Is faith a reliable path to knowledge?

Discussion in 'Comparative Religion' started by James R, Jul 23, 2015.

  1. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    The word "theist" is not usually used in a way that excludes believers in mainstream religions, but we can go with your redefinition of the term for now if you like.

    You never really answered the question I posed in my opening post about how confident you are that God exists. You've made one statement saying that you theists refuse to put percentages on things, so I'm not expecting that you'll say "I'm 95% confident that God exists". But I'll assume (correct me if I'm wrong) that you're very very confident that God exists. Who knows? Perhaps you have no doubt at all in your mind about this.

    What I am still wondering is how you got to this level of confidence about your belief in God. That is, what makes you so sure that your "common sense" is a reliable guide when it comes to such weighty matters? Faith isn't part of the reason you have confidence that God exists, you say. So is it all just a matter of "common sense" and subjective experience for you? What's the most important reason why you believe in God?

    Do you think it is rational for the theist to rely mainly on his own common sense and personal experience as a source of reliable knowledge about God?

    What is God-consciousness? That sounds a bit like something Deepak Chopra would talk about. And what is self realisation?

    Wouldn't you agree that the major religions have all had some major philosophers? In fact, since religion is often about enlightenment and the good life, isn't it strongly connected to philosophy?

    What other information would you need?

    Do you think "believe" is the best word to use in the context of the footballer son? I know that people say things like that in everyday speech, but in this thread we're trying to be careful about distinguishing shades of meaning, aren't we?

    I'd suggest that you may hope that you son will one day be a great footballer. You might expect that he will be a great footballer. You may have confidence in his ability to become a great footballer if he works hard at it. And I'd say that the expectation and the confidence are evidence-based, because he has mad skills. The hope is a separate thing - that's about you, not about him. I don't think the football example is really comparable to believing that God is real, unless the belief in God is evidence-based in a similar way.

    Interestingly, you talk about "subjective evidence". What is that, exactly? Are you trying to import the term "evidence" into what you previously referred to as "common sense" or "personal experience"? Because I'd prefer to use the term "evidence" to refer to objective things that other people can agree about, and not just a personal perception.

    I try to base my plans for the future on a rational analysis of the available evidence regarding how things are now and how they are likely to change in the future. But you seem to be saying something like we should rely on wishful thinking. Cross your fingers, make a random choice and hope for the best. Maybe I'm unfairly exaggerating your position on this. But it seems more fatalistic than mine. And I wonder: do you assume God has a plan for you, and do you think it's ok to have faith (trust) in that plan?
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2015
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  3. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    You say that to believe without evidence would be an empty gesture. I'm assuming that you do not consider your own belief an empty gesture, so what evidence is there that is demonstrably more than confirmation bias applied to one's experiences.
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  5. Jan Ardena OM!!! Valued Senior Member

    If someone brings the subject up, then I may explain my position, and answer any questions one might have about my position. But I wouldn't go out openly looking to convince someone of my position.

    Common sense is built in. This means you are allowed to grow by replacing previous notions that seemed right at the time, due to my level of experience.
    I think you're thinking that everyone sees God the way you do. So everyone must access him in the way you would access him.

    They are the foundation of paths to knowledge. Without them, you wouldn't stand a chance. The biggest thing is that we are able to learn from our mistakes, and that is always a good thing.

    Firstly what would be the purpose of believing the earth to be flat or ball shaped.
    How is knowing that, going to enhance my life? If I somehow needed to know that, then common sense would tell me that cannot know that by sitting in my living room. I would have to go out and make enquiries.

    I think you would be justified in believing that ghosts exist because you have seen them.
    The former example doesn't require you to believe that ghosts exist, but you can accept that the explanation makes sense.

    Let's say your child is ill, and the doctors say, there is not much chance that she will survive the week. If someone came to you and said I can heal your child through prayer, and they told you how many people they have healed in the past. Would accept that offer, or would you reject it as a unrealistic hope, and let your child die?

    Why would anyone need to have faith that the sun was going to rise tomorrow, unless they thought the sun wasn't going to rise? My point is, we can't manufacture faith on a whim, anymore than we can manufacture happiness. It goes hand in hand with that exact, unique scenario.

    Because Jesus isn't dealing with religious faith. In fact he wasn't a big fan of the religion of his day. Jesus explains who and what God is, and who what his followers are in relation to God. He is teaching the right religion for the human being, and that is anything that teaches you to love God.

