Monday, December 10, 2007

Am I a secret atheist?

There is a lot said by some atheists that I agree with, to the extent that you may even ask if I have aligned myself with the dark side.

Some atheists say:
" the bible is not actually accurate or true" – and I agree;
" religion has been used as the reason for war and atrocity" – and I agree;
" I could not believe in a God who inflicts suffering on the scale we see it today in the world" – and I agree;
" God did not communicate with us in an unambiguous way – he could have made it easier of us" – and I agree;
" that the creation story in the bible is a myth and that evolution happened" – and I agree;
" that Christians can't agree among themselves on doctrine" – and I agree;
" there is no proof that God exists, in the end you need faith to believe" – and I agree;
" it is illogical to believe in a God that is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent, it creates irrational states" – and I agree;
" God could have given unambiguous proof of His existence" – and I agree;
" God could have eliminated evil from this world" – and I agree;
" that an atheist could do any moral action done by a theist and could hold any moral view held by a theist" – and I agree
" that the burden of proof lies with one asserts that there is a God" – and I agree
" you can't categorically prove that anyone had a religious experience" – and I agree.

So I guess I must be an atheist!

… yet …

I understand that the bible is neither inerrant nor literally true, it, together with other religious texts and the tradition of the Church form God's revelation to us.
I know that some people have used (and some still do use) religion to divide, to spread hate and horror and I know that doing that is contrary to Christ's teaching.
I know that there is suffering on a massive scale in this world and that most of it brought about by people exercising their freewill to win power or resources and in so doing go against Christ's message of love and I know that if we all responded unselfishly in love to the plight of others the world would be a much better place for all. I understand that freewill is one of the greatest gifts we have and that we seriously abuse it.
I know God has left space for us to work on his revelations to us to establish the truth in our hearts rather than superficially from a precise text. He has given us the choice of believing or not.
I know about evolution and I have some understanding about the elements of creation, I appreciate the fine balance in the laws of physics and the code system around DNA that I know there is room for a creator in a rational view of the world.
I know the Christian church is fragmented with some deep divisions, some a clear result of human weakness and greed, but I can't escape the common teaching of love for one another even if it is obviously not universally practised.
I know there is no absolute proof that God exists, in the end you need faith to believe, in the same way you need faith to believe there is no God. Needing faith implies choice, choice establishes our moral character. I can't prove there is a God but I am open to accepting the preponderance of evidence that there is.
I know the tri-omni atheist arguments are superficially attractive, but I know they are not new and that scholars far wiser than I have confronted them and debunked them and that I can read and assess their arguments for myself – I get to choose what I believe.
I know God could have given us absolute proof that He existed and then we would have had no choice but to believe.

I know the idea of a world without evil is superficially tempting, but one without freewill and without consequences would be a world without learning or growth, like an eternal living death. I am pleased God was wise enough to spare us that.
I know you don't have to believe in God to be a good person, I just don't see why people who don't believe in an after life would want to do anything other than maximise selfish pleasure within whatever social constraints they choose to acknowledge. I know Christianity preaches a selflessness that is exemplified by those who have given their lives for strangers and I admire that.
I understand about teapots, I have reviewed the evidence that there is a God and accepted it. I also accept that those who assert that there is no God have taken on that burden of proof and note that I am yet to be persuaded by them.
I know you can't prove a religious or metaphysical experiences, but people I know, trust and respect have had them and I believe them sane - I have too and I think I am sane – I know St. Paul would have been crazy to fake his conversion in order to change from persecutor to persecuted, as would have been Wilbur Wilberforce in faking his conversion experience to take on the might of the slave trade at the expense of his health.

So what does that mean? That I am aware of the most powerful of atheist arguments (I have not listed them all above, nor dealt with each fully) but I can see where they are coming from and I still believe in God. While the exact nature of my belief may not be all that conventional I can still say I believe there is a God.

31 comments:

Techskeptic said...

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. That is why you arent the scary theist.

two questions:

1) why do you take the bible over the Koran or the book of mormon or greek mythology?

2) what exactly would it take for you to come to the conclusion that there is no god?

I am fully open to the idea that god exists. He just has to show himself. Then if he wants me to follow him, he has to explain some things.

Neil Turton said...

Hi akakiwibear,

"I know there is no absolute proof that God exists, in the end you need faith to believe, in the same way you need faith to believe there is no God. Needing faith implies choice, choice establishes our moral character."

