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Exponentially Increasing Claims and Christianity

claims for God are implausible Historian Richard Carrier nicely illustrates the magnitude of the Christian claim by showing its place in a series of exponentially increasing claims. I’ll summarize my interpretation here, but for his version see Why I Am Not a Christian (35–9).

It’s one thing to have each step in a series exceed its predecessor simply in degree. For example, “I have a yellow car” is a narrower (and more surprising) claim than “I have a car.” It is different in degree simply because there are fewer yellow cars than cars of any color. Let’s call this a linear progression.

More interesting are steps that are different in kind, an exponential progression of steps. This is admittedly a sloppy use of “exponential” and “linear,” but I think it suggests the magnitude of difference between changes in degree and the more dramatic changes in kind.

Here are five steps in an exponential progression. Claims at each step become increasingly unlikely.

1. Claims that are common such as, “I own a car.” In parts of the world where car ownership is common, this is not a surprising claim.

2. Claims that are uncommon such as, “I own a third-century Christian manuscript.” This is very uncommon—there might be just dozens of individuals who can make this claim rather than the hundreds of millions who could claim car ownership—but it’s plausible.

3. Claims that are unprecedented such as, “I own a 400-foot-long nuclear-powered submarine.” Such submarines do exist and no new science would be needed for this to be a true statement. Nevertheless, the facts that (1) there is no record of a person owning such a thing, (2) they are very difficult to steal, and (3) they are enormously expensive to build makes this claim very implausible.

4. Claims that are inconceivable today (but perhaps reasonable tomorrow) such as, “I own a time machine.” These machines do not exist today. New science and technology would be needed to build one, if it could be built at all. On the optimistic side, humanity continues to uncover new science and invent new technology, so a claim in this category might become possible in the future.

5. Claims without precedent such as, “A supernatural being created everything and interacts with humans on earth today.” This claim is popular, but it is built on nothing. There is no objective evidence of any supernatural being, let alone one that created the universe.

Big submarines do exist, so someone might own one someday. Technology does exist, so time machines might be built in the future, and then someone might own one. But science recognizes no supernatural claims, and there’s no reason to imagine that they will become more plausible in the future. No future developments in science or technology will help God make himself more available.

We can imagine a man building a time machine (Wells’ The Time Machine, 1895 or Back to the Future, 1985), and we can imagine God revealing himself to an ordinary man (The Shack, 2007 or Genesis, first millennium BCE). These imaginings are desirable, but they are fiction.

Of course, billions of people today believe in some variation of this supernatural claim, but because these many claims are mutually contradictory they do more to argue that humans invent religions than that god(s) exist. The Christian who eagerly points to the billions who believe in a supernatural something will also be quick to undercut this popularity by rejecting an all-roads-lead-to-God attitude.

Christian apologists advance “God did it!” in response to a scientific impasse such as “How did life originate?” or “What came before the Big Bang?” but they ignore how far-fetched the supernatural claim is. They confuse familiarity with plausibility, and on this exponential scale, God isn’t remotely plausible.

When deciding between two competing theories,
always go with the one that doesn’t involve a magic spell.
— Emo Philips

Photo credit: J. Gabás Esteban

About Bob Seidensticker
  • Reginald Selkirk

    Claims that are unprecedented such as, “I own a 400-foot-long nuclear-powered submarine.”

    I met someone once who told me her father was a submarine salesman. I asked if he had a shop, or if he went door to door.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Claims that are inconceivable today…

    “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

    • Bob Seidensticker

  • Drewl

    But science recognizes no supernatural claims, and there’s no reason to imagine that they will become more plausible in the future. No future developments in science or technology will help God make himself more available.

    Correct, and science never will. It by definition seeks the best naturalistic explanation. It’s like a murder investigation that from the get-go has determined women don’t commit murder: we won’t be surprised when the investigation never yields a woman murderer. But those investigations leave us no closer to actually knowing whether women commit murder.

    If you affirm a belief in scientism here–that science is the only source of reliable knowledge–then this post is largely accurate. However, scientism is self-refuting and requires its own set of ungrounded faith beliefs, as we’ve discussed, and Bob here has gone on the record to say he has knowledge of some things–his moral beliefs–which are not supported by science.

    Bottom line: the inability for science to recognize supernatural claims does not lead to your conclusion that such claims are “inconceivable (with no prospects of change)”–we all recognize there are non-scientific ways of knowing claims to be true.

    Perhaps Bob has joined up with the religion of scientism in the last few weeks, in which case, you should have let me know, I could have sent a card or something.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      drewl:

      Correct, and science never will. It by definition seeks the best naturalistic explanation.

      Does God participate in our world? If so, that’s a claim that’s, in principle, scientifically testable. I guess we can’t get away from science, even here.

      Light that could go through solid objects was science fiction … until we discovered that it did. If there were evidence for ESP, that would be science, not parapsychology (or bunk).

