Monday, 3 May 2010

Human Fallibility

From here I've arrived at the point where our working model is that we think with our minds and we have senses to sense the natural world.

But on closer examination, by our minds, these senses appear to be fallible, so we concoct methods for gaining confidence in particular sense experiences. On even further examination we discover that our reasoning and other cognitive faculties can also be fallible, so we take steps to account for that observation too. So all we can do is construct experience and look for multiple ways of confirming what we experience to gain confidence in it, to give credibility to it, to compensate for the fallibilities. When we do this rigorously we call this science. Science gives us the best and most reliable explanation of our cognitive and sensory experiences, accounting for and accommodating for our fallibilities the best it can.

Note that this is an entirely inductive experience, from the particular to the general. Induction lies on top of no firm and absolute foundation, it is true. An inductive argument indicates some degree of support for the conclusion but does not ensure its truth. So, just to make it clear, none of this is offered as a proof! Of anything.

For any of the detail along the way we might use deductive reasoning, which is often thought to be more thorough, more concrete. This does not mean that deduction is always the better choice. Deduction is fine if you construct a valid argument; and if you have true premises then you have yourself a 'sound' argument, the most sure argument there is. But it's an illusion to think you can have a sound deductive argument at the limits of philosophy, in metaphysics - you can never be sure your premises are true! Why? Because all we have are our thoughts and our senses - we have no prior premises and arguments upon which to build our starting premises. So, if someone tells you they have a proof that, say, God exists, it's baloney, because it always relies on presupposition, and the presupposition can't be guaranteed to be true. If someone wants to offer you 'evidence' for God, that's a different matter and should be treated seriously.

We are fallible human beings. The very best we can do is accumulate data, examples, lots of them, and compare them and subject them to any tests we can. We create hypotheses, of which Richard Feynman said they could just as well be guesses. Any old random guess won't usually do - we could be here forever checking every possible hypothesis - something some theists think atheist are claiming (and what Pirsig mistakenly thought was a problem, in ZAMM - more of that in another post). Of course we base hypotheses on prior experience that appears to work. This is induction and science in action.

Science concludes (this means best explanation so far, not we're absolutely certain) that according to our senses and reasoning there is a physical world out there. It gets a bit quirky sometimes - e.g. quantum physics - but so far nothing has been found to refute this tentative conclusion. I mean, really, nothing! You have to consider what it would mean to refute this. You would have to find something that isn't physical. This is a tall order. Before sub-atomic particles were figured out the world was still physical. Discovering the sub-atomic particles didn't introduce some magic into the universe - it was simply that we discovered something we didn't know was there before, but is still considered part of the physical universe.

This is what will happen with any 'paranormal' effect or 'energy' that might exist. If it exists, then when it is found, that is when there is evidence of it, then it too will become a part of our physical description of the universe. The reason the paranormal is ridiculed so much isn't because we know it to be false absolutely, it's that fantastic claims have been made, but no evidence has been found to support them. Astrology? No evidence.

Evidence is the route to discovery and the support and maintenance of ideas and theories and facts. No evidence? Then it might as well not exist. Not, you note, that it doesn't exist! Science is not saying anything in particular does not exist. It only says to what extent there is evidence to support an idea. If we can't see it, taste it, feel it, etc., then we might as well act as if it doesn't exist, even if it does, for how can we tell the difference. We can happily go about our daily lives as if the speed of light does not have a limit, because in our daily lives we never reach that limit.

We can also ignore God as an entity because whether he exists of not makes no apparent difference. This means that despite the fact that theists can't prove God exists and atheists can't disprove it, it's irrelevant, because there is no evidence, and that's sufficient.

Many theists realise this and no longer require the existence of God as an entity 'out there' - See Rob Bell (h/t Lesley's Blog). But that doesn't mean theists have dealt with the problem of human fallibility in relation to faith. I'll get to that in another post.

42 comments:

Lesley Fellows said...

Hi Ron

Haven't had time to read this properly so more later.. But one thought I had was that there are a lot of theologians who would be upset that the idea of God as a non-entity is ascribed to Rob Bell, lovely and cuddly though he is. I am no theologian but Paul Tillich springs to mind.. all a bit cerebral for me to be honest.

However, I just went to wikipedia and this jumped out at me (he even used the term abyss):
.....................
Absolute faith
Tillich stated the courage to take meaninglessness into oneself presupposes a relation to the ground of being: absolute faith.[25] Absolute faith can transcend the theistic idea of God, and has three elements.
… The first element is the experience of the power of being which is present even in the face of the most radical manifestation of non being. If one says that in this experience vitality resists despair, one must add that vitality in man is proportional to intentionality. The vitality that can stand the abyss of meaninglessness is aware of a hidden meaning within the destruction of meaning.
– Tillich , The Courage to Be, p.177
The second element in absolute faith is the dependence of the experience of nonbeing on the experience on being and the dependence of the experience of meaninglessness on the experience of meaning. even in the state of despair one has enough being to make despair possible.
– Tillich , The Courage to Be, p.177
There is a third element in absolute faith, the acceptance of being accepted. Of course, in the state of despair there is nobody and nothing that accepts. But there is the power of acceptance itself which is experienced. Meaninglessness, as long as it is experienced, includes an experience of the "power of acceptance". To accept this power of acceptance consciously is the religious answer of absolute faith, of a faith which has been deprived by doubt of any concrete content, which nevertheless is faith and the source of the most paradoxical manifestation of the courage to be.
– Tillich , The Courage to Be, p.177
.....................
Sorry it is such a long chunk - but what struck me is it chimes with what you wrote on my 'abyss' post
http://revdlesley.blogspot.com/2010/04/abyss.html

Just for clarity - people like me also use the term 'theist', but I use it to mean those who are engaged in a 'primitive religion' rather than what I would see as a freeing living faith.. (I have used your definition of theism up until now but theologians such as Tillich, Spong and Holloway mean something slightly different and I thought it was going to get confusing).

Wondering whether the leap from theism to atheism is that different to the leap from theism to faith.

Lesley Fellows said...

Ok, read it through now.. do you really think that having a faith is irrelevant to people?

Lesley Fellows said...

Sorry - me again.. Suddenly struck me that the fear of Human Fallibility is part of what drives theists - by a leap of faith decide that a particular book is from God and therefore not fallible and then spend all their time searching the book to find the 'right' answers then getting very upset if someone questions those answers

Ron Murphy said...

Hi Lesley,

This is the problem. Does God exist or doesn't he? Either theists do think radically different things, often within the same church, or they're giving out mixed messages. I think both.

