Is there a reasonable faith?

July 3, 2008 at 12:39 am 72 comments

In The End of Faith, Sam Harris argues that faith is unreasonable, and the cause of much of our present world turmoil (bar natural disasters). I have struggled with my faith and my beliefs have undergone radical changes in a short period of time. Presently, I have been looking at the nature of consciousness and the purpose of myth, these being incredibly fascinating areas. It took a great deal of time to let go of ‘the God out there’, yet once gone I was not saddened. What I now consider an inferior idea was replaced with the notion of ‘the ground of our being’. I no longer care to seek to experience God in religion, for the experience of life is far more enriching. This means that faith in God is entirely unnecessary, and however I name my experience of life is an arbitrary construction.

As such, I am more and more coming to the position, like Sam Harris, that religion itself requires deconstruction. The whole system is flawed and really should just be pulled apart. Depth and meaning, or sacredness and spirituality, can still flow through the culture without the necessity for institutions to administer it. I was never really into institutional religion even through my Christian years. I viewed my simple faith and pentecostal experiences to be superior to the extra baggage that seemed to be carried in other traditions. Still, that did not make me irreligious, just skeptical of the validity of the other forms. As I moved through my deconstruction process, I have tried to remain as open-minded as possible to the potential good that could still exist in the religious traditions, particularly Christianity. Unfortunately, it seems the negatives far outweigh the positives when it comes to the contribution that religion makes today.

I guess the most pertinent question to ask is, how useful is religion? What is religion’s contribution to the world? Some would say the benevolence, such as aid organizations that are currently supporting Burma and China in their recent disasters. Others might say that they have a tremendous unifying power, bringing people together under a system and banner that makes for effective community. These things may be true, but do they outweigh the pathologies? The institutional religions by-and-large hold on to archaic and imperialistic beliefs about the world and reality that more than counter any aid effort, instead leading to death and destruction. Christians might say, granted this may be true for Islam, even for Judaism, but not for Christianity with its peace-loving Saviour. Putting the historical argument of the Crusades aside, I have to again side with Harris in the thought that irrational beliefs, such as those promoted in the Left Behind series, do impact foreign policy, and are cited as motivators for war. Why should we consider the word of one person writing over 1,000 years ago (Augustine) to be definitive in the cause of launching a ‘just war’? Moderate believers who promote tolerance within their own traditions are condoning beliefs that lead to senseless violence.

So, is there a reasonable faith? There might be, so long as the beliefs in question are held lightly and are open to question. I would suggest that faith must be progressive for it to be reasonable. In other words, it must be open to change and correction. There is no room for reason and arrogance to coincide, whether believer or atheist. Willful ignorance should be challenged wherever it exists, without the necessity to resort to pettiness.

Entry filed under: Gary. Tags: , , , .

A parable of divine guidance Are de-converts open to re-converting?

72 Comments Add your own

  • 1. The Apostate  |  July 3, 2008 at 1:20 am

    I guess the most pertinent question to ask is, how useful is religion?

    Perhaps we should ask, first, what is religion? Only once this has been successfully answered can we begin to calculate its usefulness. There is no such difference between “simple faith” and “religious institution” in the view of many. I would contend that the only pragmatic difference is the former is more individualistic and perhaps egotistical than the latter.

  • 2. Clark Bunch  |  July 3, 2008 at 1:26 am

    Is the faith of Sam Harris any more reasaonble than theism? To stand firmly on the belief that there is no God requires a great deal of faith, just as the affirmative does. Given how little we know about all there is (we can’t even “know” what all we don’t know yet) it seems like a great leap of faith to conclude no god could possibly exist. Science can niether prove nor disprove the existence of God, it’s a ridiculous argument. So faith the God is real is just as reasonable as having faith he is not.

  • 3. The Apostate  |  July 3, 2008 at 3:03 am

    Clark,

    To stand firmly on the belief that there is no God requires a great deal of faith, just as the affirmative does.

    How much “faith” does one need to believe that unicorns do not exist?
    Could you, perhaps, define “faith”?
    Is your definition of “faith” exclusive to religion, or do you use it in the same context as the fidelity to your significant other, or do you flippantly use the word “faith” as a vague representative for your unsubstantiated claim in one or more deities, the divinely-infused ancient text(s), any various version of the afterlife, and/or the purely subjective paths to salvation?

  • 4. John Morales  |  July 3, 2008 at 3:22 am

    So, is there a reasonable faith?

    Um, I’m running into semantic difficulties processing this as it’s ambiguous.

    Under my operational definitions of reasonable and faith, however, reasonable faith is an oxymoron.

    Under a less strict definition of reasonable (e.g. it leads to acceptable outcomes) and of faith (e.g. belief without certitude) it may well not be.

    PS I define faith as religious belief without or despite evidence (in this context).

    PPS ah, natural language. How wonderfully nuanced and ambiguous it is.

  • 5. Gary  |  July 3, 2008 at 5:15 am

    There is no such difference between “simple faith” and “religious institution” in the view of many. I would contend that the only pragmatic difference is the former is more individualistic and perhaps egotistical than the latter.

    In my (uhum) humble experience, I would have to agree :) I did a lot of finger-pointing in my time.

    It’s funny to see how the word ‘faith’ is thrown around. Not having faith in God becomes faith in itself. What about faith’s antithesis, doubt? An atheist may say, ‘there is no God’, which I see more as a statement of doubt – ‘in all probability there is no God’. If you have an experience of God that is true for you, how will you share that experience? Faith is required for me to believe that your experience speaks authentically of God. Until I have such an experience, I have nothing to go by but the word of others.

    Ultimately, the best I can offer is to suggest that there is something beyond the material world, but I cannot quantify it. While I will affirm the true nature of faith in the subjective, I deny any attempt to objectify the experience, which is futile. In other words, I don’t need to put the label of ‘God’ on that which cannot be explained.

  • 6. John Morales  |  July 3, 2008 at 5:56 am

    Not having faith in God becomes faith in itself.

    I beg to differ.

    I can confidently say that the Christian god, say, is impossible because its definition is incoherent.

    I am not a dualist, but that’s not a matter of faith. It is merely the default rational position – surely it’s notrational to presuppose unevidenced and unnecessary entities.

  • 7. mindbogglingly dazzled  |  July 3, 2008 at 7:39 am

    Gary, thanks for your post. You write:

    1. the negatives far outweigh the positives

    and

    2. faith is unreasonable.

    These are two different claims that I find in Sam Harris’ book and in your post and in many other posts on this blog. I am not saying that you mix them up. I am just saying they are two different claims.

    The first claim is: Religion is not true. Believing in God(s) is unreasonable

    The second claim is: Religion has bad effects (quite apart from whether or not it is true). It has bad effects on personal and societal life

    I think many people on this blog were lead to their de-conversion by going along with both claims. I find it harder for people like me who only feel somewhat drawn to the first claim but not to the second.

    I generally experience religion as a very positive influence on my life. On balance, I also think it makes for a happier and healthier society than its alternatives.

