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Dr Johnson: Non-Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA)

Can science say anything about religious claims? Does religion have anything to say in the domain of science?

Stephen Jay Gould (1941–2002) a paleontologist, biologist, and popularize of science wrote of many things, and one was this clash between religion and science (Rocks of Ages, 1999).

Like Rodney “Can’t we all get along?” King, Gould tried to get everyone to play nice. Science and Religion, he said, are two magesteria—areas of authority—that don’t overlap. He described the different domains of these two Non-Overlapping Magesteria (NOMA) this way:

Science gets the age of rocks, and religion the rock of ages; science studies how the heavens go, and religion how to go to heaven.

No one steps on anyone’s toes, and everyone’s happy.

I heard a variation of this in a lecture by Oxford mathematics professor John Lennox a year ago (“John Lennox Responds to Stephen Hawking”). Lennox argues that the two domains overlap but overlap contentedly. For example, Isaac Newton had no problem accepted both gravity and God. Gravity could both be studied scientifically and also be the product of God’s hand.

Yet another reaction is by Richard Dawkins. About Gould’s make-nice accommodation, he says in The God Delusion, “Gould carried the art of bending over backwards to positively supine lengths.” About Gould’s quote above, Dawkins says:

This sounds terrific—right up until you give it a moment’s thought. What are these ultimate questions in whose presence religion is an honoured guest and science must respectfully slink away?

Lampooning NOMA further, he imagines that scientists discover DNA evidence that Jesus really did lack a biological father. Would Christian apologists who favor NOMA say that the magesteria don’t overlap and that scientific evidence is irrelevant to the study of theology? Would they dismiss the scientists with their useless evidence?

Of course not. Within certain circles of Christianity, this would be the discovery of the century. Given the choice of NOMA or evidence, they’ll take the evidence. Faith is nice as far as it goes, but it’s second best when the alternative is hard science that supports the Christian position.

Most Christians have learned from the Galileo fiasco and have no problem with evolution, though Dawkins sides with the other Christians. He agrees that they are rightly concerned that evolution and Christianity are incompatible.

NOMA is a nice idea, but given the continued clash between science and science deniers with a religious agenda, it has had little impact.

The Holy Spirit intended to teach us in the Bible
how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go
— Galileo

See all the definitions in the Cross Examined Glossary.

About Bob Seidensticker
  • RandomFunction2

    To Bob the broken atheist,

    I think the idea behind proposals such as the NOMA is that science cannot prove or disprove the existence of God. It cannot prove or disprove the existence of some life after death (though neuroscience casts some doubt on that possibility).

    However, there is indeed a religious claim that science may theoretically disprove some day. It’s the freedom of the will. It’s not impossible that science discovers that our conscious awareness has no significant influence upon our actual behavior, or it may come to the conclusion that people are only physical systems that cannot help following mechanical laws and cannot do otherwise. We may say that when science discovers the cause of a piece of behavior, it’s removed from the province of what we think we control.

  • DrewL

    Nice job Bob, you have adequately researched a flawed understanding of religion-science, named real people who believe it (instead of imaginary “some Christians…”), and rightly dismissed the understanding as being insufficient. I’m not sure you could find a single philosopher (either of religion or science) who adhered to Gould’s thesis–it really didn’t work well for religion or science.

    You don’t have the full story on Lennox: his larger argument is that the real conflict will lie between religion and a certain form of science: naturalism or positivism. But since naturalism and positivism actually have claims in them that can’t be scientifically verified, they themselves conflict with science too. If a person is practicing science without naturalistic assumptions, that science won’t conflict with religion. This actually isn’t a Christian-apologetics position: this is what the entire field of philosophy of science has argued for half a century. I can provide some wikipedia articles if needed.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      I’m glad you liked the post.

      But since naturalism and positivism actually have claims in them that can’t be scientifically verified, they themselves conflict with science too.

      I think I see your point here, but I also think that too much is made of this. I’ve heard many apologists delight in pointing out self-refuting aspects of an opponent’s argument when a simple restatement is what was needed. In other words, they could’ve taken the charitable route to suggest a little wordsmithing to make the statement kosher, but they preferred to try to disqualify the argument altogether.

      “There is no source for truth but science” is nothing I would claim (history being another route, for example), but I still object to the “Ha! That’s self-refuting! You lose.” response.

      If a person is practicing science without naturalistic assumptions, that science won’t conflict with religion.

      Evolution didn’t become the consensus with naturalistic presumptions, but many Christians think that it conflicts.

      And if by “naturalistic assumptions,” you mean completely ruling out anything but natural explanations, I see the problem. But surely both of us would look for the natural explanation first and supernatural one later (in any domain except Christianity, of course).

      And consider this: before 1896 and the discovery of x-rays, we knew that you couldn’t see through opaque objects. But then you could. Before 1896, was “you can’t see through opaque objects” the natural view, with seeing through them the supernatural view? In that case, science simply subsumed a supernatural bit and made it natural.

      I’m just wondering here how we’d define things. I think that I’d say that “natural” was expanded to include something that had been supernatural. And you?

      • DrewL

        But surely both of us would look for the natural explanation first and supernatural one later (in any domain except Christianity, of course).

        It would probably depend on the methodology of inquiry, and different methodologies of inquiry have different notions of “natural explanation.” If I’m a psychologist inquiring about something, I can provide what I see as a “naturalistic” explanation that may very well pin the phenomena on the unconscious. If I’m a theoretical physicist I can provide a “naturalistic” explanation that appeals to dark matter or multiverse theory. If I’m a Marxist historian I could provide a “naturalistic” explanation that appealed to social class.

        So you’re right for many casesthat we’d look for the “naturalistic” explanation first: we drive our sick and injured to the emergency room, not the church. But when the question is something else, say whether there is an all-knowing God or what happens after we die, that it’s not clear what method of inquiry is appropriate, and then it resultantly becomes unclear what definition of “naturalistic” is appropriate.

        One thing for sure: if we didn’t make the psychologist, theoretical physicist, or Marxist historian slap down their explanation (that is, the unconscious, dark matter, or a social class, respectively) in a scientific laboratory for empirical observation, it seems arbitrary to require a religious person to slap down their explanation within a petri dish for scientific prodding and probing. And when they fail to produce something empirical, it seems even more arbitrary to say “well if we can’t see it, it’s not true!” But your yourself have admitted there are other sources for truth than science, so we’re on the same page here. (and you’re on a different page than Sam Harris since you reject scientism, so nice job thinking for yourself here instead of bowing to the atheist magisterium.)

        Your X-ray example is perfect; even better is Quantum Mechanics telling us the laws of Newtonian Psychics, the “naturalistic” explanations of the world, were very limited to particular systems and needed significant qualification, and are just flatly wrong in some cases. A naturalist scientist doing physics within a Newtonian system would likely declare all things Quantum Mechanics to be supernatural and scientifically deplorable. The knee-jerk reaction, which I would call “omniscient chronological snobbery,” would be to scoff at Newtonians (rather than learn from them) and simply reappropriate “naturalistic explanations” to whatever scientific theory is currently in vogue, say Quantum Mechanics, and then declare infallibly “Now this, THIS will be our all-eternal boundary for what is a naturalistic explanation, and if you go outside of this, you might as well be dealing with fairies and unicorn magic.” I lack proper faith in humankind’s all-knowing interpretation of the world to subscribe to such an unverifiable belief.

        You and I would agree there is a time and place for naturalistic, scientific inquiry of particular phenomena, and there’s a time and place where we need knowledge that science laboratories and peer-reviewed journals isn’t going to give us. We probably only disagree on where it is appropriate and inappropriate.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          But when the question is something else, say whether there is an all-knowing God or what happens after we die …

          Right. That’s why I said “in any domain except Christianity, of course.” The Christian might think it’s quite reasonably to quickly turn to a supernatural explanation when this is the topic. But the Christian would be as skeptical as me if it were, say, a report of miracles in Hindu shrines (the miracle of Hindu statues drinking milk from a few years ago, for example).

          it seems arbitrary to require a religious person to slap down their explanation within a petri dish for scientific prodding and probing

          That’s not quite where I was going. I was saying that the Christian is as skeptical as I am in any area except Christianity–”That’s an odd rock! Must’ve been put there by Martians!” for example.

          and then declare infallibly “Now this, THIS will be our all-eternal boundary for what is a naturalistic explanation, and if you go outside of this, you might as well be dealing with fairies and unicorn magic.”

          There’s a big difference between pushing the boundaries of nature (before, you couldn’t see through opaque objects, but now you can; before, it’s a clockwork universe, but now it’s not; etc.) and supernatural beings. Science pushes boundaries all the time, but we’ve seen zero reliable instances of supernatural beings.

        • DrewL

          I think you’re coming back to the fact that we all have nonscientific biases and prejudices about things we don’t want to believe. I’m fine with that. You’ve ignored my evidence that the notion of naturalistic explanation is contingent both historically and methodologically, which messes up your ability to cloak YOUR truth-discerning as a hard-nosed scientific approach. Interestingly, this itself proves my point.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Drew:

          I’m not sure which comment you’re referring back to and am having a hard time understanding your point.

    • Bob Calvan

      Hi Drew,
      Please send me your email address to talk with you in private.
      Thanks,
      Bob Calvan

  • Richard S. Russell

    Not to mention which, fields like behavioral psychology and evolutionary biology are increasingly turning a keen scientific eye on the questions which heretofore religion has thot of as being exclusively in ITS magisterium, and you can bet the religionists are darned uncomfortable with the fact that any given YEAR of scientific investigation in their specialty areas produces more useful knowledge than religion has come up with during the entire history of civilization.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      And I’m wondering what useful knowledge religion has come up with at all. They’ve codified morality (ineptly), but they certainly didn’t invent it. I guess you could say that they’ve puzzled over great ideas, but I’m not sure that any of them really matter much.

      But maybe I’m overlooking some contributions to human knowledge from religion. Anyone?

      • RandomFunction2

        To Bob the broken atheist,

        I told you many times that the Bible discovered linear time. This discovery is fully confirmed by cutting-edge science.

        Another thing, pointed out by sociologist Max Weber, is that the Bible disenchanted the world. Since God is not “in” the world, but transcends it, the world is not divine nor magical. Other religions in Antiquity thought that stars were divine. Many religions thought that spirits dwelt in things. Many religions believed that some things had occult and magical powers. Some religions believed in astrology.

