Posted by Charity on December 31st, 2006

Be sure to read part one and part two.

When I was first seeking God, I read a lot of stuff by atheists. I think I was trying to convince myself that He did not exist. I am not the type that likes to be told what to do. At that point in my life, I had no one telling me what to do. I was a stay-at-home mom, so I was the only boss. The idea of there being someone bigger than me was not so appealing.

The fall back line was always the same, though usually not credited, “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

I read this the other day on Five Before Chaos, referring to a Sam Harris piece, who credits the line to historian Stephen Henry Roberts (1901-71).

This is often thought to be a clever way to put an end to the discussion, but it is really flawed at its heart.

There is a much bigger difference between me and an atheist than there is between me an someone with different religious beliefs.

If you read the first two posts in this series, I have not yet gotten to why I believe in the God of the Bible. I have only established that I have had very real experiences with a supernatural, seemingly all-knowing being. That right there puts me in the same boat as most other religious adherents, but not with those who profess that there is no god at all.

If I strip away all of the differences between religions that have a god, or even gods, I am still left with the basic belief in a supernatural being, which an atheist does not have.

The claim is: “When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

Let me understand, then.

Why do I dismiss all other possible gods? That’s a good question. Actually, I never really dismissed all other possible gods. I never believed in a god before. It was through Christianity that God reached out to me.

I guess the next question would be why do I believe, solely based on my supernatural encounters, that the Bible is true?

I believe it because it works. I believe it because every time I test it, it works.

Does that disprove all other gods? No. At a minimum, to me anyway, it proves what I call the “Joan of Arcadia” theory.

In the show, “Joan of Arcadia,” Joan was surprised when God shows up at her friend Grace’s bat mitzvah. God explained that the different religions are necessary for reaching different people.

If that was true, we are all worshiping the same god, but in different ways because that is how God connects with us individually.

I don’t think that is the case, but I am not really concerned with convincing other people with differently held religious convictions that they are worshiping the wrong god. That is between them and God.

The reason I choose to believe in Christianity can be best explained by tackling another thing atheists say; Religious people are living for the afterlife.

That is in no way true. Eternity starts the minute you accept Jesus Christ, not when you die. Jesus came to earth to redeem us from our sin – our separation from God. Once that bond is restored, one can begin to live with God right then. It does not take death to restore that bond.

The reason I believe in the gospel is because I have experienced transformation from the inside out. Maybe I needed forgiveness. Maybe that is how I needed God to connect with me, but I didn’t just feel magically forgiven because I accepted Jesus. In fact, I didn’t feel any different at all. After praying repeatedly, and almost giving up on feeling any substantial change in me, I just felt this warm feeling that I cannot really describe and I was forever changed.

It took my husband even longer to feel any real change. I don’t want to share his testimony without his permission, but this man who I have loved for eight years is not the same person he was even a year ago. He is a totally new creation in Christ.

He wasn’t a louse or a drug addict or anything. He was just a regular guy with regular pains deep inside that we all carry, but he is now healed and he is a better person for it. He is experiencing the freedom that comes from Jesus Christ.

I don’t care where the Bible came from, who wrote it, when it was written, if there are any truths contained in any other religions, if Jews get to heaven, or Muslims for that matter, both of whom believe in the same God, but reject his Son.

All I know is that the Bible works. The words in it inspire and guide my life into places I never dreamed. The teachings that others derive from it work in my life. And, most importantly, I am enjoying the benefits of a life with God by my side.

Does that tell me why an atheist dismisses all possibility of the existence of God? No. It really doesn’t. That is why I find that line so utterly annoying.

I’ve hit on all of the main irritating and/or untrue things I had in my outline, so in part four, I will discuss whether or not morality can exist outside of religion, at the request of J.D. Ryan.

49 Responses to “Things Said by Atheists That Are Untrue or Otherwise Irritating (part three)”

  1. J.D., check out my blog on Charity’s commentary below from Saturday. ;)

  2. Polimama, that is…can’t even spell my own name. :)

  3. Polimama, which post are you talking about? Can you please link?

  4. There are so many angles to approach what you’ve said here, so I’m not sure which way to go.

    I don’t care where the Bible came from, who wrote it, when it was written, if there are any truths contained in any other religions,… That is the single biggest difference between you and I… I do care who wrote it, etc, because it matters. It’s an interesting work of historical fiction, but there’s very little to make me want to believe it. And, that leads me to what I wanted to talk about for a minute here, one of my reasons for being an atheist; I don’t see any compelling need or reason to believe.

    The idea of original sin, and that I must be ‘forgiven’ for something that some other mythical beings (Adam and Eve) did is absolutely ridiculous and insulting, to boot. And if I’m misunderstanding the concept (I’m not sure if original sin is uniquely Catholic or not- my bad), what is it that was so horrible that I did that I need to be forgiven?

    If God is so powerful and such, why would he care if I believed in him or not? Does he have issues with insecurity? Why would I want to worship a being who pretty much says if I don’t believe in him, I’m going to be punished? Sounds like a psychopath. And on top of that, he can’t be bothered to come down and offer some good, solid, concrete, irrefutable, objective proof of his existence. In order to believe in him, one must cast aside reason and many reasonable things. You’d think if being believed in was so important, he’d make the reasons a bit more obvious.

    If people are good because they want to go to heaven, isn’t there something a bit skewed with that? Shouldn’t we be good for goodness sake, not out of fear of punishment or want of reward?

    And how does killing his son ‘absolve’ me of my sins? once again, if God were so powerful, couldn’t he just absolve me of those sins without sacrificing his son? How does the above process change things? And once again, a being who would sacrifice his own son (why not sacrifice himself?) doesn’t sound like anyone I want hanging around.

    All of the people that have never heard of Jesus.. are they screwed just because they’re not in the loop? Once again, doesn’t sound like a very fair and just God to me.

    I put these questions out there not to insult, but to give you an insight into the mind of an atheist, just as you have graciously done with yourself. It’s just that to be blunt, the God of the Bible seems to be a petulant, jealous, nasty, unreasonable and insecure God, and has given me no reason whatsoever to worship, let alone believe in him/her/it.

  5. Argh! Finally a meaty discussion and I haven’t the time to reply! I will answer all of these questions and more later.

    One quick point:

    I don’t care where the Bible came from, who wrote it, when it was written, if there are any truths contained in any other religions,… That is the single biggest difference between you and I… I do care who wrote it, etc, because it matters.”

    I should have worded that differently. I did care and I looked into it, but there are “experts” on both sides. There are very well reasoned, scholarly arguments for the legitimacy of the Bible, as well as against.

    I am not going to sit around waiting for the back-and-forth to stop and miss out on the wonderful life I have with God just because there is not 100% consensus on the Bible.

    I want to get into the other points, but I have already been here too long.

    More later…

  6. Charity, I’ve been looking at my sitemeter stats… you’ve been spending waaaaaay too much time at my blog… Isn’t that going to get you in trouble?

  7. Stop talking to me. I am supposed to be getting off the computer!!! :)

    It can be one of two things: (1) I often go back to the things you wrote to follow the links to the things you wrote about (sometimes more than once) or (2) I have a list of blogs and other sites that I run through and sometimes I re-hit the links I already went to, in my haste. But, (3) I also like to read your blog when new stuff is there. Okay, you caught me. I think I will be just fine in the trouble department, though.

  8. I have to ask, are those questions rhetorical, or do you really want to know the answers? I mean, I have answers to every single question that you listed there. I asked a lot of questions myself. I had a lot of questions and I refused to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior until every last one was answered to my satisfaction. So, I have answers. I get the feeling you were just throwing those out there as questions for me to ask myself, not that you wanted answers for yourself from me, though. It would be a lot of wasted typing if I answered all that and you were just being rhetorical or trying to stump me.

  9. Your level of annoyance with some of these “things said” is understandable, as they are tangential, derivative issues (the “parents’ faith”, “faith discourages thinking”, and the “afterlife” issues), as are many of the questions J.D. asks in his fourth comment here. None of them would matter at all if there was a God. Others you seem to have misunderstood the point of (“blind faith”, “one fewer god”). While these are interesting topics, I prefer to get to the meat of the central point of atheism, which is that there is no good reason for believing in a God.

    So with that in mind, I was hoping you’d clarify your two statements on the subject: What were your “supernatural experiences”, and what do you mean by every time you test the Bible, it works? What sort of test are you talking about?

  10. Charity, those questions weren’t rhetorical. Considering we’re now into the red meat of the discussion, I’d love to hear real answers.

  11. I will reply to the last two comments a little later. I spent too much time on today’s post. I’m supposed to be homeschooling!

  12. What a great discussion. Charity I look forward to your reply.

  13. I have the same questions as Johnathan (who is my husband, by the way), and I hope that you will answer them. I cannot imagine to what “tests” you refer (nor, for that matter how you choose which parts of the Bible to use as your inspiration and guide and which parts to toss out as untrue, allegory, or otherwise metaphorical). So far the only reason you’ve provided for why you believe in the Christian God is that after praying to Him you ultimately (after a long period of time, apparently) “felt this warm feeling that I cannot really describe”. Presumably, you didn’t feel such a feeling when you prayed to the Muslim God, Buddha, the Wiccan Horned God, Zeus, or the great invisible unicorn (if you even tried prayer to these other possible gods). Others, no doubt, have. And they will claim the same certainty regarding the existence of their particular god(s) as you claim for yours. All based on personal, indescribable feelings and/or life changes that they experience after coming to accept this or that god as the true one. (Does it bother you at all that your ultimate “proof” came after your acceptance and not before?)

    Here is where I think you may be missing the point of the “one fewer god” comment. Whether or not you believe the atheist’s conclusions, it seems to me that this point should be pretty easy for you to understand. Atheists could be drawing their conclusions exactly as you are, only they lack feeling in response to ANY supernatural entity, while you claim feeling in response to just one. Apparently, you reject the existence of all gods save one based on a lack of the same warm, indescribable feeling in response to accepting these alternate gods (though I would be curious to know whether you truly tried accepting these gods and then waiting for the effects as you did when you accepted Jesus Christ. Might it be that you would have experienced even more wonderful feelings and life changes as a result of accepting an alternative god?).

    Just so you know, I’m an atheist and I don’t reject the notion of a god due to any lack of personal emotional response to any supernatural entity. I reject it (in part) because I don’t accept anyone’s emotional response (including my own) to be valid evidence of what is true. The point of the “one fewer god” comment isn’t to prove atheism’s case or to suggest to theists that they are somehow more like atheists than like different sorts of theists; the point is to raise theists’ consciousness regarding the process by which they have come to their religious convictions and challenge them to consider whether the process is valid in determining truth. It isn’t.

    You have tried to sidestep the issue by claiming that you haven’t rejected all other gods, but that you believe in the Christian god only because it was He who reached out for you. This begs the question: how did you chose which god to pray to in the first place? And how exactly do you know what “reached out for you” was the god of the Christian Bible and not some other god (or devil, for that matter)? I suspect it’s because prior to prayer you already presumed THIS god would be the one causing any positive effects you might experience afterwards (and you probably prayed to him by name or at least with the specific expectation that it was the Christian God of Abraham to whom you were praying). This is not surprising, as your greater culture had already given you a name, a holy book, and a context in which to place faith. And this is related to another point you discussed in a previous post. The fact that children tend to adopt their parents’ religions is, I agree, not a valid argument for or against the truth of particular beliefs. What’s true is true, regardless of who believes it or why. But it is an interesting phenomenon (along with the greater phenomenon that those who experience religious “rebirth” will tend to adopt the religion most prevalent in their greater community and/or nation). If individuals are capable of creating a direct line to the one true god (as most every religious person claims to have accomplished), it’s unclear why this would be the case.

    I’m joining this discussion late. On to part 4…

  14. J.D.- Here is a super long comment in response to your comment above.

    And, that leads me to what I wanted to talk about for a minute here, one of my reasons for being an atheist; I don’t see any compelling need or reason to believe.

    I don’t mean to be flip, but if God is real, isn’t that a compelling reason to believe?

    The idea of original sin, and that I must be ‘forgiven’ for something that some other mythical beings (Adam and Eve) did is absolutely ridiculous and insulting, to boot. And if I’m misunderstanding the concept (I’m not sure if original sin is uniquely Catholic or not- my bad), what is it that was so horrible that I did that I need to be forgiven?

    I think your understanding of it is very Catholic and I am not too familiar with what Catholics believe, but the point of Adam and Eve’s sin is not that we are being punished for it. It is that they opened up the separation between man and God and faith in Jesus Christ restores that bond; closes that gap.

    As to what you have done that needs to be forgiven, well, I can’t help you with that, but when I accepted Jesus, a whole bunch of stuff I never even knew I was sorry for came up. To sin is to “miss the mark” when it comes to living up to God’s standard. Do you honestly think that, if there is an almighty being that created the world, you have measured up to Him with everything you have ever done, thought, or said? If nothing else, you would be sorry for denying the God existed all this time! If you were finally standing before God, would you not want to be forgiven for that? :)

    If God is so powerful and such, why would he care if I believed in him or not? Does he have issues with insecurity? Why would I want to worship a being who pretty much says if I don’t believe in him, I’m going to be punished?

    He cares because He loves you and wants to be a part of your life. I know that sounds extremely corny, but if you had a child that went away from you in rebellion, you would long for him to come home, too.

    And it is not so much that if you don’t worship Him you will be punished, it’s more like, if you try to go your own way thinking you know better than God or can do it better your own way, you will really be punishing yourself.

    As C.S. Lewis said, “There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “All right, then, have it your way.”

    And on top of that, he can’t be bothered to come down and offer some good, solid, concrete, irrefutable, objective proof of his existence. In order to believe in him, one must cast aside reason and many reasonable things. You’d think if being believed in was so important, he’d make the reasons a bit more obvious.

    I disagree that one must cast aside reason, but at any rate, Jesus performed miracles and people still did not believe he was who he said he was.

    We just had a sermon a couple of weeks ago in church about Mary and Joseph and how what God was asking them to do was really hard and really knocked their plan for their life on its head. And how people say, “But an angel came to them. I would have faith, too, if an angel came to me.” And the pastor said, “No, you wouldn’t.” Think about that. What kind of proof could God offer you, especially in this age of technology, that you wouldn’t dismiss? You were quick to reason away all of my experiences (and I can’t blame you), what makes you think you would not do the same with your own?

    If people are good because they want to go to heaven, isn’t there something a bit skewed with that? Shouldn’t we be good for goodness sake, not out of fear of punishment or want of reward?

    I talk about this in part four.

    And how does killing his son ‘absolve’ me of my sins? once again, if God were so powerful, couldn’t he just absolve me of those sins without sacrificing his son? How does the above process change things?

    The short answer is: yes, He could have done it any way He wanted.

    There are a couple of points about Jesus. One is that in that time, people made sacrifices to God, so there is that aspect of it that we really don’t relate to so much. If it was today, I think the plan would have been a little different.

    Another thing is that Jesus needed to come to earth to show us how to live. He really turned the conventional wisdom about what God wanted upside-down. The religious people of the day were not getting it right and Jesus came down to teach us through His life.

    Also, when you talk about Jesus’ death, you are only getting half of the picture. The other important thing is the resurrection (which was not possible without the death). Jesus overcame death and that is what God wanted to show us. We can overcome death by accepting God’s grace. As God said in the Garden of Eden, if Adam and Eve ate the fruit, they would die. We can overcome that death (spiritual death) just as Jesus overcame his death (physical death). It’s kind of a metaphor.

    All of the people that have never heard of Jesus.. are they screwed just because they’re not in the loop? Once again, doesn’t sound like a very fair and just God to me.

    No, people will not be judged on whether or not they accepted Jesus, if they never heard of Jesus. But God puts the knowledge of right and wrong on our hearts and if people choose to ignore it and live for themselves, they will be judged for that.

    We had a missionary speak at our church who went into the jungle to learn the language and customs of a remote tribe in order to translate the Bible into their language and she said that she was amazed to learn that the moral code in that village was already right in line with the Bible and these people are 100% cut-off from the outside world.

  15. I will respond to the comments left by Johnathan and Rebecca as soon as I can. Thank you for taking the time to leave comments.

  16. In response to Rebecca’s comment (which I hope answers Johnathan’s questions as well):

    I cannot imagine to what “tests” you refer (nor, for that matter how you choose which parts of the Bible to use as your inspiration and guide and which parts to toss out as untrue, allegory, or otherwise metaphorical).

    I don’t pick and choose what parts of the Bible to believe. Some things are clearly allegorical, for example Jesus taught in parables. I doubt that we are meant to think that those stories actually happened.

    As for what I meant by “tests,” I meant that every time I apply a biblical truth to my life, I get results and many times they are surprising and amazing.

    When we decided to tithe, even though we didn’t feel like we had the money, we ended coming into unexpected money when we need car repairs the next month. When our church needed money for a new building, we prayed about how much to give and committed the amount that was on our hearts even though we didn’t know how we would come up with it and my husband got an unexpected bonus that month. (If you knew the company he worked for, this would seem like a miracle to you.)

    One of my children started having out-of-control fits when we started going to church. I had read about a biblical perspective on spiritual warfare and decided to test it out. I started praying without his knowledge and the fit suddenly stopped.

    Those are just a few examples of what I meant by “tests.”

    ”Presumably, you didn’t feel such a feeling when you prayed to the Muslim God, Buddha, the Wiccan Horned God, Zeus, or the great invisible unicorn (if you even tried prayer to these other possible gods).

    Side note, Buddha is not a god.

