Jesus and Santa: a Parable on How We Dismiss Evidence

Santa and Jesus: two mythsHarriett Hall (the SkepDoc) wrote a clever story about two kids trying to figure out whether the tooth fairy really exists or not. Inspired by that, and in keeping with the season, I’d like to imagine two kids arguing about Santa.

It was early December, and little Jerry had begun to doubt the existence of Santa Claus. He made his case to his younger brother Scott.

“I don’t think Santa is real. I think it’s just Mom and Dad buying us presents,” Jerry said.

“Prove it,” Scott said.

“Okay, why are there all those Santas on the street corners ringing for money? How can Santa be at all those stores at once?”

“They’re not the real Santa, just his helpers,” Scott said. “And maybe they’re just testing us to see if we’ll still believe. I’m going to believe, because if you don’t, you don’t get presents.”

“But I recognized one of them—it was the father of one of my friends.”

“Then those are just ordinary people imitating Santa, raising money for a good cause. Anyway, I’ve seen Santa on TV at Thanksgiving—everyone has.”

Jerry sees that he’s not making any progress, so he gives up. On Christmas afternoon, he’s alone with Scott and tries again. “Remember that video game that you told Mom about and then you forgot to tell Santa?” Jerry said. “But you got it anyway. Mom must’ve bought it and written on the package that it came from Santa.” 

“Mom just told Santa,” Scott said. 

“Then tell me this: how can Santa get around the world in one night?”

“My friends all say that Santa is real. Anyway, Santa has magic. And the cookies we leave out for Santa are always gone on Christmas morning.”

“With the Junior Detective kit that I got this morning, I dusted the cookie plate for fingerprints, and they were Mom’s.”

“So what? Mom set out the plate, and Santa wears gloves.”

Jerry gives up for the year. On Christmas afternoon the next year, he tries again. “Lots of the older kids don’t believe in Santa. They say that their presents only come from their parents.”

“Sure,” Scott said. “Santa only gives presents to those who still believe in him.”

“A few months ago, I was snooping in Dad’s sock drawer, and I found every letter we ever wrote to Santa.”

“Why not? Santa didn’t need them anymore and each year just gives them to Mom and Dad for keepsakes.”

“The only fingerprints on our presents were Mom’s or Dad’s.” 

“Mom and Dad always get up early on Christmas. They could’ve rearranged them.”

“Last week, I found all our presents hidden in a corner in the attic.” Jerry pawed through some of the torn wrapping paper. “I wrote my initials on the bottom of each package. And look—here they are. That proves that Santa didn’t bring them here last night.”

“I asked Mom, and she said that Santa is real. Anyway, how do I know you didn’t write your initials on the wrapping paper this morning?”

Do adults make the same mistakes?

Like little Scott, if you’re determined to believe something, you can rationalize away any unwelcome evidence. (By rationalize, I mean taking an idea as fact and then selecting or interpreting all relevant evidence to make it support that immutable given.)

Christians rationalize, too. They rationalize away contradictions in the Bible, the oddity of a hidden God, or why so much bad happens to the people God loves. They can find a dozen reasons why a particular prayer wasn’t answered, even though the Bible promises, “Ask and ye shall receive.” But the Christian will say that they’re simply defending the truth—they’re not rationalizing; they’re right.

In five minutes we can see flaws in others that we don’t see in ourselves in a lifetime. Perhaps this episode with Jerry and Scott will encourage us to see our own rationalizations.

With a little work, even the nuttiest theory can be given a scholarly sheen. There’s a web site titled, Galileo Was Wrong; The Church Was Right. That’s right, it argues for geocentrism, an earth-centered universe. If scholars can argue that the sun goes around the earth, imagine what a few thousand years of scholarly work can do to a religion. Any Christian can point to centuries of scholarship to give a patina of credibility to their position—but, of course, so can Muslims, Hindus, and those in many other religions.

I can’t prove Santa doesn’t exist. Nor can I disprove leprechauns, Russell’s Flying Teapot, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or God. The thoughtful person goes where the evidence points rather than accepting only the evidence that supports his preconception.

Jesus is Santa Claus for adults
— bumper sticker

(This is a modified post that was originally published 12/9/11.)

Guest Post: Still Waiting for Jesus
Christianity, the Ultimate Unfalsifiable Hypothesis
Christians: Can ANYTHING Change Your Mind?
Christian Apologists Find No Meaning in Life
About Bob Seidensticker
  • MNb

    I see no difference between most apologists I have met on the web (including Plantinga and Feser) and little Scott. Frankly I see less and less essential difference between those apologists and creationists from Seattle or Petersburg, Kentucky. They all seem to use the same procedure:

    1. Select a conclusion which you already believe is true.
    2. Find one piece of evidence that possibly might fit.
    3. Ignore all other evidence.
    4. That’s it.
    (From The Sensuous Curmudgeon).
    But I remain optimistic. Maybe Swinburne is an exception.

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

      The variant that I see most often concludes, “So you see, you haven’t proven that my position is wrong.” Which, of course, I agree with.

  • Pofarmer

    The problem isn’t just believing. The problem is when people allow men in robes to override their empathy and intelligence in the name of a 2000 year old moral code. The problem is when people take a book written between 2 and 3000 years ago and think that all the teachings in their are applicable to modern life. The problem isn’t just believing, the problem is what humans do with that belief.

    • RichardSRussell

      The underlying problem is faith — the world’s worst decision-making method. It’s responsible for not only religion (and all that that entails) but also a whole raft of other fanaticisms and delusions (objectivism, personality cults, jingoism, imperialism, racism, quackery, conspiracy theories, etc.).

      • http://batman-news.com Anton

        “The only thing we should respect in a person’s faith is his desire for a better life in this world; we need never have respected his certainty that one awaits him in the next.” – Sam Harris

        • RichardSRussell

          Here Sam is using “faith” as a synonym for “religion”. I am using it in the more fundamental sense of “a method of arriving at conclusions without referring to evidence”. In that sense, it is not worthy of any respect whatsoever.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          Richard, I’m of the opinion that people arrive at their worldviews with very little recourse to evidence. A believer can come up with deductive proofs for God, even though no one has ever become a believer through deductive logic. And a nonbeliever can claim that he’s “following the evidence,” even though he’s just excluding any category of evidence that doesn’t support his rationalist perspective.

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

          no one has ever become a believer through deductive logic.

          Well, a few have, I would think. No?

          So what do you say to the high-profile apologists who quote Aquinas and give heavy philosophical arguments in favor of God’s existence? That they’re wasting their time? That they’re simply allowing Christians to pretend that there’s an intellectual patina where there really isn’t one?

          I’d tend to agree, though I’m a little surprised that you’re quite so extreme.

          And a nonbeliever can claim that he’s “following the evidence,” even though he’s just excluding any category of evidence that doesn’t support his rationalist perspective.

          If you’re saying that atheists can be illogical or self-deluding as well, you’re right, of course.

        • MNb

          “That they’re wasting their time?”
          I know a Dutch catholic theologian who in a bit more friendly words exactly says that.

        • Castilliano

          They’re shoring up the bulwarks to keep smarter Christians from thinking their own ways out. :)
          (Delayed my exit until I saw behind the curtain.)