        The biblical viewpoint, its “rationalism”, was a prerequisite for the rise of modern science.

        Sure, it would have been great if the Bible went further and ruled out the existence of angels and devils. Actually, some theologians don’t believe in them.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Thanks for repeating this. I’d forgotten this point of yours.

          I was just listening to a Bob Price podcast on this question of time. He acknowledged that the early Jews were unusual in their view of time as linear, not cyclical, but that this wasn’t unique. But now I can’t remember the other culture he mentioned that also saw time as linear.

          So perhaps the Jews weren’t unique in this belief.

          I’m not sure what the big deal is. Was this a discovery? Were they the first to scientifically disprove cyclic time? Seems to me that each culture had a mythology about time, and the Jews’ mythology happened to comport with the scientific view we have today. That is, they were right, but not for any good reason, perhaps like a culture that has the idea, “tea is healthful,” without any notion that boiling water kills germs.

          And even if this time thing were a great discovery, what sense does it make to single that one out? To point just to their view of time and ignore the other nonsense they believed (Jacob and the sheep and the wands, for example) and that their god was actually real but that he didn’t give them any new science (simple health advice that was more than what was commonly accepted in that region, for example) doesn’t make the case.

          the Bible disenchanted the world. Since God is not “in” the world, but transcends it, the world is not divine nor magical.

          How is Yahweh worship any different from the worship of any other Canaanite deities? Looks like they’re all quite similar to me. Almost indistinguishable, in fact.

          The biblical viewpoint, its “rationalism”, was a prerequisite for the rise of modern science.

          We saw science in lots of cultures–Chinese, Muslim, Mayan, and so on. I see the correlation between modern science and Europe, but I certainly don’t see the Christianity/science causal link. Christianity’s interaction with science has been far more negative than positive, I’m guessing.

          Sure, it would have been great if the Bible went further and ruled out the existence of angels and devils.

          How did things progress? The Jews went from polytheism to henotheism to monotheism, and then some flavors of Christianity added belief in saints, angels, Satan, and demonic beings? I’m not sure if that’s progress.

        • RandomFunction2

          To Bob S,

          You had asked for religious contributions to scientific knowledge. I gave you some examples. But then you proceed to reject them, saying that they don’t really count. You are moving the goalposts.

          Sure, the Bible is not a science textbook (contrary to Aristotle or Euclid or Ptolemy for example), and many errors are found in it. But it contains great insights as well. The scientific errors are not essential to the biblical message, but linear time is. There has to be an absolute beginning and an absolute end. The transcendence of God is essential as well, and it means that the world is left to humans for them to control it. Which by the way does not mean destroying it.

          Another great insight of the Bible is that a human being is not a soul entrapped in a body, as Plato held, but a psychophysiological whole. The body counts. It’s not a mere prison for a self-contained soul. The person IS his/her body. Substance dualism as commonly understood is not biblical.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          RF2:

          You are moving the goalposts.

          Am I guilty of moving the goalposts? Or just not being impressed with those examples?

          I grant that Judaism was different than other religions (not very different from other Canaanite religions, more different than, say, Greek or Roman beliefs, etc.). That doesn’t say that those differences are worthy of being called significant contributions to human knowledge.

          Where did paper and gunpowder come from? China. Where did much early knowledge about chemistry and astronomy come from? The Arab world?

          Where did X come from? From the Bible.

          I’m trying to figure out what the scientific (or knowledge) advance of X is.

          But it contains great insights as well.

          Meh. I think that’s in the eye of the beholder. If you say you’ve found such insights, I’m sure that’s true.

          The scientific errors are not essential to the biblical message, but linear time is.

          The scientific errors tell us that this is just the book of ordinary, natural people. No supernatural influence. And perhaps that’s your point–not that God gave us great wisdom through the Bible but simply that this ancient blog had unique and influential insights. OK, but I’m still not seeing the insights. Maybe we just have different standards for “unique and influential insight.”

          There has to be an absolute beginning and an absolute end.

          Wait–are we still in the domain of scientific truths? Does science say that there was an absolute beginning? They kinda say that for this universe, but I don’t think the story ends there.

          The transcendence of God is essential as well, and it means that the world is left to humans for them to control it.

          Is this to be an explanation for why God is so hidden?

          Which by the way does not mean destroying it.

          Let’s encourage the Christians to stop denying anthropogenic climate change and start working on improvements!

      • avalon

        Hi Bob,
        You said, “And I’m wondering what useful knowledge religion has come up with at all.”
        The goal of religion is to come up with comforting knowledge, not useful knowledge. Religion sees intuition as accurate knowledge beyond the scope of reason or argument. Those intuitions are seen as self-evident truths that require no defense.
        The goal of science is to find objective truths, whether they’re comforting or not. Science sees intuition as a possible hypothesis to be proved or disproved by reason and experiment.

        So while there are areas over overlap between science and religion, they tend to talk past each other because they have different goals and different ideas about what constitutes “knowledge”.

        avalon

        • DrewL

          avalon, you might want to develop a more historically-informed understanding of religion. Yes Freud treated religious beliefs this way, but Freud has been criticized for not being all that knowledgeable about religions outside his own contemporary context. Not all religious truth is comforting: there are hard demands in the Old Testament, even harder demands in the New Testament (cut out your eyes, give all your money to the poor, anger is equal to murder, etc), and a lot of very difficult demands requirements in Buddhism and Islam as well, or even ancient religions that called for castration or self-flagellation.

          You should also think about reviewing the history of science, which has been known to throw out or even vehemently attack truths that failed to be properly comforting or affirming. Hundreds of scientists rose up against Einstein in Europe because he was disrupting so many things that we held to be certain. Likewise, take a look at Wikipedia’s scientific racism article, which attests that sometimes we really like our science to be comforting to our belief systems. Particularly in the 19th Century many of the top scientists were using science to comfortably affirm their values: it took a long time for the “objective truth” to finally fight through. As I said in the other comment, we always face the temptation of “omniscient chronological snobbery” that science in the past made mistakes, but we’re far too intelligent for that. That’s not a faith belief I adhere to.

        • avalon

          Hi Drew,
          You bring up good points about science. But, as you said, this refers to the history of science. That is, science has improved over time.
          As for religious belief sometimes being hard, I agree that’s true. But what is comforting is not always easy or comfortable. Here’s Peter Kreeft’s take on a search for truth:
          “If the two most important things in us are the desire for truth and our hearts search for the Supreme object to love. If those two things led in opposite directions we’d be fundamentally split. So this gives you a great psychic integration.” Peter Kreeft

          You didn’t address my main point about intuition. Here’s some quotes from William Lane Craig. Compare them to how science sees intuition:
          “We’ve already said that it’s the Holy Spirit who gives us the ultimate assurance of Christianity’s truth. Therefore, the ONLY role left for argument and evidence to play is a SUBSIDIARY role.”
          “The fact is we can know the truth whether we have rational arguments or not.”
          “Some people… say that reason can at least be used… at least by the unbeliever. They ask how else could we determine which is true, the Bible, the Koran, or the Baghavad-Gita, unless we use argument and evidence to judge them? Now I’ve already answered that question: the Holy Spirit teaches us directly which teaching is really from God…”
          “Thus, although arguments and evidence may be used to support the believer’s faith, they are never properly the basis of the faith.”
          “Should a conflict arise between the witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence, then it is the former [i.e. "Holy Spirit"] which must take precedence over the latter [i.e. "argument & evidence"], not vice versa.”
          “The ministerial use of reason occurs when reason SUBMITS TO and SERVES the gospel. ONLY the ministerial use of reason can be allowed… Reason is a tool to help us better understand and defend our faith.”
          William Lane Craig

          Here’s how Greg Koukl describes intuition:
          Intuition: A Special Way of Knowing
          by Greg Koukl
          There’s a third way of knowing, though, that needs no such justification: intuition. In fact, this way of knowing is so foundational that justification is impossible. That’s because knowledge by intuition is not gained by following a series of facts or a line of reasoning to a conclusion. Instead, we know intuitional truth simply by the process of introspection and immediate awareness.
          Intuitional truth doesn’t require a defense—a justification of the steps that brought one to this knowledge–because this kind of truth isn’t a result of reasoning by steps to a conclusion. It’s an obvious truth that no rational person who understands the nature of the issue would deny.
          Intuitional knowledge can’t be ‘proved’ because, on the level of intuition, no further analysis is possible. Analysis makes the complex simple, but if a thing is already simple, it cannot be broken down further. Once we understand the proposition in question, we just ‘see’ that the thing is true. It is self-evident after a little reflection.

          avalon

        • RandomFunction2

          To DrewL,

          Very true. Belief in hell is not comforting at all. Belief in Satan is not comforting either. Nor is belief in the original sin, or the descriptions of the Book of Revelation.

          Contemporary New Age religion IS comforting though. It basically teaches what people want to hear. It is a mere market product trying to be attractive to customers who seek after a cheap solace. Cheap, not in the monetary sense (quite the opposite) but in the philosophical and scientific sense.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          avalon:

          the two most important things in us are the desire for truth and our hearts search for the Supreme object to love

          More nonsense from Kreeft. Yes, we desire truth; no, our hearts aren’t on a search for the Supreme Object to Love®.

          Here’s some quotes from William Lane Craig.

          And WLC is not to be outdone in the nuttiness department! Weird.

          Thanks for the WLC/Koukl quotes. I hadn’t realized that they support intuition this way.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          RF2:

          Belief in hell is not comforting at all. Belief in Satan is not comforting either.

          I agree with you and Drew, but I wonder if you’re putting too fine a point on this. Hell doesn’t sound so bad if all those people who are mean to me are going to go there and get what’s coming to them. If I get to go to the good place and all those SOBs are going to fry, that gives me a sanctimonious little buzz, I think.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          avalon:

          The goal of religion is to come up with comforting knowledge, not useful knowledge.

          Sounds right to me, but I think many Christians might disagree.

          Religion sees intuition as accurate knowledge beyond the scope of reason or argument.

          I tend to agree, but (1) Christian apologists think that their religion is quite defensible intellectually and (2) I reject this claim about intuition.

      • DrewL

        But maybe I’m overlooking some contributions to human knowledge from religion. Anyone?