    I think there are different degrees of hope.
    Imagine in a war situation, where you know there are enemy soldiers walking the streets, searching houses to see if anyone is in them to rape and murder, all while you (the man) watch. Then murder you. A horrific situation.
    If you and your family happen to be in one of the houses, all you have is hope that they will not find you.
    That is different than hoping the sun will shine tomorrow because you want to wash your car.

    It's obviously not that, is it. Otherwise the sun would shine tomorrow so that I can wash my car, simply because I hoped it would. Now that you've eliminated that as a no no, go back and try to see what it could mean.

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  7. Jan Ardena OM!!! Valued Senior Member

    But it has a meaning.

    It's not based on confidence. To me it's kind of obvious that God exists, to the point where I don't shout about it. I can also understand what you're saying, and why for you God doesn't exist. But I can't explain to you in a way that you would understand, because I don't possess the words to do that. My way of doing that is to tackle it as and when the discussion calls for it, rather than give a summary.

    The reality, I don't look at it in the way you do, and you don't accept the way I look at it.
    Because all these questions you're asking, I've already answered them in our discussions over the years.

    That sounds rigid, and compartmentalised to me. I don't make a note of only dealing with common sense. I tend to use whatever is at my disposal, which I commonsensical

    It is basically becoming consciously aware of who and what you are, who and what is God, and your relationship to God.

    I think religions start out good, or close to the instructions given by people whose consciousness is advanced in God consciousness, developed through devotional service. But eventually they become corrupt.

    I'm sure you wouldn't waste time hoping if he had two left feet.
    It's a natural process. You don't sit down and scientifically, or philosophically work it out.

    The reality is, it happens really fast, in real time. Plus you're living your life, going to work, doing the crossword, watching you tube. Our lives are usually preoccupied with stuff. We don't generally have time to give these thing 100% thought.

    It's the same with belief in God. It occurs in real time, and permeates through our lives. It only becomes a philosophical scenario when we have time to discuss, and/or ponder on how we see things.
    In short. Theists do not see God the way you do, because they wouldn't be theist. You have to accept certain things, otherwise you're only going to see it from your perspective.

    If you see a ghost, is that evidence that ghosts exist? Yes. Because you've seen it.
    But you cannot objectively prove that you have seen it.

    Ya think!

    You keep coming back to the same point, with the same question just put differently.
    I don't assume anything about God, and faith will naturally kick in, as and when it necessary.

  8. machaon Registered Senior Member

    Is faith a reliable path to knowledge? Let me put it this way: No it is not. A more thorough answer is not neccessary. If you disagree, then you lack faith in my ability to state the obvious.
  9. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    Jan Ardena:

    Thanks for your replies to my questions. Please forgive me if some of them appear repetitive.

    I'm still puzzled about how you go from hoping that God exists, or thinking that it is common sense that God exists, or having the gut feeling that God exists, to knowing that God exists. Would you say that you know that God exists? I guess this is the same question I asked before: how confident are you that God exists? 100% sure, with no room for doubt? Or something a little less than that? I mean, maybe for you it's a matter of being so sure that God exists that any residual doubt is utterly negligible. But so far, I don't think you've directly answered this question about your level of confidence in God's existence.

    I'm quite sure that the vast majority of people don't see God the way I do. After all, most people are religious - or at least say they believe in God.

    Common sense is something you develop as you grow up and learn about the world. As I said earlier, what you would regard as common sense may not necessarily be shared by other people, although common sense wouldn't be called "common" if people's ideas of common sense didn't overlap.

    You say that for you it is common sense to accept that God exists. I'm just not sure where this sense that it is common sense actually comes from. Does it have to do with the fact that most people believe that God exists, and you'd be the odd one out if you did not believe? Is it just following the herd?

    I agree with you that personal experience gets us to a certain point in our understanding of the world, but there is a lot that we can never know through personal experience. I don't know that the planet Pluto exists through personal experience or common sense, for example, although in theory I suppose I could see (a fuzzy image of) Pluto directly through a powerful telescope. I can't know that microwaves exist through common sense or personal experience. A lot of knowledge about the world comes from objective evidence rather than subjective experience.

    Don't you want to know things, even if they are not directly useful in your daily life? Does all knowledge need to a have a purpose?

    I could argue that knowing the shape of the Earth enhances your life in the sense that by knowing that you have greater access to the true nature of the world in which you live and your place in that world. You might disagree. But I would equally argue that knowledge is valuable for its own sake, and not just for what it can do for us personally.


    To what extent are you aware of the unreliability of human perceptions? Eyewitness testimony is often not as trustworthy as you might think it is. People are prone to all kinds of cognitive biases and misapprehensions.

    Do you think it is wise to accept without question a single person's testimony about an extraordinary occurrence as reliable evidence of that occurrence?

