The ‘Obvious’ Consequence

 

In my last two posts about Jenifer Fulwiler’s controversial piece for the National Catholic Register (“Five Catholic Teachings that Make Sense to Atheists”), I mentioned that, although I thought it was a good approach to discuss the parts of Christian theology that seem most sensible and maybe even plausible to non-Christians, I thought the choice of some examples was misguided.

When I try to think of the most intuitively appealing part of Christianity, it isn’t anything like veneration of Mary, it’s the possibility that people who have done bad things and warped their own character could be healed. The woundedness and brokenness of people around us can look like a problem calling out for the solution of Christianity: radical forgiveness or grace.

In my mind, it’s the most self-evident way Christianity meshes with our lived experience. But…

Taken from Postsecret

For a lot of people (including a lot of Christians), the obvious implication of Christianity is Hell. The goal is a Hammurabi-style reckoning up of debts and offences and a promise of justice. Denominations differ on how much justice will be dispensed, ranging along a spectrum from reserving divine scourging for Hitler, Pol Pot, etc to admitting that “use each man after his desert and who should ‘scape whipping?” (usually, the answer is: just our sect).

Try and build up a reasonably accurate picture of the world, and you may find that there’s a convenient God-shaped hole. Slot Him in, and the whole model comes together. Chesterton and others lean heavily on this kind of metaphysical backsliding). In Orthodoxy Chesterton summarizes this feeling:

The spike of dogma fitted exactly into the hole in the world–it had evidently been meant to go there–and then the strange thing began to happen. When once these two parts of the two machines had come together one after another all the other parts fitted and fell in with an eerie exactitude. I could hear bolt after bolt over all the machinery falling into its place with a kind of click of relief.

But it’s not enough to consider only whether your philosophy is strengthened by this addition. The radical forgiveness and suffering-solely-as-punishment hypotheses are in conflict, but both mesh with and are strengthened by a God hypothesis. Adding in the premise that God exists or that a broadly Christian god exists doesn’t improve the model, it amplifies whatever opinion the person already held.

To avoid accepting God explicitly for the sake of a deus ex machina, there has to be a better check that you’re not just accepting a mysterious answer to a mysterious question. A good start would be nailing down what experiences of God or scriptural evidence supports and debunks each of the conflicting worldviews. If you can’t rule some of these hypothesis in or out, it starts to sound like you’re worshiping a very diffuse divinity.

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/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    I get the gist of this post, but it seems that this is exactly what theology attempts to fix. You don't need, any longer, to come up with explanations for supporting or refuting scriptural evidence — it's all de facto supporting, and theology tells us why. Explanations seem to follow a simple rule:- apparently supporting = actually supporting- apparently refuting = only apparently refutingDo you agree?I like the recent LW kick you've been on. Along the same vein as the one from today, I think Explain/Worship/Ignore? is pertinent.While EY makes the great point that the scientific regress does bring us back to "Why anything at all?", I don't find that religion/theology gets us that far. Hitting "Explain" enough times on religious inquiries seems to dead-end on "faith," or "mystery," or "all shall be revealed." Either that or the explanation has no intersection with anticipated-experience-land, or leads me to the assumption that the statement-maker isn't really expecting to find a dragon.