        I don’t know what “religion” contributing to human knowledge looks like: if a religious thinker contributed something to human knowledge (for instance, Newton, Bacon, Copernicus, Galileo, Locke, 8th century Muslim mathematicians, 16th century Muslim astronomers, the Belgium priest who first hypothesized the Big Bang, the roughly 50% of American scientists who identify with a religion, all the deists who wrote the Constitution and Declaration of Independence), you’ll say that wasn’t religion that contributed to human knowledge, that was just a religious person. But at that point, if you’re ruling out both practitioners and clergy as counting for “religion,” I’m not sure what’s left to evaluate: divine oracles and talking burning bushes? In that case, you’re right, but I guess I’d be interested in hearing why we’d ever expect deities and supernatural forces to speak to us in theoretical treatises we can immediately pin to the annals of human knowledge. That’s a strange sort of god you’re after, you might try going to the library for that.

        • avalon

          Hi Drew,
          You said, “So you’re right for many cases that we’d look for the “naturalistic” explanation first: we drive our sick and injured to the emergency room, not the church. But when the question is something else, say whether there is an all-knowing God or what happens after we die, that it’s not clear what method of inquiry is appropriate, and then it resultantly becomes unclear what definition of “naturalistic” is appropriate.
          You and I would agree there is a time and place for naturalistic, scientific inquiry of particular phenomena, and there’s a time and place where we need knowledge that science laboratories and peer-reviewed journals isn’t going to give us. We probably only disagree on where it is appropriate and inappropriate.”

          Well said!
          If the correct method of inquiry for religious belief is something other than science then it would be improper to say they are true in a scientific sense of the word.

          avalon

        • DrewL

          Very nice avalon. We agree on everything you said here. I guess it’s the ramifications we may not agree upon: I would say “religion fails to be scientifically validated” and then say “Yes, and so does human rights, anti-slavery sentiments, a belief in gender equality, my love for a spouse, my sense of identity and purpose, the meaning of 9/11 or great personal tragedies, my ability to evaluate my reasoning skills, the agenda of this Atheism+ movement, my right to follow my conscience, my desire for wellbeing for my offspring, as well as any of my beliefs that I would be willing to die for.”

          Then I would also add that many times, the presuppositions of scientific inquiry themselves cannot be scientifically validated. So the presuppositions of science are not true in a scientific sense of the word….crazy.

          This is why, like we agreed earlier, no one chooses for or against religion based on “scientific evidence,” but we don’t choose most things on those grounds.

        • DrewL

          Sorry I will have to respond to your other comment right here as well. First of all, thank you for doing the research, pulling those quotes together, and citing people. I don’t particularly like Craig (or anyone who “debates” atheists, these are exercises in banner-waving and chest-beating for both sides) but I think his arguments here are a legitimate interpretation of orthodox Christianity’s views on knowledge. I’ve never heard of Koukl but it sounds like he’s drawing from some leading Christian philosophers.

          So I actually don’t know what you’re arguing here: what *does* science say about intuition? And what *does* science say about appealing to guidance of the Holy Spirit for wisdom? Can you cite some peer-reviewed articles I can pull up? I have access to a research university laboratory: can you tell me an experiment I can replicate (since science is always testable) so I can see these things for myself?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Drew:

          Drew:

          Yes, science grounds neither what religion says nor morality. But it doesn’t follow that since we have no problem with the non-scientific grounding for morality that we should have no problem with the non-scientific grounding for religion.

          Then I would also add that many times, the presuppositions of scientific inquiry themselves cannot be scientifically validated.

          (1) Is this a problem?

          (2) I don’t see what’s not scientifically validated. The presuppositions that I’m thinking of are the foundational axioms like 1 + 1 = 2. But, of course, we can test that. We broaden the tests and, if 1 + 1 = 2 continues to work, our trust improves. Once we find a counterexample, our trust adapts accordingly.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Drew:

          you’ll say that wasn’t religion that contributed to human knowledge, that was just a religious person

          Correct.

          I’m not sure what’s left to evaluate: divine oracles and talking burning bushes?

          I hear that God is pretty smart. He knows, say, a billion times more useful stuff than we know. He could give us a piece of that.

          Or, if he’s napping or something now, we should be able to find important truth beyond simply a statement of the wisdom of the time within the Bible. And yet we don’t.

          That’s a strange sort of god you’re after, you might try going to the library for that.

          Strange? No, just the all-loving omniscient God of the Bible who desperately wants the best for his children.

        • DrewL

          Interesting. Most of the new atheism comes down to “moral protest atheism.” Essentially it’s a child screaming at some god their culture told them to believe in: “You’re a big meanie so I’m not going to believe in you!” You’re proposing a “knowledge entitlement protest atheism”: the child is now screaming “how dare you not communicate in the knowledge my culture deems most valuable…that’s why I’m not going to believe in you!”

          Both of these are rather arbitrary protests, but to each his own. I don’t think “personal things we would like from a supernatural being” is a discussion that can be rationally adjudicated.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Drew:

          Essentially it’s a child screaming at some god their culture told them to believe in: “You’re a big meanie so I’m not going to believe in you!”

          Not exactly, since the atheist doesn’t think there’s anything to scream at. If there’s screaming to be done, it’s at society, trying to encourage them to drop the supernatural worldview.

          the child is now screaming “how dare you not communicate in the knowledge my culture deems most valuable…that’s why I’m not going to believe in you!”

          Again, I don’t see it this way.

          We have a hypothesis: an omniscient, omnipotent supernatural being created everything, and his interactions are accurately recorded in the Bible. Wow–that’s a bold hypothesis; let’s check it. Do the actions done by and wisdom delivered by look like they came from a perfect deity? Nope. Do they sound like what primitive desert tribesmen 3000 years ago might write? Yep.

          OK–I think we have tentative reasons for rejecting the hypothesis.

          Both of these are rather arbitrary protests

          Do we have the evidence to tentatively reject the existence of unicorns, or would this also be arbitrary?

  • avalon

    Hi Drew,
    Drew:I would say “religion fails to be scientifically validated”

    I agree! However, many Christians won’t agree with you.

    Drew:”and then say “Yes, and so does human rights, anti-slavery sentiments, a belief in gender equality, my love for a spouse, my sense of identity and purpose,…”

    Good examples. These are all like religious belief because they are subjective and emotional-based.

    Drew: “So I actually don’t know what you’re arguing here: what *does* science say about intuition?”

    Science says that intuition is subconscious thought-processing. Religion says intuition is knowledge from a supernatural Being. There is evidence of the former but none for the later.

    Drew: ” And what *does* science say about appealing to guidance of the Holy Spirit for wisdom?”

    Science will tell you that our intuition does not always provide accurate knowledge. There’s lots of studies to show that.

    Drew: “Can you cite some peer-reviewed articles I can pull up?”

    Yes, would you like to see them?

    Drew: “I have access to a research university laboratory: can you tell me an experiment I can replicate (since science is always testable) so I can see these things for myself?”

    Of course. Here’s an interesting one:
    http://pss.sagepub.com/content/22/3/295.short

    We agree on many things. Religion and math are both unprovable scientifically. Religion and our moral sense are both unprovable scientifically. But there is a difference between unprovable and subjective. There are many examples of religions and moral codes, all of which seem subjectively correct to it’s adherents. Can you show me the many subjective systems of math that provide different answers to the question: “2+2=?”

    avalon

    • DrewL

      avalon, you keep falling into well-known talking points of the very non-scholarly new atheism, but you seem like someone who can do better than that.

      I’m glad you see atheism+ as a set of religious belief; you and Bob are both blaspheming the sacred creeds of your movement, nice job thinking for yourselves here.

      Yet you’re forgetting what we talked about earlier: that scientists know we can’t divide knowledge into beliefs we hold as cold, hard fact-evaluators gauging validity from a distanced objectivism vs. beliefs we hold through emotions. We know the human brain doesn’t work like that: Enlightenment thinkers tried to convince us that’s what we do, but psychologists have thoroughly disproven it. I also would like to hear more about how you’d break it to the civil rights movements or women fighting against discrimination that this whole idea of equality is simply comforting, subjective, and emotion-based.

      Regarding the intuition study, nice example. I’m curious if you think the Christian apologists you read (which, I feel sorry for you for reading them) are claiming human intuition is infallible? Craig, in his appeal to supernatural guidance, seems to be anticipating the malleability and easy manipulation of human intellect: unlike the atheist who may claim individual infallibility, he’s saying reason and intuition may not be the best foundations for knowledge. Unlike enlightenment philosophers, he would be better prepared to deal with the possibility our intellect and reasoning capacities are all very fallible, manipulable, and unconsciously influenced by emotions and tribal commitments.

      But there is a difference between unprovable and subjective.

      I would totally agree., this is my main argument. You seem to be the one who is shoving everything that can’t be scientifically proved into a condescending sub-category of knowledge that is comforting and emotional. But keep in mind “unprovable” is always always always always always relative to the method of inquiry selected. For instance, you can’t actually prove scientifically where you were on January 2nd this year; you might be able to pull some receipts and witnesses together for me, but you’re not going to be able to create a replicable experiment that I can rerun in my laboratory. Yet that doesn’t mean your January 2nd location is subjective, it just means for the scientific mode of inquiry the criteria for “proof” cannot be met. So yes, your point stands.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        Drew:

        you and Bob are both blaspheming the sacred creeds of your movement

        Atheism doesn’t have creeds, as you know. If you’re praising us for rocking the boat or asking the tough questions, OK.

        I also would like to hear more about how you’d break it to the civil rights movements or women fighting against discrimination that this whole idea of equality is simply comforting, subjective, and emotion-based.

        As opposed to what?

        I presume we’re on similar pages when talking about civil rights and morality. You seem to see some sort of contradiction in my position (how I see this vs. how I see religion), but I don’t see it.

        unlike the atheist who may claim individual infallibility

        Not likely.

        you can’t actually prove scientifically where you were on January 2nd this year

        Not scientifically, but close to it. What’s the umbrella that would contain science, history, and this question of yours? Maybe Reason?

        This broader supra-science category doesn’t include religion–or at least all of religion.

  • RandomFunction2

    To Bob S,

    Bob S says, “I agree with you and Drew, but I wonder if you’re putting too fine a point on this. Hell doesn’t sound so bad if all those people who are mean to me are going to go there and get what’s coming to them. If I get to go to the good place and all those SOBs are going to fry, that gives me a sanctimonious little buzz, I think.”

