Maybe There Are Gods

godsWrapping The Series Up

In this post I ended with this:

In my future posts I plan to give a few more reasons why I don’t believe in gods, will try to explain why proofs for gods aren’t very convincing to me, and will end with my personal opinion on the best approach theists should use to convince others of the existence of gods.

and this post is the final in the series where I’ll share my opinion on the best approach for theists to convince others.  I also mentioned several times along the way that I would share why I still wonder whether gods might exist, what would change my mind, and even share my own views of which formulations of that would make more sense to me if I were to change my mind.

The philosophical arguments for God’s existence are basically interesting questions or conundrums about existence that we really just don’t have the kind of information we need to form any conclusions about, so they didn’t help me before, during, and still after I was a Christian.  I can understand that others might find them helpful, but as I’ve explained they just aren’t convincing to me.

SerendipitySerendipity, Miracles, and Coincidence

Maybe you just happened to be thinking about religion that night just at the very same time that you turned on the telly and they were amazingly talking about Jainism.  Or perhaps you experienced a healing after being prayed for.  Everyone has these stories that seem to go beyond coincidence.  A lot of them aren’t too impressive, but every once in a while you’ll come across some that do seem surprising.  These are the things that make me wonder if there is any meaning or agency involved behind the scenes.

As far as serendipitous stories go, the most amazing one I’ve heard was from my wife’s grandfather.  He believes in a Taiwanese tribal god, and he was in the midst of bombings in World War II when he saw a shiny object on the ground.  He decided to walk over to get it and right as he went to pick it up a bomb exploded in the place that he had just moved from.  The shiny object ended up being a trinket with the symbol of the tribal god of his family on it.  He has other stories about why he believes in that Taiwanese god but that one in particular has always stuck with me.  While this causes me to wonder, it doesn’t cause me to believe that his god exists as I’m sure many people reading this wouldn’t be convinced either.  But if you are willing to toss away these miraculous stories from other religions why are you so quick at judging others for doubting your own?

So instead perhaps all these miracle stories could be studied by probability theorists, and perhaps a good case could be made for causation.  Doesn’t sound like an easy task but it would be certainly something I would be very interested in following up on.  My suggestion to anyone who does this however is to stay in the bounds of science, because people are starting to become more educated about pseudo-science, and while there will always be those that are convinced by that, I believe if current trends continue we will see credulity like that become less prevalent.

There are several issues with serendipity – first, these strange events also seem to happen even for the most mundane of things.  For example, several months ago I was teaching the playing card game “war” to my son and trying to teach him the concept of less than or greater than.  We went through maybe 6 or 7 rounds before I decided to tell him the rules that happen when the numbers match, and wouldn’t you know it the very next cards that showed up matched.  I tried to remember that example just for this post, and there are many other extremely mundane “coincidences” like that which I don’t even make a point to remember, some even stranger than that.  Should we really be making some conclusions based on these kind of events?  Is “coincidence” a valid / justified explanation for these events?

And some do believe that these rare events that some would call miracles are actually to be expected given natural probabilities.  I’ll likely write more about this in the future, but here’s a primer.

It’s also very clear that these events happen across all religions and across all cultures.  Given that, if I was to believe in a traditional monotheistic God then I can’t see picking the God of just one religion.  While I have a hard time seeing the traditional personal omni-god (POG) concept as probable, if I did return to that belief it would be a more universalist type of belief in a God who for some strange reason doesn’t seem to be a very good communicator yet is somehow trying to communicate with humans through all different religions.


