Monday, September 3, 2007

Atheism, the emperor's new clothes.

I am sometimes a bit harsh on the evangelical Christian fundamentalists and recently I wondered if that was fair. My main concern about the fundamentalist churches is that they raise their flock in a very simplistic cocoon of faith – one that relies entirely on faith to resist the intellectually flawed but seductive atheist argument. “I don’t believe it, you can’t be right” is their only defence – like lambs to the slaughter. Unfortunately with the free availability of information and opinion on the internet that approach is no longer good enough.



I am reminded of when the Roman Catholic Church did not want the laity to read the bible without a priest present in case they misinterpreted it. The Catholics always knew the bible was neither literal nor inerrant, they knew one needed to be guided through it. Well with Vatican II that went out and Catholics were encouraged to read the bible – they started to trust the people to get it right. Unfortunately they did not really put in place the mechanisms to allow for the questions and debate – the Church had the theology, ever evolving, but it was there to help answer the questions – it was just not accessible to everyone. So many a “good Catholic” found themselves floundering on the rocks of finely crafted atheist argument.

Perhaps there is a lesson for both Catholics and evangelicals. Trust the people with knowledge, open up the bible for them and encourage them to think, question and debate – their faith will be stronger for it! If we shed the social politeness of not talking about religion, if the depth of Catholic theological thinking was made available to “the masses” then the pseudo-rationality of atheism would soon be seen to be no more than the emperor’s new clothes.

Theism has nothing to fear from the challenges of atheism, but the fear itself. Whenever I delve into Catholic theology in response to some question I can’t answer (and there are lots of them) I am always impressed by the fact that its is not a new question for the Church – they have ”been there done that” – the answer is there, unfortunately often buried, but there. Often the answer surprises me - the issue raised by the atheist is actually valid, but the interpretation they place on it is not at all persuasive. The “clever”, “rational” and “scientific” arguments of atheism may challenge our thinking and that is good, but armed with knowledge we soon see that they do not have the substance to undermine our faith.

As I have progressed along my faith journey, its highs, lows and my doubts, I have found my faith (the conviction that there is a God) growing stronger as each challenge is more easily dismissed than the previous. Even more to my surprise though, is that I have also been more strongly drawn to the Catholic Church, warts and all, as the vehicle for my faith.

I now understand why some 10 years ago a Methodist I knew who had a crisis in their church ended up becoming a Catholic. His explanation is now familiar to me, ‘the Catholics had thought it through and just keep on thinking”.

That said, on reflection there are those who for whom the more black and white approach of, say the Baptists, is what works well for them. Perhaps we do need the range of denominations to fulfil the different faith journeys of each. BUT Reality Check!!! A whole lot do get derailed – from every denomination. Everyone can do it better – faith yes, but faith with accessible knowledge.

33 comments:

BEAST said...

Akiwiki:

I am not sure how I should respond to you, but allow me to try.

First of all, I don't think Atheism is the proverbial "Emperor's new clothes": For sure, it isn't new, and it isn't pompous, at least not in the evangelical sense.

Because I do not know which denomination of Christianity you were raised in, I do not know which denomination of teachings you are indoctrinated with, but for atheists such as myself, we have been there, done that, so to speak, and still are not convinced.

As it is now, Atheism does make a very strong case. It will take more than mere faith to discredit it.

Beast

akakiwibear said...

Hi Beast, so you rose to the bait.

Atheism's claim for itself is a lot like the emperor's clothes - it claims to be visible to the "enlightened and rational" while the "ignorant and irrational" see only theism. As a generalisation it is intellectually pompous.

Atheism, like theism makes a case. If you choose to believe either it is a matter of personal faith. We have long agreed that there is no proof absolute.

As for having "been there and done that", I can say the same about atheism.

But atheism required that I convince myself that my own personal experiences and those of my family - many not even religious - never happened. I could not make that leap of faith.

It is like the analogy of someone walking in the forest and seeing a bird thought to be extinct.

When that person return and tell what they have seen, they might well not be believed - especially if extinction is the accepted view. (Don't be tempted, you know I have the documented true story behind this 'analogy')

But they would not be able to prove it, repeat walks in the same place would not make it reappear and there would be no logical or rational explanation for it. They would come under considerable pressure to admit they were wrong. Some people do and become atheists.

Neil Turton said...

Hi Akakiwibear,

You wrote:
Unfortunately they did not really put in place the mechanisms to allow for the questions and debate – the Church had the theology, ever evolving, but it was there to help answer the questions – it was just not accessible to everyone.

