But If You Can’t Disprove It Then Aren’t You Agnostic?

Agnostic

I don’t believe the title of this post is correct, and I’d really like input from all my readers on this topic.

But before I go there I’d like to go over my own views again.  The graphic to the right totally cracked me up and it was one of those “yup, that’s definitely the image I want for this post”.  As I promised I would a couple of times before, I’m turning a bit of a corner now in my series (you know the one which is not very clearly a series and has been going on for 9 months) and I’m going to express the other side of the story, and will share even more on that in my next post.

Now I’ve expressed the kind of labels I think apply to my own viewpoints here and here.  I believe they still fit.  As I mentioned there I don’t see a need to argue semantics and some believe the labels are used as tactical debate moves, but that kind of stuff just irritates me – I’d much rather get at the meat of what’s real rather than win some silly debate.  I was recently invited to a neighborhood evangelistic small group and was asked why I called myself atheist when I wasn’t really that certain about the existence of gods.  My response was something like this: “I know that by strict definitions I am implicitly an atheist, and I also know that I am agnostic as well, and I frankly think possibilian fits me the best, but feel free to call me whatever you like, as long as it’s not a curse (wink) – instead of getting the right label on me what I’d much rather do is get across to you the kind of views I have, and maybe I can learn some from yours as well if I force myself to truly listen.  I am doubtful that the kind of gods that humans have described exist, but my certainty level is not extremely high on that.  I’m not so sure I am a naturalist but it’s probably fair to say I lean in that direction.  I highly value humans and all conscious beings (hide that chicken leg I’m chewing on, gulp).  If someone put a table with all possible worldviews out before me and forced me to bet which was true I’d likely choose one that had naturalistic tones to it (whatever that means), but I do wonder quite a lot about reality and whether there is something deeper to reality that perhaps transcends any experience or description that any human is even capable of describing at this stage in our development.”  Now how’s that for some cool dinner talk?

And then in this post I described some more about my somewhat relaxed view toward all this stuff, and likely confused some of my readers a little.

So a little more on point – agnosticism – I am an agnostic, but I’m not the kind that says “I don’t know and you don’t either.”Agnostic2  My agnosticism is my own and it really just means that I’m not quite so sure of my conclusions.  Perhaps I haven’t read enough or learned enough to realize that I can be sure about this topic.  Perhaps one can be epistemically justified in claiming that gods do not exist.  Which leads to my question.

I’ve seen a lot of theists (and some agnostics) say that that if you cannot disprove something then you should claim agnosticism.  But there are some analogies that kind of fly in the face of this.  The issue is not about 100% certainty – all who are well thought know that.  I’ve given the example of ghosts before.  I don’t believe the arguments for the existence for ghosts is very convincing.  Do I have proof that ghosts do not exist.  Of course I don’t.  Perhaps they exist but for some reason would prefer to only make themselves known to a select few (sound familiar?).  But should I say I’m agnostic about ghosts?  This is not how most people practically communicate their everyday beliefs.  A lot of people simply say they do not believe in ghosts.  And yes I do believe this relates to the burden of proof, but I don’t see it as a burden I need to put on anyone else – for me it is a burden on myself – if I want to say I believe in ghosts then I feel I should have convincing reasons that justify that belief.  If I don’t have them then I feel I am epistemically justified in claiming that I believe ghosts do not exist.

Take the spirit in the closet that my 6 year old son is afraid of.  It’s dark in there at night and he’s seen some movement in there (shadows maybe), and noises as well (shifting toys maybe due to gravity).  But no matter what I tell him he still wants me to make sure the closet door gets closed before he goes to bed.  Can I prove there is no spirit in there?  Actually no – in fact it may very well explain things he has heard and seen.  Ah, but there seem to be some better explanations for those things (at least to me).  But are those really better explanations?  We don’t know do we?  But why would the spirit not come out and simply reveal itself to us, or why can’t we see it when we go look in there.  Well it’s invisible of course, and we should not place any assumptions about the way that spirit thinks – for all we know it has it’s reasons for wanting to remain invisible (sound familiar?).  So then I should be forced to claim agnosticism about that spirit then right?  I’m thinking not.  I’m thinking there is some good epistemic justification there.  Is there the same for more deeper metaphysical questions that may relate to spiritual beings in general?  I’m not so sure.  Perhaps the strange experiences that so many people claim to have really do end up going a bit beyond just anecdotal – more on that in my next post.  And then there’s just the general question of existence itself – deep questions that seem strange to think about sometimes.

Questions: If you are a theist, can you see that there may be cases where things cannot be proven yet we would still say it is fair to claim they do not exist?  What other thoughts do you have on this?  If you are not a theist, do you feel you are epistemically justified in claiming that you know gods do not exist (not 100%, but enough practically speaking), and if so how would you formulate that?

Advertisements

56 thoughts on “But If You Can’t Disprove It Then Aren’t You Agnostic?

  1. I explain myself this way. I am agnostic on the God question. Since it is “possible” that a deity of some sort may reveal itself to us in the future, I can not say with 100% certainty there is no god. Possible? Sure. Probable? No. As far as the Gods humans presently worship or have worshiped in the past, I can, with great confidence, say that those gods are the invention of humans. It is for this reason I am an atheist. I live my day to day life as if no God exists.

    Now, I could explain all this to someone who asks or I could just say, I am an atheist. I choose the latter. My position irritates some atheists but…I don’t much care. 🙂

  2. I’ve always thought “agnostic” just meant you didn’t know? I didn’t realize it was an epistemic claim. I’m sure there are subcategories out there!

    I would never make a claim to knowledge about God. I don’t know. I’m an agnostic. But then again, I’ve never had a religious experience. I think the experience is the crux of the matter. Like your son’s fear of the closet ghost, we all have to decide for ourselves.

    Then again, you could have an Abraham on the mountainside moment: Am I crazy? Do I trust that voice in my head?

    Oh, it’s complicated for sure.

  3. For me, I suppose “agnostic” fits better than “atheist”. But it sound a tad too intellectual and is often misunderstood. I’ve had suggestions that I am “apatheist” or “ignostic”, but those terms also confuse people.

    I usually just say that I am “not religious.” People understand that pretty well, and mostly make the right assumptions about it.

  4. I think it is fair stating quite clearly that the gods man has dreamed of do not exist, and cannot exist. They are so clearly rooted in physiologically determined superstitions and paranoia, anthropological needs, and cultural necessities that they simply do not deserve to be given any time of day regarding existence. That said, the cosmos is such a mystery to us (specifically, the nature of dark matter and energy) that trying to define pure naturalism seems a tad ludicrous. For all we know, thoughts have a very real energy and ghosts (to use your example) might be nothing more than a very much alive person remembering, say, their old family home, mentally walking through the space and by doing this somehow reanimating residue energies left behind.

