Christian apologetics and the pattern seeking brain

erotic-nunAnyone who comes here regularly will know that among the most popular comment threads on this whole blog, apart from those shamelessly designed to hike my ratings with pictures of sexy ladies, are those where myself and Christians go head-to-head.

One thread in particular, which always seems to come back to life after appearing to have faded, is Greg Koukl: Christian workshops on “New Atheist Fallacies”.

This is in large part thanks to one particularly tenacious reader, Todd, who spent the best part of last week debating with me privately via e-mail, after we somewhat went off-topic in the original comments.

I hope my use of Todd in the following doesn’t come across as targeting him for ridicule. I actually admire the guy’s refusal to give in, despite the advice of his peers to move on and leave those nasty atheists to their blasphemous, burn in hell ignorance.

Todd is my favourite kind of Christian debater, because he does his thinking out loud. He’s not trying to hide his mental gymnastics behind a pretence of certainty. He has genuinely confused the process of crow-barring the God hypothesis into scientific enquiry, with actual discovery—and with such a familiar degree of predictability, anyone new to the kind of obscurantism used in debate, who also wants to get more involved in humanist / rationalist activism, might find a look through some of the comments on that thread a revealing and handy primer as to what to look out for.

The stand-out feature of Todd’s main argument, is his mixing of Messiah myths with creation myths. This is a common theme in many debates with Christians which end up using so-called “first cause” apologetics. The problem of infinite regress is side-stepped with extraordinarily convoluted interpretations of infallible scripture. I’ve read it and seen it a lot. Indeed it’s as tried and tested as that other non sequitur of Christians who go that extra mile and espouse creationist views, that because pre-biotic life did not evolve, according to Darwinian principals, that this is not only proof of Yahweh’s intervention, but sufficient evidence against the entire scientific field of biochemistry.

The issue of symbolism also plays a huge part in much of the apologists rationale. In one e-mail, Todd quotes Colossians:

15:He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16:For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17:He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

laminin21The “all things hold together” part is, apparently, God revealing himself in Laminin, the protein found in the extracellular matrix, the sheets of protein that form the substrate of all internal organs also called the basement membrane. The molecule is described in the diagram opposite.

Todd remains silent on the fact that if whoever described Laminin with this model instead showed the chemical bonds marked ‘P2’ sideways on, making the shape more closely resemble a swastika, a racist could use it as proof that the iconography of the Third Reich reveals the purity of the aryan race.

Similarly, he remains silent on why such an abstract gesture from God would be embedded within the model of a protein which, when it fails to work properly in humans, leads to muscular dystrophy. If any of the most debilitating of sicknesses stand as compelling evidence against the argument we’re the design of a benevolent, loving God, surely Duchenne, Becker, limb girdle, congenital, facioscapulohumeral, myotonic, oculopharyngeal, distal, and Emery-Dreifuss are it.

Interestingly, ‘P2’ is also the name of the Italian organised crime syndicate formerly patronised by Silvio Berlusconi, used by the Vatican to launder Mafia drug money. Perhaps Todd would argue that this too is God trying to tell us about His disdain for this kind of behaviour?

We all seek out patterns which reaffirm our existing thinking. In the case of rational enquiry, being aware of this doesn’t make one immune from it. The problem for Christians who do it, is they re-broadcast what counts as proof to them as if it should count as proof to everyone. Hence, despite a strong desire to read and learn something genuinely new, from the multitude of links, which Todd has furnished me with, I’m still waiting for conclusive evidence that severed limbs have grown back, by applying water from the cave at Lourdes, or terminal cancers which have withered in the presence of intercessionary prayers.

That the religious so badly want there to be a supernatural explanation for that which has already been described through entirely natural phenomena, is bad enough. But that their belief in belief is so strong, that they seek a supernatural explanation for that which we don’t yet understand, is incomprehensible to those of us on the side of reality.

Molecules which trace the outline of the one true cross is one thing, but what about when it’s State governors refusing millions of dollars in the stimulus package, which offers genuine benefits to the people they were elected to represent, because of how it’ll affect their future ambitions for power and control?

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5j_qYftLxkozZUF01FT28aWT_kFCQD972B7AG0

71 comments on “Christian apologetics and the pattern seeking brain

  1. Historically, I think the cross came before the swastika, Jim.

    Jesus before Hitler, I’m pretty sure. I may have that wrong, but I’m just sayin’…

  2. hey just looking up this laminin craze. just wanted to make sure your not my gran father who’s name is the same as you and was an atheist as well until the age of 80 became a catholic.
    i work with muslims and notice the tail at the bottom of the laminin cross is the cresent moon shape of islam. which represents new life. Jesus Christ is the first to introduce the new life concept so I think it apropriatly goes together. noone can understand all this untill they truly except the new life and are born again John 3, so there is no need to argue your point to christians, nazis, or muslims and no need for anyone of different mindset to argue with you. But every knee will bow to the only one Who deserves to be bowed down to.
    may God open your eyes to the pain and the need for healing of sin. and my you find that healing in Christ. please tell todd about the cressent moon under the cross see what he says

    and lastly your worship of women will leave you totally empty lost and broken sooner or later.

  3. “Historically, I think the cross came before the swastika, Jim.”

    Wrong.

    The swastika has been found on pottery and coins as far back as 1000 B.C.E

  4. Jim,
    leaving aside the Pope, bishops, religious advocates, and others who have spoken in God’s name, and have done a poor job because their deeds did not follow their words, or their words might not have been His, so leaving aside all that, have you really, truly considered the existence of God? Have you tried to meet Him in case He exists? Have you ever took the time to consider all the issues involved by the existence of a God who created everything?

    We spend 12-20 years or more in school to prepare for life because it is of great importance to us. But actually that helps us for 50 years, a period of time that passes as in a clock beat, but we don’t have time to even consider the existence of God and the implications, possibly for an eternity. How come we try to find and discover everything there is in the universe, but we don’t care if God exists?

    When I say consider the existence of God, I do not mean having a chat with a buddy over a beer in a smoky bar. I mean making it a life and death issue, because if He exists, then it is such an issue. If you take things seriously like that, if you start looking for Him, you might meet Him, who knows? But it is not a mark of wisdom to speak lightly about God just because it is today’s trend, without taking matters seriously and looking for Him first.

  5. What you are presumably suggesting, Abel Avram, is that if I looked I would find? Well, what would I find exactly? The same god as you? The same god as anyone else? No, I would find, I presume you would say, a personal god? Some kind of an internal reflection of something beyond our physical & material world? Yes? Well, OK, fine. How presumptuous and arrogant do you have to be to say that such a thing is only achieved in a willing suspension of disbelief—a pause in critical faculty and subscription to a theistic and / or deistic world-view?

    How is it that something apparently so majestic is only revealed to those who quiet their internal honesty at precisely the time, in your words, they need them the most, during “a life and death issue”? That doesn’t sound particularly majestic to me—or indeed the modus operandi of an omnipresence worth its salt. However, it does begin to sound remarkably like the perfect system of hijacking someone’s capacity to think for themselves at a time when they need a clear mind the most. How insidious and sneaky can you get?

    I’m not, by the way, suggesting you personally are an insidious and sneaky person. I’m saying you’ve been had over a barrel by an insidious and sneaky tract of apologetics—which is all I am trying to wake people up from, when I write the above and many other similar articles on this blog.

    Let me put it too you like this. If it were possible for you to prove categorically to me now, that Yahweh created the universe for the benefit of Christians, you’d still have a long way to go in proving to me this therefore means I am morally and ethically subservient to a bronze-age book of myths. Clearly we—as evolved apes—are way beyond the level of barbarism and immorality perpetrated not in a misinterpretation of the bible, but in precisely the spirit which it was intended to be read when it was written.

    Finally, in your appeal to deism over and above childish theism, you nevertheless mix and match the two together when you anthropomorphise the concept of a creator god into the capitalised ‘Him’. If you truly want to step away from the Popes and Bishops and “religious advocates […] who have spoken in God’s name, and have done a poor job because their deeds did not follow their words”, stop using their language, their methods and their arguments.

    You can’t have it both ways. You either make a statement on what you believe to be the nature of reality, in which case you have a mountain of scientific evidence over which to climb, or you make an ontological statement which is mired in the very brand of religion you rightly dismiss in your opening remarks. What you can not do is straddle both tracts and borrow from one to corroborate the other.

  6. Every time I read a paper written or a blog posted by an atheist I get an over whelming sense of doom and gloom. There is no hope anywhere in the things you claim to offer. You say you are trying to open people’s eyes and you use a lot of big words to say nothing. You are very educated and that is the problem, you are too educated for your own good.

    I am a Christian but I haven’t always been. I was like you angry and unwilling to listen to any garbage about religion or Jesus or God cause to me it was all crap! If there was a God I didn’t want Him anywhere near me because what kind of God would allow me to be abused and abandoned the way I was. What kind of God would allow humans to treat each other in such horrific ways! If “HE” was such a loving God how can He just stand by and let these things happen!

    Well something happened to me that is out side the realm of reality as I knew it to be. Something spiritual. Something I can’t explain in words. I was not influenced by any church or “Man of the cloth” in any way shape or form. It was a presence or energy that came over me and changed my life. It was the Holy Spirit, the true energy God washed over me! And I knew from that moment on there is something in this Universe that is greater than me and it is full of love and compassion and He offers it to ALL who seek. What do you offer my brother besides big words and great mind?

    What you fail to see is the Bible is a living breathing entity and is Gods words to all of us even you. Answer me one question “How can one Man who lived on this earth 33yrs and only preached for three years turn this world upside down and expose us for what we really are….broken.” What is so bad and wrong with faith in something we can’t see but can obviously feel..LOVE

  7. This is where the term Atheist seems to hinder discussion rather than move it forward. The title “Atheist” means without god but doesn’t really allow for nuances. The term Atheist, when I use it for myself, means I’ve openly denounced the idea that a god exists insomuch that I disbelieve in the organised religion’s version of a god. I leave open the idea that higher entities could possibly exist in some unseen way. It is becoming clear in mathematics that there is more than just the four dimensions we perceive. But a god like that of the Christian Bible, the Muslim Koran, or any other human invented god… no… no… and no.

    There is nothing really enlightening about the Bible unless you like long winded fairy tales interspersed with graphical violence.

    Just because you got a warm fuzzy feeling one afternoon doesn’t mean something supernatural happened. You had a good day or week or some other span of time and then via conformation bias had others help you think that some cosmic deity gave you some insight into the way everything works. There has never been and never will be proof of your god outside of personal warm fuzzies which proves only that the human mind is very susceptible to self delusion.

    Anyways, the “I was once an Atheist” line has been used far too often to have any good effect on anyone with a portion of a thinking brain.

  8. Mike Warren:
    I’m sorry you seem to have missed the many other postings on here and elsewhere on-line about the positive aspects of free-thinking and secular humanism. The universe is a truly awe-inspiring place. This is why so many of us find it so offensive and small to have the only reality we’ll ever know brought down to the level of being nothing more than a bronze-age, second rate magic act.

    I am entertained by the notion that someone can go from a state of mind where they accept this and adopt the default, intellectually honest position on what would constitute extraordinary evidence to corroborate the extraordinary claims of the deist, only to then, one day, simply decide because they have an experience they can’t explain, that the only rational explanation for that experience is something which is by definition an irrational non-explanation—and not even from their own imagination, but from the collective works of religious institutions which are, by their very nature, not about empiricism and deductive logic but a dogmatic commitment to unfalsifiable truth-claims and fear theology.

    It is extremely telling and common among a great many apologists who adopt this particular tract, that they will often underscore their sincerity by alluding to hedonistic acts committed in a life previously empty of meaning, as if this is all a life free of superstition and fear can offer; perhaps in the hope this stunning arrogance will detract attention away from the fact they haven’t actually explained anything at all, by supposing or assuming that a force from “out side[sic] the realm of reality” is the only possible explanation for why their world-view began to change when they found the bible.

    That you project love onto Christ and find love in that which is attributed to Jesus, doesn’t make the truth-claims made by others who similarly externalise their ego onto the blank canvas of this infinitely improbable truth-claim automatically true. If only by the fact that, clearly, non-religious people find true love all the time. Unless, that is, your assertion is that, in fact, you can not know true love, if you do not embrace Christian theology—which in cognitive science is known as the logical fallacy of neglected probability. In North East England we call it the act of talking bollocks.