Believing that particular attributes or actions are good ones would establish moral character, but I expect we broadly agree on those. For example, I agree with the golden rule.

We differ over the intellectual question of whether God exists. Surely that's nothing to do with moral character. The only relevant moral principle which I can think of is being honest about the evidence. But if faith is needed then the evidence is incomplete and honesty only brings you to the point where you recognize that there is a choice. How can that choice be moral or immoral?

Surely the choice would only be moral if the evidence were compelling. In that case, someone could be guilty of holding to their opinions in face of opposing evidence. This is where faith can be a problem because most people believe before they have gathered all the available evidence. As a result, they become attached to their beliefs and are then reluctant to accept evidence which goes against their beliefs.

"I can't prove there is a God but I am open to accepting the preponderance of evidence that there is."

If there's really a preponderance of evidence then that would constitute a proof. Aren't you overstating your case just a little?

Peace, Neil.

akakiwibear said...

Neil, yea I worded it badly – what I wanted to say was that the process of making choices in and of itself establishes our moral character, I did not intend to imply that making an atheist choice was inherently bad or a theist one inherently good.
Our moral character is a result of the cumulative choices we have made and I read Christ’s teachings as having more of an emphasis on how we live our lives than on the trappings of religion or belief.

… and no I don’t think I have over stated my case.

Tech 1) why do you take the bible over the Koran or the book of Mormon or Greek mythology as I said it, together with other religious texts so I think one has to read and read and read.
That said I have only read parts of the Koran, most of the Bible, speed read the book of Mormon and read fairly extensively on Greek, Roman and Native American mythology plus some reading relating to Taoism and eastern religions/philosophies, so my comments must reflect that bias in my knowledge.

Of all of them, the Greek & Roman mythology provides the least insightful instruction as to the purpose of life and a moral framework. In my view can at best be treated as parables from which one has to draw ones own lessons, but there is no underlying moral framework. Some of the stories are a good read and one can read a moral into them – were they God’s revelation to those people a few hundred years BC? – I doubt it.

My read of the book of Mormon lead me to conclude that it was a loose parallel/plagiarism of the bible and in particular of synoptic gospels taken into another context. As such it adds nothing to the Bible and as there are questions relating to its providence ...

As for the Koran – what I have read is interesting. A different flavour from the Bible. As it is a good bit later than the NT, for me it added little. Perhaps a lack of familiarity with its style limited my appreciation and as with the book of Mormon, for me it added little in my search for the meaning of life and all that 42 stuff.

I have found a lot of great value in the eastern religions/philosophies that reinforces the Bible message and much that is complimentary. The more of it I read the more convinced I am of a universal revelation – but a caution, it is real easy to go off up little paths that are really confusing. For me it is not always easy to resolve between ‘big picture’ and ‘detail picture’ in the eastern writings, so I prefer the Bible as a convenient collection, plus the NT has good credentials.

2) what exactly would it take for you to come to the conclusion that there is no god? You have asked for extraordinary evidence to believe what you see as an extraordinary claim – that there is a God.
One the one hand I ask why should I be any different in responding to your extraordinary claim that there is no God?
On the other hand, as I don’t understand when evidence becomes extraordinary, I will settle for evidence.

As per Russell’s teapot, I think you have now taken the burden of proof on yourself – convince me there is no God! Now I don’t expect “proof absolute” just a solid case, a preponderance of evidence will do, an accumulation of lots of ordinary little bits of evidence. Are you up for it?

Hamba kahle - peace

Techskeptic said...

Akaki,

you know damn well you can't prove a negative. If you are able to, then please pay me the 5000 dollars you have of mine, or prove to me you dont have it. Its why Saddam was doomed as soon as Bush pulled out the "prove a negative" rhetoric.

That is why the proof is with the people making the claim. That is why I ask for evidence of the claim, and choose not to believe claims that do not come with evidence.

You yourself said God requires faith. Faith is belief in the face of absence of evidence (or even contradictory evidence).

No thanks.

Neil Turton said...

Hi Akakiwibear,

I forgot to say: Thanks for providing a list of things which we can agree about. It helps to understand where you're coming from.

Peace, Neil.

akakiwibear said...

Hi Tech, damn, you spotted the trap!

