of nasty things, haven't they?

"when I pointed to facts that challenged your view, or mentioned that your arguments had no weight you fell back on your feelings and rejected evidence that contravened points about the benefits your faith might provide."

I'm not sure I agree with your interpretation of our conversation. I've been pretty diligent to address everything you've said. I did disagree with some fundamental philosophical assumptions you bring with your arguments. If you consider that evasive I'm not sure what to tell you. Any time a debate occurs over the level of a fundamental epistemological disagreement a certain amount of that is inevitable. But I'm here to learn, so please re-post any relevant points you made that I did not address or addressed poorly.

"If your faith is built on belief in truth I'd encourage you to consider the consequences of a belief that calls upon you to reject evidence out of hand."

I hope I'm not doing that.

"There could be 'literal psychological repercussions' to the realization that you don't need to buy expensive snake oil to feel better you can do it with safer alternatives."

Haha... true.

bretticon

"Oh, ok. Well I don't know enough about international statistics to argue with you. Perhaps there is a correlation between atheism and saintliness."

That's a hand wave. I won't bring up statistics since you seem uncomfortable discussing them.

"I hope to avoid hand-waving, and address your points as they stand. What I thought my statements showed, is that your correlations do not stand up to scrutiny when one considers how any person, no matter how horrible they are, can call themselves a "strong Christian", and thus contribute to statistical studies with very flawed premises and results."

I have submitted evidence that suggests the benefits of non-religious belief on society you have said they are invalid because anyone can call themselves Christian. The dutch studies might classify you as a non-believer (it depends on the one you look at) if you don't regularly attend church. This is certainly a challenge for statisticians but as I said you don't seem comfortable discussing the statistical studies so I'll put those to the side for now.

"Yes, humans have used religion as an excuse for all sorts of nasty things, haven't they?"

I'm glad we agree on this.

"I did disagree with some fundamental philosophical assumptions you bring with your arguments. If you consider that evasive I'm not sure what to tell you. Any time a debate occurs over the level of a fundamental epistemological disagreement a certain amount of that is inevitable. But I'm here to learn, so please re-post any relevant points you made that I did not address or addressed poorly."

I think this discussion has been problematic because you haven't been always explicit in distinguishing your personal belief from what is the accepted consensus on Christianity. At times you have claimed to not be an apologist but then come to the defense of your faith despite this. Aside from the statistical evidence you've been pretty consistent in providing a response.

We disagree on evidence criteria. Aside from special pleading which I mentioned above you've been quite consistent on addressing philosophical problems. But we've gotten off the topic from your original post. I hope you've found this discussion fruitful. If you have more questions I encourage you to post another link.


 

JoshForeman

"I won't bring up statistics since you seem uncomfortable discussing them."

I'm really not sure what gave you that idea. I don't have any dogs in this fight. I've already praised Sweden for their Christ-likeness. I simply don't see how statistics concerning religion can ever be useful. It's not a matter of discomfort. I simply don't think it's the right tool for the job of providing evidence that atheists are better people or make better societies. If they do that makes no difference to my claim concerning the benefits of two parties taking seriously the existence of a transcendent authority. Such parties are so few and far between it is not surprising that they would have a negligible statistical impact. If I were advocating "institutional Christianity" then statistics would be valuable to us. But I am not.

"The dutch studies might classify you as a non-believer (it depends on the one you look at) if you don't regularly attend church."

I'm actually quite active in my church, though I disagree with some major doctrinal issues.

"I think this discussion has been problematic because you haven't been always explicit in distinguishing your personal belief from what is the accepted consensus on Christianity."

I think this is a very valid point. I've been making these distinctions so frequently on most of these threads I'm thinking I need to make a short blog that can be referenced before these kinds of discussions commence. It's just sort of awkward to say, "Hey mister atheist, wanna talk to be about this issue... but first, read this form."

"At times you have claimed to not be an apologist but then come to the defense of your faith despite this."

I guess I see a fundamental difference between apologetics and simply talking philosophy. Apologetics are generally outreach oriented, designed to convince others of one's beliefs. I have no desire to convince anyone of my beliefs. I'm just putting them up there and asking for criticism. I defend when I see (imo)invalid criticism, and incorporate when I see (imo)valid criticism.

"I hope you've found this discussion fruitful. If you have more questions I encourage you to post another link."

Yes I have, thank you for your time.


 

unicock

If society accepts your behavior, you should do it. If it doesn't, your life won't be happier. That's how people work.

The golden rule is far older than any bible or religion. Evidence shows it is genetic and hard coded in our DNA. It was selected by evolution because it increases your chance of survival in complex societies. It has nothing to do with religion and has been shared by all cultures on the planet throughout all ages.


 

JoshForeman

Ok. I agree. I never argued that morality suddenly popped into existence. I believe God hardwired us with it. I also believe that too many of us overwrite that, and without constant reminders we forget it. Hence religion.

pubjames

Yes, that point struck me as well - basically this man has not found answers to some fairly basic questions through his own free thinking, and so falls back on god to provide the answers. Personally I think this guy is only a couple of steps away from being an atheist.


 

JoshForeman

this man has not found answers to some fairly basic questions through his own free thinking, and so falls back on god to provide the answers."

Well my "own free thinking" has lead me to countless philosophers, religious concepts and many thinkers greater than I. I've read plenty of atheist material and haven't found answers that seem to make sense to me. I'm just a guy trying to figure out life, just like you. If you think you have these answers to "fairly basic" questions I'd love to hear them!

pubjames

Why then can you not provide an answer to your sons question, which from an atheist perspective is fairly basic?


 

JoshForeman

Because, as I said, I'm just quoting some guy from history. Sure, that's a fairly basic answer, but in the end I think it's less efficacious. There is no response for simple, sheer selfishness, which we all suffer from time to time. It's not that I can't provide the atheist perspective. It's that I find it lacking.


 

Tinidril


 

Little Billy: "Why should I not steal, papa?"

Papa: "Because God said so."

Little Billy: "How do you know there is a God?"

Papa: head explodes


 

Little Billy: "What if my life is happier when I ignore society's needs and focus on myself?"

Papa: "God wants us all to love each other."

Little Billy: "But God will forgive me anyways wont he?"

Papa: head explodes


 

You need to stop pretending that you can give your child all the answers. No matter what you do they will ask questions that stump you, and trying to pass off fairy tails as reality is just going to give them more opportunities.

Why not try this?

Papa: Society can't exist without trust and cooperation. Sure, some people can benefit from abusing the system, but is that who you want to be? You will find that nothing you can get through dishonesty will give as much satisfaction as the self respect of knowing that you are a good and honest person.

JoshForeman

"You need to stop pretending that you can give your child all the answers."

Oh, I'm not pretending that. I'm an agnostic. I value uncertainty more than you know. http://www.examiner.com/x-19272-Seattle-Faith--Agnosticism-Examiner~y2009m9d22-The-continuum

"Society can't exist without trust and cooperation. Sure, some people can benefit from abusing the system, but is that who you want to be?"

I absolutely agree that ultimately morality comes from a desire to be moral, not from outside authorities. But the answer to "is that who you want to be?" is heavily influenced by moral inculcation throughout childhood. I see my job as a parent right now as a communicator and motivator to learning to love what is right.

"You will find that nothing you can get through dishonesty will give as much satisfaction as the self respect of knowing that you are a good and honest person."

Really? You think this rule holds for all people? I can think of all sorts of people who value the satisfaction of dishonest gain over self sacrifice and honesty.


 

Tinidril

"I'm an agnostic.

Another large contingent belief that most of my worldview is based upon is the idea that a personal God exists."

Sorry, you can't have your cake and eat it too. I understand that an agnostic is not an atheist, but neither are they someone who bases their worldview on the idea of a personal God. Even less so when they base it on a single incarnation of that God.

"I can think of all sorts of people who value the satisfaction of dishonest gain over self sacrifice and honesty."

Yes, we call them sociopaths. That is why we have prisons, and congress. If your child is a sociopath then expect that giving them religion may as well be giving them a weapon.


 

JoshForeman

"I understand that an agnostic is not an atheist, but neither are they someone who bases their worldview on the idea of a personal God."

Well, this is a heavily contested word. I go with this definition I've heard from several atheists:

Gnostic atheist = Someone who believes there is no god, thats it, nothing more

Agnostic atheist = Someone who has no belief in a god but doesn't believe there can't be one. Nothing more

Agnostic theist = Someone who believes in a god but does not say there definitely is one. Nothing more

Gnostic theist = Someone who believes there is a god. Nothing more.

I am agnostic because I don't believe that I can Know if there's a God or not. I am a theist because my reasoning leads me there. I'm a Christian because I find the theories it proffers to be compelling.

"Yes, we call them sociopaths."

No, there are plenty of people who lead rotten selfish lives who would never be diagnosed that way. They are just ass holes. The world's full of them.

"If your child is a sociopath then expect that giving them religion may as well be giving them a weapon."

That's probably true. I sure hope he isn't one.

Tinidril

Sociopaths are more common than you think. Boiled down, a sociopath is simply someone who lacks empathy due to biological causes.

Other than that, I don't want to get into semantics. I shouldn't have started down that road in the first place.


 

bretticon

What do you think of the council of Nicaea?


 

JoshForeman

All sorts of things. Why?


 

bretticon

You claim to be Christian, but it is clear from your posts here that you are not. You have rejected or avoided key components of Christian doctrine in favor of some sort of 'fuzzy' belief. When challenged on your opinions or their contradictions you fall back on statements like "it's not an argument or proof', 'it's what I believe', 'that's too complex'. You might point out that you associate with others of a similar view and consider yourselves Christians but delusions can be found in communities just as much as individuals.


 

JoshForeman

"You claim to be Christian, but it is clear from your posts here that you are not."

If it makes you feel more comfortable you don't have to call me a Christian. Feel free to call me an X. "Why I am X: Utility"

"You have rejected or avoided key components of Christian doctrine in favor of some sort of 'fuzzy' belief."