    Note also that if you suscribe to the second claim, you have troubles with making some other claims such as “the wish fulfillment claim”:
    The “wish fulfillment claim” says that people believe in religion because religion is something nice for the soul. I believe that is true: religion is a very good thing to have in life. But believing this positive thing about religion makes it impossible for me to go along with you and Sam Harris and others to find it liberating to leave religion. It is contradictory to believe that life without religion is better and to claim at the same time that one only believed because of wish fulfillment. If one wishes to have it, it must be something good.

    P.S.: As a side remark, I found it interesting that K was surprised how few people left church because of hypocrisy. I think this shows that the second claim (i.e. people experience religion as something bad in their life) is less well supported than the first. Many people have good experiences in church: good community, nice people, humble people aware of their faults, hopeful people. When they leave faith it is despite the positive effects of religion outweighing the negatives.

  • 8. John T.  |  July 3, 2008 at 7:42 am

    Good morning all

    Using the bible as an example, though it could be the same comparison for any faith. I think the problem is when you have absolute truth(bible) you leave no room for non truth to be in it(which obviously there is tons). The same is true for the de-conversionists, they have decided the bible is no longer “truth’ as was earlier defined and now have lost the chance to find any real truth in it. In the the wonderful myth called Icarus I think we find the key, its called flying the “Middle Way.”

  • 9. mindbogglingly dazzled  |  July 3, 2008 at 7:45 am

    oops, sorry for the wrong formatting in the P.S.!

    And, btw, @John Morales:

    I find your claim

    It is merely the default rational position – surely it’s notrational to presuppose unevidenced and unnecessary entities

    quite bold.

    How should we decide what is the neutral or “default” or starting point position? Why should give the atheistic claim a head start in granting it the default status?
    To most humans and in most of times believing in God was the most natural thing of all – so how could a claim that is contrary to our natural way of believing be the default position?

    I personally (in my desire to know what is really there) want to give both options an equal hearing.

  • 10. mindbogglingly dazzled  |  July 3, 2008 at 7:48 am

    and one more “btw” to John Morales’ post:

    trying to make up a world view with as few entities as possible/necessary might lead to a very elegant world view – one which pleases the aesthetic leanings of Mondrian or Donald Judd. But: It surely isn’t a recipe for a plausible world view.

  • 11. Obi  |  July 3, 2008 at 9:48 am

    dazzled said, “How should we decide what is the neutral or “default” or starting point position? Why should give the atheistic claim a head start in granting it the default status?
    To most humans and in most of times believing in God was the most natural thing of all – so how could a claim that is contrary to our natural way of believing be the default position?”

    It’s mostly due to Occam’s Razor. Since there is no need for God(s) (to explain anything in the Universe) nor evidence for any God(s), the simplest and best way to formulate a worldview regarding the Universe is one that includes no belief in God. Therefore, it’s the most rational.

    However, you’re right in that perhaps “belief in God(s)” is natural for human beings. Anthroplogists and evolutionary biologists theorize that belief in God(s) (and religion) was an adaptation (or perhaps even invention) in our primtive ancestors, and that it helped the groups they formed to be more cohesive, and it afforded leaders more authority and ability to keep their group together by proclaiming themselves messengers/prophets of God(s).

    Interesting research, to be sure.

  • 12. mindbogglingly dazzled  |  July 3, 2008 at 10:10 am

    Obi,

    you write: it is mostly due to Occam’s Razor

    We have to be careful not to give authority to the idea of Occam’s Razor simply because it has an official name and was invented by a smart guy. This principle is often used in an “appeal to authority” kind of way.
    It is a difficult issue how to weigh explanatory power vs. simplicity in the construction of a plausible worldview. And Occam’s Razor is often used to favor radically the simplicity side.

    Anyway, I have nothing against a position that after serious inquiry does without entities that have hardly any explanatory power but make the world view much less simple. But this was not John Morales’ original point. His point was that we should should start our inquiry into whether God exists or not by regarding the latter as the more natural or “default” position. This “head start” is what I find strange.
    I think both positions should be judged according to their merits (and if anything is to be given a headstart, then it seems to be the religious option. Why? If inquiring whether tables exist or not, and you had to declare one of the two options a default hypothesis, which one would you choose? I’d personally go for “tables exist” because it comes in most natural)

  • 13. BigHouse  |  July 3, 2008 at 10:15 am

    mind said:

    I think both positions should be judged according to their merits (and if anything is to be given a headstart, then it seems to be the religious option. Why? If inquiring whether tables exist or not, and you had to declare one of the two options a default hypothesis, which one would you choose? I’d personally go for “tables exist” because it comes in most natural)

    You contradict yourself here and you also make a false analogy. First you say that all positions should be evaluated equally, then you say that your choice should be given a headstart. Sounds like you don’t have a problem giving a headstart, you just want tom decide whihc option gets.

    And if you honestly equate the evidence that ‘tables exist” with “God exists” then I don’t think we can have a roductive discussion in this realm.

  • 14. mindbogglingly dazzled  |  July 3, 2008 at 10:25 am

    BigHouse,

    (Just some misunderstandings here: I don’t want to give headstarts. I just said that if had to, then….

    Also, the only analogy between “tables exist” and “God exists” was supposed to be that both are more natural to humans, nothing more. Of course, I believe that tables are much more “obvious/natural” than god…)

  • 15. mindbogglingly dazzled  |  July 3, 2008 at 10:26 am

    Obi,

    you write: Interesting research, to be sure.

    Here’s one observation about the claim that religions was useful in evolution: This claim is often used by the same people (such as Sam Harris) that say that religion does harm at a societal level.
    There is a slight tension here: On the one hand it is claimed that religion was a helpful tool during evolution but at the same time it is claimed that religion is harmful to humanity.

    I don’t think it’s a contradiction since one might simply claim that religion did good to humanity in the past but doesn’t do so anymore today.

  • 16. Richard  |  July 3, 2008 at 10:32 am

    I have always thought that whether one considers atheism the proper “default” position, or not, seems to me to have to do with whether one approaches the issue from a more or less scientific approach, or not.

    In other words, if the claim “God exists” is approached in a scientific spirit, then obviously, the null hypothesis would be, of course, “No god exists.”

    The alternative, to my mind, is to consider the question more philosophical than empirical, and thus, is to be approached in what might be called a more Socratic spirit: by saying ” I don’t know.” I.e., agnosticism.

    I’m not sure theres a right answer here, because belief in God is arguably a matter of both evidence *and* philosophical argument. Perhaps its ultimately more a matter of preference as to which is more important.

    For my part, I consider myself an atheist-leaning agnostic, giving primacy, as I personally find more compelling, to the philosophical approach.

  • 17. BigHouse  |  July 3, 2008 at 10:40 am

    Richard, I think your commentary is spot on. I think EITHER side claiming “default” status is going to unnecessarily inflame any discussion of the matter. However, if taking a strict scientific OR philosophical approach is what’s being discussed, I think it is reasonable to choose the default position as you describe.

  • 18. BigHouse  |  July 3, 2008 at 10:43 am

    mind:

    Evolution is an organic process without ‘morality’. It can easily do good and harm IN THE SHORT RUN.

    If a natural predator of a species is wiped-out, that species will then flourish. If they then reproduce too much, they will consume too many resources and start to die off. Evolution controls both processes as short term fixes to a long term process of achieveing survival and equilibirum.

