Reasons for my Deconversion

typewriter(First distributed among Christian friends in November of 2008.)

I have recently been asked by several individuals to detail the reasons behind my deconversion from Christianity to my current position of agnosticism. As a preface to this, I’d like to state my general disposition towards Christianity.

I spent over 25 years as a Christian, and for most of those years I was quite happy. I forged many significant relationships, and learned much while within a Christian community. I do not feel, as do some non-believers who have never been on the inside, that Christians are, as a whole, evil people intent on forcing their agenda on others. I do, however, believe that most Christians are uninterested in an honest inquiry into what is true due to vested interests of various emotions. I will detail these emotions later.

First, I must comment on what I feel is the greatest overlooked truth when considering knowledge and belief; human minds are not inherently well-equipped to assess what is true. This is in stark contrast to the tacit Christian notion that all truths that matter are immediately accessible to nearly every human without much cognitive effort. Let me elaborate.

Religious sects all around the world subscribe to a set of beliefs that set them apart from other sects. They then claim that these “truths” within their faith are either accessible through common sense, common rationality, or divine revelation. This forces them to conclude that persons in all other sects are self-delusional, and rebelling against the truth that is apparent either through reason or divine revelation. It is assumed that these persons feel some sort of guilt stemming from their rebellion or rejection of truth.

However, this assumption is testable. If Christians were to befriend Muslims, they would discover that this is not true. The Muslims do not possess this sense of guilt, and instead possess the same deep confidence in the tenets of their faith as do Christians. Persons who have spent time among persons of another faith normally do not find people who are evil, bitter and guilty, but rather persons who possess a faith that constructs a society of familial and social warmth without the guilt stemming from rejecting the “true” god.

So there exists this game played among religious sects in which they refuse to examine the minds of others, and instead assume that they know better. They assume this because their respective religious texts have told them it is true. This is just one of many assumptions that I’ll discuss later that religionists accept on blind faith.

When someone discovers that this assumption of guilt and general malevolence in others is false, there is only one other conclusion; the human capacity to assess what is true and false is dysfunctional and deficient. The human mind has no natural ability to correctly assess truths that extend very far outside our local daily lives. What is intuitive does not well-correlate with what is true.

This can be very easily seen in the way humans assess risks. We fear flying, but have no problem with a cholesterol-laden diet that is far more likely to kill. We have to ponder carefully even the simplest of syllogisms, and are often still in error.

However, most religions, including Christianity affirm the notion that we are fully capable of assessing intuitively, or with souls that directly interface with some spiritual realm, which god if any is real without considerable training in critical thinking. This is simply not true. Our own ability is essentially identical to the ability of persons belonging to sects that we claim are clearly wrong. There is no evil rebellion against the truth of god, only a lamentable cognitive inadequacy of humans.

To claim otherwise as a mature adult who should have by now identified this inherent flaw in faith-based assertions is to reveal one’s own xenophobic inexperience and arrogance. This arrogance is a hallmark of extant religions. Human cognition is inherently weak. This notion is not very palatable to many since it implies that truth is best assessed by those who have been trained in reasoning. Nonetheless, it is demonstrably true.

Because successful religions must appeal to the masses, these religions all possess scriptures that invert this notion. The wise become foolish, and the foolish wise. This is one of the most powerful lies of religion; you can intuit truth. This unduly credits human cognition with enormous power. Human cognition is never questioned when assessing truth.

Coupled with this is an over-reliance on the emotion of confidence. We “feel” that something is true, and therefore it is true. The hidden assumption here is that this sense of confidence is god-given. God gives us this confidence to bear witness that we are sons of god. Once again, many Christians arrogantly assume that this same emotion of confidence cannot exist in the hearts of Muslims, and that they are knowingly in rebellion to the truth. After all, that’s what the bible tells us, does it not?

This now brings us to faith. Faith is not a virtue. The concept of faith as something noble is incoherent. Christians decry the faith of Muslims, but praise their own. However, the emotions are identical. Much like the concept of intercessory prayer, the concept of faith is defined differently even by persons within the same congregation and morphs evasively whenever it is questioned.

I’ve even corresponded with a quite notable apologist on the definition of faith never to receive a clear answer. Yet, it is positioned as the cornerstone of many religions. When asking 50 Christians “where does evidence end, and faith begin?” there will be 50 answers. So also with their interpretations of Hebrews 11:1. It is a stop-gap that allows the “faithful” to smugly fall back on when the evidence for their faith thins under scrutiny.

Faith has no virtue. Holding a belief in Santa as a little child is cute as best, and becomes pitiful if held past adolescence. Yet, such faith is encouraged in respect to the local god. And children with their under-developed rationality end up accepting the god of their parents with nearly no exceptions. If there were a god giving special revelation to the “foolish”, this would not be true. A number of children in Saudi Arabia would reject the god of their parents to accept the “true” god of Christianity on account of special revelation. This does not happen.

So I’ve discussed the fragility of human cognition, and the myth of the virtue of faith. There remains one more important question. Why do so many people believe in a personal god?

Nearly all religions posit a “god-size” hole of the psyche that only their respective god can fill. However, a careful examination of this hole reveals it to be merely a natural human disposition to have certain emotions that scream for attention and resolution. I’ll try to address the most important.

An aversion to not knowing.
We have an intense drive to explain our world. This emotional intensity causes many to assume that there are answers and that they deserve access to those answers. These conclusions do not follow. Simply having the ability to ask a question does not in any way require that there is an answer and that you have the ability to discover and comprehend the answer. However, religionists assume that they must have access to any question that appears meaningful to them. This does not follow. It may be that we may never have answers to questions that disturb us. This is anathema to many religionists.

Need for significance.
We are all born with the need for significance. This is, however, an emotion, and it does not follow that personal significance exists simply because we feel it must. Successful religions offer significance by typically positioning the believer in a privileged relationship with a god. This emotion, however, does not in anyway validate the existence of a god that bestows significance. The truth may be that we have no significance. We must start our inquiry into truth without the assumption of an objective personal significance. As an added note, this sense of a grand cosmological significance is exhibited as arrogance equally among faiths. If you suppose you are in constant communion with god, it is not at all difficult to become condescending to infidels whom you know must be in rebellion against god.

Need for justice.
We emotionally react to what we perceive as inequalities and injustices in the world around us. This makes the notion of a vengeful god very attractive to us. We do not want to live in an unjust world, and are often willing to accept the notion of god simply to mitigate this emotion. But the emotion lends no weight to the truth of such a god’s existence and of justice. Emotion contributes nothing to a rational and objective approach to these questions. It may well be that there exists no justice. It would be intellectually dishonest to start with an assumption that there is.

Need for affection.
Though this emotional need can often be met though social relations, the concept of an unconditional love from an omnipotent god carries enough emotional clout to cause many humans to accept the gods of various faiths without sufficient evidence. There is also the attractive notion of a divine love that transcends all human type of love. This adds to the emotional drive to affirm the existence of a god without sufficient evidence. This emotion adds nothing to the argument for god. There is no reason why the yearning for a god’s love makes that god real.

Need for identity.
A religious community can provide a powerful sense of identity that is reason enough for some to accept the notion of a god. It is unbearable to many to legitimately doubt the existence of their particular god since severing ties with the community of believers would be too alienating. Though this type of isolation is undesirable, it does not legitimate blind faith in the god of that community.

Guilt.
Humans have a well-developed sense of guilt. This emotion has been co-opted by many religions to correspond to their particular mores. Islamic women feel guilty when they have no head covering in public. Some Christians feel guilty drinking wine. Guilt has no single standard to which it corresponds. There is no evidence that the notion of “sin” is any thing more than a fabrication employed by religionists to control behavior. Their scriptures are full of proclamations of commandments that must be followed as well as verses designed to make the rule-breaker feel exceedingly sinful. “Sin” is then declared to be worthy of damnation, all without evidence. But evidence is not needed if the psychological weight of one’s emotions, co-opted by religion, makes the rejection of that religion unbearable.

These are some of the major emotions that all successful religions co-opt to their advantage. The average human assumes that the emotion has a real correlate; guilt means you are guilty, a yearning for justice means there is justice, and so on. Emotions in no way demonstrate the existence of their correlates.

So we can see that there is first an enormous deficiency in human cognition coupled with a propensity to rely on emotions to construct our belief system. This is demonstrated by the ubiquity in religious belief around the world and the diversity of belief. I hope I have also established that faith holds no intrinsic virtue.

Now let me move on to the issue of dogmatism. Consider the proper way for a person to choose a presidential candidate. Voting along party lines is not considered to be very intelligent, and claiming faith in the party would rightfully make you the object of scorn. A proper evaluation involves exploring all the sources you have to your disposal to assess the knowledge, experience, convictions, competency and character of each candidate. The accumulation of this information is linear; it generally accumulates in a steady manner until you reach a point where you are able to make a decision. It should make sense then that the degree of certainty should also be linear. Instead of suddenly stating that one candidate is wonderful while the other is evil, one should be making statements such as “based on the evidence so far, X appears 20% more competent than Y. But few of us seldom do this due to our propensity for dogmatism. While facilitating action, this dogmatism is a detriment when attempting to find objective truth. The polar ends of the god question are over-weighted with atheists and theists in my opinion. I am an agnostic. While I can state that there is a very low probability of a personal god for reasons I’ll discuss later, I am less certain when considering an Einsteinian god. And I do not feel compelled to choose a side without sufficient evidence. However, this probabilistic attitude towards questions is not natural to me. It had to be learned. I started out quite dogmatic as some of you may recall.

Christianity encourages dogmatism. Certainty is a goal in most religions. This distorts ones epistemology into polarized categories of true and false while disregarding the accumulative nature of evidence. If one begins with the notion that certainty is a goal, then holding insufficient evidence for a long time as might be expected with complex questions is emotionally uncomfortable. Religionists too easily default to dogmatism citing “faith” as something that legitimately picks up the slack. Faith does not legitimize a defaulting to an emotional certainty.

I hope I have adequately described our inherent weaknesses in cognition, emotions and dogmatism. Perhaps I can now continue with some of the reasons why I dismiss the notion of a personal god.

First, much of the ontology of Christianity is dependent on the Bible. The veracity of the Bible must be established before notions such as Heaven, Hell and sin can even be submitted for evaluation. Do not quote the Bible to “prove” to me the existence of these entities. I reject the Bible as “god’s word” for several reasons. As I list these reasons, Christians will contend that I am taking things out of context, yet I have spent years begging to see some objective, consistent and reliable standard of hermeneutics being practiced among Christians. None has emerged. This is the beauty of the “scriptures” of all successful religions; they are all ambiguous enough to provide deniabilty when backed into a exegetical corner. This lack of unity in exegesis I’ll introduce later as a failure of the Holy Spirit.

1) Moral ambiguity.
Polygamy, incest, rape and slavery are just a few of the practices condoned or encouraged in the Bible. Extravagant and elaborate apologetic arguments are employed, and usually track back to the incoherent notion that “God’s ways are not our ways”.

2) Philosophical dilemma
Persons who have not heard of Jesus are, nonetheless, eternally condemned for what the Bible claims is a clear manifestation of his eternal power and godhead in nature. In addition, a finite number of sins committed by a soul who had no choice but to be born sinful are given infinite punishment.

3) Internal textual discrepancies
While a bit over-ambitious, the site http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/ is a good source. I was so intent on finding truth in the “word of god” when I was younger that I learned Greek and read the Greek NT through eleven times. I will not spend time on the alleged discrepancies here.

4) False claims of fulfilled prophecy
Having read Josh McDowell extensively when I was young, I was dismayed to realize his misuse of probability theory, and the selection bias endemic to apologists in general. There have been so many historical events that an omniscient and omnipotent god could have unequivocally and clearly stated in scripture rather than playing silly games with vague terms.

5) Canonization and textual criticism
Unlike I was led to believe when I was young, there was not the unanimity often claimed when it came to the canonization of the Bible, nor is there the consistency claimed across manuscripts from which the Bible was compiled.

6) Dependence on prior mythology
Several mythical religious characters preceding Jesus closely parallel the Gospels account of Jesus to a suspicious degree. (The under-substantiated Zeitgeist movie is not a valid source in my opinion.) See http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_jcpa5.htm

7) Disagreement with and hindrance to science
I’ve written a paper on this you can find at http://d2or.com/~ps/methodologicalnaturalism.pdf.

8) Falsehoods about a “godless” life
When I was in Christianity, I was told that those without Christ were hedonistic perverted beasts that walk after their own lusts. Imagine my surprise when I discovered atheists who were happily married, involved in charity organizations, and giving back to society to a degree not common to Christians. I was told that, should I ever leave Christianity, I would be unhappy, and have no purpose. I remember during my first year in the philosophy program at the University of Kansas, I asked a guest speaker why so many philosophers committed suicide. I got blank stares and felt embarrassed after getting to know the happy philosophers in my department. And many of them went out of their way to assist students financially, emotionally and academically, all without the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

9) Unfulfilled promises

– Intercessory prayer
There are several verses that promise something about prayer, but when asked for what can be expected of god, Christians redefine answered prayer into the entire set of possible outcomes. Christians have no criteria to distinguish what event is answered prayer and what is merely natural cause and effect. God does not heal amputees, and there exists statistical evidence to dispute the notion that intercessory prayer is effectual. See also the following promises concerning prayer.
Matthew 17:20 & 21:21; Mark 11:24; John 14:12-14; James 5:15-16

– Miracles
Though there were many miracle that god gave to demonstrate his might 2 to 3 thousand years ago, the closer alleged miracles come to scientific scrutiny, the fewer miracles there are. Why this inverse relationship?

– Unity of the spirit
There exist no more unity among Christian churches than among secular organizations.

– The Holy Spirit and truth
Christians exhibit actually less valid logic in their arguments, exhibit no more world knowledge than non-believers, and radically disagree on what many of them consider critical doctrines.

– Power over sin
This is a bit personal. I struggled many years with sexual impulses, and spent hours on my knees begging for god to give me victory. In spite of my sincerity and submission to god that many would vouch for, I repeatedly failed to gain control. It was not until I left Christianity that I finally overcame this. The problem was that I was depending entirely on god and the Bible, and did not spend time assessing who I was sexually. My Christian upbringing supplied the overwhelming sense of guilt that often results in sexual deviation by those immersed in religion. I have since come to a satisfying sense of my sexual self, and have very healthy relationships now in stark contrast to those in my Christian past.
To extend this notion, it is informative to examine rates of incarceration and divorce among Christian nations such as America and non-Christian nations such as Japan or Sweden. The statistics you’ll find on the Web.
Other indicators of the power of god over sins of the flesh might include rates of obesity among Christians as opposed to non-Christians. Based on my observations, there is no power of god at work in this respect, but a statistical study is needed to confirm this.

Let me address one further pertinent issue. Cognitive scientists have been recently more focused on this phenomenon we call religious experience in which an inexplicable sense of well-being and euphoria, often translated into “the joy of the lord”, bears witness with the individual that they are indeed experiencing the presence of god. These scientists have produced identical feelings by stimulating various parts of the brain in the lab. Before we can properly assess god, we need to assess our ability to objectively assess! If we have a predisposition to believe, we must invest time and focus on setting aside our subjective emotions, and develop an objectivity that includes essential skills such as logic and critical thinking. This is not innate. There are no shortcuts such as a plug-and-play “faith”.

Let me conclude by restating my current disposition towards religion and the possibility of a god.
I’m a bit annoyed at the Christianity that exudes arrogance and condescension. A subset of Christians glory in their blind faith and pompous proclamations of their monopoly on truth. I have no problem assuming an equal arrogance in stating how wrong they are.

However, most Christians are no different than I was. I still believe they are in error, but many of them are good benevolent people. As someone who espouses the beauty of an altruistic lifestyle, I admire them. While the kindness of some Christians is based on less-than-noble incentives such as god’s anger or god’s approval, some Christians seem to really enjoy helping others as I do. However, I would be happier if they found the satisfaction and intellectual integrity that exists in a “godless” life that is based on reality.

I’m still open-minded, so if any of you have arguments for god you think I’ve overlooked, please state them. And I hope you have read my arguments with equal open-mindedness.



Update on August 25, 2009: The following is an extract from an email exchange I had with a relative about my emotional disposition during the 3+ years I was leaving Christianity. It takes a stronger tone.

Yes, sadly, I believed the verses such as “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” This is the reason I floundered so long, certain that there must be some truth to the bible’s promise of power over “sin”. Once I left the myth of christianity and learned that I was not prone to “sin”, I stopped “sinning”.

The bible has some nice promises, but they’re impotent.

You suggested that some of the more theological/philosophical issues I’ve introduced were post-deconversion. Perhaps some of you think I deconverted overnight. Not the case. It took me 3 years during which time I was going around to pastors of various denominations around [city] hoping to find coherent responses to my questions. I was quite disappointed. But it was not the fault of the pastors. The bible has no coherent answer for its absurdities.

During these 3 years I was also on my knees begging any god that did exist to reveal himself to me. There was no response. I was really hoping for something, partly out of fear of the possibility of hell perhaps, plus because of all the vested interest I had in Christianity. Jehovah was the “god of my fathers” as [another christian] states. Jehovah unfortunately just happens to be a fairy tale of enormous proportions.

I guess it was my 2nd year at [university] that my eyes began to really open to who I was. A big step was understanding the frailty of my human brain and its propensity to delusion. Another step was to acknowledge that I was completely unskilled in honest argumentation. Christians are led to believe that truth comes rather intuitively to those who rely on the Lord. Sorry. In most cases of reasoning by christians, logic is employed within a small box surrounded by outrageous assumptions.

And these were but just a couple steps in my understanding of self and reality that began to snowball into an immensely joyous process where pieces of knowledge more and more rapidly snapped into place as I began to relinquished all the false christian assumptions I had held.

Is life perfect now? No. Am I happy now? You have no idea! But my euphoria may be largely a function of my personality. But it sure beats the state of guilt I was in all the while I was begging Jesus for deliverance.

I have no guilt. I am not a sinner, and neither are any of you. We all have the capacity to live altruistic lives without the need for god or morality. I think that, after the fear of hell, it is the fear of the loss of god and morality that entraps the most people within christianity.

So I’m not running around filling up my godless life with sin. There are so many interesting and amazing things to do and learn in a godless life, that debauchery is rather unappealing.

I imagine the godless you see around you are a bad advertisement for disbelief. I would suggest most of them still believe in god, and are only “sinning” in line with their concept of their “sinful” selves. Being bad is not the default state of humans. It is being generally altruistic. My godless friends in Tokyo, who don’t subscribe to the notion of a sin nature, go way out of their way to help the homeless here and to offer help of all sorts without expectation of recompense. This is not a christian behavior. It is a human behavior.

So yeah, I have no qualms about showing my anger and disdain for christianity. It is based on lies that only prevent my friends and family from living lives with a satisfaction that cannot be perceived within the small world of the Jesus and Jehovah myth. Is it a sin to honestly consider whether Jesus and Jehovah might be a product of a mind frailer and more gullible than you want to admit? If so, I hope desperately that you fall into this sin, with the hope that Jesus, Jehovah as well as sin all go the way of Santa.

But to those of you who are still committed to propagating such lies that I am so glad to have escaped, I offer the deepest disdain. Your ignorance of the joys you’re preventing and the sorrow you’re causing is no excuse.


If you have further questions you’d like to ask me without posting them visibly at the end of all the comments, simply use the form here.





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74 thoughts on “Reasons for my Deconversion

  1. wellwateredgarden says:

    You are an amazing apologist! How do you keep all that straight? I don’t agree with all of it, do agree with some, and are open minded about much of it. You seem to have found a happiness (dare I call it peace of mind?) and are driven to share it. Good for you, keep it up. I would normally end a response with ‘God bless you’ but I sense you wouldn’t be interested in that, so I’ll just wish you much success and continued happiness.

    • Thanks, Wellwateredgarden.
      It was a long journey to this peace of mind, but the journey made me appreciate what I have now.
      I hope you have reached or will reach the same satisfaction with life.
      Cheers, Phil

  2. andj4613 says:

    My compliments! You have worked very hard at developing your own religion, and can defend it reasonably well. I have just a question or two.

    Assume you are right. What have you gained? Then assume you are wrong. What have you lost?

    Everyone has to make one simple choice in life: God is, or there is no god. That choice affects every single aspect of one’s outlook on life from that point on. Once made, you can never again be totally unbiased.

    The issue is faith: not blind unquestioning faith, but “reasonable faith” as Dr. Craig, whom you quote elsewhere puts it. Here’s my definition of faith: Faith is belief in that for which there is substantial corroborating evidence but for which absolute proof cannot exist. Life is full of things for which you must have faith, because absolute proof does not or can not exist.

    The trick, and it’s all based on that first choice about the existence of God, is to decide which things you will take on faith, and then to defend them to the death. That is what’s at stake, you know.

    In closing, I want to point out that you spend a lot of time criticizing Christians. What do you think of the teachings of Christ? Ghandi, was once asked his opinion of Christianity. He said ‘I like their Christ, I don’t like their Christians.’ You and I and every Christian is a bundle of contradictions and incongruities. We could not start a religion on our own, even with all of our communications age advantages. Christ just talked to people face to face, and did it for only 3 years. And what he said so shook the world that he reset the calendar!

    Shalom!

    • Thanks for your comment, Andj4613.

      Let me address first the most egregious misconception you seem to have. Life is not about making a choice between a god or no god. 2500 years ago it was basically a choice between a multitude of gods. In the dark ages, it was often a choice of choosing the god of your region or death as a result of being burned as a witch or some other horrible fate for the unbelieving.