I outright reject the word eternal as applied to hell. I think that's the only rejecting I do when it comes to Christianity. Every other doctrine is simply too reliant on words that are fuzzy, hence, my understanding of them is fuzzy. I don't pretend that language can do what it cannot do. That is not a rejection of Christianity, or even its claims. It is part of an overarching epistemology that rejects Knowledge as attainable.

"You might point out that you associate with others of a similar view and consider yourselves Christians but delusions can be found in communities just as much as individuals."

I don't associate with others of a similar view, actually. (I simply don't know anyone who agrees with me!) I attend a very well established, evangelical church that teaches normal Christian doctrine. I simply disagree with their doctrinal positions while agreeing with their outreach to the poor and those who's spiritual needs are met by these Christian ideas. As to delusions... yes, I know they exist everywhere. And I don't see myself as immune to them.


 

bretticon

So you believe in the supernatural account given to the story of Jesus? He walked on water, turned water into wine and all those other such miracles what is fuzzy about those things? You believe that an omnipotent being took on physical form and with full knowing allowed itself to die on the cross to absolve people of the blood debt gained by their ancestors? Far from being fuzzy concepts, I find them to be quite definite. I just find them abhorrent and terrible models for living a moral life.

If you believe those events happened, why not accept the miracles of other religions? They claim authority in the same manner. How is your belief not simply special pleading. You claim that belief in Christianity makes things easier or simpler yet to my mind it complicates human society and too often distracts us from more important tasks that could make our lives and the lives of future generations better. Imagine if instead of every Sunday studying Bronze age fairy tales children were taught math or sent to volunteer in their community. Would that not be a better more useful expenditure of their time? Or if we were to teach them these stories we taught them within their historical context and compared it to all the other religious beliefs that permeated society?


 

JoshForeman

"So you believe in the supernatural account given to the story of Jesus?"

I'm not certain, but I believe that something amazing happened. And I accept that they could have happened.

"He walked on water, turned water into wine and all those other such miracles what is fuzzy about those things?"

Well those are assertions about what a historical person did as a specific time. Those are not fuzzy. One can take several approaches to these claims. One can dismiss them out of hand because miracles don't happen. One can doubt them because they are so miraculous, but keep an open mind. One can accept them because they are a package-deal with their religion. I'm the middle one.

"You believe that an omnipotent being took on physical form and with full knowing allowed itself to die on the cross to absolve people of the blood debt gained by their ancestors?"

Now THIS is fuzzy. A simple thought experiment will show why. Please define "omnipotent", "physical", "form" "full knowing", "die", "absolve", and "blood debt". I'm sure you could find find definitions, though you would have a plethora of traditions and doctrines to choose from. And once you have done that you will find just as many words in the definitions that need precise definitions if you want a precise outcome. And each of those will... ad infinitum.

"I find them to be quite definite."

Then you are being lazy and simply accepting whatever image pops into your head.

"I just find them abhorrent and terrible models for living a moral life."

I agree that the penal substitution model of redemption has a questionable moral basis. That's not the only model or interpretation of Christ's acts. For example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christus_Victor

"If you believe those events happened, why not accept the miracles of other religions?"

Well for starters I don't deny them. As I hold all truth-claims on a continuum of certainty, they simply land lower on my scale than those attributed to Jesus because they don't fit into a universal interpretive framework that I find compelling. I understand that no miracles fit into your interpretive framework, that's why I'm not asking you to believe them.

"How is your belief not simply special pleading."

Special pleading (the logical fallacy) applies when one fails to consider the weaknesses of one's claims or gives special rules that exclude similar arguments. I have the same criteria for belief in all miracles, just as you do. Your criteria is "N/A" since miracles can't happen. My criteria is "What kind of historical evidence is there? (Is there controverting evidence?)" and "How reliable are the witnesses or those who recorded them?" and "Does this event contain internal logic?"and "Does such an event comprise a vital component of a coherent framework for interpreting reality.

The first two questions as related to the miracles of Jesus are slightly better than most reported miracles in antiquity but certainly don't stand out as obviously true or anything. Any of them could have been redacted for religious or political reasons. And there is certainly evidence that some of them did NOT happen in a literal fashion, since an earthquake that ripped the curtain in the Temple or zombies raising up and walking around Jerusalem would certainly have been recorded in many secular sources.

The third criteria you and I can join in working on. How internally logical is a reported miracle?

The last criteria find their application only within a broader search for Truth. A search that ignores the boundaries of restrictive philosophies like Materialism.

"You claim that belief in Christianity makes things easier or simpler"

I don't think I've claimed that. Perhaps in some ways it is simpler. In others far more complex. Any framework makes demands on your entire life will necessarily be complex since life is complex.

"yet to my mind it complicates human society and too often distracts us from more important tasks that could make our lives and the lives of future generations better."

I won't deny that people can become so focused on the ritual or other aspect of Christianity that they lose the heart of it. I don't think that speaks to the existence of a God or a theory about His work through Jesus.

"Imagine if instead of every Sunday studying Bronze age fairy tales children were taught math or sent to volunteer in their community. Would that not be a better more useful expenditure of their time? Or if we were to teach them these stories we taught them within their historical context and compared it to all the other religious beliefs that permeated society?"

I've asked these questions myself on my blog. It's obviously a very uncomfortable question for a lot a Christians. I go further and ask why we are spending millions (possibly billions) on buildings and the staff to operate them rather than spending that money helping the poor. This is why I wouldn't really be upset if institutionalized religion was banned.

And while your list of worthwhile things to do in the community is laudable, I should note that many churches do participate in these activities and encourage their congregations to do so. I think they are woefully under-performing though.

As to the "Bronze age fairy tales" I'll let the rhetoric slide and simply say that many texts can be the locus or fulcrum from which values can be learned and imparted. If you find better texts, good for you. I've found immeasurable value in the Bible. And while action (such as feeding the poor) is good, learning is good as well. In Christianeese, we call it discipleship. We put our actions in the context of a larger story. The efficacy of doing so can be seen in the innumerable Christian-based aid organizations.


 

bretticon

"Then you are being lazy and simply accepting whatever image pops into your head."

I don't think so. Omnipotent seems like a pretty simple concept a being which can do anything it wills. You've rejected the blood sacrifice interpretation which is fair enough so we needn't debate that event.

"I hold all truth-claims on a continuum of certainty, they simply land lower on my scale than those attributed to Jesus because they don't fit into a universal interpretive framework that I find compelling."

"I find compelling" Seems like special pleading to me. But I'm glad you at least acknowledge the validity of logical fallacy.

"The third criteria you and I can join in working on. How internally logical is a reported miracle?"

Reported in what sense? I think we both agree that the Bible is rife with contradictory miracles. I'm not interested in trying to rewrite the bible for modern sensibilities. If there is a particular miracle you wish to discuss I might be able to help.

"I've found immeasurable value in the Bible. And while action (such as feeding the poor) is good, learning is good as well. In Christianeese, we call

it discipleship."

Numerous people found meaning in Mein Kempf. Learning about it in the wrong context is positively dangerous. Would you agree?


 

JoshForeman

""I find compelling" Seems like special pleading to me."

Not at all. I'm sure in considering two conflicting scientific theories you can apply identical criteria and find one more compelling.

"I'm not interested in trying to rewrite the bible for modern sensibilities."

Haha... Me neither. Jefferson already did that. And I wasn't proposing a collaborative effort, only pointing out that we would work the same way in this aspect.

"Numerous people found meaning in Mein Kempf".

Well, there again, it's simply a matter determining the quality of the material. I can drink water or I can drink urine. That doesn't mean drinking in general is foolish.

"Learning about it in the wrong context is positively dangerous. Would you agree?"

If you are leading us to the idea that fundamentalism and regarding holy books as perfect vessels leads to violence I would use the same drinking analogy. How many people have fundamentalist Christians killed in the name of their god in the past 100 years? Now how many have fundamentalist Muslims killed? How about Hindu and Buddhist? http://www.class.uidaho.edu/ngier/slrv.htm

The fact that any text can be leveraged politically is simply a truism. Do I disagree with book-worship? Yes. Should children be taught this danger? Yes. Religious ideas have power. And like anything powerful they can be turned towards good or evil.


 

bretticon

I'm not interested in discussing the merits of different religions. There are vocal atheists who have an axe to grind against Muslims (such as Hitchens) I'm not one of them. That problem is more then just a religious one but also one of illiteracy. Greg Mortenson discussed this recently. But I think we can both agree that depending on how fine you want to define a faith the stats can miss a lot of important info.

"Not at all. I'm sure in considering two conflicting scientific theories you can apply identical criteria and find one more compelling."

I don't think that's how science works. A theory is tested rigorously and independently by multiple people. If it it fails to be verified it isn't less compelling. It's invalid. Scientists might like a particular theory but they don't pick the ones they like they pick the ones that match the model.

Note you didn't say "Christianity is more compelling than other religions" You said "I find compelling" as in it's a personal choice. You used this personal feeling to exempt the same standards of proof you hold to other miraculous claims. Objectivity doesn't require you to be a materialist but once you claim a special case for yourself I would submit to you that you're engaging in a form of solipsism.


 

JoshForeman

"I don't think that's how science works".

Science works in fits and starts. Models gain acceptance while holes in those models await more data. It's often a linear process with simultaneously competing models. The fact that one or another model eventually wins out does not change the fact that there are times -often very long ones- where consensus in a given field is split on which model to accept. It is during those periods where a scientist must use their best judgment to determine which model is more compelling.

I'm not a scientist, but I read a lot of scientific articles and literature. So if my understanding is wrong, feel free to correct me. But my claim is simply this: In a situation without all pertinent data, one can objectively apply identical criteria to competing claims without falling into the logical fallacy of special pleading. I also note that I'm sure I'm not perfect at this process, but it is my goal.

"You said "I find compelling" as in it's a personal choice."

