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apologetics, arguments for God, Religious Experience

Move Over, Kalam, Here is the best argument for theism

100_2744Yeah, I said it. The Kalam Cosmological Argument is in vogue, and for good reason. It’s an extremely powerful argument for the existence of God, the first Cause. Nothing I say here should be taken as a condemnation of the Kalam. However, I don’t think it is the most powerful argument for theism. In fact, I don’t think it’s even close. The Argument from Religious Experience wins that prize, and it is a landslide.

Is it so powerful?

The obvious question is this: what makes the Argument from Religious Experience (hereafter ARE) so powerful? Here are just a few reasons:

1. The ARE is malleable and may be used as an argument for a) merely the existence of the transcendent–anything beyond the physical world; b) theism specifically c) Christianity specifically.
2. The ARE does not rely upon anything more than things we already do in everyday life, such as trusting that people are reporting the truth.
3. The ARE has evidence backed from millions of persons across the world and time.
4. It is possible, though not at all certain, to have personal confirmation of the ARE.

Why Not ARE?

Okay, well if it’s so strong, why don’t more apologists use the argument? There are a number of reasons, and some are basic: they haven’t read about the argument in much popular apologetic literature and so are unfamiliar with the argument, they know of it but are unsure of how to formulate it in a helpful way, or they simply haven’t thought about how powerful the argument is. Another reason may be (as I suggested elsewhere) that apologists prefer arguments that are useful in debate formats.

To be honest, though, I think the primary reason is because the ARE has almost an inherent strangeness to it. There is a kind of spiritualism about the argument itself which might turn off apologists who would prefer a purely deductive argument. If one wants to talk about a religious “experience,” there is a kind of feeling to that phrase which an argument like the Kalam does not share. Just admitting that there is a category of religious experience itself admits to a kind of transcendence, and I think that apologists–I include myself in this category–are overly cautious about spirituality. So let’s get over it and start using this powerful argument, okay?

What is the ARE?

As I noted in point 1 in favor of the ARE’s strength above, the argument itself is malleable and may be formulated in different ways (for some examples, see my post on the usefulness of the argument). Here’s a way to formulate it to merely defend a transcendent reality:

1. Generally, when someone has an experience of something, they are within their rational limits to believe the experience is genuine.
2. Across all socio-historical contexts, people have had experiences they purport to be of a transcendent realm.*
3. Therefore, it is rational to believe there is a transcendent realm.

Just consider this for a second. The argument leaves a few spaces to fill in for the sake of making it deductively valid, but we’ll just look at how it stands now. Suppose that 2 is true. In that case, one who wants to deny the ARE’s strength would have to say that all of the experiences of these people have been in error. Frankly, when it comes down to it, that’s a pretty big claim, because reports of religious experience really do come from all times and places.

The argument, though, can be narrowed to defend theism specifically or even Christianity. For more on this, see my post talking about its strength as it narrows.

Now point 2 above suggested the ARE doesn’t rely on anything more than what we do in everyday life. I am speaking, of course, of the principle of credulity: the notion that when x appears to someone in way s, it is rational [barring some epistemic  defeater]** to believe that x is s (or some other formulation). Moreover, we also trust the principle of testimony: when person x tells us that y occurred, it is prima facie rational to believe y. When you read a news story and someone says they saw a woman running from the scene of a crime, it is rational to believe them. Similarly, when millions say they have experienced a transcendent realm, prima facie it is rational to believe them.

religious-symbolsThe Knock Down Objection?

The most common objection is the objection from competing religions. That is, if person x has an experience that purports to prove Christianity, and person y has an experience of the truth of Buddhism, what then? Often it is suggested that x and y’s testimony would just cancel each other out. But of course that’s not the case in any other area of experience. If I am a witness in court testifying about a murder, and I say I saw a tall dark male commit the crime, while another witness says they saw a short pale male, does each testimony cancel the other? Well, suppose the criminal was of average male height and fairly tan. To me, a short very pale man, he would appear tall and dark. To someone who is taller than I and of darker skin, the person would appear short and pale.

The point is that even with religious experience, different facets may be recognized even were the experience the same. Now much more nuance needs to go into this argument, but I think cogent answers have been provided in the relevant literature. The point is that even the most common and strongest objection to the ARE really isn’t that powerful in the end, particularly when weighed against the cumulative force of religious experience.

Conclusion

I readily admit this post has only very briefly touched on issues which could each take entire volumes to discuss. There is so much more to consider, and so many avenues to explore, but I think my overall point stands: The ARE is the strongest argument for theism. Fellow apologists, I suggest you research the argument (see the suggested reading list at the end of this post and also check out my other posts below) and use it! Let’s integrate it into our defense of the faith. Let me know your own thoughts below.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

The Argument from Religious Experience: Some thoughts on method and usefulness– a post which puts forward an easy-to-use version of the ARE and discusses its importance in apologetic endeavors.

The Argument from Religious Experience: A look at its strength– I evaluate the different ways the ARE may be presented and discuss how strong the argument may be considered across different formulations.

The image above to the left was a photo taken by me and I claim all rights noted below. The image to the right is from Wiki Commons.

*[thanks to a commentator for correcting this error- see comments]
**In the interest of shortening this post, I glossed over tightening of the principle of credulity and have added this clause to make it more clear.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Discussion

66 thoughts on “Move Over, Kalam, Here is the best argument for theism

  1. Oddly, though you come to the opposite conclusion, most non-believers would say that the most common and strongest objection to the ARE is powerful, particularly when weighed against the disparate individuality of religious experience.

    For example, if I may borrow and expand upon your analogy, let’s say that one witness claimed that the perpetrator was a tall, dark man; another witness claimed it was a short, pale man; another witness claimed it was four old women; another witness claimed it was a brown cow and a red snake; another witness claimed it was suicide; et cetera, et cetera. In this instance, it becomes far more difficult to harmonize the accounts of these witnesses.

    Similarly, if one only appeals to the religious experiences of people from the Abrahamic faiths, one will see somewhat similar accounts which can be harmonized fairly well. However, as you begin to open up to other faiths, those religious accounts begin to differ more and more from one another, until the only factor that truly links them is that they can all be classified as “religious experiences.”

    I would certainly argue that religious experiences, themselves, are the most powerful evidence which a person can encounter for theism, and that these experiences are far more convincing than any logical argument. However, the Argument from Religious Experience is not at all convincing to a person who has not had those experiences.

    Posted by Boxing Pythagoras | July 7, 2014, 7:22 AM
    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I noted in this post several times that I have oversimplified for the sake of space, and the answer to the challenge of plural visions is an area of great complexity. This challenge, I believe, has been met and overcome in the relevant literature, particularly “Mystic Union” by Nelson Pike. In that book, he argues that theistic vision may indeed encompass other forms of religious experience, such that it may offer most evidence for broad theism.

      Of course, my comment about the argument is that if it is merely construed as an argument for a transcendent reality, one can easily accommodate the multiple types of visions into the argument. As an argument purely for the existence of a realm outside of that normally experienced by the senses, I think it is extremely strong. As I show in posts I link to, as you narrow the argument, you must work harder to defend it.

      I disagree with your ultimate conclusion, as I think the argument is very strong even for those who have not had such an experience. Again, to deny the argument for transcendence, one must deny and re-evaluate millions of such experiences across all times and cultures.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | July 7, 2014, 9:05 AM
      • Thank you for the suggestion of “Mystic Union!” I will certainly add it to my (ever increasing) reading queue!

        Without having yet read it, however, it would seem extremely easy to deny such experiences. It is far more difficult to support them, and the non-believer is not likely to accept any such experiences– let alone a sort of summary conglomeration of them– without adequate support.

        Billions of people from cultures all around the world throughout all of recorded history have had geocentric experiences. They have witnessed the sun passing through the sky, they have seen the moon revolve about the Earth, and they have watched the stars rotate, together, around our planet. Belief in geocentrism was discovered independently by peoples from vastly differing geographic locations with incredibly disparate beliefs. However, if I were to appeal to this in support of the geocentric model, you would rightly point out that it is an Argumentum ad Populum– the fact that people believe a proposition says nothing about the veracity of that proposition.

        So, yes, I absolutely reject personal experiences which I have not shared and which cannot be reproduced or demonstrated. I reject these theistic religious experiences for the same reason that I reject reported experiences with magic and sorcery and wights and ghosts and shapeshifters. All of these things are extremely common to human experience, despite cultural divides, and yet I am fairly certain that you would not find an Argument from Lycanthrope Experience to be a strong case for the existence of werewolves.

        Posted by Boxing Pythagoras | July 7, 2014, 9:33 AM
      • Thanks for your comment.

        The ARE is not purely based upon the notion that people have these experience. It is an inference to best explanation. You say you “absolutely reject” these experiences; but on what basis? Are you saying everyone is lying? Drunk? Drugged? Hallucinating? Something else? Simply categorically denying them is simply irrational. Surely you cannot claim that these people have not had such experiences; you must instead be operating under the assumption that they are better explained by something else. That, of course, is where the legwork is done on the ARE.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | July 7, 2014, 10:53 AM
      • I’m not saying that everyone who makes a claim to religious experience is lying, drugged, or hallucinating. I’m not even saying that everyone who makes a claim to religious experience is wrong about the cause of that experience. All I am saying is that the number of people who believe a claim has no bearing, at all, on the veracity of a claim.

        When I say that I reject a claim, I do not mean to imply that I affirm its opposite. I am simply saying that the veracity of that claim remains unknown, and therefore the claim cannot be useful as a premise to a larger argument. For example, let’s say that my friend, Bob, scoops a cup full of sand up from a beach, at random. Without performing any sort of measurement or count, Bob asserts that the total number of grains of sand which are in his cup is an even number. Bob then argues that, since there are an even number of grains, they can be divided into two piles which each have an equal number of grains. I stop Bob and tell him that his argument is faulty– I reject his claim that the number of grains in the cup is even. However, that does NOT imply that I therefore assert the number of grains is odd. I am simply saying that, until the veracity of the initial claim can be determined, arguments constructed on that claim are similarly necessarily indeterminate.