    I was not a believer in God until I came to Christ. I have no reason to seek another God. Why would I? I am not sure why people believe in different gods. Do I have to test every god out before I decide whether or not my experiences are real? If so, then are you saying that the “one fewer god” comment means that atheists who refer to that quote have tested out every religion and decided none work?

    “Does it bother you at all that your ultimate “proof” came after your acceptance and not before?”

    No, there was evidence before I accepted God; I was just still in denial mode. It does not bother me that God did not begin to really speak into my life in a meaningful way until after I committed to follow Him. That’s biblical, too actually, which I did not know at the time. That would be another example of why I say the Bible works. Every experience I have had with God, either before or after I read it in the Bible, has been consistent with the Bible. Obviously the things that I read after I already experienced them are more convincing to me as far as the Bible being true.

    I don’t see any reason to get into more specific details of my experiences because you have made it clear that you do not think anyone’s experience is reliable. And JD Ryan already explained that any interaction I think I am having with God through voice, vision, dream, etc. can be written off as something happening in my brain, so it seems futile to get into details about my “supernatural experiences” any more than I already have.

    Except, I do want to explain that it was more than just a warm feeling that finally convinced me God is real. I should have gotten into that more. It was more like a cleansing, like all of my burdens had been lifted. I really wish I could explain it better, but the danger in that is in the fact that not everyone’s experience is the same and if someone goes seeking my experience, they will be disappointed.

    Though, I have to point out, I am not just talking about my emotional response. I am talking about things like the fact that we have neighbors who moved here from across the country because God led them to, even though they wanted to be somewhere else. They did not know why they were here, but at the same time, my husband and I were both led to start seeking God (simultaneously, yet we did not discuss it with each other because, at least for me, I was embarrassed about the fact that I thought God had communicated with me). We each found our answers and talked about it to each other, had come to the same conclusions and decided to follow Christ. (You can say it is because we both are living in a predominantly Christian country, but when one considers the vast number of different doctrines, I find it rather remarkable that we agreed on the specifics.) At that time, my oldest son, then 8, did not want to believe in God, which we said was fine and we did not start doing mealtime prayers or anything that would make him feel excluded. Then, he met a girl next door, who is a Christian, and decided he wanted to learn about Jesus, too. This girl is the daughter of the people who were led to Vermont by God for reasons unknown to them.

    Those are the kinds of things that have happened to us ever since we put God in our lives. It isn’t just about my emotional responses, even though those have been amazing, but about things coming together like that when people are following God.

    You are incorrect that the reason I thought it was the Christian god was because of the country I live in. (Besides, where I live I think I would be more comfortable being an atheist.) The way God reached out to me was uniquely Christian. Then on top of that, there were the neighbors, who we met after my son met their daughter, and the impact they had on us. Things just fit together. And they all pointed to Jesus.

    But really none of this matters, since you have already declared that my experiences are not a valid process by which to determine truth, apparently even for myself. I happen to disagree.

    You both say that I misunderstand the “one fewer god” comment, but what I think you don’t understand is that the reason atheists dismiss the possibility of any god is different than the reasons that theists settle on a specific god. It’s not so much that I reject any god; it is that I accept one God.

    I am curious why Johnathan says I misunderstand what is meant by “blind faith” though.

    Again, thanks for commenting.

  17. Johnathan and Rebecca
    January 4th, 2007 at 5:37 am

    Behold the wonders of the LORD! Neighbors moving for no apparent reason! Crying children eventually stop crying! A bonus makes a bad job temporarily less bad! Truly, He is the King of Kings.

    Please, this is the only evidence you have to show? (Yes, we’re leaving aside your “internal” evidence for the time being.) So if another person recounts some mildly pleasant and powerfully mundane events in their life since they started believing in (and accepting into their heart) Zeus or Satan or whomever, we should accept their faith too? Would you? Why not? What do you have that they don’t?

    And are we supposed to not ask why your kid was crying in the first place? Why your husband’s job doesn’t pay as well as you think it should? My God, why have You forsaken me? Don’t these count as evidence of God’s occasional malevolence? Your “tests” are no tests at all. You have already predetermined the answers, and are not prepared to consider anything negative as evidence against your position, but you expect us to somehow find the positives compelling?

    Even though I think it could be worded better, this is the point of the “one fewer god” argument. If this is the quality of evidence that compels your belief, you should be believing in lots and lots of gods, because lots and lots of people have similarly astounding life transformations after accepting their deity of choice. But you don’t believe in those deities. So what’s the difference?

    The only answer is your “internal” evidence. Feelings you can’t really describe, certainly not in any way that distinguishes them from the ordinary feelings people have every day. You think atheists never have metaphorically cleansing feelings? Big deal. You think we’re denying the reality of your internal experiences? Well listen up: our experiences are just as intense and meaningful to us as yours are to you. Don’t believe it? Why is it any more acceptable for you to deny the reality of _our_ experience? Our point is that there is no way for you to establish whose internal experiences are more valid. That is why they cannot count as evidence for anything.

    We’ve had no supernatural experiences, whatever the hell that means, nor any evidence that makes it seem the slightest bit likely that anything god-like is going on in the world. Do you think God has revealed Himself to you but hidden Himself from us? That He wants us to be atheists? That He wants us to remain ignorant of His Way and His Plan? This is a God worth worshipping? He must not love people quite as much as you think. (Let me guess, this is one of His “mysterious ways”, right?)

    We put it to you and everyone reading that you, we, and everyone are experiencing the same world. Facing this reality, however, you have dreamed a whole supernatural existence of eternities and divine plans and omnipotence and omnibenevolence that, in the end, still results in the exact same (sometimes mundane, sometimes astounding) world that we inhabit. Your imagined God adds nothing necessary to explain the world. Truthfully, if you try to posit that your God is a Good God, it makes explaining the capriciousness of life much harder.

    For the reasons above, we can’t accept your internal evidence. What exactly do you think should make us believe in God? And if you don’t think we should, that He hasn’t called us to His side yet, then how can you justify being upset with atheists, who are so only due to God’s Plan? Why are you more impatient than God Himself? Because you’re imperfect? Well, then remember it and quit going off on why you find others annoying for not believing, as God Himself is apparently fine with it.

    It’s up to you to decide for yourself that maybe your intuitions aren’t the lodestone of truth you think they are. But I hope you have a little more insight into the reasons why atheists should be atheists. You shouldn’t forebear from judging us just because it’s a Biblical injunction, but because you have no good reason to hold atheism against anyone given the total lack of non-subjective evidence for anything divine.

    (We’ve asked a lot of questions here, mostly rhetorical, but we do hope you’ll answer this question: what reason do you think _we_ have to believe in your god that wouldn’t apply equally well to any other religion and god man has ever dreamed up? (Expect follow-up. :-) ))

    Thanks for elaborating. Johnathan will get back to you on the “blind faith” thing, and Rebecca will probably follow up with questions on what it means when you say you don’t pick and choose what to believe in the Bible.

  18. And no, Siddhartha Gautama was not a god, but his prior incarnation as Amida Buddha, you know, the one that is prayed to (as Rebecca mentioned) by approximately nine million Japanese Buddhists, who is both the creator of a promised land and the means of salvation, certainly _does_ qualify as a “god”.

    I’d prefer to keep this substantive, but if you descend into cheap shots and one-upmanship like that, I’ll go tit-for-tat. What would Jesus think of your pettiness? :-)

  19. Wow! I never thought about it like that. I guess you are right. There is no god. Thanks for clearing that up!

    I am not trying to convince you to believe in God and I am sorry that you felt like you needed to go on the defensive. Was it really necessary to bait me into sharing my personal experiences so you could turn around and mock me? No hard feelings, though. I saw that one coming from a mile away. :)

    To answer your question, if I had the same experiences with another god and they were consistent with the holy book of that religion, then I would believe in another religion. And if my experiences with God are not consistent with the Bible, I will not believe in God anymore, either. But God is faithful.

    I see no reason to turn from the God I know is real in order to satisfy some curiosity about other religions that I do not even have.

    I don’t have a problem with the fact that you choose to be atheists and I wouldn’t hold atheism against anyone because I was an atheist for the first 28 years or so of my life!

    I happen to choose to follow God. I can’t offer you any compelling reason that will convince you to do the same, nor was I trying to.

    I really don’t feel like the gospel can be shared in any meaningful way over the internet. The changes that I have experienced are the kind of thing that have to be witnessed in person. I can only hope to lead others through the way I live my life and the difference that God makes in my life.

    Just out of curiosity, do you give your own beliefs the same scrutiny that you expect others to give theirs (or that you give others’).

    I was reading this article about a scientist that became a Christian. I’ll leave you with an excerpt:

    He realized that as a scientist “you’re not supposed to decide something is true until you’ve looked at the data. And yet I had become an atheist without ever looking at the evidence whether God exists or not.”
    He began looking, and early in the process read Lewis’ concise classic “Mere Christianity.”
    “In the very first chapter,” he said, “all my arguments about the irrationality of faith lay in ruins.”
    Yet he was besieged by doubts during two years of struggle and study. Finally, he went hiking in Oregon’s Cascades Mountains and one morning, “I fell on my knees and asked Christ to be my Lord and Savior. And he has been there ever since, the past 28 years, as the rock on which I stand.”

  20. I meant no disrespect to any Buddhists. When my mother studied for her degree in Transpersonal Psychology a few years ago, during which she extensively studied Buddhism, she said Buddha wasn’t a god.

  21. Wow, there is sooo much to hit on… Jonathan and Rebecca have basically summed up what I’ve been trying to say, although with a bit more frustration. I’ll restate without trying to be rude…other than your highly subjective experience, which, as I state again, can very easily and solidly be explained as biochemical processes, and some coincidences, you don’t have any solid evidence of God’s existence. All of your arguments seem impervious to reason (and I’m sure that’s where a lot of atheist frustration comes from – insistence on truth when you can’t prove any of it whatsoever).

    Now, let me backtrack to some of your original replies to me…

    1)I don’t mean to be flip, but if God is real, isn’t that a compelling reason to believe?

    Sure, I’m still waiting for a shred of proof that exists outside of the mind of Charity Tensel ;)…You’re giving me a classic circular argument fallacy here.

    2) It is that they opened up the separation between man and God and faith in Jesus Christ restores that bond; closes that gap.

    One could easily argue that that they committed the ‘sin’ of thinking for themselves. Of that I am proudly the sinnliest of sinners. But you still haven’t answered what sin John D. Ryan had to be forgiven for the moment he was born… or does it kick in after my first conscious sin?

    3)And it is not so much that if you don’t worship Him you will be punished, it’s more like, if you try to go your own way thinking you know better than God or can do it better your own way, you will really be punishing yourself.

    But did Jesus not say in the Gospel of Thomas that ‘Rather, the kingdom is inside you and it is outside you.’ There and in the Gnostic gospels, Jesus is portrayed as telling us to ‘find our own path’, and to dispense with all of the dogma and stuff… But oops, those got left out when the powers that be (yep, men) assembled the Bible.

    4) I disagree that one must cast aside reason, but at any rate, Jesus performed miracles and people still did not believe he was who he said he was.

    No offense, Charity but every argument you’ve offered so far is a ‘casting aside’ of reason. And once again, there is no real evidence that Jesus performed any miracles at all. There is disagreement in between the Gospels, and once again, some of the books conveniently left out don’t have anything about Jesus performing miracles. Many people thought Jesus was a lunatic, albeit a well intentioned one. If Jesus were to do what he did today, that would be the case. Why is it somehow more credible in an prescientific age where just about everybody’s world view was based on superstition and a lack of knowledge about the natural world?

    5) What kind of proof could God offer you, especially in this age of technology, that you wouldn’t dismiss? You were quick to reason away all of my experiences (and I can’t blame you), what makes you think you would not do the same with your own?

    There are things that could convince me.. they would just need to be witnessed and confirmed by more than a few credible witnesses (academics, not clergy), and have to occur outside of my brain, and would have to be unreproducible. For example, if I said, ‘Ok, God, pull all of the trees out of my front yard, suck them up into the sky, and do it after I’ve amassed a large group of people here, and it happened, I might rethink my position. If God were truly powerful and also really concerned about people believing in him you’d think he would have done this by now. But instead he continues to reveal himself in ambiguous, unverifiable means to a select few?

    6)”And how does killing his son ‘absolve’ me of my sins? once again, if God were so powerful, couldn’t he just absolve me of those sins without sacrificing his son? How does the above process change things?”

    I need more specifics on this. Why did he have to do such a horrible thing to his son when he didn’t have to… And once again, in regards to the resurrection, there is zero hard evidence in regards to zombie Jesus.

    7)No, people will not be judged on whether or not they accepted Jesus, if they never heard of Jesus. But God puts the knowledge of right and wrong on our hearts and if people choose to ignore it and live for themselves, they will be judged for that.

    So, if we’re good, but didn’t know about him, we’re off the hook, but once we know, we have to get in line? Or commit the horrible crime of ‘living for ourselves’?

    Considering that the people the missionary visited were doing the right thing, did he do the right thing and leave without trying to convert them or did he disrespect their traditions and try to convert them anyways?

    If you’re not exhausted by this yet, those aren’t rhetorical questions…

  22. I am actually not exhausted by this yet, believe it or not, but I only have time to reply to a couple of things right now.

    “Considering that the people the missionary visited were doing the right thing, did he do the right thing and leave without trying to convert them or did he disrespect their traditions and try to convert them anyways?”

    She respected their traditions, learned their language, translated the Bible into their language, left, and let them decide what to do with it.

    But that story goes along with what you were saying from Thomas about the kingdom being inside.

    One does not need to go to the Bible to get guidance from God. The Holy Spirit guides us to do God’s will. The purpose of reading the Bible to is understand God’s character, so we do not listen to other voices that are not from God. (That’s part of it anyway.)

    “If God were truly powerful and also really concerned about people believing in him you’d think he would have done this by now. But instead he continues to reveal himself in ambiguous, unverifiable means to a select few?”

    God is not some insecure teenager that needs everyone to like him.

    I have to go, but I wanted to share this. When I was about 22, I was going through a really difficult situation (of my own making, of course) and one night I cried out loud, “Why is this happening to me?” That night God appeared to me in a dream and gave me a reason and a path. Shortly after, a woman came up to me at the park and invited me to her church. Guess what I did? I said, thanks, but no thanks, to her and to God.

    That is more direct and immediate than anything that has happened to me when I was seeking God in the last few years, yet I walked away without a second thought.

    Since I became a Christian, I can look back and see several times God reached out to me. I am sure He has reached out to you. You have it so set in your mind that He does not exists and, not only that, but that you cannot trust any experience you do have that doesn’t meet your set criteria of provability.

    From the sounds of it, God could throw a lightning bolt at your ass and you still would not believe in Him!

  23. Okay, meta-commentary first, main course second.

    I’ve heard good things about “Mere Christianity”, and I’ll be reading it at first opportunity.
    Respect for Buddhists is not my aim, as I respect their forms of belief as little as I do Judeo/Christian/Muslim theists. I’m only seeking accuracy, and a supernaturally endowed creator who is also a sole salvation mechanism fits almost anyone’s definition of “god”. Even if Buddhists say he isn’t, they don’t have the authority to arbitrarily redefine words. (Again, speaking specifically of the Amida Buddha incarnation here.)

    Far from getting defensive, I went on the offensive against your belief. There was no bait, no trap. You needed to share your personal experiences because that was your only evidence to justify your belief. Your only alternative was to stay silent which, commendably, you did not do. But for the benefit of the audience, I tried to show the triviality of this type of “evidence” through mockery.

    (For what it’s worth, I hope you’ll understand that I will mock the non-respectable beliefs of people whom I do respect. Your willingness to engage and challenge back is the sign of someone with an active, questioning mind, and that’s something I admire. (Of course, I think it can only get you so far…))

    Okay, to the meat. You say “I see no reason to turn from the God I know is real in order to satisfy some curiosity about other religions that I do not even have.” I’ll take a stab at a reason. To paraphrase YOU earlier in these comments: “I don’t mean to be flip, but if [god x] is real, isn’t that a compelling reason to believe?” My curiosity about, say, magnetism is wholly beside the point. If something is real, it’s real. If those other gods are speaking to other people in the same way your God speaks to you, and if God speaking to you justifies your belief in Him, then those other gods _are real_, and you should believe in them as well, even if those gods have made no effort to reach out to you personally. You might not find them worth worshipping, but that’s not the point. I can’t imagine what you could say against _their_ experience that wouldn’t undercut the explanatory power of your own experiences in justifying your belief in your God.

    But at least you answered my question (thank you). You admit to having no reason why an atheist would be anything but.

    I don’t have the same type of beliefs as you do. But yes, I give my own beliefs the same scrutiny that I expect of others, that is, I open my beliefs to PUBLIC scrutiny. I NEVER say that someone else couldn’t understand in order to insulate myself from criticism. If they are human, they can understand anything I believe, regardless of the differences in our particular experiences.

    Okay, now at this point, I could charge onward and challenge your use of unverifiable experiences to justify belief even to yourself, but it’s your blog, and I’m not trying to hijack it (Rebecca and I will be starting one of our own shortly, and I’ll be sure to let you know when we do so you can fill our comments section if you so choose :-) ). Even if granting the possibility of your God’s existence, which I do not, I could discuss why I would consider Him to be evil and utterly unworthy of worship. (Hey, maybe that’s a good topic for our first post!) Anyhow, thanks for the discussion. Be seeing you around.

    (Oh, and I wanted to suggest that you saying to J.D. “I am sure He has reached out to you.” is at least as disrespectful as anything we have said.)

