Can Atheists Participate in the Office Secret Santa?

No, says one atheist’s co-workers.

I didn’t even know Santa had anything to do with Jesus. (I’m clearly ignorant.)

So our atheist tries to explain his non-religiosity to them. He tells them why he accepts evolution. He states why he isn’t a fan of religion. And he offers this olive branch:

Oh, by the way, I fine with you thinking there’s a God. Just like I’m fine with you thinking The Lite FM is the best radio station ever. Or Pepsi is better than Coke. You’re entitled to your views and your brand loyalties. But just because my brand ain’t on the shelf, I don’t want to hear your pitch for the supermarket.

I do have a slight problem with him saying that he “knows” there is no God. But I get his point.

This ending is great:

Folks at work, it’s not that I’ve shunned God or I’ve turned my back to him. He’s just not a thing.

But that doesn’t mean I won’t participate in your Secret Santa. Because you acknowledge Santa Claus isn’t real. And because I love presents. And when it comes to presents that cost ten dollars or under, I’ll believe anything you want.

Speaking of which, my Gift List will be posted soon. You can get your wallets out now :)


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • http://paxnortona.notfrisco2.com Joel Sax

    Do they let Jews participate? If so, there is no reason why the atheist can’t. And if they don’t — it has no place at work.

  • Maria

    Do they let Jews participate? If so, there is no reason why the atheist can’t. And if they don’t — it has no place at work.

    agreed. that is so petty if they don’t let him participate. you’re right Hemant, what does Santa have to do with Jesus???

  • http://www.sadcrc.wordpress.com Calvin Moore

    I’m sorry, but not letting an atheist participate in secret Santa almost supposes that those who participate in it have to actually BELIEVE in Santa Claus. This is utterly ridiculous.

  • Aj

    I don’t know how much of Santa came from Christianity (Saint Nicholas of Myra), how much from pagans and european folklore, and of course modern representations being influenced by modern things. Christianity has claimed him, but they can’t claim sole ownership in terms of origins, and he certainly doesn’t have much to do with Jesus in his current form.

    Hemant,

    I do have a slight problem with him saying that he “knows” there is no God. But I get his point.

    I have a big problem with it, concerning the logic behind it. On the other hand it’s not going to harm anyone, and at least he isn’t making shit up. Atheists that claim to know are on the same level as Deists, we have an epistemological disagreement, a fairly big one, but they’re not going to be burning witches any time soon.

  • Richard Wade

    Wait, you mean Santa isn’t real?

    It just occurred to me that if atheists should avoid saying that they know there is no God then shouldn’t we avoid saying that we know there is no Santa?

    Santa seems like a training bra for God. He does basically the same stuff. He lives in an inaccessible place, you never get to see him, he uses magic, he’s always spying on you, “when you are sleeping,…when you’re awake.” and he judges you on your conduct. Then you get a reward or punishment.

    Because of this I’ve never understood why when kids finally are told that Santa aint real that they continue to believe in God.

    Christmas is a pain in the ass for me. I’m gonna do some kind of post about it as the lunacy builds up closer to the big day. The gift exchange schemes where I used to work were so contrived and strained. Half the people hated each other and the gifts were dumb. The best one I got was a battery operated rotating tie rack. Wow. Just what I needed. How did you know. Oh boy. Thanks ever so much.

    Some gifts you can just tell are being given to you because the giver didn’t want it when he was given it. Next year it’ll be your turn to give it to somebody you don’t really like. Eventually after several Christmases it could come full circle back to the one who bought it, still in the original packaging.

    I propose a custom called “Secret Scrooge.” You can secretly save money for yourself and your chosen co-worker in the office. Try re-brewing the coffee grounds a second time. Replace that expensive toilet paper with the thin, cheap stuff. Cross off one-sided documents and put them back upside down in the photocopier. Use only pencils on post-its so you can erase them and re-use them. A nice, thick stack of erased, re-stacked post-its would make a lovely holiday gift. Secretly replace your friend’s light bulbs with lower wattage bulbs. Secretly replace all their #2 pencils with #6 pencils. They last a lot longer. How about a nice, refurbished computer with knock-off pirated software?