        The ARE is similarly indeterminate. It would only be a strong argument for the existence of deity if the religious experiences to which it makes reference can be verified. Without such verification, the ARE remains necessarily inconclusive.

        Posted by Boxing Pythagoras | July 7, 2014, 11:27 AM
      • J.W., on the surface, I have to agree with Boxing Pythagoras here. As a cessationist, for example, I have strong doubts about the “religious experience” of some of my more charismatic brethren. I can hardly consider an extreme case like the Toronto Blessing to be a legitimate experience of transcendent reality. So as a Christian, if I doubt the legitimacy of the spiritual experiences from within my own camp, how could I expect the non-believer to accept the ARE as compelling evidence for Theism.

        Posted by B | July 7, 2014, 3:51 PM
      • “B,” thanks for your comment.

        I admit that I have studied little of the cessationist/continuationist debate. As a Lutheran, it’s basically a debate that seems to be beside the point. But from what I have read of cessationist literature, I have not seen any who have asserted that all religious experiences are false; rather, they deny specific gifts like healing, speaking in tongues, etc. But of course those are only a very tiny minority of the whole realm of religious experience.

        Now, regarding your statement: “as a Christian, if I doubt the legitimacy of the spiritual experiences from within my own camp, how could I expect the non-believer to accept the ARE as compelling evidence for Theism[?]”

        I think this statement is not very convincing. Essentially what has been forward is this: I have doubts about REs; therefore, others should doubt just as much as I do, if not more.

        But I don’t see why this counts as a good reason for denying the ARE at all. In fact, there has been no denial of any premise, no interaction with the argument at all. The only thing put forth is this: I am a cessationist and thus find experiential claims dubious.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | July 8, 2014, 12:02 AM
    • The problem, is that competing witnesses does not negate the fact that said event actually happened: The victim died. A single occurrence of legitimate religious experience is enough to prove the existence of the supernatural.

      Like the article said, choosing that these experiences don’t matter means that you are stating as a fact that every single person who believed themselves to have such an experience was 100% wrong. Can any logical person weigh their own mere doubt as having more truth value than the definitive beliefs of thousands of people from all over the world?

      Posted by Josh | July 7, 2014, 9:18 PM
      • I agree that one “legitimate” religious experience would be enough to prove the existence of the supernatural– though only if the legitimacy of that religious experience can be proven. It’s something of a tautology. If you prove that an experience was supernatural, you thereby prove that the supernatural exists.

        As I explained in my later replies, I am not claiming that everyone who had such an experience was 100% wrong. I am simply saying that I do not believe their claims, as yet. They may be completely correct, but this correctness has not been demonstrated to the unbeliever. As such, merely asserting that religious experiences are legitimate is not a very good premise upon which to build an argument aimed at non-believers.

        If your goal is to convince other people who have had religious experiences that their theism is reasonable, I’ll agree that the ARE is a strong argument. However, if your goal is to convince non-believers of the reasonability of theism, then the ARE is fairly weak.

        Posted by Boxing Pythagoras | July 7, 2014, 9:40 PM
      • Your comment here helps clarify some issues. Thanks!

        Here are some further ideas it brought to mind for me: “merely asserting that religious experiences are legitimate is not a very good premise upon which to build an argument aimed at non-believers.”

        That’s not the premise. The premise is that these people purport to have such an experience. It’s not saying the experience is supernatural, but that it is experienced as supernatural. Thus alongside the principle of credulity and the principle of testimony, one must have a better competing explanation. Thus far, your own competing explanation is this “I do not believe their claims.” Like others who have responded, this is a bare statement of brute denial. I don’t find it very compelling, because it provides no reasons for doubting the claims.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | July 8, 2014, 12:05 AM
      • The default position for any claim is doubt. It is incumbent upon the claimant to give support for that claims.

        I’m a mathematician, so please forgive this math analogy. There are groups of numbers called Twin Primes. These are prime numbers which have a difference of only 2 between them– for example, 3 and 5, 5 and 7, 11 and 13, 17 and 19, 29 and 31, et cetera. Now, let’s say that the world’s greatest mathematician claims he can prove that there are an infinite number of Twin Primes (a problem known as the Infinite Twin Prime Conjecture in math). Despite the fact that he is the world’s greatest mathematician, and despite the fact that I might find him an eminently trustworthy individual, I will doubt his claim until I have read the proof– or, at the very least, until the proof has been read and verified by other mathematicians.

        Similarly, when someone claims to have had an experience with something supernatural, the default position is to doubt that claim. The claimant needs to provide good reason and support to accept it, otherwise non-believers will continue to disbelieve. So, for example, when a Catholic apologist tells me that 40,000 people witnessed the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima, I will remain skeptical that the best explanation for such an anomalous event is supernatural. When a Norse Heathen tells me that her offerings to Freyja and Thor protected her from harm when she got into a car crash, I will doubt that this was due to supernatural intervention. When an acupuncturist tells me that the pain from an old knee injury is due to blocked Chi pathways, I will not believe him. It is incumbent upon the person making a claim to show that it is reasonable to believe that claim.

        Posted by Boxing Pythagoras | July 8, 2014, 6:50 AM
      • J.W., first of all, the ARE is not a valid argument as it’s currently stated – the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premises:

        1. Generally, when someone has an experience of something, they are within their rational limits to believe the experience is genuine.
        2. Across all socio-historical contexts, people have had experiences they purport to be of a transcendent realm.*
        3. Therefore, it is rational to believe there is a transcendent realm.

        You moved from specific persons in premise 2, to everyone in the conclusion. This is not valid. For the conclusion to follow, it should read:

        3. Therefore, it is rational for people who have experiences of a transcendent realm, to believe there is a transcendent realm.

        Otherwise, you need to add and defend a further (and controversial) premise such as:

        2.5 If many people have a similar experience, then it’s rational for those who haven’t had that experience to believe it.

        Now to speak to your statement- “A single occurrence of legitimate religious experience is enough to prove the existence of the supernatural”

        Consider the first premise of the ARE. It’s true that it’s generally rational to consider one’s experiences to be genuine, except of course, when there are good reasons to be skeptical. Here are a number of classes of experience that we should be skeptical about:

        a) Alternate reality experiences derived from hallucinogenic drugs
        b) Experiences of knowing the future derived from a visit to the local palm reader/psychic
        c) Hallucinogenic experiences derived from restricting oxygen to the brain
        d) Mass hysteria derived from the social psychology of group dynamics

        the list could go on…

        Consider what happens if we change the ARE by substituting “transcendent realm” with “alternate reality”:

        1. Generally, when someone has an experience of something, they are within their rational limits to believe the experience is genuine.
        2. Across all socio-historical contexts, people taking hallucinogenic drugs have had experiences they purport to be of an alternate reality.
        3. Therefore, it is rational to believe there is an alternate reality.

        Would we buy this argument? Not likely, because:

        i) Most of us consider experiences induced by drugs to be rather dubious.
        ii) Even if some people were actually tapping into an alternate reality by drug use, it still wouldn’t be rational for the rest of us to believe it to be true, unless there was a process of validating these experiences as genuine and being able to separate them from false experiences.

        So, “A single occurrence of legitimate religious experience is enough to prove the existence of the supernatural” is a true statement, but so is “A single occurrence of legitimate hallucinogenic drug experience is enough to prove the existence of an alternate reality” also true. However, the problem remains as to how we can determine that someone’s had a “legitimate religious experience?” I admit as a Christian that some REs are false (and I suspect as a Lutheran, you also would accept that the following, from the Toronto Blessing, is not a genuine Christian RE – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xCeVZ6e2T0E). Therefore, for the ARE to be truly convincing, there would need to exist a process for validating genuine RE experiences and separating them from false REs. And I don’t know of any such process, nor have you presented one in your current post.

        Posted by B | July 8, 2014, 3:09 PM
      • B,

        I already conceded in the post explicitly that: “The argument leaves a few spaces to fill in for the sake of making it deductively valid…” My point was just to offer a broad sketch of how the argument might look, without filling in all the details. Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough in the post, but the quote above, I think shows what I’m going for.

        Your objections via alternate realities are along the lines of those offered by others, and my response is the same. The ARE allows for defeaters. In each case you outline above, there are defeaters for the “alternative realities.” Thus, I conclude they do not serve as any sort of objection to the ARE, because the argument explicitly allows for there to be epistemic defeaters rather than naive acceptance of any experience.

        You wrote, “‘A single occurrence of legitimate hallucinogenic drug experience is enough to prove the existence of an alternate reality’ also true.” I find this to be an ill-defined statement which seems constructed in an ad hoc manner to try to dispute the ARE. First, what is a “legitimate hallucinogenic drug experience”? I have no clue. Perhaps you could define it more specifically. Moreover, you go on to state “the problem remains as to how we can determine that someone’s had a ‘legitimate religious experience?'” Well of course this is a probelm, and of course I do agree some REs are false, but I don’t dispute that they occur; my disputation is that I actually grant we must have an explanation, you, it seems (from your first comment) simply dismiss them.

        You also wrote, “there would need to exist a process for validating genuine RE experiences and separating them from false REs. And I don’t know of any such process, nor have you presented one in your current post.”

        I once again note that my post made explicit that I was only giving the broad outline of how this argument runs. To assume I should be able to address all such problems in a post is wrongheaded. There remain fairly easy ways to sift through REs, which is simply seeing whether an RE suffers from a defeater (i.e. “was the subject on LSD?”).

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | July 8, 2014, 3:42 PM
      • I think the reason why the ARE is not popular amongst apologists is because once you’ve admitted that there exists some indeterminate percentage of REs that are false, then the apologist is committed to defending either:

        a) A creepy cult like the Toronto Blessing is a genuine RE
        b) The Toronto Blessing is a false RE – but the defeater that falsifies it doesn’t apply to any genuine RE; nor do any of the long list of other popular RE defeaters promoted by skeptics (i.e. neurological imbalance causing hallucination/delusion, evolutionary explanations, power of suggestion/hypnosis, psychology of belief, social psychology, somatic symptom disorder, etc.)

