Setting the Record Straight

Allow me to be absolutely clear about this:

I am an atheist. That means I do not believe in any gods. I am not just an “aYahwehist”, lacking belief only in the god of the ancient Hebrews, or an “anAllahist”, lacking belief only in the god of the Muslims. The set of gods in which I do not believe is not limited to the anthropomorphic ones that look and act like humans, nor is it limited to the set of gods believed in by fundamentalists who take literally every word of their respective scriptures, nor is it limited to gods invented in the 20th century or after. The set of gods in which I do not believe includes all gods, of whatever description, that are, ever have been, or ever might be imagined by human beings. I treat them all alike, and disbelieve in them all equally. Unless some substantial evidence for any particular one of them is discovered, I consider them all equally unproven, and equally probable not to exist.

I bring this up because the Newsweek/Washington Post blog On Faith has recently seen a conversation in which four separate and prominent theist columnists made exactly the same mistake: assuming that the only god in which atheists disbelieve is the anthropomorphic, fundamentalist type of deity whose followers have been experiencing a resurgence in the past few decades, or that atheism exists solely as a response to this movement.

Here follow the contenders for the hall of shame. Anglican bishop Nicholas Wright:

…fervent Christian belief has often been associated in recent years with a particular kind of politics, and atheism has looked increasingly an attractive option if belief looks as if it’s driving you towards neo-conservative political beliefs… I suspect there have been quite a few who have been only too happy to make the equation between belief and neo-conservatism and to be happy about rejecting both, and at the same time.

Columnist Zalman Schachter-Shalomi:

One of the reasons that atheism is on the rise is because the notions that people have about God are primitive and backward.

…Once it happened that I attended a session led by a teacher who said: “My son asked me if there was a God. I told him that there was no God and he was relieved”. He turned to me with a challenge waiting for me to refute him. I just said: “Sir! The God you do not believe in I do not believe in either.”

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz:

What happened in more recent years is that the growth of religious fundamentalism created a counter-reaction in the U.S., a strengthening of trends and ideas – many of them quite old ideas – that have become, in certain groups, a la mode.

Episcopal bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori:

I would want to begin any such conversation by asking, “tell me about what kind of God you don’t believe in.” There are lots of varieties of divinity in which I don’t believe, either.

The current vogue in atheism, if real, has a lot to do with the diminished understandings of God promulgated by some believers.

Can we please get this straight? Atheists do not believe in any gods. It is not just the “old man with white beard sitting on cloud throwing lightning bolts” god in which we disbelieve (the silliness of which, as Richard Dawkins brilliantly points out, is brought up usually to distract from the fact that “what the speaker really believes is not a whole lot less silly”). We also disbelieve in gods that are held to be pure love, pure beauty, pure wisdom, or whatever other concept is currently in vogue among theologians. Both those types of gods are equally unsupported by evidence and equally improbable. (Concepts such as love and beauty certainly exist, but I do not think the believers who speak of God in those terms mean to imply that God is simply a concept, which is an idea that atheists could certainly agree with.)

Nor are we atheists solely because of the “diminished understandings” of God propagated by fundamentalists. Schori, Wright and their fellow columnists do not have any more evidence for their conception of God than the fundamentalists have for theirs, and that is why we are atheists – the continuing and pervasive inability of any theist to offer convincing evidence for the existence of whatever supernatural being they believe in.

To the people in this article and others, allow me to assure you that I am not an atheist just because of the loathsome conceptions of God perpetuated by fundamentalists. You can take my word for that. I am well aware of the less bloodthirsty, less anthropomorphic, more loving, more compassionate versions of God you promote. I do not believe in those either. They all fail on the same points: the question of why we do not see clear evidence for such a being; the question of why that being would not act to prevent evil and human suffering; the question of why there is so much religious confusion, disagreement, and schism; and many more.

I suspect that these people’s confusion stems from one basic, important point: although atheists do not exist solely as a reaction to fundamentalists, their increasing power in recent years has given additional importance to our cause and made it far more important to stand up and speak out against the evils inevitably caused by untrammeled, dogmatic faith. The continuing threat of Islamic terrorism, the rise of theocratic Christian nationalism, the bloodshed and suffering caused all around the world by false beliefs – all these threats to humanity’s existence and well-being have inspired many atheists (including this one) to come out of the closet and offer a dissenting voice of reason. Seeing the freethought movement arise and gain strength in response to the dangers of fundamentalism, some believers have erroneously concluded that it was caused by fundamentalism. In fact, we have been here all along (as books like Susan Jacoby’s Freethinkers chronicle).

To these believers and others who would make the same argument, I have this to say: If you think that we are atheists only because we are unaware of your conception of God (an argument, ironically, that many fundamentalists make also), then make your case. Present your version of God and explain why it offers superior reasons to believe than other versions, and we will consider it fairly, as we always have done. I do not think it will possess any better evidence in its favor than the many others I have seen, but this is your chance to convince me otherwise. And more importantly, if you dislike fundamentalists’ giving your faith a bad name, then fight back against them. The world is in very real danger right now due to their excesses. If you dislike atheists pointing that out, then work with us to end this threat and set the human race back on a path of sanity.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://atheistrevolution.blogspot.com/ vjack

    I’m glad you brought up Jacoby’s excellent book. It is one of the reasons I am getting tired of hearing about this so-called “New Atheism.” As I’ve recently said, the only thing new about it is that the media has suddenly decided that we are newsworthy.

  • http://www.johnnysstew.com/cool/coolwet J

    One of the reasons that atheism is on the rise is because the notions that people have about God are primitive and backward.

    “Ah, but in the year 2006, after about 8,000 years of recorded human history, we can all be relieved that humans have FINALLY gotten religion right. What a tremendous relief. Yes, folks, billions of humans have come and gone on this Earth, but I, Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, am wiser than all and have finally figured it out.”

    “Not, of course, that this will let anyone off the hook. I’m still going to demand that we all go to church/synagogue/mosque and abstain from the more fun and free-spirited kinds of fucking and enjoyment. No, God may just be a nebulous concept, but you’d better believe He gets pissed off by certain things you do while naked. Or if you feel like sleeping in on Sunday mornings.”

    “But don’t worry: I’m sure my new brand of more enlightened thinking will have wide reception among the world’s hundreds of millions of dogmatic believers and cause them to cease their faith-based warmongery immediately.”

    (Whew; almost OD’d on my own sarcasm there)

    What happened in more recent years is that the growth of religious fundamentalism created a counter-reaction in the U.S., a strengthening of trends and ideas – many of them quite old ideas – that have become, in certain groups, a la mode.

    Yeah, ’cause if you can describe your ideological foes with a French adverb, then you can pretty much dismiss their arguments right? Nothing like a bit of conflation of the worst stereotypes of intellectuals, gays, and the French to get Americans to hate a group of people is there, eh Rabbi?

    And then again, there’s the deployment of the “atheism is old” meme. Um, pardon me Rabbi, but you’re an officiant of a religion with historical roots that go 7,000 years back and which you would probably assert are as old as time itself. Isn’t it the absolute height of richness for you to criticize someone else’s belief system–rightly or wrongly–as being “old” (and therefore false or “over”)? Do then you agree with that “B.C.” cartoon that showed a menorah transmuting into a cross, suggesting Judaism had been superseded by Christianity?

    If not, then let’s have a little less casual talk about whose belief system is “old”, shall we?

  • Alex Weaver

    …who one earth are you addressing?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    I assume from the context that J’s comment was an open letter to one of the columnists I criticized in my post.

  • Alex Weaver

    That’s the part that confused me; it almost sounded from his writing as though he was unaware that the pieces in question were quoted from someone else by you.

  • lpetrich

    J, your numbers are off, though the principle is correct.

    Written records go back about 5000 years, at least those that we can interpret.

    Interestingly, all the older religions that we have record of are polytheist — and religions dismissed as false by most followers of Abrahamic religions.

    And as to Judaism, it is about 2600 years old, at least if one dates from King Josiah’s high priest Hilkiah’s “discovery” of the “book of the Law” in the Jerusalem Temple. It commanded worship of the One True God at his One True Temple, and was likely an early version of the Book of Deuteronomy; its “discovery”, as Saturday Night Live’s Church Lady might say, was very conveeeeeeenient.

    The first outside mention of their ethnicity was from Pharaoh Merneptah’s scribes, who in 1200 BCE carved in his Victory Stele that “Israel is barren; its seed is no more.” Outside sources do not reappear until Assyrians start mentioning a “land of Omri” around 800 BCE. But there’s a tantalizing archeological hint to the effect that pig bones start becoming rare in the Israelite kingdom areas around 1000 BCE, as if they were then starting to believe in the wickedness of eating pork back then.

    That reminds me of a various curious apologetic argument: that Jews being a long-lived ethnicity implies the inspiration of the Bible. But there are longer-lived ones that have survived to the present day: Greeks and Chinese.

    While Merneptah’s scribes were carving the records of their triumphs, Mycenaean Greek scribes were busy keeping records of their palaces’ property and Shang-Dynasty Chinese scribes were writing on oracle bones.

    So does that mean that we ought to worship Zeus or the Yellow Emperor?

    And there are arguably longer-lived ones, like the Pharaonic Egyptian one, that are now gone.

  • andrea

    J, that was great. Saves me from having to put up a similar post:)

  • http://uncrediblehallq.blogspot.com Chris Hallquist

    Part of the problem though is that religious liberals are demanding recognition for concepts of God that rob the term of all meaning. Here’s Quinn:

    I believe in God and I believe in the Divine. Here is what God is for me: Goodness and love and beauty, humility, kindness and grace, generosity, and the human spirit… I believe there is God in having fun, in laughter, in dancing, in having sexual intimacy with the person you love, in sharing a meal with wine and candlelight with people you care about. There are times when I feel a genuine ecstasy over something of beauty or love or an act of kindness. There is certainly God in my feelings of love for my child, my husband, my family and my friends.

    People like Quinn could make a lot of noise about “Well Mr. Ebonmuse, you don’t deny *my* God, do you?” But of course, they would be silly for doing so.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Yes, I saw that piece. It’s a prime example of how many religious liberals are atheists in all but name, having watered down the definition of God to a point where it is no longer clear what, if anything, their belief means.

    I, of course, also believe in “goodness and love and beauty, humility, kindness and grace, generosity, and the human spirit”. However, I don’t believe that any of those attributes are personified in a supernatural being. They exist as concepts in the minds of humanity that are demonstrated by our actions toward each other. If Sally Quinn agrees with me, then she should call herself what she is – an atheist – and stop using a word that can only be employed in this context by eviscerating it of meaning.

  • andrea

    if there is “god” in feeling good, then every psychopath feels “god” too when they get their jollies harming something. Most Christians also forget that God “himself” says that he brings evil too.

  • mike3

    “They all fail on the same points: the question of why we do not see clear evidence for such a being; the question of why that being would not act to prevent evil and human suffering; the question of why there is so much religious confusion, disagreement, and schism; and many more. ”

    The last 2 points though are still tied down to specific expectations from the God in question. The 1st point, therefore, is all that is left to disbelieve in every possible deity. For example the last 2 would do nothing (as in a big fat goose egg) to waver belief in a hypothetical “maltheistic” god that revels in evil and discord. Yet to be an atheist one must find a reason to disregard this concept too. Not just the “nice” God-concepts. As atheism means just that. No gods at all, good or bad. And so the sole remaining question — the single most important point of them all in all these debates: Is there evidence? Is this or that, evidence? So you cannot say the other problems you mention apply to every concept of deity. It is interesting to note that you’d seem to reject the notion of the evil psychopath god yet according to your own logic it would be the one with the fewest problems. So ultimately, and I think you know it and you should admit it, the problem has to do with the lack of satisfying evidence above and beyond all else, because otherwise if the other problems were bigger then a “dystheistic”, bad God, would be acceptable. Yet it is not. The only reason other than emotionalism I could see that you would use, then, is lack of evidence. (PS. I don’t believe in this evil psychopathic God, I’m just using it as an example.)

    Send responses & much-wanted discussion (I want to hear some) on this point to: mike4ty4@yahoo.com

  • mike3

    Furhtermore I’d also like to discuss and debate with you some objections I have to your “problem of evil” page. Namely, you claim that a God acts like a substitute for action, prayer instead of action. But I don’t see how this debunks the idea of a God in general. God does not have to take the action. The God may want us to take the action instead.

    One objection I noticed would be to claim this is just a variant of the “teaching defense”, that the purpose of suffering and pain is to teach the people. However I also noticed a possible flaw in your rebuttal. That is: where you do get the idea that suffering must be the best or the only way to develop — how does the God-concept, in general, imply this? What if it is a way but not the only way?

    I’d be very interested in hearing your objections and responses to these 2 points.

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    So ultimately, and I think you know it and you should admit it, the problem has to do with the lack of satisfying evidence above and beyond all else. . .

    That one is the clincher, yes. It’s the reason why we don’t believe in some ‘evil psychopathic God’, as you have noted. Similarly, it’s the reason why I don’t believe there is a small teapot orbiting the sun somewhere between Mars and Jupiter. However, the other two objections apply fairly broadly to a lot of gods, so it makes sense to include them as general reasons for lack of god-belief, I think — especially since the last one helps to explain why certain types of evidence, such as ‘feeling God in your heart’, don’t solve the first problem.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Mike3

    That is: where you do get the idea that suffering must be the best or the only way to develop — how does the God-concept, in general, imply this? What if it is a way but not the only way?

    How do you justify it if it is simply one way out of many in which to teach us?

  • John D.

    What kind of evidence are we talking about here (Lynet, Ebonmuse, and others)? Ordinary empirical evidence, for example, as for the existence of beetles? I wouldn’t even try, because a transcendent God is not accessible to the 5 human senses, so can’t be verified by ordinary empirical method.

    What about scientific evidence, then? Again, impossible by definition: God, conceived as a transcendent reality, can’t be the object of either physics, chemistry, biology or any of the other sciences.

    For some people, no other kinds of evidence are admissable. So if you are one of them, the discussion ends here: no evidence can be given. But is this view reasonable? No.
    1) everyone believes things over and above the scope of these two criteria; this is especially true in human relationships, where evidence of this kind is never the basis of trust and love, which have their own evidence.
    2) it is self-defeating: what is the empirical/scientific evidence to support this voluntary limitation of reason? It remains a mere practical principle, but lacking rational foundation, becomes an expression of pure voluntarism.
    3) science has its own founding first-principles – preeminently, the validity of induction – which are not scientifically verifiable, nor empirically so.

    If you will admit other kinds of evidence, then we can move on:
    what about the evidence of philosophical reason? or the “evidence” coming from a revelation, whether of general or specific character (eg Jesus Christ)?

    The latter, I suggest, does not pertain to the competency of human reason to demonstrate, except possibly insofar as it may attempt to show the possibility of such a revelation. So that leaves us with philosophical reason. Is this of any use? I believe it is. So I would recommend being familiar with the philosophical arguments for the existence of God. Most atheistic philosophers and writers i have come across in all honesty don’t display a good understanding of these arguments. An example would be Dawkins’ refutation of the cosmological argument in The God Delusion based on the question of infinite regress of causes (if that is the case, as I have heard it is; I haven’t read Mr Dawkins’ book, although I am pretty familiar with his arguments); for the question of infinite regress in efficient causes is irrelevant to the argument. Similarly for Bertrand Russell, who completely misses the point.

    I’m not really trying to get into a lengthy philosophical debate – I don’t think I have the time! But I am just trying to establish the parameters of the question, and the ground of any possible discussion between theists and atheists.

  • Joffan

    For example the last 2 would do nothing (as in a big fat goose egg) to waver belief in a hypothetical “maltheistic” god that revels in evil and discord.

    Well, any such god is also pretty ineffective by the evidence, just like the omnibenevolent hypothesis. While there is undoubtedly suffering the world, it’s not the case that it is so predominant that we are forced to look for a supernatural explanation for it. There’s way too much pleasure around. You could, perhaps, propose an extremely lazy god (an observer god, perhaps), who may well be omnipotent but just can’t be bothered to actually do anything.

    Hey! maybe I’m God! Oh well, pfft, in that case, just get on with it, people. Believe, or not, who cares.

  • John D.

    BTW, Lynet,
    I was interested about your assessment of “feeling God in your heart” as invalid evidence for the existence of God.
    I think you are right to flag this up – the fact that I “feel God in my heart” certainly does not constitute binding evidence such that you too should believe in God. It has the value of a personal testimony – but one which remains within the horizon of my subjective experience.

    Yet perhaps there is more here than plain subjective experience. Well, of course, all experience qua experience is subjective; yet, what I am trying to say is, the experience of God is not something I can describe as being limited to the affective sphere. To use an analogy, I feel love for my parents, and I feel their love for me – but the feeling is concomitant with an objective relation, an “encounter” that develops and perfects itself over time. Indeed, I would say any such interpersonal relation of love involves a kind of “mutual in-dwelling”, such that the subjective “feeling” of trust, security, or whatever is the result of the inner testimony of an-other, not merely an affective response. It is this objective-subjective testimony that stands at the base of a relationship between, say, husband and wife.

    It is exactly the same pattern with God (I speak of my own experience), and more properly so: because he, unlike my parents, really can (if he exists) be in me. Yes, a feeling is there; but this feeling is the result of an inner testimony, the testimony of an Other who is not me and not an aspect of me. Indeed, the otherness of God is internal to the feeling itself; for the feeling is that of love in its affective dimension, which cannot subsist except in real relation to another person. Far from faith proceeding from feeling, then, faith seems to flow from a testimony: first of all from outside, since (Christian) faith is announced by human mediation; then, this being received, from the inside as God’s testimony to himself, which is accompanied by “feelings”, just as in human relations (eg. someone I love telling me they love me).

    Now, I have come over kind of slushy here, for which I crave your forbearance. But one has to try to find a vocabulary suited to a particular phenomenon or experience. What is my point? Simply that inter-subjectivity, and not only subjectivity, is the appropriate horizon for the phenomenon of “feeling God”, provided it is authentic. (Of course, sometimes people can be deluded… at this point I would probably bring the Church into the discussion as a kind of guarantor of objective-subjectivity – but let that pass for now). To sum up, I would recommend Not to attend to fluctuations of feeling alone, but above all to the presence of an Other.

    Do I think I have proved God? Not at all! I just wanted to offer some reflections on what I think is an interesting subject, and offer a testimony of things as I have found them.

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    John D,

    Thanks for stopping by. If you’re interested, here are my reactions to your basic points:

    [A] transcendent God is not accessible to the 5 human senses, so can’t be verified by ordinary empirical method.

    That’s an odd comment in some ways. After all, there are several stories in the Bible in which God does prove his own existence in a manner accessible to the five senses. Would your belief that “a transcendent God is not accessible to the 5 human senses” cause you to conclude that those stories are false?