  • 19. Obi  |  July 3, 2008 at 10:53 am

    dazzled —

    When you quoted me in #15, what were you trying to say? It seems almost as if you’re arguing/talking something over with yourself.

    Religion was indeed a very important factor in the development of human civilization, and that importance cannot be understated. It provided social structure; rules of morality that were also backed up by the threat of divine punishment, as extra incentive to follow them; as well as an authority that the people could look up to for comfort.

  • 20. orDover  |  July 3, 2008 at 10:55 am

    I think that the only way for faith to be reasonable is it to be founded in actual empirical evidence. I know I’ve used this analogy here before, but I have faith that if I jump from a 10 story building gravity will pull me very rapidly down to the pavement. I’ve never done this myself, I’ve never seen anyone else do it, but I have evidence from other sources, like yesterday when I dropped a book and it hit my toe. I have faith that gravity will always work on earth, because I have evidence to support that assertion.

    Likewise, I have faith in my husband that he will not hurt me physically or cheat on me because I have seen evidence of his character with my own eyes. It’s more plausible that my husband would cheat on me than that gravity would stop working, so I’m taking more of a “leap of faith” for him, but it is deserved and grounded in evidence. In other words, my experience in dealing with him suggests that he is trustworthy.

    I have zero evidence that a Christian god, or god of any other religion exists. So why should I put my faith in that? That is unreasonable. I have some evidence that the Christian god does not exist: lack of answered prayers, evolution, old age of the earth, physics, lack of anything supernatural at all, the absurdity of the Bible… I have no evidence that there is not some sort of “first cause” or “prime mover.” For this reason I am an agnostic, but I prefer to identify myself as atheist. I would say that “atheist” is my running hypothesis based on empirical evidence. As has already been said, the universe really doesn’t require a “first cause,” so tacking one onto my world view is superfluous, especially considering that if there was this sort of passive Deist conception of god, it would not “need” me to have faith in it, as the Christian god does.

  • 21. mindbogglingly dazzled  |  July 3, 2008 at 11:00 am

    Obi,
    yes – I think you’re right, I was more or less talking with myself… writing something that was on my mind and not directly related to what you said (sorry – I am seem to be flooding this blog today… reason must be that there is work that should be done which I don’t want to start to get done…). I’m just grappling with the claim that “religion is useful to human society” which in some instances is accepted by the new atheists and in other instances not.

    BigHouse, Richard:
    yes – as far as I am concerned, I want to approach the question of religion as “me” and not “as” scientist or “as” philosopher. Both of these identities (scientist/philosopher) might be part of my identity, but at the end of the day it is my whole “me” that has to make the decision.
    Aren’t we all a bit scientists, philosophers, and all that – but in the end little humans thirsting for truth and happiness?

  • 22. BigHouse  |  July 3, 2008 at 11:11 am

    mind,

    Yes, we as humans are made up of all of those “roles”. Different ones win the day based on different factors.

    The accountant in me wins over the consumerist if I feel I want to buy a Ferrari. The romaticist wins over the accountant if I want to splurge and buy my wife jewelry once in a while.

    I think for most people here, the scientist wins over the philospher when it comes to the Christian God because of overwhleming evidence to this effect.

    The philosopher in me still is searching for the “what’s the point of this life”. Just because I don’t believe in the Christian explanation doesn’t mean it or another theory can’t be correct.

  • [...] last night’s conversation I was pleasantly surprised this morning with the conclusion of  Is There A Reasonable Faith? at de-conversion. I find this to be a refreshing bit of intellectual honesty. So, is there a [...]

  • 24. TheNerd  |  July 3, 2008 at 11:45 am

    I guess the most pertinent question to ask is, how useful is religion? What is religion’s contribution to the world? Some would say the benevolence, such as aid organizations that are currently supporting Burma and China in their recent disasters. Others might say that they have a tremendous unifying power, bringing people together under a system and banner that makes for effective community.

    I find myself wishing there was a large cheritable organization nearby with a strong sense of community that didn’t recruit members through faith (i.e. fear) tactics. It seems any non-churches that attempt to fill those two needs end up either being a non-cheritable community, or a cheritable non-community.

    Are there others who have observed this, or something to the contrary? Join me on the forum for further discussion of this topic.

  • 25. Yurka  |  July 3, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    So, is there a reasonable faith?

    http://www.reasonablefaith.org

  • 26. Obi  |  July 3, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    Haha, WIlliam Lane Craig. He’s one of the most unintentionally funny people I’ve ever seen.

    Especially with that massive nose of his…*snicker*

  • 27. Non Sicuro Pensatore  |  July 3, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    “Others might say that they have a tremendous unifying power…”

    The unifying power is thwarted by the fact that everyone forms different opinions and interpretations and views themselves as the ultimate judge of right and wrong. So the person who claims to be unified under the Christian banner has to contend with more than 20,000 sub-groups fighting over who can rightly carry that banner.

  • 28. Yurka  |  July 3, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    Obi, I sense much fear and hatred within you. [/Yoda]

  • 29. The Apostate  |  July 3, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    Obi,

    Haha, WIlliam Lane Craig. He’s one of the most unintentionally funny people I’ve ever seen.
    Especially with that massive nose of his…*snicker*

    While I do not agree with Craig’s tactics nor his philosophical positions, I must respect the attempts he puts forth as one of the few rationalist theologians living today. While he may be a throwback to the enlightenment era, he forces a dialectical challenge to the theistic and non-theistic communities.
    Regardless of what I think about Craig, I find your comment disrespectful and childish.

  • 30. Obi  |  July 3, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    I’m sorry for the joke guys, haha. I understand that this blog is serious business with no room for fun. Really.

  • 31. The Apostate  |  July 3, 2008 at 3:07 pm

    Obi, jokes are more than welcome – but have some class; poking fun at a persons nose as your only response simple lacks taste.

  • 32. Will Entrekin  |  July 3, 2008 at 3:55 pm

    The problem is that we need to accept the difference between religion and faith. I agree with Harris except that he offers no transcendence–what did Einstein say? Faith without science is blind, science without faith lame? Harris is either blind or lame.

    Because, seriously, if Einstein was a Deist…

  • 33. John Morales  |  July 3, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    To mindbogglingly dazzled:

    To most humans and in most of times believing in God was the most natural thing of all – so how could a claim that is contrary to our natural way of believing be the default position

    That is not what I wrote; I wrote “the default rational position”, not the “most natural position”.

    Besides, if it’s so natural, why does it have to be taught? And why do theists get so worked up if their children are exposed to different religions?

    I personally (in my desire to know what is really there) want to give both options an equal hearing.

    A couple of things; first, in what sense am I impeding theist propaganda by commenting here?
    Second, it’s not as if theists aren’t a dominant force in society – we’re the minority, not you mob. It’s had far more than an equal hearing.

    trying to make up a world view with as few entities as possible/necessary [...] surely isn’t a recipe for a plausible world view.

    Interesting claim, interesting language.

    The plot of a novel may be plausible, yet still entirely fictional. I don’t seek a plausible world-view, as you claim to – I seek to remove as many conceptual filters as possible between reality and my senses and reason.

