The Astronomical Cheesologist

July 24, 2007 at 11:26 am 111 comments

Here’s a typical Christian claim (from A Christian on the Sidelines):

The Agnostic/Atheist is attempting to explain religion through empirical methods while Theists attempt the same by using theology. The mixing of these concepts into the other field is a clear injustice to both disciplines.

But is this really true? Is it true that theology sits on the primary, or even exclusive rights to say something about religion and gods? I happen to think that this is false; in fact, I think theology is little more than the rational analysis of theologians’ imaginations. Since theologians often have a rather good imagination, I will in this post use my imagination. For completeness, I’ve written about this before, but what I will say now isn’t exactly the same.

CheeseImagine that I believe that the Moon is made of cheese. Now, being naturally curious, I start thinking about the implications of having a satellite made of cheese for Earth, and what current observations can tell us about the type of cheese that the Moon is made of, and countless other issues that a moon made of cheese would raise. After some time, I come to the conclusion that not only the Moon, but all other celestial bodies are made of cheese. Then I start publishing my investigations into the heavenly bodies and the material they’re made of. Only, I don’t publish my papers through the usual scientific means; instead, I found a whole new field, which I call Astronomical Cheesology.

Other believers start joining me, and pretty soon, a niche community based around the new, astonishing insight that all celestial bodies are made of cheese is thriving. Papers are going to and fro about the consistency of Saturn’s moon Titan’s outer layer of cheese, the origin of the hot cheese of the Sun and other such esoteric topics. Pretty soon, I have gained a noble following and quite a reputation, and I start appearing on TV shows and writing books on Astronomical Cheesology. When serious scientists tell me that there is no way that the Moon is made of cheese, because we have observed that it is not and besides a mechanism to allow the Moon to be a cheese would provide a radically different universe, I reply that while scientists attempt to say something about the Moon through empirical means, I attempt to do the same with Astronomical Cheesology, and the mixing of these concepts into the other field is a clear injustice to both.

This is the state theology is in today. Two thousand years ago, perhaps Astronomical Cheesology could have been quite the smash hit, but today it’s so obvious that such a field is built on a false foundation that no one would believe it. Theology, on the other hand, has had thousands of years to grow a following, and believers will still try to claim that it has some noble foundation that neither science nor traditional philosophy has, and thus has the exclusive rights to say something about gods.

The trouble, here, is that theology just like Astronomical Cheesology is built on a false foundation, and the method for discovering new things in theology must to a large degree depend either on pure imagination or on the interpretation of holy books. To make Astronomical Cheesology analogous, imagine I, as the founder of the field, wrote a book called Astronomical Cheesology: a New Foundation for Astronomy. Then Astronomical Cheesologists would divide their time evenly between interpreting the Foundation and conjecturing based on pure imagination.

If the Cheesologists had used empirical methods, two unpleasant things would happen: first, they would cross into scientific territory, thereby giving up the exclusivity they had worked so hard to attain; second, had they bothered to look, they would have been forced to admit that there is absolutely nothing that indicates that the celestial bodies are made of cheese, and there is plenty of evidence that suggests they’re not. The same thing happens with theologians: if they had used empirical methods, they would have to let science in the door, and they would also be forced to admit that little suggests that there is a god, and much suggests that there isn’t. In fact, supporters of theology as a valid field of study separated from philosophy and science, such as Justin in the quote above, admit that theology isn’t about empirical study: the Agnostic/Atheist is attempting to explain religion through empirical methods while Theists attempt the same by using theology.

What tools are left to study God, then, if not empirical methods? Theologians seem to divide their efforts remarkably close to the Astronomical Cheesologists: some study and interpret scripture, while others use their imaginations and conjure up purely hypothetical scenarios. Unlike mainstream philosophers, the self-appointed investigators in holy matters assert that they have some insights into hypothetical scenarios that hold true in reality, but nonetheless is outside of the reach of science.

This post has taken the form of a reductio ad absurdum: if the theologian is justified in saying that science cannot say anything about religion, then the Astronomical Cheesologist is also justified in saying that science cannot say anything about celestial bodies made of cheese. Both theologians and Cheesologists try to establish a premise that is very much about the empirical world, namely that there is a personal god that acts in the world and that celestial bodies are made of cheese, respectively. Both then try to claim that to mix science into these matters is an injustice to both fields.

A popular form of the argument Justin used in the quote above is called Non-overlapping Magisteria (NOMA). NOMA attempts to establish that science and (religion, theology, take your pick) are equally valid, non-overlapping fields of study: both have something important to say, but one cannot say anything about the field of the other. Stephen Jay Gould intended NOMA to resolve the supposed conflict between religion and science. He describes the principle: “the magisterium of science covers the empirical realm: what the Universe is made of (fact) and why does it work in this way (theory). The magisterium of religion extends over questions of ultimate meaning and moral value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for example, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty).” This is essentially the same idea that Justin expressed in the quote at the top of this blog post.

But consider the idea of God. It says that there is a personal, intelligent being outside of space and time, that deliberately designed the universe and everything in it and to this day continues to work inside it. Is this not about “what the universe is made of and why it works in this way”? Isn’t the question, “does this supernatural intelligence exist?” something else entirely than “ultimate meaning and moral value”? In fact, religion says something about both the empirical world and the philosophical ideas of meaning and moral value. No theistic religion limits itself to questions of ultimate meaning and moral value. All theistic religions assert the existence of this personal, active supernatural entity. No theistic religion can withstand to go outside of its magisterium (Gould defines magisterium as “a domain where one form of teaching holds the appropriate tools for meaningful discourse and resolution”).

It seems, then, that NOMA is a kind of double standard, a kind of hypocrisy, because its proponents demand that science stands by without saying a word as religion comes thundering out of its allotted magisterium and makes claims inside of science’s. The only way of consistently holding that science cannot say anything about religious matters is to say that religious matters are not empirical matters; gods cannot ever be part of the empirical world. In other words, only atheists can consistently claim NOMA. Seems like the poster boy of many theists is really just another argument for atheism.

Another criticism that can be made about both Justin’s view and NOMA is that the magisterium handed over to religion is really already occupied. Questions of ultimate meaning and moral value are really philosophical questions, and philosophers have been mulling over them since before the birth of Christianity. It seems that religion is not really needed: it spans over two magisteria (science and philosophy) that are both perfectly well occupied to begin with. Who would have thought that the very argument designed to make space for religion and resolve its conflict with science could be used to show that religion is obsolete?

The day theology becomes a valid field of study, I will begin writing my dissertation on Astronomical Cheesology (note: I here separate study of the Bible and general philosophy from theology).

Update: I’m closing this discussion off, both because it has moved far from the original topic and, more importantly, because I’m going away and won’t be able to respond.

- Simen

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111 Comments

  • 1. Agkyra  |  July 24, 2007 at 12:33 pm

    I think there’s a problem in the thinking behind your framing quote, if I may be so blunt. Neither theists nor theologians are trying to “explain religion” in some general sense, nor do I think that most agnostics/atheists are trying to do that. While definitions vary, as they do with most things, theology can be defined as human reflection on God from an “insider” perspective, by a practitioner of a religion. It’s not about explaining “religion” or any such thing. Perhaps the practice of law will serve as an analogy. Legal thinking is only meaningful within the context of a legal system. As an American, the legal thinking of German lawyers or legislators is irrelevant to me, but not to a German who lives his life inside a society that adheres to the system. Legal thinking presumes the existence of a legal system, just like theology presumes the existence of God and some kind of authoritative framework in which theology can be carried out.

    Atheists contend that God does not exist. If he does not exist, then the authoritative framework theology presumes has no basis in reality, and so theologians might as well find other work. After some political revolutions in history, lawyers have found themselves in a similar situation.

    The question of whether God exists, however, is not one that can be settled to the satisfaction of everyone on empirical grounds. Just because you can’t spot God in a telescope doesn’t mean he’s not there. So atheists typically adopt a “seeing is believing” attitude, and theists adopt a “I trust the guy who says he saw” attitude. Just because we can’t settle the question empirically doesn’t mean there is no objective, empirical truth to the matter in reality.

    Can you now see the problem with your cheese analogy? The moon is there for us to look at. We can empirically settle the question of whether the moon is made of cheese. We can’t empirically settle the question of whether God exists. A slightly better, though still far from satisfactory, analogy would be one in which a guy claims he saw a gigantic cheese sphere through a telescope, but which you cannot yourself find.

  • 2. karen  |  July 24, 2007 at 12:34 pm

    I would say that NOMA works for those who are “deists” – they hold a belief that a supernatural deity got the universe started and still exists “out there” in an unknown and unknowable realm, but has no meaningful interaction with the world now. Many of the U.S. founding fathers are supposed to have been deists.

    Science has nothing to say about deism, because it posits a god outside of space and time who does not enter into space and time. Such a god is truly undetectable by science.

    However, most religious people are not deists, they are theists. They believe god has interacted with the world – even to the point of disguising himself as a human and entering it in the form of Jesus.

    As long as god is claimed to be interacting with the natural world, science should be able to detect this interaction. And so far, it hasn’t been able to.

    The response you sometimes get here is essentially that god is a trickster, who disguises his interactions so they’re undetectable to science. At that point, religion in general degenerates to the level of fairies in the garden and pink dragons in the garage. It’s like, “You can’t prove it’s not so, so it must be true!”

    Your cheesologist reminded me of a brilliant post by science blogger and atheist P.Z. Myers called The Courtier’s Reply

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/12/the_courtiers_reply.php

  • 3. Simen  |  July 24, 2007 at 12:40 pm

    Agkyra,

    Can you now see the problem with your cheese analogy? The moon is there for us to look at. We can empirically settle the question of whether the moon is made of cheese. We can’t empirically settle the question of whether God exists. A slightly better, though still far from satisfactory, analogy would be one in which a guy claims he saw a gigantic cheese sphere through a telescope, but which you cannot yourself find.

    The world is here for us to look at. If someone claims they saw an interaction between the world and God, we can go see if there’s anything to indicate that. The theists will claim that God is indeed there for us to look at, or rather, God has imbued the world with some quality that people can see if they know where to look.

    Karen,

    I would say that NOMA works for those who are “deists” – they hold a belief that a supernatural deity got the universe started and still exists “out there” in an unknown and unknowable realm, but has no meaningful interaction with the world now. Many of the U.S. founding fathers are supposed to have been deists.

    Science has nothing to say about deism, because it posits a god outside of space and time who does not enter into space and time. Such a god is truly undetectable by science.

    True, but NOMA only works for deists if they contend that they really have no reason to believe that there is a god. If they had a reason to believe, this would be within the realm of science. So, if there is a god that created the universe without ever affecting it since, there is no rational reason to believe it. Deism is truly a belief one can only take on faith.

  • 4. Brad  |  July 24, 2007 at 1:20 pm

    Simen said,
    “The world is here for us to look at. If someone claims they saw an interaction between the world and God, we can go see if there’s anything to indicate that.”

    In principle, I agree with that. But how is the sheer existence of a religion with 2 billion followers (today, not counting those of centuries past) to just that claim, NOT evidence of this very interaction?

    If God wants a relationship with us (which is what we Christians claim), how can you expect to prove his existence through strict empiricism? How can I prove a relationship with my wife by just examing our marriage license? Especially in today’s context, that can mean nothing. There must be far more involved to “prove” interaction.

  • 5. Simen  |  July 24, 2007 at 1:36 pm

    Uh, appeal to the masses is a fallacy, in no way evidence that something is true.

    Having “a relationship” requires interaction. This interaction should be observable. It’s that simple.

    Also, how come God doesn’t want a relationship with everyone (I’d be more than willing to have one, should he present himself to me)?

  • 6. Agkyra  |  July 24, 2007 at 2:04 pm

    Simen, it seems to me that you’re not considering the historical nature of theistic claims. Theists are precisely not saying that “God is over here, come look,” or “God is over there” (perhaps some are, but not most). We believe that God exists and that he has acted in time and space (that is, in history) to reveal himself to people, and we believe the testimony of those people. As a Christian, I believe the testimony of the prophets and apostles as collected in the Bible. The truth or falsity of their testimony cannot be empirically tested, although we believe there are other good reasons to believe it. But, at bottom, you believe it or you don’t. If their testimony is true, then theology that proceeds on its basis is grounded in reality, otherwise not. But as I said, it can’t be tested. That’s fundamentally disanalogous to your cheese story, in which one can empirically test whether the moon is made of cheese.

  • 7. Simen  |  July 24, 2007 at 2:11 pm

    If there is some reason to believe it, there must be some kind of evidence. If there is evidence, there is the possibility of testing said evidence. If not, there is no good reason to believe.

  • 8. Agkyra  |  July 24, 2007 at 2:15 pm

    Shouldn’t personal testimony count as evidence? I sure hope so, or the American legal system is in big trouble.

  • 9. Thinking Ape  |  July 24, 2007 at 2:29 pm

    Agkyra, personal testimony of what? Any person in the last hundred years that has claimed to have an actual testimony of encounters with a divine being is laughed at or considered insane (or blasphemous). Someone having a personal testimony of “it makes me feel warm and fuzzy” or “it completes me” or “I feel truth” or “it feels right” or… etc. is not a testimony.

  • 10. Agkyra  |  July 24, 2007 at 3:02 pm

    You’re quite right, Thinking Ape, about how reports of divine encounters are generally received, at which point I will direct you back to Simen’s critique of Brad in comment 5 (“appeal to the masses”).

    Let me make one other point. Theological claims can only be true if God does exist, which is not testable. It’s not even testable in principle, because any phenomena perceivable by human beings could be interpreted naturalistically. In other words, there is no way for us to settle this once for all (God, of course, can come in power and glory to assert himself against unbelievers, which he eventually will, and that will settle things finally). So theologians presuppose the existence of God and go about their work accordingly. Scientists do the same upon equally unprovable presuppositions, such as that the real world exists or that you and I are individual persons or that the world has existed for longer than a single moment. Radical skepticism in epistemology, by its very nature, cannot be disproved, which means that the ordinary things we take for granted about the world cannot be proved. Only if the world really is as we perceive it are the conclusions of scientists true. Though powerless to prove that the world really is as it seems, scientists presuppose that it is and proceed with their work accordingly.