  • Iota

    Hendy,While EY makes the great point that the scientific regress does bring us back to "Why anything at all?", I don't find that religion/theology gets us that far. Hitting "Explain" enough times on religious inquiries seems to dead-end on "faith," or "mystery," or "all shall be revealed."Actually I think that possibly all three ("faith", "mystery", "shall be revealed") may be (depending on how one tries to use them) analogous to some scientific responses. They just use a different language because they describe a somewhat different reality (a different "discipline" if you will).Science has, at some point to admit that the answer to this round of “Explain” is "We don’t know"."Mystery" is (at least when I use it) a similar response in religious matters to "We don’t know and we may never find out". It’s just worded differently. "Faith" would be the equivalent of "We don’t know, but stop worrying about that and just do the experiment your advisor assigned for this week". [Incidentally, I think if you happen to be a scientist AND an idealist at the same time, you have to believe (have "faith"?) that science is a worthwhile pursuit, to justify to yourself the fact you devote yourself to science instead of to anything else - human effort is finite, so WHY spend it on something that tells you up front it will always be subject to "infinite why regress" if you are ostensibly interest in knowledge?]. "It shall be revealed" is a little bit trickier. The closest equivalent I can imagine is if some scientific-positivist would tell you that "infinite why regress" is an illusion and eventually you will get to the last, ultimate explanation.A possible objection to this analogy between science and religion would be: science is like a bunch of roads that all intersect with one another. By hitting Explain you are going in one specific direction. Eventually you end up in the one road called "Why anything at all?". In contrast religion is like a bunch of roads which have a lot of DIFFERENT dead ends called "Mystery", "Faith" and "Revelation".However I don’t think that model is true. I’m a layman in the relevant disciplines so I may be wrong here (corrections welcome) but, for example, going from biology (live organisms) to chemistry (inanimate matter) doesn’t seem that easy. Because it involves the question of WHY inanimate matter eventually organised itself into cells that became living matter. Generally: why the subject of our study performed a qualitative leap that makes it now part of this different scientific discipline).To the best of my understanding, a scientific answer is "They just did" ("Science doesn’t deal with why – it deals with how"). Which is really, to my mind, a lot like the religious "Mystery/Faith" answer.

  • Joe

    Leah Im sure you have written on this in the past, but what motivates an Atheist to care about wether or not people have warped characters or are broken? Its seems that if the universe is purposeless then the pursuit of any virtue would be just as arbitrary as any religious belief. Inspired by your love for Harry Potter my fiance and I rented all the movies and loved them. However, I was wondering, it seems to that to an Atheist Harry would have been just as heroic if he had just lived and died in his little closet under the stairs. After all why should anyone feel obligated to participate in a world that forces on them ridiculous theological values like good and evil?

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

    @Iota: good points, and I can see the parallels. I guess what I was getting at is that science leads to an iterative reductionism by which we are, indeed, headed toward an explanation or dead end at "Why anything at all."I find no such thing in religions. All intermittent explanations are not tangible, demonstrable, or accessible to the layman. Science is at least replicable. Religion is not — hypotheses are made from arm chairs, interpretations imply that we know what those ancient writers actually meant when they scribbled 2000+ years ago, and so on.Does that make sense? Science is an open book. Here, try this, see for yourself. Look at the data, try a different experiment, prove me wrong.There is no analog for theology. No accessibility, no demonstrability, etc. Sure, this forms the basis for the plug for Separate Magisteriums… but I guess I've just never bought that. The Creator of Heaven and Earth should somehow intersect with both heaven (theology) and, well… earth (yet to be seen).

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

    @Iota: Oh, and also, note the difference between stating that "We don't know, and aren't even sure of the mechanism," and "We don't know, but are exactly sure of the mechanism."There's quite a difference in naturalistic and theological "I don't knows," at least that I've found. One is like a blank slate, ready to be filled with incoming data, ways of measurement, etc.The other is pre-filled with a bottom line. There's no real curiosity, just a big fat word, "God," sitting at the bottom. One could say the same for science, I suppose, but, again, there's an reductionism that constantly brings new and interesting discoveries to the surface.To put it one more way, there's a satisfaction with saying, "I don't know, but I know that God is the answer" that I see in theists that I don't think correlates with, "I don't know, but I know that science is the answer." Both, to me, are non-answers, but I find that most agree about the latter. "Science" is a buzz-word. If I answered "science," the response would be, "Yes, but how?" as well as a desire to actually discover it.Those in my circles, at least, seem far more content in accepting the former and not feeling at all compelled to go further. Those I find most compelled to say, "Sure, God, but how?" are non-believers in my own experience. In the face of apparent evidential contradiction (PoE, Biblical issues, etc.), there seems to be no issue whatsoever with the theist saying, "I don't know, I trust my version of God is the answer, and without any answer I'll base my life on this thing."People seem to get that risking your life on things before science has validated them is unwise — new drugs, technologies, etc. Most things aren't that serious, though (your life/death isn't dependent on whether string theory actually pans out).Theologically, people are perfectly content to rest their eternal salvation or damnation on something that has [apparently] no intersection with testable reality. In other words, it's not even hypothetically verifiable and yet is still used to wager life and death. Eternal life and death.

  • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ Benjamin Baxter

    Leah: You of all people must be familiar with the appropriate passage from Lewis:"People often think of Christian morality as a kind of bargain in which God says, 'If you keep a lot of rules I'll reward you, and if you don't I'll do the other thing.'"… and it continues from there.http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/

  • http://www.twitter.com/blamer Blamer ..

    If you can’t rule some of these hypothesis in or out, it starts to sound like you’re worshiping a very diffuse divinity.I'd like to hear more on this because I think it's even worse than that.Without a compelling way to arbitrate conflicting claims, believers cannot confidently seperate the thoughts of YHWH that have entered mens minds from the mistaken teachings of the Abrahamic religions.

  • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ Benjamin Baxter

    Missed this one earlier:"If you can’t rule some of these hypothesis in or out, it starts to sound like you’re worshiping a very diffuse divinity."That's only a problem if you're thinking about being a Protestant, as you're well aware. It's very easily for The Friendly Atheist to mock the investigation of a proposed Eucharistic miracle, but the Church has learned not to be too rash to condemn without investigation. Everyone has a fair shot at mystical experiences, but the Church is the final authority on which is worthy of belief.http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/

  • Iota

    I guess what I was getting at is that science leads to an iterative reductionism by which we are, indeed, headed toward an explanation or dead end at "Why anything at all."I’m not sure I understand that correctly. Could you demonstrate that reasoning on an example so I could check? All intermittent explanations are not tangible, demonstrable, or accessible to the layman. First, it seems to me that not all science is reproducible. Some hard science is. But e.g. medicine is only reproducible in a limited sense. For example, a complex cancer treatment is not entirely reproducible – some patients die, some don’t.In fact, reproducibility is possible in the hard sciences because our subjects aren’t sophisticated individuals. A reproducible complex experiment on bacteria or rocks is a lot different (it seems to me) than a reproducible complex experiment on humans (it virtually doesn’t matter which bacteria from the species you choose – it may matter whether you choose Mr. Smith or Mr. Jones, for reasons you don’t even have to know when conducting the experiment)Second, the demonstrability and accessibility of science to the layman is a pretty theoretical postulate on some levels. I can easily demonstrate that if I throw a rock it will eventually fall. I can’t demonstrate that objects can actually leave the Earth orbit, unless I happen to have enough resources to actually send one into space (most of us don’t). I also don’t understand endocrinology really well and can't personally decide if my endocrinologist is using the best course of therapy (and it is highly unlikely that I ever could become REALLY informed on that). I believe there is a tentative similarity in theological accessibility/reproducibility. The basics of most religions are relatively accessible to interested and sufficient educated/intelligent laymen. But the deeper you go in, the less accessible theology becomes to the uninitiated. The more technical the distinctions become (and possibly the more arcane and silly-sounding for people who are already convinced they don’t believe in this specific religion). And religious experience isn’t reproducible because it deals with a VERY sophisticated individual and another less, but still quite, sophisticated one.What’s admittedly left is demonstrability, but that’s a very big kettle of fish.interpretations imply that we know what those ancient writers actually meant when they scribbled 2000+ years ago, and so on.Actually, based on my academic work in literature and language (I won’t call it science :-)) and a side interest in history, being able to know at least some things about a piece of intentionally written literature isn’t impossible. Knowledge of that kind is obviously NOT experimentally reproducible, but that’s a question of methodologies in different disciplines.