Seriously though, not asking for proof, just inviting you to build a case for atheism. I presume your position is based on a reasoned position that goes beyond disbelieving others.

Out of interest, what do you believe?

peace

Techskeptic said...

Interesting... That is a nice question.

I'll start with one that sounds sarcastic but it is not intended to be and then move from there

I believe the sun will rise tomorrow because the sun has risen every single day since the earth formed and we understand the mechanism by which it happens.

I believe that if we, as a species, can dream it, we can do it, because we have overcome huge obstacles repeatedly in the past and continue to do so every single day. Today there is little we have dreamed about that we have not invented: flying, laser guns, visitng the moon, teleportation, the iPhone.

I believe that most people are honest despite religion or background because we, in general, cant get around doing things that help promote our species. I beleive this becuase a tiny minority of poeple are in jail and the news only has news when they report the 1 or 2 people doing bad things each day.

I believe that we as individuals can get around every sadness and obstacle to get to a better place via work, time, and help from friends and family, even if we don't like the journey from bad to good. I know this because I did it.

I believe that if we got rid of religion, most of us would replace it with other nonsense, like The Secret or Deepak Chopra drivel, unless we make a concerted effort to teach critical thinking and fact checking, and even then, it will be hard.

Well, thats the list off the top of my head.

Techskeptic said...

Oh and to get to the crux of your question...

My athiesm has nothing to do with disbelieving others. it has everything to do with simply asking for evidence before I believe anyting that I dont already have an understanding of, or that goes against my understanding of the world around me.

My wife hates it. She takes it as an offense when I question her after she makes an assertion that doesnt sound right to me.

for example, she is now frustrated enough that she doesnt hear what I am asking. We have a 1 year old, she mentioned that babies can't have honey (a food that I happen to know doesnt go bad). I told her that I hear her, but asked what the mechanism was that was bad for babies. she thought I was questioning the assertion (in my head I was, out loud I was not).

Turns out she was right. I looked it up. Babies digestive systems are not prepared to injest botulism spores that are common in honey. After 1 year its safe. I got evidence for her assertion, and was happy.

Im not a republican by any means, but I am a big fan of Reagans "Trust, but verify" motto.

akakiwibear said...

Tech, thanks.

I distinguish between ‘believe’ (which is the question I asked) - e.g. that the sun will rise - and ‘believe in’ (which is the question I maybe should have asked - don't know ?)- i.e. that which requires a leap (small or large) of faith.

Another honey story.
In our family we had what you may call a myth, that honey could be used as a treatment for open wounds - applied directly to the wound. Our son was badly injured and medical treatment was not available so while I had no experience of this use of honey I was aware of its historic use in the family. Faced with few alternatives (some general antiseptic cream in the 1st aid kit) we applied the honey.

Now there was no scientific evidence that we were doing good or harm, but a decision was required and it was made as a leap of faith in traditional medicine ahead of 'off the shelf' medicine.
A few days later when we had access to a doctor it turned out that we did not need one. The wounds were not infected and were closing well - now years later he has no scars from the ordeal (often a source of disappointment in young men).

Recently a nurse who works in the trauma unit of a major children's hospital told me they use honey in the hospital all the time - it is an effective antibiotic and works well to reduce scaring (New Zealand Manuka honey is apparently better than most).

OK science has now caught up with traditional medicine - so what you ask - much like your research into honey. But there is a difference, we trusted oral tradition and used the honey, you did not trust your wife until you could prove it.

No criticism implied, just an illustration regarding the "leap of faith".

Back to the topic at hand. It seems unrealistic to expect you to believe in anything that has not been thoroughly proven - you have a "black or white" = "proven or unproven" disposition.

On the evidence it would be reasonable to expect me to be able to work with a higher level of uncertainty. Am I non sceptical - hell no it's just my thought process (or personality) bridges a gap that yours leaves open. I can accept the accumulation of bits of evidence to draw a reasonable conclusion. A bit like a jigsaw puzzle with some of the pieces missing - I see the picture even though it is incomplete, you won’t acknowledge the picture until it is complete.

Perhaps my disposition leaves me more open to consider alternatives as I recognise the uncertainty, whereas you might be more dogmatic – I notice you don’t believe there is no God, you would require proof that is not available.

