Why Do You Believe What You Believe?

September 25, 2007 at 9:50 pm 64 comments

fargoThe last time I wrote on this site I was concerned with the “meaning of life” (in parts one and two). The theme continues in this post (as well as a continuation from one of Simen’s articles), but only because the questions I have been asking myself and others has consistently led back to one answer, despite the variety of questions. I have been asking myself why I believe what I did when I was an evangelical Christian and why others continue to believe what they do – in relation to that which we cannot perceive by the five senses. Granted, there are many of those who simply do not engage in such self-reflection. This is as common among non-religionists as it is religionists. However, if you visit sites such as this one or even your favourite seminarian blog, then you probably do think about the deeper aspects of life – continually questioning your own assumptions and conclusions as well as others.

When I took a “Christianity and Contemporary Thought” course at my Bible college, one of our texts included James W. Sire’s The Universe Next Door. The book is essentially an oversimplified, biased walk-through of some major philosophical worldviews without too much polemic. It touches on deism, naturalism, nihilism, existentialism, pantheism/monism, postmodernism, and of course, Christian Theism (postmodernists would love the neat and tidy division of such classifications). I only introduce this book because it is a relatively recent example of subtle apologetics which attempts to explain competing philosophical ideologies and then give a Christian’s response to such theories or modes of life. I recently went back to this text because I remembered it being at least honest in its simplicity. Skipping the summations of other worldviews, I looked for what reasons Dr. Sire gives for believing in Christian theism. Apart from his peculiar negations and critiques of other worldviews, Sire more or less limits his argument, in 200 pages, by saying all other arguments are false, ergo Christianity is true; but it is on the first page of the first chapter the Sire gives away his actual reasoning:

Stephen Crane captured our plight as we in the late twentieth century face the universe. A man said to the universe: “Sir, I exist.”

“However,” replied the universe, “The fact has not created in me A sense of obligation.”

How different this is from the words of the ancient psalmist who looked around himself and up to God and wrote: O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is they name in all the earth!…

Sire, in about 200 pages, gives the same answer that the majority of my family and friends give when I ask why they believe what they believe: because it gives purpose by seeing the universe as a grand narrative under the thumb of an eternal Knower, an all-powerful Doer, and an ever-loving Friend. “Why else would I be here. It cannot all be a mistake, random chance, pure naturalist materialism. It just cannot.” The mundaneness of the natural just does not satisfy the wonderment of such supra-naturalists.

I’m not going to beat the “purpose-filled life” to death, but it is does seem to me that this is the main reason people continue to believe what they do – or at least this is the most common answer I receive. But is it a reason? It is certainly wonderful to think of a grand narrative that we are all apart of, especially if you are in “the club.” It is comforting to think that we are not in this life alone, especially for those who are afflicted with various ailments or are experiencing grief. Of course these are, at best, merely psychological constructs, or at worst, delusional fantasies – not actual justifications or rationale for believing something to be true. Simply believing something because it feel nice only makes you a fool. Sire himself gives a threefold criteria for believing a worldview to be true:

internal consistency, adequate handling of data, and the ability to explain what is claimed to be explained.

Certainly the first is important: if a belief system is not consistent, it probably contains a fallacy along the way. However, this only means that one aspect of the system is incoherent, that is unless that aspect is crucial to that entire belief system. Internal consistency can only judge various truths, rarely making judgments about the entire system – this is just as true for Christianity as it is with “naturalism”. The second criteria forces much more subjectivity: who sets the bar for the “adequate handling of data?” Some might say Michael Behe and Greg Neyman, others might say Stephen Gould and Ernst Mayr; how about the differences between Josh McDowell and Bart Ehrman? Who handles the data accurately? The third requirement says nothing about the truth of the system. It is, rather, only a requirement for the politics and proselytizing of the belief system: if I cannot succinctly explain the sound of a tree falling, it does not mean the tree doesn’t make a sound.

And so I head back to the beginning. Why do people believe what they do? Why does Sire believe what he does? I don’t believe the Christian belief system, whether in its various infancy, imperial, medieval, modern, or postmodern forms, is internally consistent. I don’t believe that Christians, including my former self, adequately handle scientific or scriptural data correctly. And whether someone can explain a story in a believable way or not is of no concern to me in my search for truth: I have as much evidence to believe that a special ring can make a hobbit vanish as I do to believe a man was born of a virgin, raised someone from the dead, walked on water, resurrected from the dead, and ascended into heaven. And so I am stuck at the beginning.

I fully admit to my agnosticism as a “cop out,” although I prefer “withholding judgment.” I don’t believe in nothing, but I certainly doubt that their is a coherence to our lives apart from what we make of it. How foolish is it really to begin with the belief that the things I perceive are real? Most would agree not very foolish. But why is it foolish or wrong to question the belief in the existence of objects or beings that have no or little evidence? Why start with the miraculous and unseen down? Because it is comfortable. Because it is grand. Because we are attracted to amazing stories, whether true or not. One wonders how many people believed the disclaimer at the beginning of Fargo to be true, simply because someone said so:

“This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.”

-The Apostate

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A Personal Relationship with Jesus? Today’s Sermonette – on Spiritual Experience and Worship

64 Comments Add your own

  • 1. mewho  |  September 25, 2007 at 10:23 pm

    Great insight, Thinking Ape. I had an experience tonight at the dinner table that dovetails nicely with your stream of thought.

    My little girl comments, “This lemonade tastes funny! I don’t like it and it’s got stuff floating in it!” I explained, “This is REAL lemonade. It’s not like the fake, Kool-Aid lemonade you always drink. It’s got real pieces of lemon in it, just like real orange juice has pieces of orange in it.” She replied, “Well, I’d rather have the fake stuff. It tastes better.”

    It needs no explanation. We acquire a taste at a young age for many things.

  • 2. Jon  |  September 26, 2007 at 12:21 am

    Richard Feynman once remarked, in response to a question at one of his lectures, about this philosophizing biased against the natural world. It’s still one of my favorite quips of his.

    The question of whether or not when you see something, you see only light or you see the thing you’re looking at, is one of those dopey philosophical things that an ordinary person has no difficulty with. Even the most profound philosopher, sitting eating his dinner, hasn’t any difficulty in making out that what he looks at perhaps might only be the light from the steak, but it still implies the existence of the steak which he is able to lift by the fork to his mouth. The philosophers that were unable to make the analysis of that idea have since fallen by the wayside through hunger!

  • 3. Bad  |  September 26, 2007 at 8:40 am

    I’m writing a little essay on meaning addressing what I see as a major theist misconception about meaning that falsely leads them to believe that theism better provides it than anything else.

  • 4. lostgirlfound  |  September 26, 2007 at 10:15 am

    I guess for me “what I believe” is a constantly evolving thing.

    But in spiritual matters, it comes back to the concept of “faith” not “proof”. It’s what one chooses, you know? I know this is a corny picture, but there are a lot of things about the natural world I don’t know or don’t understand, just because of my ignorance. But I still know they are true … I have faith that people much smarter and learned than me “know” these things. For me, the same goes on in the “supernatural,” be it God, or ghosts or whatever. Maybe other people can’t prove things, but because of what I read, my experience or how my mind processes what I do see, I believe there is an ultimate creator. Most of the rest of the “Christian” stuff I don’t hold onto too tightly … if at all.

    I’m saying that not everything that is true can be proven. Even in quantum physics … we “think” we understand the relationships of quarks and all, but the knowledge is evolving and changing constantly. Right? But I know my head works overtime considering, and thinking. I don’t blindly accept anything — whether it’s from the church, science, or whatever.

    One more thing: What I believe “I” believe. I’m not a “pusher” of anything. However, I encourage people to ask lots of questions, and not accept blindly the “fake” lemonade!