    But your capacity or willingness to believe what you say is not in question. There is no doubt that, in your mind, God is real. I know this because, if you were insincere in this belief; that He is real and all we poor lost atheists have to do to know this too, is willingly suspend our critical faculties—lowering the tone of our own internal dialogue—then you wouldn’t describe me and my fellow free thinkers in terms which are littered with the vocabulary of the religious. You would appeal to me on a far more obviously dishonest level than that which you have here, so I genuinely welcome your honesty.

    But I would remind you that taking offence isn’t exclusive to the religious. I personally find being accused of intellectualised ignorance, when it isn’t I who claims to have a personal relationship with the timeless, massless, omnibenevolent creator of the universe, the height of passive aggressive arrogance—which you would have thought a tactic somewhat beneath anyone who also claims to have gentle Jesus meek and mild on their side.

    “I don’t want to believe, I want to know” – Carl Sagan

  9. Jim,
    the ending quote contains the essence of your attitude: “I don’t want to believe, I want to know”. Now, the attitude is a bit strange. You use faith every day. When you take the elevator, you believe that it will take you to the floor you want. When you dial a number, you believe the call will reach another phone. When you cross the street on the green light, you believe that the other cars crossing your path will stop on red. You don’t know all of that because you don’t know the future. It’s an act of faith based on knowledge, the knowledge of how things work (elevator, phone, traffic lights), but it is faith + knowledge or knowledge + faith. It is strange that you want pure knowledge when it comes to God, refusing faith. But let’s talk about knowing, in this case knowing God.

    First of all, I would suggest leaving behind all preconceptions. From what you say it looks that you have a great deal of preconceived ideas on how God is, ideas that have been formed over centuries and passed through generations. You keep talking about a bronze age god and somehow think that this is God, or this is the God others are talking about.

    Now let’s consider for a moment there is a God, a God that has created the universe, and lets see if you can know Him. When you say “know”, I suppose you mean knowledge obtained through observation and study, knowledge based on what the 5 senses of our body can provide us with: sight, sound, smell, taste and feeling, plus the internal processing in our brain. Now, let’s assume that God wants to reveal Himself to you and He comes to you as:

    -roaring sound; you say: hmmm, it’s just a sound, nothing new
    -fragrant flower; you say: it’s just a flower
    -a powerful feeling of His presence; you say: it’s just me creating this feeling
    -a mighty thunderstorm; you say: it’s just bad weather
    -a cosmic event; you say: the universe is cool, lot’s of stuff going on
    -a supernatural event; you say: it’s just a phenomenon based on a law we haven’t discovered yet
    -a man; you say: go away, this guy?

    You see, no matter how God would choose to reveal Himself to you, you would refuse to accept that knowledge as being from God. Could you give me one example of how God should reveal Himself to you so you would accept that as God or from God? Do you see where your problem is? He might be very well out there, but you ignore Him, not just because you refuse your ability to exercise faith, but whatever comes to you through the 5 senses can be tagged as natural, not necessarily supernatural. So you conclude “There is no God”, but you decided that in yourself before having any experience or attempt to understand Him.

    Now, let’s imagine a God that created the universe we live in. We know today that the universe has a beginning. There was a time when matter, space and time did not exist. A God that could create such an enormous universe must be outside of time and space, preceding them, and would not be material. If He is not out of matter, let’s say He is Spirit, whatever that is. For you to be able to know this God, you need to go beyond matter, beyond space and time, where you can see, taste, hear, touch, and smell the Spirit. Now, can you do that with eyes made of material atoms? No, you can’t, because matter cannot see what is not matter. You have 2 choices if you are to know something of this God: 1) accept some material manifestation as evidence of Him, or 2) have a spirit that can naturally and effortlessly know Him. Since 1) is out of the question for you, it remains #2. But, I suppose you would already know Him if you had a spirit, but you don’t know Him according to your words. So, it looks like you are stuck, stuck to work with bronze age preconceived notions about God that you furiously reject, stuck with a non-sense humanism build on the faith that what we can see/smell/etc. is all there is, coming from nowhere and going nowhere.

    If you really are honest about knowing God and with yourself, first of all you need to make some room in your mind for Him and to be willing to meet Him. But I suppose you are terrified by the thought you would make a mistake, and you will end up with a lie, a bronze age god. Well, even if it was so, you are in no better position now: you await the day of your dissolution when you return into nothingness. It cannot be worse than that. But if you get serious about knowing God, not the bronze age one, and He is out there, there is a good chance He will meet you on the way, if He likes you :). As I said, you have nothing to lose because all you have is nothingness (resulting from humanism’s creed). So, what are you waiting for? Christmas? :)

  10. There is a Christian Missionary who wrote a book about a tribe of people in the Indonesian rain forest, who he stayed with for much of the 1970s. There is a passage in the book which I have memorised. It tells of the time a delegation visited him to see how he was doing and to see where the church’s money was being spent. After a day or two of settling into their camp; looking at the fresh water well they had dug and the medical hut they were building, a priest asked him what he had been able to teach the tribespeople about Christianity. The missionary tried to change the subject, but the priest pushed him further. And so he answered as honestly as he could.

    “These people”, he said, “have no word for or concept of evil and I’m not about to be the one to teach them”

    The priest paused for a while, looked him in the eye and knew that his friend, who had been working with these ostensibly impoverished people for so long, had not so much lost his faith as he had gained reason. There was nothing to be gained from preaching Christianity to people who the west deemed to be without any comforts, but who in fact had all you really need to be free—a mind of your own and nothing to fear.

    I don’t condemn Abel Avram, Mike Warren, ZDenny, Todd or any of the Christian apologists who come to this blog because of what they believe it is right to do, when faced with someone like me, who makes no bones about my disliking for all blind faith. But by the same token, I can’t help but notice how quickly they will warn me of what will happen, beyond the grave, if I don’t accept something to be true, which simply isn’t.

    I think Christianity is facing up to the fact that it is fundamentally flawed from a philosophical point of view, in that it goes so far—with the parables of the good Samaritan and the prodigal son and the feeding of the five thousand, the sermon on the mount and the whole iconography of the crucifixion and the rising from the dead—but it stops short of making sense at a certain very crucial point. The very idea that you will be sent to hell to burn forever, either because you’re honest with yourself and others about this, or because you don’t love the sky hook who threatens you with eternal torture for pointing it out, is utterly ludicrous.

    If you choose not to see that, so blinded as you are by the parts of Christianity you cherry pick from the parts you choose to ignore, then so be it. But don’t expect me or anyone else to suddenly fall to our knees and buy into what you believe, just because you believe it.

    “Do not do to others what you would not have them to do you” – Confucius, 500 BC

  11. The rational person experiences these things as they are:
    -roaring sound
    -fragrant flower
    -a powerful feeling
    -a mighty thunderstorm
    -a cosmic event
    -a phenomenon based on a natural law we haven’t discovered yet

    Only a small child unversed in taming their wild imagination or an adult struggling with delusions thinks that any of these experiences represent:
    -Santa Claus
    -The Easter Bunny
    -Gnomes
    -Witches
    -Demons
    -Faeries
    -Psychic Powers
    -The government put a chip in my head
    -Aliens
    -Abductions
    -Zeus
    -Thetans
    -Zeus

    Seriously! The wind is not moved by faery wings, and the red light changing to green is not proof of your psychic powers. Having a happy feeling when you go to church is not proof of God, nor is a E-meter reading proof of thetans in your body. Its all bullshit fairy tales designed to scam you and keep your mind in an infantile state.

    “Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom?” – Douglas Adams

  12. Jim Gardner:

    I was terribly dissapointed at the lack of factual evidence concerning your story of the missionary and the Indonesian tribesmen. With this absence in mind, I find myself especially skeptical that these tribesmen had no “word or concept of evil”. Is it not true that superstition and beliefs in demons are well rooted in primitive societies around the world? Having lived in various Asian nations and Pacific Islands, I am well aware of the superstitious beliefs these people possess that westerners seem to lack. These tribesmen of which you speak may not have a word for evil but surely they have some understanding of what it is. I can almost fully gaurantee that.

    I also found it interesting that you thought freedom was having “a mind of your own and nothing to fear”. Fear is one of our very basic instinct. Without fear how would the human race have survived?
    Do we not fear for our own safety when faced with danger? Do we not shy away from a hot flame? Fear is a natural reaction to danger.

    I will not deny that you are a very intellectual person and I praise God that he is able to create a truly intricate mind. But it saddens me that you think you are living and thinking outside the box when really you are trapped in your own arrogance and self importance.

    But enough of that, I will not tell you like every other christian previous to me how stunted you are spiritually. I will not feed your contempt for us. But just know that many intellectuals like yourself have openly slandered christianity then got converted. I assume that your reason for mocking the belief in a higher entity is that you fear a being greater than yourself. In that sense you are not unique my brother.

    “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

  13. Mark. Please name any prominent intellectual who has converted to Christianity, having previously “exalted” atheism. We’ll take the rest of my reply from there. Thanks.

  14. Interesting set of conditions, I wonder if Mark will be able to satisfy them.

    The first name that popped into my head was Anthony Flew, since he was one of atheisms most prominent ‘exalters’.. but he became a deist rather than a Christian.

    C.S Lewis and Francis Collins also came to mind, they most certainly became Christian.. but I don’t think either ‘exalted’ atheism prior to their conversion.

    So I can’t think of any :-)

  15. May I make the remark that I am fascinated by the fact that a free-thinking secular humanist would have arguments and ideas that are so fragile, he felt obliged to ban Todd Pitner, and block his IP address.
    What are you afraid of?
    Forgive my making the comparison, but it does look as if you’re saying “Free thinkers welcome as long as you freely think like me.”
    It reminded me of Henry Ford and his famous T-model which was avaialble in any color of your choice as long as it was black.
    Henry Ford made a lot of money, so perhaps you’re onto something, Jim, but why would a free-thinker need to be so….. “1984”?

  16. Indeed, nothing quite says “free thinker” like “freezing traffic” from a particular individual. Perhaps Todd had to be silenced seeing as he’d just “gotten clever”? Can’t be having people actually “thinking” on a free-thinking blog now can we?

    Have to say, pretty bad form banning the fellows IP. But then again, also somewhat ironic seeing as swasticas and Hitlers came up.

  17. Richard Morgan:

    I’m sorry you feel as if the case put forward here isn’t robust enough. Perhaps I can draw your attention to other articles on the site which deal with these issues. Many of them have reply threads running into the hundreds and many of them also feature extensive exchanges between myself and Todd Pitner—who wasn’t “banned” because he disagreed with anyone, but because he flat refused to offer straight answers to straight questions and flat refused to desist from using inflammatory language and threat theology to distract attention away from this fact.

    The decision to temporarily block Todd’s IP address was also set against the backdrop of repeated attempts on my part in private emails to explain to him that this blog isn’t a counselling service—and that while I personally wished him well, it wasn’t my job to account for his wilful misrepresentation of my position—or indeed the position of other non-theists—in his many tirades against people who, unlike him, don’t confuse deism with theism and borrow from one to corroborate the truth-claims of the other.

    If you would like to offer an example of a specific area in which you feel I have shown fear in my response—or indeed why it is necessary to be afraid of anything at all I would be happy to respond in full.

  18. McStizzle:

    I can see how from this one blog entry alone it might seem that way—but you might want to review the history of Todd’s involvement on this blog (and read my reply to Richard Morgan above) before passing comment on that one. Suffice to say, Todd was given ample opportunity to speak but very rarely said anything which added to the debate. He is one seriously confused guy.