Another thing that should be avoided is this insistence on certainty.  When someone like Ray Comfort says that he knows that God exists as much as he knows that his wife exists, I believe a whole lot of people see through that, and are also pushed away by things like that.  It’s just way too oversold, and gives the appearance of a sneaky used car salesman.  Belief in the existence of gods should fall along the continuum of certainty levels just like any other belief we would take in life.  For example, while I usually take a multi-vitamin in the morning I’m not terribly convinced of its efficacy.  I’ve read different things regarding vitamins, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of consensus.  So I don’t always take them, and I certainly wouldn’t go around pushing them on others or judging them for believing differently.  This is the normal way that we believe things in life, and frankly a belief in gods shouldn’t be different.  This is why I have great respect for some of my theist friends who have said things like “Christianity works for me, but by all means I realize that I could be wrong about it being true and I don’t judge anyone for doubting.”

Just a Very Small Smorgasbord of Different Possibilities

So to me there is certainly no reason for me to take a hard stance on any worldview as a result of these kind of strange events, and given the law of truly large numbers I even see reason to doubt there is meaning behind any of them, but nevertheless my human mind still wonders, and I think about different possibilities involving ultimate questions.  Here’s just a few:

pantheism– Spinoza’s or Einstein’s God, which is very much like pantheism – a popular option that some paradoxically call the “God of the atheists”.  Here’s an interesting talk about Spinoza’s God.  If gods were just described as “entities higher than us” or if a God is described as a “being of infinite attributes” then the universe or whatever else there is that exists seems to fit this.  But as I’ve said before that definition of gods doesn’t seem to fit the traditional understanding of gods as personal thinking agents, so perhaps it just causes confusion in communication.  Just like Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Paul Davies and a lot of other atheist scientists use the word “God” in their popular books and while I’m sure it helps them sell more books, it gets misinterpreted by many.  Either way some of this is just semantics.

– Several gods messing with us – Every once in a while I wonder whether there may be spiritual entities out there somewhere messing with our minds and laughing it up at the scene down here on earth.  Monotheists obviously aren’t very fond of polytheism, but interestingly enough it only takes 2 gods to completely wipe away the problem of suffering or evil.

Transcend– Entirely transcendent gods – perhaps the answer is way above and beyond what our human minds are capable of understanding.  Or perhaps we are byproducts of a universe whose purpose was actually meant for some things or some beings (aliens) way more advanced than ourselves.  Much like we view amoeba or other animals as not being as important a part of the purpose of existence as the conscious, thinking agents that we are, maybe there are other beings out in the universe (or other universes) who would think the same of us if they were ever to meet us.  Perhaps they would think that our inability to obtain certainty in knowledge, our ability to be wrong, and our inability to fit the concept of infinity into our finite brains are surprisingly primitive.  Or perhaps they do something even beyond what we understand as “thinking”.  Something entirely transcendent.  I’ve seen a lot of traditional theists describe the God they believe in as a transcendent concept – something that we humans are not capable of defining or understanding, but yet at the same time they feel comfortable assigning certain attributes to their God.  To me if one or more exists then I’d lean more toward thinking they were entirely transcendent.

– Just to encourage people to think more outside of the box, here’s a link to some videos that Closer to Truth has of philosophers discussing alternative concepts of gods.

Maybe try to come up with your own conceptions and think them through.  Any way to confirm or falsify those ideas?  Any way for them to be empirically tested?  Perhaps one of the biggest drawbacks of all of these ideas is that they are unlikely to be able to be tested.  Much like Max Tegmark’s (MIT professor) multiverse.  Well, more on that another time.

The more I experience life and the more I read studies done relating to human nature, our minds and religion the more I lean toward thinking we live in a godless reality.  But for me I don’t have good reasons to be close-minded about it.


41 thoughts on “Maybe There Are Gods

  1. Howie, have you ever read God’s Debris, by Scott Adams. As far as god hypothesis’s go, i think this is the most convincing, and certainly the most interesting. It’s a short book, 100-odd pages, and is available on the interwebs for free. Be interested to hear your thoughts on the matter.

  2. Hey John – you always have the coolest comments and recommendations. I read the introduction and it sounds right up my alley:

    The target audience for God’s Debris is people who enjoy having their brains spun around inside their skulls

    For maximum enjoyment, share God’s Debris with a smart friend and then discuss it while enjoying a tasty beverage

    I look forward to reading the rest. I always love an interesting thought experiment, and if it’s from the creator of Dilbert then it’s got to be good!