    Could it be that I was mistaken about my ghost sightings? Do you think it would be a good idea to enquire into the details to check whether alternative explanations might better explain my perceptions?

    And if I were to tell you that Jesus touched my soul and gave me a warm fuzzy feeling inside, would you uncritically accept that testimony as evidence of Jesus's existence?

    I'd tell them to do their darndest with their prayers. Their praying is unlikely to do any good, but it won't do any harm to my child either. If it makes them feel like they are doing something useful, then it is just a harmless waste of their time.

    As for their testimony that they have healed many people in the past through the power of prayer, I would be extremely skeptical. That is because I am aware of objective scientific studies that have been done on the efficacy of prayer, and prayer has in all cases turned out to be no better in terms of outcomes than a placebo.

    Recall that in my opening post I gave the sun rising tomorrow as an example of an evidence-based belief, not as an example requiring religious faith. It is a reasonable expectation based on long experience and an understanding of why the sun rises at all.

    On the other hand, if the existence of God is not established convincingly by evidence, then it seems to me that faith is the only thing that can fill the gap between the lack of evidence for God and the certain conviction that he exists.

    Jesus didn't need to convince his followers to believe in God's existence. They already believed in God. His job was to teach them a particular conception of God, and a way to live their lives in light of that conception.

    I agree with you that there is more at stake in the outcome of whether a soldier shoots me compared to whether the shine shines so I can wash my car. I also agree that I would be hoping harder for a good outcome in the soldier situation than I would in the car wash example.

    I don't see how this relates to the statement "Faith is the substance of things hoped for", though.

    I've already discussed what I think it could mean.

    Yes. It's "common sense" to you.

    Clearly, though, the existence of God isn't as obvious to everybody as it is to you. Why do you think that is?

    That leaves us at somewhat of an impasse, then, doesn't it? Apparently, I have explained myself well enough for you to think that you know why I don't believe in God. But I'm still at a loss as to why you have so much trust in this "common sense" of yours, and why you don't feel the need for the kind of objective evidence that could convince anybody else that God exists.

    I still don't feel like I really understand the way you look at it. Obviously it's different from how I look at it.

    Was your starting point for belief that God exists common sense and personal experience, and then the scriptures and stuff backed that up? Or did reading scriptures make it a matter of common sense for you? Or was there some other factor at work?

    May I ask: has there every been a time in your life when you did not believe that God exists? Were you brought up in a religious tradition, or in an environment in which belief in God was taken as a given?

    So, your belief in God is down to a mixture of common sense, personal experience, and your readings of the scriptures?
  10. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member


    And may I ask what you have concluded about who and what you are, who and what God is, and what your relationship is to God? Or is that too personal to share?

    So the original scriptures are generally good, but their interpretation by the religious institutions is corrupted in your opinion?

    How do you reconcile the many differences between the scriptures of the major world religions? Are there scriptures you reject? Do you just look for the common ground you perceive in the various scriptures - a sort of "lowest common denominator" approach, as somebody else mentioned (I think in a different thread)? Or are some scriptures more authoritative or correct than others (and, if so, which ones)?

    So belief that God is real is something that just kind of happens to somebody? Suddenly it just makes sense (common sense) to them that God is real? Something like that? And then later, on reflection about one's coming to believe, one starts to look for further justification (perhaps including objective evidence)? Isn't that a kind of confirmation bias - looking for evidence that supports your prior beliefs, rather than looking at the question objectively?

    These "things" I need to accept seem very nebulous to me. I keep trying to reach out and get a handle on what it is, exactly, that I'm supposed to accept so that I can put myself in the shoes of a theist like yourself, but when I ask specific questions I find that I get back sort of vague and often semi-mystical sounding answers. Is it that I should just believe and not ask so many questions? That seems to be a fairly common theme in religions. Too much thinking is bad?

    I can understand that a person might be complete convinced that ghosts exist because he truly believes he has seen ghosts. However, his report that he saw ghosts does very little to convince me that ghosts actually exist. To me, his eyewitness testimony on this extraordinary occurrence is a very weak form of evidence for his claim. For all I know, he could be deluded, mistaken, or simply making the whole thing up.

    It comes back to the oft-cited maxim that extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence.

    If ghosts actually existed, then the world would be radically different to the world as I currently conceive of it. I would be fundamentally wrong about the nature of existence itself. Therefore, I set the evidential bar very high when it comes to proof that ghosts exist. The same would be the case if somebody claimed that magical flying unicorns have been discovered in Madagascar, for example.

