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A Question I Never Tire of Answering

Clouds
 
A reader recently wrote me and asked:
 

Let me get this straight: you, a presumably rational individual who writes science fiction stories for a living, sincerely believes that the creator of our 13.7 billion year-old universe of 70 sextillion stars magically impregnated a human female about 2000 years ago—a woman who then gave birth to a son named Jesus who performed miracles, rose from the dead, and served as the creator’s messenger to humanity?
 
This might make for a mildly interesting, if outlandish, science fiction story, but the source of your belief system? If you’re going to base your life philosophy on absurd myths, why not choose something a bit more interesting? Why not master the Dark Side of the Force or the Golden Path, becoming a Sith Lord or a God-Emperor and strive to rule a Galaxy? Why choose something as ridiculous and wretched as Christianity? I must admit I am rather perplexed.

 
I get these sorts of emails fairly often, and here's what I said in reply:

I am more than a presumably rational individual. I was a champion of atheism who gave arguments in favor of atheism so convincing that three of my friends gave up their religious belief due to my persuasive reasoning powers, and my father stopped going to church.

Upon concluding through a torturous and decades-long and remorseless process of logic that all my fellow atheists were horribly, comically wrong about every basic point of philosophy, ethics, and logic, and my hated enemies the Christians were right, I wondered how this could be. The data did not match the model.

Being a philosopher and not a poseur, I put the matter to an empirical test. For the first time in my life, I prayed, and said:
 

“Dear God. There is no logical way you could possibly exist, and even if you appeared before me in the flesh, I would call it an hallucination. So I can think of no possible way, no matter what the evidence and no matter how clear it was, that you could prove your existence to me. But the Christians claim you are benevolent, and that my failure to believe in you inevitably will damn me. If, as they claim, you care whether or not I am damned, and if, as they claim, you are all wise and all powerful, you can prove to me that you exist even though I am confident such a thing is logically impossible. Thanking you in advance for your cooperation in this matter, John C. Wright.”

 
And then my mind was at rest. I had done all I needed to do honestly to maintain my stature as someone not who claimed to be logical, objective, and openminded, but who was logical, objective, and openminded.

Three days later, with no warning, I had a heart attack, and was lying on the floor, screaming and dying.

Then I was saved from certain death by faith-healing, after which–

1) I felt the Holy Spirit enter my body, after which–

2) I became immediately aware of my soul, a part of myself which, until that time, I reasoned and thought did not exist-

3) I was visited by the Virgin Mary, her son, and His Father-

4) Not to mention various other spirits and ghosts over a period of several days–

5) Including periods of divine ecstasy, and an awareness of the mystical oneness of the universe, and-

6) A week or so after that I had a religious experience where I entered the mind of God and saw the indescribable simplicity and complexity, love, humor, and majesty of His thought, and I understood the joy beyond understanding and comprehended the underlying unity of all things, and the paradox of determinism and free will was made clear to me, as was the symphonic nature of prophecy. I was shown the structure of time and space.

7) And then Christ in a vision told me that He would be my judge, and that God judges no man. I mentioned this event to my wife. Then about a month later, when I was reading the Bible for the first time beyond the unavoidable minimum assigned in school, I came across the passage in the book of John, a passage I had never seen before, and to which no Christian in my hearing had ever made reference, which said the same thing in the same words:
 

"For just as the Father raises the dead and gives life, so also does the Son give life to whomever he wishes. Nor does the Father judge anyone, but he has given all judgment to his Son, so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father." — John 5:21-22

 
8) And then I have had perhaps a couple dozen prayers miraculously answered, so much so that I now regard it as a normal routine rather than some extraordinary act of faith.

So I would say that my snide little prayer was answered with much more than I had asked, and I was given not just evidence, and not just overwhelming evidence, but joy unspeakable and life eternal.

(I also regard this overwhelming deluge of evidence to be shameful before my fellow Christian, since the saying told to Doubting Thomas—"Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed"—is a blessing denied me. In hindsight, if only I had not been so arrogant,  I could have glanced around at the earth and sky, and seen the intricacy, wonder, and beauty of nature, regarded the unanswerable authority of the conscience within me, and known that I was a created being inside a created cosmos, not a random sandheap blown for a season into a meaningless shape by blind winds. Any child can see it, and all children do.)

To me, the universe was death row, and I was a condemned prisoner who believed everything outside death row was delusion and wishful nonsense. But then I got a call from the governor of the universe, commuting my sentence. I will live forever, as will we all. This was my repayment for a life spent in blasphemy and hatred and slander against God. Instead of smiting me as I damned well deserved, He spared me, and exulted me, and showered me with grace.

I was converted.

I was prepared to say adieu to logic and reason and just take things on faith, when I then found out that the only people who think you have to say adieu to logic and reason in order to take things on faith are crackpots both Christian and atheistic.

Every non-crackpot thinks faith is that on which you rely when unreasonable fears tempt you to disbelieve that to which your reason has consented. If your father says you can dive off the high dive with no risk of death, and he has never lied in the past, and your reason tells you to trust him, it is rational to take his word on faith and jump, and it is irrational to let your eyes overestimate the danger poised by the height.

I then discovered that the Christian world view makes sense of much that the atheistic or agnostic worldview cannot make sense of. I found that even on its own philosophical terms, Christianity is a more robust explanation of the cosmos and man’s place in it, answering many questions successfully that atheists both claim cannot be answered, and then, without admitting it, act in their lives as if the question were answered, such as how to account for the rational faculties of man, the universality of moral principles, the order of the cosmos, how best to live, etc.

Turning to my atheist friends, I then discovered none of them, not one, could give me even so reasonable an argument as I was expert in giving in favor of atheism.

They reasoned as follows: “God cannot possibly exist. Therefore any evidence that you encountered that God exists must be hallucination, mis-perception, faulty memory, self-deception, coincidence, or anything else no matter how farfetched and absurd. Since any evidence that you encountered that God exists must be hallucination, mis-perception, faulty memory, self-deception, coincidence, or anything else no matter how farfetched and absurd, therefore none of your evidence proves God exists.”

No matter what they saw, no matter what they heard, no matter how the world was against them, they would go to the lions rather than look at the evidence, lest their faith in their faithlessness be shaken.

When I pointed out that this was circular reasoning, they called me bad names.

One skeptic, in a bit of a lapse of his vaunted presumably rational character, told me solemnly that I could not possibly have had Jesus tell me something from a book in the Bible I had never read before. He said that I had read it afterward, and developed the previously undiscovered ability to edit and rewrite my memories, which I then used on myself, so that I only thought I remembered Jesus telling me about the nonjudgmentalism of God. The memory was created after I read the passage, and then back-dated. Then I used this power again to make myself forget that I had the power to make myself forget things.

I asked him if I also had the power to rewrite my wife’s memory, since she remembers me telling her about the passage before I read it. He then tried to cut the conversation off, while accusing me of being irrational.

Another atheist told me I induced a heart attack in myself with my previously undiscovered heart-attack inducing power. And then cured the heart pain with my previously undiscovered heart-attack-curing power. I did both things in order to convince myself falsely of a doctrine I did not believe and had no interest in believing, but, unbeknownst to myself, my secret desire to believe was so great that it overwhelmed my sanity and seized control of my subconscious biological and cardiovascular processes. When I questioned him about such things as whether he was familiar with my medical record, or when I asked to see the evidence supporting this theory, he called me names.

I did not get the opportunity to ask him by what means he discovered the hidden workings of my secret unspoken desires, since he had never spoken to me, and he was not within normal mind-reading range. I did not get a chance to ask him whether this strange ability to harm and heal myself at will was something all people had, or whether he thought I had a superpower due to being bitten by a radioactive spider or something of the sort.

Another atheist told me that that heart failure was a coincidence, not a direct result of my prayer tempting God Almighty, and if that had not happened, something else like a car accident would have happened. Since I am irrational, he said, I would have drawn an improperpost hoc ergo propter hoc conclusion no matter what happened, on the grounds that God cannot exist no matter what the evidence says, nor how obvious it is, and so anyone who draws the obvious conclusions from the evidence MUST be irrational.

He, at least, did not call me names, aside from claiminh that I would have made an irrational lapse in judgment no matter what had happened after praying my one experimental prayer to a God in which I had no particle of belief, in order to sustain and support my (nonexistent, at that time) belief.

He continues to suffer the false-to-facts belief that he can read my mind back through time and see the internal workings of my psychology during events where he was not present.

I tried gently to point out the logical error in trying to use reason to persuade me that he, a stranger to me, knew that I suffered from a mental illness that prevented me from reasoning, whereas I, who have access to things like my past history and my medical records and the contents of my thinking, have more authority to speak to the issue than he does, until and unless I am impeached as a witness.

In general, the argument that I am impeached as a witness on the grounds that my testimony did not confirm the prejudices and assumptions of a third party is not one likely to prevail in a court of law, or as a debate among sober philosophers, scientists, nor anyone trained in rigorous reasoning.

I used to be one of you, my dear atheists, and I was good at my job. But enough about me!

My question for you is this: if science discovered tomorrow that the universe was half its apparent age, and estimated the stars as half their current number, would the belief in God somehow be twice as credible in your eyes?

If so, why so?

If not, then, logically, the age of the universe and the number of stars has no bearing on the credibility of belief in God or in the Incarnation.

Again, if you are attempting to persuade me that I should not believe in unusual events, or unheard-of or hard-to-believe events, on the grounds that no unusual nor unheard-of nor hard-to-believe events ever happen, simple logic shows that this cannot be the case:

Logically, every ordinary event is unheard-of before we hear of it. Even the first example of repeated events is unusual until the second example occurs; and events are hard-to-believe when and only when our expectations and our experience does not match: therefore every novelty is as incredible as the platypus when first encountered. Therefore not only do incredible events happen, they must happen, for if they did not, the concept of credibility could not exist.

If, on the other hand, you are arguing that I ought not believe reports of miracles on that grounds that miracles do not exist, and that we know miracles do not exist on the grounds that no believable reports of them are heard, you are arguing in a circle.

You are also implying that the human race, almost all of whom believe in gods, ghosts, magic and miracles of one sort or another, except for that tiny minority of persons who are consistent atheists, just so happened to have all made the same lapse of judgment in the matter of paramount and foundational importance in their lives. And that they continue to do so, some of whom would go to the lions rather than re-examine the aforesaid lapse of judgment. While it is possible that everyone during the parade is out of step except the fond mother’s son in the old joke, this would seem to be as unusual, unheard-of and hard-to-believe as a Virgin birth, if not more so.

The argument that miracles are unbelievable because they are unbelievable, even if it were not circular, is less persuasive than may at first appear, when proffered to a juror who is himself a skeptical eyewitness to several miracles, answered prayers, visions, religious experiences, knowledge of events before they happened, et cetera.

Obviously, I who have seen miracles ex postiori, cannot adopt the a priori assumption that miracles cannot exist and retain my integrity as a philosopher, or my honor as a man. There is simply no going back.
 
 
Originally published at Sci Fi Wright. Used with author's permission.
(Image credit: Family Wings)

John C. Wright

Written by

John C. Wright is an American author of science fiction and fantasy novels, and a Nebula Award finalist for his fantasy novel Orphans of Chaos (Tor, 2006). Publishers Weekly said he "may be this fledgling century's most important new SF talent" when reviewing his debut novel, The Golden Age (Tor, 2003). In 2008, at the age of 42, John converted from atheism to Catholicism. Follow John's writing through his blog.

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  • Sample1

    My question for you is this: if science discovered tomorrow that the universe was half its apparent age, and estimated the stars as half their current number, would the belief in God somehow be twice as credible in your eyes?

    Refinemen of observation due to better evidence would have the opposite effect for me. That is precisely the sign of healthy science: the tool, par excellence, that is ever whittling down complex and even one-time scary notions into more digestible pieces of knowledge.

    If I were asked to rate this article on a scale from 1-10, with 10 being the best article I have yet to read on this site, I have no hesitation calling this a 1.

    Mike

    • DAVID

      Make no mistake, I take no issue with his happiness but this is little more than a faith testimonial with little room for discussion.

      That's true to some extent. He's essentially saying: this happened to me and you can't prove that it didn't. It delves into the area of personal experience. Although, personal experience might be interesting to discuss.

      • Sample1

        I appreciate that this forum provides an opportunity for two largely misunderstood demographics (Catholics and atheists) to express themselves. And so what I say next is me, someone who is not a person of faith, expressing himself:

        Invariably, what I'm calling "personal experience discussions" all wind up in the same place; it's the place that says, "it's just how I feel." In other words these are emotional-based conclusions. Emotion never adds to the truthfulness or falseness of a conversation. Ever. Just think about that a bit if you haven't before.

        Now, the length of time it takes one to get to that place is entirely a matter dependent on the skills of parties involved. Sometimes it's one or two exchanges, other times it takes years.

        I have no interest in that.

        Mike

        • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

          I'm not sure John Wright is making the claim: "It's just how I feel." He had a heart attack and was near death, and somehow came back to life. He had sensory experiences of transcendent realities. These are all physical--not emotional--events.

          • Andre Boillot

            "He had a heart attack and was near death"

            We (he) know this how? Maybe I'm not reading closely enough, but I don't see where he mentions a medical diagnosis, I just see the (equally unexplained) part about being cured by faith-healing.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            The major problem with the story as present here is that there is no mention of medicine or doctors. He says:

            Three days later, with no warning, I had a heart attack, and was lying on the floor, screaming and dying.

            Then I was saved from certain death by faith-healing . . . .

            Did someone call 911? Was he taken to the hospital. Did doctors confirm he was having a heart attack? And then did the "faith healing" take place. In that case we would at least know that he really had a heart attack. But if he was on the floor writing in pain and then the "faith-healing" occurred, there is no way to know if the pain was a heart attack. There is a lot of pertinent information missing from the story even for those who have no problem believing in miracles or faith healing. It can be very difficult even for doctors to tell if pain being experienced is due to a heart attack.

            There is a certain minimum of information even the most fervent believers in miracles would want before saying, "This certainly was miraculous." As I believe I have already said, the Vatican investigates claims of miracles (e.g., when they are claimed in the process of trying to get someone cannonized), and they look at all medical records and present the evidence to a team of doctors. I don't think anyone would accuse them of being prejudiced against supernatural explanations when they demand a great deal of evidence before declaring something a miracle.

          • Max Driffill

            Brandon,
            If he was near death, he didn't suddenly come back to life. He was never dead.
            All you can say about his brush with near death is that he had some dramatic sensory experiences. I have had some dramatic sensory experiences when I have been choked out on the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu mat. I have had some exquisite and not so exquisite sensory experiences while over indulging on Guinness and Jameson, or while attempting to stay awake for a week. Do these vibrant experiences indicated anything about a transcendent reality, or do they more likely represent my brain under a variety of stressors and flooded with a potent mix of chemicals and haywire neurotransmitters?

          • Susan

            If he was near death, he didn't suddenly come back to life. He was never dead.

            This point can't be made strongly enough. He was not dead. Being near death does not mean he "came back to life". It means he did not die.

            There is no description of the medical details of this. The diagnosis or whether he diagnosed himself, for instance.

            If there was medical intervention, no details about the possible mind-altering influences he might have been under. Oxygen deprivation, anaesthetic, medications, etc. Not a speck about the specs.

            If there was medical intervention, not only did he not "come back to life" by divine intervention, he didn't just not die. A tremendous amount of knowledge, skill and resources converged to keep him from dying.

            Now, we have his memories and his interpretations of those memories. The interpretations don't consider any of the other more plausible alternatives

            He prayed to the christian deity, three days later he had a heart attack and something so far indistinguishable from hallucinations and that means the christian deity is real.

            How many people prayed to the christian deity and didn't have heart attacks and/or hallucinations?

          • Phil Rimmer

            An excellent book for any wishing to understand the nature of hallucination, the circumstances under which it can occur, its frequency and causes can do no better than read Oliver Sacks latest book Hallucinations. Here he talks around the subject with lots of fascinating examples-

            http://worldsciencefestival.com/webcasts/sacks

            One of the key take-aways is the insight that the brain needs grist for its computing mill and deprived of inputs due to disease, failing senses, age, oxygen starvation etc. etc. the brain confabulates, and sometimes in a very agreeable way. The hallucinations of schizophrenics (and most people may occasionally experience a schizoid episode) for example are not the result of an over-active brain but the reverse. Access to semantic memory is reduced. Knowledge of how the world works and is becomes impaired and the brain goes into a re-inventing explanatory mode stitching together the tattered shreds it is left with.

            Without understanding this very common mode the brain can find itself in, then experiencing it and seeing it happen in others, I can understand how people are quick to shrug off this threat to their personal integrity when finally those experiences do happen.

            My own experience after a car crash (during which I was breathing restricted) was fascinating. The elation following it was enormous. Surviving death, immediately makes one elated and the previous moving to the light experiences become hopelessly bound up with that. Thinking endlessly about it in the hospital bed. our memories are taken out examined and repackaged with the associated thoughts. It took a while for me to see this post hoc grafting of the later rational experience of elation onto the earlier mysterious rather random one. But that was what my brain was doing.

          • ZenDruid

            I think the elation is a common element to all of these hallucinations. My own unforgettable circumstance was a quite unexpected OBE at the cusp of sleep. I reconstructed the experience as expanding and contracting at the same time, the contracting part being an anchor and the expanding part growing large enough to encompass the galaxy. That's how the visual effect came across, anyway. Quite blissful... but, y'know, I never saw any gods, just a couple dudes standing at the fence, sort of surprised at my sudden appearance....

          • Phil Rimmer

            "I never saw any gods"

            With NDEs and the like it is notable that the content, apart from the familiar shutdown of peripheral vision and the related light show, is always culturally pertinent. Any characters, voices being broadly related to the individual's culture. There are Hindu NDEs, Muslim and Atheist etc..

          • jparagone

            But it wasn't a near death experience only. He mentions the visions and experiences lasted days afterwards in a successive pattern. The whole neurotransmitter argument does not address at portion of his experience.

          • Phil Rimmer

            I see no reason at all why this could not be protracted and episodic. As I have tried to indicate this may not be simple neurotransmitter surpluses or deficits as you propose, but for instance, as in a schizoid episode, a lack of access to semantic knowledge- a form of amnesia in effect. This kind of effect is often protracted. Oxygen depletion to the brain can cause temporary or permanent brain damage and memory loss (for instance). There is no evidence offered here that says anything about why the brain state could not be protracted.

            My own thoughts after a single event (as opposed to the medicated ups and downs of a diseased heart after an attack) nevertheless echoed on for days with very florid thoughts, and the elation, to a tiny degree, lasts to this day, 26 years later.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Susan,
            Hey i know this thread has been hibernating for a while, but i went back through it and had one question i couldn't seem to get my mind around. I thought if anyone perhaps you would be able to help me understand his experience from your perspective?
            Basically i read the article, then read the responses and noticed that the responses didn't really match the article, so i went back and read the article again and still can't see how many of the responses don't match up with the article. what i mean by that is this; Mr.Wright claimed he was having, at the very least, chest pain. his wife said a prayer and the pain went away and a little while later he went to the hospital where he needed heart surgery. after being at the hospital he began to receive visions and other experiences. he said he was in the right frame of mind and was not having any stress that would cause him to hallucinate. these visions or experiences, gave him definitive evidence of God's existence, and answered philosophical questions he had not quite got an answer to on his own simply by employing logic and reason.

            When i read the responses about hallucinating and having out of body experiences when one's brain is under duress i couldn't help but to wonder whether many of the responders had read the article at all? it was almost as if Mr.Wright had said he had a heart attack, had an out of body experience where he saw God then came back a believer? But obviously that was not what he had said.

            I suppose one could narrow down what actually happened into three possibilities.
            1. Mr.Write is lying.
            2.Mr.Write is telling the truth, but he has been misled in some way.
            3. Mr.Write is telling the truth and the experiences he had were actually real.

            It appears that most of the skeptical posters are suggesting #2 to be the most likely possibility, but yet no one discussed what actually happened with him? Or am i misunderstanding the nature and duration of hallucinations? If you don't feel like responding on this site you can e-mail me too if you would like. just go to my website at 2fish.co then click on the "contact" button, then click the "ask a priest" button. Thanks so much for your time and happy new year!

          • Sample1

            He had sensory experiences of transcendent realities.

            Your definition of transcendent realities is:

            By "transcendent realities", I mean some thing or person which transcends the natural world--something outside of space and time

            Pardon me, do you have any grey poupon evidence?

            Mike

        • DAVID

          I agree that "just how I feel" is a nonstarter. Its certainly not enough to carry a conversation further.

          • Sample1

            Right, unless the discussion is about feelings, eh?

            Mike

          • DAVID

            True. :)

        • DAVID

          Of course, the alternative to emotional retellings of personal experience is expressed when people say: "well, that's what happened. It doesn't matter how I feel about it."

    • Rationalist1

      Indeed I refuse to accept any system of knowledge that doesn't admit error or never corrects themselves in any of their positions. It's the clearest sign that it's fraudulent.

      • Sample1

        Yes, the Czeslaw Milosz quote I posted during my first or second day here never gets old for me:

        When someone is honestly 55% right, that’s very good and there’s no use wrangling. And if someone is 60% right, it’s wonderful, it’s great luck, and let him thank God. But what’s to be said about 75% right? Wise people say this is suspicious. Well, and what about 100% right? Whoever say he’s 100% right is a fanatic, a thug, and the worst kind of rascal.

        Mike

        • epeeist

          Or as Betrand Russell put it:

          The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.

          • drock2289

            Are you sure about that? =P

          • epeeist

            Are you sure about that?

            Is the set of all sets that are not members of themselves a member of itself?

            Self-reference, a wonderful strategy since the time of Plato.

      • John C Wright

        "Indeed I refuse to accept any system of knowledge that doesn't admit
        error or never corrects themselves in any of their positions. It's the
        clearest sign that it's fraudulent."

        That is the main argument I gave in the article for rejecting the atheist interpretation of these events. At no point did emotion enter into it. I am appalled that the atheists here are simply ignoring what the eyewitness testimony is and pretending I said something I did not say in order to refute a strawman argument. Indeed, I even mentioned what the atheist would have to prove and how he would have to prove it for his interpretation of the events to prevail. None have met that burden of proof.

        What is wrong with you people? You are supposed to be the champions of reason in a world full of superstition and muddy thinking. Why are you making the same simple errors that the article accuses you of making?

    • Randy Gritter

      You can just ignore other people's experiences. That is one option. It seems a bit strange. If God exists then you should expect other people to have learned something about Him. If you had never used drugs would you ignore what those who have used drugs say? I would not ignore a religious experience of an atheist, even an experience that led to their rejecting Christianity. I listen and learn.

      • Sample1

        You can just ignore other people's experiences

        Do you have an app for that which doesn't involved a drug-induced coma?

        If God exists then you should expect other people to have learned something about Him.

        I should make expectations about something for which there is no reliable evidence? That sounds like a prelude for a bad relationship.

        If you had never used drugs would you ignore what those who have used drugs say?

        Maybe, particularly if they were trying to sell me some. Drug use is a good analogy for religion.

        I listen and learn.

        Minus critical thinking, you can't learn without risking preexisting cognitive biases coloring your conclusions.

        Mike

      • Max Driffill

        Randy,
        Let me rephrase part of your statement and see if you can see how your thinking looks to people like myself.

        You can just ignore other people's experiences. That is one option. It seems a bit strange. If bigfoot exists, then you should expect other people to have learned something about him."

        The ecology, population and evolutionary biology of bigfoot is exactly like our theology of gods. They are subjects without objects. They both may exist, but at present there is no reason to view them as credible hypotheses.

        Your analogy with drug use is not precise. We know drugs exist, we can read about experiments with drugs that elucidate their effects on subjects who use them, we can look at their chemical formula and predict how they will interact with the nervous systems they affect. We can do this without ever imbibing ourselves. We may never fully understand the subjective experience but we can understand a great deal about, from both experiment and by paying attention to subjects who use drugs.

        Gods are not physically like drugs, they don't seem to exist in the real world. The concept of gods do, and belief in gods do and these certainly do affect people. But all we can see is how these concepts and beliefs affect the psychology of the believer. We aren't ignoring the experiences of the believer, we are just noting that they don't appear to be based on a real object or being.

        • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

          Max, your analogy to bigfoot is insulting (of course) but also empty. Have billions of people claimed to experience bigfoot?

          If two people claimed to have encountered big foot, we wouldn't pay much attention. If hundreds, or thousands of people claimed to have encountered him, we would find that strange and likely more than coincidence.

          But if *billions* of people all testified to encountering big foot, it would take a lot of faith--or an extraordinary amount of counter-evidence--to dismiss those billions of accounts.

          All I ask is that you provide some evidence that refutes or counter-balances the billions of *positive* testimonies to God. I'm not looking for "possible explanations." To dismiss those billions of experiences, you need equally strong evidence that has high plausibility.

          • Andre Boillot

            "But if *billions* of people all testified to encountering big foot, it would take a lot of faith--or an extraordinary amount of counter-evidence--to dismiss those billions of accounts."

            Agreed, though let's have some real talk here and at least acknowledge that one would not be left with much substance (and likely have to set aside a good deal of contradiction) were one to define God according to the common elements of the experience of these billions that you mention.

          • Susan

            To dismiss those billions of experiences, you need equally strong evidence that has high plausibility.

            Where do you get this estimate of billions who have "experienced" your deity? What do you mean by billions of "positive testimonies"?

          • Sample1

            Agreed, I thought we covered that ground already. I'm just about ready to test how long I'll be tolerated when I claim that Catholics practice latria, not hyperdulia when it comes to honoring Mary.

            If we're allowed to employ deep time, I could make a case that there have also been billions of atheists. And that's just on this planet. :p

            Mike

          • BenS

            But if *billions* of people all testified to encountering big foot, it
            would take a lot of faith--or an extraordinary amount of
            counter-evidence--to dismiss those billions of accounts.

            Not if all those billions - and it doesn't matter how many billions - all testified to seeing bigfoot... but there wasn't a single bit of actual evidence that they had.

            If there were no bigfoot hairs, no bigfoot footprints, no clear photographs, no clear video footage, no bigfoot hides, no bigfoot lairs, no bigfoots in captivity then all you have are billions of people making an unevidenced claim.

            Which, funnily enough, is exactly what we have with their god.

          • severalspeciesof

            If we were to pull the contradictory aspects of all these supposed 'billions' of accounts out of the way of the 'god' part, there probably wouldn't be much left except a simplistic concept of some other 'being'...

            An observation here:

            I am not sure, but I think that 'dreaming of flying by one's self' is a very common dream throughout humanity, probably more so than visions or experiences of god of the like that Brandon and others are suggesting. Does that suggest that we can actually fly?

            Glen

          • severalspeciesof

            Brandon, with all due respect, Max's use of 'bigfoot' isn't insulting if you actually believed in 'bigfoot', as hundreds of people actually do...

            Glen

          • Max Driffill

            Brandon,

            I'm sorry to have offended you, it really wasn't my intent. I'm sorry simple, and obvious comparisons annoy believers as much as they do. But this is no fault of mine.

            I am trying to demonstrate a few things here about how rules of evidence work. The onus is not on the skeptic to disprove any particular X if no positive evidence is present. The onus is on the person proposing the hypothesis (in this case God) to demonstrate positive evidence of gods.

            Bigfoot is a good analogy. I don't know the exact numbers of people who believe bigfoot exists, but I can say that it is not insignificant. Should we take them seriously? Even though they have never produced a type specimen, or anything other than grainy, blurry videos that are often obviously edited?

            Witnesses often say they have seen big things in the woods and heard calls with which they had never heard before. Is that compelling?

            As a former working field biologist all I can say is there just isn't any compelling evidence for bigfoot. No DNA, no type specimen, no quality video, no fossil evidence. I can point out that any such animal would need extremely large ranges, not just to go unnoticed, but to survive. I could then note that these creatures are sighted just about everywhere. I can then again point the lack of quality evidence. The number of people who believe bigfoot exists is just not germane to the question of whether bigfoot exists. There is simply no positive evidence that bigfoot exists so there is no work for me to do.

            The situation with god is no different. I'm sorry if that offends you, but the fact remains. There is no reason to accept the god hypothesis, because there just isn't any compelling evidence for it. As I said in another post, people for eons had the subjective experience of living on a flat, stationary planet that the heavens revolved around. Millions believed this. This shared belief, wholly understandable, did not reflect a truth about reality.

            "If two people claimed to have encountered big foot, we wouldn't pay much attention. If hundreds, or thousands of people claimed to have encountered him, we would find that strange and likely more than coincidence."

            But that would be no reason to hold that they had seen anything at all. Until they produce a type specimen, non-course grained photos, they don't really have anything all that interesting to say. We might also note that most of the bigfoot aficionados have very little expertise in wildlife.

            Their anecdotes are merely interesting.

            "But if *billions* of people all testified to encountering big foot, it would take a lot of faith--or an extraordinary amount of counter-evidence--to dismiss those billions of accounts.

            Its always useful to remember the following axiom: The plural of anecdote, is not data..

            That is the case here. No doubt you are utterly unconvinced by the large number of people who claim to have seen alien spacecraft. Their testimony is not useful in establishing the truth of what they are purported to have witnessed. Also contrary to the popular opinion of just about everyone, eyewitness testimony is some of the most spectacularly unreliable reporting one can find.

            "All I ask is that you provide some evidence that refutes or counter-balances the billions of *positive* testimonies to God. I'm not looking for "possible explanations." To dismiss those billions of experiences, you need equally strong evidence that has high plausibility."

            No I don't. I really don't. I am not the one making the positive claim. And the testimonies don't tell me anything except what is going on the heads of the people making them. I am not dismissing the fact that these people have had profound life changing experiences. I am saying that they only tell us about the psychology of the people in question. It tells me nothing about the gods they claim to have rubbed up against. One simply cannot rule out psychology.

  • Andre Boillot

    "Then I was saved from certain death by faith-healing"

    Que?

  • Daniel Maldonado

    Awesome! Would you mind sharing the details of your vision of Jesus and Mary

    • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

      He says, "I was shown the structure of time and space." I would be interested to hear about his visions of Jesus and Mary, but I would also be very much interested in hearing what he was shown about the structure of time and space.

  • Sage McCarey

    Hello John. I love science fiction but haven't read any of your books; I will. If you are happier now I'm glad for you. Were you brought up in the Catholic church? When did you become an atheist? Thanks for writing your story.

    • Dcn Harbey Santiago

      Hi Sage,

      This article originally appeared at Mr Wright's blog. You might have a better chance for an answer if you post your question there.

      http://www.scifiwright.com/

      "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
      Deacon Harbey Santiago

  • primenumbers

    Interesting story, but it fails to address the issue that such personal religious conversion experiences have been occurring throughout history and will all the various different religions.

    Another point is that obviously John's free will was seriously and incontrovertibly interfered with by God, thus removing the free-will defence from use in the problem from evil.

    • Latitude89

      That is a really great post. It was respectful in tone and responded to the article thoughtfully by raising two objections (or rather, issues that naturally arise from the discussion, and which Catholics must answer), rather than by nitpicking at language or relatively minor points.

      As a Catholic, I have always struggled with both of the objections you have made. They are real and poignant and any believer who believes in the compatability of faith and reason is obligated to wrestle with them and at least attempt to answer them rationally. I don't have time to respond with my thoughts now, but I will try later. Anyway, thanks for bringing up these points! I hope they spark a constructive discussion that everyone benefits from.