  3. Howie, am with John on this one, God’s debris is a great read.
    On the conceptions of god, the stance I have adopted is the igtheist stand, tell me what a god is then we can have a discussion on whether the entity so described could possibly exist.
    I have noticed in many discussions on god, there is a hidden premise or assumption that what god is is known by everyone, I don’t know what god is and I hope that this is where we start the discussion.
    Great post mate.

  4. The miracle thing has never meant much to me either. When I was a little brat, I told a gullible friend that I had special powers of perception and I just knew things that others couldn’t know. She said prove it. So I went out on a limb and said, “A fire truck is going to sound its sirens and pass behind us in a few seconds.” Then, much to my surprise, a fire truck started up its sirens and wailed by. Both of our jaws dropped. True, I knew there was a fire station down the street, but really?

    An interesting point of view from which to write a blog post. I like the idea of saying, “Here’s what I need to believe…here’s your best arguments, look, I’m handing them to you. Take them. Here. Really. Take them.”

    I also like what Makagutu said: “…tell me what a god is then we can have a discussion on whether the entity so described could possibly exist.” So much confusion could be cleared up if we defined things first!

    “- Entirely transcendent gods – perhaps the answer is way above and beyond what our human minds are capable of understanding.” I couldn’t help but think of the story of Job here. Where were you when God created heaven and earth? Just kidding! I had to go there.

    I consider myself a Platonist in that God could exist for me as a first principle. Hardly a jealous entity, and hardly interested in throwing miracles our way. But to call this first principle “God” is something I would be wary of in most conversations.

    What it would take to make me a religious person (and this belief would always be in a lower level on the continuum of certainty that you described): I would have to have that cosmic experience that so many religious people have. I guess Aquinas would call it “grace”. And it wouldn’t be in the form of a proof or argument. I don’t really know much more about it or what it would be. Something about this feels fishy, right? What kind of knowledge would this be then? It sounds mystical. Well, I think IF God is a first principle from which the world is deduced, maybe all I’m getting it all ass backwards in looking in the world for God. So out goes William Paley’s watchmaker analogy. Maybe God is a presupposition that renders everything intelligible, but a presupposition that comes as a given experience? Perhaps it’s a presupposition that we ought to take when it’s given, like A=A is something we should just take as true.

    In the meantime, what else can we do but make use of reason as much as possible?

  5. Oh, I have a feeling you’ll enjoy it. If religious thought had taken off down this road, as opposed to the personal anthropomorphic animism we see today, then things might have been a little different.

  6. Hey Mak. Good to see you and thanks for the comment and kind words.

    I can relate very much to the igtheist or ignostic stance. It relates a little to what I was talking about in this post about some theists defining the attributes of their god at the same time that they like to say he is transcendent. And of course people have many different views of what their god is like. It reminds me of a discussion I had with my father very early on in my Christian phase. He told me that if I was to ask a lot of different people to describe God then I would get many differing responses. Didn’t phase me much at the time, but I always remembered it and believe there is wisdom in that.

  7. My working theory, which am willing to revise, is that gods- whatever they are- have been deferred to as an explanation when we are ignorant of causes which has been the bane of our existence.
    The second part to this is there are societies where there were family totems that were deified over time and became gods for the community. And in others, it is the village tyrant who was deified.
    Lastly, gods were made in our own images. They represent our deepest desires or rather, I think desires that are held by most of us but things that unfortunately are beyond us for example immortality.
    And I think the reason for the answer from your old man is not far from saying everyone creates their own gods. Looked at from a large population it may look like it is the same god but I think for each person who has a god, their god is almost very much like them.

  8. @ Howie,
    My mother-in-law urgently calls once or twice a year with the urgent question “Are the kids alright? I had a horrible dream last night?”. Fortunately, her mystical premonitions have always been wrong. But we all damn-well know that per chance she calls within a week when something has happened, she will conveniently forget all these misses and say, “See, I knew it!”

