A Dialogue with Quixote, Part IV

Hello Ebon,

To approach your larger question, what are the real reasons people believe or disbelieve, I’ve offered a bulletized list for anyone who’s interested in pursuing this question:

  • Some people do not believe in God for a variety of honestly considered reasons.
  • Some people resent the Christian church’s involvement in politics, usually the Christian right’s involvement in the Republican Party. Atheism provides a natural outlet for this resentment, and becomes an attractive choice on that basis.
  • Some people who value science highly find religion’s involvement in the public school science class, and with science at large, deplorable. Atheism, though not formal in a creedal sense, shares this concern.
  • Some people desire to drink beer on Saturday night, and the current religion in this culture meets on Sunday morning.
  • Some people desire to resist authority structures. As a confederation of freethinkers, atheism provides a natural haven for this desire. This may occur against parents, churches, the government, mainstream culture, societal tradition, and other societal structures. The counterculture of the 1960′s contributes to these phenomena.
  • Atheism appears more fun than theism.
  • An increasing number of once traditional societal structures, universities for instance, have increasingly taught atheism as a viable philosophic and lifestyle option. This has translated into a greater number of atheists.
  • The notion on the street that science has disproved theism has contributed to the spread of atheism.
  • The widespread belief that science, education, technology, and economics will lead to a humanistic utopia has disenfranchised the need for God in many people’s minds, thus leading to atheism.
  • Some people consider religion an evil, therefore atheism is a natural option.
  • Some people hate, distrust, or have lost faith in God over bad events which occurred in their lives.
  • The publicity campaign of the New Atheism.

For theists, then:

  • Some people were raised to believe, and therefore believe.
  • Some people choose to believe, therefore they believe.
  • Some people revere the Bible, or another holy text, as the word of God.
  • A sense of community is important to some people, therefore they attend church. Moreover, some seek influence or networks from a local community.
  • Some people sincerely believe for a variety of honestly considered reasons.
  • Some people feel God, therefore they believe.
  • Some people have experiences they attribute to God, therefore they believe.
  • Some people consider authority structures their duty to uphold. This is increasingly rare, I think, and descriptive of older generations.
  • Some people consider atheism an evil, therefore belief is a natural option.
  • Some people turned to faith in God over bad events which occurred in their lives.
  • Some people look at a sunset or the stars, and find atheism a difficult option.
  • Some people find a sense of hope in God, therefore they believe.

These, and probably more could be added, are reasons for belief and unbelief. Faith and unbelief, in my experience with people, is generally caught and not taught. The well-considered reasons generally follow; there are notable exceptions, I’m sure, but it’s not normative for the well-considered reasons to lead. If you like, we can add, delete, unpack, and/or expand these.

To your specific questions, then:

“That said, I am interested to know more about this feeling you speak of, and I’d like to hear you describe it in more detail, if you can. Is it a unique quale, something indescribable through other sensory modalities, or is it an awareness that comes through the usual five senses?”

That this particular portion of my initial post would have garnered the interest it has baffles me, to be honest. I inserted it as almost an afterthought, because I suspect many theists use this awareness as a basis for God’s existence. I do not, nor am I the charismatic type Christian who would be prone to such experiences. I suspect my temperament mirrors yours in many respects.

Nevertheless, we imagine ourselves separated by a gulf of experience, so let’s press on the best we can. Can I describe this awareness to you in more detail? I doubt it. The closest I might bring you to the experience is your encounter with the sublime or perhaps the numinous, so let’s take a quick look at both.

Certainly you’ve encountered the sublime: a gaze at a sunset, a fascination with the stars, a sense of something greater than yourself. In fact, I believe I recall your exposition of the sublime from an atheist’s perspective in one of your essays. I’d not suggest to you that your confrontation with the sublime is equivalent to the awareness I’ve mentioned. It’s not; however, theists tend to meld the two in their minds, so perhaps that experience of the stars at night is as close as I can guide you to my personal experience. I suspect it is.

But, perhaps the numinous, a term coined by Rudolf Otto as far as I know, is more fertile ground. Otto described the sense of contact with a being wholly other as the numinous. While I would not describe God as wholly other — there must be some common frame of reference for contact with God if we were to know him — the conception of a being similar to the attributes customarily ascribed to the Christian God should engender a sensation of the numinous. The feeling produced by the holy God described by Christianity may cause this aspect of Otto’s numinous: the mysterium tremendum, an unsettling awareness, one perhaps of fear. Moreover, there’s the mysterium fascinas: as the phrase suggests, an awareness of a being so infinitely wonderful that it’s irresistible in its allure.

Hopefully, that gives you an inkling of the experience. It’s an odd situation. I have no doubt of your honesty when you claim to possess no like experience, yet I’m certain that billions of theists would report similar experiences. They’ll know what I’m talking about, but collectively we won’t be able to adequately explain it to you.

In that manner, it does resemble a quale, doesn’t it? But I hesitate to term it such, for it ushers in a host of philosophic associations that may or may not be helpful, and they may very well prove misleading. I also hesitate to utilize the conceptions of sensory modality and the usual five senses. An historic theological phrase, the sensus divinitatis, is more than likely the best descriptive vehicle, but it carries baggage when used around atheists that I’d rather not unearth, as I’ve stated previously on DA. What I can say — for myself, that is — is that it appears to be part of an epistemic cognitive function capable of apprehending this awareness.

But, of course, this last statement is contingent upon the de facto consideration of whether God exists. If He does not in reality exist, then your (and mine, actually) likely conclusion that I have a God gene or some other neurological peculiarity, as you put it, seems almost certain. That, or I’m simply deluded. Either way, it would seem that here I stand, I can do no other, unless of course you are successful in convincing me that God does not in fact exist, which may not prevent the awareness, but only provide me a better explanation for the phenomenon. Naturally, another option is that God actually exists, and this awareness somehow is reflective of an actual presence. And, if we care at all to logic, it would appear that there may be other possibilities available to us as well: perhaps God exists and this awareness is in no way related to him. Whatever the case may be, the question is bound inexorably to the de facto question of existence, so while it may be interesting to ponder, it seems to me it has to be tabled until the time that question is actually settled. Until that time, if there is one, the theist and atheist are likely to proceed with their thinking in relation to this question based upon their current beliefs.

So, then to your second concern:

“Why is it the case that justice, consciousness and the like raise the odds in favor of a world-with-God hypothesis over those of a world-without-God hypothesis?”

As you well know, this question, and any subsequent answer by a Christian, will mire us in the invariable discussions endlessly volleyed by Christians and atheists. And it leads the theist inexorably into an axiological argument for God’s existence. For example, I’d be interested to know based on your description of the world as you see it:

“It’s easy to see how those good things you mention could come about by accident, at least some of the time, in a world with no higher authority; random chance will sometimes turn out in our favor, sometimes not. But I think it’s a lot more challenging to explain how evil and injustice could come to be in a world overseen by a deity that does not desire such things.”

how you would ever conclude that there is evil and injustice. If these things come about by accident, as you say, why would we consider them good? If they come about by random chance, where’s the injustice or the evil? Certainly you don’t conclude that there’s evil and injustice in the insect world, yet if we’re the same product of naturalism that the insect kingdom is, and there’s no higher authority overseeing our existence, why would we presume that there’s actual injustice or evil simply because we’re a more highly evolved lifeform with an emergent consciousness? Did we awaken in this world as Gregor Samsa, as monstrous vermin?

But before we do all that, let me address the greater question of the problem of evil:

“But I think it’s a lot more challenging to explain how evil and injustice could come to be in a world overseen by a deity that does not desire such things.”

We need to frame this question before delving into it. Many atheists, not to suggest yourself, are unaware that the logical problem of evil is now, I’m pleased to report, widely abandoned. The logical, or deductive form of the problem of evil attempts to demonstrate that the propositions “God exists” and “evil exists” are contradictories. The primary cause of this wholesale withdrawal has been the inability for philosophers to demonstrate that God cannot possess a morally sufficient reason to permit evil. Hence, there exists no persuasive deductive path to demonstrate successfully a contradiction between the existence of God and the existence of evil.

For instance, the highly esteemed atheist philosopher, and former DA poster, I believe, Dr. Michael Martin has stated “Most philosophers now believe that there is good reason why the Deductive Argument from Evil fails: it is logically possible that evil can exist even if God exists if God has good moral reasons for allowing it.” Moreover, atheist philosopher William Rowe states “Some philosophers have contended that the existence of evil is logically inconsistent with the existence of the theistic God. No one, I think, has succeeded in establishing such an extravagant claim. Indeed, granted incompatibilism, there is a fairly compelling argument for the view that the existence of evil is logically consistent with the existence of God.”

While this is inconclusive in itself with regard to whether the problem of evil is a true defeater for God’s existence, I think it is important to note that there’s no logical or deductive path between the existence of God and the existence of evil that impedes belief or founds unbelief. Thus, the problem of evil is relegated to inductive or abductive arguments.

In fairness, then, I would expect every atheist to approach the POE with the same level of skepticism they showed with my hinted at inductive arguments for the existence of God; that is, I would expect them to accuse themselves of the very things they accuse me of — appeals to ignorance, personal incredulity, and the like — before accepting the POE as evidence against God. For every atheist that truly applies this skepticism to his own argument, I take no exception to their rejection of God.

Moreover, inductive arguments often fall prey to emotionalism, and this fact is exacerbated with subjects such as evil. Very often an atheist’s rejection of God is based on emotionalism combined with the problem of evil. I think this is self-evident with regard to your greater question as to why some people disbelieve, and I would guess that it is a common path trodden by those deconverting from theism to atheism. Again, if any of your readers have taken the intellectual steps to ensure this is not the case with their thought process, and still remain convinced, I take no exception. In general, I take no exception to honest, well-thought through belief or unbelief.

So, properly framed, let’s see where the discussion leads. The POE, the axiological argument, or perhaps “And Now for Something Completely Different.”

About Adam Lee

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

  • http://thewarfareismental.typepad.com cl

    Good run, Quixote.

    For instance, the highly esteemed atheist philosopher, and former DA poster, I believe, Dr. Michael Martin has stated “Most philosophers now believe that there is good reason why the Deductive Argument from Evil fails: it is logically possible that evil can exist even if God exists if God has good moral reasons for allowing it.”

    I would agree with Martin. Such has appeared evident to me from the getgo. I’ve never bought the POE and never seen it successfully argued. I cannot consider the Problem of Evil any problem at all sans a reasonable explanation of when and why the allowance of suffering constitutes a genuine breach of omniscience, omnipotence, or omni-benevolence, and I maintain that the burden falls back to the skeptic to demonstrate how, why or when any, each or all of these qualities have been violated on account of suffering’s existence.

    But I think it’s a lot more challenging to explain how evil and injustice could come to be in a world overseen by a deity that does not desire such things. (Ebonmuse)

    When we ignore the purported existence of deities who desire such things and pretend God is the only deity that influences man and/or creation, yes.

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

    it is logically possible that evil can exist even if God exists if God has good moral reasons for allowing it.

    I just can’t understand this. How can there be a “good moral reason” for allowing evil? Aren’t you just saying that “if the president does it, it’s not illegal”?

  • Leum

    Quixote, I’ve long felt the problem of evil to be of little importance. It’s main (insert appropriate adjective here, like legitimate, but maybe practical would be better) use as far as I can tell, are to counter claims that God’s creation is perfect, though I also think it can be used, in part, to argue against a perfectly good highly interventionist god (a god that would help you find a parking space but do little or nothing to save a child from starvation isn’t worth much). When I believed in a deistic god, I took the view that He did not intervene in human affairs, in part, for that reason. I was content, for the time being, to assume that natural evil had a legitimate explanation.

    Certainly you don’t conclude that there’s evil and injustice in the insect world, yet if we’re the same product of naturalism that the insect kingdom is, and there’s no higher authority overseeing our existence, why would we presume that there’s actual injustice or evil simply because we’re a more highly evolved lifeform with an emergent consciousness?

    Good and evil, like government, art, bureaucracy, and religion are human creations (I’d include stuff like justice and mercy in there, but I figure you probably attribute those to God. I hope you don’t attribute bureaucracy to a perfect being). They have no existence outside our ability to invent them, and only matter as far as we say they do. There is actual injustice because we’ve decided that there is a proper and an improper way of treating people.

    This is no different, to outside observer, than having those things exist because of God. A world where God says murder is immoral and a world where people say it’s immoral are not fundamentally different. In both murder is not being done very much, because people have either agreed with God or have decided on their own that murder is wrong. God ultimately is just another person making up good and evil.

    I don’t mean to say that the distinction is arbitrary, just that it isn’t objective in the way that gravity or Argon is (note to philosophers of science: please do not interject. You’ll only confuse everyone).

    To put it another way, imagine two worlds. In the first God has declared murder to be immoral but no one cares. In the second God hasn’t said anything about murder (or doesn’t exist, or is vacationing in Majorca), but people have gathered around and decided that it is and that they’ll punish people who kill others. Which would you feel safer in? The one where murder’s objectively wrong, or the one where murder is condemned by society?

  • http://reasonvsapologetics.blogspot.com jim

    In the same vein, it seems that theists have a problem when they describe God as being ‘good’ in the first place. Either we take God’s supposed self-claim at face value, since by definition there’s no other standard to measure it against; but then, what does the term ‘good’ mean under these conditions, other than “I’m Me!”? Or, we use our own human sensibilities to measure God’s goodness against. Even if we’re able to fuss through the particulars and come up with some universal moral yardstick, does anyone believe God would pass absolute muster?

    As a thought experiment, I suggest anyone interested should dress God up in human flesh, since otherwise it becomes far to easy to excuse HIm with a host of abstract hypotheticals. Let Him walk amongst us, and judge His actions as we would judge any man’s actions, then we can see just how well His ‘goodness’ holds up in a world of flesh-and-blood moral and ethical apprehensions. As long as God can be apologized for through outs like “Yes, God is sometimes SEEMINGLY reprehensible, but it’s all for His greater good!”, then calling Him ‘good’ seems like a pretty empty claim, I think.

  • http://reasonvsapologetics.blogspot.com jim

    Quixote: You’ve said-

    “I take no exception to honest, well-thought through belief or unbelief.”

    Then, it’s not your Christian position that unbelief is actually a moral failing on the part of the supposed unbeliever, who in reality is simply in rebellion against God and knows the truth deep down?

  • Mathew Wilder

    Atheism appears more fun than theism

    That’s because it is! ;-)

    Re: the POE – it seems to me that the impact of this argument is existential. In other words, I agree that it isn’t deductively sound. However, I cannot but be true my own deepest feelings – if there is a god who allows five month old infants to develop leukemia, I am revolted by that god and will rebel against it with all my might. Perhaps god has some reason I cannot comprehend for allowing such evils, but if I cannot comprehend it, I don’t see why I should care. It just seems to me to be saying that good and evil mean something different to god than they do to me. According to my idea of good, then, god is evil, if god exists.

  • Danikajaye

    I enjoyed that post Leum and completely agree.

    I have never liked the terms good and evil as I find the terms too simplistic and subjective. What is to be considered good or evil depends too much on context and there are many, many instances where, depending on the moral framework being used, the particular instance could fit into either category. My personal analogy I always think of is that it is useless to look at the world in terms of black and white when the world is full of colours.

    Quixote, it is curious phenomenon that when people are faced with anything that inspires awe that there seems to be such distinctly different ways of reacting to it. For example, I regularly scuba dive and I become like a small excited child when I come across something awesome- like some freaky looking fish in a giant underwater cave- and I can often be heard gasping and squealing for delight (or sometimes fright) through my regulator. I do get a feeling of something greater than myself. However, I don’t attribute that to a higher power but to my own realisation of how small I am in terms of the breadth of time and the universe. Being confronted by the limitations of my own knowledge about the natural world upon a new discovery fills me with enthusiasm about the inifinite posibilities about the universe. I would say the the sensations we feel are similar it is just that I can imagine these possibilities without and a God and you cannot. I have no answers to why that is and I am perfectly happy to continue to have none. I don’t require you to show any evidence for your belief and I hope you would require none for mine as I think there is no way to prove either. I would not even involve myself in religious debate if religion was kept a private affair and did not have negative ramifications in the public sphere for those of differing beliefs.

  • Erika

    I am trying to read with a consciousness of my own bias, but I cannot help but think that the list of why people choose be atheists is less charitable than the other. Some entries that might help even things out a bit:

    Some people fear death, so they choose to believe in God.
    Some people don’t want to be shunned by their community, so they choose to believe in God.
    Some people think God will give them what they want so, so they choose to believe in God.

    You could say that the essence of my additions are contained within the original lists, but my phrasing seems to add a little more parallelism to the construction.

  • mike

    jim,

    Either we take God’s supposed self-claim at face value, since by definition there’s no other standard to measure it against;

    Agreed. Imagine a world with a god who puts the sensus divinitatis into theists hearts, whispers inspiration to Jewish goat-herders about this and that, sends a miracle-working agent to earth who talks about love and hate and heaven and hell, who claims to bear some punishment on behalf of us all.. Except that this god is just dicking around and will torture everyone for eternity anyway. Tough luck!

    Two questions: First, could this god be considered “evil”? Keep in mind that this god would claim to be good, though he has actually lied about many things. Second, how does a theist claim to know whether their god-of-choice exists or if it’s actually the opposite-day version of that god who is just being a deceitful jerk? How can you say that one kind of god is even “more likely” than the other?

    BTW, I think I just founded a new religion: Opposite Day Adventist!

  • S Emerson

    Hello Quixote,

    I want to add just a small point in reference to the bulleted lists: I think I understand the spirit in which they were offered but it appears that most points in both categories don’t really provide reasons for belief / disbelief so much as reasons for obedience / disobedience. Take the “drinking beer” example: this might well be a reason why someone refuses to go to mass, but I don’t imagine there are too many people who really stop believing in God’s existence for the sake of convenience. Similarly, the person who holds faith out of a respect for religious institutions may or may not actually believe God’s existence, but definitely believes in the social utility of religion. I think it’s possible that a person’s belief or lack thereof may eventually grow from such reasons (the beer-drinker starts doubting after he stops going to church for a couple of years, or the agnostic who joins a church for a sense of community starts to consider the existence of a personal God a serious possibility), but I doubt that they’re the primary reasons in themselves.

    I bring this up in support of the notion that, as you mention with the “honestly considered reasons” bullets, for a lot of atheists and theists alike belief isn’t really a choice. In debate I’ve been accused at times by theists of setting the evidential bar too high. My reply is that I don’t, in fact, set the bar at all… I either believe something, or I don’t, or I don’t know and am awaiting further evidence. But if I really, honestly believed that a god or group of gods existed, I don’t think a desire not to go to church would enable me to deny that belief, and I doubt that I’ve ever met anyone, theist or atheist, who is that intellectually dishonest (this may strike some readers as naive, but just as I don’t appreciate theists accusing me of somehow deliberately ignoring God’s voice, I similarly don’t accuse theists of believing simply because they want to, or because they’re afraid not to, or any other manufactured reason… my theist friends believe as earnestly as I disbelieve). I don’t think you would stop believing in God because you one day decided that atheism looked more fun to you! You might be tempted to behave contrary to God’s wishes, but you would still know whether or not you believed that he existed at all. Whether we’re born into belief or disbelief, or change our ideas as we mature, I remain convinced that most people reach these ideas with honesty, if not necessarily intellectual rigor.

    And so it is with me; I just don’t believe. Certain aspects of my life would be better if I did… I might add a bullet to the second list that says, “Some people can’t stand the sight of their parents’ anguish, brought on by the certainty that their son is going to be tortured in Hell for all eternity for not being a member of the proper religion, therefore they believe.” But I wouldn’t really believe, any more than the beer-drinker stops believing. I’d just be going through the motions to ease the pain.

    I apologize for length. Please don’t read this as an appeal to emotion: I’m not trying to convince you not to believe, or to justify my disbelief. I think we just have be careful not to confuse believing in God’s existence with behaving religiously / obediently, and I think a lot of the bulleted points address reasons more for the latter than the former.

    Thanks for your thoughts. It’s been a fascinating discussion.

  • Lynet

    I like Leum’s comment that the problem of evil rules out an omnibenevolent interventionist god. In fact, I’ll go further and say it’s a lot stronger than you give it credit for. If I understand you correctly, then apart from arguments from authority, the main argument you’ve given against the problem of evil is “You can’t be sure God doesn’t have a reason to allow evil.” Is that the full extent of your argument, or have I missed something?

    There are, in fact, deductive conclusions that can be drawn from the problem of evil. At the very least, it requires that any benevolent god must have some sort of limitation. Besides a limitation in God’s power, the only other thing that could constitute a reason to allow evil is a completely different notion of ‘good’, which stretches the definition of benevolence somewhat.

    I take your point that it is indeed induction to say “We haven’t thought of a reason yet, therefore there isn’t one.” But surely that’s induction at least as powerful if not more so than “We haven’t found any evidence yet, so for now we’ll assume God doesn’t exist”?

    I’ll grant you, following Leum, the possibility of a more deistic, detached type of God. But as far as I can see the problem of evil does indeed force you to accept either detachment, or limitations, or a completely different notion of what is good, as a necessary aspect of any believable God.

  • Kaltro

    Quixote:
    “If He does not in reality exist, then your (and mine, actually) likely conclusion that I have a God gene or some other neurological peculiarity, as you put it, seems almost certain. That, or I’m simply deluded.”

    The opposite possibility is that atheists lack a gene(or have some neurological trait) that makes it difficult to perceive God; it could also be atheists who are deluding themselves.

  • S Emerson

    Quixote,

    A quick addendum: I just re-read the original post and this time absorbed the the “caught, not taught” comment. I see you’ve already addressed the concerns I voiced above… sorry for not reading more carefully.