      • primenumbers

        Not having ever had a personal religious conversion (was raised religious CofE, then became atheist) experience, it's not really my place to talk on how real it feels etc, but I can certainly sympathize with how having such an experience could drastically alter the way you think about religion. I don't think dismissing the validity (to John) of the experience is helpful at all. He experienced what he experienced, and I have no doubts that his account is truthful.

        Yes please discuss these points - I think they're interesting ones about religious experience in general rather than the specific instance of John's conversion.

        Another topic might be to look at that if such an experience was necessary for John (for example) to convert from atheism, why do more atheists (or those of other religions) not receive similar experiences to ensure they find the right religion?

        • T.K. Anthony

          Primenumbers--brand new here. Someone sent me the link because I write SF too. (I'm figuring out I'm going to have to guard against addiction to this site. Fascinating discussions!)

          Let me take your last two comments first, before touching on your first regarding the variety/variability of personal religious experiences...

          [Another point is that obviously John's free will was seriously and incontrovertibly interfered with by God,... thus removing the free-will defence from use in the problem from evil.] & [why do more atheists (or those of other religions) not receive similar experiences to ensure they find the right religion?]

          I don't agree that his free will was "incontrovertibly" interfered with by God. John asked. God waited until John expressed curiosity, and conducted a thought experiment, before He provided enough experimental data to convince John He existed. And, John was still free to interpret the data any way he chose--as he was actively encouraged to do by his atheist friends. When I read this testimony, I came away with genuine respect for John's
          intellectual honesty, just to ask the question, and mean it...and not filter all the evidence through his preconceived, and long preferred, opinions. This is not at all common. Hardly anybody sincerely asks; even fewer look at the data with an open mind.

          And in a way, that's the sum of my answer to your second point. I believe that God does--ever since the fullness of His revelation in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ--always and everywhere, provide the evidence to lead humanity to the truth of His existence, and the truths of the Church. [Prior to that, there was enough evidence to lead us to an incomplete understanding of God--but I digress into revelation history.] But for 2000+ years, the evidence is there--and it's up to us to look for it, and understand...and we often don't want to. Pride. Laziness. Politics. A dim recognition that if we honestly believed there's a God, we might have to change our behavior and attitudes....you know, "convert." This isn't new.

          Read the Gospels. Christ performed great gobsmacking miracles so that thousands came and were cured, healed, and fed; some were even raised from the dead. And yet, the Pharisees still had the audacity to demand "a sign." Signs abounded, surrounded them, yet they refused to see the evidence of their own eyes. (Pride and politics?)

          And, just as in the Gospels, God will not overrule our sovereign right to make up our own minds--He wants friends, not slaves. We can deny mind-blowing evidence, we can interpret it to fit our own little worldviews--or we can allow it to lead us to the truth. As to ensuring we all find the "right religion..."

          God understands the obstacles we're facing. Human hearts and minds are limited, so understanding the transcendent is a stretch. Sin has dimmed our capacity for understanding. Also, there's an Enemy lurking, throwing sand in our eyes (not all spiritual experiences are from above). And we have our individual preferences: solitude or society; music or art; poetry or prose. We have personal experience which can lead to confirmation error--believing what we want to believe; or at the other extreme, skepticism as an end in itself instead of a tool of inquiry. (I'd say John dodged both bullets of confirmation error and skepticism as a faith.) With all these factors in play, I'd be amazed if there _weren't_ a wide variety of personal religious experiences.

          But God plays fair. For Him, what matters most is our *sincere desire to find the truth.* As Chesterton said, the purpose of an open mind is like that of the open mouth--to shut it again on something solid.

          Because anyone who sincerely searches for the Truth, with open heart and open mind, and with charity and respect for all, will find God, and--I dare to say-- Catholicism. Maybe--like John--in this life. Or maybe in the next, those sincere truth seekers will be surprised at the company they're keeping in Heaven.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Christ performed great gobsmacking miracles so that thousands came and
            were cured, healed, and fed; some were even raised from the dead.

            Then why did he have so few followers among those people after he not only dazzled them, healed them, rose from the dead, and walked among them again.

            As I have said elsewhere, one gets the impression from the Gospels that Jesus was a major figure, known throughout all of Galilee and Judea—someone whom all of Jerusalem came out to see. But that doesn't appear to be the case at all. If you have a huge following during your lifetime, surely you would have a huge following after you come back from the dead.

          • T.K. Anthony

            Indeed. We ramped up from the first twelve to become "Christendom" in something like a a thousand years. We now stand at 1/6 of the world's population. I think that counts as "huge."

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            I did not raise any questions about what happened after a thousand years, or even a hundred. Christianity spread very rapidly, but among Gentiles and outside of Palestine. It barely spread at all among the people Jesus dealt with personally. Remember, he said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel."

          • epeeist

            We now stand at 1/6 of the world's population. I think that counts as "huge."

            Well it does mean that you are in a substantial minority.

            There are a couple of questions here though. Firstly, how is the calculation done? As far as I am aware I am still counted as Catholic even though I have never taken the sacrament in decades and the only time I have entered church in the same period is for the usual hatch-match-dispatch ceremonies. I live in the UK where the church claims 4.2 million members in England and Wales but where only 860,000 attend mass each week, which figure should one uses as an estimate of the number of Catholics?

            Secondly, one has to ask whether your number is growing, static or shrinking. It isn't too difficult to find the figures that the church claims as members and indeed it does appear to be increasing. However, perhaps it might be better to look at the Catholics as a percentage of the world population, in which case the opposite is true. As a percentage of world population the church is shrinking.

            Of course this is fairly crude, perhaps one ought to be asking about a finer demographic, in which areas of the world is Catholicism growing and in which is it shrinking. Now this is a little more difficult, but all the figures I have seen would indicate that it is growing in parts of the developing world but shrinking drastically in the developed world.

          • primenumbers

            "provide the evidence to lead humanity to the truth of His existence" - um, he goes about demonstrating it in a rather strange manner then -allowing all those false religions to flourish, giving them healing abilities and miracles to confuse people, waiting how many years since the dawn of mankind to actually send some revelations, and then doing so in just the same way as you'd expect any of the man-made religions to present their religious miracles.

            "Because anyone who sincerely searches for the Truth, with open heart and open mind, and with charity and respect for all, will find God," - that, is a self-serving lie. A lot of the atheists here were once believers - we did exactly as you say and searched for truth and didn't find it. Don't kid yourself that we didn't try or didn't try hard enough.

            "Read the Gospels" - excellent advice to turn Christians into atheists and I thoroughly recommend it.

            On the subject of free-will, the wish not to interfere with our free will to believe is often cited by theists as part of their defence agains the argument from divine hiddenness. Of course, if you insist that such miraculous events don't interfere with free will, and God is free to intervene in human affairs, there goes your standard responses to theodicy.

          • DAVID

            On the subject of free-will, the wish not to interfere with our free will to believe is often cited by theists as part of their defence agains the argument from divine hiddenness. Of course, if you insist that such miraculous events don't interfere with free will, and God is free to intervene in human affairs, there goes your standard responses to theodicy.

            Well, not quite. Miracles do not short-circuit the human process of freely choosing. Theoretically, a person could be surrounded by miracles every day and still decide that there is no God and it is all essentially meaningless. God can intervene all He wishes without directly changing someone's will.

          • primenumbers

            "Miracles do not short-circuit the human process of freely choosing" - fair enough, then address the other side of the dilemma - theodicy then. If God is free to miraculously intervene, he could do so just before every rape is about to occur and miraculously castrate the rapist, couldn't he? And that wouldn't interfere with anyone's free will.

          • DAVID

            If God is free to miraculously intervene, he could do so just before every rape is about to occur and miraculously castrate the rapist, couldn't he? And that wouldn't interfere with anyone's free will.

            Some interventions frustrate free will while others do not. If someone is continuously prevented from doing anything wrong, then their freedom is compromised. We don't even need to consider miraculous events to see that this is true. This is why we are against absolutist states in principle.

          • primenumbers

            "Some interventions frustrate free will while others do not." -well when convenient to the believer yes.... But basically what you're saying is that God could stop rape if he wanted to, but refuses to act.

          • DAVID

            But basically what you're saying is that God could stop rape if he wanted to, but refuses to act.

            I think you're playing a trump card. You're saying that, of all things, a good God just wouldn't allow this one thing to happen. It still comes down to free will. If freedom comes with responsibility, then it must be possible to abuse that freedom. It must even be possible to abuse it in horrible ways. Otherwise, its not really a freedom and we're just robots.

          • primenumbers

            Obviously not. If I were to attempt to rape someone (not something I'd do, but) a passer by could see it happening and physically stop me, the poor victim could testify against me and the court system could get me locked up. All of this can happen yet I don't become a robot. In other words we can see that my freedom can be curtailed by society and people in oh-so-many ways yet I don't become a robot, thus rendering the argument that God cannot do this an example of his lack of omnipotence.

            "It must even be possible to abuse it in horrible ways" - and does this apply to God too? Can he do evil and thus show he has free will and that he's not an automata? I strongly suspect the theistic notion that God is all good and perfect with full knowledge constrains his free-will to the point where he has none and must be an automata.

          • DAVID

            In other words we can see that my freedom can be curtailed by society and people in oh-so-many ways yet I don't become a robot, thus rendering the argument that God cannot do this an example of his lack of omnipotence.

            You're example of society curtailing freedom is not adequately similar to God curtailing freedom. Society can restrain and bring the perpetrator to justice once the perpetrator has begun the crime. But it presupposes the freedom of the perpetrator up to the point that he/she begins to break the law. Now, God is in a completely different position than we are. God knew all of the bad things we would ever do before we even came into existence. If we are really serious about God curtailing our freedom, then the logical outcome is the impossibility of bad behavior, anywhere, at any time. There is no "presumed freedom" as there is in society.

            Can he do evil and thus show he has free will and that he's not an automata?

            There's a distinction to be made here. Freedom and the abuse of freedom are not the same thing. God is perfectly free but that does not mean that God has any desire to abuse that freedom by doing bad things. The abuse of freedom only comes about when creatures are both 1) free and 2) imperfect.

          • primenumbers

            Eh, basically your argument why God doesn't intervene is because he knows what is going to happen and in his knowledge of what was going to happen he didn't intervene, so he can't intervene else he'd contradict himself. If there's anyone you're contradicting the free will of here, it's God, not man.

            "God is perfectly free" - well he's not as you've demonstrated already. It's a good thing to stop rapists, and anyone passing by who sees a rape in action should at least attempt to stop it. God is able, God knows, yet he cannot (by your arguments) intervene. Yes again your God lacks free will.

          • DAVID

            Eh, basically your argument why God doesn't intervene is because he knows what is going to happen and in his knowledge of what was going to happen he didn't intervene, so he can't intervene else he'd contradict himself.

            No, my argument is that God wants us to learn to be responsible. If God keeps us from doing bad things, we never learn from the consequences of our actions, and we never choose to be good of our own free will.

          • primenumbers

            However, being the "adult" it's God that's responsible and he's not intervening when he should with us "children".

            Getting impotency or reduced sexual drive (through a Godly intervention) upon attempting to rape someone would teach us the consequences of our actions, would it not?

            Basically, what you're saying is that it's far better that lots of women get raped than for a man to be punished divinely for attempted rape.

          • DAVID

            However, being the "adult" it's God that's responsible and he's not intervening when he should with us "children".

            I appreciate the moral nature of the problem that you bring up. Ultimately, Christians find the answer in God who allowed himself to be nailed to a cross. In suffering brutality and injustice, God unites himself to the victims of all times and places. Unless the victimizers repent, they will be condemned when they die.

          • primenumbers

            I cannot actually comprehend a suffering deity. And I cannot comprehend a fundamentally good deity engaging in eternal punishment.

          • DAVID

            It was possible for God to suffer because he came in the person of Jesus: fully God and fully human. Eternal punishment, in the end, is just as much a self-condemnation as anything. If a person really would rather rape, kill, torture, etc, then they wouldn't be at home in Heaven.

          • primenumbers

            "fully God and fully human" - unfortunately that uses a version of the word "fully" that is contradictory to it's normally held meaning.

            "If a person really would rather rape, kill, torture" - unless Yahweh commanded it, of course. Or they were forgiven.

          • Sample1

            It still comes down to free will

            I think it's wrong the way the word freewill is tossed around these days as if it completely understood apart from its conceptual definition. I'm not just picking on you, it's commonplace.

            Inasmuch as Darwin demonstrated that all of life's diversity doesn't require a Grand Designer for its explanation, freewill is fast becoming a meaningless term outside of religious philosophy.

            I would refer anyone to the the short, free, e-book Freewill by Sam Harris who argues that freewill is just an illusion. An illusion of an illusion in fact.

            Otherwise, its not really a freedom and we're just robots.

            Or, the religious understanding of free will is a straw man and a better model of how we interact with our environment will be forthcoming (which seems to be the case).

            Mike

          • DAVID

            Inasmuch as Darwin demonstrated that all of life's diversity doesn't require a Grand Designer for its explanation, freewill is fast becoming a meaningless term outside of religious philosophy.

            As I understand it, Natural Selection theoretically demonstrates how life's diversity evolved from single-celled organisms. It also explains, at least in general terms, the complexity of the human body. But the human body, itself, does not explain certain things about the human experience. For example, neuroscientists cannot explain the simple fact of human consciousness in purely material terms. Likewise, philosophers cannot explain human subjectivity in objective, scientific terms. Here's an interesting video which was taken from the world science fair on "the enduring conundrum of consciousness."
            http://worldsciencefestival.com/events/whispering_mind?/events/consciousness

            So if consciousness has not been demonstrated in material terms, then free will certainly hasn't been explained away.

          • severalspeciesof

            Miracles do not short-circuit the human process of freely choosing.

            Well, they must do 'something' with the will or else why have them? The more correct knowledge that one has, the better able one is to choose instead of using a feeling or guess or whatever, in obtaining that choice...

          • DAVID

            I agree that correct knowledge helps us decide. Miracles are often referred to as "signs" because they point us in the right direction. I was only saying that miracles cannot make up our minds for us; we're always free to believe or not believe.

          • severalspeciesof

            Fair enough, but let me rephrase my point. Why are some people allowed to have more 'knowledge' (AKA 'Miracles") than others? Any one miracle isn't seen by everyone, even believers...

          • DAVID

            Why are some people allowed to have more 'knowledge' (AKA 'Miracles") than others? Any one miracle isn't seen by everyone, even believers...

            There is a sense in which miracles are like most other experiences in life: we do not need them to happen to us in order to know about them and to learn from them. We all make contributions to the communal pool of knowledge. Its good to rely on each other in this way.

          • Phil Rimmer

            But why do I (for the sake of this argument) who has a wealth of explanatory knowledge diligently acquired on how these miracles are simple misfirings of an evolved brain and can use my knowledge to help people overcome their errors, why do I not get the good stuff, to help overcome my reasonable evidenced bias against miracles and the Love of God?

            What error in my upbringing, what error of timing in not meeting that Catholic who would change my life and "open me up", but rather encounter my physics teacher Dave Marlborough who would change everything about how I see the world, what makes me deserve a lesser chance than someone possibly less diligent in seeking the truth?

            Inoculated through no fault of my own against reports of miracles, don't I deserve a miracle of my own?

          • DAVID

            But why do I (for the sake of this argument) who has a wealth of explanatory knowledge diligently acquired on how these miracles are simple misfirings of an evolved brain and can use my knowledge to help people overcome their errors, why do I not get the good stuff, to help overcome my reasonable evidenced bias against miracles and the Love of God?

            My understanding is that there are documented miracles which could not be attributed to tricks of the brain: people recovering from incurable diseases, for example. Even then, however, there is nothing to prevent someone from concluding that, "this cannot presently be explained," rather than, "this is miraculous."

            What error in my upbringing, what error of timing in not meeting that Catholic who would change my life and "open me up", but rather encounter my physics teacher Dave Marlborough who would change everything about how I see the world, what makes me deserve a lesser chance than someone possibly less diligent in seeking the truth?

            If you are diligently seeking the truth, then you are right where God wants you to be. God is less concerned with the circumstances of our lives than with what we make of them. If you're seeking truth, then I can only encourage you.

            Inoculated through no fault of my own against reports of miracles, don't I deserve a miracle of my own?

            I think it is reasonable to suppose that if you are inoculated against reports of miracles, you may very well be inoculated against a miracle of your own. But maybe not. You could try "the prayer experiment," as they call it, and see what happens.

          • Phil Rimmer

            Well, thank you for your considered and considerate response.

            There are other explanations other than tricks of the brain. As a technologist I sometimes despair of ever having reliable reports back from the field by users of the products and systems I work with. People are terrible reporters of facts...just...just...terrible. Memories are poisoned at the moment of storage by their subjective categorisation, and if there is no experience in the new categories, they get mis-remembered. Reports are mostly useless......until recently.

            Cell phone have cameras, video and still. Live transmission is possible. Now, if any moment existed in history for miracles, this is the moment when they can shine out and do their best.

            If anything reports of miracles in advanced countries are less numerous than they have ever been.

            "If you are diligently seeking the truth, then you are right where God wants you to be. God is less concerned with the circumstances of our lives than with what we make of them. If you're seeking truth, then I can only encourage you."

            I'm inclined (with huge presumption) to agree. Any half way decent theistic God could want for no more. But further, for me, any absent but concerned parent could want for no more from their kids. Any dad behind the half silvered glass would find contentment that his little girl smiled at her friend and shared her toys and adventured together.

            My children owe me nothing. Unwittingly, they have recompensed me fully for anything I may have done for them.They had no choice in their existence and everytime I act needily with them, I know I am less of a dad. Everytime they give without my asking I choke up. I learned this by example from my dad. With all due respect and acknowledgement that I may not know what I am talking about but....I don't think I want to lower my standards

            I'm sure an omnipotent god could find some way to get me to accept the experience of a miracle. So far, knowing that hallucinations work in particular ways, I could reasonably see a format that could work. I'd want it to be shared with Dawkins and Dennett, some scientists, have mental health checks, record it and have it repeated by other sets of similar people at a later time with fully normal life in between.....that should do....

          • DAVID

            Which is to explain why theodicy and miracles do not contradict.

          • Susan

            >blockquote>Which is to explain why theodicy and miracles do not contradict.

            Pn's post explains the opposite, so please explain what you mean.

          • DAVID

            The particular post to which you're replying has two parts. In the first part (below) I explain what I mean.

          • Susan

            Darn it David. I think it must be disqus again. I can't find the other part.

            Could you link it? Thanks.

          • DAVID

            Here it is. I block quote his last paragraph and then write:

            Well, not quite. Miracles do not short-circuit the human process of freely choosing. Theoretically, a person could be surrounded by miracles every day and still decide that there is no God and it is all essentially meaningless. God can intervene all He wishes without directly changing someone's will.

          • Susan

            Thank you David. Curses on Disqus.

            But in his last paragraph he wrote:

            On the subject of free-will, the wish not to interfere with our free will to believe is often cited by theists as part of their defence agains the argument from divine hiddenness.

            And you responded:

            Theoretically, a person could be surrounded by miracles every day and still decide that there is no God and it is all essentially meaningless. God can intervene all He wishes without directly changing someone's will.

            1) Then why isn't everyone surrounded by miracles every day and given the opportunity to fully exercise their free will confronted byoverwhelming evidence of your chosen deity?

            2) Are you in agreement with primenumbers that this common defence of divine hiddenness is useless?

          • DAVID

            1) Then why isn't everyone surrounded by miracles every day and given the opportunity to fully exercise their free will confronted by evidence of your chosen deity?

            I guess partly because, as suggested in my comment, a whole lot of miracles would not serve any purpose. They would not necessarily bring anyone to faith or assist in their salvation. Miracles tend to confirm the belief of people who are already willing to believe.

            2) Are you in agreement with primenumbers that this common defence of divine hiddenness is useless?

            I think the defense of divine hiddenness is a strong one. A miracle is one thing and it can strengthen some people's faith. But having a direct experience of God is something different. A direct experience of God would be powerful enough to override your freewill. Therefore, the argument works.

          • Susan

            Miracles tend to confirm the belief of people who are already willing to believe.

            It's called confirmation bias.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias

            What is a miracle? By what standards are they evaluated? What is the difference between a rare event and a miracle? This is just another one of those words that confuses me.

            A direct experience of God would be powerful enough to override your freewill.

            1) Why?

            2) What do you mean by a "direct experience of God"? John C. Wright claims to have "entered the mind of God" (whatever that means). Is that different than a direct experience?

            3) What is free will and how do you know you have it?

            4) Tumours and parasites can take away our "free will" and your deity is OK with that, so what's the big deal about having a direct experience with her?

            5) Why do I feel like people are just making stuff up to justify their preconceptions and are perfectly OK with that?

          • DAVID

            What is a miracle? By what standards are they evaluated? What is the difference between a rare event and a miracle?

            A rare event is something which rarely happens, or at least, is rarely observed happening. On the other hand, a miracle always involves prayer of some sort. A person prays for something to happen, something that neither humans nor nature can accomplish, and it happens. There are no particular words that a person must use, and there is no guarantee that God will do it. Although, people in very close relationship with God are much more likely to have their prayers answered.

            What do you mean by a "direct experience of God"? John C. Wright claims to have "entered the mind of God" (whatever that means). Is that different than a direct experience?

            I should start by saying that a direct experience of God is impossible unless God makes it possible for someone to have that experience: we are not naturally capable of it. A person does not experience this change until they go to Heaven. Getting to Heaven involves a lot of preparation. You have to seek to know God and to do God's will; you have to give up evil and embrace what is good, etc. In short, you have to be "holy" in order to directly experience God, and God is not going to override your free will and make you "holy." You have to live your life in such a way that prepares you for Heaven.

            I think that John C. Wright is boldly expressing that he got a "taste" of what God is like. But I'm certain that he did not directly experience God.

            When I have more time, I'll see if I can answer the other questions you've posed.

          • DAVID

            I want to add one thing to my second answer. While its true that God will not override our freewill and "make" us holy. God will help us to become holy. In fact, without God's help, it would be impossible.

          • DAVID

            3) What is free will and how do you know you have it?

            Free will is the power that I have to act or not to act. It makes me responsible for my choices. Most particularly, it is my ability to choose between good and evil.

            There is no question as to how I know that I have it. I simply have it. Its a fundamental part of being human. We all have it.

            4) Tumours and parasites can take away our "free will" and your deity is OK with that, so what's the big deal about having a direct experience with her?

            Tumors and parasites do not take away free will. The human body can be compromised to the point that a person does not publicly display it. But they still have it.

            5) Why do I feel like people are just making stuff up to justify their preconceptions and are perfectly OK with that?

            In answering your questions, I've done my best not to make stuff up. I'm telling you things the way they were explained to me.

          • Susan

            There is no question as to how I know that I have it. I simply have it. Its a fundamental part of being human. We all have it.

            There are all kinds of questions, actually. You can't get around them by asserting that it is a fundamental part of being human. It is in no way settled, particularly based on a vague definition.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_will

            Tumors and parasites do not take away free will. The human body can be compromised to the point that a person does not publicly display it. But they still have it

            What is your evidence for that? How does it square with the evidence of neuroscience?

            In answering your questions, I've done my best not to make stuff up. I'm telling you things the way they were explained to me.

            I don't doubt your sincerity.

          • DAVID

            There are all kinds of questions, actually. You can't get around them by asserting that it is a fundamental part of being human.

            What are the questions?

            What is your evidence for that? How does it square with the evidence of neuroscience?

            I guess, here again, I'd throw the ball back in your court. Based on my definition of free will, how do tumors and parasites take away free will? I don't think we've provided evidence that they take it away in the first place.

          • DAVID

            It is in no way settled, particularly based on a vague definition.

            Perhaps we need to settle on a definition with which we can both agree. What would you add to or take away from my definition?

          • Susan

            Perhaps we need to settle on a definition with which we can both agree. What would you add to or take away from my definition?

            It's not that I would add or take away. What does it mean to say that you have the power to act or not to act? What does it mean to say that you are responsible for your choices? Please define "good" and "evil". Every bit of your definition is vague.

            You do realize that there is a tremendous amount of controversy on the subject, don't you? Philosophy has never stopped struggling with it and neuroscience has only made it more difficult to accept statements like "Free will is a fundamental part of being human."

            What does any of that statement MEAN? (You could check the wiki link for starters, to see why that's a problematic assertion.)

            Tumors and parasites do not take away free will.

            Are you suggesting that damage to the brain doesn't impact our choices?

            I'm telling you things the way they were explained to me.

            Did you have ANY questions for the people who "explained" it? For instance, "What do you MEAN?"

            (Sorry for the block caps. The italics are giving me a hard time.)

          • DAVID

            So you won't give me a definition of free will?

          • Susan

            So you won't give me a definition of free will?

            I'm confused. You want me to give you a definition for what?
            Something vague, the existence of which, you claim is a given?
            Don't you have that backwards?

          • DAVID

            If we can't agree on a definition, then we really don't have any basis for discussing it. We would just be talking past one another. So I've nothing more to say. Sorry.

          • Susan

            If we can't agree on a definition, then we really don't have any basis for discussing it.

            Now things are really getting lost, David.
            You made an assertion that a vaguely defined idea exists as a given.
            I pressed you for clarification and pointed you to a link where you should be able to see that your assertion has loads of problems.
            I asked you some key questions to help us understand one another better.
            You ignored the link, ignored the questions and asked me to define an expression that I don't use precisely because I don't find it useful.
            I'm not the brightest bulb in the cutlery drawer but this stuff is basic. You're just avoiding the point entirely.
            What's frustrating is that you will probably make the same incoherent, unevidenced assertion again in some other discussion as though it was a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

          • DAVID

            You ignored the link, ignored the questions and asked me to define an expression that I don't use precisely because I don't find it useful.

            You don't find it useful? Then you must know enough about it to make that judgement. So you must have a definition. Why aren't you sharing your definition with me?

          • Susan

            You don't find it useful?

            No. I don't. I don't know what you mean and you've given no indication that you do, either.

            Then you must know enough about it to make that judgement.

            About what?

            So you must have a definition

            Of what?

          • Max Driffill

            This is exactly right.
            What is meant by free will? What are its parameters? Is it limited? If it is limited in what sense is it free? Pinning people down about what they mean when they use the term free will is as hard as pinning people down about what they mean when they say consciousness.
            In any event free will seems a conceptual mess.

          • Susan

            Pinning people down about what they mean when they use the term free will is as hard as pinning people down about what they mean when they say consciousness.

            That is true.

          • Max Driffill

            David,

            Almost all of what you have said about free will, its qualities and what it means for humans is bald assertion. There is no kinder way to say. How you know any of the things you claim to know about free will and its consequences would be marvelous to hear. There are accolades that await you.

            Free will is the power that I have to act or not to act. It makes me responsible for my choices. Most particularly, it is my ability to choose between good and evil.

            How much choice do you have? In what way could you demonstrate that your choice was free? In what sense is it free? Say you have a choice of fruit, bananas, and blueberries, but you hate bananas, they taste awful to you, and Ray Comfort has forever made you think it is a foolish food? In what way was your choice for blueberries free?

            Can you really chose to do evil or good? Could you commit the acts of Jeffery Dahmer? Ted Bundy? Rob Lifield (look him up, he may be the most evil of the bunch). I somehow doubt that you could inflict such evil on people. That is you aren't really as free to choose as you think you are.

            "There is no question as to how I know that I have it. I simply have it. Its a fundamental part of being human. We all have it."

            I don't understand the confidence with which you assert this. Free will is a very a problematic idea, and one that doesn't seem to work very well. And yet you have insured all these troubling conversations pose no problems for you. What a barrier to insight.

            Again, how would you demonstrate any of these assertions. What is fundamental about it? How do you know you have it? How do you know we all have it?

            "Tumors and parasites do not take away free will. The human body can be compromised to the point that a person does not publicly display it. But they still have it."

            If you really believe what you say in the quote above, an obvious question presents itself immediately. How should this affect our view of certain mental health defenses? It seems like reduced culpability owing to mental/psychological issues must immediately vanish.Though your claim that a "human body can be compromised to the point that a person does not publicly display it [free will]. But they still have it" seems wrong. If a person's body cannot publicly display that person's free will in what sense could they be said to have it?

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            When I was attending Catholic high school, I used to know someone who claimed there was no such thing as free will. He would say things like, "When I woke up on Sunday morning, I just knew I wasn't going to go to church [which, of course, he had a very serious obligation to do], so I just turned off the alarm and went back to sleep." Thoughts?

          • Max Driffill

            David,
            I would certainly caution your friend against such assurance on what remains an open issue. There may be some versions of free will that do work. Dan Dennett and A.C. Grayling have framed some arguments for a version of free will that sounds, to me, compelling, though to be honest I am not sure they are saying anything very different than the folks who don't think free will is anything more than an illusion.

            As to the specifics of your friend's story and what it says about free will I don't know.

            Could he, in that moment, under those circumstances (under the whole suite of influences, biological, psychological, environmental) have made a different choice? If the answer is yes, its hard to know how that might work. Is it random? If it is random how is it free will? How do you establish culpability in making choices if you unhinge decision making from the brain (where all behavior seems to originate after all)

            If starting conditions affect the outcome in what sense are decisions free? Is freedom limited by local conditions?

          • drock2289

            To me, free will is a fundamental experience, like seeing and hearing various sights and sounds. You're right, it's conceivable, as Descartes famously proposed, that some or all of these experiences are illusory, but in practice, it has proven useful to me to regard them as real, so when it comes down to it, I don't believe that the sights and sounds I seem to perceive are hallucinations, or that the free will I seem to exercise is a delusion.

            If you seriously doubt your free will, tell me, how do you conceptualize your interactions with the world without it? Is it even possible? Do you really think of yourself as not making any decisions throughout the day? How do you even conceptualize your Self in the absence of free will? What are you, if not an agent?

            See, denying free will sounds plausible on paper, but when it comes down to what people *really* believe in their daily lives, few to no people actually commit to that personal philosophy.

          • Max Driffill

            drock,
            You haven't addressed a single point I made. But I will try to answer your questions and demonstrate where I have problems with free will as a thing in the world.

            But first I would love it if you would define what you mean by free will. I don't want to be talking past each other, which is all to easy to do where the ill defined, slippery concept of free will comes up.

          • drock2289

            Well, I suppose my concept of "free will" derives from the fundamental perception that I am a self--I am something more than the sum of my karma, contrary to the assertions of the Buddha. I perceive that this self has the ability to conceptualize alternative courses of action and then select one of them to carry out. This capacity I call "will". Now, if these choices were fully "pre-determined", I could make no sense of my perception of possible alternative futures, and of the self selecting one of them. Does this make predetermination impossible? Of course not, just as it's possible that my perception of my body is a hallucination, or something. But I can only base my conception of the universe on the experiences that are presented to my consciousness, and thus I come to the working conclusion that my will is, in some manner, not fully governed by external influences--that is, that it is a Cause in its own right, fundamentally participating in the creation of the universe, which would be my definition of "free will".

            Let me know what you think of that, and also shoot me your own definition of the conept (even if you don't hold to it, or claim not to--I still maintain that it's impossible for the human psyche to function without, at some level, believing in its own agency.

          • drock2289

            As to your previous points:

            (1) I do not claim that the will is fully or always free (not sure whether that's what DAVID was asserting). My physical preference for blueberries over bananas influences me strongly--blueberries are quite delicious--but in the end, as I discussed above, I don't think that it completely prevents me from eating a banana in the same sense that, say, a locked box around the bananas would.

            (2) You seem to be asking how I validate my perception of free will. Once again, I analogize it to seeing the color blue--fundamentally, I can't "validate" my experiences. I can only receive them, think about them, and act based on them. (I don't know what his definition of fundamental is, and I would agree that I can't even know that you are anything more than an illusion, let alone that "we all" have free will.)

