Let us reason together

A bit of a follow-up regarding my epiphany on Glenwood Drive …

I grew up attending a fundamentalist Baptist church and a nondenominational fundie school yet, fairly early on, I realized I couldn't reconcile much of what I was being taught with much of what I was otherwise learning about the world.

In the footnote to the previous post, I mentioned an epiphany of sorts that occurred when I was confronted with the disparity between the "trap street" shown on my county road atlas and the actual terrain of the actual county. The analogy is not precisely perfect, but that disparity between the map and the terrain somewhat paralleled the disparities I was also encountering between the text of scripture and the actual world around me.

So there I was, at the end of what was, undeniably, a dead end street, consulting a map that claimed otherwise. It was something of a Groucho moment: "Who are you going to believe? Me or your lying eyes?" I sided with my own two eyes, thus accepting the principle that reason and experience were essential considerations for evaluating the meaning and application of the text. In a sense, I was fumbling my way toward something like Wesley's "four-legged stool."*

No one was claiming, of course, that my county road atlas ought to be read as the inerrant, infallible and authoritative Word of God, so my fundamentalist teachers would not have disagreed with my choosing, in this case, to regard my own experience of the terrain as worthy of consideration.

Nor did they deny that I would encounter similar disparities when consulting the "map" of scripture. In that case, however, they taught that I must always side with the map. That is what it means to be a fundamentalist.

Thus, to cite one of the more infamous examples, we were taught that evolution was a lie. The map, the Bible, said that the world was only 6,000 years old, and if that's what the map says, then this must trump any claims of "science" or any other observation about so-called reality. If reality and the map conflict, then we must reinterpret reality to conform to the map.

That's not an ideal example, though, since it's based on a supposed, rather than an actual, conflict between the text and reality. The supposed conflict here is based on the premise that "the Bible says" that the world is only 6,000 years old, even though it never actually says any such thing. The whole elaborate 20th-century invention of "scientific creationism" is premised upon a misreading of the map, a misreading of the text.

The same is the case with Marshall Hall, our delusional friend over at Fixedearth.com, who believes that, "The Bible teaches that the Earth is stationary and immovable at the center of a 'small' universe with the sun, moon and stars going around it every day." Since this is what he believes the Bible teaches, and since he believes that this biblical teaching outweighs any other source of information, he is forced to concoct an elaborate system for reinterpreting all of reality. Hall's whole endeavor is based on a faulty premise, that "the Bible teaches" what it does not, in fact, teach.

Such cases, in which the supposed conflict is an invention based on a misreading, are probably more common than the cases of apparently actual conflict, but they are a separate category, a different matter.

Let's consider a case of actual conflict. Based on my e-mail, my fellow evangelical Christians are greatly interested in the matter of homosexuality. Many of my correspondents disagree with my advocacy of equal rights for homosexuals because they perceive such equality as incompatible with the teaching of scripture. I'm not talking here about the Phelpsian homophobes or those who seem primarily motivated by bigotry.** I'm talking about people who seem like they wish they could agree with me, but feel they are not allowed to do so because they have no choice but to side with the map.

I don't think this perceived conflict is as substantial or as actual as they imagine. Their premise of unambiguous biblical teaching may be much closer to Hall's "biblical" geocentrism than they realize. (I don't want to get sidetracked here into a detailed exegetical analysis of the handful of New Testament passages dealing with the subject, so let me just generally point out that if your interpretation of scripture leads you to believe that "homosexuality is a choice," yet you cannot find a single homosexual who thinks this is so, then perhaps you ought to consider rethinking your interpretation.)

But let's assume, for the sake of argument, that this is an actual instance of actual conflict and that I am, in this instance, siding with reason/experience against the text. In that case …

Wait. You know what? This example is too easy. I'm a straight guy, and my evangelical critics on this matter seem also to be heterosexual, so this seems a bit too conveniently abstract. (It's also unseemly, too much like we're telling homosexuals, "You wait out in the hall while we discuss your fate. We'll call you in later and let you know what we decide.")

So let's pick an example that hits closer to home.

The Bible prohibits the charging of interest. No getting around it. This is explicit and unambiguous and more frequently discussed in scripture than is homosexuality. Jesus himself didn't just repeat this prohibition, he amplified it by forbidding the expectation of repayment. So no wiggle room there.

