“The Skeptical Inquirer”

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One of the podcasts I enjoy listening to is the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, a science-oriented, religiously skeptical discussion conducted out of the New England Skeptical Society. The shows run long, so I can’t listen to all of them, but I’ve heard a couple of them, featuring Michael Shermer and John Rennie. You can learn a lot of science and unlearn a lot of myth from these discussions.

When they wander onto religious territory, however, their skepticism tends to take a strange turn. I have noted in the past that Michael Shermer’s skepticism does not range as far as it ought. His magazine, The Skeptical Inquirer, approvingly cited a discredited article purporting to show that Christianity has negative social effects. He would have done well to treat that study with more caution.

In an article in current Touchstone magazine, titled “The Skeptical Inquirer,” Edward Tingley takes this question of self-proclaimed skeptics’ skepticism to a far broader and deeper level. The article’s subtitle tells more than the title: it is, If Only Atheists Were the Skeptics They Think They Are. Tingley, a philosopher at Augustine College in Ottawa, launches a strong counter-assault on what he considers an erroneous conception: that today’s atheists and agnostics are the virtuous thinkers who never jump to conclusions ahead of the evidence.

He begins provocatively:

Unbelievers think that skepticism is their special virtue, the key virtue believers lack. Bolstered by bestselling authors, they see the skeptical and scientific mind as muscular thinking, which the believer has failed to develop. He could bulk up if he wished to, by thinking like a scientist, and wind up at the “agnosticism” of a Dawkins or the atheism of a Dennett—but that is just what he doesn’t want, so at every threat to his commitments he shuns science.

That story is almost exactly the opposite of the truth.

He continues in that tone for a few paragraphs, and then moves into providing real support for his claims. It’s drawn primarily from Blaise Pascal:

There are skeptical theists; Pascal was one….

“I have wished a hundred times over that, if there is a God supporting nature, [nature] should unequivocally proclaim him, and that, if the signs in nature are deceptive, she should suppress them altogether”—but nature prefers to tease, so she “presents to me nothing which is not a matter of doubt” (429). “We desire truth and find in ourselves nothing but uncertainty” (401). “We are . . . incapable of knowing . . . whether he is” (418). This is where the modern person usually starts in his assault on the question, Is God real or imaginary?

This is base camp, above the tree-line of convincing reasons and knock-down arguments, at the far edge of things we can kick and see, and it is all uphill from here. Thus, it is astounding how many Dawkinses and Dennetts, undecideds and skeptical nay-sayers—that sea of “progressive” folk who claim to “think critically” about religion and either “take theism on” or claim they are “still looking”—who have not reached the year 1660 in their thinking. They almost never pay attention to what the skeptic Pascal said about this enquiry.

Could it be that it is the atheists and agnostics who have rushed to judgment? Have they missed 350 years (or more) of good thinking on the question of God? In what ways was Pascal a model skeptic? He recognized–did not shrink back from–our inability to judge the existence of God by our senses. Translated: our inability to judge the existence of God through science. The modern atheist says, “well, then, there’s no scientific evidence for God; thus there’s no God.” Tingley suspects more than a little of a rush to judgment in there! For Pascal,

There is still the reasoning of the heart.

The scientist Pascal claims to know a route that will take us over the ice to convincing discovery. It is the refusal to test his thinking that betrays the faith of atheists and agnostics.

No no, they will say, point to something material on which to base belief and then I will look at it. “Give us solid evidence!” They insist that every belief about reality must be accepted on the basis of evidence (“experience or logic”). On what basis do they accept that? Evidence? But there is none.

There is no evidence, that is, for the idea that every belief must be accepted on the basis of “experience or logic.”

But atheists and agnostics pick. They commit in the absence of evidence.

I have quoted enough here. The argument is Tingley’s not mine, so I will borrow no more of it. Don’t evaluate it, please, on the basis of these short excerpts; I present them here merely to stimulate you to go to the source and read it for yourself. Then we can talk about it here.

Related: “Though It Is Not Impossible To See God…”
and Evidence of the Heart: The Sense of God

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60 Responses to “ “The Skeptical Inquirer” ”

  1. Wow, great article. My mind is spinning – too many great points to comment on. I’d be interested to hear what others think, in particular, about this snippet (bold is mine)

    We are told we should face the facts. Well here they are: The only world in which strictly empirical evidence is the road that we should take in our views about God is a world in which God either shows himself by such evidence or simply does not exist. Those are the options that the agnostic and the atheist like, and it is because they like them that they never pay any attention to the further fact that accompanies these: God might await us down another road. There are three options, not two.

  2. I used to be surprised that skeptics I talked to took on that attitude of “I’m being totally rational, objective, and critical. I’ve thought all of this through, and there’s nothing but reason behind what I believe,” so frequently.

    Since then I’ve come to accept this as the norm. It’s an inescapable reality that some things really cannot be grasped by pure science, and that everyone has unprovable assumptions that they work with every day. Those truths are very uncomfortable to the person who wants to say, “I’m being purely rational,” because they stand in direct contrast to that claim.

    I think we can see daily evidence of that denial in the way these skeptics talk about science-minded believers. They have to question their intellect and rationality – to accept it would be to admit that pure reason is not enough to settle the questions that they want to see as finalized.

  3. Medicine Man said:

    “It’s an inescapable reality that some things really cannot be grasped by pure science, and that everyone has unprovable assumptions that they work with every day.”

    That reminds me a lot of Paul Little’s book, Know Why You Believe; more specifically, the chapter “Do Science and Scripture Agree?”. I’m in the middle of writing a book chapter review on this because it was a strong influence in my early Christian walk.

  4. Everyone gets things wrong once in a while.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-shermer/how-skeptic-magazine-was-_b_38896.html
    Here Shermer even admitted why his skeptical instincts were thwarted:

    Unfortunately, in our eagerness to find additional examples of the inappropriate intrusion of religion in American public life (as if we actually needed more), we accepted this claim by PEER without calling the National Park Service (NPS) or the Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP) to check it. 

    Good for him for coming clean, however.

  5. I think the central theme of the article Tom linked to can be summed up in this brief quote – “There are three options, not two.”  The author said “reason delivers three options” so let me ask the skeptics out there, is he correct? Why or why not?

    The author addresses the “no evidence” reason for believing only two options exist. What do the skeptics think about this?

    “It is not true at all that he cannot believe without evidence; he has already done so, having arrived at his commitment to evidence without evidence. Evidence is not his only vehicle of locomotion, and he should admit it. He should notice what his heart is already doing for him, when he lets it.”

  6. Tom, that article will provide fodder for a lot of discussion.  Re: SteveK’s quote above:
    I think everyone agrees that we must first draw a line, that is, we must assume some things – rationality, etc.  But assumptions are not empirical claims, and it seems to me that the question of whether God exists or not is an empirical claim, and empirical claims must rely on evidence (as well as the background assumptions that all evidentiary conclusions rest on).  But we can’t go assuming a conclusion that should really be reached by evidence.
    Is there something besides an assumption (like rationality) or evidence that I’m missing?
    I won’t have much time to respond right away, I busy for few days.

  7. Paul (or others),

    I think that’s really the crux of the issue. Assumptions which cannot be proven through evidence are inescapable, no matter what your worldview. Also, regardless of your position on God, you will either start, end, or pass through some point in which “hard evidence” is neither feasible nor possible.

    The skeptic who dogmatically says that nothing can be believed in without “hard evidence” does so irrationally. First, because that very statement is assumed, not arrived at empirically. Second, because it assumes an artificially narrow concept of reality, one which conveniently excludes the very entity(entities) that the skeptic claims are not being demonstrated.

    So, yes, we do have to make assumptions. Not only is there nothing wrong with that, it’s absolutely necessary. What is wrong is acting as though you have made no assumptions at all, i.e. taking the common attitude of the religious critic. It’s also wrong to make assumptions that are self-defeating, such as trusting only empirically verifiable facts (which is in and of itself not empirically verifiable).

    I guess the gist is that “faith” (trusting in what you can’t prove but have good reason to believe) is inescapable. You either accept that, or you don’t, but even to deny that statement is to exercise it.

  8. MM

    Second, because it assumes an artificially narrow concept of reality, one which conveniently excludes the very entity(entities) that the skeptic claims are not being demonstrated.

    Many a skeptic will say evidence that isn’t ‘hard’ can’t help us understand reality. This is one of those artificially narrow concepts of reality in my opinion. Since we all make assumptions, isn’t it best to assume ‘soft’ or intersubjective evidences point toward something real? It’s not just best, it’s the only logically consistent position to hold. As you said, “to deny that statement is to exercise it” – which means it’s illogical to deny it. Our job as skeptical truth-seekers should be to search for that ‘hidden’ reality, being careful to consider both hard and soft, intersubjective evidence.

  9. Paul,

    it seems to me that the question of whether God exists or not is an empirical claim, and empirical claims must rely on evidence (as well as the background assumptions that all evidentiary conclusions rest on). 

    I think that’s exactly what the article was saying is not true:

    But we have, in fact, already tested one hypothesis about how God behaves: that he shows himself directly to our senses. That is what got us up here past the tree-line in the first place. We now have evidence for a conclusion that all our fellow seekers of truth ought to draw: Either God does not exist or he exists but does not show himself to our senses.

    Our skepticism rejects the likelihood that things we can see will resolve our doubts; that is progress already made. 

    If Tingley is right (and that point is hard to argue), the question becomes this: will we move immediately to conclude that God does not exist? Or can we explore the possibility that he exists but does not show himself to our senses? 

    That’s the question, and it runs directly counter to your assumption that the existence of God is an empirical matter.

  10. Steve,
    I’d say we have to be careful with this:

    Since we all make assumptions, isn’t it best to assume ’soft’ or intersubjective evidences point toward something real?

    You could easily take the above to the extent that says anything is possible, and anything is real, because ‘all forms of evidence are representative of reality’. I think it’s more accurate to say that “some” soft or intersubjective evidences can point towards something real. Or, more to the point, it should be made a limiting statement, rather than an open-ended one, such as “Since we all must make assumptions, it’s necessary to assume that at least some subjective evidences point towards something real.

    That gives a logical, rational place to work from, since the more open-ended version leads to the kind of meaninglessness that postmodernism suffers from.
    This, however, is exactly where we should be:

    …being careful to consider both hard and soft, intersubjective evidence.

  11. MM,
    I didn’t mean to imply that all forms of evidence point to reality. My final sentence about giving careful consideration is more to the point. Thanks for the opportunity to clarify this.

  12. Tom, one thing first: by empirical claim, I only meant to distinguish evidence-based conclusions from assumptions.  The only other thing we have to draw conclusions with is logic, but even logic has to operate on evidence in order to draw a conclusion about the universe (see below).
    Now, God could exist and never show himself to our senses (talking with us as a friend does would give us evidence, which is the big analogy in the argument from divine hiddenness), and we could never have evidence that he exists, and yet he could still exist (lack of evidence is not evidence of lack – did I get that phrase right? – but it is certainly suspicious).  That is hypothetically possible, but so what?  We’d still have no reason to believe in him, other than what pure logic and assumptions could provide.  But which is going to do the heavy lifting, so to speak, in order to get us to a valid conclusion that God exists?  Certainly not assumptions, because that is merely assuming that which you’re trying to conclude.  The only thing left is logic, but even that has to be founded on evidence, ultimately.  Maybe not evidence of God as a being that we perceive like we do our friends, but evidence of the orderliness of the universe, perhaps.
    So let’s be clear: evidence, direct or indirect, is still needed.  Perhaps God is like dark matter?  Lots of physical evidence that points to his existence (I’m restating your position, I hope and I think), but nothing directly of his actual physical presence as a being?

  13. Even this, Paul, seems not to be drawing from what Tingley said about the third way:

     The only other thing we have to draw conclusions with is logic, but even logic has to operate on evidence in order to draw a conclusion about the universe (see below).

    I’m wondering how you would respond to Tingley’s third way. Do you think he’s wrong? Why?

