Thursday, April 13, 2006

Consistency of thought

One of the reasons why I left Christianity is that, as a Christian, I got tired of employing what I perceived as double standards when choosing what to believe. I will explain with the following analogy.

Imagine if we mix a group of atheists and conservative Christians in a lecture room, and a speaker comes in and claims that she/he had witnessed a dog speaking English. Would everyone in the audience believe that claim? I would imagine that both atheist and Christian listeners would immediately be skeptical, and both groups might request some form of evidence from the speaker. Why?

Well, firstly, the talking dog claim is inconsistent with our personal experience of dogs. Each of us, during our lives, have probably interacted thousands of times with our furry friends, but not one of those experiences involved a dog that could actually recite Shakespeare.


Second, if we read some veterinary journals, we learn that the larynx, mouth and brain of a dog are not adequate or complex enough to formulate human speech. In other words, the talking dog claim is inconsistent with our current knowledge of how the world generally seems to work. So until very good evidence is brought forward, we withhold belief in the speaker’s claim. This only seems rational, right?

The reason why I started to doubt Christianity is that I suddenly realised that although both Christian and atheist in this hypothetical lecture room would react with natural skeptism towards the talking dog claim, the Christian is the one who might not be skeptical of, and even might defend, a 3400 year old manuscript’s claim that a donkey once spoke (Numbers 22:28-30). Is this not inconsistent?

Christianity makes a whole lot of incredible claims. It makes the claim that humans have souls and that there is life after death; that spiritual beings called demons and angles, which we cannot see, wage war in the world around us; that the saviour of our world - the son of God, born of a virgin - was sent to earth, died and raised from the dead; that the red sea was parted; that the sun stood still for a day; that all other faith systems, thousands of them throughout history, systems that have been followed by millions, are basically false (John 14:6); that the relatively young religion of Christianity is the ultimate truth and thus contains the ultimate meaning of life and the universe in which we live.

All these claims contradict much of what we presently know about the world and much of what we have experienced as individuals. How can an atheist be blamed for not believing these claims? After all, when evaluating the two similar claims of the talking dog and the talking donkey, the atheist is simply being consistent.

20 comments:

Simon said...

Good post.

They say "Prove God doesn't exist."

I say "Do you believe everything whose non-existence can't be proved? Do you believe in fairies? Why not? More importantly, if the person running your country announced he seriously believed in fairies and spoke to them every day, wouldn't you instantly demand he/she be thrown out of office?"

Yet atheists are supposed to be happy when the person running our country says he talks to his imaginary god.

Dar said...

This reminds of a guy I work with who claims that god speaks to him with an audible voice and that he has healing ability. My grandfather made similar claims in the months before was diagnosed a schizophrenic. Perhaps talking donkeys, snakes, burning bushes and the like are simply undiagnosed head cases.

Jason Hughes said...

This is when my mother would interject with, "Through God, all things are possible." And I reply with "Whatever."

So even if today they wouldn't believe in the talking dog, they'll believe it happened back in the day with a donkey, all thanks to that fuzzy-warm faith of theirs...

JustinOther said...

Exactly...That's what is so hard to believe (not the talking dog). That so many believe with all they have in something as believable as a talking dog.

It astounds me that rational, intelligent people can and do allow themselves to be deluded into believing in something so utterly unbelievable.

As Sam Harris says in "Absence of Faith":

Tell a devout Christian that his wife is cheating on him, or that frozen yogurt can make a man invisible, and he is likely to require as much evidence as anyone else, and to be persuaded only to the extent that you give it. Tell him that the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept its every incredible claim about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence whatsoever

r10b said...

I can understand your trouble with the claims of Judaism and Christianity not squaring at times with your understanding, but what would this world look like if all that could exist or occur were things that Kevin Parry could explain.

The atheist's refrain that "God can't exist 'cause I can't fully comprehend Him" is incoherent and inconsistent. Incoherent in that if God did exist you still couldn't fully comprehend him. Inconsistent in that you believe in many things that you can't comprehend.

If you are at all like me the things you can explain are incomprehensibly dwarfed by things of which you are completely unaware. I prefer to allow my universe to include such things that are beyond the scope of my understanding and imagination.

...and criticism from those whose world can be no greater than their limited knowledge allows is hardly threatening.

Kevin Parry said...

Hi R10b

This is thought provoking stuff! Thank you.

Do you think that there is a difference between believing in something because we can comprehend it, and believing in something because there is evidence for it? For example, I know absolutely nothing about aerodynamics – I cannot comprehend this field at all – but this doesn’t stop me believing in the fact that aircraft do in fact fly.

The atheist's refrain that "God can't exist 'cause I can't fully comprehend Him" is incoherent and inconsistent.

