Questions for Theists.

What follows is 10 questions aimed at theists, along with an explanation as to why the questions are meaningful. The questions are sincere, as they have been the stumbling blocks to many a conversation about religion. What is contained in the explanations that follow the questions is not meant to limit a theist’s response, and anywhere you think I may be offering a limited number of options for your answer, that is not my point; these are not meant to be produced as multiple choice questions. They are open and you are free to answer anything. Nothing is intended as a ‘gotcha’ question.

1. What do you do if you feel the morality of your religion conflicts strongly with your own morality?

We are all aware of things in religious texts to which the evaluation ‘unpalatable’ is an understatement. God requested some awful things of people in the Bible, for example, including the absolute destruction of societies and sacrifice of children. But even peaceful religions may teach peace when you feel strongly that the use of force would be for the greater good: one can imagine there were Tibetan monks who felt that way when their territory was being occupied.

How do you weigh this up: the feeling you have that is borne of a moral conscience (which you may well believe a God gave to you) conflicts with direct teachings? Do you do the thing you think heinous and have faith? Or do you do the thing you think is good?

2. Why doesn’t immorality carry natural consequences?

Inspired by this post, it is worth pointing out that ‘sin’ does not carry any natural consequences. If we look at the universe with the intention of investigating whether it makes sense to claim it was designed by a moral creator, we encounter an issue: there are such things as natural consequences, but they don’t line up with sin. I can trip, fall, touch a flame or eat something poisonous and there will be natural and inevitable consequences defined by natural laws of physics and biology. And yet, at no point in life does nature modulate our behaviour with regard to immorality. Unlike sticking your hand in a fire, the consequences of adultery are not inevitable, the consequences of extramarital sex don’t exist at all and you can blaspheme on your way to work without so much as missing a beat.

To defend the claim of a moral creator, one would expect to see the designer to have implemented as many natural and inevitable consequences to sin as have been created for safety concerns and biological function.

3. How do you define your religion?

It seems obvious that you could reduce a religion to a few key tenets and make accepting them as true the criteria for belonging to that religion, however that leads to a complex issue of understanding which tenets are key and which are not. Such a decision making process relies on some sort of externally defined method, constructed by humans. At which point, are you not just implementing Humanism?

Alternatively, you could make the whole collection of text the point. Every line of the Bible must be believed to be a Christian. Every line of the Quran and Hadith must be accepted to be a Muslim. However, that also leads to problems, not least the bigotry and science denial that literal fundamentalism leads to. There are ways of claiming to be fundamentalist, while being very selective, and this is often done by picking a favourable passage and demanding―without religious justification―that passage supersedes all unfavourable passages. How do you know Jesus’ implicit commands regarding compassion supersede the explicit commands in the Old Testament to stone people?

There is another method people often implement, which is to define a religion by behaviour. Some people define all of Christianity through living by one line from the sermon on the mount: love thy neighbour. That’s almost indistinguishable from the Muslims who define Islam by the idea that Islam is a religion of peace; in terms of behaviour, these two ideas lead to the same thing. Christians and Muslims would be the same. The actual beliefs don’t weigh into it. And this ‘good behaviour’ makes a person Muslim in the eyes of a Muslim and a Christian in the eyes of a Christian. The fact that good behaviour is evidence of you bringing compassion and humanity to the text, instead of taking it literally, makes you Humanist in the eyes of Humanists.

Given this complexity, how do you define your religion?

4. How should I know when to implement faith, and when to implement reason?

I assume, for the most part, reason and critical thinking guides you when you take yourself or your children to a practitioner to be healed of an ailment. In general, you are sceptical of homeopathy and people who claim marijuana, echinacea and white wine vinegar are the cures to all conditions. In general, you visit a doctor who you trust will implement a scientific system. The trust is not unfounded, either. You are aware of a system that keeps doctors to a standard, else you will have an opportunity for recourse. And it is good that you do this: getting this wrong could have very immediate and negative consequences.

And yet, when it comes to questions of religion and defences for God’s existence, one ends up resting heavily on faith at a critical point in the argument. How do you know it is reasonable to implement faith at this point, instead of enquiring further?

5. What is your view on religious liberty?

A lot of religions are ‘non-rational memes’, to borrow a phrase from David Deutsch. This means they don’t compete fairly on an intellectual marketplace of ideas, but instead they quash contrarian and antagonistic claims to stop them from needing to compete on an intellectual marketplace. This is what claims of ‘heresy’ and ‘apostasy’ are: the denial of criticism, scrutiny and other currency on an intellectual marketplace. This is what Galileo suffered; unfair suppression of ideas antagonistic to the non-rational meme. The Bible has an explicit example of this is Isaiah 41; it outlines how one tests another God, but God himself is not to be tested. However, this narrative is apparent in many religions.

This isn’t a cultural phenomenon, but something that is actively taught in Christianity and Islam and appears in a lot of other religions (as well as other pseudo-scientific nonsense, which is why you see ‘Big Pharma’ being treated like a monster instead of treating their ideas honestly).

Given that your religion probably does present itself as a non-rational meme that actively excludes other religions, what are your views on religious freedoms? Does your religion actually teach religious tolerance? Should you convert other people? Should you tolerate other faiths?

