Atheists: What Would It Take to Change Your Mind?

Atheists and Christians should be open minded about new evidence“Well, Mr. Atheist Smarty Pants, you think you’re so open minded. Prove it. Show me what would convince you to change your mind.” I recently challenged Christians to consider what it would take to convince them that their religious beliefs are wrong, and now it’s the atheists’ turn.

A good article on this question is The Theist’s Guide to Converting Atheists, written by fellow Patheos blogger Adam Lee of Daylight Atheism. I’ve used it here as a starting point for my own exploration on this question.

Convincing Traits

Here’s a tentative list of what would convince me of a religion’s claims (more on the tentative nature of the list below).

  • Many occurrences that are widely accepted by the scientific establishment as miracles. And “Science can’t explain it” isn’t necessarily a miracle—it’s just something science can’t yet explain.
  • Alternatively, a single crowdsourced miracle. On one day, everyone in the world sees “Yahweh exists” spelled out in stars or pebbles or lines in the sand. Or, one night, everyone has the same dream in which a god explains his plan. If either happened just to me, the obvious explanation would be that my mind (or someone) was playing tricks on me.
  • Prophecies, but not the ones that Christians often point to. I mean real ones. I’ve discussed before the properties of a reasonable prophecy—it must be startling, precise, accurate, and so on.
  • Scientific knowledge in holy books that wasn’t available at the time. The scientific knowledge in the Bible is no more advanced than would be expected from any non-divinely inspired book of that time. There’s no e = mc2, no f = ma, no Big Bang, and no geocentric solar system. What’s really surprising is nothing to do with health: no “boil your drinking water,” no “dig latrines far from the water source,” and no recipe for soap.
  • The believers would be changed in a way unexplainable by natural causes—good things would tend to happen to them more often than for nonbelievers, problems would be resolved quicker, prayers are answered, or in some other way we would see the deity assisting his people.

Necessary Traits of a Divinely Inspired Religion

These traits aren’t evidence for a religion, but they respond to arguments against. They are traits of a religion with a real deity behind.

  • The holy book would be perfect—no errors, no ambiguities, no inconsistencies. Not much to ask from a perfect deity, right?
  • As a corollary, there would be nothing in the holy book to which believers say, “I must admit that I can’t explain that. I guess I’ll just have to ask God when I get to heaven.” I’m thinking of puzzles like why God commanded genocide or allows famines. But how can a holy book contain this kind of problem? The holy book has no purpose except to explain to people here on earth what reality is and what the rules are.
  • The religion would have no internal divisions or doctrinal conflicts. To take a Christian example, Docetism (the idea that Jesus only seemed to be a human) was put to rest only at the First Council of Nicaea in 325. Other heresies took centuries more to resolve. One could pretend that the various twists and turns taken by Christianity were divinely guided, but where is the evidence for that?
  • It would not only celebrate reason, it would provide necessary evidence and wouldn’t require faith.

I wouldn’t add to this list that the god must be praiseworthy, judged by modern moral standards. The god might encourage genocide and allow slavery, but he doesn’t necessarily have to be good (the Gnostics imagined such a creator god).

Of course, you can cobble together rationalizations for religion without these properties—a religion where faith is required, where the holy book is ambiguous, where religion is split by doctrinal controversies, and so on, but don’t expect that to be a compelling argument.

Nonstarter Traits

Here’s a short list of general religious arguments that won’t get you out of the starting gate.

  • Curious things with natural explanations like speaking in tongues or other ecstatic experiences
  • Personal conversion stories or anything else that only you experienced
  • Things that can be explained as coincidences
  • And it should go without saying that anyone should be written off if they make a prophecy that fails (for starters, I’m thinking of Harold Camping).

Revisiting the List of Convincing Arguments

Let me return to the first list. I said that it was a tentative list because of Shermer’s Last Law: “Any sufficiently advanced extraterrestrial intelligence is indistinguishable from God.” How could I distinguish alien technology a million years more advanced than our own from the supernatural actions of a god? And if the aliens identified themselves, they might portray themselves as gods to get us to react in a certain way. Who knows—they might even be intergalactic practical jokers who just want to mess with us.

Given the choice of God or aliens as explanations, the aliens are more plausible because they’re intelligent life forms with technology. We already have an example: we are intelligent life forms with technology. By contrast, we have no commonly accepted examples of a supernatural anything.

So let me admit that, to the Christian’s challenge “What would it take to get you to believe in God?” it might be that no evidence would. But anything that would provoke Shermer’s Last Law would be a heckuva lot more evidence than we’ve had to date, where Christianity fades into the general background of thousands of manmade religions.

Hypocrisy?

Let’s pull back and consider two situations: (1) the atheist given substantial evidence of God’s existence (the present slate of arguments by Christian apologists doesn’t come close to being “substantial”) and (2) the Christian given substantial evidence that their faith is incorrect (discussed in a post a few days ago). I’m saying that the atheist would be reasonable in not changing to accept the supernatural, but reason compels the Christian to change and reject the supernatural.

Is this a double standard?

