So You Do Want Me To Read Your Holy Book (a FVC)

July 5, 2007 at 8:08 am 81 comments

Circular ReasoningAfter the overwhelming response on my last blog entry “Don’t Ask Me To Read Your Holy Book,” I figured I finally had material for a FAQ. Then I realized many of the comments would be difficult to formulate in question form, so instead, this is a FVC (Frequently Voiced Criticisms). Since I cannot possibly answer everyone, and since I can hardly expect readers to wade through over 300 comments to find my viewpoint, I will try to answer some general trends here.

How can you criticize something you have never read?

This objection is based on the following quote:

I will admit that I haven’t read the entire Bible. Does this mean I cannot be critical of Christianity? Does the fact that I haven’t read the Koran mean I cannot be critical of Islam? Absolutely not! I don’t believe them. The basic premise of these books is that they are of divine nature. They’re built on the assumption that they are inspired by or directly delivered from God, creator and all.

This admittedly looks rather strange without context, possibly even in context, because you can’t read my mind and find out what I really meant. I was not trying to defend the rather indefensible position “It’s OK to criticize something you don’t know anything about”. I do know something about both the Bible and the Koran. I know very well the important stories in the Bible, and I know well the assumption that underlies both Christianity, Judaism, Islam and other monotheistic religions: there is a single creator who is still active in the world. Further, this God is usually given the powers omnipotence and omniscience, possibly even omnibenevolence.

I feel confident to reject the foundations of all these monotheistic religions because of lack of evidence.

I should also note that theists, by virtue of following one religion, automatically reject all other religions, and I would guess that no one has read the major works on every religion. It seems we all do it: we reject religions based on their foundations rather than based on thorough reading of their holy texts. Christians will reject all religions not based on the Christian god. Atheists will reject all religions based on a god.

Just because some believers use circular reasoning doesn’t mean all believers are wrong

True. I wasn’t trying to prove all believers wrong. I was simply pointing out a common flaw.

Little bonus factoid: there’s actually an apologetic tradition called presuppositionalism that is entirely based on circular reasoning. It tries to show that one must assume God in order to use logic, science, morality, or some other highly useful method, and that it therefore would be absurd not to assume God exists.

You have concluded without experiment that the Bible or some other holy book is untrue – that’s not very scientific, is it?

On the contrary, it is a basic scientific and logical principle that we assume something is wrong. The burden of proof lies on the positive claim, and in science, one sets out to disprove a hypothesis, only verifying it by showing that one is unable to falsify it.

It stands to reason that the Bible, or rather those who claim it to be true, has the burden of proof on proving it. I’m entirely justified in reading religious texts with a skeptical attitude. If it makes you feel any better, that’s what I do with other nonfiction texts too.

You seem awfully determined on discrediting religion; did you have a bad experience, or what?

I can’t name any particular experience that made me an atheist, and neither can I name any experience that has led me to write about religion and lack thereof on the internet. I’m not bitter, because I never was much more than a cultural Christian anyway.

I am, as I like to think others are, concerned with finding the truth. If that means rejecting all religions, I will reject all religions.

You will notice that I don’t write much about Greek or Norse mythology. It has to do with the fact that (1) no one believes them and (2) even if there were some believers, they would have had zero influence on society. Now the situation with Christianity or Islam is quite different: they’re widely held to be true (taken together, half the world’s population believe in Islam or Christianity), and decisions that have to do with the real world are based on them.

Besides, I like discussing eternal questions. There comes a point when the discussion gets so clouded with fallacies and anger and fundamentalism that all the fun is gone. After one such moment, I wrote the post about circular reasoning.

You are rude and/or a fundamentalist

I’m sorry you feel that way. If you’d be so kind as to provide examples, I’d be grateful.

Also, I think you have a peculiar definition of fundamentalism.

God is love, your criticisms are irrelevant

There are a billion different interpretations of scripture. I can’t say which one is most valid, and I don’t think anyone else can either. What I do know is that it would be rather silly to call oneself a Christian if one didn’t believe in the Christian god and the key events: crurifixion, resurrection and so on.

As someone in the comments said (Pollyanna?), Christianity is a package deal. Yes, I believe in love, though it doesn’t make me a Christian.

You should allow people to have whatever faith they want

This is an atheism/skepticism blog. It would be rather silly not to expect some writings on the topic. You, having gone to the active step of visiting this blog, should expect to see your faith challenged.

Unlike the impression you might get, I’m usually pretty casual about my nonbelief. I rarely if ever discuss religion in real life. If I do, it’s usually because someone else brought it up. I don’t approach people on the street and tell them about atheism, I don’t vandalize churches, I don’t harass Christians.

I do however think that when a discussion warrants it, attacking religions is fair. If you argue that gay marriages shouldn’t be allowed because the Bible describes it as sin, I’m well within my rights to attack the Bible’s moral and historical authority. People can have what faith they want, but when it’s relevant in a discussion, it’s fair to discuss it.

I have previously criticized Dawkins, Harris and their intellectual comrades for being a bit too active in their religious critiques; I find some of their critiques to be irrelevant. Still, I agree with much they say, in particular that religions shouldn’t be artificially sealed from criticism. The question is simply, when is it relevant? I’d say it’s definitively relevant on de-conversion.com, but maybe that’s just me.

The Bible was written so long ago that we’d be hard-pressed to find other sources; therefore, you should accept the Bible as validating itself

If the events in the Bible cannot be verified with outside sources, the Bible’s authencity is in serious trouble, because those events are too damn extraordinary not to leave some mark on the world outside of religious scripture.

Genesis and the resurrection (or other important biblical events) were one-off events; they’re not reproducable, so we can’t scientifically investigate them

I guess all the scientists who work on the beginning of the universe, our planet and life would be pissed to hear that their work isn’t scientific.

The Big Bang is the ultimate one-off event, happening only once in the lifetime of a universe. Still, that’s the model scientists have stuck to for forty years. If you’re interested in why, you can check out the evidence over at talk.origins.

What I’m saying is that this is a poor excuse. We’d expect these events to have consequences, just like BB or the beginning of life, and we’d expect to be able to find them.

Science cannot say anything about areas that require faith

It depends: are you admitting that the only way to justify a belief in God is faith, or are you saying that science cannot discuss religious claims? If the latter, you’re in the area of NOMA (Non-overlapping magisteria), which claims that religion and science are equally valid, non-overlapping methods to explain non-overlapping fields of interest.

Unfortunately, an active god is bound to leave some mark on the world. If you still want to claim NOMA, you must either admit that God isn’t doing anything in the world (i.e., you are a deist) and consequently that you have no reason to believe, or you must take the agnostic position, which means you’re basically saying “all we can ever know about God is that God is unknowable”. That severely handicaps religions, because they tend to say a lot about God.

NOMA and its flaws is a topic for another blog post. If you really can’t wait, I’ve written about it before, on my personal, now-discontinued blog.

Science/atheism is just another religion

No, they’re not. They don’t fulfill any of the criteria. There are no systems of ethics, no teachings, no gods, no beliefs, no anything. Atheism is a position on a single question, and science is a method for finding out things in the world.

OK, so they’re not, but you certainly have a religious attitude towards them

I don’t think I have any absolute knowledge. I do however think science is the best approximation for knowledge about the physical world.

None of what you say is as novel or insightful as you seem to think

I’m far from the only one to notice these patterns in religious thought, nor have I claimed to be. All thinkers, great or small, stand on the shoulders of those who came before them.

The comments are more insightful than the essay

Well, that’s great. The comments wouldn’t have been there if I didn’t write the post in the first place, no would they?

I agree completely, but you’re not radical enough; Christians are stupid/incapable of rational thought/uncreative/something like that

You are wrong. Generalizing over two billion people in that way is beyond stupid.

If I’ve missed anything here, feel free to ask in the comments. Now that the worst storm has gone, hopefully the comment field won’t be so cluttered that it becomes impossible to keep track.

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You do not need religion to be moral A Nostalgic Trip Down Pentecostal Lane

81 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Brad  |  July 5, 2007 at 10:19 am

    OK, this addendum was very helpful in sorting through all the comments. I hope you don’t get so many recurring questions now (and that people take the time to read this, too).

    I still have a question that is not quite covered by this:

    On what basis is subjective truth in line or in accordance with the scientific method?