    It seems to me that your threshold for acceptance of the existence of flying unicorns is somewhat lower than mine. How many eyewitness reports would convince you that the unicorns exist? Just one? A few? Hundreds? Or would you want more evidence of a different kind (e.g. photographs or other objective evidence, perhaps)?

    You assume that God is the original cause of the universe, don't you? That's not a conclusion you reached on the basis of evidence. You start with your belief in God. You've decided that God must be the original cause, by definition. Therefore you conclude God is the cause. Or doesn't it work that way?
  11. Jan Ardena OM!!! Valued Senior Member


    I don't have to hope that God exists, anymore than you have to hope that God doesn't exist. Hoping for something, does not mean that you get what it is you hoped for. We agree on that. I can't remember when, if such a time existed, I believed in God, or that God existed. I don't know that God exists, but I believe He exists.

    Against the notions that God doesn't exist, I'm pretty confident I guess. But it's not something that I go about measuring. You'll just have to take my word for it, or make your assumption based on our discussion.

    Belief in God is shared by a lot of people.

    It seems natural to me. I've not believed in God all my life, it really came into prominence in the 90's. It's never occurred to me that God does not exist, it was a case asking who and what is God. I guess this means that God could be anything, big bang, the universe, a really big bloke in the sky, etc. I just didn't give it any real thought. The eureka moment came when I read a Bhagavad Gita. Then the connections were made. It wasn't so much the idea of yes God exists. It was the philosophical, and logical connections that drew me in.

    But there is a lot you can know about yourself, and God.

    Subjective experience is an interactive process. It is there all the time. Do you think that it is possible to develop ones subjective experiences to a point where you can discriminate between logic and illogic, truth and false? Or do you see it as an unstable, unpredictable, and chaotic field.

    No it doesn't.

    But probably it should. Or we should be only interested in knowledge that advances us to the best human beings we can be.

    It enhances your life, then you die, or you die prematurely, never getting to the definitive answer. This seems like your life is not your own, but part of a big picture (your service are greatly appreciated, and will benefit mankind after you're gone).

    I see life as my own, and knowing whether or not the world is flat, does not enhance my life (not that I'm not interested in knowing), but ultimately it doesn't matter, if I'm going to cease to exist.

    It doesn't matter. What matters is, you saw it? That is evidence, to you.

    You see things everyday that you don't question, so why question seeing ghosts?

    People are also prone to be sharp and correct in what they see. It stands to reason.

    If you saw ghosts, you have no reason to doubt what you see, unless you actually doubt what you see. It's your call.

    How extraordinary is it?

    Why is it extraordinary?

    It doesn't matter whether or not another person believes you testimony to be true or false. They weren't there. It is only you who can decide this.

    Yes I would accept it. Why shouldn't I?
    Accepting it doesn't mean, I believe it, I would still not know whether or not you're telling the truth, until I have that experience, or it could be a trend. Other people describe the same thing. At this point I would become more interested, or not. I could read up on the teaching of Jesus, see if part of his mission was to touch souls giving people warm fuzzy feelings inside. See if his teaching matched up to your experience.

    Sooner or later I would cease accepting your claim, because it wouldn't have matched up to anything that I know or comprehend. It would fade into oblivion. Or be resurrected due to my own experiences, and connections.

  12. Jan Ardena OM!!! Valued Senior Member


    Wouldn't you hope that it works?

    In that situation, someone who loves their child will hope that faith healing will work, even if they believe it to be hocus pocus, nay, especially as they believe it be hocus pocus. But as you said, you wouldn't reject it, because there is a hope that it could work.

    There'd be no room for skepticism. You don't want to lose your daughter. That will be the topic on your mind. Even if you think of skepticism, common sense will tell you that such skepticism is futile in this particular situation. Abandon skepticism, and get on with the matter at hand, trying to save your daughters life.

    It is obvious to lots of people. Atheism isn't obvious, it takes a lot of denial, and refusal.

    My point is, no one exercises faith in the sun rising tomorrow, so you can't use that as an analogy of faith verses religious faith. If the sun doesn't rise tomorrow, it doesn't rise.

    There is not ''religious'' faith, there is just faith.

    When you say ''evidence of God'', what do you mean?

    If you believe that the universe does not need a creator, and God is defined as the original cause/creator, then what evidence are you looking for. You don't accept anything subjective, and you don't accept the scriptures as authoritative. So what are you looking for?

    Nobody teaches God exists. There are no temples or churches that dedicate their religion to 'God exists'. The only group who are concerned with God' existence, is the atheist group. So maybe the real question isn't ''Why do you believe in God'', but ''Why don't you believe in God''. Maybe my caption explains that.

