Sam Harris and Rabbi David Wolpe

The American Jewish University hosted authors Sam Harris and Rabbi David Wolpe to discuss the existence of God and the role of religion and faith in society.

You can watch the full video here.

Steve Padilla, a writer for the Los Angeles Times, moderated the informal debate and wrote about the event. He excerpts a few snippets of the dialogue. Like this bit:

To this Harris observed: “The one thing to notice is that the dialogue between science and religion has gone this way: It . . . has been one of relentless and one-directional erosion of religious authority.

“I would challenge anyone here to think of a question upon which we once had a scientific answer, however inadequate, but for which now the best answer is a religious one. Now, you can think of an uncountable number of questions that run the other way: Where we once had a religious answer and now the authority of religion has been battered and nullified by science and by moral progress and secular progress generally. And I think that’s not an accident.”

Many religious claims, Harris added later, “are at odds with science. The belief that Jesus was born of a virgin may be a cherished claim by most Christians. It is also a claim about biology. That is why you can’t keep science and religion apart.”

Wolpe, rabbi of Sinai Temple, then prompted one of the biggest laughs of the night. “I don’t want to spend my night defending the virgin birth,” he said. “It’s not a claim about biology. It is a claim about natural laws, which themselves are an article of faith.”

“That’s a very slippery and dangerous slope,” Harris interjected.

Wolpe, undaunted, added that it’s an article of faith to say that natural laws can’t be altered. “There’s no reason why a Christian can’t say that the laws of biology have been suspended once in history,” he said.

By that reasoning, Christians can claim anything they want. To me, it sounds like a slam dunk for Harris.

Here’s the end of Padilla’s piece:

But it must be noted that both men received respectful applause, and both fielded pointed but polite questions from the audience.

Harris’ logic and eloquence probably did not persuade anyone to abandon his or her faith. And it’s unlikely that Wolpe’s heartfelt comments moved anyone out of Harris’ camp. But conversion wasn’t the point.

The atheist and the rabbi shared their views with grace and passion and often humor. Each man tossed out an occasional barb, but no one threw a bomb, much less a punch. When all was done, they chatted amicably backstage.

And that, perhaps, was the real lesson of the night.

What is with reporters trying to balance a debate at all costs?

Nightline did the same thing (with very similar words).

Both claimed that the real victory was getting the two sides (atheists and theists) to talk in the first place.

That’s not a very difficult achievement.

It’s more of an achievement to get the audience members to listen to both sides of the debate when most of them are used to hearing just one side.

It’d be a real victory if either side learned anything from the opponent.

I don’t get the sense that that happened in either scenario.

Frankly, watching a bulk of this debate, Harris dominates it. I didn’t pick up much from Wolpe other than the typical theistic soundbytes that atheists have heard many times over (such as the argument that Stalin/Mao/Pol-Pot were atheists so atheism must be wrong). Harris answers these claims as well as he can. I got the feeling that Wolpe didn’t care for any of the explanations. He just went on to the next soundbyte.


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • http://bjornisageek.blogspot.com Bjorn Watland

    David Hume wrote a bit about Laws of Nature and miracles, saying that miracles violate the Laws of Nature, or else why call them miracles. So, which should we assume is correct? That a man rose another from the dead, which has not happened in history, and would violate our laws of nature, or that this man is lying, or has been deceived in some way, which has happened often in history. He writes this about miracles:

    “The gazing populace receive greedily, without examination, whatever soothes superstition and promotes wonder.”

    And:

    “…we may conclude, that the Christian religion not only was first attended with miracles, but even at this day cannot be believed by any reasonable person without one. Mere reason is insufficient to convince us of its veracity: and whoever is moved by faith to assent to it, is conscious of a continued miracle in his own person, which subverts all the principles of his understanding, and gives him a determination to believe what is most contrary to custom and experience.”

  • Darryl

    Atheists and theists may talk; they may agree to disagree; they may decide to join hands when possible; etc., etc., but the salient fact remains, as Harris said, the clash of religion and science is ultimately resolved in one direction only. That ought to restore flagging faith in the general reasonableness of humanity.

  • Karen

    What is with reporters trying to balance a debate at all costs?

    Journalists are taught to be objective and remove themselves from personal judgment in their copy at all costs (I’m talking old-school journalists, by the way, not today’s hyper-partisan bloggers, etc).

    It’s a good thing, generally, to get reporting that’s as balanced and objective as possible. But the downside is that reporters often wind up writing “he said, she said” blandness that doesn’t offer any clear insights into a debate like this.

    To me, it sounds like a slam dunk for Harris.

    That man is so brilliant, and his ability to think on his feet is so awesome, that it is hard for me to imagine someone besting him in a debate, quite honestly. His blogalog with Andrew Sullivan presented some of the most crystaline logic and excellent prose I’ve ever read.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    This so-called “clash of religion and science” is a false dichotomy. Science and religion are not opposed. Scientific progress also contributes to the progress of religion. It is entirely incorrect to think that atheists or secularists somehow “own” the discoveries of science. For a Christian, scientific truths are also religious truths because we believe that all truth ultimately comes from God.

  • Ben

    This so-called “clash of religion and science” is a false dichotomy.

    No, it isn’t.

    For a Christian, scientific truths are also religious truths because we believe that all truth ultimately comes from God.

    Except where scientific truths (like people being unable to rise from the dead or violate natural laws) contradict ‘religious truths.’ Then the science goes out the window.

  • http://merkdorp.blogspot.com J. J. Ramsey

    Many religious claims, Harris added later, “are at odds with science. The belief that Jesus was born of a virgin may be a cherished claim by most Christians. It is also a claim about biology. That is why you can’t keep science and religion apart.”

    If Harris really said that, he’s a fool. No Christian ever claimed that the virgin birth was the way births normally go, but rather just the opposite. Now if he wanted to argue that one needs a lot of evidence to establish such exceptions to the natural order, and that the evidence on offer has consistently been lacking, that would be more than fine, but he seems to be following Remsberg’s misunderstanding of Hume’s take on miracles rather than Hume’s actual take.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    No, it isn’t.

    Excellent rebuttal Ben. Very Monty Python-ish. :)

    Except where scientific truths (like people being unable to rise from the dead or violate natural laws) contradict ‘religious truths.’ Then the science goes out the window.

    I think J.J. just put my reply better than I could have. Follow the link he gives. I think you’re basically falling into the same fallacy that he analyzes there.

  • AJ

    J. J. Ramsey,

    If Harris really said that, he’s a fool. No Christian ever claimed that the virgin birth was the way births normally go, but rather just the opposite.