    I ask this because a recurring theme seems to be that objective truth claims made by Christians are attacked by:
    1.) Labeling them close-minded, discriminatory, or hateful (depending on the vehemence of the accuser), and
    2.) They obviously cannot be true because science has proved them wrong.

    It seems that both of these claims (that there are both multiple truths, yet science denies the objective truth claim of Christianity) are in conflict with each other. Please clarify.

    And then, once at this impasse, where does science disprove the existence of God? For if we can acknowledge that a creator existed, is it really out of his power to reveal himself in any way He chooses (i.e. the bible)?

    I feel like I may no be verbalizing this quite as I am trying to, so if you have any questions, please let me know.

    Thanks!
    -Brad

  • 2. cragar  |  July 5, 2007 at 10:34 am

    I thought your first post was very good and this is a good followup.

    I think one of the biggest criticisms was the remark where you admitted you hadn’t read the entire Bible. Yet how many Christians have actually read the entire thing. Some devout ones, yes, but I bet that is a very low percentage of any congregation, I am sure it is under 5%.

    IMO it doesn’t take too much reading of the Bible to start to have some doubts, and I know when I decided to read it at a young age after Genesis I knew I didn’t believe a large percentage of what was written there could have happened, so it was the first part of the Bible that made me skeptical of the rest.

    And even though few would admit it, I bet you and the other writers of this site have as good a knowledge if not better than many of the commentators of your last post in many parts of the Bible.

  • 3. The Barefoot Bum  |  July 5, 2007 at 11:46 am

    Very nice post. I’ve added it to my list of references.

  • 4. Simen  |  July 5, 2007 at 12:18 pm

    Brad, what do you mean “subjective truth”? Is that some kind of post-modern idea, like “my personal truth”?

    And then, once at this impasse, where does science disprove the existence of God?

    It doesn’t. It merely renders the existing god-beliefs irrational by showing that they don’t line up with reality.

  • 5. PalMD  |  July 5, 2007 at 3:02 pm

    As much as I find Dawkins abrassive, he does make some very useful arguments from probability. Just because God is possible, doesn’t make it probably. Gravity is both possible and probable. A million monkeys banging at keyboards could type out the complete works of Shakespeare, but it isn’t likely.
    An omnipotent being interfering in all aspects of the universe is possible, but very unlikely.

  • 6. superhappyjen  |  July 5, 2007 at 4:16 pm

    I’m glad you wrote this follow up post. I read part of the bible years ago and stopped at Genesis because I found it tedious, and unbelivable. I actually read farther than I would have had this been another non-fiction or fiction book because I knew the book was so important to so many people.

  • 7. tobeme  |  July 5, 2007 at 4:41 pm

    This was a very smart way to answer all those comments. Great job!

  • 8. Brad  |  July 5, 2007 at 7:08 pm

    Simen,

    Yes, by subjective truth, I do mean a kind of post-modern personal truth. I have so often seen the “whatever works for you” truth and pluralism that is justified with the scientific method. It doesnt seem to make a whole lot of sense to me.

    “It doesn’t. It merely renders the existing god-beliefs irrational by showing that they don’t line up with reality.”

    OK then, if the hypothesis has been disproved, what is the new hypothesis? What is the alternative?

    My point is that if it can rule out Christianity as being irrational, where is the rational proof for the alternative? If the alternative is that there is NO God at all, where does that leave you? Or is the goal more nihilistic than scientific?

    These are honest questions, and I mean no disrespect or offense. It just seems that this whole thread has been so incredibly deconstructionist, that we are all telling each other we are wrong, but never really giving an alternative. What good is being accomplished beyond the destruction of one’s existing belief?

  • 9. Simen  |  July 5, 2007 at 7:18 pm

    I have so often seen the “whatever works for you” truth and pluralism that is justified with the scientific method. It doesnt seem to make a whole lot of sense to me.

    No such thing is justified by the scientific method.

    OK then, if the hypothesis has been disproved, what is the new hypothesis? What is the alternative?

    I dunno. Do you? The alternative is to keep searching. Either you find answers or you don’t. I for one prefer admitting ignorance for the moment to holding a false belief.

    My point is that if it can rule out Christianity as being irrational, where is the rational proof for the alternative? If the alternative is that there is NO God at all, where does that leave you? Or is the goal more nihilistic than scientific?

    What do you mean? I am not obliged to provide an alternative if I prove one hypothesis to be false. Sometimes, it’s OK to say “I don’t know, but I’m working on finding it out”.

    It just seems that this whole thread has been so incredibly deconstructionist, that we are all telling each other we are wrong, but never really giving an alternative. What good is being accomplished beyond the destruction of one’s existing belief?

    Don’t you want to have true beliefs? Do you want to have false beliefs? if you want to have true beliefs, surely having false beliefs is suboptimal. Ergo, you’re in a better position if you abandon a false belief.

  • 10. PalMD  |  July 5, 2007 at 7:36 pm

    Very well said. Thank you.

  • 11. Brendan  |  July 5, 2007 at 8:58 pm

    “I don’t know” is a valid hypothesis.

  • 12. Brad  |  July 5, 2007 at 9:23 pm

    I disagree.

    It’s easy to throw stones and criticize without having an option to back it up. Honestly, it seems like a bit of a cop-out. “I’m still looking,” while very possibly legitimate, can also be false, and thus in need of stone throwing based on that logic.

    “Don’t you want to have true beliefs? Do you want to have false beliefs? if you want to have true beliefs, surely having false beliefs is suboptimal. Ergo, you’re in a better position if you abandon a false belief.”

    All I can say to that is “ditto.” Not particularly profound, I know, but I have found the true belief.

    hahaha, “agree to disagree?”

  • 13. superhappyjen  |  July 5, 2007 at 9:55 pm

    “What good is being accomplished beyond the destruction of one’s existing belief?”

    I’m curious, whose beliefs do you think are being destroyed here, Brad? Yours? Some other Christian reader? And if these discussions are so destructive, why do you participate in them? (Not that I want you to leave, I like opposing view points)

  • 14. Thinking Ape  |  July 5, 2007 at 10:04 pm

    brad says, “, but I have found the true belief.”

    How can you argue with that?

    Among all of these comments, notably the ones critical of simen’s original post, no one has supplied an answer to WHY they believe what they believe. I would re-convert right now if someone could give me a reasonable answer to why they believe their presuppositions concerning the supernatural explanations in the Bible are true. To be reasonable and exclusive it must both be beyond their own personal experience, which could easily be attributed to Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, etc., or an argument from authority, such as the Bible itself.

    If one cannot find one REASON, than it must be by FAITH. If it is by FAITH and FAITH alone, than every pseudo-apologist Christian here should give up this attempt to disprove anything on this blog and own up to the ideal of FAITH.

  • 15. HeIsSailing  |  July 6, 2007 at 12:08 am

    Brad sez:
    “Yes, by subjective truth, I do mean a kind of post-modern personal truth. I have so often seen the “whatever works for you” truth and pluralism that is justified with the scientific method.”

    Brad, this does not make sense. Can you provide an example of how the scientific method has ever justified a truth that may or may not work for any of us?

    Brad continues:
    “My point is that if it can rule out Christianity as being irrational, where is the rational proof for the alternative?”

    I ruled out Christianity because close scrutiny of the Bible, not only its contents but its history of authorship, its origins and transmission reveals it to be an unlikely source of Divine Truth. This was my main reason for rejecting Christianity.

    The only alternative that I found to replace my Christian belief was the belief in loving for my neighbor as myself. Not as a way to acheive salvation without Jesus help, but just because it is the right thing to do – as unachievable as it is. Not very profound, but I found that people do not need the sanctification of the Holy Spirit to strive for that goal.

  • 16. Simen  |  July 6, 2007 at 7:30 am

    Brad, you do know that one doesn’t need an alternative hypothesis to falsify a hypothesis? I’m not required by logic or scientific principles to provide an alternative explanation. I only have to show that your hypothesis leads to a contradiction either in logic or in evidence.

    I don’t know is still very much an acceptable answer. This “if you don’t have an alternative, shut up” attitude is very wrong. I will ask again: if you had the choice, would you rather hold a false belief or remain ignorant?