I believe that all opinions are a mixture of personal choice and unavoidable facts. Facts can be interpreted in many ways. But I do not believe that ultimate Truth is affected by choice.

"You used this personal feeling to exempt the same standards of proof you hold to other miraculous claims."

No I don't think so. I think that the miracles reported at any time by anybody can have a consistent critical analysis applied to them. I do care more if that analysis shows favorably for the ones that fall within my belief system. I think this is an unavoidable human weakness. But I also care more for Truth than for my belief system. Not at all times in all ways, but it is fundamental to my personality.

"Objectivity doesn't require you to be a materialist but once you claim a special case for yourself I would submit to you that you're engaging in a form of solipsism."

Well I wouldn't be here talking to you all if I wanted to wrap myself in the fuzzy scarf of my comfortable ideas, now would I?


 

bretticon

"I'm not a scientist, but I read a lot of scientific articles and literature. So if my understanding is wrong, feel free to correct me."

Sigh... you're repeating yourself.

"But my claim is simply this: In a situation without all pertinent data, one can objectively apply identical criteria to competing claims without falling into the logical fallacy of special pleading."

Without all the necessary data we don't have enough information to apply the 'necessary criteria' correctly. We must withhold judgment. If we make an exception for particular data sets that we like we are being intellectually dishonest and engaging in special pleading by asking for an exemption.

Allow me to rephrase the part of your argument that I find so odious and poorly worked out.

  1. All religions claim to be true
  2. Not all religions are equal(ly true)
  3. I seek the truth above all else
  4. Practicing my religion is useful to me.
  5. Because I seek the truth and because it is useful to me my religion is more true than other religions.

5 does not follow from 4. You might assert that you don't claim 5 because 'I'm not trying to convince anyone, I just want to get some criticism'. But by declaring the truth of your religion as true above all others without any other reasons you are de facto making that very claim.


 

JoshForeman

"Sigh... you're repeating yourself."

Right. And I'll repeat myself again to inform you that I'm having concurrent conversations with half a dozen people right now. I'm afraid I don't have the intellectual faculties or the time to ensure that I don't ever repeat myself.

"Without all the necessary data we don't have enough information to apply the 'necessary criteria' correctly. We must withhold judgment. If we make an exception for particular data sets that we like we are being intellectually dishonest and engaging in special pleading by asking for an exemption."

I think you may suffer from a certain kind of romanticized view of how science works. I suggest you read some Feyerabend http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Feyerabend or Kuhn, or at least get familiar with the basis of their critiques.

The problem with our analogy between a scientific model and a philosophical one is that one cannot simply wait around for unanswerable questions to be answered. In the mean time we are compelled to do so, as most action and thought is predicated on their answers. I'm sure you understand that an atheist's thoughts and actions are full of implicit assumptions that cannot be proved or disproved in this life. That the theist has more implicit assumptions than the atheist is not debatable. It is simply a value judgment as to weather this 'risk' is worth it. How one interprets a "life well lived" or "brave in the face of Truth" or "Healthy for society" are all interwoven into that judgment call. Here there certainly is a corollary to scientific innovation. Leaps in the advancement of science generally come with sparks of intuition, imagination, juxtaposition. All attributes that can be applied to philosophical and religious exploration. If one's life is a grand experiment, we must admit that the results won't be in before we die. To shut down the experimental impulse based on an assumption about the outcome just seems to me like poor sportsmanship to me. This is what I contend atheism does. It is the most timid of philosophies. The most conservative. It demands that all it's framework be safe and solid, and thus eschews that transcendent nature of the human soul that wants to question and act on intuition despite the risks. The irony to me is that the determination as to how safe and solid the framework is is left to the consensus of a small, select group, insulated from the messy world of imagination by a brick wall of materialistic assumptions.

Well, that's my take anyway.

"Allow me to rephrase the part of your argument that I find so odious and poorly worked out. 1. All religions claim to be true 2. Not all religions are equal(ly true) 3. I seek the truth above all else 4. Practicing my religion is useful to me. 5. Because I seek the truth and because it is useful to me my religion is more true than other religions."

Thank you for this. It's always refreshing and challenging to see one's arguments arranged by another.

"5 does not follow from 4."

Agreed!

"You might assert that you don't claim 5 because 'I'm not trying to convince anyone, I just want to get some criticism'. But by declaring the truth of your religion as true above all others without any other reasons you are de facto making that very claim."

Again, I choose my words carefully because I don't want to be read this way. First of all, I do provide other reasons for my belief besides utility. Note that the article I originally posted had a "4" in it. I do have a minimal education regarding the great world religions and recognize the similarities and differences among them. I have also examined apologetic work from many of them. They all have different character, and significantly, different emphases on how literal or important their doctrine is.

Secondly, while I believe that my religion is True, and others are less True, this belief is based on what I've repeatedly acknowledged to be a mind that is unsuited for the task of making such an determination. I have only one life (that I know of) and cannot change my heritage and the religion I was raised in. If one believes that there is buried treasure, and it has an equal chance to be anywhere in the world, there is no reason to not start digging in one's own backyard.

And finally, my understanding is that if there is a God, it is not a Christian or Muslim or Hindu or Greek God. It is God. My allegiance is not to Christianity. My allegiance is to this concept, this Being, if such a One exists. If this God revealed Himself most fully in another religion I really wouldn't care. I don't care about my particular religious institution's doctrine or rituals if they are not representing the Truth of this asserted Being. (if such Truth exists.) If God raised up the Buddha to speak some aspect of Truth concerning Him that's fine. I'm not bothered by that possibility.

But I think you might be making a mistake if you see all religious claims to miracles as equal or equally emphasized. Or even equally believed. They are certainly very different when it comes to witnesses or the lack thereof and how close the original writings are to the purported events.


 

bretticon

"Leaps in the advancement of science generally come with sparks of intuition, imagination, juxtaposition. All attributes that can be applied to philosophical and religious exploration. If one's life is a grand experiment, we must admit that the results won't be in before we die."

Seems to me you have the romantic vision of science. I find science to be quite boring but useful, which is why I did not pursue it as a career choice. Science to my understanding is mostly mind breaking tedium, heavy math and a lot of failure before finding something which sticks. No theory in science is fully certain but it takes more then amateur speculation by laymen to prove science wrong.

"To shut down the experimental impulse based on an assumption about the outcome just seems to me like poor sportsmanship to me."

Belief in God seems to shut this down more then non-belief. To put the phrase God did it, undermines every bit of hard work scientists put into explaining natural occurances by implying causality through intention.

"The irony to me is that the determination as to how safe and solid the framework is is left to the consensus of a small, select group, insulated from the messy world of imagination by a brick wall of materialistic assumptions."

I wonder if you'd actually say that to a scientist. Would you say that to Niel de Grasse Tyson, or Steven Hawking? I'd say they have a lot more imagination then your petty 'god did it'.

"Secondly, while I believe that my religion is True, and others are less True, this belief is based on what I've repeatedly acknowledged to be a mind that is unsuited for the task of making such an determination. I have only one life (that I know of) and cannot change my heritage and the religion I was raised in."

You've pretty much admitted you don't have the mental capacity to think about this in any other way then through you're own religious viewpoint. That you don't feel any remorse precludes us from having anymore discussion.

You're happy in your ignorance I shan't waste my time any longer.


 

JoshForeman

"I find science to be quite boring but useful,"

We have two problems here. We are both non-scientists debating the nature of a field we don't inhabit. The second problem is that I'm talking big-picture, you pointing out the day-to-day.

"No theory in science is fully certain but it takes more then amateur speculation by laymen to prove science wrong."

I agree, and I've not attempted to do so. My only approach to the world of science is through the unguarded back door of philosophical assumptions. Scientists tend to find philosophy unimportant.

"To put the phrase God did it, undermines every bit of hard work scientists put into explaining natural occurances by implying causality through intention."

Well I hope you're not accusing me of saying this. I'm all for the eviction of the gods-of-the-gap.

"I wonder if you'd actually say that to a scientist."

I wouldn't accuse a creative, imaginative scientist of not being so. I am speaking of the field as a whole. This is my impression based on reading and conversing with them. Of course there are exceptions, just as there are truly altruistic politicians and unimaginative artists.

"You've pretty much admitted you don't have the mental capacity to think about this in any other way then through you're own religious viewpoint."

I've said that my cultural bias is an inevitable obstacle to truly getting into another's shoes and fully understanding their ideas. If you think this is not an issue for you I'd say you either haven't thought about it much or are delusional. (I'm guessing the former.)

"That you don't feel any remorse precludes us from having anymore discussion."

I feel no more remorse over my non-super powers than I do over my height or eye color. A accept reality as it comes and seek to make the best out of it.

"You're happy in your ignorance I shan't waste my time any longer."

Ignorance of what, exactly? Or are you merely using the word as most do as a substitute for stupidity? What fact or set of facts can you present which would prove your interpretive framework is superior?


 

bretticon

As I said, I believe you to be a troll and your comments to be merely begging the question Feel free to accuse me of doing the same thing. This conversation bores me.


 

JoshForeman


 

Ok. Well, thanks for your time.


 

unicock

This conversation stumps me:

"Little Billy: "What if my life is happier when I ignore society's needs and focus on myself?"

Papa: head explodes"

Is it really that hard to explain why society's needs correlates with your own?

Papa: Otherwise, you wouldn't be accepted by the rest of society. If you steal from a class mate, either he or your teacher will punish you.

How hard is that? Why do you feel your statement becomes more relevant if you invoke a fictional character almost nobody else would call "truth"?


 

JoshForeman

Because no matter what justification you add, the response: "What if my life is happier when I ignore society's needs and focus on myself?" always trumps it.

Let me be clear that I'm not saying that atheists can't be good people who follow the Golden Rule. I'll quote myself from above:

"I'm not claiming that one can not follow the GR if one is and atheist. I'm saying that founding the GR in a transcendent, ontologically real foundation provides a kind of safety net that can save you when your feelings or willpower fail you. I am certain that there are many morally superior atheists out there."

spitz

The issue isn't whether atheists can be good people or not. It's that you've created an artificial solution to the dilemma presented.