    This is obviously not what Sam Harris meant, you’d have to be a fool to think so.

    …exceptions to the natural order…

    How would you establish such events with evidence?

    MikeClawson,

    This so-called “clash of religion and science” is a false dichotomy. Science and religion are not opposed. Scientific progress also contributes to the progress of religion. It is entirely incorrect to think that atheists or secularists somehow “own” the discoveries of science.

    It is entirely incorrent to think that science and religion can not be opposed. You are only supporting Sam Harris’s point by convolutedly stating that you concede religious views to scientific views whenever they are in conflict. Not all religious people do this, and you know it.

    For a Christian, scientific truths are also religious truths because we believe that all truth ultimately comes from God.

    If you stretch the definition of Christian to exclude what most of us and of most them think are Christians. These terms are contradictory, “scientific truths” and “religious truths”, there are no such things. There are religious happenstance and falsehoods, and there is the scientific method.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    “For a Christian, scientific truths are also religious truths because we believe that all truth ultimately comes from God.”

    If you stretch the definition of Christian to exclude what most of us and of most them think are Christians.

    And yet the phrase “All truth is God’s truth” was one of the mantras of my conservative evangelical Christian college, and they had a corresponding high regard for the sciences. Of course I can’t claim to speak for all Christians, but I do know that quite a large segment, even among conservatives, would agree with my statement above.

  • http://atheists.meetup.com/531 Ben

    I think J.J. just put my reply better than I could have. Follow the link he gives. I think you’re basically falling into the same fallacy that he analyzes there.

    If God deliberately caused something to happen, like a virgin birth, the way in which he caused it to happen would be a ‘physical’ law. That’s all laws are, frozen cause and effect. As such, science is continually working to get down to these laws that always hold.

    A virgin birth that occurred in our universe IS a scientific claim and a large one.

    When someone can give me a coherent and useful definition of ‘miracle’ let me know. Off to read…

    Bah. That thing is so loaded with assumptions. How does one tell if something is against the ‘natural’ order when we are busy inductively trying to figure out the ‘natural’ order? How do I know what observations to exclude and label as ‘miracles’ instead of falsifications of our current understanding?

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    If God deliberately caused something to happen, like a virgin birth, the way in which he caused it to happen would be a ‘physical’ law. That’s all laws are, frozen cause and effect. As such, science is continually working to get down to these laws that always hold.

    So your definition of a physical law is something that God deliberately causes to happen? I don’t think I’d agree – it’s too broad. I’d say that a law is based on something that happens repeatedly, otherwise how could we study it? A miracle by contrast, is something that typically happens only once, which is why the scientific method is generally not that useful for studying them.

    Anyhow, Ramsey is correct in pointing out that the argument against miracles is not that they violate immutable natural laws (on what basis can we claim that they are immutable? just because things usually happen a certain way doesn’t mean that they must) but simply that there is usually not enough evidence that they actually happened.

  • http://atheists.meetup.com/531 Ben

    So your definition of a physical law is something that God deliberately causes to happen? I don’t think I’d agree – it’s too broad. I’d say that a law is based on something that happens repeatedly, otherwise how could we study it?

    “A physical law, scientific law, or a law of nature is a scientific generalization based on empirical observations of physical behavior. Empirical laws are typically conclusions based on repeated scientific experiments over many years, and which have become accepted universally within the scientific community. The production of a summary description of nature in the form of such laws is a fundamental aim of science.” – Wikipedia

    If God could reliably cause something – anything – to happen, the way in which it is done could be generalized as a law. We may have few observations to work with, but that is the case for many scientific problems. The Pioneer anomaly, high-energy experiments in super-colliders, neutrino interactions, etc., all have similar difficulties.

    What is this method you use to get to ‘religious truths’, that is superior to science in getting from very few observations to reliable conclusions? If it is reliable, why don’t we use it to precede science in getting to reliable conclusions?

    A miracle by contrast, is something that typically happens only once, which is why the scientific method is generally not that useful for studying them.

    So Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t a miracle, because it had already happened once with Lazarus? I’m confused.

    I observe X. How do I determine whether X is a miracle or not? What is the definition?

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    You know Mike, I’ve never really understood what is meant by “All truth is God’s truth” and other variations on that theme. Could you explain it?

  • http://jimloomisphotography.com Jimmy

    Mike,

    As far as miracles go, why is it that miracles never happen in a physically observable realm? I’m an amputee and former dedicated Lutheran. I remember growing up and seeing preachers claim to heal through miracle and prayer. Not a single person who was healed had an external injury like an amputation. I, as well as others, have prayed for the regrowth of my arm. No matter how much faith I had, no matter how hard I prayed, no matter what I did, I never grew an arm.

    Many Christians and miracle healers claim to destroy cancer through prayer, and being that many amputations occur because of cancer, how can these claims be substantiated, and why won’t my arm grow?

    To fully establish my point, I’ll point you here: http://www.whywontgodhealamputees.com

    Awaiting a new arm and renewed faith,
    Jimmy

  • Darryl

    Arguing with Christians about science versus religion is a waste of time. So long as any of their doctrines might be conceivable, in some possible world, they refuse to be convinced. Only when one of their doctrines is proved to be false do they concede. They then pull back to yet another safe position and plant their flag anew, proclaiming confidently “All truth is God’s truth!”

  • The Unbrainwashed

    I personally find these arguments very interesting. But nonetheless, they’re a waste of time. Firstly, the religious will never concede to reason. Second, the contentions of religion are based on faith. We can argue about philosophical, epistemological, and scientific claims, but whenever the religious are confronted with a good argument they hide behind faith. Third, Christianity and all other religions are so damn absurd that it’s ridiculous to even argue against it. It’s so obvious that they’re wrong. We don’t need philosophical discourse to understand the obvious inanity of their claims.

  • Mark

    Harris unfortunately didn’t (or was unable to) call the guy out on the phrase “nonphysical entity”, which is an oxymoron.

  • http://jimloomisphotography.com Jimmy

    Darryl and Unbrainwashed,

    I see your point, and wholeheartedly agree. But we must realize that we secularists are a minority, and debating these issues is a must in order to defend our position. The religious people are the ones making laws, and if we are to combat religiously founded laws, we must spare nothing in what and whom we debate. After all, it is science and not philosophy that holds its own in the court of law (as long as human law does not violate reason).

    Protect reason, protect our right to be free from religious persecution.