  • 34. mindbogglingly dazzled  |  July 3, 2008 at 7:04 pm

    Hi John

    Thanks for your replies. BTW, I am a very skeptical christian who is sufficiently fed up with all the difficulties of the religion she adheres to that she is considering leaving that religion behind.

    Concerning the “rational default position”: There are two ways of looking at discussions on religion:

    1. Atheism is the rational default position. Theism may be embraced should the evidence reach some threshold level of sufficient strength.

    2. Neither Atheism nor Theism is the rational default position. We just look at the evidence for both sides and judge it impartially.

    Without having a good argument, I just must say that I cannot but consider 2 the smarter option than 1.

    I shouldn’t claim that religion is something very very natural (you’re right to question this). All I try to say is: If you don’t like option 2 – that is: look at the evidence for both sides without granting the one side the status of a fallback position – then I personally wouldn’t want to arbitrarily go for atheism as a fallback position but rather for what is somehow the most common or “natural” belief – and theism definitely seems to be the more widespread, commonsensical, natural belief.

    —-

    Concerning the “plausible world view”: I think we are in agreement. I seek a world view that corresponds as closely as possible with reality. What I tried to say was: It seems arbitrary to presuppose that reality has “very few entities”. Why shouldn’t reality consist of many things (mind, god, matter, numbers, humans, …)? If it does consist of many things, Occam’s Razor would be a bad guide to reality.
    Simple world views are easy to make up. Here is one: Everything (that is: strictly everything) is an imagination of some supermind. This world view explains everything by only one entity. We do not have to claim that such things as tables and so on exist. We only have this one single thing: the supermind. But surely, such a world view is quite absurd?

  • 35. Obi  |  July 3, 2008 at 7:22 pm

    dazzled–

    You’ve misinterpreted Occam’s Razor a little there. Positing the existence of a supermind is more complicated than simply saying that the Universe exists because (1) There is no evidence for such a supermind and (2) It is simpler to state that the Universe exists within itself than to say that it exists within the mind of another entity which itself exists somehwhere, so on and so forth.

    Since the Universe can be explained without the existence of a supernatural being, it stands to reason that such a being should not be invoked because its existence if superfluous. This doesn’t mean that some type of God(s) doesn’t/don’t exist, but since (1) We don’t need such an entity to exist to explain anything and (2) We have no evidence for such an entity existing, the reasonable conclusion is that such an entity does not exist.

  • 36. orDover  |  July 3, 2008 at 7:32 pm

    mindbogglingly dazzled-

    I think you should read Daniel Dennett’s Consciousness Explained. He does a pretty good job of throwing out that “Matrix” Dsecartes scenario, i.e. we can’t trust our senses, there could be more to “reality” than what we experience phenomenologically.

    Anyway, concerning reality, there are two ways to look at it:
    1. What we experience is real, and that is it. If we don’t actually experience something (i.e. see it with our own eyes, have physical evidence of it) then it is not real.
    2. Reality is much greater than our phenomenological experience. There are invisible things at work all around us that we can not ever have physical evidence of.

    The problem I have with scenario 2 is that it opens the doors to every kind of pseudoscientific load of crap you can think of. If we can’t trust what we perceive to be reality, then there could be aliens hovering over my head right now from another dimension. There could be ghosts living in the “thanosphere.” There could be an invisible god in heaven who has power over everything. There could be Bigfoot.

    But if there could plausibly be all of those things, but we never have a way to experience them because they exist out of phenomenological reality, then what is the point? They could be there, they could not, but they will never interact with my life. So why should I open the door to them?

    In the real world, I have not yet encountered anything that defies reality. Even the mind is shown to be nothing more than the product of the brain. There is nothing intangible. That tells me that reality can safely be defined as only things I can experience physically. I slam the door on everything else. But, if tomorrow I’m walking to the store and Bigfoot darts out of the park, bumps me on the shoulder, stumbles into traffic, and gets mowed down by a bus, then Bigfoot gets to join reality, because he has just been physically experience.

    You can allow the concept of a supernatural god into your reality, despite the fact that no one as actually physically experience such a being aside from that “warm fuzzy feeling,” but it begs the question: what else will you let in? If a supernatural god is plausible to you, then are also trans-dimensional aliens? Unicorns?

  • 37. Gary  |  July 3, 2008 at 11:30 pm

    Besides, if it’s so natural, why does it have to be taught? And why do theists get so worked up if their children are exposed to different religions?

    That’s exactly something I’ve long thought about. If spiritual revelation was tantamount to survival, it should be intuitive. In Christianity we have original sin, which binds up revelation to an angry God who lets some people get a glimpse.

    When I talk about the possibility of a reasonable faith, I am referring to a perspective that does not impose boundaries, for it is recognized as merely one of several possibilities. This is open-minded belief, a willingness to question and challenge one’s assumptions. The reason I find Harris’ arguments appealing is that, while it is a rather harsh challenge to faith, it is a needed challenge. I don’t necessarily agree with his conclusion to do away with faith, but I do find much about religion to be problematic.

  • 38. John T.  |  July 4, 2008 at 12:01 am

    Gary

    Youre right, there is tons about religion to be concerned about. Funny thing is every religious book has something good in it.
    As my mentor once said.

    “The world is 50% shit, 50% sugar, you choose where you put your focus. But just remember if you stand in shit long enough it dries around you.

  • 39. John Morales  |  July 4, 2008 at 4:50 am

    To mindbogglingly dazzled:

    Thanks for the clarification; I too slightly misread you.
    orDover and Obi have already addressed a couple of your points, and I concur with their opinions.
    I’d like to add that, by “entities” I was referring to purported deities in specific and supernatural causal agents in general.

    You wrote

    1. Atheism is the rational default position. Theism may be embraced should the evidence reach some threshold level of sufficient strength.
    2. Neither Atheism nor Theism is the rational default position. We just look at the evidence for both sides and judge it impartially.

    First, I consider that a good rational viewpoint, so kudos for being open-minded.
    Second, are you defining atheism as disbelief in deities? Because I define it as lack of belief in deities. Under my definition, both options are the same option.
    Second, I have looked at the evidence for both sides and judged it impartially – one side lacks any credible evidence at all, the other just points to the natural world and, hey, it accords perfectly with reality.

    I am a very skeptical christian …

    I hope you’re not offended if I point out that, unless you’ve skeptically examined Christianity’s claims and found them compelling, that would be an oxymoron.
    Because, otherwise, I consider it an oxymoron.

  • 40. John Morales  |  July 4, 2008 at 4:54 am

    [meta] bah, sloppy editing in my previous comment. Ignore the last sentence, and append a comma to “entities”. [/meta]

    Gary, how does Deism not meet your criteria for a “reasonable faith”?

  • 41. John Morales  |  July 4, 2008 at 5:17 am

    A bit late, but, since I now have time…

    To Richard,

    In other words, if the claim “God exists” is approached in a scientific spirit, then obviously, the null hypothesis would be, of course, “No god exists.”

    May I say that the likely scientific claims would be (a) is there reason to believe that the supernatural exists? then (b) if so, is there reason to believe that the supernatural exists?
    I need not spell out the null hypothesis.

  • 42. John Morales  |  July 4, 2008 at 5:20 am

    Sheesh, I’ll give up.