  • Scotlyn

    @Kaltro:

    The opposite possibility is that atheists lack a gene(or have some neurological trait) that makes it difficult to perceive God; it could also be atheists who are deluding themselves.

    Hmm – an “atheist gene or neurological trait” created and put there by God… would that be the same God that “hardened Pharoah’s heart” giving himself an excuse to murder Pharoah’s first-born and those of all his subjects?

    When it comes to the POE – what Mathew Wilder said – #6.

    Re lists above –

    Some people desire to resist authority structures

    I would ammend to “Some people see the necessity of resisting authority structures.” But, still, this would not lead inevitably to disbelief – see Martin Luther King.

  • Domyan

    First of, I would like to thank Quixote for his very well written posts.

    I think that the discussion would go better if each side would limit themselves to reasons why they (don’t)believe in God. Even though hearing what the other side thinks are our reasons for not believing in God can be useful it rarely reflect the real reasons and can easily offend.

    Some people choose to believe, therefore they believe.

    In my experience, this identifies one of the significant differences between the believer and an atheist. For me, atheism is not a question of choice. For most of the theists I know, it’s different. I often get asked why I don’t just try, as an experiment, believing in God for just a few days. If I would just let myself honestly pray I would surely see that the prayer really works. I no more can choose to believe in God than I can believe in a pink unicorns or administer myself a working placebo. The latter one would be an extremely useful trick but it’s still impossible. On the other hand (some) theists I know have no problem simply picking and choosing beliefs from the vast human repository. If they like it, they can believe it. For them, the proof always comes after the belief. You first have to believe before you can get your proof. For me, this is simply a mindbogglingly foreign concept. It’s not just that I think it’s wrong, it’s completely impossible.

    Another thing that is plain from this discussion is that theists and atheists still have absolutely no understanding of each others basis for morality. As an atheist, I can try to explain (as Ebon has so eloquently done on numerous occasions).

    If they come about by random chance, where’s the injustice or the evil? Certainly you don’t conclude that there’s evil and injustice in the insect world, yet if we’re the same product of naturalism that the insect kingdom is, and there’s no higher authority overseeing our existence, why would we presume that there’s actual injustice or evil simply because we’re a more highly evolved lifeform with an emergent consciousness?

    First of, I think that all atheists would agree that there is no sense labeling naturally occurring events (in which I include animal behavior) as ‘good’ or ‘evil’. Those labels make sense only when talking about intelligent agents. Atheists label the natural disaster as evil only in the discussions where they suppose there is an intelligent agent behind it. The difference between us and the less intelligent animals is not that we have a soul but that our intellect is advanced enough that we can choose our actions not simply based on the need to further our own genetic line or to maximize our own happiness in this precise moment. We have a unique ability to think far ahead and consider complex social consequences of our actions. By such a complex thinking we can maximize our own happiness much better than the less intelligent animal could. For example, we can discover that to do this we need to voluntarily limit our freedom. Even though successfully robbing a bank could bring us happiness, we understand that if all the people would be free to do likewise we would all suffer. This way of thinking is the basis for the atheists morality and increasingly the basis for the morality of our whole civilization, which is a good thing.

    On the other hand, theistic morality I don’t understand at all. It seems to me to be based on a question ‘What would a incomprehensibly more advanced, infinitely intelligent being want me to do in this situation?’.
    Having a book (or a few of them) that you can interpret in a million different ways is certainly not of great help.
    It’s not at all surprising that different people and cultures arrive at the completely different answers to this question, often with catastrophic results.
    There is one other particularity of theist morality that I have noticed and that I don’t think Ebon has written about. An average theist finds the morality and ethics of the time he lives in just a bit over the maximum of our moral development. He(she) allows for the more or less constant moral development of our civilization up to that point in time but maintains that any further change (in the same direction) would be wrong. How can the theists maintain this stance throughout the history and not see the paradox is beyond me. I have absolutely no doubt that in 50 years the average Christians will be in the same way disgusted by the time when the homosexuals didn’t have the same rights as the todays Christians are disgusted and shamed by a thought of witch burning, inquisition or slavery. It seems that you need people unclouded by religion to have the moral development.

    As for the POE, if we let that there is a God that is so more advanced than we are that it’s completely incomprehensible, absolutely nothing that happens in the world can be used as a argument against the Gods existence. POE would be more of an argument against theists believing they know the Gods will and puts the theist morality on an even less firm ground. If you can justify the Gods ‘taking’ of child’s life by saying that the God wanted the child for some task in haven as soon as possible, why do parents not pray for their children to die?

    I apologize for a rather long comment (didn’t plan to write that much) and for my rough English (when you are used to usual eloquence found on this site).

  • ZMW

    The problem of evil does indeed show that an all-powerful and all-good god cannot exist.

    A common defense against the POE is that god must have a good reason for allowing suffering- that suffering is necessary for some greater goal/good to be achieved.

    However, if god is truly all powerful, then it would be capable of achieving this goal without the need for suffering.

    Therefore god is either incapable of preventing suffering (not all-powerful), or doesn’t care about preventing suffering (not all-good).

  • Domyan

    Or, as a lot of theists seem to conclude, human suffering can actually be a good thing if you think you have good enough reasons. That’s the very dangerous way to think. If God can have good reasons to cause or at list prevent suffering, than I too, if I meditate enough and pray for guidance, can maybe find such a reason to cause suffering.

  • MS (Quixote)

    I am trying to read with a consciousness of my own bias, but I cannot help but think that the list of why people choose be atheists is less charitable than the other. Some entries that might help even things out a bit:

    That’s very interesting Erika, because I was trying intentionally to make it not seem that way. But I suppose that’s the problem with bias, right? I really like your additions. The third is extremely relevant, and destructive, today within the word of faith movement. I wish I had thought of that one :)

  • MS (Quixote)

    negative ramifications in the public sphere for those of differing beliefs.

    Hey Danikajaye,

    It might help to know that we share in this. The church should not be entangled in politics, pure and simple.

  • Chris

    Some people resent the Christian church’s involvement in politics, usually the Christian right’s involvement in the Republican Party. Atheism provides a natural outlet for this resentment, and becomes an attractive choice on that basis.

    I think this is not so much a reason for not believing, as a reason for expressing your nonbelief openly. After all, if there *is* a benevolent god who created the universe, why shouldn’t his advice carry some weight in politics? And if the Religious Right is screwing up his message, shouldn’t that be corrected? Indeed, I find it hard to believe that a sincere believer could settle for the kind of agreeing to disagree on religious matters that the First Amendment represents – an institutionalized agreement that other people’s opinions on religious matters are as good as your own. (Indeed, if they are, then why believe in your religion and not theirs?)

    I also thought this comment was noteworthy because you are talking specifically about Christianity. Certainly, to a contemporary American, Christian religious involvement looms largest, but perhaps as a Christian you don’t realize that to an atheist, there is not much difference between Christian and non-Christian religions; they are all leaves on the same bush and Christian religious involvement in politics is not far from, e.g., Muslim religious involvement in politics.

    “Religions kill people” is not exactly a *new* insight, but I think 9/11 was a rather galvanizing event for the “New” Atheism, proving that religious violence is not solely a matter of history and ignoring religion won’t make it go away. But unlike Christians who see Christianity and Islam as fundamentally different, atheists see them as fundamentally similar, and therefore potentially posing similar dangers. 9/11, the Inquisition, witch trials, Jonestown, Heaven’s Gate, and Fred Phelps are all united by the people responsible’s belief that they are doing God’s will, and in that light, it is not hard to see that the belief that you are doing God’s will is extremely dangerous to the believer and everyone around him.

    Furthermore, unless you think *all* of those people actually *were* doing God’s will, then it’s at least possible to be totally convinced you are doing God’s will – and totally wrong. The variety of religions is a reason for putting limited weight on one’s own religious intuitions – because lots of other people’s religious intuitions have contradicted one another and therefore lots of them have been wrong. You might be one of the ones with faulty religious intuitions, so maybe you had better look for data.

    In fact, I don’t think any of the reasons for believing you give are reasons for believing *in a specific religion*; are you some kind of omni-syncretist who doesn’t care what form belief takes as long as it’s there, or do you really think of them as reasons to believe in Christianity even though they are equally valid reasons to believe in Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.? (Not all reasons are necessarily compatible with *all* religions, but many of them are. In particular, the community tradition argument could uphold anything up to and including human sacrifice – and has, in the past.)

  • MS (Quixote)

    I just can’t understand this. How can there be a “good moral reason” for allowing evil? Aren’t you just saying that “if the president does it, it’s not illegal”?

    Hey Ridger,

    I think it’s obvious that there are good moral reasons for some evil. The problem is accounting for all the evil we observe. With your analogy, I detect possibly a complex question fallacy lurking around in there, but taken as it is, I’d alter it a bit to show that I’d need to be careful drawing premature judgment on a President before I had access to the same information s/he does.

    You’ll get absolutely no flak from me when you say this is something you can’t understand, or probably better put, you don’t agree with. I get it. But here’s the question I’m asking you and the board: do you see in this statement any parallels with things theists sometimes say?

  • MS (Quixote)

    First Amendment represents – an institutionalized agreement that other people’s opinions on religious matters are as good as your own.

    Hey Chris,

    That’s not my understanding of the First Amendment. I don’t think all opinions are equal, nor that they are as good as my own. I do, however, see great worth in allowing people to disagree, and to share their views freely, without being persecuted, whether they be Christians, atheists, or somewhere in between.

    perhaps as a Christian you don’t realize that to an atheist, there is not much difference between Christian and non-Christian religions; they are all leaves on the same bush

    I’m very aware of it, and simultaneously of the mind that it’s incorrect. Wouldn’t you think it wrong of me to lump all strands of atheism together as one? Should I think of you as a nihilist, for example?

    But unlike Christians who see Christianity and Islam as fundamentally different, atheists see them as fundamentally similar, and therefore potentially posing similar dangers.

    This type of rhetoric has its place, I suppose, but take a step back for a moment and consider your thoughts when Christians accuse atheism, or a lack of religious influence on a society, of resulting in monumentally worse atrocities than Christianity has remotely approached. I suggest the phrase “Religion kills people” is not really an insight at all, much less a new one.

    The variety of religions is a reason for putting limited weight on one’s own religious intuitions – because lots of other people’s religious intuitions have contradicted one another and therefore lots of them have been wrong. You might be one of the ones with faulty religious intuitions, so maybe you had better look for data.

    I’m fine with this, but since your intuitions as an atheist contradict the plethora of options out there, this would seem to apply to you as well…

    In fact, I don’t think any of the reasons for believing you give are reasons for believing *in a specific religion*; are you some kind of omni-syncretist who doesn’t care what form belief takes as long as it’s there,

    And you would be correct up to the semi-colon. The exercise was to identify reasons people believe or not, not to argue for a specific conception of God.

  • http://www.qalmlea.blogspot.com Qalmlea

    I have a slightly different take on the Problem of Evil. If we suppose a completely good creator god responsible for everything in the universe, then everything that god created would also be good. A perfectly good being is not capable of creating something evil, nor, I would argue, capable of understanding evil. The usual attempts to get around this usually involve “free will” and “the fall.” Problem: “free will” implies that the choice of evil already exists, and where did that choice come from if not the one creator? This leads me to two possible conclusions (three if we count the possibility of no creator at all): (1) the creator god was not perfectly good; (2) the perfectly good creator god was not solely responsible for the creation of the universe, e.g. there was an “evil other” that also contributed.

    This does hinge on my premise that a perfectly good being is not capable of creating something evil, so if someone can find a way to argue that point, then this version, too, falls down. To me, the label “perfectly good” becomes meaningless if such a being is actually capable of creating something evil. Perhaps someone can convince me otherwise.

  • Mycelium

    “Some people desire to drink beer on Saturday night, and the current religion in this culture meets on Sunday morning.”

    I went to a heavily catholic university. On Saturdays most of the students would drink heavily, go home with members of the opposite sex, etc. and still show up at church the next morning. Even if they did miss church it didn’t affect their self-identity as christians.

    It seems to me that by posting this line you were trying to allude to the meme that people become atheists because they want to be immoral.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    An increasing number of once traditional societal structures, universities for instance, have increasingly taught atheism as a viable philosophic and lifestyle option. This has translated into a greater number of atheists.

    NO, you will find very few university course on atheism. I had the rare pleasure of being able to attend one, but it was indeed rare, and I am familiar with only one U.S. university with a current class focused on atheism.

    Unless, of course, you consider philosophy and comparative religion course to be atheistic. This would be the mistake of confusing atheism with secularism.

    Meanwhile, a great many universities, including secular state universities, have religious studies programs which cater to the faithful, and there is a bias that instructors of these programs be congenial to continued belief.

    In Religion Studies, Universities Bend To Views of Faithful
    Scholar of Mormon History, Expelled From Church, Hits a Wall in Job Search
    by Daniel Golden
    Wall Street Journal
    April 6, 2006
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB114428981892818486.html

  • Adam Howard

    Quixote,

    First of all, thank you for your thought-provoking posts. At the very least, you’ve given me something to chew on for the rest of the day.

    However, there was a part of this installment that I’m not very clear on. You say that an omnimax god may allow evil if it has a morally sufficient reason to do so. Is this a “lesser of two evils” sort of argument? If so, why doesn’t that contradict the omnipotence claim?

    Is it rather an argument that there is some inherent good in the suffering itself? If so, could you explain how that could be?

    Is it an argument that god’s ways are mysterious and he may think allowing some evil is good for a reason we couldn’t understand? If so, how can we define “good” and “evil” in a way comprehensible to humans?

    Or maybe (likely) you believe something completely different that I haven’t thought of. I certainly don’t want to put words in your mouth or put up strawmen–I’m just trying to understand the assertion that an omnimax god might have a morally sufficient reason to permit evil to exist.

  • velkyn

    I have yet to find any atheists who became atheists for the vast majority of Quixote’s “reasons”.

    “Some people resent the Christian church’s involvement in politics, usually the Christian right’s involvement in the Republican Party. Atheism provides a natural outlet for this resentment, and becomes an attractive choice on that basis.”

    Evidence please.

    “Some people who value science highly find religion’s involvement in the public school science class, and with science at large, deplorable. Atheism, though not formal in a creedal sense, shares this concern.”

    Evidence please. BTW, seems like more than a few theists are displeased about religion’s involvement in public schools since they dont’ want only one sect of one religion’s ideas being promoted.

    “Some people desire to drink beer on Saturday night, and the current religion in this culture meets on Sunday morning.
    Some people desire to resist authority structures. As a confederation of freethinkers, atheism provides a natural haven for this desire. This may occur against parents, churches, the government, mainstream culture, societal tradition, and other societal structures. The counterculture of the 1960′s contributes to these phenomena.
    Atheism appears more fun than theism. ”

    Yawn, the same “reason” that theists often throw out. oooh, you atheists don’t want to admit you are sinning and you want to keep on sinning and you rebel.

    “An increasing number of once traditional societal structures, universities for instance, have increasingly taught atheism as a viable philosophic and lifestyle option. This has translated into a greater number of atheists.
    The notion on the street that science has disproved theism has contributed to the spread of atheism.
    The widespread belief that science, education, technology, and economics will lead to a humanistic utopia has disenfranchised the need for God in many people’s minds, thus leading to atheism.
    The publicity campaign of the New Atheism.”

    Ah, horrors if facts are presented and people realize that they can be atheists and they won’t get burnt at the stake by “good” theists. Surely a good theist can’t begrudge people free will :)

    “Some people consider religion an evil, therefore atheism is a natural option.
    Some people hate, distrust, or have lost faith in God over bad events which occurred in their lives.”

    No, Q, I don’t beleieve in any God so I can’t “hate, distrust” such a being. You may as well be whining that I hate Darth Vader. I have lost any belief and therefore “faith” in something that does nothing.

    As for all of the “theist” list, all about “God” hmmm? So what makes your god any more viable than oh, any other religion’s god?

  • epicskeptic

    Correct me if i’m wrong but Quixote, and for that matter most theists, have a fundamentally wrong idea about Atheism. Most of the bulleted list have reasons or desires or wants. The crux of Atheism is not about desires or reasons, I believe most Atheists came to that conclusion without their approval. For instance, imagine you found out that you were adopted from birth, the birth certificate proves it and your mom told you the truth about the adoption and blood tests further proved correct. You can’t go back to believing you were not adopted, it’s not possible no matter how hard you try, the truth speaks for itself, it wasn’t a desire to believe you were adopted, it wasn’t because you wanted it to not be true. Once the curtain is pulled back, you have no option, you can’t go back to believing no matter how hard you try. It’s like trying to believe in the tooth fairy when you know 100% that it’s not correct, you can’t make yourself “will” to believe. For most of us Atheists, it wasn’t a choice, it just came out and everything fell into place. For me, I wasn’t even searching, it just came out from reading the bible and applying logic, it wasn’t a choice.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen
    perhaps as a Christian you don’t realize that to an atheist, there is not much difference between Christian and non-Christian religions; they are all leaves on the same bush

    I’m very aware of it, and simultaneously of the mind that it’s incorrect. Wouldn’t you think it wrong of me to lump all strands of atheism together as one? Should I think of you as a nihilist, for example?

    Quixote, I was almost convinced by this answer but only for a second. Atheists don’t have a collective dogma, only that we don’t believe in gods (or at least think them highly improbable). Religions do and many of them are held in common. Quiz a fundemental christian and a fundemental jew and a fundemental muslim for their views on sexual equality, evolution, mixed marriage, abortion etc etc and I suspect you would get very similar answers. Try the same with a random sample of atheists and you would get a much wider spectrum of attitudes.

  • Mathew Wilder

    @ Mike: that’s a point I’d like to see raised more often. The argument that evil or suffering is compatible with a good god can just as easily be turned around so one can argue that god exists and is evil, and all the good we see is just part of it’s mysterious plan for the greater evil.

    “Plan” – hmm…plans are for limited beings like ourselves, who must achieve things. If god is all powerful, what need has it of plans? It can just bring into being any state of affairs directly, right?

  • Ric

    I agree with Velkyn. Although Quixote’s list does describe possible reasons for atheism, most of what he gives doesn’t seem to actually have any connection to atheism. For example, not wanting to go to church on Sunday morning? What possible connection is there between that and deciding that a god doesn’t exist. I have never seen someone express anything like these sentiments. And so one for most of the rest of the reasons given.

    As for the POE, I agree with Lynet when he says, “If I understand you correctly, then apart from arguments from authority, the main argument you’ve given against the problem of evil is ‘You can’t be sure God doesn’t have a reason to allow evil’.” that is what your argument against the POE seems to boil down to. In my understanding, the POE doesn’t try to deductively prove the impossibility of a god. It seeks to inductively prove the incompatibility of the main monotheistic conceptions of god with what we observe in the world around us, and it does this very well. Appealing to possibly unknown reasons for permitting evil does nothing for a theist. It’s a cop-out.

    I fear I may have been blinded by science (or rather, philosophy) in Quixote’s first post, because this one was much less impressive.

  • Ric

    Correction to the above post:

    When I said, “possibly unknown reasons” I meant “possible reasons that are unknown.”

  • paradoctor

    I did not realize that the POE implies a _logical_ contradiction with the existence of an all-good god; but then Quixote wrote: “… it is logically possible that evil can exist even if God exists if God has good moral reasons for allowing it.”

    Did you catch that? “Good reasons to allow evil”? This is a logical contradiction on the face of it! Quixote, in trying to deflect the logical-contradiction argument, exemplified its force.

    Translated into human terms, Quixote argues for choosing the lesser of two evils. I reluctantly accept the occasional need for such a bad choice; such a dilemma is human, all too human; but there is nothing _divine_ about it.

  • Brad

    Quixote,

    Interesting list. Although, I have to say that my impression is that it’s a little soupy and hodge-podgy for me to take too seriously. It’s always hard to tell about anything that is supposed to be representative of a large number of people because it’s hard to tell anything proportionately about a large number of people.

    The word “intuition” came to mind throughout your entire explanation of both sublimity and numinosity. I agree that using the idea of a new “sensory modality” is misleading because my interpretation of your explanations, as well as my prior experience and observation, align better with my conception of intuition – unconscious attending, processing, and parsing of information that, shall we say, ‘boils up’ into consciously felt, subjective, experiental impression.

    On the topic of good, injustice and evil, I think our terms need to get defined objectively for meaningful consideration. If Ebonmuse is posing them in a framework of chance and accident, so to speak, then I have to wonder if he’s talking more accurately about “fortune” and “fairness,” but of course, even the latter has subjective baggage and connotation. When you ask why we relegate the terms “injustice” and “evil” only to pain and displeasure in the human sphere of concerns, I’m a little taken aback. I think it’s obvious we’ve narrowed the applicability of the terms to our own existence because that’s all we care about, am I right? Yes, we are existentially special in the respect that we have higher level sentience and consciousness, and the implication of that is that we’re only (or nearly/mostly) going to think from our own collective point of view – excepting lesser sympathy toward animals.

    I also agree that POE arguments have just about dried up in the heat of logical rigor in their attempts to completely annihilate the proposition of God’s existence. An often-used atheist tendency I notice is akin to the “God of the gaps” reasoning – can’t think of a morally sufficient reason to permit evil and suffering? Then there can’t be a reason! Anyways, I still side with Occam’s Razor on this issue – I have no good idea why God would allow tsunamis, epidemics, genocide, war, and countless other horrors, which is quite a big gap in my understanding by my estimation, and so I’m incapable of filling my poverty of comprehension with sincere belief in an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-benevolent deity effortlessly capable of trumping any obstacle (including Satan and demons). I will, however, concede the issue as “inconclusive.” Technically, this can be called an “appeal to ignorance” and “personal incredulity.” Nevertheless, I do not regard it so much as support or opposition for the claim of God, but rather as weights that epistemologically balance and move me to my own position on the question. I don’t see this as irrational: if, conversely, I came across a person with zero knowledge of the scientific theories of evolution and common descent and embraced creationist thinking with passion because of their upbringing and cultural bubble, I would hesitate to call them irrational (at the time) because they were only doing their best with what they had, same as what I try to do.

