Faith Comes First

A few months ago, a theist contacted me by e-mail to claim that her church, the Mormons, had fulfilled many of the criteria set forth in my essay “The Theist’s Guide to Converting Atheists“. There was one criterion she thought was unfair of me to list – evidence of miraculous occurrences brought about through prayer:

This one is rough, mainly because faith must precede the miracle.

Similarly, another theist who contacted me by e-mail claimed that it didn’t matter whether anyone could answer any of my arguments now, because God will answer them after I die if only I believe in him:

He will answer all your hard questions when you see Him face to face. It will all make sense then.

I’ve heard this argument from members of many sects – Mormons, Muslims, even Scientologists. All of them make the same claim, that God does not do miracles in front of unbelievers, that they are reserved exclusively as a reward for those who already believe. A similar claim comes from psychics who say that they can’t demonstrate their abilities in the presence of skeptics like James Randi, because the skeptics give off “negative energy” that causes their powers to fail.

I marvel at the degree of doublethink that must be pulled off in order to sustain such an argument. For the religious apologists who make this claim, what they’re essentially saying is that God chooses to withhold evidence until just after it’s too late for it to make any difference. It’s the opposite of how any scheme of rational persuasion should work: withhold evidence from those who are yet to be convinced; give evidence only to those who are already convinced. Such a plan could only be enacted by an irrational, capricious being who actually desired that people did not believe. What other motivation could there be for God refusing to reach out to the very people he’s allegedly trying to persuade?

Given the vast number of incompatible religions and conflicting miracle anecdotes, it would be utterly unreasonable for a deity to expect people to somehow pluck the one true religion out of the multitude of imposters. Any god that truly wanted people to believe would be obligated to present clear and convincing evidence to distinguish itself from all the false faiths. How else could people possibly be expected to figure it out?

It’s no surprise that this claim is repeated among superstitious and pseudoscientific belief systems of all kinds. This is exactly what we would expect advocates of a false belief system to say – because, for obvious reasons, that’s the only thing a false belief system could say when challenged to present its supporting facts. “Believe first and then you get the evidence” is a convenient defense, one that relieves apologists of the troubling necessity of having to support their beliefs in any way at all. It also gives them a rhetorical boost by portraying doubt and skepticism as sinful actions which God chooses to punish by withholding evidence, an implicit attempt to claim the moral high ground and punt the burden of proof back to the questioner. And of course, once the prospective member already believes, no evidence needs to be presented.

The contrast between atheism and the faith-comes-first belief systems could not be clearer. Unlike religious worldviews, atheism makes no demand for belief before evidence. Unlike religious worldviews, atheism makes no claim to possess secret evidence that will be revealed only to those who approach with the proper attitude of humility and submission. In the light of reason, there is no secret evidence and no faith required in advance: we can freely present all the facts and invite people to make the most rational decision based on that.

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.

  • Christian the Atheist

    Circular logic only works if you’re on a point in the circle. And the other point on the circle is “well-massaged but still shaky and independently unconvincing evidence”, so they don’t have much choice but to emphasize “Hey, just believe already”.

  • Dan

    I guess the real truth will be told to them when they die. Game Over

  • Stacey Melissa

    Hmmm, so in order to form belief, I must first already hold the belief which I’m supposed to be forming? Chicken and egg, folks.

  • mike

    If it has to be a policy of “no evidence unless ___”, wouldn’t a policy of “no evidence without open-mindedness” be much more reasonable than “no evidence without prior belief”? Makes sense, what point is it to convince someone who is unconvinceable? Problem is, most skeptics are quite open-minded, and would be very happy to get at the truth. Another problem is that no one is immune to being convinced anyway. If your deity cannot convince me of some truth, then your deity is not omnipotent. So in some sense, everyone would be “open-minded” (that is, amenable to being convinced) with respect to the existence of an omnipotent being.

  • Brock

    Of course, theists–any irrationalist really– will claim to be open minded, and to accuse the atheist/irrationalist of being close minded. It’s all a matter of creative definition, because being openminded means to them being willing to accept their truth, and then “discovering” that it really is true.