The charging of interest is, of course, the basis of our market economy. It is as unavoidable now as the air we breathe. I have several interest-bearing accounts (as well as, unfortunately, several interest-charging accounts). So does my local church. So does my denomination. So do even the least "worldly" of our coreligionists, the Amish. And so do, I'm guessing, my evangelical detractors who feel my advocacy of homosexual rights is "unbiblical."

How on earth do we justify this? More to the point, why is it that we don't even feel the need to bother to justify this?

I would argue that free markets can be a Good Thing. The charging of interest, when properly harnessed, can be a powerful engine for growth and prosperity, creating incentives for investment that makes possible many good things which would otherwise be impossible. The recognition of this fact, over the centuries, led to an evolution of our interpretation of the prohibition against usury. It ceased to mean the charging of any interest (even "the hundredth part" or 1 percent) and came to mean, instead, the charging of "excessive" interest. We began to reinterpret the evident meaning of the text in an effort to reconcile it with what we were learning about the world and how it works. The prohibition against usury remains in recognition of the principle contained in the text, a principle we continue to honor despite the sometimes laughably elastic application of that weasel-word excessive.

This argument can be challenged as mere "rationalization," in the psychological sense, an after-the-fact attempt at self-justification by a religious tradition whose adherents had become wealthy and worldly. But I would counter that in the non-psychological sense, rationalization is, well, rational. The application of reason is reasonable and necessary, and I find the reinterpretation of the prohibition against interest to be a reasonable step.

This reasonable step is regarded as noncontroversial when the matter involved is our own money. When the matter involved is someone else's sexuality, however, such a reasonable step is regarded as extremely controversial. Why do you suppose that is?

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* Wesley's "quadrilateral" included scripture, tradition, reason and experience as the four "legs" of a stool. Ever sit on a stool with one leg that was longer than the others?

** Of course, as Atrios recently noted, "If you think your misogyny or homophobia is sanctioned by God, it doesn't make you not a misogynist or homophobe." True enough. But there are also those who I would characterize as reluctant homophobes. To understand their point of view, substitute "commanded" for "sanctioned" in Atrios' comment. About which more later.

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  • Bugmaster

    Having widespread incest in a population with dangerous recessive mutations might lead to a greater incidence of those traits appearing, but that would require that incest was preferred to other, random mating
    Hmm, is that true ? Let’s say we have two populations, A and B. In population A, mating is completely random; everyone mates with everyone else, including their family members (if they happen to pair up randomly). In population B, mating is also completely random, but matings with family members are disallowed. Wouldn’t you say that the people in population A would exhibit more recessive traits, due to incest ?
    The situation gets even worse when you factor geography into the equation. In reality, matings are not truly random; people cannot mate with partners whom they’ll never meet. So, in the ages before global travel became widespread, people would only mate with partners that are reasonably close to their village, or farm, or shack, or castle, or whatever. Guess what, that’s where their relatives live, too. Thus, incest would be preferred to random mating in a taboo-less society, simply because it would be easier to secure an incestuous mating partner (you don’t have to travel as far to find one).

  • A. Kennedy

    Bugmaster,
    I see what you’re saying, but this is actually a common mistake in population genetics. It’s the assumption that “dominance” and “recessiveness” have anything to do with quantity of a gene in a gene pool. For any sufficiently large population for whom mating is random, selective pressure is not applied, and mutation is not occuring, the percentage composition of gene types in the gene pool tends to remain the same ove long periods of time (of course, these requirements of a lack of selective pressure and no mutation don’t occur in the real world, but for most traits in human populations their affect is small enough as to make no odds).
    No, you may say, avoiding incest prevents true random mating; this is true, but it has no real selective affect. Let’s say that my family, K, has a higher-than-average tendency to have recessive allele n (for big-nosedness); while your family B has a higher-than-average tendency to have recessive allele x (for x-ray vision). The number of x alleles and n alleles in the first generation is obviously the same whether we allow incest or not. Let’s take the degenerate case where there are 5 men and women in each family, and all members of my family are nnXX and all members of your family are NNxx. For the first generation, allowing or not allowing incest has a big affect. If we allow incest, then every same-family pairing will result in only children with big noses (nnXX) or x-ray vision (NNxx). If we don’t allow incest, then NO children with big noses or x-ray will be born, and all children will have the genotype (NnXx). OK, but here’s the thing: the numbers of n and x alleles will be the same in both cases, because each parent will contribute one allele, regardless of who they marry. The only thing that avoiding inbreeding does is speed up by at most one generation the time at which a complete equilibrium will be reached.
    Sorry, that was a bit technical, but population genetics is a technical field. Fell free to ask any questions to clarify.