  19. Jim,
    Thank you for your response. You say “I’m sorry you feel as if the case put forward here isn’t robust enough.”
    That is not what I said. I think your case is very robust. At least as robust as every other atheist case, which, of course, it resembles. And which I, myself, defended for many years as an atheist, so I know it off by heart in three languages.
    I was taking a gentle poke at you, because I failed to understand why you would need to ban T.Pitner, and my experience of other atheist sites (I am now convinced that yours in an exception.) has shown me that Chrstians are only allowed to remain in a debate as lng as they speak like theists.
    Whenever they try to shift the paradigm, of give the zeitgeist

  20. Jim,
    Thank you for your response. You say “I’m sorry you feel as if the case put forward here isn’t robust enough.”
    That is not what I said. I think your case is very robust. At least as robust as every other atheist case, which, of course, it resembles. And which I, myself, defended for many years as an atheist, so I know it off by heart in three languages.
    I was taking a gentle poke at you, because I failed to understand why you would need to ban T.Pitner, and my experience of other atheist sites (I am now convinced that yours in an exception, of course) has shown me that Christians are only allowed to remain in a debate as long as they speak like theists.
    Whenever they try to shift the paradigm, or give the zeitgeist a gentle poke in the ribs, they get called crazy and end up getting banned. This, to me as an outsider, looks like an expression of fear.
    If it wasn’t,please forgive me. My bad.
    Am I to understand that Todd Pitner is now free to post here again? I think that is how I would interpret “temporarily block Todd’s IP address.”

  21. (Please forgive thius unsightly triple-posting. I have not yet learned how to edit or delete posts.)

    Jim,
    Thank you for your response. You say “I’m sorry you feel as if the case put forward here isn’t robust enough.”
    That is not what I said. I think your case is very robust. At least as robust as every other atheist case, which, of course, it resembles. And which I, myself, defended for many years as an atheist, so I know it off by heart in three languages. (I am now a Christian – I went where the evidence took me.)
    I was taking a gentle poke at you, because I failed to understand why you would need to ban T.Pitner, and my experience of other atheist sites (I am now convinced that yours in an exception, of course) has shown me that Christians are only allowed to remain in a debate as long as they speak like atheists.
    Whenever they try to shift the paradigm, or give the zeitgeist a gentle poke in the ribs, they get called crazy and end up getting banned. This, to me as an outsider, looks like an expression of fear.
    If it wasn’t,please forgive me. My bad.
    Am I to understand that Todd Pitner is now free to post here again? I think that is how I would interpret “temporarily block Todd’s IP address.”

  22. As far as I know, once Todd’s IP address is rotated by his ISP the block applied to his old address will no longer filter him out—so yes, in short, he is technically free to post at any time.

    What I can’t condone, however, is allowing him to post again simply to regurgitate what we already know he thinks without providing any basis upon which to build his assertions—as he did for the best part of June 2008 onwards, when the original article linked above was first posted and he began to comment regularly.

    Let me be clear. His comments to that thread or any other have not been removed or altered or censored in any way. His statements remain in the public domain exactly as they were posted by him—including the ones he posted with a pseudonym in which he, rather chillingly, wrote in another style and where he appeared to contradict many of the things he had said earlier as ‘Todd’.

    When he was confronted with this fact, he attempted to take the moral high ground by insisting that when myself and others took his alter-ego rather more seriously than we did ‘Todd’, we were in fact betraying our true intentions—which were, presumably, to simply defame ‘Todd’ and ignore his tirades against rationalism and ordinary logic.

    This was not the case. Todd’s alter-ego said things that made sense, precisely because they contradicted what he himself had earlier said as regular ‘Todd’. It was not the case at all that there was some bias against anything which he happened to have said as ‘Todd’, simply because he was saying it.

    All he had to do to achieve the same affect as posting with a pseudonym was admit that he had been mistaken and rash in some of the things which he had earlier said and his reputation as a valued commentator on a certain religious perspective would have been restored—but he instead chose to lie and pretend that he had caught me and my other reader commentators operating double standards—when, in reality, it was he who had been guilty of this time and time again—exactly as we had pointed out to him in our simple requests for him to present evidence of his many and varied truth-claims.

    So, yes—technically Todd is welcome to post again. But in the interest of clarity he would have to be prepared to post some exceptionally honest retractions to some of the baseless things he has asserted in the past, were he to genuinely wish to clear his name—and I simply don’t think he is capable of doing that. I hope he proves me wrong, but I’m not holding my breath.

  23. Thank you for that clear, honest, explanatory post, Jim.
    Perhaps you should know that someone, somewhere is doing magic on your blog.
    Don’t laugh, it’s the only explanation left.
    I fully believe you when you say that Todd is technically free to post again, as far as you know. Even though the “technically” and ” as far as I know” do leave you some comfortable wiggle room.
    So be it.
    But I have before me proof that Todd posted on this thread on January 10th, and lo and behold – his post has magically disappeared!
    Doesn’t that feel creepy?
    I promise you, I have searched the whole thread for his post. I have even resorted to using my dowsing stick, and my aura-programmed pendulum to find this January 10th post.
    To show you how desperate I was to find proof of your good faith, I even asked my wife to look for it. Anguished measures indeed.
    But Todd’s last post here dates back to March 30th 2009.
    Since you wouldn’t delete his recent post, that only leaves the Wiccans.
    Or the Nethervoid Welsh Bagpipe Band Voodoo Packers.
    Whatever. You have a serious case of disappearing posts.
    I am typing slowly because I am keeping my fingers crossed that this post does not get magicked away into cyberspace as well.

    Worrying times, Jim, worrying times.
    Or, perhaps, are you being a smidgin less than totally honest with us about Todd’s freedom to post.
    And you don’t need to go reaching for your Prozac – I was joking about the Welsh Bagpipe Band Voodoo Packers. I just made that up.

    You have got a sense of humour, haven’t you?

  24. I can’t underline enough how honest I am being when I say I have no idea why any of Todd’s posts might have disappeared. And I’m not even kidding. It’s very important to me that what has been posed here stays here. Once it’s posted, it’s posted.

    I have, in the past, removed inflammatory and aggressive comments posted by only one user—and it wasn’t Todd. This was the one occasion on which I didn’t use my usual method with hateful comments, of simply posting the sender’s full email address and IP—which, again, I have never done to Todd.

    As you might know I don’t host this blog on a server I have FTP access to, it is a free account with wordpress.com—so I simply can’t check any of the usual error logs or background info that would ordinarily be available to a full wordpress installation admin account.

    There is a filtering section in the debates section of the wordpress control panel which previously had both Todd and Zdenny’s IP address in them—but these have since been removed and wouldn’t by now be their valid IP address any longer—although that is assuming they have dynamic assignment, as opposed to a static lease line.

    But either way there should now no longer be any restriction that I am in control of over any user at all. None. If there is a bug or known issue which is affecting, perhaps, a certain IP range from accessing certain sites then wordpress.com are the people to see about that. Similarly if there is some other technical reason why a certain IP range has been flagged by Akismet as spam then perhaps there is a false positive somewhere in the works. But, hand on heart, I currently have ZERO IP addresses in the blocking section and ZERO usernames in the section of the spam filter I have control over.

    Sorry I can’t help more—but if what you’re suggesting is that you are yourself in contact with Todd and he would like to post again, I’d be more than happy to exchange private emails with him to resolve the issue—IF, that is, he is prepared to apologies for his previous behaviour and resist from clogging the place up with 20 volumes of cut and paste received opinion—which he did last time and was caught red handed trying to pass off as his own work.

  25. Jim:
    I haven’t seen any response from you to Abel Avram’s Nov 14 post. Is it forthcoming? (It seems this trail has degenerated to character attacks rather than debate content. That smacks of insincerity.) I rather like Abel’s approach and think he deserves a response.

    I would add along his line these thoughts: If God exists and has all the superpowers we don’t have, he doesn’t seem to demand that we believe in him, or love him or worship him. Well, I wonder why, ’cause I look all around and I see every one is free to make up their own mind about whether he exists or not. So let’s suppose he does exist and imagined me into being. When I create a painting, a poem or a play, well my art may be fantasy or it may be real to me, but who cares what happens to my characters if they want to write their own story… Hey let’s give them the freedom, ’cause in my fantasy world, they’d want it anyway. Some novelists make good money for their stories and they copyright their characters, because there’s good money behind that. But God? If he exists and if we are all his creation, it seems he leaves us to our own devices to do what we like… I guess he’s got nothing to gain or lose if his creation doesn’t want to know or relate to him. He doesn’t even have to prove to them that he exists. That sparks two questions: Does he not care that I know him? Or maybe he can’t relate to me, his creation? Wait that doesn’t make sense. You can’t create something superior to you. If I have the ability to speak, and love and relate to others, (and I didn’t create myself), my creator God has to have the ability to communicate and relate, too. Question: Then does he care to? How? to whom? To some and not others? Does he reveal himself only to those who “believe” he exists? or to those who look for him? or whever he feels like it? or all of the above? Is my life a game of hide and seek with him? Who knows if my freedom may not have something to do with it…

    So I am “free” to make up my own mind. Okay, but what does my freedom buy me, really? If it’s freedom from someone I assume neither cares to get to know or love me, I gain little or nothing. What if he does care about me and designed me for eternity? Then I lose a whole lot. Who knows what benefits I miss by clinging to my independence? If God lets me choose freely, must I assume that he doesn’t extend that freedom further even when I choose to seek him out and know him? Am I limited because I decide to involve myself with my creator? Do I have to be a pessimist? What if his intentions for me are good? What if this body is just temporary clothing and he has great purposes for me beyond this life? My freedom must count for something. Really, I don’t like the idea of just appearing on the horizon of history and living a pointless and insignificant life that is but a wrinkle in the grand scheme of eternity. Like every other human being, I am wired to seek beauty, wisdom, truth. Would I die just to be free from having to relate with a creator God who might have some claim on me? Sorry, but I think I’d rather examine those claims for myself first. What if God is beAauty, wisdom, truth? My freedom could turn out to be meaningless. Jim, you don’t have to care about other people’s concerns for meaning in life, but I do. Somehow, it seems to me that many people stop seeking God because they assume all the evil that they see around them is in him. But I think that if God created me, he cares about me. The fact that he doesn’t violate his gift of freedom to me by imposing himself on me says a lot. I am a woman, and I can’t be coerced into loving any one. If God exists right now today, he does not demand my love. My response: Wow! He is worth seeking after. And all the stories of the people of all times who have sought him become relevant to me, too. It’s their story and I respect that. I somehow suspect that some or many found him. Why wouldn’t God let himself be found by those who are sincere in their search? In other words, isn’t he able to make a way for them to “know” him? That’s easier than creating them out of nothing. This is not religion, but relationship. And it’s reasonable: ask your mother. You can ridicule all the evil things hypocrites may do in the name of religion. You can ridicule the attempt some make to have a relationship with their maker, but you cannot sacrifice their relationship at your altar of Reason.

    Nietzsche wrote, God is dead. The irony is Nietszche is dead. The creator of life cannot die. You are on a path. Pursue it to the end, for an end it must have. I have a suspicion that wherever man ends, God begins.

    Mona Lisa

  26. Mona Lisa: I read your post with interest and I am aware of the lack of updates to the blog in general of late. I hope to have a minute to myself to catch up on this sometime in the next month. For now, can I simply say that I have never confused any other religious definition of God with what you might call Einstein’s God. The latter is clearly a far more powerful philosophical notion than the former. But what use there is in labelling our awe and wonder at the beauty of the universe with the same word as that which the religious use for the Israelite god of war is unclear. Hence we use words like rationalism and intellectual honesty to differentiate between that which is defined by subjective belief and that which is defined by objective evidence.

  27. Jim: Thanks for reading my post. A philosophical notion of God is as impersonal as Einstein’s God or Yoda’s Force. Intellectual notions of deity abound as much in academic circles as human creations of deity proliferate in less literate circles. Neither catch my interest as much as direct revelation and personal encounter journeys of the divine, though I am wary of the psychic or magical manifestations. It seems to me that without having to enter into the marketplace of spiritism, an ethical spirituality is within the reach of the common man. In fact, I venture to say within the reach of a child, even. If God is willing to enter into a relationship with man, I don’t think he’d make it difficult. So I keep coming back to this:

    If God is real, he is a person, not an abstraction. Relationship with God is a choice, not a fuzzy feeling. The choice is first mine, not his. If I seek him with all my heart and mind, he will reveal himself to me. I am aware that language is inadequate, that is my language system which is bound to a certain reality. But if God is infinitely powerful, he can overcome all my narrowness and limitations and reach me where I am. What should I call this? Faith, maybe. The simple faith of a child.

  28. With respect, for all your quite correct desire to avoid “psychic or magical manifestations”, much of what you’re saying sounds very much like the kind of thing we hear here from believers in belief a lot. You are effectively saying that because God is real to you, in the same way he is real to many others, He is therefore real no matter what the evidence shows.