            (3) Hmm, now this is almost getting into the question of life after death. I...am still developing my thoughts on this subject, but at the moment, I tend to hold that, without the physical brain, the metaphysical Self I posited in the previous comment, whatever its nature, loses much of its capacity to function, at best. At worst, we seem to lose what we would refer to as our identity when appropriate parts of the brain are destroyed, leading me to ponder whether one's free will could survive one's identity...not even sure if that makes sense. I'm just thinking out loud now. Alright I'll let you respond.

          • Max Driffill

            Drock,
            And here let us plunge into the murk of this concept:

            Well, I suppose my concept of "free will" derives from the fundamental perception that I am a self--

            These are separate things. I can be a self (though strictly speaking this may be something of an illusion of cohesion created by parallel processing in the brain-but we needn't let that bother us here). Being a self, and individual, doesn't tell us how robust our freedoms are with regards to our choices.

            Consider the factors that make you a self, that govern your sense of I. You are a suite of preferences, and tastes that form the pattern of your personality and its type. This state of affairs was prescribed by a complicated interaction of your biology and your environment. Your day to day preferences can oscillate and shift your preferences owing to a host of factors that affect your neurology. Drink to much, the way you weight risk vs reward shifts, inhibitions drop and the kinds of choices you are willing to make change. The degree to which your preferences and personality shift and for how long are dependent on the severity and intensity of the alteration to your neurology.

            The host of possible choices you can make in a day is filtered through this complicated sieve of your preferences (which are not wholly static). And any set of choices will be weighed against a host of wants and desires, and compared via one's personal assessment of risk/reward. Choices will be made based on these weightings. Many of these calculations we may not even be privy too and may happen beneath our conscious awareness.

            I don't have a definition of free will because i think the concept is a mess. I don't think we are all that free, but that we do make choices based on a complicated system of preference and wants and desires vs goals and consequences. Whatever freedom we have is not a robust limitless freedom. How could it be? We are biological creatures with a complicated suite of wants and goals and ways we assess risk vs reward.
            Here are some things for you to mull over while you think of free will.
            I would not make the same decisions as Evil Kenevil. In fact I could not. I am afraid of heights and am rubbish on a motorcycle. In what sense have I chosen not to be a daredevil?

            I could not murder my kids. The thought fills me with dread, and revulsion. Even thinking about terror in their eyes makes me queasy. I could not chose to murder them. In what sense is my choice free? It isn't even an option to my mind as it currently exists.

            I cannot choose to believe in God. The evidence isn't compelling. I cannot make myself believe something which I hold to be false. I bring this up because often among believers there is the idea that people can choose to believe things rather than belief being a consequence of compulsion by evidence.

            In what sense am I free in a robust sense of that word to choose?

            In my choice to skip a Coke and take unsweetened tea or water am I exhibiting freedom? Or am I really just voicing what has become a more important want. The choice between Coke and water or tea is choice between wants and goals. For whatever reason, of late my desire to have greater fitness is weighted more heavily than the desire to satisfy my sweet tooth. Am I choosing or are my wants and desires choosing?

          • DAVID

            Could you commit the acts of Jeffery Dahmer? Ted Bundy? Rob Lifield (look him up, he may be the most evil of the bunch). I somehow doubt that you could inflict such evil on people. That is you aren't really as free to choose as you think you are.

            To say that for me, or for anyone else, it is strictly impossible to commit serial murder is not true. I am very glad that I do not want to do that. But the operative term is here is "want." Since I do not want to do it, I choose not to do it. But if I did want to do it, I see no barrier to the possibility that I might choose it as well. Its not as if I am constitutionally incapable.

            Again, how would you demonstrate any of these assertions. What is fundamental about it? How do you know you have it? How do you know we all have it?

            It is fundamental because, from the start of the day to the end, I find myself routinely making choices. Many of them are not big choices. Some of the choices are fairly rote. But the fact that I make choices is obvious and undeniable. If you really want to question free will, you are going to have to abolish the definition of the word "choice."

            How should this affect our view of certain mental health defenses? It seems like reduced culpability owing to mental/psychological issues must immediately vanish.

            It doesn't affect our view. A person still has free will, even if their culpability is reduced by circumstances such as psychological issues. I never said that free will cannot be compromised in certain situations. It would be very extreme to eliminate free will just because we can observe it weakened in certain cases.

          • Max Driffill

            David

            Again, I am not seeing a very robust freedom here.

            You claim:

            To say that for me, or for anyone else, it is strictly impossible to commit serial murder is not true.

            Where did I say it was strictly impossible? I

            I am very glad that I do not want to do that. But the operative term is here is "want." Since I do not want to do it, I choose not to do it.

            Wait. Think about wants: do you really have any choice in your wants? If you do not want to do it, in what way are you choosing not to do it? Since you do not want to do it, it isn't really a behavioral option. How often do you pass people in the day and think, My goodness, nothing would be better than chopping up that person and breaking out a nice wine and some beans?" If you are not thinking about it, you are not choosing among options. There are, at any moment, an uncountable number of behavioral options available to human beings. Too many for any one brain to sit around choosing among and still be able to accomplish things (wants) during a day. Luckily our biology and our environment limit the input through sieves of preferences, desires and wants and a prediction of outcomes among this very much limited group of choices.

            But if I did want to do it, I see no barrier to the possibility that I might choose it as well. Its not as if I am constitutionally incapable

            Nor did I say you were. But if your wants change this will likely be because the starting conditions in your brain (the sieve through which you filter a great number of choices to a few) have changed. If your psychology has changed and altered your wants (this can happen for any number of reasons) then a new, though limited, suite of options arise. Again though, any decision you make will be filtered through a host of preferences, risk/reward predictions etc. How free are you when all of these things that are not with in your conscious control are through? My guess is not free enough to warrant imagining a very robust freedom.

            It is fundamental because, from the start of the day to the end, I find myself routinely making choices.

            This is not really my problem with the term free will. My problem is with our use of the word free.

            When I choose to forgo a Coke and drink a water instead I am not sure how free I can say that choice was. In what sense was I free to choose the other option? If Coke just wasn't appealing to me in that moment, I am not sure I could chose it. Note that I didn't even mention the Mountain Dew because it is never an option. I simply hate the stuff. That isn't a choice. I'm not choosing to dislike Mountain Dew, and thus remove it from any decision tree. My biology and psychology (a function of my biology and the environment) have done that for me.

            Many of them are not big choices. Some of the choices are fairly rote. But the fact that I make choices is obvious and undeniable. If you really want to question free will, then you must be ready to abolish the definition of the word "choice.

            In what way are you making free choices? How does the muddy concept of free will help you understand the how and why of your choice making? You seem to choose things throughout your day, I agree. How free those choices are is what I would say is at issue. I just don't think it is a very robust freedom. In fact I am not sure freedom is the right word at all. It may be but it will have to pared down greatly from the sense it is often employed by theologians and some philosophers. It is not total freedom.

            The reason for this is that any choices we make will be limited by a host of preferences, and contingencies which we don't control.

            Do you skip a work out or not skip a work out? You may think you are free to make a choice here but are you? What factors will affect this choice? Perhaps you are a professional athlete, and value the quality of life that accords you? These values are a given, they are not things you can take or leave or change with ease. This amounts to an internal pressure to favor a certain course of action. Maybe you already had to miss a workout the day before (the pressure mounts). You hate feeling like crap when you miss a work out. You decide to go. Somedays you may be willing to feel okay about missing a work out and you may decide to skip. But in all these cases there are series of psychological weightings, many of which I would imagine we aren't even privy to they happen so fast (indeed this is what neuroscience demonstrates) that affect our courses of action.

            How free are we then in our choices?

            If our biology and environment have limited and prescribed our preferences and personality and day to day changes in our hormones affect our neurology, subtly tweaking these preferences? WHat about the way chemicals affect our preferences?

            Consider the way alcohol or steroids affect a person's decision tree and the way they weight outcomes. Does the person have free will?

            I think free will is perhaps the problem. Its a terribly term freighted with both excessive ambiguity, and, perhaps paradoxically, excessive meaning, but lacking useful content.

          • DAVID

            It is true that free will is not "free" in the sense of being completely independent. Free will depends on rationality. Our intellect distinguishes between what is good for us and what is bad for us. The natural inclination of free will is to choose in favor of what our intellect has revealed to be good for us. Biological considerations would necessarily be factored into considerations of good and bad.

            But biology, environment, and our "wants" are not the only considerations which cause us to choose. A nicotine addict, for example, very likely has biology, environment, and "wants" working against him/her. It was probably biology (a predisposition for addiction), environment (friends and relatives who smoke), and "wants" (the pleasure of the nicotine fix), which contributed to the addiction in the first place. Nonetheless, the addict can still reason that the addiction is "bad." And, of course, it is possible for the addict to quit. Its not easy, but it is possible. In my opinion, this would be a good example of rationality overruling biology, environment, and desires.

          • Andre Boillot

            If I gave you 5 minutes to name your top-five movies or songs, do you think your mind could adequately sift through all the songs / movies you'd ever experienced to allow you to come up with your top-five? What if I gave you an hour? 2? A day? Week? Lifetime?

            I think it's a safe assumption that many people would require quite a bit of time to answer this question - about a topic of relatively little import. Now consider choices of much greater import that need to be made in much less time. I think there's much more affecting how we make choices than the factors you list here.

          • DAVID

            There are more factors, I think. Memory plays a role in making freewill choices. But these are factors which we share in common with other animals that don't have free will. The reason that they don't have free will is because they are not rational animals like we are. So I would still maintain that rationality is the key factor for having it.

            But I think that your point really gets at a different question: are free will decisions easy to make and do we make them without mistakes. The answer to that is emphatically no and no. We're always prone to have difficulties and to make mistakes.

          • Max Driffill

            David,

            The more you clarify this concept of free will the less useful it seems to be for Catholic theology.

            It is true that free will is not "free" in the sense of being completely independent. Free will depends on rationality.

            Why does this make sense to you? Free will depending on rationality? How can this possibly be? Do non-rational human minds, the minds of children, the developmentally disabled, the minds enfeebled by old age not have free will? If a person's inhibitory neurology is somehow damaged can they still be said to have free will?

            Also If choices are constrained, whatever they are, they are not free. I went to the gym, was this a free choice? In some banal sense I suppose it was. But my psychology severely limits my ability choose a different option. There were certainly other options available, I could have stayed home and eaten some Cheetos and consumed Dr. Pepper. However this wasn't a real choice. My desire and want to be healthy simply eclipse these other possibilities. It wasn't even something I thought about. Simply because other options are available in principle doesn't mean an agent is actively choosing among these options.

            Our intellect distinguishes between what is good for us and what is bad for us. The natural inclination of free will is to choose in favor of what our intellect has revealed to be good for us. Biological considerations would necessarily be factored into considerations of good and bad.

            I'm not sure any of these assumptions are justified. This certainly doesn't seem to reflect the way humans actually think about things. Also I am not sure we use phrases like the natural inclination of free will... because again you are assuming that which you have yet to prove.

            Intellect. What do you mean by this? You have introduced yet another term that doesn't really mean anything.

            Our brains are constantly modeling the world, examining input and predicting outcomes of various interactions (of import to individuals). How particular humans focus on the world, and its options will hinge on a large number of factors, that have affected the developmental particulars of their personality and their psychology (including key things like the way people assess risk v reward, values). Also, some values of good and bad are going to be different for different people. I value, for reasons I don't fully understand, being very good at Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. This means I make a lot of extra time in my schedule for training. My friends (whom I have attempted to introduce to this art) who don't share this passion aren't choosing not to come to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I brought them to class, but it was never a real option, never a real choice for them they were not interested, and it didn't register as a good. Of course they are objectively wrong about this ;). In any event the aggregate of their experience, biology, personality, and psychology have brought them to a point where Brazilian Jiu Jitsu just isn't an option. Are they choosing? Consciously?

            Almost any course of action will be filtered through that sieve of biology, personality, psychology. These aren't choices so much as a limited set of courses of action butting up against parameters stored in our brain.

            But biology, environment, and our "wants" are not the only considerations which cause us to choose. A nicotine addict, for example, very likely has biology, environment, and "wants" working against him/her. It was probably biology (a predisposition for addiction), environment (friends and relatives who smoke), and "wants" (the pleasure of the nicotine fix), which contributed to the addiction in the first place. Nonetheless, the addict can still reason that the addiction is "bad." And, of course, it is possible for the addict to quit. Its not easy, but it is possible. In my opinion, this would be a good example of rationality overruling biology, environment, and desires.

            I reasoned, correctly for about five years that smoking was bad for me, and did not quit. It was only after my wants and values changed in a way that outweighed the pleasures of smoking was I able to quit. The evidence that smoking was bad certainly contributed to my course of action, but there was also an underlying change in my wants, and desires (my psychology) that changed the way my brain weighted options. Even here though I am lucky because no one in my family had much trouble quitting smoking, or are possessed of addictive personality types which is again a function of our biology and development. The drugs themselves often change the patterns of neural activity in ways that reinforce habits and addictions.

          • DAVID

            Free will depending on rationality? How can this possibly be?

            I am going to use the word "intellect" to mean the rational capability of understanding things. Think of intellect and will as a car driving at night. The intellect is the headlights which allow you to see what's in front of you. The will is the steering wheel. Based on what you observe with your intellect, you can "steer" your actions with the will. The two work together.

            Do non-rational human minds, the minds of children, the developmentally disabled, the minds enfeebled by old age not have free will? If a person's inhibitory neurology is somehow damaged can they still be said to have free will?

            There is no such thing as a non-rational human mind. A human mind, by definition is rational. Therefore, the disabled, the enfeebled, and small children have it. This is where Catholic thought particularly comes to bare on these ideas; but not just Catholic thought, also Aristotelian philosophy.

            The essence of a human can be defined as a rational animal. To slightly rephrase it: to be human is to have rationality as part of your essence. But a distinction can be made as to whether a person possesses this rationality as a potential or as an actuality. But no human being, at all, does not possess the potential for rationality. This potential is part of our inherent dignity.

            Also If choices are constrained, whatever they are, they are not free.

            Keep in mind that my bare bones definition of free will is pretty modest: the choice to act or not to act. I'm not so interested as to whether the choice to go to the gym is particularly interesting. I'm just happy to assert that you did, in fact, have the choice to go or not to go. Also, let's be honest: sometimes life does present us with some very interesting choices indeed.

            Also I am not sure we use phrases like the natural inclination of free will... because again you are assuming that which you have yet to prove.

            At this point, it seems better to flesh out the concept before attempting to prove it. For the moment, I'll be happy if I succeed at that.

            Intellect. What do you mean by this? You have introduced yet another term that doesn't really mean anything.

            I won't insist on using that term. "Intelligence" will work.

            Also, some values of good and bad are going to be different for different people.

            The term "values" is highly problematic for the concept which I'm describing; particularly values which are "different for different people." I'm thinking in terms of objective truth, in relation to which some things are objectively good and other things are objectively bad. For this reason, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which certainly can be good, is partly a matter of taste. It doesn't matter if everyone does it or not. However, everyone must understand whether cold-blooded murder is right or wrong. That's the type of issue which our intelligence must grasp. We must decide to act or not to act in such a fashion.

            All of us, as rational animals, have the potential to distinguish between what is objectively good and bad. That doesn't mean its always easy to do. Neither does it mean that we have all actualized our potential to do it. But, to the extent that our potential becomes actual, we will inevitably do it.

            Almost any course of action will be filtered through that sieve of biology, personality, psychology. These aren't choices so much as a limited set of courses of action butting up against parameters stored in our brain.

            Here, too, I'm going to make a Catholic distinction. The soul is the unifying principle of the human person, both at the biological level and the psychological level. But human psychology involves an aspect of the soul which is irreducibly spiritual and does not rely on matter for its proper expression, such as human biology does. Therefore, there is an element of a person's psychology which transcends the brain. When a person is judging between right and wrong, they are engaging in an activity which is not inherently dominated by the physical laws of nature. Biological determinism isn't at work here.

          • Max Driffill

            David,

            We can dispense with conversations of the soul until such time as souls are demonstrated. The soul is a useless concept until then. Words like intellect and will are useless too. The processes you attribute to your words take place in human brains. There is no will module in the brain.

            There is no such thing as a non-rational human mind. A human mind, by definition is rational. Therefore, the disabled, the enfeebled, and small children have it. This is where Catholic thought particularly comes to bare on these ideas; but not just Catholic thought, also Aristotelian philosophy.

            How could you demonstrate this to me? Have you ever spoken to a person with paranoid schizophrenia? These are decidedly non-rational minds, coupled with sensory equipment that reliably betrays them. So I will simply disagree with you on this point, until you can demonstrate it.

            The essence of a human can be defined as a rational animal.

            This would be a terrible definition because it flouts everything we know about human psychology. Humans are not the most rational of animals. There is a vast literature on this, we just aren't that rational about a host of our actions.

            To slightly rephrase it: to be human is to have rationality as part of your essence. But a distinction can be made as to whether a person possesses this rationality as a potential or as an actuality. But no human being, at all, does not possess the potential for rationality. This potential is part of our inherent dignity.

            Actually, a foetus suffering from anencephaly has no potential for rationality of any kind. Humans are a sometimes rational ape, and only if they work hard at it.

            Keep in mind that my bare bones definition of free will is pretty modest: the choice to act or not to act. I'm not so interested as to whether the choice to go to the gym is particularly interesting.

            Then what on earth can you be interested in? I am suggesting that there was not really much of a choice given the circumstances of the day (my mood, opportunity etc). Not going did not factor in. It wasn't a choice in the sense I think you mean.

            I'm just happy to assert that you did, in fact, have the choice to go or not to go. Also, let's be honest: sometimes life does present us with some very interesting choices indeed.

            Life presents a nearly infinite number of possible courses of action. Most of which are ignored by our brains (where decision making occurs) and our brains examine among options and run those options against our wants and desires.

            Most of the time it looks like the choices we make are constrained by who we are and this is a function of our biology (which via genes and developmental processes shaped our personality and psychology) and day to day shifts in our hormones that affect the course of action we take.

            The term "values" is highly problematic for the concept which I'm describing; particularly values which are "different for different people." I'm thinking in terms of objective truth, in relation to which some things are objectively good and other things are objectively bad. For this reason, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which certainly can be good, is partly a matter of taste. It doesn't matter if everyone does it or not. However, everyone must understand whether cold-blooded murder is right or wrong. That's the type of issue which our intelligence must grasp. We must decide to act or not to act in such a fashion.

            Do you really decide to not commit cold blooded murder every single day? I know I don't. I don't think I have ever given the idea of cold blooded murder a moment of serious thought in my life. Can I be said to have chosen not to murder? I don't think so. Decisions are made, it appears at the level of the brain and we don't make these decisions willy nilly. They are a function of our interests, our wants and our desires.

            Is murder always objectively a moral wrong? What if you knew that a person in your neighborhood was a serial killer, but their political power and vast bank account would ensure they were never brought to justice. Would it be morally evil to remove them (in the most humane way possible say) from the world? I don't have answer here. I think it is a particularly troubling kind of question. Is the Batman morally in the right in his ethical stance (he won't kill anyone). Is he at all responsible for all the people the Joker has killed? Should George have shot Lenny? Again, I am not sure there is a correct answer here.

            All of us, as rational animals, have the potential to distinguish between what is objectively good and bad. That doesn't mean its always easy to do. Neither does it mean that we have all actualized our potential to do it. But, to the extent that our potential becomes actual, we will inevitably do it.

            Could you provide some concrete examples of this?

            Here, too, I'm going to make a Catholic distinction. The soul is the unifying principle of the human person, both at the biological level and the psychological level. But human psychology involves an aspect of the soul which is irreducibly spiritual and does not rely on matter for its proper expression, such as human biology does. Therefore, there is an element of a person's psychology which transcends the brain. When a person is judging between right and wrong, they are engaging in an activity which is not inherently dominated by the physical laws of nature. Biological determinism isn't at work here.

            Sorry this is a move you cannot make until you have done the rigorous work of establishing there is a soul and that an immaterial thing can interact with a material thing. And to do this is to have quite a bit of work a head of you. Because there is simply no reason, as yet to look beyond the matter of brain.

          • DAVID

            Max, it would seem, at this point, that I've given an overview of the Catholic position of free will. Judging from your response, you are ready to move on and have someone prove it to you. I'm going to excuse myself from that task as I think there are other people on this website who are more capable of that.

            Thanks!

          • Max Driffill

            If you are going to make myriad assertions that flout what we know it seems like you should be required, at minimum to demonstrate that what you are saying about human nature has relevance to the lives of people who don't accept Catholic authority on these matters. That requires evidence.

          • DAVID

            My knowledge on free will is more encyclopedic than philosophic. If you have any questions which don't require proofs, then please ask.

          • Susan

            My knowledge on free will is more encyclopedic than philosophic. If you have any questions which don't require proofs, then please ask.

            I'm trying to understand what you mean by that.

            Max didn't ask you for proofs. He said that you should be required to produce evidence for a myriad of so far unevidenced assertions.

            What do you mean that your knowledge is encyclopedic?

          • DAVID

            There's one other thing that strikes me about the mental health defense. From what I understand, the mental health defense does not presume that the person in question was not capable of making a choice. Instead, it is presumed that the person was not capable of understanding the consequences of the choice that he/she made. The person is still understood to have free will.

          • primenumbers

            "theodicy and miracles do not contradict" - so why do we not see miraculous interventions to stop evil?

          • BenS

            But God plays fair.

            Like hell he does. You said in just the previous paragraph that sin has dimmed our capacity for understanding. I didn't eat that apple. I didn't ask him to allow the 'Enemy' to throw sand in my eyes. And yet my capacity for understanding is dimmed so as to make it even harder for me to find the truth that he's not making clearly visible?

            Not only does god play dice - the dice are loaded.

            For Him, what matters most is our *sincere desire to find the truth.*

            Why, then, did he not reveal himself to me when I was young and really, honestly - and with a sincerity I now look back on with raised eyebrows - begged him to.

            Why am I going to hell because he couldn't be arsed to reveal himself in a conclusive manner?

    • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

      prime, you say:

      "Interesting story, but it fails to address the issue that such personal religious conversion experiences have been occurring throughout history and will all the various different religions."

      Bracketing the question of whether these different religious perspective prove any specific deity, wouldn't you agree that they overwhelmingly support the idea that some transcendent reality exists?

      The fact that many different people, from many different religions, have many experiences of something beyond this world should be a sign that there really is something beyond this world, even if most of those people experience that reality partially or erroneously.

      • primenumbers

        "wouldn't you agree that they overwhelmingly support the idea that some transcendent reality exists?" - no more so than the imaginative writings of JKR show magic is real, or the imaginative writings of Niven and Pournelle make aliens real. I think you could think it supports a belief in a transcendent reality if you're already pre-disposed to belief in a transcendent reality. If you're not, then where this idea of religious experience points is in a very different direction. Where you see it pointing is probably more to do with your existing beliefs than anything that can be rationally determined from the data, that being that people have religious experiences. I think the most honest answer would be "I have no idea where this data points"

        • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

          "no more so than the imaginative writings of JKR show magic is real, or the imaginative writings of Niven and Pournelle make aliens real."

          I don't see how this is analogous to billions of people claiming to have personal experiences of transcendent realities.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            To clarify, and using your own examples, if billions of people claimed to have visited Hogwarts or if billions of people claimed to have had interactions with alien lifeforms, I think most reasonable people would embrace the possibility that there might be something there.

          • primenumbers

            There's been more than enough people who have indeed claimed to have encounters with aliens. Not billions, but enough to show the point.

            One night I had a dream I was on the spaceship Liberator, but all that means to me is that I'd watched too many episodes of Blake's 7. I've never had a dream of being at Hogwarts, fortunately (or unfortunately, depending).

            We can accept that people have vivid experiences that feel very real to them. That is not in doubt. What we infer from those experiences is, to the best of my knowledge that people have vivid experiences. To go beyond that to suggest that the vivid experience is somehow real or represents knowledge of a transcendent reality is trying to get more out of the data than it contains. Similarly, that I dismiss such experiences as the power of human imagination is to only offer a valid (although unproven) explanation, and my best response therefore is - we really just don't know what these experiences mean, if they mean anything at all.

          • cowalker

            Just another anecdote here, but my father (a born, raised and still practicing Catholic) had a very serious heart attack. On the way to the hospital he saw a shining landscape that he described as looking like the afterlife as pictured in the movie shown to tourists at the Mormon temple in Salt Lake City. He questioned a heart specialist about what he saw and the doctor said it was a visual anomaly caused by the draining of blood from the retinas. The whole experience had no effect one way or the other on my father's faith, which remained sort of lukewarm--obey the rules but don't expend more time, energy or money than required by the letter of the law.

            My father had already been through more than one medical crisis, though none so dangerous and acute. He was an engineer, and is the epitome of the self-controlled pragmatist who keeps evaluating his options while under great stress. I'm sure one's temperament plays a huge role in how one interprets an experience such as a heart attack and its aftermath.

            From what I've read about the brain and meditation, the experience of transcendant reality is a physiological experience which is then "explained" by the intellect in terms of the person's knowledge. Which is probably why Mr. Wright was not converted to Buddhism or Islam.

            Sid Collins

          • primenumbers

            The point is that people in general have really really good imaginations. And people imagine rather more than just religious experiences - we all know how powerful, scary and life changing our dreams can be. As I mention, you see religious experience as a sign of the transcendent, I see it as the power of human imagination, but most likely, we really just don't know.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            Personally, I just think the data is overwhelming. In what other area would we discount billions of bits of evidence that all attest to and agree upon a particular truth (in this case, the existence of transcendent realities)?

          • primenumbers

            Billions of vivid experiences attest the existence of vivid experiences. The don't attest to more than that, unless you're predisposed to an answer that isn't actually contained in the data you're presenting as evidence.

          • epeeist

            Billions of vivid experiences attest the existence of vivid experiences.

            Exactly, people don't experience god. They have an experience and infer god (the actual one being dependent on their location and social background), or aliens, ghosts, great spirits...

          • http://nolscuriosity.wordpress.com/ Nolan

            Here are some possibilities, some of which I put down on another comment:

            1. Optical illusions- billions misinterpret reality in similar, systematically biased ways.
            2. Sun/stars go around the earth. Luckily, we've falsified that with outside data, but the vast majority of people historically have believed that (don't know if that adds up to billions, but I think it's a fair point).
            3. Belief that one is a better driver/ a more intelligent person, etc, than average. This is widely believed, but impossible to be true.
            4. Belief that memory works something like a video recorder, when in fact it is more constructive than reproductive.
            5. The belief that we have color vision in the periphery of our vision. We don't. It just feels that way because of how our brains construct reality.

            That's off the top of my head. There are a lot of other weird vision things that I could have listed. But the fact is, we have some systematic biases, of which this transcendental belief (not that sure it's what you make it out to be) very well may be an example. We need to have independent verification to have any confidence it is not a mental illusion similar to an optical illusion.

          • Phil Rimmer

            There is an overwhelming amount of evidence accumulating for why these vivid experiences exist and what the mechanisms for their generation and cultural use may be.

            Watch the Robert Sapolsky lectures at Stanford for some background on why we pay attention to these things and follow the lead of prolific experiencers-

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctTsnTHk6Uw

            If you're interested in the commonplace reasons of why we all experience some of this we can move on to that later.

          • Andre Boillot

            "I don't see how this is analogous to billions of people claiming to have personal experiences of transcendent realities."

            Wait, what are we setting the bar for personal experience of the transcendent (and what do we mean by transcendent) that gets us to billions of people?

            There are innumerable accounts of people on hallucinogenics, are we to take their experiences - many which are very similar to this account - as signs of something beyond this world?

          • Sample1

            jinx

          • Sample1

            billions of people claiming to have personal experiences of transcendent realities.

            1. Billions of people claiming to have personal experiences does not at all mean that there is a homogeneity of thought about those experiences.

            2. Transcendent realities. How is that that two-word phrase is not just arguing for an undeserved universal, homogenous placeholder for what you claim to be transcendent?

            Mike

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            Prime, Andre, and Sample, you all three seem to share the same confusion so I'll respond in one comment:

            Sample says: "Billions of people claiming to have personal experiences does not at all mean that there is a homogeneity of thought about those experiences."

            I agree, and I never said that. You've simply built a straw man.

            What I did say is that even though their religious experiences differ in some ways, what billions of people *do* agree on is that they've had contact with transcendent realities.

            By "transcendent realities", I mean some thing or person which transcends the natural world--something outside of space and time. Billions of people have claimed to experienced something transcendent, something beyond our universe. That's a huge collection of evidence.

            Andre says: "There are innumerable accounts of people on hallucinogenics, are we to take their experiences - many which are very similar to this account - as signs of something beyond this world?"

            I don't think there are "innumerable" accounts of people on hallucinogenics, much less "innumerable" accounts which are indistinguishable from religious claims.

            I challenge you, Andre, to provide evidence that the number of hallucinogenics is anywhere near the billions of people around the world who claim to experience transcendent realities. (I'm guessing you'd be hard-pressed to even find a million.)

            Prime says: "Billions of vivid experiences attest the existence of vivid experiences."

            First, I'm not sure what you mean by "vivid experiences." That's incredibly vague. What I asserted is not vague, however. I said that billions of people have had experiences with transcendent realities--I mean they encountered something beyond space and time. Those billions of points of data overwhelmingly support the idea that something beyond space and time exists. If you think there is equally strong evidence to counter those billions of claims, I'd certainly be interested to see it.

          • Andre Boillot

            Brandon,

            As is the fad on this site:

            INNUMERABLE

            : too many to be numbered : countless; also : very many

            http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/innumerable

            I find in it no numerical threshold that need be met.

            "I challenge you, Andre, to provide evidence that the number of hallucinogenics is anywhere near the billions of people around the world who claim to experience transcendent realities."

            Brandon, did I miss the post where you provided evidence that: "billions of people have had experiences with transcendent realities"?

            "I'm guessing you'd be hard-pressed to even find a million"

            I can be exceedingly lazy at times, so you might well be correct. Leaving aside that hallucinogenics are illegal in many parts of the world that care about scientific research, do you discount that, throughout history, very many people have had hallucinogenic experiences? What are we to make of these experiences?

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            Andre: There are 3.6 billion Christians and Muslims in the world, and nearly all of them claim to have had some encounter with a transcendent reality--what they would call "God."

            There are another billion who practice variants of Eastern mysticism, and most of them would also claim to have experienced something beyond space and time.

            Do you doubt this?

          • http://nolscuriosity.wordpress.com/ Nolan

            When I was a believer, I thought I had contact with God through prayer, but it was not a transcendental experience in any way. The only reason I had to think of God as transcending the natural universe would be that other people told me that was his nature.

            Similarly, I'm not aware of that many people who have had actual transcendental experiences. They have had mundane experience that tradition says is from a transcendental source. I feel that the attempt to claim the billions of religious believers as evidence of a reality beyond space and time is a severe over-reach.

          • Andre Boillot

            "Do you doubt this?"

            Did you see me doubt this?

            You balked at the claim that loads of people have had hallucinogenic experiences and reflexively demanded proof. Do you doubt that there have been millions of hallucinogenic experiences? Or do you just doubt that I can provide references for the accounts of these experiences?

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            Brandon,

            My wife was in regular attendance at a large Episcopalian church from "when I was a very little girl" until about the age of 27. Including Sunday school and a Christian singles group.

