Before I Deconverted: I Dabbled With Calvinism In College (Everyone Was Doing It)

I’m writing a series of posts about my Christian upbringing and the philosophical and personal road to my deconversion. Often it is easy for atheists, especially for those who never were serious religious believers, to not understand how religious thinking works from the inside.

What counts as evidence for or against theological propositions when you are willing in principle (and often in practice) to believe by faith in things that have no evidence in the first place? How do you decide which totally unsupported beliefs are worth believing and which ones not in such a situation?

It is helpful to understand how religious people actually do reason within the terms of their own belief systems and how they reason when in contact with differing theological viewpoints. Atheists hopefully can learn from this what kinds of weaknesses in their beliefs lead believers to moderate or (ideally) abandon their positions.

In that spirit, I offer you the story of my struggles with Calvinism during college:

September 1996-May 1999: As I’ve chronicled before, when I was a teenager in high school, on relatively secular Long Island, I had few fellow devout evangelical friends outside of church. And, fairly or not, I didn’t feel like many (if any) of the friends I did have at church were as serious as I was about the faith. So when I headed off to one of the most self consciously evangelical Christian colleges in the nation, I was enthused at the prospect of finally living and studying with like-minded, seriously committed Christians.

So the first day, literally within only an hour or two of my mother and brother dropping me off at college for the first time, I found myself in my brand new room talking about theology with a fellow incoming freshman. He was extremely straight laced, conservatively dressed, theologically articulate, exquisitely pleasantly mannered, had a large serious face, and was charismatic in the most soothing and polite way. He was going to study Philosophy. I had declared Christian Thought as my major but I was batting around whether to switch to English or possibly Philosophy.

So, I related to him a story about the week before when my aunt and mother were talking about some incident in which a small human child had fallen into some sort of non-human primate’s area at a zoo and the primate handed the child back to the mother. My aunt and mother had agreed, “That’s GOD!” “Yes, THAT’S GOD!” I was pointing out to my new interlocutor that I found their judgment on this superficial and contradictory. We cannot go around crediting God for the time the child is spared harm unless we are going to blame God for all the awful things that happen too. God had to be a hands off kind of God lest He suddenly be morally responsible for not intervening in some cases, while he does in others.

But my new friend did not accept this distinction or this concern at all. All things which happened were God’s will. God determined the whole of history through providence. This was outrageous to me. What about free will? How could God punish anyone if He determined everything that happened? And so my friend, who had literally read John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion as a high school student by his own self-motivation and internally converted to Calvinistic Christianity from his mother’s Catholicism, proceeded to explain to me that God freely decided, in advance of the creation of the universe, who those were whom he would save by his grace and who those were whom he intended to never be saved (the “reprobates” as Calvinists call them).

This was dumbfounding to me. The most I had ever heard of John Calvin was a brief mention in my high school history class sophomore year. I thought his ideas were a long obsolete 16th Century curiosity. I had no idea that they were a powerful influence on Christianity for centuries, straight on through to the present. And this was really the first time in my life I encountered someone my own age who knew more theology than I did. Which, admittedly, was easy to do—all you had to know was anything not written by C.S. Lewis. But still! This was troubling to run up against this strange and awful theology being presented by someone who knew far more than I did about the subjects in the debate we were having.

Other incoming freshmen came wandering through and I would explain the issues I was debating with this intractable fellow and they would back him up and speak this strange Calvinistic language fluently. Our R.A., a breezily laid back, skinny, bespeckled, hipsterish junior, majoring in Philosophy, came by and he laid down the Calvin like it was the Gospel and common sense all rolled into one.

I felt incredibly frustrated. Here I had longed to be in a place with like-minded people finally and they all had this dark and counter-intuitive, immoral theology that I could not understand how anyone would believe. And they started pointing to all these difficult Scriptures and I had no idea how to counter their interpretations. Finally, I talked to another freshman on the hall and asked him first thing, “What do you think about predestination.” And he, possibly observing my exasperation, replied, “I don’t think it’s worth losing friends over.” And we became close friends (and eventual roommates).

The next morning my original interlocutor and I went to the church service for incoming freshmen together. Afterwards, we were back debating Calvinism. I reared back and gave my free will based view of things the best and most thorough and logical defense I could. And finally, he said, “Ohhhhh, so that’s what you mean!” And I was, like, “Yes, I have finally made the clarity and correctness of my position clear.” And then he said, “That view was held by a monk named Pelagius…” Very good! There was precedence for my views! “…Pelagianism has been damned as heretical by more church councils than any other doctrine.” (9 years later I would learn from George Lucas he was also a Sith Lord!)

I was so indignant and upset that my new friend had essentially equated my views with the greatest of all possible heresies, that I conveniently lost him in the lunch room while we were split up getting our food. We nonetheless went on to become best friends.

My whole freshman year at Grove City College, which, as I quickly was learning, was explicitly Calvinistic in orientation, was spent agonizing over these questions. I wrote no less than three term papers on it. The first was spent replying to Calvin himself for the general requirement philosophy and theology course I was taking. The second paper, which was supposed to be focused on narrow biblical textual exegesis, was spent trying to stretch 2 Peter 3:9 (which says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”) into a theological case refuting numerous pro-predestination texts.

My second semester freshman year I took an upper level philosophy class called Philosophical Theology. In it we studied modern Calvinistic presuppositionalism. This epistemology essentially asserts that since everyone has presuppositions inevitably, simply assuming the existence of the Christian God and the divine authority of the Bible was no less arbitrary than, say, assuming a naturalistic worldview. And presuppositionalists argue that the (Calvinistic) Christian worldview was so much more internally coherent than the naturalistic worldview that even though you could not persuade non-believers of Christianity if they didn’t just presuppose it, if only one assumed the basic premises of Christianity it was far more rational than naturalism. Presuppositionalists argue that there is sufficient evidence in nature for God’s existence but that proving the existence of God rationally to non-believers is a futile endeavor because (according to their reading of Romans 1) God had, as part of the curse of original sin, deliberately darkened human minds so that they simply cannot see the evidence of God in nature unless He chooses to save them and open their minds for them such that they see it clearly.

Now, even though I was strongly resisting Calvinism, I also was buying this junk presuppositionalist epistemology hook, line, and sinker. And I was buying the Calvinist emphases on the absolute importance of God’s sovereignty and His absolute right to punish. And, yet, I wanted to hold onto the notion of free will. So, I tried to defend presuppositionalism and God’s merciless judgment in a way that was compatible with people freely choosing to believe or not. So, I wrote a paper called “Repent or Die: An Arminian Presuppositionalist Approach to Apologetics”.

A bit perversely, I was trying to appeal to the Calvinists’ fetishization of a harshly damning God who coldly condemns reprobates with no hope of salvation by showing how even the free will view of conversion that allowed a human role could be cast in such a way that it was vicious and damning too. Rather than it being a matter of autonomous humans’ abilities to dictate to God whether or not they would love him (which to the totalitarian Calvinist conception of God gives them an abhorrent amount of control over God and their own salvation), free will instead was the only opening for a desperate and begging human to be mercifully spared the absolute display of unmitigated sovereign power. I converted what other free will focused believers like to conceive of as “freedom to accept God’s free offer to choose Him” into the stark, coerced non-choice of “Repent or Die!” so that it could fit the choice-hating, despot-worshiping Calvinists’ general sense of theological and moral priorities.

There was a little precedence for my approval of this authoritarian theology. In Grove City autonomy was a dirty word. It essentially was interpreted with suspicion as man’s presumption to rule himself. And I remember in our first semester mass lecture freshman Civ 101 course (which was such an appalling exercise in flagrantly revisionistic history that even at the time I recognized it was lazy brainwashing and was disgusted and outraged by the whole thing), I wrote a paper with another title that makes me cringe it so opposes my eventual values: “Autonomy Fails And We Know It.” In it I argued that we all deep down wanted to be ruled and that given our own freedom, we would choose what we want. Given a strong hand to obey, we will gladly follow. I argued (selectively) from polling every time a general was mentioned as a presidential candidate and received high percentages of prospective votes that Americans essentially wanted a strong military figure to lead. Even though they voted for the Democrat Bill Clinton given no other stronger leader, they would have chosen Republicans like Norman Schwarzkopf or Colin Powell, against what I took to be the country’s leftist mainstream values, because they were dominant leader figures. I reasoned, this was human nature, ultimately it wants to be led because it knows it should be led (by God).

Eventually, in the spring of my sophomore year, I would come to finally find a way to embrace the full horrible unconditional reprobation doctrine. I was begrudgingly, increasingly convinced that it was the only logical conclusion of my belief in God’s absolute responsibility for all of reality. And that it was the only way to accept the inerrant truth of the Bible and be faithful to its literal words. There was no getting around chapter 9 of the book of Romans for me here. The curious way I found of dealing with the ethical problem of God creating people He intended all along to mercilessly condemn to eternal torture was by accepting Calvinism only as fused with Kierkegaardian ideas.

During Christmas break of sophomore year, in response to the beginning of my serious crisis of faith that would eventually lead to my deconversion, I had turned in desperation to the writings of Søren Kierkegaard. Though free will is obviously integral to Kierkegaard’s philosophy (as a proto-existentialist), he had also stressed that God was “infinitely qualitatively distinct” and had a strong emphasis on just how little sense Christianity could make to human reason. I took this to mean that God was fundamentally unknowable and inconceivable in His essence to humans. I read Kierkegaard as essentially arguing that God was beyond logic, beyond rationality, and essentially beyond our ability to morally assess. For some mysterious reason beyond our understanding, God’s eternal choice to damn the reprobates was fair. And, keeping with my remaining presuppositionalism, Christianity could only make sense from the inside so it was not a problem that those who relied only on reason would never get it. It did make more sense, but you had to repent first and give up your god-hatred to understand how.

So I accepted this uneasy, morally dubious proposition for as long as my duct-tape-and-bubblegum-stop-gap-philosophical-theology could hold back my reason from capitulating to the increasingly clear philosophical and atheological evidence against my cherished faith which was endlessly mounting up the more philosophy and theology courses I took. Basically the Kierkegaardian/Calvinistic synthesis lasted for about sixteen months until I decided to take Nietzsche on full blast. But that’s a story for another time.

For my present day, atheistic rejection of all notions that it is morally approvable to affirm the existence and moral rectitude of a god who offends our moral reasoning see my dialogue on God and Goodness or my piece showing the incoherence and superfluity of divine command theory. For my favorite paean to autonomy and denunciation of authoritarianism that I have written, please read “But Why MUST I?” Kant’s Ironic Formulation of Liberty as Duty.

Your Thoughts?

Read posts in my ongoing “deconversion series” in order to learn more about my experience as a Christian, how I deconverted, what it was like for me when I deconverted, and where my life and my thoughts went after I deconverted.

Before I Deconverted:

Before I Deconverted: My Christian Childhood

Before I Deconverted: Ministers As Powerful Role Models

My Fundamentalist Preacher Brother, His Kids, And Me (And “What To Do About One’s Religiously Raised Nieces and Nephews”)

Before I Deconverted: I Was A Teenage Christian Contrarian

Before I Deconverted, I Already Believed in Equality Between the Sexes

Love Virginity

Before I Deconverted: I Dabbled with Calvinism in College (Everyone Was Doing It)

How Evangelicals Can Be Very Hurtful Without Being Very Hateful

Before I Deconverted: My Grandfather’s Contempt

How I Deconverted:

How I Deconverted, It Started With Humean Skepticism

How I Deconverted, I Became A Christian Relativist

How I Deconverted: December 8, 1997

How I Deconverted: I Made A Kierkegaardian Leap of Faith

How I Deconverted: My Closest, and Seemingly “Holiest”, Friend Came Out As Gay

How I Deconverted: My Closeted Best Friend Became A Nihilist and Turned Suicidal

How I Deconverted: Nietzsche Caused A Gestalt Shift For Me (But Didn’t Inspire “Faith”)

As I Deconverted: I Spent A Summer As A Christian Camp Counselor Fighting Back Doubts

How I Deconverted: I Ultimately Failed to Find Reality In Abstractions

A Postmortem on my Deconversion: Was it that I just didn’t love Jesus enough?

When I Deconverted:

When I Deconverted: I Was Reading Nietzsche’s “Anti-Christ”, Section 50

When I Deconverted: I Had Been Devout And Was Surrounded By The Devout

When I Deconverted: Some People Felt Betrayed

When I Deconverted: My Closest Christian Philosopher Friends Remained My Closest Philosophical Brothers

When I Deconverted: I Was Not Alone

The Philosophical Key To My Deconversion:

Apostasy As A Religious Act (Or “Why A Camel Hammers the Idols of Faith”)

When I Deconverted: Some Anger Built Up

After I Deconverted:

After I Deconverted: I Was A Radical Skeptic, Irrationalist, And Nihilist—But Felt Liberated

After My Deconversion: I Refuse to Let Christians Judge Me

After My Deconversion: My Nietzschean Lion Stage of Liberating Indignant Rage

Before I Deconverted:

Before I Deconverted: My Christian Childhood

Before I Deconverted: Ministers As Powerful Role Models

My Fundamentalist Preacher Brother, His Kids, And Me (And “What To Do About One’s Religiously Raised Nieces and Nephews”)

Before I Deconverted: I Was A Teenage Christian Contrarian

Before I Deconverted, I Already Believed in Equality Between the Sexes

Love Virginity

Before I Deconverted: I Dabbled with Calvinism in College (Everyone Was Doing It)

How Evangelicals Can Be Very Hurtful Without Being Very Hateful

Before I Deconverted: My Grandfather’s Contempt

How I Deconverted:

How I Deconverted, It Started With Humean Skepticism

How I Deconverted, I Became A Christian Relativist

How I Deconverted: December 8, 1997

How I Deconverted: I Made A Kierkegaardian Leap of Faith

How I Deconverted: My Closest, and Seemingly “Holiest”, Friend Came Out As Gay

How I Deconverted: My Closeted Best Friend Became A Nihilist and Turned Suicidal

How I Deconverted: Nietzsche Caused A Gestalt Shift For Me (But Didn’t Inspire “Faith”)

As I Deconverted: I Spent A Summer As A Christian Camp Counselor Fighting Back Doubts

How I Deconverted: I Ultimately Failed to Find Reality In Abstractions

A Postmortem on my Deconversion: Was it that I just didn’t love Jesus enough?

When I Deconverted:

When I Deconverted: I Was Reading Nietzsche’s “Anti-Christ”, Section 50

When I Deconverted: I Had Been Devout And Was Surrounded By The Devout

When I Deconverted: Some People Felt Betrayed

When I Deconverted: My Closest Christian Philosopher Friends Remained My Closest Philosophical Brothers

When I Deconverted: I Was Not Alone

The Philosophical Key To My Deconversion:

Apostasy As A Religious Act (Or “Why A Camel Hammers the Idols of Faith”)

When I Deconverted: Some Anger Built Up

After I Deconverted:

After I Deconverted: I Was A Radical Skeptic, Irrationalist, And Nihilist—But Felt Liberated

After My Deconversion: I Refuse to Let Christians Judge Me

After My Deconversion: My Nietzschean Lion Stage of Liberating Indignant Rage

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Steve

    Calvinism is easily the most sick, immoral and utterly inhuman of all Christian theologies. But for the most part, it really just takes the standard doctrines that exist everywhere else to their absolute extremes

  • http://lettersfromlevrai.blogspot.com Juno Walker

    My background is similar to yours.

    Briefly: I was born into a born-again (i.e., fundamentalist, literalist) Christian home and church; had a crisis of faith while attending a small liberal arts college (though I was very close to attending Messiah College in Pennsylvania), which, interestingly enough, was primarily due to my Eastern Philosophy course (up until then I hadn’t been exposed to Eastern religions) rather than Western Philosophy; ignored my doubts while I pursued a career after college, and proceeded to live a completely secular life; and only openly admitted to myself and others that I was an atheist 5 years after college while in the middle of John Galt’s speech in “Atlas Shrugged”; then I spent the next 10 years revisiting everything I was exposed to in college, and then some. It’s still a ‘hobby’ of mine.

    My church didn’t embrace Calvinism, primarily because it was made up mostly of simple folk. The difficult passages in Paul’s letters that seemed to imply predestination were never really talked about much, to my memory.

    There could probably be (and maybe should be) a blog solely dedicated to de-conversion stories. Maybe there is, and I just don’t know it.

  • LRA

    “So I accepted this uneasy, morally dubious proposition for as long as my duct-tape-and-bubblegum-stop-gap-philosophical-theology could hold back my reason from capitulating to the increasingly clear philosophical and atheological evidence against my cherished faith which was endlessly mounting up the more philosophy and theology courses I took.”

    I sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo know this feeling!

  • Lyra

    As morally repugnant as I find Calvinism, it answers a lot of the hard questions that Christianity faces, albeit with a brutal lack of compassion and empathy.

    Does God’s omniscience mean he knows the future? Yes. Including whether a person will go to hell or not? Yes. Why doesn’t God reveal himself to people in countries where the gospel hasn’t spread? Because He hasn’t chosen to elect people there. Does anything happen that is contrary to God’s will? No. Why can’t some people find God, even though they earnestly search? Because He hasn’t chosen to elect them.

    It makes God into a monster, but there are fewer gaping holes in the fabric of their logic.

    • Sophia Dodds

      Actually, it’s probably the most -honest- form of christianity that I can think of. Possibly the only non-cafeteria form of christianity? It’s fitting that it’s also the most transparently barbaric and unjust form, too.

    • Lyra

      One of the things that really amuses me about the whole thing is that a lot of non-Calvinists Christians will say the same things as Calvinists, but when push comes to shove, the non-Calvinists fold and the Calvinists don’t.

      For example, non-Calvinists will insist that humans are born (conceived?) with an inherently sinful nature that is so bad that we can’t make ourselves worthy of salvation. They also insist that God is not obligated in any fashion to save anyone, that God could let everyone go to Hell and we would all justly it; it is only God’s mercy that allows any person to be saved. But when Calvinists actually apply this theology (People can’t choose to be saved, people’s wanting to be saved would not make them worthy of being saved, God mercifully chooses for some people to be saved and justly chooses for some people to be saved, God is not obligated to save those who he chooses not to save) non-Calvinists throw a hissy fit. If you watch them, they’ll start going on about how it wouldn’t be just for God to refuse to save some people (especially those who sought him and/or babies), despite the fact that they just said that God has no obligation to save anyone, that it would be just for God to send everyone to Hell.

      This is what I get for reading Calvinists and non-Calvinists bickering on Christian forums. Tee hee.

    • karmakin

      Calvinism is the most “natural” way, I think, to really reconcile the “existence” of an interventionist, materialist deity with the problem of evil. Christians who are non or even anti-Calvinist, I find, when you really scratch the surface, are simply not theistic enough. Their beliefs are better described as Deistic or even Pantheistic.

      The scary thing is that Calvinism is spreading. My personal theory/belief is that this is because strong theism is spreading, probably in the face of “secular pressure” as they call it, they’re doubling down on their faith. It’s the trapped animal syndrome.

      Pretty much the entire Republican primary, in fact most of what we would think of Republican politics for the last few years, is almost entirely centered around Calvinistic concepts. Winners deserved to win, and losers deserved to lose, because God says so and who are we to interfere with his plans? That’s the political/cultural/social fall-out from Calvinism.

      It’s also why I think that strong theistic language is dangerous, even when it comes from liberal/progressive religious institutions, because it reinforces the ideas that lead to Calvinistic theistic interpretations. When Christian friends ask me, what I would like to see religious groups do to try and make a more positive change in the world. My reaction is simple.

      Stop using the word “God”.

  • cheesynougats

    I admit, when I read this I had a difficult time getting past the mention of 2 Peter 3:9 and the other version of it from the Book of the SubGenius: “The LORD is not slack…”

    Apparently I am more sleep-deprived than I realized.

  • raymoscow

    I don’t often quote Chesterton, but I like his view of Calvinism: “The problem of Calvinism is not that it denies God. Its problem is that it denies man.”

    (OK, that’s from memory, so feel free to supply the correct quote if I missed it.)

    Of course I wouldn’t particularly mind if it denied God, too. Basically it just upholds the biblical view of God as an immoral bastard but asserts that humans are not capable of making any such judgement. IOW, just stop thinking and shut up.

  • Contrarian

    Oooohhh, presuppositionalism. What sweet-sounding junk!

    I find it interesting that you turned to Kierkegaard to defend Calvinism and, in doing so, effectively walled off God from the universe of your experience. I did something similar. When I realized that this meant there was effectively no difference between God existing and God not existing, it was very easy to let God go.

    (I also find it ironic, given that Schaeffer explicitly targeted Kierkegaard while he was selling presuppositionalism.)

