How Stuck on God Are You?

God Creation of Adam
Since I am writing more specifically about Christianity again, it has come to light that for some readers that there are those who troll around these parts who are not Christian.  We may be able to call some ex-Christian, but there are distinctive differences in the way that we all perceive matters of faith.

So as part of that exercise, I have devised a poll which comes directly from Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion.  Below the poll are his given definitions for each number on the scale.  Dawkins actually sees himself as a 6!  I am reserving my response until we have others to start us off.

  1. Strong theist.  100 per cent probability of God.  In the words of C. G. Jung, “I do not believe, I know.”
  2. Very high probability but short of 100 per cent.  De facto theist.  “I cannot know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there.”
  3. Higher than 50 per cent but not very high.  Technically agnostic but leaning towards theism.  “I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.”
  4. Exactly 50 per cent.  Completely impartial agnostic.  “God’s existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.”
  5. Lower than 50 per cent but not very low.  Technically agnostic but leaning towards atheism.  “I don’t know whether God exists but I’m inclined to be skeptical.”
  6. Very low probability, but short of zero.  De facto atheist.  “I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.”
  7. Strong atheist.  “I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung “knows” there is one.

Please leave your comments about why you chose the number you did.  This, I think, will help not only our dialogue here, but will help me to know my audience better.

Thanks!

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About Aaron Gardner

Aaron is a counselor and student of the Bible, passionate about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. He lives in central Indiana with his wife, one-year-old son and their two dogs. View all posts by Aaron Gardner

124 responses to “How Stuck on God Are You?

  • Ted Powell

    Many years ago I attended a lecture by someone from the Harvard Negotiation Project. He told us about negotiations between the USA and the USSR regarding inspections of missile sites, and protracted wrangling over how many inspections would be held per year. The irony of the situation was that the negotiators had not even settled on what constituted an inspection, whether it would be a one-day site tour or a month-long occupation by a team of experts.
    According to John A T Robinson, “God is, by definition, ultimate reality. And one cannot argue whether ultimate reality really exists. One can only ask what ultimate reality is like …” If you accept his definition, the above poll is moot.
    So, for the purposes of your poll, what constitutes God? Something more narrowly defined than “ultimate reality,” presumably.

  • Sabio Lantz

    Aaron – in answering your poll I am going to assume by “God” that you mean an intervening, personal, theistic, miracle-creating, rewarding-punishing, all-powerful, invisible entity.

    Without defining “God”, the poll is not very helpful.
    For instance, I could call God, “that warm feeling in my heart I get when I do the right thing.” Or I could call God, “something that existed before our known universe existed.”
    In both cases I could give vote for some credibility there, right?

    I am sure you see my point.

    BTW, you last post help clarify to me that you are not an emergent Christian — sorry, I was confused on that. You seem to buy into the standard “Penal Retribution Sacrifice-hungry God” model — you surprised me a little. I guess you were so subtle in your answers, I couldn’t read between the lines.

  • Aaron

    Yeah, Sabio… I realize that not “defining God” here would make the exercise different. Yet I am trying to allow people to bring in their baggage. Are you suggesting that there are gods you are willing to believe in?

  • Boz

    6.

    I am a 6 because I have never seen any valid reason to accept that anything supernatural exists. This can be changed at any time by anyone if they present evidence of the supernatural.

    I don’t understand how anyone can be a 1 or a 7, given that everything that everyone has ever experienced agrees with the story from The Matrix movie, this possibility cannt be ruled out.

  • Sabio Lantz

    How about that good feeling you have when you do something right, I can put any letters you want together and give it a name, if you want to call it g-o-d, that is fine.
    But I certainly don’t believe in a personal,interfering all-powerful, all knowing entity.
    By chance, did you read my Monkey Religion post — it is addressed to people like you who ask questions like this.

  • Jesse

    Vote: 6

    Definition of God: Creator God with at least a passing interest in the material world and humanities place in it.

    I voted 6 for the simple reason that I have never felt the presence of God and, while there is much we do not understand about the natural world, the rate at which we are gaining understanding leaves me confident that we do not need to invoke a supernatural or extranatural being.

    However this because an MORE interesting exercise if you play around with definition of God, because it changes my vote.

    Definition: Literal Judeo-Christian God with the Bible serving as inerrant creation story.

    Vote: 7.

    Definition: Intelligent Power constrained within the universe and a part of it which, upon discovering sentient life, has taken an interest in helping it along.

    Vote: 5.

  • Aaron

    Thanks, Jesse… you are hitting right at one of the points of the exercise. It is overtly a question of what your position on God’s existence, but it is covertly a discussion of what that actually means. Thanks for your comments!

  • RBH

    I voted 6, though my sig on the late lamented Internet Infidels Discussion Board, where I was an administrator, read “6.5 on the Dawkins scale.”

    In polls like this and in discussions with Christians, I generally use a definition similar to one above, so I’ll steal some words from it:

    The existence of a creator god or gods, responsible for intending the universe to be as it is and doing something to ensure that, with at least a passing interest in the continuing material universe and humanity’s place in it.

  • Jesse

    Thanks Aaron.

    While the bulk of the essay might not agree with you have you read Bertrand Russel’s Why I am not a Christian’ (the single essay not the compilation by Routledge Classics that goes by the same name)? He prefaces the essay by going into what specifically he means by Christian, as well as God and why the fluidity of those terms is both recent and problematic for both believers and non-believers.

    Personally I find it frustrating and dishonest when people on any side of the fence try and define God, or in that case god, down into a simple feeling of goodwill or the sense that you get when living according to certain moral precepts.

    Humanities long history has a plethora of different gods and ideas of them, from Thor straight through Anubis and Amaterasu. Gods that are fallible, infallible, loving, generous, vengeful, ethereal, corporeal etc. Never, however, is God drummed down to a simple ‘feeling’.

    I think doing so is wrong. I’ve noticed a trend growing with the internet to define things so they are convenient to your argument. I do not think God should be one of those things. I think too many people who might have a sincere belief in a higher power but are not inclined to choose a religion often feel pressured by both sides to define their belief into a specific set of rules and dogmas. So they redefine God in such a nebulous fashion to get everyone else off their backs.

    Its unfortunate and it undermines both honest belief and honest disbelief.

    I have to agree with Boz. I’m not sure how anyone can be honestly sure enough of either side to be a 1 or a 7.

    Anything you can possibly experience can be 100% a hallucination. Schizophrenics wouldn’t have such an unfortunate time if their hallucinations were easy to tell apart from reality. On the opposite scale there have been some exceedingly well ‘proven’ scientific theories that turned out too be completely or partially wrong. Newtonian physics was thought to be perfect until we started measuring things that are really,really small or moving really, really fast, at which point it needed (and still does) to be heavily modified. Look at the sextant. It functions on the premise that the sun orbits the earth, which is flat-out wrong, but sextants work anyways because, from a relative point of view the sun does revolve around the earth.

    Whoops, that turned into far too much of a rant, sorry Aaron.

  • Saskia

    I’m somewhere between 1 and 2. I know God exists, but I wonder about the differences in religion and why Christianity would be truer than say Islam or whatever. So while I sometimes wonder about Jesus, I rarely question God’s existence (though I don’t always think Christianity is the only way he manifests himself).

  • Nathaniel

    This is why I like this blog: a Christian who actually understands Dawkins, instead of merely quote mining him. Thank you for that.

    Anyway, I call myself a 6. If there were decimals involved, I’d probably be around 6.5.

    I’m not arrogant enough to claim that I know the absolute truth, but I believe that science has now come so far that if there were a God (and I’m using the strict, Christian definition here. Old Testament style, yo!), we would have seen traces or hints or even plain evidence of his existence.

    Just as I’m more and more convinced by science every day, I’m also less and less convinced by religion. The boasts and claims that are heard from all the different religious sources just never ring true. God is, by all appearences, completely indifferent to life on earth, Christians are (at least to me) rarely Christian-like and no religion has shown any kind of sign of being any more true than any of the many others.

    Also, there’s the fact that I personally simply don’t have any need for the things people seem to crave from religion. I’m perfectly happy living as good a life as I can, without adding false guilt over being an unrecoverable sinner that will burn in hell unless I mumble a mantra and go to church.

    So, ehm… yeah, I’m a 6.

  • Aaron

    This is why I like this blog: a Christian who actually understands Dawkins, instead of merely quote mining him. Thank you for that.

    Wow! Nathaniel, that is such an amazing compliment! It seriously means a lot to me! I am sure that on a quick glance it is that understanding that I have which offends people that are fellow Christians… well maybe fellow is not the right word 😉

  • Sabio Lantz

    Concerning “Epistemology”:
    These sort of conversations always have people wasting sentences about certainty. OK, sure, there is not certainty — this is so obvious, it is almost a waste of breath. So you can’t rationally say something is 100% either way. So we should always change the top and the bottom of the scale to say “Among the most probable things which I presently believe or don’t” because no one argues about beliefs in gravity or grandma — sure, there is some chance they don’t exist, but come on.
    I wish there were ways to avoid such discussions details.
    Smile.

  • Melanie Jongsma

    I rated myself a 1. I am absolutely certain there is a God, as certain as I am that I have a brother who lives in South Bend. I don’t need to see him (or Him) every minute to be certain he exists, and I probably can’t prove his (or His) existence to anyone who doesn’t want to believe, but that doesn’t shake my own belief.

  • Sabio Lantz

    Melanie,
    There is a difference between being emotionally committed or emotionally certain and being certain in an empirical way. But you may not be familiar with those distinctions yet.

  • Melanie Jongsma

    No, I realize I’m not as intelligent or well-read as many of the people who have posted comments, but I don’t think my brother is any less real because I happen to have an emotional relationship with him. Nor is God.

  • Sabio Lantz

    Melanie,
    You have a deep emotional relationship with your brother and your god.
    But you have spent time doing things with your brother, seen him, probably smelled him, touched him, heard him.
    None of these things, using the NORMAL meaning of those words, have you done with your god.
    Probably what you call “hear God”, “see God” and “spend time with God” have really very different meanings than they do with your brother.

    So your relationship with you brother is radically different than with your god.

    That is OK, of course. But to pretend that they are even basically the same is pure self-deception.

    Which is fine too, I guess, if it keeps you happy and fulfilled.

  • Melanie Jongsma

    Sabio, what’s interesting to me is that you do not dispute that I have a brother, although you probably know less about him than you do about God! Why is it so easy for you to believe in a brother you’ve never seen, yet you insist on “empirical evidence” of a God you’ve never seen?

    I’m not sure I’m following your argument though. Are you saying that the fact that I have a relationship with God somehow invalidates my certainty of His existence, somehow makes Him less real? I mean, is your argument that I’m not “objective” enough to “take the stand,” so to speak?

  • Sabio Lantz

    Hey Mel,
    LOL . Well, you see, I am, possibly falsely assuming that you are being honest. And thus I take it you are being honest about have a relationship with your brother (and assuming you are not lying about one) and your god (assuming you aren’t just an atheist playing games). Yes, I am assuming you are trying to be honest. Communication is sort of based on that. If I felt you were messing with either of those, I would just stop writing and consider it a waste of time. You are right. Some assumptions are made in establishing a relationship, aren’t they.
    I might have to let someone else explain my points to you. I think I made them fairly clear. I am just saying that what you call a “relationship” with your god is an extremely different thing than your “relationship” with your brother. EXTREMELY different !
    Maybe someone else can jump in and help. Maybe Aaron can help because I wager to say he knows exactly what I am saying.

  • Melanie Jongsma

    I thought the survey was about whether or not we believe in God, and how much we do or don’t, not about what kind of relationship we have with Him!

    But, we can talk about relationships if you want. Yes, my relationship with God is different from my relationship with my brother, though not “EXTREMELY.” As you said, relationships require honesty and communication — that’s just as true of my relationship with God as it is with my human relationships. I would also add that “frequency” of communication is a necessary factor in developing relationships — with God and with people. That is, the more often you talk and listen, or the more intentional you are about communication, the deeper your relationship becomes.

    What are the EXTREME differences you are thinking of?

  • Sabio Lantz

    It is extreme unless your brother lies in a coma. It is one-sided.

  • Aaron

    I agree with Sabio. A relationship with God is EXTREMELY different from the relationship that I have with my sister. Although it is fair to make some comparisons. I still have a relationship with my sister even if I am not talking to her or when she is not in the same room. I think about her and respond to conversations she and I have had (sorry, some of this is my psychodynamic training coming out).

    However, if we do not latch on to the idea that the relationship with God is completely different, then we have to concede that there has to be scientific evidence for God, which is very hard to come by.

    I also cannot be okay with my relationship with God as “a feeling.” Too many people have had “a feeling” that God was talking to them and ended up doing some dastardly things because they were honestly psychotic. Belief in God MUST be grounded on something outside myself if it is something that can be worth believing.

  • Sabio Lantz

    @ Aaron: You use “relationship” in two different ways there. One, is an active relationship, and the other one based on memories of an active, participatory relationship — thus in your head as memories or fantasies of future or re-written past encounters. Is that clear?

    Whereas with a god, there is never an active, participatory relationship in, again, any normal sense of the word. Thus the other relationship is imaginary.

    So, Aaron, it sounds like you largely agree and that you are challenging the evangelical model of personal relationships — instead, for a “something outside myself” it sounds like you are hinting that it must be scripture or (Catholics want this) tradition.

    Correct?

  • Cally

    Melanie,

    What kind of evidence do you have to know that God exists? Feelings in my book are not considerable evidence for an unbeliever. Evidence is defined as:
    –noun
    1. that which tends to prove or disprove something; ground for belief; proof.
    2. something that makes plain or clear; an indication or sign: His flushed look was visible evidence of his fever.

    Your bother is someone you can touch, hear, smell, etc. God is not something you can touch so how do you know He exists? Can you hear God, if so how and by what methods?

  • Cally

    I’ll leave this out for anyone to answer. Do you think there is a spiritual frequency? In other words, there are various frequencies out there such as radio, gamma, microwaves, obviously others that we don’t see, but we know they exist because there is a delayed result. Hot food from a microwave or instrumentation that show us they exist for example.

  • Aaron

    @ Sabio

    I intentionally used “relationship” ambiguously (thus my reference to my psychodynamic background). I think that it is too truncated to assume that because you are not hearing or touching another person that the realtionship does not continue; it is not exclusively “imaginary.”

    You would no doubt disagree about the active part of a relationship with God. The ancients believed that there was nothing that was not spiritual. The concept has been divided in modern thought, but it was an absolutly foreign concept centuries ago.

    Let me also acknowledge that there is a definite rift in this discussion, and a point at which we have to agree to disagree. After all, if you look at the poll results at the moment, there is quite the majority of atheists/agnostics that read this blog. Those who have scored themselves at a 1 or 2 are going to argue for the necessity of faith as part of belief. Those who scored a 6 or 7 are going to deny the validity of the concept of faith.

    @ Cally

    I agree that “feelings” are not evidence for an unbeliever… in fact they really should not be substantial evidence for a believer! I have a strong displeasure in listening to people who do something because they “have a feeling” that “God is telling” them to do it. As Sabio so investigatively pointed out, I am alluding to Scripture as at least one point of reference.

  • Ruby Leigh

    I said 3, but honestly I am somewhere between 3 and 5. I went with 3 because I want to believe there is a God. I go to an emerging church, and I enjoy that I can be content there and not forced into a specific belief, but I pretty sure that most of my belief in God is well wishing. I want the existence of a “loving God” more that I know or believe that it is there.