  • [...] I’ve had this thrown at me as well.  That because I can’t explain ‘X’ then I’m just coping out and avoiding the question.  I see it differently.  I just don’t see it as a deficiency to say “I don’t know, so lets keep looking.”  The alternative, being faith, is to accept some answer without evidence or on insufficient evidence, certainly with less than we would accept for any other important matter in life.  And the overwhelming evidence for people all over the world is that they choose the most comfortable/reassuring/easiest one possible: the one they were brought up in.  This is why people brought up by Christians tend to grow up to be Christians, people brought up by Muslims tend to grow up to be Muslims, people brought up by Hindu’s tend to grow up to be Hindus, ad infinitum.  The Thinking Ape nails it: [...]

  • 6. mewho  |  September 26, 2007 at 12:11 pm

    lostgirlfound,

    I’m glad to hear your open-mindedness. Asking questions is often discouraged by Christian thinkers. There is a real concern that opposing ideas are evil and not even to be entertained. The prevailing opinion is that different ideas are the devil’s way of leading people astray.

    But I like real lemonade better than fake lemonade. And, if I might add to the analogy a little, I think REAL lemonade is better for you. I would have to “push” real lemonade somewhat because it’s a healthier drink. However, if it means losing the ones I love, I’m happy to let them drink Kool-Aid, as long as they don’t SLURP too loudly.

    In other words, I don’t really push for atheism unless I’m defending myself. I’m a closet atheist. I’m not a Christopher Hitchens in his anti-theist tones. (Though I’m thankful for him and others beating the drum.) I’m content to quietly explore my beliefs without rocking any boats. I think atheism is true, but it’s not the cause for which I want to sacrifice my life. I think a war can be won in very quiet, strategic ways, and the INTERNET and SITES LIKE THIS are powerful weapons in this war. People with knowledge slowly come out from the shadows.

  • 7. Simen  |  September 26, 2007 at 12:15 pm

    Mewho, why do you call it a war? There is no reason at all to call opposing human opinions on cosmology and ethics a war.

  • 8. LeoPardus  |  September 26, 2007 at 12:26 pm

    mewho:
    I *LIKE* that last post of yours. States my position pretty near exactly. Thanks.

  • 9. cragar  |  September 26, 2007 at 1:09 pm

    Your Fargo reference is funny to me as my best friend lives in Brainerd, MN, and I have been there a few times. Great touristy town and good fishing (as is most of Minnesota).

    I remember seeing the movie and calling him and asking why he didn’t tell me about this murder that happened there? He mentioned it was a big controversy up there, yet all these years later I bet 95% of the people who have seen the movie believe it is true and happened in that small town.

    However dey do all talk like Frances McDormand up there doncha know.

  • 10. mewho  |  September 26, 2007 at 1:16 pm

    Simen,

    The “Creationist Museum” in Kentucky that opened this year has a “War Room”. On it’s door is this verse:

    2 Corinthians 10:3-5
    (New Century Version)
    “We do live in the world, but we do not fight in the same way the world fights. We fight with weapons that are different from those the world uses. Our weapons have power from God that can destroy the enemy’s strong places. We destroy people’s arguments and every proud thing that raises itself against the knowledge of God. We capture every thought and make it give up and obey Christ.”

    I apologize if I didn’t recognize your sarcasm. Your reply might be well-intentioned wit. My quiet response is that the religious CERTAINLY see this battle of ideas as a war. I find lots of anti-evolution videos on YOUTUBE from Islamic users. There is a battle for the TRUTH. To paraphrase Sam Harris, in the course of time, one of us is really going to win this argument and the other is really going to lose. (Letter to a Christian Nation) Ideas have consequences, and in this war of ideas I choose to be a mole, not an infantry soldier.

  • 11. Simen  |  September 26, 2007 at 1:46 pm

    No, I’m quite serious. If you start seeing this as a war, you’ve stooped to the level of some creationists. Please don’t, no matter what other people do. If they call debate war and want the lord of the rings-esque “One God to bind them (i.e., ideas) all”, they’re idiots of the kind that can’t be argued with.

    I also strongly disagree with Harris. I find it incredibly naive to think that maybe 5/6 of the world’s population is just going to “back down” like that, and neither will the 1/6 rest.

    For all foreseeable future, there will be religion and atheism, there will be science and creationism, flat earthers, conspiracy theorists and idiots alongside mathematicians, scientists, thinkers. I think Sam Harris, if he does believe what he says, has been sweeped away by his own rhetoric. A shame.

  • 12. Lisa  |  September 26, 2007 at 1:47 pm

    Lostgirlfound,

    Great comment. The way I worship, “faith” plays a major role. I do like to have proof and an explanation for most things in life, so faith was something that was hard for me to fully grasp at first. Having faith was something I had to learn how to do (Simen, I’m sure you’ll appreciate that). But whether or not what I believe is real (and I do believe it to be real), faith in and of itself is real. Faith in science, faith in a higher being, faith in your spouse–the act of believing in the unproven or unseen is real. My life is more positive and easier to deal with when I have faith.

    So personally, for me, having faith ithat God would bring me through things improved the quality of my life. I’m happier. And isn’t that what we all want more of, no matter how we go about it–happiness? That’s why I believe what I believe. And I’m sure that’s why people DON’T believe what I believe…because it makes them feel better.

  • 13. LeoPardus  |  September 26, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    mewho: The NCV certainly has a way of destroying the elegance of the scriptures doesn’t it? Ugh. Hurts me to read that.

    Lisa: Actually you’ll find that most de-converts go through a profoundly unhappy phase. Many of us continue to have some unhappiness because we have friends and family that still believe and our unbelief can be an impediment in those relationships.
    No happiness, or feeling better, were definitely not part of my de-conversion. Mind you, I’m glad to have sluffed off something that was a lie, but my reason for doing it had nothing to do with feeling. It was simply that I saw myself on the wrong side of truth and I could not stay there.
    Frankly I think too many people pursue happiness and end up with unhappiness, mostly because happiness itself is overrated.

  • 14. karen  |  September 26, 2007 at 2:21 pm

    Why start with the miraculous and unseen down? Because it is comfortable. Because it is grand. Because we are attracted to amazing stories, whether true or not.

    This is almost exactly what one of my favorite authors, Margaret Atwood, said in a fairly recent interview with Bill Moyers. (You can find it on YouTube, it’s very interesting.) Atwood is an agnostic (though she seems not to have a good working definition of atheist) but she said that most people just like the story of the universe better if there’s a god in it. It’s less scary, it’s more comforting, it’s more human to look up at the sky and not see the vacuum of space but see a person up there.

    I too contemplate why I believed what I believed back when, and it’s so odd to me. Both why I believed and why I now don’t, when plenty of my fellow church-goers still do. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is perhaps some kind of personality trait that differentiates us. Maybe it’s an innate skepticism that comes out once belief is tossed aside. Maybe it’s a certain mental and emotional “toughness” that insists on truth, no matter how uncomfortable it may be.

    I don’t know for sure. But I do know that once I realized there’s no solid evidence for a deity, and some pretty good evidence against a theistic deity, I was confused and sad for a while, and certainly scared. But I didn’t have this overwhelming desire to continue believing just because it made me feel good. In fact, that impulse, which I think a lot of people people have, felt so false to me that it was almost ‘icky” to even contemplate.

  • 15. karen  |  September 26, 2007 at 2:27 pm

    Lisa:
    Faith in science, faith in a higher being, faith in your spouse–the act of believing in the unproven or unseen is real. My life is more positive and easier to deal with when I have faith.

    I don’t agree that faith in science and faith in a higher being are equivalents. In fact, I don’t think most people would mix the words “faith” and “science” – that’s probably an oxymoron.

    I feel comfortable relying on the conclusions of science, while realizing all the while that they are provisional, because I can see the tangible results of the scientific method all around me. Having faith in a higher being means believing in something I cannot see, and for which there is no evidence in the physical world. There’s a big difference there.