      Today it is different. We have three choices. 1) There is a god. 2) There is not a god. 3) There is insufficient evidence to warrant a decision either way.

      In addition, we can lean one way or the other if the body of evidence is leaning in that direction. When it comes to god as merely an intelligent creator, I slightly tend to believe that there may be one. But I’m not sure. However, based on unfulfilled promises in the bible and the many other illogical notion it posits, I am very confident that the god of the bible does not exist.

      I also appreciate you attempt to define faith. The definition you gave fits the faith of most religions, even those religions in which you would argue that their faith is illogical. So it seems that the notion that the belief is logical is excluded from your definition of faith. I would agree. Faith is an illogical belief in something where there is no warrant for that belief. You’ll have to tidy up your definition to make faith a noble concept.

      It seems to me that holding confidence in something only to the degree that the available tools of reason and science deem appropriate is proper.

      When you say “Christ”, do you mean the Christ analogous to Santa or Saint Nicolas. There is a substantial difference in the concepts.

      In conclusion, you say that we could not start a religion on our own. Do I understand that you are saying there are no man-made religions?

      Cheers, Phil

    • Peter says:

      I’m share the view that “god” is a way of seeing the world, no someone of something “out there” to find or to worship.
      That does not discount the Sacred, or the simple fact that there are greater matters than ourselves, but it does go far to clarify the mind, and ease the heart.

      • Peter says:

        Would like to be able to edit, here.

        “I share the view that “god is a way of seeing the world, not someone or…” not “I’m share the view that “god is a way of seeing the world, no someone of…”

  3. Harvey says:

    Phil,
    I’m also coming from a Christian background, and am currently in what I would call a state of temporary agnosticism, meaning that I currently have no idea if there is a god or not, but I want to have enough of an idea to sort out how I live my life. I have heard it said that there is not much practical difference between atheism and agnosticism in terms of how one lives one’s daily life. What would be your response to that statement?

    Harvey

    • Hey Harvey,
      Thanks for commenting.
      Yes, agnosticism is generally much closer to atheism than theism in terms of daily life.
      However, from my experience, most atheists have much the same attitude of dogmatism that theists have. Many get caught up in conspiracy theories since they lack critical thinking skills and a healthy dose of general skepticism. I don’t mind saying “I don’t know”.
      I don’t consider agnosticism to be necessarily temporary. I think it may be a healthy skeptical status that inoculates one from all kinds of silliness, both theistic and social.
      Many atheist uncritically accept alternative medicines, UFO conspiracies, dogmatic political positions, and and so on.
      -phil

      • Atheist Girl says:

        I don’t actually know any atheists that accept conspiracy theories and alternative medicines. Actually, I’m very surprised to hear what you have to say about atheists, since I’ve spent a lot of time in atheist organizations and haven’t seen anyone like that. I imagine our critical thinking skills and general skepticism are the reasons we become atheists in the first place. Honestly, I’ve heard a lot of negative stereotypes of atheists, but those two are new! :) We mostly just sit around with beers and talk about science and culture.

        Anyway, the one point I would like to make is that atheism and agnosticism are not different positions, or situated on some linear scale in which atheists are the opposite of religious extremists. “Atheist” just means “without god(s)” and agnostic just means “without knowledge” (that is, claim of absolute certainty). One can be an agnostic theist or an agnostic atheist. I hazard a guess that the majority of people in America are agnostic because they wouldn’t claim absolute knowledge, just a belief or faith. Think of gnosticism/agnosticism like an X axis and theism/atheism as a Y axis on a grid. It’s not a sliding linear scale with agnosticism somewhere 3/4 to the atheism end.

        Basically, you’re either a theist or an atheist. With a god or without a god. If you don’t believe in a god, you’re an atheist. If you do believe in a god, you’re a theist. Agnosticism isn’t related to god claims, just knowledge claims. That’s all I wanted to add! :)

        • Atheist Girl says:

          I’m not sure I wrote this clearly enough, after reading it again. On this X/Y grid, there are four possible positions:
          -gnostic theist (absolute knowledge of a god)
          -agnostic theist (faith in a god without absolute knowledge)
          -gnostic atheist (absolute knowledge of no god)
          -agnostic atheist (no absolute knowledge claim, without a god)

          So, from what you described of yourself, you would be an agnostic atheist like myself. I haven’t ever met a gnostic atheist, like what you seem to be describing, but maybe things are different in your neck of the woods. That could be possible.

          Cultural or social definitions can change meanings, so what you mean by “atheist” might really be “person I don’t want to be associated with who is unfortunately similar to my own views.” I’m a linguist, so I just stick with the etymology, which makes it really simple for this case.

          If my explanation still doesn’t make sense, maybe the Brits can explain it better with their nifty graphic: http://freethinker.co.uk/2009/09/25/8419/

        • Atheist Girl,

          Thanks for you comments.

          I wrote that comment 3 years ago, and have since seen more rational thinkers enter the ranks of “atheism” than the reactionaries who had simply tired of religion and liked the iconoclastic sound of “atheist”.

          However, I do want to make a few points.

          1. The words “atheist” and “agnostic” have no conventionally agreed upon definition. If you survey 100 people on the street, how many of them would define these words as you do in your stipulation above? Words belong to the winds of convention that may blow your denotations and connotations far off the pages of a dictionary. If a word is so conventionally vague that you find yourself having to “correct” the majority of its users on its definition, it’s past time to abandon the word.

          2. The word “atheist” makes no reference to any particular god. There are myriads of gods, some impossible, some improbable, and some merely unsubstantiated. To state I am “agiant” is to pixelate my actual epistemic stance as proposed “giants” come in various definitional flavors such as “Jolly Green” and “NBA”. Why offer up a low-resolution term that ignores what is hopefully many highly nuanced positions on a variety of candidate gods?

          3. Belief is not binary. It is not a discrete epistemic category. Rational belief arrives in degrees, degrees that must necessarily map to the varying degrees of available evidence for various definitions of gods.
          See https://philstilwell.wordpress.com/2010/08/17/is-belief-binary/

          So, no, I am not either a theist or an atheist as you claim. The referent god must be stated, and the belief must necessarily be degreed (illogically defined gods are the exception). The term “atheist” is is at best a low-resolution linguistic shortcut for many highly nuanced positions across a vast variety of candidate gods.

          I’ll refer to myself as “atheistic” at times when brevity is required, but I certainly don’t need the semantically pixelated and connotatively distorted tag “atheist” as an identifier.

        • Peter says:

          On the contrary, I’ve encountered dogmatic, fundamentalist atheism quite a lot.

  4. Shaheen Khan says:

    I’m an ex Muslim from Iran, now living somewhere else, where I’m safe in spite of my apostasy. My parents and grandmother, who live with me, know about my apostasy and are fine with it. My mom and dad were nominal Muslims anyway, but my grandmom who’s a staunch Muslim quoted the bit from the Koran, “There is no compulsion in religion,” when I told her I’d quit.

    I’ve read both the Koran and the Bible in entirety. However, unlike many fundamentalist Christians I spoke to, I don’t consider the Koran any more violent or misogynist than the Bible. Maybe Jesus is a nicer guy than Mohammed though.

    • Thanks for your comments, Shaheen.
      Here in Tokyo, I’ve noticed that many Iranians are fairly secular. However, I have many good Saudi friends who are still quite devout Muslims. There are some of the nicest guys I know, but I still prod them with questions that keeps them on their toes. I’ve been asking them for their definition of “faith” and it seems to be nearly identical to the Christian notion other than for the referent. I’m glad you made it out of your faith with a minimum of trouble. I also have a couple of Pakistani friends who no longer believe, and their families are giving them a really tough time.
      Cheers, Phil

  5. ophalm says:

    loved this.. I left the faith maybe about a year ago, like you a number of reasons, although you’ve been in the faith longer than I ever was and have some very interesting perspectives I haven’t considered.

    like you I want to be open minded, but as I am, and as I want to grow, I keep searching, and I find the same dogmatic preaching everywhere, but keep finding new and interesting anti-faith (if you allow me to call it that) writings and philosophies.. despite being open minded the case for christ just keeps getting worse. the christian responses keep replying with the same stuff every time

    good work!

  6. Nizar says:

    You have managed to point out and prove a very good point that I have been thinking about a lot lately but haven’t managed to put in words, the human mind is bad at judging what is true and what is not.

    Through emotion, one can not distinguish God’s true religion from the man made one, simply because they all result in the same emotions.

    Now because there is neither physical nor emotional evidence for us to rely on to differentiate God’s true religion from the other man made religions, God is not Fair as he claims to be, because if he is really fair he should provide us with a method to know the true religion from the false religion.

    It was quite interesting to read your article, I will be passing by from time to time to read more of your good work.

    Nizar.

  7. David says:

    Many things in your story resonate with aspects of my life. I also think your critique on the major brand of christanity is justified. It is quite clear to me that the problems in mainstreem christanity are of a psychological nature and probably won’t be resolved any time soon. In saying that I know a great deal of christains whom do not prescribe to a fundamentalist approach, have a great knowledge in areas of psychology, science and philosophy, and still believe in the authority of scripture. Perhaps the God that you were taught about was a terrible missrepresentation of the real Christian God.

    Im just wondering whether the emotional critique that you have landen on certain parts of the church have some relevance for your current position. That is, our movements between believing in higher powers or no higher powers all are part influenced by our emotional states.

    • Great point. Emotions very much tend to distort objective truth. For this reason, for anyone who has made a commitment to finding objective truth must make their assessments in a state of mind that is as far from subjectivity as possible.

      This is not an easy task. It is not a “natural” state of mind for humans. It requires acquiring knowledge in logic and critical thinking, then subsequent training and practice to distance the mind from its emotional inclinations.

      However, to say it is difficult is not to say that is is impossible, nor something we should leave to others. Approximating an objective state of mind well within the grasp of anyone willing to make the effort.

      This trained objective mindset is imperative for anyone in honest search for truth. They have committed themselves to the possibility that objective truth may not correspond to happiness. Truth-seeking turkeys on a turkey farm a week before Thanksgiving are in for a disappointing revelation. We must also be willing to accept a dismal truth. If there is not this willingness, the mind is not yet prepared to objectively assess truth.

      However, minds most often are found to belong to humans. Humans have an emotional nature that does not need to be taught, and is able to take the cold objective truths that it uncovered though a different (objective) mindset, and subjectively (emotionally) assign “meaning” to that cold objective truth. This meaning exists only subjectively.

      I assess truth objectively.
      I assign meaning to that objective truth subjectively.

      While I have dug beneath the muddy soil of my emotions to uncover the cold, hard, and colorless objective clay, I then prefer to cover it back up and plant subjective flowers, vines and berries. And this subjective project I can tend to more efficiently and enjoy more fully since I continually know the nature of the foundation.

      Only after objectively assessing the foundation of one’s life can a mind then most happily construct personal meaning.

      After objectively assessing the truth value of religion, I do find myself subjectively annoyed and angry at the lies/falsehoods I was told. However, this subjective anger was not prior to my assessment, but emergent of it.

      Thanks so much for your comment.

      -phil

  8. Nick Kiefer says:

    Hi Phil,
    Very articulate and methodical piece! Wow! You’ve obviously lived in, as well as devoted much time and energy to your pursuit of understanding reality. I like to consider myself a realist too, with the goal of “walking with God” in as much reality and least amount of unmotivated religious motion as possible. I’m still “in,” but very interested in “objective truth.” The trippy part for me, and actually I wanted to ask you about what you “did” with this aspect of your former Christianity, is that my initial encounters with Jesus and my interactions with Him now are so tangible, that it is actually this relationship that keeps me in a place of unwillingness to allow the “objective” assessment of any other human being to convince me to explain it away. My question to you is that if you had that as well, during times of prayer or in whatever other form, how do you walk away from it? What did you do with the relationship? Do you miss it? I know you talked about a scientifically explainable brain stimulation, but I’m talking about the moments where you know that you know that (in your spirit, not your brain) that you are actually interacting with a Person. If you’ve never experienced that, then please don’t try to speculate.

    The other food for thought from me is that I do not believe that human beings have the capacity for true objectivity. We are too finite. To me, in order to be truly objective, we would be God, rather than a created being. Therefore, being subjective beings and having God understand that subjectivity, I actually feel that taking your analysis to the rigorous level that you have is a waste of time. To me, no matter HOW objective you THINK you are, you’re still not. For example, you drew in historical and cultural perspectives and experiences of others. You also drew in the ideas of reason and critical thinking. All of these are HUMAN notions, examined or employed via HUMAN mechanisms. So tell me, who/what has determined that these human measuring standards, mechanisms, and even your own ability to think critically are the highest level tools for assessing reality or objectivity? Humans? I think you’re smart enough to understand what I’m getting at.

    Along those lines, I’d also like to ask you, though I know it is personal and perhaps not something you want to publically discuss, what the sexually conflictive element(s) were in your journey toward righteousness that you felt you were never able to get under control? The reason I’m asking is that one, it can be tied to your own ability to be objective, and two, I too have struggled mightily with lust and the ability to stick to a moral road I’d feel pleasing to God. Another question related to that is, did you believe in the devil (and his forces), and if so, what is your consideration of pressure from that realm as it relates to your current relief from the sexual struggle you had as a believer?

    Thanks in advance for your consideration of my questions/comments. I look forward to you response.

    Aloha, -Nick

    • Thanks for you comments, Nick.

      In your first paragraph, you asked what I did with the salient experience of a relationship I had with god in which I knew (in my spirit, and not my brain) that I was interacting with a real person. The key part of this you introduced in the statement “in your spirit, and not your brain“. It is the existence of a spirit apart from the brain that is the underlying assumption in question here. I opened myself up to the possibility that I did not have a spirit, and that my brain was not designed to process truth well. Since then, my interest into cognitive science have confirmed my suspicions. Only the brain exists, and that brain is highly susceptible to experiencing things that do not externally exist.

      This is also linked to your second paragraph. If you believe that the “spirit” actually does exist, then it probably follows that you think it has been given as a special tool to receive truth from its creator, and that training one’s self in critical thinking is a “waste of time“. Not until you have backed away from assuming that we have been given a god-given spirit can you assess the value of objectivity and the degree to which you can employ objectivity. (I’d like to suggest that a very high degree of objectivity is possible in nearly every aspect of life. We all employ it well in mathematics. It is just a matter of training to extend that unemotional usage of objectivity into other realms through focused effort and a commitment to an unadulterated and possibly cold truth.)

      In answer to your last paragraph, I had complete faith in god that he could help me overcome my sinful desires. I also completely believed that I had been born a sinner, and had a natural proclivity to it that was encouraged by another entity called “satan”. The cycle you know well. You pray that god will give you power to overcome your sinful lusts, then spend a considerable proportion of the day contemplating the spiritual warfare going on between satan and god within your sinful soul.

      You start with an enormously bloated ontology derived from an book that begins with the claim we are born sinners due to the sin of the original man Adam. From there, the introduction of satan, god and a sinful soul set the stage for an ongoing drama in which you are at the center. It certainly give you a sense of purpose, so much so that you never really step back to assess your ontology. It is like the man hanging from a rope with his eyes closed imagining that he is a mile in the sky when, in actuality, his toes are six inches from the ground.

      Once I opened my eyes to realize that god and satan were mere mental constructs, and that I had not the sinful soul I thought I had, it was an easy drop to the ground of reality. I realized that, though there was no spiritual bodyguard warding off temptation, I had much more power over my life.

      Relinquishing the bloated ontology of the bible is critical to finding the sense of control and contentment that I spoke of in my essay. If you which to process things through your spirit (a function of the brain that distorts reality by avoiding the emotionally unpalatable), then you’re going to remain a captive of subjectivity.

      I’m just suggesting that an amazing reality awaits those willing to reassess their religion-based bloated ontologies. But a partial reassessment will not cut it. An honest reassessment requires that you actually do step away from all of your assumptions to question everything including the notions of “soul”, “god”, “purpose”, “sin” and “soul”. This is a rather scary step for those of us who have spent many years within christianity, but I assure you, it’s worth it.

      Do I miss the illusion of a spiritual realm? I have to strongly respond “no”. On your side it has been suggested that my agnostic position has nothing to offer but the despondency of fatalism. That is what I fully anticipated before I left christianity, but far from the truth. Life became so much bigger after I abandoned my “faith” and committed myself to finding first objective truth, then constructing a subjective life on top of that. Do children miss Santa once exposed to the truth? Sure. And the initial shock is hard to adjust to. But I don’t meet many adults wishing they could believe in Santa once again.

      Cheers, Phil

  9. agnusstick says:

    Great post, Phil! I agree on almost everything you said, except for a few assessments about intuition. I still hope the impact you have on me shall prevent my losing the faith, because I’m one of those wishing we could believe in Santa again. It’s not that what you exposed so rigorously is new to me, but I must bow in front of such reasoning and expressing skills, which are powerful indeed. It’s not the first time, but I once again see clearly why Jesus said one cannot enter the Kingdom without being a child. I really want to be a child, and frankly I’m not ashamed of this — I’d give up my reason for seeing God’s face.

    • At least you are honest about the nature of your faith. The emotional intensity of desiring there to be a god transcends reason.
      I suggest that, if most other christians were honest, they would need to admit that this is also the nature of their faith.

      However, while becoming as credulous as a child is considered highly virtuous if you accept the same god as those promoting this type of credulity, once you’ve accepted a different god or Santa though this very same credulity, this very same faith becomes something silly or evil. This fact makes renders such faith untenable in my mind. How do you reconcile this absurdity?

  10. agnusstick says:

    Silly, I accept, but evil? Placing bets based on wishes and emotions is not absurd — one might win. Of course there are other wiser options…
    There is no virtue in having faith — no more than in liking sexual pleasure or eating gourmet specialties.

    • Childish faith is not evil in my eyes, but only childish. Childish faith is evil, however, to those who encourage childish faith if the childish faith is focused on any other god or magical entity but their own.

      Experiences of sex and of the palate are real experiences. Faith is also an experience. You can know with all certainty that you are experiencing faith in god. However, that is quite different from claiming you are experiencing god.

      So the quality of your faith is the same is the same as faith in Santa. The childish experiencing of your faith is the same as someone childishly experiencing faith in Santa. The accident of your faith falling upon Jehovah rather than some other god is merely a function of your geographical context (living in a christian community) and your historical context (living in an age that does not believe in Apollo). You’ve already conceded that your faith is irrational. There is nothing about this faith that is virtuous.

  11. agnusstick says:

    Of course I am experiencing faith, not God — I am too rational a human being, I don’t hear voices, and I don’t take signs for granted, but I make my own choices on my risk alone. I shall never say that God told me or indicated a way, but I shall say that I tried to make my choices knowing that I can be wrong, and based on my judgment alone. What kind of judgment, I said already — it is not just rational, logical, coherent etc. Experiencing God is the ultimate goal, it cannot be a daily experience.
    I go for the childish faith, no problem, comparisons with Santa don’t bother me. I often think about the chance of having been educated in a christian environment — actually it is not the education that brought me faith, but it certainly made it possible. I don’t take time to fantasize about how I would have evolved in Asia or Africa, but I don’t ignore the alternative.
    No virtue in having faith — I already conceded to this. This is consistent with the grace doctrine also.

  12. Steve says:

    Hi Phil,

    That was an excellent write-up. Isn’t it wonderful to be free to look at what truth there is in the world, rather than having to blindly accept a narrow and often warped view.

    I completely agree with you that there is nothing inherently bad about the vast majority of Christians, as some people who have never had much to do with religion seem to suggest. Unfortunately most of them are simply never exposed to any serious challenge to their ideas, just as we weren’t for so long. This is an age of information however, and posts like this probably do more than we realise.

    Good for you. Keep it up, and best of luck in everything!

  13. Pete says:

    Hi Phil

    An excellent read. And i myself as well identified with so much that you wrote—almost word for word except you are so much better at explaining it on paper.

    Like you i also feel faithful folk really mean well and i don’t find i have any hate for them. However while childish faith can be understood and even excused, many actions of children though we understand and excuse them we still need to face it some of these childish actions can sometimes be a little dangerous to everyone else around. Even children at some stage in life need to realize how they too need to except responsibility for that what they do.

    All the best Phil

    • Agreed Pete.

      I sometimes literally cry when I think of the lost young man I was trying to find truth in a “faith” in which myth was the only content. But then again, I was also perpetuating the myth. I was so fortunate I found my way out.

      I’m glad you and others have also escaped to find contentment in a godless life.

      All the best. Phil

  14. 4riozs says:

    I was reading through your “testimony”. I’m sure I have read through it previously. I can relate to your experience with “sin” or things in which you need to overcome. It seems as if when I left the faith I had found a new sense of self, or of strength. I learned that I could change some of my circumstances and that all that waiting on “God” was like waiting on a rock to help me. It was just probability, but more so I learned that I have the ability to do for myself. Maybe all of that waiting and praying and hoping, just takes the focus off of the real necessary changes.

    I’ve gotten tired of hearing how “God” will work it out when time and time again it has only gotten worse, but when I left it’s like I figured alot of it out. Not everything is great, but I have a way to deal with life, unlike before.

    • Thanks for commenting, 4riozs.
      Yes, I have much more power to make real changes in my life now since I know there is no one else to rely on. While having one less (imaginary) friend, it frees me from dependence on that friend, and forces me to truly take responsibility. And as a result, I’ve found that I’ve been reaching my goals and have a much better life now. Not every thing is perfect of course, but the freedom is still invigorating and refreshing in contrast to the externally imposed artificial limitations found within the bible and evangelicalism.