    It's very simple, you are hoping that it will not happen to you and your family, but you have no way of controlling the outcome. You have put your fate into the hands of God, providence, anything that can get you out of this nightmare. For some people, as you know, face situations like these on a frequent basis (even if it 4 times a year). So they have a good understanding of faith, and what it is.

    Clearly it is obvious to a lot of people.

    God not existing, is not obvious.

    I understand why you don't believe in God, without your input.

    Like I said, I didn't believe in God, and there are lots of times I act selfishly, or for my own personal gratification, meaning i'm acting as though I don't believe in God. In fact thinking about it now, that's most of the time.

    I don't put trust in it (commonsense). It is a part of me.

    I don't mind objective evidence, but my life is lived in real time. Not in the future when science will uncover the truth about God' existence, only to find that it never will uncover such evidence. God and God' nature, is not in the field of science. So I'm confident that it's never going to happen. So I'm going to live my life, and proceed with trying to develop God consciousness.

    I don't recall a starting point. I just neither believed or not believed.

    The scripture helped to connect me with obvious logic, but to access it, I had to be open minded to it. I had to get suspend every I thought I knew, and accept what I read (not believe). When that occurs you are able to see it from it's perpective (at least that which is accessible to you), then the connections start. And the funny I found about it is, you are only able to access the parts that reflect your particular, conscious awareness position. If for example, you meditate, and follow instructions diligently, you get more access to understanding. And if you deviate, you tend to forget it. It is entirely interactable. This is why I can understand your concept of God and religion, because it is based purely in the material atmosphere, and I know that atmosphere well. I suspect we all do.

    Yes. Almost all the time.

    I was not brought up in a religious environment or tradition (unless you regard England in the 60's as religious?)

    Yes, I think we can work with that.

    Last edited: Jul 29, 2015
  13. Jan Ardena OM!!! Valued Senior Member


    That my body is not me, but mine.

    That mini ''me'' is part and parcel of a big me.

    In some cases, yes. In other cases the leaders, or organisations of these institutes, treat it more like a business, than a place where you can learn to love God.

    They use tried and tested patterns to appeal to the congregation, doing just enough to fool them into thinking this is real, and basically fleece them. It is no different to tv programmes. In order to keep the audience, they have to monitor what most people are watching, mimic them, and then try to entice us to watch their programmes. The viewers, the more advertisers, the more money. We live in a Ferengi society.

    Please Register or Log in to view the hidden image!

    I've not come across any. Do you have any examples?

    For me, no.

    Imagine you've never been in love, but you see people claiming to be in love, everywhere. So you ask someone what being in love is like. Do you think you will ever know what it feels like, through that kind of research? Now you want to conduct an experiment because you realise that the only way to find out is to fall in love. So you spot person who is very attractive to you (in all ways). You tell her about the experiment, and she agrees to take part in it. Now, you have to fall in love.

    Let's say you genuinely fall in love with each other, you will find that the reality is all that matters. The experiment is pointless, and can never yield results.

    If you want to understand this thing, then you have to become this thing as much as you can. Firstly, stop acting like you know stuff. You don't. You have a lot of information, you may understand lots of systems and stuff, but that isn't knowledge. What do you actually know? How do you know what you actually know?

    No. He doesn't believe he saw a ghost, he did see a ghost. As a result he believes that ghosts exist.

    Why should it matter that he convinces you?

    It's not extraordinary. It is extremely common.

    That's what you know, but what does he know?

    What you don't seem to understand is, I don't care about unicorns. They could exist, or not for all I care. So if someone sees a unicorn, I've no reason believe or not believe them. If it transpires that unicorns exist, great they exist. That was my state of mind growing up, about God. I didn't care.

    It's a definition. It doesn't matter whether I agree with it or not.

    On forums like these, we should accept that as a given. In that way we can move on, and learn more about God. Learning more is the key to deciding whether or not God exists.

    If you keep trying to crush the concept at it's core, then you will only accept God does not exist, because you'll have nothing to go on.

    Last edited: Jul 29, 2015
  14. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    Jan Ardena:

    Thankyou again for your detailed reply. I think I am coming to a better understanding of your position. This reply is a long one, and I appreciate that a point-by-point reply may be too much to ask.

    I think the main difference between us comes down to this idea of "objective evidence". You wrote:
    I'll perhaps pick this apart more below, but for now let's accept for the sake of argument science can't address the question of God's existence or nature. What worries me is that you're potentially spending a lot of time and effort on something that might have no factual basis. Suppose that God doesn't exist after all, contrary to what you believe. Then all that time you spend trying to develop God consciousness would be a wasted effort, wouldn't it? I'm very willing to concede that practices such as meditation may have side benefits that do not depend on the existence of God. There are plenty of atheists who meditate, for example. And things like studying scriptures may help develop life skills such as textual analysis and certain types of thinking, which are useful even when separated from a religious context. But the specific parts of your practice and study and devotion that are concerned with God would be wasted effort.