    (If you want some examples of such stories, Ebonmuse lists a few here.)

    Regarding “other kinds of evidence”, I’m certainly open to philosophical debate of the type you describe. Nonetheless, when it comes to things like trusting the evidence of my own senses, I have yet to find a major problems with allowing as an initial statement only the principle that “consilience is an indicator of objectivity” — i.e. that when two sources agree with each other this is an indicator (not proof, just an indicator) both that the sources might be reliable in other cases and that the conclusion indicated by both may be true. In short, yes, I have basic assumptions, but I would like to claim that it is better to have fewer assumptions, so if we can drop the one about God and still function, then that’s a good thing.

    I think you are right to flag this up – the fact that I “feel God in my heart” certainly does not constitute binding evidence such that you too should believe in God. It has the value of a personal testimony – but one which remains within the horizon of my subjective experience.

    I know that there are even some atheists who would disagree with this, but I actually disagree with the idea that your subjective experience can be strong evidence “for you” even as it is weak evidence “for me”. Like all evidence, subjective ‘evidence’ is slightly stronger when you get it first hand, but even then it’s severely overrated.

    I say this because I have myself underestimated the power of the subconscious to give you dramatic feelings that seem to come from outside. I had an experience once — a dream, in fact — that was so strong, so remarkable, that if it had said it came from God, I’d have believed it. Under the circumstances, knowing that any God who did send such a dream would have to be one who wasn’t so very fussed about being believed in, I was forced to conclude that even an atheist like me can overrate subjective experience. I bet if I’d been brought up to believe in God it would have been possible for me to have had a dream like that which did seem to come from God, and I would even now be telling people that I had had proof of God’s existence — and I’d be wrong. (If you want the details of that story, I tell it here.)

    Now, I have come over kind of slushy here, for which I crave your forbearance.

    No problem, dude, I write mushy sonnets in my spare time :-)

  • John D.

    hmmmm, thanks for your comments, Lynet.
    In reaction to your 2 points:

    1)
    a) The stories in the Bible: these would be either
    i) manifestations of God (eg. fire, an “angel of YHWH”, cloud, powerful deeds…)
    ii) of poetic genre (eg in the prophets or Job or the Psalms)
    I can think of a couple of exceptions in Exodus where it is said that the elders of Israel actually saw God with their eyes on the holy mountain, and Moses saw God passing by (but didn’t see his face). I omit Adam and Eve seeing God “walking in the garden” because the genre here is that of myth.
    Now, the stories in Exodus, as “literally” reported, are impossible (I’m quite happy to say that) – natural vision isn’t capable of seeing a spiritual reality in its essence. A supernatural “vision” would be different (eg when Isaiah “sees” the Lord in the temple), because here we aren’t talking about natural sight.
    So in synthesis, anywhere the Bible says human beings “see” God according to their natural powers of sight (eg Exodus), literal interpretation is not possible. But if they “see” God through a supernatural vision, or if they “see” some or other effect or manifestation of God’s action/power, then I am OK with that.

    Just to say, I am not a fundamentalist. Biblical hermeneutics is multi-layered, multi-generic, and in a word, quite complex. So I am quite content to admit that many things in the Bible don’t represent actual historical fact.

    b) just briefly: fewer assumptions is fine. But speaking for myself, I don’t just “assume” God exists, nor do I think anyone should. I do love philosophical exchange, but I am restraining myself, since I think I can’t commit the time…

    2)
    Yeah, to an extent I agree with you. I would provisionally accept that an experience on the subjective level (eg your dream (a beautifully told story, by the way), or maybe an “intuition” of the transcendent (which Nietzsche sometimes got, and probably most of us get), doesn’t constitute evidence, on its own, even for the one who has it.
    But what it does constitute is this – an invitation from reality. See, if I am committed to reality (to truth), it is not reasonable for me to put a filter on what I receive, what comes to me, arbitrarily “drawing the line” at the sensible and physical (I don’t suggest that is what you do). No-one is suggesting – I hope – that we yield our judgment and discernment to the supreme court of affective experience. But we must follow reality wherever it leads.

    I compare it again to a human relationship. This is something that builds up over time, something that takes its initiative from signs – individual signs, discrete and insufficient in themselves as evidence: but nevertheless, the evidence of many, many signs leads to an ever deeper conviction. Like a mother with her child. It is through the many, many small manifestations of love and care that the child comes to a state of security and trust, a certain knowledge of its mother’s love. A similar thing happens in a romantic relationship. The manifestations express and reveal the truth of the relation itself.

    This is something different from an isolated subjective experience. This process is in fact common to all human beings: it is on the basis of this kind of knowledge that our whole lives are based (Erikson and others have shown how decisive the initial formation of trust is for all subsequent development).
    And it is this kind of subjective experience that is the basis of my own faith, not just the remembered testimony of two or three intense moments of personal revelation or “grace”. It was also the experience of Israel in the Old Testament: faith was based on what God had DONE for them (and so a completely new vision of history arose). As I said, clumsily, in my last post, faith comes through the ongoing testimony of an Other, a relation that subsists and grows deeper through the ceaseless manifestation of its own truth.

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    John D,

    But speaking for myself, I don’t just “assume” God exists, nor do I think anyone should. I do love philosophical exchange, but I am restraining myself, since I think I can’t commit the time…

    Fair enough :-) I will just clarify one thing for the record:

    See, if I am committed to reality (to truth), it is not reasonable for me to put a filter on what I receive, what comes to me, arbitrarily “drawing the line” at the sensible and physical (I don’t suggest that is what you do).

    What I try to do is to place greater credence on ideas that are supported by consilient evidence. That is, if two people can look at something and agree on what it is they’re seeing without having to confer with each other about it first, or if you see something by X-ray diffraction and it’s also perceptible with an electron microscope, and so on, that would be my chief criterion for strong evidence for something. Obviously that’s more of a rule-of-thumb than a strict guideline, but insofar as I place a filter on my experience, that’s the one I’d like to use.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    John D,
    If this transcendent god is beyond all of our senses, how do you “sense” that god is there? IOW, you claim to have subjective experience of god, but that experience has necessarily come to you through the senses that you claim you can’t use to detect god.

    Also, we’ve seen just about every theistic argument there is, and we don’t find them compelling, and, no, it’s not because we simply don’t understand them.

    Lastly, are you submitting revelation as some sort of evidence for god?

  • John D.

    OMGF,
    What I mean is this: I have never seen, touched, heard, smelled or tasted God, as I see and touch the laptop I am writing at. But yes, I think I have some kind of experience of God’s presence. This is possible because I am not simply an organical system responding to external physical stimuli: I am also a being who can think, and choose, and love – in other words I have a spiritual-physical nature, not just a physical one. The “sense” of God is spiritually communicated, although it also can sometimes have physiological or affective effects. Of course, you might dismiss that as a lot of rubbish – it’s up to you, I’m not out to convince you. But if so, do you never wonder that you might yourself be blind and dead to a whole sphere of human existence: namely, spirituality?

    As to theistic arguments, I was drawing attention to the RISK of not really understanding or appreciating the force of an argument. I think this is a real risk, because a number of atheists I know, or know of, or have read do misunderstand them (eg. Mr Dawkins and Mr Russell).

    As for revelation, I have faith in God because of God’s own testimony about himself – ie Revelation. But we, you and I, have to go with what reason is competent to investigate, since we both share reason, but we don’t both have faith. So yes, I am submitting Revelation as excellent evidence for God: BUT not the kind of evidence that we could discuss on an Atheist forum – since it presupposes that God has truly revealed himself, which presupposes he exists.

    Lynet,
    wouldn’t you say that many, many more than 2 people since the dawn of history, without having conferred with each other (across cultures, that is) have believed in God? That’s not evidence, clearly; but surely enough to get past your provisional admissable-experience-filter?
    Also, would you accept that you yourself do not apply this rule of thumb to all things without exception? eg in personal relationships: do you wait until some neutral observer says “yes, looking at the evidence, I quite agree” before committing to the idea that someone (eg a parent) cares about you? You implied as much, in fact, when you called it a rule of thumb rather than a strict principle. IN PRINCIPLE, then, if that is the case, it would be irrational to filter out anything whatever (as long as it is possible) on the strength of that rule alone.

  • Brad

    John D,

    (1) The love offered in human relationships is founded in empirical evidence! I have evidence from my entire childhood to tell me that my mother loves me, whereas I have zero evidence that a stranger on the street that I just met loves me. Interpretations of actions are the first and foremost accessible way to tell that a person loves us.

    (2) How do you know / why do you think your mystical claims of “inter-subjectivity” (sharing minds) is a reality? In real life, feelings of love can and manytimes do turn out to be unrequited – even though the lover was under the sad delusion that the person they love loved back. Merely feeling the presence or love of someone does not make it true.

    (3) I realize science is limited to the natural (matter and energy). However, the epistemology I try to use (to make up my best explanations of observed and inferred facts, based preferably on minimal assumptions and maximal explanatory power) does not “limit reason.” (Well, except to the “sensible.”) I still have license to leave God out of my conception of reality if it does damage to my ability to explain it. To do otherwise is irrational, wouldn’t you agree?

    (BTW, my epistemology does not rule out the supernatural. I happen to believe the phenomenon of consciousness is not strictly matter, energy, or physical information – but it appears most likely to be tied-down to a physical basis in reality: brains.)

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    John D,

    This is possible because I am not simply an organical system responding to external physical stimuli: I am also a being who can think, and choose, and love – in other words I have a spiritual-physical nature, not just a physical one.

    The weight of the evidence is against you having a “soul.” Even if you had a soul, how does that soul communicate with your physical body if not through your senses? How do you know when a god is communicating with your soul?

    The “sense” of God is spiritually communicated, although it also can sometimes have physiological or affective effects.

    Didn’t you also say that we can’t sense god at all? Please make up your mind.

    As to theistic arguments, I was drawing attention to the RISK of not really understanding or appreciating the force of an argument. I think this is a real risk, because a number of atheists I know, or know of, or have read do misunderstand them (eg. Mr Dawkins and Mr Russell).

    Which arguments do you think they misunderstand, and how do you know that you correctly understand them?

    As for revelation, I have faith in God because of God’s own testimony about himself – ie Revelation.

    Which is a tautology and begging the question, as you’ve been so kind as to already point out. How can you base reason on logical fallacy?

    So, how do you know that your revelation is correct? There are tons of competing revelations out there, some that supposedly come from the same god and are contradictory. So, how can you possibly consider that to be evidence while simultaneously ruling out all other revelation that you just so happen to not believe in?

  • John D.

    OMGF,
    the topic of human soul-body relations is a HUGE one, and I simply cannot go into it here. If you are interested in what a theist (from Catholic tradition) might say about it, the website http://www.newadvent.org (or is it .net or .com?) might be of help. Suffice to say, it involves the possibility of spiritual reality affecting physical reality.

    As for your second point, i put sense in inverted commas (see you quote) because God is a spiritual, not a natural thing, and so he can’t be “sensed” according to the normal meaning of the word. God communicates himself spiritually; but he can’t be sensed by our natural senses. There is no contradiction in that (even if you choose not to agree with it).

    As to the 3rd point, most commonly I find cosmological arguments misunderstood, because their critics think that they go something like this:
    1) nothing exists without being caused
    2) if there was not a first uncaused cause, nothing would exist, since we would have an infinite regress of causes, which is impossible
    3) things exist
    4) ERGO there is an uncaused cause which we call God
    Sometimes they do go like this, which is unfortunate. But Aquinas (usually the one taken to have offered the argument authoritatively for Christians) didn’t argue this way. According to this scheme, God is the first link in a chain of causes, and so the dependency is of a natural kind. But God does not cause as the first link in a chain (I speak of my own opinion – and Aquinas’); rather he is the transcendent active cause that holds the whole chain, whether infinite or not, in being, in its temporal unfolding. I believe arguments understood from this perspective – their starting point being contingent being as such – really are convincing. But again, rather than get really involved in this, I have to just be content with pointing out the issues – along with the fact that I have never heard an adequate refutation of a well-constructed cosmological argument. Russell, for example, cites as a “counterexample” the series of negative integers as a “series without a first term”, hence making 2 mistakes:
    - ignores the relevant difference between mathematical and real entities.
    - interprets the argument as a denial of the possibility of infinite regress.

    As to the 4th, it is not a tautology: for if God really has revealed himself, it is reasonable to believe him. Note that I say IF God has revealed himself: for as far as reason goes, that is just a postulate, an irreducible conditional.
    A tautology would be this: God has revealed himself: therefore God has revealed himself.
    What I am saying is: God has revealed himself. No therefore. It isn’t a rational deduction, so it can’t be tautologous. It is a statement of faith. But although my belief is not simply a rational deduction, that doesn’t immediately mean it is irrational and blind. The 2 things are different.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    John D,

    Suffice to say, it involves the possibility of spiritual reality affecting physical reality.

    I too have no desire to go too deeply into soul/body stuff, but what you say above is that the spiritual realm will impinge on the physical in a way that affects the physical realm. When this happens, the affects should be measurable, meaning that we can sense them. This is something you’ve said can not happen. So, how do we physically sense god or physically receive these signals from the spiritual realm?

    According to this scheme, God is the first link in a chain of causes, and so the dependency is of a natural kind. But God does not cause as the first link in a chain (I speak of my own opinion – and Aquinas’); rather he is the transcendent active cause that holds the whole chain, whether infinite or not, in being, in its temporal unfolding.

    Which is a big exercise in begging the question.

    I believe arguments understood from this perspective – their starting point being contingent being as such – really are convincing.

    Only if you ignore the glaring logical fallacy it is based on.

    As to the 4th, it is not a tautology: for if God really has revealed himself, it is reasonable to believe him.

    Then it is circular reasoning. You believe in god because he has revealed himself and that revelation is evidence for god? This is circular.

    It is a statement of faith. But although my belief is not simply a rational deduction, that doesn’t immediately mean it is irrational and blind.

    Actually, it is. To say that you simply believe in god sans evidence is irrational. The only “evidence” that you claim to have is completely dependent on you first believing that the evidence leads to god, and it’s rather convenient when that happens, isn’t it?

  • John D.

    OMGF,
    point1: sensing the physical effects of the spiritual is different from sensing the spiritual. The first is possible, at least ex hypothesis; the second is not.

    point2: I’m not begging the question. I’m just saying what I believe without going into all the reasons. I do have reasons, however. It’s just that I’m not keen to go into long-winded discussion. I therefore commend it to you to own research, after having pointed out some of the dangers and false interpretations.

    point3: (blank)

    points 4 and 5: it’s not circular; it just doesn’t sit with your notion of evidence. I do not presuppose “that the evidence leads to a god”, as you allege; rather, I am led to believe that there is indeed a God by means of the “evidence” (not scientifically intended; rather, the evidence of testimony, namely the testimony of Jesus Christ, the testimony which IS Jesus Christ). Testimony, not evidence, is the suitable category to understand Christian faith.

  • John D.

    Brad,
    I’ll try to get back to you later. Trouble is that, when one embarks on these discussions – which I for one find both interesting and useful – one can whittle away quite a lot of precious time!

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    John D,

    point1: sensing the physical effects of the spiritual is different from sensing the spiritual. The first is possible, at least ex hypothesis; the second is not.

    Then, when god interacts with the physical world, and affects it, we should be able to test for this, should we not?

    point2: I’m not begging the question.

    Actually, it was point 2 that I didn’t respond to because I felt it was close enough to point 1 that they overlapped. This would be point 3. And, yes it is begging the question. The argument is dependent on first assuming that god exists, and then relying on that assumption as the proof for the assumption in the first place. I guess you could also call it circular reasoning.

    points 4 and 5: it’s not circular; it just doesn’t sit with your notion of evidence.

    Actually, it is. You are saying that revelation is proof of god and you know that revelation is proof of god because it came from the very god that you are trying to prove.

    I do not presuppose “that the evidence leads to a god”, as you allege; rather, I am led to believe that there is indeed a God by means of the “evidence” (not scientifically intended; rather, the evidence of testimony, namely the testimony of Jesus Christ, the testimony which IS Jesus Christ).

    How do you even get to the idea of having a god to conclude to? How do you know the testimony of Jesus is correct or accurately portrayed by the Bible? How do you know that other testimonies of other deities are incorrect? Etc. This is simply bad reasoning.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    wouldn’t you say that many, many more than 2 people since the dawn of history, without having conferred with each other (across cultures, that is) have believed in God? That’s not evidence, clearly; but surely enough to get past your provisional admissable-experience-filter?

    No, it’s not, because the people who all claim to have clear and convincing experiences of God nevertheless disagree dramatically, sometimes violently, about the nature, characteristics, and desires of that being. The mere statement “Most people through history have believed in God” papers over an enormous amount of personal, institutional and cultural variation. In fact, if we’re taking a census, most cultures in human history have been polytheist, not monotheist.

    I addressed this in my essay “One More Burning Bush“:

    Aside from occasional exceptions such as colorblindness, two people using the same sense to perceive an object will ordinarily agree on its characteristics. Different people can easily reach a consensus on whether a new object is red or not, whether it tastes sweet or not, whether its surface feels smooth or not. However, this does not seem to be the case with the “God sense”. Instead, different people – all of whom insist that their perception of God is clear, unimpaired, and correct – will nevertheless often disagree dramatically on the characteristics of this being. Some believe that God is loving and forgiving, others that he is wrathful and warlike; some believe that he is personal, others that he is impersonal; some believe that he is infinite, while others believe that he is limited; and so on. Some people even disagree over whether there exists only one god or many. Clearly, these people cannot all be correct. But without a reliable means of settling this question through independent measurement, why should we believe that any of them have it right?

  • John D.

    OMGF,
    Please, you are putting words into my mouth.

    I do not “assume” that God exists. I am led to believe he does, which is not the same thing.

    Re. your response to my points 4+5, I am not saying what you think I am. I have not concluded to the fact that God exists from the fact that he revealed himself. I explicitly denied that my faith was based on a deductive conclusion.

    I BELIEVE the teseimony of Jesus, I don’t KNOW it to be true prior to believing it. Only after having done so, I become more and more convinced that it is true. That is not in and of itself illogical.

  • Brad

    As my second question gets at, John D, how do you know that you have the “testimony of Jesus?”

  • John D.

    Ebonmuse,
    Belief in God (or gods) is indeed very multiform, as you say. However, I can allow this tranquilly, without sacrificing my central point.

    The phenomenon of religion across human history suggests that spirituality is something that people find important. As a human phenomenon, it reveals to us that people and cultures are generally convinced that what we can see with our 5 senses (or indeed verify by calculations based on sense data) does not exhaust reality. THIS is what essentially matters to my argument.

