Try it! You’ll love it!

I am notorious at school for pushing math classes on my friends.  Done with your distributional requirements?  But surely you have space for this extra seminar on logic!  Thought you would just keep going through the calculus sequence?  Could I interest you in a transcendent term of fractal geometry?

Claim to hate math?  I’ve got a simple reply: You don’t hate math, you hate the math classes you’ve taken to date.  Once you’ve got a decent professor, you’ll have to change your mind.

So it’s not surprising I have sympathy with the doctrine of invincible ignorance, which has sparked a fight in a recent comments thread.  An anonymous poster linked to the relevant part of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.’

This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:

‘Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.’

The commenter concluded that, in the framework of the Catholic Church, “I would consider you ignorant of the Gospel of Christ, because if you weren’t, then you’d have accepted the Church.” This pronouncement raised the hackles of Ebonmuse of Daylight Atheism who replied: “I do so love that spirit of Catholic charity.”

I understand Ebonmuse’s ire.  As an atheist, I get tired of being dismissed by Christians who assume I don’t know anything about their religion or who try to pat me on the head and say if I understood I would believe or who offer any other variant of the Courtier’s Reply.  And then again, there are subjects (not limited to math) where I do the same thing.

The question really reduces to the same old problem of whether or not Christianity is true.  If it is, the doctrine of invincible ignorance and the kinda-sorta Universalism it implies are necessary and charitable components of a loving theology.   If not, the doctrine is a convenient shield against critique and a handy way to escape the (hopefully) self-refuting nastiness of a religion that damned almost everyone (cf Calvinism, most branches of evangelical fundamentalism, and the general spirit of this).  The claim fits easily into either framework.

So can I use it as evidence for or against Christianity?  Can I make any claims about the doctrine at all?  Well, let me try and solve the same problem in a different context.  At college, I am acquainted with some people who use drugs recreationally.  When I’ve discussed the matter with them, they often tell me that I can’t understand the opportunities drugs (particularly psychedelics) offer unless I’ve given them a try.

I tend not to give them the benefit of the doubt for a variety of reasons (most of which are not relevant to Christianity), but I’m curious if the atheist and Christian blogs agree on a general criteria that these claims should satisfy, even if we disagree about which ones pass.

So what would someone have to say to you to convince you that you knew too little to object?  Would it depend on whether the transcendence they were peddling was pharmacological or divine?  Is skepticism strictly correlated with the possible danger of choosing wrongly?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10516981923672969512 Ben

    They would have to actually tell me something I don't already know. i.e. the "You know too little," argument for divinity is not convincing without further explanation because I consider myself well educated on the subject. Like most atheists, I probably know more than the person trying this tactic in the first place. On pharmacological issues, I would already agree I know too little to make a educated judgement personally, except that I have never met a drug user who looked happy enough to convince me to risk addiction, legal consequences, etc.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    I think the question at hand is whether Christianity is actually reliably discoverable as true. If it is, then those who don't believe, indeed, have no excuse.But we have criteria for the discoverable variable already, as far as I know (at least in non-theological realms):- reliability- testability/observability- accuracy of predictions renderedThe first and third could perhaps be combined. These tend to apply elsewhere, and I'm not sure why they wouldn't here, though different epistemological methods seem to disagree.So, to the person who said some aspect of math/evolution/biology/physics wasn't the case… we'd simply ask for a prediction and test it. Can it explain the available phenomenon reliably? And what about what it doesn't explain? Should it be able to or not? What would it look like if such a theory wasn't true? I think these are helpful questions everywhere.For the Christian scenario, there don't seem to be any that we can get our heads around or actually look into. Off the top of my head, predictions rendered if it weren't true, might be:- nothing would exist- humans wouldn't possess intuition-based morality- We wouldn't experience consciousness- NDEs/OBEs wouldn't occur- We would't long for "that which is greater than ourselves"- A compelling, heartfelt story, containing the unexplainable "four facts" of Jesus death/resurrection would not existThings like this. I'm not sure how we could examine these claims. On one hand, we keep waiting to see if science will explain new unknown phenomena, as it has in the past. On the other hand, there's no way to compare ourselves to a "control group" — we're the only humans we know of.The same idea could be applied to the drugs thing. What experiences (and more importantly, short/med/long term benefits) do the drugs provide? How have certain test scores, abilities, etc. improved as a result? We'd look for a hypothesis about the benefits so that the experiencer could show the non-experiencer what was what.Regardless of whether Christians could be tested and found to "actually be knowledgeable," I'd at least add that churches treat them as if they're knowledgeable to believe, participate in rituals, join communities, and [maybe especially?] donate money to the Christian cause.But if you want to leave, you'd better be ready to conclusively prove false every Christian thinker who's ever lived.As Ebon wrote to me in a personal correspondence where I hinted at this discord (he said it better than me):,—| Have you ever noticed that no one needs this | level of expertise to join a religion? No one | walking in the doors of a church is barred by| a priest who says, "Hold it! Until you've | completed a rigorous Th.D program and read | books by a dozen famous apologists, you don't | have enough evidence to decide for yourself | whether you really believe this."|| Of course, that never happens in real life. | Churches will welcome any applicant with open | arms, regardless of how much or how little they| know about the beliefs being taught there. | They'll even accept children, as long as they | can be taught to say the right words during| their confirmation! No, this impossible level | of expertise is never demanded of anyone | seeking to join a religion – it's only ever| demanded of people who are considering the idea | of leaving.`—

  • KL

    My philosophy on this has always been, you're totally free to dismiss ideas or activities without being immersed in them. But if you want to actually engage in a discussion, or refute an argument someone who is immersed is making, you'd better be familiar with the actual argument (and, as a corollary, the premises and assumptions that inform it).This has always been my beef with Dawkins et al., who, when criticized for misunderstanding or grossly oversimplifying Christian arguments or positions, will often say, "I don't need to be a leprechaunologist to know that leprechauns don't exist." To which I'd say, you're certainly free not to believe in leprechauns regardless of your level of knowledge on the subject. But if you actually wanted to prove to a leprechaun-believer that their belief was erroneous, wouldn't you want to ask them why they believe? What is their evidence? What reasoning is behind their justification for belief? Only when you actually know and understand the arguments they're making could you ever be in a position to address (and refute) them. Otherwise, you're preaching to the choir or just congratulating yourself on being so much smarter than the leprechaunites, without actually contributing anything useful to the public discourse.It boils down to: Go ahead and dismiss disciplines, ideas, arguments without understanding them. (This is not a sarcastic statement — we all dismiss ideas or pass on activities without delving deeply into the reasoning/experiences behind them, out of necessity, purely because we are limited beings with finite energy, resources, mental capacity, etc.) But don't expect anyone to think very highly of you when you sound off on those subjects without knowing anything about them. This is why I don't jump into discussions between astrophysicists, even if I am uncomfortable with conclusions they draw. In a more specific answer to your question: It wouldn't be so much that I dismiss someone who disagrees with me as knowing "too little" about the subject. But if it is clear that they don't have a basic grasp of and familiarity with the concepts I'm discussing, or misunderstand the argument I'm making due to said lack of familiarity, then I will either have to scale back the argument to its very basic premises and start from epistemological scratch, so to speak — or just recognize that the conversation is unlikely to go anywhere and withdraw as graciously as possible.