I don’t think so. In each case, the natural argument wins. The atheist goes with the natural explanation (it’s aliens, it’s a trick, I’m mistaken, I’m crazy, etc.), and the Christian also goes with the natural explanation by following the evidence. Science has shown us myriad examples where a natural explanation trumps a prior supernatural explanation, so it’s reasonable to bet on the natural explanation where it exists.

Perhaps the reason that Christianity isn’t compelling to many atheists is that they have no particular motivation (besides wanting to believe true things) to see it as correct. Is wanting it to be true a requirement for Christian belief?

Any sufficiently advanced technology
is indistinguishable from magic.
— Arthur C. Clarke

Photo credit: monarxy

About Bob Seidensticker
  • http://peaceegalitarianism.blogspot.com/ Brian Bowman

    I believe in all gods, for theology is essentially teleology. That is my heresy, i.e., αἵρεσις, or choice.

    The monotheists, or “rigorists” as Jonathan Kirsch depicts them in “God Against the Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism” (Viking, 2004), really hate such a choice.

    By the way, “atheist” was a term use first against pre-Constantine Christians, as documented by Kirsch, for they did not believe in the gods.

    So what did it take me to believe in all of people’s various gods? An ancient, i.e., pre-Christian-“rigorist,” pagan ethic of tolerance.

    However, I do call myself a Christian, in the same spirit that Thomas Jefferson called himself one, whose recognition of Jesus’ ethical teachings is minus the “dunghill” of Pauline dying-rising-solar-deity salvationism.

    • Dain Q. Gore

      what are your thoughts on the theory of Paul as a Roman agent?

      • http://peaceegalitarianism.blogspot.com/ Brian Bowman

        Robert Eisenman’s Herodian theory of The Mythmaker’s political agenda is worth entertaining.

        • Dain Q. Gore

          Thanks! I am definitely going to do so!

      • RichardSRussell

        Paul is always being credited for things he didn’t do, like creating the Grand Canyon by dragging his axe behind him on a trip out west. Personally, I think it was Babe. Nobody ever suspects the ox.

        • Dain Q. Gore

          I think the Mythmaker analysis that Brian directed me to was more the speed of what I was looking for.

        • http://peaceegalitarianism.blogspot.com/ Brian Bowman

          By calling Paul “The Mythmaker,” I was referring in general to many people who realize Paul conjured Christianity with little regard to what Jesus taught, and specifically to the book “The Mythmaker” by Hyam Maccoby (who considered Paul a Pharisee.)

    • http://www.covenantcaswell.org/ John Carpenter

      Basically, then, you just believe in your own opinions. Probably not a firm foundation.

      • http://peaceegalitarianism.blogspot.com/ Brian Bowman

        Basically, then, you abdicate your own thinking to others’ opinions. Probably not a firm foundation.

  • Dain Q. Gore

    From my reading the point is one of view.

  • Dain Q. Gore

    I would assume good faith but if you wish to engage in that level of hyperbole, if they “weren’t thinking at all” they would have no motor functions and would not be able to type any readable response to the visual stimuli on-screen (unless given infinite typewriters etc.) ; at least, according to the limited evidence on biology we have before us. As for thinking “clearly” that opens up a whole different level of criteria, much more subjective in nature.

  • Dain Q. Gore

    Leap of logic. I think those ideas don’t have to be mutually exclusive, either. Sometimes it’s okay to say “I don’t know” rather than “I must know.”

    • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

      Are you saying to surrender to willful ignorance rather than to seek knowledge?

  • Dain Q. Gore

    “And what do we have but science to understand reality?”

    Personal experience (which would include empirical evidence, ie the evidence we have experienced personally) is the only thing we can have any kind of tangible trust in (that and the five senses), and even that is subjective and can lie to us, and does so constantly.

  • Dain Q. Gore

    most religions do modify when more data comes in. They start out as cults, might get to sects and may even end up as far as a denomination when a schism occurs!

    • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

      Religions do not modify their core beliefs – ever. If they did, there would be no religions.

      • Dain Q. Gore

        That’s quite an absolutist statement, and one that is not supported by history. Many of the major world religions we see today began as rejections or complete overhaul of those core beliefs in some form or another.

        • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

          That is an absolutist statement, unsupported by and links or verifiable facts. Remember, I said “core beliefs” Yes, the Catholic church did accept that the earth revolved around the sun and is accepting, mostly, of evolution. That doesn’t mean any of their core beliefs have changed, no matter what the evidence against them or lack of evidence for them.

          Other religions are no different and you have presented no proof that they are.

        • Dain Q. Gore

          It’s actually not absolutist, which is why I stated “many.” When you stated “Religion-with-a-capital-R” you made the first claim, that there were no exceptions to your rule.

          In fact, the criteria for “core beliefs” are nebulous if one refuses (or chooses not) to define what they are even supposed to be. As for religions that allegedly refuse to change these core beliefs (which have yet to be defined):

          Christianity began as an Apocalyptic Cult largely rejecting the Law, stating that it was impossible to follow.

          Buddhism began by Gautama Buddha rejecting the worldly pleasure of living in a wealthy Hindu family.

          Islam was founded by Muhammad, who is believed to be the final prophet in a lineage of Judeo-Christian prophets, but he is by far the most important in Islam.