    The possibilities are endless. I feel so warm inside.

  • http://www.freudsnuthouse.com MsFreud

    … What do you mean? There’s no Santa Claus?! OMG! My life is ruined!
    ;)

  • http://www.ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Richard Wade,

    You are a brilliant man! I was going to write something about how I hate Secret Santa and the whole obligatory gift-giving thing that takes all the fun out of the holidays, but you said it so much better than moi…

    Secret Scrooge… now, that sounds like fun!

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Wait, you mean Santa isn’t real?

    It just occurred to me that if atheists should avoid saying that they know there is no God then shouldn’t we avoid saying that we know there is no Santa?

    Ignoring that “Santa Claus” is the result of protestants not understanding and distorting Catholic-Orthodox Christianity, by way of pop and commercial culture, Santa Claus isn’t defined as being supernatural, invisible, unknowable, incomprehensible, omnipotent and omniscient. Though apparently he has a very good memory, good record keeping and amazing stamina. And that’s not mentioning the reindeer. S. C. isn’t defined as supernatural but physical and so would be susceptible to some level of observation. “Knowing” would be possible if seen, if not seen, and he seems to be very good at avoiding detection, you might suspect he’s been there but you wouldn’t actually know anymore than you know that someone in a sweatshop in China made the poisonous toys you see in the stores.

    The difference between being in the physical universe and being supernatural makes all the difference. At least to people who like to think these things through.

  • http://www.ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    MR. olvlzl, no ism, no ist,

    Umm… I hesitate to say this in fear of offending you, but since I’ve let go of the fear of offending people, I have to go ahead…

    I really have a hard time understanding what you say. Your words usually sound to me like “blah blah blah.” I have to read over your posts like five times before I can somewhat make out what you mean to say. Can you please simplify? I understand that you’re a friendly Christian and you seem very wise, so I hate to miss anything you say. I don’t even understand your name. Maybe it’s just me… I really truly don’t mean any disrespect. Honest!

    My question to this particular comment is… are you saying that there IS a Santa? or that there COULD BE a Santa? I don’t get it…

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    I love Christmas. Who cares if Santa and Jesus are not real?

  • Joseph R.

    I received a very used Culture Club cassette tape for a secret santa gift exchange in 1989. I’m still pissed off over it. A pack of gum, a hand shake, well wishes for the upcoming year, any of these would have been preferable.

  • K

    I hope in real life he’s reporting them for shunning him due to their religion, not just blogging about it like a big ol’ geek.

  • Ben

    I do have a slight problem with him saying that he “knows” there is no God.

    Do you know that Santa Claus is a fictional character ? Do you have a slight problem if I say I know that there is no Santa Claus ?

    If ‘yes’ to the latter, I think you use a higher standard for what is meant by ‘knowing’ than common usage.

    If not, why the discrepancy ?

  • Jen

    I have never had to do an office santa gift exchange, though I assume the entire thing is pretty lame unless its a smaller office and everyone is actually friends. But presents in general? Bring them on. I like Christmas, which is so divorced from the concept of Jesus in most people’s minds that it is a secular holiday to most, including me. Maybe this year we atheists should hand out atheist books for Christmas and really blow everyone’s minds.

    If I were the person unable to participate in the gift exchange with the people who apparently believe in Santa, I would call up my HR representative and point out the discrimination, not so much because I HAVE to exchange gifts, but because I want to see the HR person come yell at people and explain that people who don’t believe in Santa deserve gifts too.

  • grazatt

    Santa Claus” is the result of protestants not understanding and distorting Catholic-Orthodox Christianity Interesting, please elaborate?

  • stogoe

    I love Christmas. I thoroughly enjoy giving and receiving gifts, even if I end up spending more than other people. Getting a present is fun.

    EDIT: to come back to the whole ‘you shouldn’t say you know there’s no god’ hoo ha, fie on that. I know there are no gods just as surely as I know that an asteroid isn’t going to fall to earth and hit me on the head in the next 24 hours. Possible? I guess. Highly unlikely and vastly improbable? Absolutely. Should the remote possibility of these things affect how I live my life? No way.

