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Final Thoughts on the Atheist Prayer Experiment

I completed the Atheist Prayer Experiment, 40 days of prayer that ended October 26. Roughly 70 atheists prayed for several minutes daily in a nonspecific way. This was basically a “Hello, anyone there?” to the spiritual world.

I blogged about that experience here, here, here, and here. “Unbelievable,” the radio show and podcast that hosted the project, discussed the results with Tim Mawson, the philosopher whose paper formed its foundation, in two parts (part 1 and part 2). I was interviewed for part 2.

I’d like to touch on some ideas that came out of the experiment.

First, the big question: did I find God(s)? No, I did not. But you can tell me if God tried to speak to me.

I’ve already mentioned a couple of interesting coincidences during the experiment, but I should report on something interesting that happened the day after the experiment was over. I was vacationing in Hawaii, and I stepped outside our rented condo. I noticed a leaf driven by upcurrents, and I caught it in midair. It was a clump of bougainvillea, three white petals stuck together.

Remember Francis Collins’ conversion story, where he turned a corner on a winter hike and saw a waterfall frozen into three columns? That suggestion of the Trinity was enough to convince him that God was speaking to him. And here, with the Prayer Experiment just completed, the wind (or perhaps the Holy Spirit?) pushes into my hands three petals in a clump. Three, yet one. (And guess what floor our condo was on.)

As you can imagine, this initially struck me as barely noteworthy. With some work, I was able to make it into a curious coincidence, but I see nothing supernatural about it.

Here’s part two: that afternoon, there was a magnitude 7.7 earthquake in the Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia that caused a tsunami that hit Hawaii about five hours later. We evacuated, though the tsunami turned out to be insignificant.

Some might say that God’s Hand calmed the seas. I say that it was an interesting adventure with a satisfactory natural explanation.

My conclusion: I’m glad I did the experiment so I can show that I’ve been open to the possibility of the supernatural, but it has only provided more evidence that it doesn’t exist.

(Maybe I wasn’t doing the prayers right? If every field has an associated particle—the famous Higgs boson is a consequence of the Higgs field, for example—perhaps prayers are conveyed by prayons, and I wasn’t capturing them properly. The photo above shows one view on how to improve the signal strength of prayer.)

A more substantive criticism of the experiment’s deist approach came from a commenter.

The “anonymous deity” profile you have in mind, which sort of uses comparative religion to abstract away all distinctives, seems to me scarcely even to allow for Zeus, but to allow for Zeus far better than YHWH. It seems like an exercise in averaging together the phone numbers of a lot of celebrities, coming up with the number 555-5555, and calling that. I don’t suppose anyone has that number, so I don’t suppose anyone will “answer.”

I come back to the simple, naïve, obvious question: why is the existence of God not obvious? Said from the other direction, why is the clear and plain absence of God insufficient evidence to show that he doesn’t exist? When you pray to a guy who desperately wants to have a relationship with you but get no reply, what can we conclude from that?

C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters explains it this way:

The Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of [God’s] scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to over-ride a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo.

Sorry, Lewis fans, but that’s utter crap.

I meet new people all the time. Their forcing their existence on me is no imposition on my free will. Why pretend that it would be different for God? This is simply a clumsy argument to support Christian presuppositions. I almost feel embarrassed hearing some of these rationalizations, like watching someone in a play who’s forgotten his lines.

One suggestion that I received during the experiment was to just walk the walk. Act like a Christian for a while and you’ll slowly believe. Yes, I suppose that might work. I could suppress Reason and act more on Faith … but why should I do that? Why do that any more than you’d walk the walk of a Mormon or a Hari Krishna?

Similarly, I could try out crack or heroin. If I gave them a try, I just might like them. But why would I want to do that? Isn’t using reason the best way to see reality? I’ll believe things the old-fashioned way: because there’s sufficient evidence to convince me that they’re true.

Maybe prayer is an avenue, not to God, but to atheism. Mawson says that atheists are logically obliged to investigate the possibility of the supernatural, but most of us who were raised in a religious setting have already conducted our own prayer experiments. That’s why we’re atheists. Some ex-Christians never got the sense that God was answering prayers. Some discovered that God just stopped answering and then realized God was never there.

Nothing fails like prayer.

Imagine a world without God, where prayers are unanswered, where prayer is just you talking to yourself, where you only imagined that a loving deity supported you in adversity, where bad things happen to good people for no reason, where only wishful thinking supports the ideas of heaven and hell.

Open your eyes, because that’s the world you’re living in.

But this isn’t an anarchist’s paradise—it’s a world where people stand on their own two feet, where they live and love and grow, where every day ordinary people do heroic and noble things for the benefit of strangers. Where warm spring days and rosy sunsets aren’t made by God but are explained by Science, where earthquakes and hurricanes happen for no good reason, and people pitch in to help clean up afterwards.

We’re like a kid learning to ride a bike. Picture the parent running alongside holding the bike steady. The kid feels confident, but then the parent lets go without the kid realizing it. He still pedals along happily, perhaps even talking to the parent who’s fallen behind. Suddenly he’s shocked to find that he’s on his own, maybe shocked enough to fall. That belief was reassuring.

We’re also on our own. Is that realization debilitating or exhilarating? I can’t fault anyone raised in a Christian environment for not wanting to give up that omniscient and loving deity, but society simply can’t support large fractions of people ignoring reality.

Training wheels are for children. C’mon in, the water’s fine.

Prayer must never be answered:
if it is, it ceases to be prayer and becomes correspondence.
— Oscar Wilde

Photo credit: Spiritual Science Research Foundation

About Bob Seidensticker
  • Richard S. Russell

    I wonder if now Mr. Mawson will turn his attention to ardent Christians who engage in prayer on a daily basis and encourage them to do the intellectual-integrity thing by living THEIR lives for 40 days without thinking about religion at all, to see if it makes a nickel’s worth of difference.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      That reminds me of Julia Sweeney’s “Letting Go of God.” When she’d exhausted her search and was realizing that there was nothing there, she put her toe into the water of Reality by taking off her God glasses for just an hour at a time. Slowly, she realized that she preferred reality to fantasy.

      • Richard S. Russell

        A good show, that.

        I wonder if it ever occurred to Mawson that here he is, blathering on about how atheists “owe it to themselves” to check out the claims of Christianity, but it seems never to dawn on him that he could easily be making the reverse case that Christians “owe it to themselves” to give atheism a fair shot. Or even giving, say, Mormonism or Islam a fair shot. These guys are just irony-deaf, aren’t they?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          “Irony-deaf”–I’ll have to remember that one!

        • Mark

          Richard,
          Lots of Christians have done just the experiment you suggest, including C.S. Lewis himself.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Lewis was an atheist, and he became a Christian. But as a Christian, did he consider the arguments of the atheists?

    • keddaw

      No, they all say they’ll turn into murderers and rapists!

  • RandomFunction2

    To Bob the broken atheist,

    Like it or not, many people say their prayers to God have been answered. They are not all deluded crackpots, and they are not all thinking about empty coincidences like your tsunami.

    An absence of effect (in your case) is easier to explain than the presence of an effect in many other cases.

    What may be awkward is the fact that the prayers that have been answered (seemingly) were not all directed at the same deity. But then, maybe God or whatever happens to be the supreme being does not care much about people knowing his (its?) specific name and just wants to help people who are searching.

    Here is a suggestion: God did not answer your prayers because “he” knew that you did not need “him” to be happy and thriving. And that’s ok. However, don’t assume that EVERYONE can dispense with God. Just as I no longer assume that EVERYONE needs God. Still, it’s true that there are people out there who feel empty without God, and yet God does not turn up in their lives. Why not? I don’t know.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      RF2:

      many people say their prayers to God have been answered

      Agreed.

      They are not all deluded crackpots, and they are not all thinking about empty coincidences like your tsunami.

      I’ll agree with the first part of your claim, but I do think that wishful thinking turns coincidences into the actions of God. If your point is that some of the stories they might tell are truly startling, OK, but so are those of believers in other god(s), as you note.

      Here is a suggestion: God did not answer your prayers because “he” knew that you did not need “him” to be happy and thriving.

      If we’re hypothesizing the Christian god, that doesn’t make much sense. He’s going to let me continue in my unbelief, knowing the terrible consequences that has on my afterlife?

      don’t assume that EVERYONE can dispense with God.

      So you’re saying that even if God doesn’t exist, belief is a comforting fiction for some people?

      there are people out there who feel empty without God, and yet God does not turn up in their lives. Why not? I don’t know.

      And the obvious answer is that God doesn’t exist. Can’t we toss that option into the list of candidate explanations?

      • RandomFunction2

        To Bob the broken atheist,

        When I spoke of answered prayers, I was thinking about spiritual experiences that positively changed the lives of people. Sure, it does not happen to everyone. I don’t know why it happens to some rather than to the others. The coincidences you pointed to don’t count as genuine spiritual experiences.

        I know that answered prayers don’t seem to come from the same God. This is a problem for exclusivistic religion. But that there are answered prayers at all is a problem for atheism.

        We will never know for sure that God does not exist, so if some people need God, it’s not wrong to allow them to believe in him. The problem is when either atheists or believers think that everyone should be like them.

        It’s true that the nonexistence of God would explain why some prayers are unanswered. But it’s not like if ALL prayers were reported to be failures.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          But that there are answered prayers at all is a problem for atheism.

          Are there answered prayers? All I’ve seen is the perception of answered prayers.

          We will never know for sure that God does not exist

          Nor will we ever know for sure that hippogryphs or unicorns or the Pink People from Pluto don’t exist, but it’s wise to follow the evidence … and live your life as if they don’t.

        • RandomFunction2

          To Bob the fabulous atheist,

          Sure, but while we’re at that, we may just as well say that there are no unanswered prayers. There are SEEMINGLY unanswered prayers, or prayers answered otherwise than what we expected. It does not take us very far.

          When normal, well-adjusted people have spiritual experiences after they prayed, that is some evidence (though not perfect evidence) for the existence of a higher Power. If there were zero evidence for God, then yes, it would look like if God is in the same bag as fantastic beings.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          We can try to explain things with “God answers prayers,” but then we have the problem of selfless unanswered prayers and seemingly answered prayers within other religions. The hypothesis that explains things quite well with no remarkable assumptions (like the supernatural) is that God doesn’t exist. What’s left unexplained?

          When normal, well-adjusted people have spiritual experiences after they prayed, that is some evidence (though not perfect evidence) for the existence of a higher Power.

          How convincing is that evidence when natural explanations are sufficient?

        • Richard S. Russell

          There are no such things as spiritual experiences. There are only material experiences misinterpreted by the brain as coming from someplace other than the real world.
           
          How can I say this with such assurance? Shut off the brain, and the “spiritual” experiences stop, too. Every single time! Thus it was ONLY EVER the electrochemical reactions in a 100% physical (IE, non-spiritual) brain that was responsible for the perceptions in the 1st place.

        • JohnH

          Richard,

          There is no such thing as sight, hearing, smell, or taste. How can I say this with such assurance? Shut off the brain and the “sensory” experience stop, too. Every single time! Thus it was ONLY EVER the electrochemical reaction in a 100% physical (IE, non-sensory) brain that was responsible for the perceptions in the 1st place.

        • Richard S. Russell

          Touché, John.

          Clearly I need to find a line of reasoning that isn’t dependent on such a serious phase shift occurring right in the middle of it.

        • smrnda

          The problem with need – what is a person says they need heroin? Should I decide to accept this as a legitimate need? Just for arguments’ sake let’s say that the person is relatively functional so addiction hasn’t debilitated them.

        • RandomFunction2

          To smrnda,

          Actually, people don’t naturally feel a need for heroine. And more important, heroine is destructive. It makes people weaker. On the contrary, God is supposed to make people stronger, at least those who need him (hence the atheist suspicion that religion is a crutch…). Of course it does not always work. Religion may make people worse off… But the difference is that heroine ALWAYS makes people worse off.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          RF2:

          Actually, people don’t naturally feel a need for heroine.

          If you tried some, maybe you’d feel differently.

          And more important, heroine is destructive. It makes people weaker.

          And does believing in things that don’t exist despite the evidence also make you weaker? Does it hurt if you don’t stand on your own two feet and face reality squarely?

          On the contrary, God is supposed to make people stronger

          A remarkable claim, isn’t it? And yet there’s no meaningful evidence of it. Wouldn’t this be obvious to an observer if true?

        • JohnH

          “A remarkable claim, isn’t it? And yet there’s no meaningful evidence of it.”

          Actually there is a huge body of evidence showing that there are meaningful benefits associated with regular church attendance. Such things as happiness, life expectancy, mental health, and material well being are all positively correlated with regular church attendance.

        • smrnda

          RandomFunction2 – I’ve actually known several prolific mathematicians who were frequent users of heroin, and neither their health nor their lives were a mess, though a lot of this might have just been that with sufficient money, they could get away with it. You should look up mathematician Paul Erdos and the bet he made about not using stimulants for a month. His conclusion was that he proved that he was not an addict by doing it, but since he got no work done, he was going back on stimulants. I could add the case of William S Burroughs, the beat writer who was a lifetime heroin user. He survived into his 80s and I doubt he would have written anything if he hadn’t been into drugs. By no means should this read as an endorsement of heroin, but saying it’s always destructive runs into the same danger with any other ‘always’ statements.

          Let’s say I compare someone’s need for god with not just drug dependence, but with an acquired dependence on a placebo that only works because of psychosomatic reasons. People can feel a need for lots of things and meeting the need can make people stronger, but the question is how the need was acquired in the first place.

          I wouldn’t doubt that belief in god or perhaps more properly, membership in a religious community helps people, but I could find other things that achieve the same results. Church attendance does seem to have benefits, but I think it’s more a factor of social connectivity.

        • Richard S. Russell

          RandomFunction2 thinks “people don’t naturally feel a need for heroine. And more important, heroine is destructive.”

          Speak for yourself, buddy. I LOVE Princess Merida and Katniss Everdeen, and they’re great role models.

          Or did you mean “heroin”?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          Actually there is a huge body of evidence showing that there are meaningful benefits associated with regular church attendance.

          That data is suspect IMO unless we can be sure about cause and effect. Maybe the kind of people drawn to attend church regularly are those who lead safe, cautious lives or who tend to be happier, etc.

          But let’s go where you’re pointing. Even if church makes you happier (etc.), that is poor evidence that God did it.

        • Richard S. Russell

          Re: the happiness thing. George Bernard Shaw pretty much wrapped it up a century ago with this observation: “The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact than a drunken man is happier than a sober one.”

        • JohnH

          Bob,
          I was careful in the way I worded it to not claim more then has been proven.

          Richard,
          Happiness sure, being doped up on Soma might make one happier but whether or not that is desirable would then be questionable. If that were the only point of evidence to the benefits of church attendance then it would be a poor showing, however as I noted there are a wide range of benefits.

        • plutosdad

          JohnH :
          And all those studies ALSO show that even unbelievers who attend church regularly get those same benefits.
          http://epiphenom.fieldofscience.com/2009/03/religion-and-health-big-meta-analysis.html
          and there are also harmful effects depending on education:
          http://epiphenom.fieldofscience.com/2012/01/religion-and-health-double-edged-sword.html

        • RandomFunction2

          To Bob the broken (yet fabulous) atheist,

          It’s not impossible that in the future science with its naturalistic assumptions will explain every seemingly answered prayer. But unless I am mistaken, it has not yet done the job for now. So it’s not forbidden to believe (with some caution) that there is a higher Power that answers some prayers.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Has science resolved every claimed UFO experience? No. Are we justified in believing that little green men have been coming to earth to mutilate cows and experiment on people? No.

          The burden of proof in the prayer case is on the believer. Say that the question is unresolved if you want, but the evidence does not point to God. The null hypothesis (that there is no god(s)) has not been overturned.

        • Richard S. Russell

          Indeed, nobody in a free country forbids you from believing ANYTHING, justified or not.

          The thing that always tickles me is the assumption that, if no naturalistic explanation is readily available, the ONLY POSSIBLE ANSWER is that it must be the hand of god (for whatever values of “god” happen to be prominent in your era and part of the world), and since the hand of god is the ONLY POSSIBLE ANSWER, it must be true.

          What’s wrong with “nobody knows”? It’s honest, and it doesn’t destroy curiosity, the way a loudly trumpeted phony answer does, which means that there’s an excellent chance that somebody in the future will figure it out.

        • RowanVT

          How come then, despite fervent prayers for 14 years, I never felt a single moment that anyone was listening to me as I prayed? Why did I not receive a single positive ‘spiritual’ experience from age 4 through 18? Why could a deity not have calmed my overwhelming fear of dying and being sent to hell for doing something slightly wrong and me not knowing it? Why should a 4 year old child be crying herself to sleep while praying because that day she had the concept of Hell explained to her the first time?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          And people are outraged when Richard Dawkins suggests that childhood indoctrination can be child abuse …

  • http://carm.org Thoms

    God does asnwer prayers. Q: What did you pray for? James 4:1-3 Where do all the fights and quarrels among you come from? They come from your desires for pleasure, which are constandy fighting within you. You want things, but you cannot have them, so you are ready to kill; you stongly desire things, but you cannot get them, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have what you want because you do not ask God for it. And when you ask, you do not receive it, because your motives are bad; you ask for things to use for your own pleasures.

    • RandomFunction2

      To Thoms,

      That’s a great way of explaining away why prayer does not always work. Just make irrefutable claims about it. Like Flew’s invisible gardener. If prayers don’t work, it MUST mean the person uttering them is actually morally flawed, mustn’t it, whatever the appearances may be. But who can seriously believe that? When a daughter prays for her father to be cured of cancer and it does not work, should we say that her motives were “bad”? Weren’t she following one of the Ten Commandments?