  14. I’m wondering how you would respond to Tingley’s third way. Do you think he’s wrong? Why?

    I started with a similar question – and again here. Thanks to Paul for attempting to answer…but….where have all the skeptics gone?

  15. I don’t get what the third way is (the heart?).  I didn’t finish reading his article, I only scanned it.  Can you summarize?   I literally don’t know what “the heart” means in this context.  Intellectual openness I get, but I suspect he means something different.

  16. Good point, Steve.

    I wonder if this third way might be so completely far out, so distant from normal empiricist thinking, that it’s just hard for people to recognize it as a logical alternative. It’s a foreign way of thinking for many. 

    Maybe we can take it just a step at a time: is Tingly (following Pascal) right in saying that the third option exists? The question at this stage is not whether the third option is viable, but simply whether there is indeed a third option.

  17. This will be hard if you don’t really read the article, Paul. Here’s the nugget that introduces it:

    Maybe, if he exists, God would show himself directly to our senses. But maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe he would hide from us—maybe he is a Deus absconditus, Pascal says, following Isaiah 45: “Truly, thou art a God who hidest thyself.” What evidence do we have by which to rule that out? We can’t be dogmatic, can’t say that God is this way or that way: Everything possible is possible.

    But we have, in fact, already tested one hypothesis about how God behaves: that he shows himself directly to our senses. That is what got us up here past the tree-line in the first place. We now have evidence for a conclusion that all our fellow seekers of truth ought to draw: Either God does not exist or he exists but does not show himself to our senses.

    The first option is God exists, and shows himself to our senses (there is an empirical route to knowledge of God). The second is that God does not exist. The third is that he exists but does not show himself to our senses.

    So the current question is whether the third option is at least logically possible. If it is, then we ought to proceed to consider in what ways it might be true and how we might go forward from there. That’s what Tingley addresses in the rest of the article.

    (He also speaks, as a major point, of how the so-called skeptics have dogmatically taken a doctrinaire position that rules out the third option from the start.)

  18. So the current question is whether the third option is at least logically possible. If it is, then we ought to proceed to consider in what ways it might be true and how we might go forward from there.

    I think Tingley addressed this question very well. MM’s comment was the most concise when he spoke about the the logical possibility of a third option: “to deny that statement is to exercise it”. So I think the third option is impossible to deny.

  19. Tom, the third option most definitely exists, but it has two problems:

    1. For what other things can we *not* say that they may exist but there is no empirical evidence?  Unless you’re saying the epistemological situation with God is the same as with dark matter (you did not respond to my analogy with dark matter, and I’d love to hear from you if I got that right or not), then it seems like we can hypothesize the existence of many other things in addition to God. some of which will be quite absurd.
     
    2. What is the likelihood, in general, that something exists but for which there is no empirical evidence?  That is, on what other foundation (besides empirical evidence) can we rest a conclusion?  Assumption?  No, for obvious reasons. Logic?  I don’t see how a logical conclusion doesn’t ultimately rely on empiricism (even 1+1=2 means nothing unless we have empirical experiecne with two apples; otherwise, it’s just a Turning machine, manipulating meaningless symbols).  The logic that leads astrophysicists to hypothesize dark matter rests on purely empirical observations.

  20.  
    Paul,

    “Evidence” is a broad term, and “empirical evidence” is a sub-set of it. The idea is that there are more kinds of valid evidence than just the empirical, or “hard” evidence. Emotions are an example – they cannot be described as “hard” by any stretch of the imagination. And yet, my emotions are a kind of evidence by which I can make decisions, in that they tell me something meaningful.

    The idea is not to throw open the doors to anything as valid evidence, but only to avoid artificially throwing a lot of evidence out. So, yes, there are plenty of things that can be hypothesized, whose existence cannot be absolutely denied, and which would be pointless or strange. The idea is to see what quality and quantity of supporting evidence we can apply in order to make a decision one way or the other. Absurdities will be revealed as such, in the light of all available forms of evidence.

    For instance, we cannot rule out the possibility that there is a purple glass sphere with pink dots orbiting the star Sirius. We have no “hard” evidence whatsoever that this object exists. We have no “soft” evidence either, all we have is theoretical possibility. If God was like this, then there would be some legitimate weight to hard agnostic claims that we just can’t know about Him. However, we do have a great deal of non-empirical evidence suggesting God, as well as a lot of empirical evidence to support those suggestions.

    The evidence that points towards God is like evidence for anything else, in that it has to be considered as a whole. So-called-skeptics tend to look at each piece of evidence completely by itself, all alone, and say, “This does not prove God.” Then they toss it over their shoulder, and look at the next bit of evidence as though the first one was never there. When all is said and done, the skeptic is standing with his back to a gigantic pile of evidence and confidently claiming that there is absolutely no evidence at all.

    This would be like a murder trial where each piece of evidence that doesn’t prove guilt entirely by itself is considered inadmissible. You’ll never have any evidence at all, then, because evidence always needs other evidence to be compared to.

    The difference between God and “dark matter” is that dark matter was hypothesized purely to correct discrepancies between prevailing physical theories and observations. The model said “A”, observations said “A+0.00001”, and so dark matter was devised and inserted into the model ad hoc. It’s not so much that observations suggest dark matter, as that observations don’t fully support the theory in question, and dark matter is a construct that patches the hole.

    God, on the other hand, is not an idea proposed to make an existing theory fit an observation. God, in a sense, is the theory itself, based on the observations. We observe an orderly universe, a generic moral sense, an intuition of free will, and so on and so forth. We (collectively) observe events and actions and communications from God. So, our concept of God is one developed from observations as the overall theory. Dark matter is a hypothesis inserted into a theory in order to fill a crack.

    In response, then, to #1: We could say almost anything logically possible could exist, in theory. Not all such hypothesis will be match with other forms of evidence. The possibility that something exists is not the same things as the likelihood that it exists.

    In response to #2: There is no doubt that things exist (reality is reality) apart from our empirical observations. Firstly, this is because our storehouse of empirical data is very limited. The pattern of rock formations on Pluto is what it is. We have no empirical evidence that those rocks look one way or another, but they have some shape. A lack of present empirical evidence does not preclude future empirical evidence, nor does it affect reality.

    Secondly, the very examples of dark matter, quantum theory, and so forth show that reality can be grasped through means other than the empirical. Yes, dark matter was suggested in response to empirical evidence, but it has never been empirically measured. Heisenberg recognized that there are limits on our ability to empirically observe reality; and yet, reality is what reality is, observed or not. Neither of those cases can really be said to be based purely on empirical observations – philosophy, assumption, and preference were used to decide how to interpret the observations.

    God, then, can be suggested by the summation of evidence as strongly as any anything else. That is where the “leap of faith” is made: the end of a springboard of evidence. We add up all of what we see and decide that God makes the most sense of it. We don’t just close our eyes and try to jump from the locker room right into the pool. Skeptics say that making the leap of faith is foolish. For them, it is, because they’ve only followed the evidence so far. Trying to hit the pool from the parking lot is mighty silly. Those who follow the evidence farther, however, see how reasonable it really is.

  21. MM, you’re absolutely correct that the disagreement between theists and atheists comes down, at some point, to adding up all the bits of evidence–excellent, fair, and poor.  So arguments about a single piece of evidence can be thrown off because atheists will debunk a piece of evidence but theists will fit that evidence into a larger picture.  So how do we resolve that situation?
     
    You took my dark matter analogy further than I wished it to go.  I didn’t mean to bring in the fixing-a-theory aspect of dark matter.
     

    Secondly, the very examples of dark matter, quantum theory, and so forth show that reality can be grasped through means other than the empirical. 

    You must have missed my distinction between direct and indirect evidence.  We have not directly observed dark matter, but hypothesizing comes very clearly from obvious empirical measurements.  Quantum theory as well.  Regarding Heisenberg, our discussion is logically prior to the uncertainty principle.  That is, we can discuss the question of what is evidence, assumption, logic, etc., in a Newtonian universe, even.  That’s where there’s still plenty of issues to work through without bringing in observers influencing quantum effects, etc.

    Quantum theory is regarded as one of the most solidly empirically proven theories in hard science.  What’s not empirical about the two-slit experiment, Einstein’s photo-electric effect, etc., etc.?  This is as hard a science, complete with complex machines, measurements of physical properties, mathematical calculations, etc., etc.  Just because other assumptions (rationality at least) are assumed doesn’t mean the empirical stuff isn’t necessary or not present.

    Can we agree merely that atheists and theists add up the evidence differently?  It’s not that atheists only follow the evidence so far; we have followed the evidence as far as you have, but we add it up differently.  For instance, iI believe that it is absurd that some god who loves me refuses to communicate directly and obviously with me – ever in my earthly life.  It is also absurd that my decision while on earth about accepting Jesus as my savior is non-retractable.  Why can’t I decide after, say, 3,819 years after my death, while I’m in hell or wherever I am, that I do accept Jesus as my savior, and then I would go to heaven?  Why must I decide now, while on earth?  It’s as if there’s some paperwork deadline instituted by some lower-level functionary – if I don’t get my application in on time, that’s too bad.  I could go on, but at least give atheists (in general) the credit for following the evidence as much as you do, and I’ll return the favor.

  22. Hi MM,
    This is a great point:
    <blockquote> So-called-skeptics tend to look at each piece of evidence completely by itself, all alone, and say, “This does not prove God.” Then they toss it over their shoulder, and look at the next bit of evidence as though the first one was never there. When all is said and done, the skeptic is standing with his back to a gigantic pile of evidence and confidently claiming that there is absolutely no evidence at all.</blockquote>
    God is evidenced, but not proven, in questions of origins, cosmology, morality, intelligence, logic, etc. In every case God makes sense of the issue and is the better explanation than the non-God explanation form-fitted <i>ad hoc</i> to any one of these cases.

    Again, great iteration of this.

  23. Paul,

    Can we agree merely that atheists and theists add up the evidence differently?  It’s not that atheists only follow the evidence so far; we have followed the evidence as far as you have, but we add it up differently.

    Yes, modern-day atheism is not a lack of belief due to lack of evidence. It’s a conclusion. I’m not picking on you, Paul, just those who can’t see what is going on – or don’t want to see it.

    Why can’t I decide after, say, 3,819 years after my death, while I’m in hell or wherever I am, that I do accept Jesus as my savior, and then I would go to heaven?  Why must I decide now, while on earth?  It’s as if there’s some paperwork deadline instituted by some lower-level functionary – if I don’t get my application in on time, that’s too bad.

    I know you are asking serious questions, but this made me laugh. Must be the imagery it conjured up in my mind. Let me ask you a question, Paul: Based on your understanding of the biblical God, do you desire to have a proper relationship with him – you being the created being that you are and God being the sovereign God he is?

  24. Paul,

    “So arguments about a single piece of evidence can be thrown off because atheists will debunk a piece of evidence but theists will fit that evidence into a larger picture. So how do we resolve that situation?”


    Well, my resolution is hardly one that a skeptic would accept. I’d say the skeptic needs to treat evidence for God the way they treat evidence for everything else.

    It’s not that the atheist “debunks” the evidence, they just reject it in pieces. They make a (usually) correct judgment that “bit-of-evidence-#123, considered entirely by itself, does not prove that there is a God”. The problem is that they then make the statement, “therefore, this piece of evidence has nothing to do with God”, or “therefore, there is nothing about this that points towards God.” This is then repeated with other parts of evidence. That’s how the skeptic gets to the point of having a pile of evidence, and yet claiming that there just is none.

    I say that evidence for God has to be considered the same way as evidence in, say, a courtroom. State exhibits A through Z probably don’t prove, taken individually, that so-and-so killed so-and-so. Taken together, though, they can eliminate reasonable doubt. My view is that the evidence for God works in this way. I know that skeptics see things differently.

    I know you weren’t going quite that far on dark matter, but I wanted to be sure to emphasize that there is a critical difference between the conceptualization of dark matter and the conceptualization of God. One was arranged ad hoc, out of whole cloth, to fix gaps between observations and theory, the other fits observations as-is.