  • Jeremy

    This topic holds a particular significance to me because at times I can remember what it was like to have a “faith comes first” mentality. It collapsed when I finally understood that the god/afterlife/immortal soul assumption which I placed my faith in is unwarranted, but that change in mindset was preceded by a desire to subject my beliefs to skeptical scrutiny.

    My belief is that a theist who lacks this desire will never “get” the argument you’ve presented here. I sometimes like to imagine that I can intellectually muscle through a theist’s fear of falsifying his/her cherished beliefs with my rational prowess, but I know it is a fool’s dream. If there is a way to somehow help a believer to be more open to challenging their religious worldview, it’s probably has a lot more to do with being a “friendly atheist” than showing my argumentation skills.

    What really keeps me up at night is the question: “Why was I born with such a strong desire to examine my beliefs about myself and the world around me and conversely, why do others seem to lack this desire completely?”

  • Polly

    God does not do miracles in front of unbelievers, that they are reserved exclusively as a reward for those who already believe.

    “Believing is seeing.” That’s the handy dandy way to encapsulate it. Turning simple common sense on its head.

    He will answer all your hard questions when you see Him face to face. It will all make sense then.

    When I pointed out the absurdity(subtly) of the Biblical passages tracing the ancestry of giants faced by the Israelites spying on the “Promised Land” to the ANTEDELUVIAN Nephilim (Genesis 6:4 and Numbers 13:33), my mother simply responded, “When we’re in Heaven, god will explain all these strange things in the Bible.”
    I get the feeling that I could present any contradictory passages or any other evidence against the Biblical god and they would easily be waved away with, “all things will become clear when HE comes.”

    I am buoyed by the fact that she appears to have met someone who simply waves all this nonsense away as the fairytales they are. She stated this:

    “How can someone not believe that there’s a life after this one, and Heaven and Hell?”

    She meant it. She really cannot understand how someone wouldn’t believe this oh-so-convincing stuff!

    She asked me what I would say to someone who doesn’t believe the Bible is real.

    I simply said: “I wouldn’t say anything”

    How awkward :~

    I would’ve answered with a “well, why don’t you explain to them YOUR reasons for believing” knowing full well there aren’t any. My hope would be that she’d realize this and maybe some doubts would ensue.

    But I didn’t say any of this. I thought her words might be a trap for ME. She’s noticed I’ve changed recently and asked me point-blank, “Do you still believe?” I lied and said yes, ’cause frankly I’m in no mood for drama, yet.

    My politics have changed considerably, of course. I won’t vote for the likes of Sarah Palin even if she demonstrated appreciable cognitive function. I lied and said I was voting for Prop 8 but still couldn’t help expressing what came across as ambivalence. Funny thing is one of my mother’s friends, a woman who always had man-trouble, recently married another woman. My mother opined that she was just confused.

  • http://www.myspace.com/citagsonmyhood Jeremy

    A close theist friend of mine once ended an intense discussion about the intelligibility of religious Faith with the statement:

    “The Bible tells me that my faith is of greater worth than gold to God. If I give that up, then I have nothing. Why would I want to undermine the foundation that I’ve built my entire life upon? What is the reward?”

    To me, squaring with reality is the reward–whatever the reality may be. But it’s obvious from my friend’s comment that his life’s reward is firmly entrenched in the hope that the Christian message is true. His comment further implies that even if it isn’t true, it’s better to believe it than to square with a reality that relegates his faith to the scrap heap with all the others.

    Can anything “get through” such a mindset? It seems unlikely to me.

  • velkyn

    funny how Jesus had no problem doing miracles to establish his “cred” with those naughty non-believers in the Bible. It’s just now when myths aren’t blindly believed that Christians have to make excuses.

  • Brad

    In other words, the command “Believe first and then you get the evidence” is better explained by the view that a religion is natural and tries to defend itself even when it is without substantive resources, than by the view that there really is an all-powerful all-good God who issues this absurdly naive command. Belief in God is so heavily ingrained in many people that they will keep it even at unpleasant mental costs.