  • KL

    @Hendy (sorry, I didn't see your comment till after my first comment was published!)I see your (and Ebon's) point. However, I think the situation is the same in any community where there are common assumptions, whether religious or otherwise. For instance, a physicist, when taking a research or academic position, is probably not going to have to demonstrate that they fully understand, have done extensive research, etc. regarding, say, the minutiae of quantum mechanics (unless it's their particular area of expertise, of course). It's probably enough that they are familiar with the concepts and can apply them insofar as they're relevant to their work. But if Dr. Smith were to say, "I'm leaving this department because it assumes the validity of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, and I think it's false," wouldn't you expect the community of physicists to ask for reasons? They would want to know the reasoning by which Dr. Smith has rejected the evidence and arguments for the uncertainty principle. Ultimately, no one's going to stop him, but they are probably going to think less of him as a researcher unless he successfully proves his case against the prevailing, accepted theory.In case it's not obvious, I'm not a physicist. So I recognize that this analogy is far from perfect. But I hope the point stands — if you voluntarily join a community, it's generally taken for granted that you share the assumptions common to that community (otherwise, why would you join?). If you leave, though, people will want to know why, and if there's an intellectual component, then of course you will probably be challenged to provide your reasoning.

  • Kogo

    *Only when you actually know and understand the arguments they're making could you ever be in a position to address (and refute) them.*Except that I have *never*, *ever* heard of an ex-pastor, ex-priest, or liberal theologian who dabbles in atheism who was sufficiently "knowledgable" to satisfy critics this way. So you'll pardon me if I see "you're not knowledgeable enough" as code for "your main problem is that you don't believe what I do."*Otherwise, you're preaching to the choir or just congratulating yourself on being so much smarter than the leprechaunites, without actually contributing anything useful to the public discourse.*You are assuming our main goal is to "contribute something useful to public discourse." You seem to think religion is an academic debate, with no larger stakes and no other actors on stage, as it were. Me, I don't particularly care about constructing a scintillating academic discourse. To be crude about it, I want to win. I want less religion in politics (like, none) and less religious symbolism and language around me. I have no faith whatsoever that this can be accomplished on the debating society stage. It seems to me that religion has fought dirty since the beginning of time and never paid any particularly high price for it. Why should we atheists do differently?*But don't expect anyone to think very highly of you when you sound off on those subjects without knowing anything about them.*I expect no such thing. I don't care what you think of me.

  • Kogo

    *- nothing would exist- humans wouldn't possess intuition-based morality- We wouldn't experience consciousness- NDEs/OBEs wouldn't occur- We would't long for "that which is greater than ourselves"- A compelling, heartfelt story, containing the unexplainable "four facts" of Jesus death/resurrection would not exist*Wow, that is some feeble-ass proof of god you've got there.-Things do exist. Why is that proof or disproof of anything? The question "why is there something instead of nothing?" seems like a question that's linguistically correct but has no actual meaning.-Humans wouldn't possess intuition-based morality. Given that our morality is clearly based on neuroscience and tenets of adaptive in-group altruism seen in many animals, why is that a sign of god?-"We wouldn't experience consciousness." Huh?- We would't long for "that which is greater than ourselves" I and other atheists don't long for any such thing. Premise refuted.- A compelling, heartfelt story, containing the unexplainable "four facts" of Jesus death/resurrection would not existI see. I have hear a compelling, heartfelt book called "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" containing numerous accounts of inexplicable magic. Therefore, Harry Potter exists.

  • Kogo

    *Only when you actually know and understand the arguments they're making could you ever be in a position to address (and refute) them.*Except that I have *never*, *ever* heard of an ex-pastor, ex-priest, or liberal theologian who dabbles in atheism who was sufficiently "knowledgable" to satisfy critics this way.So you'll pardon me if I see "you're not knowledgeable enough" as code for "your main problem is that you don't believe what I do."*Otherwise, you're preaching to the choir or just congratulating yourself on being so much smarter than the leprechaunites, without actually contributing anything useful to the public discourse.*You are assuming our main goal is to "contribute something useful to public discourse." You seem to think religion is an academic debate, with no larger stakes and no other actors on stage, as it were. Me, I don't particularly care about constructing a scintillating academic discourse.To be crude about it, I want to win. I want less religion in politics (like, none) and less religious symbolism and language around me. I have no faith whatsoever that this can be accomplished on the debating society stage. It seems to me that religion has fought dirty since the beginning of time and never paid any particularly high price for it. Why should we atheists do differently?*But don't expect anyone to think very highly of you when you sound off on those subjects without knowing anything about them.*I expect no such thing. I don't care what you think of me.

  • Kogo

    Oh and regarding NDEs/OBEs: Both have been amply explained by neuroscience. In fact, OBEs have mostly to do with inner-ear physiology.

  • Kogo

    Oops; sorry for the repeat post.And that's /here not /hear.