  • wintermute

    > The feeling that incest is wrong comes from children who are brought up together: see the children of the kibbutz, who, brought up together as brothers and sisters, found themselves unable to be attracted to each other, because even though there was no genetic relationship, the incest taboo had been kicked in by proximity.
    The fact that there’s no social taboo against kibbutz members pairing up implies that there is some instinctive understanding that people you grew up with are not acceptable mates. This is more likely epigenitic than genetic, but there’s certainly a non-social aspect to it. Possibly, this is related to the fact that women are attracted to men who have different immune system marker to their own, which correlates with not being a close relative. Interestingly, men don’t have the same reaction.

  • Brandon

    Guys. Been meaning to respond to some of your points, but between work, kids, kids hogging computer, it is hard to find some time to get to this. Anyhoo…
    @ Jesurgislac: You bring up an excellent point about people trying to justify adultery when they look upon a woman with lust in their hearts. There is an exegetical issue as to what Jesus meant by this. Plus the added dimension of trying to balance THAT with reality or human experience pole. Right? I’m not against doing that. Truth be told, I’ve kinda gone back and forth on this as I have talked with scholars and the such. At first my thinking on that was, “It is wrong to lust” (having sexual fantasies) and so I would try to dispel those imagines out of my head. Then I changed my thinking that that is not what Jesus really meant. That what he meant was we should not scheme in our hearts to commit adultery (NOT not having sexual fantasy). Now, I’m presently at the place that I was at before. Hey, I’m trying to make sense outta what Jesus was saying too. This is why I ask about justification of one’s position.
    @ako: If this were a debate about God’s existence (which it isn’t), first off, I would say that I don’t think that there are any “concrete proofs” for or against God’s existence, not in the sense of an absolutely indisputable objective proof. But I do think that both believeing and disbelieving in God can be rational moves in the sense that such moves appeal to evidences (if even inconclusive evidence). God (if he exists) hasn’t chosen to overwhelm us with evidence of himself. He leaves us room. In the end it’s a question of weighing the evidence and choosing, not passively conceding the obvious. On the other hand, the universe and rationality (assuming God doesn’t exist) do not in themselves overwhelm us with evidence for the non-existence of God either. You still weigh evidence and choose. So…
    I would never go about PROVING God’s existence with mathematical certainty. I would say that the evidence makes it PLAUSIBLE that God exists? But that’s all I would argue for. Now here’s the thing. I always find it interesting that atheists will come out like you have with your analogy and assume that the onus is on the theist to make their case for God’s existence assuming all along that atheism is correct. But the onus of proof lies not simply with the theist but with ALL who make disputable truth-claims. If this was a debate about God’s existence and we’d be disputing each other’s truth claims? It lies with each of us to make our case for our beliefs. But if your idea of a debate is that the non-existence of God should be assumed and any theist has to outright PROVE OTHERWISE, then the debate would be over before it begins. You can’t assume your conclusion. You have to argue it. So. Let’s be clear on this. The debate is not about arguing for 100% certainty that God exists, but the POSSIBILITY that God exists. Logically speaking all that’s required to falsify the atheist’s claim that “God does not exist” is the proposition “It’s possible that God exists.” If as an atheist you’re making the STRONGER CLAIM that “God does not in fact exist” all that’s logically required to falsify this is the POSSIBILITY of the existence of some god. In fact, if you can’t prove the “impossibility” of any god’s existence, you really have no justification for claiming God doesn’t in fact exist.
    Now, looking at your analogy, I’m sorry to say ako, that this example is not at all analogous to the debate over claims made by theists and atheists. Not even close. You just assume the truth of atheism and then require those who disagree to “prove” otherwise. It’s universally acknowledged (because it’s the universal experience of human beings interacting with a world of stones) and demonstrably the case that stones don’t fly, sing, dance, or speak about quantum physics for that matter. So for me to claim I have such a stone would be to lay claim to what is universally and demonstrably not the case. To establish that I actually have such a stone I’d have to produce the stone. But the non-existence of God is not universally and demonstrably the case. There is no universally acknowledged experience of the non-existence of God that’s analogous to humanity’s universal experience of flying stones. Thus there is nothing in human experience that by definition or by way of analogy to your example is incompatible with the notion of God’s existing.
    So as I said, if you want to begin by assuming you’re right and make the debate entirely a matter of our having to indisputably prove God’s existence, then the debate is over. I’m not interested in such debate. And if it makes you feel good to consider this a “win,” so be it. It doesn’t bother me in the least. I don’t need you to feel one way or the other about my beliefs or the results of our conversations. But if you will agree (as you should) that both sides in a debate over the possible existence of God equally share the burden of defending their claims, then I’d be interested in talking to you.