The simplest argument against "what if I ignore society's needs and focus on myself" is to show the foolhardyness of that statement. You cannot focus on yourself without focusing on society unless you're a hermit. You cannot fill your gas tank without paying the gas vendor; you cannot eat if people across the world do not gather food and then deliver it to the market and by doing so your support the continued existence of the market; you cannot argue on reddit without strangers creating computers and then providing the networks that you access afterwards and by doing so you support the continued existence of the internet; you cannot receive a paycheck without performing a service and then depend on someone to pay you, and the justice system to support you if they don't and a portion of that is removed by the government to fund its programs. And if you do overstep your bounds and put yourself over other people in a way that is harmful or illegal, you risk the full force of society will swoop in to ensure that you cannot do it again."

You can scale that down for children.

More to the point, when I was younger I thought the idea of god's authority was stupid, and had no problem disagreeing with god's supposed laws. It's very easy as god is shown to be in support of slavery, genocide and witchcraft: rules for owning slaves are in the old testament, Noah's ark is told in children's books, and Jesus was an exorcist. Keep in mind that like many people I grew up learning about slavery in the US, the holocaust, and the Salem Witch trials as three examples of unconscionable moral behavior so it was mystifying seeing adults fall over themselves to rationalize it instead of just calling it what it was and acknowledging that what their religion taught was ridiculous or morally wrong.

You've created a false dilemma really. People have the ability to ignore any point you try to make, and no argument defeats a response of "I don't care." With children, I think it's a more of a question of what you can teach them to care about while you have the opportunity. If it's something that doesn't exist in the sky, then they risk becoming like the adults I bumped into as a child who felt that imaginary thing was worth defending above all else.


 

JoshForeman

"The simplest argument against "what if I ignore society's needs and focus on myself" is to show the foolhardyness of that statement."

The societal infrastructure continues to function if I as a individual choose to rage against the machine. This cause/effect scenario you painted does not pan out.

"People have the ability to ignore any point you try to make, and no argument defeats a response of "I don't care.""

That's true.

"With children, I think it's a more of a question of what you can teach them to care about while you have the opportunity."

Yes. I articulated this in some other response on here. It's getting a child to care that is the real challenge. A goal that I think my Christian tradition supplies good tools for meeting.


 

spitz

"The societal infrastructure continues to function if I as a individual choose to rage against the machine. This cause/effect scenario you painted does not pan out."

The point is that someone who says they will just focus on themselves typically doesn't understand what that means; depending on other people and supporting them in order for continued dependence is implicit in how they are even capable of focusing on themselves in the first place. If you can't understand that it's probably why you can't teach the lesson.


 

JoshForeman

Well perhaps I'm a lost cause. Can you rephrase that? Are you saying that one who is selfish needs a functioning infrastructure in order to parasitically use it? And what lesson are you alluding to?


 

spitz

I already rephrased it but I'll try one more time for you. Anyone who thinks it's in their interest to ignore society and focus on themselves doesn't realize that they are so utterly dependent on other people that what they're proposing is nearly impossible, and that they aren't likely to find the few ways of achieving it to be what they imagined. There is no "I don't care I'll do it anyways" here... or well, there can be, but it will likely only reveal that they don't actually understand what they're really saying, and the lesson is what helps them gain that understanding.


 

JoshForeman

Oh, ok. Thank you. That's much clearer.

"what they're proposing is nearly impossible"

I just don't see how you believe this though. People do it all the time to varying degrees. But regardless, morality is not about doing what is inevitable, is it? It's about making choices. Your conclusion seems to be that all the choices you and I consider immoral will lead to less happiness for the one doing it. (the basis for the morality tale) I haven't noticed that in the real world in all cases.


 

spitz

That wasn't my point at all, it was just that someone who reveals that they don't understand something should have it explained to them. I think because this is tied to the topic of religion you're feeling an urgency to compare it to "turning to god" as a final solution when it's a separate issue. Like the adults I knew growing up who were more interested in making excuses for the absurdities of their religion instead of just stepping back and saying "this is absurd!"


 

JoshForeman

"I think because this is tied to the topic of religion you're feeling an urgency to compare it to "turning to god" as a final solution when it's a separate issue."

Hmmm. Possibly a sublimated urge. But I don't think so. Because I view all of reality, including the machinations of the human mind and any tools it develops as purposeful, I don't have any problem applying 'secular' tools to problems such as morality. If the moral problem can be solved without explicitly religious tools that's fine by me. I don't rely on explicitly religious tools for my physical health or for my profession as a game artist.

"Like the adults I knew growing up who were more interested in making excuses for the absurdities of their religion instead of just stepping back and saying "this is absurd!""

While their religion may have been absurd, you must remember that people live by systems, not by individual ideas in a piecemeal fashion. My experience is that through political and organizational accretion, every religion will pick up ideas that are absurd. But that does not invalidate whatever core principals of Truth they may have initially grasped.


 

spitz

"But that does not invalidate whatever core principals of Truth they may have initially grasped."

Right. Does capitalizing "truth" have some kind of special meaning? The problem is that religion is incapable of simply sticking with the decent principles it has associated with it. For instance, Jesus preached humility and charity, which are fine. However he was also an exorcist, apocalyptic, and credited with magic healing powers, and there is an inability for religious people to keep the good principles in the form of "be humble and charitable" and instead insist on carrying the nonsense about magic powers, spiritual beings, the end of the world and final judgment. The Old Testament has the ten commandments which contains some purely religious rules but also simple concepts like "don't kill" ... which don't really need to be taught, but are not bad. However it also contains teachings about how rapists can marry their victims and plenty of stories where god in detail tells people to kill and why, when he isn't doing it himself; the story of Noah's Ark is lovingly taught to children which is extremely creepy when you consider that in the US 60% of the people telling that story think it really happened. And weirdly, while people are readily able to rationalize why that kind of stuff is in there, very few are able to say "this is terrible, whoever wrote it was an idiot, let's get rid of it all and just keep the simple stuff like 'do not kill' ".


 

JoshForeman

"Does capitalizing "truth" have some kind of special meaning?"

For me it does. I use it to differentiate universal Truth (The collection of all facts rightly interpreted) from our opinions about what is true. Truth with a capitol T is, I believe, inaccessible to the human mind in this life. We mind find bits and pieces of it, (In which case we have right belief) but since we don't have the whole puzzle it's impossible to Know Truth.

"The problem is that religion is incapable of simply sticking with the decent principles it has associated with it."

Well let's not conflate "religion" (A set of philosophical ideas for interpreting life and values) from institutions that seek to instantiate and propagate those ideas. And then there are individual religious believers. And then there are the very real differences between religious systems. All this to say that your statement is too simplistic. It also presumes that the basic moral imperatives are the important aspects of religious thought. This may or may not be true. It's certainly the easiest path to take towards synthesizing the religions into one homogeneous entity. But I don't personally think that is the basic function of religious thought.

"However he was also an exorcist, apocalyptic, and credited with magic healing powers, and there is an inability for religious people to keep the good principles in the form of "be humble and charitable" and instead insist on carrying the nonsense about magic powers, spiritual beings, the end of the world and final judgment."

Yes, this stuff is only important if it's True.

"the ten commandments which contains some purely religious rules but also simple concepts like "don't kill" ... which don't really need to be taught,"

Don't need to be taught?! Says the guy in a first-world nation with a strong central government. The fact that you think this basic moral norm is a norm is due to thousands of years of repetition.

"However it also contains teachings about how rapists can marry their victims and plenty of stories where god in detail tells people to kill and why, when he isn't doing it himself"

Yes. I don't agree with these teachings, though outside of the societal context in my comfortable high-tech world I have to admit I'm quite out of my element making such a claim.

""this is terrible, whoever wrote it was an idiot, let's get rid of it all and just keep the simple stuff like 'do not kill' "."

Well I think myth serves important roles in our lives and I'm not about to say this or that myth may not be based on Truth. I believe that God made every human mortal. The fact that He decides when and how we die is of little consequence in the shadow of that idea. He is responsible for every human death. This is only a problem if there is no compensatory mechanism in the next life, if such a life exists.


 

ep0k

Faith is not religious lingo for trust. The definition of faith is a sincerely held belief that does not require justification and may in fact ignore evidence to the contrary. This is exactly the kind of faith you have when you talk about your religion for the rest of the page.

You say

"One approach to religion that I want to avoid at all costs is choosing a religion because it makes me happy, wealthy, healthy, well-connected, etc."

But then make recourse to its utility in your life as a motivation for being a Christian. This is why I'm calling you out on holding "Truth" up as some kind of ideal. Where's the "Truth" in Christianity? What do you mean by "Truth"? Is it different from "facts"?


 

JoshForeman

"Faith is not religious lingo for trust."

I understand there are dictionaries that disagree with me. My point is that whatever that definition is... I don't want that kind of "faith".

"This is exactly the kind of faith you have when you talk about your religion for the rest of the page."

When I come across "evidence to the contrary" I change what I believe. I therefore lack that kind of "faith". That is why my beliefs have diverged from mainstream evangelical Christianity. I found a lot of evidence to the contrary.

"But then make recourse to its utility in your life as a motivation for being a Christian."

I thought I made it clear here: "Of course there are very few actions that have singular motivations, and I can't claim to have excised all of these less-than-admirable motives from my religious impulses. But I think that if one is striving for Truth above all else, these things must be distant secondary motives, otherwise Truth can be obfuscated."

What I'm saying is that I am a human with needs and mixed motivations. I'm imperfect. I'm flawed. But I have an ideal. I'm aiming for that... striving for Truth above all else. Utility is one of several reasons that I'm a Christian. Utility provides some small amount of evidence that something is true. Not always, or in every context. But perhaps in this one. That's why I'm exploring it. That's why I'm here among these atheists in the mist. I'm saying, "Hey, look at how this idea works for me. What do you think?" And I'm carefully examining their responses and conversing with them. Maybe utility is no evidence at all in this case. Maybe it is. I figure if I bounce my ideas off a range of perspectives I have the best chance of finding Truth.

