Is Panentheism Atheism?

Is Panentheism Atheism? March 22, 2015

In the video above, Henry Neufeld asks a question which was also discussed here on this blog recently: is panentheism atheism?

Hemant Mehta also discussed a book by Nancy Abrams, about a God that atheists might be able to embrace. The book is called A God That Could Be Real: Spirituality, Science, and the Future of Our Planet.

See also the discussion on that same blog of how human religion tends to think of God as akin to the alpha male in primate societies.

See too Dwight Welch’s contribution to a multi-person conversation, in which he suggests that God may be personal but not a person.

Since sharing the first of the videos above, Henry Neufeld shared another video on a related topic, panentheism and Christianity.


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  • Andrew Dowling

    Great conversation. I really like Neufeld’s response.

    Also Bell likes a lot of ex-fundies seems incapable of envisioning a religion that isn’t fundamentalist . .

  • John MacDonald

    I guess I’m a conditional atheistic deist. I don’t believe there is a loving, personal God who watches over us and has a plan for our lives, because if this kind of God existed there wouldn’t be tragedies like 3 year old children suffering from and dying of cancer. That’s not love. On the other hand, I do find it interesting when the cosmological argument is applied to The Big Bang. Even if The Big Bang created the universe, how did the materials that made up The Big Bang get there in the first place? It seems necessary to posit an uncaused first cause to stop the infinite explanatory regress. I only hold this view conditionally thought, because science can always come up with a better explanatory framework and I don’t want to rely too heavily on The God Of The Gaps. *******************************************************

    Speaking of atheists, Carrier has posted his review of “How Jesus Became God” by Ehrman. Here it is:

    • Cecil Bagpuss

      The response to the argument concerning the cause of the Universe would be that the notion of causality that we derive from events *within* the Universe may not be applicable to the Universe as a whole. That seems like a fair objection. However, if we dispense with a “cause” for the Universe, do we also dispense with a “reason” for the existence of the Universe? That would be odd. Surely it is reasonable to ask why the Universe exists. For one thing, the Universe that we inhabit is not the only possible Universe. We can imagine other universes with different physical constants, for example.

      If our Universe is the only one to exist out of all the universes that could exist, then we are entitled to ask why. On the other hand, if we accept that other universes exist which can never be observed, then we automatically cross the line between science and metaphysics. And once you allow some metaphysical speculation, you may not be able to limit it.

      • Nick G

        We are entitled to ask why. We are not entitled to assume that this question has an answer.

        • Ian

          Indeed, about what physical phenomenon is it possible to properly answer why?

          Why did it rain today?

          Why questions rarely have answers that are anything other than restatements of the concepts we use to think about the world.

        • Mark

          If the question has no answer, are we entitled to ask why it has no answer? “It could have been otherwise, of course, but it wasn’t: it just was, no further discussion possible” seems like a rather desperate attempt to avoid metaphysics, theology & co.

          • Nick G

            Of course you are entitled to ask why it has no answer; but that question also may have no answer. Further discussion is always possible, but that does not guarantee that it will be fruitful.

    • What is an “uncaused first cause”? Christians find it convenient to call it “God”, but there is nothing to suggest that an “uncaused first cause” whatever that might be, has any of the other attributes that a Christian would ascribe to “God”. To me an “uncaused first cause” is a non answer. We intuit (rightly or wrongly) that everything must have a cause, and that you can’t go back eternally, so the only way to avoid that perceived paradox (if an eternal past is a paradox) is to posit something that is “uncaused”. But that’s no answer. All that we have said is that “everything has a cause except for the uncaused first thing”.That’s just wordplay.

      What can’t the universe (or multiverse) itself, in whatever state it began (if a beginning is even necessary), be it’s own uncaused first cause?

      • Defy Delusions

        Energy and its behaviors makes up everything. It does seem much more apropos to call energy the uncaused “something” that has always been (for surely something has, being that logically something can’t come from nothing). We may not have an answer to why there’s something instead of nothing, but Occam’s Razor is the answer we do have.

        • That’s possible but it’s rather broad brush. The current models suggest that the universe is nearly 70% dark energy.

          • Defy Delusions

            Keyword energy again, just saying. =) We don’t know what dark energy is, or if our models are correct, but it’s still likely to be something simple in its own way but currently beyond our understanding. I always keep in mind that we had a model that predicted planetary movement too, but was completely unrealistic and overly complex. Then came Copernicus and Galileo, Isaac Newton and later Einstein, to fix our picture up.

          • Yes, not disagreeing with you, necessarily, about energy – just noting how little we know about it. I do think that, while Einstein unified Newton’s view of gravity with other physical theories, the result was (mathematically at least) more complicated, not less. Adding quantum mechanics to the mix makes for a physical picture of the universe far more complex than Galileo ever conceived of.

          • Defy Delusions

            Yes, I’m also not disagreeing with you. I do think the answers will be more simplistic in the future. The complexity is the result of our ignorance, not our understanding. It seems likely that our very model is incorrect in some fundamental way, making us create “dark energy” and “dark matter” and even “inflation” so that our current model can remain intact. I’d bet it will come tumbling down again, as it did when Solid State was replaced with Big Bang.

          • I would say that the answers will be more unified in the future; but the mathematics may actually get more complex.

          • Defy Delusions

            Yes well math always gets complex. I meant more the view; the understanding, much like Heliocentrism fixed our overly-complicated and unrealistic view of how heavenly bodies moved. Our observations and our math can both be attached to an incorrect model… they can work, but be wrong, as was the case pre-Copernicus.

          • Yeah, I think the important simplification of the view for most physicists means unification – the old search for the grand unified theory of the universe.

  • Josh Magda

    Nancy Abrams illustrates the conundrum I’m in. The last book I read of hers was View from the Center of the Universe. And the science coming out of that book is utterly awesome and highly relevant to contemporary spirituality.

    Yet I clearly remember the diagrams and the overall argument structure. Abrams and her husband would have us believe that everything that is qualitative about the Universe (that we know of) comes as the brain-exhaust of one primate species. We are perched as a cherry atop a basically insentient mess of colliding parts, without a Center. When that cherry pops, everything that means anything to us pops with us. When that cherry pops, the Cosmos no longer “has a way to know itself.” There is nothing that connects my Heart to the Heart of the Universe. Abrams’ Universe is a World without a Heart.

    I came away from that book frustrated, and saw little hope for an incarnate future for the human family, if its hyperphysicalist vision, left unmodified by richer perspectives, became mainstream. For deep down, people Know that they have a Heart, a Heart that has a direct line to the Heart of the Universe. My basic argument for acknowledging the transcendent “side” of the panentheism ledger, is that without doing so, without touching our cosmic Hearts very deeply in all their depth and profundity, we will be unable to summon all of the inner resources that are needed for us to accept our cosmic responsibility in the age of ecocide.

    Life is the vehicular prayer of a powerful, emergent spiritual energy, an energy that seeks to grow beyond the small self in every form it has ever been encountered in. This energy is Holy Spirit. The human organism’s spiritual growth is hampered by inadequate belief systems like hyperphysicalism. Hyperphysicalism short-circuits the Heart by continuously censuring, censoring, and vetoing its basic intuitions about the spiritual nature of Reality, intuitions that we all have. The Heart’s Wisdom serves as a corrective to the excesses of ego, and is a spiritual house for social change movements to Live and be nourished in. Living in phase with the Heart further enables us to access experiences that provide essential grace and courage, as bread for the journey, on the road to the World Based on Love, the incarnational, Earthly vision of Jesus and the prophets.

    Most tellingly of all, hyperphysicalism interprets the experience of the Infinite as an ego function, as my conversation here with Nick demonstrates. The ego is a function and extension of the Eternal, not the other way around. That difference changes everything.

    To put it plainly, Dr. Abrams: G-d doesn’t need your permission to be Real. She never has! Science is not the arbiter of the Real. G-d is the Center, around which we, as the dreamlike periphery, move. As Dawkins said: “some people find that thought disturbing, but I find the Reality thrilling.” 🙂

    • Ian

      > For deep down, people Know that they have a Heart, a Heart that has a direct line to the Heart of the Universe.


      Deep down, believers Know they’re making it all up, that they have nothing underpinning their assertions except wishful thinking. See? Telling people what they really think is easy.

      I appreciate you are confused between what your thoughts are and what everybody else must think, but that’s probably more of a sign of delusion than enlightenment.

      • Josh Magda

        If its all delusion, the delusion is realer than whatever it is you’re calling “reality.” So in any case, sign me up.

        • Ian


          Delusion is just plain delusional. You’re now just trying to justify yourself with more verbiage, and implying that you were making some existential point, rather than telling people what they think.

          You Know you are.

          • Josh Magda

            The capital K refers to a native, transrational way of knowing that is immediate, holistic, and not dependent on the machinations of dualistic reason and its revolving door of uncertainties. I am not an agnostic. Nor am I a rationalist. I agree with you that belief in God is irrational, or at least totally ambiguous, from a rational perspective.

          • Nick G

            People who think they have a direct line to The Truth are dangerous; that’s the way to theocracy and fascism.

          • Josh Magda

            I don’t have a direct line that you don’t have. That’s the difference. I claim nothing for myself that I do not claim for everyone else. And you get offended when I make such claims. There’s no pleasing you, not that that’s my intention.

          • Nick G

            That’s plain dishonest. You claim that you acknowledge the truth of the Spirit, while we benighted atheists are: “vetoing, censoring, and censuring our basic intuition of the More.”.

          • Ian

            More word salad? You’re nothing if not committed, I’ll give you that. Unfortunately faux-profundity is pretty transparent. And no matter how hard you try to obfuscate your claim, it isn’t hard to see what you’re doing.

          • Josh Magda

            Technically speaking, I think your worldview is a poetic word salad- it exists nowhere except in your imagination. I just don’t go around saying it because I don’t disrespect the atheist position the way you do mine. I assume you come to it legitimately and with the fullness of your being.

            But thinks for clearing up the convo on your comments with Beau. This latest comment reveals your intention to denigrate me and my position by flippantly and arbitrarily negating its substance with your own word salad.

            Speaking of which, I need to pick up some raspberry vinegarette.

          • Ian is among the most profound bloggers I’ve read over the years. If anyone is qualified to call out your comments as “faux-profundity”, he certainly is. And I agree. You make many grand assertions about the nature of reality with no substance to back it up.

          • Josh Magda

            Our definitions and/or experience of profundity differ widely.

          • I rather doubt you’ve read enough of Ian’s writing to even make such a comparison.

          • Josh Magda

            I have no desire to get into a pissing match with someone who has no respect for me or my views. The Internet is full of such fruitless endeavors, and I have better things to do with my time.

            If any of you want to talk about the topic of the blog post, “is panentheism atheism?” Nancy Abrams’ writings, etc. I will periodically check in with that. This particular word salad has been tossed long enough, and I for one am still hungry.

          • I loved the View from the Center of the Universe! I found it profound and enlightening. You referred to the diagram in which the authors place consciousness at the top of a pyramid, but I don’t think that Abrams conceives everything below it as a “mess of colliding parts”. Your concern seems to be that the “cherry” of human consciousness will “pop” one day. But that seems to me an unnecessary privileging of eternity, as though existing forever somehow would grant our life experience more profoundness. The authors offered another diagram in which the point of the pyramid was this moment in time (when the evolution of consciousness is possible). I rather think that the moment we experience now will always exist in the complete reality that is space-time. It doesn’t need to last forever in human perception in order to be profound and meaningful.

          • Josh Magda

            The specific concern with the pyramid goes back to what we were talking about the other day. I don’t think that the consciousness and qualia that human beings experience in themselves are as isolated cosmological phenomena as the pyramid suggests. Consciousness and qualia are endemic to Creation, and the human is one particular expression of them amidst others.