  • Iota

    Hendy #2:there's a satisfaction with saying, "I don't know, but I know that God is the answer" that I see in theists that I don't think correlates with, "I don't know, but I know that science is the answer."I’m not sure that’s universally true (even if it is true locally, which I can't check). When I look at the history of ideas, I see both curiosity fuelled by (some) religions (natural sciences advanced e.g. by Jesuit rationality) and complacency about science (scientific positivism, scientific utopianism etc.)…Additionally curiosity and inquisitiveness and not infinite in a given person (and vary depending on temperament or life circumstances). It seems that even very scientifically minded people eventually say "science is the answer" when queried about a discipline they have no interest in. I could bet that lots of biologists don’t REALLY understand how the computer (or even particular software) in their lab works, but they do trust it churns out good data.People seem to get that risking your life on things before science has validated them is unwiseI’m not sure that’s true. Or, more precisely – while people do expect science to test its solutions, scientific testing, even when done well, has severe limits, which we only properly see in hindsight (when we know what failed, went wrong, was overlooked). Take the Fukushima nuclear plant (and nuclear energy debate as a whole). Should nuclear power generation be considered safe? Is this still a scientific question or a social policy one? You might think about nuclear fission as such. And the existing stockpile of nuclear weapons. This is a question partly about the ethics of scientific work. And, incidentally, a methodology of those ethics. Is there research that should never be done? If a scientists believes that only reproducible experimental data is valid for making choices, how CAN he decide whether a certain kind of research is dangerous?Or take all the cases where medicine was (temporarily) wrong (with disastrous results). Say Thalidomide which caused birth deformities. Of course medicine has the ability to self-correct. But this is hardly consolation for the people who were affected (even more so if you believe there is nothing except this life…). There were real life, irreversible consequences here.The point is that scientific knowledge (and testing), despite a certain rigour and level of objectivity, has its limits – like all human cognition – and its costs – like all human activity. And we pay the price when we end up being the ones who are handed the bill.Theologically, people are perfectly content to rest their eternal salvation or damnation on something that has [apparently] no intersection with testable reality.However, atheism doesn’t resolve the problem. It says God doesn’t exist but it obviously can’t prove that (since one can never prove that a thing does NOT exist, except by direct contradiction). It’s not a testable claim, either.This is where "limits of knowledge" kicks in for me. Metaphysics (and the atheist claim that God DOESN’T exist is, IMO, a metaphysical claim too) is a kind of discipline in which I have limited ability to test my choices (much like when I agree on medical therapy, as a non-expert). At the same time I cannot avoid making a choice (much like a patient – not choosing a therapy is itself a choice). The risk that due to my limits I may be on the "losing side" has to be eventually accepted. Accepting failure in good faith is part of being human. Of course the problem is that externally "complacency" and "acceptance of inevitable consequences" may look VERY MUCH alike…

  • Iota

    PS. "Accepting failure" doesn't – in the religious context – mean I EXPECT to be wrong (I would have converted to another religion). It does mean, however, that I know other people make other religious choices and all choices involve consequences. So my choice (e.g. to be a Catholic) has consequences. And if I believe Catholicism is right, I just have to accept the consequences other people tell me I face, in their opinion.As I sometimes put it – I understand that according to e.g. Muslims, I may be going to hell. I think Islam is wrong, so I don't worry about that really, but I realize that this is what consequences of religious choices mean.

  • http://twitter.com/blamer Blamer ..

    BB: the Church is the final authority on which is worthy of beliefYet evidently Catholicism is "Without a compelling way to arbitrate conflicting claims" because believers in the God of Abraham will hold firm to the claims made by Protestantism, Judaism, Islam.

  • http://www.soulsprawl.com Matt DeStefano

    "That's only a problem if you're thinking about being a Protestant, as you're well aware. It's very easily for The Friendly Atheist to mock the investigation of a proposed Eucharistic miracle, but the Church has learned not to be too rash to condemn without investigation. Everyone has a fair shot at mystical experiences, but the Church is the final authority on which is worthy of belief."It never ceases to amaze me that people don't see how absolutely insane this type of view is. Sure, let's allow a religious body with an extreme interest in accruing mystical experiences to evaluate personal, anecdotal experience and either condemn it as fancy or allow it to become part of the supernatural canon.It's time to wake up and smell reality.

  • Patrick

    I always love the way religious people describe the interaction between science and their faith.Its like they imagine that the scene in a laboratory is something like… a scientist, sitting at a desk, making a list of evidence. On the left hand side of the page he's got a double blind epidemiological study, evaluations of statistical significance, and correlations with the findings of other researchers. On the right hand side he's got two ghostly visitations, an ominous comet, and one divine revelation. And he's drawing a line through all the entries on the right hand side of the page because even though they happened, he can't reproduce them in a lab.

  • http://www.soulsprawl.com Matt DeStefnao

    @ PatrickThat is absolutely hilarious. "I've totally seen all of these spirits, but they never seem to come out in double-blind studies. Oh well!"