    So, the very liability you wish to expose in theology is actually present in science as well. Nothing to worry about since it’s not actually a liability at all.

  • 11. Simen  |  July 24, 2007 at 3:14 pm

    What? Are you really saying that it’s OK to presuppose whatever one wishes? That, of course, is beyond stupid. There is a great difference between believing that the world has existed more than one moment, which is something we have no reason to disbelieve, or believing that there is an outside world (in fact, it’s not necessary to do science; science only requires a consistent world, not a world that reveals its “true” nature). Science works by explanatory power: the theory that explains the most is the best at any given moment. So it’s not necessary for the world to be as it seems, and in any event, you would not be able to survive on the assumption that the world can change any moment or that it has not existed for longer than a single moment. You can very well exist on the assumption that there is no god.

    Are you really skeptical about everything? If not, there is no need to be pointing out that you could be skeptical of everything. There is no reason to believe that the world is not as it seems – just as there is no reason to believe there is a being that is not observed or observable.

  • 12. The de-Convert  |  July 24, 2007 at 3:18 pm

    Agkyra,

    God, of course, can come in power and glory to assert himself against unbelievers, which he eventually will, and that will settle things finally

    Just curious as to who the “unbelievers” are. Does “unbelievers” only apply to atheists or also to Jews & Muslims – who also believe in the God of Abraham? What about Hindus and their testimonies of personal experiences with God (which at many times is more dramatic than those of Abrahamic religions)?

    Paul

  • 13. Agkyra  |  July 24, 2007 at 3:39 pm

    Simen,

    No, I am not saying it’s okay to presuppose whatever you wish. I’m saying there’s an analogy between the presuppositions of theologians and their work, on the one hand, and the presuppositions of scientists and their work, on the other hand. If theological presuppositions about the existence of God should first have to meet some hypothetical (but impossible!) empirical test before theologians could go about their work, then likewise would scientists have to meet the test imposed by skepticism in philosophy. Theology operates within an unprovable theoretical framework, and so does science. Both theologians and scientists go about their work trusting that their framework is correct–so much the worse for them if it isn’t.

    You say there’s no reason to disbelieve the real world? There’s no reason to disbelieve that when a scientific instrument gives a reading that it actually reflects a fact about the real world? The skeptic puts it this way: give me a reason to believe! I’m agnostic. How do you know that the world isn’t completely different than how you experience it to be? How do you know we’re not brains-in-vats being stimulated by a mad scientist into having hallucinations? How do you know that the real world is consistent? Any empirical data you give only begs the question. Your idea about explanatory power assumes that you are actually in touch with real phenomena to be explained. (I, myself, am not agnostic about the real world, but the analogy shows the problem with your argument.)

    Paul,

    If you’re asking what I believe, it’s that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one comes to the Father but through him. When I talk about the “unbelievers,” I’m not trying to give an authoritative pronouncement about how God will judge people. I put my trust in Jesus and in what I learn about God in the Bible, which promises good things for those who do so and bad thing for those who don’t. Ultimately, God reveals himself as loving, merciful, and just, so I am confident that his judgment will demonstrate those qualities as well.

  • 14. Simen  |  July 24, 2007 at 3:47 pm

    I know that the world we see is consistent. The extent to which it reflects the “real world” is irrelevant. The reason we should believe is obvious: that’s how it looks. Now, give me a reason to believe the world is any other way.

    I’m saying there’s an analogy between the presuppositions of theologians and their work, on the one hand, and the presuppositions of scientists and their work, on the other hand. If theological presuppositions about the existence of God should first have to meet some hypothetical (but impossible!) empirical test before theologians could go about their work, then likewise would scientists have to meet the test imposed by skepticism in philosophy. Theology operates within an unprovable theoretical framework, and so does science. Both theologians and scientists go about their work trusting that their framework is correct–so much the worse for them if it isn’t.

    Theologians presuppose all the same things as scientists, but they also presuppose something else. Give me a reason not to cut the second presupposition with Occam’s razor.

    You are saying that if scientists get to presuppose things, then theologians get to presuppose other things. This, in effect, is the same as saying “we’re allowed to presuppose any foundations we want” – if not, you’re using an unfair double standard, because why wouldn’t someone be allowed to presuppose there is a spaghetti monster if you’re allowed to do the same with the Christian god?

    So you’re saying that because we base our beliefs on certain assumptions, we can base our beliefs on any assumptions, or else you’re just special pleading for your brand of religion. And that does, of course, not follow at all.

  • 15. Heather  |  July 24, 2007 at 4:36 pm

    You are saying that if scientists get to presuppose things, then theologians get to presuppose other things. This, in effect, is the same as saying “we’re allowed to presuppose any foundations we want” – if not, you’re using an unfair double standard, because why wouldn’t someone be allowed to presuppose there is a spaghetti monster if you’re allowed to do the same with the Christian god?

    I’m not sure that a comparison between the assumptions of science and the assumptions of theology is valid, though. As I understand it, the scientific assumptions are based on the natural world, and observable things. Theology is really a matter of faith, given the supernatural element. It’s assuming that a man was born of a virgin, rose from the dead, performed healing after healing, calmed the waters and so on. All of those violated the natural world as we know it, which is why religion comes down to a matter of faith. Science can point to observable facts, for the most part, to support statements. Theologians ultimately point to religious texts. Even if we took the world as we know it, and went based soley on that — would a Christian God-creator assumption be reached based on the natural world?

    And even if the fact that there’s a large following — a large following does not make anything correct. Islam has a large following, yet Christians wouldn’t say that makes it valid.

  • 16. Agkyra  |  July 24, 2007 at 4:37 pm

    Simen,

    You are saying that if scientists get to presuppose things, then theologians get to presuppose other things.

    Not exactly. I’m not talking about presuppositions in general but presuppositions that cannot be proved. I’m also not saying anything about when presuppositions are warranted but only pointing that if your critique of theological presuppositions is valid then it is also a critique of scientific presuppositions–and your argument is vitiated.

    I would be wary about swinging Occam’s Razor around if I were you because it applies just as much to the presuppositions of science. There are fewer entities required to explain the world in solipsistic terms (only I, myself, exist, and all of you and the rest of the world are part of my hallucination) than traditional scientific terms. Like many sharp things, it cuts both ways.

    And by the way, how can you be so sure the world is consistent if you can’t prove that it has existed for longer than a single instant?

    As for whether we can presuppose whatever we want–yes, of course we can. We’re all free to believe whatever we do. No one can compel you to believe anything. If someone does actually believe in a spaghetti monster, he can believe that. I think, however, that you and I would both agree that such a belief is neither correct nor warranted, at least not on our experience.

    As I said before, an empirical proof of the existence of God is a human impossibility. Do you nevertheless maintain that only propositions that can be empirically tested can be true? Or that only propositions that can be empirically tested ought to be believed?

  • 17. Brad  |  July 24, 2007 at 4:56 pm

    Oooo…. Those last two questions seem to really define the issue, don’t they?

  • 18. Agkyra  |  July 24, 2007 at 4:59 pm

    Heather,

    As I understand it, the scientific assumptions are based on the natural world, and observable things.

    Actually, these are philosophical assumptions that scientists make, and that we all make whether we realize it or not. Scientists are interested in natural phenomena and wish to understand the world in terms of, for example, physics, chemistry, and biology. Their (philosophical) assumptions and tools are geared toward helping them understand the world in those terms. Similarly, economists are interested in understanding the world in terms of scarcity and resource distribution, and so they have corresponding presuppositions, habitual ways of thinking, theoretical frameworks, and methods that help them go about the task of understanding the world in those terms.

    Yes, Christianity does claim that some things happened in history contrary to the way we experience them. Resurrection, for example. Since we don’t have any experience with such a thing ourselves, believing it does require faith, which is another way of saying “trust.” I have to trust the testimony of the people who claim to have seen someone raised from the dead. Now obviously that would be an empirical matter, and one that could be tested if we had seen Jesus before he died and then seen him afterwards. But, even if we had tested him before he died, while he was dead, and then afterwards so as to “prove” that he came back to life, there would still be plenty of room for disbelief: “Something must have gone wrong with the instruments,” “I don’t believe the medical examiner,” or “Someone must have put some LSD in my coffee that morning.”

    Is it too much to ask of someone to believe that a person could come back to life? If you’re dogmatically committed to believing only certain things, such as that things always and only happen the way they ordinarily do (i.e., the dead stay dead), then no amount of seeing will be believing. You’ll never believe in unique or exceptional events–not for lack of evidence but because of your own dogmatic presuppositions that impose limits on what you will believe.

    The physical sciences are very helpful to us in learning about the physical characteristics of the world. They’re of no value in helping us understand the economic characteristics of the world, nor its theological aspects.

  • 19. Simen  |  July 24, 2007 at 5:36 pm

    Agkyra, your comment remind me of a quote by Bertrand Russell: “when people begin to philosophize they seem to think it necessary to make themselves artificially stupid.”

    Do you actually doubt the things you talk about, such as that the world has existed for more than one moment, or that the world is (roughly) as it seems?

    If you do, I see no point in discussing with you. If you don’t, there is no reason to criticize science for making these assumptions. Either way, it doesn’t justify you believing whatever you want. If it is dogmatic to assert that there is no rational reason to believe that the dead can rise, then I am certainly dogmatic, but I don’t think that’s a good definition. I’m not saying that only empirically testable propositions can be tru. I am, on the other hand, saying that we are not rationally justified in believing that untested and untestable propositions about the natural world are true (of course, scientific standards make some assumptions, but those are necessary to define testability).

    So, if empirical evidence of God is impossible, you are not justified in believing that there is a god.

  • 20. Simen  |  July 24, 2007 at 5:38 pm

    Thisi s so basic that we can’t say anything useful without it.

    If you want to go disbelieving the real world, go ahead. It’ll come back and bite you. If not, there’s no reason to quabble on about things we agree on.

  • 21. Justin  |  July 24, 2007 at 5:51 pm

    I think Heather and Agkyra both did a nice job in contextualizing the difference b/w theology and science…and why they should be separated.

    In regards to this post, it is quite obvious why Simen does, in fact, support using theology and empirical investigation in an inappropriate manner (as Agkyra has summed up in his comments):

    “The trouble, here, is that theology just like Astronomical Cheesology is built on a false foundation”.

    Of course, the conclusion that theology is built on a “false foundation” is most likely derived empirically. Apparently, theology has not passed the “empirical” (science) test for Simen and therefore (by mixing the two disciplines) has ‘eliminated’ one.

    Theology, by definition, is:

    “The rational and systematic study of religion and its influences and of the nature of religious truths”.

    and incase we forgot, science is defined as:

    “systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation”

    I still hold that explaining the nature of religious truths through empirical methods is grossly irresponsible.

    God Bless

  • 22. Simen  |  July 24, 2007 at 5:59 pm

    Justin, what’s a religious truth? Is it in any way different from a scientific truth, or a mathematical truth, or just plain old truth?

    Also, you fail to address the bulk of my post. Based on the definitions of the science and religion magisteria, which I took from the originator of this whole argument, so I assumed it’s OK, we can see that religion really occupies the spaces of science and philosophy.

    And again, if God takes part in the physical and material world, like theists claim, then it is a matter of science.

  • 23. Agkyra  |  July 24, 2007 at 6:06 pm

    Simen,

    You see, then, that just because a radical skeptic doubts whether you are justified in believing in the real world, that doesn’t mean that you are, in fact, unjustified in believing in it. You don’t share the radical skeptic’s skeptical presuppositions, and you’re perfectly happy to go on presuming a real world and doing your thinking within that framework. All the evidence you (or I) would give to the radical skeptic in favor of the real world would be rejected out of hand by the skeptic. His skeptical scenario has an explanation for all our experiences. But so what? Let the skeptic believe what he will.

    It’s the same with theists and atheists. Just because atheistic naturalists think we theists are unjustified in believing in God doesn’t mean that we are, in fact, unjustified. All the evidence we theists point to is rejected out of hand by the atheist. His naturalistic framework is able to discount or reinterpret everything the theist adduces. But so what? Let the atheist believe what he will.

    So, if empirical evidence of God is impossible, you are not justified in believing that there is a god.

    You are right. Of course, I don’t say that empirical evidence of God is impossible (or if I did, I mis-spoke), only that the existence of God is not empirically provable (see my response to Heather in comment 18). The evidence is subject to alternate interpretations by the atheist (on the basis of naturalistic philosophical presuppositions) just as the evidence for the real world is subject to alternate interpretations by the radical skeptic.

    I am, on the other hand, saying that we are not rationally justified in believing that untested and untestable propositions about the natural world are true

    I’m inclined to agree with you here again. Why? Because of the all-important little word “natural.” You’re smuggling in naturalistic philosophical presuppositions, perhaps without realizing it.

    You’re right about one other thing. Our philosophical presuppositions are so basic that we can’t say anything useful if we don’t agree on them. I don’t presuppose that the natural world is all there is, and none of us have any way of proving it one way or another. You, apparently, do believe that the natural world is all there is. We’ll just have to disagree. But it’s just as unreasonable of you to say that theology is not a valid field of study just because theologians don’t share your naturalistic philosophical presuppositions as it would be for the radical skeptic to say that physics is not a valid field of study because he didn’t share your presuppositions about the real world.

  • 24. Heather  |  July 24, 2007 at 6:06 pm

    Agkyra,

    Is it too much to ask of someone to believe that a person could come back to life?

    Based on near-death experiences, no. The problem comes from everything else that is associated with the resurrection: dead for three days, the person had incredible powers, the concept of heaven/hell, the second coming, the Garden of Eden and so on. Much of Christianity, or any religion, seems to come from faith and a subjective viewpoint.

    Whereas science — even the assumptions, such as light holding a constant speed, or the ground being firm, or things existing in the past — those can be tested through means, and “proven.” The concept of Christianity, with an omnipotent God who created everything, or even the manner of the resurrection: those things can’t be proven in the same manner that science can. And the assumptions that science makes can be altered if new facts come to light. If something came to light that there was no resurrection, that would drastically alter Christianity to the point where it could fall apart.