I agree. I think everyone should be given the chance to decide for themselves what they believe rather than having a bundle of beliefs passed on to them by religious authorities. I think they should also be told how various positions were arrived at. For example, most Christians believe in the Trinity, but I would hazard a guess that not many of them could tell you why.

The “clever”, “rational” and “scientific” arguments of atheism may challenge our thinking and that is good, but armed with knowledge we soon see that they do not have the substance to undermine our faith.

I think you might be right on this one. True faith can withstand any arguments. You must know that from the YECs and other fundamentalists. I say "look at all the fossils" and they say "Satan hid them there". They don't need any evidence to back any of it up. They just take it on faith.

The wonderful thing is that it works for any point of view. Take any point of view. It doesn't matter if it's consistent or supported by evidence or whatever. Now, find something which an unbeliever might have a problem with. Think of some evidence or some reason why it's not a problem. Don't trouble yourself too much though. If you can't think of a reason, just claim that it's a mystery and move on to the next problem. Before long you'll have a fully consistent and valid view.

Maybe that only applies to the evangelicals though. How does your faith differ?

Peace, Neil.

Former Follier said...

I'm going to respond briefly:

Atheism is not a dogmatic religion like Christianity, though some apostates may devote just as much time to identifying themselves, determining their new worldview and general discussion as they may have devoted to church. Does this make it a religion? Do you consider Monday Night Football a religion? Depends on your definition.

What we lack is a belief in your god and that undoubtedly hurts and offends you. You aren't so much exasperated with atheists for losing their own faith but for rejecting your own. But don't feel dejected, we dismiss all other religions as wishful thinking as well.

If you want to call us "religionists", fine. Just know that our "beliefs" are a non-belief in any form of god. If that helps you sleep at night, classify us however you like.

akakiwibear said...

former follier, I wonder what metaphysical power you assume you have to be able to know how I feel. Are you in touch giant spaghetti monster? If however, you actually read what I have to say you will see that your supernatural power has let you down - I don't feel that way at all.

akakiwibear said...

Neil, I wonder how many Christians can actually explain the Trinity - but does it matter if the detail is muddy ... it is a vehicle to portray a relationship - and it works - for me it is close to me collective consciousness acting with common purpose.

The question of faith withstanding argument is interesting. I think for some people faith is a necessary part of life, be it religious or in the government (heaven forbid!) or in there being no God so nothing to fear in the afterlife (I am not pushing the burn in hell line, just an illustration!!!)

Because we don't have proof absolute on a/theism there is a lot of "explaining" that both sides have to do. An interesting essay (Believing by Faith) by John Bishop at the university here in Auckland asks how else we reach a conclusion other than by faith. He refers to the a/theist question being supra- evidential.

Cole said...

Hey bear,

What sort of explaining Does the Christian Theist have to do?

The Space-time theorem of General Relativity shows that there must be a First Cause if General Relativity holds.

General relativity is now highly likely. So the space-time theorem can be trusted.

Neil Turton said...

Hi Akakiwibear,

You wrote:
"Because we don't have proof absolute on a/theism there is a lot of "explaining" that both sides have to do."

We don't have proof absolute either way. In fact, we don't even have strong evidence. Given the lack of evidence, we also lack knowledge because we can only get knowledge about the world (physical or metaphysical) from evidence. The rational course of action is to not believe and that goes for belief that there is a God or belief that there is no God.

I'm in the middle ground. I don't believe that there is a God and I don't believe that there is no God. I don't know. I'm an atheist in the sense that I don't believe in a God. You can call me an agnostic if you think it helps. The people who need to do the explaining are the theists and the strong atheists.

"An interesting essay (Believing by Faith) by John Bishop at the university here in Auckland asks how else we reach a conclusion other than by faith. He refers to the a/theist question being supra- evidential."

I think conclusions should be based on evidence and reason alone. If we can't reach an evidence based conclusion, it's better to not reach a conclusion.

Peace, Neil.

Neil Turton said...

Hi cole and welcome to the discussion.

"What sort of explaining Does the Christian Theist have to do? The Space-time theorem of General Relativity shows that there must be a First Cause if General Relativity holds."

Unfortunately it's not enough to show that there is a first cause. You also need to show that it is intelligent, eternal, loving, redeeming, beyond physical laws and anything else you would like to say about God.

An alternative has been proposed by Stephen Hawking. Our world includes many events which have no cause, including such things as radioactive decay. Because these are quantum events, they occur at random and without a cause. If the first cause was a quantum event then there would be no need to conclude that there was an external agency involved.