  • Iota

    @ Patrick,In case that's somehow inspired by my post:Well yes, that is how science works… sort of, but not exactly. There are, after all living religious scientists in the hard sciences (I could link to a list on Wikipedia that includes e,g, a Nobel laureate, if you really need it). If you presume they are sincere in their convictions (and I believe I should respect religious self-identification in the same way I respect atheist self-identification) then presumably they have HAD some metaphysical experience ("divine revelation", "ghostly visitation" etc.).Presumably this does not influence their research in the lab (good) but does impact their life in general (good). So for scientific purposes that seem to actually cross out the right-hand column. I seriously don't find that so extremely funny or silly. Care to explain why I should?[Atheist scientists are a different bunch - they presumably just don't have anything in the right hand column they could describe as "true" or "real" so they have nothing to cross out]

  • http://www.soulsprawl.com Matt DeStefano

    "Presumably this does not influence their research in the lab (good) but does impact their life in general (good)."I would say not only does it influence their research in the lab (bad), but it most certainly impacts their life in general (bad). My favorite example of this is Francis Collins, head of the NIH and a Christian. I think it's fairly obvious that these beliefs conflict, and as always Sam Harris says it better than I can:"Is it really so difficult to perceive a conflict between Collins’ science and his religion? Just imagine how scientific it would seem if Collins, as a devout Hindu, informed his audience that Lord Brahma had created the universe and now sleeps; Lord Vishnu sustains it and tinkers with our DNA (in a way that respects the law of karma and rebirth); and Lord Shiva will eventually destroy it in a great conflagration. "(full article here: http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/the-strange-case-of-francis-collins/)

  • Patrick

    iota: Religious revelations are invariably without content, wrong, or unverifiable even in principle. So they never even make it onto the page, so to speak. There's never even anything to cross off the page, if they're doing religion right in the 21st century.

  • Antrobus

    You can hold a lot of strongly religion-overlapping beliefs and still not actually believe in a god. Here are 13 (almost totally) Non-Denominational Religious Concepts Held by Living, Breathing, Cognitively Intact Atheists I've Actually Met, either Online (warning: may include successful Turing passes, human or machine) or in Real Life:1)Free Will exists (I've had fierce debates with fellow atheists on this one).2)Karmic payback in this life exists.3)Justice is a practical possibility, ie we can know that people 'deserve' or 'don't deserve' particular fates.4)There is an external moral law. This almost invariably takes the form of the idea that Human Rights exist, but are not the same thing as rules backed up, in the last resort, with credible threats of lethal violence. 5)Acts/impulses that are morally wrong can be identified because they inspire feelings of disgust/shame. Morally good acts/impulses mainly inspire feelings of pleasure/approbation.6)Intentions matter as much as actions.7)Atonement is possible, even if the wronged party cannot or will not offer personal forgiveness.8)Human nature is innately flawed. Usually takes the form of a claim that prepubescent children and the mentally handicapped (and sometimes animals) are morally innocent, but that sexually mature humans of normal intelligence are corrupt.9)Mind/body duality exists. Often this belief becomes apparent when discussing brain damage or dementia.10) Some sort of paranormal belief, often along the lines that good thoughts attract good things, and bad thoughts attract bad things, but including anything from homeopathy to belief in ghosts to ritual magic. The Communion of Saints (your loved dead watch over you) fits in here.11)There must be some purposeful reason why the Universe exists – even if we never find out what it is. This is the one I can never shake myself, though I am also fairly prone to no. 8.12)A compensatory afterlife must be available, even in the absence of a deity, since there is no other way by which terrible sufferings can be made good. (AFAIK, this was the main reason that Immanuel Kant claimed that both a just God and an afterlife simply had to exist).13) Misotheism: God may exist, but if it does, it's clearly a morally worse entity than any human, and should be ignored.This is a long and disorganised list; my apologies. I am sure it could be extended, and also pruned.

