Monday, June 18, 2007

Why is God so concerned about my beliefs?

For some reason, belief seems to be quite important to God. And I can’t figure out why.

The God of conservative Christianity asks that I first believe in him before he initiates a relationship with me. Why this prerequisite? Not only does he set this as a requirement, but he also holds accountable those who do not believe in him. According to conservative Christianity, a mass murderer who has accepted Jesus will go to heaven, but a person who has a lived a moral life caring for others, but who has not accepted the Gospel, will go to hell (John 20:29 and John 3:16). It makes no sense to me why the personal, mundane and victimless action of belief (or unbelief) is such a big deal to the creator of the universe.

As Richard Dawkins writes in The God Delusion (page 104):

But why, in any case, do we so readily accept the idea that the one thing you must do if you want to please God is believe in him? What’s so special about believing? Isn’t it just as likely that God would reward kindness, or generosity, or humility? Or sincerity?

Martin Luther King, Jr., in his great speech in Washington, DC, on 28 August 1963, spelt out his dream of a land where his children would not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character. He realised, as many of us do, how unjust it is to use skin colour, over and above character, as a way to measure a person. Isn’t it just as unjust to judge someone by the thoughts that they hold, over and above what they are as individuals? This was one of the great stumbling blocks that I faced as a struggling Christian: I couldn’t understand why believing in stuff like the cross, Jesus, and the Trinity was so important to salvation, seemingly more important than goodness, kindness or honesty. God may not be a racist, but he certainly seems to discriminate along lines of belief.

Richard Carrier, also concerned by this aspect of conservative Christian theology, writes in Sense and Goodness without God (page 17):

The good judge others by their character, not by their beliefs, and punish deeds, not thoughts, and punish only to teach, not to torture.

I’m with Carrier here: when I left Christianity, I decided that thoughts are not as important as deeds; that when I meet a person for the first time, I should evaluate that person according to who they are as individuals, and how they treat other people – not according to their skin colour, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs.

Why doesn’t God do the same?

56 comments:

Devil said...

Haven't your heard it? God is dead.

Devil, The.

Fred Schoeman said...

It seems that "conservative" Christianity has put some warped thoughts about wat "belief" is all about in you head. In real Christianity belief and deeds go together.

Magdalene said...

I'm also an ex-Christian. Ex minister's wife too. I look back at some of the nonsensical beliefs I used to have and wonder where my brain went for all those years. I believe it's all quite insidious actually and that Christianity according to church doctrine amounts to little more than brainwashing, and very dangerous brainwashing when in the hands of fundamentalists. It's amazing when out from under the influence, people manage to start thinking for themselves again. I think that Jesus of Nazareth was a great spiritual teacher and set us some worthy challenges. He'd probably be groaning, head in hands if he could see the corruptive, hypocritical and dangerous nonsense the church has made of his message.

Laughing Boy said...

The God of conservative Christianity asks that I first believe in him before he initiates a relationship with me. Why this prerequisite?

You're kidding, right? Common sense would tell you that acknowledging another's existence is required for any kind of relationship with them. Of course, God can make Himself known to unbelievers; He has done so from ancient times to the present. Still, mere acknowledgement necessarily precedes a relationship.

(Dawkins): But why, in any case, do we so readily accept the idea that the one thing you must do if you want to please God is believe in him?...Isn’t it just as likely that God would reward kindness [or] generosity [or] humility [or] sincerity?

I think Dawkins would agree that our knowledge of any God would be limited to what He revealed to us since we could not comprehend Him unaided. Read Matthew 25:34-46, The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. What criteria does Jesus use to separate those who will live forever with him from those who won't? How does this fit with Dawkins' assertion?

Isn’t it just as unjust to judge someone by the thoughts that they hold, over and above what they are as individuals [as it is to judge them by their skin color]?

Skin color has no effect on a person's character, but their thoughts do. In fact our character, who we are as individuals, is determined in large part, if not in totality, by our thoughts and beliefs. A foundational principle of psychology is that people's motives drive their actions. As fallible humans, we can't confidently judge (inner) motives so (outward) actions are our criteria. We would judge more fairly if we judged motives, but we can't. God can and does. (1 Sam. 16:7b).

Why doesn’t God do the same [as MLK and Kevin]

I wonder if Reverend King thought that he was better than God?

Laughing Boy said...

magdalene...I think that Jesus of Nazareth was a great spiritual teacher and set us some worthy challenges.

Why do you think that Jesus was a great spiritual teacher? What are the worthy challenges he set for us? What makes you think he set them? What makes them worthy?

Laughing Boy said...

Sorry...two more things for magdalene

[Jesus would] probably be groaning, head in hands if he could see the corruptive, hypocritical and dangerous nonsense the church has made of his message.

How do you know what his message was?
What was it?

Lui said...

"Of course, God can make Himself known to unbelievers; He has done so from ancient times to the present."

But how has he? Does it seem at all odd to you that the vast majority of elite scientists (such as those good enough to be admitted into the Royal Society or the National Academy of Sciences) are outright atheists or agnostics? (of course, since correlation does not qual causation, this could mean different things. Perhaps these scientists entered science with no belief in God, perhaps they lost their faith after practising science, or perhaps it's a mixture of the two) These people are in a very good position to intercept and analyse any evidence for God. Whenever a satisfactory answer for the working of a phenomenon has been uncovered, it has had nothing to do with God, yet many keep on giving God the benefit of the doubt, hoping that he will be vindicated but nevertheless still believing in him in the mean time in the absence of evidence.

Laughing Boy said...

I'd rather stick to Kevin's topic, but since lui has tossed me such a softball just can't resist taking a swing.

I have no doubt that the vast majority of elite scientists are atheists or agnostics. The vast majority of just about every profession are atheists or agnostics. Can you prove to me that scientists have a firmer grasp of ultimate truth than artists or economists or line cooks?

I have no more idea than you do about the religious beliefs of the each of the members of the Royal Society or the National Academy of Sciences. I do know the very foundations of modern science and the scientific method were laid by men of faith like Roger Bacon, Thomas Acquinas, and William of Ockham. And that we all owe thanks, respect, and possibly even our lives to men like Pascal, Galileo, Copernicus, Newton, and Pasteur? Even Darwin had his Asa Gray.

I've recently read two books by highly-regarded contemporary scientists who are Christians; God's Universe by Owen Gingerich and The Language of God by Francis Collins who are both in a very good position to intercept and analyse any evidence for God, and they come to other conclusions.

So if your point were merely that most scientists are not theists, you would probably be right. But your point seems to be that anybody with an ounce of working gray matter would drop their notion of a omniscient, omnipotent, personal God after their first college bio class. About this your are most definitely wrong.

Let me close with a quote from a scientist from the atheist-agnostic camp, Steven J. Gould:

"To say it for all my colleagues and for the umpteenth million time: science simply cannot (by its legitimate methods) adjudicate the issue of God's possible superintendence of nature. We neither affirm or deny it; we simply can't comment on it as scientists. If some of our crowd have made untoward statements claiming that Darwinism disproves God, then I will find Mrs. McInerney and have their knuckles rapped for it."

Later he adds..."Either half my colleagues are enormously stupid, or else the science of Darwinism is fully compatible with conventional religious beliefs—and equally compatible with atheism."

Lui said...

"I have no doubt that the vast majority of elite scientists are atheists or agnostics. The vast majority of just about every profession are atheists or agnostics. Can you prove to me that scientists have a firmer grasp of ultimate truth than artists or economists or line cooks?"

You seem to think that someone like a priest does, however. Why? Compared to a scientist, what reasons have they ever given us to take their claims seriously?
To answer your question though: I can't PROVE that scientists have a better handle on ultimate truth. There may be truths that science will never be able to answer. But that doesn't give anyone the license to make up explanations to suit their fancy, and then market them as “deep truths” that (conveniently?) press all the right emotional buttons. All I'm saying is that scientists are the ones who actually study the universe instead of simply making extraordinary claims about it that they can't back up. It's funny how dismissive your tone is, by the way, as though science were just another opinion, as though the practitioners of scientists were NO better qualified to answer deep questions than anyone else, even though they're the only ones deploying a rigorous methodology in attempting to answer those questions. People find it convenient to bag science when it suits them; it doesn't provide them with the emotional comforts and parochial delusions of faith, so there "must" be more; there “has to be” something. Why? Because what would life be like without a "purpose"? The prevalence of this argument from consequence, of course, while having nothing to do with science, can still be examined in its own right, to try to see why it is so widespread and wrongfully thought so compelling.

"I have no more idea than you do about the religious beliefs of the each of the members of the Royal Society or the National Academy of Sciences. I do know the very foundations of modern science and the scientific method were laid by men of faith like Roger Bacon, Thomas Acquinas, and William of Ockham. And that we all owe thanks, respect, and possibly even our lives to men like Pascal, Galileo, Copernicus, Newton, and Pasteur? Even Darwin had his Asa Gray."

These "men of faith" had to struggle against the prevailing religious orthodoxy of their time lest they be labelled heretics. And pretty much everyone at that time had a belief in a God of some sort. Today that remains largely the case, except for the scientists. These men prevailed DESPITE the restrictions imposed on them; they weren't facilitated by the religious establishment, and it doesn't follow that their scientific discoveries flowed from their religious faith. It took three and half centuries for the Roman Catholic Church to vindicate Galileo (for reasons I can't quite fathom, Carl Sagan, in his otherwise admirable book "The Demon Haunted World", seems to think this acknowledgment on the Church's part to be "courageous". I tend to think that the Church was only out to save itself from looking ridiculous) and over one century for them to acknowledge that Darwinian evolution is "more than just a theory". According to Stephen Hawking, Pope John Paul II told him not to inquire into the origins of the universe; his Holiness was apparently adamant that "such matters" are the exclusive domain of religion. It's a good thing that the scientific establishment doesn't take orders from the Vatican.