            Personally, I want to feel at home in THIS World. Heaven is not enough. I don’t experience human beings as the only phenomena with an interior (see the Gabel article). Connecting with the interior of Nature empowers some of us to preserve and defends its exterior- usually, in the present age, as it is being destroyed by human hands.

          • I don’t see the pyramid as “isolating” consciousness at all. On the contrary, consciousness is only possible through a long relational chain (or tree) of events that links us to all other organisms on the planet, and to the physical processes that formed the stars from which our atoms are derived. Far from making me feel isolated, this makes me feel connected to the universe. If we ever discover intelligent life elsewhere in the universe it will truly be an amazing find, but for now, the only evidence that we have for consciousness in the vast network of space time is on our own planet. And that makes consciousness more precious to me – not less.

          • Josh Magda

            Consciousness as “only being possible through a long relational chain…” is different than other links on that chain being conscious in their own way. The World making our interior possible is also different than the World itself having an interior that my interior can connect with. My view accepts and celebrates everything that is awesome about our physical relationships to the whole of reality, while also celebrating inner continuity.

            I don’t like the “chain” analogy to begin with, either in science or especially, in religion and metaphysics where it perennially pops up. I prefer the image of the circle, or the community of being. I think it’s more accurate and more Loving.

          • Josh Magda


          • I’m quite happy to have a universe in which love is possible. Love is something that we experience at the human and possibly animal level of existence – a universe that loves me doesn’t even make conceptual sense to me – but loving my children – even loving my dog – is a profound experience.

          • Josh Magda

            This is where a religious worldview would address “I see no benefit in a larger ground of being.” My worldview sees Love for other humans and animals as a microcosmic expression of a macrocosmic reality. There’s even more to Love and be Loved by in a healthy religious Universe. And when we ourselves are not consciously experiencing Love, we are still supported by a Beloved (God).

          • I rather think that worldview unnecessarily denigrates my experience of love. I still see no benefit there; but even if I did see a benefit in a universe with a soul, there is still no evidence for it.

          • Josh Magda

            I don’t understand how the existence of more Love denigrates your experience of Love. You yourself said that if we found intelligence on other planets it would be awesome. Why wouldn’t finding more Love in this Universe be similarly desirable?

          • Not if one perceives the love I experience as being incomplete or unfulfilled without it.

          • Josh Magda

            Your Love is complete and whole and real. Obviously, I’m going to disagree with you that your Love is tethered to even more cosmic and meta-cosmic Love. The fact that there’s something going on at a biochemical level, connecting your private experience of Love to the outer physical Universe, does not diminish your experience of Love.

            If an inner continuity exists, it doesn’t diminish it either. It only makes it more wonderful.

          • That’s a huge if; one for which there is no evidence. You might as well tell me that my love is fashioned out of the winds of eternal sunshine, for all the sense it makes to me. The love you describe is meaningless to me. The love I experience is hugely meaningful to me.

          • Josh Magda

            As discussed, I count things as evidence that you do not count as evidence.

          • I understand. When I was a child I counted filled stockings as evidence of Santa Clause.

          • Josh Magda

            Not me. I had a tearful breakdown at the age of six when I realized that Santa wasn’t real, because if he existed, that would make him “more real than Jesus.” To my young mind, Jesus equaled God. The relationship between the one and the many, the absolute and the relative, the Infinite and the finite, Creation and Creator, being and becoming, fictional and nonfictional- all of it is a particular passion and predilection of the gnostic (which I am) who follows by unchosen temperament the way of knowledge.

            And from experience, most of it is neurotic.

            But not all of it is. Some of it points to the Real.

          • Josh Magda

            There is no evidence now, nor will there likely ever be evidence for an immaterial reality at a wholly physical level. It’s rather like complaining that you can’t see out of a window even though you’ve held a stethoscope up to it! It’s the wrong tool for the job.

            We differ on what counts as evidence when it comes to the immaterial reality. For example, mysticism and NDEs are sometimes ontological, and therefore sometimes evidential in my estimation.

            My primary difference with you and with Nick, and probably with Ian, is that I think that religious experience is sometimes ontological rather than always hallucinatory. I do not find arguments from religion’s traditional stomping grounds, Scripture, Tradition, and Reason, to be convincing. Scripture and Tradition are moral mixed bags, and reason at best is totally ambiguous. Without experience I would be an agnostic.

          • I’m almost afraid to ask, but you keep talking about your experience. What experience?

          • Josh Magda

            For me, mystical experience is the reason I remain religious. The mystical experience is well documented. Evelynn Underhill is someone a lot of people look at. The best ecumenical book I’ve seen in recent years is “The Mystic Heart” by Wayne Teasdale. And anything that Matthew Fox writes is worthwhile.

            There are plenty of people who do not have such experiences that are religious for other reasons. Without mysticism, I would never be able to move beyond the problem of evil. It is mysticism that directly overruled my previous theology which was largely along process lines, though I still greatly respect that tradition.

            So it’s a personal temperament. To me there’s only so much satisfaction to be derived from reading other people’s research (or in my case when I was a graduate student, doing other people’s research for them.) But I neither expect nor require everyone else to relate to the World in the same fashion.

          • So, to be clear, you are talking about the mystical experiences of other people. Not your own mystical experiences?

          • Josh Magda

            No. For me, other people’s experiences would not be enough.

            But when I talk about mystical experiences on the blog, I’m referring to the cloud of witnesses. Like Eben Alexander my “personal” experiences are just one individual data point in the cloud, and nothing especially important. An anecdote is a sample size of one.

            But taken as a whole, I think that what the cloud has to say matters.

          • But if anecdotal supernatural stories count as evidence, then hell is real, demons are real, fairies are real, witches are real, alien abductors are real, ancient jews sailed to America and became Indians, Judge Hawthorne righteously hung a few dozen Americans in Salem for dancing with the devil, and the Inquisition was justified in torturing women for witchcraft and Jews for blood libel. There is a reason that science rejects anecdotal evidence. If we accepted such evidence our current progress in science would be mired down with alchemy, phrenology, astrology, and the like.

          • Josh Magda

            Different spiritual communities, like scientists working with different theories, interpret data in different ways. As a Christian, I would say that any experience that does not lead us deeper into Love is not my particular concern for this Lifetime. As a human being, which is the larger and more important identity, I would want to look at these experiences cross culturally and throughout history, to see if there is a tie that binds. I have come to my conclusions, but I can’t come to yours for you. I think atheism is a legitimate human response to the World and a spiritual vocation in its own right.

            But I do think there is a tie that binds, and I’ve mentioned three sources that detail the mystic Heart. There are many others.

          • I’m afraid you lost me after the first sentence. The comparison of spiritual communities to scientists is such nonsense, it’s hard to take the rest seriously.

          • Josh Magda

            Yeah, I didn’t really like the metaphor either, but after I wrote it I was like “what the hell!” 🙂

            Beyond the metaphor, though, it’s clear that science is your privileged method for obtaining real information about the real World. Science is not my metering stick for taking things seriously. It is one tool in humanity’s epistemological toolbox.

          • Science is just the tool that actually works. Incidentally, taking things seriously is not the same challenge as gaining new knowledge. I take people seriously. I don’t take dubious claims seriously.

          • Josh Magda

            Works for some things, and not others. I’m not interested in entering into an idolatrous relationship with a belief system.

          • Common communication covers the bases for which science is unnecessary. I don’t use science to determine that my wife is sad. I can tell with my five senses; and I confirm by asking her. For knowledge science has yet to capture, I’m quite comfortable saying, “I don’t know”.

            Idolatry? I don’t worship the jealous god who condemned idolatry in the ten commandments, nor the many other gods that prompted his jealousy. I don’t worship at all.

            But perhaps that’s the knowledge that mysticism offers and for which science is silent – it tells you what to worship?

          • Josh Magda

            Scientism is the fundamentalist, self-reinforcing belief system that asserts that science and science alone grants access to publicly generalizable knowledge. It reinforces itself by excluding evidence that does not meet its narrow, pre-defined boundaries, while repeating the mantra of scientific superiority.

            Scientism has little if anything to do with actual science.

          • Scientism is a pejorative straw man that applies to no one in reality. No one believes that you need evoke science for simple personal knowledge such as accepting the love of your family or the subjective enjoyment of music.

            Science itself, on the other hand, does have specific requirements for acceptable evidence.

            The rejection of supernatural stories does not entail “scientism”.

          • Josh Magda

            That’s why I modified the typical definition of scientism to say “publicly generalizeable knowledge.” Given that definition, scientism may well reflect your own views.

            The World does not look like this to me: That Which Science Blesses Off On/That Which Science Does Not Bless Off On. Science does not have a privileged position within the overall human enterprise of knowledge discovery, production, or dissemination. Science has a unique role to play, and the major leadership role to play in at least one arena, but it does not have an overall leading role, way out in front of everything else.

            Science is the not the dominatrix of human knowledge systems. Scientism and other forms of fundamentalism think that they are. Scientism might as well be the John 14:6 of missional materialism.

          • Let me get this straight. You took a term that is already calculated to straw man and demonize people who don’t subscribe to religion – and you CHANGED the definition to create a term for which you could accuse me of idolatry?!

            You’re fast losing whatever credibility you had left.

          • Josh Magda

            I don’t think the term “scientism” IS used to straw man most of the time, as I think its basic criticism is accurate. As someone that criticizes scientism, I think specificity of terminology is helpful.

            There’s not an authority on the word “scientism.” People that employ that word as part of their rhetoric have a right (and a responsibility?) to state what they mean by it.

          • Josh Magda

            PS didn’t accuse you of idolatry. I said I don’t want to enter into an idolatrous relationship with a belief system, scientism or any other. Negating my own experience and that of myriad others simply because some third party insists I do so, for reasons that are neither rational nor desirable to me, would be idolatrous and egocentric.

          • Well no one enters into a belief system of scientism. So you can recognize it for the straw man that it is, or pat yourself on the back for nothing.

          • No, the term is always meant pejoratively (I can think of no one who claims to be a follower of “scientism”), so that it always carries connotations of narrow-mindedness and short-sightedness. Not only is the term an inaccurate description for anyone, it is made even more inaccurate by users such as yourself who “tailor” the definition to suit whatever box in which you wish to pigeonhole someone.

            The fact of the matter is that while we value the knowledge that comes from science for it’s highly vetted nature (as well as the tendency of scientific disciplines to correct their own errors over time), I can think of no one who doesn’t also value the knowledge that comes from our own experience. Most would agree that the most important knowledge we hold comes from personal experience: language and the ability to communicate, the value of loving relationships, the management of our lives on a day to day basis. Science may have some things to offer these areas, but we are primarily guided by experience.

            There are claims of knowledge that we reject as well. I reject the premise that some races of humans are naturally inferior to others. i reject the premise that women must be subservient to men. I reject the premise that homosexual relationships are sinful and forbidden. Many have claimed these ideas as “intuitive knowledge” throughout history and still today.

            I reject these claims primarily because my experience tells me that they are false, and also because my experience tells me that my community is healthier when we treat each other fairly and equally. Interestingly most of these negative claims come from supernatural belief systems. And to the list of claims of knowledge that I reject, I add the supernatural.

            You can make up any definition of scientism that you like to accuse me of, but it’s a meaningless accusation which is only used to obfuscate the real complaint – I don’t believe in the sort of magic that you do.

          • Josh Magda

            “Most would agree that the most important knowledge we hold comes from personal experience: language and the ability to communicate, the value of loving relationships, the management of our lives on a day to day basis. Science may have some things to offer these areas, but we are primarily guided by experience.”

            Another excellent post. I would add to this “most important knowledge” paragraph the deepest and realest moments of our Lives, which communicate the spiritual or sacred basis of Life to most people. Most spiritual experiences don’t have anything to say about metaphysics, per se. But plenty of people use these numinous experiences to “primarily guide” their Lives, and shape their worldviews. Spirituality is deeply and quintessentially human.

          • You may add words like spiritual and sacred, if you like. I will not, because I find that they add nothing particularly meaningful to the concept of personal experience; but they obviously make you feel better.