          The people drawing in new Christians use much more emotional tactics: love, fear, acceptance, & just plain friendship in a club with social activities.
          If there were a comparable secular resource for growth and socializing, I doubt Christianity could compete.
          But they have that 2000 yr head start on infrastructure…

          Cheers

        • MNb

          Perhaps. At the other hand when I was about six I visited Sunday School a couple of times; read the children’s Bible; at about ten years old I played one of the three Biblical Magi in a christmas play and sung in a church choir. I learned the Lord’s Prayer by heart because I thought it cool. I have fond memories of all these things. In that period I also realized that there might be something wrong with religion. From the Adam and Eve story I had concluded that all humans are relatives. When trying to tell a friend I suddenly realized how embarrassingly absurd that sounded. Of course I had not mastered any intellectual skill yet to draw any conclusion, so I did what all kids do: I put it away.
          At about 13 I decided that I was an agnost (we can’t know) and a dualist; in the next more than 35 years I gradually developed unto the hardcore atheist (7 on a scale of Dawkins) I am now. Every step was triggered by some new information I received, scrutinized and accepted.
          So if you think I’m excluding any category of evidence that I should include please tell me so. I’m very fallible. Yes, to this aim I have visited the sites of several theologians and philosophers of religion last five years.

        • MNb

          Fortunately most believers I personally know share that desire for a better life in this world. That’s one important reason why I can’t be anti-religious.

        • Pofarmer

          I think one of the reasons I have become anti-religious, is because my wife became so extremely damned religious, and then insisted on pushing that on our kids. I could have coasted on for years as a non-denominational Protestant type. I couldn’t take the bat shit crazy claims of fundamemtalist Catholicism. When I started searching for the “truth” of Catholicism, once I had determined to myself, that the claims of Catholicism were in fact, just what the Catholic Church wanted them to be, the rest of it fell under the same microscope. I guess I should then CARM for starting me down this road.

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

          What’s that last sentence? Something about CARM’s role in turning you away from Christianity?

        • Pofarmer

          To be fair, one of Matt Slicks daughters is now an Atheist. Hemant had a Looonnngggg tread about it a while back. Yeah, well, when I was searching for information on the Divinity of Mary, perpetual Virginity, Ascenscion, transubstantiation, and all those other Weird Catholic doctrines, I started reading CARM a lot, and Matt Slick nicely debunked most of the Catholic claims. The only problem is, the tactics that he uses can then be turned on his own arguments, and next thing you know, I’m not just worrying about scriptual truth of Catholic doctrine, I’m looking into textual criticisms by the likes of Bart Ehrman, Robert M. Price, John Spong, Richard Carrier, and that leads to Randal Helms, Bertrand Russel, and more that I’ve forgotten the names of. It was a long process.

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

          I’ve been interviewed on Matt’s radio program.

          I agree–apologists are as rational and skeptical as I am to claims from the other guy’s religion. It’s amazing that they can’t see how it undercuts their own.

        • MNb

          Yes, I always have suspected that personal circumstances are important here. I suppose I’m lucky; at the other hand I wouldn’t have moved to Moengo, Suriname if the majority of inhabitants here were that extreme.

  • RichardSRussell

    Fact: Jesus lived.
    Fact: Jesus was a white guy.
    Fact: Santa is white, too.
    —Megyn Kelly of Fox “News”

    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/12/13/jon-stewart-blasts-megyn-kellys-obsession-with-keeping-jesus-and-santa-claus-white/

    • wtfwjtd

      Next thing you know,Jews are going to be claiming he was one of them! The nerve of some people!

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

      Reminds me of the David Sedaris “Santaland Diaries” monologue. He was an elf and one day at Macy’s in NYC, when he was assigned to crowd control, someone asked him to make sure that they didn’t go down the line to the “chocolate” Santa.

      You can guess where he directed them.

  • David Chumney

    Great post! One of the problems that I’ve noticed is this: The more educated the apologist, the more sophisticated the argument. Nevertheless, a rationalization is still a rationalization.

    • Castilliano

      I wish I could remember, but there was a study that showed it is harder to de-faith the more educated because they are that much better at rationalizing. Wish I could reference it, but I’m not sure it matches my experiences with young & educated. Maybe because they’re still questioning.
      But, yes, I’ve heard some really ‘smart’ answers that have to be fine-combed to turn up where they’re tangled.
      Which is one reason I appreciate Bob, his blog, and the intelligent discourse in the comments here. Heck, Anton & JohnH2 are Christians who frequently tear apart bad rationalizations of theists.

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

        Sounds like Michael Shermer’s main point in Why People Believe in Weird Things. Once people get old enough to be able to create sophisticated reasons, they do—to shield the beliefs they acquired before their intellect was developed.

        Maybe this ties in with stage magicians’ claim that the smart ones are the easiest to fool.

        Yes, I appreciate thoughtful Christians as well. I learn plenty from atheists, of course, but I’d like Christians to feel comfortable hanging out here as well.

        • Castilliano

          I’m pretty sure it was Shermer. Like his work a lot, just couldn’t connect it earlier.
          I’ve heard the magician claim several times, but I wonder because in that instance they’re trying to find the holes in magic, rather than patch them up. :)

    • http://batman-news.com Anton

      I’m a Christian, and I consider apologetics pretty crude stuff too. But how sophisticated are we supposed to consider the view that if we can’t detect God like we can a retrovirus or one of Jupiter’s moons, then God doesn’t exist? How much intellectual nuance does it take to compare God to Santa in order to conclude that God doesn’t exist?

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

        But how sophisticated are we supposed to consider the view that if we can’t detect God like we can a retrovirus or one of Jupiter’s moons, then God doesn’t exist?

        Many Christians say that God exists exactly as a retrovirus or a moon does (yes, God has a supernatural component that these don’t, but I’m just talking just about existence).

        If we’re going to discard our reliable evidence-based techniques for knowing about existence, what shall we use instead?

        How much intellectual nuance does it take to compare God to Santa in order to conclude that God doesn’t exist?

        Which of these things is not like the other: virus, moon, Santa? Are we in agreement? Then we may have decent tools to figure out if something exists. Let’s apply them to God.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          Many Christians say that God exists exactly as a retrovirus or a moon does

          Many Christians also describe God pretty much like a Sky Boyfriend. If you’re proud of your intellectual superiority to the most juvenile of believers, great. But at least admit that you’re tearing apart oversimplifications that only demonstrate how irrational the basis of people’s faith is in the first place.

          Would you object if someone criticized evolution as it’s commonly understood by the majority of people, as “survival of the fittest” or some other facile tautology? Of course you would. But where does your purism go when you criticize religious belief in its most adolescent formulation?

          If we’re going to discard our reliable evidence-based techniques for knowing about existence, what shall we use instead?

          Once again, that macho positivism betrays a double standard. You’re allowed to use the term species as a symbol to make an extremely complex biological concept comprehensible, regardless of whether people think the notion of a species is something very straightforward and verifiable. But I can’t use the term God as a symbol of something ineffable because evidence and because facts and because knowing!

          Which of these things is not like the other: virus, moon, Santa?

          You really love dealing yourself a winning hand every time, don’t you, Bob?

          I wish I sensed some awareness here that scientism is a bias to be avoided, that there are limits to rationality. But there doesn’t appear to be a real understanding that our “knowledge” exists in the context of the method used to create it, and therefore what we can say we know comprises more than just empirical knowledge.

          The comprehensible Newtonian universe went out with the horse and buggy, and in its place is a universe of randomness where our beliefs are based on statistical inference. Freud and his disciples might have been a nutty bunch, but they at least put the lie to the concept of the conscious, rational human perspective. This posturing about knowledge and objective reality is just Homo Sap’s way of keeping absurdity at bay. All is bias, all is subjectivity.