    In the 11th century the Catholic church in Rome was absolutely convinced that through the power of prayer a wafer of bread can transubstantiate into the flesh of a man they call the Messiah. There was no doubt about it. When the priest says the requisite words from the appropriate chapter during the pre-arranged point in the ceremony, bread literally transforms into flesh; the laws of nature are suspended to favour the will of an individual. At this time, the Church also believed the Sun revolved around the Earth; as did the entire rest of the observable universe.

    The point is, we didn’t have to specifically prove transubstantiation merely another in the long list of strange Vatican edicts with no bearing in reality. All we had to do was reveal something far more incredible; that the Earth is in fact merely a speck of dust floating around in the vacuum of space-time. Next to that matter of FACT, magic bread doesn’t stand a chance.

    So, OK, you say. Your God is not the small God of a merely human religious concept. Your God is infinite and available to anyone who simply asks. Well, OK. But I still fail to see how calling ‘it’ God any longer makes sense at this point. I might as well call that inner dialogue; that conversation between the ego and the conscience we call sentience ‘love’, or ‘learning’, or ‘rationalism’. If I were being rude about it I’d say, if anything, it sounds like special pleading to call these facets of the human experience something which is only available to those with a predisposition to fear theology; “Please don’t take my imagination away, I’ll burn in hell without it”. The truth is, no-one is trying to take anything away from anyone. Quite the opposite. They called it the enlightenment for a reason.

  29. Jim: Your first paragraph: No that’s not what I’m saying. Let’s not put words in my mouth I didn’t say. I said IF God is real… (see my 3rd paragraph) The “if” here is because I am pursuing a real possibility that God might exist, unless you can prove otherwise.

    All this time I have been making room for everyone who has embarked on a journey to find out if they have a maker and if they can relate to a maker God they cannot see. Note that my language never takes ownership of “God” as if I appropriated him by my thinking, imagining, speaking or experience of him. I’d rather we didn’t call him “my ” or “your” God because that makes little sense to me. Do you own your parents, your friend, your child, your wife? Do they own you? Also your various attempts at making me into a Catholic or something else just washes over my head. Speak to me, please.

    Are you telling me that no one has a right to even consider the possibility that God might exist, just because that possibility offends your rational sensibilities? That doesn’t sound very open-minded to me. But maybe you mean something else. Then please correct me. I don’t want to impute wrongly upon you such labels as “fear psychology” on your motives or predispositions as you seem so eager to apply “fear theology” to mine. You and I in our interaction, both act and react, but that does not determine who we really are, which is to me as mysterious and sacred territory as who God is. I want to respect you, however you articulate your understanding of your life and uphold your absolute freedom to believe whatever you want. But let’s not degrade this conversation to a duel that preempts another’s freedom or dignity as a thinker with our own “clarity of mind”, shall we? If we can’t do that, then let’s admit that the debate is already closed, because we are not allowing truth to emerge and we have become cynics like Pontius Pilate who coined the famous, “What is truth?” If I bore you, you can quit anytime, though…

    As for my wariness of the marketplace of spiritism, it is really not due to fear, but my observations that too often the dishonest manipulations, deceitful tricks, and abuses taking place when people “think” they are talking to each other, are magnified at the level of supposed “psychic knowledge or contact.” That sort of revelation does not pass my standards, however divine someone might want to camouflage it. That’s why checking our motives is so important when we claim to listen or to speak any wisdom. Hope I clarified myself.

  30. Jim: Your first paragraph: No that’s not what I’m saying. Let’s not put words in my mouth I didn’t say. I said IF God is real… (see my 3rd paragraph) The “if” here is because I am pursuing a real possibility that God might exist, unless you can prove otherwise.

    Well, as a matter of fact I can. And so can you. Let’s look at some of the aspects of nature which were once, for thousands of years, attributed to the gods, but which are no longer thought of as mysterious at all. Illnesses and cures, for example. Not so very long ago, every single person in the world knew for a fact that disease and plague were a curse from the devil and that the only way to cure them was to bleed the body of evil spirits and pray for forgiveness.

    You can’t say that this was simply bad religion; that these people couldn’t be expected to know any better. The practitioners of these treatments believed they were in communion with God. They absolutely 100% believed that their treatments worked because of what their priest told them to believe about the nature of God and his mysterious ways.

    So, in a very real sense, yes—both you and I can and do prove, every single day, that this definition of God does not—and never did—exist. The God which was once thought capable of curing what He was also thought capable of inflicting—has been replaced by ordinary rationalism in the minds of even the most devoutly religious—and that’s before we even get into the gods which were once thought responsible for thunder, floods, comets, planets, lightening, solar eclipses…

    Are you telling me that no one has a right to even consider the possibility that God might exist, just because that possibility offends your rational sensibilities?

    No. Quite the opposite. I’m saying that if you want to believe that there is some mysterious force “out there” that oversees everything we do, to such an extent of complexity that it exists outside of both Newtonian and Einsteinian reality, stop trying to anthropomorphise it back into it’s biblical box. If God is real, it is more real than anything we call reality—as opposed to the tiny, petulant God which votes in favour of Proposition 8.

    Did you ever notice how God is only ever capable of doing what we don’t yet fully understand, but that as soon as we do, no right thinking person continues to ascribe those properties which were once uncertain to Him any longer?

    …deceitful tricks, and abuses taking place when people “think” they are talking to each other…

    I couldn’t agree more about how frustrating it can be to find yourself spending real energy communicating with people on this level, only to find that they are a time waster for Jesus. Many such people have passed this way and learned nothing, while teaching me a lot about how blinkered people who claim to be open-minded can truly be. Of course we’re all slaves to our biases—but that doesn’t mean we can’t emancipate ourselves of at least some of the shackles that bind us. Religion and theology thrown aside then, let us forge on. You are a deist, are you not? A practical agnostic maybe?

  31. Don’t lose hope Jim…you didn’t waste time on me, though I have to admit I was already leaning your philosophical, rational way. If you had given me floaty-metaphysical ‘it feels right’ crap reasoning, however, I wouldn’t have stayed around. :)

  32. I’m guessing Mona Lisa is either working on an epic reply or is busy doing other stuff. Needless to say, I don’t think she’s shaping up to be another Zdenny just yet :)

  33. “Let’s look at some of the aspects of nature which were once, for thousands of years, attributed to the gods, but which are no longer thought of as mysterious at all. Illnesses and cures, for example. Not so very long ago, every single person in the world knew for a fact that disease and plague were a curse from the devil and that the only way to cure them was to bleed the body of evil spirits and pray for forgiveness.

    You can’t say that this was simply bad religion; that these people couldn’t be expected to know any better. The practitioners of these treatments believed they were in communion with God. They absolutely 100% believed that their treatments worked because of what their priest told them to believe about the nature of God and his mysterious ways.”

    This characterisation is not entirely accurate. The treatment of bloodletting you mention was based on the theory of humorism, which originated with the ancient greeks. It wasn’t based on the idea of God or the devil, but the idea that the bodies constituent substances must be kept in equilibrium to avoid sickness.

    In fact it was Muslim physicians such as Ibn Zuhr who first contradicted the idea in favour of a more modern, systematic approach to medicine.

    For example Zuhr was the first medical practitioner to carry out autopsies, as well as establishing the etiology of diseases such as scabies and stridor. He was also among the first to develop anaesthesiology for surgery, drug therapy and neurology.

  34. OK, but you make it sound as if you missed my point and I don’t think you did. The fact is there are hundreds of examples in everyday life for which, once upon a time, it was certain that God was the only possible cause but which reason and logic has now shown to be completely natural phenomena.

    Perhaps human sacrifice to ward off hurricanes and earthquakes might have been better examples in my original reply.

  35. Jim: You are right. I have been busy and will continue to be busy. Your blog may be interesting, but it can’t take over my priorities (job, family, etc.) Plus, I make it a point to protect my privacy and to not be sucked into an obsession with blogs. An epic response? No, I’ll confine myself with a simple one, thank you.

    You claim you and I can prove God doesn’t exist. I beg to differ. Your main argument stems from instances that show how ancient human conceptions have been disproved by science by assigning a natural cause to what was once a divine cause. But you can neither claim to have cornered EVERY ancient conception of God as falling in that category, nor can you prove that EVERY such change can be credited to the knowledge of scientists rather than theists (as Michael ably pointed out to you). As to your statement, “Did you ever notice how God is only ever capable of doing what we don’t yet fully understand, but that as soon as we do, no right thinking person continues to ascribe those properties which were once uncertain to Him any longer?” Sorry Jim. That is not what I observe. The advent of science has not killed the possibility of God’s existence. If God is real and his attributes are infinite power, wisdom, knowledge, and love, the state of reality today, as we understand it even scientifically, just cannot disprove the possibility of his existence. Rather it leans towards it. The conversation at this point could be side-lined to a mere discussion of science’s goals and methods (Books by agnostics on the subject: The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions by David Berlinski; Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design by Stephen C. Meyer; God and the Astronomers by Robert Jastrow; Books by theists: The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief; God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? by John Lennox; the rationality of theism ed. by Paul Copan & Paul K. Moser). But I’d rather leave that discussion to my relatives who are better scientists than me. Plus, I don’t want rabbit trails to cover up my main point: Just as the existence of good and bad ideas don’t prove that thinking doesn’t take place, so the existence of good and bad religion doesn’t prove that God doesn’t exist.

    God did not invent religion, man did. It is not religion that establishes God, I think, but in the end God that can prove religions for what they really are. I am not a very great fan of the “religious spirit” any more than I think God is, if he exists. To reiterate my main point, which you do not address, if God is, he can reveal himself to or hide himself from whomever he chooses. Such revelation is not necessarily “religion.” Such hiding is not necessarily proof of a moody or temperamental character. Wouldn’t you want to hide, if the press hounded you with the intent to report all kinds of lies about you? But I think his hiding would not be due to fear, but to his respect of our freedom to decide who he is for ourselves. If God gives us freedom to develop more or less false or true conceptions of him, I dare say, it is not just theists who would develop false conceptions of God, but atheists, agnostics, and deists as well who speculate about his non-existence. Just for the record, there are a lot of theists who live life as practical atheists. There are also lots of atheists, who live life as if they were practical theists. Who knows if you are not one of them, seeing that you are so preoccupied by everyone else’s idea of God that you dedicate a large chunk of your life to defeat their ideas? Think about it, Jim. Why do you, an atheist, devote so much time and emotional intensity over someone you claim doesn’t exist? Your words reveal nothing but scorn, spite and hatred for God if he were to exist as some have conceived him, and for God if he were to exist at all. That enmity towards God makes him as real in you as someone else’s love for God makes him real in them. Besides your derisions of God, your use of demeaning, hateful and offensive language towards theists of all stripes leads me to ask you: What do you gain out of that? Are you, by your forceful and aggressive argumentation, hoping to impress some weak souls to follow you? But maybe the light of reason has not enlightened you about how illogical this is. Why such scorn and spite of a non-reality that can’t hurt you if it is not real? Don’t you defeat your own purpose? A grain of humility and graceful speech is not beyond you. You are bent on a war that boxes your enemy in, so you can show yourself strong before your allies. But can you not find it in your heart to honor your enemy? Even the ancients knew that those who cannot honor their enemies are doomed to a life of strife as long as they live.

    You want to put me in one of your boxes, so you can decide whether you can love me (i.e. bring me to your side) or scorn me (identify me as a nut from the other side). How does that help you? I wish you were as curious about God as you are about me. To satisfy your curiosity a little (but it won’t help you), I’ll tell you that I was born in Paris, France, of a Jewish family that escaped the Holocaust. And yes, the Holocaust took place, I have direct family evidence. Sadly, my french education has kept me close to philosophical academic circles all my life until today. My job exposes me to lots of treatises and research in all the disciplines and I am at times excited and at times weary of all the knowledge and the lack of wisdom out there. I have a brother who is a genetic engineer (prof of microbiology and research scientist), a husband who is a physicist and nuclear systems engineer, and a son who wants to be a chef (he has the good sense of appreciating gourmet foods). I care about disaster and orphans and give a lot to charity, but that doesn’t make me better than anyone. Now, I’ve given you a face behind the name Mona Lisa, but I will not let you put me in one of your boxes. That is all I will say about myself. You are free to volunteer any information about yourself (I suspect you won’t). If you did, I would not use it against you, because I respect you as a person and seek to understand you as a fellow-seeker. I don’t buy into the labels because they don’t really say much about ourselves. So, friend or enemy (only time can tell), I intend to respect you even if I disagree with you.