Another point is that our understanding that every action (which is not a quantum event) has a cause is based on a body of evidence which also shows that every cause is within our physical universe and subject to physical laws. As I understand things, God doesn't fit this description but a quantum event does.

"General relativity is now highly likely. So the space-time theorem can be trusted."

Yes, that's true as far as it goes. Even so, there have been serious suggestions (reported in Scientific American or New Scientist - I can't remember which) about oscillating universes and nested universes which would do away with the need for a first cause. The thing is that our knowledge about physics breaks down at the big bang so it's an active area of research.

Peace, Neil.

Cole said...

Neil,

These are all speculations in that little area of doubt I was talking about.

Anything can be speculated in the realm of human ignorance.

It's beyond reasonable doubt that there is a creator.

I think the evidence also shows that He is a God of Grace and a God of Wrath.

Cole said...

The Creator is outside physical time so the creator is eternal.

The design shows that the creator is Personal because He designed the universe for physical life to be possible. Through millions of years of death and decay the creator provided the human race with natural resources. And since nobody deserves to be created we see God's grace through His wrath.
The bad designs display God's wrath. They are good in one sense because the animals, stars, and forces of nature don't sin. They just do what they were designed to do. They reveal God's nature and glorify Him because in destroying each other the show his mighty power and His wrath.

akakiwibear said...

Hi Cole, and a somewhat belated welcome.

I have a big problem with the creation debate as it pertains to answering the existence of God or not question.

Firstly it would only be relevant if creation by God were proven to a reasonable level of confidence and it is not. Certainly you have to back further than recent evolution to establish a creator God. But yes we can allude to a creator but even if we could prove creation my next problem kicks in …

Secondly no matter which direction you come from you end up with an unexplained origin. OK so big bang, but before that … or OK so God, but before that.. . The cyclical universe theories don’t really help to explain things, OK, but before the first cycle, where did the matter/energy come from .. .. etc etc. I think theist and atheist are on equally speculative ground here.

Now the easy reply that the creator is outside of physical time may have some merit, but only if we could conceptualise a realm which really had no origin – that time per se is a constraint that exists in this universe, but not that one. Now there has to be an answer to the original origin question, if not we would not be here. For me, I can’t get there and don’t see any productive outcome from me pondering what I am unlikely to understand – there must be cleaver people out there doing it for me.

As a mischief though I like to quote Dawkins from River of Eden (p.70) ’Never say, and never take seriously anyone who says, 'I cannot believe that so-and-so could have evolved by gradual selection.' I have dubbed this kind of fallacy 'the Argument from Personal Incrudulity." Time and again, it has proven the prelude to an intellectual banana-skin experience.. From this I take it Dawkins would agree that it is likely that God evolved, perhaps even before us.

akakiwibear said...

Hi Neil,

To respond to your earlier points.
I think the question of proof/evidence is really important – as per our discussion on miracles. If we can't reach an evidence based conclusion, it's better to not reach a conclusion. We agree there is no proof absolute, so should we try to reach any conclusion?
Which leads to your starting premise.

You say the “rational” course is to not believe, I would say it is the “conservative” course. It really depends on our starting point or preconceptions. If we come from a science perspective that says it is not true unless it can be proven, then yes the “no Go” is the rational starting point.

But is science the rational framework for decision making? We know it is not the only framework and we regularly use others. We don’t use science to establish ethical standards or to evaluate art. We recognise the limitations of science in these areas, so why try to apply it to the metaphysical?
Is it rational to apply a tool developed specifically for use in the physical realm to another realm? To question the applicability of the science model may be a heresy, but I am up for it.

Are there other rules, standards, tests or techniques other than those of science that we should apply?

Peace be with you too.

Cole said...

The Space-time theorem of General Relativity shows that there must be a First Cause if General Relativity holds.

General relativity is now highly likely. So the space-time theorem can be trusted.

The First Cause of the space-time theorem transcends the physical universe so it's non-physical and eternal.

I haven't discussed biological evolution yet.

Neil Turton said...

Hi Cole,

You wrote:
"These are all speculations in that little area of doubt I was talking about."

Actually, the conditions at the earliest stages of the big bang were such that quantum gravity played an important role. We don't yet have a consistent theory of quantum gravity so all we can say is that we don't know what happened. We do know that the current theory of General Relativity breaks down when quantum gravity becomes important.

"The Space-time theorem of General Relativity shows that there must be a First Cause if General Relativity holds. General relativity is now highly likely. So the space-time theorem can be trusted."