  • Melanie Jongsma

    @ Cally,

    Thanks for the questions. In your first post it sounds like you will accept something as “real” only if you can experience it in some physical way. But in your second post you sound more open to less experiential, or less direct, ways of knowing.

    Maybe a better analogy than my brother would be something like this: I have never met Michael Jordan, but I have no doubt that he exists. Why? I don’t know. Maybe it’s blind faith in the technology that used to convey his image onto my TV screen. Maybe I just have no reason NOT to believe he exists. I can’t prove to you that Michael Jordan exists; I’ve just accepted it as fact, and you can too if you want. Or you can consider me deluded or misled or mistaken.

    If Michael Jordan wrote me a letter, maybe I could show that to you and “prove” that he exists. It would be the only physical evidence I have, but it probably wouldn’t be enough to convince you if you weren’t already inclined to believe in him. There are plenty of arguments you could make against such a letter.

    I don’t know exactly where I’m going with this. I think I’m trying to say that there are a lot of things we accept as “real” or “true” without ever questioning them. And that’s necessary because if we have to prove everything through our own experience, our world becomes pretty small. So in addition to what we experience through our own senses, we accept what other people tell us about their own experiences, and we accept what we learn from generations who have experienced things before us.

    Sometimes other people’s experiences conflict with ours, so we wait for more evidence before deciding what we believe. Sometimes their experiences confirm our own.

    So your question was, how do I know God exists. I guess I know it through my own experience, and through the experiences of others who are alive today and others from generations ago. My own experience includes talking and listening to God every day. No, I don’t hear an audible voice, but I read the notes He’s left for me, and almost every day I can see how they apply to what’s going on in my life.

    For example, two days ago, this was the note: “Stand true to what you believe. Be courageous. Be strong. And everything must be done with love.” I didn’t know two days ago that I would be participating in this blog, but those words are a good guide for me in this setting! I want to remember to balance strength and courage with love.

    In addition to my own experiences with God, I also learn a lot from other people who have had experiences with Him. I’ve met disciples around the world who have shared stories of God providing food when they didn’t have any, or healing incurable illnesses, or diverting the attention of people who were chasing them, or breaking the power of an addiction in their lives. I have not experienced those things myself, but they confirm my own experiences with God.

    And I’ve read the writings of disciples from previous generations — people who are smarter than I and whose example I want to follow.

    Perhaps even atheism is proof that God exists. I mean, if something doesn’t exist, you don’t need a whole movement dedicated to the idea of confirming that it doesn’t exist. It’s kind of like having an “Anti Purple Cow” society — what’s the need if there really are no purple cows?

    Anyway, sorry for the length of this post. In one sense, I’d rather be sitting over coffee having this conversation. In another, I like being able to take some time to reflect on people’s questions and formulate more thoughtful answers.

    Aaron, thanks for getting the conversation going!

  • Renier

    I’ll classify myself as “De facto atheist”. That’s a 6, right? This rating does not just apply to the idea of a personal god that worries about what I do, but also to a more impersonal deist type of deity. The reason is that an impersonal god would only be conjured to explain the existence of the Universe, in my opinion. As such, it is a non answer because trying to explain the complex universe with an even more complex god makes no logical sense to me. A god that had the intent to create the universe would be more complex, since it would have had to imagine, work out and set the physical laws, make it all happen, have planned it inferring intelligence, will, intent etc. Makes no sense to me. Am I 100% sure? Nope, being 100% sure, leaving no room for doubt or enquiry, is generally in the realm of mental instability, in my opinion. I think the only thing we can say for sure is that something exists.

    Melanie wrote to Sabio: “Sabio, what’s interesting to me is that you do not dispute that I have a brother, although you probably know less about him than you do about God!”

    Melanie, I think you need to sit down and think about what Sabio is saying. For one, we have proof that people exist, but there is no proof for any god, even yours. Once again, I find it amusing when people claim to “know” anything about god. Such claims of knowledge or often confused with claims of belief.

    Melanie wrote: “Why is it so easy for you to believe in a brother you’ve never seen, yet you insist on “empirical evidence” of a God you’ve never seen?”

    Because we know people/persons exist. It is therefore not illogical to assume you are telling the truth in your claim that a certain person(human) exists. Furthermore, the question of your brother’s existence is not of particular great interest, where the question of a deity obviously deserves more consideration due to claims of eternal torture by his/her hand. Claims of beetles in the road are less important than claims of venomous snakes in the road.

    Sorry Sabio, I know Melanie is responding to you, but I would like to ask her a few more questions.

    Melanie wrote: “I don’t need to see him (or Him) every minute to be certain he exists, and I probably can’t prove his (or His) existence to anyone who doesn’t want to believe”

    You claim to “know” your god exists and you have a realtionship with him/her. Let’s assume your experience is real. That implies that you “know” that it is not Loki playing tricks and having a laugh at your expense. Would you care to share such knowledge and how you came by it with us?

    Melanie wrote: “No, I realize I’m not as intelligent or well-read as many of the people who have posted comments”

    Me, least of all. But there is more merit in asking questions that claiming to have answers in one’s quest of life, or so I have found.

    Melanie wrote: “Are you saying that the fact that I have a relationship with God”

    Fact? I know I ask this question probably to the point of being boring, but I have yet to receive a compelling answer. Melanie, what is the difference between your claimed *factual* relationship with your god and the relationship a four years old has with his/her own make-belief friend?

    Melanie. Sabio is pointing out a valid fact, that your relationship with your god is not the same as your relationship with your brother. There are fundamental differences. For one, your brother can be seen, touched, heard.. well, can be observed. Your brother does not break the laws of physics, nor does he know what you are thinking, unless you tell him. Your brother is not claimed to have died 2000 years ago and now demands that you worship him. Your brother is made of flesh and bone, where your god is made of… what exactly? Your brother can give you a physical bread if you are hungry where your god would presumably have to use third party agents, like people, to assist you. Almost every living human on earth can takes the required steps of observation and verification to determine the existence of your brother (prove to themselves he exists), where to date no such observation and verification has been offered for your god.

    Unless you can tell us what the difference between your god and a 4 year old’s make-belief friend is, your have to ask yourself what the difference between your relationship with your brother and the reltionship a 4 year old has with a make-belief friend. If this question is in anyway unclear to you, ask, and I will attempt to re-phrase it.

    Aaron wrote: “some readers that there are those who troll around these parts who are not Christian”

    Egad! I do sincerely hope such an accusation does not apply to me, since trolling is considered an intentional deed of misconduct.

  • Sabio Lantz

    @ Aaron
    (1) do you have an e-mail — I don’t see it listed on the site; I have something I would like to discuss off post.

    (2) I think the need for anchors other than emotions, in your Christian tradition, is very good. As I, apparently correctly deduced, a major one for people of your particular Christian theology is scripture — but then we have all the problems with Scripture which you have discussed here. Another is, as Proverbs says, the “council of many” , this certainly is important and good in any system, in my view but itself can be insular and lead to an echo chamber. Science had developed methods to improve on both of those.

    (3) Yes, “the ancients believed there was nothing that was not spiritual”. Volcanoes were gods, Sun was god, diseases were demons. Please tell me you are not idealizing “the ancients” ! My children get confused between imaginary creatures and REAL relationships. It is a measure of an immature mind — Ancient or Infantile. One must keep clear that one can have an imaginary relationship with a movie star you have never met but you have read about and watched on the screen but using the word “relationship” in a real sense is what separates the inmates of a psych ward and the therapists. You have met those folks, and so have I. But when a group hallucinates and agrees on the hallucination together, no one has to be treated — they call that a faith community.

  • Renier

    Sabio wrote: “It is extreme unless your brother lies in a coma.”

    I just snorted my coffee. Shame on you! 😉 I would have gone one step further and said: “It is extreme unless your brother died 2000 years ago.”

    Aaron wrote: “I also cannot be okay with my relationship with God as “a feeling.” Too many people have had “a feeling” that God was talking to them and ended up doing some dastardly things because they were honestly psychotic. Belief in God MUST be grounded on something outside myself if it is something that can be worth believing.”

    Well said indeed. Humanity would be better off, as a whole, if people would validate that “feeling” first. Preferably against something reasonable, consistent and moral.

    Melanie wrote: “I thought the survey was about whether or not we believe in God, and how much we do or don’t, not about what kind of relationship we have with Him!”

    You brought up your relationship with your god.

    Ruby Leigh wrote: “[…]but I pretty sure that most of my belief in God is well wishing. I want the existence of a “loving God” more that I know or believe that it is there.”

    Severely honest. Hat tip to you. Being critical of your own views to the extent that you are is indeed a thing to behold.

    Melanie wrote to Cally: “In your first post it sounds like you will accept something as “real” only if you can experience it in some physical way. But in your second post you sound more open to less experiential, or less direct, ways of knowing”

    Dreams are “not physical”, yet we experience the things we dream pretty much as real, though they are not. Same goes for hallucinations and even imagination and fantasy. So I have to ask, what non-physical ways are there of “knowing”?

    Melanie wrote: “Maybe a better analogy than my brother […] I can’t prove to you that Michael Jordan exists; I’ve just accepted it as fact, and you can too if you want. Or you can consider me deluded or misled or mistaken.”

    A better analogy would have been the ghost of Julius Caesar. If I thought I had a relationship with a Roman that died more than 2000 years ago, would you consider me deluded? If so, what is the difference from the Julius relationship claim and yours with Jesus?

    Melanie wrote: “If Michael Jordan wrote me a letter, maybe I could show that to you and “prove” that he exists.”

    On the same trend as my Julius analogy, a letter could be weak proof that he existed, not that he still exists.

    Melanie wrote: “It would be the only physical evidence I have, but it probably wouldn’t be enough to convince you if you weren’t already inclined to believe in him.”

    First, make sure the letter is really from him, and not perhaps a forgery or fiction. Can you do that?

    Melanie wrote: “I think I’m trying to say that there are a lot of things we accept as “real” or “true” without ever questioning them.”

    It’s not that far off to accept people exists and existed. We have proof for that. But this in no way relates to super-natural beings that exists outside of the universe, influences the universe and violates your privacy by listening in on your thoughts.

    Melanie wrote: “And that’s necessary because if we have to prove everything through our own experience, our world becomes pretty small.”

    I reject “experience” as proof from something, when said something itself appears to be absurd. Even science figured out objective verification a long time ago because “experience” turned out to be a non-reliable method for determining reality. We are experts in fooling ourselves and we are biased. This causes us in many ways to cherry pick the positive results and reject the refutations. As example. God answered prayer A. Did he answer prayer B? No, but it was hiss will. Thus a positive and a negative result are used as 2 positive results.

    Melanie wrote: “So in addition to what we experience through our own senses, we accept what other people tell us about their own experiences, and we accept what we learn from generations who have experienced things before us.”

    I disagree to a certain extent. It’s okay to accept the word of someone that claims to have a brother. But if a person claims to be talking to a ghost, fairy, angel, spirit, demon and pixie, then it is not rational to take their word for it, is it? If if previous generation had the same claims I would not consider in viable. People imagine things all the time and them talking about it is not proof that their imaginations are real. Not in the past, not now.

    Melanie wrote: “Sometimes their experiences confirm our own.”

    Reminds me of an article I read a couple of years ago. Think it was somewhere in Italy, some religious gathering, where thousands of people claim to have seen the sun falling from the sky. No doubt a lot of people “think” they saw the sun falling. Yet, Nasa, nor other people on earth, combined with all our scientific observations observed the sun falling. So did the sun really fall, or where thousands of people deluded? I’ll stick with science on this one rather than accept the testimony of thousands of people. Even if every human being on Earth believed they had a personal relationship with an invisible purple pixie called Jim, they would still all be wrong. When people start disagreeing about what Jim is like, what Jim does, what Jim wants from them etc then people should really take a hard look at the whole idea of Jim.

    Melanie wrote: “I guess I know it through my own experience, and through the experiences of others who are alive today and others from generations ago.”

    People has been using that argument for a very long time, and not just for Jesus. What makes your reason more valid than the same claims made for Jim, Allah, Zeus, Odin, Nature spirits, sprites, djinni, ghosts, pixies, fairies etc? I would not trust ancient views on what stars are made of. How much more do I distrust them on matter of gods, angles and spirits.

    Melanie wrote: “My own experience includes talking and listening to God every day. No, I don’t hear an audible voice, but I read the notes He’s left for me, and almost every day I can see how they apply to what’s going on in my life”

    Notes left, for *you*? What notes? How do you know your invisible deity wrote them?

    Melanie wrote: “For example, two days ago, this was the note: “Stand true to what you believe. Be courageous. Be strong. And everything must be done with love.” I didn’t know two days ago that I would be participating in this blog, but those words are a good guide for me in this setting! I want to remember to balance strength and courage with love.”

    Oh my. Who wrote those words Melanie?

    Ironic enough, I read some things, from another book that also applies to this discussion and the topic involved. Yet I have no illusion that the following quotes were written with me in mind, though they be useful and wise in my opinion. I also do not have the conviction that a supernatural force has manipulated events and page turnings in order to press something on my heart.

    “Hast thou reason? I have. Why then makest thou not use of it? For if thy reason do her part, what more canst thou require?” – Marcus Aurelius

    “Not as though thou hadst thousands of years to live. Death hangs over thee: whilst yet thou livest, whilst thou mayest, be good. ” – Marcus Aurelius

    “Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones. I am not afraid.” – Marcus Aurelius

    “In matter of writing or reading thou must needs be taught before thou can do either: much more in matter of life. ‘For thou art born a mere slave, to thy senses and brutish affections;’ destitute without teaching of all true knowledge and sound reason.” – Marcus Aurelius

    “My heart smiled within me.’ ‘They will accuse even virtue herself; with heinous and opprobrious words.” – Marcus Aurelius

    “How ridiculous and strange is he, that wonders at anything that happens in this life in the ordinary course of nature!” – Marcus Aurelius

    “Of everything that presents itself unto thee, to consider what the true nature of it is, and to unfold it, as it were, by dividing it into that which is formal: that which is material: the true use or end of it, and the just time that it is appointed to last.” – Marcus Aurelius

    The last one of course is, in my opinion, very relevant to this discussion.

    Melanie wrote: “I’ve met disciples around the world who have shared stories of God providing food when they didn’t have any, or healing incurable illnesses”

    And is it not strange that there has been no record of bread raining on starving children? Stories are a dime a dozen. One proven (science) example of god healing an incurable disease would at least be cause for pause. But such claims and stories are told by other religions too.

    Melanie wrote: “or breaking the power of an addiction in their lives”
    Under correction, but does AA with their Christian methods not have the same (about 5%) success rate as secular institutions?

    Melanie wrote:”I have not experienced those things myself, but they confirm my own experiences with God.”

    Uhm.. how? If you have not experienced those things, then how can other people’s experience confirm your non-experience?

    Melanie wrote: “Perhaps even atheism is proof that God exists. I mean, if something doesn’t exist, you don’t need a whole movement dedicated to the idea of confirming that it doesn’t exist.”

    Quoting from memory here, but: “Atheism is the noise reasonable people make in the presence of religious nonsense”. Not saying I agree 100% with the statement. I would have slotted in the word “public” there at least.

    Melanie wrote: “It’s kind of like having an “Anti Purple Cow” society”

    If billions of people claimed to have relationships with invisible purple cows, wants to make laws about how the cows think people *should* live and want to teach purple cow doctrines in school, even to the children of people who do not believe in the purple cows, then damn right there will be an anti-purple cow society!