    Strong atheism, though, is required now, in this early phase of the 21st Century, to bolster our species shift to Humanism. If we can exorcise ancient superstitions we can clear the space of unnecessary noise and then, and only then, can we start having real and better conversations about the things that truly matter.

  5. Hi Bruce – very similar perspective to my own, only I just have a little less confidence in my conclusions. And the gods that humans presently worship do seem a bit too anthropomorphic to be real. Inventions is definitely where I lean as well.

  6. Hi Rung2diotimasladder – I’m not really sure if agnosticism qualifies as an epistemic claim (still reading up on epistemology) – the epistemic claims I mentioned were related to positive claims of knowing one way or another.

    I’m totally with you regarding never having a religious experience – I was convinced that Christianity was true at one point in my life, but never really had any burning bush or seeing Jesus in the sky type experience. I used to believe very strongly that one could have a relationship with the God of the bible, but never really had any experience that was anything near what a real relationship with a person is. I went into more details about that a few posts back.

    Complicated is right – as you note even if I did have some Abraham on the mountainside moment, the first thing I would do for sure would be to head to a psychiatrist.

  7. Hi Neil – Yes, “not religious” is exactly what I say to someone who I don’t know all too well. If they ask further then they get the long answer (and then they usually wish they hadn’t asked 😉 ).

    Yeah, I may have mentioned the word apatheist before (that describes my wife best), but you are right if someone uses that word it usually conjures up the blank clueless stare in response.

  8. Hey John – that’s some thought provoking stuff. You describe the reasons for believing the gods of man are not real very much the way I do. I’ve seen you mention that other stuff about thoughts and energy before and it’s very interesting to me.

    Your last paragraph sounds very practical – sometimes cleaning house in order to start over fresh is the most productive way to go. This seems especially needed for the most extreme of believers. I’m a little conflicted on that though given my desire to be honest about my beliefs.

  9. As always, this is an excellent post, Howie. And it won’t surprise you to hear that I feel much the same way you do about it.

    Practically, I live as a naturalist, humanist, and atheist. I don’t believe in gods, I place a high value on human life, and I’ve never had any experience that I would classify as “supernatural.” But like you, I don’t necessarily discount the existence of any kind of “spiritual” realm. In fact, there’s a large part of me that would like to believe that existence continues in some way beyond our physical lives, though I don’t feel that there’s any solid evidence to back up the idea.

    So to answer your question, I’m close to 100% sure that the revealed religions are all false. I’m most sure about Christianity being false, since it’s the one I’m most familiar with. But I, like most everyone here, am agnostic about the idea of some god or “transcendental force.” And I also usually refer to myself as “not religious” when asked.

  10. I often use the term “non-believer” when Mormons, JWs, and (yes, even) Catholics come to my door. Most seem to immediately know what I mean. Of course, they want to know why. Sometimes (depending on my mood), I’ll provide more details. It’s led to some very interesting discussions.

    As for atheist, agnostic, or apatheist, I don’t feel any of them truly define me. I think (as I’ve mentioned on my blog), Pantheism is probably the label that fits me best because I feel a very deep and emotional connection with the Universe. In fact, in my book, I describe it as the “Universal Presence.”

    IMO, belief in a “God” is just one way humans try to explain their existence.

  11. I’ve never actually thought about epistemic claims in relation to the terms “agnostic” and “atheist”…I just made my assumptions. I suppose if you call yourself an atheist, there’s more of an epistemic claim, something like “There is no God.” Otherwise you’d just call yourself an agnostic, right? Which is why I don’t call myself an atheist. But when you say “agnostic” it really doesn’t seem clear whether you think God is knowable. As you said in your post, better to elaborate and avoid those ambiguities.

    I think people do have real religious experiences, some of which don’t involve miracles. For instance, my buddy, who’s not at all religious (not even an adamant atheist…just like most people, he doesn’t think about these things all that much) and he said he was in the middle of a concert (he’s a musician) and he suddenly felt at peace with the world, that everything was perfect and as it should be. “At one with the universe”—that sort of thing. He said he didn’t remember playing, but was told by others that it was a spectacular performance. He claimed it was a religious experience, but didn’t follow up by becoming a Jesus freak or doing anything different. He just had it, and that was that. Other such experiences are catalogued nicely in William James’ “Varieties of Religious Experience”. It’s an interesting phenomenon that apparently happens all the time to non-religious folks.

    But yeah, if I start hearing voices telling me to kill people, I’m heading to the psychiatrist. Unless my mind is too far gone to make such a rational decision. I hope that never happens!

  12. Hey Nate – yup, I relate to everything you’ve written here. Only difference being that I probably wouldn’t say I’m near 100% sure, but the revealed religions that I’m familiar with do have a bunch of issues that put me at a much higher confidence level than my non-belief in a “spiritual realm”. As I’ve posted before the whole traditional “POG” concept is very doubtful.

  13. Hi Nan – ok, I can’t believe you’ve had Catholics come to your door! 😉 Never seen that before. When anyone religious knocks at my door they have to listen to my long answer.

    Yeah, I’ve looked into pantheism a little – Spinoza’s views (and Einstein who said he related to a Spinoza-ish god concept) seemed to line up with pantheism. Spinoza’s views are a bit tough to get a good grasp of though.

  14. Hi Tina (rung2diotimasladder) You are totally right – I’ve heard of several people who aren’t religious who have had that kind of “at one with the universe” kind of experience. Can’t say I’ve ever had that. You may find this related post interesting. Victoria has several interesting posts on her blog relating to explanations about these kind of experiences from a neuro-scientific view.

  15. As far as greater powers are concerned, I am open to the possibility that some entity may have created the order in our universe or on a larger scale, but if so, that it is very unlikely that such an entity is directly involved with what is happening post-Big Bang.

    As far as religion is concerned, if prodded, I will follow Jesus’ lead and express my humanity.

  16. Hey Jason – I’m very open to all possibilities as well. There may very well have been some thinking intelligent minds that started things off, but what I’ve never figured out is why people seem so bothered by the idea of the start of the universe being some simple, necessary, non-contingent, non-thinking mechanistic laws and stuff (technical term 😉 ). We know from science that complex can become developed from simple given the natural laws that science has found. Theists think that the best explanation for everything is an intelligent mind, but this is even more complex given that our only empirical evidence involving minds leads us to believe that minds are generated from very complex structures. And traditional (POG type) theists go even further and say that this “elegant” solution of theirs is not only an intelligent mind, but an intelligent mind that somehow knows absolutely every fact or piece of information that can possibly be known in existence. If that’s not more complex than the naturalistic explanation then I don’t know what is. So to be honest when theists come and try to sell me their God belief by telling me that my “everything from nothing” belief is insane, I can’t help but think- “well yeah, existence is puzzling for sure, but the belief you’re trying to sell me is even way more puzzling”.