    As for your conclusion that your life is more positive and easier because of your faith in god, I understand that and I have no problem with it. I seldom see religious people who are honest enough to admit that, however! So thanks for your honesty.

  • 16. Brad  |  September 26, 2007 at 2:48 pm

    Man, TA… This is good and difficult stuff. I really enjoy the conversation up to this point in response.

    I think one of the underlying premises that need to be addressed in finding exactly where the disagreement is, is in what we consider “evidence” or “proof.” The enlightenment has overemphasized certain times of evidence and knowledge at the expense of others. At the time of its founding, this was probably necessary to balance superstition and “premodern” thinking. But there must be a moderation.

    I won’t go into huge detail or address many points because I will be out of town for the next 4-5 days, and starting a discussion and not following up is just rude. Instead, here is a link to a recent post I wrote addressing this premise and a few other aspects of this issue. Let me know what you think!

    http://seminarianblog.com/2007/09/17/lost-in-translation-part-2/

    It is certainly not a holistic response to your post, but I feel it is related to the foundational issues of epistemology and contextualization.

  • 17. Simen  |  September 26, 2007 at 3:19 pm

    Brad, what kinds of evidence has the Englightenment overemphasized?

  • 18. troy  |  September 26, 2007 at 3:39 pm

    lostgirlfound,

    you said “not everything that is true can be proven,” but everything that falls under the realm of knowledge (things we can say are true or false) is at least verifiable or falsifiable. we may not have the equipment or data yet to prove/disprove some scientific claims, but we can at least imagine a scenario in which such claims could be verified. this is the core difference between claims to knowledge in science and religion, and why someone having “faith in science” is misunderstanding either faith or science.

    beliefs based on faith definitonally require no evidence. in fact, they defy evidence, if evidence contradicts the belief. the only area of knowledge where this process is called “faith” and not “self-delusion” or “fantasy” is religion. science, on the other hand, is utterly at the mercy of facts.

    lisa, i’m sure you know that the faith you have in your spouse and the faith you have in the existence of god are not quite the same. a person’s trust in their spouse is typically acquired through years of support and communication; through what are basically “trust experiments,” the results of which directly relate to the level of trust in the person. people seem to come to belief in god through very different means, none of which involve the sort of corroboration with reality we look for in our other beliefs.

    aside from religion, every other belief that we have, even the ones we don’t consider very often, is backed up by some sort of evidence. we don’t choose to believe that sudan is the largest country in africa; we’re simply compelled to do so by facts. we can doubt the accuracy of the survey that calculated the area of the country, or we can say that algeria looks bigger on a globe, but then we’re examining evidence, not disputing the claim that the evidence inevitably points to. religion is the only area of belief that works backwards, with believers starting from usually outlandish, sometimes ridiculous, and often unverifiable claims and trying to find or manufacture evidence to fit them, or stating that evidence is unnecessary. don’t you find this a bit peculiar?

  • 19. Simen  |  September 26, 2007 at 3:51 pm

    we don’t choose to believe that sudan is the largest country in africa; we’re simply compelled to do so by facts.

    Funny. I’m compelled to believe it because I read it in an encyclopedia. Something tells me you do too.

    If not, what facts compelled you? Did you go there and measure yourself?

  • 20. Thinking Ape  |  September 26, 2007 at 4:02 pm

    Brad, its too bad you’re heading out, I don’t want to argue with a ghost :D. I am always very cautious when I use the terms “evidence” and “proof,” and I do so conscientiously. I rarely ever use the term “proof” because it is often used flippantly and using it creates linguistic havoc (if we were having a discussion in a science lab it would probably differ than my own area in Philosophy). I also do not believe that just because there is little evidence for something does not mean it does not exist, which is why I made the little blurb about my agnosticism.

    The problem I find with theology is the the same problem I have with the study of metaphysics in Philosophy: it is almost entirely speculation. Both the religionist and the metaphysician can certainly have good arguments for their speculation. The metaphysician, of course, rarely proselytizes, condemns, or murders someone because of what they speculate.

    This leads me to wonder, than, who is overemphasizing the evidence – or lack of it? I must echo Simen’s questioning of what sort of evidence in particular is being overemphasized, but I also wonder whether you say this because you don’t care much for the evidence. I’m not a scientist, nor am I a student of science. I can only judge based on an amateur level on what is true on the scientific front (putting my “faith” in the scientific method if you will, but this faith is built on years of trusted methodologies and accurate results).

    I am, however, a student of religion and religious practice. I have more to say about why a belief system like Christianity or other monotheism and polytheism is flawed than I do about others non-theistic systems (again, agnostic). I could believe that “secular naturalism” is false and still believe that Christianity is as well. Reducing science from its pedestal does nothing for belief in the supernatural – I still need good reason to believe, reason that can survival honest critical analysis of its “internal consistency.” The fact that such an analysis can easily decipher at least seven different belief systems about Jesus in the Christian canon itself says volumes about such inconsistency.

  • 21. troy  |  September 26, 2007 at 5:56 pm

    simen,

    you’re absolutely right. i believe that the sudan is the largest country in africa because i read it on wikipedia, or in a book, or someone i consider to have knowledge of geography told me so. however, i think your pointing this out means you’re missing the bigger point i was trying to make, regarding the difference between scientific knowledge and religious belief: if i wanted to, i could go to the sudan, measure its area, measure the area of every other african country, and verify that sudan is in fact the biggest. i can verify it, in other words. i wouldn’t go to these extraordinary lengths, but i could if i wanted to. the problem is many claims that religions make fail this test completely, while the majority of reasonable beliefs we hold seem to satisfy it. in fact, we seem to require this of most other things we believe, in order to say that we know them. religious beliefs, like “jesus was born of a virgin,” “the bible/koran is the written word of god,” or the catholic dogma of transubstantiation are either completely unverifiable/unfalsifiable or demonstrably false. so what sets these beliefs apart from everything else we claim to know? what makes religious beliefs exempt from the standards we apply to every other field of knowledge?

  • 22. mewho  |  September 26, 2007 at 6:02 pm

    Simen,

    You make the observation that “for all foreseeable future, there will be religion and atheism, there will be science and creationism, flat earthers, conspiracy theorists and idiots alongside mathematicians, scientists, thinkers.”

    I am no John Lennon, but I CAN imagine a world where NO person preaches a Heaven or a Hell without being ridiculed back into the assylum. I think it’s possible. The amount of noise atheists make today is deafening in comparison to the silence that existed in the Middle Ages. Skeptics are no longer tortured, imprisoned or executed. Our world has changed, and I think believers will one day find themselves as an annoyed minority. Unfortunately, probably not in my lifetime.

    Maybe I use the word “war” too loosely for what I mean to be an active engagement in modernizing ideas. As an American, I AM concerned that there is an intentional lack of scientific understanding. I AM concerned that human energy is wasted and resources squandered for proselyzation. I AM worried about the escalating tensions between religious factions that threaten to tear our planet apart.

    I think we enjoy the intellectual freedoms we have today because of progressive ideas sparked in the past by people we will never get to thank. It’s reasonable to assume that progress can still be made to be enjoyed by our great grandchildren.

    LeoPardus,

    The modern-sounding New Century Version (NCV) is one of the versions I’ve read since 1993. I’m not too picky, but you’re right in saying that it doesn’t sound very elegant. I’d like to note that it also doesn’t sound very authoritative. When you’ve removed “thou”, “begat”, “shalt”, “believeth” and the other Old English elements, it reads like other ORDINARY books. Translators may have defeated their own evangelistic purposes in translating the Bible into so many different versions. First, it destroyed “memorization” because they minimized the KJV standard. Second, the text lost some of it’s “magic” in sounding too modern. Thirdly, it brought to the surface many of the interpretive challenges that atheists use in their arguments against the Bible’s divine origins. Translators helped the atheists’ cause incredibly by critically examining the text. I think the whole process has been a nightmare instead of a blessing for many Christians.