    People are not born religious. A lot are born gullible though. Of course, everyone here has the right to believe as they wish.

    Long post. Apologies.

  • Sabio Lantz

    @ Renier

    People are not born religious

    But you’d agree that they are born superstitious — which is the foundation of a large part of religion, no?

  • Renier

    Sabio wrote: “But you’d agree that they are born superstitious — which is the foundation of a large part of religion, no?”

    I do agree. Dawkins makes an argument that people evolved to learn and to trust what older people were telling them. It makes sense to me. Kids who disregarded the “Don’t tease the Sabre tooth” or “don’t eat the yellow berries” would probably not have left offspring of their own, so to speak.

    This, combined with our ability for pattern recognition that goes wacky with random data is, in my opinion fertile ground for superstition as well as religion.

    A quick glance of almost all human cultures in the past, and it is clear that we, as a species, have a tendency for superstition.

    I also share the memetic view of religion. Once a different view, one of replicating (memes) with mutations, is considered, together with the selection “natural human superstition”, well, it makes a lot of sense to me.

    I also had an experience a while ago (subjective, not proof) that shocked be back to the realisation that it takes constant effort and perseverance not to fall for irrational superstition. For me, anyway. All just human.

    Yet. Some people grow up in religious/superstitious environments and even as children never fell for it, not even Santa, or so they claim. Under correction, but I read a study about autism or perhaps Aspergers. Looked for the study but could not find it again, so I might be fooling myself here. But as I recall, religious concepts do not flourish with kids that have either Aspergers or Autism. I’ll try hunting for some data again.

  • Renier

    http://www.stevens.edu/csw/cgi-bin/blogs/horganism/?p=50

    There appears to be references to studies. Busy reading it. Looks interesting.

  • Boz

    aaron said:

    Wow! Nathaniel, that is such an amazing compliment! It seriously means a lot to me! I am sure that on a quick glance it is that understanding that I have which offends people that are fellow Christians… well maybe fellow is not the right word

    Again you have said that other christians are not christians. Is this a common thing for christians to say?

  • Aaron

    @ Renier

    Wow! line-by-line argument!

    What would you say to the thought that you are not arguing so much against God as you are Melanie’s concept of God?

    @ Boz

    I am working on a post to address that question. Just hold your horses 😉

  • Boz

    Melanie said:

    Perhaps even atheism is proof that God exists. I mean, if something doesn’t exist, you don’t need a whole movement dedicated to the idea of confirming that it doesn’t exist. It’s kind of like having an “Anti Purple Cow” society — what’s the need if there really are no purple cows?

    There would be an anti purple cow society, if the purple cow society wanted to force everyone else to believe in the purple cow, and force everyone to abide by the rules of the purple cow society.

  • Sabio Lantz

    @ Aaron: In the end, there only are individual individual concepts of God. Without any way to observe, there are only mental constructs of individuals. Remember, this is an unhearable, unfeelable, unseeable thing.

    @ Renier: Dear lad, you need to make your won blog !!

  • Sabio Lantz

    @ Renier: The Autism thing wasn’t a study it was purely an untested hypothesis — if I am not mistaken. However, I am sure part of religiousity can be explained by “over” activity in several parts of the brain as well as under activity in others. Likewise, hyperrationalism may be the same.

  • Melanie Jongsma

    Wow, I’ve never been involved in such an involved discussion! Aaron, this is a time when I miss the previous design of your blog — I’m finding it difficult to read all this small white type on black!

    As I read back over what everyone has written, I keep noticing words like “evidence” and “proof” and “science.” Could I ask those of you who want evidence of God’s existence what kind of evidence you’re looking for? I mean, what sort of evidence would move you from a 6 to a 5 on the scale?

    I was reading something today that said there are only three ways people “know” things: reason, experience, and authority. We’ve spent time here discussing experience, and it seems like we all trust our own experience, but not the experiences of others. A few people have made references to authority — not just the authority of Scripture, but also the “authority” of testimony from trusted sources; but we disagree about which sources are trustworthy. Does that leave reason as the only type of evidence we would all accept?

  • Sabio Lantz

    Wow, Melanie & I agree on something: I HATE this black-charcoal background with gray font. VERY hard and painful to read. But I said this before, sniffle.

    Melanie, I am not up too much on epistemology except when it comes to medicine. But I think I would add “In-born” knowledge.
    The inborn is the funny stuff. It is the circuitry the gives us limited ways of perceiving and enhanced ways to perceive. We are not born a blank slate. Chomsky started that insight (putting Skinner on the back burner) and Steven Pinker has written a whole book on it.

  • Aaron

    @ Melanie

    First a word of caution/clarification: if this conversation becomes about conversion, it will likely grind to a halt. I expect everyone who posts comments to be straightforward about their positions on the issues, whether it is belief or unbelief. In your last comment it sounded as if you were hedging on trying to move people along the scale to belief. I am not sure that this was your intention, but just wanted to point that out. I am certainly willing to say more if you would like me to explain my position here.

    Anyway.

    I have had many recent conversations recently about the “authority” that is in the life of a Christian. Many have said to me that Christians are no longer under the Law, which eliminates the given authority of Scripture as a guide for living the life that is pleasing to God.

    I agree that there is a question about authority, but for all of us. What we hold as authoritative is essential to our understanding of our position on faith and on belief in God or on unbelief.

    @ Sabio

    I do not agree with you about “in-born” knowledge. I have more value for concepts like memes which retain the values of our culture (in fact, I think that this is likely the reason that many American Christians are trying to eliminate the Law from our faith). As a Christian, what I would see is “in-born” is the tendency for a person to be corrupt, selfish, and sinful. No doubt there is something written there (as opposed to a “blank slate”) and to say that it is a person’s sinful nature is quite over-simplistic.

  • Renier

    Sabio wrote: ” The Autism thing wasn’t a study it was purely an untested hypothesis — if I am not mistaken”

    You are not. I have been unable to acquire proper for my statement, and there retract it. I have found this though, that mentions: “Children with autism were significantly less likely to attend religious services, more likely to miss school, and less likely to participate in organized activities.” – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18058214

    Aaron wrote: “What would you say to the thought that you are not arguing so much against God as you are Melanie’s concept of God?”

    All we have are people’s opinions on what god is.

    Sabio wrote: “Renier: Dear lad, you need to make your won blog !!”

    I do have one, though I have not been very active on it. Prefer not to attach the URL tag to my name as a courtesy to our guest.

    Melanie wrote: “Could I ask those of you who want evidence of God’s existence what kind of evidence you’re looking for?”

    Well, think about what kind of evidence you would require as proof for the existence of Zeus. Once you realise why you don’t believe in Zeus, you will realise why many of us do not believe in your version of a god.

    Melanie wrote: “A few people have made references to authority — not just the authority of Scripture”

    There is a fallacy with the word “authority” in it. This is one of the reasons science requires peer review.

    As for authority regarding religion. I don’t buy it. Nobody *knows* anything about god. They just have their opinions and no person’s opinions on god is worth one iota more than the next person’s. Of course, people think and claim they know something about god. But requests for such knowledge of a claimed invisible being always ends up with just more opinions.

  • Renier

    Melanie wrote: “and it seems like we all trust our own experience, but not the experiences of others. ”

    To be honest, I am sceptical of my own experience and even more so of the experience of other people. If, tonight, I see a ghost, I would rather consider that my mind is playing tricks on me. The alternative of things existing with a conciousness, yet no brain, visible but no tangible body and only visible to me… Same goes for hearing voices.

    However, is there was a voice, and an invisible hand guides a pen to write a complex mathematical algorithm on my roof, something that has eluded modern mathematicians and certainly beyond my capability, then I will give it serious consideration as proof for the supernatural. But I have my standards. Seeing ghosts and hearing voices in my head would not count as proof for me. Much less when other people claim to see angles or hear god speak to them. The “feeling” god speak also does not count as evidence, as Aaron pointed out. In addition to this, I used to be a Christian and know about the “feeling god is saying I should help that person”. The real name is “gut” feel and “gut feel” is very much related to your beliefs.

  • Boz

    melanie said:”I mean, what sort of evidence would move you from a 6 to a 5 on the scale?”

    The same thing that would move you from a 6 on the Zeus-scale to a 5 on the Zeus-scale.

    It would have to be many instances/events that can only be explained by God/Zeus. I can only wildly guess as to what these things would be.

  • Sabio Lantz

    @ Aaron — you CAN’T disagree with inborn knowledge ! That one is nonnegotiable ! Smile.
    Seriously, you must disagree with my quick wording. What I wrote is actually noncontroversial. Please consider reading Bruce Hood’s book, “Supersense” (just out). He is a psychologist from England. Steven Pinker writes two great books “The Blank Slate” and “How the Mind Works”, but these are tough science and philosophy reads and long. Bruce’s book is short and I think you may enjoy it considering your profession and your avocation of dialoguing with nonbelievers.

    By “Inborn knowledge” I simply mean the inborn language structures that help us learn language quickly, inborn phobias (we aren’t afraid of all things, just some), inborn ways at organizing perception, inborn ways of bonding with others. The list is huge. You see, it is common sense — but 200 years ago, it was not common sense.

    I disagree strongly with your “Evil Human Nature” theory. Humans are born with potential to compete. This competition is in all living things. We can use cooperation to compete or violence or mixes there of. Our settings, both genetic & environmental and the mix help determine which we emphasize.

  • Sabio Lantz

    @ Reneir, Autistic kids would avoid not only religious services but also Freethinker meetings — they don’t like groups. That doesn’t work either. But don’t get me wrong, I think there may be something there. It is just that so far, we don’t have evidence. Like Aaron, I think we can sort of believe something without evidence.

  • Sabio Lantz

    @ Gandolf:
    There is a difference between really liking your own way of thinking, and feeling that all others should think like you or they burn in Hell.
    I am arguing on a Atheist site right now with an atheist who feels ALL atheists should totally avoid and bad mouth all aspects of religion. I disagree with him. I don’t mind that he does, but I strongly disagree that ALL should. But then, he use to be an evangelical apologist (John Loftus at “Debunking Christianity”). I think he uses the same personality to be an atheist as he did with his Christian clothing on.

  • Renier

    Sabio wrote: “Autistic kids would avoid not only religious services but also Freethinker meetings”

    Yeah, there’s one on every block and people go there once a week…/joke

  • Cally

    I agree White on black is sooo hard to read, but then again we all define ourselves in different ways don’t we 🙂

    Also add calculus to your numbers and I’ll vote. I think Jesse mentioned or someone up there mentioned God can’t be defined.

    Now if it’s gods your talking about then I’m with the Atheists and you can put me down at the bottom of the vote. Wait we all make up our own gods don’t we so I guess I’m out of the voting game. Sorry too much to do and too little time.

  • Aaron

    @ Sabio

    I have not read the books you reference, and it has been a while since I was in school. It seems that there is little that can be said about the state of a person’s psyche at birth, or before. I agree that there is definitely something there, but it is unclear what that exactly is. No doubt that there are evolutionary traits that we are all born with that enhances our ability to survive. You mention certain fears, and this makes sense in this perspective.

    Interesting the contrast in the concept of “sinful nature” and “competitive” traits. Would it be a stretch to say that calling it “sinful nature” is a value judgment on that instinct to be competitive for our survival? There could certainly be a level of immorality that an uncivilized person could choose to engage that would enhance individual survival to the detriment of others of the species.

    Btw, who is “Gandolf” or is that a crack at someone around here?

    @ Renier

    I agree that you need to get a blog of your own 😉

    So have we sufficiently rabbit trailed away from the original topic?

  • RBH

    As a working scientist for 45 years, I am very edgy about the promiscuous use of the word “proof” in the comments. “Proof” is for mathematics and whiskey. Scientists tend to speak of “evidence” and what hypotheses it tends to support or refute.

    The appropriate question from a scientist’s perspective is “What evidence would increase your confidence in the hypothesis that some god with specified properties exists?”

    It is always possible that one’s current hypothesis is wrong, but there are degrees of wrongness. The man who says the earth is flat is more wrong (given the evidence) than the man who says it’s a sphere, but even he is still wrong; it’s an oblate spheroid. The role of evidence is to move us from more wrong to less wrong answers, but we never “prove” a hypothesis.

  • Melanie Jongsma

    @Aaron, no I’m not trying to convert anyone. I’m genuinely curious about what kind of evidence makes anyone a 1 or a 6 or a 3. (By the way, RBH, thanks for your clarification about “proof” and hypotheses, above. That’s helpful.)

    And I also want to clarify my use of the word “authority” as one way people know things. I used the Bible as one example of authority that Christians trust, but I didn’t want that example to detract from the concept that we all trust some kind of authority. By “authority” I simply mean “trusted source,” as in textbooks, or social norms, or your parents, or a doctor. In other words, if you’re in a new town and you ask a stranger for directions, you accept his authority on the subject. As I suggested above, we are all choosing to trust different authorities in this discussion — various authors, friends and family, Christians from different cultures, and half-remembered studies!

    So that led to the question I posed: If there are only three basic ways to know things (and this is up for debate now too) — experience, authority, and reason — and we don’t trust each other’s experience or authorities, can we use reason to further the discussion or come to any kind of agreement? Are there any rational, logical arguments for or against the existence of God that might move someone from one number on the scale to another?

    I’m just wondering.

  • Cally

    Renier,

    Sabio wrote: “Autistic kids would avoid not only religious services but also Freethinker meetings”

    Yeah, there’s one on every block and people go there once a week…/joke

    I agree, having an autisitic child on every block might actually help those that are trying to find the Truth. Back at you…joke and smile.

  • Renier

    Cally,lol.

    Melanie wrote: “can we use reason to further the discussion or come to any kind of agreement?”

    We have been using reason here. Care to respond to some of it and to the questions that we asked you? What would you consider evidence for Zeus existence? Do you have that same evidence for your god?

    Melanie wrote: “As I suggested above, we are all choosing to trust different authorities in this discussion — various authors, friends and family, Christians from different cultures, and half-remembered studies!”

    I, for one, did not trust the half-remembered study. That is why I retracted my statement since I was unable to provide the proof, sorry RBH, evidence, for my claim. But I have to wonder why you have not revisited your statements of fact, provided the evidence, or retracted them?

    Melanie asked: “Are there any rational, logical arguments for or against the existence of God that might move someone from one number on the scale to another?”

    There is no evidence for the existence of any god, yours included. It is reasonable, in my opinion, to not believe in your god for the same reason I do not believe in Zeus. The reason is that there is no evidence for the existence of Zeus. I therefore reject belief in your god for the same reason I reject belief in Zeus.

  • Melanie Jongsma

    @Renier I suppose in order to believe in Zeus I would want evidence from the same three categories of knowing: experience, authority, and reason.

    Experience
    If Zeus ever answered a prayer or performed a miracle for me personally, that would probably get my attention, and I would at least have to investigate a little further. I would read any writings that he had left, I would Google some things to find out if anyone else has had similar experiences with Zeus, I might try to get him to duplicate the experience. If I found a group of Zeus-followers, I would try to meet with them and ask them a lot of questions. I suppose if I had had some kind of personal experience with Zeus, my antennae would be raised, and I might start noticing “Zeusisms” all around — people referencing him on the radio, buildings dedicated to him, songs written about him. Some of these Zeusisms might confirm what I had experienced myself; others might not seem to make sense. But they all would be factored into the mix as I tried to figure out more.

