Think for Yourself

In one of his “My Answer” columns, Billy Graham replies to a correspondent who doesn’t see the need for organized religion:

Don’t make up your own ideas about God, but understand from the Bible who He really is, and commit your life to Christ.

“Don’t make up your own ideas” – this is Billy Graham’s advice to the seeker. Instead, presumably, we should read the Bible and believe exactly what it says, without bringing any of our own imagination or independent thought to the subject.

My friend Erich Vieth at Dangerous Intersection had a similar experience visiting an evangelical megachurch:

“A good way to get into heresy is to read books about religion other than the Bible. Don’t do this! Any book beyond the Bible is false. Everything in the Bible is true.”

The Roman Catholic church, of course, has been one of the most reliable users of this tactic – with the added wrinkle that the church authorities are the only ones competent to interpret the Bible and tell lay believers what it really means. A Catholic commenter on this site put the point quite explicitly:

The Magisterium is also necessary. It is needed as a living and infallible authority to determine the authentic meaning of both Scripture and Tradition. Such a living authority is necessary to settle disputes concerning both Scripture and Tradition. Tradition and Scripture alone would be insufficient to guarantee the unity of the faith and of the Church, for violent disagreements could arise over the content of Tradition as well as of Scripture. There can be no private judgment either of Scripture or of Tradition.

My essay “Thoughts in Captivity” lists many more examples of this type, including apologists who proclaim that their holy scriptures should be believed over all contrary evidence and that believers do not need to know what outsiders are saying about their faith to know that it is not true.

All these warnings given by religious leaders to their followers, like the ones quoted above, center around the danger of independent thought. Making up your own mind, they proclaim, is a recipe for disaster (and the Bible agrees, in Proverbs 14:12). Instead, believers are repeatedly told that the only way to safety is to believe what has been handed down exactly as it has been handed down, and trust the religious authorities and texts to keep them on the safe path of orthodoxy. They must shut their minds and their eyes to all contrary evidence, all outside viewpoints, and believe regardless of what the facts or their own reason may tell them. The authorities, by definition, are infallible, and if you disagree with them the problem is with you.

This dictum occurs not just in religion, but also in dogmatic non-religious ideologies, such as can be found among communists or the devotees of Ayn Rand. However, its fullest flowering and most sophisticated defenders are unquestionably to be found among the ranks of religious believers.

As an atheist, I’m not surprised by this. This attitude, after all, is one of the surest signs of a false belief. The truth can endure limitless scrutiny; only false beliefs will crumble if looked at too closely. Thus, only the leaders of an incorrect belief system have reason to fear their followers investigating their beliefs and examining the alternatives. This is not to say that high-powered religious authorities know their faiths are false, but rather, there’s a Darwinian competition among memes: false beliefs which encourage their holders to question and debate them are unlikely to survive. False beliefs which try to discourage critical scrutiny by any means possible are much more likely to endure.

As atheists, by contrast, our mission should be to get people to make up their own minds, not tell them what to think. We are not the ones who have to warn people about the dangers of making up their own minds and coming to their own conclusions. Instead, we have a far better message: you can and should think for yourself. We all live in the same universe, and sufficiently diligent investigation will lead to the realization of its true nature – and that, unlike religious myths and wishful thinking, is a conclusion we can all agree on.

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.

  • Gabe Smith

    Great point Ebon. It’s like this: I am looking at a clear plastic bottle of water that is on my desk. I will tell you that there is water in the bottle. You can look at the bottle from any angle and see that it contains a clear liquid, which is consistent with it being water. You can open it and sniff it, lick it, taste it; or perform any number of scientific experiments on it, or you can ask other people to see what they think is in the bottle. None of this will bother me because I know that nothing will change the fact that there is water in the bottle. However, if I tell you that this same bottle does not contain water, but instead contains lemonade, I will not want you to look at the bottle too closely because you will see that it is too clear to be lemonade and does not contain a yellowish tint. I will want to make sure that the lid is on tight and I will discourage you from opening it because if you do, you will not smell lemon and you will not taste lemon. I will discourage you from obtaining any second opinions from other people because they will probably think that the bottle does not contain lemon, but instead contains water.

  • http://dangerousintersection.org/ Erich Vieth

    John Stuart Mill was spot on when he wrote about the marketplace of ideas. The muzzling of ideas is a terrible thing. Truly good ideas can withstand vigorous testing. The last thing most preachers want to do, however, is to have their ideas tested, especially during a religious ceremony.

    This following excerpt is from Mills classic work, On Liberty:

    There is the greatest difference between presuming an opinion to be true, because, with every opportunity for contesting it, it has not been refuted, and assuming its truth for the purpose of not permitting its refutation. Complete liberty of contradicting and disproving our opinion, is the very condition which justifies us in assuming its truth for purposes of action; and on no other terms can a being with human faculties have any rational assurance of being right. . . .

    For more excerpts from On Liberty, visit: http://www.csulb.edu/~jvancamp/free/excerpts.htm

  • http://www.yunshui.wordpress.com yunshui

    Therein lies the divide between science and religion. Science forms an idea and seeks to prove it wrong, reshaping the theory to fit the facts. Religion forms an idea and denies all criticism, reframing the facts (as far as possible) to support the theory.

  • velkyn

    The tendency for all theist, especially Christians, to decide that they and only they are the only “TrueChristians” and have the only “right” way to read the bible/pray is quite amusing. They all are sure that only their magic decoder ring aka “holy spirit” gives the right answers.

    I do agree, ebon, that others do the exact same thing. In historical re-creation, you always have those who are sure that they and only they are doing it “right” as well as your other examples. It must be hard-wired into the human psyche to think this. Only applying our intelligence can we override that “only me is right!” conviction.

  • http://cranialhyperossification.com GDad

    It’s interesting that you talk about the memes that compete in the religious orthodox community. One of the common metaphors used by pastors (even look at that word’s origin) is that he is a shepherd for a flock of believers. One of the duties of a shepherd is to protect the flock. I would think that this would also include guided breeding to produce a specific result rather than natural selection.