    You’ll never believe in unique or exceptional events–not for lack of evidence but because of your own dogmatic presuppositions that impose limits on what you will believe.

    This can be reversed, though. You could see unique/exceptional events precisely because you expect to see them — and that expectation defines the experience as unique, not the experience itself.

  • 25. Simen  |  July 24, 2007 at 6:15 pm

    Agkyra,

    But it’s just as unreasonable of you to say that theology is not a valid field of study just because theologians don’t share your naturalistic philosophical presuppositions as it would be for the radical skeptic to say that physics is not a valid field of study because he didn’t share your presuppositions about the real world.

    I’m confused. Are you saying that God doesn’t interact with the world in a way that it is possible to study scientifically? If so, what other ways of interacting with the world are there? If not, what are you talking about?

    I’m objecting to the idea that God is an active entity in the world yet unobservable. If his actions are observable, we can study them, and if all the predictions of say the Bible turned out to be true, we could then create an experimental (i.e. scientific) theology (I borrow the term from Phillip Pullman’s excellent His Dark Materials books).

    Either God is active and observable, or he is unactive and unobservable. You can’t pick and choose; it’s a package deal.

  • 26. Agkyra  |  July 24, 2007 at 6:25 pm

    Simen,

    Either God is active and observable, or he is unactive and unobservable. You can’t pick and choose; it’s a package deal.

    Actually, there are other possibilities. God can be active yet unobservable, and God can also be active and observable yet unrecognized. To give an example of the former, suppose God should choose to speak to someone in a dream. You can observe the dreamer and perhaps you can observe (with an instrument) the brainwaves of the dreamer, and we can imagine a scenario in which we could actually reconstruct a movie-version of the dream based on the brainwaves. God is nowhere to be observed, but his effects are manifest. How would any scientist be in a position to make an authoritative pronouncement about whether the dream were a communication from God?

    To give an example of the latter, take Jesus. Jesus was flesh and blood. Yet, I believe that Jesus was God: active and observable. Was he recognizable as God? His disciples clearly thought so, but certain other people did not. How could any scientist, even if confronted with the physical person of Jesus, make an authoritative pronouncement on whether Jesus was God?

  • 27. Thinking Ape  |  July 24, 2007 at 6:33 pm

    Agkyra (very pretty name by the way),

    God can be active yet unobservable, and God can also be active and observable yet unrecognized.

    And this doesn’t make you suspicious? Can a skeptical person can be blamed to the point of damnation for not jumping head-on into this?

    Yet, I believe that Jesus was God: active and observable.

    May I ask why you believe that Jesus was God, active and observable? Is it for any other reason than the Bible says so?

  • 28. Simen  |  July 24, 2007 at 6:34 pm

    God is nowhere to be observed, but his effects are manifest.

    Then we can study his effects. The NOMA claim is that science isn’t evne equipped to study the effects. I say that if there are godly effects in the world, they should be observable. If they’re not observable, there’s no rational justification in believing them.

    You’ve got one thing right: there is always the possibility that a phenomenon can be reduced to natural components. So in a sense, it is possible that Jesus did all it was claimed and yet all was just due to unknown quantum effects or whatever. I’m not so skeptical that I won’t admit anything as evidence of the supernatural, though. If the New Testament was mostly correct about Jesus, it would be enough for me. If you could tip the evidence in such a way that Jesus not being God would be a greater miracle than him being God, I would believe it.

    As far as I can see, there is scant evidence for anything. AFAIK no source outside the Bible attests the supernatural events.

  • 29. Thinking Ape  |  July 24, 2007 at 6:34 pm

    (p.s. I don’t mean “pretty” as in “femmy” – I just love the language)

  • 30. Agkyra  |  July 24, 2007 at 6:49 pm

    Thinking Ape,

    (Thanks–it’s a tooth-breaker)

    Why should it make me suspicious? The only cause for suspicion is if it violates cherished presuppositions such as that the natural world is all there is. Why should anyone believe that?

    I believe Jesus was God for all sorts of reasons that I don’t now have time to go into (I’m hosting a Bible study in a little over an hour and need to make a break from this for the night), but it’s not just because the Bible says so. When you’re driving your car, do you believe you’re going 60 for any reason other than the speedometer says so? Yes, you believe it not only because the speedometer says so, but because of all kinds of other beliefs you have about cars, speedometers, your eyesight, past experiences of misreading, dreaming, or hallucinating, etc. I believe what I do about God for a whole complex of reasons, just like you believe what you do about God for a whole complex of reasons.

    As for the specific identity of Jesus as God, it has to do with lots of what we read in the Bible, but it doesn’t stop there. I’m not even sure it really begins there since my first exposure to Christianity was through friends and family, not through reading the Bible. The events recorded in the Bible had a big effect on subsequent history. Things happened and people changed their beliefs as a result of them. They told other people, and they believed, and so on. People thought about these events and related them to their other beliefs about the world and found that they were coherent and shed light on still further areas. I have entered into that historical chain-of-events and continued the process of thinking–in my theology and philosophy.

    You have done the same, no doubt. Naturalistic atheism didn’t come out of nowhere. Historical events led to changed thinking (the Enlightenment) and new converts to that way of thinking, etc., etc., and the process continues to the present. You’re part of it.

    I expect that the reasons I believe what I do are analogous to the reasons you believe what you do.

  • 31. Simen  |  July 24, 2007 at 7:00 pm

    What’s the difference between the natural world and the “other” world, whatever that may be?

    This is not so much a question of metaphysics as epistemology. What are we justified in believing to exist? Whole layers of reality could exist without our knowledge, but the interesting part of reality is the one we can know something about.

  • 32. Thinking Ape  |  July 24, 2007 at 8:49 pm

    Agkyra,

    Why should it make me suspicious? The only cause for suspicion is if it violates cherished presuppositions such as that the natural world is all there is. Why should anyone believe that?

    You don’t think that something unobservable or unrecognizable warrants suspicion? Again, this just goes back to Russell’s Teapot or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. We could basically believe whatever we want as long as it doesn’t interfere with the observable world (“natural” is misleading due to the connotations within Christian theology). If someone comes up and tells me something that happened, but I am not allowed to observe it, I am skeptical.

    I believe what I do about God for a whole complex of reasons, just like you believe what you do about God for a whole complex of reasons.

    This isn’t exactly what I meant by “why”. I know about the things we justify to ourselves why we believe what we do. What I am wondering is what made you first decide that you can trust the Bible and believe in something you cannot observe (and yes, I realize you are going to come back and say “but you can observe what god does – but most of this can be explained by scientific methodology, and that which cannot is often simply a “god of the gaps” theology). You state that you are influenced by friends and family, how so? This is what I am getting at. People tend not to be religious because they have actually thought about, but because they were raised in a certain mindset – they are raised first, than later theologically or philosophically justify it. This goes not only for broad religions, but for individual denominations.

    You have done the same, no doubt. Naturalistic atheism didn’t come out of nowhere. Historical events led to changed thinking (the Enlightenment) and new converts to that way of thinking, etc., etc., and the process continues to the present. You’re part of it.

    What makes you think I am a “naturalistic atheist”? I am a sensible skeptic, which, in my humble opinion, leads to one sort of agnosticism or another, dependent on one’s own journey (I could accuse you of being somewhat existential and epistemologically relativistic, but I don’t think that was your intention).

  • 33. mel  |  July 25, 2007 at 1:44 am

    Simen, thanks for the cheese. I will never again be able to contemplate religion without envisioning a great wheel of baked Brie cutting an arc across the sky.

    I never was a fan of NOMA and think it ruins an otherwise brilliant SJG. I must admit I’m inclined toward contamination phobia when it comes to my philosophers and scientists — I would much rather have them not be sympathetic towards special-casing religion … such being revolting to the ideals of science and skepticism. All the better to dispassionately and clear-headedly investigate the true nature of religion.

  • 34. Agkyra  |  July 25, 2007 at 7:13 am

    Simen,

    I don’t think it’s about metaphysics or epistemology really. It’s existential, about what we believe about the real world and the life decisions we make accordingly. If you start talking about justification, you’re back to having to deal with radical skepticism. As much as you and I may think the radical skeptics are absurd (even they don’t actually personally believe what they say), their arguments serve to make philosophical (epistemological) points about justification. We are not justified in believing in a real world. Quite honestly, I don’t want to get into the nitty-gritty of epistemology, but it’s important at least to realize that if justification is what’s at issue, then nothing we ordinarily believe is justified. The arguments of radical skepticism are watertight, and they serve to show us the limits of human reason. That doesn’t mean we ought to believe their conclusions.

    The other world is transcendent. It’s real but not explainable in terms of physics, chemistry, or biology. I come back to the question I asked earlier: what reasons can you give that people should believe that the “natural” world is all there is?

    Thinking Ape,

    I’ll have to get back to you a little later when I have more time. Perhaps this morning, perhaps this afternoon.

  • 35. Simen  |  July 25, 2007 at 7:33 am

    There’s no reason to bring in radical skepticism when we both agree that it’s absurd. The question is, what are we justified in believing based on the core ideas we have? I don’t believe there is any human who does not believe in the real world.

    As for why we should believe the natural world is the only world, how about the fact that we have never observed any other world? There is no good reason to believe that an unobserved, unobservable layer of reality exists. You might as well believe the moon was made of cheese.

  • 36. Agkyra  |  July 25, 2007 at 8:11 am

    Thinking Ape,

    Okay, I have about three minutes.

    We could basically believe whatever we want as long as it doesn’t interfere with the observable world

    Yes, that’s true. People may believe whatever they want. That doesn’t mean that believing whatever they want constitutes their beliefs as true. As I pointed out on my own blog, Russell made a mistake with the Flying Teapot, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster and Invisible Pink Unicorns make similar mistakes, namely that nobody really does believe that. Why believe in a teapot that nobody has seen, or a unicorn that nobody claims to have had any experience of? I would agree with you that that would be misguided. The difference is that people do claim to have spoken with God, and other people have claimed to be God. Also, Russell’s Teapot is, if I’m not mistaken, not an argument against believing in the teapot but in defense of not believing in it. If you’re a committed naturalist (the most common variety of atheist in my experience, but perhaps you’re a different sort), then, on those presuppositions, there are good reasons not to believe in God. I would like to know why anyone should be committed to those presuppositions.

    If someone comes up and tells me something that happened, but I am not allowed to observe it, I am skeptical.

    “Allowed” is the wrong word. It just is the case that you’re not privy to certain events in history, isn’t it? There are lots of things you believe happened that you haven’t been able to observe. Furthermore, you still need to explain what purpose observation would serve. Can you find out if someone is God by analyzing his DNA?

    What I am wondering is what made you first decide that you can trust the Bible and believe in something you cannot observe

    As I tried to show in my comment to Heather (#18), observing doesn’t translate into believing. Things can be interpreted all kinds of ways. Plus, lots of things that aren’t observable are believable–abstract principles are a good example. Is your idea that “only what is observable should be believable” itself observable? Of course not. Scientists, incidentally, believe in lots of things that are unobservable. Why? Because the theory (which is supported by things that can be observed) points to the existence of things that have not been observed. Once again, “allowed” to be observed is the wrong idea.

    You state that you are influenced by friends and family, how so? This is what I am getting at. People tend not to be religious because they have actually thought about, but because they were raised in a certain mindset – they are raised first, than later theologically or philosophically justify it. This goes not only for broad religions, but for individual denominations.

    Not in my experience. I think that’s a common atheist myth that people believe things just because they were taught it as children. What’s more, the same goes for atheists. Plenty of non-believers become believers, and vice versa. It’s not a one-way street. Also, it’s perfectly rational for people to believe things they’re taught by reliable people. If a father says to his son, “Don’t touch the iron” (the father knows it’s hot but the child doesn’t), the son is perfectly rational to obey the father. Lots of what we believe about the past we only believe because knowledge of it has been passed down through generations. None of us were there. The material remains may not be available. It is nevertheless rational to trust the testimony of people who claim to have been there and seen it.

    Gonna miss my train!

  • 37. Heather  |  July 25, 2007 at 9:10 am

    Agkrya,

    Allowed” is the wrong word. It just is the case that you’re not privy to certain events in history, isn’t it? There are lots of things you believe happened that you haven’t been able to observe.

    There’s still a difference between a “regular” claim and a supernatural claim. Supernatural claims defy the natural world as we currently know it, which is why people would demand proof. If someone comes to me and tells me about World War I, I’m less likely to demand proof, given that it occured within a ‘natural’ context.

    But if someone comes to me and says that Germany lost WWI because a dragon took out their weapons, I’m going to demand proof, as opposed to the actual reason why it was won.

    It is nevertheless rational to trust the testimony of people who claim to have been there and seen it.

    But doesn’t this statement support the claim that people believe because they were taught as children? If you are raised in a specific religion from childhood, you are far more likely to accept it as valid. Partially because the way in which one rationalizes or thinks about something is derived from the religious upbringing, or just the upbringing as a whole. I think it was the Jesuits that said if they are given a child until the age of six, that child is theirs for life.

  • 38. Overdoing it « blueollie  |  July 25, 2007 at 10:29 am

    [...] De-conversion: someone doesn’t think highly of theology. [...]

  • 39. Brad  |  July 25, 2007 at 10:41 am

    Heather said,
    “There’s still a difference between a “regular” claim and a supernatural claim. Supernatural claims defy the natural world as we currently know it, which is why people would demand proof. If someone comes to me and tells me about World War I, I’m less likely to demand proof, given that it occured within a ‘natural’ context.”

    Define “supernatural.” If you took an F-14 into the 6th century, that would be supernatural to residents of that time period. To us, the miracles of scripture appear very supernatural, but to God’s perspective, it is all in a day’s work.

    And I’m aware that the above explanation can be construed to prove that what we consider as supernatural to just be undiscovered science. That is not what I’m saying, and to those who would claim it I would say that the complexities of the universe do not add up to “chance.” Science too, is a gift from God, yet it can only describe and explain His observable acts, not the cause for their sheer existence (i.e. why we are even here).

