Another introduction

John W. Loftus has kindly allowed me to post on this blog.

My introduction and deconversion story.

No, I won’t start off with the “I was born in a log cabin I built with my own hands and a Bible,” although the factual history of how I deconverted is similar to what has been stated by others before. It is easier to explain what went on in my head.

I am a trial lawyer. This means I argue. I argue my position to judges (who have heard it all) to jurors (who have heard enough) to clients (who only want to hear the positive) and to other lawyers (who only hear themselves.) We have a saying, there are three sides to every story—my side, your side and the truth. Rarely do those three even meet, let alone shake hands.

I first hear the story from my client. Being human, they tend to focus on the positive and down-play the negative. I never quite get the “whole truth” in those meetings. I get their side of the story.

I had a client* who was charged with drunk driving. I asked, repeatedly, if he had ever been charged or convicted of a drinking and driving related offense. He assured me every time he had not. Based upon this statement, I assured him he would not see the inside of a jail. (Rarely do on a first time offense.)

At the sentencing, the Judge asked if he had ever been convicted before.

Client: No.
Judge: What about in California?
Client: What about California?
Judge: Weren’t you convicted of three drunk drivings there?
Client: Oh. That California.
Judge: 93 days in jail.
Client (to me): YOU said I wouldn’t go to Jail!
Me: YOU said you hadn’t been convicted before! Pack a toothbrush.

Time and time and time again, I find things out later, because the client didn’t think it was “important” at the time. Really, it was because the client thought it would hurt their case, and why share something that may never come up?


So I know, right from the start, that I am hearing a biased version of the facts. I also know that someday I will be facing an opponent that will not share our rosy one-sided report, and will be introducing facts and arguments that counter our position. Therefore I start questioning early on:

Client: I paid her with a check.
Me: Will she agree that you paid her?
Client: No, she will say I didn’t.
Me: Do you have a copy of the check, bank statement, records of it?
Client: Naw. I don’t keep that stuff.
Me: Can you get a copy from the Bank?
Client: I don’t remember what bank it was.
Me: How long did you bank there?
Client: Maybe six years.
Me: Where was the bank?
Client: At the corner of First and Brown. But it is not there anymore.
Me: Can you remember anything about this Bank so we can locate it?
Client: Not a thing.*

Do you see how it may be a problem showing that this payment was made, when every single fact (other than my client’s testimony) points against it? And it is hardly believable he would fail to remember any of these items about a bank where he transacted business for six years.

Since anyone can walk through our door, eventually we get to argue cases from both positions, pro and con. After doing so for a period of time, one starts to get the knack of what “sells” to a jury, and what does not. What arguments work, and what ones will not. When defendants are charged with a crime, many, many of their mothers will come forward with an alibi. The juries listen, feel badly for the mother, but disregard the testimony. They know it is the maternal instinct protecting the child. I already know this argument won’t work.

To succeed in this business, we have to become adapt at framing arguments based upon the facts as they exist, and assessing what works, and what does not. Jurors are not stupid; you can’t sell it just because you say it.

Through happenstance, I stumbled upon the Internet Infidels forum. I was fascinated right from the start. Here was a group of atheists and agnostics that knew quite a bit about Christianity and some of them knew far more about the Bible than I did! How could that be? There must be something incorrect in their circuits, because with what I knew, Christianity was a fore-gone conclusion. There must be a missing part, a chink that has been overlooked.

In lawsuits, the first thing we do is share information. No sense wasting my time considering the argument of non-payment, if they have copies of bills and checks. We gather the facts (as best we can) and see where the arguments start to shake out. Often, by plugging such things as payments into a spreadsheet, trends can appear that offer insight as to what happened.

Or, if the prosecutor provides me with a handwritten confession by my client, that certainly has a large bearing on what arguments I can make!

So I lurked. And lurked and lurked. Occasionally I would offer a question, but more to gather more information, rather than debate. After seeing book suggestions, I would go read them. If I was told “there is an argument…” I would look to see if there really was. I would go to Christian sites to see if anyone was providing defenses to the claims presented, and what those defenses were. Then I would read the Christian books.

An alarming development. I began to realize that the arguments presented by the Christians were extremely weak. In fact, so weak, that if they are my client, I would recommend they not use them. No jury would buy it! I had no idea Christianity could be this wrong.

It is one thing to present a position to people that already believe it. “Preaching to the choir” comes to mind. It is another to present a position as simply being a possibility, assuming the other side is predisposed to disagree with you. However, I have neither luxury. I am in a position were I must assess the claim, knowing there will be someone equally as adamant my argument is incorrect, and attempt to convince a neutral third party of the viability of my position over my opponent’s. That is not easy to do.

The American Judicial system is a humorous creature. We throw two (semi-) intelligent combatants on polar opposite sides of an issue, make them both spew their best arguments for their position, while at the same time tearing down the arguments for the contrary position, and hope that the truth emerges from this dogfight. I realized that for all of my life, all of the arguments against Christianity had been presented to me by Christians.

The arguments I saw now would never be convincing to a third party. For example, one of the first debates I actually entered was on inerrancy. What I saw, is that in a trial, if the skeptic stated, “This was written by two humans, who, as humans do, contradict” that argument would far and away prevail over a claim that two (or three or four) humans were writing from completely different angles, and one wrote about God, but forgot to mention Satan, and the other wrote about Satan, but forgot to mention God, and the third forgot to mention both of them!

Ever hear the claim, “Any policeman will tell you that if two witnesses completely corroborate on every detail, they will assume collusion.”? True enough. What they don’t say is that we also realize that contradictions demonstrate unreliability. We don’t say, “This witness claims it happened at 2 p.m., and this witness claims it happened at 3 p.m., so it must have happened.” No, we start to analyze why the witnesses claim two different times. One, or both could be wrong. About the time AND if it happened.

It is in the details. Too many times I can count; I have caught witnesses being untruthful by the details. The times don’t add up. The directions are the wrong way. The cars are on the wrong side of the street. The buildings would block their view.

Witness: I was late because I ate at the restaurant on the way home from work.
Me: Doesn’t that restaurant close at 5 p.m.?
Witness: Well….er…..yeah. But I left work early, and stayed longer at the restaurant.
Me: Didn’t you fax Exhibit A out at 4:45 p.m.?
Witness: Oh.
Me: You can’t get from your work to the restaurant in 15 minutes, can you?
Witness: Maybe they stayed open late?

The details catch people out every time. As I reviewed the various arguments for inerrancy, canonization, archeology, history, textual criticism, higher criticism, and reading, reading, reading, it became evident in argument after argument that the Christian position would be unconvincing to a real jury.

If the Christian argued a point, all the skeptic would have to say is, “These are humans attempting to say this is what God does/says/is. Not a God. Humans.” A neutral jury would agree that it most probable a human effort.

I came to the realization that in a full frontal assault of logic and rationale, Christianity would lose. So I reverted to blind faith. (You may be asking yourself, “If this was causing you so much consternation, why keep going back? Why not ‘trust in God’ and let go?” Because the questions were already in my mind. To ignore them was to grant them superiority over the Christian world view. If God provided the Truth to Christians, it should withstand questions, not avoid them.)