  • Brad

    Erika,

    Nice additions. My mother fell for Joyce Meyer’s BS. Relevantly, lukeprog wrote a list of things his pastor father would stand to lose by losing faith.

  • roscomac

    I became an atheist when, upon trying to find a way to help an atheist I love become a Christian, I found the god I had believed in to be implausible.

    I don’t think that one’s on your list. ;)

  • CSN

    “I’d not suggest to you that your confrontation with the sublime is equivalent to the awareness I’ve mentioned. It’s not”

    Yes. It is. If noone else has said this before me: I was a believer, I felt the presence of God in all of His glory. Through a number of epiphanies I came to realize the explanatory power of the natural world and eventually grew to reject all supernatural explanations as superfluous and based on wishful thinking and preconceptions. At certain times I still have these experiences of losing my sense of “the boundaries of me,” my confrontations with the sublime, whether due to natural beauty, music, or often when I try to wrap my mind around being a spec on a spec amongst 100 billion spec galaxies. I recognize them now as the natural product of endorphins and the fragility of the construct of the brain we call “consciousness.”

    “however, theists tend to meld the two in their minds”

    You seem to be doing the opposite, splitting them without justification as theists often do. Also a clue at why religions are traditionally so violently opposed to awareness of other religions, enjoying sex, and more recently rock music. To notice that same transcendent experience originating from another source calls the origin of the religious feeling into question. Given that confrontation you can: a) rigidly and arbitrarily separate the two in your mind, defining them as unique, (much as religious scientists do, FORCING their magesteria to not overlap) or b) seek the origin of the feelings within yourself. When I did the latter (being too intellectually honest to do ‘a’) I found no line and recognized “them” as the “one” they were. It comes in stronger and weaker forms, selfish forms and falling-to-my-knees-in-awe-in-the-face-of-beauty forms. But it is the same.

    You (and those theists who discount the transcendent experiences of atheists and members of other religions as being different than the divine ones) seem to think that a class of people (i.e. atheists, and struggling wanna-be-lievers) are incapable of feeling the god-version of this feeling, whether through their failing, natural lack of inclination, or lack of god choosing to give it to them. Tough luck for them I guess?

    .

    I guess it’s not too surprising that Aldous Huxley described this phenomenon interpreted supernaturally in “The Doors of Perception” which went on to inspire The Doors whose music has surely caused a few “mysterium fascinas” experiences of its own!

  • M.

    Quixote,
    An interesting list of reasons – it is pretty much the sum of the reasons that most theists imagine as the ones that may lead to atheism.

    Besides being mildly insulting (you seriously think there are atheists who disbelieve in God because they like to drink beer on Saturdays?), your list misses the essential one, the actual reason why most atheists are atheists:

    * There is no evidence whatsoever for existence of God.

    That’s it. That is the essential problem here.

    All the talk about issues such as the problem of evil are secondary. It’s kind of like discussing whether or not unicorn meat tastes delicious. And some of your bulleted points – such as “people hate God because of events in their lives” – are nonapplicable; it’s, again, kind of like saying “people don’t believe in unicorns because they are afraid of being skewered on their horn”. Nope. They don’t believe in unicorns because they have no reason to suppose any unicorns exist.

    Where did the universe come from? How come that the laws of existence are the ones we see? What is the source and nature of human morality? What is the purpose of existence? These, and many others, are very important questions. And when you propose answers that are based on your theology, we’ll discuss them with you, and point out the contradictions.

    But above all else, there remains the essential problem: someone has made up these answers, – pulled them out of their imagination, or their desires, or their thinking about what the world ought to be like – and you have mistaken these made-up answers for actual truth. Even if you are able to prove that a particular answer is internally and externally consistent, this does not change the fact that the answer is made up.

    For instance, within the problem of evil. If we accept that God exists, there is no evidence whatsoever, not a single shred, that God is not an evil entity that thrives on pain and suffering of his creatures. It is probably more logical to assume that God is evil, and that good is an accidental byproduct of the universe, then it is to assume the opposite. We are discussing the problem of evil, however, because you have postulated – decided to believe without any evidence – that God is good, and has good intentions for us.

    I personally think that Ebon is making a mistake for tackling the discussion in this way.

    Let’s go to the root of the matter. Show us some evidence for existence of God. Then show us some evidence that God created the world. Then, we can discuss why his creation includes evil.

  • Scotlyn

    M – any chance of you asking Q for one of those cool pen-gadgety things I’ve always wanted? :) (Sorry, couldn’t help myself!)

    Nice comment, BTW.

  • CSN

    M., I agree that the idea of a god’s existence should be approached from the stance of assuming the existence of NOTHING and looking for reasons to believe in SOMETHING. This is the closest we can get to true objectivity I think. However, I think Quixote feels he HAS given evidence – the ultimate evidence that theists universally fall back on – the “because I feel it” claim. I’ve addressed this just above and I think the only counter-argument to what I’ve said is either to say I’m a liar/mistaken and the experiences I used to have are not the same as they are now, or to decide that I never really felt the real thing in the first place (again arbitrarily lumping me in with those who just must not get it, not matter how sure I am about my own subjective claims. Theists claiming this can never seem to see their reflection staring at them in the mirror for their life.)

    Everything begins from that feeling, the rest is arrived at backwards, starting with that presupposition, as Quixote has freely admitted. Beyond that all they have is causality of the Big Bang which is, at best, the last and lowliest deist-god of the gaps.

  • http://www.skepticaloccultism.com/ pendens proditor

    Quixote,

    You brought up the God gene, but I’m curious if you’ve done any research into other areas of neurotheology. In particular, researchers finding ways to elicit on cue (using direct electrical or magnetic stimulation on the brain) many of the same transcendent or divine experiences that are familiar to spiritual practitioners. Do you think this is damaging to the claim that divine experiences must require a divine source?

    The technologies are still in their infancy, but if someday I only had to turn on a machine to feel the exact same feelings that wash over me when I commune with the divine, I think I’d become suspicious. Divine experience would be cheapened for me. Would it mean that God is perpetually at my disposal, zapping me with love and awe in perfect sync with every press of the button? Could I leave the machine on indefinitely and live my life just as close to God as the saints who came before me, doing none of the hard spiritual work that was required of them? To me it seems far more likely that I’m simply hacking my brain and a deity isn’t involved at all.

    Some people argue that these experiments open up whatever faculties we have for sensing the divine. We’re still hacking the brain, but we’re making it momentarily better at perceiving something that’s really there instead of causing it to conjure something up out of thin air. Rather than God actively triggering experiences, the divine is there waiting to be accessed by whoever is properly tuned. However this backdoor to divine experience seems strange to me. Why is it there? If it’s so easy to achieve those experiences through simple technological trickery, does that indicate that God doesn’t especially care if we’re able to have those experiences or not? What does that say about their value? What test has society passed that we should all be given the gift of transcendence-on-demand?

    As the neurotheology article mentions, people who are disinclined toward the spiritual like Richard Dawkins report little or no effect when strapped into these machines, possibly indicating that some people are just innately more inclined (as you mentioned, the God gene) toward these experiences than others. Doesn’t this just open up a whole new can of worms? Could God really be stacking the deck against some of us? Is he making it harder for some people to finally find their way to him than for others? If those people at the end of the bell curve who are astronomically unlikely to ever have these experiences never find God before they die, is it really their fault?

    People have already been hacking their brains with narcotics and hallucinogens since the beginning of time. The states that these substances induced were widely assumed to be supernatural in origin until we studied them and explained them away as cognitive noise. I suspect the more subtle sort of intoxication that doesn’t require the ingestion of chemicals is doomed to the same fate.

    I keep forgetting that this is a “why people believe” thread, and that transcendent experiences are being brought up here as just another reason for belief whether the belief is justified or not. Still, it’s striking to me that the naturalistic picture accounts very nicely for everything I just mentioned. The theistic picture seems to struggle with it.

  • http://avertyoureye.blogspot.com/ Teleprompter

    MS Quixote,

    Thank you for continuing to take the effort to answer our questions!

    Since this exercise is meant to put forth reasons as to why people believe or disbelieve in gods, could you speculate as to why people believe or disbelieve in certain kinds of gods?

    I would include factors such as:

    -Geographic location (Indonesia v. Russia v. Australia?)

    -Political environment/political pressure (Henry VIII switching to Anglican Church from Catholicism?)

    -Family history (A past relative switching from Judaism to Christianity, etc.?)

    What do you think? I believe that we do need to focus on not only why people possess theistic belief, but why people possess certain kinds and varieties of theistic belief. These factors may also be a framework for why people disbelieve. Without a discussion of the broader diversity within the context of theistic belief systems, I sincerely believe that this discussion will be grossly inadequate.

  • http://evilburnee.co.uk PaulJ

    I’m with M. There’s a vast chasm between discussing whether an omni-whatever god can have morally sound reasons for permitting evil, and any reason we might have for believing in the existence of such a god in the first place. The theological niceties are irrelevant to the primary question of the existence of a god. Attempting to thrash out what an all-powerful god can or cannot do will necessarily founder in the formulation of the question. A god who is all-powerful can by definition do anything, unless restricted by laws of logic which he did not himself make, which is a contradiction.

    It seems to me that the only reasonable definition of a possible god is one whose definition must by definition exclude certain god-like characteristics – essentially defining it out of existence.

  • Socius

    Quixote said: “Nevertheless, we imagine ourselves separated by a gulf of experience, so let’s press on the best we can. Can I describe this awareness to you in more detail? I doubt it.”

    He could have stopped right there. In the absence of any substantive evidence in favor of the existence of God, the entirety of his argument now rests on a feeling he is unable to describe. He suggests that he does not base the existence of God on this feeling, but he offers no alternatives and seems to spend a long time expounding on it. Like “M.” said, the rest of the argument is like discussing whether or not unicorn meat is delicious. I wonder when theists will stop overlooking the fact that, to atheists, the evidence simply does not add up, and realize that they need to stop building their theology on a foundation of indescribable feelings.

  • trikepilot

    I have decided that there is no choice to belief, just as there is no choice to sexual orientation. From birth you gradually become aware of your being and how you relate to others. The lists of reasons outlined in the post are more like mind games that can influence a person to act one way or the other, but they cannot change his belief.

    I know pastors who claim to be atheists now. I knew atheists who claim to have a knowledge of god now. My only question is, “Were they kidding themselves in the first place, or did they bury their own sense of self to accommodate some other belief system?” The reasons for switching from a theist to an atheist viewpoint or vise versa are at least as interesting as why someone believes the way they do.

    Instead of asking, “Why do yo believe the way you do?”, ask “What would make you believe differently?”

  • Tony

    I can’t believe nobody has pointed this out already, but Quixote has completely dodged both questions. I am still left wondering what the reasons for his belief that he hinted at in his first response actually are, because this second response has done absolutely nothing to clarify anything. Ebon’s questions were, I thought, very well chosen to shed some light on the parts that seemed critical to the discussion but were too vague to be very informative.
    The first question should not have come as a surprise. To me, the claim of any kind of “sense of God” appeared to be one of the very few actual reasons given by Quixote for his belief. As I saw it there were really only two claims made for his own personal belief, one being the sense of God, and the other the “great nexus of reason and observation”, whatever that means. To simply handwave one of those away as little more than a thowaway comment is to leave us with very little understanding of his position, and seems disingenuous.
    The second question was very pertinent, but to frame it as nothing more than an expression of the POE is to miss it’s point. I agree that the existence of evil does not imply the non-existence of God, but that was not the question. In his initial response, Quixote’s claim (paraphrased) was just the opposite: that the the existence of goodness (or more specifically, “love, morality, justice, consciousness”) implies the existence of God. Ebon quite rightly asked for this position to be defended or explained, and yet Quixote seems happy to move on to other topics without even attempting to do so.
    Very disappointing.

  • Brad

    Socius,

    Quixote was never charged with offering his best arguments for God. He’s only tried explaining what he’s been asked to explain. And he did, in fact, allude to other (what he would call) “substantive evidence” in Part II. Look for his “nexus of reason and observation” paragraph. Lastly, you could have addressed your comment to him, but instead you marginalize him with a pronoun: why?

    It’s annoying when so many people are misinterpreting the design and content of this dialogue. Quixote has been around these parts long enough to read most of the sentiments re-expressed in this dialogue many times over, so let’s try to not rehash old ground fruitlessly if we can, lest we waste each other’s time.

  • http://marcschooley.com/blog MS Quixote

    In the same vein, it seems that theists have a problem when they describe God as being ‘good’ in the first place.

    If our apprehension of goodness is anywhere near what’s good, if there is such a thing, then it becomes informative when we claim that God is good.

    As a thought experiment, I suggest anyone interested should dress God up in human flesh,

    Well, that is the claim after all, isn’t Jim? To which Bertrand Russell, if memory serves, went on to talk about pigs running over cliffs and such.

    Then, it’s not your Christian position that unbelief is actually a moral failing on the part of the supposed unbeliever, who in reality is simply in rebellion against God and knows the truth deep down?

    Jim, this is what I meant by the following: An historic theological phrase, the sensus divinitatis, is more than likely the best descriptive vehicle, but it carries baggage when used around atheists that I’d rather not unearth, as I’ve stated previously on DA. It’s really not my place to determine what’s deep down inside you. That’s your business, not mine. And, no, I actually don’t think you walk around all day thinking “I know God exists, but I’m rebelling against him.”

  • Brad

    Good catch, Tony. Quixote only gave some rhetorical “axiological” questions and never gave any substantial response to Ebonmuse’s final question last post:

    Why is it the case that justice, consciousness and the like raise the odds in favor of a world-with-God hypothesis over those of a world-without-God hypothesis?

    Handwaving is not allowed! Or at least, the task here would be to meditate on why people assume the above when holding or choosing belief.

  • http://marcschooley.com/blog MS Quixote

    However, I cannot but be true my own deepest feelings

    Me either, Mathew. Takes guts to admit that here.

  • http://marcschooley.com/blog MS Quixote

    Two questions: First, could this god be considered “evil”?

    Mike, it seems to me that you’ll have to deny your immediate apprehension of what good is to deny this.

    Second, how does a theist claim to know whether their god-of-choice exists or if it’s actually the opposite-day version of that god who is just being a deceitful jerk?

    We’re riding close to the edge of total skepticism again, and it’s not the theist who’s doing it as predicted. Com’ on Velkyn…help me out here.

  • http://marcschooley.com/blog MS Quixote

    Please don’t read this as an appeal to emotion: I’m not trying to convince you not to believe, or to justify my disbelief.

    No worries Emerson, that was an excellent comment. I’ll need to think about it in some detail. Perhaps you’re right and these are more of catalysts. What I think I am certain of is that these are reasons people align themselves with these groups. Problem is, I’ve been told or witnessed each one of these, especially the “drink beer on Saturday night” one which appears to have stoked the most interest here.

  • http://marcschooley.com/blog MS Quixote

    The opposite possibility is that atheists lack a gene(or have some neurological trait) that makes it difficult to perceive God; it could also be atheists who are deluding themselves.

    Hey Kaltro,

    There’s more than likely a scenario by which we all could be wrong, in which we would all be deluding ourselves to some degree. I resist the term deluded as a description for anyone, because it’s too pejorative to suit me, generally derailing any worthwhile conversation.

    While logically possible I suppose, I just can’t envision it to be true that atheists lack a physical characteristic required to perceive God, given that He exists, except perhaps given Mike’s previous evil god postulation. Am I understanding you correctly?

  • http://marcschooley.com/blog MS Quixote

    I would ammend to “Some people see the necessity of resisting authority structures.” But, still, this would not lead inevitably to disbelief – see Martin Luther King.

    Agreed, Scotlyn…see also: Martin Luther :)

  • Mathew Wilder

    I think Teleprompter has hit the 2 most important factors in one’s god-belief geography (what faith is most common where one lives) and family beliefs, the single most determinative factor in religious belief (which itself is influenced by geography).

  • http://marcschooley.com/blog MS Quixote

    Even though hearing what the other side thinks are our reasons for not believing in God can be useful it rarely reflect the real reasons and can easily offend.

    No offense meant, Domyan, I’m only performing the task assigned to me. Since this, I believe, is not the first hint at this, please also let me say that I work with people almost daily with regard to Ebon’s greater question, and I’d ask everyone here to consider that it’s just possible that some of these are real reasons people give, whether they’re true or not, and whether the regular commenters here would agree with them. Y’all are a specific subset of atheism, and, more than likely, not it’s most numerous.

    In my experience, this identifies one of the significant differences between the believer and an atheist. For me, atheism is not a question of choice.

    I agree in the main; however, it appears to me that one major strand of atheism, existentialism, sets forth no discernable difference in its internal structure, excepting the desire not to be observed.

    Another thing that is plain from this discussion is that theists and atheists still have absolutely no understanding of each others basis for morality.

    Mostly true, but not in my case. Feel free to test me.

    This way of thinking is the basis for the atheists morality and increasingly the basis for the morality of our whole civilization, which is a good thing.

    I’d be more than happy to enter into a social contract with you on the order of a good atheist moral system, say, Ebon’s UU. Where theists commonly criticize atheist moral systems is a matter of grounding, not the system’s ability to produce practical results.

    It’s not at all surprising that different people and cultures arrive at the completely different answers to this question, often with catastrophic results.

    This does not strike me as a difficulty peculiar to theist morality…

    How can the theists maintain this stance throughout the history and not see the paradox is beyond me.

    Perhaps because you’ve limited your historical examples to a few choice events or considerations? Also, because maybe you’ve partially misdefined theist morality. We readily admit people get it wrong all the time, but we claim there’s a standard by which it can be determined wrong, or right.

    As for the POE, if we let that there is a God that is so more advanced than we are that it’s completely incomprehensible, absolutely nothing that happens in the world can be used as a argument against the Gods existence.

    Agreed, but that’s why I was careful to mention this: While I would not describe God as wholly other — there must be some common frame of reference for contact with God if we were to know him

    I apologize for a rather long comment (didn’t plan to write that much) and for my rough English

    I enjoyed it, and please don’t mistake my tone as critical. Yours was an engaging comment.

  • http://marcschooley.com/blog MS Quixote

    A common defense against the POE is that god must have a good reason for allowing suffering- that suffering is necessary for some greater goal/good to be achieved.

    Actually, it’s the inability for the argument’s adherents to prove that God cannot have a morally sufficient reason to allow evil that presents the difficulty for the deductive form of the POE, and it’s not limited to the soul-making theodicy.

    However, if god is truly all powerful, then it would be capable of achieving this goal without the need for suffering.,

    Omnipotence is not defined as the ability to do anything. Moreover, though there may be possible worlds containing no evil, it may not be feasible for God to create actual worlds containing no evil that also contain elements such as creatures with will. Thus, God’s omnipotence does not appear to be a sound premiss in the argument.

  • http://marcschooley.com/blog MS Quixote

    Or, as a lot of theists seem to conclude, human suffering can actually be a good thing if you think you have good enough reasons. That’s the very dangerous way to think.

    Which is why CS Lewis wrote the worst form of Government is theocracy, and represents just one reason I believe the church should not be involved in politics. Again, though, this does not strike me as a problem peculiar to theism.

  • http://marcschooley.com/blog MS Quixote

    A perfectly good being is not capable of creating something evil, nor, I would argue, capable of understanding evil.

    Qalmlea,

    It seems to me that if your implied premiss is true, you don’t need your argument at all because you’ve already disproven the omnimax God!

    (an omniscient God knows all true propositions (evil exists) and believes no false ones)

    If the implied premiss is false, and by definition it appears to be, the argument obviously fails. I be interested to see, though, how this argument works on open theists who believe that God is omnibenevolent, but not omni anything else…

  • http://marcschooley.com/blog MS Quixote

    It seems to me that by posting this line you were trying to allude to the meme that people become atheists because they want to be immoral.

    Not at all, and please don’t take it that way. Most folks I know who say this don’t at all think they’re immoral. Others do.

  • http://marcschooley.com/blog MS Quixote

    NO, you will find very few university course on atheism. I had the rare pleasure of being able to attend one, but it was indeed rare, and I am familiar with only one U.S. university with a current class focused on atheism.

    Unless, of course, you consider philosophy and comparative religion course to be atheistic. This would be the mistake of confusing atheism with secularism.

    Meanwhile, a great many universities, including secular state universities, have religious studies programs which cater to the faithful, and there is a bias that instructors of these programs be congenial to continued belief.

    Criticism accepted, Reginald. Thanks for clarifying. Now that you mention it, I don’t recall ever seeing a course on atheism offered.

    What I had in mind is slightly different, though. The general tenor of the secular university–noting your distinction–lends itself to atheism in my experience. It reminds me of Ebon’s blog in many ways. But you’re also correct: Christians have entire schools devoted to transmitting religion to the next generation, and I’m not aware of any atheist counterbalance, as you seem to be saying.

    On a related note, you might like to know that one of the best ways to rid a young minister of his orthodox theology these days is to send him to a mainline seminary. Sounds odd, but there’s a lot of truth behind it. Moreover, most religion departments in Universities are religion in name only. At any rate, thanks for the clarification. Add it to the list…

  • Paul S

    Omnipotence is not defined as the ability to do anything.