    Authority
    If any of my friends told me they believed in Zeus, I might accept that as evidence of something. I mean, it would depend on the friend — some of my friends are kind of flaky, and I might assume that their belief in Zeus is just the next goofy thing they’re into. Others are more thoughtful, so their belief might be more convincing to me. If, in my research, I traveled around the world and found people in every country who believed in Zeus, and they all said the same kinds of things about him, I would accept that as evidence that needs to be factored in. Each of these individuals might not be an authority in my life, but the sheer quantity of their testimony would be worth consideration.

    Reason
    If someone could show me that it is more logical to believe in Zeus than not to, I would really have to think about that. I don’t know if it would “prove” that Zeus exists, but it might move me from a 7 to a 6.

    I don’t think there is a single evidence that would suddenly make me believe in Zeus, but if, over time, I kept bumping into evidence in different places, there would probably come a point where I couldn’t ignore it anymore.

  • Renier

    Melanie.
    Experience: Then you should believe in Allah as well as the Hindu gods, and Zeus, as far as other people’s experience goes. For many many years the Greeks believed in Zeus, and the Romans too, by the name of Jupiter. So perhaps you need to start praying to Zeus in order to see if any experience comes from it? Of course you will be fair and not demand things from Zeus that you would not ask your own god, because in honest searching we must not be biased. As for the buildings and song dedication… *sigh*. Did you do some research on Zeus/Jupiter?

    Also, you said you would want to read writings that Zeus left. That’s a bit unfair, don’t you think, considering that your god never wrote anything, just people who claimed to have written for god or “inspired” by god. Have you read Homer’s Iliad?

    By your “Authority” argument you should also accept Allah and the Hindu gods. You of course will realise you live in a Christian society and therefore your exposure to other religions are limited. You probably have the same religion your parents have, like most other believers of other religions. Your friends are Christians due to the society you live in, not because there is more proof for Jesus here than in Iran. Besides, your argument from authority boils down to what is popular belief. Is truth determined by democratic vote? If all people on earth worshipped pink pixies, build building to them, talked about “experience” with them, wrote songs for them and worshipped them on Mondays, it would still not mean Invisible Pink Pixies exists.

    Melanie wrote: “Reason
    If someone could show me that it is more logical to believe in Zeus than not to, I would really have to think about that. I don’t know if it would “prove” that Zeus exists, but it might move me from a 7 to a 6.”

    Could you tell us why it is more reasonable to believe in your god than what it is to believe in Zeus?

    Melanie. Though you are free, of course, to believe what you choose and decide for yourself what you would see as evidence, I would suggest you think about it a bit more. Your justification for your belief above is also claimed by people of other religions. It still does not make your religion, or theirs, true.

    Let me ask you one more thing. If all people in your society started claiming that Zeus is real, build buildings, sing songs, all the requirements you listed. And you decided to test it and pray for something, and it happened. Would you abandon your faith in Jesus? Really? And if they prayer did not come true, would you argue it was not Zeus’s will, or consider it as data that he does not exist?

  • Melanie Jongsma

    Renier, I suppose it’s possible that I could gather as much “experiential” and “authoritative” evidence for Zeus’ existence (or other gods’) as for God’s. But even if eventually I come to believe that Zeus exists, that doesn’t automatically mean I would choose to become a Zeus-follower. My research and experiences might lead me to believe that Zeus is capricious or ineffective or evil or unreliable, not someone I would want to spend my life following.

    You wrote: “Your argument from authority boils down to what is popular belief. Is truth determined by democratic vote?” I agree that “truth” is not determined by democratic vote, but I think “authority,” by definition, is. If you are considered an authority on a certain subject, it’s because a number of people agree to respect your knowledge in that area.

    You wrote: “If all people on earth worshipped pink pixies, build building to them, talked about “experience” with them, wrote songs for them and worshipped them on Mondays, it would still not mean Invisible Pink Pixies exists.” Really? Are you sure? If this Pink Pixie phenomenon actually happened, and “all people on earth” were affected, wouldn’t you at least be curious about what was going on with everybody else on earth? I mean, wouldn’t you at least wonder what experience someone would have to have with a Pink Pixie in order to write a song about it? Your first impression might be that everyone else in the world is crazy, but is that really logical? It seems to me a true scientist or anyone with journalistic tendencies might at least do a little more research before asserting that the entire world has arrived at a wrong conclusion.

    You wrote: “Could you tell us why it is more reasonable to believe in your god than what it is to believe in Zeus?” I wonder if what you’re really asking is, “Why is it more reasonable to believe in God than not to believe in any god?” That is, I’m not sure if your argument is with Christianity specifically or religion in general.

    For me, it makes sense to believe in something outside myself because I have no other explanation for the existence of the physical universe or the purpose and character of humans.

    So maybe “reason” tells me there must be some kind of Supreme Being, and “experience” and “authority” lead me to conclude that God is a better manifestation of that Being than Zeus, Allah, or any of the Hindu gods. What I know of God’s character makes me want to trust Him and try to be more like Him.

    The questions in your final paragraph make me think I really haven’t done a good job of explaining why I believe what I believe. My relationship with God has developed over a long time, and no, I wouldn’t abandon that relationship if Zeus came along and answered a prayer. It’s like asking, “Suppose all your friends told you that Denzel Washington was a better man than Joe Blow, the guy you’ve been married to for 30 years. And you decided to test it by asking Denzel for a gift, and he gave you a better gift than your husband ever gave you. Would you leave your husband?” Of course not! Even if Denzel turns out to be a wonderful man, I’m not going to dump my husband for him. Mature relationships don’t work that way.

    Is it really important to you that I reconsider my beliefs? Why?

  • Boz

    humans have no purpose. We are an accident. Just like foxes or cockroaches or the H1N1 flu virus.

  • Sabio

    Maybe asking about purpose is a mistake from the onset. We both have no purpose and don’t not-have a purpose.

  • Sabio

    I respect Melanie’s honesty when she said,

    For me, it makes sense to believe in something outside myself because I have no other explanation for the existence of the physical universe or the purpose and character of humans.

    My relationship with God has developed over a long time, and no, I wouldn’t abandon that relationship if Zeus came along and answered a prayer. It’s like asking, “Suppose all your friends told you that Denzel Washington was a better man than Joe Blow, the guy you’ve been married to for 30 years. And you decided to test it by asking Denzel for a gift, and he gave you a better gift than your husband ever gave you. Would you leave your husband?” Of course not! Even if Denzel turns out to be a wonderful man, I’m not going to dump my husband for him. Mature relationships don’t work that way.

    If this is central in her beliefs, no arguments will help. She is showing her commitment to her beliefs, not her commitment to the truths hashed out in arguments. Sometimes that ain’t a bad thing — even if I disagree with her logic, I understand the feelings.

  • Renier

    Melanie asked: “Is it really important to you that I reconsider my beliefs? Why?”

    No. What I did want to address was your statements of fact that you failed to provide evidence for.

    Overall, you appear to be a very pleasant person and happy with your religion. I am not here to challenge that, even though I severely disagree with your reasons.

    Melanie wrote: “what experience someone would have to have with a Pink Pixie in order to write a song about it?”

    for that matter, I have made great effort in searching for evidence for the Christian god and found it wanting. The “reasons” you have provided here are not sufficient for me, in that they could make no distinction between reality and fantasy. I honestly think You grew up a Christian because that is what was taught to you. I also mentioned that I think you created you own make-belief friend, modelled on the Jesus character from the Bible. Of course, I could be wrong.

    Melanie wrote: “What I know of God’s character makes me want to trust Him and try to be more like Him.”

    From what I have read in the Bible about God’s character (you do not have the knowledge you claim) I would have suggested not be like him at all. There are various examples where he is simply a jealous, blood thirsty tyrant and killer of the innocent. But I suspect you model your view on all the nice parts in the Bible and not the bad parts too, and that I suppose is fine. But pretending that the “nice” parts are the only parts (not saying you do) is dishonest.

    Melanie wrote: “My research and experiences might lead me to believe that Zeus is capricious or ineffective or evil or unreliable, not someone I would want to spend my life following.”

    And I put it to you, that Zeus is not as nasty or evil as the Christian god. But you can do some cross referencing and checking on your own time. If you need your god, or your idea of god, then so be it. As long as you are happy. Try to be careful with the words “facts” and “know” in future though 😉

  • Aaron

    @ Melanie

    I think you need to reconsider your position. I too believe in God, but for you to say that one of the pieces of evidence is that your friends believe, well, that is foolish, another term would be that you have been a victim of mass delusion. Obviously I do not think that you are delusional, but it is not evidence to say that others believe the same way that you do. Consider almost any cult, and see that your argument makes you quite vulnerable. If enough people tell you to drink the poison Kool-Aid… will you?

    I will also encourage you to read my post on the Templeton Prayer Study and how it failed to really study anthing that would “prove” the existance or non-existance of God, especially in light of the comments made about how you would maintain faith in Jesus in light of an answered prayer to Zeus.

  • Sabio Lantz

    @ Aaron
    But here is my question concerning you admonishing Melanie:
    a) So, she believes in God, she believes in Jesus, but according to your world view, she does it wrong. Now let’s say you and I agree on our view that amazing things aren’t enough to convince me, we agree that humility and forgiveness are important, we agree in the arrogance of human intellect, we agree that we should not treat others as we would not want to be treated. But she got the “God” and “Jesus” thing right, so she is saved and I am an atheist so I am damned. Right? Serious question. For it seems your version of Christianity is based on correct belief (a sort of gnosticism) — though Jesus is your ticket to heaven, you still have to muster up the belief in his story. Jesus only died for those who believe bible stories — he did not die for everyone, right? You are not a Christian universalist, are you? Will your god be more generous with all the Melanies out there with their heretical thoughts or with good hearted atheists. I imagine you want to give the self-proclaiming Christians the out, right?

  • Aaron

    Sabio, let’s keep from putting words in my mouth. I am not saying that her views are heretical, but not well-founded.

    Secondly, gnosticism is defined as belief in some sort of “secret knowledge”… completely has nothing to do with what I am suggesting here. In fact, my admonishment is less about faith and much more about reason. I figured that you would agree that she is on shaky ground when she says that her evidence is that many other people believe something.

    “Correct belief” is believing in a perfect God who is disgusted with faulty humanity (sin). That damage is what keeps us away from having a relationship. Jesus came and corrected the problem, in essence cleaning up the damage and reconnecting us in that relationship. Melanie agrees with this, and so I believe that she has “correct belief.” The rest is details, and while they are important details, they do not cause that relationship to be unfounded.

    My concern is that when approaching belief from a logical perspective, which is fully meaningful and appropriate, many Christians are not equipped to have this kind of conversation. Too often they invest in “spiritual experiences” and “heart-felt” worship and disregard the mind, logic, and reason. I was in St. Louis over the weekend and visited the Journey Church pastored by Darren Patrick. He is doing a series on how Christianity is logical. Very interesting… may have to post some of it here to get a conversation going on the topic.

    No, I am not a universalist. But I do believe in a God that is merciful. I am not in the judge’s seat, and I simply want to challenge people to have a reason for what they believe… as well as making a stand against pastors who do not preach Jesus or the gospel message.

  • Sabio Lantz

    Hey Aaron,

    Let’s say I believe that you and I agree on some crucial examples of “sin” — let’s make them deep attitudes and not just particular acts. So let’s say you and I both agree that greed, slothfulness and coveting are undesirable (sinful) attitudes. And yet we both agree that these are very hard for people to leave behind totally. Thus we both agree that humans can not come to perfection yet agree we should aspire to it.

    Now, I don’t believe in a god. We die. I was wrong. We stand before your god. My attitudes were the same as yours but I didn’t believe in a god. Let’s say it wasn’t pride that stopped me from believing in your god but that it just did not make sense to me. But there is your god right in front of me — and as an empiricist, I am amazed and then add “belief in god” to my bag of beliefs right away — for I am no fool. Wouldn’t you think I could have easy communion with your god right on the spot?

    God may say, wait, too late, you died? But wouldn’t Jesus jump in and say, wait, I died for his temporary ignorance.

    Besides, did Jesus just die for believers. What is to say that a buddhist with a humble heart does not have a relationship with your God because he honors Jesus’ death and says, “Hey, his deep beliefs are all right, he just doesn’t know all the historical little details” (as you called them)

    You see, I am arguing that it is the deep, deep heart of an individual that matters and not the silly logical confusions they have (agreeing with you), but that even historical beliefs or ideas of gods are actually superficial compared to the deepest attitudes and directions of our hearts.

    But you want beliefs to count — real, propositional, factual beliefs have to be right or you loose. I don’t see the world like that. I guess we just disagree, correct?

    PS – btw, I was referring to the 7th main feature of gnosticism listed in this wiki article. But you are right, I stretched it. Your sect of Christianity is a “believism” sect, as far as I can see. Sure, you can’t possibly please Yahweh (the sacrifice god) no matter how righteous, you will fail because god is perfect and DEMANDS perfect so he killed his own manifestation as being human, now you are OK — wait, but you have to believe the story. See, you got to do something. Unless you are a Calvinist and then God makes you believe so none of it is by your own effort.

  • Aaron

    “I did not make it. No, it is making me. It is the very truth of God not the invention of any man.” -Rich Mullins

    I really want to believe that on “that day” when you stand before God that your efforts in seeking for the truth will be acknowledged with open arms. CS Lewis believed firmly that there will be many surprises as to who will and will not be there. As a former athiest himself, he was not a universalist, but did believe in a fair, merciful, and just God.

    You may not be in this camp, Sabio, but there are also many atheists and agnostics who hold that position because they see a lack of evidence for God in the lives of his followers. No doubt that is devistating to me… yet I pray that God will take our faults into account and see that as a further seeking for ultimate truth that seems to be contrary to those examples.

    But that is my hope… and just my opinion… I am just glad that the decision is not mine to make!

  • Sabio Lantz

    You are right, Aaron, the hypocrisy of some believers never bothered me. Instead, it was seeing individuals in completely different faiths (and no faiths) who had very good hearts, did good works and could serve as models for most Christians. It was then that I realized that theology and beliefs are simple clothing to something much deeper, something much more meaningful than human ideas.

    But, like you, that is just my opinion.

  • Melanie Jongsma

    First of all, I want to thank you all for engaging in this discussion, and for debating with me respectfully, even though I’m not your intellectual equal. The discourse has been fun for me and good for me, and I thank you for your graciousness.

    Aaron, I think one of the purposes of “community” is to sort of fill in the blanks for each other. I think it’s perfectly legitimate to thoughtfully, carefully consider my friends’ experiences when I’m looking for truth. And not only the experiences of my friends, but also those of the generations of believers who have gone before us. To ignore the experiences of others limits us to what we can directly experience ourselves, and that seems arrogant and individualistic to me.

    Renier, I fully understand that God is not always “nice.” In fact, I agree that He is, as you describe him, “jealous,” “blood-thirsty” (literally and figuratively), and a “killer” — though not of the innocent. I also find Him to be creative, just, faithful, mysterious, patient (though not infinitely), surprising, gentle, and generous. There are many things about Him I don’t understand, but l try to keep learning. And discussions like this help.

    I thought I had done a good job of presenting legitimate evidence in all three categories of how we “know” things, but it seems I’ve failed. I’m not sure specifically what “facts” I have “failed to provide evidence for,” but if you list them for me, I’ll be happy to try again. I appreciate your admonishment to be careful with words like “facts” and “know,” though I thought I had been pretty careful with them throughout these conversations. Perhaps my philosophical shallowness is more of a communication barrier than I realized!