    “Believing is seeing” reminds me of Anselm’s Credo ut intelligam (“I believe so that I may understand”). This leads into the subsequent lay apologetic retreat defense that you mentioned, Polly: “all things will become clear when HE comes.” This is the classic utterance of someone that is dependent upon an unhealthy cult-ish mindset. Defend the person you don’t understand because otherwise you’re hurting the person you’re supposed to love!

    She’s noticed I’ve changed recently and asked me point-blank, “Do you still believe?” I lied and said yes, ’cause frankly I’m in no mood for drama, yet.

    Personally, I think the most sober way to meet your problem is to be indifferent to drama. Having a “mood” for it either way (- I know you might not have meant it quite like that -) just means you’re so personally invested into the issue and its outcome, even if not very much, that you feel the need to shy away and lie at the present moment. I’m not saying lies or moods are necessarily bad, or that you can control feelings. I’m just hoping that pointing this out could lend itself towards your feeling more comfortable with the situation(s).

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Wow. What a bad argument.

    In fact, I would say that “you have to believe first and then the miracles will come” is actually a powerful argument AGAINST theism. When you argue that miracles can only be seen by people who are already inclined to believe in them…. it’s essentially an acknowledgement that religious faith is just another form of confirmation bias.

    Can anything “get through” such a mindset? It seems unlikely to me.

    I don’t know, Jeremy. But if someone is arguing, not that their religion is true, but that their religion is the only thing they can imagine that gives their life meaning, I would say two things.

    1) That’s a theist who’s already starting to question. That’s a faith that already has cracks in the foundation.

    2) It might make sense to focus your strategy, not on why atheism is probably correct, but on the great and deep meaning to be found in an atheist life. Talk about the meaning and value you find in your life. Point to other atheist writings about why and how life can be wonderful and meaningful without God. Don’t just work on continuing to undermine the foundation — let them know that they have a safe place to go when and if the foundation finally crumbles.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Great post.

    All of them make the same claim, that God does not do miracles in front of unbelievers, that they are reserved exclusively as a reward for those who already believe.

    In my experience, far more often than not the proclamations of religious institutions arguably contradict the actual scriptures. If a Christian or professed Bible-believer of any other stripe makes the argument you mention above, politely show them how little they know their own Bible by asking how that jibes with the conversion of Saul of Tarsus or the Roman centurion. In fact, the NT is rife with stories of miracles in the presence of unbelievers that led to faith; water to wine, bread for the multitudes, Lazarus, etc.

    For another example, there’s a Bible verse that says something to the effect of “call no man father” but how does this sit with Catholic tradition?

  • http://www.myspace.com/citagsonmyhood Jeremy

    I don’t know, Jeremy. But if someone is arguing, not that their religion is true, but that their religion is the only thing they can imagine that gives their life meaning, I would say two things.

    1) That’s a theist who’s already starting to question. That’s a faith that already has cracks in the foundation.

    2) It might make sense to focus your strategy, not on why atheism is probably correct, but on the great and deep meaning to be found in an atheist life. Talk about the meaning and value you find in your life. Point to other atheist writings about why and how life can be wonderful and meaningful without God. Don’t just work on continuing to undermine the foundation — let them know that they have a safe place to go when and if the foundation finally crumbles.

    You know, Greta, this is damn good advice. Thanks for taking the time.

  • heliobates

    Not “on topic” but germane is Carrier’s definition” of “supernatural, and this discussion at overcomingbias.com.

  • heliobates

    Okay, don’t know why that first link didn’t work:

    http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2007/01/defining-supernatural.html

  • Adele

    Interestingly enough, my aunt Hélène told my mother something similar when she was dying of breast cancer: she confessed to my mother that she had turned to Christianity while undergoing treatment.

    My mother asked her “how [she] could possibly believe that bullshit” and Hélène replied that while she knew as well as any atheist what bullshit it was, it was lovely to believe that she would have a reward in Heaven after fighting through everything she had been through.

    Hélène knew as well as anyone how false the claims of religion are, but she chose to believe because it made her death slightly easier.

    What do you think about this? Is this a good approach for someone dying? Was Hélène’s belief excusable when she knew full well that it was wrong? I’d love to hear your opinions as it’s something I’ve struggled to understand for a while.