  • Anonymous

    Hello, Anonymous from yesterday's discussion here. I cleared up my use of the term "ignorant" in later comments:"I did intend to use 'ignorant' in a way similar to how Publinus described it — without pejorative connotations, and meaning 'not fully understanding.'""[A]cceptance of the Catholic church is a necessary condition of knowing the gospel of Christ, so we can test whether or not someone really knows Christ by their acceptance of the Church.""Much of the Catechism rests on the definition of 'to know.' In the Catechism, it seems to mean more than "to be aware of." From the Prologue and first sections:'FATHER, . . . this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. God our Savior desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.''He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength.'Here, knowing Christ is used as a synonym for being saved."In summary, "knowing" the gospel in Catholic-ese goes beyond a literal awareness of it and "knowing" Christ (and the Church) are the ways to salvation. This knowledge is the "truth" referred to in the Prologue. So "ignorance" of it means, by definition, not having been saved. I apologize for causing any misunderstandings in my original comment.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @KL:,—| But don't expect anyone to think very highly of| you when you sound off on those subjects without | knowing anything about them.`—But many people are extremely knowledgeable about Christianity (former believers, pastors, theologians) and do claim that it's false… while knowing about them.I thought that was the point about the post: Christians claim that you cannot both be a) knowledgeable and b) a non-believer.Thus, to your concrete example to me:,—| "I'm leaving this department because it | assumes the validity of the Heisenberg | uncertainty principle, and I think it's | false,"…`—Wonderful! Let's have both sides assemble and offer hypotheses and then test them. The one claiming falsehood show that he knows the location and momentum of an electron at the same time and the question will be settled.Thus, what I'm suggesting is that in concreted, "discoverable" realms, questions can actually be answered. We wage ware in the observational battle field and go home knowing. In such fields, we can thus say that a) being knowledgeable and b) not believing actually are mutually exclusive.What, then, about Christianity? Do you hold that it is universally discoverable? As in, you can walk anyone through a series of steps/sequences and have them see clearly that yours is the evidentially superior position?I suspect that (regardless of your answer), this is not possible. If it were, the hundreds and thousands of years of erosion should have already wiped some religious contenders off the face of the earth. Instead, they operate within theories that offer nothing testable, have a neatly immune explanation for everything, and thus anyone who believes any of them can have a swarm of apologists sounding smart to field all of the objections.The day when anyone can have a member of any religious look as silly as a flat-earther for defending their theory will be a breakthrough.(In other words, round-earthism is in the "universally discoverable" realm while religions are not.)I don't think that day has come.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @Kogo:,—| Wow, that is some feeble-ass proof of god you've | got there.|| I and other atheists don't long for any such | thing. Premise refuted.|| I see. I have hear a compelling, heartfelt | book called "Harry Potter and the Deathly | Hallows" containing numerous accounts of | inexplicable magic. Therefore, Harry Potter | exists.`—Huh. You seem to be correcting me as if these are my reasons. I don't believe in god. I was just trying to list reasons I've heard of in debates and elsewhere that fit the question, "Dear Christian, what do you think the world would look like if god really didn't exist?"I don't think they're convincing either, but I tried to list them as they are in the realm of "non-discoverable." As in (like you said), they use "linguistically correct" words and phrases but 1) have no way of finding out if they are true or 2) offer nothing of content to what we can find out.Does that make sense?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @Kogo: also, I'd be interested in seeing any NDE information you have. OBEs, yes, are probably losing ground via the work of Persinger and the God Helmet. NDEs are a bit different. I hear off-hand quotes in debates (Gary Habermas loves these) about cases, for example, where someone went clinically dead and then was revived. When they came to, they reported seeing a basketball on the roof or a car crash several blocks away and, apparently, the reports were verified.I've never been able to hear this in a debate, get home and google for it, and come back with the actual source.I don't know what they would point to, anyway, if true. Christian apologists want it to point to a soul/the afterlife. That's why I listed it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16621810001250788213 KL

    @Hendy,But many people are extremely knowledgeable about Christianity (former believers, pastors, theologians) and do claim that it's false… while knowing about them.Right, and I don't have any intellectual objection to that. Rational and informed people can and often do disagree. It's the Dawkinses of the world, who are openly and proudly ignorant of Christianity but nonetheless dismiss all religious beliefs as fallacious, who irritate me from a methodological and intellectual standpoint.As far as Christianity being "universally discoverable" — while there are aspects of religious belief that are empirically quantifiable, I think that by definition not all of them are. And, frankly, I am comfortable with that. The elevation of empiricism, materialism, and logical positivism as the Holy Trinity of knowable things is highly culturally-bound as a product of modern/post-modern Western society. I am intellectually and philosophically open to a priori reasoning and argumentation, and recognize that not every aspect of human existence (and, by extension, the world as a whole, however you define that) will have a quantifiable, empirically-verifiable manifestation. This is not methodologically or epistemologically troubling to me, precisely because I reject the supreme primacy of empirical data. Now, when existing empirical data contradict ideas that, in theory, should not be empirically verifiable, then we have an issue. But simply because a concept has no empirical support does not always and immediately epistemically discredit it.

  • Iota

    general criteria that these claims should satisfyI’m afraid it would be, in practice, close to impossible for groups of people with different ethical systems to agree on such criteria. Because the criteria would be based on concepts that are not unanimously agreed to (e.g. what is good, reliable, what is sound thinking in practice, what is evidence and how does it relate to truth, how much is too much?).* * I believe all those questions do have absolutely correct answers but that doesn't mean everyone always gets the answers right so, in effect, people disagree about these things , sometimes to the point of acting AS IF there weren't any good answers (cf. the popularity of post-modernism in the humanities).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02487990587362445908 Ash

    KL: "It's the Dawkinses of the world, who are openly and proudly ignorant of Christianity" …since Dawkins and his fellow Horsemen are quite knowledgeable about Christianity, this undermines your entire argument. They have a very firm grasp of the various claims that Christianity makes and the Biblical justifications for its moral positions. True, they tend to focus on the fundamentalist versions because they are the most dangerous, but they do a good job of addressing more "moderate" versions (esp. Harris). So yeah, pretty much any supernatural claim is currently unjustified, and becoming more so the more science reveals.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @KL: thanks for clarifying, and I think your position is a fairly unproblematic one. I think the issue is with those who hold that an intellectually reached position of non-belief, while claiming to also be knowledgeable of all relevant details of Christianity needed to reach such a position, is impossible.I suppose you still haven't directly stated your stance, though. In other words, do you think it is possible for an informed person to not only "disagree" (as you put it), but be rationally justified in their non-belief? Or do you think that more knowledge can and must eventually lead to belief in Christianity?I would agree that lack of empirical support doesn't immediately discredit anything. My issue is with claims that never resulted from empirical support in the first place. My favorite topic, precisely because it might actually be an intersection where science and Christianity have to say something to and about each other, is "The Fall" and it's surrounding details.To have eternal life, humans need an eternal soul. To have anything to be redeemed from, humans need to have been created "perfect" (or at least in a non-dying format), and then fallen from such a state. Theologically, I'd also add that for Jesus' and Paul's words to mean anything, there needs to have been a literal "first man," since the reference such a being, and even Adam and Eve.But where is the evidence for constructing such a hypothesis to begin with? Christianity, especially Catholicism, has tried to work with science as much as possible to avoid being falsified. Genesis is now figurative, no flood needs to be believed, Revelation is equally figurative, evolution is "more than a theory," and so on.But it's stuck because it has to insist on a soul and first man/woman of some sort. But there's no reason to think this except for the ad hoc reason of needing to have a basis for claiming immortal potential and needing Jesus to have something to die from.So here's a case where there's nothing empirically to support it… but there also never was and thus I don't see any reason for the suggestion to have ever been invented except via ignorance and needing to make the myth make sense.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Leha,this is a pretty interesting blog you have here and you seem to have a pretty interesting personality, too. Since you are a Yale student I probably don't have much interesting to say though.Mathematics – Christianity – Drugs I'm a curious person so I like to learn new things and try to overcome my fears and do new things. And I think I know the nice feeling you can have when you understand something in math or science that goes deeper than what you have learned or that other people are able to comprehend – the satisfaction you get from solving a mathematical problem. So I guess I should actually read the gospels at least once.Concerning Christianity I guess there are two things to consider: If you already know more than the person that is trying to convince you why should you be obliged to learn even more? If you have a fair share of knowledge maybe just short of a study in theology maybe you were not meant to belief?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10845051786114528609 Julie Robison