    For more conventional religious believers, the costs of their devotion to their God and their religion may be higher than it is for you, and the benefits smaller, if God turns out not to exist. A Muslim, for example, is expected to pray to Allah five times a day, to fast, to give money, to make a pilgrimage to Mecca and so on. What if Allah doesn't exist. Was all that time spent praying justifiable on the basis of side benefits, do you think? My own inclination is that, in large measure, it's wasted time.

    The second point of difference between us that I see is a difference in commitment to the idea of objective truth. I like to think that I place a high value on believing in and valuing things that are true - not just true for me subjectively, but that are objectively true. I would say that I value knowing what is true above believing in things that might make me feel good about myself, other people, the world, or whatever. I also believe that it is mostly for the best if other people know the truth about things, even if the truth may be harder to handle than a comforting fantasy.

    From what you've said, it seems to me that you don't really mind what people believe. If it's true for them, then that's ok. Let them believe what they want to believe, even if you don't believe it yourself and think you know better.

    Now you might argue that I'm an interfering busy body who ought to keep his nose out of other people's beliefs, because they are none of my business. But, in fact, other people's beliefs do affect me in various ways. Laws that apply to me are made on the basis of what other people believe. People start wars and hurt other people based on what they believe. And differing religious beliefs are an obvious source of conflict in the world. This is why I think a commitment to a joint effort to discover the Truth is a valuable goal to aim for. And the Truth I'm talking about is an objective truth that people can agree on based on rational analysis. If the best you can do to assert the supremacy of Allah over Vishnu is to argue from personal experience and opinion, then I don't see how there can be any hope of getting to a useful consensus between competing ideas.

    Now I'll respond directly to what you wrote above.

    Yes, we agree that hoping does not mean you get what you hope for.

    I don't know that God doesn't exist, but I don't believe that God exists. Like most atheists, I leave open the possibility that God might exist. Having said that, I think the evidence is quite overwhelming that none of the particular conceptions of God described in the texts of the major world religions exists. For example, if you put it to me that God has all the attributes and attitudes that he is described as having in the bible, then I say that's unlikely in the extreme - especially since the bible itself describes God in contradictory ways in different chapters.

    Maybe you should give some thought to this.
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2015
  15. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member


    Yes, but lots of weird beliefs have historically been shared by a lot of people and yet have still turned out to be wrong. Things aren't true just because a hundred (or a million) people believe they are true.

    You are I are not dissimilar in this, then. I didn't have a eureka moment as such, but rather a gradual move away from theism to atheism. In my case, I would say that it was the logical, scientific, philosophical, historical and psychological connections that led me away from belief in God and religion.

    Introspection can be valuable, but it only gets you so far in understanding yourself. Often, it turns out that you have blind spots regarding yourself that somebody else has to point out to you before you become aware of them. As for God, I'm very wary of the idea that looking inside yourself can give you reliable access to anything external. Whatever you feel or think or imagine about God, that may be just the product of your own mind rather than any connection to a divine being.

    I don't think you can learn to distinguish logic from illogic or true from false merely by thinking about things, or looking inside yourself. To learn the differences you must necessarily connect with the outside world.

    It is interesting that you mention logic. Logic is a particularly rigorous subject. You get better at logic only by studying it. And the thing about logical arguments is that everybody must agree on whether they are sound or not. Given a set of premises, there can be no debate as to whether a logical argument is valid or not. Either it is or it isn't - objectively. Disagreement is only possible where one party to the discussion doesn't understand what a logical argument is.

    I don't know what your exact views are, but you say you believe that you are more than your body. Therefore, it is likely that you believe either in some kind of afterlife or in something like reincarnation; either way, you believe that some part of you persists after your body's death. (On the other hand, you talk about ceasing to exist, so I could be wrong.)

    You seem to be arguing that nothing we do in life is important because in the end we all die. Or, maybe you're saying that we should enjoy life as much as possible before we die and not stress out about things that don't enhance our lives (make us happier).

    Atheists believe that we get one shot at life. There's no soul, so when we die that's the end. I would argue that this means it is :more: important to an atheist than to a believer in, say, reincarnation, to live a good life. Atheists only get one life. Reincarnated people have many chances at life, so if they have a bad one, not to worry because the next one might be better.