    None of that was directed at you Jason, just thinking out loud. Ok, now I’ll step off my soap box – hope you’re having a great weekend Jason! 🙂

  17. I’m totally with you Howie. The problem is that we are trying to have a defined answer to something beyond our comprehension. In doing so, people are being led astray from truth to a position where they are convinced to have answers to unknowable questions.

    Whether things all occurred naturally, or were created by an entity, the question still remains – where did it all come from? Or, how could the stuff/entity have always been there without coming from somewhere?

    Claiming to know the unknowable seems a bit ignorant/arrogant. Pride of belief is possibly the biggest problematic aspect of having belief. We should always be prepared to be wrong should we be interested in understanding the truth.

  18. Very well said Jason. I’ve got nothing to add to that – your comment expresses my own views very nicely!

  19. Well stated, and as always, a respected and cerebral approach, Howie. To answer your question for theists, I think yes there are cases where things cannot be proven but we can say they don’t exist with confidence. Like Bertrand Russell’s teapot orbiting Jupiter. The reason is because we have confident knowledge about the nature of teapots and there is no plausible way for one to have found its way as a satellite of the gas giant. On the other hand we don’t really know much about God, I mean the Judeo-Christian deity. God is mysterious. NDT has a quote about God is an ever receding explanation with the advancement of science, but what is disagreeable is this is only the god-of-the-gaps. I think the Judeo-Christian God is mysterious and cannot be excluded by the pillars of science and reason. Neither can God be proved by one of those pillars and that’s why mystery is mystery.

    I’m blabbing on too much. 🙂 Oh one more thing. Have you listened to any Veritas Forum videos with Justin Barrett? He’s a psychologist at Oxford who studies religious belief and has a very interesting point about differentiating God from ghosts (pixies, spirits, etc.) from the perspective of evolutionary psychology.

  20. Hey Brandon – I’m very glad you stopped by because I was beginning to wonder if I had run off all the theists. 😉

    I wonder if it could be said that we don’t really know much about Vishnu as well. I think that our imaginations can create these ideas which can very well be just that – imaginative ideas created by our own minds. Also, saying “God is mysterious” kind of presupposes the existence of it which has some circularity to it. The ideas of ghosts or spirits seem very mysterious to me as well. So I’m not sure I see the distinction there.

    But that doesn’t mean that I don’t see a possible distinction. For me the distinction between ghosts and the idea of gods is that gods are typically described as the underpinnings of all of existence, and I do think that puts it in a different category. The thing I haven’t found however is whether that category distinction is enough to say we should claim knowledge of non-existence in the one (e.g. ghosts), and that we should not be able to claim that kind of knowledge for the other (personal, creative minds involved in humanity). Either way I think my exchange with Jason on this post, and especially Jason’s last comment describes my feelings in general even if I were to conclude that strong atheism is not epistemically tenable.

    Regarding Justin Barrett I’ll try and check that out. Is this it? If so it’ll have to be prioritized on my must watch list (which is growing) because it’s a bit long to watch right away. 🙂

    How was Haiti? Was that a mission trip?

  21. Howie, I’ll have you know that this post is the first post that I have converted from text into voice. So I listened to everything you had to say in the sound of female voice…which made some of your parenthetical remarks quite amusing. I have been noticing how tedious it can be working through the myriad of blogs I like to follow, so I finally enabled my MS Word voice converter; now I just have to get through all the comments.

    As for your post, I love the diplomatic atmosphere you create, it’s something I need to learn how to do. The story about your son is interesting because you ask, “But why would the spirit not come out and simply reveal itself?” To be comical, that would remove the element of fear that these spirits thrive on. That being said, if fear were removed from the equation, then the whole idea of defining the properties of a spirit would come into play, which has never been done other than speculation. Can spirits reveal themselves? Can they have conversations? Apparently not, unless one wants to play the demonic possession game. Thus I feel epistemically justified in not believing in dieties because, like spirits, their properties are just too vague.

    Great blogging here, thank you for allowing my comments…

  22. Hey LEjames – word to voice converter sounds like an awesome idea. Is that built into your browser or do you have to copy the text over? I wonder what I sound like as a woman. 😉

    Yeah, diplomatic is kinda my style. Several reasons for it: partially my personality and also intended to create an atmosphere where more productive conversations can happen across barriers.

    Your response to the question is interesting because you’ve formulated reasoning for why you feel epistemically justified. The vagueness issue is a good one and it reminds me of the idea behind ignosticism. I think there is some relation there. I always like to think of the opposing viewpoints, and since there’s been only one theist commenting on this post I’m forced to do their work for them. So I suppose a theist’s response might be that some of the properties of gods are not vague – namely “intelligent thinking minds, creators of everything, personal and desiring interaction with humans”.

    I appreciate your positive feedback and your comments are always welcome here.

  23. Howie, I’m with you and Jason on knowledge and confidence regarding deities. But, what’s interesting is that smart people out there disagree with us. On one end we’ve got Richard Dawkins and the other end is William Lane Craig. Why are there approaches and thresholds different from ours? I think it’s because we construct our worldviews (i.e. postmodernism). If Craig is urged to make theism rational, he can construct this worldview. (Although, he always acknowledges the Holy Spirit caveat). If Dawkins is urged to make theism irrational, he can construct this worldview. They are working with the same evidence and the same mysteries, but come to opposite conclusions. So, why are we less certain than them? And, why can we be less certain and yet still I’m a theist and you are not? I mean I don’t know the answers to questions like these, but I think they are pretty valuable to ponder.

    There is definitely conceptual overlap between YHWH, Vishnu, and ghosts. But, their difference is important too. I’ll tell you something interesting that Barrett talks about (and the YouTube video you linked is worth adding to your queue if the evolutionary psychology of religious beliefs interests you!). Barrett operates with the theory that belief in gods has evolved into the human brain. Then, a creator deity could have ordered the universe so that humans evolved the propensity to believe in a creator deity, whereas lesser spirit beings do not have the capability to order the universe as such. What does this mean? This means that evolutionary psychology cannot exclude the existence of a creator deity. Now, this does not differentiate between YHWH and Vishnu or any other creator deities. But, it does differentiate them from lesser spirit beings. The lesser spirit beings are threatened by evolutionary psychology as the product of an overactive imagination.

    Barrett’s argument is an example of a more general idea I hold. The idea that rationality is useful in excluding possibilities, but it has limited usefulness in establishing what kinds of beings actually exist without hard evidence. In this way we can narrow down what God could be like, but we cannot positively say that this particular conception of God is true. I guess that’s the twofold mystery we are interested in. Possibilians wonder if God exists and theists wonder what God is like.