    Many fundamentalist Christians prefer the King James. They can imagine God saying “Thou shalt not kill” but not “Don’t kill anyone”. It just doesn’t have that “ancient-text-written-by-God” feel to it, nor the quality of prose. But there is no getting the toothpaste back into the tube.

    Now if we could just do the same thing with the KORAN. ;)

  • 23. Simen  |  September 26, 2007 at 6:35 pm

    Progress can be made, sure, but remember, you cannot work against human nature (well, barring genetic modification). I think it’s impossible to argue that this has been anything but the case for all of human history, and that it will likely continue as far into the future as we can see.

  • 24. karen  |  September 26, 2007 at 8:15 pm

    Skeptics are no longer tortured, imprisoned or executed.

    Welll … maybe not in the West, but they sure are in Muslim countries! Just ask Salman Rushdie.

    In theocracies in the Middle East, apostasy is definitely a crime. Not sure if they actually execute anyone for it, but I know in Indonesia they send people to sort of Muslim “re-education camps” aimed at getting them back into the mosque.

    I had to laugh at the rather sad irony earlier this week when the president of Iran claimed that his country has no homosexuals. I guess it’s just like conservative Christians who claim they have no practicing homosexuals in the churches. The statement doesn’t hold much water once ministers and politicians they start getting “outed.”

  • 25. Thinking Ape  |  September 26, 2007 at 8:57 pm

    Welll … maybe not in the West…

    We’ve come a long way, but now we just cut people off from their livelihood (that might be an overstatement, I am sure this guy can get another job at a different college):

    Teacher Fired For Speaking Obvious Truth

  • 26. Lisa  |  September 26, 2007 at 10:16 pm

    Allow me to clarify what I meant by “faith in science.” A good example would be chemotherapy. Chemo, to me, is most definitely a product of some sort of science. It is a treatment for cancer, but can not be seen as a “cure”, because not everyone will be cured from cancer if they use chemotherapy. However, if I was dealing with a cancer diagnosis and my only treatment option was chemotherapy, I would need to have faith that it would work for me, even though there is no proof that it will at all. To me, that is having faith in science. And a question for the scientists: if you had a theory about something that you felt very strongly about, wouldn’t you be having faith in that theory until someone could absolutely prove it wrong?

    Faith in a spouse may take years, but when they walk out that door, you need to have faith in the unseen, no matter how long you know them. And sometimes that faith is shattered. Trust me on this one. Faith is definitely part of marriage, otherwise it would be impossible to be “unfaithful.”

    I was just making general views about the idea of “faith.” I wasn’t saying that all faith was the same. But having faith in anything involves believing in something you can’t see, whether it’s curing your cancer, trusting your husband on a business trip, or believing in an almighty God. Obviously, there are all different types of faith.

    I know I bring more simplistic views to this forum, so I apologize for my “non-scientific” thoughts and vocabulary. But I do represent a large portion of the world from what I can see around me!

  • 27. LeoPardus  |  September 26, 2007 at 10:33 pm

    Troy: Great stuff in your posts. Thanks. A couple parts that popped out at me.

    beliefs based on faith definitonally require no evidence. in fact, they defy evidence, if evidence contradicts the belief. the only area of knowledge where this process is called “faith” and not “self-delusion” or “fantasy” is religion. science, on the other hand, is utterly at the mercy of facts.

    I only partly agree here. I always took faith a bit differently. If evidence seems to point somewhere, but doesn’t get you all the way there, I take ‘faith’ to be the thing that let’s you say, “Well, I’ll follow where the evidence seemed to go even though I’ll be flying blind.”
    That may not be how others view faith, but it was always how I took it. I certainly never thought defying evidence was anything but lunacy.

    what makes religious beliefs exempt from the standards we apply to every other field of knowledge?

    I think in some measure this has to be so. Those things that transcend the world we know (life after death, the gods, fate, parallel universes) have to be considered differently from things we can get at with our senses and machines.

  • 28. Thinking Ape  |  September 26, 2007 at 10:43 pm

    Lisa, “simplistic views” are often the most profound, so no apologize are necessary. I will let some others answer your underlying question, but I just want to respond to your example:

    However, if I was dealing with a cancer diagnosis and my only treatment option was chemotherapy, I would need to have faith that it would work for me, even though there is no proof that it will at all.

    The problem with this example is that there is evidence that the treatment may work (see my above comment, #20, on “proof” and “evidence”). Your “faith” does nothing, however, for the treatment, other than your acceptance of going through the therapy. Essentially what you are saying is that you have “faith” that when you take a Tylenol, your headache will go away. This isn’t really the same sort of faith as held by religious adherents. There are very real physical reasons why a treatment does or does not work, which usually can be explained through biological or chemical reasoning (as in your chemo case – that is all it is: chemotherapy literally is the use of chemical substances to treat a disease.

  • 29. LeoPardus  |  September 26, 2007 at 10:46 pm

    Lisa said:
    Obviously, there are all different types of faith.

    Therein lies the communication problem. You’re completely right. There are different kinds of faith, or definitions of faith if you will. If you look in the dictionary under ‘faith’, you’ll find multiple definitions (def 1, def 2, def 3, and so on). Where we run into trouble in any forum is when we use 1,2,3,etc interchangeably. With faith it’s harder to detect the interchanging. If you use another word, like ‘lead’ and interchange defs 1,2,3, the problem is clear. You would never interchange ‘lead’ (a heavy metal) for ‘lead’ (take charge).

    I think, as others have said, that faith in science is rather different from faith in a spouse or friend, and both are quite different from faith in an unseen deity.

    And don’t worry about simplistic views. They’re the only kind I understand anyway.

    Re your query: And a question for the scientists: if you had a theory about something that you felt very strongly about, wouldn’t you be having faith in that theory until someone could absolutely prove it wrong?

    That would vary depending on the scientist, the particular field he’s in, the strength of data behind the theory, the strength of competing theories, the degree of widespread acceptance of the theory, and other factors that aren’t popping to mind right now.
    So I guess the answer would be, “Not necessarily.”

  • 30. troy  |  September 26, 2007 at 11:01 pm

    I understand where you’re coming from, Leo. Here’s something that might clear up what I’m saying, for you and for Lisa.

    People commonly conflate what i would call “warranted trust,” or “hope,” with “faith.” Warranted trust is what you have in your family, your spouse, and your close friends; it’s a belief that they won’t screw you over or otherwise act without considering your feelings, and this trust is often backed up by a long and close relationship with said person. This is not quite the same as a belief in a god that you can’t even have contact with, aside from a nebulous communication through prayer.

    Lisa used the example of “faith in chemotherapy,” but this is still far from what I’m referring to when I talk about faith. Lisa believed, based on the informed advice of medical professionals and her own assesment of her condition, that chemo was the best option for her. She hoped, probably quite strongly, that it would work, but this hope is not baseless, which is the key difference between it and religious faith. Lisa’s belief in chemo and her trust in her husband are probably just as warranted and justified as any scientific theory, and even if they’re not, all those decisions are reached through roughly the same process. The same cannot be said for beliefs like “If I blow myself up in a crowd full of infidels, I’ll go to heaven, where 40 virgins await.” Like I said earlier, religious claims start with a belief, and then attempt to warp the world around them for justification.

    Furthermore, Leo, I think that the subjects that religion attempts to address can be covered in perfectly rational, empirical discussion, and as such could be very beneficial to everyone, without all the messy genocide, persecution, and guilt which seems to follow religion wherever it goes. I’m not closed to the possibility (high probability, in fact) of a very spiritual aspect to human experience; I just think this aspect doesn’t lead to talking donkeys and a ban on pre-marital sex.