    And I disagree with you about this: IF God is real, calling him IT as you do, is an opinion, not a fact. In my opinion, if God is real, he could not be a thing because a thing cannot create complex personalities like you and me. So I only partially agree with your statement “If God is real, it is more real than anything we call reality.” At least I am glad that you recognize that God would have to be greater than this perceived reality. However, I hope you will reconsider your tendency to attack the character of those who conceive of God as personal. Your calling them stupid only succeeds in blinding you to the point that you can’t even confront the real possibility of a God that might be as personal as you are. You wrongly interpret as a threat the statements some have told you that you may very well go down to your grave with no assurance that you might not one day be confronted by a very personal Creator of all the universe, who may have been intimately aware of all your thoughts and words concerning him, because he gave you total freedom to think and say whatever you want. What would these people gain by such threats? Nothing, really. I don’t think they gain any reward, on earth or in another life. My guess is that like me, they want to encourage you to continue your search honestly and sincerely and cut the offensive crap. Appreciate that, at least. No one can impose their view of God on you. You know that, don’t you? They, like me, can only suggest that you consider all the possibilities. You are on a journey. In the end if you find nothing, don’t give the excuse that you tried all the paths, when actually you might have in fact closed a lot of doors. That’s all I have to say.

    By the way, what is a “Zdenny”?

  36. But you can neither claim to have cornered EVERY ancient conception of God as falling in that category, nor can you prove that EVERY such change can be credited to the knowledge of scientists rather than theists (as Michael ably pointed out to you)

    Yes, I can and no he didn’t. Michael pointed out that my example of blood letting was a bad one, which I acknowledged in my reply above.

    Certainly theology as a philosophical tract, has contributed immeasurably to human knowledge. The venerable Bede, for example, who hails from my part of the world, almost singlehandedly dragged England from the dark ages into the dawning age of enlightenment. I am not a nihilist and I do not discount the power of beliefs, but believing something to be true and proving it to be so are two very different things. To perform the former one only needs faith. With the latter one must rule out that which can not be corroborated by evidence—no matter how compelling your emotional commitment to the intangible may be.

    To simply demonstrate this, please describe any well understood entirely natural phenomena which would be better described by instead supposing supernatural causation. For example are objects pulled to the ground by the mass of the Earth below, or are they ordered to fall by a divine overseer?

    The advent of science has not killed the possibility of God’s existence.

    I never said it did, I said it has replaced what was once attributed to God with reason and logic and it shall continue to do so. But the capacity of the believer to push back the line of demarkation between what is understood and what is misunderstood is not in question. It is where you choose to push that line back to which occasionally conflicts with the scientific evidence.

    That science hasn’t yet described every single last aspect of reality in a single equation doesn’t by default mean that quantum gravity, for example, shall remain a mystery forevermore—nor that it is therefore at the quantum level where we might find God. All you prove by insisting such a thing, is that the human capacity to see pattern and meaning where in reality there is only a willing suspension of disbelief is a far stronger compulsion than the wish to break a spell; pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

    If God is real and his attributes are infinite power, wisdom, knowledge, and love, the state of reality today, as we understand it even scientifically, just cannot disprove the possibility of his existence

    You’re mixing deism with theism. Wisdom and knowledge are not participial to love. You can not prove why you love your family, but you can easily prove why it is good to seek wisdom. Similarly, if you only love your family because you believe in God, it cannot be considered a moral act, because an obligation is by definition not an act of free will.

    Rather it leans towards it.

    See Russell’s teapot.

    The conversation at this point could be side-lined to a mere discussion of science’s goals and methods (Books by agnostics on the subject: The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions by David Berlinski; Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design by Stephen C. Meyer; God and the Astronomers by Robert Jastrow; Books by theists: The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief; God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? by John Lennox; the rationality of theism ed. by Paul Copan & Paul K. Moser).

    I’m one of those annoying people who buys books on a weekly basis and never sets time aside to read them. I plod through one book at a time. I’ve just started ‘The Strangest Man: The Life of Paul Dirac’ by Graham Farmelo and after that it’s ‘Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army’ by Jeremy Scahill. But I promise to add your above suggestions to the list.

    Just as the existence of good and bad ideas don’t prove that thinking doesn’t take place, so the existence of good and bad religion doesn’t prove that God doesn’t exist.

    No, but it does prove God either doesn’t care or He approved wholeheartedly of the Spanish Inquisition as readily as he did a Vatican sanctioned cover-up of systemic child rape and the bringing together of passenger jets and skyscrapers in His name. Nice guy.

    God did not invent religion, man did. It is not religion that establishes God, I think, but in the end God that can prove religions for what they really are.

    Hence magic bread and Mormons? I don’t follow you.

    if God is, he can reveal himself to or hide himself from whomever he chooses.

    Behaving as if you don’t exist and not existing are indistinguishable from each other.

    But I think his hiding would not be due to fear, but to his respect of our freedom to decide who he is for ourselves. If God gives us freedom to develop more or less false or true conceptions of him, I dare say, it is not just theists who would develop false conceptions of God, but atheists, agnostics, and deists as well who speculate about his non-existence.

    Can I politely ask that you expand on this with more clarity please?

    Think about it, Jim. Why do you, an atheist, devote so much time and emotional intensity over someone you claim doesn’t exist? Your words reveal nothing but scorn, spite and hatred for God if he were to exist as some have conceived him, and for God if he were to exist at all.

    I would hope my words reveal far more than merely scorn, spite and hatred for people who hide behind God in order to do to others as they wouldn’t have done to themselves. But I don’t equate Pat Roberson and Sarah Palin with Missionaries in subsaharan Africa or sisters of charity in the orphanages of Northumberland. Clearly there are good people doing good things because they believe they will be rewarded for those acts in heaven and there are people doing heinous, wilfully destructive things because they believe the same thing.

    So I suppose thanks are in order for proving my point on God’s indifference to human acts for me—which, in case you missed it, rather undermines your entire point on the probability of a divine omnipresence existing in both a state of omnibenevolence and omniscience at the same time.

    But can you not find it in your heart to honor your enemy?

    The enemy of reason is faith. I can not honour something which does not cherish the truth and neither should you.

    You want to put me in one of your boxes, so you can decide whether you can love me (i.e. bring me to your side) or scorn me (identify me as a nut from the other side).

    You are words on a page with an opinion I do not agree with for reasons I can back-up with evidence. It is not my job to care if you are interested in listening. You might say the same of me, but I am not the one who confuses confusion with revelation.

    Your calling them stupid only succeeds in blinding you to the point that you can’t even confront the real possibility of a God that might be as personal as you are.

    Expecting someone else to believe in something which, by definition, only exists in your imagination, is stupid. I do not apologies for saying that. What I do find disturbing is that, for all your hope we can avoid stereotypes and pigeonholes, you seem to have rather quickly assumed that I am incapable of awe and wonder at the majesty of the universe around us, just because I hold myself to a higher standard of proof than believing it all to be a series of tests, designed to steer me towards eternal torture for the sin of thinking clearly.

    By the way, what is a “Zdenny”?

    Zdenny is a liar for Jesus who trolls various blogs and forums spouting young Earth creationism and the anti-logic of Ken Ham’s ‘Answers In Genesis’. Thus far you are nowhere near as annoying as she is—in fact quite the opposite.

    x

  37. Jim, Did you ever think the laminin as a cause of muscular dystrophy is a metaphor? If you dont listen to God you become weak because strength comes from GOD. Laminin holds people together. Some people if their laminin isnt formed properly can have congenital muscular dystrophy. I’m not saying people who have this are sinners. I’m saying your whole point there about it causing muscular dystrophy is not applicable in the way you were insinuating. My point is god exists and tom is correct. All of your points about why you think laminin doesn’t point to God don’t ascertain anything. Right, it completely makes sense, an immensely important molecule in the body, laminin, is in the shape of the cross, which is christians’ symbol of Jesus Christ. Laminin also just happens to hold all things in the human together, EXACTLY like it says in Colossians. Yeah just a coincidence. I’m pretty sure theres no nazi handbook that said swastikas hold all things together. It’s not as if Paul knew that this molecule existed that was in the shape of a cross that held humans together. If you can think of another coincidence as great as that let me know.

    On second thought, don’t just do what’s right and stop being so prideful and admit that God exists. The UNIVERSE exists. Is it so hard to believe that there’s a God who created it? No it isn’t you just won’t get over yourself and admit you’re wrong. No offense, honestly you are smart, Jim. You’re just spending you’re knowledge researching the right topic but in the wrong way.

  38. Research, evidence and reality based cognisance would suggest otherwise, my friend. I know you mean well, but what you’re effectively saying is the only way to know god is to ignore the facts. I know you think you’re being more sophisticated than that and I know you think I am being obstinate by refusing to see it from your point of view, but this isn’t about my opinion or my bias, it is about what can be proven to be true in comparison to what people believe to be so; precisely as I have said on numerous occasions for which I have been repeatedly ignored and told to have more faith.

    http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2008/10/02/mind-control-pattern.html

    http://www.scientificblogging.com/rationally_speaking/superstition_pattern_seeking_and_loss_of_personal_control

    http://de-conversion.com/2007/05/26/humans-a-pattern-seeking-species/

    http://www.amazon.com/Pattern-Recognition-Learning-Information-Statistics/dp/0387310738/ref=sr_1_fkmr2_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1266865922&sr=1-3-fkmr2

    Laminin is represented graphically in this way so we can better illustrate the bonds in its chemical composition—not because it actually looks that way under the microscope. This is a model of the molecule in the same way the London Underground map is a model of London. But the train lines don’t actually run in parallels—that’s just a shorthand way of simplifying the map. Similarly Laminin is a complex molecule which is clearly described using a diagram which happens to be cross shaped.

    I know you know that and I know you know it is a metaphor—but if that is the case, why use Laminin at all? Why not use the double helix of DNA to show there is mathematical symmetry in nature, or the 96% genetic similarity between African chimpanzees and humans to demonstrate Darwinian evolution by means of natural selection? Could it be that these far more startling and revealing wonders of nature are ignored, precisely because they do not require a supernatural agent to be fully described? And that the Laminin molecule is instead focused upon because it chimes so pleasingly with Christian iconography?

    To draw any more of a conclusion from it than that is the very definition of seeking pattern where there is none to be had. If that explanation is unnerving to you or you simply refuse to accept it, that is unfortunate for you, but it doesn’t make your insistent of being taken seriously any more valid. Confusion on your part doesn’t constitute a reason to suspend critical faculty on mine. It is merely what you choose to believe, not what you can prove to be true—and not just because we refuse to accept your word, or anyone else’s—but because we also happen to have a far less fantastical explanation of the phenomena to which you have succumb.

    In psychology, our very human struggle between what on one hand we know to be true and what on the other we wish to be so, is called a Cognitive Dissonance—to which I am told this book is a very good introduction:

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cognitive-Dissonance-psychology-Confirmation-mechanism/dp/6130225172/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1266866397&sr=8-5

    If what you mean by my being “prideful” is that I am sceptical of what you accept without question I fail to see which part of my reasoning it is you are asking me to reexamine. You and everyone reading this, needs to ask themselves if it could in-fact be that it is precisely because I understand your argument better than you do, which leads you to conclude I am looking in the wrong direction? Would a valid argument in favour of vegetarianism not look and sound to a meat eater like nonsense? That doesn’t make animal rights and ethical treatment of living creatures a nonsense—merely that we quiet our emotions towards what we know, when our knowing contradicts what we might wish were not so.

  39. I should also like to pick up on Carl’s challenge to, “…think of another coincidence as great as that let me know.”

    The incredible thing about coincidences, from a statistical point of view, is that they don’t happen a lot more often. Or to put it another way, the fact that we don’t notice coincidences more often is quite unusual—given how much emphasis we tend to place on them when we do.

    For example, Kimberly puts the same lottery numbers on every week for one year and wins nothing. Her neighbour, who doesn’t normally play the lottery, decides to give it a try, one day, and wins the jackpot with the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9.