    I’ll even provide an example. I’ll assume you have kids for the sake of arguments. Say there is a burning house some blocks away from where you live. Would you rather falsely believe your children to be in it, go try to save them and possibly perish in the flames based on a false belief, or remain ignorant of the fire? If I told you your children weren’t in that burning house, would you demand that I gave an alternative explanation for where they might be?

    Acting on false information will lead to stupid decisions of one form or another. Consistently acting on false beliefs about the very nature of reality seems to have a huge potential for stupid decisions.

  • 17. Epiphanist  |  July 6, 2007 at 8:33 am

    Good posts and interesting. I particularly appreciated your comments “Yes, I believe in love” and “People can have what faith they want,” Thought you might be getting warm and fuzzy until I read about science/atheism – “There are no systems of ethics, no teachings, no gods, no beliefs, no anything.” I don’t believe that degree of detachment, austerity or objectivity can exist in a human. Science/atheism has value to people so there will be baggage that belongs to it – like ethics and beliefs.

  • 18. kramii  |  July 6, 2007 at 8:37 am

    Simen:

    Thank you for taking the time to write this post. It certainly clarifies your position. You are obviously a clear-headed individual (far more so than I am), your reasoning is brilliant and your arguments strong. After careful consideration, I find myself in agreement with much of what you have to say (and yes, I am a Theist).

    There are, however, still some things I’d like cleared up, if you have time.

    It is a basic scientific and logical principle that we assume something is wrong.

    (1) There are some things that even science takes by faith. For example, scientists assume that the mechanisms of logic actuall exist outside our own heads.

    (2) Surely, “the universe is godless” is a positve statement, and the burden is on the one who believes it to prove it?

    The burden of proof lies on the positive claim, and in science, one sets out to disprove a hypothesis, only verifying it by showing that one is unable to falsify it.

    (3) Kurt Godel showed that in mathematics there are claims which (a) are true, (b) cannot be proven, (c) cannot be dis-proven. As mathematics is the basis of scientific method, it follows that there are statements about the universe that are both true and unprovable.

    In general, then, it seems foolish to dismiss a hypothesis as false simply because it has not yet been proven?

    Regards.

  • 19. HeIsSailing  |  July 6, 2007 at 8:42 am

    Brad sez:
    “It’s easy to throw stones and criticize without having an option to back it up. Honestly, it seems like a bit of a cop-out. “I’m still looking,” while very possibly legitimate, can also be false, and thus in need of stone throwing based on that logic.”

    Baloney. I don’t believe there is a creature named Bigfoot. I don’t believe there is a lost continent called Atlantis. I don’t believe there is a mysterious energy portal called The Bermuda Triangle. I think the claims for all three are fallacious. I think neither of those things exists, and I have no alternative idea to replace any of them. There is no void left by their non-existance that needs to be filled. They just don’t exist. Period. End of Story.

  • 20. Simen  |  July 6, 2007 at 9:06 am

    Epiphanist,

    “There are no systems of ethics, no teachings, no gods, no beliefs, no anything.” I don’t believe that degree of detachment, austerity or objectivity can exist in a human. Science/atheism has value to people so there will be baggage that belongs to it – like ethics and beliefs.

    Atheists have ethics and beliefs, however these beliefs are only incidental to their atheism, not required by it.

    Kramii,

    (1) There are some things that even science takes by faith. For example, scientists assume that the mechanisms of logic actuall exist outside our own heads.

    You wouldn’t be able to say much without logic, that’s true.

    (2) Surely, “the universe is godless” is a positve statement, and the burden is on the one who believes it to prove it?

    That’s not a claim I make. I make the claim “existing religions don’t seem to align with reality” and “as far as we know, there are no signs of an actual deity present in the world today”. Neither of these mean there cannot be a god, but they do imply that it is very, very unlikely.

    (3) Kurt Godel showed that in mathematics there are claims which (a) are true, (b) cannot be proven, (c) cannot be dis-proven. As mathematics is the basis of scientific method, it follows that there are statements about the universe that are both true and unprovable.

    Gödel’s much-misapplied theorems do not apply here. The incompleteness theorems together say that a formal system proving basic arithmetic truths must either be inconsistent or incomplete. This doesn’t in any way limit what science can say about the real world.

    In general, then, it seems foolish to dismiss a hypothesis as false simply because it has not yet been proven?

    And yet again, Russell’s teapot. There is a teapot too small to observe from earth circling around Pluto. Do you believe it or not? Do you dismiss it as false? I do.

  • 21. Joey Cope  |  July 6, 2007 at 10:51 am

    As a Christian, I disagree with a good number of the positions you have taken. And I’m not confident that your logic is flawless. However, I haven’t read everything you’ve written and I refuse to make judgments until I understand you more fully. Regardless, I am grateful for your gracefulness in your approach. Far too many of us on far too many sides of issues, isolate ourselves with our harshness. In what I’ve seen thus far, you have not. Thanks.

  • 22. Brad  |  July 6, 2007 at 11:10 am

    Wow… well, I certainly did not expect so many responses to that one comment.

    1.) I am not claiming that you are compelled to give an alternative hypothesis on the basis of logic of the scientific method. The claim is far more based on the simple dynamics of conversation. I am NOT saying, “well, you don’t have a better solution, so shut up.” I would hope that I could be given the same respect in return. It was a question I felt was reasonable and logical if you feel my faith is so wrong. This one-directional criticism is very easy when you have nothing to risk yourself.

    2.) Prove, beyond any reasonable doubt, that Christianity cannot be true. I still have yet to hear a convincing argument, and “the burden of proof lies with them” line is not exactly what I’d call proof. You keep saying that “science has proven that it is highly unlikely that any diety can exist,” yet you have not said in what way this has been shown.

    On short, you can give me all the “evidence” you have, and I can give you all the evidence I have, and we will still disagree with each other. I will admit, that faith would not be faith if there were not some degree of uncertainty, but I do see the cards falling in favor of Jesus.

    I believe in the truth of this, and I hope that this can be respected in conversation.

    “Acting on false information will lead to stupid decisions of one form or another.”

    You may as well be speaking for me, but from the opposite perspective.

  • 23. Simen  |  July 6, 2007 at 11:32 am

    This one-directional criticism is very easy when you have nothing to risk yourself.

    Indeed, criticizing Christianity is easy because there are so many flaws.

    I welcome you to find flaws in scientific explanations. I’m sure it will be a step forward for all of us.

    Prove, beyond any reasonable doubt, that Christianity cannot be true. I still have yet to hear a convincing argument, and “the burden of proof lies with them” line is not exactly what I’d call proof. You keep saying that “science has proven that it is highly unlikely that any diety can exist,” yet you have not said in what way this has been shown.

    This is not what I’m saying. I’m saying (a) most of the supernatural events in Christianity are highly unlikely and (b) there is no rational reason to believe them.

    There is no evidence for any of the events in the Bible. It is both externally and internally inconsistent. God din’t create earth, or life, or the universe, or else he did so and made it seem like he didn’t (now why would you believe that). There was no great flood. No evidence of the ressurection or ascension to Heaven has been uncovered.

    You’re basing your worldview on an old book composed of hearsay and stories. Not one of the people that wrote the New Testament can be verified to have witnessed the events they describe. The old testament is similarly full of debunked historical and scientific claims.

    All this means that if Christianity is true, there is still no rational reason to believe it.

    “Acting on false information will lead to stupid decisions of one form or another.”

    You may as well be speaking for me, but from the opposite perspective.

    You’re the one questioning the value of debunking false claims even if you have no alternative.

  • 24. Simen  |  July 6, 2007 at 11:33 am

    I missed a word there. It should read “there’s no evidence for any of the supernatural events in the Bible”.

  • 25. HeIsSailing  |  July 6, 2007 at 11:35 am

    Brad sez:
    “well, I certainly did not expect so many responses to that one comment.”

    You must have hit a nerve there. I admit that you did with me. I left Christianity, not because I was looking for something better, but because I found my belief system to be implausible. To ask what we have to replace Christian belief is missing the whole point.

    Brad continues:
    “It was a question I felt was reasonable and logical if you feel my faith is so wrong.”

    I don’t know what your faith it – but I felt that my own faith was wrong. Again, I was not looking for another faith to replace it.

    Brad:
    “Prove, beyond any reasonable doubt, that Christianity cannot be true.”