          • Josh Magda

            Most people use words like spiritual or sacred to describe that aspect of their experience. We can’t just ignore the majoritarian understanding of words in common use. So when we get down to it, this has less to do with me adding words to describe this aspect of human experience, and more to do with you taking them away (which is fine). I have no idea if such an undertaking makes you feel better or not.

          • er … I made the original statement. It was you who decided to put words in my mouth. I “took the words away”? What a silly thing to say; I never considered the words in the first place.

            The words are in common use, but with a huge variety of definitions, connotations, and contexts – which is why I don’t find them useful in the statement that I made.

          • Josh Magda

            Okay, but I do not label experiences as “spiritual,” a label the human majority also uses to describe a dimension of their being, to make myself feel better. I do it because I think that the word points to something real which can be experienced. I let “Santa Claus” slide and honored your feelings on ‘scientism’

            Let’s start the day off on the right foot.

          • Okay, but I do not subscribe to any derogatory “isms” for which you have invented your own definition in order to pigeon-hole me.

            Why would you want to let Santa Claus “slide”? I honestly don’t see what is less believable about Santa Claus than one would find believable about the giant butterflies, human flight, and other fanciful elements of NDE tales.

            Santa Claus is a pleasant, nostalgic, loving memory for me. He is a fantasy, but one that I still embrace as story – not reality. He is at base, a fairy story (elves and fairies have been interchangeable in ancient folklore). Humans have been experiencing fairies for centuries, and have attempted to prove their existence as recently as the early twentieth century. The attraction to such fantasy is understandable, and as children we usually are unconcerned with distinguishing between fantasy and story. I “believed” in Santa as a child; later, I understood him as a story, but continued to “pretend” his existence along with my family. I honestly can’t remember when the fantasy became pretense for me, it was gradual and harmless. Some adults never quite make this transition. For example, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle exhibited photographic proof of fairies to his followers for years, before it was confirmed that little girls had made the photographic fairies from paper cut-outs. When we look at these photos now, the fakery is obvious; but Doyle and his followers were less familiar with photography tricks, and they had a yearning to believe in the fantasy.

            I understand the yearning that people have for NDE tales to be “real”; but I still think that fairy stories are a perfectly legitimate parallel.

          • Josh Magda

            It sounds like Doyle made the same mistake materialism makes: attempting to “prove” the immaterial by way of the physical. The Universe does not have to reveal Itself to us in the way that we demand. If the immaterial exists, than it must be approached on its own terms- such as by way of a mind.

            If an immaterial reality exists, there is still no amount or kind of evidence that can satisfy the materialist, for the materialist requires a priori that all evidence be material, or at least demonstrable in physical terms, regardless of what is actually there or not there. The materialist, through making this highly specific and somewhat arbitrary demand of the Universe, has ensured that if an immaterial reality exists, he or she will probably not be in a position to recognize it.

          • Why do you think that immaterial reality can’t produce material evidence? Most believers in immaterial realities historically do believe that it can produce material effects, after all this belief entails that all human beings (and possibly a myriad other physical entities) are not only connected to, but presumably consist of both a physical body and an immaterial soul.

            If immaterial reality does not exist, there is still no dearth or lack of evidence that can satisfy you, for you require a priori that immaterial reality cannot produce material effects, Through making this highly specific and somewhat arbitrary demand of the Universe, you have ensured that if an immaterial reality does not exist, no one will be in a position to evidence it.

            Your immaterial reality reminds me of Bertrand Russell’s famous celestial teapot:

            “If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday …”

          • Josh Magda

            Once “mind” is allowed as a test tube, databases become available which can then be queried for evidence. But of course in the materialist analysis, NONE of the data suggesting a spiritual dimension is usable, as ALL of it is hallucinatory. Why? Because it does not meet the arbitrary a priori demand that all evidence for the immaterial be material!

            So I ask again. Why must the Universe satisfy your demand to display its immaterial elements in scientifically interpretable, material terms? Who died and made you god?

          • Josh Magda

            I’m also curious to see the scientist who has managed to construct an experiment that does not require the use of the mind to interpret said experiment… or design it. That would be something to see- except we couldn’t see it, because that would be cheating.

            So though the mind is actually always online, it is only “allowed” into the epistemic enterprise for the materialist when it is processing scientific data. Any time it processes anything else, it’s a fairy story. Why? Because it is not processing scientific data.

          • Really, Josh? Anytime the mind processes something other than scientific data, it is a fairy story? What a silly assertion. No one believes such an idiotic notion.

            The vast majority of what our mind processes, hour by hour, day by day, is not scientific data. We couldn’t survive without this processing. I don’t need scientific data for my mind to process the heat of my coffee, the taste of my food, the smell of my poop, the sound of my alarm, the arms of my lover, or the embrace of my children.

            Where do you come up with such nonsense?

          • To your first paragraph – what are you talking about? There is an entire field of science devoted to the research of the mind. It is called psychology. It has numerous sub branches and often overlaps with neuroscience and other fields. You complain that all data suggesting a spiritual dimension is hallucinatory? Well, no problem. Contrary to your nonsensical assertion, there is no a priori demand that hallucination cannot be studied. Go to Google Scholar and type in the word “hallucination”. 80,900 results! Look up “mind” – over 3 million entries!

            It’s frankly comical that you think hallucinatory information and other experiences of the mind are inadmissible to science. Someone forgot to tell the scientific community.

            Why must the universe satisfy your demand to hide its immaterial elements from scientifically interpretable, material terms? Who died and made you god?

          • Josh Magda

            Psychology is the SCIENTIFIC study of the mind. You cannot cease for even one moment to consider a) that nonscientific methods of investigating the mind might yield pertinent data about the real World that science might not yield, and b) there are dimensions of reality that are and will remain inexplicable in scientific terms, but can nevertheless be encountered and experienced.

            Say what you will, but if that’s not scientism, I don’t know that anything else ever could be. I’ll let you pick your own word for the scientific hegemony that dominates your personal epistemology.

          • I love how you change the subject and completely ignore how often you make completely false statements. First you claim that “materialists” ignore the mind and hallucinatory experiences a priori. When this is shown to be nonsense, you complain that the study of these experiences is scientific!

            You first assert that “materialists” (or whoever it is you dislike) object to the data that comes from the mind or hallucinatory experiences. This, of course, is just wrong. Now, you say the problem is that they are using “science” to study this data, and “they” (whoever “they” are) refuse “nonscientific methods of investigating the mind”.

            So after all this time complaining that “materialists” don’t look at the data (wrong), now you complain that they don’t use the right “methods”. Pray tell, to what “nonscientific” methodologies do you refer?

          • Josh Magda

            HEAR YE, HEAR YE! By royal proclamation of His Lord and Majesty, King Science!

            All human inquiry shall forthwith be trained like a laser on those regions of reality His Majesty finds most congenial to His investigations: the physical world.

            All human experience shall be filtered through the worldview and working hypotheses of His Majesty’s scientific priesthood.

            IF you are having an experience that His Majesty’s priesthood has NOT blessed off on, YOU ARE NOT ACTUALLY HAVING THE EXPERIENCE- you are HALLUCINATING. His Majesty declares it to be so.

            Long live the King!

          • Simple question, Josh. You accused me of not considering “nonscientific” methodologies of investigating the mind. I asked you to what methodologies do you refer?

            I’ve also spent quite a few comments on this post discussing how we respond to the world experientially without the use of science. I begin to think Ian is right – you are sticking your fingers in your ears and crying “la, la, la, la …”

            This last reply of yours is spectacularly silly. Not only do you continuously make obviously false statements, you ignore it when you are corrected, and make ridiculous dramatic interpretations of straw men while ignoring the simplest of questions.

            What are the “nonscientific methods of investing the mind” that you think “materialists” are ignoring?

          • Josh Magda

            No, you are so locked into a specific epistemic hegemony that you aren’t processing what I’ve said very clearly and directly. Reread my comments from the last several hours; I have not changed my story at all.

            Spirituality and religion, for starters, are methods of investigating inner experience that materialism doesn’t regard as capable of saying anything ontological about the World. The World hits us point blank, whether it’s the physical/empirical World or the mental/emotional/spiritual World. We go in after the fact, and try to interpret it all.

            You have already laughed off the fact that spiritual communities explore inner experience, using different theories. Anthropologists, sociologists, and psychologists all study the same phenomena: humans and their culture, but they come at this point-blank phenomena from widely divergent angles.

            Nevertheless, there are themes and patterns that emerge across the social and natural sciences. The same is true for things of the Spirit. Themes and universals are discovered when studying spiritual traditions and the spiritual experiences that give rise to them. Perhaps you should say why spiritual communities cannot continue investigating inner experience as they always have, without King Science holding their hand.

          • I’m not sure why you keep harping on some sort of “hegemony” that you think I’m “locked into”. Or why you think science is a “king”. I appreciate science (you have said that you do as well), but it certainly isn’t a king of my experience. You seem to think that a person who isn’t religious (or religious by your definition – lots of religious people don’t accept NDE’s as evidence of spiritual reality) must worship science by default.

            You most certainly have changed your story:

            “the materialist requires a priori that all evidence be material, or at least demonstrable in physical terms, regardless of what is actually there or not there.”

            “But of course in the materialist analysis, NONE of the data suggesting a spiritual dimension is usable, as ALL of it is hallucinatory.”

            This, of course, is hogwash. No one requires that all evidence or data be material. Surely, you realize that now.

            You have now shifted your position to say that it is the methodologies, “nonscientific methods of investigating the mind”, that “materialists” ignore.

            So let’s explore that. Your answer seems to be spirituality (or spiritual communities) and religion. Now what are the methodologies that spirituality and religion employ to study NDE’s? I can tell you one methodology that religion uses without your help. Theology. Are your referring to theologians who have studied NDE’s? Or are you referring to another methodology?

            You’ve told me WHO is using the “nonscientific methods of investigating the mind”. Though as someone who has many spiritual and religious friends, I can tell you that many if not most even religious people do not evidence what they believe with NDE’s. But for those who presumably do, can you tell me what their methods are for “exploring” NDE’s?

          • Josh Magda


            I’ve got too much going on to do this today. And I definitely don’t want to get into he said/he said; I believe my statements have been clear. The context for the conversation was Doyle and trying to find evidence for the immaterial elements of reality within the material. I think it’s like holding a stethoscope up to a window. As I’ve said I think there’s plenty of evidence for a spiritual dimension, if science is not treated as the sacral mode of knowing, and its unique epistemology unilaterally applied to all of our thinking, feeling, and attempts at knowledge-building beyond immediate sensate experience (e.g. hugging my wife). I notice that you are still referring to all experience of the immaterial as “hallucination,” which is scientific terminology. “Vision” is a more applicable term within spiritual and religious history.

          • Yes, many of your statements have been clearly wrong, though you won’t admit it even when it is pointed out verbatim. Sorry, you don’t like the word “hallucination”. If you recall, you introduced hallucinatory evidence. I used it because you used it. I’ll use “vision” if you like – it won’t change the position.

            Science is not a “sacral mode of knowing” for anyone that I know. And there are many other modes of building knowledge and dealing with thoughts and feelings than either science or immediate sensate experience. There is the legal system, the fine arts, agriculture, historical studies, aid programs – both domestic and international – you are still addressing this straw man that we make a king of science. If we make a “king” of anything, it is the rule of law.

            Now, what this post is about is NDE’s not Doyle (I just used him as a brief discussion point); so rather than continuing a hackneyed complaint against attitudes that no one shares, maybe you could stop avoiding the simple question I asked:

            What “nonscientific methods of investigating the mind” are employed by “spirituality and religion”?

          • Josh Magda

            Sorry, Beau, for once I’m going to take a page out of your book and feign humor. Asking for an example of spirituality really is like asking for an example of art. I don’t think you are that clueless.

          • This is why I can’t take you seriously, Josh. You make such inane statements.