    I guess that depends on which version of “omnipotence” you choose to ascribe to your god. I would imagine most people’s definition would be “all powerful with the ability to absolutely anything – even something that seems logically impossible.” Of course there are other definitions of omnipotence. For example, one could argue that God is omnipotent only to the extent that He would be able to do anything that is consistent with His nature. This is all well and good except that it seems presumptuous to think we mere mortals have any inkling of what the nature of this alleged universe-creating deity actually is (and please, no “refer to Scripture” arguments – that’s an entirely different morass).

  • http://marcschooley.com/blog MS Quixote

    First of all, thank you for your thought-provoking posts. At the very least, you’ve given me something to chew on for the rest of the day.

    Thank you, Adam. I feel the same way toward y’all. And I apologize if y’all think it’s presumptuous for me to respond to nearly every post, but y’all took the time to write, so I’d at least like to honor that, time permitting.

    If so, why doesn’t that contradict the omnipotence claim?

    Keep in mind I only drew a distinction between deductive and inductive forms of the POE in my post. Briefly, then, it may not be feasible for God to create a world that contains creatures with will that contains less evil and more good than the one we know. If this is the case, and there’s no reason to think it’s not, then god’s omnipotence would not be at issue.

    Is it rather an argument that there is some inherent good in the suffering itself? If so, could you explain how that could be?

    I’ve heard this too, and I’m not fond of it either. It’s important not to call evil good, because it’s not. Sometimes folks argue along Augustinian lines of the privation of good, but the most I would be comfortable with is saying it may ultimately be good that evil exists, but not that evil itself is good.

    Is it an argument that god’s ways are mysterious and he may think allowing some evil is good for a reason we couldn’t understand?

    Better stated, perhaps He has more information to determine what’s actually going on than we do. We’re not in the best position with our cognitive limitations to determine the nearly infinite factors in play. Sorry for the short shrift, but it’s a big subject.

  • http://marcschooley.com/blog MS Quixote

    Atheists don’t have a collective dogma, only that we don’t believe in gods

    Hang on a second, Steve. I’ll agree that atheism is not formally creedal, that atheists are widely diverse, and that it’s not a religion. But the pale of non-belief entails many definable philosophies that clearly differ, and I don’t think you would appreciate me lumping them together.

    Regardless, his statement’s false, even if I’ve misrepresented atheism with my response. The monotheistic religions are very similar, and even claim the same fathers of the faith in many cases. But other religions are very different, and it just makes no sense to lump them together in a cavalier manner because they’re all religions.

    BTW-for fun, I’d wager in the uniformity of responses on this site if we posed some of your examples. Evolution? Much more diversity of opinion in the theist world, I’d bet.

  • http://marcschooley.com/blog MS Quixote

    I have never seen someone express anything like these sentiments.

    You need to get out more….

    Appealing to possibly unknown reasons for permitting evil does nothing for a theist. It’s a cop-out.

    Ric, man, I had a couple of paragraphs to discuss the POE! I’m glad you have confidence in me, but please…

    What’s interesting here, though, is that I presented widely accepted reason and logic from both a theist and atheist perspective, and what I get from you is “cop-out.” Hmmm.

  • http://marcschooley.com/blog MS Quixote

    Did you catch that? “Good reasons to allow evil”? This is a logical contradiction on the face of it! Quixote, in trying to deflect the logical-contradiction argument, exemplified its force.

    Paradoctor, you might want to go back and read who actually wrote that…

  • http://marcschooley.com/blog MS Quixote

    It’s always hard to tell about anything that is supposed to be representative of a large number of people because it’s hard to tell anything proportionately about a large number of people.

    You’re right, of course, Brad, but you have to start somewhere, and fleshing these out in the space allotted is arguably something the omnipotent God couldn’t do. For the rest of your post, I was always disappointed you chose not to write your blog–I would be your first reader. Good stuff…

  • http://marcschooley.com/blog MS Quixote

    I became an atheist when, upon trying to find a way to help an atheist I love become a Christian, I found the god I had believed in to be implausible.

    I don’t think that one’s on your list. ;)

    It should be on the list roscomac, but then I’m one of the few here that believes you :)

  • http://marcschooley.com/blog MS Quixote

    Besides being mildly insulting

    I’d say mildly insulting is emboldening sentences that are obvious.

    you seriously think there are atheists who disbelieve in God because they like to drink beer on Saturdays?

    Directly from the horse’s mouth. Do you seriously think every other atheist has your rational for unbelief?

    the actual reason why most atheists are atheists:

    Which is obviously entailed by Some people do not believe in God for a variety of honestly considered reasons., is just not as restricted. I’m confident other well-meaning atheists have good reasons beyond yours.

    * There is no evidence whatsoever for existence of God.

    I’d be interested to hear your exposition of my personal evidence for God.

  • http://marcschooley.com/blog MS Quixote

    However, I think Quixote feels he HAS given evidence

    No, he doesn’t.

    Everything begins from that feeling, the rest is arrived at backwards, starting with that presupposition, as Quixote has freely admitted.

    Quixote freely admitted that many, if not most, theists do this.

  • http://marcschooley.com/blog MS Quixote

    Do you think this is damaging to the claim that divine experiences must require a divine source?

    Yes, pendens, I do, except I think you mean “purportedly” divine. & I haven’t forgotten your answer on time either. Time’s the problem.

    Could I leave the machine on indefinitely and live my life just as close to God as the saints who came before me, doing none of the hard spiritual work that was required of them?

    Sounds relatively close to the current state of American Christianity…

    To me it seems far more likely that I’m simply hacking my brain and a deity isn’t involved at all.

    If you’re tinkering with the brain, it seems that exactly what you’re doing. Its relation to God is anyone’s guess, though. Since it’s such a nebulous experience anyway, how do we determine what it really means, especially in a corporate sense, since the experimenter has to rely on the testimony of the one experiencing this self presenting phenomenon?

    However this backdoor to divine experience seems strange to me.

    It does to me as well.

    Is he making it harder for some people to finally find their way to him than for others? If those people at the end of the bell curve who are astronomically unlikely to ever have these experiences never find God before they die, is it really their fault?

    I still owe Ebon a response on the hiddenness of God. It just doesn’t impact my particular brand of Christianity all that much, so I don’t give it the attention it deserves.

    People have already been hacking their brains with narcotics and hallucinogens since the beginning of time. The states that these substances induced were widely assumed to be supernatural in origin until we studied them and explained them away as cognitive noise. I suspect the more subtle sort of intoxication that doesn’t require the ingestion of chemicals is doomed to the same fate.

    Agreed in principle, given the success of your experiments. And that last sentence, BTW, is how to properly tell someone you think they’re deluded:)

    Still, it’s striking to me that the naturalistic picture accounts very nicely for everything I just mentioned. The theistic picture seems to struggle with it.

    It’s good preliminary evidence for your side, I think, but a reductionist physicalism has its own problems to deal with. Very interesting…I’d like to come back to this.

  • http://marcschooley.com/blog MS Quixote

    What do you think? I believe that we do need to focus on not only why people possess theistic belief, but why people possess certain kinds and varieties of theistic belief.

    That’s a good question, Tele. I never thought about it before past the geographical and cultural aspects, so I’d hesitate to give an answer right off the cuff.

  • http://marcschooley.com/blog MS Quixote

    This is the last one, and I apologize if I’ve destroyed the thread, or y’all think I’m some kind of freak for trying to address every comment…

    Good catch, Tony. Quixote only gave some rhetorical “axiological” questions and never gave any substantial response to Ebonmuse’s final question last post:

    Why is it the case that justice, consciousness and the like raise the odds in favor of a world-with-God hypothesis over those of a world-without-God hypothesis?

    Handwaving is not allowed! Or at least, the task here would be to meditate on why people assume the above when holding or choosing belief.

    Tony/Brad,

    Am I not correct in assuming that everyone here is fairly conversant with the moral arguments? Will it not mire us in the invariable discussions endlessly volleyed by Christians and atheists.

    I did offer a four sentence tidbit anchored by Kafka, and no one really addressed it except for Lynet and Leum, whom I owe a response. But I’ve tried to stear clear of the whole classical arguments thing, although I did end with: So, properly framed, let’s see where the discussion leads. The POE, the axiological argument so we can still get there if you’re dead set on it. I mean, I’ll lay out the case, y’all will respond with the customary retorts, I’ll tell you why you’re wrong, y’all will respond with more reasons I’m wrong then call me an idiot, then I’ll make some smart remark in return hinting in a Christian way that y’all don’t know what you’re talking about. Say it ain’t so…

  • Tony

    Conversant with the moral arguments? It may be a mistake to assume that of everyone here, but we can probably assume that Ebon is. And yet he asked those two questions, presumably with the expectation of having them answered. Or did you take them as rhetorical?

  • Domyan

    Thanks Quixote for the reply! I was a bit worried there that it will go completely unnoticed (my more or less first post here). Don’t worry, as I know no offense was meant, no offense was perceived.
    Maybe the reasons for becoming atheist are often really what you say (don’t know that many atheists myself) but, from my perspective I find them extremely weird. To say that you have become an atheist because you want to rebel against God, or that you would rather not have to go to church or that you disagree with the Church politics or teachings for me constitute no better reasons than deciding to believe on the basis of the Pascal’s wager. Those atheists are likely to switch sides again tomorrow when someone gives them a better ‘offer’. For me, that kind of atheism is really very close to theism in that it’s primary based on persons current wishes and desires. My atheism is the same as my non-belief in pink unicorns. I find it very unlikely that my stance regarding the unicorns will change in the future the same as I doubt that I will find a compelling proof of the God’s existence. If I ever become a theist my reason will be something in the line of “18 dice throws produced a sequence 1,2,3,4,5,6 three times in a raw after deciding that exactly that outcome would convince me.”. Well, maybe not even than because I would find that the “very advanced aliens messing about” would be a less scratched explanation. :)

    Where theists commonly criticize atheist moral systems is a matter of grounding, not the system’s ability to produce practical results.

    I confess I am quite new to this kind of debate but I relay don’t understand what you have said. You agree that UU is a good moral philosophy in the sense that the world would be far better if everyone would follow it as opposed to what we have now? Maybe not ideal but better. The problem is that it is not ‘grounded’. Would it help if we said that it came to us in a dream from a invisible pink unicorn and that we have now no doubt that it’s The Ultimate moral philosophy? Would that make UU in any realistic way ‘better’?
    I think you would agree with me that our history has shown that it would be dangerous to think that no further moral development can be made. That the morality that we have at this time is the perfect, Ultimate morality. I think theists are more likely to think like that. Anyway, human moral development is compatible both with atheism and theism. As I understand it (really don’t know much) the difference is that theists believe that they are trying to approach the Ultimate morality that exists (by better interpretations of the Bible or other forms of ‘insight’) while atheists are either mute or can’t agree on the subject of the Ultimate morality. In both cases, regardless if the Ultimate morality exists, we can never be sure that we are there and have to continue trying to better our moral philosophy. I hope that you are not trying to say that as the theists believe in the Ultimate morality, their path for moral development is much clearer and are much less likely to ‘get things wrong’ (see ‘World’ as disproof). I know that a lot of theists believe that as atheist’s morality is not ‘grounded’ it is equally likely to develop in any direction, as there is no higher guidance. We are equally likely to tomorrow decide that killing innocent people is morally good than the opposite. I know this is not a belief that you hold as you say that you have some sense of the atheist morality and don’t find it repulsive. It probably comes from theists definition of Good as God and as atheists do not believe in God they can have no notion of Good. It’s like “meaning of life” where theists too think they have a monopoly.
    What I would like to know is how does this theistic moral ‘groundness’ reflect on humanities everyday moral development? I think that reason, pursuit for maximal global happiness and exploring current social problems are better guidelines in our moral development than is exploring the bible and insights got through dreams, visions, and prayer.
    To sum up, I see the question weather or not there exists such a beast as the Ultimate morality as completely meaningless as long as there is no way to determine if we have achieved it or even what exact steps we need to take to come closer to it. Why is that question so significant to you?

  • Chuck

    Or you could find a morality that is grounded like Desire Utilitarianism.

  • exrelayman

    Re #63 on POE:

    “Better stated, perhaps He has more information to determine what’s actually going on than we do. We’re not in the best position with our cognitive limitations to determine the nearly infinite factors in play. Sorry for the short shrift, but it’s a big subject.”

    Yet He, being all powerful, could have created a reality where information beyond our ken was not necessary to understand why evil is needed to produce good in the long run. Our knowledge of what is good is all we have to use in evaluating goodness attributed to God. Thus God’s mysteriousness or ‘uber-knowledge’ is postulating unknowable attributes to an undetectable (to us at least) entity. My experience might convince me – your’s cannot. Why you get one and I don’t is just another mystery. It is mystery upon mystery isn’t it?

    Yes we have an answer to counter your every answer and vice versa. The primary purpose here is not changing the other’s mind, but allowing an unbiased observer to ascertain for him/her self which arguments are more reasonable.

    At least (hopefully) my tone has improved over comment to your last post. Although usually persisting in ‘getting the last word in’ is troll like behavior, the context here is set up different, and the amount of your effort is at least helping us to see how what seems clear can be disputed ad infinitum (whether reasonably or not is what is at issue here).

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Moreover, most religion departments in Universities are religion in name only.

    Most secular universities do not have “religion departments” per se, but rather departments of “religious studies.” I.e. they should be a place for unaffiliated academic study of history, literature, practices, etc. of religions. Doctrinal constraints are incompatible with true academic inquiry. I have already made my case and provided an example that digging too deep in ways that are uncomfortable to believers is discouraged, whether deliberately or not.

    The only ongoing coursework focused on atheism at an American university of which I am aware is taught by Matt McCormick at California State University, Sacramento. I am aware of only a handful of other such courses which have existed in North America in the past decade.

  • Domyan

    Sorry, missed one important quote…

    We readily admit people get it wrong all the time, but we claim there’s a standard by which it can be determined wrong, or right.

    Can you tell me more about this standard? Is this something that you and other Christians have access to? If it is the Bible, can you interpret it in The One And Only True Way? Do you believe, as I have accused most theists, that you have clear access to and understanding of the God’s Own Ultimate Moral Metric (in contrast to most of the other Christians throughout the history that believed the same thing) or do you believe that you are in a constant process of discovering and refining your understanding of this metric? If it is the latter, than we are more or less the same. The only difference is that atheists primary use reason and logic in exploring moral systems and theists use (what? Bible, intuition?). Where is this big, fundamental difference that makes theists morality clearly superior because I don’t see it, neither in the real world nor in principle.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Where theists commonly criticize atheist moral systems is a matter of grounding, not the system’s ability to produce practical results.

    Many theists commonly do claim that atheism leads directly to Hell on earth, destruction of society and morality, etc. But let’s write such people off as ignorant, unsophisticated hicks and concentrate on the slightly more sophisticated approach you mention.

    Such people must be unaware that the grounding of “divine command” ethics has been in question since the publication of Plato’s Euthyphro dialogue approx. 2400 years ago. Even many theists with some philosophical training will therefore throw in with “autonomous ethics,” putting them on the same grounding as atheists.

  • M.

    Do you seriously think every other atheist has your rational for unbelief?

    Every atheist? Absolutely not. But it is what it boils down to for the vast majority.

    The cause that initially makes any given person think about consistency of the theistic position varies widely. Some start thinking about the POE. Some are jaded by the behavior of supposedly “godly” people. Some are trying to oppose authority. All of those and many others appear as common reasons to start thinking about theism and atheism.

    But none of those will be enough. If I think there is evidence for existence of God, behavior of other people becomes irrelevant – their behavior has no relation to the question of his existence. If there is evidence for existence of God, the POE becomes irrelevant: at the furthest extreme, if I believe that God has intentionally caused evil, I will become a maltheist – but not an atheist. I won’t reject evidence for God based on any of those secondary questions, and neither would most people.

    What is being confused here is the reasons that lead to rejection of particular religions and the reason for rejection of theism in toto.

    When you ask them why they don’t believe, many atheists will name the POE as one reason. But POE provides no evidence against existence of God whatsoever. Perhaps God exists, but he is evil? Perhaps God exists but he isn’t omnipotent? Rather then being an argument for atheism, POE is an argument against the existence of a very particular kind of God, one usually offered within the Judeochristian tradition, and one that most atheists in the English-speaking world have to argue against.

    Thus, when an atheists gives you POE as an argument, they are reacting against what they percieve is your position, and giving you one of the reasons why they doubt the religion that surrounds them. POE provides no defense against the existence of, say, Vishnu or Shiva or Zeus – evil is entirely consistent with them.

    The same skepticism that makes the person doubt their initial religion, however, leads them to question deeper. If you read the deconversion stories, you will almost inevitably see this pattern: a person starts questioning based on some quibble in the theology they are immersed in, expands the questions, and finally rejects it all. Existence of God itself is rejected because, after the theological filter is torn down, no evidence for him is available.

    I’m confident other well-meaning atheists have good reasons beyond yours.

    Shell we check? Hey you other atheists who are reading this – what is the basic, essential, fundamental reason you reject theism? Help me and Quixote figure it out.

    Also, perhaps this is beside the point? If there is a person out there that has a less fundamental reason for disbelieving, that does not mean that we can ignore this fundamental one. I mean, think about the equivalent: if you had in your hands the evidence for existence of God, would it be logical for me to reject that evidence because people of Westboro Baptist Church believe wrong things for all the wrong reasons?

    If you have arguments that answer this essential problem I have presented to you, I would love to see them.

    If you don’t, is it even relevant whether you have arguments that can answer the lesser questions, such as the POE?

    POE is a consequence: if God exists, and if He’s benevolent, and if He’s omnipotent, only then do we have a POE. Shouldn’t we establish those three assumptions that POE is making, before we waste time debating POE itself?

    I’d be interested to hear your exposition of my personal evidence for God.

    Quixote, as I believe you well know, I was talking about myself and other atheists. Unless you believe that we are all hypocrites who actually see evidence for God, but choose to ignore it, you have to accept that we see no such evidence.

    I cannot give you an exposition of your personal evidence for God, for the simple reason that you have provided no such evidence in any of your posts of comments that I have seen. If you already posted it, please accept my apologies, and help me out by pointing me to the place where you provided this evidence.

    If you haven’t posted it yet, please do so. If there is actual evidence for existence of God, I assure you that I will be extremely grateful if you share it with me. What I want is the truth; the reason I’m an atheist is that I’m unwilling to make up the answers for the questions I don’t know the answers for.

  • M.

    This was not directed to me, but I have a few additional questions:

    Where theists commonly criticize atheist moral systems is a matter of grounding, not the system’s ability to produce practical results.

    The atheist system, according to theistic criticism, is ungrounded – there is no absolute measure, such as God’s will, from which it stems.

    This is a particularly good example of the fundamental problem I have been insisting on here. As far as I can see, the great grounding advantage of theistic morality is entirely based on the “God’s will” which they invented themselves.

    The ground is entirely illusory: you postulate that certain moral precepts are derived from God, you base your moral system on that postulate, and voila you have a “grounded” moral system by fiat.

    There is no advantage here. I can postulate certain moral determinants in the same way that I postulate mathematical ones, and then build morality from there as I do with mathematics. There is absolutely no need to pretend that those postulates come from God.

    It’s not at all surprising that different people and cultures arrive at the completely different answers to this question, often with catastrophic results.

    This does not strike me as a difficulty peculiar to theist morality…

    This is an extremely difficult question for theist morality, since you base your “grounding” in the idea that morality comes from God. If you are right, and the morality comes from one universal source, then all peoples and all cultures would be basing their morality on it.

    What we see in practice, however, is that morality is a social construct, only as universal as the social-behavior human neurology itself is. It is a piece of evidence that the “grounding” of theistic morality does not exist in reality – it is based on the pretense that particular cultural and social mores “come from God”.

  • MS (Quixote)

    Conversant with the moral arguments? It may be a mistake to assume that of everyone here, but we can probably assume that Ebon is. And yet he asked those two questions, presumably with the expectation of having them answered. Or did you take them as rhetorical?

    Hey Tony,

    Actually this was a compliment to you guys, assuming that the level of discourse here does not require rehashing of well-worn arguments. I did not take them as rhetorical, but in the sense I’ve described above, they are.

    But there’s a larger point involved here, I think. Have you noticed that Ebon has shown incredible restraint in allowing a Christian to comment 50 times on his blog without a response? It’s unheard of to me, anyway, and it speaks volumes about his character. Now, why in the world would I repay that by launching into assertive or aggressive arguments against Ebon’s thought as taught here at DA? It’s not ethical, IMO to do so under normal circumstances, and as I’ve told him, I’m not comfortable with it under these circumstances. I’m a visitor here. If I want to argue strongly for Christianity, I’ll do it in forums where I’m requested to. It’s impolite to do so here. That’s why I haven’t done it here in the past, and why I’m not doing it now. Meekness is not weakness, and in this case it’s respect for Ebon, who especially deserves it. And besides, we are discussing the arguments in a roundabout fashion, so anyone can put the pieces together on their own time.

  • Zirrad

    I am not a theist because no theist, Quixote included, has proposed any way to discern (i.e. test) if a statement about god, its nature, edicts, behaviour, or affect on the world is true (or even demonstratably not false).

    i.e. there would be a way to reliably answer Domyan’s questions.

    Quixote, you still haven’t proposed anything about god that is testable nor dealt with the implications of a god that does nothing in the world that is testable.