    The fact that there is much disagreement and divergence in religious beliefs and practices could be feasibly explained by the fact that the object of religious belief and sentiment (God or gods or spirit or suchlike) is NOT immediately accessible to the 5 senses, which are our ordinary mode of accessing reality. Thence the difficulty in coming to know the nature, attributes, desires and so on of God (gods…). So if the divergence could (in theory) be explained by the super-sensible nature of the object, the convergence – especially belief in the “spiritual” – still remains as a human phenomenon and has to be explained.

    You might want to reduce it to some accidental by-product of natural selection, or to some social or psychological need (without wanting to put words into your mouth); but that brings us back to the experience-filter, does it not? That is, you have already decided that spiritual reality cannot be an explanation for the prevailing spiritual beliefs of humanity. This, I contend, constitutes an illegitimate limitation of the possible causes of the phenomenon.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    John D,

    I do not “assume” that God exists. I am led to believe he does, which is not the same thing.

    I’m not putting words in your mouth, I’m merely pointing out what it is that you are actually doing. You are assuming god. It is impossible to be led to god without first begging the question. Where do you get this conception of god that meets the qualifications that are necessary for the “evidence” you see around you to lead to him?

    Re. your response to my points 4+5, I am not saying what you think I am. I have not concluded to the fact that God exists from the fact that he revealed himself. I explicitly denied that my faith was based on a deductive conclusion.

    Then what are you basing it on?

    I BELIEVE the teseimony of Jesus, I don’t KNOW it to be true prior to believing it. Only after having done so, I become more and more convinced that it is true. That is not in and of itself illogical.

    Yes, actually it is illogical.

    First, to go back, are you using your believe in the testimony of Jesus to inform your belief in god? If so, then you are doing exactly what you said you don’t do, which is to use revelation as “evidence” for god.

    Second, you’re admitting that you are begging the question here. After you believe it is true, you are convinced it is true? Please.

    Your stance is illogical. You’ve ignored the questions as to how you get to the conclusion of god, how you came up with god as a valid conclusion in the first place, how you know your accepted revelations are correct or at least more correct than other revelations, etc.

  • John D.

    Brad,
    1) yes, knowledge of human love has an empirical foundation. It is through gestures, words, etc that a mother manifests her love for a child, whence the fact that you know your mother loves you, but not any old stranger.

    But you also used the word “interpretation”, which is crucial too: between the various manifestations on one hand and your knowledge on the other, there is an act of “interpretation”, a putting-together of signs which, taken all together, reveal the truth of the realtionship. Hence, although empirically grounded, this knowledge is not entirely reducible to the empirical dimension. The latter needs to be interpreted.

    With faith in God it is the same, in that it too involves an “interpretation of signs” (whether natural ones, or specific/revelatory ones, eg. Jesus Christ, or the Return from Babylonian exile), it also involves a gap between manifestation and knowledge. The key difference is that while in human relationships the one who reveals himself/herself through actions and words is also sensible, terrestrial, “verifiable”, with God that is not the case since he is transcendent invisible, not “verifiable” in this way. For this reason, I think, it is easier – it is natural in fact – to “bridge the gap” between manifestation and knowledge in relationships between people than in relation to God.

    2) Your second point about unrequited or deluded love is also true in human terms – it happens, of course.
    However, what I am talking about is not just a “feeling of love”, as you write. I am talking about an experience of love that builds up over time through the constant and faithful choice of the other. Like a husband and wife who have grown old together and who have come to trust each other, and to KNOW their love for each other.

    Now, if I apply the analogy to the religious sphere, your objection does not cut deep. For even if human beings can be deceived about the love of another, with God this is not the case. It is VERY important to note here that I am not arguing a priori from a notion of God which includes love: rather, I am speaking a posteriori from an experience of faith, an experience like that of the author of these lines of Scripture: “who ever trusted in him and was disappointed?”, an experience which is corroborated by the faith of all believers who lived before me. Not “proven”, but nevertheless certain, just like the love of husband and wife – and more so.

    I, with fellow believers, and with the authors of the Scriptures testify that God IS faithful and loving. You said that simply the feeling or inner “presence” of a loving other doesn’t prove the reality either of the love or the other. In 2 senses, correct:
    1) it could never be a “proof”, as in something open to empirical or mathematical verification
    2) just a momentary feeling, or a fleeting sense of presence can be deceptive.
    YET, return again to the married couple, who, in the absence of any “proof” in a strict sense, nevertheless committ their entire lives to each other and arrive at an ever deeper trust. They found their whole lives on trust in the testimony of the other, which proves itself true in action time after time. Same with religious faith. The difference again, is the relation to the senses.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    “who ever trusted in him and was disappointed?”

    Besides Mother Teresa? Everyone who has ever deconverted… ;)

  • John D.

    OMGF,
    sorry, but this has to be my last reply to you.
    I believe primarily because of revelation. The Judeo-Christian concept of revelation involves a particular interpretation of history – of events or people. What HAPPENED at the Red Sea was the founding experience for the faith of ancient Israel, and in time, the Jewish religion (let’s ignore whether it happened or not, since I am not Jewish, and since it is the structure of revelation that I am trying to elucidate).
    The founding fact of Christian faith is Jesus of Nazareth, his life, his death, his resurrection. The 12 Apostles preached him as the Son of God and the Saviour of the world – and many believed them. This message has been preached through every generation up to the present. I happen to believe it. I think it is credible, totally relevant, and coherent. I am convinced by the testimony I hear, and I believe it. After the initial act of belief, I then grow in deeper conviction that the message is true, through living my life as a believer, and thinking more and more about the things I believe, (and through prayer too) (see my other posts on this).
    So it is not logic – I would never claim that. But is it really illogical? Is it positively AGAINST logic to believe in a testimony which one initially finds highly coherent and convincing, and afterwards, liberating and transforming?
    I submit that it is not. If you disagree, that is up to you; but I would tentatively suggest you are not being entirely reasonable about it.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    John D,

    I believe primarily because of revelation.

    How do you know this revelation is correct?

    The Judeo-Christian concept of revelation involves a particular interpretation of history – of events or people. What HAPPENED at the Red Sea was the founding experience for the faith of ancient Israel, and in time, the Jewish religion…

    You mean the events of the Exodus that never happened? I’m glad that you place so much emphasis on a made-up event.

    The founding fact of Christian faith is Jesus of Nazareth, his life, his death, his resurrection.

    How do you know it is fact? What evidence do you have that what is written in the Bible is fact?

    The 12 Apostles preached him as the Son of God and the Saviour of the world – and many believed them.

    If they existed that is. And, if they did exist, many more didn’t believe them – so what? Many people also believed Mohammed and many other “prophets” of differing faiths.

    This message has been preached through every generation up to the present.

    There are other faiths that are even older, so again, so what?

    I happen to believe it. I think it is credible, totally relevant, and coherent. I am convinced by the testimony I hear, and I believe it.

    You’ve made that crystal clear. What you haven’t made clear is why. Why do you believe this particular story versus any other religious story or no religious story? Why do you believe that these particular revelations are correct or true?

    After the initial act of belief…

    Which is where we have the problem that you won’t address.

    …I then grow in deeper conviction that the message is true, through living my life as a believer, and thinking more and more about the things I believe…

    Sounds like confirmation bias to me.

    So it is not logic – I would never claim that. But is it really illogical?

    Yes, as I’ve pointed out multiple times.

    Is it positively AGAINST logic to believe in a testimony which one initially finds highly coherent and convincing, and afterwards, liberating and transforming?

    Even if we take the Bible at its word as to what Jesus said, what is convincing about someone professing to be divine? What evidence do you have? How do you differentiate that claim from any other claim to divine-ness by other people/stories? What non-arbitrary way do you do this? Fact is, the most likely explanation is that you were brought up in the Xian tradition and therefore believe it makes sense. If you were brought up in Saudi Arabia, you’d probably be saying the same thing about Islam.

    If you disagree, that is up to you; but I would tentatively suggest you are not being entirely reasonable about it.

    You can suggest all you want, but the fact remains that you can’t get to god without going through logical fallacy and irrationality. You simply can’t get there from here.

  • John D.

    OK , very last one.
    I believe Xtian revelation rather than other ones because I think it is the most coherent, spiritually, intellectually and morally of all revelations. Other ones have intrinsic problems, which Christianity doesn’t have.
    Even although I was baptized as a child, I had to take ownership of my faith as an adult, and that involves a process of rational judgment, understanding. So while I was given the opportunity to be a Christian by family and social context, I have persevered in it because I think it is true.
    Thanks for the discussion!

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    John D,

    I believe Xtian revelation rather than other ones because I think it is the most coherent, spiritually, intellectually and morally of all revelations. Other ones have intrinsic problems, which Christianity doesn’t have.

    Considering that Xianity has many problems, I’m not sure how you can make this statement. Among the many problems are the obvious contradictions in the Bible and in private revelation that supposedly has come from the Xian god. And, what does it mean to be “the most coherent, spiritually, intellectually and morally of all revelations?” How is Xianity coherent? The ideas it is built upon are inherently incoherent, i.e. omni-max gods, free will, etc.

    Even although I was baptized as a child, I had to take ownership of my faith as an adult, and that involves a process of rational judgment, understanding. So while I was given the opportunity to be a Christian by family and social context, I have persevered in it because I think it is true.

    And you honestly think that you wouldn’t be a Muslim right now had you been born in Saudi Arabia? You don’t think that your upbringing colored in any way your bias towards Xianity?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    John D:

    The phenomenon of religion across human history suggests that spirituality is something that people find important. As a human phenomenon, it reveals to us that people and cultures are generally convinced that what we can see with our 5 senses (or indeed verify by calculations based on sense data) does not exhaust reality.

    I agree that there is something to be explained – the widespread and persistent nature of belief in the supernatural. This is obviously a real phenomenon that must have an explanation. But it does not follow that that explanation consists of an actual supernatural being. Similarly, a surprisingly large number of cultures have persistent cultural beliefs about a Santa Claus-like figure, but that does not indicate that there actually is any such being.

    You might want to reduce it to some accidental by-product of natural selection, or to some social or psychological need (without wanting to put words into your mouth); but that brings us back to the experience-filter, does it not? That is, you have already decided that spiritual reality cannot be an explanation for the prevailing spiritual beliefs of humanity.

    You are putting words in my mouth, and that accusation is false. As I said earlier, my disbelief in “spiritual reality” is a conclusion founded on the widespread disagreement among human beings about the nature of that reality, combined with the lack of any objective way to verify that one such belief is true rather than another. There are secondary reasons as well, including the occurrence of purposeless suffering, the moral defects and scientific inaccuracies in texts claimed to be the product of revelation, and the trend of human history in which supernatural explanations have consistently given way to more accurate natural explanations, never vice versa.

    This message has been preached through every generation up to the present. I happen to believe it. I think it is credible, totally relevant, and coherent… So while I was given the opportunity to be a Christian by family and social context, I have persevered in it because I think it is true.

    As OMGF pointed out, this is almost certainly due to your upbringing. You consider the Christian message the most credible, relevant and coherent because it’s the one that you grew up with and were taught to believe from a young age. If you were raised by a Muslim family, you’d almost certainly believe in Islam instead; if you were raised by a Buddhist family, you’d very likely be a Buddhist. In your case as well as theirs, it’s due to upbringing and culture, nothing more. Christianity makes the most sense to you because it’s the one you’ve heard the most often and are most familiar with.

    Your claim to have taken “rational ownership” of your faith as an adult would be far more credible if you could present evidence that you had given serious consideration to any of the alternatives. Did you? Did you attend services of other religions, for example, or read their sacred texts? Did you contrast and compare apologetics of different faiths, or books arguing for atheism? If you didn’t do any of those things, as most believers haven’t, then your claim to have made a rational choice in favor of Christianity is hardly credible.

  • Brad

    John D:

    Your response to Ebonmuse is essentialy “what if there is a supernatural explanation?” and “you unfairly rule out spirituality from the start.” Without providing a spiritual explanation of your own, addressing Ebonmuse’s natural explanation, or even taking up his criticisms of supernatural ones, can you say you’ve accomplished anything here? BTW, this was EM’s argument in a nutshell:

    They all fail on the same points: the question of why we do not see clear evidence for such a being; the question of why that being would not act to prevent evil and human suffering; the question of why there is so much religious confusion, disagreement, and schism; and many more.

    Plus what makes you say EM “already decided that spiritual reality cannot be an explanation”? Where is that supported in his statements? What makes you say EM is being dismissive?

  • Brad

    1) It’s hard to tell exactly how you responded to my first part. You say [your] faith in God involves interpreting signs in personal life and human history, as well as some kind of “sixth-sense” that perceives spiritual reality. Am I getting that right? If that’s the case, then can you first elaborate upon what kinds of signs you’re talking about and how you go about interpreting them? Myself a skeptic, it is difficult to actually grant any argument of this nature to be a genuinely rational one (to myself even) because these cases are so much more easily explainable with our cognitive biases, inaccurate intuition, wishful thinking, and (even unconscious) groupthink, than with inexplicable superstitious god-of-the-coincidences “explanations.” Furthermore, I find the “sixth-sense”-type hypothesis to be very dubious. I myself have had religious experiences as a child, but do I still think these internal sensations and feelings corresponded to a genuinely new type of reality? No, and I’ll tell you why: because they already appear to correspond to a basis in this physical reality, and I have trouble meshing this with any hypothesis of a spiritual plane. Ebonmuse writes clearly and brilliantly on the subject, with powerful reference to modern neuroscience, in his essay A Ghost in the Machine. Specifically, I recommend checking out Part 3: The God Part of the Brain.

    2) You start off by ruling out self-delusion as an open option to investigate:

    For even if human beings can be deceived about the love of another, with God this is not the case.

    Of course, do you support this assertion? No. So we’re clear on this: I’m saying there is no God, and that belief in God is, so far as I can tell, irrational. I gather you believe you have experienced God, and so presumably it must follow that you “KNOW” it is not a delusion. To me, a former believer, this appears to be magical thinking and a defense mechanism so as not to question yourself.

    YET, return again to the married couple, who, in the absence of any “proof” in a strict sense, nevertheless committ their entire lives to each other and arrive at an ever deeper trust.

    Yes, that analogy does well to explain the meaning behind the case you are making, but it is not itself any form of argument or evidence. Along those exact same lines, I can give you an analogy that explains my case just as well. Consider imaginary figures such as Santa Claus that many children are told to believe is real. They build upon this belief, utilizing it to synthesize all further real-world data they receive. All the way up to the point where they will explain noises on Christmas night with Santa’s rare appearance, or explain their occasional holiday-time inner guilt as having been caused by Santa “watching” them. Children interpret manifestations of Santa Claus in their lives. The child has no strict proof that Santa exists, but nevertheless commits themself to behaving well for their rewarding presents as well as Santa’s approval.

    The point of this exercise in mirroring your analogy is to drive home the point that we all have the rational burden to *discern* what kind of reality we are in. We cannot simply accept some metaphor without a reason for believing that metaphor corresponds to reality. I can tell a person loves me if they are open and up-front with me in what they desire for our relationship, if they make a genuine effort to communicate with me to the best of their ability, if they do not manipulate me and my actions, if they do not lash out inhumanly against me or my friends, if they help me out reasonably with my troubles (especially serious ones) instead of ignoring me, and so on. How can you tell there is a God who loves us humans?

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Ebonmuse,

    You said to John D,

    Your claim to have taken “rational ownership” of your faith as an adult would be far more credible if you could present evidence that you had given serious consideration to any of the alternatives. Did you? Did you attend services of other religions, for example, or read their sacred texts? Did you contrast and compare apologetics of different faiths, or books arguing for atheism? If you didn’t do any of those things, as most believers haven’t, then your claim to have made a rational choice in favor of Christianity is hardly credible.

    I have given serious consideration to many of the alternatives. I have attended services of other religions, read their holy books. I have compared and contrasted apologetics of different faiths, and I’ve read books and articles on atheism. I have explored occultism and consider myself decently versed in the sciences. There is evidence on my blog of this; I’ve left comments here before, for example, that indicate familiarity with Hindu theology and the Vedas. I have left thoughtful comments on evolution as well. I’ve read the Bible cover to cover several times. Although not quite cover to cover, I’ve read Structure of Evolutionary Theory and could explain to you quite eloquently Gould’s metaphor behind Scilla’s coral, if you wished. I am not a Republican, I am politically liberal, I was not raised with religion, nor did my parents instill it into me in any way, shape or form.

    I claim that I have done these things for seventeen years now. Would you possibly consider, then, that I have made a rational choice?

  • John D.

    Ebonmuse,
    You say:
    “the widespread and persistent nature of belief in the supernatural. This is obviously a real phenomenon that must have an explanation. But it does not follow that that explanation consists of an actual supernatural being.”

    Quite. It does not follow. I never wanted to argue that. So I pass to your next point, which is that:
    “my disbelief in “spiritual reality” is a conclusion founded on the widespread disagreement among human beings about the nature of that reality, combined with the lack of any objective way to verify that one such belief is true rather than another”

    The first reason you give for your conclusion (which you point out is not just a “decision”, as I implied, wrongly) is addressed in my post, where I offered a possible reason for this disagreement, based on the role of the senses in accessing spiritual reality. Since this is a perfectly possible reason for religious disagreement, the latter can’t be cited as a really convincing case for non-belief in spiritual reality. So really it comes down to the second point: lack of possible objective verification.

    This has been the subject of a number of my posts (to Lynet, Brad, maybe OMGF), where I have argued that NOT all the things we believe as human beings are objectively verifiable in this way.
    But I would like to say something else here. Basically, objective verification would have to be based on sensible data; so I can assume (I think) that we are talking about sensible verification. You, however, with other human beings, are the one who carries out the ACT of verification. Yet in order to be a valid act of VERIFICATION, it has to be a non-material act, it has to involve a non-material component. Otherwise, if all that acts in an act of verification is matter, nothing at all is verified, since all that is haapening is movement and (at most) epiphenomena of movement (such as “subjectivity”, which would have only a unidirectional relation of causality with the material movements, and so could never be in a position to judge).
    So, for an act of verification – if it is authentic, if it yields genuine knowledge – must involve a certain non-materiality on the part of the one who acts: eg. yourself, and indeed all human beings.
    So “spirituality begins at home”, if I might use such a cheesy phrase.

    Finally, yes, I have researched other spiritual traditions, both within and without Christianity. I have read various atheistic authors. I have considered the role of my cultural context or upbringing in my faith. NOne of these things make me believe it less. In fact, they make me believe it more; I am convinced – from my own experience – that no contradition exists between reason and faith.

  • John D.