    I might have missed some distinction between direct and indirect, but I think then we’re just trying to use two different sets of definitions. And, you’re slightly off-target in your assessment of dark matter. Yes, empirical observations were made. Yes, those observations were instrumental in the development of dark matter theories. But no, dark matter theory is not developed from anything remotely empirical. It’s given non-testable properties that give it the desired properties within the overall theory. Dark matter theories are non-empirical by their very nature. They relate to empirical data, but they do not come from it, strictly speaking.

    No one said that quantum theory wasn’t a hard science, or empirically verifiable. But it does indicate that there are some limits to what we can observe, test, and duplicate from a strictly empirical perspective.

    Atheists and theists certainly add up the evidence differently. That’s part of the point of the linked article. If the evidence for God was a pile of money, in my opinion, the current skeptical approach is to ignore anything of lower value than a $5.00 bill, since it “doesn’t add much.” They are then surprised to find that the theist ends up with a much higher assessment of the value of that pile. Evidence is evidence, whether it comes in a half-million little bits or three big chunks.

    I understand that there are aspects of theism, Christianity, and so forth that people have a hard time with. May I say, though, that moral outrage isn’t evidence of non-existence? I find the idea of murder horrible – but murders happen every day. I think adultery is wrong, but people cheat all the time. I hate it when people flick cigarette butts into my lawn, but it happens. The fact that I don’t like something does not mean it is not true. That’s a hard truth, but an undeniable one.

    Respectfully, then, I have to say that the objections you raised are important, but irrelevant to the question of God’s existence. Those objections are not matters of evidence – they are matters of preference. The fact that murder is repugnant to me does not in any way lessen the reality of it. Your response is exactly why, with all due respect, I have to disagree when most skeptics claim to be following the evidence as much as theists do. There is too much of the “…but if God is real, then things I don’t like with would be real, as well.”

    The person viewing the evidence in the courtroom can choose to reject all of it, on the grounds that the defendant is someone they care about, and they think it’s absurd that their loved one could be guilty. That’s their prerogative, and your prerogative, but it’s not an example of following the evidence where it leads.

  25. If the evidence for God was a pile of money, in my opinion, the current skeptical approach is to ignore anything of lower value than a $5.00 bill, since it “doesn’t add much.” They are then surprised to find that the theist ends up with a much higher assessment of the value of that pile. Evidence is evidence, whether it comes in a half-million little bits or three big chunks.

    For those interested, I found a cumulative case written up here. Lots of $5 bills and a few $100 bills too.   😉 

  26. MM, the currency that is the evidence (to continue your money analogy) is judged by the atheist to be counterfeit, so it is not worth anything as legal tender (as good evidence).  Maybe there’s a few genuine nickels and dimes in there, but not nearly enough to purchase belief.
     
    We may just be disagreeing about poorly reasoned atheism versus well-reasoned atheism.
     
    My incredulity at God’s deadline for my acceptance of Jesus is a strong reason to doubt God’s existence, even as I acknowledge the hypothetical (and I don’t necessarily mean “small” by that word) possibility that God could very well just decide to be like that. 
     
    Perhaps another way to say it would be that it doesn’t make any rational sense for God to have that deadline for me to accept Jesus, and it doesn’t make any rational sense for God to not communicate directly and obviously with me, as my friends do.  Sure, maybe God exists and chooses to be that way, but it still wouldn’t make any human-sense, perhaps only God-sense.   But this then leaves the theist with only the “God works in mysterious ways,” which, of course, can be used to justify *any* irrationality.

  27.  
    Paul,
     
    If you can accept the idea that God may very well not choose to act as you think He should, then I hope you can see that those disagreements are not valid reasons to deny His existence. You seem to be saying the opposite: that it’s easier to believe that He doesn’t exist than that He disagrees with you. Consciously or subconsciously, that’s just assuming Godhood ourselves, by assuming that it’s unbelievable that some other entity could have a higher moral sense than me(you).
     
    It makes perfectly good sense, in all definitions, for God to impose some kind of ‘deadline’. There’s also good reason not to make absolutely and version of “obvious” communication you want to draw up. In short, both are because those who don’t want to believe will find every reason they can not to. They’ll delay for forever if they’re so inclined. They’ll rationalize away anything.
     
    Part of my criticism of the skeptical mindset is that, to the skeptic, there is no such thing as “enough.” From the Christian standpoint, God has communicated, in direct and obvious ways. If a billion-letter coded message in two-bit format arrived from space via radio, SETI would be cheering over our contact with an alien intelligence. I have something several times that size in my DNA, made of absurdly sophisticated self-replicating proteins. Skeptics keep talking about how biology “appears” designed, physics “appears” designed, earth “appears” designed – but none of them “really” are. Shouldn’t all of this apparent design suggest something? Choosing to define all of those as “insufficient” is exactly the kind of irrational flaw that the linked article is talking about. What you are saying is tantamount to claiming that burial mounds, flint arrowheads, pottery shards, and bone needles are not acceptable evidences of human settlement – only stone castles or iron tools are legitimate proof. No steel? Then there’s no reason to believe that people were there. Those other things just “appear” to be man-made.
     
    It’s not that God works in such mysterious ways, it’s more that God works in specific ones. He’s given us free will, and as a part of that He’ll leave enough wiggle room for the committed unbeliever to remain so, if they choose. Salvation is something granted by grace to those who offer a submissive, repentant faith to God. It’s contradictory to the nature of God to offer it to those who have rejected Him, and who only submit to avoid punishment. A judge may offer a murderer a chance to confess before sentencing, and avoid the death penalty. If the murderer waits until he’s in the death chamber to confess, that confession is meaningless, and the judge will treat it as such.
     
    That is why your arguments, and the arguments of almost every skeptic, inevitably drift towards those “moral outrage” arguments: on the face of it, the evidence does strongly point towards some kind of God. The desire to reject that God finds expression somewhere, and it’s usually through statement of those preferences.

  28.  
    Paul,
     
    It’s also not true that God can be used as an excuse to justify anything. He’s given us clear statements about His character, nature, and will. Something that’s not consistent with those attributes isn’t justifiable for the believer.
    That said, even when it’s used irrationally, at least “God of the Gaps” presumes a purposeful explanation for the bizarre. The “it just happened” explanation can’t be defended at all.

  29. If you can accept the idea that God may very well not choose to act as you think He should, then I hope you can see that those disagreements are not valid reasons to deny His existence.

    MM, I’m not sure about the meaning of the word “should” above.  I only said God not communicating directly with me, like my friends do, isn’t rational, and the same for the deadline to accept Jesus.  To say that God “should” act otherwise is a different point.
    Furthermore, without a rational reason, divine hiddenness ceertainly is evidence of his non-existence.  It explains the situation very well without multiplying entities.

    You seem to be saying the opposite: that it’s easier to believe that He doesn’t exist than that He disagrees with you. Consciously or subconsciously, that’s just assuming Godhood ourselves,

    It’s not a disagreement, it’s that God doesn’t act rationally with hus communications and deadline.  Are you justifying God’s apparent irrationality with “God obviously knows better,” or something like a super- (God-like) rationality?  If so, you implicitly agree that God’s actions are irrational insofar as humans understand rationality.  Otherwise you must try to justify his actions/approach with human-rationality (as you attempt directly below), and nothing else.  And, I’m not assuming Godhood for myself or humanity.  Where did I necessarily imply that?

    It makes perfectly good sense, in all definitions, for God to impose some kind of ‘deadline’. There’s also good reason not to make absolutely and version of “obvious” communication you want to draw up. In short, both are because those who don’t want to believe will find every reason they can not to.

    But what about those who would believe but honestly don’t find a reason to?  As purely and as honestly as I know how, I opened myself up and asked God to communicate with me directly, and spoke to Him, and got nothing.
    Furthermore, you can’t seriously be suggesting that every single non-believer is that way because they don’t want to believe.  That begs the question, doesn’t it?  “Anyone who doesn’t believe like me has hardened their heart, isn’t really interested in an honest exploration of the situation,” which equals “Anyone who doesn’t agree with me isn’t rational.”  Then why should we try to have a rational discussion?
    And why is the deadline appropriate for those who honestly and sincerely would believe but don’t see what you see?

  30. Paul,

    “God not communicating directly with me, like my friends do, isn’t rational, and the same for the deadline to accept Jesus.”

    And, again, “I don’t agree” is not the same as “irrational.” Communication on the level you’re talking about removes the free-will aspects of believing in God, also making it pointless. Part of that submission to God is an admission that we don’t know everything. Being able to repent after you’ve died and gone to Hell would defeat any purpose of life in the first place. There’d be nothing rational about letting criminals go free, as long as they say “I’m sorry” after they get caught. You would do things differently if you were God, fine. It is not impossible to believe that a deity might not see things the way you do.

    “Furthermore, without a rational reason, divine hiddenness ceertainly is evidence of his non-existence.”

    There are rational reasons for it, some of which were recently mentioned. While I don’t see it this way, it’s entirely possible that God could exist and deliberately choose to hide all of the evidence for Himself. The linked article did discuss this possibility, and some reasons why. Yet again, personal distaste is not evidence of non-existence.

    There is at least one very good reason, a very important reason, that belief in God is not a purely (hard) evidential thing: human diversity. Not everyone has the intellect to have a conversation like the one we are having right now. Some don’t have the capacity to do much more than take care of their own basic needs. There are those who are too poor, too ignorant, too limited mentally, or too disadvantaged to be given a glimpse of every scrap of empirical evidence in the universe with which to decide. So, God makes Himself available through more universal and accessible means. That’s rational, isn’t it, if God wants to reach as many of us as possible?

    “It explains the situation very well without multiplying entities.”

    That’s not true, because you’re making the exact mistake the article, and I, are talking about. It explains what “situation?” This has to be looked at holistically. For every aspect of life that gets a little simpler to explain without God, there are a dozen that become impossible to explain. Your own disagreement on some theological points might be best explained, to you, by the absence of God, but there’s much more to be considered than that.

    “…you implicitly agree that God’s actions are irrational insofar as humans understand rationality.”

    I’m saying pretty clearly that there is a rational basis for what God does.

    Your assumption of God-hood comes in your approach to aspects of God you don’t like. Your response to these is not “I don’t like that, I don’t like that God is that way.” Nor is it, “I wouldn’t worship God if He was like that.” You are suggesting that you cannot believe that an omnipotent, omniscient, timeless entity would do things differently than you. Deliberately or accidentally, you’re arrogating supreme authority and judgment to yourself.

    What I’m about to say gets tough, but understand where I’m coming from. I understand that there are aspects of God that are not all sunshine and roses. Even as a believer, every person is going to struggle with the difference between how we want things to be, and how God wants things to be. I also realize that it’s more important to search for truth than for validation of my own preferences. I have a deep appreciation for those who are really searching for truth. With that in mind, when I read this…

    “As purely and as honestly as I know how, I opened myself up and asked God to communicate with me directly, and spoke to Him, and got nothing.”

    …I have to ask what exactly you were expecting? Making a sincere effort to know God is great, but you seem to want God to appear in a vision, speak in English, or perform some other overt miracle. God will communicate with you, but He won’t necessarily do it as though he was on a walkie-talkie. If you’re really feeling an urge to seek Him, then He’s already communicating with you! That ‘twitch’ that says, “go find out more” isn’t just random synapses, that’s God calling. If you’re limiting God’s ability to communicate with you, He’s not going to kick down the doors. It may be that you’re demanding a phone call, and He wants you to read a letter. He may be whispering, and you want Him to shout at you. Don’t wait for Him to shout – C.S.Lewis explained quite well how God does that.

    “Furthermore, you can’t seriously be suggesting that every single non-believer is that way because they don’t want to believe.”

    No, but I am most confidently and adamantly suggesting that virtually all “experienced” skeptics can be described exactly that way. Nobody believes anything unwillingly – what you give intellectual assent to is not beyond your control. Nobody disbelieves anything unwillingly – what you reject is not beyond your control. The skeptic believes many things, which he does not fully understand, and yet rejects God with that as an excuse.