  • Iota

    Matt,Having read the slides that supposedly come form Collins's presentation, I winced in dismay. Statements like that may appear on a physicist's slides only if he's at church, in my private, unsolicited opinion. I do think there may be points of conflict between atheist and religious scientists. But I imagine they should be mainly in a realm that science doesn't really answer anyway – values. Like: should X even be done, or is it immoral/too dangerous (see e.g. nuclear fission in the post for Hendy).Personally, as a Catholic I believe that being a Catholic at work means being professional (thorough, punctual, reliable) and making your religious/ethical stance known when that is indispensable (not doing it would violate Catholic ethics) or someone is asking for it (by bringing up religion/ethics in a professional context). Putting God explicitly on slides about the creation of the Universe for a general mixed audience isn't my idea of good "Catholic" professionalism.(That said, further down in Harris's article he quotes Collins on some stuff I actually agree about, but I classify that as "values" rather than "science", to the extent the two can be divided).The bad part is I can't point you towards religious people I otherwise admire for the quality of their scholarship (who are supporting proof for my thesis that being religious does not make you a bad scientist per se). Or, more precisely, I could, but they would probably seem inconsequential to you. They are people I know personally and they are – unfortunately – not internationally known Nobel laureates yet).Patrick,I’m not sure but it may be the case that we actually partly agree and I’m Just awful at explaining what I think… What I meant was that a religious scientists presumably:a) Has had an experience of metaphysical nature that has impacted him (and whether you think it’s "wrong" or "without content" doesn’t matter at that point – it did influence him or her as a human being)b) That important metaphysical experience is left behind when the scientists enters the laboratory, because it IS unverifiable and the scientist presumably knows this.c) The process is markedly different in the humanities and social sciences, where methods are different. I would not expect a religious social scientist or psychologist to ignore his metaphysical experiences in his work (both if I agree with them and if I disagree with them).When I wrote about crossing out the right hand side column I mean it as a process that happens BEFORE you enter the lab. As a reasonable well educated scientist you presumable know that religious experience (even if you had it and are as sure of it as of the fact you exist) cannot be measured by the standards of the hard sciences, so you leave it out of the lab.

  • Iota

    PS. I realize Collins isn't Catholic. I'm explaining my own standard, using Collins as a springboard, because I want to dress the problem but don't want to end up trying to defend spiritualities and theologies I think are wrong – wouldn't be good at that. And I mistakenly wrote "physicist" because for some reason I continue to imagine a physicist as an archetypal "hard" scientist. Collins is, of course, NOT a physicist. My apologies.

  • Joe

    IotaThe geneticist Dr. Jerome Lejeune I think is a fine example of a Catholic scientist if fact I have heard that his cause for canonization could begin soon

  • http://www.soulsprawl.com Matt DeStefano

    @ IotaMy point wasn't so much to denigrate Collins as a scientist (although that's certainly part of it), but rather to show that inevitably scientific and religious claims will dispute each other.

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

    @Iota:I’m not sure I understand that correctly.EY says it well enough in Reductionism. You describe large phenomenon, these descriptions, if valid, hold water. But they can be explained by underlying phenomenon as well, and we can follow this paper trail (large object -> components -> atoms -> quarks -> physics) to the point of The Unanswerable: "But why physics at all?" or "Why anything?"First, it seems to me that not all science is reproducible… For example, a complex cancer treatment is not entirely reproducible – some patients die, some don’t.But the rate is reproducible. And as we understand the mechanism (if we do), the rate increases. Give a parallel for religion where the rate of anything, even accepting some successes and some failures, is predictable and/or reproducible.Second, the demonstrability and accessibility of science to the layman is a pretty theoretical postulate on some levels.But it's at least in theory possible to access by a knowledgeable individual with the proper means. Access to direct communication with Jesus about obscure passage X, an answer now to the PoE, whether OT Israelites really slaughtered all those poeple in god's name… is not even possibly accessible unless we grant unheard of scenarios such as god riding down on a cloud right now to inform us or show us the path.Actually,…being able to know at least some things about a piece of intentionally written literature isn’t impossible.Right. Some things. Enough that there's unanimous agreement even within Christianity by Christian scholars? Nope.I’m not sure that’s universally true.In doubt many things are universally true. I meant the point about theological complacency, not so much about science. In other words, I don't understand how this massive apparent contradiction works… but I just know that the answer when it's all uncovered is going to be in god's favor.I could bet that lots of biologists don’t REALLY understand how the computer (or even particular software) in their lab works, but they do trust it churns out good data.Has it given them any reason not to think it churns out real data? I see little point in unnecessary skepticism for the sake of skepticism. I didn't question god until I actually saw some things that led me to question god.At the same time I cannot avoid making a choice…Agreed, and I'm trying to make an informed one.And if I believe Catholicism is right, I just have to accept the consequences other people tell me I face, in their opinion.Likewise for me and nonbelief, though theists must understand that the god who made evangelization the primary means of salvation has done an awfully poor job of it. I'm a deconvert and it was incredibly frustrating spending every waking hour of my life thinking about god, praying for him to do what needed to be done to heal my unbelief, and find no results. Thus, on non-belief no divine action is exactly what one would expect. Plethora of metaphysical hypotheses, all accepted by large numbers of people, non disprovable by any others. On Christianity, one must be at least slightly perplexed by the fact that the same god who said, "Go make discipled of all men" left it up to the convincing nature of ancient writers to accomplish this.And if another book and matching dogma has been taught during childhood, the chances of conversion go down drastically. In other words, works of mere mortal fiction overwhelmingly thwart the inspired word of god, day after day, year after year.