  • anon

    I enjoyed watching the interplay between the respondents. At the (very small) risk of betraying my anonymity, I can say that I know Rabbi Wolpe. I do not know Sam Harris; though it is clear to me that their respective personalities are similar and each is very well educated and well versed in the subject matter. Harris’ viewpoint is closer to my own and so I’m inclined to feel that he prevailed in this discourse but both are very articulate speakers and the in all likelihood, neither persuaded anyone to change position on this subject. Still, I think it is not unreasonable to assert that conversation, not conversion, is the point here.

  • Steven Carr

    Stalin/Mao/Pol-Pot were atheists so atheism must be wrong

    What is wrong with this argument?

    Atheism is a lack of belief, just like sobriety is a lack of alchohol.

    We all know that a lack of alcohol causes people to be sober.

    Sometimes, drunk people cause traffic accidents.

    But very often, sober people also cause traffic accidents.

    I will apologise for all the accidents caused by people drinking alcohol if you sober people apologise for all the accidents caused by people who had no alcohol inside them.

    The claim that Stalin/Mao etc were atheists, so atheism is wrong, is like claiming that being sober is just as bad as being drunk, because look at the traffic accidents caused by sober people who happened to have taken cannabis or speed, or LSD or whatever.

    Yes, technically these people who crashed their cars after taking cannabis were technically sober. They had not drunk any alcohol.

    So they were just as sober as I am when I drive a car without taking cannabis or speed or other drugs.

    This hardly means that being sober is as bad as being drunk.

    The same for atheism.

    Atheism is a lack of belief in gods.

    So Stalin really was an atheist , just as somebody who drives a car under the influence of cannabis really is not drunk.

    But so what?

  • Steven Carr

    ‘All truth is God’s truth’ means that only God’s truth is truth.

    In reality, of course, all truth is atheist truth.

    I’m sure Mike will not complain about any bias when I say that all truth is atheist truth, which cannot be any more biased than his claim that all truth is God’s truth.

  • monkeymind

    Steven Carr, great analogy about drunk driving and atheism.

    Could atheist activists who want religion to disappear be similar to people who want to stop drunk driving by banning alcohol? In that case, the conversation might go something like this:

    SNIDE CRITIC: Look at all the agony caused by drunk drivers! If we could just get rid of alcohol as a beverage choice, the world would be spared this suffering.

    MUSING MONKEY: Yeah, but what about all the people who enjoy a glass of wine but never drive drunk? And what about that trucker who took out a school bus while hopped up on bennies?

    SNIDE CRITIC: Those moderate drinkers are just enabling the hardcore drunk drivers. And how dare you bring that truck driver into the conversation? The accident was not caused by the fact that he was not drunk.

  • Sobex

    Funny analogy monkeymind. There’s only one problem with the analogy – unless you continually force-feed yourself with alcohol the rest of your life, sooner or later even the most hardcore drinker will become … sober. As someone who was a Catholic for the first 20 years of his life, I can say that the religion virus affects everything you do or say, and does not disappear by itself.

    Sure, a little escapism is fun – I imagine it’s like teenage geeks playing Dungeons & Dragons with a few buddies, it’s ok to suspend disbelief for the sake of a game, and shared pizza and beer. The problem is, when your mind is filled with D&D concepts like “god” all your life and you think that THAT is reality, because there’s no “sobering up” from that worldview until someone/something shocks you out of it …

  • monkeymind

    Sobex, it’s not my analogy, I was just taking it a bit further than Steven Carr. Personally I know lots of believers who are quite capable of being quite rational outside of a religious setting and some non-believers who seem so proud of their own rationality they can’t tell when they’re being irrational. As regards “shocks” I’m not a big fan of punitive approaches to education.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    You know Mike, I’ve never really understood what is meant by “All truth is God’s truth” and other variations on that theme. Could you explain it?

    The idea is that if God exists, then she is the creator of everything else that exists. If that is the case, then anything we could ever know or discover about existence is derived from God. If something is “true” then it cannot be opposed to God. So, for example, if science tells us something true then it is just as much a revelation of God’s truth as anything else. There is no such thing as “religious truth” vs. “secular truth”. It’s all just truth, and, if God exists, then it’s God’s truth.

    As it was used at my school it was an inclusive statement, a way of saying that Christians can embrace truth wherever we find it, whether in science or history or the social sciences or theology or even in other religions/philosophies. It was a counter to those conservatives that would try to claim that disciplines like psychology or evolutionary biology or philosophy or whatever were somehow opposed to the Christian faith. It was a way of saying “Nope, we can embrace that too. We’re open to truth no matter where we find it or who said it.” I don’t care if it was said by Buddha or Jesus or Friedrich Nietzsche or Sigmund Freud or Richard Dawkins – if it’s true, it’s true.

    I know that most of this is irrelevant to you as an atheist since you don’t believe God exists in the first place (so, as Carr said, all truth is indeed atheist truth), but for those who do believe in God it’s a very important concept and one that I’m constantly trying to get across to more conservative believers who (absurdly, IMHO) think that truth can only come from the Bible.

    I hope that was a clear explanation.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    Cool, thanks. I guess I never figured out the relevance because I never considered God’s truth to be the only truth worth knowing.

    If you think about it, supporters of the “conflict” paradigm of science/religion don’t really promote a dichotomy at all. I mean, look at Harris’ quote above: “That is why you can’t keep science and religion apart.” He thinks scientific and religious claims are the same, and ought to be judged in the same way. It’s just that the claims that are thought of as “religious” tend to fare poorly.

    The only people who are promoting a dichotomy are the supporters of the “independence” paradigm (such as NOMA).

  • Ben

    To recap, since the silence is deafening:

    Me:

    Except where scientific truths (like people being unable to rise from the dead or violate natural laws) contradict ‘religious truths.’ Then the science goes out the window.

    J. J. Ramsey

    No Christian ever claimed that the virgin birth was the way births normally go, but rather just the opposite. Now if he wanted to argue that one needs a lot of evidence to establish such exceptions to the natural order, and that the evidence on offer has consistently been lacking, that would be more than fine, but he seems to be following Remsberg’s misunderstanding of Hume’s take on miracles rather than Hume’s actual take.

    Mike Clawson:

    I think J.J. just put my reply better than I could have. Follow the link he gives. I think you’re basically falling into the same fallacy that he analyzes there.

    Me:

    How does one tell if something is against the ‘natural’ order when we are busy inductively trying to figure out the ‘natural’ order? How do I know what observations to exclude and label as ‘miracles’ instead of falsifications of our current understanding?

    I observe X. How do I determine whether X is a miracle or not? What is the definition?

    No answer.