  • rob

    it’s essentially an acknowledgement that religious faith is just another form of confirmation bias.

    I agree, but I’m pretty sure that non-skeptics literally do not believe in confirmation bias.

    It’s actually a pretty weird concept to wrap your head around, if you weren’t brought up believing something similar. To many people, seeing is believing. Turning this around makes just as much sense as turning 2+2=4 into 4=2+2.

  • Polly

    @Adele,

    I don’t know how she could’ve derived comfort from something she knew to be false. I think this is a terrible approach. It stifles any actual attempts to confront one’s own mortality.
    OTOH, do you really want to spend your last days confronting your mortality instead of just being happy? I dunno.

    She simply used religion to help submerge her strong dread or fear of dying. If that’s what she wanted to do, then I suppose only she knew whether the trick worked. But, I can’t help feeling that had she chosen to meet the inevitable head on, she might’ve attained something closer to genuine peace instead of what surely must’ve been a dull, gnawing anxiety in her gut.

    I’m pretty sure this didn’t help. Sorry, I tried.

  • Polly

    @Brad,

    I take your advice in the spirit I think it’s given; as encouragement to cut the crap?

    Hopefully soon I’ll be done with the pretense. When I do, I don’t think I’ll have to force myself. It’s getting more natural by the day to just say what I think and my bullshit tolerance is waning.

  • Adele

    No, Polly, thank you for replying. I myself have trouble understanding how she could derive comfort from belief in god while dying of cancer – were it I in that situation, God would have a lot of questions to answer. Hélène’s “conversion” was the only cowardly act in her last few days; she faced death, in general, with great dignity and courage.

    Considering the both physically and emotionally painful manner of her death, would any of you have taken the same path as Hélène? Do you think it was worth it to be cowardly about this one thing when there were so many others she faced with courage?

  • Kaltrosomos

    “Unlike religious worldviews, atheism makes no demand for belief before evidence.”

    I’m not so sure, Ebon. Atheists take for granted that their minds, and their senses, are trustworthy.

    Atheism requires acceptance of the idea that the mind and the senses are trustworthy, and that rationality can find truth.

    If that idea isn’t taken on faith, how would it possibly be proven by evidence? The very thing which you would use to verify evidence–your reason– would be the thing in question.

    But if you are not sure your reason is valid, how can you use it to prove itself or anything else? Either you assume at the beginning that reason is valid, or you doubt your own mind and become unable to do anything.

    Thus, atheists have a sort of faith, even if it isn’t the same sort as that of religious believers.

  • http://yetanotheratheistblog.blogspot.com/ YAAB

    And of course, “believe first” is completely inconsistent with the behavior exhibited in the bible by the Hebrew tribal god, and his kid Jebus, who several times performed miracles (or delivered smitings) before doubters precisely for the purpose of demonstrating power (and existence). List as reason #4697 why this is an inane belief system.

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

    Kaltrosomos,

    I’m not so sure, Ebon. Atheists take for granted that their minds, and their senses, are trustworthy.

    Not so. We accept that our senses are trustworthy enough to survive because we have tons of verifiable evidence that this is so – the world seems to work and interact with us as we perceive it. This isn’t taking anything for granted and it’s not a faith position.

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

    Adele, you may be interested in an earlier post of mine, Kicking the Crutches Away.

  • http://magdalune.blogspot.com/ magdalune

    Not only is the idea that faith comes first illogical, it’s unbiblical. The disciples figured out what Jesus was after he showed proof of the supernatural – some only followed him after miracles. Paul became a believer after his supernatural epiphany.

    So why is faith first now? Hint: is it because the objective miracles have disappeared?

  • Justin

    But if you are not sure your reason is valid, how can you use it to prove itself or anything else?

    I suppose it’s possible that reason doesn’t work; we could be living in a solipsist world or something like that. Since the available evidence seems to create a consistent reality, I think reason works (I say that without absolute certainty).

    Atheism requires acceptance of the idea that the mind and the senses are trustworthy, and that rationality can find truth.