        • Pofarmer

          If there are limits to rationality, are you telling us that we should seek to believe the irrational?

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

          If you’re proud of your intellectual superiority to the most juvenile of believers, great.

          Pride isn’t the issue.

          There are millions of “the most juvenile of believers,” and I would think that most Christians believe that God exists as certainly as (and in the same way as) a virus.

          But at least admit that you’re tearing apart oversimplifications that only demonstrate how irrational the basis of people’s faith is in the first place.

          Not quite sure where you’re coming from here—some combination of laughing at the mentally disabled while stealing toddlers’ lollipops?

          I don’t understand where you’re coming from and what fraction—if any—of my posts attack your position. Many or most of my posts won’t be aimed at whatever kind of Christian you are. You’re annoyed about something here, but I don’t know what.

          Would you object if someone criticized evolution as it’s commonly understood by the majority of people, as “survival of the fittest” or some other facile tautology? Of course you would.

          Of course I would. But how is this example relevant to what we’re talking about? “Evolution” is well defined. “Christianity” is not.

          If someone had a clumsy understanding of evolution, I would try to correct it as best as I could. Since there is just one “evolution,” there is a standard. With a Christian, there is no single Christianity that I would push them toward as in the evolution example.

          But where does your purism go when you criticize religious belief in its most adolescent formulation?

          You’re saying that there are zero people with this understanding, so I’m speaking to an empty lecture hall?

          But I can’t use the term God as a symbol of something ineffable because evidence and because facts and because knowing!

          What is your definition of “God”? Do we know that it actually points to something?

          I wish I sensed some awareness here that scientism is a bias to be avoided, that there are limits to rationality. But there doesn’t appear to be a real understanding that our “knowledge” exists in the context of the method used to create it, and therefore what we can say we know comprises more than just empirical knowledge.

          Feel free to point out where I fall prey to that bias. As for things we wish for, I wish that you were as reluctant to focus on the nonexistent as I am.

          The comprehensible Newtonian universe went out with the horse and buggy, and in its place is a universe of randomness where our beliefs are based on statistical inference.

          … so therefore God?

          Yeah, I get it. Quantum physics. Reality is fuzzy. Counterintuitive. So where does the supernatural or God fit in? I’m seeing no evidence pointing there.

        • MNb

          “I would think that most Christians believe that God exists as certainly as (and in the same way as) a virus.”
          I doubt it (especially “in the same way as”), at least in western Europe. But I’ve noticed that liberal christians rather complain about how unfair it is to criticize literalists, fundies and other zealots than explain what their own belief systems are like. It’s like you and me complaining about christians criticizing The God Delusion and whining that that brand of atheism totally isn’t ours but omitting to tell what our atheism actually is.
          As for Anton I think he is postmodern (everything is bias) when it suits him (ie to justify his belief system) but not when it doesn’t (eg when talking about nuclear bombs). He is annoyed because you (and I) are less flexible. Entirely based on my personal experience – I have debated liberal christians before, mostly Dutchies – I’d say that theists like Anton value flexibility higher than consistency.

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

          I appreciate that Bible literalists are a minority (though with the inroads Pentecostals have made in Africa, maybe not as much a minority as one might imagine).

          You’re probably right that “God exists just like a virus does” isn’t a majority opinion.

        • MNb

          “But where does your purism go when you criticize religious belief in its most adolescent formulation?”
          How do you determine if a religious belief is childish, adoloscent or adult? I don’t have the faintest idea how to do it.
          Your analogy is wrong because there is largely consensus on Evolution Theory. Survival of the Fittest is not part of it.

          “God exists exactly as a retrovirus or a moon does”
          is very much part of the belief system of many christians. If you’re not such a christian, fine. Don’t feel addressed and just neglect. Instead explain your views so that we can criticize them. Don’t assume we can read your mind and understand at beforehand what and how you believe.
          It’s silly but quite typical for liberal christians to react prickly as you do if literalist christians are criticized. I wonder why? I don’t give a d**n if some theist tears one of the four atheist horsemen apart as they have had exactly zero influence on me.
          Seems to me like you have an emotional bond with the zelot segment of your religion.

        • MNb

          “I wish I sensed some awareness here that scientism is a bias to be avoided, that there are limits to rationality.”
          Then there is something wrong with your senses. I have repeatedly given the example of superconductivity at relatively high temperatures. BobS just as much as me is aware of the problems with string theory and the failure thus far to unite Quantummechanics and Relativity. You’re only displaying your own bias.
          BobS’, Pofarmer’s and my point is that we don’t have anything better than the scientific method. Concepts like species and gravity allow us to make testable predictions. As far as any concept of god makes predictions they have turned to be completely wrong. Is it that hard to get for a theist like you?

          “The comprehensible Newtonian universe went out with the horse and buggy”
          That’s flat out misrepresenting how science works. Either you’re ignorant or malevolent; the latter would be a disappointment to me. I have met too many (intellectually or not) dishonest christians on internet; I’d like to meet a few honest ones.
          What has happened is that the Newtonian approach had reached its limits. Within these limits Newtonian physics is perfectly valid. What’s more, using the correspondence principle we can derive Newtonian physics from both Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. Only few people realize it, but within stricter limits even Flat Earth Theory is valid. You don’t care about the curve of the Earth when driving from home to the supermarket.

          “All is bias, all is subjectivity.”
          Postmodernism as the salvation of theism. Yeah, if only the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki August 1945 had fostered other biases ….
          Oh wait – you answered than one already. And wrote something completely else. So much for consistency.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          Is it that hard to get for a theist like you?

          This makes the third time you’ve called me a theist, which is three more times than I’ve ever argued for a personal, active, intervening deity. I think this demonstrates your commitment to civil, rational dialogue.

          Yeah, if only the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki August 1945 had fostered other biases ….

          And the way you keep harping on the victims of the A-bombs, after not only my denial that I ever made a claim like ‘reality is just a narrative,’ but your own admission that I never made such a claim, just cries out that you’re nothing but a nasty old crank.

          Doing fine work here, amigo.

        • MNb

          Well, perhaps you should be more clear about your views then. Just assume I’m a dumb guy (apparently I’m less easily offended than you given your prickly tone) and explain how “All is bias, all is subjectivity.” isn’t a claim like ‘reality is just a narrative’.

          Because I don’t get it. That’s why I wrote: so much for your consistency. Obviously with your – how did you phrase it again above? Ah yes – intellectual superiority it must be just my intellectual inferior brain not being capable to grasp your sublime sophisticated subtlety, which allows you to bridge all kind of things that seem inconsistent to lesser gifted people like me.
          Plus that Anton not a theist uses lots of theist apologetics.

          Of course it’s also possible that your complaint about my “commitment to civil, rational dialogue” must hide that you can’t stand criticism, but probably it’s my intellectually inferior brain (compared to yours) that kicks up a row again. Happens all the time according to a certain kind of people. I suppose they are right. Can’t seem to remedy it. Guess I’m a nasty guy. Dumb and nasty.
          Still I’m the one having fun.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          your complaint about my “commitment to civil, rational dialogue” must hide that you can’t stand criticism

          I’d much prefer to be criticized for positions I actually hold, and things I’ve actually said, than for your immature contempt for your faceless online foes. It’s obviously much easier for you to pretend that it’s your incisive critique of religious belief I took offense to, and not your wholly unwarranted shit-flinging. Again, it’s surprising that I have to describe such a distinction to someone who claims to value logic and rationality, but my guess is that your debate tactics are less informed by a commitment to fairness and objectivity than your über-rational philosophical stance.