          Bahai’i was founded by Baha’u’llah, a Muslim (which he himself claimed was a fulfillment of Babism, which began as Shaykhism, which was a “Twelver” form of Shi’a Islam).

          The Hare Krishna are essentially a Monotheist form of Hinduism.

          And when you say religion doesn’t modify, how could one explain the syncretic concept in Japan of “born Shinto, die Buddhist?”

        • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

          There are no exceptions to my statement. I specifically said that. I am sorry that you lack the wit to comprehend a simple English statement.

          Born Shinto Die Buddhist? Which one changes? The person changes, not the religion. FYI, Buddhism is not a religion. I also regret you lack the intelligence to understand that.

          You have done nothing more than demonstrate your unwillingness to change yourself and inability to understand anything.

          Have a nice life wallowing in your ignorance. Tchau!

        • Dain Q. Gore

          “You have done nothing more than demonstrate your unwillingness to change yourself and inability to understand anything.”

          I have made no such accusations to you as a person. I assumed good faith and that fact checking your statements (as you did mine) would not be met with such hostility. In fact, I looked up many of these religions as I did not know much being intellectually curious as to their origins, and if they were rebellious offshoots of a former belief system. Apparently I broke my hardwired instinct to assume at that very moment.

          “Born Shinto Die Buddhist? Which one changes? The person changes, not the religion.”

          That’s actually kind of at that the heart of what makes a religion: people. I could go on, but apparently I am too ignorant to have your ear to what I have to say.

          “FYI, Buddhism is not a religion. I also regret you lack the intelligence to understand that.”

          Buddhism is a *religion* indigenous to the Indian subcontinent that encompasses a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, who is commonly known as the Buddha, meaning “the awakened one”.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhism

          “Have a nice life wallowing in your ignorance. Tchau!”

          You cannot know my mind, as I cannot know yours.

          TL:DR: QQmuch?

        • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

          Your proof of Buddhism is a religion?

          I regret that you are determined to remain a fool and willfully ignorant. Now, please go away. I only have a small amount of time to deal with assholes. You have exceeded yours.

        • http://www.covenantcaswell.org/ John Carpenter

          I taught a class on Asian religions. I don’t ever remember anyone denying that Buddhism is a religion. Get real.

        • Dain Q. Gore

          I really don’t know where or when this hostility has presented itself. I never claimed to believe in anything other than what is in front of my face at the moment, and even that could be a lie.

        • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

          I have heard a lot of people claim Buddhism is a religion. But not one of them was a Buddhist. Most were fools like you.

        • http://www.covenantcaswell.org/ John Carpenter

          You spew insults because you don’t have any facts or reason on your side.

          Speaking at International Convention on Buddhism in Vadodara, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet said, “We cannot say that one religion is best. I am a Buddhist but I can’t say Buddhism is the best religion. It depends on a person’s perception that what is best for him.”

          So the Dalai Lama says that Buddhism is a religion.

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

          There are more flavors of Buddhism than just the Dalai Lama’s.

        • http://www.covenantcaswell.org/ John Carpenter

          Yes I know. I also know that that point is entirely irrelevant here. I also know that the kind of people who bring up totally irrelevant points are often trying to distract from the truth rather than advance it.

          That you hack into other people’s posts makes you a fraud and you should not be allowed to post here. You’re unethical.

        • Dain Q. Gore

          If you don’t think that it is, go correct the wiki and see what happens :)

        • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

          Oh yes, Wikipedia is such a reliable source of accurate information. Not quite as bad as you but bad enough.

          GO fuck yourself shit for brains

        • Guest

          *Citation needed.

        • http://www.covenantcaswell.org/ John Carpenter

          You have a lot of hostility. You may claim to be a Buddhist but you’re not. Neither am I. I’m a Christian. I believe in truth and reality.

        • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

          I never claimed to be a Buddhist. That’s a figment of your imagination.

          You’re a christian? Then any rational discourse is impossible. You are a liar, a fool, or a hypocrite. Maybe all three at once. Please go away and pretend you “won.” You’ve used up all the time ali have for fools, assholes, and idiots.

        • http://www.covenantcaswell.org/ John Carpenter

          James, get real. You claimed at least two things: (1) Buddhism is not a religion and (2) Buddhist don’t claim that Buddhism is a religion. I showed that you were wrong with a quote from the Dalai Lama. You respond with profane insults. Ignorance, bigotry and hostility make a very unpleasant combination.

        • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

          So does your obnoxious arrogance. But that’s just being a christian. I have never met a christian who was not a liar, a fool, or a hypocrite, often all three at the same time. You seem to fit the latter description.

          You seem to be too stupid to know when to STFU.

        • http://www.covenantcaswell.org/ John Carpenter

          You have some serious problems.

          You’re the one who made the ridiculous claim that Buddhism wasn’t a religion and said that Buddhists don’t say it is one. Talk about foolish. I proved your wrong. If you’re here pretending to actually know something, you’re the hypocrite and the liar.

          I don’t think you’re capable of responding in any other way than spewing profane insults.

        • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

          I don’t think you are capable of anything but typical theist arrogance.

          What is profane? Did I miss the announcement that you have been appointed to determine that for everyone? Being a smugly arrogant christian, you probably believe you can do that.