            I happen to have a master of fine arts. You want methodologies for the finding of knowledge in art? You can start, if you like with Aristotle’s poetics and the tragedian’s tool of mimesis – imitating the forms of both the real and the abstract, while searching for universal themes that underlie the fall of the tragic hero. There are countless methodologies in music, such as the Schillinger system of composition which is comprised of theories of rhythm, harmony, melody, counterpoint, form and semantics. In the visual arts, artists seek to uncover meaning and beauty through studies of the elements: line, color, form, shape, texture, space, and value. I could go on for days …

            Of course there is methodology in art! As there is in every other discipline I’ve mentioned. We gained the knowledge of plant and animal husbandry from agriculture thousands of years before science was even a concept.

            Are you trying to appear clueless, Josh, because I’m beginning to wonder if you are even listening to what you are saying?

            Are you seriously trying to argue that science and, what, spirituality? are the only disciplines that humans employ for gaining knowledge?

            Moreover YOU are the one (not me!) who said that the problem with materialists is that they do not consider “nonscientific methods of investigating the mind”! All I’ve asked you is “what are they?”

          • Josh Magda

            Spirituality IS the methodology for exploring spiritual experience! Surely you are aware of prayer and meditation, as just one example?! Just with the discipline of prayer, you would have to go into a specific spiritual tradition to see how they pray. And then within that tradition, there are always different forms of prayer.

            PS. I really don’t have time to do this today.

          • Great! (Was that so hard?)

            So what you’re saying is that prayer and meditation are the methodologies that you employ to gain knowledge about near-death experiences? How does that work, exactly? Is knowledge about NDE’s revealed to you through prayer and meditation? If so, is this revealed knowledge revealed personally or corporately?

            (If you need such details about art or other disciplines, I can certainly provide them).

          • Josh Magda

            (Last comment) NDEs are a unique phenomena in that their documentation usually but not always co-occurs with scientific medicine’s ability to keep people alive (or bring them back) in a way that has been unparalleled up until now. Since Dr. Moody began documenting them in the seventies, there has been a strong tradition of scientists and doctors themselves, who are typically at the bedside, doing their own research on them.

            This is different than the way spiritual communities have typically done business- which is wonderful. Religion is in desperate need of reform and augmentation too. What I can say, as someone with some competency in religion, is that the experiences documented in NDEs have tremendous parallels in the world’s religious traditions, and with mystical experience itself, which is a human universal.

            As just one example, light is a universal symbol of God across the traditions, and most NDEs include experiences of divine light. Mystics too have experienced a “living Light,” St. Hildegard among them. The Eastern Church has a whole contemplative tradition that is focused on experiencing God as light, called hesychasm.

          • Wait! In that first paragraph, are you saying that “scientists” (gasp!) research NDE’s?! Aren’t you afraid of King Science?!

            I see, so in NDE’s people experience light and darkness; and in religion light and dark symbolize religious truths? So the methodology that you use is to do comparative studies of the light and dark themes in NDE’s and religious traditions? Is this methodology gaining traction in the religious community? Are many religious professionals (or lay persons?) involved in these studies?

            I’m interested to know more about the Eastern Church’s contemplative approach to studying NDE’s.

          • Josh Magda

            The King may croon all he wants to on the circumstances SURROUNDING NDEs, but until He can hop on the back of a butterfly and head off to Never-NeverLand himself, I doubt He’ll ever have as much to say as the people who can. 😉

            Comparing notes on Divine Light from the literature of the World’s religions is one thing, but actually experiencing Divine Light in contexts other than NDEs is quite another.

            Speaking for Christianity, the Christian Church as a whole remains mired in an anti-mystical religious ghetto. Progress is coming from where it always comes, in Nature and society: from the edges. NDEs have great relevance for Christian theology. Particularly, they suggest that those Christians who (from the beginning) have emphasized God’s Universal Love, as against those who have gotten their egos off on DoomGod, are, as they have been through the ages, the authentic voice of the tradition. The Church as a mostly conservative institution is slow to absorb change, no matter how much it is needed. In the Episcopal church I attended until a couple years ago, women have only been priests for a generation.

            But I want to move away from NDEs, as I’m no expert on them. I don’t know if there’s much more for me to add to what’s already been said about them.

          • Josh Magda

            PS. Someone a lot of people read on the Eastern Church is Timothy Ware. He’s an excellent writer and seems very sincere. As with everything in the Eastern Church, their teachings on prayer and mysticism are impacted into patriarchy, which means I approach them with a shaker of salt. But elements of their tradition still have a lot to offer.

          • Yes, Bishop Ware’s “The Orthodox Church” is a good guide to understanding Eastern theology and practice. I wasn’t aware, however, that Bishop ware utilized Orthodox church methodologies in the study of NDE’s, or does he?

          • Josh Magda

            No. He has a book on prayer (the nonscientific methodology). I don’t know of an Eastern theologian specifically tackling NDEs, though that doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Keeping up with the times is not exactly Orthodoxy’s strong suit.

            The time they do keep up with, is Byzantine time, on Mt. Athos.

          • I see, so in Bishop Ware’s book on prayer, he discusses prayer as a nonscientific methodology for gaining knowledge from NDE’s?

          • Josh Magda

            No, Beau, there’s no NDE connection; the connection was with hesychasm, which is another way people experience divine light. You’re an art person. It would be like finding something on a Greek vase that also appears in Greek literature. Those are two lines of evidence, rather than one, that the subject was a feature of ancient Greek Life. Two classes of experiences of a trans-temporal Divine Light are better than one in suggesting its ontological groundedness (though of course, it is Creation that is grounded in God).

          • You were the one who brought this up in the context of NDE’s, not I:

            “Comparing notes on Divine Light from the literature of the World’s religions is one thing, but actually experiencing Divine Light in contexts other than NDEs is quite another.”

          • So from your first two paragraphs, it seems that you are suggesting that the only real method of studying and gaining knowledge from NDE’s is to experience NDE’s? So all of us who have never experienced flying on butterflies will never benefit from the knowledge they share!

            Yes, I was aware that Christianity as a whole doesn’t buy into NDE’s as legitimate or useful views of the afterlife. That’s funny; from all of your hand-wringing over “materialists”, one would have have thought that Christianity would be in your court in accepting NDE’s as legitimate reports from beyond. But now you suggest that Christian theology is gaining insight from NDE’s. You’ll remember that I had helpfully suggested theology as a methodology when you were struggling to tell me what you meant by “nonscientific methods of investigating the mind.”

            I don’t think you’ve been able to come up with any Eastern church methodologists in the study of NDE’s, though you had touted their revelence. So perhaps you can point at a few excellent theologians who are investigating NDE’s through the methodology of theology.

            Of course if you’ve run out of steam and wish to end the conversation, that’s fine as well. It’s pretty clear, as you say, that you’re no expert on NDE’s.

          • Josh Magda

            You’re not going to set up an experiment either in spiritual community or in science for an NDE- it would be wildly immoral and unethical. What you can do in religion is look for documentation of experiences that have been reported to priests, rabbis, etc, look across the mystical religious literature through the ages, compare that which is experienced to other altered states of consciousness, consider them theologically, and talk with people who have had them. Doctors are in a position to do a lot more.

            For NDEs considered theologically, see John Hick, David Ray Griffin, and Cynthia Bourgeault, from the Christian tradition. All of them have monographs on metaphysics and a long career spent considering a range of theological questions.

            I have a new post up on the differences between nonscientific spiritual epistemology and scientific epistemology. I suggest we move there.

          • Josh Magda

            What I’ve said on the Eastern Church is that they have a tradition focused on experiencing Divine Light, not NDEs. I was saying there are other contexts where people may be directly experiencing the Light also experienced in NDEs.

            You don’t need to look far in religion for light, though. Just in the Bible- Light accompanies the major figures and inaugurates their mission – Moses and the burning bush, Jesus and the angels appearing to the shepherds, and later the “heavens opening” at his baptism, Saul on the road to Damascus. My guess is that these are definitely myth, but possibly, also indirect records of the inner experience of G-d that gave rise to their convictions.

          • Actually, experiments have been setup in science for NDE’s:


            Their results so far are inconclusive, but why would you consider them “wildly immoral and unethical”?

          • Josh Magda

            Lol, I was talking about bringing someone to the point of death in order to have an experience.

            But I spoke too soon. That sort of thing has happened in religion- it’s the extreme end of asceticism. A decade and a half ago when I has doing my thing, as one example, I went eight days without eating, but people have done a hell of a lot more than that through the millenia.

            The ironic thing about this conversation, on methods of exploring inner experience and trying to have them, is that God is not a jack-in-the-box that can be wound up with prayer to spring out on our command. That’s one of the things spirituality actually teaches you. And it’s one of the ways spirituality is different than science.

            I see you’re a CS Lewis fan; I am not, but I do like one line in particular: (God) is not a tame lion.

          • I have to confess Josh, this conversation is growing tiresome. You continuously make ridiculous assertions, and when I call you on it, you back off to say, no that’s not what you meant.

            Why would anyone think that the only way to setup a scientific experiment for an NDE is to bring someone to a near death state. That’s like saying that the only way doctors can study cancer or aids treatments is to infect patients with cancer or aids.

            I am not a C.S. Lewis fan. I find his writing banal.

          • Josh Magda

            You’re “calling me” on something is mostly a simple exemplification of the differences between our cognitive processing styles, and the semantic limitations of blog posts. You’re reading more into those differences than I am, which the blog setting itself encourages people to do. I am not viewing each post as a formal set of air-tight philosophical statements that must be considered in a quasi-legal fashion. This is more of a free flowing conversation to me where meaning and understanding emerges across posts, not necessarily within a single post (see point number 3 on the spiritual epistemology points).

            I already said I was done with NDEs. I don’t have anything else to add on them.

          • Yes, “meaning” does not “emerge” for my “cognitive processing style” from false generalizations and occasional rants against straw men (“King Science!”).

          • Josh Magda

            On butterflies. Butterflies are a near-universal archetype of the Soul. See Chuang Tzu as one example. Or more recently, I just saw “Cinderella,” and before the magic gown coalesced, it was animated by butterflies, while it was in a more ethereal state. I doubt the director intended a spiritual statement; butterflies are really pretty and feminine, and the movie was fluffy and targeted to a young audience. Like many archetypes the butterfly archetype is often unconscious.

            You may interpret all relationships between butterflies and the things of the Spirit as psychological. They definitely are, to a degree. But to me, the butterfly archetype also points to something Real.

          • Well, yes, butterflies have always been symbols of transformation or metamorphosis, for obvious reasons.

          • Josh Magda

            There’s that, sure. There’s also a strong tradition of the butterfly being a symbol of the Soul and of the spiritually immaterial (though in my own estimation, the body is in the Soul).

            I forgot who said it but my favorite comment on the spiritual significance of butterflies is “the butterfly is the most harmless of all creatures.” I’m going to sound “arrogant” in saying so, but anyone with actual experience of God Knows that God is similarly non-threatening to their essential Self (or if you’re a Buddhist or someone else who doesn’t affirm an essential Self, God is even less of a threat to that nonexistent Self).

            The butterfly lives about two weeks, if memory serves. Their Life is so delicate, fragile, and over with in a flash. Just like our own. And yet their Beauty is incontestable.

          • The soul symbology is just an extension of the transformation symbology. Dualists equate the transformation from life to afterlife with transformation of caterpillar to butterfly.

          • Josh Magda

            Yes, and that’s one analogy that is not helpful to me. Gnostically-inclined Christians have also ran with “unless a grain of wheat dies” by which they mean the body.

            I don’t view the purpose of this Life as being preparation for Heaven.

          • Yes, most of your views appear to be subjectively personal. This is not, of course, the view of most NDE anecdotalists such as Eben Alexander, as the title of his book “Proof of Heaven” implies.

          • Josh Magda

            I don’t think he actually liked that title.