    As I recently commented elsewhere, I found the Bible to be internally inconsistent and inconsistent with what I observe in the world around me. That does not prove anything – God can merely be testing my faith by throwing these inconsistencies in The Bible. But I can no more force myself to believe in a resurrected Jesus than I can force myself to believe in a literal person named Superman.

    Can you prove to me beyond a reasonable doubt that Islam is not true? No? But chances are you don’t believe it anyway. Can you force youself to have faith in Allah, to just believe despite how inconsistent belief in that diety is with the world you see around you? You can’t? Why not?

    (Yes, I am making assumptions here, correct me if I am wrong).

    When you answer those questions to yourself, ask yourself the same questions again, but replace Allah and Islam with Jesus and Christianity. The questions remain just as valid.

  • 26. kramii  |  July 6, 2007 at 12:27 pm

    Simen:

    Thanks for the reply, especially for explaining about the Gödel thing. I will need to think about that one some more.

    And yet again, Russell’s teapot. There is a teapot too small to observe from earth circling around Pluto. Do you believe it or not? Do you dismiss it as false? I do.

    You must forgive me, the Teapot analogy is new to me. I had to go and look it up. I am not sure I understand how it applis here.

    Now to me, it appears to me that there is a difference between a Teapot and God. I know that teapots are man-made. The chances of one finding its way into orbit around Pluto is remote. So, yes, I dismiss it as false.

    But, what if I said that I have reason to believe that there is a big rock in orbit around Pluto whose existence is yet to be confirmed using current scientific instruments. It seems less unlilely than the teapot. Would you still assume that it is not there?

    Please bear in mind that if you do assume that the rock is not there, then you won’t try looking for it. And if you do that, then of course you are unlikely to find it.

    There appears to be another important difference. Events on Pluto are not likely to impact our lives very much – neiher Teapots nor Big Rocks. What if the phenomena under question was closer to home. Imagine I said I was certain that a big black rock were hurtling from space and would land on your house at 18:00hrs today. Would you assume it was unreal and ignore it?

    If I was told something like that then I am sure I would start looking for evidence. I might even take Pascal’s wager and go out for the day.

  • 27. Brad  |  July 6, 2007 at 12:32 pm

    Alright, I will agree, and really have never disagreed, that these questions are valid. Please allow me to work on the foundation that my belief is true. If you do not work from that allownace (in reading what I have to say) then nothing I say will make a difference anyway. Again, I’m not asking that you believe the truthfulness of it all, only asking that you allow me to work from that.

    “This is not what I’m saying. I’m saying (a) most of the supernatural events in Christianity are highly unlikely and (b) there is no rational reason to believe them.”

    To an extent, I will agree. I’m working on the foundation that decisions should not always be made on reason alone (to whatever degree or proportion). We are not robots, and we are not all the same as the rest of the animal kingdom. I cannot, through science or any other means, explain why I am typing on this laptop instead of a chimpanzee. That is an assumption that makes many other assumptions. Thus, I would say that there is not “strictly or solely rational reason” to believe in Christianity because it cannot be limited to that alone. I also can look around me and see that much of the supernatural events in scripture do not happen day to day. They are unlikely, but far from impossible.

    I suppose that, like you, I reasoned through to my conclusion. By my starting point is not the likelihood of God’s existence, but the likelihood of our existence.

    Science has many plausible theories, none of which can currently be proven. Barring experience and biblical reasoning (which are very important and vital to my decision, but being omitted here for the sake of argument), science has not offered me a more plausible option.

    I’ll leave it at that, as I doubt we will ever agree, and seek only to understand each other.

  • 28. Simen  |  July 6, 2007 at 12:35 pm

    Now to me, it appears to me that there is a difference between a Teapot and God. I know that teapots are man-made. The chances of one finding its way into orbit around Pluto is remote. So, yes, I dismiss it as false.

    The analogy works like this: there’s some object X that’s too far away to observe, do you believe it or reject it? Since there is absolutely no reason to believe it, I feel confident to reject it for the moment.

    One instance is of course the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which is very analogous to God. There’s no evidence it’s there, but then again who can disprove it. I’m sure most theists debating atheists have heard that one.

    What if the phenomena under question was closer to home. Imagine I said I was certain that a big black rock were hurtling from space and would land on your house at 18:00hrs today. Would you assume it was unreal and ignore it?

    It depends. If some random dude on the street said it, I wouldn’t care. If someone I trusted told me, I’d investigate it, but I would not believe it until I had investigated. If there really was a rock on its way to my house, it would be observable.

    God is not observable. To draw your meteorite analogy closer to God, imagine that someone told you that – miraculously, out of thin air – a stone would appear over your house at 18:00 and crush it and its inhabitants to pieces.

    I would reject that by default, yes, unless someone provided such extraordinary evidence that the opposite would be a greater miracle.

  • 29. Simen  |  July 6, 2007 at 12:38 pm

    What is the likelihood of our existence? I have never heard or seen a calculation that makes sense. I think that there are too many variables to consider.

    Anyway, I could allow you to work from the assumption that your belief is true. But then it wouldn’t be much use in discussing your assumption. That would be circular reasoning.

    So, by assuming your belief is true, you make discussion about it impossible. That’s fine, if you don’t wish to discuss that assumption, but what useful can you say based on an assumption I don’t agree with that you won’t discuss?

  • 30. Thinking Ape  |  July 6, 2007 at 12:52 pm

    Is there no evangelical, bible-believing Christian that will answer my response #14? I would think that such an open invitation to convert someone back to the Lord would be salivating.

  • 31. HeIsSailing  |  July 6, 2007 at 1:00 pm

    kramii sez:
    “Now to me, it appears to me that there is a difference between a Teapot and God.”

    I gotta agree with you here, kramii. I have never been impressed with Russell’s Teapot. The stakes for God are much greater, and the impact of religion too great on humanity to reduce the metaphor to a mere imaginary teapot.

  • 32. Simen  |  July 6, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    It’s more of an example of why the “can’t disprove it so it must be true” mentality than a disproof of God.

    It tillustratse that we are justified in believing the teapot (or God) not to exist if we can find no compelling reason to think otherwise.

  • 33. HeIsSailing  |  July 6, 2007 at 1:05 pm

    Brad sez:
    “By my starting point is not the likelihood of God’s existence, but the likelihood of our existence.”

    Is your reasoning follow the lines of, why is there something rather than nothing? Why is there matter and not vacuum? Thus the need for a creator to reason it and bring it into existance?

    I don’t mean to trivialize it, I am just trying to understand what your reasoning is.

  • 34. Thinking Ape  |  July 6, 2007 at 1:06 pm

    If not a teapot, how about a fairy? How about an uber-fairy? Lets call the uber-fairy YHWH. Or, if size really is an issue, lets call this god Zeus, Jupiter, Sol…

    I’m sorry, but existence does not come in degrees. This was the point. This was also the point made by Kant against St.Anselm’s Ontological proof.

  • 35. HeIsSailing  |  July 6, 2007 at 1:12 pm

    Simon, TA – perhaps I just misunderstood the whole teapot analogy. Thanks for clearing it up.

    It would make more sense to me to try and disprove Thor rather than the teapot. I think the difference is in perspective. Russell was a comitted atheist from age 16 until his death (if memory serves). He was not much influenced by Christian belief. I have been saturated in it for my entire life. So I think our different perspectives cause us to see religious metaphors in different ways.

  • 36. Thinking Ape  |  July 6, 2007 at 1:26 pm

    Mmm, yes, HIS, I do see your point about comparison, but unlike Dawkins (another obviously committed atheist), Russell was not pointing out the ridiculousness of it all – he was simply putting the burden of proof of existence on those that they something exists, not on those that say something doesn’t exist (a point I think we at d-C agree on, no?)

  • 37. Simen  |  July 6, 2007 at 1:43 pm

    Quite right, Thinking Ape. Many things that seem ridiculous are actually true. For instance, it seems ridiculous to think that a photon can behave as both a particle and a wave, or that the earth is round.

    I don’t know where it comes from, but the principle of least miracle works fine: if you’re dealing with a ridiculous (/extreme/strange/bizarre/etc) claim, it is reasonable to believe it only when the opposite would be a bigger miracle.

  • 38. karen  |  July 6, 2007 at 2:36 pm

    Many things that seem ridiculous are actually true. For instance, it seems ridiculous to think that a photon can behave as both a particle and a wave, or that the earth is round.