          Plus that Anton not a theist uses lots of theist apologetics.

          That claim registers high on the bullshit meter too. I’ve never used any sort of appeals to Scripture, ontological proofs, anecdotal evidence or any other tactics used by believers to establish the existence of a personal, active, intervening deity. I’ve only ever stressed the symbolic nature of religious myth, and pointed out the conceptual boundaries of empirical inquiry. This was meant to stimulate discussion and introduce nuance to the God-is-God-ain’t dispute. How many theist apologists have continually referenced the “Experiments in Consciousness” chapter from Sam Harris’s The End of Faith, pray tell?

          I’m still trying to figure out why you persist in bringing up the victims of the A-bombs over and over. My claim has always been that our knowledge about the universe is constructed by the methods used to arrive at it. I never said that reality is all a matter of opinion, just that the ways we have of comprehending how reality is are all based on philosophical assumptions we don’t even acknowledge. You made some crass comment to make it sound like I thought the victims of the A-bombs could just subscribe to a different narrative or something. But even after I had clarified that that wasn’t what I meant, and even after you admitted that I had never made such a claim, you still keep bringing up the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to make a point that is every bit as relevant as it is respectful.

          But you feign surprise that anyone would think you’re a nasty crank?

        • Pofarmer

          Would you kids play nice?

          And to be fair, Anton, I can’t make heads or tails of your idea on “the transcendent” or whatever you want to call it, either.

        • MNb

          “I’d much prefer to be criticized for positions I actually hold, and things I’ve actually said”
          Then make them clear instead of being evasive. Because despite of your dwellings I still don’t get the difference between “reallity is a narrative” and “everything is bias, everything is subjective”. The nuclear bomb example applies to both just as much. It’s remarkable how you manage to miss the only substantial point I have made.

          Your question in the last line is your interpretation, not mine and a dishonest one. With people like you it’s necessary to spell it out: people like you have said that I’m nasty – I’ve met asshole as well – since I entered internet 13 years ago. Are you capable of figuring out yourself how surprised I really now?

          “things I’ve actually said”
          Apply this to yourself. I never said I was surprised, non theist Anton with your theist arguments.

          “you admitted that I had never made such a claim”
          Look who’s doing the harping. Where did I deny this? Oh wait – I have to spell it out again for dishonest Anton, who reproaches other for their superior attitude, but never fails to display that attitude himself . Here is what I wrote just above:

          “Oh wait – you answered than one already. And wrote something completely else. So much for consistency.”
          “explain how “All is bias, all is subjectivity.” isn’t a claim like ‘reality is just a narrative’.”
          And now I’m done with you, because despite your whining you have shown in this reaction not to be interested in a substantial discussion, only in whining and complaining. So I don’t expect you anymore to answer my request, as quoted just above. You’re not worth the effort anymore.

        • Guest
        • Guest
      • smrnda

        How would you advise we go about doing this research? I ask because at present, I think god it outside the realm of what can be tested empirically, and what tests we do have depend on testing belief in god, not the existence of god.

        Or, could we just not be there yet, or not have an adequately clear and specific god hypothesis?

  • wtfwjtd

    Whoa now buddy! I was right with you there, ’til you started heaping doubt on the Flying Spaghetti Monster. As an fervent Pastafarian, I have to take exception here–we had a nice meal of rotini and meatsauce this evening, in tribute to his noodliness himself…a direct manifestation that was also very tasty!
    I’ve finally figured out that people talk about God and Santa using largely the same language. Rephrased, God is just Santa for grown-ups. The fact that he is invisible and undetectable (like you know who) doesn’t deter the religious folks I know one iota.

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

      a direct manifestation that was also very tasty!

      And Christians pride themselves for being the only religion
      in which they eat their god …

      • wtfwjtd

        The more that the spotlight of clear thinking is put on Christianity’s dogmas, doctrines, and core tenets, the more absurd they seem to me.

    • Pattrsn

      If he were only gluten free.

      • wtfwjtd

        Interesting that you should mention that, our rotini tribute actually was gluten-free, as my wife cannot tolerate wheat-based pasta! (I’m sure his noodliness understands).

  • RichardSRussell

    In the absence of evidence (and, let’s face it, how many of us are competent to collect and evaluate evidence for, say, global warming or evolution?) we must perforce trust in authority. Perhaps the most disheartening portion of the above parable is “I asked Mom, and she said that Santa is real.” If our trusted authority figures lie to us, it makes finding the truth that much harder.

    OTOH, perhaps the redeeming value of the Santa myth is that it teaches little kids that trusted authority figures will lie to you. That’s a valuable life lesson.

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

      In response to the perennial question, “When should I tell my kids the truth about Santa?” one answer that makes sense to me is that when the kids question Santa, ask them to work it out. And if they stumble on the right answer, confirm that it is. It’s a teachable moment.

    • MNb

      The important issue, way too often neglected, is: is it in principle possible for you to collect and evaluate evidence against (not for) Santa Claus, global warming or evolution? Not with Scotty’s approach; very much with global warming and evolution, if you spend enough time, effort and money. This difference is crucial (yes, I’m aware of the philosophical problems with Popper’s falsifiability – they have no impact on this point).

  • KarlUdy

    Atheists rationalize too

    • MNb

      Yes. Doesn’t make it any better when believers do.
      Next logical fallacy, Karl? Your Tu Quoque is one.

      • KarlUdy

        No, it doesn’t make believers rationalizing any better. Although to claim a position is false because some people reach it by rationalizing would be another logical fallacy (the genetic fallacy). And when some people reach either conclusion about a question (“Is there a God?”) by rationalizing, then the presence of rationalizing becomes a moot point, does it not?

        Or, if you want to take things from a different angle, take Bob’s closing statement:

        The thoughtful person goes where the evidence points rather than accepting only the evidence that supports his preconception.

        Can anyone show that atheists follow the evidence better?

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

          to claim a position is false because some people reach it by rationalizing would be another logical fallacy (the genetic fallacy).

          Who does that? What they do is criticize that route to knowledge; that you don’t have a warrant to claim that as a conclusion if you didn’t get there through a reliable route.

          And when some people reach either conclusion about a question (“Is there a God?”) by rationalizing, then the presence of rationalizing becomes a moot point, does it not?

          It’s as moot as when someone decides the question with a coin flip. In other words, not so much.

          Bob said: The thoughtful person goes where the evidence points rather than accepting only the evidence that supports his preconception.

          Carl said: Can anyone show that atheists follow the evidence better?

          What I hear you saying is that both Christians and atheists should indeed follow where the evidence points rather than simply pick and choose to support a presupposition. Amen to that, brother.

        • MNb

          “Although to claim a position is false because some people reach it by rationalizing would be another logical fallacy”
          Guess what, Karl? I do my best to avoid this. Most anti-apologists do. I try to do three things:
          1. point at theist claims which contradict empirical facts;
          2. point at logical errors in theist claims;
          3. find out which are the assumptions (like axioms in math) the theists make (they hardly ever take the effort to do it themselves) and scrutinize them.
          None of these three are rationalizations. Yes, I do the same with atheist and materialist claims. So yes, I find Jerry Coyne’s and PZ Meyers’ arguments for the incompatibility of science and religious utterly unsatisfying. Btw this is an example of an extraordinary atheist claim I reject because the evidence for it is not extraordinary enough.
          Like BobS indicates underneath you have replaced your Tu Quoque by a strawman. That’s not an improvement.