    Brad,
    In relation to your first mail, see my response to Ebonmuse. I accept that it is not just a question of arbitrarily “deciding” to rule out spiritual explanations.

    In relation to your second one:

    point1)
    a) SIGNS: the signs I refer to are of 2 kinds:
    (i) natural
    (ii) specific (pertaining to a particular Revelation)
    (i) these would include human love, human beings in general with all their capacities, natural beauty, the authority of the moral “ought”, … all seen as “witnesses” to the presence of God.
    The force of these things as a ARGUMENT is precisely zero. Indeed I lived most of my life (up to 19) without being able to see God in them. Now I believe I can; but I cannot make my own experience into an argument.

    (ii) these signs are the ones I was thinking of when I wrote the post. You describe my view rightly when you say they pertain to “human history”. Of course, the signs of this kind are specific and precise: I believe that God’s self-revelation has been made in the Judeo-Christian tradition, with Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of all that was hoped for, and all that was lacking, in the Old Testament.
    I compared my trust and belief in this revelation to the trust and belief of spouses towards their partners, who reveal their love through their action (self-revelation) (I take up your Santa Claus point later). In all of this, I was trying to draw attention to the inner dynamic of the act of Christian FAITH: therefore, my arguments do not as they stand constitute evidence or proof for the sceptic. If I was trying to offer a rational proof of God, I would take a different line. What I HAVE been trying to do is show the reasonableness of an act of FAITH, which is not simply a rational proof or deduction.

    How do I interpret the signs of revelation? A complex question; one of the first things I must say is that I don’t do so on my own, but on the basis of a common “interpretation” which I consider solidly grounded. This is, to be precise, the preaching of the Apostles – which resonates through time in the Church – and the writings of the evangelists (Gospels, Scripture). At the beginning of the Christian era, this was always considered absolutely fundamental: not to break off from the teaching received, to be faithful to the “regula fidei” (rule of faith), to remain within the “communion” of faith. Was this just a ploy by the pastors of the Church to get people to submit to them? I find that, from an objective point of view, very unconvincing – especially since it was the very pastors, and not the people, who most often deviated from that rule.
    At any rate, the above describes an “external” element of interpretation, such that my own personal judgment is not the only criterion. With this of course goes a subjective and personal element too, which can’t be eliminated. For, as you will no doubt be thinking, I can’t PROVE that the Apostles have interpreted correctly, because that is to presuppose the authority of Christ, who is both their teacher and their message. A vicious circle? If you are looking for “empirical” proof and evidence, yes; but Christians are people of FAITH: we BELIEVE in a testimony which we THINK is convincing and harmonious with reason. There is always this irreducible act of belief, which then grows into deeper and deeper conviction, even until knowledge.
    So again, the force of this as an ARGUMENT is precisely zero. I can only hope to show it is a reasonable act and a reasonable attitude to adopt.

    b) SIXTH SENSE: I’m uncomfortable with the term… but I do think that spiritual reality is accessable to us, yet darkly, obscurely, with difficulty… it is precisely for this resaon that we need revelation.

    point2) You might be thinking this is all very well, but you are still presupposing God’s existence: you imply this in your second point. That would be fair enough. I just think it is very important to clarify firstly that I believe out of faith, not deduction, and secondly that my faith is reasonable as a human act.

    Having tried to do so, a new question arises: is there any reason for a sceptic (like yourself) to believe in any such revelation? well, the answer has to hinge above all of the existence of God, or at LEAST the possibility of his existence: no God, no revelation. I think this can be addressed by human reason, thus rendering the act of faith more reasonable, as a possibility at least. But I need to finish this post for now.

    The Santa Claus thing, I would say, doesn’t work. I believed in santa as well as God a child. But now I only believe in God. Why? Because one is irrational, whereas the other, I maintain, is not.
    There is no positive reason to believe in santa other than as the cause of a certain phenomenon (presents on the living room floor), and the testimony of my parents. Once the latter is removed, the former falls away. And when is the latter removed? Precisely when I begin to start questioning things and thinking for myself. It is mature reason that rebels against the idea of santa. But the same has not happened with God. Why? Because the (Apostolic) testimony offered is harmonious with reason, and the dimension of causality remains unexplained in God’s absence (eg the existence of universe, development of human life…).

    I have hurried here at the end, so apologies if I have not been that clear.

  • Brad

    The force of these things as a argument is precisely zero.

    If you want to make your “faith,” as you call it, reasonable, then you must put those things into some kind of case. You have to explain why [human love, capacity, beauty, morality, causality, existence of humans, universe] make the “God hypothesis” more rational than the alternative. Otherwise, what are you left with? Happy thoughts?

    I believe that God’s self-revelation has been made in the Judeo-Christian tradition …

    But that belief is an interpretation, is it not? An interpretation of these kinds of signs: the Bible’s words, historical documents, words uttered by religious authorities, etc. Why interpret it to mean Christianity is a true religion instead of another false one? You must have some kind of support for your interpretations.

    What I HAVE been trying to do is show the reasonableness of an act of FAITH

    I’m sorry, but I don’t see that at all. How is faith reasonable? Why believe in something you only “THINK” is consistent with reason+evidence, without actually showing it thus? Why believe the “apostolic testimony” is consistent with reason, let alone the best theory that is consistent with reason, without actually reasoning it?

    Or, how do you think faith and reason are different? If I say, “this is why I believe X, and it is reasonable,” and I am right, then isn’t this by definition reason?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    John D. and cl:

    Finally, yes, I have researched other spiritual traditions, both within and without Christianity. I have read various atheistic authors. I have considered the role of my cultural context or upbringing in my faith.

    I have given serious consideration to many of the alternatives. I have attended services of other religions, read their holy books. I have compared and contrasted apologetics of different faiths, and I’ve read books and articles on atheism.

    If these statements are true, I’m impressed. They indicate a commendable open-mindedness to alternative possibilities. They also mark both of you as part of a tiny minority among religious believers, as I’m sure you’re aware.

    I claim that I have done these things for seventeen years now. Would you possibly consider, then, that I have made a rational choice?

    That depends on the content of your belief, cl. If someone claims to have thoroughly investigated the evidence, made a rational choice, and announces that he now believes in leprechauns, I think we could agree that he’s almost certainly made some serious error somewhere and should go back to the drawing board. I could be persuaded that a person’s belief in God is a rational choice, even if I think it’s an incorrect one. I’m not willing to grant the same in the case of a person who believes that some cases of mental illness are caused by demonic possession.

    For John D:

    The Santa Claus thing, I would say, doesn’t work. I believed in santa as well as God a child. But now I only believe in God. Why? Because one is irrational, whereas the other, I maintain, is not.
    There is no positive reason to believe in santa other than as the cause of a certain phenomenon (presents on the living room floor), and the testimony of my parents.

    There is no positive reason to believe in God other than as the cause of a certain phenomenon (the cosmological argument) and the testimony of other believers. Children who don’t know where their Christmas presents come from attribute their presence to Santa, just as adult believers who don’t know where the universe comes from attribute its existence to God. You make this very argument yourself just a few lines below the part I quoted here (“the dimension of causality remains unexplained in God’s absence”). I think the parallels are a lot stronger than you let on.

  • John D.

    fair enough, Ebonmuse, the structural parallels are in some respects similar: I did indeed say so myself.
    But the difference – and this was my point – is between adults and children. Mature, reasonable people find God a credible idea. However, if you believe in Santa Claus as an adolescent, never mind an adult, you would be considered loopy. This has to do with the harmony, or otherwise, with mature reason in each case.

    Other factors have to be considered as well, I think; but the structural parallel is interesting. However, I would suggest that it doesn’t support your point of view in the way you (and Brad) seem to think it does.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Mature, reasonable people find God a credible idea.

    Simply because people believe in it doesn’t make it credible, reasonable, or mature. This is a fallacious appeal to popularity. Many adults also believe in other gods, crystal power, Nigerian money scams, etc.

  • Brad

    John D,

    I wasn’t using the Santa Claus analogy to “support” my POV – I was using it to explain the meaning behind it. I was clarifying my perspective, not evidencing it, and I clearly stated this fact within my comment.

    Now for your response: Does the discrepancy you spotted break down the analogy’s meaning? I don’t think so. The 1st point EM made was that the “phenomenon of religion” need not be explained supernaturally, and that point holds so long as you still withhold actual, sufficient reason for believing in God. (I talked last comment about how you’ve lacked that reason and apologized by effectively saying “faith doesn’t contradict reason, though!”) EM’s 2nd point was that the epistemological cases for God and SC were similar. Appeal to a fact about culture or society (there are intelligent, rational people that find God-belief plausible) does not change that specific point. My single point was that your husband-wife analogy isn’t evidence and had its own dual on the atheistic side. That also stands.

  • John D.

    Brad,
    I want to say not only that “there are intelligent, rational people that find God-belief plausible”, but that these people are justified in doing so. SURELY you would concede that there exists VERY strong positive evidence AGAINST the existence of Santa (like the fact that he does NOT bring gifts to my home every Christmas), whereas with God the positive evidence against is not so strong. You point out that what is lacking in my argument is positive evidence FOR God: that is true, I have ommitted that so far.
    Let me offer some reflections now.

    1) Argument from objective LOGOS:
    How would you account for the mathematical patterns yielded by the empirical investigation of the cosmos? Ebonmuse has argued on this site that we humans are habitual pattern-seekers – and there is certainly truth in that. But the patterns we find in the universe are not imposed by our minds, desirous of creating sense out of non-sense. “E = mc-squared” tells us something about the cosmos, it reveals to us an amazing and beautiful regularity within the world, which always existed even before Einstein expressed it in mathematical form.
    Why should there exist any correspondence between human thought at its most non-empirical (mathematics) and the universe? Are the laws we have discovered themselves enough to explain this? Well, no, because they have no causative value, unless you wish to subscribe to Plato’s teaching: they are man-made formulae that express a real and irreducible intelligibility, written into the very movements of matter and energy which are themselves devoid of inherent intelligence.
    Authentic randomness and irrationality can be posited neither at the beginning nor the end: neither in the structure of the world, nor in the human mind that interprets and reads it. If at the beginning, why does the world MAKE SENSE, even from the very beginning? If at the end (in the human mind), then every claim to knowledge is a pretence.
    So rationality is not something imposed on the world by people: it is something that precedes our act of understanding, something in the world that makes our understanding possible. This is what I mean by objective LOGOS.

    What do I conclude?
    That mind either exists either (a) contemporaneously with and not separate from, or (b) contemporaneous with and separate from, or c) prior to and separate from, or material reality.
    If (a), I might conclude to some pantheistic theory, something like Einstein did.
    If (b), that is compatible with Aristotle’s idea of the Unmoved Mover.
    If c), then I am getting pretty close to the idea of God as Christian faith affirms it.

    So I have not proven “God” as I know him; but I do think we have to choose one of the above options (which is farther than most atheists would be willing to go). (Alternatively, one could choose an idealist explanation, and hold that “matter” is nothing but an illusion, or a phase of mind: something akin to much Indian philosophy, or the system of Hegel. Again, not very compatible with atheist views.)

    If you wish, let me know what you think – where are the holes, what remains unproven, what is valid…
    I am away for a couple of days, and I will be pretty busy thereafter, but I will try my best to revisit this site nevertheless.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    SURELY you would concede that there exists VERY strong positive evidence AGAINST the existence of Santa (like the fact that he does NOT bring gifts to my home every Christmas), whereas with God the positive evidence against is not so strong.

    Santa doesn’t bring presents unless you’ve been good.

    Oh, and here’s some positive evidence against god.

    Still, there’s no reason to believe in god sans positive evidence. Even if there were no evidence against god, it is still irrational to believe in god. And, no, your LOGOS argument is god of the gaps with begging the question and non sequitors.

    Moving from paragraph one to paragraph two is a non sequitor. What “correspondence” is there between human thought and the universe? The mathematics we have are simply used to describe the universe as we perceive it. There’s no magic there. And the rest simply falls apart from there.

  • Brad

    Apparently you’ve chosen to take a different tangent than analogies and faith, by relying on reason. I think that’s a good choice. And, BTW, very nice comment.

    SURELY you would concede … with God the positive evidence against is not so strong.

    That, as we all know, depends on what we are referring to by “God.” If our concept of God logically predicates less real world effects than our concept of Santa, then we should expect less evidence specifically against it. If our concept of God does not lend well to our knowing what within this world his existence would entail, then we have little basis to logically refute such a god. Thus, this argument does not make atheism suspect, but harder to argue a conclusive case for. On the other hand, it makes that version of theism harder to argue for as well. So we can still throw out explanations by the principle of parsimony, but keep them just close enough so that in the case they would ever be found more powerful in the future, we could re-evaluate.

    Now for theistic argument. Here I think is the crux of your Argument from Objective Logos:

    Why should there exist any correspondence between human thought at its most non-empirical (mathematics) and the universe?

    You’re saying this correspondence isn’t explainable with atheism, correct? I disagree. Ebonmuse wrote his own argument that I think is worth giving a read in Are Evolved Minds Reliable Truth-Finders? As for your abc trilemma, I don’t see how you support theism any of its options. I sense that a good case might be forthcoming eventually, but I’ll wait and see.

  • John D.

    Brad,
    I read the post from Ebonmuse, and this is my reaction to it:

    I am perfectly happy to accept the evolution of life. I also accept that it is obviously a survival advantage to have beliefs (subjective states, via sense perception) that enable a given organism to relate to its environment advantageously. And I accept that in order to be advantageous, these beliefs would have to be “true” beliefs – that is, they would have to correspond to real states in the environment, so that real dangers can be avoided and real goods sought and attained. But I don’t accept that this natural dynamic is sufficient to account for human knowledge, the kind that is gleaned through (eg) science.

    We have to make a distinction here, between (a) the perception and (b) the perception of the perception. The former is common in some shape or form to all higher organisms; the latter is found only in people, and it is the condition of the question of truth-proper. I can only raise the question of truth on the basis of a double perception: the natural perception (eg food) and the “reflexive” perception ( eg “I am perceiving food”). Only then can I pose the question of the TRUTH of the natural perception.
    Without this question, on the basis of reflexive mental acts, my beliefs will be forever yoked to my survival-goals as determined by the evolutionary process. I will never even consider the issue of how things ACTUALLY are, because my percepts have never undergone initial detachment from my goal-seeking efforts. Instead, I will only be able to understand reality on the basis of the “useful” – not on the basis of the true.
    But scientific knowledge is of the latter kind: it claims to know reality as it is, and its best proof that it does is that it raises that very question. Science claims to understand the world of phenomena – and the fact that it makes this claim shows its essential difference from other goal-orientated survival-fuelled beliefs. For the very distinction phenomenon-being, or appearance-truth (don’t accuse me of Platonism here!) which is at the root of science, depends on the transcendence of the purely phenomenal, the raw percept. Ebonmuse doesn’t take account of this: he lumps “beliefs” together without paying heed to the difference above, between what I might call “true” belief (science) and “accurate” belief (animals, utility).

    Right then: can you reply that even if this is so, this “transcendence” could yet be a result of evolutionary forces? No: because that gets us back to my initial argument. Scientific beliefs are distinct from other beliefs since they inquire into the truth of being, not just its usefulness. Now, the motor of evolution is survival, so one can understand how it could lead to a maximization of powers to perceive usefulness. But the transcendence of the aspect of usefulness (through reflexive perception) would be positively DETRIMENTAL to survival, conceived in evolutionary terms. Why? Because it grants the possibility to the organism to act NOT for survival, not on the basis of usefulness. This is what we see in many forms of human action (art, religion, pure maths, …). But what really clinches it is that we can even act against our own survival, beyond utility (eg. fasting, celibacy, suicide, martyrdom, …)
    So it is not credible that this “transcendence” is a result of evolution, since it would in fact mean the transcendence of evolution itself, by means of evolution. Hence our ability to do science (based on this transcendence) is not the result of evolution. Thus is the hypothetical objection met. And thus the question still stands: whence our TRUE beliefs about the universe?

    I did not understand what you said about options a, b, and c. Could you make it a bit clearer?

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    John D,

    I am perfectly happy to accept the evolution of life.

    Then how do you square that with the obviously erroneous account of life in the Bible? I’ll assume that you take that part not as literal, but as a figurative account? Then, the question becomes, what part is to be taken literal, and how do you tell?

    But I don’t accept that this natural dynamic is sufficient to account for human knowledge, the kind that is gleaned through (eg) science.

    Argument from incredulity.

    …the latter is found only in people, and it is the condition of the question of truth-proper.

    Wrong. Other animals, like apes and monkeys also show this trait. Now what?

    But scientific knowledge is of the latter kind: it claims to know reality as it is, and its best proof that it does is that it raises that very question.

    No, it’s best proof is the fact that it works.

    Science claims to understand the world of phenomena – and the fact that it makes this claim shows its essential difference from other goal-orientated survival-fuelled beliefs.

    No, science is simply an extension of what every other critter on the planet does. We all are born and experiment in order to learn the world around us. Science is just an extension of this.

    Right then: can you reply that even if this is so, this “transcendence” could yet be a result of evolutionary forces? No: because that gets us back to my initial argument. Scientific beliefs are distinct from other beliefs since they inquire into the truth of being, not just its usefulness.

    Wrong. Even if we take your assertion as true, that these beliefs are somehow different, it’s not evidenced that evolution can’t explain how they came about.

    Now, the motor of evolution is survival, so one can understand how it could lead to a maximization of powers to perceive usefulness. But the transcendence of the aspect of usefulness (through reflexive perception) would be positively DETRIMENTAL to survival, conceived in evolutionary terms. Why?

    Wrong again. It allows for deeper understanding that can increase survivability.

    Because it grants the possibility to the organism to act NOT for survival, not on the basis of usefulness. This is what we see in many forms of human action (art, religion, pure maths, …). But what really clinches it is that we can even act against our own survival, beyond utility (eg. fasting, celibacy, suicide, martyrdom, …)

    OK, you should read up on some evolution before you go any further.

    So it is not credible that this “transcendence” is a result of evolution, since it would in fact mean the transcendence of evolution itself, by means of evolution. Hence our ability to do science (based on this transcendence) is not the result of evolution. Thus is the hypothetical objection met. And thus the question still stands: whence our TRUE beliefs about the universe?

    Sorry, but owing to the numerous errors in the preceding paragraphs, your paragraph above does not follow. But, nice try. I mean, you made it sound sciency and stuff, so maybe people won’t notice that you don’t actually know what you are talking about.

  • John D.

    OMGF,

    “Argument from incredulity.”
    Plainly, this was not an argument, but the statement of a thesis which I seek to back up by the arguments that follow.

    “Wrong. Other animals, like apes and monkeys also show this trait. Now what?”
    Can you prove that?
    I would be surprised, since that would mean these primates are also able to raise the question of truth. Yet we don’t see them doing science.