    Science would claim that by our best knowledge, the conservation of energy holds. (I’m going to skip the virgin birth to avoid technicality arguments – virgin births are possible via IVF and such.) If we believed we had an observation that contradicted this we would have a new problem to work on and another falsified idea. This is a common phenomenon in science. To my knowledge, no one is claiming that our understanding of gravity is perfect and the Pioneer anomaly and spiral-wound galaxy problem observations are miracles. To do so WOULD stand in contrast to science, because science would consider these obvious problems to our understanding.

    The idea that Jesus violated the conservation of energy and fed 500 people with an initially too small amount of bread and fish is NOT being considered a problem for our understanding. To most Christians, it is to be considered a miracle (however it is you determine whether something is a miracle to be no longer investigated.)

    Science claims that the conservation of energy holds in every observation ever done and (if our understanding is correct) that it will always hold. Christianity claims that the conservation of energy has not held in at least one observation and that it doesn’t have to hold in the future. Christianity also holds that there is no problem in our understanding to investigate. To say that religion and science do not clash is to ignore all of this. They absolutely, positively clash.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Ben, I apologize for not replying to your questions promptly. It’s the holiday season and a pretty busy time for me.

    I think what I am trying to say is that it is wrong (I would even say unscientific) to view scientific “laws” as immutable or inviolable. You have done an excellent job of pointing out that we have expressed certain laws, such as the conservation of energy, because they seems to hold true in every observation. That is exactly right. And yet my point is that this does not mean it is a logical impossibility that an instance could occur where some natural law does not hold true. It may be “unscientific” in the sense that it is unrepeatable and therefore not able to be studied by science, but “unscientific” is not the same as “anti-scientific”. Something can be unscientific (i.e. not able to be effectively studied by science) without being opposed to science. After all, there are numerous things in this world for which the scientific method is not the most useful tool to use in understanding them.

    And you ask how we know whether something is a miracle or simply a falsification of our current understanding. The answer of course is that we don’t. It may be either, or both. Anyway, I’m no scientist, but I suppose if a certain occurrence started happening more regularly, or under repeatable conditions then we might have reason to investigate it further as a “falsification”.

    BTW, conservation of energy seems like a bad example for a number of reasons: 1) there are lots of ways that miracles could happen without necessarily bringing energy in from outside of the system (or even without “violating” any other known natural laws); 2) how could we ever know whether a miracle actually involved a net increase of total energy in the system, it’s not like we have a cosmic thermometer to actually know how much we have or when any is added or subtracted; 3) even if there was a net increase of energy, there is nothing logically impossible about supposing that if something exists “outside” of the current system, then energy could occasionally be added to the system. And again, without knowing how much total energy there is, how could we know for sure whether or not that does or ever has happened?

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    He thinks scientific and religious claims are the same, and ought to be judged in the same way.

    That assumption only works if you happen to think that the scientific method is the only legitimate way of understanding every aspect of the world and human existence. That seems like a pretty naive epistemology, IMHO. I thought that kind of scientific positivism went out about 40-50 years ago. Again, statements like that are why I find it hard to believe that Harris actually has a degree in Philosophy from Stanford.

    Science is good for answering questions that easily conform to the requirements of the scientific method. Other methods are useful for answering other kinds of questions (questions of history for example). If religion makes certain scientific claims, then certainly those can can be evaluated by science (the Creationist claims about the age and development of the universe for instance); but Harris is rather uninformed if he thinks that all (or even most) religious claims are the kinds of things that can be studied by the scientific method.

    As I’ve argued above, for instance, even miracles aren’t really good candidates since they are unrepeatable historical events. In these cases I’d suggest that the historical method, rather than the scientific method, is the best tool for evaluating such claims. Which comes back to J.J. Ramsey’s point that a better reason for disbelieving in miracle claims is not because they could not possibly happen (they could), but because there is often not enough evidence that they did happen (which is a historical criterion).

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    I think one way of saying it is that miracles are scientific in principle, but impossible to scientifically test in practice.

  • http://jimloomisphotography.com Jimmy

    MikeClawson,

    I see your point, and I believe that it is valid. Yet, if we are supposed to view and believe these claims without altering or amplifying our perception, then how can we perceive them? The rules of science are there for a reason. They allow us to make and prove claims without feeding anyone a bunch of crap. They allow amplification of observation (using microscopes, telescopes, thermal imaging, etc.), yet they do not allow full altercation of perception through unproven and nonphysical means.

    So in order to prove your side of the argument, you must provide material evidence. That evidence involves healing an amputee through miraculous prayer. This would be enough to at least prove an ethereal being, and proof enough that your very specific denominational belief system is true.

    Heal me, prove me wrong.

  • Ben

    I think what I am trying to say is that it is wrong (I would even say unscientific) to view scientific “laws” as immutable or inviolable… And yet my point is that this does not mean it is a logical impossibility that an instance could occur where some natural law does not hold true.

    It is definitely a logical possibility that an instance could occur where our current understanding of a natural law does not hold true. It is a logical impossibility that an instance could occur where a natural law does not hold true, because (by definition) a natural law would be that which always holds true. Our scientific laws are our best understanding of that which is immutable and inviolable. If there weren’t, they would not be expected to be consistent with ALL observations. It doesn’t mean that they are correct – that they are THE immutable, inviolable natural laws – because we do not have every possible observation and never will. But the whole point of the investigation is to find out what is immutable and inviolable.

    And you ask how we know whether something is a miracle or simply a falsification of our current understanding. The answer of course is that we don’t. It may be either, or both.

    Then a creationist’s beliefs do not conflict with science either. They just believe in a larger numbers of miracles, which an omnipotent God can obviously perform effortlessly.

    Anyway, I’m no scientist, but I suppose if a certain occurrence started happening more regularly, or under repeatable conditions then we might have reason to investigate it further as a “falsification”.

    This would contradict the definition of a scientific law or theory. By your understanding, a law or theory CAN have contradicting observations, but not too many and not too regularly. In practice, scientific practices do not allow this, again revealing the conflict.

    1) there are lots of ways that miracles could happen without necessarily bringing energy in from outside of the system (or even without “violating” any other known natural laws);

    I repeat: I observe phenomenon X. Is it a miracle or not? How do I determine? What is the definition? Right now ‘miracle’ is a useless, meaningless bunch of syllables.

    2) how could we ever know whether a miracle actually involved a net increase of total energy in the system, it’s not like we have a cosmic thermometer to actually know how much we have or when any is added or subtracted;

    The conservation of energy holds in any defined system. You don’t need a cosmic thermometer. All you need to do is be consistent in what you’re considering the energy of and keep track of all the inputs and outputs.