  • Domyan

    @ M.
    Shell we check? Hey you other atheists who are reading this – what is the basic, essential, fundamental reason you reject theism? Help me and Quixote figure it out.
    I am certainly with you on this one. No compelling proof for such a huge claim. Maybe there is something wrong with me but I certainly have no ‘sense’ of God. Even if I did, I would not take it as sufficient evidence. I am a physicist so I like to believe that I think as a scientist. I would say that science’s most important discovery, the one on which science itself is built on, is that we cannot trust ourselves as much as we thought we could. Science, in it’s most basic, is a study of all the ways in which we can ‘fool’ ourselves (which there are many). This is not a philosophical hypothesis. This is something that has been proven again and again. I have little doubt that this ‘God sense’ is one such thing that has no relation with the real world. If we humans were otherwise perfect in our perception and thinking then maybe this religious sense would carry some weight but as things stand, there is no rational way I would trust some feeling to say anything about the real world without a strong independent confirmation (which does not exist). Even knowing how imperfect we humans are in related areas (placebo, auto-suggestion…) theists maintain that they can’t possibly be wrong about this special sense they have, as a bonus often calling scientists arrogant.

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

    Quixote,

    If our apprehension of goodness is anywhere near what’s good, if there is such a thing, then it becomes informative when we claim that God is good.

    Contrast that with this:

    Better stated, perhaps He has more information to determine what’s actually going on than we do. We’re not in the best position with our cognitive limitations to determine the nearly infinite factors in play. Sorry for the short shrift, but it’s a big subject.

    You’re making the same mistake we see so often from theists. ‘god is good. We know that god is good because he does good things and we define him as such. When evil things happen, it’s because we don’t have full knowledge with which to condemn god of evil things and being evil. Therefore, god is good.’

    Problem is, it’s all a big exercise in begging the question. You start with your premise that god is good and then use that to conclude that god is good. If we don’t have the information that we need to convict god of evil, then we similarly can’t claim that we have the information we need to declare that god is good. If we can use our sense of good and evil to declare god to be good or evil, then we do have the information we need, and we can look at the serious injustices of the world to convict god of being an a-hole.

  • Maynard

    M. & MSQ,

    Hey you other atheists who are reading this – what is the basic, essential, fundamental reason you reject theism? Help me and Quixote figure it out.

    I’m am atheist because I cannot find any good reason to not be.

    All this debate about the Problem Of Evil is starting to sound like something that was brought up by an atheist-in-disguise to rile others because of the inability to be settled one way or another. Making it just that: POE. Is anyone aware of any Hebrew or Greek or Latin symbols that would be equivalent to today’s emoticons?

  • Brian

    @M.

    There’s no need for an elaborate response to your question. I’m an atheist because god is unfalsifiable.

  • http://avertyoureye.blogspot.com/ Teleprompter

    M.,

    Perhaps the strongest reason for my atheism is the argument from non-belief, from the perspective of every world religion that ever has been or currently is dominant among the world’s populations. Since nearly all of my questions so far have had to do with that argument, Quixote has probably deciphered that by now.

    So that’s essentially where I am trying to go with my line of questioning…why do people believe in certain types or varieties of gods, or believe in gods at all, and which perspectives do a better job of explaining these phenomena? It probably helps here to mention that it was my enrollment in a world religions class which helped instigate the process which eventually led to my deconversion.

  • Mathew Wilder

    If we don’t have the information that we need to convict god of evil, then we similarly can’t claim that we have the information we need to declare that god is good. If we can use our sense of good and evil to declare god to be good or evil, then we do have the information we need, and we can look at the serious injustices of the world to convict god of being an a-hole.

    Excellently put OMGF. Good catch, too.

  • billf

    M,

    I forget the source, but I was exposed to the idea around age 9 or 10 that there has been countless numbers of different religions throughout the ages. I was asked: What are the odds that Christianity is right when every other religion is wrong?

    This line of thinking caused me to start asking questions. Nobody could give me good answers. I became an atheist because there was no evidence for the God(s)of Christianity, or any other gods for that matter.

    I had a very brief remission a couple years later in the mid to late 1970s when someone “found” Noah’s Ark in Turkey. First Santa Claus, then God/Jesus/Satan/Holy Ghost/Mary etc., then the finding of Noah’s Ark. Was there any end to my gullibility? Yes. There was. Never again.

    Give me evidence.

    Billf

  • http://marcschooley.com/blog MS Quixote

    If we don’t have the information that we need to convict god of evil, then we similarly can’t claim that we have the information we need to declare that god is good. If we can use our sense of good and evil to declare god to be good or evil, then we do have the information we need, and we can look at the serious injustices of the world to convict god of being an a-hole.

    Excellently put OMGF. Good catch, too.

    A bit premature, Mathew & OMGF. I never claimed OMGF couldn’t conclude that God is convicted of evil; I claimed he couldn’t do it deductively, and he hasn’t. For fun, notice the parallelism of the following claims:

    I can’t imagine a reason that the universe exists; therefore, goddidit.

    I can’t imagine a reason that evil exists; therefore, goddidntdoit.

  • Domyan

    Damn, I found another thing I would like to add… This one is hopefully on topic as it is, Quixote from your original post.

    Certainly you’ve encountered the sublime: a gaze at a sunset, a fascination with the stars, a sense of something greater than yourself. In fact, I believe I recall your exposition of the sublime from an atheist’s perspective in one of your essays. I’d not suggest to you that your confrontation with the sublime is equivalent to the awareness I’ve mentioned. It’s not; however, theists tend to meld the two in their minds, so perhaps that experience of the stars at night is as close as I can guide you to my personal experience. I suspect it is.

    You say it is close but do you have any proof that it is not actually the same? Naturally, different people can have slightly different ways of experiencing the sublime so by ‘the same’ I mean fundamentally the same. The same goes to numinous. Why do you so strongly believe that some other person would not have a completely different interpretation of the same feeling? To me it seems that feelings like that are just about perfect for any interpretation or significance that our mind chooses to bestow upon it. You can see this happening every day. Each small religious sect has it’s own particular way that they experience God. One such sect I am familiar with (a few of my family members are in it) describe this feeling of God’s presence as a heat radiating from the their fingertips up their arms (or something like that). The point is that this feeling is obviously learned (they all experience it more or less the same and different from some other sect). If we can so easily be convinced what we should feel with our primary senses why you you believe the more ‘fuzzy’ feelings such as you describe would be more resistant? It is a fundamental characteristic of our mind that it observes the world only partly as it ‘really is’ and partly as we believe it should be. We can’t, without an outside help (see science) differentiate between these two. Just because you have a real and perfectly clear feeling of God’s presence does not tell us anything about weather there is a God or not. There is nothing that would differentiate your feeling from someone else’s feeling of presence of ghosts, aliens that are trying to communicate with them and any other of hundreds of similar things you would probably rightly be sceptical about. How can you maintain that even though everyone else can be fooled, you are somehow special?

  • Domyan

    Forget to add (again)…
    When I confronted one of the sects members with this argument, her reply was a bit unexpected. She simply told me that if people really believe that they communicate with aliens or see ghosts, that is a good proof that both alien and ghosts exist! Well, at list she is honestly consistent. What about you? :)

  • Pi Guy

    Certainly you’ve encountered the sublime: a gaze at a sunset, a fascination with the stars, a sense of something greater than yourself.

    I almost responded to this after the first post as well. I actually used the “laying in the grass and looking up at the stars”-is cool analogy on my girlfriend (who now labels herself agnostic) when I was justifying my non-belief. There’s nothing about the heavens that makes me immediately, and even less so after more deduction, that it must be attributable to anything “greater than” myself.

    While I cannot verify the veracity of this Rouse Ball quote, it apparently was part of the conversation that Napolean had with Pierre-Simon LaPlace when he (LaPlace) presented his book Exposition du système du monde and the Mécanique céleste (Expose of the System of the World and the Celestial Mechanics):

    “Laplace went in state to Napoleon to accept a copy of his work, and the following account of the interview is well authenticated, and so characteristic of all the parties concerned that I quote it in full. Someone had told Napoleon that the book contained no mention of the name of God; Napoleon, who was fond of putting embarrassing questions, received it with the remark, ‘M. Laplace, they tell me you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its Creator.’ Laplace, who, though the most supple of politicians, was as stiff as a martyr on every point of his philosophy, drew himself up and answered bluntly, ‘Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là.’ ['I had no need of that hypothesis.'] Napoleon, greatly amused, told this reply to Lagrange, who exclaimed, ‘Ah! c’est une belle hypothèse; ça explique beaucoup de choses.’ ['Ah, it is a fine hypothesis; it explains many things.']“

    I have no need for that hypothesis. It does not explain anything.

  • Domyan

    I have no need for that hypothesis. It does not explain anything.

    To be fair, that’s not exactly correct. The problem with the ‘God hypothesis’ is not that it does not explain anything (actually it can without much effort explain absolutely everything) but that it predicts nothing. We can think of virtually infinite number of such theories (that explain everything but predict nothing) with no objective way of choosing between them, only our personal, not exactly rational preference. Theories are judged by their predicting, not explanatory power.

  • Pi Guy

    We can think of virtually infinite number of such theories (that explain everything but predict nothing) with no objective way of choosing between them, only our personal, not exactly rational preference.

    Infinite? I’d be interested if you could just name one instance of where something is described as an explanation while simultaneously lacks predictive power. The explanation presumes to say why or how something occurs, what is its cause. With cause comes effect and, thus, predictive power. So, again, if you would, help me identify one of the nearly infinite instances of an explanation that is incapable of enabling a prediction.

    And, a word of caution. When someone uses the word “hypothesis”, they probably mean something different than you when they conjoin it with the word “theory”. The word theory holds a significantly elevated position in science (as in when it’s used with the word hypothesis). I think that in your case, when you say “theory” and “hypothesis” you mean what people who use those terms more strictly mean when they say “opinion” or “belief”. You’re refusing to speak the same language.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Quixote,

    A bit premature, Mathew & OMGF. I never claimed OMGF couldn’t conclude that God is convicted of evil; I claimed he couldn’t do it deductively, and he hasn’t. For fun, notice the parallelism of the following claims:

    I can’t imagine a reason that the universe exists; therefore, goddidit.

    I can’t imagine a reason that evil exists; therefore, goddidntdoit.

    I don’t know if it is or can be deductively proven that god is evil or that the existence of evil disproves an omni-max god (my feeling is that it does), but that’s not what I’m pointing out here. We can’t make the assumption that god is good, and then claim that he is simply because we can’t prove that he’s evil. This is painting the bulls-eye around the arrow. And, whether you mean to do it or not, you’ve veered very close to this (and many theists do it outright). Either way, it’s an important point to be made. If you wish to claim that we have enough information to judge god, then I think the only judgement that we can make if we assume the Bible is true or that god has the ability to stop suffering but will not is that god is not good.

  • TJ

    @Pi Guy.. I interpret Domyan’s use of “theory” as the more scientific “hypothesis”. As for an example.. Last Thursdayism has perfectly good explanatory power, but, by definition, makes no testable predictions. Last Thursdayism holds that everything in the universe came into existence, exactly as we see it, last Thursday. All of your memories, beliefs, all internally consistent evidence of the age of you, your friends, fossils, the sun, light traveling from distant galaxies, etc., etc., just popped into being mid-stride, for reasons unknown. This completely explains the current state of the universe, and is completely free of prediction, other than the universe will continue to go on as it would have if it had always existed. I don’t believe in Last Thursdayism because there is no evidence for it and it makes no predictions, but it is quite explanatory.

    In a similar vein, one could hypothesize that the Christian god created the universe at the big bang then never got involved again, Thor created the universe at the big bang and never got involved again, an invisible pink unicorn created the universe at the big bang then never got involved again, or that a teapot, now in orbit around Mars, created the universe at the big bang then never got involved again. These all have the same great explanatory power, the same lack of evidence, and none make testably different predictions.

    I think this is the thought exercise Domyan was getting at.

  • TJ

    Oh.. and in more direct response to Domyan..

    To be fair, that’s not exactly correct. The problem with the ‘God hypothesis’ is not that it does not explain anything (actually it can without much effort explain absolutely everything) but that it predicts nothing. We can think of virtually infinite number of such theories (that explain everything but predict nothing) with no objective way of choosing between them, only our personal, not exactly rational preference. Theories are judged by their predicting, not explanatory power.

    Among reasonably rational believers, the God hypotheses that are left don’t make predictions because the ones that did have been tested and failed. Some cults have claimed the end of the world on a certain date. That didn’t happen.. hypothesis rejected. Less rational believers have claimed that their god would make them wealthy, healthy, king of the world, or lord over their enemies. Sometimes they got those things, but many believers do not.. hypothesis rejected. (Well.. some successful believers reject that the unsuccessful believers were sincere enough. Unsuccessful believers who believe they are sincere enough must reject the hypothesis.) A god who intervenes for sick people based on prayer has been studied scientifically and rejected (sadly, those who knew they were being prayed for did worse.. possibly due to performance anxiety-type stress). The hypothesis that god can and will cure the sick has been rejected for amputees.

    So, the only hypotheses left for those believers who try to be generally rational and evidence-based in their lives are those that make no falsifiable predictions. And for the less rational, there are lots of god hypotheses that do make predictions, but the hypotheses are changed to explain the predictive failures (we raised enough money, gos won’t call me home; we prayed hard enough, so the end of the world has been pushed back 10 years; etc.).

  • Domyan

    Infinite? I’d be interested if you could just name one instance of where something is described as an explanation while simultaneously lacks predictive power.

    We all live in a matrix-like simulation. Alternatively, this is all someone’s dream. Everything that we observe about the universe and it’s laws is completely wrong thanks to a very advanced teenage alien prankster.
    All of these ‘theories’ are completely consistent with our knowledge of the universe and can offer some form of explanation for anything we observe (as stupid as that explanation may be) or at least a good reason why the answer to that question would be in principle impossible to know. At the same time none of them have any predictive power.

  • Wayne Essel

    A god who intervenes for sick people based on prayer has been studied scientifically and rejected (sadly, those who knew they were being prayed for did worse.. possibly due to performance anxiety-type stress)

    TJ,

    Please provide a link or citation.

  • M.

    Please provide a link of citation.

    “Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP) in cardiac bypass patients: a multicenter randomized trial of uncertainty and certainty of receiving intercessory prayer.”
    Benson H, Dusek JA, Sherwood JB, Lam P, Bethea CF, Carpenter W, Levitsky S, Hill PC, Clem DW Jr, Jain MK, Drumel D, Kopecky SL, Mueller PS, Marek D, Rollins S, Hibberd PL.
    Am Heart J. 2006 Apr;151(4):934-42.

    Links to stories:
    Independent
    Slate
    NY Times

    The theistic commentary on the results is particularly interesting.

  • LindaJoy

    Good grief! This whole discussion with Quixote is STILL going on??? In the first thread response to him, he admitted to me after I questioned him that his god is an imaginary figment of his imagination, and followed that with a kind of “so what” remark. So why is everyone still immersed in a conversation about something that is only relevant to Quixote’s own brain and thoughts?

  • http://reasonvsapologetics.blogspot.com jim

    M: Thanks for the links. This study probably exemplifies the futility of confronting faith with reason. This quote is particularly telling-

    “God must be smiling broadly,” said Sister Carol Rennie, the prioress of St Paul’s Monastery in St Paul, Minnesota, one of three praying congregations. “It [the study] tells me frankly that God’s way of working with people is a mystery, and that technology can’t determine the effects of prayer.”

    In other words, claims of supernatural intervention in the natural world can’t be measured or otherwise tested because ‘God is mysterious’. In this vein, a theist could claim that God has miraculously filled the Grand Canyon to the brim with tapioca, but any attempts to verify the claim will always come to nothing because of the mysterious origins of the purported event.

    Look, common sense tells us that if there are hundreds of millions of believers praying to a God who has promised to acknowledge those prayers, even to the slightest degree, statistical studies would surely confirm His intervention in the world. They do not. Add to that the fact that nothing truly unambiguous, such as dismembered limbs re-attaching themselves or growing back (a feat God could easily accomplish, or so it seems), EVER happens, and what you have is a God who never does anything discernible. Or there’s the more likely case, that God simply does not exist. All arrows point to the latter explanation.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Jim,
    I do know some Xians that claim that those types of acts do occur. Not limbs fully regrowing, but limbs lengthening or pain going away or miraculous healings from ailments. Of course, they never put these things to scientific scrutiny. Imagine that.

  • http://reasonvsapologetics.blogspot.com jim

    OMGF: Yeah, I was a charismatic Christian back in the ’70s, and saw a lot of that leg lengthening going on. You know in the back of your mind what’s happening, but you’re so desperate to believe that God actually manifests himself in the real world, you’ll make yourself swallow almost anything.

    I find these efforts to find statistical anomalies so utterly beside the point! Given the numbers of true believers, the actual occurrence of miracles should be turning the statistical tables on their heads, you know? And the ‘rarity of the miraculous’ argument is such a total copout! Hey, gold is a relatively rare metal, but you can still find it all over the place. We should see easily verifiable evidence of not only regrown limbs, but Christians levitated out of disaster areas, Christians demonstrating new, irrefutable scientific proofs of a metaphysical realm, and a host of other stuff which should logically proceed from folks who supposedly are connected to the creater of the cosmos. Not to mention God striking down or otherwise humiliating the host of charlatans who’ve been at the forefront of handing down the ‘message’ through history. It’s all such an unadulterated crock, isn’t it? For a deity, God’s certainly doing a pisspoor job of making himself look good (or even credible).

  • Pi Guy

    All of these ‘theories’ are completely consistent with our knowledge of the universe and can offer some form of explanation for anything we observe (as stupid as that explanation may be) or at least a good reason why the answer to that question would be in principle impossible to know. At the same time none of them have any predictive power. [emphases mine]

    It’s the stupid that makes them un-good. That’s the point. If it’s un-good enough to be classified as stupid then what can any of those claims possibly be said to explain? How can something be that can’t be demonstrated or refuted be deemed explanatory, let alone consistent with anything?

    Q: “Why does it feel as though I’m in a computer simulation?” A: “Duh! It’s the Matrix.”

    That conveys as much explanatory power as does

    Q: “What’s the answer to life, the universe, and everything?” A: “42.”

    I’m left feeling a little empty. It’s the predictive power that makes it explanatory, that makes it worthy of the label: theory. Like this:

    Q: “Why does the ball always fall down and not up?” A: “Gravity.”

    Now, responding with “gravity” is explanatory because, included in the definition of the word, The Theory of Gravitation(TM) incorporates predictive power provided we know the the variables involved, such as mass and weight. For a different corresponding mass and weight we still predict the same result: the acceleration due to gravity. Give me the inputs (cause) and I’ll tell you the outputs (effect). The part that qualifies it for theory-hood is its ability to predict, that is, to explain. See, it’s the un-stupid that makes it good, the good that makes it explanatory, and the predictive power, at least, puts it in the running for Miss New Theory 2009.

    Try it again.

    Q: “Why does the ball always fall down and not up?” A: “The Matrix.”

    Okay, so that’s kinda unsatisfying. Let’s try something else.

    Q: “Why does the ball always fall down and not up?” A: “*chuckle* That Crazy Sixteen-year old in the sky. Puberty sucks.”

    Still kinda weak. No “Aaaah… I get it” moment there.

    Q: “Why does the ball always fall down and not up?” A: “God decided that all things fall down.”

    Another swing and a miss. Notice that there’s nothing about that statement that makes it any more powerful than the others because it doesn’t explain the whole falling thingy.

    Q: “Why does the ball always fall down and not up?” A: “Gravity.”

    Now that’s not simply a response. It explains the behavior. That’s what makes it, explanatory, which is good, which is why it’s un-stupid and, thereby, endorsing its candidacy for the mantle of theory. “The Matrix”, “This is someone’s dream”, “the Heavenly Hormone” are nothing more than replies, simple answers. Maybe the problem here is that we disagree on the definition of the words “explanation” and “answer”. You seem to think that they mean the same thing. I don’t.

    I can’t imagine a reason that the universe exists; therefore, goddidit.

    I can’t imagine a reason that evil exists; therefore, goddidntdoit.

    I can’t imagine a reason that the universe exists; therefore, TheHeavenlyHormoneDidit.

    I can’t imagine a reason that evil exists; therefore, TheHeavenlyHormoneDidntDoit.

    Neither of these pairs of statements represent contradictory statements because the truth value of neither in each pair can be ascertained. They explain nothing, they – both pairs – fail to predict, and that’s why they’re stupid as explanatory statements. If you substitute “The Matrix”, “This is someone’s dream”, “The Heavenly Hormone” in for “god” then you get nothing but two more unsatisfying, empty statements of indeterminate truth value.

    In summary: God is most definitely NOT an explanation for anything.

  • http://evilburnee.co.uk PaulJ

    @Pi Guy:

    Q: “Why does the ball always fall down and not up?” A: “Gravity.”

    Now that’s not simply a response. It explains the behavior.

    While I’m in agreement with the general thrust of your argument with regard to explanatory power, this specific example has a problem. Can you define “up” and “down” without referring to gravity? If you can’t, the argument becomes circular, in that the answer (gravity) is defined in the question (without gravity there is no up or down).

  • http://thewarfareismental.typepad.com cl

    On one hand, shallow defenses of POE arguments are always discouraging – but on the other hand – I’m glad to see that many atheists and skeptics are finally conceding the inherent weakness in them. Also, a rationalist’s tip of the hat to Brian re #88, as well.

    As far as IP goes, WOW… for a forum ostensibly dedicated to the rational pursuit of science, I see so many red flags I feel like a Matador in a bullfight on 10 hits of LSD:

    Among reasonably rational believers, the God hypotheses that are left don’t make predictions because the ones that did have been tested and failed… A god who intervenes for sick people based on prayer has been studied scientifically and rejected (sadly, those who knew they were being prayed for did worse.. possibly due to performance anxiety-type stress). (TJ, #100)

    TJ (apparently) assumes negative conclusions entail credible studies and/or reliable results, and I can only wonder why TJ told half the story and didn’t include links to tests that were initially reported as promising, because I can assure you they exist. I say that no scientifically credible study on prayer has ever been conducted, nor can a scientifically credible study on prayer ever be conducted – and anyone who claims otherwise is wrong regardless of education, expertise, or employment. I usually don’t argue so absolutely, but in this case I’ve sustained my claim beyond a reasonable doubt.