"I've recently read two books by highly-regarded contemporary scientists who are Christians; God's Universe by Owen Gingerich and The Language of God by Francis Collins who are both in a very good position to intercept and analyse any evidence for God, and they come to other conclusions."

Then he should get that "evidence" published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. It would herald a major intellectual breakthrough and would be front-page news all over the world. Collin's book (admittedly I haven't read it) apparently made the amazing claim that he surrendered to Jesus Christ after seeing a beautiful waterfall (is this true?). Being human, even top scientists can compartmentalise their priorities.

"Let me close with a quote from a scientist from the atheist-agnostic camp, Steven J. Gould:"

Why are you showing me this? Are you trying to tell me that scientists have nothing to say about God's existence unless those scientists are also theists? You would have me believe that Collins has the evidence, yet here you're presenting me with the words of an atheist-agnostic scientist who would disqualify science from having anything to say about God's existence. One doesn't back up the other; they are different positions (both erroneous, in my view). Gould's Non-Overlapping Magesteria was possibly his attempt to bend over backwards to religious irrationality as a conciliatory gesture. He didn't want religion interfering in science (as it has done for centuries), and thought it best that the two camps should not be in direct conflict. But of course, to say that God created the universe immediately falls under the rubric of science, for you are stating something about how the universe came to be as it is. As Dawkins has retorted: "How is that not a scientific question?"

CyberKitten said...

lui said: Why are you showing me this? Are you trying to tell me that scientists have nothing to say about God's existence unless those scientists are also theists?

I don't think that the God Question is actually a scientific one - its a philosophical question. Science can most certainly *undermine* the 'Case for God' by continually providing Naturalistic explanations for phenomena but it doesn't directly address the core issue. It is outside it's remit (and rightly so).

Evolution in particular does not disprove the existence of God. Many Christians certainly believe in both without too much effort. What Evolution can do is explain - very well indeed - the amazing diversity of life on Earth. It provides a very detailed natural explanation of what we see around us. Though it does not directly address the God Question it provides an alternative explanation to Genesis and various so-called 'Design theories' that crop up from time to time.

Science can help to provide negative evidence for Gods existence but I doubt if Science alone can actually disprove it - even if such a proof is possible.

Oh, as an aside I am of the firm belief that Science has nothing to be 'forgiven' for by any Church or Religious belief system.

Laughing Boy said...

lui...These "men of faith" had to struggle against the prevailing religious orthodoxy of their time lest they be labelled heretics.

Really? I think you're assuming the Galileo incident was typical. It wasn't. Even so, I'm not defending the Church, but God, who, from time to time, has very little to do with the Church.

they weren't facilitated by the religious establishment

Again, really? I think the church facilitated much of the art and science between Constantine and the Marquis de Launy.

and it doesn't follow that their scientific discoveries flowed from their religious faith

Right. It flowed from their inquisitive, insightful and highy intelligent minds. Did they turn off their minds when they thought about God? There's every reason to think they didn't.

My point is not that Christian scientists can prove God's existence, but that your assertion—nobody who understands how nature works believes in God—is plainly wrong.

cyberkitten...Science can help to provide negative evidence for Gods existence...

Possibly, for those who think God must necessarily act upon nature only in unexplainable ways.

For example, as a child I imagined that when God parted the Red Sea for Moses and company, that a big invisible pair of hands dammed the water causing it to rise up as if held back by glass walls with all the little fishies bumping their noses up against it. But the Exodus account gives a natural explanation: strong winds blowing all night. So if winds blew all night and dried a path through the swampy Sea of Reeds, must I conclude God had nothing to do with it?

Science has also provided evidence against atheistic presumptions, e.g., the Steady State Theory. Remember, Einstein added his notorious "fudge factor" soley to avoid the theistic implications. To his credit, he ultimately let the evidence speak, and though he never embraced any form of Judeo-Christian theism it was not his understanding of science that held him back.

Laughing Boy said...

lui...I forgot something...

Gould's Non-Overlapping Magesteria was possibly his attempt to bend over backwards to religious irrationality as a conciliatory gesture.

Possibly, but very unlikely. With post-Enlightenment academia openly hostile to religion, why would an academic feel the need to perform any kind of conciliatory gesture?

Anyway, I and many Christians I know tend to agree with Dawkins that Christianity properly understood conflicts with the idea of completely non-overlapping magisteria.

Kevin Parry said...

Thank you all for your thought provoking comments.

Fred Schoeman wrote:
In real Christianity belief and deeds go together.

Thanks for popping by, Fred. If deeds and belief go together, then would I, as a good, moral atheist, go to heaven?

Laughing Boy wrote:
Common sense would tell you that acknowledging another's existence is required for any kind of relationship with them.

Yes, but no-one else uses this as a deciding factor for punishment or reward.

God can make Himself known to unbelievers; He has done so from ancient times to the present.

The problem here lies with the fact that God’s existence is not obvious. If it were, would Christianity really need the army of apologists and evangelists that it currently has at its disposal? When I met my wife for the first time, I immediately acknowledged her existence, because her existence was obvious. There was no need for an apologist or evangelist to use philosophy, science or emotion in order to persuade me that my wife exists.

So not only does God allow doubt regarding his existence, but he also uses belief or unbelief as a deciding factor for punishment or reward. Is this truly fair?

Skin color has no effect on a person's character, but their thoughts do.

To a certain extent, yes. But in my post I’m focussing more on religious beliefs. I would argue that we can’t use someone’s religious beliefs (or lack thereof) as a measure of their character.

webmaster said...

Kevin, you would not think of trying to install a word processor on your computer if it had no operating sytem, would you? Then why try to read the Scriptures without belief? Belief is the operating system that must be within you, your operating system. The Scriptures are the programs. When you read the Scriptures(install the program) and try to understand the Scriptures (use the program), you get output in your life. The Holy Spirit gives guidance through interactions with your spirit to ensure that the results are not corrupted by manmade stuff.--Daniel

CyberKitten said...

So webmaster - you have to believe *first*?

How is that possible? Where does the belief come from in the first place?

Anonymous said...

cyberkittem belief comes from understanding that one has the ability to doubt and, exercising free will, choosing not to doubt. According to Scripture, that ability to doubt or not to doubt is available between birth and death.--webmaster

CyberKitten said...

Thanks for that webmaster.

Personally I have the ability to doubt - and chose to continue to doubt.

paul said...

Hey Kevin.

Sigh.....where to start first. Let's get webmaster out the way first, then I'll tackle laughing boy.

Webmaster. Since you decided to use the technical analogy, allow me to do the same. Firstly, no. I would not attempt to install a word processor on a machine without an operating system. If push came to shove, I'd use a typewriter instead ;~). But to elaborate on your proposed theory, before one needs an operating system, one needs a language, or a code. Without the code, you have no operating system. If belief is the operating system, then it needs a universal code to integrate with. If belief is absent or does not work, it is the code's fault. So those who do not believe have therefor been designed with an inherent flaw. If you did not install your word processing software correctly, is it the computer's fault that it doesn't work? Of course not. If I do not believe, would it not be ridiculous to punish me if I had been created with an inherent fault? Absolutely. If I do not understand the bible, it is God's design flaw, not mine. In any event, your analogy doesn't work because we all have the same DNA makeup, we are all built in the same way with the same working parts. Our brains function, for the most part, in the same ways, and unless you are claiming that faith rewires our brains in order that our perception can be altered, then I have the ability to understand the bible just as much as you do. And if you are claiming that belief rewires our minds and changes our perceptions, then why did God not hardwire that into our design? It seems like an awful lot of wasted time in the design rooms of Heaven to gift us with the ability to reason and think in a logical way, in the hope that once we encounter belief, we'll be rewired.

"The Holy Spirit gives guidance through interactions with your spirit to ensure that the results are not corrupted by manmade stuff"
But Daniel, the results are ALWAYS corrupted. Isn't that the point of Heaven? Of the Resurrection of the Faithful? That once we don our new robes, only then will we be unable to sin? Seems to me the Holy Spirit is doing a lousy job.

As for cyberkitten's perfectly valid question as to the origins of belief, your answer is severely lacking. You say that belief comes from the ability gifted to us by free-will to doubt or not to doubt? So then why is it that you claim belief is not to doubt? Surely by your answer, to doubt would be just as valid a belief? Ah, but God says not to doubt is belief. So belief originates from God. As for this free will Xians cling so lovingly to, when are you going to realise that if you believe the Xian God exists, you DO NOT have free will. The bible is a history of the ongoing interference of God. God warns Noah, God impregnates Mary, God helps the Israelites win battle after battle, He stops the sun, he parts the Red Sea......do I need to continue? How can it possibly be free will when God stacks the odds? Why does God not inscribe upon the walls of the Grand Canyon "I exist and the bible is my true word to the nations", and then move the Grand Canyon to Japan? The stock regurgitation is because that would nullify the need for faith and it would interfere with free will. Don't you understand? Only the atheist is truly free.

I'll close off this comment, and answer laughing boy in the next.

Anonymous said...

paul, everyone does have the same ability to understand God. It's built into all of us humans, hardwired in as both sentience and intelligence, spirit and mind. All we have to do is look around and ask questions. As we progress, we come to the knowledge that Scripture has been given to guide us in our search as the program that needs to be installed. Scripture speaks to our mind at first, then, if we are able to overcome doubt and continue to seek, Scripture, together with the Spirit of God, begins to speak to our spirit. It is from this conversation that belief (choosing not to doubt) comes. Once we believe, we begin to act on our belief (and everyone believes in something). If we choose to believe in the God of the Bible, we act on such precepts as "Thou shall not kill" and others that the Spirit will highlight in our being as we seek to be one with God. Can I prove this? Only in my own life. In that one case, I have proof for me.--webmaster

Anonymous said...

paul, free will does exist, but in limited form for individuals. Individuals can choose to ignore or disregard an omnipotent God between birth and death, in this "space-time" reality that we can perceive, but not otherwise. Thus, the purpose of this life for individuals is to choose to be for or against God. However, God also uses nations, exercising his will over nations in history rather dramatically from time to time, as Scripture records (and foretells). One such event has happened in recent times to show that God is still in control (but not in the Grand Canyon as you requested, in Jerusalem instead). I've placed a file online at http://www.sixdaywar.co.uk/Daniel8.pdf that gives an example of how God is active in history today, as foretold long ago, while still allowing for free will for individuals. I hope you will consider what it says.--webmaster

paul said...

