Something In the Air: Science’s Supposed Superiority To Religion

Something In the Air: Science’s Supposed Superiority To Religion

I got an email recently from “Loren,” who sought to inform me,

Science is knowledge of proven facts, religion is a belief system based on unproven theory. The matter is closed, science is alive and growing where as religion is based on ancient history.

That’s all she wrote. (I know both men and women named Loren, so I’ll take a random guess at it and use female pronouns. If I’m wrong on that I’ll make the correction, with apologies.)

I’ll say one thing for this message: it’s a marvel of pithy communication. In just two sentences it expresses a mood that pervades the very atmosphere of our modern Western world. It wafts through the air of our universities, rarely noticed, rarely questioned.

For that reason it calls for a serious response. It cannot be  lightly dismissed, even though (unfortunately for Loren), there is almost nothing of substance in it. It certainly has little to offer by way of factual accuracy. I want to take a moment to explain why I say that, and then later, in a follow-up post, I’ll take a closer look at the mood of the message.

“Science Is Knowledge of Proven Facts”
I’ll start with with her description of science. Science certainly deals with proven facts (or at least it does for those who accept scientific realism and are willing to waffle on niceties like the way that, once upon a time, Newtonian physics was thought to be proven). To say that’s what science is, however, is to diminish considerably what science deals with. I don’t know of any actual scientist who would be happy with that as a definition. (Instrumentalists and other anti-realists would take particularly strong exception to it.)

Based on Unproven Theory
But maybe Loren wasn’t speaking definitionally. She goes on to mention what it is she thinks religion is based on, so maybe she means science is based on proven facts. Unfortunately that’s wrong, too, whether she means science is historically, methodologically, or theoretically based on proven facts.

Consider the historical basis of science. Its early development and progress were based on assumptions about the nature of physical reality: that it is knowable, that it is worth our spending time on learning it, that progress can be made in the effort, that reality is rational, that the material world is not evil. Most of us in the Western world could hardly imagine that anyone has ever doubted that, but in fact those assumptions originally came from a specific source: Christian theism (see Hannam’s The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution).

Science and Ancient History
Some people object to that, reminding us that the Greeks kicked off science and got it going well ahead of the Christian Middle Ages. To that I have two responses. First, there’s no denying the Greeks’ contribution. Their part in it was crucial, as was the Arabs’ understanding of mathematics. It all came together in Christian Europe, which made the theoretical contribution I have already outlined in very brief form. It’s not either-or. All of these were essential sources in the causal stream that produced modern science.

But what difference does that make to Loren, anyway? She has no respect for knowledge that’s “based on ancient history.” Whatever Archimedes and Aristotle did for science, apparently for Loren it must be worthless—which shows how odd her position is. It forces her to accept European Christianity as practically the only stream of thought contributing to the scientific revolution. That’s not my view, but it’s the one Loren would have to agree to, considering that she rejects “ancient history.”

When we speak of the historical development of science, by the way, we’re speaking of the growth of science’s methodologies, so what’s been said above applies to science’s being methodologically based in proven fact. There is no single scientific methodology, anyway; and what scientific method there is, is based on trial and error experience built on the foundation of beliefs I’ve just mentioned.

Physics as the Proven Basis for Science?
Now instead of the historical or methodological basis for science, we could think instead of science as based in physics, which many regard  as the ultimate science. So here’s a quick question for all you physical scientists out there: how thoroughly proved is the Standard Model? Or, to put it another way, why have we spent billions of dollars on trying to show whether the Higgs boson is for real? The most basic theories in physics remain unproven.

Religion: Wrong in Just Three Words
What about Loren’s view of religion? Well, it doesn’t take long for her to fall into significant error there, too. She writes, “Religion is a …” and she’s wrong already. There is no agreed definition of “religion,” but however you view it, religion is not singular. Religions are plural by the thousands (at least).

What About Unproven Theory?
She goes on to say “physics is a belief system based on unproven theory.” Wait, no, she didn’t say that; but if she had, she would have been right on the money. Religions as belief systems are based on unproven theory too, if by proof, one means something like mathematical certainty. Somehow physics works for us, even though its fundamental theorems are unproven, so I don’t know why religion couldn’t work without proof, too.

Of course I’m not interested in defending religion. I believe Christianity is true, and that other belief systems are true in the points where they agree with Christianity, false where they disagree.

Alive and Growing
Much of what Christianity relies on is ancient history, as Loren astutely points out. I’m not quite sure how that counts against its truth or its value, though. From the structure of her sentence it seems that “based on ancient history” stands in contrast to “alive and growing.” But what does that mean?

Certainly the body of knowledge that we count as science is growing rapidly. The sign in my grad school’s computer store read, “Technology has come a long way since this morning.” I wouldn’t take anything away from that, not for a moment. That’s what science is for; it’s what it’s good at; it does it very well.

Christianity is for something else. It is not primarily for the advancement of knowledge of the material world. It is for advancement of knowledge of God, self, and others as spiritual beings. It is for advancement of relationships and the moral life in communion with God and community with others. It is for the full integration of body, mind, and spirit in the context of a world that is both material and spiritual. It is for life that lasts forever. It is about you and me being (in Loren’s words) “alive and growing.”

Bottom Line: Loren is  Utterly Wrong
So whatever Loren wanted to tell me in this email about science’s superiority over religion, it has no factual basis whatever (at least where Christianity is concerned). It’s wrong. False. Not true. A belief that’s worthy only of being discarded.

But She’s Not Alone In It
And yet… what Loren wrote there sounds very, very familiar. She is expressing something very common and very real, in a cultural sense. I described it above as a mood, an atmosphere, a feeling in the air, that says science is superior to all religion and is in the process of supplanting it. That mood calls for further reflection. I’ll follow up with that here in a day or two.

Update: Part Two is posted now

45 thoughts on “Something In the Air: Science’s Supposed Superiority To Religion

  1. Science doesn’t do anything in the supernatural (except disprove certain natural phenomena that are claimed to have an origin in the supernatural), and religion doesn’t do anything in the natural except provide a structured set of beliefs about the supernatural.

    I value science over religion because I really like the internet, modern medicine, and going to the Moon. These are all tangible benefits of the scientific method and what the Christians characterize as “scientism” and “naturalism”.

    I am skeptical of science that does not produce tangible results. I believe that science is by nature a study of the natural world. If study of the natural world produces no increase in knowledge, and no subsequent applicability, then I wonder what use it is or whether it is true at all! <– major personal bias

    While I am skeptical of certain branches of science, I am skeptical of religion itself, because I see modern science working, and I see thousands of years of religion effecting no great change in the human being – no marked increase in morality, or even a common consensus of what it means to be moral! Even when good acts are attributed to religion, I can’t help but speculate whether the good came from faith itself or from faith/religion enabling that inner conviction.

    I think that the sentiment is best exemplified by the phrase “Science wins because it works”.

    I would personally restate that as “the philosophy of rigorous examination of falsifiable statements is more effective and to some extent more truthful than the philosophy of pleas to unfalsifiable supernatural origins and causes.”

  2. Sault,

    I think that the sentiment is best exemplified by the phrase “Science wins because it works”.

    You are falling for the same false belief that Loren did. You see, Christianity “works”, and by that I mean the truth behind what Christian theology teaches about reality.

    Christ overcoming death, “works”. God rescuing humanity from the depth of our sinful nature, “works”. Spreading the Gospel, “works”. Repenting, “works”.

    If I were to fall for the same false belief that you and Loren want to uphold, we should all rationally conclude that Christianity is superior to science. Science cannot do anything by comparison and so it fails to work as well.