    That’s deep. :-)

  • Samuel Skinner

    To be fair, the alternative to this is having people pick and choose the bible. I still get a kick out of the Catholic position, because it is still arbitrary! You just have another person using their opinion.

    On a related note, this:
    http://bbs.stardestroyer.net/viewtopic.php?t=121428
    Actually an interesting take on why Christianity has splintered into millions of factions, while other religions haven’t- and why it has flourished so much. Could you do a post on the topic?

  • http://redmolly.typepad.com RedMolly

    My two sons (7 and 9) keep asking “Is our family atheist?” I have to keep repeating to them: I am an atheist, my husband is an atheist, but that doesn’t mean that they have to be. They have a responsibility to consider for themselves, look at the evidence and decide, keeping in mind that they may need to reevaluate later as more evidence becomes available.

    So far, and much to their evangelical grandparents’ dismay, they’re coming down pretty firmly on the atheist side, though I’m having a really hard time convincing them that there’s no such thing as the Tooth Fairy. She does, after all, show up pretty regularly with cash after one of them’s lost a tooth.

  • Christopher

    Ebonmuse,

    “As atheists, by contrast, our mission should be to get people to make up their own minds, not tell them what to think.”

    But what happens when an individual thinks for himself and reaches a conclusion radically different from the one you would have reached? Do you accept this conclusion or attempt to persuade him to discard it for something more like your own?

  • Jim Baerg

    But what happens when an individual thinks for himself and reaches a conclusion radically different from the one you would have reached?

    Ask that individual ‘How did you come to that conclusion?’ It’s possible that person has come across some evidence or a valid line of reasoning that I’ve missed. The discussion should clarify the thinking of both parties, IF they can avoid such pitfalls as thinking that criticism of a person’s belief is an attack on that person.

  • Polly

    But what happens when an individual thinks for himself and reaches a conclusion radically different from the one you would have reached?

    It then becomes a matter of comparing data and logic. The facts in some cases may be ambivalent enough to support either side of an argument. Only further research can resolve the issue.
    Moreover, I would look more favorably upon the wrong answer from a guy who’s thought through a question or problem over the right answer from a guy parroting what he’s been told by an arbitrary authority figure no more qualified than himself.

  • http://infophilia.blogspot.com Infophile

    As an atheist, I’m not surprised by this. This attitude, after all, is one of the surest signs of a false belief. The truth can endure limitless scrutiny; only false beliefs will crumble if looked at too closely. Thus, only the leaders of an incorrect belief system have reason to fear their followers investigating their beliefs and examining the alternatives. This is not to say that high-powered religious authorities know their faiths are false, but rather, there’s a Darwinian competition among memes: false beliefs which encourage their holders to question and debate them are unlikely to survive. False beliefs which try to discourage critical scrutiny by any means possible are much more likely to endure.

    I think you’ve left out one possibility here: What about true beliefs which try to discourage critical scrutiny? After all, this is what many Christians reading this would assume that their faith is. There’s no logical contradiction to such an occurrence, certainly.

    For instance, take the example of “lies-to-children,” when it comes to particularly complicated areas of physics such as Relativity or Quantum Mechanics. To the lay person hearing about what they claim, it seems ridiculous. It’s better that they just accept it and don’t try to think to much about it. They should just trust in the words of scientists.

    Now, to the non-scientist, they don’t see too much difference between this situation and trusting in the words of the church (which is why science often gets compared to a religion). The difference comes in if you do try to inquire further. With science, you’ll find that scientists are quite willing to open up all their reason to you and try to lead you to understanding if you’re willing to put forth the effort – it’s just that there’s so much effort required that it probably isn’t worth your time if you don’t plan to be a scientist yourself. With religion, however, you won’t get any such opportunity. You’re considered evil for simply asking the questions, and there’s no possible avenue to confirm the statements of the church.

  • mikespeir

    Now, to the non-scientist, they don’t see too much difference between this situation and trusting in the words of the church (which is why science often gets compared to a religion). The difference comes in if you do try to inquire further. With science, you’ll find that scientists are quite willing to open up all their reason to you and try to lead you to understanding if you’re willing to put forth the effort – it’s just that there’s so much effort required that it probably isn’t worth your time if you don’t plan to be a scientist yourself. With religion, however, you won’t get any such opportunity. You’re considered evil for simply asking the questions, and there’s no possible avenue to confirm the statements of the church.

    I wonder about this, Infophile. I’m not a scientist. Everything I know about science comes from the mouth or pen of a scientist. And it wouldn’t matter how deeply I dug. It would still be true that I would know next to nothing about science that a scientist didn’t tell me. Now, I have reason to suspect that the word of consensus science is more reliable than the “Word of God,” but it seems that I really can’t escape taking someone’s word for the findings of science. How can that not be a kind of faith?

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

    Because you can do the work and recreate the experiments, or you can read about how someone else recreated the experiments and got the same results. Repeatability and verifiability are two things that religion don’t have and they negate the need for “faith”.

  • mikespeir

    Well, OMGF, I’ll grant it’s a superior kind of faith. It is because it’s not founded upon assumptions that aren’t, in principle, empirically demonstrable. Still, I can’t recreate those experiments myself. All I can do is believe and trust that the experiments have been recreated, that the results really are as related to me, and that the purported implications of those results are the likeliest possible. That’s the very kind of concept “faith” expresses. It need not involve the supernatural. I don’t know why we’re so afraid of the word. I think it’s easy to demonstrate that our faith is in something far more substantial than dreamed-up sky beings.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    There are two questions here I can answer with two past posts. :)

    Actually an interesting take on why Christianity has splintered into millions of factions, while other religions haven’t- and why it has flourished so much. Could you do a post on the topic?

    From January of last year, see: “A Religion Not Made for Success“.

    Now, I have reason to suspect that the word of consensus science is more reliable than the “Word of God,” but it seems that I really can’t escape taking someone’s word for the findings of science. How can that not be a kind of faith?

    From just last month, see: “The View From the Ground“.