    Haiti was amazing, I visited an orphanage and a hospital there. It definitely has the “third world” problems. Actually experiencing hungry malnourished kids in real life broke my heart. And, the poverty, pollution, lack of medical resources, and dangers were eye-opening. But, the Haitians we were around were friendly and very hard working. And, the country is absolutely beautiful with mountains and tropical plants. I think I’ll blog about it soon. . .

  24. They are working with the same evidence and the same mysteries, but come to opposite conclusions.

    First, they are not working with the same evidence, as in the strict sense the bible is only evidence of the bible and little or nothing else.
    Craig includes a god in all his reckoning. Dawkins does not and where Dawkins has the integrity to admit..’I don’t know’ concerning certain things, Craig is emphatic that Goddidit.
    Furthermore, Craig will unashamedly try to indoctrinate people with this belief based on no verifiable evidence whatsoever.
    Also, when Craig says god he means His god, the biblical character, Jesus of Nazareth.

    He is neither honest or genuinely intelligent.

  25. MS Word has a text-to-speech feature that, in my case, turns text into the voice of a computerized robotic sounding woman. It’s been very helpful with scholarly material, but when text is copied from a blog, personality emerges in a peculiar if choppy way.

    http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/word-help/using-the-speak-text-to-speech-feature-HA102066711.aspx

    I like how you’ve imagined and/or provided the theist response. I think my feelings about the matter evolve from the one point, that biblical text clearly states that man was formed in the image of God. In this I see a property. However, over and over again, I learn that God is some kind of pervading entity, a pantheistic substance, who is unknowable and undefinable because of the miraculous things he can do. Whenever I push for clarification, definitions and properties get drawn further and further into the realm of whatever people can imagine God is. The more this occurs, the more vague it becomes.

    Anyways, I look forward to perusing more of the discussion that occurs here, I definitely see what you mean about your style and that it, indeed, works.

  26. Hey Brandon,

    I’m still trying to properly “digest” all you’ve written. Some unique angles in there (namely the Barrett stuff) which is kinda cool actually because I always like hearing new things.

    As far as postmodernism goes I’m definitely no expert but I’ve always had the impression that it’s mainly relativistic regarding truth, which may be somewhat of an eastern idea from what I’ve heard. I’m not a relativist in the sense that I do believe that there are attributes about reality that are true regardless of the existence of human minds. For example, to me I think that there are trees falling in forests that nobody is looking at. That’s just one example. I also think that gods either exist or do not exist, objectively independent of what humans might think. I wasn’t quite sure where you were leading with the stuff about postmodernism – please try and expound more if you want.

    I’m still trying to wrap my head around Barrett’s stuff, and it is truly on my to watch list because evolution of belief is definitely an interest of mine. If you have watched/read any interesting opposing viewpoints feel free to share that as well.

    So, I’m gonna think out loud on Barrett’s idea – at first glance I thought it related to the distinction that I mentioned to you in my previous comment, but I think it may be more complicated than that though. So I do agree there are some distinctions between creator beings and other spirit beings, but I’m still not quite getting how this leads one to feel that they can’t be justified in the same manner of claiming they do not exist. I personally think there have been plausible naturalistic explanations for how belief in creator gods developed in human minds. While it could definitely be true that there really are creator gods that caused this evolutionary development to occur that doesn’t mean that creator gods is the correct explanation. If we can agree that we do have plausible naturalistic explanations (and obviously people argue whether or not that’s true) then that’s where I feel Occam’s razor could have a valid application. You know from other conversations that I do believe Occam’s razor is really just a guideline rather than a hard and fast rule, and that’s where I think I struggle to figure out exactly where I stand on the whole thing. Anyways, I might be missing some important aspect of Barrett’s view so I’d like to hear your thoughts on what I’ve said.

  27. LEjames – yeah, I think part of the problem that you are referring to is that it seems lots of people have a different conception of what God is. Like Einstein had his own conception that he claimed was “Spinoza-ish”, which is really a pantheistic idea and not any intelligent or personal mind. When I converted to Christianity one of the first things my father told me was that if I were to ask a whole bunch of different people what God was like then he thought I would get a whole bunch of different answers. While there may be some common things to a lot of them, I think there is some truth to that.

    The tone I try to set here works some of the time, but not always. Either way I’ve been pretty pleased with a lot of the interaction I’ve had on my blog so far.

  28. Hi Howie

    I wouldn’t take Barrett’s work too seriously. He’s based out of a theological college, and his outlook is extremely skewed to “producing” theistic explanations.

    This is from an article a few days ago (linked below)

    “A new study out this month, however, pushes against Barrett’s conclusion. Published in the July issue of Cognitive Science, the article presents findings that seem to show that children’s beliefs in the supernatural are the result of their education. Further, argue the researchers, “exposure to religious ideas has a powerful impact on children’s differentiation between reality and fiction.” In other words, said Kathleen Corriveau, one of the study’s co-authors, the study found that childhood exposure to religious ideas may influence children’s “conception of what could actually happen.” She also told me her research suggests that Barrett’s Born Believers thesis is wrong — that children don’t possess an “innate bias” toward religious belief.””

    https://richarddawkins.net/2014/08/are-kids-born-with-an-innate-belief-in-god/

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/cogs.12138/abstract

  29. Thanks for the info John. That’s why I asked Brandon if he knew of any opposing viewpoints – I always like to hear all different sides of the story.

    In some way beliefs in agency where there is none had to evolve (given the conclusion of evolution obviously), so even if there is some evolutionary development of belief, I’m not seeing how it gives more credence to the beings actually existing, even if the possibility exists that creative beings could have purposely engineered the whole evolutionary process. So even if Barrett’s ideas that children’s beliefs are innate is correct there still would be a naturalistic reason for this. The most cliché example of this naturalistic reasoning is that there was an evolutionary survival advantage to those that assumed agency to the grass they may have seen moving in the wind because those that did assume it would have been more ready if the movement of that grass was actually due to some agency like a tiger ready to attack. How solid all that research is I’m not sure, but it seems plausible.

    And yes, if Barrett really does state that there is some innate belief of creator gods in children I’m very doubtful of it. I’d think we’d see belief in creative beings more universal and it doesn’t seem to be that way in some eastern cultures. In fact an anecdotal exception case in my family is my own daughter who has never had any inclination for believing in a creator god, although my son does seem to be open to it (due to influence from his cousin). So yes, I don’t think there are some universal innate beliefs there.

  30. Precisely. There is a definitive evolutionary benefit in finding agency in nature, but theists hoist their spinnakers when they try to make the leap from “agency” to “creator spirits.”