    Sabio and others, I honestly thought I had made a pretty logical, emotion-free explanation for why I believe in God, but it seems I’ve failed pretty miserably! Over and over again I’ve been accused of emotionalism, which is a little ironic, since most people who know me in person do not consider me emotional at all. Anyway, I apologize for my ineffective reasoning, and I thank you again for letting me participate anyway.

  • Aaron

    Melanie, I must have misunderstood your position before. It does help to know that you are not only referring to your contemporaries, but also on the large community of faith that spans time as well. I can certainly agree with that.

    Perhaps it would be helpful to us all to hear a bit more specifically the problems that others are having with your logic and then begin to break it down a bit?

  • Boz

    Good idea aaron. Here are some of the problems I have with melanie’s comments, after having a quick look over her previous comments. It is frustrating to read these things, it is like nails on a chalkboard to me.

    Melanie said

    For me, it makes sense to believe in something outside myself because I have no other explanation for the existence of the physical universe or the purpose and character of humans.

    Argument from personal incredulity (e.g. I can’t see how it can be possible that there is a universal speed limit. It just doesn’t make sense. It can’t be true)

    Melanie said:

    You wrote: “If all people on earth worshipped pink pixies, build building to them, talked about “experience” with them, wrote songs for them and worshipped them on Mondays, it would still not mean Invisible Pink Pixies exists.” Really? Are you sure? […]

    Defending the argument from popularity.

    Melanie said:

    Authority
    If any of my friends told me they believed in Zeus, I might accept that as evidence of something.

    This is a fallacious argument from authority (there are fallacious and non-fallacious types), as your friend is not an expert in the field (I assume).

    Melanie said

    If, in my research, I traveled around the world and found people in every country who believed in Zeus, and they all said the same kinds of things about him, I would accept that as evidence that needs to be factored in. Each of these individuals might not be an authority in my life, but the sheer quantity of their testimony would be worth consideration.

    argument from popularity.

    Melanie said

    [on looking for evidence of zeus] I would Google some things to find out if anyone else has had similar experiences with Zeus,

    argument from popularity.

    Melanie said

    I suppose if I had had some kind of personal experience with Zeus, my antennae would be raised, and I might start noticing “Zeusisms” all around — people referencing him on the radio, buildings dedicated to him, songs written about him. Some of these Zeusisms might confirm what I had experienced myself;

    A song or a discussion or a dedicated plaque is not evidence of a deity. Red herring fallacy.

  • Sabio Lantz

    Good job Boz. I think this illustrates well that people, in general, throw together reasons the best they can for something they believe. Because it is not reasons that led to the belief, reasons came later. And unless someone teaches you the right jargon — like Aaron is trying to teach Melanie, they will only hold reasons that they can pull from their own head.

    People join religions because of parents, prevailing culture, lovers, status and match to personality. I think few join them because they have truly reasoned them out.

    Argument by Popularity
    This is a great argument, actually. We have it for a reason. It would be unwise for a human to eat foods that no one else ate. It is generally safe to eat foods that large number of others eat. This inborn logic works well in a paleo setting — where our minds evolved. So that is why we have this logic (among many others) inside our brains. But it doesn’t work now in a more complicated world where factories make our food and trick us to eat things bad for us but which taste good — sweets and sodas (for example).

    The human brain evolved to survive in a simple natural world. It was not designed to discover abstract truths. It takes discipline, training and such to do that. The scientific method was designed to check the pitfalls of evolved human heuristics (logic modules). So argument by popularity is a useful heuristic in some settings, but Boz rightfully points out that it is faulty in this sort of logical truth discovery.

    But again, Melanie does not hold her faith for logical reasons, no matter how much see tries to argue. And no matter how much Aaron tries to teach people to offer better arguments, the simple basis for faith is unchanged — it only become cluttered with more layers of clothing.

    IMHO

  • Melanie Jongsma

    Maybe it would be helpful to me if some of you described the reasoning process you went through to arrive at the conclusion that God doesn’t exist?

  • Boz

    Sure. I went to roman catholic schools in australia from ages 5-18, then university after that. two particular memories stand out from the religious education classes.

    Firstly ,In the book of numbers(?) it says that abraham(?) lived to 900. Many other people in the book lived to 600, 400, 200, etc. At age 12/13 I asked my teacher “why did abraham(?) live to 900?”, with the implication that people don’t live that long these days. He said “there was no reason for him to die”. This sounded dodgy to me, so i said “uhhhh..” but through body language he politely encouraged me to leave the room. I left. From then on I had the opinion that this religios stuff was a bit suspicious/dodgy, but never really thought about it.

    Secondly, at age 15, the same teacher opened the discussion for any question on any religious topic. My friend said something like “How do you know (some supernatural claim) is true? It’s just the same as saying that this piece of string is magical”. I can’t remember the teacher’s response, but I agreed with the sentiment of the question.

    From then on, I would have called myself agnostic (though I didn’t at the time). I didn’t really think about religion at the time, and my opinion was that it was all a bit silly and not for me.

    Even though I was an agnostic, I didn’t arrive at that conclusion logically, it was just my opinion from my two mundane experiences above. That was my opinion at the time from my position of almost no interest.

    Around 18 months ago, I was linked to the infamous PZ Myers cracker incident from another forum I frequent. http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/07/the_great_desecration.php
    From then on, I have been interested in looking at atheism/religious/culture wars/political type blogs and articles. Throughout this process I realised that I was an atheist. I am aware of the risk of confirmation bias, and I try to avoid it, but it is difficult to consistently read articles that are dishonest or make unfounded assumptions or make logical fallacies.

    My reasoning process for my position of weak atheism (6) goes like this:
    (1)For someone to convince me of a claim, they must show me evidence that supports the claim (burden of proof).
    (2)There is no evidence of the christian god that I know of.
    (2a)There are strong arguments against christianity being true.
    (3)The christian god does not exist.

    In my experience the best arguments for christianity are here
    http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics-more/20_arguments-gods-existence.htm
    but they have all been demonstrated false.

  • Renier

    Melanie. There is no evidence for him. Not even a little (or any other god). The Bible is wrong about many things, the 6 day creation to start with. Noah’s world wide flood did not happen. Snakes do not talk, nor donkeys. Fourteen year old virgins do not give birth without being with a man first. Three day old dead people stay dead. To claim these things happen by miracle simply ignores the fact that there is no evidence, verified, of any miracle. People do not have souls and spirits. You have a mind that is the result of a brain, not some non-material ghostly entity.

  • Melanie Jongsma

    Renier, it seems to me you are guilty of the same process I’ve been accused of following. You’re starting from a point of belief (that there is no God) and then choosing to believe only that evidence which supports your belief.

    Boz, thanks for sharing your story. I haven’t finished reading and processing the information at the links you provided, and it may take me a while to do so!

    You’ve all given me a lot to think about, and I appreciate the information.

  • Renier

    *sigh*. Why do people insist on confusing lack of belief with belief?

    Let’s try this again. Melanie, the evidence for your god is the same as evidence for Invisible Pink Unicorns. Zero. For the same reason I *do NOT believe* in Invisible Pink Unicorns I *do NOT* believe in your god, or any other god os ghostly entity.

  • Renier

    Melanie says: “You’re starting from a point of belief (that there is no God) and then choosing to believe only that evidence which supports your belief.”

    Starting out with an assumption of existence (belief) is a bad idea, from a critical perspective. Now, since you accuse me of “believe only that evidence which supports your belief” – and I find it a bit bizarre – could you please tell me *what* evidence am I ignoring?

  • Melanie Jongsma

    I’ve been thinking of this debate as sort of a courtroom case for which the “God people” and the “no-god people” are opposing counsel.

    The witnesses I would call to the stand would be people from all walks of life who would testify about their personal experiences with God. Some of these might be considered “expert witnesses” — people from the science community who might explain why believing in a Creator makes more sense than believing that the earth appeared and evolved on its own; or people from the medical community who can speak to unexplained healings; or perhaps even social behaviorists or psychological experts who can speak to the reasons for addictions and the process involved in breaking those addictions. These “expert witnesses” would be presenting evidence that falls into both the “Authority” category and the “Reason” category we were talking about earlier.

    Other witnesses might include ordinary people who were raised in Christian faith as well as people whose discovery of God led to a radical life change. Their testimony would fall into the “Authority” category of evidence, not because they are experts but because they are firsthand witnesses.

    But it seems that no matter what type of witnesses — or how many — I present, your only defense is, “These people are wrong. Their testimony is invalid. Everyone knows things don’t happen like that.”

    You are certainly entitled to this line of defense, but it does tend to sort of shut down the conversation.

  • Renier

    Melanie wrote: “You are certainly entitled to this line of defense, but it does tend to sort of shut down the conversation.”

    1 – “all walks of life who would testify about their personal experiences with God”

    Dou you consider it credible evidence? The places for mental patients are full of people who claim to have “experience” with god. Some even claim to hear him speak. Would you consider their evidence valid? If not, then you need to tell us how we can determine the validity when people who are no in mental institutions make the very same claims.

    2- “people from the science community who might explain why believing in a Creator makes more sense than believing that the earth appeared and evolved on its own”

    They will need to supply the scientific evidence for their views then in order to take the “authority” part serious. But as you probably know, there is none, not even a dot on an I.

    3 – “people from the medical community who can speak to unexplained healings”

    Why would we need a god to explain them? And if you choose to explain it with the workings of a god, is it Odin, Zeus, Jesus or some deity that does not want to be named?

    4 – “or perhaps even social behaviorists or psychological experts who can speak to the reasons for addictions and the process involved in breaking those addictions.”

    We already have natural explanations for addictions, we do not need to gods or demons to explain it. Did you follow up on the AA (Christian) success of about 5% and the secular success of about 5%? Does it not tell you anything and therefore you are making this same refuted argument, yet again?

    5 – “These “expert witnesses” would be presenting evidence”

    Do you honestly think that a court will find that ghosts exist simple because of the subjective testimony people make? Would this not require scientific evidence? I mean, in all honesty, if god, as you claim, does certain things in this natural world, then those actions should be detectable by scientific observation. Yes this is *not* the case.

    If all people in the world believed in Purple pixie Jim on the moon, it would not mean that there exists such a thing.

    Melanie, instead of complaining that we reject *your* criteria for when we should believe, why do you not ask your god to do something that we can test? Your god wants everyone to believe and thus be saved, right? Your god hears your prayers I presume. So, praying for an unselfish thing that would convert at least this one old lost soul would presumably be in the best interest of everyone involved?

    So, do you want to consult god if he is willing to save me and “reveal” himself, since I am willing to seek? But we need to do it in such a way that it cannot be a natural occurrence, and I am sure god, if he is smart, will understand this. I propose that when I look under my bed tonight (or tomorrow, or whenever within the next week), there will be a piece of scripture, written in the ink of a giant squid on the bark of a Indian rubber tree. The ink and bark I can scientifically verify. Let’s place the piece of bark in a perfect hexagonal box made from a Martian rock, just to make double sure. The scripture is up to you and god. Or wait, even better. Let sick people benefit from this. Let’s ask for something a bit better than scripture. A cure for cancer. That and my story would probably convert many atheists. Or even better, instead of the bark, let it be on a piece of material unknown to humanity. Sounds like a reasonable request to an all-mighty “loving” god that could do it by with a simple thought. And, cancer patients all over will sing his praises for their deliverance from pain and impeding premature death. Thousands will be saved from hell. It would be a good thing!

    But, somehow I suspect you (nor most Christians) would accept this. You will probably make excuses about tempting god (it is not, it is seeking!) or god’s will, meaning some other excuse why he wont do it. I think I know why. Deep down in your heart, you know this will not and cannot happen. And it is that “deep down in your heart”, the voice of reason and critical thinking that needs food because it can cause you to see what is real and not what you hope is real.

  • Boz

    Melanie said:


    The witnesses I would call to the stand would be people from all walks of life who would testify about their personal experiences with God. Some of these might be considered “expert witnesses” — people from the science community who might explain why believing in a Creator makes more sense than believing that the earth appeared and evolved on its own; or people from the medical community who can speak to unexplained healings; or perhaps even social behaviorists or psychological experts who can speak to the reasons for addictions and the process involved in breaking those addictions. These “expert witnesses” would be presenting evidence that falls into both the “Authority” category and the “Reason” category we were talking about earlier.

    The problem with these events is (1) There are many possible explanations for the event – not just the christian deity. How do you impartially eliminate other possible explanations? and (2) People from every other religion attribute these things to their deity.

    e.g. (2) Personal experiences. People (usually muslims) have personal experiences with Allah. Do you consider this evidence for the existence of allah?

    e.g. (1) other explanations. Someone has an unexplained healing. How do you eliminate the possibility of the placebo effect, strong willpower, currently unknown bodily processes, Allah, Ganesh, Thor, Brahma, alien intervention, etc? And why does the christian deity never heal amputees?

    It seems to me like you too easily believe some events to be a ddemonstration of God’s actions, without considering and impartially discounting other possible explanations. I hope you take this as constructive criticism.

  • Alastair Su

    Its so funny / sad how man has convinced himself that God doesn’t exist, and to what extent he will go to believe that.

  • rschatz56560

    ~80% of the time I vote 1. ~20 of the time I vote 2. Depends on the day of the week and time of day. I am really quite fluid between those two numbers.

    Just the other day I tried 7 on for size…it lasted for about 2 minutes.

  • Boz

    Its so funny / sad how most humans have convinced themselves that Brahma The Creator, Vishnu The Preserver and Shive The Destroyer don’t exist, and to what extent he will go to believe that.

    :p

  • Melanie Jongsma

    Renier, by way of analogy allow me to say that you sound like a Republican! That is, you sound like a Republican demanding irrefutable proof that Obama is President.

    “If he will write me a letter,” you say, “in the ink that has been preserved from Abraham Lincoln’s desk set, and if he will place it in a White House envelope — not a #10, but a square envelope — and if he will get the Secret Service to sneak into my house and place it under my pillow while I am asleep, and then if he will call me at 6:47am to tell me to look under my pillow, THEN I will believe he is President. In fact, I’ll become a Democrat and support all his policies, and I’ll cheer loudly for him whenever he makes a speech. He should want to do this, shouldn’t he? Because I’ll tell all my Republican friends about it, and I’m sure that they too would become Democrats, and isn’t that what Obama wants?”

    The fact is, Obama IS your President, like it or not. And I suppose I could ask him to meet your demands, but I’m pretty sure — no matter how sincerely and politely I asked — he could discern the disrespect in your request.

    It might be more effective, if you are sincere, to at least be willing to approach the President on your own with your request.

    And it might be more effective for me, rather than begging the President to please meet your demands, to ask him if there is anything I can do to help present his policies and ideals in a way that authentically wins the support of Republicans as well as Democrats.

    Those are my thoughts at the moment.

  • Sabio Lantz

    Melanie — that was clever, creative and fun !! Thanx.

  • Aaron

    Bravo, Melanie!

    I think you are touching here on some of the critques that I have and share with others about Christianity, especially in America. We have taken Christianity and stuck it in a blender with capitalism and assumed that God works on a debit system. In that sense, it is almost advantageous to side with the athiests by denying the existance of that God and then begin to rediscover the Christianity that the Bible actually teaches.

