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Separating Fact From Fiction: How Does Christianity Fare?

when you throw your net into a sea of truth, what do you get? do you get Christianity?How do you separate fact from fiction? What procedure do you go through when confronted with a truth claim? This procedure should be practical rather than cumbersome, and it must be objective and fair rather than being biased toward a particular worldview. The goal should be finding the truth, not supporting a predefined conclusion.

I’ll go first. I only have two principles.

  • Accept the scientific and historical consensus, where there is one. In fields where there’s a high barrier to entry (becoming a physicist, for example), a layman is unqualified to evaluate evidence in that field and must rely on experts. That doesn’t mean that the experts are right, but the consensus is the best provisional approximation of the truth that we have at the moment.
  • Use the Principle of Analogy. This is the common-sense observation that we have much experience already with things that really exist (rocks, planets) and things that don’t (unicorns, legends). Let’s use this experience to find the best fit for any new claims. (I discussed the Principle of Analogy in detail here.)

Let’s take this procedure for a test drive with 15 categories of claims. (As we go through these, see what your procedure would make of them.)

Mythical animals such as unicorns, fairies, and leprechauns: fiction. Science tells us that these don’t exist and that there is no precedent for the magical powers attributed to some of these animals.

Animal surprises like the coelacanth, gorilla, Komodo dragon, and okapi: fact. Conclusive evidence for these animals was discovered only in the twentieth century.

Cryptozoological claims such as the Loch Ness Monster, Yeti, and Bigfoot: fiction. Science says that the arguments for these animals are insufficient. However, since these are (typically) claimed to have no special powers, there is a chance that evidence simply hasn’t been found. Science has been surprised before by new animals.

Curious life forms like the giraffe, blue whale, bacteria, volcanic vent life, and carnivorous plants: fact. Science tells us that they exist, even if we haven’t seen any personally.

Mythology like the Iliad, Gilgamesh, and Beowulf: fiction. Myths are sacred narratives that explain some aspect of reality (for example, the myth of Prometheus explains why we have fire and the Genesis creation myth explains where everything came from). History notes many examples of supernatural tales like these for which there is no evidence.

Legends like Merlin, Lady Godiva, and the Choking Doberman urban legend: fiction. Though they can include miracles, legends are otherwise plausible events that (unlike myths) are grounded in history. History tells us that there is insufficient evidence.

History like Alexander the Great, Hannibal, and Julius Caesar: fact. These generals won some remarkable battles. Though supernatural stories arose around these men (not surprising in a pre-scientific culture), history rejects the supernatural elements.

Fiction like The Wizard of Oz and Harry Potter: fiction (obviously). Most are clearly labeled as fiction, though the label is occasional lost or ignored—Orson Welles’ Halloween, 1938 War of the Worlds radiocast is a famous example.

Individual claims of supernatural events like miracles, ghosts, and demonic possession: fiction. Though these are widespread and customized to each culture, history and science reject these for lack of evidence.

Individual claims of extraterrestrials like seeing a UFO or an alien encounters: fiction. Like claims for cryptids, these don’t rely on the supernatural, but science has insufficient evidence to conclude that they exist, particularly when other explanations (hoaxes, misidentification, etc.) are available. “But no one has debunked case X!” may be true but is hardly proof of an alien claim.

Pseudoscience like ESP; telepathy; Ouija boards; Nostradamus, Edgar Cayce, and other predictors of the future; and speaking to the dead: fiction. Insufficient evidence.

Fringe medicine like homeopathy, crystals, and Kinoki foot pads: fiction. With the stakes so high, fringe medical claims are common, whether by charlatans or people who honestly think they’ve found a new cure. But when alternative medicine provides the evidence that it works, it’s simply called “medicine.”

Science like black holes, undersea volcanoes, planets around distant stars, quantum physics, and the Big Bang: fact. Science has a remarkable track record, though, as stated above, its claims are provisional.

Conspiracy theories like the moon hoax or 9/11 as an inside job: fiction. Some conspiracies are accurate history, but many, like these examples, do not have the evidence.

Books from the other guy’s religion like Hinduism, Buddhism, Scientology, Christian Science, and Mormonism: fiction. Historians discard the supernatural. That supernatural claims were made is often history, of course, but not that the claims are accurate.

That’s 15 categories, some of which are fact and some fiction. What are your criteria for separating fact from fiction, and what do they make of these examples?

The challenge for the Christian is to have an objective list with no “except for my religion” caveats. When Christians throw their net of truth into the water, a winnowing procedure that’s fine-meshed will pull up Christianity but also a lot of other religions. A procedure that’s coarser (like mine) will reject all religions.

What objective procedure can Christians have that will show Christianity as the only valid religion? I can imagine none.

Very few established institutions, governments and constitutions …
are ever destroyed by their enemies
until they have been corrupted and weakened
by their friends.
— Walter Lippman

Photo credit: Hasin Hayder

About Bob Seidensticker
  • ctcss

    “Accept the scientific and historical consensus, where there is one.”

    I’m not sure how this point would be useful in evaluating a religion, given that religion is usually something that focuses on God. It is a well accepted fact that the scientific method cannot be used to test for the existence of something like God. (In other words, the existence of God cannot be proven or dis-proven using science. Science actually has nothing to say about the matter.) And without some sort of accepted proof of existence, how would a historical consensus be established regarding God’s existence? You could establish the historical existence of a religion, and maybe even document its historical texts and practices but not much else. For this particular point, it sounds like you have a tool that does not fit, so why bother even referencing it? Would you use a screwdriver to saw a board?

    “Use the Principle of Analogy. This is the common-sense observation that we have much experience already with things that really exist”

    And suppose that God is something that is not commonly observed or experienced as someone might observe or experience a sunset or a blade of grass? If that is the case (and I certainly believe it to be so), then this tool also seems badly chosen for this purpose.

    Basically, all you seem to be doing here is congratulating yourself for choosing to use tools that will never be useful in discerning God who, at least as I was taught, is completely non-material in nature. For me, the more appropriate tools to use are experience, reason, faith (which I consider to be a form of reasoned trust), and revelation. I’m comfortable using these tools in pursuing my path towards (what I believe to be) God. Not everyone is, obviously.

    But insofar as what you are describing in most of your other examples, I would probably use the same methodologies you are using. But most of them are either everyday in scope (i.e. material, everyday sorts of things), or are described as material things that do not seem to exist in everyday ways (but that are still described as material and visible in some way) that would simply require more proof as to their existence.

    However, I don’t know why you included the example of “Books from the other guy’s religion”. How would one know what to think of the other person’s religion if one had not made a great deal of effort to study it and to live it? It strikes me that only after studying it and pursuing it could one make a useful and fair decision. (In other words, writing them off as fiction right from the get go without any other kind of information about them, but simply because they are religions that one does not follow, is not a valid methodology IMO.)

    “What objective procedure can Christians have that will show Christianity as the only valid religion?”

    I certainly would not be so arrogant as to make such a claim, since I don’t think I understand all that there is to know about my own religion, much less other people’s religions. But religions are understandings about God couched in humanly understandable terms. Thus, if a religion (a theology) is meant to describe God and that which is of God, the only truly valid knower of all such things is God Himself. So the closer that a person draws to God, the more likely it is that they will more accurately discern God. In my case, I actually do think that what I have been taught is accurate regarding God (or at least as accurate or more accurate than other religions), otherwise why would I bother trying to follow it? However, I won’t truly know how accurate it is for certain until I grow close enough to God to find out more. (In other words, I am willing to accept that I could be wrong.)

    • Bob Seidensticker

      ctcss:

      I’m not sure how this point would be useful in evaluating a religion, given that religion is usually something that focuses on God.

      Sometimes proponents of pseudoscience say the same thing–conventional science just doesn’t get it or has false presuppositions or whatever. I’m not too sympathetic because, as this post tried to show, this algorithm does a pretty decent job of winnowing truth from fiction.

      It is a well accepted fact that the scientific method cannot be used to test for the existence of something like God.

      It can’t be used to test for something that remains outside the natural world. This certainly isn’t the Christian god–he enters our world all the time.

      And without some sort of accepted proof of existence, how would a historical consensus be established regarding God’s existence?

      Do we have much difficulty wrestling with whether Poseidon or Quetzalcoatl exist?

      And suppose that God is something that is not commonly observed or experienced as someone might observe or experience a sunset or a blade of grass?

      What is experiencing God like then? If it’s like how we imagine meaning in coincidence or see patterns in clouds, then I see no problem.

      Basically, all you seem to be doing here is congratulating yourself for choosing to use tools that will never be useful in discerning God who, at least as I was taught, is completely non-material in nature.

      Were you taught that God never enters our world? This deist god is not what Christianity claims.

      I congratulate myself for having a simple and unbiased test for truth that, when tested against things that we pretty much agree are true or false, tells us what we expect. Now that it seems reliable, let’s try it out on religion.

      the more appropriate tools to use are experience, reason…

      Principle of Analogy

      faith (which I consider to be a form of reasoned trust), and revelation.

      And when the Shintoist or Hindu tries out your algorithm he says, “Yep! I agree. Works great. It tells me that I’m right on the money.”

      Does this give one pause for using your algorithm?

      But insofar as what you are describing in most of your other examples, I would probably use the same methodologies you are using.

      Why change it up? You use my algorithm for day-to-day stuff but have a special one so that you can preserve your religious presuppositions?

      That’s probably not how you see it, but that’s how it looks to me.

      How would one know what to think of the other person’s religion if one had not made a great deal of effort to study it and to live it?

      I show you a book about Scientology or Mormonism (let’s imagine that they’re religions you’ve never heard about before) and give you an honest 5-minute summary. You’re saying, “Well, I dunno. These religions could be completely accurate. To be fair, I need to do much study to properly evaluate them.”

      Is that right?

      writing them off as fiction right from the get go

      I don’t know that the Loch Ness monster doesn’t exist. However, there’s a well-populated bin of fanciful tales for Nessie.

      Similarly, I don’t know that any particular religion is false. However, it’s easy for me to make a tentative guess that it’s just like all the others.

      the only truly valid knower of all such things is God Himself.

      This begs the question. We don’t know that God exists yet.

    • OverlappingMagisteria

      So the closer that a person draws to God, the more likely it is that they will more accurately discern God.

      This seems to be a very interseting statment. I presume that you would agree that a Catholic bishop, Baptist preacher, Hindu guru, Buddhist monk, Muslim imam, Shinto priest, Mormon president, Wiccan priestess are all drawing themselves close to god, closer than most people. Yet they all have drastically differing views on what god is, many times even more drastic than the lay-person. If drawing yourself closer to god allows you to more accurately discern god, then shouldn’t spiritual leaders be coming to a consensus instead of diverging?
      To me it seems that “drawing yourself closer to god” by steeping yourself more deeply in religious ritual and tradition does a great job at reinforcing previously held conceptions, whether they are true or not. This is not a pathway to truth.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      It is a well accepted fact that the scientific method cannot be used to test for the existence of something like God. (In other words, the existence of God cannot be proven or dis-proven using science. Science actually has nothing to say about the matter.)

      Nonsense. It is an oft-repeated dodge, but there is no factuality to it.
      First: define “God.” The God most people think of interacts with the physical world, and therefore can be tested. See for example the large set of experiments on whether intercessory prayer can improve medical outcomes. Many people believe that it does, and this can and has been tested (the answer is no.) The only gods who cannot be tested are those who are distant, inaccessible, an irrelevant.

      • Kodie

        Sort of aside, but can someone explain to me how a supposed undetectable god who doesn’t interact with our world could have created it in the first place? I mean, if this is a kind of god we could imagine, not only how would it matter, but how would it even be plausible? If he can’t interact now, he couldn’t ever have, so doesn’t exist. Unless he’s dead or on vacation and perfectly capable but unreasonable to even bother believing in.

    • Kodie

      Basically, all you seem to be doing here is congratulating yourself for choosing to use tools that will never be useful in discerning God who, at least as I was taught, is completely non-material in nature. For me, the more appropriate tools to use are experience, reason, faith (which I consider to be a form of reasoned trust), and revelation. I’m comfortable using these tools in pursuing my path towards (what I believe to be) God. Not everyone is, obviously.

      God is non-material in nature, as are all imaginations. Maybe you have some idea like god is an abstract concept, like an institution. But institutions are inanimate and do not interact with people. They are constructs of our humanity. Or something like “death” – death is real but it’s not a physical thing. It can be represented or demonstrated by physical things, but it can’t be seen or touched as much as it can be talked about or wondered about or an inevitable fact that somehow manages to interact with humans. It doesn’t come for us though, it’s not thinking dearly of us and waiting for us or causing anything to delay or hasten itself or its meeting with us.

      How do you particularly discern a “real” thing that is not material and yet also has interactions that you can detect, and also a particular concern for you and other people?

      Also, are you comfortable knowing that people using the same tools as you do have divergent conclusions? It is not the tools you use that gets you closer to anything real. You seem to think there is a non-material part of you that accesses this non-material thing, but that non-material part of you also interacts materially with your brain and tells you what you should think and do. Or have I misunderstood you? What you try to explain as intellectually as you possibly can comes across as wishful thinking on your part. You have yet to get across the wide gap between how you perceive what you perceive and how that has anything to do with detecting reality. Patterns are sometimes illusions, and humans have this great affinity for taking coincidences personally; we have to be very careful not to become trapped in a figment of our favorite imaginations. You’re explaining that if we just ignore all that, we can get in touch with supernatural beings because that’s what you have done and you’re pretty certain it’s all real. Talking to religious people who bring all this stuff up is always difficult because you think you’re making more sense than you are. There’s still a large gap from over here to where you are.

  • ctcss

    @Bob

    “Sometimes proponents of pseudoscience say the same thing–conventional science just doesn’t get it or has false presuppositions or whatever. I’m not too sympathetic because, as this post tried to show, this algorithm does a pretty decent job of winnowing truth from fiction.”

    However, pseudo science usually is focused on material things or properties, even if not currently discerned or discernable, similar (they probably think) to what radio waves might have been considered to be before they were discovered. I’m not really into claims about materialism when I think about God, however.

    “It can’t be used to test for something that remains outside the natural world. This certainly isn’t the Christian god–he enters our world all the time.”

    Actually, I would be more inclined to say that we “enter” (occasionally and briefly become aware of) God’s world (God’s view of reality).

    “Do we have much difficulty wrestling with whether Poseidon or Quetzalcoatl exist?”

    No, but they are described as physical (although powerful) beings with shapes and colors and locations. And the absence of such physical presences (because they have been described as being physical) is reason to question their existence.

    “What is experiencing God like then? If it’s like how we imagine meaning in coincidence or see patterns in clouds, then I see no problem.”

    Ah, but how to document one’s perception. Moses saw a bush that burned but was not consumed. The description shows why he became intrigued. But was he actually seeing a real bush, or was he experiencing the disorienting experience of discerning something other than the material and everyday, and trying to find words to describe it?

    “Were you taught that God never enters our world? This deist god is not what Christianity claims.”

    Actually, no. (See above.)