  24. I’m lovin’ your stuff, Jonathan and Rebecca. I didn’t take offense to what Charity said, mostly because I don’t believe it. You should read my post on my blog about rude atheists, of which I am one (I am showing a LOT of restraint here, as Charity would probably agree). It is a challenge to keep a good tone in the face of irrationality (sorry, Charity), moreso when the arguments are seemingly impervious to reason. You lay out the classic atheist arguments in a very straightforward and clear way, something I haven’t mastered yet. Be sure to let me know when your blog goes up, I’m sure it will be a regular read of mine.

    Back to Charity…And, yes, getting hit by lightning would change nothing in terms of my belief, but being hit by lightning, a natural, common, and understandable occurrence, is not the same as my example of trees flying up out of the ground. And I’d like to say that although you feel like, in expressing your beliefs that they are being mocked, Jonathan is right in the sense that there is no way we could have this dialogue if you didn’t share them. And you probably know by now that one of the main points I’ve said (as has Sam Harris, repeatedly) is, what precludes them from being mocked if that is how people see them? I can’t help but make a snide comment everytime my partner Jenni talks about astrology… I think it’s ridiculous, and there’s no pleasant way to go around it.
    Sure, there is something to be said for civility, but I can defend my beliefs and unbeliefs well enough that they can stand the mockery. If you really believe what you do, it shouldn’t make a bit of difference about mockery.

    It takes a somewhat thick skin to engage in what we’re doing here, but it’s tragic that more can’t do the same. It might not convert anyone to either side, but it would go a long way towards a more peaceful coexistence.

  25. jeez, I need to get a life.. I go back and read your posts and there’s always something to comment on.

    The purpose of reading the Bible to is understand God’s character, so we do not listen to other voices that are not from God.

    I did read the Bible, and I determined the character of God to be an authoritarian, petty, jealous, insecure God who does behave like a teenager more often than not. Kinda like an overbearing abusive husband at times, too.

  26. Thanks for the vote of confidence, J.D., and I hope you’ll enjoy reading what we post. But be careful, I’m just as likely to take you to task too! I noticed on FBC how you pretty much regurgitated the PEER story on the Grand Canyon without recognizing just how little substance there was to the story. Yes, a book wound up being placed for sale there under suspicious circumstances, and a promised investigation never took place. But it’s hard for me to get worked up about it — what, the Creationists money is good enough to take to fund the Park Service, but they don’t get to have a book there? And as far as the NPS not being able to give an estimate of the geologic age of the canyon goes, well, did you check? Everyone has to be careful about being too eager to believe what they want to believe, even atheists.

    Oh, and Charity, Rebecca and I are homeschoolers of our four little ones too! New Jersey is a fantastic homeschooling state.

  27. Charity, thank you for your continual engagement in this discussion (and J.D., thanks for your comments as well). Johnathan already touched on a bunch of important topics in response to your last post. I have a few additional comments of my own.

    You wrote: “And if my experiences with God are not consistent with the Bible, I will not believe in God anymore, either.”

    Okay. The God of the Bible condones (and at times demands) slavery, genocide, rape, and the subservience of women to men (among other horrors). On many occasions, he is documented by the Bible to be capricious and petty, allowing the torture of one of his most dedicated of followers in order to win a bet with Satan (Book of Job) and going into what could be described as jealous rages every time somebody worships another god or a false idol. His 10 commandments fail to recognize raping, assaulting, and enslaving others as sins, but their order suggests that the number one sin is believing in another god, followed by making a graven image, misusing his name (is saying “God bless you” really a top 10 sin?), and working on the Sabbath. Are these Biblical truths consistent with your morality and your experiences with God? How so? This is what I meant when I asked how you “pick and choose” which parts of the Bible to use as your moral guide. If you’re using some non-Biblical standard to decide which parts of the Bible are literally true and which parts allegorical, metaphorical, or just plain wrong, what standard is it? How do you know it’s right? And if your standard comes from somewhere other than the Bible, isn’t that source your ultimate morality meter and not the Bible at all?

    You asked: “Just out of curiosity, do you give your own beliefs the same scrutiny that you expect others to give theirs (or that you give others’).”

    Johnathan already addressed this comment, but I’d like to respond as well. My answer: absolutely. I will not claim that my emotions (e.g., my internal experiences of faith, intuition, revelation, or the warm fuzzies) are valid means of knowing anything, and I’ll challenge anyone who rests their conclusions regarding truth solely on their emotions. As we’ve already determined, your feelings are ultimately all you have to demonstrate the existence of your god (hence your insistent and continual appeal to your “experience”). But you aren’t claiming that your god exists only in your mind (I wouldn’t take issue with that claim); you are claiming to know a truth about the world in which we all live (much as I might claim 2+2 equals 4 or that my pet cat exists). Making such a claim requires more than merely describing the way you feel and sharing your personal interpretations and intuitions regarding ordinary phenomena that could be imagined to have countless other possible interpretations (and are likely to have very natural, mundane interpretations). If I ever found myself supporting a belief in such an anti-conceptual, subjectivist way, I would expect others to call me on it, and upon realizing my folly, I would change my mind. And this is not a hypothetical claim. I am now an atheist because I demand such scrutiny of my thought processes. Raised Lutheran, I first rejected the notion of a god at age 19 when I was asked to provide justifications for my belief, just as we’re now asking of you. After much consideration (and frustration and anger), I realized that I had no such justification, and ultimately could appeal only to my feelings. The valid conclusion was inescapable, and I let go of my irrational belief.

    You wrote to J.D.: “Since I became a Christian, I can look back and see several times God reached out to me. I am sure He has reached out to you. You have it so set in your mind that He does not exists and, not only that, but that you cannot trust any experience you do have that doesn’t meet your set criteria of provability.”

    There’s a reason to have “set criteria for provability”. It’s because some things constitute proof of certain truths and other things don’t. You’d be wise to learn the difference. I’m hoping that an example will demonstrate the absurdity of your argument here: A Zeus-believer is sure that Zeus has reached out to him. Looking back, this believer can recall several instances in which his left buttock suddenly began itching, which he feels is the manifestation of Zeus’ presence in his life. Good things tend to happen after his butt itches and he feels indescribably free and cleansed. Furthermore, he’s sure Zeus has reached out to you too… but as a Christian, you have it set in your mind that Zeus doesn’t exist and you just can’t seem to trust the experience of an itchy buttock because it doesn’t meet your set criteria of provability. Dreams, wishes, emotions, and itchy butts are not tools of knowledge. Cognition and reason are. So far, you’ve offered nothing but dreams, wishes, and emotions (lumped together in your term “experience”) in an attempt to prove the existence of your god. You may as well be telling me that you know your god exists because your butt gets itchy. None of these experiences require or even suggest supernatural causes, much less the existence of your specific god.

    In fact, it seems that you are so skilled in the art of rationalizing your emotionalist conclusions in the area of religion that you seemed to miss the irony in your statements regarding why you don’t feel the need to seek out other gods. Given your “flip” response to J.D.’s comment about not finding reason to believe, your own justification for not seeking other gods is cause for chuckle. Johnathan addressed this issue already, so I won’t repeat it here.

    I think it is worthwhile for you to consider the following, however, especially as you lamented the dangers of moral relativism and subjectivism in your part 4 of this topic. You think that your emotional responses are evidence enough that there is god-like activity in this world. Furthermore, though millions of other people’s feelings point them (with equal experiences of certainty) to a different god and/or different religion, you consider your own emotions to be such a perfect guide to truth that you see no need to even consider other possibilities. Obviously, you think your emotional responses are also evidence enough to prove your specific god, your specific religion, and your specific interpretation of Bible passages. You may believe that moral subjectivism is dangerous if practiced by others, but you seem pretty certain that it’s accurate and good when it’s your subjective experiences and opinions that are allowed to determine what’s true. The problem is, of course, all the other true-believers feel the exact same way as you do; they think their subjective experiences point to truth too, and the truths they claim are different from yours. If you and they are engaging in the same process (using personal “experience” and indescribable feelings to justify a claim of absolute truth regarding god) and there can be no objective standards by which to judge the validity of these experiences, then you must admit that everyone’s conclusions are equally valid. This approach is both relativistic and subjectivist. You may lament it, but you practice it.

  28. I only have a minute because I am really sick and need to go lie down, but I wanted to respond a bit.

    First, that is great that you guys are starting a blog. You are both very articulate and interesting to read. Let us know when you get it up.

    Second, I wanted to say that you are all correct that my personal experiences are not enough to prove the existence of God to you or anyone else. To someone who does not already believe, they are just a bunch of meaningless things. That is made worse by the fact that I am not willing to go into deeper detail about my personal experiences.

    I agree that my experiences do not constitute proof to you, but I do not share your opinion that my experiences are not proof to me, or that yours would not be proof to you. (I am using the non-scientific definition of proof here.)

    Let me explain further. I never said that no one else’s belief in another god is valid. I even said (in part 4, I think) that at a minimum, the “Joan of Arcadia” theory is true – that the different religions are God’s way of communicating with different people of different cultures/personalities/whatever.

    The core of most religions are the same. Even taking only the commonalities, one could come up with a picture of a basic code of moral absolutes.

    That is where the breakdown between atheists and theists lies. It is not that I expect to be able to prove to you that my God is the one true god; it is that when I look at the reasons I dismiss other gods (which is based on my personal experience with my God), I still cannot understand how anyone can deny that there is some kind of supernatural activity or being at work in the universe.

  29. I am sorry to hear that you’re ill. I hope when you feel up to it, you will answer my questions regarding how you’ve decided which parts of the Bible are true.

    “I never said that no one else’s belief in another god is valid.”

    I never suggested you did; in fact, I claimed that you couldn’t possibly do so without admitting that your belief was equally invalid. But claiming that two or more contradictory claims are both valid is a relativistic approach. And you did say that “Moral relativism is dangerous because there is no standard by which to judge things. ” So what standard do you suggest we all use in judging the truth of religious claims? Should we all use your personal “experience” with god? Or should everyone use their own personal experience, no matter what facts about the universe they claim to have “proved” via their internal experience? If you claim everyone’s internally “experience-proved” beliefs are valid (as you would have to claim in order to claim that your own belief is valid based on the same internal experience) then you are advocating moral relativism. You can’t have it both ways. If you get to claim truth and “proof” based on non-objectively-verifiable experiences, so can everyone else.

    “I do not share your opinion that my experiences are not proof to me, or that yours would not be proof to you.”

    This is a moral relativist argument. If you submit that “proof to me” and “proof to you” are two different things, that you and I don’t share an objective method for determining truth, then you are advocating relativism. You say that having no standard by which to judge things is bad and dangerous? Okay then, by what universal standard are you judging your and my personal determinations of what constitutes proof? Proof, to have any meaning whatsoever, must be public domain. The evidence of a proof must be available to everyone.

    “I am using the non-scientific definition of proof here.”

    What definition is that? Oh, the one that means “the whims, wishes, and emotions that I use to convince myself of something”? Are you trying to trick me? Or yourself? I recognize no other definition than the scientific one. You can’t just redefine a word and then ride on its conventional meaning in order to fool yourself (and/or others) into accepting that your subjectivist opinions have somehow been validated. If you’re not talking about objectively-verifiable proof that is available for public scrutiny, then you’re talking the stuff of subjectivists and emotionalists, those who claim that no objective evidence is needed to validate their beliefs and that their wishes and emotions get to determine reality.

    “…I still cannot understand how anyone can deny that there is some kind of supernatural activity or being at work in the universe.”

    Why can’t you understand this? We have told you that we don’t share your internal, subjective experience. And admitting that you have no compelling objective evidence, you have said that if you didn’t have your internal evidence of “experience”, you wouldn’t believe either. Seems like you can understand perfectly. My hypothetical Zeus-believer can’t understand how you can deny that his itchy butt is evidence of Zeus’ supernatural activity either, but I don’t see you baffled by your own disbelief about that. Try to refute the Zeus-believer’s claim about itchy butts (the experience of which constitutes “proof to him”) without undercutting your own justification for believing in your god and you’ll see why your approach is relativistic. Now try refuting a Muslim’s claim that his personal experience with god (“proof to him”) demands the destruction of every Christian on Earth, and you’ll see why you were right that moral relativism is dangerous.

    We’ll definitely let you know when we manage to get our blog up. Funny that yours is called “she’s right”. Ours is called “TwoKnowItAlls”. :)

  30. Oh darn, I forgot one thing:

    “To someone who does not already believe, they [my personal experiences] are just a bunch of meaningless things.”

    Funny how you need to first believe in your god in order to recognize the “proof” that he exists. One does not have to believe in penicillin to experience the proof of its efficacy at curing strep symptoms nor have to believe in the law of gravity to keep from floating off into space. Facts of nature (and the proof of them) exist independent of our belief in them.

  31. Feel better soon!

    I’ll leave aside the notion of what’s considered “proof” (and you’re right, there are specialized scientific, mathematic, and legal notions of proof that are refinements on the more general everyday notion). Let’s talk about what you might mean by valid. From your usage here and in earlier comments, I’m pretty sure you’re using it to mean something like “not false, even if it’s not the entirety of the truth”.

    So for example, I might have a bread-making technique that’s very different from yours, but that still results in a delicious loaf of bread. And neither of us needs to be scholars of the chemistry of yeast or wheat gluten to have a valid recipe. Even with different oven temperatures, pan shapes, maybe even certain ingredients, it’s fine, we are both happy with our respective outcomes, and are feeding our families. There is no need for me to insist that your recipe is “wrong” or “invalid”.

    Would that that were true with this subject :-) . A recipe, as a rule, does not include a section after the ingredients and instructions saying that all who would ever use any other recipe are infidels. But this is what, at least in their more orthodox forms, most major and minor religions hold to be true. Even by relaxed standards of validity, Religion A and Religion B _cannot_ both be true if an essential part of Religion A is that B is false and vice versa.

    My guess (and it’s just a guess) is that at this point, you would respond that all the tenets of all the religions that condemn one another as invalid are not the revelation of God, but are false teachings, illegitimately added through the pride of man. The valid core of any religion need not denigrate the worth of other religions.

    That sounds nice. A religious live and let live philosophy, so to speak. You might think its important to pray in a certain way or at certain times, but that’s because of your particular way of relating to God, not because that’s the _only_ way God can be related to. God may have reached out to other people in other ways, and as such, their modes of prayer and worship are likely to be different.

    Unfortunately, by your own standards of justification, you have no reason to say (and again, I’m only guessing you’re saying this) that those parts of religion that condemn other religions are false. All opposing religions can’t be true simultaneously, but at least one could be. And while you might feel with total confidence that God would never condemn those of other peaceful faiths, there are _many_ others who feel with equal total confidence that he does, and that it’s the mission of his followers to exterminate infidels.

    “But they’re wrong!” you say. By what standard? If it’s a matter of of internal belief, they have the same level of belief as you. “But we can’t both be right” you say. That’s true. Unfortunately for you, you have no way of knowing that it’s you who’s right.

    And don’t forget, I could be having the same hypothetical discussion with, say, a Catholic who believes that all non-Catholics are condemned. They couldn’t be right if Charity is right, I’d say, and if their reasoning is based on internal evidence, I’d tell them that Charity has a _ton_ of internal evidence, and that they have no way of knowing if they are the one who’s right.

    Yes, I agree it would be nice if, if there were a God, that your version of things would be correct. But that’s a prior value judgment. _The fact that you and I would like it better is not the same thing as evidence that it’s correct_.

    You willingly extend a blank check to all other religions on the condition that they grant one to you. You cannot be defend your own conclusions, so you promise to not call anyone on _their_ indefensible beliefs if they leave you alone. Thus your “Joan of Arcadia” theory, your willingness to gloss over the very real and significant differences between religions in an attempt at conciliatory coalition-building. You’re seeking to band together, hoping that you’ll find strength in numbers against the people who will _not_ grant you a blank check, namely, the religious orthodoxy, the “extremists”, and atheists like me :-) . Fortunately for all involved, I’m not like the other two groups; I see the value to me in respecting your social and political freedoms to believe as you see fit, and my attacks will always be limited to the intellectual sphere.

    We can keep talking here, or if you wanna launch a new post where you present some facts that you can’t imagine anyone would deny point to supernatural intervention, we could keep this going on the front page :-) .

  32. Jon and Rebecca, I’m curious… do either of you teach? I don’t really have much to say than what J&R have already said, much clearer than I could I might add.

    I have to say about my Grand Canyon post, though. I wasn’t intending it as some kind of deep analysis, and, no , just because fundies pay taxes doesn’t entitle them in any way to have their ridiculous viewpoint appearing in Park bookstores. That, and it doesn’t meet the criteria laid down in the rules either(I’m not trying to change the topic here, just wanted to mention that).

    Charity, feel better soon. I still think there is a lot to be discussed here on this topic. I’d really like to hear you address some more of these reasoning arguments that J & R have put forth, because they’re pretty rock solid.

  33. Thanks J.D., I’ll take that as a compliment on behalf of Rebecca and me. Nah, we don’t teach, unless you count our four kids! But as the oldest of those is six, it’s really not the same thing :-) . We just try to be very thorough in our application of logic to argument analysis. It’s like a hobby!

    And following you off-topic, I’m sure you didn’t intend any sort of deep analysis either: you thought it was a slam-dunk self-evident paradigmatic exemplar of the evils of an admittedly pretty frightening Executive. But it’s not. It’s about petty mischief getting a book placed where it wasn’t supposed to be. Yawn. That otherwise reasonable people should get so worked up over this, well, the phrase “crying ‘Wolf!’” comes to mind.