All I can say of Tillich's words is to use Steven Pinker's expression, which I'll come to in another post - flimflam. It really is doublespeak. I can't even say whether he's sincere or intentionally obscure to hide his own incapacity to explain the inexplicable nonsense.

Two definitions of 'theist':
- the belief in one god as the creator and ruler of the universe, without rejection of revelation (distinguished from deism).
- belief in the existence of a god or gods (opposed to atheism).

The only way out of this label I see is by being a deist, or else what I described on your blog as an atheistic Christian - one who follows Jesus the man and his teachings but who can do without the supernatural stuff, or something similar.

Most atheists rule out the existence of God on grounds of evidence rather than proof, so in a strick sense they could be called agnostic. Being self labelled as atheists leaves us open to the attack that we can't prove God does not exist. But it's a risk we take given the shear lack of evidence for a God. I don't understand in what sense you are not a theist - and I think this boils down to what I've said on your blog, it's one of the bits I'm struggling to get. So, I agree it is confusing, because 'theists' make it so. If theists are themselves struggling to understand their faith, then fair enough - we all struggle with understanding. But I don't think enough effort is made by theists to be critical of their faith - too much emphasis on affirmation. The struggle to understand comes after the commitment to believe, rather than believing once you understand what it is you're about to believe in - that seems like blind faith.

"Wondering whether the leap from theism to atheism is that different to the leap from theism to faith." - More a realisation that there's nothing (no evidence) behind any of it, and a gradual understanding that atheism is the only conclusion you're left with. On your Abyss post, when I referred to the 'wall' I was really describing the penny dropping moment when you get some of the consequences of understanding the shear lack of agency and the purely mechanical nature of the universe.

"do you really think that having a faith is irrelevant to people?" - No, not at all. I think it's intellectually irrelevant as concept; but clearly people are capable of making a mountain out of mole hill, or something out of nothing.

"Suddenly struck me that the fear of Human Fallibility is part of what drives theists - by a leap of faith decide that a particular book is from God and therefore not fallible and then spend all their time searching the book to find the 'right' answers then getting very upset if someone questions those answers." - Good point. I agree that's one motive. Also the fear of loosing the faith too, which we discussed on your blog.

Lesley Fellows said...

This is the problem. Does God exist or doesn't he?

Is it really? - what do you mean by God? - who is the god you don't believe in? It is clearly an evolutionary thing to believe in gods.. and the gods are all different.. and people within our churches worship a variety of gods for a variety of reasons.. some of those reasons are fear.. my approach to that really is 'so what'..

Ok, you don't like Tillich.. just making the point that very many eminent theologians don't have God as an entity.

Spong who I quoted here:
http://revdlesley.blogspot.com/2010/02/trauma-of-self-consciousness-and.html
Believes that we have a tendency to be theists, not willing to accept the trauma of self-consciousness, or meaninglessness perhaps. Only after we have been over the abyss and released the need for faith to meet our own needs and insecurities, and released the desire to create gods we can control that are in our own images, only then can we begin to grapple with what remains, a sense of an other beyond ourselves.. so he would call the primitive stuff 'theism' and i dunno what the post abyss stuff is 'following the Way' perhaps...

Sorry that it isn't clear. Realistically if we are the creation and trying to fathom the creator, would you expect it to not be groping? But good point about less affirmation and more questioning.. problem is of course that the theists want to shoot those who question because they are threatened my meaninglessness.

I don't see it as blind faith, but I didn't know what I was getting into.. true.. there was enough evidence for me at the time in terms of observing the lives of others and listening to the scriptures and the sense that they made to me.. but it was a draw.. like falling in love.. I tried to resist, and once I gave in, then everything became so much clearer, and that was powerful. Are you going to comment on my post with the analogy to getting a pair of specs?
http://revdlesley.blogspot.com/2010/05/why-do-i-believe-in-god.html

Ron Murphy said...

Hi Lesley,

Sorry this is late; lost track of where I was up to with responses while computer has been down.

This is the problem. Does God exist or doesn't he? Either theists do think radically different things, often within the same church, or they're giving out mixed messages. I think both.

All I can say of Tillich's words is to use Steven Pinker's expression, which I'll come to in another post - flimflam. It really is doublespeak. I can't even say whether he's sincere or intentionally obscure to hide his own incapacity to explain the inexplicable nonsense.

Two definitions of 'theist':
- the belief in one god as the creator and ruler of the universe, without rejection of revelation (distinguished from deism).
- belief in the existence of a god or gods (opposed to atheism).

The only way out of this label I see is by being a deist, or else what I described on your blog as an atheistic Christian - one who follows Jesus the man and his teachings but who can do without the supernatural stuff, or something similar.

Most atheists rule out the existence of God on grounds of evidence rather than proof, so in a strick sense they could be called agnostic. Being self labelled as atheists leaves us open to the attack that we can't prove God does not exist. But it's a risk we take given the shear lack of evidence for a God. I don't understand in what sense you are not a theist - and I think this boils down to what I've said on your blog, it's one of the bits I'm struggling to get. So, I agree it is confusing, because 'theists' make it so. If theists are themselves struggling to understand their faith, then fair enough - we all struggle with understanding. But I don't think enough effort is made by theists to be critical of their faith - too much emphasis on affirmation. The struggle to understand comes after the commitment to believe, rather than believing once you understand what it is you're about to believe in - that seems like blind faith.

"Wondering whether the leap from theism to atheism is that different to the leap from theism to faith." - More a realisation that there's nothing (no evidence) behind any of it, and a gradual understanding that atheism is the only conclusion you're left with, even if it's a contingent one. On your Abyss post, when I referred to the 'wall' I was really describing the penny dropping moment when you get some of the consequences of understanding the shear lack of agency and the purely mechanical nature of the universe.

"do you really think that having a faith is irrelevant to people?" - No, not at all. I think it's intellectually irrelevant as concept; but clearly people are capable of making a mountain out of mole hill, or something out of nothing, and in some cases getting some benefit from it, or some harm.

"Suddenly struck me that the fear of Human Fallibility is part of what drives theists - by a leap of faith decide that a particular book is from God and therefore not fallible and then spend all their time searching the book to find the 'right' answers then getting very upset if someone questions those answers." - Good point. I agree that's one motive. Also the fear of loosing the faith too, which we discussed on your blog.

Lesley Fellows said...

Err... dunno whether this needs a response.. did say somewhere in response to your 'Straw Man' thought that perhaps we should start over from basics..

John Lollard said...

"This means that despite the fact that theists can't prove God exists and atheists can't disprove it, it's irrelevant, because there is no evidence, and that's sufficient."

You seem to have a weird notion of human experience. For instance when you talk about religion, you seem to want to subject everything to scientific scrutiny, but I highly doubt that you subject anything at all to scientific scrutiny except religious claims. Unless you're a scientist... are you a scientist?