    Even though I have personally experienced ghosts, the voice of God, visions and more, I no longer have an open mind about an interventionist theist god. Well, at least not without HUGE God-like signs. 🙂 Nonetheless (as I have written about Monkey Gods) as for the non-interventionalist, non-personal, inspiring type, I leave room for them, it seems.

    Interestingly, I’ve just been reading a bit on Spinoza, and those speculating on his god. And it made me wonder the classic question, “If Spinoza had been born in our era, free of dominance and threat of Christianity, mighty he have been more free to make yet different speculations?” Ridiculous, “what if” question, of course. But you can so palpably taste the time and culture of any person when you read them, and it makes you really see how little freedom we have in our thoughts, as opposed to how much we think we have.

  9. Hey Howie, I did have a dream one time. . . but the point about life coincidences is well taken. Speaking of coincidences on a cosmic scale, I’m hoping to blog about a very new argument that deals with the anthropic principle at some point. And, I agree with your point about certainty. Surely, “knowing” that God exists has an entirely different meaning than “knowing” that ones spouse exists. I think Ray Comfort is equivocating.

  10. Hi Tina – Loved the fire truck story! Should we call you “prophetess Tina” or will just prophetess do? 😉 It’s actually quite fitting of an example given how mundane it is, and quite surprising.

    Great comment – chock-full of good points to think about.

    I’m not sure where I stand on Platonism yet (still reading 🙂 ). I’ve heard some interesting perspectives from Paul Davies that aren’t platonic (although I realize he’s a physicist who only dabbles in philosophy).

    I may have mentioned it before, but I’m totally with you on never having had that “cosmic experience” that so many people seem to talk about. Not sure why I was left out of the party. 😉 But I think you mentioned it on another post of mine – even with an experience like that there could be the issue of our mind tricking us. In fact it’s interesting to look over at Sabio’s comment on this thread – he’s had some interesting experiences yet doubts their veridicality. Very intriguing.

    Now I can actually totally get the idea that some things are just presuppositional facts that we take as a given – I sometimes like to call them foundational beliefs or axioms, and your example of A=A is a good one. Another example I talk about often is the idea that “other minds” exist. This is pretty much a fact that we all (ok, practically all) take as true – that our friends and family truly exist and are not an illusion is somewhat of a given for us. But we are empirically interacting with these people on so many levels. I don’t see those things happening to cause people to believe in God. I realize though that there are exceptions to this – there certainly are those that believe they empirically sense God on all the same levels we experience our friends and family, but nowadays there are conclusions that we draw about those people, and there have even been some interesting neuroscience investigations into these. Again, another thing I’m still reading more on.

    Actually, your mention of God being a presupposition from experience reminds me a bit of Alvin Plantinga’s apologetics which Brandon and I had a good discussion about over here. (not to be confused with Presuppositionalism which Brandon is actually strongly against – he has a good post on that).

  11. Hey Sabio – Perfect point about your mother-in-law. Reminds me of when I was a Christian and would share my “testimony” (remember those?). Part of mine was a scary thunderstorm which had woken me up in the middle of the night – I had been arguing with my friend earlier that day as he was trying to convince me of Christianity. When I awoke to the thunderstorm I immediately thought it was God trying to make a point so I knew his power and that He wasn’t happy. I knew of course that I had been having those arguments with my friend many times for more than a year, but somehow that didn’t factor into how I thought about my experience.

    It also reminds me of how Christians keep urging people to keep seeking and praying and they will find God. Well of course if you keep praying over and over, at some point there will be a “hit” event and all the misses will be forgotten.

    Like I told Tina, I’ve never had any experiences like the ones you describe and I find it very interesting that you don’t believe after all of that.

    I think that’s a great point you have about Spinoza. I can relate to the realization of that illusion as well.