  • NightShadeQueen

    I remember debating string theory with my friends back in middle school. Although we didn’t uncover any new information, the debate actually took a few days to complete and was very civil.

    Flash forward a few years.

    A couple days ago, a evangelist figured out that I wasn’t a believer. She ended up harping on me for nearly an hour. She had exactly one point, and she made it over and over again: Without accepting Jesus, I couldn’t go to heaven.

    At first, I played softball. I honestly wanted her to just shut up so I could get back to my work. (I knew that even trying to open her mind was useless). I told her I thought that works (ie doing good) is more important than faith. Finally, I simply told her that if her god only wanted praising, he wasn’t good enough for me. That shut her up.

    Today, I heard some classmates talking about…err…torturing one a non-believer because he was a non-believer. I asked for a name. It turned out he was one of the people I debated string theory with in middle school. (I think they were kidding.)

    I find that no matter what I say to a believer, they won’t even drop even the tiniest bit of their beliefs. One of my classmates is somewhat anti-Semitic, so I pointed out that Jesus was a Jew, and by dissing Jews she was dissing her own deity. It took her about five seconds to come up with “Jews are Christ-Killers.” I gave up.

  • Ellwood

    I went to Catholic mass last week with my grandparents (I usually avoid being home on Sunday mornings so that the awkward “are you coming to church mijo?” conversation doesn’t take place), and as I listened to the priest talk about the complexity of the Holy Trinity – god, his son, and some holy spirit all being three distinct deities in one – I was saddened when he actually told the parish not to try and think too hard on how this works. He said it was too difficult to understand, so they should just have faith in it and not worry. The saddest part, however, was that this wasn’t any surprise to me or to anyone else sitting around me. That’s what initially turned me away from Catholicism – being told not to think.

  • Robert Madewell

    Do not be afraid to ask questions. Truth is not offended by honest inquiry.

    I don’t know who originaly said this, but I think it says it all.

  • Alex Weaver

    But what happens when an individual thinks for himself and reaches a conclusion radically different from the one you would have reached? Do you accept this conclusion or attempt to persuade him to discard it for something more like your own?

    Can you really not think of any other reason to try to argue in favor of your point of view than the fact that it happens to be your point of view?

  • HaleRazor

    One of the first thoughts that started me on the path from Christianity to atheism was this: if God created me with the ability to analyze something logically, why would he not want me to use that ability?

  • Mrnaglfar

    if God created me with the ability to analyze something logically, why would he not want me to use that ability?

    But you have to remember, god didn’t make you this way; God only made that tree of knowledge that would forever corrupt mankind from eatting from it, then placed it out in open view with absolutely no protection so as to ensure there was no boundary between humans and the fruit except his warning not to eat from it. This of course raises the point of why god would make such a tree, why he would even require people have to eat in the first place, why he didn’t fence such a tree off, how adam and eve could have known not to eat from the tree without knowledge of good or bad or consequence, why god just didn’t kill the first two people and start again instead of killing tons more people down the line, which of course he must have seen given his all knowing, timeless thing, not to mention how 6 billion people somehow came from two somehow avoiding the fact that we’d all be genetic identical twins if that was the case, or why god would have made/let the snake tempt eve without stepping in; after all, it hardly seems like humans having free will require they only be manipulated by half the story or why god can’t provide evidence, but you know, I think that’s the general take on it all.

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    You’re making me laugh, Mrnaglfar.

    To be honest, I think this aspect of religion is the thing I have the most visceral reaction to. It’s not so much the being told not to think as the utterly deplorable tactics used to get people not to think — everything from shameless false hope to threats of the greatest magnitude imaginable.

  • Samuel Skinner

    Dang… no derailment hear. You ARE through!

    On science… I can’t test the more esoteric stuff. On the other hand you can test everything else. For example aerodynamics. Just get in a plane. The fact that technology exists shows that Scientists know what they are talking about.

    When in doubt (or when you find something unbelievable), try it for yourself. If you find plate tectonics unbelievable, go to the San Andreas Fault in California.

    Simply put, if you doubt science, all you have to confirm it is experiment and look at the world (warning- friction exists. Results will NOT equal the basic equations.).

  • prase

    But what happens when an individual thinks for himself and reaches a conclusion radically different from the one you would have reached? Do you accept this conclusion or attempt to persuade him to discard it for something more like your own?

    Can you really not think of any other reason to try to argue in favor of your point of view than the fact that it happens to be your point of view?

    Is there any other reason to do so? It’s quite natural that people argue for their points of view, on the other hand it would be really strange if they argued for points of view of somebody else.

    Needless to say, trying to persuade the others is not the same as to discourage them from thinking about the subject.

  • mikespeir

    Ebon:

    I remember View from the Ground. You made the point well. But notice nothing I’ve written contradicts that.

    Let me ask a few questions of you and others here.

    Have you ever had your hands on one of Lucy’s bones? Indeed, have you ever actually touched any bones of any of modern humanity’s purported ancestors? Do you anticipate ever even being able to look at one except in photographs or from the other side of a guarded glass case? If you were to get your hands on one, would you be able to derive any useful information about it without the help of an expert whom you believed and trusted?

    Suppose you became thoroughly acquainted with paleontology; an expert yourself. You got your PhD and spent years in the field. What would that tell you about the genetic evidence for evolution? You’d be in the same boat with the rest of us, wouldn’t you? Again, you’d have to believe and trust what an expert in that field tells you.

    I could go on, but surely you get the point. The fact is, those assertions of science we use with most devastating affect against Creationists–indeed, against religion–are almost always propositions that we, ourselves cannot test for ourselves. As much as it may grate, we have no choice but to believe and trust. My dictionary calls that “faith.”

    (I mentioned above that this faith is far better grounded than religious faith, right?)

    I think the real problem is that we’re scared to death of being associated with any notion that smacks of religion. Probably nothing so smacks of religion as does faith. But, as I pointed out, there’s nothing inherently religious in the word. The only reason I harp on this at all is that I see our aversion as a refusal to face facts–and our willingness to face facts is something we always brag about.