    Here’s an extract from Bloom and Banerjee

    (Banerjee, K., and P. Bloom. 2013) “Drawing on evidence from developmental psychology, we argue here that the answer is no: children lack spontaneous theistic views and the emergence of religion is crucially dependent on culture…. However, there is no evidence that children spontaneously come to believe in one or more divine creators. It is one thing, after all, to think about natural entities as intentionally designed artifacts of a sort; it is quite another to generate an enduring belief in invisible agents who have created these artifacts. Indeed, other studies find that young children are not committed creationists; they are equally likely to provide explanations of species origins that involve spontaneous generation [10].”

    He goes on:

    “Older children, by contrast, do exclusively endorse creationist explanations. This shift to a robust creation is preference arises in part because older children are more adept at grasping the existential themes invoked by the question of species origins (e.g., existence and final cause) and also because the notion of a divine creator of nature meshes well with their early-emerging teleological biases [10]. However, these older children do not spontaneously propose novel divine creators. Instead, they adopt the particular creationist account that their culture supplies.”

  31. theists hoist their spinnakers when they try to make the leap from “agency” to “creator spirits.”

    One can quite easily imagine them ( theists) sitting playing poker in an effort to sort out which god we must all worship, because if there is one he hasn’t made any announcements in this regard.
    Trouble is, they are all bluffing with a pair and refusing to lay down.

  32. Hey Howie, that’s great new ideas are worth thinking about!

    I think postmodernism gets a bad rep because it’s misunderstood. Saying that truth or morality are relative is an extreme manifestation of postmodernism, but it does not necessarily need to go this far. Basically, postmodernism says that meaning flows from subject to object and not the other way. For example, when you read these words, you are creating the meaning in your head using your personal experience and memory. That inherently threatens our ability to communicate because you might create different meanings than the ones I intended, but we might get lucky and our minds will meet. How would we know if our minds truly met? That’s the kind of problem that postmodernism presents for communication.

    A “strong” version of postmodernism might conclude that all truth is relative. But, the “weak” version of postmodernism that I think is more common in academia and that I espouse draws a line somewhere. The line might be between subjective and objective, inference and empiric fact, a priori and a posteriori. Take Craig and Dawkins for example. What empiric fact do they disagree on? I can’t think of any. What they differ on is in the realm of subjective/inference/a priori. What postmodernism says is virtually any view can be constructed in this realm. A great example is actually the number of interpretations of the bible.

    So, imagine a worldview. Something wild. I remember reading about an “atheist-Christian” on CNN a few weeks ago. There is a way to justify this worldview. It depends on the methodology that is used, and these methodologies depend on subjective input. What’s hard for the atheist movement at large to see is that their canonized methodologies are not “the most rational”. There is no such thing as “the most rational”. It’s like playing a game and defining what is rational into existence, they are constructing this picture. So are the hardline apologists like Craig. We all construct. Something that is reasonable to me might be special pleading to you. Something that is reasonable to you might be rationalization to me. Your criteria may not be my criteria.

    Anyway. . .

    I agree with you that Barrett’s argument does not establish the existence of creator deities. It does establish that evolutionary psychology cannot rule out the existence of creator deities like it can lesser spirit beings. I should clarify something here. A creator being can naturally bring about belief in itself by ordering things at the beginning. By adjusting the initial parameters, the human brain was in the blueprint of the big bang, and this includes the tendency to believe in gods through agenticity and culture and so on. What role could lesser spirit beings have in the structure of the human brain? Magic? It’s just more contrived to have lesser spirit beings somehow contributing to the structure of the human brain, so it falls to Occam’s razor. (Of course there are ways to argue against this, this is perfectly expected for a postmodernist. Even Dawkins’ “A creator deity is too complex” argument could be hashed out at this point. The major point here is that EP does not threaten the existence of God like it does ghosts).

    Also, Barrett never says that children have a natural tendency to believe in creator beings, rather in invisible agency in general. I don’t think this is controversial within this field of study. Barrett and even me are fully on board with religion being entirely natural phenomenon based on the evolved human brain and on culture. Actually, this is a powerful explanation of our data on child psychology and anthropology. For example, most cultures independently generated religions with gods and often with creator deities. Of course there are notable exceptions like the Eastern religions as you mentioned.

    If you watch any Veritas Forum with Barrett, I recommend the one where he dialogues with an atheist colleague, Bloom (the one that John Zande quoted). They pretty well agree on everything within the field of EP, they merely have a different ultimate belief. This way you get balanced views, ones that don’t resort to character attacks.

  33. Hey Brandon – I’ve watched a small part of that video with Barrett and Bloom. It looked really good, but unfortunately chose to watch it late last night. At least it helped me get some good sleep. 🙂 I plan on finishing it off soon.

    Your comments on postmodernism are very interesting to think about. Perhaps the name of my blog has some influence from some of it’s ideas without me even realizing it. I didn’t know there were different versions, or “manifestations” as you put it, of postmodernism. I have noticed as well that there does seem to be this disturbing ability for people to justify practically any worldview of their choice. A few thoughts on that though that I think you may possibly agree on. First, as I said before, I believe there is some view of reality that is the correct view. Now this view could very well be some combination of the bits and pieces of many different worldviews that are currently held by humans, and it may very well even contain some bits and pieces that absolutely no human has even thought of. But still my thoughts are that there is some objective truth about the way “everything” actually is. I think from your response you probably agree.

    The other thought is that while it may be true that the current methodologies that any of us have cannot be fully proven to be most rational (due to the incredible complexity involved in the topics and the limitations that we currently have as humans), that doesn’t mean that the “most rational” methodologies do not exist. Perhaps many years in the future our understanding of things will make clearer which methodologies are the most rational.

    And more to the point – do you believe that the Christian worldview is the most rational? From what I’ve read from you before I think your answer is no, but probably a qualified no, but I’d like you to clarify.

  34. Hey Howie, definitely Truth is Elusive could be postmodern!

    I do agree with you in thinking an objective truth exists. Whether or not a “most rational” method exists is more difficult for me. It’s hard for me to imagine what that would look like. . .

    You asked: “Do you believe that the Christian worldview is the most rational?” From my view Christianity was never intended to be a rational worldview (most clearly stated by Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:4). And, it could have been different since the Greek philosophical framework existed at the time. Christianity could have adopted this early on and canonized it, but it did not adopt any sort of rationalist approach until much later in the Middle Age. So, to answer your question directly, no, I don’t think Christianity is the most rational worldview. But, the caveat is that I don’t think any worldview can claim to be the most rational. I think properly applied, rationality serves to constrain worldviews on our search for truth, but there is a limit at how far it can constrain. Within the limits of constraint, a version of Christianity could be true. I’m curious to see what you think about that. Do you think the Possibilian worldview is the most rational? Or, maybe some kind of agnosticism that seeks additional evidence?