    This is why the scientific method is so valuable. Things that seem intuitive to us – such as “The world is so beautifully designed it must be the work of an intelligent creator” – may be completely false.

    The bottom line is that we can’t rely on intuition, or emotional experience or anecdote to define our truth. It’s simply unreliable, and unnecessary when we have a method that has proven itself time and again to work well.

  • 39. Brad  |  July 6, 2007 at 2:59 pm

    “Many things that seem ridiculous are actually true. For instance, it seems ridiculous to think that a photon can behave as both a particle and a wave, or that the earth is round.”

    Yet you also said:

    “There is no evidence for any of the events in the Bible. It is both externally and internally inconsistent. God din’t create earth, or life, or the universe, or else he did so and made it seem like he didn’t (now why would you believe that). There was no great flood. No evidence of the ressurection or ascension to Heaven has been uncovered.”

    The two just don’t rationalize. I don’t point this out to say that you are wrong, but just that you are working from a similar mindset as I am, yet have not admitted as such.

    “You’re basing your worldview on an old book composed of hearsay and stories. Not one of the people that wrote the New Testament can be verified to have witnessed the events they describe. The old testament is similarly full of debunked historical and scientific claims.”

    Shakespeare wrote many plays, yet we have no actual proof that he wrote those ascribed to him because we do not have any of the original documents. In the same way, we do not have any of the originals of Plato’s “Republic,” Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War,” or Virgil’s “The Illiad.” Yet we do not question their authorship. Why?
    Matthew, Mark, and John are all ascribed to have been written by first hand witnesses. Luke wrote based on the accounts of first hand witnesses when he put together the gospel with his name and Acts. Why is this in question?

    Also, both the Old and New Testament have been used to prove and verify historical events, particularly their locations. It is not one sided at all.

    And lastly, please use the scientific method to show us why you love your wife. It is not the answer for everything.

  • 40. Noogatiger  |  July 6, 2007 at 3:23 pm

    Brad, why do you believe Jesus rather than Mohammad?
    Both are historical figures, so why do you choose one over the other? Why should I choose one over the other? Why should anyone choose one over the other?
    Especially if as it seems that your only point is: That we can’t dissprove the magical fairy tales?

  • 41. PalMD  |  July 6, 2007 at 3:53 pm

    Actually, there is a long, easily followed line and external witnesses to the whole Shakespeare thing. That’s like saying my Great-grandpa didn’t exist cuz no one is around to prove it (‘cept me).

    Also, as far as the probability of us existing, it is exactly 1. Before we existed, it was 1 or 0. This whole “athropic principle” is rather important. We exist. The probability is somewhat irrelevant, whether is was a Creator or natural processes, as we are already here.

    What is important is investigating HOW we got here…science can illuminate this. Religion cannot, as there are no theories, predictions, etc to help us along.

  • 42. karen  |  July 6, 2007 at 4:31 pm

    “Many things that seem ridiculous are actually true. For instance, it seems ridiculous to think that a photon can behave as both a particle and a wave, or that the earth is round.”

    Yet you also said:

    “There is no evidence for any of the events in the Bible. It is both externally and internally inconsistent. God din’t create earth, or life, or the universe, or else he did so and made it seem like he didn’t (now why would you believe that). There was no great flood. No evidence of the ressurection or ascension to Heaven has been uncovered.”

    The two just don’t rationalize. I don’t point this out to say that you are wrong, but just that you are working from a similar mindset as I am, yet have not admitted as such.

    Brad, I think you’re missing the point. The two statements aren’t at all contradictory.

    What’s at issue here is empirical evidence. So, even though it seems ridiculous from our vantage point to believe the earth is round, we have good evidence that it is. We have good evidence that photons have properties of both waves and particles. Nobody’s making that stuff up – we can prove it’s true scientifically.

    If you look for objective, outside evidence that the bible is true, you can’t find any. There’s no geologic data pointing to a worldwide flood or to the exodus of the Jews. There’s no evidence that a divine being created humankind from a lump of clay 6,000 years ago in the Middle East. We know it didn’t happen that way because we do have good scientific evidence for where early humans first evolved in Central Africa. Nobody has documented evidence that a dead body can regenerate after three days in a tomb – it just doesn’t happen.

    Do you see the point here? Also, you need to look into biblical scholarship. The gospels were very likely not written by the actual disciples of Jesus. They were written decades after his death, after Paul wrote the epistles, by anonymous authors who were definitely not eye-witnesses. They also contradict each other very seriously.

  • 43. PalMD  |  July 6, 2007 at 4:36 pm

    Also, on the whole idea of probability, it is possible that all of our scientific evidence is just a sham, and that the Bible is literally true…it just isn’t probable.

  • 44. Simen  |  July 6, 2007 at 4:41 pm

    Brad, you seemed to get it, but when you start talking about applying science to love you seem to falter again. Science is not the answer to anything. Yet it is the answer to something. No one here has claimed science is the answer to everything. Quit acting as if that were my or another commenter’s position, that’s called building straw men.

    That I say that some bizarre things are true harmonizes perfectly with what I said about the Bible, and it doesn’t show that I’m working within the same mindset as you. We think these strange things are true because of the evidence, the precise thing the Bible lacks.

    Shakespeare is irrelevant. I don’t care about the authorship of those either, and I know next to nothing about it, so I’ve no means of forming an informed opinion. Neither do I care.

    That someone asserts the Gospels to be first-hand accounts doesn’t mean they must be. The Jesus story is loaded with symbolic and mythological references, so it’s likely the early Christians borrowed some from other religions.

    The Bible, again, doesn’t validate itself, and it makes some extreme claims, so it must have some extreme evidence to back it up. It doesn’t make any sense at all that no one would record these miracles and earth-shaking events. That the Son of God has walked on earth must be the most news-worthy story the last couple of millenia.

  • 45. storbakken  |  July 6, 2007 at 6:53 pm

    Simen,

    Resurrection only has one “s.”

    God bless.

  • 46. Simen  |  July 6, 2007 at 7:00 pm

    Um…where do you see resurrection with more than one “s”, storbakken? Or is that supposed to be some symbolic reference?

  • 47. HeIsSailing  |  July 6, 2007 at 7:20 pm

    PalMD suggests:
    “it is possible that all of our scientific evidence is just a sham, and that the Bible is literally true”

    I used to have nightmares like that. What if everything I know about God is a trick? What if Satan is really God? What if my desire for eternal heaven will really land me in Hell????

    *shudder*

  • 48. superhappyjen  |  July 6, 2007 at 7:30 pm

    Brad said:
    “Shakespeare wrote many plays, yet we have no actual proof that he wrote those ascribed to him because we do not have any of the original documents. In the same way, we do not have any of the originals of Plato’s “Republic,” Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War,” or Virgil’s “The Illiad.” Yet we do not question their authorship. Why?”

    I just wanted to point out that there is a debate about whether or not Shakespeare wrote all his plays (or any of them). (Google “Did Shakespeare write his plays?” and you’ll confirm there are at least some people who are questioning authorship.

    Your point was that there are something we take as face value without questioning it. When I was studying Shakespeare’s plays in school, I did take it as truth when I was told that they were, in fact, written by Shakespeare. I “knew” he wrote them. Later, when I found out that this might be false, I took that into consideration. I now admit that I don’t know who wrote Shakespeare.

  • 49. storbakken  |  July 6, 2007 at 7:45 pm

    It’s in your big, bold eighth clause. No symbolism. Just a minor misspelling.

    God bless.

  • 50. Simen  |  July 6, 2007 at 7:54 pm

    Ah.

  • 51. Top Posts « WordPress.com  |  July 6, 2007 at 8:01 pm

    […] So You Do Want Me To Read Your Holy Book (a FVC) After the overwhelming response on my last blog entry “Don’t Ask Me To Read Your Holy Book,” I […] […]

  • 52. kramii  |  July 6, 2007 at 8:53 pm

    Simen:

    I am sorry to say, I am still not convinced by this claim:

    it is a basic scientific and logical principle that we assume something is wrong. The burden of proof lies on the positive claim, and in science, one sets out to disprove a hypothesis, only verifying it by showing that one is unable to falsify it.