You just seem to be repeating yourself here. Could you perhaps address some of the points which akakiwibear or I have raised?

"The First Cause of the space-time theorem transcends the physical universe so it's non-physical and eternal."

How do you know that the first cause transcends the physical universe. We have a large body of evidence which shows that causes, in general, do not transcend the physical universe.

Peace, Neil.

Neil Turton said...

Hi akakiwibear,

You wrote:
"You say the “rational” course is to not believe, I would say it is the “conservative” course. It really depends on our starting point or preconceptions. If we come from a science perspective that says it is not true unless it can be proven, then yes the “no Go” is the rational starting point."

It is also conservative. A science perspective says that it is not known to be true until it's shown to be true. Something can still be true, even if it's not known to be true. Modern day astronomy ties in with ancient observations of the planets so it was true back then even though people didn't know about astronomy.

"But is science the rational framework for decision making? We know it is not the only framework and we regularly use others. We don’t use science to establish ethical standards or to evaluate art. We recognise the limitations of science in these areas, so why try to apply it to the metaphysical?"

I agree that science does not establish ethical standards or evaluate art. It might be useful in establishing ethics in particular situations but only in conjunction with the ethical standards (or principles).

"Are there other rules, standards, tests or techniques other than those of science that we should apply? "

I think the tools we (as a species) have available are logical reasoning, science, personal experience, the historical method and plausible inference. These tools at least have some degree of objectivity about them.

Many have tried to demonstrate the existence of God through logical reasoning alone, but all the arguments I've seen are flawed.

Science might be able to establish the existence of certain types of God; In particular, one which intervenes in the world in a moderately consistent way. So far, we've not succeeded in demonstrating the existence of God in this way.

Personal experience can be used, but needs careful monitoring. If I see lots of bright colours, it might be because I'm having a drug trip. I can't just conclude that there are really lots of brightly coloured things floating around. Many people have claimed the existence of God through personal experience but their experiences have differed greatly in nature. As a result we're at a loss as to whether their experiences are a result of a single God, many Gods or psychological effects in the brain.

The historical method is useful when we have no direct physical evidence for a claim but have reason to believe that someone else does. We need to know the identity of the author in order to take into account his/her biases and also the date of the writing to evaluate the strength of the evidence. We would like to see corroboration through independent witnesses. Even so, knowledge gained through this method is relatively weak because it's easy to misidentify documents.

Finally, we can use plausible inference when we have nothing else to go on. Basically, make up something reasonable. It's no good for establishing the nature of the world because the nature of the world needs to be known to determine what is plausible.

I think that's about it with the objective tools. We employ subjective methods, but they either turn out to be approximations to the objective methods or produce widely differing results. If you've got any other objective tools up your sleeve, do let me know.

This all assumes that the metaphysical is objective. I don't see how it can be any other way.

Peace, Neil.

akakiwibear said...

Hi Cole,
I am afraid that you have lost me with your relativity argument - I just don't understand special relativity well enough to grasp the connection. Enlighten me.

Peace be with you.

akakiwibear said...

Hi Cole, while I don't understand your argument (as above) and I don’t see a lot in the origin of origins creation debate that does not leave me confused.

For me part of the creation arguments that tip towards a creator God are where we have had the need for the simultaneous existence of separate elements with no purpose other than “creation”. Some of the evolutionary elements come close and there is a lot of debate.

The single one that I find the most impressive is the existence of the DNA code itself. While Dawkins argues that DNA is the ‘river of life’ for evolution he avoids addressing the tough questions around how the DNA code came to exist in the first place, requiring three disparate elements to simultaneously evolve and co-exist with a very specific and singular purpose not related to their own existence. Not a likely random chance event.

While not all that well explained the argument is presented on http://celestialmechanic.com/dnanotcode.htm in reply to sceptical criticism of the argument – so you get the criticism and the reply, but not the presentation of the whole of the concept which is fairly easy to work out from the Q&A.

Well worth a read.

akakiwibear said...

Hi Neil,
OK so if none of the objective tools delivers a conclusive result are we left with accepting the agnostic position – cannot know – or some subjective or a supra-evidential approach? The end game as I see it will always come down to a personal choice - a judgement call a/theist… or agnosticism.


If we want to answer the question I suggest that a weight of evidence approach is an acceptable objective approach you did not mention. That is accepting that while each piece of evidence, or each method, while not in itself conclusive forms part of an overall body of evidence that leads us to the conclusion.