      • RandomFunction2

        Sorry, I meant “WASN’T she following…”

    • RowanVT

      So when I asked God to come into my heart and fill me with love… I was doing it wrong? When I asked God to save me from Hell, and my terror continued unabated, I was doing it wrong? Good to know that God is a dick to little children.

      • JohnH

        RowanVT,
        The position on Hell, sinning, and God that you experienced does not line up with what the majority of Christians teach or what most of those that read the Bible (which is claimed to contain the word of God) find that it teaches. God doesn’t give the spirit of fear but of a sound mind (for instance) show that it wasn’t God being a dick to a little child but those teaching about God that were dicks. Perhaps that is how they were taught, perhaps that is what they believed, perhaps they loved power and control, perhaps dozens of other possibilities ranging from misguided to cruel; Matthew 18:6 makes it clear that they will have to answer for your fears. I am sorry for you and I am sorry that you blame God for the sins of men.

        • Kodie

          God doesn’t give the spirit of fear but of a sound mind (for instance) show that it wasn’t God being a dick to a little child but those teaching about God that were dicks.

          “God” suspiciously leaves it entirely up to the people to speak from wherever in or on their body they feel like having a truth. Doesn’t sound awesome.

        • Kodie

          And “God” suspiciously doesn’t intervene to calm a fearful child left in the care of these people, you know a personal, hey those people are dicks but I’m real and I love you, don’t worry. Don’t say god’s not the dick here.

          Ok, ok, god’s not a dick because he doesn’t exist, but if he did, he surely would be.

        • Richard S. Russell

          So anything good that happens, God gets the credit; anything bad that happens is the fault of fallible, flawed human beings. And this is true not by observation but by definition. Sweet gig. Y’know, I bet I could win every time if I got to make up the rules of the game, too.

        • JohnH

          Richard,
          Have you ever read the book of Job?

        • Richard S. Russell

          Decades ago, when I decided I owed it to myself to read the entire Big Book o’Horrors cover to cover. Can’t say it made a particular impression on me, other than reinforcing my opinion that Yahweh wasn’t merely the cruelest genocidal maniac of all time but also, when he WASN’T busy slautering people, a giant jerkwad. Why do you ask?

        • JohnH

          Just making clear that what you said earlier doesn’t correspond to what is found in the book of Job, that is all.

        • cowalker

          “Being Deity

          All of the credit and none of the blame,
          If something gets screwed up, no need to explain,
          I’d take the position, terms being the same.

          Applause for the cure of the halt and the lame,
          Devout resignation when prayers are in vain-
          All of the credit and none of the blame.

          Disaster survivors give praise to His name;
          Those grieving the dead swell the fulsome refrain.
          I’d take the position, terms being the same.

          Hurt makes humans better, pure souls are the aim.
          They don’t ask the purpose of animal pain-
          All of the credit and none of the blame.

          Rainbows and butterflies earn Him acclaim.
          There’s silence on roaches: the habit’s ingrained.
          I’d take the position, terms being the same.

          Liability zero. He can’t lose the game-
          Nothing to risk, adoration to gain.
          All of the credit and none of the blame-
          I’d take the position, terms being the same.”
          –Cowalker

        • Bob Seidensticker

          The wisdom of Mr. Deity:

          Mr. Deity: Prayer is not for me, okay? I mean, I like it and everything, I think it’s sweet that people think of me, but I’ve got a plan, and I’m staying the course. But it’s great for them, it gets them focused on what’s important, it’s meditative, I hear it does wonders for the blood pressure. Plus it’s a chance to connect to me. How’s that not going to be good? You should know.

          Jesus: Oh yeah, yeah. So what you’re saying here, sir, is that you never answer any prayers?

          Mr. Deity: Not really, no. There’s just no incentive. I mean, look—if somebody prays to me and things go well, who gets the credit? Me, right? But if they pray to me and things don’t go well, who gets the blame? Not me! So it’s all good. I’m going to mess with that by stepping in? Putting my nose where it doesn’t belong?

          Thus endeth the scripture for today.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        John:

        This preacher teaches kind and gentle; that preacher teaches fire and brimstone. Each one can point to support in the Bible. Who’s to say which one is right from within Christianity?

        Seen from the outside, this just makes all Christian viewpoints look nuts.

        • JohnH

          “Who’s to say which one is right from within Christianity?”
          God.

          “Seen from the outside, this just makes all Christian viewpoints look nuts.”
          I know.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          God.

          And we’re right back where we started. Your view of God says X and the other guy’s says Y. Which one is right? It’s like puzzling over the rules at the Mad Hatter’s tea party.

        • JohnH

          “Which one is right?”
          There are a variety of ways that I can answer this.

          If one assumes God answers prayers then one could try asking God. However, this also making the assumption that one will be able to recognize the answer that God gives and that one has faith in God (which takes us perilously close to a closed loop when dealing with someone that doesn’t believe in God). I think this is the strongest one and feel that all other claims are either circular or reach this claim eventually.

          One could try asking each group how they know they are right. For instance, Catholics claim an unbroken line of succession from Peter, Orthodox from the Apostles, Mormons claim that one can know of the truth of the restoration by reading the Book of Mormon and praying about it, Evangelicals (generally) claim that one just needs to read the Bible, and etc. Of course that then leads to the question of how does one know there is an unbroken line of succession of authority from Peter, or the Apostles, why everyone that reads the Bible isn’t Evangelical, and the issues with the first response apply to the Book of Mormon.

          One can look at “By their fruits ye shall know them” as a way of telling which is right. In this case the Catholics point to the survival of the Catholic church despite the best efforts of Catholics (essentially), Orthodox to the survival of the Orthodox Church, Pentecostals to their claims of manifestation of the Spirit, Mormons to service to others and clean generally happy lives, Christian Scientists to miracle healing, and etc. This leads to the question of what of such groups as the Hindus for the Catholic/Orthodox claims, questions of whether the manifestations of the Spirit match what the scriptures say (and whether they are real), claims of miracle healing in other faiths including those not related to Christianity, and the ability to point out such things as not everyone that is Mormon is happy or good and pointing out that even if statistically the claim is true it doesn’t have the supernatural “wow” factor that people desire.

          One can follow the advice of John 7:17 and follow what is being taught to see if what is being taught leads to good results. This makes it into an optimization problem with tens of thousands of possibilities. One could try and narrow that down by using some of the other criteria but that assumes that one is correct in their judging of the other claims, which is something there is no assurance of.

          Some claim that one can use pure reason to come to the truth. Which leads to potential objections from the Bible, questions of the accuracy of the reasoning and the soundness of the “axioms” being used in the reasoning, and whether the result is a local max or global max and if there is a singular global max or multiple. Also the question of why everyone else that attempts to use reason doesn’t reach the exact same solution.

          One could take Romans 10:14 as a mechanism for determining truth which would require listening to everyone that attempts to preach at you and after hearing them preach quickly goes straight to the first option.

          One can use Deuteronomy 18:22 as the mechanism, but that requires there to have been (and/or continue to be) prophecy that one can check independently and that one accept both the prophecy and the verification.

          Might be missing something and these are brief overviews.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          I think this is the strongest one and feel that all other claims are either circular or reach this claim eventually.

          How does “just ask God” help us? We still have dueling belief systems where Pastor Nutjob says hateful thing X (with supporting quotes from the Bible) and Pastor NiceGuy says nice thing Y in opposition (with his own quotes).

          One can look at “By their fruits ye shall know them” as a way of telling which is right.

          That’s how I judge them. I judge them against my own moral instinct and socially-based moral beliefs. I suspect everyone else does pretty much the same.

        • JohnH

          Bob,
          “How does “just ask God” help us? ”

          If God responds (and one recognizes the response) then one is then able to judge between X and Y.

          “I judge them against my own moral instinct and socially-based moral beliefs. I suspect everyone else does pretty much the same.”

          There are certainly cases where it would appear that this works quite well at getting rid of candidates. However, this makes the assumption that social morals are correct, which if one is a moral relativist is about the only meaningful yardstick, if one is not (or if one thinks that God might not be) then one needs to worry about the possibility that the social norms might not be accurate. I suppose one could use the same standard on social moral norms (ie see what the effects are as to whether they should be followed) to help fine tune things and that would work fairly well I think.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          If God responds (and one recognizes the response) then one is then able to judge between X and Y.

          And the problem remains. There is no objective standard that we all accept that will resolve this question of what God is actually saying.

          this makes the assumption that social morals are correct

          Who makes this assumption? My assumption is that they’re a good approximation. They’ve changed before and they’ll change again. A century from now, perhaps no one will kill animals for meat, and they’ll look back at our hamburger obsession with horror.

  • http://www.gotquestions.org/Printer/qotw-PF.html Thoms

    Q: How should a Christian respond to unanswered prayer?

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Thoms: The Christians should consider the hypothesis that God isn’t there to answer them. And then follow the evidence where it leads.

  • smrnda

    I’m going to say that whether or nor prayer works isn’t something you can deal with in an experiment, not to discredit Bob’s experiment and what he gained, but to make it a proper experiment you need a hypothesis to test, and there has to be something that could falsify the hypothesis. Nothing can prove prayer doesn’t work since even if everybody who prayed never got anything they ever wanted, many religions teach that sometimes whatever god the prayer is addressed to just doesn’t give you what you want, so no quantity of unanswered prayers are considered evidence that prayer doesn’t work.

    Then the other problem is how prayer ‘works’ – if a vague prayer is made to a god, almost anything can count as an answer. If I say “I prayed to this god for a positive change to happen in my life” anything from winning the lottery to finding a better type of toothbrush could quality as an answer to prayer, but both of those events could have happened independent of divine intervention.

    Perhaps the best type of answered prayer would be something like that prophet Elijah had god answer his prayer by lighting some wet stuff on fire, but these types of things are obviously not happening on demand.

    What I can’t understand is why a god would choose to work in mysterious ways, unless the god wants a small cult following. If I want people to like me, I work in obvious ways. I give people prompt, straight answers when I can. I don’t ask people to trust me, I try to earn their trust and don’t act like I’m entitled to it. I try to communicate clearly and explicitly with people as often as I can. This seems to be the rational way to handle relationships among human beings, so why don’t god or gods do this? When people talk about their personal relationships with god, we have closer relationships with people who don’t even count among our closest friends or relatives.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      not to discredit Bob’s experiment

      Agreed. Even the hosts of the experiment don’t put much in its experimental value.

      these types of things are obviously not happening on demand.

      Which puts a lie to the bold claims in the NT about “ask and ye shall receive,” etc.

      What I can’t understand is why a god would choose to work in mysterious ways

      The claims made are pretty clear, not mysterious at all. But as it evolved from an apocalyptic “the end is coming” cult into a proper religion, things had to be reframed.

      we have closer relationships with people who don’t even count among our closest friends or relatives.

      And existence is such a trivial thing with people that we almost never have to question it. But with religion, it’s the central issue.

      • JohnH

        “Which puts a lie to the bold claims in the NT about “ask and ye shall receive,” etc.”

        Actually it doesn’t considering that the miracles of Jesus and the other teachings of Jesus including ones that are essentially restating of that teaching make clear that faith is a requirement in order to receive things:
        “whatever you shall ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.” Mat. 21:22
        “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.”James 1:6

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          “whatever you shall ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.” Mat. 21:22

          And is this bold claim supported by the evidence? Is it true that “whatever you shall ask in prayer, you shall receive”?

        • JohnH

          you missed the ” believing,” part of that scripture apparently.

        • Kodie

          Way to miss the point JohnH. Is this bold claim supported by evidence?

    • JohnH

      ” so why don’t god or gods do this?”

      How about me make some assumptions: First let us assume that God can only manifest in one place at one time; Second, let us assume that everyone in the world has prayed that God reveal Himself to them; Third, let us assume that everyone in the world refuses to listen to human messengers, the Holy Spirit, and angels meaning they all want a personal manifestation of God. If we then assume that a manifestation takes 15 seconds then it would take God over 3000 years to accomplish the task of answering everyone prayers personally and individually like that, considering that the human lifespan is significantly less then 3000 years then the desired task is impossible under given restrictions and assumptions.

      If we relax the restriction of being in one place at one time such that we are now talking about the Holy Spirit then obviously God could answer all prayers instantaneously, but doing so would require people to recognize, understand, listen to, and correctly interpret the Spirit. As noted above spiritual experiences are extremely common and common enough that atheists have to come up with explanations as to why they aren’t really spiritual experiences; so on some level it would appear that God is behaving in a manner similar to what you suggest.

      However, this leads to the obvious rebuttal of why He doesn’t make it clear and easy to recognize, understand, or correctly interpret the Spirit. This brings us to the Lewis quote, the scheme of God is to see what we will do with our lives when we do not have complete knowledge at first. Him giving certainty at first doesn’t destroy our ability to make a choice (Lucifer falling is evidence of that), but it does destroy the ability to make mistakes that we can learn and grow from, which destroys the scheme of God. I can’t pretend to explain this idea better then C.S. Lewis, but since Bob doesn’t understand it and Mr. Lewis isn’t here.

      “When people talk about their personal relationships with god, we have closer relationships with people who don’t even count among our closest friends or relatives.”

      Knowing God is certainly the end state, not the starting state. We must draw near to God before we can expect Him to draw near to us.

      • smrnda

        Interesting thought experiment, but if god is so limited in power this seems to be closer to a pagan perspective (where gods were more like superheroes with powers that can be great but limited) than with the conceptions of a monotheistic god i get from most Christians or Muslims. It at least provides an explanation, but it seems like one somebody just pulls out of thin air when it’s convenient, like trying to explain how someone can lock up superman in a metal box in act 4 where in act 1 his eyes shot out laser beams that could cut through metal in act 2.

        The thing about spiritual experiences is that I think that self-delusions is a much better explanation. I did research in the psychology of religion, and when I looked at how practicing polytheists described their spiritual experience, it was more or less the same as Christians. My take? Nothing more than the placebo effect, but unlike the placebo effect, you can’t show the person ‘hey, the pain killer we gave you? it’s this placebo.’ If you tell someone that yes, they were taking a placebo, the placebo effect typically vanishes.

        The Lewis quote is just an empty platitude. He uses vague, inflated, poetic language rather than making clear and concise claims simply because, at least here, there’s nothing intelligent to say. Human beings don’t just drop mysterious hints of their existence or love, they offer conclusive, indisputable, concrete evidence that’s typically tailored exactly for the person they want to show their love to.

        Humans also accept that when we don’t make our intentions or our feeling sufficiently clear, people have a right to reject or ignore our mysterious, cryptic overtures and that it’s not their fault for not trusting or loving us, it’s our fault for not making things clear. At least that’s how I see it. “Wooing” is Medieval nonsense. People don’t ‘woo’ in relationships anymore (perhaps CS Lewis is not very good at using relationship analogies since most of his life he was single in the old fashioned traditional of British academic bachelorhood.) . Lewis seems to take two extremes : “ravish or woo.” Given how people think about relationships now, I don’t think either has a contemporary linguistic equivalent. People don’t woo, they try to be as open, clear, honest, and straightforward as possible. If you don’t do that, you’ll probably be rejected by most romantic partners or even friends for being a grade A jerk who is just playing games with people. CS Lewis was a product of an age that was pretty repressive by today’s standards and the level of openness that people would later have about their thoughts and feelings was probably not something he could anticipate.

        • JohnH

          Re: woo:
          I don’t know that you are interpreting woo-ing correctly; also the dating culture that I experienced and the courtship of my wife don’t appear to match up with what you describe.

          “, but it seems like one somebody just pulls out of thin air ”
          Well, yes, I did just pull it out of thin air; I gave 15 seconds as that would seem to be enough time to actually have a short discussion. Basically I was attempting to see if the desired result was even possible given moderate assumptions.

          “conceptions of a monotheistic god i get from most Christians or Muslims.”
          There is a reason that most Christians and Muslims don’t think of my faith as being monotheistic. While there are other Christians that would agree to the restrictions I placed they are based on scripture unique to my faith. Of course, I suppose it could be possible for God to speed up His time, such that a day is a thousand years to God or something, and get done with answering everyone’s prayers in few days time.

        • smrnda

          The dating culture I was exposed to might be very different from yours since I’m not sure how old you are and I tend to find (based on my own interactions) that male-female interactions are very different among people from religious subcultures than they would be among the demographic of secular, educated people. A cultural norm that I’m used to is very explicit, direct, open communication, with communication between males and females being much less gendered than it’s probably been in the past, probably because more people always has both male and female friends at all stages of their life.

          True, this type of culture means that first dates (if you can call them that) probably seem more like job interviews that someone’s idea of a romantic/flirtatious encounter, but I think that might be that pragmatism is emphasized in everything, including relationships. At least that’s what’s been the norm for the world I’ve been in.

          So to me, anything less than totally direct communication seems irritating and childish, whereas similar behaviors might seem normal, or even cute and charming to people with very different standards.

        • JohnH

          I believe that I am likely younger then you are based on some things that you have said.

          Considering that I met and dated my wife in college I quite resent the implication that I am uneducated because I am religious.

        • smrnda

          JohnH: apologies. I meant to contrast secular people who are educated from religious people, both educated and not. I was aware you were at least college educated and religious, and I’ve met plenty of educated religious people. It just seems to me that religious people tend to seem to share a common culture that crosses educational levels, whereas when people aren’t religious, it seems like education level tends to determine cultural attitudes more than anything else.

      • Richard S. Russell

        “Knowing God is certainly … not the starting state.”

        Agreed. We’re all born atheists. Then the brainwashers get to work.