  • Mriana

    You know, maybe it really doesn’t matter what the origins of Santa is or that he’s not real. Maybe what matters is whether or not the act of being charitable and giving comes from the heart, not a belief in this or that.

  • grazatt

    Yeah,yeah, but enquiring minds want to know!
    BTW the Anti-Claus of germany is pretty interesting http://www.somethingpositive.net/sp12052004.shtml

  • grazatt

    BTW the Anti-Claus of germany is pretty interesting http://www.somethingpositive.net/sp12052004.shtml

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    MR. olvlzl, no ism, no ist,

    No need to be so formal, Linda. I don’t even like the capital letter people will use, though I’m too polite to object to such a small slight.

    You don’t understand that there is a difference between something asserted to have an existence in the physical universe and something that is asserted to NOT have a physical existence?

    You don’t understand that science and logic require something to have a physical existence in order to be known? That both science and logic are derived from human experience of the physical universe? If not, you’re not alone in that. It seems to be the most basic misunderstanding about science and math shared by most people including some senior, respected scientists and especially those unfortunately regarded as such.

    As to my being a Christian, you are assuming something that I’ve not claimed and have denied. I do not believe in vicarious atonement, which would exclude me from being a Christian. I don’t believe in the virgin birth, the divinity of the person, Jesus. Your assuming that you can tell what my religious orientation is from my pointing out the logical fallacies of scientism and materialism is, again, shared by most people who read these blogs.

    My comment could be summed up in four sentences. Santa Clause, unlike God is defined as having a physical existence that could possibly be detected by obervation, measurement, analysis and also confirmed by those who might want to check it out for themselves. God is defined as being supernatural, invisible, unknowable, infinite, etc. and so undetectable in the ways considered to produce knowledge. As defined you can determine if there is any physical evidence that Santa exists due to his physical existence, you could not necessarily detect if there is physical evidence that a God exists. The two “things” do not have similar properties, they are not comparable.

  • Polly

    Being an atheist exempts me from having to participate in stupid Secret Santas?
    AWESOME! This just keeps getting better.

    And now for the controversy portion of our show (because really, it wouldn’t be FA if there were no controversy):

    I do hold a positive belief that the god of Xian, Muslim, and Jewish(?) fundamentalists/ literalists, whatever, does NOT exist. He can’t. Just like square circles and married bachelors, so his attributes are self-refuting unless one wants to do away with language by playing stupid semantic word-games.
    All others gods are an open question until I hear their followers making incoherent claims. Regardless, I feel safe in living my life and forming my views as-if they don’t exist, either.

    Anybody got a problem with that? :)

  • Mriana

    Again, I ask, why can’t acts of charity and giving be from the heart- even if an adult is pretending to be Santa. “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists in the hearts of people.” IF we redefine Santa as charitable acts and giving, then metaphorically he does exist in the heart. I have always explained to my sons that Santa is a metaphor for “giving from the heart” around the holidays and not a real person. In otherwords, I told them at an early age Santa is not real, but giving from the heart IS real. So, “playing Santa” is translated into “giving from the heart”. It’s not the gift that counts, but rather the meaning from the heart that matters.

    My sons sometimes made me gifts when they were little, like all kids do, and they still do sometimes. While their talents were not yet well honed, it didn’t matter to me, because I knew they made it and gave it to me to express their love for me to me. It’s the love that is trying to be expressed behind the gift and/or charity that really matters IMO- even if it is just an act of love for humanity.

  • Ben

    Santa Claus isn’t defined as being supernatural, invisible, unknowable, incomprehensible, omnipotent and omniscient.

    Most people’s definitions of God do not include unknowable and incomprehensbile, either.

    Electrons are invisible to the naked eye. We get all our knowledge about them through the results of their interactions. An invisible God that does interact would similarly be detectable. A God that does not interact with our universe is effectively not real.

    S. C. isn’t defined as supernatural but physical and so would be susceptible to some level of observation.

    If God interacts, those interactions would become observations.

    The difference between being in the physical universe and being supernatural makes all the difference. At least to people who like to think these things through.

    Try getting two people to agree on a definition of ‘supernatural.’

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Most people’s definitions of God do not include unknowable and incomprehensbile, either.