” demonstrate the existence of God through logical reasoning alone” I agree, not conclusive either way, but there are some good arguments. This is the domain of the strong atheist with arguments like the ‘argument from evil’ or the ‘argument of silence” and I think it fair to say that none of their arguments are convincing. Equally there are quite persuasive arguments or rebuttals from the theists. http://www.homestead.com/philofreligion/files/Theisticarguments.html may be worth a read.

” Science might be able to establish the existence of certain types of God; In particular, one which intervenes” I think the key word is “might”. Science is only able to confirm repeatable events subject to the laws under investigation. The scientific method relies on the ability to repeat experiments in the laboratory. This is not appropriate for one-off events such as validating the group who saw ball lightning or Orbell’s observation of the Takahe, examples I have used elsewhere. A healing miracle cannot be repeated in the lab and it would be wrong to test it that way. So I am not sure that we should even consider science to test for an interventionist God.

We can however use science to test for alternative explanations and we while we should do so we should also be very cautious of falling into “God of the gaps” trap. We need causality and correlation, but we have discussed this at length.

My point is that there are enough events that have a good measure of causality and correlation to lead to a conclusion on the preponderance of the evidence that there was metaphysical intervention. My fondness for the reviewed miracle examples still stands, although we differ on the standard of proof that constitutes “acceptable”.

What about “mind over matter” or placebo effect type events? Well, and this is a new thought for me, why not explain them as metaphysical? Who is to say that “mind over matter” is not just 'prayer' at work. Remember that I don’t subscribe to the limited view of God as for Christians only or limited to the religious. If God is the collective consciousness acting with common purpose that I like, then we all have the potential to be in contact (maybe harmony?) with God to enable these interventions - maybe we do it ourselves by tapping some metaphysical power/force which I may chose to call God – and there would be causality and correlation plus the distinguishing feature for success/failure would ability to communicate or be in harmony? (am I going all New Age here?)

To get back from that diversion, my point is that there is enough outside the explanation of science with causality etc to provide a case for God based on the preponderance of evidence.

” Personal experience can be used, but needs careful monitoring.” Yes I agree, I would not rely on a single event. BUT we do have empirical (based on what is experienced or seen rather than on theory) evidence for many such events, some experienced by non-religious people. While of the millions of such events many are undoubtedly frauds for personal fame or fortune, and some may be delusional in nature there is a credible base to work on. If there is at least one genuine event then there is a God, and what is the probability of at least one of all those events being genuine … works for me as part of the preponderance of evidence

” The historical method is useful when we have no direct physical evidence for a claim but have reason to believe that someone else does.” While it is popular to debunk the bible and the historic Jesus, there is wide acceptance (even in some strong atheist circles – they just disagree on the significance) that the person Jesus of the NT existed just some of the detail may be shaky. The ‘argument of silence’ used by some atheists to question if Jesus ever lived (or by you to question the link between Paul and the NT Jesus)can be turned around. There is not a lot evidence of the discrediting of the early Christian stories at the time – a time when (due to proximity with the actual events) it would have been very easy to do so.
How easy would it have been to say “rubbish – that person never lived, never did those things and was never crucified – you are making it all up. The fellow the crucified was Fred, never did a miracle in his life except pull some great chicks” – but that position did not survive at the time when it would have been most current nor is it widely recorded as such in an attempt to inhibit the spread of Christianity.

I think there is enough in the history to lend weight to the claim that there is a God (Paul’s conversion would be a good example). Again not conclusive, but taken with all the above it ads credibility and substance to the preponderance of evidence.

” Finally, we can use plausible inference when we have nothing else to go on.” Is my preponderance of evidence plausible inference? Yes I think it may be seen as such. Is the God of the explanation “made up”? To some extent, in that we don’t know everything about God, but if we go along with the evidence and accept there is a God then it is reasonable to be going along with the various revelations (taken as a whole and sifted for vested interests etc) and then a picture of God does develop- hence my metaphysical collective consciousness acting with common purpose.

Peace be with you.

Cole said...

Bear,

In 1970 Hawking and Penrose published the first of the space-time theorems. WWhat is says is this. If the universe contains mass and general relativity is accurate then space and time along with matter and energy must have a beginning. Also, there must exist a cause outside of physical space and time that brings the universe into existence.

General relativity is the best proven principle in all of physics. So, the spacetime theorem can be trusted.

There is a tiny tiny tiny tiny fraction of a second after the creation event where we don't know. .000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001 seconds. This is where physicists like to speculate and try to get arround the creation event. Like I said before we can't know everything. Science doesn't give us absolute proof only high probability.

I have a copy of the corollary to the theorem if you would like to see it.

Cole said...

OOPS!