    “I congratulate myself for having a simple and unbiased test for truth that, when tested against things that we pretty much agree are true or false, tells us what we expect. Now that it seems reliable, let’s try it out on religion.”

    No, we pretty much agree that your methods are being used to test for matter-based things.

    “Principle of Analogy”

    See, we do share some similar processes!

    “And when the Shintoist or Hindu tries out your algorithm he says, “Yep! I agree. Works great. It tells me that I’m right on the money.”

    Does this give one pause for using your algorithm?”

    Actually, it’s not an algorithm, just some tools that I feel are more appropriate. And no, to me it just says that their focus is on the divine. I’m OK with them perceiving something other than the physical. Since humans are still seeing through a glass darkly, I can grant them some respect for attempting to do so, just as I assume that they will grant me some respect for attempting to do so. If God exists, I expect we will all eventually be on the same page, even you.

    “Why change it up? You use my algorithm for day-to-day stuff but have a special one so that you can preserve your religious presuppositions?

    That’s probably not how you see it, but that’s how it looks to me.”

    I’m not trying to necessarily trying to preserve my presuppositions. I am, however, trying to explore an area of thought and existence (God and God’s kingdom) that you personally don’t find to be very interesting.

    “I show you a book about Scientology or Mormonism (let’s imagine that they’re religions you’ve never heard about before) and give you an honest 5-minute summary. You’re saying, “Well, I dunno. These religions could be completely accurate. To be fair, I need to do much study to properly evaluate them.”

    Is that right?”

    A lot would depend on whether or not I could trust you as being unbiased. I’d like to verify what you were saying, as well as answering any further questions of my own before I would jump to any conclusions.

    “I don’t know that the Loch Ness monster doesn’t exist. However, there’s a well-populated bin of fanciful tales for Nessie.”

    But my point was about rejecting “other” religions just because they weren’t my religion. That manner of rejection strikes me as simply being prejudiced, not researched and reasoned.

    “Similarly, I don’t know that any particular religion is false. However, it’s easy for me to make a tentative guess that it’s just like all the others.”

    And I think you make that assumption rather a lot. Personally, I just don’t think you find the concept of religious belief to be very interesting, thus your armchair approach to such things. Others of us consider it to be something more along the lines of seeking that pearl of great price.

    “This begs the question. We don’t know that God exists yet.”

    Which is why I stated “(what I believe to be) God”. I’m willing to put my effort into finding out an answer to this question. As I said before, I don’t think you are all that intrigued by it.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      ctcss:

      No, but they are described as physical (although powerful) beings with shapes and colors and locations. And the absence of such physical presences (because they have been described as being physical) is reason to question their existence.

      And any test of the material claims of Christianity (example: “prayer works”) similarly turns up nothing. But that doesn’t dissuade you from your religious belief–you just cobble together an excuse to preserve your preconception.

      But was he actually seeing a real bush …

      Did Mohammed really fly on a winged horse? Did Merlin really shape shift? Could Cassandra really predict the future?

      They’re stories, not history.

      No, we pretty much agree that your methods are being used to test for matter-based things.

      Yes, like those made by Christianity. God is said to create change in our world all the time–from finding Christians parking spaces to saving their lives.

      it just says that their focus is on the divine. I’m OK with them perceiving something other than the physical. Since humans are still seeing through a glass darkly, I can grant them some respect for attempting to do so, just as I assume that they will grant me some respect for attempting to do so.

      Humans delude themselves. I’m sure we agree. Why is the common desire for the supernatural accurate instead of yet more delusion?

      If God exists, I expect we will all eventually be on the same page, even you.

      But, as OM noted, theologians and believers in myriad religions are not moving together, as you’d expect if there were one dimly perceptible absolute truth that people were stumbling toward.

      A lot would depend on whether or not I could trust you as being unbiased.

      For this thought experiment, assume that I am.

      You get an accurate brief summary of a new religion that’s completely different from yours. In fact, it’s in conflict with yours. Do you think that, hey, the other guy has just as good a shot at getting it right as you do? Or do you assume (subject to future disconfirmation) that this is yet one more of the thousands of false supernatural beliefs that mankind has invented?

      That manner of rejection strikes me as simply being prejudiced, not researched and reasoned.

      Can we treat fanciful claims differently? I doubt it. When a stranger comes up to you and says that he’s just got a unicorn in his garage, who has the burden of proof?

      And I think you make that assumption rather a lot.

      You don’t??

      Personally, I just don’t think you find the concept of religious belief to be very interesting

      Well … I have been blogging about it for close to 2 years. And I wrote a book about it. If that fits your definition of “not very interesting,” then OK.

      Others of us consider it to be something more along the lines of seeking that pearl of great price.

      Reality and Truth are pearls of very great price in my book.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      ctcss: Actually, I would be more inclined to say that we “enter” (occasionally and briefly become aware of) God’s world (God’s view of reality).

      Why is the “Actually there? You are expressing your own opinion, not a demonstrable fact. It is just a rhetorical device. Actually, you seem unable to relate any evidence that would convince me that your view is more valid or more meaningful than that with which you are disagreeing.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      ctcss: Ah, but how to document one’s perception. Moses saw a bush that burned but was not consumed. The description shows why he became intrigued. But was he actually seeing a real bush, or was he experiencing the disorienting experience of discerning something other than the material and everyday, and trying to find words to describe it?

      This is a textbook example of a false dichotomy. Some other possibilities:
      # He didn’t “actually” see a bush, but instead suffered a vision or delusion of the sort which is easily inducible with drugs, hunger, etc.
      # The whole thing is a story somebody made up.
      This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but only to point out that your list was a) far from exhaustive and b) intended to direct the reader towards your preferred solution.

  • avalon

    Hi ctcss,
    ctcss: “I’m not sure how this point (scientific and historical consensus) would be useful in evaluating a religion, given that religion is usually something that focuses on God. It is a well accepted fact that the scientific method cannot be used to test for the existence of something like God.”
    avalon: Historically, there have been a number of attributes attributed to God. It was once believed that He controlled lightning, caused droughts and floods, etc. I hope you’d agree that science has found natural reasons for these things. So would it be true that science can investigate the claims of God’s attributes?

    ctcss: “For me, the more appropriate tools to use are experience, reason, faith (which I consider to be a form of reasoned trust), and revelation.”
    avalon: Experience is useful for describing subjective things; how things appear to you. But it is notoriously inaccurate for describing objective reality. My experience tells me the earth is stationary. Does that experience pan out in reality?
    I’m not sure what you mean by “revelation”, since it can refer to the bible or personal revelation. The bible hasn’t stood up very well to critical examination. Nearly every attribute assigned in it to God has been shown to be inaccurate. As for personal revelation, this seems to be the idea that thoughts can be transmitted to your brain from an outside source. I find it interesting that believers seem to have no interest in determining the mechanics of this claim. What is the means of transmission? Can it be blocked or distorted? How does an immaterial thought bring about physical changes in a brain? Meanwhile, science is busy finding answers to how our brain functions without any supernatural requirements, just like it has for every other attribute of God.

    ctcss: “Thus, if a religion (a theology) is meant to describe God and that which is of God, the only truly valid knower of all such things is God Himself.”
    avalon: You seem to be describing an unknowable mystery. It’s certainly possible there are things science will never explain, but “revelation” doesn’t seem to be one of them.

    ctcss: “So the closer that a person draws to God, the more likely it is that they will more accurately discern God. In my case, I actually do think that what I have been taught is accurate regarding God (or at least as accurate or more accurate than other religions), otherwise why would I bother trying to follow it? However, I won’t truly know how accurate it is for certain until I grow close enough to God to find out more. (In other words, I am willing to accept that I could be wrong.)”
    avalon: Are you willing to accept that personal revelation is a function of your own brain? That seems to be the conclusion of science. If so, what function is left for God?

    avalon

    • Bob Seidensticker

      ctcss:

      Yeah. What avalon said.

      • Bob Jase

        Couldn’t agree more.

  • Greg G

    Hi Ctcss,

    Some religions do make claims that are empirically testable. The claims tend to be trivial or don’t hold up to scrutiny. Other religions avoid this problem by being deliberately contrived to avoid making testable claims.

    Then the problem becomes differentiating the deliberate contrivances that are completely imaginary from those that might be real when you have deliberately contrived to make this impossible.

    Revelation and warm, fuzzy feelings do no better than chance where testable so they are 0% reliable indicators. You have know reason to believe they would be reliable only when they can’t be validated. You have no way to know if you are getting closer to God or further away.

    The three blind men gave different descriptions of the elephant but religions have no way of knowing if there is an elephant and their descriptions are indistinguishable from air except where they get imaginative.

    I think Bob’s point was to be able to distinguish the most probable truth from what is contrived to be impossible to eliminate. Religion can never appear to be the most probable truth except as an illusion to a believer.

  • Greg

    Great post. I will incorporate this into my thinking and test it out more. I appreciate such mental models / methods — they are often very useful.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      :)

  • smrnda

    The problem with the ‘consensus of scholars’ is religious people will bust this out all the time to argue that the layman must simply accept the conclusions of the experts in a particular religion since the layman doesn’t even know the entirety of what the religion teaches. I’ve run across Catholics who tell me that, since I haven’t read every document authorized by the church within its nearly 2000 year history that I am just unqualified to dismiss it, and that I should just accept that the experts know best, the way the devout Catholic admits that probably somewhere is a document to deal with any tough issue. Some people argue that if you don’t know the language of an original text you don’t know enough to dismiss the religion.

    I’m guessing this take also allows the claims of religion to be kept nebulous – the set of claims being made is large and not property enumerated, so you’re there’s not even agreement as to what is being argued about. In a sense, the proponent of religion is showing up with a pile of papers they haven’t read but which they say some authority in the field has validated. It’s no wonder these discussions go almost nowhere.

    So ‘consult the authorities’ can kind of backfire religion claims to be a field where only authorities know enough to make any calls. My usual strategy is to demand that they explain their claims and then point out what is either vague or meaningless – but it never stops people from telling me that if I’d only read more from the experts, I’d see things their way.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      smrnda:

      The problem with the ‘consensus of scholars’ is religious people will bust this out all the time to argue that the layman must simply accept the conclusions of the experts in a particular religion since the layman doesn’t even know the entirety of what the religion teaches.

      Right. For this reason, I only talk about the consensus within science and history. I’m happy to follow the consensus of religious scholars for what their religion says, but everything else they say is questionable.

      I am just unqualified to dismiss it, and that I should just accept that the experts know best, the way the devout Catholic admits that probably somewhere is a document to deal with any tough issue.

      And by similar logic, the Catholic is obliged to accept the conclusions of Muslim scholars on supernatural truth.

      • Reginald Selkirk

        Right. For this reason, I only talk about the consensus within science and history.

        I generally restrict myself to accepting expertise in fields in which there is an agreed and demonstrable expertise to be had.
        Physics, for example. The principles of physics are demonstrable. Some people know more about it than others, and can demonstrate that.
        Theology, not. You mention Catholics appealing to their own tradition, but Hindus, who have been around even longer, have their own tradition, which is definitely in conflict. Why should I accept one tradition over the other?
        There are fields that are in between; even fields that should fall under the label “science.” . Evolutionary psychology, for example. I agree that it is plausible that evolution has affecteed human psychology, but many of the examples do not seem to rise above the status of “just-so” stories.
        Or diet & health studies. I have to roll my every time a new study comes out showing that tomatoes, or yogurt, or blueberries, or pomegranates, are the new miracle food. They are using statistical methods, but not in a way that is as clear-cut and powerful as in physics. (One reason is ethical obstacles to running controlled experiments).
        And so on.

        • smrnda

          I share your frustrations with both evo psych – I honesty wonder if we really even need the field sometimes – if it can tell us anything that just regular psychology can’t – but given that my experience was in social and cognitive psych I’m likely very biased towards areas where you can get actual empirical data from real experiments.

          The ‘super diet’ and ‘super food’ studies I tend to be skeptical of since the studies frequently lack adequate control or don’t go on long enough, and given how varied a person’s diet might be it’s hard to isolate what particular element is doing the good or harm.

          With religions, it seems like a massive conflict over ‘traditions’ but so many religions have built up so much tradition you can’t get through all of it, and there seems to be a huge avoidance of summing it up.

      • smrnda

        True, that’s the problem as well. If each religion cannot be dismissed unless you dig through all the documents, you can never really justifiably dismiss any of them, unless their total page counts were extremely low.

        On history, I read 12 Caesars a while ago, and it contained some supernatural elements which any historian would dismiss today while accepting the other details, though there is always the possibility of legendary accounts creeping in, Suetonius or his sources being wrong unintentionally, or his own editorial decision to inflate or deflate some accounts. Somehow there’s some reluctance to take the Bible or Qur’an the same way.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          smrnda:

          you can never really justifiably dismiss any of them, unless their total page counts were extremely low.

          And even for those, you probably just misinterpreted it if you didn’t understand the truth behind it.

  • Selah

    Bob , I didn’t throw the net out and see what I could gather in but I did go right to my Bible and
    looked up John 14: 6. Jesus was telling His disciples that where He was going ( to His Father’s house )
    Thomas said : ” how can we know the way ? “. Bob , here’s the truth y’all are really looking for. Jesus said this awesome statement : ” I am the Way , the TRUTH ,and the Life . no one can come to the Father except thru Me “. Oh , if you guy’s would just trust in the One who has your eternal destiny in His hand.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      That’s what the Muslims say. If you would just open your mind to the awesome truth of the Koran, you’d see the error of your foolish ways.

      And also Scientology, Hinduism, and Sikkhism. And all the rest.

    • Kodie

      I don’t trust to believe any hearsay from Selah that anyone has my eternal destiny in their hand. That definitely sounds out of touch with reality.

      • Selah

        Kodie , Let me give a real dose of reality. If you read in the Book of Revelation , chapt 20 , the final judgment section , v 15 states that those whose names were not found in the Book of Life were thrown into the fiery lake.Oh, how I hope that soon you will understand ( before it’s too late ) how important it is for your name to be included in the BOL. The devil knows he is headed there and before he is thrown in , he’s working overtime to deceive, kill and destroy lives on this earth.He is looking for some company , don’t accommodate him !

        • Kodie

          Kodie , Let me give a real dose of reality.

          That’s a dose of fiction, more like a steaming pile of fiction, actually. I am trying to tell you, you have no credibility. You are not intentionally lying, but nothing you say is real or true, and you’ve given no reason to believe you. You have urgency, but that is about something there is no reason to believe is real. You have panic, but that isn’t justified just because you believe there is something to panic about. The book of revelations is scaring you into trying to scare me, but you have no credibility and neither does your story, neither does your book.

    • Bob Jase

      You know all reasonable discussion has ended when believers start quoting thei magic books and spouting dogma instead of reality.

      Next step – tell me you’ll pray for me &/or I’m going to hell.

  • SparklingMoon

    All Prophets has described that God is One. The meanings of this Oneness of God is considered by some people as God is a single entity, existing in any corner of this universe somewhere above in the sky. According to religious information the meanings of the Oneness of God is that the Person of God and the whole universe is One.