  • Knuff

    My first post here, first of: great site Ebon.

    To mikespeir,

    Many experiments concerning evolution especially are observable quite easily, if you put some effort into it. Especially bacteria and other life forms with very short generation cycles are good for this. For example having several bacteria and administering antibiotics to it, if it doesn’t kill all increase the dose of antibiotics and you’ll see they will be much more resistant or even immun to the antibiotics before long.

    Works best with reproduction inhibiting substances, it is also interesting to see that once you take away the production inhibiting substances, the evolved and adepted microbes are more often than not at a severe disadvantage to the original specimen, because they either became dependent on the inhibiting substance or needed recourses to build “defences” against the reproduction inhibiter and will in racing conditions (both lifeforms charing the same recourses) die out or loose their trait.

    Some knowledge in biology and some equipment is all you need.

    Theories can never be proven, thus you can’t test a theory to it’s fullest. It’s just then whenever you test it, it predicted the result accuratly every time.

    If you want to test something very complex, and you don’t “believe” the assumptions, go and check the assumptions, and the assumptions thereof and so on. For some things this is of course to much to do for a single person in limited time. But it’s not impossible. The point is, you don’t necessarily need to believe in what experts say (and the reviewers of the scientific study), you could test it yourself. In religion this is rarely the case, it is not only discouraged but will soon end in contradictions and …well, strange explanations. Not possible in science.

  • Steve Bowen

    thoroughly acquainted with paleontology; an expert yourself. You got your PhD and spent years in the field. What would that tell you about the genetic evidence for evolution?

    Science tends to become internally consistant and self supporting. If the evidence from Genetics contradicted the paleontology one of them would be wrong. In science both fields would set about resolving the issue and eventually a scientific consensus would be reached. Religion never does this. It is internally inconsistant and rarely makes any effort to resolve those contradictions.
    Yes one could be said to have faith in science, but only because it works, can be seen to work and data from disparate sources are mutually self supporting.

  • Knuff

    By the way, even quite complex and “extreme” theories (meaning, it doesn’t directly effect your life directly, ever) like theory of relativity can be tested quite easily. I remember a physics experiment with a lot of mirrors and light in the German high school equivalent, which clearly contradicted the “newton way” but was predicted by Einsteins theory. Other experiments were tried as well, like having clocks (granted, atomic clocks aren’t very cheap) on planes traveling in opposing directions on plane around the world :) And if you don’t believe the atomic clocks and their principle, test those, etc pp.

  • velkyn

    “I could go on, but surely you get the point. The fact is, those assertions of science we use with most devastating affect against Creationists–indeed, against religion–are almost always propositions that we, ourselves cannot test for ourselves. As much as it may grate, we have no choice but to believe and trust. My dictionary calls that “faith.”

    My dictionary defines faith as “2 a (1): belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2): belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion b (1): firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2): complete trust” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/faith

    Therefore, I do not have “faith” in science, I must have proof e.g. evidence. Trying to equivocate and define faith differently is simple intellectual dishonesty. As others have said, it isn’t hard to get that personally, as much as you may wish is was.

  • Polly

    @miekspeir,

    We need a different word, IMO. Maybe there’s a phrase (borrowed from xian apologists) that suits the case for science: “faith in the evidence.”
    This compares favorably with “blind faith” which is faith in spite of (the lack of) evidence and, I would add, in spite of rationality. I would say these are two completely different types of “faith.” And in fact, the attitude and inner mental processes behind these two points of view are world’s apart.

  • Samuel Skinner

    Faith in the evidence really refers to several assumptions that you hold to be true:

    *Reality isn’t shaped by our internal states,
    *Evidence is an actual reflection of reality,
    *Reality is comprehensible,
    *Etc.

    Interestingly if you lack one of these beliefs people consider you insane. So it really isn’t faith as much as sanity.

  • Steve Bowen

    It’s interesting that most of the evangalists, creationists, fundementalists etc who would be the first to ignore the science if it conflicted with their beliefs, still manage to board planes, use computers, drive cars, cross bridges, make phone calls etc etc. Cognitive dissonance at its most unbelievable.

  • paradoctor

    “There can be no private judgment either of Scripture or of Tradition.”

    On the contrary, all judgement is private. It can be a private judgement to go along with the public judgement – which is what usually happens – but in fact the judgement occurs privately. To deny this is to deny individuality – a.k.a. the soul.

    Perhaps the Catholic commentator meant to say that there _should_ be no private judgement – or to be precise there should not _appear_ to be private judement. But appearance is not reality.

  • Christopher

    Alex Weaver,

    “Can you really not think of any other reason to try to argue in favor of your point of view than the fact that it happens to be your point of view?”

    Sorry for the lateness (I’ver been preoccupied elsewhere), but to you I ask whether one needs another reason to dispute an idea? I can see how one may need another reason to do so in disputing hard sciences (as one must back up an argument with objective, varifiable fact), but it doesn’t really work well with subjects that are more open to personal/cultural interpretation (philosophy, psychology, history, etc…) as the same “facts” tend to yield different information to different people due to differing points of view.

  • velkyn

    well, at least your put your “facts” in quotes. Do you not know how fact is defined?
    “3: the quality of being actual : actuality
    4 a: something that has actual existence b: an actual occurrence
    5: a piece of information presented as having objective reality”
    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fact It seems that your attempt at making facts have nothing to do with objectivity is wrong and they would not create differing points of view.

  • mikespeir

    Therefore, I do not have “faith” in science, I must have proof e.g. evidence.

    But you don’t have proof, velkyn. What you have is the word of scientists.

    If you’re interested, here’s what WordWeb has for “faith”:

    Noun: faith
    1. A strong belief in a supernatural power or powers that control human destiny
    2. Complete confidence in a person or plan etc
    3. An institution to express belief in a divine power
    4. Loyalty or allegiance to a cause or a person

    #2 is exactly what I’m talking about.

  • mikespeir

    Samuel Skinner:

    There is no doubt something to what you’re saying. Nevertheless, the word “faith” fits what I’ve been talking about.