For instance, you say that your marriage is deliriously happy, but I doubt that you have actually subjected your wife's love for you to scientific scrutiny.

The proper relation of Creator to creature is that of the knower to the known. Not vice-versa. Which is to say that God is not a hypothesis or a theory that fulfills an intellectual explanatory need. That seems to be how you (and many Christians) want to treat him: as an object of intellectual study and critique. Properly God is a lover. You know the reality of his love in the same way that you know the reality of your wife's love.

My proof that God is a Lover is God. Ask him if he loves you, and to help you love him back. If I'm wrong, then you lose nothing.

All this said, I'm not backing down from any intellectual challenge. I will gladly place the glove on the table with gentleness and respect, hoping that I can give you satisfying answers to your very real intellectual concerns. I hope you don't think that I am trivializing them with my attitude or my response - I respect them and you for having them - I just feel that this response is the most immediately pertinent to the challenges that you raised.

I also replied to you over at Answering Islam.

Hopefully, we'll both learn more of the Truth, whatever on earth it actually is :P

Love in Christ,
John Lollard

Ron Murphy said...

Hi John, and welcome,

"For instance when you talk about religion, you seem to want to subject everything to scientific scrutiny" - Scientific scrutiny is just a more rigorous method of scrutiny that we apply to become more sure of our answers. But really at bottom it is no more than the application of our fallible reason and senses. We do science all day every day. Every time you cross a busy road and assess the distance of oncoming vehicles your brain is automatically doing science. Even if you cross at a controlled crossing you wait for evidence - a green man - before considering wether to cross, and even then many people will still double check, look for more evidence that it's safe, by checking the cars have stopped or are stopping. Sometimes we aren't so rigorous - some people occasionally get run down crossing on the green man, at the same time some driver hasn't been rigorous enough in watching the lights.

"but I highly doubt that you subject anything at all to scientific scrutiny except religious claims." - To a lesser degree we all do all the time. We just don't call it science when it's done so naturally. As I say, just think of science as a means of applying our natural reason and senses more rigorously, then science doesn't take on such a magical character - as if it's some special way of knowing stuff.

"are you a scientist?" - I'm a software developer, but my qualifications are in electronics and control systems. I've performed specific experiments - and sometimes had them go wrong because I wasn't rigorous enough, because my human fallibilities didn't match the high standards of the scientific method.

"but I doubt that you have actually subjected your wife's love for you to scientific scrutiny." - Not what you would call science. I did what most people do - met, got to know and love, got married, etc. I didn't test our compatibility using any measure - though some couples now do that when considering inheritable congenital problems they don't want to pass on. See also TED Video by Helen Fisher. Here is a later one that follows up on the brain and romantic love.

Ron Murphy said...

...ctd

"The proper relation of Creator to creature is that of the knower to the known" - Then if you are the known and not the knower, how do you know about the knower?

"That seems to be how you (and many Christians) want to treat him: as an object of intellectual study and critique. " - That's how you treat him. You read and interpret the Bible. You 'study' the Bible. You apply your intellect. In my view I think you're mistaken about what you conclude from it.

"Properly God is a lover" - How do you know that? You're the known, not the knower.

"You know the reality of his love in the same way that you know the reality of your wife's love." - No. God is an imaginary entity. My wife is a material organism that shares human characteristics with me - including language and inherited human behaviour and instincts. we communicate our love through natural means. I'm sure there's an element of imagination, maybe even fantasy, wishful thinking and all the other human self-deception we employ, it's still based on an actual relationship with an actual person.

"My proof that God is a Lover is God. Ask him if he loves you, and to help you love him back. If I'm wrong, then you lose nothing." - I can do the same with a fairy, or Santa, or Zeus. I can then go on to convince myself that I've been answered. It's all going on in one's head.

"Hopefully, we'll both learn more of the Truth, whatever on earth it actually is" - Well said.

Lesley Fellows said...

Tee hee, Ron, do you not get tired of going round the same discussion loops with people, or do you have endless patience?

Ron Murphy said...

same questions, new people; same people new questions; same people same questions different angles - there's always something to learn :)

2000 years and the same old story?

Lesley Fellows said...

Hi Ron

Ah.. endlessly curious then :)

Maybe that is the purpose of theology then - to try a new angle when we get bored of the old ones.

Hi John

Totally agree with everything you wrote, in fact I think I wrote almost exactly the same things somewhere and Ron replied in almost exactly the same way. See that you have just started blogging. Have fun :)

Ron Murphy said...

Hi Lesley,

So, do you disagree with my view that science is just the rigorous application of our fallible reason and senses?

Lesley Fellows said...

Err..??! Come again.. Ask me a simpler question.

Have you any idea how exhausting you are :) Makes my brain hurt.

Btw I can't put this on my blog because I would embarrass Mike, but don't underestimate him - he seems completely mad, believing in real trees in the Garden of Eden, but he can out argue me, he is well read on Theology, Politics and is a Oxford DPhil Scientist, he is responsible for the food labelling we have on all our goods in the uk, the campaign against advertising Junk food to children and in my opinion has single-handedly changed the trend on childhood obesity in the uk. Fantastic scientist, lobbyist, politician and theologian. He recently picked up a lifetime achievement award.

John Lollard said...

"Every time you cross a busy road and assess the distance of oncoming vehicles your brain is automatically doing science."

I'm afraid that you don't. What you do is probability, if you even do anything at all. (Largely you just have conditioned responses that you react to.) Science isn't a way of making decisions, it's a way of gaining more certitude in an explanation. It is also not just a "means of applying our natural reason and senses more rigorously", it is a particular means of organizing and analyzing information, and usually natural senses aren't involved at all anymore. Reason is far less important to actual scientific analysis than is the central limit theorem and Student's T-distribution.

To be honest, I'm not sure how you would go about doing a scientific study of whether or not your wife loves you without being circular. You would first need theories of how loving people behave, and I'm not sure how to test those theories if not taking people who claim to be in love and then observing if they behave a certain way. But then you would need to use those theories to prove that those people were actually in love. It'd be a mess. But try making a hypothesis, such as "if my wife loves me, she will do X", get a control (some total stranger), and perform a routine set of tests to see how many times, in the same situation, your wife and the stranger do X and see if your wife actually demonstrates a loving action more than the stranger does. Not just more, but more with a statistical significance of .05. Otherwise, I don't think you are being consistent in your demands for scientific knowledge.

"Then if you are the known and not the knower, how do you know about the knower?"