    In religious language it is mostly said that God is in Heaven. Here Heaven does not mean a physical place but this word is actually used for the name of a particular Spiritual Height related to God. God’s Heaven is the name of God’s highest height of His Sanctity and Holiness.

    God is highly Spiritual therefore is unseen to a human eye. It is imagined by some people that His person is the part of this unseen Space of our universe (that’s particles are unseen to a human eye)According to religious information, Space is also a physical one as a part of our physical universe and God does not exist directly in any particle of this physical universe.

    There exists inside of this physical universe an other very hidden spiritual world, existing equally everywhere and working and controlling the whole system of our world. God belongs to that highly spiritual world. This very spiritual world is opened only by God to His Prophets and some poise people through visions and to all other people sometimes in their dreams according to their spiritual condition. Scientific instruments can never discover this world as is very hidden because of the height of its spirituality. The sight of a scientist or a worldly person reaches only to the physical particles of an object and its function and their thinking never crosses to that world that is working very silently beneath the every object of this world. The existence of that ethereal world, working beneath, can be recognized through the existence of non physical abilities in physical objects. A small seed of a fruit bears an ability to turn into a big tree . It turns into a tree
    (in a soil )and after a short time there come into existence thousand seeds with the same ability of turning into a tree. Who is there who transfers this ability in these seeds very silently? that is God who transfers these non physical attributes in these physical seeds through His Attributes.

    • SparklingMoon

      God is a Spirit and highly spiritual in His Person. God says that He was hidden therefore He has created the universe to be recognized. He created everything from nothingness only through His attributes and the countless objects of this universe are the physical manifestation of his countless Attributes.

      The Sanctity and Holiness of His Spirituality stops him to make a direct communion with the objects of this physical universe therefore He has created Angels (or we can call an angel a kind of His Law) as a middle source to transfer the benefits of his attributes to physical objects of this universe for their maintenance . These Angels are very spiritual in their nature on one hand, therefore have an ability to communicate with the Spirituality of God and on the other hand also have an ability to communicate with His physical creatures of this universe ( because of their being a creature of God asHe has created other objects ) Angels have no will their own . They are just supplier or middle source to transfer or infuse the benefits of the attributes of God as sustenance for every object of this world , from this very hidden spiritual world of God.

      God Provides constantly the sustenance of everything according to its need through these middle source(angels).Different objects or creatures of this universe are manifestation of His different attributes therefore every object of this universe gets its sustenance from the same attribute that relates to its composition and structure through a different angel.

      A physical body of a human being is a physical manifestation of God’s all attributes(for the reason man is called the image of God in religious books) therefore a human body is provided by a sustenance that is consisted of all His attributes that reach to human body through His law or angel and its existence in human body is called by the name of Soul. This Soul bears the attributes of God and provides all sustenance to a person to fulfill his physical mental spiritual needs.

    • trj

      Congratulations, you’re presenting us with a clear example of the direct opposite to separating facts from fiction. All you do is list one questionable claim after another, coating everything in mysticism and inane metaphors. You present your purely personal views as definitive facts while offering no reason for why anyone should take them seriously.

      If I were to be diplomatic I’d say that as truth claims go, yours are extremely lacking in substance. Being less diplomatic I’d just call your claims a load of crap indistinguishable from so much other religious crap. If you want us to give any serious consideration to your claims then give us a reason for doing so. Otherwise you’re just adding to the irrelevant fictional, mythological, and supernatural categories which Bob lists above.

    • OverlappingMagisteria

      You claim that there is a hidden spiritual dimension. Here is the key question: How do we distinguish from an existing hidden dimension from a non-existing hidden dimension. This dimension either exists or not. How can we tell which it is?

      Similarly, you claim that prophets and dreamers can access this hidden dimension. How do we distinguish dreams that look into this dimension from dreams that are just dreams?

      • SparklingMoon

        You claim that there is a hidden spiritual dimension. Here is the key question: How do we distinguish from an existing hidden dimension from a non-existing hidden dimension. This dimension either exists or not. How can we tell which it is?
        ——————————————————————————————
        God Almighty has divided His wonderful universe into three parts.
        (1) The world which is manifest and can be felt through the eyes and the ears and other physical senses and through ordinary instruments.
        (2) The world which is hidden and which can be understood through reason and conjecture.
        (3) The world which is hidden beyond hidden, which is so imperceptible that few are aware of it. That world is entirely unseen; reason has not been granted the ability to reach it, except through mere conjecture. This world is disclosed only through visions, revelation, inspiration, and not by any other means. As is well established, it is the way of God that for the discovery of the first two worlds that we have mentioned He has bestowed upon man different types of faculties and powers. In the same way, the Absolute Bounteous has appointed a means for man for the discovery of the third world; and that means is revelation, inspiration and visions. This means is not allowed to be wholly suspended at any time; indeed, those who comply with the conditions for achieving it have, throughout, been its recipients and will continue to be such.(Surmah Chashm Arya, pp:175-181)
        A person can not see this spiritual realm or world with the help of a physical tool of a scientist but only through the sources appointed by God himself. God has appointed different sources for human beings to follow for the understanding his physical and spiritual world .For example a person tastes from his tongue and hears from his ear and If a person try to use his tongue to hear a sound ,or try to taste through his ear,the natural result is zero and nothing.I mean, a person must have to use right source to find a positive result. If a person has a wish to see this third hidden spiritual world he must have to use the sources appointed by God and that sources are constant prayers with great humility and constant practice of good morals according to a human capacity. When a person knock His door constantly with these sources then the door of is opened by Him. It is wrong to consider that a person can open it by one’s own powers. It is actually God who after seeing humility, love for Him and the pure condition of heart bows down Himself towards the person with great love and opens the door of this third hidden world to show His beautiful face and bestows Certainty.

      • SparklingMoon

        You claim that there is a hidden spiritual dimension. Here is the key question: How do we distinguish from an existing hidden dimension from a non-existing hidden dimension. This dimension either exists or not. How can we tell which it is?
        —————————————————————————————-
        God has divided this wonderful universe into three parts.(1) The world which is manifest and can be felt through the eyes and the ears and other physical senses and through ordinary instruments.(2) The world which is hidden and which can be understood through reason and conjecture.(3) The world which is is entirely unseen; reason has not been granted the ability to reach it.This world is disclosed only through visions, revelation, inspiration, and not by any other means. As is well established, it is the way of God that for the discovery of the first two worlds that He has bestowed upon man different types of faculties and powers. In the same way, the Absolute Bounteous has appointed a means for man for the discovery of the third world; and that means is revelation, inspiration and visions. This means is not allowed to be wholly suspended at any time; indeed, those who comply with the conditions for achieving it have, throughout, been its recipients and will continue to be such.(Surmah Chashm Arya, pp:175-181)
        A person can not see this spiritual realm or world with the help of a physical tool of a scientist but only through the sources appointed by God himself. God has appointed different sources for human beings to follow for the understanding his physical and spiritual world .For example a person tastes from his tongue and hears from his ear and If a person try to use his tongue to hear a sound ,or try to taste through his ear,the natural result is zero and nothing.I mean, a person must have to use right source to find a positive result. If a person has a wish to see this third hidden spiritual world he must have to use the sources appointed by God and that sources are constant prayers with great humility and constant practice of good morals according to a human capacity. When a person knock His door constantly with these sources then the door of is opened by Him. It is wrong to consider that a person can open it by one’s own powers. It is actually God who after seeing humility, love for Him and the pure condition of heart bows down Himself towards the person with great love and opens the door of this third hidden world to show His beautiful face and bestows Certainty. Mirza Ghulam Ahmed has explained it in the following words:
        “When our soul in search for something, extends its hand with great earnestness and weeping towards the Fountain head of grace, and, finding itself helpless, seeks light from somewhere through its reflection, this condition too is like a condition of prayer. All wisdom have been manifested through such prayer and the key of every house of knowledge is prayer. No knowledge or insight is manifested without it. Our thinking, our reflection and our search for the hidden objective are all parts of prayer.(Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 14, pp. 230-232)

    • Bob Jase

      All prophets? I don’t recall the oracle of Delphi or the Sybil ever saying that.

  • Jim

    “The existence of that ethereal world, working beneath, can be recognized through the existence of non physical abilities in physical objects. A small seed of a fruit bears an ability to turn into a big tree . It turns into a tree (in a soil )and after a short time there come into existence thousand seeds with the same ability of turning into a tree. Who is there who transfers this ability in these seeds very silently?”

    SparklingMoon. I know you think you just made a really profound observation. But to me, someone who has studied science for 40 years, you just made a profoundly ignorant statement. There is no mystical cause of a seed growing into a tree. It is all well understood biology and chemistry. Just read a biology book. Or this wiki article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seed.

    Your entire post does serve as an example of something very common in religion. People who are ignorant of the science underlying a phenomena often substitute superstition for real knowledge, then defend that superstition by dressing it up in religious language. For me, that is one of the biggest turn offs of religion. It is a very arrogant attitude.

    • SparklingMoon

      There is no mystical cause of a seed growing into a tree.
      ———————————————————————————–
      I am not telling about the procedure of growing of a seed into a tree. I am talking about the existence of a non physical attribute in a physical seed that takes place during its growing and makes it possible for this seed to turn into a tree later.This non physical ability in a seed is the manifestation of God,s attribute.

      • Kodie

        There is no non-physical attribute in a physical seed. The manifestation of god’s attribute appears to be a mental figment. It’s a 100% natural, observable process, at no time does a non-physical attribute sneak in and take over the process.

        • SparklingMoon

          There is no non-physical attribute in a physical seed. The manifestation of god’s attribute appears to be a mental figment.
          ———————————————————————————————————-
          A speciality of God’s Power by virtue of which He is called God is the Power whereby spiritual and physical faculties are created.For instance, in His bestowing eyes on animates, His true excellence is not that He made the eyes but that in the body cells He had already created hidden powers invested with the capacity of sight.

          An inventor of the locomotive, or of the telegraph or of photography or of the press or of any other instrument would confess that he is not the inventor of powers by the use of which he prepares the instrument. All inventors make use of existing capacities, as, in making a locomotive work, use is made of the power of steam The difference is that God Himself has created these capacities in the elements and the inventors are not able to create those powers and capacities.(Nasim-e-Da‘wat, pp. 383-384]

      • Jim

        “I am not telling about the procedure of growing of a seed into a tree. I am talking about the existence of a non physical attribute in a physical seed that takes place during its growing and makes it possible for this seed to turn into a tree later.”

        The attribute that tells a seed to turn into a tree is called DNA. It is a physical attribute. We know this because if we change the DNA in a seed, the seed grows into something different. Ths is why GMO works on plants. There is no need for any mystical attributes.

    • SparklingMoon

      People who are ignorant of the science underlying a phenomena often substitute superstition for real knowledge, then defend that superstition by dressing it up in religious language. For me, that is one of the biggest turn offs of religion.
      —————————————————————————————————-
      ”If the viewer is an unbiased observer of what he sees and permits his vision to be led to whichever direction the scheme of creation leads him that at each replication of life into more complex and more organized entities of higher order and at each step forward on the evolutionary journey, he will perceive the guiding hand of the Supreme Creator. “ There are competent scientists who had to confess that the only solution to the problem of creation lies in the admission that there does exist a Supreme Creator. It was He who created options at every creative step and it was He Himself who selected the right option to usher the creation into a higher order of existence. Hence, stage after stage it was He who made choices with purpose, design and direction.
      Frank Allen, Professor of Biophysics, Canada writes:’The adjustments of the earth for life are far too numerous to be accounted for by chance.’( ALLEN, F. (1968). The Origin of The World—By Chance or Design? p.20)
      What he evidently means is that in the long journey of evolution we find design, order and harmony which cannot be ascribed to chance. Commenting on the complexity of proteins and the manner in which they play the essential role of building, supporting and advancing life, Allen categorically rejects the idea of attributing this to chance. Also for a single protein molecule to be formed out of chance would require 10248years! As far as the known span of evolution is concerned, for it to accommodate all the figures as have been mentioned, is as impossible as impossible can be. All the amazing steps of creation only took 4.5 billion years!

      William Krantz write: ”Order in nature would appear to be the exception, not the rule. The regularity of the solar system, the complex organization of living things and the lattice of a crystal are all transient patterns in a grand dissolution into chaos. The prevailing theme of the universe is one of increasing entropy. All the more wondrous, then, are the examples of order in nature.’ (.William Krantz (1988) Patterned Ground. p.68)
      There are many other scientists who having pondered over the issue of the origin of creation and of life in relation to time and chance, have drawn the inevitable conclusion that there has to be an Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omnipresent Supreme Intelligence to design, organize and govern creative phenomena. Without Him, the beginning of creation and evolution of life are mathematically inconceivable.( A Game of Chess or a Game of Chance! by Mirza Tahir Ahmad )

    • SparklingMoon

       If you want us to give any serious consideration to your claims then give us a reason for doing so. Otherwise you’re just adding to the irrelevant fictional, mythological, and supernatural categories which Bob lists above.
      —————————————————————————————————
      The Being of God is transcendental and beyond the beyond and is most secret and cannot be discovered by the power of human reasoning alone. No argument can prove it conclusively, inasmuch as reason can travel only so far that contemplating the universe it feels the need of a Creator. But the feeling of a need is one thing and it is quite another to arrive at the certainty that the God, Whose need has been felt, does in fact exist.
      As the Being of God Almighty, despite its brightness, is hidden beyond sight, the physical universe is not adequate for its true recognition. This is not a cup which could quench the thirst of complete understanding which is inherent in man’s nature. So long as God Almighty does not affirm His Existence by His word, as indeed He has done, the mere observation of His handiwork does not afford satisfaction. It is a great mistake to imagine that God is like a corpse which has to be brought out of its grave by man. If God has to be discovered through human effort, all our hopes of such a God are vain. Indeed God is the Being Who has ever called mankind to Himself by announcing: I am present It is not at all correct to say that all God’s speaking has been left behind and that there is nothing in future. We cannot seal up His words and His speech in any age. Without doubt, He is ready to enrich the seekers from the fountain of revelation as He used to do before.Our God is the One Who is living today as He was living before, and Who speaks today as He spoke before, and hears today as He heard before. It is a false notion that in this age He hears but does not speak. Indeed, He both hears and speaks. All His attributes are eternal and everlasting. None of His attributes has fallen into disuse or will fall into disuse.(Ruhani Khaza’in, Vol. 10, pp. 363-367)

      • trj

        The Being of God is transcendental and beyond the beyond and is most secret and cannot be discovered by the power of human reasoning alone.

        Yeah, that’s convenient. We cannot discover anything about God, and yet you profess to know all manner of things about him and how he works, claiming angels make things grow and whatnot.

        In that regard you are like so many other believers: you make bold claims when it suits you, but refer to God’s ineffability whenever someone questions your claims. The few times you get concrete it is to recapitulate the usual fallacious creationist clichés about entropy and irreducible complexity.

        The standard recipé, really. You present us with nothing we haven’t heard before and nothing worthy of serious consideration. The only difference, perhaps, is that your specific god-ideas may be a little wackier than average.