  • mikespeir

    Knuff:

    I believe I’ve addressed the substance of your last two posts already. I’m not challenging science and saying that its findings are invalid. I’m saying that I and all of us here to some degree have to take the word of scientists in compiling our knowledge. We believe and trust that they’re telling us the truth. That, by simple definition, is faith.

  • mikespeir

    Maybe you’ve got a point, Polly. It’s clearly a surer kind of faith we have in science and scientists.

  • Samuel Skinner

    I object to using the word faith to describe it because it has multiple meanings, one of which is the complete opposite of the one I used (without evidence).

    That is why trust or confidence is so much better.

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

    2. Complete confidence in a person or plan etc

    #2 is exactly what I’m talking about.

    Complete confidence? Do you really have that when a scientist speaks?

  • mikespeir

    “Complete confidence? Do you really have that when a scientist speaks?”

    If not, then maybe it doesn’t even rise to the level of faith, huh?

    Trust or confidence will both work, Samuel Skinner.

    All right, I’ve caused enough ruckus on this topic. I move, head held high and unrepentant, on to the next. But I’ll lurk back just to see how I’ve been admonished or, maybe, vanquished.

  • Christopher

    velkyn,

    “well, at least your put your “facts” in quotes. Do you not know how fact is defined?”

    I put “facts” in quotes for the second portion of the paragraph because many things that were once accepted as “fact” in the fields I’ve mentioned have been disputed or even shown as fallacy. Sometimes “facts” are defined a little losely – especially when there are strong personal and cultural biases that go into the process of examining them.

  • http://thegreenbelt.blogspot.com The Ridger

    The question to ask, then, is What is the basis for your complete confidence? Is it “Because I say so” or is it “Because many different people have done the work and produced the product which, even if you can’t duplicate it, you can in fact touch”?

    Maybe the “faith” is the same, but faith in preachers is unfounded (or founded on sand) while faith in scientists is founded (on rock).

  • bassmanpete

    so I pointed out that Jesus was a Jew, and by dissing Jews she was dissing her own deity. It took her about five seconds to come up with “Jews are Christ-Killers.”

    The number of Christians who say this is, to me, amazing. If you believe the story at all (I don’t) then Jesus’ death was preordained, he had to die to wash away the sins of humans. Anyway, it was the Romans who carried out the crucifixion, but that’s beside the point. You would think that whoever did it would be praised by all Christians for ensuring that their means to salvation actually came about. Just shows how irrational they are :)

  • prase

    It is interesting that almost everyone’s response to mikespeir’s posts was along the line “you can in priciple test the hypotheses”, while as I understand mikespeir’s point was rather “but you haven’t tested it yet”. If you haven’t, the fact that in princliple you could doesn’t by much increase the credibility of the hypothesis for you. And it’s a fact that if you believe science, you also believe without much inquiry what the scientists say in most cases. Otherwise you wouldn’t do anything else in your life than testing already proven theories.

    Granted, it is a perfectly reasonable position to trust the scientists, which means to assume the majority of them aren’t ignorants or cheaters (I had once a debate with a creationist who openly stated that he believes the scientists are rather stupid deceivers). Also scientists are more trustworthy sort of people than the clergy, for reasons described in Ebon’s “View from the Ground”. But still, for somebody who has no ability/interest/time to think about the arguments it’s a question of confidence in people rather than in the theory itself. Whether such confidence may be called faith seems to me not so important linguistic question.

    On a completely different topic, last few days I experience an unprecedented slowness of this site. It’s much worse than before the change of hosting and I am even not able to connect from home. Is this only my problem?

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

    If you haven’t, the fact that in princliple you could doesn’t by much increase the credibility of the hypothesis for you.

    Actually, it does. The fact that it can be overturned is a huge factor in whether something should or should not be accepted.

    And it’s a fact that if you believe science, you also believe without much inquiry what the scientists say in most cases.

    In most cases! That’s a key point, right there. Why don’t we believe in all cases? Isn’t that what faith would entail? Yet, we don’t. I believe that part of that has to do with the fact that we don’t live in a vacuum where scientists from on high give pronouncements that we simply have to believe without some sort of real-world application or knowledge, as happens with religion. When a scientists tells us something, we have other knowledgeable scientists that can chime in and do to give more facets of the knowledge in question, which we use to judge the veracity of the claims. Further, we have our own knowledge that we can use as well, like the fact that airplanes work (as a previous commenter pointed out). This, simply put, is not faith; certainly not in the sense of religious faith where there are no real-world analogs to judge the veracity of a statement like, “god exists and created the universe.”

  • Samuel Skinner

    Uh… I actually went to a decent high school and college. And believe it or not we DID test several scientifc principles. And it turned out they where valid!

    Sure I haven’t tested everything. You know what? It is impossible. I have a limited lifespan. I have to assume there isn’t a giant conspiracy by scientists set up for the sole purpose of messing with my head. And I’m not THAT paranoid!

    In short, I DON’T have faith.

  • lpetrich

    … so I pointed out that Jesus was a Jew, and by dissing Jews she was dissing her own deity. It took her about five seconds to come up with “Jews are Christ-Killers.”

    … You would think that whoever did it would be praised by all Christians for ensuring that their means to salvation actually came about. Just shows how irrational they are :)

    I’m reminded of the Greater Good theodicy, which they sometimes use — they sometimes claim that bad things exist to make a greater good possible. Yet they don’t put it to work on their favorite mythical event.

    And from the looks of it, Jesus Christ didn’t really “die”, just got toasty warm for a little bit, if we are to believe the Apostles’ Creed about how he spent three days in Hell.

  • Adam

    The Roman Catholic church, of course, has been one of the most reliable users of this tactic – with the added wrinkle that the church authorities are the only ones competent to interpret the Bible and tell lay believers what it really means.

    I have a question, Why can there be truth in mathematics and science, and not religion?

    As atheists, by contrast, our mission should be to get people to make up their own minds, not tell them what to think.