    Furthermore, just because someone holds a ridiculous viewpoint doesn’t make it right for you to take their money to promote your viewpoint. And no, writing up some “rules” around it doesn’t change the fundamental nature of the act.

    I’ve gotta repeat what you wrote: “just because the fundies pay taxes doesn’t entitle them in any way to have their ridiculous viewpoint appearing in Park bookstores”. That is some breathtaking stuff. You’re fully aware that their money is helping maintain the Park, even while you belittle them. They’re not entitled “in any way”? Why not, because they have the privilege of voting? Yeah, and I’m sure you keep your trap shut about political developments you disapprove of being funded by your taxes. After all, you get to vote too.

    Let me tell you what I’m seeing here. On the one hand, there’s this author. He writes this BS book about the Grand Canyon and creationism, and one of his fans manages to monkeywrench it into a Grand Canyon bookstore, where it remains for years thanks to bureaucratic inertia. On the other hand, there’s _you_, saying that people you disagree with should be satisfied to be uncomplaining cattle, a fiscal resource for you to exploit to your own ends; that there’s nothing wrong with exploiting a minority and then using their contribution to the system to suppress their culture. Guess who I consider more dangerous to the long-term health of the republic?

    Ah yes, it will be nice when http://www.twoknowitalls.com is officially online, and I can discuss this kind of stuff there, instead of in the comments of a rolled-off-the-front-page post of someone else’s blog (Thanks, Charity! How much rent do we owe ya?) :-) .

  34. Thanks for the well wishes. I am still feeling under the weather, but I wanted to reply to the comments you left.

    Johnathan and Rebecca, I love the blog name! That’s funny. And it’s cool that you guys homeschool. I was going to ask you what you use for science, but I see that your little ones are younger than mine. (And maybe you won’t be using a curriculum with the unschooling approach.) I have been piecing science together with library resources and lots of hands-on experiments at home, but I was thinking of buying a curriculum next year, since they will be in grades 4 & 5, but I don’t know what to use. I’ll have to ask on some HS blogs or message boards.

    Back to the discussion…

    There are really two separate issues here; “is there a god?” and “which religion is right?” You seem to be saying that since there are several different religions that claim to be right, then there must be no god at all.

    That logic is flawed. That is like saying, since I think my bread is the best bread ever and you think your bread is the best bread ever, and we cannot both possibly be right, bread does not exist.

    The existence of many contradicting religions, each claiming they are correct, does not mean that there is no god. Moreover, the fact that so many people have had independent experiences with a god of some sort only lends more credibility to the existence of some kind of god or gods.

    Facts of nature (and the proof of them) exist independent of our belief in them.

    God’s existence is also independent of your belief in Him.

    Rebecca gave the example of penicillin; that we don’t need to believe in it for proof that it works. Well, how do we know it works? We know that because it has been tried over and over and produced results.

    Well, there are millions upon millions of people who have had experiences with a god. There are overlapping accounts made by people that do not know each other. I think that is pretty convincing that there is some kind of supernatural force at work, especially when people know things because God told them and there would be no other way that they could know them.

    The other day, I heard someone tell a story about one time when he was driving and was asking God what he should do at this crossroads of his life and he got a strong answer of “the Philippines.”

    He didn’t know what that meant, so he prayed for the Philippines. Then God told him to call some organization that this guy had played basketball for in the past. So, even though he felt really kind of stupid doing so, he pulled over and called and said that he felt like God was telling him to call and mention the Philippines. The person he called was amazed at how God works. They were about to send a team to play basketball in the Philippines and spread the gospel, but one player was injured and couldn’t go. He, the guy telling the story, ended up going to the Philippines, where God gave him further direction for his life.

    This kind of thing happens to people all of the time. I have had similar types of experiences where I got an answer from God that was not something I would have been able to come up with on my own for lack of knowledge.

    These are not just emotional experiences, but they also have relation to things outside the self. The fact that so many people have had these experiences is pretty convincing to me that there exists some sort of supernatural being.

    People having different religions that they use to condemn one another is not evidence against God’s existence. People can corrupt anything to their own malevolent ends.

    I don’t pretend to know how all the different religions fit together in the grand scheme of things. I know very few religious people, even Christians. The few I have talked to or heard tell their experience, convinces me that God does not only communicate with Christians.

    I choose to be a follower of Jesus Christ. God demands allegiance to Him alone and I am cool with that. I don’t want to worship any other god. (Though I am not convinced that all other gods are actually a different god. I think many of them are actually the same god, but that is beside the point.)

    The fact that different Christians all practice Christianity differently does not convince me that Christianity is not a valid religion, so the fact that I practice a different faith then others would not convince me that they are all inherently false.

    My brother-in-law is a Reverend in a United Church of Christ church, which is a very liberal denomination, and he believes that we are all saved through Jesus’ sacrifice regardless of faith. By your logic, I would have to say, since he and Pat Robertson (for example) cannot both be right, it follows that Jesus does not exist.

    You ask then how do I judge which is true, or else I fall into the moral relativism category. I disagree. Moral relativism rejects the notion of absolute truths. God represents an absolute truth. We, as men, might struggle to understand what that truth is, but at least we agree that moral standards exist apart from what is determined by the reasoning of men, who can justify just about anything to themselves.

    If men can pervert the standards of God to justify things that go against His very Word, imagine what men can do with the belief that there are no universal moral truths that exist.

    I do not know every religion, but from the ones I do know, there are plenty of overlapping standards that give us a code of conduct that is absolute. The arguing over the rest is a byproduct of humanness.

    You asked about how I decide which parts of the Bible are true. The most important thing is to understand the historical context. The same can be said for any religion. A lot of what is in the Bible doesn’t make a lot of sense taken out of context, but what book does, really. Anything taken out of context makes little sense, or at least can be misconstrued.

    It is important to understand the cultural practices at the time the books of the Bible were written. I don’t keep slaves, but God is not saying that we must keep slaves. That is not a command in the Bible. I do not have to do so to honor God.

    Another point, regarding the Old Testament, many of the things in there were written to certain groups, such as the rabbis. I learned that from a liberal Jewish friend of mine. I do not know the OT as well as I know the NT. I am still a young Christian and my focus right now is to get a handle on how I can become a disciple of Christ and how God wants to use my life. That does not mean I need to follow a guideline intended for Jewish Rabbis in a time before the Common Era.

    I guess I’ll stop here because I really need to go get some rest.

  35. No, we weren’t saying that “since several religions claim to be right then there must be no god at all”. I can’t quite figure out where you got that from. I’ll ask that you re-read my and Johnathan’s most recent posts, as it seems you missed our arguments almost entirely. These posts were intended to demonstrate the relativist and/or subjectivist nature of your position and to invalidate the process by which you claim to know truth regarding your god (not to disprove the existence of a god, per se). The argument against god follows from these points. That is, if the process by which you’ve “proved” your god is invalid, so are your conclusions. And if you have no other evidence (you’ve admitted you don’t), the rational conclusion is a rejection of the god hypothesis. (This is not the whole argument against “the supernatural”, but it’s the bulk of what we’ve addressed here.)

    I think we’ve already addressed most of the issues you’ve raised in your recent post, but perhaps our points regarding the invalidity of your approach to determining truth bear repeating. I think my best chance at getting these ideas across may be to focus on a few of your claims and add commentary. I apologize for any repetition, but I’m not quite ready to give up on getting my point across (and John, who is usually much more concise than I am, has no time to respond right now). I’m hoping that if I re-word my arguments in more than one way, perhaps at least one approach will make a successful connection to you.

    “You ask then how do I judge which is true, or else I fall into the moral relativism category. I disagree. Moral relativism rejects the notion of absolute truths. God represents an absolute truth.”

    Okay, let’s take a closer look at your “absolute truth”. I realize that you think there is an absolute truth (and that you believe you’ve at least partly found it), but the fact remains that others, using the exact same process, have found VERY different “truths” (e.g., you say your experiences are “proof to you”, but theirs then must equally be “proof to them”), and the process itself disallows the possibility of external, objective comparison among users. So unless you claim that this process of validation through “experience” somehow leads to truth ONLY when practiced by YOU (which is a subjectivist argument), the inescapable result of your approach is relativism, whether you like it or not.

    It’s wishful thinking on your part to say that the differences among religions are minor and boil down to the same basic moral code. Some religions demand subservience of women (to very severe punishments, including death); some believe that ONLY those who follow (or have been baptized in) a particular faith will ever go to heaven; some believe the complete destruction of all other faiths is demanded by God. These are not minor moral differences. But these examples are all from “radical” religious views, you say? If we look at only the “true faiths” (those not corrupted or developed by crazies), we will see that they’re all basically the same? By what standard then do you judge the “radical” views to be any less true than your own interpretation of God’s will? People have come to these “radical” conclusions just as you’ve come to yours, by a method you claim is a valid one for determining truth (at least truth regarding God).

    Your pre-judgment of other religions has come through several times in this discussion. You’ve said: “There are plenty of bad teachings out there… “, “There will always be crazy people and they will latch onto whatever they can to justify their craziness…”, “If men can pervert the standards of God to justify things that go against His very Word…”, “People can corrupt anything to their own malevolent ends.”, “People even use their religion to justify bad things that are clearly condemned by their religion.”. To all these statements, any believer who disagrees with your interpretation of God will say: “Says YOU!”. You seem to grant the benefit of the doubt to other faiths very similar to your own (thus your “Joan of Arcadia” theory, which apparently you apply to only SOME alternate Gods?), but you have obviously pre-determined that “radical” religious beliefs are “crazy”, a perversion of god’s “very Word”, and a “corruption” of real religion. How incredibly presumptuous of you to think that YOU understand somebody ELSE’S religion and internal, personal relationship with God better than they do! Of course, millions of others think THEY understand YOUR religion and YOUR true motivations better than you do too. They will argue that YOUR beliefs and practices are a justification of craziness, a perversion, a corruption, and/or a human rationalization, and that THEIRS represent the true will of God. That is, they will level the EXACT SAME claims against your beliefs as you level against theirs. And again, their “proof” is identical in nature to yours — they too “know” that God has reached out for them, they too recount “unexplainable experiences” in which their God spoke to them, answered their prayers, and led them to certain callings. With regard to specifics (e.g., God damns all non-Catholics vs. God will save everyone who tries to live a decent life according to their understanding of God), many of these positions are mutually exclusive. So who’s right? You must conclude that either ALL believers’ beliefs (yours included) are invalid due to the subjectivist basis on which they lie (which is our position), ALL are valid (relativism), or you must submit that YOU ALONE have a direct line to truth (a form of subjectivism), and thus you are right and everyone else is wrong. Alternately, you could claim agnosticism… that nobody knows and nobody can ever know the truth (I don’t think you’re taking this position. Regardless, it has its own host of problems).

    You can “prove” your God only through your experience of certain emotions, intuitions, and events that you consider to be more than mere coincidence or beyond ordinary explanation. You readily admit that you cannot “prove” your God to anyone else (as your data are all non-objective), nor are you interested in proving it to anyone but yourself. Nonetheless, you insist that your belief is a truth, a metaphysical fact of reality. And so insist millions of others who have “proved” a very different god with a very different will. IF your approach is a valid method for discovering truth (we have said it isn’t, but you insist that it is), then ANYONE who claims to have internal “proof” of their beliefs ALSO has a valid claim to truth. This would include, for example, the “radical” Muslim who claims that the one true God demands the destruction of all infidels (such a Muslim believes at least as strongly as you do that HIS personal emotions, intuitions, and inexplicable experiences have proved the existence of HIS God, and HIS God is sending him on Jihad against you). Contradictory claims are the natural and predictable results of the very process you consider a valid means of determining truth; holding that this process is valid allows you to insulate your belief from rational argument, but also leaves you impotent to counter contradictory claims. With reason and objectivity out of the picture (because you insist that they must be), there can be no rational discourse. You have no way to make an argument against the truth of ANY OTHER religious claim (for any time YOU say “well, my experience with God says otherwise”, your opponent-believer will pull the same trump card on you). Thus, in order to claim that your own belief is valid, you must accept that ALL views are valid and thus equally true, even those that are mutually-exclusive of yours, including, for example, the white supremacist interpretation of Christianity, al-Qaida’s interpretation of the Muslim faith, and (get this!) even MY position that there is no supernatural entity of any kind (after all, in your approach, I too would get to claim absolute truth based on non-objective, unverifiable personal experiences, and my experiences have most certainly “proved to me” that there is no god). This is why I say your approach advocates relativism.

    “God represents an absolute truth. We, as men, might struggle to understand what that truth is, but at least we agree that moral standards exist apart from what is determined by the reasoning of men, who can justify just about anything to themselves.”

    To me, this statement is breathtaking in its perversion of logical methodology. Let’s take a closer look as what you’re saying here: God is absolute truth; we can’t all figure out what that truth is… but at least we can all agree to set aside reason and objectivity in the pursuit of morality (we agree that they have no place there) and just go with our own personal revelations regarding what are absolute moral truths.

    So when our conclusions about absolute moral truths inevitably differ, how shall we proceed? Since there are no means to discuss our differences rationally (they are not based on objective data and reason), we’ll just have to battle out our own individual revelations of the true moral standards, and may the best revelations (or at least the ones with the most force behind them) win. Might be ugly, but hey, at least we won’t be “justifying” anything to ourselves by means of human reason!

    Quite opposite to your claim, it is THIS sort of approach that allows men (in your own words) to “justify just about anything to themselves” (indeed, according to your approach they need not justify anything — their own subjective experiences with God (or not!) are justification enough). ONLY when reason is set aside, when objective means for evaluating the truth of claims is deemed unnecessary, when one believes intuition, emotion, and “experience” are valid means of determining truth can people “justify” beliefs that aren’t true. Accepting this approach is what allows you to justify your own beliefs, despite the lack of objective evidence for them. The approach offers you the benefit of shielding your beliefs from public judgement, but it comes with a major price: the inability to judge contradictory beliefs without completely undercutting your own. Thus you (like many believers) when asked to justify your beliefs resort to responses such as “To someone who does not already believe, they [my pieces of evidence] are just a bunch of meaningless things”, “I am not really concerned with convincing other people that they are worshiping the wrong god”, “I am not expecting to convince anyone to believe in God”, “I can’t offer you any compelling reason that will convince you to [believe]“, “my experiences do not constitute proof to you” but are “proof to me”, etc..

    Ask the “radical” Muslim why he believes all Christians need to be destroyed, and you will get similar replies. “My personal experience with God is proof positive; He has proved His will to me again and again via dreams, answers to my prayers, and inexplicable coincidences and experiences [I'm certain any true believer will have a list of "amazing" stories that matches yours]; all my evidence makes clear that He has called me to Jihad. God demands allegiance to Him alone, and He wants all infidels destroyed. I have understood His purpose and accepted His mission. I have no interest in proving my God to you; all my experiences would be meaningless to a non-believer, but they have proved God to me beyond a shadow of a doubt. God is faithful, and I know Him with certainty.” Do you have a valid counter argument to that one? If not, (that is, if you consider this argument a valid one), how are you not advocating relativism? And if so, how is the exact same argument not equally legitimate when leveled against your belief?

    Make no mistake: Wahhabists and the like are not “justifying anything to themselves” through the “reasoning of men”. Their destruction is not an act of reason. It is pure, unyielding faith that drives their actions, a faith based in subjective, internal processes of validation identical to your own. How can you claim that you somehow know their experience of God’s will is false (or a corruption or a perversion)? Don’t you consider this argument invalid when atheists tell you that YOUR experience is false? Al-Qaida members believe earnestly that they are doing God’s will and that they will be justly rewarded in the afterlife. It’s why they’re willing to die so readily for their cause. In fact, to go by a Wahhabist’s willingness to meet certain death while fighting for his beliefs, an unbiased observer might presume that his internal proof must be greater than yours. After all, you admittedly can’t even make yourself like people even though you believe that your God wants you to love them. Even I find it easy to like people, and I have no supernatural imperative at all! :)

    In contrast to you and my hypothetical radical Muslim, I argue an objective basis for morality, one that is rooted in objective evidence about the world in which we live and the nature of humankind, and one that can (and should!) be challenged and tweaked by reason as needed. Such an approach does not permit everyone their own “moral blank check” to fill out however their whims and wishes see fit (whether those whims and wishes are stated explicitly as such or come through human psychology as dreams, intuitions, emotions, or “godly” revelations). In my approach, moral ideas, like any others, will be put to the test of reason.

    Finally, though it’s at best a minor point in this discussion, your “Bible in context” argument is a rather absurd answer to how you’ve chosen what parts of the Bible are true. If the Bible were a book of fiction (as I hold that it is), your argument makes perfect sense. But you’re not claiming that the Bible is fiction; you consider it to be the inspired Word of God. So are you really saying that God didn’t care that people were regularly enslaving and raping others because the moral zeitgeist of the time accepted it?! Isn’t God bigger than history?! Doesn’t He SET the historical standards, not follow them? After all, He clearly stood against the OT status quo when He made the worship of false gods the #1 sin (how does this fit with your “Joan of Arcadia” theory, BTW?). But rape and enslavement? Nah, may as well wait a couple centuries before expecting people to follow those moral absolutes. And regardless, how exactly did humans come to know which acts condoned, required, or forbidden by the God of the Bible should eventually be thrown out in favor of more enlightened, modern choices? You seem pretty certain that the morals set forth in the OT are outdated and not what God would want TODAY. But by what standard do you purport to judge this?! What are today’s secular moral standards and your puny, mortal opinions against the Will of God?! I mean, where were YOU when He laid down the foundations of the Earth and all that? :)

  36. First you say, “I can’t quite figure out where you got that from.

    Then you say, “That is, if the process by which you’ve “proved” your god is invalid, so are your conclusions. And if you have no other evidence (you’ve admitted you don’t), the rational conclusion is a rejection of the god hypothesis.”