        What’s wrongheaded here is the statement, “There remain fairly easy ways to sift through Res.” As a simple test, try to generate a defeater to the Toronto Blessing or the Lakeland Revival, which doesn’t in turn defeat Christian RE in general. Or take a less extreme case; imagine a skeptic listening to an influential pastor like John Macarthur debating an eminent scholar like Craig Keener about the validity of the charismatic gifts. The skeptic would readily conclude that Christians don’t have an easy way to sift through REs in their own community – let alone an easy way to do this in general! If we did, there wouldn’t be 500 million evangelicals babbling in gibberish or 200 million evangelicals exhibiting little manifestation of the Holy Spirit.

        Posted by B | July 8, 2014, 10:08 PM
      • I think what’s happening is the wires are being crossed related to this argument. The ARE is not based upon a specific religious experience, and to try to construe it that way and pluck away at the easy targets is to misrepresent it. Rather, it is based upon the sum total of human transcendent experience (broad version) or theistic experience (middling-broad version) or a specific religious tradition (narrow version).

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | July 9, 2014, 10:35 PM
  2. Reblogged this on NowHere and commented:
    (I do realise I’m supposed to have gone cold turkey on apologetics and I’m probably set to fail chem and geog tomorrow, but this is some pretty groovy stuff so…yes :3)

    Posted by zann | July 7, 2014, 9:25 AM
  3. JW, you state the argument:

    1. Generally, when someone has an experience of something, they are within their rational limits to believe the experience is genuine.
    2. Across all socio-historical contexts, people have had experiences of a transcendent realm.
    3. Therefore, it is rational to believe there is a transcendent realm.

    Do you see the problem here?

    Your first premise is fine.

    Your second premise, however, is not. It assumes the conclusion.

    This is the same problem outlined so well by Boxing Pythagoras with his geocentrism example: how we attribute our experiences is no indication that the attribution is true. And that’s why ARE is really just a way to confuse our experiences with our explanations of them: the two are not one… in spite of the sincerity and good will of the person trying to explain the experience.

    Posted by tildeb | July 7, 2014, 11:22 AM
  4. I wonder if there is an “argument from responsibility” which could derive from Emil Brunner’s Man in Revolt, where he argues that the crucial aspect which makes man Imago Dei is that he is responsible. One can only be truly responsible for one’s actions if they are one’s own actions; if all you are is a channel through which cause and effect pass, then you are not responsible for the results.

    The only way to be truly responsible is to be a “first cause agent”. A personal “first cause agent”. And yet, that is precisely what Kalam argues for, except for God and not for us. Unless I’ve misunderstood it?

    Furthermore, the consequences of denying true responsibility are laid out in CS Lewis’ The Abolition of Man: if nobody is truly responsible, we can assign responsibility arbitrarily, and thus reshape humankind to our whims. Where ‘we’ is probably a small cabal engaged in manipulation of everyone else—like the recently exposed Facebook emotions experiment.

    Posted by labreuer | July 7, 2014, 12:25 PM
  5. I think you’re conclusion doesn’t follow from you premises. If it is rational to believe your experience, and a lot of people have experienced what they believe to be a transcendent realm, then those people are rational to believe in a transcendent realm. The rest of us don’t have that justification. Especially if we have reason to think otherwise, it could be a very irrational belief.

    This might work in some sort of inductive argument, though.

    Posted by Tracy | July 7, 2014, 1:21 PM
  6. Couldn’t I just as well say …

    1. Generally, when someone has an experience of something, they are within their rational limits to believe the experience is genuine.
    2. Across all socio-historical contexts, people have had experiences they purport to be of a transcendent realm alien spacecraft visiting earth.
    3. Therefore, it is rational to believe there is a transcendent realm are alien space craft that have visited earth.

    Or “ghosts” or “creatures like the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot”.

    It seems that this would also make charlatans and pranksters and stage magicians and LSD support for a transcendent realm. After all, such sources are common causes of experiences of experiences that are ‘beyond normal human experience’. Their lies and tricks and trips would seem to make the existence of a transcendent realm more likely, since they provide more transcendent experiences to be used as evidence!

    Posted by tjfolkerts | July 7, 2014, 8:34 PM
    • Regarding this alternate argument, I would have two primary points. First, premise 2 is highly questionable. Apart from the History Channel show “Ancient Aliens,” do we actually have any reports from, say, the ancient near east in which the one writing purports to have an experience of an alien spacecraft? I admit I am unaware of any, though some try to re-interpret Ezekiel anachronistically to make it a vision of aliens. Thus, I think premise 2 is actually very questionable. In fact, I recently read a book “Scientific Mythologies” which has a chapter dedicated to the topic and how the rise of the alleged UFO visions occurred in a very specific socio-historical context. Premise 2, then, is highly suspect.

      The other difficulty with this is that premise 2, even if it were true (which is dubious), may be challenged along the lines of inference to best explanation. That is, are alternative explanations more plausible? In the case of UFOs, I would say they generally are; in the case of religious experience, it becomes a much more difficult task (particularly because premise 2 is actually correct for REs).

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | July 7, 2014, 11:59 PM
    • I also meant to respond to this line: “It seems that this would also make charlatans and pranksters and stage magicians and LSD support for a transcendent realm.”

      This is where the simplification found in the post has its drawbacks. I tried to be fairly clear that I’d glossed over large areas (literally, book-length problems) to simply state the argument. But to give a broad answer to this statement, I would simply note that the language you used refutes itself and brings it beyond the realm of an objection to an ARE. After all, if there are LSD-users, charlatans, and pranksters who are inducing or causing illusions, then that itself would eliminate use of the principle of credulity. I updated the post to amend the glossing I did, but the principle of credulity allows for defeaters. Thus, when something appears x-ly, it is rational to believe x, barring any defeaters for x. In the case of using LSD, that drug-induced state would present a defeater for something appearing x-ly. Similarly in the case of a charlaton or a stage magician, the fact their work is intended to deceive or mislead/baffle serves as a defeater for appearance of x.

      I didn’t clarify this in the original post, again, because I was simply trying to convey the whole thing in the broadest terms possible. I think that this clarifying on the principle of credulity answers the objection.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | July 8, 2014, 12:11 AM
  7. dang .. the formatting got messed up. The strikethrough was only supposed to be around the “a transcendent realm” in the two lines. 😦

    Posted by tjfolkerts | July 7, 2014, 8:51 PM
  8. This is a really interesting topic. I wonder if you yourself have ever had a powerful religious experience of your own?

    Another question: People who study psychiatry meet many patients with all sorts of brain anomalies, and it gets to the point where you’re amazed that anyone is fully normal at all. So don’t you think it’s surprising how rare these religious experiences are?

    Actually, I have experienced in my life two terrifying dreams where Jesus Christ appeared and saved me! And yet I realize they were just dreams, not reality.

    Posted by John Moore | July 7, 2014, 9:28 PM
    • Thanks for your comment. Regarding the first question: yes. Regarding the second, I’m not exactly sure I’d call them rare. A book on my shelf discusses religious experience in Britain. The majority of the respondents claimed non- or a-religious status, but the majority also had experiences they attributed to the transcendent or even deity.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | July 8, 2014, 12:13 AM
  9. I agree with J.W. that religious experiences are not rare at all. In fact, amazing things are occurring in the Middle East. Individuals sold on militant Islam are having supernatural experiences which are leading them to faith in Christ, while knowing that such a decision can, and most likely will, result in their deaths. Addressing psychiatric episodes, a psychiatrist, who I do not believe is a Christian, has even said that some experiences that her patients have are so vivid and occur with such detail that she believes that they really are seeing something…perhaps that we are not privy to see. She was not referring to psychiatric hallucinations, but seeing the presence of individuals long passed. I believe J.W. has plowed an area that deserves more exploration. When a skeptic gets to the point that he or she is willing to overlook the testimony of thousands, then the skeptic may need to become skeptical of their own skepticism. Just my two cents. 🙂 http://pastorbrianchilton.wordpress.com.

    Posted by pastorbrianchilton | July 8, 2014, 10:51 AM
    • When a skeptic gets to the point that he or she is willing to overlook the testimony of thousands, then the skeptic may need to become skeptical of their own skepticism. Just my two cents.

      It’s not a question of ‘overlooking’, Brian; it’s a question of seeing attribution in action. For example, rather than call certain experiences ‘experiences’, we find apologists immediately calling them religious experiences.

      Is this description true?

      Well, it is true only so far as the individual believes the attribution to be correct (which they do, or they wouldn’t make the claim!) but it remains wholly dependent on the subjective evaluation of the person having the experience. This raises the important question: how do we know (those of us who have not had this particular experience) if the evaluation for the attribution is accurate?

      Look, we can duplicate all kinds of experiences called ‘religious’ by altering not just the physical functioning but the chemicals of the brain. We can do this in a variety of ways. What are subjectively called ‘religious’ experiences can be demonstrated in these examples to be causally connected to these physical changes in the brain.

      So what?

      Now, stick with me here.

      The point I am raising is that we have compelling evidence that the subjective claim of a ‘religious’ experience is not a reliable or consistent way to indicate anything other than a subjective attribution. That’s it. That’s the whole thing: a subjective attribution. We know this. We can demonstrate this. We can reproduce this. We fool ourselves all the time this way, by making attributions dependent on our subjective evaluations and then claiming our subjective evaluations are evidence for the correctness of our attributions! And that’s why we usually test our models against an independent reality to see if they are justified. This is how we discover our models are wrong. And that’s okay.

      Avoiding reality to do this testing by suggesting that multiplying the number of subjective claims to indicate why experiences attributed to be ‘religious’ should be considered a stronger argument for its evidential value (of something other than a subjective attribution) does not improve its reliability or consistency as tested evidence. Claims of ‘religious’ experiences remain a compilation of subjective attributions divorced from the reality we share. And I say that because if there were such independent and compelling evidence other than the subjective attribution, religious folk would be pronouncing it from the rooftops!