      • Richard S. Russell

        “As noted above spiritual experiences are extremely common and common enough that atheists have to come up with explanations as to why they aren’t really spiritual experiences …”
         
        EMOTIONS are extremely common. You’re the one calling some of them “spiritual experiences”; I certainly never agreed that they even exist, let alone commonly. The word “spiritual” contains a built-in assumption of causality not in evidence. Before we waste our time trying to figure out where the spirituality came from, start off by (1) defining “spirituality” and (2) showing us some.
         
        Let me advance a hypothesis. Whatever you come up with will be analogous to “beauty” — purely a matter of opinion, purely in the mind of the beholder, utterly without any objective verifiability.

  • Richard S. Russell

    “(23) … Verily, verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.
    (24) Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” —John 16:23-24

    I think we can pretty definitively call this one a total and utter lie.

    “Why are some prayers answered and some not?”, an earlier commenter wanted to know. Real easy to answer. Suppose I pray every week for the Packers and Badgers to win. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Were my prayers answered when they won? Were they ignored when they lost? No, my prayers had NO EFFECT WHATSOEVER on what was going to happen anyway.

    There’s yer explanation right there.

    • JohnH

      To ask in the name of Jesus requires a belief in Jesus. If one doesn’t believe in Jesus or God then how exactly is one able to ask anything in the name of Jesus? How does God or Jesus not responding to someone that praying to prove they don’t exist actually prove anything? If one is praying to prove they don’t exist, that being the intent regardless of whatever the words said are, then wouldn’t God not responding be giving the person what they are asking for?

      • Makoto

        And yet, in the past I prayed and prayed for god or Jesus or whatever to show itself to me, in any form. A feeling in my heart. A thought in my head that wasn’t mine, signalling some kind of communication. I was brought up in a religious family, and while not all of my kin share the same religion, most are quite religious in their own sect. I was ashamed of the fact that I couldn’t hear Jesus in my heart growing up! I thought there was something wrong with me, and after many years I felt the need to fake that communication that everyone else claimed to have in order to fit in, yes, even as a son to my parents.

        So, I’m a person who prayed to god and Jesus to respond, with belief at the time, and got nothing. I prayed a lot longer than 40 days, too. And now that I’ve realized that the non-response likely means a non-entity to respond, I’m much happier and more content. I still work with my parents to do good deeds, including through their church despite my lack of belief, I just don’t join in their prayers anymore.

        Of course, I’m leaving the door open to a potential god-like thing – I don’t know everything, so I can’t say there isn’t a god out there.. just as you don’t know everything to say that there definitely is a god out there.

        • JohnH

          “I felt the need to fake that communication ”
          Because lying is generally seen as good thing by God???

          “I just don’t join in their prayers anymore.”
          This seems like it might be a little rude, although it might depend on what you mean by saying this.

          “just as you don’t know everything to say that there definitely is a god out there.”
          Why are you making an assumption on the state of my knowledge of God?

        • Kodie

          First you call it lying, then you say not doing it is rude – Which is it???

        • JohnH

          It is lying to say that one has received communication from God when one has not. It is rude to refuse to respect others when they are praying.

        • Richard S. Russell

          It is lying to say that one has received communication from God when one has not.

          Unduly judgmental. They may be deluded or deceived, or not in possession of all the information needed to make a valid decision.

        • JohnH

          Richard,
          In the case of “after many years I felt the need to fake that communication” then how exactly is that not lying?

        • Richard S. Russell

          There are several possible reasons why one could claim to have received communication from God when, in fact, one had not. Lying is one possible explanation. You made it sound as if it’s the ONLY possible explanation.

          I was addressing your blanket statement that used the indefinite pronoun “one”. You evidently intended the particular pronoun “you” and more particularly Kodie. I agree with you that, under the circumstances she described, lying is indeed the most accurate description of what she did, but the language you employed made a more sweeping claim than that. If you would have just said “So you preferred to lie about it, yes?”, you wouldn’t have heard a peep out of me.

        • Kodie

          I love when things are taken completely out of context:

          I thought there was something wrong with me, and after many years I felt the need to fake that communication that everyone else claimed to have in order to fit in

          Felt the need….to fit in. I thought there was something wrong with me,… felt the need… to fit in.

          But you bounce back with an accusation about lying to or about god. Stick up for something real for a change. Does any part of Makoto’s statement give you any other impulses like empathy, for example?

          And no, I don’t think it’s rude to not pray while others are praying, especially if one is given to be insincere about it and knows it’s just a sham on their part. What is this ritual and all the stickler etiquette? Who is that for?

        • smrnda

          What I got from Makoto’s account had nothing to do with deception, but more to do with ‘faking it’ the way that a person might fake enjoyment of an activity that everybody else seems to enjoy, or fakes liking the taste of a food or drink that seems to be popular. For example, many religious people provide very different accounts of how they think god or gods communicate with them; a person who doesn’t seem to have had the experience yet might just wonder when it’s going to happen, and be pressing on in spite of discouragement, or they may be conflicted – when people talk about getting a feeling they know is god, could it just be that the doubtful person isn’t recognizing feelings from god properly?

        • JohnH

          Richard,
          I see what you are saying and you are correct, sorry for generalizing like that.

          Kodie,
          It would appear that here religiosity was based primarily on the opinions and praises of others and not God, as apparent from the statement which you so helpfully point out “fit in”. I do not understand the need to fit in very well but I am aware of quite a lot of statements in the New Testament saying that if one is doing something to be seen of others that one has already received their reward and God is not pleased with that person (being a whited sepulchre for instance).

          If the pressure being felt is to have a particular kind of experience and to share such with a group then I feel sorry for all members of the group as they have all missed the point.

          smrda,
          I don’t understand the ‘faking it’ of enjoyment of an activity or food or drink; that seems to be deception to me. I am not exactly normal so I will take your word for it.

          “when people talk about getting a feeling they know is god, could it just be that the doubtful person isn’t recognizing feelings from god properly?”

          Yes, this is very probable. An expectation that everyone will have the same experience in the same way and will recognize and describe it the same appears dangerous as that is contrary to how things actually happen. The actions that result from such an experience are more telling then having or recognizing such an experience.

        • Kodie

          If the pressure being felt is to have a particular kind of experience and to share such with a group then I feel sorry for all members of the group as they have all missed the point.

          Now that’s an assumption I did not make. I can imagine if everyone else around you is getting the special radio signal or says they do, they’re not necessarily pressuring intentionally. You say they have all missed the point and you feel sorry for them. How nice of you to be so judgmental of a whole group of people due to one person’s experience among them, while he also says they are good people who help others and he joins in the efforts because he is able to do those things without belonging to the church itself or praying. You seem aghast that a person can feel social pressure without others taunting or badgering them to hear the voices they cannot hear. Analogous to this might be opening a gift and saying something nice about it even if you hate it, because you don’t want to hurt the giver’s feelings.

          You take your faith dead serious with its rules and regulations, and to me, just because you bought into it doesn’t mean no one at your church may be suffering the same as Makoto. That you can’t fathom this happening in any group of people, or really come down very hard on someone’s attempt at belonging, feeling guilty over it, and eventually taking off the mask may be according to your strict religious beliefs, or it may be your personality quirk, but you seem to be the one missing the point.

          Religion is a club of elite members. Maybe they say everyone is welcome but they’re not very friendly to people who don’t get it, so you either say you get it or you’re not their friend anymore. And maybe it’s because you don’t explain it well enough, and I haven’t seen you explain god’s absence well enough, just excuses. I know you are so sure you’re in direct contact and have been authorized to have that contact, and to authorize others whom you don’t know, that you speak for god, but you’re terrible at listening and having empathy. Lying? Being rude? Not authorized to speak to Jesus? You’re all over the rules, but you’re not compassionate about the feelings. People like you are why people like Makoto feel like they have to keep secrets, and people like me think you are definitely not hearing from any deity I want to know better.

        • JohnH

          ” pressuring intentionally”
          I was assuming intentional pressure, sorry for not being clear.

          “no one at your church may be suffering the same”
          I imagine there are quite a few.

          “you seem to be the one missing the point.”
          Probably, and I would attribute it to my personality.

          “I haven’t seen you explain god’s absence well enough”
          I haven’t tried to explain god’s absence because I don’t find Him to be absent.

          “just excuses”
          I realize that you are not necessarily a fan of my comments.

          “authorize others whom you don’t know”
          This is a misunderstanding of what I was saying.

          ” that you speak for god”
          Not true, sorry if I give that impression.

          “you’re terrible at listening and having empathy. ”
          I am sorry.

          “Not authorized to speak to Jesus? ”
          Again a misunderstanding of what I said.

          I do not attempt to offend or make fun of others, I am very sorry if I come across that way.

        • Makoto

          Thanks, Kodie, smrnda, that’s very much what I was trying to say. The environment I was in was very religious, and everyone around me seemed to hear this voice that I couldn’t, no matter how I asked. I was pressured in a variety of ways to have that communication that *wasn’t happening*. The pressure to conform was high enough that I lied about conforming, until I decided I couldn’t anymore. If it makes you any happier, JohnH, I was lying to people, and praying about that, too, not lying to god. But it was still lies, it still made me sick of myself.

          JohnH: ““I just don’t join in their prayers anymore.”
          This seems like it might be a little rude, although it might depend on what you mean by saying this.”

          I mean I participate with many activities, such as food charities, clothing drives, and so on which I feel are helpful to the community, even if they are run in whole or part by the church. I just don’t pray with their group when such prayers happen. Given your stance on lying, wouldn’t it be even more rude of me to lie by joining the prayers, despite not believing in them? I stand aside and let them pray if it makes them happy, but I refuse to join in. They’re fine people, doing good things, that’s what counts to me. It’s not like I’m starting up a one man band to disrupt their activities.

        • JohnH

          ” But it was still lies, it still made me sick of myself.”
          Being honest with yourself and others about what has or has not happened and what one does or doesn’t believe is better for oneself, for others, and more in line with what Jesus taught. For instance lying about experiences can lead one to think that everyone else is also lying even if they aren’t.

          “wouldn’t it be even more rude of me to lie by joining the prayers, despite not believing in them?”
          That might depend on what type of prayer and how it is conducted but usually even if one doesn’t want to join in it is possible to meditate while others pray.

        • Makoto

          You started off with “To ask in the name of Jesus requires a belief in Jesus. If one doesn’t believe in Jesus or God then how exactly is one able to ask anything in the name of Jesus?”, I offer a personal experience over much longer than the 40 days here, sincerely given, and you attack about lying.

          I didn’t stop lying because Jesus. I stopped lying because it was lying, and that doesn’t sit well with me. That’s also why I’m not religious anymore, and why I don’t pray with others. It would be a lie, until I’m convinced that there is a reason to join in. If that happens to be in line with what Jesus taught, it’s also in line with many other religions, and I’m not being virtuous in them any more than I am in Christianity.

          By the way, you’ll notice I have said very little about others’ experiences with prayer, other than that it was occurring around me. I didn’t say they were liars. I have no idea what’s going on in their heads. Maybe they’re lying like I was. Maybe they’re deluded. Maybe they hear a voice. Maybe a god is speaking to them. I don’t know, and I don’t pretend to know. So please don’t imply that I assume they’re all lying with lines like “For instance lying about experiences can lead one to think that everyone else is also lying even if they aren’t.”

          And I have to say, wow – me stepping aside, being respectful, and letting people pray isn’t even good enough? It depends on the TYPE of prayer now, not just being respectful? I should meditate while they pray? Why?

        • JohnH

          Makoto,
          “And I have to say, wow ”
          You misunderstood what I was saying here; If they are doing a communal chant of some sort meditating would be hard to do, being respectful is all I was saying.

          “you attack about lying.”
          You said you were lying and I don’t see how a time limit is relevant.

          “Maybe they’re lying like I was. Maybe they’re deluded. Maybe they hear a voice. Maybe a god is speaking to them. I don’t know, and I don’t pretend to know.”
          This would seem to be either a trust problem or a communication problem. Either you have spoken frankly with members of your family that are religious and explained what you did and asked them about their experience or you haven’t. If you have then either you think they might be lying about their response (trust issue), don’t believe their response (trust issue), or think they are deluded (trust issue) otherwise it is a communication problem (which may also be a trust issue). I don’t want or deserve an answer either way but what reasons do you have to not trust the accounts of your family other then your own actions, again answer to yourself, I won’t respond further on this subject.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Makoto: I wonder how many other Christians are in the “Christian but not beliving” state.

          I’ve heard that half of all “Catholics” in France don’t believe in God! IMO, this would be a good soft landing for Christianity–keep the community and good works but welcome nonbelievers.

        • smrnda

          smrda,
          I don’t understand the ‘faking it’ of enjoyment of an activity or food or drink; that seems to be deception to me. I am not exactly normal so I will take your word for it

          Seriously? I’ll provide an example, Billy’s father says : “here Billy, grandma slaved away for hours making this scrumptious casserole, now Billy, tell grandma what you think of her wonderful cooking?’ 5 year old Billy takes a bite, can’t quite even figure out what he’s eating, doesn’t like the taste, and says ‘yeah, it’s okay.’ Why doesn’t Billy just say “No grandma, I don’t think this tastes good.” Why? Because obviously it would piss off everybody and Billy would be punished for simply telling the truth of how the casserole tastes to him. Since everybody else likes the casserole (or has ‘learned’ to like grandma’s casseroles, perhaps so that she doesn’t get her feelings hurt by realizing she isn’t much of a cook.)

          There’s massive social pressure put on people to bring your preferences and feelings in with ‘the norm’ at times. Or sometimes, you hear something is great (like say, the works of Tolstoy) and when you read them and don’t feel they are, you wonder if it’s just you that doesn’t get it, that maybe you just don’t know how to assess quality.

          Someone tells you that when they prayer, they can “feel” god’s presence, but this is going to be incredibly vague – it’s not concrete and plain like “if I put my hand in water, it gets wet” where there’s little ambiguity about what ‘wet’ feels like or what ‘water’ is. The reason why people cannot easily figure out what to make of other people’s spiritual experiences is that they sound so vague and imprecise.

      • Richard S. Russell

        “To ask in the name of Jesus requires a belief in Jesus.”

        That’s YOU saying that, not the Bible. All the Bible says is what I quoted: “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.” No fine print. No asterisks. No “void where prohibited by law”. No exclusions. No exceptions. No escape clauses. “Whatsoever”, period; “ye”, period.

        “If one doesn’t believe in Jesus or God then how exactly is one able to ask anything in the name of Jesus?” You can’t seriously be asking this question, can you? On the off chance that you literally mean this, let me show you how. I am an atheist. I do not believe in Jesus or God. Here is a request of them: “Dear Jesus or God, whoever gets to the mailbox first, following up on your promise in John 16, I am hereby asking in your name for the Packers to kick the living shit out of the Giants later tonight.”

        See? Ridiculously easy.

        And, of course, there’s undoubtedly some poor deluded Giants fan who’s asking for the exact reverse, possibly at this very moment. Will it make a nickel’s difference to the outcome of the game whether he’s a born-again, god-fearing, Bible-thumping true believer, and I’m not? Absolutely not. Prayer will have no influence whatsoever.

        Really, it’s been two thousand years now. How can you guys still swallow this BS? If Jesus ever lived in the 1st place, he’s dead now; dead is forever; he ain’t coming back, despite his promise that he’d return during the lifetime of his disciples. He doesn’t answer prayers (millions of examples available, make your own anytime you want). 90% of the phenomena thruout history that have been pointed to as only possible thru divine intervention (like lightning or meteors) have subsequently had perfectly naturalistic explanations discovered for them. It’s a giant crock of shit. Why do you persist in inventing ever more abstruse and far-fetched justifications for a clearly erroneous belief system? Seriously, what do you get out of it?

        • JohnH

          “You can’t seriously be asking this question, ”
          Yes I can and no you didn’t even begin to address the question.

          ” two thousand years”
          My church was founded not two centuries ago by way of visitation from God and etc.

          “despite his promise that he’d return during the lifetime of his disciples. ”
          That isn’t what the promise is. For instance promising that Jerusalem would be destroyed and trodden of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled (meaning that at that time the Jews would again posses Jerusalem seems to me to be saying that there would be some undetermined amount of time in between the destruction and the retaking of Jerusalem. It does appear to say that when the retaking of Jerusalem comes to pass that all will be fulfilled in that generation but considering as how that has only been 45 years assuming the Jews are correct as to their retaking of Jerusalem then I don’t think you can claim it is clearly erroneous.

        • Richard S. Russell

          Your original question was “If one doesn’t believe in Jesus or God then how exactly is one able to ask anything in the name of Jesus?”

          I gave you a clear-cut example of exactly how easy it is to do it. To repeat: “‘Dear Jesus or God, whoever gets to the mailbox first, following up on your promise in John 16, I am hereby asking in your name for the Packers to kick the living shit out of the Giants later tonight.’”

          Your response? … no you didn’t even begin to address the question.

          You are technically correct. I didn’t merely BEGIN to answer the question, I FINISHED the job. I conclusively demonstrated that it was 100% possible — trivial even — for an atheist to construct a supplicatory prayer to Jesus or God, using all the required conditions specified in John 16. What essential ingredient did I leave out? Remember, what I’m looking for here is a failure to do something the Bible actually requires, not something you think it should have required.

          “despite his promise that he’d return during the lifetime of his disciples. ”
          That isn’t what the promise is.

          Don’t argue with me, argue with Matthew: “(27) For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.
          “(28) Assuredly I say to you, there are some standing here [IE, ~30 CE] who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” —Matthew 16:27-28

          It doesn’t matter 2 hoots in hell WHEN Your church was founded if you continue to rely on 2-millennia-old “authorities” for what you believe in. You could have founded it 5 minutes ago for all the difference it makes. You’re still relying on the bull for the primary ingredient in whatever concoction you’re trying to dish up.