  15. David says:

    I wrote on your wall a while ago. I stumbled across it again and want to add a few more things.

    I have some issues with the way you caricaturize Christianity. All your arguments seem to be aimed at fundamentalist positions, ones which the majority of theologians and biblical scholars do not adhere to. I don’t really feel you are disproving Christianity, not the Christianity that I believe at least. I do empathize with the problems you have encountered; indeed I have had similar experiences and have seen many of my friends either been hurt by the church or brainwashed into semi-Gnostic belief that the only important truths are accessible in the church. I am dead set against this type of belief, it is not biblical, its Gnostic and damaging to people.

    I think it’s very easy to play the “rational and objective card” and take a position that one has rid himself of this false belief and can see objectively whilst the Christians are bogged down by faulty hermeneutics and irrational statements God. I don’t believe you do this entirely, but certain aspects of your argument resonate with this impression. I have personally had a deepening of faith from the study of philosophy at university and the reading I like to do around science and psychology. I did have to work my way through problems both emotional and intellectual. But overall I have found that Christianity is the most plausible and coherent explanation to cosmological and existential questions. The theologian Alistair McGrath, whom gained a PhD in science, was a strong atheist to begin with. However he was slowly drawn to the Christian belief, not by a radical conversion, but because he started to see that by the light of Christianity he could make the most sense of this world. Even champion atheist Antony Flew has turned to a theist belief and has even said that he found N.T wrights book ‘simply Christianity’ to be well argued and coherent. Wolfart Pannenberg, a titanic thinker, has also been converted to Christianity by a slow intellectual process where he rationally weighed up his belief. I could name a number of others whom have had this conversion experience to Christianity by way of the intellect.

    For some time now Christian philosophers have been making a comeback to the point that it is common to find at least one third of the philosophy faculty in a university to be orthodox Christians. I would rather you engage with these types of people than fundamentalists. You may find far deeper and rational opposition.

    Regards

    David.

    • Hi David. Thanks for your comments.

      You say “But overall I have found that Christianity is the most plausible and coherent explanation to cosmological and existential questions.”

      I’d like to understand the conditions you place on truth. In your mind, is the response “There is none” a member of the set of possible answers to the question “What is the teleological purpose of a human life?”

      I’d also like to assess your definition of what is absurd. Could a god that is alleged to have authored 1 Corinthians 13 be the same god who become so wrathful over a single “sin” by a “sinner” he claims to love that he eternally tortures or condemns that person to hell? Do you feel that a 3-day death of one man is a sufficient redemption for the deserved eternal damnation of billions of souls? Do you feel that we have free will not to “sin”, yet believe that not one of the billions of humans has been without sin?

      You have also mention people who have migrated from non-belief to belief, but you have not introduced their reasons. This makes it appear as if the fact that some people change their minds to adopt a ideology similar to yours is strong evidence for you to maintain your beliefs. Is this what you’re saying? If this is not your position (and I hope it isn’t), you may want to provide the actual arguments behind their adoption of your ideology. Would you think me honestly interested in truth if I merely handed you a long list of all the preachers who have deconverted without providing you with the reasons for their apostasy?

      Because I don’t want to attack a straw man, I’d like to know the degree of potency you ascribe to the god of the bible. What promises, if any, did this god make? If you could point out these promises such as answered prayer, the performance of miracles, power over sin, doctrinal unity, or superior blessings for believers, then I could possibly assess statistically whether or not those promises have been broken. I’m sure you realize, however, that your god has either uttered non-vague promises that can be tested, or he is choosing to appear impotent, and is evidentially equivalent to an non-existent god.

      I would also like to know how you distinguish “faith” from common confidence in evidence, and what if any superior virtue you place on such “faith”.

      And quite importantly, I would like to know how you discern what a biblical passage is actually saying. Do you have some tangible standard that guides you, or do you invoke a more private gnostic approach?

      Once I understand your basic stance, I can then address our actual differences.

      Cheers, Phil

  16. David says:

    To the cosmological questions I am suggesting, in line with recent cosmology, that the universe did in fact have a beginning. The past is finite and not infinite. I’m sure you’re well aware of these types of arguments. Now I am by no means suggesting that this proves Christianity, but it does at least give us reasonable belief for the existence of God.
    When I talk about the existential questions I am meaning those deep questions concerning our existence, our life purpose, the suffering that takes place in this world; ethics (if there is objective morality), and so forth. As you would agree with me, these questions cannot simply be ignored, but they push us out to search for truth, to search for reasons; and yes, even to entertain thoughts of doubt about God and a teleological purpose.
    ‘Common confidence in evidence’ has connotations of scientific investigation. That is a sphere of human activity but not the totality of it. We have confidence in evidence that a bowling ball will drop to the ground if let go from a high tower. We also have confidence that there are unobservable gravitational fields acting on this ball. We also have confidence that such things as electrons exist, not because we see them directly, but by what they leave behind. Even in science, trust is a primary condition of belief. We must trust and believe that what we are actually seeing is a form of reality in order to escape the solipsist trap. We must trust in cause and effect. When it gets down to the quantum level physicists are often left perplexed because of the apparent paradoxes that present themselves.
    When it comes to faith in God, there is the relational aspect of that trust. As I cannot necessarily trust a stranger when I first meet them, overtime they may gain my trust and I may gain there’s. So it is by Gods action in my life that I learn to trust him. Secondly there is an intellectual aspect to faith in God, be it by cosmological arguments or the fine tuning arguments; In other words, by scientific investigation I am compelled to believe the likelihood that there is a God by what science brings up. I would also consider the enterprise of biblical studies and theology to be an intellectual apprehension and grappling of God in relation to humanity. However that does differ from scientific investigation.
    You questions of the bible clearly show me a person who has read it and understands the difficulty that one is faced in reading and interpreting it. Is the 3-day death of one man sufficient redemption for the eternal damnation of billions of souls? I do believe it is sufficient because God has sacrificed himself for us; it’s not the length of time but the fact that he took our place. If we believe that Jesus was both God and man than we can expect God to be able to accomplish such an act. I do believe we have been given freedom from the law so that our sins our forgiven. This can work out as freedom from sin. People change. I also believe every human has sinned, although I have met some wonderful people.
    I discern what a Biblical passage is saying by reading the passage in its historical context, its relation to Old Testament (if it is a NT passage) and its relation to other NT texts. But I also think about what its implications are for my life and I am open to guidance by the spirit.
    In answer to the Corinthians questions I think one needs to hold a dialectical view of God. God is all loving and that is primary. His ‘anger’ and ‘wrath’ is a response to what sin does to people. We all feel anger when someone murders a child or when we see thousands of people get caught up in war. God is angry because of the fact that sin can harm others and us. But overall the message of the gospel is far more about God’s grace and reconciliation than about eternal damnation for the sins one commits. We have to see the passage of wraith and anger in light of the gospel message which is at the center of the Bible.
    This may sound like a cop out but I suggest you read the books of the people I have mentioned as a change in belief is a slow process and may be best narrated by that person. However if we continue this dialogue I can summarize certain points they make that I think are relevant to this discussion.

    • Thanks for your response, David.

      I’ll attempt to answer your points as clearly as possible by placing your comments in blockquotes and commenting beneath.

      To the cosmological questions I am suggesting, in line with recent cosmology, that the universe did in fact have a beginning. The past is finite and not infinite. I’m sure you’re well aware of these types of arguments. Now I am by no means suggesting that this proves Christianity, but it does at least give us reasonable belief for the existence of God.

      You are invoking the minds of cosmologists on a complex topic, then think you can go beyond their own conclusions and arrive at a Thor-like God? I would first suggest that most amateur cosmologists understand only the conventional and intuitive notions of time and “beginning”, notions that are quite distant from the denotations of real cosmologists. One evidence for this is the vast disparity between the conclusions that real and amateur cosmologists arrive at. It might be in the interest of truth to assess the ideologies held by the bulk of the cosmologists you co-opt to fabricate on their tentative and nuanced conclusions a bloated ontic of demons, angels, souls, sins, heavens, hells and a emotional god on par with the Greek and Roman gods. Is this what you mean when you say “reasonable”? You start with their statement “the universe had a beginning” to arrive at “the creator of the universe was the same guy who wrestled with Jacob”. Is this not a bit absurd? Isn’t this a commentary on your level of credulity? How many other religions have also co-opted cosmologists’ misunderstood notion of “beginning” to arrive at their own gods? How do you feel about the way they brush aside all the real and necessary intermediary assumptions to arrive at the god the claim you should be worshiping? How do you feel about your own doing of the same?

      When I talk about the existential questions I am meaning those deep questions concerning our existence, our life purpose, the suffering that takes place in this world; ethics (if there is objective morality), and so forth. As you would agree with me, these questions cannot simply be ignored, but they push us out to search for truth, to search for reasons; and yes, even to entertain thoughts of doubt about God and a teleological purpose.

      No, I do not agree with you. The mere fact that we can ask questions does not in any way imply that those questions have answers or are in any way legitimate. That is an arrogant assumption. Lightning strikes and kills a man with cancer. Humans everywhere emotionally scramble to find purpose in the occurrence, concluding (depending upon their relationship with the man) that it was a result of god’s wrath or mercy. We feel certain that we have a teleological purpose in our lives, then, based on that feeling, seek out that purpose without considering the source of the feeling, and whether the perception of purpose is constructed wholly of desires. We are emotional creatures who can exceed interrogative boundaries and ask questions that have no referent. This is why I believe that a good understanding of cognitive science it a prerequisite to any exploration of other external truths.

      ‘Common confidence in evidence’ has connotations of scientific investigation. That is a sphere of human activity but not the totality of it. We have confidence in evidence that a bowling ball will drop to the ground if let go from a high tower. We also have confidence that there are unobservable gravitational fields acting on this ball. We also have confidence that such things as electrons exist, not because we see them directly, but by what they leave behind. Even in science, trust is a primary condition of belief. We must trust and believe that what we are actually seeing is a form of reality in order to escape the solipsist trap. We must trust in cause and effect. When it gets down to the quantum level physicists are often left perplexed because of the apparent paradoxes that present themselves.
      When it comes to faith in God, there is the relational aspect of that trust. As I cannot necessarily trust a stranger when I first meet them, overtime they may gain my trust and I may gain there’s. So it is by Gods action in my life that I learn to trust him. Secondly there is an intellectual aspect to faith in God, be it by cosmological arguments or the fine tuning arguments; In other words, by scientific investigation I am compelled to believe the likelihood that there is a God by what science brings up. I would also consider the enterprise of biblical studies and theology to be an intellectual apprehension and grappling of God in relation to humanity. However that does differ from scientific investigation.

      I believe in what works. Science, in its desire to distance inquiry from the adulterating effects of subjectivity, places little value on gnostic claims. Claims of personal revelation have all come up empty in respect to their predictive power. There is no evidence that private sources of knowledge have any value above a placebo, and have yielded no results that would warrant our attention. And as a result, science has been our only source of knowledge in the quest for new technologies and medicines. It is this efficacy that warrants our confidence. By assessing inductively the probabilities of an event, scientists determine the warranted level of confidence, and attempt to limit their confidence to that level. Dogmatism is scorned. Gnostic claims to knowledge are scorned, both for their inefficacy, and for their utter dependence on the tool of private cognition, a tool that has a well-established track record of self-deceit. This is why science is a group effort that minimizes the effects of a single faulty mind. And this is why science works uniformly around the world while private revelations offer little in respect to predictive power or even superior life-styles.
      And note how you imply that we can’t simply stop at where the evidence leaves off when you said “ physicists are often left perplexed”. Don’t claim to be following the evidence, yet go beyond it when it suits your emotional needs. When the physicists are perplexed, the don’t invoke a god. They happily say “we don’t know.” Anything else is dogmatism. And you might do well to consider how often theists in the past have pointed at perplexing phenomena (lightning, diseases, rain, mental illnesses), and have claimed “My god obviously did it”. Then consider how many of these claims they have had to back away from as science does its thing. This historical pattern of failure gives us strong precedent to inductively dismiss any current claim of divine intervention. So is there a legitimate epistemological alternative to science? None in sight. Until theists can provide a unified consensus on what is truth, and can apply their claims to truth to generate predictive power, the rest of us are warranted in dismissing their claims as self-delusion. Here’s an example of such from an old hymn I used to sing.

      • I serve a risen savior, he’s in the world today
        I know that he is living, whatever men may say.

      Isn’t it time to set aside such credulity and arrogance, and surrender what we want to believe to the superior power of real inductive thought?

      Your questions of the bible clearly show me a person who has read it and understands the difficulty that one is faced in reading and interpreting it. Is the 3-day death of one man sufficient redemption for the eternal damnation of billions of souls? I do believe it is sufficient because God has sacrificed himself for us; it’s not the length of time but the fact that he took our place. If we believe that Jesus was both God and man than we can expect God to be able to accomplish such an act. I do believe we have been given freedom from the law so that our sins our forgiven. This can work out as freedom from sin. People change. I also believe every human has sinned, although I have met some wonderful people.

      You say “he took our place”. This is absurd. Jesus was alleged to have died for 3 days. Unless you want to introduce a 3-day hell, and claim that Jesus died for 3 days billions of times, this is far from taking our place.
      It is also absurd to claim that each human has the free will not to sin, yet declare that no human is without sin. Remember when Jesus cursed the fig tree that was not bearing fruit in a season that fig trees do not bear fruit? Would you call this just? Acting according to our nature incurs no culpability. And, just as we define the nature of animals based on their behaviors, you’ll have to conclude we have a sin nature if you claim all have sinned.
      Then there remains the simple fact that the god you claim is loving is, at the same time, so wrathful at a single infraction that he will eternally condemn the “sinner”. If a father claimed to love his son deeply, then tortured him forever in the basement after the boy told a single lie, what would you say about his claim of parental love?
      You’ve seemed to have twisted concepts of “justice” and “love” that are distorted to near their opposites.

      I discern what a Biblical passage is saying by reading the passage in its historical context, its relation to Old Testament (if it is a NT passage) and its relation to other NT texts. But I also think about what its implications are for my life and I am open to guidance by the spirit.

      Do you not think it strange that the bible is the source of truth, yet is interpreted and applied in a sundry of ways? What exactly does it mean for a god to give mankind a book that is to serve as a source of truth, yet 1) make it available to only a sub-set of humans, 2) leave it full of vague passages that are interpreted in nearly every way imaginable by its readers, and 3) not accompany the book with a single and consistent standard of hermeneutics that might produce clarity on the truths it alleges to contain? Once again, I believe in what works. The bible does not work as is clearly evidenced by the contradictory “truths” that emerge from its proponents. And what predictive power has the bible given you over rational thought?

      In answer to the Corinthians questions I think one needs to hold a dialectical view of God. God is all loving and that is primary. His ‘anger’ and ‘wrath’ is a response to what sin does to people. We all feel anger when someone murders a child or when we see thousands of people get caught up in war. God is angry because of the fact that sin can harm others and us. But overall the message of the gospel is far more about God’s grace and reconciliation than about eternal damnation for the sins one commits. We have to see the passage of wraith and anger in light of the gospel message which is at the center of the Bible.

      Let’s make this very clear. God claims to love us as children, knows that not one of us will manage to employ our free will to remain sinless, then claims that eternally damning one of the children that the claims to love is consistent with his love. This eternal condemnation does not even come close to fatherly punishment. Plug a human father into your god’s position, and that father’s child into the position of the “sinner”, then tell me with a straight face that the father truly loves his son.

      This may sound like a cop out but I suggest you read the books of the people I have mentioned as a change in belief is a slow process and may be best narrated by that person. However if we continue this dialogue I can summarize certain points they make that I think are relevant to this discussion.

      Yes, it’s a cop out. I’ve rarely met an substantial argument that could not be condensed into a paragraph to launch a discussion. Yet I have been encouraged to read books from every ideology imaginable that would take several lifetimes to complete. Once you’ve invested your time by reading deeply into a particular ideology, it is then hoped that this vested interest will take you past the obvious holes in the argumentation. For this reason I seldom read lengthy books from a single author, but instead read the syllogistic form of their arguments, and extract new ideas from essays or anthologies. See https://philstilwell.wordpress.com/2009/09/11/ideological-investments/.

      In addition, if you are arguing that you have a golden square-triangle, I don’t need to entertain your argument for the atomic structure of a metal sample you claim is derived from your square triangle. Nor do I need to entertain your story about how you acquired it. You don’t have a square triangle. In the same way, all attempts to claim your god is omniscient, for example, fail if this same god is a loving malicious god who thinks he can pay for an eternity of “deserved” torture with 3 days of death.

      One thing that may help you in further discussions is a nuanced description of my beliefs on god. I currently believe the Abrahamic god is illogical, a personal god improbable, and an Einsteinian god not certain.

  17. David says:

    I am indeed invoking the minds of cosmologists concerning the origins of the universe; however it is wrong of you to suggest that I inferred from the findings of cosmologists, proof for the Christian God. Equally it is wrong to suggest without giving any examples, that I build arguments for the existence of spiritual entities from so called ‘tentative and nuanced conclusions’ of cosmologists. You say “When the physicists are perplexed, they don’t invoke a god. They happily say “we don’t know.” Anything else is dogmatism.” You right, they don’t always invoke a God as an explanation, but they do evoke (not always by choice), the philosopher; as when science nears the limits of the universe-it’s beginning and ultimate constituents- it turns back into philosophy again. Your statement itself carries hints of a rather dogmatic position.

    You make the point that you believe in what works. Since scientific investigation is set free from the bane of the subjective, one can enquire freely into the world and find objective knowledge. They of course do yield results such as new technologies and medicines. But this is simply because the investigation of science is aimed at understanding the natural world. We would not expect a theologian or historian (at least not directly) to be a source of knowledge for the understanding of electromagnetic fields; this is because their ‘field’ of enquiry is something different.

    However we know that science has its own limits. Things like judgments of ethical value fall outside the realm of scientific investigation. This is also true of aesthetics. Science cannot prove metaphysical truths like whether independent minds exist and if I am in fact writing this on a computer in an external reality. Mathematics and Logic can’t be proven scientifically. Ultimately science cannot be proven by science. There are instances in science where we must hold non-testable assumptions for the science to actually get of the ground. Therefore, we can know and hold things rationally that are outside the realm of science. Again I stress this does not prove the God of the bible. But it does go some way to curb the assumption that anything that falls outside the realms of science is unknowable and therefore not justifiable.
    .I would now like to address your own personal views of God.

    You use the example of the golden square-triangle and that I can’t argue that I have a sample of this triangle. You then go on to suggest that this is analogous to me claiming that God is forgiving whilst holding onto God being malicious and wrathful. The problem with this argument is that it does little to spell out your reasons as to why this is illogical. There is in fact no logical inconsistency in the belief that God is all loving and also punishes people. I am under no obligation to accept your premise that God is malicious in the first place. I think you have some hidden assumptions behind this statement; Assumptions that lend themselves more to an emotional and ethical judgment then to logical reasoning.

    I cannot prove to you by argument that this Einsteinean entity is the God of Abraham. Any Christian who thinks they can is not really thinking at all. Rather I consider faith to essentially be a response to the challenge of a revolutionary fact, and failure to understand this is failure to grasp the uniqueness of the Christian message in its profound and unique character. The key word is here response. Of the millions of Christian testimonies the common theme running through them is the inbreaking of God into their lives; a reality that they experience and are able to relate to others.

    Regards
    David

    • Hi again, David.

      Once again, I’ll place your comments in blockquotes and comment beneath.

      I am indeed invoking the minds of cosmologists concerning the origins of the universe; however it is wrong of you to suggest that I inferred from the findings of cosmologists, proof for the Christian God. Equally it is wrong to suggest without giving any examples, that I build arguments for the existence of spiritual entities from so called ‘tentative and nuanced conclusions’ of cosmologists. You say “When the physicists are perplexed, they don’t invoke a god. They happily say “we don’t know.” Anything else is dogmatism.” You right, they don’t always invoke a God as an explanation, but they do evoke (not always by choice), the philosopher; as when science nears the limits of the universe-it’s beginning and ultimate constituents- it turns back into philosophy again. Your statement itself carries hints of a rather dogmatic position.

      You did not say “a god”. You clearly said “God”. And when it comes to square triangles, tales of Santa, and other absurd and bloated ontics that have no substantiation, I dismiss these claims unequivocally. I call this the warranted dismissal of the absurd. You seem to want to call it dogmatism. So let’s reassess where we stand. My ontic is comprised of physical elements and processes that we can observe and test. Your ontic extends far beyond that into the realm of untestable demons and angels and sin and hell and heaven and god, far from the reach of science it seems (unless you like to submit a biblical promise that would demonstrate an immaterial cause), yet your religion (if I understand your position correctly) requires you to proclaim without the slightest doubt to the unconvinced that they are destined for hell. Your square triangle of a god does not exist, and logic stands close to confirm that. Am I condemned to hell? Your confirmation of that assertion?

      You make the point that you believe in what works. Since scientific investigation is set free from the bane of the subjective, one can enquire freely into the world and find objective knowledge. They of course do yield results such as new technologies and medicines. But this is simply because the investigation of science is aimed at understanding the natural world. We would not expect a theologian or historian (at least not directly) to be a source of knowledge for the understanding of electromagnetic fields; this is because their ‘field’ of enquiry is something different.

      Provide evidence of the immaterial world, and we can talk. Until then, don’t bother me with claims of heaven, hell, sin and the like. The material world is far too interesting to be distracted by specious claims of an unsubstantiated dimension.