    “No, it’s best proof is the fact that it works.”
    By saying “science works”, in fact, you assume the dimension of truth. What is a science that “works”? One that yields true conclusions, clearly. And so my point stands, which was essentially that science presupposes the transcendence of the phenomenal in reaching truth.

    As to the other points you make, please read over them again and judge for yourself if you think I would be convinced by them. An exception might be this: “It allows for deeper understanding that can increase survivability.” But I don’t grant that, since the results of this deeper understanding would be:
    1) contradictory to the forces at work in evolution (in that it means the dominion of biologically determined goals is relativized: an organism who can think and understand can choose its own goals)
    2) dangerous for the survival of the individual and of the species (in that I am now able to NOT choose my own survival). (As an aside, look at science today: it has presented us, along with many benefits, with the possibility of destroying the entire planet. How would that square with the survival thesis as explanation of our scientific activity? Would it? Would it not?)

    So you see, I am not convinced by your points. Actually, I am not convinced that you want to convince me at all. It seems so OBVIOUS to you that you are in the right that you think a curt phrase or two will suffice to demolish my so-called “arguments”; but it is not obvious to me – indeed, I think you are wrong. If you do want to convince me, a small tip: it would help not to assume that I am an idiot. :)

  • http://www.myspace.com.driftwoodduo Steve Bowen
    Now, the motor of evolution is survival, so one can understand how it could lead to a maximization of powers to perceive usefulness. But the transcendence of the aspect of usefulness (through reflexive perception) would be positively DETRIMENTAL to survival, conceived in evolutionary terms. Why?

    Wrong again. It allows for deeper understanding that can increase survivability.

    OMFG
    I’m not so sure I would dismiss John D’s point so quickly. One of the evolutionary explanations for religion is that as primitives we assigned intentionality to inanimate objects and other animals as a kind of survival shorthand;the spider wants to bite me, the mountain god is angry, the forest spirits are evil. We evolved early on without the scientific method to tell us the “true” nature of the environment but for survival’s sake anthropomorphic approximations were good enough. It’s true that abstract curiosity is demonstrable in apes and is hyper developed in man, but I would hypothesise that only latterly have we had the luxury to indulge it.

  • http://www.myspace.com.driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    OMGF
    Apologies for the mis-spelling, one of the reasons I never shop at FCUK :)

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Steve Bowen,
    I would say that we have used the scientific method for the span of our time of investigation and evidence gathering as a species! We just didn’t codify it until recently. As soon as a baby is born, that baby starts to investigate the world through empirical investigation and scientific learning. That we also anthropomorphize things is simply another trait of humanity. Still, better understanding of the world is not anti-evolutionary nor does it decrease our survivability.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    John D,

    Can you prove that?

    Considering that apes can use sign language to talk to us and monkeys can recognize and select numbers on a screen quicker than we can…yes, I would say it is proven.

    And so my point stands, which was essentially that science presupposes the transcendence of the phenomenal in reaching truth.

    No, your point doesn’t stand, and science is in the habit of reducing presuppositions. Further, I fail to see how dressing up what science actually is (it’s a tool and a prescriptive set of functions to arrive at the best understanding of the universe, but not truth, since truth assumes 100% certainty, which science does not provide) somehow validates your claim that evolution and biological development somehow can’t account for your LOGOS argument.

    As to the other points you make, please read over them again and judge for yourself if you think I would be convinced by them.

    Fine. I submit that you should do some reading at talk origins. You can start here. After that, you could check out the whole index to creationist claims, since many of your claims fall there. Also, you’ll note that evolution does account for behavior that can be detrimental to oneself, in that all social animals exhibit it!

    Finally, I find the claim that science itself is somehow transcendent and in violation of evolution or nature to be laughable at best. I seriously recommend that you do some reading on human evolution (talk origins is a good place to do it) and learn a bit before making absurd statements such as these. I would also suggest that you do some study on what science is and what it isn’t.

  • John D.

    Steve Bowen,
    you say “abstract curiosity is demonstrable in apes”; I would just quickly like to point out that this statement does not refer either to what I said, or to what OMGF denied. What I claim, and he denies, is that an ape is incapable of reflexive mental acts, which perceive not just the object but the act of perception itself. An ape, I submit, does not say to itself (in an ape-ish way) “Oh, look at me, being curious about abstract things again”.
    I speak somewhat facetiously, but I am making a serious point. It isn’t enough that animals be curious about abstract things; they also have to be aware that they are doing so.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Also see here. Chimps can problem solve.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Also this:

    “If we really want to talk about the big differences between humans and chimps — they’re covered in hair and we’re not,” Taglialatela told LiveScience. “Their brains are about one-third the size of humans’. But the major differences come down to ones of degree, not of kind.”

    From here.

  • http://www.myspace.com.driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    you say “abstract curiosity is demonstrable in apes”; I would just quickly like to point out that this statement does not refer either to what I said, or to what OMGF denied. What I claim, and he denies, is that an ape is incapable of reflexive mental acts, which perceive not just the object but the act of perception itself. Granted, but it was said as a caveat to a comment basically defending the reasonableness of your point about the evolution of reflexive thought. I called OMGF out on it (with some trepidation) because the reasons why some apparently superflous levels of complexity appear to be favoured by natural selection are at the very least moot. To be clear I am inclined to OMGF’s central premise that your LOGOS does not have to have an intelligent origin to be divined by evolved minds. Whatever algorithms were set in motion by the conditions in the early universe have resulted in structural patterns that rational enquiry by evolved minds can uncover. My only contention is that it is not obvious that biological survival would favour an animal that went to the trouble of developing that level of perception.

  • http://www.myspace.com.driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    you say “abstract curiosity is demonstrable in apes”; I would just quickly like to point out that this statement does not refer either to what I said, or to what OMGF denied. What I claim, and he denies, is that an ape is incapable of reflexive mental acts, which perceive not just the object but the act of perception itself.

    Granted, but it was said as a caveat to a comment basically defending the reasonableness of your point about the evolution of reflexive thought. I called OMGF out on it (with some trepidation) because the reasons why some apparently superflous levels of complexity appear to be favoured by natural selection are at the very least moot. To be clear I am inclined to OMGF’s central premise that your LOGOS does not have to have an intelligent origin to be divined by evolved minds. Whatever algorithms were set in motion by the conditions in the early universe have resulted in structural patterns that rational enquiry by evolved minds can uncover. My only contention is that it is not obvious that biological survival would favour an animal that went to the trouble of developing that level of perception.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Steve Bowen,

    My only contention is that it is not obvious that biological survival would favour an animal that went to the trouble of developing that level of perception.

    I think I misunderstood your point.

    I wouldn’t say it is obvious either, and you’re right about that. A case can be made, however, and it’s more wrong to say that it’s obvious in the other direction, that it didn’t happen because it would be against evolution. Is that better?

  • http://www.myspace.com.driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    and it’s more wrong to say that it’s obvious in the other direction, that it didn’t happen because it would be against evolution. Is that better?

    Well yes because it did happen; we are a product of evolution and we have the brains we have. Whether “reflexive” thought actually has survival value or is an incidental emergent property that is not detrimental to survival is debatable. However the side issue of primates is interesting in that the even if we accept John D’s ascertion that they do not have reflexive intelligence they do have second and possibly even third order intentionality (I think that he thinks that she thinks…)which is not far away from “here I am thinking about thinking”

  • Brad

    John D,

    But I don’t accept that this natural dynamic is sufficient to account for human knowledge, the kind that is gleaned through (eg) science.

    I agree. :)

    Without this question, on the basis of reflexive mental acts, my beliefs will be forever yoked to my survival-goals as determined by the evolutionary process. I will never even consider the issue of how things ACTUALLY are, because my percepts have never undergone initial detachment from my goal-seeking efforts.

    Now I disagree. You’re probably familiar enough with simple history and anthropology to know this obvious transition: nomadic hunter-gatherer => agriculture, permanent states => technology, culture, civilization. Once we take enough control of our environments, our daily lives shift their balance due to more free time in which to explore, create, and otherwise satisfy our natural curiosity. After a point, survival is no longer the issue: it’s how to live that’s the new issue. I think this natural explanation is more of an explanation than what you give by “transcendence of the purely phenomenal.”

    Here’s an analogy. Ancient Greece was such a great intellectual epicenter because they had plentiful resources, fair climate, and time to spare. (Not to mention being a trade center in their world, exposing them to many ideas which they had to react to somehow.) It’s easy to look more throughout history and see the same effects.

    (And the evolutionary thesis accounts for rational capacity. It does not account for perfect rationality, e.g. not constructing nuclear bombs. Evolution is blind, you know.)

    I did not understand what you said about options a, b, and c. Could you make it a bit clearer?

    I was asking for you to extend arguments about how your abc options, outlined in your comment prior to my asking about them.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Steve Bowen,

    However the side issue of primates is interesting in that the even if we accept John D’s ascertion that they do not have reflexive intelligence they do have second and possibly even third order intentionality (I think that he thinks that she thinks…)which is not far away from “here I am thinking about thinking”

    Doesn’t Dennett deal with this in one of his books – I want to say Breaking the Spell?

  • http://www.myspace.com.driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Doesn’t Dennett deal with this in one of his books – I want to say Breaking the Spell?

    I believe he does and from memory it’s in Consciousness Explained. Unfortunately I have just moved house and my books are still boxed up so I can’t check :(

  • Brad

    It isn’t enough that animals be curious about abstract things; they also have to be aware that they are doing so.

    That’s a hard thing to figure out. Personally, I am skeptical both ways; I do not see good enough evidence either way that other animals perform these “mental reflective acts.” However, John D, would you call it a cop out if I said that we should not just observe but expect higher self-awareness emergence to coincide with human or near-human intelligence?

    I think we should expect the “awareness of perception” to only come with higher sentience, because it allows for more sophisticated self-awareness. It’s simple: animals that have a greater tendency to self-recognize via, say, the mirror test (orangutans, chimpanzees, NOT other primates, bottleneck dolphins, elephants, etc.) mostly “happen” to be the more intelligent and social creatures. When humans came around with bigger brains and language constructs, enjoying arguably the best general intelligence of all known animals, they had ample opportunity to suddenly “find” themselves, and generate the kind of self-awareness that exists today. Our societies nowadays are sufficiently filled with the imagery and media that easily induce, or hint at, the self-concept so that our human babies can more easily develop it themselves instead of learning sans external provocation to do so.

    Now, time for the burden on the other shoulders. How do you supernaturally explain this so-called “transcendence” of evolution? Do you think God all-of-a-sudden instilled humans with magical thinking powers?

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Let me add that disproving evolution does not prove goddidit. That would be a false dichotomy. So, even if evolution is dead wrong, it doesn’t mean that you are right about god being involved or existing. So, let me echo Brad’s sentiment in asking for positive evidence for god please.

  • http://www.myspace.com.driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Let me add that disproving evolution does not prove goddidit.

    I guess it depends on what disproved evolution. In the (unlikely) event that a better naturalistic explanation was found that fits the observable facts even more elegantly and parsimoniasly than evolution by natural selection I would go with that. If someone could mount a wholesale rebuttal of the theory (without making it up like all creationists do) but offer no alternative I suppose goddidit would at least be a credible hypothesis again.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    Why should there exist any correspondence between human thought at its most non-empirical (mathematics) and the universe?

    The existence of regularities in the universe is a prerequisite for the existence of natural creatures like us. Whether natural laws were an inevitability or not (and I don’t claim to know whether they were), clearly we should not be surprised to find ourselves in a universe with such laws, because beings such as we are could not exist in a universe of chaos. This is just a restatement of the weak anthropic principle in other terms.

    Now, any significant regularity can be described in a reasonably expressive language. Indeed, that’s just what language is: a way of describing patterns and regularities that we observe in the world. (The word “cat”, for example, refers to a specific kind of pattern of physical composition and behavior that we repeatedly observe.) Mathematics is just a different kind of language, albeit a more complicated and precise kind than ordinary speech. The fact that we can describe the regularities of the world mathematically is no more surprising than the fact that we can describe them by saying, “The sky is blue,” or “Dropped objects fall to the ground,” or “It’s bright during the daytime and dark at nighttime.” We live in a universe whose regularities can be described by numbers, or by words, because we could not find ourselves to be living in any other kind of universe.

    What do I conclude?
    That mind either exists either (a) contemporaneously with and not separate from, or (b) contemporaneous with and separate from, or c) prior to and separate from, or material reality.

    None of those options are correct. The mind is a material machine (more accurately, the brain is the machine and the mind is the functioning of that machine) which is designed by an evolutionary process to observe and exploit patterns and regularities in the world. What we term rationality is just a way to describe the accurate functioning of that machine in noticing and discriminating genuine patterns.

    So it is not credible that this “transcendence” is a result of evolution, since it would in fact mean the transcendence of evolution itself, by means of evolution.

    Yes, it is. Evolution has produced intelligent creatures whose goals need not be the same as the goals of the evolutionary process that created them. There’s nothing impossible about that: it’s hardly surprising, really, since evolution is not an intelligent or forward-looking process. It could not “foresee” that it was going to bring forth creatures that could act against it, nor did it “desire” to “prevent” that from happening. Greater intelligence in humans was originally favored by evolution purely for survival reasons, but the evolution of intelligence increased to the point that human beings could make use of it for other purposes.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Steve Bowen,

    If someone could mount a wholesale rebuttal of the theory (without making it up like all creationists do) but offer no alternative I suppose goddidit would at least be a credible hypothesis again.

    I disagree. Something becomes credible when positive evidence is supplied for it. If we considered goddidit to be credible because we didn’t have a good natural explanation, we’d also have to believe that invisiblepinkunicornsdidit, FSMdidit, floatingteapotdidit, matrixdidit, etc. were also credible hypotheses.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    It’s easy and expected of me to allege that OMGF strawmans and puts words in people’s mouths concerning criticisms he casts on my own arguments, but such could admittedly be perceived as a self-serving defense mechanism seeking to protect a wounded ego. To reduce the possibility of this perception, I decided to wait for OMGF to commit similar fallacies in an argument that wasn’t my own, and that I had zero vested interest in. It didn’t take long at all.

    The following reveals classic OMGF from a believer’s perspective:

    If this transcendent god is beyond all of our senses, how do you “sense” that god is there? IOW, you claim to have subjective experience of god, but that experience has necessarily come to you through the senses that you claim you can’t use to detect god.

    John D. replied,

    The “sense” of God is spiritually communicated, although it also can sometimes have physiological or affective effects.

    and OMGF said,

    Didn’t you also say that we can’t sense god at all? Please make up your mind.

    I offer the following claims to whomever may wish to evaluate them:

    1) OMGF inaccurately paraphrased his opponent’s position;

    2) After inaccurately paraphrasing his opponent’s position, OMGF attacked it; (strawman)

    3) By relying on a strawman, OMGF alleged a contradiction when none occurred.

    The proofs follow.

    *******

    1) OMGF inaccurately paraphrased his opponent’s position;

    John D said,

    …a transcendent God is not accessible to the 5 human senses,

    OMGF then paraphrased John D’s argument as a claim that,

    …we can’t sense god at all.

    OMGF has taken a conditional statement and turned it into an absolute statement, and thus sets up a false dichotomy. His ad hoc caricature neither accurately reflects John D’s original statement, nor logically entails it. Sure, God could use the standard senses, but God could theoretically use a sense other than the 5 standards at any time and for any reason.

    2) After inaccurately paraphrasing his opponent’s position, OMGF attacked it; (strawman)

    That OMGF attacked John D’s position is a reasonable given IMO, and we’ve just demonstrated that OMGF’s was an inaccurate paraphrase. Hence, strawman.

    3) By relying on a strawman, OMGF alleged a contradiction when none occurred.

    The following is from two separate comments made by OMGF:

    If this transcendent god is beyond all of our senses, how do you “sense” that god is there? … Didn’t you also say that we can’t sense god at all? Please make up your mind. (emph. mine)

    John D does not contradict himself.

    First, John D never claimed that God was beyond “all of our senses,” nor did John D claim that “we can’t sense God at all.” OMGF put these words in John D’s mouth.

    Second, as previously noted, in equating our 5 limited senses with all senses that might exist, OMGF creates a false dichotomy. We might have senses we don’t yet know of.

    Third, John D never even claimed to apprehend God through standard senses.

    Hence, OMGF has not exposed a contradiction on John D’s behalf.

    Rather, it is OMGF’s caricaturization of John D’s words that gives OMGF’s claims the illusion of validity. OMGF implies unfairly that John D wavered or changed his opinion, when John D. never said or implied, “we can’t sense god at all.” John D caught on to this and left the exchange, seeking wisely to conserve his energy rather than argue against blind persistence. (Remember, OMGF will persist until Ebonmuse pulls the plug). Also, OMGF continued to attack John D’s points after John D expressed that he was leaving the conversation! Who does that?

    At any rate, OMGF is fond of erroneously crying “Please make up your mind” when his opponent has never genuinely contradicted his or herself concerning the issue at hand, and such is not without precedent (see below). I have also argued extensively that OMGF often caricaturizes his opponent’s argument, rallies persuasively against said caricaturize, then somehow deludes himself that such constitutes a victory on his behalf, let alone a fair exchange at all, and the case offered here seems to corroborate my conclusion.

    Yeah, maybe technically it appears OMGF ‘won’ this exchange with John D, but if OMGF is stroking his own ego about it, he should realize first that his arguments were strawmen, and second that such a ‘win’ is tantamount to claiming victory over John D’s 8-ball-scratch in a game of darts.

    The troubling questions for me are, where are the atheists that notice this about OMGF? Are there any? If there are, why don’t they speak up? Are we hear to uncover truth or simply mimic the partisan altruism found in politics?

    precedent

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Here are my other notes for whatever they’re worth:

    In general, I agree with Ebonmuse and Chris Hallquist’s comments re Quinn about watering down our definition of God so badly that it can become an unassailable concept essentially useless in practical religion and logical critique. Who’s going to argue against love, goodness, and candlelight dinner with wine? To this end, andrea made a relevant observation – what is good and what brings pleasure varies from person to person – if Quinn’s deptiction of God in the citation is correct, then so is the mentality of the psychopath who declares that God told him to mutilate some random person, and that such was good.