    In other words, claims of supernatural intervention in the natural world can’t be measured or otherwise tested because ‘God is mysterious’. (jim, #105)

    This is only accurate if we take mysterious as synonym for unfalsifiable, because that’s the real reason why claims of supernatural intervention can’t be measured or reliably tested – they are not falsifiable. Credible scientific studies cannot proceed sans falsifiable claims. jim, after your most excellent post I recently alluded to on DD’s blog, I can’t see how you have a problem with this idea. You should know better. You skewered the unfalsifiability of supernatural claims in that post better than Judge Wapner would have to a worthy defendant back in his prime.

    Look, common sense tells us that if there are hundreds of millions of believers praying to a God who has promised to acknowledge those prayers, even to the slightest degree, statistical studies would surely confirm His intervention in the world. They do not. (jim, #105)

    That argument is about as shallow as a wading pool. Regardless of how we structure our tests, we cannot reasonably control for or even quantify the confounding effects of extra-study prayer. That is, any methodological advantage we can conceive of cannot possibly eliminate or even quantify the subjects’ exposure to other sources of prayer occurring outside the study, or to other types of spontaneous healing that may in fact exist. How can we know that any positive results in the prayer group were the result of the intercessors as opposed to other people praying in other places around the world that may or may not be focusing specifically on subjects in the prayer group? It is entirely reasonable that other people besides the selected intercessors would be praying for the subjects in both groups – for example family members, friends, neighbors or members of their congregation – and I’m open to suggestions as to how we might eliminate or even quantify this massive problem. To those who might be wondering, “Wouldn’t extra-study intercessors simply amount to a bigger sample group, effectively increasing the probability of positive results?” To them I would ask, “Is padding a study in favor of positive results scientifically credible?”

    If someone in an hypothetical control group had cancer, and the cancer goes into remission, how do we know whether such resulted from IP vs. spontaneous remission? How do we control for people who pray generically for all of those who suffer from disease and suffering? Do all prayer studies accurately control for the fact that every instance of a prayer study increases the likelihood of positive results by chance? How can we control for the fact that individual intercessors are going to have individual and varying degrees of faith? For these and many more reasons we’ve only begun to scrape the surface of, I submit that all prayer studies are inherently flawed and no prayer studies are scientifically credible. Claims contrary are unscientific regardless of dressing.

    I do know some Xians that claim that those types of acts do occur. Not limbs fully regrowing, but limbs lengthening or pain going away or miraculous healings from ailments. Of course, they never put these things to scientific scrutiny. Imagine that. (OMGF, #106)

    I’d think after this, OMGF/Anon – who is really an intelligent guy – would realize that such things can’t be reliably put to scientific scrutiny. Then again – he did ask me to prove that an advance in knowledge resulted from prayer or revelation, proving only that even the intelligent often misunderstand the rationalism they vociferously espouse.

  • http://reasonvsapologetics.blogspot.com jim

    cl: Doesn’t matter- the obvious ramifications would cut through the noise in the same way the evidence regarding the efficacy of a TB vaccination would. Your confounders are mere handwaving. They could be adequately accounted for, isolated to at least some degree, and besides…you’re missing the point entirely. Or perhaps more accurately, convoluting the point (as usual). The investigations are actually ridiculously fine-tuned for error, searching for a flea when there SHOULD be an elephant in the room. As far as the ‘shallow as a wading pool’ polemic goes, leave it outside or don’t bother addressing me. You come in like a jerkoff, and then when people respond accordingly, it’s all ‘Oh, I see you can’t be rational about the matter.’ Go be a flea on someone else’s back, doofis. (Hey, here’s another remark for your narcissist/martyr complex sidebar trophy room…go for it, dude!)

  • http://reasonvsapologetics.blogspot.com jim

    cl:

    Btw, you’re also confusing the epistemological difficulties regarding unprovable metaphysical assertions with ascertaining the truth of claims containing real-world ramifications, which CAN be measured through statistical analysis and logical extrapolation. Silly rabbit.

  • Lynet

    For fun, notice the parallelism of the following claims:

    I can’t imagine a reason that the universe exists; therefore, goddidit.

    I can’t imagine a reason that evil exists; therefore, goddidntdoit.

    Nicely argued. Note, however, that the same parallelism does not apply to “god of the gaps” reasoning in, say, biology. “We haven’t thought of an evolutionary mechanism yet; therefore, goddidit” flies in the face of previous experience, since similar holes in our understanding have been filled in the past, so we have some reason to expect that they will be filled in future.

  • http://marcschooley.com/blog MS Quixote

    Note, however, that the same parallelism does not apply to “god of the gaps” reasoning in, say, biology. “We haven’t thought of an evolutionary mechanism yet; therefore, goddidit” flies in the face of previous experience, since similar holes in our understanding have been filled in the past, so we have some reason to expect that they will be filled in future.

    Yes, ma’am, Lynet, you’re always the perceptive one, aren’t you:) I initially had “I can’t imagine a complex cell…” but it just didn’t seem right to me for the very reason you mention. But, if I had been desiring to be derisive, the biology example might have served better.

    I don’t want to cause you guilt or anything, but I was a bit saddened that Elliptica seems to be no longer. As always, wishing you the best…

  • http://marcschooley.com/blog MS Quixote

    Lindajoy,

    How do you get from this:

    Your question is: “Is it possible that your god, the one you say you simply feel is there, is simply a figment of your imagination?”

    My answer is: of course!

    What now?

    To this:

    Good grief! This whole discussion with Quixote is STILL going on??? In the first thread response to him, he admitted to me after I questioned him that his god is an imaginary figment of his imagination, and followed that with a kind of “so what” remark.

  • http://reasonvsapologetics.blogspot.com jim

    Sorry to beat a dead horse here, but I can just imagine the theistic defenses if the bible said, “And verily, God shalt make rabbits fly through the air like seagulls.”

    1. People would confuse the matter by throwing rabbits through the air.
    2. But millions of people do purport to having seen rabbits flying through the air.
    3. What would that prove? A naturalistic explanation for rabbits flying through the air might eventually surface.
    4. What does the bible actually mean by ‘flying’?
    5. What if other small, fuzzy animals similar to rabbits started flying through the air? You’d never be able to weed it out.
    6. Rabbits fly in mysterious ways.
    7. Seagulls really ARE rabbits!

    Henceforth, the existence OR non-existence of flying rabbits will not; nay, cannot; be verified to everyone’s satisfaction. It’s best to remain agnostic about the matter (except, of course, that rabbits really do fly through the air, ’cause the bible says so).

    Meanwhile, no flying rabbits.

    Seriously, things are a lot simpler than this, aren’t they? Oh, and apologies if I’ve over-posted today. Day off, in the cups…you know the drill.

  • Leum

    Meanwhile, no flying rabbits.

    They might be quantum. You can’t prove they’re not quantum.

  • http://marcschooley.com/blog MS Quixote

    They might be quantum.

    Leum,

    The best answer is “both.” :)

  • http://reasonvsapologetics.blogspot.com jim

    Leum:

    Hmmm…virtual vermin rabbiting in and out of the space/time foam? Now that I think about it, your explanation clears up a lot of questions I’ve been having about the Easter Bunny! () ()
    . .
    >^<

  • Danikajaye

    Flying rabbits… that had me laughing. Thanks for that link Leum. Elephants with wings, it is a good analogy.

  • http://reasonvsapologetics.blogspot.com jim

    Wow, looks like my bunny wandered into a particle accelerator. Poor little guy!

  • http://avertyoureye.blogspot.com/ Teleprompter

    Quixote,

    The best answer is “both.” :)

    Schrodinger’s Elephant?

  • Pi Guy

    “Schrodinger’s Elephant?”

    *wipes coffee off keyboard*

  • TJ

    Thanks for providing the links, M.

    There is also a more balanced review of the efficacy of prayer in Wikipedia.

    TJ (apparently) assumes negative conclusions entail credible studies and/or reliable results, and I can only wonder why TJ told half the story and didn’t include links to tests that were initially reported as promising, because I can assure you they exist. I say that no scientifically credible study on prayer has ever been conducted, nor can a scientifically credible study on prayer ever be conducted – and anyone who claims otherwise is wrong regardless of education, expertise, or employment. I usually don’t argue so absolutely, but in this case I’ve sustained my claim beyond a reasonable doubt. (cl #110)

    I do not believe that negative conclusions entail credible studies; that’s bias, not science. I am not a scholar of the efficacy of prayer. I have read three or four popular press articles about two studies. The first showed a positive effect, but was later plagued by controversy, so I didn’t mention it. The second (that I have read about), showed no effect from prayer, and a potential negative effect of telling people they were being prayed for (see M.’s links). I have not heard of any serious methodological controversy surrounding that later study (which doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist, only that it never floated to the top of the “most emailed” storied on Yahoo News).

    The claim that no scientifically credible study on prayer can ever be performed is unsettling to me. If you mean that it is outside the scope of science, then you are defining it as something that I categorize as unreal. If there is no measurable effect of prayer, then why bother? It is pretty clear to me that there is no overwhelming effect of intercessory prayer, personal anecdotes to the contrary notwithstanding (because they are not statistically significant and do not contrast scenarios with prayer versus those without).

    The efficacy of prayer is not central to my argument, which was that miraculous religious beliefs that make easily testable predictions are generally discarded by otherwise rational believers when the predictions fail to come true, leaving the rational believers with only untestable beliefs. I’m now quite happy to categorize the efficacy of prayer as “not easily testable”.. and most certainly not on an individual level (which would be perverse.. praying for one family member but not for another (or, worse, against another) when you think it could make a difference is just mean, and not particularly ethical).

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

    Nicely argued. Note, however, that the same parallelism does not apply to “god of the gaps” reasoning in, say, biology.

    I’m not sure if the parallelism applies at all, the more I think about it. god is (for most conceptions) thought to be a specific entity with specific characteristics. Those characteristics are given to us as such that they exclude evil and include it at the same time. Even if we can’t deductively say for sure (and it may be possible anyway) that’s no cover for the theist, because the theist still has a burden to show why god would allow or perform evil acts. I can’t see a reason why an omnipotent god would have to commit genocide or why an omniscient god would have the world come to the point where he would have to commit genocide. There’s no good theistic answer for that.

  • Wayne Essel

    Even after all of this discussion, I still think that people largely believe what they believe based upon emotion (either theism or atheism feels more right), a reasonable reaction to their upbringing and experience whether positive or negative, and then set about to defend their choice. By that I mean that for the most part, theist’s arguments are insufficient (discounted) to convert atheists and vice versa.

    For TJ and M, thank you for the links and article. I have no reaction that wasn’t throughly discussed in the stories to which the links connect.

  • M.

    Sorry for overquoting, but since this is the center of the problem…

    How do you get from this:

    Your question is: “Is it possible that your god, the one you say you simply feel is there, is simply a figment of your imagination?”

    My answer is: of course!

    What now?

    To this:

    Good grief! This whole discussion with Quixote is STILL going on??? In the first thread response to him, he admitted to me after I questioned him that his god is an imaginary figment of his imagination, and followed that with a kind of “so what” remark.

    I’m unsure if I have missed something, Quixote, but it follows pretty directly. We essentially have two options: a) the God you feel is a figment of your imagination, and b)the God you feel has an existence outside of your imagination.

    In case of option a), there is no conflict of opinion. You have expressed a certain feeling of your mind; existence of such feelings is well established by evidence accessible to all, and also by personal experience of many (if not most) people. In analogy, if I tell you that I feel love, you don’t have to believe me, but there is no reason to disbelieve me either.

    Option b), however, requires evidence. Which, unless I’m still missing something critical, has never been provided. Following the previous analogy, if I tell you that an entity called Love truly exists in the world, outside of my feelings, and is capable of influencing the world – well, you shouldn’t believe me unless I provide you with some evidence for that existence and (especially) that purported influence.

    You have admitted that option a) is plausible, and have not provided any support for option b). Therefore, by default, option a) is the only one that remains. Discussion of option b) is beside the point if no testable evidence for it can ever be brought forth.

  • M.

    Even after all of this discussion, I still think that people largely believe what they believe based upon emotion (either theism or atheism feels more right), a reasonable reaction to their upbringing and experience whether positive or negative, and then set about to defend their choice.

    I have to disagree with this assessment.

    I promise you that I will change my mind as soon as you bring forth any testable evidence for existence of God. My stance is not emotional (emotionally, in fact, I would vastly prefer it if there was a God) – I simply cannot believe in existence of something for which there is no evidence.

    If I tell you that I believe that the third planet of Alpha Draconis is inhabited by intelligent insects, will you share my belief? Or will you ask me for some evidence for such an outlandish claim? If I fail to provide it, and just tell you that I have a personal feeling that such creatures exist in that place – would that change your mind?

    This is hardly an emotional stance. I’m just asking to see any actual evidence for existence of the proposed entity. Nothing more, nothing less.

  • billf

    Add me to the list of non believers who would prefer that a god existed – just not one of the evil gods as depicted in the ‘holy’ books.

    Evidence, please.

  • TJ

    Wayne Essel wrote:

    By that I mean that for the most part, theist’s arguments are insufficient (discounted) to convert atheists and vice versa.

    M. wrote:

    I promise you that I will change my mind as soon as you bring forth any testable evidence for existence of God. My stance is not emotional (emotionally, in fact, I would vastly prefer it if there was a God) – I simply cannot believe in existence of something for which there is no evidence.

    I think Wayne is right, but for the wrong reasons. Few conversions will occur in large part because atheists—at least of the sort who hang around these parts (like M., who I agree with above)—want evidence the theists can’t provide, and most theists don’t find atheists arguments as compelling as the atheists think they should be. (Unfortunately, my sample is limited. I don’t know many admitted atheists out in the real world. And all the theists I know who bring up their religion on a regular basis are not nearly as scientifically minded as our friend Quixote, and are emotionally unable to even discuss the basis of their beliefs.)

    Personally, for reasons similar to what M. says above, I think theists are more likely to be emotionally wrapped up in their arguments than atheists are: emotionally, I want there to be an omnipotent being who watches out for me. In fact, I’d go so far to say that inside myself, my theistic tendencies are emotional and my atheistic tendencies are rational. So I’ll just go ahead and admit to possibly projecting my inner situation out into the world so no one else has to.

  • http://www.superhappyjen.blogspot.com SuperHappyJen

    Quixote: I have a question about something several people have mentioned but I can’t find your response (I apologize if you’ve already answered). That is the question of choice. Often, rather than providing any evidence, friends and family will try to convince me to believe by citing reasons why it would be great if God existed (heaven, knowing dead loved ones are cared for, having someone watch over you, etc). Clearly my friends (and the hypothetical people on your bulleted list) think it’s possible to choose one belief or another. So my question is this:

    Do you consider your belief in God to be a conscious choice?

    And if so:

    How is that possible?

  • Domyan

    @ Pi Guy

    Look, for some very advanced civilization it should be entirely possible to devise a ‘Matrix world’ that would be equivalent to the one we live in. In that world the ‘matrix theory’ would obviously be the correct theory while still having no predictive power. There is no question that it would be completely consistent with that world (actually, any world). Being true it would also be the theory giving the best (only true) explanation for the observed universe (because the aliens wished it so). That explanation would not be ‘scientific’ because the whole theory is not scientific (as it is not falsifiable). Actually, as I have already said, the whole theory would be meaningless precisely because it’s not scientific (we wouldn’t be able to choose between that theory and any other similar nonscientific theory).

    A better summary:
    - if theists can’t show that the ‘God theory’ can make accurate predictions (that it’s falsifiable), their theory can’t be considered scientific
    - there is no rational way to choose between non-scientific theories (there is an infinite number of such theories), it’s just down to our personal preference and imagination

  • Pi Guy

    …it’s just down to our personal preference and imagination

    To which my reply is, again, simply: it’s the stupid that makes it un-good. You’ve said that, in order to justify a belief in god, you just have to choose to believe or create a hypothetical scenario in which your belief cannot be demonstrably shown to be untrue and – voila! – it’s an explanation (which I still insist means that it must be predictive; that’s what it means to explain!).

    Again, you’re using words like ‘hypothesis’ and ‘theory’ so that what you claim appears to be rooted in something rational and authoritative, kinda like “I’m not a doctor but I do play one on TV. So when feel ill…”. Then, when it suits you, you jump off the R-Train and say

    there is no rational way to choose between non-scientific theories (there is an infinite number of such theories)

    WTF?? If you use the word ‘theory’ to mean ‘opinion’ or ‘belief’ that’s fine but you then forfeit the right to use it in conjunction with ‘hypothesis’ and ‘rational’ so loosely as to enable weaseling back and forth between sounding authoritative (using scientific phrases) and nebulous (implying that theory = opinion).

    If you’re going to hijack scientific-sounding jargon to support your argument then you must stay consistent with the scientific meaning of that jargon. If you want to be able to use the word ‘theory’ to bolster your argument by making it sound sciency then you can’t suddenly introduce non-scientific theories. There are no such things when you use the word ‘theory’ in the way that you initially have. You want ‘theory’ to add the credence to your claim where replacing it with ‘indefensible, unjustified belief’ utterly fails to do because you know that that would weaken, if not actually falsify, your assertion.

    Try replacing every phrase where you use the phrase ‘non-scientific theory’ with ‘unjustified belief’ or ‘unqualified opinion’ and they are logically indistinguishable from one another. IOW, non-scientific theories are not theories at all. They’re opinions cloaked in the the colloquial – but intentionally ambiguous – use of the word ‘theory’. Only in that way can such non-predictive, world-consistent non-scientific ‘theories’ exist. But, again, if you use it in that fashion, you can no longer take advantage of the authoritative posture of science.

  • http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    The primary cause of this wholesale withdrawal has been the inability for philosophers to demonstrate that God cannot possess a morally sufficient reason to permit evil.
    Sadly, Epicurus never though to add “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not willing to explain the logic behind giving children cancer (or not preventing it)?”
    I’m sure that the fifth officer is glad that theologians settled on his excuse.

    Hence, there exists no persuasive deductive path to demonstrate successfully a contradiction between the existence of God and the existence of evil.
    Say what now? That’s the best a 3 O’d God can do?

    cl “When we ignore the purported existence of deities who desire such things and pretend God is the only deity that influences man and/or creation, yes.”

    Gen 3:25 And yes, I, being a good God, made you in my image…and I also made a guy whose going to mess with you. Now get out of this garden!”

    M. “It’s kind of like discussing whether or not unicorn meat tastes delicious.”
    It tastes like hippogryph.

    MS Quixote “If our apprehension of goodness is anywhere near what’s good, if there is such a thing, then it becomes informative when we claim that God is good.”
    If, by Man’s standard, when God does good it’s good but, by Man’s standards, when God does evil it’s “we don’t have enough information, but God is good”, then “good” as applied to God is meaningless, no matter what He does.

    “Y’all are a specific subset of atheism, and, more than likely, not it’s most numerous.”
    Hey, I just signed up for atheism for the debauchery and orgies. Nobody told me those pretty much ended by the time Reagan got elected. I blame him. Jerk.

    “We readily admit people get it wrong all the time, but we claim there’s a standard by which it can be determined wrong, or right.”
    After the fact. Sometimes years after. Hindsight is 20/20.

    “Where theists commonly criticize atheist moral systems is a matter of grounding, not the system’s ability to produce practical results.”
    That works just as well if you reverse “theists” and “atheist”. I’ve been told that atheist morality is grounded on sand, but I see theist’s morality as grounded on another theist’s sand. Theistic absolute morality is just an earlier theist’s relative morality written down and attributed to a completely different author. This, I think, and as usual I speak for all atheists when I say this, is why Christian “absolute” morality has varied so wildly throughout history. When the outcome is good it’s credited to the wrong creators, and when it’s bad it’s good…until later, when the people that thought its bad was actually good clearly must not’ve been True Christians, and the previous minority of False Christians turn out to have been the True variant the whole time (sure, slavery is evil…now). A perpetually hidden absolute is no metric at all. Also, see M.’s comment #82 (I only mentioned my version, because the two things I value most are redundancy and redundancy).
    In short, we’re on the same ground. I’m just willing to call sand “sand”. That’s not bad. That’s human. People are messy.

    “Omnipotence is not defined as the ability to do anything.”
    Omnipotence is unlimited power (from Conservapedia, because I’m cheeky). They then go on to the Free Will defense for PoE, which implies that a perfect 3O’d God is unable (or unwilling) to make Free Will that is unable to be bad, knocking at least a couple of O’s down a peg and/or wrestling Epicurus.

    “I’d wager in the uniformity of responses on this site if we posed some of your examples. Evolution? Much more diversity of opinion in the theist world, I’d bet.”
    That’s because the atheist’s natural world only results in so many possibilities. Theists take the natural and multiply it with the inifinite supernatural, resulting in infinite flavours.

    LindaJoy “So why is everyone still immersed in a conversation about something that is only relevant to Quixote’s own brain and thoughts?”
    Because:
    1) We’re figments of Quixote’s fevered imagination, and
    2) His imagination is terribly unimaginative. There, I said it. No, I’m not sorry.

    jim “Yeah, I was a charismatic Christian back in the ’70s, and saw a lot of that leg lengthening going on.”
    You’re tellin’ me! First He lengthened my short leg, then He lengthened it again. Jerk.


    Whew! I have to start visiting here more than once a week.

  • http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Wups. Lost a link. That “I’m sure that the fifth officer” should link here.