      So your suggestion that skeptics are too skeptical because of the number of testimonials is simply not true. Such skepticism is richly deserved. And your final suggestion that such skepticism deserves skepticism is without merit. In fact, such skepticism deserves wider use because it tends to produce a means to figure out why testimonials are not the strongest but weakest kind of evidence we can muster.

      Posted by tildeb | July 8, 2014, 4:00 PM
      • There is a problem in your logic though my friend. You said, “We can reproduce the effect.” That is, there is something outside the mind influencing the mind towards a certain experience. Who is influencing those not in these particular tests? It must be something outside, beyond the scope of the person. In addition, you are grouping all experiences in a very small category. Religious experiences can include the miraculous, NDEs, and other such phenomenon do not fit in your spectrum. But, you bring up another point. All our experiences are based upon the mind’s ability to perceive. How then can we trust anything. If one is unable to trust one’s experience, then how can you even trust your skepticism? Philosophically, if pushed to the extreme, the skeptic finds that he cannot trust anything and that leads to bad ends. That is why one needs to be skeptical of one’s own skepticism.

        Posted by pastorbrianchilton | July 8, 2014, 10:53 PM
      • No, Brian. Causal effects do not require a designer agency or a designated purpose. They simply require an interaction with the environment. You say “There is something outside of the mind influencing the mind towards a certain experience.” No, this does not follow; the brain undergoes some interaction with the environment and we have an experience. To assume this experience indicates an exterior agency with a purpose is pure speculation. This is the assumption you make, a hypothesis that require linkage between the claim for the causal agency you presume and the effects you claim is evidence for it.

        I’m not denying people have experiences. What I’m saying is that these experiences are then interpreted to be caused by an external agency. That interpretation is not reliable and does not offer us a means to indicate the causal agency claimed.

        Your questions about trust (that I call ‘confidence) are good ones. This is why when explanatory models seem to work to accurately reflect and describe reality in many multiple and mutually supportive ways, we tend to increase our confidence in them. When we apply this to our experiences, we should keep in mind that our perception of reality is always the most questionable aspect of this interaction. We really are quite capable of fooling ourselves. How much or little confidence to grant to our interpretations lies at the heart of this issue. That’s a reasonable skepticism that varies not according to how much we wish our interpretations to be accurate but how well the interpretation comports with other models that have a very high degree of accuracy and reliability.

        Posted by tildeb | July 9, 2014, 10:25 AM
      • My answer to the Philosophy.SE question Could the assumption of materialism be a flaw in the scientific method? may be relevant to some of what you say. There is a danger to discarding the first-person perspective, or even making it subservient to the third-person perspective. Frequently, the word ‘objectivity’ gets attached to the third-person perspective. Well, are humans just objects? If they’re subjects as well, and we pretend that the ‘subject’ part is less important than the ‘object’ part, that could get us in a lot of hot water. Indeed, I would argue it most definitely has, based on Donald E. Polkinghorne’s Narrative Knowing and the Human Sciences, which I talk about in my Phil.SE answer.

        Tildeb, have you read Michael Polanyi’s Personal Knowledge, or at least know what he says? That’s very important, as Polanyi makes a powerful argument that scientific research itself is a deeply subjective, passionate endeavor.

        Posted by labreuer | July 9, 2014, 4:41 PM
      • I disagree with the notion of causality as it goes against the fundamentals of science itself. The whole basis of the scientific principle is that one finds causes that brings about certain effects. You are employing this same thought process as you are saying that chemical interactions bring about supposed experiences.

        If one accepts your premise that we can easily fool ourselves, could it not be said that the atheist could easily be fooling his/herself in thinking that no ultimate cause exists? I would also argue that everything that happens to us comes from an external agent. Our bodies are kept on earth by an external agent known as gravity. We know this from experience. Again, while I appreciate your thoughts and comments, it must be accepted that nothing can be trusted if our experiences cannot be trusted. One may accept the scientific method, however, how can one know with certainty that this is the best method? It all could be a grand delusion for that matter.

        You mention a “reasonable skepticism.” I would say that it is completely reasonable to accept an uncaused cause for all things. Some may claim that the universe was the uncaused cause. Yet, that comes with an enormous amount of difficulties. There are far less problems with accepting that the uncaused cause of all things is a conscious, eternal, force that we title “God.”

        Posted by pastorbrianchilton | July 11, 2014, 5:26 PM
      • I will reiterate again that I am not questioning the experience; I am questioning how we attribute causal effect because we know we fool ourselves all the time by attributing causal effects incorrectly. To reduce this rate of error (I dance, it rains, I caused the effect – rain – by attributing it to my dancing) we use a method to allow reality to arbitrate it. We test and see how well our model works. The greater the rate of consistency and reliability, the greater the confidence we apply to the model. For models that seem to work for everyone everywhere all the time and produce applications, therapies, and technologies that consistently work, we award this model with our highest confidence. These we call ‘theories’.

        But even theories can be overturned by new evidence. This is a great strength of the method called science. You seem to think we must have certainty before we grant confidence. I think this is a guaranteed way to fool ourselves and we see this in action all the time when people move away from the method of science and use faith-based beliefs to ground their claims about reality. This method doesn’t work. It doesn’t produce knowledge. It doesn’t produce a model that seems to work for everyone everywhere all the time. It doesn’t produce applications, therapies, and technologies that are reliable and consistent. It produces confidence in beliefs that are factually and demonstrably wrong. This is a great weakness.

        You want to insist that our knowledge is dependent on our experiences. Look at the evening sky. Our sense reveal that everything revolves around us. Yet we know this isn’t true; it is counter-intuitive, counter to our experiences. Are we deluded?

        Well, we test this model in a variety of ways independent of our experiences. That’s we like to use gizmos to do the readings, to compile data, to reveal patterns that inform our models in ways our experiences never could. And this method seems to work very well indeed without requiring our certainty. You risk your life daily on exactly this premise and do infuse it with a great deal of confidence. Only when it comes to your theology do you, in fact, move away from this method and take up one that you know isn’t equivalent, that does produce explanations that are factually incorrect, and then try to sell it as less problematic. I’m not buying it for a second.

        The reason why you have to come up with nonsensical model like an uncaused cause – like a non bicycle bicycle – is because reality doesn’t work to support the claim. That’s the central problem with the method you use for your theology: you don;t want to allow reality the right to arbitrate it and so you require interpretive attributions within a fixed framework of specific theological tenets to do the job reality doesn’t support. That – and not reasonable skepticism – is the problem you face and no amount of interpretive attributions can mitigate it.

        Posted by tildeb | July 11, 2014, 9:50 PM
      • I would agree wholeheartedly that we can know things beyond our senses. That is the nonsensical nature of atheism. Atheists hold that all that exists has always existed and there is not explanation for its cause. I would argue that you are far more guilty of rejecting reality. It could very well be that religious experiences come from an outside reality.

        You said that our sense explains everything around us, yet you have also implied that we cannot trust our senses and that we are easily fooled. So if we cannot trust our senses, how can one know anything? This is one of the great philosophical and scientific problems of naturalism and/or atheism. It does not flow logically. It’s like saying “I love science, but I don’t follow the scientific method.” Or, better yet, like Daniel Ratcliffe, the star of the Harry Potter series, who recently said that he was an atheist who believed in God. Huh? LOL. This is the nonsensical nature of atheism for atheists will argue for causes in all things except for the beginning of the universe which is clear by science and logic. I do not suffer from a lack of skepticism. For I am a natural skeptic who has been convinced of the claims of Christianity, partly due to experience. However, for the atheist to be absolutely sure that God does not exist, he would not be around to know it because nothing would exist including the atheist. There is no way you can twist atheism to logical coherence because atheism is by nature logically incoherent.

        Posted by pastorbrianchilton | July 12, 2014, 5:29 PM
      • You’re not comprehending anything I’m saying, making up stuff I’ve never said and ATTRIBUTING (sound familiar?) your creation to me, and then making claims about reality for which you have no evidence, so I’ll stop trying to explain my criticism for the fourth time.

        What I will point out to you is that atheism means non belief in gods or a god. That’s it. That’s the entire description. That applies to you, as well. You and I SHARE this atheism in all specific claims about all specific gods throughout all of human history, save one exception that you make. I am consistent even towards your exception and for all the same reasons you yourself use to justify your atheism against all these god claims… save one. Yet here you are putting this common non belief for the same reasons aside, deem mine to be irrelevant but maintain your own atheism towards all save one, and then ATTRIBUTE (sound familiar?) my non belief in the exception you make to be due to some imaginary hyper-skepticism! On this basis alone you claim my non belief is logically incoherent. Yet I could use the identical reasoning you present against me towards you in all these other cases. Apparently, you believe you have no basis other than your exception on which to reject all these other claims. That shows a remarkable paucity of good reasons to not believe in Thor or Isis or Q’uq’umatz.

        Obviously, your attribution shows a gross distortion of why both of us exercise the same atheism almost all of the time: we have no compelling reasons to believe otherwise. And that’s the same reason I hold against accepting your exception.

        Posted by tildeb | July 12, 2014, 10:19 PM
      • This kind of “one step further” argument is incoherent. Among other things, your claim that we “share atheism” is false. But it also begs the question because you’re assuming that there is no evidence for the position of the Christian theist without warrant. You’ve presupposed that the Christian is wrong, and so obviously it would follow that none of their claims could be true. But that’s hardly a convincing argument.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | July 13, 2014, 7:54 AM
      • Non belief is something all of us hold towards claims we think are unjustified. We just don’t believe. Plain and simple. Attributing anything more than that is fuddled and muddled thinking.

        But no one who believes in, say, Bigfoot tries to cast non believers the way the religious regularly and reliably do. Why is that? Why is it that religious believers think their specific religious beliefs are so exceptional that to refute them for identical reasons as refuting Bigfoot – a failure of compelling evidence to justify the belief in both cases – means some kind of predetermined, presuppositional antipathy leading towards nihilism and immorality and holocausts and the sky falling.

        Think on that.

        Just because I believe in Bigfoot does not give me the right to claim those who don’t must share some kind of morally questionable philosophy, yada, yada, yada. Assuming that right is very arrogant.