    3) even if there was a net increase of energy, there is nothing logically impossible about supposing that if something exists “outside” of the current system, then energy could occasionally be added to the system.

    Almost nothing is logically impossible. Science is the name we give to the reliable methods we’ve discovered of narrowing down from the logically possible to the actually possible. An observed violation of the conservation of energy would tell us there was something wrong with our understanding. Another perfect example:

    There was a time when geology and biology suggested the Earth and life had been around for at least millions of years. Looking at the sun, and knowing only of chemical reactions, it was impossible for the sun to have been around for the required number of years. No sun providing energy to the Earth = no life = something wrong with our understanding, potentially a conservation of energy violation, potentially a different process releasing energy, etc. We could have said the sun represents a miracle, a release of energy that clearly violated all natural laws. We didn’t. We said ‘dunno’ and kept working to resolved the problem. Once nuclear reactions were discovered, the idea that the sun primarily released energy from chemical reactions was the idea that was found to be false.

  • http://http:/.religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Concerning one-time non-repeating events…
    (my words)

    There are actually a number of separate points here.

    One is whether the scientific method is equipped to study legitimate one-time non-repeating events.

    Another is whether one-time non-repeating events in fact occur.

    Another is the criteria we use for accepting that such one-time non repeating events occurred.

    Do we accept things on hear-say evidence… Like perhaps by anonymous superstitious authors with agendas writing about alleged events occurring years (perhaps even generations) before they put it to words. If we accept such things on faith alone, we can accept anything on faith. We would then have no agreed upon filter to separate fact from fantasy… which is what we have the with the worlds religions today.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    It is a logical impossibility that an instance could occur where a natural law does not hold true, because (by definition) a natural law would be that which always holds true. Our scientific laws are our best understanding of that which is immutable and inviolable. If there weren’t, they would not be expected to be consistent with ALL observations. It doesn’t mean that they are correct – that they are THE immutable, inviolable natural laws – because we do not have every possible observation and never will. But the whole point of the investigation is to find out what is immutable and inviolable.

    You have a very different understanding of the nature of scientific inquiry than I do Ben. As I understand it (based on my study of the philosophy of science), the scientific method tells us what does happen, not what must always happen. I don’t think words like “immutable” and “inviolable” ever belong in the sciences. Nothing is absolute.

    “And you ask how we know whether something is a miracle or simply a falsification of our current understanding. The answer of course is that we don’t. It may be either, or both.”

    Then a creationist’s beliefs do not conflict with science either. They just believe in a larger numbers of miracles, which an omnipotent God can obviously perform effortlessly.

    That is true – it is conceivable that God could have created the world in 6 literal days 6000 years ago, and then miraculously set up all the scientific evidence to point to the illusion of a world that was billions of years old. I have Creationist friends who think that is what God did. However, because, as I said above, I believe that “all truth is God’s truth”, I see no reason to assume that the truth derived from science would be in such contradiction with the truth of scripture. And besides which, my understanding of proper biblical hermeneutics indicates that it is a mistake to interpret Genesis 1 as a historical/scientific account anyway – that’s just not the kind of literature it is. So, IMHO, it’s not just that Creationists are ignoring the science, it’s also that they are mis-interpreting the Bible – as far as I can tell there is actually no contradiction between the two.

    This would contradict the definition of a scientific law or theory. By your understanding, a law or theory CAN have contradicting observations, but not too many and not too regularly. In practice, scientific practices do not allow this, again revealing the conflict.

    Again, I think we have very different understandings of the nature of science. Have you ever read Thomas Kuhn’s “Structure of Scientific Revolutions”? As he explains it, scientists often encounter anomalous results that contradict their operative paradigm. However, one anomalous result doesn’t overturn an entire paradigm (or natural law). It is not until a large number of these anomalous results build up that science reaches a crisis and a new paradigm will be proposed.

    I repeat: I observe phenomenon X. Is it a miracle or not? How do I determine? What is the definition? Right now ‘miracle’ is a useless, meaningless bunch of syllables.

    Maybe it is, maybe not. If you’re that interested, then study it and see what you find. See if the anomaly is repeatable or if it is a one-time occurrence.

    However, I should clarify that I have a slightly different definition of a “miracle” than you seem to be operating under. A theological definition of a miracle has more to do with God’s Providence than with whether the event actually goes against the usual way nature operates. Some miracles do (e.g. people rising from the dead), but others (e.g. the 10 Plagues) do not. Some miracles are easily explainable in terms of natural causes. However, just because there are natural causes doesn’t mean it’s not a miracle. The miracle is in the timing and the purpose/effect, not in the means. I’ve elaborated more on this here.

    The conservation of energy holds in any defined system. You don’t need a cosmic thermometer. All you need to do is be consistent in what you’re considering the energy of and keep track of all the inputs and outputs.

    Great. Then find out when a miracle is going to happen, and figure out a way to measure the energy inputs and outputs, and see what you find. I agree that, theoretically, if an input of energy from the “outside” is required (though I’m not sure what kind of miracle would actually require this) you should be able to observe this.

    Of course, since miracles, by definition are unpredictable and unrepeatable events, it may be a little hard to actually do this. Which is why I have suggested that history, not science, is a more appropriate tool for evaluating miraculous occurrences.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I see your point, and I believe that it is valid. Yet, if we are supposed to view and believe these claims without altering or amplifying our perception, then how can we perceive them? The rules of science are there for a reason. They allow us to make and prove claims without feeding anyone a bunch of crap. They allow amplification of observation (using microscopes, telescopes, thermal imaging, etc.), yet they do not allow full altercation of perception through unproven and nonphysical means.

    So in order to prove your side of the argument, you must provide material evidence. That evidence involves healing an amputee through miraculous prayer. This would be enough to at least prove an ethereal being, and proof enough that your very specific denominational belief system is true.

    Heal me, prove me wrong.

    Hey Jimmy, I’m not sure what you think “my side of the argument” actually is in this conversation. Within the context of this discussion I have not been arguing the existence of God, nor my beliefs in particular, nor even that miracles actually do happen. The only thing I have been arguing is that the scientific method is not always the best method for evaluating all claims about human experience (religious or otherwise) and, more specifically, that it is probably not the best method for evaluating most religious claims, including the occurrence of miracles. I agree with you that science is a great tool for discovering truths about the world, but like all things, it has it’s limits.