      However we know that science has its own limits. Things like judgments of ethical value fall outside the realm of scientific investigation. This is also true of aesthetics. Science cannot prove metaphysical truths like whether independent minds exist and if I am in fact writing this on a computer in an external reality. Mathematics and Logic can’t be proven scientifically. Ultimately science cannot be proven by science. There are instances in science where we must hold non-testable assumptions for the science to actually get of the ground. Therefore, we can know and hold things rationally that are outside the realm of science. Again I stress this does not prove the God of the bible. But it does go some way to curb the assumption that anything that falls outside the realms of science is unknowable and therefore not justifiable.

      I’m afraid you have not been keeping up with the research in these areas. Do emotions fall within scientific investigation? They most certainly do. Until you can provide me with evidence that systems of morality and notions of aesthetics operate outside of physical emotions (yes, they can be fully accounted for by hormonal and neurological processes) in some additional dimension, don’t suggest that there is such a necessary dimension for these domains of inquiry.
      And once again it also sounds as if you think that all questions that enter the minds of humans are legitimate and necessitate resolution. This is a non-sequitur.
      I’m also currently of the persuasion that logic is an emergent property of mind, though I’m open to arguments on this. See https://philstilwell.wordpress.com/2009/09/08/non-prescriptive-laws/.
      Now think about the set of all things that can be said to exist outside the reach of science. The set is infinite. There is no reason to busy ourselves sorting through such claims.
      And, you’re so very right. Your arguments bring you nowhere close to the Abrahamic god. If you’re arguing for the possibility of an Einsteinian god, you have my ear as I have not made up my mind about such a god. I’m just weary of theists who suppose it’s just an epistemological hop, skip and jump between the two.

      I would now like to address your own personal views of God. You use the example of the golden square-triangle and that I can’t argue that I have a sample of this triangle. You then go on to suggest that this is analogous to me claiming that God is forgiving whilst holding onto God being malicious and wrathful. The problem with this argument is that it does little to spell out your reasons as to why this is illogical. There is in fact no logical inconsistency in the belief that God is all loving and also punishes people. I am under no obligation to accept your premise that God is malicious in the first place. I think you have some hidden assumptions behind this statement; Assumptions that lend themselves more to an emotional and ethical judgment then to logical reasoning.

      Can theists stop suggesting that eternity in hell constitutes “punishment”? Punishment is for correction. Nothing is corrected in hell.
      And the problem is not with God’s forgiveness. It’s a problem of his non-forgiveness of humans he claims to love. It seems someone needs to die when sin is committed? Why? This very same god who claims that “without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins” commands us to forgive each other without bloodshed? And we don’t even love each other as God is alleged to love us. There is no explanation for this inconsistency in the Bible. We must forgive offenses without bloodshed, but Jehovah requires blood. Absurd. Now let me offer a more syllogistic version of my central argument.

      1. Jehovah claims to love (αγαπε) humans.


      2. Jehovah defines love (αγαπε) in 1 Corinthians as long-suffering.


      3. Jehovah’s wrath upon a human who sins results in that human’s eternal condemnation.


      4. Jehovah’s display of wrath and condemnation is not long-suffering (a pretty good display of the direct inverse, in fact).


      5. Therefore, by Jehovah’s standard Jehovah does not love (αγαπε) humans.
      [From 2 & 4]


      6. Therefore, Jehovah is either a liar or non-existent.
      [From 1 & 5]


      A less rigorous but more salient example is the hypothetical father who swears that he loves his son, defines love as not quickly taking out one’s wrath on others, then quickly takes out his wrath on his imperfect son who tells a fib, and “punishes” this son with eternal torture. Are you the wife who ignores the dissonance between your husband’s words and actions, and defends your husband as a truly “loving” father?

      I cannot prove to you by argument that this Einsteinean entity is the God of Abraham. Any Christian who thinks they can is not really thinking at all. Rather I consider faith to essentially be a response to the challenge of a revolutionary fact, and failure to understand this is failure to grasp the uniqueness of the Christian message in its profound and unique character. The key word is here response. Of the millions of Christian testimonies the common theme running through them is the inbreaking of God into their lives; a reality that they experience and are able to relate to others.

      Are you calling a mental experience that has no predictive power, no interaction with the material realm, nor any way to assess its existence a “reality”? Hallucinations also fit neatly into that definition of “reality”. Are you sure you want to redefine the term “reality” into meaninglessness?
      If you can demonstrate that the alleged working of your god in people’s lives falls outside the realm of probabilities and placebo effects, you’ll have my attention. I really don’t have my hopes up on that, and especially after comparing crime, incarceration and divorce statistics between nations with the highest degree of bible reading and church attendance and those which are practically atheistic such as here in Japan. I’d sooner loose my wallet in an impoverished district of Japan than in a church parking lot in the US. The Japanese seem not to need the notion of a god to treat others with dignity. However, in the US you have preachers proclaiming to young people that they are fundamentally “sinners” who cannot help but “sin”. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy, and a shameful lie. We are not “evil” creatures deserving of “hell”, and shame on those of you who promote this lie.

      So, if your only intent is to demonstrate the existence of an Einsteinian god, this is perhaps not the place to do it as I don’t necessarily disagree. You might be better served by a site where actual cosmologists post. I’m only dismissing the square triangle of Jehovah.

      Cheers, Phil

  18. David says:

    Whether I said God with or without an indefinite article is somewhat detracting of the other points I have made.I think it is therefore time to give you my arguments for why beleif in God is reasonable.

    You say,”My ontic is comprised of physical elements and processes that we can observe and test.” Philosophically this cannot be so. If you consider yourself to be a rational person then you must hold beliefs that fall outside of scientific observation. As I have said before, judgments of value fall outside of observation, mathematics and logic cannot be proved and nor can we prove the simple propositon that
    the tree I see outside my house is in an external reality. These are things that we can know by our expereince but they are untestable by the scientific method.

    I am not sure if you properly understand the methods that cognative pychologists use to gather information about the emotions. Now by use of SPECT technology we can get a pretty startling image of the brain and it’s states; but (a very big but), it cannot give us any information about what mental event the brain states correspond to. That must always come from the subjects own experience. Therefore any third person data of brain events must depend on second person reports of first person
    subjective experiences in order to begin any infering any correlations. Sticking with the theme of cognative science I would like to give an argument that is used by none other than a pair of cognative psychologists. It goes like this.

    p1) Every experience we have passes through the brain and nervous system.

    P2)This is true for everyday experiences like seeing a cow or having an alleged spiritual experience of God.

    P3)In order to escape the solipsist trap we must accept that the cow actually exists in reality.

    p4)There is no intrinsic neurolical difference between an experience of a cow and an alleged experience of God

    c) Either I must forgo justified rational belief in the experience of the cow,
    OR I must accept an experience of God to possible and rationaly justifiable.

    At this stage I think it is worth bringing in an argument from consciousness (thanks to Swineburn, Adams, Moreland). Feelings of pain (a mental state) are caused by a physical state (having wisdom teeth out). A causing B does not mean that A is identical with B. As in fire causing smoke does not make fire the same as smoke.
    There are features of mental states that are not possesed by physical states. (1) A mental state is incorrigable to me, it is a private experience I have. A scientist cannot possess this direct subjective knoweldge. (2) mental states have no spatial extension and they have no location either. If I think of a golden monkey, the mental event cannot be found in my brain by a scientist, only the correlating physical
    state. Mental states cannot be defined by physical language and this gives us good reason to believe that mental states are immaterial. (3) Immaterial mental states are causally connected to the brain. This position is usually known as substance dualism and I think it is a good argument for the existence of an immaterial substance. Bear in mind that this argument is just a side note to the first two arguments I have already given.

    Your argument against Yahweh rests on some premises that most christians do not accept. I don’t really have a problem with premise 1 and 2. But premise 3 I do not accept. First of all there is strong biblical evidence for a positon known as anihilationism: People do not stay in hell for etirinity but simply cease to exist. Secondly it is generably believed that people may go to hell if they do not accept the grace offered to them by Christ. Thirdly the idea of universalism has had a strong undercurrent in church history which is the belief that all people are saved by Christs sacrifice. I am undecided but I do believe that the reconcilatory work of the cross can continue after this world. So I simply do not accept your premises and nor do I think will many Christian laymen, theologians, biblical scholars and philsohpers. It is rather an argument that stems from a heretical American fundamentalist position. I am not American and nor am I a fundamentalist.

    “The Japanese seem not to need the notion of a god to treat others with dignity” I do not need to live in Japan (although I have lived in Korea), to realise that this statement is utterly blind to the historical reality of the Japenese people. To suggest that Christiaity is untrue because of bad acts done in the name of Christ is to commit the
    genetic fallacy. Furthurmore is that in itself showing an incredible bias to the good that Christianity has done in the world?

    In essence the real thrust of my response has been in the philosophical arguments I have given for a justified belief in God. I don’t believe you can hold
    you position without falling into contradiction. As far as the Christian doctrines of salvation and hell go, that is more of a theological dialouge, one which
    I am quite happy to be a part of.

    Regards

    David

    • David says:

      My apologies. In P3 i should have written cow instead of tree.

    • Hi again, David.

      Once again, I’ve placed your comments in blockquotes and have commented beneath.

      Whether I said God with or without an indefinite article is somewhat detracting of the other points I have made. I think it is therefore time to give you my arguments for why beleif in God is reasonable.

      Specifying the god you’re defending necessarily comes prior to your defense. Equivocating on the definition of god is an enormous fallacy, yet I’ve encountered it as a common tactic or gross oversight. I’m am going to assume you mean the Abrahamic god here and hope I’m correct.

      You say,”My ontic is comprised of physical elements and processes that we can observe and test.” Philosophically this cannot be so. If you consider yourself to be a rational person then you must hold beliefs that fall outside of scientific observation.

      No, this is indeed the basis of my ontology. I only believe things that we can observe and test, and to the degree that they have been observed and tested. This can philosophically be so because it is a choice. I choose to attempt to place a measured confidence in propositions that match the degree of the evidence. For those things I cannot observe (and you know that this term “observe” as used by science is not limited to human senses and includes heuristics such as induction and parsimony that have have given us predictive power), I simply refuse to believe them. I believe in logic because it works. I believe with conscious attenuation that Abraham Lincoln existed because the authorities I base that belief on have a track record of being correct on other more proximate claims. Note, however, that it is largely induction I employ rather than dogmatism.

      As I have said before, judgments of value fall outside of observation, mathematics and logic cannot be proved and nor can we prove the simple propositon that the tree I see outside my house is in an external reality. These are things that we can know by our expereince but they are untestable by the scientific method.

      I almost agree. This is why I seldom say I “know” something. The degree of belief should closely match the degree of available evidence. Belief should not be bivalent when the evidence is other than logical or mathematical.
      However, the thing you call a “tree” that you have seen hundreds of times with your eyes, have climbed with your hands, have smelled and tasted (depending upon your age) does not fall into the same epistemological category as a claim originating hundreds of years ago that vampires exist far removed from personal or scientific observation. And in the process of teasing out why this is so, you’ll uncover many of the heuristics that makes science such a powerful predictor. The fact that we can not be absolutely certain on either one of 2 claims does not place them in epistemological proximity. Induction and parsimony is what keeps us from becoming solipsists, and they play a heavy role in the advancement of science. In your epistemology, don’t merely categorize things into 3 boxes (things proven, things provable and things unprovable) and think everything in the box tagged “unprovable” has equal epistemological weight. Epistemology is based on the degree of evidence, and the degree of confidence we place on that evidence.

      I am not sure if you properly understand the methods that cognative pychologists use to gather information about the emotions. Now by use of SPECT technology we can get a pretty startling image of the brain and it’s states; but (a very big but), it cannot give us any information about what mental event the brain states correspond to. That must always come from the subjects own experience. Therefore any third person data of brain events must depend on second person reports of first person subjective experiences in order to begin any infering any correlations. Sticking with the theme of cognative science I would like to give an argument that is used by none other than a pair of cognative psychologists. It goes like this.
      p1) Every experience we have passes through the brain and nervous system.
      P2)This is true for everyday experiences like seeing a cow or having an alleged spiritual experience of God.
      P3)In order to escape the solipsist trap we must accept that the cow actually exists in reality.
      p4)There is no intrinsic neurolical difference between an experience of a cow and an alleged experience of God
      c) Either I must forgo justified rational belief in the experience of the cow,
      OR I must accept an experience of God to possible and rationaly justifiable.

      You might want to consider the following link if you believe that subjective reporting is necessary to truly understand what the subject is thinking, and in which part of the brain the thought originated and is held in memory. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpe_TRbRdGA
      Note the equivocation in “p4” and in “c”. In “p4” you are referencing neurological differences, and in “c” you’re referencing epistemological differences. They don’t mix.
      So once again you are attempting to place the existence of cows, an Einsteinian god, vampires and all other logically possible entity into the same epistemological space rather than acknowledging the fact that confirming evidence is nearly always a matter of degree rather than type.
      Note that above in my previous comment, that I do not accept the type of epistemology system you are suggesting I and most scientists adhere to. Read the following for more on this. https://philstilwell.wordpress.com/2009/12/12/the-emotional-substrate-beneath-bloated-ontologies/
      Beliefs must be warranted. Warrant comes in degrees. The degree of confidence should map to the degree of the warrant. “knowing” is seldom a meaningful concept. We normally inductively assess the probabilities of a concept, then (should) attempt to limit the strength of our belief in that concept to level of that probability.
      However, with square triangles and loving wrathful gods, we can dismiss them as illogical and incoherent.

      At this stage I think it is worth bringing in an argument from consciousness (thanks to Swineburn, Adams, Moreland). Feelings of pain (a mental state) are caused by a physical state (having wisdom teeth out). A causing B does not mean that A is identical with B. As in fire causing smoke does not make fire the same as smoke.
      There are features of mental states that are not possesed by physical states. (1) A mental state is incorrigable to me, it is a private experience I have. A scientist cannot possess this direct subjective knoweldge. (2) mental states have no spatial extension and they have no location either. If I think of a golden monkey, the mental event cannot be found in my brain by a scientist, only the correlating physical state. Mental states cannot be defined by physical language and this gives us good reason to believe that mental states are immaterial. (3) Immaterial mental states are causally connected to the brain. This position is usually known as substance dualism and I think it is a good argument for the existence of an immaterial substance. Bear in mind that this argument is just a side note to the first two arguments I have already given.

      Mental states, though emergent from a physical substrate, are dependent on a subject, and remain epistemological within the realm of subjective reality. The fact that an economy, for example, is immaterial does not make it independent of material cause/effect. There are complex processes that humans can abstract out of the material substrate such as culture, economies, trends and fashion that might be tagged “immaterial”, but this category of immaterial is not supernatural. Try to think of an economy that did not change to directly reflect any and all changes in its material substrate. Now try to think of a mind that did not change to directly reflect any and all changes in the brain to which it was connected. Now try to think of an economy that existed outside a mind. Now try to think of a concept of mind that was independent of a mind to entertain the concept. Our brains are abstraction machines. But the more the mind’s abstractions reflect the material substrate, the greater the predictive power of the concept. Concepts are useful only to the degree they give us predictive power, and through induction we can perceive that the predictive power of concepts is best served when there is a fidelity to the material substrate of that concept.
      And the fact that the sensation of subjectivity is ineffable lends no credence at all to the notion that the sensation is not wholly emergent of a material substrate. You might also check out the following link. https://philstilwell.wordpress.com/2009/12/13/a-critique-of-dualism/

      Your argument against Yahweh rests on some premises that most christians do not accept. I don’t really have a problem with premise 1 and 2. But premise 3 I do not accept. First of all there is strong biblical evidence for a positon known as anihilationism: People do not stay in hell for etirinity but simply cease to exist.

      Well, that does bring your god closer to coherence. Let’s reevaluate what we have. Now we have a “loving” god that defines love as “long-suffering”, and who merely annihilates the objects of his love for an offense such as lying. How would you feel about a father who claimed to love his son, and instead of torturing him forever like the mean father next door, simply annihilated his son?
      And I must point out that most people who call themselves christians do not believe in annihilationism. Most believe the passages that talk about some form of after-life suffering resulting from Jehovah’s wrath. So I’m not sure why you said “most” christians. But the beautiful thing about the bible is that it is vague enough to generate nearly any interpretation that will match your moods, emotions and culture. And no one, in spite of several years of asking, has provided me with their own consistent standard of hermeneutics. I’m suggesting that christians are afraid such a standard which would quickly be put to use to demonstrate the inconsistency of their own interpretations of scripture. If the concepts in the bible and qu’ran were not as vague as they are, they would not have been able to mutate and evolve into adaptive doctrines that under-gird their respective religions, and each generation simply dismisses the standard absurd interpretations of the prior generation without batting a critical eye. Consider the history of doctrines related to geocentrism (clearly true according to Luther as well as the Pope), the big bang (first against, now for), mental illness (entirely categorized as demon possession for centuries), the end times (now there’s a convoluted study), sexual mores (begin with David and Solomon), racial issues (google the role the story the curse of Ham had on slavery) and physical events such as lightning strikes (which were said to invariably be divine judgment). But this generation simply says “mistakes were made”, assures us they’ve got it right now, then gets on with a new act in the long drama of spouting dogmatic assertions that the next generation is sure to overturn. It’s a hermeneutic circus.

      Secondly it is generably believed that people may go to hell if they do not accept the grace offered to them by Christ. Thirdly the idea of universalism has had a strong undercurrent in church history which is the belief that all people are saved by Christs sacrifice. I am undecided but I do believe that the reconcilatory work of the cross can continue after this world. So I simply do not accept your premises and nor do I think will many Christian laymen, theologians, biblical scholars and philsohpers. It is rather an argument that stems from a heretical American fundamentalist position. I am not American and nor am I a fundamentalist.

      Then simply provide your standard of hermeneutics. How can someone assess the veracity of the bible if there is none? And in light of all the varied and often contradictory interpretations, there certainly does not seem to be one in sight. So your god gave the bible as a source of truth, then left it so vague and without a guide for interpretation? This does make it conveniently unassailable, but at the same time impotent.

      “The Japanese seem not to need the notion of a god to treat others with dignity” I do not need to live in Japan (although I have lived in Korea), to realise that this statement is utterly blind to the historical reality of the Japenese people.

      Are you referring to the time when they thought their emperor was a god? I used the present tense for a reason.

      To suggest that Christiaity is untrue because of bad acts done in the name of Christ is to commit the genetic fallacy.

      I’m suggesting that, if christianity wants its claims of god’s power to change lives to be taken seriously, there should be positive evidence for it, and certainly not negative evidence against it. Or, as I suggested, is it merely impotent? Decide what positive claims your bible makes. It’s potency is a direct function of the assessment of these (if any) claims. No claims, no potency. Failed claims, no potency nor inerrancy. Be bold. Tell me clearly what, if anything, the bible promises that we can assess.

      Furthurmore is that in itself showing an incredible bias to the good that Christianity has done in the world?

      Assessing the effects of an ideology is distinct from assessing its truth. I’m assessing the truth of its claims, not the virtue of its effects.

      In essence the real thrust of my response has been in the philosophical arguments I have given for a justified belief in God. I don’t believe you can hold you position without falling into contradiction. As far as the Christian doctrines of salvation and hell go, that is more of a theological dialouge, one which
      I am quite happy to be a part of.

      If you can clearly outline the contradiction you perceive in my position, I’ll be happy to address that. Syllogistic form might be best.

      Cheers, Phil

  19. David says:

    In order to make any claims about the external world you must presuppose that it is indeed an external world you are experiencing. You say “I choose to attempt to place a measured confidence in propositions that match the degree of the evidence.” A solipsist could think that what they are experiencing, although obsevable and mesurable, are just part of his solipsist experience. I argue that this is not a choice that can be warrented by evidence as both solipsim and realism account for our experiences. It is rather that we know intrinsically that the external world exists; it is not a choice because we have no “reasons” as to why we should ratonally choose one over the other. Rather we simply assert that we know it to be true.

    Now my argument about the tree/cow (lets make it cow) rests largely on what I have just said. Now if you argree with what I have just said (no gaurntees there), you will accept that we simply know to be true as properly basic belief, that what we are experiencing is an external reality.
    We believe in an external reality, we believe that neuroscience can give us certain kinds of information about brain states. We know that if we test for a so called religious experience we see a corresponding brain state. It passes through the brain and nervous system. So do experiences of a cow, or a tree, or any other experience of reaity we have. The crux is, since there is no neurological difference between our experience of the tree and cow, we don’t have any rational justification for believing the tree to have an external reality, while doubting the possibility of a experience of God as a real experience of God. This whole argument rests upon the previous argument I have made.

    The point of this has been to show that we can hold justified and rational belief in the existence of God.These two arguments are independant of any argument for the Christian religion. I still get the impression that what you are fundamentally experiencing about hell is a strong emotional reaction and one which may well be tied into your overall negative experiences in the church. I know this does not prove your statements wrong but it is something to keep in mind. I think the burden of proof is on your shoulders to show that Hell and Yahweh are logically inconsistant. In your argument you state “Jehovah’s wrath upon a human who sins results in that human’s eternal condemnation.” Theologically this is a very scantily clad statement. If I add some extra premise’s to the statement then I think the conclusions can be avoided. God has given us freedom of choice as to whether we will accept him or not. Some people in free choice will not accept God, therefore they will condemn themselves to seperation from God. Biblical scholarship has generally regarded the firey brimstone laden hell to be a metaphor; but the true significance of hell is in the persons seperation from God. Besides brimstone dosen’t even burn at a hot level! God is wanting all to come to him but as long as we have been given free choice some will choose not accept him. This position is widely held in many denominations including my own Anglican demonination. I think the problem is you argument is missing extremly important theological points that if are not taken into consideration lead to a wrong view of hell.