    It is definitely not what Jesus meant. Jesus teaches his followers to pray for their enemies rather than revel in the thought of their eternal suffering. The Bible is more concerned with YOUR eternal fate, how to have eternal life, what are the obstacles to it. Jesus says something like, “it is not by saying ‘Lord, Lord’ that you will be saved, but by doing the will of God”.

    Catholics interpret the Bible as saying that one can never be sure that anyone is in hell. Even mass murderers stand a chance to be saved. Even you, an atheist, stand a chance to be saved, yes, even if you die an atheist.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      RF2:

      These ideas are all over the map. The Westboro Baptist people delight in all the fags going to hell, while you say that the Catholics think that everyone gets lots of second chances. I think that “what Jesus says” differs depending on how you interpret and how you prioritize different parts of the Bible.

  • DrewL

    I’m not sure why threads won’t let me respond in the proper place, but Bob, in response:
    But it doesn’t follow that since we have no problem with the non-scientific grounding for morality that we should have no problem with the non-scientific grounding for religion.

    True. But I’m actually looking for a positive argument from you: why should religion have scientific grounding, if all these other beliefs don’t? You’ve never articulated a justification for this belief, you seem to just take it on faith.

    I don’t see what’s not scientifically validated.
    I know you don’t like to read wikipedia articles, so the most concise statement I could find is from a book here, which I’ll just type out for you. Consider this a crash course in philosophy of science:

    While physicists were establishing relativity and quantum theory, in the early part of this century, philosophers were insisting on the precision and accuracy of science as the only reliable avenue to knowledge…The central concept of this view of the methods of science was the verification principle. Nothing was to qualify as knowledge that was not subject to strict verification exemplified by scientific experiment. In this view, there are only two kinds of knowledge: the sure but purely formal knowledge of reason exemplified in logic and mathematics, and the particular and verified knowledge of empirical facts established by observation and experiment. The knowledge that two times two equals four is absolutely certain, because it is true by definition. That truth is not going to change, but it does not tell us anything about the real world…Real knowledge is the hard knowledge of science, verifiable in principle, if not actually verified already. Anything that is not subject to such verification cannot be taken seriously as knowledge.

    This reading of science was seen to capture the widespread understanding of science, affording it the veneration that has elevated it to mythic status as definer of reality for modern Westerners, and increasingly for most other inhabitants on the planet as well. However, this positivistic approach was not without its critics. Other philosophers pointed out, for example, that the verification principle could not pass its own test. On its own terms, it did not qualify as knowledge. It was not purely formal, like mathematics or logic; it was more a regulative principle than a formal one. At the same time, it was not subject to empirical verification that it required factual knowledge.

    There’s also a problem with anyone doing science and arriving at “universal laws,” as articulated by philosopher Brian Magee:

    From Newton until the time of the logical positivists the central task of science had been seen as the search for natural laws, these being unrestrictedly general statements about the world that were known to be invariantly true. Examples are ‘Every physical object in the universe attracts every other physical object in the universe with a force which is directly proportional to their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them’ (Newton’s general law of gravitation)…

    Statements such as these laws are never analytic, and indeed, if they were they would give us no information about the world. Their truth does not follow by deductive logic from the definitions of their terms, nor would denial of them be self-contradictory…To the astonishment of most of those who understood it, what Popper demonstrated in Logik der Forschung is that scientific laws are not empirically verifiable…It was Hume who first pointed out, and with all his customary lucidity, that from no finite number of observations, however large, could any unrestrictedly general conclusion be drawn that would be defensible in logic. It might well be that, if every time I let go of something it falls, I conclude eventually that all unsupported objects fall, but if so the conclusion has been reached from the premises not by a logical process but by a psychological one.

    You can google these passages to find their sources.

    You raise the question: 1) is this a problem? Well it isn’t for me: I don’t need my science to be scientifically validated because I freely admit many things (probably most things) that I believe are not scientifically validated. Its your own squeamishness toward nonscientific beliefs about reality that would make it a problem: you should probably stop believing in science itself if you’re going to demand evidence for everything.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Drew:

      I’m not sure why threads won’t let me respond in the proper place

      It only nests 5 deep, so you need to scroll up to find the first Reply button and click that. Or, just do what you did and comment at the bottom. No problem.

      But I’m actually looking for a positive argument from you: why should religion have scientific grounding, if all these other beliefs don’t?

      All these other beliefs are firmly grounded in reason, and so should religion. (And you could perhaps convince me that “reason” isn’t the right word, but I think this conveys the distinction.)

      I know you don’t like to read wikipedia articles

      More precisely, I don’t like being given long homework assignments before I’m deemed worthy to discuss something with a correspondent. But I appreciate the excerpt.

      the verification principle could not pass its own test

      Yes, but like my example of 1 + 1 = 2 above, it’s a hypothesis that becomes more reliable as it withstands tests. I’m not sure why this point is particularly damning.

      Its your own squeamishness toward nonscientific beliefs about reality that would make it a problem: you should probably stop believing in science itself if you’re going to demand evidence for everything.

      I don’t. Your goal seems to be to point out two categories, each of which I accept: (1) science and (2) morals, common sense, reason, history, etc. And then I think you put religion in bin #2. What seems a better division is (1) reason-based things like science, history, reason, etc. and (2) not-reason-based things like religion, superstition, quack medicine, anything based on faith, etc.

      I haven’t thought about this much, so your bringing this up is helpful. But because of that, this is half-baked. Don’t focus on errors you can easily correct, but tell me what you think of the big picture.

      • DrewL

        All these other beliefs are firmly grounded in reason, and so should religion. (And you could perhaps convince me that “reason” isn’t the right word, but I think this conveys the distinction.)

        and in another place you’ve called this a “broader supra-science category” or an “umbrella that would contain science, history, and your question” about where a person was January 2nd. This is good: this takes the conversation far beyond religion vs. science, which is laughably out-of-date in the eyes of any professional philosopher. It seems that religion should be evaluated using some of the same means that we evaluated, not arbitrary criteria that we seem to employ out of fear or bigotry.

        But here I think you have some explaining to do:
        What seems a better division is (1) reason-based things like science, history, reason, etc. and (2) not-reason-based things like religion, superstition, quack medicine, anything based on faith, etc.

        What about the historical claims of religion? Do those immediately get relegated to the second category? Isn’t that simply a case of prejudice toward particular historical events you don’t like? Shouldn’t you evaluate the veracity of events reported within Jesus, Buddha, and Muhammed’s life with the same mode of inquiry that you use for Homer, Aristotle, Alexander the Great, and George Washington?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          which is laughably out-of-date in the eyes of any professional philosopher.

          I have little respect for the few (Christian) philosophers that I read a lot of, so being laughed at by them means little to me. But this is a snarky tangent.

          It seems that religion should be evaluated using some of the same means that we evaluated

          What means do you have in mind? Consistency sounds good.

          What about the historical claims of religion?

          These fall into the bin of History.

          Shouldn’t you evaluate the veracity of events reported within Jesus, Buddha, and Muhammed’s life with the same mode of inquiry that you use for Homer, Aristotle, Alexander the Great, and George Washington?

          Yup. And in the lives of Alexander, Washington, etc. historians dismiss any supernatural claims. The same criterion must apply to the life of Jesus.

        • DrewL

          You’ve probably read far more Christian philosophers than I have. By professional philosophers I meant secular ones. Notice how all the links I send you are to wikipedia, which reports on leading conclusions within the field of philosophy, hardly a field of rampant religious dogma.

          Yup. And in the lives of Alexander, Washington, etc. historians dismiss any supernatural claims. The same criterion must apply to the life of Jesus.
          Good, consistency is good–far superior to processing your knowledge through nonscientific prejudices and biases. “Supernatural” is a misleading term however, remember how naturalistic means different things in different disciplines, and is subject to changing intellectual and historical currents, and has shown to be completely wrong in particular ages? And remember how science itself cannot prove “naturalistic” universal laws because “no finite number of observations, however large, could any unrestrictedly general conclusion be drawn that would be defensible in logic”? (David Hume, the original skeptic)

          It’s better to think about probability: historians are always dealing with probabilities. They look at legends of small armies defeating much larger armies and ask: “Seeing our evidence, is it probable this happened, despite it being extremely unlikely?” They don’t ask “Seeing our evidence, is it probable this happened, despite naturalistic laws that small armies never beat larger armies.” We in our day-to-day lives are also always dealing with probabilities of knowledge. So you need to justify your “two-bin” theory: if you like consistency, why not evaluate everything with the same mode of inquiry? Relegating possibilities you don’t like to another bin of inquiry seems like a move performed out of either fear, prejudice, or ignorance.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Drew:

          By professional philosophers I meant secular ones.

          OK. It might well be that reading more of there stuff would dramatically improve my impression of the field. Admittedly, I have a limited view.

          remember how science itself cannot prove “naturalistic” universal laws

          Nor anything else. Proof is the domain of logic and math. Science is always provisional.

          It’s better to think about probability: historians are always dealing with probabilities.

          For the historicity of Jesus, this does seem the way to go.

          So you need to justify your “two-bin” theory: if you like consistency, why not evaluate everything with the same mode of inquiry?

          I do. And the result is that things get sorted into two bins.

  • avalon

    Drew and Bob,
    If you had to choose between a short life filled with happiness or a long life filled with misery, which would you choose? And if someone else chose differently would it bother you?
    I suspect most people would choose the short happy life and if some didn’t, so what? It’s their subjective choice.

    I see something similar in regard to religion. I again submit that religion provides comfort (or happiness) which is a subjective experience. (One man’s happiness and so on…)

    Bob’s objection to religion’s claims is that they are presented as objective truths, rather than subjective intuitions.

    Here’s my suggestions for religion(s):
    1. Stop claiming knowledge of objective truth. It just puts you at odds with science and atheists.
    2.Start claiming religion provides comfort and happiness. This claim can be proven (http://www.pas.rochester.edu/~tim/study/Perspectives.pdf).
    3. Because “happiness” is subjective, it is up to each individual to decide what level and type of spirituality they want. From fundie to atheist, from Jewish to New Age; each individual decides what makes them happy.