  • Dunc

    Say what you like about the tenets of Calvinism, dude, at least it’s internally consistent…

    As far as I can see, Calvin is one of the very few theologians who actually took the matter of internal consistency seriously – and look where he ended up. I think it’s fascinating that you’d turn to Kierkegaard to try and salvage him, since as far as I understand it (which I admit isn’t very far) they’re at opposite ends of the spectrum, in that Calvin expects God to make sense and fearlessly follows where that assumption leads, whereas Kieregaard simply argues that God doesn’t have to make any kind of sense at all. And it’s even more interesting that, having decided to combine these two philosophies, the point at which you drew the line and said “this doesn’t have to make sense” was at the question of whether it’s moral to create reprobates in the first place, rather than any of the other points which would have undercut Calvin’s argument re: predestination. As Mr Spock would say, “Fascinating…”

  • Stardust Philosopher

    Calvinism seems to be the rational man’s last desperate attempt to hold on to the teachings of the Bible, before, ultimately, rejecting Christianity altogether.

  • Dave

    Although I never seriously considered Calvinism, I certainly performed similar philosophical contortions before my eventual deconversion. Looking back, it was (perhaps obviously) always a case of trying to find facts that fit my worldview rather than trying to create a worldview that fit the facts.

    Whenever I discovered a contradiction in my beliefs, I would puzzle on it until I came up with an explaination that sounded good enough, then IMMEDIATELY stop thinking about it. Case closed, even if the the way I resolved the two contradictory beliefs contradicted a third belief which I still held. I just wouldn’t look for any new contradictions. I’m sure I could even go round robin on the three beliefs, making sure at different times that each pairing could be justified even if the three never made sense together at the same time. Literally double think. It’s really incredible (and disturbing) what your brain can do when you want to believe something badly enough.

    It’s probably hard to understand for someone who’s never been there. It’s like when my dad taught me how to clean: he told me that if you look at something wanting it to be clean, you won’t notice the dirt. You have to look for dirt.

    That realization is how I finally got out of the trap. I would laugh at other forms of pseudoscience (like astrology) and think “They’re not drawing conclusions from the evidence, they’re cherrypicking evidence to support their conclusions!” The moment I had the epiphany (ha) that I was doing the same backwards reasoning, my “faith” fell apart.
    Of course, I always believed that faith should be justifiable by reason (even though I reasoned so poorly). In that sense, I never really had “faith” the way Dr. Fincke defines it. It seems to me that a theist with real faith is hopeless.

  • michaeld11

    Is there room for opposing views here? I am a former atheist who is now a “born-again” Christian. I know, I know, there are many of you probably muttering under your breath right now, “the guy was never REALLY an atheist”, but if we can get past that I think I might have a few answers for some of you.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I love having opposing views here. Especially Christians. What answers do you bring? (And to what questions?)

    • http://lettersfromlevrai.blogspot.com Juno Walker

      michaeld11 -

      Well, we get the ‘he was never REALLY a Christian’ thing, too, so I’d be interested in hearing how/why you converted to Christianity.

      Juno

    • Joe_S

      I’m one of those too. A 20 years – owned every Richard Dawkins book atheist – and then bam!! a nervous believer. And now, since I discovered the Institutes, a Calvinist.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      a nervous believer

      Why nervous?

  • John Morales

    [peon → paean]

    (Probably)

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      D’oh! I knew that.

  • machintelligence

    While reading John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty” I found this description of Calvinist thought:

    It is so, on the Calvinistic theory. According to that, the one great offence of man is Self-will. All the good of which humanity is capable, is comprised in Obedience. You have no choice; thus you must do, and no otherwise; “whatever is not a duty is a sin.” Human nature being radically corrupt, there is no redemption for any one until human nature is killed within him. To one holding this theory of life, crushing out any of the human faculties, capacities, and susceptibilities, is no evil: man needs no capacity, but that of surrendering himself to the will of God: and if he uses any of his faculties for any other purpose but to do that supposed will more effectually, he is better without them. That is the theory of Calvinism; and it is held, in a mitigated form, by many who do not consider themselves Calvinists; the mitigation consisting in giving a less ascetic interpretation to the alleged will of God; asserting it to be his will that mankind should gratify some of their inclinations; of course not in the manner they themselves prefer, but in the way of obedience, that is, in a way prescribed to them by authority; and, therefore, by the necessary conditions of the case, the same for all.

    It sounds depressingly like fundamentalist Islam.

  • michaeld11

    Daniel and Juno,

    I’d like to set up a few ground rules before we begin as long as you agree.

    1. I like a good joke as much as the next guy, but what I’m about to share is something I consider extremely sensitive and not meant for ridicule. Don’t get me wrong, I have very “thick skin”, and I am sure there will be others who will jump in here only to mock. As long as you both agree this is meant to be a serious discussion, I’ll be glad to continue.

    2. I am thinking each of you have already had your own encounter with Christianity. I don’t know if you considered yourselves “believers”, but I imagine you have very definite views now. For the purpose of this discussion, I would like to ask you not to project on to me the persona of your past Christian aquaintences. I may say some similar things in these discussions as what you have heard or read before, but I think you’ll find me very different in many other ways.

    3. Having come from the opposite side of the “belief spectrum” as I call it, I know what it means to be absolutely “certain” that God does not exist. I do not think I am superior, “holier”, better, smarter, etc. because I do believe and I ask you to not take this attitude with me about yourselves (even if you think it’s true, obviously except for the “holier” side of it!).

    If we can agree to these few points, I think we can have a great discussion. What do you think and are there any ground rules you want to put out there before we start?

    • John Morales

      [meta]

      I like a good joke as much as the next guy, but what I’m about to share is something I consider extremely sensitive and not meant for ridicule. Don’t get me wrong, I have very “thick skin”, and I am sure there will be others who will jump in here only to mock.

      Hm.

      I’ll charitably read that as meaning that you don’t can cope with ridicule or mockery that’s addressed to you personally, but you not if it’s addressed to something else that you hold dear.

    • John Morales

      [correction to my careless editing mishap]

      I’ll charitably read that as meaning that you can cope with ridicule or mockery if it’s addressed to you personally, but not if it’s addressed to something else that you hold dear.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Such ground rules are amenable to me.

  • Azuma Hazuki

    Before this even starts, let me throw out that Calvinism’s major flaw is that it turns humanity into gods. Specifically, it’s the worship of the texts (now known to be thoroughly corrupt) and of, ironically, human reason.

    Let me explain. I went through a presuppositionalism stage as well, and am still reeling from the snapback after realizing what trash it is. But after sifting through all the philosophy, all the logic, way too much of the writing on the subject (if there is a Hell I hope van Til rots in it…) and so on, it hit me that the very surrender that’s so key to the Calvinist worldview is in fact a surrender to worship of one’s own self.

    And this is precisely how people like William Lane Craig operate, and is at the base of everyone who says they’ve “felt the witness of the Holy Spirit” or some such: absolute faith in one’s own reason and perceptions. You make yourself a God, you worship, not even your own brain, but the momentary and transient electrochemical configurations of it, however persistent you think they are.

    Calvinism is possibly the most evil religion on the planet, worse than Islam, worse than the Thuggee cult, worse even than the ridiculous “theistic Satanism” that some people dabble in. It’s the ultimate expression of stubbornly digging in one’s epistemological heels, and irony of ironies, it’s based on things which are slowly but surely being falsified over time.

    I will not lie, and I won’t make nice either: I pity you. I understand you, and pity you intensely. You might stay in this delusion for the rest of your life, and no one can help you, because you do not want to be helped and have convinced yourself that you’re already perfectly correct.

    If there is a God, and it is actually good, you are the worst kind of blasphemer.

  • michaeld11

    Daniel,

    Thank you! As this is your blog, I defer to your judgment as to when we might step outside the boundaries we have agreed to. In the heat of debate, sometimes these things are forgotten and we need a lightning rod to ground us.

    I would like to start with a few definitions so we have an understanding of what we each mean when we use certain words. I am not saying you or I need to agree with each other’s definitions, simply that we now have a point of reference.

    As an example I will offer the most challenging word I believe we will encounter in our discussions that means something different to just about every other person I have ever discussed this with and that is – God.

    Again, I do not expect you or anyone else who chooses to participate to agree with my definition, only to understand that this is my definition. I also would ask that anyone who participates would also provide their own definition so we again have a point of reference.

    God – The Maker and Ruler of all things seen and unseen Who has no beginning and no end, Immortal. Able to exist outside of time and space – Transcendent, as well as in all places at all times in His choosing – Omnipresent. Perfect in goodness – Holy. Perfect in power – Omnipotent, Perfect in wisdom – Omniscient. Existing as a single Triune Being and understood in human terms as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Father –The Maker of all things, Son – The Word, Creative Force and, through Incarnation, Redemptive Savior of mankind, known to us as Jesus Christ, Spirit – The Convincing Counselor, Comforter, Infuser, Breath and Giver of Life, invited Possessor of the human spirit.

    There is much more that I could add, but I do not want this to become so unwieldy as to be tedious. I’m sure you will want to ask some specific questions for definitions within the definition, but, hopefully this is a place where we can start.

    As an atheist, I understood God to have many definitions to various peoples, but at that time I simply called Him the Fantasy of human religions, imaginary and existing only within the realm of human thought no matter how sincerely professed or experienced.

    I would be very interested to read your own definition(s)!

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I am happy to use your definitions since you are the one offering to make a positive case. You can argue for whatever it is you believe in and we’ll look at the reasoning behind the position. As you say there are numerous conceptions of gods and since I don’t believe in any of them, it would be silly for me to identify one as my definition. The closest I could do is specify in broad terms what the “god of the philosophers” is usually conceived of as. Or I could explain the conceptions of god I find most intellectually plausible (an impersonal ground of all being principle a la Tillich).

    • John Morales

      My definition of ‘God’?

      The deity of monotheists.

      (My definition of deity: a supernatural being that people either worship or worshipped)

    • Nepenthe

      Michael, I am confused. Do the capital letters change the meaning of the words you’re using? Is the “Maker and Ruler of all things” different in meaning from the “maker and ruler of all things”? Is “The Word” different from “the word”? (Well, clearly yes to the last because otherwise the sentence makes no sense, but it’s unclear what exactly “The Word” refers to.)

    • John Morales

      Nepenthe, I’m pretty sure “The Word” refers to Logos (specifically, the Christian reification of it).

    • michaeld11

      Nepenthe,

      You asked, “Is the “Maker and Ruler of all things” different in meaning from the “maker and ruler of all things”? Is “The Word” different from “the word”? (Well, clearly yes to the last because otherwise the sentence makes no sense, but it’s unclear what exactly “The Word” refers to.)”

      The capitalization I use is simply meant to be a sign of respect for God as I believe He is the Maker and Ruler.

      John Morales was correct that, “The Word” is a reference to the Greek word “Logos” which the apostle, John, used to refer to Jesus Christ.

    • Nepenthe

      The problem, Michael, is that you have replaced one phrase that means nothing to me (“the Word”) with a word that means equally much to me (“Logos”). So, what is “logos” and more critically, how does this word refine your definition of “God”? It would be helpful to know which parts of your definition are strictly defining the object in question and which parts are merely riffs of praise.

    • michaeld11

      Nepenthe,

      Each word is meant to provide definition from my perspective. The capitalization is out of my respect for God. While I understand you are not a believer, I’m sure you have people in your life for whom you feel or have felt respect. Perhaps a grandfather or grandmother? It is customary when addressing such an individual in writing, to capitalize that name, as in “Grandmother”. I do that with the titles I use to refer to God.

      For further definition of the Word or Logos, I will need to refer back to the original Greek and expand on that.

      I think it was Heraclitus who first used logos to depict his idea of rational divine intelligence. Stoic thought said all of humanity is part of a community that is governed by this divine intelligence and in order to find true meaning, purpose, freedom, happiness in life we need to submit to it. The disciple of Jesus, John the son of Zebedee, understood many of his day recognized this idea and explained that this is who Jesus Christ was (is). Jesus was this “rational divine intelligence”. In John 1:14 he then says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”.

      Does this explain it any better? It is not my intention to “preach” here and as I read back over these words, I can see you might start to feel that way. I am trying to convey to you what I mean by “Word”, not for you to agree with me. Please let me know if you have any further questions on this.

  • http://calvinisticcartoons.blogspot.com/ Eddie Eddings

    There is some serious bashing going on here.
    Why not take a look at the humorous side of Calvinists?
    We’ve been accused of not having a sense of humor.
    Calvinistic Cartoons and the Sacred Sandwich are both blogs by men who embrace the Doctrines of Grace.

  • michaeld11

    John Morales,

    The great “comedian of conservatism”, Rush Limbaugh, has provided us with a perfect illustration for what I meant. I too, am a conservative, but in his effort to be humorous and further boost his ratings, he crossed the line with what is debase and humilitating. I am so glad he was called on the carpet by so many, but I’m not satisfied with his apology and I hope he will go a step further and make it personal and call Sandra to admit he was out of line.

    Often in these forums it becomes an opportunity to vent our frustrations with someone who is not of the same mindset as ourselves. We see a chance to “give back” some of the garbage we have experienced from others who seem to be like the commentator we are thrashing. We seek others to join in the “roast” and, instead of discussing the actual subject, waste hours seeing who can be the biggest comedian at the other’s expense.

    I’m not wanting to do that. As I said, I appreciate a good joke, but I don’t want to do this at your expense or my expense and in discussing religion there are so many points that are sensitive, it seems better to me to just step away from the constant put downs and name calling. I realize the temptation will be “too great” for some because they’ll read something they feel is just so incredulous they won’t be able to resist launching the “zinger”. I know it will happen, but as I’ve asked Daniel, I’d like to see it somewhat contained. I’m not perfect and everything I say or type doesn’t always come across in the tone I intended (and I also occassionally stick my foot in my mouth as well). I just want to try to have productive conversation. Are you willing to give it a shot? Even with a “holy roller Jesus freak”? :-)

    • John Morales

      I’ve got no problem with those who are honest and genuinely want to engage, and I tentatively put you into that category. Also, I might learn something from you.

      So, sure! :)

    • michaeld11

      Daniel,

      I realize it is difficult to put a definition on something you no longer believe is true. I appreciate you accepting my definition even though you recognize it is just my definition and one you do not hold yourself.

      I understand when you refer to “the god of the philosophers” you allow for the many various interpretations that human thought permits, but you are not affirming any of them.

      Even so, as an atheist (and I am only making an assumption)you maintain there is no such Being as God and you have determined this by consideration and observation, both of your own and well as others.

      Please let me know if I have this correct as I do not want to label you in anyway such as a “nihilist” or “antitheist”.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I am not a nihilist and I am not an antitheist. I think Yahweh is as likely to truly exist as Thor or Aquaman is.

  • michaeld11

    Juno,

    Please know I am not forgetting you were one of the first to respond. I am very interested to know if you agree with what I had suggested. As this is Daniel’s blog, I give him all due respect and appreciate his willingness to discuss this. I am not a “true” Calvinist, but I do believe in predestination, only in a way I don’t think most Christians have considered.

    Are you still interested to join in?

  • michaeld11

    Joe_S,

    Nervous as in “the beginning of wisdom”? Or being in the “lion’s den”? :-)

    What aspect of Calvinism do you like the best and why?

    • Joe_S

      Nervous of losing the certainties that science provides (I put Darwinism ‘on hold’ rather than try to convince myself there was any merit in creationism or ID). Nervous of evangelical culture shock (I’m gay as well LOL). Nervous of having to explain myself to other Christians without knowing the first thing about theology or church history. And maybe as you say – nervous as in “the beginning of wisdom”.

      What do I like about Calvinism? I’m not sure I like it! It’s just coherent… and every contemporary and historical preacher who has impressed me since I converted seems to be rooted in it.

    • michaeld11

      Joe_S,

      One step, one thought, one breath, one prayer at a time.
      Psalm 32 has some powerful verses that can be very encouraging!

      Do not worry about what you do not know. Your desire to learn is half the battle!

      Pure Calvinism is very daunting (and depressing), it needs to be tempered with an understanding of God’s mercy and grace.

  • michaeld11

    John Morales,

    Thank you for your definition! Just to clarify, please let me know as well if you also consider yourself to be an atheist in that you do not believe such a Being exists. Again as with Daniel, I do not want to place a label on you such as “nihilist” or “antitheist”, but instead allow you to state what you believe and why you believe it.

    My point of reference as a former atheist has given me a perspective many who call themselves Christians do not understand or appreciate as they have drawn a line in their own minds between reason and faith. I see this as detrimental and a key factor so many have no clear understanding of what they believe or even why.

    • John Morales

      Just to clarify, please let me know as well if you also consider yourself to be an atheist in that you do not believe such a Being exists.

      Yes, I consider myself an atheist who does not believe such a Being exists. I go further, even: I don’t believe such a Being can exist, at least as you’ve defined it.

      (I would elaborate, but I think it’s better if Dan takes the lead, here; I do not want to (ahem) steal his thunder, so to speak)

  • michaeld11

    John Morales,

    Thank you for your clarification where you say, “I don’t believe such a Being can exist, at least as you’ve defined it.”

    I think it is safe to say that you and I are on opposite sides of the “belief spectrum”, when it comes to acceptance of belief in God as I have defined Him. (Please let me say again, that my definition is limited, as for me to state all that I believe Him to be would fill page upon page and would still be inadequate).

    Even so one school of thought here is right; either God does or does not exist. There is probability that He does not exist as I have defined Him and yet He still exists or He does not.

    I have met so many who say to be a believer in God, there is no room for doubt (that God exists) I disagree with this because; otherwise, I believe this world would be completely transformed (if all believers had no doubt). Paul says it best, IMO, in Corinthians where he says we “see through a glass darkly”. We do not fully understand, we are perplexed, we are without explanations, but we continue to seek answers until, one day, we shall “see face to face”. Of course, I speak of believers here. I do not say that doubt is “good”, only that it is wrong to pretend it does not exist. Only by admitting it can we address it.

    And for those who are at the opposite side of the spectrum, we must address the logic of probabilities and understand, no matter how long the “string of nines” may be, there is still room for a margin of error.

    The observations we have made or others have made, in whose judgment we have confidence, are based on evidence and experience we each have interpreted wrongly or correctly. It could very well be, in fact, that in some instances the information being examined is faulty in itself and yet the conclusion drawn is still correct or that the information is correct, but the conclusion is faulty. We, therefore, see these probabilities:

    Correct information – correct conclusion
    Correct information – incorrect conclusion
    Faulty information – correct conclusion
    Faulty information – incorrect conclusion

    Do you have any objections or clarifications you would like to state with what I have written thus far?

  • John Morales

    And for those who are at the opposite side of the spectrum, we must address the logic of probabilities and understand, no matter how long the “string of nines” may be, there is still room for a margin of error.

    I follow you, but I don’t agree with you; sometimes, there is no margin for error — a claim you yourself rely upon when you adduce the logical law of the excluded middle (“Even so one school of thought here is right; either God does or does not exist.”).

  • michaeld11

    John Morales,

    You have said, “I follow you, but I don’t agree with you; sometimes, there is no margin for error — a claim you yourself rely upon when you adduce the logical law of the excluded middle”

    First, please understand I have not excluded the “middle”. I see the spectrum of belief between absolutes as follows where AA = Absolute Atheist and AB = Absolute Believer:

    AA-AA-1—AA-2—AA-3—AA-4—AA-5~AB-5—AB-4—AB-3—AB-2—AB-1-AB

    Please forgive the crude representation, I am sure there are many additional levels that exist between the two, but, hopefully this simple illustration is enough. Or another way”

    100% disbelief in God———–~———–100% belief in God

    I do not believe, in this life, it is probable for there to be an absolute on either side of the equation. The reason for this is because we rely on human reasoning which we know to not be perfect (I do believe there has been one exception to this in humanity in Jesus Christ, but I exclude Him from this as you do not have that same opinion). All of our conclusions are based on our own observation or experience or that of others we hold in high regard. No matter how well thought out or articulated it is all still based on faulty human reasoning.

    Even the logic and science we extol have been determined again based on our own ability to create these concepts and understand them. Only in symbols do we find “no margin of error” and this is only because we have agreed to accept them as such i.e. 1+1 always =2 even though we find in reality 1 is so often more than 1 and 2 much less than 2. (I find this rule holds whenever I am splitting desserts between my kids!)

    We can agree the Earth is round, for instance, and say this is an absolute and “there is no margin of error” until we realize that the concept of “round” itself is flawed. We, in fact, are bound to approximations. We work “8” hours, we fill our gas tanks with “10” gallons of gas, we drive 3.2 miles to the grocery store and we pay “exactly” $45.33 (but was that before or after coupons, before or after tax, did the correct price actually ring up and what “exactly” is a dollar worth?).