  • avalon

    Do believers believe because it makes them feel special? Because they feel they’re privy to a special world? Consider the following quotes:

    ctcss:

    And suppose that God is something that is not commonly observed or experienced…
    Basically, all you seem to be doing here is congratulating yourself for choosing to use tools that will never be useful in discerning God…
    I’m comfortable using these tools in pursuing my path towards (what I believe to be) God.

    we “enter” (occasionally and briefly become aware of) God’s world (God’s view of reality).

    was he experiencing the disorienting experience of discerning something other than the material and everyday, and trying to find words to describe it?

    If God exists, I expect we will all eventually be on the same page, even you.

    I am, however, trying to explore an area of thought and existence (God and God’s kingdom) that you personally don’t find to be very interesting.

    Others of us consider it to be something more along the lines of seeking that pearl of great price.

    I’m willing to put my effort into finding out an answer to this question. As I said before, I don’t think you are all that intrigued by it.

    Selah:

    Oh, how I hope that soon you will understand ( before it’s too late ) how important it is for your name to be included in the BOL.

    SparklingMoon:

    There exists inside of this physical universe an other very hidden spiritual world, existing equally everywhere and working and controlling the whole system of our world. God belongs to that highly spiritual world. This very spiritual world is opened only by God to His Prophets and some poise people

    The sight of a scientist or a worldly person reaches only to the physical particles of an object and its function and their thinking never crosses to that world that is working very silently beneath the every object of this world.

    avalon

    • Bob Seidensticker

      avalon:

      It’s nice that people of different faith traditions can come together, though (as I think was your point) it all looks nutty to me.

  • Steven

    What I can’t get my head round with religious claims that science, and by extension us humans, can’t possibly investigate god because he/she/it is not of the material world and is somehow existing outside of it, is this – if this is so, how is it possible for the religious to know god’s attributes and what his thoughts are, and all the other stuff that goes with the territory? How does this knowledge come to them, what is the mode of transmission between the immaterial world of the supernatural and our material world? I simply cannot see how this circle is squared.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Steven:

      And it’s especially ironic when Christians respond to challenges by admitting that God works in mysterious ways or “I’ll have to ask God that when I get to heaven.” God is unknowable.

      But, of course, they’re sure that God hates homosexuality and abortion.

      • Bob Jase

        Ain’t it amazing how every believer’s god hates the same things the believer hates?

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

    Bob,
    How would you determine the fact or fiction of what may or may not be a scam by a con artist?

    Bear in mind that the art of a con artist, as in any fraud, is in making what is fiction appear like fact.

    • trj

      A good precautionary rule when evaluating some extraordinary claim is to determine if the person telling it stands to gain anything (money, power, recognition) from making you believe it.

      Another indicator wold be whether the person has a history of being trustworthy. Scam artists usually have scamming as their profession, so with a bit of digging it’s often possible to expose their earlier lies, especially if their scams involve many people.

      And of course there are the claims themselves. Do they stand up to scrutiny? Are they self-consistent? Are they conveniently impossible to confirm?

      It’s theoretically possible that some fantastic claim which seems too good to be true actually is true. But in my experience this is definitely the exception. Almost always a fantastic claim turns out to be a deception for personal gain. Or, as is often the case, self-deception, because the claim satisfies the narrator’s own feelings and self-esteem (religious claims fit in nicely here). Either way, the fantastic claims turn out to be self-serving. Deception or self-deception.

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

        Bob’s post proposed a schema of two rules for distinguishing fact from fiction, whether things are extraordinary or not. It seems from your response that you consider his two rules to be insufficient for distinguishing fact from fiction in this particular area. (By the observation that you offer additional rules for determining the truth of the claim.)

        Or have I misinterpreted your comment?

        • trj

          I think Bob’s rules/principles are primarily aimed at the claims themselves, whereas I also suggest looking at the claimant.

          But yeah, I think his two rules are a good starting point, but they’re not sufficient, which is why I add such factors as consistency and verifiability.

  • ctcss

    @OverlappingMagisteria

    “I presume that you would agree …”

    Actually, I don’t think I automatically would. I think the people you mention should theoretically be doing so, but Richard Nixon should also have done his best to defend and uphold the Constitution since he swore under oath that he would. The point is, usually people who are wholly focused on finding God (rather than getting themselves involved in worldly pursuits), often move closer to God in thought. A layperson can have as ready an access to God as a theologian can, and may actually have a better opportunity of achieving that goal. (Remember Jesus’ parable about the Pharisee and the publican?) However, everyone brings to their search their own particular mental framework, coupled with the theological framework of the religion they are attempting to follow. Some personal and theological frameworks interfere with this search more than others. Jesus had to point out to James and John (who were most definitely portrayed as wanting to seek God), that they had no idea what the nature of God truly was. I don’t think that kind of rebuke was comforting to them, although it certainly should have served them better than letting them continue believing that the God Jesus preached about was interested in destroying people’s lives.

    But as for people approaching closer to God, and thus gaining a clearer and more commonly held notion about God, I was trying to point out that this would eventually happen, but I was speaking in terms of eternity, not years, decades, or even within a human lifetime. I apologize for not making this clearer.

    “To me it seems that “drawing yourself closer to god” by steeping yourself more deeply in religious ritual and tradition does a great job at reinforcing previously held conceptions …”

    And as I said above, not every theological framework helps one grow closer because the concepts within it may obscure a clearer view of God. You are correct (at least IMO) that ritual and tradition would probably tend to reinforce pre-existing conceptions. But if someone truly wants to know God better, they really need to come to grip with the fact that it is what God knows about God that is truly important, rather than what the human framework of thought thinks that it knows about God. So dropping concepts about God that don’t seem to help, and to also be willing to embrace concepts about God that do help, would seem to be key. The theological question then becomes, is a person willing to conform themselves to God, or are they going to insist that God conform to them?

  • ctcss

    @Reginald Selkirk

    “Nonsense. It is an oft-repeated dodge, but there is no factuality to it.”

    Actually, there is. It all depends on the premises, you see.

    “First: define “God.” The God most people think of interacts with the physical world, and therefore can be tested.”

    OK, first you apparently think that there is only one view of God. (I certainly don’t share the view you are speaking of.) Second, Bob and I have been over this ground before and although we disagree, even he understood that God (who is usually considered to be conscious rather than unconscious) could, as so defined, choose not to be part of any test being conducted, unlike a mindless drug which just does what it does.

    “See for example the large set of experiments on whether intercessory prayer can improve medical outcomes. Many people believe that it does, and this can and has been tested (the answer is no.)”

    OK, with Bob’s kind indulgence, I will repeat here what I said to him in another thread. (I also said something similar over on Jerry Coyne’s blog.)

    ————————————–
    I have looked at a number of the prayer studies, including the Templeton study, and IMO have not found them to be persuasive indictments of the ineffectiveness of prayer at all. (I pretty much disagree with everything they did, but it was their study to run, not mine. But then, I would never run a study on prayer in the first place.) But one thing should be noted here that no one ever seems to bring up. “Prayer”, as a generic term, has not been “proven” to have been ineffective by these studies. Rather, an experiment designer’s specific concept of what might constitute a testable form of prayer has been been examined under controlled conditions. It is those specific concepts of prayer and prayer conditions, and those concepts alone, that have been tested and have seemed to have had less than stellar results. And even there, I personally would not characterize the results as a failure. Rather, I would characterize them as inconclusive.

    But even more of a problem for me (and what should have been a problem for any publisher of the studies) was the huge gaping hole in the experiment’s design. Consider the following. Instead of prayer, imagine a drug to have been tested instead. A study of that sort usually consists of a test group receiving the drug, a control group receiving a placebo, and sometimes even a group receiving nothing at all. Of course, each group receiving the drug or the placebo have no idea of what they are receiving. But the main focus of the test is to see what will happen when the active agent (the new drug) is applied to the test group. But now suppose (in an incredible lapse of judgement) that the experiment’s designer had provided no way to tell where, or when, or if, the new drug (the active agent) had been applied to individuals in the test group. So during the study, the members of each group would be carefully monitored to see how they were faring, but the group supposedly receiving the active agent might or might not have actually been given it. Thus the whole experiment would be a waste of time because the data being collected would not reflect the proposed test conditions.

    Of course, a drug study this badly designed should never have even gotten off of the ground. And that is the problem with the prayer studies. The designer of the study has provided no guarantee that the active agent (God) has actually been applied in the study. All of the participants in the study (patients, doctors, nurses, pray-ers, etc.) have explicitly signed off as agreeing to be participants in the study. Every participant has signed off except for the most important one. And whether or not one believes in God, the design of the study should account for all of the participants, procedures, and items being used in the study and how they will be utilized. If God has not explicitly agreed to participate in a way that everyone (including non-believers) can have confidence in, then the study is just as worthless as the badly designed drug study just described. (And no, Bible verses do not constitute proof of an agreement. Remember, everyone has to agree that they are convinced that God will be consistently participating in the prayer study, just as everyone needs to agree that they are convinced that the new drug is being consistently applied to the test group in the drug study described above, otherwise the study will be worthless. And personally, I do not see any way for people to reach such an agreement.)
    ——————————

    “The only gods who cannot be tested are those who are distant, inaccessible, an irrelevant.”

    Or they may simply choose to do something different than what you would prefer them to do. If you grant yourself the right to act as an individual and not as a mindless robot, I would think that you would conceptually grant “gods” the same privilege.

    “You are expressing your own opinion”

    Of course I am, as you are yours. This thread was not about proving the existence of God, but rather about what would serve as useful tools to discern between fact and fiction. However, in this case I was simply pointing out to Bob that his opinion as to what I believed was incorrect. (He thought I believed one thing, so I corrected him as to what I actually believed. Thus my use of the word “actually”.)

    ” # He didn’t “actually” see a bush, but instead suffered a vision or delusion of the sort which is easily inducible with drugs, hunger, etc.
    # The whole thing is a story somebody made up.”

    Both are certainly possible. But since the Bible is full of many teaching-stories, it doesn’t matter all that much to me since the idea is usually to bring out a deeper point to understand. But as to your first bullet, in many stories there is an explicit mention of the character’s hunger or thirst, or other relevant details when they actually seem to matter regarding the point being made in the story. In this case, no such details were mentioned, simply that Moses noticed the odd situation with the bush and eventually decided to investigate it. And it was only when Moses made that explicit decision to see what was behind the bush’s odd state, that God revealed something of great importance to Moses. And BTW, I find it interesting that despite the fact that this encounter is a rather important one in their history, Jews don’t seem to celebrate this occasion by burning shrubbery or anything of the sort. So the point seemed to be about the encounter with God and why it happened, not about something that might have made Moses delusional, nor about the bush’s odd state of combustion/non-combustion.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      ctcss:

      Or they may simply choose to do something different than what you would prefer them to do.

      If you don’t impose any assumptions on this god, then he becomes just a deity–a clockmaker who winds up the clock and walks away, taking no interest in the day to day happenings of his creation. But this isn’t the Christian view of God.

  • ctcss

    @Bob

    “And any test of the material claims of Christianity (example: “prayer works”) similarly turns up nothing.”

    And as I have told you before, the tests that have been conducted do not correspond with my understanding of prayer. Thus their results hold no relevance for me.

    “Why is the common desire for the supernatural accurate instead of yet more delusion?”

    It would all depend on whether or not God exists, would it not?

    “But, as OM noted, theologians and believers in myriad religions are not moving together”

    See my response to OM above.

    “You get an accurate brief summary of a new religion that’s completely different from yours. In fact, it’s in conflict with yours. Do you think that, hey, the other guy has just as good a shot at getting it right as you do?”

    Again, see my response to OM.

    “When a stranger comes up to you and says that he’s just got a unicorn in his garage, who has the burden of proof?”

    If I have an interest in finding out, I would ask him for proof. But if I did not have an interest in finding out, I’d just continue on my way.

    “You don’t??”

    I try not to spend too much time judging other religions since I am far from finished with my own search and (IMO) I think I need to do a whole lot better on my part. That said, I do think that the theology I try to follow is more understandable and consistent than others, but I have encountered many people who, when examining my religion, decided that it is not helpful in the slightest. Thus, to each his own.

    “Well … I have been blogging about it for close to 2 years. And I wrote a book about it.”

    But you seem to be interested in deriding it, not valuing it. Thomas Edison was very interested in inventing a practical light bulb and refused to give up until he found a working solution to it. That’s the kind of interest I am talking about. You know, the merchant seeking goodly pearls kind of interest. And if I am misinterpreting your interest level, I apologize. I did follow your prayer experiment with interest to see where it would lead. You seemed to give it an attempt of some sort, but after it was over, that was it. I would have been much more convinced of your positive interest in the subject if you had decided to spend a decade or more pursuing your research and making it a fundamental part of your life, not just an add-on to your everyday pursuits.

    “Reality and Truth are pearls of very great price in my book.”

    As they are in mine. The difference being, you think that matter is the foundation for yours, and I think that God is the foundation for mine.

    As always, we can agree to disagree and remain on friendly grounds with one another.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      ctcss:

      And as I have told you before, the tests that have been conducted do not correspond with my understanding of prayer.

      I must’ve forgotten. What is your understanding of prayer?

      Thomas Edison was very interested in inventing a practical light bulb and refused to give up until he found a working solution to it. That’s the kind of interest I am talking about.

      So you want me to say that I’m searching for the supernatural, and I’m not giving up until I find it? That’s no honest search for the truth, and truth is what I care about, not pleasant imaginings.

      As they are in mine. The difference being, you think that matter is the foundation for yours, and I think that God is the foundation for mine.

      Is your god belief a presupposition? Or is that firmly based on evidence? Could you justify to an objective third party that your god belief is justified?

  • ctcss

    @avalon

    “So would it be true that science can investigate the claims of God’s attributes?”

    I guess it would depend on one’s definition of God. God, as I understand Him to be, does not cause lightning, droughts and floods, etc. In fact, as I said in my post, I do not consider God to be material in anyway whatsoever (i.e. not matter, energy, time, or space.) So how would you go about trying to detect God if matter was not part of the equation? (That was the point I was trying to make with regard to science having no helpful say on God’s existence. Science is all about examining the properties of matter, not God.)

    “Experience is useful for describing subjective things”

    Everything that is experienced through the human framework is subjective in nature. Everything is filtered. So yes, I have no problem with describing my experience as subjective.

    “I’m not sure what you mean by “revelation””

    Personal revelation, perhaps better termed as communing with (what I believe to be) God.

    “this seems to be the idea that thoughts can be transmitted to your brain from an outside source”

    Actually, I wouldn’t describe it as anything of the sort. Jesus pointed out that the kingdom of God is within us. Psalm 139 points out that one’s relationship with God is an eternal one, not missing prior to what seems to be our conception and birth, and not becoming non-existent after what seems to be our death and bodily dissolution. Paul points out that nothing of any sort, property, or seeming power can separate us from the love of God. The point being (at least as I understand these things), it isn’t a question of transmission and reception. Rather (as I said above) it’s about communing with God, who is never at all separated from His children, nor are they separated from Him.

    “How does an immaterial thought bring about physical changes in a brain?”