            Last night I asked her if she, or any of her family, or any of her friends at church ever had, or mentioned having, a personal experience of communication with the divine.

            After some thought, she said "I can think of two". A few minutes later, she said "Maybe a third, I'm not sure".

            One data point is not generalizable, but yes, I am going to call you out on "nearly all of them claim".

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            I said that billions of people have had experiences with transcendent realities--I mean they encountered something beyond space and time.

            I am not sure exactly what you mean here. Certainly billions of people have not had experiences like John C. Wright. Are you talking about people having "religious" experiences? Feeling the presence of God? Or some other god, or some demon? Whatever it is, we don't have the collected testimony of billions of people. It is not something that could be used anywhere as evidence (say in a social science paper).

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            I'll repeat what I said to Andre below:

            There are 3.6 billion Christians and Muslims in the world, and nearly all of them claim to have had some encounter with a transcendent reality--with what they would call "God."

            There are another billion who practice variants of Eastern mysticism, and most of them would also claim to have experienced something beyond space and time.

            All of these billions of points of data, which collectively point to a transcendent reality beyond space and time, are difficult to dismiss unless you have an equal or stronger bit of evidence.

            Do you? Show me the evidence.

          • Andre Boillot

            "nearly all of them claim to have had some encounter with a transcendent reality"

            "claim to have experienced something beyond space and time"

            You've just summarized every trip I've ever had described to me.

            "All of these billions of points of data, which collectively point to a transcendent reality beyond space and time, are difficult to dismiss unless you have an equal or stronger bit of evidence."

            I don't think anyone is dismissing the points of data, we're dismissing the conclusion you draw from it, in light of all the many ways one can come to have an "encounter with a transcendent reality". I mean, hell, a good whisky does that for me.

          • ZenDruid

            I can't help wondering... How many children in the world have or have had transcendent monsters under their beds?

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            I do not doubt for a minute that huge numbers of people believe they experience some kind of transcendent reality. But that does not in any way prove the existence of what they believe in. The fact that so many claim to have the truth, when the various versions they profess to believe are so different seems to me to suggest that the transcendent reality itself may not be real, or at least may not actually be being perceived.

            All of these billions of points of data, which collectively point to a transcendent reality beyond space and time, are difficult to dismiss . . .

            I would hardly call them "data points." I also don't know that people who feel they are experiencing something transcendent would identify it as a reality "beyond space and time." I would guess that most Catholics have a mental picture of God within space (up!) and time.

            If it could be shown that billions of people had a deep sense that there was no transcendent reality beyond space and time, I am sure the theist here would say things like, "Truth isn't determined by how many people believe things."

            I think there are the beginnings of an argument here. If cross-cultural studies show striking similarities in the kind of things people from different cultures claim to perceive, that might say something about what's really out there. If all people who had near-death experiences claimed to see a woman in a blue dress who invited them to come in and be with her and her son, that would be very interesting. But if they all had experiences that could be traced to their particular cultural or religious backgrounds, it would be (in my opinion) and indication that there is something in the brain that causes different people to have experiences that are similar in nature but that differ in content.

          • drock2289

            I mean, it's possible that your explanation of these data is correct, Brandon, but alternative explanations can also be proposed.

            It seems plausible, for example, that the experience of a transcendent reality would be beneficial from an evolutionary standpoint, as it encourages adherence to a religion, which in turn increases societal cohesion and makes the members of that society more likely to thrive and spread. Thus, the tendency to have them would be naturally selected for, and would become widespread, without any transcendent reality ever having to exist at all.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            What we do note is that however many of those 2.1 billion Christians who experience a transcendent reality believe themselves to experience a Christian transcendent reality, and however many of those 1.5 billion Muslims who experience a transcendent reality believe themselves to experience a Muslim transcendent reality. So if that transcendent reality is the reality of the Triune Christian God, the Muslims never perceive it accurately enough to perceive it is not the reality of Allah. And vice versa. So what exactly are they experiencing? Perhaps a feeling with no content.

            When adherents of religion X pray to the god of religion X, and adherents of religion Y pray to the god of religion Y, if X is the true god, it seems god X never says to adherents of religion Y, "You are mistaken about who I am. I am actually the God of religion X. From now on don't address yourselves to God Y. There's only one of us, and you're praying to the one who doesn't exist."

          • Randy Gritter

            You are right. God does not say that. That is interesting but is the only explanation for what He does not say that is because He does not exist? If we pray to God for forgiveness and healing and God fails to respond with a theology lesson, does that prove He does not exist? The fact that He responds at all seems to indicate the opposite.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            I am not an atheist. A great deal of the time I am not even an agnostic. Some of the time, I may even think of myself as a Catholic. I may have biases, and some of them are no doubt pretty strong, but I like to think I can be persuaded by a solid argument. What bothers me is people, be they atheists or Catholics, who are absolutely certain of their own position and think their arguments are so convincing that they believe you are either stupid, ignorant, or evil if you don't agree with them.

          • Max Driffill

            Brandon,

            "There are another billion who practice variants of Eastern mysticism, and most of them would also claim to have experienced something beyond space and time."

            Would they? I am not so sure.

            Those aren't points of data at least not about what it is these people think they are in contact with.

            For hundreds of thousands of years the experience of most people was that the Earth did not move, and that the stars and the moon and the sun (no one knew it was a star) revolved around Earth. Subjectively their interpretation of their experience made a great deal of sense. This said nothing to most people about actual reality.

            To most people organisms seem to fit into an ideal form and are not characterized by broad variation in form and behavior.

            That many people believe a thing doesn't make it so. Or even likely.

            Many of these transcendent experiences can be induced by drugs or electromagnetic impulses, and are certainly affected by brain chemistry. The sad, and often unmentionable association of mental illness and extreme religiosity is a very real thing. All of our current evidence suggests that what these transcendent experiences are telling us about are our brain states. and what kind of psychological tendencies we have. There is no evidence that your data point to anything but human psychology and human nature.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            The sad, and often unmentionable association of mental illness and extreme religiosity is a very real thing.

            It is? Can you back that statement up?

          • Max Driffill

            David,

            My language was perhaps imprecise. What I am not saying, is that all religious people are crazy or anything like that. Perfectly sane people can be believers.

            In my post above, I was noting that psychological states can and do affect peoples religious attitudes. This can be positively and negatively.

            Among modern messianic types all have been characterized by some form of mental illness. Look at several modern messianic types for a small example of this. Consider Jim Jones, L. Ron Hubbard, David Koresh. These were all mentally unstable men. Hubbard was almost certainly schizophrenic, and a compulsive if entertaining liar (with an amazing work ethic as a writer), Jones and Koresh deeply paranoid, and caught in the throes of some psychotic pathology. That is just a small sampling, there are numerous other examples from the eastern religious traditions (some are not just con men but actual believers in themselves). Here are few examples of mental illness and religious fervor in action: http://listverse.com/2008/06/08/top-10-self-appointed-messiahs/

            It was this kind of thing to which I was mainly referring, extreme mental states can affect religious sentiment. Almost all modern day messianic types are considered mentally unstable if they are not obvious and callous con men or women (like Peter Poppoff and his family say). That isn't to say that con men cannot also be sincere and extreme believers. A case could be made that Benny Hinn, and Joseph Smith, and L. Ron Hubbard fall into this category. Strange isn't it that no one tends to note this common theme among modern and historical messianic types, does anyone other than atheists wonder if Jesus was the same kind of person?

            Doing a quick literature search though I note that religion certainly plays a role in the lives of people with mental illness sometimes positively and sometimes negatively. People suffering from depression, and anxiety tend to become slightly more observant and utilize the practice of religion to alleviate their mental health problems.

            This latter example is non-trivial and can result in positive and negative outcomes with regard to people suffering from mental health issues, and while interesting, it wasn't really what I was referring to. Below are some examples of this.

            http://www.smw.ch/docs/pdf200x/2004/25/smw-10322.PDF

            From the paper above:

            "a third of the patients with schizo-
            phrenia were very highly involved during the first
            years of their illness in a religious community, and
            10% of the whole sample were involved in minor-
            ity religious movements. In our ongoing study
            conducted among schizophrenic outpatients, we
            also found that a third of them were highly in-
            volved in a religious community, and that another
            third gave a significant role in their life to spiritu-
            ality, carrying out spiritual practices every day but
            without being involved in a religious community
            [3]."

            This actually matches my limited experience with schizophrenics, all have been highly religious, and spiritual and obsessed with transcendent experiences (even if those involved their imagined experience of extra-terrestrials).

            And here is an example of the way in which current mental distress affects perceptions of the importance of spiritual things:

            http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3285738/

            This is a pretty interesting article too.

            In any event, the statement you questioned was not well fleshed out and I hope that this explains more clearly what I meant.

          • http://nolscuriosity.wordpress.com/ Nolan

            Millions of Americans believe they are better drivers than the average American. They also believe that they are better looking, and more intelligent than the average. Billions of people are tricked by optical illusions as well.

            Clearly, all it takes for millions or billions of people to be deluded about something is for a systematic bias to exist, which explains the belief without the belief's truth being necessary.

            I don't think the billions of testimonials (where does this come from?) are good enough evidence of the "transcendental."

          • Sample1

            You've simply built a straw man

            If you're going to call my comment a straw man, that's fine, but you're implying that your dismissal means your elaboration is now useful. You really seem to think you've clarified something. I don't see it.

            The rule here is that a direct relationship exists between claims and justifications, not an inverse one. As attributes rise, justifications will need to rise.

            Right out of the gate, I dispute even your sneaky use of the word "their" as in "their religious experiences differ in some ways" as if to identify these peoples as necessarily belonging to a meaningful demographic. Would you deny that many of these peoples' experiences are mutually exclusive? If you want to latch onto such a premise, that's fine, but it's hardly compelling.

            By "transcendent realities", I mean some thing or person which transcends the natural world--something outside of space and time

            How shall I begin with this? Let's not be so provincial Brandon, so temporal even with your choice of wording. How many superstitious tribal peoples existed for centuries without even knowing what the word space is, let alone time, let alone the prevailing understanding of what is now called spacetime? If anything, the compelling case I see from your clarification is that human beings have an astounding ability to believe just about anything. I won't object to people attempting to call that a kind of solidarity, I just won't have any reason to think very deeply about that.

            That's a huge collection of evidence.

            Evidence? No way. The plural of anecdote is not data. It's just a huge collection of conjecture by claimants who don't have the goods.

            Mike

      • Vicq_Ruiz

        Bracketing the question of whether these different religious perspective prove any specific deity

        I don't think you can set this part of the issue aside so readily, Brandon.

        The fact that there are and have been so many differing interpretations of the "transcendent reality" argues that the experience of that reality originates within the human mind, and is deeply colored by each individual human's life experiences and cultural inheritance. Very few ancient Egyptians had an experience of the Holy Ghost, and very few contemporary Americans have had an experience of Osiris.

        An alternative explanation, of course, is that the transcendent reality does exist, but is unable or unwilling to represent itself in a uniform and unambiguous way to all humanity,

        • Randy Gritter

          An alternative explanation, of course, is that the transcendent reality does exist, but is unable or unwilling to represent itself in a uniform and unambiguous way to all humanity,

          Another alternative is that God does reveal Himself in personal ways to all privately and in a uniform and unambiguous way publicly. That the public revelation is what we get from the bible and the Catholic church. It can make sense of our private revelations. Alternatively we can reject the bible and/or the church and try and make sense of the private revelations in another way. That might take a lot of forms. Some forms might even involve a denial of God's existence.

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            God does reveal Himself ....... in a uniform and unambiguous way publicly

            No.

            The existence of other widely held concepts of God (some close to Catholicism, some far distant) renders this assertion simply untenable

          • Randy Gritter

            Not at all. God's plan of revelation was through Abraham and then Moses and then David and then Jesus and then the Catholic Church. Various groups embrace some of that and not all. When all of it is embraced then there is one faith.

            Maybe uniform is to strong a word but unity is not. It is unambiguous on key points. Not on all points. It is certainly more tenable to think most people are close to the truth but miss some of it.

            Atheism has to assert that most people are wrong about the centerpiece of their world and life view which is that God exists. That seems untenable.

      • Octavo

        This reminds me of the time that Philip K Dick reported that a extrasolar probe named VALIS beamed data into his head with a pink laser beam. He used this information to save his son's life. (His son had a very hard to detect medical issue.) He also claimed that he knew of biblical passages without having read them.

        In light of the article by Wright, should I now believe in VALIS?

        ~Jesse Webster

        • Erick Chastain

          thank you for bringing him up, he is one of the great modern christian mystics. In the Exegesis by Philip K Dick, which was his journal during the visions and after, he stated that VALIS was the christian God in the person of the Son. In fact he was converted to christianity by his vision, and believed himself to be connected to the early christians through his contact with VALIS. The passages were from Acts of the Apostles, in particular, having to do with King Felix. He also spoke words in Koine Greek with no knowledge of what they meant, just as is normal during Pentecost for Catholics (according to my confessor it's pretty ordinary for catholics). Before this vision, he was anti-christian and a skeptic, just like John Wright. After, he constantly mortified his friend Tim Powers with what the latter called "fundamentalist christian" ideas. If you read it closely, there are startling parallels between his vision and many christian mystics especially saint francis and friar leo (a flame came from heaven and gave francis messages http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/lff/lff060.htm).

          • Octavo

            Clever response. However, given the amount and variety of the drugs PKD was on, I can't say I'm inclined to trust his subjective experiences, even if he reinterpreted them ex post facto from extrasolar probe to Yahweh.

            ~Jesse Webster

      • Max Driffill

        Brandon,

        "Bracketing the question of whether these different religious perspective prove any specific deity, wouldn't you agree that they overwhelmingly support the idea that some transcendent reality exists?"

        Why on earth should it do this? Why shouldn't it just point to shared human psychology?

    • Rachel Popp

      I don't believe his free will was interfered with by God. The author ASKED for God to give him proof, so He did. Ask and you shall receive.

      • primenumbers

        John says " I was given not just evidence, and not just overwhelming evidence, but joy unspeakable and life eternal." - in other words, so much evidence he didn't have a choice but to believe. That God chose to not just present a case that would leave John's choice to believe up to him, but to present an incontrovertible case is what removed John's free will.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Are you saying that John's faith made it impossible for him to sin from that point on?

          • primenumbers

            Who's talking about sin? I'm talking about belief and knowledge and his free will to believe or not to believe in God.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            A good definition of faith is that it is an assent of the mind in cooperation with the will under the influence of grace to what God reveals.

            It looks like John got that. That did not wipe out his free will. Jesus told his disciples, "If you love me, keep my commands." He didn't say, "When you know for sure I am God, your salvation is assured."

          • primenumbers

            "That did not wipe out his free will." - i'm not saying it entirely removed his free will in all areas, just in the area of his belief in God. And if this direct intervention from God with John doesn't infringe on free will, is there any good reason why every atheist doesn't get the same treatment?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            That's a good question. I've never had an experience like John describes.

          • primenumbers

            Neither have I....

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            What do omniscience and omnipotence mean if God can't convince a sincere and open-minded agnostic (or even atheist) of his existence?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't understand the question.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            I don't understand the question.

            If that's a joke, it's quite clever!

            In case it's not, what I am saying is that it is surely within the ability of an omnipotent and omniscient being to present the evidence for his existence to even the most hardhearted and hardheaded of nonbelievers in such a way that they could not possibly doubt any longer. According to Wright, God answered even his flippant prayer with evidence that overwhelmed him instantly. What about all the sincere prayers that don't get answered?

            It is not a violation of anyone's free will to present him or her with conclusive evidence of something.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            It is a cliche but cliches can be true: Life is a mystery.

            Why doesn't God just make earth heaven? That ain't his plan.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            That, I think, is a cop out, especially on a site that is largely devoted to apologetics (which my spell checker doesn't recognize as a word). Catholics claim to know God's plan. They claim to know why God didn't make earth heaven. Even I can answer that. (Our "first parents" freely chose sin and messed everything up.) I wouldn't have such a problem accepting Catholicism if it didn't have an explanation for everything! I wouldn't find the Real Presence all that difficult to accept, but transubstantiation presents major difficulties! I can accept mysteries. It's inadequate but "infallible" explantions I have problems with.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            All right, let me get out my cathedra and dust it off. There.

            God deals with people differently. Some seem to get every good thing; some live in a shitstorm.

            But since God is all loving and all-powerful, it will all turn out well in the end if we do our part.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I thought I replied to this but don't see it anywhere.

            Here is my "infallible" explanation (ha!).

            God in his goodness, wisdom, and respect for human freedom deals with each person differently.

            When it comes to individual cases, we can only speculate about how those three (and other factors) work together for good.

            In my own case (which I don't even understand), I don't think I have a basis for complaining that God doesn't deal with me exactly as I would wish. My reasons for rejecting God were really stupid (I was only sixteen) and my reasons for returning to my childhood faith were pretty tenuous (although it was the last thing I considered could be true), but my reasons to believe have gotten stronger and stronger over the years.

            I wish God would give me such an overwhelming experience of himself that I no longer had any doubts about his existence and no longer feared death and eternal annihilation, but I can imagine that this is what I need. Personally, I don't think I need to believe more but to love more, and love is in the will, not the intellect.

          • T.K. Anthony

            Here's the terrifying thing: omniscience and omnipotence are nothing in the face of human will. God sets aside his power, and respects our right to make up our own minds. But He expects us to do the due diligence. If you're really looking, "The truth is out there..."

          • T.K. Anthony

            I doubt many atheists have sincerely asked. Also, atheists are just as prone to confirmation error (believing what you want to believe) as any other human.

            (I wrote a huge long response above. Should've just scanned the thread and dived in. Rookie mistake.)

          • primenumbers

            "I doubt many atheists have sincerely asked.", you can doubt us if it helps you dissolve your cognitive dissonance, but quite frankly it sounds rather like a rationalization to me. Fact is we have more than sincerely asked, and that you doubt that is very disingenuous to your argument.

          • Max Driffill

            Kevin,

            "A good definition of faith is that it is an assent of the mind in cooperation with the will under the influence of grace to what God reveals."

            This cannot be a good definition of faith because it fails to explain anything. On top of this it unjustifiably separates will from mind (why?), and adds grace (unjustified by any evidence other than wishful thinking) and also accepts divine revelation (also nothing that we can independently corroborate).

            "It looks like John got that. That did not wipe out his free will. Jesus told his disciples, "If you love me, keep my commands." He didn't say, "When you know for sure I am God, your salvation is assured.""

            I don't think you are getting what primenumbers is saying. He is questioning the notion that you can chose to believe something, and suggesting that people hold positions valid or invalid based on evidence (of some kind).

            Also invoking free will is a problem, because some versions of free will just don't seem to work.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Natural faith, which we all practice, is accepting as true something you don't know directly based on trustworthy authority. For example, I have no problem believing the universe is 13.7 billion years old because I trust the scientists who say this. I don't know how to figure this out on my own.

            The definition I gave above is for supernatural faith: "An assent of the mind in
            cooperation with the will under the influence of grace to what God
            reveals." If I am convinced that God has revealed something, I am confident it must be true because God can neither deceive nor be deceived. That is the trusting the authority part.

            Because what has been revealed comes from the most trustworthy authority, my mind believes it and my will holds fast to it. That is my part of the assent of faith.

            At the same time, Christians believe that it is not possible to assent to what God has revealed without some supernatural assistance or "grace."

            Human freedom remains throughout the entire process.

          • Max Driffill

            Thats not faith.
            I don't have faith in the, say the pronouncements of cosmologists. I do trust the error correcting machinery of science. Not based on faith, but on experience of it.
            There is no such error correcting machinery in faith.

            There is a difference.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            What "That's" refers to isn't clear.

            I think you do have "natural faith" in many things. Do you *know* light travels at 186,000 miles per second because you have done the experiments or do you trust the people who have? If there is anything you hold that you have not directly proven to yourself, that is natural faith. We can't live without it.

            But I agree that science is self-correcting. The Catholic Faith also has a self-correcting mechanism but you will dismiss it understandably.

          • Sample1

            I'm thinking that Quine is holding back because the Top Spot at 666 is perhaps too delightful to let go. But Q has a good response that many of us have adopted and I'll post it here:

            I have reasonable expectations based on prior evidence.

            I'm never trusting scientists, I am trusting the method and the evidence. That's a nuanced distinction, but an important one to get. I have reasonable expectations that claims making it through the arduous vetting process of scientific peer review likely exhibit a dependable quality of accuracy.

            That's in part because the culture of science is one of doubt and finding errors is perhaps as equally as enticing as discovering facts. Finally, aside from my own limits of aptitude, there is nothing, in principle, stopping me from repeating the experiments myself.

            Mike

          • Max Driffill

            I don't have natural faith, or any kind of faith. I have reasonable confidence scientific experts, where consensus exists because I understand the error correcting machinery of science.

            I don't hold as a matter of faith the speed of light. I don't accept your terminology. I have reasonable confidence.

            The Catholic Faith, like all faiths doesn't really have any error correcting machinery.

          • Sample1

            The Catholic Faith, like all faiths doesn't really have any error correcting machinery.

            What are your thoughts about this tautology: The Catholic Church can teach their faith without error because they define their own faith. And then within that system, I'd think we'd all agree that there is a semblance of following rules and all the other outward-looking machinations of error checking.

            I'm not saying (at all), that I agree with the Church's faith claims, but rather within that framework, once the ball gets rolling so-to-speak, it operates in a science-like way. I am not trying to be an accommodationist just for an accommodationist sake. I think part of the attractiveness for Catholics is the existence of an error correcting system vis-a-vis the Magisterium. Perhaps the quasi-similarity here is part of the reason people buy so readily into tolerating cognitive dissonance?

            Terrible analogy? Ridicule worthy? Let me know.

            Mike

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't want to keep flogging this point but I'll try one more time.

            Natural faith or submission to the experts or trusting the teacher or believing mom or following doctor's orders is simply the shortcut everyone takes to accept something as true because someone trustworthy tells us.

            Life is short, we begin knowing nothing, and knowledge is too vast for any of us to ascertain it all on our own.

          • Susan

            Kevin,

            Max is trying to explain that there is a distinction.

            I learned not to trust the teacher or my mom, for instance, in cases where they had opinions that they were unable to support. An opinion is not knowledge unless it can be reasonably supported. No method is more reliable in this sense than the scientific method.

            When scientists tell you that the earth is 13.7 (8?) billion years old, they can show you the evidence and the painstaking calculations that have survived the peer review process to support that opinion.

            This is entirely different than believing in a deity based on stories from a book based on hearsay and tradition that seems to rely on the emotional manipulation that undermines our rational thought processes.

            There is a vast difference between "argument from authority" which is immediately and deeply flawed and "argument from expertise" which requires a demonstration of expertise which of course, requires great big gobs of evidence.

            Arguments for Yahweh fall under the former category and arguments for the age of the universe under the latter.

          • Max Driffill

            Susan,
            I agree with you, but I think what Kevin is doing, though maybe not wittingly, is participating in the attempt by the believers to say, "well everyone has faith."

          • Susan

            I think what Kevin is doing, though maybe not wittingly, is participating in the attempt by the believers to say, "well everyone has faith."

            I agree. It's just another language trick though. among dozens of language tricks and the argument itself is dishonest, whether Kevin is doing it wittingly or not.

          • severalspeciesof

            The Catholic Faith also has a self-correcting mechanism but you will dismiss it understandably.

            How can a faith that has dogma's as the core of everthing be self correcting in those areas, when the definition of dogma would prevent that?

          • Susan

            The Catholic Faith also has a self-correcting mechanism but you will dismiss it understandably.

            If it's understandable that it can be dismissed, how useful is it as a self-correcting mechanism?

            What sort of methodology does the catholic faith use to correct itself?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            >If it's understandable that it can be dismissed, how useful is it as a self-correcting mechanism?

            The fact that someone dismisses something doesn't affect its validity. For example, Young Earth Creationists sometimes dismiss scientific findings. Does that make science's self-correcting mechanism less useful?

            Re. Catholicism's self-correcting "mechanism", I'll write about that later when I have more time.

      • Rationalist1

        No. It didn't work like that for me. I asked, and prayed, and studied and lived as good a moral life as I could, and was open to God. But nothing. Finally I stopped believing.

        And please don't say I wasn't sincere because I was.

        • http://exconvert.blogspot.com/ Kacy

          Me too. I tried the same experiment AND converted to Catholicism because I sincerely wanted God to work through the church and for my prayers to help a close family member suffering from a mental illness. That family member attempted suicide, God never gave me a sign, my family had to be rescued from homelessness (in part because we had kids before we were ready, following the Church's teaching on birth control), and all the while not one sign from God. I started asking the scary question, "What if there is no God?" It was freeing in many ways because I could stop wasting my energies wondering why all the personal tragedy when followinf all the rules and wondering why no answer from God and instead focus on putting my life back together. In summery I found atheism to be a more stable way of facing reality, rather than looking for answered prayers and signs from God that never came. And if the anecdotal story in this article counts as evidence for God, then my anecdotal story counts as evidence against God....or maybe we shouldn't trust anecdotes because this is known to be an unreliable source of evidence.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I am sorry for the hardships you have faced in life.

            Let me ask you this, though. Did you become a Catholic because you wanted God to do something for you and then leave because he didn't?

          • Bill

            Hello Rationalist1 and Kacy. I spoke with R1 last week and have thought about his experience often. I had this thought today. God uses atheists because they give a point of view that needs to be thought about and debated by believers. You have an extremely important purpose in God's eyes. R1 and Kacy I do not believe God will allow you to be blind to His existence forever. I maintain that your prayers will be answered just as John's were.

          • primenumbers

            That's a great response Bill, but from the content of your response I cannot tell if you're an atheist mocking Christian thought or a Christian inventing an un-evidenced ad-hoc rationalization.

          • Bill

            Actually, I am one of those people who claim to have had a dramatic religious experience. It came on the heels of a question that I asked, I thought, to myself. Mired in personal problems and failing marriage, I was driving in my car by myself and asked a question out loud. "Is there a better way to live life than the way I am living it?" I turned on my radio, accidentally bumped the tuner, and the first words uttered by the person on the radio was, "Get in touch with the Bible." Frequent, numerous, similar events occurred for months. I decided to read the Bible and started going to church. My overwhelming feeling is that, like John, God revealed His existence to me, and then, revealed that Jesus is exactly who He said He is. By the way, I feel really good about life now, and just celebrated 40 years of marriage June 1st.

          • primenumbers

            And if the radio had said "read the Koran" would you now be a Muslim?

          • Bill

            I read the Koran, the Catholic Catechism, the book of Mormon, and a variety of eastern religious writings in my search for truth.

          • primenumbers

            But you're not a Muslim, or a Hindu, or a Scientologist or a Mormon?

          • Bill

            It is important for me to know what other people believe and why they believe it. The Christian world view seems the most real and reasonable to me.

          • Susan

            Hi Bill,

            The Christian world view seems the most real and reasonable to me.

            "The Christian world view" is a very murky phrase. There are thousands of "christian world views" many of which are at odds with one another.

            I'm curious about what you mean by "the Christian world view" and why it is real and reasonable.

            Another possibility is that none of the religions are right and are based on inadequate epistemologies.

          • Bill

            Hello again Susan. There are some commonalities in 90% of Christianity. Jesus is part of the Holy Trinity. He died for us to save us from our sins. He was crucified, died, was buried, and rose from the dead. We pray in Jesus' name to assure that our prayers are heard by God. Susan, Christ said He offers us a kind of peace that the world can not give. I have experienced this and my life has improved dramatically. I tried a life without God and Christian principles and felt that there was something missing. Perhaps one needs to try the Christian life to understand it.

          • primenumbers

            That's almost a tautology though Bill.

          • Bill

            I re-read my post and I can not see anything tautological. I am simply trying to answer questions to the best of my ability. If I am unconvincing it is disappointing to me but my goal is to truthful and helpful.

          • primenumbers

            Sorry, perhaps I should have been more explicit on what I meant. When you say you're a Christian and that "The Christian world view seems the most real and reasonable to me" I'm thinking that you're a Christian because you're a Christian, because a Christian thinks Christianity is most reasonable and because you think Christianity is most reasonable you're a Christian. It just sounded rather tautological to me from what you were saying. In other words, I take it as a given that you think Christianity is most reasonable or else you'd not be one.

          • Bill

            True. But it is still important for me to give reasons for my position. Hence, reasonable.

          • primenumbers

            Fair enough. But saying Christianity is most reasonable is the meta-reason, and I am more interested in the underlying reasons that separate out belief in one religion over another.

          • Bill

            Many people were born into their religion and know little truth about other religions. If one wants to find the truth, one must study and research what other religions believe and teach. This may take years as it has for me. The underlying reason that Christianity separated itself for me is knowledge and understanding.

          • primenumbers

            "Many people were born into their religion and know little truth about other religions." - oh indeed, if you get born into a religion or raised in a culture where a religion dominates, you will not necessarily get good learning on other religions or of atheism. Although searching for truth pre-supposes there is a truth and that it can be found in any religion at all. It would be more interesting to hear from you what specifically separated out Christianity from other religions, and by what methods you used to determine true religious claims from false ones.

          • Bill

            If you are asking me to cite one specific fact or belief that separated Christianity I can not. But there are rather thousands of facts and beliefs that are explained in the book I most follow, The Catechism of the Catholic Church. Two thousand years of consistent doctrine and dogmas are explained clearly.

          • primenumbers

            Hardly 2000 years of consistency though when the doctrine of the Trinity only came about 300yrs or so after the start of the religion.

          • Bill

            If you feel like reading here is a website that explains the Trinity was always a part of Catholic teaching, but clearly explained due to conflicting heresies around the 4th century.

            http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15047a.htm

          • primenumbers

            That's not what exactly happened though. Early Christianity had an array of beliefs about Jesus and God, and after numerous battles the current concept of the Trinity was adopted as a sortof compromise solution. So yes, various Trinitarian formulas were around before the final adoption of the currently used formula, and the battles were often over subtle nuances on the precise nature of Christ rather than the larger differences between unitarianism, binarism and trinitarianism.

            I think what you're seeing is the path of orthodoxy in hindsight, rather than to look at Christian history as a whole and see how the various different viewpoints in this issue were held and decided upon. By this I mean, before the current position was adopted there was no orthodoxy on that position, but there were people who believed in what would eventually become what we now call the orthodox position, because it was their view that eventually won out over the others, and indeed the position did change back and forth until finally settled.

          • Bill

            "Primenumbers" you have a great knowledge of Church history. As you know, the Church has as one of its 3 elements of truth, sacred tradition. It is the verbal passing on of the faith. The Church passes on the teachings of the apostles whether through word or writings. The belief in the Trinity was experienced by the Apostles. Jesus told them If they had seen Him, they had seen the Father. Also, that He would never totally leave them, by sending the Holy Spirit that would guide them in truth. My point is that the Church had to dismiss all of these competing concepts and prove why those were wrong, and fully explain why the Trinity was true. The Church needs to teach dogmatically only what Christ and the Apostles would teach, nothing new. All revelation ended when the last Apostle, John, died.

          • primenumbers

            "The belief in the Trinity was experienced by the Apostles." - that contradicts history though. If there'd have been a clear expression of the Trinity concept (as we have it expressed today) there'd have been no need for 300yrs of Christian discussion, debate and almost outright warfare on the subject! And it doesn't explain why there had to be that faked passage in John to "explain" the Trinity concept.

            "The Church passes on the teachings of the apostles whether through word or writings" - this is indeed Church tradition, but there's not any good historical evidence that this occurred. I guess it's the sort of thing a believing Christian would believe without question, but when an outside tries to dig into the history of it, they come up against a historical gap that is only bridged by tradition.