    I don’t know about “most people”. It is among the most often asserted descriptions of God or deities in the Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions. If has its counterparts in Hindu traditions and in Buddhism Nibbana is very similarly described. I think that covers most peoples’ traditions, anyway. I think that it is only reasonable to assume that the one who created, regulates and maintains the universe would be mighty hard to understand by we, very limted, human beings.

    You can’t define “supernatural” which is part of the reason that science can’t deal with it. It is also the reason that the assertion that God’s interactions with the physical world would be incomprehensible, as being of the supernatural. What we know of electrons comes from their being a part of the physical universe, matter-energy. It is only as matter and energy that we can detect them. God is asserted to be non-physical, the nature that an interaction of some possible non-physical entity with the physical universe is not something that can be defined or tested for, it might be there or it might not be. You can believe in it or not, but it is definitively beyond the reach of science.

  • Ben

    I don’t know about “most people”. It is among the most often asserted descriptions of God or deities in the Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions.

    This is plain flat-out wrong. Most Christians believe they DO know and comprehend things about God. That God wants them to love their neighbor, or vote against gay marriage, or tithe 10%. That God loves people. That God is omnipotent.

    I think that it is only reasonable to assume that the one who created, regulates and maintains the universe would be mighty hard to understand by we, very limted, human beings.

    So is quantum mechanics. Heck, so are very large and very small numbers. Nevertheless, we both comprehend and know things about them.

    If by ‘unknowable and incomprehensible’ you mean ‘not completely known or comprehended’ then plenty of things fit including many scientific things. If by ‘unknowable and incomprehensible’ you mean ‘completely unknown and completely incomprehensible’ then you have left the realm of all religions.

    You can’t define “supernatural” which is part of the reason that science can’t deal with it.

    Nobody, especially me, can deal with an undefined series of meaningless syllables. Joob jawks frokst nex.

  • cygnus_darkstar

    Actually, I think they have you on this one, olvlzl. All religions I know of postulate that God does something to the physical universe, whether answering prayers or making you do well on that bio test or turning people into pillars of salt. Those effects would be testable and even if the god in question was itself unobservable, it could be defined by its effects. What you postulate is essentially the “apathetic god” that sits on his interdimensional throne never affecting events in the universe (except perhaps to create it in the first place, and that truly is, at the moment, untestable). Admittedly, that god can not be touched by the scientific method. Then again, if physics can provide a complete picture of the birth and formation of the universe with no gaps, then there is no reason to postulate said being’s existence in the first place.

    Also, I’ve noticed you mentioning that science and logic are derived from human experience. This is completely true in the case of science, and empiricism in general, but logic is bound to no such strictures. I cannot observe infinity with any of my senses, but the logic of mathematics allows me to work with it. Similarly with infinitesimals, which are the foundation of calculus. In pure logic, an observation might be the spur, but the actual consummation is purely self-contained. The fact that the physical universe parallels the dictates of that self-contained system with such perfection is a source of constant awe to scientists.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Mr. o-n-i-n-i, (I like acronyms)

    I made an ASS out of U and ME again!! See? I keep doing it. It’s a God-given gift! ;-)

    I was raised to respect those who sit above me, especially when their names indicate their position somehow.

    You, sir, are way over my head. I just know that God loves me, and He wants me to love you. I don’t know why. Ah yes, I now see what I missed before. You don’t kow Christ, nor do I detect any warm fuzzy feelings from you. But then again, I may be using that “gift” I spoke of.

    Although I’m not as educated as yourself (you can bet on that one) and I don’t understand half of what you say due to your elevated tone, I must comment on just one thing:

    you could not necessarily detect if there is physical evidence that a God exists.

    If you would kindly take out “you” and insert “I,” I will honor your statement.

    Thank you. Please… continue and don’t mind me. I’m just a troll :)

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Mriana,

    That is the best definition of Santa I’ve ever heard. Thank you! I will use that from now on.

  • grazatt

    olvlzl can you answer my question?

  • stogoe

    olvlzl can you answer my question?

    We’re sorry, that option is not available at this time. If you would like further assistance, please call our Olvlzl Products Service Center between the hours of 08:15 AM and 8:21 AM Greenwich Mean Time. Your concerns are important to us.