  • 31. Lisa  |  September 27, 2007 at 8:36 am

    Troy said, “Lisa used the example of “faith in chemotherapy,” but this is still far from what I’m referring to when I talk about faith. Lisa believed, based on the informed advice of medical professionals and her own assesment of her condition, that chemo was the best option for her. She hoped, probably quite strongly, that it would work, but this hope is not baseless, which is the key difference between it and religious faith. Lisa’s belief in chemo and her trust in her husband are probably just as warranted and justified as any scientific theory, and even if they’re not, all those decisions are reached through roughly the same process. ”

    Egads, let me clarify (after all, I do belong to the mindset that if you speak it and put it out there, it exists)! My first husband, well, yes, he wasn’t faithful. Ironically enough, he was a holiday-practicing Jew at the time. He had a couple of events happen to him that somehow led him to Christ, and he’s now a practicing Christian (funny, because during our marriage, I used to pray that he’d either find Jesus or find another woman…ironically, the woman he left me for was the one who eventually led him to Christianity). The chemo is a whole other story.

    Yes, I was just faced with a cancer scare. My mom died 22 years ago from ovarian cancer. None of the standard treatments helped her for very long, but from my view, that was based more on her attitude toward the cancer than on science. She was from the era that if you got the big “C”, it meant a death sentence. Most of my memories from that time involve her lying on the couch every day, and me telling her to fight it. When I developed a large ovarian cyst with solid particles in it recently, of course they were concerned, due to my family history. And I will admit that waiting for the results of the CA-125 test were probably the scariest four days of my life.

    I a hysterectomy and a bilateral oophectomy three weeks ago. Thank God my pathology was totally clean. Had it not been, however, and I was faced with chemotherapy, I believe I would NOT have the same fate as my mother. I would fight it with everything I had in me. So, is that called faith? Belief? Hope? Aren’t the lines between all of them very thin? All I know is that I would go in there believing that the chemo would help me, and believing that God would, too. So if I’m believing that God would help me, that’s faith. But if I’m also believing that chemo would help me, what’s the difference?

    According to the Encarta Dictionary, definition #1, definition #3, and definition #5 are pretty much saying the same thing (#’s 2 and 4 involve beliefs and principles, like “She is of the Lutheran faith”). Okay, #5 is pushing it a little (“allegiance or loyalty to somebody or something”)…but that “something” could very well be a hope to be cured! I’d definitely be loyal to that belief!

  • 32. superhappyjen  |  September 27, 2007 at 8:46 am

    You’re asking the wrong question.

    When you ask a Christian “why do you believe what you believe what you believe?” You’ll invariably get the same cliché, brainwashed, sunday-school answer: It’s comfortable to think of a God looking out for you, and a place where all your dead love ones will see you again, and a friend who is always there even when you’re alone…and variations on the same. If belief was as simple as picking something out of a catalogue, then these answers might be enough, we might say “Sign me up! I’ll take one Christianity please.”

    But belief requires you to squeeze the square pegs of scientific discovery, reality of life on Earth, and historical record into the round hole of the Bible. Christians (and other theists) must at best believe without any inkling of evidence that their worldview is correct, and at worst actively ignore, twist, deny, and demonize contradictary opinions and evidence.

    So the question I have to ask is not “Why do you believe?” but “How do you believe?” Because a leap of faith requires leaps in logic that I don’t know how anyone can honestly make.

  • 33. troy  |  September 27, 2007 at 9:58 am

    “So if I’m believing that God would help me, that’s faith. But if I’m also believing that chemo would help me, what’s the difference?”

    The difference is in the justification, or lack thereof, for the belief. You believe that chemo will help you because your doctor said it would, or you’ve read scientific studies that support it, or it’s FDA approved, or it’s worked for other people you know. all of this is evidence, in one form or another. it’s been shown, in scientific and reproductible experiments that chemo is a pretty good way to treat cancer.

    so why do you believe that god will help you? first off, you don’t have any evidence that he exists. that’s a pretty big hurdle, and on top of that, you don’t have any evidence that he’s good, or that he likes you, or that he can hear your prayers. sure, you could say “well, i’ve prayed to god before and what i’ve prayed for has happened.” the problem with this line of reasoning is that humans are notoriously bad at statistics. we have a tendency to remember the things that confirm our prejudices and forget the things that disconfirm them. so your track record on answered prayers is not exactly admissible as evidence.

    now, all of this does not prove that there ISN’T a god, but it makes it very unlikely that he exists and will help you, while the chances of you getting better through chemo are astronomically higher. so, like i said, the difference between faith in god and trust in science. one is warranted, and the other simply isn’t.

  • 34. LeoPardus  |  September 27, 2007 at 10:16 am

    Troy said:
    religious claims start with a belief, and then attempt to warp the world around them for justification.

    LOL. It’s called presuppositional thinking. A little ironically, there is a place for it in formal logic. But as most folks have no knowledge of logic rules, they botch it.

    Furthermore, Leo, I think that the subjects that religion attempts to address can be covered in perfectly rational, empirical discussion,

    Rational, yes. Empirical, no. Empirical means “dependent on evidence or consequences that are observable by the senses”. God, souls, afterlife are all major parts of religion and can’t be observed by senses. [Thank you; I'll gladly accept the 'forum pedant' of the day award now.] :)

    I’m not closed to the possibility (high probability, in fact) of a very spiritual aspect to human experience; I just think this aspect doesn’t lead to talking donkeys and a ban on pre-marital sex.

    LOL again. :)

  • 35. LeoPardus  |  September 27, 2007 at 10:27 am

    Lisa said:
    I believe I would NOT have the same fate as my mother.
    I, for one, hope you do not. Can’t offer you prayer. Maybe positive vibes? (ref to “Kelley’s Heroes”)

    I would fight it with everything I had in me. So, is that called faith? Belief? Hope? Aren’t the lines between all of them very thin?

    Yes, the lines can be thin. And there are other terms to complicate it. Determination, grit, guts, will,,, All in all, you learned from your mom, and you’re a different person. I don’t have a good term for it though.

    All I know is that I would go in there believing that the chemo would help me, and believing that God would, too. So if I’m believing that God would help me, that’s faith. But if I’m also believing that chemo would help me, what’s the difference?

    Back to different definitions of ‘faith’.

    Chemo is backed by a huge body of data. ‘x’ thousand people have been treated by chemo. We can show the percentage of them that have complete cures, partial cures, no effect, relapses, extended life compared to untreated patients, etc. We can separate them by sex, age, type of cancer, accompanying therapies, and more. ‘Faith’ here is faith in the validity of hard data.

    ‘Faith’ that God will help with your cancer is just a desire or feeling. There’s no data there.
    Now to be frank there is data. In fact many studies have been done on prayer’s efficacy for curing illnesses, speeding healing, and so on. The results range from mildly effective, to no effect, to counter-effective. On balance it comes out to … prayer makes no difference in terms of patients surviving cancer, or recovering from surgery, or getting over illness sooner, or anything else.

  • 36. troy  |  September 27, 2007 at 11:15 am

    “Rational, yes. Empirical, no [...] God, souls, afterlife are all major parts of religion and can’t be observed by senses.”

    Sorry, what I was trying to say was that the supposed benefits of religion, like morality, compassion, and a deeper understanding of human consciousness, could be achieved much more consistently and broadly without the 4,000 years of bad science, bad history, and bad philosophy that religion carries with it. A rational, empirical study of human spirituality is not only possible, it’s been partly undertaken before (see early Buddhist texts), and it could be immensely beneficial.

    The parts of religion that “can’t be observed by the senses” are the parts I’d probably want to throw out.

  • 37. WhoreChurch  |  September 27, 2007 at 2:48 pm

    Jerry Lundegaard: That Jesus coat, they install that at the factory.

    Customer: You called me and said you were ready to make delivery at nineteen five, now you come and say 20. I want my car and I want it at nineteen five.

    Jerry Lundegaard: You don’t get that Jesus coat, you get oxidation. That’s all I’m saying.