          Again, go fuck yourself. I am sick of you, asshole.

          I know as a “true believer” you have to get the last word to make yourself continue to feel superior. So have at it. I will never reply to you again. Enjoy your hell on earth of a life your religion has made for you. You’re not going to run my life, though.

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

          You have a lot of hostility.

          And you ought to know.

        • http://www.covenantcaswell.org/ John Carpenter

          I have a lot of hostility to ignorant bigots who hack into other people’s posts, boasts of their own debating victories while not actually making an intelligent point because he’s too much of a fraud to actually learn.

        • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

          KMA, asshole

        • http://www.covenantcaswell.org/ John Carpenter

          Dude, get some counselling. You have serious problems.

        • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

          My most serious problem is having to deal with moronic assholes like you. If you would just STFU, this site and the world would be a better place .

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

          James: You’d better listen to John. He knows about serious problems!

        • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

          You mean listen to a delusional religious wacko? Then I really would have problems. I would mean I would be as willfully ignorant as he is and, even worse, we’d both be wrong.

        • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

          I must confess, I will have to reconsider my position on Buddhism not being a religion.

          I just read some more about it, that does cast a new light upon it for me. It’s not nearly as benign as people would have us believe.

          http://rationalist.org.uk/4021/the-dark-side-of-buddhism

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

          Tibetan Buddhism (also practiced in Mongolia) is pretty religion-y. I’ve been to the monasteries and seen the paintings of hell.

          There are other flavors (perhaps Zen would be the extreme) which are more philosophical and with no supernatural elements.

        • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

          You want me to listen to someone that is delusional and accept his fantasies as being real? That is a serious problem.

        • Dain Q. Gore

          It seems from what I’ve seen here from my recent exchange, John certainly doesn’t have a monopoly on that quality…

        • http://www.covenantcaswell.org/ John Carpenter

          Hi Dain, Bob is upset because I blew up his assertion that the NT is legends by finding a real scholar on legends who emphatically said it doesn’t read anything like a legend. So he responds with insults. He’s also a hacker. He’s hacked into some of my posts and changed them and rigged them so I can’t edit them. He’s also likely hacked into my e-mail. He’s dangerous and should be reported to patheos.com for using their site to find victims for his hacking.

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

          Wrong again. I’ve modified your comments after you refused to act responsibly. You didn’t take the hint, so now you’re blacklisted (at least, I’ve started that process).

          Hacked your email? Stolen your identity, too, I suppose? Wow–aren’t we paranoid?

          People who can act responsibly are welcome here. People who can present a strong defense of the Christian position are especially welcome here.

          People filled with hate, however, aren’t. Bye.

        • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

          Who has ever presented a strong defense of christianity?

          The” strongest” defenses are always, “You must have faith” and “The bible is true because it says it is true.”

          Faith is accepting as true that for which there is not supporting evidence and even much evidence against it.

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

          Well, that was almost what John gave as a strong argument in response to my requests. I would say, in response to your comment however, that there are more meaty arguments—Transcendental Argument, Design Argument, Moral Argument, Fine Tuning Argument, and so on.

        • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

          I agree, but it seems all of those “arguments” no matter from what angle, come down to, “our beliefs are true because we want them to be.” I have long said that, given undeniable proof, I would change my position on anything, including religion. I have yet to hear any rational proof for any religion. It’s always, “I believe and don’t upset me with facts.” Then the usual threat, “You’re going to hell.”

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

        Religions modify their core beliefs and become new religions. The LDS church is an example. Or Christianity from Judaism.

        • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

          LDS changed its stance on polygamy when it was forced to do so. Christianity was a new religion and not a modified Judaism.

          If stubborn stupidity is a religion, then it doesn’t change either.

  • Dain Q. Gore

    I love those stories too. I did some paintings and a puppet show about the Temptations (not the musical act).

    “A myth is a story that isn’t necessarily true that speaks about the truth” ~Bart Ehrman

  • Dain Q. Gore

    In my personal view, the biggest stumbling block to the very core concept of evidence is that it doesn’t truly exist to us unless or until we’ve physically, personally experienced it. If we cannot see it, taste it etc. how does our actual physical body “know” it’s there? Our mind may make sense of it in the abstract realm, but so does God to some people, even with no evidence. That’s literally the only way we, bodily, will ever know anything is “real,” and even then those five senses lie to us all the time.

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

      I think science has left personal experience far behind. No longer do chemists taste things, like Newton did. The Large Hadron Collider, Hubble space telescope, and other big science machines have many stages of data massaging before the scientists get the data.

      • Dain Q. Gore

        I understand the evolution in method that has taken place, and that a lot of trust has to take place between all of the disciplines. That was my essential larger point.

  • Dain Q. Gore

    Is the universe inherently logical, or is that a construct? After all, we as a species hate randomness.

    • TheNuszAbides

      are you talking about uncertainty? that’s more cultural than biological.

      • Dain Q. Gore

        Well, we even have uncertainty in our interpretation of maths and the sciences when it comes to the inherent limits of measuring, so yes, in that regard it is cultural and not biologically innate. Pure, “perfect” science also exists outside of our complete understanding of it. Given this, do you think we could ever go beyond the limits of a cultural uncertainty?