"Where's the "Truth" in Christianity?"

I don't think this is the place for Christian apologetics. I simply don't have passion for it. I will simply say that I find a convincing theory for everything in the ideas that Christianity points to, however vague, utilizing whatever amount of metaphor.

"What do you mean by "Truth"? Is it different from "facts"?"

Here's my definition of Truth... you can tell me if you disagree: Truth is the complete collection of all facts, correctly interpreted.

So... there are facts. Such as the age of the earth or the name of the capitol of France. Are those things True? I think they are a part of Truth, but alone, no, they are only facts. But such distinctions are only necessary when philosophizing, not in every day speech. I you asked me if Paris was the capitol of France I would say that was true.

So as Truth relates to Christianity... Due to the hazy nature of language, I can't point to a particular doctrine and say "X is True." I can say, "I believe X because it is part of a system that creates a compelling interpretation of the world and our place in it." Doesn't flow off the tongue as nicely, does it?

ep0k

I've read your entire article and you treat religion and science as non-overlapping magisteria, which invalidates

"When I come across "evidence to the contrary" I change what I believe."

Because you've made it clear you think that science and rationalism represent a different path to this amorphous "Truth" than religion.

For example, there is no reliable evidence that Jesus ever existed or that a man like him performed the kind of miracles in the New Testament, yet you call yourself a Christian. That's a clear example of science and rationalism overlapping with religion.

When religion makes claims about this world that can be tested, it always fails.


 

JoshForeman

"you treat religion and science as non-overlapping magisterial"

Well I don't consider them non-overlapping at all. The spheres of religion and science have historically been almost indistinguishable until the last couple hundred years or so. And what I call God is informed by all the god-of-the-gaps that science has eliminated.

"you've made it clear you think that science and rationalism represent a different path to this amorphous "Truth" than religion."

I'm not sure how you get this from me. I think all human inquiry holds the potential for finding Truth. Laboratories are great for finding facts. Facts are wonderful for composing theories, but I'm sure you understand that theories require philosophical propositions which occur in classrooms, studies, and yes, theological places. Some theological inquiry actively opposes some facts, others accept them and incorporate them. I am of the later group.

"there is no reliable evidence that Jesus ever existed"

Every mainstream scholar (most of which are secular) of Biblical studies agree that obviously Jesus existed. By your use of the word 'magisteria' I assumed you weren't one of those atheist who just watches movies like The God Who Wasn't There and Zeitgeist and presumes all the "facts" presented therein were actually facts.

If you believe anything about history in order to be consistent you have to believe that Jesus existed.

"or that a man like him performed the kind of miracles in the New Testament"

You one who is advocating separating the magisteria. My position is not inconsistent because I don't make the presupposition that all that exists must be apprehended by our physical senses or our tools. Of course I don't "Know" that Jesus did anything. Of course it's possible that everything in the gospels are redacted political propaganda. However, it does not require a rejection of rational thought or science to believe that miracles can happen or that Jesus was in some sense God. It simply requires a synthesis of various modes of thought and inquiry.

"When religion makes claims about this world that can be tested, it always fails."

Quite a sweeping statement there. I'm assuming you are an adherent of the modern materialist myth of progressing science and receding religion. Both occupying territory that must be occupied by one or the other. Besides being based on historic cherry-picking and suffering from terrible two-dimensionality, the myth can only apply to religion that is based on god-of-the-gaps, or name-it-and-claim it style religion. I find those forms of religious thinking as flawed as you do, and celebrate their reduction with you.


 

ep0k

In the first paragraph of your article you say, among other things,

"So I'm ok with not having crystal clear Truth in a religion simply because religion deals with things that science can't touch."

That is the definition of non-overlapping magisteria. You're arguing that science and religion address different realms of knowledge.

Are you really surprised that biblical scholars with a confirmation bias find evidence that isn't there? Don't appeal to someone else's authority, show us some of this "evidence".

Look at the biblical depiction of the universe outside the earth. It's geocentric, full of water, and created especially for us. This is one of many examples of blatant falsehoods showing a book cobbled together from still older mythologies and edited by people who had an understanding of the world and the universe that perfectly reflects the time periods the various books were written.


 

JoshForeman

"That is the definition of non-overlapping magisteria. You're arguing that science and religion address different realms of knowledge."

Oh, ok, I see what you're saying. I thought you were claiming that my position was that scientific research cannot inform religious concepts, which it clearly can. This is my stance on the place of Science within the magisteria - or spheres - of human thought and endeavor: Science is our tool for finding facts. But it can never speak to values, which are necessary for arranging and interpreting said facts. (Science can define 'alive' and 'dead' but cannot determine which is "better".) But facts can and do influence our values. So there is overlap, but not in an epistemological way. What we learn from facts is distinct from what we learn by philosophizing about values.

What you are insinuating is that I am proposing a set of facts that is not assessable by scientific means. Perhaps this is where language fails us the most. A proposition such as "There is a God" is not a fact in the sense that 'water contains oxygen' is a fact. Both assertions require intellectual tools to ascertain. One can be demonstrated with experiments that convince almost everyone. The other is a philosophical building block that composes a large number of interpretive frameworks. Take that building block away and the amount of viable frameworks with which to interpret the universe are severely limited. There is no scientific method for testing or reproducing or falsifying "there is a God". In that sense, we are dealing with separate magisteria. However, once one proposes something more specific, such as, "God is 30 feet tall and lives on Mt. Olympus." suddenly the spheres overlap and there is room for science to test and falsify the statement. Also with statements like: "God will make you rich and healthy if you do X."

What I wish to communicate is that there is intellectually honest input that the sciences can and should have on philosophical and religious thought. And there is intellectually dishonest input. For instance, when a neuroscientist says they have discovered the part of the brain that stimulates religious experience, therefore religious experience is a strictly physical phenomena, therefore no God exists, this is dishonest due to it's circularity. Correlation is mislabeled as causation when materialism is presumed. In this particular case, applying physical stimulus can reproduce an existential state that is described as "religious". And psychological tools and many drugs can be applied to reproduce those feelings. This does not mean that other forces we do not perceive can also activate that part of the brain. Or that what the participants describe as "religious" even is so. And none of that has any technical bearing on whether or not a God created the universe. This is the kind of intellectual dishonesty I see in atheists books and articles all the time. There is usually sublimated disdain for philosophy (other than materialism) even though every value-judgment that is utilized in their arguments is predicated on the circular logic of materialist a priori. I have no problem with atheist philosophizing. I do have a problem when they pretend they are not doing so when making broad philosophical assertions via their interpretation of scientific research and facts.

"Are you really surprised that biblical scholars with a confirmation bias find evidence that isn't there?"

You must not be very familiar with the broad world of biblical scholarship. The vast majority love nothing more than proving that this or that event, person, or claim could never have happened.

"Don't appeal to someone else's authority, show us some of this "evidence"."

You want be to become an archeologist or a biblical scholar? If so, I should expect you to become a biologist and astronomer before you cite any of your authorities.

"Look at the biblical depiction of the universe outside the earth. It's geocentric, full of water, and created especially for us."

Yes, I never claimed otherwise. I don't attribute divine authorship to the Bible.

"This is one of many examples of blatant falsehoods"

No. This is the example of a poetic myth. Myth is not "true" or "false" like a map or an instruction manual. It's only the fundamentalist and the atheist that demand this fictional character for the Bible that clearly does not fit it.


 

pubjames

Yes, he implies he chose Christianity because of "the Truth" but doesn't actually say what "the Truth" is, nor does he say how he say how he came to the conclusion that Christianity was more "the Truth" compared to other religions.

Personally I think this guy is only a step or two away from becoming an athiest. He obviously thinks about his religion a lot, and evalutes it, but there are still some fundamental things he hasn't worked out yet which are preventing him from making the final step. The dialog with his daughter shows that one of the things he hasn't worked out yet is how you can follow the Golden Rule in ethics without being told to by a god.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Golden_Rule_%28ethics%29


 

JoshForeman

he implies he chose Christianity because of "the Truth" but doesn't actually say what "the Truth" is, nor does he say how he say how he came to the conclusion that Christianity was more "the Truth" compared to other religions."

As the number 4 in the title suggests, this is not a single all-encompassing apologetic work. As to what "the Truth" is... how the hell should I know?! That's what we're all trying to figure out, right?

"Personally I think this guy is only a step or two away from becoming an athiest."

I've heard this many times. I guess it's based on the assumption that if one starts deeply questioning beliefs they must inexorably lead to atheism. This is true for some people. Not for all. Probably not even for most. IMO

"how you can follow the Golden Rule in ethics without being told to by a god."

No no... I'm not claiming that one can not follow the GR if one is and atheist. I'm saying that founding the GR in a transcendent, ontologically real foundation provides a kind of safety net that can save you when your feelings or willpower fail you. I am certain that there are many morally superior atheists out there.

Tinidril

"I guess it's based on the assumption that if one starts deeply questioning beliefs they must inexorably lead to atheism. This is true for some people. Not for all."

I would say it is true for the vast majority. But most people have a hard time distinguishing a genuine questioning of their beliefs from a search to justify their beliefs.


 

JoshForeman

This is indeed a slippery dilemma. Tell me: as an atheist, how are you sure that your atheism is the result of a genuine questioning rather than a search to justify what you want to be true?


 

Tinidril

I didn't start out as an atheist, in fact I have a degree in Catholic Theology. When I say "most people" I most definitely include myself. For years I fooled myself into thinking that I was willing to question my faith, and it turned out I was wrong. It took me many years to really start challenging myself.