    I included this question just to make sure you understood the point I was making above. If one’s relationship with God is not dependent on matter before conception and birth, and is not dependent on matter after death and bodily dissolution, then the question of how matter is involved in this relationship with God(in your question, a material brain) would seem to be irrelevant. Are you likely to disagree with this? Most likely. But then again, you also probably disagree with me about the existence of God, right?

    “Are you willing to accept that personal revelation is a function of your own brain?”

    Sure. I admitted I could be wrong about all this.

    “That seems to be the conclusion of science.”

    And if I thought that science offered any insight into the question of God and God’s kingdom, I might very well accept its input. However, it doesn’t. It speaks strictly about matter as I have been trying to point out. And my religious thought and practice are not focused on matter.

    “You seem to be describing an unknowable mystery”

    Actually, I am just saying that God is the source of knowledge. So in this case I am not trying to say that something is an unknowable mystery as much as I am saying that one needs to go to God to find out more about such things.

    “If so, what function is left for God?”

    Everything that pertains to God and God’s kingdom. Basically, reality as God knows and understands it to be.

    Thanks for the polite and thoughtful questions.

    @Bob

    “Yeah. What avalon said.”

    Honestly Bob, did you really think that the questions that avalon was kind enough to ask were going to floor me? Wouldn’t it have been much more logical to expect that a well-reasoned question thoughtfully asked might receive an equally thoughtful reply in response?

    • Bob Seidensticker

      ctcss:

      Honestly Bob, did you really think that the questions that avalon was kind enough to ask were going to floor me?

      No. Christians very rarely don’t have an answer. That you did doesn’t mean that it’s compelling or well reasoned, however.

    • avalon

      Hi ctcss,
      Sorry I didn’t see your response earlier and I don’t know if you’ll see this post or not.
      First, thanks for clarifying your beliefs.
      I think they’re best summed up in this statement from you:
      ” If one’s relationship with God is not dependent on matter before conception and birth, and is not dependent on matter after death and bodily dissolution, then the question of how matter is involved in this relationship with God(in your question, a material brain) would seem to be irrelevant. ”

      I assume you’re saying that we are also immaterial beings who existed before conception and after death. And God is immaterial too.
      If that’s the case, then wouldn’t all matter be irrelevant? What would be the purpose of a universe if we existed with God as immaterial selves beforehand and we’ll exist with him as immaterial selves eternally after the universe is long gone? Why bother with a temporary existence in matter? Is it all just illusion? A game? What?

      Thanks for your time.
      avalon

  • ctcss

    @Greg G

    “Some religions do make claims that are empirically testable. The claims tend to be trivial or don’t hold up to scrutiny. Other religions avoid this problem by being deliberately contrived to avoid making testable claims.”

    While I agree that empiricism (experiential knowledge) is valuable and is something that I use regarding my religious practice, I’m not really certain how it might be tested in a clinical setting. (See my response to Reginald Selkirk for some thoughts on this.) And unless one is assuming that all religious leaders are liars, why would one conclude that a religion’s claims about God are deliberately contrived? For example, Judaism regards God as being undefinable, but I don’t think they are doing that just to jerk non-believer’s chains. Their claim strikes me as being very sincere. And since Judaism is focused on specific human practices and ethics, as well as specific rituals regarding how one worships God (who is not provable), what is there that you would consider to be testable about Judaism?

    “Revelation and warm, fuzzy feelings do no better than chance where testable so they are 0% reliable indicators.”

    Here you seem to be regarding revelation as a form of predicting the future. As I said to avalon, I regard it more as about communing with (what I believe to be) God. In other words, I am seeking understanding from God regarding issues that come up in life, I am not trying to map out the future with God’s help. And generally, I am not interested in warm, fuzzy feelings as an end in and of themselves. (I am more than happy to have them occur as a result of useful and productive outcomes, however.)

    “You have no way to know if you are getting closer to God or further away.”

    Closer, in this case, refers to being more in harmony with God as I understand Him to be. For instance, I regard God as being all good and all loving. Thus, the greater the sense of genuine love I can express towards others and the purer the qualities of good I can express, the closer I am likely to be in a harmonious relationship with God’s nature, as opposed to fighting against God or being in conflict with His demands.

    “I think Bob’s point was to be able to distinguish the most probable truth from what is contrived to be impossible to eliminate. Religion can never appear to be the most probable truth except as an illusion to a believer.”

    I think Bob’s methods are quite useful, but since he is basically focused on that which is material and I (in the case of my religion) am not, I am not certain how what he does is directly translatable for my purposes. And as for “probable truth”, I don’t think God ever appears probable from a matter-based perspective. But then, I am not looking for a matter-based perspective to under-gird my understanding or expectations regarding God.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      ctcss:

      why would one conclude that a religion’s claims about God are deliberately contrived?

      Who thinks this? The Muslim or Hindu is wrong, but that doesn’t make them a liar. They didn’t deliberately cobble together false beliefs with the intent to deceive. And this is true (IMO) going back to the original NT writings.

      I regard God as being all good and all loving.

      This is a tangent, but how can you assign these attributes to God when you see what he does in the OT?

      I think Bob’s methods are quite useful, but since he is basically focused on that which is material and I (in the case of my religion) am not, I am not certain how what he does is directly translatable for my purposes.

      Thanks for the compliment, but I don’t see how our goals are different. Like you, I also want to test supernatural claims.

      If you don’t like my algorithm, what do you use? How do you dip your net in the water and come up with just Christianity (rather than nothing [which I find] or everything [you pull up many other religions])? The challenge, IMO, is for you to have a fair test that doesn’t give an explicit nod to your religion.

  • ctcss

    @Kodie

    “God is non-material in nature, as are all imaginations. Maybe you have some idea like god is an abstract concept …”

    Although it could appear that I might be regarding God as an abstract concept, I am not. Granted, it’s easier to talk about God when one references humanly relateable concepts like truth, love, justice, etc., but God is most definitely not an abstract concept to me. As I have told Bob before, my trust in God (which I would define as a reasoned trust based on long experience) is such that if a situation came up that others might regard as necessitating a visit to the emergency room, or that would require, say, medical treatment for cancer, I would choose to rely on prayer instead. Most people wouldn’t place their trust in abstract concepts for their personal safety and well-being under such circumstances. I don’t think I would place my trust in such a thing either. But the reason I do trust God is because I don’t regard God as an abstract concept. Thus, when I make what appears to be such a bold statement, I am not doing so because I lack intelligence or wisdom, nor have I taken leave of my senses, nor do I have a death wish, nor do I hope to get to heaven early. I’m simply saying that God, as an active ever present help, is that real to me. However, just to be honest here, I must admit that when I am making such a statement, it does make me feel a little weird, as though somehow I was overstating the case, and that maybe I didn’t really mean it. But when I do think about it, I realize that I would do exactly what I am claiming I would do. It really is that natural a decision for me.

    However, none of this is meant as an argument to convince anyone here that God is real because of what I am doing. I’m simply saying that this is what I do and the degree to which I do it.

    “How do you particularly discern a “real” thing that is not material and yet also has interactions that you can detect, and also a particular concern for you and other people?

    …..

    You seem to think there is a non-material part of you that accesses this non-material thing, but that non-material part of you also interacts materially with your brain and tells you what you should think and do.”

    You might want to read my response to avalon regarding this.

    “What you try to explain as intellectually as you possibly can comes across as wishful thinking on your part.”

    I think it can certainly appear that way, but people have always seemed to regard prayer to God as being requests for good, and thus, a wish list of sorts. But the reason it may appear that way is because prayers are often framed as petitions. However, prayer, as I practice it, is not a petition for anything. I am, however, trying to understand more about God and God’s kingdom when I pray.

    “Also, are you comfortable knowing that people using the same tools as you do have divergent conclusions? It is not the tools you use that gets you closer to anything real.”

    I think part of the problem here is that people have names for things that are overly general, in part because specifics of this sort are often hard to explain. I may very well be using the same tools as other people, or I may not be. I don’t know enough about other people’s approaches to be able to comment intelligently. And even with the same physical tools (binoculars, for instance), different people may notice different things when they view the same terrain. So, no, I am not at all uncomfortable with people arriving at different conclusions because of the fact that we may be simply noticing different things.

    “we have to be very careful not to become trapped in a figment of our favorite imaginations. You’re explaining that if we just ignore all that, we can get in touch with supernatural beings because that’s what you have done and you’re pretty certain it’s all real.”

    I certainly don’t want to become trapped in an illusion, but so far, I don’t think that what I am doing is just my imagination. And yes, I am pretty sure that what I am looking at is real enough that I want to pursue it further. And as for inviting other people to do what I do, I think that they would have to have a pretty strong interest in it. It’s not the kind of thing that anyone ought to approach in a casual way. Most people I have met don’t seem interested in pursuing the same path I am pursuing.

    BTW, from your response, you seem to be genuinely concerned for my welfare. That’s a very kind thing you’re doing. Thanks.

  • smrnda

    When someone suggests that if people spent *decades* pursuing a god, then they would finally come to better knowledge of god, I suspect a scam. Understandably wanting too fast of results in anything is a mistake, but that’s a significant chunk of a person’s life. If I make any sort of excursion into any area, without signs of success from others who have done the same thing who persevered, I’m disinclined to waste any time on an unproductive investigation. Plus, there’s lots of religions to check out. I can’t plan on spending 10 years or more on each of them, and if I did, people are susceptible to simply doing something because of the whole sunk cost thing – spend a decade devoting your life to Wotan and deciding Wotan is a ridiculous fiction means you’ve wasted your life – just keep plugging it for Wotan.

    Overall, every religious person’s experience that I’ve seen appears to be mostly wishful thinking, some vague, inflated language for the experience, and some level of community reinforcement. Seems true for pagans, Mormons, Muslims, conventional Christians, Jews, Hindus Buddhists and all the rest. The results don’t seem to commend any one religion over another either in terms of concrete results or of the level of satisfaction it provides to those practicing it. It’s like asking ‘what diet is the best?’

    Now, for a question like ‘what diet is the best’ the real question is what works for YOU. There’s no objectively best diet. Some people can argue that religion is true if it works, but it requires something other than an exclusive, monotheistic faith (polytheism or polytheistic monism can allow competing systems to be correct) but religions still make some ultimate claims about reality – and not all of them can be true.

    It seems the best religion can get is for someone to say that its truth claims cannot be rules out 100%, and that, so far, following that path hasn’t ended in total disaster or disappointment for them. The problem is, if I applied this lax standard of ‘proof’ to other areas, it wouldn’t count much for evidence.

  • MNb

    @ctcss: “God, as an active ever present help, is that real to me”
    Then science can research the activities of your god. All we need is several dozens of believers to whom your god is that real as well. You are contradicting yourself:

    “It is a well accepted fact that the scientific method cannot be used to test for the existence of something like God.”

    You have another problem yet. According to most christians their god doesn’t have a body; he is 100% spiritual. Now how does that active ever present help work out? Like say “God loves ctcss “? When I say Robert loves John we can find out by means of language (Robert tells him), Robert’s facial expressions, body language and behavior. God though, not having a body, doesn’t have those means available. Mutatis mutandis this applies to all features attributed to any god. It follows that the whole concept of god is meaningless.
    If you say that “God, as an active ever present help, is that real to me” you are quite similar to the automofreak who persists that his car loves him and is an active ever present help. You’re projecting. The fact that the car actually is material and your god is not supposed to be material only makes things worse for you.
    Your only escape route I can see is arguing that your god answers your prayers – ie you hear his voice. Alas we don’t accept that from serial killers either. The serial killer also says that “his little friend in his head is an active ever present help”. How do you argue he is wrong and you are right?

    PS: my thanks to Herman Philipse’s God in the Age of Science. Now I have finished it I seriously consider calling myself a 7 on the scale of Dawkins. There still are a few things I have to contemplate, but this “psychological argument” as I call it looks irrefutable to me, especially combined with the Problem of Evil and the Problem of the Hidden God. It may be possible to wriggle a bit of doubt when tackling all three apart, but combined? I don’t see it.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      MNb: As for the Dawkins scale, that’s a tough one for me as well.

      I’m open minded. I think there’s no god, but I could be wrong. I’d like to see any new evidence.

      But the argument in favor of a god is so incredibly flimsy, it’s hard not to call myself a strong atheist.

    • MNb

      I try to be open minded as well. Philipse argues as follows:
      1) the concept of god is meaningless.
      2) if we assume that the concept of god has meaning, it doesn’t have any predictive power.
      3) if we assume that the concept of god has meaning and that it has predictive power, atheism has superior predictive power.
      Being as skeptical towards my own arguments as to theist ones I don’t want to draw a hasty conclusion. Moreover as a teacher math when proving something I don’t want to have loose ends. So I haven’t decided yet and probably I’ll have to reread a few chapters of his book, but Philipse makes a very strong case – very possibly beyond reasonable doubt.
      Of course I’m going to try out bits and pieces on believers like ctcss as well, to see if they can counter. Based on my experiences of last few years my expectations aren’t high.

  • avalon

    @ctcss
    “my trust in God (which I would define as a reasoned trust based on long experience) is such that if a situation came up that others might regard as necessitating a visit to the emergency room, or that would require, say, medical treatment for cancer, I would choose to rely on prayer instead.”

    If you believe you existed prior to birth and you’ll exist after death, then this would be logical. Most christians don’t follow that logic. Kudos that you do.

    avalon

    • Bob Seidensticker

      avalon:

      Well … kudos that ctcss is consistent, but he’s just being consistently foolish. “I never use reason to determine truth in reality, ever!” may be consistently followed, but it’s not laudable.

      • avalon

        Hi Bob,
        That why I asked him about his main premiss:
        “I assume you’re saying that we are also immaterial beings who existed before conception and after death. And God is immaterial too.
        If that’s the case, then wouldn’t all matter be irrelevant? What would be the purpose of a universe if we existed with God as immaterial selves beforehand and we’ll exist with him as immaterial selves eternally after the universe is long gone? Why bother with a temporary existence in matter? Is it all just illusion? A game? What?”

        avalon

        • ctcss

          @avalon

          I knew there was something about you that I liked. You actually try to understand what it is that I am saying, even if you personally disagree with it. Plus you openly acknowledge your understanding of these points (agreed with or not), making it possible to be on the same conceptual page and actually have a productive conversation with you. Double kudos to you for doing that! (Any chance of you passing this skill along to Bob? ;) )

          “If that’s the case, then wouldn’t all matter be irrelevant?”

          Bingo! (And conversely, all that is spiritual (that is, God created and ordained) is therefore relevant.)

          “What would be the purpose of a universe if we existed with God as immaterial selves beforehand and we’ll exist with him as immaterial selves eternally after the universe is long gone?”

          And the answer to this is basically what I said to you when you asked “If so, what function is left for God?”, and I answered “Everything that pertains to God and God’s kingdom. Basically, reality as God knows and understands it to be.”

          The point here being, God (in order to be considered as God) would have to define all reality. Whatever it is that God knows or does, is reality. Whatever that God does not know or does not do, is unreality. In matter of fact (at least from the perspective of God as I was taught it), the material universe doesn’t even exist. God, being non-material, expresses and creates only that which is like Himself. Since God is Spirit, His creation, His kingdom, is entirely spiritual. Matter simply does not even exist in this scenario.