    • Kodie

      The existence of god seems to predicate on the unknowingness of people and the easiest explanation. Something happens and something must have made it happen. Is it angry with us, then how can we please it? When you see some people are willing to sacrifice someone into a volcano to appease it, can you see at all the parallel of sacrificing certain freedoms so god may (continue to) bless our country? That’s on the assumption that because a lot of Christians live here, the US was formed to please god. The freedoms in the constitution are original and upon older models, it was seen good that religion would not be enforced by our government, but that citizens may not be punished for having beliefs. That is, your beliefs cannot be interfered with or disturbed or forcefully altered by your government, and neither should your neighbors’ be, though they practice differently than you do. But Christians persist in the beliefs that our foundation isn’t the best government possible, and they should attain more control than others to keep the earthquakes and hurricanes and tornadoes from devastating our part of the planet. And they will believe lies – lies we can prove are lies, about our history – to get it. So I say it’s no different than the practice of appeasing the gods by throwing a virgin into a volcano.

      And I know not ALL Christians are like that. It gets very close to living in the real world, accepting scientific explanations, without giving up that one magical estimation, which they somehow reconcile with their comprehension of the complexities that science explores and explains. It seems that mystery is still in these areas: the origin of the universe, the origin of life, how the brain works, and for no good reason, statistics. These are people who would watch the weather channel explain why there are earthquakes and understand that god does not ruffle the earth in California particularly because of San Francisco and weed, and who will understand how many ‘billions of years’ is and what can change given that amount of time. And reconcile this somehow with a god who watches them and guides them and helps them make the right decision because a man died on a cross 2000 years ago somehow magically absolved them, and that when they die, they’ll see their grandpa again.

  • smrnda

    Drew, I’m not sure the idea that naturalistic explanations are adequate to explain reality and the idea that no murders are committed by women would be equal assumptions. There is no physical law that says a woman cannot perform the actions needed to kill another person.

    My take on science is that it does a pretty good job of explaining the physical universe and what goes on in it. Understandably you can tell me that miracles happen, but the problem is that miracles (as described by almost all religious people I’ve met) are outside of the real of systematic inquiry. Let me explain what I mean by that:

    If someone tells me that chewing grass cures some deadly disease, that would be a claim that I am skeptical of, but it is a claim that could be examined experimentally. We could put it to the test and even if we lacked a theoretical understanding of how grass chewing cures the disease, that grass chewing is reliably correlated with the curing the disease could be established.

    However, supernatural claims can never be investigated in this fashion, which means that they both cannot be validated through any sort of experiment, nor can they be falsified. They could hypothetically be true, but the best one can get is conjecture, and any confirmation of such claims is going to be inherently unreliable. Let’s say tomorrow I decide to burn incense to a particular deity, and things go well that day. No proof that the deity answered, and no way to really tell.

    I don’t typically mess with discussing isms (to me, it’s usually a shortcut of using jargon instead of thinking) but the scientific method seems to be the best way of obtaining reliable information about the world. If something cannot be investigated using the scientific method and it involves the physical world, I tend not to be interested since there’s no way any claims can really be verified or tested.

    I guess my question would be, in light of the fact that there is no way to investigate supernatural claims systematically, why should I consider them or think of them at all?

    • Bob Seidensticker

      smrnda:

      supernatural claims can never be investigated in this fashion

      Can’t they? “God answers prayers” seems very easy to test, for example.

      We could never prove that God didn’t create everything, but if we keep finding natural explanations for things, that continues to undercut the argument.

      • Rain

        They’re determined to have science not be able to “recognize” supernatural for some reason. Gee I wonder why. Apparently scientists are a bunch of maroons or something.

        • smrnda

          My take on prayer is that the believer has an excuse for every unanswered prayer – if I pray and the prayer is answered, it’s proof a god answers prayer. If I pray and it is not answered, whatever god has a better agenda. That’s why I say it can’t be investigated systematically since from the outset, to the believer at least, there’s no proof it doesn’t work. From my naturalistic viewpoint, it’s a waste of time to bother with these things, but I admit that, given what believers say about prayer, the whole thing is unfalsifiable.

          And Rain, I’m not sure I understand your comment or objection. Supernatural claims are usually made in such a way where lack of evidence is never adequate to disprove the true believer. A person who believes in ghosts will invent endless rationalizations for why scientific investigations of ghosts fail to produce evidence, among the best being ‘ghosts only appear to those who truly believe in them.’ Science works by experiments or observations which can be replicated and subjected to systematic tests. If this is how supernatural things work, then they cannot be investigated using the same method.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          That’s why I say it can’t be investigated systematically since from the outset, to the believer at least, there’s no proof it doesn’t work.

          I agree that this is how believers think, but they undercut their own claims. “Prayer works” is easy to test. Your telephone, car, and computer work. Does prayer “work” in the same way? Nope.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      Supernatural claims used to explain all kinds of things that were amenable to scientific investigation. But that was before science was invented. Now the religionists can’t get way with that stuff any more. God keeps shrinking as science advances.

  • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

    Light that could go through solid objects was science fiction … until we discovered that it did.

    I never knew that glass was once the realm of science fiction :-)

  • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

    Bob,
    you have a serious error at number 5.

    5. Claims that are inconceivable (with no prospect for change) such as, “A supernatural being created everything and interacts with humans on earth today.”

    Someone made the comment earlier, rigging on The Princess Bride, that you may no be using inconceivable correctly. The fact that someone has had the idea renders it by definition “conceivable”. But, even if I grant you some literary license in the use of the word, then surely the entire universe spontaneously came into existence is similarly inconceivable, or that there have been an infinite period of existence before now (take your pick from the two most common atheist proposals).

    And given that all of these explanations must be similarly inconceivable, then our very existence must be inconceivable, which is kinda problematic, to say the least.

    • Kodie

      We know our existence is probable because we exist. Like, after the lottery numbers are drawn, those numbers are 100% probable. Before they are drawn, they have a calculable but small (non-zero) probability. Anything with a non-zero probability can happen, as when they are drawn and someone has matched them and wins the prize. Backwards from there:

      a) A scientifically, physically, chemically possible, as yet unknown event occurred; or
      b) A magician went “poof”. And there we are.

      We observe and discover the origins of things all the time and say “wow” – interesting. The earth, the rock of it, moves itself along cracks or erupts through the surface. We know what the earth used to be like and how it changed since it was formed, and we know the properties of other planets, stars, and other objects billions of miles away. That there are living organisms all over this one and some of us are intelligent enough to observe and record these things is interesting but obviously 100% possible. The religionist will say it’s just impossible yet we do exist. Of all the things we know now to be scientifically possible and observable, one thing just seems too magical to have happened without magic. A scientist would say, well we exist so we must be scientifically possible – we just don’t know the beginning yet, but we are working on it.

      • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

        We know our existence is probable because we exist.

        I agree with you Kodie. But if you use this as your starting point, then it is difficult to call the theist position “inconceivable”. After all, it is an explanation that is persuasive to many, and has withstood many generations of criticism.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Karl:

      you may no be using inconceivable correctly.

      You’re right. I meant that the claim being true from an objective standpoint was inconceivable.

      • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

        You’re right. I meant that the claim being true from an objective standpoint was inconceivable.

        I don’t see how this changes anything. Many (perhaps even most) people can conceive of that. And again, if I give you literary license, atheist explanations are no better off.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          You can imagine a day when God’s existence is as well established as the Law of Gravity?

        • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

          You can imagine a day when God’s existence is as well established as the Law of Gravity?

          Are you asking if I can imagine a day when God’s existence is as objectively true as the Law of Gravity? Because I would say that every day is such.

          Or perhaps you are asking if I can imagine a day when as many people believe in God’s existence as believe in the Law of Gravity. Now, of course, this wouldn’t be from an objective standpoint, but there have been such times in the past, and could well again in the future.

          Or perhaps you are asking if I can imagine a day when God’s existence is viewed in scholarly circles as being as well established as the Law of Gravity. Again, this would not be objective, it has been so in the past, and could again in the future.

          However, the real problem here is that you seem to want to call theism “inconceivable” because it is not near-universally accepted (ie not accepted on the same level as the Law of Gravity). It seems that you definition of inconceivable has moved even further away from what it normally means.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Karl:

          Are you asking if I can imagine a day when God’s existence is as objectively true as the Law of Gravity? Because I would say that every day is such.

          Then we have a very different definition of “objectively.”

          The Law of Gravity is established in a way that God’s existence never has been. Maybe it will, so that anyone unaware of God’s existence can be shown in a short time unambiguous and irrefutable evidence that he exists. But that day is not today.

        • smrnda

          Do you mean that every day you encounter evidence for the existence for god that is as solid as the existence of the law of gravity? Exactly what sort of evidence do you have, and is it any stronger than the evidence I could provide for the existence of Cthulhu?

        • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

          Then we have a very different definition of “objectively.”

          Sometimes you seem to have a completely different dictionary to what most of the rest of us use. I was using objectively to mean “independent of observer, ie not subjective”.

          The Law of Gravity is established in a way that God’s existence never has been.

          Not so. It is not so long ago that God’s existence was regarded as being so obvious as to be almost axiomatic.

          Even so, do you regard everything that is not as solidly supported as the Law of Gravity as being “inconceivable”? Because I will gladly agree that the Law of Gravity is not currently disputed, whereas the existence of God is. But “disputed” is a long way from “inconceivable”.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Karl:

          I was using objectively to mean “independent of observer, ie not subjective”.

          It’s often used to mean supernaturally grounded. Wm. Lane Craig gives this definition of objective morality, for example: “moral values that are valid and binding whether anybody believes in them or not.”