  • http://www.fleshbot.com Kogo

    *Im sure you have written on this in the past, but what motivates an Atheist to care about wether or not people have warped characters or are broken? *Okay this is just all manner of stupid and insulting.*but what motivates an Atheist to care about wether or not people have warped characters or are broken*The fact that they're broken or warped. Noticing that someone is broken or warped requires not the slightest reference to god (except that when you DO reference gods, then you start classifying huge other categories of normal people (i.e. gays) as broken or warped who aren't actually anything of the sort).*Its seems that if the universe is purposeless then the pursuit of any virtue would be just as arbitrary as any religious belief.*Yeah, that sure would be stumbling block . . . IF atheists believes the universe is purposeless. But we don't believe that, so it isn't really any sort of problem at all.*However, I was wondering, it seems to that to an Atheist Harry would have been just as heroic if he had just lived and died in his little closet under the stairs.*1.) Evidence that Harry is an atheist is . . . where?2.) "Heroism" means something other than living and dying under stairs. *After all why should anyone feel obligated to participate in a world that forces on them ridiculous theological values like good and evil?*1.) Good and evil aren't theological values. Problem solved!And in keeping with this weekend's piece on philosophy not actually mattering (http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/01/does-philosophy-matter/), the fact is that even if they WERE theological values, that wouldn't matter.Because you–yes, you personally–don't actually do anything based on theological or philosophical values and neither do I. Philosophy and theology are *extremely* poor predictors of why anyone does anything. The colossalest mistake of philosophy is to assume it's about much more than what goes on in philosophy classes. People make decisions based on their circumstances and the people around them (no, don't shake your head: this IS the way you make decisions, Jason. If you're honest, you'll admit that). Philosophy doesn't matter.If I had a nickel for every time a religious person tried to hamfistedly trip me up saying "Ah, but where does your sense of right and wrong COME from!?!?!?" I'd have easily, I dunno, 5, maybe 6 dollars.And I'd be not the least convinced that I'm somehow a secret believer. My right and wrong sense comes from exactly the same places as you, thanks: Culture, neurology, education, dead-reckoning, anthropology, evolution, and probably seventeen other places I don't know or can't think of.NOT because it's in the bible. Having been treated really, really badly by quite a few religious believers in my time, I'm going to smack that one down every time you try and bring it up.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08016230732925516069 Gilbert

    I don't get the supposed conflict. Christianity includes belief in eternal life. The healing our hostess describes, or at least its fullness in eternal life, is what we Christians call Heaven. So some people think the obvious consequence of Christian doctrine is Heaven and others think it's Hell. From a purely descriptive point of view the conflict simply doesn't exist: Christianity includes belief in both. There is the moral question which of these we should delight in, but on this question Christianity just isn't that devided. You'll always find a few weirdos but the new testament, tradition, and the overwhelming majority of Christians all agree that Christianity requires us to forgive. Also, Christianity thinks all salvation undeserved (grace rather then right), so thinking oneself much better then others is again wrong. So the sentiment expressed in the picture, if serious, is quite simply sinful and very few Christians would deny that. OK, we might hedge a little: Depending on both the artist and the person depicted the sin may be very small. But that is still a far cry from approval. I don't think thats very controversial, actuall it is this fact the picture draws it's (rather lame attempt at) humor from.So on the factual level there is no conflict and on the moral level Christianity takes a clear side. No open conflict here.