  3. «You see, Christianity “works”, and by that I mean the truth behind what Christian theology teaches about reality.»

    Everything that Christianity postulates about reality is supernatural or requires a belief in the supernatural.

    The concept of sin, the concept of an afterlife, the concept of a soul, the concept of eternal punishment or reward, the concept of being inherently condemned at birth due to Original sin… these are all supernatural concepts completely without basis in the natural world, and therefore completely out of scientific jurisdiction.

    Christianity postulates a problem (“we’re all going to hell because we’re born sinful!”) then formulates a solution to its own problem (“accept Jesus and go to heaven instead of hell!”)… and calls that “working”?

    You have to accept Christianity before you can believe that. You have to even accept the non-scientific concept of the supernatural before you can accept Christianity, even.

    If the benefits of being a Christian are all in the supernatural, then what tangible superiority does it have to other religions who postulate the same basic premise (eternal punishment unless you accept Our Version of the Truth)?

  4. «As a scientist I’m always humbled by the realization that we can’t even prove the scientific method using the scientific method.»

    Because the scientific method is an axiom (an unproven-yet-assumed statement of fact) just as the existence of the supernatural is axiomatic.

    My contention is that “the proof is in the pudding”. If it bears no tangible and beneficial results, then its truthfulness is at least questionable, if not outright falsified.

    If design theory (Creationism, ID, et al) was correct, then we should see tangible and beneficial results from it. We don’t. Therefore, the proposition that life requires a designer is to some degree falsified.

    Evolution in some form is exonerated, because the theory works – it has predictive power, for instance (and can be used to design some wicked-cool programming).

    I’m not entirely sure about abiogenesis, but at least it has something going for it that’s more scientific then “oh, the chance of it happening are so, like, 8 billion quadrillion to 1” (Yeah, thanks Spetner, now go do some real science).

  5. Sault’s response to the “scientific method” point is a true laugher. Memo to Sault: it doesn’t work because it’s a circular claim (a fallacy), NOT because it’s an axiom. Goodness, gracious how dumb: a method is an axiom?!? Is he that daft? Any cursory understanding of history reveals the scientific method is a subset of the grander “epistemic cycle” by which humans learn things about the world. The scientific method an “axiom”?!? I just had another Chardonnay-through-the-nose chortle! Probably doesn’t even understand it’s not one method but many–each arising from the subject matter (proper object) studied by each of the particular sciences. A method is an axiom… boy that’ll get a lot of laughs at our Christmas party.

    Here’s another beauty: Everything that Christianity postulates about reality is supernatural or requires a belief in the supernatural. Dumber than a bag of hammers and simply untrue. I’ll give just one example of gagillions: the very first (major) premise of Aquinas’ First Way (the argument from motion/change) is: “It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion.” What, pray tell, is “supernatural” about that most basic premise of the most basic argument that unabashedly references the empirical import of the five external human senses? Please leave your ignorant biases at the door of reason, Sault.

    And finally: … religion doesn’t do anything in the natural except provide a structured set of beliefs about the supernatural. stupid, unsubstantiated categorical nonsense. Let’s ask Duhem, Jaki, Hannam, Grant, Lindberg, James, etc., etc. about the conclusion of their published, peer-reviewed, and unchallenged research: science developed as a self-sustaining human endeavor in only one place and one time in human history: the High Middle Ages of western Europe… at least 350 years prior to the so-called “scientific revolution.” Your absolutist self-serving claims are breathtaking even for a scientistic atheist, Sault.

  6. «Goodness, gracious how dumb: a method is an axiom?!?»

    So glad that I could provide you with that much amusement. Maybe I’ll be able to repeat my success with this reply.

    This is how I arrived at that statement. First,

    (quotes taken from http://www.pantaneto.co.uk/issue2/pietschmann.htm)

    “Scientific method is based on three roots: The first is Aristotelian logic, one of the founding stones of our culture. It is based in turn on the famous three axioms of logic (axiom of identity, axiom of contradiction and axiom of the excluded third – tertium non datur).”

    Aristotelian logic is based on axioms.

    “The second root stems from the first half of the 17th century, it is the “experiment” as founded by Galileo Galilei. We recognize an experiment by three requirements: reproducability, quantification and analysis.”

    Can we refer to the concept of an experiment as relying upon the axioms of reproducibility, quantification, and analysis? It seems to be a logical thing to say.

    The third root of the scientific method was formulated in the second half of the 17th century and I will call it “scientific reasoning”. It states, that only causal reasoning (as opposed to final reasoning) is adequate for the scientific method.

    Is it fair to say that the requirement of causal reasoning could be considered an axiom?

    What I meant to mean was that the various aspects of scientific methodology and the philosophy behind them are based upon these principles. Perhaps the word “axiom” was a bad choice, but certain assumptions propel the scientific method, just as certain assumptions propel other philosophies, worldviews, and ideologies.

    As far as the rest of it…

    «Everything that Christianity postulates about reality is supernatural or requires a belief in the supernatural.»

    The concept of sin, integral to Christianity, is a supernatural concept. Heaven, hell, the soul and the eternal nature thereof, the very concept of God… these all require a belief in the supernatural. Not sure how you can get around that.

    Aquinas may start from an natural observation, but at some point makes a leap into the supernatural (I recently read CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity… he does as well). Without a belief in the supernatural, you can go no further.

    You must believe in the supernatural before you can believe in theism, and you must be a theist before you can be a Christian. Without a belief in the supernatural and without a theistic belief, you cannot be Christian.

    «science developed as a self-sustaining human endeavor in only one place and one time in human history:»

    Shrug. Not interested in debating you on this at this point in time, especially given your attitude. Maybe less Chardonnay to excite the emotions when you write out your replies?

    I suggest reading the post about reactive blogging that Tom wrote about a week ago. Very insightful.

  7. Sounds like this particular emailer is the atheist version of the ole’ Evolution is just a theory (and therefore its a guess)! guy/gal.

  8. But, Sault, you said the scientific method IS an axiom, calling it an unproven-yet-assumed statement of fact.

  9. SteveK:

    Leave Sault to his unsubstantiated yet categorically-imposed nonsense. For example (one he conveniently fails to address): Everything that Christianity postulates about reality is supernatural…

    … And, he continues to bury himself in his embrace of ignorance and falsehood, to wit: You must believe in the supernatural before you can believe in theism. Uhh, wrong. One starts from observations of the real world and then reasons to higher verities… and some of those verities–surprise, surprise–are not “religious” in nature. Pray tell, Sault, just what is “material” about the scientific method? Could you please locate one for me and measure some of its properties?

    Sault is merely expressing the deep pessimism of a disorderly view of humans: at its base atheism disparages the capacity for human reason to attain to higher verities because it a priori rejects such higher verities… and then provides self-serving nonsense to fill that emotional need. “Come, be limited as we brights are” is their motto.

    And, then there is cowardice and an appeal to moral objectivity he rejects in the first place: Not interested in debating you on this at this point in time, especially given your attitude. Translation: OMG! I’m a hypocrite. Run away!

  10. Sault,

    Science is not an axiom. It, like every other belief floating around in our heads (aside from axiomatic beliefs), relies upon certain axioms – things which seem self-evident, and are assumed to be true.

    Science isn’t even necessarily constrained by the natural world and could, in principle, be used to study the supernatural as well (if it actually existed), as long as some of the axioms on which science rests, hold for the supernatural realm as well.

    Anyhow – science is not an axiom.