          • Susan

            it is still important for me to give reasons for my position. Hence, reasonable.

            For a position to be reasonable, good reasons are required. I agree. Without good reasons, it's premature to call a position reasonable.

            Specifically, what position do you hold and what are your reasons for holding it?

          • Bill

            Hello again Susan. I have read many religious books and "scriptures," as well as the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The loving doctrines and dogmas spelled out clearly in that book, that have remained for 2000 years, are the positions I hold.

          • Susan

            The loving doctrines and dogmas spelled out clearly in that book, that have remained for 2000 years, are the positions I hold.

            What are they and what are your reasons for holding those positions?

            On what basis do you claim that they are reasonable positions?

          • Bill

            The reasons I say loving, is that the Catechism expresses reasons for the behavior and attitudes that are in our best interests. Like why it is to our advantage to keep God's commandments and how the sacraments help sustain us emotionally, This is mostly a Catholic perspective. It is also a basic textbook, helping us in trying to follow Jesus, as He has asked us to do. It is reasonable because it is effective and not that difficult to do. I put more time into it than most people because I enjoy trying to be virtuous and experiencing the emotional and practical benefits. For example, I feel better not holding a grudge, even though revenge is more of a natural tendency. Forgiveness is a big part of living as a Christian. Forgiving is a loving behavior even if you expect nothing in return.

          • Susan

            God exploits no one but gives purpose to everyone.

            How do you know this?

            I appreciate that you meant this as a friendly statement and I gratefully accept the friendly gesture but not the underlying assertion.

            How DO you know this?

          • Bill

            Hi Susan. First of all I must say that truth is elusive. My opinion is a result of much study and research and of my experience. Honestly, though, can anyone know for sure if there is a God? At some point it is an act of faith to believe or not. It seems to take more faith to believe there is no God. I will say this, once one makes the commitment to believe, one's eyes are opened.

          • Susan

            Thank you for responding Bill.

            But that doesn't answer my question.

          • Bill

            God's revelation to man from the beginning of human history through the new testament seems coherent to me and billions of other people. It takes a lot of faith to believe the opposite of billions of people. Plus if there is a God and we follow Him, it is to our advantage if the promises are true. If there is no God, how does it hurt to follow those principles (Do unto others as you would have done to you) for instance?

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            It seems to take more faith to believe there is no God. I will say this,
            once one makes the commitment to believe, one's eyes are opened.

            Maybe, especially for those of us raised in quite religious culture like the United States, it takes more faith to believe in no God than in God, but it seems to me the "natural" position is agnosticism. And I say that as someone who was raised Catholic, went to Catholic school through 12th grade, and still studies Catholicism much more than the average Catholic. If I didn't believe basically everything when I was younger, I certainly thought I did. So I am not sure what it means to "make the commitment to believe." I did believe. Ironically, I think I may have believed too much. My experience was rather like Bart Ehrman's, being somewhat of a fundamentalist and then realizing some things simply can't be literally true.

            I think many of the atheists and other nonreligious commenters here were once believers. I think it would be a little bizarre to claim they must not really have believed because the now don't. I am sure many people who genuinely used to believe now don't, and some who now don't believe eventually will believe again.

          • Bill

            David, I agree. Well said.

          • Rationalist1

            One thing I was taught in my Catholic ethics classes which was to use people as subjects not as objects. It's a principal I try to follow even now as an atheist. I don't think any God worthy of worship would treat atheists as objects to be exploited for other purposes.

          • Bill

            God exploits no one but gives purpose to everyone. Having atheists, agnostics, and believers in a discussion on religion is wonderful.

          • Rationalist1

            We're objects for your amusement, perhaps. To God we are "As flies to wanton boys are we to th' gods,They kill us for their sport."

          • Bill

            I will also make an unprovable assertion.There is but one God and He loves us more than we can imagine.

          • Linda

            I am so sorry to hear that you had such a terrible time of it. I would never doubt the sincerity of your prayers. I am not surprised at your crisis of faith on top of everything. Just when you should have had the loving support of the community around you, you were abandoned. I hope that you have found the support and love you need.

          • T.K. Anthony

            Kacy--I'm sorry to hear of your trials. Your experience and questions are as old as faith itself--there were times when the Book of Job meant a lot to me. But Catholicism doesn't stem the tide of difficulties in life...that's not the way it works. As St. Teresa of Avila complained, "If this is the way You treat your friends, no wonder You have so few!" Faith doesn't demand "fix this mess!" It asks "what does God want me to learn from this mess?" That question makes a world of difference...

          • outonalimb

            One must follow the Church implicitly to truly be a practicing Catholic and experience the religion to the fullest. 1st and foremost is the profession of Faith. "I believe-We believe", without Faith, the way forward is lost.

            Catechism; 157 Faith is certain. It is more certain than all human knowledge because it is founded on the very word of God who cannot lie. To be sure, revealed truths can seem obscure to human reason and experience, but "the certainty that the divine light gives is greater than that which the light of natural reason gives."31 "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt."32

            Your story is not of Faith, but of expectations.

        • primenumbers

          I think a lot of us have gone through exactly what you describe. Maybe we did get a sign though - and that's why we're atheists.... :-)

        • Bill

          R1, I have some comments below that I was hoping you would read. Thanks!

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Here is a response to these two questions:

      (1) "[P]ersonal religious conversion experiences have been occurring throughout history . . . [with] all the various different religions."

      If reality is the way Catholics think it is (that is, only one true God but many idols), God might reveal himself in some way to all kinds of people. A person might respond to this private revelation within the framework he or she already has. If an ancient Egyptian had an experience of the Holy Spirit, he or she might interpret it as an inspiration of an Egyptian god. C.S. Lewis deals with this in TILL WE HAVE FACES, in which two sisters experience God in the context of paganism.

      (2) "John's free will was seriously and incontrovertibly interfered with by God, thus removing the free-will defence from use in the problem from evil."

      I don't think so. If John's story is true, God gave him proof that he exists. In the Catholic way of looking at things, demons know God exists and that doesn't deter them from hating him. John would still have to struggle to do God's will as best he understands it; certainly it would mean obeying the moral law. Knowing God exists doesn't help you when your habits incline you to sin.

      • primenumbers

        "God might reveal himself in some way to all kinds of people" - might or might not. Sounds like an un-evidenced ad-hoc rationalization to me. (maybe I should just shorten that to UEAHR, as I seem to be using that phrase a lot).

        God didn't just give proof (if John's story is true) but an over-abundance incontrovertible proof. If that is not an imposition upon free-will than what imposition from God would be?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Free will gives us scope to love God and neighbor or not.

          Knowing is part of loving but the bigger part is acting.

          Knowing God absolutely exists does not mean you will act in a loving way from then on.

          • primenumbers

            "Free will gives us scope to love God and neighbor or not." - I'm not talking about our neighbours, just God and just knowledge of God at this point. It would be hard to love God if you don't believe God exists, so let's just stick to knowledge of the existence of God and not go off on tangents.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I no longer see you point.

    • The Ubiquitous

      How was his free will interfered with?

      • primenumbers

        God gave him personally incontrovertible to believe in him. That God doesn't provide such evidence generally speaking is often given as an excuse to His divine hiddenness. Theodicy often relies on free-will and a non-coercive God. On the other hand, if this kind of divine intervention is deemed not to reduce free-will, then it begs the question why all atheists don't get similar treatment.

        • The Ubiquitous

          There are several possibilities.

          1. For certain other atheists, there is no such thing as personally incontrovertible evidence.
          2. The grace given John Wright is in excess of the minimum given other atheists. For example, because everyone gets enough grace to reject, and some get more, John Wright is merely one of those who get "more."
          3. Despite what John Wright says about considering this evidence personally incontrovertible, he is still free to reject it.

          • primenumbers

            If you don't believe what John says in terms of the incontrovertibility of the evidence, it sounds to me no matter how extreme you could dismiss any evidence as incontrovertible.

            If God cannot produce incontrovertible evidence for any particular atheist he is not omnipotent.

          • The Ubiquitous

            >>> no matter how extreme you could dismiss any evidence as incontrovertible.

            Well, exactly. This is perfect consistent with The Fall, and with observation of fallen human nature. We do often choose that which we know we shouldn't. Just like a kid who steals from the candy jar even though he has personally incontrovertible evidence that Mom doesn't want him to do it, so is our wilful and deliberate sin.

            >>>If God cannot produce incontrovertible evidence for any particular atheist he is not omnipotent.

            It's not a matter of can. It's a matter of does. God may have a very good reason for not providing personally incontrovertible evidence. He may have given the hypothetical atheist something less, which has either been accepted or rejected so far, even if it doesn't touch the mere knowledge of God's existence. Such a hypothetical suffices for God's justice.

            Possible reasons that God does not give the hypothetical atheist personally incontrovertible evidence can be multiplied, all of which consistent are with His character:

            1. It won't ultimately work. God does enough to satisfy justice, and then from there, after a fair shot, shapes events around the person such that His glory shines forth all the more that more might be saved. (See Pharaoh, Judas.)
            2. It's unnecessary, because other, lesser efforts will ultimately work. God does make splashy miracles sometimes, but these are extraordinary. To wit: He only rose Himself from the dead once. See the same motive as the first.
            3. The hypothetical atheist is in John's place in the story --- but before the final payoff.

            So far as whether John is still free to live a different life than he is now, you could always ask him at his blog. As I recall, he has in the past made a comment to the effect that even though he can attest to this miracle, it is still hard work living a life of faith.

          • primenumbers

            I should have said "no matter how extreme you could dismiss any evidence as not incontrovertible" so I've edited my post above.

            "It's not a matter of can. It's a matter of does. God may have a very good reason for not providing personally incontrovertible evidence." - Ah, the good old "God may have a very good reason" answer. You must know how unfulfilling such an answer is to anyone who is not a believer. It answers any question at all over God's competency and interaction with this world in such as not to be a real answer at all. It answers everything, and hence really answers nothing. And of course, the only evidence presented for such an answer being correct is the inability of the theist to present a real evidenced reason why their God behaves as they claim he does.

          • The Ubiquitous

            Did you read the whole comment? Such reasons are given, not just asserted.

            Would you like citations? This is all very old soteriology.

          • primenumbers

            "Such reasons are given, not just asserted" - you have no reliable means of gaining such knowledge, so you'll forgive me if I suggest you're just pretending to know this.

          • The Ubiquitous

            For your reading pleasure:

            "1. It won't ultimately work. God does enough to satisfy justice, and then from there, after a fair shot, shapes events around the person such that His glory shines forth all the more that more might be saved. (See Pharaoh, Judas.)"

            Cross-reference Romans, chapter 9 and Jeremiah, chapter 18.

            "2. It's unnecessary, because other, lesser efforts will ultimately work. God does make splashy miracles sometimes, but these are extraordinary. To wit: He only rose Himself from the dead once. See the same motive as the first."

            cf. 1 Corinthians 1:27, 2 Corinthians 2:12-27.

            If you'd like citations from the Catechism, I'll scare them up.

          • primenumbers

            An appeal to authority is not a good reason, but I can understand if it's the only reason you can give.

          • Sid_Collins

            "Just like a kid who steals from the candy jar even though he has personally incontrovertible evidence that Mom doesn't want him to do it, so is our wilful and deliberate sin."

            So true. But what kind of benighted Mom would provide lots of contradictory rules about cookies to her children through second-hand sources while remaining hidden from their view? And also she conceals the consequences of disobeying the rules by never administering punishment or reward until after a child has left the house, never to return, so that siblings could observe and learn. I know that I would consider that Mom to have a severe personality disorder--maybe several. Certainly she doesn't have the child's welfare at heart.

          • The Ubiquitous

            That's a completely different tack. The topic so far is whether personally incontrovertible evidence nullifies free will. If you concede that it doesn't, then we can move on to some other topic.

            If that's what you'd like to do, then please exit the metaphor and state your case clearly.

    • John C Wright

      At no time was my free will interfered with, any more than falling in love interferes with the free will. People speak of falling in love in metaphors that certainly sound like forces sweeping away their reason and their free will, but if you have ever fallen in love yourself, you know for your own experience that at no point were you no longer a rational actor responsible for your own actions: you were not made into a child or a madman. So, here.

      Nor does the article address the evidence in favor or against the Big Bang theory as opposed to the Steady State theory. The article answers the question I was asked. Please do not fault me for failing to answer a question which was not asked.

      Please feel free to ask me any question you wish. I am not shy and I am not impolite: http://www.scifiwright.com/

  • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

    The question I would like to know the answer to is how you would respond to someone who was in anguish over whether or not God existed, took a similar approach to your own, and then experienced nothing out of the ordinary, or perhaps had a continuing run of personal defeats and disasters. If you really were showered by God with signs of his existence, why did it happen to you when it doesn't happen to everyone else? Are you really implying that if others take an approach similar to yours, they will get supernatural confirmation of God's existence, benevolence, and so on? What would you say to them if they don't? That they must not be sincere? (It sounds like you weren't all that sincere, either.)

    It seems almost a form of cruelty to imply to people that all they need to do is pray and then sit back and wait for God to overwhelm them with miracles.

    Let me say here that I am open to the possibility of miracles. If I personally experienced something similar to what you describe, I don't think I would try to rationalize it away. I believe things happen that can't be explained. I have even had a few experiences myself that were pretty spooky. But it seems to me in all the history of miracle cures, there has never been an "impossible" miracle. That is, there have been things like remission of cancer, but no amputee has ever grown back a limb. People have made remarkable recoveries from very severe illnesses or injuries, but a decapitated head has never reattached itself.

    So my question is not merely why we should believe you were the beneficiary of miracles, but why you were the beneficiary when so many other people have not been, no matter how earnestly they believed in miracles and how desperately they prayed for them.

    • Vicq_Ruiz

      I had thought to reply here using that famous (and apocryphal: attributed to Emile Zola, Anatole France, and Mark Twain, among others) quote to the effect that: "At the shrine of Lourdes, they showed me the artifacts of the now cured. Scores of wheelchairs, hundreds of crutches. Alas, my search failed to turn up a single wooden leg."

      Interestingly enough, my failed search to get a provenance for that quote turned up a website called "Why Won't God Heal Amputees??". A site new to me, and with some very well written material. The next time I see a request for more atheist writers on this site, I will definitely point to

      http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/god5.htm

      • Dcn Harbey Santiago

        "Why Won't God Heal Amputees??"

        That is an easy one. The loss of limb is not a "disease". It is a condition resulting from either a disease or accident events. A lost limb can not be "healed" it could only be replaced and for that God has provided human reason and ingenuity in the form of prostheses.

        And then is the other issue of asking God to perform a "trick" for us, which displays a deep missunderstanding on the nature of prayer and God itself.

        "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
        Deacon Harbey Santiago

        • Vicq_Ruiz

          Many amphibians are able to regrow limbs quite nicely, an ability which God unaccountably chose to withhold from his highest and best creation.

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            ...and when this happens I will thank God who gives man enough knowledge to discover ways of manipulating his creation for the good.

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            Deacon Harbey Santiago

        • Andre Boillot

          "That is an easy one."

          I suspect not for those who've suffered loss of limb, looking at the scores of other supposed miracles they seem except from.

          "And then is the other issue of asking God to perform a "trick" for us"

          Are you saying that asking to be made whole is asking for a "trick", while asking for cancerous masses to be removed is not?

          "A lost limb can not be "healed" it could only be replaced and for that God has provided human reason and ingenuity in the form of prostheses."

          While it seems beyond the scope of what God chooses to heal, it might not be too much longer before it's within man's: http://ejournals.library.vanderbilt.edu/index.php/vurj/article/view/3512

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            "Are you saying that asking to be made whole is asking for a "trick", while asking for cancerous masses to be removed is not?"

            My comment was in the context of the article provided by Vicq entitled oddly enough "Why Won't God Heal Amputees?"

            If you want to read more in what I said than what I meant, there is nothing I can do to stop you.

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            Deacon Harbey Santiago

          • Andre Boillot

            "If you want to read more in what I said, than what I meant, there is nothing I can do to stop you."

            Sorry, I thought it was clear I was asking you what you meant.

            By specifying, "The loss of limb is not a "disease". It is a condition resulting from either a disease or accident events. A lost limb can not be "healed"", you seem to imply that there are things which can be healed - and in this context, we're speaking of healing through prayer / by God. Am I correct?

            Unless you also take issue with those asking for God to cure their diseases, I'm not sure what you would apply the charge of asking God for a "trick" to just amputees. If you do take issue with asking god to cure a disease, what do you make of the claims of miraculous cures through prayer?

        • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

          That is an easy one.

          Aren't they all! :P

          The loss of limb is not a "disease". It is a condition resulting from either a disease or accident events.

          I would say the same thing of blindness and paralysis, both of which Jesus cures more than once. Also, it has always been my assumption that when Jesus "heals" the high priest's servant after Peter cuts the servant's ear off, that Jesus restored the ear.

          And then is the other issue of asking God to perform a "trick" for us, which displays a deep missunderstanding on the nature of prayer and God
          itself.

          Granted, asking for a "sign" may be asking God to play a trick, but surely a soldier on the battlefield who has just had a limb blown off wouldn't be asking for a sign if he asked to be made whole again. Are there limits as to what miracles a person is to pray for? Should they be limited to miracles that are "borderline"—extremely unlikely, but with possible natural explanations for those who don't want to believe in them?

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            David,

            Please, read my answer to Andre.

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            Deacon Harbey Santiago

        • Rationalist1

          Dcn - So God only heals diseases, not effects resulting from a disease or accident? So you shouldn't pray for accident victims to be physically healed. What about the victims maimed in the Boston bombing? Is this real Catholic teaching? Did no one pray in Catholic Churches for the physical healing of victims of 9/11?

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            R1

            Please read my proviso, I'm talking about the article Vicq provided. In this context:

            Losing a limb is not a disease. I would speculate that if someone looses a limb and prayed, most likely they would pray NOT to loose the limb or to be healed from the wounds caused by the loss of a limb. But not to be "healed" by growing a new limb.

            On a wider context though...

            When a believer prays for healing it is presumed that this healing would stay within the realm of what conforms to the order of nature. This is why we always add "your will be done". Demanding a miraculous healing from God is the wrong thing to pray for and setting yourself for disappointments. I can't make my cat stop scratching the furniture, do you actually think I can force God to cause a miracle? He will always reserve His divine prerogative.

            Of course, one has to wander, perhaps the reason why God never answers the prayers of atheists is because they mostly ask for illogical things... like growing new limbs, or keeping cats from scratching the furniture. ;-)

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            Deacon Harbey Santiago

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            Deacon Harbey Santiago

          • Andre Boillot

            "Of course, one has to wander, perhaps the reason why God never answers the prayers of atheists is because they mostly ask for illogical things... like growing new limbs, or keeping cats from scratching the furniture."

            That's probably right. Never for our lives or the lives of our families / loved ones to be saved. Never for out bodies to be cleaned of the cancer it's riddled with. Just the illogical stuff. And ponies.

          • Rationalist1

            Well what do you expect when we're "horribly, comically wrong about every basic point of philosophy, ethics, and logic" It's no wonder we can't get prayer right.

      • Randy Gritter

        I'm familiar with the website. It is just another way of stating the problem of evil.

        I have a son with Down's Syndrome. I did think Downs was incurable even by God. That is there were no miracles involving someone with Downs Syndrome being prayed for and no longer having Down's Syndrome. Then I saw this:
        http://101prayer.com/story1.html

        So never say never. God can do it all. We don't understand why He allows some of the things He allows but it is not because He is not able.

        • Vicq_Ruiz

          With no intent to demean you or your son -

          "God can do it all", when he's in the mood. Otherwise, we just have to suck it up.

          • Randy Gritter

            Not just suck it up. Just trust that God has something beautiful to bring to the world through my son. You still suck it up but you do it trusting God that your effort is worth it.

        • Andre Boillot

          If this story is what passes for evidence, I don't even...

          • Randy Gritter

            Fr Scanlon was the long-time president of a university in Steubenville that I think is awesome. So I knew of him and knew he was respected by a lot of people. So I was unable to think he would lie. So yes, I think it is evidence.

            Atheists often say there is no evidence for this or that. It is almost always a laughable statement. Evidence does not mean irrefutable proof. It just means data that makes it more likely to be true. That is why we talk about weighing evidence. Anyway, I think it is literally true that most atheist don't know what the word "evidence " means.

          • Andre Boillot

            Randy,

            In the story you linked, there are absolutely no supporting documentation or evidence. Fr. Scanlon himself never says whether or not the child actually had Downs' Syndrome before he prayed on him ("I suspected that the boy had Downs’ Syndrome").

            Let's assume though, that the boy really did have Downs'.

            "In the weeks and months following that event, the boy’s development accelerated. The doctors could not find any explanation for it. When they ran the tests they could find no trace of Down’s Syndrome. I still hear from the parents telling me how well he is doing."

            The doctors - having presumably previously documented the child as suffering from Downs' - made no public mention of this? The community surrounding the boy - now miraculously cured - also made no mention of this? The boy, where is the boy now? Why was this case kept under wraps?

          • Andre Boillot

            "Anyway, I think it is literally true that most atheist don't know what the word "evidence " means."

            Do you have any data that makes this statement more likely to be true?

            For all my ignorant atheist friends:

            Evidence

            1
            a : an outward sign : indication

            b : something that furnishes proof : testimony; specifically : something legally submitted to a tribunal to ascertain the truth of a matter

            I guess now there's at least a couple more of us that know.

          • ZenDruid

            [citation needed]

          • Andre Boillot

            Good catch

          • Andre Boillot

            Randy,

            I just wanted to try to illustrate what's really going on here, what really separates you and I when it comes to world-view.

            You said this:

            Evidence does not mean irrefutable proof. It just means data that makes it more likely to be true. That is why we talk about weighing evidence.

            You mention weighing evidence, yet here this is were I think you don't know what this means. Weighing evidence means:

            The trier of fact in a civil or criminal trial, whether a judge or a jury, must review the evidence presented, evaluate it, and determine if it meets the standard of proof. If it meets this standard, the trier of fact must return a verdict in favor of the plaintiff in a civil suit and must convict a defendant in a criminal trial. If the evidence does not meet the standard of proof, the trier of fact must find for the defendant in a civil or criminal case. These decisions are based on the concept of the "weight of evidence."

            The weight of evidence is based on the believability or persuasiveness of evidence. The probative value (tending to convince a person of the truth of some proposition) of evidence does not necessarily turn on the number of witnesses called, but rather the persuasiveness of their testimony. For example, a witness may give uncorroborated but apparently honest and sincere testimony that commands belief, even though several witnesses of apparent respectability may contradict her. The question for the jury is not which side has more witnesses, but what testimony they believe.

            Particular evidence has different weight in inducing belief with respect to the facts and circumstances to be proved. Evidence that is indefinite, vague, or improbable will be given less weight than evidence that is direct and unrefuted. For example, a criminal defendant's testimony that he had never been at the scene of a crime would be given little weight if his fingerprints were found at the crime scene and witnesses testify they saw him at the scene. Similarly, evidence given by a witness who testifies from personal observation is of greater weight than evidence offered by a witness who is testifying from general knowledge alone.

            http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/weight+of+evidence

            So, Randy, when you offer up this account of a priest curing Downs', what evidence are you finding so compelling that it outweighs the improbability of its being true?

            People often make a big deal about not being able to get "ought" from "is", but (and I hate to name drop) I think Sam Harris has a good point when he says you can't get to statements about what "is" without first valuing how you "ought" to arrive at those statements. I can't teach you to value evidence. All I can say is that without doing so, you're unlikely to find the correct answers to questions.

          • Randy Gritter

            I agree with most of that. My point is that when you say there is no evidence for something you are saying something stronger. If you say the evidence is not believable or persuasive that is legitimate. You might think this priest is just lying and that it all. But to say it does not count as evidence? That is just to misunderstand the term. I don't mean to pick on you. Atheists say it a lot. It is a favorite rhetorical tactic. It is just a false statement. It is evidence. You just don't think it is very strong. As for the Sam Harris statement. I agree with him. Atheists have no way to get from an "is" to an "ought." They also have no way to determine how they ought to arrive at their is statements. It is a huge problem with atheism. Why is our intuition about rationality to be trusted?

          • Andre Boillot

            Randy,

            I didn't say there was no evidence, I said there was no supporting evidence for the initial claim. I'm not misunderstanding anything. In contrast, you misunderstand what it means to weigh evidence. One man's vague, unsupported claim to cure Downs' should mean what to me? If the man wasn't a Catholic priest, I suspect it would mean much less to you, correct? Catholics say this a lot. It's a favorite rhetorical tactic.

            "As for the Sam Harris statement. I agree with him."

            Actually, I don't you agree with him on much more than the limited form of one of his ideas that I posted. He goes on to describe a fairly robust (to me at least) system where one can in fact derive "ought" from "is" (The Moral Landscape).

            "It is a huge problem with atheism."

            That and organization...

        • Kevin Aldrich

          This is a nice story but it lacks what people here have complained abut John's experience--no evidence.

          Fr. Scanlon should provide us with proof the boy had Down Syndrome and proof he recovered from it. Before and after DNA tests would be good, too.

        • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

          That is there were no miracles involving someone with Downs Syndrome being prayed for and no longer having Down's Syndrome.

          This, in my opinion, would fall into the category of "impossible miracles"—the kind that never happen, like the limbs of amputees instantaneously growing back. If documented, it would be the most sensational miracle claim I have ever heard of. Why is there not more information?

          One thing strikes me as odd. Scanlan says, "I suspected that the boy had Downs’ Syndrome." But did the boy have Down syndrome? Had he been previously diagnosed? Were there samples of his DNA for a before-and-after comparison?

          It seems to me that if the boy's doctors witnessed spontaneous remission in a case of Down syndrome, whether they believed it was miraculous or not, they should have published a paper. It would have been an unprecedented medical occurrence.

          Something is wrong with the story. Scanlan is still alive. Perhaps he should be contacted.

    • DAVID

      ...but why you were the beneficiary when so many other people have not been, no matter how earnestly they believed in miracles and how desperately they prayed for them.

      I think that the answer to this revolves around the idea of "personal relationship with God." To the extent that God is in relationship (or trying to be) with each and every one of us, and to the extent that each one of us is unique, there cannot be an uniformity in God's responses to us.

    • Randy Gritter

      Why do you need to know? Does it matter why God does one thing and not another? You say you want evidence for God. Then when evidence comes you say you need God to do all the things you expect Him to. That is moving the goalposts.

      It is more than that. It is illogical. God is infinite. You are finite. If God did exactly what you expected He would not be God. He might be interesting but His ways would not be infinitely above yours.

      • Andre Boillot

        "Why do you need to know? Does it matter why God does one thing and not another?"

        Because we live in a society - a society filled with people who believe that God does things for a reason.

        "You say you want evidence for God. Then when evidence comes you say you need God to do all the things you expect Him to. That is moving the goalposts."

        It's not moving the goalposts, it's asking for evidence that God's will couldn't just as well be explained as randomness.

        • Randy Gritter

          I don't think randomness can explain this. But I do find it interesting that you are OK with a random world without God but not OK with a God that has an intelligence so far above ours that sometimes His acts seem random.

          • Susan

            I don't think randomness can explain this.

            How is it distinguishable from randomness?

            But I do find it interesting that you are OK with a random world without God but not OK with a God that has an intelligence so far above ours that sometimes His acts seem random.

            What is the difference between seeming random and being random?

          • Randy Gritter

            This is not random at all. John's story is a story of God acting in his life with obvious purpose.

            What is the difference between seeming random and being random?

            That is a harder question that you might think. If you try and code a random number generator you run into it. Computers can't really be random but can produce numbers that seem random. Still there can be patterns hidden. Once you know the pattern it is totally predictable.

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            Do you "know the pattern"? Yes or no, please.

          • Randy Gritter

            Completely? No. I know some of how God works.

          • Susan

            Completely? No. I know some of how God works.

            You believe you do.

            Anyway, your random number generator analogy doesn't work then. We're back to how you distinguish what seems random but isn't from what is random.

            Guessing or "believing" is not knowing.

          • Randy Gritter

            Nothing is random. We just don't see the beauty in it yet. Yet everything seems random if you do a statistical analysis.

          • Susan

            Nothing is random. We just don't see the beauty in it yet. Yet everything seems random if you do a statistical analysis.

            We're going in circles Randy. Once again, you are saying that what seems random is NOT random without explaining how that is the case.

          • primenumbers

            True randomness in the universe would show that it wasn't created by a perfect creator. But because we have a concept of randomness, that must mean there's a true source of perfect randomness, and that source must be transcendent and eternal. That source of perfect randomness we call God.

            Similarly we have a concept of nothing. But we don't actually have a perfect nothing. There is no place in our universe where there is absolutely nothing, but as we have the concept, there must be an absolute reference for absolute nothingness, and that absolute reference must be beyond time and space and that reference we call God.

          • Andre Boillot

            "not OK with a God that has an intelligence so far above ours that sometimes His acts seem random."

            Do you find it odd that those acts of his that sometimes seem random are usually (exclusively?) the most terrible things that happen to us?

            If an 18-yr old girl in her prime prays night and day that she'll get the scholarship that will allow her to attend her favorite college, then get's the scholarship and goes on to lead an amazing life - that's all God's plan. If she get's t-boned 2-blocks from her graduation ceremony and dies - God, he so mysterious.

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            a God that has an intelligence so far above ours that sometimes His acts seem random

            BINGO!!

            You have hit the nail squarely on the head, Randy. My observation of the world and its history leads me to the conclusion that if there is a God who is in control, his intelligence and his principles are so alien to me as to make it impossible for me to determine his purposes.

          • Max Driffill

            But you have no problem identifying God doing good. This is a massive inconsistency. If you cannot call the works of God bad, then you can not call them good. Chalk it all up to mystery.

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            Huh? Did you mean to reply to another message?

          • Randy Gritter

            Yes, God is good. If something good happens then nobody wonders about it. It is consistent with our creed, If something bad happens that seems inconsistent. So we wonder. Is it really bad? Is God doing some good here we didn't see at first? Is God punishing us? How are we to walk through this pain? We probably should ask more questions when something good happens but most of the time we just roll with it!

          • Max Driffill

            Randy,

            "Yes, God is good."
            There is no reason to believe this. Given the often short brutish lives humans tend to lead, the wealth of misery that is the norm for so many, it is not likely to be the case that it would be involved beneficent God.

            "If something good happens then nobody wonders about it. It is consistent with our creed,"
            No it isn't. The hammer of grief and trauma falls, more or less randomly on the good and bad alike. You will hear someone sing hallelujahs when God, they think, has given them a 20 dollar scratch ticket win. They don't notice that on the same day some 24, 000 kids under the age of five will die before their day is over. Or that amputees are never healed.

            "If something bad happens that seems inconsistent. So we wonder. Is it really bad?"
            It seems inconsistent because, it is inconsistent with a omnipotent, omnibenevolent, omniscient god.

            "Is God doing some good here we didn't see at first? Is God punishing us? How are we to walk through this pain? We probably should ask more questions when something good happens but most of the time we just roll with it!"

            First you have to establish there is a god, and that he exhibits any the qualities you claim for it.

          • Randy Gritter

            You cannot determine His purposes completely but you can do it well enough to make a huge difference in your life. You can glimpse the beauty of the world and the reason you exist.

          • Max Driffill

            There is not a scintilla of data to support that latter, while the former is consistent with observation. Positing god in this situation explains nothing while adding an extra layer (God) that requires explanation.