Is either of us right or wrong - well of course I am right - but I am not sure it matters. In part it is personality driven, but what does matter is how we live our lives – I think Christ’s teaching focused on how we interact with others ahead of any religious practices or doctrine.

What is interesting though is that our personalities enable different reasoning and access to different solution sets. Because you start with ‘I don’t believe there is a God’ it precludes you accepting God as part of any solution. This predisposition is of course illogical – the seeker of certainty in you should leave you uncomfortable with a position that does not take all possibilities into account. Perhaps that is why we are having this discussion.

Hamba kahle - peace

Techskeptic said...

It seems unrealistic to expect you to believe in anything that has not been thoroughly proven - you have a "black or white" = "proven or unproven" disposition.

No I dont. I have a "is there any evidence for" or "is there any evidence again" disposition.

This is ALWAYS a grey area. Science NEVER claims absolutes and neither do I. I am always open to the idea I am wrong. However, all claims require evidence.

Since there is no evidence that matchs the God claim is scale, and every single year we snatch something away from god, I just cant see any compelling reason to attribute anything to magic sky daddy.

Further, even if his giant foot appeared on the ground, I still wouldn't follow him until he made clear that the OT is wrong is so many ways, the limiting free will and expression is always wrong, and which damn religion he expects us to follow.

I hope its aphrodite and its her giant foot.

There are other oral traditions that have been passed down. There are multiple sources of plant life that have aspirin in it. Aloe as good for burns, etc etc. But also echinacea, ginko, acupuncture, homeopathy, and aeyvedic medicine have been shown time and time again to be of no value at all. so yeah, lets examine the claims, test of evidence, and then reject the ones that dont follow though. So far, God gets put in the same cart as astrology and homeopathy.

Techskeptic said...

sooo many typos.... sorry, was a little quick on the draw with the publish button!

akakiwibear said...

the limiting free will and expression is always wrong, I agree, unfortunately the result is the horrors inflicted on so many - and so often blamed on God.

It is the very freewill that you value that produces the argument from evil and that enables you to choose to reject God or not.

akakiwibear said...

" Science NEVER claims absolutes and neither do I. I am always open to the idea I am wrong. However, all claims require evidence."

I was not talking in terms of absolutes - just credible. There are absolutes and absolutes, just as there are degrees of evidence and certainty. I would settle for classic Newtonian physics as absolute, I suspect you still regard quantum physics as mere speculation.


Peace

Techskeptic said...

I would settle for classic Newtonian physics as absolute, I suspect you still regard quantum physics as mere speculation.

Definitely not 'mere speculation' when so many aspects of the quantum model have been verified and its predicitive value has been shown. I suspect that quantum is not end though, particularly because there are still more phenomenon that it does not yet explain accurately.

Not sure why you would settle for netwonian physics as an absolute when there are huge spaces of physics that is does not describe accurately (i.e. high speeds, small masses, etc).

I would take relativistic physics as a absolute far quicker than newtonian, its more accurate.

akakiwibear said...

tech, I think you missed the deliberate tongue in cheek exaggeration - I was alluding to you being a more "black or white" person than I am and that we have differing personal criteria

Techskeptic said...

looks that way. email and other text only forms of communication are a terrible platform for nuance.

Sorry

BEAST said...

"As per Russell’s teapot, I think you have now taken the burden of proof on yourself – convince me there is no God! "

Unfortunately, there is no way to prove a negative: We simply assume characters such as fairies, FSMs and all those imaginary fuzzy characters don't exist because there is no evidence to prove as such.

Beast

akakiwibear said...

Hi Beast, still around? - good!
My answer to tech is valid.

Once you assert there is no God you are making a proposition - so I simple ask that you validate it - the burden of proof lies with you to support your own proposition.

IF the only 'proof' you can come up with is "I don't believe the evidence" then it is weak to say the least.
On the supposition that there is no God there should be NO EVIDENCE that there is, not merely evidence you choose not to believe
- much like the OJ jury chose not to believe the evidence, but not believing it did not mean a murder had not been committed.

hamba kahle - peace

BEAST said...

An assertion based on the complete absence of evidence can still be on valid grounds, and since you are talking about the law, an accused is always innocent until proven guilty.

Beast

Neil Turton said...