  12. Hey Brandon – thanks for commenting. I’ll make it a point to read your post when you publish. I get the feeling Ray is trying to make his case sound more convincing than it looks. Parsurrey (remember him?) seemed to have the same technique – when he would run into someone questioning the existence of God he would ask them “do you know if you exist?” as if somehow those 2 things are beliefs that could be considered on the same level.

  13. @Howie:
    LOL — Thunderstorm conversion story!
    Great one.

    I had a much more marketable one: God spoke to me and helped me find my dead friend. (link here)

    I’ve had many people show surprise that I could have these type of experiences and not still be a believer — indeed, that disbelief inspired me to write one of my last post on hot-road ghost. But ironically, it was many more mystical experiences that unravel the mystical in my life. Interestingly, I’m not sure I’ve put that in words yet.

    I think people are largely inclined by temperament to those experiences. Many atheists (a disproportional number compared to believers) who don’t have that temperament thus think believers are delusional on two levels: (1) The experiences — using the simple, mistaken judgement of “I haven’t had them so they must only happen to deluded people.” (2) Their beliefs are crazy — using a mistaken notion of belief and how they function. But perhaps you’ve read my posts on that before.

    All to say, when I started blogging, I recorded a lot of my weird experiences because I was actually surprised to see many atheists not ever having those experiences — and I saw them making false judgements based on that lack of experience.

  14. Excellent post, Howie! I don’t have much to add, except to say that your “Certainty” section really resonated with me, this part in particular:

    For example, while I usually take a multi-vitamin in the morning I’m not terribly convinced of its efficacy. I’ve read different things regarding vitamins, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of consensus. So I don’t always take them, and I certainly wouldn’t go around pushing them on others or judging them for believing differently. This is the normal way that we believe things in life, and frankly a belief in gods shouldn’t be different. This is why I have great respect for some of my theist friends who have said things like “Christianity works for me, but by all means I realize that I could be wrong about it being true and I don’t judge anyone for doubting.”

    Sometimes I come off too hard against religion, but that’s usually just a “heat of the moment” kind of thing. The way I really feel about it is exactly what you’ve laid out here.

  15. @Sabio: I read that post of yours and my main thought was how traumatic an experience that must have been for you. I can only imagine.

    Given that I haven’t had experiences like these I’m not sure I can even form the proper conclusions. I’m curious about your experiences of seeing ghosts. You don’t believe that ghosts really exist, so what is it that was really going on then? Could it even be described so someone like myself (who’s never had the experience) would even understand?

  16. @ Howie:

    Like you, Howie, I am not only comfortable with uncertainty, but I embrace it — albeit in a pragmatic way. In fact, I playfully made an image (on this post) to illustrate a fun way to think about my epistemology.

    After reading that post, then maybe this post on my Ghost sightings will show how I see them and answer your question. (link here).

    Embracing our own ignorance is so crucial, eh?

  17. Thanks Nate!

    Sometimes I come off too hard against religion, but that’s usually just a “heat of the moment” kind of thing

    I do the same thing and I believe it’s natural especially when our own views are being portrayed as ridiculous. It may have something to do with why people recommend not talking religion with friends. I never listen to that advice of course. 🙂

  18. Hey Howie,

    You can call me The Prophetess. That has quite a ring to it! I was such a bad, bad girl.

    I read the thread you directed me to and found it absolutely fascinating. Brandon sounds like he’s had the kind of experience I’m talking about. Furthermore, he’s a very intelligent guy and quite articulate and humble, all at once. Very impressed.

    I think that the experience as A=A is not one you question. So when you and I read the story of Abraham going to sacrifice his son to God, we think this guy is out of his mind. But what’s going on in Abraham’s mind is something like A=A. Don’t ask me how or why. I’m not about to do anything that crazy. Not anytime soon, anyway.