          • Randy Gritter

            But that extra layer adds meaning and purpose. Say you go blind. If you say life is random that is not helpful at all. If you know God still has a plan for your life that requires faith and explanation but it is an important truth for you to grasp.

          • Susan

            But that extra layer adds meaning and purpose

            It adds an extra layer. Some people find that extra layer useful but that doesn't make it true.

            If you know God still has a plan for your life that requires faith and explanation but it is an important truth for you to grasp.

            If you believeone deity (among thousands) has a plan for your life.
            You are arguing for utility. Personally, I don't find it useful at all but some people find it so. This doesn't make it true.

          • Randy Gritter

            Sure, Max is saying the extra layer is a bad thing. Not that it is untrue. Just that it is an extra layer. I experience it as a good thing. Good enough that it makes me thing it must be true. Not a proof but I think truth is more likely to work well than falsehood.

          • Susan

            Sure, Max is saying the extra layer is a bad thing

            No. He is saying that it is an extra layer that explains nothing while requiring an explanation itself.

            I experience it as a good thing. Good enough that it makes me thing it must be true.

            That makes no sense. This is not a reliable method for determining the truth of anything.

          • ZenDruid

            But it feels true. Right, Randy?

          • Randy Gritter

            Exactly, things have to work on multiple levels. I was a protestant once and I believed something that was unworkable. It turned out to be false. If you believe in God then you believe truth should fit who you are and what you are capable of. There is a beauty to it. I know that is not a rational argument. Like knowing you belong with your wife because you are beautiful together.

          • Max Driffill

            Randy,

            The problem is that you are putting your cart before your horse.

            "But that extra layer adds meaning and purpose."

            So you say. But this is more of that assertion in absence of evidence. I don't blame you for this really, for some reason this approach to answering questions is entirely too popular on this site.

            "Say you go blind. If you say life is random that is not helpful at all."

            Randy, going blind isn't helpful...AT ALL. Accepting reality as it is, no more and no less is at least helpful in that one need not feel any pangs of abandonment, and no one need waste time hoping for a miracle, or waste a life trying to explain why a loving god would allow such a calamity to befall oneself. One could just busy themselves with the business of recovering as best they can.

            "If you know God still has a plan for your life that requires faith and explanation but it is an important truth for you to grasp."

            It is not a truth. You could just as easily say.

            Only the worthy can enter Valhalla, and so Odin tests us all in various ways. If he finds us worthy we feast in the great hall, and prepare ourselves to fight at Ragnarok, full einherjar. At Ragnarok, the end of all things we will fight on the side of Odin against Utgard-Loki, strong in his ship of bones.

            This paradise of purpose is just as likely (and perhaps more noble) Jesus in his heaven and his plan for your life. It requires no less faith, and people believed something like this for a thousand or more years.

            Imagining a plan for your life is not the same thing as demonstrating that this plan exists. There is no truth in these claims as yet. It just looks like so much wishful thinking.

      • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

        I would say that I my own personal interpretation of this article—and maybe I am being unfair—is that the author is saying how misguided he was to be an atheist, that he made one almost cynical attempt to pray to God about it, that God showered him with miracles, and that anybody else can do the same. If God doesn't miraculously reveal his existence to you, it must be your fault.

        Does it matter why God does one thing and not another?

        A little story. When I was in high school, our parish priest started a campaign to get everyone to tithe. (It was supposed to be 5% of your income to the parish church and school, and 5% to other charitable enterprises.) As the campaign got under way, he would read letters from people who had started tithing. They were things like (and these are actual examples), "We were having trouble with all of our appliances, and since we started tithing, our toaster works like it is brand new!" Or, "We needed a new roof for the house, but since we started tithing, it has stopped leaking. It's costing us less to tithe than to get a new roof!" And I used to think, "Are you telling me if you give money to the Church, God will take care of your home repairs, but if you were a Jew in a concentration camp desperately praying for deliverance, God would let you starve or go into the gas chambers?" It simply is not true, nor is it even Catholic thinking, that if you do good in this life, you will be rewarded in this life. The only logical conclusion is that if someone else does good and is rewarded, and you do good but still suffer, there's something wrong with you. Otherwise you would have to conclude there is something wrong with God.

        I repeat, it is not the Catholic message that prayers are always answered, that if you want a sign, God will send a sign, and that if you tithe it will solve your household problems.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Guys, just send ME 10% of your income and I'll take care of the rest.

    • RAM

      David, some lines above, Deacon Harvey Santiago says this to somebody else:
      "This article originally appeared at Mr Wright's blog. You might have a better chance for an answer if you post your question there.

      http://www.scifiwright.com/"

      I believe you could get an answer from Mr Wright on that site. ;)

    • outonalimb

      HUMANI GENERIS OF THE HOLY FATHER PIUS XII, explains it well. The truths that have to do with God and the relations between God and men, completely surpass the sensible order and demand self-surrender and self-abnegation in order to be put into practice and to influence practical life. Now the human intellect, in gaining the knowledge of such truths is hampered both by the activity of the senses and the imagination, and by evil passions arising from original sin. Hence men easily persuade themselves in such matters that what they do not wish to believe is false or at least doubtful.

      3. It is for this reason that divine revelation must be considered morally necessary so that those religious and moral truths which are not of their nature beyond the reach of reason in the present condition of the human race, may be known by all mean readily with a firm certainty and with freedom from all error.

      and IN Miracles Manifest the Supernatural Order Pope John Paul II..."These miracles demonstrate the existence of the supernatural order, which is the object of faith. Those who observed them and particularly those who experienced them were made aware as if by the touch of a hand that the natural order does not exhaust the whole of reality. The universe in which we live is not limited merely to the range of things accessible to the senses and even to the intellect itself conditioned by sense knowledge. The miracle is a sign that this order is surpassed by the "power from on high," and is therefore also subject to it. This "power from on high" (cf. Lk 24:49), namely, God himself, is above the entire natural order. *IT DIRECTS* this order and at the same time it makes known that through this order and superior to it human destiny is the kingdom of God. Christ's miracles are signs of this kingdom....Miracles are not opposed to the forces and laws of nature. They merely imply a certain empirical suspension of their ordinary function and not their annulment. Indeed, the miracles described in the Gospel indicate the existence of a Power superior to the forces and laws of nature, but which at the same time operates according to the demands of nature itself, even though surpassing its actual normal capacity.

  • Vicq_Ruiz

    I've told Mr. Wright on his blog that I do not question his experiences. I do not claim that they are delusions or hallucinations. All I do say is that they have never happened to me or (to my knowledge) any of my acquaintances.

    One hypothesis which fits the observation is that God chooses to reveal himself to some and to be indifferent to others.

    • Randy Gritter

      It does not mean God is indifferent to others. He reveals Himself to some but expects that revelation to bless the whole community. He does not reveal Himself to all because that would remove free will. He chooses to work through faith. We might not like that but it is not impossible that God would choose that. He gives our reason just enough to believe but leaves it room to disbelieve as well. Freedom.

      • primenumbers

        " He does not reveal Himself to all because that would remove free will." - sounds like he removed John's free will completely.

        To suggest: "He reveals Himself to some but expects that revelation to bless the whole community" is merely an un-evidenced ad-hoc rationalization.

        • Randy Gritter

          John asked for evidence. God knows His heart.

          I don't know why Jesus appeared to St Paul so powerfully and did not do the same with the other Jewish leaders. Same thing here. I can guess at things that make some sense of it but I do not know.

          Questions like yours are common among Christians. Why does God not give my wayward son or daughter a miracle like this?

          The bottom line is you are not going to have all the answers, ever. Is that a reasonable standard to set before believing?

          • primenumbers

            "but I do not know" - exactly. So why do you write things like " He does not reveal Himself to all because that would remove free will." when you know you really don't know?

          • Randy Gritter

            I know some things. I don't know everything. Some of the reasons why God does not always reveal Himself are well understood. Which reason applies in which particular case is not understood. Sometimes one reason may apply but only be part of the answer. So we can suggest some answers when someone is implying there is no possible answer but we can't really know fully why God does or does not do something.

          • primenumbers

            "Some of the reasons why God does not always reveal Himself are well understood" - again you're claiming knowledge beyond what you can really know. You're basically claiming to know how the mind of God works. I think the very most major problem atheists have with religious people is when they pretend to know things they don't know.

          • Randy Gritter

            If God reveals Himself then we know. We believe God reveals Himself through the bible, through Christian tradition, and through the church. Some things are clear. Some things are what we call a mystery. Things we can never completely understand. There is still huge joy and fulfillment in understanding what we can.

          • primenumbers

            So you don't know - you believe. Belief is not knowledge. By saying that you know how God works rather than you saying you believe you know (And "believe you know" really means you believe, not that you actually know) how God works, you're pretending to have knowledge that you don't actually have.

          • Randy Gritter

            I know God. It is like knowing a person. You know what sort of things they do or don't do. You can't pretend to explain all their actions especially without all the data but you know their heart and mind to some extent. I know something of God's heart and mind. It is an awesome thing to know. It does not mean I have all the answers. It just means I know something.

          • primenumbers

            I think that you believe you know God. I don't think that you know God. You're also rather anthropomorphizing God.

      • cowalker

        "He gives our reason just enough to believe but leaves it room to disbelieve as well. Freedom."

        I don't think I'll ever be able to understand this point of view. So when God reveals himself to some he is NOT messing with their freedom? St. Paul was free to walk away saying to himself "Gosh, there must have been some funny mushrooms in that stew." Or Paul could have said "I respecfully decline your offer. I prefer to pursue my civil service career." But if God revealed himself to everyone, it would interfere with their freedom to believe or not believe? Aren't they still free to reject God while believing in him?

        What is the value in being "free" to believe what is not factual? Would the disciple Thomas have been "freer" if he hadn't had the chance to put his hand in Jesus wound? Wouldn't he simply have lacked a useful experience that increased his knowledge and enabled him to make a more informed choice about following Jesus. teachings?

        Am I interfering with someone's "freedom" when I give him information? The more convincing my information is, the more it interferes with their "freedom" to believe otherwise. But in no other area do we identify lack of information about something as "freedom" to "choose" what we "believe" about that something. Freedom is allowing choice based on knowledge, not by allowing choice while manipulating the knowledge permitted to the chooser.
        Sid Collins

        • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

          Perfect response. I could sooner accept as true everything printed in supermarket tabloids than believe that God "gives our reason just enough to believe but leaves it room to disbelieve as well."

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I might be speaking heresy here, but I think free will pertains more to actions than to belief/knowledge. What Plato got wrong was "the source of evil is ignorance."

            Knowledge and information doesn't help me much to act against my inclinations and to do what I think I should.

          • cowalker

            ". . . I think free will pertains more to actions than to belief/knowledge."

            I agree. That is why it makes me a little crazy when Christians say that God doesn't make his existence and nature universally known as a factual matter to all humans because it would interfere with their "freedom" to believe or disbelieve. That makes no more sense to me than chiding nutritionists for publicizing facts and statistics that interfere with our freedom to believe that sodas are an essential part of a balanced diet. We can still choose to drink gallons of Coke while knowing all the facts about sugar and diabetes and heart disease. What freedom or virtue is enabled by concealing information?

            In any case why is it a "virtue" to find a particular amount of evidence sufficient for belief? Why is it a moral failing to find that amount of evidence insufficient? One is either convinced or not. If not, and it is important that one be convinced, why would it be reasonable to conceal available evidence?

            Sid Collins

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Well, I suppose an answer to that is found in two of the major natural conditions of human beings (or consequences of Original Sin, to use Catholic terminology): a darkened intellect so it is hard to know the truth of things and a weakened will so it is hard to do things even when you know what you should (like not drink so much Coke).

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            From an evolutionary standpoint, aspects of "original sin" may be adaptive. Here's an excerpt from the Scientific American review of Cordelia Fine's book A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives

            Ironically, one category of persons shows that it is possible to view life through a clearer lens. "Their self-perceptions are more balanced, they assign responsibility for success and failure more even-handedly, and their predictions for the future are more realistic. These people are living testimony to the dangers of self-knowledge," Fine asserts. "They are the clinically depressed."

            Many optical illusions are the result of the brain having "quick and dirty" rules of perception that work most of the time and consequently are more adaptive than slower methods of perception that don't result in optical illusions. So perception that is flawed, but rarely, is more adaptive than perception that would be perfect all the time, but slower.

    • Fr.Sean

      Hi Vicq,
      you may be right about God revealing himself to some and not to others, but i am certain that he judges us based on how much has been revealed to us. Those who haven't had much revelation or who have had difficult experiences that have limited their freedom are judged on a different basis. Nevertheless, it was interesting to hear his story since he's seen things from both perspectives?

  • ZenDruid

    The brain is a delicate organ. There may have been some collateral damage from the heart attack.

    I'm reminded of the anecdote from a neurologist who one morning, upon seeing angels come up from the floor and through the ceiling, decided that there was something going on in his right parietal lobe. Upon investigation, it turns out he was right.

    Also:

    http://www.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html

    • Randy Gritter

      This is the classic, "some miracle stories are false so therefore they are all false" argument. It just does not follow.

      Plus, you have to contemplate the significance of distrusting the human brain. That means you can't trust your own brain either. Where does that leave you?

      • ZenDruid

        Dude, I'm not going to argue.

        • Randy Gritter

          Too bad! God bless you.

          • ZenDruid

            Live long and prosper.

      • Vicq_Ruiz

        I would not argue "some miracles are false therefore they all are".

        What I would argue instead is that "it is not possible to determine whether any particular observed event is a miracle or not".

        How would you make such a determination?

        • Randy Gritter

          I would do it through evidence. If the witnesses are credible. If there is corroboration. If there is a lack of reason to lie.

  • Derek Lavender

    I'd like to start by pointing out that he doesn't really cite any claims he makes. No news coverage of any of his miracles or auspicious occurrences, no hospital records or anything to show the truth to the heart attack story, no examples of the AMAZING arguments that he used to deconvert his family and friends, and certainly no insights about the structure of time and space that he was shown following his heart attack, insights that would be welcome not only by the science fiction writing community, but by physicists and really all scientists worldwide. That was the first thing that struck me as suspicious. The next was the logical fallacies he continually makes in his arguments. He argues from anecdotal evidence only, he argues from authority (supposed authority as having the BEST atheist arguments ever), uses straw-man portrayals of his atheist friends (whose behavior strikes me as childish if true), and he argues from popularity (saying that the majority of people who believe in such supernatural things CAN'T be wrong, since they're the majority; hopefully you can see the error of this).

    He also misrepresents the majority of atheists with this claim:

    "No matter what they saw, no matter what they heard, no matter how the world was against them, they would go to the lions rather than look at the evidence, lest their faith in their faithlessness be shaken."

    The problem, first, is that he doesn't present his evidence for all of these magical happenings, and second, is that he thinks that we believe that there is no god. That may be true for some atheistic philosophies, certainly the most aggressive ones, but anyone who claims to be a skeptic or a nonbeliever should always recognize the possibility of such things, considering the size/scope of the universe and the number of things we don't know.

    Another thing that struck me as weird was the fact that although he was the BEST atheist there could be, by his own estimation, he decided to address his taunting prayer to the Abrahamic god, who conveniently was the one who responded, allegedly. Why wouldn't he address it to the possibility of the millions of gods posited by Hinduism, or to a deistic summation of belief systems? No, this seems to specific for someone who claimed to be one of hte most logical atheists ever. He wouldn't disbelieve Christianity MORE than any other religion, so why single it out for provocation in his 'prayer?'

    Lastly, (and this doesn't make his arguments any feebler than they already are) for a science fiction writer, he's got to work on his writing. This seems like a bit of fiction for conversion purposes at worst, and a misguided interpretation of a health crisis at best.

    • Randy Gritter

      Suppose he can present evidence that would convince you he is not lying, would that make any difference? Is it really a lack of evidence or are you closed to evidence?

      • Derek Lavender

        If you reread my post, you'll see that I never said I was closed to evidence. I said he utterly failed to present any outside of his wildly preposterous anecdote, which if true, would have profound implications for science ( see my comment about his supposed knowledge of the true nature of space and time).

      • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

        Suppose he can present evidence that would convince you he is not lying . . .

        I would never accuse him of lying. We certainly don't get any details, though. Did he go to the hospital and did they verify he was having a heart attack? How did the faith healing happen? What did he find out about the structure of time and space? I don't doubt that people who report these kinds of experiences believe what they say. I would not even necessarily doubt that something extraordinary or inexplicable happen. But I would want to know a lot more before I concluded it was miraculous. When the Vatican claims verifies a medical miracle, they have panels of experts study the medical records.

  • Rationalist1

    When I was a believer, I experienced nothing like you did when I prayed to experience God's presence in my life. My experience of God was more akin to Mother Teresa's, just feeling a vast emptiness, a nothingness out there when I prayed. I guess you got all the attention and Mather Teresa and I got none. She stayed in her faith, but I left.

    • Randy Gritter

      I am in that boat to. I just am happy guys like John have the experiences they do. I love these stories. I don't need them to happen to me.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Despite how MT "felt" most of the time during the second half of her life, she kept on doing good, serving others and giving joy to countless seemingly "unlovable" persons. This was truly heroic love.

      • Rationalist1

        Kevin - Even non believers can do good. You don't have to believe to be a good person.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Sorry, Rationalist, I was looking at it from my point of view. "I" believe but I don't consider myself "good."

          But absolutely, non-believers can do good.

          • Rationalist1

            I don't consider myself good either, only a person who is trying to do good.

            I actually met Mother Teresa briefly years ago when she was visiting my home town. I don't have the hatred for her that some atheists have (Hitchens) but it did bother me that when she got sick she was flown to the US for health care rather than being treated in one of her facilities.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Then, as Pope Francis said, "That is where we will meet."

            Or as Spock said, "Live long and prosper!"

          • severalspeciesof

            FWIU, Hitchens actually changed his mind against Mother Theresa when her diaries were produced. That is, he began to feel sorry for her, though I could be wrong here. ...

          • Rationalist1

            I remember seeing that interview and he did change his attitude towards her. He was quite sympathetic to her plight.

      • Sage McCarey

        Alice Walker is right:
        "What is happening in the world more and more is that people are attempting to decolonize their spirits."

        I cannot bow down and beg any visible or invisible man. I believe in democracy and not the rule of kings, so I will not worship a King, Lord, Master. I do not believe human beings are sinners from the moment of birth (or is it conception)? I will not support any organization that has always been run totally by men and never listened to anything women have to say. I will never support an organization that believes women have no right to control their sexual experience or their reproduction.

        I just read Dan Barker's new book, The Good Atheist. If by some stretch of the imagination, there is a hell, I prefer the company of non-believers for eternity.
        Now there's an interesting bunch of people.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          If I though the things you said were true I would share your opinions.

        • Linda

          The Virgin Mary, St Catherine of Sienna (who told the Pope to get himself together and get back to Rome), Mother Theresa … the list of influential women in the Catholic Church is quite long, beginning with the Blessed Mother, initially an unwed teenage mother as I recall. The Catholic Church reveres women and their reproductive abilities, but asks that they and the men in their lives respect that amazing gift of producing life. It is the lack of respect for this miracle - yes, bringing life into the world is our way of being miraculous - that has us thinking it is so meaningless as to be thrown away and treated like it is ordinary.

          • ZenDruid

            I think this is where the 'free will' issue really comes into play.

          • Linda

            :) Absolutely! Knowing that what I'm about to do could potentially create life, do I go ahead? Am I a slave to my desires, at the mercy of my passions with no self-control, or do I have the will (and will power) to choose *not* to succumb? Or if I do, to accept the life I chose to create?

  • BenS

    It's sort of interesting to read and mirrors a lot of experiences others have had... although the majority have ended up being given an experience by a totally different deity.

    And that's why, besides being a passing anecdote about a single person, this article contributes nothing to the discussion about whether a god exists and which it is.

    It would read exactly the same if you did a search replace for terms like 'Christianity', 'God', 'Jesus' and changed them to 'Islam', 'Allah', 'Muhammed'. Any article like that is, more or less, worthless.

    So, yeah, if you're interested in the author or like hearing conversion stories then I suppose it's interesting to read. If you're looking for an argument for if god exists or why to choose a particular god then it's not really of much value.

    Additionally, I'm going to go out on a limb here and hazard a wild guess that his parents/relatives/friends were some kind of Christian and/or he lives in a broadly Christian community. People who move in broadly Christian social circles don't tend to have glorious revelations and become Muslim and they almost never convert to a religion they hadn't previously heard of. That alone is worth thinking about.

    • Randy Gritter

      What if God just wants to show He is there and He is love? Catholicism does say that private revelations are not useful for discerning theological truth. That is the role of the pope and the magisterium.

      I also don't think what you say is true. There are stories of Muslim people getting visions of Jesus and becoming Christian. It is rare but I would not say it never happens because I have met people who say it happened to them. One man I heard speak met Jesus in a remote part of Africa before he had ever met a Christian.

      • BenS

        What if God just wants to show He is there and He is love?

        And his preferred method is to strike someone with a heart attack to make his point? You appear to have a different view of love than I do...

        I also don't think what you say is true. There are stories of Muslim
        people getting visions of Jesus and becoming Christian. It is rare but I
        would not say it never happens because I have met people who say it
        happened to them.

        You don't think it's true because it's a strawman. I said, quite clearly, 'don't tend to' and 'almost never'. If you're going say that I'm wrong because I say it 'never happens' then you're arguing against a statement I never made. That's rather silly.

        One man I heard speak met Jesus in a remote part of
        Africa before he had ever met a Christian.

        And had he ever heard of Christianity? I'm not aware of a single, reliable case that a person who had never heard of a religion at all suddenly converting to that religion and having all the core concepts down pat. Not once.

        I would absolutely love to see a study where someone suddenly appeared with knowledge of religion that they couldn't possibly have because they'd never heard of it. This would interest me greatly.

  • severalspeciesof

    I am more than a presumably rational individual. I was a
    champion of atheism who gave arguments in favor of atheism so
    convincing that three of my friends gave up their religious belief due
    to my persuasive reasoning powers, and my father stopped going to
    church.

    This is telling in a way. IMO, I do not consider myself a champion of atheism, but rather a champion of the use of the tools of reason, which brings me to the conclusion 'I do not believe in a god (when it is definitionally concise, and if it's un-concise, well, no judgement can be seriously made)'. To be a champion of atheism IMO really makes no sense unless one is concerned with the influence of the religious in the political sphere, and even then it's not being a champion of atheism, but being a champion of neutrality...

    • BenS

      Do we have any evidence (besides his anecdotes) that he was a 'champion of atheism' before his conversion? I mean, if I lose my marbles in the future and convert to some religion or other, people would be able to look back on sites like this and RDFRS and see that I was quite outspoken in my atheism and put forward many arguments and comments in opposition to religious ideas.

      One of the first things people should then do is point me right back at my own arguments and say 'deal with these then, sunshine'.

      • severalspeciesof

        Do we have any evidence (besides his anecdotes) that he was a 'champion of atheism' before his conversion?

        No, and that's a fair point, but I'm being charitable here. I have no good reason not to believe him in this regard...

        Glen

        • BenS

          I'm not saying he's telling porkies, but I've come across so many stories of how people 'converted' from atheism and after a little digging it turns out they've simply reverted back to the religion they held as a kid (often as a comfort blanket after losing a loved one or being in a near death accident) or even that their 'atheism' turned out to be a couple of years when they were at uni, skipping church and doing the things teenagers do before returning to their home town and settling back into their former ritual of weekly church attendence.

          I'm just a bit jaded is all - and when someone make quite a bold, positive claim for being a 'champion of atheism', I'm even more likely to want to know what this actually consisted of.

          • severalspeciesof

            Don't worry, I definitely know where you are coming from, plus, I didn't mean my response to sound as though you were saying he was telling 'porkies' (ha, love the term)... :)

            Glen

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            stories of how people 'converted' from atheism

            I've read a few books of apologetics from writers (Lee Strobel immediately comes to mind) who claim to have once been atheists, but whose presentation of the challenges raised by atheism is so shallow that I can't but believe they are lying.

            Having read most of John Wright's postings on his blog, I would not put him in that category.

  • stanz2reason

    " ...remorseless process of logic that all my fellow atheists were horribly, comically wrong about every basic point of philosophy, ethics, and logic..."

    Anybody know the disqus html code for inserting a giant middle finger into the comment box?

    • Rationalist1

      If every basic point of philosophy, logic and ethics is beyond me, then how would I know that?

      • ZenDruid

        Ah, but Jesus knows, ask Him.

        • Rationalist1

          Not until I get the results of my heart stress test back.

    • ZenDruid

      • Dcn Harbey Santiago

        Zen,

        I find this gif offensive in the extreme, or are we to star disrespecting each other now? please consider removing it.

        "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
        Deacon Harbey Santiago

        • ZenDruid

          Don't take it personally. It's aimed at " ...remorseless process of logic that all my fellow atheists were horribly, comically wrong about every basic point of philosophy, ethics, and logic..." in the OP. Not at you.

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            It does not matter to whom it was directed. That is a distasteful and offensive sign which has no place on civil and respectful exchanges. I'm just asking for a bit of civility and self policing. Without that I'm afraid SN will sink to the level of many other discussion boards. Sadly you have set a dangerous precedent.

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            Deacon Harbey Santiago

          • ZenDruid

            If Brandon wants it to come down, I trust he'll let me know.

        • Andre Boillot

          "are we to star (sic) disrespecting each other now?"

          Like implying that the other side only wishes for the illogical? That sort of disrespect?

        • stanz2reason

          'Extreme' might be a little overly dramatic. For the record though my original comment was expressing a sentiment that I didn't intend be taken literally.

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            Stanz,

            Please read my comment to zen.

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            Deacon Harbey Santiago

          • stanz2reason

            I don't feel it's any more disrespectful than someone suggesting such a broad dismissal of skeptical viewpoints as "horribly, comically wrong about every basic point of philosophy, ethics, and logic". I was threatened for using the word 'silly' a week or two back. This piece uses language that's more smug that I usually am (and that says a lot). There's a double standard here that's just becoming obnoxious at this point.

            I still think that it's overly dramatic to claim to be offended in the extreme, but I do understand. I stand by the sentiment, but the literal gif (while funny) might be reconsidering.

  • http://swt.encyclomundi.org/ shackra sislock

    «They reasoned as follows: “God cannot possibly exist. Therefore any
    evidence that you encountered that God exists must be hallucination,
    mis-perception, faulty memory, self-deception, coincidence, or anything
    else no matter how farfetched and absurd. Since any evidence that you
    encountered that God exists must be hallucination, mis-perception,
    faulty memory, self-deception, coincidence, or anything else no matter
    how farfetched and absurd, therefore none of your evidence proves God
    exists.”»

    Usually they think in that way, yes...

    • stanz2reason

      Or not really that way at all. Way to generalize without listening though.

      • http://swt.encyclomundi.org/ shackra sislock

        My English isn't good as yours, but «usually» doesn't mean «always», my friend (or at least, that wasn't my alleged meaning) :)

        But Mr, John knows what he is talking about, after all he was a avid atheist, thought...

        • stanz2reason

          Then here's a lesson there english major... 'Usually' implies a greater than 50% likelyhood of that being the case, which in my opinion leaves your remark as baseless & ultimately bogus generalizing. In my experience it is not at all likely that a skeptic, and certainly not a majority of skeptics, will claim anything like 'God cannot possibly exist'. In addition the claims of 1 person are just that... 1 person out of 7 billion who all can make similar or competing claims with equal validity. Good try there though sport.

          • http://swt.encyclomundi.org/ shackra sislock

            It wasn't my statement but the blogger's one, just read the entire post and you will find.

            According to merriam-webster dictionary:

            Always:

            1 : at all times : invariably
            2 : forever
            3 : at any rate : in any event

            Usually (usual):

            1 : accordant with usage, custom, or habit : normal
            2 : commonly or ordinarily used
            3 : found in ordinary practice or in the ordinary course of events : ordinary

            Not sure from where you took the 50% stuff from the meaning of "usually" to say that I'm generalizing, but well, Marriam Webster dictionary says that I don't (because truly I wasn't desiring to do that).

          • Andre Boillot

            Shackra,

            You're using the definition of "usual" (adjective), not the definition of "usually" (adverb).

            Adverb[edit]

            usually (comparative more usually, superlative most usually)

            Most of the time; less than always, but more than occasionally.

            Except for one or two days a year, he usually walks to work.

            Under normal conditions.

            http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/usually

          • stanz2reason

            You quoted the author and noted Usually they think in that way, yes...

            That is of course the gross generalizing we're referring to.

            In that gross generalizing you began with the word 'usually'. Lets use the Harper Collins Dictionary version as it becomes more clear what I'm referring to (for Usual: "such as is in common or ordinary use; such as is most often seen, heard, used, etc.; common; ordinary; customary"). In this context the use of the word 'usually' is understood as 'more often then not' (hence my noting greater than 50% of the time).

            You made a gross bogus generalization. I called you on it. End of story. Beyond that, I'm not going to be dragged further into a semantic argument.

  • Sage McCarey

    Alice Walker article: "The only reason you want to go to heaven is that you have been driven out of your mind."
    Looking back on my parents' and grandparents' lives I have often felt overwhelmed, helpless, as I've examined history and society, and especially religion, with them in mind, and have seen how they were manipulated away from a belief in their own judgment and faith in themselves.

    It is most painful to realize they were forever trying to correct a "flaw" that of being black,female and human that did not exist, except as "men of God," but really men of greed, misogyny and violence, defined it. What a burden to think one is conceived in sin, rather than in pleasure; that one is born into evil rather than into joy. In my work, I speak to my parents and to my most distant ancestors about what I myself have found as an Earthling growing naturally out of the Universe. I create characters who sometimes speak in the language of immediate ancestors, characters who are not passive, but active in the discovery of what is vital and real in this world. Characters who explore what it would feel like not to be imprisoned by the hatred of women, the love of violence, and the destructiveness of greed taught to human beings as the "religion" by which they must guide their lives.

    What is happening in the world more and more is that people are attempting to decolonize their spirits.

    • Lionel Nunez

      Huh, that seemed really ramble-ly...what exactly are you saying?

      • Sage McCarey

        I was quoting Walker and agreeing with her that one reason people long for heaven is because their lives in this world are/have been so bad. Her grandparents were slaves and she and her parents lived under Jim Crow laws in the south. One of the things that caused me to question religion was that the slave owners set up churches for their slaves. They made laws that made it a crime for slaves to read, but they gave them churches. She realizes men have always been the only ones to define, through religion, what sin is, what evil is and what kind of ppl we ought to be. They have told us that we are flawed and born in sin not in pleasure, born into evil and not into joy. I dream about what the world would be like if the symbol of religion could be a mother nurturing her children rather than a bloody man hanging on a cross. You can read the whole article on the internet.

        • Lionel Nunez

          Gee, that's a whole lot to expect people to infer, much less agree with...and your response skips over explaining any of the vague New Age-y solipsism...I suppose what I should ask is: for what purpose did you write that post and how did you expect what you wrote to convey that?