        It simply doesn’t matter what ‘evidence’ I think justifies my belief in Bigfoot when it comes to all the attributions I impose on those who don’t. Whatever my evidence is that I find compelling enough to grant it some higher measure of confidence does not mean my belief is sacrosanct from legitimate criticism nor does that criticism translate into some kind of moral or intellectual lack on the behalf of the criticizer. Yet this is the identical tactic religious believers exercise towards atheists as if such belief faced by non belief is so exceptional that belief and non belief in this regard merits its own special category that castigates the non believer.

        Finally, you continue to presume that religious belief deserves this special exemption of the same kind of skepticism, the same kind of doubt, the same kind of summary rejection you yourself exercise all the time. You do not assume there is no evidence for these claims you reject; you simply don;t find the evidence convincing. Neither do I… regarding your religious beliefs. You don;t castigate yourself for your non belief the way you do for mine. That’s a clue…

        Posted by tildeb | July 13, 2014, 10:08 AM
      • You have now smuggled in terminology not original to your argument. You said we were atheists to other religions. We are not. Do you therefore retract that statement?

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | July 13, 2014, 2:14 PM
      • What I said was, “You and I SHARE this atheism in all specific claims about all specific gods throughout all of human history, save one exception that you make. I am consistent even towards your exception and for all the same reasons you yourself use to justify your atheism against all these god claims… save one.”

        No, I do not want to retract that statement… because I think it’s true.

        Posted by tildeb | July 13, 2014, 2:47 PM
      • It is false. I am not an atheist.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | July 13, 2014, 2:49 PM
      • I am not claiming you are an atheist; I am claiming we both exercise the identical atheism towards all theses gods save one… but that Brian saddles only me with these supposed atheist attributes and ‘logical incoherence.’

        Posted by tildeb | July 13, 2014, 2:52 PM
      • Again, as I have pointed out before (see post I linked above), I am not identically an atheist or an atheist towards all other gods. I am a rival theist. There is a huge difference. Rival theism =/= atheism.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | July 13, 2014, 2:57 PM
      • So it’s not as if you don’t believe in Isis for a lack of compelling reason to do so; you don;t believe in Isis because you believe in Jesus.

        Is this the gist of being ‘rival theist’?

        Posted by tildeb | July 13, 2014, 2:59 PM
      • No. I’m saying that I actually do approach the universe with a different view. When approaching a rival theistic tradition, I’m not approaching it by assuming no gods exist. Rather, I’m approaching it with the notion that if there is deity, would Isis best explain the evidence for deity we do have? I am a rival theist.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | July 13, 2014, 3:01 PM
      • I’m not approaching it by assuming no gods exist…

        Neither am I.

        Again, I simply have no compelling reasons to think any do… including the one you do believe in. Why you must alter this statement of mine to suit you is a mystery to me because we know this is exactly the same approach all of use for all kinds of claims we don’t believe. Substituting Jesus as the particular claim doesn’t magically alter this approach into something its not one iota… even if the alteration suits your motive to criticize ‘atheism’ as if you don’t share the requirement for compelling reasons to believe something is true.

        And I sincerely doubt you actually hold the state of your belief whether or not there is a god in some kind of equivalency… maybe there is, maybe there isn’t, maybe it’s Isis, maybe it’s Jesus, maybe it’s Q’uq’umatz.. I honestly think you believe with certainty that there really is a god, that there is only God, and that he lived as Jesus. I have received no hint in any of your writings that there is an equivalency towards other possibilities and, in fact, I suspect you have never, ever, considered Q’uq’umatz even a remote possibility and yet your rejection is already complete. Correct me if I’m wrong, please.

        If you had (and if you did) hold the equivalency you suggest, you would identify as an agnostic to demonstrate this equivalency of possibilities. You don’t, so I think your ‘rival theist’ position is a way to avoid being labeled as an equivalent atheist due to your identical applied atheism I have towards all these other gods. I think you don’t believe Isis is the One True God because, like me, you have no compelling reasons to think so. Again, plain and simple. In fact, our atheism – our non belief – towards Isis is identical in all ways. This, for whatever reason, seems to make you very uncomfortable because I think you require – wether you recognize it or not – a special exemption for your own theistic beliefs.

        Posted by tildeb | July 13, 2014, 3:24 PM
      • tildeb, when is the first time ‘atheist’ was used in the way you have used it? I am very used to ‘atheist’ going along with ‘naturalist’ or ‘physicalist’ or ‘materialist’. You appear to be arguing for a radically different use of the word. I say this having read a decent amount of philosophy of religion (for a layman) and discussing theism and atheism with people on the internet for thousands of hours. Only you and a few others use ‘atheist’ in your way. In the other way, you are never an “atheist with regard to deity X”. No, you are either a theist, or an atheist. The law of non-contradiction holds.

        How many words’ definitions have you altered, from standard usage?

        >

        Posted by labreuer | July 13, 2014, 9:47 PM
      • when is the first time ‘atheist’ was used in the way you have used it?

        I define atheism to be non belief in gods or a god. Nothing new here. Note the objects of this non belief: gods or a god. All theists are atheists in regards to these same objects… with some kind of exception(s). You define yourself by the exception you make and not the standard we all share. Your assertion that atheism equates with naturalist, physicalist, or materialist is – again – a definition of your own making and not one inherent in the term ‘atheist’. Religious believers seem quite prone to using this tactic repeatedly: making attributions and then believing the attributions are reflective of reality even when no compelling evidence from reality backs it up. And you can prove this to yourself right now: try to find a dictionary definition that puts your attribution (of being a naturalist, physicalist, or materialist versus simply non belief – or disbelief) as a prerequisite for being called an atheist.

        See?

        You really are an atheist in regards to almost all these calls for belief in all these gods and for exactly the same reason I use: a lack of compelling reasons to do so. The only difference between us and our shared atheism is the exception you make because you – not I – remove from your consideration the requirement for compelling evidence from reality. Of course, you cherry pick some very weak evidence and pretend you have deduced your belief from reality when you’ve actually done the opposite: forwarded your belief first and have then sought evidence to try to back it up. (Conversely, imagine how excited you’d be if prayer directed at Jesus reliably and consistently produced efficacious results – especially if the more fervent the person’s Christian faith doing the praying, the more efficacious the results; you’d be shouting this compelling evidence from the rooftops and I would be quite willing to increase my belief from zero – my atheism – to some measure of likelihood that you might be on to something with your religious claims. The same would be true in my case if the prayers were directed at Q’uq’umatz. Would this be true for you, I wonder?)

        Posted by tildeb | July 13, 2014, 11:32 PM
      • I define atheism to be non belief in gods or a god. Nothing new here.

        Yes, and so, as long as one has a belief in any god whatsoever, one is immediately not an atheist in any sense of the standard term. You’ve invented a new term, where one can be an atheist in some respects and a theist/polytheist in others. The standard term has you being either:

             (A) a theist/polytheist/pantheist/…
             (B) an atheist

        You are either (A), exclusive-or (B). It is not possible to (A) ∧ (B). You’ve invented a new way to use the term ‘atheist’ that does not match this standard usage. Perhaps you learned this technique from the Sophist, Boghossian? I’ve criticized his definition tricksterism; you’re starting to seem like a fellow spirit of his.

        Religious believers seem quite prone to using this tactic repeatedly: making attributions and then believing the attributions are reflective of reality even when no compelling evidence from reality backs it up.

        Perhaps this is true; you have presented no burden of proof for the claim that religious believers do this more frequently than non-religious believers, so I’ll remain agnostic. What I won’t remain agnostic on is the fact that when you make claims which are later competently questioned, you call it a “rabbit hole”. I even offered to write a more basic version for you. You’re not here to learn tildeb, you’re here to feel good when no theist can sufficiently well-answer your questions. When one does—or threatens to be able to—you silently move on to your next prey. Shameful.

        Your assertion that atheism equates with naturalist, physicalist, or materialist is – again – a definition of your own making and not one inherent in the term ‘atheist’.

        Except this is precisely what I did not do. I did not redefine ‘atheist’—unlike you. What I said, precisely, was “I am very used to ‘atheist’ going along with ‘naturalist’ or ‘physicalist’ or ‘materialist’.” I never said every atheist holds to one of these philosophies. However, what I do know is that if we go with your definition of the term ‘atheist’, it stops meaning anything, unless perhaps one disputes the law of non-contradiction; barring that, everyone is an atheist, and the term loses meaning.

        What you are obviously after, of course, is the term “consistent atheist”. That has rhetorical force. Which is precisely what Sophists love.

        Of course, you cherry pick some very weak evidence and pretend you have deduced your belief from reality when you’ve actually done the opposite: forwarded your belief first and have then sought evidence to try to back it up.

        Evidence of your positive assertion, please.

        Posted by labreuer | July 14, 2014, 9:54 AM
      • Let’s make it simple: why don’t you believe in Q’uq’umatz?

        Posted by tildeb | July 14, 2014, 11:48 AM
      • Actually, it could be the case that Q’uq’umatz referred to phenomena available to the brains of the Postclassic K’iche Maya. Unless the existence of Q’uq’umatz is incompatible with the existence of YHWH, I have no need to deny the existence of Q’uq’umatz. As far as I’ve examined, no deity who is incompatible with the existence of YHWH is more likely to exist than YHWH. Stated differently, presupposing YHWH helps me better understand reality than any universal Bayesian prior probability which makes YHWH less likely than mutually exclusive alternatives.

        Posted by labreuer | July 14, 2014, 12:18 PM
      • Let’s make it simple: why don’t you believe in Bigfoot??

        Actually, it could be the case that Bigfoot referred to phenomena available to the brains of the pre-colonial Coast Salish. Unless the existence of Bigfoot is incompatible with the existence of Nessie, I have no need to deny the existence of Bigfoot. As far as I’ve examined, no monster who is incompatible with the existence of Nessie is more likely to exist than Nessie. Stated differently, presupposing Nessie helps me better understand reality than any universal Bayesian prior probability which makes Nessie less likely than mutually exclusive alternatives.

        Your line of reasoning meanders through the rabbit hole once again.