  • Jeff

    Bugmaster:
    Let’s say we have two populations, A and B. In population A, mating is completely random; everyone mates with everyone else, including their family members (if they happen to pair up randomly). In population B, mating is also completely random, but matings with family members are disallowed. Wouldn’t you say that the people in population A would exhibit more recessive traits, due to incest ?
    Two points: A) In a sufficiently large population, this probably won’t matter. If there are only, say, 100 possible mates, the odds of recessive genes coming to the fore is a problem. If there a million, it’s probably just random. The cheetah population (where all the individuals are fairly tightly related) is an example of the first.
    B) Somehow, we’re once again debating using the premise that sex=children. So let me rephrase: Is it acceptable for two same-gender sibs to have sex? For two different-gender sibs, assuming no offspring (only Korn)?

  • Jesurgislac

    Brandon: But if your idea of a debate is that the non-existence of God should be assumed and any theist has to outright PROVE OTHERWISE, then the debate would be over before it begins.
    Yes, it is. That’s why it is slightly pointless except as an intellectual exercise: there is no God, and a theist who tries to prove there is, is on to a losing argument because there’s no way to prove it. As an intellectual exercise, it can be fun, except when it happens too often and everyone starts repeating themselves.
    You bring up an excellent point about people trying to justify adultery when they look upon a woman with lust in their hearts. There is an exegetical issue as to what Jesus meant by this. Plus the added dimension of trying to balance THAT with reality or human experience pole. Right? I’m not against doing that. Truth be told, I’ve kinda gone back and forth on this as I have talked with scholars and the such. At first my thinking on that was, “It is wrong to lust” (having sexual fantasies) and so I would try to dispel those imagines out of my head. Then I changed my thinking that that is not what Jesus really meant.
    Yeah. I think what Jesus really meant (and my guess is as good as yours what a 1st century Jew may or may not have meant, but in context with other things Jesus said) is that since it’s natural and normal for a person to feel lust when looking at a desirable person, anyone who thinks they can throw stones at other people because those other people are sinners, needs to bear in mind that they themselves are sinners in the eye of God, and put down those damn stones and quit crucifying GLBT people for being as God made them… ;-)
    I have been reading Galileo’s Daughter, and am reminded that the Catholic Church has always, eventually, even though it might take a couple of centuries after a particularly stiffnecked Pope put the power of Holy Office against the findings of science, eventually the Catholic Church does admit that facts are facts and not heresy.
    It’s a cheering thought, at a time when once again a stiffnecked and prejudiced Pope has taken a position that puts the Holy Office and the Catholic Church in direct opposition to the accepted facts. The current Pope has made it a matter of Catholic dogma to believe that LBGT people are “fundamentally disordered”, and that same-sex couples parenting children are effectively abusing them. This is quite contrary to fact, and seems likely to cause far more misery for all and embarrassment for ordinary Catholics than the decree of the Holy Office to make it unCatholic to believe that the Earth goes round the Sun.

  • Brandon

    @ jesusrgislac: As I said, both belief in the existence of God and disbelief in the existence of God can be rational provided both appeal to evidence and make claims that are meaningful. Evidence isn’t always obviously “conclusive.” Sometimes a piece of evidence will “point” in a certain direction without itself necessitating a particular conclusion. So to say that belief in God is rational just means (a) it’s based on evidence that points to the possible existence of God, or the probability of God’s existing, and (b) that belief in God does not contradict any known rule of logic or any other proposition known to be true.
    So, you will need to produce some proposition:
    (1) the truth of which is indisputable
    AND
    (2) which cannot be conjointly true with the proposition “some divine being exists.”