    Science generally does not prove anything, either, in the strict logical sense. When its successful, it (hopefully) demonstrates what is most probable. Scientists are in the business of induction, the vast, vast majority of the time.

  11. Tom,

    It certainly seems as though you get a lot of correspondence that is either poorly written or poorly thought out! Quite possibly both at once, in many cases.

    Having said that, I’d be interested in your response to what Loren was maybe getting at: the supposed superiority of a “scientific” epistemology to a “religious” one. This could be expressed another way: Controlled observations are more likely to reveal the truth about our world than religious texts.

    The religious text, when speaking about the way the world works, suffers from two problems if used as “scientific data”. In the first place, it must be taken on trust. But even if we decide it is trustworthy, why believe that a single “observation” (or revelation, if you like) in a text is not the outlier that can be disregarded when constructing the trend line?

    The other way in which I’ve seen science presented as better is that it has a humility that “religion” lacks. That is, science recognises that its observations and interpretations are made by fallible human beings, and so the rejection of a particular scientific theory doesn’t damn the whole scientific enterprise. Whereas “religion” claims absolute authority for its revelation — and to borrow a phrase from Douglas Adams, in case of a major discrepancy it’s always reality that’s got it wrong. And even if any given religion has so far been correct, that’s because either the priests and scribes of that religion have been lucky, or they confine themselves to untestable claims.

    In short, science accommodates reality, while religion challenges reality.

    I’m not saying I agree with what I’ve just written; I’m playing devil’s advocate. But is it necessary on a “religious” world view to assert the primacy of revelation over scientific findings? If so, how could that assertion be justified? If not, how can we proceed responsibly if and when “religion” gets its facts wrong according to the science of the day?

  12. Good questions, Mr. Gronk.

    Is it necessary to assert the primacy of revelation over scientific findings? I don’t know who is doing that, except for young-earth creationists, and even they are asserting something more than revelation as primary: they’re asserting a certain interpretation of revelation as primary.

    Now there are many who think that Christianity does a lot more primacy-asserting than that. We believe in the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection, in the teeth of science that says both are impossible. We believe nature is not all that there is to reality. We believe in the reality of soul and of eternal life.

    When you analyze all of these, though, what you find is the scientists doing precisely what their nemeses, the young-earth creationists, are doing. They think they’re asserting the authority of science, but they’re actually camping on a certain interpretation of science. It’s a poorly thought out version of science that says, for example, that nature is all that there is of reality.

    So I’m not agreeing with the premise of your question, to start with.

    I could add this, though. If we had a perfect understanding of both revelation and of nature, we would find that there is no competition between them. They would be found to agree completely.

    And also this: Scriptural revelation has a distinct advantage over scientific study of nature, in that it is written propositionally for us. Both nature and Scripture require interpretation, but Scripture is more direct information, its data is fully accessible, it requires fewer layers of interpretation, and therefore on the things that it affirms, it is more trustworthy than current science.

    Gotta go, I’ll come back in a while and see if there’s more to add.

  13. Tom,

    Thanks for your feedback.

    Is it necessary to assert the primacy of revelation over scientific findings?

    That depends on one’s view of special revelation (e.g., Scripture). Is it inerrant? Does it touch on matters that are, at least in principle, able to be studied independently via the scientific method? Does it require unusual interpretation, or is its meaning able to be grasped by those with ordinary reading and comprehension skills?

    For what it’s worth, I actually think the Resurrection, the Virgin Birth and so on are not amenable to scientific study – they’re sui generis historical events. The claim is not that virgins routinely give birth, or that people frequently rise from the dead. If it were, we would have much more of a problem on our hands than we do. The other things you talk about are likewise not able to be studied scientifically, as they address matters outside the confines of the physical world.

    So I’m not agreeing with the premise of your question, to start with.

    Ouch. Clearly, I do poor writing when tired. I probably missed something in there.

    I will say this, though: In your response to me, you make this statement:

    …on the things that [Scripture] affirms, it is more trustworthy than current science.

    You give reasons for that, with which I’m not disagreeing; but it does make the claim that Scripture, properly understood, wins out.

    Also, a person, faced with a “scientific claim” in Scripture, ends up in a position of saying either, “current science must be wrong”, “the Scriptures must be wrong”, or “the Scriptures don’t really teach that”. The last is certainly an attractive option, but I think it’s one that has to be used wisely lest it function as a cop-out.

  14. I think that Scripture and science, properly understood, both win out.

    The primacy that Scripture has (when it speaks to thinks that science can study) does not come from its truths being more true than those of nature. It comes from the fact that its data is all immediately accessible, which is not true for science and nature, and also that it comes in a much more readily interpretable, propositional form. For those two reasons it’s just a lot easier to get to the truths of Scripture than it is to get to the truths of nature.

    When I spoke a moment ago about “science, properly understood,” I wrote that in a form that could be interpreted in multiple ways. I worded it ambiguously, but I wanted to keep it pithy so I left it that way, at the risk that someone would disagree with my thoughts on what properly understood science is all about. It could mean many things. What I meant by it in this case was that “science, properly understood,” is that which truly accesses and identifies truths of nature.

    (Of course there are truths in Scripture that could never be found in nature, but that’s not our topic here.)

    I agree strongly with your closing sentence, and with the whole paragraph preceding it.

  15. @Brap Gronk:

    Also, a person, faced with a “scientific claim” in Scripture, ends up in a position of saying either, “current science must be wrong”, “the Scriptures must be wrong”, or “the Scriptures don’t really teach that”. The last is certainly an attractive option, but I think it’s one that has to be used wisely lest it function as a cop-out.

    The allegorical interpretation of scripture (allegory broadly construed; allegory is from Greek allos plus agoreuein or “other” plus “speak openly” where “other” inverts the “speak openly” or “in the market” part; so at bottom, allegory means one thing while saying another — see Angus Fletcher “Allegory: the theory of a symbolic mode” for a modern study of the subject in literary criticism) is coextensive with Christianity, not some modern move of Christians forced to do so on pain of contradiction with modern science. Let us just say that scriptural exegesis, its methods and foundation, is not exactly a novel topic.

  16. «Science is not an axiom. It, like every other belief floating around in our heads (aside from axiomatic beliefs), relies upon certain axioms – things which seem self-evident, and are assumed to be true. »

    Thank you for the clarification, I think that makes sense. A poor choice of words on my part, for sure.

    «You must believe in the supernatural before you can believe in theism. Uhh, wrong.. One starts from observations of the real world and then reasons to higher verities… and some of those verities–surprise, surprise–are not “religious” in nature.»

    So theism does not require a belief in the supernatural? Fascinating. I didn’t realize that you could believe in a God that wasn’t a supernatural being. How does that work? I mean, part of the whole Unmoved Mover/First Cause/etc argument requires Him to be supernatural… does it not?

    «Pray tell, Sault, just what is “material” about the scientific method? Could you please locate one for me and measure some of its properties?»

    Like any other rational person, I make a distinction between the abstract and the supernatural. I don’t think that anyone claims that there is a “real” number 3 walking around somewhere – we agree that while “the number three” may describe reality in some ways, it isn’t tangibly real. So it’s abstract. The same goes for beauty, for morality, for justice, for mathematics, etc etc.

    By contrast, the supernatural is postulated to be just as real as the natural, simply in some ephemeral and intangible way. There is a very big difference between the two concepts.

    Let me put it this way – is God less real, more real, or equally as real as the number three?