  • grazatt

    Service Center olvlzl, you have your own service center now? Color me impressed!

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    grazatt said, Santa Claus” is the result of protestants not understanding and distorting Catholic-Orthodox Christianity Interesting, please elaborate?

    “Santa Claus” is a corruption of Saint Nicholas, a real Bishop who ransomed girls out of a life of prostitution, brought back to life boys who had been murdered by an evil butcher, pickled in salt and sold for meat and a number of other stories. The fat god of the Christmas cargo cult is what happens when protestants get hold of a Saint just as Clarence the angel is what happens when Hollywood gets hold of angels. Unfortunately Catholics and, I’d imagine, Orthodox Americans have had the much more interesting figure of St. Nicholas morphed into the capitalist Comus of credit card bought consumption.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    cygnus_darkstar, first and most important, logic is not known to exist outside of human thought. There is no reason to believe that it is not the creation of our experience of the physical universe, as far as can be told it depends entirely on human thinking to exist. And it exists in human thinking way too little of the time, at that.

    Ben, This is plain flat-out wrong. Most Christians believe they DO know and comprehend things about God. That God wants them to love their neighbor, or vote against gay marriage, or tithe 10%. That God loves people. That God is omnipotent.

    What they think and what they know are two different things. What is thought about God isn’t known, it’s believed. If it was known it would be as easy to transfer belief in God as it is a proof in geometry or a demonstration in the physical sciences. Belief and knowledge are two different things. That difference is one of the most important considerations in questions dealing with religion and should be the beginning of humility, not of arrogance. See how much better off we would be if religious people and anti-religious people would understand this difference?

    A God might interact with the physical universe as we know it and might leave traces, but those traces would lead outside of the physical universe and we could only trace them as far as the end of the physical universe with science and reason. Most religious thinkers believe that the presence of God pervades the universe, if you believe in a creator God you believe that he is behind all of the physical forces, laws, if you will, and the entire universe of matter and energy. They might be right or wrong, there is no way to know if they are with science, which is why religion shouldn’t enter into science classrooms. Ever since reading about the work being done with the eighth dimension by David Vogan and his team I’ve wondered about what unknown qualities these dimensions impose on the physical universe entirely unknown to us, perhaps in ways similar to the effects of radiation before it was discovered what that was. I’ve wondered how many dimensions there might be and whether they impose qualities on existence that we might never know. I’d imagine a lot of those qualities might seem as mysterious and irrational as many atheists consider the ideas of religious believers, some of them might be tenuous enough to be deniable, though it might not be possible to discount them.

    Science is actually a very limited activity, it has to limit itself to what can be observed and quantified, it can’t go father. Religious believers can make reference to science in their belief without impinging on the necessary limitations without which science can’t exist but science can’t include religious speculations because its essential discipline breaks down. If that bothers you consider what else science can’t include, like personal preferences, bigotry, etc. Unfortunately, as we have seen recently with James Watson, scientists can include those things in their activities and they might hinder progress with them, but the science itself has to be objective.

  • Mriana

    Linda said,

    November 8, 2007 at 2:32 pm

    Mriana,

    That is the best definition of Santa I’ve ever heard. Thank you! I will use that from now on.

    You’re welcome, Linda. :) Consider that my holiday gift to you and everyone else who appreciates it.

  • Maria

    You know, maybe it really doesn’t matter what the origins of Santa is or that he’s not real. Maybe what matters is whether or not the act of being charitable and giving comes from the heart, not a belief in this or that.

    well said!

  • grazatt

    Santa Claus” is a corruption of Saint Nicholas, a real Bishop who ransomed girls out of a life of prostitution, brought back to life boys who had been murdered by an evil butcher, pickled in salt and sold for meat and a number of other stories. The fat god of the Christmas cargo cult is what happens when protestants get hold of a Saint just as Clarence the angel is what happens when Hollywood gets hold of angels. Unfortunately Catholics and, I’d imagine, Orthodox Americans have had the much more interesting figure of St. Nicholas morphed into the capitalist Comus of credit card bought consumption. COOL , and where does that Anti_Claus Krampus fellow come from? I think I like him better! I like the idea of an Office Cranky Krampus!