If the history of human knowledge tells us anything, it is that if you go out looking for evidence to prove something you already believe is true that you are guaranteed to find it. The only proven path to real knowledge is to actively look for things that defy what you already believe, allowing you to strip away the garbage. When you take that approach with Christianity, it isn't long before there is nothing left standing.


 

JoshForeman

So do you believe it's imperative to change from one thing into another to be show that your search was genuine? How do you know you didn't just have a deep-seated sublimated wish that there was no God, but due to your religious momentum found it hard to discard the time and effort you went into cultivating your religious mind?

"if you go out looking for evidence to prove something you already believe is true that you are guaranteed to find it."

Yeah, specifically in philosophic and religious spheres. I'm not a brilliant man, but I can see how easy it is to justify a lot of positions with cleaver wordplay.

"The only proven path to real knowledge is to actively look for things that defy what you already believe, allowing you to strip away the garbage."

That is certainly my impulse. I've only been doing that for about 3 years now. So maybe your prophecy will be correct.

"When you take that approach with Christianity, it isn't long before there is nothing left standing".

I'll bet this has a lot to do with which Christianity you are talking about. As a scholar, I'm sure you're aware of the thousands of varieties that have grown since Christ. I know as I've studied my views have changed quite a bit, from conservative, inerrantist, evangelical to a Universalist agnostic. But I don't know if the trajectory you foresee is inevitable because I was so derailed by the epistemological dilemma raised by the radical skeptics. I don't see a way out of their logic and into atheism.

Tinidril

"So do you believe it's imperative to change from one thing into another to be show that your search was genuine?"

No, I didn't say that. I do think that intellectual honesty is a skill that has to be learned though, so I would have a hard time believing someone who said that they got everything they learned right the first time.

"I was so derailed by the epistemological dilemma raised by the radical skeptics. I don't see a way out of their logic and into atheism."

I guess you will have to be more specific. I have no idea what this means.


 

JoshForeman

intellectual honesty is a skill that has to be learned"

I whole-heartedly agree with this. I'm sure it's a skill I have not mastered.

"I guess you will have to be more specific. I have no idea what this means."

I mean the "earth giants" that Plato railed against have a pretty air-tight case against our ability to Know anything for certain. The ramifications for that I've talked about in various articles such as here:

http://www.examiner.com/x-19272-Seattle-Faith--Agnosticism-Examiner~y2009m8d25-Systematic-skepticism

here:

http://www.examiner.com/x-19272-Seattle-Faith--Agnosticism-Examiner~y2009m9d2-Out-on-a-limb

and here:

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


 

ep0k

The author was doing alright until he invoked truth as his motivation for his faith, considering that faith is what you fall back on when you can't justify your belief in any other way.

Round and round we go...


 

JoshForeman

I (the author) understand "faith" to be religious lingo for "trust". I use the words interchangeably. Trust/faith is not what you fall back on when you can't justify your belief. It is built through repeated experience or testing. As I am only human, and my time is limited, it's very likely that many things I trust are not actually trustworthy. This could be the case with my religious convictions. But that in no way diminishes my motivation as the search for Truth being at the root of them.


 

Tinidril

Trust in what? Based on what? Faith is not the same as trust, and you are just playing word games.

When you trust something, it is because you judge it to be trustworthy. You can base your assessment on reason, or you can base it on wishful thinking.


 

JoshForeman

I understand that there are those who avoid cognitive dissonance by falling back on "faith" when evidence seems to contradict what they want to be true. I don't want to do that, and I reject that as a proper definition for faith. I know it's the definition that atheists like the most because it's easy to make fun of. This is not word games, it's defining motivation.

As to what my trust is based on, as with all sufficiently complex ideas there is a Gestalt web of "things". The experiences I've had in my life find a satisfying synthesis when viewed through the framework of Christianity. My interpretation could be wrong, I don't deny that. But what I deny is that I forgo reason when place my trust in the ideas of Christianity.

"When you trust something, it is because you judge it to be trustworthy. You can base your assessment on reason, or you can base it on wishful thinking."

I agree that this is the ideal, but it is far from true. I'm sure you've known people who put their trust in an individual that was untrustworthy simply because they were infatuated with that person or wished they were some way when they really weren't. My ex-wife's parents still struggle with this even though she has been on hard drugs for the past 7 years. They wish she was better, so when she calls for money, and gives them her stories of rehab and moving down to live with them they buy it. Their trust is misplaced.

One can also trust a politician who is lying, a preacher who is wrong, a parent who is abusive, etc. But I think what you are saying is that one ought not base your assessment on wishful thinking if one is seeking Truth. And I agree with that. That is why I reject the "faith" that is based on desire rather than Truth. Of course this gets into very muddy waters once you have to figure out how to separate your desires from your methodologies, what you are willing to consider, how far you are willing to research a claim, etc. I certainly don't have any evidence that atheists do a better job of this than others.

I'm not trying to imply that I'm mr. right, mr. logic, mr. reason, and nothing but the facts can sway me. I mean we all believe what we want to believe. http://www.examiner.com/x-19272-Seattle-Faith--Agnosticism-Examiner~y2009m10d21-Why-Im-a-Christian-2-I-want-to-believe


 

Tinidril

"I'm sure you've known people who put their trust in an individual that was untrustworthy simply because they were infatuated with that person or wished they were some way when they really weren't."

Is this something that you suggest people should do? If not, then I think you understand my point exactly, and just need to apply it consistently.

"I mean we all believe what we want to believe."

Besides being false, this is a cop-out and moral cowardice. We all believe that all sorts of things are true that we wish weren't. I wish an earthquake didn't just hit Haiti, but I believe it did. We should all be working to identify our irrational beliefs and expunge them, not throwing up our hands and pretending we have no say in the matter.


 

JoshForeman

"I think you understand my point exactly, and just need to apply it consistently."

I agree. I try. I'm sure I fail often. :(

"Besides being false, this is a cop-out and moral cowardice."

This is a conclusion I came to after years of careful analysis and contemplation. Could it be false? Sure. I'm not claiming to be brilliant. Is it moral cowardice? I think you may be reading it differently than I intended. I know it would be unusual for anyone to read the link I posted, but maybe this quote from Micheal Shermer (in my article I posted) will help you understand what I mean:

Michael Shermer: "Socially, when I moved from theism to atheism and science as a world view, I guess to be honest: I just liked the people in science and scientists and their books and just… the lifestyle, the way of living. I liked that better than the religious books, the religious people I was hanging out with. Just socially, it just felt more comfortable for me."

Moderator: "So it was a relationship-driven decision?"

Michael Shermer: "Not solely… but the intellectual stuff and all that is part of it but if you're going to be honest: it's not just reasoning your way into a position. In reality I think most of us arrive at most of our beliefs for non-rational reasons. And then we justify them with these reasons after the fact."

"I wish an earthquake didn't just hit Haiti, but I believe it did."

I'm not talking about physical world facts when I say people just believe what they want to. I'm talking about systems of interpreting the world. Some systems take more facts into account than others. Some exclude important facts. Some include important facts but interpret them wrong. (Such as Pat Robertson's interpretation of the Haitian earthquake.) I'm not claiming that MY particular interpretive framework is THE CORRECT one. In fact, I'm quite sure it's flawed in many ways due to my natural human limitations such as my lame inability to time travel or retain all information perfectly or read minds, etc.

"We should all be working to identify our irrational beliefs and expunge them"

I totally agree! But I'll bet we have different definitions of "irrational".

"not throwing up our hands and pretending we have no say in the matter."

I've spent about 3 years now in heavy, heavy study of every end of the philosophical spectrum attempting to find a cohesive theory of everything. I'm spending countless hours talking to people of all belief systems holding my statements to the harshest scrutiny. I've been called a retard, evil, stupid, douche bag and many other names on this forum alone. But I keep coming back because I care about Truth more than my own comfort. So if one criticism you have of me does not stick, it's this one.

Tinidril

I actually did read your linked article, I just disagree with it. I would go so far as to say that we all have a tendency to believe what we want to believe, but I would include that as just one of many natural tendencies that can and ought to be overridden by our intellect. We also have a tendency for out-group hostility, but I don't think that is a valid justification for anything either.

"I'm not talking about physical world facts"

Physical world facts are what you are stuck with. The extent to which you can know anything about God is dependent on God interacting with the physical world. If you aren't talking about physical world facts then you are talking about nothings.

"I've spent about 3 years now in heavy, heavy study of every end of the philosophical spectrum attempting to find a cohesive theory of everything."

I think you may have been looking too closely. Forest for the trees and all that. If you aren't starting from an empirical standpoint, deeper and deeper study will just pull you further and further off course.

"I've been called a retard, evil, stupid, douche bag and many other names on this forum alone."

Well that is just kind of sad. Please know that I don't share any of those opinions of you.

"So if one criticism you have of me does not stick, it's this one."

It wasn't me who levied that criticism. It was you who said "I mean we all believe what we want to believe." If you include yourself in that we (being the only person you have the right to include) then all the rest is just justification of a world view that you have already decided to follow.


 

JoshForeman

"If you aren't talking about physical world facts then you are talking about nothings."

World views are not nothings. They are products of human imagination that powerfully impact the way we live.

"If you aren't starting from an empirical standpoint, deeper and deeper study will just pull you further and further off course."

And how can you possible Know that?

"It was you who said "I mean we all believe what we want to believe.""

Yes. And I'm standing by that as a valid universal statement that applies to all people to some degree. I clarified -because you brought up a "real world" fact about an earthquake- that the kind of belief I'm referring to is not belief or disbelief in specific facts, but beliefs that certain worldviews are the correct one. As you just admonished me: "If you aren't starting from an empirical standpoint..." My contention is that you want the physical world to be the limits of reality. Perhaps not 100%, but enough so that your mind sought out arguments and authorities that backed you up. And personally, I want there to be a loving God that gives us all purpose.

"then all the rest is just justification of a world view that you have already decided to follow."