    Regards

    David

    • Once again I’ve placed your comments in blockquotes.

      In order to make any claims about the external world you must presuppose that it is indeed an external world you are experiencing.

      Only those who are compelled to make absolute claims about the nature of things external to the mind need to make such a presupposition. I don’t need absolutes. I feel emotionally comfortable and epistemologically warranted in relying on parsimony and the experiential data I extract from the interaction of my will with the apparent external world to make the very slightly tenuous determination that the external world does, in fact, exist. Regardless of how you escape solipsism, that is how I escape it. I don’t need a presupposition, and consider presuppositions illegitimate in an honest quest for truth.

      You say “I choose to attempt to place a measured confidence in propositions that match the degree of the evidence.” A solipsist could think that what they are experiencing, although obsevable and mesurable, are just part of his solipsist experience. I argue that this is not a choice that can be warrented by evidence as both solipsism and realism account for our experiences.

      To entertain the notion of solipsism, you have to start with an ontology that is obese by any standard. Solipsism requires an additional mind apart from your own, the idea that that mind is emotional and deceitful, plus the mechanism for maintaining the deceit. That’s a whole lot of unsubstantiated ontological baggage to begin a quest for truth with. It is ontologically more economical to place measured confidence in the idea that perceived cause/effect has a genuine physical correlate than to suppose the mind and mischievousness of a higher being who, along with some unexplained mechanism, keeps one step ahead of our thoughts by implanting the illusion of cause/effect. Such a mischievous mind remains logically possible, but epistemologically inferior due to its bloated ontology. Plus, I am not simply observing the world and assessing its reality from a distance. Through the agent of my will, I am interacting with it to see if it interacts with my will in a predictable way. The more it does, (and it does to a very high degree), the more deceit required of the solipsist’s god and the more the necessary complexity of the mechanism of deceit. A world that is comprised of real unemotional and guileless material is the unbloated and warranted conclusion. Why should we abandon skepticism and pull a presupposition out of thin air? Simply employ parsimony to arrive at the fact that a real external world is most probable. What legitimizes parsimony? It is the fact that you are presumably committed to building an ontology from the proper beginning. To start at any point other than the beginning singular notion of existence where parsimony also begins is to abandon this commitment for an illegitimate shortcut. And this version of parsimony is not merely a heuristic. It is a corollary of the rule I hope we both hold; no quest for truth is honest without the questioning of all assumptions.

      It is rather that we know intrinsically that the external world exists; it is not a choice because we have no “reasons” as to why we should ratonally choose one over the other. Rather we simply assert that we know it to be true.

      Parsimony gives us more than adequate reason to reject solipsism. “Asserting” anything prior to the project of extracting an ontology from our experience invalidates the entire project.

      Now my argument about the tree/cow (lets make it cow) rests largely on what I have just said. Now if you argree with what I have just said (no gaurntees there), you will accept that we simply know to be true as properly basic belief, that what we are experiencing is an external reality.

      Properly basic beliefs are a rather silly myth. Beliefs need warrant, and cannot be simply asserted without forfeiting your claim to an honest ontological inquiry. I’m not even sure how properly basic beliefs get off the ground. Is the legitimacy of properly basic beliefs a properly basic belief? Taking emotionally-driven blind faith and repackaging it as “properly basic beliefs” would be analogous to taking the emotional subjective wrath of some alleged capricious god and repackaging it as “objective” morality…Hey, wait a minute… It’s like stepping across the border of a country, then claiming that the mere audacity of your entrance should be considered noble enough to make you an immediate citizen of that country. Sorry. You can’t claim the mere act of blind faith to be honorable by virtue of your audacious ignoring of the requisite of epistemological warrant. See also https://philstilwell.wordpress.com/2009/10/13/angles-of-perception/ for more on this.

      We believe in an external reality, we believe that neuroscience can give us certain kinds of information about brain states. We know that if we test for a so called religious experience we see a corresponding brain state. It passes through the brain and nervous system. So do experiences of a cow, or a tree, or any other experience of reaity we have. The crux is, since there is no neurological difference between our experience of the tree and cow, we don’t have any rational justification for believing the tree to have an external reality, while doubting the possibility of a experience of God as a real experience of God. This whole argument rests upon the previous argument I have made.

      Yes, it is dependent upon your fallacious previous argument. Sorry.

      The point of this has been to show that we can hold justified and rational belief in the existence of God. These two arguments are independant of any argument for the Christian religion. I still get the impression that what you are fundamentally experiencing about hell is a strong emotional reaction and one which may well be tied into your overall negative experiences in the church.

      I could admit to being angry about being lied to, but I don’t want to encourage you to skit the arguments by speculating on motivations.

      I know this does not prove your statements wrong but it is something to keep in mind. I think the burden of proof is on your shoulders to show that Hell and Yahweh are logically inconsistant.

      If I make the claim that they are logically inconsistent, then it is my burden of proof. Your Jehovah claims to love humans more than they can love each other, yet a single sin will generate enough of Jehovah’s wrath for him to condemn that sinner to death. Try the following instantiation. Jehovah = human father who claims to love his son. Sinner = that father’s disobedient human son. Do you follow?

      In your argument you state “Jehovah’s wrath upon a human who sins results in that human’s eternal condemnation.” Theologically this is a very scantily clad statement. If I add some extra premise’s to the statement then I think the conclusions can be avoided. God has given us freedom of choice as to whether we will accept him or not.

      Hilarious. The “loving” father says that his son’s lie evokes his wrath to the point that the father decrees that the lie requires someone’s death. I point out that, by his own standard for “love”, his lack of an unconditional forgiveness of his son and his own wrathful condemnation (John 3:36) of his son to death contradicts his claim of love. The father responds “But I had someone else died for my son’s lie! He only need to accept that!” I respond “You don’t get it. Anyone’s death for a lie counters your claim to be a loving father.” Christians posit a terrible unsubstantiated penalty that does not match an unsubstantiated offense, then attempt to hide from their burden to substantiate things by focusing on the “positive” unsubstantiated claim of redemption. Can we just stop already with the bald assertions? As I’ve pointed out, the concept of condemnation as presented in the bible is not even logically possible. It is internally inconsistent with claims of Jehovah’s “love”. It can be wholly dismissed on these grounds. And that’s all without even bringing up the absurdity of claiming the 3-day death of one man was a “just” price for the “deserved” eternal deaths of billions. Does Jehovah need remedial math?

      Some people in free choice will not accept God, therefore they will condemn themselves to seperation from God. Biblical scholarship has generally regarded the firey brimstone laden hell to be a metaphor; but the true significance of hell is in the persons seperation from God. Besides brimstone dosen’t even burn at a hot level! God is wanting all to come to him but as long as we have been given free choice some will choose not accept him. This position is widely held in many denominations including my own Anglican demonination. I think the problem is you argument is missing extremly important theological points that if are not taken into consideration lead to a wrong view of hell.

      Wasn’t someone going to get back to me on my decade-long request for a single coherent standard of biblical hermeneutics that can be employed to clearly extract the truths from a book claiming to be the only real source of truth? Or perhaps the doctrinal unity witnessed among bible-believers today is testimony to the ability of the holy spirit to lead them into the same truths? The bible, as the source of truth for mankind, fails on 3 counts. 1. It is not accessible to all humans. 2. Modern Christians are either recasting the bible as impotent in that it makes no testable promises or are sub-probabilities and sub-placebo in response to requests for substantiation of posited promises. 3. Neither of the 2 posited sources of doctrinal unity (a single hermeneutic standard or the guidance of the holy spirit) is working by any measure. I’m really getting a bit weary of all the apologetics fluff (“properly basic beliefs”? Ha! Epistemological voodoo.) employed to skirt or distract from these more fundamental issues of the complete and utter inefficacy biblical claims. Instead of attempting to cordon off logical space for the mere possibility of an Einsteinian god, how about providing some weighty positive evidence for Jehovah himself? In spite of my claim that a fat man descending a skinny chimney is an absurd notion, I might consider the possibility of having made a logical blunder if I were to wake up Christmas morning with an unexpected and impressive package in my arms.

      And I really have been a good boy… ;)

  20. David says:

    I do not think you have dealt with my arguments concerning properly basic beliefs. If you don’t like the ring of the phrase then we can call it extra scientific knoweldge. It is generally regarded that there are three fundamental axioms presupposed by the scientific method: Realism, the existence of observable natural laws and the constancy of observable natural laws. There is simply no way of avoiding these presuppositions. I would consider this to be “properly basic philosophy”. Now scientists devise hypothesis and evaluate them with other competing hypothesis. They have to make theory choices but also theory value choices; in other words- when it is a good reason to choose one theory over another? There are norms for good reasons which are found on various levels. On the theoretical level it is contested that simplicty should functon as a norm. There are various instances in scientific investigation where this norm has prevented the furthering of scientific understanding. There are also deep problems with the norm of induction. Theory choice and theory evaluiation is formed by various contested values and norms. They cannot tell us proper choice for which ones should regulate our theories. In essence one could say that there is equal division about the fundamental principles of scientific investagition as there is about interpretation of the bible.

    Now I think your arguments from the emotional God sized hole and our difficulty in cognative abilties fail for two reasons. Firstly the whole argument is permeated with the genetic fallacy, even if it were true that Christians worked off these emotions it would in no way invalidate the truth claims they make. Secondly the whole argument can come crashing down on your head. You make a statement that cognative functions can be impared by emotions, but if you made your argument using your cognative abilities, what is there to prevent you yourself from coming prey to some emotional impairment?

    I do not believe there is any inconsistency between God’s love and some peple going to hell. For if God has created humans with free will, it follows that there is no gaurantee that all persons will freely give their lives to him. It is very clear in the bible that God desires all people to be saved. The only thing preventing universal salvation is human free will. It’s not logically possible for God to make someone do something freely. God being all loving and all powerfull dosen’t entail that all people will freely choose Gods salvation. Therefore no inconsistency has been demonstrated between God’s love and hell. The objection that those who have never heard about Christ will be doomed to hell rests on the assumption that those who have never heard the Gosepl, are judged the same as those who have. But the Bible makes it clear that God will judge them on their response to self revelation in nature and conscience. It has long been a strong view in theology that God’s grace can be found throughout the world; That God’s revelation extends beyond the Bible scriptures. If you still think hell is inconsistant then the burden rests on you.

    Regards

    David

    • Hi David. Once again your comments are in blockquotes with my response following.

      I do not think you have dealt with my arguments concerning properly basic beliefs. If you don’t like the ring of the phrase then we can call it extra scientific knoweldge. It is generally regarded that there are three fundamental axioms presupposed by the scientific method: Realism, the existence of observable natural laws and the constancy of observable natural laws. There is simply no way of avoiding these presuppositions. I would consider this to be “properly basic philosophy”.

      You are addressing a position that is not mine. As I explicitly stated, I make no presuppositions. My commitment to realism is not arbitrary or a blind presupposition.

      • My commitment to realism is based on a determination subsequent to exploring the efficacy and parsimony of realism. It is not prior. It is not a presupposition. it is based on the fact that it works.
      • My confidence in observable natural laws is also a product of induction. They work. I make no presupposition. I’ve examined the alternative notion that apparent laws are merely a strange coincidence and provide no predictive power. But these laws have provided the predictive power that under-girds countless technologies.
      • You made the last one easy for me by actually using a word associated with my inductive method. You phrased it the “constancy of observable natural laws”. Yes, they are constant. Through this constancy I can, under the principle of induction, grant greater confidence to them the more I observe their constancy. And they work. No presupposition here.

      So it appears here that you are addressing someone else’s argument.
      I’m strongly suggesting that you are inventing concepts such as “extra scientific knowledge” to prop the door open for your “properly basic beliefs”. I’m not sure where you’re getting your philosophy of science from, but blind unwarranted presuppositions as a foundation for scientific methodology is new to me. But if there are others making such claims, those are not my claims. Please address my own claims. In my last comment, I thought I laid out very clearly how I escape solipsism. Let me ask you a question.

      • Do you think that, were it not for personal divine revelation, roughly 50% of humans would be solipsists? If not, why?

      I’ve already given my reasons why solipsism can be confidently abandoned. But it sounds as if you think the path away from solipsism is an arbitrary and blind choice that would lead to a 50/50 split between solipsists and realists were it not for personal revelation.. Please clarify your stance on this.

      Now scientists devise hypothesis and evaluate them with other competing hypothesis. They have to make theory choices but also theory value choices; in other words- when it is a good reason to choose one theory over another?

      Good point. What do scientists do in this situation? They may tentatively use one side as a working hypothesis until more evidence is generated in favor of one side or the other. They are essentially saying “I don’t know”, but continue prodding the question. Now think about what theists do. They often just dogmatically assert that they are right and abandon the inquiry.

      There are norms for good reasons which are found on various levels.

      These norms are not presuppositions. They arise from inductively learning what works.

      On the theoretical level it is contested that simplicty should functon as a norm. There are various instances in scientific investigation where this norm has prevented the furthering of scientific understanding. There are also deep problems with the norm of induction. Theory choice and theory evaluiation is formed by various contested values and norms. They cannot tell us proper choice for which ones should regulate our theories. In essence one could say that there is equal division about the fundamental principles of scientific investagition as there is about interpretation of the bible.

      I’m going to assume that you are going to eventually address my own arguments about the power of parsimony and induction, and not use dissension as a warrant for dismissal of my argument. And I promise I won’t dismiss your Abrahamic god solely on the bases of incoherent Islamic doctrine.
      Now, if you are looking for only heuristics that perform perfectly, you may want to avoid philosophy of science and stick to theology where that mindset is more common. In philosophy of science we place confidence in heuristics only to the degree that they work. Parsimony has a exceptionally good (though not perfect) track record. High confidence in the heuristic of parsimony is therefore warranted. It requires no presupposition.

      Now I think your arguments from the emotional God sized hole and our difficulty in cognative abilties fail for two reasons. Firstly the whole argument is permeated with the genetic fallacy, even if it were true that Christians worked off these emotions it would in no way invalidate the truth claims they make.

      True. Christians have my permission to provide evidence whenever they’d like. But reminding everyone of the many historical scientific failures set in an era of emotional subjectivity was considered an acceptable source of truth is warranted in the context of this discussion. Dogmatism is not our friend. Certainty is an emotion. It is legitimate only when there is accompanying evidence, not properly basic beliefs.

      Secondly the whole argument can come crashing down on your head. You make a statement that cognative functions can be impared by emotions, but if you made your argument using your cognative abilities, what is there to prevent you yourself from coming prey to some emotional impairment?

      This is why science attempts to distance its enterprise from subjectivity, and tries to make the process as objective as possible. This is done by setting up testing standards such as double and triple blind studies, then having the results analyzed by teams of statisticians disinterested in the results. It intentionally attempts to dilute subjective opinions with peer review and replication of studies. For myself, this is why I spent several years going around to various denominations and asking various religious leaders for their views. This is why I did not have this current level of confidence in my rejection of theism even 5 years ago. I don’t adopt presuppositions. Everything is (or should be) epistemologically filtered though the longer and methodical process of induction. I want my opinions to have warrant. If you disagree with my opinion, ask me for my warrant rather than telling me I made a blind assumption. And just to be clear, I take issue with all forms of unsubstantiated beliefs, from Bigfoot to properly basic beliefs.

      I do not believe there is any inconsistency between God’s love and some peple going to hell.

      True. But that is not what I said. I said it is an inconsistency for god to define love, then do something contrary to that definition. If a father says to his children that love is forgiving without the requirement of any form of retribution, then tells his children that he loves them, he better be prepared to act in accordance with his statement, or he forfeits his integrity.

      For if God has created humans with free will, it follows that there is no gaurantee that all persons will freely give their lives to him. It is very clear in the bible that God desires all people to be saved. The only thing preventing universal salvation is human free will. It’s not logically possible for God to make someone do something freely. God being all loving and all powerfull dosen’t entail that all people will freely choose Gods salvation.

      Agreed. But god being loving and all powerful does entail that he does not annihilate those he loves. You’re confusing the arguments.

      Therefore no inconsistency has been demonstrated between God’s love and hell.

      Note that you have addressed the wrong argument to make this unconnected conclusion. If god did not tell humans that he loved them, there would not be an issue. But he did. Marketing a salvation is no way to deal with the absurdity of the damnation. It’s like a door-to-door salesperson looking in your eye, declaring without evidence that you have a terrible disease called iniquititus that will end in death, then attempting to sell his tonic as a cure. You may respond “But I feel completely healthy and have no evidence that I have a horrible disease called iniquititus!” He might counter “But I’m giving you this tonic for free if you only acknowledge that my son is the creator of the tonic!” Can you see the disconnect? I will say that I’ve encountered this fallacy far too often recently. Is there something I’m missing? Does focusing on a cure validate the diagnosis?

      The objection that those who have never heard about Christ will be doomed to hell rests on the assumption that those who have never heard the Gosepl, are judged the same as those who have. But the Bible makes it clear that God will judge them on their response to self revelation in nature and conscience.

      Here we go again with someone stating that “the Bible makes it clear that…” It is really annoying when just around the corner in another church you have a different opinion, and just a flip of pages will take to to a bible passage that clearly says “He who has the son has life, but he who has not the son hath not life, but the wrath of god abideth on him.” Now what’s not clear about that?
      Can you all just stop claiming clarity of scriptures from your widely disparate orthodoxies? It really makes you look bad. (Factoid: There are more than one million google hits for “the bible clearly says”, almost the same number as there are doctrinal positions.) Just admit the bible is a vague book, and that you have direct revelation concerning how to interpret it or something. Good grief! Try dropping an unannotated bible into 10 different pagan cultures and simply see how disparate the resulting religions are. Take 10 Christians and try finding agreement on the issues of speaking in tongues, the end times, masturbation, prosperity gospel, liberation theology, divorce, salvation by faith alone, infant baptism, female leadership, homosexuality, faith healing, allegorical Genesis, and chain of authority. You’ll not find agreement though you will find strong opinions prefaced with “the bible clearly teaches that…“. The bible is certainty not a clear book. Please stop embarrassing yourselves by saying this, Christians. It’s absurd.

      It has long been a strong view in theology that God’s grace can be found throughout the world; That God’s revelation extends beyond the Bible scriptures. If you still think hell is inconsistant then the burden rests on you.

      Thank you for reminding me that I have the initial burden of proof. I’m going to state (again) why hell is inconsistent. Listen carefully. After I tell you, then the burden of proof lies with you to counter what I say. You can’t just respond that you think that I still have the burden of proof without specifying the fallacies in my argument. (Note that the claim of the existence of “grace” in the world has no bearing on my argument.) That is the way the burden of proof works. Now that we have that established, let’s proceed.

      • Your Jehovah defines love as long-suffering, then is not long-suffering to those he claims to love as is demonstrated by his wrathfully claiming they deserve to be annihilated for a single infraction.

      Now the burden of proof is on your side to demonstrate my argument to be either invalid or unsound. And I don’t want you to interject the beauty of the myth of salvation again as a red herring. Salvation is a tonic with no active ingredients for the mythical disease of “iniquititus”.

      So, please address my arguments instead of following the apologetics script you have in your head.

      Cheers, Grumpy Phil

  21. David says:

    I think confusion arises when talking about a standard of hermaneutic partly because it is unclear whom the question is adressed to. If it is aimed at the average church going Christian or Pastor, inadeqate answers are going to be given. Much the same as if I were to ask my high school science teacher about the different interpretations of Quantum physics or something about the problems of induction in scientific method. Now they may will give a good answer but it is not going to be the same as those who working directly in those fields. Ideally the pastor should have some theological training and access to the works of biblical schollars and theologians. I have studied theology for a few years and currently philosophy. I studied at a multi denominational seminary and had teachers across a wide variety of backgrounds. I think there is a feeling of frustration among theology students that Christians are not willing to take the time to study theology and I believe this has created a large problem. It is not just the agnostic or atheist who mistrusts theology but also the average christian. They feel if one delves to deep, their faith will be undermined because all the inconsistancies will be brought out. But as we both agree this is no way to go about the pursuit of truth.

    It is my understanding that when scholars partake in exigesis of any text, be it Plato’s theatetus, Babalonyian creation myths, Richard III etc, they are concerned with the meaning of the text. The meaning of any sentence depends upon the conventions of the language in question, which is primarily the syntatical relations of the individual words to the whole. It also depends on the context of it’s insription. The context includes social, literary and cultural contexts. The social context is the purpose of its production, who wrote it and for what kind of audience was it for. The cultural context contains the common beliefs of the society in which it was written. The literary context is concerned with its particular genre of writing. Finding the context reveals the extent of the gap between our own times and the ancient times, but by the same token it also tries to build a bridge between that time and our own time so that we can gain some better understanding of what was being uttered. The Bible is an ancient book and it must be treated like that or no real attempt at theology can be possible. I think when, as in the case of fundamentalist interpretations, the bible is subjected to a static reading where propositions of truth are pulled out and semented in place, a certain stagnation occurs, and an inibility to revise ones own position. The study of church history reveals both a stagnation at points as well as a constant rolling sea of revision where in each new generation, with hindsight ,the pressuppositions are uprooted and another attempt is made to understand the Bible (much like philosophy). Despite the fluxuation, there remains a broad network of consensus that has continued since the days of the early church.Hermaneutics is really just the rules of interpretation and what can be counted as good exigesis. Thus these rules will be in revision over time and not all will agree. However some rules appear to be constant, like what I have just written above. It however remains a very techincal discipline and one which needs much time and energy to understanding.