        • JohnH

          Richard,
          John 16? that can’t be the one you actually mean to be using as that one is clearly Jesus talking to His disciples and it is clearly (per vs 23) referring to a future day which would appear to be at the Second Coming per vs 22, although if it is referring to just the Apostles then it could also mean after his resurrection. Asking in Jesus’s name requires the authorization to use Jesus’s name, just as me doing something in Richard’s name would require the authorization or permission of you to actually be in your name. Since you haven’t taken the name of Christ then you can’t actually ask in Jesus’s name. I believe what you are actually going for is something like Matthew 7.

          “Assuredly I say to you, there are some standing here”
          See John 21:20-23.

        • Richard S. Russell

          John 16:23 … is clearly Jesus talking to His disciples.

          Apparently, then, it’s your position that Jesus wasn’t issuing a blanket promise to all of humanity but only to about a dozen or so people, long since dead, do I have that right?

          If so, do you have any reason whatsoever to believe that Jesus will answer your prayers, since this apparently is the limited-warranty version?

          Asking in Jesus’s name requires the authorization to use Jesus’s name, just as me doing something in Richard’s name would require the authorization or permission of you to actually be in your name.

          Again, I ask that you point out where I’ve fallen short of what the Bible actually requires, not what you think it should have required. Jesus said “if you ask in my name, you’ll get what you asked for.” Even if you insist on a grant of authorization to use his name, there you have it, but I don’t see anywhere in that verse that says I have to jump thru any addition hoops beyond the simple invocation of “his name”.

        • JohnH

          “Apparently, then, it’s your position that Jesus wasn’t issuing a blanket promise to all of humanity but only to about a dozen or so people, long since dead, do I have that right?”

          Not a blanket promise for that particular set of verses, Matthew 7 is, there are others that are. It would take some explaining and cross referencing for me to specify to who it applies for currently and in the past and to who it will apply to in the future, I highly doubt you want to get into it.

          “If so, do you have any reason whatsoever to believe that Jesus will answer your prayers, since this apparently is the limited-warranty version?”
          Matthew 7:7, James 1:5-6, and quite a few other scriptures.

          I do in fact insist on a grant of authorization to use or act in Jesus name, it is a relatively important point, perhaps less so for this scripture but for other things.

        • Kodie

          A grant of authorization? That’s a new one on me. If I can’t hear from Jesus, how am I supposed to know if I’m authorized to speak to him directly? I had been given to understand the door’s always open but if you say you have to get through the gatekeeper to get an appointment with Mr. Jesus, I guess that must be true! Every other reason why he doesn’t answer prayers makes no sense compared to “he’s a very busy guy who doesn’t like to be disturbed”, so passive-aggressively ignores unauthorized requests for his attention and withholds solutions to problems only he can solve. Because he loves you, no matter who you are.

          You really feel special that someone so important makes time for you though, don’t you.

          Something tells me, I don’t know what, that the rules for approaching the deity do not resemble protocol for getting an audience with the Queen of England. We don’t impose on the lord, he only lets his friends in and you can’t be his friend unless you’re already his friend. Cockamamie describes it!

          I do in fact insist

          If I want to talk to my imaginary friend Jesus, you can’t stop me or tell me what to do. I don’t know who you are, but you simply do not have that kind of authority.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          My church was founded not two centuries ago by way of visitation from God and etc.

          Isn’t your church built (in part) on the teachings of Jesus Christ? Didn’t he live 2000 years ago?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Richard:

          Apparently, then, it’s your position that Jesus wasn’t issuing a blanket promise to all of humanity but only to about a dozen or so people, long since dead, do I have that right?

          And perhaps John also thinks that the Great Commission was also issued to just a handful of people, not ordinary Joes like him.

        • JohnH

          Kodie,
          If one hasn’t heard from Jesus and doesn’t believe in Jesus then it would appear to be impossible to have authorization to speak for Jesus. Also, one speaks to God in Jesus’s name, which one can do without being authorized to act in Jesus’s name but the promise isn’t the same.

          “withholds solutions to problems only he can solve.”
          God is not some magical fairy genie that grants wishes nor is He some Oracle machine that answers every question right away. Part of the point of life is to figure out many things for oneself.

          ” that the rules for approaching the deity do not resemble protocol for getting an audience with the Queen of England.”
          One is always able to pray which is approaching deity. One is always able to choose what one knows to be right and to help others which is also approaching deity.

          “If I want to talk to my imaginary friend Jesus,”
          If you want to talk to an imaginary Jesus then go ahead, if you want to talk to Jesus Christ then go ahead as well, if you are claiming authority to act in Jesus Christ’s name and the sealing power then I know that you don’t have that authority and I do have the authority to say so, not that you are required to believe me.

          “Isn’t your church built (in part) on the teachings of Jesus Christ? Didn’t he live 2000 years ago?”
          Jesus continues to live, He was born 2000 years ago, died nearly 2000 years ago and rose again and continues to live. Since He still lives then His teachings have not ceased.

          ” the Great Commission was also issued to just a handful of people”
          Absolutely, The Quorum of the Twelve are the holders of the Great Commission and have sole authority over the missionary work of the church. They then delegate others to carry out portions of the work. However, everyone that is warned should warn their neighbor.

        • Kodie

          If you want to talk to an imaginary Jesus then go ahead, if you want to talk to Jesus Christ then go ahead as well, if you are claiming authority to act in Jesus Christ’s name and the sealing power then I know that you don’t have that authority and I do have the authority to say so

          You sure have a lot of rules about prayer, but you don’t have any authority over my relationship with your god, if any, real or fake. Sanctimony comes to mind directly. “Authorization!” – Jesus Mallomar, you are ridiculous telling me what to do and how to talk to someone who’s not there just as well as you can.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          God is not some magical fairy genie that grants wishes nor is He some Oracle machine that answers every question right away. Part of the point of life is to figure out many things for oneself.

          Now you’re talking like an atheist!

          As for God not being a genie, that’s certainly how he’s described in multiple passages of the NT (“Ask and ye shall receive,” and all that).

          They then delegate others to carry out portions of the work.

          Does the NT make this delegation explicit? I’m just thinking of the part where Jesus speaks to his apostles.

        • JohnH

          Bob,
          “Now you’re talking like an atheist!”
          Not so much; unless you are referring to all the Monotheist philosophers in Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity that claim that my faith is atheist because of our conception of God.

          “Does the NT make this delegation explicit?”
          Sort of. Many of the schisms in Christianity are over the nature of the delegation of authority; Catholic vs. Orthodox basically over the supremacy of the Bishop of Rome as successor of Peter, Protestant vs. Catholic over the authority the Bishop of Rome has over the deposit of the faith, Evangelical vs. Everyone else over the necessity of direct descent of authority by Apostles vs a priesthood of all believers, Restorationist vs Everyone else over the unbroken continuation of the authority from the Apostles, and so forth.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          Atheists find natural explanations sufficient. Your “Part of the point of life is to figure out many things for oneself” is something that meshes well with my own philosophy.

  • DrewL

    (in the spirit of Neil deGrasse Tyson)…

    Coming up next: Bob will prove golf is a dumb sport by playing it for 40 days and STILL thinking it’s dumb. Take that golfers! He has EVIDENCE.

    One day, when you are more at peace with your beliefs, you’ll look back and laugh at this little phase of your life…

  • avalon

    Hi Bob,
    Compare your experience to someone who did start believing in God (Kendra). The difference seems to be that you were looking for evidence, using logic and reason. But Kendra was busy examining her feelings. In her interview she uses the word “reasons” one time, and in a negative way (“I would look for REASONS and excuses not to”). But she uses 10 references to feelings directly or indirectly when referencing her belief (“drawn back in”, “ashamed”, “conflicted”, “felt or feel” 5 times, “peace”, “meaning”).
    (http://www.premier.org.uk/atheistprayerexperiment)
    You were focused on what to think, but clearly Kendra’s experience sang out:
    “Feelings
    Nothing more than feelings,
    Wo-o-o feelings…”

    avalon

    • JohnH

      Are feelings not real things?

      • smrnda

        Feelings are real, but they can be produced by unreal things. Let’s say that I have a bunch of alarms go off in or around a lab that are meant to indicate that toxic, odorless gas has escaped from a tank. (This experiment would not fly by standards of ethics.) Let’s say that no such thing has happened. People might end up feeling sick regardless. However, (and there is evidence of this) once the deception is made clear, people will likely recover instantly (and would be pretty pissed.)

        So feelings are real, but they can be easily manipulated through deceptions.

      • avalon

        Hi JohnH,
        “Are feelings not real things?”

        As long as believers admit there’s no logic or reason to what they believe and they believe simply because it feels good to believe, I have no problem with that. But these participants were to “ask God to reveal himself to them”. Kendra mentions nothing about that, only that it feels better to believe in God.

        avalon

      • Richard S. Russell

        “Are feelings not real things?”

        Not in the sense of “thing” as object, no, which is what makes them so slippery to examine. It might be more accurate to call them “conditions” than things.

        If your question was more concerned with the “real” part than the “thing” part, I can’t imagine that anyone would argue that feelings don’t really happen, but I hope you appreciate the subtle distinction between “happen” and “exist”. Cars exist; car crashes happen.

      • Kodie

        Imagination is real too. All the rationalizing around why god speaks to some people and not others – god is contradictory. There is no good reason for a loving god to have people explain him and make excuses for him so poorly. OH, you just have to get near him before he gets near you, or he wants to see if you are worth it first – when everyone says you don’t even have to be worth it. God loves all the wretches and forgives them. He’s just shy.

        I think the major problem with religion is how one comes to expect something that never comes so one manifests an imaginary figment of it instead and calls that god, you know, for sure. It is as though you don’t recognize it for the superstition that it is. God could totally clear up all this doubt himself, if he is a god, and that would alone win your argument against us for you. Leaving it up to earthly interpretation, what have you got? A lucky penny, an unlucky number, cherished mementos that may go in the trash after you die, or possibly to the highest bidder, or hocked at a pawn shop. Without you, they lose their personal meaning. Religious people are fixated on finding something that’s a diversion, and many don’t seem all that at peace to me. Having a lot of friends with the same interest is good and feels good. Other than that, it’s a lot of shouting and complaining and fighting about what your god said for you to tell me to be like – and you have to give up on that. I’m so sorry, I don’t believe anyone who says “because god said so” if I don’t know that guy. He could clear this up and he doesn’t, so that points to “doesn’t exist”. Even if he did, all this can’t matter that much to him if he’s not in the business of clearing it up – and he doesn’t have to throw around earthquakes and hurricanes, that’s pretty assy to blame the weather from god on gays or abortions or illegal immigration or whatever. You’re not dealing in the world with god, if he exists the way y’all say he does, in control. If that’s what you believe, then there’s no point in badgering the shit out of people. Frantically trying to curry favor with god by enforcing scripture, I don’t know what about Christianity makes these people think they’re so special or why we should listen to them, and many of the petty first-world problems they complain about.

        Atheism doesn’t exist without theism. Without people who believe in god, there is no need to establish one way or the other that there’s no god to not believe exists. I don’t have to prove anything doesn’t exist without one first claiming that it does. What comes after is well my imaginary friend does this but only sometimes if you listen closely and you want to hear it, and whatever you hear might be telling you in code and symbols that suggest a presence but does not appear to be anything but a stray thought or a flower on the wind – trying really hard doesn’t help; just going about your business so it can sneak up on you doesn’t work. Making up your mind to believe these fuzzy things mean more than they do might be the key. Once you’ve done that, use it as a brickbat against your neighbor, you know, the one who’s not as delusional as you are. Keep making excuses for god, stand up to me and tell me he’s real, after all, he is only if you really want him to be, and he’s not if you don’t want him to be. Christians and other theists gotta learn to handle why other people don’t believe any gods exist, stop being so meddlesome, and stop trying to invent elaborate arguments that suggest he has “good reasons” we can’t fathom, and if we only cut him some slack. Delegating knowledge of his existence up to the communicators of earth to explain him so vaguely and in illogical train wrecks was a terrible idea. If I were god, I’d think you’re all doing a terrible job that I would shut it down entirely, or if I was feeling good, just show up one day and tell everyone exactly what I wanted so there wouldn’t be any mistakes this time. What I get from the story of Jesus is what a weird way for god to let his presence be known if meant to be convincing, so I don’t think very highly of people who fall for it.

        • JohnH

          Am I supposed to respond to this? I see lots of dictating on the subject of what I should or should not do or what God should or should not be like but very little in the way of an actual argument, just dictates, and nothing that actually addresses anything I have said except tangentially.

        • Kodie

          Why should you respond when you didn’t respond to the other question? You reverted to a typical pile of excuses. If god doesn’t have the time, nor care enough to make direct contact, nothing any of you say on the subject matters because you’re making it up. Anything to avoid the correct answer, desperately.

        • JohnH

          Kodie,
          Sorry, but I have no idea what the other question is you will have to let me know.

        • Kodie

          Are you being dishonest here or really don’t know how to scroll up and follow a thread or remember what you said earlier?

        • JohnH

          In this response thread I was commenting on something Avalon said and in your response to me there are no questions and I had not previously responded to anything you said so I am confused as to what you are referring to.

  • jose

    Finding three-related stuff and converting to the religion of the trinity reminds me of how something as simple as a BIC pen is proof that aliens not only visit us, but they live among us. (from an old, old mail chain):

    The length of a BIC pen with its cap on is 150mm. The average distance between the earth and the sun is 150 million km. The connection is obvious – BIC pens are objects of worship introduced in our planet by a sun-worshipping alien civilization. Furthermore, the cap’s length is 58mm, minus the clip, we have 35mm. We add these up and get 93, plus 2 equals 186; that’s exactly 40mm more than the pen’s length without its cap. Moreover, if we add the digits of the cap without its clip (3 and 5) we get 8, which is the pen’s diameter. Everybody can realize there is a relation between these proportions, and from that relation a message must be derived; likely, the key to gain control of the sun’s power and energy.

    But we’re not done. If we add the length of the pen with no cap, and the pen with cap, that’s 296, which is exactly the length of the Interstate 72 highway. In case anyone was wondering, the necessary technology to build highways is of extraterrestrial origin (nobody could ever think primitive humans could have come up with something like that) and the relationship between that technology and interstellar travel is hidden within the magical proportions of BIC pens.

    What’s more, it’s likely all the secrets of the universe are contained inside our pen. If we add our last number -296- plus the length of the cap without the clip -35-, we get 331, plus 2, 662. That’s almost the gravitational constant G! (our alien benefactors must have considered it was too dangerous to put too precise knowledge on our hands). Moreover, the length of the clip is 23mm. If we add the digits of the pen’s length -150-, we get 6, which attached to 23 gives us 6,023. We only need to add the appropiate proportionality constant to find Avogadro’s number.

    If we continued our inquiries into this wonderful object that came from the stars, we would find the answer to human kind’s greatest questions.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      jose: an interesting thought process. That reminds me of the Apollo 13 disaster. People were pulling all sorts of 13s out of history–I think it was the 13th year of the space program, for example.

      And, of course, your example is only startling because we already know the values of those constants. Not much use for finding them in the first place (like The Bible Code).

  • RandomFunction2

    To Bob the broken, yet fabulous, atheist

    Ok, you have a point here. Seemingly answered prayers don’t count as evidence for God. At least not for a third party.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Yeah, your personal experience won’t do much to convince me (and vice versa). It’s a data point, but not an especially powerful one.

  • smrnda

    George Orwell wrote an essay where he commented that writers of almost all ideological camps use convoluted, pretentious language to make their claim seem stronger, their slogans more meaningful, but that the best way to handle this abuse of language is to attempt to translate the statement into a form that is neither adorned nor poetic, but simply plain and clear, meant to do nothing but express the facts of what is being said. I will do this with the Lewis quote.

    “God cannot present himself to a human in a way that allows the human to recognize the nature of god as truly appealing to a human, nor can god make his existence something that would be accepted simply as mater of fact because this violated the rules under which god works. If god’s presence were felt clearly and plainly, all humans would be powerless to resist. (I, CS Lewis assume that the nature of god would be this appealing unless it was only a watered down version.) This is useless to god [translators note- why is this useless?] God cannot present himself clearly because it would be too overwhelming, he can only offer vague hints of his existence, love, or intentions that are by their very nature unclear.”

    OK, so, this is my translation, and presented in bland prose, which I haven’t even bothered to make sound attractive or appealing in any way. And now I get it even less. Why would the option of god presenting himself as he is and getting a natural reaction somehow undesirable? Lewis seems to have the old fashioned notion that a relationship needs a little drama, flirtation, mixed signals and playing hard to get to be meaningful, because just being open and honest is somehow ‘no fun,’ but this is applying the standards of a junior high school relationship to one between god and an adult.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Christians (perhaps deliberately) confuse existence with relationship. But, of course, this isn’t an issue. I could go beyond not knowing that you exist to knowing that you do, but this has nothing to do with a relationship. We might know each other or not, and if we do, we might like each other or not. Quite a separate issue to the existence question.

  • http://industrialblog.powerblogs.com IB Bill

    I come back to the simple, naïve, obvious question: why is the existence of God not obvious? Said from the other direction, why is the clear and plain absence of God insufficient evidence to show that he doesn’t exist?

    You’re in a box.You see consciousness (your own thinking or feeling) perceiving natural phenomena of the physical world or consciousness reflecting on its own thoughts and feelings as the only legitimate categories of conscious experience. Any spiritual experiences are simply looped into “thinking” or “feeling” and anyone else’s testimony is simply their own refusal to recognize their own thinking and feeling as the source of spiritual experiences and misinterpreting natural phenomena according to various cognitive biases, including confirmation bias and selective bias, or misinterpreting as supernatural that which has natural origins.