    I don't think anyone can come to Christianity purely from reason/ intellect. A person fully becomes a Christian because they have encountered Christ and have their heart changed by such a relationship. Even if they are a cradle Catholics like me, and accepted Jesus as their Savior very early on, it is an adult heart and mind which must consent.There is a difference, for example, in knowing a person and knowing about a person. Non-believers and believers alike know a lot about Christ. They know he lived and died, they've read what he's said and done, they've seen the effects of his 33 years on this earth continue over 2,000 years later. But even less people truly know Christ. Getting to know him isn't a one time deal; it's not wham, bam, thank you ma'am. Oh hey, I know you! I met you once! To know Christ is to love Christ, and love him the mostest. Now, this is not easy. He makes it easy on his end, but from this side, there are temptations and barriers which stop us. We want things done our way, not his. We want him to come to us, not for us to follow him. But he is not a puppy dog – he is the Son of God. We must go to him. There can be plenty of intellectual debate and banter, but until a person comes to know Christ, all of it is for naught. This is not meant in a patronizing tone, nor in a mean tone, or in an any way insulting tone. I am simply trying to communicate why it is a difficult (but not impossible!) task of explaining to non-believers why the Church says that non-believers will not be held accountable. For whatever rational reasons they have, it still holds true that they know of Christ, but they do not know him.I'm not trying to make total argument; everyone comes to God in their own way. But from what I have experienced, read, discussed and seen, Christianity can only truly flourish in the human heart, when the person desires a relationship with Christ, who loved us so much, that he died for us; and loves each of us so much, that he would die again, if only I or Leah or Hendy or KL, etc. was the only person on earth. Please don't see this as a dismissal or a pat on the head; there are things the heart knows and feels that the brain cannot always fully understand, and I think knowing Christ is one of them.

  • Andy

    This is one that especially grates on my nerves, because I was a catholic. Apparently the only way I could have left was by having a misunderstanding, or invincible ignorance.This strikes me as odd, because nowadays the way invincible ignorance gets interpreted is far, far more liberal then it used to be. Previously it's only been cited in the island tribe example where no one has had the chance to hear the gospel.If you read the catechisms on invincible ignorance it is very clear that, while if you are deemed to have invincible ignorance, it is still very unlikely that you are saved. The catechisms for hell confirm this. It is very clear that unless you are in full communion with the Catholic church it is quite unlikely that you are going to heaven.But evangelizing catholics will gloss over this. After all, they have no way of knowing for absolute certain that someone may or may not go to heaven. But it remains that they do believe it is incredibly unlikely. Being blunt in this matter is just bad salesmanship.My response to this has been to buy people Sagan's "The Demon Haunted World". Catholics, and evangelicals, are quite unlikely to reconsider what they consider to be divinely inspired knowledge. However, I think Sagan lays out a very eloquent case for why evidence trumps all. If anything can get people to question their beliefs (atheists included) it's Sagan.So far I've purchased 5 copies for others through Amazon, if anyone here would like a copy email me: asdettmer gmail

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16621810001250788213 KL

    @Ash,While I am less familiar with Harris' work, Dawkins' The God Delusion, which I think can be fairly categorized as one of the foremost works of the New Atheism movement, displays a breathtaking ignorance and/or misunderstanding of basic Christian concepts and metaphysics. His lack of understanding on fundamental theological ideas is quite obvious — this review from the London Review of Books sums it up quite nicely: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n20/terry-eagleton/lunging-flailing-mispunchingFurthermore, when confronted with these criticisms, Dawkins has replied with the line of argument I mentioned above, namely that he doesn't need to be familiar with the arguments to know they're false. Which, at the very least, displays a startling intellectual hubris that doesn't exactly promote your cause to anyone who doesn't already agree with you.@Hendy,An excellent distinction. What it comes down to, for me, is the fact that if we follow our premises all the way down, eventually we are going to arrive at some axioms that we simply hold without definitive evidence, in the same way that mathematics depends on postulates. And some of us may choose different "brute premises," to coin a term for the purposes of the discussion, which will in turn lead to very different conclusions down the line, even if each person's reasoning from the premise on up is entirely sound. For instance, the odds against the existence of an anthropic universe have been calculated at 1:10^10^123 (see Roger Penrose's The Emperor's New Mind), a figure vastly smaller than that considered, for mathematical purposes, to be equivalent to zero. Obviously, there were no dispassionate observers present at the Big Bang, so we don't actually know exactly why and how the universe came into existence. Faced with these facts, though, Person A may surmise that the universe is simply the result of chance, and we just got astronomically lucky in getting the single straw out of 10^10^123. Person B postulates the existence of a multiverse, thus skirting the probability issue altogether. Person C thinks that the extraordinary unlikelihood of a universe that has the potential (much less actuality) of supporting life indicates conscious design of some sort. Now, I would argue that none of these people are being unreasonable in their beliefs, since we quite frankly don't know what happened. But since their premises are different, they are likely to come to different conclusions down the line in terms of their reasoning about the world, even if their reasoning is all completely sound. I, as a person of the C persuasion, may think that A and B are incorrect, but I can't call them irrational for choosing a different brute premise, since science and data simply Don't Know what happened and why. But, since I am also comfortable with knowledge that is not drawn purely from empirical data (another "brute premise", I think), I can still believe that I have good reason, in a non-data sense, to believe what I do. This is all a very long-winded way of saying, yes, I think rational people can disagree and I respect that. But I also think that rationality is often too narrowly construed in our society, to encompass only empirical data, and further that the fullness of knowledge and human experience transcends mere (in a non-pejorative sense) rationality. Also, as an aside — The Catholic Church has always understood Genesis, Revelation, etc., as at least partly allegorical. See Augustine's On the Literal Interpretation of Genesis and Aquinas' Summa I.I.9-10, for example. Biblical literalism is very much a modern (and Protestant) phenomenon.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16621810001250788213 KL