    (a) is there reason to believe that the supernatural exists? then if so,(b) is there reason to believe that at least one deity exists? etc.

    PS
    (no drugs and only one beer involved, FWIW)!

  • 43. mindbogglingly dazzled  |  July 4, 2008 at 6:59 pm

    Thanks everybody for your responses!

    Here’s some small remarks:

    orDover,
    I cannot really go along with you. Why should we arbitrarily limit evidence to physically experienceable evidence? It would be equally arbitrary to limit it to the touch & vision sense while excluding the three other senses. Where does our knowledge of math & logic come from if we only allow physically experienceable stuff as evidence? If we were to exclude anything but the physically experienceable to guide us in our search for finding out what is real and what is not, we would without reason limit ourselves from the outset to reality consisting only in the physical world.
    I believe we should at least start out with a broader arsenal of possibiliities as to what can count as guides to reality (such as: the 5 senses, intuition, mathematical reason, warm fuzzy feelings, crystalballgazing, …) and then slowly discard some of these types of evidences if they contradict the other kinds of evidences too much.
    For me, the problem with listening to evidence for God besides the physically experiencable is not that there’s something wrong with it from the outset. I think it’s okay to take warm fuzzy feelings, inner voices of God, the bible and so on seriously as evidence. For me the problem with these kinds of evidence is rather that they yield such contradictory and (so it seems to me) implausible outputs.

    By the way, what I am writing here is much influenced by W.P. Alston’s theory about the perception of God.
    (Don’t fear that I am some troll trying to annoy you with theistic arguments. I am myself in much trouble with faith. I just found Alston’s work extremely smart. It’s the kind of stuff that makes deconversion difficult: to see how there are very intelligent defenses of faith. What makes deconversion for me difficult, too, is the fact that I find a lot of secular writing unpersuasive. For example, I am not at all convinced by people like Dennett which you mention, orDover. I don’t think this is simply due to some christian bias. The problem is simply, that in order to deconvert you have to find some attractive alternative – and atheists/agnostic thinking does not so easily offer that).

    And, btw, here’s my favourite quote from yesterday’s comments: “In the real world, I have not yet encountered anything that defies reality.”

  • 44. mindbogglingly dazzled  |  July 4, 2008 at 7:06 pm

    John Morales,

    I am not sure why “skeptical christian” should be an oxymoron. One can be a christian and have examined the christian doctrines and live as a christian and believe the christian doctrines, while at the same time believing them only very lightly because one sees so many problems with them. In the same way, someone who has examined a lot the candidates that run for the olympic gold medal in the marathon might believe that runner X will win – but the person only believes it very lightly, because there’s a lot of evidence for any runner to be the winner.

    I don’t think, one has to find the christian claims compelling in order to be a christian. I guess one has to find them not less unpersuasive than the alternatives.

  • 45. mindbogglingly dazzled  |  July 4, 2008 at 7:18 pm

    orDover, just one more small remark (and again, thanks for your post): I don’t think that listening to other kinds of evidence besides the physically experienceable will open the door to any kind of crap. For example, crystal ball gazing can soon be thrown into the dustbin simply because it yields completely self-contradictory evidence (go to two different crystalballgazers…).
    So, being open to other “voices” besides the 5 senses doesn’t mean we have to take anything seriously.

  • 46. John Morales  |  July 4, 2008 at 7:31 pm

    I am not sure why “skeptical christian” should be an oxymoron.

    Because of the respective definitions of the words.

  • 47. RIchard  |  July 5, 2008 at 1:15 am

    John M. Im sorry my friend — Im not terribly sure what youre trying to say. The items you listed seem to be to be questions, not claims. I *think* you’re agreeing with me but Im not sure. Am I missing something?

    My post may have been too brief, so let me clarify. What Im suggesting is that if you think the claim “God exists” to be a scientific one, then it will seem proper to approach it as one does any other scientific claim. I.e., gather and weigh evidence, and see if it passes muster sufficient for assent (or possible assent, or probable, or whatever). If it fails to do so, you will accept what I am calling the “null hypothesis” – in this case, “No god exist.” Which is thus the “default” position.

    If, conversely, you think “God exists” is more of a philosophical issue, then a position of Socratic ignorance will seem more appropriate as a default position: start by admitting you dont know, and possibly end there as well. Which would be agnosticism. Or, if you prefer, “atheism” in the weak sense, meaning lack of belief in god but not necessarily active disbelief in god. (I prefer agnosticism as I feel the shades of distinction for “atheism” are not widely known).

    For my part, I think the question of God’s existance is, if you will, “bigger” than scientific evidence-gathering, more philosophically primordial, and therefore must be finally assesed with the tools of philosophy rather than science. Some theists, for example, claim God is ineffable. Some claim God is in some sense prior to or “above” logic. Some say God is not one thing among other things, he is the “basis” for all things (Tillichs “ground of being.”) Some apologists claim all intelligent talk at all presupposes God. Even classical, Thomistic arguments like First Cause are *logical* arguments, not evidential ones.

    Now, I am not necessarily suggesting any of these ideas are (or are not) worth a hoot. Whatever one might think of them, the point is that they are pretty clearly not matters of *evidence* and hence, will have to be assessed some other way. (And, BTW, I am not persuaded by common positivist replies to some of these sorts of claims that, e.g., ineffability, are nonsensical and therefore meaningless. I think thats a dodge and a misunderstanding. If you understand what someone is trying to claim by the word, I dont think it can be fairly said the be meaningless. Which is not to say I think “ineffability” is a good argument, its just not dismissable by meaning alone.)

    So, in my view, I approach the question of God as philosophy more than science. In the absence of a compelling argument for God, I consider myself an agnostic, albeit an agnostic who suspects there is no supreme being.

    Im sure thats a much longer winded answer than you wanted….

  • 48. John Morales  |  July 5, 2008 at 1:25 am

    Richard, what I’m saying is that, before you can investigate “God”, you have to define “God”.

    Please define God*, then I can address your specific questions meaningfully.

    * Obviously, for the purposes of discussion. I want to know to what you refer when you write God.

  • 49. John Morales  |  July 5, 2008 at 1:36 am

    Richard, my usual (by now) correction: not your questions, your opinions.

  • 50. orDover  |  July 5, 2008 at 1:43 am

    Where does our knowledge of math & logic come from if we only allow physically experienceable stuff as evidence?

    Our knowledge of math comes from physical experience. The first form of advanced mathematics was geometry, in which theorems were deduced from measuring and analyzing physical objects. Similarly physics, applied mathematics, is based 100% on observable phenomena: Newton’s apple fell to the ground, Kepler looked through his telescopes at the physical objects of planets.

    Even at a very very basic level, we have the conception of what “2” means, because we are able to experience two apples. From there we can formulate an abstract concept of “2,” just as, after seeing a tree, we can form an abstract concept of “tree.” Just think back to first grade. You were taught to add and and subtract by counting physical objects. All of math, even advanced calculus, is just a system of counting and would be impossible if it weren’t for the simple physical objects, like apples, that provide the context for abstraction.