    You’re in a box, and there’s no way out of it using the categories within it. At best, you get better and better at examining your own consciousness and learning more about it and even developing more and more control over it. (And that ain’t a bad thing.)

    One thing that is clear is that most religions tell you that faith is the doorway out of that box. Whereas you immediately start up again, saying well, faiths contradict each other doctrinally and thus can’t all be correct, or that many people of many faiths have claimed these spiritual phenomena as real so the stronger conclusion is that faith itself creates this effect in consciousness, or even if so inclined, you say, well, why choose this faith out of the box as opposed to that faith? And faith also has its issues, namely, isn’t that kinda dumb to just say you believe it on faith, not for reasons. In other words, you pull faith back into the box.

    There is no way out of that box as long as you continue the same kind of thinking, so there’s not a whole lot to discuss. People of faith and you will always be talking past each other.

    • Richard S. Russell

      You’re missing Bob’s point here, Bill. It’s not merely that God isn’t obvious to him, it’s that God isn’t obvious to anybody, regardless of whether they use faith, reason, trust, logic, hope, microscopes, telescopes, aqua regia, sonography, loud “hallooos”, or anything else as investigative tools. Indeed, if the cook said “Go get me a hunk of God”, you wouldn’t have the vaguest idea which direction to head off in, nor would anybody else.
       
      Contrast that with the Sun, whose existence is so blatantly obvious that even blind people can detect it.

      • http://industrialblog.powerblogs.com IB Bill

        No, I got Bob’s point. That’s why I tried to explain the box. In fact, it’s pretty much the only box you can end up in that guarantees you’ll never believe in God, even if you run into Him. Ain’t no way out of that box.

        Doesn’t mean that God’s not obvious. He’s just not obvious from where you are standing. And I can’t help you from that spot.

        • Richard S. Russell

          You are OBVIOUSLY (heh) using a different meaning of “obvious” than the rest of the English-speaking world.

        • Kodie

          God is only obvious if you’re deluded and egotistical. If you were really looking, you’d be ashamed at how absent he really is.

    • Kodie

      I was thinking of it more this way: your life seems chaotic so you construct a framework to hold it all together, like a story in which you’re a character. You begin to see how things fit in with the framework you invented because of ego – unless you’re special ultimately, you can’t cope, so the story is very adventurous and romantic. It’s a matter of having a perspective – it’s sort of a philosophy with magical elements. Notice how it all doesn’t work unless you implement magic to explain some of it, similar to how TV and movies use magical versions of history or science or else everyone would be killed by the dramatic explosion, or be killed by the trained warriors who outnumber them. Special effects and choreography explains that, not reality.

      When you speak of being inside a box, and how one gets out of the box, you’re probably speaking from some experience. What you’re saying is belief is difficult because our brains are too smart to be tricked, and you like to think of atheists as lacking something because you lack something.

      • http://industrialblog.powerblogs.com IB Bill

        Kodie, I’m not saying our brains are too smart to be tricked. But you’re too attached to your own opinion for me to be of any help to you. Bye.

        Richard: LOL. It’s one of those obvious things that are so obvious that you can’t see it until you see it; then it’s like, oh. You can’t ever unsee it again. Take a look at “attention blindness.”

        • Kodie

          No, I’m not too attached to my own opinion. I’d like to see any of you come up with something that’s not obviously nonsense. It’s obvious to me and I can’t unsee it.

  • smrnda

    I occasionally get the ‘you need faith to get out of the box’ or ‘only faith can explain the human condition’ but I tend to think there’s nothing about the world that can’t be explained using science, and nothing about human beings that can’t be explained using psychology, sociology or economics. I don’t say that to make life sound dull and uninteresting, just that I find that most questions I can come up with have totally adequate explanations in one of the above.

    So, before someone tells me that I’m in a box, they would have to show me that my answers are inadequate, and that faith provides better answers.

    I sometimes wonder if faith isn’t driven by a kind of subconscious desire to not believe we really have so many answers – perhaps as much as I find it nice to know that so much necessary knowledge is already worked out, some people might find it disheartening and would prefer that life is more mysterious. I meet intelligent people who want to believe in Tarot cards, ghosts, and all sorts of other things, and I wonder if a law-abiding, orderly universe just rubs some people the wrong way.

    • Kodie

      Religions ask questions with no other answer. Loaded questions widen that gaping god-shaped hole by suggesting god, like the religious cure for the disease nobody had until they were made to feel inadequate without it. Why are we here? A mysterious ancient man wished us into existence, well, one guy and then a lady made out of part of the guy, so they could, after that, mate like animals and reproduce. So he could have made us all from dirt, but decided to let biology take over. And even way back then, he knew all the hairs on your head and that you should be a teacher or a barn-raiser or try out for the Olympic tandem diving team and wreck your knee falling off a ladder while painting your living room so you couldn’t compete anymore. It’s so me-me-me.

    • avalon

      Hi smrnda,
      smrnda says:”I find that most questions I can come up with have totally adequate explanations in one of the above….I sometimes wonder if faith isn’t driven by a kind of subconscious desire to not believe we really have so many answers – perhaps as much as I find it nice to know that so much necessary knowledge is already worked out, some people might find it disheartening and would prefer that life is more mysterious.”

      avalon: The strange truth is that belief in the supernatural is a natural part of being human. For example, nearly everyone believes that humans have an invisible ‘essence’ that transfers to material objects. If I had an original Van Gogh and an exact copy (exact down to the molecular level), and I offered to give you one; which would you prefer? Most people would want the original even though there’s not a bit of difference between them logically.
      Usually a new thing is worth more than a used thing, a new piano is worth more than a used one of the same model. But suppose the used one was owned by John Lennon. Suddenly, it’s worth way more than a used one. Why is that?
      Charities sometimes get celebrities to donate clothing for auction. They have started to request unwashed clothes because they found the dirty clothes fetch a higher price than the dry-cleaned clothes. Why would that be?
      These are all examples of a commonly-held supernatural belief in an invisible essence of persons clinging to material objects. Religion is just another variety of supernatural belief. Believing a piano contains the essence of John Lennon or a painting contains the essence of Van Gogh is just one step away from believing a book contains the essence of god.

      avalon

      • smrnda

        I am aware that belief in the supernatural seems natural though as far as that goes, I may be an anomaly because I got introduced to mathematics and science pretty early in life. and come from a family where lots of people are engineers so all the magical technology, whether it’s a car or a computer, got dissected by somebody.

        The ‘essence explanation’ doesn’t seem to be what I would go with in explaining why someone would want a piano played by John Lennon, and I don’t see it as supernatural at all. It’s irrational (to some extent) in that it looks for value in objects outside of their strict utility, but humans aren’t robots. We see value in great achievements because we think in terms beyond just survival. I’d take it more as an issue of an object that has either been part of a particular history or not. If I have a slab of rock that used to be part of the Berlin wall, it’s a historical artifact. If I have a similar slab of rock that came from the road in front of my home, it probably isn’t. There is no ‘essence’ contained or believed in, it’s just that the object (like a person) was either there or not, and people want as close as you can get, if they couldn’t be there themselves. It’s how a live recording isn’t as good as being there, but it’s nice to have that in addition to a studio recording. If you like the music of John Lennon, a piano that he actually played is connected to the music you like in a way that is not supernatural at all. The actual Van Gogh is authentic the way that a check I actually signed is authentic, even though it would be quite possible for someone to forge a check with my signature.

        Now, some people may go further and believe that if they play chopsticks on the John Lennon piano, that it sounds better, and then I’d say you’re getting into a kind of vague supernatural belief territory. John Lennon’s piano isn’t going to make you a better piano player.

        I actually think a concern for authenticity has some value, even in terms or just survival. Is that mushroom edible or not, or does it just look a lot like the edible mushrooms I’m used to eating?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          smrnda: A small quibble about the John Lennon piano not making you a better piano player.

          I have heard the opposite–golfers actually putt better when they get to use the putter of a golfing great, for example.

          Here, of course, it’s not anything supernatural but perhaps a placebo kind of thing.

      • smrnda

        On the unwashed celebrity clothes – this might have something to do with the fact that if you had a coat and somebody said that I wore it, they could say “prove it” and with science and technology you can probably find physical evidence of me on the coat, evidence that the dry cleaning process might diminish or destroy.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        avalon:

        I just listened to a podcast that interviewed the author of a book Polaroid, and he talked a lot about the Polaroid instant camera. There is no negative, so each print is an original. Furthermore, he noted that the photons that bounced off Grandma (long gone, now) and hit the film are sort of there now, giving a link to the past that you don’t have with a digital camera that is completely disjoint from the original subject.

        Poetic thinking, but we humans like that sort of thing.

        Despite being in a religion that forbids graven images, Christians love graven images–crosses around the neck or worry beads or religious art or a dashboard Jesus.

  • avalon

    smrnda says:”The ‘essence explanation’ doesn’t seem to be what I would go with in explaining why someone would want a piano played by John Lennon, and I don’t see it as supernatural at all. ”

    avalon: Studies show that essentialism starts very early and quite naturally in children. (see The Essential Child, S.A. Gelman 2003).

    smrnda says:” It’s irrational (to some extent) in that it looks for value in objects outside of their strict utility, but humans aren’t robots. We see value in great achievements because we think in terms beyond just survival. I’d take it more as an issue of an object that has either been part of a particular history or not. ”

    avalon: “Being a part of history” doesn’t explain our reaction to the object in any objective way. And these reactions aren’t just about looking for value in a positive sense. We also attribute negative essences to things. When Fred and Rosemary West (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_West) were caught killing numerous children in their home the public demanded that their house be town down.
    In most states you must disclose if a murder took place in your home when you put it on the market.

    You listed psychology and sociology as tools for explaining human beings. I agree. I think religious belief is very understandable using those tools. But I’m also aware of my own irrational (non-religious) beliefs.

    avalon

    • smrnda

      I guess we really agree there – I think religion can be explained by those tools, along with other irrational or strange beliefs, to the most part.

  • smrnda

    Speaking of my own irrationality, I occasionally participate in Jewish religious holidays even though I don’t think there’s much reality behind the god part of it, and partly because it’s part of a cultural tradition (I can count the number of times I’ve done this on my fingers, so it isn’t something that comes up often.)

    However, I would probably feel utterly ridiculous if I was present while someone was offering up a prayer to Zeus. It just seems less rational, even though I think a case can be made that polytheism would explain life better than monotheism.

    • Kodie

      One of my exes was a Greek guy (his parents were immigrants who moved back) who prayed to Zeus. It’s not that ridiculous. He didn’t pray like I’m used to, he’d invoke a random Greek god once in a while and didn’t seem utterly serious about it – similar to a cultural participation or history of being Jewish, I suppose (I’m neither Greek nor Jewish, etc.). When he was going back to Greece for a while he said climbing Mt. Olympus was something he’d do and leave an offering. As far as I could tell, his religious feelings were not as important to him as being Greek, and from what else I could tell, he was brought up in Greek Orthodox which is some kind of Christianity and nothing to do with Greek mythology, which had more to do with his culture, history and nationalistic pride.

      So it’s not that weird to me. It’s about as weird to me as most of the Catholics I know are really only Catholic when someone dies, gets married, or gets baptized, and even a little less so at Christmas and Easter, but definitely whenever someone disses god in their presence. It’s how they grew up.

  • plutosdad

    Poor Saul of Tarsus, God overrode his free will and even made him change his name.

    • JohnH

      He still had the option of non serviam.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        God made his existence plain to Saul. No one complains, so let’s not use any free will argument to say that God’s making his existence plain is any sort of imposition.

  • smrnda

    True, but let’s take two situations here.

    A person knocks on the door of some noisy neighbors and says “Hey, a cop on patrol said you were making too much noise and can you turn it down? He also said you were going to get a ticket for not mowing the grass.”

    In the other case, the COP knocks on the door.

    With the first, the person has reason to doubt that there actually was a cop who said that, and any cop would know that it’s not professional to say ‘well, go tell your neighbors.’ No, the cop would tell them himself.

    So Paul is like the person who the cop actually knocked on the door. At that stage, yeah, compliance makes sense. Previously it’s nothing but hearsay, and if there’s the possibility of ulterior motives, reason to doubt. Plus, why would a cop tell a neighbor to tell a neighbor about a legal issue? God, even if he’s reaching out to some people, is clearly unfairly giving some people exactly what they are looking for and leaving others in the dark.

    • JohnH

      You appear to have done a better job of explaining how God revealing Himself to people can restrict ones agency then I ever have. I don’t know if that was your intent.

      “God, even if he’s reaching out to some people, is clearly unfairly giving some people exactly what they are looking for and leaving others in the dark.”
      From God’s point of view it is much more important what we do with what we know then what it is that we know. An atheist that is trying to live the most moral that they can is better off from God’s point of view then a theist that isn’t doing what they know to be right.

      • smrnda

        JohnH, I have to say, you sure don’t sound like the orthodox theists that I run into with the idea that an atheist living a moral life is better than a believer who isn’t, at least not most of the Christians I’ve run into. Most Jews I know think this way, but hardly any Christians.

        I’m not sure that anybody’s agency was really compromised in my example; I was trying to point out that if a cop chooses to use a messenger to get someone’s attention, the cop should rightly expect to have his requests ignored and can’t fault anyone for saying ‘how do I know my neighbor isn’t just making that up? If you can tell my neighbor, you can walk over to my house and tell me.” I was trying to choose a case based on the idea that a person would want to be warned if they were not in compliance with the law, so they could either change their behavior or contest the charges. If a cop told me that I was violating a law, I wouldn’t see my agency being restricted unless the law itself was unreasonable, instead, I would see my agency being enhanced since I would be being provided with extra knowledge.

        I mean, if I told someone waiting for an elevator that it was out of order (and it was) have I compromised or enhanced their agency? Thanks to me, they won’t be standing until they give up on waiting, but I doubt anybody would protest that type of intervention.

        • JohnH

          ” at least not most of the Christians I’ve run into.”
          There is a brand of Christianity that feels that “faith” is enough. By “faith” they don’t mean belief that leads to action, or trust in something unproven, but just claiming belief without requiring that the belief actually change or influence ones actions much. It is like they have never read the Book of James in the New Testament (or Romans but since they claim to get this idea from Romans it would be impolite to say they haven’t read the book (Romans 2:14)) .

          Much of the rest of Christianity has to deal with the problem of “extra Ecclesiam nulla salus” and/or John 3:5. The LDS church completely side steps that issue by our understanding through modern revelation of such things as 1 Corinthians 15:29 and, the one relevant to the topic, 1 Peter 4:6.

          Also, large portions of Christianity are very convinced that Mormons aren’t Christians.

          “cop should rightly expect”
          Which means that the people have the option to ignore it where as if the cop told them they could not claim ignorance for their actions.

          “I would see my agency being enhanced since I would be being provided with extra knowledge.”
          This is true if one follows the law, not if one breaks it.

  • Kristen inDallas

    “And here, with the Prayer Experiment just completed, the wind (or perhaps the Holy Spirit?) pushes into my hands three petals in a clump. Three, yet one. (And guess what floor our condo was on.) As you can imagine, this initially struck me as barely noteworthy. With some work, I was able to make it into a curious coincidence, but I see nothing supernatural about it.”

    I have a question. If this event was barely noteworthy, then why did it stick around in your brain long enough for you to link it to Francis Collins, and more importantly, hold on to that link long enough to write about it here? I understand that there are natural explanations for all of it, the wind, clumpy-sticky-flower-goo, etc. But I guess my question is not “how” could this have happened but “why” do you think it did? Not with the scientist hat, but with the literature-buff hat, in the story of your life, don’t some things ever just seem too well-authored not to have been, well… authored?

    • Bob Seidensticker

      I thought about it because one goal of the experiment was to think about it.

      What do you think? Do you think this was the hand of God?

      • Kristen inDallas

        It’s a good question, but not one I think I can answer for you. In my own little narrative, God revealed himself in incredibly simple, yet incredibly beautiful ways. Those points when a bunch of different little threads which had been in there own little boxes for years all got tied together in a climatic moment. I don’t think it’s really possible to tell the difference between a cooincidence and a sign/foreshadow, when it’s someone else’s book, so to speak. It takes knowing all the little bits that happened prior, all the litttle connections that are made, whether or not it was a poetic moment, whether experiencing it made the hairs on you neck stand up or gave you a sinking feeling in your stomache or neither. I do know that the way you wrote about that event above struck me as beautiful, more like prose than a typical blog. So that’s why I asked.

    • Kodie

      Another way to look at it is, people sometimes frame their experience as a narrative. Bob had taken up an experiment and it ended. A person can be their own author, there’s nothing supernatural about making observations. I do sometimes take note of things that are happening. So does everyone who uses a camera. Why does it have to mean something? People who say “show me a sign” are going to find something to notice, and those things are there whether we’re looking for them or not, and then we like to take random things as “signs” because they refer back to us who are looking for one, we who decide it means something instead of nothing. I think that tendency is more an indication of being self-absorbed than knowing god, for instance, and going even further, to suppose when one believes they know god, that may indicate that they enjoy being a character in a big story better than merely being alive, and that they like to tell themselves this story whenever a leaf floats on the wind that they are in the same moment with that leaf instead of just ignoring it, personifying the leaf and the wind as paying attention to themselves. In the narrative sense, things that stick in our minds that don’t mean anything really just makes a good story from the point of view of the observer, i.e. “while I was pondering X, something Y happened and so now those two events are linked by the observer.