    There are those who do not believe who are really seeking. If I didn’t believe that, I’d have no use for apologetics. There are those who do not believe who aren’t seeking at all. Richard Dawkins is not seeking truth. Neither is Sam Harris, or Acharya S, or Christopher Hitchens. It’s not hard to understand that nothing in this world will ever convince Dawkins that God exists; his commitment is absolute.

    And let’s be honest – your own statement about God says exactly this:

    “Anyone who doesn’t agree with me isn’t rational.”

    Wasn’t that your argument against the way God does things? You said:

    My incredulity at God’s deadline for my acceptance of Jesus is a strong reason to doubt God’s existence, even as I acknowledge the hypothetical (and I don’t necessarily mean “small” by that word) possibility that God could very well just decide to be like that.

    You disagree, therefore, to you, it’s irrational. I can accept that rational disagreements exist. Then again, not all disagreement is rational.

    “And why is the deadline appropriate for those who honestly and sincerely would believe but don’t see what you see?”

    Because they do have opportunity to believe. the longer a person resists that “still, small voice”, the less likely it is that they’d ever believe anyway. Scripturally speaking, those who “honestly and sincerely” would believe, will believe, someday. Everyone decides how they’re going to respond.

    We can go on for hours and hours, but the undeniable truth is that we really do choose what we believe. We have reasons for our faith or lack of faith that aren’t based purely on empirical evidence, or on crystal-clear logic. In a nutshell, the evidence for God is universal and apparent enough that no one lacks what they need to make that decision. It’s simply a matter of choosing to believe it, or not.

    I’ve always been firm, but cautious, about asking those who say that they would believe, if there was evidence, this question, which only they know the answer to: do you really, truly, want to believe it? If the answer is no, then all the evidence in the world won’t matter.

  31. “God not communicating directly with me, like my friends do, isn’t rational, and the same for the deadline to accept Jesus.”

    And, again, “I don’t agree” is not the same as “irrational.”

    Huh?  I’m not saying they are the same.  I’m just calling what I see is irrational as irrational.

    Communication on the level you’re talking about removes the free-will aspects of believing in God, also making it pointless.

    do you really, truly, want to believe it?

    So I think I have this straight, now.  The (or one) essential part of believing in God has nothing to do with evidence or rationality or logic, it is merely an exercise of (free) will and a desire to want to have God exist.  So if I really, truly, want to believe something, that is an essential part of making it true.  Apply that to *anything* else and you’ll see how absurd that is.  Thinking that something can’t exist will harden your heart against seeing that it does, but desiring something to exist will fool you into thinking that it does when it might not.  *Both* are examples of bias that must be removed when determining the truth.

    Being able to repent after you’ve died and gone to Hell would defeat any purpose of life in the first place. There’d be nothing rational about letting criminals go free, as long as they say “I’m sorry” after they get caught.

    Why is dying like getting caught in your analogy?  I don’t get that, and it is a crucial part of your analogy.  I can’t address the other implications of your analogy until I get that one cleared up.

    You would do things differently if you were God, fine. It is not impossible to believe that a deity might not see things the way you do.

    This is about whether God acts rationally, not what I might do if I were God.

    Yet again, personal distaste is not evidence of non-existence.

    I’ve said this before, too: this is about whether the God you describe is rational, not about my distaste.

    So, God makes Himself available through more universal and accessible means. That’s rational, isn’t it, if God wants to reach as many of us as possible?

    So your God is so handicapped that he has to have a one-size-fits-all approach?  Why is he limited to a single approach for everyone?  That is not rational for the creator of the universe to be so hamstrung.

    You are suggesting that you cannot believe that an omnipotent, omniscient, timeless entity would do things differently than you.

    I’ve already said that God could work in mysterious ways, but we can’t call it rational, as we understand the meaning of the word.  My first argument is very narrow: is God’s behavior rational?  Once we determine that, then we can figure out whether his rationality or lack thereof is evidence for his existence or not.

    He won’t necessarily do it as though he was on a walkie-talkie.

    And this is an absurd situation.  There’s no reason for it.

    If you’re really feeling an urge to seek Him,

    Wrong.  I had an urge to find out if he exists.  Your phraseology implies that I already assume he exists, and want to commune with him.  When I ask him to talk to me, I don’t know if he exists or not.  It’s one way to try to find out if he does or not.  Like when I don’t know whether my friend is in the area, I call out to him, and he responds if he’s there.  Your God can’t even do that for me.

    No, but I am most confidently and adamantly suggesting that virtually all “experienced” skeptics can be described exactly that way.

    Do have anything at all to back that up?  Do you think you can just claim anything at all?

    Nobody believes anything unwillingly – what you give intellectual assent to is not beyond your control.

    Apparently, that’s how you operate, but a valid commitment to the truth, as Tom says, is to be held by it, to go wherever the truth will take us, regardless of whether we wish the conclusion or not.  This is called lack of bias, having an open mind, which does not mean wanting a certain result.  Your comments here make me think that the real reason why you believe in God is because you want to.

    And the point of this sub-exchange was that you addressed my point by claiming that non-believers have hardened their hearts, but you have still failed to account for those who sincerely disbelieve.

    Anyone who doesn’t agree with me isn’t rational.
    You disagree, therefore, to you, it’s irrational.

    No, you have it backwards.  I judge something to be irrational, therefore I disagree with those who would claim it is rational.  It can be no other way, logically.
    Again:

    do you really, truly, want to believe it? If the answer is no, then all the evidence in the world won’t matter.

    And if the answer is yes, then all the evidence in the world won’t matter to you, either.  You will be convinced of what you want to believe in no matter what.  It works both ways.  This encapsulates the foundation of the atheist case.
    The solution is to remove all bias, one way or the other, and only listen to what reality is telling us the best we can, without preconception, without our hearts telling us where to go, etc., etc.  Your approach can have <b>no</b> place in determining what is truth.

    but the undeniable truth is that we really do choose what we believe.

    This makes a mockery of the idea of objectivity, and, ultimately, of reality itself.
    The truth is not necessarily what we want.

  32. Hi Medicine Man,
    Very good comments here.
    I would enjoy and hope that you can keep it up.
    =====
    A few thoughts gleaned from Timothy Keller’s <i>The Reason for God</i>:<blockquote>
    To know oneself , is above all, to know what one lacks. It is measure oneself against the Truth, and not the other way around.- Flannery O’Connor
     
    Motivations are nearly always mixed. If you wait until our motives are pure an d unselfish before you do something, you will wait forever.
     
    The first thing you have to do is repent. That’s not a very elegant word  but there is no getting around it.
    Th repentance that really changes  your heart and your relationship with God begins  when you recognize that your main sin, the sin under the rest of your sins, is your self-salvation project.
    Yet those who enter a relationship with God inevitably look back and recognize that God’s grace had sought <i>them</i> out, breaking them open to new realities.
     
    ===
    In short, hell is simply one’s freely chosen identity apart from God on a trajectory into infinity.
     
    No one ever asks to leave hell. The very idea of heaven seems to them a sham.
     
    “In each of us there is something growing, which will BE Hell unless it is nipped in the bud.

    All that are in Hell choose it.” C.S. Lewis, <i>The Great Divorce</i>
     
    That is why it is a travesty to picture God casting people into a  pit who are crying “I’m sorry! Let me out!” The people on the bus from hell in Lewis’ parable would rather have their “freedom, as they define it, than salvation.
     
    All God does in the end with people is give them what they most want, including freedom from himself. What could be more fair than that?
    As C.S. Lewis points out, the journey to hell is a process…
    </blockquote> 
     
     

  33. Hi Paul,
    I’ve shelved a comment asking exactly what steps you’ve taken in your quest to know God. But perhaps you could ponder how you’d respond.
    As for this, I just thought I’d note the irony coming from a  man who can’t even affirm that he exists, is a jazz musician, and is not a brain in a vat.<blockquote>This makes a mockery of the idea of objectivity, and, ultimately, of reality itself.
    The truth is not necessarily what we want.</blockquote>
    Interesting as well that you state categorically what logic demands when you tell us that logic is merely something we assume. It turns out then that you are only assuming what can and cannot be otherwise.

  34. I’ve shelved a comment asking exactly what steps you’ve taken in your quest to know God. But perhaps you could ponder how you’d respond.

    First I have to know if God exists. Follow the logic there for a sec, if you will. No sense in getting to know someone if they’re a figment of your imagination.

    As for this, I just thought I’d note the irony coming from a man who can’t even affirm that he exists, is a jazz musician, and is not a brain in a vat.<blockquote>This makes a mockery of the idea of objectivity, and, ultimately, of reality itself.
    The truth is not necessarily what we want.</blockquote>
    Interesting as well that you state categorically what logic demands when you tell us that logic is merely something we assume. It turns out then that you are only assuming what can and cannot be otherwise.

    MM and I have been having a great discussion, in my opinion. We’ve been respecting each other, it’s stayed quite civil, and the argument has actually progressed. Given that, I decline to respond to your caricature of my argument.

  35. Paul,

    “I’m not saying they are the same. I’m just calling what I see is irrational as irrational.”


    I keep bringing this up because you keep conflating perceived irrationality with non-existence.

    “The (or one) essential part of believing in God has nothing to do with evidence or rationality or logic, it is merely an exercise of (free) will and a desire to want to have God exist.”


    No. There are things in this world that you believe, for which you do not have exhaustive empirical evidence, logical support, or experience. You have good reasons to believe them, and some questions about how they actually work. Pick any topic, whether you think you know something about it, or not. There will come a point where you have no other answer to the successive questions “why” and “how” other than “I don’t know.” That limited knowledge doesn’t stop you from trusting that those things exist, are meaningful, etc.

    Quantum physics is an example. The vast majority of people on earth have never observed experimental verification of a quark. They’ve never learned all of the sophisticated mathematics behind how quantum theory works. All the same, they can and do trust in the conclusions that scientists say that they’ve come to – on the basis of a reasonable faith.

    That reasonable faith is necessary for belief in anything. You can’t possibly know everything, so there is no escaping some exercise of faith. Exercising of free will is absolutely necessary, but that exercise is not meant to be devoid of intellectual or evidential influences.

    Yes, we have to avoid extremes in the “want to”-“don’t want to” divide. But leaning one way or the other is inescapable. All we can do is acknowledge that internal bias, and judge our own reactions accordingly.

    “I can’t address the other implications of your analogy until I get that one cleared up.”


    God wants us to trust in Him. He wants us to admit that we need Him, and that He is who He claims to be. Once a person dies, then belief in God is no longer their choice – it’s a truth forced on them. It’s not an expression of respect and worship at that point. The person who feels repentant post-mortem is like the criminal who only feels sorry once they get caught. Prior to that, they’d have been perfectly happy to continue on violating the law. After their capture, they’re only sorry to be in trouble, not sorry for the wrongdoing. Confession after conviction in a courtroom is meaningless, and repentance after judgment is as well.

    If God operated in the way you suggested, then there would be no reason for anyone to believe in Him. They could just ignore Him, wait until they died, and then say, “Oh, so you are real. Well, then, please don’t hold me responsible for my actions before.” The judge in a court would never take that seriously from a convicted defendant. “Oh, so I didn’t get away with it. Well, then, in that case, I’m sorry and I really want to be a good citizen.”

    “This is about whether God acts rationally, not what I might do if I were God.”


    You seem to be making the two functionally identical. You’re expressing an incredulous attitude towards the idea that a rational God might do things that way. If we can acknowledge that other human beings can rationally disagree, why can’t God?

    “So your God is so handicapped that he has to have a one-size-fits-all approach?”


    I’m sorry, but this tells me most of what I need to know about going forward from here. I suggested that God has created a means by which to know Him that’s accessible for all mankind, and you response is to criticize it as a “one-size-fits-all” limitation? How is that a limitation, rather than an expression of His power? Isn’t that something you should be expecting – a universal means of apprehension?

    He devises a means by which anyone can know Him, and you call that “limited.” I think you’re so committed to the belief that God cannot be rational that you’re willing to do some serious gymnastics to defend it.