  • ako

    I think you may have misunderstood my intent. I wasn’t actually trying to prove my conclusions, merely describe how I arrived there. I don’t think the existence or non-existence of God is anything that’s likely to be settled in an internet debate. I will freely admit that I can’t disprove God, and I’m not necessarily right. I think my views are correct (otherwise I wouldn’t hold them), but I know that I can, and have been mistaken on a number of matters.
    I personally am claiming that I don’t believe God exists, but it isn’t any more definite than any of my other claims about reality. I don’t believe that I’m a delusional scizophrenic sitting in a psychiatric hospital, actually typing all of this on an etch-a-sketch, but I can’t disprove it. I also don’t believe I’m in a coma dreaming my entire life, or actually a brain in a jar being electrically stimulated to imagine my perceptions. I don’t believe these things because I haven’t seen any convincing evidence of them. They’re all concievable, and at least two of those choices are possible, but I don’t think they’re true.
    And you can only claim universal experience of stones not flying, talking, or behaving in ways you’d consider un-stonelike if you decide certain categories of experience don’t count. You’d have to exclude people you considered liars (a difficult judgment), deluded (another), mistaken (perhaps it looked to them like it came flying out of nowhere) and a number of stories in different mythologies which you would presumably consider false. You’d have a much better case for arguing that stones don’t normally speak, sing, fly, or dance as a universal human experience.
    I’m not saying I’ve definitively dismissed the possibility of any religion being true, merely that I treat it with the same skepticism as I do UFO stories. It would take something pretty dramatic, like a flying saucer or a visiting angel to persuade me.

  • Alexela

    @Brandon,
    Not to rehash the whole atheist god debate, but the basic argument goes like this:
    Nobody can prove the (non)existance of God
    Nobody can prove the (non)existance of Buddah
    Nobody can prove the (non)existance of unicorns
    Nobody can prove the (non)existance of big foot
    Nobody can prove the (non)existance of Strom Thurmond’s conscience
    Nobody can prove the (non)existance of Latvia*
    For all of those things there are some people who really genuinely, passionately believe that they exist. More so for some than for others, but they all have their heartfelt adherants. Science has had these struggles with other issues in the past. Ether, parents passing aquired traits to their children (believed by no less than Darwin himself), and so forth. It has generally found that be removing those things that cannot be (dis)proven one tends to arrive at a pretty good version of the truth. Not a perfect one, but arguably the most reliable one that we limited humans possibly CAN get to. That tends to weigh in favour of chucking unicorns and God, but neither does it say you’re surely wrong if you want to keep them. It just says they aren’t great bets. If you derive great meaning or tradition or what have you from a given religion or supernatural belief, and it doesn’t hurt anyone then, heck, hang on and believe it, and more power to you.
    “Aha, you say, but what about beauty and justice?”
    Good questions, both. Different answers. Beauty is, to some extent an observable thing that science can give some answers about. In humans it seems associated with symetry, physical markers associated with fertility (waist hip ratios, certain face shapes associated with gendered hormones, what have you). Even things like jokes seem to have some prototypic properties, though if I told you we really understood them I’d be lying and a half.
    Justice is different. Justice is attaching ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. You are completely right that science per se doesn’t do that. BUT, science does tend to support a consequentialist view of justice, given only a few small assumptions. If you assume that it is wrong to cause pain and suffering to others without very good reason, those are observable things. Science can tell you a lot about how to cause misery. If you assume that we want to minimize it, then science can be a guide. The thing that religion has which science doesn’t is the deontological set of rules… a set worked out and handed down from an authority whom one must obey. Science says “look at your fellow person, see their strengths and weaknesses, do what you can to make their collective lives better.” From this point of view, banning gay marriage makes no sense whatsoever. If two gay people love each other and want to marry, then their doing so causes no injury to anyone else, and preventing it causes clear injury to them. Incest I’ll do in another post, as this is way too long already.

  • Alexela

    * Latvia… oh yes, forgot. shoulda previewed.
    Some would argue that you can prove Latvia exists by going there, but all sensible people agree that you should never believe someone who’s been to Latvia.