    «at its base atheism disparages the capacity for human reason to attain to higher verities because it a priori rejects such higher verities… »

    Simply because we can’t see God or the number three, don’t conflate the two. In other words, my rejection of the supernatural (based on lack of evidence) does not in any way infringe upon my ability to reason, deduce, or to imagine a world with no heaven.

    «For example (one he conveniently fails to address): Everything that Christianity postulates about reality is supernatural…»

    Okay, before you strawman me, let’s look at my original quote :

    Everything that Christianity postulates about reality is supernatural or requires a belief in the supernatural.

    Remove theism from Christianity, and what do you have left? Remove the supernatural from Christianity, and what do you have left?

    Without the supernatural you cannot have theism. Without theism you cannot have Christianity.

    «brights»

    Yeah, dunno about that term. I mean, I don’t use it, I haven’t identified with it, although I certainly understand the emotion behind it – when you start to think for yourself it certainly contrasts you against a background of people who don’t.

    And hey… we’re all atheists here, right? I’m just atheist about one more god than you… *wink*

  17. @Sault:

    You must believe in the supernatural before you can believe in theism. Uhh, wrong.. One starts from observations of the real world and then reasons to higher verities… and some of those verities–surprise, surprise–are not “religious” in nature.

    So theism does not require a belief in the supernatural? Fascinating. I didn’t realize that you could believe in a God that wasn’t a supernatural being. How does that work? I mean, part of the whole Unmoved Mover/First Cause/etc argument requires Him to be supernatural… does it not?

    Read again what Holopupenko wrote: he is saying that we can rationally prove that God exists starting with common sense, non-scriptural premises, from the First Way (change happens) to the Fifth Way (the passive orderliness of natures towards their ends). The way you are using the words “belief” or “faith” is completely antithetical to the way Christians commonly use those words.

    Like any other rational person, I make a distinction between the abstract and the supernatural. I don’t think that anyone claims that there is a “real” number 3 walking around somewhere – we agree that while “the number three” may describe reality in some ways, it isn’t tangibly real. So it’s abstract. The same goes for beauty, for morality, for justice, for mathematics, etc etc.

    By contrast, the supernatural is postulated to be just as real as the natural, simply in some ephemeral and intangible way. There is a very big difference between the two concepts.

    Let me put it this way – is God less real, more real, or equally as real as the number three?

    First, read again Holopupenko’s post, as you misunderstand his remarks about abstract objects, including the scientific method.

    Second, you have taken a step forward in the right direction, but it is not enough. To answer your question directly, God *is*; He is even more real than all of the (physical) reality, because all the extra mental objects that we commonly gather under the the word “reality” could not exist for a *single* moment apart from His conserving action. In other words, given that anything at all exists (a rock, a tree, a shoe, your mother, the universe) God *must* exist as He is Being itself and apart from Him, anything exists as a composition of essence and existence and thus exists by participation of His existence.

    This jargon may be beyond your understanding (which just shows that you are clutching at straws) so let me approach it in another way. Why exactly is an abstraction like the number 3 not as real as the computer standing before me? Do you have any argument that substantiates that the number 3 does not exist as an extra-mental object in the same way as rocks and trees and people? Do you know the arguments for Platonism? Are you even aware that something like Platonism must be true in order to make sense of reality and human knowledge?

    A couple of notes. 1. Nominalists (and conceptualists) would disagree with the last sentence, so an argument is needed but they do exist and a dime a dozen. 2. Holopupenko if I understand him right (and I agree with him), thinks Platonism is false but the argument is not straightforward. When I say that something like Platonism must be true I am alluding to the problem of universals. Anyway, the fact that a sizeable population of mathematicians were / are Platonists should give naturalists pause.

    Simply because we can’t see God or the number three, don’t conflate the two. In other words, my rejection of the supernatural (based on lack of evidence) does not in any way infringe upon my ability to reason, deduce, or to imagine a world with no heaven.

    Two things. First, if there is anyone conflating things it is you. Your whole post just shows that you do not understand at what Holopupenko is driving at. Second, among your many misunderstandings is the presuppositions hidden under the word “evidence”. What counts as evidence to you? What the empirical sciences can show? Well, Holopupenko will be the first one to tell you (and I will second him) that the empirical sciences will never “find God”. It is *philosophical* arguments that establish his existence — and this is what he means by “higher verities”, something that you cannot see because of your self-imposed atheistic blindness. And this is one of your major problems: you eschew philosophy, know nothing about it (as shown by your answers) and make an idol of Science as if it could answer all questions when its proper object of study is *just* physical reality, and a narrow slice of it at that.

    note: I noticed on rereading the post, that it comes out as me serving as a channeling oracle for Holopupenko. Oh well… cannot be bothered to rewrite to alter this.

  18. G. Rodrigues,

    What does “Brap” mean, and in what language?

    I confess that I don’t know much about reading Scripture allegorically. I think that approach has merit – when it’s used responsibly, and with due regard to the cultural and literary context in which the book in question (or its oral predecessor) was composed. Some day, I may study these matters more thoroughly.

    I’m OK with not taking a text literally, provided it was never intended to be taken literally. And by that I don’t mean to impute dishonesty; rather, I mean that the text might communicate truths in ways we, with our very literal mindset, would regard as unconventional. I wouldn’t want to use allegory in the manner you suggest, though (i.e., as an escape hatch). If the Scriptures really do teach something that current science believes false, then we must be honest enough to admit that it comes down to a question about whom we trust more, and why.

  19. [[you eschew philosophy, know nothing about it (as shown by your answers) and make an idol of Science as if it could answer all questions when its proper object of study is *just* physical reality, and a narrow slice of it at that.]]

    My knowledge of philosophy is certainly not as categorical as Holo’s, and I’m afraid I lack the ability to inject the same degree of invective that Holo manages as well. (is it because I don’t drink anymore?)

    I don’t look to science to answer every question – of course not, that’s silly. There is a place for philosophy in finding truth and meaning in our lives… but to say that one can “prove” God by essentially saying that He just has to exist, and in the supernatural besides (for is that not what the Cosmological argument requires?)… well, that seems a little presumptuous.

    Thank you for the input. I will review Platonism, et al, and while I think that I come down more on the side of nominalism, I don’t have a formal logical argument for it.

    Well, as much as I enjoy being blatantly mischaracterized and projected upon, and as much as I enjoy my mental facilities being compared to “a bag of hammers”, I think that perhaps this rarefied company and discussion would benefit more from my absence than my presence.

  20. @Mr Gronk:

    What does “Brap” mean, and in what language?

    My appologies. Honestly, I do not make the faintest idea where I got that Brap from or what it means. Brain meltdown I guess.

    A few more points to clarify my position.

    1. Let us leave aside for the moment the issues dealing with the Bible’s inerrancy, perspicuity, inspiration from God etc. how should we approach it? Like any other *literary* text. A literary text is not a technical report, crisp and clear, but employs all sorts of literary devices ranging from irony to myth (I am using these words as terms of art of literary criticism, but for my purposes here their precise sense does not matter much); attention to the original historical context is important, but on the other hand one of the aims of any act of reading is not the restoration of the original function of the text but its *recreation*. Kierkegaard wrote an intense little book called “Repetition” in which he proposes this term to replace the classical Platonic anamnesis or recollection — but I am straying away from my path. My point here, is that the Bible is a literary text and we should approach it like the literary text that it is. And although this is a little off-topic, as a purely literary text what other work can vie with the Bible in richness, depthness and cultural importance? Probably, only the collected works of Shakespeare and I am a card carrying Bardolator.