    If you want to know God, you’ll find a way. If you want to find reasons to disbelieve, you’ll find them. What you’ve said recently is casting some serious doubt on the sincerity of your search. I don’t know or care to say much more than that. God exists, He created ways for us to know Him, and those who want to use them will use them. If you’re going to insist that God only communicate with you in a specifically narrow way, then you’re not really interested in truth, just validation.

    “…but a valid commitment to the truth, as Tom says, is to be held by it, to go wherever the truth will take us, regardless of whether we wish the conclusion or not.”


    Yes, and part of that commitment is to acknowledge truths that we do not like. It is to accept that things do not have to conform to our own personal whims in order to be real, rational, or meaningful. Even in those times, there is a deliberate choice to believe what we not have wanted to, a decision to accept what we don’t prefer. I made it quite clear that my own beliefs do not entirely match my preferences. There are truths, which I acknowledge, that I sincerely wish were not so.

    “Your comments here make me think that the real reason why you believe in God is because you want to.”


    It’s “a” reason, not “the” reason. I have no problem saying that anyone who dismisses the “choice factor” in regards to belief is willfully ignorant in that regard.

    I don’t know how else to phrase an account for those who “sincerely disbelieve”. If they disbelieve, then they disbelieve. Those who really want to find out, will find out.

    “It works both ways. This encapsulates the foundation of the atheist case.”


    But you seem to be vehemently denying that choice has anything to do with your own belief, or lack of it. And besides, if it works both ways, why are you resisting the connection of choice to belief in general? If it (beliefs have a component of choice) is so fundamental to the atheist case, and this is so plainly obvious:

    “You will be convinced of what you want to believe in no matter what.”


    Then why are you speaking as though that distinction does not apply to you?

    “This makes a mockery of the idea of objectivity, and, ultimately, of reality itself.
    The truth is not necessarily what we want.”


    Then you misunderstand. Truth is not necessarily what we want, of course – but no one is obligated to believe in the truth!

    “Furthermore, you can’t seriously be suggesting that every single non-believer is that way because they don’t want to believe.” | “No, but I am most confidently and adamantly suggesting that virtually all “experienced” skeptics can be described exactly that way.” | “Do have anything at all to back that up? Do you think you can just claim anything at all?”


    Didn’t you just make a large point of agreeing that some people are committed enough to their beliefs that nothing could ever change their minds? Are you going to ask me to quote every skeptic I’ve ever talked to? Its an idea established enough to be accepted:

    “I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in metaphysics, he is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do, or why his friends should not seize political power and govern in the way that they find most advantegous to themselves… For myself, the philosophy of meaningless was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexual and political.” — Aldous Huxley”


    That’s not a fringe belief Huxley’s espousing. It’s an honest look into the motivations of a great number of skeptics.

  36.  

    Unfortunately, in our eagerness to find additional examples of the inappropriate intrusion of religion in American public life (as if we actually needed more), we accepted this claim by PEER without calling the National Park Service (NPS) or the Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP) to check it. – Shermer

  37. Paul,
     
     
    No patience! No quarter! Not no how! You and I both know that any answer not fully developed in ten minutes, complete with references, cover art, and a soundtrack is inadmissible! Shame on you and your…”patient” approach! Shame!

  38. I keep bringing this up because you keep conflating perceived irrationality with non-existence.

    I’m not conflating them, I’m merely saying that God’s irrationality is one reason to suspect he doesn’t exist.  If I hypothesized that another god existed, and laid out a theology that was nonsensical, are you saying that fact of its nonsensicality wouldn’t be a factor in your rejecting the truth of that theology (forget for a moment your supposed evidence for the truth of Christianity)?  Could you still believe in your god if you were shown that he was irrational?

    There are things in this world that you believe, for which you do not have exhaustive empirical evidence, logical support, or experience. . . .

    The standard does not have to be exhaustive, merely sufficient.  But the real issue here is discussed below.

    You have good reasons to believe them, and some questions about how they actually work.

    If the reasons for believing in them are good, then they are relying on evidence, assumptions, or logic.  But assumptions and logic cannot be sufficient to prove the existence of an object or a being.

    Pick any topic, whether you think you know something about it, or not. There will come a point where you have no other answer to the successive questions “why” and “how” other than “I don’t know.”

    Not at all.  Eventually you get down to the assumptions (non-contradiction, rationality, etc.).

    Quantum physics is an example. The vast majority of people on earth have never observed experimental verification of a quark. They’ve never learned all of the sophisticated mathematics behind how quantum theory works. All the same, they can and do trust in the conclusions that scientists say that they’ve come to – on the basis of a reasonable faith.__That reasonable faith is necessary for belief in anything. You can’t possibly know everything, so there is no escaping some exercise of faith.

    The issue isn’t whether one has personal (direct) knowledge or whether one trusts others’ personal (direct) knowledge.  The issue is what that knowledge is based on, ultimately.  Whether you have personal knowledge of a claim or not, we judge the validity of a claim the evidence, assumptions, and logic, no matter who personally observed the evidence, stated the assumptions, etc.

    Exercising of free will is absolutely necessary, but that exercise is not meant to be devoid of intellectual or evidential influences.__Yes, we have to avoid extremes in the “want to”-“don’t want to” divide. But leaning one way or the other is inescapable. All we can do is acknowledge that internal bias, and judge our own reactions accordingly.

    There is no basis for claiming that leaning one way or the other is inescapable.  I’m a mediator, and while I may often personally favor one party or another for idiosyncratic reasons, I am trained to ignore those considerations, and I can tell you from personal experience, that both I and other mediators are quite capable of ignoring those considerations.  It sounds like, though, it’s more difficult for you to do so, which may be one reason why your biases lead you to believe in God.

    God wants us to trust in Him. He wants us to admit that we need Him, and that He is who He claims to be. Once a person dies, then belief in God is no longer their choice – it’s a truth forced on them. It’s not an expression of respect and worship at that point.

    You’re conflating respect, worship, and belief in truth.  In what sense of the words “respect” and “worship” is the assumption of another’s existence necessary, because it’s the truth of God’s existence that is in question here?  These definitions are ad hoc definitions, convenient for covering up the irrationality of the theology.
    Furthermore, truth is *always* forced on us.  We cannot choose to make reality what we want.  Reality is what it is, regardless of our wishes or desires.  As Tom says, the truth holds us.

    The person who feels repentant post-mortem is like the criminal who only feels sorry once they get caught. Prior to that, they’d have been perfectly happy to continue on violating the law. After their capture, they’re only sorry to be in trouble, not sorry for the wrongdoing.

    You can’t claim that in every case.  What about the criminal who truly and honestly feels sorry after he’s caught?  You can’t claim that never happens.

    Confession after conviction in a courtroom is meaningless, and repentance after judgment is as well.

    Confession isn’t the issue, repentance is, see above.  You can’t claim that everyone who repents after conviction is insincere, on what basis can you claim that for *everyone?

    *If God operated in the way you suggested, then there would be no reason for anyone to believe in Him. They could just ignore Him, wait until they died, and then say, “Oh, so you are real. Well, then, please don’t hold me responsible for my actions before.”

    The rational option would be to establish that he is real as clearly as you imply he will after we die.  No rational reason not to, then there’s no reason not to be clear and take his commandments seriously.  Note I’m not saying everyone would do that, but there would be no reason for God not to.  Which is why my claim is that this system God has set up is not rational in the way that we understand the word.
    Not to open up another can of worms, but if this is a question of being held responsible for actions on earth, how can an infinite punishment (hell) be just for finite (earthly) crimes?

    You seem to be making the two functionally identical. You’re expressing an incredulous attitude towards the idea that a rational God might do things that way. If we can acknowledge that other human beings can rationally disagree, why can’t God?

    The issue is that I claim that God’s system is irrational, and you think it is.  You’re trying to inflate my issue for me, please allow me to define what I’m trying to argue and when.

    I suggested that God has created a means by which to know Him that’s accessible for all mankind, and you response is to criticize it as a “one-size-fits-all” limitation? How is that a limitation, rather than an expression of His power? Isn’t that something you should be expecting – a universal means of apprehension?

    Not at all.  People are different, why must it be universal?  It’s God limiting himself, for no good reason.  I’ve given you an example in which God could communicate, by any *rational* measure, more effectively by using more means than the ones he currently uses (like having an actual conversation with someone, especially me), and it’s surely within his power to do so.

    If you want to know God, you’ll find a way. If you want to find reasons to disbelieve, you’ll find them.

    Recall that my issue is not what I’m doing, but what God is doing, and whether it makes sense or not.  And I’ve already (and will do so more below) addressed the issue of willfulness in a proper, rational approach to this issue (that is, it plays no role).

    I don’t know or care to say much more than that. God exists, He created ways for us to know Him, and those who want to use them will use them. If you’re going to insist that God only communicate with you in a specifically narrow way, then you’re not really interested in truth, just validation.

    I’m not insisting how God communicate, I’m only judging, accurately, as I claim, that God’s methods are not rational, as we understand the term.

    Yes, and part of that commitment is to acknowledge truths that we do not like. It is to accept that things do not have to conform to our own personal whims in order to be real, rational, or meaningful. Even in those times, there is a deliberate choice to believe what we not have wanted to, a decision to accept what we don’t prefer. I made it quite clear that my own beliefs do not entirely match my preferences. There are truths, which I acknowledge, that I sincerely wish were not so.

    The only choice we need make is to decide that we will let the truth guide us, and not the reverse.  So it still makes no sense for you talk about willfully deciding what the truth is in any particular case.  You can use the words, but the actual meaning falls apart upon examination.  Our goal should be to *not* decided willfully what is true, but only to commit to following the truth whever it leads.

    *“Your comments here make me think that the real reason why you believe in God is because you want to.”
    —It’s “a” reason,

    It’s a *horrible* reason.  That reason should never enter into the calculation as to what is objectively true.  How can you say this?  It may be true that you want to believe, but that can’t be a valid, rational reason why you believe the particular thing that you believe.

    It works both ways. This encapsulates the foundation of the atheist case.”

    —But you seem to be vehemently denying that choice has anything to do with your own belief, or lack of it. And besides, if it works both ways, why are you resisting the connection of choice to belief in general? If it (beliefs have a component of choice) is so fundamental to the atheist case, and this is so plainly obvious:

    I was saying that if someone lets biases intrude, all the evidence won’t convince neither a believer nor a disbeliever.  That’s what is working both ways.  Re-read that section again.

    You will be convinced of what you want to believe in no matter what.”
    —Then why are you speaking as though that distinction does not apply to you?

    See directly above.
    I understand that I must keep my biases out of the process, whereas you are making the case that biases should be part of it.

    Then you misunderstand. Truth is not necessarily what we want, of course – but no one is obligated to believe in the truth!

    Then why do you insist on incorporating choice into belief (“we willfully decide to believe in God”).  I can only say it again – properly, and rationally, we willfully decide no content of the truth, we only apply proper process (logic, evidence, etc.) and let the chips fall where they may.  After the initial decision to be unbiased, there is no willful choice to believe in any one particular belief or not, especially beliefs about whether something exists in the real universe or not.

    That’s not a fringe belief Huxley’s espousing. It’s an honest look into the motivations of a great number of skeptics.

    Fallacy from authority.  Furthermore, for you argument to be logically valid, it’s not just a large number of skeptics (and the argument from authority doesn’t even establish that), but even one skeptic will invalidate your claim.

    To summarize, there is no valid third way.  The heart has nothing to do with it.  All rationality requires is a couple initial assumptions that are necessary for any conversation at all (law of non-contradiction, etc.), logic (closely tied to those initial assumptions, actually), and evidence.

  39. Paul,
     

    “I’m merely saying that God’s irrationality is one reason to suspect he doesn’t exist.”

     
    I understand this, which is why I keep saying “perceived irrationality.” I’m contending that your’e going in the disagree-means-irrational direction, not the irrational-means-disagree direction. That is, you’re not responding to the idea that there are reasons why God might do as He does, you’re just re-asserting that you don’t like them. Calling it “irrational” does not make it so, and all you’ve done is assert, not support.
     