  35. Brandon, this discussion is very thought provoking for me. We’re both speaking kind of in ambiguities, but I agree that these things are good to think about.

    Within the limits of constraint, a version of Christianity could be true. I’m curious to see what you think about that.

    I don’t disagree with that, but I want to be clear. First, I don’t believe Christianity is unique among religions when it comes to that. Every religion has tons of different “versions”, and those versions can vary so widely in belief to the point that saying the above almost becomes a bit meaningless.

    Do you think the Possibilian worldview is the most rational? Or, maybe some kind of agnosticism that seeks additional evidence?

    I can answer that unequivocally – no. Possibilianism is not a definitive worldview. To put it bluntly, it really is just an admission of ignorance (that’s the agnostic part) with a desire and active involvement in exploration of worldviews with the hopes of getting closer to the correct worldview. So in some sense it’s a lack of a worldview with an attitude toward finding one. 🙂

    Now I do lean toward thinking that more naturalistic worldviews may be the most rational, but really I don’t know enough about philosophy to really say that with any confidence.

    I have to say though that I do kind of see where you are coming from with your thoughts of postmodernism for a few reasons. First of course the most obvious you have already alluded to – how do we even define rationalism. Now there have been attempts at this, but I don’t believe there is wide agreement on all the methodologies involved. Wide consensus on laws of logic and math being rational of course, but the problem is that doesn’t get us very far on building the “most rational worldview”.

    Another thing I think is important to distinguish between is “rational” and “correct”. Even in epistemology there is the concept of a “justified false belief”, where the belief is considered to be completely justified rationally given agreed upon rules, but ends up actually being an incorrect belief. Take the spirit in my son’s closet for example. Many would believe that it is most rational to assume that the spirit does not exist. But for all we know that spirit truly does exist – in that case we have a justified false belief. This is very disturbing to me. 🙂 But it’s part of the uncertainty that is involved in these kind of questions that I talk about on my blog.

  36. Howie, sorry for the change in topic

    But I just wanted to ask you,

    Was it hard for you to make that transition from Judaism to Christianity?

    or did you find it a natural progression?

    Ryan

  37. Hey Ryan,

    No problem. That’s a very good question. That transition was a very tough one for me. I had actually become agnostic before I became a Christian, but the strong impression that converting to Christianity was one of the worst sins still hung over my head from being taught that by rabbis and my family. Another big fear for me was being disowned by my family (especially my father). Even after I became a Christian I didn’t tell my family until about 6 months later, taking that time to write a very long letter (I think it was 36 pages) explaining my reasoning. There are very strong social pressures involved against conversion from Judaism to Christianity. There are many reasons for that, but some are related to commandment #1 (don’t worship other gods), it is considered polytheism, idolatry (worship of a human), and the fact that Mosaic law is abandoned is considered anathema given that God’s law is said to be perfect, everlasting and written on the hearts of his people. So natural progression isn’t quite right. But while I struggled with a lot of these questions even while I was a Christian, I did become convinced however that Christianity was somehow a fulfillment of Judaism. Perhaps you could say I was “conflicted”.

    I talk about my entire story here in case you’re interested.

  38. Thanks for sharing that Howie

    36 pages is a long letter 🙂 you obviously didn’t want to be misunderstood. It must have taken courage to share your beliefs with family, considering the pressures.

    Ryan

  39. Yeah Ryan, it was a tough thing to do, but luckily I had friends at college that kept me sane. It also ended up working out ok – my father said family was most important. There were certainly some extremely heated discussions though (at one point as he was red in the face with anger, he told me that I had gone over to Hitler’s side). But other than those kind of heated exchanges we still maintained a healthy father-son relationship. He also had me promise him that I would meet with my childhood rabbi, which I didn’t have a problem with and the rabbi was very understanding and just calmly tried to reason with me. I actually met up with him inside the temple I grew up in (which I think may have possibly been a bit of an emotional tactic, and to be honest I did feel a bit like I had “defamed” my temple), but the conversation was a good one.

  40. Hey Howie, I definitely agree with you that using the qualifier of “versions of religions” makes any sort of positive statement meaningless, which is, well, a very postmodern observation! I’m not trying to be wishy washy though. I mean what I consider to be the constraints of rationality are that it must be consistent with scientific knowledge and it must be internally coherent. I think many versions of Christianity do NOT meet this, for example, young-earth creationism. Also, there are plenty of versions of other religions that get axed this way as well. So, ultimately this rationality is helpful at excluding possibilities but never absolutely solves the problem.

    I think it’s great that you say possilbilianism is “in some sense. . . a lack of a worldview with an attitude toward finding one.” That’s a great way to sum it up and even sounds very optimistic. And, I agree with all your point to differentiate “rational” with “correct”. It’s a great point. We could construct a “rational” worldview and it be far from “correct”. It’s scary!

  41. In statistics, there is a level of significance called “statistical significance”, but in medicine we have a higher level of significance called “clinical significance”.

    Drug reps flash articles (industry paid, of course) that claim their drug is statistically better than placebo. Or in more daring studies, that their product shows statistically significant better results than other products.

    BUT, if that number is so small, the effect so minor and the cost high, we will declare is clinically INsignificant.

    When theists posit a god — either the rarified philosopher god, or the full-blown miracle god, I can’t prove there is not some statistical significance, but clinically (in real life), I can’t see a change worth investing in.

  42. Brandon,

    During the course of our discussion I had watched to this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SDwpTcSEjak

    You may want to give it a watch – some of the things Hans mentioned reminded me of some of your points about post-modernism.

    My own views may be a lot more postmodern than I had thought actually. Like I said I had always associated post-modernism with relativism (perhaps due to some things I had read from Francis Schaeffer a long time ago), and I don’t consider myself a relativist. But the idea that many worldviews can be easily justified given the “fuzziness” of defining rationality is something I’m keenly aware of and has always bothered me. You can see it in some of my early writings about epistemology on my blog. I also agree with you that not all worldviews are on the same level with regard to generally accepted rules of rationality such as what you listed – internally coherent (obeying laws of logic/maths) and consistent with scientific knowledge (obeying some form of probabilistic analysis using inductive methods). What I have seen however in trying my best to maintain an open mind while reading/watching many different online discussions is that as humans we have great flexibility within these realms to be able to justify our own views and tend toward not consistently applying the same level of rules when trying to “exclude” other worldviews. I am not by any means disqualifying myself from this ability.