Webmaster.

Firstly, please clarify something for me. This 'template', if you will, does this combination of spirit and mind and sentience point us toward the God of Xianity? Because the way in which you have structured your comment leads me to believe that you are advocating an 'all roads and all froms of spirituality lead to God' approach. If my assumption is wrong, I apologise, but then your claim would be that this 'template' points to the Xian God. What evidence do you have to back that claim up? Why would a Muslim, who also uses his soul and spirit and mind to know Allah, be wrong? And if you are indeed saying that 'all roads lead' then you clearly have a major deficiency in your understanding of religious doctrine in many forms of religion. Both Xianity and Islam make it absolutely clear that there is only ONE path to God.

And what is this 'spirit' you speak of? Where does it reside? What is its function? I don't refer to the Holy Spirit, but the concept of a spirit or a soul that crops up in so much religious literature. I know where the mind resides, I know its function. Why place more credence in something I have no evidence of? Again I ask, why give me the ability to reason and rationalize when in order to achieve enlightenment or eternal life, I am expected to just 'have faith'?

And if you have proof in your own life, please share it with the rest of us. You must truly be a unique individual, as God has answered your prayers when he has failed so many others. So, do tell. What is this proof? How can it be proof if it is only relevant to you? And again, why whenever a non-believer raises these questions, do we get the same answers over and over. You can only prove it in your own life, yet you expect everyone else to believe the same things? Please show me just ONE example where God has done something in your life that has no other explanation.

I hate to break it to you, but you don't really have proof for yourself. You may have the illusion of a particular experience, but not proof. God and His message should not only make sense when read through the framework of the bible. If He claims that he has revealed Himself in his creation, we should see the evidence there as well.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, you don't get to play God for me by telling me what I have and don't have proof of. That's for me to decide, and only me. Same with you. Only you can decide what is a "proof" for you, so I can't give you proof, only evidence, and only that from Scripture as far as I know. I can share what I know is true for me, but that does not mean you must believe or even consider what I say. Remember, it's all free will, at least in this life.

paul said...

Sorry, webmaster, did not notice your other comment. Am replying to that now.

Thanks for the link, it makes for interesting reading. But, there is an underlying flaw in your logic. Let's just say that this is truly a prophecy fulfilled. History has thousands of examples of prophets or psychics foretelling the future, and how in some instances they have proved inerringly accurate. This is not a proof for the existance of God, only an unexplained phenomenon. Spontaneous combustion is also an inexplained phenomenon, is this also evidence for God? Are not the most famous of 'seers' famous precisely because of the success rate of their prophecies being fulfilled? One example of prophesy fulfilled does not a true prophet make.

And besides, The Alexander Prophecy document makes some rather large assumptions. Firstly, it assumes that 'two thousand and three hundred evenings and mornings' means Passovers. I can follow the logic that attempts to convince one of that, but I remain unconvinced. Why not just say 2300 Passovers?
Secondly, it assumes that the 'he-goat' prophecy refers to Alexander the Great. How do you arrive at that? It also assumes that the calendar we use now was the same then, which is false. 334 BC was not 334 BC then, we backdate. Be wary of numbers. It is easy to rearrange names and dates to arrive at the origin we want. Google George Bush is the antichrist, and you'll find a website that gives a myriad or calculations to show that George Bush an 666 are linked in every instance and in every way. It's all just smoke and mirrors.

And besides, I fail to see how that ties in to free will. We do not exist to be for God or against Him. If I had been the ancestor of a tribe decimated by the Israelites, woman and children butchered by the direct influence of God, I would most certainly be against this God responsible for so much grief in the history of my people. Again with the stacked dice. An omniscient God would know what his actions would bring upon His creation, yet He would still punish this descendant for being 'against God'? How is that free will? How do I choose to be against God if I don't believe he exists?

ps LB, will post my response to you tomorrow.

paul said...

"Sorry, you don't get to play God for me by telling me what I have and don't have proof of. That's for me to decide, and only me. Same with you. Only you can decide what is a "proof" for you, so I can't give you proof, only evidence, and only that from Scripture as far as I know. I can share what I know is true for me, but that does not mean you must believe or even consider what I say. Remember, it's all free will, at least in this life."

But webmaster, then why are you on this site? Why are you commenting? Why are you disagreeing with those of us who do not believe in a God? Why are you trying to convince us of our errors? If I am wrong, I will have to face the consequences of my actions, you won't. If you are wrong, you will never know, you will no longer exist, just sweet oblivion. I risk far more than you do, for I risk the absence of God in the afterlife. Do you think I would arrive at my atheism lightly? That I would not torture myself and my thoughts night after night until finally breaking the chains of this religious fog that has blinded me for so long?

Either proof and evidence are universal, or nothing is true. If you have proof for yourself, then it should hold under my scrutiny and that of others, or it is not proof. If it is as you say, then you may as well start questioning how anyone knows that anyone exists. That line of thought only leads to futility.

Anonymous said...

paul, I have shared what I know is true for me. That's all I can do, so I'll leave it at that. After all, I'm not responsible for your soul, you are. Best wishes with your search.

CyberKitten said...

webmaster said: everyone does have the same ability to understand God. It's built into all of us humans, hardwired in as both sentience and intelligence, spirit and mind.

If that is the case how is it that although most people have believed in some kind of 'God' they have consistently believed in *different* Gods throughout history. If God (by which I assume you mean the Christian version) 'hardwired' us in the way you suggest then why don't we all believe in the *same* God and how do you explain people like me who don't believe in *any* God?

webmaster said: All we have to do is look around and ask questions.

Except that both Science and Philosophy do that and normally come to very different answers than theists do....

P3T3RK3Y5 said...

Hey Kevin.

it's been a long time bro. This was another excellent post.

modernist Christians indeed do value factual thought over what your describe - or over what i might describe as "heart".

i could never reconcile the sheep and the goats... a story with resonance that transcends any one faith tradition - with what i heard from the pulpit.

"Love God, Love Others" isn't that hard.

peace

paul said...

Webmaster, thank you for your concern, and your honesty. It was never my intention to attempt to bludgeon you into silence, only to test my own views and challenge my preconceived ideas. If you are happy and have found peace in your own life, that's great.

All I am saying is that either you remain enclosed within your own truth, or your truth is one that you believe should be held by all. You can't have it both ways. If you choose to challenge something that Kevin has said on this website, then you need to be prepared to defend that challenge. We are as passionate about what we believe as you are about your own belief; don't be offended when we tackle you head-on.

I wish you nothing but the best for your life.

BluntDissector said...

This has got nothing to do with this post, but I don't know where else to put it!

I have a blog, and I live in South Africa. If it's not too presumptuous of me, could we link to each others blogs? Freethinking people seem hard to come by in this country, any help we can give each other should be welcomed!

Thanks, looking forward to reading more of your posts!

Laughing Boy said...

Kevin...

...no-one else uses this as a deciding factor for punishment or reward. [and later] So not only does God allow doubt regarding his existence, but he also uses belief or unbelief as a deciding factor for punishment or reward. Is this truly fair?

What if the relationship itself is the reward and the lack of it is the punishment? If that’s the case it’s not about fairness, it’s just the inevitable outcome.

The problem here lies with the fact that God’s existence is not obvious.

Well, true, since God is a spirit He’s not as obvious to my physical senses as the person sitting next to me on the metro, but I think it’s wrong to assume that atheism is the proper default premise. Not everyone—in fact very few—have any trouble acknowledging the supernatural. A passage in a book I’m currently reading is relevant here (and it brought you immediately to mind):

“At a recent conference in Oxford, which brought together leading Christian writers and statesmen from across the world, I had the opportunity of exploring some of the themes of this book with some senior Christians from Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. They found themselves having some difficulty appreciating the plausibility or attraction of atheism. From their African perspective, everything about the natural world and human existence proclaimed the existence of a spiritual reality. The sense of a divine presence within nature and human experience was self-evident.

“Significantly, my colleagues commented that the only part of Africa in which atheism had secured any meaningful presence was the highly Westernized…nation of South Africa; even then, the movement seems to be limited to the white population.”

— Alister McGrath, “The Twilight of Atheism” p. 205-6 (emphasis mine)

So not only does God allow doubt...

How could God not “allow” doubt? Descartes thought long and hard about it and came to the conclusion that his ability to doubt was the only thing he could be sure of, the only thing that made him certain of his own existence.

Here’s the big question for you Kevin: What could God do to prove to you, beyond any possibility of doubt, that He exists?

army of apologists...

We don't need apologists because God is dim or vague, but because the Western, post-Enlightenment, materialist worldview has blinded people.

I would argue that we can’t use someone’s religious beliefs...as a measure of their character.

If the Chaldeans wanted the gods to bless their new house, according to their religious beliefs, they killed one of their children and buried them inside a wall. Was only the act of killing of the child wrong, not the belief behind it? What if they held to such belief but did not actually act on it? Would that not indicate some other more deeply held belief was in play?