    We might be tempted to say that the fact she had never played before and won on her first time is coincidence enough, but that she also picked sequential numbers shows that there is some system or unseen mechanism at play, which she was lucky enough to feed into at the right moment in time. But the truly incredible thing about it, is that there is no greater mathematical probability that she would win with those numbers than she wouldn’t win anything at all—no matter what numbers she picked and no matter how many times she had played before.

    The order the numbers were drawn is, in fact, completely random and nothing to do with the fact that they happened to match the numbers she predicted would be drawn. That they just happen to have come out in sequence is no more likely to happen every single time the numbers are drawn that it is likely they will never come out in sequence ever again. Chaos is a function of infinity.

    See Hilbert’s paradox of the Grand Hotel

    We might also want to say that there is something in Kimberly’s behaviour that she can change, in order to increase her chances of winning. But she is no more likely to win or lose the lottery than was her neighbour. We merely perceive her neighbour as having good fortune and Kimberly as having bad fortune—but it is no more probable than it is improbable that Kimberly’s neighbour won’t simply keep on winning the jackpot every time she plays, than it is that she will never win again. There is no order or predictability to it whatsoever. The winning sequence doesn’t influence the outcome of the numbers which will be drawn next week. We merely impose this pattern upon the randomness of the system in order to feel as if we understand it, when in fact we do not—we merely feel as if, through familiarity we are capable of knowing how something should behave, when in reality the randomness of the system is completely unguided by our observing it or otherwise.

    So when you say there is a precedence in Christian scripture for the importance of Laminin, I genuinely believe you when you say that, to you, this is corroboration enough of your existing beliefs. I do not think you are lying to me—but lying to others is not the same as lying to yourself. We are all capable of telling ourselves one thing, while in reality something completely different is true. This is not because we choose to be confused, or because we deliberately lie to ourselves with the frontal lobe. It is because we have no choice but to make sense, albeit in an artificial way, of what are in fact completely chaotic sequences of unguided events, if we want to negotiate our way around the world. The fact that these events do not feel unguided to us does not change the fact that they are.

    But we do not marvel at the fact that despite playing the lottery every week Kimberly never wins, because we do not attach an emotional meaning to a miss. Only hits are linked to a reward response. A confirmation of our pre-existing bias is much more likely to catch our attention and confirm our beliefs than a negative result is likely to dissuade us of what we already believe to be true.

  40. “Right, it completely makes sense, an immensely important molecule in the body, laminin, is in the shape of the cross, which is christians’ symbol of Jesus Christ. Laminin also just happens to hold all things in the human together, EXACTLY like it says in Colossians.”

    FAIL.

    Laminin actually looks like this:


  41. OF COURSE!! It’s all so clear to me now. Have a loo, ya! I get it now. Nightingale birds fly. So do angles. Angels in heaven. The old grey whistle test and laminin PLUS the sign of the swastika.. ..I mean crucifix—IT ALL ADDS UP, DON’T YOU GET IT?! I was blind but now I can see!

    Seventies BBC2 music programmes presented by people with a CLEAR LINK to angles in heaven that also happen to have EXACTLY the SAME amorphous generally similar shape as the man kicking lights behind an exclusive performance of Steve Hillage’s Glorious Om Riff. If you can think of another coincidence as great as that let me know.

  42. As a none christian. I do not believe in a god.
    If you all truly think and believe this is the work of “God”, bare in mind that in earlier days, the cross people were crucified on had no top, quite an important thing when you come to think about it.
    Oh and do yourself a look up the Egyptian gods, you will see that christianity has a lot in common with it, including it’s magical 10 laws. And you know what? It was at least 2000bc.

    So how does one explain that? And if you guys truly think your “God” was the only one to send his son down to earth to get crucified and resurrected for the sack of man?

    I hate it when people don’t even know the foundamentals of there own dam religion.

    Regards,
    Demon.

  43. As a Christian, I do feel ashamed by those naïve and stupid and arrogant (and therefore actually blasphemous) Christians who teach fallacies like that the Laminin molecule be a “proof of Christianity”.

    I actually love science and scholarly thinking, and I don’t think Christianity and free thinking are controversial. We all have a picture of the known world and what is beyond, and it does not contradict it to use our imagination to make sense of what we see. Fortunately this attitude is flourishing in the last two centuries of higher theological research.

    For those who are still interested in one-time-atheist Christians, I heartily recommend Alister McGrath. “The Twilight of Atheism” or “Dawkins’ God” may be a good read for anyone, and they are free from the low-minded anti-logic of pop-evangelists.

    Cheers from Eastern Europe.

  44. McGrath is extremely dishonest about his “conversion”, Terminus Technicus, but I’ll grant you he’s a more interesting read than these clowns who see shapes in a model and conclude it validates the existence of a bronze-age deity.

  45. I know little about McGrath’s conversion, and I know it from his books, so I’d be glad to see some references to see what you mean under dishonesty in his case.

    McGrath’s Calvin biography seemed to me pretty impartial and precise (and probably not only to me, considering the Hungarian (secular) publisher of the book), so he must have some ability to write well on biographical issues. He was able to show how Calvin’s enemies depicted him as a monster, and how Calvin’s followers made him a saint – and what might have been the truth. Seeing this kind of balanced thinking I may have accepted his autobiographical statements without any particular scepticism. Yet I’m still curious to see your point.

  46. McGrath claims to have once upon a time understood that the default intellectual position on the existence or non-existence of a supernatural creator of the universe, is to remain neutral. Only later does he modify this by saying the default starting position is, in fact, to accept that the Abrahamic God of the bible is your personal saviour, whether you like it or not. With that in mind, I would suggest, he never truly understood the positive atheism of Voltair and Russell for example, when he describes himself has having once been irreligious.

    I should say, I’m not entirely happy with this reply myself, but am massively pushed for time and will be busy all weekend. So, please, feel free to respond and give me a few days to reply more fully.

  47. In both “Dawkins’ God” and “Twilight…” he gives a sketchy account of his way to Christianity. According to these, he simply grew up becoming an atheist under the influence of the Zeitgeist, i.e. Marxism. He saw religion as the ultimate cause for all problems of mankind, and he considered any talk about God completely meaningless. Marxism promised a better future with utter optimism, and he had no doubt that religion as such would be finally done away with in his life. Two of his major influences were A. J. Ayer and B. Russell.

    In his last year at high school he discovered the philosophy of science section in the library. This literature confused his optimism in atheism as an ultimate explanation of the world. While studying chemistry he realised how little he knew about the nature of both natural sciences and Christian faith. He gradually lost his zeal for atheism, while his interest in Christianity grew. This led to his decision to convert to Christianity, and later also to study theology.

    This is what McGrath says about the development of his position. If these claims are correct, he was driven out of atheism by his insistance to correctness. Even if his atheism wasn’t as solid as he says, his reference to the philosophy of science is noteworthy.

    Perhaps he was not “committed enough” to atheism. But what is “committed enough”? If being a “real atheist” means one never converts to anything else, that becomes a circular argument for atheism, and does not prove anything.

    An interesting point might be whether he is aware of all the factors of his conversion, or if he is a victim of self-deception. But these are tough questions to any of us. A possible way to (at least a certain level of) self-awareness might be philosophy of science, and that could also be a common ground in a discussion, even if the “ultimate discussion” is doomed to always be personal and irrational.

  48. You make his case very well Terminus Technicus and I thank you for that, but I struggle with this idea that ‘atheism’ is both the default position and something that you can’t, therefore, move away from. I don’t know if that is your view or if it is what you’re saying McGrath believes, but it is clear to me—without going down the whole route of semantics and anxieties the word ‘atheism’ itself conjures for religious reasons—that a non-belief in Yahweh is as intellectually honest as a non-belief in Santa Claus.

    The only difference is the amount of heartfelt literature written about and emotional investment placed in the notion of Santa by adults, being far outweighed by that which is dedicated instead towards Yahweh. It’s the exact same principal in and of itself, of off-setting reward against behaviour, but re-intellectualised for a different audience with different needs and desires and more sophisticated wants and wishes.

    Praying for world peace and wishing for a Nintendo Wii are one in the same kind of wish thinking if the delivery mechanism by which we imagine these desires might be fulfilled are projected onto the external, rather than claimed as a personal responsibility.

    You might be aware of a recent talk I was invited to take part in with a Christian marketeer, who spent some time reassuring me via private email that the purpose of our talk was to confront these fundamental questions; the philosophical difference between faith and knowing. You might also be aware of the complete set-up job which the talk itself ended up being. It wasn’t that there was a malicious, deliberate attempt to avoid these topics from the Christian side of the debate—as much as it is that these topics simply do not appear on the RADAR for 99.9% of your everyday believer in belief—Christian or otherwise.

    If there is one thing that did positively result from these talks, it’s that there is a recognition among even the minority of rightwing, all or nothing Christian, that the one group of people interested in these issues who do allow the fundamentals to occupy their frontal lobe—who don’t take for granted that certain things are true, despite a lack of reasonable evidence to presume so—are the non-religious. So, if for no other reason than that (even though there are many other reasons besides) atheism as a philosophical tract is here to stay.

    This is not because atheism is itself a religion, but precisely because it isn’t a religion—and because of that it attracts people who are the opposite of those who believe that to be more like Jesus you have to lie to yourself about what happens when you die, or what lies beyond our current understanding of the universe, or that it’s somehow virtuous to withhold medication from a sick child, because of how many people believe bronze-age folklore to be a historically accurate account of the events in the life of a man whose mythology perfectly matches hundreds of gods who Christians no more believe in than they do Santa Claus.

  49. I think we should also remind ourselves of why it is important to air these ideas in the fist place. We live in a world now where it is perceived as acceptable to engage the views of people like Pope Benedict, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Ted Haggard, Kent Hovind and Pat Robertson—whose shared solution to our shared problems are more of the same non-thinking that caused much of the ill will between peoples in the first place.

    It’s simply not OK to endorse these demonstrably dangerous and factious ideals by admitting on one hand that these are examples of what goes wrong when religious extremists are given too great a platform on which to spread their confused notions about morality and on the other hand argue in favour of their right to diffuse these ideas on behalf of a self-congratulatory adherence to tradition and dogma.

  50. OK, I think I start to understand your stance. I admit that I did not explore your blog (I bumped into it by searching for mentions of Laminine), so I knew little about the situation you are writing in. We are looking at different aspects of Christianity, and what you say about it is mostly justifiable (except mainly the metaphysical extrapolation, and a few other issues). My trouble now is the cherished fact that you brought up a lot of topics, and it’s impossible to treat them short and comprehensibe at the same time. I’ll give a list of what I’d include in an aswer, then we’ll see if I have the time and the energy to expand them. :)

    – To reassure you, I also find the political and media presence of US Christianity very harmful for free thinking. (To stimulate your imagination: I often see a dreadful resemblance between them and the pharisees that Jesus criticizes so heavily.)

    – I would warn you to be aware that US Christianity is only a small part of a larger religion which is not well represented by it, especially in politics and media. It can easily discredit the whole of Christianity for those who aren’t familiar with the whole.

    – There is a significant, essential difference between the notion of God and the notion of fictitious characters like Santa Claus. This is very important.

    – I would also say, there is a significant difference between Yahweh as a bronze-age folklore element, and the God of Christian theology. Of course the two are closely related, but when I speak of God, I mean the latter.

    – I realized that it’s a little obscure to me what you mean by default position, and how intellectual honesty relates to it. This is also a very important issue so I will surely comment on this. It has much to do with cultural context and socialization.

    – I would urge us to compare things proportionately: if we take religious leaders and activists, let’s see them all when we compare them to all atheist leaders (and you have probably not faced yet with the distruction that atheist propaganda has done in the formerly “socialist” region of the world), and the same way when we speak of philosophy, let’s not invoke simple folks’ belief.

    – There is more than “one group of people interested in these issues who do allow the fundamentals to occupy their frontal lobe”. There are Christian thinkers who take these very seriously. Thinking does not necessarily imply atheism, not even agnosticism.

    – There is a philosophical barrier which makes it impossible to either prove or disprove God. This is what I meant by “metaphysical extrapolation” above – you cannot speak about it with scientific assurance, should it seem utterly rational and evident.

    Hope that I’ll be able to write about these more soon.

  51. There is a significant, essential difference between the notion of God and the notion of fictitious characters like Santa Claus. This is very important.