        I don’t believe in Bigfoot for the same reason I don’t believe in the Loch Ness monster, which is the identical reasoning I use to not believe in Q’uq’umatz.or YHWH: I have no compelling reason to justify any level of confidence in these kinds of claims. Your rationalized beliefs – and not reality itself – offer reasons but I don’t find them compelling because they are divorced from reality (and fundamentally contrary to how we know it operates).

        Whether you admit it or not, I think you use the same justification I do for not believing in these kinds of supernatural claims… save the one claim you do believe in, which you can justify (as you demonstrate) only by leaving the line of reasoning we share for our non belief everywhere else and selectively utilize a method of thinking that allows you to impose your belief on reality without allowing it to arbitrate the claim… an arbitration you reasonably demand in regards to these other claims. You’re not going to arbitrate claims of Bigfoot based on whether or not you believe in Nessie any more than you’re going to arbitrate the claims for Q’uq’umatz based on your belief in YHWH. That’s not reasonable; it’s a really weird way to think.

        I’m gambling that you don’t believe in Bigfoot not because of anything to do with Nessie but because reality does not support it with evidence strong enough to withstand reasonable skepticism. You seem loathe to admit this. To avoid this fate for your belief in the claim that Jesus is a particular monotheistic Abrahamic God Incarnate, you alter the terms of non belief in it that you yourself exercise in other cases. To justify this bait and switch, you purposefully set out a warren of axiomatic arguments and metaphysical connections between them as if this new weave with nebulous words rationalized your mental minefield that supposedly substitutes a justification equivalent to missing compelling evidence.

        I don’t buy it because I continue to think that reality is a more reliable and consistent arbiter for claims made about it than millions of religiously tempered words about it.

        Posted by tildeb | July 14, 2014, 1:26 PM
      • Whether you admit it or not, I think you use the same justification I do for not believing in these kinds of supernatural claims… save the one claim you do believe in, which you can justify (as you demonstrate) only by leaving the line of reasoning we share for our non belief everywhere else and selectively utilize a method of thinking that allows you to impose your belief on reality without allowing it to arbitrate the claim… an arbitration you reasonably demand in regards to these other claims.

        This is a blatant misrepresentation of how I have actually responded to you. Either actually engage what I say, or don’t pretend that you are accurately representing how I think, speak, and/or act. Preface what you say with, “If I am challenged on this in ways I don’t like, I’ll simply ignore the challenges and keep saying the same things, over and over.”

        Let’s make it simple: why don’t you believe in Bigfoot??

        Because there is no way I know of that belief in Bigfoot would help me better navigate reality. I believe that only what is true ultimately helps me better navigate reality—everything else will ultimately be the sand Jesus spoke of in Mt 7:24–27. Yoram Hazony argues along similar lines in his The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture when he describes how the word דבר‎, davar, is used in the OT. Davar can mean ‘word’ or ‘thing’—the Hebrew texts can be deliciously ambiguous. The question then becomes: can the davar be trusted? Or in Jesus’ terms, is the davar a rock, or sand?

        To justify this bait and switch

        What bait and switch? Quote me specifically, please, and link to the quotation if it is not on this page. What it really sounds like is that you have a standard “arguing with theists” arsenal and you’re just copy/pasting it in your responses, instead of actually reading what your interlocutors are writing. What you’re doing, tildeb, is dehumanizing your interlocutors. How about you consider not doing this?

        Posted by labreuer | July 14, 2014, 1:55 PM
      • Labreuer, first I read your comments in their entirety to get a sense of what the whole comment means. I then return to each paragraph to make sure I follow how each builds support for your final meaning. This exposes to me what I call a ‘line of reasoning’. I then respond to what I think are the problematic issues in this presentation in a variety of ways. This is my method for commentary communication. If this approach ‘dehumanizes’ my ‘interlocuters’ then so be it; I try to comprehend as best I can and this method usually produces satisfactory results.

        One of the ways I try to see how a line of reasoning works is by replication and substitution to see if the reasoning holds. You can see this for yourself in my comment that utilizes your explanation. It shows clearly that what you’re doing is making one supernatural belief (Q’uq’umatz.) conditional on another supernatural belief (YHWH). What is also clear is that you privilege the former on the latter. You demonstrate this privilege with many caveats to protect the second belief from being held equivalently susceptible to the same burden of proof you would otherwise use for the first if alone.

        This is not the way you or I or anyone usually consider claims… especially claims of an extraordinary nature (meaning they stand contrary if true to the way we have come to expect reality to operate). That’s why I switched to Bigfoot. You don’t consider belief in Bigfoot relative to some other ‘monster’ whatsoever… unless you privilege belief in Bigfoot not on the individual merit of compelling evidence accumulated from reality for this isolated claim but by a metal trick of linking it to some other belief you have already privileged (meaning this other claim – say, Nessie – has also been privileged from having to stand on its own merit based on compelling evidence adduced from reality).

        The thrust of my argument is that the normal state of considering a claim believable is on its own merit. This is what we share… almost all of the time. In this regard we are no different. My non belief and your non belief are identical. But you – not I – alter this consideration when it comes to some god. You demonstrate this altered – this switched – method of consideration when presented with another god, namely Q’uq’umatz, not because the claim deserves serious consideration on some realty-based merit but because your brain has been conditioned to switch how you consider a belief and privilege it when it comes to some claim of divinity. This is a tactic. The bait is presenting equivalent non belief in divine agencies overcome by compelling evidence. The switch is about altering the tactic you use by allocating privilege that assumes the conclusion.

        This privileging is the anomaly. You have been convinced that the proper way to consider claims of divinity requires such privileging. My concern is about the merit of why this privileging is warranted when it simply doesn’t work in any other area of life to reveal what you claim is central to your desires here, namely, to “better understand reality! But this ‘reality’ you wish to understand has already been privileged not by reality’s merit (meaning an accumulation of evidence any reasonable person would find compelling) but by your belief that the claim contrary to it is true FIRST!

        If you were to use this method in any other area of life, you would define reality utterly by your starting belief alone. This puts the cart – reality – before the horse – how we go about building an understanding of reality. It’s a method that doesn’t work to produce understanding that’s true for any reasonable person; it’s a method to quarantine and garrison belief from the ‘attack’ by contrary evidence.

        I have tried to demonstrate that how we approach extraordinary claims is identical most of the time: we look to reality to discover whether the evidence produces a model that should work for anyone anywhere anytime. We infuse this model with various levels of confidence depending on how well it works to describe reality for any reasonable person.

        When it comes to claims of divinity, you don’t do this. You alter the consideration for how you accumulate understanding not by using reality to test the model of understanding (that should stand on its own merit if reflective of reality and deserve increased confidence) but do everything in your power to nullify reality’s role. That’s why you switch to what I call the rabbit hole: a way of thinking so subterranean from how you consider warranting confidence in all other claims (save divinity) that it cannot be linked to the same kind of equivalent evidence you would otherwise use (the same way I would).

        The fact that you privilege claims of divinity should be revelatory. It should be a huge red flag that your confidence in any understanding accumulated this way is entirely dependent on a claim you purposefully exempt from independent arbitration (for example, dead cells cannot reanimate without undermining our entire understanding of physics). This is a guaranteed way to fool yourself – and me, if I go along with you.

        It is the identical method used to empower belief in alternative medicine: by assuming privilege for the original belief and then refusing to allow reality to justify the claim independently (as well as a rejection of independent evidence contrary to the belief). We see exactly the same switch done by people to justify all kinds of belief most of us consider crazy: from anti-vaxers to conspiracy theorists, from crystals to climate change deniers, from faith healing to homeopathy. All avoid compelling evidence from reality… rationalized away by using the identical tactic you use here. The list is too long to lay out, but belief in each requires the same privileging no different than what you do here on behalf of your starting belief – and misapplied confidence – in divine agencies.

        Because your method is switched, your invitation to me to come and explore the rabbit hole with you is not meaningful to me; you’ve already rejected the method we use almost all of the time to determine levels of confidence in extraordinary claims and the one I continue to apply to yours. You have assumed the conclusion that your belief is justified and can be asserted without evidence – the same kind of evidence you yourself require for not privileged claims – that it magically reveals a “better understanding of reality” when it cannot be demonstrated to do what you claim it does… or you wouldn’t need to privilege it! Reality would do that for you and that’s what we would end up talking about: reality and not the rabbit hole.

        Posted by tildeb | July 15, 2014, 9:05 AM
      • Labreuer, first I read your comments

        Unless they’re too tricky. And I quote:

        tildeb: Thanks for the invitation to go down the rabbit hole with you to supposedly connect your faith-based claims with the reality we share. But if this little journey of the mind requires pit stops into quantum physics, borrowing an analogy with negative index metamaterials and then refitted by scriptural interpretive triads in order to make the connection (square pegs, round holes anyone?) that some ‘kingdom of god’ is possible, then that’s a pretty good indication to me that it is a rabbit hole well worth avoiding.

        Other readers note: the comment to which tildeb referred in the above quotation used quantum mechanics as an example of truth which cannot be connected to reality without hard work of understanding, which tildeb obviously does not want to expend. The idea of negative index metamaterials was simply an idea of something which could be constructed, but doesn’t have to. This parallels the kingdom of God: nobody says it has to be constructed, and evidence of its goodness depends on successful construction, making evidential requests a bit trickier. The note about “scriptural interpretive triads” merely means that I presented scripture in four groups of three, to show a bit of systematizing.

        No tildeb, your statement is not correct, unless you admit that for you, ‘read’ ≠ “comprehend and take into account in all future statements”. More specifically, for you, ‘read’ = “respond to if my criticisms still apply, else ignore as if it were never written”. From what I can tell, tildeb, you are not interested in truth. You are interested in defending your preconceived notions.

        ———

        The thrust of my argument is that the normal state of considering a claim believable is on its own merit.