  • 40. Heather  |  July 25, 2007 at 11:57 am

    Brad,

    If you took an F-14 into the 6th century, that would be supernatural to residents of that time period. To us, the miracles of scripture appear very supernatural, but to God’s perspective, it is all in a day’s work.

    the problem is that if the 6th century person were given enough information and training, they could understand how the F-14 didn’t defy the natural world. Jesus raising the dead, raising himself, walking on water, turning water into wine — all of those were categorized to be outside the norm, in order to get Jesus noticed. Those are supernatural acts.

    As I said, a supernatural act is something that defies the world as we currently know it. If I put my hand out, touch a dead person and s/he comes back to life after four days, that defies the natural world.

    Science too, is a gift from God, yet it can only describe and explain His observable acts,

    Then shouldn’t the majority of scientists be the most devout? There was a study about how 93% of those who were involved with the (I’m going to get the group wrong) National Scientific Academy or something like that were agnostic/atheist, whereas 90% of the lay people were religious. If science can describe and explain obserable acts, then scientists should be shouting that from the roof tops. Instead, the more scientific knowledge one gains, the less devout one seems to become towards a certain creed or such or even a surefire existence of God. I’m not saying this makes a person less spiritual, though.

  • 41. superhappyjen  |  July 25, 2007 at 12:23 pm

    Define “supernatural.” If you took an F-14 into the 6th century, that would be supernatural to residents of that time period. To us, the miracles of scripture appear very supernatural, but to God’s perspective, it is all in a day’s work.
    Interesting. Doesn’t this imply that God is not all-powerful and omnipotent, but simply much more advanced than us? Given the difference between a human and a single-celled organism, it might be possible that a lifeform could evolve that is just as different from us on the other side (ie so advanced that we would look like amoebas to it).

  • 42. kramii  |  July 25, 2007 at 12:24 pm

    Simen,

    In #11 you wrote:

    There is no reason to believe that the world is not as it seems – just as there is no reason to believe there is a being that is not observed or observable.

    Many of us who are Christians are so because we believe that we have encountered God. That he has revealed Himself to us. For us, too, there is no reason to believe tha the world is not as it seems.

    In #20 you wrote:

    Thisi s so basic that we can’t say anything useful without it.

    If you want to go disbelieving the real world, go ahead. It’ll come back and bite you. If not, there’s no reason to quabble on about things we agree on.

    Again, the problem that we have here is that Christians are concinved that atheists are disbelieving the real world. We just define the real world somewhat differently.

    As I understand it, our experience of reality occurs on several levels. We experience the physical world using our senses. We experience the world of ideas using our intellect. We experience the world of the spiritual with our spirit. It is this latter that enables us to perceive God.

  • 43. superhappyjen  |  July 25, 2007 at 12:24 pm

    Oops, forgot the block quotes.

    Define “supernatural.” If you took an F-14 into the 6th century, that would be supernatural to residents of that time period. To us, the miracles of scripture appear very supernatural, but to God’s perspective, it is all in a day’s work.

    Interesting. Doesn’t this imply that God is not all-powerful and omnipotent, but simply much more advanced than us? Given the difference between a human and a single-celled organism, it might be possible that a lifeform could evolve that is just as different from us on the other side (ie so advanced that we would look like amoebas to it).

  • 44. Brad  |  July 25, 2007 at 12:52 pm

    Superhappyjen,

    As I said in the same post:
    “And I’m aware that the above explanation can be construed to prove that what we consider as supernatural to just be undiscovered science. That is not what I’m saying, and to those who would claim it I would say that the complexities of the universe do not add up to “chance.” Science too, is a gift from God, yet it can only describe and explain His observable acts, not the cause for their sheer existence (i.e. why we are even here).”

    God has means, power, and ability beyond our own. In the sense that he is much more advanced? Sure. He’s God. That’s pretty far advanced. No, I do not think he is just “some other” more advanced being, or is differentiated by a higher understanding of the world and thus has more power (gnosticism). He is God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth. As such, sure, he is more advanced, but I doubt there is anything simple about it.

    “Given the difference between a human and a single-celled organism, it might be possible that a lifeform could evolve that is just as different from us on the other side (ie so advanced that we would look like amoebas to it).”
    Except that he created both single celled organisms and humanity. :-) The only “proof” or testimony we have of God (and who He is) is how He has chosen to reveal Himself to us in scripture and creation (notice “and,” not “or”), through His words and His acts in History.

  • 45. Heather  |  July 25, 2007 at 1:11 pm

    Brad,

    The only “proof” or testimony we have of God (and who He is) is how He has chosen to reveal Himself to us in scripture and creation (notice “and,” not “or”), through His words and His acts in History.

    How are you defining “creation,” though? The world around us?

    As for the words and acts in history — isn’t that really only something you can pull from the Bible? The rest seems to be a matter of assumption, because nothing else is laid out like the Bible. We could say that God acted in a war, but it’s not clearly stated in the way it would be in the Bible. Rather, it would be someone saying, “God acted this way in the war, because God acts in such a way (based on the Bible).”

  • 46. Simen  |  July 25, 2007 at 1:25 pm

    Kramii, indeed, I have no problem with people who say that they have encountered God and thus believe. Well, I disagree with them, because I belive they haven’t really encountered God, but I don’t disagree with them in principle. What I disagree with is the idea that there is this whole field of study that theology occupies that science can’t say anything about. Now, I’m sure that if God actually appeared to people, we could study his appearance, as this kind of thing would be sure to leave some mark on the world.

    So I understand what you say and don’t disagree with it. I think it’s much more productive to disagree on what reality really is than on what tools we should use to understand it.

  • 47. Brad  |  July 25, 2007 at 1:36 pm

    Heather,

    Creation: The world, universe, everything.

    Yes, the vast majority is taken from the bible and verified (to some degree, but not completely) through independent historical records. Yes, the rest is a matter of assumption, but I prefer the term “faith.” If it were 100% verifiable through every available means, there wouldn’t be any need for faith would there? Belief is a choice. A rational one, but one that also involves a great deal of trust.

    Simen,
    I don’t think that Agkyra would say that science CAN’T speak about theology, but that one must recognize that even science is not objective and is bringing to the table a set of assumptions and predispositions to the argument before it is begun (I could be wrong).

    Also, I would add that science ALONE should not be used to speak about it, any more than science be used to describe poetry, the Mona Lisa, the Statue of David, or Van Gough’s masterpeices. Certainly, it will describe a part of it, but far from the whole.

    Scripture was not meant to be a scientific or legal document outlining beliefs and practices (while those are certainly a part of it). It is far more personal and relational than that, and science alone is incredibly limiting.

  • 48. Simen  |  July 25, 2007 at 1:42 pm

    Science can evaluate the factual claims, such as “is there a God?” or “is there any evidence that the resurrection took place?”. NOMA wants to claim that it’s really theology/divine inspiration/whatever one ought to use to evaluate such claims, and I think that’s bullshit.

  • 49. Heather  |  July 25, 2007 at 2:01 pm

    Brad,

    Yes, the vast majority is taken from the bible and verified (to some degree, but not completely) through independent historical records.

    The difficulty I have here is that I don’t see how one can reach the idea that a Christian God is responsible for creation, without using the Bible. It wouldn’t be reached through just using creation alone. Based on what we see, we might conclude that a powerful entity created the world around us. We wouldn’t conclude that it’s omnipotent, or all-knowing, or just or loving or any of that.

    Ultimately, it comes down to the Bible, and how it’s used to interpret everything else. Creation alone isn’t used to prove the existence of God. Creation as interpreted through the Bible is used, which means that creation itself can’t stand up when taken alone.

  • 50. Thinking Ape  |  July 25, 2007 at 2:08 pm

    Okay, finally someone actually answers me the one question I cared about.

    kramii says in response to Simen,

    Many of us who are Christians are so because we believe that we have encountered God.

    What does this mean? The problem with this “encountering God” is that any response is going to include more vague and meaningless terminology.

    I don’t know if it was on this thread or another, but someone accused me of being angry. This is not true. What is true is that I am extremely frustrated that no one can give me a straight answer. I don’t care about an atheists justifications for believing what they believe or a Christians justifications. We are born atheists. All of us. We are taught religion (or for those that need a whack on the head, “irreligious Christians” or “irreligious Hindus” or “irreligious Jews – just so you know, all that means is that you don’t actually believe what you label yourself… STOP MAKING UP YOUR OWN DEFINITION OF RELIGION). Whether what we are taught is true or not is an entirely different matter, but we are still taught it by someone. This is a psychological issue more than an epistemological or theological one.

    I am not an atheist. I was converted to Christianity at a very young age. I de-converted from Christianity in Bible college. I did not “experience” or “encounter” the Christian god. When I pressed my colleagues about those things which we do not speak, not one person at vespers had actually had an experience that could not be explained by scientific means.

    But here is the catch-22 in all of this. If you are not a Christian and you experience something divine, the experience is labeled something from the devil. And even if you do actually “experience” something within Christianity, you are classified as a charismatic, or sometimes, more archaically, as a mystic and brushed aside as odd. Yet the majority of Christians do not have such mystical encounters, do they? But they still believe. And so my question remains. Why should an intelligent person trust anything within Christianity in the first place?

  • 51. anon  |  July 25, 2007 at 2:57 pm

    This is beginning to look a lot like an infinite regression. While the points made are well considered, this interaction serves to illustrate the pointlessness of trying to “debate” this when each side for its own reasons is not receptive to the foundational points of the other. We have, however, only one side with any empirical support. The two sides are not at all equivalent in their ability to construct an argument consistent with reality.

  • 52. noname  |  July 25, 2007 at 3:48 pm

    i agree with anon, this kind of crap can go on forever with no real results.

    however, it only matters that one has “empirical” support if you believe that “empirical support” is the end all for discussions like this…otherwise that is just another mute point that will likely reach no concensus.

  • 53. Thinking Ape  |  July 25, 2007 at 3:53 pm

    anon and noname,
    If you do not wish to participate than do not. The majority of us find that even without a “conclusion”, that this sort of argumentation helps clarify our own beliefs. Such discussion is not pointless. An example of a pointless discussion can be found on Entertainment Tonight.

  • 54. Brendan  |  July 25, 2007 at 4:35 pm

    Actually, Simen, if the Bible said the Moon was made of cheese, there’d probably be an “Institute for Cheese Research” (ICR) pushing out crazy theories for why we should distrust all the observational evidence to the contrary. And for many, there’d appear to be nothing wrong with that at all . . .

  • 55. Brad  |  July 25, 2007 at 5:34 pm

    TA,

    “And so my question remains. Why should an intelligent person trust anything within Christianity in the first place?”

    Why not? Noone can boil it down to one simple answer. Ridiculously intelligent people have become Christians (Off the top of my head: C.S. Lewis, Augustine [who, interestingly enough said, "I believe in order to know"], Pascal, etc.), and I imagine the reasons for that are very diverse.

    I think if you were able to boil it down to even one reason, it wouldn’t be worth believing anyway.

    I am sure that this did not answer your question. Seriously, I’m sorry. I really wish I could, but that is my best attempt.

    “An example of a pointless discussion can be found on Entertainment Tonight.”
    – AMEN!

    Heather,

    “Ultimately, it comes down to the Bible, and how it’s used to interpret everything else. Creation alone isn’t used to prove the existence of God. Creation as interpreted through the Bible is used, which means that creation itself can’t stand up when taken alone.”

    – I agree. I put my faith in scripture as the way in which God has chosen to reveal himself and explain the “why’s” of creation. Strict empiricists will say that is silly/stupid/foolish, but it is where I have made my bed and am very content to lie in it. Science has not disproven the existence of a creator. Until that time (which, for the record, I don’t believe will come for obvious reasons), I have been led to place my faith in the bible for a large number and variety of reasons ranging from logical to very personal.

    I will not claim that science can 100% prove God’s existence. That would be a modernist fallacy that has been pushed by many evangelical churches in the last 50 years or so. I will not claim that the bible is even meant to be 100% proof, as there would be no need for faith in the first place. I will claim, however, that, in reference to theology, pure scientific reason divorced from emotion is both inaccurate and woefully insufficient.

  • 56. Heather  |  July 25, 2007 at 6:07 pm

    Brad,

    I put my faith in scripture as the way in which God has chosen to reveal himself and explain the “why’s” of creation.

    This is much of why I don’t think the reasoning of God revealing himself through creation or acts really works — because none of those is taken on its own. Rather, creation, events and acts are all interpreted through a Biblical lens. We couldn’t look at the end of WWII and say that the Christian God stepped in, or played a part, based on WWII alone. It would have to be based on what the Bible tells people about God, and then applied to WWII.

    Even a spiritual encounter — that alone doesn’t lend credence to a Christian God, because Muslims, Mormons, Hindus and Christians would all have what they term spiritual experiences, and they interpret those experiences through tradition or a religious text.

    So, ultimately, I’m left with a Christian is that way because of what the Bible says, and how it’s used to interpret one’s life.

  • 57. bry0000000  |  July 26, 2007 at 1:16 am

    Brad,

    “I will claim, however, that, in reference to theology, pure scientific reason divorced from emotion is both inaccurate and woefully insufficient.”

    But that is exactly when science fails. The very minute science steps out of the realm of attempts at emperical analysis and into the realm of the “shoulds and should nots” based on emotion is exactly when it becomes fallible. It is the source of doctored results, questions whose presuppositions are logically fallible or inconsistent. The marriage of emotion and scientific reason produces bastardised philosophical thought based on science. Because of this process, science tries to answer questions such as “Why do we exist.”

  • 58. kramii  |  July 26, 2007 at 8:24 am

    TA:

    In #42 I wrote:

    Many of us who are Christians are so because we believe that we have encountered God.

    In #50 you replied:

    What does this mean? The problem with this “encountering God” is that any response is going to include more vague and meaningless terminology.

    You’re probably right. But I will try to answer anyway, as best I can. The best way I can do so is to tell my story.

    Warning to readers: If you don’t like conversion stories, please stop reading now.

    I freely recognise that my recollections of the events I describe are probably coloured by the interpretations I have placed on them since. Nevertheless, I will do my best to tell things as they happened.