        • TheNuszAbides

          great question; i can’t even think of who my first ‘go-to’ would be to approximate a prediction. with particular regard to large educational systems, i have a hard time being confident that [e.g.] rigorous critical thinking can be ‘pushed’ on a national scale, let alone global. since reading a pile of john taylor gatto and other ‘unschoolers’ i have wanted to build a more comprehensive picture of the history of standardized education.
          i’d like to think that at least groups on the scale of Dunbar’s Number can go beyond such limits at least at the thought-experiment level, but i don’t know what to think about how much larger and larger groups of us can keep irrationality-in-general in check without potentially creepy/corruptible impositions.

  • Dain Q. Gore

    I think that speaks to the Trilemma…

  • Dain Q. Gore

    “my God….it’s full of stars…!”

  • Dain Q. Gore

    OT: That huckster story you posited.

    NT: Forget about that huckster story you posited. It’s an impossible standard. Forgive everyone and love one another.(at least until Paul shows up…)

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

      “Forgive everyone and love one another”? That’s the message of the NT? I always thought there was more to it than that.

      • Dain Q. Gore

        Not really, unless you want there to be, especially if you add Paul to the mix.

        I would say the same of Richard’s (Edit) huckster scenario (not even counting Midrash hermeneutics of course), but I guess we’ll only fixate on one bouillon cube at a time.

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

          I posited no such story–I imagine you’re thinking of Richard.
          As for forgive+love as the message, I can imagine Rob Bell distilling the NT down to this, but other stuff–how to get to heaven, how to roast in hell forever, that sort of thing–are relevant to many theologians.

        • Dain Q. Gore

          Sorry Bob! I assumed, and I know that’s definitely bad when debating things :) I did mean Richard, simply because I distilled his story right above his post!

          Not familiar with Rob Bell, I will look into him. Indeed, I could see those other issues relevant to many other theologians especially if they are infatuated with the afterlife such as the pre- millennial /post-millenial, apocalyptic-prophetic crowd.

          As far as I’m concerned I’d be fine at this point just making a Red-Letter Bible and just use Jesus’ words as my “Gospel.” I’m just about at the point of thinking this afterlife thing will work out (however it does ) despite what little old me is up to.

          I have issues with John of Patmos anyway–he was uppity about Intellectual Property, although he makes for great inspiration for paintings! As for Paul, yeah that’s a whole other can of worms…

  • Dain Q. Gore

    I’m not sure calling–or even implying–someone nuts has any modicum of respect in it.

    Evidence. Yet we cannot actually, physically experience everything you described with all five senses, in such minute detail that we can see, touch, etc, every molecule, and everything that makes up what makes up those molecules…and so on.

    It eventually becomes a matter of trust that the evidence–indeed, of what we are all made of– is verifiable up until the point we can actually, physically experience it. Until then, to our minds it may be as clear as day (and those who do not assume exaclty the same are “nuts”), but it’s as much an abstraction, an idea to our physical bodies as any other clever idea, just with more people saying it’s so because of Science rather than because it’s Just So.

    • RichardSRussell

      “I’m not sure calling … someone nuts has any modicum of respect in it.”

      As noted in the original, it has all the respect that’s due for the nihilistic notion that matter and energy don’t really exist … or last for very long if they do.

      • Dain Q. Gore

        Nice save!

        • TheNuszAbides

          ‘all due respect’ isn’t just a buzzphrase for some folks. see also “due process”, “cruel and unusual punishment”, et al.

  • Dain Q. Gore

    The idea of resonation especially “rang true” with me, as I was just reading that the Jewish interpretation of Torah is that it is intended to be vague (they used the phrase “Innate Ambiguity” on the site).

  • Dain Q. Gore

    I’m surprised you didn’t just cite “No True Scotsman” and leave it at that :)

  • Dain Q. Gore

    “We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised.” (KJV).

    I Corinthians 4:10

    • TheNuszAbides

      yep, there’s nothing quite so ‘compelling’ as 1st-century psychology.

      • Dain Q. Gore

        *Philosophy (which is precisely why it’s open to interpretation).

        • TheNuszAbides

          i briefly considered “psychophilosophy” but it didn’t feel right.

  • Dain Q. Gore

    A best friend of mine has experienced 2a.

  • Dain Q. Gore

    I like the term “Cosmic Bellhop.” I believe it came from Mircea Eliade, or at least, one of his followers.

  • Dain Q. Gore

    and none of those promises come with specifics,and are therefore open to interpretation, just as in most myths.

  • Dain Q. Gore

    I’m told that proof about molecules is all around me, yet I have yet to see a single one, taste one, touch one, or smell one or hear one, thereby experientially “knowing”–unassisted, with just my unaugmented body–of its individual existence.

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

      I can’t imagine that you’re saying that sensing information is the only way you ever trust something–the earth goes around the sun, matter is made of atoms, Mongolia exists, and so on.

      • Dain Q. Gore

        I never said it was the only way we can trust something, it is the only way we can actually know it is “real.” The rest—inevitably–is a matter of trust, yes, absolutely!