    There are advantages to this:
    1. Bob (and other atheists) won’t have any argument with a system that has a subjective goal, particularly one they agree with, being happy.
    2. Religions (or sects within one religion) will be far less likely to turn to violence to defend a subjective goal (as opposed to ‘objective truths’).
    3. The subjective nature of religion’s goal (happiness) does not belittle it in any way because of the importance we all grant to the pursuit of happiness.

    Drew asked Bob: “why should religion have scientific grounding?”
    With a goal of providing happiness it doesn’t need to.

    avalon

    • Bob Seidensticker

      avalon: I admire your goal to bring the world together in big family. May be a bit ambitious, though.

      I again submit that religion provides comfort (or happiness) which is a subjective experience. (One man’s happiness and so on…)

      And if religion was nothing more than a personal thing, I’d be delighted. Unfortunately, too many Christians want to bless the rest of society with the Truth of their religion. They cross the line, and that becomes a problem.

      1. Stop claiming knowledge of objective truth. It just puts you at odds with science and atheists.

      The real clash is that I’d like Christians to keep within the boundaries. Respect the First Amendment. Free speech works in the literal public square (handing out leaflets, speaking your mind), but it’s off limits in the state-supported public square of government, schools, and courtrooms.

      That Christians think that they must get the message out or else people will broast forever is something that I doubt they’ll give up easily.

      1. Bob (and other atheists) won’t have any argument with a system that has a subjective goal, particularly one they agree with, being happy.

      That whole believing-stuff-that-isn’t-true thing is an issue, but the Constitution protects it, which sounds good to me.

      How would Christianity change if the leadership universally accepted that it wasn’t actually true? This is what you’re suggesting, right?

    • DrewL

      This post seems laughable to read on 9/11. Even as someone who thinks only a very poor student of history would implicate all forms of religion for the attacks, I think there’s no question in a post-9/11 world that religion is a powerful shaper of reality, of things that are ontologically real, what is meaningful, what is good, what is bad, of what the present means within the larger vision of eternity (or no eternity), of duties of citizenship and state, etc. etc. etc.

      So seeing that you seem to be empirically wrong about how most religious people perceive their religion, you might change your “is” statement (religion IS about happiness and comfort and entirely subjective) to an “ought” statement (religion SHOULD be about happiness and comfort and entirely subjective). But then you’ve got a lot of work to do as a missionary winning people to your new form of religion. Good luck with that.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        This post seems laughable to read on 9/11.

        You’re referring to avalon’s comment, I’m guessing?

        • DrewL

          yes.

  • avalon

    Hi Bob,
    B: “And if religion was nothing more than a personal thing, I’d be delighted. Unfortunately, too many Christians want to bless the rest of society with the Truth of their religion. They cross the line, and that becomes a problem.”
    Two things: Are they “blessing” others with the Truth because they think it’s objectively true or because they want to share their happiness. Since you spelled “truth” with a capital “T”, I assume it’s the first reason. (Which is what I’m suggesting they give up. Secondly, lacking objectivity won’t stop people from expressing themselves. You admit your morals are subjective, does that mean you never express them? Like your moral values, religious values can be subjective yet also important. That makes it more than just a personal thing.

    B:”The real clash is that I’d like Christians to keep within the boundaries. Respect the First Amendment. Free speech works in the literal public square (handing out leaflets, speaking your mind), but it’s off limits in the state-supported public square of government, schools, and courtrooms.”

    Sure, but if you have a right to talk about what you think is or isn’t moral (gay rights, abortion, etc…) then a religion should be allowed to express their opinions as well. Your right to happiness and their right to happiness would meet on equal footing.

    B:’How would Christianity change if the leadership universally accepted that it wasn’t actually true? This is what you’re suggesting, right?”

    Yes, but I’d word it differently. Simply saying “not actually true” minimizes the importance of these intuitions. Our morals aren’t actually true either, yet they’re very important to our experience of life.
    Going back to my question of happy short life, imagine a set of morals based on science and logic which would maximize the span of humanity as a whole. Say a giant (emotionless) computer decides everything for everyone in order to insure mankind has a home here for as long as possible. How many people get born, who mates with whom, when they get to mate, what you eat and drink, where you work, what you do, hobbies you have….literally every decision maximizes existence for all mankind. Would that logical, scientific system of morals appeal to you?
    Happiness is important whether it’s actually “true” or not .

    avalon

    • Bob Seidensticker

      avalon:

      I assume it’s the first reason

      Yes, that’s my thought.

      You admit your morals are subjective, does that mean you never express them?

      Christians dropping the objective presupposition would definitely be good. I could deal with that. That is a big change, though.

      a religion should be allowed to express their opinions as well

      I’m asking for precisely the same liberties and constrictions on Christians as me. I don’t want any restriction of religion coming from government (schools, legislative buildings, courthouses), so I demand the same respect from the Christian side.

      Would that logical, scientific system of morals appeal to you?

      When the best path is mandatory, no, that doesn’t sound good.

      Happiness is important whether it’s actually “true” or not .

      Sure, I like happiness, but my approach is: the truth must be embraced and acknowledged whether it’s pleasant or not.

  • avalon

    Bob,
    B:”Christians dropping the objective presupposition would definitely be good.I could deal with that. That is a big change, though.”
    Well, I’d told you what the root problem is, I provided quotes that show religion is based on intuition. Theists here have compared your moral intuitions to religious belief. Why not discuss all that with theists?

    B:”When the best path is mandatory, no, that doesn’t sound good.”
    It’d have to be mandatory because we’re emotional animals who are propelled by happiness as much as logic and reason.

    B:”Sure, I like happiness, but my approach is: the truth must be embraced and acknowledged whether it’s pleasant or not.”
    That fits me as well, but I’d still choose the short happy life. Go figure…..

    avalon

    • Bob Seidensticker

      I’d told you what the root problem is, I provided quotes that show religion is based on intuition.

      And yet they still claim that they’re certain of their position and confident of the historicity of the Jesus story.

      That fits me as well, but I’d still choose the short happy life.

      I might agree. But your short happy vs. long miserable is different from my happy ignorant vs. well-informed.

      • avalon

        Bob: “your short happy vs. long miserable is different from my happy ignorant vs. well-informed.”

        “The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance—
        it is the illusion of knowledge.” Daniel Boorstin, Librarian of Congress, 1984

        “A person could accept other sources of knowledge besides science, such as rational intuition, and still be a naturalist.” William Lane Craig

        “…knowledge by intuition is not gained by following a series of facts or a line of reasoning to a conclusion. Instead, we know intuitional truth simply by the process of introspection and immediate awareness.” Greg Koukl

        “Whereas religion tends to be more holistic, it is a greater dependence on intuition and requires commitment in the absence of proof.”

        “The two operations of our understanding, intuition and deduction, on which alone we have said we must rely in the acquisition of knowledge.” Rene Descartes

        “Faith is a passionate intuition.” William Wordsworth

        “religion as a whole is something which people often take to be intuitively true (e.g. “I just know God exists”)”.

        The main issues dividing theists from non-theists are: 1) how they view intuition and 2) the goals of obtaining knowledge.

        avalon

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Good list of quotes, thanks.

          As for your concluding 2 points, I don’t follow 2. How are the goals different?

  • avalon

    “If the two most important things in us are the desire for truth and our hearts search for the Supreme object to love. ” Peter Kreeft

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Whatever, Dr. Kreeft. Doesn’t apply to me.

  • RandomFunction2

    To avalon,

    You cannot separate the benefits of religion from its truth-claims. Religion is comforting only as long as it is thought to be true. Of course, few believers need evidence for religion (so apologetics has little relevance for them), but they at least need to believe that religion is possibly true, that it is not disproven. The magic of religion is that it may be true. If religion cannot be true, it becomes as empty and irrelevant as role-play games.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Well … I guess you might have some placebo effects.

      If religion cannot be true, it becomes as empty and irrelevant as role-play games.

      To me and you, perhaps. But there is also the cultural aspect. People like rituals. I’m an atheist, and I like Christmas. I’ve heard of atheist Jews who keep kosher.

      • RandomFunction2

        To Bob S,

        Sure, people like traditions, but so what? It’s not the same kind of comfort as religion.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Yeah, you’re probably right. I have heard some surprising comments about the benefit of rituals, however. This goes completely over my head, but in very liberal churches and even among some atheists, there’s this talk of rituals.

          Does nothing for me, but whatever.

  • avalon

    Hi RF,
    RF:”You cannot separate the benefits of religion from its truth-claims. Religion is comforting only as long as it is thought to be true. Of course, few believers need evidence for religion (so apologetics has little relevance for them), but they at least need to believe that religion is possibly true, that it is not disproven. The magic of religion is that it may be true. If religion cannot be true, it becomes as empty and irrelevant as role-play games.”

    I disagree. Drew compared Bob’s moral code to religious belief and I think that’s a great point. Bob doesn’t claim his moral code is objectively true nor scientifically provable. Yet, he does benefit from his moral beliefs and will stick to them even in life or death situations. The same is true of religious belief.

    You claim that if beliefs are subjective and intuitive “it becomes empty and irrelevant”. Drew said I was “shoving (religious belief)… into a condescending sub-category of knowledge”. Both these statements ignore Drew’s point about Bob’s moral beliefs and their importance to him or anyone else for that matter.
    Many people know that morality is subjective, intuitive and based mostly on emotion. Yet they don’t see morality as empty or irrelevant. Nor do they shove morality into a condescending sub-category of knowledge. Just the opposite, they rely on their moral sense for some of the most important life decisions.
    Subject/intuitive/emotional does not equal empty/ irrelevant.

    avalon

    • DrewL

      Avalon I very much appreciate this summary.

      I’m not exactly sure why you keep falling back on emotion though. If you told female activists demanding equal hourly pay as men “Come on now ladies, stop being emotional, let’s just talk rationally about REAL things, not your subjective intuitions about fairness” I would not want to be anywhere near you.

      For the record, I think there’s a difference between how we know things (epistemology) and whether things exist (ontology), so even if we know religious claims in the same way that we know moral claims (similar epistemologies), this says nothing about their ontology independent of our knowing them. As I said in the other comment, you have a lot of missionary work to do if you want to convince people their religions are merely subjective.

    • RandomFunction2

      To avalon,

      Morality is different from religion. Kant put it this way: morality is about what I ought to do, and religion is about what I may hope for.