    So:

    There was a time when I believed in God because people around me told me He was there. As I grew up, I became very sceptical, almost to the point of atheism. At 19 years old I came to a point where I decided I needed to what my life was really all about. I started to systematically reassess everything in my life. My tastes, my dreams, my sexuality, my beliefs about God, my skills, my friendships… God was just something else on the list.

    Eventually, I got around to the God question. At that time, I was more concerned with living in reality rather than favouring any particular interpretation of reality. On a friend’s suggestion, I went along to my University Christian Union.

    In all the arguments that the Xians put forward, two thnigs stood out to me. Someone had suggested that the whole Xian thing worked for her. That impressed me. Someone else said I should ask God to show himself to me. That sounded daft, as I did not believe God was real, but it still niggled at me.

    After a couple of weeks I was persuaded that the people I met there were nice, honest but completely deluded. I decided that enough was enough. As I walked home from a dinner engagement with some of the Xians I had met, I decided that I would let them know I was not interested anymore and to move on to something else.

    That night I was in bed, thinking over the day + the God question. It occured to me that, in the unlikely event that God was real, he might be interested in revealing Himself. I realised that such a revalation was unlikely to be in the physical world. But I had recently started writing poetry. It came from somewhere within. My “spirit”, if you like. I wondered if that part of me might not contain a clue, some kind of maker’s mark. So as I lay there, I looked within, and asked God to show himself if he was really there.

    I was absolutely astounded when suddenly KNEW, without any doubt, that God is real. I know it is a cliche, but it really is as if I had been blind, but now I could see.

    Before I did anything about anything, I slept on things. Perhaps the Xians had got to me.

    In the morning, I was curious to discover that I still KNEW.

    Since that day, nearly 20 years ago, I have never stopped being able to SEE that God is stilll real. Sometimes, he seems very very dim, and I doubt that he was ever there at all. At other times he is vividly real.

    I must make it clear that, at this point, I was FAR from being persuaded by any of the claims of Xianity, other than the claim that God is real. My concersion to Xianity itself to a lot longer.

    I did not “experience” or “encounter” the Christian god. When I pressed my colleagues about those things which we do not speak, not one person at vespers had actually had an experience that could not be explained by scientific means.

    I am constantly surprised by how many people put faith in a God that they have not experienced. It is not my place to question validity another person’s faith, but I simply cannot understand people’s accepting Xianity without having encountered God for themselves.

    Amongst my Xian friends, such experiences seem quite the norm. Perhaps, as a group, we are the exception.

    If you are not a Christian and you experience something divine, the experience is labeled something from the devil.

    For what it is worth, I try to avoid any such labeling. I am nobody’s judge.

    And even if you do actually “experience” something within Christianity, you are classified as a charismatic, or sometimes, more archaically, as a mystic and brushed aside as odd.

    Or insane. Something I cannot absolutely rule out in my own case. But if I am stark-raving, then I am pretty high-functioning. I am intelligent, I hold down a job, have a family, a modest house, a car…

    All in all, I don’t think the labels really help. If you must label me, then “odd” (or “wierd”) sums me up rather well. But, I was both of those things before I “saw the light”.

    Yet the majority of Christians do not have such mystical encounters, do they? But they still believe.

    I find this very strange, too.

  • 59. kramii  |  July 26, 2007 at 8:43 am

    Heather:

    In #56 you wrote:

    Even a spiritual encounter — that alone doesn’t lend credence to a Christian God, because Muslims, Mormons, Hindus and Christians would all have what they term spiritual experiences…

    I absolutely agree. It seems to me that good theology begins from the “religious experience”, just as good science begins with experience of the physical world.

    …and they interpret those experiences through tradition or a religious text.

    So, ultimately, I’m left with a Christian is that way because of what the Bible says, and how it’s used to interpret one’s life…and they interpret those experiences through tradition or a religious text.

    To some extent, yes. But that is not the whole story. We interpret the Bible through our experience, too.

    We see the Bible as a series of stories about people, their encounters with God, the interpretations that they place on those experiences, and the consequences of those interptetations.

    Over the years, we view the stories in the Bible as having been validated agaist each other, against the experiences of other Xians and agaist out own experiences.

    I certainly could not believe the Bible if the stories in it did not match what I know of God from my own experience.

    That is not to say that we can always see how it all fits together. Sometimes, the Bible appears contradictory or just plain wrong. Usually, there is a good explaination. More ften than not, it is our pre-conceived ideas that are wrong. Occasionally, there does not appear to be a solution. But that does not mean that there is not such a solution.

  • 60. Heather  |  July 26, 2007 at 9:19 am

    Kramii,

    I certainly could not believe the Bible if the stories in it did not match what I know of God from my own experience.

    I’m still going to hold to the fact that it ultimately comes down to what the Bible says. For instace, if we went based on creation alone, we’d have no idea that creation should be considered ‘fallen’ or that man should be considered ‘fallen.’ Without the Bible, the conclusion would probably be that man is a mixture of good and bad qualities. Without the Bible, no one would conceive of the fact that God is omnipotent, all-knowing, loving, just — because the universe and everything we interact with doesn’t support that conclusion. It seems more that you have an experience, and the Bible tells you what that experience means. Eventually, those experiences, which one is already interpreting in a Biblical lens, could be used to interpret the Bible, but the experiences are no longer standing alone. They’ve been adapted due to prior Biblical exposure (my apologies if that comes across as soundling like a disease. That’s not my intention).

    For you, eventually, your experience with God lined up with Christianity. But even then, what type of Christianity? Which denomination? Liberal or Christian? For another, it could line up with the book of Mormon. For another, the Qur’an.

    Considering that it’s holding a claim of absolute truth, the elements used to support that claim are all subjective in nature.

  • 61. kramii  |  July 26, 2007 at 10:10 am

    Heather:

    In #60 you asked:

    For you, eventually, your experience with God lined up with Christianity. But even then, what type of Christianity? Which denomination? Liberal or Christian? For another, it could line up with the book of Mormon. For another, the Qur’an.

    I am just a rather ordinary Christian, working things out as I go along. I don’t really like to label myself. Of course, the Church I attend has denominational affiliation, but I am a member there because of the people rather than because of denomination.

    Considering that it’s holding a claim of absolute truth, the elements used to support that claim are all subjective in nature.

    Are they any more subjective than the claims of science? Science, too, is based on experience (ie. observation, experiment) and a body of knowledge.

  • 62. Heather  |  July 26, 2007 at 10:48 am

    Kramii,

    Are they any more subjective than the claims of science? Science, too, is based on experience (ie. observation, experiment) and a body of knowledge.

    I would argue that science is less subjective. Take gravity. We can see the effects of gravity, prove its effects, and it’s not a matter of reading words and then interpreting them.

    Whereas something like God — there’s no way to demonstrate God in the same way there is with gravity. That becomes a matter of subjective experience. We can’t set up a test to determine what God is, or how God operates, the way we can with gravity. Or with mathematical principles — 2+2=4 is a constant, and can’t be altered. The physical representation of it can be, but the ideas behind it can’t.

    But God can’t be demonstrated as a constant the way 2+2=4 is. Pointing to something and saying it’s the work of God is a matter of faith. And science also allows itself the opporutnity for change. If the facts lead to a different conclusion, the scientific statements will alter accordingly. It acts according to a set of rules, and often with God, you can’t apply a set of rules to God. The nature of God is that God operates the way he sees fit, and his ways are mysterious. You can know that God is love, but even that is a subjective statement, because it depends on the perception of God and how one defines love.

  • 63. kramii  |  July 26, 2007 at 11:45 am

    Heather:

    In #62 you wrote:

    I would argue that science is less subjective. Take gravity. We can see the effects of gravity, prove its effects, and it’s not a matter of reading words and then interpreting them.

    On the contrary, we interpret the attraction of masses to each other as “gravity” because Newton (or whoever) wrote about the concept. These phenomena were interpreted in a different way before that. The “writings” are an essential part of our interpretation.

    Whereas something like God — there’s no way to demonstrate God in the same way there is with gravity.

    Not, not in the same way. But then, you wouldn’t demonstrate that 2+2=4 in the same way that you demonstrate gravity. They are from different areas of experience.

    Pointing to something and saying it’s the work of God is a matter of faith.

    As is saying that something is the work of Brunel or Picasso or Newton. If my washing up gets done when I am out, it is reasonable to assume that my wife has done it. But this, too, is a matter of faith.

    And science also allows itself the opporutnity for change. If the facts lead to a different conclusion, the scientific statements will alter accordingly.

    Personal theology is very much like that: if we allow ourselves to change. Christian Theology works this way, too. It is just that some things (like gravity) are very well established.

    It acts according to a set of rules, and often with God, you can’t apply a set of rules to God. The nature of God is that God operates the way he sees fit, and his ways are mysterious.

    Again, I must disagree. God appears to have set himself some very clear rules. He also appears to be quite willing to reveal those rules if we go looking.

    Some of them are called “mathematics” and “science”.

    You can know that God is love, but even that is a subjective statement, because it depends on the perception of God and how one defines love.

    Yes and no. Our pre-suppositions do change the way we see things, but they do not alter the thing that we perceive. The more we look at a thing, the more vivid it becomes, the more our misapprehensions fade away. This is how we make progress in science. This is how we get to know people. This is how we get to know truth. This is how we get to know God.

    The only way to do that is to seek Him out, to spend time with Him, to study Him. We must ask Him to show Himself to us, and try care about His answers more than our own.

  • 64. Heather  |  July 26, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    Kramii,

    we interpret the attraction of masses to each other as “gravity” because Newton (or whoever) wrote about the concept. These phenomena were interpreted in a different way before that.

    I don’t see how this makes science just as subjective as theology, though. Newton discovered how the attraction of masses worked, wrote a paper, and had others test his claims and was able to demonstrate how his theory worked. If science had previously said that it was due to fairies, and Newton defined gravity as how it works today, science adapts based on the evidence, and corrects false assumptions. You can’t do that with theology or religion or even spirituality. You can’t point to something and then demonstrate it is the work of the Christian God through the same way you’d point to the effects of gravity.

    As is saying that something is the work of Brunel or Picasso or Newton. If my washing up gets done when I am out, it is reasonable to assume that my wife has done it. But this, too, is a matter of faith.

    It’s not a matter of faith, though. We can trace how Picasso or Newton worked. We have experience with how painters work, with Picasso’s work, and it falls into the realm of the natural world. We have a clear path with physical markers. You have prior experience with your wife doing the laundry — you can go ask your wife if she did that. When you apply those same standards to a God who works outside the physical realm, it doesn’t work. We can’t point to a tree and say that God did that because we have prior experience. Instead, it becomes, “The Bible says that God created all things, and that would include the tree, even though no one was around to witness this creation.” You can’t actually ask God in the way you’d ask a person. You can’t demonstrate a 100% fact of God’s existence through a supernatural use of power. The biggest method of proof that seems to get used is how many lives are changed as a result of Christianity — except that proof works for every religion.

    Again, I must disagree. God appears to have set himself some very clear rules. He also appears to be quite willing to reveal those rules if we go looking.

    Unfortunatly, I can’t begin to describe how often I’ve seen the response of God’s ways are higher than ours or God is mysterious when one starts asking about the rules of God, or saying that some rules don’t make sense. The ‘faith’ card gets played here. And even here — those rules are evident to you, based on your experiences, but it’s not something you can just demonstrate the way you would with gravity. Or even murdering someone — the societal rule of killing breaks the law can be demonstrated by someone killing a person and then going to jail. But that would also break God’s law. So say the person escapes jail and is never caught. We aren’t shown that there’s a repercussion for breaking that law in this lifetime, and if it occurs in the hereafter, that is a matter of faith, not proof.

    if we allow ourselves to change. Christian Theology works this way, too. It is just that some things (like gravity) are very well established.

    But if something comes along that completely re-defines how gravity works, science will adapt to that. If something comes along and says the resurrection didn’t happen, Christianity no longer works for a large percentage of Christians.

    Some of them are called “mathematics” and “science”.

    If God is clearly demonstrated in science and that is one of the ways in which God reveals himself (except you earlier said in your conversion experience that God was unlikely to be revealed in the physical world), why are so many scientists atheists? I knew a physicist (one other than HIS) who started his work with a devout belief in God, and then it faded the more he learned. That seems to be a common reaction. I believe somehwere around 93% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences are atheists.

    If these rules clearly reveal God, and creation is a clear indicator of God, it would logically follow that those who know the most about how this universe operates would believe in God.

  • 65. eye-of-horus  |  July 26, 2007 at 2:53 pm

    *** Watch out when making statements about nature ***

    Suppose (to keep things simple) a Big 3 monotheism makes a statement about a relationship between God (Allah, Yahveh) and the world, like this: God created the world in 7 days.

    We are entitled to ask: are you making an empirical claim here? Is this a matter of fact? And if so, what evidence would show that your claim is false?

    Because, unless a statement can be falsified it can not be an empirical truth, a true statement about nature.

    Whenever so-called “sacred” writings make claims about the natural world, they are subject to exactly the same forces of potential refutation as any other empirical claim. There is no “executive privilege” for God.

    Evolutionary Biology has proven the Genesis story of animal creation to be false. More importantly, Darwin solved the materialists’ puzzle (for all organisms) : how can order arise from randomness.

    Let’s get the bottom line very, very clear. Since evolution through natural selection is true, then Genesis is false. Period. Biblical literalism is a lie, Lie, LIE. Period.

    eye-of-horus
    copyright asserted 2007

  • 66. Brad  |  July 26, 2007 at 3:16 pm

    Yeah… which is why we still call evolution a “theory.” I’ll buy micro-evolution, as it certainly does not conflict with scripture, but there has been no proof of macro-evolution found to date. It is still a theory. I definitely would not say I’m a 6-day creationist, for reasons such as carbon-dating evidence, but macro-evolution remains a theory.

    Sorry bud.

  • 67. kramii  |  July 26, 2007 at 3:26 pm

    Heather:

    In #64 you wrote:

    science…corrects false assumptions. You can’t do that with theology or religion or even spirituality. You can’t point to something and then demonstrate it is the work of the Christian God through the same way you’d point to the effects of gravity.