    @Julie,Thank you for making an excellent distinction. English is at a distinct disadvantage with its single verb for "to know," in contrast to, say, French, which has "savoir" (to know a piece of information) vs. "connaitre" (to know/be acquainted with a person). The ambiguity in English leads to some semantic difficulties. I agree that the "knowledge" of Christ and his Church required for salvation is of the second type, which may or may not be in addition to the first. But (and this goes back to the discussion on Judaism in Leah's last post), no one is in a position to judge whether someone knows (type 2) Jesus or simply knows about Him (type 1).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    Andy, can you link to the resources for the narrow interpretation on invincible ignorance or post the parts of the CCC you're referencing. It is my impression that the very universalist interpretation is new, but I don't have references.

  • Andy

    My only reference is 25 years in the church and having never heard it used another way until recently. I never claimed that how I've seen the interpretations change was anything other then anecdotal (also see the interpretation of hell moving from fire to Gahenna).If you want references to why its quite unlikely that those of us who are "invincible ignorant" are unlikely to go to heaven see the Catechisms, specifically 1036 when it references that few enter the gates. Also see 1790-1795, and 1860, where it is establishes that ignorance can excuse you, but is certainly not a promise. Especially when you supposedly already have a "moral law written on your heart".

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Furthermore, when confronted with these criticisms, Dawkins has replied with the line of argument I mentioned above, namely that he doesn't need to be familiar with the arguments to know they're false.This is a willful lie. If you read Richard Dawkins (and Eagleton's response to him, which I encourage), what you'll see is that he dismisses theological arguments that have nothing to do with whether or not God exists. This can be clearly seen in Eagleton's sharpest criticism:What, one wonders, are Dawkins’s views on the epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus? Has he read Eriugena on subjectivity, Rahner on grace or Moltmann on hope? Has he even heard of them?Do any of these subjects have any bearing whatsoever on whether there is evidence for the existence of God? Of course not, and that's why Dawkins rightly dismisses them: they are irrelevant to the point. Criticisms like these are just an attempt by Eagleton and others of like mind to obfuscate the issue, to throw up a cloud of theological fog that confuses and distracts. We new atheists have no truck with such. Give us an argument to believe that God exists, and we'll gladly engage with it. Demand that we stop advocating atheism until we've read the ethereal philosophical musings of half-a-dozen long-dead clerics, and we'll react with laughter and scorn.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07134832527475707436 Dave

    Andy – keep in mind that the person who said that few enter the gates is the same person who says that a single lost sheep is far too many, to the point of justifying a heroic wolf-defying rescue. Jesus was many things, but statistician wasn't one of them.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00232551422932887547 Alex Binz

    Ebonmuse, my problem with Dawkins (which I imagine is shared by KL and certainly by Eagleton) is that Dawkin's attacks on Christianity are not rooted in science but in philosophy and particularly theology. How else do we explain his arguments against the existence of God that rely on the problem of evil: a field of theology known as "theodicy." Eagleton's point, which I would repeat here, is that Dawkin is spectacularly uninformed on theological matters, and is mostly content to rail against the most radical and ignorant elements within the American fundamentalist movement.Until he actually engages with the theological legacy of Christianity and stops throwing up red herrings and straw men, I will continue to find it impossibly to take him seriously. As it stands, his attacks on Christianity read more as a general materialist antipathy against philosophy than an actual scientific argument against God.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @Julie: I think I'm qualified from both sides of the fence. I can testify to having had "a personal relationship with Jesus" for about 7 years. I knew him. He spoke to me. I can recount some amazing (I really mean that) stories about answered prayers, hearing his voice (in my heart, that is), receiving inspirational/prophetic words, laughing uncontrollably during times of prayer because of how much he loved me, and so on. I was absolutely in love with the Lord, Jesus Christ. I had my room at college plastered with 30 sheets of paper with huge letters of all the Bible verses I loved. I carried a rosary with me everywhere. I went to confession weekly if not more. I attended daily mass almost every day at my Catholic campus. I actually don't know how to say enough to make it clear that I know exactly what you're talking about. I wept when I knew the Lord for the first time and the doubts that he been lingering about how he could have risen evaporated. I knew he was alive and well because I met him. I don't want anyone to read the list above and think, "Yeah, yeah. I know the type. It was all about 'doing stuff' for him — he just 'did stuff' but had no 'interior life.'" No — I had plenty. I tried to pray constantly. I asked the Lord to help me view women charitably, be pure, prayed for guidance for big decisions, and wanted to be more Christ-like every day.And now I'm a non-believer.Having known both sides, and thinking that neither can know the other without living it, I'm perfectly satisfied to say that my former self was deluded but with no awareness of that fact.Even moreso, I can't begin to identify what "recipe" even let me honestly contemplate that I might be wrong about everything I always lived for. But it happened. Once I was actually able to question and research, my belief faded extremely quickly.I claim no merit for this occurring. It literally just happened and that was that.Does this at all give creedence to my non-belief? Or will even now anyone assert that I must not really have known Jesus? I think it was all in my mind. I have had amazing coincidences occur that could have made me think there was an "atheist god" having that person contact me out of the blue and send me something so incredibly relevant to my state at that time. It's almost like "someone" wants me to not believe even more firmly. But I don't think that's the case — but the same types of things used to happen before, as well. I think we see what we look for.In any case, I just wanted to share that. I've been on both sides of the fence both intellectually and emotionally/spiritually.Last thing…,—| Getting to know him isn't a one time deal; it's not wham, bam, thank | you ma'am.`—It's a catchy phrase… but you might want to reconsider it (LINK).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @KL:Thanks for the response.,—| … (1) I think rational people can disagree and I respect that. But I also| think that rationality is often too narrowly construed in our society… | and that (2) the fullness of knowledge and human experience | transcends mere… rationality. `—Glad to hear you agree with (1). You and Julie both suggested (2). I'm open to it, but ever since deconverting have honestly wrestled with what it means in general as well as how reliable it is. In other words, I'd like to hear the case for how a universal truth could be learned through non-empirical/rational means as well as how likely you think what you learned via those means is to be reliable.For starters, someone should define "other means"- feelings?- intuitions?- knowing it one's heart?- gut/hunch?Also, some way of showing how we could see that these are reliable would also be helpful. To that point, I'll say that those claiming to "know god in their hearts" or to have "experienced the Holy Spirit" do not rank very high on this scale for me, simply because I would assume that god would speak into all human hearts, and it's clear that whatever people around the world are experiencing and calling god, it's clearly not reliable enough to get them to settle on one religion and let the rest move on to extinction… and it's had ~1000 years at least to do this with some of them.I hear you on the "infinite regress" of premises and evidence. Even without going that far, though, let's look at your example. We know that certain values needed to be what they were for us to be here. We're trying to find reasons for why those values are what they are, particularly if we need to see ourselves as being "extremely lucky."But compare this to the idea of the soul or a first man/woman. What was the level of evidence that supported these ideas first? Perhaps not understanding why people just "stopped functioning" one day? As if some "life force" left them? Egyptians were preparing people for an afterlife of some sort before Abraham came around.To close, here's a thought experiment. Imagine that we wipe out all of history but keep all of the knowledge that has accumulated to date that is thought to be reliable, trustworthy, established, etc. We pump that into everyone's brain so that everyone is up to speed.When looking around at the world, knowing everything we've been able to know, do you think anyone would posit that at some point in the past, some first batch of us received an immortal, immaterial component that has been in the race ever since?My take is an "revealed truth" in holy books should be timeless. Whatever they were answering then should be being answered now. As for the soul, I doubt that we would still be thinking of it in that configuration were the holy books of the world never written. I think that instead of the thought experiment above, something like the reverse has happened. We've been locked to thinking that whatever was written thousands of years ago must be correct and fought tooth and nail for every last unexplained phenomenon to support such an assertion. At least how I see it is that the list of remaining unexplained phenomenon that overlap with theology is getting a bit short.