For a time, I looked for another God (since there still had to be one), but it was too late. I had established a methodology by which I could use (convince a jury) to eliminate every possible God that was proffered.

I don’t want to give the impression this was a cold, hard, logical decision. There is a great deal of emotion involved in giving up a faith of 37 years. It was traumatic, devastating, humiliating, depressing, and then exhilarating, fulfilling and peaceful.

(A parenthetical note. I wrote this prior to reading exbeliever’s last blog. A number of his points resonated with me.

I, too, am currently anonymous. While my family is painfully aware of my deconversion, it is a colossal embarrassment to them. They would prefer to never see their name attached, in any way, to a site debunking Christianity. Out of consideration for them, I do not.

But more importantly, my wife remains a fundamentalist Christian, and this is considered by both her, and the community she thrives in, as a failure on her part. There have been people that actively encourage her to divorce me, if I so much as hint of the possibility that Hell does not exist to our children. Many, many deconversion stories end in divorce between the deconvert and the continuing Christian. I do not want my story to end that way.

Therefore, in the weighing of whether to preserve my marriage, or having the best argument my opponent can compile is that I am anonymous, my marriage will prevail hands down. Every time. If you feel my arguments are lessened by not knowing whether my name is “Tom,” “Dick,” or “Harry” you may be amazed at how well I sleep at night with that thought. Next to my wife.)

*Not the actual facts, but a conglomeration of clients, due to privilege.

36 comments:

exbeliever said...

Welcome aboard, DagoodS!

I look forward to reading your future posts.

I'm very sorry to hear about the strain your lack of faith puts on your family.

I was very lucky in my marriage because, even though my wife and I were both fundamentalists when we met and married, we kind of "evolved" together. She is still a theist, but doesn't believe in hell or anything like that. This keeps us from having any major problems over my atheism. We also both agree that we want to raise our (future) children without religion and let them decide if they want to be religious or not.

It will be trickier with our families, though, because both of our parents are very religious. They will probably want to influence our children that way. It's a problem we've been thinking more about lately as we are approaching 10 years of marriage and that age when couples need to start trying to reproduce if they want to do it safely.

Anyway, I'm glad to have you on the team.

Best Wishes

Sandalstraps said...

Interesting story (not all all patronizing here).

I particularly like your view of the legal system as a kind of Socratic dialogue in which two opposing view battle it out in the hopes that some phantasm, Truth, will emerge.

I also admire your courage in being willing to challenge your deeply cherished beliefs. It shows an honest commitment to the truth which speaks well of your character.

That said, it does not follow from the claim:

The arguments for scriptural inerrancy fail (which they certainly do)

that you should abandon your faith.

I know how you feel. I was once a proud and arrogant fundamentalist who accepted inerrancy as a matter of faith. Anyone who question inerancy was an agent of Satan sent to deceive the world to prvent them from accepting the one true faith.

But the arguments for scriptural inerrancy fail, and I had to abandon that claim. Interesting, they fail in many, many respects. Even from the perspective of sola scriptura they fail.

My grandfather was a Southern Baptist pastor during the rise of the radical right in that denomination. He saw them systematically discredit their own scholars and moderate pastors. In the face of this he said that anyone who claims that scripture is inerrant hasn't read it. Not only are there errors and contradictions, but scripture itself does not pretend otherwise.

The Biblical argument for scriptuiral inerrancy (the only argument whih his denomination would recognize as necessary because of their sola scriptura position) rests on a single verse, 2 Timothy 3:16, which in the NRSV reads:

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,

(notice nothing explicit about inerrancy, or even authorship)

The scriptural argument for inerrancy rests on an argument which is at best a real stretch. The argument, as I'm sure you know, is that that which is inspired by God or God breathed must be without error.

But if we take the Christian creation myths seriously then we understand that all life has been inspired by God, filled up with the breath of God, the spirit of God. But who looks at this world as being inerrant? Certainly not those who make the claims of scriptural inerrancy to contrast the Bible with the world!

Inerrancy, in other words, never should have been an issue, and I'm as sorry for your sake as I am for mine that it became one. Placing such a nonsense issue at the heart of a cultural expression of the Christian faith has done a great deal of harm in the lives of those of us who wish to be committed to intellectual honesty.

I never lost my faith in God or Christ like you apparently have, but the shape of my faith has changed a great deal. The changing shape of my faith, and the strain that it had on my family, cost me my career as a minister. So I certainly empathize with the pain that this is causing, and I'm deeply sorry for that. As someone who has chosen to remain within the body of Christ I feel a kind of moral responcibility for the harm done by other members of that body in the name of Jesus.

Thank you for your honesty.

Anonymous said...

one day we will all appear before the Judgement seat of Christ and no doubt you will try to argue your own case to the one who knows the thoughts ,motives and intentions of your heart but it will be to no avail as the only words of submission you will be able to say is that Jesus Christ is Lord . you are a lawyer who now sits in Judgement on God "oh the sinful arrogance of that position " for 37 yrs you were a church goer you were never a blood bought Christian . But its not to late seek the Lord whilst he may be found the evidence for God is all around you from what has been made and even with the wife of your youth it takes more faith not to believe

exbeliever said...

sandalstraps,

Perhaps you would be interested in explaining why believing in a god is any more reasonable than believing in an inerrant text of Scripture.

What reasons do you have for believing there is a god to place your faith in?

William said...

As an RC, I don’t understand the problem between your family and your de-conversion. You being a lawyer is a wonderful thing. I glad you found a way to honest with yourself. So, to your being an atheist, as a Catholic I say, so what.
The problem with lawyers and juries and judges is there’s no guarantee of justice, just as there’s no guarantee that anyone can be converted or de-converted.
You know as well as I do, innocent people have been found guilty. And simply, it’s not the court’s job to determine the existence of a divine being. And the justice system isn’t qualified to do it either.
And face it, 99.99999999% of the divorces in the USA aren’t over religion. But it looks like you have a possibility of being that .00000001%. If it happens, pass on the facts, not the lack of faithfulness. Being unfaithful, being a lawyer, you’ll know, doesn’t necessarily mean adultery. It could simply be uncaring, thoughtlessness . . . an abandonment, of a sort.
What I have noticed is this fixation on Hell. I don’t get that either. As an RC, we don’t fixate on it. Life is too short as it is.
Again, I’m glad you found yourself. Most people spend an entire life lost.

Paul Manata said...

Just keeping you honest, dagoods.

Being a sophist doesn't mean that you reason well. it just means you know how to trick people.

Anyway, here's your disanalogous slip:

Dagoods wrote: What I saw, is that in a trial, if the skeptic stated, “This was written by two humans, who, as humans do, contradict” that argument would far and away prevail over a claim that two (or three or four) humans were writing from completely different angles, and one wrote about God, but forgot to mention Satan, and the other wrote about Satan, but forgot to mention God, and the third forgot to mention both of them!