By what the knower chooses to reveal of himself. Which is actually a lot. God isn't hiding from us, and his reality is pretty manifest. He has made himself known through the natural order, through his actions in history, and through the written word of the Bible. So don't misunderstand my statement as one that God is unknowable, though he is a being who must first make himself known to be known.

The way I know that God is a lover is the way that you know your wife is your lover. He has told me so, he acts the way I expect him to act, he says the things I would expect him to say, and using human natural reason and senses I have come to trust that conclusion about him.

"God is an imaginary entity."

No, he's an invisible and immaterial entity. Which does raise many of the same problems, except for the one about futility. He does understand your language, and he does communicate in it, he does communicate, he does give outward signs of his love, and he does interact with you.

"I can do the same with a fairy, or Santa, or Zeus. I can then go on to convince myself that I've been answered."

Okay, good. I am going to ask Santa right now to bring me a red sleigh for Christmas. If he doesn't, I have lost absolutely nothing. If he does, I will get a red sleigh. Isn't that hard, is it?

You ask for evidence, I am telling you things all around you are evidence. What you are demonstrating to me in your responses is not the cool agnostics mere uncertainty or mere lack of knowledge, you are making assertive claims that God is imaginary and does not exist and that there cannot be evidence for him because he is imaginary and what I conceive as evidence is my brain playing tricks on me. That is a plausible explanation, sure. But maybe what I'm alluding to actually is evidence for God? You don't get to dismiss God as imaginary for lack of evidence and then dismiss evidence for pointing to the God you presume to be imaginary.

Anyway, that may be all I have to say at the moment. Have a good day, Ron.

Love in Christ,
John Lollard

Ron Murphy said...

Hi John,


"I'm afraid that you don't." - Not intentionally, and yes, usually you're using your subconsious, and you are using probablistic assessments, as does science, but more rigorously, as you go on to explain in your nect paragraph. And we do use our senses for much science - even if it's restricted to reading meter needles against a mirror to avoid paralax errors (old style)

"Science isn't a way of making decisions" - But we make decisions based on it, just as we make decisions based on our reason and senses - see Antonio Damasio on the use of emotion in decision making. "it's a way of gaining more certitude in an explanation" - Yes, more rigorous than our natural senses alone, or the senses of just one person.

"It is also not just a means of applying our natural reason and senses more rigorously, it is a particular means of organizing and analyzing information, and usually natural senses aren't involved at all anymore." - As a cumulative expereince it is - the artisans that made early instruments, standard measures, were all using those faculties; and the instruments that have been subsequently developed extend the range of data our sense have access to - there's plenty of science that's still hands on, even in astronomy where computers do lots of the data processing visual images are still used to get a sense of where they data is pointing. We haven't handed it all off to automata yet.

"I'm not sure how you would go about doing a scientific study of whether or not your wife loves" - Didn't say it would be easy or even possible now. Your example is of the use of behavioural statsitics which would be hard to make anything of on a sample of one anyway. But there's nothing in principle impossible about eventually being able to assess brain states (something bettrer than fMRI and other current tools) and saying that my wife's brain state is indicative of love, lies, or self-deception.

"By what the knower chooses to reveal of himself." - But how do you know that particular gem? "God isn't hiding from us, and his reality is pretty manifest." - and that? "He has made himself known through the natural order, through his actions in history, and through the written word of the Bible." - No he hasn't. Sorry that's an equally unsubstantiated claim, so let me rephrase - It doesn't appear that he has; unless you can give me specific examples. Whatever you think about Muslim interpretation of the Quran, how do you know that the Quran wasn't revealed by Gabriel?

"though he is a being who must first make himself known to be known." - Wouldn't you have to know that of him, before being sure that what you claim about his revalations is in fact the truth?

"...is the way that you know your wife is your lover. He has told me so..." - How do you know you weren't hearing things, having an audible delusion, or whatever sense you think he revealed himself to you.

Ron Murphy said...

... ctd

"he acts the way I expect him to act, he says the things I would expect him to say" - Confirmation bias? Does he act in the material world? Can you give examples?

"using human natural reason and senses I have come to trust that conclusion about him." - If, as you say, trying to show with a degree of certainty that my wife loves me, why do you suppose your own introspection is sufficient to demostrate that it's really God you're experienceing?

He's imaginary? "No, he's an invisible and immaterial entity. " - And the difference is?

"Which does raise many of the same problems, except for the one about futility. He does understand your language, and he does communicate in it, he does communicate, he does give outward signs of his love, and he does interact with you." - How do you know this?

"Isn't that hard, is it?" - When I was 5 I asked Santa for a bike. I got one. So Santa exists?

"I am telling you things all around you are evidence." - I'm telling you that there are natural explanations that are sufficient, and given the two possible explanations, the natural one, and God, and given the supposed invisible and immaterial nature of God, the evidence is in the favour of natural causes.

"That is a plausible explanation, sure. But maybe what I'm alluding to actually is evidence for God? " - Maybe, I agree.

"You don't get to dismiss God as imaginary for lack of evidence and then dismiss evidence for pointing to the God you presume to be imaginary." - I don't presume him to be imaginary, I conclude, however tentatively, that he is imaginary, because the evidence you present has other plausible explanations, of the type that explains everything else we know about, and no evidence that would lead to any conclusion that he does exist. What other supernatural entities do we have experience of against which we can weigh you claims about the data (that it is evidence of God)? We only have what are your presuppositions about God, which curiously match sufficiently similar (on the scales of both lack of evidence and extraordinary nature of the claims) claims by other religions, which in detail conflict with yours. This all adds up to all religions probably being false, and naturalism being our only experience.

John Lollard said...

"Wouldn't you have to know that of him, before being sure that what you claim about his revalations is in fact the truth?"

Yep, I did. And once he made that known to me, I faithfully reported it to you.

"It doesn't appear that he has; unless you can give me specific examples."

Sure, I have plenty. He has revealed himself through firstly his historical actions in the nation of Israel. He has revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ, who was born, taught, and died not too long ago, and then rose from the dead, and he continues to reveal himself to his church to this day through his ongoing involvement with it.

That the natural order describes him is much more difficult to get across, and would take a very large amount of text.

That the Bible describes him I think is self-explanatory.

"how do you know that the Quran wasn't revealed by Gabriel?"

Well, I didn't at first. But I know the Quran wasn't revealed by Gabriel by the same way that I know Jesus Christ rose from the dead - I studied the history surrounding the event. In the case of Muhammad, coming later and without early persecution, the evidence is even better and I think it is very highly improbable that he was actually a prophet who actually heard from God through Gabriel, just as, based on the same historical examination of the pertinent evidence, I think it is very highly improbable that Jesus did not rise from the dead. I initially began studying Islam because I was afraid that it may be true, and I hope that I gave it a fair examination.