    In the case of the particular verse you use in your argument, I would like to make a few points. I think it’s important to see that Paul wrote the statement and letter to a particular group of people. The aim which was to bring the corinthians back to the belief that it is love which is the most important thing and not ones ability with spiritual gifts. So strictly speaking Paul and God didn’t define his love with that verse, although I grant that it is a characteristic of Gods love. I would be interested to know whether the meaning of long suffering, or patience, can be linguistically pulled to suggest an infinite amount of time. To make that claim, a wider exigesis of the scriptures would need to be made. I think the mistake with the argument comes from not taking into account the other Christian doctrines concerning human freedom, God’s justice and God’s grace. The central aim of the death and ressurection of Christ is to reconcile man back to God. The claim we christians make all the time, is that man choose to go against God and his choice came out of the freedom God gave man to start with. This runs in with the claim that God’s justice and his love must be held equally. Since we are against God we are not able to be in his presence, hence his own action on the cross to reconcile us back to him. Biblical scholars for a long time have genuinly regarded hells fire to be a metaphor for the burning conscience and anger that those who have rejected God, find themselves in. To make the claim that its not like that would require an exigesis of sorts and a ballancing against verses about hell that say otherwise. As I said earlier it is not logically possible for God to make someone choose him; so not all people will actually choose God. Therefore the contradicton is avoided because strictly it is the person who sends themselves to hell and not God. Also the Bible does not go into detail about whether this is an infinite time. I have heard compelling arguments for a reconciling that is eternal and thus it is possible that all people will choose God. I think the real problematic verses about Gods love are actually in the Old testament. But since we are arguing about the claims of scripture, the argument to be a good one needs to be founded on some kind of method pertaining to biblical exigesis. If this dosen’t happen then the argument can fall to the same trap as those Christians which we both dislike, ones that read piece meal and with emotions and think its the one true interpretation.

    I do apologise if the last posts I made seemed to be very wayward. I am young still, 20. It has been a pleasure having this dialouge: Im teaching koreans english at the moment and its not the most exciting thing to do with my brain so this has been a good stimulation.

    Regards

    David.

    • Hey Davide. So are you teaching in Korea? I’m teaching English at universities here in Tokyo.

      Here we go again.

      I think confusion arises when talking about a standard of hermaneutic partly because it is unclear whom the question is adressed to. If it is aimed at the average church going Christian or Pastor, inadeqate answers are going to be given. Much the same as if I were to ask my high school science teacher about the different interpretations of Quantum physics or something about the problems of induction in scientific method. Now they may will give a good answer but it is not going to be the same as those who working directly in those fields. Ideally the pastor should have some theological training and access to the works of biblical schollars and theologians. I have studied theology for a few years and currently philosophy. I studied at a multi denominational seminary and had teachers across a wide variety of backgrounds. I think there is a feeling of frustration among theology students that Christians are not willing to take the time to study theology and I believe this has created a large problem. It is not just the agnostic or atheist who mistrusts theology but also the average christian. They feel if one delves to deep, their faith will be undermined because all the inconsistancies will be brought out. But as we both agree this is no way to go about the pursuit of truth.
      It is my understanding that when scholars partake in exigesis of any text, be it Plato’s theatetus, Babalonyian creation myths, Richard III etc, they are concerned with the meaning of the text. The meaning of any sentence depends upon the conventions of the language in question, which is primarily the syntatical relations of the individual words to the whole. It also depends on the context of it’s insription. The context includes social, literary and cultural contexts. The social context is the purpose of its production, who wrote it and for what kind of audience was it for. The cultural context contains the common beliefs of the society in which it was written. The literary context is concerned with its particular genre of writing. Finding the context reveals the extent of the gap between our own times and the ancient times, but by the same token it also tries to build a bridge between that time and our own time so that we can gain some better understanding of what was being uttered. The Bible is an ancient book and it must be treated like that or no real attempt at theology can be possible. I think when, as in the case of fundamentalist interpretations, the bible is subjected to a static reading where propositions of truth are pulled out and semented in place, a certain stagnation occurs, and an inibility to revise ones own position. The study of church history reveals both a stagnation at points as well as a constant rolling sea of revision where in each new generation, with hindsight ,the pressuppositions are uprooted and another attempt is made to understand the Bible (much like philosophy).

      My approach is to look at the total set of persons who are committed to finding truth in the bible. If the bible is truly the primary source of truth given mankind by a god, then for those who are committed to uncovering these truths with sincere hearts, there should be a very high consensus. Let me state this in a question. Would a god who provided a book that would be the pivotal source of truth leave it without a mechanism for sincere seekers to uncover the same truths? I think the answer to this is clearly “no”. Yet, when taking the set off all those who honestly are seeking truth in the bible, and examining their beliefs, you don’t find anything even close to consensus. Take even one question such as “where does evidence end and faith begin?” This is a very critical aspect of christianity. Give this question to 100 seekers in the set of all honest bible-believing seekers and check their answers. I’ve done so informally, and I expect a formal study of this will yield a wide array of responses. Where is the mechanism that should accompany the bible to assure an interpretation faithful to its essence?
      So, no, it is not a matter of perspective. It is a matter of mutually exclusive positions over many doctrines as you’ll see in even cursory internet searches. There is currently a discussion on Youtube heating up over the “security of the believer”. This is no trivial doctrine. The conclusion is that the bible is clearly not a source of divine truth as a divinity would have made sure truth faithfully traveled from the divine mind to the minds of honest truth-seekers.

      Despite the fluxuation, there remains a broad network of consensus that has continued since the days of the early church. Hermaneutics is really just the rules of interpretation and what can be counted as good exigesis. Thus these rules will be in revision over time and not all will agree. However some rules appear to be constant, like what I have just written above. It however remains a very techincal discipline and one which needs much time and energy to understanding.

      No, there is not the consensus you are claiming. Take only the critical doctrines within soteriology. The disparity among the positions is enormous. This is evidenced by most major denominations stating that members of other major denominations are likely destined to hell due to their “wrong” beliefs about the path of salvation. It is really annoying to hear you use the word “consensus” given this fact. And this is only one domain of christian doctrine.
      You equate hemeneutics to “good exigesis”. So will scholars who disagree with your basic doctrines. “Good” often translates to “my” in this case. There is no real standard as evidenced by the disparity of interpretations among honest truth-seekers.

      In the case of the particular verse you use in your argument, I would like to make a few points. I think it’s important to see that Paul wrote the statement and letter to a particular group of people. The aim which was to bring the corinthians back to the belief that it is love which is the most important thing and not ones ability with spiritual gifts. So strictly speaking Paul and God didn’t define his love with that verse, although I grant that it is a characteristic of Gods love.

      Are you kidding? It is the word agape used for christians, Jesus and Jehovah.
      Jesus tells christians to love one another, even has Jesus has loved them.
      Jesus states, as the father (Jehovah) has loved me, so have I loved you.
      This chain of an identical form of love makes it clear. The agape which Jehovah loves all humans is identical to the agape that he requires of christians for each other. It would take a very interesting distortion by “good exigesis” to say otherwise.

      I would be interested to know whether the meaning of long suffering, or patience, can be linguistically pulled to suggest an infinite amount of time. To make that claim, a wider exigesis of the scriptures would need to be made. I think the mistake with the argument comes from not taking into account the other Christian doctrines concerning human freedom, God’s justice and God’s grace.

      I’ve read through the textus receptus eleven times hoping to sort some of these things out. Good luck on that. My guess is that you’ll find yourself performing exigetical gymnastics to a high degree of cognitive dissonance. I only hope your vested interests don’t have you wasting your life on exigetics as long as I did. I hope you soon realize that Christianity is a failed proposition, in spite of its emotional appeal.

      The central aim of the death and ressurection of Christ is to reconcile man back to God. The claim we christians make all the time, is that man choose to go against God and his choice came out of the freedom God gave man to start with. This runs in with the claim that God’s justice and his love must be held equally.

      No. Jehovah’s judgment is based on his wrath. And do you feel that is is just for human courts to condemn persons to death or life sentences for lying? Why? Would it not be just to do so? Even your intuitive notion of justice is far removed from the one proposed in the bible. Or are there 2 different notions of justice. Notice how your ontology bloats the harder you try to reconcile these doctrinal issues? Isn’t it time to apply some parsimony and come back to the testable material foundation of things? Instead of bending your square triangle so it looks both triangular and square, just admit what you hold in your head is untenable and does not deserve our belief.

      Since we are against God we are not able to be in his presence,…

      Are you kidding? When we are born, we are innocent as sheep. Then we learn to be mischievous and lie and cheat and what not. We are not against god. We are acting according to our natures. Even the bible admits that all have sinned. There can be no blame where there is only behavior that follows our nature. Human nature is assessed by looking at human behavior. We all are mischievous (sinners). Therefore there cannot be condemnation for mischievousness (sinning). But then again, Jesus did curse the fig tree for not acting contrary to its nature. What you have is a malicious god that made us with an unavoidable propensity to sin (we had no say in this nature), then condemns us for following that nature. How do you assess the “nature” of things if not by the common behaviors abstracted from the group? Jehovah’s condemnation of sinners created with a propensity to sin completely fails to even approximate any coherent notion of justice.

      …hence his own action on the cross to reconcile us back to him.

      It’s one absurdity after another. One man dying for 3 days is not payment for the deserved eternal deaths of billions.

      Biblical scholars for a long time have genuinly regarded hells fire to be a metaphor for the burning conscience and anger that those who have rejected God, find themselves in. To make the claim that its not like that would require an exigesis of sorts and a ballancing against verses about hell that say otherwise.

      Don’t argue with me…argue with those who state that believing that there is no hell would require completely irresponsible exigesis. This is just another example of the severe lack of a standard that would make the “word of truth” appear to be a “word of truth” rather than some vague conglomeration of writing that can now be twisted to match psychological and cultural tastes.

      As I said earlier it is not logically possible for God to make someone choose him; so not all people will actually choose God. Therefore the contradicton is avoided because strictly it is the person who sends themselves to hell and not God.

      You’re not listening. The lack of choice is related to sinning. Some Muslim adulterers are buried in the ground up to their chests to give them “the choice” to escape the subsequent stoning. Our natures make us lie. It is innate to us. It is not something we can be condemned to death for.

      Also the Bible does not go into detail about whether this is an infinite time. I have heard compelling arguments for a reconciling that is eternal and thus it is possible that all people will choose God. I think the real problematic verses about Gods love are actually in the Old testament. But since we are arguing about the claims of scripture, the argument to be a good one needs to be founded on some kind of method pertaining to biblical exigesis. If this dosen’t happen then the argument can fall to the same trap as those Christians which we both dislike, ones that read piece meal and with emotions and think its the one true interpretation.

      Once again you “have heard” such and such new doctrine that might be able to salvage the ship. Give it up. The lifeboat is called reason.

      I do apologise if the last posts I made seemed to be very wayward. I am young still, 20. It has been a pleasure having this dialouge: Im teaching koreans english at the moment and its not the most exciting thing to do with my brain so this has been a good stimulation.

      No problem. I can tell you have a good mind. Don’t let vested interests trap you on a sinking ship when there is the beautiful island of reality to explore.

      Cheers, Phil

  22. David says:

    just an add on about properly basic beliefs.

    Properly basic beliefs: Everyone is inately a realist; that is, most people don’t entertain ideas like solipsim until they think to deeply or have some kind of mental illness. People fall into solipsim rather then start from it. I didn’t mention divine revelation at all. These are beliefs that are basic and innate and we do not need to give proof for.

    • Properly basic beliefs: Everyone is inately a realist; that is, most people don’t entertain ideas like solipsim until they think to deeply or have some kind of mental illness. People fall into solipsim rather then start from it.

      Premise: As far back as adults can remember, they have depended on realism.
      Q: What is missing from this premise that disallows the conclusion that realism is innate?
      A: The process of induction begins at birth. Two or three years of inductive assessment warrant our confidence in realism. It is not innate.
      Prior to exploring the world and making inductive assessments, realism and solipsism have the same epistemological status. The reason we move towards realism is…yeah, you know it’s coming…that it works.
      I encourage you to read books on child development (I took a uni course in it) to learn about the different stages of cognitive development and the impressive role induction plays in this process.

      I didn’t mention divine revelation at all. These are beliefs that are basic and innate and we do not need to give proof for.

      Interesting. So you think there are beliefs are warranted without the warrant of either material or revelatory evidence. Could you elaborate on that? Where exactly is the warrant that would make them proper and not “blind”? What is the criteria for deciding whether a belief is a “properly basic belief”?

      Are these “proper” beliefs for which we need no evidence similar to “proper” justice in which sinners who have been forcefully been given sin natures are condemned for sinning, or similar to “proper” divine love that cannot exist unless there is an an equal amount of wrath to give it value?

      Christening blind belief as “proper” makes it no less full of crap than it does a christened wailing child at a baptismal.

  23. David says:

    I’m currently teaching in New Zealand but I may make a trip to Korea later this year. I should like to visit Japan as well. It would be interesting to see their culture in comparison to the Koreans.

    I am still interested in how you use the word “long suffering” in this argument. I am unsure whether you can exegetically maneuver the word ‘long suffering’ to mean “eternal”. ‘Makrothymeo’ is the opposite of short tempered but it does not mean eternal. I don’t think you can get that from the Greek. However I am more dubious of premise 3 which carries a number of presuppositions that you outlined to me in other areas.

    You often make the claim that God condemns people to hell for a simple thing like lying and that it is counter intuitive to our notion of justice. I would happily agree with you if that were the picture the Old and New Testaments gave. The evangelical dictionary of theology states “From the biblical perspective, sin is not only an act of wrongdoing but a state of alienation from God.” In the New Testament the verb ‘sin’ usually refers to individual transgressions, but the noun ‘sinner’ indicates a life that is not orientated around obedience to God’s will but is lived apart from him entirely”; Hence why “repentance” carries such strong connotations of conversion and a turning toward, a whole transformation of a persons life.

    Your quite right in claiming that were are “innocent as sheep” and then we learn to do all sorts of terrible things. But I’m puzzled by your comment suggesting there can be no blame for what we naturally do. I think this is quite counter intuitive a notion of justice. After all, our courts work on the assumption that people are culpable for their actions. But I will not carry that further without hearing what you have to say on human freedom. Leading on from that you suggest that God has made us with a propensity to sin and that he condemns us for leading a life of sin which we cannot possibly avoid. Our unavoidable propensity to sin is our human freedom to choose evil. But since we are obviously unable by our nature to come to God or to do good, God comes to us instead through Jesus Christ. Theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg writes “Christ assigns condemnation to none. He himself is pure salvation…It is only found were people remain aloof from him and is due to their remaining on their own. The word of Christ as the offer of salvation will then make clear that the lost drew the line themselves and separated themselves from salvation. “(Systematic theology Vol:3). God does not play some cruel trick on humanity by making us sinful creatures. He provides the reconciliation for us through himself and he desires us to freely accept it.

    In regards to Hell, I would like to make one or two comments. In order to understand Hell (Gehenaa) we must see it in its Old Testament context. Gehenna is in fact a valley S-SW of Jerusalem. The name means ‘valley of Hinnon’ and it was a marking point for the boundaries of Judah and Benjamin. It was a place were the worship of the Canannite gods Molech and Baal would take place. It would often consist of children been sacrificed by having them passing through a fire. The site also contained the fires of a refuse dump and it is generally regarded by scholars that this is where connotations of the fiery judgment came from. In the Old Testament Gehenaa does not have these associations, the primary one being that of Jeremiah (7:29-34; 19:6-9). The Anchor Bible dictionary sums the rest up nicely “By at least the first century c.e there emerged a metaphorical understanding of Gehenna as the place of judgment by fire for all wicked everywhere”. There are good theological grounds for assuming that the features of hell are metaphorical. This does not mean that hell doesn’t exist. But its primary status is place that is separate from God.

    I get a bit bemused when people continually make comments about the frailties of Biblical exegesis whilst have never actually partaken in any formal study of it. You may claim there is no consensus but I offer you the challenge of going to a theological library and picking up 10 different commentaries on Corinthians or another book and seeing what the scholars have to say. Now I don’t live in America so I haven’t been in contact with Christians who condemn me to hell for different doctrines. In New Zealand this is not the case at all, most church denominations have good relationships with each other. Similarly I could walk into 80% percent of churches in New Zealand and feel that I share the same beliefs as those around me.

    Merry Christmas

    David

    • Stop by in Tokyo whenever you get a chance so we can settle our disagreements in a sumo match.

      I am still interested in how you use the word “long suffering” in this argument. I am unsure whether you can exegetically maneuver the word ‘long suffering’ to mean “eternal”. ‘Makrothymeo’ is the opposite of short tempered but it does not mean eternal. I don’t think you can get that from the Greek.

      The first part of the verse in question reads Ἡ ἀγάπη μακροθυμεῖ. (http://www.greekbible.com/l.php?makroqume/w_v-3pai-s–_p)

      The evangelical dictionary of theology states “From the biblical perspective, sin is not only an act of wrongdoing but a state of alienation from God.” In the New Testament the verb ‘sin’ usually refers to individual transgressions, but the noun ‘sinner’ indicates a life that is not orientated around obedience to God’s will but is lived apart from him entirely”;

      And 100% of humans reach this state according to the bible. Now, explain how this can be a product of free will? Some muslims bury an adulteress up to her chest in the ground to give her a “fair” chance of escaping. Doesn’t the fact that no adulteress has escaped expose the claim of fairness as patently false? How can you claim that we have free will when no one has ever chosen the right path? If we were given a sin nature that we cannot escape, there can be no blame and consequent condemnation.

      I’m puzzled by your comment suggesting there can be no blame for what we naturally do. I think this is quite counter intuitive a notion of justice. After all, our courts work on the assumption that people are culpable for their actions.

      You do find humans who have never broken a single law they live under. The fact that there are some humans who have not broken human laws demonstrates that there is indeed choice. The fact that “all have sinned” shows there is NO choice. Consider a human law that banned urination. Would this be fair? Why not? It is because urinating is an inevitable part of our unrequested natures. We urinate whether or not we deny this nature. To say that god has given us free will not to sin, then to say that all have sinned is absurd.

      But since we are obviously unable by our nature to come to God or to do good, God comes to us instead through Jesus Christ.

      You say we are “unable by our nature”. Exactly. There can be no condemnation where nature mandates behavior. Preaching the cure of Jesus is just glossing over the erroneous diagnosis. We are not guilty. We do not deserve condemnation. Selling a cure for a fictitious disease deserves the ire we ordinarily reserve for snake-oil salesmen.

      I’ll let you argue about Hell with other Christians. The fact that we are condemned for unavoidable actions is sufficient for my point.

      I get a bit bemused when people continually make comments about the frailties of Biblical exegesis whilst have never actually partaken in any formal study of it. You may claim there is no consensus but I offer you the challenge of going to a theological library and picking up 10 different commentaries on Corinthians or another book and seeing what the scholars have to say.

      Let’s consider issues merely within the presumably critical domain of soteriology.

      1. Age of accountability.
      2. Security of the believer.
      3. Blasphemy of the holy spirit.
      4. Fate of the ungospeled pagans.
      5. The significance of baptism.
      6. Sin nature.

      You won’t find agreement on these issues unless you have selected from sample groups with similar christian heritages and cultures. The tighter you define christianity, the more the disagreements will dissipate until you’ve essentially reached a very tightly defined small circle of those who “correctly” understand the bible. The thinner the historical lines of christian dogma, the more disparate the doctrines will be in spite of being based on the same bible. I’m often bemused by christians who suppose that their perennial assertions of doctrinal unity will somehow make it true.

  24. David says:

    I would not have nearly enough weight to win at sumo wrestling. Maybe kickboxing, or checkers. Or a beer. I may be heading to Korea in July, might stop by Tokyo.

    “You say we are ‘unable by our nature’. Exactly. There can be no condemnation where nature mandates behavior.”

    So are none of us guilty in the legal sense for if we commit a crime? What do you mean by this? The position is open for you to accept that we are totally determined beings and therefore shouldn’t be held accountable. Certainly a few neurologists and philosophers are vying for this position. If you do believe we have freedom despite our natural antecedents then we should find some common ground. What would be your position on our freedom?

    “And 100% of humans reach this state according to the bible. Now, explain how this can be a product of free will?”

    If 100% of humans reach a state of some kind, it does not in the strictly logical sense, entail a lack of free will. However I now see that its important to qualify my position. I think theologians will claim that 100% of people have reached the state of sinfulness but that not all should be held guilty for it. Two particular verses in gospel come to mind concerning this.

    “And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck” (mark 9: 42-43). “Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.” (Matthew 19:14-17)

    The idea of innocence is very much alive in both the Old and New Testaments despite the fallen state of humanity. In Jewish law only those over a certain age could be held accountable for breaking the law. This has carried through to our legal system today where do not hold the young responsible to the same degree as adults. Our laws take into account a great many things when deciding upon a just sentence. In the case of a driver crashing into another vehicle and killing someone, many considerations will be taken into account. Did he purposefully swerve to hit another vehicle or was it just reckless driving? Was there alcohol involved or did he have a seizure? Was he fighting off a carjacker? Depending on the situation a certain the driver may be charged with murder, manslaughter, a lesser sentence or let of completely because he had no control over the situation. Although a modern situation, this type of thinking is quite natural to Biblical thought, especially that of the Jewish people. The notion that God is a fair judge is very central to the whole Christian claim.