PM: So, you see here that you claim that there are *contradictions* in the texts. Your characterization of the Christian answer, on some instances at least, is to say that writers wrote from different perspectives and from different circumstances, and for different reasons and audiences. Though you poinsed the well with your claim that they "forgot" to mention such and such, I'll let that slide for that is not what interestes me at this time. My point is that you paint the Christian as "leaving out a particular detail."

You then go on to illustate how this is a problem with your police man story:

Da goods Ever hear the claim, “Any policeman will tell you that if two witnesses completely corroborate on every detail, they will assume collusion.”? True enough. What they don’t say is that we also realize that contradictions demonstrate unreliability. We don’t say, “This witness claims it happened at 2 p.m., and this witness claims it happened at 3 p.m., so it must have happened.” No, we start to analyze why the witnesses claim two different times. One, or both could be wrong. About the time AND if it happened.

PM: Now, above he makes the correct claim about collusion. But dagoods then goes on to say that if two witnesses *contradict* themselves by one saying that the crime happened at 2 and the other at 3, then we have a problem.

Well, we would. But notice that this is unlike his "answer" that Christians give above. Surely the police would not have a problem if one witness left something out that another included! If one included a detail that the other felt not important to mention, for their own reasons, the police would not think, "contradiction!"

Indeed, if you're familiar with police and their crime scene questioning, then you'll know what I say is correct.

Here is an example of what I mean: Police frequently will talk to a man and a women to get their stories. They know the man is very good at giving them an account of "the facts" in a linear fashion. That is, "this happened, and then he did this, then that guy did that, etc." But, a women will give them details that a man does not even bother to note. She often tends to catch the emotions or underlying reasons why things happened. So, the man's story would leave things out that were included in the womens, and vice versa.

This would not be a problem. So, what you've done in an underhanded, lawyerly way, is to pull the wool over our eyes. Above you mentioend "leaving out information" and then below you made "leaving out information" to mean "contradiction." It does not mean that.

So, maybe there are contradictions, you'd have to show it. My point in writting this, though, was to point out that your post was confused and if this is any example of the reasoning ability you potrayed during your "search" then no wonder you became an unbeliever. I've always maintained that one has to give up good reasoning when he gives up Christianity.

We still are both escaping something. You escape reaswon and I escape wrath.

John W. Loftus said...

A neutral jury would agree that it most probable a human effort.

And as I have argued elswhere
this "neutrality" is justified by the geographical location of those who believe, the "accidents of birth." These "accidents of birth" lead us to being skeptical about any religious truth claim.

Great to have your legal mind aboard. We're looking forward to seeing you use it here.

John W. Loftus said...

Paul:

So do you think Christianity is rationally superior?

Can you prove to me there is a material universe? Can you? Idealism denies there is matter. If that can be rationally denied, then almost anything else can. Idealism reigned for over a century on the Continent--a century!

And if reason leads people to Christianity, then your explanation for why the world isn't Christian right now is because they're irrational?

Explain this: If Logic leads people to Christianity, then why isn't the world overwhelmingly Christian? Why?

Do you really think people just don't want to know the truth? They agonize over the lack of evidence. Do you really think people just don't want to repent? Repentance is an easy thing to attempt when they believe what God had purportedly done for them.

DagoodS said...

Thank you, exbeliever, for the warm welcome. As I said, I understand much of what you stated in the last blog. Don’t be sorry for any strain on my family. My poor wife is married to an argumentative lawyer! Not sure if this would be the “straw that broke the camel’s back” or just “another fig in the fire.”

All families have strain. We deal with it as much as possible.

sandalstraps, it was much, much more than inerrancy. I just used that as an example. Since we are on the topic, though…inerrancy opens up a huge can of worms.

If you agree that the Bible contains errors and contradictions, what method do you use to determine what is error, what is contradiction, and what is truth?

Once we recognize the human ability, in manufacturing the various books and elements of the Bible, to contradict each other, and to contradict what is known, what makes these collections of books any different than any other collection of human books?

Think about what all is encompassed in “contradictions.” This is not merely whether Jesus ate at 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. but what Jesus said, did, and even if he was physically resurrected! We have contradictions about God inciting sin, God punishing innocents, when Mosaic law was enacted, and when it was repealed, questions of salvation by faith or works, the never-ending battle of predestination vs. free will, questions regarding covenant theology, and even more.

There are two types of contradictions—internal (two authors disagree) and external (author disagrees with reality.) If human authors can disagree with each other, it is equally feasible they can disagree with what actually happened. A point of clarification—this is NOT deliberate falsification. It is possible to get facts wrong from a misinformed witness, or inability to see, or speculation as to what could have happened. Willful intention to be false is not required to be wrong.

As to the internal contradictions, after resolving them as best we can with “Scripture interprets Scripture” (and I do believe that many contradictions raised are resolvable in this fashion) what happens when we are left with a misalignment? We study what each author said, when they said it, their motivation, who they were writing to. But we don’t have external factors to make these determinations. All we have is their writing. And even that has been modified by other humans, redactors, editors. It becomes a field of guesswork.

What I started to see were humans, using human methods, to attempt to determine what other humans did were or were not errors. Where is the divinity in that? What makes this any different than any other human endeavor?

And what about the external contradictions. The Bible indicates creation occurred over a 6 24-hour period, about 6000 years ago. Obviously external data disagrees with the timing and the order. Do we use what humans tell us to determine that what a human wrote in Genesis 1 is in error? In fact all of the events, up to the time of the divided kingdom, are contrary to external factors. Do we use archeology, history, anthropology to determine that it, too, is error? A contradiction?

A pattern starts to emerge. What we can verify with external factors, we say the Bible is correct. What we cannot, we either say “contradiction” or “don’t know.” (There is no easy way to verify or not verify Abraham—one individual who caravanned about Palestine, for example.) Does the Bible get “trumped” due to containing errors?

Right now, Exodus and the ten plagues is a “contradiction” or error, due to the external evidence that is against it. Place it in the “error” pile. What if we found a plaque, in ancient Egypt, that indicated it happened? All of a sudden, we pull it out of the “error” pile and place it in the “fact” pile. Then we find out the plaque is a forgery. Whoops—back to the “error” pile. Then we find out the person who claimed it was a forgery didn’t investigate it, and is simply spreading false rumors. Whoops—back to the “fact” pile.

As humans gain more information, the Bible changes its error rating. Again, it looks exactly like humans, making human decisions, about what other humans write, based upon very human methods. No divinity here.

Do I require inerrancy, or it is not divine? Not at all. But show me something different! It is claimed that the Bible, above and beyond all other books, was in some way created with the efforts of the very entity that defines Truth, Knowledge, and Love. But when I start to examine it, I am told, “Careful. Treat that as if any explanation is sufficient to counter the claim of errors. It is the greatest book ever written, but please hold it to the lowest standard imaginable—any possible explanation is sufficient.” I don’t accept this in a second-grade math book, why accept it with divinity? Treating it as such a human artifact makes it…well….human.

DagoodS said...