.000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001
Seconds.


It's a very tiny area of uncertainty

akakiwibear said...

Cole, thanks - indeed a small fraction of time, but it still does not answer the real conundrum of "before that what then?" We have no prior state - no before big bang cycle, before energy/matter or before God.

This all says that there is something very big missing from our understanding - we cannot conceive in terms that make any sense to us the before state. So we have a fairly wide choice of options open to us - two of which are "it just happened, came from nowhere we can understand" of "God did it, after God came from nowhere we can understand".

The only thing that would favour "God did it" was an argument that was ONLY satisfied by the existence of an active causal intelligence.

The only one I have read that has a prerequisite causal intelligence is the Perry Marshall DNA code argument I referred to above.

If I fail to see a conclusive rebuttal of the express need for a causal intelligence I may even become a creationist - but certainly not a bible literal one. But I confess that I still don't too excited about the absolute origins - don't need to know, not likely to impact on my thinking or theist way of life - well not until all is know with certainty and then the debate becomes irrelevant.

Peace be with you

Neil Turton said...

Hi akakiwibear,

Sorry, this is quite long. I hope you don't get bored...

You wrote:
"If we want to answer the question I suggest that a weight of evidence approach is an acceptable objective approach you did not mention."

Yes. That's true. Two things to get right in weighing evidence is to ensure that the evidence is collected in an unbiased way and that the weights are right.

"This is the domain of the strong atheist with arguments like the ‘argument from evil’ or the ‘argument of silence” and I think it fair to say that none of their arguments are convincing."

Those arguments aren't quite pure reason because they depend on observations of the world. I was thinking of the ontological argument and some of Plantinga's arguments from the link you posted (argument from intentionality, argument from numbers, argument from collections etc...).

"Equally there are quite persuasive arguments or rebuttals from the theists. http://www.homestead.com/philofreligion/files/Theisticarguments.html may be worth a read."

I read a few of them but they didn't seem all that convincing to me. They seem more like points of view which someone could waffle on about rather than arguments which could be turned into something logically rigorous. Quite a few of them deal with the existence of abstract objects. It should be noted that the sort of existence which abstract objects have is entirely different from the sort of existence which physical objects have. Yet, he seems to treat abstract objects as if they need the same sort of explanation as a physical object would need. I don't see that this is the case.

"This is not appropriate for one-off events such as validating the group who saw ball lightning or Orbell’s observation of the Takahe, examples I have used elsewhere. A healing miracle cannot be repeated in the lab and it would be wrong to test it that way. So I am not sure that we should even consider science to test for an interventionist God."

Miracles aren't repeatable, but we only know this after trying to repeat them. Note that the observation doesn't have to be 100% repeatable to be scientifically testable. It just has to be distinguishable from chance. If I can make 6 dice come up all sixes, 10% of the time then I just need to repeat the test 1000 times and show that getting a positive result 100 times is well beyond what chance could do. If someone found a particular sequence of words which produced a miracle 10% of the time then miracles would be repeatable. We've not found a way of making miracles repeatable, but that doesn't mean it's wrong to try.

Okay, so we can't use the scientific method for miracles because they aren't repeatable. So what do we do? Try to fudge the scientific method until we can show that miracles happen? I hope not. Perhaps we could try to figure out why miracles aren't repeatable. Maybe miracles are just chance in disguise and that's why we can't tell them apart from chance.

"My point is that there are enough events that have a good measure of causality and correlation to lead to a conclusion on the preponderance of the evidence that there was metaphysical intervention."

Do you mean correlation or coincidence? If you mean correlation then you can conduct experiments where you divide patients into two groups. You pray for one group but don't pray for the other group. Then you measure the correlation between the prayer and the rate of healing. Several studies of this type have been done, but they've been inconclusive.

"What about “mind over matter” or placebo effect type events? Well, and this is a new thought for me, why not explain them as metaphysical?"

The placebo effect has been demonstrated scientifically, so there's certainly something there. It's certainly worth considering whether it's physical or metaphysical. If it's physical then we would expect to eventually be able to understand it in terms of physical processes. If it's metaphysical then... actually I don't know. Perhaps we'd expect one person's thoughts to influence the healing of another person? I don't really know anything about the metaphysical so saying it's "metaphysical" or "prayer in action" doesn't really help my understanding of what's going on.

"If there is at least one genuine event then there is a God, and what is the probability of at least one of all those events being genuine … works for me as part of the preponderance of evidence"

A million people can be mistaken. People are usually not very good at interpreting evidence and what we see is what I would expect if there was no God. As a result, this evidence doesn't point in either direction as it stands. If we had more details on the one which is genuine, things would be different.