        • Castilliano

          Is “anti-apologist” the word? Locally we’ve coined “counter-apologist”, but if there’s a phrase in use, I’d like to know.
          Thanks.

        • MNb

          Please keep in mind I’m not a native English speaker. Counter-apologist is more than fine with me.

        • smrnda

          I guess, for me, is that I see no compelling evidence for any god so I just don’t bother investigating. Most arguments for god I encounter are more of the ‘wouldn’t it be nice if god did exist?’ variety or an attempt to show that belief in god is not totally unreasonable. It isn’t a very strong showing, so I’m putting god where I put a lot of other things like ghosts, astrology, all sorts of woo.

  • smrnda

    Keep in mind, in this story the one kid is dismissing each and every bit of evidence that Santa isn’t real with some rationalization, and given the evidence, the case for Santa keeps getting thinner.

    Santa is a much more specific hypothesis than god, which provides more means of using empirical data to test it.

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

      Perhaps more testable rather than specific.

      This touches on my recent post about how Mormonism’s biggest failing is that it leaves itself open to testability. That is, conventioal Christianity wins by being less testable (not something that I’d crow about if it were my religion).

  • Y. A. Warren

    Neither compassion nor responsibility has any rational, provable basis, but many of us, myself included, would be dead without this coming from others. I call this “condition” love, and I will always believe in its power to protect those in their circles.

    • Itarion

      Compassion, or taking care of others, allows a group of creatures to more easily survive as a whole. “There is safety in numbers.”

      Responsibility: really? No rationale for taking care of yourself? Come on now.

      “Love” and the associated feelings etc. can be described as a series of biochemical effects, and can be replicated by injecting those biochemicals into subjects [not about a given subject, as per the fantastic "love potion", but the effects can be generated].

      http://lmgtfy.com/?q=oxytocin

      • Y. A. Warren

        I am so tired of science “replicating” the “norm” in human emotions. There is no “norm”; we must have diversity in physical and emotional traits to survive and evolve.

        • Castilliano

          Why?

          (My gut agrees, but my brain asks.)

        • Y. A. Warren

          Why, what? I don’t know what you are asking?

        • Itarion

          I would think “Why do you not like mind research?” And it’s a fair question.

        • Y. A. Warren

          I LOVE mind research, as it proves that much of what is called “sin” is actually different ways of brain function. I am married to a brain function scientist, so I admit to having special insight, by proxy.

        • Itarion

          So, “sin” is just the brain deviating from God’s norm? I think that raises more theological questions than it answers. Questions that aren’t really helpful in any way shape or form.

          Like: What’s the brain shape for greed? or Why are you trying to use science to shore up religion? or Why did God make a whole bunch of different modes of sinful brain function? or Is it possible for prayer and meditation to fix these sinful brain deviances?

        • Y. A. Warren

          You are assuming that the Judeo-Christian definition of “morality” and “God” are the only value system and god in the whole history of humanity in asking for the definition of “sin.”

        • Itarion

          Which is why it’s just so much easier to say “There is no sin.” Hasn’t hurt me none.

        • Y. A. Warren

          If I hurt you, I have sinned against you. Tell me what to do to make it right, and, within my ability, I will do it. It is up to you whether you have been honest in what you want for retribution or not. If you have not taken the time to decide what you want in honest retribution, I can’t be accounted for any further punishment or retribution.

        • Itarion

          If I hurt you, I have sinned against you.

          Not quite.

          The word “sin” implies a violation of deistic principles. It requires breaking God’s law. You cannot sin against a fellow human, only against God.

          f you have not taken the time to decide what you want in honest retribution, I can’t be accounted for any further punishment or retribution.

          Any harm done always requires retribution/atonement (though I don’t like those terms exactly because of religious connotations, but I can’t think of any others that fit so well). Personally, I prefer an honest attempt at understanding of why harm was caused, since this generally prevents recurrence. If necessary, other options are available [particularly for extreme transgressions], but understanding why it is wrong generally works for most transgressions.

          Finally, I really don’t like the idea of sin. The absence of a concept of sin does NOT mean that harm cannot be done, but that harm cannot be done to a godfigure. [It generally follows from a lack of a godfigure.] The absence of the sin concept makes me behold to others and responsible for personal corrections to my behavior when I do wrong, and allows me, with proper introspection, to use my sensations of guilt to build myself into a better person.

        • Y. A. Warren

          Is there any “deistic” manifestation on earth, against which we can sin, other than in the physical entities? I don’t think so.

          I like the concept of admitting to not living up to my best potential as a person to inspire me to work toward becoming my best self. Thank you for this insight.

        • Itarion

          Thus, no sin.

          You’re very welcome.

        • Y. A. Warren

          I promise you that if you hurt a person I love, i will hold you accountable for your wrongdoing, no matter what you and your lawyer call it.

        • Castilliano

          Y.A.: “we must have diversity in physical and emotional traits to survive and evolve”
          This is what I tagged the “Why?” to.
          As before, my gut agrees, but my brain asks.

        • Y. A. Warren

          In order to address the diversity of issues that are inherent in life.

        • Castilliano

          Just letting my thoughts roam…
          The issues tackled by diverse physical traits seem small, other than disease. Technology could, in theory, overcome these issues.
          The need for diverse emotional traits is harder to pin, but I’d say an emotionally mature person should be fluid enough to tackle a large diversity of issues. Another, similar mature person would be of aid in expanding that range, but I don’t see how that other would have to be particularly different.
          Different POVs help us today in our pluralistic society, but would those issues even exist in a homogenous society?

          I do believe pluralism is here to stay, but objectively, I’m not sure one can argue the need to avoid societal norms. Countries like Japan, where ‘norms’ (kata) helped form the social structure, one could argue there’s been some success.
          (Not arguing, just hashing out the idea.)
          Cheers.

        • Itarion

          I, too, would hold myself accountable, once it was brought to my attention that harm was done.

          By definition, sin is not against humans, but gods, and the common issue had against the idea is the forgiveness aspect, just by asking for it, and not even from the people who were directly harmed by the action.

          Also, I doubt that I could locate you and yours, even if I wanted to hurt them, which I do not.

        • Y. A. Warren

          Luke 17:3-4 “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” NIV

        • MNb

          How is this contradiction Itarion’s claim (correct in my view) that sin means doing harm to god? The whole idea of the Bible is that doing harm to fellow humans often means doing harm to god – but not always (the latter part of course stems from my own ethics).

          http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14004b.htm

          “Sin is nothing else than a morally bad act (St. Thomas, “De malo”, 7:3), an act not in accord with reason informed by the Divine law.”
          Just like Itarion wrote – as an atheist the concept of a divine law is meaningless to me; so is sin. Nothing you wrote contradicts this point.

        • Y. A. Warren

          I only quote “sacred scripture” in rebuttal of other quotes from the “sacred” texts.

          sin 1 (sn)

          n.

          1. A transgression of a religious or moral law, especially when deliberate.

          There are several accepted definitions of “sin.” The question, in my opinion, is not whether there is a thing called “sin,” but how all humanity may come to agreement on what constitutes morality, with or without gods.