  • http://swt.encyclomundi.org/ shackra sislock

    «I did not get the opportunity to ask him by what means he discovered the
    hidden workings of my secret unspoken desires, since he had never
    spoken to me, and he was not within normal mind-reading range. I did not
    get a chance to ask him whether this strange ability to harm and heal
    myself at will was something all people had, or whether he thought I had
    a superpower due to being bitten by a radioactive spider or something
    of the sort.»

    jajajajajajajajaja xd

  • http://swt.encyclomundi.org/ shackra sislock

    found it interesting:

    John C Wright says (June 2, 2013 at 4:25 pm) http://www.scifiwright.com/2011/09/a-question-i-never-tire-of-answering/comment-page-2/#comment-87364 :

    My thought is this: I met the Virgin Mary. I would do anything to see her again, be with her again. Never have I known such kindness, such sadness, such gladness in any woman. To be deprived of that is hell. God can do anything, but he cannot do what is logically self-contradictory. It would be self-contradictory for an unrepentant evil man to enter into a spiritual unity with God, a union more intimate than man and wife, without the evil in him causing him pain: I do not see how it is logically possible, even in theory. Hence the only thing God can do in His mercy is to hide Himself from man until such time as Man consents to have the evil removed. There are only two options: one is reincarnation, where a man gets a second chance and a third and an infinite number, whereupon the choice is not final and therefore not a choice. The other option is that the choice is final.

    The atheists I know, including myself, would prefer hell, no matter how painful, to a heaven where they would have to admit they were wrong. They would rather face eternal damnation than bend their pride. If so, there is no injustice in God granting their wish.

    We humans think of these things in analogies. We talk about it like a judge sending a wrongdoer to prison. But human judges do not have the authority to decide ultimate issues of good and evil, and do not have the purpose of deciding who gets to join the godhead and who gets expelled into the outer nothingness. It is not the same decision and does not have the same consequences.

    There is no doctrine of the Christian religion I would rather not believe, if I had a vote on what to believe and what not to believe, than this one. And yet I see no other way an eternal human soul could be dealt with. Either the eternity is spent with the source of goodness, life, and joy, which is heaven; or the lack of goodness, life and joy, which is evil, death, and pain, which is hell.

    • severalspeciesof

      This may be interesting but is IMO deeply steeped in something that I have no way of saying except "delusional"... to wit:

      The atheists I know, including myself, would prefer hell, no matter how
      painful, to a heaven where they would have to admit they were wrong.
      They would rather face eternal damnation than bend their pride.

      How can he assume this about others with any certainty?

      Glen

      • primenumbers

        He can't. It's an example of pretending to know what you don't know. He has faith that atheists would prefer hell to save admitting they're wrong, because for him to think otherwise would be to think of an incompetent God who sends well meaning atheists who just cannot believe based on the lack of good evidence and logical absurdities present in the theistic definitions of God because God refuses to deal properly with the lack of evidence and with the flawed arguments presented by his apologists. The statement appears to be a rationalization for his benefit, not ours.

        • severalspeciesof

          The statement appears to be a rationalization for his benefit, not ours.

          Interesting point...

          • primenumbers

            Similar to when Christians suggest that atheists were not sincere enough in their prayers asking God for evidence or to guide them to the truth. The un-evidenced faith that atheists are not sincere in their prayers is a rationalization for the benefit of the theist.

      • http://swt.encyclomundi.org/ shackra sislock

        That was writting by the very John C. Wright, so, I don't know, but maybe the clue is here, look:

        The atheists I know, including myself, would prefer hell, no matter how painful, to a heaven where they would have to admit they were wrong.

        Maybe he assume this by the same reason atheists assume that people with religious experience was hallucinating or psychologically affected by their willingness to believe in something that is impossible to exists by chance or logic, they say...

        • Susan

          Maybe he assume this by the same reason atheists assume that people with religious experience was hallucinating or psychologically affected by their willingness to believe in something that is impossible to exists by chance or logic, they say...

          I don't assume it. Extraordinary evidence to support the extraordinary claim would make me consider things differently. There is nothing extraordinary about "belief". It's a dime-a-dozen when it comes to humans.

          The atheists I know, including myself, would prefer hell, no matter how painful, to a heaven where they would have to admit they were wrong.

          The atheists I know aren't like that at all. Neither am I. I am used to being wrong about lots of things. I hope to correct it when I am and so do most of the atheists I've met in meat space and on the internet. This is one of many things I find very fishy about this article.

          It's an anecdotal statement, so it may be a true case but a very rare one, but I can't help but find it suspicious. In a larger context, it's a strawman. It says nothing about atheists. My encounters with the atheists at this site don't seem to be with people who are afraid to be wrong.

          • http://swt.encyclomundi.org/ shackra sislock

            Extraordinary evidence to support the extraordinary claim would make me consider things differently

            Isn't extraordinary a phrase that decides the trueness of a claim?

          • Susan

            Isn't extraordinary a phrase that decides the trueness of a claim?

            I don't understand what you mean.

          • Max Driffill

            No.

          • http://swt.encyclomundi.org/ shackra sislock

            Well, if you don't find extraordinary a belief (although I find
            impressive the testimony of a militant atheist that was less likely to accept the existence of God as any of the commentators here), please, try to give us a satisfactory, secular explanation the Miracle of the Sun of Fatima or the cadaveric incorruptibility of either Jean-Marie Vianney or Bernadette Soubirous or at least, any of the Eucharistic miracles happened and studied recently (from 90s and later) in Argentina.

            And since that was wrote from the very John C. Wright's experience, by himself, I don't have that sense of being a strawman what we are reading here, but the writing of a man that at least embrace his experience that demonstrated he was wrong all his life.

            (pictures for purpose of illustration)

            Since there is no God, these stuff have to be easily explaining with naturalistic causes. right?

          • BenS

            satisfactory, secular explanation the Miracle of the Sun of Fatima

            Mass hallucination, retinal anomalies after prolonged staring at the sun, poor data capture, biased reporting.

            cadaveric incorruptibility of either Jean-Marie Vianney or Bernadette Soubirous

            No credible data, hearsay, bias.

            Eucharistic miracles happened and studied recently (from 90s and later) in Argentina.

            Appalling quality of 'evidence'.

            Furthermore, your pictures aren't pictures of anything special, are they? They're pictures of some dead bodies wearing wax masks and pictures of bunches of people standing around. Show me where the miracle is, there.

            Where's the independently reviewed data showing what great conditions these corpses are in? Where's the video footage of the dancing sun?

            If I showed you those pictures and said they were evidence of aliens possessing human corpses and evidence that 10,000 people saw their spaceship you would laugh at how weak it was. Don't be surprised if that's exactly what I do.

          • primenumbers

            "testimony of a militant atheist" - no such thing as militant atheists. If you're going to post pejoratives, it's going to really distract from anything meaningful you might have to say.

          • Sample1

            Words like militant and testimony do have clearer meanings in faith environments. I'm at a loss as to how those words can be meaningfully applied to null positions. Are there militant non-stamp collectors too? Do people who don't collect stamps attend weekly meetings and give testimony as to their lack of a hobby?

            And the more I think about it, I can't ever recall asking a believer (let alone knocking on their doors on Saturday mornings) to consider a life without theism. Maybe there are people like that, but I certainly haven't seen any indication of them in the posts here.

            Mike

          • primenumbers

            As I say, it's a pejorative designed to belittle the atheist position by adding in un-evidenced negative attributes. Such comments don't befit the goals of this site.

          • Sample1

            I'm there with you but I have to say, I don't feel belittled! I guess I'm sympathetic to the cognitive challenges present in most faith environments.

            Someone recently asked me why I was on this site. I suppose that is part of what makes up my interest in participating here. Another part relates to being a moral person and how I consider it a personal duty to go to places where I think I can help.

            Mike

          • Kevin Aldrich

            In the interest of better understanding, "militant" isn't necessarily pejorative from the Catholic perspective. We call the Church on earth the "Church militant" since we are in the midst of the struggle for salvation.

            A militant atheist can be seen as one who is not only an atheist but is trying to get others to see the truth of the atheist position. But if it is offensive, I personally will try not to use it.

          • primenumbers

            I don't think of it so much as offensive, but as a touchstone to show that someone who is using it doesn't understand who they're talking about. Militant has communist / far left meanings too, as well as the combative meaning.

          • hiernonymous

            "Since there is no God, these stuff have to be easily explaining with naturalistic causes. right?"

            That wouldn't in any way follow, unless one assumed that man has already learned all there is to learn about nature. That one lacks an explanation for what one has observed is not a sound reason to invent one.

        • Vicq_Ruiz

          John Wright's major failing as a Christian apologist is his tendency to generalize from his experienced character as an atheist to the character of all atheists past and present.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think that is a fair criticism of many of us.

          • hiernonymous

            I can't say that Convert Wright is any more appetizing than Militant Atheist Wright. I find the spectacle of the cocksure on both sides more than a bit disagreeable. One would have hoped that Mr. Wright's volte face would have left him with a more sympathetic approach to atheism, rather than simply continuing his in-your-face aggressiveness for another team.

            And, frankly, Mr. Wright brags throughout his piece about how effective he was at arguing the atheist position, and that he is a philosopher, not a poseur, but my impression on reading this piece is that if his pro-atheism arguments were no better than his post-conversion piece, his assessments must be taken with a grain of salt.

        • severalspeciesof

          The atheists I know, including myself, would prefer hell, no matter how painful, to a heaven where they would have to admit they were wrong.

          Maybe he assume this by the same reason atheists assume that people with religious experience was hallucinating

          The 'was' part in your comment nullifies the 'same reason' part because Wright is making a prediction where as atheists are explaining an occurrence in your example...

          Glen

  • Brad

    So what is the significance of the fact that many people from a variety of religions have experiences just like this? It seems like there are two options. One is that there is a God but "he" isn't the God of any particular religion and doesn't really care if you believe in Jesus dying on the cross or virgins getting pregnant. The other option is to discredit the experiences of those other religious followers with the same reasoning that an Atheist could discredit John's experiences.

    • Andre Boillot

      "The other option is to discredit the experiences of those other religious followers"

      Discredit? I don't know. Try to dig deeper into these phenomena and understand them? Yes. I would be very interested in learning more about altered mental states of any kind. Just because people have reached the wrong conclusion doesn't mean we should ignore the experiences themselves.

      • Brad

        I agree, I think learning about them is important. I guess from the point of view of the person having the experience it would seem that learning about the experience in that way would feel like what they believe it was is being discredited.

        • Andre Boillot

          Sure I can see that in the sense that it doesn't mean what they might think it means. But I'm also not willing to strip the experience of any meaning whatsoever (I think we agree).

          • Brad

            I agree, I don't mean to say the experience isn't important, just questioning taking the conclusions he has from it.

    • primenumbers

      This is not about discrediting the very real experiences John (or others) have encountered, but to not explain them as unambiguously representing evidence of a particular religious belief.

    • BenS

      A third one is that all the experiences that relate to the believer's god are miracles and all the ones that relate to everyone else's gods are hallucinations. This is the option most theists seem to go for.

      Edit: I've just reread your post and that's exactly what you said. Dear god, Ben, get with it.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      A third is that there is a God who has definitively revealed himself in a particular religion and that other religions contain partial truths. That is the Catholic position.

      • Brad

        It seems that if God cared what religion you were, he'd give you visions leading you to that religion. As it is, the visions usually relate to the dominant culture or childhood religion of the one experiencing. Given that, either God doesn't care what religion you are, just that you believe in a God, or there is something interesting going on in the human brain that is not supernatural at all but is influenced by each individual's environment.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I did revert to my childhood religion but it was the last thing I considered could be true.

          The Catholic approach is that God wants people normally to accept Christianity through human agency. He told the Apostles to go and make disciples of all nations and to baptize them. In other words, "You, go do it."

          He didn't say, "Apostles, open some churches and I'll send people to you through visions."

          • Brad

            Right, but this article is making the argument that visions are a legitimate way for God to bring people to him.

          • primenumbers

            "The Catholic approach is that God wants people normally to accept Christianity through human agency." that rather sounds like a perfect God wanting people to use unreliable methods to come to a belief in him. Somehow that just doesn't sound right to me.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Science seems to be telling us that the universe as we know it today is the result of the long-term effects of the interactions of determinism and chance on matter and energy.

            Catholic theologians and philosophers don't have a problem with that, seeing it as God working in an even more amazing way then was first imagined.

            This, too, might look like a perfect God using unreliable methods to create our world (and everything else) but if that's true, that's the way it is.

            Besides, for some reason God wants people to share in his work. Hence the Apostles and the Church as agents.

          • primenumbers

            "seeing it as God working in an even more amazing way then was first imagined" - but then again they didn't have a problem with the situation before modern cosmology or evolution either. If the Catholic position is just to agree with the best current science, they're not taking a stance and saying "the existence of our God predicts x", and thus having the courage of their convictions to open their God theory to be able to be falsified.

            But I'm not actually making the argument that God used imperfect methods to make our world. That's a different argument entirely. What I'm saying is that the only method open to us, the only epistemology we have that leads to a belief in God is so unreliable that it's not used for much other the religious beliefs, certainly nothing important that actually has to work.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            A first thing is you seem to be assuming a false dichotomy between faith and reason. Catholics begin with the assumption that truth cannot contradict truth, so the truth in divine revelation and the truth discovered by reason (whether in natural science or some other field) cannot be in real conflict if both are understood properly (they can certainly be in apparent conflict).

            Actually, Catholic theology has said "the existence of our God predicts X." For example, the Catholic faith "predicts" that we will find order in God's creation. In fact, we find incredible complex order based on information embedded in the physical things themselves. That retrojustifies, reorients, and enlarges the original premise.

            At the same time, the order in things is a way to reason back to God. However, the method is not inductive but deductive. An example of that is the cosmological argument.

          • primenumbers

            Faith is not reasonable though, and as it's such a poor epistemology, it's only used for things like religion. Catholics tell us that their religion rests on reason, but fail to actually demonstrate that reason, not faith is at the core of their beliefs. In other words, I know exactly what Catholics assert when it comes to reason and faith yet I've actually yet to see what they assert be actually demonstrated. The various cosmological arguments are a good demonstration of this as they claim to be reasonable, but upon deeper examination they're based on equivocation, word play and flaws in their logic.

            As for prediction of order - I'd hardly say our universe represents order rather than chaos.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            > In reagard to "prediction of order . . . our universe represents . . . chaos."

            Look at the inner workings of a cell and you will see incredible order in the intricate micromachines that make it up.

          • primenumbers

            Sure, evolution is quite amazing isn't it. But look at my house - it's chaos here! Look at nature - clouds are chaotic, a dripping tap is chaotic, weather patterns, tree and plant growth, radiation, system noise.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I thought fractile math can explain some of these seemingly random things.

          • primenumbers

            It models them, but I don't think it explains them. Have you read Gleick's "Chaos" - great book on the subject. (and it's not got much to do with the subject at hand, but just a great book I'd recommend anyhow).

          • Kevin Aldrich

            If you identify something from faith I'll try to show you how it is reasonable.

          • primenumbers

            A Trinitarian God would be a good example.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Both philosophy and divine revelation attest that God is love--not just that God is *loving* but that love is part of his nature.

            Our meager understanding of love is that it is a union between two or more persons. If that applies to God, too, then it makes sense that there are at least two persons sharing the same divine nature.

          • primenumbers

            "Both philosophy and divine revelation attest that God is love" - your opening premise is faith based. To say "God is love" is to define your God as a human emotion that occurs in our brains. That is hardly rational.

            "Our meager understanding of love is that it is a union between two or more persons." - that's one form of love. We can love people, we can love ideas, we can love ourselves. Love is not restricted to the example you give.

            " If that applies to God, too, " - so if a being that exists totally outside our understanding if it exists at all, without time or space (which are essential components to us as beings, and play significant parts in how we understand love) has a close enough analogy to how we in our chemical and physical brains feel love.... Wow that's an awfully big. That "if" is where faith comes in....

            What you have demonstrated is that your rationalization of Trinity stands on some mighty big "ifs" and some faith for the divine revaluation bit.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            If you work through one of Robert Spitzer's philosophical approaches to God through the transcendentals you will see a rational argument for the claim that "God is Love."

            If you work through the preambles of faith which stand outside faith, you will see that it is reasonable to believe that Divine Revelation is true, a revelation which contains the doctrine of the Trinity.

            So neither source is faith based.

            If i have my apologetics straight, when Catholics say that faith is reasonable we mean (1) any natural truth it claims can be proven and any attack made on that natural truth can be show to be false and (2) any purely revealed truth can be shown to be reasonable and any attack on it can be shown to be false.

            So, to give two examples, Catholics claim (1) we can prove abortion is wrong and we can disprove any argument which says abortion is licit and (2) we can show the doctrine of the Trinity is reasonable and any argument against it is false (although we can never prove the Trinity exists from reason).

          • Susan

            If you work through one of Robert Spitzer's philosophical approaches to God through the transcendentals you will see a rational argument for the claim that "God is Love."

            So, you say. What rational argument is that?

          • Susan

            If you work through the preambles of faith which stand outside faith, you will see that it is reasonable to believe that Divine Revelation is true, a revelation which contains the doctrine of the Trinity.

            Another assertion. Why would someone see that it is reasonable?

            You're not demonstrating that any of these positions is reasonable. You're just asserting that that has been demonstrated elsewhere.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Right. I'm skipping steps for the sake of brevity. I look things up that atheists say, can't others do the same?

          • Susan

            I'm skipping steps for the sake of brevity.

            You've skipped every step.

            This is what you said earlier:

            If you identify something from faith I'll try to show you how it is reasonable

            How is a Trinitarian god reasonable?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Study the preambles of faith and then move on to Spitzer's transcendentals and then follow my explanation of why it is reasonable (though not rationally provable) to believe there is a Trinity.

          • primenumbers

            "you will see a rational argument for the claim that "God is Love."" and there will be no appeals to faith for any of his premises?

            "you will see that it is reasonable to believe that Divine Revelation is true" - no, that's exactly the kind of statement I'm objecting to. Faith is not reasonable, and even you will admit that divine revelation is false when it comes to other religions you don't agree with.

            I think the posts on these forums generally show your 1) and 2) to be false.

            You have not shown Trinity to be reasonable, not least because it's based on divine revelation which is the claiming of knowledge on faith alone, and faith is not a reliable method of attaining knowledge. Because it's not rational to use an unreliable method, belief in Trinity is not rational.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Just to repeat the claim: (1) it can be shown that faith in the Trinity is reasonable but never provable and (2) it is provable that any argument against it is false. (I have never attempted to prove (2)).

            The arguments for the claim "it is reasonable to believe in the Trinity" do not in any way rely on faith. First, you show that God exists (through philosophical arguments). Then you show that what he reveals is trustworthy (through metaphysical arguments). Then you show that he has revealed that he is a Trinity (with historical arguments).

          • primenumbers

            Point 2) is saying that it cannot be falsified. That goes with 1) that it's not provable to show that it is indeed only believed in via faith alone.

            You offer a 3 point plan, but I add a 4th point - you get evidence, and that's where your plan comes unstuck and why the epistemology you (faith) use is poor - it is not capable of being verified and as such is indistinguishable from imagination.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't follow you.

            I would use rational arguments against any rational objections you would make against a revealed mystery. Your objection is falsifiable based on rational arguments. The mystery is not falsifiable but it is reasonable if one has a reasonable basis for accepting it.

            We are just not in the realm of physical reality so empirical science has a limited relevance.

          • primenumbers

            "The mystery is not falsifiable", and as you say, it's not provable. I also cannot myself verify the mystery. "but it is reasonable if one has a reasonable basis for accepting it.", well no. It's not reasonable to believe unverifiable things (and in this case not just practically unverifiable, but absolutely by their very nature utterly unverifiable). That brings me back to the divinely revealed mysteries of other religions. Do you accept them also as they are similarly unable to be falsified and similar are similarly "reasonable" (by your use of the word). But I'm the consistent one here as I accept no divine revelations. You pick and choose when there is no way to prove or falsify them. That is arbitrary. I see no way to differentiate a real divine revelation from someone pretending to me that they have had a divine revelation.

            "We are just not in the realm of physical reality so empirical science has a limited relevance." - well actually it's most relevant. You may as well say "We are just not in the realm of reality" and I'd happily agree with you. We're in the realm of the imagination of creative storytellers and you offer no method by which you can prove to me otherwise. It's also reasonable if one has a reasonable basis for accepting it, and as we've all heard imaginative stories, we have that very reasonable basis.

            You dismiss empiricism not because it doesn't work, but because it cannot apply to the invented stories of divine revelation, and realization that the problem is not empiricism but the divine stories is the key.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Of course, theories that are falsifiable and not true may be held to be true for quite some time. There is absolutely no guarantee that there won't be another Einstein in physics or another Darwin in the life sciences who will turn things we believe to be true now on their head the way the first Einstein and Darwin did. In fact, we know Einstein is "wrong" to the extent that relativity breaks down if we try to calculate all the way back to the big bang.

            While I lean toward the science side in the debate over science vs religion, it does have to be acknowledged that one of the virtues of science—the tentative nature of all scientific truths—results in the conclusion that those who adhere to "scientism" can never claim they have definitive truth.

            We can say that science "works," and if I have to choose between, say, modern medicine and faith healing, I will definitely choose modern medicine. But it wasn't so long ago that one was probably safer in man respects in the hands of faith healers than doctors in many regards.

          • primenumbers

            "who will turn things we believe to be true now on their head the way the first Einstein and Darwin did" and in the meantime their theories are true to the degree that they work.

            "can never claim they have definitive truth", but instead we have a practical truth that works, and that's a bird in the hand that's worth an infinite amount in meta-space.

            "But it wasn't so long ago that one was probably safer in man respects in the hands of faith healers than doctors in many regards" - but not because faith healing was good, but that it just didn't actually do anything.....

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            It seems to me that almost all the religious people I have known use the "truth that works" in one area of their lives, and their religious faith in another. If they are sick, they avail themselves of the best medical treatment they can afford. But they may turn to their religion to answer the questions that modern medicine can't answer: Why me? Why is there suffering in the world? How much should I expect others to help me because I am sick? What obligations do I still have if I am partially incapacitated? Should I commit suicide if my suffering becomes too great?

            I don't see what is objectionable if someone turns to religion to answer questions science cannot answer, just as I don't see what is objectionable if someone turns to philosophy to ponder questions that science cannot answer and that may not even have answers.

            If I remember correctly, you advocate empiricism. In doing so, you make philosophical, not scientific, arguments. I think a great many people who haven't even thought about it behave as if they had chosen empiricism or something similar as a philosophical position. It is kind of a common sense position. But I don't think there is any way to prove it is the "right" approach, and it is a philosophical question, not a scientific question, as to whether one ought to be an empiricist.

          • primenumbers

            "I don't see what is objectionable if someone turns to religion to answer questions science cannot answer," - the objection is that they have no way of knowing if the answer they get is true or not. And generally speaking the type of questions asked that end up at the door of religion are not always those questions that we're even certain have answers.

            "If I remember correctly, you advocate empiricism. In doing so, you make philosophical, not scientific, arguments." - I'm advocating the use of what works. There could be methods other than empiricism that work. I think we can demonstrate why faith doesn't work, and we can even see that happen when we ask the religious person to believe in a miracle or divine revelation of another faith. At that point they use the same discriminatory factors as atheists do and reject the foreign miracle or revelation.

            What I also reject are approaches to knowledge that take no account for the known cognitive biases of people. Faith plays directly into the hands of those cognitive biases.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            the objection is that they have no way of knowing if the answer they get is true or not. And generally speaking the type of questions asked that end up at the door of religion are not always those questions that
            we're even certain have answers.

            So do you reject philosophy along with religion? Do you feel it is a waste of time to raise and discuss questions that may not have answers that are certain?

            And remember, there are no certain answers to scientific questions. Scientific theories are always open to revision, and when a scientific revolution comes alone, previous "certainties" are replaced with new ones?

            I am not sure how you reconcile your embrace of science, whose answers are always tentative, with your rejection of religion (and philosophy?), whose answers also are not certain.

            Answers to the question "How ought I to live" are not falsifiable, but certainly the question is worth asking, and the answers one comes up with are of tremendous importance. And it is a question everyone deals with and answers for himself or herself, whether explicitly or implicitly.

          • primenumbers

            I'm not talking about lack of certitude in answers, but whether the question is even meaningful to ask. Philosophy isn't a wasteful exercise if it produces demonstrably meaningful results.

            Science can produce answers that are as true as the available evidence and answers that work as well as they conform to empirical scrutiny. This is not a limit of science, but a limit of our ability to gather information to drive science. But as the limits are defined eventually in how good a job the results do, the results will always do the best job because we know of no way to do a better job. There is zero point in an unobtainable perfection when you have "as good as it currently gets" available to you.

            "I am not sure how you reconcile your embrace of science, whose answers are always tentative, with your rejection of religion (and philosophy?), whose answers also are not certain." - you're conflating two different things though. What good science produces is as accurate as the available data and as certain as we can verify. Faith produces answers that are deemed totally correct, but are utterly unverifiable and indistinguishable from human imagination and can take no account of known human cognitive biases. The results of faith can not even in principle be verified. So not only are the results uncertain, but we're even uncertain as to how uncertain they are!

            "How ought I to live" - with what goal in mind? PIck a goal and we can experimentally figure out what will maximize that goal, and then people can live that way and see if they indeed do tend to head towards that goal.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            it is provable that any argument against it is false

            It is a rather bold claim that it can be proved that God revealed something. Is believing in revelation not a matter of faith? And if faith in the Trinity is never provable, how can you prove that God exists, revelation is always trustworthy, and God revealed the Trinity? Isn't that "proving" the Trinity in spite of the fact that you said faith in the Trinity is reasonable but never provable?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I'll try to be clearer. Reasoning can establish God's existence, his trustworthiness, and that he has revealed himself.

            Then a person can make an act of faith in which he assents in mind and will to that revelation, based on the authority of who has revealed it. (I don't know of any religion besides Catholicism whose "epistemology" is like this.)

            In that revelation which is, indeed, believed, are realities which reason can never grasp, called mysteries, and also natural truths that can be fully grasped.

            The Trinity is one of those mysteries theology can probe but it can't "solve" (one God who is three divine persons is a contradiction in terms to reason).

            "Love your neighbor as yourself" is quite understandable. It is part of revelation so that it can be more easily known.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            It is a persistent logical fallacy retailed by many of our atheist friends that:

            "Since religions advance contradictory truth claims, therefore all religions are false"

            Which is as hilariously illogical as the proposition:

            "Since scientists advance contradictory truth claims, therefore all science is false".

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            "Since religions advance contradictory truth claims, therefore all religions are false"

            I would agree that is fatally flawed, logically. However, it is the case that when there are thousands of competing religious claims, only one can be right, and it is possible than not even one is right. So it does follow logically that most religious people are wrong in what they believe. And when religious people of different faiths join together to argue about the reasonableness or desirability of religion—worship at the church, synagogue, or mosque of your choice!—most of them are necessarily wrong in what they believe.

            Of course, it might be argued that many who are wrong will be at least partially right, but if I understand you correctly, you would maintain that being partially right is not enough to keep you out of hell for all eternity.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            First, we are in agreement that either all religions are false, or else all but one are.

            This does not mean that all false religions must contain only falsehood; merely that only one (at most) can truthfully claim to be in possession of an actual covenant with the Creator and Lord of the Universe.

            Being partially right is not enough, not even being completely right is enough.

            Only being regenerated, and persevering in Faith Hope and Charity, is enough.

            This is the dogmatic teaching of the Holy Catholic Church, the only true religion of mankind.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            A second thing is that you seem to demand of faith something
            science does not demand of itself.

            Science cannot set up an inductive science experiment to establish its own legitimacy. It relies on deductive philosophical arguments to justify its method.

            Similarly, it is unwarranted to demand that faith justify itself scientifically.

          • primenumbers

            Science is justified practically and pragmatically through demonstrations that it works. Faith as an epistemology lacks an practical demonstration of it working.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I am actually not clear on what you mean by epistemology here and how it applies to science and faith .

            I agree that science shows it is a sound way to know physical reality after the fact because scientists can make predictions about the physical word and test them and that lots of good practical things can be done with those findings.

            But you are comparing apples and oranges because divine revelation is not a way to know the physical world.

          • primenumbers

            "I am actually not clear on what you mean by epistemology here and how it applies to science and faith ." - the methods of science and faith are epistemologies - or ways of knowing. Faith is a poor epistemology as it has not been demonstrated to be reliable and has lead to a chaos of religious beliefs.

            "divine revelation" as an epistemology has not been demonstrated to be reliable, or even been demonstrated to be anything other than an over-active imagination. Jospeh Smith is passing divine revelation that he received from the Angel Moroni to us, but neither of us believe him, do we?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Okay. If epistemology means "why we are confident we know what we know in a given realm of knowledge," I'd say that there is no one epistemology of faith. You have to look at individual religions to understand how they justify their claims of truth. Therefore to say "faith is a poor epistemology" is an over generalization.

          • BenS

            You're conflating faith (belief without evidence) with faiths (religions comprised of beliefs without evidence).

            How those faiths (a religion comprised of belief without evidence) justify their claims is usually faith (belief without evidence).

            The key point being is that there is no evidence*. Hence, 'faith' is a poor epistemology.

            Essentially, if there is no reliable way to tell whether it's true or not, what use is it?

            ----

            * I am, as always, using 'evidence' as shorthand for evidence gathered using the scientific method; all other evidence being crap.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            " I am, as always, using 'evidence' as shorthand for evidence gathered using the scientific method; all other evidence being crap."

            >> Interestingly, the above statement is not derived, nor derivable, from the scientific method.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            BenS believes in the philosophical school called scientism which is the "belief without evidence" that only the findings of science experiments can rise to the level of "non crap" statements.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            But the proposition:

            "only the findings of science experiments can rise to the level of "non crap" statements."

            Cannot itself be derived from the findings of science experiments.

            In other words, the "philosophical school called scientism" suffers from the notable defect that it is incoherent in its First Principle.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            My own comment was (unfortunately) rising to the level of "snark" but yes, scientism is an unwarranted reductionism. One proof of this is that science employs theoretical constructs which may not be tested for many years after the theory is formulated.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            Cradle Catholics are so deucedly polite.

            It takes a convert for *real* snark :-)

          • primenumbers

            Scientific method is a good method (perhaps the best method we know of) for deriving models of reality. As the scientific method is a method, not a natural object of reality, scientific method is not the appropriate tool to use to examine the abstract concept of the scientific method.

            However, the use of science by people can be studied scientifically to ensure that it is performing better than any other proposed method of deriving models of reality. We can compare the use of science vs the use of faith vs guesswork in any scientific endeavour and see that science comes out on top.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            "As the scientific method is a method, not a natural object of
            reality, scientific method is not the appropriate tool to use to examine the abstract concept of the scientific method"

            >> Bravo. This serves to conclusively refute Ben's thesis, and since it comes from the atheist side of the dialogue, I think it puts paid to the subject.

            "However, the use of science by people can be studied scientifically to ensure that it is performing better than any other proposed method of deriving models of reality."

            >> Science is, as you have just said, incapable of modeling reality. It cannot, for example, subject abstract concepts to its methodological procedures.

            Abstract concepts are part of reality.

            So science is, of course, incapable opf modeling those aspects of reality which fall outside of its legitimate operational domain.

            Which is exactly why the New Atheist attempt to elevate science to a comprehensive means of knowing reality is a profound perversion of science- in fact it would mean the end of science, were it to be adopted.

            Science is an excellent method for dealing with the material aspects of reality, within its ontological limitations.

            "We can compare the use of science vs the use of faith vs guesswork in any scientific endeavour and see that science comes out on top."

            >> We can compare the use of science in matters pertaining to faith, and the use of faith in matters pertaining to science, and an interesting thing emerges.

            Faith will do better in arenas proper to science, than science will do in arenas proper to Faith.

            Here is why.

            Every new scientific discovery consists in the observation of an actually-occurring phenomenon which cannot be accounted for from within the logical-deductive theorem lattice of the then-prevailing scientific model of reality.