            Even still, proof of Heaven doesn’t have to diminish the significance of Creation, unless you’re setting Heaven and Earth into an antagonistic relationship, the way dualistic religion and philosophy has often done. That’s not the only option in spiritual and religious history.

          • Perhaps, he didn’t like the words he wrote in the book either, but there they are with his name on them.

            No I don’t see Heaven and Earth in an antagonistic relationship. That would require that I believe that such places as Valhalla, hades, paradise, the underworld, hell, or heaven, actually exist.

          • Josh Magda

            Beau, you know that authors don’t get to pick their own titles … don’t you?

          • Josh, there you go again. Making false assertions. Are you pulling this stuff out of your behind?

            In point of fact, the vast majority of published titles are most certainly chosen by the author. It is true that publishers will sometimes suggest more marketable titles, as Alexander claims in this case. But he could certainly refuse. The only thing the publishers have to hold over his head is money – and surely that’s not what motivates Alexander – is it?

          • Josh Magda

            Heaven is not a place and G-d does not exist. How familiar are you with mystical theology? It’s possible to have a theological imagination that goes beyond the third grade level.

          • Oh i don’t claim to know much about “mystical theology” – and have no interest in it. But I know enough to know that the statement “Heaven is not a place and G-d does not exist” is a moronic over-simplification of it, that you only use in a poor attempt at sarcasm. God is worshipped and heaven is described as “place” even in mystical literature. Don’t you realize that the words “place” and “God” often have a metaphorical meaning? Don’t you have any imagination?

          • Josh Magda

            Alright. We’re in Wikipedia territory because the word scientism is pretty new and because it is thrown around a lot. I’ve been throwing it around for at least a decade. Wikipedia’s definition of scientism is:

            “Scientism is belief in the universal applicability of the scientific method and approach, and the view that empirical science constitutes the most authoritative worldview or most valuable part of human learning to the exclusion of other viewpoints.”

            I don’t disagree with anything about that definition. How much of this definition of scientism applies to your own beliefs?

          • Read a little further into the Wikipedia article – you will find that every one cited for using the term, uses it negatively. It is a term used to critique an attitude, as I’ve said before, a pejorative.

            The answer to your question is that the wikipedia definition is not a good description of any belief that I have, but more to the point, given that scientism is a pejorative, your seemingly innocuous question reads a bit like:

            “How much of this definition of foolish narrow-mindedness applies to your own beliefs.”

            So you’ll pardon me if I respond:

            “Go jump in a lake.”

          • Josh Magda

            I will refrain from using the word “scientism” around you because it is obviously a word you find hurtful. Nothing more needs to be said about it.

          • Yes, Josh, that’s really the issue. You hurt my little feelings. (sniffle).

          • Josh Magda

            It’s interesting. Mysticism has up until now had the following rule: “she who says doesn’t know, and she who knows doesn’t say.”

            I think that rule went out the window when the atom bomb dropped. Moreover there are people running around with mysticism’s central open secret on their lips (I/we/you are God) trying to use that knowledge to psychically procure parking spaces for themselves. I think we can do better.

            But the Wisdom of not talking about fight club came into play today in the exchange with Nick and Ian and yourself. You all misinterpreted what I meant and the conversation (tried to) devolve into an ego pissing contest. Genuine mysticism isn’t about one person knowing something that other people do not. The fight club rule has been in place to counteract the elitist interpretation of mysticism, but has ironically contributed to that very interpretation.

            There’s no clear way forward. But I don’t know that it’s Wise to continue to unload in this forum. As a proposed resolution I recommend you stay with your experience of Love and go deeply into that, rather than worrying about or trying to have experiences of a Love that is not meaningful to you.

          • Claims to knowledge come up often in this forum, and when they are challenged, it is not for the sake of ego. It is, rather, because we live in a world in which dubious claims to knowledge are used to prohibit marriage equality, bias politics, refute science education, deny climate change, and in other cultures, kill and torture any view deemed as heresy by the local theocracy.

            Claims to knowledge are not neutral territory.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            Josh, I think you are missing the wood for the trees. You attribute great significance to mystical experiences but what you fail to realise is that even mundane experiences are completely at odds with science. The essence of all experience is the flow of time but the flow of time has no place in our scientific understanding of reality. According to General Relativity, reality consists of a series of frames. The frames have a temporal order: one can come before or after another, but there is no “flow of time” from each frame to the next. Reality is a long reel of film but there is no projector through which the film runs.

            If we don’t wish to deny the most basic aspect of all experience, we must conclude that science can only offer us an incomplete picture of reality.

          • Josh Magda

            Newtonian physics describe the everyday, intersubjective LifeWorld very well. The quantum world is not something we can “see” operating when we look out the window the way we can see apples falling from trees- unless you think quantum physics means “oh look! a parking space has opened up, just for me!”

            I don’t think consciousness creates (everything in) the material World. That’s just the idealist inverse of materialism. Both worldviews are deterministic and anti-relational.

          • Nick G

            Interesting point, but I think “completely at odds with science” is an overstatement. It’s true that GR doesn’t incorporate the passage of time, but:
            1) Our perception is provably faulty in other ways – visual illusions, for example. Would you say in those cases that “mundane experiences are completely at odds with science”? And if so, isn’t that a case where our mundane experience provably does not accurately reflect reality? Maybe the passage of time is an illusion. Some physicists hold this view.
            2) There’s independent reason to suspect GR’s not the “final theory” – it’s a “classical” i.e. non-quantum-mechanical theory.
            3) Some other physicists, such as Lee Smolin, are looking for theories that treat the passage of time as a reality. I wasn’t convinced when I read his latest book, but even if he hasn’t found a way to do it, that doesn’t show it’s impossible.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            Yes, the flow of time may be accommodated by some physical theory that has yet to be developed. I’ll assume (for the sake of argument) that it won’t be in what follows.

            Certainly, our perceptions are fallible, but the illusion of the flow of time (if that’s what it is) would be much more fundamental. An interesting question to ask about illusions is what reality would have to be like in order for our perceptions not to be faulty. If I look at straight lines superimposed on a pattern of radiating lines, the straight lines appear curved. If my perception was not faulty, the lines really would be curved. And, of course, there really are such things as curved lines and accurate perceptions of curved lines.

            Now, what would reality have to be like in order for our perception of the flow of time not to be faulty? The answer is that time would actually flow. However, from a scientific perspective, the flow of time is not just something that happens not to be the case; it is something that is actually impossible. This would be a radical illusion indeed.

          • Nick G

            I’m not sure what your point is.There are plenty of illusions, such as “impossible figures” (Penrose triangle etc.) that “show” things that couldn’t exist. In any case, why shouldn’t “radical illusions” such as falsely perceiving a non-existent flow of time exist?

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            Because the flow of time is such an essential aspect of conscious experience, saying it is an illusion seems tantamount to saying that consciousness itself is an illusion. Of course, that may not be a problem for someone like Dennett.

          • MLD

            My question is have you ever looked at your dog and noticed that he/she was staring with a blank stare and look like he/she was looking at nothing? Once in a while you might see the tail wag or a slight bark or a little excitement occur when your dog continue to look at nothing?

          • Sure. It’s hard to know from a human perspective, what a dog is thinking or feeling. There is a balance between recognizing that they must have evolved similar response systems to our own, and trying not to anthropomorphize them excessively.

          • MLD

            I have another silly question to ask you. If you are able to remember at anytime have your children ever had a nightmare where they felt like they were falling out of bed and when they woke up they were still in bed?

          • I’m not sure why you’re interested in my personal answers to these questions, but doesn’t everyone have that dream/nightmare? I know I have.

            Where are you going with this?

          • Well, if it’s just a preference for metaphors, I prefer a “tree” of being to a chain. I see no evidence of a “circle”, but there is a wealth of evidence for the branching evolutionary tree that brought about our consciousness (and that of other creatures). I find that wonderful. Of course, consciousness is not the only thing I value. Life at all levels of existence, star formation, the dance of the solar system, the bewildering interplay of matter and energy at the atomic level – are all necessary to us and wondrous in their own right. I don’t need to imagine that everything shares a soul in order to appreciate and value what we find in the cosmos.

          • Josh Magda

            Tree is a great metaphor too, at an inner and outer level.
            To me, it’s less about imagining a Soul in Nature and more about experiencing it. I would have to imagine a Soulless Nature, because that’s not what I experience.

          • Yes, clearly not something I experience. At any rate you asked to get back to post about Abrams, and I don’t find her perspective frustrating at all; I had the opposite reaction that you did. I find it hopeful, and rich in perspective.

          • Josh Magda

            I know, I’m an oddball out. And not just on this blog. It’s because I don’t privilege what religious terminology calls immanence or transcendence, one above the other. So many religious streams would have me value one or the other, but not both. But I find myself unable to do so.

            Given the choice between Abrams’ worldview and a conventional supernatural theistic worldview, where God is a super-powerful King somewhere out there separate from us, I’d choose Abrams’ any day. My view would simply seek to build on Abrams et al., not displace it. Supernatural theism, especially of the DoomGod variety, is not an option.

          • I can’t help but notice that an awful lot of the “mystic experiences” (including NDE’s) that you count as evidence of … something …, actually involve experiences with hell, demons, satan, etc. – wouldn’t that be the “DoomGod” variety?

          • Josh Magda

            The overwhelming majority of NDEs do not feature diabolical elements, but those that do pose a serious epistemological question to those that take evil seriously. I do not. There are books and articles out there on diabolical NDEs for those who care to research them.

            Julian of Norwich was a medieval mystic who wrote on Divine Love, and it is her posture I adopt. She asked to see a vision of hell, and when she did not receive one, she interpreted it as “God is not concerned with hell- why should we be?” I have enough experience, my own and others, to believe that evil in the grand scheme of things doesn’t hold a candle to the Love and Reality of God.

            As to how it this plays out in the here and now, the response to evil is always the Creative implementation of Love. Always. Beyond that, I am simply bored by evil to the point that I don’t care to speculate on its ontology. God, Love, and Blessing, have always been more interesting.

          • Nick G

            The overwhelming majority of NDEs do not feature diabolical elements

            That’s an empirical claim, which can be studied using the methods of science – and as far as I can see, by no others. One would need to collect many NDE accounts, from as wide a range of individuals and cultures as possible, and analyse those accounts using fairly standard methods from social science. My hunch is that there would be big differences between cultures, in the prevalence of “diabolical elements”, threatening figures and themes, and that the overall prevalence would not be as low as you think, but I’m ready to be proved wrong. Are you?

          • Josh Magda

            It is an empirical fact that distressing NDEs occur much less frequently than NDEs with wholly benevolent elements. The last book I read to make such a claim was one by Jeffrey Long, M.D. You may want to look him up. I have no desire or inclination to become an NDE researcher and am content to trust the research of competent experts, until such time as I have reason to doubt the integrity of their methodology or the veracity of their discoveries.

          • Nick G

            Er, no. You’d need a study by someone who was not a propagandist for a particular interpretation of NDEs. And I happen to know that, contrary to Long’s claims, NDEs from different cultures differ considerably:

            In both the series of Indian cases the following features were markedly more frequent than in American ones (Greyson and Stevenson, 1980): the subjects were taken to the “other realms” by some messengers, they saw or met deceased acquaintances or relatives; they saw a man with a book; a mistake was discovered such that the subject’s time had not yet come or another person was scheduled to die; the subject was brought back by the messengers; and on return from the other realm he or she had some mark or marks on his or her physical body. The above picture is considerably different from the one presented by the American cases. The subjects of the American cases are not taken by any messengers, they just find themselves in the other realm; no mistake is discovered for their return back; they come back of their own volition or for the love of their surviving relatives or friends.

            The discussion goes on to mention differences between the north and south Indian cases. It claims that “the resemblance of some features” between American and Indian cases:

            points toward the possibility of some common experiences that remain unaffected by cultural influences

            Of course, one might expect some resemblance between the experiences of people likely to be in similar brain-states (e.g., a degree of cerebral hypoxia).