    All that I know about it comes from anecdotal accounts in William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience. I highly recommend that if you haven’t read it. I don’t agree with James’ philosophy of radical empiricism, but this book seems so well-balanced. He tries to avoid sounding relativistic in finding similarities in all religious experience by saying that for certain folks, only a certain kind of religion will do. I don’t know that he escapes relativism. In any case, it’s a fascinating read and might explain the sort of mystical—or perhaps it might be more generous to say “super-rational”—experience of truly religious folks.

    The idea of God as a starting point rather than a rational deduction seems to be a cornerstone in these accounts. It’s not that someone sat around like Descartes coming up with ontological arguments or even ruminating on theology. Yet when the experience came, it made sense of the world in a rational way. Which would explain why those people who don’t have a background in philosophy or theology tend to focus on these points that seem irrelevant to non-believers. For example, they say believing makes them moral…well, you and I know morality is possible without religion. These explanations seem beside the point once you read William James. It’s more of a cosmic harmony sort of thing. That’s all I know about it, not having had such an experience myself.

    Plato describes this experience similarly in the Symposium and in the divided line of the Republic (especially the latter). Reason only goes so far…but one must go through it. No religion without taking science and mathematics very seriously! Then, once one takes ideas seriously and absolves the paradox of the senses, one might have that experience of reason itself, the Good, God.

    With Christianity and in W.J.’s account, one need not go through such rigorous philosophical or scientific training. Some people are just blessed. I can’t say I get it, but when you read all these descriptions, there does seem to be a unifying thread, despite such different backgrounds.

    Plato was the reason why I was able to take religion seriously at all. See, I grew up in the Bible belt and had some pretty horrendous experiences with Christianity. I would lie awake at night as a very young girl thinking that everyone was lying to me, and so on, and I became very atheistic, to the point where I couldn’t even talk to anyone with any sort of religious sympathies whatsoever. So what I have to say about it is probably not of much value. What Brandon has to say sounds pretty damned legit to me, though. So I’d go with him if you really want to understand the experience!

  19. @ Howie,
    Interestingly, this morning Tom Reese (who I met this summer in Wales), just posted on one of the many temperament/perception differences between natural religionists (me) and natural atheists (not me — though I am an atheist).

    I was just about to direct you to Tom’s study review about Ghosts when I saw that pop up, so, with my hyper-agency-detection mind, I felt God must be trying to use me to talk to you! 🙂

    Here is Tom’s Ghost post: “What sort of person sees Ghosts?”

    Sorry so many links and readings, but thought you may be interested

  20. @Tina (Prophetess 🙂 ),

    Yeah, Brandon has been one of the theists I’ve been able to have intelligent and reasonable conversations with.

    While I didn’t grow up in the bible belt I can very much understand how it can cause people to become “hardened” against religion. I haven’t read any of William James but I’m familiar with it from seeing others talk about it and quote him. I had a post a while back which had a bit of a William James feel to it. I think you put it well. I also “can’t say I get it”, but I can be understanding toward the proclivity that people have toward “mystical” interpretation of the world. It’s when they aren’t understanding back, or when they do things that harm others or harm progress as a result that I get irritated.

  21. @Sabio – I’m a huge fan of links and these all look good so I really appreciate them. I’m almost done with your “supernatural experiences” series, and then I’ll hit these other links and comment again with any thoughts.

  22. @Mak – I don’t go through my spam folder often. For some reason your second comment (starting with “My working theory”) was stuck there and I just found it. Doesn’t make sense – no links or anything bad. I need to check more often.

    You have some excellent points here. The gods of different religions definitely do seem very anthropomorphic.

  23. @Sabio,

    I’ve read all your ghost sighting posts as well as the comments. I thought a lot of commenters (including yourself) had some very reasonable ideas for natural explanations. A few of yours seem to be even extra powerful because it’s not only the experience itself but something eerily too coincidental that happens afterward, although even some of those can be explained somewhat reasonably. I kind of think that given all the variables involved in coincidental experiences it would be near impossible to even do a mathematical probability assessment to determine between “accident or purpose”.