    Interestingly, Ebonmuse’s phrase “atheists in all but name” has direct corroboration in scripture, where in the latter days people are described as having “..a form of godliness but denying its power.” (2 Timothy 3:5 NIV)

    John D,

    Although I myself am not a fan of ontological arguments, what you suggest about Dawkins’ treatment of the cosmological argument in TGD is correct IMO. Dawkins does not refute the argument; he simply echoes Russell and Mill on the matter and considers that sufficient. It’s one of Dawkins’ many questionable approaches in TGD, along with things like chastising creationist quote mining then quote mining a famous “best possible worlds” passage that many atheists frequently and unabashedly molest:

    Twenty times in the course of my late reading have I been on the point of breaking out, ‘This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion at all!!!’ – John Adams(atheist version)

    Quote in full context:

    Twenty times in the course of my late reading have I been on the point of breaking out, ‘This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion at all!!!’ But in this exclamation I would have been as fanatical as Bryant or Cleverly. Without religion, this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company, I mean hell. – John Adams

    Ipetrich,

    The following is not necessarily ‘to you’ but given in the context of something you said to J, that

    …all the older religions that we have record of are polytheist — and religions dismissed as false by most followers of Abrahamic…

    There is a potential false dichotomy down that road. I would like to offer a distinction between dismissing a ‘religion’ as false vs. dismissing particular tenets of a religion as false.

    I am not a Buddhist, but when I’m thinking straight, I employ many principles of Buddhism in my approach to life. For examples, I don’t dismiss the principle of tanha, the Holy Eightfold is marvelous, and I also derive great meaning from the Middle Path. Also, it’s interesting to note that tanha, the Middle Path and Holy Eightfold approaches get merit in the Bible as well (a perfect opening for anyone who wishes to introduce a red herring by positing plagiarism).

    Of course, this idea that some, any or all believers must reject other religions outright is not without merit. Although being one-sided and refusing to explore competing ideas is not an inherently religious logical error, that is exactly what many people do, and many people are religious. Such is simply the by-product of commoditized religion meeting the widespread rejection of rationalism and critical thinking, which I think stems largely from humanity’s mental submission to pop and media culture. When atheism becomes as prevalent as theism, we’ll surely see an equal but inverse emergence of atheist errors and blunders. In fact, my bit to John D above re Dawkins serves to illustrate this point perfectly.

    Lynet,

    You made the following comment to John D.,

    After all, there are several stories in the Bible in which God does prove his own existence in a manner accessible to the five senses. Would your belief that “a transcendent God is not accessible to the 5 human senses” cause you to conclude that those stories are false?

    What you say is true, but I’d like to add a point or two. For one, not all acts of God in scripture are attributable to God’s transcendence. Jesus was alleged to be God here in the flesh, right? That’s one minor point, just a note I wanted to add in case it may or may not influence another’s argument as advanced here.

    More importantly, IMO, your comment doesn’t fairly relate to John D’s position. Now I’m unsure which stories you allude to in your comment, but in them, doesn’t God usually take the action? For examples, God acted to change Moses’ staff into a snake, God acted to part the Red Sea, God acted to send locusts, etc. etc., right? And these are all accessible via standard senses, right? Now I’m taking liberty here, but I think what John D argues is that although God can and has acted in the real world, and such actions were indeed perceived empirically by those around them at the time, the common denominator of most (possibly all) of them was God’s proactivity. So, if I am understanding John D correctly, he posits that we can’t force God’s proactivity. Of course, it would be hard for anyone to know what John D actually wanted us to take from his words after OMGF mangled them so bad.

    At any rate, great thread, I walked away with much and thank you all.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Sherlock,
    You forgot the part where John D clearly said, “because a transcendent God is not accessible to the 5 human senses.” This means that we can not sense god. My question was how does one sense that god is there without using one’s senses. Feel free to answer it. Oh, and thanks for playing.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    It’s easy and expected of me to allege that OMGF strawmans and puts words in people’s mouths concerning criticisms he casts on my own arguments, but such could admittedly be perceived as a self-serving defense mechanism seeking to protect a wounded ego. To reduce the possibility of this perception, I decided to wait for OMGF to commit similar fallacies in an argument that wasn’t my own, and that I had zero vested interest in. It didn’t take long at all.

    Oh, BTW, are you hoping that we will all ignore the obvious falsity in your statement? If you are going to accuse others of wrong-doings, then you might want to make sure the log is removed from your own eye.

  • http://www.myspace.com.driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    cl

    Dawkins does not refute the argument; he simply echoes Russell and Mill on the matter and considers that sufficient. It’s one of Dawkins’ many questionable approaches in TGD,

    I am (by education at any rate) a biologist and have been an admirer of Dawkins since the first publication of “The Selfish Gene”. I am also a lifelong atheist and more pertinantly a fervent anti-religionist. However, I have to agree with you about TGD. Dawkins in my opinion can be less than honest in his role as super-atheist and IMO does nothing for the positive promotion of atheism as the rational and enlightened world view it is. At the risk of embarrasing our host, Ebonmuse is a far better ambassador than Dawkins and I hope that the publication of his book will put him in the spotlight he deserves (assuming that’s what Adam wants, poison chalice etc etc).

    OMGF then paraphrased John D’s argument as a claim that,

    …we can’t sense god at all.

    OMGF has taken a conditional statement and turned it into an absolute statement

    No he didn’t: To anyone with a scientific world view anything not available to “the five senses” can’t be sensed at all. you cannot expect OMGF to assume some mystical sixth sense or spiritual channel available to you or John D and not verifyably experienced by the rest of us.

    What you say is true, but I’d like to add a point or two. For one, not all acts of God in scripture are attributable to God’s transcendence. Jesus was alleged to be God here in the flesh, right? That’s one minor point, just a note I wanted to add in case it may or may not influence another’s argument as advanced here.

    That sounds more like a vindication of Lynet’s argument than a rebuttal

    Although being one-sided and refusing to explore competing ideas is not an inherently religious logical error,

    No but it is a common religious edict. You cannot pretend that any established religion does not prohibit entertaining the dogmas of another. It is probably the one characteristic of religion that provokes atheists to scorn particular faiths.

    cl, you are one of the most thoughtful and coherent theists I have witnessed on this site, (with one regular exeption). You really don’t need to wait in ambush for particular commentators as you are more than capable of holding your own here (my opinion, I am often out of my depth on some threads so I keep my virtual mouth shut). In my experience Daylight Atheism is (as far as a blog can ever be)not a polemic platform either for Adam or regular commentators. Keep pitching, we’ll keep batting and enjoy and enlighten each other in the process.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Steve Bowen,

    Thanks for the compliment, honestly. And I’ve gained much from your comments as well.

    My comment to Lynet was not meant to vindicate or rebut her argument. That’s why I added,

    That’s one minor point, just a note I wanted to add in case it may or may not influence another’s argument as advanced here.

    Re OMGF, I don’t feel you’ve defended him adequately. Neither John D nor myself asked OMGF to assume any hypothetical sixth sense. Besides, if I am alleging strawman argumentation, the question is not over an alleged assumption but to what degree did OMGF’s paraphrase accurately describe his opponent’s position. It did not.

    John D said,

    …a transcendent God is not accessible to the 5 human senses,

    OMGF then paraphrased John D’s argument as, among other things, a claim that,

    …we can’t sense god at all.

    Then he told John D to “Make up his mind!” He pulled the same crap with me the other day and I called him on it there, too. He admitted such. See the linked precedent in my last comment.

    Steve, honestly, do you feel OMGF’s paraphrase accurately reflects John D’s position?

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Oh, also Steve, if you have a second, please look at this, which is a separate issue from the last altogether:

    November 22, 2008, 6:04 pm, OMGF says to me,

    Sherlock, You forgot the part where John D clearly said, “because a transcendent God is not accessible to the 5 human senses.”

    yet November 22, 2008, 6:02 pm, before OMGF left the above, I said,

    1) OMGF inaccurately paraphrased his opponent’s position;

    John D said, “…a transcendent God is not accessible to the 5 human senses,”

    Is OMGF not clearly wrong here, too? I did mention exactly the statement he claimed I didn’t. Note that OMGF’s comment comes less than 120 seconds after I posted mine, and we now have empirical evidence suggesting that OMGF is a hasty debater. Is it not far more likely to be correct that OMGF simply read my opening remarks, got all pissed, then made his statement in haste? Or do you posit that he could have read my whole comment and made his reply in under 120 seconds? Either way, he’s wrong.

    Honestly… Among many other complaints, now the guy gives my argument less than 120 seconds of preliminary consideration before responding, then responds with something factually incorrect. Why should I accept that as acceptable debate?

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    cl,
    Clearly, after you wrote it, you forgot it. If I’m not being asked to assume a sixth sense, then in what way does, “a transcendent god is not accessible to the 5 human senses” not equal “we can not sense god?” If we can’t use our 5 senses and I’m not being asked to use some nebulous sixth sense, then how can we sense god? We can’t. This is an elementary case. When you put words to paper (or blog) sometimes those words form sentences that mean certain things. Pointing out the meaning of what someone wrote is not strawmanning or misrepresenting.

    For example, if you wrote that you believe in the counting numbers, that two follows one, which is in turn followed by three, etc. Let’s say you also believe that addition as we currently define it is true, that one plus one is two. If you said, “One plus one is two,” it would not be a misinterpretation, a strawman, or a misrepresentation to base an argument on the belief that follows from your beliefs that two and two are indeed four. I have the feeling, however, that you would disagree with me. I also have the feeling that if I said “One and one are two” instead of “One plus one is two” that you would also find objection in that. Unfortunately, it would be as baseless as this objection you are bringing up now.

    When I was in error, I owned up to it. It hardly seems fair for you to extrapolate that to every situation. Now, because I admitted that I forgot a less than pertinent fact of what had been written, I’m always in the wrong? Don’t carry a grudge, and stop making this personal. I had already decided to let sleeping dogs lie until you started trying to pick fights with me today. You were right about something, and that was that I had made my case and should let it be. I made my case in the other thread that you didn’t know what you were talking about in regards to subjectivity and that you had contradicted yourself, so I was letting it be. Don’t make this into a personal thing. Each discussion is different and impersonal.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    …in what way does, “a transcendent god is not accessible to the 5 human senses” not equal “we can not sense god?”

    Well, primarily, because when John D says that God is not accessible to the standard senses, John D is not saying that he cannot sense God. Nor is he saying that God couldn’t use John D’s standard senses to send a message, either. And, John D neither asks nor assumes that you should have access to this hypothetical sense. He was telling you his definition of God, and you articulated incorrectly, then knocked it down.

    Pointing out the meaning of what someone wrote is not strawmanning or misrepresenting.

    Correct. It is not, if you paraphrase their intended meaning correctly. John D tried to tell you politely that you did not, and I assert the same, with evidence.

    If you said, “One plus one is two,” it would not be a misinterpretation, a strawman, or a misrepresentation to base an argument on the belief that follows from your beliefs that two and two are indeed four. I have the feeling, however, that you would disagree with me.

    No, I agree with you, I wouldn’t call that a “misinterpretation, a strawman, or a misrepresentation,” but thanks for giving the benefit of the doubt.

    You were right about something, and that was that I had made my case and should let it be. I made my case in the other thread that you didn’t know what you were talking about in regards to subjectivity and that you had contradicted yourself, so I was letting it be.

    No, OMGF, you haven’t made that case because we never finished that conversation, so this is really unfair. If you recall, you asked me to defend myself. I then asked you a question to which you refused to grant even a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ and denounced as irrelevant – irrelevant to you, maybe, but debate involves >2 people, and just because you might not see the relevance of a statement your opponent makes, you feel fit to denounce said statement as irrelevant? I will demonstrate that I do and have understood the difference between a subjective claim vs. an objective claim for several years now, OMGF, since I published my first book which touched significantly upon the topic. Again, thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt.

    I had already decided to let sleeping dogs lie until you started trying to pick fights with me today.

    And it’s not “picking fights” man! This is me successfully meeting your pompous challenge to provide ‘specific examples’ of where you screw up – you asked for “specific examples.” I decided that instead of writing another 2,000 word comment trying to get it through your thick skull that among other things, yes, I did understand Chet’s argument (Chet words, not mine), that I would simply wait until I saw you pull the same crap elsewhere. And you did. Within one day. Besides, Chet justified me and we met common ground, which is ironic considering how hard you buddied up to him in your attempts to depict me as just another confused and stupid theist.

    It hardly seems fair for you to extrapolate that to every situation. Now, because I admitted that I forgot a less than pertinent fact of what had been written, I’m always in the wrong?

    I haven’t. You don’t make this particular error in every situation. I cannot state whether you do so purposely or not, but among many other things you frequently misrepresent your opponent’s claims then knock them down. I spent alot of time on DA before I began commenting. Others have agreed with me on these points I raise, most notably John D, recently. You proffer this “Make up your mind” BS which results in the unfair illusion your opponent has contradicted his or herself, when in both cases that I’ve mentioned, it was actually you who rushed ahead and misunderstood your opponent. I cannot emphasize this enough. I also freely admit that not all of this applies to the current thread and of course it’s personal. This is a personal community and all of our actions affect the whole.

    I would like to continue to be part of DA, but cannot justify wasting any more time with you. After we have it out here and on the other thread, please don’t bother critiquing any of my future comments made on DA. Of course it’s right to do so, but to do so with foreknowledge that I will not reply to them is cowardly. Although not final, if you do not respect this temporary request of mine, I will simply post snark and a reply linking readers back here and to the other thread, and we’ll let them decide if I am vindicated. Other than that I’ll speak to you if I’m ready.

    Also, I have not extrapolated this to every situation. To support my point, I included a single, bona fide precedent, where you did such in the same exact snooty words – ‘make up your mind.’ If that stings after you make comments to or in allusion to me such as:

    …the fact that you can’t grasp it should be embarrassing for you, considering that it’s that easy to grasp….you are making errors in your arguments…you keep making the same elementary errors…saying erroneous things…on record as contradicting yourself…addicted to never being wrong…this is just pathetic…you ask an irrelevant question that I have to answer before you will say anything…you will instead complain that I’m being mean…let me tell you what else you don’t understand, and that’s Chet’s argument…the fact that you can’t grasp it should be embarrassing for you…I’m actually laughing at you for flailing so badly…completely unable to figure out how badly he’s exposed your argument…want some cheese with that whine…examine the log in your eye before making more accusations that don’t hold up…full of yourself…nice of you to finally figure part of it out…you don’t know what subjective is…making blow-hard noises and banging your drum…you can live with this much cognitive dissonance?

    then sorry, buddy, I don’t know what to tell ya, other than that I hope you enjoy the rest of the weekend, I really do -

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    cl

    Well, primarily, because when John D says that God is not accessible to the standard senses, John D is not saying that he cannot sense God.

    In what way can one “sense” god without using any of one’s “senses”?

    Nor is he saying that God couldn’t use John D’s standard senses to send a message, either.

    Actually, that’s exactly what it means. god is not accessible through our five senses according to John D, meaning that you can’t use your senses to detect god. It’s flatly contradictory to assert otherwise, akin to having your cake and eating it too.

    And, John D neither asks nor assumes that you should have access to this hypothetical sense.

    What hypothetical sense are you talking about? If John D (nor you) is claiming a sixth sense, then in what way would we have to hypothesize about a sense?

    John D tried to tell you politely that you did not, and I assert the same, with evidence.

    Simply reprinting what people said is not evidence unless you can point out where the logical infraction occurred. You have not done so. Double speak about being able to use your senses to detect god and also not being able to do so at the same time does not count. You’ll have to do better.

    No, OMGF, you haven’t made that case because we never finished that conversation, so this is really unfair.

    Cheese, whine, you know the rest. You said that positing the existence of infinity and omnipotence is both subjective (which is wrong) and not subjective. There’s no more argument. You messed up. Own up to it – it’s not the end of the world. Everyone makes mistakes. Hopefully you will learn from this one.

    And it’s not “picking fights” man! This is me successfully meeting your pompous challenge to provide ‘specific examples’ of where you screw up – you asked for “specific examples.”

    Call it what you will, but you’re over-extending, rather badly, in order to try and stick it to me and not doing yourself any favors in the process.

    I did understand Chet’s argument (Chet words, not mine)

    Are those his actual words? Think carefully.

    …that I would simply wait until I saw you pull the same crap elsewhere.

    Once again, thank you for the complete falsehood. I trust that everyone else can see where you are fibbing here. You certainly did not lie in wait, considering the comments that you are now quibbling over happened six days ago. Even if you did, you’re freakin’ me out. Stop cyberstalking me.

    I haven’t. You don’t make this particular error in every situation.

    Then stop trying to use it as evidence that this case is the same.

    I cannot state whether you do so purposely or not, but among many other things you frequently misrepresent your opponent’s claims then knock them down.

    Which you assert a lot, about everyone. Wolf! Wolf!

    Others have agreed with me on these points I raise, most notably John D, recently.

    And others have disagreed. So what? It’s evidence that matters.

    You proffer this “Make up your mind” BS which results in the unfair illusion your opponent has contradicted his or herself, when in both cases that I’ve mentioned, it was actually you who rushed ahead and misunderstood your opponent.

    And you’ve done a great job contradicting yourself in the process, as I commented on above. In the earlier case with you, it was rather inconsequential anyway. My point still stood.

    …of course it’s personal.

    I think we’ve all noticed that. And, it’s affecting your judgement. You’re in such a snit and out for blood, and you’ve stopped thinking rationally in your zeal to get at my throat.

    I would like to continue to be part of DA, but cannot justify wasting any more time with you.

    So, does this mean you’ll stop cyberstalking me?

    After we have it out here and on the other thread, please don’t bother critiquing any of my future comments made on DA. Of course it’s right to do so, but to do so with foreknowledge that I will not reply to them is cowardly.

    Yawn, whatever. If you make errors, I will point them out just as I have been doing. You erroneously talked about subjectivity, I pointed it out. You can continue to cry that you were maligned unfairly, but it’s falling on deaf ears.

    Although not final, if you do not respect this temporary request of mine, I will simply post snark and a reply linking readers back here and to the other thread, and we’ll let them decide if I am vindicated. Other than that I’ll speak to you if I’m ready.

    Do what you want. I’m hoping that you will link readers back to your long whines and your penchant for claiming that things are both subjective and not subjective and that you can both not sense god and sense god.

    To support my point, I included a single, bona fide precedent, where you did such in the same exact snooty words – ‘make up your mind.’

    Ah, I see, because I used the exact same words, “Make up your mind,” that means I’m guilty of whatver every time I use that phrase. Your deductive skills are impressive. You shouldn’t be writing books – unless they are books in how to be an ace detective – you should be solving crimes like a supercop. Move over CSI, here comes cl.

    If that stings…

    I fail to see why it would sting. At best you’ve done a long ass rant session that probably has everyone bored to tears – I know I am. If you weren’t personally attacking me, I’d ignore you. I’m sorry that you are too sensitive to be talked to bluntly, but I’m not going to stroke your fragile little ego just to make you feel good about yourself. I’m also sorry that you are so self-centered and egotistical that you can’t admit when you are wrong, even when it is inconsequential and that you have to go on a witch hunt against the person that pointed out your errors. I’m sorry that you don’t understand the big words that you insist on using – incorrectly.