    God does not judge us because we are fallen, he judges us on our consequent response to that falleness. If someone, say a schizophrenic commits suicide, then we can expect that God will judge him fairly. Maybe he was so ill he could not really be expected to live on. Similarly with children, God will not hold them accountable because they are not responsible, they had not the capacity to sin like adults do. We are all fallen because we cannot escape the fact that we live in society and share the psyco-historical burdens.

    Your whole argument of showing God as a “square triangle” rests on the assumption, that God is saying two things: On the one hand his love is eternal for us, and on the other that he will damn us to eternal hell for what was his own faulty design in the first place. My response is that God has created us with free will and allows for the possibility that we all will at some point will not uphold the commands God has set. Many theologians see the breaking of Gods commands as the breaking of relationship of some sort. I think we can all remember one time where we regretted the actions we did to someone.

    Your welcome to disagree with the material content, but this stage I don’t see any logical inconsistency between God’s love and his judgment, nor our fallen nature. God cannot make someone choose him and when it come to his judgment, he does it not by some binary method, but with a far greater discernment then our legal system could ever muster.

    Cheers
    David.

    • Hi David,

      Your words are indented.

      “You say we are ‘unable by our nature’. Exactly. There can be no condemnation where nature mandates behavior.”

      So are none of us guilty in the legal sense for if we commit a crime? What do you mean by this? The position is open for you to accept that we are totally determined beings and therefore shouldn’t be held accountable. Certainly a few neurologists and philosophers are vying for this position. If you do believe we have freedom despite our natural antecedents then we should find some common ground. What would be your position on our freedom?

      Guilt is based on freely choosing to violate a rule. Free choice among a group is not determined by a declaration that the group has free will. Free will is determined by assessing what is. If the every member of a group commits a particular class of action, that class of action is natural to that group and cannot be condemned by virtue of it being innate. Nature is not decided by decree, but by assessing what is.

      “And 100% of humans reach this state according to the bible. Now, explain how this can be a product of free will?”

      If 100% of humans reach a state of some kind, it does not in the strictly logical sense, entail a lack of free will.

      And a case in which someone makes the choice to turn over the pin number to their companies bank account while a gun is held to their head “does not in the strictly logical sense, entail a lack of free will”. But that person will not face condemnation from anyone who is truly just.

      However I now see that its important to qualify my position. I think theologians will claim that 100% of people have reached the state of sinfulness but that not all should be held guilty for it. Two particular verses in gospel come to mind concerning this.

      “And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck” (mark 9: 42-43). “Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.” (Matthew 19:14-17)

      The idea of innocence is very much alive in both the Old and New Testaments despite the fallen state of humanity. In Jewish law only those over a certain age could be held accountable for breaking the law. This has carried through to our legal system today where do not hold the young responsible to the same degree as adults. Our laws take into account a great many things when deciding upon a just sentence. In the case of a driver crashing into another vehicle and killing someone, many considerations will be taken into account. Did he purposefully swerve to hit another vehicle or was it just reckless driving? Was there alcohol involved or did he have a seizure? Was he fighting off a carjacker? Depending on the situation a certain the driver may be charged with murder, manslaughter, a lesser sentence or let of completely because he had no control over the situation. Although a modern situation, this type of thinking is quite natural to Biblical thought, especially that of the Jewish people. The notion that God is a fair judge is very central to the whole Christian claim.

      From your words above, it sounds like guilt comes in degrees. Yet Heaven and Hell are bivalent and discrete places, and very much in contrast. If both sin and awareness of sin are measured in degrees, explain how a bivalent award system constitutes anything remotely just. Or at least clearly define the line that marks what should be a clear distinction between innocence and condemnation.

      God does not judge us because we are fallen, he judges us on our consequent response to that falleness. If someone, say a schizophrenic commits suicide, then we can expect that God will judge him fairly. Maybe he was so ill he could not really be expected to live on. Similarly with children, God will not hold them accountable because they are not responsible, they had not the capacity to sin like adults do. We are all fallen because we cannot escape the fact that we live in society and share the psyco-historical burdens.

      We all sin because we are fallen. All of us. It is our nature. When act according to our nature, there can be no just condemnation of our actions. Remember, you are the one holding the assumption that every human apart from Jesus has sinned. This is not my assumption. I believe that your notion of sin is incoherent as shown by assuming all (billions) have sinned, yet all have a choice not to sin. This is incoherent. You will not find another set of a billion members for which a common trait is not deemed innate to the members of the set. It is just silly to suggest otherwise. Nature is not decreed. It is inductively extracted from what is.

      Your whole argument of showing God as a “square triangle” rests on the assumption, that God is saying two things: On the one hand his love is eternal for us, and on the other that he will damn us to eternal hell for what was his own faulty design in the first place.
      My response is that God has created us with free will and allows for the possibility that we all will at some point will not uphold the commands God has set. Many theologians see the breaking of Gods commands as the breaking of relationship of some sort. I think we can all remember one time where we regretted the actions we did to someone

      Of billions of humans, not a single one has refrained from sinning. Not one. You will not find another set of a billion members for which a common trait is not deemed innate to the members of the set. Nature is not decreed. It is inductively extracted from what is. Don’t assert that we have free will while you are at the same time asserting we have all sinned. This is incoherent and a clear example of a square triangle.

      Your welcome to disagree with the material content, but this stage I don’t see any logical inconsistency between God’s love and his judgment, nor our fallen nature. God cannot make someone choose him and when it come to his judgment, he does it not by some binary method, but with a far greater discernment then our legal system could ever muster.

      Choosing god is not the issue here. Choosing sin is. Don’t equivocate and try to sell a cure for a non-disease. And I take issue with your softening of the facts. Jehovah claims to love us, then becomes so wrathful over a single sin that he condemns us to eternal torture. This is your position, is it not?

      Here, let me give you a thought experiment. Suppose Jehovah became tired of dealing with humans and decided to instead give tigers advanced cognitive abilities plus the emotion of guilt whenever they ate someone. Yet he left in them the urge to eat people. Just how strong was this urge, you might ask. Well I suggest assessing the occasions in which the tigers resisted the urge. Lo and behold, every tiger of all the billions born ends up eating a human before they reached adulthood. How strong would you call that urge? How much choice did the tigers have in whether or not they have this urge? How much freedom did they have to resist the urge as the number of successful resists will tell us? Now imagine Jehovah, while declaring himself to be just, telling all tigers everywhere that eating humans was a “sin” as demonstrated by their guilty feelings, and this violation of his will warranted that their souls be tortured forever.

      Are you getting the picture? It’s framed in a square triangle called Jehovah.

  25. David says:

    “Nature is not decided by decree, but by assessing what is”

    Human nature is not decided. There are too many competing theories for human nature. If we just look at the view from science then it appears that all our nature can be is series of electro-chemical operations which have formed by evolution. But for most people this seems to contradict their own experience. As I raised earlier, it is possible to take the position that no one should be held guilty for because all actions have been determined.

    “We all sin because we are fallen. All of us. It is our nature. When act according to our nature, there can be no just condemnation of our actions.”]

    So where does free will slot into this statement? If everything that is deemed wrong by society is simply our nature, should we hold people accountable?

    My position is not that everyone at all times has had the free objective privilege of deciding either to obey or disobey God, and that they all, en-mass decided against God. That is absurd and probably something John Rawl’s would have cooked up had he been a theologian. Original sin, should really be seen as the sort of thing we inherit psycho-historically from the human race in which we belong to. Everyone inherits the ill’s of their family and society; we are born into a fallen world (I don’t think babies or small children could possibly be thought as sinful). We enter brokenness and become broken. But that does not necessarily take away our freedom to do something about it, or to respond to the message of Christ.

    Choosing god is not the issue here. Choosing sin is. Don’t equivocate and try to sell a cure for a non-disease. And I take issue with your softening of the facts. Jehovah claims to love us, then becomes so wrathful over a single sin that he condemns us to eternal torture. This is your position, is it not?

    You seem to a priori reject any notion of sin. I choose sin because it seems to make the most sense out of the way the world is. It is the best explanation for what I experience. You have previously said that just because there are difficult existential questions, it doesn’t follow that there should be answers to them. But that in itself seems to be a normative statement with little elucidation.

    No. My position is not that God loves us but becomes so wrathful over a single sin that he condemns us to eternal torture. That isn’t the Christian position. The Christian position is that only through the free rejection of Christ will people find themselves separated from God.

    I think you have either misrepresented or misunderstood biblical scholarship. It is predominantly the work of the historian and linguist. Modern Biblical interpretation is all about context. The best rendering of Hell by leading biblical scholars is that it is a metaphorical place of separation from God. If anything the fiery brimstone lends itself to a purgatory like place of purifying rather than perpetual burning flesh.

    Your actually attacking a fundamentalist position that is not held by mainline churches like the Anglican, Presbyterian etc. It is definatly not held by Biblical scholars or theologians. I don’t think your arguments in any way show God as illogical.

    David

    • Hi David. You’re words are indented.

      “Nature is not decided by decree, but by assessing what is”

      Human nature is not decided. There are too many competing theories for human nature. If we just look at the view from science then it appears that all our nature can be is series of electro-chemical operations which have formed by evolution. But for most people this seems to contradict their own experience. As I raised earlier, it is possible to take the position that no one should be held guilty for because all actions have been determined.

      Human nature is decided by what is, not by decree. The fact that we are still assessing what is, does not mean we can decree what human nature is.
      You say all have sinned. If all have sinned, sinning is our unrequested and unavoidable nature. Where there is such a nature, the can certainly be no guilt. A book such as the bible who claims there is guilt in this case is demonstrably illogical and can be dismissed as faulty.

      “We all sin because we are fallen. All of us. It is our nature. When act according to our nature, there can be no just condemnation of our actions.”]

      So where does free will slot into this statement? If everything that is deemed wrong by society is simply our nature, should we hold people accountable?

      To the degree that some people uphold any particular law, to this degree there is freedom of the individual to choose not to break the law. And to the degree that there is this choice, there society can justifiably assign guilt to violators of that particular law. In a case where billions have broken the law, there is demonstrably no free will and no justifiable assignment of guilt. All have sinned. Therefore sinning is human nature. Therefore there can be no justifiable assignment of guilt.

      My position is not that everyone at all times has had the free objective privilege of deciding either to obey or disobey God, and that they all, en-mass decided against God. That is absurd and probably something John Rawl’s would have cooked up had he been a theologian. Original sin, should really be seen as the sort of thing we inherit psycho-historically from the human race in which we belong to. Everyone inherits the ill’s of their family and society; we are born into a fallen world (I don’t think babies or small children could possibly be thought as sinful). We enter brokenness and become broken. But that does not necessarily take away our freedom to do something about it, or to respond to the message of Christ.

      An unavoidable trait that is not desired, but has been given by genetics is not worthy of condemnation. In some countries they kill infants that have deformities. Jesus cursed the fig tree for not bearing fruit out-of-season. And Jehovah is said to condemn all humans for following a sin nature they had did not have a say in. Absurd. Remember, not one human is without sin according to the bible.

      Choosing god is not the issue here. Choosing sin is. Don’t equivocate and try to sell a cure for a non-disease. And I take issue with your softening of the facts. Jehovah claims to love us, then becomes so wrathful over a single sin that he condemns us to eternal torture. This is your position, is it not?

      No, it is actually whether or not a person can choose not to sin. The bible says all have sinned. It is absurd to declare there is a choice. Children lie before they have even formed a coherent concept of god. Yet the bible condemns them to hell for following a sin nature they had no say in. And you’re saying this is just and logical?

      You seem to a priori reject any notion of sin. I choose sin because it seems to make the most sense out of the way the world is. It is the best explanation for what I experience. You have previously said that just because there are difficult existential questions, it doesn’t follow that there should be answers to them. But that in itself seems to be a normative statement with little elucidation.

      If you accept Jehovah and Satan and heaven and hell and the inerrancy of the bible, sin will make the most sense of the world. You can begin substantiating any of these notions with evidence, or you can admit you have have bought into an entire scheme of interdependent entities and concepts for which there is no evidence.

      No. My position is not that God loves us but becomes so wrathful over a single sin that he condemns us to eternal torture. That isn’t the Christian position. The Christian position is that only through the free rejection of Christ will people find themselves separated from God.

      You’re pushing a snake-oil cure for a cancer I don’t have.
      You’re pushing a Jesus for a condemnation that is not just.
      And the bible clearly states that sin makes Jehovah angry enough to condemn us to eternal torture. Romans 1:18 states “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness”.

      I think you have either misrepresented or misunderstood biblical scholarship. It is predominantly the work of the historian and linguist. Modern Biblical interpretation is all about context. The best rendering of Hell by leading biblical scholars is that it is a metaphorical place of separation from God. If anything the fiery brimstone lends itself to a purgatory like place of purifying rather than perpetual burning flesh.

      I really don’t want to revisit the topic of the complete lack of doctrinal unity among christians in the world. But I will if it is not clear to you. Don’t argue with me over what hell is. Argue with the millions of christians who believe it is a place of eternal torture. And they do seem to have the bible on their side, wouldn’t you say?
      And, as you can see, I don’t need a burning hell for the condemnation of sinners for sinning in line with their natures to be incoherent.

      Your actually attacking a fundamentalist position that is not held by mainline churches like the Anglican, Presbyterian etc. It is definatly not held by Biblical scholars or theologians. I don’t think your arguments in any way show God as illogical.

      Here is what you said. “It (the concept of a burning hell) is definitely not held by Biblical scholars or theologians.”
      Google [“literal hell”, “statement of faith” seminary].
      And the issue is not hell. It is the absurd condemnation for following a nature that is unrequested and unavoidable. Remember, every human has sinned according to your source of truth. Nature is defined by what is, not by what is decreed. It is absurd to claim we have free will not to sin when you also state that the billions of humans, without exception, have sinned.

  26. David says:

    Hey Phil

    In other posts, you have made comments about the complete lack of doctrinal unity in the Christian faith. I don’t dispute there is a considerable diversity in Christian belief. I also don’t dispute a number of the claims you make against Christians (for the reasons you give our ones I already hold). Where I think you are mistaken is in you’re condensing down of all Christians to a caricatured fundamentalist group, which, according to your own belief in doctrinal disagreement, shouldn’t really happen by virtue of the fact that none of us agree with each other in the first place! But perhaps you will go against your own formula for those sticky positions such as sin and hell.

    You have said, “Free will is determined by assessing what is.” I’m still interested to hear your philosophical position on free will. Over the last 200 years there has been a flurry of “assessing what is”, especially in the realms of science: from evolution, to modern physics and neuroscience we are gaining more knowledge of the fundamental constituents this world is made of. If anything this has diminished the possibility of true freedom. The neurological view of the brain as simply made up of electro-chemical processes would suggest we are ultimately determined beings with no chance of ever having free will. I’m not suggesting you are a physicalist; I’m merely stating the logical conclusion to such a position.

    This is the fundamental error of Qualia Soups video. By showing that it is simply a chain of neurological processes that represent our actions he has successfully demolished dualism but at the expense of also taking free will and consciousness with it. It is precisely the point the dualist makes that although our actions can be exhaustively accounted for scientifically, it cannot possibly account for the first person experience. His other arguments show a lack of real engagement with the proponents of dualism and are ad hoc at best. As there are other positions like epiphenomenalism, Panpsychism various property dualisms one can take. However, like Jaegwon Kim belives, ephenomenalism and property dualism are only clever ways of restating the same problems.

    Under certain reasoning, if we sin in line with our natures then we should not be held accountable for our actions. So should are courts hold people accountable for their actions? How is it that we disentangle what our nature is from our own ability to freely choose? Certain evolutionary psychologists are claiming that a number of things we deem bad like rape are actually products of the evolutionary process. There is massive disagreement amongst the psychiatric community over the revision of their main diagnostic book. What should be deemed a mental illness? There have been calls to have some forms of pubescent pedophilia named as a mental illness, and other calls to put those away that display a proclivity towards that area (even if they haven’t yet committed a crime). There is really no agreement to be found in this area.

    There are those who have some terrible upbringings, child abuse and violence etc; they get into crime and repeat the actions of their parents. I think any court would send them to jail regardless of their past, but on the same note we might feel empathy for their plight as they didn’t get much of a chance for a good life if they were born into that environment. What is interesting is that you find a lot of people with a rough life really trying to make positive changes. Perhaps they can’t give up alcohol with their will power alone, but they can go to an AA and receive help from others. Perhaps they have a terrible amount of rage from their past and they alone cannot change it. But perhaps they have enough free choice to be able to join a group that deals with that stuff. On the other hand you might find the politician, the CEO, the pastor, (with good upbringings) who are ripping people off (Berny Madoff), or have a child porn addiction, and that do absolutely nothing about it until they are caught by the law, which in that case they have ruined their family and their lives.

    .The doctrine of original sin is quite important for this discussion. Many theologians see it as a diffusion of brokenness and sin on a cultural and societal level. That is, we inherit the sin and problems of the human race and this adversely affects our ability to choose well, but it does not destroy our ability to seek out help and salvation. I will grant it that people don’t choose to be brought up in the life they have; and that this can hugely influence their decisions to do bad or good: but there is still a choice available to seek out help and to change. God doesn’t condemn us for our nature, but on our free choice to accept Christ, if we cannot freely accept God than God won’t condemn us. God cannot make us choose him as this would not be our act of free will.
    He doesn’t condemn children and people with severe mental illness because they haven’t got the full capacity to act as moral agents, similarly those that have not heard the gospel will be judged in keeping with the character of God. We can assume he will act consonant with his gracious nature.

    David.

    • Hi David. Your comments are indented.

      In other posts, you have made comments about the complete lack of doctrinal unity in the Christian faith. I don’t dispute there is a considerable diversity in Christian belief. I also don’t dispute a number of the claims you make against Christians (for the reasons you give our ones I already hold). Where I think you are mistaken is in you’re condensing down of all Christians to a caricatured fundamentalist group, which, according to your own belief in doctrinal disagreement, shouldn’t really happen by virtue of the fact that none of us agree with each other in the first place! But perhaps you will go against your own formula for those sticky positions such as sin and hell.

      It does seem incoherent to me that those who have most devoted themselves to a sincere study of the “word of god” are those who disagree with each other the most. How can you claim to have a “word of truth” when there truth in that word is not faithfully communicated to those who seek it? Absurd. And anyone who claims that the biblical formula for redemption (3-days of one “death” for the deserved permanent deaths of billions who may have committed a single finite sin to warranted their deserved permanent deaths) is coherent and reflects justice, has committed themselves to an abuse of logic that is not easily divested.

      You have said, “Free will is determined by assessing what is.” I’m still interested to hear your philosophical position on free will. Over the last 200 years there has been a flurry of “assessing what is”, especially in the realms of science: from evolution, to modern physics and neuroscience we are gaining more knowledge of the fundamental constituents this world is made of. If anything this has diminished the possibility of true freedom. The neurological view of the brain as simply made up of electro-chemical processes would suggest we are ultimately determined beings with no chance of ever having free will. I’m not suggesting you are a physicalist; I’m merely stating the logical conclusion to such a position.

      I believe that there is no objective free will. I do, however, subjectively enjoy and exalt in my very salient subjective free will.

      This is the fundamental error of Qualia Soups video. By showing that it is simply a chain of neurological processes that represent our actions he has successfully demolished dualism but at the expense of also taking free will and consciousness with it. It is precisely the point the dualist makes that although our actions can be exhaustively accounted for scientifically, it cannot possibly account for the first person experience. His other arguments show a lack of real engagement with the proponents of dualism and are ad hoc at best. As there are other positions like epiphenomenalism, Panpsychism various property dualisms one can take. However, like Jaegwon Kim belives, ephenomenalism and property dualism are only clever ways of restating the same problems.

      Destroying the notion that there is an objective free will is not an error. From what cognitive science is telling us, it appears quite certain that there is nothing to cognition beyond the material. However, for those who still believe that there is something about human cognition that cannot be explained by cognitive science, this would be the prime opportunity to predict what might include. Will cognitive scientists find lone neurons outside of any apparent causal chain that inexplicably trigger to produce free will? Make your bets now. No post hoc patches. Be bold. Let us know precisely where cognitive science will fail to find a causal chain behind any particular cognitive event. This is your chance to make real predictions and to actually place your reputation and the reputation of your ideology at risk rather than merely poking at holes in developing scientific theories.

      Under certain reasoning, if we sin in line with our natures then we should not be held accountable for our actions. So should are courts hold people accountable for their actions? How is it that we disentangle what our nature is from our own ability to freely choose? Certain evolutionary psychologists are claiming that a number of things we deem bad like rape are actually products of the evolutionary process. There is massive disagreement amongst the psychiatric community over the revision of their main diagnostic book. What should be deemed a mental illness? There have been calls to have some forms of pubescent pedophilia named as a mental illness, and other calls to put those away that display a proclivity towards that area (even if they haven’t yet committed a crime). There is really no agreement to be found in this area.

      There are those who have some terrible upbringings, child abuse and violence etc; they get into crime and repeat the actions of their parents. I think any court would send them to jail regardless of their past, but on the same note we might feel empathy for their plight as they didn’t get much of a chance for a good life if they were born into that environment. What is interesting is that you find a lot of people with a rough life really trying to make positive changes. Perhaps they can’t give up alcohol with their will power alone, but they can go to an AA and receive help from others. Perhaps they have a terrible amount of rage from their past and they alone cannot change it. But perhaps they have enough free choice to be able to join a group that deals with that stuff. On the other hand you might find the politician, the CEO, the pastor, (with good upbringings) who are ripping people off (Berny Madoff), or have a child porn addiction, and that do absolutely nothing about it until they are caught by the law, which in that case they have ruined their family and their lives.