    That’s where I got it from. I see now that you are saying that you are talking about the process of proving my god, not just the fact that there are many different god beliefs. I see the subtle difference, but I still think that is flawed logic. The conclusion that there is no god cannot be made from my lack of ability (or knowledge at this present time) to adequately defend a faith that I have only had a short time against other religions that I know nothing about.

    More accurately, the conclusion that there is no god cannot be drawn from the fact that I have presented no objective way to determine the validity of a faith. I have, in fact. I said that (1) the experiences with God are common to more than one person, especially people who are having the experiences independent of knowing each other and (2) the experiences with God do not contradict any other part of what is known about God, through Holy texts, are good indicators that God is real.

    The funny thing is that many of the things you quoted as examples of me judging other religions, can be applied to my own religion, and in some cases, I was talking about Christianity.

    “There are plenty of bad teachings out there… “, “There will always be crazy people and they will latch onto whatever they can to justify their craziness…”, “If men can pervert the standards of God to justify things that go against His very Word…”, “People can corrupt anything to their own malevolent ends.”, “People even use their religion to justify bad things that are clearly condemned by their religion.”.

    All of those things apply to Christianity as well. There is a solid standard and people do not follow it. The same applies to all religions. If the holy book says not to kill and you also think that God wants you to kill infidels, you are violating your own religion. There is a conflict there with your beliefs.

    Let me take the meat of your argument:
    “With regard to specifics (e.g., God damns all non-Catholics vs. God will save everyone who tries to live a decent life according to their understanding of God), many of these positions are mutually exclusive. So who’s right? You must conclude that either ALL believers’ beliefs (yours included) are invalid due to the subjectivist basis on which they lie (which is our position), ALL are valid (relativism), or you must submit that YOU ALONE have a direct line to truth (a form of subjectivism), and thus you are right and everyone else is wrong.

    If you applied this to economic theory, would it still be a logical argument?

    With regard to specifics, many economic theories are mutually exclusive. So who’s right? You must conclude that either all economic theories are invalid (yours included), all are valid, or you must submit that you are right and everyone else is wrong.

    I guess one would choose number three in that case, as most do. I doubt that you would choose option one, though, as you do in regard to religion.

    You readily admit that you cannot “prove” your God to anyone else (as your data are all non-objective), nor are you interested in proving it to anyone but yourself.

    Not quite. I am not prepared to prove my God to anyone else for lack of knowledge due to the fact that I have only been a Christian for a short time. I do not think I need to be able to prove God to others to believe myself, was my point.

    Let’s take a closer look as what you’re saying here: God is absolute truth; we can’t all figure out what that truth is… but at least we can all agree to set aside reason and objectivity in the pursuit of morality (we agree that they have no place there) and just go with our own personal revelations regarding what are absolute moral truths.

    You have totally perverted my words here. I never said that we rely on our own personal revelations regarding what the absolute moral truths are.

    I specifically said in one of the main posts that our emotions betray us, which is why we need an absolute standard. Further, we have no way to tell if God or Satan is speaking to us if we are not grounded in who God is. There is a standard against which to judge. Any good Christian teacher will tell you that seeking council from another well-grounded Christian is essential when determining whether or not your instructions are in fact coming from the Lord. The process is far from the subjective, illogical, warm-fuzzy-based sham you portray here.

    Let me state clearly: The reason I know God exists is based on my personal experiences. I don’t make up who God is based on my subjective, internal experiences. That is grounded in the teachings of the Bible and the council of other Bible-believing Christians (whose teachings I examine against the Bible).

    “Thus you (like many believers) when asked to justify your beliefs resort to responses such as “To someone who does not already believe, they [my pieces of evidence] are just a bunch of meaningless things”, “I am not really concerned with convincing other people that they are worshiping the wrong god”, “I am not expecting to convince anyone to believe in God”, “I can’t offer you any compelling reason that will convince you to [believe]“, “my experiences do not constitute proof to you” but are “proof to me”, etc..

    Let me say this one more time: I have only been a Christian for a little while and I am not prepared at this time to defend unequivocally that God exists and is the right god to follow. That is my lack of knowledge, not an indictment against God. There are countless people who can make such an argument. Why don’t you read one of the well known, reasoned and logical Christian apologists, such as C.S. Lewis? That would be more significant than claiming victory here against someone who admits to not being prepared to defend the faith in a convincing manner.

    “Do you have a valid counter argument to that one [the radical Muslim]?”
    Yes. Does what you claim God is telling you contradict scripture? Are there other Muslims that strongly hold that this violates scripture? If so, have you examined their arguments? Have you sought council of another Muslim well-grounded in scripture as to whether or not this is consistent with Islam? Are there other influences other than God that are telling you to do this? If so, what are the motivations of those influences?

    These are the questions I would ask myself if I thought God was telling me to do something significant.

    “Al-Qaida members believe earnestly that they are doing God’s will and that they will be justly rewarded in the afterlife.”

    I don’t know a lot about Islam, but what I have read says that this action does violate the faith.

    I don’t doubt for one second that these people are having the experiences that they say they are. There are power hungry people that are feeding these ideas to (mostly) young men and I do not doubt that Satan is reaffirming it to them, which they believe is God (Allah).

    It seems like it would be more helpful for a believer to say, “Yes, I know you think this is Allah speaking to you, but here is where it contradicts our Holy texts. Do you think it might be Satan tempting you?” then it would be to approach the problem from your perspective and say, “No. You are not really having these experiences or they are all in your head.”

    “After all, you admittedly can’t even make yourself like people even though you believe that your God wants you to love them.”

    No, I said that I do make myself like (even love) people because God wants me to. I might add that it is hardly uncommon to not like people. There’s even an expression for it – “not a people-person.” And most people who know me would never say that describes me. Very few people know that deep down, I hate being around other people. (Well, now the ones who read my blog know that.)

    “In my approach, moral ideas, like any others, will be put to the test of reason.”

    Reason can betray even the best intentioned. People rationalize all kids of things, even as a whole group of people. It is no better than religion for carving out a moral path and I would argue that it is worse because there is no standard against which to judge.

    About the Bible. I believe the entire Bible is true. I do not pick and choose. I was saying that not all of it applies to me personally due to context. I am not saying that God doesn’t care when people were mistreating other people, but rather, God meets people where they are at. He speaks to them as they are able to understand, so there are things that are discussed that are relevant to the culture of the day.

    I have read some things about the translating of the Bible and know that there are many who believe that the slavery as described in the Bible is different than our understanding of the word, more specifically, servants or indentured servants. And there is also dispute about the word rape actually referring to consensual sex. I do not know a great deal about his, but I am sure you could find it on the internet or in a bookstore, if you were really interested.

    As for the first commandment, “You shall have no other Gods before me,” that should be the first commandment.

    (And I have to note, I said in the post where I mentioned the theory put forth in the show “Joan of Arcadia,” that the different religions are how God communicates with different people, that I do not believe it. I admit I do not know how all the different religions fit together, or what happens to people who believe in them.)

    Anyway, it is imperative in order for one to experience God’s blessings to the fullest, to have God at the head of one’s life. This commandment is for our own good. If we are worshipping idols, money, power, fame, or any other “gods” above God, it will lead to pain in our lives.

    This command is most important because most, if not all, of the bad things we do stem from putting other things ahead of God, like power, money, etc.

  37. I don’t know if you’re gonna be willing to engage in a two-front war, Charity, as you and Rebecca are still engaged in argument, but as I’m kinda strapped for time lately, I thought I’d bust into the thread to ask something. Would you ever put your belief in God to the test? Can you think of a way to test for God that other people could observe?

    I’m serious about this, and I take it seriously in my own life. Rebecca knows this about me. For example, I’ve always said I’m a big fan of Diet Coke, and that I hate Diet Pepsi. But it occurred to me one day, what if they’re really indistinguishable besides the label? I didn’t want to go on telling myself I preferred the taste of one over the other if it wasn’t true, so I tested it. I had cups poured for me in paper cups that I drank with my eyes closed. That’s a test, observable to others, and repeatable. Obviously, the stakes are greater with you, which makes getting the answer right all the more important.

    You say God makes a difference in your life and in the lives of others, so that means there should be some observable facts. Would you be willing to discuss what would be a valid test of his existence, and if one could be designed, would you be willing to participate and accept the outcome? Maybe in a separate post :-) ?

  38. Hi Charity. I don’t have much time (I work tomorrow and am attending an all-day crop on Friday — yay!), but I wanted to respond to a few points where I think your reasoning continues to be faulty. Perhaps when I have time, I’ll be able to address your other points (because I’m itching to respond to those as well!).

    I said that (1) the experiences with God are common to more than one person, especially people who are having the experiences independent of knowing each other and (2) the experiences with God do not contradict any other part of what is known about God, through Holy texts, are good indicators that God is real.

    No, these are terrible indicators of a God. All you really have are some people sharing common unusual (perhaps even a few as yet unexplained) experiences, coincidences, etc.. Most of these probably are readily explained by mathematical probabilities and our current understanding of human psychology (many such “experiences” can and have been induced in laboratories and some have been observed in naturally-occuring, isolated mini-cultures where the cause of events is known by observers, but attributed to supernatural causes by those within). But even if you could demonstrate that some such experiences remain unexplained, this is a FAR cry from suggesting a supernatural explanation, much less the specific explanation of YOUR god and the absolute truth of The Bible. Talk about a major leap! You may as well conclude that these coincidences are being orchestrated by fun-loving, invisible unicorns. There’s just as much external evidence to attribute them to invisible unicorns than to a god. It’s only your subjective “internal experiences” that have led you to attribute them to your god, which is why I say that your belief is ultimately subjectivist.

    The funny thing is that many of the things you quoted as examples of me judging other religions, can be applied to my own religion, and in some cases, I was talking about Christianity.

    I’m not surprised you judge Christians as well (hence my example of Catholicism), but it doesn’t matter what religions you’re judging. When I said “other religions” I meant people who have come to different religious conclusions than you have, regardless of whether they’re called “Christians” or not. Whether they have enough in common with you to also be called “Christian” is irrelevant. The point is that you’re judging them to have an incorrect (or at least not fully correct) interpretation of God. On what basis do you so judge?

    “All of those things apply to Christianity as well. There is a solid standard and people do not follow it.”

    And here again: since many Christians disagree with your standards, on what basis are you claiming a “solid standard”? Quite obviously your beliefs represent a “solid standard” to you. Others’ contradictory beliefs are a “solid standard” to them (one that you’re not following).

    “If the holy book says not to kill and you also think that God wants you to kill infidels, you are violating your own religion. There is a conflict there with your beliefs.”

    Okay, I really think you should read your entire holy book before making such sweeping, simplistic claims about “solid standards”.

    Sure, in some places the Bible says “do not kill”. It also includes many examples in which killing is condoned and even demanded by God. God demanded Abraham kill his son Isaac (fortunately for Isaac, He changed his mind last minute). Other human sacrifices demanded by God were not so lucky (see Judges 11:30-32, 34, for an example). The God of the Bible also led his chosen people on several missions of genocide in which non-believers (children too) were destroyed (except the virgin young women, of course. The chosen people were allowed to capture them in order to “have consensual sex” with them as they saw fit. See Numbers 31:1-18). Some Biblical scholars have interpreted that the commandment “Thou Shalt Not Kill” actually meant that the chosen people should not kill other Jews (Gentiles could be killed without consequence). Sounding even a bit like Jihad to you? Even if I grant that the Bible is not a work of fiction (which I don’t), you would have to admit that, at the very best, the Bible suggests very confusing, contradictory standards. Please tell me what Biblical standards you find to be so “solid”.

    “If you applied this to economic theory, would it still be a logical argument?”

    Um, if the economic theories in question were based on people’s internal revelations and a recount of everyday sorts of coincidences? If the people formulating them claimed they couldn’t prove or test their theories objectively and that I’d have to first believe in them in order to see the evidence for them? If they said their theories required me to have faith? Then my answer is a resounding yes!

    “With regard to specifics, many economic theories are mutually exclusive. So who’s right? You must conclude that either all economic theories are invalid (yours included), all are valid, or you must submit that you are right and everyone else is wrong. I guess one would choose number three in that case, as most do. I doubt that you would choose option one, though, as you do in regard to religion.”

    Your example is not a valid analogy. Since economic theories are not developed on the basis of faith and literary interpretation of an ancient work of fiction, they can be argued rationally and put to the test of reason. Premises can be made explicit (and deemed valid or not), the processes proposed can be objectively compared, opened to public scrutiny, and debated, and they can be tested (and theoretically, can also be falsified). Unlike theories of physics, for example, economic theories must be tested imperfectly (usually through correlational analyses, case studies, experiments of microeconomies, etc. rather than via full-fledged true experiments), which makes drawing conclusions a bit more complicated, but they CAN be objectively tested, repeatedly and reliably. Those theories whose results don’t hold up under scrutiny can be determined to be invalid (or at least less valid than others).

    I do not think I need to be able to prove God to others to believe myself, was my point.

    If I could not prove the existence of something to others, I could also not prove its existence to myself. There is no faculty of perception, no method of knowing to which I alone have access.

    No, I said that I do make myself like (even love) people because God wants me to. I might add that it is hardly uncommon to not like people. There’s even an expression for it – “not a people-person.” And most people who know me would never say that describes me. Very few people know that deep down, I hate being around other people. (Well, now the ones who read my blog know that.)

    Wait a minute. In that very statement you say : “I do make myself like people” and “deep down, I hate being around other people”. Which is it? And earlier, you wrote: “I really don’t like people. Seriously. They are rude, obnoxious, self-centered, loud, smelly, and take up too much space. I like my space. I don’t like people.” Which is it? Are you just faking a love of people and hoping God won’t know (or won’t care about) the difference?

    You have totally perverted my words here. I never said that we rely on our own personal revelations regarding what the absolute moral truths are.

    No, you never said that. But based on the arguments I put forth earlier, I hold that your approach to determining what God wants is tantamount to relying on your own personal revelations. I stand by my analysis.

    I specifically said in one of the main posts that our emotions betray us, which is why we need an absolute standard. Further, we have no way to tell if God or Satan is speaking to us if we are not grounded in who God is. There is a standard against which to judge. Any good Christian teacher will tell you that seeking council from another well-grounded Christian is essential when determining whether or not your instructions are in fact coming from the Lord. The process is far from the subjective, illogical, warm-fuzzy-based sham you portray here.

    And your words betray you. How exactly, in your as-yet-amateur pursuit of God’s truth, do you determine which Christians are “good” and “well-grounded”? These are value judgments, ones you’ve apparently made well before your study of Christianity is complete. How can this be? Don’t your value judgments come FROM Christianity? I know several well-grounded, knowledgeable, and well-studied Christians of many years that you may want to contact — a white supremacist, an orthodox Catholic priest, and a very politically liberal lesbian pastor. Shall I send you their phone numbers so you can seek counsel with them? My guess is you won’t want to seek truth or opinion from any of them. Why not? Because you have already determined your basic moral values and choose to seek counsel only from those who will reaffirm them. Sure, those you seek may word things differently, provide you with some new food for thought, or suggest new topics of study, but if your church hired a new pastor who interpreted Christianity very differently from the way you already do (say, the liberal lesbian I mentioned above), I suspect you’d start searching for another church. This illustrates the subjectivist nature of your quest.

    “Let me say this one more time: I have only been a Christian for a little while and I am not prepared at this time to defend unequivocally that God exists and is the right god to follow. That is my lack of knowledge, not an indictment against God. There are countless people who can make such an argument. Why don’t you read one of the well known, reasoned and logical Christian apologists, such as C.S. Lewis? That would be more significant than claiming victory here against someone who admits to not being prepared to defend the faith in a convincing manner.”

    Okay, I realize now that your lack of response may be (at least partly) based on a perceived inability to argue your position due to your status as a “newbie”. I appreciate your willingness to jump into discussion all the same. But I wasn’t listing your sidestepping comments to show your ignorance. I listed them because I’ve found them to be par for the course. They are extremely common statements from theists of all sorts whom I’ve debated in the past (most of them long-time believers). Such statements are common because in the end it all boils down to one thing: faith. I consider faith an invalid means for determining truth.

    I am not ignorant of the common theistic arguments put forth by C.S. Lewis and the like (and it’s my opinion that your arguments here do not fall so short of them). I’ve also studied religion from within (I was raised Lutheran and attended an Episcopalian prep school where I studied theology. And I was an active, practicing theist for some 17 years, remember!). I’ve been debating atheism for a long time (about 6 months on the side of theism followed by 15 years on the side of atheism). I have read several so-called “logical” arguments for God by both philosophers and laymen, and have not yet found one argument that stands to reason. If you want to put forth any here, I’ll gladly discuss them with you.


    “Do you have a valid counter argument to that one [the radical Muslim]?”

    “Yes. Does what you claim God is telling you contradict scripture? Are there other Muslims that strongly hold that this violates scripture? If so, have you examined their arguments? Have you sought council of another Muslim well-grounded in scripture as to whether or not this is consistent with Islam? Are there other influences other than God that are telling you to do this? If so, what are the motivations of those influences?”

    Well, this is not exactly a “counter-argument”. It’s just a series of questions. And if the radical Muslim responds to your questions with : “No”, “Yes, but they’re wrong”, “Yes, and the arguments are false teachings”, “Yes, and the counsel I sought shares my convictions.”, and “No, my allegiance to God is absolute.” then would you have to admit that his belief is as valid as yours? I hope you see my point that when it comes to faith, it can never be more than a “he said-she said”. Again, it’s why I say it’s a subjectivist approach.