        Except this is incredibly false. Beliefs are evaluated against an unarticulated background; in sociology it is called a plausibility structure. There is no such thing as a “view from nowhere”; there is no “neutral ground”. There is no “naked reason”. Instead, you start with a Bayesian universal prior probability, and critically, one that is not equivalent to the principle of indifference, lest you start at radical skepticism and permanently stay there. No, tildeb, your statement here presupposes something that does not exist. It’s funny that you probably think I’m the one who presupposes such a thing/being.

        This privileging is the anomaly.

        No, you are incredibly wrong. Logical Positivism is a completely failed enterprise, and you need something like it to avoid any privileging whatsoever. But why don’t you try and prove me wrong? Show me how one can start from 100% neutral ground, or at least work toward 100% neutral ground, in a Neurathian bootstrap-sense. I will be very surprised if you can do this, but I will not say it is impossible. You are making bold claims here; now back them up.

        If you were to use this method in any other area of life, you would define reality utterly by your starting belief alone.

        False. I suggest reading Michael Polanyi’s Personal Knowledge to see how utterly subjective and passionate science is. I recently read the intro to the PhD thesis of a friend who graduated from an MIT-like institution, working on DNA ‘robots’: she cited Polanyi’s work in the first paragraph. She went into science thinking it was objective, and left knowing that it is deeply subjective.

        I have tried to demonstrate that how we approach extraordinary claims

        Please provide a rigorous account of exactly how you came to understand what is ordinary and what is extraordinary.

        The fact that you privilege claims of divinity should be revelatory.

        Except even this is a misleading statement. Your refusal to respond to my comment thwarts further investigation of this issue, though. Will you reconsider your refusal?

        Posted by labreuer | July 15, 2014, 10:58 AM
      • Okay, this will be my last comment on the issue because from the sound of your post, you are getting frustrated. Your argument concerning Thor and the like is really irrelevant. Thor, Isis, or Q’uq’umatz’s existence holds no necessity. However, the existence of an uncaused Cause of all things is a necessity lest one accepts absurd notions that programmed things just “pop” into existence without any essential reason. The whole scientific theory as well as logic itself collapses at such reasoning. By your implicit admonition, one cannot know anything if one accepts that kind of reasoning because one could not trust one’s senses in anything. There comes a point that one must become skeptical of their own skepticism. Quite frankly, it seems that you are sold to the illogical nature of atheism. Therefore, no amount of evidence or reasoning that I could bring to the table would suffice. The question could be asked, “Would you accept Christ if it is shown that Christianity is true?” Many who are sold to the notion of atheism have said “no.” I suspect this is the case. So, I would just leave you with this question: what if you are wrong? If I am wrong, I will die and experience nothing. I won’t know that I was wrong because I won’t know anything. However, if you are wrong, well you will consciously know for eternity that you were wrong. Is that a gamble you are willing to make? Nice talking with you. Blessings.

        Posted by pastorbrianchilton | July 13, 2014, 3:27 PM
      • Atheism by definition means “no God.” It is logically incoherent to claim that one believes in a God while being an atheist. Atheism does not come in levels. If you believe in a God you are a monotheist. If you believe in several gods, you are a polytheist. I do understand and comprehend what you are saying, but I am not buying into the semantic gymnastics that you are trying to do.

        Posted by pastorbrianchilton | July 29, 2014, 7:00 AM
  10. Tildeb, I do not start out believing that Bigfoot does not exist. Instead, zoologists working in the areas where he is supposed to occur have not found any evidence for the existence of this species. However, that does not mean that such a species does not exist, simply that I don’t know if it exists and that it is either unlikely to exist or exist in such small numbers that even scientists looking for it could find no evidence. Moreover, I do have several other (and currently better) explanations for so-called “Bigfoot” signs. The hair has been found to belong to grizzly bears. Even the tracks mostly belong to polar bears or even humans compacted below the surface and later exposed when the snow melted. In other words, I don’t only not believe in Bigfoot because there are no convincing evidence, but because the “evidence” that does exist, has been better explained (so far) as the result of other causes (known existing species, not a currently unknown, hypothetical species).

    As for gods and God, I do not believe that similar better explanations have been offered. I might be an exception for a westerner, but I do believe that other “gods” exist, only not really as “gods”, but rather as demonic powers pretending to be gods. I believe this because the true God has revealed Himself by actions to be the only One able to predict the future, the One who both tells what will happen (e.g. Israel will be gathered back to their land and all nations will rise against her), but also why (e.g. they were scattered in the first place because they did not recognize Him when He came to them and they will only recognize Him in the last days when they are back in their land and be cleansed from all their sins when they cry out to Him). And when any of these other “gods” have been confronted by the power of the Name of Jesus the Anointed, they were exposed as powerless compared to Him. For those living in obedience to the Lord, He does answer their prayers, these are the very “experiences” to which we testify and which the original post wants to use as an argument. But for which you as an atheist are always able to find “explanations” as simply “coincidence”. E.g. the very birth of the modern nation of Israel in a single day (according to the prophecies) are seen by me as a miracle, but not for you. Do you know of any other people who has been dispossessed of their land for almost 2000 years and yet survived to returned there? If any other “god” could give similar prophecies and show his/her power by returning his/her people to their promised land, I would actually consider the possibility that it might be a real god and that the God of Israel was not indeed unique. But this challenge has been given already in Isaiah 41 and never been answered.

    To say that the universe came into existence from nothing because of nothing, can in no way pretend to be a better explanation than the theist explanation. The very existence of the material universe itself, is probably still the most obvious evidence and the Kalam argument probably still the best argument for the existence of a Creator, both very powerful and very wise/intelligent. But the personal experience of His power and love in my own life by far trumps even that as a source of assurance. Not only the experience, but the fact that the experiences agreed with what the Bible predicts, and that this in turn gives the best explanation for all the facts of not only my experience, but also for those of others who have met with Jesus, is what convinces me that it is true.

    Posted by Chavoux | July 22, 2014, 4:16 PM
    • Chavoux, I am glad you don’t believe in Bigfoot on the sole basis of testimonials. I am relieved you look at the evidence and see if it supports or detracts from the likelihood of the claim being justified. I don’t think Bigfoot is an extraordinary enough claim to be met with the kind of disbelief we reserve for claims that are contrary to how we understand reality to operate. Your agnosticism in this matter is perfectly justified because there is a possibility it may exist without overturning our understanding of how reality operates.

      As for creationist explanations, this does meet the criteria for reasonable disbelief. Claiming that some form of Oogity Boogity! exercising POOF!ism is a compelling argument in this case detracts significantly from the approach you take to considering Bigfoot and replaces it with a credulity, gullibility, and a reliance on second and third hand testimonials (the Gospels).

      You suggest there is powerful and convincing evidence that this Christian god is probably true because of successful predictions.

      Really? That’s not demonstrated by scripture.

      Jesus himself is purported to have told his followers that “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.“ (Matthew 16: 27, 28) Also, “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place…“ ( (Matthew 24: 25-34, Mark 13:26-30, Luke 21:27-32) as well as “the end of the ages has come.” (1 Corinthians 10:11). In addition, we have “it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.” (1 John 2:18) Not quite predictive, wouldn’t you say? We have ““The end of all things is near…” (1 Peter 4:7) and who can forget “For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17)

      In a nutshell, Jesus is supposed to have returned long ago yet hasn’t quite kept his appointment, has he? So why the special privileging?

      Well, you suggest the only explanatory alternative to this supernatural POOF!ism model is that the universe came into existence from nothing because of nothing. This isn’t the reasoning you demonstrated with Bigfoot. This is a creation of your own mind. Nothing – as it relates to what we think of as empty space – is full of stuff and forces and fields. I suspect your use of the term here is to suggest a complete void that – as far as we can tell – doesn’t exist in reality (cannot, in fact). I’ve read repeatedly from astrophysicists that what came prior to the Bib Bang is unknown… and not ‘nothing’ as you suggest. Keep to the same reasoning you use in your consideration of Bigfoot and you’ll arrive at the identical “I don’t know.” That is significantly more honest than “It must have been Oogity Boogity exercising POOF!ism.

      Our personal and subjective attributions are fine and dandy for understanding our selves. But when we extend these creations into the universe as if our subjective attributions explain the causal effects we encounter in the universe (I dance. It rains. My dancing causes rain) then we have left inquiry at the door and have begun to impose our beliefs in place of reality. Unless we allow reality to arbitrate claims made about it, we are setting up our credulity and gullibility to be the basis for our causal explanations while disallowing reality to have any say int he matter. This is a recipe for justifying delusion and stripping away any means to differentiate it from reality.

      As for demons… well, if they are true then your computer and cell phone and antibiotics can’t possibly work.

      Posted by tildeb | July 22, 2014, 7:28 PM
      • Hi Tildeb,

        You claim that (New Testament) prophecies have not been fulfilled using the following verses:
        “Jesus himself is purported to have told his followers that “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.“ (Matthew 16: 27, 28) Also, “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place…“ ( (Matthew 24: 25-34, Mark 13:26-30, Luke 21:27-32) as well as “the end of the ages has come.” (1 Corinthians 10:11). In addition, we have “it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.” (1 John 2:18) Not quite predictive, wouldn’t you say? We have ““The end of all things is near…” (1 Peter 4:7) and who can forget “For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17)”

        First to put things in context: in the very same passages where He talks about the “last things”, He also said: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matt.24:14, Mark 13:10) and “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” (Matt.24:14, 42; 25:13) So what is the meaning of “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place…“ in this context? It mentions first, the soon destruction of the temple and Jerusalem (and the fleeing of most Christians from Jerusalem). Keep in mind that the disciples would understand things in the context of the previous (Old Testament) prophecies talking about these very things. Therefore “this generation” can also refer to the generation seeing the “tribulation of those days” after which a number of other things would happen. But the fact that it explicitly says no one will know when should make it clear that it is not referring to the very same events. As for Matt.16, it is immediately followed by Matt.17 where Peter, John and James did see Him in his glory (cf. 2 Pet.1:16:18 for Peter’s take on this). Once again, the “end of the ages” refer to the promised Messianic age which have come (like the Kingdom of God) in Messiah Jesus. He did and He does make all the difference in the world!
        It is only “not quite predictive” if you do not know what the Messianic prophecies entailed. Even 1 Thess.4:15-17 talks about those who would be still alive at the return of Jesus and those who already died, but Paul is not giving a prophecy but rather an exposition of what the (previous) prophecy entails (for those who have died). He assumes that he (and his readers) would still be alive, but that is not the point that he is trying to make. The reason is is rather: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” Indeed, later in the very same letter he says: “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them…” and in his next letter to them: “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, …Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.” Your interpretation of these prophecies (“In a nutshell, Jesus is supposed to have returned long ago yet hasn’t quite kept his appointment, has he? So why the special privileging?”) only works if you take them out of context. The point was simply that we should be ready all the time for his return because we do not know when it will be.