  • Melanie Jongsma

    Boz, I’ve been thinking about your question about why God never heals amputees, and I don’t have an answer for that (although it’s entirely possible no one has ever asked Him to!). It’s an interesting question though, and I’m going to think about it some more.

    It is true that people from some other religions attribute unexplained healings to their deities. In some cases, these “other religions” may actually be other forms of Christianity. That is, people may be worshipping the same God but calling Him different names.

    I don’t think that American Christianity is the only “true religion.” What I’m saying is, there is one true God, and people (American Christians included) build religious systems as a way of trying to understand Him. Some of these religious systems are more helpful than others; some are just plain wrong.

    You asked about Muslims who have personal experiences with Allah, if this is evidence for the existence of Allah. I think it’s evidence for the existence of a spiritual world that interacts with the world we see and touch. You might be interested to know there are also stories of Muslims who have had experiences with a Person they didn’t recognize, and after asking around about it, they learned it was Jesus, and they began following Him.

    I’m not sure that Allah, Ganesh, Thor, Brahma, and aliens have ever claimed to be in the business of healing their followers. Maybe Allah has, but I don’t know about the others. Some of these gods are really very oppressive and don’t do much for their followers except threaten them. I have heard a lot of testimonies from people who left these gods after meeting the real God, a God who loves them and wants an abundant life for them.

    I’m also not saying that EVERY healing is a miracle or can’t be explained by science, placebos, or bodily processes we don’t yet understand. I’m just saying that sometimes God heals. The people I would “call to the stand” in our trial analogy would be those who attribute their healing to God and for whom science and medicine cannot offer any other explanation. Of course, if you were opposing counsel, it would be your job to discredit my witnesses and/or offer alternate explanations. It would be my job to choose people who could stand up to your cross examination!

  • pedleyj

    I’m a 2 – but only, I suspect because as a scientist I always have to admit that I might be wrong. Melanie – you are doing a great job on this comment chain. I agree that Boz and Renier often seem to try to shut down the discussion by simply dismissing faith.
    There are a number of credible scientists who have written excellent personal and rational arguments for their faith. The most notable recently is Francis Collins (head of human genome project) in his ‘Language of God’.
    For me personal experience – not necessarily of voices or miracles or the blatantly supernatural – but of lives transformed through faith are compelling evidence. But not, it’s true scientific evidence.
    Melanie is right that we should not confuse the imperfection of organized religion with the actual existence of God, Christ etc.

    As for the arguments that convince me of the existence of God:
    – The common moral framework that is shared throughout the world under which many agree that murder is wrong etc. Pure evolutionary thinking would, I think, dictate that if we are sure we wouldn’t get caught we should all be killing, lying, stealing etc to get every advantage for ourselves and our offspring.
    – Altruism – the outrush, for example, of the world’s time, treasure and talents in response to the tsunami or Hurricane Katrina
    – The proximity of when the New Testament was written to the events it describes. Compare that gap between many other ancient documents we find reliable.

  • pedleyj

    Boz said:
    The problem with these events is (1) There are many possible explanations for the event – not just the christian deity. How do you impartially eliminate other possible explanations? and (2) People from every other religion attribute these things to their deity.

    Surely, though, as in every observed phenomenon, there is an actual explanation – reality. It is possible I might be wrong (I”m a scientist) but my own personal experience and the balance of evidence points me towards Christ and away from purple spaghetti monsters, pieces of string, Allah, Buddha, or just plain nothing.

    It is also interesting that many atheists seem to hold Christians (and other people of faith) to a higher standard of proof than they hold themselves to. Atheism is a belief too.

  • Sabio Lantz

    @ Pedley the Scientist
    I would agree that there is more evidence for Jehovah being a god than the Flying Spaghetti Monster (PBUH). Krishna or Allah may be a tough cookies though — how would we decide? Do you have a method to tally the evidence? The Buddha never claimed to be a god by any means — he was very sane.

    Atheism is not a belief, per se, but the lack of a belief. It is no more a belief than not-believing in toothfairies is a belief. But you are right in that many Atheists are naturalists but some atheists believe in an afterlife (Buddhists) without gods.

  • Sabio Lantz

    @ Pedley the Scientist

    I agree, “we should not confuse the imperfection of organized religion with the actual possible existence of a god.”

    Concerning the arguments for the existence of Jehovah which convince you?

    1) Even cultures without gods agree to these — this implies that this is common to human instincts just like birds have common traits. It does not point to a god any more than other animal instincts do. Lots written on this — by scientists.

    2) Altruism has been explained at length by evolutionary theories. No gods needed here either.

    3) How about the proximity to Joseph Smith events and documents written there — even closer. You should be a Mormon.

  • Sabio Lantz

    @ Pedley
    So, since you don’t have all the emotional and miraculous evidence that Melanie has like voices and miracles. And surely “Changed Lives” stories are found in every faith, not to mention outdoor adventure camps etc. And your reasons above are weak.
    So I hope you have stronger evidence. Wait, wait, you do.
    Heck, your parents believed and lots of your neighbors believe.

  • Boz

    Melanie said:

    You asked about Muslims who have personal experiences with Allah, if this is evidence for the existence of Allah. I think it’s evidence for the existence of a spiritual world that interacts with the world we see and touch.

    .
    Melianie said(earlier)

    The witnesses I would call to the stand[for the existence of the christian god] would be people from all walks of life who would testify about their personal experiences with God.

    It seems that you might be biased here – You say that a chrsitian’s personal experience is evidence for the chriatian god, but a muslim’s persona experience is evidence for a spiritual world (note: not Allah).

    Melanie said:

    I’m not sure that Allah, Ganesh, Thor, Brahma, and aliens have ever claimed to be in the business of healing their followers.

    The point is that they all have the ability to cure a person, if they choose to do so.

    Melanie said:

    I’m just saying that sometimes God heals. The people I would “call to the stand” in our trial analogy would be those who attribute their healing to God and for whom science and medicine cannot offer any other explanation.

    If there is no known explanation, how do you objectively know that the christian god did it?

  • RBH

    Pedlyj wrote

    – The common moral framework that is shared throughout the world under which many agree that murder is wrong etc. Pure evolutionary thinking would, I think, dictate that if we are sure we wouldn’t get caught we should all be killing, lying, stealing etc to get every advantage for ourselves and our offspring.

    I don’t know what variety of scientist pedlyj is, but I strongly suggest that he or she read some of the work on the evolution of morality. The sentimet expressed in the quotation is roughly at a kindergarten level of understanding of evolution. Here is an overview, and the references there give you an entre into the professional literature on the topic.

  • Sabio Lantz

    RBH, excellent link, oh, I just saw your site, that is why ! Smile.
    Indeed, many “scientists” are like many “physicians” — they are mainly technicians. They follow simple algorithms, and test simple hypothesis but they are not the creators, dreamers and those trying to escape the boxes of present thinking. They are not the explorer scientists. I agree, it seems obvious that Pedlyj has no significant evolutionary biology reading, yet alone training.

  • renier

    Melanie wrote: “Renier, by way of analogy allow me to say that you sound like a Republican! That is, you sound like a Republican demanding irrefutable proof that Obama is President”

    First off, I am not from your country. But we can test your analogy if you wish.

    Melanie wrote: […] THEN I will believe he is President.

    There is proof for Obama’s existence, to start with. We even know presidents exist. There is none for your god. futhermore, presumably your god takes an interest in all people, including me. I would not claim the same for Obama. In addition to this, presumably, your god already “knows” me. I am pretty certain Obama does not.

    Melanie wrote: “He should want to do this, shouldn’t he?”
    No. But the claims are made that your god does not want anyone to be “lost”, and since I do not believe, I am “lost”.

    Melanie wrote: “The fact is, Obama IS your President, like it or not.”

    Disputed of course on the grounds that he is not *my* president, he might be yours. But if you take your “analogy” back to my own request, you cannot make the same statement nl: “The fact is, God (Melanie’s god) IS your God, like it or not.”. It now sounds a bit different eh?

    Melanie wrote: “And I suppose I could ask him to meet your demands, but I’m pretty sure — no matter how sincerely and politely I asked — he could discern the disrespect in your request.”

    What disrespect? Save an unbeliever (and possibly more) and help millions of people suffering from cancer? An All-mighty god would think this disrespectful? My honest opinion, it sounds like excuses to me. Now I know that the Bible claims Jesus said “No signs will be given to the adulterous genations. That generation is no more and my slate is clean on the second account.

    Melanie wrote: ‘It might be more effective, if you are sincere, to at least be willing to approach the President on your own with your request.”

    Okay. Hi God, it’s me. The request I asked Melanie to take to you appears to be problematic for reasons unknown to me. Could you be so kind to take the request, within this lifetime of course? I do not understand why I have to ask you and why you would rather listen to me than one of your sworn children who claims to have faith, where I do not have faith, as you should well know if you are real. In the process, if you do not mind, explain to me why Melanie’s above analogy is apt, for I fail to see it.”

    Do you think this will do Melanie? Or is it too disrespectful and should I spice it up with a bit of grovelling?

    Melanie wrote: “And it might be more effective for me, rather than begging the President to please meet your demands, to ask him if there is anything I can do to help present his policies and ideals in a way that authentically wins the support of Republicans as well as Democrats.”

    What? Eh? How does that relate to god? Is his children not constantly asking him to please save the poor unbelievers? My request is, and was, a very simple one. Evidence that I would be unable to deny or explain with naturalistic means. If you have a better test that my disrespecful one, then leat’s hear it.

    Sabio: “Melanie — that was clever, creative and fun !! Thanx.”

    You also think it was an apt analogy? I must be loosing my reasoning capabilities then since your posts are very reasonable. And even Aaron agrees with “Bravo, Melanie!”. Totally confused at this time. Me, that i.s

    Melanie wrote to Boz: “In some cases, these “other religions” may actually be other forms of Christianity. That is, people may be worshipping the same God but calling Him different names.”

    So the whole thing “nobody comes to the father except thru me” as found in your Bible is…. what, not true?

    Melanie: “You might be interested to know there are also stories of Muslims who have had experiences with a Person they didn’t recognize, and after asking around about it, they learned it was Jesus, and they began following Him.”

    Examples please? Just the links to the stories, I’ll follow it up from there. I have heard stories, while still in church, about “ex-satanists” and the hideous things they did until Jesus paid them a personal visit. I have a suspicion they were lying or deluded.

    Pedleyj: “There are a number of credible scientists who have written excellent personal and rational arguments for their faith.”

    Could you present us with those arguments please? I have often heard claims to such arguments but must I admit I remain in the dark as to what they are. More interested in the rational arguments of course.

    pedleyj: “- The common moral framework that is shared throughout the world under which many agree that murder is wrong etc. Pure evolutionary thinking would, I think, dictate that if we are sure we wouldn’t get caught we should all be killing, lying, stealing etc to get every advantage for ourselves and our offspring.”

    Evolutionary thinking would (and does) dictate no such thing. Evolution of social organisms and the interaction they have, well, a bit of reading up on it might lend you an understanding of what the scientific conclusions on these things are. Dawkins in The Selfish Gene explains about the Hawks and the Doves, in quite a bit of detail and the example relates that often our genes benefit when we do not murder and steal etc.

    “Altruism – the outrush, for example, of the world’s time, treasure and talents in response to the tsunami or Hurricane Katrina”

    Don’t need a god to explaim Altruism. Just look at ants from a genetic perspective. Is it so super-natural that social animals have a instinct to help each other? Does the other apes not also display these tendencies?

    “The proximity of when the New Testament was written to the events it describes. Compare that gap between many other ancient documents we find reliable.”

    Dan Barker dealt with this in detail. I think it is one of his debates on Infidels.org. No person who knew Jesus wrote any of the New Testament. As for the “proximity” between events and the writings in the Old Testaments… many hundreds of years. Out of curiosity, what “ancient documents” not written within the so called proximity do we find reliable?

    Pedleyj: “It is also interesting that many atheists seem to hold Christians (and other people of faith) to a higher standard of proof than they hold themselves to. Atheism is a belief too.”

    How are we holding ourselves to a higher standard of proof? Do you judge the Cult of Mithras and Mohammed by the same standard you judge your faith? And, atheism is not a belief. Bald is not a hair colour. How can you define non-belief as belief anyway?

    Pedleyj wrote: “I”m a scientist”

    Field?

    Pedleyj: “It is possible I might be wrong (I”m a scientist) but my own personal experience ”

    You would take your own personal experience as evidence? If you saw a ghost tonight, would you take that as personal experience evidence that ghosts exists? As a claimed scientist would you not rather go for the whole verification thing? You know, the whole idea of looking objective at things?

    Pedleyj wrote: “and the balance of evidence points me towards Christ ”

    Okay, so apart from the personal experience thing, you have more evidence that points you to Christ (and not some other god)? What is that evidence?

  • pedleyj

    RBH said:
    I don’t know what variety of scientist pedlyj is, but I strongly suggest that he or she read some of the work on the evolution of morality. The sentimet expressed in the quotation is roughly at a kindergarten level of understanding of evolution.

    I am guilty, I must admit, of sloppy writing driven by time constraints. One of the things that has struck me about this thread is, in general, a fairly high level of civility. Can we keep it that way? I am not a geneticist (are you?) nor a professional scientist (I waved bye bye to theoretical physics when I graduated from university) but I do read a great deal of material on the subject – and have now read that very well written summary you posted (all should read – good summary). But perhaps I’m missing something. Costly altruistic behavior of the sort displayed after the tsunami, Hurricane Katrina or the site of the collapse of the World Trade Center cannot be explained by reciprocity or kin selection. Nor by social systems, reasoning from experience or another mechanism. It is, for want of a better word, an outpouring of love. And Christianity – of all the major religions – is the only one that really describes a God for whom ‘agape’ love of this kind is a defining characteristic.

    As to historicity of the bible and other historical works, there are many examples of texts for which we have no copies that are as close to the events they describe as the oldest surviving copies of the new testament. For example Caesar’s Gallic Wars was apparently written in about 50BC, yet the oldest copy we have dates from 900 years later. The History of Thucydides (400BC) comes from 8 manuscripts of which the oldest is AD 900. And yet we have copies of the NT from the 4th century – a very small archaeological interval. Frederic Kenyon (Director of the British Museum) wrote in The Bible and Archaeology ‘The interval between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible and the last foundation for any doubt that the scriptures have come down to us substantially as they weer written has now been removed’. Of course this does not prove them to be truth.

    renier writes: Dan Barker dealt with this in detail. I think it is one of his debates on Infidels.org. No person who knew Jesus wrote any of the New Testament.
    Dan Barker may deal with it, but his ‘dealing with it’ doesn’t make his arguments true. Even if not written by eyewitnesses there is no reason not to believe that the gospels were at least written by people who had spoken to eyewitnesses (which is more than can be said of most historical works) as (for example, see Wikipedia – Dating the Bible) all were written very close to the events described. For the gospel of Mark that would only have been 30-40 years after Christs life, death and (but I’m sure you dispute this) resurrection. In addition, many of the epistles are written by eyewitnesses and written much closer to the events.