          Just sayin’.

          Not so. It is not so long ago that God’s existence was regarded as being so obvious as to be almost axiomatic.

          Granted. And all I can do in response is to simply repeat myself: The Law of Gravity is established in a way that God’s existence never has been.

          Even so, do you regard everything that is not as solidly supported as the Law of Gravity as being “inconceivable”?

          I’ve already granted that you made a good point. To repeat: “You’re right. I meant that the claim being true from an objective standpoint was inconceivable.” (And “objective” in this case is more like your definition–objective in the same way that the Law of Gravity is universally accepted [or acceptable to someone ignorant of it].)

          Are we getting anywhere with this thread? I’m bored.

        • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

          I’ve already granted that you made a good point. To repeat: “You’re right. I meant that the claim being true from an objective standpoint was inconceivable.” (And “objective” in this case is more like your definition–objective in the same way that the Law of Gravity is universally accepted [or acceptable to someone ignorant of it].)

          I still fail to see how you can claim that the existence of God is inconceivable from an objective viewpoint. By your logic, the claim that “evolution explains biological diversity is true from an objective viewpoint” is inconceivable as it is neither universally accepted nor acceptable to people ignorant of it.

          You may be bored, but a post from you explaining how you consider evolution inconceivable would be quite entertaining, I think.

        • Kodie

          You may be confused as to the term “objectively”. Evolution is true regardless of who believes in it. It was true before anyone discovered it, for that matter. God may or may not be real. The objectivity of that truth does not pertain to how many people claim to experience god but to whether he exists or not despite personal testimony, which is scientifically worthless. That would be committing a logical fallacy of popularity. Evolution, similarly, can be denied by many, but they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about and don’t regard science as a way of knowing better than their shitty book, their fake science, and each other to instill suspicion of scientific “conspiracies”. They’re objectively wrong.

        • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

          Kodie,
          you know how to define objectively, but you don’t know how to apply it. Let me illustrate …

          God exists regardless of who believes or disbelieves that he does. The objectivity of the claim that God exists does not depend on how many people claim to experience him or any personal testimony. The existence of God can be denied by many, but they don’t know whether God exists or not, and base their opinion on things other than the objective truth of God’s existence. They are objectively wrong.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Karl:

          God exists regardless of who believes or disbelieves that he does.

          Perhaps I’m splitting hairs here, but you had quibbled with my definition of the word “objective,” and this gives me a chance to illustrate my point. Each of these statement is true or not:

          1: “The Christian god exists”

          2: “Bob has a yellow car”

          Give me as many unbiased intelligent English-speaking observers as you want, and I can convince them that statement #2 is true.

          The same isn’t true for #1. You can call them both objective truth claims, but there is a difference.

          Maybe we were already on the same page, but I wanted to make this point.

          The objectivity of the claim that God exists does not depend on how many people claim to experience him or any personal testimony.

          Fair enough, but the accessibility of the truth of the claim is the problem. That I have a yellow car is easy for me to prove to anyone who is interested. God’s existence isn’t accessible in the same way.

          The existence of God can be denied by many, but they don’t know whether God exists or not, and base their opinion on things other than the objective truth of God’s existence. They are objectively wrong.

          OK, they can’t say that they know that God doesn’t exist, and neither can they say that he does. Kinda makes “God exists” a pretty flabby claim.

        • Kodie

          I’m pretty sure I applied it correctly. And, if god exists, objectively, your illustration is true. However, your prior comments regarded objectivity to mean the same thing as popular. The evidence for god is a lot thinner than the excuses made in his name for things that happen coincidentally, so you have a far way to go to suggest he does exist, but whenever we get there, it would be said that god exists objectively. You cannot make that claim yet.

        • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

          Bob,

          Fair enough, but the accessibility of the truth of the claim is the problem. That I have a yellow car is easy for me to prove to anyone who is interested. God’s existence isn’t accessible in the same way.

          Agreed. We can’t answer the question of God’s existence in the same way.

          OK, they can’t say that they know that God doesn’t exist, and neither can they say that he does. Kinda makes “God exists” a pretty flabby claim.

          So, you’re saying that God’s existence is “an open question”? Sounds a long way from “inconceivable”, no matter how you define it.

        • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

          Kodie,

          However, your prior comments regarded objectivity to mean the same thing as popular.

          Where? I can’t find any.

          The evidence for god is a lot thinner than the excuses made in his name for things that happen coincidentally, so you have a far way to go to suggest he does exist, but whenever we get there, it would be said that god exists objectively. You cannot make that claim yet.

          You should read what Bob wrote. Bob understands that “God exists” is either objectively true or false. I can make the claim that “God exists” is objectively true. To prove it is admittedly more difficult. However, to prove anything beyond simple logic and maths to be objectively true is likewise extremely difficult. Even if something appears to be true from everyone’s vantage point, it could turn out to not be true from some as yet unencountered vantage point.