  • Patrick

    iota wrote:"b) That important metaphysical experience is left behind when the scientists enters the laboratory, because it IS unverifiable and the scientist presumably knows this."I think this is very, very incorrect. No one is leaving behind their metaphysical experiences because they're unverifiable.They're "leaving behind" their metaphysical experiences because they're irrelevant.No scientist, religious or not, is sitting there with relevant metaphysical evidence of meaningful scientific truths, and then writing that metaphysical evidence off because they can't replicate it for peer review.They're not bringing it up because it's content free. Even if they did "bring their metaphysical experiences" to the laboratory, they'd be as useful as a screen door on a submarine.

  • Joe

    KogoI apologize I was under the impression that Atheists believed the Universe was purposeless from what I have read in earlier comments on other posts. I thought they just believed the universe was just randomly formed with no particular reason. Maybe Atheists and Theists have a totally different understanding of what "purpose" involves. I never intended to claim that Harry was an Atheist. I would agree that heroism does mean something more then dying under the stairs. But some Nihilist thinkers might claim that refusing to recognize and act on any sense of destiny would be brave. I apologize if I offended. Just trying to understand the Atheist world view

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11111405959451703182 PhysicistDave

    Leah,I assume you have read C. S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce in which he charmingly suggests that those who end up in Hell are only those who choose not to go to Heaven?And, have you read Niven’s and Purnelle’s re-telling of Inferno?[!!! SPOILER ALERT !!!]Their bottom line comes at the end of the book when the protagonist realizes that Hell is “an asylum for the theologically insane.” The ultimate sin is solipsism, the inability to admit that there is a reality (such as other people) outside of yourself, and Hell exists to give people a last chance to escape solipsism.Personally, I rather hope that one or both of those ideas is true.There are, alas, two major problems with both ideas:A) There is not a shred of evidence that either idea is actually true.B) It is hard to see how either idea is consistent with the New Testament or traditional Christian teaching.Dave Miller in Sacramento

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

    @Dave:Interesting idea. I have an inquiry about this:,—| …the protagonist realizes that Hell is “an| asylum for the theologically insane.” The| ultimate sin is solipsism, the inability to | admit that there is a reality (such as other | people) outside of yourself`—I'm curious about why:1) the type of insanity is "theological," as in why is an awareness of an external reality in the theological category of things?2) whether or not being "theologically sane" somehow implies belief in theism or Christianity in particular.I gather #2 from discussing Christian hell in light of this term "theological insanity." I guess I just don't see how these two are related, or even how one would know. Are all non-believers said to be "theologically insane?" I certainly don't have current doubts that I'm living in a "real" external reality… however I also freely admit that if we were minds in a vat, there would be no way to tell.

  • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ prodigalnomore

    Matt: I find nothing absurd in letting the Church discern what is and what is not worthy of belief. When it comes to the supernatural, everyone has a vested interest in one outcome or another. For any real investigation, you must neither a prejudice against the existence of the supernatural nor an excessive interest in proving it.The model for the Church is exorcism, a rite which is very specifically denied until all psychiatry has failed to produce an explanation, and always denied when it is clear those involved have merely an obsession with an "experience of exorcism." Just so with miracles: You'd be surprised at the hard-nosed skeptics who by their own admission deny before and affirm afterward the reality of a supernatural influence in a place or time. That last apparition at Fatima springs to mind, as do those very skeptical clerics at Lourdes.It is impossible to paint the Catholic Church as credulous ol' grandma. There is something else entirely going on with Catholicism which cannot be tarred with the same wide brush as the rest of Christianity.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11111405959451703182 PhysicistDave

    Hendy wrote to me:>I'm curious about why:>1) the type of insanity is "theological," as in why is an awareness of an external reality in the theological category of things?>2) whether or not being "theologically sane" somehow implies belief in theism or Christianity in particular.I’m not sure if Niven and Pournelle really believe all this or merely find that it works for their story: my guess is that Pournelle may believe it, and Niven may not.As to your point 1, within the logic of the story, I think “theology = metaphysics,” or, at least, the most important part of metaphysics. And, since, solipsism is the least believable form of metaphysics, but one that seems practically to guide lots of people’s lives… well, you can connect the dots as well as I. This is, after all, a fantasy novel, not a treatise on theology (assuming there is a difference)! And, I am an atheist myself, so, while I can “talk the talk” about God’s being the ultimate ground of existence, etc., it is a bit silly for me to try to explicate this further.As to point 2, again within the logic of the story, I think it does imply belief in theism and some kind of Christianity, but it may be a very latitudinarian form of Christianity.Dave

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