"How do you know you weren't hearing things, having an audible delusion, or whatever sense you think he revealed himself to you."

Gosh, I guess I don't in any real sense of the word. It might be that all of my brain and sensory information are being manipulated by Descartes' evil demon. But I don't think that I am unreasonable in (cautiously) trusting both my senses and my reason. Maybe that's begging the question :P

How do you know you REALLY have a wife? Maybe your entire marriage has been a vivid visual, auditory illusion that has been affecting all of your friends at the same time? That's what you're proposing to me, so it can't be too ridiculous.

John Lollard said...

"Does he act in the material world?"

Sometimes. I do not do this, but I have friends who are very in to healing ministries. I have a friend who have miraculously had arches appear in their fit in the middle of prayer, and I have friends with uneven legs who have had their legs grow out an inch to even out in the middle of prayer. I don't think you'll believe me that any of it happened because you have made a forgone conclusion, but I mention it just because you asked. But I have had him act in non-miraculous ways in the material world. The first example hat comes to mind is this. I used to have a very bad pornography problem. God freed me from it. (That's not the action, btw). One day, I was looking at tvtropes.com, browsing around, and some of the tropes are porn tropes. I started reading it, knowing that I shouldn't, and I was getting kind of sucked back into it. Then a kettle fell from off of my counter in my kitchen, it clanged around on the floor, and totally startled the pants off me. I closed my computer and vowed to never go back there again.

Was there a natural cause for why the kettle fell? Sure, I believe there was. I don't think that means it wasn't God acting in the material world.

"He's imaginary? "No, he's an invisible and immaterial entity. " - And the difference is?"

Invisible and immaterial entities cannot be seen because they do not interact directly with the physical world. Imaginary entities cannot be seen because there is no such entity.

"I'm telling you that there are natural explanations that are sufficient"

I think one of us is misunderstanding the other. I do not deny the existence of natural explanations to miracles. I do not think natural explanations disqualifies them as the intervention of God.

"How do you know this?"

I know that God interacts with me because of his interactions with me. I do not usually assume that my senses are deceiving me, and neither do I when those senses point to God.

Ron, I do believe that we have reached back to the beginning of your circle. You do not believe in God. When presented with what I claim to be evidence, you tell me that it is not evidence at all. But the reason why you deny that evidence seems to be because you do not believe in God. For instance, yesterday, I heard from God. You don't think that I actually did because you don't think that God actually exists. You think that I imagined it because you think that God is imaginary. Fine. But you can't then claim that you will continue to disbelieve because there is no evidence at all. I have plenty, and you reject it for being evidence.

So let me ask you, what evidence will you accept?

You seem to think that natural causes exclude the possibility of God. Why should they? Why can't God act through natural causes? Why would he bother to make nature if it all just got in his way?

I agree to an extent that the only experiences that we have are natural. I think even mystical religious experience comes to us through the natural organ of our brain. All that means is that God made our brains to receive his revelation. Maybe my friends who were healed, if we had medical equipment out and were watching, we'd see a totally natural biological process going on inside of their legs that medical science can explain perfectly. Sure. I have no problem with that, and I don't think it excludes God.

I hope I'm not frustrating you. I'd frustrate myself if I were talking to myself.

Love in Christ,
JL

John Lollard said...

At the risk of inundating you with text, I think another more particular example would be good.

It was last year at the start of Lent. The semester before (the entire semester) had been the most extraordinary spiritual experience of my entire life. I went to a school in rural middle Georgia (just graduated!), and the Christian community there is absolutely on fire. Anyway, around the time of Lent beginning (I think on Ash Wednesday), I did something wrong. And I felt very ashamed of it, so much so that I began to punish myself for it. On either Thursday or Friday I had a dream. In the dream I was walking through the small Southern town and huge flakes of snow were falling down, and I ran out in wonder into it, feeling the most extraordinary sense of peace, knowing somehow (as one does in dreams) that I was to understand from it God loved me and not to worry. I pick up from your 'voice' that you are from England, so maybe I can't really get across the effect that snow has on a Southerner, but it's like a mysterious and gentle visitor stopping by. It snows here maybe every five years, and then we get this little dust of white powder. And that's in the northern part of the state. The city where I was, the last snow was something like 50 years ago.

On Sunday, it snowed. It snowed big, huge, downy flakes, just raining down like a monsoon. I went out and danced in it, walking through the small city streets, feeling so at peace, knowing that I should not worry, because God loved me.

Was there a natural cause for the snow storm? Sure. Atmospheric pressure, cold fronts, all that stuff weathermen talk about; Absolutely. Was it a gift from God that I am loved. I don't see how it could not have been.

Maybe you don't buy it. That's fine if you don't. But rather than explain it away, why not just take it as it is, and consider that as it is it might actually be a sign from a loving God that he cares about his children. Maybe it's one piece of evidence, and you still need to find more.

I hope my experience somehow helped you, and wasn't just me rambling at you :P

Love in Christ,
John Lollard

Ron Murphy said...

Hi John,

"That the Bible describes him I think is self-explanatory." - It only explains that it's a description of what the authors thought to be God. It's of no use as evidence of God. It's just a book, one of many.

"But I know the Quran wasn't revealed by Gabriel by the same way that I know Jesus Christ rose from the dead - I studied the history surrounding the event." - You have no more access to that history than do Muslim scholars. Your's is just another unsubstantiated claim, like theirs. Many Christian scholars who've also put a lot of effort into the history cast doubt on many Bible stories, especially the Gospels.

"based on the same historical examination of the pertinent evidence" - What pertinent evidence do you have that Muslim scholars don't have?

"I think it is very highly improbable that Jesus did not rise from the dead." - On what grounds do you assess that improbability?

"I hope that I gave it a fair examination" - Is that peer reviewed? Better yet, is it independently reviewed?

"It might be that all of my brain and sensory information are being manipulated by Descartes' evil demon" - Or simply deluded, in that you seem to accept as evidence what wouldn't be accepted as evidence in any other case.

"But I don't think that I am unreasonable in (cautiously) trusting both my senses and my reason." - You don't seem to be that cautious about it. It's tough enough being sure of stuff using all the efforts of science, but you're as sure about your own senses and reason, as are, say, anyone believing himself to be Napoleon.

"How do you know you REALLY have a wife?" - I start from Contingency of Knowledge. And then use my senses that, as far as I'm aware have the capacity to detect only material objects - and there she is.