"There is not a lot evidence of the discrediting of the early Christian stories at the time – a time when (due to proximity with the actual events) it would have been very easy to do so."

What time frame are you thinking of? Before or after the fall of Jerusalem? Where were Christians based at the time? How do we know what their beliefs were?

"I think there is enough in the history to lend weight to the claim that there is a God (Paul’s conversion would be a good example)."

It would lend weight if Paul's conversion could be verified historically. We've got two accounts, both in Acts. Paul's conversion is mentioned in one of the epistles, but not in any detail. Of course, we should use the historical method rather than just reading the accounts. The checklist from R. J. Shafer raises some good questions.

3.2. When did he report in relation to his observation? Soon? Much later?

The account was written a few decades after the events described. This raises questions about the veracity.

3.3. What was the author's intention in reporting? For whom did he report? Would that audience be likely to require or suggest distortion to the author?

Both Paul and Luke are thought to have been active missionaries. This raises concerns about biases, either conscious or sub-concious.

Peace, Neil.

Cole said...

Bear,

It's beyond reasonable doubt that there is a Transcendent First Cause. There is nothing before that. Just as the space-time theorem says.

To speculate in such an area is on the same level as young earth creationism. It's bizzare.

That uncertainty will always be there.

akakiwibear said...

Neil, I agree much of the argument on www.homestead were not convincing, apologies, I should have screened it better.
I will get round to the substance of your comment when I can.

Peace be with you

akakiwibear said...

Hi Neil, sorry about the delay in responding to your thought provoking comments – real world has been hectic!

There are two threads here – Paul etc and the big a/theism question. For simplicity I have transferred your Paul comments to that post (Damascus road) and will reply to the theism issue comments here.

Coming back to this thread I had to re-read it all to get back into the groove so to speak. My lead comment was that atheism (strong atheism at any rate) was akin to the emperor’s new clothes. Essentially my earlier comments “Atheism's claim for itself is a lot like the emperor's clothes - it claims to be visible to the "enlightened and rational" while the "ignorant and irrational" see only theism. As a generalisation it is intellectually pompous.

Atheism, like theism makes a case. If you choose to believe either it is a matter of personal choice faith. We have long agreed that there is no proof absolute …. etc
gets to the nub of the issue – it is a matter of personal choice.

I recently listened to Christopher Hitchens - Dinesh D’Souza debate and was struck (not for the first time) by the insufferable arrogance of Hitchens with comments like “no self respecting person would believe ...” etc. The debate shows typical Hitchens and is illustrative of the intellectual fraud perpetrated by the atheist evangelists like Hitchens. Sweeping generalities “leading” to specific conclusions, logical non-sequiturs and factual errors. Back it up! ? OK, for example his claim that God promotes ‘child abuse’ by requiring ‘genital mutilation’ (male circumcision). Note the emotive language he uses and that he ignores the outcome of the Pauline debate around circumcision. As for the emperor’s new clothes – I rest my case.

His brother presents a more balanced critique than I could, so please visit http://www.dailymail.co.uk/
pages/live/articles/news/
newscomment.html?
in_article_id=459427&
in_page_id=1787&in_a_source

Perhaps it is unfair to present Hitchens as typical of the atheist evangelists – he is perhaps more of an anti-theist than an atheist. However there are strong parallels with the work of other evangelists like Dawkins and Harris. Perhaps the atheist evangelists are not a tight knit group jointly weaving the fabric of the emperor’s new clothes, but they certainly share a view as to who can see the cloth.

But, if we want to distance ourselves from the “I have no view one way or another, I have no belief” cop out of the weak atheist, we have to take a leap of faith one way or another. What is I think important is how we make our decision and that is really what we have been discussing here.

Logic and philosophy does not get us there, nor does science or even theology. While there is no proof absolute, there will always be room for doubt. It is a personal decision which while we should be satisfied with it ourselves it is unrealistic to expect our personal reasons being all persuasive to others.

Unfortunately there is no proof absolute, so we have to make do with discretion and judgement. What is however clear to me is that how we live our lives is far more important in a social and/or philosophical context than a a/theist belief system.

Before we ask where we should look for guidance on how to live a quality life, I ask why we should bother. If there is no after life, if we are not preparing ourselves for a next phase (no I am not getting into the old hellfire & brimstone thing) logic and reason dictates that maximising our enjoyment is the sensible thing to do – that’s all there is for us here. Certainly maximising our pleasure takes different form for each of us and not all of it necessarily classic flesh based hedonism, but hedonistic none the less. While philosophers may encourage us to a good life, without a real purpose outside of intellectual or self gratification, there is no reason not to maximise enjoyment, leaving a lot of scope.