    I disagree with you strongly here.

    I have already said that I don't regard one person's perception or testimony about his subjective experience as good objective evidence that anything exists. And, as I said above, I think it is important that people believe things that are true. I think that the truth matters.

    I don't question the existence of forks, say, or phones. So why question the existence of ghosts? Because a fork is a mundane object - the kind of thing we expect to see in the physical world. We understand where it came from, how it interacts with the world around it, why it is there. Forks are also repeatable, regular, reliable, testable phenomena. If I put a fork in the drawer, then it will be there still when I go to get it, unless somebody else removes it in the meantime or something else mundane happens to move it.

    Ghosts, on the other hand, are notoriously unreliable and nebulous things. If a ghost is said to haunt a particular house, why can't anybody go there and see it? Why doesn't everybody agree that it is there? Why can't it be repeatably and reliably detected by any technological equipment (cameras, sound recorders, heat sensors etc.)? Why are ghosts so resistant to the gathering of objective evidence of their existence? Also, if ghosts were to exist, they would force us to fundamentally revise fundamental aspects of our understanding of the physical world, because reportedly ghosts do things that no known mundane thing does.

    In short, ghosts are extraordinary phenomena - if they are real. They :demand: questioning. It's important that we know the truth about ghosts. Extraordinary claims demand nothing less than extraordinary evidence.

    You say that if somebody sees a ghost they have no reason to doubt that it is real. I stridently disagree with you. I say they have every reason to doubt that what they saw was a real ghost. Or, more accurately, there are many good reasons for such doubt out there in the world. Most people who believe in ghosts are unaware of why they shouldn't believe in them.

    You're quite wrong. It matters whether other people believe you because it reflects on your credibility as a reliable witness. And they might actually be in a better position to judge whether you saw what you thought you saw than you are, because they might be more objective about it. Subjective experience often comes with baggage, as I have already pointed out.

    Because I might be imagining it. It might be self-generated perception that my mind conjured up for me for various personal psychological reasons. I could even being telling you lies - just making up a story for some reason or other. Or I could honestly be mistaken about what I experienced.

    It sounds like you're talking about gathering confirming or disconfirming evidence of my experience from other sources. That is, you're looking for independent, objective support for my claim. But up to this point you have been arguing that subjective experiences should be accepted at face value, uncritically. Haven't you?

    Let's move on to the discussion of prayer and hope and faith.
  16. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member


    No. Because I don't believe that prayer works. There's abundant evidence that goes against the idea that prayer is effective. Think about how many people have prayed for a good outcome which has not eventuated - I mean really think about that. We don't even need the formal studies, really, although such studies have been done.

    This is the "There are no atheists in foxholes" argument. The idea is that when an atheist is :in extremis:, facing death or disaster, he will reaches for the lifeline offered by religion - the power of prayer and the goodness of God and the conviction that God will help even an atheist who rejects him.

    The truth is that, on the whole, atheists don't undergo deathbed conversions to religious faith. There are plenty of atheists in foxholes, even as we speak. Google it if you don't believe me.

    I said that I wouldn't reject an offer to pray for my ill child, because it wouldn't do any harm. I did not say I would accept the offer because I would have a slim hope that it might actually work. Apart from anything else, it would be impolite to refuse a well-meant offer of help, even knowing that the offered help was almost certain to be useless. Moreover, accepting the offer might make the offeree feel as if they were doing something useful - something in their power to assist. Accepting the offer is more about having consideration for :them: than it is about grasping at any straw that might help my child, regardless of how thin and insubstantial it is.

    Think about the reverse situation. Suppose it is your daughter who is seriously ill, and a well-intentioned atheist says to you "Don't waste your time praying for God to help your daughter. That's futile. There's no room for God in this situation. So forget your belief in God and get on with trying to save your daughter's life. That time you spend praying is bound to be useless. You'd do better hassling the doctors to provide some more and attention to your daughter, and making sure she gets the best available medical care."

    Would you be grateful for this advice?

    I accept that atheism isn't the dominant position in our society. The "default" is religion. So, in that sense, atheism is not "obvious". But I'd say it what it requires is not, primarily, denial and refusal, but rather careful and critical thought.

    This is not to say that every atheist is a careful and critical thinker, but I think there is a larger proportion of those among atheists than there is among theists.

    The reverse of your argument would be that theism takes a lot of blind acceptance and wishful thinking.

    It's useful to consider what the "other side" would argue when you make sweeping generalisations, don't you think?

    I was quite careful to distinguish a few different ways that people use the word "faith" in my opening post. I am confident that the distinctions are valid, and the discussion earlier in the thread seems to bear that out.