    I can insist absolutely that I am who I say that I am and you will probably believe that is true; until some behavior or evidence shows I am not. I can believe myself that I am who I think that I am, but then only I really know who I think I am and no manner of explanation is going to give you the same insight.

    I agree there are absolutes as I have already said, but I maintain in this life we have to accept a margin of error, due to our own lack of perfection and even “the margin of error” itself has a margin of error!

    • John Morales

      First, please understand I have not excluded the “middle”.

      Our first impasse; do you stand by your claimed belief that “either God does or does not exist”?

      If so, I see no middle ground between existence and non-existence. :)

      (I think it’s important to separate one’s belief (however justified) about the existence of something from the actual existence of that something; the former is provisional, the latter actual)

      I agree there are absolutes as I have already said, but I maintain in this life we have to accept a margin of error, due to our own lack of perfection and even “the margin of error” itself has a margin of error!

      We’re in agreement, here, though I have a problem with your phrasing (specifically, “in this life”).

      (As an aside, are you familiar with this little disquisition by Isaac Asimov: The Relativity of Wrong?)

    • John Morales

      I want to (blushfully) add that I feel as if I’m bogging things down; it is a weakness of mine.

      Please, Michael, do continue — let us set my contumacious quibbles aside for the nonce, so that we may progress.

      (I really want you to elaborate on your views and their justification, and I feel as if I’m impeding that. You can help me there, by not inducing me to respond to incidentals; on my side, I shall endeavour to hold my peace)

  • michaeld11

    John Morales,

    (I keep typing out your full name realizing there may be other “Johns” who will join the conversation, but, if it’s O.K. with you, until such time, I will just use your first name).

    You are correct there is “no middle ground between existence and non-existence” unless, perhaps, that is what happened with the Cheshire Cat :-)

    I propose we must first start with belief or disbelief, however, and in that domain I would assert there is nothing but middle ground. The world is full of men and women who are oscillating between the two polarities (and amusing, we each think the other is at the negative pole!)

    Yet I can not claim that I have reached the mark of 100% as I admit I am still looking through a “dark glass”. I realize if I had no doubt in God at all, I would be an entirely different individual than I am. Dare I say, however, that I have seen one doubt after another removed from my path and look forward to the day that I will know as I am known.

    For you, if you are certain you have not the slightest shred of doubt of your position and there is not any possibility whatsoever in your mind that you may be wrong, I will yield to you that right. I do remember when I believed as such and there is no arrogance perceived by me because you feel that way if you do. I just want to be sure that is true and I am not saying this for you. Just let me know.

    Now as for my phrase “in this life”, of course, I do believe we have existence after our mortal bodies die, but I used that phrase as well to emphasize that I understand you do not. “In this life” also refers to a timeline that begins here on Earth (Nepenthe – I do not think the Earth is a deity :-) ) from the day we are conceived until the day we die and I am confident we are in agreement that we should each make the most of it!

    I loved Isaac Asimov! I cut my eye teeth on the Foundation Trilogy and, yes, I’m familiar with the Relativity of Wrong. (Don’t tell me, YOU were the English Lit student?!!). He was right about many things and yes, our theories aren’t finished yet, as long as we realize there is so much that we don’t know, I believe there is hope!

    And please don’t think you are “bogging” anything down! I am the same way and we have as much time as you would like to take!

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Michael, beliefs should be proportioned to evidence, none of this up or down, absolute belief or absolute disbelief as one’s only options stuff. That’s absurd. Plus there are also cases in which one should not believe anything but simply refrain from believing or disbelieving because one is either personally unqualified to make a proportional judgment or the issue is one that no one could make a reasonable inference about.

    • michaeld11

      Hello Daniel!

      “Michael, beliefs should be proportioned to evidence, none of this up or down, absolute belief or absolute disbelief as one’s only options stuff. That’s absurd.”

      The human mind is capable of abstract thought which defies pure logic. Our “subroutines” do not shut down when we contemplate infinity, eternity or zero divided by zero. (maybe for what color tie or shoes?) When it comes to belief in God, we do fall somewhere between the two absolutes. It isn’t absurd, it is simply the parameter by which our belief or disbelief is measured. I admit our “options” are limitless between the two absolutes, but the reality is one absolute is true and the other is false. Again, I am certain I do not have all my facts about God straight. I am not at 100%, I am still somewhere within the parameter. Are you? Or have you determined you are 100% positive there is no God?

      Now WHY do we believe or disbelieve anything (not just in God)? This may be based on some of our own observations and/or experiences, some reasoning, some trust in what others have told us by their observations and experiences and even some faith in our own ability to reason correctly. Evidence in and of itself, therefore, becomes subjective because, like it or not, it is all filtered through our own minds which are obviously not the same.

      Your evidence is not necessarily my evidence and visa versa. Your experiences are specific to you. When you look at the color green, you see what you know to be green, but it doesn’t mean it is the same green that I see. We can use a spectrometer and even agree on the wave length for what we see, but honestly there is no way to be 100% sure we are seeing the same color.

      How many things do we believe without actually understanding the evidence provided? Think about the dating methods used to determine the age of fossils. I know a little about radioactive isotopes and I understand the concept of examining the amount present to calculate the age of the specimen. I have confidence that the equipment being used is doing what it was designed to do. I would call this “evidence”. Different equipment designed for the same purpose comes up with the same information. I would call this confirmed “evidence”. Yet here’s where things begin to get “fuzzy”. Is there actual agreement every time? No. Often different equipment records different dates varying by hundreds of thousands of years. What happens is that the lows and highs are thrown out and a baseline is established. Good enough, right? It would seem we would think so with the thousands of times this is done, but, honestly, we use a double standard.

      We accept the things we want to accept even though the information is sketchy at best and we scoff if someone expects the information or evidence to be more precise. Yet when the coin is flipped, we expect nothing less than proof positive and are derisive if this is not provided. And understanding what is actually happening? I would hazard a guess that less than 10% of the world’s population understands a water molecule let alone how radio-isotopes are used to date fossils. Have you ever “seen” a radio-isotope?

      “Plus there are also cases in which one should not believe anything but simply refrain from believing or disbelieving because one is either personally unqualified to make a proportional judgment or the issue is one that no one could make a reasonable inference about.”

      When it comes to belief, who makes the decision one person is qualified and another is not? Is it necessary to understand quantum physics or the theory of relativity or even how an atom is held together before we can have a belief? If so, I dare say, all but a very few would have any right to believe anything.

      To me this is akin to telling someone, you need to understand how the car engine actually works before you can drive the car. We would probably have a much better traffic flow with fewer cars breaking down on the road, but the point is we only need to believe the car will run properly before we get behind the wheel in order to turn that key.

      I agree with you completely that, in general, people do not really know why they believe what they do. I am in full support of changing that! Don’t just accept what you are told. Have a reason you do or don’t believe. I’m not going to say you must take courses in math and science or theology in order to believe what you believe (though it certainly would help), but I am going to say pointing to Stephen Hawking or Billy Graham as your reason for believing is just plain laziness and even foolish. They are only men and no matter how brilliant or persuasive they may be, they make mistakes just like the rest of us. I think you agree with that.

      What would you say is the difference between reason and faith? I don’t mean religious faith. I just mean faith as in confidence in someone or something.

  • John Morales

    I propose we must first start with belief or disbelief, however, and in that domain I would assert there is nothing but middle ground.

    Seems to me you’re referring to fuzzy logic, but that is very, very difficult to quantify (effectively impractical) when dealing with beliefs*.

    Me, I consider belief can be thought of as a trivalent truth-function about some proposition P, yielding one three values (B(P):[true | false | uncertain]), which is relatively easy to apply to real life.

    Clearly, that can be collapsed into a bivalent truth-function by assigning ‘uncertain’ as either ‘not true’ or ‘not false’, i.e.
    (B(P):[true | ¬true])
    or
    (B(P):[false | ¬false]).

    (Typically*, I employ the latter form, where ‘¬false’ represents provisional belief)

    For you, if you are certain you have not the slightest shred of doubt of your position and there is not any possibility whatsoever in your mind that you may be wrong, I will yield to you that right.

    All my beliefs are provisional, and apportioned according to their justifiability; what they are not is dogmatic. Such certitude as I have relates to the status of that provisional belief (what you term my position), not to its actual congruence with reality).

    Now as for my phrase “in this life”, of course, I do believe we have existence after our mortal bodies die, but I used that phrase as well to emphasize that I understand you do not.

    Fair enough.

    Conversely, I understand that you think we are more than our physical bodies and their associated phenomena and epiphenomena — i.e. that we have some supernatural extension.

    I loved Isaac Asimov!

    :)

    And please don’t think you are “bogging” anything down! I am the same way and we have as much time as you would like to take!

    Thanks.

    So then, pray continue with your exposition.

    * But not always.

  • michaeld11

    John,
    You said, “Seems to me you’re referring to fuzzy logic but that is very, very difficult to quantify (effectively impractical) when dealing with beliefs*. “

    John, yes, there are aspects of fuzzy logic involved, but also probability logic is at play. Some argue that probability logic is only a subset of fuzzy logic, but when we start to split angstroms over it, I’ll go with “fuzzy” over “fussy” logic! :-)

    NOT x = (1 – truth(x))
    x AND y = minimum(truth(x), truth(y))
    x OR y = maximum(truth(x), truth(y))
    You will select x to represent your position (belief) while I select x to represent mine.

    You said, “Me, I consider belief can be thought of as a trivalent truth-function about some proposition P, yielding one three values (B(P):[true | false | uncertain]), which is relatively easy to apply to real life.
    Clearly, that can be collapsed into a bivalent truth-function by assigning ‘uncertain’ as either ‘not true’ or ‘not false’, i.e.
    (B(P):[true | ¬true])
    or
    (B(P):[false | ¬false]).
    (Typically*, I employ the latter form, where ‘¬false’ represents provisional belief)”

    The danger with this is when assigning “uncertain” the values of “not true” and “not false”, you have to quantify that while “False” is also “not true” it is not “uncertain” as it is an absolute and the same with “True” being “not false”, but also not “uncertain”.

    So I will be happy to use the trivalent truth function if we can agree that within the “uncertain” subset we acknowledge there are varying degrees of uncertainty in either direction.

    I said, “For you, if you are certain you have not the slightest shred of doubt of your position and there is not any possibility whatsoever in your mind that you may be wrong, I will yield to you that right.”

    You replied, “All my beliefs are provisional, and apportioned according to their justifiability; what they are not is dogmatic. Such certitude as I have relates to the status of that provisional belief (what you term my position), not to its actual congruence with reality).”

    Here I must ask you a few questions. First where you have stated “All my beliefs are provisional”. I need to be sure you are referring to your beliefs regarding God as that is the subject at hand. My concern is whether you acknowledge that you DO have some defined beliefs i.e. we are actually conversing via this forum and not that this is a dream. (I will admit there is a probability this could be a dream, however remote that might be.) I feel I must ask this as any progress we may make in understanding one another’s positions (beliefs) could be completely derailed if we then decide we haven’t actually agreed, but only “believed” we agreed and our belief was provisional. :-)

    As far as not being “dogmatic” is concerned, I need to ask what you understand facts to mean as in my definition someone who is dogmatic asserts their opinions as factual while they may very well not be. i.e. “Coca Cola IS the best tasting cola!”, is a dogmatic statement. Someone who enjoys Pepsi may not agree. The Coca Cola advocate believes they are right based on their own experience and, for them, it IS factual.

    How would you prove to them this is NOT a fact? (e.g. would you use the results of a survey, etc., etc.?)

    “*But, not Always”

    • John Morales

      Here I must ask you a few questions.

      No worries.

      First where you have stated “All my beliefs are provisional”. I need to be sure you are referring to your beliefs regarding God as that is the subject at hand.

      Yes.

      As far as not being “dogmatic” is concerned, I need to ask what you understand facts to mean as in my definition someone who is dogmatic asserts their opinions as factual while they may very well not be.

      I consider being dogmatic as accepting some dogma.

      I consider facts to be in the strict sense propositions that are either analytically or empirically justified, and in a looser sense propositions that are not just a matter of opinion.

      As for your example (“Coca Cola IS the best tasting cola!”), it is on its face a matter of opinion as written, but could be quantified so as to become factual (“For me, Coca Cola IS the best tasting cola!”) or dogmatic (“Coca Cola IS the best tasting cola, no matter what anyone else thinks!”).

      How would you prove to them this is NOT a fact?

      The easiest way would be by counter-example: show that someone doesn’t think that it is the best-tasting cola.

    • michaeld11

      John,

      You have said, “I consider being dogmatic as accepting some dogma.”

      I would like to provide what I consider to be a good definition of dogma. Let me know if you agree with this.

      -A declaration or statement of opinions, ideas, principles or beliefs considered by the proponent to be completely true-

      For examples I would offer, Martin Luther’s “Ninety-Five Theses” and Karl Marx’s “Communist Manifesto”. It is not necessary for dogma to be religious. It can contain any subject whether it be religion, philosophy, history, science, etc. It can contain fact, although it is not necessary.

      You also stated, “I consider facts to be in the strict sense propositions that are either analytically or empirically justified, and in a looser sense propositions that are not just a matter of opinion.”

      Here I understand you to mean a fact is something that can be determined by analysis, experiment or observation and not just opinion. If this is what you mean I can agree with this.

      I then gave you an example of someone who stated Coca Cola IS the best tasting cola and asked you, “How would you prove to them this is NOT a fact?”

      You replied, “The easiest way would be by counter-example: show that someone doesn’t think that it is the best-tasting cola.”

      Here I have to offer a caution as you and I both know that just because someone does not agree with a certain “opinion”, it does not mean that opinion is NOT a fact; e.g. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran states the Holocaust of WWII is a myth.

      Using your argument above, I could have someone who insists the occurrence of the Holocaust IS a fact and then “show” them Ahamdinejad. I would only have shown them someone who does not agree and not be disproving the occurrence of the Holocaust or that it is a fact.

      Another example could be in the existence of God where one person says God does not exist and they KNOW this to be a fact. I can “show” them the millions of people around the world who do believe God exists. Again, I have only shown them people who have a different belief. I have not “proven” his belief is NOT a fact or that God does not exist.

      It is here that I would like to pose the same question I have asked Daniel earlier,

      “What would you say is the difference between reason and faith? I don’t mean religious faith. I just mean faith as in confidence in someone or something.

    • John Morales

      I would like to provide what I consider to be a good definition of dogma. Let me know if you agree with this.

      -A declaration or statement of opinions, ideas, principles or beliefs considered by the proponent to be completely true-

      I think that’s insufficient — I think of dogma as stronger than that, in that such opinions, ideas, principles or beliefs are considered authoritative, definitive, inerrant and immutable.

      You also stated, “I consider facts to be in the strict sense propositions that are either analytically or empirically justified, and in a looser sense propositions that are not just a matter of opinion.”

      Here I understand you to mean a fact is something that can be determined by analysis, experiment or observation and not just opinion. If this is what you mean I can agree with this.

      Clearly, I was overly terse and failed at communication.

      No, I referred to what’s otherwise known as the analytic–synthetic distinction.

      Here I understand you to mean a fact is something that can be determined by analysis, experiment or observation and not just opinion. If this is what you mean I can agree with this.

      Yes.

      Here I have to offer a caution as you and I both know that just because someone does not agree with a certain “opinion”, it does not mean that opinion is NOT a fact

      Sure, but it is also a fact that such is that person’s opinion.

      Using your argument above, I could have someone who insists the occurrence of the Holocaust IS a fact and then “show” them Ahamdinejad. I would only have shown them someone who does not agree and not be disproving the occurrence of the Holocaust or that it is a fact.

      I think you need more precision; showing them someone who believes some proposition is evidence that someone believes that proposition, no more.

      Another example could be in the existence of God where one person says God does not exist and they KNOW this to be a fact. I can “show” them the millions of people around the world who do believe God exists.

      Again, it only shows that lots of people accept that proposition, but says nothing directly about that proposition’s truth-value.

      (argumentum ad populum is compelling when it comes to such things as the proportion of the population holding some belief, not so much about how veridical that which is believed actually is)

      “What would you say is the difference between reason and faith? I don’t mean religious faith. I just mean faith as in confidence in someone or something.

      To start with your second sentence, the type of faith to which I think it refers is normally called ‘trust’.

      In regards to your first, I not only would, but do say that the difference is that reason is that faculty which one employs to think rationally, and faith (in the sense in which you employ it) is a belief.

      (faculties and beliefs belong in different categories, no?)

    • michaeld11

      John,

      I said, “I would like to provide what I consider to be a good definition of dogma. Let me know if you agree with this.
      -A declaration or statement of opinions, ideas, principles or beliefs considered by the proponent to be completely true-“

      You replied, “I think that’s insufficient — I think of dogma as stronger than that, in that such opinions, ideas, principles or beliefs are considered authoritative, definitive, inerrant and immutable.”

      I agree to the modification. So we have:

      Dogma -A declaration or statement of opinions, ideas, principles or beliefs considered by the proponent to be completely true, authoritative, definitive, inerrant and immutable-

      In this instance, therefore, I would say I do not consider the Bible, as it has been translated, as dogma. I believe there have been errors in translation from the original languages in which it was written into other languages. I believe the errors in transcription are less than 1% and the errors in meaning are less than 5%, but even so, I recognize that not every word and meaning is understood today as it was intended.

      I say this to identify my position because I believe we will approach this soon as to whether I believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. While I do believe God inspired the writers to write what He intended them to write, I know some errors of translation have blurred meaning and intention. I also believe we, today, have lost the context of certain areas as well and only speculate on how it applies to modern life.

      As an atheist, I did not believe the Bible was true other than a loose history and collection of folklore and tales. I admitted some elements may have been true as I did not doubt that Jesus Christ actually existed, but I believed the stories about Him were exaggerated much as those have been of King Arthur, Robin Hood or even George Washington. This was prior to my actual study of scripture, however, as I based my conclusions on what I had read in English and what others, who also did not believe it, had told me or had written regarding their own interpretation.

      Regarding facts, you said, “I consider facts to be in the strict sense propositions that are either analytically or empirically justified, and in a looser sense propositions that are not just a matter of opinion.”

      I replied, “Here I understand you to mean a fact is something that can be determined by analysis, experiment or observation and not just opinion. If this is what you mean I can agree with this.”

      You then said, “Clearly, I was overly terse and failed at communication. No, I referred to what’s otherwise known as the analytic-synthetic distinction.”

      I take this to be a refinement, in that you want me to recognize your distinction. Analytic being true in itself and synthetic being true by how it has meaning to us. Do I have this right?

      You then repeated my statement, “Here I understand you to mean a fact is something that can be determined by analysis, experiment or observation and not just opinion. If this is what you mean I can agree with this.” And you replied, “Yes.” So, if I have understood and agree with the analytic-synthetic distinction (which I can accept) and we have this now in mind, we can agree :

      Fact – is something that can be determined by analysis, experiment or observation and is true in itself and is not just an opinion, but is true in how it has meaning-

      Regarding Coca-Cola and Pepsi, God or no God, I feel we are in agreement. Many people have opinions about these subjects. Just because they are opinions does not mean they are or are not facts. It also doesn’t matter how many people agree. As you said, “Again, it only shows that lots of people accept that proposition, but says nothing directly about that proposition’s truth-value.(argumentum ad populum is compelling when it comes to such things as the proportion of the population holding some belief, not so much about how veridical that which is believed actually is)”

      I then asked, “What would you say is the difference between reason and faith? I don’t mean religious faith. I just mean faith as in confidence in someone or something.”

      You replied, “To start with your second sentence, the type of faith to which I think it refers is normally called ‘trust’. In regards to your first, I not only would, but do say that the difference is that reason is that faculty which one employs to think rationally, and faith (in the sense in which you employ it) is a belief. (faculties and beliefs belong in different categories, no?)”

      Although I agree there is overlap, I draw some distinction between faith, trust and belief.

      For instance, although I believe certain things are real and even the purpose for which they were created, e.g. the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, I have neither faith or trust in them. And, while I admit I have admiration and respect for the men and women on the U.S. Supreme Court and believe they are real, I do not have faith or trust in them because I do not really know them.

      Now, my brother, I believe in. I know he is real and I trust him in honesty and integrity, I could give him everything I have in savings and know he would not take a cent, but I have no faith in him to handle my finances, not because I don’t trust him, but simply because he does not have the capability.

      You could argue that I don’t trust his capability, but then it becomes his capability in the area of finances that I do not trust, while I still trust him. In fact, he would tell me himself, he is not the right person to handle my finances and would recommend instead someone I could have faith in to do the job. This would only serve to further reinforce my trust in him.