    2. Now enter the Christian’s contention that the Bible is the inspired word of God. Does that change our mode of reading it? Not really because the literary *mode* of the Bible does not change by accepting that it is inspired by God. The same attention to context, genre, etc. must be paid if we are to understand it correctly — and even then we will fail somewhere because after all the Bible is the message of an infinite mind to a finite, fallible mind. But this also gets into issues of interpretative, Church authority, etc. that I do not want to go into.

    3. I have already said that allegorical readings of the Bible are coextensive with Christianity itself. When a Gospel writer relates some action of Jesus Christ and then interjects that he is fulfilling this or that prophecy what do you think he is doing? When St. Peter addresses the multitudes that thought they were drunk because they were speaking in tongues and says that no, they are not drunk, but that they are fulfilling a prophecy, what do you think he is doing? He is doing a reading *act* in which the Old Testament is read in the light of the life, death and ressurection of Jesus Christ.

    4. The early Church Fathers were lavish in their allegorical readings; I won’t go into this topic but out of countless examples I offer the reading of Genesis by the neo-Platonic Augustine, who in “The Literal Interpretation of Genesis” took the view that everything in the universe was created simultaneously by God, and not in seven days as a literal reading suggests. Whether he is right or not is not the point, the point is that an allegorical reading of the creation account was in place before Darwin’s Evolution theory by approximately 1500 years. This should explode the myth that allegorical readings are a cop-out brought about by the discoveries of modern science.

    5. One last point: given that God cannot lie, that the Bible is His inspired word (a subtle expression, with many nuanced meanings), it follows that the Bible cannot lie. If there is any contradiction between the Bible and science, either the science is wrong or we are reading the Bible wrong. Simple as that.

  21. @Sault:

    There is a place for philosophy in finding truth and meaning in our lives… but to say that one can “prove” God by essentially saying that He just has to exist, and in the supernatural besides (for is that not what the Cosmological argument requires?)… well, that seems a little presumptuous.

    Study the arguments, actually understand them, and then you will be in a position to judge presumptuousness. Fail to do that and your are being… presumptuous.

  22. @G. Rodrigues:
    Mr. Gronk asked: “What does “Brap” mean, and in what language?”

    “My appologies. Honestly, I do not make the faintest idea where I got that Brap from or what it means. Brain meltdown I guess.”

    No brain meltdown, G. Rodrigues. “Brap” is my first name. For the record, the Mr. Gronk posting comments in this thread is not me (although I guess we could be related). I prefer to go by “Brap” anyway.

  23. No one here is “dumber than a bag of hammers.” Holopupenko, I implore you not to forget you are in conversation with another human being with as much worth before God as your own.

    There are arguments that dumb, I know. Kindly be careful to specify that is what you are talking about, when you are doing that. But consider two things:

    – When Jesus Christ criticized others’ actions and beliefs (which he did!) he did it gravely, somberly, and with much more a sense of grief than glee.
    – No one is going to be drawn to the love of Christ through insult.
    – This is not the place for triumphalism. If an argument wins, it wins for the truth and for the reality of God, not for ourselves.

    (2=3 for high values of 2 🙂 .)

  24. Sault, you wrote,

    While I am skeptical of certain branches of science, I am skeptical of religion itself, because I see modern science working, and I see thousands of years of religion effecting no great change in the human being – no marked increase in morality, or even a common consensus of what it means to be moral! Even when good acts are attributed to religion, I can’t help but speculate whether the good came from faith itself or from faith/religion enabling that inner conviction.

    I think that the sentiment is best exemplified by the phrase “Science wins because it works”.

    Well, of course science works, and science wins. But what does it win? As Polkinghorne points out, it works so well because it limits its attempts to such a modest field of inquiry. That’s where it works, and that’s where it prevails.

    I think, on the other hand, that it’s false that Christianity has failed at effecting a “great change in the human being.” Where Christianity has been dominant or influential in culture, and only in those places,
    – Science has flourished
    – Women have been freed from bondage
    – Slavery has been brought to an end
    – Political freedoms and human rights have been recognized
    – Universities were invented
    – Care for the poor and needy in groups other than one’s own family or tribe have been instituted
    – Infanticide (especially gender-selective) has been brought to an end
    – The full and equal humanness of all classes of persons has been established

    I know the record is not without blemish, but significantly, it’s only where Christianity has had strong influence that such faults are known to be faults. Elsewhere they are regarded as good and right. (Consider, for example, Muslim treatment of women.) That, my friend, is a marked increase in morality.

    That’s on a social/global scale. I think that if you asked “the human being” with whom you are corresponding—any one of us here—we could tell you many, many good effects Christianity has had on our morality.

    So yes, science is good, but where it wins, it’s not winning against Christianity. It’s winning along with Christianity, in separate spheres. Later you wrote,

    My contention is that “the proof is in the pudding”. If it bears no tangible and beneficial results, then its truthfulness is at least questionable, if not outright falsified.

    The above benefits of Christianity are not false. They are not widely known for whatever reason, but they are the pudding you ask for.

    Christianity postulates a problem (“we’re all going to hell because we’re born sinful!”) then formulates a solution to its own problem (“accept Jesus and go to heaven instead of hell!”)… and calls that “working”?

    This is a fascinating topic. You really ought to read Pascal on the problem that Christianity recognizes and solves. If you can’t take time to read Pascal, here’s another version of it, in two parts: The Human Condition, and The Solution.

    Meanwhile I’m having trouble understanding what is the problem with this:

    You must believe in the supernatural before you can believe in theism, and you must be a theist before you can be a Christian. Without a belief in the supernatural and without a theistic belief, you cannot be Christian.

    The only question I have about it is the sequence. I would say you have to be open to the supernatural before you can believe in God, at least in a logically (if not chronologically) prior sense. You have to believe that God is possible before (either logically or chronologically) you can believe in God. Is that a problem?

    Now there are some for whom this plays out in different ways. They come to believe in Jesus Christ as savior without having thought through much about “the supernatural.” Their (logically or chronologically) prior openness to the supernatural is very minimal. So what?

    to say that one can “prove” God by essentially saying that He just has to exist, and in the supernatural besides (for is that not what the Cosmological argument requires?)… well, that seems a little presumptuous.

    If the Cosmological argument actually does require it, and if the argument is sound, then it’s not at all presumptuous. (It almost sounds as if you’re alluding to the ontological argument, which is admittedly difficult and controversial; either way my point stands.)

  25. Tom:

    @6: Here’s another beauty: Everything that Christianity postulates about reality is supernatural or requires a belief in the supernatural. Dumber than a bag of hammers and simply untrue.

    Could you please explain how this could have been construed against anything apart from the assertion/claim itself (or the idea animating it)? Thanks.

  26. I think Sault’s reply shows how he construed it; and I think what I was saying about grief vs. glee, insult, and triumphal attitudes is the main thing.

  27. Hmm. Does that mean I’ll have to change my pseudonym now? My first name is as common as muck, so I’d probably find commenters that share it too. Still, as long as my esteemed colleague Brap puts his first name in too, we should be good to go. At least you don’t have swarms of undistinguishable Anonymouses 🙂

    G. Rodrigues (#22): Interesting thoughts, and I completely agree that the Bible is to be interpreted as literature. I think that there are many problems introduced by people who have (or at least start from) an overly literal approach to the text.

    As a side note (and to bring it back to the earlier discussion), I find it ironic that the same people who extol the virtues of a scientific epistemology as humble and self-correcting are those who judge the Scriptures ruthlessly on the basis of current scientific beliefs. For if current science is the be-all and end-all, then “science” is no longer self-correcting, and therefore no better than “religion” in terms of adapting to reality. If it’s not, on the other hand, it can’t properly be used to judge the truth of Scripture either, because some new piece of information (or new interpretation of existing information) may overturn the scientific theory that “disproves” Scripture.