  • Jesurgislac

    Brandon: So, you will need to produce some proposition:
    (1) the truth of which is indisputable
    AND
    (2) which cannot be conjointly true with the proposition “some divine being exists.”
    No. I would only need to do that if I felt it necessary to prove that there is no God. I don’t find that necessary, because there is no God, by the most obvious test of all: despite people claiming that there is a God (or, mostly, Gods) for as long as we have recorded human history, none of them have ever been able to show any repeatedly evidence that their divine being does in fact exist. Now, it plainly matters to a lot of people to believe that a God exists. A person’s private beliefs are no concern of anyone else: you are free to believe, on exactly the same evidence, that cats are really pink but dye their fur from kittenhood into the various colours we’re used to: that elephants can teleport: that unicorns exist. I cannot show that across the whole of space and time a creature like a terrestrial horse, but white, with a white horn like a narwhal tooth in its forehead, never existed, no more than I can show hat across the whole of space and time one or more of the divine beings imagined by humans never existed.
    But I see no reason by that to assert that unicorns could exist, just because some humans have imagined that they do: nor do I see any reason to assert that a god or gods could exist, just because some humans have imagined that they do.

  • Brandon

    OK. You guys are still assuming that atheism is true beforehand. You are making the STRONGER CLAIM that God does not in fact exists. I am not making the claim “God exists” but rather that “it is possible that God exists.” You’re assuming God doesn’t exist. And then you equate belief in God to belief in and worship of unicorn’s, bigfoot and so forth. It is obvious that WE created these things. They are OUR creation and they’re fictions. But it is NOT obvious that WE created God and that God is a fiction.
    Basically, you guys are saying that unless something is verified then it cannot be true. You can’t verify God’s existence any more than unicorns thus there is no reason to believe that God exists. But verification has nothing to do with the truth-value of propositions. A true proposition doesn’t become true when we verify its truth. It might be true and we are ignorant of its truth. Verification has to do with justifying our claims about a proposition’s truth-value. “God exists” is true if and only if God exists whether or not we can verify this. “God does not exist” is true if and only if God does not exist whether or not we can verify this. But our verifying it, our knowing which is the case, is not as simple a matter as you seem to think.
    Our means for verifying truth, for determining correspondence or conformity to reality, do not always yield unambiguous answers. We don’t perfectly apprehend ALL reality and so don’t perfectly apprehend all the grounding conditions for all propositions. We are finite, incomplete knowers. You mistakenly assume that the absence of apprehension on our part of some truth grounds for a particular proposition is equivalent to apprehending the falsity of the proposition in question. But that just doesn’t follow. And given the very nature of theistic belief, one is not justified in claiming to know there is no God on the basis of not having produced God in a laboratory test tube or objectively observed evidence that makes his existence obviously indisputable. Lack of such demonstration of God does not itself prove that God does not in fact exist. But as an atheist, it’s this logical impossibility you must demonstrate.
    Let’s understand just what the correspondence theory of truth says here. It says that a proposition is true just in case reality is as the proposition asserts. It doesn’t say anything about how or whether this correspondence must be known by us. If the correspondence can be apprehended by us, fine; we are then justified in claiming what the truth-value of some proposition is. But we can’t always prove indisputably and for all whether or how correspondence obtains. That doesn’t itself establish truth-value. It just means truth value is not immediately obvious.
    So this proves nothing about the truth or falsity of theism. It doesn’t follow that because we do dream up fictitious characters that we have in fact dreamt up God. No rule of logic makes the latter follow the former.