  • Blamer ..

    >>What would someone have to say to you to convince you that you knew too little to object?They'd have to have taught me enough about the topic relevant to the specific claim for me to want to go away and think and read about what I'd been told.>>Would it depend on whether the transcendence they were peddling was pharmacological or divine?No it's all overlapping magesteria since if it isn't matter it doesn't matter.>>Is skepticism strictly correlated with the possible danger of choosing wrongly?Yes, but skepticism is more about cautiously adjusting confidence levels for completing claims, rather than caring if a claim crosses back over the threshold between confidence and doubt.The Science of Why We Don't Believe Science (Chris Mooney) http://bit.ly/hIrE0e (motherjones.com)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10845051786114528609 Julie Robison

    Hendy, if you don't mind, I have a (rhetorical) question for you — only because I suppose I do not understand how one can know Jesus so intimately and then no longer believe — do you think your non-belief could potentially be a period of spiritual dryness? I know I can go through some pretty dry periods, which sounds like it aligns when you said one day, you just stopped believing. I don't need an answer, I just thought I'd ask. Either way, I'll be praying for you and your family. :)And yes, that phrase does have, em, connotations. Ha, thank you for pointing that out!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @Julie:I don't mind answering. I wondered that at some point, but I am leaning away from it. I'd also need to know more about what counts as "dryness."For example, it's far more than just not "sensing the Lord's presence." I've had stuff like that before and trudged through until the next time I had an experience of grace or having the feelings of joy and closeness with god accompany my spiritual life.But this is different, and far more intellectual. It was as if, for the first time in my life, I was actually open to the possibility that I was wrong about Christianity entirely. Never before had that happened. Following this openness, I began reading the takes of opposing sides on various issues and kept finding that the explanations by non-believer seemed far more plausible. Contradictions began to appear. I started asking harder questions and wondering why such and such was/was not the case given the existence of god/Jesus.To bring it back to "dryness" — I suppose that it would be possible if suddenly I was made to "know god" again that my doubts would just go away. At one point, this is literally what happened. I was somewhat confused about the resurrection and then I "knew Jesus" for the first time and my doubts vanished — see HERE.This time around, however, I don't think I would trust a "sense," "feeling," or whatever else over my doubts. I think I'd need a vast number of them actually explained somehow. Perhaps more than that, I'd wonder, "Why me?" I'm in a Christian nation with a Christian background… why are there so many others who don't know because they've been hoodwinked by what are apparently quite false religions and Jesus isn't giving them intimate knowledge of himself. I just don't know without having things at least plausibly resolved intellectually if I'd even trust something that could very well by emotional or psychological.Which is probably why the last prayers I prayed after all of this started were absolutely repetitive: "Jesus, give me what I need to believe."Or something like that. The point was that Jesus surely knows what I require and can meet it.Was that helpful? What's entailed in "dryness"?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07134832527475707436 Dave