    Actually, most of us are aware of how the brain can trick people into seeing ghosts, having near-death-experiences and the like. I think that rationality can find truth because it often does (the solipsist view notwithstanding).

    Strictly speaking, atheism doesn’t require any particular beliefs about the mind: just about the existence of God. An atheist could believe in the supernatural. This was the case with forms of ancient Hinduism (something that Ebonmuse has discussed on this site) and might still be the case for a few atheists today.

  • Alex Weaver

    I’m not so sure, Ebon. Atheists take for granted that their minds, and their senses, are trustworthy.

    Atheism requires acceptance of the idea that the mind and the senses are trustworthy, and that rationality can find truth.

    And how would you propose functioning in the world without those assumptions?

  • Kaltrosomos

    “Not so. We accept that our senses are trustworthy enough to survive because we have tons of verifiable evidence that this is so – the world seems to work and interact with us as we perceive it. This isn’t taking anything for granted and it’s not a faith position.”

    OMGF, let me try phrasing it as a question. What evidence can you offer that would prove reason to be trustworthy, without using reason to do so?

  • Kaltrosomos

    “And how would you propose functioning in the world without those assumptions?”

    I don’t propose functioning in the world without them. That wouldn’t be possible. And that is my point. They are assumptions, taken on faith without being rationally proved or justified with evidence.

  • Alex Weaver

    Don’t confuse working from a postulated starting point with filling in the answer ahead of time and insisting it’s correct.

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

    OMGF, let me try phrasing it as a question. What evidence can you offer that would prove reason to be trustworthy, without using reason to do so?

    It’s called empirical investigation or science.

  • heliobates

    I think everyone who has not already done so, should read Chalmers’ What is this thing called science?

    And kalstromos, Richard Carrier does a lovely job of setting up first principles in Sense and Goodness Without God.

    They’re both cracking reads and help you avoid the assumption of naieve empiricism.

    It’s called empirical investigation or science.

    Indeed. The strength of the scientific method is that scientists don’t trust their senses. Science works because it’s a collective effort to gather observations, test predictions and constantly examine an explanation from every angle. To borrow the phrase “given enough eyes, all bugs are shallow”.

    While the spirit of scientific inquiry would serve a castaway well, no one working from her own resources on a desert island could really “do” science because there’d be no one to replicate her findings.

    Since I am the Link Fairy today, I will end by recommending Carrier’s talk “Why Science Is Better than Religion and Always Has Been.” . Kalstromos, you’ll find lots of crunchy goodness therein.

  • Christopher

    They are assumptions, taken on faith without being rationally proved or justified with evidence.

    Actually, I accept what my senses relay to me not on the basis of faith, but rather upon the inability to cast doubt on them – one can always doubt a belief (on any variety) by comparing it with personal observations to the contrary, other existing beliefs or through scholastic studies into the assumptions that said belief are based upon. The senses, on the other hand, we don’t really have anything to compare them with as no one has any idea what it’s like to not have them: in the absence of anything o compare them against we have little choice but to assume that the data they bring us is accurate.

    Of course, there does exist the potential for us to be incorrect – but there’s no logical basis for assuming such a thing, making any assumption that our natural senses are inaccurate would be an assumption based on nothing but faith (which proves nothing).

  • Kaltrosomos

    @Alex Weaver:
    “Don’t confuse working from a postulated starting point with filling in the answer ahead of time and insisting it’s correct.”

    Could you explain the difference?

    @Heliobates:
    “Science works because it’s a collective effort to gather observations, test predictions and constantly examine an explanation from every angle.”

    What I am asking is how you know that the minds observing, testing predictions, and examining explanations are trustworthy. Has the reliability of the mind been tested, and has evidence been presented for that? Or is the mind just assumed to be reliable as a starting point?

    Christopher, good points. I myself figure that our senses give us at least fairly accurate information for evolutionary reasons. There would be strong selective pressure against animals whose senses didn’t give them accurate data. Without accurate data, they would be quickly devoured by predators, and so wouldn’t pass on their genes. The corollary to this is that animals with more accurate sense data would thrive, since they could better react to and exploit their environment.