    Why not? I am sorry, I really think I am missing something here.

    …We can trace how Picasso or Newton worked. We have experience with how painters work…you can go ask your wife if she did that. When you apply those same standards to a God who works outside the physical realm, it doesn’t work.
    We can’t point to a tree and say that God did that because we have prior experience

    Again, I must be missing something here. Because I that is exactly what Xians like me believe we have – experience of how God works.

    Instead, it becomes, “The Bible says that God created all things, and that would include the tree, even though no one was around to witness this creation.” You can’t actually ask God in the way you’d ask a person.

    Yes, we can ask God if he did it. And sometimes we really do seem to get an answer. We’re not talkig flying spaghetti monsters here. Nobody really claims to have met one of those. OTOH, Xians like me claim that we are actually in contact with God, right here, right now. Of course, we may be deluded. Of course, not everyone has exactly the same reasons for their faith. But we do have reasons.

    You can’t demonstrate a 100% fact of God’s existence through a supernatural use of power.

    No. Nor through any other means that I am aware of. We can reasonably challange people’s reasons for not looking. We can show that our faith might just possibly be reasonable. We might even be able to demonstrate the odd miracle now and then. But nore of these things is 100% proof positive. At tbe end of the day, each one of us makes up our own mind on the basis of the evidence before us.

    The biggest method of proof that seems to get used is how many lives are changed as a result of Christianity — except that proof works for every religion.

    For my own part, I have never questioned that other religions effect people’s lives. Neither do I reject all the claims of other religions. On the contrary, I fully accept that other religions have an enormous amount of value. Even atheism is of value in so far as it challanges the stupidity of some Xian claims (my own included, to the extend that they are stupid).

    You earlier said in your conversion experience that God was unlikely to be revealed in the physical world

    I am sorry, perhaps I was unclear. I actually came to the conclusion that I could not know if God was real or not through the physical world. In my skeptic days, I was always tempted believe in God because of the created order, but to me this was far from convincing evidence.

    Once I concluded that God was real after all, it was reasonable to conclude that the created order is a result of His divine work. Like any art work, something of the character of the maker is reavealed in the thing made. To that extent, it is quite possible to develop one’s knowledge of some aspects of God’s character through observing the world around us.

    If God is clearly demonstrated in science and that is one of the ways in which God reveals himself… why are so many scientists atheists?

    I really have no idea. If there are any such scientists reading, please let us know.

    I believe somehwere around 93% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences are atheists.

    I find this rather curious. I would love to know what these scientists have to say on the subject.

    If these rules clearly reveal God, and creation is a clear indicator of God, it would logically follow that those who know the most about how this universe operates would believe in God.

    I don’t think that they do reveal God. God revelas Himself. Once revealed, these rules can tell us a great deal about Him.

  • 68. kramii  |  July 26, 2007 at 3:41 pm

    Simen:

    I am sorry not to have replied earlier. I missed your post.

    In #64 you wrote:

    Indeed, I have no problem with people who say that they have encountered God and thus believe. Well, I disagree with them, because I belive they haven’t really encountered God, but I don’t disagree with them in principle.

    So, how would you interpret my experience, then?

    What I disagree with is the idea that there is this whole field of study that theology occupies that science can’t say anything about.

    You’d have to be more specific, but taking your statement at face value, I would have to agree with you.

    Now, I’m sure that if God actually appeared to people, we could study his appearance, as this kind of thing would be sure to leave some mark on the world.

    According to various world religions, He actually has.

    So I understand what you say and don’t disagree with it. I think it’s much more productive to disagree on what reality really is than on what tools we should use to understand it.

    to a very large extent, I agree. However, the debates over those tools are often quite necessary. If these tools are to be effective on the real world, then they too must occupy the space we call reality.Therefore, they must also be open to scrutiny and debate. Poor tools do lead to poor products.

    Out of interest, do you have a good reference to a book or article outlining your own preferred tool kit? I am not promising to read it, but I am curious.

  • 69. Simen  |  July 26, 2007 at 4:07 pm

    I’m not sure I have a “preferred toolkit”. I would simply answer “abstract reasoning and concrete science”, which of course could mean a lot of thing. I haven’t read any books outlining any method I agree with completely. I’ll have to get back to that.

    So, how would you interpret my experience, then?

    It depends. I must have missed it if you described it in detail. So, what was your experience?

    You’d have to be more specific, but taking your statement at face value, I would have to agree with you.

    For instance, take the quote in the beginning of the post, or the NOMA principle described towards the end of the article. I disagree with both.

    According to various world religions, He actually has.

    Therein lies the disagreement, no?

    to a very large extent, I agree. However, the debates over those tools are often quite necessary. If these tools are to be effective on the real world, then they too must occupy the space we call reality.Therefore, they must also be open to scrutiny and debate. Poor tools do lead to poor products.

    Agreed.

  • 70. Brad  |  July 26, 2007 at 4:16 pm

    Simen said,
    “So I understand what you say and don’t disagree with it. I think it’s much more productive to disagree on what reality really is than on what tools we should use to understand it.”

    I really think you hit it on the head. Modernist Christians have claimed that science alone can prove scripture, but they are very wrong. Not because it is untrue, but because scripture was never meant to be an academic statement of fact or a legal brief. It is a holistic writing that encompasses many different uses of language (symbolic, literal, metaphoric, historical, etc.). Using a hammer on nails, screws, bolts, nuts, and tacs just doesn’t make sense.

    So to go back to Simen’s statement, I agree. It is going to have to boil down to a differing opinion on what reality is. I’m not sure really what to do with that in light of this debate, but it certainly makes me feel like taking a deep breath!

    A very good point, Simen. I think many Christians (myself included) mistakenly take scientific rhetoric as a belief system itself and not a tool to measure/judge their belief system. Does that make sense?

    Then again, some people do go too far with science and make it a belief system, but I don’t think you are one of them.

  • 71. Simen  |  July 26, 2007 at 4:30 pm

    Yes, Brad, it makes sense. A method is not a belief. Science becomes a belief system the moment it goes from being a method to being a fact, and ironically, that’s also the moment it stops being science.

    (Whoa, that sounds like some zen koan. A science koan, perhaps.)

    I noticed your last post:

    Yeah… which is why we still call evolution a “theory.” I’ll buy micro-evolution, as it certainly does not conflict with scripture, but there has been no proof of macro-evolution found to date. It is still a theory. I definitely would not say I’m a 6-day creationist, for reasons such as carbon-dating evidence, but macro-evolution remains a theory.

    I’ll have to disagree. True, evolution is a theory (and a fact), but it’s not true that there has been no proof of macro-evolution. Or rather, you’re misusing the term proof, because a proof is a series of premises and deductive steps that prove a conclusion, and science is based on induction, not deductive logic. So you can’t say “microevolution has been proved” but “there has been no proof of macroevolution”. There is only evolution, and there’s more evidence for evolution than for most other scientific theories.

  • 72. kramii  |  July 26, 2007 at 4:32 pm

    Simen:

    In #68 I wrote:

    So, how would you interpret my experience, then?

    In #69 you replied:

    It depends. I must have missed it if you described it in detail. So, what was your experience?

    If you’re interested, see #58.

    When I asked about your “toolkit” for investigating reality, you replied:

    I haven’t read any books outlining any method I agree with completely.

    If no such book has been written, I suggest that this is a great tragedy. Such a book should be written by someone.

  • 73. Heather  |  July 26, 2007 at 4:33 pm

    Brad,

    which is why we still call evolution a “theory.”

    Except science doesn’t use the word ‘theory’ the way that the layperson does. There’s the gravitational theory, but no one calls that a hypothesis. For science, it’s an explanation or a model based on the facts at time, falsifiable and so on. It’s not a conjecture or speculation. And they call macro-evolution a theory because scientists say they have empircal data to support that. Now, whether or not you agree with them is another question — but to say that evolution is just a theory is to use “theory” incorrectly in terms of science.

    Kramii,

    You can’t point to something and then demonstrate it is the work of the Christian God through the same way you’d point to the effects of gravity.

    Why not? I am sorry, I really think I am missing something here.

    Because there’s no empircal date, basically, like there is for gravity or most of the scientific terms. You say that you have a relationship with God, and Christians are in constant communication with God. But there’s no way to empircally verify that. For you, the results would be a Christian God. For another, the results would be the Islamic God. You can’t produce exact proof in the way science would determine proof. Theology becomes a matter of subjectivity. You say that you can ask God, but we have no way of verifying you received an answer. You would say you have, but can we determine that the way we determine how gravity functions?

    For example: if you were to prove that a tree is the work of God, how would you go about doing so? What tests would you perform, and how would you produce the results? From what I see, the only way to ‘prove’ that is to say the Bible says so, or one’s encounter with God says so. That’s what I mean when I say one can’t produce the same type of proof between gravity and God.

    And even if one were to ask God, and receive an answer — even the “answer” is a subjective matter, because it’s an internal answer. There isn’t any physical “proof” of the answer.

    For me, it comes back to comparing how the biblical writers received answers, and today. There were a lot of supernatural occurances in the Bible — the plagues in Egypt, burning bush, the healings, raising the dead. We don’t have that same type of proof today. What we have are people saying that the proof is in the Bible, and all the supernatural claims that occured back then. Whereas if someone makes a scientific claim 200 years ago, we can test those claims.

    I’m not saying you don’t have reasons for your faith — I’m just saying that I find much of religion a matter of subjectivity, even though elements of it claim absolute truth.

  • 74. Daniel  |  July 26, 2007 at 4:36 pm

    Wow… just…. wow… this is some cool shit right here…

    I don’t think I know enough about philosophy to really contribute much here, but I was hoping people could answer a couple of things for me.

    For theists (at least, the theists here) why does a static world view (eg from the Bible) need to explain their relationship with God? Well, obviously, it doesn’t HAVE to, but why does it? Imagine a belief in God which would be much more difficult to fault than the evangelistic (whatever THAT means to you!) Christian one, and which could at the present time coexist with science. For instance, the belief that the age of the planet is only 6000 years or so is core to the teachings of the bible and absolutely does not fit with a scientific world view. Similar arguments could be made with Adam and Eve vs evolution, or where the centre of the solar system really lies. These things do not prevent God Himself from existing, but they do prevent the bible being His infallible word.

    So, assuming that God doesn’t really mind if I wear a cotton-polyester blend, because the bible isn’t quite accurate, it would be plausible that he is able to create and continue to support a universe in which he exerts his influence in subtle, “untestable” (only because creating a hypothesis to disprove would not be feasible), but nonetheless “significant” ways.

    But why would you necessarily believe that? Though I don’t know why you would necessarily NOT believe it, if it made you feel nice or something…

    You could just remain undecided because of a lack of evidence, and HOPE for the thing that made you feel nicest, but people don’t seem to like hoping when they can really believe!

  • 75. bry0000000  |  July 26, 2007 at 4:36 pm

    Kramii:

    Exactly.

    The only way in which we can come to a belief of God rooted in conviction is by engaging in the process of mutilating rhetoric, murdering reason, –to rephrase Nietzsche, we must partake in the continual suicide of logic. A conviction of divine existence neccesitates the rejection of the very tools that allow us to analyze the natural world, to critique the “empericism” of science.

  • 76. bry0000000  |  July 26, 2007 at 4:37 pm

    Sorry, screwed up my blockquote.

  • 77. Simen  |  July 26, 2007 at 4:38 pm

    Perhaps there is such a book, I just haven’t read it yet. In any case, I’m not a fan of prepackaged opinions.

    I read your account of your experience, and I must say, I’m not impressed. So you suddenly became convinced that God is real. Why must the experience be divine? This kind of personal testimony is unfortunately not very good evidence.

    It has been showed in experiments that spiritual experiences can be chemically induced, so I wouldn’t count on them as evidence of God no matter how real they felt. See, for instance, the book The “God” Part of the Brain for references.

  • 78. Simen  |  July 26, 2007 at 4:39 pm

    That last comment was @Brad kramii, some comments came in between, sorry.

  • 79. Brad  |  July 26, 2007 at 4:52 pm

    Simen and Karen,

    When I use “theory” I mean it in contrast to “law.” I understand that theories require a certain amount of evidence, particularly inductive, but it remains a theory and not a law because it lacks complete proof.

    I’m not a scientist, and honestly, I’m only applying the terms as taught at my liberal sciences university (gen ed of course).

    As for Micro-evolution, distinctions within a genus is far more plausible and proven through experiment. Those traits however, have never led to a new species. Macro evolution has not been proven and cannot be proven until (if) this happens. Until then, it appears to remain a theory.

    I don’t want to hijack this post with a tangent, and I understand this is a comlpetely different argument. I just wanted to clarify why I believed the previous post.

  • 80. kramii  |  July 26, 2007 at 5:26 pm

    Heather:

    In #73 you wrote:

    From what I see, the only way to ‘prove’ that is to say the Bible says so, or one’s encounter with God says so. That’s what I mean when I say one can’t produce the same type of proof between gravity and God.

    In fairness, yes, there is a great deal of subjectivity in theology. But it apears to me as if we can move beyond such subjectivity, much as scientists have done for the physical world.

    Someone new to gravity might say, “This evidence for gravity: you say you can gather physical proof. But how? With your senses? Show me your senses! Your views on gravity look very subjective to me!”

    But we can move beyond this: we come to agreement based on observation, collaboration, reflection, theorising, testing….just as we can (I contest) in theology.

  • 81. kramii  |  July 26, 2007 at 5:41 pm

    Daniel:

    In #74 you asked:

    For theists (at least, the theists here) why does a static world view (eg from the Bible) need to explain their relationship with God?[...] Imagine a belief in God which would be much more difficult to fault than the [...] Christian one, and which could at the present time coexist with science.

    For my part, I have become gradually persuaded that the Bible matches my experience of God, that it is internally consistent, and that it is also consistent with modern science. I unreservedly acknowldge that, for me, there are some serious challanges that come with this view. But it seems to be a good working hypothesis. If the Bible is wrong, it is not far wrong in any way that matters to me.