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

          As you’ve made clear, this way of knowing that something is “real” isn’t much to write home about. “X is the scientific consensus” is IMO a more reliable statement than “I know X is true because I experienced it myself.”

        • Dain Q. Gore

          I’m not sure that it is more reliable, especially when using time as a critical factor. Consensus is not definitive, and changes all the time.

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

          The consensus does indeed change, but it’s about the best we’ve got.

          It was you, wasn’t it, that talked about how fallible the human brain is? Pareidolia, cognitive biases, illusions, mental illness, even low blood sugar, mean that our brains give us a pretty unreliable report about reality.

        • Dain Q. Gore

          I don’t think I did specifically talk about how the brain works (except for construction of abstract thought), but I concur 100% with that. Even the five senses, which is all we really, concretely, definitively have, fail us all the time. I’m especially fond of Pareidolia for artistic reasons, and lately have been noticing more and more instances of Confirmation Bias in nearly every facet of what’s passes for debate these days, present company excepted.

  • Dain Q. Gore

    I’m not so sure that Craig necessarily feels so obligated since his business is apologetics and not necessarily straight-up evangelical-level conversion.

    However, I’m glad that you acknowledge he’s an earnest scholar, since many in his field are not that polite due to the conclusions to which he’s personally arrived.

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

      I think very little of WLC and his apologetics arguments.

      • Dain Q. Gore

        And yet you seem to assume his goal is to convert. Have you read his mission statement?

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

          Not that I remember. Should I?

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

          And as for WLC’s goal, I’m certain that it’s to convert. I’ve heard several of his lectures where he uses valuable time during debates to make a personal appeal that people accept Jesus.

        • Dain Q. Gore

          You’re certain, but you haven’t actually read it?

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

          Already made clear that I haven’t; still waiting with barely contained impatience for you to tell me what it is.

  • Dain Q. Gore

    I loved that episode!I thought it was Tales from the Darkside.

  • http://scienceandotherdrugs.wordpress.com/ physicsandwhiskey

    Hmm. A lot of these are really good points, but I think there’s a more important question: what historical or archeological discoveries could convince you that the resurrection actually happened?

    Otherwise, there are just a few particular points worth addressing….

    The concept of including scientific knowledge is problematic for several reasons. In order to qualify, the piece of knowledge would need to be sufficiently precise to rule out a lucky guess. But in order to accomplish such a level of precision, the revelation would pretty much have to be accessible only to modern audiences (for example, “The power contained in a measure of substance shall be found to be the same as the measure of that substance combined successively with the haste of that which is seen and again with the haste of that which is seen” for e=mc2). One would then have to wonder why the “proof” was only accessible to people who lived after Einstein, but no one else.

    Moreover, ancient people would have little reason to record such information if they had no way of conceptualizing or understanding it. This isn’t a problem for the “Bible was dictation from heaven” fundamentalists, but it IS wildly inconsistent with the more progressive view that God employed the myths and writings of men to reveal himself.

    If the information WAS accessible to ancient people, then it would be impossible to know whether the information was truly revealed or simply developed and was attributed to revelation, which leaves us right back where we started.

    Among the “necessary traits” group:

    “No errors, no ambiguities, no inconsistencies.” Well, fair enough, I suppose, particularly against the backdrop of American fundamentalism. But this rules out the possibility that a deity would reveal itself from within a culture (as opposed to revealing itself from outside of the culture), employing existing myth to reinvent and realign beliefs and practices. Any particular reason why this would not be possible?

    “The religion would have no internal divisions or doctrinal conflicts.” How large of a division would be considered a defeater? Surely there is no contradiction in one single individual breaking off and creating a new religion to suit his own ends. Is it merely required that original orthodoxy maintain a majority?

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

      PW:

      what historical or archeological discoveries could convince you that the resurrection actually happened?

      None come to mind. Feel free to offer some.

      One would then have to wonder why the “proof” was only accessible to people who lived after Einstein, but no one else.

      Because God is eager to have humans come to believe him? Or is this a trick question?

      Moreover, ancient people would have little reason to record such information if they had no way of conceptualizing or understanding it.

      There’s plenty of boring information in the Bible. Adding two more chapters isn’t much of a burden.

      the more progressive view that God employed the myths and writings of men to reveal himself.

      Nice—God condoned the slavery and genocide with gritted teeth because he knew that that was simply the culture of the time. That’s a strained reading of the OT, but perhaps that’s your point here.

      Unfortunately, having God hide himself behind Sumerian and Babylonian myths of creation, flood, and so on makes the Bible look like just another ancient book of nonscientific nonsense. It’s hard to imagine why that would fit with God’s divine plan.

      If the information WAS accessible to ancient people, then it would be impossible to know whether the information was truly revealed or simply developed and was attributed to revelation, which leaves us right back where we started.

      And yet the Bible looks precisely like the blog of a desert people from 3000 years ago—hardly anything worth believing.

      Why having something really cool in the Bible would be a bad thing, I just don’t get.

      a deity would reveal itself from within a culture (as opposed to revealing itself from outside of the culture), employing existing myth to reinvent and realign beliefs and practices. Any particular reason why this would not be possible?