    As to the lovely little dig about Mormons, no one disputes that J Smith wrote the Book of Mormon in the 19th century. The problem is with its historicity. He describes events more than a thousand years in the past and, for example, describes a society in America for which there is no archaeological evidence or other supporting documents. This is not the case for the New Testament.

    renier: “Could you present us with those arguments please? I have often heard claims to such arguments but must I admit I remain in the dark as to what they are. More interested in the rational arguments of course.”
    I did provide a very good example of a credible scientist who presents a very solid defense of his faith. Please read Francis Collns’ (as I said he ran the Human Genome Project) ‘The Language of God’. Available at Amazon and all retailers: http://bit.ly/aKKIq

    As to Atheism not being a belief. It is by my definition and, apparently by Merriam Webster’s:

    Belief
    1 : a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing
    2 : something believed; especially : a tenet or body of tenets held by a group
    3 : conviction of the truth of some statement or the reality of some being or phenomenon especially when based on examination of evidence

    Atheism places trust and confidence in the fact that a rational, non supernatural explanation is available for everything and that believers in all the various gods are deluded. It is a belief that ought to be defended like any other. For example, Dawkins ‘The God Delusion’ describes that system of belief (and defends it) very thoroughly, if a little egotistically and unpleasantly.

    As to evidence for Christ. Hard to do in one post but here’s a sample:
    1. Jesus existed as a man at least (corroboration from many sources such as Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, Lucian etc)
    2. Jesus claimed to be God. (Gospels, Epistles etc)
    3. This makes him either a Liar (with a death wish), a Lunatic or actually God
    3a) As to the liar, the rest of his behavior and moral teaching seem incompatible with that. For example, John Stuart Mill (skeptic philosopher) described Jesus as a first-rate ethicist supremely worthy of our attention. “It would not be easy even for an unbeliever, to find a better translation of the rule of virtue from the abstract into the concrete, than to endeavor so to live that Christ would approve our life.”
    b) Lunatic. Again, the content of the bible seems to make this a hard choice to support.
    c) Which leaves “God”
    Now Dawkins, among others, suggests a number of things like a) the perhaps Jesus was honestly mistaken – hard to believe once the consequence of persistence in his claims became apparent and b) we shouldn’t take the bible as evidence for anything. To which I would return to the documentary support above.

    I hope this has shown a little more than a kindergarten understanding of that which we speak. I am sure we will continue to disagree, but can we do so with a minimum of personal insults aimed either at Melanie, me or anyone else? I hope I have written a little more cogently this time – apologies for any sloppiness exhibited in my prior posts.

  • Sabio Lantz

    Yawn ! The Liar, Lunatic or God argument. Even Dr Craig detests that argument.

  • RBH

    pedleyj , you claimed to be a scientist: I’m a 2 – but only, I suspect because as a scientist I always have to admit that I might be wrong. And you’re not. That doesn’t bode well for a conversation.

    You made a ‘prediction’ from (what you claim is) evolutionary theory: Pure evolutionary thinking would, I think, dictate that if we are sure we wouldn’t get caught we should all be killing, lying, stealing etc to get every advantage for ourselves and our offspring.

    That’s probably the 758th time I’ve heard that general claim, that evolution predicts that we must all be selfish. And it’s false. One gets tired of hearing it.

    Sure, not all the questions associated with morality and altruism have been answered, but we’re a long way from “If the gene is selfish, then selfishness must characterize the organisms that carry those genes.”

    We find precursors of a variety of moral behaviors in non-human animals. In humans we have two sorts of evolution going, biological evolution and cultural evolution. The latter, much faster than the former, is dominant now in humans, and any explanation of human behavior, moral or otherwise, must take that into account.

    Your explanation of costly altruism is suspect. You write

    But perhaps I’m missing something. Costly altruistic behavior of the sort displayed after the tsunami, Hurricane Katrina or the site of the collapse of the World Trade Center cannot be explained by reciprocity or kin selection. Nor by social systems, reasoning from experience or another mechanism. It is, for want of a better word, an outpouring of love. And Christianity – of all the major religions – is the only one that really describes a God for whom ‘agape’ love of this kind is a defining characteristic.

    But adherents of religions other than Christianity also display altruism. And even atheists display costly altruism. our claim that it can’t be accounted for by this or that is simply that: A claim. You offer no support, no evidence to support our assertions, merely incredulity. Your incredulity is a statement about you, not about the world.

  • Aaron

    Sabio’s reference I think is to the book Reasonable Faith by Dr. William Lane Craig… and the specific reference is on page 52. 🙂

  • Melanie Jongsma

    Renier, please accept my apologies if I offended you with my political analogy. What country are you from?

  • Sabio Lantz

    @ Renier — I was just complimenting Melanie’s creativity — sometimes I have to take a break from evaluating arguments and listening to verbosity ! Remember, I feel people are more than just their logic. So I was complimenting Melanie’s other many virtues — and it seems to me she has many. You see them too, don’t you?

  • Melanie Jongsma

    Boz, what I meant by my remark about Muslims who have personal experiences with Allah was mainly that I just don’t know enough about your hypothetical witnesses or their testimonies. From your description, all I can conclude is some sort of spiritual experience. Obviously, if you are going to call a Muslim witness to the stand, you will have selected him because he supports your case. I, during my cross-examination, would have to probe for more detail before I (or the jury) could determine whether he’s had an Allah experience or something else.

    I’m not sure that Allah, Ganesh, Thor, Brahma, and aliens DO actually have the ability to cure a person. I’m not even sure that they claim to. Are there passages in the Koran that describe healings performed by Allah? Do Muslims pray for healing? I’m not sure.

    You said, “If there is no known explanation, how do you objectively know that the Christian God did [these healings]?” The above references to Dr. William Craig brought to mind his explanation of “properly basic belief.” Dr. Craig says, “In the absence of overwhelming arguments for atheism, it seems to me perfectly rational to go on believing in the reality of [my immediate experience with God].” He goes on to say that obviously an atheist could claim the same thing, that he has a “properly basic belief” in the absence of God, and in that case we should do “whatever is feasible to find common ground, like logic or empirical facts, to show in a noncircular way whose view is correct. That’s what I’ve tried to do in these other four arguments (which I won’ list here, for the sake of brevity). I know God exists in a properly basic way, and I’ve tried to show he exists by appealing to the common facts of science, ethics, history, and philosophy. Taken together, they form a powerful case for God and Christianity.”

    That sounds to me like what we’ve been trying to do here! I do not have the intellect of a Dr. Craig, but I’ve done my best to make a case for what I believe, and I’ve enjoyed this search for common ground between us.

  • Boz

    Pedleyj said: “Atheism places trust and confidence in the fact that a rational, non supernatural explanation is available for everything and that believers in all the various gods are deluded.”

    Atheism does neither of these two things. Some atheists do one or both of these two things.

  • pedleyj

    Boz: There’s only so much space on a page – I’m not writing a book. Try to deal with the intent of the point about atheism being a belief rather than nit picking. I’m sure there are atheists who wear purple hats, don’t like chocolate and think that rock and roll is the sole important thing in life. I just didn’t have space to include them in my very brief summary of the broad church that is atheism.

    RBH: If you read my post a little more carefully, I don’t make a general claim about ‘what evolution says’ – I tackle, adequately if briefly, the way that much human altruism departs from the explanations of altruism in the literature. And of course humans of all stripes – atheist, Hindu, or otherwise exhibit altruism – that’s my point. It’s because we are made in God’s image. Believer’s or not. Not that I am arguing against evolution here – I am satisfied with Evolution as the vehicle God used to get to the point of a creation worth bestowing human consciousness on. And I don’t think the closing mark about my credulity is fair. I have not read an explanation of human costly altruism that is adequately explained by the extant literature – popular or technical – if there is one (that offers the type of hard evidence that you seem to crave) I am happy to read it with an open mind. Perhaps a more open one than you are displaying.

    Sabio: My apologies for being tired. I’m not trying to convert you – I think that’s fairly impossible. The Liar and the Lunatic are points on the, perhaps flawed, journey to faith, combined with that terrible bugbear personal experience, lead me to the place of faith that I’m in now.

    Boz/RBH/Sabio/Renier:
    I think that Melanie’s last post (and Dr Craig, even though he doesn’t like my liar/lunatic) has it right – we all have ‘properly basic beliefs’ and I hope can enjoy the process of discussion and recognize that we each have interesting things to say. For me the point is (I hope) to step away from the racket of judgmental Christians to engage with you and recognize that in many respects you have a point (though we may disagree about the main one) and, (I hope) for it to be recognized that here are some people who, while they believe differently from you, are at least worth having a conversation with. I hope that’s not too much to hope.

  • Boz

    How do we deal with personal, subjective “properly basic beliefs” that disagree with each other?

    If there are two people with conflicting “properly basic beliefs”, either one or both are wrong.

  • Renier

    Melanie: “Renier, please accept my apologies if I offended you with my political analogy. What country are you from?”

    No offence taken. I am from South Africa.

    Box: “I was just complimenting Melanie’s creativity”

    Yeah… I think I tend to be to serious sometimes. Point taken.

    Sabio: “You see them too, don’t you?”

    It was creative. Agreed.

  • Renier

    pedleyj: “the broad church that is atheism”

    Just like the broad church that is aferyism? Or the broad church that is azeusism? Or the broad church that is apinkunicornism?

    pedleyj: “And of course humans of all stripes – atheist, Hindu, or otherwise exhibit altruism – that’s my point. It’s because we are made in God’s image.”

    Not just humans. Let’s relate this a bit to what we know. The hormone oxytocin (and Vasopressin more in men) is repsonsible for love. Without this hormone a mother will even reject her own newborn baby. Altruism is an outcome of brain functions. Brain functions depend on a variety of things, such as nature and nurture and included in that is chemicals that regulates a lot of our actions and reactions. Why would altruism be straight from god while love is dependant on certain chemicals (hormones and inhibitors) in our brains? You would argue that love is from god, right? Yet we see that love is the outcome of complex chemical interaction in our brains. If we would be capapble to show you that altruistic behaviour (or parts thereof) can be undone by chemicals (or lack thereof), would you still claim is has to come from god?

    Now. Let’s take a simple example. A sheep that shows motherly insticts (caring and nurturing) to a non related (thus not kin) lamb would count as altruism. Resources (time, milk, attention) from the female sheep towards the lamb is altruistic and her own genes does not benefit. How can one make this happen? Simple, infusion of oxytocin. Now, I know this is just one hormone that we can tie up with altruism, but I would like to quote a couple of things from wiki becasue I find it related to the discussion of altruism, or at least parts thereof.

    * Bonding. In the Prairie Vole, oxytocin released into the brain of the female during sexual activity is important for forming a monogamous pair bond with her sexual partner. Vasopressin appears to have a similar effect in males.[11] Oxytocin has a role in social behaviors in many species, and so it seems likely that it has similar roles in humans.

    * Maternal behavior. Rat females given oxytocin antagonists after giving birth do not exhibit typical maternal behavior.[14] By contrast, virgin female sheep show maternal behavior towards foreign lambs upon cerebrospinal fluid infusion of oxytocin, which they would not do otherwise.[* 15]

    * Increasing trust and reducing fear. In a risky investment game, experimental subjects given nasally administered oxytocin displayed “the highest level of trust” twice as often as the control group. Subjects who were told that they were interacting with a computer showed no such reaction, leading to the conclusion that oxytocin was not merely affecting risk-aversion.[16] Nasally administered oxytocin has also been reported to reduce fear, possibly by inhibiting the amygdala (which is thought to be responsible for fear responses).[17] – Overcoming fear to help (altruism) someone in danger appears to be related to this, or at least in part.

    Affecting generosity by increasing empathy during perspective taking. In a neuroeconomics experiment, intranasal oxytocin increased generosity in the Ultimatum Game by 80% but has no effect in the Dictator Game that measures altruism. Perspective-taking is not required in the Dictator Game, but the researchers in this experiment explicitly induced perspective-taking in the Ultimatum Game by not identifying to participants which role they would be in.[18] – Empathy. Generosity. Giving to people without getting anything back. I also quote “but has no effect in the Dictator Game that measures altruism”. I do not make the argument that altruism is only an outcome of oxytcin. It appears not be be. But I am trying to show that aspects of the effects of oxytocin is required in altruism. There are other experiments about altruism.

    * MDMA (ecstasy) may increase feelings of love, empathy and connection to others by stimulating oxytocin activity via activation of serotonin 5-HT1A receptors, if initial studies in animals apply to humans.[22]

    So where did this wonderful hormone come from?

    Virtually all vertebrates have an oxytocin-like nonapeptide hormone that supports reproductive functions and a vasopressin-like nonapeptide hormone involved in water regulation. The two genes are usually located close to each other (less than 15,000 bases apart) on the same chromosome and are transcribed in opposite directions (however, for example, see[26] for fugu).

    It is thought that the two genes resulted from a gene duplication event; the ancestral gene is estimated to be about 500 million years old and is found in cyclostomes (modern members of the Agnatha).[10]

    So much for Oxytocin. Let’s look a bit at how Vacopressin alters behaviour.

    In recent years there has been particular interest in the role of vasopressin in social behavior. It is thought that vasopressin, released into the brain during sexual activity, initiates and sustains patterns of activity that support the pair-bond between the sexual partners; in particular, vasopressin seems to induce the male to become aggressive towards other males.[2]

    And more: “The brain of males uses vasopressin as a reward for forming lasting bonds with a mate, and men with one or two of the genetic alleles are more likely to experience marital discord. The partners of the men with two of the alleles affecting vasopressin reception state disappointing levels of satisfaction, affection, and cohesion.”

    It seems (and there are links to various studies) that it’s not just a god mannding people (males) not to commit adultery. It would seem he forgot the tweak the hormones in order to make it fair on all people.

    My point is simply this. Altruism as a human behaviour does not need a god to to explain it.Heck, if we can inject a female and inhibit the oxytocin uptake or release, and make her reject the child se loved more than anything else in the world, is this not enough evidence? If we can take a faitful father and husband, inject him to inhibit his vasopressin and see him run around from female to female with no regards for his wife, does this not tell you that love and faithfulness and even altruism is explained by nature, and not by god? And what happens when we take a person like Melanie (thought experiment, I won’t stand for it) and inhibit her oxytocin, and see her loose all affection and love for her god (and her family)? Would the people who insist on supernatural, explanations for the things we have natural explanations, change their minds?

    In addition to my above argument and still on the neurology discussion, I quote: “Jorge Moll and Jordan Grafman, neuroscientists at the National Institutes of Health and LABS-D’Or Hospital Network (J.M.) provided the first evidence for the neural bases of altruistic giving in normal healthy volunteers, using functional magnetic resonance imaging. In their research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA in October, 2006,[4] they showed that both pure monetary rewards and charitable donations activated the mesolimbic reward pathway, a primitive part of the brain that usually lights up in response to food and sex. However, when volunteers generously placed their interests of others before their own by making charitable donations, another brain circuit was selectively activated: the subgenual cortex/septal region. These structures are intimately related to social attachment and bonding in other species. Altruism, the experiment suggested, was not a superior moral faculty that suppresses basic selfish urges but rather was basic to the brain, hard-wired and pleasurable.[5]”

    The ancients did not know about hormones and about many things going on in the brain. They do have an excuse to try and explain it with the supernatural. It’s the best they had. But we now have enough knowledge to show that they were wrong. Sincere yes, but still wrong. That people still prefer the guesses of the ancients to what we can now show in experiments… Why? Why deny the truth while you claim to revere the truth above all?

  • Renier

    pedleyj: “For the gospel of Mark that would only have been 30-40 years after Christs life, death and (but I’m sure you dispute this) resurrection.”

    Still 70AD. Still, Mark did not write it. Still probably one of two sources used in in the writing of Mathew and Luke.

    Pedleyj wrote: “In addition, many of the epistles are written by eyewitnesses and written much closer to the events.”