Exactly. I may be projecting my faulty and weak personal psychology onto others, but I've seen evidence that this isn't the case. (That Shermer quote is a case in point.) I agree, that like out-group hostility, this is condition that ought to be actively subdued. And I'm sure that some are better at it than others. What I object to is a person from any position claiming that if any person does master this faulty instinct, they will inevitably end up in their camp. I've seen this from Christians: "If atheists just really sat down and thought about life, they'd realize how wrong they are." And the exact same statement from atheists. I think this idea is intrinsically arrogant, as it supposes that the one making it has access to every bit of relevant information and holds the key to properly interpreting it. This is a state that no human can possibly have. Hell, we can't even prove we exist! How does anyone get off saying that they Know this or that world view is perfect?


 

Tinidril

"World views are not nothings."

I wasn't talking about world views, I was talking about what those views are based on, reality or make believe.

"And how can you possible Know that?"

It's like a hiker lost in the forest with no compass or fixed point of navigation. They might think they are going in a straight line, but they will just end up going in circles. Or for a better example, look at Ptolemy. He started out with the unsupported assumption that everything revolves around the earth. From that he was able to build a near perfect system to explain the motions of the planets with perfect internal consistency. It was an inspiring achievement that was hard to refute, but it was built on nothings, so the whole system was wrong.

"I think this idea is intrinsically arrogant, as it supposes that the one making it has access to every bit of relevant information and holds the key to properly interpreting it."

No no no. I make no such claim. All I claim is that the truth in any matter, whatever it might be, is only to be found through evidence and reason. Sitting around thinking doesn't work. It is the heart of science that each building block of knowledge must be tested against evidence, otherwise we are building sky castles.

We are pattern finding organisms, and if we look for a pattern it is almost guaranteed that we will find it, even if it doesn't exist. Write a computer program to randomly plot a thousand dots on a page, and write another that uses an algorithm to scatter the dots that tries to maximize the distance between them. Then ask someone which looks more random, and unless they are trained in statistics they will get it wrong every time. They will also be able to identify all sorts of patterns on the random page that indicate to them that the dots aren't random. Empiricism is necessary for us to overcome our human tendency to find connections that don't exist.


 

JoshForeman

I wasn't talking about world views, I was talking about what those views are based on, reality or make believe."

Oh I see. That's what I was talking about. Sorry for the confusion. But I don't want to let your rhetorical devise slip by unchallenged. When you use the term "make believe" as a foil to "reality" you are implicitly making a fundamental claim about epistemology. One which cannot be supported outside of itself. Just like my epistemological position, it is circular. "All Facts (or Knowlege) occur within the realm of our senses or the senses of our tools" is simply unsupportable. What our senses and our tools give us is greater consensus, not any sort of assurance about the totality of what exists.

"look at Ptolemy."

This is a very good point. I think it is a fantastic mirror for all of us to look into when we need a good head-deflation. I also think it scores no points for your perspective, which interprets reality according to an unsupportable assertion about the primacy and totality of physical phenomena.

"I make no such claim."

Oh good.

"All I claim is that the truth in any matter, whatever it might be, is only to be found through evidence and reason."

I agree that consensus building is better with evidence and reason. But again, you affirm truth in any matter must be confined to the realm of human consensus. This means that you take a priori the assertion that all that is is physical stuff. This statement requires a kind of omniscience that I am not willing to partake with you.

But I'm sure that we both agree that the human grasp of all facts that exist in the universe is infinitesimally small. Our theories about the rules that govern all that exists may be larger, but still the extent of our understanding is unknown. Who knows what major paradigm shift will wipe away most of what we take for granted now? Given these irrefutable (Unless I missed something, if so please let me know!) facts, on what ground do you stand when you make your assertion that only physical matter exists? Or that our "laws" of nature cannot be controverted by higher laws that we cannot comprehend? Or that a transcendent Being with His own internal laws has not caused the universe to be?

"Empiricism is necessary for us to overcome our human tendency to find connections that don't exist."

I love empiricism, and all the glorious achievements it has spawned. I love my technology. I love my secular government. I love our freedom to exchange ideas around the world freely. And yes, it's very cool that we are beginning to unlock the mysteries of the brain with the cognitive sciences, showing us our blind spots and weaknesses like never before. This field fascinates me and I've written several articles and blogs about these subjects and their ramifications for religious thought. My simple observation is that you are using a general field of science as a presumed club to beat on religious thought and concepts. My research indicates it's a much more mixed bag, with nuanced revelations concerning all spheres of life and thought. And ironically, empiricism itself in not immune from its ramifications. Science is full of "connections that don't exist". They are simply plastered over with a platitude such as: "Science is a work in progress and we trust that at some point this anomaly will be solved."

The very basic lesson I've taken away from my research of this field is that we all have amazingly shoddy equipment with which to be making any universal claims. (A universal claim in itself! See? We can't help ourselves!) Our brains are a ramshackle foundation, grossly under-equipped for ascertaining the universe or its origins or what we are. The only comfort we can realistically get out of it, is that we are all in this together. So I can totally understand the overwhelming desire most of us have for consensus about our beloved dogmas; and hence a myopic focus on the material world until Materialism naturally emerges.


 

Tinidril

I'm starting to think that you must be misunderstanding me on purpose.

"All Facts (or Knowlege) occur within the realm of our senses or the senses of our tools"

When did I say this? I most clearly said something quite different, and I said it clearly because it's not the first time you have attributed this nonsensical perspective to me. I do not say that everything is knowable through our senses. What I do say is that our senses (and reason) are ultimately the only way we have of knowing.

Please, give me one way that we can learn anything worth believing without our senses or reason.

"unsupportable assertion about the primacy and totality of physical phenomena."

Physical is part of the definition of phenomena. What other kind of phenomena is there?

The rest of your post is just metaphysical nonsense derived from these two rather basic intentional misunderstanding.

"Or that a transcendent Being with His own internal laws has not caused the universe to be?"

What about a giant fuzzy bunny? Can we make the creator a bunny? I like bunnies. If such a creator exists, and we are to find out about it, then we will have to do so though our senses, and comprehend it with our reason. If you have another way we could know about the magic funny bunny then what is it?


 

JoshForeman

I'm starting to think that you must be misunderstanding me on purpose."

I apologize for giving that impression. Perhaps you overestimate my intelligence. You certainly misplace my intentions.

"When did I say this?"

What I am assigning to you is my interpretation of the basic foundational materialist presuppositions. If my interpretation is wrong, show me where please.

"What I do say is that our senses (and reason) are ultimately the only way we have of knowing."

So on what grounds to you dismiss the possibility of God or miracles? Or are you more open minded than I thought? To make my position clear, I reject our sense and reason as ways of knowing because I have seen powerful evidence that they are supremely flawed. I say that they are our best shot at knowing, but to mistake a best guess for a certainty can lead to all sorts of awful situations.

I will clarify that if one's belief lines up with what is, than one may "Know" Truth. However, because of our epistemological limits, one can never know that they Know. There is no adequate mechanism for confirmation. The best we have is consensus, which is a flawed mechanism because those confirming our belief are subject to the same limitations as we.

What I mean to get at is that we are all guessing here. I'm not saying every guess is as likely as the next. In fact, I do see senses and reason as the best arbiter for sifting the wheat from the chaff. I simply refuse to claim that our best tools are sufficient for the task of properly interpreting the universe.

"Please, give me one way that we can learn anything worth believing without our senses or reason."

I know of none. I've not tried to contradict this assertion, except that I quibble with your literal use of the word "Know". It's an important distinction with far-reaching ramifications for our emotional need to be right about stuff, but also keeps materialism from being the only valid framework for interpretation.

"Physical is part of the definition of phenomena. What other kind of phenomena is there?"

You're right, I misspoke. I should rather say... "going-ons"? The obvious point is that stuff can be happening that is not readable to our senses or tools, and never-the-less be interwoven into our phenomena. (used properly.)

"The rest of your post is just metaphysical nonsense derived from these two rather basic intentional misunderstanding".

This is a rather rude and dismissive statement. Though I understand if you think I'm being dishonest why you would become rude.

"Can we make the creator a bunny?"

Once I start making claims about the physical description of God then, sure, your point will be valid. In the mean time, the old atheist tactic of straw-man F.S.M. can be dispensed with.

"If such a creator exists, and we are to find out about it, then we will have to do so though our senses, and comprehend it with our reason."

Agreed.

"If you have another way we could know about the magic funny bunny then what is it?"

This is a breakdown of how I would apply our senses and reason to the task:

  1. A serious consideration of historical claims that such an entity exists and other purported revelation.
  2. A serious consideration of the state of the universe and how matter/time/energy exists rather than not existing.
  3. A serious consideration of philosophical questions concerning the proposed entity.
  4. A serious consideration of intuitive reflection on the subject. I'll lump in here as well: attempts to communicate with said being.
  5. A serious consideration of consensus regarding evidence against the proposed entity. (ie the dismissal of god-of-the-gaps)
  6. A serious consideration of any claims regarding one's life when principles held to be revelation are applied.

I would say that none of these lead to a proof, or any kind of certainty or Knowledge. Only that they are helpful for getting as close as we can reasonably be expected to get.


 

JoshForeman

Utility has no bearing on truth. What if your sons behave better if you threaten them with Santa Claus? Does that have any bearing on whether Santa Claus exists or not?"

First of all, as stated in the final paragraph of my article, this was not written in order to convince anyone of the truth of Christianity. My case for the utility of Christianity is not a case for its truthiness.

But you do bring up an interesting point. I think you may be overstating when you say utility has "no bearing on truth". Yes, there are cases where the truth and utility diverge. But isn't utility the primary focus of scientific advancement? In my countless conversations with atheists they usually appeal to this witness as proof that science is superior to religion since since has given us all these great things. (A claim I never deny)

So while utility cannot be used as and acid test for the veracity of a truth claim, I don't think you should say it can't count as evidence. It could be evidence of the red herring variety, or it could be sound, admissible evidence. It must be taken on a case by case basis.