    The alternative seems to me to simply accept that we do not know. Based on evidence and logic, we can assign a degree of uncertainty to a conjecture, but to assume it is false stills seems somewhat presumptuous.

    In #18 I said:

    For example, scientists assume that the mechanisms of logic actuall exist outside our own heads.

    You replied:

    You wouldn’t be able to say much without logic, that’s true.

    I am sure that you do not believe in the value of logic without proof. Do you base your acceptence of logic on your experience that it appears to work in the real world?

    In #28 you said:

    One instance is of course the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which is very analogous to God. There’s no evidence it’s there, but then again who can disprove it.

    I had not heard of the FSM before. I had to look it up. I must admit, the idea did make me chuckle.

    in #26 I said:

    Imagine I said I was certain that a big black rock were hurtling from space and would land on your house at 18:00hrs today. Would you assume it was unreal and ignore it?

    In #28 you replied:

    If there really was a rock on its way to my house, it would be observable.

    Suppose that the rock really is’t observable. Imagine that I was using a big telescope a couple of days ago, and spotted this thing. Now the moon is between the rock and the earh. You can’t see if for now. But later in the month it will glance off the moon and collide with your house at very high speed. You have no way to prove the rock’s existence until it is too late. Do you assume it is not real? Or do you stand back at a safe distance?

    God is not observable.

    A significant number of people would disagree with you there. Even if that were so, I suggest that it might not be prudent to assume that He does not exist even if He is hiding.

    To draw your meteorite analogy closer to God, imagine that someone told you that – miraculously, out of thin air – a stone would appear over your house at 18:00 and crush it and its inhabitants to pieces.

    I guess that is how my glancing-off-the-moon rock might look.

    Finally, I’d really like to say again how much I appreciate your articles and your reponses so far. You have really made me think. I am sure we will agree that is an extremely worthwhile acrivity.

  • 53. Simen  |  July 6, 2007 at 9:02 pm

    The alternative seems to me to simply accept that we do not know. Based on evidence and logic, we can assign a degree of uncertainty to a conjecture, but to assume it is false stills seems somewhat presumptuous.

    What else to do in the face of the arbitrary? When we see no evidence, we have no rational reason to believe it. On the other hand, no evidence is exactly what we’d expect if the claim was false.

    And no, if you told me my house would somehow be hit by a great rock that would not be observable until it was too late, I would probably assume it to be false. (Perhaps I would check out if that is even possible; after all, I do not know everything, and if someone did tell me that in all seriousness, I might be anxious despite knowing better. That I ascribe to evolution and not reason.)

  • 54. PalMD  |  July 6, 2007 at 10:23 pm

    Just a quick response to above about the authorship of classics like the Anaeid…authorship is often a point of vigorous debate. It is not a scientific question, however, as knowing if Hemingway actually wrote The Sun also Rises doesn’t help me figure out anything else.

  • 55. kramii  |  July 9, 2007 at 8:32 am

    Simen,

    I have been thinking about all this quite a lot this weekend.

    In #53 you wrote:

    On the other hand, no evidence is exactly what we’d expect if the claim was false.

    No evidence is also exactly what we’d expect if the claim is true, but the evidence is presently undetectable. I am sorry if I am being obtuse, but I still don’t see how science can prefer the assumption of falsehood over simply accepting a conclusion of “no evidence”.

    And no, if you told me my house would somehow be hit by a great rock that would not be observable until it was too late, I would probably assume it to be false.

    Suppose you were to receive an anonymous telephone call to say that there was a bomb in your fridge that would explode in the next 5 minutes, destroying your home and anything in it. If you open the door to check (or try to check in any other way), the bomb will explode. Are you willing to assume that the caller’s assertion is false, just because your preferred version of scientific method says that you should assume that it is?

    Perhaps I would check out if that is even possible;

    Surely this is looking for evidence? Why look for evidence for something that you assume is false?

    In #28 you wrote:

    It depends. If some random dude on the street said it, I wouldn’t care. If someone I trusted told me, I’d investigate it, but I would not believe it until I had investigated.

    I am not suggesting you should believe it, but I am asking you not to assume it is false. By examining the credentials of the person telling you about something, you appear to be looking for evidence. That actually suggests that you are not assuming the proposition to be false.

    Back in #53 you said:

    if someone did tell me that in all seriousness, I might be anxious despite knowing better. That I ascribe to evolution and not reason.

    Isn’t that because natural selection works to reduce the risk to your genes? Risk = likelihood x impact on survival.

    I don’t think many people would be anxious about the possibility of Russell’s teapot existing. But I suspect that a larger proportion would worry about the space rock, and an even larger proportion would be anxious about the bomb in their fridge. Why? The impact of the existence of the latter is far greater than that of the former. For practical purposes, it is safe to assume that there is no celestial teapot. It may not be safe to assume that there is no bomb in my fridge.

    Practically, an individual may view the existence of God / the FSM / the IPU as unlikely, given their interpretation of the evidence that they possess. An individual may perform a cost-benefit analysis that leads to believe that their own life is best lived as if there is no God / FSM / IPU. This looks like a reasonable gamble. At the moment, however, I cannot see that this is the same as assuming that there is no God / FSM / IPU. It looks like a verdict of “Unproven”.

    What do you think?

    Regards.

  • 56. Simen  |  July 9, 2007 at 9:00 am

    Again, the burden of proof lies on the proponent. When I see no compelling evidence for, and the world is consistent with against, I think it is reasonable to believe against. Do you think that the existence of fairies is still undecided?

    This, by the way, is the exact same practice we use in courts: innocent until proven guilty.

  • 57. karen  |  July 9, 2007 at 1:11 pm

    Practically, an individual may view the existence of God / the FSM / the IPU as unlikely, given their interpretation of the evidence that they possess. An individual may perform a cost-benefit analysis that leads to believe that their own life is best lived as if there is no God / FSM / IPU. This looks like a reasonable gamble. At the moment, however, I cannot see that this is the same as assuming that there is no God / FSM / IPU.

    If you’re living your life as if there is no god, aren’t you assuming there’s no god? It seems like you’re making a distinction without a difference there.

    By the way, the paragraph I quoted above is a good summary of the “agnostic atheist” or “weak atheist” position that most of us here subscribe to.

  • 58. eye-of-horus  |  July 9, 2007 at 1:40 pm

    This thread lacks breadth and depth — geography and history, including the history of philosophy and recent near-eastern religion.

    Very broadly, you’re confusing two god-types:
    1. The god(s) of the western philosophers (start with Xenophanes)
    2. The god of the Big Three monotheisms.

    Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Xianity, Islam are religions of “the” book, in the sense that each took from the other’s “sacred” writings an ethical cosmic dualism and roughly speaking, a single Good God.

    JXI-isms have always had a problem with their “historicity”. So any scrap of text, any corroborating secular evidence, any “origins” story gets believers very excited.

    Now since the text is holy, so is the real estate it includes in its “holy” land. The key places where its “sacred” myth was initiated or now centers on.

    Just because Jews, Muslims, and Xians believe that the land currently home to the state of Israel and the Palestinian territories is holy land — does that make them “the” Holy Land?

    Silly don’t you think using an atavistic, ethnocentric, question begging designation — the Holy Land — as if three so-called great monotheisms were all that counted.

    When does mythology make a tiny land area of great pretension, holy. What happened to the other great pretenders: Mecca and Medina, Benares, Beijing, Mount Harney . . . all the so-called Holy Lands?

    As collections of putative sacred writings are the Jewish Scriptures, the Koran, the Dhammapada, the Bhagavad-Gita inferior to a “New Testament,” that incongruous pastiche from the urban fringe fanatics of the eastern Roman Empire.

    Today in the southern U.S., right-wing theocratic Xianity and Zionism get along just fine. But that marriage is an ideological one, not a sacred one.

    Of course, as a postmodern secular humanist, I foresee nothing but unholy nuclear nihilism arising from that hieros gamos.

    eye-of-horus
    copyright asserted 2007

  • 59. kramii  |  July 9, 2007 at 3:47 pm

    Karen,

    You said:

    It seems like you’re making a distinction without a difference there.

    I see where you are coming from.

    I think the differrence is this: If I assume that something is false then I will stop looking for evidence for that something. OTOH, if I assume that something is unproven but important, I would continue to look for evidence, despite the fact that I view it unlikely that I would find any.