Say for example that a Chaldean wanted to marry my daughter. This guy had not yet killed any children, but I know that he is serious about his religious beliefs, and let’s say he was a really nice guy and he treated my daughter very well. I sit him down and asked him if he would go through with this abominable ritual, and he say he believed he would. You are telling me that since I can’t use religious beliefs to measure character I should have no issues inviting him into my family.

...or lack thereof...

Not believing in God = Believing there is no God, which is a religious belief.

CyberKitten said...

laughing boy said: We don't need apologists because God is dim or vague, but because the Western, post-Enlightenment, materialist worldview has blinded people.

Or maybe it opened people's eyes to the truth of the matter that there *is* no God?

laughing boy said: Not believing in God = Believing there is no God, which is a religious belief.

Not true. Not believing in something does not equal believing that something does not exist.

I can say with confidence that I do not believe that God exists purely on the lack of evidence to support the position of His existence. I would, however, be a brave man to say (with confidence) that I believe - or know as some people assert - that God does not exist. To be confident of such a position I would need to have positive evidence of Gods *lack* of existence which, at least to my mind, is also pretty thin on the ground. It is indeed possible to work backwards from theists various assertions about God but this does not, in itself, disprove His existence.

It may be *theoretically* possible to disprove Gods existence but I haven't seen a compelling argument put forward that I have enough confidence in to adopt as my own. Therefore as an atheist I (largely) confine myself to the statement that I do not believe in His existence but cannot say that I believe that He does not exist. They are certainly not the same thing in my mind and (I suspect) in the minds of many other atheists either.

BTW - To say that atheism is a religious belief is not only wrong but rather funny too. It's a fairly common 'mistake' though!

Laughing Boy said...

cyberkitten...

So you have to believe *first*? How is that possible?

Sure. We do it all the time.

cyberkitten...Personally I have the ability to doubt - and chose to continue to doubt.

I contend that "continuing to doubt" is not a default neutral position. Why is the burden of proof on the believer in God rather than the believer in no God? If, as Gould claimed, science gives us no definitive answer either way then science does not put the theist in the dock. Additionally, the vast majority of humanity throughout time has believed in God. Atheism is relatively modern and it has been and continues to be a minority view, even where atheism was institutionalized and enforced at gunpoint. So my question to cyberkitten is where does your belief come from in the first place?

A saw the following while posting...

To say that atheism is a religious belief is not only wrong but rather funny too. It's a fairly common 'mistake' though!

Any opinion about God is necessarily religious. I'll consider your most recent post more thoroughly before I comment any further.

Nice talking to you.

CyberKitten said...

laughing boy said: Why is the burden of proof on the believer in God rather than the believer in no God?

Because extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. If someone holds a position which says that 'X' exists then it is up to the proposer the *show* that 'X' exists. It is not up to the sceptic to show that he is wrong. If that was the case we would spend 110% of our time attempting to *disprove* things. Its not how rational enquiry operates.

laughing boy said: If, as Gould claimed, science gives us no definitive answer either way then science does not put the theist in the dock.

I agree. Science has very little to say directly on the existence of God question. It does have things to say about other aspects of the God question but, as far as I am concerned, Science in itself has not disproved the existence of God or anywhere near that.

laughing boy said: Additionally, the vast majority of humanity throughout time has believed in God.

Correct - but that doesn't answer the God question. It just states that most people throughout pretty much all of written history have believed in various types of divine being(s). It doesn't have anything to say about if their beliefs were correct - just that they had them.

laughing boy said: Atheism is relatively modern and it has been and continues to be a minority view.

Kind of true. There have being atheists throught all of history - but what we could call modern atheism originated in the mid-18th Century. Globally it certainly is the minority view. Not so in Europe though.

laughing boy said: Any opinion about God is necessarily religious.

That's simply not true. To say that I don't believe you when you assert that there *is* a God is not a religious opinion. It is a simple sceptical statement.

laughing boy said: Nice talking to you.

Ditto. I hope that we can keep our exchanges of opinion civilised.

CyberKitten said...

laughing boy said: So my question to cyberkitten is where does your belief come from in the first place?

Sorry - missed this one....

I presume you mean my belief that God does not exist? Except that this is *not* my belief.

I do not believe that God exists because of the amazing lack of evidence to support that position. This does not mean that I believe that God does *not* exist. It may be that there is evidence that I have not yet come across which might change my mind. But in the meantime....

Unless you meant something else..........?

Laughing Boy said...

[To cyberkitten, since I'm home waiting the the refrigerator repairman (who was supposed to be here hours ago; now I'll have to take a vacation day) in a house without air conditioning (it's another week before that gets replaced) and it's 85 and climbing with 70% humidity. Could be a lot worse.

I haven't read your latest, latest post(s) which I'm sure are fine rebuttals, but hopefully what follows is not rendered pointless. This is all for now, we are posting over each other, and my keyboard's getting sticky.]

***

Not believing in something does not equal believing that something does not exist.


I don't equate "belief" with "certainty". Let's not equivocate on terms. What can we be certain about? I am confident but not certain God does exist, you are confident but not certain He does not. I believe one direction you believe the other. From a practical perspective the beliefs that you believe strongly enough to act on (or build a worldview on) are the ones that matter, even if you wouldn't claim certainty. (Beliefs you don't believe strongly enough to act on can hardly qualify as beliefs.) If you act as if you "don't believe" in God are you any different than the person who acts as if they "believe there is no God".

If you tell me, "I don't believe I can trust you" or if you say, "I believe I can't trust you" what's the difference in all but the most absurdly academic way? Either way you don't do what I suggest. The consequences of not trusting me are pretty mild compared the the consequences of not trusting God—and that's not because I'm nice and God's mean, but because with God the stakes are so high.

So I come back to a modified form of Kevin's original question. If Kevin acted as if He believed in God even though he doesn't, shouldn't God be OK with that? If not, why not? (See Dawkin's in God Delusion on Pascal's Wager.)

CyberKitten said...

laughing boy said: What can we be certain about? I am confident but not certain God does exist, you are confident but not certain He does not.

I am confident enough due to the lack of any (and I do mean 'any') credible evidence that my *lack of belief* in God stands on pretty solid ground. This is, in my opinion, different enough from saying that I am confident that God does not exist for them to be two very different answers. The first is a negative sceptical position. The second is a much more positive postion.

To believe in something especially in a BIG something like the God question must mean (IMO) that you have decided on good solid evidence either to believe that God exists or to believe that He doesn't. As far as I am concerned that evidence (in either direction) does not exist. Therefore, as there is insufficient evidence to believe in God - my position is one of a *lack* of belief, not one of positive believing that God does *not* exist. You may not like the fact that I have separated the two statements but I consider them to be very different animals - though I am from time to time sloppy in my use of language that I may stray over the boundary between the two.

laughing boy said: The consequences of not trusting me are pretty mild compared the the consequences of not trusting God—and that's not because I'm nice and God's mean, but because with God the stakes are so high.

Actually that cuts no ice with me - as, since I do not believe in God, the "stakes" you mention do not exist. I cannot 'upset' something or someone who I don't believe in. Am I angering Zeus or Thor for not believing in them too? Obviously not as they're mythical. So why should not believing in other Gods carry any risks?

laughing boy said: So I come back to a modified form of Kevin's original question. If Kevin acted as if He believed in God even though he doesn't, shouldn't God be OK with that? If not, why not?

Well I presume that God doesn't like liars and Charlatans? God whould *know* that the person pretending to believe in Him was faking it - right? So there seems little point in even trying it. Pascal's Wager is for cowards, covering their bets "just in case" that God exists. Talk about being hypocritical! Should we 'believe' in every God "just in case" they're the real deal? I think we could both agree that this would be a ridiculous thing to attempt.

Lui said...

"“At a recent conference in Oxford, which brought together leading Christian writers and statesmen from across the world, I had the opportunity of exploring some of the themes of this book with some senior Christians from Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. They found themselves having some difficulty appreciating the plausibility or attraction of atheism. From their African perspective, everything about the natural world and human existence proclaimed the existence of a spiritual reality. The sense of a divine presence within nature and human experience was self-evident."

Right, from their "African perspective". Is this perspective tempered whatsoever by science? Or does it rely merely on what is “apparent” to human perception? Does McGrath himself share this “African perspective", or does he mention it only because it seems to bolster his case for God by showing that most people in Africa, as well as the rest of the world, have some sort of religious belief, so "therefore" (isn’t it obvious?) there has to be something to religion? Does he mention that centuries of imperialism by European powers might just have had an effect on the religious inclinations of Africans?
Finally, I might be wrong, but does this "African perspective" have anything to do with creationism? Or do most Africans accept evolution? (if the recent outrage by the Church in Kenya, where they tried to make the Lucy fossils a minor exhibition at the museum at which they are held is any indication, then I would guess that no. Of course, Africa is not a country but a continent of many countries, but Kenya is among the most enlightenedand developed among among them, with a functioning democracy). If the former, then you are using a position that has little resemblance to your own in order to bolster your claims. I take it that you accept evolution. But do most Africans? If not, then in what some sense does it mean to say that they for them "everything about the natural world and human existence proclaimed the existence of a spiritual reality"?

“Significantly, my colleagues commented that the only part of Africa in which atheism had secured any meaningful presence was the highly Westernized…nation of South Africa; even then, the movement seems to be limited to the white population.”"

“Even then”, like as though that were supposed to be discouraging? If anything, this works AGAINST the point you're trying to make, because white South Africans had an unfair advantage over their black counterparts. They were given better educational opportunities, so they were more likely to be able to think independently. I hope you're not trying to make a point about apartheid, because the apartheid school system itself was tainted with religious indoctrination.