  28. Tom:

    How he “construed” it? Is that like how he “construes” faith and in particular Christianity? As for the “glee” and “triumphalism”, how about “construing” those as sarcastic disgust… My chortling takes the edge off the pained repugnance over the categorical and, well, triumphalist ignorance on sault’s–in fact most atheists’–part. Just sayin…

  29. I know the record is not without blemish, but significantly, it’s only where Christianity has had strong influence that such faults are known to be faults.

    I don’t believe you – I’ll leave it at that for now. Perhaps at some point I’ll look at evidence that you may have to substantiate your claim. I have a strong feeling that you’re using that very odd qualifier as a way to cherry-pick the best and discard the rest… but in the interest of fairness, we shall see.

    I find it ironic that the same people who extol the virtues of a scientific epistemology as humble and self-correcting are those who judge the Scriptures ruthlessly on the basis of current scientific beliefs [etc]

    I think it’s because those who interpret scripture are largely unwilling to admit that they could be wrong. I mean, no one likes to admit they’re wrong, but it’s one thing to be a scientist and expect yourself to be wrong some of the time, and be one of the faithful who don’t.

    The problem is that faith itself (that is, faith alone) is not a predictor of truth. There are hundreds of religions, thousands of denominations, each of them full of faithful people who passionately believe that what they believe is the truth. Either they do not all have faith, they are lying to themselves, or finding the truth requires more than just faith…

    What I’m suggesting is that although faith may feel like a sufficient determinant of truth, it isn’t. And because it isn’t, there is far less ability to prepare the believer for the possibility that they could be wrong.

    A major part of the problem are the fundamentalists, literalists, and conservative elements within the religious traditions. These are the people who have shown themselves to react so negatively (violently even) when confronted with evidence that they’re wrong. (I’m not saying that scientific disciplines and advocates haven’t had their own versions of fundamentalism… but the truth has always come out in the end. The same cannot be said for religion.)

    If you can’t acknowledge that you’re wrong, then you deserve to be excoriated for every insignificant error that you do make until you do. (and yes, I say that in full recognition of what I said at the beginning of this post)

  30. My chortling takes the edge off the pained repugnance over the categorical and, well, triumphalist ignorance on sault’s–in fact most atheists’–part. Just sayin…

    So it’s okay to call someone names if you think that they’re calling you names first? It’s okay to mock me because you think I’m mocking you?

    In fact – no matter what I say or do, is it okay to call me names (thick, daft, ignorant, etc) or compare me in any way to said bag of hammers?

    It’s really easy to project opinions and emotions on to the other person. I’ve done it to you, you’ve done it to me. I have at times viewed Tom & co as generic “Christians” and projected plenty of stereotypes onto you lot – turns out that I was wrong on many of them, which was pretty cool.

    So I ask in return that you not paint me as something that I’m not… ie, as some triumphant Dawkins-loving, science-worshiping New Atheist self-proclaimed “bright”.

    And Tom? Thank you for your words. Seeing them on my screen is like my body being gently massaged by a bag of tiny Swedish hammers.

  31. Sault,

    First, welcome back (if I may say so). For what it’s worth, I too thought Holo was rougher on you than your comments warranted. I’ve lurked here off and on for a few years, and that’s his style, and I’m pretty sure it’s not the first time he’s been called on it.

    Regarding the rest of your comment (#34):

    I don’t think it’s true that interpreters of Scripture expect to be right all the time. At least, it oughtn’t to be. The very fact that others can start in good faith (there’s that word again!) and reach different conclusions should give us pause.

    The problem is that faith itself (that is, faith alone) is not a predictor of truth.

    I’m not sure who ever said it was. I hope you haven’t picked up the notion that faith (as the term is used by Christians and other religious persons) is about the intellectual acceptance of a bunch of implausible propositions, followed by sticking our fingers in our ears and yelling out, “I can’t hear you!” whenever someone tries to point out how implausible they are.

    Rather, we say that God has been trustworthy in our experience and in those parts of the Scriptures that can be historically tested, and on the strength of that, he can be trusted where there are still question marks.

    Perhaps it will help you understand where we’re coming from if you realise that we place great store in God’s consistency, honesty and faithfulness – it’s these facets of his character that make him worthy of our trust (or our faith, if you like). To accuse him, then, of lying (which is what you do when you say to a conservative believer that the Scriptures are deceptive) is one of the most serious charges imaginable. I’m not a married man, but I get the feeling that it would be rather like going up to one and saying to him, “Your wife has been sleeping with another man, and you should divorce her.” Now, maybe you believe you have evidence, up to and including the equivalent of videotapes of the act, to support your contention; but you can hopefully see that it’s not just a matter of us saying, “We have faith, therefore what we believe is true.”

  32. I’m reviewing my wording, and I am being a little sloppy with how I’m using the word faith. Its an easy mistake to make, but I need to be more careful going further. So, before anyone else says anything about it, I wanted to make sure that I said it first. I will respond further once I’ve had a chance to think about your reply.

  33. «To accuse him, then, of lying (which is what you do when you say to a conservative believer that the Scriptures are deceptive) is one of the most serious charges imaginable.»

    I’m not accusing God of lying. That’s silly – if I don’t even believe that God exists, how can I accuse Him of lying?

    No, I’m saying that a) where scriptures are inaccurate, b) where scriptures are inconsistent, c) where scriptures are self-contradictory, d) where men interpret scriptures differently, e) where men translate scriptures differently, and no recognition of this takes place, then believers deserve criticism.

    I emphasize that faith in God is not sufficient to determine what is true and what is not. All religions have people with faith – but they all can’t be true. Therefore, faith by itself can’t be a predictor of truth… presumably it must be supplemented by reason, logic, evidence, etc.

    «One last point: given that God cannot lie, that the Bible is His inspired word (a subtle expression, with many nuanced meanings), it follows that the Bible cannot lie.»

    As long as one recognizes that scribal errors can be made, that translations may alter the meaning of a text, and that literal interpretations should be avoided, then while I disagree with the statement (as an atheist), I don’t think its unreasonable within the Christian belief system.

    I’ll back up a little bit.

    «Read again what Holopupenko wrote: he is saying that we can rationally prove that God exists starting with common sense, non-scriptural premises, from the First Way (change happens) to the Fifth Way (the passive orderliness of natures towards their ends).»

    No. God is hypothesized, but is not proven. Proof cannot be provided in the supernatural.

    In other words, I do not consider metaphysical arguments and opinions to prove anything – reality does not necessarily conform to what we think it ought to be.

    You may base your arguments upon observations in the natural, but at some point you must jump to the supernatural, to a realm that we cannot directly perceive, to a realm where we can no longer discern, prove, or disprove anything.

    I find that jump (whether it is taken before accepting theism or taken alongside) unacceptable.

    Let me illustrate – in a purely supernatural manner, you cannot disprove the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (may his Noodly Appendages bless you). You may resort to the abstract (philosophical, metaphysical, and logical criticism), but there is no way to *disprove* Him. To be fair, there isn’t any way to *prove* Him, either, except through the confessions of faith from his believers. It becomes person A’s supernatural opinion against person B’s supernatural opinion.

    You must resort, to some degree, upon the natural to prove, or at least strongly suggest, the supernatural.