        “Keep to the same reasoning you use in your consideration of Bigfoot and you’ll arrive at the identical “I don’t know.”” Not quite, since in the case of “Big Foot” I do have other, better explanations for the claimed evidence. I do not have the same for the cause of the Universe. What you are suggesting is actually that the universe (at least all the mass/energy+natural forces) have existed eternally, without cause, but we cannot know anything about it before the “Big Bang” and that we have no known cause that could cause the universe we do know. … That is simply opting out by saying, “We don’t have any explanation, but we do know that it is definitely not a powerful, supernatural (i.e. existing outside of the (known) natural world) intelligent, Being”. …

        You say: “But when we extend these creations into the universe as if our subjective attributions explain the causal effects we encounter in the universe (I dance. It rains. My dancing causes rain) then we have left inquiry at the door and have begun to impose our beliefs in place of reality.” Not necessarily true. If my dancing was consistently followed by rain and I had no other better explanation for the rain, I would be warranted in my conclusion that somehow my dancing caused the rain. However, the reason for not believing that dancing causes rain, is because there is no causal link evident between the dance and the rain; it has no explanatory power. Of course in the real world we do know that dancing does not consistently cause rain and that there are other meteorological explanations that do show causal links.

        I fail to see how the existence of demons have anything to do with either science or modern technology (unless you assume that I propose it is demons who inspired the inventors/scientists?). The existence of the supernatural (both God, angels, demons or any other “spiritual being”) is not suggested as a replacement for science or the “laws of nature”. But God is proposed as the origin of both natural and moral law (and monotheism, in contrast to polytheism posits that there is only one source of all natural and valid moral law). In science, laws of nature can be described, but not explained. Why should we assume that the laws of nature hold universally? If there is one Creator, it can be predicted as true for the entire created world. But for the true materialist, this is simply an assumption with no proof; it could indeed be disproved by new evidence. And demons are spiritual beings in opposition to God, with no true creative powers, but who can and do oppose His work in people… additional forces with personalities opposed to God, not explanatory replacements for the laws of nature. Once again, I have actually seen demon-possessed people and most missionaries can testify to the same. It is not the same as mental illness and it is not explained by any materialistic hypothesis either… and strangely enough, it occurs especially in those contexts where people do worship “other gods”.

        Posted by Chavoux | July 29, 2014, 1:46 PM
      • Oh, I understand that in order for any biblical ‘prophecy’ to be valid, it must be interpreted just so. Clarity is a rare commodity when it comes to such things.

        You write What you are suggesting is actually that the universe (at least all the mass/energy+natural forces) have existed eternally, without cause, but we cannot know anything about it before the “Big Bang” and that we have no known cause that could cause the universe we do know. … That is simply opting out by saying, “We don’t have any explanation, but we do know that it is definitely not a powerful, supernatural (i.e. existing outside of the (known) natural world) intelligent, Being”. …

        I am not surprised that you jump to the beginning of the universe to insert a necessary causal god. After all, the insertion only works where our knowledge is insufficient. But do keep in mind that we inhabit a solar system around an unremarkable star in a galaxy of a hundred billion of them (some estimates are upwards of 400 billion of them), and that this neck of the woods in the Milky Way populated by so many potentially life supporting suns for planetary life is but one dwarfed by more than a hundred billion such galaxies. To pretend that an explanation for the beginnings of such a universe is best answered by a supernatural causal agent is not a model that explains anything. It’s useless. Utterly and absolutely useless if what we seek is an explanation possessing knowledge. And making a knowledge claim about origins means that knowledge is an aspect worth seeking. I hope you can understand the difference between seeking knowledge for our explanatory models and answering “I don’t know” to such questions about origins versus your translation to mean “There definitely isn’t a powerful, supernatural, intelligent, Being…” That’s not what I’m saying; I’m saying the claim is without knowledge and produces a model that doesn’t work to produce knowledge. This is an important difference between us because the truth of the matter is that you don’t know, either. I seem to be the only one admitting as much.

        I notice you use the loaded creationist term ‘materialist’ for me as if this is some arbitrary camp of allegiance I presuppose. I suspect I’m as much a ‘materialist’ as you are when it comes to every avenue of life we share. But I also suspect I am suddenly re-categorized as soon as your religious beliefs enter the arena. You probably don’t allow for supernatural intervention with your toaster or vehicle or computer because you know perfectly well this ‘model’ doesn’t work to improve your knowledge about their operation nor provide any knowledge about how to fix such ‘material’. Like me, I think you would not ask a holy plumber to cast demons out of your plumbing system if you encountered a problem because you have ample evidence that this approach doesn’t fix anything. Try it yourself and see! I might be too bold to suggest that you, in fact, know this explanatory model doesn’t work to fix material problems…. right up until such problems are viewed using your religious beliefs and then all bets are off.

        It seems almost too obvious to state but what seems to create demons is not reality; it’s religious belief imposed on it using a model that we know doesn’t produce explanatory models that work. That’s not my doing. That’s the result of the model itself. But when the model is used, all of a sudden demons are everywhere supposedly causing all kinds of effects… to which the only effective response is – wait for it – a religious intervention (what are the chances? P=1, which should surprise no one)!

        I find it remarkable that people can assume a ‘non-material’ entity (a necessary property of demons to avoid reality’s lack of support for their ‘material’ existence) can still manage to cause ‘material’ effect in a ‘material’ world without fully grasping the importance of how this interaction could conceivably take place and by what mechanism. This fundamental lack of understanding seems to be waved away by believers as if unimportant in order to maintain their belief in demons. One might be tempted to assume intellectual integrity would demand that a lack of knowledge be recognized in claims based on this lack with an honest “I don’t know.” But demon believers are convinced that making a claim about the causal effects of demonic agencies can be known without first undertaking the necessary steps to establish some – any! – knowledge for the claim! And when legitimately criticized for taking this liberty, suddenly it’s the person criticizing who is at fault for supposedly ‘pre-supposing’ doubt for this astounding claim of invisible supernatural religiously affiliated agencies causing interactive effect… effects that you are convinced can be best explained through your religious beliefs. Funny, that.

        Posted by tildeb | July 30, 2014, 8:01 AM
      • Tilbe, I don’t really know why you talk about “the loaded creationist term ‘materialist’”. I thought that it was an accurate description of your worldview. You talk as if you think that physical atoms and natural laws (the stuff that can be investigated using empirical science) are all that exists. Did I misunderstand you? For me that would be like insisting that computer programs are _only_ binary numbers, groups of 0’s and 1’s. Talking about a computer program “finding the best solution” to a certain problem, or of being a “game” or a “financial system” then does not make sense… it is only electrons moving according to the laws of physics. And that is what I feel materialism entails.

        Believing that demons actually exists do not imply that everything is suddenly blamed on or explained by “demons”! But like I can talk about “crackers” having written a malicious program/”virus” that “infected my computer”, without denying that at the lowest level the working computer does consist of moving electrons, I can talk about God, angels and demons at work in the world, without denying that the laws of nature exist or claim that they are without explanatory power. What I insist on, rather, is that the movement of electrons alone does not give an _adequate_ description or understanding of what a computer truly is. I believe that personality, logic and intelligence actually exist and can influence physical reality. I believe that just as a computer is more than the sum of its parts, we humans are more than simply a collection of molecules. We don’t even know what “life” is! We have a list of attributes that all living organisms share and the best we can do is to claim that something sharing all of those attributes is alive. But a single sentence definition of “life” still eludes us. And I claim that life and consciousness is something we share with God, but not with dead matter. It is part of his “essence”, just like algorithms are part of the essence of a computer (but algorithms are not physical matter).

        Just as the working of a computer algorithm can not be explained by the laws of physics alone, I do not believe that science can explain all of reality. However, it seemed to me that this is the claim that you are making? Am I wrong? And is that not the very definition of materialist; that everything can be explained in terms of matter?

        I “see” the effects of God working in the world (and in my inner being). I have even seen the effects of spiritual beings in opposition to God working in the world. I have EXPERIENCED extraordinary things! I “see” that the computer is not simply a bunch of meaningless 0’s and 1’s, but actually is a tool drawing maps and helping me to answer research questions in all kinds of different ways… including now communicating with you. But this does not mean that I deny that the computer at its lowest level consists simply of 0’s and 1’s. I do not deny physical reality. But I do deny that it is an _adequate_ explanation for all that a computer is, or for all that reality is for that matter.

        So to use your example of plumbing, toaster or computer… I don’t claim that demons are physical beings that somehow is the cause of physical things breaking, but rather that they are personal beings operating at the spiritual level, the level of understanding, personality and will. I don’t claim that the laws of nature are insufficient to explain (and let me fix) physical items. But I claim that there is more than physics alone, my decisions and will and personality actually influence the physical world. In the same way, God’s word created and maintain the physical world as such.

        As for your claim that “Oh, I understand that in order for any biblical ‘prophecy’ to be valid, it must be interpreted just so.” Yes, obviously. If you take anybody’s words out of context you can make them into a liar. The “just so” of biblical prophecy mostly entails reading it in context. Yes, there are some things which are not clear beforehand, and the bible itself claims that we need the help of the Holy Spirit to understand it correctly, but there are also enough that is clear and easy enough to understand (e.g. that the gospel will be preached in the whole world before Jesus will return, or that He will return with the people of Israel living in their land or that Israel will finally repent and acknowledge Jesus as Messiah).

        Posted by Chavoux | July 30, 2014, 12:40 PM

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