    Yes, it is and no, there isn’t. The only difference is when we stop believing in Santa, we agree between us to pass on the tradition to our children, because wonder and magic are one of many ways we protect their innocence. But we don’t lose the magic and wonder for ourselves, or our own innocence in regard to the unknown, simply because we adapt it and appreciate the Santa myth for different reasons, when we see it from a more rational perspective; in fact quite the opposite.

    But if someone made a blanket statement, like “I know for certain that every December 25th a man in a green coat (red coat Santa is a marketing device of the Coca-Cola company) magically appears in my house and leaves gifts under a decorated symbol for the Pagan festival of winter solstice”, you would immediately require that person provide some kind of proof of their truth-claim. Not because you inherently doubt what they believe, but because their statement makes multi-structured assumptions about reality which are not corroborated by your own experience.

    Your immediate response to that analogy would probably be, that I do not believe because I have not experienced Yahweh personally and that is why I deny His existence. This is the response I have received from a multitude of people who either deliberately avoid or are genuinely unaware of the glaring hole in this kind of rationale. Why, for example, if we’re told on one had that God is everywhere and everything; that the word God is merely a shorthand way of expressing the majesty of the universe, must we immediately anthropomorphise Him back into His biblical box—and pay no attention to the fact we have seen with our own eyes mummy kissing Santa under the mistletoe, so-to-speak.

    I’m not being small here, by the way. I am genuinely open to a new description of God which doesn’t either use the scripture of bronze-age man, or borrow heavily of scientific terminology to reverse engineer that which we now understand, but once did not and therefore assigned to the supernatural; which is a paradox by definition—and yet it is one which is observed by millions of people who are firmly in the “I believe in God, but…” camp.

    Thinking does not necessarily imply atheism, not even agnosticism.

    I think it’s important to get some semantic loops and misleading definitions out of the way here. Atheism has become almost completely useless a word, precisely because it is so widely assumed to define those who reside on the far right of agnosticism—as if agnostics are more “open” to being proven “wrong” whereas atheists are not. But this doesn’t make sense to me, at all—and I would assume this is because the word itself is “their” word for “us”; ‘atheist’ is the religious word for the non-religious, not the non-religious word for themselves.

    Every non-theist you ask a question like “why are you an atheist?” or “if not in God, then what do you believe?” will relate to what I’m saying here. It isn’t about losing faith, it’s about gaining reason. It’s good to have good reasons to believe certain things, but the notion that it is somehow morally superior to cheat yourself into believing in things that are not true; or that because someone has had a profound, transformational experience, that the only possible explanation for that experience is, by definition, a non-explanation; which satisfies itself with not knowing, is at best factious and at worst dangerous.

    But your point was about being capable of thinking not being exclusive to the non-religious—and I agree. That is why it shouldn’t be mistaken for causing deliberate insult when someone reminds the religious of what they’re instructed to believe, in terms which are free of the religious vocabulary. For example, I annoyed my father once when in a conversation we had about Papal protection of child rapists, I referred to what, as a Catholic he himself believes about “magic bread”. If I had called it “the holy communion host” I wouldn’t be being honest with him about what it is, because I do not myself believe that a ceremony can make any physical change to a cracker, so describing it in such terms would be pointless and disingenuous. But the fact that I am deemed to have caused offence, because I didn’t want to be dishonest, is a supreme irony—and one which is familiar in a variety of situations which those of us who were once religious often find ourselves in, when talking to friends and family who still attend church or hold a particular faith.

    There is a philosophical barrier which makes it impossible to either prove or disprove God

    Many of the finest philosophers the world has ever known would strongly disagree with that statement for some very good reasons, but I admire your tenacity. All I would add to what I’ve already written, is clearly there is a lack of communication between those who adopt a “better safe than sorry” stance and those of us who are perfectly happy to live in a world where our every action is not being judged according to the standards of men who presume to speak on behalf of the creator of the universe, while at the same time claiming to do so “in all humility”.

    I should also mention there are, in fact, a number of very strong logical explanations for why no God could exist. One is known as the three O’s; Omniscience, Omnipresence and Omnibenevolence and it rests on a number of irrefutable facts. The first being that no God capable of intervening to prevent, say, a natural disaster, but who chooses not to, can be considered omnibenevolent. Nor can He be considered omniscient for failing to know in advance that His inaction would result in pain and suffering. Finally, He can not be considered to exist everywhere at once, and yet absent when He is needed the most.

    The second logical disproof of God, is that He is only ever imbued with the properties of that which remains unknown. You do not better describe human biology, for example, by assigning illnesses and disease to demonic possession or an absence in the victim of sufficient faith in “God’s mysterious ways”—yet this is precisely what was thought for hundreds of years about that which we now know to be the result of entirely physical, predictable, knowable aspects to the existence of life itself. We have, in other words, completely removed the notion of God from vast areas of our understanding, not because the world is inherently “atheistic”, but because it is entirely irrational to continue believing in something when the purpose for which that belief once served has been replaced by enlightenment and true knowledge.

  52. There is a significant, essential difference between the notion of God and the notion of fictitious characters like Santa Claus. This is very important.

    I see a very significant difference between the two, namely that the word God, unlike any other, is used in relation to the final questions of existence and cosmic order. The philosophical discussion of God is very different from the philosophical discussion of unicorns. I am aware of the fact that this is not immediately “evangelical truth”, but why should we hurry?

    Concerning (dis)proving God and the philosophical barrier, I think it’d be nice to distinguish between proof and argument. The thesis I refer to is in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, and as fas as I know, it still holds.

    What you call “very strong logical explanations” are arguments, not proofs. In the first case you referred to the problem of theodicy. But the strength of this argument depends on the interpretation of suffering, which is in fact context based. In a Chinese tale (search google for “The lost mare”) a guy breaks his leg, but later this saves his life when he is not enlisted in the army, and is not killed in the hopeless battle. This does not deny the existence of pain, but shows how much our understanding of divine benevolence may depend on our immediate context. I agree, pain hurts, but what is the broadest context of pain? Is there really no broadest context? – What I’m trying to show is that apart from the logical inferences these arguments still implicitly carry heavy premises of personal choice.

    There are other arguments – on the theists’ side, too. Leibniz asked: why is there something instead of nothing? Wouldn’t nothing be simpler? Compared to nothing, ‘something’ does not seem self-evident. Well, to Leibniz, and maybe not to you. That’s why it’s an argument, and not a proof.

    I would also heartily warn you of your apparent idealism concerning englightenment and “true knowledge”. Knowledge has its definite boundaries, and the question of God is certainly beyond those boundaries. I wonder how you read Thomas Kuhn or Michael Polányi. Knowledge – and I would add, logical thinking – is based on personal experience, and expressing that experience inevitably involves the usage and often the creation of new metaphors. Even anthropomorphisms. A bronze age man could well be right in his terms of knowledge, just the same as you are wrong compared to the knowledge of the man of the far future.

    This especially applies to personal religious experience, and God. Let me quote Pannenberg: “the word God in the singular is a key word in a religiously grounded view of the world. It does not primarily describe the content of individual perceptions, nor does it function within such descriptions. It makes possible an ultimate explanation of the being of the world as a whole, namely, by creation. In this way it is also the expression and basis of the unconditional commitment which is bound up with religious experience.” (Pannenberg writes 10 nice pages on the meaning of the word ‘God’, you may enjoy reading it in his Systematic Theology.)

  53. I’ve begun writing this reply several times and failed on each attempt to be succinct in my disinterest of high theology without inadvertently sounding as if I dismiss the thoughts of people who find it engrossing.

    But I think all right minded people can agree there is a vast difference between those who assign God to “final questions of existence and cosmic order” and those who hide behind their own anthropomorphised concepts of a personal God, as a way to almost subconsciously justify to themselves a closing off from any possible disproof of the truth-claims made by their religion of choice, or individual practitioners of ‘spirituality’ that they happen to find appealing.

    The vast ‘new-age’ movement juggles often highly contradictory definitions of God for a willing audience who have rejected traditional religion and latched onto a lazy, Americanised system of confusing confusion with revelation; a framework of understanding which isn’t overly concerned with the inherent limitation on presupposing something to be true, simply because individual subscribers to that viewpoint happen to wish that it were so.

    I don’t think that Leibniz ‘something rather than nothing’ argument is very strong at all and there are plenty of ways to explain why. You might say, ‘well you would say that, wouldn’t you?’, but it did genuinely give me pause for thought when I first came across it. However, it is obvious when you think about it, that we would have that perspective on existence given that we exist. But we wouldn’t exist if we happened to find ourselves in one of the hypothetical universes which didn’t stabilise in the way ours did, after the big bang. I like to tell myself a summary of this might be ‘I am, therefore I think’, but I could be wrong.

    This might sound like it’s on the same level as some of the woo woo the crystal danglers and homeopaths get bogged down in, but if you happen to be a particle physicist, it is relatively simple to absolutely explain how matter can and does come into and go out of existence in the quantum foam all the time. There is no physical limitation on how much quantum energy can come into existence, so long as it immediately annihilates itself by that same amount and vice-versa.

    Because of this empirically observed balancing-out phenomena, inherent to the make-up and behaviour of the building blocks of everything, we can prove the total energy in the entire universe is exactly zero—not through a highly subjective modern interpretation of some ancient books, but by the exercise of intellectual honesty and the unwavering truth of arithmetic logic. In a linear universe, space-time always flows forwards; cause always precedes effect. Lawrence Krauss wrote an excellent lecture on this, which you can find on YouTube given at a variety of venues around the world.

    Unfortunately, when religionists shorten these metaphors, as you rightly describe them, they often do so in an extremely unhelpful, highly politicalised point scoring exercise, by making sweeping generalisations such as ‘atheists believe everything came from nothing’, or ‘atheists see design everywhere, yet dismiss the existence of the designer’.

    This stance constantly amazes me. Because it highlights and cheapens their own already problematic proposition, that everything came from something. This problem of infinite regress says, ‘we know for certain a creator God made all of this happen, precisely because we can’t prove it and here’s some very highbrow theology you’re not suppose to understand anymore than you do theoretical particle physics, just to make it sound like we know what we’re doing’.

    I have also found this argument being made in tandem with that of people like Dinesh D’Souza and Deepak Chopra, who say that scientists have themselves become the high priests; that they reveal the truth about human discovery in carefully crafted segments, so as to compartmentalise society into different camps. Those who embrace the practical advancements to civilisation, which science has given us and those who reject it for deeply misguided, irrational reasons. Hence every time a technological advancement in medicine is made, we see a scientist wheeled out on the evening news to be asked, “why are you playing God?”

    Then there’s the burgeoning anti-vaccine movement, which has very definite characteristics in common with the creationists and climate change denialists. These people are not worshipping a God who represents “final questions of existence and cosmic order”. They worship an intervening God who takes sides in wars, watches Fox News and votes with His wallet.

    So we can toss and turn all night on the philosophical problems and possible solutions to the subjects raised in the various books and lectures each of us can list and quote from until we’re blue in the face. But the actual problem facing us—and by us I mean humanity—isn’t solved or made any less unsurmountable by ostensibly well educated, intelligent people of good character agreeing to disagree on the fundamentals, as if that somehow makes religious extremism go away.

    I would also heartily warn you of your apparent idealism concerning englightenment [sic] and “true knowledge”

    Deductive logic doesn’t presuppose the outcome of a given problem. It removes aspects which cannot be tested until only that which can be tested remain. There is no ‘end game’ to it. There may well be no such thing as “true knowledge”, but there is such a thing as rationalism. “Wisdom”, as Frank Zappa once said, “is the domain of the whiz. And beauty is a short French cloth neck ornament, currently in resurgence.”

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  55. So what’s your intention? What would you like to do? Just to do away with all the junk, and let Science improve?

    I must say, this notion pretty much appeals to me. :D However, let me have a few comments.

    First of all, you haven’t grasped the meaning of Leibniz’s argument. To rephrase it for you: why are there any universes at all? Why are there particles that anti-annihilate? It’s not about our ability to observe it – you tried to cut it short in a tautology. Of course, being is a precondition of knowing. But once you know, you can wonder why you – or anything – exist(s) at all. This is where one may presume God.