I agree with this point of yours. There are many things in this world – things that I do know about and things I don’t know about – that I can’t comprehend. It is illogical to conclude that these do not exist because they don’t make sense to my limited understanding of the world. This is where I think the strong atheist has a problem.

My position, however, is that of a weak atheist. I am fully aware that God might exist outside the sphere of my understanding. Therefore, I will never claim that God does not exist. Rather, my position is this: at this current time, I don’t believe God exists. There is a subtle, but important, difference between being convinced that God doesn’t exist, and not being convinced that he does exist.

All the best
Kevin

Jay Saul said...

Got here via your post on Without Gods--Mitch Stephens blog.

Is there something so beyond our understanding and awareness that creates the universe?

This is my pat answer: God spoke to me once and only once. He said, and I am paraphrasing because he did not use words, "Everything ever said about me or what I do or care about is a lie, including this. That is all."

One does not have to be an atheist or an agnostic or believe in any isms to feel the mysterious and wonderful and awful and constant creation of the world.

Asking questions we do not have the understanding to answer results in one of two things: 1) you search and search and never find the answers, living in perpetual frustration and conflict or 2) you decide you must have an answer and you make one up or use one someone else gives you. Having the wrong answer to questions beyond us is the most dangerous us of our brains. Unfortunately it seems to be very much in most of our natures.

noell said...

Excellent post, Kevin! Also, excellent response to r10B.

I was still going to church long after I was sure it was all wrong because I couldn't quite let go. It was the talking donkey story during Sunday School one day that drove away all remaining desires to go back the following week. These adults were talking about the story, laughing about how shocked the donkey owner must have been; what a funny joke for God to play on a person. And I couldn't believe these people didn't even question the validity of the story.

Still, I never thought of it quite in the terms you put it. I am going to write a blog entry about this post and link to it either tonight or tomorrow.

Casey Kochmer said...

I spent some time writing about issues of religion. I would be curious to see what you think about:

http://www.personaltao.com/tao/religion.pdf

The issue is so many people use religion for so many different reasons, yet so few really understand what religion is really for: a practice of acceptance. So much more time is spent shoring up fables or stories or beliefs, so little time spent accepting ones own nature...

r10b said...

Kevin,

As usual a thoughtful reply.

What's the difference between evidence and comprehension? To my mind (not that this is the best definition) to comprehend entails being able to get all the way around an idea intellectually so that nothing of the idea is left extending beyond the borders of my intellect (but allowing that I may not be expert in all the details).

"Evidence" is a piece of knowledge that supports an idea.

I doubt that you would say that there is no "evidence" for any of the claims of Christianity or the existence of God in general. I could produce a long list of books proposing some or other evidence, and I could speak to my personal evidences if you do. Would they be enough to convince you? Does it really matter? I think not.

I don't believe that God is out to convince humanity of his existence. Like you I would say he's doing a sub-par job of it if that's his plan. As I have said before, the plan according to the bible (and my experience) is:

1. Grace
2. Faith
3. Proof

My prayer for you is that you leave at least a portion of your heart/soul/mind open to working of God's grace.

***
As for the odds for that talking donkey, I'd say they are a lot higher than the incredibly long string of billion-to-one's that lead from nothing exploding into everything to us sitting hear having this conversation. Calculate that possiblility!

Casey Kochmer said...

in regards to the statement:
> billion-to-one's that lead from nothing exploding into everything

whoa dont get caught in the trap of probability. once something has happen, the odds dont make a difference, as odds are based on logical assumptions. the chance of the universe happening isnt a billon to one or a trillon to one. its one to one: as it happened!

now how it happened? why worry about the reasons, when we are here to make life what we make it to be, not what we wish the odds of it to be.

When getting caught in the trap of tryin g to defend world views or religions or god, its a losing proposition and takes away from ones actual nature. It doesn't matter as it happened and its up to us to live life, and how we live life has nothing to do with godsince we have free will (or the illusion depending on your view) to live as we are.

but again it boils down to acceptance, as people defend their religion since deep down it feels like the acceptance of their own nature is called into doubt. When that should not be the case at all since acceptance should originate from the inside of who we are.

MonoApe said...

r10b: "The atheist's refrain that "God can't exist 'cause I can't fully comprehend Him" is incoherent and inconsistent."

Firstly, atheists do not say that - it's more like "there is no evidence, so I don't believe the fairytale".

Secondly, turn your logic around to yourself - do you say "leprechauns cannot exist 'cause I can't fully comprehend them"? No, you don't believe in leprechauns because there's no evidence for them.

Finally, your lack of understanding of how the universe came in to existence and how we arrived here is not a winning argument for "god did it".

BB said...