          As such, no physical science is proven to be objectively true, and even things we once thought to be objectively true are now shown not to be (eg Euclidean geometry).

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Karl:

          So, you’re saying that God’s existence is “an open question”? Sounds a long way from “inconceivable”, no matter how you define it.

          I’ve already clarified (twice) the way I used “inconceivable.” It’s not this way.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Karl:

          to prove anything beyond simple logic and maths to be objectively true is likewise extremely difficult.

          Agreed. I wonder why anyone would try.

          An aside: The area where I see this problem played out more often is in morality. Is “Abortion is wrong” both (1) objectively true and (2) a truth that we mortals can access? This IMO is the death blow to any claims of objective morality, and I’m baffled why it continues to be so popular.

        • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

          I’ve already clarified (twice) the way I used “inconceivable.” It’s not this way.

          Not which way? Not a way where the meaning is different from “an open question”? If that is the case, then perhaps you’d better put “God exists” in your “category 1″ list then since it is a common claim, and even your category 1 example could be open to question.

          You said “I meant that the claim being true from an objective standpoint was inconceivable.”
          Do you still take “inconceivable” to mean “cannot be conceived of (ie cannot be imagined, or thought of)”? That’s what it usually means. Because the idea that God exists is true from an objective standpoint is the position of most theists.

          You then go on to say that you mean “(And “objective” in this case is more like your definition–objective in the same way that the Law of Gravity is universally accepted [or acceptable to someone ignorant of it].)”

          So, when you say that “God exists” is “inconceivable”, you mean that you cannot imagine that everyone would accept it? As I said before, this is even further away from a normal definition of inconceivable. To illustrate, here is a list of things that would be “inconceivable” by your definition:
          – The Theory of Evolution
          – That Barack Obama was born in the USA
          – That the US government was not complicit in the 9/11 terrorist attacks
          – That God does not exist

          Can you see the problem you have with your definitions now?

        • Kodie

          I notice the vocabulary choices of the author get a lot of undue criticism. I thought this point had been clarified and explained and the word was not the best but think of something else – you’re stuck on the word.

        • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

          I notice the vocabulary choices of the author get a lot of undue criticism. I thought this point had been clarified and explained and the word was not the best but think of something else – you’re stuck on the word.

          I suggested “debatable” and “open to question” which both seem to carry the meaning that Bob intended. I agree, they don’t carry the rhetorical punch that “inconceivable” does, but I can think of more rhetorically powerful words, like “genocide” – of course, its general meaning isn’t anything like the idea Bob wants to express, but neither is “inconceivable”.

          By the way, have you found where I used “objectivity” to mean “popular” yet?

        • Kodie

          (I wrote): We know our existence is probable because we exist.

          I agree with you Kodie. But if you use this as your starting point, then it is difficult to call the theist position “inconceivable”. After all, it is an explanation that is persuasive to many, and has withstood many generations of criticism.

          That’s probably going to line up all janky but whatever. I don’t know if I misunderstood you here or not or confused you with someone else maybe even in a different thread.

          Anyway – as far as god being objectively real. Unlike the others, it does not have to be established or observed to be true. We can make a lot of observations now only that we happen to have the intelligence and desire and instruments and technological development to look. This was once a measure I used to define what god meant to me – non-supernaturally – just to wrap my head around it. The earth existed and came into being without our help, and that is an objective fact. We could be snakes and trees instead of people and not know a thing about it, and it would still be objectively true. Uneducated people whether living in the distant past, or who are young, or who live in areas where knowing a bit about the earth’s history is somewhat a luxury compared to clean water, or who are living in a government that doesn’t allow them to go to school (for instance, girls in some countries) – all the things they don’t know that are facts are still true.

          God, if he exists, cannot be objectively characterized honestly by anyone as having a desire to know us and have us know him. It would seem a pretty easy task for a deity to have that crossed off his to-do list, and yet everything we thought we knew about god is filtered primarily through people’s imagination. Any other god does not seem reasonable to imagine. An uninterested god? What for? And yet, people do conceive of god this way also, so you can’t say it’s inconceivable, just unreasonable. We cannot eliminate the possibility of god existing 100% but all roads I’ve seen so far lead to 100% imaginary, which is equivalent obviously to conceivable. So does god exist objectively? If you want to credit a massively popular imaginary character as “existing,” like say, Kermit the Frog or the Jolly Green Giant or the talking Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz well yes, then god does objectively exist. I could go along with a definition of god that supports the idea that existing is a concept, and one which too many people share for anyone to say it isn’t really there. In fact, that’s one reason that I’m an atheist. A) I don’t believe god exists other than imaginarily to begin with, but B) too many other people seem to think their imaginary friend has preferences and desires that I need to worry about “or else”. That “or else” is the thing that’s not objectively real or true.

        • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

          Kodie,
          You quote me from before the terms “objective”, “objectively” or “objectivity” have appeared in the thread.