      I doubt that Bob’s stance on morality is logical. He is obviously committed to morality and duty, yet he does not believe that moral values are objective in the same way as scientific facts. He may have the subjective motivation to be moral, he may be moral because “it feels good”, but objectively his stance is groundless.

      But I don’t want to be sidetracked.

      Religion tells us that life has an objective meaning, that God loves us and that our loved ones and we will go on living after we die. If this is arguably wrong, then many people will feel uncomfortable and will come to see their lives as empty.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      avalon:

      Drew compared Bob’s moral code to religious belief and I think that’s a great point. Bob doesn’t claim his moral code is objectively true nor scientifically provable.

      Let’s not put morals and religion into the same bin.

      Religion makes truth claims that don’t stand up. Morals come from our programming; there’s nothing false about them.

      Religion falsely claims “this is objectively (or historically) true.” Moral belief holds sway over the person who has it, but no one claims that that is objective moral truth.

      Subject/intuitive/emotional does not equal empty/ irrelevant.

      Agreed.

  • avalon

    RF,
    You said, “You cannot separate the benefits of religion from its truth-claims.”
    I assume you mean objectively true and therefore scientifically provable. So let’s look at this from the other direction.
    When Peter Kreeft says, “Conscience is the voice of God”, you’re claiming that has to be an objectively true, scientifically provable statement if it is to be relevant.
    First, this contradicts all those apologist quotes about intuition.
    Second, if you were right about the nature of this statement, why isn’t there any scientific field devoted to these ideas? If conscience is the voice of God, why don’t scientists with Christian beliefs set out to prove it? There must be a means of transmission from God to our brains and those transmissions must have an effect on the physical brain. Why not try to detect those transmissions? Could we build a machine to receive those signals? Is it possible to block those signals in some way? There’s many more scientific questions to be answered if Mr. Kreeft’s statement was meant to be objectively true. Why aren’t scientists with Christian beliefs working to find the answers?
    I submit it’s because the statement was meant to be intuitively true, not objectively true; and all those apologists I quoted seem to agree.
    While a God separate from the universe would be impossible to detect, a God who interacts with our brains causing physical changes in them and in this world, IS within the realm of science. Yet, it seems no Christian is interested in investigating this. Why is that, if religious belief must be objectively true in order to be meaningful?

    avalon

    • RandomFunction2

      To avalon,

      I don’t think that if conscience were the voice of God, God would agree to play the guinea pig in all the experiments you have talked about. God is a rational person, not some impersonal natural process.

      By the way, Kreeft got his view about conscience from Gaudium et Spes #16, a Constitution of the Second Vatican Council. So in some way, all the Catholic Church is committed to such a view.

      God IS NOT in the realm of science for two good reasons: he is outside the world and he is free. It means scientists could not apply to God the laws of physics and they could not predict his behavior as if he were a planet. God is not a part of the world that scientists could understand by general laws and other impersonal processes. Philosophers and theologians can say a few things about God, but it’s not science.

      Augustine said: if you understand [him], it’s not God. How true.

  • avalon

    Hope you all don’t mind if I lump all the relies together.

    DREW
    Drew:”For the record, I think there’s a difference between how we know things (epistemology) and whether things exist (ontology), so even if we know religious claims in the same way that we know moral claims (similar epistemologies), this says nothing about their ontology independent of our knowing them. As I said in the other comment, you have a lot of missionary work to do if you want to convince people their religions are merely subjective.”

    Regarding “merely subjective”: let me remind you that you pointed out to Bob that he believed something very important (his moral beliefs) without any objective proof, nor even logic or reason. Now you’re claiming that if a religious belief comes from the same source it is “merely subjective”. Why is that?
    As for ontology and epistemology, I agree with you that they’re two different things. But any set of beliefs with an “ontology independent of our knowing them” is pretty much useless. To say something exists that we’ll never really know about is not much different than talking about the sound of one hand clapping.

    RF
    RF:”Religion tells us that life has an objective meaning, that God loves us and that our loved ones and we will go on living after we die. If this is arguably wrong, then many people will feel uncomfortable and will come to see their lives as empty.”
    Of course it’s arguably wrong, but so is our sense of morality. All the apologists I quoted clearly say they’re using intuition to gain basic religious belief. That’s the same way we get our morals, but not how we discover scientific fact. Even Drew agrees that religious beliefs are gained by means different from science when he said, ” I don’t particularly like Craig … but I think his arguments here are a legitimate interpretation of orthodox Christianity’s views on knowledge. I’ve never heard of Koukl but it sounds like he’s drawing from some leading Christian philosophers.”

    BOB
    Bob:”Religion makes truth claims that don’t stand up. Morals come from our programming; there’s nothing false about them.”
    Religious beliefs also come from our programing. Read “Supersense” by Bruce Hood. In it he says, “I think supernatural beliefs work so well because they seem plausible. And they seem plausible because they fit with what we want to believe and already think is possible. …We either accept or reject them, but seldom do we consider why. Ideas have to fit with what we already know. Otherwise, they don’t make sense.”
    He examines all sort of non-scientific beliefs, not just religious ones. He also looks at the biology of belief. Have you heard of the ‘spirituality gene’?

    Bob:”Religion falsely claims “this is objectively (or historically) true.” Moral belief holds sway over the person who has it, but no one claims that that is objective moral truth.”
    Christians claim objective moral truth exists. They’re not especially convincing, but they try. Ever wonder why? Especially if they admit the epistemology is lacking? What’s the connection between OMV and belief that God exists? Is it not the intuition?
    All I’m suggesting is if you have a problem with religion’s false claims of “this is objectively (or historically) true”, then why not address the root problem: religion sees intuition as providing accurate objective knowledge (they’ll all tell you that). Even Drew agrees. RF doesn’t care for it, but he hasn’t refuted it either.
    William Wordsworth is right: “Faith is a passionate intuition.” If it was objectively true and provable like a scientific fact, what part would faith play in it?

    avalon

    • DrewL

      This is your problem: If it was objectively true and provable like a scientific fact…
      These two things are not the same: you hold objectively true beliefs that are not scientifically verified. Look at our discussion on history, on what we think we know about Alexander the Great and George Washington, or at our discussion on where you were on January 2nd. There are lots of things that we hold to be objectively true but not a scientific fact; science is incapable of assisting us “proving” objectivity with a lot of things that are still clearly objective. You still operate within a dualism of “either science or subjective”: Bob is beyond this, I was hoping you would be too.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        Drew:

        There are lots of things that we hold to be objectively true but not a scientific fact; science is incapable of assisting us “proving” objectivity with a lot of things that are still clearly objective.

        What are these objective truths that are not scientific facts? I wonder if we have the same definition of “objective.”

    • RandomFunction2

      To avalon,

      It may be true that religions get their views from intuitions (divine inspiration), but it does not mean that they are irrational or wrong.

      Of course the Bible is not an apologetics manual. There is indeed some apologetics in it (for instance Matthew claims that Jesus fulfilled OT prophecies), and the OT prophets had to explain why YHWH let his chosen people be conquered by the Babylonians who had other gods. but its main apologetic arguments have little relevance for the concerns of contemporary thinkers. So you won’t find proofs of God’s existence or evidence for objective morality in the Bible.

      You won’t find much support for religion in science. Maybe science confirms some biblical claims, but it disproves other ones. Still, science won’t prove that life is meaningless though it may pose some challenges to the belief in the meaningfulness of life. It was easier to be religious before Darwin.

      • avalon

        Hi RF,
        RF:”Of course the Bible is not an apologetics manual.”
        Ps 94:10
        ​​​​​​​Does the one who disciplines the nations not punish? He is the one who imparts knowledge to human beings!

        RF:”It may be true that religions get their views from intuitions (divine inspiration), but it does not mean that they are irrational or wrong.”
        Quite right. The scientist who discovered the shape of a benzene ring started with an intuition. Einstein spoke highly of intuition as well. The difference is science sees intuition as a possible source of information to be investigated, not as a reliable source of knowledge from a supernatural source.

        RF:”You won’t find much support for religion in science.”
        No, but in the ‘soft’ sciences you can find explanations for their existence.

        RF:”Maybe science confirms some biblical claims, but it disproves other ones. Still, science won’t prove that life is meaningless though it may pose some challenges to the belief in the meaningfulness of life. It was easier to be religious before Darwin.”
        I agree. I pointed out to Bob that a moral system based on logic and science would really suck. It’d never feel like anything moral or good.

        avalon

        • Bob Seidensticker

          avalon:

          I pointed out to Bob that a moral system based on logic and science would really suck. It’d never feel like anything moral or good.

          On a somewhat-related note, I read about a study of people whose emotional sense doesn’t work. You’d think that they’d be like Mr. Spock, able to drive to the heart of problems to give a great logical analysis, but they could never make a decision. Turns out that our emotional sense is what weighs and judges between various options. Interesting.

        • DrewL

          this is at the heart of the problem with avalon’s emotion-rationality dualism. nice find.

  • avalon

    Hi Drew,
    D:”These two things are not the same: you hold objectively true beliefs that are not scientifically verified. Look at our discussion on history, on what we think we know about Alexander the Great and George Washington,”
    Sure, but I’d say i hold them tentatively. The farther back in history we go the more tentative is my belief. As an example, consider William Tell. He was believed to be a historical figure until very recently. Many Swiss still believe he existed despite the objective proof to the contrary. I don’t have any emotional attachment to Tell, so I’m happy to admit he was a myth.
    Also, the historical existence of someone differs greatly from the myths that may grow up about that person. I’m pretty sure Washington existed, I’d even bet on it. But I don’t believe he threw a silver dollar across the Potomac. Ditto with Jesus. I’ll grant that he probably existed, but not that the myths have any substance to them.

    William Tell myth:
    http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/search.html

    http://www.geschichteinchronologie.ch/eu/ch/Tell/Sablonier-Coopzeitung2004-Tell-Gessler-oath-of-Ruetli-lie-ENGL.html

    avalon

    • DrewL

      Sure, but I’d say i hold them tentatively. The farther back in history we go the more tentative is my belief.
      This is beautiful. Let me remark as a general observation of where you’ve landed with this statement: we are far outside the language of “scientific evidence,” faith vs. reason, objective facts vs. subjective emotions, natural vs. supernatural explanations, and some of the other dichotomies atheists have used in the past. Instead we’re dealing with the nitty gritty provisional, fallibile, contextual, and often times incredibly messy modes of believing something. We’re certainly not abandoning a systematic approach, yet we’re not trying to over-systemize or reduce that system of belief to some mislabeled, misunderstood notion of “science.”