    To return to my earlier observations, a Christian must accept the supremacy of a supernatural interpretation of reality over a natural interpretation of reality, for natural evidence cannot prove the supernatural, only hint at it.

    I have a nagging feeling that I’m not being very clear, but it’s the best that I can do at the moment.

  34. @Sault:

    Read again what Holopupenko wrote: he is saying that we can rationally prove that God exists starting with common sense, non-scriptural premises, from the First Way (change happens) to the Fifth Way (the passive orderliness of natures towards their ends).

    No. God is hypothesized, but is not proven. Proof cannot be provided in the supernatural.

    Wrong. We can know rationally that God exists.

    In other words, I do not consider metaphysical arguments and opinions to prove anything – reality does not necessarily conform to what we think it ought to be.

    And I do not give a hoot about your “opinion”.

    You may base your arguments upon observations in the natural, but at some point you must jump to the supernatural, to a realm that we cannot directly perceive, to a realm where we can no longer discern, prove, or disprove anything.

    I find that jump (whether it is taken before accepting theism or taken alongside) unacceptable.

    Wrong, the obvious example being mathematics.

    Your position is actually self-refuting; but I will let you think about it for a little to see why.

    Let me illustrate – in a purely supernatural manner, you cannot disprove the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (may his Noodly Appendages bless you). You may resort to the abstract (philosophical, metaphysical, and logical criticism), but there is no way to *disprove* Him. To be fair, there isn’t any way to *prove* Him, either, except through the confessions of faith from his believers. It becomes person A’s supernatural opinion against person B’s supernatural opinion.

    Wrong, I can certainly provide overwhelming evidence that the FSM does not exist and I can certainly prove that he is *not* God as conceived by classical theism — that is, even if per absurdum the FSM did exist he would not be worthy of worship.

    To return to my earlier observations, a Christian must accept the supremacy of a supernatural interpretation of reality over a natural interpretation of reality, for natural evidence cannot prove the supernatural, only hint at it.

    Wrong, you simply do not know what you are talking about.

    I have a nagging feeling that I’m not being very clear, but it’s the best that I can do at the moment.

    I found everything you said pretty clear. And also demonstrably and unequivocally wrong. You employ the usual talking points of ignorant theists; by now you should know that this will not fly around here.

  35. Sault,

    I’m not accusing God of lying.

    I didn’t say that’s what you thought you were doing. But to someone who believes in the divine inspiration of Scripture, that’s how it could often come across. You alluded to the hostility you say you’ve encountered from religious persons; this is one reason why. Ours is not merely an academic interest.

    As regards your points about Scripture – its inaccuracies, real and alleged inconsistencies, and differing interpretations – these aren’t exactly any surprise to us. There’s a wealth of material out there that addresses these challenges (your mileage may vary, of course, as to how effective you think that material is).

    As to the question of proof, I can’t construct a logical proof of God’s existence, so I’m not going to try. Nor do I think it’s necessary. I agree that the burden of proof is on him who asserts. But I also believe we can offer a reasonable prima facie case for the existence of God and the significance of Jesus; again, your mileage may vary, and if you haven’t seen the arguments before yourself, there’s plenty of material in the archives of this blog and elsewhere.

    I think I’ve contributed about all I can to this discussion, though others may have more to say. I may “see” you again in later threads.

  36. I find that jump (whether it is taken before accepting theism or taken alongside) unacceptable.

    Wrong, the obvious example being mathematics.

    As I’ve said before, I make a distinction between the supernatural and the abstract. We know the abstract is not “real” in the way the supernatural is believed to be “real”. I mean, unless you believe that God is equally as real as the number three, but I could swear that we’ve already covered that.

    And I do not give a hoot about your “opinion”.

    Oh, I’m very aware of that. =)

    I can certainly prove that he is *not* God as conceived by classical theism

    Classical theism is another way to say “Christian” theism, so obviously you won’t be able to acknowledge Him.

    even if per absurdum the FSM did exist he would not be worthy of worship.

    Funny, I feel the same way about the God that most Christians believe in.

    I found everything you said pretty clear. And also demonstrably and unequivocally wrong. You employ the usual talking points of ignorant theists; by now you should know that this will not fly around here.

    Cool story, bro.

  37. @Sault:

    I need to add one qualification to my first Wrong lest I be misunderstood. When I say that we can know rationally that God exists, what I mean is that we can concoct a valid argument whose conclusion is that God exists. Of course, whether the argument is also sound, that is, all its premises are true, is a different and iffier question. I believe they are, but I will not press the point further.

    What I want to stress is (1) that you are clearly ignorant of the type of arguments that I am referring to (2) that you are wrong, and demonstrably so, when you state that there could not be, not even *in principle*, any rational arguments for God’s existence. You are simply letting your ignorance do the talking.

  38. @Sault:

    Sigh. You persist in the same errors, again and again.

    As I’ve said before, I make a distinction between the supernatural and the abstract. We know the abstract is not “real” in the way the supernatural is believed to be “real”. I mean, unless you believe that God is equally as real as the number three, but I could swear that we’ve already covered that.

    You said in #38 and I quote:

    In other words, I do not consider metaphysical arguments and opinions to prove anything – reality does not necessarily conform to what we think it ought to be.

    You may base your arguments upon observations in the natural, but at some point you must jump to the supernatural, to a realm that we cannot directly perceive, to a realm where we can no longer discern, prove, or disprove anything.

    This is breath-takingly stupid on several counts. First you equate metaphysical arguments and mere opinions and then add “reality does not necessarily conform to what we think it ought to be” which just shows how completely clueless you are. What do you think metaphysics is? Following Aristotle, it is the study of being qua being, being in its most general category, and thus it *IS* about reality, a deeper level of reality that the physical sciences cannot probe because they *assume* and *presuppose* certain metaphysical claims (that there is an objective reality beyond our minds, that this reality is knowable, at least in part, via a combination of observation and reasoning, etc. and etc.). And if metaphysics is about reality, as indeed it is, it is also clearly obvious that from observations of the natural world or sense data, we can reason to higher metaphysical realities because reality is just one, not a disjoint union of different levels with no connection between themselves.

    But then you say of the supernatural that it is a “realm that we cannot directly perceive”, a “realm where we can no longer discern, prove, or disprove anything.” In the mathematical realm, and whatever its mode of existence, which is surely *not* physical, while we cannot directly perceive anything (unless you use “perceive” in an analogical sense) we can surely reason. What is so special about the supernatural realm that prevents us from reasoning about it? Maybe you hold that the only reliable means of obtaining knowledge is through the empirical, and thus natural, sciences? This is an obvious self-refuting idiocy but once again, mathematics provides the obvious counter-example.

    I can certainly prove that he is *not* God as conceived by classical theism

    Classical theism is another way to say “Christian” theism, so obviously you won’t be able to acknowledge Him.

    You really have no idea of what I am talking about, do you?

    Suppose the FSM appeared before me and demanded that I bow down before his will lest he dropped a giant meatball on me. Now, being a coward and a weakling, I would probably comply, but it is still a matter of *objective* fact that the FSM is not God but at best, only *a* god, and thus not worthy of worship. Because God is not a being among beings. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is not a being in the same sense we are beings, or even a super-sized being shorn off of our physical and mental limitations.

    And no it is no good saying that that is not how the average Christian conceives of God; If you want to tackle and refute Christianity you have to tackle it on its own terms, at its strongest, and thus you have to go not to the average Christian on the street but to the serious thinkers (Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, etc.) in much the same way that if you want to understand Evolution Theory or Quantum Mechanics you do not go to the average man in the street (and in the case of Quantum Mechanics most probably not even the exceptional one will do) but you go the scientists or to the people that have actually studied and thought about these things.

    even if per absurdum the FSM did exist he would not be worthy of worship.