          As to your conclusions about God existing or not, I interpret the evidence differently from you. I’m not denying that it is possible to interpret the evidence the way you do. I think it is a misinterpretation of the evidence though.

          The Christmas story does seem relevant to your case here. A god whose solution to the problems of humanity is to become a human and live and die among us.

  • http://busterggi@aol.com Bob Jase

    Re: #3 – I have it on good authority that in 1966 a Mr. P. N. Guin bought a used nuclear submarine from the navy without even a background check.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Mr. P. N. Guin bought a submarine? Did he use it to get to Antarctica?

      (Wikipedia says that it was not nuclear …)

  • avalon

    Science can never prove the supernatural because to say something is supernatural is not much different than saying it’s a mystery, and science tries to solve mysteries. The behavior of paired particles at a distance is currently a mystery. Saying it’s supernatural would solve nothing. What science does is investigate mysteries and find answers. Lightning was once a mystery and thus considered supernatural. But “supernatural” was no answer, so science investigated and found the answers, making lightning a non-supernatural event.
    As for the existence of God, science would need a good definition of the term “God” to even begin an investigation. And it seems each believer has his/her own idea of what that is. It seems, for believers, there is no attribute that God can’t live without. God doesn’t control lightning? No problem, God still exists. God doesn’t control the weather? Ditto. You can’t investigate something that has no clear attributes.

    avalon

    • Bob Seidensticker

      avalon:

      Nice summary.

      Science can never prove the supernatural

      Right–it can’t be natural and supernatural at the same time. But science can “prove the supernatural” by pulling those claims into the domain of the natural. “Light can go through solid wood,” for example, was supernatural but, with the discovery of x-rays, became natural.

  • Sean

    your reasoning may not be entirely logical. you bring up ideas that are highly unlikely and pair unlikely scenario’s with a possibility that God exists? owning a submarine is certainly a very unlikely possibility, but evidence for God’s existence has a great deal of evidence? love is something that exists but you cannot prove it exists? should we then conclude that love does not exist because we can’t prove it? you’re analogy of exponentially increasing claims may also be used in the opposite direction. if many people throughout the world believe in a God than perhaps that is evidence that this “God” planted that in our being? furthermore, I as a Catholic do not believe all other religions are “wrong”, we simply believe different religions have various amounts of revelation. a monotheist you might say has some amount of revelation in common. i do believe Jesus is the only way but i do not believe that means only those who have “accepted him as your personal savior” will save their soul. I believe it means is that a faithful Jew, Muslim or Hindu who’s never been exposed to the Gospel, only has the possibility of saving their soul because of what Jesus has done. rather than getting into which religion is the most accurate, why not look at the notion of religion as a possibility that a creator planted a desire in his creatures to know the creator?

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Sean:

      evidence for God’s existence has a great deal of evidence?

      Evidence that’s better explained in non-supernatural ways, I think.

      love is something that exists but you cannot prove it exists?

      Is there a question about the existence of love or courage or perseverance or anything with an abstract noun as a label? We wouldn’t have the words unless that thing existed.

      if many people throughout the world believe in a God than perhaps that is evidence that this “God” planted that in our being?

      Isn’t that just evidence that people invent gods?

      I as a Catholic do not believe all other religions are “wrong”

      So Hindus and Muslims and Scientologists aren’t wrong? If they’re a little bit right, that sounds like a big bit wrong.

      i do believe Jesus is the only way

      Then it sounds like a non-Jesus-centered religion has to be wrong. No?

    • Reginald Selkirk

      Sean: … why not look at the notion of religion as a possibility that a creator planted a desire in his creatures to know the creator?

      OK, let’s look at it.
      It looks like a dodge to me. God planted a “desire” rather than knowledge? What’s that about? You’re just trying to get around the fact that all those people have different ideas about what God(s) is like, and what he wants from us. We can at least say this: no god exists with the desire and ability to let large numbers of people know what He is like and what He wants from us.
      .
      The notion that if a desire exists, the fulfilment of that desire must exist is pure BS, so don’t even go there.

    • Kodie

      A “desire to know the creator” seems to me more of a rumor or suggestion. A lot of religious questions that nothing else in the world can answer aren’t unfulfillments until you sell someone on the idea that they’re void without it. And if religion came from a suggestion by the creator to know him, wouldn’t it be just crazy if everyone then believed the exact same thing, as the creator who wanted people to know him actually communicated with them, corrected them when they interpreted things wrong, etc. How on earth could this have happened, except either no creator or a bungling inept creator? What would be plausible about that possibility in this world, where people have to be told by other people what to think about their creator, according to how well they themselves understand what they were told and how clearly they relay the information, but actually KNOW nothing at all about him?

  • http://rgrydns2.blogspot.ca Richard Greydanus

    I’d be curious what you would say in response, Bob.

    http://rgrydns2.blogspot.ca/2012/12/exponentially-increasing-reasons-for.html

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Richard: Thanks for the thorough commentary.