    @Hendy: If I understand your story correctly, I think these points are true:1. Your life before believing in Jesus was terrible. 2. Your life when you believed in Jesus was wonderful. You had several remarkable answered prayers and personal experiences of God's presence. 3. Your life after ceasing to believe in Jesus has become terrible. And now you say that you can't believe, because you've found "more plausible" atheistic explanations to various questions? I will grant you that a case can be made for atheism. There will always be ambiguity in the world. If Jesus sat down with you today and provided plausible Christian explanations, tomorrow you could choose to say it was a hallucination brought on by a bit of undigested beef or something. If the stars realigned themselves to spell out the complete text of the Catechism, you could say that the secret Vatican mind control experiments finally panned out. Anything can be explained (or explained away) if you so desire. It's point 2 that really confuses me. Your firsthand experience is evidence that can't be wished away. You can say that you were imagining things or delusional or whatever, but unless you can explain that delusion, then you're just deliberately ignoring the evidence that you can't fit into your plausible atheistic narrative. John Nash can plausibly say that his interaction with a secret government superspy was a hallucination, because he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, which causes hallucinations. But Elliott can't reasonably declare that his interaction with ET was a hallucination, because he's of sound mind. This is true even if he finds plausible arguments that interstellar travel is impossible. He saw it. He was there. I believe there are plausible explanations on both sides of the fence. If that is the case, and neither side can be proven conclusively, then the question is what you choose to do with that ambiguity. You're selectively ignoring personal evidence, and making a choice which your entire life history clearly shows will make you miserable. IS making you miserable. You also say you're deliberately restricting your search to the atheistic side (following only atheist blogs, reading only atheist books), and sort of hoping that you'll catch the other's perspective in the crossfire. This is a dishonest methodology. It will inevitably lead to a sense that the debate is lop-sided, simply because of the bias you're imposing. Leah has a great set of religious blogs linked here; I would especially recommend Conversion Diary. It's the story of a woman who researched her way into Christianity. It seems to me that if you are really open to the idea of Jesus giving you what you need for belief, you need to widen your net.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @Dave:I have no idea what points can be drawn from 1, 2, and 3 even if they were true in the crude way that you've painted them.Re. #1Perhaps, but how much did belief have anything at all do do with my "miserable life?" My parents owned their own business and I spent a lot of time alone, and lonely. I got moved to a new school and got made fun of. This led me to seek acceptance in unproductive ways. Some of those ways included illegal substances.Re. #2Again, correlation and causation often seem the same but almost never are. If you've read my story, you also know that this involves a fairly intense isolated 2.5 year stay at a 12-step boarding school surrounded by yelling staff members who were also recovering addicts. How does that factor in? I didn't "not believe" in god before, either — I just didn't act I needed him.Re. #3Which brings us to this one. My life is miserable because I've completely networked myself into 7 years of one-dimensional communal relationships and a wife and kids based all around faith. You equivocate "miserable" as if it entails the same circumstances or qualities. Misery from #1 was as a result of not being confident/secure, which has much improved. Misery now is almost entirely related to the social aspects of a paradigm shift that creates tension/disagreement. Simply identifying that both phases of life for me had challenges and then trying to point to lack of god as an explanation seems shallow and silly.,—| You're selectively ignoring personal| evidence, and making a choice which your | entire life history clearly shows will make | you miserable. IS making you miserable.`—Uhhhh, come again? How am I ignoring it? And could you qualify your insight on "IS making you miserable"? How can you know this and what, particularly, about non-belief is making me miserable?Lastly, if you're read my story, clearly you've also seen my book list, my book summaries and my recent re-committal to finishing that list?I also dialog with people like yourself, on atheistic blogs like this.,—| I would especially recommend Conversion Diary.`—I get that it's inspiring to a lot of people, but I read both parts to her story after someone forwarded me there and was completely disappointed. There was almost nothing re. specifics about her conversion. All I remember is her thinking that her grandfather (or some role model at least) was a believer and smart and thus it must be okay to believe.She writes as though she converted by hunch and feeling rather than research. I can't find links to her story, but in her About section, she even links to one of her last posts as an atheist HERE and says,,—| To be totally honest with myself, I'm still | functionally an atheist. But I want to | believe. My logical mind tells me some sort of | creator exists. Some deep gut feeling tells me | God exists.`—What does that even mean?Once I began to doubt, however, I simply wanted to land on whatever side had the best approximation of "what is." Whatever is true, that's what I want to believe. I'm also reasonably confident that whatever is true should be able to be found out. This in itself, doesn't do the god hypothesis any favors since in hundreds of years, the world hasn't managed to converge on which god is real yet.Continued…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @Dave (continued):To close:- My personal story is, to you, undeniable evidence for something (god, Jesus, ?); are the amazing conversion stories of believers of other traditions evidence that their god exists?- If you credit god for improving my life during #2 and lack of him as cause for #1 and #3, do you criticize him for those who both believe but do not see the apparent awesomeness you think I enjoyed in #2? To support one set (positive outcomes) but ignore others (either negative outcomes as resulting from non-belief or criticizing god for such negative outcomes in believers) seems, as you say, to be a dishonest methodology.- Were I my former self writing to my future self right now, would you criticize me for not having read a single atheistic book and devoting myself only to things like the Scriptures, Spiritual Combat Revisited, De Sales, and so on?My response might be a bit harsh… but then again it does appear that you read some of my blog and came back and posted all kinds of ignorant statements about what my life and my character.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @Dave:My first comment somehow got eaten, thus only my "continued" above remains. Bummer.I think you equivocate the "misery" from #1 and #3. One was caused by emotional immaturity and loneliness, the other from having invested 7 years into one-dimensional relationships and then changing my stance on the central common node. What do you expect would happen? Humans have emotions. I'm married to a believer. I know about 300 acquaintances who valued and respected me as a believer. How would my new direction be any less than complicated?I found Jen's story (both parts) unimpressive. She seems to rely more on a hunch/sense than any research, at least from what I recall of reading her story.Re. being one sided… surly you've seen my book list? I will be reading it. You're also commenting on my commenting on my situation 1.5 years down the road. I read both sides early on. I have (just counted) about 80 debates/interviews on my iPod where both sides get to make their cases before the other. I just attended a discussion by a Christian science historian about the creation/evolution debate a few weeks ago. I've gotten together with theology teachers, highly learned religious folks, etc. at the request of others. I can't think of any time I've turned down such an opportunity. And, yes, I've gravitated toward the material of non-belief. I find it more convincing and plausible. My search is not done.Your sweeping comments are pretty bold considering you don't really know!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @Dave:Oh, one more thing…,—| It seems to me that if you are really open to | the idea of Jesus giving you what you need for | belief, you need to widen your net.`—This comes up so often that I just can't pass it up. Quantify how wide it needs to be — propose some set of achievements at which point you'd grant that I can walk away from Jesus intellectually justified.Can you do it?Even if you could, what would it show?Jesus knows where to find me. According to you, he found me in the throws of drug addiction. I'm sure he can find me now — I'm reading and thinking about him infinitely more than I ever was back then…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05333871014217027441 red_horizon0127

    Leah, I know this is perhaps a bit unorthodox, but I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions privately. I don't think you will find them uncomfortable or upsetting in any way, I just think they would be out of place in any of the discussions that normally take place on your blog. Just a couple questions borne out of curiosity, from a sort of beginning seeker (me) to a more advanced one (you). Trying to find my way and I think you would be a good reference point.If you're open to my questions, please e-mail me at dvcasson@gmail.com. Naturally your confidence and privacy are assured.Thanks either way -David

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07134832527475707436 Dave

    Hmm.You're… absolutely right. I'm a horse's ass. I disown my words, and I repent in dust and ashes. I had either missed or misread your book list; I remembered you mentioning (somewhere) that you only follow atheist blogs, and probably made an unwarranted assumption about your books. And you've got a completely fair point about correlation and causation. Sorry about that. Please permit me to wipe away the murk that was almost my entire post, and simply ask a question, like I should have in the beginning. To what do you attribute your personal experiences of God? Again, I'm very sorry, and will try to have my head on the correct side of my ass in future posts.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07632005486245515873 Calah