    But at least your attempt to argue my hypothetical Muslim’s faith suggests that your own faith may not be completely impervious to reason! So I will appeal to your rationality and put the same “counter argument” questions to you. Is everything God telling you 100% in line with scripture (please keep in mind my Biblical examples as well as yours)? Does any Christian disagree with you? Have you examined (and validly dismissed) the arguments for every other branch and interpretation of Christianity? (I know you’ve sought counsel, so I’ll dispense with that one.)

    I’d like to focus on your last question(s), however. You’ve alluded (several times) to your belief that faiths other than yours (presumably, the more radical ones) are sometimes influenced by very human factors (hunger for power, insanity (“crazy people”), “malevolent ends”). Obviously, you think people are capable of feeling complete certainty regarding their religious conclusions (“I don’t doubt for one second that these people are having the experiences that they say they are”) while at the same time having come to them by means other than divine inspiration (or a connection to God, or whatever you want to call it).

    Might your analysis of others’ “misplaced certainty” also apply to you? From our discourse here, you strike me as neither crazy nor malevolent, but from your writings you DO strike me as somebody who, prior to “finding God” was desperate for guidance and purpose in life. You mentioned many times how you were “seeking God”, and while you remember being filled with “skepticism and doubt” about God’s existence, you also say you sought him with “an open heart and an open mind”. Seems to me that (explicit or not) you felt something was missing in your life, and you were actively trying to fill the hole. Perhaps you were even subconsciously rebelling against your upbringing for some reason. It sounds like your mother had no alternate “purpose” to provide you when you asked about religion. As I read your story, God didn’t just fall into your lap, so to speak. Once the dim seed of possibility was placed in your mind (via your first “experience”), you went searching for something very specific, and you found it. Might it be that your intense need to feel a greater purpose, a desire to feel validated as a good person, and/or a wish to experience the wondrous, eternal possibilities of everlasting life influenced you to merely imagine your god (the belief in whom quite obviously brings you feelings of passion, companionship, safety, and happiness) and attribute ordinary life events as evidence of his presence? These certainly could be pretty powerful motivators for self-deception and rationalization, arguably more so than the “power-hungry”, diabolical pursuits you believe fuel some others’ beliefs.

    If you can’t grant my analysis a possibility, I don’t see how you could hope to sway a Wahabbist by the same set of questions. If you can offer no other “argument” against the Wahabbist’s claims, then I stand by my analysis of your approach as subjectivist and relativistic.

    If, however, you can grant my analysis a possibility of being true, then perhaps all the time I’ve spent in this debate has not been for nought.

  39. I can’t reply to this entire comment because I hurt my back and it hurts to be at the computer, but I wanted to say one thing. You brought up the one thing I forgot to address in my posts – that people go seeking for God because something is missing in their life. Not true here.

    After a very difficult period in my life, including an abusive relationship and becoming a single mother, I finally met a great man, who shared my values, including that couples should not cohabit before marriage, and who would make a great role model for my kids. We were happily married, I was asked to write for my local paper, after many fruitless attempts to freelance, I was Chair of the local Republican Committee and was gaining the respect of a largely “good ol’ boys” style group. Things were going great. I was very happy and I did not feel like I was missing anything.

    Enter God.

    One day, I decided that the lyrics on the alternative rock radio station we listened to were not appropriate for the kids. (How I did not see this sooner, I can’t say.) I flipped to what I thought was a news channel, but I had the wrong frequency. It was a Christian rock station. Okay, I thought, I am not so hot about the God-talk, but at least they are not singing about sex.

    One day, I was singing a song that I sang dozens of times before and it had no effect on me, when this voice in my head said, “Why are these guys so into Jesus? I should read more about him.”

    I always though religious people were kind of weird, but admittedly never took the time to look for God myself. That is why I was seeking God. I was not prepared to dismiss the possibility that God exists without examining it for myself with an open mind.

    For the record, I did not predetermine the outcome. In fact, I never imagined that things would turn out as they did.

    Also for the record, God did not just supplement my already great life. He turned it on its head. After much prayer (hoping for a different answer) God instructed me to quit politics.

    Then God told me to homeschool. (I do not mean that I think God wants everyone to homeschool. It was a solution to a problem my son was having in school.) I ended up having to give up my newspaper column due to the demands of homeschooling, especially in the de-schooling (transition) period.

    My wonderful husband and marriage is the only thing that is still left of my life before I let God into it. That has strengthened and many wonderful things have come from us both committing to Jesus Christ.

    My family is stronger and God has blessed us in many ways, but the goals and ambitions I had set for myself were not in God’s plan for my life at this time, anyway.

    So, no. I was not desperate for purpose and guidance. If that was the case, I would have sought Him when my life sucked, not when it was finally great.

    And the love thing. As the song by DC Talk goes (they are a Christian group), “Love is a Verb.”

    I love people with action. Example: I couldn’t stand my neighbor, but she has no car and her apartment was flooded and she needed a ride to the laundry. I did not want to leave my family early on a Saturday morning (our only family day) go and sit at the laundromat for three hours with a woman I can’t stand, but I did it. As time has gone on and I have forced myself to serve others with a smile on even if I don’t feel like it or it is an inconvenience, I have developed the feelings that go along with it, for the most part. God transforms us from the inside, but it requires commitment on our part to do His will whether or not we feel like it.

    If I could have it my way, I would move out into the country and have limited interaction with other people. That’s just how I am. It’s hardly uncommon.

    “If I could not prove the existence of something to others, I could also not prove its existence to myself. There is no faculty of perception, no method of knowing to which I alone have access.”

    I do not alone have access to God. He is there for all who seek Him. What I can’t do is address all of the criticisms of the Bible because I do not have the knowledge yet.

    I want to say more, but my back is killing me now. (And Johnathan, I haven’t forgotten about you.)

    I hope you had a great time at your event.

  40. I’m back! There’s not all that much for me to reply to here. I never meant to imply that you would necessarily be consciously aware of any wishes or motivations that might have influenced your curiosity about seeking God and/or the answers you found. I only asked, as you did of my hypothetical Wahabbist, that you consider the possibility. One need not be at a bad place in life to seek guidance. As life was finally going well for you, you may have simply been looking for a way to ground your beliefs in some sort of system and receive affirmation from a larger community. You mentioned that you were already against co-habitation before marriage (a rare secular ethic these days, but common among the religious) and that you were an active, conservative Republican. Predictably, the religion that piqued your curiosity was consistent with such values. Thus your curiosity about the passion of Christian rock-singers. I doubt your curiosity about Allah was equally piqued by the undeniable passion of the Wahabbists who gave their lives in the 9/11 attacks, for example. Curiosity can be influenced by one’s prior value judgments.

    I’m surprised by your analysis of “love as an action”. Are robots, then, capable of love? If I were that neighbor that you “can’t stand”, I would be offended to learn the truth of your feelings. I do not desire or seek “social welfare” from anyone. When people do nice things for you, it is natural to presume friendship and affection. It’s patronizing and disrespectful to feign friendship. And it’s very, very sad that you sacrificed your own (and your family’s) needs and desires to do so. This is truly what you think your God wants of you? He wants you to disregard yourself and those you truly do value and love in order to put on a charade? This is His will of which you speak so highly and to which you want to dedicate your life?

    Finally, I am glad that you’re happy with the trajectory your life has taken, even though it apparently wasn’t at all what you had planned. But to me, your story reads like a tragedy all the same. I don’t know how you’re so sure your life wouldn’t have been even better had you never found God at all. Sounds like you were on a great track, actively engaged in your passions and successful in your pursuits. Seems to me that your life was on an upswing well before God ever entered the picture. And the truth is, you will never know what opportunities were lost when you dropped almost everything you held dear to fulfill His will. You experience these changes as the fulfillment of God’s wishes. Thus, however your conclusions were acquired (you say divine revelation from God; I’d say subconscious decisions of your own), they remain implicit, unevaluated, and unchecked. After all, who are you to check God’s reasoning?! And apparently you haven’t given his “sacrifice your own and your family’s values to fake compassion for your annoying neighbor” imperative much thought. Presumably, if you received a clear call from God today that insisted you divorce your husband, abandon your child, and move to Siberia, you would drop everything and go without a moment’s hesitation. To a person like me, who applies reason to all areas of life and tries always to ensure that my conclusions rest on sound premises and rational analysis, such an approach to living is unthinkable. To my reasoning mind, what I want to do and what I’ve concluded is the right thing to do are never at odds. I can only hope, for the sake of your own future happiness, that the subconscious conclusions which carry your day in the end are generally sound ones.

    If you’re still interested in responding to my previous questions and comments, I’m willing to continue our discussion.

    P.S. I hope your back is feeling better. First an illness, and now your back? Perhaps God isn’t happy with you? ;-)

  41. The reason that I was already against pre-marital co-habitation is that I learned the hard way the consequences of the alternative. For one, I ended up getting pregnant by a man who ended up being abusive. After that, I decided to make sure I knew someone very well and for a long time before moving on to a serious relationship. Also, when I was growing up, my mother always let her boyfriends live with us and I had no respect for that lifestyle, so since I had kids already, I committed to myself that I would never move a boyfriend in with us. I used my reasoning to lead me to that conclusion. :-)

    Another interesting point is that the faction of religious conservatives within the Republican Party is actually damaging to the libertarian-leaning positions I take. Trying to balance the two groups is the hardest part of leading a Republican committee. It wasn’t exactly drawing me to that “side.”

    “When people do nice things for you, it is natural to presume friendship and affection. It’s patronizing and disrespectful to feign friendship.”

    This is where logic and reason will get you.

    This woman does not take me for her friend. She does not come over and have tea and visit. We exchange neighborly pleasantries when we see each other and she asks me for help when she needs it because I have offered it to her. She is not under an impression that I am her best friend.

    By your logic, no one should help the needy unless they are friends with those they are helping. My guess is that if I visited a homeless shelter full of dirty, smelly, surly drunks, I would not want to be friends with any of the people there. Do they not still deserve my compassion? And should I not treat them nicely when I am helping?

    Maybe this is why so few people go into human services these days – reason dictates that we only help our friends.

    It just so happens, that I have developed feelings for this woman as a result of my positive interactions with her. I wouldn’t exactly list her as one of my friends, but I do care about what happens to her.

    There is nothing tragic about my story. Getting out of politics allowed me to be free with my political views without party allegiance, which led to my cable access show and my blog. Homeschooling has been incredible for my kids. Even the principal of their former elementary school was amazed at how happy they are. And my oldest son is going through something very difficult right now and I cannot imagine how much more difficult this would be if he was in school. And I am finally on good terms with a neighbor who used to go out of her way to make my life miserable.

    “And apparently you haven’t given his “sacrifice your own and your family’s values to fake compassion for your annoying neighbor” imperative much thought. Presumably, if you received a clear call from God today that insisted you divorce your husband, abandon your child, and move to Siberia, you would drop everything and go without a moment’s hesitation.”

    I have given it much thought and I see that it is the right thing to do. Yes, I wanted to spend time with my family, but it was not a major sacrifice. Sometimes I make my family an idol and it is important for me to go do other things. It is also important to help out neighbors, especially since my political views are that the government should not be in the business of social welfare, but that people should help others in their communities.

    And if I thought God was telling me to divorce my husband and abandon my children, I would know that wasn’t God because it is inconsistent with the Bible.

    “To my reasoning mind, what I want to do and what I’ve concluded is the right thing to do are never at odds.”

    I want to do the right thing. I am still making the choice to do what God asks of me. I do not need to in order to be saved. I would not burn in Hell if I had not helped my neighbor that day or any of the times I have. I do the right thing because I want to, but there are often other things that I would rather be doing that would be more enjoyable.

    I have never in my life met a person, religious or otherwise, who never, ever has desires that are not the right thing to do. Either you are not being fully truthful, or you rationalize what you want to do into being the right thing to do.

    That is the problem with reason. If two people use reason and logic to arrive at two different ideas of what is right, there is no way you can say one is right and the other is wrong. With no other standard of morality, you can reason yourself into making just about anything right.

    And if logic was so antithetical to religion, how do you explain the Classical Christian Homeschooing movement? Classical education includes three years of logic. That is far more than the public schools cover (which is none).

    There is no difference in the application of logic between you and me. My husband often jokes that I am a Vulcan because I am logical to a fault sometimes. The only difference is that my premises include God and yours do not.

    I have to go back and look at the other comments you left and I will respond more later.

  42. “By your logic, no one should help the needy unless they are friends with those they are helping. My guess is that if I visited a homeless shelter full of dirty, smelly, surly drunks, I would not want to be friends with any of the people there.”

    I never said that people should only help their friends. Sometimes people want to help others for reasons other than friendship, perhaps simply because they value human life and helping others in need feels satisfying in this way or helps them make the world a more human-friendly place (a consequence that is of value to everyone). But this is not what you claimed to be doing with your neighbor; you claimed to engage in an act of self-sacrifice at the bidding of God in order to do something you considered unworthy of the sacrifice (and presumably would not have chosen to do without an imperative from God). You’re back-pedaling a bit on that assertion now, but my point was that acting as if you found value in helping your neighbor when you actually didn’t would have been disrespectful. If you’re claiming that she knew you couldn’t stand her and that you were only willing to help her out of a sense of duty and she didn’t mind taking this form of welfare, I’ll agree that you weren’t acting disrespectfully. But I’d still claim acting in this manner is a perversion of morality.

    “Do they not still deserve my compassion?”

    I don’t know, do they? Whether or not you find value in providing whatever it is you’d provide to them by spending time at the shelter is up to you. If you do not find value in this action, then no, I think it is a perversion of morality for you to act out of some sort of duty. By “duty” I mean a moral obligation rooted in obedience to an external authority and independent of one’s goals and desires. And if you DO see some value in whatever action you provide, then you don’t need an imperative from God to choose the act or justify it. You have made a rational choice to trade value for value, and thus want to help.

    You seem to want it both ways in your discussion here: “I can’t stand her”, “I have forced myself to serve others” AND “I have developed feelings for her” and “care what happens to her” and think “it’s important to help out neighbors” and it “was not a major sacrifice”. So which is it? If you’ve chosen to help this neighbor because you find the personal value derived from it to outweigh the personal cost, then you DO want to help; your choice to help is fully rational and self-serving and you need no God to tell you what to do.

    And this is what I meant when I said in my system of ethics (which is a rational egoism), there is no conflict between what one “wants to do” and what one “should do”. (And yes, I rarely feel such a conflict, and never for very long. When I do sense a conflict, I know that my reasoning is faulty or that I am not acting in accordance with my value judgments, and thus I need to examine my conclusions and behaviors and make whatever change is consistent with reality.) In making decisions about what one “should do”, a common logical error is dropping the context and resorting to a wish that certain metaphysical facts or contexts were not true. Here’s an illustration of this point based on your example: “I have reasoned that the value I’ll get from helping my neighbor is worth the time sacrifice to me, but I wish time were infinite and I could help her out without losing any time with my family. Because I can imagine an alternate reality in which I could accomplish both, I feel unhappy with my limited choices. It’s not what I want to be true! I don’t really want to help because I’d rather be able to have infinite time to do something else.” This sort of context dropping is what you’re doing when you say : “I do the right thing because I want to, but there are often other things that I would rather be doing that would be more enjoyable.” Either your conclusions regarding the value you reap from helping are incorrect and you shouldn’t sacrifice your time, or your conclusions are right and you should, in which case you need to remain fully conscious of the context in which you’ve chosen and remember that it IS the only real-world choice you want. Wishes for different realities in which you can have it both ways play no part in making such judgments. The better able we are to dispense with such wishes, the happier we are when we’re doing what we’ve decided is right.

    “I have given it much thought and I see that it is the right thing to do.”
    “And if I thought God was telling me to divorce my husband and abandon my children, I would know that wasn’t God because it is inconsistent with the Bible.”

    Can I say I “told you so”? See? You’re fully capable of determining what’s right and wrong for yourself, using your own human rationality. Do you see that you’re actually checking God’s imperatives for errors of reasoning! What, He can never change His mind or request something of you that might seem strange to us mortals? Did Abraham use his human reasoning to rationalize away God’s demand that he murder his son? Since THAT one actually IS in the Bible, I’ll change the question I posed: What if God told you to thrust a knife into your son’s heart? You’d have to listen to THAT one, right? If not, what would stop you? I’m betting your own human reason would. Because it is reason that is actually the best guide to developing morals.

    “That is the problem with reason. If two people use reason and logic to arrive at two different ideas of what is right, there is no way you can say one is right and the other is wrong. With no other standard of morality, you can reason yourself into making just about anything right.”

    It’s staggering how completely backwards you have this. Yes, people can err in their use of reason (human fallibility is a metaphysical fact and not an argument for or against the use of reason) and they can become a jumble of rationalizations. But reason is the faculty that identifies and integrates perceptual units into concepts by following the principles of logic, and the only yardstick we have for determining truth. Logic is an objective process of non-contradictory identification; IT gives us the standards we need to judge whether an argument makes sense. And any errors in the application of reason are open to public scrutiny, debate, and correction. If people insist on holding to faulty conclusions after their arguments collapse in fallacies, there is nothing more that argument can do for them. That too is not a failing of reason itself; such people can live with the consequences of their denial. With reason, however, pointing out errors and changing people’s minds is possible. One cannot force a child to believe that 2+2 equals 4, for example, but one can show him (again and again if necessary) why it is necessarily so. Logic is our means of orienting to reality. Any valid argument can be reasoned back to the most basic, self-evident perceptual data.