          • Josh Magda

            An interesting article. You’ve already quoted the sentence that I would want to quote. As to the rest, it’s back to whether or not you expect God to be boring. I really don’t anymore. When I was younger I used to.

            A God that makes thing like platypuses and mirror neurons is not boring.

          • Nick G

            You’re remarkably fond of the non sequitur. No, it really isn’t: “back to whether or not you expect God to be boring”. You referred to Long, I showed that at least one of his main claims is false. I’m amused to find that another of those you reference is David Ray Griffiin. He’s a 9-11 Truther. There’s a socio-psychological phenomenon called “crank magnetism”; he appears to be a fine example.

          • Josh Magda

            Long’s research is not false because the Spirit manifests diversity at an inner level the same way She manifests diversity at an outer level. The religious interior of India does not have to look the same as America’s, anymore than curry has to be served at Thanksgiving dinner. You may have a simple problem with human diversity.

            David is an outstanding theologian even if you don’t agree with his digression into the 9/11 stuff. I haven’t read it so I have no thoughts on that material.

            Impugning the intelligence of those you disagree with does not make yours stand out any more clearly.

          • Josh Magda

            Its seems we’ve gone into our preferences full force. 🙂 That’s cool.

            For me, I prefer a World with an interior for the same reason I would prefer a Living, breathing, feeling husband to a blowup doll: I want to Live in a Universe that is capable of Loving me back, and not just a Universe that I project myself onto…

          • Ian

            I think your worldview is a poetic word salad- it exists nowhere accept in your imagination.

            Right, it’s sad. People trapped where you are often struggle to see anything other than the shadows on the wall, and they interpret anyone who’s turned to see the light as ignorant or fantasizing. It’s part of the difficulty of seeking the truth. Not everyone can do it. Many simply refuse to accept their need to, because it feels so real. I’m sorry you’re stuck where you are. I hope in due course you’ll come to understand the real real real World, as it truly is.

            (I’m sure we could play this game all day, but I am curious if you’re self-aware enough to figure it out.)

          • Josh Magda

            see my latest response to Beau for the answer.

          • Ian


            So how about this. You’ve got into three separate ‘pissing contests’ here with three people over your comments. On the other hand, nobody has engaged your views on their own terms.

            You’ve got a choice how to interpret that.

            Given that those of us doing the pissing are all regular commenters here, on a Christian blog, frequented by people of faith, let me suggest it probably isn’t because we’re vehement atheists bent on ridiculing belief.

            Given that none of us seemed to get far enough into your posts to engage your argument, yet our commenting history here runs to thousands of comments, and many tens of thousands of words, I’d suggest it isn’t because we aren’t willing to discuss ideas.

            So, how about trying this interpretation on for size: you came across arrogantly, and unwilling to be self-aware in that arrogance. So you were being called out on that, both explicitly and in sarcasm. You were being called on that because we couldn’t get at your points through the haze of self-righteousness.

            See, if you interpret this in that way, you might come back trying to figure out how to make the points you want to make in a way that doesn’t presuppose you are right. Then a real discussion can happen.

            The alternative seems to be to flick your hair and storm off, not casting your pearls before us swine.

          • Josh Magda

            Ian, I dont care to engage further with you on this. I have already stated why. I am not beholden to you and the imaginary relevance of your posting history here to this specific engagement with me.

            You may interpret my declining to engage you however you wish. And you will.

          • Ian

            I don’t mean to be too unkind, but you really do come across as a special snowflake.

            Hey ho, it was interesting, at least. Enjoy the vinaigrette!

          • Josh Magda

            All snowflakes are special. Including me. Including you.

          • Nick G

            Technically speaking, I think your worldview is a poetic word salad- it exists nowhere accept in your imagination. I just don’t go around saying it

            You just did say it. And there’s notihng in the least “technical” about your drivel.

          • Santino_the_Meek

            One simple question, then, what is the basis on which we might call “truth”, and where does that basis originate? How can we have reality without a basis on a common truth?

          • Santino_the_Meek

            What is your basis of truth?

          • Ian

            I’m not sure that I understand where you go to that from the point I was making (about asserting truth). But I’m happy to say what I think on your questions.

            Before I do, I have a caveat that questions like you’re asking can be more about the definitions of words (reality, truth, etc) than anything else. Often disagreements end up being about definition, not substance. So my responses presuppose the definitions I am using. If you’d like to offer your own, I’m happy to try to use those and talk about that.


            Reality doesn’t care what people agree on it, or whether it is recognized, or so on. So reality is whether we want it to be otherwise or not. We don’t have a choice whether we ‘have’ reality. We can try to come closer to recognizing what it is, however.

            Truth, in this context, I’d say are descriptions that correspond to reality. Truth is a quality that language may have (natural language, or other kinds of symbolic methods), and as such it is very difficult to even imagine something being absolutely true, because language is typically somewhat ambiguous, or depends on definitions that can be.

            So to answer your first question, truth originates in reality. Where does reality originate, that’s a different question. Important, but not quite the same (in other words, however reality might arise, the problem of truth would still be the same).

            The second, under the definitions above is a non-sequitir, since reality is not based in any way on truth, common or not, in fact the inverse. If you mean, how can we discover what reality is, or how can we communicate without a common basis of what is true, then that is also a different and interesting question. My answer would be we can’t. But I’ve not met anyone who has such a different view of reality to me that we can’t find a common core of things we think are true and work outwards. The problem is when someone assumes that the things they think are true really are, and insists that other people agree before a conversation can start.

          • Santino_the_Meek

            But reality is based in truth, and is truth, and so the two are necessary to each other. There is such a thing as a false reality. Not seeing what is. From truth stems reality, because it must be “real” (right) in order for it to be “real”ity. You might also say that reality is truth, as well as truth is reality. Is this a valid point? Reality must be determined by a starting truth. Perhaps that truth is God is real. But then again, this might be confusing world-view with reality. But then again, can a man ever have a perfect world-view, as we are always biased? In that instance, I would have to go back to my one undear lying truths, a constant, that God is, and we are. For without the beginning God, which is truth, we could not be, which we must know to be truth, because we are conscious. What is your take on what I just said? I’m new to this. Only 10th grader 🙂

          • Santino_the_Meek

            I understand that you guys are not Christians for several reasons, one being the problem of good and evil. Could you ask me your greatest questions against God, so that I might learn how to best answer them through my future years? Thanks guys. Also, don’t forget the true meaning of Easter. Also, I’m not learned in a whole lot of philosophical terms and such, but please pack your questions full of them so that I might learn them. Thanks once again. If I may challenge your criticism and deep thinking, may I ask how we are ourselves such deep thinkers and understand truth and have in each of us a “lie-detector” if you will? This too is probably a weak case in your books, but will you answer with your most profound thoughts? Thanks once more again. Adios.

          • Ian

            I think it depends on how you define your words.

            I think of reality as ‘what is real’. The underlying reality of the way things are. Then I think of truth as things we can say that correspond to reality. So reality isn’t based on truth, but the other way around.

            So there may be a god, in reality. God may be real or not. If god is real, then to say “God exists” is true. If god is not part of reality, then to say “God doesn’t exist” is true. But the only things that are true or false are claims about reality.

            In my definitions then there is no such thing as ‘false reality’. ‘False reality’ is not reality. Now we can use the phrase to mean “things that we can talk about that aren’t true” – but again, that is a claim about language, not about something underlying.

            You seem to have flipped your defnitions around from mine. For you “truth” is the underlying thing, and “reality” is somehow a more surface expression. Though in a couple of places you seem to swap back (perhaps because there are ways of talking that fall more easily into my definitions). If I adopt your definitions, then I struggle to see the difference between the terms, I have to say.

            But can you see weren’t actually still only talking about words? Nobody has the monopoly on what words mean. Words just mean what we use them to mean when we communicate.

            To do philosophy, you have to be careful to define what you mean by words.

            Otherwise all the arguments just boil down to “no reality means this”, “no reality means that” – they’re arguments about what should go in a dictionary, not arguments about how the world is.

      • Josh Magda

        PS I am very glad to see scientists in love with their work and passionate about that which they study; I wouldn’t have it any other way. The best scientists are awash in mystery, letting it flow through them as an invigorating stream. So I do not think that the small but vocal cadre of missional materialists like yourself who are bent on disabusing us of the real real World, armed with your conceptual shrink-ray guns and poetic descriptions of a less real, tragic Universe that is small enough for you to deal with, are going to be very successful in the long run. Even if you are, as materialists often say, truth is not finally determined by cultural consensus.

        • Josh Magda

          PPS. Notice how ridiculous and unkind it sounds when I attribute your atheism to an inability to deal with the World. In actuality, I assume you are an atheist because of what you believe and do not believe to be true.

          I am determined to break missional atheists of this bad habit of flying in with flags unfurled and unloading the mental handicap BS on religious people as their opening move. I believe what I believe, first and foremost, because I think it’s true. Otherwise I would accommodate myself to some other worldview. I engage in wish fulfillment every time I indulge my nerd/geek proclivities. That base is covered. Religion and philosophy, on the other hand, have made my Life a hell of a lot harder than it otherwise would have been.

          • I don’t think you read Ian very carefully, Josh. He did not call you delusional or, as you say, mentally handicapped because you are religious. If you had ever engaged Ian before, you would know that he doesn’t generalize about religious people in such a way. The delusion he called you out on was your assertion that you know what everyone else “knows deep down”.

          • Josh Magda

            Right. I offer a four paragraph response to Abrams and this is what immediately comes out:

            “that they have nothing underpinning their assertions except wishful thinking”

            But anyways. Neither you, Ian, or Nick affirm that there is a “deep down” in the way that I meant it, so it is a deep down that can’t possibly know anything… because it does not exist.

          • And now you’re quoting Ian out of context:

            “Deep down, believers Know they’re making it all up, that they have nothing underpinning their assertions except wishful thinking. See? Telling people what they really think is easy.”

            He was demonstrating the fallacy of telling people what they really think. Read his comments again. You will see that he is not criticizing your religion; he is very specifically challenging the presumption that you know what other people really think.

            I also would suggest that you avoid painting Ian, Nick, and I with the same broad brush. We are quite different.

          • Josh Magda

            I don’t know what people think. I’ve already said clearly that of course atheists don’t secretly think about God the way some religious people would like them too. The knowing I’m referring to has nothing to do with thinking. And it has to do with an organ of spiritual perception that atheism does not acknowledge we have. The three of you reject “deep down.” That’s not painting with a broad brush, it’s just reiterating your position.

          • Nick G

            The knowing I’m referring to has nothing to do with thinking.

            That for you, “knowing” has very little to do with thinking is, I’m afraid, only too obvious.

          • Josh Magda

            Nick, your reasoning ability is not superior to my own. You only think it is.
            There difference between us is, reason is not my god. There is a further shore.

          • Nick G

            Reason is not my god either – I don’t have one. But it is essential if you are actually interested in discovering errors you may have made. As Ian says, you’re just playing a cheap rhetorical trick here. It’s really not impressive.

          • Your alternate definition of “knowing” notwithstanding (certainly not self-evident in your original comment), you didn’t state that you “don’t know what people think” until after you had gone after Ian for being “ridiculous”, “unkind”, and “unloading the mental handicap BS”.

            So yes, I would say that you painted Ian with very broad brush, that went far beyond reiterating his position.

          • Josh Magda

            It was evident from the 7 paragraphs I wrote on Abrams, where I discussed the Heart at length. That sentence was latched onto because it provided a tactical springboard for Nick and probably Ian to launch into the missional materialist religionist-denigration talking points. In my judgment.

          • Not as evident as you seem to think. At any rate, mistaken about your intentions or not, Ian simply stated that to claim you know what someone else knows is a delusion. You, on the other hand intimated that he was “ridiculous”, “unkind”, and “unloading the mental handicap BS”. (and you did quote Ian out of context).