    “The standard does not have to be exhaustive, merely sufficient.”

     
    And at the end of that sufficiency is a choice to take the final step to believing that which you have sufficient cause to.
     

    “But assumptions and logic cannot be sufficient to prove the existence of an object or a being.”

     
    No, evidence is needed. But there is no such thing as “exhaustive” or “perfect” evidence. Nor can any person ever hope to amass all of it, even if there were. And there are more kinds of evidence than just the empirical. Just because one acknowledges their limited knowledge and accepts something based on rational “faith” does not make them irrational.
     

    “Eventually you get down to the assumptions (non-contradiction, rationality, etc.)”

     
    Also not true. You (presumably) don’t know everything about the equations Einstein used to develop special relativity, nor the mathematical equations to support it, nor could you re-create the experiments used to verify it. Nor are you seeing any practically observable effects of relativity. You’re trusting that what you are told by scientists is true – you’re not basing your belief in an extensive set of evidence to prove relativity. You’re making the reasonable choice to believe that relativity is an accurate theory based on your best understanding of what you’ve been told, and your best understanding of the people telling you. You can’t really say that you’re in a position to judge the evidence for special relativity, nor Quantum theory, since neither you nor I have really observed the evidence for either.
     

    “There is no basis for claiming that leaning one way or the other is inescapable.  I’m a mediator, and while I may often personally favor one party or another for idiosyncratic reasons…”

     
    Paul, you’ve just expressed an almost immediate contradiction, and now it seems like you’re disagreeing just to disagree. We’re saying the same basic thing, here. You acknowledge that personal preference bears on decision-making, and has to be recognized in order to make more objective judgments. Yet, you’re asserting that your own biases are not influencing your judgment, but mine are – claiming to be above the influence of preference. I’m almost obligated to suggest that my ability to openly recognize that preference weighs in my metaphysical decision-making suggests that I have a better handle on it than you do.
     

    “We cannot choose to make reality what we want.  Reality is what it is, regardless of our wishes or desires.  As Tom says, the truth holds us.”

     
    And I’m sure you’ve seen, even just on this blog, the lengths to which some people will go in order to disbelieve that which most people consider overtly obvious. This is consistent with my claim that we ultimately choose what to believe, to varying degrees.
     

    “You can’t claim that everyone who repents after conviction is insincere, on what basis can you claim that for *everyone?”

     
    I’m sure they’re all very, very, very sincere in at least some sense, but sincerity has nothing to do with it – sincere confession and repentance of murder after sentencing won’t change the sentence. You had your chance, and now there are consequences for the choice that was made. Feeling sorry is not the issue, either. There is a trusting, submissive component to faith that can’t be reached after death.
     
    This is exactly why there’s no reason for God to conform to your preferences:
     

    “Note I’m not saying everyone would do that…”

     
    Precisely. No matter what line you draw, you’ll have to admit that some people still won’t cross it. That makes disagreement with God over where the line is placed purely a question of preferences, not rationality. No matter how I define the difference between the saved and the un-saved, someone can and will complain that “there’s no reason for God to do it that way.”
     

    “..please allow me to define what I’m trying to argue and when.”

     
    Frankly, I’m just not patient enough to keep waiting for that to happen. You keep claiming that it’s irrational, but the only supporting statements you make for this are pure moral outrage. There’s nothing contradictory, impossible, or absurd about the system that’s being espoused. Unless you were able to define this issue in something other way than “because I don’t like it that way”, your argument’s pretty well defined as it is.
     

    “People are different, why must it be universal?  It’s God limiting himself, for no good reason.”

     
    I really don’t know how to argue with this. A universally available means of understanding is limited? I guess if I invented a language that everyone on earth could speak and understand, you’d call that “limited”. This is as clear an example of committed skepticism as I can think of. “God created a way in which everyone can know Him.” “Oh, then He’s limited.” What?
    That’s typical closed-door anti-theism – instead of recognizing that God made one way that can work for everyone, you’re upset that there aren’t three. If there were five, you’d be upset that there weren’t six. Sooner or later, you’re the postmodernist who wants every conceivable way to lead to God.
     

    “So it still makes no sense for you talk about willfully deciding what the truth is in any particular case.”

     
    There is no other option. My decision does not affect the reality of the truth, but I cannot see how someone who participates in negotiations or mediation can actually say that people don’t apply choices to their beliefs.
     
    What followed this…
     

    “It’s a *horrible* reason.”

     
    …demonstrates that you didn’t read the very next phrase after “it’s a reason, but…”. That reason enters into the equation whether I want it to, or not. All I can do is recognize it, and judge accordingly. I thought you said that you noticed your own biases in mediation. Are you not balancing those biases against reason, rationality, and so forth? Are you not making a deliberate choice to set your biases aside in your mediating?
     

    “I was saying that if someone lets biases intrude, all the evidence won’t convince neither a believer nor a disbeliever.”

    “I understand that I must keep my biases out of the process…”

    “Then why do you insist on incorporating choice into belief…we willfully decide no content of the truth, we only apply proper process…”

    “After the initial decision to be unbiased, there is no willful choice to believe in any one particular belief or not,”

     
    The above just proves that you’re making exactly the mistake most skeptics make. You tell yourself that you’re perfectly objective, perfectly rational, and totally in control of your own biases. It’s a cop-out, if you’ll pardon the blunt terminology. That attitude allows you to make the kind of arguments you have, because it suggests that any thoughts deviant from your own can be written off a priori as irrational. After all, you are an intellectual machine, bound only by the purest and most unadulterated reason, totally free from the imperfections of baser humanity – at least when it comes to the question of God.
     
    If you think referencing Huxley was an appeal to authority, then I again don’t know where to go from here. It’s a concise summary of the attitude that I encounter all the time. I didn’t say that there were absolutely no skeptics deviating from that norm, I only said “a great number of skeptics.” That’s pretty clear.
     

    “To summarize, there is no valid third way.  The heart has nothing to do with it.”

     
    Then we start all over from the beginning, with the premise of the linked article. You haven’t given a single support for how a person rationally refutes the existence of a “third way.” You’re right in the cross-hairs of the very accusation made above:
     

    “Unbelievers think that skepticism is their special virtue, the key virtue believers lack.”

     
    There are brilliant, rational minds on both sides, so it makes sense to posit that the truth has to be confirmed in some other way. History will not let you, or anyone else, claim that the skeptics are the only ones on the side of reason. If you’re going to slip into that silly rut, then nothing else I say is going to matter one way or the other.

  40. More good words, Medicine Man,
    I’ve been searching in vain for a quote from Pascal on willed beliefs. I thought it was in Keller’s The Reason For God but can’t find it.
    Since I brought up William James on another thread, however, here he is on the subject:
    http://falcon.jmu.edu/~omearawm/ph101willtobelieve.html

     Our reason is quite satisfied, in nine hundred and ninety-nine cases out of every thousand of us, if it can find a few arguments that will do to recite in case our credulity is criticised by some one else. Our faith is faith in some one else’s faith, and in the greatest matters this is most the case. Our belief in truth itself, for instance, that there is a truth, and that our minds and it are made for each other,–what is it but a passionate affirmation of desire, in which our social system backs us up? We want to have a truth; we want to believe that our experiments and studies and discussions must put us in a continually better and better position towards it; and on this line we agree to fight out our thinking lives. But if a pyrrhonistic sceptic asks us how we know all this, can our logic find a reply? No! certainly it cannot. It is just one volition against another,–we willing to go in for life upon a trust or assumption which he, for his part, does not care to make.
    As a rule we disbelieve all facts and theories for which we have no use. 

    This very law which the logicians would impose upon us–if I may give the name of logicians to those who would rule out our willing nature here–is based on nothing but their own natural wish to exclude all elements for which they, in their professional quality of logicians, can find no use.
    Evidently, then, our non-intellectual nature does influence our convictions. There are passional tendencies and volitions which run before and others which come after belief, and it is only the latter that are too late for the fair; and they are not too late when the previous passional work has been already in their own direction. Pascal’s argument, instead of being powerless, then seems a regular clincher, and is the last stroke needed to make our faith in masses and holy water complete. The state of things is evidently far from simple; and pure insight and logic, whatever they might do ideally, are not the only things that really do produce our creeds.

     Scepticism, then, is not avoidance of option; it is option of a certain particular kind of risk. Better risk loss of truth than chance of error,-that is your faith-vetoer’s exact position. He is actively playing his stake as much as the believer is; he is backing the field against the religious hypothesis, just as the believer is backing the religious hypothesis against the field. To preach scepticism to us as a duty until ‘sufficient evidence’ for religion be found, is tantamount therefore to telling us, when in presence of the religious hypothesis, that to yield to our fear of its being error is wiser and better than to yield to our hope that it may be true. It is not intellect against all passions, then; it is only intellect with one passion laying down its law. And by what, forsooth, is the supreme wisdom of this passion warranted? Dupery for dupery, what proof is there that dupery through hope is so much worse than dupery through fear ? I, for one, can see no proof; and I simply refuse obedience to the scientist’s command to imitate his kind of option, in a case where my own stake is important enough to give me the right to choose my own form of risk. If religion be true and the evidence for it be still insufficient, I do not wish, by putting your extinguisher upon my nature (which feels to me as if it had after all some business in this matter), to forfeit my sole chance in life of getting upon the winning side,–that chance depending, of course, on my willingness to run the risk of acting as if my passional need of taking the world religiously might be prophetic and right.

     

    I speak, of course, here of the purely judging mind. For purposes of discovery such indifference is to be less highly recommended, and science would be far less advanced than she is if the passionate desires of individuals to get their own faiths confirmed had been kept out of the game. See for example the sagacity which Spencer and Weismann now display. On the other hand, if you want an absolute duffer in an investigation, you must, after all, take the man who has no interest whatever in its results: he is the warranted incapable, the positive fool. The most useful investigator, because the most sensitive observer, is always he whose eager interest in one side of the question is balanced by an equally keen nervousness lest he become deceived.

     

  41. MM, whether it’s disagree and therefore irrational, or the reverse depends on the substance of other points, so let’s try to resolve those first.

    And at the end of that sufficiency is a choice to take the final step to believing that which you have sufficient cause to.

    Agreed. I already said that. We must choose to commit ourselves to finding the truth, no matter where it leads, but it cannot guide us to a particular truth. Finding out what the truth is, among all the options, is only the realm of evidence and logic. So whether God exists or not has no role for choice, other than to choose to find the truth no matter what that truth is (God existing or not). So we don’t choose to believe a particular thing, we only choose to believe in the truth.
    ——
    Lack of complete, personal knowledge is not the issue here. I already said that before. When we trust others’ knowledge, we do so on the basis that others have that sufficient evidence.

    The only reason I trust relativity is that I understand that the sufficient evidence is there. If someone asked me to trust some knowledge on the basis that sufficient evidence wasn’t there, I wouldn’t do it. That’s how this issue isn’t one of personal knowledge but what is required to know something rationally as an intellectual issue.

    Because we don’t personally have sufficent but direct knowledge is no reason to believe things that aren’t based on sufficient evidence by someone who we trust does have that sufficient evidence. Any trusting we do must be trusting that the sufficient evidence is there. This trusting doesn’t mean that we can trust without the sufficient evidence being there (somewhere).
    ——–

    You acknowledge that personal preference bears on decision-making, and has to be recognized in order to make more objective judgments.

    I did not. Personal preference has no place in making objective conclusions. I only said that personal biases or preference may bubble up within us, but in order to be objective we must reject those biases and ignore them.
    ——–

    “This is consistent with my claim that we ultimately choose what to believe, to varying degrees.

    The issue isn’t what people tend to do, statistically, but what is proper to do rationally and intellectually. Properly, we must only choose what is a proper rational or objective conclusion by evidence and logic.
    ———
    Sincere repentance after conviction (or death) is only problematic because it goes against the system God has set up, but I’m questioning that entire system. I again ask, why does God require repentance before death? There is no rational reason for this. Your answer cannot now be that such repentance is insincere, because you’ve just admitted that it can happen.
    ——–

    No matter what line you draw, you’ll have to admit that some people still won’t cross it. That makes disagreement with God over where the line is placed purely a question of preferences, not rationality. No matter how I define the difference between the saved and the un-saved, someone can and will complain that “there’s no reason for God to do it that way.