    But if your religion claims to teach truth, isn’t it the responsibility of the religious leaders to continue to teach the truth, even if it goes against popular thought?

    Instead, believers are repeatedly told that the only way to safety is to believe what has been handed down exactly as it has been handed down, and trust the religious authorities and texts to keep them on the safe path of orthodoxy.

    Correct. You present this like this is a bad thing. I would think it reasonable that if your going to pass down teachings, you would want them to be handed down exactly as they were originally taught, so that no error occur. Much like the Catholic Church.

    They must shut their minds and their eyes to all contrary evidence

    There is no contrary evidence against the Catholic Church’s teachings.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Why can there be truth in mathematics and science, and not religion?

    As soon as you can present any good evidence supporting your beliefs, you’re welcome to claim possession of the truth.

    Instead, believers are repeatedly told that the only way to safety is to believe what has been handed down exactly as it has been handed down, and trust the religious authorities and texts to keep them on the safe path of orthodoxy.

    Correct. You present this like this is a bad thing.

    I think that says it all.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Adam,

    But if your religion claims to teach truth, isn’t it the responsibility of the religious leaders to continue to teach the truth, even if it goes against popular thought?

    No. I would say that the religious leaders have a responsibility or obligation to make sure that what they are teaching is truth, or at least has some supporting evidence before they teach it to others. Otherwise it’s irresponsible and potentially dangerous.

    For instance, let’s say that you are dying of cancer. And, let’s say that I believe that drinking holy water will cure you of your cancer and that modern techniques like chemotherapy and radiation therapy will actually harm you. Considering that I have no evidence for my claim and am actually going against popular thought (which is backed by evidence no less) I could actually be harming your chances of survival if I were to teach you my beliefs.

    Correct. You present this like this is a bad thing. I would think it reasonable that if your going to pass down teachings, you would want them to be handed down exactly as they were originally taught, so that no error occur. Much like the Catholic Church.

    And the teachings that slaves should submit to their masters? If you never open up your beliefs or teachings to new evidence and new viewpoints, then you are mired in the past and can never advance. Perhaps this is why the church is generally dragged kicking and screaming to accept the liberalizations that have occurred in our recent history that have brought more freedom to people, like giving women the right to vote, for instance.

    There is no contrary evidence against for the Catholic Church’s teachings.

    Fixed that for ya.

  • goyo

    Adam:
    Here’s a Catholic Church teaching: Transubstantiation.
    Now, explain that in scientific terms:
    1. How does it happen?
    2. Does it happen immediately upon consuming the wine and the wafer, or does it happen later in the stomach.
    3. Are the wafer and wine digested like every other thing that enters the stomach, or do they disappear?
    4. Do you feel a sudden gush of power, or intelligence, or one-ness with jesus, or what, exactly?
    5. Are you physically a different person than before you partook?
    6. Can you quote any scientific writing upon research of this subject?
    7. How can people partake of the holy body of jesus, then walk right out of the cathedral and commit sins?

  • Adam

    Goyo,

    I would love to talk with you about that, but it’s off topic.

    Ebon,

    As soon as you can present any good evidence supporting your beliefs, you’re welcome to claim possession of the truth.

    So there is Truth. We agree on that. I would say that the Catholic Church teaches Truth, and you can hardly blame me for claiming they do with the Old Testement prophecies, the teachings of Christ that back the claim, the teachings of the apostles that back the claim, and the Church.

    What about you? Why should I trust you to know what Truth is?

    Why is thinking for myself any better then learning from those that came before me?

  • goyo

    Adam:

    Why can there be truth in mathematics and science, and not religion?

    I would think it reasonable that if your going to pass down teachings, you would want them to be handed down exactly as they were originally taught, so that no error occur. Much like the Catholic Church.

    There is no contrary evidence against the Catholic Church’s teachings.

    You said, why can there be truth in math and science and not in religion. You also said there is no contrary evidence against the catholic church’s teaching.
    I used the Catholic Doctrine of Transubstantiation that has been handed down through centuries as an example of why there is no truth in religion.
    How can you substantiate the teaching of the church in this doctrine, scientifically?
    To me, this is on topic.
    Here is a scientific observation that we could make with the wine and wafer: We could track their progress through the body by means of x-rays, or magnetic imaging.
    We see them enter the body, we see them leave the body. Where is the body of jesus in all this?

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

    Adam,

    So there is Truth. We agree on that. I would say that the Catholic Church teaches Truth, and you can hardly blame me for claiming they do with the Old Testement prophecies, the teachings of Christ that back the claim, the teachings of the apostles that back the claim, and the Church.

    Considering that you have no evidence whatsoever for your god, I can blame you and I do.

  • Steve Bowen

    Why does truth, (a scientifically demonstrable concept) suddenly gain a capital letter when it is religous “Truth”? The same way the Odin is a god, but god is God no doubt.

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

    I noticed that as well, but decided to let it go. Adam is claiming that he has some kind of super truth, however, as most theists tend to do. They think their “truth” is so true that it merits a capital letter at the beginning so that you know it’s really real and really really true.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I concur that this thread is not the place to discuss the minutiae of transubstantiation. If there’s interest in following this up, I’ll create an open thread for it.

    What about you? Why should I trust you to know what Truth is?

    You should only trust me, or anyone else, insofar as they present plausible arguments founded on evidence and reason. The Catholic church does not do this, nor does any religion; they issue dogmatic statements which they expect their members to believe by faith. This method can justify any conclusion equally well – indeed, it’s the same method used by Protestants, by Muslims, and by many other incompatible religious groups – and thus is no warrant for believing anything.

    Why is thinking for myself any better then learning from those that came before me?

    Because most things believed in the past were wrong. Most things believed today are wrong. If you blindly accept what past generations have taught, without applying critical scrutiny of your own, you will be forever entangled in the errors of others. If humanity in general adopted the method you advocate, intellectual and moral progress would be impossible.