    BTW, I am sorry about your arm – my wife is missing an arm as well, so I understand just a little bit of what that’s like. And like yourself, she often prayed that her arm would grow and wondered why her prayers were not effective. Neither of us can say that we know for sure why they weren’t. But we do know that God is not a vending machine and prayers are not magic. Miraculous healings are things which we accept as gifts when they happen, but which we do not presume to simply demand or expect whenever we ask. I cannot heal your arm because it’s not up to me and God is not a trick monkey that I keep on a leash to perform on command. My apologies.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I think one way of saying it is that miracles are scientific in principle, but impossible to scientifically test in practice.

    Yes, well said miller.

  • Karen

    But we do know that God is not a vending machine and prayers are not magic. Miraculous healings are things which we accept as gifts when they happen, but which we do not presume to simply demand or expect whenever we ask.

    It is interesting, though, that these miraculous gifts from god always seem to occur in people whose ailments can be alleviated or go into remission naturally – things like back pain or tumors.

    Something easier to document that would make god’s presence far less ambiguous – like replacing a missing limb or curing autism or blindness – doesn’t seem to be the subject of god’s favor.

    The question is, is that because god doesn’t want to deliver these miracles but will answer prayers for more ambiguous medical problems? If so, why does god hate amputees (as the website famously asks)? To me, it’s more sensible to conclude that none of the so-called “miracles” of today involve supernatural intervention.

  • http://jimloomisphotography.com Jimmy

    Karen,

    You took the words right out of my mouth! Thanks for clarifying.

    Of course, I must defend the religious aspect of “miracle healing” in the area of naturally subsiding ailments like cancer. I’ve heard of studies that involved the use of prayer to destroy cancer, and those studies have shown that it wasn’t the actual prayer that may have caused the remission, rather, it was the release of “feel good” hormones that put the body in a better state to fight the disease. Most doctors will tell you that regardless of treatment, most patients are better off in a situation in which they have strong emotional extrinsic support, as well as intrinsic motivation to overcome. I can’t point you to the study or cite it verbatim, but I’m sure its out there. Other studies involving prayer with no direct contact with the patient proved nothing in favor to the act of prayer, they just further proved the tendency for nature to take over and run its course.

    Thanks again Karen for your re-wording and elaboration of my stance, and thanks to MikeClawson for the rebuttal! These comment arguments may seem petty, as if they aren’t going anywhere, but I see them all as enlightening and as an opportunity to see both sides (just like the video/post we are all responding to).

  • Ben

    Again, I think we have very different understandings of the nature of science. Have you ever read Thomas Kuhn’s “Structure of Scientific Revolutions”? As he explains it, scientists often encounter anomalous results that contradict their operative paradigm. However, one anomalous result doesn’t overturn an entire paradigm (or natural law). It is not until a large number of these anomalous results build up that science reaches a crisis and a new paradigm will be proposed.

    True. However, one anomalous result will tell us that SOMETHING is wrong with our understanding on that particular issue. The spiral wound galaxy problem tells us that something is wrong with our understanding of matter or general relativity. It cannot be true that both are fully correct. Yet, until some brainiac comes up with a better model for one or the other or both, the current models that we know are wrong are still the best we have.

    However, I should clarify that I have a slightly different definition of a “miracle” than you seem to be operating under.

    I’m the one asking for a definition and not getting a definition. I don’t HAVE a coherent definition of a ‘miracle.’ The definition you give at your link:

    “Currently most Christians (and nearly all atheists) seem define “miracles” as supernaturally caused occurrences that have no natural or scientific explanation.”

    leaves me asking for a coherent definition of ‘supernatural causation.’ But you don’t like that definition anyway.

    “miracles are events that demonstrate God’s intimate connection with and lordship over the natural processes of this world. In other words, miracles aren’t necessarily always supernatural events without natural explanation; sometimes they are natural events that occur at the direction and command of God.”

    #$%@#$%. That’s incomprehensible.

    Let’s go back. We have observations, experiences, etc. We have learned the hard way that a lot of the ways in which we draw conclusions from observations lead to contradictions and false conclusions. Using all this hard won knowledge, we have come up with several sets of methods that utilize every bit of knowledge we have about overcoming our inherent cognitive biases, perceptual errors, and irrational thinking, and these methods we label scientific methods. The use of these methods gives us several laws and theories that hold under ALL the observations and several former laws and theories that hold except for some contradictory observations.

    So I form my picture of what is based on the results of these methods. There are no exempted or special observations. Not now, not in the past, not in the future. You are proposing otherwise – mostly for the past, for some reason. When I try and get you pinned down to saying something specific and meaningful you dodge and circle.

    Observation X occurs. Is it to be considered a potential falsification of our current scientific understanding and therefore something to investigate? Possibly leading to a new understanding that encompasses all of the old observations AND the new contradictory ones? To my mind, yes, always. That is what scientific methods are. They are an admission of our fundamental ignorance and work inductively from ALL observations.

    Notice that at no point in the above does ‘miracle’ or ‘supernatural’ come into play. Any time I’ve had conversations like these and I try and pin religionists down as to what they mean by either term I get nothing meaningful.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Sorry Ben, I’m not deliberately trying to be evasive. I’m answering your questions as best I can. I’ve told you what I think. It’s not entirely my fault if you find it “incomprehensible”. I honestly don’t know how else to explain it. I’ll make one more attempt to answer your questions, but if it doesn’t make sense to you then I suppose you’ll just have to give up on me.

    “Currently most Christians (and nearly all atheists) seem define “miracles” as supernaturally caused occurrences that have no natural or scientific explanation.”

    leaves me asking for a coherent definition of ’supernatural causation.’ But you don’t like that definition anyway.

    Let’s say that “supernatural causation” would be something that happens differently than what we typically observe to be true about the universe. Some examples would be virgin births, walking on water, rising from the dead, etc. You’ll note that in my blog posts (the one I linked to and the follow-up post linked at the bottom of the first) I do say that some miracles can be these sorts of “supernatural” miracles. However, I also explain that not all miracles must be defined in these terms.

    “miracles are events that demonstrate God’s intimate connection with and lordship over the natural processes of this world. In other words, miracles aren’t necessarily always supernatural events without natural explanation; sometimes they are natural events that occur at the direction and command of God.”

    #$%@#$%. That’s incomprehensible.

    How so? I’m not sure why that is a difficult concept for you, so I’m not sure how to clarify.

    Let me give an example. Think of the Exodus story. Moses and the Israelites are fleeing the Egyptians and are stuck at the banks of the Reed Sea. Moses prays and God parts the seas so they can walk across on dry land. We would call that miracle right? And yet there are numerous natural occurrences that could cause this sort of an effect, from an earthquake, to a tsunami, to a volcano, or even an extremely strong wind. However, even if there is a “natural cause”, that doesn’t make it less of a miracle IMHO. The fact that it happened right when the Israelites needed it to is still miraculous, an answer to prayer. The miracle is not in the cause but in the timing. God worked through the natural order (which she created in the first place) to produce this miracle when it was needed.