  • 38. The Bad Idea Blog  |  September 27, 2007 at 3:08 pm

    The Meaning of Meaning & Why Theism Can’t Make Life Matter

    It comes up constantly.  Without a god, without an afterlife, how can life have any meaning? Atheists and agnostics have traditionally responded with impassioned, often simply fantastic essays about the meaning they do find in their lives.  You would…

  • 39. lostgirlfound  |  September 27, 2007 at 3:11 pm

    Troy, you said ” religion is the only area of belief that works backwards, with believers starting from usually outlandish, sometimes ridiculous, and often unverifiable claims and trying to find or manufacture evidence to fit them, or stating that evidence is unnecessary. don’t you find this a bit peculiar?”

    Yes, I find it very peculiar. And I struggle with it all, because I’ve pretty much lost “faith” in any type of institutionalized religion. The temptation is the “toss it all out the window.” I often wonder if relgion, like theories of the universe’s organization and such, will eventualy be “shown” simply void of any fact.

    But the other side of me, the “irrational,” feeling, spiritual side that experiences joy over beauty and tenderness unspeakable at the laughter of my children … I always come back to hanging that on the “fact” that there is some part of my beyond the physical. Something beyond what I can hypothesize away. I know, I have atheist friends who tell me I’m nuts. But I guess that’s when I say, “I ‘know’ there is a God — a creator — a great light — whatever.” But I also “know” there is no way to prove it, beyond my own experience and the “witness” of others and their experience.

    BTW, “real” is always, always better than “fake”. But it also comes down to definition … how “real” does something have to be before you consider it “real”? And is that my definition, or someone else’s? “Real” is one of those subjective terms whose definition varies from person to person. In my opinion…

  • 40. Lisa  |  September 27, 2007 at 4:03 pm

    LeoPardus said: “‘Faith’ that God will help with your cancer is just a desire or feeling. There’s no data there.
    Now to be frank there is data. In fact many studies have been done on prayer’s efficacy for curing illnesses, speeding healing, and so on. The results range from mildly effective, to no effect, to counter-effective. On balance it comes out to … prayer makes no difference in terms of patients surviving cancer, or recovering from surgery, or getting over illness sooner, or anything else.”

    Simply speaking, I would have to disagree. Prayer made a huge difference to me before my surgery. Huge. And I’m sure it made a large difference to the people who had a “mildly effective” result in the studies you mentioned.

    Are you saying that “desires” or “feelings” can not cure cancer? Is there scientific proof of that? If someone gets cancer, should they just go through the motions and not hope for anything, because science can’t prove that prayer or positive thinking helps, only chemo and radiation? And chemo and radiation only work when all the conditions are right?

    My oncologist, who has a chemo room in her office, told me what she finds amazing is that someone can come into her office with stage 4 cancer, have an extremely positive attitude, and go into remission quickly with no recurrence. On the other hand, she said, she has witnessed all too often the people who come in with stage 1 cancer, and because of their poor attitude, they die. She said she finds it quite interesting. How do you explain that? Obviously, their attitudes are “feelings” and “desires”…so those feelings and desires definitely mattered, and helped in their recovery. I’m sure praying to a Higher Power was involved with many of these patients. Scientifcally speaking, stage 4 is definitely more life-threatening than stage 1, so according to science, the mortality results for those patients should have been the opposite way around.

    If I were facing illness and I put my life into God’s hands, or I just kept a positive mindset, depending on positive energy to get me through, what difference would that make if it helped to cure me? I choose to believe that it’s God, the Positive Thinkers choose to believe that it’s good karma, and I’m not really sure what Athiest/scientists believe when they’re facing a life crisis. If there’s no scientific study that proves that prayer can help, then there can’t be any information confirming that positive thinking helps, either, because I imagine it’s just as hard to prove, or involves “feelings” and “desires”, just like praying to God does. But yet the “positive attitude” people achieve great things every day. Why is that, and what science supports it?

    When a respected doctor (who is a research gynecological oncologist, and has made great headway in her field), who depends on her skills and experience in science every day, tells you what she has witnessed regarding the attitudes of her patients, well, I would definitely consider that “proof.” How can it be anything but?

  • 41. karen  |  September 27, 2007 at 5:35 pm

    Lisa, I believe there is evidence that having a positive attitude helps with healing. We don’t understand exactly why, but it probably has something to do with the body’s ability to respond better to disease-fighting efforts if it is relaxed and receptive, rather than stressed and negative. There are a lot of chemicals released in the body when the brain is stressed and negative, and these chemicals apparently work against the body’s natural healing processes and perhaps also against medical treatments.

    Prayer is basically a form of meditation. If it relaxes someone, helps them focus and gives them hope, then yes – it is probably helpful for healing more often than not.

    However, the positive effects of prayer and of positive thinking do not mean that there’s a supernatural deity pulling strings behind the scenes. It’s very easy to see that if you think about how many wonderful, loving and highly pious people get cancer and despite all their prayers, and the prayers of their supporters, die anyway. On the other hand, there are cranky, unkind people who get cancer and beat it, despite all the odds.

  • 42. LeoPardus  |  September 27, 2007 at 7:32 pm

    Lisa said:
    Simply speaking, I would have to disagree. Prayer made a huge difference to me before my surgery. Huge.

    I’m taking it that you mean it made a difference in your mental attitude.

    And I’m sure it made a large difference to the people who had a “mildly effective” result in the studies you mentioned.

    If you wish to hold to that, then you must also hold that prayer was a big drag for the people for whom it was “counter-effective”. You wanna stick with that? Just looking for consistency here.

    Are you saying that “desires” or “feelings” can not cure cancer? Is there scientific proof of that?

    Yes to both. They cannot cure it. Just try forgoing treatment in favor of good feelings and see what happens. More anon…

    If someone gets cancer, should they just go through the motions and not hope for anything, because science can’t prove that prayer or positive thinking helps, only chemo and radiation? And chemo and radiation only work when all the conditions are right?

    Prayer and positive thinking may be helpful adjuncts to therapy. They certainly don’t hurt.

    Scientifcally speaking, stage 4 is definitely more life-threatening than stage 1, so according to science, the mortality results for those patients should have been the opposite way around.

    Your falling prey to what is called the fallacy of parts. It’s the fallacy that says, “If part of something is ‘like so’, then all of something is ‘like so’.” Go back and ask that same doctor if she sees more stage 4 or stage 1 patients live. You know what she’ll say. She was telling you of a couple exceptional cases. Probe her a bit and you’ll find she’s got plenty of stories of positive attitude but dead stage 4 patients.
    Just because a few patients with good attitudes (or bad attitudes, or cowboy boots) happen to survive a bad cancer, does not mean that you stand cancer therapy (or good sense) on its head.

    If there’s no scientific study that proves that prayer can help, then there can’t be any information confirming that positive thinking helps

    Studies have been done. Effects are small to negligible statistically.

    But yet the “positive attitude” people achieve great things every day. Why is that, and what science supports it?

    Says who? The ‘positive attitude’ people?

    When a respected doctor (who is a research gynecological oncologist, and has made great headway in her field), who depends on her skills and experience in science every day, tells you what she has witnessed regarding the attitudes of her patients, well, I would definitely consider that “proof.” How can it be anything but?

    It’s not proof. It’s anecdotal evidence. Again, she was telling you of a couple exceptional cases. Probe her a bit and you’ll find she’s got plenty of stories of positive attitude but dead stage 4 patients.

    Unfortunately most people have no idea of how to ‘prove’ something in the medical world in a meaningful way. Try this as a for instance.
    How would you ‘prove’ that Drug-A is effective in curing Disease-B?