    To Ebon, sorry that this came to this. I had let it go, but I felt that I should defend myself from this personal attack. I know that I’m blunt and abrasive, but I don’t see why cl has to take it personally and make personal attacks. And, yes, I probably fed this by goading him on, and for that I take responsibility.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    In response to my,

    Nor is he saying that God couldn’t use John D’s standard senses to send a message, either.

    OMGF continues,

    Actually, that’s exactly what it means. god is not accessible through our five senses according to John D, meaning that you can’t use your senses to detect god.

    Correct. I would say that’s a reasonable paraphrase for once, OMGF. However, note that our inability to access God via our five senses does not preclude God’s ability to access us via said senses. The difference is in the flow of information – the ability of information to flow in one direction does not necessarily entail its ability to flow in the opposite direction. For example, you can send a text message from a cell phone to a landline, but you can’t send a text message from a landline to a cell phone (at least I don’t know of a way – if one exists correct me).

    You said that positing the existence of infinity and omnipotence is both subjective (which is wrong) and not subjective.

    No, I didn’t. In your version, the ‘claims’ were the subject. In my version, ‘Chet’ was the subject. Huge difference. But you don’t look for subtle nuances of language like that; at least with me and John D, you look for points of possible contention and exploit them as quickly and relentlessly as possible, whether you have understood them in correct context or not.

  • John D.

    Brad,
    It’s nice that we agree about the first point (Nov21, 2:41pm).

    With the second, what you say about human history doesn’t secure the argument, since this is the history of ‘homo sapiens’, not of any other species.
    Think about it – if the Greeks were not ABLE to reach a high level of culture and science, they would never have done so. The intellectual flourishing at Athens is a development of a real potential exclusive to the human species. This is confirmed by 2 facts:

    1) before Athens, even before urban civilization, in the earliest and least-developed forms of human society, we always encouter on some level the transcendence of the purely pragmatic in things like art, religion, myth, morality/ethics. “Primitive” man, while perhaps having a more practical outlook in general, is nevertheless also concerned with how things really are, with meaning, sense and truth. This, I guess, is why he is called homo Sapiens…
    2) other primates, even with favourable environmental conditions, do not achieve high levels of intellectual and artistic culture.

    What we are dealing with is not the emergence of a new phenomenon (science, philosophy and so on) from the relationship between a given primate group and more or less chance external factors. Rather, we are dealing with a gradual development of the same phenomenon (always in relation to chance environmental factors) from an embryonic state right up to its full flourishing. My previous post to you argued that the root of this phenomenon is to be located in the ability to perform reflexive mental acts, which open up the whole sphere of truth-proper (as I called it), the basis of genuinely scientific knowledge.

    As to my options a, b and c, my confusion was grammatical (see your origianl post), and remains so (see your new one): what does “about how” mean here?

    *********

    re. your second post to me, I think the reflexive act in its very structure involves the transcendence of materiality. It involves something that has been called “immediate immanence”. We may split acts into 2 broad categories: ones that terminate in the subject of the action, and ones that terminate outside it. The latter can be called transitive actions, and would include most forms of material motion from one place to another. The former can be called immanent actions, and they can be split into 2 kinds:
    mediate – the action terminates in the subject insofar as it is composed of parts (for example digestion, or the sensation of pain);
    immediate – the action terminates in the subject which is not composed of parts. In this category, I would put the reflexive acts characteristic of human intelligence: indeed, the same for all acts of human understanding.

    Now, I don’t know what line I should take in supporting my claim here. Normally, I would try to show how a materialistic interpretation of human understanding is insufficient – but you have already indicated that you youself do not share this interpretation. So I think it would be best to say simply, what do you think of the initial claim? Do you think it is false? Possible? True? If false or impossible, where does the problem lie?

    As to your final question – simply put, I believe human mind constitutes an authentic transcendence of the forces and potentialities of evolution. I think that the action of God in creating the individual human soul is a good explanation for this transcendence. However, I don’t see this as a magical or irregular intervention (although it certainly is unique), because I think that God is involved in the whole process of cosmic evolution, both as Creator who holds the entire dynamic process in being, and as Ruler (Providence) who guides it securely towards its end.

  • John D.

    Ebonmuse,
    You make a couple of good points in your post; but I don’t think your first one is one of them. That there is law-like regularity in the universe is a given – but only given the fact that we exist. However, the latter is not in itself a given, since we might not have existed (leaving aside theological issues…): so take away our existence – the universe is still regular. It is this initial regularity that requires explaining and it is not good enough to say “it couldn’t be otherwise”, since, as I say, this statement is based on our existence, and that COULD have been otherwise.

    Your point about mathematics and language is interesting – although I don’t agree with it. An important difference, with regard to our subject matter, between mathematical language and other languages is that mathematical language alone has been able to give us access to the beginnings, and has enabled us to understand that regularity belongs to the very primitive structures of the universe, not merely to emergent phenomena and complex realities. This is why mathematical regularities in the physical world are particularly surprising – if, that is, we take the position that there is no precedence of thought over materiality (ie., if we don’t think God created the world by means of his ‘Logos’).

    Your point about the mind is really fundamental, and I think the root of most of the problems above. Actually, in the citation, I was referring not to the human mind, but to divine Mind as the creative source of cosmic regularity which we then interpret and understand. (So science becomes a kind of dialogue between man and God, through the medium of created reality…)
    But when you say in your response that the human mind is just a “material machine”, how can you possibly believe that it truly understands anything at all? How can the movement of matter result in the genuine understanding of reality? If the evolution of matter is blind, and we are simply and solely products of the evolution of matter, then we too are blind: since our reason is inherently reducible to matter, which is incapable of true understanding (I distinguish between “having beliefs” and “understanding”, which contains a reference to truth). The point you make about the possible subversion of evolution from within (when we use our intelligence for “other purposes” than survival) assumes its own possibility: but I have argued that the “emergence” of human intellect from evolutionary processes is NOT possible. I note that you have not engaged with my argument to this effect (Brad, Nov 20th, 10:33), but have simply stated your thesis, which I have already argued against. My argument included an account of WHY we can act against evolutionary forces; but you just took my conclusion and said, “no, that’s not true”.
    Come to think of it, I never got a response to my argument (previous post to yourself, Nov 19, 8:39am) for the spiritual – rather, non-material – nature of the mind, either… however I am sure you are a busy man.

  • John D.

    cl,
    thanks for the confirmation on Dawkins. Also, thanks for the support re. OMGF -although I know what you are supporting is not me, but rather the principle of justice in rational human exchange.

  • John D.

    Steve Bowen,
    I think there IS a huge difference between 2nd/3rd order intentionality and reflexive intentions. The first can quite easily be understood in the context of developed and intricate group behaviour patterns. The second is not readily explicable in this way.

  • Brad

    (I’m going to ignore that great >4,500-word wall above…)

    John:

    Yes, my requests for your abc->God trilemma were typo’d. See EM’s post.

    You say,

    in the earliest and least-developed forms of human society, we always encouter on some level the transcendence of the purely pragmatic in things like art, religion, myth, morality/ethics.

    and also that primitive humans were concerned with reality, meaning, sense, and truth. To a very small degree, I do not disagree with these claims, but I think they should be taken from “always” to “were beginning to.” I think that this kind of relatively advanced culture comes about as a comparatively new phenomenon, and it came about roughly because of our selected-for social natures and newfound self-concept. I contend that this ability for “reflexive mental acts” is rooted not in a supernatural soul, but rather in our higher intelligence. I referred to animal self-recognition as evidence of a sort of “transitional form” of this phenomenon being based upon intelligence.

    I can also refer to human baby self-recognition, and how it doesn’t appear until the so-called “mirror stage.” What we observe is that babies do not intrinsically have the self-concept, but discover it thanks to the intertwined threads of cognitive development and environment. Now we are diving into psychology, an unfortunately soft science, but there are still useful theories around this. A famous one that comes to mind is Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, which has four main stages: sensory motor, preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operational. The theory is clumsily over-general, and is an approximation at best, but it is a useful one for both practical and theoretical reasons. What I’m getting at here is that self-awareness is roughly correlated with higher intelligence. How is this explainable by supernatural theory?

    Furthermore, as my final request last comment was trying to get at, given your supernatural theory how do you (a) explain the interaction between this “soul” (mind) and brain/body, and (b) how does the soul-body couple fit into the historical progression of human evolution? Like I said, did God all-of-a-sudden attach immaterial things onto physical systems? If you want to be really thorough and grandiose, you could also give a reason as to how setting up souls in the material universe in the way this was theoretically done fulfills God’s desires for us.

    Lastly,

    So I think it would be best to say simply, what do you think of the initial claim?

    I do not see the materialistic interpretation of human understanding to be insufficient (except perhaps that consciousness is itself an immaterial phenomenon, though of course caused by material animation). Nor do I see how the things you point to are an “authentic transcendence of materiality” in being caused by an outside source. However, I do think these supernatural claims are logically possible, it’s just that I don’t see them fitting into my best explanation, and in some ways may be even counter to known facts of the mind.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Brad,

    …did God all-of-a-sudden attach immaterial things onto physical systems?

    Although I don’t know the entirety of the context you and John D are speaking in, I would say this is a reasonable paraphrase of Genesis 2:7.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    cl,

    Correct. I would say that’s a reasonable paraphrase for once, OMGF. However, note that our inability to access God via our five senses does not preclude God’s ability to access us via said senses.

    Yes, actually it does. I understand your land line vs. cell phone analogy, but it doesn’t really hold. Your analogy would hold better if you tried to send a text message to someone doing smoke signals. Without being able to detect god with our senses, we don’t have the capability to receive the signals!

    Now, as I said on the other thread, are you done whining and ready to get a life?

  • John D.

    Brad,
    regarding the trilemma, see my post above to Ebon. It is not a very thorough answer, but it might clear up potential misunderstanding.

    On your points about development of consciousness:
    - I would like to identify the supernatural soul with that which makes us capable of performing intelligent acts. So, animal self-recognition would be, for me, grouped in with other sub-human manifestations of pattern-recognition, albeit of a more complex nature. And from this I would strictly distinguish reflexive acts, by which we come to KNOW ourselves, not just respond to the perception of ourselves as complex operative wholes. I would bring in support of this distinction the fact that animals do not act in ways that express a truly reflexive knowledge of self. a couple of examples:
    In communication and language – they lack the word “word”, which is the sign of reflexivity in the linguistic sphere;
    In sociability and group dynamics – they lack ethical and legal (in broad sense) norms for behaviour, a sign of reflexivity in the social sphere, since they are unable to REFLECT upon the social reality they are involved in.

    The development of the human baby is compatible with the view I am proposing. I would argue that the concept of self depends on the actual execution of an intellectual act, of its nature directed towards something OTHER than the self. Before such an act can take place, a whole lot of other acts must have been executed, and a general world-picture built up, by means of sensation, perception, responses to needs, people and situations. Then, once the external data is unified enough in this pre-intellectual sense, and once sufficient “interest” in the world is established (perhaps predicated upon an initial, pre-intellectual body-world distinction), an intellectual act of understanding the data can take place. Only after such an act can the knowledge of self precisely as the subject of the act of knowing something other than self be initiated.
    The knowledge of self here is different than that found in animals, since it flows from a different kind of act. With the animal, it is perception; the more complex the brain structure, the more complex the percept it can deal with. With a child, it is understanding; the unified-complexity of the percept is interpreted and unified under the unified-simplicity of the concept. So in order to account for this different kind of knowledge (difference in KIND, not just in complexity or degree, I maintain, and have argued elsewhere), a different power is called for. Or at least, it is reasonable to think it is called for. And this power is the intellect, which is not continuous with powers of perception, however complex they might be. Hence it is the phenomenon itself that calls for an explanation that isn’t simply natural/material.

    The unity of intellectual soul to material reality doesn’t admit short and easy answers (none of this stuff does in fact).
    In relation to your 2 specific questions:
    - the soul doesn’t relate to the body as something separate and discrete, but in the unity of one spiritual-material being. I think that contemporary science, although far from proving any such thing, is essentially more open to the possibility of material-spiritual interaction, mainly due to the collapse of pure determinism and causal closure. This leaves a potential space within the material world for things like the action of God, soul, free will…
    - it fits into the overall evolution of life in terms of both continuity and discontinuity. Continuity, because the organic matter of humanity proceeds from the milennia-long process of gradual perfection through natural selection; in doing so, it disposed itself to recieve the introduction of a radically new, spiritual principle. Discontinuity, because of the aforesaid newness of the spiritual soul as a principle of action for organic beings. This is insufficient, much more would need to be said; but I don’t want to come on all “grandiose”; and also, I am really tired, and have been on this site way too long today! HOwever, I don’t regret it; the debate is interesting and enriching.

    In reference to your last paragraph: if that is so, and the mind does not involve the transcendence of materiality, do you think scientific investigation is able to arrive at truth? If so, how, given that the question of truth seems to involve the transcendence of the phenomenon/appearance, which seems to involve going beyond perception (whether it be of “patterns” or whatever else)?

  • Brad

    John, in response to EM:

    1. Why are laws of physics surprising? You can posit an intelligent lawmaker, but then you have to account for the laws governing that intelligence too (who/what designed those?), and/or how an intelligence could exist without an ordely medium to exist on (as we normally observe intelligence). At heart, there may be some “brute facts” of reality – ones that are not logically necessary but happen to be the case – and I say the laws of physics look like one of them. I see no reason to posit a lawmaker that has the same appearance of arbitrariness as the laws of physics. This is, of course, assuming the the LoP aren’t logically necessary. If they are, or are “close” to being so (that is, arising from some extremely simple and elegant formulae that do not appear arbitrary), then this whole line of thinking gets thrown out the window, and you are left without one more avenue of arguing towards God.

    2. You say,

    regularity belongs to the very primitive structures of the universe, not merely to emergent phenomena and complex realities. This is why mathematical regularities in the physical world are particularly surprising – if, that is, we take the position that there is no precedence of thought over materiality

    I disagree. How is this surprising? To me it looks like a case of coming “full circle”- of pattern-recognizing brains recognizing the patterns of their own medium. (Indirectly, of course.) That’s nowhere near impossible, it doesn’t break any laws of logical precedence, and it actually looks to be the likely conclusion of brains emerging in the universe.

    3. Saying blindness begets only blindness is a non sequitor. And while beliefs/worldview/etc. pertain to our representations of reality, our understanding or comprehension pertains to how our minds go about making these representations based upon the information it has received plus its own internal information. When our minds put together information wrongly, we misunderstand. When they do so rightly, we correctly understand. Of course, whether or not we are understanding/misunderstanding isn’t always obvious at first in our thinking, and so we go back and recheck our mental work. Does this make sense?

    4. Lastly, how do you go about explaining these things with supernatural theory? (i) How does the idea of souls integrate with the laws of physics? (Does God break the laws to attach souls? Do physics allow for interaction with souls in their equations [Quantum Mechanics]?) (ii) In what way do thoughts have precedence over material? (iii) How do souls understand things? Perhaps more importantly, why/how do souls misunderstand things?

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    OMGF,

    Now, as I said on the other thread, are you done whining and ready to get a life?

    Actually, I have to ‘get’ to my ‘life’ right now, but thanks for saying that twice. Very adult!

    Oh, since you persist…

    Without being able to detect god with our senses, we don’t have the capability to receive the signals!

    Wrong. Of our own initiative, of course not. Can you use your eyes to access God whenever you want? Obviously not, or you wouldn’t be an atheist. However, could the God the Bible posits usurp your sight and manifest in front of you, or give you an authentic vision?

    If yes, we have the capacity to receive the signals, and you are wrong.

    If no, you must posit a case from logic and reason why the God the Bible posits, which is an 0^3 God, could not usurp your sight and manifest in front of you, or give you an authentic vision, and that’s a damn hard case to argue.

    What sayest thou? Yes, or No?

  • Brad

    John, in response to me:

    1. I was referring to animal self-recognition as a “transitional form.” It is “embryonic,” if I may quote you. I didn’t mean to imply it was the full-blown real deal.

    2. Interpreting your own actions to come from “your self” is the next logical step in the increasing complexity. It’s a novel idea that occurred to us, in the same way all ideas occur to us. Is this insufficient? Where does it fall short?

    3. I grant that there are gaps in science that allow for “God, soul, free will…”

    4. I am completely baffled by your continuity and discontinuity ideas. I have no idea what you are saying or what you are talking about. Could you be clearer?

    5. I think science can arrive at truth. By constructing models of the world, we mold our own mental regularities to correspond the regularities we see. I do not agree that “the question of truth seems to involve transcendence.”

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    cl

    However, could the God the Bible posits usurp your sight and manifest in front of you, or give you an authentic vision?

    We aren’t talking about the god of the Bible, we are talking about John D’s god. The god of the Bible regularly is detected by people’s senses. The god we are talking about is non-detectable by our senses. Can this god usurp our senses and give us supernatural eyes that allow us to detect him, and the put our regular eyes back in our heads? Maybe? Is that what John D was posing as what god does? I don’t think so.

    And, before you accuse me of misrepresenting you, god would have to give us supernatural eyes since our regular eyes can’t detect god, as per the original argument.

  • http://www.myspace.com.driftwoodduo Steve Bowen
    However, could the God the Bible posits usurp your sight and manifest in front of you, or give you an authentic vision?

    We aren’t talking about the god of the Bible, we are talking about John D’s god.

    Herein lies the disconnect. The biblical god frequently manifested himself and his works to the neoliths of the middle east but he appears to have retired. Whatever god is speaking to today’s theists does it in a very obscure and elitist way indeed.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Steve Bowen,

    For me, the disconnect lies in stuff like this: OMGF tells us,

    We aren’t talking about the god of the Bible, we are talking about John D’s god.

    Yet John D tells us,

    Far from faith proceeding from feeling, then, faith seems to flow from a testimony: first of all from outside, since (Christian) faith is announced by human mediation; then, this being received, from the inside as God’s testimony to himself, which is accompanied by “feelings”

    I am not a fundamentalist. Biblical hermeneutics is multi-layered, multi-generic, and in a word, quite complex.

    As for revelation, I have faith in God because of God’s own testimony about himself – ie Revelation.

    I do not presuppose “that the evidence leads to a god”, as you allege; rather, I am led to believe that there is indeed a God by means of the “evidence” (not scientifically intended; rather, the evidence of testimony, namely the testimony of Jesus Christ, the testimony which IS Jesus Christ). Testimony, not evidence, is the suitable category to understand Christian faith.

    John D’s is clearly the God of the Bible here in our universe where he has made several comments like the four above, yet, in the OMGFverse, apparently things are different.