  • Domyan

    @ Pi Guy
    What the hell are we arguing about? As far as I see we are in total agreement. It’s just that my semantics is bothering you. As a physicist and someone with a completely scientific world-view I would say I have a pretty good notion as to what constitutes a scientific theory. The non-scientific variety is so far removed from this that I completely allow non-scientists (believers of all kinds) to have, as programmers would put it, their own namespace. I have no problem with them calling some idea a theory as long as it’s clear it’s not a scientific one. Scientists have defined what constitutes a scientific theory(TM) as opposed to other kinds of theories. Contrary to what you think, scientists haven’t got a monopoly on the word ‘theory’ (look it up on the Wikipedia).
    Now, if I was talking to some other, I am guessing less educated crowd, I would spend more time explaining this distinction but I think here it is not needed.
    So, let’s argue about more important questions and not just for the sake of arguing.

  • Scotlyn

    Modusoperandi

    Theists take the natural and multiply it with the inifinite supernatural, resulting in infinite flavours.

    Missed you, Modus…will you make mine “pink unicorn matrix syrup flavour”, please.

    Your corkscrew-shaped comment on Christian “absolute” morality made absolutely perfect sense.

    When the outcome is good it’s credited to the wrong creators, and when it’s bad it’s good…until later, when the people that thought its bad was actually good clearly must not’ve been True Christians, and the previous minority of False Christians turn out to have been the True variant the whole time (sure, slavery is evil…now).

    Thankyou.

  • http://marcschooley.com/blog MS Quixote

    If our apprehension of goodness is anywhere near what’s good, if there is such a thing, then it becomes informative when we claim that God is good.

    OMGF #86.

    I didn’t see it until modus brought it back out into the light, but you’re exactly right on this one. My response here was mistated and thoroughly wrongheaded. It should read as “then it becomes informative when we hear/learn/it’s postulated that God is good. Good catch, my friend, and as restated it should pan out in a linear fashion. Sorry it took me a while to see it.

  • http://thewarfareismental.typepad.com cl

    TJ,

    I appreciate you clearing things up.

    Among reasonably rational believers, the God hypotheses that are left don’t make predictions because the ones that did have been tested and failed…

    I don’t think “three or four popular press articles about two studies” constitutes sufficient support for such an overconfident conclusion.

    If you mean that it is outside the scope of science, then you are defining it as something that I categorize as unreal.

    Limiting reality to that inside the scope of science seems unsettling to me, but that’s just my opinion.

    If there is no measurable effect of prayer, then why bother?

    You’re presumably not a believer already and I don’t think my opinion could be valid. I agree with your final paragraph 100%.

    jim,

    Doesn’t matter- the obvious ramifications would cut through the noise in the same way the evidence regarding the efficacy of a TB vaccination would… The investigations are actually ridiculously fine-tuned for error…

    ..then,

    Your confounders are mere handwaving.

    Yet you yourself offer no evidence for your claim which makes it irrational. You’re not even talking about anything specific. “The investigations?” What investigations? Harris et al.? I don’t think so. Byrd? Sorry. STEP? Nope. What investigations?

    Next,

    ..searching for a flea when there SHOULD be an elephant in the room.

    Ah, yes, an unjustified, just-so statement. Doesn’t the Bible claim that the vast majority of the religious are the type who say “Lord, Lord” but lack faith? Isn’t faith a necessary component in prayer? Justify your assumption, if you can. Or provide reasoned rebuttals to any of my concerns over confounders. Or just deny your responsibility as positive claimant like you currently are. That there “SHOULD be an elephant in the room” is a positive claim, jim. Your arguments sound (to me) more like a denialist on standing on his last leg than those of a truly scientifically-minded person supporting a positive claim with evidence and genuinely searching for truth – and not that I need you to say thanks or anything, but you completely overlooked the second instance of a genuine compliment. Gee, the whole world is pink through rose-colored glasses. Keep seeing and saying what you want about me. It’s fine. Don’t make me tell all your atheist buddies about when your eagerness to get a gotcha led you to claim a certain biology postdoc made an argument he clearly wasn’t.

    They could be adequately accounted for, isolated to at least some degree,

    Ah, yes.. “they” and to “to at least some degree”. Quite scientific there, jim. I’d hate to have you as my anaesthesiologist. “Hey, beef up cl’s juice to some degree… Just mark down ‘accounted for’ when it asks for his blood pressure.” Nice try pulling this one into philosophy, too – but no – as I’ve challenged the difficulties in reliably testing these real-world ramifications you simply feel fit to presuppose. I couldn’t challenge them if I didn’t acknowledge them, or if I confused them as unprovable metaphysical assertions.

    As far as my sidebar, it’s kickin’ ass lately. With complements from university professors and employed postdocs it doesn’t need any more from you, and as far as narcissistic martyr complex charges, it’s just telling both sides of the story. Besides, who pretended to permanently leave DD’s blog in a fit of self-absorbed drama, then cried about it on their own blog? Would you like a scarlet A blanket to comfort you?

  • http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Congrats, cl. Efficacy of prayer tests can’t be scientifically verified because they can’t take into account prayers coming from outside the prayer group. Take pride in the fact that you’ve reduced efficacy prayer to the equivalent of that of raindancing.

  • Pi Guy

    @ Domyan:

    As a physicist and someone with a completely scientific world-view I would say I have a pretty good notion as to what constitutes a scientific theory.

    Funny that. I also am a physicist and that only makes your intentionally amibiguous use of the word “theory” even more puzzling – or reinforces what I claimed in my last comment: that you’re playing fast and loose with the word.

    I’ve already acknowledged that in colloquial speech people often mean something different than scientists when the employ the word. You want to use it when it suits you because it sounds as though you’ve got some sort of additional authority – you are aware of the logical fallacy known as ‘argument from authority’, aren’t you? – and then, when you’re challenged to explain exactly what is meant by an explanation that doesn’t actually explain anything – as theories in science do – you’re right back to the comman man’s definition of theory.

    All I’m saying is that you can’t have it both ways. You can’t start expounding the virtue of belief by supporting it with non-explanatory explanations and calling them theories then say “Well, I didn’t mean _that_ definition of theory.”

    Again:
    - if it doens’t explain anything then it’s not an explanation
    - if it doesn’t explain anything then you should avoid calling it either an explanation or a theory
    and
    - if you’re truly trained in the sciences then your intentional misconstruation of the word theory is absolutely baffling!

    And that is what we’re apparently arguing about. If you want it sciency and logical and authoritative and convincing, stay with what can be observed, tested, falsified, and reproduced. No feelings or choices allowed. But if you want to allow supernatural ‘explanations’ that are essentially variations on “Because I told you so!” (ie: they explain nothing) then avoid using scientific language to justify something that is completely outside the bounds of science. If you can craft a defensible argument supporting belief in god without appealling to sciency-sounding stuff – because it’s not part of the natural world so is NOT science at all – please offer it up. But you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

    Sorry. You just can’t.

  • Scotlyn

    Apologies for butting in, Pi Guy, but reading both sides of your exchange with Domyan, makes this seem quite unfair:

    If you can craft a defensible argument supporting belief in god without appealling to sciency-sounding stuff – because it’s not part of the natural world so is NOT science at all – please offer it up. But you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

    Nothing Domyan has said in any way indicates he is trying to “craft a defensible argument supporting belief in god.” In fact, quite the opposite.

    His original point that the problem with the “god hypothesis” is not so much that it explains nothing, but that [in lay terms] it “explains” “everything”, I thought was well made, if not precise enough in its terminology. It is indeed the most satisfying aspect of the “god hypothesis” to its purveyors. They like having everything neatly “explained” without having to think about ways of testing such “explanations,” such as making and testing predictions, making new predictions when new evidence messes up the old “explanation,” etc.

    I understood his point perfectly. And your implication that he himself is a purveyor of the “god hypothesis” seems to me to be highly unfair.

    Butting out, now … with apologies if I’ve been forward.

  • TJ

    cl,

    I wrote:

    Among reasonably rational believers, the God hypotheses that are left don’t make predictions because the ones that did have been tested and failed…

    You wrote:

    I don’t think “three or four popular press articles about two studies” constitutes sufficient support for such an overconfident conclusion.

    Which is why I backed off the claim about the efficacy of prayer. There’s a lot of interpretation there. As an aside, I think you could control for background prayers by comparing people likely not to be prayed for specifically (those who have no religious friends or family who knows they are sick) to those who have whole churches of believers praying for them daily. The claim I’m seeking to test is that intercessory prayer is massively helpful (which is what I would expect from the god I was told about in my early years). If you don’t have the same expectations—and there’s no reason you would—then you can be unconvinced and I will not hold it against you.

    However, your conclusion about my overconfidence conflates the discussion of the efficacy of prayer with more general, easily disproved examples.. for example any statement that the end of the world should have occurred in the past. We can all revisit a specific example in 2013 if and when the world fails to end in 2012, evidence for which will probably not require scientific study.

    Beliefs that make easily testable claims—if I do simple ritual X I will become fabulously wealthy in 30 days; the world will end in 1999; making potion #9 will make someone fall in love with me—must be backed away from or abandoned all together when the supernatural predictions fail to come true. Sometimes new premises are added to explain the failure: if only works if you chant just right or believe just so or cook it for exactly 13 minutes, and that didn’t happen quite right. The hypothesis becomes unfalsifiable if, for example, the only definition of doing it “just right” is that it works, which is begging the question.

  • http://www.croonersunlimited.com Jim Speiser

    Shell we check? Hey you other atheists who are reading this – what is the basic, essential, fundamental reason you reject theism? Help me and Quixote figure it out.

    Lack of evidence.

  • Scotlyn

    Further to my last on Pi Guy/Domyan – I read both your statements as practically indistinguishable from each other – and equally interesting – which is why the semantic wrangle bemused me.

    It seems to me that an “everything” explanation is as useless as a “nothing” explanation. Neither does the work of an actually explaining any specific thing you want to understand better.

  • http://reasonvsapologetics.blogspot.com jim

    A question regarding the term ‘evidence’: When we say there’s no evidence for the existence of the theistic god, do we actually mean there’s no credible evidence? I only ask this because naturally theists will say there is evidence in the bible, personal testimony, etc. Do we wholly discount that as being evidence at all, or is it simply really, really bad evidence? I guess it boils down to a semantics problem, but sometimes I wonder if we mean two things, and talk past each other.

  • Domyan

    I read both your statements as practically indistinguishable from each other – and equally interesting – which is why the semantic wrangle bemused me.

    My thoughts exactly! Pi Guy, I have a really hard time following your argument and I don’t think it has anything to do with me not being a native speaker. It’s like you are arguing with some alternative version of myself. :)
    This argument is only about the semantics and in this area I think it’s you that’s confused. Please look up the difference between entry for ‘theory’ and ‘scientific theory’ on the Wikipedia (I belove a good dictionary would give similar definitions). The same goes for the word ‘explanation’. I am really not an expert here but I am pretty certain that both words were in usage long before the invention of science as we know it today so it’s really not a case of ‘layman’ taking a purely scientific term and distorting it to suit their need but precisely the opposite. I just don’t understand why you would have a problem with this?

    Let’s consider an example from physics. Take QM. The notion that there are aspects of nature that are impossible to know was so unlike anything that came before that a lot of extremely intelligent people just couldn’t accept it (Einstein). We certainly haven’t managed to find a way around this uncertainties (they currently seem a fundamental property of the universe). Theists could offer o theory that explains why we haven’t found a better, more complete, scientific theory. It would probably state that “it’s a God’s back-door on the universe through which he can subtly manipulate events without ever being discovered”.

    Now, consider the type of come-back you are giving:
    “That’s stupid. You can’t say theory as you are not a scientist! You can’t say explanation as it’s stupid and un-good and doesn’t explain anything even if you belove it does! QED”.
    And mine:
    “As this theory offers no predictions, it’s not even in principle falsifiable. The problem with such theories is that we can think of an infinite number of them without any way of choosing between them. If we allow the possibility that one such theory can be correct, you still have about 0 probability of finding this theory. Even if you find it you can never be sure that you really have the right one.”

    Which approach would you say has better chance of convincing borderline theists in the “error of their ways”?

  • Domyan

    belove -> believe (clumsiness + spell-checker)

  • Wayne Essel

    Actually, Domyan, I think that was a Freudian slip! The root of the second syllable of believe is, I think, rooted in the german word lief or love.

  • Wayne Essel

    For M and TJ.

    Sorry I was tied up for the weekend and only now saw the responses.

    I don’t mean to use the word emotion with negative connotations. I agree that some people can get extremely emotional about religion or the inappropriateness of same. That wasn’t where I was going.

    I meant that a choice is based upon a feeling of rightness rather than pure logic. The need for evidence is just as much emotional as the need for faith. The lack of evidence implies lack of control, inability to predict and these are not comfortable feelings.

    We absolutely need evidence when dealing with our physical world. I’m not convinced that the evidence rules are the same when discussing God.

    Interesting questions to ask:
    for the theist: What would I have to feel if it were true that there is no God?
    for the atheist: What would I have to feel if it were true that there is a God?

    It is possible that either of these are true apart from evidence. What emotions do you feel when you consider either statement? I could foresee a huge range of differing emotions around the questions.

  • Wayne Essel

    For Jim Speiser:

    Why is evidence important? Ok, I just heard the collective gasp…

    But here is an opportunity to dive deeper into the why. I contend that there is some amount of emotion or feeling involved.

    Is evidence necessary for a thing to be true? Or do you need evidence in order to be comfortable with your choice?

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    We need evidence in order to be rational in choosing something. god may very well exist, but sans evidence we have no reason to believe in this god.

  • Wayne Essel

    OMGF,

    It appears that you value having a rationale for choosing more highly than seeking to find or understand a god that may very well exist.

    Why?

    I choose the opposite; not all the time, though. Most of my time is filled with day-to-day living, which I do with less than perfect awareness and little thought of God. But when I am aware, I choose to seek or understand what means God, which flies in the face of logic. I am choosing to explore paradox at that point. I am choosing that eternal consciousness feels better than eternal matter.

  • http://evilburnee.co.uk PaulJ

    Steven Pinker recently said something along these lines: “The idea of believing in something because it is true doesn’t come naturally to people.”

    Well, that’s what I want – I want my beliefs to be true. If I have evidence for those beliefs, they are more likely to be true. I may have emotional attachment to some of my beliefs, or I might not like the consequences of them not being true, but those considerations have little effect on whether they are true or not.

  • M.

    The need for evidence is just as much emotional as the need for faith. The lack of evidence implies lack of control, inability to predict and these are not comfortable feelings.

    Um…no. It has nothing to do with feelings. There is no emotional “need for evidence”.

    It is a matter of simple logic. If I believe in things without any evidence, then I can believe in anything. Without evidence, every statement is equally true.

    The universe is the dream of Azathoth, blind idiot-god at the center of creation. The universe is a bubble of order that necessarily arises occasionally from pure Chaos. The universe was literally created six days ago, and we were created with a bunch of false memories of things that never really happened. There is a God and He loves me.

    I can believe any of these things, if I choose to discard the need for evidence. I can, in fact, believe absolutely anything if I choose to disregard evidence.

    It boils down to a fundamental dichotomy. One option is that any statement about anything is equally true – in which case our opinions and beliefs are simply arbitrary choices between equivalent propositions. In this case, it makes as much sense to believe in God as it does to disbelieve in him.

    The second option is that some statements are true, and others are false. In this second case, there has to be some way to tell the true ones from the false ones. The only method that works is through actual evidence. If you have another method that you think would work, please explain it.

    We absolutely need evidence when dealing with our physical world. I’m not convinced that the evidence rules are the same when discussing God.

    Why? Why is God specifically exempt, while other things aren’t?

    Again, this is a matter of deciding between true and false statements about the world. The statement “God is a subject that does not fall under the same evidentiary rules as everything else we know about” has to have a reason behind it.

    If I arbitrarily choose to define God as something that does not require evidence, why should I do that just in God’s case? Why not define Azathoth as something that is “proven by different evidence rules”? Why not define everything in that way?

    If something is exempt from the rules that apply to literally everything else, there has to be a reason for it. Do you have such a reason?

  • M.

    Apologies for messing up the quotation in the previous comment.

  • Wayne Essel

    Yeah, I know. I’ve messed up some posts before. While it’s fresh in my mind, other sites have an after-the-fact edit capability for posts. Ebon, is that possible here? Perhaps where only the author could fix it?

  • Wayne Essel

    M.

    Just a reminder; I’m trying to explain why people believe in God or do not.

    I’m OK with allowing different rules of evidence for God mostly because I believe in eternal consciousness in preference to eternal matter. This statement implies that all bets are off at the start where the prime source, God, is concerned in my mind. This is largely because it seems to me that the Source has to be much more than the creation. I’m rational enough to know that I’m dealing with a paradox from the get-go.

    There is no evidence for either eternal matter or eternal consciousness in my mind. Finite matter or energy makes no sense to me. If it’s finite, it had to be created somehow from something or by someone. In an arena where I can’t prove any of it, I prefer eternal consciousness as the ultimate Source of all that is. Eternal or finite matter doesn’t feel as appropriate to me. My mind balks at the idea of eternal matter that has always existed, but is OK with it being the creative expression of infinite consciousness. At its most elemental level, I can’t explain it better than that.

    We simply disagree on that point and I don’t think any amount of discussion is going to change either of our minds unless one of us encounters a cognitive dissonance directly traceable to the appropriateness of that one belief.

    And I don’t think either of us is alone in that regard.

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

    Wayne Essel,

    I choose the opposite; not all the time, though.

    No you don’t, not most of the time at least. You don’t choose the opposite when it comes to IPU, FSM, leprechauns, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Baal, Thor, Zeus, the floating teapot, the ice cream stand on Titan, or any of the other infinite things that someone could dream up. In fact, you probably mostly only choose the opposite in regards to your god, which is special pleading. It’s OK to believe in your god against reason, but not anything else? This isn’t an explanation as to why people believe in god so much as an exercise in logical fallacy.

    I’m rational enough to know that I’m dealing with a paradox from the get-go.

    You’re rational enough to know that you are believing irrationally and be OK with that? Um, you might want to think about that.

  • M.

    Wayne,

    OMGF has explained the basic problem with your reasoning (as explained here); I’ll just add a few comments.

    This is largely because it seems to me that the Source has to be much more than the creation. I’m rational enough to know that I’m dealing with a paradox from the get-go.

    But not rational enough to choose to avoid this paradox? Credo quia absurdum has never been a particularly good argument.

    There are two things that puzzle me.

    The first is that you jump immediately to God for a problem that is (even within your irrational boundaries) solvable with less problematic constructions. If you have to choose to believe without evidence, why not at least go for the minimally paradoxical proposition? For instance, in order of decreasing paradoxicality:

    - The Source is the creation. “God creates Himself through evolution of the universe” sort of standpoint. That way, you at least avoid the perpetual complexity increase problem.
    - Matter is energy is consciousness. Panprotoexperentialism – consciousness is an integral part of the material universe, to be realized when appropriate configurations occur.
    - Final Anthropic Principle. Assume that Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics is correct. Assume that conscious observation is required for measurement. We have established that quantum laws work both ways in time already. Therefore, only that universe which has a conscious observer in the future will develop (collapse from superposition of all possibilities) in the past (see Paul Davies for a more detailed explanation of this).

    Any of these would allow you to get around your essential problem, while cutting down on the number of things you have to accept without evidence, and while removing the essential paradox you propose.

    The second thing that puzzles me is far more basic. Here is the problem as you state it:

    In an arena where I can’t prove any of it, I prefer eternal consciousness as the ultimate Source of all that is. Eternal or finite matter doesn’t feel as appropriate to me. My mind balks at the idea of eternal matter that has always existed, but is OK with it being the creative expression of infinite consciousness.

    The question that comes to mind is: If you don’t understand something, should you admit ignorance, or should you make up a certainly incorrect story to explain it?

    Let me be as blunt as possible.

    The question(s) in the line of “why is there something rather then nothing”, or “why is the nature of the universe such as it is” are all very important. And while we are working on it, we are very far from the level of understanding and accumulated knowledge that would allow us to answer them.

    The rational thing to do, when asked these questions, is to say “I don’t know. Nobody knows. Let’s work on finding out!” You can follow this up with some of your personal favorite wild hypotheses (such as those mentioned above) – but without kidding yourself, or anyone else, that they are anything more. Very, very wild, very, very hypothetical, and almost absolutely certain to be completely wrong.

    You (and the vast majority of theists out there) seem to think that the better approach is to use our insufficient knowledge, and make up a story about it that “makes sense” to you. I do not understand that.

    In my mind – and if I’m wrong in my reasoning, please show me where – this is exactly the same as when shamans in an ancient hunter-gatherer tribe started guessing at the nature of lightning. They came up with thousands, perhaps millions of stories as to what causes lightning. Not a single one of those stories involves electricity. You or I have about the same chance in trying to figure out the answer to the question of existence.

    Why make up stories about God, or about “infinite consciousness”, or whatever, to describe something that is beyond your current understanding? Wait for evidence, and until then, admit ignorance. Very simple and straightforward.

  • Wayne Essel

    From OMGF:

    No you don’t, not most of the time at least. You don’t choose the opposite when it comes to IPU, FSM, leprechauns, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Baal, Thor, Zeus, the floating teapot, the ice cream stand on Titan, or any of the other infinite things that someone could dream up.

    I would dismiss IPU, FSM, leprechauns, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Baal, Thor Zeus, the floating teapot and the ice cream stand on Titan on the basis that all of them are human-originated stories and I can make none of those stories match my notional concept of first cause. And the map is not the territory, meaning that a story is not the same as the subject about which the story tells.

    It is not unreasonable to seek or postulate a plausible source for all that is. You have dismissed consiousness. I have not. I have dismissed logic as the sole arbiter of discussions about God; you have definitely not! I would postulate that there is no rational argument for either that does not have an untestable assumption at its base.