"1) because it makes you feel good"

Let's also be careful with this justification. I've seen my share of guilt-wracked miserable religious folks. I would modify your statement to say that religion has a wide array of tools that address a wide array of psychological needs.

"2) (to a lesser extent) because it is useful. (It's the utterly useless religious practices that are harder to explain for atheists.)"

I can help you with this. Ideas are generally packaged in systems. These groupings are generally aesthetically fitting, and are instantiated by institutions. So when an individual accepts a religious system they are inevitably getting a packaged deal, and as with any variety pack, there will be elements that are loved and those that are less loved, or even hated. (My wife always leaves the dark chocolate bits for me) So the fact that a religious system has tools that are useful along with those that are useless is not hard to explain.


 

flostre

Sorry for not reading your article to the end. The "(I'd love some atheist feedback on this)" was the reason I read the article, but I stopped after I felt I had gotten the general gist. I think after, what, three days I can re-state my original point clearer: There are many aspects to religion, but to (my kind of) atheists, the by far first to consider is truthfulness. Is there an all-powerful person that created the world and cares about our daily lives? Everything else is just secondary. I don't want to believe in something false to gain utility, well-being, or even health. In the summary of your article you agree. What kind of useful feedback did you expect?

In another post you write "Our hearts direct our minds, not visa versa". I can only partially agree. I think if I only followed my heart, I'd be a Christian. But my mind shouts "Depending on how you interpret Christianity's statements, they are either false or too wishy-washy to be taken seriously." (yes, my mind fails at chanting in the stadium :) ). I can't seem to reconcile the two.


 

JoshForeman

"What kind of useful feedback did you expect?"

Well this thread is full of useful feedback. To me, "useful" means challenging assumptions and weak argumentation.

"I think if I only followed my heart, I'd be a Christian. But my mind shouts "Depending on how you interpret Christianity's statements, they are either false or too wishy-washy to be taken seriously."

This is a fantastic statement packed with meaning. I came to almost that exact conclusion. The only difference was that I recognized the "wishy-washyness" as an intrinsic limitation of language, not an intrinsic limitation of possibility. Our (humans) failure to be able to articulate a potential reality that is outside the normal scope of our senses is in fact, what one should expect. It is the religious fundamentalists and atheists that make unreasonable demands of language and epistemology. But if one is to take spiritual theories seriously, one must acknowledge that even if perfect revelation has happened, once that revelation is translated into the medium of speech, writing, -and possibly even thought- it is necessarily corrupted due to the limits of our senses, language and minds. Given this intrinsic corruption, language about religious ideas will be wishy-washy, vague, mysterious, etc. Both the doctrinaire and the reductionist atheist do violence to religious thought when they attempt to adduce precise definitions from religious language. This process creates straw men that are easily dispatched by the lazy atheist who has no interest in the possibility of Truth being found outside the purview of science.


 

flostre

Even though I am very reluctant to admit the possibility of something outside the realm of exact describability, I don't totally exclude it. But I need a valid reason to believe it exists, however meek it may be. I don't even see a candidate for one.

Another stumbling stone, should I re-find faith is the community. With the way I would believe, I would be quite alone and unrepresented in my denomination. (Of course I cannot 100% say how I would believe, because I don't now. But I think I have an idea.) I am still formally a

Lutheran prostant and still feel somewhat at home there philosophically. I am quite liberal. I would want homosexuals to marry in church. When a German Lutheran bishop (Margot Käßmann) got a divorce, there was a huge buzz. I thought it was no problem. (Now she is head of the council of the Prostetant church in Germany, so to say the first Prostant of Germany. With "first" as in "first amoung equals".) There are not so many evangelicals in Germany, but half of them are members of the mainline Protestant churches. I think I would like to be a Unitarian Universalist (asap), but the closest chapter is in Belgium. :(


 

JoshForeman

"I need a valid reason to believe it exists, however meek it may be."

I could bluster and bloviate about how superior a theistically grounded framework for interpreting the world is, but that would be arrogant, as I'm not in a position to Know that. Clearly there are plenty of folks out there who find compelling worldviews that don't include God. My assessment is that those views have more holes, or blind spots than mine does. But I can't deny that mine fails to fill every hole that the human mind and spirit finds need for.

So really, it comes down to what you consider "valid". In the absence of absolute proof on either side, we are left with simple intuition, or desire to guide us.

"I don't even see a candidate for one."

This is what should be expected if one starts with materialist assumptions. If it is a given that every human urge, desire, and intuition is the product of a senseless (though complex) system, than they are not to be considered when one goes looking for universal explanatory systems. It is like the naturalist who knows that snakes crawl on the ground, keeping his head down, eyes fixed in the dirt, as the gliding snakes of South East Asia soar over head undetected. If your premises force certain restrictive conclusions than it is the premises that must be re-examined, not the conclusions.

The fact that you see no valid reasons to believe some impossible-to-articulate reality exists you have two options for interpreting the sociological phenomenon of religious thought. First, you can assume you, and the other atheists are the only rational creatures on the planet. This idea is easy to emotionally enforce by cherry-picking history and current events. Another option is that some of those who adhere to religious ideas do so based on some form of data that you are either unable or unwilling to receive. I personally don't have any stake in which interpretation you accept, but it never hurts to point that out.

"Another stumbling stone, should I re-find faith is the community."

This is only a stumbling stone if you think the core of religious activity is intellectual affirmation of specific doctrine. I used to think that way, though have been evolving towards an action-oriented religious activity. Because I can't see doctrine the same way my fellow church-goers see it, I don't have much choice in the matter. I simply support the action I see as good, and hold my tongue when I disagree with the doctrine.

Anyway, you don't need physical contact with those who agree with you in order to believe whatever the hell you want, right? I'm a Universalist, but there are no Universalist churches in my area.


 

flostre

Utility has no bearing on truth. What if your sons behave better if you threaten them with Santa Claus? Does that have any bearing on whether Santa Claus exists or not?

Actually, your reasoning should be a tool in the toolbox of any debating atheist. Because atheists have to explain, if all religion's doctrines are made up, why is religion so successful? In my view the short answer is 1) because it makes you feel good and 2) (to a lesser extent) because it is useful. (It's the utterly useless religious practices that are harder to explain for atheists.)


 

bretticon

Why does the atheist have to explain useless human behavior? Shouldn't that be the role of the religion. That people are wrong and choose to do destructive acts out of ignorance or gullibility is no evidence that the religion is true.

If you have a stupid bird that tries to attack/mate with its' reflection in the mirror is not a sign that the reflection is a different creature. It's just a sign of the creature's limited mental capacity.


 

JoshForeman

Why does the atheist have to explain useless human behavior?"

Well, because it speaks to a theory that seeks to explain all human behavior without appealing to supernatural causes. Personally, I have no problems accepting the idea that evolution produces vestigial psychological needs just as it produces vestigial physical forms. I just happen to think that the religious impulse is not one of those.

"That people are wrong and choose to do destructive acts out of ignorance or gullibility is no evidence that the religion is true."

I absolutely agree with you. And my article did not have the goal of providing any evidence for the Truth of Christianity. It's a biographical psychological sketch meant to induce thought.

"If you have a stupid bird that tries to attack/mate with its' reflection in the mirror is not a sign that the reflection is a different creature. It's just a sign of the creature's limited mental capacity."

I like this analogy. Not sure how apt it is for my article though. What I show through the lens of my experience is how well my beliefs DO work for various aspects of life. If your stupid bird ends up copulating with its image in the mirror, maybe you ought to reexamine your assumptions about mirrors.


 

bretticon

I just happen to think that the religious impulse is not one of those.

You missed my bird analogy, religion is a function of damaged or underdeveloped cognitive state. It's not a genetic malformation but one that is passed on through culture. Google Dan Dennet's meme theory and religion.

my article did not have the goal of providing any evidence for the Truth of Christianity. It's a biographical psychological sketch meant to induce thought.

This seems to contradict one of your other statements.

But I think that if one is striving for Truth above all else, these things must be distant secondary motives, otherwise Truth can be obfuscated.

I was really confused reading this since the title of your article is "Why I'm a Christian:Utility" implying that you choose to be a Christian because it's useful in your daily life. Maybe you can clarify this as well as what you think the difference between an essay that seeks to 'provide evidence for Truth' and a 'biographical psychological sketch meant to induce thought'.


 

JoshForeman

Google Dan Dennet's meme theory and religion."

I think I've read an article or two about this. But thanks, I'll check it out.

"Why I'm a Christian:Utility" implying that you choose to be a Christian because it's useful in your daily life."

You missed the "4", indicating this article is the forth in a series. Utility is one of many reasons. Sorry, I should have been more clear.

"Maybe you can clarify this as well as what you think the difference between an essay that seeks to 'provide evidence for Truth' and a 'biographical psychological sketch meant to induce thought'."

Well, one is an apologetic work, designed to win people over to your point of view. I studied apologetics for years, and have since abandoned it. I think that's close to pointless. Instead I just enjoy analysis, conversation and debate about the big ideas and great mysteries of life. I have no desire to win converts as my theology does not exclude people.


 

bretticon

"I studied apologetics for years, and have since abandoned it. I think that's close to pointless."

I'd be curious to know why you gave up on the apologetics.


 

JoshForeman

Because I gave up on theology and doctrine. The more I learned, the more I realized how hazy the definitions for the words we were using was, and how little consensus there was. I also found that very few people can be argued into or out of belief. Our hearts direct our minds, not visa versa.

Here's an article I wrote that touches on this process.

http://www.examiner.com/x-19272-Seattle-Faith--Agnosticism-Examiner~y2009m9d30-All-is-lost-but-hope


 

bretticon

Have you considered the possibility of feeling good without believing in fairy tales?


 

JoshForeman

Yes. Have you considered that some fairy tales may be based in Truth?


 

bretticon

Yes. Santa Claus isn't real.


 

JoshForeman

Thank you for the thoughtful reply.