      Now that you’ve carved out this area for knowing something “objectively” but also “tentatively” and somewhat dependent upon our historical distance, do you have a reason for NOT allowing historical religious claims to fit in that category? Beyond nonscientific personal prejudices against things you don’t want to believe in, of course.

  • Bob Seidensticker

    Those crazy guys at Jesus and Mo.

  • avalon

    Hi Drew,
    Drew:”Now that you’ve carved out this area for knowing something “objectively” but also “tentatively” and somewhat dependent upon our historical distance, do you have a reason for NOT allowing historical religious claims to fit in that category? Beyond nonscientific personal prejudices against things you don’t want to believe in, of course.”
    Do you mean the claims of the bible? If so, I do have good reason:
    1) the bible is a religious text, not a history book. If history texts from the same era agreed with the claims of the bible that would help your case. Unfortunately, they don’t.
    2)if it you think the bible presents some history, it’s inconsistent. For example, if I read that Washington was in three different places at once doing three different things (all of them miraculous), I’d have serious doubts about them all.
    3)the claims of the bible are not only inconsistent, they’re irrational from a historical point of view (see my comments on Bob’s blog on John the baptist).
    4)the claims of the bible about Jesus magical abilities should be taken in the context of the era. For example, Acts makes similar claims of magic in regard to Simon the magician. There’s also actual history books from the era that make magical claims about the Roman emperors and other individuals. While I think the emperors existed, I don’t think they performed miracles.

    To sum it up, I’d say the scanty historical (non-biblical) evidence we have indicates the someone named Jesus lived in 1st century Israel. He tried to reform the jewish religion and his sect broke away to form a new religion.

    avalon

    • DrewL

      You’ve chosen option B: nonscientific personal prejudices against things you don’t want to believe in. Your simplistic dual category of EITHER religious text OR historical book is shamelessly projecting a 20th century notion of history onto ancient writers. Regardless of your prejudices, I’ll celebrate that you recognize history as being capable of being “objectively” (though perhaps tentatively) true even without “scientific” evidence. That’s an achievement here.

      • DrewL

        In other words, you’ve developed your thinking since posting this: If it was objectively true and provable like a scientific fact…

    • Bob Seidensticker

      avalon:

      While I think the emperors existed, I don’t think they performed miracles.

      Yeah, but we have historical documents declaring that Augustus Caesar was fathered by a god. We have a report from a Roman senator no less that Augustus ascended into heaven on his death.

      Wait–do you think that supernatural claims within accounts of historical are suspect?

      Hmm … you may be onto something there.

  • avalon

    Hi Drew,
    D:”Regardless of your prejudices, I’ll celebrate that you recognize history as being capable of being “objectively” (though perhaps tentatively) true even without “scientific” evidence. ”
    You put objective in quotes. That’s good, because upon further reflection all history is not really objective in the philosophical sense. It would seem that it is “objective” only by mutual agreement, similar to the way money (in all it’s forms) can have “objective” value by mutual agreement. Objectively, the value of currency is the actual value of the paper and ink. A plastic card (credit/debit card) is just a piece of plastic, an electronic transfer is just electrons flying around, gold is just pretty metal, etc… The “objective” value isn’t strictly objective, but we pretend it is and play along.
    The same seems true of history. It seems to be a collective story we agree upon. How we see it depends on which side of history we’re on.

    Getting back to religious belief, if what you believe about intuition giving you accurate, objective knowledge was true, wouldn’t you expect proponents to stand by that method? While W.L. Craig trusts his own intuition as the Holy Spirit imparting truth to him, he has this to say about Mormons who use the identical method of discovering truth:
    “To believe that something is true merely because you feel it to be so or because you are sincere in your belief does not make it true.”
    “A standard Mormon response is to resort to the subjective. He insists that he knows the Book of Mormon is true because he has a ‘burning in the bosom’. ”
    “If evidence goes against the Book of Mormon to prove it false, then to ignore or avoid that evidence is not sincere faith but rather dishonesty and deceitfulness.”
    http://www.leaderu.com/offices/michaeldavis/docs/mormonism/feeling.html

    If this all applies to the BOM, why not to the bible as well?

    avalon

    • DrewL

      You put objective in quotes. That’s good, because upon further reflection all history is not really objective in the philosophical sense. It would seem that it is “objective” only by mutual agreement, similar to the way money (in all it’s forms) can have “objective” value by mutual agreement. Objectively, the value of currency is the actual value of the paper and ink. A plastic card (credit/debit card) is just a piece of plastic, an electronic transfer is just electrons flying around, gold is just pretty metal, etc… The “objective” value isn’t strictly objective, but we pretend it is and play along.

      I believe you’re engaging in the difficult work of cognitive dissonance: I pointed out that you seemed to revise your thinking (or perhaps had an inconsistency) and now you’re backpedaling. Hopefully we can help you through this quickly.

      You are correct: the value of money is a social construction that does not exist independent of our perception of it. If an asteroid wipes out all human civilization and then aliens show up one hundred years later to poke through our ruins, the money they find stacked in our bank vaults will be worth nothing to them.

      History is not like that. After an asteroid hit, the Roman Empire still happened. So did the Greeks, Egyptian, Columbus’s voyage, the French Revolution, American Civil War, Obama’s Presidency, your high school graduation etc etc etc.. The aliens can go walk around the ruins of our civilizations; history does not disappear when we do. History has an objective reality independent of our perception of it.

      The same seems true of history. It seems to be a collective story we agree upon. How we see it depends on which side of history we’re on.

      You could try some “it’s really all subjective interpretations!” line here but this is where postmodernism parts ways with science, because then you will need to also proclaim there’s no historical reality behind the Big Bang or supernovas or carbon decay or evolution or the formation of the Grand Canyon or plate tectonics. These too are reduced to merely collective stories we all agree on. This is going to make you a pretty good conversation partner with creationists but you’re not going to fare well in the high-minded science-worshiping atheist circles.

      Just stick with this: Sure, but I’d say i hold them tentatively. The farther back in history we go the more tentative is my belief. You’re in good company here.

      • avalon

        Hi Drew,
        Your definition of “History” seems very fluid. First you ask about the bible as the history of one man and now you’re talking about entire civilizations like “the Roman Empire… the Greeks, Egyptian,”. You throw in some well-documented events that consisted of many people (“Columbus’s voyage, the French Revolution, American Civil War, Obama’s Presidency’) as well as some actual structures (“the ruins of our civilizations”).
        None of these compare to the biblical ‘history’ of Jesus. Let me give you an example of the differences. You mentioned Egyptians, let’s add the pyramids. History isn’t just “Egyptians existed, here’s the pyramids to prove it”. If we apply the biblical standards of the biblical Jesus to the Egyptians, the history might go something like this: “The Egyptian god Horus met with the gods who came to earth and the gods miraculously built the pyramids”. You’ll note there are people today who think the construction of the pyramids included some help from space aliens. That’s history to them.
        I’ve said twice now, but I’ll repeat it again: I feel fairly certain Jesus existed and started a new religion from a sect of judaism. It’s the details I’m skeptical about. Critical thinking tells me space aliens didn’t build the pyramids and critical thinking tells me Jesus wasn’t anything but human.

        BTW, as an event beyond the limits of space-time, it would be technically correct to say “there’s no historical reality behind the Big Bang”.
        With supernovas we use telescopes, which look into space but also back in time. Carbon decay is based on a mathematical formula. Evolution has actual fossils as well as the similarity of physical structures in animal bodies. The Grand Canyon, well that’s one giant piece of evidence. Plate tectonics? That’s a pretty good theory with physical evidence to back it up, but there’s still some room for skepticism.

        Give me a proper example that’s similar to the historical claims in the bible about Jesus that you accept as history. That is, a book written by unknown followers of a religious figure who is said to have performed miraculous feats and been a god. Just one example that you accept (bible excluded). Can you do that for me?

        avalon

        • DrewL

          You’ve moved to accept the objectivity of history despite lacking “scientific evidence.” End of discussion for me. Go find someone else to debate the Bible with.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      all history is not really objective in the philosophical sense.

      “Objective” is a tricky word, and it often helps to agree on a definition.

      • DrewL

        Huge huge point. “Evidence”, “Rational”,”Natural”,”Science”, and “Objective” are all historically contingent words, meaning different things at different times and in different modes of inquiry. Most of philosophy has moved beyond these words because they’ve lost their foundational grounding in the last one hundred years–a lot of it goes back to Nietzsche. When New Atheists think “evidence” or “proof” or “objective” has some clearcut and universal meaning outside of any particular theory, they’re essentially removing themselves from any serious intellectual conversation about truth, knowledge, or science going on among intellectuals today. This shares a resemblance with anti-intellectualism and fundamentalism at times.

        But this is why intellectuals themselves (university professors and people with PhDs), most of them agnostics or atheists, have either ignored new atheism or openly ridiculed it. New Atheism has made no inroads there, whereas it has been quite successful among the a particular subculture of white, male, middle-class, college educated, non-southern types, many of them in their early 20s and not having a family/kids. I would guess everyone reading this blog falls in this category, with a few exceptions (Bob is married, I see from his bio).

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Drew:

          But this is why intellectuals themselves (university professors and people with PhDs), most of them agnostics or atheists, have either ignored new atheism or openly ridiculed it.

          What is it about this “new atheism” that is so worthy of scorn? For me, the newness is simply that we’re talking bestsellers now instead of fringe topics.

          a particular subculture of white, male, middle-class, college educated, non-southern types, many of them in their early 20s and not having a family/kids.

          My own goal is to reach Christians. That was the purpose of the book, for example.

  • avalon

    I’m still curious. If Christians theorize that our God transmits messages to our minds which we experience as conscience and intuition, why aren’t they pursuing a way to prove it? The last spiritual experiment I could recall was in 1901 when Duncan Macdougall tried to weigh the soul. Has there been any experiments to try to detect or block these messages from God?
    In looking into this I found more information on the soul research, but nothing about these messages from God. Turns out the weighing of the soul DIDN’T stop in 1901!
    In 1998 a man named Donald Gilbert Carpenter published a book in which “Carpenter calculated the ratio of soul-weight to body-weight-at-birth: one to 140.”
    “Elsewhere, Carpenter calculates the volume of the human soul — of Mac, as he prefers to call it, in honor of Duncan Macdougall. Here is how he came up with his volume amount. The smallest infant to survive at birth, he says, weighed ten ounces and had a volume of three-tenths of a quart.