    The Catholic church’s history is itself an important proof of this. If you were alive in Galileo’s time, would you have said then, as you say now, that believing what has been handed down to you is superior to coming to your own conclusions based on facts and logic? Would that argument have resulted in you believing that the Earth is immobile and the rest of the solar system revolves around it? If the Catholic church was in error then, what prevents them from being in error now?

  • Adam

    Goyo,

    You might find this sight interesting if you’re really interested in Transubstantiation.

    Here are 2 links:

    http://www.therealpresence.org/eucharst/mir/lanciano.html
    http://www.therealpresence.org/eucharst/mir/a3.html

  • Adam

    Ebon,

    Just to let you know, I posted my last post before your post at 8:08 showed up on my computer. So I did not see it

  • Mrnaglfar

    Adam,

    There is no contrary evidence against the Catholic Church’s teachings.

    There is no one set of those teachings; different churches teach different things and different sects teach different things. The bible is not without self-contradiction, the churches teachings have changed over the years, normally depending on whether they happen to be in power or not. The bible is flat out wrong on many occassions and in terms of any progress that has come in society, be it growth of human rights to technological advancement, the church’s teachings at the time and the study of the bible have not led to any of them.

    The results speak for stonger than the words of any religious tongue

  • Adam

    Because most things believed in the past were wrong. Most things believed today are wrong. If you blindly accept what past generations have taught, without applying critical scrutiny of your own, you will be forever entangled in the errors of others. If humanity in general adopted the method you advocate, intellectual and moral progress would be impossible.

    This statement is filled with misconceptions of the Catholic Church.

    Of course the Church wants people to advance in intellect and morality. To say otherwise is to not know history. This is exactly what Pope John Paul II, Nicolaus Copernicus, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Gregor Mendel (an Augustinian priest) did. Many of the greatest thinkers the world has ever known have been devout Catholic.

    Here is a list of more Catholics who do exactly what you claim Catholics do not do “apply critical scrutiny” to advance in intellectual and moral progress: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Jesuit_scientists

    No one is asking you to blindly accept what past generations have taught. I have not done that, and neither has the Catholic Church.

    If the Catholic church was in error then, what prevents them from being in error now?

    This statement tells me that you are still a little confused about the Church’s Infallibility.

    What about you? Why should I trust you to know what Truth is?

    You should only trust me, or anyone else, insofar as they present plausible arguments founded on evidence and reason.

    Yes, this exactly what the Catholic Church does!! St. Thomas argues this when he asks, is Theology a Science?

    See: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/aquinas/summa.FP.i.FP_Q1.FP_Q1_A2.html

    Mrnaglfar,

    Yes, there is one set of Teachings in the Catholic Church, see: http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc.htm

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    This is exactly what Pope John Paul II, Nicolaus Copernicus, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Gregor Mendel (an Augustinian priest) did.

    So you agree that people should think and question for themselves, and should not be content to simply believe whatever was taught them by the previous generation?

    This statement tells me that you are still a little confused about the Church’s Infallibility.

    I’m well aware that the church claims to be infallible only in matters of faith and morals, not science. In other words, the church says that even though they’ve often been wrong about things that can be verified, we should trust them completely about things that cannot as easily be verified. Color me unconvinced.

    Yes, this exactly what the Catholic Church does!! St. Thomas argues this when he asks, is Theology a Science?

    Uh, no. Aquinas says that “just as the musician accepts on authority the principles taught him by the mathematician, so sacred science is established on principles revealed by God.” In other words, he advocates faith in unverifiable claims of revelation. That is not science: it is the opposite of science.

  • Arch

    So you agree that people should think and question for themselves, and should not be content to simply believe whatever was taught them by the previous generation?

    Yes, the Church teaches that we should think and question for ourselves. The thought of those in communion with the Church leads them to accept an authority of truth regarding divine revelation.

    When you speak of independent thinking, it seems you are upholding a stance of moden individualism, rather than recognizing history, tradition, and the stories of those past. If you or I should conceive a thought, and consider it to be something that has never been proclaimed, thought, or upheld by someone prior to us, I think we would be quite wrong.

    In other words, the church says that even though they’ve often been wrong about things that can be verified, we should trust them completely about things that cannot as easily be verified. Color me unconvinced.

    This statement again disregards the true nature of the teaching on infallibility. And it is interesting that you trust “verification” as a source of authority, when there are countless times in which what individuals have “verified” with their own eyes at one time, has proven to be incorrect at another.

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

    Yes, the Church teaches that we should think and question for ourselves.

    Is this why the church has taken pains to ensure that masses are held in latin, you know so that the common people will not understand it? Is this why the church has fought against the learning of people and literacy of the populace?

    When you speak of independent thinking, it seems you are upholding a stance of moden individualism, rather than recognizing history, tradition, and the stories of those past.

    No, what he’s saying is that we shouldn’t blindly cling to the stories of the past and should discover new things for ourselves.

    This statement again disregards the true nature of the teaching on infallibility. And it is interesting that you trust “verification” as a source of authority, when there are countless times in which what individuals have “verified” with their own eyes at one time, has proven to be incorrect at another.

    No, he pretty well nailed the infallibility thing. It’s simply not true that the church is infallible, unless it is true that we’ve always been at war with Eurasia.

    And, I see that you don’t understand what he means by the word “verified.” What he’s saying is that the church has backed off (due to past embarrassment) on saying that they are infallible when it comes to things that people can actually go out and check, like the place of the Earth in the universe. Are you really going to argue that scientific verification is a bad thing or that it is worthless against the made up crap of the church; especially a church that has been on the wrong side of debates numerous times?

  • Mrnaglfar

    Arch,

    And it is interesting that you trust “verification” as a source of authority, when there are countless times in which what individuals have “verified” with their own eyes at one time, has proven to be incorrect at another.

    Which is why good evidence requires independant verification by numbers of different, independant sources and repeatability. It’s why antecdotal evidence shouldn’t just be accepted as anything more than a story, and why tradition and stories shouldn’t be accepted without testing either.

    Yes, this exactly what the Catholic Church does!! St. Thomas argues this when he asks, is Theology a Science?