          The “Golden Rule” may be the closest Western civilization has come to defining morality, but that definition is also fraught with dangers in the minds of many who see themselves as not parts of the whole of the universe.

        • Itarion

          The Golden rule is a poor morality. A morality, and a certainly better than none, but a poor one. Is there a better one? Not one that is quite so simple.

          Everyone has the same rights.

          This is a nice one. What those rights are, well, that’s up for argument, and by people more inclined to that than I.

          I also like “Do no harm.” but again, overly simplified. What is harm? etc, etc.

          The idea of a higher law is not one that I am opposed to, but the idea that that law is religious is. Transgression of religious law exists, of course, and I transgress them daily, though my personal favorite is doing work on Sunday to prepare for the next week.

          Sin is a concept used to hold power over people. The idea of a god is used to hold power over people. I see no purpose in them for me, because they are threats, but insubstantial. The concept of morality is different. In that, you are beholden to others, who are equally bound to you. [Ideally.]

          The question, in my opinion, is not whether there is a thing called “sin,” but how all humanity may come to agreement on what constitutes morality, with or without gods.

          Which gods? Whose gods? Why would gods be involved at all? It has been demonstrated that churches can’t keep their hands clean, just like any other government, but the difference is that churches set themselves as beyond reproach, because they have gods. Contrary to popular belief, gods do not have to be an intrinsic part of what morality is, and everything is much more even when gods aren’t added in.

        • Y. A. Warren

          You and I are in complete agreement here.

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

          Probably off topic, but I’ll just toss out that “sin” is one of those curious problems that we can make vanish simply by redefining God out of existence. “Murder” actually causes harm to someone. “Sin” doesn’t.

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

          Yes, fair enough, but Itarion is focusing on just the word, sin. We’re on the same page with harm (we all agree that it’s bad. But sin is make-believe. If blasphemy is a sin, fine–let God get offended and take action as necessary. It has nothing to do with us here on earth (and ditto for other “sins”).

        • Y. A. Warren

          “Harm” and “sin” seem to mean the same thing in the NT.

        • smrnda

          I don’t mean to nit-pick, but I think a case can be made that this is not so. The NT criticizes a number of sexual behaviors (like same sex relations) which people can engage in without harm. It condemns sex outside of marriage, and plenty of people have sex when they are not married (I’m referring to 2 unmarried people having sex, not a person cheating on a spouse) and I’d say no harm results from most of these, or at least not sufficient harm for it to be a moral issue.

        • Y. A. Warren

          It seems that life-threatening disease is spread with sexual promiscuity. We know that many children are born to people who don’t ant them and/or with no resources to care for them. Both of these issues color my views regarding sexual relations.

        • Itarion

          Science replicates the norm to understand what’s “wrong” with things outside the norm.

          If you don’t like it, you don’t need to see a psychologist or psychiatrist. But there are a whole lot of people out there who are a whole lot happier because of these drugs developed by scientific “meddling”, and you are in no position to take that away.

          The point of this meddling is not to eliminate any deviation from an accepted standard, but to alleviate harmful or detrimental deviation from the accepted standard.

        • Y. A. Warren

          The “norm” is set by individual societies. For too long, the “norm” has been set by the most aggressive males in societies.

        • Itarion

          So your issue is in what the “norm” is commonly defined as? That is entirely unrelated to the research that is happening, which takes the most common brain structure [to within some degree of accuracy] and sets that range as “standard”, which it more or less is, since its the most common. THEN, they ask and explore deviances and different states that can be generated through chemicals already present.

          Science isn’t, or shouldn’t be, an attempt to shore up politics. Science is about figuring out how shit works, and they do a damned good job of it.

        • Y. A. Warren

          Every scientific sample has some prejudice based on the funding sources for the study.

        • Itarion

          Which is why you look for a general consensus between a whole lot of researchers with a lot of different funding sources.

        • Y. A. Warren

          There IS NO NORM! Humanity is so varied that we must always be open to individuation. Tribal politics is all about fear of change, even though there is no life without change. Religion continues to rule by fear. That is so animalistic.

        • Itarion

          the norm : an average level of development or achievement

          There is no average? If there is a non-empty set, then there is an average. I think you may be using a different definition than me. If by norm you mean what everyone SHOULD be, then yes, there is no norm. But the most common of what everyone is? That exists, and is useful in describing what can go wrong with people, either mentally or physically. Persons who act upon murderous impulses aren’t just given a “It’s okay because they’re different.” They’re given a “We cannot allow them to continue to hurt others, so let’s try to find out why they want to hurt others, and remove that facet of their personality if possible.”

          “The societal norm” is not set in stone, it changes. It is, however, a tool that can be used. To say that there is no norm does not help in any way to explain why people are different from each other. There HAS to be a starting point from which people can be considered different, BUT that absolutely does not make people different from the norm automatically “bad.” Yes, embrace individuality, but not by saying that there is no similarity between all humans.

        • Y. A. Warren

          In the USA, the “norm” has been set on a standard of Monarchy attempting to create submissive a society. The fact that this had fancy words of equality did not move the standards of “normal” from serfdom to democratic equality of all people, no matter their “caste.” We are still a society of caste systems.

        • Itarion

          And how does that relate to the average mind structure of humans generally?

        • Y. A. Warren

          I don’t know. Does anyone?

        • Itarion

          I don’t think that it does and I’m unsure why you brought it up, since I thought that we were on medical and scientific structures of and research into the human brain.

        • Kodie

          I think you are conflating a couple different concepts.

        • Y. A. Warren

          I am attempting to find a way to communicate science to those who are hung up on the “magic” of religion. Brain function is one way that I hope the two will be conflated. Prevalent theories can’t equal eternal, universal truth in religion or in science if we are going to continue growth as a species.

        • Kodie

          Brain function is not magic. Prevalent theories do not equal eternal, universal truth in religion or in science, and nobody says they are (except theists).

          It is difficult to understand exactly what you’re communicating, because you want to believe in this universal psychic energy or cosmological perfection or something, and yet, you admit “people are different and that’s ok”. You are obfuscating frantically in what I perceive as a sincere effort to communicate clearly – so frustrating for the rest of us who aren’t muddled up with your mystic impressions and assumptions that motivates you to latch onto limited vocabulary that already means something else to most other people.

          In summary, nobody understands what the fuck you’re trying to say. You’re stubbornly trying to get the thoughts out in utter defiance of being told this repeatedly before. And you think you have something important to say! The subthreads go way afield just trying to figure out what you’re trying to say.

        • Y. A. Warren

          You certainly speak in generalities about how others perceive what I say. If the author of the blog tells me to go away, I will respectfully comply with his wishes.

        • Itarion

          It certainly seems like someone ends up confused every time you are on. Not the same person, either.

          Nobody’s asking you to leave, just express yourself comprehensibly.

        • Y. A. Warren

          Science simply doesn’t explain everything that we humans experience. I am happy to explain myself, when asked.

          So many generations of humans have used religion to shelter them from their fears of the unknown, that I think it is important for us to seek to find language that will bridge the gap between science and religion.

        • Itarion

          Science simply doesn’t explain everything that we humans experience.

          You say this, but how can you know? What would you use to explain the human experience?

          Also, please note the vast gulf between “does not” and “can not.” The potential being present does not mean that the potential is being used.

          The language exists: it’s name is English. Or Spanish, French, Cantonese, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese or any other.