  • http://www.myspace.com.driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    cl
    I don’t think the problem is selective interpretation, but a differing world view. Theists live in a universe where revelation and gnosis and divine inspiration are givens. Atheist don’t: If we can’t see it, feel it, smell it or otherwise apprehend it with the senses we evolved with, its existance becomes suspect. If the god that was burning bushes, parting seas and sending plagues for neolithic herders six millenia ago, is the same one inspiring xians today, why be so esoteric about it? Given that the human mind is given to delusion the atheist’s assumption would be that the neoliths were anthropomorphising natural events as primitive cultures are prone to do, and modern theists were fooling themselves. Going back to the OP, it is unlikely that either you, John D or any other committed xian will be pursuaded by argument to become atheists as there is always the supernatural loophole available to you as long as you want to use it.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Steve,

    Of course. I agree with you and I understand all that, it just doesn’t really relate to the point I’m trying to make. And it’s a good summary of the problems BTW. But the question, for me at least, was never whether John D or any other believer demanded that OMGF or any atheist assume any extra or supernatural sense.

    My question was, if we grant that no believer can use his or her standard senses to send a message to God, does such preclude the ability of God to send a message to the believer via the standard senses? Yes or No, in your opinion?

  • http://www.myspace.com.driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    does such preclude the ability of God to send a message to the believer via the standard senses? Yes or No, in your opinion?

    Have you stopped beating your wife? yes or No? :)
    O.K let’s say the short answer to your question is no if we assume a priori the existence of an omnimax god who cares about individuals on this particular planet. But the pattern we see is statements like “God entered my heart” or “I ‘know’ that God loves me”. He doesn’t drop round for tea and cakes and ask to meet your mom.Why?

  • John

    Hi Brad,
    I would like to back-pedal a bit, if you don’t mind. I think you are right to pick up on a lacuna in my original argument, namely, that the correspondence of minds to universe is not necessarily a big deal, a big problem for someone like you. Both you and Ebonmuse have pointed out that mathematics is a direct result of human interaction with the external world, and so this correspondence must be present due to the causal relationship world –> mind –> world. I had just considered mathematical knowledge insofar as it is not reducible to information received from the world (mind –> world) – but on reflection, I am not convinced that is the way maths works at all. In fact, I saw the danger soon after I posted my comment (on objective logos), but it was clarified through our subsequent exchanges. Since the correspondence of minds to the world was the nub of my argument, I think that, as it stands, it is not sufficient. I might be able to come up with something similar, more tightly argued… but for now I must yield ground on it. I think. (Actually, I would be interested to hear what cl thinks of this revision of opinion – right or wrong?)
    So our discussion has been worthwhile from my point of view.

    However, I think I am on more solid ground with the whole question of knowledge science and truth, and the transcendence of evolution – which of course is related to the issue above. I will try to post something on that later, but for now I have to go.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Steve,

    …the short answer to your question is no if we assume a priori the existence of an omnimax god who cares about individuals on this particular planet.

    Thanks for giving an honest answer. Do you feel the Bible posits such a God? I do, and I will go out on a limb and suggest that John D does as well. Again refusing to grant a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to a simple question, OMGF argued otherwise with an ad hoc definition switch:

    We aren’t talking about the god of the Bible, we are talking about John D’s god.

    Whatever.

    Anyways, my whole question to you is this – OMGF paraphrased John D as saying, “we can’t sense God at all,” when the extent of John D’s words was “…a transcendent God is not accessible to the 5 human senses.” I realize your point – to an atheist, these two statements are equal for all intents and purposes. But John D is not an atheist, so when John D says God is “not accessible to the five senses,” John D is clearly not saying that he can’t sense God at all, nor is John D saying that God is beyond all our senses, yet OMGF tells him,

    If this transcendent god is beyond all of our senses, how do you “sense” that god is there? … Didn’t you also say that we can’t sense god at all? Please make up your mind. (emph. mine)

    Steve, I believe you’re an intelligent and honest guy – IYO, did John D ever say that he cannot sense God, or that God was beyond all of his senses?

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Again refusing to grant a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to a simple question, OMGF argued otherwise with an ad hoc definition switch…

    Sigh. No, I didn’t. If John D is presenting a god that can’t be detected by our senses, then he is not presenting the god of the Bible which clearly can be detected. Perhaps that is not what he meant and he should clarify, but I would be criticized if I read into what he said, so I’m using the words he gave.

    Further,

    My question was, if we grant that no believer can use his or her standard senses to send a message to God, does such preclude the ability of God to send a message to the believer via the standard senses?

    This is not what was originally said. Detecting god through our senses is the opposite of sending a message out to god. If we can not detect god through our senses, then it does preclude the ability of god to send a message to us via our senses, since we can’t receive it. Pot, kettle, and all that.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    OMGF,

    The question you’re concerned about was the last question I asked you. I didn’t say it was “what was originally said.” You told me John D’s original statement precluded God’s ability to send John D a message via the 5 standard senses. Correct?

    While expanding on what I felt were the implications of John D’s original statement of

    “…a transcendent God is not accessible to the 5 human senses,”

    I said,

    Nor is John D saying that God couldn’t use John D’s standard senses to send a message, either.

    And you replied,

    Actually, that’s exactly what it means.

    I disagreed then and still do. Also note that I understand transcendence by definition is that which extends or exists beyond the limits of ordinary experience. So on that note, I agree with you that of our own volition, we can’t see, hear, or touch the transcendent God.

    So can you agree with me that if the transcendent God appeared to you and I on the street today as a fully human being we could see, hear, and touch, and then told us something about life, that the transcendent God would be both ‘accessing’ us via our standard five senses and ‘sending us a message’ via said senses?

    And if no, then mustn’t you either

    1) assume the burden of explaining how such would not constitute an authentic use of the standard five senses;

    2) revert to the claim that the transcendent God John D was referring to in his original statement was not the God of the Bible, and refute the evidence already offered on this point;

    3) introduce some new line of defense; or

    4) concede that yes, when John D says, “…a transcendent God is not accessible to the 5 human senses,” John D is not saying “we cannot sense God,” or that God “lies beyond all senses?”

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    cl,

    So can you agree with me that if the transcendent God appeared to you and I on the street today as a fully human being we could see, hear, and touch, and then told us something about life, that the transcendent God would be both ‘accessing’ us via our standard five senses and ‘sending us a message’ via said senses?

    Yes, I would suppose that an omni-max god could appear to us using our senses. I’m sure John D feels the same way. If so, then he should amend his statement that we can not sense god, because the way it was stated precludes our ability to see god with our senses. So, the answer to your question, based on what John D originally said would be “No.”

    2) revert to the claim that the transcendent God John D was referring to in his original statement was not the God of the Bible, and refute the evidence already offered on this point

    I’m sure John D feels that he does worship the god of the Bible. I was simply pointing out that the statement that we can not sense god is at odds with the god described by the Bible. Again, if John D wants to clarify his statement, that’s fine, but the way he wrote it means what I said.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    OMGF,

    Yes, I would suppose that an omni-max god could appear to us using our senses.

    Well, thank you for admitting you were incorrect about that, at least.

    As for…

    If so, then (John D) should amend his statement that we can not sense god—[SNIP]

    and,

    Again, if John D wants to clarify his statement, that’s fine, but the way he wrote it means what I said.

    NOPE – sorry, no switching:

    “Didn’t you also say that we can’t sense god at all? Please make up your mind.” (OMGF to John D, November 16, 2008, 3:17 pm)

    Such was NEVER John D’s statement to amend, but rather your statement inaccurate paraphrase of John D’s statement. Regarding this matter, John D’s position has been consistent the entire thread, so when you told him snarkily to “Make up his mind,” such was not only rude, but ironically based on your own ill caricaturization of the man’s words.

    Hence, strawman.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    cl,

    Well, thank you for admitting you were incorrect about that, at least.

    I never argued otherwise.

    Such was NEVER John D’s statement to amend, but rather your statement inaccurate paraphrase of John D’s statement.

    Sigh. FFSMS, it’s not inaccurate based on what he wrote. End of story. I’m done saying the same things to you over and over and you not willing to comprehend. Have the integrity to simply accept it. He said god is not accessible to our senses. This means we can not sense god. If that is not what he meant, then he can “make up his mind,” and rephrase in a way that better means what he meant.

  • http://www.myspace.com.driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Steve, I believe you’re an intelligent and honest guy – IYO, did John D ever say that he cannot sense God, or that God was beyond all of his senses?

    No, but if you recall it was me who explicitly said to an atheist this implied using some sixth sense. John does say “not accessible the five human senses” so in what manner can John sense god other than by some esoteric channel he cannot explain or demonstrate to anyone else?

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Steve,

    No,

    Thank you for agreeing with that. I didn’t think so either.

    …but if you recall it was me who explicitly said to an atheist this implied using some sixth sense. John does say “not accessible the five human senses” so iin what manner can John sense god other than by some esoteric channel he cannot explain or demonstrate to anyone else?

    I do recall such and honestly, it’s a great question, but irrelevant in the issue of whether OMGF accurately paraphrased John D, which we both agreed he did not. That notwithstanding, although I don’t have the complete answer to your question, proposing an esoteric sixth sense is unnecessary. As in the example of the transcendent God who appeared to me and OMGF on the street, God could usurp any of our standard senses at any given time. Also, perhaps John D might sense God through prayer, which is an action. Neither of these involve an esoteric sixth sense unavailable to the atheist.

    OMGF,

    End of story.

    Agreed. After my final two cents I’ll rest as well. Ours is a new week ahead of us.

    I never argued otherwise.

    Yeah, you did actually, November 23, 2008, 12:20 am. Anyone can go look. You told me John D’s statement precluded God’s ability to send us a message via the standard five senses. Then, after my example of the transcendent God who appeared to us on the street and sent us a message via sight, sound, or touch, you said,

    I would suppose that an omni-max god could appear to us using our senses.

    But I’m guessing you’ll claim I’m misrepresenting you, tell me to ‘get a life,’ or introduce any other non-cogent misdirection that facilitates evading further concession or explaining this variance between your two statements.

    As for,

    He said god is not accessible to our senses. This means we can not sense god.

    That’s incorrect. John D said God is not ‘accessible’ via the standard five senses; You misinterpreted this to mean we cannot sense God. It actually means either 1) we cannot sense or ‘access’ God at all, as you correctly identified and suggested; or 2) that if we can sense or ‘access’ God, then such occurs of God’s volition or via some other route than our volitional use of the standard five senses – an option which you didn’t correctly identify until such was suggested to you.

    Here’s more proof, in your own words:

    …god is not accessible through our five senses according to John D, meaning that you can’t use your senses to detect god.

    No – meaning that you can’t use your five senses to detect God, not that God can’t use your five senses to establish presence to you. Note how you dropped ‘five’ and that for all your telling me to ‘get a life’ and all your blathering under the pretense of cogent logic, not only did you clearly strawman John D, yours was the classic either-or fallacy: admitting limited options when other options exist. Just because we can’t of our own volition see, hear, taste, feel, or touch God as John D implies doesn’t mean we can’t sense God. Such simply means that if we can sense God, it must occur some other way than via our volitional use of the five senses. Slow down and think of other options.

    When John D alluded to himself sensing God in this world, you snarkily tried to call him on contradicting himself with, “Make up your mind.” He didn’t contradict himself. You misunderstood the man, then snarked him, and that’s rude. Will you also introduce a red herring by ‘pointing out’ all the areas where you think I’ve been rude to you, as opposed to addressing the issue at hand and apologizing to John D for your role in the confusion?

    Many times before insulting me you’ve said, “Take this in the spirit it’s given.” Now it’s fine if you perceive me as ‘the enemy,’ but I’ll say this: As a believer, much of what atheism concerns itself with eradicating is a noble cause that I support. Though I will not insult you, I suggest you take the following in the spirit it’s given: Although you may think while you’re goading believer X, Y, or Z abruptly, insultingly, and condescendingly that you’re just putting another dumb theist in place and doing enlightened society a favor, in light of the comments other atheists have made on this thread regarding Dawkins, realize that such behavior actually works strongly against your cause, especially when it turns out you were wrong. Over 15 of 40+ insults and mockeries of yours came because you thought I misunderstood Chet’s argument and subjectivity, when I didn’t. All those insults and mockeries were thus baseless. One does not gain converts making baseless insults and mockeries.

    We, upon many occasions, see wise and good men on the wrong as well as on the right side of questions of the first magnitude to society… This circumstance, if duly attended to, would furnish a lesson of moderation to those who are ever so persuaded of their being right in any controversy. For in politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. -Alexander Hamilton

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    cl,
    I was going to let it go, but not this time, not after this load of dreck…

    But I’m guessing you’ll claim I’m misrepresenting you…

    You guessed right, you are misrepresenting me. The god we were talking about was John D’s god that can not access us through the five senses. You asked about whether some other god that can access us through the five senses could do so. I answered yes. I’m glad to note that you continue to do exactly what you accuse others of.

    That’s incorrect. John D said God is not ‘accessible’ via the standard five senses; You misinterpreted this to mean we cannot sense God.

    And you also claimed you are not talking about another sense. If our senses can not be used to access god, then we can not sense god, and if there is no other sense, then you are stuck at an impasse. Now, go away.

    Note how you dropped ‘five’…

    Because you are not claiming there are more than five, so there’s no need to continue saying the word “five” when there aren’t any more. Since five is the extent of your senses, then it is wholly correct to simply drop the five and call all five of them “your senses” you dolt.

    Will you also introduce a red herring by ‘pointing out’ all the areas where you think I’ve been rude to you…

    No, because I’m not as whiny as you are.

    Many times before insulting me you’ve said, “Take this in the spirit it’s given.”

    And those times I was not intending to insult, so shove it.

    As a believer, much of what atheism concerns itself with eradicating is a noble cause that I support.

    What is noble about irrational belief? Is it noble when our president takes us into a bad war to kill millions of people because god told him to? Is it noble when religious zealots kill people with suicide bombs? Is it noble when people that believe as you do seek to usurp my rights? Save me the “noble religion” speech.

    Though I will not insult you…

    Another lie. Let’s add that one to the list of the known falsehoods that I’ve pointed out. You’re racking up a pretty good resume.

    …that you’re just putting another dumb theist in place…

    Yup, works in this case.

    …you thought I misunderstood Chet’s argument and subjectivity, when I didn’t.

    More lies. Simply because you caught on to part of his argument at the end doesn’t mean that you understood it all the way through. And, may I point out, yet again, that I was mocking you for your false bravado, which you continually ignore!

    One does not gain converts making baseless insults and mockeries.

    I’m not mocking you to convert you. I’m mocking you because you are odious.

  • http://www.myspace.com.driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    cl

    I do recall such and honestly, it’s a great question, but irrelevant in the issue of whether OMGF accurately paraphrased John D

    To be honest I don’t think this comment thread is about whether OMGF accurately paraphrased John D or not. I was more interested in engaging in a conversation on the OP which is what atheism is. To that end my comment

    but if you recall it was me who explicitly said to an atheist this implied using some sixth sense. John does say “not accessible the five human senses” so iin what manner can John sense god other than by some esoteric channel he cannot explain or demonstrate to anyone else?

    was intended to highlight the fact that as atheists (forgive me if I’m re-stating something you already acknowledge)”sixth sense” and “transcendence” are meaningless concepts. Let’s take the idea of transcendence as it is pertinent to your spat with OMGF. To me describing god as transcendent is actually more like defining what he is not: Not present, not corporeal, not physically measurable, not showing any effect,not apprehensible by any of the senses we know about. As Ebon says in the OP (and I’ll paraphrase) atheists don’t just not believe in the xian god. we don’t believe in any of them, or the associated woo woo that goes with them. We don’t believe in mysterious channels of communication or divine revelation or… well you get the picture. Any thoughts on this or would you rather continue pursuing semantic dead ends with OMGF?

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Steve,

    I made my case with OMGF.

    I know and understand that atheists don’t believe in any God, gods, goddesses, etc. What can I say? I don’t fault anyone for the conclusion they make. I don’t think an atheist is any better or worse than I am. The entire debate is a matter of perspective. The atheist looks at the Bible and sees a book of hate, error, and lies; the believer looks at the Bible and sees a book of love, logic, and truth. I mean, everyone’s experience is different and that’s why nobody can really judge the next person. Given different life experiences you might be a reasonable believer and I might be a fulfilled atheist. To you or someone else, “all belief is irrational,” but there are people for whom belief is perfectly rational. In so many respects I really find the entire debate a moot point, but on the other hand, on occasion people learn from each other as well so who’s to say?

    I do, however, share the atheist’s sentiments for organized, mainstream, politicized, imperializing religion. I am with you on that.

  • John D.

    Just to say, I have to take a break from discussion here; I am very busy just now. Thought it would be more polite to say rather than just shut up.
    Shame I had to end on an admission that I made an oversight in my argument (24th, 1:21pm)… ah well. I would like to come back to discuss some fallacies in the piece by Ebonmuse, Are Evolved Minds Reliable Truth-Finders?, recommended by Brad. But for now, it’s adios amigos, and thanks for good discussion.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    If John D. comes back, I’ll address some of the points he mentioned:

    But when you say in your response that the human mind is just a “material machine”, how can you possibly believe that it truly understands anything at all? How can the movement of matter result in the genuine understanding of reality?

    At the risk of sounding facetious: Why not?

    Seriously, I’d give a longer answer if you presented a cogent chain of reasoning here, but all I can get out of this is a simple argument from incredulity. All living beings with sense organs and brains possess some degree of understanding of reality. Our minds, being of greater complexity, possess a higher degree of understanding. I see nothing problematic in any of this.

    If the evolution of matter is blind, and we are simply and solely products of the evolution of matter, then we too are blind: since our reason is inherently reducible to matter, which is incapable of true understanding…

    This is a basic fallacy of composition. A whole can possess qualities that do not exist in any of its separate parts. I could use this same reasoning as you to argue that atoms are colorless, and cats are made of atoms, so cats must be colorless.

    The point you make about the possible subversion of evolution from within (when we use our intelligence for “other purposes” than survival) assumes its own possibility…

    No, I provided an argument for this, which was as follows:

    …evolution is not an intelligent or forward-looking process. It could not “foresee” that it was going to bring forth creatures that could act against it, nor did it “desire” to “prevent” that from happening.

    Evolution is a blind algorithm. It has no bias against exploring any particular region of probability space. Any outcome that is physically possible will therefore be capable of being produced by evolution, even if some outcomes are less likely than others. If you think some particular outcome is off-limits to evolution as it occurred in our universe, then the onus would be on you to show why that is, just as the burden of proof would be yours if you claimed that shuffling a deck of cards could not result in one particular ordering.


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