    I agree that someone can refuse without valid or rational reason to accept a rational plan. But my point is that some people *may* cross the line in a way that makes God’s plans have no sense. These are two different cases. If you sincerely repent after death because you sincerely and honestly believed that God didn’t exist, then it makes no sense for God to insist that you repent before death. That is the aspect of God’s plan that is irrational, not the case in which someone rejects God’s plan for no good reason. This is the absurdity that you claim I haven’t identified. Well, that was it. The lack of direct communication is another good one.
    ———

    A universally available means of understanding is limited?

    Yes, exactly. It forces everyone to adopt a single method. Universal means single, which forces everyone to conform to that method regardless of whether that method fits that person’s proclivities. That is a limitation, QED. If God altered his means of communication to suit everyone’s individual needs, he would increase his chances of effective communication. We would succeed 100%.
    ———-

    I guess if I invented a language that everyone on earth could speak and understand, you’d call that “limited”. But God hasn’t done that. I have sincerely and honestly tried to figure out if God exists, and it appears to me that he doesn’t.

    And it would be begging the question to claiming that *everyone* who doesn’t think God exists isn’t being sincere or honest. So if there is one person out there who sinceerely and honest says that it looks like God doesn’t exist, it is absurd and irrational of God to not communicate directly with that person and remove all doubt.
    ———

    There is no other option. My decision does not affect the reality of the truth, but I cannot see how someone who participates in negotiations or mediation can actually say that people don’t apply choices to their beliefs.

    The other option is to not choose to believe, but to let the truth define what we believe. We seek what the truth is without our willful belief. BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT TRUTH IS! How can truth be something we willfully make up? The truth is what remains after we give up our biases.
    ——–
    Of course people sometimes choose things, especially in mediation. But choice should not be a part of objective conclusions, in the context of what we have been discussing.
    ——–
    Believing in God because you want to is a horrible reason if you merely put it aside, as you must. You don’t balance biases with reason, you put them completely aside, you ignore them. They have no place in a search for the truth. They may exist, but they have no place in an objective search for reality and truth.
    ———

    totally in control of your own biases

    I never, ever said “totally.” We recognize that biases can intrude, and when they do, they are inappropriate and have no place in an objective search for truth. Just because they can intrude and people can act on them does not validate their use. The rest of that paragraph by you is a straw man.
    ——-
    I retract my authority fallacy argument. It still remains that it only takes one counter-example to disprove a claim. So if one skeptic is honest and sincere, your argument fails.
    ——–
    Regarding the heart, I’ve shown that, given a few initial assumptions, evidence and logic will lead us to the truth. That is my argument against the heart. I see nothing that the heart provides that is appropriate in a search for the truth and that isn’t provided by evidence and logic.

  42. Another way to say it: a choice (is this what the heart is?) can’t lead us to believe in God, but it can lead to us believe in the truth.  We commit ourselves to the truth no matter where it leads, to God or not – that is truly a choice.  But whether God exists only depends on evidence and logic, and the starting assumptions of non-contradiction, etc.

  43. Paul,
     
    I started a reply to this, and then decided against anything in-depth. Looking over it, there are two roadblocks:
     
    1) You reject the idea that empirical data and logic are not sufficient to answer the question of God’s existence. That’s the flaw from the linked article, which you’re exerting in order to deny it. There are sufficient examples of brilliant logical ability and empirical study on both sides of the question of God to conclude that those two paths alone can’t decide one way or the other. If you reject this, I don’t have much left other than a shrug, and the question of how you use empirical data and logic to prove that only empirical data and logic reveal truth.
    2) You are expecting absolute proof from God, on your terms, and labeling any system you find unfair as “irrational.” You deny that preference has anything to do with your beliefs, and that you can be perfectly logical whenever you want to. That’s a self-sustaining barrier that can’t be reached through or over. You’ve got a system set up that’s very efficient at (inward) self-defense, but isn’t compatible with a claim to “seek truth wherever it leads.”
     
    I don’t have much else to say because I don’t know that any of it would actually help you, and I don’t engage in these conversations out of a love of typing. A few quick thoughts, for what they’re worth:
     
    God wants us to trust in Him. If we won’t trust, then we won’t obey, and we won’t worship. He provides us with enough evidence to get us to up to where we must choose belief or disbelief. Believing only when you’re presented with absolute proof is not faith, nor is it trust. People who will only believe under those circumstances are never going to submit to God out of love and respect, even if given the chance after it’s all be proven to them (after death).
     
    Your response to a “universal” means of apprehension is still perplexing to me. I think you’re just looking for rhetorical devices that you can twist up. The point is that the universal method is universal, meaning that there are no persons for whom it does not patch their “proclivities.” It’s possible for everyone. If what you mean is a method that leaves no room for doubt, then you’re back to the problems above.
     
    Truth is not something that we make up, of course. Truth is not something we create by removing bias, it’s something we apprehend in spite of them.
     

    “Of course people sometimes choose things, especially in mediation. But choice should not be a part of objective conclusions, in the context of what we have been discussing.”

     
    They always choose things, to some extent. My complaint is that you’re greatly exaggerating your own rationality to claim, even subconsciously, that when you want to, you can totally remove all influences of preference from decision-making. Acknowledging that you experience biases and preferences, but then claiming that you can perfectly subvert them at will is the problem I am noting.
     
    One honest, sincere skeptic is still one honest, sincere person affected in some regards by his or her emotions and preferences. There is no such thing as a purely objective human being.
     
     

  44. This…

    Another way to say it: a choice (is this what the heart is?) can’t lead us to believe in God, but it can lead to us believe in the truth.

    may have been a Freudian slip, but you just defined “truth” and “belief in God” as different a priori. You just assumed that God is not a truth. Slip or not, misspoken or not, you’re making ad hoc exceptions for belief in God that you’re not making for other abstractions.

  45. MM, your first comments in your last post put up a straw man of my argument.

    There are sufficient examples of brilliant logical ability and empirical study on both sides of the question of God to conclude that those two paths alone can’t decide one way or the other.

    Huh? How can sufficient and brilliant examples of X and Y lead us to conclude that X and Y are sufficient?  Please explain.

    the question of how you use empirical data and logic to prove that only empirical data and logic reveal truth.

    You’re merely using a verbal twisting of my ideas back on themselves in an attempt to invalidate them, when a plain reading of them does not necessitate this twisting.  To wit:
    We can’t escape the empiricism of “the way to determine if some method (even empiricism) produces good results is to compare various methods and see which one works?”
     
    Furthermore, your argument necessarily implies that personal bias does not make inaccurate conclusion about objective reality, which leaves open the door to me claiming that there is a pink unicorn in my backyard right now.  Surely a valid epistemology cannot support that reductio ad absurdam.

    You are expecting absolute proof from God, on your terms, and labeling any system you find unfair as “irrational.”

    I’d love to hear your argument as to why the system is fair.  That would dig into the heart of the matter.

    He provides us with enough evidence to get us to up to where we must choose belief or disbelief.

    This is nonsensical.  If we must choose belief or disbelief without sufficient evidence, then it doesn’t matter whether God has given us any (insufficient) evidence or not.  He might as well give us no evidence, we’d still have to choose belief or disbelief.  And tell me again why sufficient (not necessarily personal or direct, as I’ve argued before) evidence is irrational?

    Believing only when you’re presented with absolute proof is not faith, nor is it trust.

    The word you want instead is “sufficient,” not “absolute.”
    Reworded: a choice can’t lead us to believe in any specific objective reality, but a choice can lead us to accept whatever objective reality is.  The existence of God is merely one question of objective reality to which this applies, as it does for all questions about objective reality.
     

    The point is that the universal method is universal, meaning that there are no persons for whom it does not patch their “proclivities.” It’s possible for everyone.

    This is patently untrue.  To hold this would mean that you’d have to believe that no single person ever died honestly and sincerely not believing in God.  Because if that were the case, surely God could have communicated in an alternate way in which that person would have believed.  Now, you might respond by saying that God would not change his communication style for reason X, but that still would not invalidate the hypothetical of a person sincerely being an atheist, which means that a universal style of communication is not adequate.  Furthermore, why should God communicate in a style which leads some people to believe in him and others not?  It cannot solely be the hearer’s responsibility, as communication is a two-way street.  My ability to understand you or God depends on not only my proclivities by the proclivities of you or God.

    Truth is not something we create by removing bias, it’s something we apprehend in spite of them.

    There’s not difference in the distinction you set up.  For the purposes of making a conclusion, it would be the same functionally as if you had a bias and concluded something in spite of it, or if you didn’t have a bias.
    Do you have any evidence that no can ever subvert their biases sufficiently to reach a conclusion not based on them?  Do I really have to tell you how many stories of how mediators do that every day?
     
    More later.
     
     
     

  46.  
    Paul,
     

    “Huh? How can sufficient and brilliant examples of X and Y lead us to conclude that X and Y are sufficient?  Please explain.”

     
    There have been undeniably rational geniuses who were / are Christians (Newton, Galileo, Kepler, Kelvin, Maxwell, and Collins, Polkinghorne). There have been undeniably rational geniuses who were / are atheists (Russell, Crick, and others I’m sure you know of). There are no historically or rationally supported reasons to believe that pure reason and intellect lead conclusively or typically towards deciding either that God exists, or God does not exist. Therefore, it is most appropriate to consider that the question is answerable through an additional means of apprehension.
     

    “…a plain reading of them does not necessitate this twisting.”

     
    I don’t see a twisting; something is either empirically verifiable or not, and you seem utterly convinced that anything not verifiable by logic and empirical data is not to be taken seriously. It’s perfectly reasonable to ask what empiric-logical process you used to form that conviction.
     
    Are you implying that any opinion that is influenced by a bias is automatically invalid? You connection to the pink unicorn is completely out of left field. What on earth does that have to do with anything? If you’re really going down that road, then feel free to continue alone.
     

    “I’d love to hear your argument as to why the system is fair.”

     
    Maybe some other time. It’s irrelevant whether or not you think it’s fair – it can be true all the same. The fact that you keep bringing this up belies your claim to rationality.
     

    “If we must choose belief or disbelief without sufficient evidence”

     
    Now you’re completely misrepresenting the argument, purposefully or not. I said that enough evidence was given. You’re demanding absolute proof, despite your claims otherwise.
     

    “And tell me again why sufficient (not necessarily personal or direct, as I’ve argued before) evidence is irrational?”

     
    Who said the evidence had to be irrational? You’re really losing me here. And I thought that personally tailored, direct evidence was all you were willing to accept, no?
     

    “The word you want instead is “sufficient,” not “absolute.””

     
    No, I said absolute and I meant it. God gives us sufficient proof, He does not give us absolute proof. Reword in whatever tangled way you choose, I prefer the straightforward: everyone chooses whether or not to believe in any given thing, to varying degrees based on the person and the thing in question. Only the skeptic who wants an excuse to deny everything says otherwise.
     

    “To hold this would mean that you’d have to believe that no single person ever died honestly and sincerely not believing in God.”

     
    Please, think this out before you argue it. I repeatedly said that no matter what God does, there will be those who will refuse to accept. Our “honesty” and “sincerity” are still colored by our preferences. You can believe something with all the honesty and sincerity in the world, and still be wrong. Just because you truly believe something does not mean that there was no choice on your part to adopt that view.
     
    God’s method of apprehension is not inadequate just because some choose to reject it. To argue the opposite is sideways postmodernism, where every way that our whims take us is supposed to be acceptable. The attitude that God must always do everything on our terms is exactly the kind of egotistic rebellion that He’s not interested in.
     

    “There’s not difference in the distinction you set up.  For the purposes of making a conclusion, it would be the same functionally as if you had a bias and concluded something in spite of it, or if you didn’t have a bias.”