    • Richard S. Russell

      The human brain is wonderfully good at pattern recognition. It’s one of the things that gives us an evolutionary advantage over other critters. Why is this? A little fable:

      Three million years ago, the australopithecines Lug and Wug are walking across the African veldt when there’s a rustling in the tall grass. Lug thinks “it’s a lion” and runs off screaming. Wug thinks “it’s the wind” and laffs at Lug. Same thing happens another 98 times. Then, on the 100th occasion, it really IS a lion. Wug (whose skepticism has been absolutely justified so far) becomes lunch, but Lug gets to pass his pattern-recognition gene on to the next generation, along with a dread-inspiring cautionary tale.

      Thus our predisposition to see things, patterns, and especially living beings that aren’t really there.* In more dangerous ancient times it was better to be safe than sorry, and that’s the biology we organic humans have inherited.**

      –––––
      *Scientific terms for this are apophenia and pareidolia.
      **It may take awhile for our cybernetic offspring to catch up.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        Richard:

        We get a variant of this today. Say that there’s an earthquake in Haiti and a quarter million people are killed and many more are displaced. Those people with a story of the type, “You won’t believe how God saved me!” are alive, but those with the opposite story (“That God is an SOB! I’ve been a loyal Christian all my life, and I got crushed and died an agonizingly slow death!”) aren’t around to tell the story.

        Result: lots of “Isn’t God amazing?!” stories with no rebuttals, and the survivors are nudged toward more religiosity.

  • smrnda

    On coincidences. Let’s take coincidences involving numbers. Seriously, if I want to pay attention I can probably find lots of occurrences of numbers that hold some significance, and given that single digit numbers figure prominently in many belief systems (3, 7, 12, 14) there’s a good chance I run across many of them in the same day. Whether I notice probably depends on what I think of as significant or how much attention I’m paying, but running across a lot of 3s isn’t too difficult to do.

    The other thing is that cultural beliefs that certain numbers are significant shape what you notice – if you’ve been exposed to Christianity, 3s are going to jump out at you more than the number 108 (which has some significance in Chinese mythology.)

  • bcarpe

    Why is the existence of God not obvious?

    One rather old and enduring teaching of the Catholic Church (maybe other churches too. I’m sadly less knowledgeable in the teachings of other churches than I would like to be. Perhaps one of my separated brethren can comment) is that the ultimate punishment for sin is separation from God. A major example of separation as punishment is that we were sent out of paradise as a punishment for sin. Could it be that the obscurity of the existence of God is one affect of that separation?

    • Richard S. Russell

      It could be, if you think you’d like to get close to any god who would be such a monumental dick that he’d harbor this kind of grudge 50,000 generations later.

      Personally, I think that separation from a god like that would be something I’d pay money for, the way my grandparents bailed out of Serbia 3 hops and a skip ahead of WW1. Fortunately, since no such god exists, separation comes free of charge. Yay!

      • bcarpe

        But we haven’t stopped sinning. If the crime continues, shouldn’t the punishment?

        • Richard S. Russell

          Tell me again why you consider this a punishment?

        • bcarpe

          Well, here’s an interesting thing: It could be that for the one who has submitted fully to sin, God’s presence is actually a rather painful place to be. In order to be with God, one must be wholly submitted to Him, so there’s no place for sin, and being in His presence would cause the sin to be quite painfully ripped away. For me, having experienced His love firsthand, complete separation from Him would certainly be a punishment.

          I’d also like to claim that we are all made for union with Him, so whether we like it or not, we can never reach our full potential for happiness apart from Him.

        • Richard S. Russell

          No, you answered the reverse question. You were telling me how it might be painful to be IN the presence of this god creature, when I was asking why it would be a punishment NOT to be in his presence. After all, he’s one of the most hideous, sadistic fiends in all of fiction. Would you view it as a punishment if you were required to stay far, far away from, say, Tomas de Torquemada, Lord Voldemort, or Josef Mengele? I sure wouldn’t!
           
          I commend you for beginning your last paragraph with “I’d also like to claim”, in recognition of the fact that a CLAIM is ALL you have going here.

        • bcarpe

          Ah, sorry. I guess my claim would be the basis for my answer to your actual question. Separation is a punishment because apart from God, you can never attain what you were created to be fulfilled by, and so you will always be incomplete.

          If He really is, as you’ve said, a hideous, sadistic fiend, then of course you wouldn’t want to be near him. I don’t think there’s evidence to support that He is, though. After all, He took the necessary punishment on Himself to bridge the gap in our relationship with Him.

        • Kodie

          Separation is a punishment because apart from God, you can never attain what you were created to be fulfilled by, and so you will always be incomplete.

          You’re meant to believe this in order to stay and fund the church. Advertisers are always trying to make you feel inadequate if you don’t buy their product and better if you do.

        • Richard S. Russell

          “If He really is, as you’ve said, a hideous, sadistic fiend, then of course you wouldn’t want to be near him. I don’t think there’s evidence to support that He is, though.”

          I understand that you guys are pretty shaky in the evidence department, but have you actually READ the Big Book o’Horrors, aka the Bible? Hardly a chapter goes by without Yahweh committing, commanding, or condoning some massacre or other (except for the little girls, of course, which he reserves for the perverts who were passing along his messages). And then there’s the staggeringly massive horror of omnicide, in which he (supposedly) takes out every living creature on the face of the Earth (except for a trivial few) in a giant flood.
           
          Compared to this, the “necessary punishment” (and who decreed it to be “necessary”?) is akin to pinching yourself in an attempt to atone for having beat the crap out of your brother and sister every day of their lives since they were tiny babies.

        • bcarpe

          No, no. I’ve read it. Most chapters involve nobody dying. The sadder passages are really few and far between.

          When you mention the flood, it makes it seem like if God hadn’t brought the flood about, those people would have gone on living forever. They wouldn’t. Death comes to us all, regardless of whether it happens with a bunch of other people at the same time or not. So the question of “why all these massacres?” is really just two other questions: “why do we have to die?” and “why is killing just God’s prerogative?” The first answer is, again, sin. Sin brought (brings?) condemnation to death upon us. I don’t know why this is the punishment, but it is. The second answer is that I don’t really know for sure, but I’m thinking it has to do with His infinite wisdom, that He knows the best timing for people to die, whereas we just don’t.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          bcarpe:

          The sadder passages are really few and far between.

          Richard was trying to point out that your claim that there is no evidence to say that God is an SOB is false. The commands to commit genocide and the support for slavery are not the actions of a loving anything, let alone deity.

          So the question of “why all these massacres?” is really just two other questions: “why do we have to die?” and “why is killing just God’s prerogative?”

          How about: If God was really blindsided by this problem of bad people (hard to imagine, since he made them imperfect), why not just Poof them out of existence? Why drown them? Sounds like a pretty horrible way to die.

          I don’t know why this is the punishment, but it is.

          If you hear a record scratch sound effect when you come up against nutty stuff in the Bible, that’s your common sense trying to tell you something.

          The second answer is that I don’t really know for sure, but I’m thinking it has to do with His infinite wisdom, that He knows the best timing for people to die, whereas we just don’t.

          This is just rationalization. This supports the presupposition “Christianity is true”; it gives us no reason to believe that Christianity really is true.

        • Richard S. Russell

          BCarpe writes: “Most chapters [in the Bible] involve nobody dying. The sadder passages are really few and far between.”

          Boy, now THERE’S my nominee for euphemism of the week: “sadder passages”. What a vapid way to describe wholesale massacres and carnage. The real question you should be addressing is not how few such “sad passages” you encounter but why, given the assumption of a loving god, there should be ANY AT ALL, let alone the giant one where he gets almost every living creature on the planet.”

          “When you mention the flood, it makes it seem like if God hadn’t brought the flood about, those people would have gone on living forever. They wouldn’t.”

          The capacity of the human mind for rationalization is truly staggering. You mean that you could shoot your little brother and shrug it off by saying “Well, he would’ve died eventually anyway, so it doesn’t really make a difference in the long run.”? And even if death came quickly and cleanly for some (which, I assure you, it very seldom does where drowning is involved), how about the massive numbers of living beings for whom it was a horrible, agonizing, painful, terrifying experience? Calling your hero a flaming asshole so badly understates the case that I’m left groping for the appropriate multiplier to convey the true scope of his culpability and my utter loathing of him. Good thing he doesn’t exist.

        • Kodie

          That’s the whole thing though. Christianity and other religions pretend to serve answers nothing else can, but once you start asking the obvious questions, it’s all a lot of “I don’t know why” and pitiful human intellect coming up against the very good reasons of a powerful, capricious, mysterious deity. Excusing god for his behavior because you get something out of it is selfish on the part of the believer. Atheists realize that’s just the way it is, we don’t have to pretend there’s someone keeping the secrets from us.

        • Kodie

          Sorry, that doesn’t make any sense. I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t eat an apple or listen to a talking snake. If the story goes that two people went against an alleged real god, just smite them and spare the rest of us – that would be fair. None of this begging and groveling to be let back in. God punishes the rest of us for living in the real world, what other choice do we have? Oh yeah, the begging and groveling choice or the burning in hell choice.

      • JohnH

        I was going to say that you got upset at me earlier about explaining that Hell is separation from God and that is precisely what atheism is about, but that was Kodie.

        • Richard S. Russell

          You claim to be explaining that Hell is separation from God, but all you are doing is describing your particular fantasy world. You are no more explaining anything than J. K. Rowling was explaining how the Patronus spell worked in the Harry Potter books. An explanation requires some observable phenomenon to be an explanation of, and you have none.
           
          Besides, in the never-ending carousel of tangled spirals that you are embarked on, you have now introduced the concept of someplace (Hell) removed from a supposedly omnipresent deity. You see how convoluted this gets? Now you have to come up with some kind of far-fetched rationalization for how God can be both ubiquitous and absent simultaneously. You’re like a con artist trapped in his own web of lies and deceit, never daring to admit that it was all a scam from the outset, digging your hole deeper and deeper.

          Atheism isn’t a philosophy, it’s a condition — the condition of not holding a belief in any kind of gods. That’s why, contrary to your assertion, atheism isn’t “about” anything. It’s just an observation about the way the real world really works.

        • JohnH

          Yes, sorry, I meant explaining that Christians believe that Hell is separation from God and that is what atheists are all about.

          “omnipresent”
          Did you miss the one place at one time earlier? We are still discussing the foundation and superstructure elements keep getting brought in; you are familiar with the superstructure of groups with beliefs that have a few elements in common with mine and so keep trying to bring in things that aren’t part of mine leading to confusion all around.

          “It’s just an observation about the way the real world really works.”
          Precisely my point, you have faith the world really works this way, ergo it is what it is all about.

        • Richard S. Russell

          Faith plays no part of what I believe. I use evidence, not wishful thinking. Faith is the world’s worst method of making decisions, as I described in “How We Decide”, Part 1 and Part 2.

          That is, I don’t just think the world works this way or wish it worked this way, I can demonstrate (and so can anyone else) that it actually does work this way, which is what religion has never been able to do.

        • JohnH

          “Faith plays no part of what I believe.”
          Axioms by definition are unproven assumptions; If one is using logical reasoning off of axioms then one has faith in those axioms. Faith is trust in something or someone, it is different from belief.

        • Richard S. Russell

          Yes, belief is different from faith. Belief is the end result; faith is ONE of several processes that gets you there — the worst, least reliable, most corruptible of the lot; trust is another one, a DIFFERENT other one.

          You didn’t actually read those 2 essays, did you? I deal with these matters there.

        • JohnH

          No I actually did read the essay which is where the comment on Axiom and the difference of faith vs. belief comes from, you say you use logical reasoning and axioms, that means faith. Then you list faith later when what you are talking about isn’t actually faith.

        • Richard S. Russell

          Why am I not surprised to hear that you probably have your own personal definitions of “belief”, “faith”, and “axioms” to go with everything else?

          Look, John, I’m pretty much done discussing all the oddball things YOU believe in, since I don’t have a year or so to devote to the task. Come over and play on MY sandlot for awhile. I’ve listed 8 different methods of arriving at conclusions, and I’ve attached a label to each of them. Howzabout you use MY labels for a change, rather than me using yours, and tell me where you disagree with my IDEAS, rather than just picking nits about the names I’ve chosen?

        • JohnH

          Richard,
          You objected to me saying that you have faith that the world works in the way you think it works. That is you have trust and/or confidence (which is faith, it is you that have a private definition of faith, not me) that the world works in the way that you have described, that is that there is no God. Since it was your objection to my using the word faith, and I can point to a dictionary showing that I was using faith correctly, then I see no reason to refer to your private definition of faith.

          That said; If we are not Turing Machines then logic would not necessarily be the most reliable process as we would be able to solve non-computable problems, meaning ones that are not solvable by logic. Regardless logic is only as good as the assumptions that it is built off of.

          You make a lot of assertions and give a lot of definitions that don’t correspond well to how such things are talked about otherwise.

          Reason appears to be constrained rationality, confidence and trust are both rewordings of faith.

          Your view of Obedience is interesting, one obeys the laws without always agreeing with the laws, one obeys a teachers instructions with (hopefully but not usually) the intent to learn the material, breaking laws because one does not understand why there is a law seems very dangerous and stupid, questioning a teacher before one knows what is being taught leaves one looking like a fool. There is a time for questioning authority and there are plenty of times when one obeys because one has faith or hopes that that the one in authority actually knows what they are doing and/or are talking about.

          Hope is expectation or desire for a particular outcome regardless of the probability of that outcome. One hope for the sun rising tomorrow and one hopes of winning the lottery are both expressions of hope even though one is much more probable then the other.

          And as stated, your definition of faith is faulty per the dictionary for instance.

          Calling billions of people idiots must really boost your ego. You appear to have very great faith that just because you have never seen God, or felt Him, or whatever that everyone else that says they have are deluded/liars/wrong; (Actually that isn’t the only alternative, maybe you have felt something before (or seen) and have some reason to want to believe that what you felt (or saw) wasn’t real)

        • Richard S. Russell

          It is the job of a dictionary to list ALL the meanings people have assigned to a given word, so I’m not remotely surprised that you think of “trust”, “confidence”, and “faith” as synonymous, since they are often used interchangeably, especially by religionists who are eager to have people conflate faith with worthier methods of arriving at conclusions. However, when I invited you to respond to my essay using MY DEFINITIONS, it was particularly because I was using UNAMBIGUOUS distinctions, so we could keep the various concepts straight. I understand that it is very much in the interests of religionists such as yourself to muddy the waters as much as possible, and I see that you are off to the races on that score yet again, but just give it a try using DISTINCT TERMS for DISTINCT CONCEPTS, and I think you’ll see where my objections to faith arise. In short, I think your appreciation of faith is based on your ambiguous use of faith-as-trust or faith-as-confidence, not the pure basic meaning of faith-as-belief-without-evidence.

          And again, my beliefs are NOT based on faith, except for some contorted, overbroad definition of the word which I reject.

        • JohnH

          Richard,
          I point to the dictionary, you say you reject the dictionary. You appear to have an irrational fear of the word faith and all its meanings.

          The pure basic meaning of faith is not belief without evidence, which is relatively impossible as, at minimum, one would have the account that led to the belief in the first place as evidence.

          Faith is the assurance of something that one has not seen (per Hebrews) which for instance would apply to most of what one learns in science class, or reads in a science journal, or in a science post on a news site assuming that one has not conducted each of the experiments oneself and run all of the analysis oneself. That is one has not actually seen the evidence but one believes both that the evidence is real and that the analysis is correct (hopefully due to peer review).

          That is per your private definition that has nothing to do with how anyone outside of probably some other atheists use the word then I have no faith in anything. I have confidence, I have trust, I have reason, I have logic, but I apparently don’t have faith or really even hope according to your private usage of the words.

        • Richard S. Russell

          John, you are missing the point here. You’ve been going on for about a week now on how such and such means THIS in your faith and not THAT, and how the rest of us don’t understand what you mean when you use a particular word in a particular way. Then, when I try to do the very same thing, except STARTING OFF BY PROVIDING THE DEFINITIONS, you say you don’t want to play the game, you insist on sticking with your own definitions. Do you begin to get some inkling of how frustrating it’s been trying to carry on a conversation with you, especially since you don’t give us YOUR definitions until AFTER the fact?

          To repeat, I was boiling the words down to non-overlapping, unique meanings for the express purpose of removing the ambiguity they have in common usage, so they could more accurately describe the underlying concepts. If you insist on mooshing them all together into one gelatinous, amorphous, indistinguishable whole, it’s going to be impossible to sort anything out. We’ve played your game for quite a while now, how’s about you play mine for a change?

        • JohnH

          Richard,
          You didn’t read my whole response obviously.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          Are faith and trust synonyms for you? Then do us all a big, big favor and drop the f-word. I think we’re all on the same page with what trust means (“belief firmly based on evidence, which will be overturned by sufficient contrary evidence,” for example). Let’s just use that.

        • JohnH

          Bob,

          Main Entry:
          faith  [feyth]
          Part of Speech: noun
          Definition: trust in something
          Synonyms: acceptance, allegiance, assent, assurance, belief, certainty, certitude, confidence, constancy, conviction, credence, credit, credulity, dependence, faithfulness, fealty, fidelity, hope, loyalty, reliance, stock, store, sureness, surety, troth, truth, truthfulness

          Source

          trust
          [truhst] Show IPA
          noun
          1.reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.
          2. confident expectation of something; hope.
          3. confidence in the certainty of future payment for property or goods received; credit: to sell merchandise on trust.
          4. a person on whom or thing on which one relies: God is my trust.
          5. the condition of one to whom something has been entrusted.

          Source

          I really don’t understand what is so hard for you people to use freely available sources to determine what is faith or trust. I can point to a dictionary to explain what I mean, you give your own private definitions and then claim that I am using private definitions (even when I point to reference sources).