          “Is it all just illusion? A game? What?”

          A better way might be to describe it as ignorance, or misperception, or misunderstanding, just as a student new to school may not understand what is being presented because the subject area is unfamiliar or complex, or may find that what is being presented is at odds with “knowledge” obtained from other venues. The human mental framework often finds itself at odds with the things of God simply because God’s view (entirely spiritual and perfect, and thus entirely adequate and accurate to describe God’s spiritual creation) does not correspond to the human view (material and imperfect, and thus most often inadequate and inaccurate to perceive God’s creation.) Another way it has been described is akin to waking up from a dream. People entirely asleep are only aware of the dreaming perspective and aren’t even aware that there is something outside of that dream. Likewise, people slowly coming awake can find themselves confused as the dreaming perspective and the waking perspective seem to mingle in thought, and thus things can seem very much of out kilter until the transition from one mental state to the other is fully accomplished.

          In I Corinthians 13:8-12, Paul mentions “seeing through a glass, darkly” and that’s probably a helpful way to describe it. He also talks about seeing in part and prophesying in part. Basically, we don’t grasp everything yet, so we go with what we do understand and continue to listen in order to be led forward by God. And as you might imagine, this would tend to take a person in a very different direction from that which one would find themselves going in if they were to follow the everyday view of things. But note that, despite the confusion and ignorance which may seem to exist from the human perspective, from God’s perspective there is no such confusion or ignorance.

          The point is, all of this is a very God-centric approach, as opposed to a human-knowledge-centric or worldly-knowledge-centric approach. The idea being that it is God’s knowledge and understanding that count, not the world’s knowledge and understanding. Basically, one does not reason backward from the human mental framework and find God. Rather,one reasons outward from God and finds the man (as opposed to the human being) of God’s creating. This could be thought of as being similar to reasoning outward from the principle of mathematics and finding correct solutions, rather than trying to reason backwards from mathematical mistakes and trying to find the governing principle of mathematics. From the perspective of the principle of mathematics, there are no math errors. Everything is perfect and orderly. Likewise, from the perspective of God, there are no errors in what God has created. Everything is perfect and harmonious. And that makes sense if one considers that everything in God’s creation (God’s kingdom) is spiritual. Unlike the concept of materiality where limitation, conflict, randomness, and mindlessness are a given, there are no such conflicts or limitations with things that are spiritual because they are manifestations of God’s perfect nature..

          I know, I know, it sounds extremely odd sounding and highly unlikely from a human perspective, but then, Jesus wasn’t trying to teach his followers about the human perspective on things, was he? He pointed out that the human perspective on things was already pretty common knowledge to everyone whether they were righteous or unrighteous. Sinners were just as familiar with the concept of caring for their fellow sinning neighbors as righteous people were familiar with caring for their fellow righteous neighbors. Loving one’s neighbor was hardly news, he pointed out. But loving one’s enemies and those that wanted to harm you, that was rather different. Loving the evil and the unthankful, that was rather different. Humans weren’t too keen on loving those types. But God did approach those types with love, as well as approaching the righteous with love. So Jesus wasn’t trying to teach his followers nothing more than how to be nice to humans while living in a familiar, safe, human environment. He was trying to teach them about God and God’s kingdom and what that was all about. He was trying to teach them about perfection from God’s perspective which, of course, is entirely spiritual, entirely good, and entirely loving. He was asking them to repent (to rethink, to reconsider) because, unlike the concept of God’s kingdom that they probably were thinking of, he was pointing out that the kingdom of heaven was available to them right where they were, and it was rather different from what they were thinking it was. And to learn to be in harmony with God and God’s kingdom, to experience what it was all about, was going to require a lot of rethinking from them, as well as a willing and conscious desire to sacrifice everything they had in order to obtain this new and infinitely valuable view of reality.

          This is why I think Bob’s approach of trying to find God based on what he can discern materially is not going to yield any fruit. IMO he is trying to look someplace where God is not going to be found. From the standpoint of investigating material phenomena, I think his approach makes sense. But that’s because he is using material methods to try to discern material things. But if one is trying to investigate something that isn’t material and isn’t detectable using material methods, and is likely to be rather different from the environment one currently seems to understand, why would one use a material method to try to find it? How would such methods ever apply in such a case?

          BTW, I’m sorry to have taken so long to respond. I thought you had forgotten about me, and then I finally saw your response. I thought it wouldn’t take too long to reply back to you, but nothing is ever as simple as it seems.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          ctcss:

          This is why I think Bob’s approach of trying to find God based on what he can discern materially is not going to yield any fruit. IMO he is trying to look someplace where God is not going to be found. From the standpoint of investigating material phenomena, I think his approach makes sense. But that’s because he is using material methods to try to discern material things.

          I’m using material methods to discern the material footprint that a supernatural being is said to have. If God had his own sphere completely separate from our universe and never touched ours, then your concern would be well placed.

        • avalon

          Hi ctcss,
          You actually try to understand what it is that I am saying, even if you personally disagree with it.
          Yes, I do. “God” is such a fluid term, so I don’t assume what someone means by it.

          Bingo! (And conversely, all that is spiritual (that is, God created and ordained) is therefore relevant.) … “Everything that pertains to God and God’s kingdom. Basically, reality as God knows and understands it to be.”

          The point here being, God (in order to be considered as God) would have to define all reality. Whatever it is that God knows or does, is reality. Whatever that God does not know or does not do, is unreality. In matter of fact (at least from the perspective of God as I was taught it), the material universe doesn’t even exist. God, being non-material, expresses and creates only that which is like Himself. Since God is Spirit, His creation, His kingdom, is entirely spiritual. Matter simply does not even exist in this scenario.

          I’ve heard a theory similar to this. Basically, that only God exists and the universe is nothing more than thoughts in God’s mind. Is that what you’re proposing?

          The human mental framework often finds itself at odds with the things of God simply because God’s view (entirely spiritual and perfect, and thus entirely adequate and accurate to describe God’s spiritual creation) does not correspond to the human view (material and imperfect, and thus most often inadequate and inaccurate to perceive God’s creation.)

          If we’re all just part of God’s infinite mind then we can’t really be at odds with his thoughts, can we? But that wouldn’t really matter much since it’s no more than a passing thought in God’s mind. A flight of fancy.

          Another way it has been described is akin to waking up from a dream. People entirely asleep are only aware of the dreaming perspective and aren’t even aware that there is something outside of that dream. Likewise, people slowly coming awake can find themselves confused as the dreaming perspective and the waking perspective seem to mingle in thought, and thus things can seem very much of out kilter until the transition from one mental state to the other is fully accomplished.

          But what if we ARE the dream? A dream in God’s mind?

          He (Jesus)was trying to teach them about perfection from God’s perspective which, of course, is entirely spiritual,

          It’s one thing to describe God as you do, but now you’re making claims about the bible. And that is something very different. I know what you mean when you say “spirit” or “spiritual”, and I also know what the bible authors meant. They are not the same. Look at the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin for the word “spirit”, “wind”, and “breath”. Then look up every occurrence of those words in the bible. I think what you’ll find is very different from the meaning you attach to the word.
          So you see, when the bible or Jesus says “spirit” they’re not talking about what you are. See John 20:22 and tell me why he “breathed” on them?
          Based on my understanding of how the word spirit is used in the bible, I’d say it’s pretty superstitious and outdated.

          BTW, I’m sorry to have taken so long to respond. I thought you had forgotten about me, and then I finally saw your response. I thought it wouldn’t take too long to reply back to you, but nothing is ever as simple as it seems.

          No problem. I’ll keep checking back here every couple of days until you get tired of my questions.

          avalon

      • ctcss

        @Bob

        “Well … kudos that ctcss is consistent, but he’s just being consistently foolish.”

        Although I realize that this is your sincere opinion based on your own life experience, I am not sure why you think such an approach would strike me as being foolish. (Well, you could offer that opinion if you want to be personally dismissive of me, but you wouldn’t want to do that, right?) Personally, I don’t like doing foolish things, and I assume that you don’t either. Our views on this matter happen to differ because our experiences regarding what we have learned to successfully trust in life are not the same. (You must realize that our lives have not shared that much in common, right?)

        And despite my repeated contentions that the studies on prayer that you keep referring to do not seem applicable to what I do, you never seem to understand that. You seem to think that the word “prayer” can mean only one thing and thus any study that refers to prayer refers to any and all kinds of prayer, without exception. Yet I pointed out quite clearly to you that each clinical test of prayer was testing only one specific type of prayer and praying procedure under very specific conditions. Thus, any less than ideal outcomes discerned during those clinical tests applies only to that one specific type of prayer and praying procedure under those very specific conditions, and nothing more. Thus, until every type of prayer, praying procedure, and praying conditions are explored, you really can’t honestly claim that prayer (as an all-encompassing term) has been proven not to work. Only those specifically tested situations can be cited as having some type of relevance. And so far, nothing I have read about those studies relates to what I rely on when I use prayer to deal with problems of that sort. I also further explained why I thought that it might very well be impossible to test prayer to God under clinical conditions. And I should point out that none of my doubts were predicated on something nebulous relating to God. They were all based on problems involving the very earth-bound procedures for setting up tests like this.

        So, I realize that you have sincere doubts as to my wisdom when I assert what I would be willing to trust prayer for. But so far, the opposing point you are citing to me seems to be based on trust in scientism, rather than actual science. Just because guys in lab coats have performed controlled experiments which resulted in carefully documented outcomes, doesn’t mean that everything concluded from those experiments necessarily applies to conditions not examined by their studies. To make such an assumption smacks of scientism, not actual science. Actual science would mean setting up a new set of studies to test those new conditions and seeing what comes of it. Granted, science (where actually used) has not proven prayer (of the very narrow types and procedures tested) to provide meaningful outcomes. But then, I wasn’t relying on the results of any of those clinical studies to base my use of prayer on, was I? (I was relying on prayer long before those studies were ever performed.) I certainly wasn’t utilizing any of the prayer procedures used in the studies. However, if I had been utilizing the prayer procedures used in the studies, the point you have been trying to make to me would be based on an actual scientific study, thus it would be relevant, and I should, because of its relevance, give some serious consideration to it.

        So we need to agree to disagree, once again. But do you understand my point about you not citing something useful or relevant?

        However, you may ask, if current scientific studies have not yet offered evidence that any form of tested prayer (however narrowly selected or defined) is effective, why do I continue to consider prayer as safe to use? I would have to cite experience as the reason. Which you may counter with the question, but how do you know that your experience is valid? To which I may point out that field testing over time gives rise to confidence. I have stated before that I am basing my use of prayer on reasoned trust, built up over time. The Incas built suspension bridges made out of grass for 500 years. The invading Spaniards didn’t think such things were trustworthy at first. (Who the heck would trust their lives to a bridge made out of grass rather than stone?) But they found out these grass bridges could support soldiers, horses, and even cannons despite the doubts as to their functionality. The Incas weren’t worried about the bridges because they had learned to rely on them. MIT scientists didn’t verify their functionality until centuries later. But the Incas didn’t need that vetting. They were too busy using their bridges to care what other people might think about their trust in such grass structures.

        So here I am, doing what I do, for reasons that have made practical sense to me for quite some time. Am I being foolish? So far, I don’t think I have been. But no one is being forced to follow the path I am treading. And the simple reason I am treading this path is because the people who have gone before me had practical outcomes from their praying experiences. What they did made sense to me. What I personally experienced made sense to me. And if others also decide follow the same path, I would hope they will do so because it makes sense to them. I am not a fan of doing things just because someone told me to do it, nor am I a fan of doing things by blind faith.

        So your concern for me is appreciated, but it strikes me as being unfounded, at least from my experience.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          ctcss:

          Your experience and attitude is different from mine, and I appreciate your sharing.

          Personally, I don’t like doing foolish things, and I assume that you don’t either.

          Right. IMO, you don’t follow reason in one area and reject it when it would step on the toes of your faith in another.

          Yet I pointed out quite clearly to you that each clinical test of prayer was testing only one specific type of prayer and praying procedure under very specific conditions.

          Have there been studies for the kind of prayer you think is effective? If not, what do you think a study would show? Sounds like, from your standpoint, that prayer may not be amenable to experiment.

          So, I realize that you have sincere doubts as to my wisdom when I assert what I would be willing to trust prayer for.

          For health matters? Yeah, I sincerely doubt the wisdom of relying on prayer for that.

          Just because guys in lab coats have performed controlled experiments which resulted in carefully documented outcomes, doesn’t mean that everything concluded from those experiments necessarily applies to conditions not examined by their studies.

          The “guys in lab coats” have told us a lot about reality. The guys in the theology ivory tower have told us nothing. I think I’ll look toward the former for understanding reality.

          the simple reason I am treading this path is because the people who have gone before me had practical outcomes from their praying experiences.

          Sounds like a scientific approach. I suspect, however, that if you were to say “prayer works,” it wouldn’t be using the word “works” as it is normally used. Electricity works, my car works, a bridge works. Prayer doesn’t work in the same reliable way. Don’t you agree?

  • ctcss

    @Bob

    “I’m using material methods to discern the material footprint that a supernatural being is said to have.”

    I can’t actually agree with such a statement regarding a material footprint. Other religious viewpoints may espouse such a view, but it really doesn’t fit within the theological model I was taught.

    “If God had his own sphere completely separate from our universe and never touched ours, then your concern would be well placed.”

    As I understand it, it’s not so much that God touches (or doesn’t touch) ours. It’s that we need to discern His. It’s that discernment that is the important part, at least as I understand these things. And our main difference in outlook (other than the belief vs non-belief standpoint) is that you seem to be referencing a traditional model of God and the universe (even as you follow your non-belief path), whereas I am not. Basically, you are using a modified version of the traditional model that (as you view it) considers matter to be foundational, and God as probably non-existent. Thus, in order to fairly assess whether or not God exists, you are looking for God’s footprints in the material world. I, on the other hand, am referencing a model that considers God to be foundational, and matter to be non-existent. Thus, I am seeking to discern/understand something rather different, which is my eternal spiritual existence in God’s kingdom.

    BTW, my concern is not for your eternal well being (if that is what you were referring to). I was basically taught universal salvation. However, it’s a little different than the usual take on universal salvation in that it is a conditional form of universal salvation. That is, God has standards that must be met. However, it is also effectively unconditional because God will not allow anyone to fail. No one is ever abandoned or cast aside or destroyed. As I was taught it, God’s love is absolute, universal, and eternal.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      ctcss:

      I can’t actually agree with such a statement regarding a material footprint. Other religious viewpoints may espouse such a view, but it really doesn’t fit within the theological model I was taught.

      So God doesn’t have any effect on our world, good or bad? They who cares about him?

      As I understand it, it’s not so much that God touches (or doesn’t touch) ours. It’s that we need to discern His.

      So we can interact with God’s world (or vice versa)?

      it is also effectively unconditional because God will not allow anyone to fail. No one is ever abandoned or cast aside or destroyed.