          Less sarcastically: The problem is not that the language doesn’t exist. Trying to redefine words, and invent meaning doesn’t help communication. For there to be understanding, there must be an attempt at understanding, and unfortunately, a whole lot of those in charge of popular religions actively encourage lies about what science is and does and has discovered, whether they know what they’re doing or not. There are more legal cases than I care to count of religion being placed alongside science in schools and called an equal or superior. There’s a museum on creationism, and there are still people who think the world is flat, just because a book says so. If there is to be communication between the two, then both sides need to LISTEN to what the other has to say.

        • Y. A. Warren

          Science has only touched the tips of the icebergs of genetics and in brain function. Both science and religion are going to have to be open to input from each other in order for clear communication to transpire. As I have said before, in understanding each other when we speak different languages, sometimes simile is the beginning of common understanding. As in: The frontal lobe is like a parent, dictating and controlling what is appropriate and what is inappropriate in one’s community.

        • Itarion

          So… Science must learn to speak religion, and religion must learn to speak science? It has been seen that when science speaks religion, nothing gets done, and when religion speaks science, science gets abused.

          There is so much call to unite the two, but I don’t see how it can be done. Please tell me: what am I not seeing?

        • Y. A. Warren

          The ability to speak of the awe of science on a child’s level, maybe?

        • Itarion

          One, that’s already been discussed.

          Two, awe doesn’t require any language to be felt.

          Three, I’d rather feel awe on an adult level.

          Four, speaking of the awe of science doesn’t require religious language. Have you never seen a science demonstration? I just this past month participated in one for a middle school, and not a single religious word was used to impress these children.

        • Y. A. Warren

          Good for you.

        • MNb

          “Both science and religion are going to have to be open to input from each other …”
          I understand how religion will benefit from clear communication, but not how science will. Every single time in history religion messed with science it was a setback.
          Ah, Itarion said it better.

          “is the beginning of common understanding”
          Science doesn’t have any interest in understanding religion, except as a sociological and psychological phenomenon. Religious language adds exactly zero to my understanding of the Universe. The language called mathematics as used in Modern Physics does. Neither do I need religious language to understand myself or my religious female counterpart. She perfectly speaks common Dutch and never uses fancy religious terminology.

        • Y. A. Warren

          Wars are fought with religion as their bases. This is why we must learn to understand, not change, each other.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          Science simply doesn’t explain everything that we humans experience.

          You say this, but how can you know? What would you use to explain the human experience?

          This is something that no one should be disputing. Empirical inquiry can tell us a whole lot of things about human anatomy and biology, but as far as human consciousness, it’s only starting out. And the complexity of human experience isn’t a scientific matter at all.

          Science is fine at creating knowledge, but it can’t tell us how to interpret it.

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

          The author of the blog would be happy to have you stay.

        • Y. A. Warren

          Thanks. I enjoy being here.

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

          There IS NO NORM!

          Schizophrenia wouldn’t be considered off the norm somehow?

        • Y. A. Warren

          Schizophrenia is actually very hard to diagnose, and even harder to prove. There is no blood test for it, only subjective criteria based on observation.

        • Itarion

          Define “prove.” As in show that a given person absolutely has it, or as in show that the disorder exists?

          The fact that antipsychotics, and mind affecting drugs more generally, have a measurable effect on those taking them shows that the disorders actually do exist.

          Take ADHD people. Adderall is commonly used in the treatment, and a side effect of overly high dosage is social withdrawal. If you were to give Adderall to a nonADHD person, you would see exactly the opposite effect. The same drug has exactly the opposite reaction on different people, so we can prove, more or less, that these people have different mind structures.

          However, it would be wildly irresponsible to use drugs as a test to determine the presence of a brain disorder, which is why diagnosis is generally more difficult than “Take this and we’ll see.”

        • Kodie

          I think what YA is trying to say (and who really knows so far?) is not that there is no “norm” but there is no such thing, objectively, as “normal”. I think what YA believes, and I’ve heard from others, is that, society tries and tries to label malfunctioning humans as “ill” when they are just a differently-coping kind of “normal”. Given a majority of humans with ADHD, society might function way different, and people with (what we call now) a normally functioning brain would be extremely upset and unable to cope, and we’d label (what we call now) a normally functioning brain as “ill”.

          That’s just an example.

        • Itarion

          That, I can follow. It’s also a moderately coherent model, though I would still have to say inaccurate, considering that there are some brain structures that do not allow for reasonable social interaction, which is a problem for a social species like homo sapiens. More to the point, there are brain structures which cause one who has them to either actively or passively seek self-destruction, which is hard to build a society around.

          That’s not to say that there aren’t different brain structures around which a society can be built, but for better or worse, this society is pretty much decided on one.

        • Kodie

          The way I see it is, it’s easier and more “normal” to be able to be hammered into shape than to resist. A lot of technically mentally ill people do regard normal society as the sick and unyielding ones and maybe some of them are probably right. Another way I see it is, there are some brain structures that are selected against because they absolutely could not cope, and now we try to medicate it to approximately be amenable to being shaped.

          If you put it another way, a lot of people are genetically lactose intolerant. We call this an intolerance to a common food, but we don’t try to hammer these people into compliance with a dairy diet. They might try to hammer themselves into it because ice cream is delicious, and to some distinguished palates, the available coffee selection is unbearable without milk or cream. This lack of conformity doesn’t seem to drive people to rage or therapy for a lack of ability to cope with the “norm” of putting cheese on goddamned everything, and I think there are medicines that help with digestion.

          With a psychological difference, the difference between a well person and a sick person has traditionally been a lack of ability to “pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps,” to “go along to get along,” with whatever the “norm” is. “Well” people can adapt to situations, and sick people cannot. “Well” people can suppress nagging feelings and expressions, and “sick” people cannot, or try to, but cannot absorb this conflict. It is like a bullshit intolerance.

        • Itarion

          Clarifying question: Bullshit intolerance as in an intolerance that is bullshit, or an intolerance to/for bullshit?

          Otherwise, makes total sense. One key difference between mental stuff and lactose intolerance – lactose intolerance doesn’t cause harm to self or others. If someone’s mind is “abnormal,” but in a way that is no more dangerous than a “normal” mind, I see no problem with letting them be as they wish to, whether that be medicate to be normal or to not, or something in between, like a lower than recommended dosage.

        • Kodie

          I meant an intolerance for bullshit. That probably isn’t sufficient to describe it, it’s just failure to step in line, a hard resistance to acting like everyone else thinks you should.

          I’m quite aware of dangerous mental illnesses, well, I wouldn’t necessarily qualify them as “dangerous” as much as “scary to normal people” and most probably unpleasant. Having dealt with people (non-professionally) who are mentally ill in a way that might be scary to people, I see it as just absolutely more frustrating than anything else. They can’t simply be told to meet expectations of order, and I think what YA is implying is whose order is it, anyways? I don’t see them (the people I’ve known) as acting hazardously to themselves or others, but they act unmanageably with their own agenda. And left untreated, it is scary and may become dangerous. What’s worse, is there’s a limit to what a person can take while they try to manage their own life, while this other person seems to need a lot of supervision.

          What would happen if the majority of people had some kind of mild illness – maybe we (or should I say ‘they’) already do, but it’s not detected as an illness because it works within the society that’s built around a certain expectation. Maybe 90% of people are sick, and 5% are actually well, but we don’t calculate it like that. If those 5% find it difficult to cope with societal conditions, we call them sick because they cannot function in some way, or functioning well in this condition leaves them more exhausted than the majority who are simply in their element. Of course, having differences in brain function leaves room for people who are not coping well in any society, who are ill and delusional or manic – mentally unstable or unorganized to a degree that there is no society that could sustain itself if a majority were so afflicted.