    Then again, it is quite likely that I am missing something here, and that there really is no difference. My reason for asking all these questions is not to try to score points, but to understand Simen’s arguments.

    [Of course, point-scoring can be fun, too. When I replied to Simen’s original “Don’t make me read…” post, I soon realised that I am intellectually outclassed here. That is not to say I have nothing to contribute: despite my usual wooly-headedness, I do occasionally have flashes of insight. If Simen does make a mistake, and I pick it up, then I will certainly get a sense of triumph. But only in the sense that a chess beginner may occasionally take advantage of a mater’s momentary lapse. He may take the odd pawn, or even swipe a bishop. Nevertheless, we all know who will will play the winning move. In the mean time, both players have the opportunity to advance their game. In my view, the important thing in chess is not to win (a momentary victory), but rather to to master the game (a lasting acomplishment). Similarly, in debate, the purpose is not to win the argument, but to master the subject matter: ie. to reveal the truth.

    Simen is clearly a very intelligent person, who has well thought out arguments for his position. By challenging them, I seek to understand him. If our respective positions are shaken in the process, all the better. When the dust settles, we will all have a clearer picture of the reality we inhabit. I don’t think that can be a bad thing.]

    Regards.

  • 60. Simen  |  July 9, 2007 at 4:19 pm

    I think the differrence is this: If I assume that something is false then I will stop looking for evidence for that something. OTOH, if I assume that something is unproven but important, I would continue to look for evidence, despite the fact that I view it unlikely that I would find any.

    Ah, I see. But I don’t think belief is so final. The difference here is that I view a belief as something mallable, where you seem to view it as somewhat of a final position. You seem to equate a belief with an attitude that the belief is not worth or should not be questioned. It seems like you’re saying that if I believe something, then it doesn’t make sense for me to go look for evidence of the opposite. I don’t think that is a healthy attitude towards belief.

    For instance, most Computer Scientists believe that P=NP to be false (P and NP are complexity classes; a complexity class in some sense tells us the bounds on how much time an algorithm must at least use to solve a problem. This means that if P=NP, some interesting problems can be solved by a computer in a feasable timeframe.) However, no one has discovered a proof that P=NP or that P!=NP. In fact, P=NP is one of the millenium problems, and if you discover a proof that P=NP you get a million dollars (the opposite is not true; you don’t get a million if you prove that P!=NP).

    As you see, these mathematicians and computer scientists have a belief, but they continue to look for proof either way. This is because the problem is important.

    I think that is a healthy attitude. A belief is the attitude that something is true, whereas knowledge (or rather, the belief that one has knowledge) is the attitude that one knows that something is true. So if I said that I know there is no god, I wouldn’t bother discussing evidence or consider whether god might exist. In this sense, I am agnostic. I don’t believe I have a knowledge that there is no god, I believe I have rational reason to believe that there is no god.

    The question then becomes, is it rational to believe there is a god, or is it rational to believe there is no god, based on the current evidence? I find that the knowledge we have of the world is consistent with no god and shows no signs of the opposite. Therefore, I conclude that it is rational to believe there is no god based on current evidence.

    I guess that makes me an agnostic strong atheist. Who would have thought something like that could exist?

    [Of course, point-scoring can be fun, too. When I replied to Simen’s original “Don’t make me read…” post, I soon realised that I am intellectually outclassed here. That is not to say I have nothing to contribute: despite my usual wooly-headedness, I do occasionally have flashes of insight. If Simen does make a mistake, and I pick it up, then I will certainly get a sense of triumph. But only in the sense that a chess beginner may occasionally take advantage of a mater’s momentary lapse. He may take the odd pawn, or even swipe a bishop. Nevertheless, we all know who will will play the winning move. In the mean time, both players have the opportunity to advance their game. In my view, the important thing in chess is not to win (a momentary victory), but rather to to master the game (a lasting acomplishment). Similarly, in debate, the purpose is not to win the argument, but to master the subject matter: ie. to reveal the truth.

    Simen is clearly a very intelligent person, who has well thought out arguments for his position. By challenging them, I seek to understand him. If our respective positions are shaken in the process, all the better. When the dust settles, we will all have a clearer picture of the reality we inhabit. I don’t think that can be a bad thing.]

    Oh, you flatter me. Incidentally, I agree with you on the nature of debate. It can be valuable even if no one wins, if someone gained an understanding of someone else’s position. Also, discussion trains the skills we so desperately need: critical thinking, logic, rhetoric.

  • 61. kramii  |  July 9, 2007 at 6:02 pm

    Simen,

    I don’t think that is a healthy attitude towards belief.

    I quite agree.

    I guess I was bothered by the form of words that you used. When you said, “it is a basic scientific and logical principle that we assume something is wrong. ” [my italics], I had taken “assume” to mean “to take as granted or true”. I imagine that you had another meaning in mind. “Assume” is one of those slippery words.

    For my own part, I rather hope that my beliefs are final. I have a lot invested in them. OTOH, one of the foundations of my belief-system is that we are called by God to be a truth-seekers. As such, I must be open to having my beliefs challenged, if the evidence and reason so dictate. If that means that I am de-converted in the process, so be it. Truth is what matters here.

    Incidentally, I agree with you on the nature of debate. It can be valuable even if no one wins, if someone gained an understanding of someone else’s position. Also, discussion trains the skills we so desperately need: critical thinking, logic, rhetoric.

    :-)

  • 62. karen  |  July 9, 2007 at 6:14 pm

    krami:
    I see where you are coming from.

    I think the differrence is this: If I assume that something is false then I will stop looking for evidence for that something. OTOH, if I assume that something is unproven but important, I would continue to look for evidence, despite the fact that I view it unlikely that I would find any.

    Gotcha. My position, and probably Simen’s also (forgive me if I’m off-base here, S.) is that of a skeptic. I start from the presumption that says: “show-me.” Give me the goods, the proof, the evidence. I’m not going to buy a medical product based on a late-night TV commercial, no matter how many “glowing testimonials” come with it. I want scientific studies showing it works in clinical trials, I want FDA approval, I want guidelines from my doctor about how the product will help my condition.

    Then, maybe I’ll consider buying. Otherwise, not so much.

    This is how I feel about gods also. I doubt that I will ever give up the search for evidence and I remain open to proofs if I see any. However, after 30 years as a Christian and about 7 years of looking into belief, other religions, theism, deism and atheism, I feel I’ve done a pretty good job of investigating the topic and I don’t feel a burning desire to keep looking.

    Maybe that’s because my life, my mental health and my personal satisfaction increased after I left religion behind. So I have very little motivation to continue on a spiritual search and all the motivation in the world to interact at places like these, hoping to increase understanding between theists and non-theists and thus increase acceptance of non-theism in society.

    Does that make sense?

  • 63. Simen  |  July 9, 2007 at 6:56 pm

    This seems to be headed to a semantic discussion. Certainly, in science and to some degree logic (less so here, because unlike science, there is only proof, not empirical evidence), an unsubstantiated claim is treated as though it were false. That is not much different from being assumed to be false. If we lived five thousand years ago and you told me the Earth was round, I would laugh and treat it as false. Wouldn’t you? 5000 years ago, no one had much of a clue.

    So in practice, they’re much the same. There is the minor (or perhaps not so minor) question: am I justified to believe that an unsubstantiated claim is false? I’m not justified in saying I know it, but is it rational to believe it?

    Consider fairies. There is no evidence for them, as well we know. The world is consistent with a world in which there are no fairies. All is as we would expect given a fairyless world. Are we not then justified in saying that, on the basis of the current evidence, we believe fairies don’t exist? You cannot prove it for the same reasons you can’t prove there are no gods. But are you justified in believing it? I think so.

    Bertrand Russell said about his own beliefs:

    As a philosopher, if I were speaking to a purely philosophic audience I should say that I ought to describe myself as an Agnostic, because I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which one can prove that there is not a God. On the other hand, if I am to convey the right impression to the ordinary man in the street I think that I ought to say that I am an Atheist, because, when I say that I cannot prove that there is not a God, I ought to add equally that I cannot prove that there are not the Homeric gods.

    I think I will borrow his words. Russell, while certainly a skeptic, didn’t say anything about what he believed. Perhaps it didn’t matter to him. Should it matter to us?