  • ako

    You are making the STRONGER CLAIM that God does not in fact exists.
    Um, no. I’m of the opinion that God doesn’t exist because all the evidence I’ve seen for how the universe exists is consistent with the absence of deities, and I’ve seen no convincing evidence for the presence of one.
    I am not making the claim “God exists” but rather that “it is possible that God exists.”
    And I agree with you. Problem solved!
    However, as with a lot of possible things, I’m going to treat it as “nonexistent until proven otherwise” the same as I do with other deities, magic, singing stones, unicorns, and those bug-eyed green aliens who like to probe people in embaressing places. It’s possible that, due to evidence I don’t have, or faulty reasoning on my part, any or all of the above exist. But I’m going to presume they don’t until shown otherwise.
    You’re assuming God doesn’t exist. And then you equate belief in God to belief in and worship of unicorn’s, bigfoot and so forth. It is obvious that WE created these things.
    How is this obvious? There are people who claim Bigfoot exists, think Bigfoot exists, and say they’ve had direct experience with Bigfoot. I don’t know, with absolute certainty, they’re wrong. I have had experience not knowing or encountering Bigfoot, but I haven’t directly experienced the non-existence of Bigfoot. I can’t say with absolute certainty that I live in a Bigfootless universe.
    Basically, you guys are saying that unless something is verified then it cannot be true.
    Again, no. We can’t know it’s true until it’s verified. It’s perfectly possible for something to be true, and nobody to know it. But the list of things that are possibly true is massive, and I tend to grant them all “presumptively untrue” status until evidence to the contrary occurs.
    Lack of such demonstration of God does not itself prove that God does not in fact exist.
    Again, true. If there’s no evidence either way, that doesn’t prove anything. It does, im my view, support the idea that the thing there is no evidence for isn’t there, but it’s not absolute proof.
    But as an atheist, it’s this logical impossibility you must demonstrate.
    Ah, the special definition of atheism. In which I must know absolutely beyond any possible debate or doubt or else I don’t count. If I held out for absolute epistomoligical certainty before drawing conclusions, I’d be stuck on complete ignorance about everything. I don’t think there’s a god, and I don’t regard this as any more tenative or specualative than my other conclusions about the nature of reality. It isn’t any less so, either. If it gives you particular satisfaction to relable me an angnostic, you may, but that’s not what I’d consider myself, because to the best of my knowledge, there is no god.

  • ako

    Just to clarify, “presumptively untrue” doesn’t mean I’m assuming it’s untrue, but that until I see a reason to think it’s true, “not true” is the most likely possibility, and a better basis to work from.
    This is because treating everything that could concievably be true as presumptively true, or even presumptively worth worrying about takes too much time and energy to be practical, and I don’t see why the concept of deities, let alone any particular god is a special case. It doesn’t strike me as any more obviously or fundamentally credible than the other stuff I don’t believe in and can’t disprove.

  • http://www.commonwealinstitute.org/CIBlog/2007/04/who_are_you_going_to_believe_m.html Commonweal Institute Blog

    Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?

    The role of religion in our politics has been growing steadily and the strongest religious voices have been on the religious right who after decades of shunning politics decided to enter into the fray wholeheartedly in the 1980s. According to…

  • Daniel

    I want to point out something that I believe is often missed in these discussions vis-a-vis choice and sexuality. The orthodox position as it is represented in mainline and the more moderate evangelical & Charismatic churches (I’m not talking about the “angry ultra-conservative” brand of evangelical/fundamental churches – there are clearly different strands within evangelicalism) is that while same-sex attraction may not be a choice, the decision to act upon that attraction IS a choice. The whole category of “orientation” assumes a certain ontology about sex that I do not believe any Christian should conceed, since it is a philosophical distinction, not one that can in any sense be “proved.”
    What we do have – and can observe that we do have – is that some individuals do actually feel attraction to members of the same sex. Thus, “same-sex attraction” is merely a statement of the fact and (unlike both “sexual preference” on the one hand or “sexual orientation” on the other) it does not decide the philosophical or ontological questions before the discussion even begins (which is clearly a mistake if one is committed to reasonable dialogue).
    The question of how one’s sexuality connects to one’s being or personhood or ontology and the corollary question of the relation between sexual activity and human fulfillment are also philosophical (not scientific) questions – they address “anthropology” in the classical sense of the word – “what does it mean to be human?” Here the question clearly moves into the realm of the theological.
    My point is the assertions one hears the homosexuality is/isn’t a choice usually miss the point because they do not really ask any probing questions of that assertion. The orthodox faith teaches that, no matter what urges or attractions (or, indeed, temptations) one has to the contrary – and I think ALL of us have them, no matter what our sexual life looks like – the only proper expression of sexuality in keeping with God’s design of the human being and of the universe is within the man-woman marriage covenant. All others must simply exercise the discipline of self-control (giving thanks to the Holy Spirit who makes this possible).