      I agree there is an element of trust or confidence in faith. When you step out of your home, if you have a driveway, when you step onto the driveway you have faith it will not collapse underneath you. You have trust or confidence a huge hole will not suddenly open up beneath you because if you did not have that faith, you, very likely, would not want to set foot in that driveway.

      Something has given you that faith. Possibly because you have never witnessed a sink hole and have no experience of anything like this ever having happened, but also, possibly, because you see your car in the driveway and in some part of your mind (conscious, subconscious, preconscious) you are rationalizing that if the driveway can hold your vehicle, it will probably hold you just as well, just as it has for the however many number of days since you first began to use it.

      So here is where my question originates as what you would say is the difference between reason and faith. You have defined reason as “that faculty which one employs to think rationally”. Thinking rationally implies this is a conscious, on-going effort.

      Perhaps you play a musical instrument and remember when you first began to learn. You had to think about what you were doing and apply rational thought, reason. Yet, the more you practiced, the more you played, it became “second nature”, you no longer need to make a conscious effort to remember, you just do. Does this subconscious ability make it any less reason? I don’t believe it does. It continues to be reason or rational thought at some level, but, just as you take those unwavering steps into your driveway, there is an element of faith. Faith you will remember, faith in your ability to play the instrument.

      I have faith in my driveway, I admit it. (Don’t worry; I will not be starting the Church of Drivewayology!) I have faith in its ability to hold my car and everyone in my family, but I have seen a sinkhole openly suddenly and so there is a rational element in my mind that tells me it could happen again. It is not a constant, conscious thought, but I recognize it is not impossible. Yet my faith is built on rational thought. I have faith in people and things because I have learned to do so. They have given me confidence in their abilities. So, I have to disagree when you say “faith (in the sense in which you employ it) is a belief. (faculties and beliefs belong in different categories, no?)” The faith I have in something or someone is the result of rational thought, reason, being continually reinforced.

      If every day I drove into my driveway a sink hole opened, a new rational thought would develop (it’s time to move before the whole house goes!) and I would NOT have faith in the driveway to hold my car. Do you agree with this distinction?

      Again, I am not talking about “religious” faith here so please don’t feel like I am setting you up. I DO believe “religious” faith is something else, but I want to come to grips with our basic definitions first before we tackle the ethereal.

  • John Morales

    michaeld11,

    In this instance, therefore, I would say I do not consider the Bible, as it has been translated, as dogma.

    Why the caveat? :)

    I say this to identify my position because I believe we will approach this soon as to whether I believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. While I do believe God inspired the writers to write what He intended them to write, I know some errors of translation have blurred meaning and intention.

    Fair enough, but it invites the question: do you think God could’ve done better?

    I take this to be a refinement, in that you want me to recognize your distinction. Analytic being true in itself and synthetic being true by how it has meaning to us. Do I have this right?

    Not bad.

    Yes, you do — and kudos for recognising the trap.

    Although I agree there is overlap, I draw some distinction between faith, trust and belief.

    No worries.

    Yet my faith is built on rational thought. I have faith in people and things because I have learned to do so. They have given me confidence in their abilities. So, I have to disagree when you say “faith (in the sense in which you employ it) is a belief.

    Saying your faith is rational thought because it’s built on rational thought is equivalent to claiming a building is a foundation because it’s built on a foundation.

    Let me put it another way: reasoning is a process whereby you establish beliefs, beliefs are cognitive content held as true whether engendered via reasoning or not.

    Again, I am not talking about “religious” faith here so please don’t feel like I am setting you up. I DO believe “religious” faith is something else, but I want to come to grips with our basic definitions first before we tackle the ethereal.

    So long as you recognise that faith and trust are types of belief, not types of reasoning (though they obviously can be bases for such), we can certainly proceed.

    I DO believe “religious” faith is something else, but I want to come to grips with our basic definitions first before we tackle the ethereal.

    Obviously, it’s a type of faith, and therefore a kind of belief.

    (Its warrant is what is of significance)

    • michaeld11

      John,
      You referenced my statement, “In this instance, therefore, I would say I do not consider the Bible, as it has been translated, as dogma.” And then asked, “Why the caveat? ” and “do you think God could’ve done better?”

      The caveat will become apparent as we start to define “religious” faith, but we have some distance to go before we get to that.

      Your second question has a two-fold response. Yes, I believe God could have done “better”(not as in good, but as in precise) in that He could have stripped mankind of all free thought (some call free will) and programmed us to do exactly what He wants. There would be no need for the Bible. Yet He exercised His Sovereignty and allowed His creation to have the ability to think for ourselves and, then, flawed by sin, (choosing to do what is wrong) to record His Story. There were bound to be errors, yet to me this only makes it more human and credible. Not so many as to invalidate it, but enough to show God can still speak even through us, sinners that we are.

      Regarding facts, I asked, “I take this to be a refinement, in that you want me to recognize your distinction. Analytic being true in itself and synthetic being true by how it has meaning to us. Do I have this right?”

      You replied, “Not bad. Yes, you do — and kudos for recognizing the trap.”

      Do you play golf? :-)

      Regarding faith, I said, “Yet my faith is built on rational thought. I have faith in people and things because I have learned to do so. They have given me confidence in their abilities. So, I have to disagree when you say ‘faith (in the sense in which you employ it) is a belief.’” (You left out this last bit) “(faculties and beliefs belong in different categories, no?)”

      You replied, “Saying your faith is rational thought because it’s built on rational thought is equivalent to claiming a building is a foundation because it’s built on a foundation.”

      You misunderstand; I didn’t say faith IS rational thought. If you want to say the foundation of a building is not the building, I’ll be glad to agree. My point is that the building is set on the foundation. Without the foundation, it is highly unlikely your building will continue to stand. Faith comes from rational thought, reason.

      You then said, “Let me put it another way: reasoning is a process whereby you establish beliefs, beliefs are cognitive content held as true whether engendered via reasoning or not.”

      I’ll counter. Reason (rational thought) is what allows us to develop faith (confidence, assurance) in what we can understand to be facts. (something that can be determined by analysis, experiment or observation and is true in itself and is not just an opinion, but is true in how it has meaning).

      This is not to say different people do not have different perceptions or that mistakes are not made due to either our inability or unwillingness to understand certain things. Ahh, what a world THAT would be, if we could understand everything and didn’t allow our stubbornness and pride to get in the way!

      You referenced me, “Again, I am not talking about “religious” faith here so please don’t feel like I am setting you up. I DO believe “religious” faith is something else, but I want to come to grips with our basic definitions first before we tackle the ethereal.”

      And then you cautioned, “So long as you recognize that faith and trust are types of belief, not types of reasoning (though they obviously can be bases for such), we can certainly proceed.”

      I understand your concern. If we say that faith is not a type of belief, but is based upon reason, it reveals the following axiom. It is possible to believe in something or someone when there is no faith, but it is not possible to have faith in something or someone when there is no belief. I can believe in the reality of the U.S. Supreme Court (rationally), but have no faith or trust in them, but I can not have faith or trust in them (rationally) if I do not believe they exist.

      I do not see faith and trust as “types of belief”. They each have similar components, but they are not the same. I do not believe faith or trust or belief can be the base for reasoning. Rational thought, reason, must be the foundation.

      And again this is not “religious” faith I am referring to here.

      You then say, “Obviously, it’s a type of faith, and therefore a kind of belief.”

      Yes, I agree there are “types” of faith and I must have belief to have faith, but my faith is not a “kind” or “type” of belief.

      The words have been used so often to mean the same thing I can understand why there is confusion. Religions of the world are called “Faiths”. Believers are called “The Faithful”. We say to “believe in” someone is to have faith in them. It’s similar to the word “love” as in “I love baseball” or “I love my wife”. Sometimes it becomes impossible to tell what is really being said.

      This is part of the problem I have found in my journey from Atheism to Christianity, we do not clearly define the words we are using. We think we speak the same language, but in fact, what one person or group means by something is understood completely differently by another person or group. We wind up looking at each other as if we are from different planets let alone different cultures!

      That is why I think it is so important that we come to level ground on the definitions. I think we are making progress. Do you?

  • michaeld11

    Daniel,

    John and I are having what I consider to be an interesting discourse. I am not wanting to “wear out my welcome” or “hijack” your forum, however, and recognize what I consider to be interesting can become tedious for others.

    Please feel free to tell me if you are concerned in any way.

    • John Morales

      Silence signifies assent. :)

    • michaeld11

      John,

      I think we can start peeling the “onion” a little deeper. Daniel’s “dabbling with Calvinism” is what originally drew me to this forum.

      I’d like to share my perspective on “predestination” as I believe this is at the heart of Calvin’s position on the subject.

      This may or may not have been something you have heard before, but, because I have an unusual background from most who call themselves Christians, it is not something I have heard preached from any pulpit and yet, I believe, I understand what Paul was writing in his letter to the Romans from which Calvin has relied heavily for his argument.

      There is an unfortunate problem with context that Bible scholar after Bible scholar neglects. Recognizing to whom Paul was writing and why is the first step in this process. I do believe God inspired Paul to write what he wrote. I do believe the words have great meaning for us today, but we can not ignore there was a specific purpose Paul was writing to the church at Rome. These people were primarily non-Jews (Gentiles) yet here they were accepting the Deity of a Jewish carpenter and calling Him the Messiah. You can imagine the amount of confusion going on between the Jewish believers who had fully understood THEY were the chosen people and now here come all of these “outsiders”.

      Paul wanted to make it clear that these “outsiders” were chosen just as much as the Jews were chosen. He wanted them to recognize God’s Sovereignty. He also wanted to make it clear that the Jews (or anyone else for that matter) who reject Christ, even though they were “born into the club” would not be coming to the “party”.

      You’ve indicated you once believed God existed, but evidence has convinced you this was not true. I have had the reverse experience. In some ways, certainly not in all, you and I typify the difference between the Jews and the Gentiles. You were already “in” so to speak, but something happened to make you turn away. You might call it the awaking of your reason. The Jews were God’s people, they had “ownership”, but along comes this Jesus and they just can’t believe. Some of them do, but most say “No way!”

      And then there’s me. Definitely an “outsider”. Someone who laughs at the beliefs and points out how absolutely ridiculous all of this sounds. Not part of the select, not chosen. One of those “pots made for destruction”. Now I wasn’t like Saul of Tarsus. I didn’t want to physically kill any Christians. They were too much fun to laugh at. My weapon of choice was wit and hurl those rocks of mockery did I ever! Yet then one day I had a challenge I couldn’t resist. As someone who loves science I was asked to use science to prove God was not real. I pointed to evolution. That didn’t prove God was not real. I pointed to the hatred and violence in the world. Again not proof. I pointed to the inconsistencies in the Bible. Still not proof. I pointed to the “Big Bang”. Once more I did not prove God did not exist.

      I realized that my efforts to disprove God’s existence were no more effective then the Christians efforts to prove to me that God was real. I decided I needed to “get serious”. I saw religion as the reason for most of the war and hatred in the world and I wanted to get these foolish people to wake up! It seemed to me that there was a deep seated human need to believe we were more than just finite beings with what ever life span. If we could address that then we could, hopefully, begin to see reason and really begin to live our lives for the better.

      I figured the first thing I needed to do was to really study all of the world’s religions and see if I could find a common link. The only real common link I found had to do with human spirituality. In one way or another there seemed to be some element of that in all of the major and minor creeds. That led me to begin to study what people believed the human spirit was. Not only did I go through the religions, but I began studying TM, parapsychology and mysticism. This is where things began to become very hard to explain. I could deny with my mind that certain things could not be real until I began to experience them myself. One such experience had to do with astral projection or an “out of body” event.

      The story itself is innocent enough. It was 1977 and I stayed up late reading a book by Carl Sagan. I fell asleep while reading the book and had a “dream”. I don’t know if you have ever flown in dreams, but I frequently do (and yes, I have hit “bottom” and still lived!). In this particular dream I flew to a friend’s house that lived a block away. What was strange was in this “dream” it was night time and I had never flown at night in a dream prior to this. Later I thought it must have been because I had been reading Sagan’s book and all of the pictures of the cosmos imprinted the idea of the night sky in my mind. Another strange thing was how real it seemed, I could even feel the wind which seemed cool.

      Now here’s where it gets really interesting because I flew to the window of my friends bedroom which he shared with his brother. They were both asleep in their beds and I could see a record album standing on its edge near my friend’s bed. I knocked on the window which was closed, but neither of them woke up and I was starting to get cold. I remember flying back to my house and down through the roof where my bedroom was and saw myself asleep in my own bed. Then I woke up! I had a hard time going back to sleep, but I did and don’t remember any other dreams from that night.

      The next day I went to his house. His brother and I, he and another friend would often play basketball in his driveway. While we were playing I mentioned the dream. We all laughed until my friend asked me what album I saw. I said I wasn’t sure, but it had some picture of a couple of chimneys with a pig flying in between them and I laughed again. My friend turned ash white and looked at his brother. “Did you tell him?”, he almost shouted. His brother said, “No!” and looked at me like I was an alien. My friend shouted “wait here” and ran into his house.

      He came back with his Pink Floyd, “Animals” album and asked “was this what you saw?” I was already nodding my head as he came through the door, “Yes! That’s it! How long have you had this?”, I asked. I thought I must have seen it at his house sometime before or he had told me about it. “That’s what’s so weird!”, he said, “I just bought this yesterday!” He then asked me to describe again where I saw the album in his room, he was clearly rattled. I said I can do better than that and he and his brother and I went up to their room and I placed the album where I saw it and positioned the way I saw it. Both he and his brother flipped out because it was exactly where and how he had left it. We came back out to finish the ball game we had started. Our other friend said he’d heard of this before and that it was “demonic” and I immediately laughed at him about his “superstitious” beliefs. He said, “Hey, I’m not the one flying around at night, looking in other people’s bedroom windows!” I had to admit, he got me there!

      As the weeks went by, I kept thinking about this. I tried to rationalize it, I tried to convince myself it did not happen, but no matter what I did I kept remembering the details and I knew something “real” had happened. But how??? I decided this must be the next step in human evolution. Somehow we were beginning to develop “powers” beyond being “mere” humans. This drew me into psychology and philosophy. I was drawn to Nietzsche and his idea of the Ubermensch, but this was more than just putting aside the idea of good and evil, this was “becoming more” than human. “How?!!”

      When you read about something happening to someone, you have all manner of ideas about what that person was doing, drinking, eating, smoking, etc. I’ve never been a drinker, smoker or drug user. I played sports and wanted to be the healthiest I could be. “Something” had happened to me, now and I had to find out whether this was real. My love of science told me I had to repeat the event. It was day time, but I went up to my room and lay down on my bed. I closed my eyes and imagined myself floating out of my body, I just kept picturing this. About 30 minutes went by, but as far as I knew I was still in my room and just laying on my bed. Suddenly my mom yelled up the stairs that dinner was ready. I opened my eyes and I was staring at the ceiling two inches in front of me!!!

      Needless to say, I was not expecting that! I “felt” myself fall back into my body! I had closed my eyes going down and opened them back up to now be the “right” distance away from the ceiling! I sat up and remember feeling “heavy”, almost like the weight of my body had tripled. I stood up and fell back sitting down on to my bed and then I stood up again and I was fine. Clearly something very strange was going on, but I was determined this did not prove I had a “spirit”, there had to be some other explanation.

      I’ll give more details tomorrow.

    • michaeld11

      John,

      Sorry about that! I’ve been enjoying spring break with my family and the great weather we’ve been having!

      With the few “tweaks” you’ve pointed out I think we are good on our definitions so far.

      I’d like to get into a few things regarding “pre-destination” next, but have a picnic to attend shortly. :-) I will get back to you later today!

  • michaeld11

    John,

    I find it helpful at times to recap the ground we have covered on definitions.

    We have discussed many points, but specifically, we have identified some key words.

    Please review this and let me know you are in agreement or if you want to “tweak” anything.

    Definitions recap

    God –

    Daniel – “The closest I could do is specify in broad terms what the “god of the philosophers” is usually conceived of as. Or I could explain the conceptions of god I find most intellectually plausible (an impersonal ground of all being principle a la Tillich).

    “I think Yahweh is as likely to truly exist as Thor or Aquaman is.”

    John – “The deity of monotheists. (My definition of deity: a supernatural being that people either worship or worshipped)”

    “I consider myself an atheist who does not believe such a Being exists. I go further, even: I don’t believe such a Being can exist, at least as you’ve defined it.”

    Michael – “The Maker and Ruler of all things seen and unseen Who has no beginning and no end, Immortal. Able to exist outside of time and space – Transcendent, as well as in all places at all times in His choosing – Omnipresent. Perfect in goodness – Holy. Perfect in power – Omnipotent, Perfect in wisdom – Omniscient. Existing as a single Triune Being and understood in human terms as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Father –The Maker of all things, Son – The Word, Creative Force and, through Incarnation, Redemptive Savior of mankind, known to us as Jesus Christ, Spirit – The Convincing Counselor, Comforter, Infuser, Breath and Giver of Life, invited Possessor of the human spirit.”

    Belief-

    John – “I consider belief can be thought of as a trivalent truth-function about some proposition P, yielding one three values (B(P):[true | false | uncertain]), which is relatively easy to apply to real life.”

    Michael – “I will be happy to use the trivalent truth function if we can agree that within the “uncertain” subset we acknowledge there are varying degrees of uncertainty in either direction.”

    Fact –

    John and Michael – “is something that can be determined by analysis, experiment or observation and is true in itself and is not just an opinion, but is true in how it has meaning”

    Dogma-

    John and Michael – “A declaration or statement of opinions, ideas, principles or beliefs considered by the proponent to be completely true, authoritative, definitive, inerrant and immutable”

    We are still hammering out “Rational thought (reason)” and “faith”, but I think we are getting close. Of course, it is not absolutely necessary we have the same definition, but if it is possible to come to agreement, I think we should.

    • John Morales

      Please review this and let me know you are in agreement or if you want to “tweak” anything.

      Sure.

      There’s one item where you’ve taken a partial claim and made it into the definition, but failed to include another:

      Belief-

      John – “I consider belief can be thought of as a trivalent truth-function about some proposition P, yielding one three values (B(P):[true | false | uncertain]), which is relatively easy to apply to real life.”

      Note I’ve also claimed “beliefs are cognitive content held as true whether engendered via reasoning or not.”

      If you include both aspects, then I agree that that should suffice.

      There’s one item where you’ve added something and attributed it to me:

      Fact –

      John and Michael – “is something that can be determined by analysis, experiment or observation and is true in itself and is not just an opinion, but is true in how it has meaning”

      I don’t remember saying all facts are something true in themselves; that claim was only about analytic truths.

      Here is your original recapitulation paraphrasing of my own statement, with which I agreed: “Here I understand you to mean a fact is something that can be determined by analysis, experiment or observation and not just opinion. If this is what you mean I can agree with this.”

      Of course, it is not absolutely necessary we have the same definition, but if it is possible to come to agreement, I think we should.

      Indeed; it’s part of establishing the universe of discourse.

  • John Morales

    Michael:

    I’d like to share my perspective on “predestination” as I believe this is at the heart of Calvin’s position on the subject.

    I’m not unfamiliar with Calvinism, I have interacted with its adherents before.

    There is an unfortunate problem with context that Bible scholar after Bible scholar neglects.

    Presumably TGOTB took this into account, so I infer that you consider it a feature, not a bug.

    Paul wanted to make it clear that these “outsiders” were chosen just as much as the Jews were chosen.

    Perhaps you could clarify to what it is you refer by ‘chosen’?

    You’ve indicated you once believed God existed, but evidence has convinced you this was not true.

    Only as a child, the way I believed things people told me. I grew up.

    I realized that my efforts to disprove God’s existence were no more effective then the Christians efforts to prove to me that God was real.

    Poor strategy, since all you needed to do is to show the definition is incoherent (what with the triune claim, and the infinities and so forth). Also, Russell’s Teapot.

    Clearly something very strange was going on, but I was determined this did not prove I had a “spirit”, there had to be some other explanation.

    You could’ve won Randi’s $1,000,000 by demonstrating that, you know. Even now, you could make $$$ if that really works for you.

    But yeah, I get you, I think. You found what you consider to be credible intersubjective evidence that you have something which is not your body and which perceives and is aware and can change location.

    I’ll give more details tomorrow.

    Predestination tomorrow, then.

    • John Morales

      … or not.

    • michaeld11

      Hello John!

      I’m sorry I’ve been off-line for so long. I’ve had a death in my family and am just now getting back to “normal life”.

      I’ll be glad to pick up where we left off if you are still interested.

    • John Morales

      Sure.

    • michaeld11

      Hi John!

      You referred to my statement, “Paul wanted to make it clear that these “outsiders” were chosen just as much as the Jews were chosen.”
      And then asked, “Perhaps you could clarify to what it is you refer by ‘chosen’?”