    In my thoughts of your comments the last few days I thought to maybe bring up some core Christian ideas that I felt fell outside of acceptable rational thinking, but realized that we could argue those points till we’re blue in the face and you would still see them as rational, and perhaps I might be flexible enough to even modify my own idea of that (maybe I’m the one who is wishy washy). But what I see though given other conversations I’ve lurked along on with Hindus and Muslims is that the same sort of thing happens with them. There are things which they can argue are rational till they are blue in the face, and each one has their own spin on their own religion that is different than the norm perhaps making them look more rational.

    So yes then I feel a bit stuck to be honest in postmodern thinking, and my best solution for this is to maintain some very basic minimalist ideas which meet the criteria you and I agreed on, and not assume too much more. You can see that I had listed some basic rules to guide me in that in this post. That was really an amateur attempt at thinking about epistemology, and I believe that this basic minimalist approach unfortunately doesn’t get very far at being able to precisely build up a proper worldview.

    So I am not a pluralist in the sense that I see all views as equal at all, but I unfortunately do see that the process is not as easy as many of us make it out to be and you might see me express that to different confidence levels from day to day. 😉

  43. Sabio,

    I agree very much with what you’ve written here. I’ve been trying to think today about the way theists might respond to this. First I believe they would key off the fact that you said “I can’t prove there is not some statistical significance”. Then they might draw to the analogy you made and say that when claims are made in the medical field of a drug having benefits then the medical industry works hard at performing experiments to determine (or “prove” as best they can) whether or not there is statistical significance. So then if you say you can’t “prove” in a similar fashion that there is no statistical significance then why state knowledge that the probability of theism being true is too low to consider (I’ve seen you state that elsewhere so I hope I’m not reading too much into what you are currently writing)? Related to this, I’ve seen some theists state online that the evidence (given cited “experiments” for lack of a better word) shows that there is some statistical benefit to belief. Although I’ve seen a few things that throw that conclusion into question of course. Have you thought about any of that and how would respond to that if you have?

    By the way, I believe Brandon (a theist) in this comment thread works in the medical field as well.

  44. Sorry, I can’t follow your comment, so let me try again and be more clear— writing better, perhaps:

    I can’t disprove the theist claim that their is a god that loves us, created the universe or works miracles. But the statistical evidence, even when mustered up, seems to me very weak. And since it is suppose to be an all-powerful god (“a great drug “— using the drug rep argument), I would expect much clearer, clinical significance — something that really makes a difference in the world (“to my patience”).

    A theist may respond that they see the clinical evidence as clear. But our data shows little if any difference. “Which data?”, he says. Well now we have a much longer conversation. But my point is that finding the minimal amount of evidence [which I doubt is there at all but am granting for this argument] for something so proposed as amazing, makes me declare it “clinically insignificant” — so I won’t pay for the drug for myself, or prescribe it for my patients.

    So maybe that is clearer, or maybe your question still applies but I did not understand it.

  45. That actually sounds like a very reasonable reply. I should have linked to it last night, but what I had in mind was something like this post. I’m sure Unklee would have some response, but I’m not the best at arguing from a different POV from my own, so I’ll leave it at that. 🙂 Although I see the benefits to trying sometimes. Jeffrey Jay Lowder does a good job of trying to argue from the theist POV sometimes on his secular outpost blog.

  46. Ah. I think you read Epiphenom, and perhaps have seen analysis of similar studies showing the confounders which often twist this data?

    Besides, let’s grant that there are studies showing some benefit to being religious. The fun thing is, that it works for all sorts of different religions which otherwise condemn each other to hell. So obviously it is not a god giving these benefits, but something else — and thus the aforementioned confounders step in.

  47. Sabio: My google search came up with this: http://epiphenom.fieldofscience.com/ I’ve never read that before, but have started to peruse it and will continue to read more. I couldn’t tell by your comment – are you recommending the site or do you hold some skepticism toward it? If it doesn’t try your patience too much I’d be very interested in hearing more detail about what you mean by “studies showing the confounders which often twist this data”.

    Your second paragraph is incredibly clear to me and I couldn’t agree more.

    I’d also like to share with you the perspective I am coming from: I’ve read things here and there related to the subject of benefits due to prayer, and have also heard about all those stories of people being “amazingly” healed or revived after direct prayer. Those haven’t convinced me enough to believe there are some godlike creatures behind all that, and while I am doubtful, on the flip side I also remain open minded about that idea. Unfortunately the stuff written in this area from all different viewpoints is so bound by strong emotions and bias that it is very hard to weed through all that and feel confident that I’m coming to the correct conclusions. So when I ask you questions I’m not asking so that I can see how I can trump you with a response of my own. I actually truly am seeking your opinion that I feel may help me be able to come to better conclusions. I only say that because I’m not clear from previous conversations with you that you realize that.

  48. Hey Howie,

    Let me points one at a time:

    (1) Epiphenom
    I don’t know if you read my blog still, but I have quoted Tom Rees many times — if you type in my search bar “Epiphenom” you will see many posts drawing from it. So yes, I really like Tom’s stuff. In fact, this post:
    http://triangulations.wordpress.com/2014/07/16/rees-sabio-blogging-for-our-kids/
    tells how I just met up with Tom!

    Brilliant conversations and fun time.

    (2) Confounders
    Sorry, to unload all that would take me too long at this moment. I am couch surfing in Cambridge and Boston with my son now — amazing stories of hackers, anime, biking, MIT and more. Anyway, I only have a bit of time to get in a few comments — so, later I can elaborate. It is a fun topic, so I will enjoy writing when I have time. Also, just now I am working with groups in Washington State on some marijuana safety projects (it just became legal there), so pretty busy. I am sure you understand.

    (3) Prayer
    Yep, lots of strong emotions on both sides. But, like you, I have lived on both sides. And like you, I am not too quick to make gross generalizations about either the people on both sides or the sides. Take a look at Tom’s stuff to get see how he points to different perspectives.

    BTW, Tom and I have argued vehemently over the years on his blog. He confessed to me recently during our meeting, that his opinions have also change in the last two year. He is much more hesitant to generalize now a days and instead looks for deeper principals instead of easy rhetoric. I think you will enjoy him.

    (4) Trumping
    I think you have misunderstood me either because of the nature of fast replies, the limits of writing (which does not allow tones), or the toxic accusations of threads. Either way, I am not a defensive person, so I really could careless if someone wants to hold an opinion about me. But I can tell you, “trumping” and “winning arguments” is the least of my interests. But then, you don’t know me — except on threads. So you will just have to decide. As for me, I am slow in judgement and fast forgive.

    OK, Howie, my son and I are off to bike the streets of Boston and Cambridge again today — my legs are still sore from yesterday. It was a fun day — I took my son sailing for the first time too. Very nice. [Sometimes personal notes in heady blog threads can soften stuff up, eh?]