Hitchen’s great challenge –a moral position that only a theist could adopt – is of course also an intellectual fraud. Anyone can take any position. He then likes to ‘trump’ the opposition by saying that all of us can name instances of horror that have their origins in religion – he ignores those that have their origins in an atheist doctrine. The argument is a nonsense.

The real point is that without a theist position we have no absolute right or wrong as a reference point, let hedonism rule. It is silly to argue that we will behave for the greater good because we see the merit – when the rest of the population is restraining their base desires to maintain a balance between short term gratification and longer term stability through co-operation, the individual greater good is available through exploiting that – and everyone is tempted, some do and some get caught.

Hitchens, is not short on the rhetoric of religion fuelling all sorts of horrors – and it has - but from an atheist supporter of the Iraq war it is more than a little ironic.

So we are still facing choice, atheism or theism – both options being rational but inconclusive. Likewise there seems to be a choice of being moral or amoral – hedonistic or adhering to an apparently arbitrary code of selflessness for the greater good. Now there is no absolute causality that links theism with morality – indeed there are plenty of contra cases – the ideal of most religious teaching is a love thy neighbour type message.

Hitchens writes, ‘There still remain four irreducible objections to religious faith: that it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos, that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism, that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression, and that it is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking.’

Should I bother to dismantle them?
wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos - yes if you are a bible literalist OR if you believe that have actually solved the complete origins question – I guess Hitchens believes he has.
because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism - well the original error is not a closed case and the maximum of servility and solipsism is really unfounded opinion and rhetoric – plus he should check the meaning of solipsism, I for one can’t follow the connections he tries to make.
that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression - oh come on … this is just garbage not worth considered response – never mind the nonsequitur.
and that it is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking. - I still struggle to see self respecting reasoning going on here … I should have stopped with emperor’s new clothes, I rest my case

BEAST said...

What hitchens means by solipsism is the idea that man is the sole intelligent life created by God.

Beas

akakiwibear said...

Hi Beast, good to see you again!
So a malapropism then ... as a journalist Hitchens should know better, but then when it comes to a lot of things Hitchens should know better.

BEAST said...

"So a malapropism then ... as a journalist Hitchens should know better, but then when it comes to a lot of things Hitchens should know better."

Consider me ignorant.....but........where's the malapropism???

I don't think you should challenge Hitchens on his English, unless you have strong grounds to do so....not to say you can't point out his mistakes, but seriously, he's an ex Brit, my friend. And I'd hedge my bet on the Brits speaking and writing better English than the Yanks, the latter being more accustomed to colloquial English (etc: Yo, yo, check it out, dude!).

Beast

Beast

akakiwibear said...

Beast - Hitchens is a very accomplished writer, he use language well as I would expect of an older 'Brit' journalist.

While i think this is not about words he does seem to have coined his own, pity is spelled the same as another word.

Enough on words - peace to you

akakiwibear said...

I think Hitchens typifies the so called New Atheists, very aggressive, anti-theist rather than just atheist,
and like Harris and Dawkins is not above misusing facts or drawing inappropriate inferences.

Perhaps where Hitchens stands out (although it would be a close call) is his intellectual arrogance, his assumption that theists are by definition stupid and irrational to boot. Yet for all his arrogance I have yet to hear him present a convincing argument against the existence of God.

BEAST said...

Intellectual arrogance? I don't detect it.

You should try to watch a video of Kent Hovind's lecture, or a sample of Ted Haggard's tirade against gays (Oops.....he is gay!) to understand what really is intellectual arrogance.

Dawkins and Sam Harris are not really aggressive. In fact, if you watch their videos, I think they are pretty rational people. Hitchens, too, doesn't rile at people unless he gets riled by morons on the religious side.

I have read the books from the holy trinity of atheists, and frankly, I don't detect a hint of intellectual arrogance. You may think I am biased, but I am one of those who don't mince words, and I will call a spade a spade and not a pneumatic shovel (Whatever that means!)

Cheers
Beast

akakiwibear said...

Hi Beast, I don't doubt you would!

I am heading into a busy patch again, but I will try to get you some material on the arrogance point, but if you don't think viewing all who don't agree with you as irrational and without self respect is intellectual arrogance, then it is merely "in the eye of the beholder" - still I will try to track the clips down for you.

Hamba kahle