      “Chosen” in this context has to do with the Jewish teaching of being selected to be God’s people. This goes back to the covenant Jews (and Christians) believe God made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This covenant identifies to the descendants of Israel (Jacob’s new given name) that if they will follow Him and abide by His laws, He would make them the leading kingdom on all of the Earth. He would bless them, protect them and provide for them. In their understanding, unless a non-Jew accepted all of the teachings and customs of Judaism, they could not be included in this covenant and even then inclusion was not guaranteed.

      Christianity changed all of that. Jesus taught that much of the Jewish thought of that time was out of sync with God’s law and they were heading down the wrong road. He taught instead that He was “the Way, the Truth and the Life” and that “no one could get to the Father except through Him”. The Jews were faced with a choice, either to accept Christ as the Messiah or reject Him as a false prophet. They did, in fact, at one point pick up stones to kill Him, but He escaped.

      You know the Story. So here was the church in Rome filled with believers in Christ who were not Jews and were not accepting many points of the Jewish faith. Jews who had accepted Jesus as the Messiah were now asking, how was it these Gentiles could now be part of this Jewish covenant?

      Paul wanted to make it clear – God is Sovereign. He created us for His reasons. While there is nothing wrong with wondering “why am I here?” and “what does God want with me”, he did want to make it understood, it is not our place to tell God how He is to rule.

      Maybe we do not like certain things. Some of the Roman Jews were definitely not happy that Roman Gentiles were now “grafted” in to the “tree of the Chosen” so to speak, but their dislike was not the governing factor. The governing factor was/is God’s Will and it now included Gentiles who accepted the Deity of Christ and were willing to follow Him.

      The “predestination argument” is completely flawed. The proponents say to me as the antagonist, “you say God created man?”. Of course I answer, “Yes!” They say to me, “you believe God knows all things, past, present and future?” Again I answer, “Yes!” The “trap” has been set. “So you believe that God knew who was going to accept Him or reject Him when He created each of us?” Again I answer, “Yes!”. They spring the trap. “So there is no “free will”, God created us so some will accept Him and others will reject Him!”

      It isn’t a question anymore, it’s a statement. They KNOW the answer! But I answer anyway, “No!” They pounce, “That isn’t “logical”, they exclaim! “A+B = C, C-B=A, C/ (A+B) = 1. Is that always true? What if both A and B =0? Does 0/0 = 1?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Sorry to hear about the death in your family, Michael.

      I hope to catch up with this debate some day when I actually have time.

    • John Morales

      You know the Story.

      I’ve read your helpful narrative.

      They spring the trap. “So there is no “free will”, God created us so some will accept Him and others will reject Him!”

      I don’t argue on the basis of free will, slippery concept that it is.

      (But it is apparent that you think omniscience and free will are mutually compatible)

    • michaeld11

      John,

      Yes, I do believe God’s giving mankind the freedom to choose is compatible with His foreknowledge of the choice we will make. Calvin’s interpretation of Paul’s letter to the Romans misses the mark because he (Calvin) creates an argument in which God has essentially removed that freedom by His design.

      I do not believe that was what Paul was saying at all, but rather that God has Sovereignty and it is not man’s place to tell God how to rule the Universe.

      Maybe we would like to, maybe we think we could do a better “job” of it, maybe we think there are certain things that are not fair as I’m sure the Roman Jews felt when they looked at the Roman Gentiles, but the reality for believers is to recognize that God is Just, but He is also Merciful.

      Coming into Christianity from atheism, I had much to consider, but I didn’t approach it with a “religious” mind. My perspective was one of axioms and proofs. From my viewpoint there needed to be a logical explanation, but I began to realize there was a much higher Logic than I had previously been willing to admit.

      As I struggled with the concept of “spirit”, I began to consider what scientists believed was known about human evolution and the time period life was considered to have first appeared on Earth until it reached the level of hominids and from there until the present day.

      Current estimations put the age of our known Universe at roughly 14.5 billion years. The age of the Earth is estimated at about 4.6 billion. Some estimations say rudimentary prokaryotes may have developed at approximately 3.8 billions years and then approx. 2.5 million years ago we see evidence of the first hominids with what could be called the first homo sapiens at about 200,000 years ago.

      So the “Big Bang” and about ten billion years goes by and Earth forms, another 700 million years go by and the first cells develop. Another 3.55 billion years and the first hominids are seen and then 2.3 million years later and “modern” man appears.

      Do you suspect there are other planets with life similar to our own? What would have happened if that life did not encounter certain “interruptions” life on Earth appears to have experienced. Some scientists speculate that the Earth experienced an era of heavy asteroid bombardment which snuffed out nearly a billion years of initial evolution.

      If Earth was a billion years further along in its evolutionary development, what do you believe would be the state of mankind?

    • John Morales

      Yes, I do believe God’s giving mankind the freedom to choose is compatible with His foreknowledge of the choice we will make.

      You don’t think that if God knows every future outcome, then these outcomes are perforce predetermined?

      Coming into Christianity from atheism, I had much to consider, but I didn’t approach it with a “religious” mind. My perspective was one of axioms and proofs. From my viewpoint there needed to be a logical explanation [for the concept of “spirit”], but I began to realize there was a much higher Logic than I had previously been willing to admit.

      Mm-hmm.

      [I guess the following apparent digression refers to this reified logic?]

      Do you suspect there are other planets with life similar to our own?

      For certain values of ‘similar to our own’, sure.

      What would have happened if that life did not encounter certain “interruptions” life on Earth appears to have experienced. Some scientists speculate that the Earth experienced an era of heavy asteroid bombardment which snuffed out nearly a billion years of initial evolution.

      That would depend on whether such interruptions were necessary along the causal chain to the required state of similarity.

      If Earth was a billion years further along in its evolutionary development, what do you believe would be the state of mankind?

      As you’ve put it, mankind would be extinct around a billion years past.

      But I see that you’re trying to imply some sort of teleology, so I presume your next steps were to dismiss the concept of teleonomy, right?

    • michaeld11

      Hello John!

      “You don’t think that if God knows every future outcome, then these outcomes are perforce predetermined?”

      As I said, it doesn’t appear to be a logical conclusion, yet I see you haven’t answered what does 0/0 = ? :-)

      My belief is that while God knows the outcome, He has yet given mankind the freedom to choose what our individual outcome will be. God exists at all times simultaneously. (This is why He gave His name as “I Am”) He is at the moment of Creation even now, currently present and at the time of “the new Heaven and the new Earth”

      The only concept I can give you as someone who doesn’t believe God exists that starts to compare is the idea of the number line. You can conceive of 0 at its center and it goes off infinitely in either direction yet it is one number line that exists at the same time.

      I questioned if you believed it was possible there was life similar to life on Earth on other planets to which you seemed to say yes, but when I asked what you thought that life would be like if it was evolved a billion years past where we currently are you didn’t answer that question but instead said,

      “But I see that you’re trying to imply some sort of teleology, so I presume your next steps were to dismiss the concept of teleonomy, right?”

      No actually, more like “telemetry”. We can take a single “billion year old bone” from an archeological dig and create an entire creature, giving it size, shape and appearance. Why can’t we take a living, breathing, thinking creature and identify what stage it would be at a billion years from now? C’mon, give it your best educated opinion! Asimov didn’t shrink from it! :-)

    • John Morales

      [OT]

      (This too seems like a digression)

      I questioned if you believed it was possible there was life similar to life on Earth on other planets to which you seemed to say yes, but when I asked what you thought that life would be like if it was evolved a billion years past where we currently are you didn’t answer that question but instead said,

      “But I see that you’re trying to imply some sort of teleology, so I presume your next steps were to dismiss the concept of teleonomy, right?”

      Your question was “If Earth was a billion years further along in its evolutionary development, what do you believe would be the state of mankind?”, my answer was “As you’ve put it, mankind would be extinct around a billion years past.”

      (Of course, humans are the descendants of species extant a billion years in the past — but so are all other current species)

      Why can’t we take a living, breathing, thinking creature and identify what stage it would be at a billion years from now? C’mon, give it your best educated opinion! Asimov didn’t shrink from it! :-)

      Because evolution is a stochastic process, operating on vast scales of time and affected by many dependent variables (the environment not least).

      Again: The overwhelming likelihood is that, just like there were no humans a billion years ago, there shan’t be any humans a billion years hence.

      (Self-guided genetic alteration is an interesting possibility, of course; cf transhumanism)

    • michaeld11

      John,

      So rather than speculate what human life would become in a billion years, we will just “snuff” it out?

      Seems a little too convenient to me.

      Is it because Earth will cease to exist? How do you know this?
      Is it because evolution is not consistent? Wouldn’t human life continue on in an “assembly line” of evolution? i.e. lower forms of life must be evolving into higher forms of life even now, wouldn’t another billion years be enough to see homo sapiens continuing?

      Or is it because we are faced with a possibility that we love to speculate in science fiction, that mankind will continue to learn, to grow, to achieve until we advance to another level of existence. And if that is true and time is infinite, just what might we become?

      Although I embraced the concept of evolution at one point in my life, I have come to see the term in a completely different light. I do not believe God is the most “evolved” Being in the Universe (because I do not believe He evolved), but I do ask any atheist to tell me whether you believe mankind is.

      If you do believe mankind is, I am curious why you think this.
      If you do not believe mankind is, I am curious what you think the most advanced life might be like considering the theoretical age of the Universe?

    • John Morales

      PS Why do you dismiss the concept of teleonomy?

    • John Morales

      [OT]

      So rather than speculate what human life would become in a billion years, we will just “snuff” it out?

      Seems a little too convenient to me.

      How many extant species were around a billion years ago?

      Is it because Earth will cease to exist? How do you know this?

      Nah, Earth will still be around, almost certainly with an ecosphere.

      (Earth’s fate)

      Is it because evolution is not consistent?

      Again: evolution is a stochastic process, operating on vast scales of time and affected by many dependent variables.

      Wouldn’t human life continue on in an “assembly line” of evolution? i.e. lower forms of life must be evolving into higher forms of life even now, wouldn’t another billion years be enough to see homo sapiens continuing?

      Teleonomy again; there is no such gradient.

      Or is it because we are faced with a possibility that we love to speculate in science fiction, that mankind will continue to learn, to grow, to achieve until we advance to another level of existence. And if that is true and time is infinite, just what might we become?

      The only concrete level of existence of which I am aware is reality, all others are abstracta.

      Although I embraced the concept of evolution at one point in my life, I have come to see the term in a completely different light. I do not believe God is the most “evolved” Being in the Universe (because I do not believe He evolved), but I do ask any atheist to tell me whether you believe mankind is.

      There is no such thing as “more evolved” — all life on Earth has a common ancestor and therefore all has been evolving for just as long.

      “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”
      ― Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species

      If you do believe mankind is, I am curious why you think this.
      If you do not believe mankind is, I am curious what you think the most advanced life might be like considering the theoretical age of the Universe?

      As I’ve indicated, it is a poor question based on a misunderstanding; a better question would be whether I imagine humankind is the most intelligent species in the Universe.

    • michaeld11

      John,

      I questioned, “Or is it because we are faced with a possibility that we love to speculate in science fiction, that mankind will continue to learn, to grow, to achieve until we advance to another level of existence. And if that is true and time is infinite, just what might we become?”

      And you responded, “The only concrete level of existence of which I am aware is reality, all others are abstracta.”

      “Reality” – now there’s a word we need to define. Are we talking about present reality only?

      Or only what is perceived to be real at certain times?

      To my question “I do not believe God is the most “evolved” Being in the Universe (because I do not believe He evolved), but I do ask any atheist to tell me whether you believe mankind is.”

      You reply, “it is a poor question based on a misunderstanding; a better question would be whether I imagine humankind is the most intelligent species in the Universe”.

      You support this with your statement, “There is no such thing as “more evolved” — all life on Earth has a common ancestor and therefore all has been evolving for just as long.”

      This is just a bit alarming to me that you believe this. Not so much that you believe there is a “common ancestor”, but that you believe “all has been evolving for just as long”

      The problem with this is that it removes the potential for new life forming. In other words when the catalyst activated inert amino acids into the marvel we call life, it seems you are saying that was a “one time event”. It hasn’t continued to happen. Not at 3.5 billion years and then again at 3 billion and 2.5 billion and so on.

      But that “all” has been evolving for just as long. E coli and man have a common ancestor and therefore, “have been evolving for just as long”

      Do I understand you correctly?

      And then, O.K., what is your answer to your better question? Do you “imagine humankind is the most intelligent species in the Universe”?

      If so, why? If not, why not?

    • John Morales

      “Reality” – now there’s a word we need to define. Are we talking about present reality only?

      Our space-time and mass-energy*, that being where we exist.

      Or only what is perceived to be real at certain times?

      Of course not; that would be confusing the map with the territory.

      The problem with this is that it removes the potential for new life forming. In other words when the catalyst activated inert amino acids into the marvel we call life, it seems you are saying that was a “one time event”. It hasn’t continued to happen. Not at 3.5 billion years and then again at 3 billion and 2.5 billion and so on.

      Extant life is ubiquitous in the ecosphere, even in the rocks of the mountains. What hope for any protolife other than as a tasty morsel?

      But that “all” has been evolving for just as long. E coli and man have a common ancestor and therefore, “have been evolving for just as long”

      Do I understand you correctly?

      Perfectly.

      In fact, the faster the replication cycle, the faster a species evolves (other factors being equal) per unit time.

      And then, O.K., what is your answer to your better question? Do you “imagine humankind is the most intelligent species in the Universe”?

      If so, why? If not, why not?

      Well, by the principle of mediocrity I’ve already granted that for certain values of ‘similar to our own’ life probably exists elsewhere, and by the known extent of the Universe I suspect that there are many intelligences around, but spread in time and in space.

      (Remember, distance is equivalent to time at a rate of one light-year per year (also, we can only access our light cone))

      That said, I’d have to say that (mediocre as we are) we are the most intelligent species known to ourselves.

      * That’s as deep as science has gone, though there are implications in mathematical theories that there may be more that we can’t access (call it the multiverse).

    • michaeld11

      Hello John!

      A little recap here -

      Michael – “Reality” – now there’s a word we need to define. Are we talking about present reality only?”

      John – “Our space-time and mass-energy*, that being where we exist. (* That’s as deep as science has gone, though there are implications in mathematical theories that there may be more that we can’t access (call it the multiverse).”

      Michael – “Or only what is perceived to be real at certain times?”

      John – “Of course not; that would be confusing the map with the territory.”

      I think we are O.K. on the definition, but I need to ask, are you identifying time as a fourth dimension? Do you believe there are additional dimensions beyond time?
      For instance, what dimension would you attribute to the exact event horizon of a black hole?

      Michael – “The problem with this is that it removes the potential for new life forming. In other words when the catalyst activated inert amino acids into the marvel we call life, it seems you are saying that was a “one time event”. It hasn’t continued to happen. Not at 3.5 billion years and then again at 3 billion and 2.5 billion and so on.”

      John – “Extant life is ubiquitous in the ecosphere, even in the rocks of the mountains. What hope for any protolife other than as a tasty morsel?”

      So by this are you saying the cycle is continuing where new life is being formed from non-living amino acids combinations, but as soon as this life forms it is immediately eaten?

      Michael – “But that “all” has been evolving for just as long. E coli and man have a common ancestor and therefore, “have been evolving for just as long” Do I understand you correctly?”

      John – “Perfectly. In fact, the faster the replication cycle, the faster a species evolves (other factors being equal) per unit time.”

      I’m confused by your answer. If no new life survives because it becomes a “tasty morsel” and all life is evolving, how do you explain prokaryote bacteria that existed billion of years ago and still exists today?

      If each new generation of prokaryote cells “evolves” and there are no new “replacements” coming up through the ranks of protolife because of their “tastiness” it would seem several billion years of evolution would have these lower life forms ceasing to exist because they would have become more complex organisms, wouldn’t they?

      Michael –“And then, O.K., what is your answer to your better question? Do you “imagine humankind is the most intelligent species in the Universe”? If so, why? If not, why not?”

      John – “Well, by the principle of mediocrity I’ve already granted that for certain values of ‘similar to our own’ life probably exists elsewhere, and by the known extent of the Universe I suspect that there are many intelligences around, but spread in time and in space. (Remember, distance is equivalent to time at a rate of one light-year per year (also, we can only access our light cone)) That said, I’d have to say that (mediocre as we are) we are the most intelligent species known to ourselves.”

      Hmmm, you’re really going out on a limb here aren’t you? :-)

      Let’s start with you have “granted that for certain values of ‘similar to our own’ life probably exists elsewhere, and by the known extent of the Universe I suspect that there are many intelligences around”

      Recognizing there is potential for other intelligent life in the Universe is what I would consider very healthy. Although the role of an atheist is often to be the skeptic because there is no hard and fast evidence of what is perceived to be true by many people, it does become wearisome to deny every probability. Even Doppler radar gets the weather right once in awhile!

      Accepting life may exist on another Earth-like planet does raise several interesting questions as we begin to look more closely at what life actually is and what it may become. Using the estimation of a 14.5 billion year old Universe, we again must consider the laws of probability. We can observe star formation and theorize based on the estimated age of our own sun how many similar sized stars likely exist. Calculating then how many potential similar planets there are to Earth we can see mathematical probabilities in our galaxy alone upwards near 182 million as calculated by Frank Drake in the early 1960’s.

      Extrapolating on the current estimate of galaxies in the Universe through a number crunching German super computer puts that number around 500 billion. So being conservative if we take 182 million x 500 billion –
      182,000,000 x 500,000,000,000 we get 91,000,000,000,000,000,000 and if we take just 1% of that number we get 910,000,000,000,000,000 or 910 quadrillion potential Earth like planets in the Universe. Amazing!

      So out of all of these we speculate there are some ahead of Earth, some at the same evolutionary time track as Earth and some behind Earth in the process. Using a Bell curve we can estimate approximately 95% would be at the same place in evolution as Earth (if, for the sake of argument we accept Earth as standard) and then split the other 5% on either side between 2 standard deviations.

      22,750,000,000,000,000 (22.75 quadrillion ahead of Earth and 22.75 quadrillion behind Earth)

      Of course for all of those at the same level as Earth we are at a loss to explain why we have not yet picked up any radio waves with all of the listening devices we have scattered around the world. The theory is that the signals are being “smeared” through all of the noise in space and because of the vast distances can not arrive intact. Efforts are being made now to consider laser signals, but since these efforts are relatively new, we have not yet been able to interpret anything intelligible.

      Yet you would tend to think that 22.75 quadrillion possible planets ahead of Earth on the scale of evolution would “stack the odds” in favor of some form of contact.

      Is it possible this life is so far ahead of Earth that it would be detrimental to Earth if they were to communicate with us? Or are they communicating with us, but in ways that are so subtle we don’t realize their influence?

    • John Morales

      I think we are O.K. on the definition, but I need to ask, [1] are you identifying time as a fourth dimension? [2] Do you believe there are additional dimensions beyond time?
      [3] For instance, what dimension would you attribute to the exact event horizon of a black hole?

      (This is just minutiae, surely!)

      1. Yes.
      2. I don’t know, I believe it’s possible that is the case.
      3. It’s a spacetime locus, so obviously 4.

      So by this are you saying the cycle is continuing where new life is being formed from non-living amino acids combinations, but as soon as this life forms it is immediately eaten?

      Not at all; I was granting your hypothetical arguendo and raising an obvious probable outcome.

      (Of course, all of this stuff is amenable to scientific investigation)

      I’m confused by your answer. If no new life survives because it becomes a “tasty morsel” and all life is evolving, how do you explain prokaryote bacteria that existed billion of years ago and still exists today?

      I quote you:

      Michael – “But that “all” has been evolving for just as long. E coli and man have a common ancestor and therefore, “have been evolving for just as long” Do I understand you correctly?”

      John – “Perfectly. [...]“

      (If it’s been evolving just as long, why call it “new life”?)

      If each new generation of prokaryote cells “evolves” and there are no new “replacements” coming up through the ranks of protolife because of their “tastiness” it would seem several billion years of evolution would have these lower life forms ceasing to exist because they would have become more complex organisms, wouldn’t they?

      I think you are employing teleology where you should accept teleonomy. Again.

      (The latter requires no agency nor purpose, yet is explanatory)

      [many planets enthusiasm noted]

      So out of all of these we speculate there are some ahead of Earth, some at the same evolutionary time track as Earth and some behind Earth in the process.

      I doubt it’s very meaningful (absent context) to speak of ‘ahead’ or ‘behind’ (it’s not a ‘race’ to ‘ascension’ except in wishful thinking) far as I can tell there is only more or less generations per unit time, and what the mutation rate is, and what the environment is, and yet more factors (and none are simple linear or independent functions). You know, reality.