    Funny, I feel the same way about the God that most Christians believe in.

    Funny, how you “feel” instead of think, how you have “opinions” instead of knowledge.

    I suggest that you mend your ways as arguing with a wilful ignorant is an exercise in frustration and masochism. Instead of addressing caricatures and straw men only held by the figures of your impoverished imagination (if God really was what you make Him out to be I would be the first to join you and loudly proclaim that He does not exist, or at any rate He is not God but simply god and thus not worthy of worship), I suggest you tackle what we are *actually* saying — but that entails you actually understand it. All I am asking is that if you want to engage in discussion, then try to understand what we are saying instead of spouting nonsense about things you are completely ignorant of — this is a question of method, of how two people with different presuppositions can have a rational discussion over a matter where they disagree.

    note: And please spare me the spiel of how you “like to be wrong” (the rapper Gang Starr & The Dream Warriors has a song whose refrain goes something like this: “I’ve lost my ignorance and don’t know where to find it, yet I search, search furiously”). You get a free pass at the first time, but a second time repeating such fluff is more than a reasonable man can be expected to endure.

  39. «(2) that you are wrong, and demonstrably so, when you state that there could not be, not even *in principle*, any rational arguments for God’s existence. »

    I believe that I have stated that you can’t *prove* that God exists. There is a difference between a rational argument for God and a *proof* of God. I’m not going to take stance on the matter any further – see below.

    «What do you think metaphysics is?»

    Ooops! I used the word incorrectly half of the time, and used the wrong word the other half. I apologize for my mistake. I feel like a bag of Peter Griffins for that one.

    Classical theism is another way to say “Christian” theism, so obviously you won’t be able to acknowledge Him.

    You really have no idea of what I am talking about, do you?

    Of course I do.

    “Classical Theism began with the works of the Greek philosophers, especially Platonists and Neoplatonists and was developed into Christian Theology by the Scholastics, primarily by Thomas Aquinas (1224-1275)” – Wikipedia (classical theism)

    So, yeah. Christian theology does not permit the existence of other gods, or the possibility of God not being the Christian God. But really, that’s okay – we don’t need classical theism to assure ourselves that He does indeed exist. Well, probably. He purposefully has messed with us by making it look like the universe is older than it is – He actually created it 5,000 years ago. Its all done to test our faith, though, so that’s understandable.

    But this is all a little off on a tangent, right?

    «Suppose the FSM appeared before me and demanded that I bow down before his will lest he dropped a giant meatball on me.»

    How ignorant you are of His Divine character! His Noodly presence would never do such a thing, much as how the Christian God would never command you to murder innocents or sacrifice your children. You should really read the Gospel of the Flying Sphagetti Monster, which shows Him to be kind and merciful (especially if you’re a pirate).

    Back to business.

    «Maybe you hold that the only reliable means of obtaining knowledge is through the empirical, and thus natural, sciences?»

    Look, I think at this point I’m not going to get any further in this specific topic. I lack the knowledge to reason on your level, and it frustrates me greatly, must I must bow to the inevitable conclusion.

    I apologize for the confusion and frustration my lack of knowledge has brought to this discussion, and hope that we can continue in a more productive vein.

    So… in the interests of moving forward with the discussion, how about I set aside my personal beliefs, accept what you have said as reasonable evidence for the existence of a God, and move on from there?

    Reasoning from the abstract and supernatural alone we may show reason that God might exist, but we cannot show, reason, or prove many of the attributes of God that Christians attribute to Him.

    You cannot derive the existence of Jesus, for instance, based on Aquinas’ 5 ways. You cannot derive the Trinity or the need for a blood sacrifice (ie Jesus as a sacrificial lamb) or baptism or that God is a Him or many of the other specifics that Christianity asserts to be true – for these you need natural evidence, aka the Bible.

    Without the Bible, you cannot arrive at the specific attributes for God – you could find as much evidence for the Flying Spaghetti Monster as you could for Jehovah.

    To put this in metaphor – if I am stranded alone on a deserted island, and have managed to reason that God might exist, could I ever arrive at the Christian belief by reason alone?

    How would you respond to this?

  40. @Sault:

    I believe that I have stated that you can’t *prove* that God exists. There is a difference between a rational argument for God and a *proof* of God.

    You also said that you cannot prove that God exists — and the way you are using the word “proof” suggests that you are thinking of a 100% water-tight argument that compels every rational man to accept it. Apart from mathematics such arguments are to be found nowhere, so your criteria is irrelevant because if followed through we would have to throw away virtually every field of human knowledge.

    More interesting though, is that if by your own admission you cannot prove that God does not exist, and having in mind your own criteria of what counts as proof, why are you an atheist instead of an agnostic? That would be the intellectually honest position to take.

    You really have no idea of what I am talking about, do you?

    Of course I do.

    Following this, you inserted a wiki quote and then:

    So, yeah. Christian theology does not permit the existence of other gods, or the possibility of God not being the Christian God. But really, that’s okay – we don’t need classical theism to assure ourselves that He does indeed exist. Well, probably. He purposefully has messed with us by making it look like the universe is older than it is – He actually created it 5,000 years ago. Its all done to test our faith, though, so that’s understandable.

    Mock as much as you want, but it is fairly obvious that you do not understand jack.

    A couple of questions, if you please: do you understand why the classical theist conception of God (shared by Muslisms and Jews) rules out the FSM, Zeus, Quetzocoatl and numberless other gods you care to name as the True God? Do you understand why on the classical theist conception of God, there can only be one True God?

    Reasoning from the abstract and supernatural alone we may show reason that God might exist, but we cannot show, reason, or prove many of the attributes of God that Christians attribute to Him.

    Wrong again. Aquinas alone devotes hundreds of pages (literally) to painstakingly prove from first principles several of the attributes of God.

    You cannot derive the existence of Jesus, for instance, based on Aquinas’ 5 ways. You cannot derive the Trinity or the need for a blood sacrifice (ie Jesus as a sacrificial lamb) or baptism or that God is a Him or many of the other specifics that Christianity asserts to be true – for these you need natural evidence, aka the Bible.

    Now you are correct (or mostly correct, as God is not a Him although there are good reasons why the Bible does and should speak of God as a Him) as most of the claims you mention like Trinity, baptism, etc. are part of the divine revelation and belong to revealed theology, as opposed to natural theology, and thus they are beyond what the unaided human reason could establish. So we need a different strategy. A possible one — very rough outline only — goes like this:

    (1) Reason can establish the existence of God, a natural moral law, etc.
    (2) Jesus Christ was an historical, existing person.
    (3) The resurrection of Jesus Christ was a real, historical event.

    A note at this point. Virtually no historian doubts (2) and a very good case can be made for (3), that is, a *rational*, compelling argument can be made for the truth of (3). References provided if you want.

    (4) Since the resurrection of the dead is a miracle, we have the missing link we need, for miracles can only be explained by a direct intervention of God, which we already established as existing in (1).
    (5) If Christ indeed rose from the dead, then his claims are true and we have *rational* grounds to accept them as such.
    (6) In particular, Christ’s authority is the authority of God for he said that he was the Son of God and that the truth of this would be confirmed by his resurrection.
    (7) If Jesus Christ has divine authority and his claims are true, then the points in your list follow. Or to put it in another way, the points in your list are indeed accepted on authority but we have *rational* grounds to accept the authority as trustworthy.

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