    I am perfectly aware that this Super-Cosmic Thing is very far from a personal triune deity, let alone praying to the Virgin Mary etc. But we have to start somewhere; let’s by not throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

    Actually we are not so much into high theology now as philosophy of science. I am not persuading you to confess a faith in the resurrection of the dead – but rather to rethink the theoretical limits of science (many of which have become evident for now), and to see that you attributed a proving power to it in questions where it is inapplicable. [This is the annoying mistake of some loud activists of natural sciences, like Dawkins.]

    Actually this mistake lies behind the slogan that “atheism is a religion”. I don’t want to split hairs about the definition of atheism, and I am not inclined to justify any movement that uses this slogan. But it is simply your argumentation, demostrated on this page alone, that makes false claims and false assumptions about science. Of course, what you say could be true, but it goes beyond science. Therefore one could easily compare it to the religions’ claims in that they also go beyond science. It is a sonorous blame that “atheism is a religion”, but it is also true in this respect.

    I have no more time to write now, but to take up a previos thought, it would be useful to consider the influences that affected your upbringing. I can imagine, there was formal religion, obedience to tradition, a pressure to accept dogmas, and on the other hand there were exciting personalities like Zappa, who, apart from realizing his selfhood, tried to fight against the large scale injustice in society, which churches are heavily involved in. Your task is to analyze these influences, and distiguish between the implicit fashion and the just claim in them. – Is “Titties and Beer” on the same level as “Greggery Peckery”? (Well, unless it makes you curious who Stravinsky was. :D ) Or “The Jazz Discharge Party Hats…” the same level as “Re-gyptian strut”?… I like Zappa’s music, and I don’t like to say bad critique on him, but every now or then he is just a little too stupid.

    To cut it short: understanding the motives that come from your childhood may help you see your own bias, and may occasionally make you understand those with a different childhood and bias, and to help them in a constructive way towards the same thing that you yourself seek: truth.

  56. First of all, you haven’t grasped the meaning of Leibniz’s argument.

    Yes, I have, I just wandered off a bit. I’m jousting with you on one side and a young-Earth creationist on the other. There aren’t enough hours in the day. Forgive me.

    To rephrase it for you: why are there any universes at all? Why are there particles that anti-annihilate? It’s not about our ability to observe it – you tried to cut it short in a tautology. Of course, being is a precondition of knowing. But once you know, you can wonder why you – or anything – exist(s) at all. This is where one may presume God.

    Did you just use the word presume? OK, presume away. Let’s presume, shall we, that the reason fundamental particles behave in such weird ways is that they’re echoes of some alien civilisation messing with us for shits and giggles and we’re all in some test-tube at E.T’s frat party. How did E.T. get there? Who created E.T? Who created E.T’s creator? You can’t side-step the problem of infinite regress by presuming anything. You just can’t. You might want to, but you can’t. Why? Because you can’t, that’s why. Oh, no don’t give me those puppy dog eyes, “Oh but please, daddy”, there’s no two ways about it. Sorry, life’s a bitch then you marry one. Deal with it.

    I am perfectly aware that this Super-Cosmic Thing is very far from a personal triune deity, let alone praying to the Virgin Mary etc. But we have to start somewhere; let’s by not throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

    You’re appealing to what I’ve heard called—and quite like—Einstein’s god, just as mathematicians invoke infinity when what they really mean is, “we don’t know”. But it doesn’t get you any closer to understanding anything and, if anything, it simply makes matters worse—because if you were to somehow figure out a way of referring to “it” without anthropomorphising “it” back into “it’s” biblical box, all you’re doing is relabelling the unknown with a concept so loaded with mythology, superstition and flat out lies the only people you’d be placating by using the word god, when any other one apart from god would be fifty times less problematic, would be the very sort of non-thinking mouth breathers who use the word God for the very reasons we’re trying to remove from the problem in the first place.

    Actually we are not so much into high theology now as philosophy of science. I am not persuading you to confess a faith in the resurrection of the dead – but rather to rethink the theoretical limits of science (many of which have become evident for now), and to see that you attributed a proving power to it in questions where it is inapplicable. [This is the annoying mistake of some loud activists of natural sciences, like Dawkins.]

    I wouldn’t have Dawkins job for all the tea in China. He doesn’t always get it right, I agree. But his writing previous to him becoming the face of baby killing, liberal, socialist, non-Fox News watching heathens is sublime. The Ancestors Tale in particular.

    But, I get it. And of course the wonderful thing about science is that it constantly transcends its apparent limitations. Popper, for example, never tried to gloss over the problem of falsifiability over irrefutability, he just accepted it. Moreover, the creative endeavour and uniquely human element essential in all discoveries isn’t something we would do away with given a chance in any case. We don’t hanker for a day when the machine will do all science for us, so we can watch endless Britain’s Got Talent re-runs, because we seek out new ideas all the time, simply for the sake of seeking them out. We’re aware of our history. We stand on the shoulders of Faraday and Newton, Feynman and Dirac—methodical, practical true men of science, whose work is remembered precisely because they joined the dots; made sense of things that had previously been known to have some relationship, but no-one had been able to connect. That electric jelly in their head no different physiologically to yours and mine and yet somehow more capable of sparking shorter, quicker, more beautiful neural pathways through a problem than even those formed in the minds of their more then capable contemporaries. The limits of the scientific method are not the limits of creativity and innovation. There’s more than one way to break an egg.

    ‘Jazz Discharge Party Hats’ is a masterpiece, as is ‘The Radio Is Broken’.

  57. ‘Jazz Discharge Party Hats’ is a masterpiece, as is ‘The Radio Is Broken’.

    Oh, I did not want to say the contrary. I just wanted to note that if you like Mozart for his “Musikalischer Spaß”, or Johann Strauß for his “Magic Bullets Polka”, that’s alright until you start to give too much credit to the composers’ theological utterations. At the same time I must admit I live more than a spit’s distance away from Albuquerque, NM, so I probably don’t get all the cultural references.

    Who created E.T? Who created E.T’s creator?

    That’s a good point. But it’s not that easy. Creation is not a cause in the natural sense, or at least I don’t imagine it that way. (Thomas of Aquinas’ “five ways” were the classical attempts to make God a first cause, but Kant’s refutation of them seems to work. As it usually is, the refutation is also disputed – Alvin Plantinga is one contester -, but the force of this enterprise is beyond my knowledge.)

    Anyway, it’s a question like, if there is a cause of causality itself, whether it can be considered a cause in the “ordinary” sense. Exciting question to explore.

    You feel it right that what we are talking about is way into the domain of “we don’t know”. I’d add that it also seems to be in the narrower domain of “one can’t know”. Yet I insist that it’s more than bronze-age mythology or projected subconscious. Compare it to the following: note that you are not only the object of your thinking, but also its subject. Being the subject of your thinking – and your whole life – may be the object of your thinking, yet it’s more than just a thought. It’s your life, your experience in its fullness – any thought, description or explanation of it is only secondary. Since science is on the level of your thinking, it will always remain secondary compared to your experience. (Try to prove to yourself that you exist.) Yet when you say “I am”, you don’t doubt, although it is outside of scientific knowledge.

    Similarly, I would not say that naming God would make me understand anything. Referring to Pannenberg’s words again, for me it is a keyword that I use for my experience, and in which (I hope) I can find a reference to others’ experience of the same.

    As a final word about infinite regress, it seems to me that physicists fight with it when they say things like “the Universe has created itself”, raping language – or at least the semantic structure of the word “create”. The common talk about the “multiverse” or parallel worlds sounds better in that they pry into the unknowable (if I get the notion of singularities right: so if the Big Bang was one, then you can’t see through it by the means of physics). But I may be wrong here, I am not at home in physics. Yet. :)

    The limits of the scientific method are not the limits of creativity and innovation. There’s more than one way to break an egg.

    I agree, but this was not my point. I agree in the sense as there is creativity in playing chess. Not in going off the board, but in the game itself. At the same time I stop to wonder who we are playing it (perhaps off the board? to keep the analogy), and wonder about the fact that it’s not us who invented the game.

    …if you were to somehow figure out a way of referring to “it” without anthropomorphising “it” back into “it’s” [sic] biblical box, all you’re doing is relabelling the unknown with a concept so loaded with mythology, superstition and flat out lies the only people you’d be placating by using the word god, when any other one apart from god would be fifty times less problematic, would be the very sort of non-thinking mouth breathers who use the word God for the very reasons we’re trying to remove from the problem in the first place.

    Maybe you are just too obsessed with fighting them. As I try to show you, there is more to the “god concept” than young-Earth activists. If you are that interested. [And an interesting aspect of this would be: why are you this obsessed with fighting them? What has started you, and what is your goal? – But this is your private investigation.]

    Personally, I don’t consider this discussion jousting. I rather like to discuss things for our mutual benefit.

    Would you send a link to the other thread with the creationist? Perhaps I can save you some time to deal with more uplifting thoughts.

  58. I would just like to openly say: Last month a very young and dear friend of mine had a golf ball sized tumor inside of her. It was there for quite some time. The morning of the operation, it was there. Everything was normal (You can already tell how the story will end!). Througout the day, they checked for it; it was still there. Before the operation, they checked for it. It was still there.

    However, when they began the surgery, it was gone. Completely. And there are obviously MANY witnesses to testify.

    Now you tell me, what scientific law or act of the body can completely make a golf ball sized tumor disappear? In that short amount of time? I have not changed the story at all. This is indeed what happened.

    Finally, it’s nice to see people defending the faith that was clearly proven to me time and time again and that people Like the posts!

    P.S. One of my mentors witnessed a man with extremely deformed legs be healed before her very eyes. She is a Musical Arts teacher and is known greatly around the world.
    I can go on for hours about these stories!

  59. Dyan. There is no doubt whatsoever that people all around the world have profoundly moving and transformative experiences that they readily attribute to their particular God. But as you can see from the vibrant debate on this and other threads of this blog, on this issue, believing that something is caused by the unexplained, by definition, does not automatically make it, therefore, explained.

    I am not saying that your particular experience was anything other than an incredible one for both you and those who witnessed it. But it should be noted that the burden of proof is not upon those who say this was not, in fact, a miraculous intervention, to prove otherwise. The burden of proof is upon those who make extraordinary claims to present extraordinary evidence, not the other way around.

    I know you say the healing alone is evidence enough for you, but—although I might be personally tempted to say it is compelling enough for me too—my personal opinion is of no importance. It is what can be proven to be true which takes primacy in all instances like this, because the implications for assuming that what we want to be true is the matter of the fact, as opposed to what might be in fact the case, are so enormous that we cannot and should not belittle or cheapen the experience, merely in our own self-interest.

    I think this is an extremely important point, so let me expand. If you say, presumably, Yahweh intervened in this case, the immediate question is why did He require 21st century medicine to put your friend through so much painful treatment before surgery, when He could have chosen not to infect her with the illness in the first place? Why all the worry of going under the knife, if He could have simply made the tumour disappear before it formed? Why, indeed, did He chose to intervene on behalf of someone being taken care of by the best doctors a modern education can buy, while millions of destitute people, all equally created in His image—as you would say—go without even the basics of modernity every day; clean drinking water, antibiotics, contraception and so on? What was so unique, forgive me, about your friend that made her more special, to Him, than everyone else who could use a bit of divine intervention now and then?

    You see the problem? If you claim it for one, you must claim it for all—otherwise you’re simply suggesting that in your particular case, you were deemed more worthy than anyone else, of His attention—in which case you’ve merely proved, by your own insistence that a miracle is the only possible explanation for what you witnessed—that He is neither omnipotent nor omnibenevolent.

    This is, I admit, another one of those occasions where, as an atheist, I might be accused of “spoiling the magic”. But note I did not say what you witnessed was not an incredible experience, far from it—I’m sure it was a profoundly moving one. But why, would be my last question to you, do you have to insist it was something more than what it was? Isn’t it good enough that your friend is alive and well to fight another day, that you must also attribute their recovery to something which, by definition, precludes a perfectly rational explanation—not to mention a potentially highly significant medical breakthrough.

    And perhaps that is the difference between you and me and people as different and yet as similar as we are in general. Whereas you are content to see the hand of God in this, I am merely curious to know what new techniques and treatments the doctors used to bring about her recovery—for make no mistake, that is why your friend is well again. Regardless of whether or not the more logical explanations don’t always seem particularly comforting, they are nevertheless the truth—which I happen to believe is worth defending—even if it sometimes means offending someone’s cherished beliefs.

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