      You’ll not find a single human court condemning people for actions that all humans do. That is my only point. And you’ll note that, as any particular action approaches ubiquity, the culpability decreases. What shall we then say for an action that is fully ubiquitous? It is absurd to suggest a ubiquitous human action is avoidable and culpable.

      The doctrine of original sin is quite important for this discussion. Many theologians see it as a diffusion of brokenness and sin on a cultural and societal level. That is, we inherit the sin and problems of the human race and this adversely affects our ability to choose well, but it does not destroy our ability to seek out help and salvation. I will grant it that people don’t choose to be brought up in the life they have; and that this can hugely influence their decisions to do bad or good: but there is still a choice available to seek out help and to change. God doesn’t condemn us for our nature, but on our free choice to accept Christ, if we cannot freely accept God than God won’t condemn us. God cannot make us choose him as this would not be our act of free will.
      He doesn’t condemn children and people with severe mental illness because they haven’t got the full capacity to act as moral agents, similarly those that have not heard the gospel will be judged in keeping with the character of God. We can assume he will act consonant with his gracious nature.

      My only point is this. Jehovah condemns humans for “sinning”. “Sinning” is unavoidable as is evidenced by the fact that out of billions of cases, no human has failed to sin. What is unavoidable is not culpable. Your notion of sin is like condemning humans for sneezing. Sneezing is bad in that it spread germs, but I’ve never seen someone convicted of sneezing. Even human courts are more just than the “justice” Jehovah is suggesting. And that’s not even touching on the absurdities within the notion of a single 3-day death covering the deserved permanent deaths of billions. I’ve termed the general category of these absurdities “divine innumeracy”. It seems to me that anyone subjectively willing to accept such silly incoherencies is not very deeply committed to the logic that is necessary for an honest examination of objective reality.

      Cheers, Phil

  27. David says:

    “I believe that there is no objective free will. I do, however, subjectively enjoy and exalt in my very salient subjective free will.”

    It would seem to me that if we don’t have objective free will, then we don’t have free will at all. Whatever experience of subjective free will we have is no more than an illusion. Moreover if we accept the corollary of subjective will, which is that our mental states are only physical states; that is, they are reducible to atoms and the like, then we rightly have no reason to think we can transcend the determinacy of our brains constituents.

    If we concede then that every event in our life is physically determined (that’s presumably what you’re saying about objective free will), then things like the operation of my reason cannot be an exception. It cannot distinguish between true and false, or logical and illogical for it has no freedom to be thematic. As a recent philosopher has said “it is purely an illusion of free inquiry and deliberation attached to what is really the inexorable movement of my neural machinery”

    To quote a second time, by Karl Popper, “According to determinism any theory such as say determinism is held because of a certain physical structure of the holder – perhaps his brain. Accordingly, we are deceiving ourselves and are so physically so determined as to deceive ourselves whenever we believe that there are such things as arguments or reasons which make us accept determinism. I really don’t think you can hold your position without running into serious contradiction.

    You have said “Let us know precisely where cognitive science will fail to find a causal chain behind any particular cognitive event.” I think this is a very insightful statement for it shows up the misconception regarding dualist philosophers. What cognitive science comes up against is a metaphysical problem, not a problem with their ability to understand the brain. The central tenant of the argument is simple. Consciousness and all its features (freedom etc) can’t be understood on the physicalist interpretation alone, it is an irreducible feature of the brain. We hold this not because cognitive science is inadequate, but because a purely physicalist interpretation ends up in irreconcilable contradictions. Dualist interactionists have no problem with this because they posit that the non-physical interacts with every physical event in the brain. Dualism doesn’t subvert cognitive science, it just points out the metaphysical limit to its explanatory power.

    To use yet another quote, which I must confess is a favorite of dualists. John Searle’s states that “I believe one of the unstated assumptions behind the current batch of views is that they represent the only scientifically acceptable alternatives to the anticientism that went with traditional dualism, the belief in the immortality of the soul, spiritualism, and so on. Acceptance of the current views is motivated not so much by an independent conviction of the truth as by the terror of what apparently is the only alternative.” (John Searle, What’s wrong with the philosophy of mind?). I think substance dualism is a far better hypothesis then than the available physicalist and on the fence type positions. I also believe this is one of the most powerful arguments against naturalism and brings us closer to a position that many won’t want to accept.

    In all professions people disagree, medical, historical, education…there are big disagreements. In some measure they are held together by some fundamental beliefs. I would say the same for Christians. But the disunity position is overstated. My experience of Christian life and biblical studies is that we have some very central beliefs and that keep us together in the body. Please show me where the logical fallacy is in the death of Christ. I have given you my positions on God’s justice. I don’t think you have given any good arguments scripturally to suggest your notion of God is what Christians believe.

    Cheers
    David

    • Your comments are once again indented.

      “I believe that there is no objective free will. I do, however, subjectively enjoy and exalt in my very salient subjective free will.”

      It would seem to me that if we don’t have objective free will, then we don’t have free will at all. Whatever experience of subjective free will we have is no more than an illusion.

      When you acknowledge the domains of objectivity and subjectivity. you’ll have to use them consistently. So let me add the word you omitted in the following phrase. “Whatever experience of subjective free will we have is no more than an objective illusion.”

      Moreover if we accept the corollary of subjective will, which is that our mental states are only physical states; that is, they are reducible to atoms and the like, then we rightly have no reason to think we can transcend the determinacy of our brains constituents.

      Correct. And cognitive science will attest to this. But you seem to be implying that operating within the determinacy of our brain’s constituents does not give us a wonderful subjective freewill.

      If we concede then that every event in our life is physically determined (that’s presumably what you’re saying about objective free will), then things like the operation of my reason cannot be an exception. It cannot distinguish between true and false, or logical and illogical for it has no freedom to be thematic. As a recent philosopher has said “it is purely an illusion of free inquiry and deliberation attached to what is really the inexorable movement of my neural machinery”

      Correct. Our brains could have processed thoughts without logic or reason. But such brains would not have survived. The brains that more precisely mapped to material logic and understood cause/effect were those brains that survived. So we are not perfect logic machines, but with training, we certainly do better than other animals.

      To quote a second time, by Karl Popper, “According to determinism any theory such as say determinism is held because of a certain physical structure of the holder – perhaps his brain. Accordingly, we are deceiving ourselves and are so physically so determined as to deceive ourselves whenever we believe that there are such things as arguments or reasons which make us accept determinism. I really don’t think you can hold your position without running into serious contradiction.

      Fortunate for us, our thoughts can be tested. We don’t usually ruminate in an isolated context. Our ruminations are often focused on goals, and when those goals are accomplished as a result of those ruminations, a greater confidence in our cognition is indeed warranted.

      You have said “Let us know precisely where cognitive science will fail to find a causal chain behind any particular cognitive event.” I think this is a very insightful statement for it shows up the misconception regarding dualist philosophers. What cognitive science comes up against is a metaphysical problem, not a problem with their ability to understand the brain. The central tenant of the argument is simple. Consciousness and all its features (freedom etc) can’t be understood on the physicalist interpretation alone, it is an irreducible feature of the brain. We hold this not because cognitive science is inadequate, but because a purely physicalist interpretation ends up in irreconcilable contradictions. Dualist interactionists have no problem with this because they posit that the non-physical interacts with every physical event in the brain. Dualism doesn’t subvert cognitive science, it just points out the metaphysical limit to its explanatory power.

      There are only contractions when you mix your domains. What is subjectively experienced has no satisfying objective explanation since the satisfaction in question is subjective.
      I have a book recommendation. “The Really Hard Problem” by Owen Flanagan.

      To use yet another quote, which I must confess is a favorite of dualists. John Searle’s states that “I believe one of the unstated assumptions behind the current batch of views is that they represent the only scientifically acceptable alternatives to the anticientism that went with traditional dualism, the belief in the immortality of the soul, spiritualism, and so on. Acceptance of the current views is motivated not so much by an independent conviction of the truth as by the terror of what apparently is the only alternative.” (John Searle, What’s wrong with the philosophy of mind?). I think substance dualism is a far better hypothesis then than the available physicalist and on the fence type positions. I also believe this is one of the most powerful arguments against naturalism and brings us closer to a position that many won’t want to accept.

      I’ve seen no compelling evidence to take that stance. What are some corollaries of your position that might be tested? It would be powerful for you to make such predictions now to see if future cognitive science research falls in line with those predictions. I personally predict we will find nothing that supports dualism, and the arguments of the dualist will continue to migrate to more ephemeral claims.

      In all professions people disagree, medical, historical, education…there are big disagreements. In some measure they are held together by some fundamental beliefs. I would say the same for Christians. But the disunity position is overstated. My experience of Christian life and biblical studies is that we have some very central beliefs and that keep us together in the body. Please show me where the logical fallacy is in the death of Christ. I have given you my positions on God’s justice. I don’t think you have given any good arguments scripturally to suggest your notion of God is what Christians believe.

      You’ve got to be kidding. A religion that claims to have a uniting holy spirit ought to be at least as unified as are secular institutions. A survey on denominations and their divergent doctrines, many of them soteriological, are a web search away. There is no more unity among them than there is among UFOers. And every argument that I present to address one Christian’s incoherent doctrinal position is met by some other christian saying that “the bible clearly says” something other than what the initial christian is claiming. Don’t embarrass yourself. Claiming doctrinal cohesion among christians is hilarious.

      I will say that there is more unity among those christians who do not know their bibles well. You might call this “unified ignorance”. They have little disagreement as the have little knowledge. However, the more the bible is read, the more you have disagreements. This is certainly not a very good reflection on the claim of a unifying holy spirit.

      And there are several absurdities within the concept of redemption. Here are just a few.

      1. The idea that Christ’s death was a substitute for the deserved permanent death of a sinner, yet his death was not permanent (3 days). God can’t do math.
      2. The idea that Christ’s single death was a substitute for the deserved permanent death of a sinner, yet his death was traded for billions of deaths. God can’t do math.
      3. The notion that a finite sin is worthy of eternal punishment. God can’t do math.
      4. The notion that god needs to see blood to forgive when he asks us to forgive without bloodshed. Incoherent.
      5. The notion that a “loving” god would become so wrathful over a single sin, that he would deem eternal damnation a “just” punishment. Absurd.

      Now, I’ve noticed that we have been spending a significant amount of time on cognitive science. I’ve other articles on this site that are more focused on this topic. Let’s move any further discussion on freewill and the like to one of these articles as dualism does not directly relate to the reasons for my deconversion from christianity. Thanks.

  28. David says:

    Ok, I see your point about moving responses concerning dualism and cognitive science to other pages. The reason I am pursuing this is that it relates to human nature and sin nature. It’s not a separate point; its purpose is to bring forth your belief on human nature and whether your position can be called coherent. Furthermore I think the argument undermines some positions of yours which may have aided you in your de-conversion.

    “When you acknowledge the domains of objectivity and subjectivity. you’ll have to use them consistently. So let me add the word you omitted in the following phrase. “Whatever experience of subjective free will we have is no more than an objective illusion.”

    Ok, let’s say I added objective to my statement. “Whatever experience of subjective free will we have is no more than an objective illusion.” What I am meaning by objective is how things actually are in reality. It is a feature of the world that is mind independent. So to say that we are subjectively experiencing free will whilst denying it’s objectivity is to be saying – ‘well yes it feels like I have free will and I am really excited by this, but deep down I know this can only be an illusion since I believe no free will exists objectivity (in reality)’ – In other words it a very enjoyable and compelling illusion.

    Thus it follows that not even our reason can’t escape the consequences. As we have no objective freedom to think in terms of right or wrong, we cannot trust the reason that has brought us to our own conclusions. Obviously this seems false because we believe we can distinguish true and false. But since determinacy leads to such contradictions, we may have to abandon it for an alternative that fits the facts better.

    Also it seems strange to use objective and subjective as if these were two independent domains we can switch between. As if they are equal arbiters of truth. If we hold to realism than there can be only one truth and that is what really is. If we undermine our subjective elements then we undermine our ability to come to any objective conclusions. I need to repeat this is not a problem with cognitive science; it is a metaphysical limit that requires explanation, I suppose of similar status to that of the big bang. It has become a more solidified view (if you want I can give you evidence) that competing theories of the big bang, along with having no ability to be empirically tested and runs in the face of parsimony ,cannot escape the absurdity of the singular event.

    We won’t find positive evidence for dualism because the non-material is a-priori of limits to science. However we can find indirect and negative evidence from the lack of explanatory power science has to describe the phenomena. Furthermore the greatest evidence for dualism comes from our subjective experiences. The only problem with that is, we cannot always show what we know.

    As the Bible itself makes no direct claim to usher in complete unity I’m not sure your argument really has the power you’re wanting from it. The Bible claims people will subvert the truth or not just plain ignore it. Practically every letter that Paul wrote was concerning some disagreement over, or subversion of the gospel. Biblical scholars treat the Bible as a historical book that is not infallible; few scholars hold that position today. Contrary to your statement, I think those that don’t study the bible tend to take the positions that have no real theological basis. What is this claim for the unifying Holy Spirit? Is it a claim for unified broad truth or for being unified in Christ? If it’s about unity in Christ it doesn’t require people to hold exactly the same doctrines, only the belief in Christ as Saviour.

    All biblical scholars agree that we have to treat the bible as a historical book. This requires a common hermeneutic, one which is followed by historians from other areas. The biblical scholar is a historian and a linguist and has to keep to an accepted methodology. If you think a common hermeneutic equals a methodological filter that can reveal the same truth for everyone, then that is to misunderstand the purpose of hermeneutics. Hermeneutics should designate marker points as to what is acceptable exegetical and linguistic practice. People are free to roam around and come up with their own conclusions. Those Christians who believe truth can be encountered just through the Holy Spirit are mistaken. Our knowledge of the bible has come through theologians and biblical scholars, which I am happy to admit has had the mediation of the Holy Spirit.

    In what sense do you mean absurdity? That they are logically incompatible, or they are counter intuitive to your beliefs about justice?

    “The idea that Christ’s death was a substitute for the deserved permanent death of a sinner, yet his death was not permanent (3 days). God can’t do math.” Is God logically and metaphysically bound to stay dead for the same amount of time as a sinner?

    “The idea that Christ’s single death was a substitute for the deserved permanent death of a sinner, yet his death was traded for billions of deaths. God can’t do math.” Again is he metaphysically bound to die multiple times to equal the death of billions?

    “The notion that a finite sin is worthy of eternal punishment. God can’t do math.” It’s not a finite sin but the continual denial of Christ that would equal eternal separation. You need to make a better case to suggest the bible is claiming a finite sin would do this.

    “The notion that god needs to see blood to forgive when he asks us to forgive without bloodshed. Incoherent.” Logically incoherent?

    “The notion that a “loving” god would become so wrathful over a single sin, that he would deem eternal damnation a “just” punishment. Absurd” Yes that would be absurd but thankfully that’s not a Christian belief as I hope I have stated in previous posts.

    Thanks
    David

    • Your comments are indented, David.

      Ok, I see your point about moving responses concerning dualism and cognitive science to other pages. The reason I am pursuing this is that it relates to human nature and sin nature. It’s not a separate point; its purpose is to bring forth your belief on human nature and whether your position can be called coherent. Furthermore I think the argument undermines some positions of yours which may have aided you in your de-conversion.

      If an Easter-bunny believer demonstrates that belief in Santa in incoherent, arguments against the Easter-bunny do not invalidate his arguments against Santa. My arguments against Jehovah do not depend on whether or not I’m a dualist.

      I’m serious about taking the dualist argument elsewhere.

      As the Bible itself makes no direct claim to usher in complete unity I’m not sure your argument really has the power you’re wanting from it. The Bible claims people will subvert the truth or not just plain ignore it. Practically every letter that Paul wrote was concerning some disagreement over, or subversion of the gospel. Biblical scholars treat the Bible as a historical book that is not infallible; few scholars hold that position today. Contrary to your statement, I think those that don’t study the bible tend to take the positions that have no real theological basis. What is this claim for the unifying Holy Spirit? Is it a claim for unified broad truth or for being unified in Christ? If it’s about unity in Christ it doesn’t require people to hold exactly the same doctrines, only the belief in Christ as Saviour.

      So you believe that there will be no evidence that the holy spirit has provided doctrinal unity. That is also what I believe, and christianity will appear as if there were no holy spirit.

      All biblical scholars agree that we have to treat the bible as a historical book. This requires a common hermeneutic, one which is followed by historians from other areas. The biblical scholar is a historian and a linguist and has to keep to an accepted methodology. If you think a common hermeneutic equals a methodological filter that can reveal the same truth for everyone, then that is to misunderstand the purpose of hermeneutics. Hermeneutics should designate marker points as to what is acceptable exegetical and linguistic practice. People are free to roam around and come up with their own conclusions. Those Christians who believe truth can be encountered just through the Holy Spirit are mistaken. Our knowledge of the bible has come through theologians and biblical scholars, which I am happy to admit has had the mediation of the Holy Spirit.

      I agree that christianity will appear as if there were no holy spirit or supernatural advantage above secular institutions in areas such as unity, truth and conduct.

      In what sense do you mean absurdity? That they are logically incompatible, or they are counter intuitive to your beliefs about justice?

      It is not only counter-intuitive to define “brave” as cowering under a table. It is a perversion of the term “brave”. When you claim that a “loving” god becomes so angry about a single finite sin that he deems it worthy of an infinite death, then you are perverting the terms “love” and “just” to mean their opposites.

      “The idea that Christ’s death was a substitute for the deserved permanent death of a sinner, yet his death was not permanent (3 days). God can’t do math.” Is God logically and metaphysically bound to stay dead for the same amount of time as a sinner?

      Was Christ’s death a substitute for the eternal death of a sinner, or not?

      “The idea that Christ’s single death was a substitute for the deserved permanent death of a sinner, yet his death was traded for billions of deaths. God can’t do math.” Again is he metaphysically bound to die multiple times to equal the death of billions?

      Was Christ’s death to be the price for the deserved eternal death of a single sinner? Then let the price be paid, not a paltry down payment.

      “The notion that a finite sin is worthy of eternal punishment. God can’t do math.” It’s not a finite sin but the continual denial of Christ that would equal eternal separation. You need to make a better case to suggest the bible is claiming a finite sin would do this.

      When christians who do not deny Christ sin, their sin also is worthy of eternal damnation. Denying Christ has nothing to do with the wages of sin.

      “The notion that god needs to see blood to forgive when he asks us to forgive without bloodshed. Incoherent.” Logically incoherent?

      Not logically incoherent as it was stated, but logically incoherent if such a god claims to be loving and omnibenevolent. If it is possible for “sinful” humans to forgive without bloodshed, it is certainly possible for a loving god to also do so.

      “The notion that a “loving” god would become so wrathful over a single sin, that he would deem eternal damnation a “just” punishment. Absurd” Yes that would be absurd but thankfully that’s not a Christian belief as I hope I have stated in previous posts.

      Then I’ll just leave that for the millions of other christians who disagree with you.

  29. Jane says:

    Nowhere do you really talk about your life in this post about deconversion. I was looking for practical reasons for your deconversion, not waxing eloquent on how you don’t believe the Bible, or whatever. That’s a given.

    I’m new here, so maybe it’s somewhere else? Like who are you, where do you live, what kind of family do you have, what do you do for a living, etc., what sorts of events in your life got you to this place where you feel not guilty?

    • Practical reasons are not reasons to believe/disbelieve something. Where I live says nothing about the veracity of the christian faith. Do you believe what you do because it is “practical”? Placebos are practical. They are also pharmaceutically ineffective. Do you want truth or to feel good?

  30. BigHouse says:

    “The notion that a finite sin is worthy of eternal punishment. God can’t do math.” It’s not a finite sin but the continual denial of Christ that would equal eternal separation. You need to make a better case to suggest the bible is claiming a finite sin would do this.”

    God damned the entire future of humankind when Adam and Eve ate an apple. I’m quite sure that qualifies as a “good case” for what Phil is talking about.

  31. Rebecca says:

    i guess i need to look up a few of the big words…..i think as much as i don’t want to i will take an aproach to all of the above conversations regarding religion, god, deconversion as such….i will approach my delema with what i know best…as with an ill patient….what are the symptoms, what caused the symptoms, what can be done about them, do what it takes, examine the outcome, continue with it if it works, start over if it doesn’t, don’t make the same mistakes (oh and that’s the hard part)…..

  32. Rebecca says:

    thanks i will

  33. JoelJ says:

    Phil,
    I found and read your account from your comment at http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers/2012/04/06/calling-all-atheists-who-were-once-devoutly-religious/. I have told my story briefly using a more experiential approach at http://www.mountaintrail.us/Wanderer/wonderings.htm. When I retire, I want to write a much more detailed version. I’ll be reading your very interesting material for issues to address and points to make. Thanks.

  34. […] highly superficial approach of STB’s is further evidenced in posts such as this one where he cites a list of reasons he abandoned Christianity. His list of reasons are a complete […]

    • (The link above is to a blog written by an individual who had a hard time dealing with my argument that there is no moral realm. Most apologists follow a script that confuses them when they actually encounter someone who consistently rejects the use of any moral language. They seem to be certain I must have some latent morality hidden deep inside. :) )

  35. eliyahu137 says:

    I shared this page on my Facebook. Thanks, Phil. You’re great!

  36. ulriked says:

    This was extremely interesting to me, as I left Catholicism behind at age 9 (60 years ago) without giving it much thought. I just decided to file the Bible with Grimm’s Fairy tales and other similar stories.

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