    I'm actually open-minded about whether the universe needs a creator. I can only say that, as far as I'm aware, there's no good reason to suppose that the universe needs a supernatural creator.

    I actually think that the argument from design is the strongest argument in favour of the existence of God. Having said that, I am not convinced by the argument from design, mostly because I have quite extensive knowledge of how the universe and the life in it has evolved by natural processes, with no apparent input from any conscious creator.

    What do I mean by "evidence for God"? I mean objective evidence for God, of whatever kind.

    When it comes to subjective experiences and personal testimonies, I don't disregard them completely. The problem is that I don't interpret people's reported subjective experiences as evidence of God, but rather as evidence for things that are going on in their minds that probably have nothing to do with any external supernatural being. So, I acknowledge that people experience God, in a similar way that they experience ghosts or UFOs or ESP. There's :something: going on there - the :experiences: aren't empty, but at best they provide only very weak evidence of God.

    As for the scriptures, I know they were all written by people. I don't think those people had any better access to God than you or I have. I'm not sure what you mean by them being "authoritative". I accept that some of them are foundational texts for the various religious traditions, and in that sense they are "authoritative" as to what those religions are supposed to be about. But I don't accept that God exists just because the bible or the Qur'an or the Vedas tell me that God exists. They are not authoritative in that sense.

    There's a lot of objective evidence for what people believe about God. All religious writings attest to that. But no writings convince me that God actually exists.

    What kind of objective evidence would sway me towards a belief in God? Potentially, lots of things. Convincing miracles might work. Not a person who reports spontaneous remission from cancer, but a person who lost a leg and magically grew a replacement after praying to God, perhaps. Or a clear upsetting of the natural order. The Moon suddenly reversing its orbital direction and developing a large marking saying "God did this" on its surface, maybe. Or, on a more everyday level, how about a demonstration that prayers actually help sick people - that is, a statistically valid scientific study showing the efficacy of prayer beyond reasonable doubt? (For comparison, think about the 5-sigma level of statistical certainty that physicists demand before they announce the discovery of a new particle such as the Higgs boson.)

    If God is really all-powerful, why does he hide from us? Why doesn't he make himself known in objective, unequivocal ways?

    Temples and churches are built by people who already believe in God and who feel that the investment is worthwhile.

    It's a clever strategy of churches never to discuss the question of God's existence. Take it as a given. Assume it and don't question it. Never examine the basis of the religion too closely. Do so and you risk raising doubt in your membership and potentially losing adherents.

    You think you do, but I don't think you do. Not without my input.
  17. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member


    I addressed part of this quote above. I'd just like to add at this point that history has seen science slowly push up against religious claims. The progress of science has also tended to be a gradual process of taking over by science of domains of knowledge previously thought to be the province of religious revelation. There was a time when the Catholic Church proclaimed that the Earth was the centre of the universe, and anything anybody said to the contrary was false and a heresy. Science won that argument, though it took almost 400 years for the Church to admit that it got things wrong. The bible suggests that the mathematical number pi is equal to 3. That is incorrect. At one time it was thought that heaven was a place that existed beyond the orbit of Saturn, and that God lived there. Science has made that claim untenable.

    More recently, science has shown that you can induce certain religious-like experiences by stimulating the brain in certain ways. This is just one more reason why I think that personal religious experience is weak evidence for God.

    Thanks for sharing. I appreciate it.

    I'm not quite sure what you mean when you say my concept of God is based in the "material atmosphere". My concept of God is that God is a supernatural being. But I don't believe in the supernatural - which is, of course, consistent with my lack of belief in God.

    Many children in the 60s in England would have been regular church-goers, I think. I don't know how old you were in the 60s. For all I know, you might have been religiously inspired by the Beatles and their drug-fueled adventures with Indian gurus.

    I'm going to stop here for now. I will respond to the rest later.
  18. Ken Regenweald Registered Member

    Faith is most certainly a reliable path to knowledge, but it can also be/become a stumbling block if one chooses to allow his or herself to be blinded by their particular brand of faith.
  19. sideshowbob Sorry, wrong number. Valued Senior Member

    How can you reliably avoid being blinded by your own particular brand of faith?
  20. Kristoffer Giant Hyrax Valued Senior Member

  21. spidergoat pubic diorama Valued Senior Member

    Faith is in itself blindness to reason.
  22. Jan Ardena OM!!! Valued Senior Member

    What happens if don't have time to reason, or your mental state is such that you can't reason effectively?

  23. sideshowbob Sorry, wrong number. Valued Senior Member

    With practice you get faster.

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