    For instance, the belief that the age of the planet is only 6000 years or so is core to the teachings of the bible and absolutely does not fit with a scientific world view.

    Not all Xians agree that the first chapters of Genesis need be taken literally.

    Similar arguments could be made with Adam and Eve vs evolution

    Adam and Eve existed, in that there was a first man and a first woman.

    These things do not prevent God Himself from existing, but they do prevent the bible being His infallible word.

    That rather depends on your definition of infallible.

    So, assuming that God doesn’t really mind if I wear a cotton-polyester blend…

    You child of the devil, you ;-)

    , because the bible isn’t quite accurate, it would be plausible that he is able to create and continue to support a universe in which he exerts his influence in subtle, “untestable” (only because creating a hypothesis to disprove would not be feasible), but nonetheless “significant” ways.

    I’m fine with that kind of God.

  • 82. Heather  |  July 26, 2007 at 5:48 pm

    Brad,

    Macro evolution has not been proven and cannot be proven until (if) this happens. Until then, it appears to remain a theory.

    I know you don’t want to tangent this post, and if you don’t respond, that’s fine. :) But it still sounds as though you’re using theory in layman terms. Whereas in scientific terms, taken from the NAS, a scientific theory is “a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.”

    To scientists, given that many hold to macro-evolution, I do think they feel they do have evidence, which is why they call evolution a theory.

    Kramii,

    But we can move beyond this: we come to agreement based on observation, collaboration, reflection, theorising, testing….just as we can (I contest) in theology.

    I think we’re going to have to disagree on this. I still find less subjectivity in regards to gravity. We can all see an apple fall to the ground when we drop it, regardless of how it’s interpreted. I don’t see the same working with God. THere’s no means of seeing what/who God is through testing or really even theories. God is known to be outside the physical world aka supernatural. But we don’t see a large group displaying access to any type of supernatural entity, which would go a long way towards “proving” God or just offering support towards one particular religion. We can’t set up a lab experiment. We can’t even look at the world around us and conclude that the Christian God, or any God, exists — that knowlege comes from a book. That’s why there’s such a huge emphasis on faith — it’s on the things one can’t see or point to as proof. It’s too close to the lines of one can only find God if one believes, first (and I have seen that argument used).

    Anyway, it looks like we’ll star t to go in circles at this point, so I say we wrap up?

  • 83. kramii  |  July 26, 2007 at 6:00 pm

    Simen:

    In #72 I said:

    If no such book has been written, I suggest that this is a great tragedy. Such a book should be written by someone.

    In #77 you said:

    Perhaps there is such a book, I just haven’t read it yet. In any case, I’m not a fan of prepackaged opinions.

    Perhaps there is. Hence the “if in my comment”. Personally, I dislike prepackaged opinions, too. So, I imagine that explanations would be more appropriate.

    I read your account of your experience, and I must say, I’m not impressed.

    Ouch! You wound me! You mean you’re not willing to swap your atheist card for the priesthood just on my say so? How could you be so doubting? ;-)

    I am sorry if I gave the wrong impression. I had not intended to impress. Merely to illustrate.

    So you suddenly became convinced that God is real.

    Yes. But not unquestioningly.

    The problem is, how can we be sure of anything? Ultimately, we rely on our experience and our reason. This is all we have. My experience was that God had made himself real to me.

    Why must the experience be divine?

    That is the way that it presented itself to me. Why is blue perceived as blue? Because of the charactaristics of blue light. Why is the devine perceived as such? Because of its charactaristics.

    This kind of personal testimony is unfortunately not very good evidence.

    Except to the one who experiences it.

    Unfortunately, all evidence is personal testimony at some level. It becomes good evidenve when it is corroborated. There are a lot of theists in the world who agree with the basic nature of my experience.

    It has been showed in experiments that spiritual experiences can be chemically induced, so I wouldn’t count on them as evidence of God no matter how real they felt.

    It has also been shown by experiment that all kinds of other experiences can be induced, too. So I wouldn’t count on experience as being evidence of anythi… wait, no! That’s just daft.

    See, for instance, the book The “God” Part of the Brain for references.

    Perhaps I’ll check out my local library on Monday.

  • 84. kramii  |  July 26, 2007 at 6:06 pm

    Heather:

    In #82 you said:

    Anyway, it looks like we’ll star t to go in circles at this point, so I say we wrap up?

    Well, we can agree on that. Consider the subject wrapped.

    It has been a pleasure discussing with you. Regards.

  • 85. Brad  |  July 26, 2007 at 6:07 pm

    Heather said,
    “But it still sounds as though you’re using theory in layman terms. ”

    *raises hand* Guilty! I am not a scientist, by any stretch of the imagination and am very willing to concede the point in how I used it and apologize for hijacking proper terminology. My English-major wife would not approve. :-)

    Based on my own lay objective analysis, I will not subscribe to it until one of two requirements are met:
    1.) Physical evidence (whatever that form is), or
    2.) Reproduced results from experiment.

    *shrugs* Just sayin’.

    I must say, this conversation has been very interesting (before I chimed in, anyway. ;-) ).

  • 86. Simen  |  July 26, 2007 at 6:13 pm

    Evolution is a fact and a theory. I’ve linked to evidence earlier in this thread – pardon me saying it, but if you don’t accept macroevolution, you must be a nutty fundamentalist, and those are impossible to argue with.

    It has also been shown by experiment that all kinds of other experiences can be induced, too. So I wouldn’t count on experience as being evidence of anythi… wait, no! That’s just daft.

    This experience can’t be quantified in any way. It can’t be tested. We know that this kind of experience can be fake, but we have yet to find evidence that they’re real. Hence I believe that your experience, whatever nature it may be of, is not divine.

  • 87. Brad  |  July 26, 2007 at 8:09 pm

    “I’ve linked to evidence earlier in this thread – pardon me saying it, but if you don’t accept macroevolution, you must be a nutty fundamentalist, and those are impossible to argue with.”

    I’m disappointed. You normally give much better argumentation. Ad hominem is not effective logic, as I am most definitely not a “nutty fundamentalist.” I would hope for something much more along the lines of “agree to disagree.”

    Please note that I am not saying there is not evidence of macroevolution, I am saying that I don’t believe there is enough evidence for it to be exclusive fact.

  • 88. Thinking Ape  |  July 27, 2007 at 2:16 am

    Brad,

    Please note that I am not saying there is not evidence of macroevolution, I am saying that I don’t believe there is enough evidence for it to be exclusive fact.

    Not meaning to gang up or pick on you, but have you tried studying evolutionary theory from outside the “bubble”? I am not saying this in a accusative tone. I only ask because in my mind, macroevolution was extremely preposterous – I read everything on answersingenesis and all the creationists of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. But I never actually studied what the scientists were really saying. If you can say you honestly have studied it, then all power to you. If not, it just sounds like you are calling the entire scientific community a bunch of morons.

  • 89. Thinking Ape  |  July 27, 2007 at 2:17 am

    correction
    *I HAD read everything in answersingenesis, etc. (as in, before “deconverting”)

  • 90. Steelman  |  July 27, 2007 at 3:02 am

    Heather (and perhaps others) have touched on the Argument From Disagreement, which says: Because theological claims conflict, at least some of them must be false, and all of them could be false. Now, I’d like to take that argument in a different than usual direction.

    There are two ideas in the comments that I’ve been thinking about. Agkyra started things off at the top by asserting that theological questions are outside the domain of empirical science, and I believe it was Kramii who mentioned a toolkit for investigating reality.

    If what Agkyra says is true, and the resolution of theological questions is ultimately outside the purview of empirical science, is there an alternative method for discovering metaphysical truth? Considering that various strongly held, yet diametrically opposed, religious beliefs continue to cause warfare and other forms of human suffering, wouldn’t it be a worthwhile endeavor to resolve such conflicts? I’m not talking about ecumenism, although I find that worthwhile as well. I mean the actual methodical determination of which theological claims are in fact true.

    Doing this would certainly make the world a more peaceful place. And for those who believe in a loving God, I think he’d certainly be pleased if everyone were on the same doctrinal page rather than fighting over scriptural interpretations or which church or religion was the “right” one. And just of think of all the deconverted who could now reconvert with confidence that they’re on the right metaphysical track.

    If any believers have an idea how to do this I’d be interested to hear it. Such a project would sure beat pastimes like the Sunni vs. Shiite “games” in Iraq. Sure, there would still be different denominations of the certified One True Religion, just to accommodate different tastes in worship services, but people wouldn’t have to waste precious time accusing each other of practicing a religion that’s “of the devil”, or wondering whether or not God really cares if they use condoms.

    Does what I’m saying sound facetious? It could be taken that way. It could also be taken as a serious challenge for believers to find a way to revolutionize metaphysical inquiry, and put the Argument From Disagreement forever to rest.

    Another thought: maybe I’m making a different category mistake than Agkyra claims is being made by those who attempt to assess theological truths using empiricism. Perhaps theology is more analogous to aesthetics than any type of methodological investigation like science.

    Poetry, paintings, and music may contain references to facts, but they’re not about empirical truth, and they’re definitely not without meaning for those who appreciate them. They may speak to us about the human condition, point out flaws in our societies, cause us to examine our darkest selves, or strike deep emotional chords that inspire us to do great things. There isn’t one “true” religion any more than there is one “true” form of artistic expression. Now I’m getting ecumenical, and universalist here…

    If religious beliefs and experiences are a close analogue to artistic expression and appreciation, then they can have great power for those individuals whose lives they touch. They also, like art, may inspire individuals but never dictate to the masses. A novel may inspire individuals to change due to its lament about the woes of society, but never impose its story on that society. And a painting may depict the law, but never legislate. Because religion and art are both “in the eye of the beholder,” they can have no authority over those who do not choose to appreciate them.

  • 91. Simen  |  July 27, 2007 at 3:10 am

    Brad,

    I’m disappointed. You normally give much better argumentation. Ad hominem is not effective logic, as I am most definitely not a “nutty fundamentalist.” I would hope for something much more along the lines of “agree to disagree.”

    Well, this is a matter in which I won’t simply agree to disagree. I’ll conclude that the one who disagrees must either sit on radical new evidence he’s not giving to the wider scientific community, or he’s too ignorant or dogmatic to accept the truth, and either way, he’s not a person I’d like to discuss with.

    This is not an ad honimem, because ad hominem is “P is so stupid/(other characteristic), therefore what P says is wrong.” This, on the other hand, is “What P says is wrong, therefore P is stupid.”

  • 92. Justin  |  July 27, 2007 at 8:14 am

    actually simon, ad honimem is as follows:

    Person A makes claim X
    There is something objectionable about Person A
    Therefore claim X is false

    so in this situation:

    Brad made a claim
    you found something wrong with Brad (“nutty fundamentalist”)
    You assert the claim is false

  • 93. Heather  |  July 27, 2007 at 8:35 am

    I wouldn’t classify Brad as a “nutty fundamentalist.” Do I disagree with Brad on a multitude of issues? Yes. But in his responses, he has demonstrated that he tries to address the points we raise, rather than addressing strawman points. He tailors his responses to the actual posts. From the fundamentalists I’ve seen on this board, they don’t tend to listen to what we’re actually saying, nor do they tailor their responses. And he keeps complimenting us on the great questions/discussions. Fundamentalists don’t do that.

    However, in terms of the ad hominum attack, I’m wondering if this falls into the ‘ad hominum’ area. Based on how Justin laid it out, Simen saw something wrong based on the claim Brad made — macro evolution is a theory (word used in layman definitions, not scientific ones). He wasn’t saying that because Brad is a “nutty fundamentalist,” Brad’s claim has to be false. He is saying that because Brad asserts the claim is false, he finds Brad to be a particular sort of person. The two are tied together. There is something objectionable about the person precisely because they are finding the claim false.

    Isn’t an ad hominium more along the lines of:

    David says poverty is wrong.
    David murdered someone ten years ago.
    Therefore, David can’t be trusted when saying poveryt is wrong.

  • 94. Justin  |  July 27, 2007 at 9:41 am

    Hi Heather,
    I don’t believe brad to be a nutty fundamentalist at all…in fact, he isn’t even a fundamentalist!

    Where I found my def of Ad Hominem

  • 95. Heather  |  July 27, 2007 at 10:01 am

    Justin,

    in fact, he isn’t even a fundamentalist!

    No, he’s not. To quote him, he’s “theologically conservative.”

    I do see where you got the Ad Hominem definition. My question arises from the nature of this conversation, though: Simen made a statement on Brad’s character based on macroevolution. My experience with Ad Hominem goes more along the lines of the example I provided. It says that because Person A has a certain characteristic, Person A is wrong. That, to me, is Ad Hominem.

    Whereas saying Person A is wrong, so Person A follows this certain characterstic is not Ad Hominem because the charateristic of the person is directly dependent on the belief of the person or what the person says. Ad Hominem says that the belief/claim is based on the charateristic of the person.

    Like I said, this is a tangent away from the original conversation, and a technicality.

  • 96. Brad  |  July 27, 2007 at 10:37 am

    OK guys, thanks for sticking up for me, clarifying, and everything else. I cannot TELL you how happy I am not to be seen as a fundie. So happy…

    That said, Heather, I do recognize (from the one logic class I took in college) that you are correct about the proper definition of ad hominem. Maybe I should have used “hasty generalization” or “stereotyping.”

    That said, I still don’t like being called stupid. Sooooo Simen, you are a doo-doo head.

    There. Now that we are all done name calling, I’ll move on.

    TA,
    Yes, to a certain degree, I have studied it outside my bubble. I am not particularly scientifically minded, but I have only been a Christian for 2 1/2 years, so most of my college career was spent with a very empirical mindset. I still like to think it is. I have read what the textbooks have to say, and a few of the articles, but I have not studied it in the depth that most of you have. However, I certainly understood it before I became a Christian. Thus I am NOT a 6-creationist guy, but having descended from a primordial ooze (much less non-living particles, which has NEVER been reproduced) is a bit of a stretch in my mind.

    Also, I’d like to add that while I maybe theologically conservative, I am culturally very liberal. And I may even vote democrat (forsooth!).