    Eyewitnesses to what? Jesus’s life and deeds? Closer to the events? Perhaps you are writing unclear, but you appear to say some of the epistles were written closer to 30-40 years after the death of Christ?

    pedleyj wrote: ‘Even if not written by eyewitnesses there is no reason not to believe that the gospels were at least written by people who had spoken to eyewitnesses ”

    I have no reason to believe those people did speak to eyewitnesses, least of all John. Considering, once again, that it appears as if Matthew and Luke were based on Mark and another document. So you have to now claim that Mark or other document Q were written by people who spoke to eye witnesses.

    pedleyj: “and (but I’m sure you dispute this) resurrection”

    I do. People who are dead for three days do not get up, walk around and then levitate up to heaven. Besides, those claims were made about god-humans (Osiris?) long before the Jesus story came about. It would seem many of the things claimed to Jesus was claimed to Horus long before the time of Jesus. So why would we assume Jesus’s miracles and life happened that way and not the same things for Horus? http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_jcpa5b.htm

    pedleyj: “I did provide a very good example of a credible scientist who presents a very solid defense of his faith. Please read Francis Collns’ (as I said he ran the Human Genome Project) ‘The Language of God’. Available at Amazon and all retailers: http://bit.ly/aKKIq

    Actually, I am more interested in the evidence (it was claimed, right) that Collins lays on the table, that *you* found convincing. I don’t have money right now to spend on a book that made no impression on any (AFAIK) unbelievers. If he came up with (new/any?) evidence it would have been splat over the blogosphere in my opinion.

    pedleyj: “Belief
    1 : a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing
    2 : something believed; especially : a tenet or body of tenets held by a group
    3 : conviction of the truth of some statement or the reality of some being or phenomenon especially when based on examination of evidence”

    1) No trust or no confidence is the atheistic position. So point one fails
    2) It is something that is *not* believed”. Point 2 fails
    3) It is *not* conviction of truth. As for examination of evidence, there is no belief forthcoming from atheist, because the claimed evidence is, in my opinion, non existent. Point 3 fails.

    pedleyj: “1. Jesus existed as a man at least (corroboration from many sources such as Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, Lucian etc)”

    There are many men. Many claimed to have been demi-god/gods. But I do agree that a person called Jesus probably existed. The things people claim he did I did dispute however.

    pedleyj: “2. Jesus claimed to be God. (Gospels, Epistles etc)”

    I would like to see the verse please. The Epistles will not help. I already *know* some people though he was god. Where does he say “I am god”?

    Pedleyj: “3. This makes him either a Liar (with a death wish), a Lunatic or actually God”

    Or he never said those things. Or he never existed (still a possibility). Or he was just one more of a couple of people at the same time who though god send them to tell people a bunch of stuff.

    pedleyj: “As to the liar, the rest of his behavior and moral teaching seem incompatible with that.”

    Why? Can liars (or delusional people) not act morally and tell other people to be good?

    pedelyj quoted: “. “It would not be easy even for an unbeliever, to find a better translation of the rule of virtue from the abstract into the concrete, than to endeavor so to live that Christ would approve our life.”

    Some things Jesus said is good (but not original or unique) and other things he said sounds a bit “off”, if you know what I mean. Cursing a fig tree because it did not bear fruit out of season sounds like someone in serious need of medical treatment. The Jains had a better doctrine than the Jesus one, and in my opinion Buddha also had better ideas.

    pedleyj: “Lunatic. Again, the content of the bible seems to make this a hard choice to support.”

    On the contrary. Talking to people in parables so that they can not understand it does not appear to be “all there”, if you catch my drift. You know he claimed to talk to them in a way *so that* they cannot understand it? Or am I perhaps getting mixed up here? And that whole thing of you have to hate your mother and your father and leave your family to follow him…. to me, that really sucks, and it must have sucked even more for the wifes and children left behind. He also claimed to bring a aword and not peice, to bring division between a husband and a wife, a son and his father etc. Personally, if he really did say those things, I think he might have been mentalliy ill and incoherant. Its easy to understand that if a person pops up today and start saying those things that a mental institute would probably be the best way to deal with such a person. But when a dead jew 2000 years ago said the same things, he is god?

    pedleyj: “Which leaves “God”

    or liar, or lunatic, of fiction or or or….

    pedleyj: “Now Dawkins, among others, suggests a number of things like a) the perhaps Jesus was honestly mistaken – hard to believe once the consequence of persistence in his claims became apparent”

    Uhm… many people has died for their faith and their claims of faith (and other things). Not just Jesus, or Christians or Pagans or Jews…. People have died for silly claims, such that they can fly.

  • pedleyj

    renier: Thank you for the education on the chemical mechanisms the drive the feeling of love, bonding behavior etc. I always enjoy learning new things. But I think your conclusions are flawed – if there is a God (a big if for you, I know) why should he not make/allow to evolve an organism that uses these chemicals in this way? The existence of God does not mean science is garbage – for me it explains ‘how God did it’ where for you it doesn’t. But a supernatural God does not mean that all the emotional experiences we have need to be supernatural. And the fact that man can mess up the feelings that God intended by injecting Melanie, me or anyone with a chemical is also no surprise. Alcohol has a long history of doing that, for example.

    As to the historicity of the bible it is a long subject dealt with by atheists and believers at length elsewhere with both sides – but I will say two things:
    1) Many of the epistles, it is generally agreed by both Christian and non-Christian bible scholars, were written before the gospels (check Wikipedia for example) – Romans was written in the 50s AD (probably the mid 50s), as was the first letter to the Corinthians. And Paul is widely agreed to be the author.
    2) I don’t understand the problem with a work of history being based on a variety of sources. Yes, it is broadly agreed that the authors of the synoptic gospels probably used ‘Q’ as a source and the others used Mark. But that is surely what historians and journalists do if they’re good at their job. Nor does it preclude their use of first-hand testimony or to have been present at some of the events described.

    As to the question of whether Jesus claimed to be God there are many examples and many where that is the clear implication. One example – Matthew 63-64a
    “But Jesus remained silent.
    The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God. Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied.”
    Or, a bit more technically as it relies on reference to Exodus 3 where God speaks from the burning bush, giving his name as I AM, John 8:56-58:
    “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing My day; he saw it and was glad.” “You are not yet 50 years old,” they said to Him, “and you have seen Abraham?” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus announced, “before Abraham was, I AM!”

    Boz: How do we deal with personal, subjective “properly basic beliefs” that disagree with each other? If there are two people with conflicting “properly basic beliefs”, either one or both are wrong.

    You’re right! Yay, we agree about something. But I don’t understand why one or other of us being wrong (we will obviously disagree about which of us that one is) precludes civil dialogue and the effort to understand each other’s perspective. I am certainly good friends with and relatives (the child and brother among others) of atheists. And we still get along.

  • Boz

    Matthew 63-64a
    “But Jesus remained silent.
    The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God. Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied.” NIV
    .
    .
    .
    ” 63But Jesus held his peace, And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God.

    64Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.”KJV
    .
    .
    It is unclear whether jesus claims to be the son of god in this passage.

    Also, when the NT says “Jesus said X”, this claim has been through so many biased/error prone/forgetful people before it reached the printing press that it is impossible to know the accuracy of the statement. The statement may also be made up, given its importance to the competing sects at the time of writing.

    It is impossible to know the accuracy of a “Jesus said X” claim to any degree of confidence.

  • Renier

    pedelyj: “But I think your conclusions are flawed – if there is a God (a big if for you, I know) why should he not make/allow to evolve an organism that uses these chemicals in this way?”

    The point is, we do not need a god to explain it. If you insist on hammering him in there, then fine, but there is no reason to do it. You should perhaps also consider the natural explanations as it relates to the idea of a soul.

    Pedleyj: “Romans was written in the 50s AD (probably the mid 50s), as was the first letter to the Corinthians. And Paul is widely agreed to be the author.”

    It seems probable that Romans was written at that time. But I need to point out Paul never met Jesus. It seems more (to me) that Paul took the Jesus story and started his own doctrine around it.

    Pedleyj: “But that is surely what historians and journalists do if they’re good at their job.”

    It would have been great if they mentioned their sources, to start with. But even if we copy an older document, and that document makes claims such as virgin birth, resurrection and levitation to heaven it does not mean those things happened. Did the writers spice things up perhaps since people have been known to do that? And what about the interpolations? It seems clear people (probably Catholics) tampered with the texts, even in the case of Josephus. It does appear unacceptable to make a claim that god has an important message for the world, decides to turn author and let people muck up the mist important message ever, as it is claimed. The explanation of people creating a legend appears more plausible considering the writings than a god writing to humanity. The whole theme of The Saviour seems to have been well known at the time. Did you look at http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_jcpa5b.htm ?

    Pedleyj: “The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God. Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied.”

    Christ means anointed one. Jesus appears to think he has a special message from god, is anointed to tell the people about god. As for the son of god… well, people today even claim to be sons and daughters of god. “*Our father who art in heaven” Jesus prayed. So, when you say you are a son of god, are you making a claim for divinity?

    Box: “It is impossible to know the accuracy of a “Jesus said X” claim to any degree of confidence.”

    He has a good point here. Once again, considering the interpolations we know of and the whole debacle about salvation by faith versus the doctrine of good works. If we even assume god intended the Bible to be a message to humanity we can conclude his communication skills and planning are lacking.

  • Melanie Jongsma

    If we are not able to accept the authority of each other’s sources, then it will be difficult to make this conversation much more than an endless exchange of links and references. I wonder if it would be more helpful to search for that “common ground” by listing a few things we might agree on. Would you all see any value in that?

    For example, I submit that many Christians use “faith” as a substitute for “logic,” and that can make it difficult for others to engage us in a sincere search for truth. Does anyone agree with me on this?

  • Renier

    Melanie: “For example, I submit that many Christians use “faith” as a substitute for “logic”.

    It cannot be a substitute. Belief that 1+1=3 is not going to help us to determine what 1+1 is.

  • Melanie

    Ok then, how would you rephrase the statement? Or do you have a different statement that represents something we might be able to agree on?

  • Boz

    Faith is a subjective opinion – I am interested in discovering what is objectively true.

  • Sabio Lantz

    @ Boz — I imagine you are very interested in all sorts of subjective stuff — as it is how we fill our lives with meaning ! It may be subjective feelings about objective facts, but it is still the subjectivity that gives it richness, not the objectivity. Don’t you agree?

  • Boz

    Yes, I agree. I have subjective opinions about all kinds of things – some of them disagree with objective facts, some don’t.

    Melanie was talking about finding truth. This must be done objectively to avoid accepting a false claim as accurate.

  • Renier

    Melanie. In my opinion, the best way to discover truth, so to speak, is the scientific method. Perhaps it is not perfect, but is is the best we have by far. If a god does anything, it has an influence on nature, else nothing was done from the perspective of our universe. We should be able to detect that influence.

    And Melanie, I do have sympathy with your view that testimony should be counted as evidence. But like I mentioned, if all people testified to have seen the sun falling from the sky it would not mean it is true. And people’s testimony on what god did or said all differs.

    As snotty as my previous request for a miracle might have sounded it was intended to show that excuses are made for why nature does not conform to the belief in a all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving god.

  • Melanie Jongsma

    Reading back over the past several posts, I think I need to clarify something. When I proposed that we might be able to agree that “many Christians use ‘faith’ as a substitute for ‘logic,'” I was not endorsing such a tendency. I was just saying that it happens. Would you agree?

    And it sounds to me like you would also agree that a Christian unwillingness to argue logically makes it difficult for atheists to engage us in debate — agree?

    Renier, I agree that the scientific method is a great way to discover truth. I also depend on the “journalistic method,” which may be more useful in cases where there are too many human variables to isolate. For example, if people testified to having seen the sun fall, I wouldn’t consider that “truth,” but I would consider it worthy of investigation. I might use journalistic methods to learn why people were making this claim, what they actually saw or experienced, why their interpretation of events might or might not be true, etc. Accepting their testimony as evidence is not the end of the process, but the beginning.

  • Aaron

    Interesting… Melanie, I like what you said about journalistic investigation. Perhaps it would be appropriate to say that something did happen, but that those who witnessed may not have the ability to adequately explain what happened. “The sun falling” may be a description of a solar eclipse? An optical illusion? We all know that David Copperfield did not really walk through the Great Wall of China nor did he make the Statue of Liberty disappear. But if you were a witness, it likely appeared to be true and you may “report” it to be so.

    Indeed, the terms “faith” and “logic” are quite confused and confusable. There is a certain logic that CAN be evident in Christianity, but there are definitely places where logic is completely abandoned, maybe not by all Christians, but there certainly is reason to be apprehensive of what may be considered as “logic.”

  • Renier

    Melanie asked: “When I proposed that we might be able to agree that “many Christians use ‘faith’ as a substitute for ‘logic,'” I was not endorsing such a tendency. I was just saying that it happens. Would you agree?”

    Agreed.

    Melanie wrote: “And it sounds to me like you would also agree that a Christian unwillingness to argue logically makes it difficult for atheists to engage us in debate — agree?”

    Very good! If one is to reason about something, then one should apply reason.

    Melanie wrote: “Renier, I agree that the scientific method is a great way to discover truth. I also depend on the “journalistic method,” which may be more useful in cases where there are too many human variables to isolate.”

    I understand what you are saying and I do agree to a certain point. Where human interaction and emotions are involved it is often difficult to find the facts.Personally, I do not place a lot of trust in journalism. Even less when there are claims about super-natural events and things that just does not seem probable.

    melanie wrote: “For example, if people testified to having seen the sun fall, I wouldn’t consider that “truth,” but I would consider it worthy of investigation.”

    Yes, now you are on to what I have been trying to explain in my own imperfect way. We need to do objective (clinical, cold, no bias, verification, double blind) science instead of relying on what we think and hope is “truth”. We humans are master at fooling ourselves and we have even learned that out natural senses can mess us around. We dream up explanation for things we do not understand and then tell those explanations as if it is the truth. So we need an objective method to test our perseptions against. Even the journalistic method is flawed and so is science, but science does have self-correcting safeguards built into it. A researcher can “fix the numbers” but the next test done for verification has the chance to uncover the fraud.

    Relate this to faith. We have no way to test the faith for truth. For years I believed that the remains of Noah’s ark had been found on a mountain in Turky, and in my own way I told it as fact to many other people. Then one day I got cornered to provide evidence for my statements and I went to look for the evidence. All I found were lies, lies and more lies. Anyway, I went and checked up on a couple of other things and found more lies. After much confusion and quite a bit of anger I started from a blank slate and decided I would be guided by evidence to see things for what they really are, and not what I “had faith” they were. No assumptions on the blank slate, not even the assumption that a god exists.

    Melanie wrote: “Accepting their testimony as evidence is not the end of the process, but the beginning.”

    Testimony is perhaps a good reason to make the effort in order to unncover the evidence, if it exists. But testimony in itself, I have to agree with you, is not enough.

    Aaron: “There is a certain logic that CAN be evident in Christianity”

    I agree with this. But if one is the persue a logical course it will have to rest on a couple of assumptions, and those assumptions, as we know, well, no grounds for it yet. Perhaps that’s the big difference between believers and non-believers. The difference in what people regard as valid assumptions.

  • How much do you know about what you believe? « LifeLines

    […] to see, in black-and-white, what my online atheist friends have been telling me, in this forum and other places where we’ve had passionate dialogue: A lot of Christians don’t know much about what […]

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