  • http://blog.myspace.com/johnpritzlaff John Pritzlaff

    Some gods are defined contradictorily, and so cannot exist. We know these gods do not exist, because they are incoherent concepts. In fact, in a sense they are not even concepts; they are nothing, they are ideas devoid of all meaning. For example, a “square circle” is an invalid concept; it does not mean anything.

    The rest of the gods are valid concepts, and could possibly exist. For these, we should look at the evidence, and eventually conclude on whether we think they exist. We should never be absolutely certain, nor should we close ourselves to the possibility that we are wrong or to the possibility that we may one day change our minds. But if we see strong enough evidence pointing in one direction, then we should be confident in our conclusions, and hold them until the evidence changes (if it ever does).

    I am an atheist because I have reviewed the evidence and thus far in my life it is not good enough for me to believe in a god or gods. In fact, the evidence is horrible. This is my opinion, and anyone can choose to believe differently. That does not stop me, of course, from trying to persuade my opponents, and that does not stop them from trying to persuade me.

  • http://blog.myspace.com/johnpritzlaff John Pritzlaff

    By the way, just a quick addition to my previous comment…

    Anything is possible. However, invalid concepts are not possible, because they are not things. Anything is still possible, it’s just that proposals that are inherently contradictory can’t happen by default because “they” are not “things”. There is no thing that is both square and a circle. It’s self-contradictory. It’s not a real proposal for possibility.

    Do you all get my meaning?

  • Ben

    What they think and what they know are two different things. What is thought about God isn’t known, it’s believed. If it was known it would be as easy to transfer belief in God as it is a proof in geometry or a demonstration in the physical sciences.

    Have you ever tried to convince someone of the theory of evolution or .999….=1 ? It is NOT easy to transfer such beliefs / knowledge.

    Knowledge is nothing more than beliefs that are above some certain level of confidence. In any case, there is more than enough polling data on the question. For example:

    http://www.harrisinteractive.com/harris_poll/index.asp?PID=707
    In 2003, 66% of Americans were absolutely certain there was a God. In 2006, it had dropped to 58% – still a majority. Note that this is not 66% of Americans who believed there was a God, this is 66% of all Americans. Only 12% said they were “somewhat certain there was a God.”

    Most Americans believe God is knowable. Even in 2006, most Americans believe God is comprehensible, as 41% believe God is “A spirit or power that can take on human form but is not inherently human” plus 27% who believe God is “A spirit or power that does not take on human form.” The %s who answered “Do not believe in God / Not sure” or “other” were only 8% and 15%.

    The typical usage of the word “God” in American English does NOT imply an unknowable, incomprehensible being. It implies a knowable, comprehensible super-being.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Ben, about the Harris poll, I’ve got next to no faith in polling and that kind of opinion polling, done with what are known to be shoddy practices like telephone polling are unreliable on even simple matters. Look at the methodology of the poll you link to, it’s worthless. I suspect that the choices allowed wouldn’t really pick up peoples’ real beliefs, they seem weighted towards declarations of certainty instead of acknowledgment of less than certainty.

    There is a great difference between believing that you know that there is a God and believing that you comprehend what that God is. While a lot of people probably haven’t thought it out, I’d imagine that most, if questioned would soon say that they couldn’t begin to comprehend a being that was infinte, omnipotent, omniscient, etc. It’s possible to believe naively, I think most of the proponents of scientism are remarkably naive about their faith in the omnipotence of science. But anyone who believes in just the basic definitions of what a God is would have to accept that their finite minds couldn’t comprehend what God is. And you seem to assume that the existence of God is dependent on what people think.

    Have you ever tried to convince someone of the theory of evolution or .999….=1 ? It is NOT easy to transfer such beliefs / knowledge.

    I’ve tried to convince people that evolution was the best current knowledge and think it would generally be a lot easier of they hadn’t had it repeated that it “proved” there was no God. By the proponents of evolution. I wouldn’t ever try to convince someone that the version of evolution we have today is the final word, because it is turning out to just be the first chapter of a much longer book.