Anonymous – thank you for your concern. I understand, from your position, that the judgment seat is a foregone conclusion. I wish I could let you see, for a moment, the inside of my head and realize how many times I have heard that same speech. Let’s see, the course of 38 years, average say 2 services a week, only 10% on judgment, that brings me to 400 times. Hearing it once a week (at least) since being an atheist, another 100 times or so.

I am sorry to say, as I assume you are convinced in the power of the words, that hearing for the 501st time did not persuade me.


William: ..the problem with lawyers and juries and judges is there’s no guarantee of justice… Ain’t it the truth. The times I have watched lawyers and juries and judges not follow the law makes my teeth curl. Still and all, the best system we have going, recognizing the possibility of human error, and attempting to reduce it as much as possible.

Yes, innocent people have been found guilty. However, william, there must be some way to determine the validity of what one believes by outside vectors, not simply believing it because I believe it. I developed, for me (not saying it works for everybody), in which to do that. It is the recognition of what the argument looks like to a neutral jury.

Understand that word, “neutral.” If I say “God” or “Jesus Christ” we all have an immediate picture in our mind as what those words mean. What if you were trying to convince someone that had never heard of Jesus? Didn’t know the Christmas story? What if the person arguing against you points out all the human errors in the story? I reviewed Christianity, NOT as if I was arguing to Christians, or atheists, but rather agnostics. People that say, “convince me with reason, not with ‘I believe’.”

Not so sure about your statistics on divorce, but even if it is only .00001% chance; I don’t intend to be in that percentage!

Thanks for understanding what it means to “find oneself.”

Steven Carr said...

There is a Biblical precedent for saying we should not believe witnesses who contradict each other on the details, while agreeing on the main points.

Mark 14:57

Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him:

58 "We heard him say, 'I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.' "

59 Yet even then their testimony did not agree.

Witnesses are discredited if they agree on the main points, yet trip over the details.

We can only speculate what details were contradictory in these witnesses?

Perhaps one of them said heard Jesus say that when he was demonstrating in the Temple just a week ago.

While the other claimed that the demonstration happened 3 years ago.

Perhaps one false witness said it was the 3rd hour when Jesus said that, while another said it was the 6th hour.

Or perhaps the false witnesses said 12 people heard it, but gave 2 different lists of names of these 12.

We shall never know.

We can only speculate on what contradictions these false witnesses came up with.

DagoodS said...

paul manata – never hesitate to keep me honest. Being human I have been wrong before. Admittedly, I like to think rarely, but still very possible!

Surely the police would not have a problem if one witness left something out that another included! If one included a detail that the other felt not important to mention, for their own reasons, the police would not think, "contradiction!" Oh my no. Police (and lawyers questioning witnesses) are very interested in what facts people leave out. Some of the best testimony comes from people leaving things out in bar fight cases. The Victim testifies the Defendant started it. The Defendant testifies the Victim started it. One onlooker says the Defendant threw a shot glass, one says he threw a punch and another says he swung a pool stick. (Yes, they truly ARE that varied!)

All of the Defendant’s friends say, “Nothing happened.” The police do not shrug, figuring some detail is “left out” because it was not important to mention. They think there might be a problem.

To be fair, you may not have known what I was talking about with the God/Satan thing. David’s Census. 2 Sam. 24 says God incited David to take it. 1 Chron. 21 says Satan did, and 1 Chron. 27 says nobody did. Understand that this crime was so bad, that God’s justice system (whatever that is) required a punishment of 100,000 – 200,000 people!

Witness 1: Officer I saw the whole thing. God forced incited that David fellow to do the whole thing. I didn’t see Satan, but I sure saw God. And God was angry, too.
Witness 2: No, /I saw the whole thing. God wasn’t there at all. Satan, God’s biggest enemy was the one that incited David. It was only then that God got mad.
Witness 3: Are you two nuts? There was no God, no Satan, no David at all. It was Joab that did it.

While witnesses may leave out details that other witnesses fill in, it is inconceivable that one would notice God and not Satan, another Satan, but not God, and a third wouldn’t see either. Or even David.

Sandalstraps said...

Intuition, personal religious experience, and all sorts of other "non-rational" but not irrational claims.

Faith in God is not principally about belief in propositions, but rather about experience of a personal nature which fills life with meaning.

The best arguments against this view of faith include:

1. It is subjective rather than objective, and as such is binding only on ther person who has the experience.

2. It represents a sort of "vital lie." A vital lie is a belief which is held out of emotional necessity rather than on the bsis of empirical evidence.

The vital lie argument is most interesting, because two different (bad) conclusions can be reached from it. The first is that all beliefs which are held for this reason are invalid, because somthing is not true simply because we need it to be true. The second is that all beliefs which are held for this reason are valid, because it cannot be the case that the universe is structured in such a way that our funadmental needs are incapable of being met.

The argument from subjectivity is a better one. Sinmply because I have an experience of something which I identify as God does not mean that:

a.) I have actually had an experience of God, or

b.) anyone else could have an experience of God.

My experience which I interpret as a kind of religious experience which points to God does not demonstrate that there is a God. But it did introduce me to a way of life which worked a great deal better for me.

Every rational proof for the existence of God which I studied as a philosophy major failed for various reasons. Either they contained logical fallacies, as in the case of teleological arguments (which rest on a weal analogy - God as a cosmic watchmaker; the natural world as a kind of intricate timepiece); or they started with unproveable axiomatic premises, as in ontological arguments; or for some combination of the two.

God also is not empirically demonstrateable, I'll grant you that as well. Even those of us who claim some sort of religious experience do not hold that the experience we have had is a sort of empirical experience. Even those of us who claim to have experience God do not (I hope, for their sake) claim to have experienced the entirity of God, or any quantifiable portion of God (as though God could be divided up and studied).

The existence of God, then, cannot be proven. I will grant you that as well, and will not burden you with any bad proof. People believe or disbelieve for personal reasons. Personally I have as many reasons to disbelieve as I do to believe. Religious people can be extraordinarily intellectually dishonest. Such dishonesty would be manifest in me if I told you, for instance, that I had such compelling reasons for my faith that I consider it to be the only rational position. I'm sure you've heard that line before.

As the former pastor of a fundamentalist church I have seen such destructive dishonesty at work. For questioning, for instance, that church's belief that the flood in New Orleans was evidence of God's wrath against that city for its manifold sins and wickedness (ala Sodom and Gomoreah) I was called an agent of Satan sent to deceive the church.

But, for my all my reasons to disbelieve, I have at least as many reasons to believe. In my own life, my experience of God (which does not demonstrate that there is a God) humbles me, and teaches me that while so many things in this world are out of my control, they are not spiralling out of control. My experience of God teaches me to have compassion on all living creatures, as they participate in the way in which God is made incarnate in creation. My experience of God teaches me to trust that love triumphs over hate, that compassion triumphs over condemnation, that justice triumphs over tyranny, and that grace and mercy triumph over legalism.