    In fact, the discussion we’re having here is evidence against the very claim you make above and a testament to the fact that reason is humans’ only faculty of cognition. You have not been basing (nor could you base) an argument for your god on faith. There would be nothing more to say but “I believe”. There is no way to argue anything without using reason. You’ve called on it again and again to make your case here (though I’ve been methodically calling attention to the many errors and rationalizations I see in your arguments). This is the nature of rational debate.

    Now let’s take a look at the alternative you offer up as superior. You claim to know the right (and apparently absolute) moral standards based on your interpretation of life events, your reading of (part of) the Bible, and a feeling that God is telling you what to do (you’ve claimed again and again that God “told me…” without providing one shred of perceptual data to indicate such communication). Such claims, I agree, are not the stuff of reason. So NOW when you disagree with another believer about the standards of morality (your God tells you one thing, his tells him something contradictory), tell me specifically how you propose you’d determine who was right and who was wrong? Apparently, you have an approach that provides better standards for determining truth than reason. Tell me what it is. I’m imagining an argument devoid of reason, and it goes something like this:

    You: “My standards are absolute. God told me.”
    Believer: “No mine are. God told me.”
    You: “No mine.”
    Believer: “No mine.”
    You: “No mine!”
    Believer: “No mine!”

    Need I go on? Kind of reminiscent of a playground squabble about whose Dad is bigger than whose. Only Dads, unlike your faith-based beliefs, can be measured against a common standard. But you’ve chucked out the one and only standard for orienting to reality. There is nothing left for rational discourse. This is precisely why faith is not open to argument and why historically it has been “argued” only via force: fists, swords, guns, and airplanes smashing into buildings. Is this the standard of persuasion and determination of truth that you find so superior to reason?

    In case you’re thinking of responding with : “Well, of course we use reason. But it’s not absolute. Sometimes we must supplement reason with other ways of knowing, such as non-perceptual internal messages from God etc.”, please don’t. With reason there can be no such supplementation. Any small door that you open for “faith”, “feeling” or “intuition” will necessarily cause a flood of subjectivism. Saying that reason is valid and good unless and until it contradicts emotions, intuited words from God, undefinable “higher” ways of knowing, etc. is tantamount to saying “I hold to evidence of perception and the rules of logic sometimes, when my emotions and beliefs allow.” This is to toss reason out entirely and resort to pure subjectivism.

  43. If you do not find value in this action, then no, I think it is a perversion of morality for you to act out of some sort of duty. By “duty” I mean a moral obligation rooted in obedience to an external authority and independent of one’s goals and desires. And if you DO see some value in whatever action you provide, then you don’t need an imperative from God to choose the act or justify it. You have made a rational choice to trade value for value, and thus want to help.

    The value in doing it comes from the fact that it is pleasing to God. So, I do see value in the action, but not independent of God. Let me try to explain this a different way.

    For the better part of my life, I couldn’t have cared less about helping others, other than friends and family. It was not my thing. When I decided to serve God with my life, I understood that He cares about all people and He would want me to help people. I do enjoy it, in the same way I enjoy doing things for my husband that I don’t like to do. The enjoyment comes from knowing that what I am doing is important to someone I care about. For example, I have no interest in my husband’s hobbies, but I take the time to learn enough about them so he can talk to me about them. In the beginning it was excruciating to listen to him talk about things that were boring to me, but I knew it meant a lot to him. Now I even enjoy it because it is quality time that we are spending telling each other about our interests. (He did not always like hearing about my interest, either.)

    I enjoy helping people because I know that Jesus cares about people and that showing them that love is the best witness I could be. I believe that He wants His followers to show love to others, even when it is inconvenient or the people are not otherwise very likable. (I am shocked that you find such a problem with this sort of thing, I would expect you to be more opposed to old fashioned Bible thumping.)

    Since I have been willing to follow God and do things that I really didn’t want to do necessarily before, He has changed my heart. I am developing a heart for people in need and serving others comes easier to me. I still do not really like people, but I enjoy serving the Lord and my heart is changing every day.

    I also want to point out that there is a huge difference between obeying God out of love and obeying God out of fear of punishment. I believe that was the point I was trying to make originally.

    I feel like I can’t explain these things well enough in the limited time I have to type it out. Not because I am not convincing you, I don’t expect to, but because your reiteration of what I am saying isn’t quite what I am trying to say.

    You’re fully capable of determining what’s right and wrong for yourself, using your own human rationality. Do you see that you’re actually checking God’s imperatives for errors of reasoning!

    You misunderstood what I was saying there. If I was getting a message telling me to do something contrary to God’s Word, I would know that it was not God. It was either my self, or some other supernatural entity, probably Satan.

    If I thought God was telling me to kill my son, that would not be consistent with the Bible. Abraham was tested very early in the Bible. It was before the Ten Commandments and other commands from God were given to man. I do not see any reason from scripture to believe that it would be God telling me to kill my son, and many reasons to believe God would not request such a thing, therefore I would not.

    Yes, people can err in their use of reason (human fallibility is a metaphysical fact and not an argument for or against the use of reason) and they can become a jumble of rationalizations.

    It’s funny how here you allow an explanation as to why reason, wrongly applied, leads to faulty outcomes, but that same allowance is not made for religion.

    When reason produces different outcomes, they are “open to public scrutiny, debate, and correction.” But if religion produces different outcomes, they are either likened to a school yard quarrel, or can only be settled by violence. There seems to be a bit of a double standard there.

    Religious differences do not always lead to violent resolution. Further, if one looks at every conflict in history blamed on “religion,” there are always other factors present that led to the conflict. Even when it comes to “airplanes smashing into buildings,” there are other factors involved.

    ” In case you’re thinking of responding with: “Well, of course we use reason. But it’s not absolute. Sometimes we must supplement reason with other ways of knowing, such as non-perceptual internal messages from God etc.”, please don’t.”

    Don’t worry, I won’t. Reason is still applied to the experiences one has with God. In fact, you even pointed out that I was applying reason to the situation you provided that God was telling me to divorce, etc.

    The only difference between you and I, with respect to the application of reason, is that I view that there is more to life than the world that can be seen and measured. I find that to be very limiting.

    It’s like you are stuck in the world of Newtonian mechanics, while I have moved on to discover the world of Quantum Theory. There are things that cannot be explained by Newtonian physics, but they are not things that we will ever encounter in our everyday life.

    I believe there is more to reality than what can be scientifically observed. Your reasoning limits you from explaining those things or even experiencing these things.

    I have not gone into detail about many of the things that convinced me that there is a god, but the secular explanations always fall short. And when I was still skeptical about God, I always sought the secular explanation.

    One example would be how a couple I know could have the same vision from God as each other.

    Now that I think about it, I find it improbable that you do not consider emotional experiences in your reasoning. Let’s say Johnathan wants you to do something that you do not want to, but you do it because it means a lot to him. Wouldn’t your reason for doing so be based on your love for him? Isn’t that an emotion that cannot be scientifically tested or observed by others?

    Love, enjoyment, dislike, favoritism – these are all things that are based on your own internal experiences. When you order food, do you employ reason to choose what is most healthy for your body, or do you rely on such emotional experiences as favorite tastes?

    This discussion is starting to take up too much of my limited blogging time and at the same time I do not have the necessary amount of time to dedicate to answering your comments fully and do my “side” justice. Of course, you can respond (and I can’t promise that I won’t respond back :-)

  44. This was in my inbox this morning. (Verse of the Day) I thought I’d share.

    Love means doing what God has commanded us, and he has commanded us to love one another, just as you heard from the beginning.

    2 John 1:6 NLT

  45. Yeah, this discussion has been taking up lots of time that I don’t really have either. If you see little value in continuing our discussion, I don’t expect you to do so. Frankly, my interest is dwindling at this point too, but I do find value in spending time on discussions such as these because I always enter them with the expectation that I can convince my opponent (and/or any others who may be reading) to abandon their mystical beliefs. Doing so does not require a great leap. Having done it myself, I know that it just requires a commitment to thinking clearly and a refusal to take mental short-cuts, evade things we’d rather not consider, or let our wishes and emotions (however developed) drive our conclusions. Most people do pretty well applying reason to their everyday lives. It’s not so different to apply it to the realm of religion.

    “The value in doing it comes from the fact that it is pleasing to God. So, I do see value in the action, but not independent of God.”

    Wow. So you don’t agree with all God’s moral standards, but you see value in acting contrary to your own moral conclusions in order to make Him happy? You opt to reject the conclusions of your own rational mind in order to please an entity whose existence is not even objectively observable, much less worthy of your self-abdication. How do you justify the “love” you claim to feel for this non-identifiable entity you call God? In what way do you judge Him to be good? Johnathan recently addressed this issue in his two posts “Worship?” Really? and “Worship?”, part 2. It has always struck me that believers act toward their god much as abused children or spouses act toward their abusers (that is claiming a “love” that seems to stem from fear or some illogical value assessment rather than from a rational judgment). Since you’ve specifically claimed your love for God is not based on fear, I’m wondering how you would respond to Johnathan’s posts.

    “You misunderstood what I was saying there. If I was getting a message telling me to do something contrary to God’s Word, I would know that it was not God. It was either my self, or some other supernatural entity, probably Satan.”

    This is another rationalization you’ve assembled in order to justify your own preconceived moral values. Just as when you claimed that determining God’s moral standards requires one to seek counsel with “good” and “well-grounded” Christians (which begs the question: how do you determine which ones are good?), you are merely affirming your premises here. Implicit in your premises (e.g., these Christians are the “good” ones; these Bible passages are the ones relevant to modern times, such-and-such an act or demand is contrary to God’s Word) are the conclusions you claim to have justified (these other believers are misguided, my understanding of God is consistent with scripture, this voice in my head is God speaking but this one isn’t, etc.). Essentially, you are justifying your determination of which voices in your head come from God by seeking out the opinions of people you think are “good” and finding the Bible passages that you think are “good” and then comparing any voices you may hear to these standards that have been pre-selected by you. If they match, bingo! it must be the voice of God. If they don’t, of course, you conclude it must be something else.

    “If I thought God was telling me to kill my son, that would not be consistent with the Bible. Abraham was tested very early in the Bible. It was before the Ten Commandments and other commands from God were given to man. I do not see any reason from scripture to believe that it would be God telling me to kill my son, and many reasons to believe God would not request such a thing, therefore I would not.”

    So you have some bits of scripture with messages you happen to like (so do I, BTW; the Bible has some good standards in it — standards that I would justify to be moral through a process of reason. The Bible also condones and advocates a tremendous amount of evil, which I reject via the same process.). You call upon these select bits of scripture to support your beliefs about what God wants from us. And all the other stuff? Well, you write it off as “historical in context” or “very early in the Bible” (why should that matter to a timeless and infinite God?) or you just don’t consider it at all, lest you risk finding contradictions.

    But you’re clearly 100% certain of one thing: God will never change his mind or modify His moral standards. That is, you’re certain that checking His communications with you against the passages you prefer from the Bible will always lead you to truth regarding what He wants. So is he all-powerful and the creator of all standards or is he merely destined to demand only the standards you’ve already determined to be consistent with his character? In fact, as you seem well aware, He’s changed his mind before. In an attempt to discredit parts of the Bible inconsistent with your position, you claimed a few posts back that God refined his moral standards as history progressed (rape, slavery, genocide, and regarding women as property are no longer among His moral sanctions, though He condoned and even at times demanded them in eras past) and now you also claim that He changed something fundamental about his expectations after the 10 commandments (hence you can disregard His call for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac). Of course, Jephthah was made to sacrifice his daughter (in order to get the Lord’s help in defeating the Ammonites) in Judges, well after the 10 commandments. Wouldn’t that qualify as even a little “reason from scripture” to accept a command to kill your son if God gave it to you?

    Your complex web of rationalizations that attempt to ascribe to God personal beliefs you’ve already determined to be “the good” is utterly bewildering and full of contradictions and circular arguments. If God does change His mind again and decide to demand something new of you, how will you know? His mystical, unidentifiable (telepathic?) communications are obviously not fully reliable, as you need to check them against your own human understanding of everything you already believe about God to even confirm the source. You’d think an omnipotent being could go the extra mile to send less ambiguous messages to his dedicated followers. And whatever happened to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding”? Why do you think you need to understand commandments from God and make sure they’re consistent with the Bible? Why do you even expect that they shouldn’t sometimes be contradictory according to our own, meager human reason? Doesn’t God transcend the limits of human reason? What’s a contradiction to Him?

    “It’s funny how here you allow an explanation as to why reason, wrongly applied, leads to faulty outcomes, but that same allowance is not made for religion… When reason produces different outcomes, they are “open to public scrutiny, debate, and correction.” But if religion produces different outcomes, they are either likened to a school yard quarrel, or can only be settled by violence. There seems to be a bit of a double standard there.”

    First, religion (unlike reason) is not a process of cognition, so it can’t be said to be “wrongly applied”. I’m guessing what you’re suggesting here is that faith, wrongly applied, might lead some people to faulty conclusions that could be remedied by “public scrutiny, debate, and correction.” But I have no idea how you’d propose to open faith to rational debate and potential “correction”. Faith is the process of embracing that which cannot be validated rationally (hence the need to accept it on faith!) and as such, it is impervious to rational argument and objective data. When people accept reason as the only means of orienting to reality and discovering truth, they can examine the process of reason for errors by walking it back to self-evident data of perception. That is, the elements of reason are objectively identifiable — percept, concept, logic. At any point, somebody can say “ah, that’s where you (or I) went wrong. Here’s a misperception, here’s a misdefined concept, here’s a contradiction, or here’s an unwarranted assumption.” Faith offers no such analysis; it purports to be a faculty that transcends reason and cannot be given objective definition.

    If you still doubt my claims about faith, I challenge you again: tell me how you would determine that one’s faith is “wrongly applied”? I asked you this before, and your only reply amounted to asking my hypothetical Wahabbist “Are you sure?” in several different ways. Maybe this is not as quarrelsome as my “schoolyard squabble” example (though with some sorts of believers it most certainly would be), but the breadth of the discussion is essentially the same, for there are no objective elements of faith to discuss. If the Wahabbist remained certain that his faith was true after listening to your questions, what would you do next? Conclude that his faith is valid even if you still disagreed? If you consider voices in people’s heads to be evidence of God’s will (and you do), what argument against the voice of God that he hears in his head could you possibly have? What can you point to and say “HERE is where his process of faith went wrong”? He does just as you do: prays, reads and interprets holy texts, listens to voices in his head, and states his beliefs with complete certainty. And just as you claim your faith is above and beyond the limits of reason and the “observable world”, so does he. If you need not justify your belief with reference to the observable world, neither does he.

    “Religious differences do not always lead to violent resolution. Further, if one looks at every conflict in history blamed on “religion,” there are always other factors present that led to the conflict.”

    Note: I don’t reject religion because it leads to conflict or violence or because it is responsible for historical acts of evil. I reject it because it is a belief based on faith, which is an invalid way of discovering truth and a negation of reason, human’s only way of knowing. In other words, I simply don’t think religious beliefs are true. Furthermore, I think a proper human morality rests on orienting to reality, not to fantasy. Thus I will speak against anti-reason ideas wherever I see them. There are also plenty of secular forms of anti-reason (such as Marxism) that I condemn on the same grounds.

    “It’s like you are stuck in the world of Newtonian mechanics, while I have moved on to discover the world of Quantum Theory. There are things that cannot be explained by Newtonian physics, but they are not things that we will ever encounter in our everyday life.”

    Sorry, but I have to snicker a bit here. Scientists did not discover quantum physics via a non-rational, non-identifiable, non-sensory means of knowledge such as you claim you’ve used to discover God. The idea of quarks didn’t just pop into their heads, nor are their claims that quantum physics is true untestable or unprovable. Instead, within rigorous scientific observation and research, physicists did encounter the sensory-based evidence of quantum theory in the world and were able to infer the validity of the theory via these real-world observations. They pointed to the objective evidence, tested the theory repeatedly, made predictions based upon it, and placed the theory (without contradiction) within the rest of the knowledge we have about the world.

    So a more apt analogy would be: “I live in the world of Newtonian mechanics and quantum theory, while you have “discovered” Alice’s Wonderland.” Your wonderland is a place undetectable by human senses (and/or unable to be inferred from them) and is defined only as something unnatural and somehow beyond human ability to understand. This place is ruled by a mystical being who is similarly defined as an entity beyond the ability for humans to perceive and comprehend… yet you know Him to be purely good all the same. In short, you have not discovered anything (except maybe a wish or desire you have); your beliefs cannot be rooted in anything objective. If you disagree, please remember that Johnathan and I are open to conducting a test of your god’s existence with you.

    “I believe there is more to reality than what can be scientifically observed. Your reasoning limits you from explaining those things or even experiencing these things.”

    How have you come to this belief? By what mode of perception have you perceived this reality that can’t be scientifically observed? Just as I’d say to somebody who insisted that there is “more to reality” and therefore 2+2 sometimes equals 5, I can only say to you: “I have no idea why you would believe such a nonsensical thing.”

    What things have you explained that I can’t?

    And why should the way I think prevent me from experiencing the real world effects of real things? Are you suggesting that my thoughts can somehow change reality?

    “I view that there is more to life than the world that can be seen and measured. I find that to be very limiting.”