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John: This doesn’t respond to my comment. Are these two words synonyms? If so, why not drop “faith” since it is confusing?

        • JohnH

          Bob,
          If Faith is trust in something as stated in the reference, that does answer the first question.

          As for the second; Say I drop the word faith when discussing things here, do you then also drop the word faith (and apparently hope) as well in all posts about Christianity when not referring to a set of shared beliefs as in the Christian faith? That is, you are trying to make fun of people with faith while at the same time defining faith in an utterly unique way such that no one with faith would ever rightly agree with you as to that being the definition or correct usage.

          Richard calls billions of people, the vast majority of people on the planet earth, idiots because they have faith, which were his private definition of faith what faith actually meant then he would be right. Isn’t a good thing that the only people that follow his definition of faith get sent to insane asylums (bad that they get turned back onto the streets after a few weeks, but good that they are sent there in the first place)?

          Say I define atheist to be someone that believes in nothing that can’t be proven (I am sure at this point you agree with me). However say I apply that to ones basic beliefs (or axioms), such as induction from experience; which then leads all atheists to be slobbering idiots because they do not learn from any experience as doing so requires the unprovable belief that the future will be similar to the past (induction). Say I do not make clear this distinction but start a blog and write post after post after post making fun of the dumb atheists until some atheist takes the time to figure out what it is I am saying and says that what I am doing doesn’t fit with what being atheist means to those that call themselves atheists. If I were to ask the atheist to use my own private defining of what atheism means should the atheist agree with me?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          If Faith is trust in something as stated in the reference, that does answer the first question.

          Who cares about the reference? I want to know what you think. So you do see the two words as synonyms then?

          Say I drop the word faith when discussing things here…

          If “trust” conveys your meaning more accurately and the words are synonymous, why wouldn’t you want to avoid confusion?

          …do you then also drop the word faith (and apparently hope) as well

          What does hope have to do with anything?

          defining faith in an utterly unique way such that no one with faith would ever rightly agree with you as to that being the definition or correct usage.

          I’m not trying to redefine “faith”; I’m trying to communicate. If faith = trust in your mind, I think we have an easy resolution to the problem.

          Richard calls billions of people, the vast majority of people on the planet earth, idiots

          No, I don’t think he used that word.

          his private definition of faith what faith actually meant then he would be right.

          Let’s not pretend that John’s way is always the correct way. Just because it’s a certain way for you, that doesn’t mean that everyone else is foolish when they differ. Lots of people see an important difference between faith and trust, including Christians.

          No one’s trying to invent a stupid definition for “faith” and then apply that to what Christians do.

        • JohnH

          Bob,
          It would appear that you didn’t read Richard’s own blog post; Let me help you, here is what Richard is trying to define things as:

          Faith: “Faith is when you want to believe something but there’s not a shred of evidence for it and quite often lots of evidence against it. ”

          Hope: “Pop psychology has a buzzword for it: “denial”. This is used in decision-making when the evidence points toward a conclusion that we really don’t want, so we base our decisions — for no particularly good reason — on the hope that what we do want will come true.”

          And finally:

          “Frankly, you have to be an idiot to take anything on faith.

          As it happens, billions qualify.”

        • Bob Seidensticker

          “Frankly, you have to be an idiot to take anything on faith.

          As it happens, billions qualify.”

          Is that in this comment thread? Before my last comment, I searched, and I couldn’t find it here.

        • JohnH

          Bob,
          It comes from his own blog which is linked to in his comment that contains:

          “Faith is the world’s worst method of making decisions, as I described in “How We Decide”, Part 1 and Part 2.”

        • Richard S. Russell

          Bob, I think it’s time to give up on JohnH. He didn’t come here for a discussion, he came here to proselytize his idiosyncratic religious views and isn’t interested in (let alone comfortable with) anything outside his own little bubble. Your own repeated attempts to get him to address the simple question of “WHY do you believe X instead of Y?” produced nothing but the old standard circular reasoning:
          “Because the Bible (or whatever other screwy source he favors) says so.”
          “But why do you believe the Bible?”
          “Because it’s the word of God.”
          “What makes you think so?”
          “Because it says so in the Bible (etc.).”
          “But WHY …?”

          Give it up. He’s incapable seeing that it IS a circle. He’s focused solely on the next step and will never realize that he’s put his foot in that same track a dozen times before.

        • Kodie

          What now?

        • JohnH

          Back in early October, Ted Seeber brought up this topic, someone else responded, I tried to explain, you didn’t like the explanation, possibly for the same reason that Richard didn’t like what I said.

        • Kodie

          Ok, probably.

    • http://industrialblog.powerblogs.com IB Bill

      BCarpe: Just wanted to say I know what you’re talking about in these three posts of yours here. Thanks.

  • Richard S. Russell

    “You can only talk to Jesus if you’re AUTHORIZED to talk to Jesus.”
    “How do I get that authorization?”
    “Talk to Jesus.”

    John, can you not see that you are building up this gargantuan superstructure of progressively more recondite and ephemeral rationalizations for the core failure of Christianity (or, really, ANY religion) to deliver on its most fundamental claims? It’s like those circus performers trying to keep 20 plates spinning atop vertical dowels — each of them requires periodic attention, because they’re always in danger of falling off, so you have to rush back and give it a new spin, because the old one is wearing off. And then, just to make things more complicated, you yourself have chosen to set marbles spinning on the plates, only in the opposite direction. It’s an inherently unstable set-up, because it’s based on nothing but subjectivity, supposition, and your say-so.

    Science, OTOH, is close to rock-solid stable, because it’s based on careful observation of real-world phenomena that are accessible to everybody. You will not find an American astronomy, a Baptist biology, a capitalist chemistry, a mammalian math, or a feminist physics. There’s only one worldwide version of each, because they’re all based on facts, not opinions. Religion is nothing BUT opinions, no facts involved, which is why anybody’s word on religion is just as good as anyone else’s (to wit, no good at all).

    • JohnH

      You can only act in Jesus’s name if you are authorized to do so, you can talk to Jesus however or whenever you want without authorization but that is no guarantee of a response.

      I realize that you claim that there are no facts in religion, if you thought there were facts in religion then you would be religious (probably).

      • Richard S. Russell

        So now you add a dancing gnat atop the rolling marble atop the spinning plate atop Dowel #17. This way lies madness, John. If the spinning-plates analogy doesn’t resonate with you, how about a house of cards? Or the wheels-wthin-wheels of the Ptolemaic system, when the elegant simplicity of the Copernican/Keplerian orbital mechanics is available? There is no SUBSTANCE here. It’s all hearsay and happenstance.
         
        You are correct that I have seen no evidence of facts in religion. Care to name me a few?

        I should say up front that I am using the common dictionary definition of “fact”:

         • Knowledge or information based on real occurrences
         • Something demonstrated to exist or known to have existed
         • A real occurrence; an event
         • A thing that has been done, especially a crime

        but that I specifically exclude the catch-all escape-clause definition:

         • Something believed to be true or real

        since obviously this would admit practically anything and thus serves no useful purpose in sorting things out.

        • JohnH

          “There is no SUBSTANCE here. It’s all hearsay and happenstance.”
          I just restated what I had said earlier not adding to it, Yes I realize that I haven’t fully explained things why should I fully explain the supersturcture when you think the foundation is faulty?

          “Care to name me a few?”
          We already been through this one a few times. You appear quite capable of seeing statistics showing the benefits of religion without seeing that as any sort of evidence for religion. You are also capable of seeing the history of the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., the dedicating of Jerusalem for the gathering of the Jews in the 1840′s, the start of the Zionist movement shortly there after, the British Mandate, the independence of Israel, and the retaking of Jerusalem in June of 1967 and claim that none of that history are facts so I don’t know that adding more examples would do any good. Besides which such type of facts don’t convert even if they are recognized as valid, the type of fact that converts needs to come from God.

        • Richard S. Russell

          I’m perfectly willing to believe that they’re ALL facts, except for the part about how God caused them or predicted them. But that, of course, is what you desperately NEED facts to demonstrate, and you have none. There is no evidence for the existence of God at all, beyond vague personal testimonials along the lines of “I feel something moving within me, and I call it God”, which hardly constitutes a fact, any more than “I think blue is pretty and bunnies are cute” constitutes a fact.

        • JohnH

          They are all facts that support the hypothesis that God caused them, as always with facts one can use a different theory to explain them. I think trying to explain them excluding God is like trying to explain relativistic effects under Newtonian physics, sure physicist did it and could have continued to do it but relativity was eventually shown to have better predictive power and to better fit the facts.

        • Richard S. Russell

          These historical events are facts, yes, but their mere occurrence constitutes no more evidence for God as their cause than for, say, fairies or space aliens as their cause. We KNOW that human beings were there, and that they had motive, means, and opportunity to produce the effects you cite. Why does that not suffice?

          Or, contrarily, why does God have to have been involved in the independence of Israel but not, say, in the US Declaration of Independence?

          As someone once observed, if you’d been told all your life that elves make it rain, every time it rained you’d see evidence of the existence of elves. Same deal here. But, just as with the elves, if nobody ELSE can see them, chances are really good that it’s all just in your imagination.

        • Kodie

          Sort of cheating to refer to the bible to recreate Jerusalem in order to fulfill prophesy. If someone told me I will eat a tuna fish sandwich on Sunday at noon, I could fulfill that “prophesy” but you’d think it was weird of me to call it a prophesy if I decided to make it happen just like the guy said it would. It is really a stretch to point to Jerusalem and say that’s a fulfillment of a magical foretelling that it would happen, written in one of the world’s most popular books about one of the world’s most popular gods, which people for some reason think is really true, even going so far as establishing Israel in order to prove that the bible magically tells the future. Try again.

          Also cheating: well bad logical conclusion anyway. Nobody here is impressed that people who attend church seem happier, and you don’t seem to understand why that’s not evidence of god. It’s evidence that people who believe something feel an emotion like happiness about what they’re doing, same as people who dig running are happier than people who hate to run but still try to like doing it. You find the “facts” support your conclusion when you want to, and avoid anything that points out all the errors. You shake them off with one rationalization after another and nothing like a fact so far.

        • JohnH

          Richard,
          Did you not pay attention during the election season? Mormons do believe that God was involved in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.

          Also, saying “no one else can see them” in a world where the majority of people are theists of one sort or another is quite interesting.

          Kodie,
          If you are trying to say that Mormons are responsible for the creation of the state of Israel then you have issues with history. Christianity excluding the LDS church was in full replacement theology mode up past the creation of the state of Israel. Also, not just referring to the Bible if you have been paying attention.

          Since you haven’t pointed out any errors I will ignore the rest.

        • Richard S. Russell

          Dang, John, I can’t be expected to know every in and out of your idiosyncratic beliefs. Let me try it this way, then. Is there any nation on Earth today that came into existence WITHOUT the hand of God being involved? If so, why did God choose to get involved with Israel (and, evidently, the US) but not with Nation X? Feel free to say that God gets involved in everything if that’s what you really think. But, if not, how can you tell which ones he DOES fiddle with vs. those he lets run their natural course?

        • Kodie

          Nobody said anything about any Mormons, did I?

        • JohnH

          “Is there any nation on Earth today that came into existence WITHOUT the hand of God being involved?”
          Considering that God is the Lord of Hosts and God then in some vague unhelpful sense I could say no.

          In actuality and in terms of direct statements to the the effect of God’s hand being involved the US and Israel are the only ones that I am aware of that are specifically set up by God.

          “why did God choose to get involved with Israel ”
          The House of Israel has been God’s chosen people since the time of the covenant. Fulfilling the covenant requires (as part) gathering the Jews to the lands that they were given by God according to covenant.

          “the US”
          The US is on a promised land of liberty chosen by God with a blessing and cursing attached to it, see the Book of Mormon. In part this extends to all of North and South America but the US has some other blessings (and therefore cursings) attached to it and in the D&C God specifically says that He was involved in creating the US.

          “but not with Nation X? ”
          In the unhelpful sense God is involved. God chooses nations, peoples, and persons due to their faith and obedience. God also makes covenants and promises with peoples and about lands.

          “how can you tell which ones he DOES fiddle with vs. those he lets run their natural course?”
          In specific because God says He fiddled with these ones. Scriptures such as Leviticus 26:8 or Deuteronomy 32:30 can be helpful.

          Kodie,
          Please become more familiar with history and with replacement theology. Jerusalem was not given to the Jews. Israel was not established by Christians in order to fulfill prophecy because Christians were nearly universally and very firmly of the opinion that God had utterly rejected the Jews. Nearly the only peoples to see such things as being prophecy before they happened were Mormons and a very small minority of Orthodox Jews that were part of the Zionist movement, most of the Zionist movement was not seeing themselves as fulfilling prophecy at all but as trying to avoid the anti semitism that was rampant among Christians and others (which anti semitism led to such things as the Holocaust).

        • Richard S. Russell

          What does the clock say at midnight?

  • Petro

    “When you pray to a guy who desperately wants to have a relationship with you but get no reply, what can we conclude from that?”

    God does not desperately want to have a relationship with you. God has a relationship with you. God is Being. God is Love. Your existence, by its nature, is a relationship with God. And this goes back to the point of the deist slant to the experiment. I do not believe in God as the Imaginary Friend either. If that’s where you’re looking, you’re most likely going to be frustrated.

    I understand the desire to follow this route in this experiment. God as the Imaginary Friend is, for many, a primary mode of perfunctory instruction in God, but it is also a relatively novel notion in Christianity. As this image has risen, so has the materialism of society. Is there causation from either side? Perhaps. Nevertheless, their mere rising together is a reflection of what I would consider a primary misunderstanding of what God is.

    This line of thinking, of course, leads to the another point shared in the comments—believers should be the ones not thinking about God for 40 days. I would say that the more apt corresponding move would be for believers to reject spiritualism and embrace materialism for 40 days. Most believers already do this on a regular basis. There seems to be little need for this experience to be documented.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      God is Being. God is Love.

      You can define God anyway you want, but when you make him equivalent to ordinary things like this, that seems to undercut the Christian position. There’s a lot more to that guy than just love, for example.

      As this image has risen, so has the materialism of society.

      The opposite of spirituality is materialism? You mean like acquisitiveness?

      The opposite of spirituality is more like naturalism.

      • Petro

        I am defining God as God defines himself in scripture, and as he is defined in the Gospel. Being and Love do not strike me as ordinary things. It only undercuts the Christian position if you believe those two things are ordinary. I suppose if you took a naturalist look at Being, which might simply be a biological reality of the function of your organs working and than not working, and Love, which is just some kind of cultural norm based on some relatively primitive biological responses, then they would be ordinary things. The point of linking God to those things is to note that, by the very state of being, you are in a relationship with God, because God is Being. Thus, the praying to the Imaginary Friend God neither increases nor decreases this relationship to a God of Being from the side of God. It only increases the relationship on the God side of an Imaginary Friend God who “desperately seeks” a relationship. Since I don’t believe in the Imaginary Friend God, this image of a superhuman figure who gives believers stuff they want in order to win their affection because he desperately wants a relationship, I think the whole experiment took the wrong approach since it was still was somewhat grounded in the need to encounter a natural (or, if you will, material) outcome.

        Materialism is not acquisitiveness. Materialism is simply a belief that the physical is all that exists and thus, in a metaphysical context, is all that we can derive from experience. Metaphysical naturalism is really just an outgrowth of materialism with a new name because we now know that there is more to nature than matter. I prefer the term Materialism though because naturalism has many connotations besides that of metaphysical naturalism. Maybe physicalism is a better term, but no one really uses that.

        I have no problem, however, with any of the uses of the term materialism in my previous comment to be changed to naturalism. Either way, whatever you wish to call is, naturalism has become more prevalent as has this idea of God as an Imaginary Friend who gets stuff to happen for you. A big superhuman who is omnipotent and fills the cups of believers through prayer. It is a part of a need and desire to see a natural outcome as if to prove God exists under the terms set by naturalists—terms under which it is impossible to prove that God exists. Nevertheless, people of faith engage in this naturalist game quite regularly. Thus, those who wish that believers would engage in naturalism for a few minutes a day are already getting what they want. They do this all of the time.

        I’d have to think what might be a similar experiment for a naturalist. It’s probably that moment in which the writer saw an image of the trinity in an ordinary coincidence and consider the possible meaning of it. That was far more of an experiment than any of the praying.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Petro:

          Being and Love do not strike me as ordinary things.

          If you mean that they’re special or important, OK. I meant that they’re commonplace.

          I don’t believe in the Imaginary Friend God, this image of a superhuman figure who gives believers stuff they want in order to win their affection because he desperately wants a relationship

          Agreed.

          I think the whole experiment took the wrong approach since it was still was somewhat grounded in the need to encounter a natural (or, if you will, material) outcome.

          Seems like a reasonable idea to imagine that if a deity is there that wants you to know him, he would reply to one’s appeal.

          whatever you wish to call is, naturalism has become more prevalent

          Naturalism delivers; Christianity doesn’t. I think that’s why.

          terms under which it is impossible to prove that God exists

          Well … I’d say that it’s impossible to prove that all deities don’t exist. But the Christian god? An all-loving god who acts in an unloving manner? It seems clear that he doesn’t exist.

          those who wish that believers would engage in naturalism for a few minutes a day are already getting what they want. They do this all of the time.

          Good point. Makes you wonder why believers hang in there after they see that science delivers and Christianity doesn’t.

        • Petro

          “Good point. Makes you wonder why believers hang in there after they see that science delivers and Christianity doesn’t.”

          For me, a believer, it’s because science and Christianity both deliver. The things that they are delivering are very different, but their deliveries are inextricably linked. For others, believers and nonbelievers, they work in opposition.