    Of course, there is room here for imperfection. Evolution doesn’t care whether or not we get perfectly accurate information. Just information that is good enough to help us survive. There’s plenty of room for errors to sneak through, as long as they don’t hamper survival.

  • Jeremy

    Forgive me for jumping in so late, Kaltrosomos, but I think you answered your own question in the earlier part of the post in the last part of your post. The question I’m referring to is: “Has the reliability of the mind been tested, and has evidence been presented for that?”

    The answer to that question is in your own words in the paragraph following, namely the observation that “There would be strong selective pressure against animals whose senses didn’t give them accurate data.”

    Do you see what I’m getting at?

  • Alex Weaver

    The answer to that question is in your own words in the paragraph following, namely the observation that “There would be strong selective pressure against animals whose senses didn’t give them accurate data.”

    Unless, of course, the idea that selective pressure exists or works that way is just a product of our faulty reasoning or imperfect senses. Which there’s no reason to believe is the case, but the various assumptions about observation and reasoning on which all our interaction with the world is based don’t lend themselves to being deduced from first principles, for the simple reason that they are first principles themselves. I don’t know why people get hung up over things like this (and often seem to feel enormously clever in so doing), but it’s one of the habits that lead to me losing patience with most “philosophical discussion” that bills itself as such.

    Kaltromos:

    Aside from the caveat of mathematics being a created system, it’s the difference between “a point is a geometric entity with a definite location but with no dimensions of its own” and “this piece of paper may look blank, but there’s really a triangle drawing with angles of 67, 89, and 43 degrees, and if you just believe hard enough you’ll see it too.”

  • Tom

    Kaltromos, you are, I think, quite correct in stating that belief in the accuracy of one’s own senses, and of observational proof of an entity’s existence, the principles of rationality and empiricism, are axiomatic. However, belief in the supernatural, that which, by definition, cannot be deduced from any of the other axioms, must therefore in itself be axiomatic; and I find that the more axioms you have, the less reliable your beliefs as derived from them are. Indeed, I’d describe the whole of humanity’s developing intelligence as the search to find the most all-encompassing explanation of the universe, or the pattern of observations our minds experience, with the fewest axioms. Supernatural beliefs are inherently bad at this, because they add an additional axiom to what I like to call the “sane” axioms of naturalism or empirical rationalism, claiming to encompass everything but not actually explaining any of it, whilst basically nullifying any explanation derived from the other axioms.

    The supernatural axiom, that would allow for such a thing as god to exist, is fundamentally incompatible with the naturalistic axioms. You couldn’t ever rely on any naturalistic law, even as fundamental as mass-energy conservation, in a universe where an independently acting intelligence, unbound by such laws, could arbitrarily decide at any moment and in any place to violate that law. To attempt to believe both in naturalism and its constant laws, and the possible existence of any number of entities that could break those laws at any time in a manner that could not be predicted by similar laws, is an inconsistent system, and an inconsistent system is no system at all. Indeed, holding both the naturalistic axioms and the supernatural ones is, I feel, compartmentalised thinking at best and outright insanity at worst – even to the extent of simultaneously believing that an arbitrary, unnatural creature as god could exist but, for example, that the next time you throw a light switch it will behave the same way as it always did and cause the light filament to incandesce and not, say, turn into a worm and talk to you because god, for whatever inscrutable reason, suddenly decided that it should. Every single action even the most devout theist takes in their daily life that expects empirical, rational consistency in the universe is, it seems to me, an inplicit rejection of the notion that anything like their deity could even exist.

  • heliobates

    @Kalstromos

    What I am asking is how you know that the minds observing, testing predictions, and examining explanations are trustworthy. Has the reliability of the mind been tested, and has evidence been presented for that? Or is the mind just assumed to be reliable as a starting point?

    I think you missed my point, but then the Carrier talk, linked above, makes it better than I ever could. Assuming that we’re not stuck with naieve empiricism, a scientific worldview specifically corrects for this problem. Individual minds don’t have to be trustworthy, and they’re not. The cooperative process is self-correcting. An individual mind can, and does, deceive itself. Many minds working on the same problem have the opportunity to overcome this problem.