Is it morally wrong to search for and find answers to life's deep questions, that ultimately don't lead to god? Science, skepticism, and reason don't claim to explain everything, but to seek the truth, supported by evidence. Religion assumes that, if an explanation is not currently known, the default answer must be god! There's something remarkably short-sighted and self-defeating about needing to explain the unexplained by way of myths and fairy tales.

Anonymous said...

i would love to know your thoughts and beliefs if not christianity?...

Anonymous said...

Well that's why you have to have faith. You have to believe in something and i believe in Christ and the promise that we will live forever in a wonderful and great place with Him. Well you don't have to believe in something but everybody follows something believe it or not, you're either doing good things or bad things. I believe God does talk and guide you if you let him. I think of it more like a relationship not a thing you have to do or are forced to do. he gives you a choice and it's your decision to take it or not. I'm not a hypocrit or anything because I could most certainly improve my relationship with God.

RP.West said...

It seems to me everyone takes the bible for something it isn't.
Literal rather than an expression of an idea.
An Idea that isn't easily conveyed without metaphors and symbolism to tickle your brain a little deeper.
Maybe all purpose of religion is going over the religious fanatics heads.

Personally I think the scriptures belonging to any dieties, are invaluable.

But they've been twisted down the line, misunderstood, and revised by fools who ruined great things for everyone.
Notice the patterns in all prophecy and scripture.
They all point to the same idea.
They all speak the same.

these patters, metaphors and symbols are meant to educate and advance.
NOT make sheep of us.

An atheist is one who walks around a dark house and refuses to seek light and turns it down when offered.
and most who choose religion, are in the same house accepting a hand to follow. but also refusing light.

No offense to anyone, but both very foolish.

Both need to question, both need presence and absence to understand.
it's about knowledge of self.

"if you seek the Kingdom of God in the sky then the birds will precede
you. And if you seek it in the sea, then the fish will precede you,
but the Kingdom is in you. And if you know yourself then you know the
Kingdom of God."

Know yourself.
Don't naively adopt ideas and false realities.
also don't choose to not know.

A donkey won't chat it up with you. but who's to say it doesn't speak in ways other than language?

I've witnessed small fractions of the all in people and it's more than you'd think.
atheism and religion are a waste.
closed eyes, and mass lies.

Seek knowledge. on levels higher than physical perception.
a donkey can't speak because certain laws of nature do not permit it.
think of what those same laws have done for our perception.
What do we have trouble perceiving.

All I'm saying is everyone out there be thinkers and lead yourself in the right direction, and that direction is whatever promotes your growth on many levels.

my 21st birthday just passed and I vowed to myself to spend less time on the internet.
so, here I am at 3:55 am.
Writing things that no one will listen to.
I have a belated birthday request.
Give me positive feedback on what I wrote. I doubt I'll be back here to see them. just knowing someone might be stimulated from this is enough of a gift for me.

Anonymous said...

In my observation, ultimately there is no convincing a religious person to change their mind.

The person who believes based on Faith does not care about logic, they just believe & it is enough.

The person who asks "is this logical" has no interest in following a baseless faith.

These are contradicting personality types.

The person who believes faith needs it. If not this religion it will be something else. Just as the logical person will not start believing in random unprovable crap.

In my 35 years I have yet to meet any practicing Christian who is objective/logical about their belief. After age 25 I stopped challenging every religious figure (pastor, priest, etc.) I could find to debate.. I had already stopped discussing any of this with followers... as none of them made any sense.

I never got an answer that convinced me logically to go back to Christianity.

The only objective argument I ever came up with was: What was the first thing, before atoms, etc. that existed? Can that be called "God"? If so, that fact alone used as a basis for following any organized religion?

Otherwise religion for me is just a tool for organizing people & creating community. Just as you misuse a hammer, it can be misused as well. The only religious events I attend must adhere to the same requirements as any event I attend: They will be fun or there is a good moral action I want to support.

Anonymous said...

believing in the THEORY of Evolution is just as much faith as Christianity. If they had conclusive proof that evolution is how the world was formed it would be called the LAW of Evolution. It is called a THEORY because while it has not been completely proven, it has not been proven wrong. With Christianity there are scientific events that fit in with what the Bible says however there is no conclusive proof that what is in the Bible happened. Either way you are following on an act of faith so while many of you are saying why would you believe in Christianity and not Evolution. I say the opposite

Kevin Parry said...

Hi Anonymous

If you are correct, then you are believing in the existence of rainbows and germs on faith as well. After all, if you do a simple search on how rainbows form, you will see that scientists call it 'rainbow theory' (see here) and with regards to germs: 'germ theory' (see here) .

I suggest you do some reading on what the word 'theory' really means in the scientific context.

Anonymous said...

got everything right about the Bible apart from. . . #notbelieving