      Sure, you can expect some ecospheres have been extant longer than others, but I think you’re taking “Earthlike” a little too literally.

      Using a Bell curve we can estimate approximately 95% would be at the same place in evolution as Earth (if, for the sake of argument we accept Earth as standard) and then split the other 5% on either side between 2 standard deviations.

      You’re ad-hoccing here; whyever do you just assume a normal distribution?

      (And you seem to have forgotten my noting that space and time are closely related, since those large numbers you adduced apply to separation in time and space)

      [Allusion to the Fermi paradox noted]

      Yet you would tend to think that 22.75 quadrillion possible planets ahead of Earth on the scale of evolution would “stack the odds” in favor of some form of contact.

      I’ve already noted that stack of “possibles” you invoke is spread over vast expanses of space and time.

      (Here’s a straightforward question: What proportion of all these “possibles” are in our light cone?)

      [1] Is it possible this life is so far ahead of Earth that it would be detrimental to Earth if they were to communicate with us? [2] Or are they communicating with us, but in ways that are so subtle we don’t realize their influence?

      1. I suppose it must be, since I can’t rule it out.

      2. No. Communication is a very specific concept.

      To preempt: Could we be unknowingly influenced by super-advanced entities?

      I suppose I can’t rule that out.

      (When do we get to the higher logic?)

      If Earth was a billion years further along in its evolutionary development, what do you believe would be the state of mankind?

      <sigh>

      I distinctly recall answering this very question already (I stand by it), so let me try a different way:

      Consider current Earth, as represented by its ecosystem (E).

      Now consider your hypothetical “Earth a billion years further along in its evolutionary development” as Earth Prime, with its corresponding ecosystem (E’).

      To formalise your implicit claim, we can consider the evolutionary state S of Earth as a function of time S(t) such that S(now)=E and S(now + 1 billion)=E’.

      It seems to me that you clearly think that evolution implies there’s some magnitude metric A where A(S(t)) ≤ A(S(t + T)) for T is some large amount of time, and therefore A(E) ≤ A(E’), and you think that the history of life on Earth has followed this pattern and the evidence shows so.

      Right?

    • michaeld11

      John,

      Sorry the spacing didn’t take with my cut and paste. Hopefully it won’t be to confusing for you to read through, but if so, let me know and I will re-enter it.

  • michaeld11

    Daniel,

    Thank you! It is never easy to loose someone you love whether you believe in an after life or not.

    With the schedule of teaching you have outlined and just life in general I can not begin to imagine how many times you must pass yourself on the road! :-)

    I look forward to when you have the time to join!

  • John Morales

    [OT]

    (This does seem a digression)

    “You don’t think that if God knows every future outcome, then these outcomes are perforce predetermined?”

    [1] As I said, it doesn’t appear to be a logical conclusion, yet I see you haven’t answered what does 0/0 = ? :-)

    [2] [a] My belief is that while God knows the outcome, He has yet given mankind the freedom to choose what our individual outcome will be. [b] God exists at all times simultaneously. (This is why He gave His name as “I Am”) He is at the moment of Creation even now, currently present and at the time of “the new Heaven and the new Earth”

    1. It’s undefined.

    2a. But that’s the point: The choice is between what God knows one will do and what God knows one will do!

    (Doesn’t the very concept of ‘choice’ involve at least one alternative?)

    2b. Yes, you’ve defined God as omnipresent. I haven’t forgotten.

    You do note 2 is independent of 1, don’t you?

    (The issue relates to omniscience, not to omnipresence)

    • John Morales

      [erratum]

      2 is independent of 1 → b is independent of a

  • Josh

    Just saw this on /r/exchristian on reddit. Great post. I grew up in a Calvinist church with Calvinist parents, reciting the five points of Calvinism by the time I was 12 or so. Read Grudem’s Systematic Theology in high school. Dabbled in the Institutes. As a Calvinist-turned-atheist, I find Calvinism to be the most consistent and brutally honest theology in Christianity. It’s very historical (see City of God by Saint Augustine). To this day, I don’t see a way for an Arminian to get around Romans 9.

    Obviously, as an atheist, I see Calvinism as extraordinarily repugnant, but I think it’s spread within Christianity is a good thing. Hear me out. Calvinism takes the intellectual aspects of Christianity very seriously. Calvinists like apologetics. They like studying. They take great amounts of pride (though they will never admit to this) in their ability to make consistent, well thought out arguments with overwhelming Scriptural support. I don’t know of any better way to become an atheist than to study Christianity until one realizes that it is untenable. I am confident that I would still be a Young Earth Creationist if I had grown up as an Arminian rather than a Calvinist.

    • michaeld11

      Hi Josh!

      When you say you “don’t see a way for an Arminian to get around Romans 9″, I have to take this as you don’t agree with the position they have taken. I’m just assuming you understand what they are saying and know the 5 points of Calvinism were actually responses to Jacob Arminius’ followers 5 points of Remonstrance? John Calvin, himself never directly refuted Arminian thought.

      Here’s the puzzle. If God exists, is it possible for Him to create a model where He knows what choice you will make as to what side of the Divine equator you will make a stand and yet allow you the freedom to make that choice for yourself?

      Simple, right? If God exists and He is the creator of mankind, He has predetermined who will choose Him or reject Him. He knows this as He is Omniscient and no one can agrue His right to do this.

      Yet the Arminians or Remonstrants said that isn’t right. They say God has given everyone the freedom to choose. What is predestined is Salvation if you choose to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior.

      Argument ensues – God knows so it is His choice, not man’s. If God operated by human logic that would be true. He does not.

      If human logic were the key, what would be the answer to the old question “If God is all powerful, can He create a rock that even He can’t move?” Which way do you go with this? Yes? Then He is not “all powerful” because He would not be able to move the rock. No? Then He is not “all powerful” because He couldn’t create the rock.

      Chuckle, chuckle – there must be no God!Or at least not one who is “all powerful”

      Except God DID create a rock that even He can’t move and yet He IS still “all powerful”. The “rock” is the human heart! He has given us intelligence and freedom. Thomas Jefferson said, “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”. You have a right to accept or reject. To be moved or unmoved.

      How is this possible? Again, God is not restricted to human logic which I believe you will agree is extremely limited!

      I think you might be familar with the Book of Job. In chapter 40 verses 7 & 8 God speaks to Job. “Brace yourself like a man;
      I will question you, and you shall answer Me. Would you discredit My justice? Would you condemn Me to justify yourself?” Smart man, that Job, he knew when it was time to shut up!

      Yet we continue to put God on trial every day. “If You’re real, prove it!” Yet He already did! He came here as one of us just over two thousand years ago and not only did we put Him on trial, we killed Him! Fortunately, death couldn’t hold Him and today, we are still free to debate if He really does exist or not.

      I’m a former atheist, I have seen amazing things that defy man’s logic and I have searched the world for answers that can make sense out of the impossible. I found the answer! Jesus Christ is who He said He was! My telling you this is not going to make you believe it. All I can say is keep searching! Don’t settle! Keep pushing until you understand.

      What existed before 14.5 billion years ago? Are matter and energy “eternal”? Is the Universe just a random “accident”? If we don’t blow up the planet, where will mankind be in 1,000, 10,000, 100,000 years? If these answers aren’t important or don’t matter to you, why not? If you can dismiss God’s existence because you don’t get the answers you want, will you dismiss the Universe because you can’t get the answers you want?

    • Josh

      Michael, I am fully aware that the 5 points of Calvinism were originally a response to Arminianism, but I think that they (the 5 points of Calvinism) are very Biblical (assuming that we’re reading the Bible with a strictly literal interpretation). As a Christian before (and as an atheist now), I simply think that Calvinism is a much more coherent, logical, and Scriptually supported system of theology than is Arminianism.

      I agree that when we discuss the term God, it is best to think of God as outside logic and outside our understanding of space-time and material causality. This, however, presents a problem for the theist. If God is, by definition, NOT material and NOT bound by logic, then humans cannot make any justifiable claim about the existence of that God because the term God does not refer to anything whatsoever. We only have our senses, and if God, by definition, cannot be detected by those senses, then to claim that God somehow exists is absurd. Either that, or you’d have to mangle the meaning of the term “exists” to the point that it is as meaningless as the word “God”. In short, if you take God and put Him beyond logic, you have put yourself in a position where it is impossible for you or I or anyone else to make a justifiable claim about God. To be clear, I’m not making any claims about God. I am simply rejecting the Christian claim that God exists.

      The claim you make about the human heart being the rock so big that God can’t move it is, at best, a bad analogy that doesn’t prove anything, and at worst, a bare assertion.

      I really don’t understand why you brought up Thomas Jefferson, but if it helps you understand where I’m coming from, I reject any and all sorts of deontoligical morality (especially natural rights deontology) on the grounds that they either start with an unjustified moral proposition or that they violate the is-ought distinction.

      As for your little spiel about Job, there is no such thing as a time to stop questioning. I do discredit His justice. The threat of “Justice” or “Hell” or anything like that is not an argument at all. It’s just a threat, and I do not think it is a credible threat at that.

      You’re approaching the idea of proving God and Christianity in the wrong way. The Bible can be expressed as a set of propositions that compose all the stories of the Bible as well as a Biblical worldview. It is not the case that if Jesus was real, then the whole Bible is true. In order to have a justified belief in any given proposition from the Bible, you have to provide external, empirical evidence that to support that proposition. To justifiably believe that the Bible is 100% literal truth, you have to provide satisfactory evidence for every single last thing the Bible says. Otherwise, at best, you can say that you know parts of the Bible are true, but expanding truth to anything outside your ability to make sense observations or exercise logic is a bare assertion, at best. In fact, there any many claims in the Bible that are unfalsifiable and cannot be proven true because it is impossible to gather evidence for it, such as Romans 1:18-23.

      For example, New York is real, and New York is the setting of Spiderman, but that doesn’t make Spiderman anything other than fiction with a dash of reality. Likewise, assuming that Jesus was real does not justify that conclusion that the Bible is anything other than fiction with a little bit of reality thrown in.

      What existed 14.5 billion years ago? I don’t know exactly. I am not a scientist, and I am not qualified to answer that question. However, that ignorance does not justify me making up some unknowable Being to satisfy it. By the way, it seems that you are getting at some form of the Cosmological Argument, and like all arguments that appeal to the supernatural to explain a natural phenomenon (e.g. Teleological), it is a fallacious argument from ignorance.
      I don’t know if humanity will be around in 1,000 years, and frankly, it is absolutely irrevelant to the question of whether or not God exists.
      I don’t dismiss God because I got answers I didn’t want. I grew up Christian, and when I studied a lot of apologetics and realized that God wasn’t something I need to concern myself with, I was very angry. I wanted God to be real. I didn’t want for the first 18 years of my life to have been devoted to a lie. But it was, and now, I’m over it. As far as I’m concerned, there is no conclusion that I am not willing to accept if shown proper evidence. Any given claim, in ethics, metaphysics, any of the hard sciences, or any other field of inquiry, is of negligible importance compared to whether or not there is good evidence to believe the claim is true.

    • michaeld11

      Josh,
      Please don’t read the Bible with a strictly literal interpretation. There are parts that are meant to be taken that way, yes, but there are parts that are meant to be taken figuratively as well. There are parts that are meant to be taken in the context of the time they were written and there are parts that are applicable to any point in time. If you are serious about studying it, it would be better to train under scholars that are able to assist you with this to help remove some of the confusion.

      “Calvinism” has “evolved” beyond what John Calvin implied. As with most thinking men, his thoughts were still developing, but as goes the way of us all, we only have a finite bit of time on this Earth.

      There is an aspect of God’s love and mercy that current Calvinist thought has eliminated. It is cold, hard, conjecture. As a former atheist I loved it because it allowed me to put those who subscribed to it in a cold, hard box.
      I suspect this is partially why it appeals to you now, because it so easily lends to your reasons for rejecting it. As you pointed out previously, if you had been brought up a different way, you likely would still believe in God.

      That’s an excellent ploy BTW because it then allows you superiority over Arminians who are still entrapped in their delusion, but, at least, have a justifiable reason, from your perspective, where the Calvinists obviously have no hope! :-)

      I do need to correct a misconception you have subscribed to, however, in your “agreement” that when we talk about “the term God, it is best to think of God as outside logic and outside our understanding of space-time and material causality.”

      I’m sure this is what you would like as you do not now believe God exists. The problem here is that I DO believe God exists and I have experienced His Presence and Power. I submit to Him and freely admit His logic, without His intervention, would be completely beyond my ability to comprehend. As a Christian, I believe He has placed His Spirit within me, so how could I agree He is “outside (my) space-time and material causality”?

      By your logic, I am, therefore, able to make a “justifiable claim about the existence of God” whether or not you accept or reject my claim, just as I am able to do with the theory of evolution, the “Big Bang” theory or the 14.5 billion year Universe theory.

      You see we each are able to accept things based on our own experiences and what we are willing to believe. I’m going to go out on a limb and say you are not 14.5 billion years old and don’t know anyone who is, but because of certain data you have read or heard, you have chosen to accept the “Big Bang” theory, because it is currently the theory that most scientists subscribe to and has the most elements that fit the bill for a Universe that doesn’t need God.

      Why did I bring up Thomas Jefferson, you ask? I suppose for the same reason you brought up New York and Spiderman, to illustrate a point! I believe “Tommy” existed even though I have no physical proof, haven’t seen him with my own eyes and don’t know anyone who has. I’m just going by the written record (which BTW is riddled with an unbelievable number of flaws both literal and not! – have you read about Sally Hemmings?!!) His comments about the “unalienable rights endowed by our Creator” resound with me and with God’s Spirit within me giving me further assurance that God is very real! (Which throws cold water on Spiderman whom we both agree is not!)

      I’m sorry you did not like my analogy about the human heart. I actually thought for anyone who has a “heart”, I don’t mean the one beating in your chest (have you seen it?), but, instead the area within you where you sense emotion (which of the 5 senses is that?) that it would have some significance. I’ll have to come up with another.

      And my “little spiel about Job” obviously missed its mark with you also. There is definitely an appropriate time and place for asking questions and an appropriate time to stop. Job, who had continually questioned God (and not in a good way) was now standing before Him. Something about reverence and respect was going on inside of Job (and, yes, probably some fear as well). He knew it was better to employ the two ears God gave him right then and close the one mouth. I think you will experience this a time or two in your life, I know I have with my own parents, a boss at work, and even now that I’m married with my wife! :-)

      Threats of Hell! As an atheist, I loved that one! I even had a term for it. I called it “The Santa Claus Syndrome” Better be good! He’s watching you all the time. He knows if you’ve been naughty or nice. And if you’re not “good” BAM!!! Put you in the chute and off to hell you go!

      Is that really how it works? Nah, that’s a great way to scare some people, but what did Jesus actually say? “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” Coulda, shoulda, woulda. We have been given so much evidence, but we reject it because what are the consequences to how we should live our lives NOW if we consider it?

      Your comment about morality is telling. Yet I believe you realize morals are necessary. Because we are fallible we need more than just our own judgment to guide us. Otherwise we have a society where everyone just does what is right in their own eyes (also known as chaos). As a civilization we are constantly refining what is accepted as right or wrong, but there are absolutes and I believe there is punishment for wrong-doing. As a former Christian, you know Jesus Christ died on the cross. You now have rejected the reason He died as explained by the Bible. You are either right or wrong. I am either right or wrong.

      The question I came to as a former atheist was “Am I so convinced that what I believe (evolution, big bang, age of Universe, etc.) is true that I am not willing to consider other possibilities?

      Don’t let anger control you. You said you feel you have wasted 18 years of your life devoted to a lie. First (and I don’t mean to be trite so please don’t take this the wrong way) you didn’t “devote” the first 18 years of your life. You were taught to believe by your parents and you did, just like you lived where they decided, ate what food they fixed, went on vacations were they went and probably lived a fairly normal life. I doubt that you liked everything. Maybe you hated lima beans, got sick of spaghetti, couldn’t stand the ocean, fought with your siblings. There were probably times you would’ve liked to sleep in instead of going to church, yet there were friends, activities, etc. that you probably also enjoyed.

      But one day, something didn’t click, you spoke with some friends and talked about other ideas, a loved one got sick and died and it didn’t make sense. Time passed and doubts came in that weren’t answered. Eventually you decided it was all false and that was probably met with some confusion as well. Did you wait? Did you just stop talking about God? Or did you confront? And how did that go? Probably not well.

      We all have our own experiences and questions we want answered. You said I’m going the wrong way about proving God and Christianity. First, I can not “prove” God or Christianity to you. My objective is to show you that you are transferring belief in one unseen concept for another. If you accept the theory of evolution and have no regard for where mankind will be in 1000 years, what’s your point? To just say,” There! That’s all I need to believe to reject the idea of God!”? It’s got to mean something to you as to where we have come from and where we are going. If not, there really is much more going on than you rejecting God.

      Second, as a former atheist, I know the mind games we like to play. We have no more confidence in carbon testing than angels, but ANYTHING that gives an explanation other than GOD is alright with me! Theories come and go, but rather than admit the shift in thought we try to act like the new idea is what we believed all along. And yet, as long as we don’t have to think about God, are we really focusing in on the latest in scientific thought? What is Dark Matter comprised of? How fast is the Universe expanding? What’s the latest in Quantum mechanics and theory?

      Most atheists I know don’t have a clue. Why is that important?? Why can’t I just drink my beer and watch T.V.?
      I guess my answer is, if you really are interested in truth, you can’t ignore when the information you are given is wrong whether it’s about God or whether it’s about radio-isotopes, don’t just believe something because it doesn’t hurt your brain (or heart) so much. Know why you believe what you believe!

    • Josh

      It is possible to read the Bible literally while reading everything in context. I do not know any Christians with whom I discuss these things that do not read the Bible that way, so I want to read it the same way they do when I’m discussing it with them.

      You clearly missed my point when I said that I would likely still be a Christian if I was raised as an Arminian, rather than a Calvinist. My point was that Calvinist churches tend to be extremely supportive of and enthusiastic about Christian scholarship. Learning about apologetics is what made leave Christianity, not because I didn’t like Christianity, but because I find Christianity to be without merit upon critical examination.

      So, if God is not supernatural, would you say that God is a material being that exists in the universe?

      My line of reasoning is that if we accept God as supernatural, there is a conflict between this and divine intervention in the material causality that we experience. At what point does God enter material causality? With the way I’m understanding your conceptualization of it, God is metaphysically no different from magic. Please inform me if that is off-base.

      We have plenty of evidence that Thomas Jefferson existed. Claiming that Thomas Jefferson existed is in no way similar to claiming that God exists.

      Regarding Job, I think we have fundamentally contradictory premises that we hold to. As far as I’m concerned the line of questioning never stops. EVER.

      I in no way believe that morals (in a normative sense) are necessary. In fact, I’m a moral nihilist. I think all the “oughts” and “duties” and “moral obligations” that have been posited over the years are utter poppycock.

      I said I WAS angry, not that I am angry. Anger does not control me. What I do have is a desire to believe what in best corresponds to reality or to believe in nothing at all.

      I will concede that I was brought up into it and that I really didn’t have any choice in the matter when I grew up. On the contrary, though, I loved church. I went 2-4 times a week from when I was 13 until I was 18 1/2. I had a bunch of friends there. I was a part of a weekly apologetics study group for the last 3 years I was a Christian. I loved every single last bit of it. Youth retreats. As you might be able to tell, I’m even a little bit nostalgic about it now. I have yet to lose a loved one in my lifetime. As you (or Spinoza) would probably say, I’m pretty “blessed” in that regard. In fact, I think that blaming God for losing a loved one is, quite frankly, a really stupid reason to go from being a Christian to being an atheist. The way a person feels emotionally has absolutely nothing to do whether or not it is true.
      In all, I have had no negative experiences in church at all. Mine is not an emotional rejection of Christianity. It is a reasoned rejection that I arrived at, going against what would have been emotionally pleasing or emotionally easy.

      I don’t understand why you keep bringing up where mankind will be in 1000 years. It’s cool to think about, with advancements and technology and all that, but unless I’m going to be alive in 1000 years, I really don’t care because it doesn’t affect me in any way.

      As for looking for things other than God, you actually have this one exactly backwards. Appealing to the supernatural to explain a natural phenomena is necessarily an argument from ignorance fallacy. Even if we had no science whatsoever, if there was not evidence or alternate theory to replace evolution, then belief that “God did it” would be as completely fallacious as it is right now. The great thing about being an atheist is that I don’t claim to know how everything happened. You’re the one claiming to have everything figured out, and all I’m saying is that I think your beliefs are unjustified.