    You can convince someone of what is known even against their own preferences by presenting the evidence and reasoning, you can’t do the same with belief. Whether or not you succeed might depend on emotional state or the quality of the presentation but it is a test of what is known that it can be transfered by simply presenting the evidence. You can’t do the same with what is believed.

    John Pritzlaff, that’s all fine and dandy for what you know of the physical universe but there isn’t any way to know if it is applicable outside of that. It might not be entirely true within the physical universe, which is largely unknown to our experience.

    Back when I was reading St. Carl Sagan’s books and reading his “exobiology” stuff, it was always a disappointment that he didn’t seem to think it was possible that beings with another chemistry and, or evolution could have developed different means to come to terms with the physical universe. It always seemed so anthropomorphic to assume that our experience was universal. What I took away from it were that 1. Carl Sagan could be very silly, 2. that logic, math and science were invented by humans out of their own experience. I don’t think there is any way for anyone to deny the second one, though the first one depends on my opinion of the sage of TV science.

  • Ben

    And you seem to assume that the existence of God is dependent on what people think.

    Not at all. What I’m disputing is that the common usage of the word refers to the qualities you listed. It doesn’t.

    Ben, about the Harris poll, I’ve got next to no faith in polling and that kind of opinion polling, done with what are known to be shoddy practices like telephone polling are unreliable on even simple matters. Look at the methodology of the poll you link to, it’s worthless. I suspect that the choices allowed wouldn’t really pick up peoples’ real beliefs, they seem weighted towards declarations of certainty instead of acknowledgment of less than certainty.

    Pshaw. I picked the poll that would be shaded the MOST toward your position, because it used a methodology designed to overcome the social desirability bias. Most polls show Americans’ belief in God to be much more prevalent, in the 85-90% range instead of 73-79%. But if you believe you have a better idea what people generally mean by the word ‘God’ than the polls do, please tell me HOW you obtain this information. Or admit that you’re assuming what other people mean by ‘God’ is what you mean by ‘God’, regardless of whether they themselves mean it that way.

    But anyone who believes in just the basic definitions of what a God is would have to accept that their finite minds couldn’t comprehend what God is.

    Whose definition ? Yours ? In any case, all religions claim limited comprehension (which is all you can have of ANY sentient being besides yourself.) Even claiming that the being is ‘infinite’ would be a limited comprehension of the being.

    You can convince someone of what is known even against their own preferences by presenting the evidence and reasoning, you can’t do the same with belief.

    That makes no sense whatsoever.

    Our beliefs are built up inductively from experiences. We form a belief about something, gain or lose confidence in it, and sometimes the confidence gets high enough that we start calling it knowledge. There is no sharp difference between the two.

  • Paul Snyder

    Olvlzl,

    Your comments always seem to strike me as glorified solipsism. Which is fine I suppose, but a bit silly.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Ben, the attributes I’ve used go back in the traditions I mentioned thousands of years, they don’t belong to me. In the Abrahamic religions they are practically the founding idea, the same can be said of Buddhism, though the ultimate reality isn’t considered to be a personal God but an impersonal something. If someone is going to profess membership in one of those traditions, it is reasonable to expect that they would have some level of agreement with one of the most basic ideas of it.

    I do not think that beliefs are as narrowly structured as you think they are but cover a much larger range of mental states. The confidence level where “knowlege” has been agreed to have happened includes the ability to transmit the idea by reasoning and the presentation of objective evidence. I agree that it is part of the same continuum as belief, not believing that we can neatly separate mental activities that happen in the same mind. Belief is, however, personal whereas knowledge of the kind we are talking about is communal. In order for it to be communal it has to have a more objective transmission than personal experience does. Or as one of my college history teachers said, I don’t know if you know it unless you show me what the idea is. As she told me to rewrite a large section of the paper I’d handed in.

  • cygnus_darkstar

    All right, just so that we all understand each other, and don’t end up talking past one another, I thought I’d clarify my position in the hopes that you all would respond with similar clarifications. First off, olvlzl, in my previous post I should have been more clear. I was not positing that the nature of an existent god could be entirely (or even partially) described via an empirical system (of which the scientific method is an extremely powerful example). I was attempting to argue that if the god that most religions seem to posit, that is, an interactive god who measurably affects the Universe, exists, then that god’s existence (or nonexistance) could be determined via the scientific method. If we are dealing with the apathetic god, then all bets are off, although that doesn’t help anyone but deists.