  • 43. LeoPardus  |  September 27, 2007 at 7:38 pm

    Just FTR: There is an area of science called ‘psychoneuroimmunology’ that I had to read up on a little while ago. Research has shown some connections between mental/neural activity, hormonal milieu, and immune function. And all 3 of those feed back and feed forward into each other. It’s heady stuff and very avante-garde. Rather technical to delve into though.
    Suffice to say that observed effects are not consistent. Which goes a little way toward explaining why some people with good attitudes still whither and die quickly, while some ornery snots survive.

  • 44. karen  |  September 27, 2007 at 9:26 pm

    Suffice to say that observed effects are not consistent. Which goes a little way toward explaining why some people with good attitudes still whither and die quickly, while some ornery snots survive.

    Interesting. I’ll have to look that up, too. Thanks!

  • 45. Simen  |  September 28, 2007 at 7:39 am

    Lisa says:

    Are you saying that “desires” or “feelings” can not cure cancer? Is there scientific proof of that? If someone gets cancer, should they just go through the motions and not hope for anything, because science can’t prove that prayer or positive thinking helps, only chemo and radiation? And chemo and radiation only work when all the conditions are right?

    My oncologist, who has a chemo room in her office, told me what she finds amazing is that someone can come into her office with stage 4 cancer, have an extremely positive attitude, and go into remission quickly with no recurrence. On the other hand, she said, she has witnessed all too often the people who come in with stage 1 cancer, and because of their poor attitude, they die. She said she finds it quite interesting. How do you explain that? Obviously, their attitudes are “feelings” and “desires”…so those feelings and desires definitely mattered, and helped in their recovery. I’m sure praying to a Higher Power was involved with many of these patients. Scientifcally speaking, stage 4 is definitely more life-threatening than stage 1, so according to science, the mortality results for those patients should have been the opposite way around.

    The fact that feelings or beliefs can help cure illness is called placebo. There’s even an opposite effect, called nocebo, which means that people who believe they have been cursed (even if it’s just mumbo jumbo) may start to exhibit symptoms that the alleged curse would cause.

    This doesn’t apply with cancer. Having positive feelings won’t help necessarily do you any good. You present anecdotal evidence and suggest that it’s a trend. It’s not.

    I can even attest to the opposite. A friend of my mother got cancer. She was extremely positive, and was certain that she would survive. I don’t remember the exact timeframe, but a couple of months later, she was dead. A woman without other illnesses that could have sped up the process (she was in her 40s), with an extremely positive attitude. Should be an easy confirmation of your hypothesis.

    Except it isn’t. Since you yourself based your hypothesis on anecdotal evidence, this simple anecdote effectively refutes your hypothesis. If you apply the same standard of evidence that you applied to your own anecdotes, I have just falsified your hypothesis.

    Now, fortunately, this isn’t how science works. A bunch of scientists don’t meet up and share their related anecdotes and then search for patterns. They do controlled studies. They review existing data. They build up hypotheses, then find out their implications and test for them.

  • 46. Lisa  |  September 28, 2007 at 8:46 am

    The thing is, as a believer, death is not the end. So according to what we believe, someone who prayed faithfully and died anyway did not, for lack of a better word, “lose.” They tried their best to stay faithful, and to a believer, that faith is what carries them through to the next realm. I’m sure most of the time, stage 4 people will die and stage 1 people will live. But believers die with hope. Whether what they believe is true or not, it certainly comforts them and everyone around them at that most dire of times-death- and I see nothing wrong with that.

    Personally, I am not afraid of death. I do believe there is something else, that this life force inside of me is an energy that has to go somewhere once my physical body expires. Of course, just like everyone else, I would like to live a long and healthy life, especially because I have children.

    I believe in science. I don’t see how anyone can’t…but I believe that science is a whole part of creation. I don’t believe something as complex as a human could come from an amoeba. However, just as we can create computers or cars or pencils, I believe that we were created from something. I mean, the computer didn’t just appear one day, someone had to create it. The whole “image of God” idea comes into play here (I’m talking about the ability to create, not about looks…although, even “aliens” have two arms, two legs, two eyes, and a mouth…as a matter of fact, so do most animals). But that’s a whole other discussion.

    I’m starting to think that this all boils down to how people view us from the outside. Perhaps Athiests put great emphasis on looking “smart”, for to believe in something you can’t “prove” would make them look, well, not smart. It’s seems to me that it’s all about intelligence. This is just an observation from what I’ve experienced in my life–most prominently, from a former brother-in-law who I adore, who’s great to get into debates with, and who definitely thinks his intelligence is WAY above ours because of his choice not to believe in something that he considers a fantasy (and he has stated so).

    Personally, I don’t really care what people think of me. Especially for believing in God. For whatever it’s worth, having faith in a higher power has kept me in line, given me hope, and made me accountable for my actions. Those aren’t bad outcomes, even if it’s not true. I’m not saying that Athiests don’t have those outcomes. But some of us need to depend on something more than man alone, quite possibly because our fellow humans constantly let us down. And that truth is all around us, every day. Especially in this country.

  • 47. Simen  |  September 28, 2007 at 9:37 am

    You’re backpedalling here, because you started by making some claims on scientific grounds, and now you say that it doesn’t matter whether they are right or wrong, because the person didn’t “lose” by dying anyway.

    I believe in science. I don’t see how anyone can’t…but I believe that science is a whole part of creation. I don’t believe something as complex as a human could come from an amoeba.

    The first and third sentence are contradictory. If you believe in science, you should believe in conclusions based on good science. Evolution is good science, some of the best there is.

    As for intelligence, I think there’s plenty evidence that intelligent people believe stupid things. All the time. I will not hesitate to call someone’s beliefs stupid, but I won’t infer from that that they are stupid.

  • 48. LeoPardus  |  September 28, 2007 at 11:28 am

    Lisa:

    I agree that the comfort of religion, true or not, in times of difficulty is a fine thing.

    Re: fear of death- There was a thread on the sister site to this blog about views on death. I think most of the non-religious saw death as just a reality to accept. Of course all would like to live long and well to enjoy life as much as possible.

    Re: atheist looking smart- There are plenty of dumber-than-dirt atheists. Likewise there are plenty of brilliant people of faith. For some of us, intelligence is quite important, but not for all. On this site though, there does seem to be a fair concentration of brain power.
    But anyone who, like your brother-in-law, considers themselves way above the ‘hoi polloi’ is liable one day to find his overmatch.

    having faith in a higher power has kept me in line, given me hope, and made me accountable for my actions. Those aren’t bad outcomes, even if it’s not true.

    Not bad at all. It did the same for me at times.

    quite possibly because our fellow humans constantly let us down. And that truth is all around us, every day. Especially in this country.

    “in this country”?!!! What special corner on the market did the US get?

  • 49. Lisa  |  September 28, 2007 at 3:40 pm

    “in this country”?!!! What special corner on the market did the US get?”

    Of course, you are absolutely right. I should have given that slip more thought before printing it, sorry!

  • 50. Eric  |  September 28, 2007 at 5:42 pm

    I’ve run into the incredulity about a godless universe before, and have responded with the following:

    “Your desires place no burden on the universe”

    Seemingly, many people are confused on this point.

  • 51. societyvs  |  September 28, 2007 at 6:35 pm

    This is a very loaded question ‘why do you believe what you believe?’ and is hard to answer – it needs to be narrowed down some I think- although the blog was very good!

    I think in the Christian faith there are a variety of beliefs and at least 2 different categories for those beliefs – one is by ‘faith’ and the other is ‘belief proven by action’ – and these get muddied in Christian waters quite a bit.

    Ex (Belief/Faith): Were Adam and Eve the first humans? It is not something we will prove – but some people accept it as true. Fact is, even if it were true it would do nothing for you – no change in your lifestyle whatsoever. This belief requires no action on your part – since it is in the past and it is either ‘true’ or ‘not true’.