      I know exactly why I don’t believe: I have yet to come across an argument that demonstrates that God exists. If I do come across that argument, then I’ll believe in God. Until I see real evidence, that’s where I’m staying. Having no belief is preferable to having a false or unjustified one.

    • Josh

      In fact, for the sake of argument, I will take for granted that there is ZERO evidence for evolution, the Big Bang, or any other science you disagree with.

    • michaeld11

      Hello Josh!

      I’m curious. Do you believe Jesus was an actual person? If Yes, who do you believe He was? If No, why not?

    • josh13

      I accept that Jesus was a historical figure. To my best knowledge, the vast majority of mainstream historians consider there to be sufficient reason to think that there was a heterodox Jewish teacher named Jesus around the time Jesus was supposed to have lived. However, I do not accept the following claims:
      1. Jesus is God/the Son of God.
      2. Jesus performed miracles.
      3. Jesus rose from the dead.
      4. Jesus was born of a virgin.

  • michaeld11

    John,

    My post showed as entered and then just disappeared!

    So here it is (again), but at least the spacing is intact!

    Michael -I think we are O.K. on the definition, but I need to ask, [1] are you identifying time as a fourth dimension? [2] Do you believe there are additional dimensions beyond time?
    [3] For instance, what dimension would you attribute to the exact event horizon of a black hole?

    John -(This is just minutiae, surely!)

    Definitely not minutiae! Knowing what position you take regarding existence and how we fit into it is crucial to me in understanding your beliefs.

    John-1.Yes.

    We’re in agreement

    John-2. I don’t know, I believe it’s possible that is the case.

    I do believe there are more, but we’ll get to that a little later.

    John-3. It’s a spacetime locus, so obviously 4.

    I don’t agree and I’ll explain why not later.

    Michael -So by this are you saying the cycle is continuing where new life is being formed from non-living amino acids combinations, but as soon as this life forms it is immediately eaten?

    John-Not at all; I was granting your hypothetical arguendo and raising an obvious probable outcome. (Of course, all of this stuff is amenable to scientific investigation)

    So if I understand you correctly, you DO believe new life is forming and not simply by reproduction, but by the same process it came into existence originally? (And by “originally”, from your vantage point, by the mixing of amino acids over time). I am asking for a “yes” or “no” response here.

    Michael-If each new generation of prokaryote cells “evolves” and there are no new “replacements” coming up through the ranks of protolife because of their “tastiness” it would seem several billion years of evolution would have these lower life forms ceasing to exist because they would have become more complex organisms, wouldn’t they?

    John-I think you are employing teleology where you should accept teleonomy. Again. (The latter requires no agency nor purpose, yet is explanatory)

    Again, I neither subscribe to teleonomy or teleology. In fact, I believe they are simply different definitions of the same process, one meant to merely remove what could be considered “un-scientific” implications. My point is to clarify what you are saying. If you agree “new life” is forming from amino acids even now, I can understand your concept of evolution as logical. If, on the other hand, you believe there is no new formation of amino acids into life forms today, I need to understand when you believe this process stopped.

    Michael-So out of all of these we speculate there are some ahead of Earth, some at the same evolutionary time track as Earth and some behind Earth in the process.

    John-I doubt it’s very meaningful (absent context) to speak of ‘ahead’ or ‘behind’ (it’s not a ‘race’ to ‘ascension’ except in wishful thinking) far as I can tell there is only more or less generations per unit time, and what the mutation rate is, and what the environment is, and yet more factors (and none are simple linear or independent functions). You know, reality.
    Sure, you can expect some ecospheres have been extant longer than others, but I think you’re taking “Earthlike” a little too literally.

    Choose the phrase you like best. If not “ahead” or “behind” then “more” or “less” will describe the process just as well. (Are humans “ahead” of chimpanzees on the evolutionary scale or have “more” generations passed for humans? Will chimpanzees evolve to become similar to what humans are today? Will they speak language, will they wear neckties? Can we anticipate a timeline for when this might occur if we use the evolutionary record proposed by some scientists?)As far as “literal” relationship of other “Earth-like” planets to Earth, I am simply using the phrase provided by scientists who are exploring the Universe for these planets. Of course there is speculation that life could form on planets that would support silicon life forms, etc., but rather than “going exotic” I am simply trying do narrow down the probabilities to a few hundred quadrillion. :)

    Michael-Using a Bell curve we can estimate approximately 95% would be at the same place in evolution as Earth (if, for the sake of argument we accept Earth as standard) and then split the other 5% on either side between 2 standard deviations.

    John-You’re ad-hoccing here; whyever do you just assume a normal distribution? (And you seem to have forgotten my noting that space and time are closely related, since those large numbers you adduced apply to separation in time and space)

    As I indicated, this is for sake of argument. If you prefer to put Earth at the right or the left of the curve, that is fine with me, but the laws of mathematical probability still apply as a fixed time frame of approximately 14.5 billion years has been provided by the scientific community as the age of the Universe and approximately 4.6 billion for the age of Earth. Like it or not, from current scientific thought perspective, all that you see on Earth has occurred within this period no matter how closely time and space are related. Nebulas, star formation, planet creation, life evolution all fit within it. If you have a different time frame or theory to propose, I would be glad to hear it!

    John-[Allusion to the Fermi paradox noted]
    If Earth is at the far right that would be an explanation, but if so, Heaven help us! (pun intended!)

    Michael-Yet you would tend to think that 22.75 quadrillion possible planets ahead of Earth on the scale of evolution would “stack the odds” in favor of some form of contact.

    John-I’ve already noted that stack of “possibles” you invoke is spread over vast expanses of space and time.

    True they are spread out over the vast expanse of space, but whatever does exist, exists NOW wherever it might be. The fact that it takes whatever time for light to travel so we can see it does not change whatever it may be at this particular moment in time.

    John-(Here’s a straightforward question: What proportion of all these “possibles” are in our light cone?)

    See answer above.

    Michael-[1] Is it possible this life is so far ahead of Earth that it would be detrimental to Earth if they were to communicate with us? [2] Or are they communicating with us, but in ways that are so subtle we don’t realize their influence?

    John -1. I suppose it must be, since I can’t rule it out.
    2. No. Communication is a very specific concept.
    To preempt: Could we be unknowingly influenced by super-advanced entities? I suppose I can’t rule that out.

    Thanks for that anticipation and for honestly admitting the probability could exist.

    John-(When do we get to the higher logic?)

    Patience! We are getting there! The journey is half the fun!

    Comment by Michael, but repeated by John here. Don’t know why it was repeated – If Earth was a billion years further along in its evolutionary development, what do you believe would be the state of mankind?

    John-
    I distinctly recall answering this very question already (I stand by it),

    You did answer, but I did NOT ask the question again. I hope you realize this!

    John-so let me try a different way:
    Consider current Earth, as represented by its ecosystem (E).
    Now consider your hypothetical “Earth a billion years further along in its evolutionary development” as Earth Prime, with its corresponding ecosystem (E’).
    To formalise your implicit claim, we can consider the evolutionary state S of Earth as a function of time S(t) such that S(now)=E and S(now + 1 billion)=E’.
    It seems to me that you clearly think that evolution implies there’s some magnitude metric A where A(S(t)) ≤ A(S(t + T)) for T is some large amount of time, and therefore A(E) ≤ A(E’), and you think that the history of life on Earth has followed this pattern and the evidence shows so. Right?

    No, actually! (Not that your formula is inaccurate) If you recall, I stated I once believed evolution was true, but no longer. I believed that through eons of time a vast chemical primordial pool formed on Earth and amino acids combined and re-combined until life “winked” into existence. From this life evolved all life that we now see on Earth. I encountered one contradiction after another the more I studied this, however.
    Have you actually not noticed any contradictions, yourself?

    • John Morales

      So if I understand you correctly, you DO believe new life is forming and not simply by reproduction, but by the same process it came into existence originally? (And by “originally”, from your vantage point, by the mixing of amino acids over time). I am asking for a “yes” or “no” response here.

      No.

      [1] Again, I neither subscribe to teleonomy or teleology. In fact, I believe they are simply different definitions of the same process, one meant to merely remove what could be considered “un-scientific” implications. [2] My point is to clarify what you are saying. If you agree “new life” is forming from amino acids even now, I can understand your concept of evolution as logical. If, on the other hand, you believe there is no new formation of amino acids into life forms today, I need to understand when you believe this process stopped.

      1. Not different definitions, but different processes yielding the same outcome (the appearance of design), one of which does not rely on the supernatural.

      2. Conditions on Earth now are known to be very different to how it conditions when the genesis of life occurred (call it E`), but there’s probably more than one pathway, so I don’t know.

      (What I do believe is that chemistry works the same now as it did then, so it’s certainly possible if conditions are right)

      [1] Choose the phrase you like best. If not “ahead” or “behind” then “more” or “less” will describe the process just as well. [2] (Are humans “ahead” of chimpanzees on the evolutionary scale or have “more” generations passed for humans? Will chimpanzees evolve to become similar to what humans are today? Will they speak language, will they wear neckties? Can we anticipate a timeline for when this might occur if we use the evolutionary record proposed by some scientists?) [3] As far as “literal” relationship of other “Earth-like” planets to Earth, I am simply using the phrase provided by scientists who are exploring the Universe for these planets. Of course there is speculation that life could form on planets that would support silicon life forms, etc., but rather than “going exotic” I am simply trying do narrow down the probabilities to a few hundred quadrillion. :)

      1. You are the one proposing some putative metric for evolutionary advancement, not I.

      As I’ve alluded, time alone can not be a sufficient determinant: things such as the size of the ecosystem (and/or the amount of available resources) and the rate of reproduction would be (at least) equally significant.

      (More importantly, one cannot generalise from a sample of 1)

      2. It is not clear that intelligence implies more advancement overall unless your metric is intelligence.

      3. You keep invoking large numbers, but you keep evading the point that these numbers relate to all of time and of space rather than that portion of it with which we can interact.

      As I indicated, this is for sake of argument. If you prefer to put Earth at the right or the left of the curve, that is fine with me, but the laws of mathematical probability still apply as a fixed time frame of approximately 14.5 billion years has been provided by the scientific community as the age of the Universe and approximately 4.6 billion for the age of Earth.

      What is your metric for determination of degree of “evolutionary advancement”, if not intelligence?

      But if you want vague speculation on that basis, I offer this: I think it’s just contingency that humans acquired sapience when we did, rather than (say) 20,000 years earlier. Imagine what might now be!*

      As it stands, I think that we are at (or rapidly approaching) a critical point: What happens if natural selection is replaced by human selection, and if the genome itself can be manipulated?

      <shrug>

      [1] True they are spread out over the vast expanse of space, but whatever does exist, exists NOW wherever it might be. The fact that it takes whatever time for light to travel so we can see it does not change whatever it may be at this particular moment in time.

      John-(Here’s a straightforward question: What proportion of all these “possibles” are in our light cone?)

      [2] See answer above.

      Space and time are relative, Earth’s light cone places limits over what portion of spacetime we can access.

      You did answer, but I did NOT ask the question again. I hope you realize this!

      Huh. My apologies, I obviously screwed-up somehow.

      I believed that through eons of time a vast chemical primordial pool formed on Earth and amino acids combined and re-combined until life “winked” into existence. From this life evolved all life that we now see on Earth. I encountered one contradiction after another the more I studied this, however.
      Have you actually not noticed any contradictions, yourself?

      I know there was a time when there was no life on Earth, and then there was. I know life is a physical process. I know abiogenesis research is a lively and ongoing field of biology, and that science is self-correcting (ie tries to falsify its theories as best as it can).

      No, I’ve not noticed any contradictions, though your adumbration seems cartoonish (for example, life on Earth has been around 7:2 longer than it has not).

      PS It would be helpful if you got the knack of quoting, thus:

      <blockquote>That which is quoted</blockquote>

      That which is quoted

      * Much more economical than your billion years, no? ;)

    • michaeld11

      John,

      Michael – “So if I understand you correctly, you DO believe new life is forming and not simply by reproduction, but by the same process it came into existence originally? (And by “originally”, from your vantage point, by the mixing of amino acids over time). I am asking for a “yes” or “no” response here.”

      John – “No.”

      John – “Conditions on Earth now are known to be very different to how it conditions when the genesis of life occurred (call it E`), but there’s probably more than one pathway, so I don’t know.”

      John – “(What I do believe is that chemistry works the same now as it did then, so it’s certainly possible if conditions are right)
      So is it “No”, “I don’t know” or maybe?

      Michael- Again, I neither subscribe to teleonomy or teleology. In fact, I believe they are simply different definitions of the same process, one meant to merely remove what could be considered “un-scientific” implications

      John -1. Not different definitions, but different processes yielding the same outcome (the appearance of design), one of which does not rely on the supernatural.

      You “strain at a gnat”. One suggests a “higher power”
      (the watchmaker) initiated the entire process as you
      understand it and stepped away, the other denies
      a “higher power” and suggests it has all occurred by
      random events. The process is the same for the unit of
      evolution

      Michael -[1] Choose the phrase you like best. If not “ahead” or “behind” then “more” or “less” will describe the process just as well. [2] (Are humans “ahead” of chimpanzees on the evolutionary scale or have “more” generations passed for humans? Will chimpanzees evolve to become similar to what humans are today? Will they speak language, will they wear neckties? Can we anticipate a timeline for when this might occur if we use the evolutionary record proposed by some scientists?)

      [3] As far as “literal” relationship of other “Earth-like” planets to Earth, I am simply using the phrase provided by scientists who are exploring the Universe for these planets. Of course there is speculation that life could form on planets that would support silicon life forms, etc., but rather than “going exotic” I am simply trying do narrow down the probabilities to a few hundred quadrillion. :-)

      John -1. You are the one proposing some putative metric for evolutionary advancement, not I. As I’ve alluded, time alone can not be a sufficient determinant: things such as the size of the ecosystem (and/or the amount of available resources) and the rate of reproduction would be (at least) equally significant. (More importantly, one cannot generalise from a sample of 1)

      The metric already exists, John, if you believe
      evolution is true. The scientific community that
      adheres to evolution accepts the proposal the Universe
      is approximately 14.5 billion years old and the Earth
      is approximately 4.6 billion years old. You have
      proposed no new theory or suggested any other
      alternative. I must, therefore, surmise you agree with
      this model.

      If so, you are stating that all life as we currently
      know it fits in this metric of time. As far
      as “Space”, I would be very interested to hear your
      measurement for the expanse. No scientist wanting to
      be credible has yet placed a number on its size, only
      speculated on the distance the material within it has
      traveled since the “Big Bang” and theorized how far
      that material will yet travel before it stops and
      reverses trajectory. This is the “cartoonish” aspect
      as this eternal, perpetual motion yo-yo of matter and
      energy winds and rewinds.

      As far as the law of mathematical probabilities, yes,
      absolutely can we theorize ecosystems other than our
      own using our own as the model! You can throw in any
      other variables you choose: size, resources, rate of
      reproduction, etc. Create your own Universal SIMS game
      if you like, but you have a fixed time of 14.5 billion
      years to work with in your model and you have a
      definitive example of what theoretically occurred in
      4.6 billion years.

      John -2. It is not clear that intelligence implies more advancement overall unless your metric is intelligence.

      My metric for proposed evolution is the time it takes
      to occur and the theoretical results within that
      timeframe. We can talk about “survival of the fittest”
      or the formation of a mountain chain. Intelligence is
      a relative term and I have certainly observed many who
      make me want to believe in de-evolution. (Not you!!)

      I look at what exists now on Earth and simply ask the
      question, presupposing that we somehow manage not to
      destroy ourselves and the Earth with it, what does an
      evolutionist imagine for mankind? Maybe you prefer
      Stephen Hawking’s concept of “self-designed evolution”?

      I look at the 14.5 billion year bubble of time we
      supposedly exist within and contemplate, from that
      perspective, what else has occurred? Is it so strange
      to expect that from the quadrillions of theoretical
      Earth-like planets there would be some who have
      advanced past our current stage? Interaction is not
      dependant on Earth being the first to traverse the
      expanse of Space. We have long ago learned we are not
      the center of the Universe!

      John-3. You keep invoking large numbers, but you keep evading the point that these numbers relate to all of time and of space rather than that portion of it with which we can interact.

      I am not “evading” anything. I’ve stated several
      times that space and time are fixed in our model.
      With what do you feel we are unable to “interact”?
      Are we able to physically travel to the Andromeda
      galaxy and “interact”? Of course not! Yet the
      scientific community is able to give you very specific
      details which you believe. What about right here on
      Earth? Have you had the opportunity to
      physically “interact” with the bottom of the Marianas
      Trench? Yet you have no doubt it exists, you can look
      up its depth and length and study the amazing
      creatures that have been found there. All without ever
      even have placed a foot outside of your home.

      Michael -As I indicated, this is for sake of argument. If you prefer to put Earth at the right or the left of the curve, that is fine with me, but the laws of mathematical probability still apply as a fixed time frame of approximately 14.5 billion years has been provided by the scientific community as the age of the Universe and approximately 4.6 billion for the age of Earth.

      John -What is your metric for determination of degree of “evolutionary advancement”, if not intelligence?

      See answer above

      John – But if you want vague speculation on that basis, I offer this: I think it’s just contingency that humans acquired sapience when we did, rather than (say) 20,000 years earlier. Imagine what might now be!* * Much more economical than your billion years, no?
      As it stands, I think that we are at (or rapidly approaching) a critical point: What happens if natural selection is replaced by human selection, and if the genome itself can be manipulated?

      Don’t shrug! Think this through! How far away are we
      from this right now?!! I threw out a billion years
      because scientists have already speculated that whole
      galaxies have already formed, thrived and demised
      within “our 14.5 billion years”. If you can imagine
      20,000 years hence, what would 500 times that yield?

      Michael-[1] True they are spread out over the vast expanse of space, but whatever does exist, exists NOW wherever it might be. The fact that it takes whatever time for light to travel so we can see it does not change whatever it may be at this particular moment in time.

      John-(Here’s a straightforward question: What proportion of all these “possibles” are in our light cone?)

      Michael-See answer above.

      John-Space and time are relative, Earth’s light cone places limits over what portion of spacetime we can access.

      Only if you are looking at it as Earth central. Don’t
      think of it as what we can access only in ourselves,
      but that we can also be accessed. Another statement
      from Stephen Hawking – “If aliens visit us the outcome
      would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which
      didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans. We only
      have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life
      might develop into something we wouldn’t want to
      meet.” I personally think he is taking “Falling Skies”
      too literally, but that’s just me :-)

      Michael-You did answer, but I did NOT ask the question again. I hope you realize this!

      John- Huh. My apologies, I obviously screwed-up somehow.

      I think it might be with your method of “quotation”
      (sigh), but I expect you will get the hang of it! :-)

    • John Morales

      So is it “No”, “I don’t know” or maybe?

      I don’t have good reason to believe it’s the case, I don’t know whether it’s the case, and I believe it’s not impossible.

      The metric already exists, John, if you believe evolution is true. The scientific community that adheres to evolution accepts the proposal the Universe is approximately 14.5 billion years old and the Earth is approximately 4.6 billion years old.

      Duration is a metric for time, not for evolutionary achievement.

      What you seek to do is compare E with some putative F, so that you can determine the difference in evolutionary “advancement” between the S(E) and S(F). Such is the metric that one would need to address your hypothetical question.

      You have proposed no new theory or suggested any other alternative. I must, therefore, surmise you agree with
      this model.

      You seem confused; I’ve never claimed to disagree with evolutionary biology or the time frames to which you refer, and it’s not for me to propose a way to measure how “evolutionarily advanced” any given ecosphere might be compared to another.

      If so, you are stating that all life as we currently know it fits in this metric of time. As far as “Space”, I would be very interested to hear your measurement for the expanse.

      Time and space are not independent; physics (including cosmology) deals with spacetime.

      (This came as quite a surprise to science, BTW — and, incidentally, makes moot those arguments that imagine a flat space and a cosmic, uniform time, since we know reality doesn’t work like that)

      No scientist wanting to be credible has yet placed a number on its size, only speculated on the distance the material within it has traveled since the “Big Bang” and theorized how far that material will yet travel before it stops and reverses trajectory.

      There’s a lot of information out there: physical cosmology is an ongoing field of science and the advances made in the last century are astounding.

      (Seems rather pointless to go so far, anyway. Our galaxy should be big enough for the sort of arguments that matter)

      This is the “cartoonish” aspect as this eternal, perpetual motion yo-yo of matter and energy winds and rewinds.

      You know I referred to your synopsis of Earth’s supposed abiogenesis. :)

      [1] My metric for proposed evolution is the time it takes to occur and the theoretical results within that timeframe. [2] We can talk about “survival of the fittest” or the formation of a mountain chain. Intelligence is a relative term and I have certainly observed many who make me want to believe in de-evolution. (Not you!!)