            Funny thing is – I think you could fairly accuse me of those things – but not Ian.

          • Josh Magda

            I called my own sarcastic rebuttal (conceptual shrink-ray guns, poetic descriptions World small enough for you to deal with) ridiculous and unkind. I was making a contrast with Ian’s wish fulfillment/justify self with verbiage/delusion comments. I think it was an effective and accurate contrast.

            But I don’t care to argue the semantics of someone else’s three sentences farther.

          • Fine, but you’re still missing my point. Your harangue following Ian’s comment was a complete misread of Ian’s point.

          • Ian

            Thanks Beau 🙂

            The attitude that always annoys me is the one that claims that a person differs in their opinion from another because they are ignorant. If you only knew what I know, you’d agree with me. It is an attractive idea: after all, I’m reasonable, right? I’ve thought about this a lot! The only possible reason someone could disagree with me is if they are ignorant. They need to think or experience, or feel more, then they’d see I’m right.

            So atheists lack some Knowledge of the ‘real real World’, or perhaps they don’t lack it, they just refuse to acknowledge it. Or perhaps it is religious people who lack the right knowledge. They’re always bubbling around in these narrative models. If they could just see that for what it is, they’d know the atheists are right.

            It’s such a cheap trick. All one need to do is say “no, no, there’s a *deeper* level you don’t understand”, “no, it’s you who need to go deeper”, “no, I can go as deep as you, but there’s an ever deeper level you’re not seeing!” And then if called on it, you wrap up your response in obfuscated vocabulary and faux-profundities.

          • Yes, and I think that I am sometimes guilty of dismissing opposing opinions as ignorant – a failing I need to watch out for. I do think there’s a fine but important line between dismissing an opinion as coming from ignorance and using a bit of ridicule to call out the truly ridiculous. I don’t always walk the line well.

          • Ian

            Ridicule is fun. But yeah, I walk the wrong side of that line too often.

          • Josh Magda

            Its a cheap trick to you because you don’t affirm that there actually is a Soul/Heart/Core. If there is a Core, then technically you are the one spouting poetry. You don’t take a single moment to consider the metaphysics, before moving into a character attack on me. That is because you don’t believe there is such a thing as metaphysics. And I understand and respect that.

            Your categorical rejection of my position includes the charge that I am out to deceive people, or am otherwise arrogantly saying I know things they do not, when I have done no such thing. I have said that all human beings have a Core that already Knows itself. This is not a new claim in religious history. Your ignorance of religious history or the multivalence of religious thought does not constitute deception or obstruction on my part, it constitutes a difference of opinion on yours- and nothing more.

          • Ian

            I have considered the metaphysics. I can understand what the soul / heart / core is, I know it very well. But I’ve gone beyond that. You’re not following. There is a deeper level beyond that, of how the soul / heart / core works, what it consists of, and why it is there. You could call it metametaphysics, I guess. But that would be unnecessarily facile. Still, it is clear it hasn’t even occurred to you that you can pass beyond where you are to a deeper understanding. So you paint anyone who has gone further as being behind you, when the opposite is true.

            … that’s the cheap trick you’re playing.

          • Josh Magda

            Metaphysics is not a language game to me. So your sarcastic and dissingenuous word game of pretending to continuously pull deeper truths out of a linguistic hat, has little analogical relevance to what I actually believe and experience.

            Furthermore, in my worldview, the deeper level is G-d. There is further for all of us to go into G-d, me included.

            And in this Universe of becoming, there is even further for God to go.

          • Ian

            I’m not pretending to do anything, and I’m not playing a game (not on that score, anyway, I’m toying with your lack of self-awareness, it’s true, but I really do believe the things I say: I was once where you are, I went beyond).

            There really is a deeper truth to the one you think you know. I think perhaps you really do know it, Know it, somewhere deep down, but you won’t admit it to yourself.

            I’m not making an analogy. I’m telling you what I believe. I’m sorry you can’t seem to grasp it. I’m sorry you discount it so easily thinking you’ve gone deeper, when you’re really just scratching the surface. But as I said, that isn’t unusual, in my experience.

          • Josh Magda

            So you’ll know, I haven’t read this post and don’t plan to (or any other on this topic).
            You are now choosing whether this (and any future) soliloquy is worth an investment of your time and energy. Not my call, or my concern.

          • Ian

            I think this is my favourite comment ever.

            “I’m not listening, la, la, la!”

          • Josh Magda

            I’m not listening to this particular conversation because I could tell from the first two sentences it was more of the same. The quarter for this merry-go-round ride atop a stationary plastic animal that bounces up and down, has run out a long time ago. Like a young child you’re continuing to buck even though the ride has now stopped. You want to put another quarter in, and I do not. Some things really aren’t worth it, “rides” outside of Toys-R-Us and this conversation among them.

          • Ian

            I’m not listening to this particular conversation

            Yet, here you are again. It would be easier, and perhaps surprisingly interesting for you, to engage, rather than play the “I can’t hear you” game.

            I know you’ve decided you know what I think, or what I know, or what I’m trying to do, but you’re wrong.

            Let me be clear, without sarcasm, word games or pretence of any kind.

            There is a kind of scientistic atheism which I think you are rejecting because you Know (not used derisively, I understand what you mean by it) that there is a deeper, metaphysical structure to the cosmos, which is not some function of the atomic, physical interactions of particles. It is Spirit, we might say, or at least spiritual. And as conscious beings in that spiritual matrix, we have the ability to relate to it consciously, as well as it being a fundamental part of our make up. Now I don’t know the boundaries of your expression of that. I may have phrased things in ways you wouldn’t, or in ways that might concern you, because they have implications that you don’t want. But overall that’s how your position is coming over, to me.

            So perhaps we can start there. Because if I’m somewhere in the right direction, and you think I would want to advocate for that kind of scientism, then you definitely have me wrong.

            I don’t mind, engage or not, either way, to be honest, you’re a lovely caricature of yourself, as is. You can keep telling me you’re not listening if you like. It is fun to ridicule the ridiculous. But, then, you seem to misunderstand what bit of you I’ve been finding ridiculous.

          • Josh Magda

            From glancing at the page, I see a lot more virtual ink has been spent- but from the first two sentences I see that I will not be reading it. Perhaps wasting time is a hobby of yours.

          • Ian

            I love how you keep showing up to tell me you’re ignoring me.

            It doesn’t strike you, perhaps, as more than a little juvenile?

            Personally, I suspect I was wasting time from the first response to you, since you evidently failed to grasp what I was saying. But hope springs eternal. There are interesting issues here, if you’ve got the courage not to run away from them.

          • Josh Magda

            Continuing to pester someone when they’ve asked to be left alone about a particular subject strikes me as juvenile. Unlike yourself, I don’t find ridicule amusing and am letting you know that I’m not reading your multi-paragraph efforts out of courtesy for you. But that has just ended as well.

          • Ian

            I wasn’t aware you asked to be left alone. You claimed you were done with the conversation, but then keep coming back to make little snidey comments. And besides, posting in a comment thread saying “don’t reply to me” would be a rather obtuse approach anyway.

            There’s not an element of courtesy about your replies, from what I can see. You seem to be determined to have the last word. You’re welcome to stop at any time. I wonder if you’ll be able to. Will your ego let you? It’s amusing to see.

            We’ll see. In the mean time, I repeat that I am interested in genuinely engaging on the point that you’ve claimed is sarcastic, linguistic games, and pretence, but which you haven’t actually attempted to understand. From my previous post

            There is a kind of scientistic atheism which I think you are rejecting because you Know (not used derisively, I understand what you mean by it) that there is a deeper, metaphysical structure to the cosmos, which is not some function of the atomic, physical interactions of particles. It is Spirit, we might say, or at least spiritual. And as conscious beings in that spiritual matrix, we have the ability to relate to it consciously, as well as it being a fundamental part of our make up. Now I don’t know the boundaries of your expression of that. I may have phrased things in ways you wouldn’t, or in ways that might concern you, because they have implications that you don’t want. But overall that’s how your position is coming over, to me.

            So perhaps we can start there. Because if I’m somewhere in the right direction, and you think I would want to advocate for that kind of scientism, then you definitely have me wrong.

            I await your next ‘courtesy’, or (perhaps, one can hope) an actual attempt at engagement.

          • B.L.

            There is a difference between being religious and being spiritual. You are not far from the truth that religious people are lacking spiritual knowledge. I get the impression that Josh Magda is more spiritual than religious. When one is more spiritual they gain more of the truth.

          • Ian

            I’m not sure you read my comment, because all you’ve done in your reply is to say “no, spiritual knowledge is the deeper level”.

            Its a cheap game. I c ould say “no, spiritual people are shallow, because atheist people understand how spiritual knowledge works, they have a deeper knowledge of it”

            Can you see the cheap trick. It is just a response that declares you to be correct without any reason or evidence that you actually are.

            Arguments happen this way all the time, with no actual content, just everyone scrabbling to plant themselves on the high ground, as if that someone vindicates them.

        • Ian

          I don’t want to disabuse you of the real real World.

          My aim is to introduce you to the real real real World, of which you are clearly unaware.

      • B.L.

        You are doing the same thing that you are accusing Josh Magda of doing. You are telling that believers know they’re making it all up, that they have nothing underpinning their assertions except wishful thinking. You wish that was true perhaps they feel it deeply because they are actually are experiencing what you hope is not true.

        • Ian

          You are doing the same thing that you are accusing Josh Magda of doing

          No kidding!

          And what makes you think that was accidental?

  • Josh Magda

    (From the Amazon book summary)

    “And yet, when she turned to the recovery community to face a personal struggle, she found that imagining a higher power gave her a new freedom”

    Wow. You know, Barbara Ehrenreich just wrote a book on God too.
    This is what I mean by interpreting God as an ego function. We already KNOW that Spirit is. We feel better when we imagine a higher power because there IS a higher power- or we could just as easily say a deeper power. That power is our Heart and our Core, and the Heart of the Universe. It is Omega AS WELL as Alpha. How much stronger could we become, if we simply stopped vetoing, censoring, and censuring our basic intuition of the More? Why can’t we have our cake it and eat it too?

    • Nick G

      We already KNOW that Spirit is.

      No, we do not. This kind of assertion that people who disagree with you really know you are right is deeply arrogant and insulting.

      • Josh Magda

        “Yes, that would be nice.” – Nick

        If you’re offended, that’s your choice. I think that what you are goes farther down than “Nick” and farther down than biochemistry. Nick and biochemistry are an organismic outgrowth of the deeper reality.

        • Nick G

          No, it is not my choice. Your quote from me in another thread is irrelevant – because I do not agree with what appears to be your opinion, that anything we would like to be true, is true.

          • Josh Magda

            I don’t think it is irrelevant. I think that sentence has as much to say about our attempt together to ascertain truth, as anything else you have said. At least in part, that sentence is your Heart talking, in my judgment. The Heart is also an organ of Beauty detection. And the Heart has at least as much to say about what is true and what is real as reason, from my perspective.

            But that sentence doesn’t invalidate your reasoned opposition to a more benevolent worldview; it just indicates that you would like something more than your worldview for the human family, to be true. That matters epistemically to me. I know it doesn’t to you. We’ve established our metaphysical differences quite thoroughly.

          • Nick G

            More arrogance from you. It seems you can’t help it. You’re really not a very good advertisement for your worldview. Since you so framed your question that if reality was as you suggested, everyone would be better off, of course I would welcome that. In exactly the same way, if you’d said: “Suppose tomorrow, benevolent aliens were to arrive and provide everyone with everything material they needed, while preventing anyone oppressing anyone else but otherwise leaving us complete freedom, would you be pleased?”, then I’d have given the same answer. But neither of these scenarios is in the slightest degree plausible. All you’ve shown is that I prefer others to be happy. If you’d have simply asked me whether that is the case, I’d have told you so.