    Ex (Belief/Action): ‘Do not judge unless you want to be judged’ is the type of belief that requires action for it to be true/real. If someone says ‘do no judge then condemns your lifestyle’ – well they are a hypocrite (an actor). If someone says ‘do not judge then treats you like they would like to be treated’ – then this person is consistent in both their belief and action (and it is seen as valid). This type of belief requires that it produce something or it is meaningless (or not a belief at all – even if someone says it is and does not follow it).

    For me, my life (or belief set) is determined by set 2 of those belief systems in trying to be consistent with the gospels (well with Matthew anyways) and ‘following’ (an action) Jesus. Since I do have the teachings preserved in front of me I can logically reference them for criteria as to what Jesus is asking of someone when they ‘follow’.

    Is this predicated by the fact Jesus had to have lived – likely – but it’s not a huge issue for me to be honest (the gospels make it seem he was a real, living person – I take that testimony by faith). Best I can do is live up to the standard written down before me to ‘read’ and extrapolate upon. My conversation happens more with those teachings and in the living of them (reality) than in some doctrinal statement hoping I have all my faith beliefs supposedly correct. I have examined the belief system of this faith – and I have noticed one simple thing – ex A and B are being confused on some mass level.

  • 52. Lisa  |  September 28, 2007 at 6:53 pm

    Perhaps it’s not whether or not Adam and Eve were the first humans (do we know for a fact that they were not apes?), but maybe believing in God all depends on the ACT of faith. If God said it, we’ll be faithful to believe it, even if we can’t prove it (and there is no way that anyone living today could realistically say that they know for a fact who the first humans were or the day they appeared, or developed, on this earth). Again, it may be simple, but if I’m believing the bible to be the word of God, then I will be faithful to that word, even if it doesn’t make sense in 2007.

    I’m sure the day that a human being developed from an ape was a pretty unbelievable day, too. It probably didn’t make any sense to the creatures that were around back then, either (I’m sorry, but it’s Friday, and I had to lighten this up a little bit)!

  • 53. Simen  |  September 28, 2007 at 7:55 pm

    Lisa, you do know that there is no day, week, month or year that humans developed, right? Evolution is a gradual process that happens at every time, and there’s no simple line we can draw (in general) between humans and their ancestors. The classifications have come later, when humans today study their origins. There is no day that humans developed from apes.

    I also wonder why you say that you will believe something even if it makes no sense. Why is that?

    I don’t believe in square circles, because the concept makes no sense. Would you believe in square circles if the Bible told you they existed?

  • 54. Lisa  |  September 28, 2007 at 9:09 pm

    Simen, you know what makes no sense? I love talking to you. You make me laugh, and when I laugh, I feel joy. You are a very unique individual, and I think you’re brilliant.

    I, however, am a little crazy. I was one of those unfortunate individuals who was born with a creative brain, and where you excel in all things scientific, I excel in drawing Disney cartoons. ;)

    Yes, I know that there was no specific second, minute, day, week, etc. that humans developed. I was merely making an attempt at humor. And I realize more and more every day how much I suck at it.

    Now. To answer your question. I did say that the concept of Adam and Eve made no sense in 2007. However, it quite possibly could’ve made sense thousands of years ago. I mean, things that made sense in 1950 don’t make sense now (and I’m not saying that’s a good thing). So just because something that happened thousands of years ago doesn’t make sense in this present day, does that mean it’s not true?

    You know what? If God told me that a square circle existed, I’d believe it. And yes, because I WANT to believe it. I’m one of those people who enjoys what you personally consider a “fable”, or an untruth, or whatever you want to call it. I like to believe in “signs from beyond”. To me, it makes life more interesting. And besides, if I wrote a story about my life, no one would believe it. But, dang it, it would be true. And I would credit God with helping me to get through half of it. You would be crediting me alone. So it’s a win-win outcome in my book!

  • 55. Thinking Ape  |  September 28, 2007 at 10:04 pm

    Lisa – I think you are officially our first Discordian, and I say that as a compliment :D

  • 56. Lisa  |  September 28, 2007 at 10:35 pm

    Ummm…thank you? Of course, you know I’ll be hitting the dictionary mometarily

  • 57. LeoPardus  |  September 29, 2007 at 1:10 am

    Discordianism!! A new discovery. Thanks monkey man. I may have rediscovered “faith”. :D

  • 58. Simen  |  September 29, 2007 at 7:27 am

    Lisa, there doesn’t have to be any division between creativity and rigid logic and science. They’re just good for different things, and I happen to think that you (based on what you’ve written) tend to mix up the usage areas, introducing creative license where rigid proof or hard evidence would do.

    That said, I see that there’s no convincing you, and that’s not really my intent anyway. I’ll be hoping (not praying :)) that you will come to your senses some day ;)

  • 59. Curtis  |  September 29, 2007 at 10:47 am

    Excellent post.

    What you didn’t mention (at least not in this post)—and maybe with good reason, I don’t know—is the family values dynamic of religion.

    It is easy to conceive of the paleolithic or neolithic extended family unit as threatened by the precocity of its strong youth. What was to prevent the young men, in an environment of scarce resources, to shuck off their fathers like so much corn? We might say that “such would never happen,” but that’s because of the value system in which we were brought up, not because of anything in our genetic code. I am sure that this was a problem for early human families, and the totemic framework of early religion, in whatever other capacity it might have functioned, largely served to preclude the usurpation of the elders by the youth, just as it would go on to serve as a cohesive for the city-state, the empire, et cetera.

    In the past several generations, science has presented data about the Universe which makes it more difficult than ever to rationalize religious belief. Ergo, it is faulty to assume that rational decision-making has very much to do with a person’s religious beliefs in this day and age. For some, it does; for far more, it is only claimed that it does—in reality, I feel quite comfortable saying that a majority of those persons who would claim to hold to theism for rational reasons of evidence are merely clinging to family values that they are unable to separate from religious dogma for personal reasons, including the terror of inevitable death. For this reason, hermeneutic intricacy is on the rise.

    But, as an atheist, I have never understood the view that the brevity of life and the finality of death are cause for doom and gloom. This is to deny the sheer miraculousness of life—and the uber-miraculousness of consciousness—in the context of the icy vastness of the Universe. It is a matter of education and perspective, for me.

    Great post.

  • 60. Lisa  |  September 29, 2007 at 10:49 am

    It’s all good. This is what makes the world go ’round…different people believing different things, and getting along anyhow. Again, if we all believed the same thing, what on earth would we debate about (and who doesn’t love a good debate)? BOR-ing!

    Thanks, guys, for the opportunity to learn how others think. I enjoyed it!

  • 61. Thinking Ape  |  September 29, 2007 at 12:39 pm

    Curtis, good points, and yes I believe the family dynamic is the probably the most important aspect of why we believe what we do. But of course for us religious apostates, the rule did not hold. I DID believe what I believed because I was brought up under a certain lens, but due to critical analysis of that worldview it no longer appears plausible or even possible. The reason I stayed away from the family argument is because a religionist would never admit it. I don’t want them to. I want someone to come up with credible intellectual reasons why people believe historical untruths to be true.

  • 62. cipher  |  October 3, 2007 at 9:39 am

    Article describing current research that seems to indicate a neurological basis for fundamentalism:

    http://tikkun.org/magazine/tik0709/frontpage/neuroscience

  • 63. Why I am Not a Liberal Christian « de-conversion  |  March 7, 2008 at 9:02 am

    [...] with unbelievers, philosophy of religion, etc. Eventually, when I genuinely asked myself, “Why do I believe what I believe” I no longer had an [...]

  • 64. Mary Stewart  |  March 5, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    Just saw this post and please consider me who admire your thoughts. As for me, i guess what i believe is everything is dynamic. The work, the people around, the things you have seen keeps changing especially the people. I know that people change and those changes happens for a reason. I thing i believe is not dynamic is i believe in God. That will never change. Thank you for letting me share my points.

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Attention Christian Readers

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

de-conversion wager

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

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