None of this should impress anyone. It is obvious that McGrath is clutching at straws. And you ignore utterly that Africa has long been plagued by poverty, disease, war, ignorance, and imperial abuse, and it has had relatively little opportunity to develop economically and socially, let alone intellectually. In Latin America, much the same condition prevails. Civil war, military dictatorships, frequent coups and abject poverty have turned many to religion in the hope of finding salvation. These factors almost guarantee that people will turn to something that at least consoles them and leads them to believe that their suffering is not in vain. The Catholic Church is currently in the business of denying contraceptives to AIDS-ravaged Africa, so not only does religion not have the intellectual high ground in Africa, it doesn't have the moral high ground either.

"Additionally, the vast majority of humanity throughout time has believed in God."

Which means only that the vast majority of humanity has believed in God. WHY this is so needs an explanation in its own right, one that you apparently don't think is worthy of further investigation (dare I say, rather unkindly, that this could be something fostered by a herd mentality?) because you think it is already apparent. But the problem is that you can’t just automatically jump to the conclusion that the claims made by religion (which one, by the way? Because believing in Allah can apparently land you in a pile of trouble according to Christians, and believing in God can land you in deep trouble according to Muslims) are "therefore" vindicated, or even worthy of serious consideration. You know full well that people are capable of belieivng all sorts of nonsense. Millions of people believe in astrology. Does this bring astrology any closer to actually being true? Well, by your rationalse, it must, because many people believe in it. But obviously you must know that there are reasons for people believing in astrology. It's just that you would have us believe that YOUR reasons for adhering to Christain doctrine are better than their reasons for believing in astrology. And on this point, do you imagine that all, or most, Christains believe what they do for good, sound, logical reasons?
When "enough" people believe in something (on that, is “enough” simply when the like-minded happen to become a majority?) it doesn't become true. It is true or not independently of what people think, and to ignore why people think the way they do is to show a hasty eagerness to have one's ideas vindicated merely by the "weight" of credulous public opinion. I find it difficult to understand how you can make such a claim as though it were supposed to imply something self-evident about religion after at least having an inkling, for example, of the possible evolutionary significance of religious belief. You cannot feign ignorance about these possibilities after having read The God Delusion and continue to use the tired old "argument" that the vast majority of humanity has had belief in God or some other deity, therefore that belief is onto something, as though alternative explanations (more in line with the evidence, incidentally) have been proposed and are actually the subjects of serious investigations. You also cannot feign ignorance about the reality that humans are notoriously credulous beings, able to believe in almost anything when it is in their perceived interests to do so (just take a look at Sai Baba in India, who has managed to trick millions of people into believing that he is a god. There is absolutely no way that this con man could have attracted such an obscenely large following had the people of India been more knowledgeable about the nature and value of scepticism). Nor can you ignore that children are particularly vulnerable to having ideas implanted in their minds at an early age. Having read the book (and undoubtedly having heard it many times form atheists) it should by now be apparent to you that it is in fact ridiculously easy to explain why so many people believe in God. It is because the majority of them are brought up to do so. Don't believe it? Then take a map of the world, and look at Saudi Arabia. There, nearly everyone is a Muslim. Then look at the United States, where nearly everyone is a Christian. Now look at India, where nearly everyone is a Hindu. Look at Israel, where the vast majority are Jews. If you know anything about statistics, this is not all just a big coincidence. There si something going on, and everyone knows exactly what it is, however much we may want to play it down for the sake of politeness.
In the light of all this, it seems like desperate special pleading on your part that you should continue to invoke the numbers argument in favour of religious belief. A cursory look at human nature and the pitiful intellectual state of society (especially in non-Western countries) should have clearly dissuaded you from doing so, or at least given you pause. I see no evidence of this.
Perhaps most gratuitously, you seem to think that the overwhelming preponderance towards atheism among the scientific elite can never mean anything (because, after all, scientists are just children of the Enlightenment and are hence "blind" to God, so it doesn’t matter what they think, unless, of course, that scientist happens to believe in God, in which case their arguments because they carry with them the prestige of scientific respectability) but that the overwhelming preponderance among the non-scientific means everything in the world. I hope this is not because you think you have "strength in numbers", but then why bring up humanity's religious beliefs in the first place? If you did so to inquire into the possibility that there may be something very human about religion and that people are predisposed to it, then I could wholeheartedly agree with you. But that only tells us about primal human nature and psychology (Dawkins goes through all this, by the way. You may have skipped over it for whatever reason, but if so, then I implore you to read it). The vast majority of humanity has also been scientifically ignorant; their primal credulity has been untempered by careful, systematic study, and most people still don't have a proper appreciation for the source of the power of science, and think that it is just "another opinion". Among that relative handful who do have the opportunity to interrogate nature and divorce themselves from the prejudices and conceits of established tradition, God has become increasingly less apparent.

"Kind of true. There have being atheists throught all of history - but what we could call modern atheism originated in the mid-18th Century. Globally it certainly is the minority view. Not so in Europe though."

Exactly. Here in Australia too, there are a large number of atheists. And of course, in many cultures, admitting to one's atheism can lead one to be ostracised. There are actually a surprisingly large number of non-believers in the world. At the risk of sounding somewhat offensive, theists may be more likely to have more children (the Church plays its role in this, for example, castigating contraceptives as sinful, and in places where women have not been emancipated, by spreading disinformation in Africa about contraceptives and castigating them as sinful), and the automatic consequence of this is that the planet becomes more populated with the religious. I hear many boastful and arrogant proclamations by some theists about having as many children as possible, as though the warnings made by ecologists and environmental scientists about the planet’s limited capacity to sustain human population growth amounted to nothing but a communist conspiracy to control birth. Many theists believe it is their God-given DUTY to have children. It is hardly surprising that if theists have a higher average birth rate than non-believers, that there will be more believers.

“Not believing in God = Believing there is no God, which is a religious belief.”

This is mere word play. Not believing in God is a position ON religion; to say that atheism is a religious belief is like saying that abstinence is a form of sex, or that a lack of belief in astrology is an astrological belief. Simply because theism exists doesn’t mean that its key assumptions should be raised to the level of pre-eminence in the language of our discourse.

To reiterate, I find it difficult to understand how you can keep making such weak arguments after having being exposed to their fatal problems in The God Delusion. You could at least have mentioned how Dawkins rebuked them, and what you found wanting in Dawkins’ view. However, you have not done this. You have merely reiterated the classic arguments use by theists to bolster your claims, like the “most people believe in God” argument as evidence of God’s existence. That even a sophisticated theist like you can trot out such unsophisticated arguments does not give me much confidence for the veracity of theist claims.

Please understand, I don’t mean to be patronising or abusive in any way, but I am mystified as to how you think you can ignore all the aforementioned complicating factors, as though they could be safely discounted. You have ignored them utterly, and we risk treading on old territory, territory that has, annoyingly, been covered so many times as to hardly be worth bothering with, were it not for the continued obfuscations that clearly muddle the thinking of even the most sophisticated theists.

paul said...

Oooh! Work keeps me away for one day, and I come back to this! It really is great to see ideas and positions being thrashed around like this, without things degenerating to name-calling and abuse.

LB, am still working on a response to your initial comments on this post, but I couldn't resist responding to this section in particular:
""“At a recent conference in Oxford, which brought together leading Christian writers and statesmen from across the world, I had the opportunity of exploring some of the themes of this book with some senior Christians from Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. They found themselves having some difficulty appreciating the plausibility or attraction of atheism. From their African perspective, everything about the natural world and human existence proclaimed the existence of a spiritual reality. The sense of a divine presence within nature and human experience was self-evident."

Now, as a white South African, I believe I can comment on this with more insight than most. Firstly, lui raised many valid points with regard to the level of education of the average African, and the history of Africa. The major flaw in your argument lb is that majority is not indicitive of truth. You raised that point yourself when discussing line cooks and scientists. Ancestor worship is a huge part of many African religions, a system of belief that is handed down from generation to generation, with some rather scary penalties that come from attempting to question its validity. Magic and witch doctors are also rife within many African religions, a practice which has given birth to some extremely dangerous and ludicrous ideas, such as the fact that Aids can be cured by having sex with a baby, because a baby is virginal. Organ theft, amputations without consent....there are things that occur behind closed doors that are dark and dangerous.

If you're going to say that an accurate assumption as to the existence of God and the spirit world can be made from a study of Africa, then you also need to acknowledge the role of magic and witchcraft. You can't extract the good and pretend that the bad does not exist. Why is atheism most popular with white South Africans? As lui said, because they have been afforded a better education, and proper access to educational resources. Within the Xhosa and Zulu nations, young men have to go through an initiation to indicate their entrance into manhood. Many deaths occur as a result of leaving these boys alone in the bush for days, without access to proper nutrition and medicine, and also as a result of circumcisions performed with unsterilised equipment (a blunt knife in many instances) and without the proper know how. Is this God's gift to a continent that are supposedly more 'in tune' with Him than many others?

For as far back as we have a history, there have been nations of people who thought various natural phenomena were 'obvious' examples of God's existence. Lightning, the Sun, the Moon. At certain points in history, to claim that these could be explained in a rational manner would have been greeted with laughter. Everybody knows that the Moon is a Goddess with amazing powers. Look what she does to the sea! She must be mighty indeed.

Have I made my point?

thehappster said...

Hi all. First time posting. I appreciate the civil discussion here, and I hope that I can add to it. Since I'm coming in a bit late, I'd just like to address a few points to Kevin:

I don't believe that "the God of conservative Christianity" asks that we first believe in him before he initiates a relationship with us. On the contrary, I think he's always trying to initiate a relationship with us, but when we "believe" in him, that is when we are acknowledging that relationship and pledge to grow in the relationship with him.