  • 64. Thinking Ape  |  July 9, 2007 at 7:58 pm

    You know what they say about people who deny fairies… you fairy-murderer.

  • 65. Silly Old Bear  |  July 10, 2007 at 12:44 am

    “I feel confident to reject the foundations of all these monotheistic religions because of lack of evidence.”

    You are right to do so on those grounds – the basis for all of the above – in fact for any metaphysic idea – is BELIEF, belief is by nature personal, and cannot be proven or disproved. Any attempt to do so will eventually lead to intellectual dishonesty.

    Any “evidence” I find for my belief in G-d is subjective, based in what I carry with me of personal experiences and basic values – but that is all it is – subjective notions. And I rather like it that way, because this means I am free to think, believe and feel out-side the box on any given Doctrine :-)

  • […] response to the many comments on the blog, Simen posted a FVC (Frequently Voiced Criticisms) which in it’s own right added another 50+ comments to the discussion. This new blog entry […]

  • 67. Lyall Abbott  |  July 13, 2007 at 12:39 pm

    Even in Science you have to come to an conclusion that is based on facts, an absolute truth. The truth does not need our belief in order for it to be truth.

  • 68. Hammer  |  July 16, 2007 at 7:10 am

    I love reading this kind of discussion, for the same reason I enjoy partaking in such discussion. Learning about other viewpoints is essential for the pursuit of knowledge.

    I often talk to some of my theist friends about their choice in religion, and one person in particular baffles me. She is dead-set on denying evolution, and perhaps more alarmingly, the ice ages. I find it nearly impossible to have a serious debate with one who stands on such firm, and proven false, ground. Is there any way to get around them, or perhaps change her beliefs?

  • 69. Rich  |  September 7, 2007 at 10:32 pm

    Very well put together.

    I enjoyed the rebuttle to the remark about the comments being more interesting than the essay. Can the instigator of discourse be credited with its conclusion?

  • 70. Rich  |  September 7, 2007 at 11:28 pm

    I forgot to put my url in my last accolades to you.

    Accolades.

  • 71. Rich  |  September 7, 2007 at 11:45 pm

    Okay so thinking about whether or not the credit goes to the instigator has made me want to instigate, thusly assuring myself some level of credit in the annals of history for the end of whatever discussion may follow.

    Religious scriptures, often Apocalyptic ones, attempt to reconcile the existence of evil and suffering with the existence of God. Theodicies are my favourite religious reading because the just try so darn hard. It’s fun, like the little engine that could.

    What I’m curious about is your take on the existence of evil. Philosophically speaking. Does the Neitzche-ist “Will to Power” come out on top? Does doing what it takes to pass on one’s genetic material and enjoy life constitute evil at all? Are societal morals the result of our social pack-animal roots a la Desmond Morris?

    I’ve not seen “evil exists becuase x” anywhere on your blog. Which is to your credit, it’s a theological question really and doesn’t belong on a site advocating the scientific purity of atheism (and I say that as a non-atheist). But I’m nonetheless interested in your thoughts on this most unquantifiable force in the human world.

  • 72. Simen  |  September 8, 2007 at 7:13 am

    I’ve not seen “evil exists becuase x” anywhere on your blog. Which is to your credit, it’s a theological question really and doesn’t belong on a site advocating the scientific purity of atheism (and I say that as a non-atheist). But I’m nonetheless interested in your thoughts on this most unquantifiable force in the human world.

    Well, that might be because I would say evil is mind dependent.

    I’ve thought long and hard on the whole concept of morality, and I cannot see a good reason to suppose that it exists anywhere but in human minds (and possibly in the minds of other creatures, discovered or as yet unknown).

    In doing so, I’ve marked myself as a moral anti-realist. What kind, though, is something I haven’t fully decided. There are many schools of thought on what evil and good is, once you’ve affirmed or rejected their reality.

    I wouldn’t agree that this leaves me completely unable to use the words good or evil — after all, I have admitted that there is such a thing as evil and good, just not anywhere but in our heads — I just choose not to, precisely because it’s so fuzzy.

    If I am going to argue on moral terms, I usually choose to assume the premises of someone who seems comfortable with moral terms, and derive some absurdity from this person’s view according to them. (Or, alternatively, I could just agree. I don’t feel a compulsion to always disagree.)

    To clarify, re: scientific purity of atheism, I really don’t think that’s what this site is about. This is a group blog, written by many contributors, of which I am only one, and my views on the matter are not official in any way. I’m not even sure I would agree to the “scientific purity of atheism”.

  • 73. brainwise  |  September 17, 2007 at 5:16 pm

    Love the blog. Love the FVC. I look forward to your ongoing investigation and dialog.

  • 74. The de-Convert  |  September 17, 2007 at 9:14 pm

    brainwise,

    here’s the link to Simen’s posts on d-C

    http://de-conversion.com/category/simen/

    Enjoy!

  • 75. annonymous  |  January 20, 2008 at 4:11 pm

    some of you say that christianity is not true because it is not valid and you simply dont believe in it. you also say you go by scientific proof so if you watch christian channels like TBN or God Channel you might catcha program showning you all about what scientists have found out about christianity and also something called the bible code.

  • 76. PalMD  |  January 22, 2008 at 8:35 pm

    “Scientific proof” doesn’t mean what you think it does, anon.

  • 77. numerology and the Kabbalah | Kabbalah For The People  |  February 1, 2008 at 10:23 am

    […] and the Kabbalah February 1st, 2008 by admin I happened to come across this post discussing with the bloger “refusal’ to read the Holy Book as a way of persuasion to […]

  • 78. SonOfLiberty  |  May 18, 2008 at 5:15 am

    And for those of us who HAVE read them (I have read the Torah, OT & NT, Koran (english version, I know it’s evil!), even the book of Mormon and we KNOW they are batshit!

    Besides, every time someone prays, Darwin kills a puppy.

  • 79. ln  |  January 19, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    I remember, when I was in church, being warned about nonbelievers. We were specifically warned about how we should “know our bibles well,” because the nonbelievers will know it better than you. Isn’t that single seed of doubt and fear a good thing?

    What I find interesting is that nonbelievers not only disclaim all holiness of the book, they apply a sort of “anti-holiness” in their efforts to keep from having to read the damn thing, but aren’t we all supposed to be the ones who hold to the idea that “knowledge is power?” Just because we don’t believe in a “holy” book doesn’t mean we cannot or should not be educated about what is contained within.

    Maybe “annonymous” is right though. Maybe it’s just because we watch too many educational programs — too much of the “wrong” TV — and maybe if we watched more god-propaganda we would “see the light.” :) I chortled.

  • 80. Eve's Apple  |  March 22, 2009 at 7:17 pm

    We were specifically warned about how we should “know our bibles well,” because the nonbelievers will know it better than you. Isn’t that single seed of doubt and fear a good thing?

    Interesting – one of the reasons why the Catholic church forbade the reading of any Bible translations other than its own was that it was afraid that people would read Protestant versions and leave the church. Supposedly there were “inaccuracies” in these other translations, you see. Basically the Catholic response to the whole Reformation was to withdraw and shut the world out. So most Catholics don’t know the Bible very well. That puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to dealing with aggressive evangelicals who seem to have the whole thing memorized. (At the risk of starting a theological argument, while the Bible does play a role in Catholicism, Catholicism isn’t based on it to the degree Protestantism is. This is because Catholicism evolved in a pre-literate society. Rituals, tradition and artwork were ways of transmitting the faith in an era where books were scarce and few could read. Protestantism can afford to be based solely on the Bible because it is a product of technology–the printing press, which made widespread literacy possible.)

    So, while the evangelicals are winning over Catholics because they know the Bible and Catholics don’t, they are being taught to be afraid of the unbelievers because the unbelievers know more about the Bible then they do! It seems that the Catholic Church is right, that the more you know about the Bible the greater your risk of leaving the faith!! After all, we de-cons are living proof!

  • 81. ArchangelChuck  |  March 28, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    Such is the great irony. It is also the root of the conflict between modern civilization, to which education is a pillar, and God-fearing religion, to which education is the enemy.


    P.S. If the image doesn’t tell you, I have posted here as “ln” also. I don’t know why I do this, maybe I’m tired when I post at times. Please note that I will permanently continue posting as “ArchangelChuck.”

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

de-conversion wager

Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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