Hi akakiwibear,

You wrote:
"On the supposition that there is no God there should be NO EVIDENCE that there is, not merely evidence you choose not to believe"

If there is no God then there should be no evidence which can only be explained by the existence of God. I haven't seen any such evidence. We discussed one piece of evidence in
OK, I rose to the bait, but we reached a stalemate. How can we see things so differently?

Peace, Neil.

akakiwibear said...

Neil, an interesting stalemate – I suspect we have both heard the best of atheist-theist argument and are most likely equally capable of evaluating it. One would expect us to have reached the same conclusion! Yet we are at a stalemate!

Wherein lies the difference, what has convinced one of us to accept the inconclusive arguments of atheism and the other the inconclusive evidence of theism? I don’t think the difference is faith – I think both positions are a result of faith.

At the heart of it I see personal experience – not necessarily mine. For simplicity I keep going back to Paul and his conversion experience as an example, but it is the experiences of credible people, experiences that produced noticeable personal conversion like changes that others witnessed (maybe even miracles) that I see as convincing.
My a response to those experiences is one that acknowledges an underlying theme and recognises the reliability of the individuals involved and the credibility of the witnesses. I have no concern that the experiences can’t be repeated in the lab.

And therein lies the second big difference – a willingness to accept these occurrences for what they seem to be, and the evidence that surrounds them even though that requires a leap of faith to a belief in a spiritual God rather than the god of science.

The alternative is to put ones faith in science and not accept anything that does not fit within a scientific explanation. I think this position is limiting as it places a constraint on the thought process that should be free to contemplate all possibilities.

Have a good Christmas - peace

Anonymous said...

"you know damn well you can't prove a negative."

I think that proofs of negatives are hard to come by, but they are not impossible.

For example, I can prove that there are no Tyrannosaurus rex
roaming the earth.

Just something to think about.

All the best

Ten Minas Ministries said...

I for one fail to see how you can "prove" that there are no T-Rex's on earth if by "prove" you mean to an absolute certainty.

I disagree that it is always impossible to prove a negative. For example, if a positive assertion creates a logical contradiction then it is false as a matter of logical necessity, and we have therefore proven it is not true; i.e., a negative.

However, in the theism/atheism debate, in the intellectual arena, we are talking about matters of probability, not absolute logical certainty. And it is possible to prove that something is not likely, and therefore prove a negative in that respect, especially when you consider that most theists are proposing the existence of a particular type of god, not some undefined mystical entity. Considering that the standard for the theist's "proof" is "more probable than not", there is absolutely nothing to justify not holding the atheist to that same standard. Both sides are making a truth claim, and truth claims demand evidence.

The true starting point should be agnosticism. No one should be an atheist because they do not accept the proof of theism. There must be some evidence of atheism to justify faith in that view.

akakiwibear said...

10 minas - welcome. You said "The true starting point should be agnosticism. No one should be an atheist because they do not accept the proof of theism. There must be some evidence of atheism to justify faith in that view."

Thank you for putting it so well!

and: "in the theism/atheism debate, in the intellectual arena, we are talking about matters of probability, not absolute logical certainty."

Once we can evaluate the arguments from BOTH sides (not just a beat-up of the theist argument) the debate then revolves around the threshold at which we acknowledge a tipping of the scales to one side or the other.

A problem with the atheist position of focusing only on the theist arguments and evidence is that there is no counter argument pulling the scales the other way - it is a one sided debate. There is no contest between arguments, there is no opportunity to weigh arguments.

Now some atheists may be satisfied with reaching a conclusion based on hearing (and dismissing) only one side of the argument - but I am not.

Hamba kahle - peace

Neil Turton said...

Hi akakiwibear,

You wrote:
"Wherein lies the difference, what has convinced one of us to accept the inconclusive arguments of atheism and the other the inconclusive evidence of theism? I don’t think the difference is faith – I think both positions are a result of faith."

That doesn't really describe my position. I am an atheist with respect to some Gods and an agnostic with respect to other Gods. The sort of God which I think doesn't exist are ones where there is a good reason to think that they don't exist, like the tri-omni God. Perhaps you agree with me that that God doesn't exist and perhaps you would say that that doesn't represent the Christian view of God.

The Gods which I'm agnostic about don't really occupy my mind much. There are just so many potential Gods and I've got no way of telling which ones exist and which ones don't.

"At the heart of it I see personal experience – not necessarily mine."

Yes, personal experience has a bearing on the decisions we make - whether right or wrong.