      That’s a nicer view. The typical Christian view of hell paints God as a monster.

  • ctcss

    @Bob

    “Right. IMO, you don’t follow reason in one area and reject it when it would step on the toes of your faith in another.”

    Could you elaborate on this a little more with some illustrative details? Bear in mind that I am using reasoning, it’s just not reasoning based on materialism.

    “Have there been studies for the kind of prayer you think is effective? If not, what do you think a study would show?”

    I am not aware of any such studies. I’ve already discussed the main problem with setting up such a study utilizing prayer involving God. However, there would also be additional problems setting up a study focusing on the specific approach to prayer I am familiar with. For one thing, I don’t think people such as myself would wish to participate in such a study simply because it would be considered as an intrusion into something very personal and private, i.e. communion with God. (Like it or not, this would be a real objection, not a dodge.) For another, people like myself who would approach prayer in this particular manner don’t usually have questions as to whether nor not this practice can be trusted. They engage in it because they have already established a level of trust in God. Thus, the natural candidates for such a study would not wish to participate in the study. So this leads us into the second problem area of trying to set up such a study. The only people who might have an interest in conducting such a study would be health-care professionals, i.e. doctors. But doctors have specific ethical concerns about how patients are to be treated, that is, they would not wish to knowingly cause harm to a patient participating in a study. As I have already mentioned before, one of the big differences between the approach used by the prayer studies already performed, and the approach that I would consider normal to use, is that they employed a mix of medicine and prayer, whereas I would have used only prayer. In the STEP study, the patients who participated in the study had cardiac surgery. The prayer component was only intended as an add-on assist to help with the patient’s recovery from that surgery. Thus, the main healing effort in each case was always the cardiac surgery, along with the application of any other drugs (including pain-killers) that might normally be used in such situations. But in the scenario I would consider to be normal regarding the use of prayer, no surgery or drugs would be used at all.

    Now consider the following scenario. I assume that in STEP, the potential participants were asked if they would like to be part of the STEP study, and the study was then described to them so that they could make up their minds whether to take part in it. If STEP were altered as I envision it, the patients participating would be told that they would have no surgery whatsoever, nor would drugs of any sort be administered, only prayer. (I doubt that any people would consent to participate in such a study, but let’s assume they would.) Furthermore, a control group would also need to be established. That group would also receive no surgery or drugs, nor would they receive any prayer. (Once again, participation is highly unlikely, but let’s assume that everyone is OK with the possibility that they might be assigned to the control group.) Are you seeing the problem? Even if the potential participants might agree (and I highly doubt that they would), how many doctors would go along with such a study because of the ethical concerns involved? I would guess none would. (And just to clarify my fully-in-favor-of-relying-on-prayer-alone view regarding such a study, I could not conceive of placing any participants in the control group either, because they would have no support at all. It would be incredibly unloving and uncaring to deliberately put them in such a position.) Thus, I don’t see how a study of this sort could be conducted.

    “Sounds like, from your standpoint, that prayer may not be amenable to experiment.”

    No, I don’t think it would be. Thus, all those various studies, while well meant, were not likely to obtain useful outcomes IMO.

    “For health matters? Yeah, I sincerely doubt the wisdom of relying on prayer for that.”

    And I would think that our differing approaches has something to do with our life experiences in this regard. People tend to go with what they have learned to trust. Trusting in God for such things is not usually a person’s first choice, even among believers. Such an approach would either have to be demonstrated as workable/practical in order for them to consider it to be a viable option, or else they would have had to run out of all other options before even considering such a choice. So I get your point. However (because of many years of grappling with this subject area and learning to rely on it in a practical way), I already have gained a working trust in prayer to God, so I don’t consider doing this as something personally foolhardy.

    “The “guys in lab coats” have told us a lot about reality.”

    I should point out that I have a great deal of respect for the people doing studies. I used that particular turn of phrase because I was deriding the trust some people have in scientism where the mere presence of people in lab coats is enough for them to accept (or inappropriately extrapolate) the results of studies without thinking further about what was done or how it was done. Thus my criticism of the prayer studies and some people’s conclusions about what those studies meant.

    “Sounds like a scientific approach.”

    I would agree. And ironically enough, based on what I have read in Daniel Fincke’s blog, I don’t think he would classify my religious faith as a religion. (He seems to consider religious activity as that which operates without evidence of any sort, and only utilizes blind faith.)

    “I suspect, however, that if you were to say “prayer works,” it wouldn’t be using the word “works” as it is normally used.”

    I don’t think I would normally use a phrase like “prayer works” because I think it has misleading connotations that would tend to lead to a mechanistic view of the subject. Mind you, I do think that prayer is effective. I just don’t feel comfortable using such a short, glib statement to characterize what I consider to be a complex area of thought and practice. For instance, consider the use of prayer for one’s health. Praying, at least as I understand it, is not a spiritualized form of medicine where “take two aspirin” is replaced by “say two prayers”. Taking pills is a rather trivial activity, just as reading text by doing nothing more than pronouncing words written on a page is a rather trivial activity. Engaging in prayer (at least as I understand the term) is not a trivial activity. It requires reasoning and understanding, as well as revelation. Praying is meant to transform a person’s outlook and experience in a rather profound way. And although it is not identical, prayer might be considered similar to education in that regard. One might use the phrase “education works” and have people agree with that statement, but any serious consideration of the topic would most likely regard education as a transformational learning process that only has a useful effect as the person grows in their understanding of the subjects being studied, along with gaining experience with the learning and reasoning process itself, and the interplay that such an effort has with all of the aspects of a person’s life. So if one were to regard the phrase “education works” in that way, I would also be amenable to using the phrase “prayer works” in a similar way.

    “Electricity works, my car works, a bridge works. Prayer doesn’t work in the same reliable way. Don’t you agree?”

    The goal of praying, as noted above, is rather different than simply trying to obtain a specific, narrowly defined effect. Gaining a greater understanding of God and working to be more in harmony with God are far more important goals. (As Jesus pointed out, one is supposed to seek God’s kingdom first. The things “added” come about as a result of placing God (rather than one’s needs or desires) first.) I do think that prayer can be relied on for help, but the process can sometimes (but not always) be far more involved that flipping a switch or utilizing something that someone else has built. So, do I rely on prayer? Yes. Do I consider this to be a safe thing to do? Yes. Do I think that it is a practical thing to do, with actual, useful, here-and-now results? Yes. Is it always an easy thing for a person to do? No. But based on the kinds of experiences I have seen my friends deal with, I don’t think the standard medical approach is always an easy thing to do either. (And just so you don’t think I am trying to dodge your question, please remember that your examples of electricity, cars, and bridges required a whole lot of effort to establish before they could be utilized in a “just works” kind of way. Likewise, a person’s developed understanding of God and God’s kingdom also requires a lot of effort to establish. Prayer, as a practice (at least as I understand it) is non-trivial. The examples you gave were also non-trivial, but you didn’t seem to appreciate that fact when you made their use seem like something trivially accomplished.)

    The thing is, utilizing prayer in the way that I do is a choice, freely (and, I believe, intelligently) made, just as my friends’ medical choices are being freely and intelligently made by them. My focus, of course, is on God and God’s kingdom when I think about prayer. So, like the merchant seeking goodly pearls, I am interested in finding that one pearl of great price. The question I still need to continually ask myself is, am I willing to “sell” all that I have in order to obtain it? Sometimes the answer is an immediate Yes! Sometimes, however, it is a grudging yes. And sometimes it is a “Let me get back to you on that later” kind of response. (For a believer, that’s a little sad, isn’t it? :( ) So no, I am not done in my quest, not by a long shot. But I haven’t turned back yet, nor do I expect to.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      ctcss:

      I don’t think people such as myself would wish to participate in such a study simply because it would be considered as an intrusion into something very personal and private

      If Christians won’t test prayer scientifically, they should stop making scientific claims about it (“prayers are answered,” for example).

      Seems to me that the best you could hope for would be some vague 1%-greater-than-chance kind of thing. Prayer doesn’t “work” like electricity or telephones, right?

      the patients participating would be told that they would have no surgery whatsoever, nor would drugs of any sort be administered, only prayer.

      There’s a town in Oregon where a particular prayer-only kind of church was predominant. The graveyard had a preponderance of graves of their children. Finally, the state government changed the laws that allowed them to impose their insanity on children.

      Are you seeing the problem?

      Yeah–neither group is receiving care that has any chance of helping.

      And even if we did this study and found prayer ineffective, few Christians would change their views of prayer. The experiment would be pointless. Their beliefs aren’t based on evidence, so evidence that their beliefs are wrong would be ignored.

      I don’t think he would classify my religious faith as a religion. (He seems to consider religious activity as that which operates without evidence of any sort, and only utilizes blind faith.)

      If your faith isn’t a religion, then you change based on new evidence?

      Mind you, I do think that prayer is effective. I just don’t feel comfortable using such a short, glib statement to characterize what I consider to be a complex area of thought and practice.

      “It’s complex”?? That’s a cop out. If it doesn’t work, then don’t say it does.

      So if one were to regard the phrase “education works” in that way, I would also be amenable to using the phrase “prayer works” in a similar way.

      That’s an interesting comparison. Education doesn’t work like cable TV does. But it sure works better than prayer!

      The goal of praying, as noted above, is rather different than simply trying to obtain a specific, narrowly defined effect.

      Why then use prayer to cure illness? If you’re simply saying that prayer is just what you do to commune with God during a difficult time, that’s fine, but this is no replacement for medicine.

      Do I think that it is a practical thing to do, with actual, useful, here-and-now results? Yes.

      Doesn’t this contradict? You’ve handwaved all sorts of caveats so you can explain prayer’s ineffectiveness. But now it’s a practical avenue to change, like a new diet or a medicine with a 95% cure rate.

      remember that your examples of electricity, cars, and bridges required a whole lot of effort to establish before they could be utilized in a “just works” kind of way. Likewise, a person’s developed understanding of God and God’s kingdom also requires a lot of effort to establish.

      And yet for no one does prayer work like cable TV.

  • ctcss

    @avalon

    “I’ve heard a theory similar to this. Basically, that only God exists and the universe is nothing more than thoughts in God’s mind. Is that what you’re proposing?”

    Something along those lines, yes.

    “If we’re all just part of God’s infinite mind then we can’t really be at odds with his thoughts, can we?”

    Well noted. Exactly, whatever God expresses has to be in harmony with God, just as whatever Beethoven the composer expresses has to be in harmony with Beethoven. Whatever God creates has to be the logical and harmonious outcome of God’s perfect nature. Of course, that seems to be at odds with what we, as humans, seem to witness and experience. But that was what I was trying to get at in my last response to you. Jesus wasn’t trying to help give humans a better, human-centric view of reality. He was trying to help them see things as God creates them and knows them. A God-centric view, in other words. And since since God is God, His view is the only actual view, just as the principle of mathematics has to embody the only true view of mathematics. (An erroneous view of math isn’t a true view of math at all. It’s an ignorance of math. Likewise, an erroneous view of God’s creation isn’t a true view of of creation at all. It’s an ignorance of it.) In order to understand what it means to be God’s children (God’s expression or reflection), one would need to understand the nature of God and God’s kingdom. And when one starts with God and God’s nature and then works outward from there, one doesn’t arrive at matter, nor at things formed by matter and governed by chance. One ends up with God’s harmonious kingdom and God’s man created in His image and likeness, both of which are wholly spiritual. The human view, being entirely suppositional (God certainly doesn’t see it or know it) is therefore not just an inaccurate view of reality, it is also non-existent view.

    “But that wouldn’t really matter much since it’s no more than a passing thought in God’s mind. A flight of fancy.”

    Actually, God doesn’t have passing thoughts. God is all about eternity (a timeless state), and His creation reflects that. (See Ecclesiastes 3:14-15) That’s why I was saying that one’s relationship with God is an eternal one. God’s creation is the outcome of God. God is eternal and timeless. His creation is therefore also eternal and timeless. Things don’t come and go. They always exist because God always exists. Which is also another point. There is no pre-life or afterlife because there is no pre or after . There is just life, which is eternal, just as God is.

    “But what if we ARE the dream? A dream in God’s mind?”

    Except God doesn’t slumber or sleep. (See Psalm 121 and Isaiah 49:14-16.) God is ever watchful. Elijah also alludes to this difference between Baal (a false god) in I Kings 18:27 and God.

    “It’s one thing to describe God as you do, but now you’re making claims about the bible. And that is something very different. I know what you mean when you say “spirit” or “spiritual”, and I also know what the bible authors meant.”

    Actually, you know what words they used, which is not the same thing as what they meant by the use of those words. Looking at the NT, there is a very strong contrast between the things of the flesh and the things of the spirit or of God. The things of the flesh are never held out as something to be valued or treasured whereas the things of the spirit are. Thus Jesus’ use of contrasting terms when he spoke to Nicodemus. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” He is using wordplay to try to turn Nicodemus’ thought around so that he might be able to grasp what Jesus was getting at. As a different example also employing a commonly used word, when Jesus told his disciples to beware the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, he was trying to get them to understand the danger of the way of thinking of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, not about any cooking ingredient that they might have used. (And, let’s face it, the Jews were very exacting as to what kinds of food and cleansing rituals that were important. Yet, despite the disciple’s awareness of that kind of exacting ritual practice, Jesus used that turn of phrase anyway.) He also pointed out to the Samaritan woman what was needed in order to worship God properly (John 4:21-24). Do you honestly think he was trying to get her to understand to more about breath or wind and it’s use in worshiping God, or do you think he was trying to get her to grasp something regarding the nature of God, and thus the need to understand this nature in order to worship God properly?

    “Look at the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin for the word “spirit”, “wind”, and “breath”. Then look up every occurrence of those words in the bible. I think what you’ll find is very different from the meaning you attach to the word.”

    Actually, take a look at these two Greek entries in Strong’s. Notice the contrast between that which is lower in character from that which is higher? Pneuma is used figuratively to denote spirit, yet it can also be used literally to refer to wind or breath. Thus Jesus’ use of wordplay when trying to bring out a higher point.

    4151. pneuma pnyoo’-mah from 4154; a current of air, i.e. breath (blast) or a breeze; by analogy or figuratively, a spirit, i.e. (human) the rational soul, (by implication) vital principle, mental disposition, etc., or (superhuman) an angel, demon, or (divine) God, Christ’s spirit, the Holy Spirit:–ghost, life, spirit(-ual, -ually), mind. Compare 5590.

    5590. psuche psoo-khay’ from 5594; breath, i.e. (by implication) spirit, abstractly or concretely (the animal sentient principle only; thus distinguished on the one hand from 4151, which is the rational and immortal soul; and on the other from 2222, which is mere vitality, even of plants: these terms thus exactly correspond respectively to the Hebrew 5315, 7307 and 2416):–heart (+ -ily), life, mind, soul, + us, + you.

    And also these contrasting word entries that declare a difference between lower and higher nature that are also related to pneuma.

    4152. pneumatikos pnyoo-mat-ik-os’ from 4151; non-carnal, i.e. (humanly) ethereal (as opposed to gross), or (daemoniacally) a spirit (concretely), or (divinely) supernatural, regenerate, religious:–spiritual. Compare 5591.