This too, of course, does not prove God's existence. I can "do justly, love mercy and walk humbly" whether or not I believe that there is a God standing behind that scripture from Micah. I can be a good person and live a decent, meaning-filled life even if there is no God as either the moral enforcement mechanism or fundamental meaning behind the universe.

But I choose to believe in God for the novel reason that it makes sense out of my experience of life. My faith enters into my chaos and creates order. It steps into my nihilistic tendencies and produces meaning.

My belief does not demonstrate the objective existence of God. My reasons for it are subjective rather than objective, and emotional rather than rational. But since the arguments for and against God are a wash, and since my faith does so much for me, I would be a fool to abandon my religious journey or my religious experience just because I found out that the arguments I bought as a teenager have some pretty damn good rebuttals.

Again, I am sorry for your experience with the Christian faith. I have been burned, too. And I'm also sorry that I cannot provide you with anything like the certainty I had as a child. The best I can say is that in the worst experiences of my life, as I was being burned by people who claimed to serve the same God I thought I was serving, I turned to that which I identify as God and was for once not let down.

Sandalstraps said...

exbeliever,

Forgot to answer half of your question. You said:

Perhaps you would be interested in explaining why believing in a god is any more reasonable than believing in an inerrant text of Scripture.

To that I say very simply that the belief in inerrancy of scripture is obviously refuted by the presense of contradictions in the scriptural text, as well as by the presense of historical errors.

God's existence is not as obviously false.

I won't say that anyone should believe in God simply because God can't be refuted - that wouldn't follow. Arguments from ignorance, such as

We don't know that God doesn't exist, so God must exist

are obviously fallacious.

But the fallacy of that argument goes both ways. Just as we can't say that God's existence is demonstrated by our inability to disprove God, we also can't say that God's non-existence is demonstrated by our inability to prove God.

That sets up my argument from experience in the previous comment.

Bruce said...

I've always maintained that one has to give up good reasoning when he gives up Christianity.

Pot. Kettle. Black.

Bruce said...

But the fallacy of that argument goes both ways. Just as we can't say that God's existence is demonstrated by our inability to disprove God, we also can't say that God's non-existence is demonstrated by our inability to prove God.

You are forgetting one important distinction between the two; who has the burden of proof? Atheists don't have to prove God's non-existence because they don't have the burden of proof.

Would you accept my belief that aliens are abducting me every night without some credible proof that I am being abducted? How about if I said an invisible dragon lived in my garage? Oh, and by the way, because of it's magical powers, you can't detect it's existence in any way, you just have to take my word for it.

Get the point? The person making the assertion has the burden of proof. And until there is proof, then we get to treat the assertion as like "it doesn't exist" or "it never happened". If this weren't the case, then progress would come to a standstill because we would not only have to proof that everything real exists but also that everything not real doesn't exist, for which there are an infinite number of possibilities.

So yes, your inability to prove that God exists does mean that God doesn't exist, unless you are also willing to give me my invisible dragon?

Sandalstraps said...

I certainly get your point, but I think that you may be missing mine. Not too many people claim that aliens have abducted them, yet in nearly every culture many, many people have some experience of God. While this does not demonstrate that God exists of necessity, nor does it entirely shift the burden of proof to atheists, it does make your analogy a weak one.

In the case of God, the person making the assertion has a great deal more on their side than their isolated experience of an improbable claim. They have with them each person who has ever had some experience of God in the course of human history.

Again, I do not think that this "proves" God beyond the ability of reasonable people to doubt God's existence. But I think that it does say that the person positing the existence of God has more to back up their claim than the person positing the existence of a garage-kept dragon.

Paul Manata said...

Johnny,

I never said "logic leads people to Christianity." I said that to leave Christianity is to leave good reasoning. There's a difference. if you can't grasp whjat you read then at least don't make your posts public, it looks sad.

Oh, and how about that debate.

Dagoods,

I never meant that they didn;t care. I meant they wouldn't think contradiction. Also, and I have first hand knowledge, they are not bothered by some information that is left out. A man simply does not think like a woman. Women will "see" all sorts of things differently simply because of a conceptual scheme that allows her to "see" more.

ANyway, you didn't deal with the main point that I made, which was that you shifted the debate.

Your only response was an autobiographical remark, based on ignorant conjecture, i.e., "It doesn't seem likely to me that...."

Well, evolution doesn't seem likely to me.

What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Bruce said...

In the case of God, the person making the assertion has a great deal more on their side than their isolated experience of an improbable claim. They have with them each person who has ever had some experience of God in the course of human history.

I understand the argument, but this is an evidential fallacy. Tradition cannot be used as proof. There are many other explanations as to why so many people have believed in the various gods throughout history. But the actual numbers don't mean anything. 99,999,999 out of 100,000,000 people believing in something doesn't make that thing any more real/true than only 1 person believing in it. And of course, appealing to a personal "experience of God" is another fallacy as well.

I think that it does say that the person positing the existence of God has more to back up their claim than the person positing the existence of a garage-kept dragon.

Unless you've got some actual proof for that assertion, I'm afraid you're getting burned by my dragon.

Sandalstraps said...

A fallacy comes when you draw conclusions which are unwarrented from your premises. As I never claimed that tradition proves that God exists, nor did I claim that such a proof is possible, I have committed no fallacy.

Alas, you continue to make the same weak analogy, unless you intend to argue that most people at most points in history are as deluded as the person who posits an invisible dragon. Such a reckless an unwarrented assertion, regardless of your conviction with your atheism, would make it difficult for me to take you seriously.

The problem that I have with many of my fellow Christians is their willingness to dismiss the perspectives of others based solely on their own convictions. This leads to a kind of absulutist triumphalism which rightly turns off many people to the Christian faith. It makes many evangelical Christians into arrogant moralists who assume that they are right by virute merely of their beliefs, and that everyone else is wrong.

It would disappoint me greatly to find that you are such an evangelical atheist that you are willing to say that everyone who believes in God is, by virtue of their belief, crazy. And if you say that belief in God is sufficiently like positing an invisible dragon in your garage, that is, in fact, your claim.

I did not come here to convert you, or prove to you that God exists. But I also did not come here to have you resort to the worst sort of evangelical arguments to convert me. Unless you really believe that no reasonable person could possibly believe in God, then while tradition does not prove God, it certainly speaks to some sort of reality behind a very collective experience.

Belief in God is a very common phenomenon, while belief in your dragon seems, at best, novel and particular to you. The commonality of that belief, which crosses religious and cultural borders, speaks to its presense in our collective unconscious. Again, do not mistake this for a proof of God, as no such proof will be forthcoming.

If you persist in your nonsensical analogy which is at best insulting and patronizing to everyone who has ever on the basis of experience (and especially shared experience) believed in any unseen deity, then I will have to conclude that your evangelicalism merely changed its belief structure.

Sandalstraps said...

Bruce,

Sorry about the evangelical remark. Having looked at your profile I see that you claim to have never been religious.

That remark was, as best I can tell, my first real fallacy, a hasty generalization. The argument would go something like this:

P1: Most people at Debunking Christianity are deconverted evangelicals.

P2: Bruce is at Debunking Christianity.