      Of course it’s possible, but why believe the resulting religion?

      You’re saying that God, the divine trickster, could’ve made plain his divine nature but choose not to to make his people’s holy book look indistinguishable from all the other ANE holy books. Sorry—I’m missing why that’s a fabulous idea.

      How large of a division would be considered a defeater?

      Sounds like no possible division would be a defeater for you!

  • Virginia

    Since I was booted off this blog, why was I spammed with 30 posts on Tuesday from your blog all from you and Gore? I read one, that was enough.

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

      You mean blacklisted? No, I didn’t blacklist you. I can’t remember anything remotely annoying about you (am I forgetting something?!) What problems are you having that would send you to that conclusion?

      There has been some activity on some posts (perhaps this is one of them–I forget), so you might’ve seen a flurry of comments.

  • billwald

    >The concept of including scientific knowledge is problematic for several reasons.

    Glad that someone else in the US has noticed. There is nothing “scientific” about the topic of history. History is an art, not a science. No one earns a B.S. in history.

    The use of an orderly approach and expensive technical instruments does not turn an art into a science. “If a conclusion can’t be disproved, then neither can it be proven.”

  • JackKnifeJake

    Nothing. Because Even If an supreme being Did Exist i wouldn’t worship Him or Her. Because He or She Obviously doesn’t Give a shit about us Even if He or She Did Exist. Just Watch the News sometime or go to a Poor Community Or Country and See Just see how much God loves his children. And also I do not care for the Master/Slave Relationship.

    • RichardSRussell

      “Even If an supreme being Did Exist i wouldn’t worship Him or Her.”

      Exactly!

      The whole idea of “worship” just creeps me out, anyway. How self-loathing do you have to be to think that that’s a decent use of a human mind?

      I mean, we made fun of Toni Basil’s one-hit wonder “Oh, Mickey, you’re so fine. You’re so fine, you blow my mind.”, but Christians think we should actually live it every day of our lives. Ick. Get some self-respect.

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

        Aha! You’re just too proud to bend the knee.

        Or something.

        • Dain Q. Gore

          It’s not so hard. We’re doing it right now, with our technology and other such distractions.

  • billwald

    But what if the good guys really did get their pie in the sky, by and by?

    • RichardSRussell

      Speaking as one of the good guys (and a dedicated science-fiction fan): “The meek shall inherit the Earth. The rest of us are going to the stars.”

      • Dain Q. Gore

        I’m going for the h+ “Plan B” afterlife, just in case. Call it Huxley’s Wager.

    • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

      Then we should accept Pascal’s wager and at least pretend to believe, “Just in case?” That assumes any deity is so moronic that he would be fooled by and as accepting of pretend belief as of true believers. Any god that stupid is no god. I would prefer one that placed the decency of a life above any beliefs.

  • Rebecca Horne

    What would convince me that a god exists: it shows up, in some measurable way, and demonstrates that it is not a product of evolution. I don’t know how such a thing could be proved, though. Maybe a genome (or equivalent) in which every single gene can be demonstrated to have a positive and measurable effect, with no “junk” genes?
    Anything based on circumstantial evidence (miracles) are subject to the problem of aliens using technology so advanced (or at least so foreign) that it is indistinguishable from magic.

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

      Interesting idea. I’m still stuck on aliens who were a million years more advanced than us (or a billion) being so far ahead of us that our analysis would be pretty ineffective.

      • TheNuszAbides

        what if they somehow lacked (or had a notably different degree of) the human proclivities for competition? cooperation? control? pattern-seeking? collectivism, individualism, etc.
        or to us, as yet, unimaginably different conceptions of consciousness? causality? etc.
        speculating as to their traits can of course be endlessly fun, but if we’re bothering to speculate/postulate at all in this direction, i think it could use a hefty dose of ‘check-your-anthropomorphism’.

  • Danel Maloy

    Who cares? Anybody debating creationism clearly doesn’t understand how much can happen in 3.7 billion years. Just for you, here’s 3.7 billion year in an easy-to-understand-format. 7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +7414829 years +

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And keep in mind that 7 million years is also a really long time.

  • Danel Maloy

    That’s not even remotely fucking true. Kill yourself.

  • http://www.thisweekinstupid.com thisweekinstupid

    Why does knowledge have to be objective? That seems like an imposed constraint. If there’s a truth that you know but cannot demonstrate to me, is it still true? I understand scepticism of all things subjective, but we have to live in the world we’re given, not the one we wish to live in. And our world has lots of subjective, but nonetheless veritable, knowledge. It takes courage to live without certainty. Cowardice insists on passively absorbing demonstrated truth, but faith requires that you get your hands dirty. John 7:17

    I wish you’d write about what would convince *you* there is a God.

    • Greg G.

      I wish you’d write about what would convince *you* there is a God.

      Why? Doesn’t God know already?

      Objective truth is true even if nobody believes it. Our subjective knowledge may or may not align with objective truth. The best way to get your subjective knowledge to align with objective truth is to carefully examine evidence. If you believe things on insufficient evidence, you will not only be wrong more often than you are right, you will be more wrong and further from the objective truth.