  49. Sometimes personal notes in heady blog threads can soften stuff up, eh?

    Definitely! Those things you mention about the time with your son is really a big part of living a fulfilling life – and not at all off the topic of my blog, because theist or not I believe ultimate questions have a lot to do with living a fulfilling life.

    A lot of very good stuff in this comment of yours – I definitely plan on following up on Epiphenom.

    Maybe I’ll just shoot you an e-mail next time I sense some “snide condescension” (which may not really be there) in your comments. Sorry about the public flame comment on Hayden’s blog.

  50. Pingback: Some Thoughts on Occam’s Razor | Finding Truth

  51. Howie, I finally got to watch the video with Hans Halvorson. I did resonate with Halvorson’s thinking, so needless to say I thought it was brilliant. 🙂 Thanks for that.

    On your point about perceiving people being flexible with what they consider rational in favor of their view, I absolutely agree! I suppose another way of putting it is confirmation bias, and it’s probably to some degree inescapable for us. Even scientists resist scientific revolutions. I remember when I was deeply involved in a particular science project thinking that the field had been severely misled with a theory early on that did not have very good evidence. It became dogmatized in the scientific literature but the original results that supposedly supported the theory were overinterpreted. It was eye-opening for a young scientist.

    I appreciate your epistemology and actually think it even resonates with Halvorson’s thinking. Since you alluded to it and because of my interest, do you mind if ask you from your perspective what is the biggest problem for theism? And, what is the biggest problem with Christianity? I’m curious not for the sake of arguing, but to see from your unique perspective and approach.

  52. Brandon: I don’t mind sharing at all, and please feel free to offer why you don’t see these issues as problems. While I usually won’t argue till we’re “blue in the face” I always love a good exchange of ideas, and you’re always respectful.

    As with anything it’s a whole bunch of things and perhaps not a biggest problem thing. But for me what does stand out the most about theism is the fact that gods just don’t seem to be around and detectable in any way that we know that things exist.

    Getting a little more specific – as far as Christianity goes, I can give you what I think of the evangelical variety that I was involved in (somewhere on the border between conservative and moderate variety). The problem of Hell was the biggest thing that I remember having major cognitive dissonance over. However, the doctrine of Annihilationism in my opinon resolves this problem, and I think from our past discussions that this is your view. I believe this is still a very small minority view within evangelical Christianity but it is growing.

    Some other issues I see are the following: the trinity, the conflict of believing in an objective moral truth (which I am not at all opposed to) along with believing an all good God was behind the horrors in the bible (mostly old testament), the idea that an all powerful all good God would require the killing of animals to forgive the humans that He created and that finally a human (who is actually God Himself as well as His son) had to die a tortuous death for God to forgive humans, and the fact that much of the bible as well as the doctrines have many similarities to other beliefs in history that we are comfortable to now call mythology.

  53. Hey Howie, those are all definitely difficult issues for the Christian faith! I agree with you that annihilationism is still a minority view. Probably theistic evolution is a minority view as well. My wife shared an insight that lots of people are afraid of change and questioning. They are comfortable with their beliefs and don’t feel the urge to pursue truth to the degree that we do.

    As for the issues, each one is a dissertation or two! I can say maybe a few sentences about each just to give you an idea of how I’ve approached them.
    Trinity – saying that 3 people are 1 person is illogical. My idea of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit fits more with what is called modalism, but I haven’t done any sort of in depth study of the issue.
    Biblical genocides – the genocides are very concerning and I’ve considered many different explanations like the stories use hyperbolic language or they are allegorical. The trouble adopting these hermeneutics leads to all sorts of other problems. The best explanation for me is that God used Israel as an instrument of divine judgment as is explicitly stated in the text. It’s not a perfect solution because innocent children were killed, and I end up admitting that my answer is only partially satisfactory. . . and I’m left not knowing where to go from there.
    Animal sacrifice – according to the Mosaic law, any animal that was slaughtered for food was to be sacrificed, and they were killed by exsanguination because blood was important for the ritual. This is a humane way to die because it minimizes pain. It made animals intrinsically valuable because their blood has the ability to atone and they had to be slaughtered humanely. When I look at the sacrificial cult it seems like an elaborate way to be in relationship with God and to strive for holiness. There were sacrifices for thanksgiving, well-being, burnt offering (totally giving to God), sin, guilt, and the annual Yom Kippur. God uses these to sanctify Israel and to teach future generations about the holiness of God. The fact that it uses animals may be, in some sense, arbitrary to the end goal. But, maybe not. Maybe using animals in this sense was the best possible way to achieve these goals.
    Christ’s torturous death – it’s definitely horrifying and ugly. Sometimes when reading the gospels I will skip right over it. Scripture is clear that Jesus chose to give his life and he was tested by God just like Job during a time of extreme suffering, but because he did so willingly and without sin, he overcame temptation and evil. By giving his life up he became a sacrifice of atonement. What does that mean? It’s the same as in the Old Testament: we become aware of our sin and approach God with sincerity to request forgiveness, Jesus is both the sacrifice and the priest who has already atoned for us once and for all, then we are forgiven by God. Jesus sacrifice is the place at which we come to God to request forgiveness, again a key feature of a relationship with a God who is holy and just. (This best fits with two models of atonement: Christus victor and relational view. Notice that I reject penal substitution).

    Anyway, I could go on, but that was more than I thought I would write!

  54. Thanks for stopping back Brandon. Have you ever read Thom Stark’s book “The Human Faces of God”? He has an interesting take on the genocides. He believes God is totally against them and that somehow God put them in the bible so that people can read them and realize how awful humanity can be. Anyways, I think by now you have an understanding of my view so not sure I can add too much that’s new to your reply. You’ve clearly given a lot of thought to your beliefs which I can respect.

    I just remembered I didn’t reply to some other things you said in your previous comment. Yes, when I watched Halvorson’s video a couple of weeks ago I was reminded quite a bit of my own thoughts and posts on epistemology. He actually used the word “minimalist” in reference to his epistemology which is exactly what I think of mine (although mine may be even more minimal than his though). And I agree with you regarding scientists also resisting new thinking – not a good thing at all. People can get stuck in the wrong conclusions no matter what their worldview is. I do think the scientific community at large though has a structure of “rules” in place that helps to overcome this, but it sometimes takes a lot of momentum.

    I’m about half done with that video you recommended. I love listening to debates like that, but I’m having a tough time staying focussed. Right now I’m also reading “God’s Debris” which is free online and which John Zande recommended. If you ever get free time I really think it is actually something you would enjoy reading. It’s a very fun and interesting read which twists your brain a little.

Comments are closed.