      1. Um. Surely you’re not thinking of some function where complexity is a linear function of time or similar?

      2. Well, you seem to be talking about some putative way to determine evolutionary “advancement” that you can use to compare different ecospheres — that is the thing that would qualify as a metric.

      I look at what exists now on Earth and simply ask the question, presupposing that we somehow manage not to destroy ourselves and the Earth with it, what does an evolutionist imagine for mankind? Maybe you prefer Stephen Hawking’s concept of “self-designed evolution”?

      I addressed all of that above; most importantly, I think prognostications as regards humanity become very uncertain in a timeframe of decades, never mind of hundreds or even thousands of years.

      (As far as the ecosphere goes, I’m pretty sure it will continue, but will certainly lose complexity in the near term (we are in the process of what archaeologically would appear to be an extinction event)).

      [1] Interaction is not dependant on Earth being the first to traverse the expanse of Space. [2] We have long ago learned we are not the center of the Universe!

      1. Again: interaction with Earth is impossible outside Earth’s light cone.

      2. Again, you’re apparently working on a Newtonian model of fixed space and time.

      I am not “evading” anything. I’ve stated several
      times that space and time are fixed in our model.
      With what do you feel we are unable to “interact”?

      I urge you to peruse the links I’ve been including, since you clearly fail to understand their import.

      Don’t shrug! Think this through! How far away are we
      from this right now?!! I threw out a billion years
      because scientists have already speculated that whole
      galaxies have already formed, thrived and demised
      within “our 14.5 billion years”. If you can imagine
      20,000 years hence, what would 500 times that yield?

      I leave such wild speculating to wild speculators, and merely note that I don’t believe you grok deep time.

    • michaeld11

      John,

      Michael – So is it “No”, “I don’t know” or maybe?
      (Regarding new life formation similar to that which started the evolution of life on Earth as we know it)

      John- I don’t have good reason to believe it’s the case, I
      don’t know whether it’s the case, and I believe it’s not
      impossible.

      Leaving all options open, this is good, we’re making
      progress! You’ll be an agnostic before too long :-)

      Michael – The metric already exists, John, if you believe evolution is true. The scientific community that adheres to evolution accepts the proposal the Universe is approximately 14.5 billion years old and the Earth is approximately 4.6 billion years old.

      John – Duration is a metric for time, not for evolutionary achievement. What you seek to do is compare E with some putative F, so that you can determine the difference in evolutionary “advancement” between the S(E) and S(F). Such is the metric that one would need to address your hypothetical question.

      You are missing my point. This year we recognize as
      2012. We’ll call this (N) At some point in the distance
      past, (some propose at 3.5 billion years ago) life
      winked into existence on planet Earth. We’ll call this
      (P). From (P) until (N) everything that anyone who
      accepts the theory of evolution knows (or doesn’t know)
      about the evolution of life has occurred within that
      fixed time line.

      There is nothing more unless you have some new evidence
      or theory which you say you don’t as you agree with the
      current model. Now you might not like me applying this
      model in mathematical probability to other potential
      ecospheres, but the actual purpose of scientists
      identifying potential Earth-like planets is because they
      are considering them to be able to support Earth-like
      life.

      As I said previously, if you would like to introduce
      other factors, be my guest, play the Universal SIM game,
      but you already have an actual “working” model to
      determine probabilities.

      Further, any other models you wish to grant additional
      time can not exceed the 14.5 billion year window already
      established for the age of the Universe (unless you
      would like to extend that?)

      Michael -You have proposed no new theory or suggested any other alternative. I must, therefore, surmise you agree with this model.

      John- You seem confused; I’ve never claimed to disagree with evolutionary biology or the time frames to which you refer, and it’s not for me to propose a way to measure how “evolutionarily advanced” any given ecosphere might be compared to another.

      No confusion at all. We recognize from scientific
      research there are “very large” numbers :-) of potential
      Earth-like planets that exist in the Universe.
      Accepting this we can then theorize, if the start of
      evolution of life is actually a chemical process of
      mixing inorganic materials in just the right
      combination, the potential exists this has occurred in
      other locations throughout the Universe. Some may have
      occurred within the “bubble of our theorized 14.5
      billion year window prior to Earth and some may have
      occurred (or are occurring) after.

      If you choose not to speculate what Earth-like life that
      is many generations beyond Earth’s current state of
      evolution would be like, that is your prerogative, but I
      think it’s the “easy way out” if you aren’t willing to
      consider it.

      I say this because, again, if you accept the concept of
      evolution, you accept that species continue to evolve
      and IMO you must consider what that means for mankind.
      Science is steadily working to find ways to extend our
      life spans, to conquer disease, to engineer DNA. Do you
      seriously believe, if we do not destroy ourselves first,
      that we will stop until we have achieved a way to make
      ourselves “immortal”? What extraterrestrial
      civilizations already exist that are further along in
      this process than mankind? Don’t think about it because
      you’re not qualified?

      Michael – If so, you are stating that all life as we currently know it fits in this metric of time. (14.5 billion years) As far as “Space”, I would be very interested to hear your measurement for the expanse.

      John – Time and space are not independent; physics (including cosmology) deals with spacetime. (This came as quite a surprise to science, BTW — and, incidentally, makes moot those arguments that imagine a flat space and a cosmic, uniform time, since we know reality doesn’t work like that)

      Are length, width and height “independent”? There are
      no actual objects that are only one dimensional or two
      dimensional are there? These are merely mathematical
      concepts we have devised. Take a sheet of paper and
      draw a line and you have a one dimensional object right?
      Wrong! The paper has thickness; even the pen or pencil
      markings have thickness. The concept may be one
      dimensional, but the actual object is more.

      So it is with space and time. Take the room you are
      sitting in. Look over to the nearest light switch. The
      distance between where you are sitting in relation to
      the switch is “x” distance, simply a concept in order to
      convey to someone else a physical relationship as to
      where you are and where the switch is. Yet you still
      must look through the room to see the switch and between
      you and it there is a great deal of matter and energy,
      most of which you do not see with your eyes. Air
      molecules, dust particles, light particles, etc. all
      fill the expanse between you and the switch. Gravity is
      at work, there is heat, there is humidity, sound waves
      and countless other “entities”, I’ll call them, that you
      are not able to see, but, nonetheless, they are there.

      Why does that change because we leave Earth’s
      atmosphere? No heat in space? If light particles are
      traveling through space, wherever those particles are
      traveling there is heat. No “humidity” in space? I dare
      say in the area surrounding comets as they travel
      through space there is water vapor. Is there any cubic
      parsec in Space that has absolutely “nothing” in it? I
      suppose it’s possible, but I find it improbable.

      As far as time is concerned, again, you are considering
      a man made concept. If you want to consider
      the “reality” we exist within and how it “works”
      consider that right now, at this very instance, there
      are twenty-four time zones on Earth, but we all exist
      together NOW.

      As I type this, somewhere on Earth there is someone
      typing who is 11 hours ahead of me and 11 hours behind
      me, but we are in the same instance. If life does in
      fact exist trillions of light years away from Earth, it
      exists NOW. We might not be able to reach that location
      or they may not be able to reach our location for
      many “large number” years, but right now someone “there”
      is there, just as we are here.

      Michael – No scientist wanting to be credible has yet placed a number on its size, only speculated on the distance the material within it has traveled since the “Big Bang” and theorized how far that material will yet travel before it stops and reverses trajectory.

      John – There’s a lot of information out there: physical cosmology is an ongoing field of science and the advances made in the last century are astounding. (Seems rather pointless to go so far, anyway. Our galaxy should be big enough for the sort of arguments that matter)

      It is only “far away” in our ability to reach the
      destination. England is far away, but I can imagine
      instantly locations I have visited and though I have not
      been to mainland China, I have no problem traversing the
      distance from here to there in my mind. So, while we
      could certainly narrow and confine ourselves to regions
      even as limited as the Internet, I prefer to consider
      the entire Universe and everything we suspect that it
      represents.

      Michael – [1] Interaction is not dependant on Earth being the first to traverse the expanse of Space. [2] We have long ago learned we are not the center of the Universe!

      John -1. Again: interaction with Earth is impossible outside Earth’s light cone. 2. Again, you’re apparently working on a Newtonian model of fixed space and time.

      Michael – I am not “evading” anything. I’ve stated several times that space and time are fixed in our model. With what do you feel we are unable to “interact”?

      John – I urge you to peruse the links I’ve been including, since you clearly fail to understand their import.

      I understand the concepts fairly well, but I am not
      locked into them as you appear to be. For instance, when
      you propose that any “interaction with Earth is
      impossible outside Earth’s light cone” what have you
      done with worm hole theory which is not dependant on
      Earth’s light cone? If Space can be “bent”,
      significantly reducing the time it takes to travel
      between points which are determined by coordinates
      rather than light cones, interaction is possible between
      all locations.

    • John Morales

      PS 20,000 x 500 = 10,000,000

      (cough)

    • michaeld11

      John,

      You would have preferred I said 50,000? I thought you didn’t like me using such big numbers? :-)

    • John Morales

      I do prefer correctness, and numbers are just numbers (scalars).

      I do wonder at the point of this digression into speculation well beyond the evidence and state of knowledge, as well as the necessity for the domain of discourse to be all of reality (rather than just, say, our Local Group) to get to the point.

      So, let me try to advance matters by granting arguendo that there may be super-evolved ecospheres somewhere/somewhen.

      (You think they’ll be like the X-Men?)

    • John Morales

      If you wish to base your speculations using absolute time and space, that’s fine. But it doesn’t help your case.

      I say this because, again, if you accept the concept of
      evolution, you accept that species continue to evolve
      and IMO you must consider what that means for mankind.

      It means we ain’t extinct yet.

  • michaeld11

    John,

    I believe my “case” is much more credible. I accept the concept of eternity.

    Go back 15 billion years, 30 billion, 100 trillion. Time is only a concept that mankind has created to keep track of events.

    I see one infinite number line and God exists at all points on that line.

    Matter and energy were created, otherwise they have always existed and “they” become your version of “eternal existence”. (sing it with Joni Mitchell, “we are stardust, we are golden”)

    You choose to reject the concept of a “Supreme Being” and yet believe that mankind continues to evolve. You say “we ain’t extinct yet”, but do not want to speculate, should we survive, what we may become.

    You can accept the possibility that Alien races may exist, observing man, and influencing us without our knowledge, yet you are certain God can not exist.

    You accept the concept of inorganic matter swirling, mixing, “igniting” into life, but know it doesn’t still happen, don’t know if it still happens and think it maybe could still happen all at the same time, even though evolutionists only theorize that it did and can not recreate its happening in the laboratory.

    Another “infinite” mankind struggles to fathom is Space, both within and without. We are certain if we keep searching we will find the smallest particle even though we can comprehend division, we are certain if we keep observing we will find the edge of the Universe (where it apparently bends back around on top of itself like some giant St. Elsewhere snow globe) even though we can comprehend multiplication.

    We have pronounced the speed of light as the absolute speed in the Universe even though one of our brightest scientists used the formula E=MC2 to express the relationship between energy and mass. Why use the speed of light squared if you can’t go any faster than the speed of light?

    You see no contradictions? They surround us. How does an atom stayed “glued” together? The nucleus is full of protons which are all positively charged. Like charges repel and yet somehow they are held together and science is still not able to explain how. We have been able to harness the energy of the atom, but still can not explain what holds it together! We can smash them together and use the energy to power submarines and generate electricity to run cities, but we still have “no clue about the glue”

    You think I used “poor form” when I took on the challenge to prove God doesn’t exist. You think I should have just flipped the argument around and used “Russell’s teapot” to challenge the believers instead. Sorry, but “Russell’s teapot” is a crock! The reason for this is because Mr. Russell had no evidence his teapot left any record of itself other than in his imagination. As much as you want to refute the Bible you can not explain how there are over 300 prophesies about Jesus Christ, written hundreds of years before His birth that His life, death and resurrection fulfilled. (the Dead Sea Scrolls put a cork in the argument these prophesies were written in after Jesus was born)

    You want to limit yourself and others to the “five” senses. Touch, taste, see, hear and smell. Yet you know that you are able to “feel” things with your emotions and “see” things with your intellect that the five senses can not begin to explain. We are so much more than just flesh and blood and we will become so much more than we are even now.

    My “experiment” took me by surprise! I found I have a spirit. I did not want to believe this, I tried to refute it. Indigestion! Food poisoning! Vivid Dream! Something! Anything! It just could not be! And yet, the more I resisted, the more it became so obvious. It isn’t delusion or wishful thinking! It is the key to why we exist. Not some chemical accident, not some eternal cosmic yo-yo vacillating back and forth.

    God said “Let there be Light”

    John, I feel we have reached the end of our discourse. As I said at the beginning of this, I can not “prove” to you that God exists. I am only able to share what I have learned and experienced. You and I are both somewhere between the Absolutes of Belief. I become more certain and assured every day of God’s existence and even of His influence in my life.

    You don’t see this, but look to science for the answers to the questions of life. I love science, after all, I believe God gave mankind the ability to reason and we use science to explore His creation. Unfortunately, we often don’t understand what we see and jump to conclusions about what it means. I know from your thorough approach you have not jumped to conclusions, but I hope you can see that neither have I.

    I realize my saying this means little to a non-believer, but I have been praying for you and will continue to do so. I know when others would say that to me I would think to myself “you poor deluded fool, go ahead and do that if it will make you feel better” I suspect you may have similar thoughts. I do want to warn you that I often see God answer my prayers and I pray for more than just your health and well being.

    I am praying that God will begin to reveal Himself to you in ways that only you will understand. Maybe you need Him to speak to you audibly. Please do not think you are losing your mind if this happens. Yes, I know this sounds crazy. I can only tell you I felt completely amazed with my own experience and, if this happens to you, I am sure you will as well. I realize this is sounding more and more “unscientific”, but we haven’t learned how to measure the spiritual realm in a way that our counters and meters can handle yet (despite what a few TV programs would profess). I dare say even if we did, those who choose not to believe would find another explanation.

    “The more I study nature, the more I stand amazed at the work of the Creator” – Dr. Louis Pasteur

    • John Morales

      Go back 15 billion years, 30 billion, 100 trillion. Time is only a concept that mankind has created to keep track of events.

      The dimension of time is necessary to account for reality no less than the three spatial dimensions; it was no more created by humanity than they were.

      Matter and energy were created, otherwise they have always existed and “they” become your version of “eternal existence”. (sing it with Joni Mitchell, “we are stardust, we are golden”)

      Physics requires the existence of nothing but space-time and mass-energy to explain reality, so far.

      To you imagine they needed to be created, but that their putative creator itself did not is otiose.

      You choose to reject the concept of a “Supreme Being” and yet believe that mankind continues to evolve. You say “we ain’t extinct yet”, but do not want to speculate, should we survive, what we may become.

      You can accept the possibility that Alien races may exist, observing man, and influencing us without our knowledge, yet you are certain God can not exist.

      You accept the concept of inorganic matter swirling, mixing, “igniting” into life, but know it doesn’t still happen, don’t know if it still happens and think it maybe could still happen all at the same time, even though evolutionists only theorize that it did and can not recreate its happening in the laboratory.

      Yes.

      [1] Another “infinite” mankind struggles to fathom is Space, both within and without. We are certain if we keep searching we will find the smallest particle even though we can comprehend division, we are certain if we keep observing we will find the edge of the Universe (where it apparently bends back around on top of itself like some giant St. Elsewhere snow globe) even though we can comprehend multiplication.

      [2] [a] We have pronounced the speed of light as the absolute speed in the Universe even though one of our brightest scientists used the formula E=MC2 to express the relationship between energy and mass. [b] Why use the speed of light squared if you can’t go any faster than the speed of light?

      1. Space not known to be infinite, though it is large (current estimates are that it’s expanding at roughly 72 kilometers per second per Megaparsec).

      2a. It is no mere pronouncement, rather an empirically-based theoretical result, and follows from relativity (specifically, special relativity, which accounted for observations after the falsification of the theory of the luminiferous ether).

      (This was determined over a century ago.)

      2b. You are clearly unfamiliar with dimensional analysis; this should have been part of your science curriculum in early secondary school.
      (You might as well ask why kinetic energy is proportional to mv^2)

      You see no contradictions? They surround us. How does an atom stayed “glued” together? The nucleus is full of protons which are all positively charged. Like charges repel and yet somehow they are held together and science is still not able to explain how. We have been able to harness the energy of the atom, but still can not explain what holds it together! We can smash them together and use the energy to power submarines and generate electricity to run cities, but we still have “no clue about the glue”

      You are clearly unfamiliar with the four fundamental forces physics has determined; perhaps you should read about the weak and strong nuclear forces.

      [1] [a] You think I used “poor form” when I took on the challenge to prove God doesn’t exist. You think I should have just flipped the argument around and used “Russell’s teapot” to challenge the believers instead. [b] Sorry, but “Russell’s teapot” is a crock! The reason for this is because Mr. Russell had no evidence his teapot left any record of itself other than in his imagination. [2] As much as you want to refute the Bible you can not explain how there are over 300 prophesies about Jesus Christ, written hundreds of years before His birth that His life, death and resurrection fulfilled. (the Dead Sea Scrolls put a cork in the argument these prophesies were written in after Jesus was born)

      1a. Russell’s teapot is an analogy that illustrates the concept of the burden of proof and the epistemic pointlessness of asserting a claim that cannot be disproven and has no utility.

      1b. That’s the point. :)

      (You fail to see how it’s analogous to your deity-claim, apparently)

      [1] You want to limit yourself and others to the “five” senses. Touch, taste, see, hear and smell. Yet you know that you are able to “feel” things with your emotions and “see” things with your intellect that the five senses can not begin to explain. [2] We are so much more than just flesh and blood and we will become so much more than we are even now.

      1. You are apparently unfamiliar with the concepts of empiricism and of emergence.

      As an aside, there are more than five physical senses (e.g. propioception) — but the ones to which you refer are mental rather than physical senses (e.g. introspection).

      2. Flesh is the substrate for our consciousness — as well claim that a computer executing a program is much more than its physical components.

      My “experiment” took me by surprise! I found I have a spirit. I did not want to believe this, I tried to refute it. Indigestion! Food poisoning! Vivid Dream! Something! Anything! It just could not be! And yet, the more I resisted, the more it became so obvious. It isn’t delusion or wishful thinking! It is the key to why we exist. Not some chemical accident, not some eternal cosmic yo-yo vacillating back and forth.

      You think it isn’t delusion or wishful thinking, I think it is.

      God said “Let there be Light”

      Had the ancient myth-makers known anything like as much about reality as we now do, they’d have written God said “Let there be spacetime”, and then there would have been some domain in which photons could exist. ;)

      John, I feel we have reached the end of our discourse. As I said at the beginning of this, I can not “prove” to you that God exists. I am only able to share what I have learned and experienced. You and I are both somewhere between the Absolutes of Belief. I become more certain and assured every day of God’s existence and even of His influence in my life.

      Fair enough.

      I admit I was hoping for more than wishful thinking and arguments from incredulity and personal anecdote, but there you go.

      [1] You don’t see this, but [you] look to science for the answers to the questions of life. I love science, after all, I believe God gave mankind the ability to reason and we use science to explore His creation. Unfortunately, we often don’t understand what we see and jump to conclusions about what it means. [2] I know from your thorough approach you have not jumped to conclusions, but I hope you can see that neither have I.

      1. I think you think you know more about science and philosophy than you actually do.

      2. Fear of death and fear of insignificance are both understandable bases for wishful thinking.

      I realize my saying this means little to a non-believer, but I have been praying for you and will continue to do so. I know when others would say that to me I would think to myself “you poor deluded fool, go ahead and do that if it will make you feel better” I suspect you may have similar thoughts. I do want to warn you that I often see God answer my prayers and I pray for more than just your health and well being.

      I sincerely thank you for your good-will.

      “The more I study nature, the more I stand amazed at the work of the Creator” – Dr. Louis Pasteur

      “PRAY, v. To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.”

      (Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary)

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  • Dave

    I simply want to thank you so much for sharing your story. It means so much to me, I have a similar background, and wish I had more friends like you to talk through some of this with. The blog is fantastic, and I really enjoy the way your write. Thanks for taking the time to share with us.

    Peace and best wishes-

  • http://www.nanowrimo.org/en/participants/ashleyboone11 Patricia Rudney

    Impressive. Will you be adding more soon?

  • http://www.wideopenground.com/ Lana

    You know, I like your blog. I only sometimes read it because I’m not an atheist, but wow, I so relate to this story. I converted to Calvinism in high school, so my conversion wasn’t as intellectual but still fairly intellectual for a 16 year old. It was a long hard process that I’m glad to be out of. I’ve always felt Kierkegaard at a personal level.


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