I'd like to add John 14:6 to your scripture references. Jesus says that the only way to God is through Jesus. If Jesus IS the Truth, then you have to follow the rules, so to speak. When I was younger, I was a Boy Scout. You know one of the requirements to be a Boy Scout? You have to be a boy. If a girl came and said, "Look, I'm an expert camper, I can catch a 12" Bass with a twig and shoelace, I can tie a square knot with one hand blindfolded...", she's still going to be denied membership. Why? Because she doesn't met the number one requirement, she's not a boy. I guess Heaven is a bit like that, it's a private club. ;-) If belief is your ticket to heaven, deeds are your... promotion. Once you have that relationship, you are going to strive to continue to please God with that "good moral life caring for others." A mass murderer who has begun that relationship, in theory, should start to transform into that sweet and innocent person that you are so fond of.

To Dawkins, I'd respond that believing in Him is not the one thing you must do to please him. It just starts there.

I agree with you that we can't use someone's religious beliefs as a measure of their character, and God is not either. He's not saying you are bad person because you don't believe in Him, you're just not accepted in his "club." Would you invite someone into your house for the rest of eternity that doesn't acknowledge you, regardless of their credentials?

Thanks for your time.

Roger Saner said...

Hi Kevin

I agree with all that you've written here - and in that agreement, I remain a Christian :) I like John Mayer's lyric:
"Belief is a beautiful armour but makes for the heaviest sword." When belief is a means of power (think colonisation) we perpetuate a violent way of relating with others. When our message is "Believe the things I believe before I can like/trust/love you" then something is warped.

I like Jesus's emphasis on action: "You are my friends if you *do* what I command." And James: "Faith without works is useless."

I dislike the same view of the Gospel that you dislike (believe in Jesus so you can go to heaven after you die) and I'm beginning to see that the Gospel is muuuuuuch broader than that. When Jesus prays in the Lord's Prayer, "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven," that's a prayer which calls the pray-er to action. And it's a Gospel (read: Good News) which has something to say about the here and now.

To answer your last question: I think God *does* do the same. See "The Last Battle" and how Aslan deals with the servant of Tash.

Kevin Parry said...

I haven’t read all the comments yet, so please forgive me if these points have already been covered.

Laughing Boy wrote:
How could God not “allow” doubt?

I will respond by asking: how can my wife not ‘allow’ doubt of her existence? Easy. She just has to stand in front of me and say hello. And this is a simple act that my fallible, mortal wife can perform, but the great God of the universe is somehow unable (or unwilling) to do.

Well, true, since God is a spirit He’s not as obvious to my physical senses as the person sitting next to me on the metro

But can you show any evidence that the spiritual realm exists? Is this not an ad hoc answer: answering one mystery (why can’t we see God) with another mystery (because he is in some inexplicable spiritual form)?

We don't need apologists because God is dim or vague, but because the Western, post-Enlightenment, materialist worldview has blinded people.

And it’s quite strange that before the Enlightenment, God had no problem showing his presence to many people (in the form of burning bushes, incredible miracles, booming voices, great fiery crosses in the sky, etc). The ‘materialist world view’ that you speak of has scared off all the trolls, fairies, angels, demons, miracles and other supernatural entities/activities that people of ancient times claimed to have seen on a regular basis. God has also has become more quite. I often ponder why all these beings (including God) reduced their activities since the dawn of modern science. Could it be that they didn’t exist in the first place, and it’s our view of the world that’s changed?

If the Chaldeans wanted the gods to bless their new house, according to their religious beliefs, they killed one of their children and buried them inside a wall.

Good response. I will admit that you are right. But I will narrow down the scope further: can we judge a person according to their belief in God (or lack thereof). I guess this is what I’m actually aiming it. Sorry, I should have been more specific in my original post.

Not believing in God = Believing there is no God, which is a religious belief.

To borrow a famous quote: “If atheism is a religion, then bald is a hair color.”

Thanks again for your comments Laughing Boy. I admire the fact that you are defending your position despite all the debate. You challenge my thinking, and I appreciate your comments. So please stick around.

Thehappster wrote:
Would you invite someone into your house for the rest of eternity that doesn't acknowledge you, regardless of their credentials?

Welcome! I hope you that we hear more from you on this blog.

To answer your questions: yes I would invite the person in, if it meant saving them from eternal suffering. I would put my insecure ego aside. That’s what compassion is, isn’t it? Putting your feelings aside to help others?

The image of God you have portrayed here is a childish God who creates petty rules, and who banishes people who simply ‘do not acknowledge him’. I would have thought God would have been more mature than that.

Roger wrote:
To answer your last question: I think God *does* do the same. See "The Last Battle" and how Aslan deals with the servant of Tash.

Hi Roger. Thanks for your thought provoking comment. I realise that there are many Christian interpretations of this problem, that is why I made it clear that it was the ‘conservative’ (or traditional) view. I guess that is what we have in common - we both have rejected various conservative views that were taught to us. I like your take on this.

All the best
Kevin

Lui said...

"Would you invite someone into your house for the rest of eternity that doesn't acknowledge you, regardless of their credentials?"

This argument could be applied to almost any god. For example, Muslims will say much the same thing about Allah, and there are people who have converted to Islam because they felt that Allah was doping something equivalent to "trying to initiate a relationship" with them. The problem is also that this attempt by God (whichever God it happens to be) is not at all obvious to many people. It is far from apparent, especially as there doesn't seem to be any objective criterion by which to judge what this outreach is supposed to entail. Personal introspection, "miraculous" occurrences and scripture are all too subjective and are better explained by what we know about human psychology, history.

Laughing Boy said...

Kevin...

She just has to stand in front of me and say hello...

Your wife can provide pretty solid evidence that she exists by appearing right in front of you, but can she be sure that you will believe your own eyes? Could you prove to anyone else that she exists because she appeared to you? Is it unreasonable for me to believe Cori exists since she's never appeared in front of me? Suppose she could flit around the world in the blink of an eye and appear to everyone who questioned her existence, would it be encumbent on her to do so? You probably think I should already be fairly confident she exists. Why is that? You may say God's existence is so much more important, but importance is not relevant to the principle of epistemic verification.

Let’s say it’s not Cori’s existence that’s in question, but her love for you. How can she prove that so as to not allow doubt? Can her love appear in front of you so that you could see it and touch it and fit it into your definition of what’s real?

But can you show any evidence that the spiritual realm exists?

I assume you require non-spiritual evidence that the spiritual world exists. You define reality to exclude non-physical possibilities and then ask me to give evidence of the non-physical that accords with your definition? I’d be wasting my time and yours.

And it’s quite strange that before the Enlightenment, God had no problem showing his presence to many people...

Kind of an understatement to call OT events pre-Enlightenment, don’t you think? Events such as you mentioned tapered off long before the Enlightenment and for reasons that are not at all strange but well understood in orthodox Christian theology and which have nothing to do with the expansion of science (whose foundation, as you know, was laid primarily by theists, usually Christian). The reason: They are no longer necessary. Revelation was completed in Christ. We have the complete Word of God. No burning bushes, booming voices, etc. are needed. Our view of the world has changed, for sure. So has how God reveals Himself to us.

BTW: There are still many claims of miracles around the world, including in the most highly educated, industrialized, and science-saturated cultures. I am very skeptical (almost outright dismissive) of such claims due to the reasons I just mentioned. But, since I am not—like self-described “free-thinkers”—confined to the materialist box, I can consider all the evidence and entertain any conclusion.

To borrow a famous quote: “If atheism is a religion, then bald is a hair color.”

Famous and inaccurate. On driver's licenses and other forms of identification that describe a person's physical characteristics, bald is valid value for the hair color field. So, in a very commonly accepted sense, bald is a hair color.

Regardless, I did not say atheism was a religion, but that it entails a religious belief, which I would define as that which requires a decision regarding a religious concept. God is, minimally, a religious concept (and for atheists God is perhaps nothing but a religious concept). Therefore any belief or opinion about God is necessarily a religious one.

Thanks again for your comments ...

That’s nice to hear, thank you. I get a lot from my conversations here. I only hope that I occasionally do justice to the ideas I am attempting to convey.

thehappster said...

Let's just say that God is 'compassionate' and 'mature' enough to allow people in based on the fact that they led a 'moral' life. But, this is what scares me then... Where is the dividing line? How good is good enough? Does he grade on a curve? Do I have to be Mother Theresa? Do I have to compare my good works to yours, and always make sure that I have one-up? Darn! If I would've held the door open for one more elderly lady. Or if only I had picked up that gum wrapper that I stepped over. And, since it seems that although we all roughly have the same moral structure, there are many variances. Whose moral code are we rated against? Doesn't it make God a 'bigger' entity if, regardless of what we have done, we are allowed in his presence with only one requirement... that we believe in him? Moral people are not perfect people. Who has the right to say that only based on their works should they be invited in? Back to your house... by what moral code would you decide who was good enough, and who wasn't good enough, to avoid 'eternal suffering'?

Laughing Boy said...

Kevin, while commenting on your subsequent post I drifted into something more relevent to this one. If I can paraphrase this topic's title...

Why are atheists so concerned about their unbeliefs?

I'd think a person with your obvious positive qualities (and I am most definitely not being sarcastic) would quickly get bored writing about what he considers nonsense.

Do you have other blogs where you invest as much time and energy discussing other things you find equally absurd as God, e.g. trolls and fairies? (I'm sure you'd get some lively conversations in those circles!)

Mind you, I'm glad that you have this engaging blog. I like reading what you have to say and I'd miss you deeply if you took my "advice" and got on with your life. I'm just curious as to why what you don't believe seems so important to you.

Laughing Boy said...

Amen to thehappster. Though I'm assuming you are glossing over a point of Christian theology that I also glossed over—God isn't looking for theists. Accepting the existence of a Supreme Being, even the Judeo-Christian Supreme Being, is not what's called for. We must believe in Christ and what His death accomplished for us.

Just thought that after 40+ comments, clarification was in order.

Lui said...

"I assume you require non-spiritual evidence that the spiritual world exists. You define reality to exclude non-physical possibilities and then ask me to give evidence of the non-physical that accords with your definition? I’d be wasting my time and yours."