One of my experiences was very negative. I was attending a moderately evangelical church and believed that the Bible was literally true, a belief which I now recognize to be false. Several things happened to me which didn't tie up with my beliefs. Christians behaved in quite un-Christian ways despite having God's spirit living in them. That didn't make sense to me.

It's not just that things didn't make sense in an intellectual way, something which I could ignore by saying that there are always things which I won't understand. My false beliefs were giving rise to false expectations and these lead me into a deep depression. I cried out to God to help me in my despair but he didn't answer me, at least not in any way which I could discern.

I had a moment of clarity in which I realized that there are millions of people around the world, suffering in much the same ways as I was and that, as far as I could tell, God wasn't doing anything to answer their prayers. I was forced to face the possibility that God doesn't exist.

I spent some time trying to save my faith and adjust it to correct my mis-understandings. I looked into the cosmological argument, the ontological argument, the teleological argument, Pascal's wager, the history of the Gospels and so on, but found none of it convincing.

I then had to figure out what I could rely on. I needed to work out how to build my beliefs in a way which would avert another crisis. My science/maths background had given me an insight into the extent to which things can be known and it was clear that science and logic would play a major part in my beliefs. I read Richard Carrier's "Sense and Goodness without God" and found it broadly convincing.

"I have no concern that the experiences can’t be repeated in the lab."

I'm not concerned about whether they can be repeated in the lab. I'm concerned about whether the phenomenon goes away when you start applying sound methodology. If the phenomenon only occurs when you study it with unsound methodology then it's the result of unsound methodology. If it does occur when you study it with sound methodology then it's real.

"And therein lies the second big difference – a willingness to accept these occurrences for what they seem to be, and the evidence that surrounds them even though that requires a leap of faith to a belief in a spiritual God rather than the god of science."

That's certainly one place where we differ. I'm not willing to accept things in general to be as they seem because appearances can be deceptive. Well meaning people can come to the wrong conclusion about their experiences and then retro-fit their interpretation back into their description of events. I know - I've done it myself.

"The alternative is to put ones faith in science and not accept anything that does not fit within a scientific explanation. I think this position is limiting as it places a constraint on the thought process that should be free to contemplate all possibilities."

I try to contemplate the possibilities but that doesn't mean I have to accept them. I don't have to believe anything beyond the things for which I have evidence.

I hope this helps to explain where I'm coming from.

Peace, Neil.

akakiwibear said...

Hi Neil, good to see you back.

I understand and respect your agnostic position - it is a rational position.

While I think limiting yourself to science as the arbiter is limiting it seems as though we are really not far apart at all! With some attention to detail we agree on most things - even that personal experience is the deciding factor as it provides the platform for the final step of faith.

You pose a very interesting problem - unanswered prayer. This is something I don't really understand. Like you I have had prayers in times of real need that seem to go unanswered, others that apparently are answered (outside the band of probability) and yet I meet people who say that all their prayers are answered - and I do apply a probability test and some prayers have a reasonable probability of occurrence, others not - this group of people tend to pray about almost everything, some even keep little books where they record date/time of each prayer and its answer!

What is the difference - one that strikes me is that they seem a lot closer to God than I am - is that cause or effect?

I find the topic interesting and it does seem to be the source of many people either gaining or losing their faith.

I have my theories and I tend to switch between them as the occasion takes me (clearly not strong belief at work).

Discussing it recently someone made the following observation. Some people pray for specifics - "do xyz for me". Others, in similar circumstances would pray for a non-specific outcome "make it turn out for the best". While the latter lends itself to being perceived as answered more often ... YET it is in the former group that I encounter the people who claim that their prayers are always answered!

My observations (unscientific I agree) lead me to the conclusion that there are a number of variables and I don't fully understand them. Those who are in the prayer answered category tend to:
1) Pray often
2) Pray about almost anything
3) Pray for specifics
4) Expect their prayer to be answered (not hope - expect)
5) Have a real relationship with God - can't really explain but they seem to be constant "conversation" with God.
6)Be selective about what they ask for in regard to any of the multitude of things they pray for - never known them to be crass enough to pray to win the lottery.
7) Are really good people who excel in the 'love thy neighbour' department - would literally go without for someone in need.

My conclusion ... still working on it.


Hamba kahle - peace

Neil Turton said...