    With regards to logic, I was not attempting to argue that it does or doesn’t exist without the presence of a sentient being (your description of it makes you sound like you think it to be uniquely human, though I don’t think that is what you meant; aliens will add 2 and 2 to give 4 just as we do). In fact, since logic is intended as a cleaned up version of how humans think, that would be a somewhat silly assertion in the first place. Logic, however, is not affected by subjective states. That is, given a set of assertions, a logical statement can be shown to be sound regardless of the nature of the observer or external universe, since it references nothing but the axioms at hand. I think what you were approaching was a version of Descartes’ “demon,” the thought experiment in which he asks how we know that there isn’t an omnipotent being who simply makes it seem that our conclusions are valid given a set of premises, when in the real objective reality (which we are denied by the demon’s illusion of reality) they are really not (e.g. it is obvious to the demon that 2+2 =7395.2338). To the best of my knowledge, that is still a problem in epistemology (although I’d be curious to know of possible solutions anyone might know about). Descartes attempted a solution in his famous work “Meditations,” but much to his dismay he failed due to some circular reasoning he let slip in.

    About Carl Sagan, I don’t know where you got the impression that he believed all life in the universe would be anthropomorphic or even necessarily based on the same principles as our biology, but I seem to remember him talking at some length about exotic possibilities for the basis and form of life. Perhaps you misread something where he stated that he thought our form of life would be the most common in the universe, which is hardly “very silly,” though certainly not necessarily true at the moment.

    Also, you keep talking about “scientism” (a phrase which I had honestly never heard before now). Were you referring to logical positivism, perhaps? Regardless, I (and, I think, most thoughtful people would) agree with you that science is limited to matters about which there can be empirical claims. It seems rather obvious on the face of it, considering that science is a tool for sifting empirical data, and I don’t think any of us were claiming otherwise. That said, philosphy (which doesn’t necessarily deal with empirical subjects) has a rather wider reach, as it can extend into the realm of the subjective as well (which science cannot, to the continuing chagrin of neuroscientists and philosophers of mind). I can’t ever remember anyone claiming that science was “omnipotent” or capable of delivering all answers. About the closest they come is stating that the scientific method is a better guide than unsupported belief or supersition, which I would agree with. The beginning of wisdom is the ability to say “I don’t know,” not “my system gives me all the answers better than yours does.” I suppose then that sticking to what is observable and testable with either the methods of science or logic is about as close to this “scientism” as I come. It is not so much that I blithely claim that anything else is untrue as I question the certainty with which many claim that their unsupported beliefs are the absolute truth.

    All that said, I like these arguments, please do keep posting :D

  • Ben

    In the Abrahamic religions they are practically the founding idea

    No way. Even in the Jewish religion, it is claimed that people comprehend God’s wishes in the covenant. Hell, Moses comprehended and had some knowledge of the God via direct revelation. Your assertion is incredible.

  • Eliza

    Turning one of olvlzl’s comments around a bit finds a fit with my own recent thoughts:

    first and most important, logic God is not known to exist outside of human thought. There is no reason to believe that it is not the creation of our experience of the physical universe, as far as can be told it depends entirely on human thinking to exist.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com olvlzl an enigma, they say

    Eliza, so are you contending that logic doesn’t exist? Your substitution would only work if you assumed that “logic” and “God” are equivalent values.

    Ben, I’m sorry if you don’t like it but there is nothing novel about what I said about the essentially unknowable nature of God. You can know some things about something without knowing the entire thing, you can even know some parts of something without understanding it. We’d be pretty much in trouble if we had to abandon gravity because we don’t understand everything about it.

    cygnus, I’m sorry if you never heard of the word “scientism” before, I didn’t invent it, it’s in the dictionary. Maybe you ought to read the critics of materialist orthodoxy more. It’s a very useful idea that explains a lot of the folly in contemporary thinking. A lot of people on the fringes of science need taking down a peg or two.


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