"Maybe your entire marriage has been a vivid visual, auditory illusion that has been affecting all of your friends at the same time? That's what you're proposing to me, so it can't be too ridiculous." - You're visions of actual God are that visible to your eyes? I thought he was invisible. Same for all your other senses? You're not denying the sense experiences we both have - natural sense experiences, as I sense my wife. You have no direct experience of God, you're merely claiming that the natural experiences you do have are evidence for God. My understanding of what I think is the case, my wife's existence, I think is real because of the sense experiences of her directly. You are just inferring God from your sense experiences of things that aren't God. But beyond that, yes, we are all at the mercy of our senses and the extent to which they do or don't reveal reality.

"I don't think you'll believe me that any of it happened because you have made a forgone conclusion" - I've made the inductive inference that it probably didn't happen, but it would be interesting to see that happening under controlled experimental conditions.

"[kettle] ...I don't think that means it wasn't God acting in the material world.", but this does: "Invisible and immaterial entities cannot be seen because they do not interact directly with the physical world." - which together would suggest the kettle wasn't down to God.

Ron Murphy said...

"Invisible and immaterial entities cannot be seen because they do not interact directly with the physical world. Imaginary entities cannot be seen because there is no such entity." - Okay, that's the difference. How do you detect the difference? How do you establish that the former does actually exist? After all, the natural experiences are the same in either case. Presupposing God does exist, and then claiming all the natural experiences are evidence seems a bit of a cheap fix.

"I do not deny the existence of natural explanations to miracles. I do not think natural explanations disqualifies them as the intervention of God." - Fair enough. Then what qualifies them as such, other than your claims?

"I know that God interacts with me because of his interactions with me." - But you're material? And he doesn't interact directly with the material, you say.

"I do not usually assume that my senses are deceiving me, and neither do I when those senses point to God." - We all come to assume our senses are reliable, most of the time. But the manner in which they do often deceive us are with respect to experiences that can be shown to be delusions; and religious claims of interaction with entities that don't interact seems like a good candidate for a delusion.

"When presented with what I claim to be evidence, you tell me that it is not evidence at all." - because what you present as evidence are what we both see as natural experiences, and natural experience is sufficient to explain them - claiming they are evidence of God is no better than claiming they are evidence of fairies.

"But the reason why you deny that evidence seems to be because you do not believe in God." - No. It's all down to figuring out what to make of natural experiences (since they're the only ones we have). I still don't see how this entity that is invisible and does not interact manages to convince you he has interacted with you.

"For instance, yesterday, I heard from God. You don't think that I actually did because you don't think that God actually exists." - No. I don't think you did because known delusional episodes about various Gods, fairies, monsters, aliens, whatever, are weighty evidence that such experiences are delusions - inductive evidence I grant you, but it just seems more plausible.

"You think that I imagined it because you think that God is imaginary." - No, really. Because what I experience are natural events that don't need a God to explain them, they are not convincing evidence alone for him. And since there's no other evidence, I have no more reason to believe in God than I do in fairies.

Ron Murphy said...

"I have plenty, and you reject it for being evidence." - That's true.

"So let me ask you, what evidence will you accept?" - Just one of your friend's leg growing miracles performed under scientific conditions would be sufficient to warrant further experiments; and then that evidence might begin to provide some weight.

"Why can't God act through natural causes?" - Well, for one you claim he doesn't, because he's an invisible entity that doesn't interact with the material world. So, on that basis alone no evidence would be forthcoming anyway. For another, we can start to count the number possible explanations for what we think are natural events: 1) just natural events; 2) God of Christianity; 3) God of Islam; 4) Fairies; 5) A committee of Gods; 6) Atheist's God .... any number of concepts anyone might care to dream up.

On balance, (1) seems sufficient. Just as we can't tell for sure whether we live in a 4-D space-time, or (5+)-D space-time, but only experience the 4-D, we continue to live as if in 4-D. Is it 6-D, 10-D? We don't know, so we live our lives as if it is just the 4-D we appear to experience.

"Why would he bother to make nature if it all just got in his way?" - Why would the fairies bother either? Of course fairies like their little secrets, so they sprinkle fairy dust on a large number of the population to make them really think there's a God, just to keep us sceptics busy. They go to the trouble of convincing some Christian theists that if they study Islam they'll be especially convinced of their Christianity. And, the sneaky devils, they convince Muslims likewise about Islam v Christianity, and manipulate the return of the Jews to their homeland - so that keeps that lot busy for a few thousand years sorting out that mess. That sounds as convincing to me as your explanation: it involves invisible entities that do actually interact with the physical world, and who have a very clear agenda, and it doesn't require any religion of followers, because they want to remain secret. But even though that's more convincing than your story, I still think the natural explanation is the simplest and still fits all the evidence we do actually have access to.

"All that means is that God made our brains to receive his revelation." - You wouln't know the difference between a real revelation and a delusion, since they would both appear to be the same; and we have examples of real delusions that are similar.

"I hope I'm not frustrating you. I'd frustrate myself if I were talking to myself." - Not at all, it's a pleasure working through this. What better way of putting one's own beliefs to scrutiny than by subjecting them to someone that doesn't buy it. I don't think our brains are reliable enough to examine our own beliefs thoroughly.

Ron Murphy said...

"so maybe I can't really get across the effect that snow has on a Southerner" - I was over in Louisiana visiting a friend who lives there a couple of years ago. He's sent me picures of the snow which arrived aftyer we'd returned home - first big snow in 10 years or something like that?

"feeling so at peace, knowing that I should not worry, because God loved me." - And there's my atheist friend thinking it was just unsusual snow conditions.

This is confirmation bias. You're seeing confirmation for something just because an unusual weather condition occurred. There are enough believers in the Southern states to make every event every day significant to their belief. On the day it snowed there must have been hundreds if not thousands of believers having a crap day and thinking it was God punishing them, and just as many having a great day and thinking it was God rewarding them. Or, it was just a freak event. And why do we call them freak events? Because they don't happen too often. And why don't they happen too often? Because no events occurred out of the ordinary that would be something to think about. There's just the remotest possibility that it had nothing at all to do with God.

What's the chances of you debating this with an English guy who has a friend lives there? What's the chance he experienced tha same snow? What's the chances that friend just happens to be visiting the UK just this very week when we're debating (as in fact he is)? Is this all a sign?

My daughter lives in Ohio. She's visiting NY this last weekend. Her UK friend who works on cruise ships just happens to be docked in NY this last weekend too - all unplanned, the very weekend i start debating on a site used by people in the US - all coincidence. Or is it?

My cat is lay beside me, in my desk drawer. He's the one in my blog photo. He's white, and we're talking about snow. Coincidence?