C: Bruce must be a deconverted evangelical.

That is a hasty generalization unwarrented by either premise, and I quickly found disconfirming evidence for my false claim. Sorry to paint you with that brush.

The gist of my point remains. Your willingness to insist that most people are simply insane because they look at the same data as you and arrive at a different conclusion speaks to the sort of arrogance that most people get from believeing that God agrees with them rather than from believing that there is no God.

And your willingness to argue that my proof for the existence of God is fallacious when it does not even present itself as a proof speaks to your making the same sort of hasty generalization about me as I just made about you.

That said, I do sincerely apologize for the generalization. It was unwarrented, and I am without excuse. It was simply a lazy argument.

Daniel said...

DagoodS,
I just joined the blog as well and haven't put together a suitable bio just yet, but will be soon, for my first post. Nice to meet you.

exbeliever,
I can relate perfectly to the situation with your wife and yourself. My wife just confided in me last night that she is beginning to doubt Christianity in general. I don't know how far her doubt will take her, but I encouraged her to take her time and think and read and not feel rushed into complete abandonment of anything, as emotional appeals are nearly the entire substance of religious conversion and rational thinking ought to be the basis of deconversions.

Anyway, I just saw that first comment and had to write you as a kindred spirit -- we were both fundies at marriage, I lost faith about a year ago (completely, had been doubting seriously for a while).

Daniel said...

Paul M,

Do you care to point me to an already-written harmonization, or quickly write one yourself, of the early years, the genealogy, or the resurrection story, of Jesus? A non-contradictory listing of the facts involved in all/any?

Thanks!
Daniel

Sandalstraps said...

Bruce,

Your insistence on proof for the existence of God is admirable. As a religious person I wish that more people had it. However, your willingness to discount as "proof" all things which do not fit into a very narrow definition of proof speaks to a kind of radical skepticism which, while intellectually defensible, ultimately leads one to be able to make very many claims.

This is particularly true when you claim that someone who uses God as a sort of operational hypothesis rather than an ontological necessity has still - even though they have not yet made a single argument for the necessity of God's existence, commited an evidential fallacy.

My argument against your analogy is that the beliefs which you said were analogous to a belief in God were novel claims held by few if any existing people, while a belief in and experience of God is a normal claim held by many people.

It certainly does not follow of necessity that God exist just because people believe in God, which is why I made that concession from the onset of our discussion.

Your claim

But the actual numbers don't mean anything. 99,999,999 out of 100,000,000 people believing in something doesn't make that thing any more real/true than only 1 person believing in it

is perfectly true, but also fails to speak to my point. I did not say that any number of people believeing in God could, by itself, demonstrate the necessity of God's existence. But I did say that belief in God is, by virtue of shared experience, much less novel or insane than belief in your dragon, or any other non-empirically evidenced claim.

As for arguments from experience, I bring them up not to prove that God exists, but to explain why I believe in God. Arguments from experience are by no means a slam dunk case. The best debate I've seen on the subject comes in the form of two essays which you might find interesting.

The first is From Experience to God by Jerome I. Gellman, a philosopher from Ben-Gurion University, Israel. In it he appeals to two creatively titled principles:

1. Best Explanation of Experience (BEE) - which can be rendered roughly thus (the following italicized sections are paraphrases of Gellman's arguments, since we won't want the whole essay pasted into a single comment):

If a person, S, has experience, E, which seems to be of a particular object, O, then, everything else being equal, the best explanation of S's having E is that S has experience O, rather than something else or nothing at all.

He then applies that to claims of experiencing God, which may rest on a weak analogy (when people claim to experience God are they having a claim which can be reasonably compared to experiencing, say, a tree, or some other empirically observable object?).

2. Strength in Numbers Greatness (STING) - which can be rendered roughly thus:

The presumption created by BEE that a seeming experience of a particular object, O, is, in fact, an experience of O is strengthened by the more "sightings" of O and the more variable the circumstances under which O has been sighted.

He applies this to experiences of God by arguing roughly thus:

There have been many accounts of people who claim to have experienced God, occuring under highly variable circumstances, which strengthens the claim that they have actually experienced God.

The argument is a bit more subtle than that, but that was the gist of it.

The immediate problem with the argument can be phrased in the form of 2 questions:

1. Is God sufficiently like an object - particularly an empirically observable object?

2. Is an experience of God sufficiently like an experience of an empirically observable object?

In other words, do the rules which apply to ordinary experience also apply to a kind of divine or sacred encounter?

The second essay is a rebuttal to the original essay. It is Who's Afraid of a BEE STING: A Reply to Gellman by Henry Samuel Levinson of UNC Greensboro, and Jonathan W. Malino of Guilford College. They attack Gellman by arguing that if there are no intersubjective tests for the veridicality of an experience, or if such tests would probably not produce a positive result, then we have good reason to doubt the account of the experience.

They argue similarly to my own arguments that we have, per Gellman's BEE STING, reason to believe a person has actually experienced, say, a tree; and reason to doubt that a person has experienced, say, a flying saucer.

This is similar to your own comparing of belief in God with belief in a garage-bound dragon. I think that Levinston and Malino have pointed to a weakness in Gellman's argument, but they too fail to appreciate the magnitude of claims for an experience of God.

Again, no matter how many people claim to experince God, it is not manifest from that that God actually exists. But neither is it manifest from that that their claims are as easily ignored as being abducted by aliens or having a garage-bound dragon, as such claims are novel rather than common.

To your own insistence on "proof," I say that you are entitled to it, and are correct in anticipating that it will not be forthcoming. God is simply not an empirically observable entity, and so per your evidential expectations it will never be evident that God exists.

But radical skepticism on the grounds of the absence of empirical evidence leads one to be able to make few affirmative claims about the universe. As David Hume argued, there are no empirical grounds on which to assume even the law of causality. Just because the sun rose (understanding, of course, that the sun does not literally rise in the sky, but is only perceived by us to do so on the basis of our limited perspective) yesterday, and the day before, and the day before, and on and on; it does not follow from that that the sun will do the same thing tomorrow. There is no empirical evidence which one can bring to bear when predicting the future.

Sometimes, then, we need an operational hypothesis. Of course, not all operational hypotheses are created equal. Positing that past events are good predictors of future events in most cases is a fair amount safer of a bet than positing God as an operationa hypothesis. After all, the phenomenon in the natural universe can - despite the protests of the ID nuts - be explained just as well without positing any sort of a God.

But I use God as an operational hypothesis because it brings order to my chaos, meaning to my existential disorientation. And, despite your attempt to render faith a fallacy (as though it were a logical argument) I am in good company in doing so.

My faith is not binding on you, as I readily conceed that reasonable people can conclude on the basis of all available data that God's existence is certainly not manifest. But reasonable people can also conclude, on the basis of religious experience (which despite the testimonials here, is not always a negative) that using God as an operational hypothesis makes the experience of life a much better one for them.

Again, I readily concede that this doe snot "prove" God. Other explanations can be used to describe my own experience and the experience of the billions and billions of other people who claim to have had some sort of meaningful encounter with the sacred. But that does not make us all nuts or quacks. That certainly does not make us like your hypothetical dragon keeper.