            In order to account for the observation, some new idea, not present in, nor derivable from, the logical-deductive theorem lattice of the then-prevailing scientific model of reality, is required.

            This new idea cannot, by definition, be generated from within the logical-deductive theorem lattice.

            By definition, it must come from outside that lattice.

            It cannot, therefore, be generated by any algorithm.

            It is generated by a creative hypothesis; that is, something which the scientific operational method itself cannot derive or discover or bring into being.

            Only a mind can bring this into being, and only according to procedures which defy explanation or description from within the scientific, *or any other* logical-deductive system.

            In effect, the discoverer must take a leap of faith, to generate the new hypothesis.

            Science then returns to its excellent work, in subjecting the hypothesis to pitiless and rigorous experimental test.

            This constitutes, by the way, a powerful demonstration of the truth that science is a domain of knowledge lower than the domain of creative hypothesis, which domain beloings to metaphysics.

            See Kepler's derivation of the planetary orbits via his hypothesis of inscribed and circumscribed Platonic solids for a truly remarkable example.

          • primenumbers

            "Science is, as you have just said, incapable of modeling reality. It cannot, for example, subject abstract concepts to its methodological procedures" - no. Science is about modelling reality. Abstract concepts are mind objects and as such are examined as mind objects.

            "In effect, the discoverer must take a leap of faith, to generate the new hypothesis." - no faith is needed to generate a hypothesis. You seem to have little or no idea what faith means, or are happy to equivocate on it to obfuscate your arguments.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            "Science is about modelling reality. Abstract concepts are mind objects and as such are examined as mind objects."

            >> Abstract concepts are part of reality, and mind objects are part of reality. It follows, ineluctably, that science is incapable of comprehensively modeling reality. Unless it is your intention to assert that reality is a thing which excludes abstract concepts and mental objects, of course.

            Which assertion refutes itself, in your very words above.

            "no faith is needed to generate a hypothesis. You seem to have little or no idea what faith means, or are happy to equivocate on it to obfuscate your arguments."

            >> To the contrary. Any creative hypothesis requires several articles of faith.

            First, that reality is knowable.

            Second, that the hypotheses generated by the creative mind are, potentially, coincident with the way things really are (this is the big one, by the way, and the quintessentially Catholic metaphysical assumption about reality which explains why the scientific method arises in Christendom, and not in ancient Greece, or medieval Islamic civilization, or civilizations imbued with the metaphysics of the Buddhist and Hindu religions).

            Third, that all the Really Big Geniuses can be shown to have been wrong, by one individual mind, operating entirely outside of the logical-deductive theorem lattice so powerfully and profoundly established by them.

            Scientists are great men of faith.

            At least the discoverers are.

          • primenumbers

            "Abstract concepts are part of reality, and mind objects are part of reality. It follows, ineluctably, that science is incapable of comprehensively modeling reality." - you're getting very confused with reality here! When you walk down the street, you don't bump into abstract concepts. Abstract concepts are in our heads as mind objects. They're not physical, but rest on the physical nature of the brain and as such are capable of being scientifically studied. As abstracts concepts they can be models of reality and we can determine if they match reality or not. For abstract concepts that are not models of reality, we study them within their own framework, like we do with math for example. You are confusing the reality of our universe with mental objects in our heads. This is typical for a theist who posits a God which is a abstract concept, yet they seem to want is to be part of our physical reality (so it can exist) but not part of our physical reality (so that it's not subject to and can create physical reality). Science happily deals with physical reality, works with abstract concepts that are reality models as such, and other abstract concepts are dealt with in their own framework. Your problem is that you want abstract concepts to be physically real when it suits you, and real, but somehow magically not physical when it suits you otherwise.

            "Any creative hypothesis requires several articles of faith" - no faith needed at all. "Scientists are great men of faith", again you're meaning something very different by "faith" than our use in context, that being faith the epistemology or way of knowing. If you find yourself meaning hope, trust etc. instead of faith the epistemology, please use the words hope, trust etc so we know what you mean and keep faith meaning the way of knowing.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            I think precision requires that you address a very simple question:

            Does reality include abstract concepts and mental objects?

          • primenumbers

            Abstract concepts are mental objects. They lack a physical reality. They are only real in the sense they exist in our heads.

            Precision requires you address what is "reality"?

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            "Abstract concepts are mental objects."

            >> The word "are", in the above sentence, is crucial.

            "They lack a physical reality."

            >> A most interesting assertion, since it requires us to deny that thoughts, concepts, or other mental objects are physical objects.

            This is highly incongruous from the typical atheist point of view.

            The Catholic responds that there are material aspects to our thoughts, concepts, and other mental objects, which correspond partially to objective brain states, although these thoughts, concepts, and other mental objects indeed cannot be reduced solely to those brain states.

            "They are only real in the sense they exist in our heads."

            >> Our heads are physical objects. Therefore you assert that non-physical things exist inside our physical heads- questionable.

            At the same time you assert that non-physical things do in fact exist- completely certain.

            Ironically, I am closer to the strict reductionist atheist position than you are here, but that is because the Catholic metaphysics in incarnational; it requires affirmation of both the material and non-material aspects of reality.

            "Precision requires you address what is "reality"?"

            >> Certainly.

            Reality is the totality of all things possessing actuality, existence, or essence.

          • primenumbers

            I don't like your definition of reality, especially the "or" and actuality (which I find ill-defined) and essence, because something cannot have existence through it's essence alone.

            "deny that thoughts, concepts, or other mental objects are physical objects" - they are represented by the state of a physical object, the brain. They don't exist mind independently, and minds don't exist brain independently.

            You basically want "exist" to be one word applied equally to physical and non-physical things, yet you full well know that the existence of abstract concepts is not the same kind of existence as physical things, although they are utterly reliant on physical things through mind to brain.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            Excellent.

            We approach the punctum saliens, since we have arrived at the nub- you do not accept my definition of reality.

            Let us proceed to the interesting part now.

            Please provide your definition of reality.

            Then we can assess the relative merits, and so come to the logical conclusion of our business.

          • primenumbers

            Reality is just all things that exist. Your addition of the ill-defined "actuality" doesn't help us, and allowing in (via the or) things that have essence is for what?

            Now as we don't know the nature of time, reality could mean all things that exist now, or all things that have ever existed (if we're in a block universe). What is therefore of most importance is knowledge of that which exists, which is primarily a question of epistemology.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            "Reality is just all things that exist."

            >> Perfect.

            So you agree that mental objects exist- you have said so.

            You agree that abstract concepts exist- you have said so.

            You deny that these things exist physically- you have said so.

            It follows that you define reality to include things that do not physically exist- you have said so.

            It follows that science is incapable of comprehensively modeling reality, since science deals only with those things that physically exist- you have said so.

            I believe this brings us to the logical conclusion of our exchange........?

          • primenumbers

            I've explained this above and you're just circling back again. Abstracts concepts are not part of physical reality. They exist in brains and in-so-much as they do, science can study them. When those abstract concepts model physical reality, science tests their model empirically. When they are truly abstract they are dealt with in their own framework.

            What you can't seem to deal with is that mental objects, the abstract concepts we're dealing with exist only in the physical structure of the brain, yet how we discuss them is in a layer of abstraction above that. You keep wanting to have them as this abstract layer while ignoring the physical matrix that actually forms them.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            "Abstracts concepts are not part of physical reality. They exist "

            >> Again, I believe this brings us to the logical conclusion of our exchange?

          • primenumbers

            As mentioned, they exist in physical reality only as an organization of the structure of the physical brain.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            "They lack a physical reality."

            "they exist in physical reality"

            Again.

            Just sayin'.

          • primenumbers

            Because you're confusing the abstraction with what it actually is.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            "What you can't seem to deal with is that mental objects, the abstract concepts we're dealing with exist only in the physical structure of the brain"

            This directly contradicts your earlier comment:

            "Abstract concepts are mental objects. They lack a physical reality."

            Having established a direct contradiction, and having no desire to beat a dead horse, I thank you for the exchange and wish you all the best.

          • primenumbers

            I'm meaning "an epistemology" as the method we use to know what we think we know. So it matters not what individual religions hold as true, just the methods by which people claim to know that they're true. Catholics tell us they use empiricism and reason along with faith, but whereas empiricism coupled with reason is a reliable method, the faith component doesn't make empiricism coupled with reason any more reliable, just less reliable.

          • epeeist

            If epistemology means "why we are confident we know what we know in a given realm of knowledge

            Stick to the classical account of knowledge for the moment and assume a proposition p. Then to count as knowledge:

            p

            a believes that p

            a is justified in believing that p

            The critical word here is justified. What justification can you offer that, for example, the proposition "Jesus was the son of god" is true?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Thanks. It is a perfectly reasonable question. Did you get it from this website? http://www.infidels.org/

            I would say there are numerous arguments of different types which supply convincing and converging justification for the belief that Jesus Christ is God.

            Here is one which begins with the assumptions that Jesus really lived and actually said the things he said as recorded in the Gospels.

            I guess it could be characterized as a psychological argument: "Christ was either God or a bad man." You can read it yourself here:

            http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics/christ-divinity.htm

          • epeeist

            Thanks. It is a perfectly reasonable question. Did you get it from this website? http://www.infidels.org

            Err, no. A good introduction to epistemology can be found in Darcy's book of almost the same name. A more complete account of contemporary epistemology is Bernecker and Dretske

            I guess it could be characterized as a psychological argument: "Christ was either God or a bad man." You can read it yourself here:

            Doesn't work for me in that it seeks to limit the number of possible options. Besides the above and "Lord, lunatic or liar" one could easily add, "ideologue", "mistaken", "misreported", "added after the event" etc.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            If you read Kreeft's piece, you'll see he accounts for those other options.

          • epeeist

            Science cannot set up an inductive science experiment to establish its own legitimacy.

            We have known that since the time of Hume. But as Hume showed, any use of induction falls prey to the same argument. This would, of course, includes religious claims.

  • John

    I know of not one person who's experienced God without a personal (deeply personal) perception and response. I also know of no one who has never yet experienced God who does not for some reason assume an air of superiority, as though the lack of experience in one person trumps the positive experience of another. Ad hominem ad ad hominem. While I've certainly encountered the raised eyebrow and nose from those who profess a faith in God, I've rarely encountered genuine inquisitiveness and openness on the part of those who do not. This is personal experience talking.

    However, experience is and the lack of experience is not, so the former may discuss positively those things which may be, while the latter only those things which may not. Positing non-existence is fundamentally more problematic logically (albeit more convincing rhetorically). The critic, after all, need only point out what is lacking in something, while the artist must attempt (inadequately at best) to point out what is.

    The question then comes up: what are we talking about if not something that is or is not? However, that which is not, must be perceived in relation to that which is, since being something doesn't presume not having been, while not being something must presume having been before, and indeed must also presume being that which perceives something that was and is now not. Granted there are the usual arguments that, say, a seven-masted schooner never existed, but this negation must posit the existence of masts and schooners, or ships in general, etc. So, who was bold enough to posit the original "this is"? Could a previously non-existant thing posit the first existant thing? Could a Descartes, no matter how far back one goes, ever have been the first cause of being.

    I guess all I'm trying to say is being must be prior to non-being, and experience as such must be prior to non-experience, and God bless the man who has found it, whether by a bolt of lightening or by the gentle correction of his earthly father. Let's face it atheism didn't leap in full battle-armor out of nothing, it had to be before it could say God isn't. Cogito ergo sum must presume sum ergo cogito, and before someone say this is a case of the chicken and the egg, I'll just say that it's not a case of any one thing versus another, but of being and being something. As much as this may seem irrationally biblical to some, Ego sum qui sum is not without some philosophical merit.

    Thanks for the post. It was very moving. Deo gratias!

    John

    • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

      I also know of no one who has never yet experienced God who does not for some reason assume an air of superiority . . .

      I don't pretend to know who has "experienced God" and who hasn't. I do know that some religious people are just as capable of adopting an air of superiority as nonreligious people. Of course, what do I know? I have never met the Virgin Mary personally. I did see Hermione Gingold once standing outside La Grenouille (when it was still a 4-star restaurant), and I saw Margaret Mead walking up by the American Museum of Natural History. I have never been shown the structure of time and space, although I did read many of Isaac Asimov's books on physics and chemistry when I was younger and on three occasions had a brief word with him. I was also in a small group chatting with Frank Herbert, and when someone mentioned Star Wars, he said, "It's not science fiction, you know," and we all said, "Of course not."

    • John G.

      My main point was simply that there's a paradoxical nature to existence that generates fear and trembling, if not humility, because we cannot speak of being as being without losing it's dyamic reality. The moment I say that is is, I've lost it's is in it's isness. Nailed it dead. And yet, I cannot speak of anything at all without reference to being.

      Being is elusive, mysterious, beautiful, and unimaginably simple. So, being appears to exist only as untested background to that which is, and yet that which is really can't be experienced without personal judgement that it is.
      So, not the chicken and the egg, but that the chicken and the egg are and are not, depending on their participation or non-participation in a non-finite is. Being is primary to everything else, and it is beyond our ability to hold, but it is only by having being we are at all.

      One meets, say, Richard Wilbur, by accident on the sidewalk while walking out of the Chicago Zoo, nearly tripping off of the curb into the road, and one thinks to one's self, "Wow, that's Richard Wilbur. I love that poem about the laundry." However, it becomes clear he's a bit irritated that someone almost spilled coffee on his white summer jacket. Nevertheless, the parting is amicable, albeit a bit awkward.

      • BenS

        The only issue is that the focus of being is not inherently separable from the state (or essense, if you will) of being. Whilst subjectively being is necessary and contingent, objectively, no such notion is necessary for a being to be extant or, indeed, necessary or contingent itself.

        Additionally, with regards to a locus intersecting 'is' and 'not is', such positioning only exists in concept and requires a being to actualise it in either a finite or non-finite manner (excluding, currently, other potential concepts of manner not covered or anticipated).

        The paradoxical nature of existence, however, provoking existential thought and 'is' / 'is not' philosophical dichotomies pales significantly and, itself, contingently compared to the fear and trembling and abject humility generated necessarily in all beings when I take off my pants.

    • Vicq_Ruiz

      I also know of no one who has never yet experienced God who does not for some reason assume an air of superiority

      Is it possible that you have said "no one who has never yet experienced God" when you meant to say "no aggressively outspoken atheist"?

      My guess would be that in your church there are at least a few regular attendees who "go through the motions" every week for the sake of friends and family, though they do not believe in the slightest. My wife was one such until her late twenties. Would you know them by their "air of superiority"?

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I'm clueless as to what you just said.

  • Jay

    Very interesting. I believe that God often grants miracles to individuals to help increase the faith of the individual and not so much as something to help increase the faith of others. When I was 17 I had a pretty traumatic experience and when I was praying for God to make everything happening around me to stop I saw a couple visions of Jesus. For those who believe, they think it's wonderful that God comforted me in that difficult time. For those who don't believe, they're happy that I got through a hard time in my life, but they think that my mind was playing tricks on me or going into overdrive to do something to make me feel better or something like that. As far as I'm concerned, God granted me a gift at that time for myself to help me in a difficult time and to help me in my faith walk. I don't think it was meant so much as something to draw others to God as to help me draw closer to Him.

    • Mikegalanx

      Same thing happened to a neighbor of mine. Her nephew had a withered arm and she and his mother and all the family prayed for him, and they were told to make a pilgrimage, after which his arm was healed, and the doctors can't explain it.

      Of course, this being Taiwan, they prayed to Ma-tsu, Goddess of the Sea, and the boy was healed by lying under her statue as it was carried in procession.

      • Sample1

        I can't upvote this until you clarify whether or not you believe in faith-healing!

        Mike

    • primenumbers

      " I believe that God often grants miracles to individuals to help increase the faith of the individual" - but as you can see from the comments here, such interventions as with John have a wider effect, extending out to non-believers. Because these conversion miracles are evenly distributed around all religions, the net effect is to show the human rather than the divine source of the event.

      • Jay

        I don't understand what you r saying in ur final sentence. Please elaborate.

        • primenumbers

          I'm saying that conversion miracles such as the events portrayed in the story above are not limited to Catholicism, but happen in all cultures, all religions throughout recorded history. This is contradictory information to that of a single God promoting via miracles the "right" religion to follow.

          • Jay

            Oh, ok. That is one potential way to interpret it.

          • Rationalist1

            Agreed the modern "miracles" of the recently deceased
            Sathya Sai Baba dwarf any others I've seen in the modern period. Yet no one here believes them.

  • music1028

    Very powerful, Mr Wright! So glad to see you have come to accept the Lord as your saviour. As C.S Lewis said:

    "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."

  • lehnne

    It is a conceit, comforting no doubt, for humans to assume that on the scale of possible intelligence in the universe they occupy someplace near the top rather than near the bottom and that we understand ultimate "reality". Heard of the cargo cult? They were island people who that the US military in WW ll were Gods as they descended from the sky, albeit in planes and had "magical" powers. Religious belief and atheism are both faith-based systems. The former has the merit to admit to their faith.

    • BenS

      Religious belief and atheism are both faith-based systems.

      I shall ask how you believe atheism is 'faith based' because the definition of atheism you will no-doubt provide will offer me a moment's scant amusement.

      If, after hearing your definition, I deign to peer down from my ivory horse at the top of the intelligence scale, I shall explain to you how you are wrong.

      • lehnne

        My point was that their is no evidence that human beings rank high on the scale of intelligence or capability. There is no cosmic measurement available to us. We do not know what the scale is. That means suppositions about the ultimate scale of intelligence are based on faith in a belief system..I look forward to your correction

        • BenS

          My point was that their is no evidence that human beings rank high on the scale of intelligence or capability.

          And what is the point of this point? There's plenty of evidence that we rank high on (most) intelligence scales in comparison to all known species where such scales are defined. How we compare to species at Omicron Persei 8, no-one has any idea and no-one appears to be claiming we have any idea.

          We do not know what the scale is.

          We're big boys and girls now. We can define our own scales.

          That means suppositions about the ultimate scale of intelligence are based on faith in a belief system..I look forward to your correction

          And this is where it all heads off into wonky town. Firstly, has anyone proposed an 'ultimate scale of intelligence'? How have they defined it? How are they ranking species they don't even know exist? Who are theses straw people you're inventing?!?

          And 'faith in a belief system, again. I've asked you to provide a definition and you haven't. What EXACTLY do these mythical atheists with their mythical ultimate intelligence scale have faith in? Tell me.

          (Also, it's pretty clear by your language that you haven't the foggiest what you're on about. Scientists wouldn't use a term like 'ultimate scale of intelligence' because it's bollocks. When was the last time you heard a scientist reference to the 'ultimate scale of temperature'? These are nonsense phrases that many religionists cobble together because to them everything IS ultimate and final and absolute etc because they simply don't understand what they're talking about.)

          • lehnne

            I think it reasonable that as you state "we rank pretty high on intelligence scales of known species" the possibility exists off an intelligence of the scale the we big boys and girls create. The world ultimate was used to convey the idea of a larger spectrum/scale of intelligence. Take the spectrum of light only a portion is visible to the human eye but the total as now understood is larger.The manner in which I used the word faith is this, humans function according to guiding principles; a set of beliefs. These may be temporally verifiable or not.Both religionists and atheists have a firm belief'faith in their respective understandings of existence.

          • BenS

            the possibility exists off an intelligence of the scale the we big boys and girls create.

            Then we redefine the scale to incorporate the new information. If you're going to insist that there can exist an intelligence that it's not possible to include on any possible scale at all then I'll want you support that claim.

            Take the spectrum of light only a portion is visible to the human eye but the total as now understood is larger.

            And we have a scale for that called the electromagnetic spectrum. You realise you're making MY point, here, not your own, don't you?

            Both religionists and atheists have a firm belief'faith in their respective understandings of existence.

            You're conflating belief with faith when the two are separate. Faith is a subset of belief - it's belief without evidence. Belief based on evidence is not the same as beliefs based on no evidence.

            Tell me what beliefs without evidence (faith) all atheists share.

          • lehnne

            People, this includes atheists, believe in a variety of human constructs that lack evidence or in spite of the evidence. Consider extant beliefs in politics, economics, governance, human nature and certain scientific theories. Belief in spite of the evidence is called delusion. Belief in the possibility of constructs not of human origin is called faith. If you insist on asserting human beings are capable of knowing everything there is to know and constructing measurements. I want to see the evidence. Are you capable of acknowledging that future knowledge may invalidate much what you currently hold as certain?

          • BenS

            People, this includes atheists, believe in a variety of human constructs that lack evidence or in spite of the evidence.

            Right, but that's a far cry from your original post which said that 'atheism is a faith based system'.

            I want to know SPECIFICALLY what in atheism is faith based. Give me SPECIFIC examples of claims atheism makes that are faith based.

            If you insist on asserting human beings are capable of knowing everything there is to know and constructing measurements. I want to see the evidence.

            Firstly, *I* want to see the evidence that I asserted ANYWHERE that human beings are capable of knowing everything there is to know.

            Are you capable of acknowledging that future knowledge may invalidate much what you currently hold as certain?

            Tell me what I hold as certain.

            And do yourself a favour. Abide by rule three of these forums and stop making strawmen, it's just tedious.

          • lehnne

            There is little point in further exchanges as both parties find little merit in the remarks of the other. I have writtenr a few clarifications if you’re willing to endure it if not don’t.

            My opening remark addressed human beings in general and was a poke at Hawkins’ statement that religion is a fairy tale for those who are afraid of the dark hence the tweak
            about a “comforting conceit.” I told the story of the cargo cult as an illustration of what human beings do not know and the possibility of a reality beyond anything our frame of reference can incorporate. In the last two sentences I addressed religionists and atheists as belief systems.
            Human belief, based on evidence or without, is the praxis of human action. That believers of all stripes have certainty in their belief is a descriptor not a pejorative. In the case of religionists and atheists one believes there
            is a god and the other believes that there is not. Both sides marshal evidence to support their position and have confidence that their evidence is sufficient
            in supporting their belief. Last time I checked the existence of God or not was not conclusively proven hence both
            parties engage in a faith-based belief in regards to the existence of God. I do not find the argument that there couldn’t possibly be a directing intelligence compelling. I believe in engineering not in the self-organizing properties of chaos, randomness and chance to manifest
            complexity. Human beings discern the material
            world through intelligence and reason this is common to religionists and atheists. Humans transcended the
            limitations of their sensory inputs engaged in intelligent design (i.e.conceiving, and creating items that did not exist in the material world to execute a certain function according to the design parameters) to further understand the material world. My comment about the ranking of human intelligence on what is possible in terms of the universe,if what we call the universe is correct, is simply that we do not know. Ranking our intelligence in comparison to most species on our tiny little rock excludes too much possibility to be of use as is your insertion of Omicron Persi 8. Input from intelligence from this place could invalidate whatever scale big boys and girls create here on earth. I said nothing about the probability or inevitability of such input.. My
            reference to an “ultimate scale of intelligence” was just to indicate that we do not know how much intelligence may exist in the universe. (If you don’t think scientists are capable of babble you’re fooling yourself.) The reference to the light spectrum was also a reference to what we do not know at any given point in time not in human ability to incorporate new information .You statement
            that belief is based on evidence seriously underestimates the constructs,sans-evidence, that human are capable be it the religionist, atheist, agnostic or secularist. To expand what I said about religionists and atheist in regards to
            the existence of God into other areas of life is your invention. Do yourself a favor and save yourself
            the time and refrain from writing a reply as it will not be read

          • BenS

            In the last two sentences I addressed religionists and atheists as belief systems.

            No, you didn't 'address' this, you stated it and have so far refused to justify the claim that atheism requires 'faith'.

            In the case of religionists and atheists one believes there is a god and the other believes that there is not.

            Wrong. Atheism is the lack of a belief, not a belief in the lack of.

            Last time I checked the existence of God or not was not conclusively proven hence both parties engage in a faith-based belief in regards to the existence of God.

            And this is your strawman, standing proud. You clearly do not understand what atheism is if you think it's faith that god does not exist.

            You statement that belief is based on evidence

            Again, misrepresenting my position. Some is, some isn't - the beliefs that aren't based on evidence are essentially worthless.

            To expand what I said about religionists and atheist in regards to the existence of God into other areas of life is your invention.</blockquote?

            What?

            Do yourself a favor and save yourself the time and refrain from writing a reply as it will not be read

            Wrong again. It WILL be read, just not necessarily by you. Not all these discussions are for your benefit - they're also for the lurkers and watchers who don't get involved but, unlike you it seems, actually come away from reading the discussion having learnt something.

          • epeeist

            My opening remark addressed human beings in general and was a poke at Hawkins’ statement that religion is a fairy tale

            Who?

            In the last two sentences I addressed religionists and atheists as belief systems.

            Let's do this in doxastic logic shall we. There are three positions of interest:

            1. p:G (a person believes in the existence of gods)

            2. p:~G (a person believes in the non-existence of gods)

            3. ~p:G (a person lacks belief in the existence of gods).

            All the atheists I know would take position 3, they simply lack belief in the existence of gods. Position 2. seems to be the position that most theist would like to assign to atheists, namely that they actively believe in the non-existence of gods.

            It is interesting to note the asymmetry between these and position 1. I have never come across a theist who believes in the existence of gods, they either believe in the existence of a particular god or pantheon of gods and disbelieve or lack belief in any other gods.

    • Sample1

      I am asking all atheists to help me with the proper incantation or sacrifice to summon Steve Zara here to respond to the "atheism is a faith" canard. His alcoholic analogy is so good I don't want to mangle it.
      Mike

      • ZenDruid

        I offer the following incantation, re the cosmic singularity, to summon Dr Zara:

        "Nothing, in nullspace, decayed into its components, thereby violating the symmetry of nullspace. "

    • Andre Boillot

      Where do you find these atheists claiming to understand ultimate "reality", and not positing that there is an astronomical amount that we don't know?

      • lehnne

        There are countless people who claim to have it all figured out in economics, politics, human behavior , etc. take for global warming for example of having it all figured out. Mr reference was to those that deny the possible existence of an intelligence so vast that humans call it God.

        • Andre Boillot

          Lehnne,

          "Religious belief and atheism are both faith-based systems."

          Odd to see doubt / skepticism described as a faith-based system.

          "Mr (sic) reference was to those that deny the possible existence of an intelligence so vast that humans call it God."

          Many atheists, and most of the influential ones, know better than to try proving a negative. We tend to deny that there is evidence for God, not that we can prove non-existence.

          "The former [religion] has the merit to admit to their faith."

          At yet there are countless (many on this site) that will tell you they can reason to a certainty that there is a God.

          • lehnne

            I would say that doubt and skepticism does not accurately describe their position which tends toward certainty. Doubt and skepticism is more like agnosticism

          • Andre Boillot

            It's true that there are people who believe to a certainty there is no God - though perhaps the more proper term for this position is a-deist. Almost all the prominent people I think would generally be recognized as "atheist" will admit that we can never rule out the existence of God in the mere deistic sense. What they tend to be certain about is that, for example, there's no real evidence for the God of Abraham.

          • lehnne

            Again, they doubt all any God. In any case when I talk with atheists, as commonly understood, I cede to their point that their is no God and talk in terms of myth.Myths are not equal but produce different results. These sorts of discussions result in what benefits humanity; something believers an non-believer can measure. That's all for me, thanks for the chat

          • Andre Boillot

            "Again, they doubt all any God."

            Glad to see we've made some progress away from: "deny the possible existence of an intelligence so vast that humans call it God."

            Enjoy le weekend.

          • primenumbers

            Yes, because a deistic God is one which is essentially unknowable, we can neither rule out nor rule in and must be utterly agnostic about. To be otherwise is to go beyond the limits of knowledge.

            "What they tend to be certain about is that, for example, there's no real evidence for the God of Abraham" - exactly. Named Gods with described properties can either lack specific evidence to show they exist, (that evidence being such that it must exist if that God exists), and can be shown to not exist through examination of the proposed properties of that God leading to a contradiction.

          • Max Driffill

            I think philosophically most atheists are agnostic, but if you are agnostic you also are not a believer, and are functionally an atheist.

            I always think the Dawkins scale is a pretty useful place to begin these kinds of discussions so I'll link to it below.

            http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://ntrygg.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/dawkins-scale.jpg&imgrefurl=http://ntrygg.wordpress.com/tag/jesus-save-me-from-your-followers/&h=960&w=960&sz=111&tbnid=7TxXyYwyZ_5QOM:&tbnh=94&tbnw=94&zoom=1&usg=__OGzfrcbtMMaJPOTDR2xqC6Vo_7E=&docid=BTCu2qB3C-ABfM&sa=X&ei=GKzEUdLQOYuhyAGbrYD4Dg&ved=0CDoQ9QEwAw&dur=6693

          • primenumbers

            I think it's right to be agnostic on God as we have no reliable epistemology to actually know anything about God, if there is such a being, or any properties of such a being should it exist.

            That said, theists do claim knowledge of God and God's properties. Where these properties are contradictory to either our knowledge of the world or internally contradictory we can say that a God such defined does not exist.

        • primenumbers

          Claiming that a being with rather contradictory qualities, that neither fits with the commonly used definitions of being or "exists" not only just exists, but must exist necessarily is about as close to "claim to have it all figured out" as you can get, coupled with such a strong degree of epistemological arrogance (and I use that word carefully as I really have no other way to put it) that you need to be looking at the religious for lack of humility, not atheists who are often the very first to admit that to many questions "we really don't know" is the appropriate answer.

          I don't know where you get the idea from that atheism is in some way faith based. I see my atheism as the resulting conclusion from a lack of faith, and that faith is a poor epistemology that if you catch me using you should point out to me so that I can avoid using it further.

  • Andre Boillot

    Speaking of Cargo Cults (thanks lehnne!), here's a quote adapted from Feynman's 1974 Caltech commencement speech:

    It's a kind of scientific integrity,
    a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of
    utter honesty--a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if
    you're doing an experiment, you should report everything that you
    think might make it invalid--not only what you think is right about
    it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and
    things you thought of that you've eliminated by some other
    experiment, and how they worked--to make sure the other fellow can
    tell they have been eliminated.

    Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be
    given, if you know them. You must do the best you can--if you know
    anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong--to explain it. If you
    make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then
    you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well
    as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem.
    When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate
    theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that
    those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea
    for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else
    come out right, in addition.

    In summary, the idea is to try to give all of the information to
    help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the
    information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or
    another.

    http://www.lhup.edu/~DSIMANEK/cargocul.htm

  • Roger Hane

    I guess I'll have to wait until I have my own personal, unverifiable emotional experience that dredges up old memories from my subconscious before I can believe. Then I expect I'll rearrange my system of reasoning to fall in to line with it.

    Christianity *does* provide lots of successful answers that science can't provide. I'll bet most any religion can. But are they true answers? They're successful in your mind. If an answer truly satisfies, then that alone should make you suspicious of it.

  • Maximus Meridius

    "why not choose something a bit more interesting? Why not master the Dark Side of the Force or the Golden Path, becoming a Sith Lord or a God-Emperor and strive to rule a Galaxy? Why choose something as ridiculous and wretched as Christianity? I must admit I am rather perplexed."

    Why choose something of which we cannot be? We cannot all be Sith Lords, We all cannot be Emperors, We all cannot be Jedi's of the Force or Monks of the Golden Path.

    What can we all be? We can all be Mothers, we can all be babies, Children , Fathers ... God chose the most simple theological entity for us to be, ourselves, human.

    And thus God entered Humanity. Blessings.

  • Danny Getchell

    John:

    and the paradox of determinism and free will was made clear to me, as was the symphonic nature of prophecy. I was shown the structure of time and space.

    Have you shared these insights with your readers?