    As far as myself the only experience that may come anywhere near is a sense of deja vu – there are times where the wife and kids are running errands and I’m alone in the house and then my brain triggers a memory of the kids making noises playing together in their rooms. It’s hard to describe – I don’t feel like my ears are hearing anything, but it’s just a weird feeling of remembering how it feels to hear it. Not sure if that’s clear. You’ve probably read about the incidences of seeing or hearing loved ones after they die (as with your mother) – any small investigation into the arguments around Jesus’ resurrection will give you that kind of info. I can see how a feeling like the deja-vu kind that I’ve had could be amplified during the strong emotions of a tremendously traumatic experience of the loss of a very close loved one.

    I also briefly looked at your supernatural experience list and it does look like given all that it may be that you are among a small percentage in being inclined toward those experiences. I’ve only barely scratched the surface in learning about this but a few things I’ve run across regarding possible natural contributors to these experiences are the following: (1) brain injury (perhaps sports), (2) geomagnetic activity, (3) solar activity, (4) seismic activity. Have you ever given thought to that or read about that?

  24. @ Howie,
    Thanks for the readings – hope they helped you glimpse those of us with different temperaments.
    BTW, your hearing voices is not called “deja vu”, I don’t think. “Deja vu” is experiencing something real and having the eerie feeling you’ve done the exact same thing before. But whatever you call it, yes, I agree, it is such brain-echoes that feed many unusual experiences.

    As for your last question, with the 4 choices — I didn’t understand the question. I don’t think any of my experiences were cause by any of the 4 you listed, if that is what you mean?

  25. @Sabio – you’re right about the deja vu thing – it’s almost like the reverse of deja vu – or maybe not.

    This has been very popular so you’ve probably heard about it. I’ve been learning mostly on Victoria’s blog that there’s been other related research regarding possible natural causes of these experiences, and I was just wondering if you’ve come across any of that.

  26. @ Howie,
    One of my many gripes about commentors is that they choose a label but don’t use it.

    For instance:

    rung2diotimasladder = AKA Tina

    anaivethinker = AKA Brandon

    So when you address Tina & Brandon, I can’t look back and see who you are talking to unless I already know these equivalents. It is like I need a translation sheet to help me read the comment thread. For regular readers, though, I am sure it is no problem.

    So, when you wrote “Victoria”, I scrolled back to look and now have to ask “Who is Victoria and where is her blog?”.


    BTW, I have one or two points to make about the “God Helmet”, but first, I have a few questions for you:

    (1) Your present tendency is to think that their are natural explanations for the weird experiences I had, correct?

    (2) What do you think my tendencies are to explain my weird experiences?


  27. @Sabio – I’ll try my best to answer those:
    (1) Yes that is my present tendency. I see no good reason to entirely rule out the possibility that there are non-natural or super-natural explanations, but given the history of progress in natural explanations of human life experiences, I tend toward thinking there are natural explanations. At the very least if I started having experiences I’d want to see if there’s any good information on natural explanations and see if there may be some causation involved from those explanations.

    (2) From reading your ghost posts and your comments on those I was getting what I thought was a clear indication that your present tendency is toward natural explanations, but please correct me if I got that wrong.

  28. @ Howie,
    Right. I am glad I was understanding your position, and indeed, that is mine — pretty much just like yours. And, oh yes, who is Victoria?

  29. Oh yes, Howie, during all your reading, did you get a chance to see the studies discussed by Tom Rees which I gave to you around 5:30 am (your time) yesterday? What did you think of them — that is the notion of disposition and the ability to see and experience.

  30. @Sabio – Sorry, for some reason I thought you knew Victoria. You can find a lot of her brain related research here:

    I did read those studies, but did not get a chance to read the comments. I thought those studies looked fascinating, but wasn’t totally clear on which conclusions were firm. Some of the things I’ve heard before, but some was new. I think these studies are absolutely awesome, and I really hope to see more like it in the future. The one study on “Supernatural believers see minds at work behind random patterns” didn’t seem to have a lot of people in it so maybe not solid stuff, but nevertheless very interesting.