    It’s a science you say? What kind of experiments are they running? Are they blinded? Single or double? What’re their subject sizes? Upon what do they base their claims? Are these repeatable? Have they been peer reviewed? How far have they got on the “who’s going to hell and who isn’t”, or “which parts of the bible are literal and which are figurative”? Have they figured out definitately that god exists, or rather, which god they’re testing?
    What about all those mysterious ways they say god works in; have they come any closer to figuring those out yet or have they simply decided it can never be understood?

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

    Or how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

    I think it should be noted that Arch also makes the mistake of thinking that “seeing is believing” which is something I alluded to above, but did not explain. Verification doesn’t mean, “I saw it, so it is verified.” Science does not simply go by what we can see. If that were the case, then we would still believe that the sun goes around the Earth, since that is what we see from out frame of reference. Verification, in this sense, means the ability to run experiments and come to consensus on answers to the questions that the experiments are designed to test. It means that if one person runs one experiment and gets one answer, I should be able to run the exact same experiment and get the same answer…if not, then there’s something going on and the experimental answers are not verified. This is what the church backs away from, because they know they can be shown wrong. So, when they are on the losing end of something (like geocentrism) they simply declare that it wasn’t an infallible teaching anyway, and then try to sweep it under the rug. Of course, it’s funny that god would keep them in the dark instead of telling them these things, but that’s religion for you, huh?

  • Adam

    Ebon,

    So you agree that people should think and question for themselves, and should not be content to simply believe whatever was taught them by the previous generation?

    I agree with what Arch said.

    Uh, no. Aquinas says that “just as the musician accepts on authority the principles taught him by the mathematician, so sacred science is established on principles revealed by God.” In other words, he advocates faith in unverifiable claims of revelation. That is not science: it is the opposite of science.

    First off, do you understand Aquinas’s def. of science? Read again what he said before your quote. He defines two types of Science:

    “We must bear in mind that there are two kinds of sciences. There are some which proceed from a principle known by the natural light of intelligence, such as arithmetic and geometry and the like. There are some which proceed from principles known by the light of a higher science: thus the science of perspective proceeds from principles established by geometry, and music from principles established by arithmetic. So it is that sacred doctrine is a science because it proceeds from principles established by the light of a higher science, namely, the science of God and the blessed.”

    Based on that, Do you have a problem with the study of God because you believe that there should be no religion, or because without a doubt you believe that there is no God?

    Because saying that there is no possibility of God is rather unreasonable. You have no evidence of this.

    Cardinal Ratzinger says, that there is one thing that all human people have in common, and that is doubt: Belief in God, but doubting his existence, or the belief in no-God, but doubting his non-existence.

    If then, one believes in God, or doubts His non-existence, one has to accept that Theology is a Science (according to the Thomistic definition).

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

    Adam,

    I agree with what Arch said.

    Oh, the irony.

    First off, do you understand Aquinas’s def. of science? Read again what he said before your quote. He defines two types of Science:

    “We must bear in mind that there are two kinds of sciences. There are some which proceed from a principle known by the natural light of intelligence, such as arithmetic and geometry and the like. There are some which proceed from principles known by the light of a higher science: thus the science of perspective proceeds from principles established by geometry, and music from principles established by arithmetic. So it is that sacred doctrine is a science because it proceeds from principles established by the light of a higher science, namely, the science of God and the blessed.”

    I’m sorry, but this is utter nonsense. He’s trying to compare geometry and math to “god and the blessed?” Ebon had it right, this isn’t science, it’s the opposite. What he’s trying to do is claim that theology rests on top of well established principles, like 1 and 1 are 2, yet this is simply not true.

    Based on that, Do you have a problem with the study of God because you believe that there should be no religion, or because without a doubt you believe that there is no God?

    Because saying that there is no possibility of God is rather unreasonable. You have no evidence of this.

    First off, many atheists (Ebon included I believe) do not say there is no possibility of god, just that there is no evidence of such and it is not rational to believe in a god for which there is no evidence. (As a side note, I do find most Xian conceptions of god to be impossible because they are logically contradictory, but that’s a separate issue.) Second, where did Ebon say that he has a problem with the study of god? He quite plainly said that it’s not science, which it’s not, and Aquinas’s definition does nothing to change that. Third, why do I have to have evidence that there is no god in order to not believe that there is a god? This is plain backwards. If you want me to believe in your god, then it is up to you to provide some evidence of this god.

    Cardinal Ratzinger says, that there is one thing that all human people have in common, and that is doubt: Belief in God, but doubting his existence, or the belief in no-God, but doubting his non-existence.

    You mean Pope Benedict XVI? Either way, he is wrong. There are many people out there (yourself included most likely) who don’t doubt god’s existence at all. And, for my part, I don’t doubt his non-existence. I am open to evidence of this god that would change my mind, but I doubt that evidence is forth-coming.

    If then, one believes in God, or doubts His non-existence, one has to accept that Theology is a Science (according to the Thomistic definition).

    No, one does not, even given the suppositions that one might doubt his non-existence. Theology is nothing more than the study of made up things, based on fanciful whims. Science is the study of the natural world. Science proceeds by very specific rules which theology can’t even hope to follow. Science makes progress and gives us new insight, while theology clings to old “knowledge” and old “insight” in order to preserve the status quo. They are nothing at all alike.

  • mike

    Ebon said:

    I concur that this thread is not the place to discuss the minutiae of transubstantiation. If there’s interest in following this up, I’ll create an open thread for it.

    I’m not so sure about the “minutiae” of transubstantiation, but I think transubstantiation might make for an interesting edition of Do You Really Believe That? I’m intrigued by the fact that, in light of the “evidence” for the Lanciano eucharistic miracle presented by commenter Adam, apparently there exist samples of Jesus’ DNA.

  • goyo

    Mike:
    I had the same thought. If that is truly a miracle, then that really is jesus’ blood and heart. We do indeed, have samples of the DNA of jesus.
    Here’s the proof that Adam and Arch need to convince the world that god exists.
    Why isn’t this shouted from the rooftops?


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