     
    That’s not even close to what I said, let alone meant. I mean that opinion does not define reality. We don’t create truth, we apprehend – as in notice, sense, determine, or measure – it. Some are more interested in that than others.
     

    “Do you have any evidence that no can ever subvert their biases sufficiently to reach a conclusion not based on them?  Do I really have to tell you how many stories of how mediators do that every day?”

     
    No one said that biases could not be dealt with. They certainly can – but there’s a supreme arrogance in claiming that you can fully and completely divest yourself of all shreds of bias whenever you want. Please, deliver the predictable complaint that this is a straw man, but read and consider your own statements before you do. I’m talking about dealing with our biases, you’re claiming that you can take them off like a jacket.
     
    I don’t think this is getting anywhere, so from here on out, I’m not really planning to respond to anything other than the very specific topic(s) of the linked article. That’s out of respect for Tom, and the blog. I think I’ve gone full circle on just about everything we’ve discussed, and don’t see that any greater understanding is imminent. Feel free to continue your responses, but I’m not going to do this forever.

  47. you seem utterly convinced that anything not verifiable by logic and empirical data is not to be taken seriously. It’s perfectly reasonable to ask what empiric-logical process you used to form that conviction.

    Exactly, I’ll answer this soon when I have time.
    Busy now, more later.

  48. I have an important question. What exactly does Tingley mean when he says “the heart?” I notice that he only defines this idea in *negative* terms, an indication that something may be amiss.

    We are not talking here about feelings, which love to cheat us.

    conviction (which the heart helps do) is not a leap.

    But the heart, Pascal is saying, is not a springboard to choice . . . . It is not all done for us by logic and by sight.

    There is still the reasoning of the heart.

    What exactly is the reasoning of the heart, if it isn’t emotion, logic, or bias?

    Also, can anyone give me an example of proper use of the heart in determining some other question of objective reality?

  49. you seem utterly convinced that anything not verifiable by logic and empirical data is not to be taken seriously. It’s perfectly reasonable to ask what empiric-logical process you used to form that conviction.

     
    Logic must be assumed, so you can’t question logic for being logical on the basis of begging the question.
    Regarding empiricism, my claim is that it has the best track record of matching with reality.  Whenever we try methods to see if they match with reality, it turns out that the best method is to observe whether our theories match reality.  That’s empiricism.
    This applies, however, only to objective questions about the universe.
    Can you give me another method besides observing the universe, making theories, and then seeing if those theories match with reality that has a better track record for objective conclusions?   That’s empiricism.  I’d love to hear about the track record of another method, I’m not being rhetorical or sarcastic.
     

  50. Logic must be assumed, so you can’t question logic for being logical on the basis of begging the question.

    True. But he wasn’t questioning logic. He was questioning why you would believe logic and empirical observation together comprise all knowledge.

    Regarding empiricism, my claim is that it has the best track record of matching with reality.

    Now there’s an interesting point: “matching with reality.” Does what we know empirically match with reality? I happen to believe it does (to a reasonable approximation). Neither empiricism nor logic will show that to be the case, however (nor will the two paired together). Kant took care of that issue for us all. My belief on that is actually founded on my understanding of God and how he created humans.

    If you want to claim that you’re using empiricism and logic alone for all your knowledge, then you cannot say empiricism has any track record at all of matching with reality. Logic and empiricism alone won’t deliver that result.

  51.  
    Paul,
     

    “Whenever we try methods to see if they match with reality, it turns out that the best method is to observe whether our theories match reality.  That’s empiricism.”

     
    No, that’s just a truism, so I’m not sure what you’re trying to say here. Empiricism as a philosophy is the dependence on experience to determine natural truths. “Empirical evidence” means physical evidence, like weight, length, time, temperature, etc.
     
    Where you run into trouble is this:
     

    “Regarding empiricism, my claim is that it has the best track record of matching with reality.”

     
    Matching with material realities? Perhaps. But this is where the worldview presumptions kick in. If you’ve already decided that there is nothing non-material which is also real, then you’ll never accept any examples, reasoning, or non-material evidence in the first place. Unfortunately, you’re creating an ad hoc exception for logic, which is wholly non-material and non-empirical.
     

    “Logic must be assumed, so you can’t question logic for being logical on the basis of begging the question.”

     
    No, but logic itself can’t be self-confirming. You can say that it must be assumed, but that doesn’t change the fact that logic is inherently non-empirical. Empirical observations don’t interpret themselves. You can’t observe a conclusion, or measure a prediction. I’m not suggesting that there’s a different method of comprehending reality, just that the method we use is three-dimensional, not two-dimensional. We comprehend reality in three modes: logic/reason, physical/empirical, and heart/emotional. If you choose to ignore one of those, then you’re getting a flattened picture of reality.
     
    That’s why discussions of non-empirical realities, like beauty, love, or evil, won’t get us anywhere at this point in the conversation.
     
    C.S. Lewis discussed this idea in “The Abolition of Man.” The reasoning you’re using to define away the heart creates an incomplete understanding of the universe. It says that my mind exists, because it apprehends logic, which is real. It says that my body exists, because it apprehends light, temperature, and color, which are real. But then it says that my heart/soul/spirit isn’t real, because it apprehends things that don’t actually exist, like morality, beauty, and love. That creates “men without chests”.
     
    Lewis explains this problem like so:
     

    “It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal.
     
    The operation of The Green Book and its kind is to produce what may be called Men without Chests. It is an outrage that they should be commonly spoken of as Intellectuals. This gives them the chance to say that he who attacks them attacks Intelligence. It is not so. They are not distinguished from other men by any unusual skill in finding truth nor any virginal ardour to pursue her. Indeed it would be strange if they were: a persevering devotion to truth, a nice sense of intellectual honour, cannot be long maintained without the aid of a sentiment which [this kind of skeptic] could debunk as easily as any other. It is not excess of thought but defect of fertile and generous emotion that marks them out. Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary: it is the atrophy of the chest beneath that makes them seem so.
     
    And all the time—such is the tragi-comedy of our situation—we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more ‘drive’, or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or ‘creativity’. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

     
     
    As I said, I’m expecting you to define “objective” as “empirical”, and on that basis none of the above will make a bit of difference to you. I don’t actually think that it’s possible to answer your question(s), as asked, for the reasons above. You’re operating from a set of assumptions that are self-defending; you’ve already excluded any possible answer through your assumptions. I’m pretty sure that you’re defining “objective” as “empirical”; so you’re sort of asking for empirical evidence of something non-empirical. That would be like asking for logical proof of something non-logical. It’s the reason that skeptics always slide towards postmodernism, since their worldview has to absolutely deny the existence of anything that’s non-empirical. Trying to discuss the reality of the non-material with a modern skeptic is like trying to discuss music with someone who has their fingers in their ears.
     
    I’m sure you read the linked article, but I think it would be worthwhile to re-read it. Some of what you’re asking has at least been broached there.

  52. I suspected I didn’t express myself clearly/correctly, Tom and MM, so let me try again.  Please put aside all conclusions you’ve reached about my ideas so far, just for the sake of argument, and consider the following:
    The question of whether God exists or not is a question about objective reality.  Agreed?  If so, then let’s look at what we can use to determine what any objective reality is:
    1. Logic – answering questions about what is objective reality must conform to logic (2 apples and 2 apples can’t be 4 apples and 5 apples at the same time).  Logic includes the law of non-contradiction, and maybe only a few other things.  Logic is assumed, not proven.
    2. Observable evidence
     
    What else do you see that we can add to the list?  I asked a question about the heart, but I didn’t get an answer.  Do we add “the heart” to the list?

  53.  
    Paul,
     
    (Tom, I’m not going to try to speak for you, so kick my legs out if I imply such…)
     
    Yes, the question of God is one that involves reality. Let’s be careful, though, since we’re starting anew, to note that the words “objective”, “logical”, “empirical”, and “real” are not mutually synonymous. They mean different things, and they imply different properties. (Quick example: one of the first things you learn about logic is that the conclusions of a logically valid argument are not necessarily real). One of the first hurdles that needs to be dealt with is this problem of pre-defining anything that is non-objective or non-empirical(material) as “non-real.” In a very direct sense, this just begs the question.
     
    My only addition to your list is a clarification – #2 is well phrased as “observable evidence”; but “evidence” does not have to be limited to empirical quanta such as weight, temperature, and so forth. There are more things that we can observe than the empirical.
     
    There is a good body of discussion about the validity of “the heart”, which is admittedly a poor term, if only because the nuances of it are much deeper than the words imply. “Emotion” is not a good replacement, nor is “instinct”, or “feeling”, or “conviction”. It’s somewhere in that ballpark, though. That’s why Lewis’ analogy is so important to this discussion.
     
    We constantly apprehend logic using the intellect, and so we know that the intellect can tell us things about reality. We constantly apprehend empirical data through the senses, so we know that our senses can tell us things about reality. We constantly apprehend things like morality, beauty, and goodness – call it the “spirit” of things – through the “heart”, but for some reason skeptics want to reject that this faculty can tell us anything about reality. Yet, it’s the input of “the heart” that influences some of our most important judgments, and this we have no problem with.
     
    I do recognize that there is a greater tendency towards subjectivity in “the heart”. That does not mean that it is useless in apprehending reality, or that those apprehensions are of purely subjective things. Remember, logic alone is worthless – you have to apply it to something. Empirical data is useless by itself, you have to interpret it with something. “The heart” alone is also useless. There is no sense in which I, or Tom, are suggesting that “the heart” ought to take precedence over the intellect or the senses, only that it should be given a place at the table. And, just as empirical data is always subject to perspective, so too can “the spirit” that is sensed by “the heart.”
     
    Logic and empirical data, for instance, cannot tell you that an action is “moral” or “immoral.” The person who totally rejects “morality” in favor of heartless intellect/empiricism isn’t seen as a champion of virtue, but a monster. Even though we disagree on the particulars, there is a universal recognition in human beings that some kind of morality is necessary. That makes morals real, whether you think they are objective or subjective. Morality is something apprehended only by “the heart” – and there is nothing wrong with taking our view of them into consideration with our intellect and senses.
     
    That’s just one example, but I don’t want to turn this into a ramble. The gist of what I’m saying is that, in all other categories other than “God”, there seems to be an agreement that “the heart” cannot be sensibly thrown completely aside. We want to apply ethical approaches to research, and moral applications of technology, and we want to generate compassion and happiness. Yet, when it comes to God, all of a sudden the heart isn’t just something to consider, or something to control, but something that can’t be considered at all.
     
    Observations and reason strongly suggest that the combination of intellect and empirical data can neither confirm nor deny the existence of God. There are too many brilliant minds on both sides of the debate to seriously suggest that all it takes is more intelligence or more data to settle the question. And so, it’s eminently rational to assume that this is a reality that has to be apprehended (or the tie broken, if you will) though the third way, “the heart.” I think there’s enough evidence that we use “the heart” in discussing other aspects of reality to at least make that a reasonable assumption.
     
    To put it another way, we know that any particular method of apprehension has limits, just like any measuring tool can only tell us what it’s able to tell us. Why assume that anything our tool can’t tell us simply doesn’t exist? Why assume that that tool’s scope must encompass all of reality? More to the point, if we have another tool available that we use all the time, why assume that we can’t use it , even indirectly, to help us learn more about one particular issue? This is the idea that the linked article is suggesting. “The heart” is a means that can be used in conjunction with the other two in order to increase our understanding.

  54. Tom,

    I noticed that your comment is a little stubborn about actually posting; ’till it comes up, I have a supporting point or two.

    This fact that not every person can have the same access to empirical data is what I was getting at earlier, in that it would leave a great number of people without a way to know God. There are some who lack the experience, some who lack the intellect, or some who lack the opportunity to see every iota of empirical data or logical argumentation about God.

    If God really wanted to make Himself available to everyone, it makes perfect sense for Him to do it using the one faculty that everyone has – “the heart”. Not in spite of logic and empirical data, not instead of them, but in conjunction with them. The well-established stalemate in the intellectual and empirical paths fits that idea quite well.