      People with opinions tend to preach to the converted.

      To some extent, you’re right, but this is unfortunate. I’d love to get more of an audience with Christians.

      just as I hope he thinks me entitled to mine

      Of course.

      Bob does his absolute best not to let on that he has set up a straw-man.

      “Let on”? If that’s what we have here, it’s not deliberate.

      Bob crosses a barely perceptible line between claims of one sort and claims of another sort.

      Good point. Maybe I could have made them more distinct. They are all supposed to be claims.

      Bob derogatorily labels ‘supernatural’

      Why is that derogatory? Wasn’t meant to be. God’s supernatural, right?

      he no doubt equates with non-existence

      Nope. (But that’s where the smart money is.)

      Ought we treat our neighbours as if they were animals or not?

      Yes, these are valid ethical questions. Religion pretends that it does something useful when it takes these natural human questions and presents them back to society as if they’re new or if religion discovered them.

      • http://rgrydns2.blogspot.ca Richard Greydanus

        Okay. I admit I assumed you used supernatural in a derogatory sense. I stand corrected.

        I detect a sort of dismissiveness in your want to treat claims merely as claims, as if any sort of claim you might come can ultimately be judged against a single standard . Fair enough. But you are trying to evade the problem with your terminology that I raised…which only appears in another form here:

        What do you mean by ‘natural human questions’? Are these to be submit to same the methodologically stringent standards of natural scientific investigation? Or, by ‘natural’, do you just mean ‘the way things are’, which imposes a sense of moral solidarity between human beings, and with the rest of the beings in the world…sort of like the moral order described in the first chapter of Genesis or the opening chapters of the Upanishads?

        I still say you are setting up straw-men. Atheism tends to require that religion be something added onto a natural humanity, but no classical religious text is ever going to endorse that understanding of the message it presents. If you insist that religion masquerades as something it is not, then you will never have an constructive conversation with a religious person. Leave aside the methods of natural scientific study, which both atheists and religious believers should be able to subscribe to (but, regrettably, often don’t), in order for the classical texts to fit into your definition of religion as something added onto a natural humanity, you’ve insisted that they say things that they plainly don’t. The definition of a straw-man argument.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Richard:

          Atheism tends to require that religion be something added onto a natural humanity, but no classical religious text is ever going to endorse that understanding of the message it presents.

          You’re concerned about something, but I’m not sure what it is. I’m not seeing the straw man.

  • Richard Greydanus

    Bob, you talk about Chrisianity and mock Christianity, but it is not Christianity, at least not any version that is intellectually defensible and is consistent, broadly considered, with the primary texts. That last bit, of course, is a rather large caveat to offer. My point is that you can’t criticize something something from a caricatured perspective, and expect the criticism to apply also to the thing caricatured.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Richard:

      To some extent, this is unavoidable. Christianity is varied. If I attack biblical literalism, for example, and you’re a Catholic who doesn’t see the Bible that way, I see that that post won’t address your view of Christianity.

      But help me understand why this is a problem.

      The solution seems easy: Christian readers can see when I’m addressing their flavor of Christianity (and they can accept or reject my thinking as they choose) vs. when I’m addressing a feature of a Christianity that they reject (in that case, I assume they’re cheering me on as I help them rein in this nutty maverick thinking). Does this not work?

      It’s quite clear in my mind that one size doesn’t fit all. Are you saying that I’m not clear enough in that? Or are you saying that I only rarely address a feature that any Christians accept?

      • avalon

        Bob,
        It seems Richard thinks the bible is a philosophy book (“The questions ancient religious authorities asked, answered, and wrote down in the religious texts … wonder why there should be anything for scientists to study in the first place…”) and therefore should not be judged using the scientific method (“Ought we judge religious claims against the standards of scientific investigation or not?”).

        What he (incorrectly) calls strawmen is a literal, fundamentalist view of the bible (“Bob, you talk about Chrisianity and mock Christianity, but it is not Christianity, at least not any version that is intellectually defensible and is consistent, broadly considered, with the primary texts.”). He’s saying those misguided people just don’t interpret the bible correctly. That doesn’t make them strawmen (something you built yourself, just to tear down).

        He also says your claim #5 (existence of God) is a philosophical question outside the realm of science.