Sandalstraps said...

Incidentally, if anyone (particularly those working on any kind of degree in philosophy) is interested in a critical treatment of Anselm's ontological argument, here's mine.

Bruce said...

Sandalstraps, I think you are forgetting the main point of my first post: the burden of proof falls on the believer. From what I can tell, you are trying to shift that burden somewhat by using an appeal to tradition.

Also, you stated that "we also can't say that God's non-existence is demonstrated by our inability to prove God" and I pointed out that non-existence is indeed the default state and further, if we had to go around proving every negative then we would never get anywhere. So yes, we can say that something does not exist if we can't prove that it does.

I was never arguing against "your proof" for the existence of God. When I said "your inability to prove that God exists does mean that God doesn't exist" I meant believers in general, not you in particular. And it was directly pertaining to your statement quoted above, not to any proof you put forth for the existence of God. Again, my whole point was about the burden of proof and why atheists do not have to prove a negative.

My dragon analogy is from Carl Sagan's book The Demon-Haunted World. It was used to illuminate the burden of proof concept. Why should we believe that there is a dragon in my garage if there is no way to prove its existence other then through me? The implication being that we should not believe in any god (who according to you, cannot be proved to exist either) until we have proof? You countered that "the person positing the existence of God has more to back up their claim than the person positing the existence of a garage-kept dragon." And I countered that appeal to tradition was not a justifiable argument and so they do not have any more to back up their claims than I do about my dragon.

I never used the word "insane" in any of the above discussion. As I stated earlier, there are plenty of explanations as to why people continue to believe in god/gods. One of those could be based on some sort of insanity, but since most people I know who believe in God aren't insane, I don't think I would use the insanity argument to generalize belief. There are plenty of books out there on why people believe. But that is a different discussion. Again, my main point was that the burden of proof falls on the believer, you don't need to prove a negative to prove non-existence and further, you can't appeal to tradition to shift that burden.

P.S. I see that you have posted even more while I was working on this post, but in general I see nothing new in your post, you are still playing the same cards, appeal to tradition and numbers.

But reasonable people can also conclude, on the basis of religious experience (which despite the testimonials here, is not always a negative) that using God as an operational hypothesis makes the experience of life a much better one for them.

Of course they can. As I mentioned, there are many explanations for why people believe in God. One of them is surely to bring a sense of order to a seemingly chaotic universe. But even if everyone on the planet believed in God, that doesn't shift the burden of proof one bit, which was my whole point.

And again with the "nuts" and "quacks" implications. Sagan surely did not mean to imply that believers are insane and neither did I, though I do find it interesting that you think that I did. I could have used a million different other analogies, even from different religious beliefs that you would find outrageous. Would you think that they were insane as well?

DagoodS said...

sandalstraps – nicely written responses. But all theists subscribe to this view. The only possible exception being rational deists. Fundamentalists hold to the personal experience of God. It may be in addition to other claims, but it is still part of the belief. Muslims, Mormons, Jews, all hold to a personal experience with God as verification of His existence.

How did you pick which God to go with? How can you, if based on personal experience, eliminate any God? As humans, we still use our reason. You picked love over hate. Why? Where is it written that God must be a God of love? We see both in the world. We see people that normally love commit acts of hate, and those that normally hate commit acts of love. Couldn’t God be a God of Hate, in which an occasional love act slips through?

You have made a reasoned and rationale choice to pick “good” things as applying to God. Yet you recognize the bad things still exist. Why?

My thought is that it is your humanity shining through your theism. (Sorry! :-) ) You recognize that hate, and fear and prejudice are “bad” and therefore remove them from the picture as far as a God is concerned. You recognize that the inerrant, literalist, Biblist God is incorrect, yet still cling to the idea of one.

If such a God gives you “meaning” I feel almost criminal arguing against such a position. Some day I will share the fear of despondency upon looking at the path of atheism I felt, that never came. I have just as much meaning now as before.

But shouldn’t such a creature, by necessity, have more impact than people’s intuition? A “sixth sense” if you will that it must exist?

Interesting that you bring up societies all creating gods. Yes, most do. And those gods look exactly like the humans that created them. Saying that humans have made them up for years, does not mean they exist, of course. In fact, it harms the proposition, because they all vary so much from culture to culture. How come the gods only know as much as the people they are gods over? 4000 years ago, the gods moved the sun across the sky. Now, the gods move the earth about the sun. Why? Did the Gods change? No, we learned more.

Why did the gods used to get so angry every fall, creating winter? But now, the gods just set the earth in motion, explaining the seasons.

The problem, I see, in bringing up all those cultures, with all those varying Gods, is that it demonstrates humans are capable of making up false gods. (Remember, of the 100,000 different types of gods, 99,999 think your brand of theism is a false god.) If they can make up 99,999 false ones, why not all of them? Including yours?

The problem I see with BEE STING is the deliberate lack of definition of “God.” Some people experience a Mormon God, which, by the definition of that God, eliminate the possibility of others experiencing an Aztec God. Others experience a Greek God, which eliminates Jesus as a deity experience, and so on.

This is a broad stroke, in an attempt to avoid the details. Within the details, we see that each person is NOT experiencing the same entity when they say “God” and, in fact, would argue that other’s experiences are deluded or self-inflicted and false.

If we took every experience of God claimed, wrote them down, and then handed the list to every theist that experienced them, asking them to cross off the “false” experiences of the other theists, how many would we have left?

DagoodS said...

paul manata, debates shift all the time. Different points at different times can be made, with different examples. What I meant was that contradictions can include a direct contradiction (A = Not A) or can be inferred from the failure to point out an extremely relevant fact. Not simply a minor difference in description. I apologize if this confused you.

Using the David Census still and incorporating your male/female differences, it would look like this:

Male: President Bush and King David entered the party at 9 p.m., and Bush forced David to blow a bomb, killing 100,000 people.
Female: Saddam Hussein and King David entered the party, both wearing black tuxedoes, and Saddam forced David to blow a bomb, killing 100,000 people.

(Since God and Satan are enemies, I replaced them with equal enemies, to demonstrate the difference.)

A policeman, lawyer, or even lay person is going to wonder how the man failed to notice Hussein and Bush working together, regardless of the time, as well as the woman failing to notice the same thing, regardless of what they are wearing. I am sure, within your first hand knowledge, you realize that policemen would inquire for more information.

What is most likely to have happened is that the man or woman received their knowledge second-hand or third-hand, and is therefore unreliable. Contradictions are not always intentional. Some of the best intentioned people can be wrong, due to wrong information provided.

paul manata: Well, evolution doesn't seem likely to me.

What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
Sauce? These aren’t even in the same food group! Evolution involves the study of empirical data, observation, biology, paleontology, chemistry, genetics, and countless sub-fields. Which involve theories and hypothesis, and falsibility, and prediction.