Hi akakiwibear,

You wrote:
"With some attention to detail we agree on most things - even that personal experience is the deciding factor as it provides the platform for the final step of faith."

I wouldn't say that it's THE deciding factor. It's clearly a contributing factor because if I had no personal experiences then I would have no beliefs.

"yet I meet people who say that all their prayers are answered"

Well, I'll be honest with you. I don't know what's going on there. Based on the level of detail you've given, there are several natural explanations, but I'm sure you knew that.

"What is the difference - one that strikes me is that they seem a lot closer to God than I am - is that cause or effect?"

Well I would guess that having prayers answered would make you feel close to God so the correlation certainly works that way. I'm not quite sure about the other way around.

"4) Expect their prayer to be answered (not hope - expect)"

I must admit that this is the one which sets my alarm bells off. Strange things can happen to the human perception system when doing this sort of thing.

"5) Have a real relationship with God - can't really explain but they seem to be constant "conversation" with God."

I used to have one of those, but it turns out I was talking to myself.

"6)Be selective about what they ask for in regard to any of the multitude of things they pray for - never known them to be crass enough to pray to win the lottery."

Ah. That's quite an important one - having a choice over the content of the prayer.

It strikes me that there are three jobs being done by one person. They first decide what to pray, then they do the praying and then they decide if the prayer got answered. Our observations so far show that the overall result depends heavily on the person involved - I've had many prayers go unanswered.

It would be interesting to distribute those jobs between people in different ways to see how that affects the likelihood of the prayer being answered. You'd need two people, one who's good at praying (person A) and one who's not (person B). You'd then have lots of prayers and choose a random person for each of the three jobs.

Peace, Neil.

akakiwibear said...

There is perhaps an interesting parallel question around the topic of mind-body interventions, so called “mind over matter”. This is what appears to lie at the heart of the placebo effect, which has repeatedly demonstrated that taking the inert placebo can have a statistically valid impact on patient health.

The placebo effect is apparently a non-spiritual/religious occurrence, it is verifiable and without explanation.

The question I pose is this. “Is there a parallel between prayer and the placebo effect?” Studies of the placebo effect have been consistent in their findings whereas the studies of prayer effectiveness in healing have been varied at best.

Would it be reasonable to propose that in the placebo effect the mind does apply some undetectable influence over the body? It certainly seem to be the case - there is a correlation between the strength of the expectation of the effectiveness of eh treatment and the effectiveness of the placebo.

So if it is reasonable to accept that there is indeed an undetectable factor at work in the placebo effect, on what evidence base would you reject the hypothesis that it is the same as the prayer effect? Now I don’t necessarily mean prayer in the commonly accepted sense, but simply as the invoking of an energy to bring something about.

For the placebo effect to work it must happen through the application of energy, whether to bring about the medical effect directly or to trigger the body to do something that then produces the medical effect. So here we have energy being invoked/directed by the mind, which looks to me to be a lot like prayer.

There is perhaps an equivalence in the reasonable belief in the existence of dark matter, undetected by physicists but firmly believed to exist as a rational explanation for the very existence of the universe as we know it.

Hamba kahle - peace

Neil Turton said...

Hi akakiwibear,

You wrote:
"The placebo effect is apparently a non-spiritual/religious occurrence, it is verifiable and without explanation."

This article claims that there is an explanation.

"The question I pose is this. “Is there a parallel between prayer and the placebo effect?” Studies of the placebo effect have been consistent in their findings whereas the studies of prayer effectiveness in healing have been varied at best."

I wonder why prayer seems to be less effective than the placebo effect. I would have thought that the placebo effect would be active when someone was praying or being prayed for. Maybe it helps if there's some physical intervention like a pill or injection. Maybe prayer is applied where the placebo effect doesn't work, like cancer and amputees.

"Would it be reasonable to propose that in the placebo effect the mind does apply some undetectable influence over the body?"

I'm not sure that's a proposal; it sounds more like an admission of defeat. You've entirely defined the influence in terms of what we can't do - detect it. It might be falsifiable, by showing that the influence can be detected, but it has no predictive power.

"So if it is reasonable to accept that there is indeed an undetectable factor at work in the placebo effect, on what evidence base would you reject the hypothesis that it is the same as the prayer effect?"