          It’s not for you to say “I have no problem if such-and-such don’t want to take medication,” because that’s from your perspective. If you don’t have a severe enough problem, people think you can just pull it together. Living in this world is a struggle, and the only problem mentally is just a problem with the way everyone else has it set up. If people can succeed in this environment, that makes people who cannot labeled “sick”.

        • Itarion

          It seems to me that the use of the words “sick” and “well” imply some sort of supposed to be condition. Presumably this is the norm of which YA speaks.

          Your example missed 5%, so I’m going to toss in another group: the severely “sick”. There is a 90% block that has functionality, 5% that is well, and 5% that has no functionality.

          There are the unpleasant illnesses, and these arguably destructive and severely less good than the average state of mind are the ones that concern me, a “mostly normal” person. These would be the ones around which a society cannot base itself. If a member of a species that is generally considered social cannot fit within the social structure to any degree, would this be considered a healthy member of the species?

          There are, of course, degrees to this who mess, and that just makes it messier. Various disorders and syndromes and suchlike don’t necessarily make someone incapable of interacting within society, except that the society rejects differences. Someone who is just different enough to be noticeable, but still similar enough to interact is often ignored and kicked out of the group. I think that the members of the dominant social structure have the responsibility to accept differences, and that’s not always something that is done or encouraged. The mentally different, rather than the mentally ill, bring a radically different perspective to whatever conversation.

        • Kodie

          Diagnosis is commonly “take this and we’ll see.” As far as my experience goes, psychology is one of the most irresponsible fields of medicine. I understand that people are sick, I have been sick, I have been close to people who are sick. I know people have been helped by medicine, and I know people have been helped by talk therapy (of some kind), but in my personal experience navigating a positive coping strategy through psychological intervention, it’s been a huge piss in the wind.

        • Itarion

          Sometimes, I’m a realist. Sometimes, I’m an idealist. Why is the world both better and worse than I expect?

          I think what I was going for is, even though it’s more or less a best guess, it’s not random. Maybe I just want to believe that someone, somewhere, has some idea of what they’re doing.

        • Itarion

          Y.A. seemed to have a different definition of norm than I was using. The political, governmentally enforced norm, rather than the norm I defined below. Language barriers are annoying.

    • MNb

      “Neither compassion nor responsibility has any rational, provable basis”
      In the end nothing has any rational, provable basis, not even the scientific method. That’s no reason for nihilism.

      • Y. A. Warren

        I agree.

        • MNb

          Nice, but then I wonder why you sound so nihilistic when shouting

          “There IS NO NORM!”
          beneath. I don’t get it.
          There are more tastes between nihilism and absolutism (ie claiming the absolute 100% certain truth). Our task is to find what works best. That’s a hard one and I don’t have the illusion it will be finished during my lifetime. I’m pretty sure Itarion and BobS agree.
          So why don’t you join us instead of shouting?

        • Y. A. Warren

          Sorry for the shouting. I’ll tone it down.

  • jonch

    Because God can’t be defined, one cannot argue for his existence directly. Instead, Christians argue for one of the following things:
    1) Why there needs to be a creator
    2) Why there should be a god
    (1) is all of the usual arguments, i.e cosmological argument, transcendental argument etc. This are all deist arguments, so they are not useful for arguing for the existence of any specific god (Yahweh in particular). Plus a huge amount of these are debunked (the ones I know, anyway).
    (2) is all the emotional stuff. “Believe in God to experience huge love! Faith is healthy! Jesus loves you!” belong in this category. Believing in God for this purpose is like believing in an imaginary friend. Sure, it can fun or satisfying to believe it instead of the truth. For example, believing the earth was crafted by God’s [un]loving hand rather than naturally (which is subjective. IMO it’s also great to know the earth was formed in an epic cosmic lightshow). However this is childish, especially if you think it’s what actually happened.

    This is why IMO it’s illogical and childish to believe in God, and also why apologetics can’t be true. Feel free to point out any mistakes I made, as I’m nothing more than a mere Youtube lurker

    • MNb

      “Because God can’t be defined”
      Most theists are perfectly capable of defining god: an immaterial omni-everything being is usually the abrahamist one. There are deviations, so it is still important to find out what the individual theist’s view on his/her god is.
      Both the cosmological and the transcendental arguments are based on such a definition. You could even turn this around: such arguments are attempts to define god more precisely. That’s especially clear with the cosmological argument, where god is the uncaused cause.

      • James

        Good point. When in church, God is omni-everything, but in a philosophical debate, where such concepts are just plain incoherent, then God becomes undefinable – and therefore unfalsifiable. It’s a dodge, a means of rationalizing away the fact that their imaginary friend never shows his face when called to the task.

        • Pofarmer

          It’s an old, old Dodge. The basics of apologetics are in 2 Peter.

  • http://www.revelation4radicals.com/ radicalrevelation

    A little 2 Peter may bring this into focus: “…there will be false teachers among you… even denying the Lord who bought them…”

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

      It’s a little tough to accept an argument that the Bible is true because the Bible says so.

  • Michael

    Wait, Santa isn’t real?!

  • http://slrman.wordpress.com Truth Teller

    Yep, this is exactly how the religious justify their delusions. How ironic that they think they were given intelligence by their god and then throw it away.

  • Dominic

    Evidence Santa Claus cannot exist in reality – http://bit.ly/185Tf1D

    Now try to apply the same approach to God Almighty.

    • Kodie

      I don’t see what the issue is here, fantasies are not real.

    • MNb

      Ha! A challenge. Here I go.

      1. No known species of Homo Sapiens can resurrect.
      2. The christian god apparently doesn’t handle muslims, hindus, jews, buddhists and atheists either.
      3. There are about 2,4 billion christians in the world. If they on average pray once a day the christian god has to handle on average 100 million of prayers an hour, which is about 30 000 each second. That’s impossible to handle.
      4. OK, here the christian god, who has to lift souls after human bodies give up, is at an advantage. Souls being immaterial don’t have mass. Of course that leaves the question where to find those souls as long as the human bodies are still alive (why would they be within those bodies?) So christianity has replaced refutation by incoherence.
      5. Is the same point as 4.

      So indeed – your god almighty cannot exist in reality (which is totally material, of course). The fun is that every single answer will apply to Santa Claus as well. If you can postulate that your god almighty defies natural law for whatever reason I can postulate that Santa Claus can as well. Guess what? This has been succesfully argued before, by a catholic. Alas it’s in Dutch:

      http://mainzerbeobachter.com/2011/11/22/de-catechismus-van-sint-nicolaas/

      First lines:

      “Q: Do more than one St. Nicholas exist?
      A: Only one St. Nicholas exists, but in more than one persons.
      Q: What should we think of the opinion that St. Nicholas might not exist?
      A: That’s a horrible heresy we should fight with strenght and determination.
      Q: Can those, who don’t believe in St. Nicholas anymore, still be counted as believers?
      A: Surely those who don’t believe in St. Nicholas still can be counted as believers. But St. Nicholas doesn’t love them anymore. Hence they don’t belong to the beloved believers anymore, but to the adult believers.”

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

        And then when Dominic says, “Ah, but you underestimate God!” you can reply that he underestimates Santa.


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