        Richard,
        You asked, “Ought we judge religious claims against the standards of scientific investigation or not?”
        My answer would be: yes, if a religious text makes scientific claims then science should judge those claims. Your unique interpretation of the bible seems to ignore the long history of christianity claiming scientific knowledge that came from the bible. From the shape of the earth to the setup of the solar system to God’s control of lightning and demonic causes of disease. These beliefs persist today in many christian communities. This isn’t Bob’s caricatured perspective, it’s real people with real beliefs.
        If your personal interpretation of the bible is that it’s allegorical tales that present a certain philosophy, that’s great. But I don’t think that view is intellectually defensible. It seems to me that the bible addresses a number of scientific issues in a primitive, superstitious manner. Things like the genetics of sheep, the cause and purpose of rainbows, the cause and purpose of respiration and blood, the cause of all sorts of weather like wind, rain, lightning, and floods. I fail to see how these are philosophy and outside the realm of science.

        avalon

        • http://rgrydns2.blogspot.ca Richard Greydanus

          I think Bob and I have come to a sort of mutual understanding. I may identify as a Christian, but I have no truck with biblical literalists. We may have different ideas of what the term Christian stands for, though, whether that be persons who self-identify as Christian, regardless how they interpret the texts, or persons who identify as Christian by identifying with a tradition of textual interpretation. But no: I am not Catholic.

          Avalon, I would disagree that the sacred texts purport to pronounce on scientific truth. The original authors haven’t the foggiest idea what you are talking about; their concerns are almost exclusively to describe a moral order of the universe and the place of the human being in that order. The first chapter of Genesis, for example, ought not be read as a natural scientific document describing literal 24 hour periods, and so on. It ought to be read, and was for a very long time, as a preface to the rest of the Scriptures–to passages like Exodus 20, i.e. The Ten Commandments. Read the first 12 verses or so and you’ll understand what I mean by a moral order, rather than a scientific description.

          You say ‘that the bible addresses a number of scientific issues in a primitive, superstitious manner’. Of course. But the point of the text was never to address scientific questions.

        • avalon

          Hi Richard,
          Richard: “We may have different ideas of what the term Christian stands for, though, whether that be persons who self-identify as Christian, regardless how they interpret the texts, or persons who identify as Christian by identifying with a tradition of textual interpretation. ”

          avalon: The term “Christian” is very hard to pin down. In an apologetic forum I once had a Christian use the term “essentials of Christianity”. I wondered what those essentials might be so I asked the forum. The answers from self-described Christians were all over the map.

          Richard: “You say ‘that the bible addresses a number of scientific issues in a primitive, superstitious manner’. Of course. But the point of the text was never to address scientific questions.”

          avalon: It seems nearly impossible to determine an authors intentions thousands of years after the fact, so I’ll not go there. I’m glad were agree the scientific matters addressed by the bible are superstitious.
          I’d love to know how you view this moral order presented in the bible. Do you see it as a man-made philosophy or something inspired in some way? Is there something that makes the bibles philosophy superior to other philosophies?

          avalon

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Richard:

          I don’t think we’re resolved the problem you initially raised.

          Are you saying that I’m not properly attacking your version of Christianity? If I’m focused on some other sect’s issues, does that create a problem?

  • smrnda

    I wanted to ask Richard this question since I run into quite a few Christians who state that they reject a literal, fundamentalist view of the Bible, and typically argue that a great deal of the Bible isn’t meant to be taken literally, that one has to take into account the context of each and every written portion, or look to church tradition to properly understand Christian thought: Richard, I’m taking it that this is your view, correct?

    The question I have is that all believers I run into like this don’t present me with clear statements of what they believe that one can evaluate as true or false. If someone says ‘the Bible isn’t literally dictated by god, but it’s written by people god inspired’ then I’ve got a bunch more fuzzy terms that create more confusion, or more things that require more layers of interpretation. To what extent it the Bible as an inspired text different from a text that wasn’t inspired (like say Thomas Pynchon’ Gravity’s Rainbow, another book nobody really understands completely, probably not even the author.) It’s just in between layers of interpretations, exegesis and other sort of criticism I start to wonder why anybody should devote this much time to the Bible and not just to any book.

  • http://rgrydns2.blogspot.ca Richard Greydanus

    Bob, of course, matters aren’t going to be settled to anyone’s satisfaction, but there comes a time in any conversation were little can be accomplished.

    smrnda, am I right to assume that the literal, fundamentalist view of the Bible is the one you prefer because it trades in simple truths, direct statements, and the like; whereas an actually literary analysis of the text troubles you because it is almost impossible to get exegetes to say anything definite? Actually, the idea of divine revelation accounts for a certain indeterminacy of meaning–that things aren’t ‘literal’, but rather metaphorical, and so forth. The claim is that the Scriptures are divine revelation; which is not the end of the matter of interpretation, but the beginning, and I am not sure their is a determinate ending to the process of interpretation.

    • Kodie

      The more it is left for humans to interpret, the more I’m sure that humans are interpreting the work of humans and not god. One way or the other, you are making excuses for god not being perfect nor perfectly clear. Why don’t I have access, and how smart do you have to be to get it, and why should I believe you know what you’re talking about, etc.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Bob, of course, matters aren’t going to be settled to anyone’s satisfaction, but there comes a time in any conversation were little can be accomplished.

      That’s true, but why imagine that we’re at that point now? I’m simply asking for a clarification of what you’re concerned about.

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