Contradictions in an ancient text involves history, textual criticism, higher criticism, archeology, anthropology, study of ancient religions, paleography, language study, a whole different ball of wax. Primarily the difficult is inability to test a single individual who lived 2500 years ago. We can view societies as a whole (to some extent) but not one author.

Perhaps, though, if you view this as “sauce” you can provide a methodology, similar to the scientific method, in which we can determine contradictions in the Bible, or non-contradictions?

Sandalstraps said...

Dagoods,

I don't pick which God to go with. I say that all concepts of God are "empty." That is to say, assuming there is a God, all concepts of God, by being human concepts of God, fail to describe God as God.

I chose the Christian faith because it is the religious tradition in which I had and continue to have my experience of God. I chose the Christian faith because I find the teachings and example of Jesus to be quite helpful. But in doing so in no way to I imply that it is anything like the one true faith, or that it (to the extent that one can say that there is a single entity which can be called Christianity making a single set of assertions) is completely true.

I think, particularly with your critique of anthropomorphic concepts of God, that you would love the ancient Greek philosoher Xenophanes' critique of religion. I hate to shamelessly plug my own work, but my treatment of it can be found here.

The best way to answer your critique of Gellman's BEE STING would be to say that perhaps he would respond with something like this:

You are right that God is deliberately undefined. This is because, if there is such a thing as God, then God is beyond the human ability to define. Each desciption of God is at best a poor participation in the Platonic form of the divine.

I'll grant that, as a philosopher friend of mine constantly says, that's a little too "squishy" for most people. But I think that if we grant the possiblility of an actually existing God, and if we grant something non-trivial by the term God, then the actually existing God is not best described by anything we have at our disposal.

I know this leaves with little to attack, and I'm sorry for that. It seems intellectually dishonest to posit the existence of a God with no description of that God. But having found each description of God to be in some way flawed, and having also had a kind of experience of God, it was the recourse left to me.

I'm sure you'll say that I should just drop the idea of God altogether, but I already tried that, and trust me, it didn't work. I'm glad that you have found some freedom from religion, and it didn't cost you your sense of meaning or purpose. But when I went down that road more was lost than gained.

There are so many comments here that I really can't fish through them all, so sorry if there was something important that I left out.

Sandalstraps said...

Bruce,

The nuts thing came in through me, because I thought that it was obvious that the best explanation for someone making such a novel claim absent any confirming evidence is that they are out of their mind. If that is not the claim you (or Carl Sagan) is making, then I apologize.

I still, however, think that positing the existence of God is not sufficiently like positing the existence of a dragon, but that is nothing new.

DagoodS said...

sandalstraps, thanks for the reply. A few points—

I chose the Christian faith because I find the teachings and example of Jesus to be quite helpful. But you just pick and choose with sayings and examples to follow. Those you like, you follow, those you don’t you ignore. I don’t see any Christians following Luke 6:27-35 to the letter! It is an “ideal” but never implemented.

Of course, we cannot attest that theses are the actual sayings of Jesus, and most, if not all, were common sayings of traveling philosophers of the time. Odd that in the Pauline writings, he only quotes Jesus once—that being the Eucharist. You would think the single greatest contributor to the New Testament would equally find Jesus’ teachings to be helpful. He did not.

It seems intellectually dishonest to posit the existence of a God with no description of that God. But having found each description of God to be in some way flawed, and having also had a kind of experience of God, it was the recourse left to me. I’ll confess, this always does seem a bit of a cop-out.

What I see is the theist offering certain propositions of their God, such as having a personal experience, or that love triumphs, compassion triumphs, etc. But when I start to discuss those concepts, and those conclusions, the theist backs away with a “we can’t define God.” Fair enough. Then don’t start off with definitions of God. If you can’t, you can’t. For all you know, God DOES hold to hate over love.

I saw it emphasized as follows, and it has always stuck with me:

Theist: God is square.
Atheist: So God has four sides and four right angles?
Theist: God’s squareness is not like our squareness. We can’t understand his definition of ‘Square.’
Atheist: Then why say, ‘God is square’ in the first place?

Further, if God is actually providing information through personal experiences, this should give us at least a miniscule, basic understanding of God. Unless these personal experiences are totally one-sided—i.e. completely human.

We start to learn math by counting numbers. Later we add the ideas of addition, multiplication, fractions, algebra, calculus, etc. I have had the chance to read doctoral dissertations by Ph.D.’s in mathematics. Hardly understood a word of it, since they consist primarily of formulas. But as much as that was over my head, there was still one basic truth. 1+1 still equaled 2. (Yes, I understand in some quantum equations this is not true. Understand the analogy, please.)

What I see are theists claiming that God’s math formulas are so complex, we should toss the whole idea of describing God out the window. Why? Why not the basics? If God is communicating to humans, He may have difficult describing i (the square root of -1) but surely he could communicate 1+1=2. Or even counting.

Further, you use words, such as “love” and “compassion” as if they have meaning when applied to a God. Apparently as some basic level, there IS a way in which we can understand and utilize these words.

Rodge said...

People seem to get into a lot of trouble when arguing about the big, abstract, speculative concepts such as "God." Think how different the conversation might be if the starting point, instead, were simple, everday concepts such as free will and personal spirituality. It's not my place to go into detail here, but those who are interested can find a more complete discussion of this approach and its ramifications at www.explorerationalfaith.net.

Ken B. said...

People can carry on philosophical and theological debates forever, but since most of us are not philosophers or theologians, and even they come to conflicting conclusions, the practical bottom line is plausibility. Neither side can prove their position, so we must each ask ourselves: Does it seem likely that Jesus was the son of God, and does it seem likely that accepting that proposition as the truth is a ticket into eternal bliss, and not accepting it is a ticket to eternal hellfire?

Not only does Christianity not seem plausible to me, what does seem plausible is that Christianity, particularly the hellfire version, is false, born out of history and human psychology and empire-building and clerics' need for steady employment, as well as a human need to try to make sense out of things before we had better ways of understanding the world. I respect Christians, they are doing the best they can, as were those who came up with the religion in the first place, but we've ditched ancient medicine, technology, social structure, political structure, etc. and it's time to seek new, better, more rational answers to humanity's troubles and aspirations.

The infinitely drawn-out debate over Christianity vs. atheism has more to do with anxiety than with productive dialogue. Christianity, like all other ancient religion, doesn't pass the plausibility test.

Ken

Josh said...
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jdlongmire said...

Well, I'll be! (as we say in the South)

Good to see you are hale and hearty, amigo. I hope your family is, as well.

Thanks for the holiday greeting and the backtrack (you knew I would!!) to the site you are posting on.

I was getting a bit complacent, thanks for the booster shot! :D

See you around!

-JD

Anonymous said...

Obviously, your wife is a loving Christian who is devoted to her family and knows her bible. Or else she would probably be listening to the false advice of those people mentioned in your post. Biblically, if you choose to leave her then she can be free to remarry again and not be found in adultery but if you choose to stay then she is to stay also. Isn't that balanced! If people really studied the doctrines and advice in the bible for themselves, then what all the misinformed people say wouldn't have such an effect.