    The process still isn’t infallible, but that’s okay because scientific empiricism, with methodological naturalism as a presupposition, along with the procedures of observation and hypothesis testing, repeatability, falsifiability and inference to the best explanation, is still the best thing we’ve got going.

    I’ve argued in several comment threads that the issue of “truth” is far from settled, and whether or not it’s even a useful concept is still under discussion. So if you’re not going to go with empiricism, you’re stuck with something that relies entirely on a priori reasoning. I say this because using a little bit of empiricism to reinforce a largely a priori system is like getting a little bit pregnant. It’s very quickly obvious that the predictive success of empiricism and science will outstrip the correlative abilities of a priori reasoning, so why bother with anything else?

    On its track record alone, science is the smartest bet we can make.

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

    This one is rough, mainly because faith must precede the miracle.

    Because without faith one only sees a coincidence such as occur thousands, millions of times a day without being labeled a miracle. So yes, faith must precede the label.

    God had no problem setting up Egypt & Pharaoh to be wiped out precisely so that he could prove his existence, back in the day. How are the mighty fallen…

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Regarding the arguments concerning whether or not the “assumption” is justified that our senses are valid -

    Are we justified in describing a phenomenon as an “assumption” if it is consistently and universally validated by experiences? The experiences of most people validates the idea that their senses are correct. Most people’s senses tell them correctly that the sky is blue, the sun is warm, etc. This high level of agreement with an equally high absence of contradictory instances, IMO, provides ground for proceeding from the starting point that our senses are valid. A good cross-section of the so-called ontological arguments don’t seem to enjoy this luxury.

  • Christopher

    Kaltromos,

    Of course, there is room here for imperfection. Evolution doesn’t care whether or not we get perfectly accurate information. Just information that is good enough to help us survive. There’s plenty of room for errors to sneak through, as long as they don’t hamper survival.

    I’m not denying that there is room for error in sensory perception, but rather I deny that there’s any reason to think these errors exist as anything more than a postulated idea. And even if they did exist, there’s no way to prove that they do – as all information that said proof would be based on would come from those sensory perceptions.

    So in the end we are “doomed” to life without complete, 100% certainty of our senses…

  • Bill Johnston

    What might be a miracle could be explained by some other means. The first might be because it is fraud and the other could be through personal experience which is only proof to the person who experiences it, and that is a subjective experience.

    An example that I will give is an experience that I had and cannot prove. When my wife and I attended the Congregationational church in Salina many years ago, everytime we left the santuary and turned the corner to go out of the church. I would see a water fountain where none existed in the church.
    Every time we attended and then left the church this would always happened. I literally saw it. I am not saying this proves anything, just that I experienced it.
    Three years later, after having not attended the church for sometime, we decided to visit it because the minister was a close friend of ours.
    This time when I rounded the corner. The water fountain was there.
    Perhaps, each time I had the experience of “seeing” it there was some clue that let me know that a fountain would go there eventually. I do not know. It was just an interesting experience.
    As I said this I do not claim this as miracle or proof, just that we may sometimes receive clues to our environment that may let us know something once in a while.

  • Alex Weaver

    Ok, I’ve held off long enough…

    Faith Comes First

    …no wonder the skeptics aren’t satisfied.

    *ducks*

  • heliobates

    As I said this I do not claim this as miracle or proof, just that we may sometimes receive clues to our environment that may let us know something once in a while.

    Is it possible that you’re confabulating events in your memory?

    This is one of the exceptions to the “assumption” cl was talking about, and why I insist that the strength of scientific empiricism is that it does not rely on individual observation but insists on repeatability and collaboration.

    In the example you’re providing, no one, not even you, can explain what was going on and you’ve got a ways to go before you establish that something happened in the first place.