          • Josh Magda

            So far as I can tell, you haven’t been policing the borders of the missional materialist base camp for incursions of “benevolent alien theory.” You have, however, spent an ordinate amount of time harassing me and my worldview, when underneath it all you would like my worldview to be true.

            That matters epistemologically to me, as I do not separate the head from the Heart when pursuing an understanding of the way the World works.

          • Nick G

            Your claim of “harassment” is utterly absurd, and offensive to those who really suffer from harassment.

            you haven’t been policing the borders of the missional materialist base camp for incursions of “benevolent alien theory.”

            True, but I have criticised and mocked the concept of “The Singularity” – the notion that advances in artificial intelligence and related technologies will, within a few decades, make possible a veritable earthly paradise, within which those lucky enough to survive to that time could live an indefinitely extended life with greatly enhanced abilities. This is something I would really like to be true, and unlike your worldview, it does not immediately conflict with the obvious facts of suffering and evil, nor with naturalism. However, I judge it to be both technologically and politically grossly naive – a product of wishful thinking, like your worldview.

  • Josh Magda

    Some people have been offended by “the Heart already knows that Spirit is” and “deep down, people Know that they have a Heart…” Why? You don’t believe that you have a spiritual center, which I’m calling the Heart! And there is no “deep down” to you. These statements are total non sequiturs in your book. I’m not talking about your ego or your rational mind- of course these don’t believe in God.

    It’s like getting offended at some detail of Noam Chomsky’s generative grammar theory, when you don’t affirm the theory of generative grammar. I believe that Spirit is native and foundational to what we are, and that the Spirit is capable of recognizing Itself. You don’t. What’s new?

    Some of you may just be looking to get offended.

    • Nick G

      Or you may just be looking to offend while pretending otherwise. Your original claim was that: “We already KNOW that Spirit is”; with nothing at all about you not talking about “your ego or your rational mind” – that’s something you’ve added since. This claim was followed by the claim that those of us who disagree are: “vetoing, censoring, and censuring our basic intuition of the More.” – in other words, not being honest with ourselves. That’s arrogant and offensive – as is blaming the offense on those you have offended.

      • Josh Magda

        The original post talked about the Heart at length, and was mostly directed at religious people. I presume that they read this blog too. The experience of the mind vetoing the Heart is very common among religious liberals, which I am.

        I have reached the end of this particular merry-go-round ride with you too. Some people want to be offended (you) and other people think ridicule is, in their words, “fun” (Ian). I don’t think ridicule is fun and I don’t need to continue justifying an alleged offense to you where none was intended. Like Ian, you can either accept that or not accept that at face value.

        • Nick G

          I don’t accept it at face value, for reasons already given above.

  • Nick G

    Hmm. Neufeld’s longer video is a load of gobbledegook, mostly concerned with defending a claim that something he calls “Palamite weak panentheism” is theologically orthodox. I’ll happily leave the judgment of that matter to theologians! His view doesn’t seem to have anything in common with Nancy Abrams’, if the blurb for her book is accurate:

    God, she argues, is an “emergent phenomenon” that arises from the
    staggering complexity of humanity’s collective aspirations and is in
    dialogue with every individual. This God did not create the universe—it
    created the meaning of the universe. It’s not universal—it’s planetary.

    Neither seems to have much in common with James McGrath’s beliefs, insofar as I understand the latter. I couldn’t make head or tail of Dwight Welch.

    Conclusion: “panentheism” doesn’t have a clear meaning at all, so the question of whether panentheism is atheism can’t even be usefully raised.

  • Gary

    Concerning word salads and panentheism, the proto orthodox seemed to like using the word-salad argument against their opponents on universe and origins. If only they could explain YAHWEH and the trinity with the same sense of humor.

    As seen on a blog in 180AD:
    Irenaeus to Valentinus:
    “But, in that case, nothing hinders any other, in dealing with the same subject, to affix names after such a fashion as the following: There is a certain Proarche, royal, surpassing all thought, a power existing before every other substance, and extended into space in every direction. But along with it there exists a power which I term a Gourd; and along with this Gourd there exists a power which again I term Utter-Emptiness. This Gourd and Emptiness, since they are one, produced (and yet did not simply produce, so as to be apart from themselves) a fruit, everywhere visible, eatable, and delicious, which fruit-language calls a Cucumber. Along with this Cucumber exists a power of the same essence, which again I call a Melon. These powers, the Gourd, Utter-Emptiness, the Cucumber, and the Melon, brought forth the remaining multitude of the delirious melons of Valentinus. For if it is fitting that that language which is used respecting the universe be transformed to the primary Tetrad, and if any one may assign names at his pleasure, who shall prevent us from adopting these names, as being much more credible [than the others], as well as in general use, and understood by all?”

    So the same arguments have been used throughout history on theological origins.

    • Josh Magda

      It’s a very common tactic. And largely an unconscious one. If you’re not experiencing the depth dimension, it’s easy to assume that people who are, are manufacturing something out of whole cloth.

    • Josh Magda

      It’s also very important to me personally, that for years I secretly hoped I would one day find something in Christian origins that indicated these men had any experience with God in children or the very young, the way I had as a childcare worker. The “fathers” had serious patriarchy-induced mental problems that would be cleared up by such encounters.

      Then a couple years ago I read a single line: “I saw the Word in an infant.” By Valentinius. The first and only such line I have encountered. And yet he’s a heretic. It just goes to show how much stock can be placed in so-called orthodoxy’s claim to be the authentic and living lineage of Jesus. “Suffer the little children to come unto me, for such is the kingdom of heaven.”

      • Gary

        Just for academic purposes (not reading any personal revelations into it for me!), Gnostics have a common theme “on Jesus as a child”, from Nag Hammadi Scriptures (Meyer), “Gospel of Judas 33,21 (note 5), Secret Book of John II, 2, Revelation of Paul 18, Gospel of Thomas 4, Acts of John 88; Hippolytus Refutation of All Heresies 6.42.2. Here the word translated “child” could also be understood as “apparition” or even “veil”.”

        • Gary

          Since I have nothing better to do, might as well finish with the actual texts:

          Gospel of Judas 33,21
          “Many a time he does not appear as himself to his disciples, but you find him as a child among them.”

          Secret Book of John II, 2
          “As I was looking, it seemed to be an elderly person. Again it changed its appearance to be a youth. Not that there were several figures before me. Rather, there was a figure with several forms within the light. These forms were visible through each other, and the figure had three forms.”

          Revelation of Paul 18
          “The little child [answered and said], “First tell me your name, so that [then I may show] you the way.” [The little child] knew [very well who Paul was]. He only wished to engage him in conversation with these words, [that] he might find an excuse to speak with him. The little child continued and said, “I know who you are, Paul, for you have been blessed from your mother’s womb. Since I have [seen] that you were [going up to Jerusalem] to your fellow [apostles], that is why [I] was [sent to you]. I am the [Spirit who is with] you. [Awaken your mind, Paul]…….”

          Gospel of Thomas 4
          “Jesus said, “The person old in days will not hesitate to ask a little child seven days old about the place of life, and that person will live. For many of the first will be last and will become a single one.””

          Acts of John 88
          “For when he had chosen Peter and Andrew, which were brethren, he cometh unto me and James my brother, saying: I have need of you, come unto me. And my brother hearing that, said: John, what would this child have that is upon the sea-shore and called us? And I said: What child? And he said to me again: That which beckoneth to us. And I answered: Because of our long watch we have kept at sea, thou seest not aright, my brother James; but seest thou not the man that standeth there, comely and fair and of a cheerful countenance? But he said to me: Him I see not, brother; but let us go forth and we shall see what he would have.”

          Hippolytus Refutation of All Heresies 6.42.2
          “For Valentinus says he saw a newborn babe, and questioned it to find out who it was. And the babe answered him saying that it was the Logos. Thereupon he adds to this certain pompous tale, intending to derive from this his attempt at [forming] a sect.”

          5.7.20, a saying said to be derived from the Gospel of Thomas: “One who seeks will find me in children from seven years, for there, hidden in the fourteenth age, I am revealed.” Note 11, “Probably an uncircumcised child”.

          • Josh Magda

            Thanks for putting this together. The Valentinus quote still looks like the only quote that might be based off an accompanying historical instance of someone meeting a literal infant and writing about seeing God in them. Though I could have sworn Valentinus himself said something like “I saw the Word in an infant.” I think it was in the “Gnostic Bible” that was put out a few years ago.

          • Gary

            Hippolytus Refutation of All Heresies was written against Valentinus, supposedly quoting Valentinus in one of his texts. I don’t think the Valentinus document exists today, which is too bad. Whether there is any historical connection is the million dollar question. What someone actually sees, and what that person thinks they see, and they write about, are two different questions. I have my own doubts about Christian claims, let alone Gnostic claims.

          • Josh Magda

            You seem to know your stuff; perhaps it was just a line from the “Valentinus” section of the Gnostic Bible.

            Anyways, I’m bored with claims tonight and am ready to collapse into God after a long, hard day of doing absolutely nothing. It’s nutso anyways trying to talk about G-d. Positively bonkers. I guess it’s of some value here and there. But God absorbs all of our chatter like a sponge absorbs water. It’s fun to get squeegeed by Big Momma, time and time again- because She is always better than our yammering about Her.

            So the mystery remains. Did the ancient man in the story-book see the Logos in an infant? I don’t know. I do Know God is in every infant- or more precisely, every infant is in It. It’s an amazing thing to watch God run around a playground on two little legs.

            Though much of the time, watching God do His thing can be pretty boring… because when you get right down to it, there’s not a whole lot else to look at.

  • Josh Magda

    Beau and I have been (trying to) have a Good conversation. I don’t really have anything else to say on NDEs, but in the wake of that conversation I’ve been thinking a little tonight on the ways that (most) nonscientific spiritual epistemologies are different than scientific ones. Here’s what I came up with.

    Nonscientific spiritual epistemology…

    1. The human interior participates in the investigation and is receptive to other interiors, moving towards the subject, rather than “standing back” and being “objective”
    2. Talks “with” or “to” rather than “at” or “about”
    3. Is qualitative rather than quantitative
    4. Explores relationships and trinities (diversities within a larger Unity) rather than discrete and separate objects or selves
    5. Presumes a transpersonal Unity- a “tie that binds”- and seeks to be in accord with this Unity across all dimensions of Life and experience
    6. Is inseparable from a Good Heart, and is invalidated by gross immorality
    7. Assumes Cosmic optimism and Original Blessing- “it is Good to be”
    8. Does not separate the head from the heart, even at the level of its “fact-finding” technologies.
    9. Does not automatically exclude scientifically unverifiable data
    10. Is (ultimately) nondualistic, and hence (ultimately) nonrational & transrational
    11. Begins in radical amazement and results in trust, not “begins in doubt and results in doubt” the way science does.
    12. Seeks to heal the illusory divide between Loving and knowing- “unless you see a thing in the light of Love, you do not see it all” – Kathleen Raine

  • John Thomas

    I don’t understand why panentheism need to be equated with atheism. In fact, I am more inclined towards pantheism as explicated in say, Advaita Vedanta. And I don’t agree that it is equivalent to atheism. It might not be equivalent to any anthropomorphized conceptions of God that those who follow current major organized religions have in their mind, and by default the conceptions of God that modern day atheists rail against. But that doesn’t mean that such conception of God is equivalent to atheism. I find the conception of God as argued by Aristotle (as rational intelligence animating the cosmos and Ground of Existence) and Stoic conception of God as rational intelligence or Logos behind the cosmos more plausible than the God actively interested in affairs of a particular group of homo sapiens who offer allegiance to him or a God requiring anything from anyone. It rather makes sense to me when Vedantists say that it is better for human beings to use his intelligence to contemplate about that ultimate non-changing reality and find the peacefulness while living in this world rather than living the entire life running after happiness offered by fleeting realities and continuously worrying about gaining and losing them until their death without any self-reflection about it.