    4153. pneumatikos pnyoo-mat-ik-oce’ adverb from 4152; non-physically, i.e. divinely, figuratively:–spiritually.

    5591. psuchikos psoo-khee-kos’ from 5590; sensitive, i.e. animate (in distinction on the one hand from 4152, which is the higher or renovated nature; and on the other from 5446, which is the lower or bestial nature):–natural, sensual.

    Also, consider the passage in I Kings 19:11 (which Jesus would certainly be familiar with) where it is quite clearly stated that the Lord was not in the wind, despite the apparently impressive showing of force by the wind in that instance. And once again, the word used is ruwach (7307), which, as you noted, is used so frequently to denote spirit in the OT, even for the Spirit of God. Basically, the authors used words in whatever way they thought was appropriate to bring out meaning.

    So, no, I don’t think the use of spirit or spiritual is used in ways different from how I am using them.

    “See John 20:22 and tell me why he “breathed” on them?”

    I have always considered that particular verse to be badly or clumsily stated, almost like an afterthought. It doesn’t strike me as something as deeply explained or understood (by the writer of that verse) as other things were in John. It’s almost as though someone who didn’t understand what Jesus was doing was trying to capture something important, but didn’t quite know how to do it. And considering all of the other phrasings in the NT that seem to bring out a clearer sense of the spiritual vs the physical, I consider this (IMO clumsy) phrasing to be an anomaly, rather than something that helps to shed light on the subject.

    • avalon

      Hi ctcss,
      ctcss: “Pneuma is used figuratively to denote spirit, yet it can also be used literally to refer to wind or breath. Thus Jesus’ use of wordplay when trying to bring out a higher point.”

      avalon: Not really. Consider the etymology of the word spirit: “”spirit (n.)
      mid-13c., “animating or vital principle in man and animals,”
      “Meaning “supernatural being” is attested from c.1300″
      (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=spirit)
      The meaning we use today started around 1300 CE. This was long after the bible was written.

      Concerning the word “spirit”, Wiki states:
      “In religion and spirituality, the respiration of a human has for obvious reasons become seen as strongly linked with the very occurrence of life. Spirit, in this sense, means the thing that separates a living body from a corpse—and usually implies intelligence, consciousness, and sentience.”
      (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spirit)

      Here they are getting to the question, “How is it that in Hebrew (and Greek and Latin) the word for spirit, wind, and breath are all the same word? Put your self in primitive man’s shoes and see the world as they did in order to answer that question. Consider air as a primitive man would. Isn’t it a mysterious substance? It’s invisible yet you can feel it move. If it moves fast enough it can be destructive. What else? This invisible stuff is necessary for life. No air and you die. A sleeping man and a dead man are different because a sleeper still breathes. How does a sleeping man still breath? What moves the air in and out of his body? He doesn’t have to think, ‘Breath in, breath out’. And what makes the wind blow?
      With these questions the primitive man comes up with the answer “spirit”. Spirit is not the air itself, it is the force that moves this mysterious invisible stuff called ‘air’. Of course, we know better now; but that’s the thought behind the meaning of ‘spirit’ in the bible. From God’s spirit moving over the waters (wind), to God breathing his spirit into Adam, to Jesus breathing the spirit on the apostles.
      “Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” (Ezek 37:9 [KJV])
      “The wind blows wherever it will, and you hear the sound it makes, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8 [NET])
      “Suddenly a sound like a violent wind blowing came from heaven and filled the entire house where they were sitting….All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them. ” (Acts 2:2-4 [NET]) (Speech comes from our breath. Miraculous speech comes from miraculous breath aka, ‘Holy Spirit’. With Holy Breath comes holy speech.)
      “Whenever they hand you over for trial, do not worry about how to speak or what to say, for what you should say will be given to you at that time. For it is not you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. ” ((Matt 10:19-20 [NET])
      This isn’t figurative, it’s literally a Holy breath that will form your words. ie Holy Spirit.

      In the OT when Abraham makes his covenant with God, he cuts in two all the animals EXCEPT the dove. Why not cut the dove? It’s a creature of the air (spirit). It is the spirit inside the dove that allows it to ride the air.

      Now for John 20:22 “And after he said this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
      There are 4 baptisms talked about in the NT: Water (aka John’s baptism), Fire, Spirit, and Earth.
      Matt. 3:11 “I baptize you with WATER, for repentance, but the one coming after me is more powerful than I am – I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy SPIRIT and FIRE.”
      Mark 10:38 “But Jesus said to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I experience?” (baptism in the EARTH)
      This early culture believed in 4 basic elements: Water, Fire, Air, and Earth. It’s eassy to see that ‘spirit’ is associated with the air. So spirit baptism is baptism with air (or breath aka ‘Holy Spirit’).
      John 20:22 is Jesus performing a spirit baptism. “he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

      To study this further you might look into the way air (spirits) and water react. Air cannot penetrate water, it rises to escape. Likewise it was believed spirits couldn’t penetrate water. Hence the use of water immersion for baptism. And there’s Jesus saying evil spirits inhabit “waterless places”. There’s also the demon-posessed pigs drowning in a lake even tho’ pigs are excellent swimmers. It was the demons that couldn’t swim.

      All in all, I see the bible getting the idea of “spirit” from faulty thinking about respiration and blowing winds. This idea carries thru into the NT as well and is illustrated in the superstitions that Jesus’ words and actions reflect. This is of course all very different from what people today think of as spirit. They try to force the modern (post 1300 CE) meaning onto the ancient text. That’s like reading Dickens saying “John was a gay man.” and thinking it means homosexual. Language means different things at different times in history. Dickens didn’t use “gay” to mean homosexual because it meant something else back then. And the bible writers didn’t use “spirit” like we do today. They associated it with wind and breath for very faulty reasons. No christian today believes spirits make them breathe or make the wind blow, but the authors of the bible believe just that. And most christians have no idea why they are baptised in water.

      avalon

    • avalon

      @ctcss,
      As for your ideas about God. I find these very interesting. They seem independent from the bible for one thing. But they also can be seen as having a basis in science.

      You say, “Whatever God creates has to be the logical and harmonious outcome of God’s perfect nature.”
      Does that mean you reject creation ex nihilo? I’ve always found the idea at odds with an eternal God. That is, if God always existed then he would be all that existed. Creation ex nihilo seems to imagine a god floating in a vast empty space (nothingness), but an eternal god would be a totality with no space nor time. That means God would not fill an empty space, there was no space. The alternative would seem to be creating within himself. In human terms God became self-aware and began to imagine things being ‘not-god’. These imaginings we see as creation. As you said, “God is all about eternity (a timeless state), and His creation reflects that.”

      You said, “And when one starts with God and God’s nature and then works outward from there, one doesn’t arrive at matter, nor at things formed by matter”

      This has some basis in science. When we look closely at matter we see atoms which are mostly empty space. And the ‘particles’ which make up an atom are best described as “waves of probability” rather than bits of matter. I also find the holographic theory of the universe interesting, particularly since our consciousness can be thought of as holographic as well. Perhaps this is what we’d expect to find if we were all just thoughts in a mind.

      You said, “God’s creation is the outcome of God. God is eternal and timeless. His creation is therefore also eternal and timeless.”

      Exactly, so there could not have been a creation form nothing. As a myth we might say, ‘One day, God became self-aware and he imagined non-existence, empty space. And with it Time. Then he imagined all that could occur within space-time. Then, one day, the characters in these thoughts became self-aware. They imagined a ‘self’. ‘

      I find your ideas interesting (except for your take on the bible). Would you like to discuss it via e-mail? Let me know.

      avalon

  • ctcss

    @Bob

    It would appear that we are talking past one another. As I have been trying to explain to avalon, the model view I am putting forth is one that is God-centric, rather than human-centric or matter-centric. Your concept of what prayer should look like or how it should work seems predicated on a human-centric or matter-centric model. The concept of prayer that I was taught is predicated on a God-centric model. Your use of the phrase “prayer works” strikes me as being one that references an approach that is mechanistic in nature, similar to what one might expect when pushing a button and waiting for an outcome. This would make sense from a human-centric or matter-centric standpoint since a limited, less than perfect state of existence would mean that adjustments would need to be made in order to bring about a more favorable set of circumstances for the person who desires them. Thus it would be important for such a person to have a process that “works” (operates in a mechanistic fashion) in order to rearrange their current limited and disordered set of circumstances to something more helpful and harmonious.

    But from the God-centric model I was taught, existence is always in a perfect (entirely spiritual) state because it is the outcome of God, Spirit, who is totally perfect. Thus creation, being a manifestation, reflection, or outcome of that perfect God, must also be perfect (entirely spiritual). In such a state “prayer”, as the term is usually conceived of from a human-centric perspective (a request for change in one’s circumstances), would be superfluous. Rearrangement of limited circumstances or resources would be unnecessary since everything would be unlimited and harmonious and perfect already. The only “correction” that would be necessary would be a replacement of the human-centric view (an incorrect view of creation) with the God-centric view (the correct view). This is why I have referred to what I do as communion with God when I am speaking to you about this. I am not seeking to have God change things to suit my needs. Rather, I am trying to conform my outlook to God’s outlook, where my needs (and everyone’s needs) are actually already met. In essence, a transformation of thought needs to occur in order to see things in the correct way, because seeing them in the correct way reveals that the problem never actually had any real existence in the first place. (In other words, the “problem” is actually a mistaken view of God’s creation, not an actual problem with God’s creation.) Thus, “prayer” is not a button I am pushing in order to achieve a desired outcome. It is (from a human view) a desire and effort to replace human ignorance with divine knowledge. And the upshot of such an effort is the realization that the human view (including the mistaken belief that there is even such a view held by creatures called humans) must ultimately vanish as it is replaced by what God knows to be true, just as mistaken notions of what mathematics are must ultimately vanish when learning how mathematics actually works.

    And like it or not, or being willing to accept such an idea or not, this conceptual view is very, very different from what you are thinking of, correct? (It’s also most likely very, very different from what most other believers think about when they think of prayer, I would imagine.) It is, however, a view that makes logical sense when considering God as the center and source of all that is real (as opposed to matter being the center and source of all that is real), no matter how unlikely such a viewpoint seems to be from a human perspective. But as I also pointed out, Jesus wasn’t trying to teach his followers a nicer human perspective. He was trying to teach about God’s kingdom and God’s perspective, which, if God is considered to be God, must be the only true perspective that there is.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      ctcss:

      Thus it would be important for such a person to have a process that “works” (operates in a mechanistic
      fashion) in order to rearrange their current limited and disordered set of circumstances to something more helpful and harmonious.

      So you never say “prayer works”?

      “prayer”, as the term is usually conceived of from a human-centric perspective (a request for change in one’s circumstances), would be superfluous.

      So you never pray for anything then? If not, tell the other Christians about this approach to prayer.

      this conceptual view is very, very different from what you are thinking of, correct?

      I’m quite familiar with this approach to prayer. However, your definition of Christian prayer isn’t the only one. Other Christians would disagree with your approach, as you noted.

  • ctcss

    @avalon

    Once again I am sorry for the delay. I was having difficulty crafting a response to Bob that I felt comfortable saying. (Trying to state something about this subject matter is not easy, since it largely departs from the everyday.)

    I have looked over your two responses and I did some more research into the meaning of the words (thanks for your input BTW), but although I found your points to be interesting, you also appear to be speculating about this overall subject area as well. (We all do, since this is not easy stuff to grapple with and understand.) You also seem to be very intrigued about relating this stuff back to material science. That may be useful as an explanatory metaphor, but trying to squeeze God and matter together strikes me as being unwise since God (at least as I have been taught) has nothing whatsoever to do with matter.

    In fact, I think that everyone who tries to delve into the Bible runs into problems of what was intended by the writers of scripture. (There is also the question of whether the writers fully understood the subject area of God.) This is compounded by the fact that the different narratives were edited and redacted by the people who were trying to preserve as much as possible of the information that they had inherited from their ancestors and then trying to preserve the resulting outcome in written form.

    Basically, the Bible (which I find to be very valuable) needs God in order to be understood. The viewpoint being related in scripture is couched in human terms, but the subject area is not human, it’s God. In order to understand God, God needs to be present. That’s why I was trying to say that the only true knowledge of God is God’s knowledge of Himself. Thus the need to commune with God when studying scripture, and the need for spiritual inspiration and revelation (and practice!) to help one progress in one’s understanding of God. (And no, I am not putting myself forth as an expert in any way. I’m just a Sunday School teacher. I have barely begun to delve into this infinite subject area myself. Basically, approaching the study and practice of religion in a helpful, practical way, is non-trivial.)

    It might be useful to have further conversation via email. Public forums tend to generate much more smoke and heat than light. What’s the best way to exchange email addresses without the threat of spammers and trolls getting hold of them? I have a Beliefnet account (same username as here) that has an email component to it. That might be one way to start.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      ctcss and avalon:

      I have your email addresses. If you both give me permission, I will connect you by email.

      – The Dungeonmaster

      • ctcss

        Sounds good to me. Thanks.

      • avalon

        Works for me, too.

        avalon

  • ctcss

    @Bob

    “So you never say “prayer works”?”

    As I’ve said before, I would be more comfortable saying “prayer is effective”. As I understand the concept, prayer is my desire to commune with God in order to understand what He has already done. But prayer puts the demand on me to do my part. God has already done His part. So as far as I personally am concerned, I would have no problem saying “prayer works”. (I’ve told you before how far I am willing to trust God. So that means that I very much consider prayer to “work”.) But I am leery of misleading others with such a statement lest they think that prayer is magic and that no other effort is required from them than repeating words. Prayer, at least as I understand it, is far more than that.

    “So you never pray for anything then?”

    No, I engage in prayer (as I understand it) about things that come up in life. But I am not asking God to fix those things. Rather, I am trying to understand what God actually knows about what He has already created, as I said.

    “If not, tell the other Christians about this approach to prayer.”

    I think they have been informed of it any number of times. Some people find this approach to be useful. Others find reasons not to like it. Among other things, they consider that what I was taught to be a false form of Christian theology. (Some major reasons are that I was not taught to regard Jesus as God, hell doesn’t exist, there is no devil, and other such things.) Thus, to each his own.

    “I’m quite familiar with this approach to prayer. However, your definition of Christian prayer isn’t the only one. Other Christians would disagree with your approach, as you noted.”

    Yup. They do what they were taught to do, I do what I was taught to do. Hopefully, we can all appreciate that we each love and honor God and desire to follow the Christ.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      ctcss:

      I would be more comfortable saying “prayer is effective”.

      If you’re just going for a meditative experience, sure, prayer might be effective. I wish others wouldn’t make the grandiose claims.

      I think they have been informed of it any number of times.

      Well … a straightforward reading of the Bible makes pretty clear that God is indeed a wish-granting genie. Yeah, I know that it doesn’t work that way, and Christians will agree. Still, Christians have a pretty good biblical case to continue asking for stuff through prayer.

      And you have a challenge explaining why the NT “ask and ye shall receive” approach to prayer doesn’t work.

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