    So I form my picture of what is based on the results of these methods. There are no exempted or special observations. Not now, not in the past, not in the future. You are proposing otherwise – mostly for the past, for some reason. When I try and get you pinned down to saying something specific and meaningful you dodge and circle.

    Observation X occurs. Is it to be considered a potential falsification of our current scientific understanding and therefore something to investigate? Possibly leading to a new understanding that encompasses all of the old observations AND the new contradictory ones? To my mind, yes, always. That is what scientific methods are. They are an admission of our fundamental ignorance and work inductively from ALL observations.

    I’m not sure what you think was evasive about my answer to you the last time you asked this question. I said:

    Great. Then find out when a miracle is going to happen, and figure out a way to measure the energy inputs and outputs, and see what you find. I agree that, theoretically, if an input of energy from the “outside” is required you should be able to observe this.

    What was unclear about that? I agreed with you that if a supernatural miracle occurs (as opposed to the “natural” miracles I illustrated above), then it is a “potential falsification of our current scientific understanding and therefore something to investigate”. By all means, investigate it if you can. I see no reason not to.

    All I am saying is that, if it is actually is a supernatural miracle, then it will likely not be repeatable, and therefore will probably not be sufficient to falsify an existing theory. As Kuhn explains, one-time anomalies tend to be chalked up to researcher error. Supposing that supernatural miracles actually do happen, and that a scientist were in the right place at the right time with the right instruments to observe it, if it completely contradicted known natural laws and the scientist was unable to repeat the event, then a good scientist would conclude that some error had been made in her observations. That is the appropriate conclusion for the scientist, since science doesn’t admit any supernatural explanations. But of course that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t have possibly been a miracle (i.e. an unrepeatable supernatural event). It just means that science is unable to tell us whether it was or not. That’s what I mean by the limits of science. There are some questions that science just isn’t equipped to answer. It’s okay to sometimes say “we just don’t know”.

    And again, my point is not to argue whether or not supernatural miracles ever actually do happen. My point is simply to say that if they do, then science cannot answer the question of whether they are one-time exceptions to the natural order (i.e. supernatural miracles) or simply researcher errors. Scientists could determine whether it’s a repeatable falsification of existing theories by trying to repeat it. If they can’t then it would have to be one of the previous two options.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    The “God of the Gap” is too often used to account for anything that doesn’t fit into pre-existing scientific explanations. Granted, though, that the scientific methodology requires repeatability to form a theory. One-time events will always be problematic.

    I’ve taken the liberty of modifying a scientific method flow-chart to account for the methodology of many of the Intelligent-design advocating religious apologists.

  • AJ

    MikeClawson,

    That assumption only works if you happen to think that the scientific method is the only legitimate way of understanding every aspect of the world and human existence. That seems like a pretty naive epistemology, IMHO. I thought that kind of scientific positivism went out about 40-50 years ago. Again, statements like that are why I find it hard to believe that Harris actually has a degree in Philosophy from Stanford.

    No, we haven’t gone totally back to the dark ages you love so much, there are still lots of sensible people in the world that take theology, astrology, and alchemy for the bullshit that they are, there’s where the real naivity is. Harris is a rationalist, but you probably wouldn’t know much about that.

    Science is good for answering questions that easily conform to the requirements of the scientific method. Other methods are useful for answering other kinds of questions (questions of history for example). If religion makes certain scientific claims, then certainly those can can be evaluated by science (the Creationist claims about the age and development of the universe for instance); but Harris is rather uninformed if he thinks that all (or even most) religious claims are the kinds of things that can be studied by the scientific method.

    Other methods like entrails, or the stuff you pull out of your backside. Lots of people think the Sun orbits the Earth, there’s millions of religious people who have misguided religious beliefs that make scientific claims. Harris didn’t say most religious claims can be studied by the scientific method, but you don’t seem to take him up on the points he actually makes.

    As I’ve argued above, for instance, even miracles aren’t really good candidates since they are unrepeatable historical events. In these cases I’d suggest that the historical method, rather than the scientific method, is the best tool for evaluating such claims. Which comes back to J.J. Ramsey’s point that a better reason for disbelieving in miracle claims is not because they could not possibly happen (they could), but because there is often not enough evidence that they did happen (which is a historical criterion).

    Harris’s point is exactly that there is not any legitimate evidence that they did happen. The historical method takes science, our current understanding of nature, to evaluate the crediblity of claims. If you accept supernaturalism anything goes, as Harris says, it’s a slippery slope that leads to absurdity. Looks like you’ve already been skiing down there.

  • Ben

    All I am saying is that, if it is actually is a supernatural miracle, then it will likely not be repeatable, and therefore will probably not be sufficient to falsify an existing theory.

    Let me get this straight. You’re saying that if God wanted to raise someone from the dead, he might not be able to repeat the feat? I don’t think that’s what you mean but it gets to the heart of what I’m getting at. If God can reliably cause an effect, the relationship between these causes and effects can be phrased as a law.

    ALL observations are considered for laws and theories. If Jesus were something other than a normal human being and could reliably do things like create additional bread and fish out of nothing, then it would be repeatable. Any time Jesus did (whatever it was he did) would result in (fish and bread creation.) The idea IS scientific. We just don’t have the observations readily available, just like we don’t have Higgs boson observations available.

    We are limited in our observations to the extent that a hypothetical God would wish us to be, but so what? We are limited in our observations of a Higgs boson, if there is such a thing, but it doesn’t get set aside and treated differently. This whole idea of creating a miracle / non-miracle or natural / supernatural distinction is arbitrary and invented out of air. It does nothing to help our investigations to arrive at a better understanding. Maybe it makes some sort of sense if you adopt a mental model of reality as having two levels from a young age?

    And again, my point is not to argue whether or not supernatural miracles ever actually do happen. My point is simply to say that if they do, then science cannot answer the question of whether they are one-time exceptions to the natural order (i.e. supernatural miracles) or simply researcher errors.

    If we have a well-documented observation that contradicts our current understanding of natural laws, then our current understanding is most likely wrong in some way. Look at it from a caused / uncaused distinction. If the Pioneer anomaly is caused, whether by gravitational forces or Jesus poking the satellites with his finger, then that relationship between cause and effect can be phrased as a law.

    There are some questions that science just isn’t equipped to answer. It’s okay to sometimes say “we just don’t know”.