In other words, the "spiritual realm" is forever beyond scrutiny and it's rather impolite for anyone to even inquire about it and ask for something to corroborate it that goes beyond your personal introspection. This will simply not do, for it implies that for something to count as evidence for the spiritual realm, one must first believe in its existence. How can we judge the validity of such “evidence” on its own merits if we have to first assume the existence of an automatically self-validating “realm” that renders such scrutiny superfluous in the first place?

"(whose foundation, as you know, was laid primarily by theists, usually Christian)"

Assuming that is true, it still has absolutely no bearing on the truth claims of religion, and it tells us only that the foundations of science were laid down by theists. It doesn’t tell us that science flowed from religion, or that science relies on religion in any way. I don't know if it was here or on another blog, but someone made the point that if new accounting and logistics methods were developed by the Nazis as part of their Jew-exterminating bureaucracy, it would go no further towards vindicating Nazism in any way.

"The reason: They are no longer necessary. Revelation was completed in Christ. We have the complete Word of God. No burning bushes, booming voices, etc. are needed. Our view of the world has changed, for sure. So has how God reveals Himself to us."

I'm sorry to say, it all seems rather "convenient".

"There are still many claims of miracles around the world, including in the most highly educated, industrialized, and science-saturated cultures. I am very skeptical (almost outright dismissive) of such claims due to the reasons I just mentioned."

Would you have been outright dismissive towards such claims had you been living in Biblical times? If you say “no”, why not? If you answer this with
”because God revealed himself differently to us back then”, then you have employed circular reasoning. You are saying that these claims are not reliable today, but that they were at a time when science and rationality were more or less alien concepts to most people. To get to the conclusion that what was said back then was actually true is to rely on the same psychology that even today allows people to go astray, like in India where millions of people follow Sai Baba.

"Famous and inaccurate. On driver's licenses and other forms of identification that describe a person's physical characteristics, bald is valid value for the hair color field. So, in a very commonly accepted sense, bald is a hair color. "

A minor and uninteresting technicality. It hardly matters for our purposes that it is convenient to list "bald" as a hair colour for administrative purposes. Everyone KNOWS that baldness isn’t actually a hair colour even if it says otherwise on a driver’s license, but it is in no one’s interest to correct this “error” because everyone can get a sense for why it persists. Being precise is not seen as worth the expenditure, even if no one actually believes the falsehood. So yes, it is “commonly accepted”, but you must consider why it is so. And it certainly isn’t because anyone thinks that people can have a hair colour without hair.

"Regardless, I did not say atheism was a religion, but that it entails a religious belief, which I would define as that which requires a decision regarding a religious concept."

Defined like that, it's hardly worth mentioning because it's completely uncontroversial. But if you want to make it sound like something that goes beyond that simple definition, your rationale would turn your a-astrology into an "astrological belief".

"Doesn't it make God a 'bigger' entity if, regardless of what we have done, we are allowed in his presence with only one requirement... that we believe in him?"

That makes him small and petty, because then the only criterion he uses to judge people's worth is simply belief, which any thug or lowlife is capable of. Bigger would be the God who considers the sincerity of one’s beliefs, how passionately they strived to arrive at the truth, and how open they were to changing their minds by using those minds. I am now in danger of imprinting onto God (if he exists) what I would like him to be like. Others have their own criteria, but that’s just the point: it’s their OWN criteria. The criteria used by a fundamentalist is different to that used by a liberal. When people talk about God in the sense that they think they know what he wants of us, they are really just expressing their personal preference for what they want God to be like. It amounts to various people saying, more often than not: “You’re not like me, so you’re going to hell.” Thehappster is expressing his desire for God to take into account only the criterion of belief (which to me seems like an extraordinarily small-minded thing for a deity to stop at; how such a God can be “big” is perplexing to me), but clearly he thinks that it is somehow more important than anything else, so he sees it as “the thing” to impress God with. Such beliefs are automatically self-vindicating.

"I'd think a person with your obvious positive qualities (and I am most definitely not being sarcastic) would quickly get bored writing about what he considers nonsense."

In a more just world, that would be so. But the problem is many people DO believe in nonsense, and that gives people like Kevin the impetus to write on why they consider it such, given the damage that nonsense can wreak on human welfare.

"Do you have other blogs where you invest as much time and energy discussing other things you find equally absurd as God, e.g. trolls and fairies? (I'm sure you'd get some lively conversations in those circles!)"

I hazard to say he would if he saw belief in trolls and fairies as equally harmful as belief in religion. You have falsely equated the atheist's non-belief in God with his non-belief in trolls and fairies, and assumed that, given that he regards them both as nonsense, then he should "therefore" see them as being of equal import.

Laughing Boy said...

In other words, the "spiritual realm" is forever beyond scrutiny and it's rather impolite for anyone to even inquire about it and ask for something to corroborate it that goes beyond your personal introspection.

You're putting words in my mouth. I'm saying that if you close yourself off to a possibility, regardless of how offensive it is to your philosophy, you can't pretend to be letting the evidence speak for itself. Naturalism is a philosophy, not a prerequisite for science. When held as an a priori parameter, it is a hinderance.

...if new accounting and logistics methods were developed by the Nazis as part of their Jew-exterminating [and may I add atheist-based] bureaucracy, it would go no further towards vindicating Nazism in any way.

You are correct. But it would work against the claim that Nazi's can know nothing about accounting and if they did they wouldn't be Nazi's, which is more to the point of those conversations.

I'm sorry to say, it all seems rather "convenient".

That might be true if I were tacking new ideas ad hoc onto old texts, but I'm not. These old texts were written long before the Enlightenment and they made this point perfectly clear.

Would you have been outright dismissive towards such claims had you been living in Biblical times?

Probably. I don't know for sure what mindset I would have if I lived thousands of years ago. I would probably dismiss, at least initially, things that were outside my common understanding just like many biblical characters did. Miracles and divine interaction are outside everybody's common understanding and should be greeted with skepticism by rational people at any point in history.

Defined like that, it's hardly worth mentioning because it's completely uncontroversial.

Right. Stating that atheism is a religious belief is uncontroversial.

That makes him small and petty, because then the only criterion he uses to judge people's worth is simply belief...

What aspect of peoples worth does God judge? God is not judging people's existential worth, I don't think. But I think you mean moral worth, and if He judges our moral worth we'd all come up short as thehappster says, which leads to...

...which any thug or lowlife is capable of.

a) Thank God.
b) But you're not?

...many people DO believe in nonsense, and that gives people like Kevin the impetus to write on why they consider it such, given the damage that nonsense can wreak on human welfare

First, what damage has religion wreaked on human welfare that atheism hasn't matched or exceeded when it had the chance? (85-100 million dead under communism. See the The Black Book of Communism.) Atheists are seemingly blind to the failings of their own system. Nobody else is. That's a big hurdle. And furthermore, what atheist institutions are even remotely challenging religious ones in rendering humanitarian aid?

You have falsely equated the atheist's non-belief in God with his non-belief in trolls and fairies, and assumed that, given that he regards them both as nonsense, then he should "therefore" see them as being of equal import.

Actually, Kevin equated them not me, but nonetheless you have a point.

Lui said...

>In other words, the "spiritual realm" is forever beyond scrutiny and it's rather impolite for anyone to even inquire about it and ask for something to corroborate it that goes beyond your personal introspection.<

”You're putting words in my mouth. I'm saying that if you close yourself off to a possibility, regardless of how offensive it is to your philosophy, you can't pretend to be letting the evidence speak for itself. Naturalism is a philosophy, not a prerequisite for science. When held as an a priori parameter, it is a hinderance.”

I wasn’t putting words into your mouth, because I wasn’t accusing you of stating this explicitly. And what exactly would this openness to a possibility you speak of look like for you to be satisfied that I wasn’t being “biased” against your faith? More often than not, it means swallowing everything the prescribed religious doctrine says, hook, line and sinker. I don’t actually discount the possibility of a spiritual realm, I just ask for evidence that can be examined and judged on its own merits. So far, such evidence has been utterly wanting.

>...if new accounting and logistics methods were developed by the Nazis as part of their Jew-exterminating [and may I add atheist-based] bureaucracy, it would go no further towards vindicating Nazism in any way.<

“Atheist based”? Are you aware that the Nazis’ hatred of the Jews had deep religious undercurrents? That Hitler hated the Jews largely for reasons pertaining to the murder of Jesus? Frankly, I find this slur quite revolting. It’s utterly inaccurate and is one of the many self-serving myths that Christians have fallen prey to.
But in case I’m misunderstanding you, please tell me what you mean by “atheist based”. A secular organisation? If so, then the murders and tortures committed by the secular authorities at the behest of the Church during the Inquisition should count as “atheist based”.

”You are correct. But it would work against the claim that Nazi's can know nothing about accounting and if they did they wouldn't be Nazi's, which is more to the point of those conversations.”

Since a majority of scientists are atheists, your point is irrelevant.

>I'm sorry to say, it all seems rather "convenient".<

”That might be true if I were tacking new ideas ad hoc onto old texts, but I'm not. These old texts were written long before the Enlightenment and they made this point perfectly clear.”

Apparently not “perfectly clear” enough for millions to continue believing in “miracles”, sightings of the Virgin Mary, communions with God, etc. Yes, I know that we must “interpret the Bible correctly”, but the mere fact that this book can be open to so many interpretations is something I would find troubling, given that it was supposedly authored by a deity. A paragon of clarity, the Bible is not.

>Would you have been outright dismissive towards such claims had you been living in Biblical times?<

”Probably. I don't know for sure what mindset I would have if I lived thousands of years ago. I would probably dismiss, at least initially, things that were outside my common understanding just like many biblical characters did. Miracles and divine interaction are outside everybody's common understanding and should be greeted with skepticism by rational people at any point in history.”