    As for logic, that abstract in the same way as math. But here, the crux of my argument is that abstract notions have to be made from physical experiences. You can imagine a Pegasus because you’ve experienced a bird and a horse. You can imagine the Flying Purple People Eater because you’ve seen large mammals like bears, cartoons of monsters, and purple grapes. Logic is a system of inferences, and you can make inferences in the same way that you can build imaginary beasts in your head. You’ve seen A happen, and you’ve seen B happen, so you can put A and B together to infer what would happen if A and B were to circumstantially collide. However, if you’ve never experience A or B, logic won’t help you deduce the most likely outcome when they come together.

    If we were to exclude anything but the physically experienceable to guide us in our search for finding out what is real and what is not, we would without reason limit ourselves from the outset to reality consisting only in the physical world.

    Let me ask you this, how can you figure out if something is real if you cannot physically experience it? If it is something like the “warm fuzzies,” can you ever really be sure that it is real, or do you have to take a leap of faith? How can you KNOW that something is real unless it can be experienced phenomenologically? The physical world is the only thing that matters, because it’s the only world we live in.

    The physical world allows you to make predictions. “Spiritual” things contribute nothing to that. Let’s say there are such things as angels, but they don’t physically interact with me. I don’t ever experience them, and they don’t do anything to alter the observable laws of nature. Does it even matter if they are there or not? They are superfluous. But if they do interact with me in a measurable way, then they are part of reality, part of the physical world.

    I don’t think that listening to other kinds of evidence besides the physically experienceable will open the door to any kind of crap. For example, crystal ball gazing can soon be thrown into the dustbin simply because it yields completely self-contradictory evidence (go to two different crystalballgazers…).
    So, being open to other “voices” besides the 5 senses doesn’t mean we have to take anything seriously.

    I don’t mean to sound rude here, but I believe you feel this way because you are a selectively skeptical person. (And we all are to a certain extent, we all have our “scared cows.) My point wasn’t that allowing the unphysical DOES open the door for all sorts of crap, but it should for people who are being truly honest with themselves. You can write off fortune tellers, but what about ghosts? What about aliens who have visited earth? What about the Flying Spaghetti Monster? What about an undetectable teapot orbiting the Sun? What about fairies? What about Apollo? What about Titans? You have as much proof for all of these things as you have for god. You will never be able to confirm or deny any of their existences because they are unphysical. There are people who believe earnestly in ghosts, but claims of ghosts never hold up to scientific scrutiny. These people’s faith in ghosts that haunt their attics is the same exact sort of faith as faith in god; it’s based on nothing physical, often nothing more than a “bad feeling” in a particular room.

    Here I should add quickly that the experiences of the many trumps one person’s personal experience. That is why in my Big Foot example I said he would have to run into traffic and cause a few accidents. I would have to be sure that several impartial people experience it just as I did before I would count it as “real”.

    “Feelings” alone don’t count as reality. People “feel” that ghosts are real, just as they feel that god is real, but these feelings can’t be trusted. For example, sometimes when I’m home alone I get the distinct feeling that someone is in the house with me, and I start to feel very scared, to the point of panic. I look in all of the rooms, under the bed, in the closet, in the shower, I lock all of the doors. I FEEL like something bad is going to happen to me, I FEEL like I am being watched, but in reality, I am perfectly safe and perfectly alone. Feelings cannot be trusted, because they are not rational and they are not impartial. (And before you counter with “emotions aren’t physical,” I’ll preemptively add that emotions are chemical reactions and electrical impulses in response to physical stimuli.)

  • 51. RIchard  |  July 5, 2008 at 1:47 am

    John- I dont agree with you. We commonly investigate things we cant define. If that were true, we could never study or learn about anything, because how can we define something until we study it and learn what it is?

    For example, one does not at all have to be able to give an ornithologically precise definition of “raven” before you can use it successfuly in a sentence and be understood by others. Or, if you wished, go study them.

    So, for my meaning of “God” I simply refer you to the common usage of the term: an ominpotent omniscient being believed by many in the West to be (in some way) the creator of the universe and (usually) interested in the affairs of humans.

    This point is Wittgenstein’s: we understand words when we can use them, not when we can define them. A vague concept is a good enough starting point.

  • 52. John Morales  |  July 5, 2008 at 2:36 am

    Thanks, Richard. Here’s what I think.

    We commonly investigate things we cant define.

    Then surely you can provide an example of such?

    for my meaning of “God” I simply refer you to the common usage of the term: an ominpotent omniscient being believed by many in the West to be (in some way) the creator of the universe and (usually) interested in the affairs of humans.

    So you mean God is a supernatural entity, then, since that’s the common usage.

    However philosophically worthwhile it may be to investigate claims of the existence and attributes of denizens of a supernatural realm (theology), when no credible evidence for such a realm or entities exists, it’s beyond scientific investigation.

    All that can be investigated is the belief in God, which at bottom is anthropology.

    Beyond that minor issue, orDover has cogently covered major ones.

    A vague concept is a good enough starting point.

    Agreed, provided there’s a shared coherent definition of the vague concept, and that there is at least some reason the vague concept (not the belief in it) itself requires postulating to explain some scientific evidence.

    As for the Christian God, the problem of evil I think is a philosophically insurmountable challenge to its claimed attributes.

    Omnipotent, Omniscient – sure. Both those and Benevolent? I think not. Empirically falsified.

    The concept of free will doesn’t help there; God is claimed omniscient and therefore knew/knows the thoughts and actions of all agents even “before” creation, so any free will is only apparent; it exists in agents’ perspectives only.

    In short, the Christian God is philosophically incoherent, and empirically disproven.

    Any other deities you care to try?

  • 53. SnugglyBuffalo  |  July 5, 2008 at 3:31 am

    Omnipotent, Omniscient – sure. Both those and Benevolent? I think not. Empirically falsified.

    I’m sorry, but that’s not what empirical means. In fact, what you have made there is a very philosophical argument.

    The fact that prayer is “answered” no better than random chance is an example of empirical falsification of the God of the Bible.

  • 54. John Morales  |  July 5, 2008 at 3:43 am

    SnugglyBuffalo, I think I can defend my claim.

    I’m sorry, but that’s not what empirical means.

    Hm. It doesn’t mean derived from/verifiable by observation then? Because that’s what I find.

    It goes like this:
    1.Observed: Evil/Suffering exists.
    2.Claimed: this reality was created by a bevevolent, omnipotent, omniscient entity.
    3.Inference from claim 2 – an omniP&O deity that wished to prevent evil could; a benevolent deity would wish to. Note prevent not ameliorate.
    4.Conclusion: from 1 & 3: No such entity exists.

    Part 1 is the empirical bit, parts 3 & 4 are the philosophical implications.

  • 55. John Morales  |  July 5, 2008 at 3:50 am

    PS the claim is of course a rephrasing of Epicurus’ paradox; about which I was recently reminded.

    I don’t claim the credit in any way.

  • 56. RIchard  |  July 5, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    John – There are a number of issues:

    1. On studying things we cant precisely define. You asked for examples. The natural sciences are brimming with them. For virtually everything we have ever studied, we began that inquiry before we really understood what it was. One can (and did) perform all manner of experiments on water without a molecularly precise definition. I gave you the example of a raven already. One can begin to study whales without a biological understanding of such beyond “that big fish-looking thing”. Dark matter. Electrons. Fire. Genes. Science itself resists definition and demarcation. My point here is historical as well as philosophical. Each of these things could be and were the target of investigational efforts before they could be fully defined. In fact, the word “gene” *still* has no precise definition — or, rather, there are several different biomolecular correlates it could be said to be referring to. We still use the word, albeit loosely, despite this definitional ambiguity.