    Science says that all the time.

  • Karen

    Most doctors will tell you that regardless of treatment, most patients are better off in a situation in which they have strong emotional extrinsic support, as well as intrinsic motivation to overcome. I can’t point you to the study or cite it verbatim, but I’m sure its out there. Other studies involving prayer with no direct contact with the patient proved nothing in favor to the act of prayer, they just further proved the tendency for nature to take over and run its course.

    The major scientific study on intercessory prayer done in the past three or four years showed quite definitively that it had NO positive effect on patients’ medical outcomes. In fact, the people who were told they were being prayed for actually did slightly worse in their recoveries than either the group that got no intercessory prayer or the group that got prayer without realizing it.

    In terms of religion providing strong emotional and community support, I do believe there are studies backing that up, and backing up the fact that people involved in religious groups live longer. However, that just points up the fact that it’s important to stay connected socially with friends and relatives. It doesn’t speak to the truth of religious claims.

    Thanks again Karen for your re-wording and elaboration of my stance

    You’re very welcome. I don’t know if you feel this way, but I’m curious if it’s not too offensive to ask this question: I would think it would be rather tough to have a physical handicap and believe that god does do miraculous healings, but never see you or someone like you get healed. Did/do you ever feel offended by people who tout all these “miracles” without addressing the fact that you could use a miracle but never seem to get one?

  • AJ

    Karen,

    The major scientific study on intercessory prayer done in the past three or four years showed quite definitively that it had NO positive effect on patients’ medical outcomes. In fact, the people who were told they were being prayed for actually did slightly worse in their recoveries than either the group that got no intercessory prayer or the group that got prayer without realizing it.

    That’s because they weren’t praying to Zeus, and that Zeus doesn’t answer prayers that are part of a scientific study. He’s like fairies, they turn invisible when you look at them.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Let me get this straight. You’re saying that if God wanted to raise someone from the dead, he might not be able to repeat the feat?

    No, I’m saying that while God could, the scientists can’t, and that is what is needed in order for the phenomenon to be studied by science.

    ALL observations are considered for laws and theories. If Jesus were something other than a normal human being and could reliably do things like create additional bread and fish out of nothing, then it would be repeatable. Any time Jesus did (whatever it was he did) would result in (fish and bread creation.) The idea IS scientific. We just don’t have the observations readily available, just like we don’t have Higgs boson observations available…

    If we have a well-documented observation that contradicts our current understanding of natural laws, then our current understanding is most likely wrong in some way. Look at it from a caused / uncaused distinction. If the Pioneer anomaly is caused, whether by gravitational forces or Jesus poking the satellites with his finger, then that relationship between cause and effect can be phrased as a law.

    Okay, sure. I have no problem with that. Perhaps all miracles have natural explanations that we simply don’t understand yet. That works for me. As I said before, just because there is a natural explanation doesn’t make it less of a miracle for me. Many biblical miracles have natural explanations.

    And I think I’ve said several times now that there’s no reason you shouldn’t try to scientifically evaluate miracles, if you can. But as you say, “we don’t have the observations readily available”, so until you figure out how to actually make controlled scientific observations of unpredictable, non-repeatable events, it still amounts to the same thing.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    The “God of the Gap” is too often used to account for anything that doesn’t fit into pre-existing scientific explanations. Granted, though, that the scientific methodology requires repeatability to form a theory. One-time events will always be problematic.

    The repeatability problem is exactly why my discussion here is not the same as the “God of the Gaps” argument used by the Intelligent Design folks (which I do not consider myself one of). IDers insert God into gaps that could still theoretically be filled through scientific inquiry. The whole point of miracles, however, is that they cannot be explained through scientific inquiry, precisely because of the repeatability problem.

    Thankfully however, science is not the only tool in the toolbox. There are a methodologies for investigating one-time events – historical research for instance.

  • http://jimloomisphotography.com Jimmy

    Karen,

    You’re very welcome. I don’t know if you feel this way, but I’m curious if it’s not too offensive to ask this question: I would think it would be rather tough to have a physical handicap and believe that god does do miraculous healings, but never see you or someone like you get healed. Did/do you ever feel offended by people who tout all these “miracles” without addressing the fact that you could use a miracle but never seem to get one?

    To be honest with you, those very claims are part of the myriad reasons why I “deconverted”. My mother told me about people offering to “heal” me. I also was told by many religious people that “god made you this way, you’re special”. These claims contradicted each other, as they both came from the same denomination of Christianity. It doesn’t hurt my feelings, but it hurts me to know that people would actually believe the garbage that pious people tell them about miracles, some to the point of refusing proven medical treatment of their ailments.

    I also find it odd that many people that I’ve met who are amputees are very religious, and many of them are post-birth amputees who claim that their amputation (by accident, disease, etc.) brought them “closer to god”. I don’t judge them, as I’m a congenital amputee (I was born without my left hand), and I refuse to doubt that their renewed beliefs were a benefactor going towards their recovery, and an aid to their continued motivation to live.

    As for me? I’m fine. I’ve dealt with bouts of depression because of it before, but I no longer suffer from those issues. There are far greater problems than my lack of a limb, and in todays society my refusal to believe in an ethereal being is the hardest thing to deal with due to the common misconceptions that are tied to disbelief in religion.

  • Karen

    I also find it odd that many people that I’ve met who are amputees are very religious, and many of them are post-birth amputees who claim that their amputation (by accident, disease, etc.) brought them “closer to god”. I don’t judge them, as I’m a congenital amputee (I was born without my left hand), and I refuse to doubt that their renewed beliefs were a benefactor going towards their recovery, and an aid to their continued motivation to live.

    Indeed, very true. An acquaintance of mine, a church organist, lost his arm in an auto accident a few years ago. He continues to play, give concerts and travels all over the country telling his story and giving glory to god because he has persevered through the tragedy.

    As for me? I’m fine. I’ve dealt with bouts of depression because of it before, but I no longer suffer from those issues. There are far greater problems than my lack of a limb, and in todays society my refusal to believe in an ethereal being is the hardest thing to deal with due to the common misconceptions that are tied to disbelief in religion.

    Glad to hear that your depression has eased, and that you didn’t need religion to cope. I’m encouraged by that, and I admire your attitude. Good luck!

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Thanks for sharing your experiences Jimmy. Like I said, my wife is also missing her left hand. Like you, she was born without it. She recently posted a series of posts on her blog about her experiences with her disability and her faith. I thought you might be interested in checking them out.

  • http://jimloomisphotography.com Jimmy

    Thanks Mike! I’m checking it out now!

    Jimmy