    Once again, Jesus is the exception. His Mac had a volume of 5.25 quarts, meaning that half a quart’s worth of excess soul stuck out of his body when he was born. Carpenter surmises the protruding material took the form of a glow,…”
    “Carpenter points out that leprechauns have a volume similar to that of the human Mac. “This makes me suspect,” he writes, “that Leprechauns … are most likely discarnate humans.”"
    (WOW!, who knew?)

    As for recent research, I found a man who approached the Church seeking funding for this type of thing. I think their response is instructive:
    Gerry Nahum is a professor at the Duke University School of Medicine.
    Though Gerry Nahum has long been consumed by matters of the
    soul, he is not a religious man. However, he has had some
    interesting encounters with the Catholic Church. “I
    approached them, naively, years ago. To get funding. I
    outlined it like I just did for you.”

    The monsignors didn’t understand the specifics of Nahum’s
    proposal, but they understood enough to know that it made
    them nervous. “They have a system of belief where they know
    what the answer is. They don’t need a quote-unquote proof.
    And if [the results don't] agree with what they know, it’s a
    disaster. They don’t want to take that risk.”
    After Nahum’s first audience, he was invited back. Now the mood had grown
    solemn. Outside experts had been called in, theologians with backgrounds in cosmology and physics. Not only did they not offer to fund Nahum’s project, they did their best to talk
    him out of it. They spoke of a “divine design” for the division of the worlds, and tried to make the case that
    Nahum’s experiment threatened a breach of that division. The consequences, they warned, could be dire and unfathomable. “They envisioned that there was a potential for opening a dark ‘schism’ that might unleash some type of heretofore unknown ‘power’ into our traditionally protected world.”

    So while it seems there’s still some interest in soul research, the Church isn’t happy about it. And so far, I haven’t found a thing about any attempts to find out anything about these messages from God.

    avalon

    • RandomFunction2

      To avalon,

      Have you noticed my post above in which I explain why it is pointless to study God-to-people communication and why God is not within the realm of science?

  • avalon

    Here’s the link for the soul weighing research:
    http://www.lostmag.com/issue1/soulsweight.php

  • avalon

    Hi RF,
    RF:”Have you noticed my post above in which I explain why it is pointless to study God-to-people communication and why God is not within the realm of science?”
    No, I’d missed it. Thanks for the reminder.

    RF:”I don’t think that if conscience were the voice of God, God would agree to play the guinea pig in all the experiments you have talked about. God is a rational person, not some impersonal natural process.”

    But we’re not trying to detect God, all we’re doing is looking for the forces or waves or whatever that cause changes in the brain.

    RF”God IS NOT in the realm of science for two good reasons: he is outside the world and he is free.”
    That would make him completely undetectable UNTIL he interacted with this world.

    RF”God is not a part of the world that scientists could understand by general laws and other impersonal processes. Philosophers and theologians can say a few things about God, but it’s not science.”

    If we have natural explanations that follow the laws of physics, then what part does God play in those events? To manipulate the laws of physics, to bend them or overturn them completely, even for a short time would allow that acts to be detected.
    If scientific instruments show the brain working away causing intuition and conscience, all according to the laws of physics, where’s God in that?

    avalon

    • RandomFunction2

      To avalon,

      By the way, I am teapot, not the Random Function who used to post in apologetics.com/forums.

      If we say that people are free, their brains will definitely not be determinist systems, which means that God could interact with them without breaking the laws of nature (which simply don’t apply to a being insofar as (s)he is free).

      • avalon

        Hi RF,
        RF:”By the way, I am teapot, not the Random Function who used to post in apologetics.com/forums.”
        That explains the sudden improvement in personality! I assumed the old RF had finally found the right meds.

        RF:”If we say that people are free, their brains will definitely not be determinist systems, which means that God could interact with them without breaking the laws of nature (which simply don’t apply to a being insofar as (s)he is free).”
        There is a complex answer to this simple question. Far too complex for a blog post. But to sum up the basics, the brain functions on two levels: conscious and subconscious. To the conscious mind, the subconscious is like a ‘black-box’ (hence the term SUB-conscious.) Because we don’t feel any thought process going on it’s easy to attribute those subconscious processes to an invisible source (soul, the voice of God, etc…).
        If we could see an fMRI of our brains in action at all times, it’d go a long way in dispelling this feeling. (Why isn’t there a phone app for that?)
        One also has to consider the ‘flow chart’ of our thought processes. There’s a feedback loops involved (both conscious and subconscious) where only the final decision is available to awareness. With the proper equipment your ‘free will’ decisions can be accurately determined well before they reach the level of awareness.
        If you’d like more discussion just start a thread in the science section at the old forum. I’ll keep an eye out for it.

        avalon

    • Bob Seidensticker

      RF”God is not a part of the world that scientists could understand by general laws and other impersonal processes. Philosophers and theologians can say a few things about God, but it’s not science.”

      I agree with avalon. If God stays completely outside our world, he remains undetectable by science but then he doesn’t exist from our standpoint. And if he does effectively exist–tweaking evolution, causing miracles, etc.–then these actions are in principle testable by science.

      • RandomFunction2

        No Bob. God remains free to intervene or not, and he is free about when and where to intervene. It would be impossible for a scientist to handle God as if he were a natural phenomenon following real laws. Science deals with lawful phenomena: it is powerless to understand free agents. It’s true that it studies human beings, but it’s only possible because human beings are both free (to some extent) and determined.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          “God answers prayers” (to take one example) is a scientifically testable claim. And, of course, there’s negligible positive evidence and much negative evidence for this claim. We’re obliged to considered this claim false, it seems to me.

          If you want to say that God, being super smart, could always stay ahead of our science and remain undetected, OK. That’s why I said “in principle testable.”

  • avalon

    It seems not all Christians are convinced that our intuition is the “voice of God”. Here’s an article by a Christian that that asks the question, “Can we expect our intuitive impressions to give us a reliable understanding of God’s will? (http://www.nehemiahministries.com/intuit.htm)
    His answers go back and forth, between “Yes” and “No”. Sometimes he thinks intuition is God’s ‘voice’, sometimes he thinks it’s just a natural part of being human. He never really comes to a decision. So to help him out, I organized his comments into two lists, pro and con, and counted the totals. As you see, he has 12 reasons to say “No” and only 6 reasons to say “Yes”. It’s 2 to 1 against the idea:
    YES
    1)Most Christians assume that God leads through inward guidance by itself at least occasionally. And many believe that this is his normal means of directing us.
    2)A man believes against all odds that God has shown him he’ll be offered a job that a multitude of others are seeking. He applies and, and to the amazement of his friends, is hired. A woman senses in prayer that God is revealing she will marry a man she hasn’t met but only seen from a distance. In time a relationship develops and they marry.
    3)I have no question that God sometimes does guide Christians through inward guidance alone.
    4)It appears, too, that God occasionally endows a Christian with exceptionally astute intuition. He may also give certain believers a spiritual gift for inward guidance, enabling them to discern his will through intuition more precisely than most Christians can.
    5)Our intuition, then, is telling us what underneath we most want to do or think we really ought to do. It’s our best insight into what we perceive God wants us to do at this time.
    6)We can trust, too, that if we’re intent upon doing God’s will, he is guiding our whole thought process–conscious and subconscious–including our experiences of intuition. Our intuitive insights are part of the enlightenment he provides us at any given time.

    NO
    1)A man believes he has received an inspiration from God about whom he’ll marry, but in time it proves to be so much wishful thinking.
    2)The irony in such situations is that two Christians sometimes have conflicting impressions of guidance–one believing God wants them to marry, the other that he has said no.
    3)If I believe God has spoken directly to me through an inner impression, I won’t feel free to question that guidance. Nor will I be open to anyone else’s insight.
    4)When it comes to trusting our intuitive perceptions of guidance, the advice of Scripture may be summarized: “Proceed with caution. Let your impressions season. And second opinions are usually advised.”
    5)The Bible records numerous instances where people took their feelings or intuition into account in a decision. No example can be found anywhere in Scripture, however, where someone regarded an inner impression as the direct voice of God, an infallible sign from him or the sole indication of his will. I have carefully searched both the Old and New Testaments on this point and haven’t found any clear example supporting the popular notion that inward guidance is sufficient by itself to know God’s will.
    6)Examples of direct supernatural guidance abound in Scripture, to be sure. They are often introduced by statements declaring that God “spoke” to someone, or the Holy Spirit “led” someone to do something. On a superficial reading some of these might seem to be examples of inward guidance. Yet whenever a passage shows how someone knew God spoke to him or her, it is always clear that the person heard an audible voice. None of these examples is clearly a reference to inward guidance.
    7)Generally, we do best to regard our intuition not as the direct voice of God’s Spirit but as a window on our deepest feelings.
    8)When we experience an intuitive insight–an inspiration, a hunch, a warm feeling or instinctive urge to do something–it usually indicates that our conscious mind is reading what our subconscious mind is thinking.
    9)Yet they are still more of a psychological experience than a spiritual one–an insight into our deepest thoughts and desires. Our intuition is only as good as the information to which we’ve been exposed.
    10)we always have the freedom to question our instinctive impressions of guidance. We are free to seek further information-which in time may lead to a new sense of intuition.
    11)A woman shared with me about how her understanding of God’s will changed in a relationship she had recently broken off. When she first met this man, she believed God was leading her to marry him. Her conviction was so strong that it felt like direct guidance from God. Yet during six months of dating she discovered that his relationship with Christ was shallow and he wasn’t interested in growing spiritually. As this point sunk in, her perception of God’s guidance changed, and she grew convinced he didn’t want them marrying. I appreciated her honesty, and her changing impression of guidance makes perfect sense once we understand how intuition functions.
    12) If I’m about to take a major step solely because my instincts tell me God wants me to–even though I can’t explain why–I have reason to stop and ask for further guidance.

    avalon

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Thanks for the analysis.

      If you have a God belief that’s sagging, this can be a way to convince you that he’s got your back. But to an ordinary person, this doesn’t count as much.


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