Some things just happen. And as much as we might like to be the centre of God's world, we're really just lumps of organic material on a lonely littel rock in a massive material universe. And as small as that rock might be there are enough natural events going on for coincidences to occur often - so often that to our pattern recognition brains we see patterns that aren't there, such as rare events being signs, like rare snow falls; or see familar patterns in natural objects, such as the Madonna on a slice of toast, or a face on Mars, which on closer examination is nothing like a face.

The list of illusions and delusions is endless.

John Lollard said...

Ron,

I said that God does not interact directly with the physical world. Not that he does not interact with the physical world. But yes, I can see that I was being inconsistent. Thank you for pointing it out. I think I defined "immaterial" poorly. Let me stick to a simpler definition of "not made of matter".

"You have no more access to that history than do Muslim scholars."

Correct. We both have the exact same pool of information. In fact, they actually know a lot more than I do, as I'm more of a hobbyist on the subject.

"What pertinent evidence do you have that Muslim scholars don't have?"

To the Resurrection of Jesus? I'm not sure that I have any that is not available to everyone.

"On what grounds do you assess that improbability?"

Certainly not any mathematical grounds. I hope you didn't think I was saying a literal mathematical probability. I just mean that the non-Resurrection does not account for all of the facts, and I think the Resurrection does.

"You wouln't know the difference between a real revelation and a delusion, since they would both appear to be the same; and we have examples of real delusions that are similar."

I think that's the definition of a delusion, actually; a confusion about reality. Like you wouldn't know the difference between your real wife and a delusion that the nurse in the mental hospital is your wife, and there are examples of real delusions that are similar.

I'm not sure why you think God is an explanatory hypothesis. You seem very reluctant to consider him as anything other than a principle that explains things around us. That is not how I consider God and that is not how I am arguing.

John Lollard said...

"That sounds as convincing to me as your explanation: it involves invisible entities that do actually interact with the physical world, and who have a very clear agenda, and it doesn't require any religion of followers, because they want to remain secret. But even though that's more convincing than your story, ..."

Maybe this is a miswording. Earlier you said 'as convincing', and then you mention that the fairies don't require a religion of followers, and this makes them more convincing. Does that accurately reflect your own sentiments on the issue of religious devotion? I picked up something similar from your Atheist's God post. I pick up similar things from other atheists, as well.

If you don't believe your fairy tale because it is on-the-surface ridiculous, then why bother presenting it at all? The same goes for invisible pink unicorns and the Magic Mole Princess and the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

That said, I think there is something of worth in animism, in Shinto, in pagan mythology, etc. I think many of them truly discerned the very things I'm talking about, namely the redemptive nature of a God who dies for his creation and comes back to life to bring life to his creation. Many did so before Christianity even existed. I do not think they are true religions, but I do not think their claims can be immediately dismissed as silly. However, their claims about the supernatural are vastly different from your fairies, or from the claims of Pastafarianism. If you want to discuss, say, African tribal religion and its merits, sure, I think there is merit in that because African tribal religions were formed from actually observing the things I am describing as evidence for God and making a conclusion, not from being silly and irreverent for the sake of dismissing theism.

I have gathered that you do not trust my brain functioning nor my reasoning skills. Which is fair enough. Maybe I am crazy? How would I know? This is much the response that I anticipated, but I figured I would try it first anyway. It is my experience that an intellectual treatment of God as suppositions and theorems and causers and makers is all sound and fury that signifies nothing, lacking the heart of the living God and instead having a medical cadaver, but sometimes it is necessary to go there

We'll probably carry this discussion on on another post.

Lost in Christ,
John Lollard

John Lollard said...

"What's the chances of you debating this with an English guy who has a friend lives there? What's the chance he experienced tha same snow? What's the chances that friend just happens to be visiting the UK just this very week when we're debating (as in fact he is)? Is this all a sign? "

Maybe. I don't presume to know that.

You again misunderstood me. My argument is not that it was rare and unlikely and therefore God did it. My argument is that it I had a dream with spiritual and theological significance about an event occurring that has never happened in my life (snow as in the dream), and then the events of the dream actually did happen. Even if all I had was the dream, I think it's evidence for God communicating (of course you don't).

Maybe you don't buy it. That doesn't mean it doesn't mean anything :P Some people still insist the earth is flat, after all.

Ron Murphy said...

Hi John,

Direct or indirect, you still have the same problem. If God doesn't interact directly with the material, but indirectly, then he still needs something with which to interact directly, X. And X needs to interact directly with you to cause the material effects, in your brain. So, is this X material, like you, or supernatural, like God? This intermediary X seems to require some of the capacity that you don't ascribe to God or yourself - it either being supernatural, which explains it's reception of data from God but not interaction with the material, or being natural, which explains the interaction with your brain, but not with God. If there's any natural aspect to X, and it's in your brain, then science should be able to detect it. When science does detect it that might count as evidence worth looking at. I'll stay tuned. Do you have any other explanation for this indirect interaction by God?

Ron Murphy said...

...ctd

No, wasn't thinking mathematical. But I presume you have some basis upon which you think your study of Christianity and Islam was convincing to you that outweighs what any Muslim might think using the same sort of arguments. This brings me to analogies.

The problem with arguing against God directly is that it is difficult to make arguments obvious for two main reasons: believers usually have such a strong conviction that the reasoning about how they believe is missed; and, the history and traditions of a belief are mistakenly thought to have some relevance to whether the content of the belief is true.

So, the point of The Flying Spaghetti Monster, fairies and other examples is not to remotely suggest that they exist. They are ridiculous precisely to avoid the misconception that they are being offered as real propositions. And their purpose is to draw an analogy between the method of arguing for them and the method or arguing for God.

I try to use Islam as the analogy, because that is a real case. Whatever superb of God you claim could (and does) has some analogue in Muslim claims, and in Jewish claims. No you may think that there's something about the resurrection that's convincing, but a Muslim won't find it convincing, precisely because they are just as sure in their conviction that Gabriel did interact with Mohammed (ooops, another claim about indirect interaction by God) and, according to Muslims the fact that this happened after Jesus events shows that this is more true and that Christians are mistaken in their beliefs about Jesus.

But, even if you do find the resurrection convincing, how do you then deal with the different Christianities? If the Bible is the inerrant word of God why are there so many interpretations? If you disagree with any other Christian on any one point then the options are, the Bible isn't inerrant, or one of you is mistaken in your interpretation. And even if you like to think you are right, which translation of the Bible do you use and how do you know that translation is correct? And how do you know that the original source used for translation was transcribed correctly. And that's just the OT.

As I've said before, there are many Christian historical scholars who say the whole Bible is myth, and was intended to be myth from the outset. And no less so the NT gospels.