    BTW, you didn’t answer my question…

  • Wayne Essel

    M,

    First, why is absurd that the source should be more than the created?

    Second,

    The first is that you jump immediately to God for a problem that is (even within your irrational boundaries) solvable with less problematic constructions.

    I have yet to see a “solution” proposed that truly solves the problem. As I mentioned before, the problem is not “not knowing.” The problem for me is more the question, “is there a conscious Source (self-aware) that permeates all that is, and if so, is it possible to commune with this source or align with this source?

    All the logic in the world applied to a “knowing” that there is nothing but the natural universe does not answer that question. Where does that “knowing” come from, anyway? Seems to me to be presumptuous.

    I do not need to have the question answered. I do not have to believe anything. However, I choose in my life to leave room for a conscious Source, mostly because logic does not answer all my questions. I also like the idea of there being a God, or that I might survive physical death in some form. Maybe this is key.

    As I read your three proposals for alternate approaches, I found the first to be closest to my own concept of God. And I can see truth in the other two. I don’t profess to know all the answers or to be able to defend them to someone else’s satisfaction. I only need to satisfy my own emotional/spiritual needs.

    Third,

    The question that comes to mind is: If you don’t understand something, should you admit ignorance, or should you make up a certainly incorrect story to explain it?

    OK, I admit that I don’t know all the answers about God. I fully admit ignorance. However, your comment that my story is certainly incorrect is, in my mind, overstating your case.

    Your arguments are not adequate to convince me that the universe or natural world as we know it does not have a conscious, self-aware Source. Your arguments are not adequate to convince me that the universe or natural world as we know it is not now still connected to that Source.

    Do I know these things in a way that is above rebuttal? No way. There is just something in my makeup that demands that I leave room for the Story.

    I cannot fail to make up my Story just as you cannot accept it. And neither of us is alone in our makeup. There are many who believe as I do and many who believe as you.

  • http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Wayne Esse “I would dismiss…FSM…on the basis that all of them are human-originated stories and I can make none of those stories match my notional concept of first cause.”
    *Have you considered the possibility that you’re misinterpreting the FSM’s holy text? (To interpret them properly you need to read the analysis of whatever FSM theologians/apologists are required for you to believe that his texts are really considerably more divine than they appear to be)
    *Have you tried honestly reaching out and praying to be touched by his noodly appendage? (The chance of a True conversion is strongest when you are weakest. Start by dropping to your knees…)
    *Have you discussed this lack of faith with True Noodlians? (There are many who say they follow in his noodly footsteps, but do not. Only True Noodlians really know his noodly touch)
    *Have you tried believing in the FSM first? (it only make sense if you already believe. Leap of Faith and all…)
    *Have you tried not denying that you secretly believe and/or hate in the FSM that you are so quick to deny because you want to avoid his judgement and/or want to live wrapped in sin? (You really do believe, you know. This passage in our holy text says that you do. This other passage calls you a fool. These ones earlier on say that we should kill you, but we don’t take those ones literally anymore)

    …and scene…
    (Sorry Wayne. I’m not picking on you. It’s just that I’ve never had a chance to be a proper witness for the FSM before. You gave me that chance, and for that I thank you. Before I go, can I leave you a copy of The Noodletower?)

  • John Nernoff

    I’m going through these endless postings which discuss “God” as though it refers to a “being” up there or some caring and personalized “force” which can explain this or that (creation, where do we go when we die, purpose of life….)

    I will bet that the vast majority of believers start out with “god” is a man up there. When they eventually grow up, they realize this is untenable. So they substitute some form of supervisory power (the old man transmogrifies into a “spirit”) still “up there” who will grant them everlasting life. Take away the heavenly reward and I will also bet the “God” belief will quickly evaporate.

    Humans evolved from simian precursors starting around 5 million years ago. Yet the universe is some 13.7 billion years old, hardly accommodating such a recent and tangible creator. Do the math. The anthropomorphic “God” explanation of theism is just absurd and infantile.

    Otherwise do we know what really is the cause of everything? Certainly not. The mature way to approach these deep questions is to admit our profound ignorance and to keep trying scientifically to figure out the underlying reasons and not just to helplessly and haplessly fall back to a “God-did-it” claim.

  • M.

    I would dismiss IPU, FSM, leprechauns, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Baal, Thor Zeus, the floating teapot and the ice cream stand on Titan on the basis that all of them are human-originated stories

    And God isn’t? Who came up with the concept of God, if not humans?

    and I can make none of those stories match my notional concept of first cause.

    And that notional concept is based on…what?

    First, why is absurd that the source should be more than the created?

    It is not at all. In fact, that is the problem: you either have to absolutely arbitrarily “declare” a particular cause as “uncaused because I said so”, or you end up with an infinite list of “sources to the source to the source…of the universe” in which each source is progressively more complex.

    The problem for me is more the question, “is there a conscious Source (self-aware) that permeates all that is, and if so, is it possible to commune with this source or align with this source?

    I find that to be a complete non-sequitur. Why in the world would that be the question?

    Let me put it this way. “Is there a lack of a unconscious Source (non-aware) that fails to permeate all that is?” That is an arbitrary question, just as yours is. Pick a question, any question, from an array of all possible questions…

    All the logic in the world applied to a “knowing” that there is nothing but the natural universe does not answer that question.

    Of course it doesn’t! How could it? It is a question based on no premises.

    No logic in the world could ever answer the question of “is there a non-self aware idiot God who is dreaming the universe, and if there is, how does one bend His will away from noticing one’s existence?”

    Does that tell you something about the universe, or does it tell you something about the question (and the person asking such a question)?

    Where does that “knowing” come from, anyway? Seems to me to be presumptuous.

    And postulating that the deepest order of the universe is based on things we can easily imagine is not presumptious?

    However, I choose in my life to leave room for a conscious Source, mostly because logic does not answer all my questions.

    The point I’m trying to make is that nothing answers all your questions.

    You have two things. You have answers for some questions, provided by logic and evidence. And you have stories you made up about all the other questions.

    That is it. All the answers you do have are based on logic. Everyting not based on logic and evidence is entirely the product of your imagination. Don’t confuse the two.

    You say that you “choose in your life to leave room for a conscious Source”. This is quite ok. But it is entirely analogous to old shamans leaving room in their life for a God of Thunder who walks in the clouds and smites the sinners. In your desire to have an answer to “questions that logic cannot answer”, you are promoting your desires and projections to the place of truth.

    I also like the idea of there being a God, or that I might survive physical death in some form. Maybe this is key.

    I would meditate on that. Mind you, the desire is quite nice. But you should be able to, as an adult, tell apart your desires from reality. I, for example, dislike the idea that hungry kids are dying in Africa. So should I believe that manna falls from the sky every morning to feed everyone, and that nobody in Africa is ever hungry? But I dislike the idea of dying and ceasing to exist. So I should believe that I won’t really die?

    OK, I admit that I don’t know all the answers about God. I fully admit ignorance. However, your comment that my story is certainly incorrect is, in my mind, overstating your case.

    You are correct: the word “certainly” is a very slight overstatement.

    Let me put it this way: I would say that you have about as much chance of forming a correct idea about the source of the universe as an elder of a hunter-gatherer tribe, circa 40,000 BCE, would have in forming a correct idea on why does the Sun shine.

    You just don’t have the data to make these kinds of theories with any certainty. Neither do I, mind you – but I’m not going to pretend to try.

    Your arguments are not adequate to convince me that the universe or natural world as we know it does not have a conscious, self-aware Source. Your arguments are not adequate to convince me that the universe or natural world as we know it is not now still connected to that Source.

    I gave no arguments against that. It is entirely beyond my ability to prove nonexistance of an arbitrarily chosen metauniversal entity. Hell, I couldn’t prove nonexistence of a much simpler thing (I can’t prove to you that there is no teapot orbiting the Earth).

    I’m just pointing out that you have chosen your model – “self-aware Source” – absolutely arbitrarily, from a scope of choices offered by your limited understanding about the nature of the Universe (limitations which includes vastly incomplete insight into the nature of consciousness and awareness). Nobody can prove your theory wrong, but it is not any more likely than any other theory anyone else can imagine.

    You say that you don’t discount consciousness. Believe it or not, neither do I. I’m a neuroscientist, for goodness’ sake! But I’ll bet you a hundred bucks right now that you can’t even define what consciousness is with any degree of accuracy (which is ok; nobody can). And yet you claim that your model is built on “including” it. How can you include something that you can’t even define?

    I cannot fail to make up my Story just as you cannot accept it. And neither of us is alone in our makeup. There are many who believe as I do and many who believe as you.

    Uhm, you could fail to make it up. You could also make up any other story instead of this one, if you chose to. And I could accept any such story, if I decided to stop requiring evidence for statements about the nature of the world.

    I think you are confusing “I don’t want to reconsider my worldview, and I don’t want to give up my Story” (which you capitalize, as if that will make it less a product of your own mind) with “I can’t fail to make it up”.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Wayne,

    I would dismiss IPU, FSM, leprechauns, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Baal, Thor Zeus, the floating teapot and the ice cream stand on Titan on the basis that all of them are human-originated stories and I can make none of those stories match my notional concept of first cause.

    This is special pleading. You have no assurance that these deities or ideas are any more or less accurate than the one you hold to, yet you’re only willing to suspend rationality and belief for your preferred deity.

    It is not unreasonable to seek or postulate a plausible source for all that is. You have dismissed consiousness. I have not.

    In the absence of evidence it may very well be. And, I have not dismissed consciousness. What gave you that idea?

    I would postulate that there is no rational argument for either that does not have an untestable assumption at its base.

    And you would be wrong. The reason that I do not believe in god is because there is no rational argument for god and it relies on untestable assumptions. Simply pointing this out does not mean that I am acting irrationally or using untestable assumptions. In fact, it is the elimination of these that leads to my stance.

    BTW, you didn’t answer my question…

    I thought I had. By pointing out that you prefer my method over yours for all outlandish concepts, save your god, I felt it was obvious why I disbelieve in your god. I’m unwilling to engage in that sort of special pleading and find no way to differentiate your god concept from those others.

    I do not need to have the question answered. I do not have to believe anything. However, I choose in my life to leave room for a conscious Source, mostly because logic does not answer all my questions.

    This is nothing more than god of the gaps reasoning.

    Your arguments are not adequate to convince me that the universe or natural world as we know it does not have a conscious, self-aware Source. Your arguments are not adequate to convince me that the universe or natural world as we know it is not now still connected to that Source.

    This is more god of the gaps along with a misplacing of the burden of proof. It is irrational to claim that you are justified in believing in god until one can disprove that he exists. That’s what you are asking for here. Instead, the rational method is to withhold belief in this god until one can provide proof that this god exists.

  • TommyP

    I’m sorry, there really is no good moral reason to allow evil. It just doesn’t follow.

  • Wayne Essel

    Thanks, Modusoperandi, I’ll consider it.

    For John Nernoff:

    Otherwise do we know what really is the cause of everything? Certainly not. The mature way to approach these deep questions is to admit our profound ignorance and to keep trying scientifically to figure out the underlying reasons and not just to helplessly and haplessly fall back to a “God-did-it” claim.

    I can agree with admitting ignorance from a purely logical point of view. I don’t want to proselytize, though I enter into discussions readily. I’m curious by nature. I can agree with figuring out. I don’t usually fall back on “God-did-it”. But I do have, for whatever reason, a strong preference for believing that matter is an extension of consciousness over the similarly simple statement that some matter precursor has simply always existed. I know that neither is provable, and yet I have a preference. It is just part of my makeup. To this point, the preference is not negotiable so long as there is no cognitive dissonance.

    And, John, I never said that I thought the Creator was either recent or tangible.

    For M.

    My notion is a projection into the unknown. See the previous paragraphs. I make no apology for it. In the absence of anything knowable, it is as good a postulation as any in my mind. It is a belief, a thought process I have turned over and over and have decided that it is good enough for me. I am enamored of it (be-lief). It works for me and barring dissonance is unlikely to change. You believe as you see fit.

    Let me put it this way. “Is there a lack of a unconscious Source (non-aware) that fails to permeate all that is?” That is an arbitrary question, just as yours is. Pick a question, any question, from an array of all possible questions…

    The difference to me is that I would have no reason to try to understand or commune with a non-aware source. There is no possibility of relationship. Much world sacred literature has alluded to the possibility of relationship and I’m not willing to write it all off. I have no interest in finding a one, true religion, either, though I believe the Christ story to be true and so am mostly Christian, albeit very, very liberal. Again, my choice without apology.

    And postulating that the deepest order of the universe is based on things we can easily imagine is not presumptuous?

    No, it is not. Asserting same would be presumptuous. My postulation is merely preposterous to some here.

    But you should be able to, as an adult, tell apart your desires from reality. I, for example, dislike the idea that hungry kids are dying in Africa. So should I believe that manna falls from the sky every morning to feed everyone, and that nobody in Africa is ever hungry?

    So because I postulate a God as the source of all that is I’m going to do stupid things? Doesn’t follow. What I should do is something concrete like donating funds or helping to raise awareness. Just like you.

    I think you are confusing “I don’t want to reconsider my worldview, and I don’t want to give up my Story” (which you capitalize, as if that will make it less a product of your own mind) with “I can’t fail to make it up”.

    I will reconsider my worldview if something happens that creates a cognitive dissonance. It did not happen in this exchange. Remember, resonance/dissonance is important for maintaining/changing beliefs. You, of all people, are very aware of that.

    Again, I apologize for not responding to all of the comments. I want to respond to OMGF and don’t have enough time to be more thorough. I wish you well.

    For OMGF:

    This is special pleading. You have no assurance that these deities or ideas are any more or less accurate than the one you hold to, yet you’re only willing to suspend rationality and belief for your preferred deity.

    I’m not suspending rationality. There is a bias toward certain forms of argument in this forum. There are certain “givens” where, barring discussion with opposite points of view in equal numbers, certain arguments are considered “won”. Humbug. I am postulating into the unknown with full knowledge and mental faculty. It is my choice. If you don’t want to do that, then don’t. I do. I’m quite OK with admitting that I can’t prove my postulation. And there is nothing irrational about my postulating.

    Of the human stories that I considered, the one that most closely matches my postulation is the opening paragraph in the Christian gospel of John. “In the beginning was the word…” I find it inspirational.

    And, I have not dismissed consciousness. What gave you that idea?

    Clarification: It appears to me that you have dismissed consciousness as first cause, in other words, the idea that matter is an extension of aware consciousness.

    This is nothing more than god of the gaps reasoning.

    But I LIKE the God of the Gaps theodicy. Where ELSE would you look for God?

    Instead, the rational method is to withhold belief in this god until one can provide proof that this god exists.

    It is a logical method. It is not the only rational one. It seems perfectly rational to me to seek God if one postulates that God is the origin of all that is.

    Again, I’m being as candid as I can about why I believe what I believe. Not all irrational beliefs are wrong. And not all rational beliefs are right…

    Goodnight. I’m exhausted.

  • M.

    In the absence of anything knowable, it is as good a postulation as any in my mind.

    Yes, it is as good a postulation as any. Which also means it is as bad as any.

    It works for me and barring dissonance is unlikely to change.

    I’m not trying to change your mind here. I’m trying to understand, since discussions such as these can provoke new ideas (the best way to keep one’s mind closed is to communicate exclusively with those who agree with you, as we see so often).

    At the end, I do not understand your position. No, let me correct that: I understand what you mean, but I am unable to understand how you can choose one possibility from an arbitrarily large set (even within the limits of “self-aware”, the number of choices is practically infinite) and simply decide that it is the true one. However:

    I will reconsider my worldview if something happens that creates a cognitive dissonance.

    …can’t criticize you too much.

    Again, I apologize for not responding to all of the comments.

    No worries. I enjoyed the exchange.

  • Domyan

    Thanks Wayne for agreeing to arguing with us in a way that doesn’t lead to an immediate flame war! After looking at places like the Youtube comments, you would think it’s impossible.

    But I do have, for whatever reason, a strong preference for believing that matter is an extension of consciousness over the similarly simple statement that some matter precursor has simply always existed.

    Well, that’s just it. I think that you can hardly, objectively, say that both are equally simple. The thought process which leads to eternal consciousness seems to me equivalent to the one that leads from ‘this computer is clearly designed’ to ‘all life on Earth clearly has an intelligent designer’. It’s based on ‘common sense’, not logic or honest reasoning (I sure hope you are not one of those Creationist/ID nuts – you seem much more intelligent). The only consciousness that we know of is us and ours is inseparable of the matter. There is no way that you can inductively conclude that at the base of the universe there must be another, completely different. I simply see no logical reasoning that would lead there as opposed to a more naturalistic metaphysical explanation (for example some exotic, yet undiscovered type of matter that is able to produce new universes through the process possibly similar to quantum fluctuations – that is to say a completely random, unguided process. Multiple universe theory can certainly pretty elegantly explain our universe’s ‘fine tuning’. It does not feel so out of place in the universe we observe. You could even venture a guess that it could maybe be possible to jump-start the creation of another universe from our own. This new universe could be extremely similar but not quite the same as the parent universe. You see where I am getting with this – you would than have a process similar to evolution that produces universes that are maximally suitable for the evolution of intelligent life (the universe that evolves life sooner will allow this intelligent life to jump-start more child universes throughout it’s life).

    To this point, the preference is not negotiable so long as there is no cognitive dissonance.

    Yes but there’s the problem. If you look at the history of religious belief, one trend becomes quite clear – religion has evolved in such a way as to minimize the chance of cognitive dissonance by trowing away all the falsifiable claims (perfectly logical direction for religious development). Todays theists can sleep peacefully knowing that they will tomorrow most certainly not be proven wrong. The same goes for any other non-science based belief. If you could start believing in invisible pink unicorns, you could quite happily spend your life without encountering cognitive dissonance so ask yourself, is that really a good condition for your deconversion? If you care about the Truth as opposed to choosing your belief based on how much happiness it bring you.
    Atheism is not a question of disproof of all the world’s religions (you can’t disproof one, let alone all). It’s the question of rational inductive reasoning, of probabilities.
    We observe the universe around us and see different forms of matter and energy and physical laws that govern them and conclude that there is no reason to believe that this naturalistic universe stops just around the next corner but that it continues up the the End (or Start?). We observe each other and see fundamental human tendencies to strongly believe in false things, even up to a point of falsifying different forms of personal evidence (false memories, different interpretations of unusual feelings, self-generated sensations… the list is endless) and conclude that the worlds big religions and small beliefs (talking with the dead/aliens/dolphins as one example) are fundamentally the same and easily explainable even with none of them being true. In short, I feel that atheism is the only logical way the extrapolate our current knowledge about the universe into the unknown.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Wayne,

    I am postulating into the unknown with full knowledge and mental faculty.

    That’s not what you are doing though, is it? You’re not just postulating, but also putting belief in that postulation. I can postulate many, many things without believing they are true. You’re taking that extra step into belief, which is where you leave rationality behind. To make that step to belief based simply on how you want things to be is irrational and indistinguishable from simply believing in any other made up story.

    Of the human stories that I considered, the one that most closely matches my postulation is the opening paragraph in the Christian gospel of John. “In the beginning was the word…” I find it inspirational.

    Some people might find Star Wars to be inspirational, but does that mean they should believe in the Force?

    Clarification: It appears to me that you have dismissed consciousness as first cause, in other words, the idea that matter is an extension of aware consciousness.

    No, not at all. I’m simply not considering it as a viable alternative until we have some evidence for it. It’s not about disproving it, but it is about needed some positive evidence before it becomes worthy of taking as a serious possibility.

    But I LIKE the God of the Gaps theodicy. Where ELSE would you look for God?

    Hence why your god belief is simply not rational – it depends on logical fallacy. In fact, you seem to be happy about that.

    It is a logical method. It is not the only rational one. It seems perfectly rational to me to seek God if one postulates that God is the origin of all that is.

    No, no, and no, and that’s what we are trying to get you to realize. It’s not logical as I’ve pointed out (god of the gaps, special pleading, etc.) It’s not rational either, because if it were, then you would have to agree that it’s rational to believe in leprechauns, IPU, Baal, FSM, etc. Consider this:

    ‘It seems perfectly rational to me to seek FSM if one postulates that FSM is the origin of all that is.’

    There’s no reason for you to conclude otherwise. You might not agree that FSM is the origin or postulate it, but if someone else does, they are completely rational according to your illogic. Now, substitute anything for FSM in the above sentence and it would still hold true according to your illogic. Yet, I doubt that you would think that IPU is a rational belief.

    Again, I’m being as candid as I can about why I believe what I believe. Not all irrational beliefs are wrong. And not all rational beliefs are right…

    And, I appreciate the candidness. People believe in irrational things all the time, and sometimes those things just happen to be right. Sometimes the rational position is wrong. That’s all true. But, we can’t say that the irrational position is rational even if there’s a chance it might be right, else we open the door to any belief being rational in the off chance that it might be right.

  • Yahzi

    Modus Operandi said: Sadly, Epicurus never though to add “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not willing to explain the logic behind giving children cancer (or not preventing it)?”

    That’s because Epicurus didn’t need to add that. He assumed the people listening to his argument had read the Bible. And the Bible quite clearly states, on page 3, that man has knowledge of good and evil just as god does.

    The “Unknown Purpose” defense fails on page 3 of the Bible. Sure, you might not know the specific reasons for a given act; but you can state quite unequivocally that some historical events (for instance, the Holocaust) cannot be justified by any moral necessity understood by man – and that means it cannot be justified, because man can understand any moral proposition as well as god does.

    We ate of the Tree of Knowledge. We have moral knowledge. One cannot defend god’s acts as morally unknowable without throwing out page 3 of the Bible.

    Now if only Adam had got his hands on that second apple, we wouldn’t be having this discussion… :D


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