  • John

    Ridger,

    “God had no problem setting up Egypt & Pharaoh to be wiped out precisely so that he could prove his existence, back in the day. How are the mighty fallen”

    These events, Charlton Heston notwithstanding, never ocurred.
    This is a parable – do yourself a favor and restudy The Bible in that context.
    The precepts regarding Pharaoh and Egypt are all over the Bible. This is acually a fascinating study.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Of course they never occurred, else we would have some historical documentation on these events and some evidence. That doesn’t do anything to counter the point that the “parable” shows god intervening in the affairs of humans and showing himself through miracles then, but not now.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    And, what’s with labeling everything that we know didn’t happen as some sort of parable? The Bible certainly doesn’t present it as parable. It presents it as something that happened to real people. In most parables, the characters in the parable don’t interact with real, live people, as would be the case in this situation.

  • Virginia

    I have gone through a number of tough debates with Christians and theist on similar logic. Basically they will argue by one or more of the following
    (1) Miracles, or supernatural stuffs (e.g. virgin birth) or apparently immoral stuff (God order killings) are for ones that have much faith in God and the spirituality
    (2) That their logic is “not requiring evidence or reason to believe” in order to believe — which I called “superstition”
    (3) That because they can give an answer to questions about live after death, where man/universe come from (regardless if the answer squares with the reality) — they want that answer
    (4) To debunk their faith is to destroy their hope — which is cruel !!!
    How can you reason with them !!???? They are very prepared to ignore facts that goes against their belief — not just faith comes first, “faith” is every and the only thing that matters

  • Virginia

    OMGF: well parables will then be like fairy tales with good lessons, except you claim that “intervening god” existed — so why then you dismiss existence of Zeus, Ra etc ?

  • http://doublesingledouble.com Amanda

    God supposedly gave us this amazing rational mind, which we can apply to all things EXCEPT that handful of questions that are REALLY important. For those questions, we must cast rationality aside and just have faith.

    I’ve always thought that’s a dirty trick and I want no part of it.

    And the whole “god works in mysterious ways.” Like giving little kids cancer. I want no part of a plan where that happens. NO THANKS, GOD!

  • http://www.lifewave.com/stepupyourhealth Kimberly

    It’s not that God withholds from unbelief; it’s that unbelief cannot see what faith can. Miracles can and do happen in front of both believers and non, but what one man can and will see another man can’t and won’t. It is true that faith is what can see God, and also that evidence is seen by faith; it is not true that if God showed clear evidence to all men they would then believe, because he already has and still many first deny them and then do not believe. Disbelief follows primarily denial.

  • Alex Weaver

    It’s not that God withholds from unbelief; it’s that unbelief cannot see what faith can. Miracles can and do happen in front of both believers and non, but what one man can and will see another man can’t and won’t. It is true that faith is what can see God, and also that evidence is seen by faith; it is not true that if God showed clear evidence to all men they would then believe, because he already has and still many first deny them and then do not believe. Disbelief follows primarily denial.

    1) this is mindless boilerplate and 2) evidence for any of these assertions?

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    It’s not that God withholds from unbelief; it’s that unbelief cannot see what faith can.

    IOW, if you convince yourself that you’re seeing a miracle, then you can “see” a miracle. This is begging the question.

    It is true that faith is what can see God, and also that evidence is seen by faith…

    If one needs to already believe the “evidence” is evidence before it can be seen as such, then it’s not actually evidence, it’s begging the question.

    …it is not true that if God showed clear evidence to all men they would then believe…

    Due to god’s alleged omniscience, he would know what “evidence” all of us need to see in order to believe. So, if he truly wanted us all to believe, he could present us all with the evidence that we need. I think we can conclude from this that the evidence is not clear and god does not want us all to believe.

    Disbelief follows primarily denial.

    You’ve got it backwards here. Atheists are not saying, “I don’t want to believe in god and I deny that he exists. Now, I don’t believe in him, yay!” We aren’t denying god, we don’t see the “evidence” that you claim exists (and which you haven’t presented BTW – why is it that theists always tell us of this overwhelming evidence for god and never get around to presenting it?)

  • mikespeir

    As a Christian, I used to see evidence for God everywhere. I interpreted every little thing, especially anything unusual, so as to ratify my beliefs. Then I would exclaim to myself, “See? It really is true!” But somewhere deep inside I knew what I was doing. Some part of me, some level I tried in vain to subdue, would admit, cringing, “No, it isn’t.”