  31. Yeah, I found her stuff by searching for her name on your last comment thread — I remember her.
    Interesting, see mentions New Age salesman Tolle — I am a big fan of David here who criticizes Tolle, I think correctly:
    People often grab neuro terms like they grab quantum terms to bedazzle others or falsely puff up mere speculation. I have a hard time weeding through the stuff. In the end, I think (like you, it seems) that it is the mind. But we all valorize our own minds, that is certainly true. And we trick ourselves to think we aren’t.

  32. @John – you were right, God’s Debris was an awesome book. I may do a post on it later. I liked how it twisted my brain.

    I’ve already started reading the sequel (The Religion War) and it looks cool too. I think I’m going to try and hit your other recommendation first though (Why Is There Anything?), since I’ve been curious about it for a while.

  33. Great! And glad you liked it. From a social perspective I can appreciate Adam’s god-idea because it (if you believe) would place full responsibility on the individual to act only as best as they can, and strive for more… which is really what we should all strive for, anyway; god or no god. From a poetic/aesthetic perspective the notion also quite appealing.

    Matt Rave, the author of Why is There Anything, has a great blog, Many Worlds Theory (link below), and is a really nice bloke who’s taken the time to answer many of my silly questions in the past.

  34. I totally agree with you as far as Adam’s god-idea having much more positive social effects on society. I think I see some other concepts which may also be positive. Paul Tillich’s god concept (which is very similar to Spinoza) is one example. The Unitarian Universalist viewpoint is pretty good as well from a social / practical viewpoint.

    While I don’t really believe in the “god debris” idea, it struck me that it works out some of the conundrums better than the traditional anthropomorphic monotheistic view does, the problem of suffering being the main one that comes to mind. I’ve been pushed by some theists online with them saying how their monotheistic view answers more questions than atheism does, but if they really want to just pick out some consistent worldview that gives them some nice feeling of certitude then you’d think they’d want to pick one that doesn’t also create extra paradoxes to deal with.

  35. Always like to read the ruminations of a probing mind.

    “But if you are willing to toss away these miraculous stories from other religions why are you so quick at judging others for doubting your own?”

    I read somewhere not long ago a very similar statement: When you come to understand why you reject other religions, then you should understand why they reject yours.

    The argument that gave me the final push to complete my exodus from religion was my realization that one’s religious beliefs are a function of happenstance of birth rather than “truth.” It depends, for the vast majority of people, into what family and society one is born–what one is taught from tothood to believe.

    For my own blog,, back in February I researched the widely believed concept of the “power of prayer.” The resulting post I also published at I refer most folks to that one because I like the artwork they attached to the publication.

    So, it appears to me that no god exists, so I am a “6” on Dawkins’ Spectrum of Theistic Probability, simply because I cannot know with absolute certainty (no one can). And surely the most unanswerable question of all is; Why is there not nothing. Existence, itself, is spooky.

  36. Hey Max,

    The dependence of religious beliefs on happenstance of birth was very troubling to me as well when I was a Christian, especially when I believed in eternal punishment for not believing.

    I read that article you wrote and it resonated with me as well. I remember as a Christian leading a study group going through a book that said that God answered prayers with “yes, no or wait”. I also remember being very troubled by the fact that the very idea pretty much conceded that prayer was essentially meaningless.

  37. “yes, no or wait.” Yes, in my youth, I would use that one as well–’til I began to really think about it.

    Looks like we’ve taken the same difficult and less traveled path. I’m happy to meet you along the way. 😀

  38. I feel the same Max. Probably one of the most positive experiences I’ve had in blogging is getting to meet others who have traveled similar paths to my own. I’m happy that I’m also challenged here by those who disagree, but it’s always healthy to have the camaraderie of those who can understand where I’m coming from.

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