  • 97. Simen  |  July 27, 2007 at 11:37 am

    Justin, my name is “Simen”, with an ‘e’. And I never laid out an argument of the form you presented:

    Brad made a claim
    you found something wrong with Brad (”nutty fundamentalist”)
    You assert the claim is false

    Instead, it went on the lines of:

    Brad made a claim

    The claim is laughably ignorant and wrong

    Therefore, Brad is either too ignorant or too dogmatic to be someone I’d want to discuss with.

    I never called you stupid. I said you must cling all too hard (“nutty fundamentalism”) to your fundamentals if you with a straight face can say you don’t “believe” in macro evolution.

    I won’t waste my time on someone who doesn’t recognize basic science.

  • 98. Thinking Ape  |  July 27, 2007 at 12:29 pm

    What is wrong with being a fundamentalist? And what is the difference between a fundamentalist and a “theological conservative”?

    As far as I am concerned, and when I was a fundamentalist, there are only five “fundamentals”:

    * Biblical inerrancy
    * Virgin Birth and Jesus as God
    * Substitutionary atonement through the grace of God (and some would bracket “human faith”)
    * Physical resurrection of Jesus and His future return
    * Authenticity of Jesus’s miracles

    I could care less if politics has made it otherwise, but these are the fundamentals of fundamentalism. If you don’t believe in one of these, you are no longer a fundamentalist. If you believe in all of them, you are. Now if you are a psychotic like Pat Robertson, you are just that, psychotic, or a radical or an attention-seeking bigot.

  • 99. Justin  |  July 27, 2007 at 12:36 pm

    Simen,
    i apologize for mispelling your name.

    I don’t waste my time on someone who doesn’t recognize basic science

    Yeah, It can be tough to discuss with someone who has different views. It’s not for everyone.

  • 100. Justin  |  July 27, 2007 at 12:40 pm

    Hi TA,
    fundamentals is different than fundamentalism. When I talk about fundamentalism, I am speaking about the pariticular, a particular movement wthin the Church in the 20th Century.

    I wrote a 3 parts series on fundamentalism if you care to read it…a link to part two and three can be found at the bottom of the first part.

    Part One

  • 101. Justin  |  July 27, 2007 at 12:42 pm

    oops, wrong link…here you go:

    PART ONE (for sure this time)

  • 102. Heather  |  July 27, 2007 at 12:55 pm

    TA,

    The fundamentalists I’ve encountered go farther than the list you’ve presented. They also hold to a 6,000 year old earth, Adam/Eve were literal people that abortion and homosexuality are horrible and the biggest sins, vote Republican and honestly? Tend not to really listen to any opposing viewpoint and come across as judgemental. There’s not a lot of flexibility involved.

    I skimmed Justin’s article on it, and I think he has a good grasp on the difference.

    I’ll let Brad tackle the fundamentalist vs. theologically conservative aspect.

  • 103. Thinking Ape  |  July 27, 2007 at 1:25 pm

    Justin’s post has a lot of “generallys” in it. As in “fundamentalists generally do/believe/vote x”. This was my brief point about not caring what politics has made it out to be. I am referring to the same movement of so-called “modernist” reactionaries (yet, how different are they really from modernists? – more on that another time).

    It doesn’t matter which way you linguistically slice it, a fundamentalist is simply someone who believes in the “fundamentals” (set forth by some 20th century document). Heather adds that the fundamentalists believe in YEC, literal Genesis, yada yada… this is part of their interpretation of the “inerrancy” of scripture. No biggy. I have never met, in person, someone who actually believes that abortion and homosexuality are the biggest sins. This is a gross overstatement and vastly politisized. Are many fundamentalists obsessed with sexual issues? Yes. Biggest sin? Come on. Other than the Westboro Baptist people, I think most fundamentalists would agree that blaspheming the HS, murder (again, abortion does fall into this), and all sort of horrible crimes are worse than homosexuality. As for voting Republican, this is only true since the 1980s when Jerry Falwell started preaching about a Christian’s place in America.

    As for not listening to any opposing viewpoint, I have a lot of university professors that could fall into that category. Actually, I think most human beings tend to fit here. It is called egoism and fundamentalism does not hold this exclusively.

    Unfortunately this will probably turn into a huge tangent off of Simen’s post, and I am sure that we will soon have something on d-C by somebody trying to define fundamentalism (or maybe there already is?)

  • 104. Simen  |  July 27, 2007 at 1:48 pm

    Justin, you can drop the smug tone. We’re not talking about disagreement, we’re talking about having the facts staring us right in the face all the while one part ignores them.

    There is no excuse for a lay person (or any person who doesn’t have substantial and extraordinary new evidence) to deny that evolution occurs and has been occurring since the dawn of life, with both macroscopic and microscopic effects.

    I have linked before and do so again: Talk.origins’ page on evidence for evolution. I have yet to hear anyone tell me what’s wrong with it. I suggest that if you can’t, you’re not entitled to deny evolution.

    As for fundamentalism, the word has evolved to become a label on those who have a tight hold on their fundamental doctrines; this is the sense I use the word, regardless of the origin of the term.

    All this is far away from the topic of this post. I suggest any commenters who want to comment further on evolution or the definition of fundamentalism write their own posts for that, and then, if it has relevance to this thread, send a ping/trackback or post a link in the comments.

    In case any of you forgot (this is not directed at anyone in particular), the topic of this post was the merits of the quote in the beginning of the post and the NOMA principle in general.

  • 105. Heather  |  July 27, 2007 at 2:12 pm

    TA,

    have never met, in person, someone who actually believes that abortion and homosexuality are the biggest sins. This is a gross overstatement and vastly politisized.

    My apologies, I wasn’t clear on this one. It comes across as they believe this way — based on how I’ve seen some of the major players in the Religious Right acting, voting demographics, and some of the issues that dominate the political landscape. The perception can easily be that those two topics are the “biggest.” I mean, even at looking with the current political climate with the Republican party, the focus is on a pro-life candidate, and much of the surprise is that Rudy is doing so well, given his position on abortion. (I know, you’re trying not to tie politics into this, but the fact that they’re a huge block of voters in a certain party segment was where I was getting my perception from).

    Anyway — Simen, I know you requested no more tangents. I wanted to clear up something I poorly phrased, and I’ll leave it at this.

  • 106. Grant Czerepak  |  July 27, 2007 at 2:17 pm

    I’ve read your article, but I did not take the time to read the comments.

    I just want to say that Memetics is a field that was very much like Astronomical Cheesology and for a while I was caught up in it. It was only after a very good conversation discussing the empirical evidence for Memetics that I and the person I was talking with realized we had been duped. Ultimately even Dawkins who inspired the field often expressed that he wished it would go away.

    The universe is a wonderful place and what governs the universe governs each of us. That is enough. I think what we experience as consciousness when fully understood will be explained by rules that are less than miraculous and theology will pass away.

  • 107. Brad  |  July 27, 2007 at 3:25 pm

    “It doesn’t matter which way you linguistically slice it, a fundamentalist is simply someone who believes in the “fundamentals””

    Now we are talkin’! In the sense of “believing int he fundamentals” (the 5 points you laid out), yes, I am a fundamentalist. In my experience, “fundamentalist” has carried a heavy cultural connotation to imply judgmental, arrogant, close-minded, bigotrous (sometimes), or hateful. THAT is the definition I deny.

    Rather, I like to put the “fun” back into “fundamentalism,” and actually try to hold true to princples like not judging others or being hateful. All sins are equal in the sight of God. What platform do I hold that allows me to judge someone else for their sin when I am not sinless myself? That is a fundamental belief. Sadly, the term has been hijacked, so I often defer to that use rather than try to explain myself every time. Thank you, TA, for pointing that out.

    Simen,
    Sooo guess what? I read the first third of the article you linked. Not too shabby, and there is a lot to affirm about it. I particularly appreciated the statement in the introduction section that made it very clear that no part of the article or theory of common descent made assumptions of validity for previous related claims. Honestly, I was a little surprised, but very pelasantly.

    I continued reading, and found this to be of particular interest:
    “Based solely on the theory of common descent and the genetics of known organisms, we strongly predict that we will never find any modern species from known phyla on this Earth with a foreign, non-nucleic acid genetic material. We also make the strong prediction that all newly discovered species that belong to the known phyla will use the “standard genetic code” or a close derivative thereof.”

    When I read this, it struck me as a strong assumption that all oprganisms with “standard genetic code” would come from the same gene pool. I have not been able to read (so far, as I said, I’m only 1/3 into it), I have not been able to find anything to contradict this observation. If this is correct, then I am still very not convinced. Working from the perspective of a Christian, I do not give God that little credit as to simply choose to create life using this standard genetic code, adn if this is the assumption for proving macro-evolution, I am STILL not convinced.

    Also, if they stated the following:
    “None of the dozens of predictions directly address how macroevolution has occurred, how fins were able to develop into limbs, how the leopard got its spots, or how the vertebrate eye evolved.”
    … how can we be sure that this is what happened without the understanding of ” how”?

    Again, I state this merely to point out that there are assumptions made in science as well as theology. To claim that either is absent of them is just incorrect. As we seemed to agree on earlier, when we make the tool a belief system, we lose sight of what we are trying to use the tool to accomplish (either knowledge of God or knowledge of the physical world).

    Now. I have engaged you on your background, in your sphere of knowledge, in a sincere attempt at both understanding your argument and to demonstrate the common respect of listening. I will be happy to continue to do so, and do intend to finish reading the link you posted. Can we at least maintain some level of mutual respect? Because I’m not sure how the following comment on your behalf was NOT implying that I was stupid:

    “This, on the other hand, is “What P says is wrong, therefore P is stupid.””

  • 108. Simen  |  July 27, 2007 at 3:34 pm

    Let me modify that: “P has stupid tendencies”. As do we all, as I demonstrated with that comment.

    I still think that one who denies the macroscopic effects of evolution ought to have very strong evidence, or else they’re not worth my time, but I apologize for calling you stupid.

    I’ll disagree that believing in (macro-)evolution is giving God too little credit. After all, engineering a system to create exactly what you want out of the bewildering array of possibilities is expert craftmanship.

    And also, I don’t see how common descent (even though it is widely agreed on and strongly supported) is necessary for evolution to have macroscopic effects. I can just as easily imagine two or three different beginning seeds of life that deversified into lots of species over a long period of time. We’re talking about billions of years here.

  • 109. Brad  |  July 27, 2007 at 4:05 pm

    “Let me modify that: “P has stupid tendencies”. As do we all, as I demonstrated with that comment.”
    – That is incredibly fair, and I appreciate the modification. I’ll still disagree that this is one of those tendencies, but very much agree on the whole. :-)

    “I still think that one who denies the macroscopic effects of evolution ought to have very strong evidence, or else they’re not worth my time, but I apologize for calling you stupid.”
    – Apology accepted. Thank you, I very much appreciate it.

    “I’ll disagree that believing in (macro-)evolution is giving God too little credit. After all, engineering a system to create exactly what you want out of the bewildering array of possibilities is expert craftmanship.”
    – Hmm… I should have been more specific. What I meant was more along the lines of, “If God created life, why would He NOT use the same standard genetic material to construct it?” To me, the same evidence used for common descent can be used to point to intelligent design. So I very much agree with your second sentence here.

    “And also, I don’t see how common descent (even though it is widely agreed on and strongly supported) is necessary for evolution to have macroscopic effects. I can just as easily imagine two or three different beginning seeds of life that deversified into lots of species over a long period of time. We’re talking about billions of years here.”
    – Ok… I can see that. The article seemed to be saying (to me, I could be very wrong as I am not a scientist) that common descent did not address the “hows” and is thus completely separate (or at least “could be”). From the third of the article I read, it did not discuss macroevolution apart from common descent, which they seemed to think proved (as a natural progression) macro-evolution without stating how exactly. As far as multiple seeds of life… I’m not sure what I think about that. I have not considered, nor have I heard anyone else propose, a possibility beyond a single source. The questions taht would raise are,
    “Where did each of the two or three seeds come from?”

    “If there were more than one, why did they all ‘happen’ to use the same ‘standard genetic material’ (DNA, RNA, etc.)?”

    “What happens to the theory of common descent?”

    Among others…

    Without having considered it in depth, I will say that I like the idea much more. But then again, if 2 or 3, why NOT millions? If 2 or 3 are feasible, why not many without the need (environmental or otherwise) for macro-evolution?

    I don’t know. This will keep me thinking for a while, but I certainly like the turn this discussion has made.

    Blessings,
    Brad

  • 110. Simen  |  July 27, 2007 at 4:16 pm

    The questions taht would raise are,
    “Where did each of the two or three seeds come from?”

    If it is feasible for one strand of life to develop from nonorganic matter, why not two or three? There’s also the hypothesis that life came to earth on a meteorite. Of course, that only pushes the question “How did life come from nonlife?” up one level (that question is separate from evolution, by the way), but it could possibly explain why there would be two or more different trees of life. I believe common descent is well enough supported to be the default choice, though.

    “If there were more than one, why did they all ‘happen’ to use the same ’standard genetic material’ (DNA, RNA, etc.)?”

    That’s one of the reasons why it seems like there’s one tree of life.

    Without having considered it in depth, I will say that I like the idea much more. But then again, if 2 or 3, why NOT millions? If 2 or 3 are feasible, why not many without the need (environmental or otherwise) for macro-evolution?

    If that were the case, we would see life developing from nonlife all over the place. It isn’t happening. Since all known animals fit nicely into a hierarchy, there is no reason to doubt common descent.

    We are, of course, moving far away from my area of expertise here. I am no scientist either, and certainly not a biologist.

    I’ll have to quit the discussion for now, both because it is irrelevant to the post and because I’m going away on vacation with questionable or non-existent internet connection. aA has published some posts from my old blog here, so it might be that you’ll see a post or two under my name, but I’m not going to be online much the next 2-3 weeks, so I won’t be able to respond.

    So, see you all in a week or three!

  • 111. Lisa Boyle  |  August 12, 2007 at 10:57 pm

    Lisa Boyle

    I Googled for something completely different, but found your page…and have to say thanks. nice read.

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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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