    Yes, I’m sure you do find reality limiting. In fact, I argued earlier that your discomfort with the limits of reality (e.g., your desire to be part of something “bigger” than the natural world) is likely part of what has driven you to wish for a god and insist that one exists, despite the fact that the sorts of “evidence” you claim in support of your belief would not be enough to convince you of the existence of anything else (such as fairies, leprechauns, government mind-control plots, or the safety of a drug you give to your child). The limits of reality, however, whether you find them “limiting” or not, are metaphysical facts and are impartial to any wishes you may have to change them.

    “Now that I think about it, I find it improbable that you do not consider emotional experiences in your reasoning…Isn’t that [love] an emotion that cannot be scientifically tested or observed by others?… Love, enjoyment, dislike, favoritism – these are all things that are based on your own internal experiences. When you order food, do you employ reason to choose what is most healthy for your body, or do you rely on such emotional experiences as favorite tastes?”

    I don’t think these points are as relevant to our discussion as you think they are, but I will give a brief answer since you asked. You seem to think that emotions simply happen to people, appear mysteriously in their minds, and can be used (presumably in place of reason) to make decisions. You also seem to assume that emotions will sometimes (or often) clash with reason; that our emotions and our reason will sometimes pull us in different directions, such that we must choose to follow one or the other when making decisions. To somebody commited to applying reason to their internal pursuits as well as their external ones, there is no such conflict. Emotions are not mental primaries; they are responses to cognitive judgements we make –value judgments that may be explicit or subconscious, true or false, products of meticulous logic or a hodgepodge of passively absorbed, possibly contradictory ideas. In this way, emotions may be said in common parlance to be “rational” or “irrational”, but really it is the value judgments that underlie them that are either rational or irrational.

    Emotions are internal experiences, but they are not mysterious and unable to be rationally understood as your internal “experience” of God is. Emotions, like consciousness itself, are observable via introspection.  Emotions have a specific, defined nature (they are states of consciousness), specific causes (which are intellectual evaluations), and a specific physical organ (the brain).  They are associated with observable changes in brain chemistry and they can even be evoked by stimulating the brain.  Unlike your postulated God, there is nothing unnatural or unknowable about emotions. 

    As for “using” my emotions, I recognize that they stem from cognitive judgments and are not tools of thought themselves. Thus I don’t use them to draw conclusions or guide my actions, though they can sometimes call my attention to underlying errors of reasoning and subconscious contradictory conclusions. If my conscious evaluation and my experience of emotion clash, for example, I know it’s time for some careful introspection. In such cases, I am likely responding to a subconscious, irrational value judgment and need to identify and correct it. This is relevant to a point I made earlier that you didn’t believe was possible: to the meticulous and practiced rational mind, what one “wants” and what one judges to be “right” need not ever clash.

    If my love for Johnathan is based on rational judgments of the value he holds in my life (it is), then I may find value and joy in spending time doing something specifically to make him happy (I often do). It is not some irrational, unable-to-be-understood emotion that guides my behavior, however, it is the rational judgment of John’s value to me that underlies both my reasons for acting as I do and my very predictable emotional response.

    And to address your specific question regarding choosing my diet: taste is not an emotion; it is a sensory experience. Some sensory experiences are pleasurable, and people generally seek them. It is not irrational to seek bodily pleasures. In fact, it’s very rational indeed! We also know (through science) that certain foods are better or worse for our bodies (or interact with certain bodily conditions etc.). It’s far from a clear-cut case, however, because there are countless unknowns. You could eat the healthiest of diets and die in a car crash at age 25. Or you could eat nothing but junk food and luck out, living to 100 with hardy genes. But if one values both longevity of life and pleasurable sensations (as I do), one will likely choose to balance taste with “healthy” choices. There’s nothing magical or emotionally-guided about it. It’s just a rational attempt at balancing the pursuit of two values within a context of several unknowns.

    Finally: really? Love is a commandment?! What a terrible perversion of a great emotion.

    I’ll leave you with a quote of my own:

    “If I were to speak your kind of language, I would say that man’s only moral commandment is: Thou shalt think. But a ‘moral commandment’ is a contradiction in terms. The moral is the chosen, not the forced; the understood, not the obeyed. The moral is the rational, and reason accepts no commandments.” ~~ Ayn Rand

  46. I do find value in our discussion. I found a lot actually. When I read your first several comments, it gave me plenty to think about and it challenged some of my views. Eventually, what you were saying broke down and eventually, this whole discussion strengthened my belief in God.

    Many of the times that you have reiterated my words through the lens of your world-view they were completely twisted, as is the case in this last comment. Your way of looking at the world is not consistent with the world as I see it, either before or after I believed in God.

    You deny that your commitment to your spouse is based on anything intangible. What, did you write a list of pros and cons out for each guy you dated and pick the one with the most “value”? There is nothing intangible about your attraction to him? Nothing subjective?

    This is the main problem with your arguments – you insist that there is nothing subjective which we base our decisions on. Everything is provable to other people. You side-stepped my favorite tastes question by replying that taste is a sense not an emotion. Yeah, I know that. So do most first graders. I said favorites, which are purely subjective.

    I used the example of Newtonian mechanics vs. quantum physics because one describes the experiences we have in our everyday world and one only applies to situations that no human will ever experience in his day-to-day life. They are outside the realm of our regular interaction and thus the standard rules (Newtonian physics) do not apply. This came to mind as I was reading your comments. I majored in physics when I was at the university, until I changed my major to math in my Junior year. I remember that I had to reorient my thinking when I got into the modern physics subjects. My cut-and-dry way of looking at things had to be expanded to account for the unseen. Yes, these things can be observed in a particle accelerator, but in order to understand the lecture and text book, it was necessary to expand my mind. I don’t live in a particle accelerator. In your comments, you seem to have a very rigid way of looking at things. I do not agree that life is as simple and reducible to the “most basic, self-evident perceptual data” as you present it to be. I don’t think that is the experience of most people – atheist or theist. Many atheists are able to admit that even they base things to some degree on faith or hope.

    I don’t know what your theist life was like, but it would be a huge leap for me to abandon my beliefs. I have had so many things happen to myself and others that were beyond explanation. I would have to dismiss mountains of events as coincidences. That does not seem rational to me to deny everything I have experienced in order to convince myself that it does not really exist; that it was all in my head and the collective heads of everyone I have shared common experiences with.

    Let me bottom line the Bile thing. As I said, I do not know all of the Old Testament. Most of what I do know came from a Jewish lady I know (very liberal), who calls it “a love story between God and His people.”

    As a Christian, we are under a new covenant. It is a new period in God’s journey with man. I know the New Testament and I base my living on that, but I consider the Old Testament to be an accurate series of books about God’s journey with Israel. I do not have the level of knowledge to debate the OT, yet. I have been very upfront about this. I am in the process of reading it through in its entirety right now.

    As for how I determine someone is a well-grounded Christian, I meant well-grounded in scripture. I am surprised I didn’t say that. I would not seek council from a Christian that did not know the entire Bible well. I would not seek council from someone like me, and I would not give council to another Christian.

    I am not sitting around, flipping through the Bible, picking and choosing what fits with my liking. That would be a lame existence. I don’t see why that would be valuable.

    I have read the New Testament and am always re-reading it. I seek ways to apply those standards and truths to my life, through my own prayer time, Bible reading, and teachings of Christians more knowledgeable than I am.

    I can’t think of a test for proving God. The only test I know of applies to those who want to find Him. The thing is, I don’t need to prove it to myself and I can’t prove it to you. You have pre-determined that you will dismiss any supernatural experiences, no matter how compelling.

    I would be happy to respond to the worship posts, which I have already read. I have used up all of my morning computer time and I have to go have breakfast and do some things with the kids until later this afternoon. I will try to get to it today.

    Sorry if there was anything I didn’t respond to. That was a long comment! :-)

  47. “You deny that your commitment to your spouse is based on anything intangible. What, did you write a list of pros and cons out for each guy you dated and pick the one with the most “value”? There is nothing intangible about your attraction to him? Nothing subjective?”

    No, there is nothing intangible. And nothing subjective. I can explain why I love my husband based on rational value judgments, and I can validate these judgments via real sensory-based objective data about his behavior (I found no need to write a list… but heck yes, did I ever pick the guy I valued most!). This is different from an abused wife, who claims to “love” a husband who threatens her very survival every day (and it’s also different from any love somebody could claim for an omnipotent god who nonetheless chooses to allow her and other innocents to suffer). Such a wife might try to justify the love she feels for her abusive husband by claiming that the emotion is intangible, not linked to data that can be observed, and “above and beyond” reason. Sound familiar? Is this really how you view your feelings of love? You don’t love your husband for virtues that you can infer from his observable behavior, but for reasons you cannot even understand? Because it sounds like you’re saying that the love you feel for your husband is some inexplicable, intangible affinity that you can’t understand and that you might be hopeless to change even if you observed him to be a thief, a murderer, a child pornographer, or an atheist!

    “This is the main problem with your arguments: you insist that there is nothing subjective which we base our decisions on. Everything is provable to other people.”

    I’d like to point out that in Part IV of this post you lamented the dangers of subjectivism in morality. Now you seem to be saying “Okay, yes, my decisions are subjective. But so are everybody else’s!” So our discussion has at least led you to recognize the subjectivism inherent in your position. I’ve been successful at something. :)

    You also are attempting to discredit my position (and presumably everyone’s position, including your own) by pointing out that I experience certain sensory perceptions as more appealing than others and that I seek such experiences (like foods I experience as having a pleasant taste). I’m not sure what you hope to demonstrate by the “favorite tastes” question. Sensory experiences are passive, automatic processes, unable to be changed via conscious thought. This is not true of conceptual-level claims such as your postulated god. Also, sensations are internal states of consciousness, and thus (like emotions, thoughts, and consciousness itself) require no external referents; by their nature, they can only be perceived via introspection. But you do not claim that your god is an internal state of consciousness (as I said before, I would not take issue with that). You claim that your god is a metaphysically real entity, an agent that exists independent of you and thus must have objective, external referents.

    “You side-stepped my favorite tastes question by replying that taste is a sense not an emotion. Yeah, I know that. So do most first graders. I said favorites, which are purely subjective.”

    I was not side-stepping. What you asked was : “do you rely on such emotional experiences as favorite tastes” [emphasis added], so I hope you’ll understand how I misunderstood you. Regardless, your use of the word “favorite” does not change the fundamental nature of your question, so my previous answer holds. Essentially, you’re asking me if I make decisions about what to eat based on the pleasantness of the taste sensations I experience. Of course. It is rational to seek that which is of value, and there is nothing simpler and more self-evidently valuable than a pleasant sensation. But even though sensations are internally experienced, they are not “subjective” (that is, they are not internally created via an active process that is detached from reality); they are automatic responses to real-world objects impinging upon our senses. One cannot alter one’s sensory experience of a lemon to “sweet”, for example, by an act of cognition.

    So the fact that certain sensations are experienced as pleasant does not imply subjectivism. Sensations are not conceptual judgments. Even animals, who lack a conceptual faculty, experience and seek pleasurable sensations (and avoid unpleasant ones). The tongue, for example, has no power of choice, no ability to invent, distort, or deceive. The senses do not interpret their own reactions; they merely respond to stimuli. Some sensations (such as pain) are experienced as unpleasant. Others (such as orgasm) are experienced as pleasant. And some may create different internal experiences in people (say, you experience the taste of curry to be pleasant while I do not). And some people are tall and some are short. So what? Sensations are, by their nature, internal experiences, but they are not “subjective” in the way you claim. You may as well say that a person’s recoil from a hot fire is based on a “purely subjective”, “favorite” skin temperature. This is an attempt to apply the language of conceptual thought (“favorite”) to a pre-conceptual event (sensation).

    “Many atheists are able to admit that even they base things to some degree on faith or hope.”

    If they base any belief on faith, their approach is as invalid as yours. I never said anything was wrong with hope, though. I’m not against hoping, wishing, dreaming, imagining. Unlike faith, none of these mental activities claims to prove a truth.

    “As for how I determine someone is a well-grounded Christian, I meant well-grounded in scripture. I am surprised I didn’t say that. I would not seek council from a Christian that did not know the entire Bible well. I would not seek council from someone like me, and I would not give council to another Christian.”

    I’m also fairly certain you would not seek counsel from any of the Christians I mentioned before — a white supremacist, a liberal lesbian pastor, and an orthodox Catholic priest — even if they had read the entire Bible 1000 times more than those you counsel with currently. Why not? In what way are they not “well-grounded” in scripture?

    “I am not sitting around, flipping through the Bible, picking and choosing what fits with my liking.”

    You may as well be. You are accepting counsel only from Christians who for the most part already believe as you do and will most certainly affirm your belief that certain parts of the Bible can be interpreted away, forgotten, or otherwise discarded. You take on authority that those with whom you’ve chosen to seek counsel have the correct answers. You’ve even claimed that the entire Bible is true though you haven’t even read a huge chunk of it! How can you say your faith about that at least is not blind?

    “I can’t think of a test for proving God. The only test I know of applies to those who want to find Him. The thing is, I don’t need to prove it to myself and I can’t prove it to you.”

    Here are those classic theistic “end of debate” phrases I talked about earlier — “proof” that applies only to those who believe, no “need to prove” it to myself, etc. If you’re truly satisfied that this response constitutes a validation of your belief, then we have nothing left to discuss. If you just keep saying over and over “I can’t prove my claim, but it’s true”, there’s nothing more I can say but that your claim is invalid and I will not grant it further consideration. I hope you will at least realize that if you consider your position valid, all your intellectual enemies (me included) also have valid positions. If it’s valid for you to claim your belief is true without providing objective proof, it’s valid for everyone else to do the same. Everyone’s beliefs must therefore be equally valid and equally true. I hope you’re getting more comfortable with the idea of relativism.

    Also, there were lots of questions I asked in my last post that you haven’t answered. I don’t expect you to try to answer any of them here, but I urge you to carefully consider one for yourself: how have you come to the belief that there is “more to reality than what can be scientifically observed”? What of this “unobservable reality” have you somehow managed to observe in order to draw such a conclusion? And by what means of observation have you done so? Because if you’ve observed some evidence of it, then it’s not beyond observation as you claim, and should be open to observable tests. And if you can’t observe it, what evidence could your belief possibly rest on? How does such a belief differ from a mere wish or hope that there’s something else out there?

    “You have pre-determined that you will dismiss any supernatural experiences, no matter how compelling.”

    No, you just haven’t provided any compelling evidence. And now you’re also claiming that you can’t. When somebody claims as truth something that they can’t demonstrate objectively, rational people will dismiss it as invalid. I’m relatively certain that even you do this all the time in every other sphere of life. But you’ve written yourself a blank check for this one irrational belief.

    And remember: We’re the ones open to seeking truth by conducting a test of your claim. It’s you who are shutting down this possibility.

    “I would be happy to respond to the worship posts, which I have already read.”

    I’ll be interested to read your responses.

  48. I just realized that I still have not responded to this. I just wanted to let anyone who might be reading this know that I do have a response, I just haven’t gotten around to writing it. There is a lot here that I have a reply for.

  49. In response to Rebecca’s last comment (Hey, I only took two weeks!)…

    The husband thing (paragraph 1) – I’m not an abused wife either and I can also justify why my husband is a good husband using “real sensory-based objective data about his behavior,” but there were other guys I dated that I could also say the same thing about. There is something more that I feel for my husband.

    He also dated other women. Apparently, they did not all see him for the magnificent husband potential that he has. Or perhaps, that other thing that we have for each other – that intangible, non-objective attraction that we have for each other – they did not have with him.

    Even before we realized that we had more than friendship in our future, several people we worked with said that there was a spark between us. That is not an objective quality that either of us possess individually. That is a subjective response we each have to the other.

    I’d like to point out that in Part IV of this post you lamented the dangers of subjectivism in morality. Now you seem to be saying “Okay, yes, my decisions are subjective. But so are everybody else’s!” So our discussion has at least led you to recognize the subjectivism inherent in your position. I’ve been successful at something.

    Moral relativism is dangerous and I do base my decisions in part on subjective data. The two are not mutually exclusive.

    I went off on a tangent about the role subjectivism plays in our lives because you were denying that it does. This does not seem realistic to me.

    When it comes to God, I am not saying that I base my belief of His existence on things that are subjective and exclusive to me, though. Yes, it it based in part on my own personal experiences, but these experiences are common to other people. When I first started praying to God to reveal himself to me, I had a set of experiences. When I talked to/listened to/read other Christians’ accounts, something which I had never done previously in my life, I found that my experiences were common to others.

    You said, “I’m not sure what you hope to demonstrate by the “favorite tastes” question.

    Then you said, regarding that question, “But even though sensations are internally experienced, they are not “subjective” (that is, they are not internally created via an active process that is detached from reality).

    And I say, “BINGO!”

    Even though my sensations (experiences with God) are internally experienced, they are not “subjective” (that is, they are not internally created via an active process that is detached from reality).

    I’m also fairly certain you would not seek counsel from any of the Christians I mentioned before — a white supremacist, a liberal lesbian pastor, and an orthodox Catholic priest — even if they had read the entire Bible 1000 times more than those you counsel with currently. Why not? In what way are they not “well-grounded” in scripture?

    In this assumption, you would be 100% incorrect. I am willing to seek the council of anyone who knows the Bible. I would then compare what they said with the scripture they cited and, of course, pray and ask God for guidance.

    When I first became a Christian, I benefitted from the knowledge of a strict Catholic, a Jehova’s Witness, and a liberal Jew, none of which have the same theological views as I do.

    I really am not as much of a hypocrite as you think I am. :)

    I don’t know that there is much more to say here. I am not trying to convince you that God is real, here. I don’t think that could be done via this medium anyway. I do appreciate that you have given me a lot to think about, though. I have really gained a better understanding of my own views.