    I think you’re making this too complex. Science and investigation begin in observation *and in ignorance*, not in essential definitions. Again, Wittengenstein: look to the use, not the meaning. We do not ask children to define “pencil” in order to assess whether they understand it; we ask them to use it correctly in a sentence.

    I will give you Wittengenstein’s own example: can you give me a single definition (i.e., set of criteria) that includes all instances of what we call a “game”, and *only* those instances? If not, does that mean you don’t understand the word, or that it is incoherent or meaningless? No, of course not.

    2. “However philosophically worthwhile it may be to investigate claims of the existence and attributes of denizens of a supernatural realm (theology), when no credible evidence for such a realm or entities exists, it’s beyond scientific investigation. ”

    First, the search for credible evidence of such entities *is itself* scientific investigation, such as the studies that have been done looking for evidence of intercessory prayer, so your statement is untrue. Second, you’re missing the point of what I was arguing in the first place: that the God-question can be approached philosophically; I never said it *had* to be done scientifically. In fact, I took pains to say that it did not. I myself think God is better understood as a philosophical problem, for the reasons I stated.

    3. Regarding the problem of evil, I agree with you that it is insurmountable – that is also my conclusion – but not for the reasons you cite. For example, in your response #54, you don’t account for the way most theologians would respond to your argument, which is that (among other arguments) a god might have reasons all his own for failing to prevent evil, that are unknown to us. Then, (1) and (3) could be logically compatible.

    I’m not saying I find this at all a compelling argument. In fact, I don’t; I think its an enormously unsatisfying rationalization to explain what would *otherwise* be, as you said, incompatible claims. **But, logically, it works.** So, it’s not that evil + God is incoherent, it’s just that there’s no particular reason to think its actually true. But I do think it makes mincemeat of the suggestion that at heart theodicy is an empirical question. It is in fact only partly empirical, relying as it does on the observation of evil in the world. The rest of it is a matter of philosophy.

    IN short, regarding philosophy: there are very few things in our various nutty webs of belief as human beings that are (or remain) truly “incoherent.” That was the lesson of Quine. As atheists we need good answers for believers, not blithe and superficial dismissals. We will never convince anyone if we dont first get straight how they themseleves actually try to solve these problems.

    And regarding science, we would be in a very poor position if we had to give perfectly satisfactory definitions of everything we wished to study before we could begin such study. Our very meanings, in fact, can evolve as the result of such study.

    Any more positivist arguments you care to try?

  • 57. dragonmage06  |  July 5, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    Have you ever considered Buddhism for fitting the criteria of a reasonable faith? Their faith is open to question and exploration (The Buddha himself told his followers not to believe him but to find out for themselves whether what he told them works or not).

  • 58. John T.  |  July 5, 2008 at 4:09 pm

    Richard

    “Each of these things could be and were the target of investigational efforts before they could be fully defined”

    Im not sure if you are saying that there are things that are fully defined, but if you are, then I say bull sheit. We can understand mechanisms and such, but ultimately until we can “fully” explain how it all started, then nothing will be “fully defined”. And as far as I can see from History, that hasnt happened.

    Whats the old saying……”close but no cigar”

  • 59. RIchard  |  July 5, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    John T. – No, Im not say that any of them are or ever will be fully defined. Im only making the point that we do not have to have anything approaching precise definitions of a thing or process before we can begin to study and research it. In fact, I think its likely we have virtually never had much of an idea what we were studying when we began to study it.

    We could measure the freezing point of water, for example, without knowing that water consists of hydrogen and oxygen. Or even what a “molecule” is.

    Thats all.

  • 60. John Morales  |  July 5, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    RIchard.

    1.

    On studying things we cant precisely define. You asked for examples. … Dark matter. Electrons. Fire. Genes. … Each of these things could be and were the target of investigational efforts before they could be fully defined.

    Good point, but it doesn’t address what I actually wrote:
    “Agreed, provided there’s a shared coherent definition of the vague concept, and that there is at least some reason the vague concept (not the belief in it) itself requires postulating to explain some scientific evidence.”
    It appears you don’t consider my two conditional criteria for agreement were met in your examples; I contend theey were, and I still await a relevant example to your claim (BTW, something like phlogiston still meets both criteria – something like God arguably meets the first criterion but certainly not the second).

    2. It seems we are not in disagreement here except about perspective and implications – apparently you think if prayers had any significant effect, it would prove the existence of the entities being prayed to, rather than the existence of some efficacy for prayer.

    3.

    For example, in your response #54, you don’t account for the way most theologians would respond to your argument, which is that (among other arguments) a god might have reasons all his own for failing to prevent evil.

    I would find that an exceedingly feeble response.
    It implies God is limited in some way, and therefore contradicts either the claim of omnipotence or of benevolence.

  • 61. John Morales  |  July 5, 2008 at 9:59 pm

    dragonmage06 – Buddhism is non-theistic but dualistic.

  • 62. John Morales  |  July 5, 2008 at 11:16 pm

    Richard, just revisited the page.

    re: Theodicy:
    It seems to me it’s equivalent to trying to rationally disprove the inference that “An omnipotent, omniscient God could have created* a reality with no Evil in it”.

    *Equivalently, “… alter reality such that Evil does not (and had never) existed”.

    Why do you appear to grant Theodicy credibility?
    There’s a reason it’s called apologetics, and why it amuses me in particular and atheists in general.

    Rhetoric and obfuscation, etiolation or elision of the premises and implications are all pathetic tools.
    I admit it must be disheartening to attempt to rationally support something incoherent – contradictions are ineluctable.

    PS I note your interesting phrasing

    a god might have reasons all his own for failing to prevent evil

  • 63. RIchard  |  July 6, 2008 at 2:04 am

    John M – (1) Well, then, perhaps I misunderstood what you wrote. You said pretty clearly way back in # 48 that before you can investigate something you have to define it. I was responding to that.

    If what you’re now saying is that you really were referring to explanatory inference, then we are in closer agreement, for I think that is much more solid grounds for rejecting theism — i.e., God is a poor explanation for much of anything. My reponse had been occasioned by the (perhaps mis-) impression that you were attempting to rule the whole question a nonstarter for definitional reasons, which, for reasons I explained (and by the examples I gave), I disagree with.

    2. No, not proof. Evidence for, perhaps, but not proof by any means. God, in that case, would become the (or at least *a*)explanatory inference for the efficacy of such prayer, but certainly not a deductive inference from it.

    3. Exceedingly feeble indeed! I couldnt say it better myself and no one who is not already inclined to be convinced would consider that a successful argument. So feeble, yes, *incoherent*, no.

    4. “It seems to me it’s equivalent to trying to rationally disprove the inference that “An omnipotent, omniscient God could have created* a reality with no Evil in it””

    The “could” part is agreed upon*. Whether that “could” implies a “would” is another question. Not being omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent myself, its hard for me to say. ;) A god, it has been argued (not by me) might have reasons even more compelling than the reduction of this-worldly suffering to allow such suffering. Again, this is not *my* argument — this is the argument of real-world theologians, so this is what we would have to address.