I'd treat the two cases in isolation and compare the results once the causes of the two effects are known. It's quite reasonable to propose that the cause of the prayer effect is the same as the placebo effect and that should certainly save time in the research. I won't say that it's got anything to do with energy being invoked or applied - that sounds a bit "new age" to me.

"There is perhaps an equivalence in the reasonable belief in the existence of dark matter, undetected by physicists but firmly believed to exist as a rational explanation for the very existence of the universe as we know it."

There is a difference here. Dark matter can be detected through gravitational lensing and has been detected in the Bullet cluster. We know where the dark matter is and we know that we can't see it. Even so, the existence of dark matter is still hypothetical and there's at least one opposing explanation which involves modifying the theory of gravity.

Peace, Neil.

akakiwibear said...

My flight of fancy got a more reasoned reply than I expected.
"It's quite reasonable to propose that the cause of the prayer effect is the same as the placebo effect and that should certainly save time in the research. I won't say that it's got anything to do with energy being invoked or applied - that sounds a bit "new age" to me"

You acknowledge that there is a placebo effect - the placebo brings about a change in health. Basic science, not "new age" thinking requires that energy be transferred to bring about change.

You also acknowledge that it is quite reasonable to parallel the two phenomena (prayer or placebo based healing) - perhaps because we have no scientific explanation for either.

My point is really quite simple - you accept that the placebo effect works without an explanation and yet you are uncomfortable with prayer working.

As I see it you attribute your reluctance regarding prayer to a lack of study (certainly it has been studied less than placebo) ... but is that a reasonable position?

If prayer and placebo were studied in the same way (and there have been a number of prayer healing studies - with mixed results)I suggest that the observations would be the same. The methodology would involve random selection of the sick, treatment as normal plus some get placebo. This is essentially the methodology that has been applied to prayer studies.

What would you expect as an outcome - not much in terms of consistent and repeatable results because the mechanism of the placebo effect - what triggers it - is not understood and in any set of results would be inconsistent. I suggest that the results would look much like those from prayer studies - it sometimes works and sometimes not, but the study does not show why.

My question to you is this; faced with this uncertain evidence would you continue to believe in the placebo effect? If so why not in prayer.

Hamba kahale - peace

Neil Turton said...

Hi Akakiwibear,

You wrote:
"My flight of fancy got a more reasoned reply than I expected."

I'm sorry to disappoint. ;-)

"You acknowledge that there is a placebo effect - the placebo brings about a change in health. Basic science, not "new age" thinking requires that energy be transferred to bring about change."

Yes. Energy being transferred is scientific. Energy being invoked or applied is not. I'm also not entirely sure why energy transfer has anything to do with the discussion. I don't say "I'm going to transfer energy to get a newspaper". A doctor won't say "I'll give you this pill to transfer some energy". I don't think the placebo effect is primarily about transferring energy, although little bits of energy will be transferred in many different ways to bring it about.

"You also acknowledge that it is quite reasonable to parallel the two phenomena (prayer or placebo based healing) - perhaps because we have no scientific explanation for either."

...except for the explanation I cited earlier. No. They are parallel because we're trying to relate a mental process to therapeutic effects. The parallel would be closer if the patient prayed for themselves rather than being prayed for by other people.

"My point is really quite simple - you accept that the placebo effect works without an explanation and yet you are uncomfortable with prayer working."

Suppose there were no explanation. I would indeed be happy that the placebo effect works because it is an effect. I'm uncomfortable with prayer working because it has not been shown to be associated with an effect (to the satisfaction of the scientific community).

"If prayer and placebo were studied in the same way (and there have been a number of prayer healing studies - with mixed results)I suggest that the observations would be the same. The methodology would involve random selection of the sick, treatment as normal plus some get placebo. This is essentially the methodology that has been applied to prayer studies."

I don't see what you're getting at. The basic methodology might be the same, but the actual experiments would be different. Your description seems to apply to what has already been done and you previously conceded that:
"Studies of the placebo effect have been consistent in their findings whereas the studies of prayer effectiveness in healing have been varied at best."

I think that answers your question. I would expect the placebo effect to produce statistically significant results and prayer to produce mixed results.

Perhaps the results from prayer are inconclusive. Perhaps a future set of studies will show that prayer does work in particular cases, for example patients with stress related illnesses who pray for themselves. We're not there yet though. Show me the prayer effect and I will believe in prayer.

Peace, Neil.