And yet, history shows us that people often AREN’T rational, and even when they think they are, they are very often taken in.

>Defined like that, it's hardly worth mentioning because it's completely uncontroversial.<

”Right. Stating that atheism is a religious belief is uncontroversial.”

This is mere word play. By your OWN admission: "Regardless, I did not say atheism was a religion, but that it entails a religious belief, which I would define as that which requires a decision regarding a religious concept."” (my emphasis) Saying that atheism is something that requires a decision regarding a religious concept is what’s uncontroversial, which is why I said that’s it’s hardly worth mentioning. What IS controversial is saying that atheism is a religion, which you weren’t saying. So if that’s what you mean by atheism being a religious belief, what’s the fuss about? You’re just stating it in a controversial way that is open to misunderstanding, even though the content of your meaning isn’t controversial.

>That makes him small and petty, because then the only criterion he uses to judge people's worth is simply belief...<

”What aspect of peoples worth does God judge? God is not judging people's existential worth, I don't think. But I think you mean moral worth, and if He judges our moral worth we'd all come up short as thehappster says, which leads to...”

>...which any thug or lowlife is capable of.<

”a) Thank God.
b) But you're not?”

The implication here would be valid if belief for its own sake was a courageous, noble thing. It is something that a lowlife is eminently capable of doing, and something that I, for one, refuse to partake in. So if anything, this snide remark actually backfires. Anyway, if you’re going to allow belief as the only criterion by which god judges one’s eligibility to avoid eternal torture, then you must forfeit Christianity’s claim to moral superiority.

>...many people DO believe in nonsense, and that gives people like Kevin the impetus to write on why they consider it such, given the damage that nonsense can wreak on human welfare<

”First, what damage has religion wreaked on human welfare that atheism hasn't matched or exceeded when it had the chance? (85-100 million dead under communism. See the The Black Book of Communism.)”

Along with the Nazis-were-atheists myth, so too must we endure the atheism-is-responsible-for-the-crimes-of-communism myth. This amounts to cheap sensationalism, and underscores the weakness of the position of the theist who is forced to invoke it, because it ignores two things: 1) communist leaders, while atheists, were still privy to all sorts of irrationalities that had nothing to do with a reasoned rejection of God. As Sam Harris has said, no society has ever become oppressive by being too reasonable. Stalin’s persecution of geneticists at the pleasure of Lysenko didn’t stem from a thorough appreciation for the virtues of science divorced from the folly of human politics. As someone has said: “Stalin was an atheist, but he was also a man of faith.” Much of communist doctrine is clearly pseudo-scientific and quasi-religious in nature. It takesmuch the same type of mentality to accept doctrinaire communism as it does to accept fundamentalist theism. 2) As usual, you ignore the social context. Russia and China were countries that had for centuries been run by despotic monarchies that were kept in power largely with the help of the religious orthodoxy that sanctioned the moncarchs' and nobility's “god-given” right to rule. The peasantry were deeply religious, and their grovelling inferiority complexes were something they got from believing they had deserved that life, and that enduring it was God’s wish. Religion was not responsible for Stalin and Mao, but it certainly helped shape the type of society that knew only how to take orders.
3) the economic market fundamentalism and war machine has had its most outwardly aggressive champions in the deeply pious Bush junta. Should I therefore blame the war on Iraq on Christianity? Bush claims to commune with God. He believes that God wanted him to invade Iraq. Would this aggression have been possible if the American people were more well attuned in habits of rational though, rather than placing their trust in invisible personalities?

And this is all if we accept the frankly ridiculous claims of 85-100 million dead under communism. Such figures are inventions to portray communism as worse than Nazism, and they cheapen the suffering of the actual victims. The truth is bad enough without having to resort to these cartoonish figures. But why should all this matter anyway, if the only crime the communists have really committed in God’s eyes is disbelief? (see above) You’re just trying to have it both ways: you want to claim that God doesn’t judge us on whether we do good or bad things but on whether we believe, and in the next breath you express moral outrage at atheism supposedly leading to mass murder.

“Atheists are seemingly blind to the failings of their own system.”

What system would that be?

“Nobody else is. That's a big hurdle.”

And another big hurdle is apparently when atheists equate theism with fundamentalism, but never mind when theists equate atheism with communism.

“And furthermore, what atheist institutions are even remotely challenging religious ones in rendering humanitarian aid?”

Doctors Without Borders is a secular organisation that renders humanitarian aid, and does so without wasting time and spreading lies about the evils of sex in AIDS-ravaged Africa. I don’t know about any outwardly atheist relief organizations, and the reason I suppose that is, is because no one is going to help others based on a lack of belief in God, but rather on human empathy. When I see someone who needs help, I don’t think to myself “What can I do to help that person based on my lack of belief in Yahweh?” (such a proposition is preposterous) I help that person based on my appreciation for that person’s need to be helped. It is because I am a conscious agent with the capacity to experience pain and suffering, that I am able to place myself in the others shoes (perhaps inadequately, depending on the situation) and realise that they, too, are endowed with these things.
And of course, none of this vindicates the truth claims of religion. Something doesn’t become true just because it inspires people to do certain things.

>You have falsely equated the atheist's non-belief in God with his non-belief in trolls and fairies, and assumed that, given that he regards them both as nonsense, then he should "therefore" see them as being of equal import.<

“Actually, Kevin equated them not me, but nonetheless you have a point.”

But it was you who equated them in terms of how important they “should” be in the atheist’s mind.

Grafted Branch @ Restoring the Years said...

Just surfing through on the BlogFlux ring...

Not all Christianity says that you must believe first before He initiates a relationship with you; quite the contrary. Except He regenerate the "dead-in-sin" spirit of man to be *able* to respond, we don't.

You are obviously a deep thinker, but you're actually trying to create God in your image. Do you see that?

I can testify that He *is* a true God, that Jesus is the true Savior and that the Holy Spirit is a true teacher!

And He saved me while I was yet His enemy. He did the same out of love for Saul/Paul. He can do the same for you. A prayer spoken for you...

Lui said...

"I can testify that He *is* a true God, that Jesus is the true Savior and that the Holy Spirit is a true teacher!"

Please excuse me for not placing your personal testimony before the personal testimony of millions of Muslims, millions of Hindus, millions of Buddhists and millions of Jews who say otherwise.

Laughing Boy said...

Are you really considering the personal testimonies of people from various religions? Are you trying to decide which religion among many to follow? This is good news, lui! Otherwise your response seems a tad disingenuous.

Lui said...

"This is good news, lui! Otherwise your response seems a tad disingenuous."

Far from it. All I'm saying is that the personal delusions of one person should not automatically be given priority over those others as conduits of truth. "Personal experiences" - whether they are of Jesus, Allah or of any of the other god/s - are all just that: personal experiences. They are all utterly subjective, and the only means by which we could decide whether we would give one set of experiences priority over others is to see how they accord with our existing beliefs. If one has already had a n ‘experience” of Jesus, say, one will think that the testimony of others who claim to have experienced Jesus is more trustworthy than that of someone who has experienced Allah. Or even if one is simply a Christian (the same applies if someone is already a Muslim; simply reverse all the above in favour of an Islamic perspective). All such experiences can and often are believed very intensely. In fact, my point isn't really about whether one religion is better than any other. I'm not saying that the testimony of Hindus and Muslims should trump that of Christians, or vice versa. My point is really about human psychology, and how the most parsimonious conclusion - given what we know about the way brains work, whether those brains are inhabited by Christian, Islamic or Hindu beliefs - is that all these experiences stem from the same, naturalistic source. All I'm saying, to repeat, is that all such experiences, regardless of the god being communed with, are equally delusional in regard to reality of the entities supposedly being perceived (though the emotions felt are very real, making them all the more believable to many), and that if we are take Grafted Branch's “word for it”, then we should, to be consistent (and to even allow personal experience a place as compelling evidence for God in the first place; no problem for me, because I don’t see such experiences as evidence of God, but many Christians do), also take the word of millions of Muslims and Hindus as well.

Anonymous said...

I have one question..........why is everyone argueing about God's existance? TO All that keep trying to prove he doesnt exists.........Why dont you ask God to show you...Because he said ask......Unless you are afraid of what you might be shown. God doesnt need anyone to defend him, So why are you arguing with created beings?. Argue with the CREATER he can best tell and show you about himself. Yes I believe God has a sense of humor, Just reading all this I get a good laugh. He isnt moved at all by our unbelief in him.

Laughing Boy said...

(sigh) With friends like these...

Ilse said...

'paul, everyone does have the same ability to understand God. It's built into all of us humans, hardwired in as both sentience and intelligence, spirit and mind. All we have to do is look around and ask questions. As we progress, we come to the knowledge that Scripture has been given to guide us in our search as the program that needs to be installed. Scripture speaks to our mind at first, then, if we are able to overcome doubt and continue to seek, Scripture, together with the Spirit of God, begins to speak to our spirit. It is from this conversation that belief (choosing not to doubt) comes. Once we believe, we begin to act on our belief (and everyone believes in something). If we choose to believe in the God of the Bible, we act on such precepts as "Thou shall not kill" and others that the Spirit will highlight in our being as we seek to be one with God. Can I prove this? Only in my own life. In that one case, I have proof for me.--webmaster'

Actually this first part about the hardwiring is what is called in Islam 'fitrah'. It says that every human being is in fact given this innate belief in God, somewhere he remembers it but his life causes him to forget. This is why in arab people are called insaan, it means the ones who have forgotten. So this is the part that agrees with you. The second part actually tells that you are going to hell, since you associate partners with God. I don't mean to offend you in any way, just to show you that it isn't as simple as that, apparently according to any religion yes God exists but there is also the extra claim that they alone have the right scripture telling them how to translate this inspiration to reality.