    Leah,I don't have time right now to read through the comments, so I'm sorry if someone else has already said something similar. When I hear people use that line to explain why they don't think the non-Christian is condemned to eternal damnation, I always think that it's the best way they have to let the non-Christian know that they don't think the other is going to hell. We're not supposed to condemn others. I, for one, am too busy working out my own salvation in fear and trembling to judge others. But my take on other people is more Platonic, I guess. I have great hopes for those I see who, like you, are striving with all their might toward the good as they understand it. (Please note that I'm not being condescending at all.) I think anyone who works as hard as you do to seek, to understand, and to know is draw toward Truth, (yes, with a capital T…please don't tar and feather me!) and I believe that, since God is Truth, you'll get there eventually. Just as I hope to get there eventually. So I guess what I'm saying is that I disagree that the "you don't fully understand it" line is condescending. I'm a Catholic, and I understand about one millionth of the Catholic faith, in spite of many years of seeking to understand. There is so much to know, not just about Catholicism but about the world in general, that not fully understanding something is hardly an insult. I hardly understand anything my husband reads and thinks about, and while it's a blow to my pride when my husband points out the huge holes in my grasp of logic and philosophy, he's right. Although I guess I would say that in your case you hardly know too little to object to Catholicism. Your understanding of Catholicism is, frankly, greater than mine. I just think, for what it's worth, that what the commenter said actually might have been said in a spirit of charity, not a spirit of condescension.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @Dave: thanks for clarifying. I have mentioned that I follow only atheistic blogs as of late, but I would not characterize my entire journey as that and am trying to subject myself to some sort of objective reading list. The list actually came out of The Ultimate-Truth Seeker Challenge, which I decided to attempt, though only the Easy Version. I'll probably mix and match books here and there based on what I can get via library or loans from friends. I have begun the Agnostic Inquirer, a book highly recommended by a few friends of mine and co-authored by two professors at the university I attended. I read What's So Great About Christianity, which I loathed, as well as Dubay's Faith & Certitude, which was so-so.In any case, thanks again for the updated comments. I think I came on pretty defensively/aggressively in my response as well — I apologize for that, as it was unnecessary.As to your question… I'm not sure. That question is actually probably one of the harder one's I've wrestled with. How I thought of what god did for me (saving me from addiction, etc.) was a core part of my identity for so long that it's quite weird to find the need to reinterpret.But I don't think it would be any different than someone who converted from one major religion to another (say Islam -> Christianity). Obviously they once attributed a set of experiences to X and now think it was really Y. I'm in the same boat. I thought various events and feelings were orchestrated by a divine being. I now think that evidence does't support such a being, and thus I'm forced to accept that I was deluded for a good portion of my life. I think we're prone to anthropomorphizing the apparent causes behind many things, and think that has great explanatory power when it comes to the fact that the vast majority of people are spiritual/religious… but at the same time vastly disagree on the identity behind such things.I'll even say that it's quite possible that without having been convinced in god's existence… I might not have been brought to where I am now — emotionally balanced, able to deal with life and hold down responsibilities. I continue to do so despite not believing anymore… but I, indeed, have wondered if the initial religion/spirituality/higher purpose motivations weren't in place if I would have matured to my present self. Not sure!All I know is that I am where I am now and that's the only life I have to interpret. Hopefully that was a half-way decent answer to your question. Not believing essentially forces me into the position that I was confused and wrong. We are so about many other issues, so it doesn't strike me as particularly difficult to say I was about whether or not a guiding being existed and was doing things for me.

  • KL

    @Hendy,Thank you for sharing your blog and your journey with us. Your candor and self-reflection are both refreshing and impressive!But I have to disagree with you on this point: "But I don't think it would be any different than someone who converted from one major religion to another (say Islam -> Christianity). Obviously they once attributed a set of experiences to X and now think it was really Y."I don't think this is an analogous situation. When converting from one (theistic) religious system to another, there is at least a common denominator that lies behind both experiences, namely a divine being. A better sentence might be, "I attributed a set of experiences to a being Q acting in X way, but now think it was really being Q acting in Y way." (This is, of course, predicated on the belief that Christianity and Islam worship the same God, which I realize may b controversial to some.) Your situation, instead, is "I attributed a set of experiences to a being Q acting in X way, but now think that being Q does not exist and does not act in any way and in fact the set of experiences should be attributed to the set of various mental states Z." Or something similar. Another formulation might be, "I used to believe (A and B) but now believe (A and C)" vs. "I used to believe A but now believe ~A."I think the two situations are very qualitatively different. It's a direct contradiction of former beliefs versus a readjustment of beliefs — or rather corollaries of an unchanged central belief. This is a rather minor quibble, of course, but I think it's important not to downplay the epistemological import of shifting from A to ~A. It's far greater than that of changing confessional identification, I think.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @KL: I see your point. I still think mine is valid. Rather than looking at the potential commonalities of the cause, I simply meant that the cause is, in fact, different. Thus, in all of the examples we're tossing about, I consider it to be, "I thought X was the cause, and now I think ~X."While Islam and Christianity technically share the same father-god, my point was that enough differences occur between the orthodox forms of each that I see Christianity -> Islam and Christianity -> non-belief as equally radical in their shifts. They entail different books as inspired, different opinions on miraculous historical events, different theologies, etc.My point was that to say that the god of Christianity/Jesus was responsible for (just use my case) a radical recovery from drug/alcohol issues, and then say that it was, in fact, Allah seems about as radical as simply saying that it was psychological factors brought about by a supportive, therapy-intensive, 12-step environment for 2.5 years and nothing divine.Think of the theological mindset — as a Christian, I imagined Jesus dying for me, how he had risen and thus imparted a sort of "living resurrection" to me by allowing me to shed my old self and put on Christ, the beauty between AA's message of powerlessness compared to Jesus' message that only by a seed dying can new life result, etc.I really do think that becoming convinced that it was really Allah all along (and thus Jesus was only a prophet, the Bible is just a book of wisdom with nothing divinely True (capital T) about it, that there is a golden copy of the Koran in heaven, etc.) is just another form of having to completely reinterpret one's former explanation and admit, "Huh. I guess I was wrong about what I though the cause was."I see the commonality that both views happen to subscribe to some being with some sort of divine properties as merely tangential.This is, in fact, why I specified jumping major branches and not just between Christianities/sects/denominations.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07535825702078498433 Darksmiles

    Publius,Dawkins is heavily focused on the evidence. He has repeatedly declared that his central concern is, "But is it true?" I do not know where you got the idea that he attacks Christianity primarily for the problem of theodicy, for that is a falsehood and a sad one at that. Try reading his books instead of a biased critique, as I can only imagine that is the full extent of your knowledge of his work.

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