      • http://www.thisweekinstupid.com thisweekinstupid

        I’m not devaluing truth got via the scientific method, only challenging the notion that it’s the *only* way to discover truth. Objective knowledge is great, but in limited supply. Most of the decisions you make every day, you make on the basis of knowledge a lot less objectively demonstrated than the signs and wonders described here.

        • Greg G.

          Signs and wonders? Do you mean the ones they attributed to God in the old days like blowing wind and lightning or modern signs and wonders like a healing miracle after two weeks in the hospital or finding lost car keys?

        • Kodie

          Most of the decisions you make every day, you make on the basis of knowledge a lot less objectively demonstrated than the signs and wonders described here.

          And a lot of those decisions turn out to be the wrong one.

        • Dain Q. Gore

          Walking out of our houses on Mondays being chief among them. H/T Garfield.

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

      This post would be my first pass at answering that question.

      Beyond that, we have the problem of distinguishing a God from a deceptive, very advanced alien. Any thoughts on getting past that?

      • http://www.thisweekinstupid.com thisweekinstupid

        Interesting. I regard the question of the _nature_ of God as a secondary question.

        I feel like you’re not challenging the dogma that all truth must be got through controlled experiments. That idea is called positivism and was championed by Comte and others. But was he right?

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

          But in the problem that’s blocking me, the nature of the thing is precisely the issue. Is it a natural alien or a supernatural god? Two very different things that would look indistinguishable to our primitive brains.

        • Dain Q. Gore

          If we can’t process something with our human filters, does it exist? Until a tool can make up for our deficiencies in detecting it, ostensibly the answer is “no.”

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

          I’m talking about 2 things you can definitely detect (god and alien) but simply can’t distinguish between. If a far-advanced alien said he was God, how could we tell he wasn’t?

        • Dain Q. Gore

          I think there wouldn’t be any way, given our current state as humans. DeGrasse Tyson theorized that a species that was 1% smarter than us would look at us as chimpanzees that were 1% smarter, and we would view them as gods or certainly godlike.

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

          Good point. Just think of us vs. people from 200 years ago.

        • Pofarmer

          That’s kind of a “You can’t know what you can’t know” scenario.

    • adam

      Re John 7:17

  • MR

    Oooh…, scary. I have a dream word, too. I wonder if they are the same. Are you my God, Kodie?

    • Kodie

      When I get my PO Box, I will tell you where to send the money. Until then, probably not.

    • Pofarmer

      Take me to church.

  • http://thephyseter.wordpress.com The_Physeter

    Christians today use words when they try to argue that god exists.

    In the Bible, Christians simply did miracles to prove their point. (See numerous examples.)

    If I want you to believe my iPad is real, I’m not going to talk about it. I’m going to turn the damn thing on and let you watch me use facetime or something.

  • TheNuszAbides

    fun to contemplate, but seriously, if it went down like that i would probably assume i was dreaming.

  • TheNuszAbides

    i don’t see why even that would ‘do the trick’ unless the solution explicitly ‘transcended math’ or some other profound + replicable insight; otherwise, it’s just a new height/depth of intelligence that doesn’t require/merit supernatural excuses.

  • TheNuszAbides

    and once that’s answered, the next question is why that answer wasn’t clearly given from “day one” (by whatever bizarre interpretation one defines days prehistorically/theologically)…

  • TheNuszAbides

    and absolutely none of those other views gives “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it” wiggle room.

  • TheNuszAbides

    I’d need to literally witness heaven or hell (either one will do, I could take the other on faith).

    was in total agreement with you until this point (possible sarcasm aside)… a heaven (a) against which Lucifer could rebel, and (b) from which he [and followers] could be cast out, definitively means it is a place where inhabitants can Do The Wrong Thing (regardless of rationale); therefore (if a rebellion in heaven is such a significant/threatening/etc. possibility) it could be in heaven’s best interest (or some kind of interest) to totally fabricate another ‘place’ where The Fallen One(s) are in control (whether or not this is all ultimately planned/controlled by Bog), when the reality (in this context) could be that either you win the prize of eternal life in happyville, or you cease to exist, are recycled/reincarnated/etc. … since there are plenty of alternative excuses to not care what happens if you are either disqualified from heaven or uninterested in the picture that’s painted of it – someone rooting for more folks to get into heaven is going to decide it’s better to instill fears as early as possible that there is even MORE at stake, i.e. an eternity of whatever they imagine is the worst/opposite of heaven…

  • TheNuszAbides

    Clearly, one of these characters is lying

    why not both? but this whole trajectory is a waste of effort, because “you will die” is easily dismissed as ‘true enough’ if the alternative – not eating the fruit – would mean eternal life i.e. never dying at all, as opposed to being condemned to mortality because The Fall.

  • TheNuszAbides

    “But the person within this scenario would still have to work with the information they have and come up with the best available explanation.”

    not encouraging if advanced technology that takes advantage of the brain’s limitations as to [e.g.] suggestibility is brought to bear…

  • TheNuszAbides

    i especially love that he was (however momentarily) willing to entertain the concept that There Is Only One Electron…

  • TheNuszAbides

    what’s an example of Bacchus belonging to that list of “believe in internal truths without the conversion to religion”?


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