          Metaphysical naturalism, however, does not deliver for me. The fact that natural elements and principles of the universe can be observed and studied through science does not mean, to me, that there are not supernatural elements than cannot be observed and studied in the same way. Approaching supernatural elements with a scientific approach, though an interesting walkabout, is not really expanding thought into the supernatural, which is the core of my commentary on the experiment. You believe that the ultimate nature of all things is explainable through natural sciences. Thus, you seek to put God to the same explanatory processes. The real experiment would be to try to imagine a world beyond these processes and ideas. In essence, to delve into a world based on Augustine’s “si comprehendis non est deus.”

          As for why believers would accept such naturalism, I think it’s much deeper than simply because “naturalism delivers.” For believers, naturalism obviously does not deliver in some form, because they remain believers. Instead, it’s much more about man’s will to power. If we can understand something, we can control it. Man seeks this control, even if he is a believer. It is our nature. It is, in essence, the story of the Garden of Eden. Unfortunately, as mentioned in my first comments, attempts to understand or control God in this manner, which to me is somewhat what is being done in the creation of the Imaginary Friend God, will necessarily be frustrated.

          There are my beliefs on these topics, with which you certainly disagree. The whole crux of the matter is more that a different experiment was needed if you truly wished to attempt to take a walk on the wild side. I appreciated reading this process and look forward to following your other pieces.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Petro:

          The fact that natural elements and principles of the universe can be observed and studied through science does not mean, to me, that there are not supernatural elements than cannot be observed and studied in the same way.

          The success of science in explaining reality doesn’t mean that the supernatural can’t exist, but where’s the evidence?

          Approaching supernatural elements with a scientific approach, though an interesting walkabout, is not really expanding thought into the supernatural

          By “scientific approach,” do you mean “reason”? If you’re saying that science is a limiting worldview, OK, but what do you propose instead?

          You believe that the ultimate nature of all things is explainable through natural sciences. Thus, you seek to put God to the same explanatory processes.

          And don’t the NT assurances of the efficacy of prayer come squarely from an empirical, scientific viewpoint? It’s basically, “If you do X, the result will be Y.” It’s a simple, unambiguous claim that can be tested with science.

          The whole crux of the matter is more that a different experiment was needed if you truly wished to attempt to take a walk on the wild side.

          Yes, I agree that, as an experiment, it was flawed. But thanks for coming along for the ride.

  • smrnda

    I think Petro was using ‘materialism’ to mean the belief that the physical universe is all that there is, that there does not exist a separate ‘spiritual’ dimension, and I would agree as well that most believers are materialists in that sense most of the time, since materialistic explanations are there for almost everything that goes on in their day to day lives. The reason is that we understand how things work much better than people did in the past. We know why we get sick and know what might help us get well. We have explanations for why we had a bad harvest this year, or why we lost our jobs.

    “God is love” occurs in the Bible, but I find it to be a kind of fuzzy, vague, meaningless statement because ‘love’ is both a pretty universal experience, but it’s also very idiosyncratic. I mean, if a woman loves another woman and wants to get married to her, this is love, but since many Christians say this is sin, then either it’s not love (tell that to anyone who is in love) or else the concept of sin has been defined wrong.

  • Jamie

    It seems the only things that would convince atheists are miracles and clear responses. Ofcourse, who knows, maybe the reason he doesn’t reply is because you wont react well to it.

    Imagine you actually started hearing a voice in your head, telling you to do things that you don’t believe are possible, would you trust the voice? Would you lay hands on that stranger in the wheelchair? Would you jump “onto” the deep water so that you might walk on it? Would you dig up the man in the graveyard to bring him back from the dead?

    Or, would you go lose your mind? And become unsure of what is or isn’t real anymore?

    • smrnda

      I know several people who have schizophrenia and have had visual and auditory hallucinations. They can figure out what was real after the effects have subsided either with time or owing to medication. Another good example is to see the track record of what you got with doing the things. For Christians led by god, I check out people like Todd Bentley – the guy who punches and kicks people as god is telling him to do this to ‘heal’ them. (A previous person, Smith Wigglesworth apparently did this, and I don’t think the accounts of him ‘healing’ anyone were well documented enough for me to believe he’s anything but a folk hero for the ignorant and superstitious.) There’ a lot of research to indicate that the voice in your head is just your own brain.

      The problem is when believers seem to imply that they really do get clear messages from god – what I hear are more ‘these are some thoughts that popped into my head and they must have come from god.’ I’ve never met a person who god ‘told’ anything that couldn’t have just been a random impulse. The belief in these events seems a bit like belief in astrology or tarot cards. To the true believer, the cards always tell some truth because you can stretch the reading to mean almost anything.

      On a miracle that would work, you’d need something you can test. If you pray to god and ask him to light wet wood on fire, and this happens consistently when you reference one god and not for others, then you might have something.

      • Richard S. Russell

        “I’ve never met a person who god ‘told’ anything that couldn’t have just been a random impulse. ”
         
        Right you are! This reminds me of my stock response whenever some fundie accuses me of being close-minded, that there’s NO evidence for God’s existence that would convince me. My reply: “Well, if you can tell me, IN ADVANCE, what the outcome of every NFL game is going to be this season, including the final scores, I wouldn’t necessary chalk it up to your hearing from God (might be a time machine, for instance), but I’d sure take you a lot more seriously from here on out.” But somehow or other, God never seems to tell them anything more than they could have found out (or figured out) for themselves. You’d think that an omniscient God would be smarter and better informed than that, wouldn’t you?

      • Bob Seidensticker

        Oliver Sacks has a new book on this, Hallucinations. In an interview, I heard him touch on this idea that some people can distinguish between the real people and the hallucinations (Nash, from the movie “A Beautiful Mind,” was like this, I think?).

    • Kodie

      I like to think god cares about my safety not to tell me to do something dangerous. I’d like for him to say open your wallet, it’s filled with hundreds!

  • Nancy

    As a Christian on a journey that includes periods of darkness and doubts, I respect your choice to be a self proclaimed atheist.

    However, I wonder if you realize that for many of us being a Christian is not the adoption of belief of a guy who sits in the clouds pulling the strings of puppèts, making things happen. Rather, God is Spirit. Our Bible provides allegorical images of God and the early Chtistians develeoped the idea of “Trinity” to help us integrate God into our lives. My God is Love. Pure and simple. Whenever anyone feels love and acts on it they are “the body of Christ” in the world whether they realize it or not. God came to earth in the body of Jesus who then showed that God can’t stop evil but can suffer with us. And Jesus taught us that Gods love will win the battle betwwen good snd evil in the end. I hope this explains how some Christians believe.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Nancy:

      Thanks for your comments.

      As a Christian on a journey that includes periods of darkness and doubts, I respect your choice to be a self proclaimed atheist.

      Thanks for your open-minded and accepting attitude. But when you have doubts, isn’t that your common sense telling you something?

      If you were a Muslim or Scientologist or some other religion and had doubts, wouldn’t you be telling this Imaginary Nancy, “Listen to those doubts! They’re telling you something. When things don’t add up, maybe the belief system you’re in is false.”?

      My God is Love. Pure and simple. Whenever anyone feels love and acts on it they are “the body of Christ”

      But isn’t this a rejection of Christianity? If you can’t handle the weird stuff and have resolved to equate God with Love, OK, I agree that love exists just like you do. All atheists are like that.

      The more you water down the nutty Christian beliefs so you can make it palatable, the more you’re moving to a secular view of the world.

      God came to earth in the body of Jesus who then showed that God can’t stop evil but can suffer with us.

      Doesn’t sound like a particularly omnipotent god.

  • http://theverdanthome.wordpress.com Kathryn V.

    I am glad I stumbled across this site as issues of faith are so interesting to me, whether it is faith in a God, faith in Science, faith in Logic, faith in Whatever. Further, the idea of a 40-day experiment is clever and smacks of scientific process, which is always fun. Yes, fun as you never really know what your are going to get which is, after all, the whole idea behind conducting an experiment.

    So this is MY question for all the atheists and theists….How do you explain faith by experience (as an alternative to faith by reason or religion)? Specifically what I mean is that I believe in some sort of Higher Power because I have had direct experience and no, I have NEVER taken drugs, am not mentally ill, etc. I’m just an average person who has had convincing experiences which tell me we are not alone. I personally find “religion” to be extremely limiting, incomplete and altogether frustrating. Religion is at best a very pathetic attempt to explain the inexplicable. The closest I have come to finding other people who have had similar experiences are those who have had NDE. Check out Dr. Eban Alexander’s blog for reference.

    The biggest problem with my experience of God (however you define it) is that is IS utterly unreplicable, yet the experiences were utterly irrefutable to me personally. That also seems to be the case with others. No one will be able to convince me otherwise and, at the same time, I don’t expect anyone to be convinced by my experience. I am not posting this as an argument but as a third alternative to the current zero sum arguments around God and religion.

    Peace!

    • Richard S. Russell

      Kathryn, none of the experiences you describe have ever existed outside the confines of a human skull, so the most reasonable explanation for them is that they are a byproduct of brain activity. The human brain is the most staggeringly complex thing in the known universe, so it’s not at all surprising that it occasionally serves up to our conscious awareness stuff we don’t understand and can’t explain, but that’s a far cry from saying it’s tapping into something supernatural.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Kathryn:

      whether it is faith in a God, faith in Science, faith in Logic, faith in Whatever.

      I think you need different words here. However you describe your belief in God, science needs another word. I would say “faith in God; trust in science.”

      How do you explain faith by experience (as an alternative to faith by reason or religion)?

      You can have a curious experience, but that is not likely to be compelling to anyone else.

      We know that the mind is a very imperfect organ, with biases, rationalizations, and memory failures. It’s good to remember what it is that is telling you this stuff.

      The Christian would likely discount experiences of non-Christians as being false somehow, so from that perspective, the Christian is as skeptical as the atheist.

      And the discouraging experience of Mother Teresa comes to mind. Perhaps what ecstatic experience gives with one hand it takes away with the other.

      Religion is at best a very pathetic attempt to explain the inexplicable.

      If you’re looking for explanations, neuroscience or neurobiology might be worth exploring.

      • Richard S. Russell

        I would say “faith in God; trust in science.”

        And I would say confidence in science, because we usually use the word trust for people.

        I went into classification of decision-making techniques in some depth in “How We Decide”, Parts 1 and 2:
           http://richardsrussell.livejournal.com/2008/03/07/
           http://richardsrussell.livejournal.com/2008/03/08/

      • http://theverdanthome.wordpress.com Kathryn V.

        Please check out Dr. Eden Alexander for more scientific info on this fascinating topic. He was/is a neuroscientist as a physician and offers some interesting perspectives. For the record, I am not trying to convince anyone that my position is right; however, I would appreciate it if you could extend the same to me. As I stated above, my personal experiences have led me to my OWN conclusions and no amount of logic on your part is going to dissuade me. I do appreciate the dilemma of trying to understand my experience, but that does not negate the fact that it was a real experience. In other words, just because you cannot quantify and experience what happened to me for yourself, does not make it any less real. I do NOT have answers other than my own experience. I am not telling you to believe me; however, I do expect you to respect my experience as you would expect me to respect yours (which I do).

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Kathryn:

          I am not trying to convince anyone that my position is right; however, I would appreciate it if you could extend the same to me.

          OK. I think you’re being a bit more defensive than necessary. Serious evangelism is rare in the comments here, but most of us have something to say. We’ll probably treat you like an adult who can take a strongly stated position from an opposing position.

          As I stated above, my personal experiences have led me to my OWN conclusions and no amount of logic on your part is going to dissuade me.

          OK. Thanks for your views. Interesting.

        • http://theverdanthome.wordpress.com Kathryn V.

          I appreciate your feedback as well. I just find it so incredibly aggravating when people assume I had some kind of seizure/psychosis/brain disease and try to talk me out of what I know happened to me. And for the record, I wouldn’t call myself by ANY religious tag whatsoever. i was just explaining my experience in the interest of “Hey, what about this piece of data?” From where I sit, it looks like the hard-core atheists are busy defending their need to be right and the crazy religious types are busy defending why they are right….and what if there is another reality quite different from those two choices? Heck, I don’t have an explanation or any scientific data to back up what happened to me, but I still find it interesting, especially when other people talk about similar thing having happened to them. I guess I’m looking at the whole issue with more curiosity and open-mindedness than yes:no, right:wrong, theist:atheist, my way:highway.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Kathryn:

          I just find it so incredibly aggravating when people assume I had some kind of seizure/psychosis/brain disease and try to talk me out of what I know happened to me.

          OK. But we do agree that the brain does some weird stuff, right? When your brain tells you weird things, it’s good to be cautious.

          (Oops–sounds like I’m trying to talk you out of your position. My goal is only to explain mine.)

          Heck, I don’t have an explanation or any scientific data to back up what happened to me, but I still find it interesting, especially when other people talk about similar thing having happened to them.

          OK, sounds good. You might want to look at people from other cultures and foreign faith traditions to see what commonality/differences exist.

        • http://theverdanthome.wordpress.com Kathryn V.

          Indeed! It’s fascinating to me the similarities AND differences. And yes, I agree the brain does do some weird things. I found Dr. Alexander’s experience interesting as he had NO frontal cortex activity when his experience took place. Please know I respect your position and am not trying to be argumentative. I am simply trying to provoke discussion beyond the “standard” disclaimers on BOTH sides of the issue. Heck, what of both sides have it wrong? Is it possible for both sides to be right/partly right? What if the truth is something both sides have never considered? Like I said, I am just curious and like asking the questions! Have a great day!

      • http://theverdanthome.wordpress.com Kathryn V.

        And yes, I agree with much of what you say. I would like to reiterate that I am not trying to convince anyone of the Rightness of my position, but am simply offering it as an alternative to something other than yes:no. And yes, i find that everyone has their won biases, even atheists or people who only believe in reason. Whatever you believe, your experiences are filtered through those beliefs. What am I saying (very imperfectly) is that my experiences shaped my beliefs NOT the other way round.

        It’s fascinating because religion/faith/higher power stuff always seems to leak into human experience somehow, regardless of culture. Besides the obvious conclusion that people were trying to control and understand things beyond their control, I have to wonder what percentage was because of experiences like my own? Inquiring minds want to know! lolol

        • B.

          I can’t speak to your personal experience, Kathryn, but I would like to note that there are some issues with Dr. Alexander’s conclusions. I dug up an article I remember reading when this came out last fall, but here’s a particularly relevant quote:

          The problem, however, is that “CT scans and neurological examinations” can’t determine neuronal inactivity—in the cortex or anywhere else. And Alexander makes no reference to functional data that might have been acquired by fMRI, PET, or EEG—nor does he seem to realize that only this sort of evidence could support his case. Obviously, the man’s cortex is functioning now—he has, after all, written a book—so whatever structural damage appeared on CT could not have been “global.” (Otherwise, he would be claiming that his entire cortex was destroyed and then grew back.) Coma is not associated with the complete cessation of cortical activity, in any case. And to my knowledge, almost no one thinks that consciousness is purely a matter of cortical activity. Alexander’s unwarranted assumptions are proliferating rather quickly. Why doesn’t he know these things? He is, after all, a neurosurgeon who survived a coma and now claims to be upending the scientific worldview on the basis of the fact that his cortex was totally quiescent at the precise moment he was enjoying the best day of his life in the company of angels. Even if his entire cortex had truly shut down (again, an incredible claim), how can he know that his visions didn’t occur in the minutes and hours during which its functions returned?

          And here’s the link to the whole article: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/this-must-be-heaven

  • http://www.facebook.com/viczarley Vic Zarley

    This was interesting. I’m a devout Christian and I have a few thoughts about this “experiment” that might explain why it failed to convince you of God’s existence. You indicated that you were praying to a god or gods. It needed to be to God of the Old and New Testaments–or it could have been to Jesus. An experiment was already conducted in the Old testament when Elijah challenged the worshippers of Baal and while they got no response from God (sound familiar?), Elijah’s saturated with water woodpile had an explosive response from God. So, next time, to do this right, please follow the rules and pray to the right God.
    Also, Christians have been taught in God’s Word (the Bible) that belief is VERY important. A skeptical attitude even if just reflected in your heart and not outwardly, squelches the value of your experiment. So you must relinquish your skeptical belief for the time of your experiment and actually believe in God as you pray.
    Richard Dawkins said in his book, The God Delusion, that we have no control over our beliefs. That’s nonsense. Of course we do. God gave us free will. Also, He gave us the ability to believe whatever we want to so your choosing to NOT believe in Him is your choice but you are using God’s gift to deny Him. Strange.
    Well, when at first you don’t succeed, try try again. God bless
    http://www.thefinalharvest.org

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Vic:

      Thanks for your input.

      It needed to be to God of the Old and New Testaments–or it could have been to Jesus.

      That wasn’t the experiment. In your version, Yahweh is the only one whose existence we’re going to test. But why imagine that he exists or that the Christian claims are the only ones worth testing?

      An experiment was already conducted in the Old testament when Elijah challenged the worshippers of Baal and while they got no response from God (sound familiar?)

      It does sound familiar. It also sounds like an old story with no grounding in history.

      follow the rules and pray to the right God.

      And why is your god the right one?

      belief is VERY important.

      I guess that means that the sacrifice of Jesus doesn’t apply to me. I can’t just believe stuff. I follow the evidence and then I believe.

      relinquish your skeptical belief for the time of your experiment and actually believe in God as you pray.

      So we just bypass the whole experiment and assume that Vic’s god is the correct one. Heck—why even do the experiment? You’ve found the answer!

      Richard Dawkins said in his book, The God Delusion, that we have no control over our beliefs. That’s nonsense.

      Wow—I’m impressed. Give us a demonstration: believe in leprechauns for me.

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