So, I hope you can see why I'm not convinced by what you tell me about your personal experiences. Nothing personal, it's just against all the weight of all the contradictory experiences, both for a real God and a mythical one, they have no specific weight. So, probably (no maths) it's just as likely they are all false as any one of them being true. On top of that, if any of the the claims for real God were actually true, the world would be exactly the same as it is now - i.e. no apparent manifestation, but plenty of contradictory claims based on ancient traditions from superstitious times. The only rational move is to act as if they are all myths, at least until one of them comes up with some convincing evidence that isn't masquerading as natural events.

Ron Murphy said...

...ctd

Back to my wife. My experience of my wife has not been falsified by anything that has happened in my life. True, my whole life would have to be a total delusion and I couldn't rule that out any more than basic solipsism. But if I rule out all of my material experience then I can certainly rule out God too. This was the point of Descartes move, to trim it all the way back, so there's nothing. As long as I think and sense, that's all I'm prepared to rely on.

I notice that every religious person I speak to is happy to go that far too. Nothing I've ever experiences falsifies the natural world, though there are natural world experiences (e.g. science) that can demonstrate that the human brain is susceptible to delusions, and claims of experiences of God as so similar to delusional claims not relating to God that best explanation is to classify them all as delusions - so until believers can provide evidence that meets scientific standards, and until all the locked up Napoleons provide scientific evidence of who they are, the best move is to act as if they are all delusional.

And, so many experiences that were once thought to be religious in nature (out of body, near death, even the belief in God itself) can be induced or removed by direct brain stimulation at will under scientific conditions, that the obvious explanation is that it's all down to brain activity - delusions.

Ron Murphy said...

...ctd

"That said, I think there is something of worth in animism, in Shinto, in pagan mythology, etc." - This is another example of where you think your particular interpretation of experiences outweighs those of others, but with no real explanation as to why this should be the case, other than personal conviction.

"Many did so before Christianity even existed" - Yes. But this tells us nothing. Superstitious times.

"...not from being silly and irreverent for the sake of dismissing theism." - I'm sure every (most?) religious people are sure of their convictions. That doesn't add any weight to the truth of their beliefs.

"It is my experience that an intellectual treatment of God as suppositions and theorems and causers and makers is all sound and fury that signifies nothing" - Well, I think it at least signifies an attempt to be rational about it. I think they fail because they are not strong arguments - there are plenty of conflicting arguments, and no useful evidence to back them up.

"That is not how I consider God and that is not how I am arguing." - Sorry, then can you try another tack. If he's not explanatory, and he doesn't interact directly, and all his interactions appear like natural experiences, then what is he and what's the point?

John Lollard said...

"If there's any natural aspect to X, and it's in your brain, then science should be able to detect it."

Last I read, I'm pretty sure they had. Do you not later turn around and argue that they'd discovered the natural brain patterns corresponding to religious experience?

"But I presume you have some basis upon which you think your study of Christianity and Islam was convincing to you that outweighs what any Muslim might think using the same sort of arguments."

I do. It helps that I was already a Christian before coming to Islam, and that much of the Quran is actually addressed specifically to Christians. As shortly as I can put it, these passages ask me to judge the revelation Muhammad is delivering based on the "books" that are with me, and gives neat paraphrasals of Bible stories that are supposed to convince me it is the same revelation. The problem is that Muhammad's paraphrasals do not look anything like the stories in the actual Bible; they have the approximate same character names, but Muhammad essentially tells the same story many times. He also denies many of the things contained in the book that I have. If I am to take the Quranic challenge seriously, then I am supposed to go to the book that I have (we know what that book was and what it said, too) and if the Quran is right I will be see an unlettered prophet prophesied, see the same stories as in the Quran, and see that Jesus does not claim divinity or divine sonship. I don't, so the Quran's claims are wrong.

That made it easy - all it took was to read a few chapters before, like the Jews and Christians before me of Muhammad's era, I could quickly say "that isn't what the Bible says... this guy isn't a prophet. I of course later looked in to other things in the history of Muhammad's life that casts even more doubt, but I don't have space.

"I try to use Islam as the analogy, because that is a real case. Whatever superb of God you claim could (and does) has some analogue in Muslim claims, and in Jewish claims."

Believe you me, I think Islam is the perfect example of a competitor religion. If you had asked me two years ago (before I started studying it) I'd have nothing to say. I started studying it because it seemed like its claims to truth might have a chance of being real. I have concluded that they are not - but I'm still open to evidence from Muslims and I still listen to debates with them. Maybe one of them will answer my doubts? Jewish claims I think are absolutely true, which is why I believe in Y'shua Hamashiach.

So yes, Islam is a great example of a rival religion to bring to Christians as a challenge, and the even greater thing is that a Christian who studies Islam - due to its special relationship with Christianity - will be able to quickly see that it is a false religion. I actually tell the people in my BIble study to read the Quran so they can get an idea of how amazing our beliefs actually are in comparison.

"But if I rule out all of my material experience then I can certainly rule out God too."

Sure. If I rule out all of my material experience, I can rule out God. More to the point, if I rule out God, I can rule out all of my material experiences of him (not surprisingly, that's what you're doing). If I rule out all of my material experiences of God, I can also pretty quickly rule out the existence of God. So yeah, refusing to admit evidence to the discussion does allow one to deny God, and denying God does allow one to refuse to admit the evidence for him. In total agreement there.

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Ron Murphy said...

Hi John,

Sorry. Lots of double posting happening.

Ron Murphy said...

"Do you not later turn around and argue that they'd discovered the natural brain patterns corresponding to religious experience?" - That's just evidence that the material brain is doing stuff at the time religious believers are claiming they are having a religious experience. It's evidence of some experience, but in what way is it evidence of interaction from God?

Just as Christians can interpret the Bible to mean whatever they like, so too Muslims can interpret the Quran any way they like. The fact that Muslims seem to have the wrong end of the stick doen't really cut it, since both Muslims and atheists think Christians have got their interpretations wrong. The Bible was written by ancient authors. The Quran was written later. Muslims have often told me that the Quran is the innerrant word of God and suopercedes anything that went before. I find that claim as useless as Christian claims about the NT. Christians have been arguing about discrepencies between the gospels for centuries. Seems the odd inconsistency here and there doesn't matter if it's in your favour, but does if it isn't.

From your final paragraph it appears we agree there's no evidence for God. I'm not sure why you believe.

Gurdur said...

Extremely neat discussion here, with many great comments sparked off by a very good blog post.

What I'll do is blog myself on the topic and refer back to your blog post, Ron Murphy, and the discussion from everyone in it.

Ron Murphy said...

Hi Gurdur,

Thanks and welcome. Looking forward to your blogs.

Ron Murphy said...

This post has moved: http://ronmurp.net/2010/05/03/human-fallibility/