    5. “Why do you appear to grant Theodicy credibility?” I dont, and I agree with your assessment of apologetics, and I would add my own qualifier “psychologically disingenuous”.

    But I dont think we do ourselves as nonbelievers any favors by giving off-the-mark and dismissive answers. We wont convince anyone to reconsider his illusions by saying his argument is incoherent and self-contradictory when it isnt. Any believer whos paying attention will see through that, and eat our lunch. We will have more impact, I think, by giving fairer if, perhaps, somewhat less potent rebuttals. Theodicy is not really incoherent, per se, but it *does* require a needlessly complex set of assumptions and logical gerrymandering to make it work. It can be done — (“okay, fine, congratulations”) — but isnt it just simpler to say there appears to be no God because there *is* no God? Thats the better answer for apologists, is my contention.

    * Mostly. Is it really clear that an omni-being *could* create free willed beings that *would* never commit evil? I dont know. I think the problem is that we really dont know what “infinite power” really means (nor “free will” for that matter), so who could say what its consequences would be?

  • 64. John Morales  |  July 6, 2008 at 3:26 am

    Thanks, Richard.

    Much as I enjoy engaging you, I fear I’m kinda monopolizing this thread, so I’ll end with a couple of comments. (unless you want to bring another point up! ;)

    I think you’re quite right about glib and dismissive answers, and I justify my original comment by noting I’ve long ago given up writing detailed, thoughful and well-supported comments since so often they were either themselves glibly dismissed or more often just ignored. These days, I write a (hopefully pithy) comment and engage those who critiques it – I don’t just post and run.

    Second, I note that, though I now think we in essence agree on all discussed points, we were disputatious in the process of establishing that.

    More evidence that atheists have no shared dogma.

  • 65. RIchard  |  July 6, 2008 at 10:46 am

    John — Yes, I see your point. I was focused on giving unsatisfactory answers to believers, but it is just as often true the other way around and yes, Ive been frustrated by that too.

    What a dilemma! Thoughtful critiques so often arent understood, yet slogans are oversimple. Whats a nontheist to do?…

    Ive enjoyed our discussion. I hope we cross paths again!

    Good hunting– ;)

  • 66. Gary  |  July 6, 2008 at 7:24 pm

    John M, sorry I’ve been away so this is a late reply.

    Gary, how does Deism not meet your criteria for a “reasonable faith”?

    I am not sufficiently aware of Deism to comment on it. Is the faith of the deist anything like the faith of the theist? I see this argument as specifically about the problems with the influence of theistic belief systems on the world. How do you see Deism in relation to this discussion?

  • 67. John Morales  |  July 7, 2008 at 4:58 am

    Gary,

    To be honest, I don’t know all that much about Deism either – I don’t think I know any in person. However, I’ve often encountered references to it as a haven for those who cannot not believe in God yet reject Revelation and unreason.

    Here’s the introductory paragraph on Deism from Wikipedia:
    “Deism is the belief that God exists and created the physical universe, but does not interfere with it. It is related to a religious philosophy and movement that derives the existence and nature of God from reason. It takes no position on what God may do outside the universe.”…”Deists typically reject most supernatural events (prophecy, miracles) and tend to assert that God does not intervene with the affairs of human life and the natural laws of the universe. What organized religions see as divine revelation and holy books, most deists see as interpretations made by other humans, rather than as authoritative sources. Deists believe that God’s greatest gift to humanity is not religion, but the ability to reason.”

    In relation to this discussion, I think that, since the Deist God is not a personal one, it can only really be said to be irrational because of the presupposition that a Creator must exist. Other than that, there’s (so far as I understand it) no reason why a Deist should not, in general, be as rational as any atheist.

    PS I posed my question as I did on the assumption that you’d considered Deism as a candidate for a rational faith, and dismissed it. It’s theistic, it’s a faith, and I think a candidate (presupposition aside) to be considered as a “rational faith”.

  • 68. mindbogglingly dazzled  |  July 8, 2008 at 3:26 pm

    orDover, re your post 50:

    The thing that is unconvincing about naturalism to me is precisely the same thing that you claim is unconvincing about my position: selective skepticism. You ask.

    how can you figure out if something is real if you cannot physically experience it? If it is something like the “warm fuzzies,” can you ever really be sure that it is real,

    I would ask: How can you figure out if something is real if you touch it? How can you be sure?

    The reason why I trust my sense of touch is that it yields internally consistent information about the purported physical reality. Another reason is that it yields information which is consistent with the sense of vision.
    But what I do not do, is simply presuppose that the sense of touch is to be trusted.

    Similarly with a “sixth sense”, testimonies, etc. about the non-physical reality (and physical reality). I do not simply pre-suppose that these methods are not to be trusted. Rather, those ways of getting “in touch” with a purported reality are so widespread that they are initially to be taken seriously. But only initially: They have to pass the same tests as for example the sense of touch. That is: Do they yield consistent information about the reality they claim to describe?

    So, it is rather one-sided skepticism if one is only skeptical about mystical experiences, predictive powers of dreams, intuitive knowledge, biblical testimony, warmfuzzy feelings, fortunetelling, etc. but is not skeptical about physical experiences. A balanced skepticism takes all of these ways of approaching purported reality initially as serious possibilities (given that they are practiced) but then checks them against each other.

    I am not at all trying to convert you or something. Rather, I am interested in whether I actually can find plausible alternatives to religion. And, current currents of naturalism simply didn’t convince me yet.

    (btw, your thoughts on how we know about math and logic seem sound. Thanks for that. I am not convinced yet. But it is a nice theory you present).

  • 69. John Morales  |  July 8, 2008 at 9:18 pm

    Dazzled:

    The reason why I trust my sense of touch is that it yields internally consistent information about the purported physical reality. Another reason is that it yields information which is consistent with the sense of vision.

    Tactile illusions exist.

    Beware the reliability of your senses; your perceived reality is interpreted rather than a “raw” feed.

  • 70. ubi dubium  |  July 8, 2008 at 11:03 pm

    More on the relibility of our senses.

    Here is a wonderful audio illusion. Listen first while watching it, then listen to it again with your eyes closed. Most people hear a different syllable the second time.

    And for a wonderful way your eyes can be tricked, try this awareness test:

    The evidence of our senses needs to be checked and doublechecked before we rely on it. Lots of people see or feel something once, and think it’s a supernatural experience, but then can’t reproduce it. That’s not something I’d want to base a belief system on.

  • 71. Atheistic attacks on Christianity « de-conversion  |  July 13, 2008 at 11:33 am

    [...] quotes a number of prominent figures to highlight their overtly negative views. Had I not read The End of Faith and listened to a portion of The God Delusion audiobook, I might have taken quite a dim view of [...]

  • 72. Finding Faith? « de-conversion  |  August 17, 2008 at 11:18 pm

    [...] 17, 2008 I have previously written about whether or  not a reasonable faith exists.  Today, I’d like to share a few thoughts [...]

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Attention Christian Readers

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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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