6. How do you define a God?

This is something that stagnates a lot of conversations. The Cosmological Argument for the existence of God operates on the implicit assumption that God is the creator. But, if we could show that the universe was created by physical processes, then, by this definition, God just becomes a synonym for physics. But that seems to fall short of what religious people mean when they say God.

This is one of only a few definitions of God that actually pin what a God might be down. Other definitions are meaningless―‘God is the great I am’―and that stagnates the conversation. What does ‘the great I am’ mean? What content is there is just swapping the word “God” with “Lord” or “goodness” and assuming that has offered some sort of explanation.

Perhaps you may argue that the definition of a ‘God’ is an intelligent being with agency and a personality, who created this universe. Okay, but if we were to discover that we are in an artificially created universe, either physical or simulated, that some other species in some other universe invented, would that species be a God? I’m not saying that’s a likely discovery, I’m saying you need to engage properly with that question to see if that definition of a ‘God’ is really what you mean. What if humanity creates a simulation, like SimCity, where the characters have high-performing AI. Is humanity God, in this scenario?

7. How do you recognise design?

There is a common argument for God that relates to the complexity of biology and the “fine-tunedness” of the universe. The problem with these arguments is there are clear flaws in biology and in the ‘fine-tuning’ of the universe. Sean Carroll argues this point in attempting to explain why God is not explanatory in terms of the universe: there are all sorts of conditions of the universe we would change, if we were making a universe for the abundance of life.

And that last bit is the out for theologians, as then they can claim that Sean Carroll cannot pretend to know what the universe was being created for. That these perceived ‘imperfections’ are imperfections according to the goal and subsequent criteria established by Sean Carroll. But, as the theologian will say, God’s mind, plan and goals are unknowable.

But that is the exact problem that then faces the theologian. How can we possibly know the universe is finely tuned, if we don’t know the goal? Yes, there are all sorts of parameters of the universe that surprise physicists and the nature of the surprise seems to make the universe more habitable for us in this unremarkable neighbourhood of the solar system. But, so what? How can a theologian who claims God’s plan is unknowable then claim to know that God’s plan is to make this universe more habitable for us? John Zande’s book, The Owner of All Infernal Names: An Introductory Treatise on the Existence, Nature & Government of our Omnimalevolent Creator, argues that the universe was created by a God for the specific purpose of increasing complexity in order to, by natural processes that do not need intervention, create a world that will perpetually increase in misery and suffering. How would a theologian dismiss that view, while still claiming to know why the universe was created, and therefore that it is done perfectly by a God?

So, how can you identify design in nature without setting up criteria against which God falls short?

8. When your religion was written down, did it contain novel or revolutionary knowledge or ethics that had been previously inaccessible to the society?

If a religious text really were written down by a person who have special access to knowledge, it would have been a great opportunity to write down revolutionary ethics or life-saving knowledge. The knowledge of invisibly tiny parasites that exist everywhere, but which can be washed off by clean water and friction, would have been a clear and meaningful message that saved lives. It would have done away with ideas about disease being related to smell and increased hygiene to all people who received the knowledge.

Thou shalt not own other people or thou shalt make all reasonable attempts to resolve disagreements by reason and diplomacy would both have been pretty great.

However, I do not know of a religious text where, even the best bits of it, contain revolutionary knowledge that the society didn’t already figure out for themselves. This does raise the question of why a God didn’t take this opportunity to make such revelations.

9. Why does God remain invisible to the methods of knowledge that are known to work?

You may have come to know God through some sort of a revelation in times of trouble, or simply believe in God for cultural or familial reasons. It may even be that you were struck with awe at something about nature that compelled you to offer it reverence. Whatever your method of having come to know God is, I hope you are able to recognise that it doesn’t line up with scientific methods, even using science in its broadest sense. Science expels attempts at  ‘It couldn’t be anything else, therefore it must be this’ reasoning. It’s more commonly known as an ‘argument from ignorance’ or ‘God of the gaps’ reasoning, but more formally known as loose abductive reasoning. Science operates in finding evidence in favour of a claim, not just tearing down other options and seeing what parts of a wishful fantasy or unbounded imagination are left standing.

That method, of wanting evidence in favour of a claim, not just a negation of alternatives, is the most reliable way to knowledge that we have. And God is entirely invisible to it (save for the select few It reveals Itself to). And yet it is supposed that God wants us to know of It. How is this supposed to work?

You could argue that it’s a matter of preserving our freewill. But I’m not convinced that makes sense. People are free to discard evidence. That’s why we have Flat-Earthers, homeopaths and anti-vaxxers. But we do not have, as far as I know, gravity-deniers. So, which is it? Is evidence a violation of our freewill and thus has already been trespassed upon by gravity, or is evidence not a violation of freewill, thus giving God no excuse?

You may argue that God has provided evidence, but that wasn’t the question. The question was why that evidence doesn’t fit into known reliable methods of knowledge.

10. If there is an apparent contradiction in your religious text, how do you resolve it?

This has the potential to be a very different question depending on what religion you actually are. There are non-religious ways of doing it, of course. These might include picking the passage and interpretation that helps you do the thing that you want to do, or it might mean making certain theological assumptions about God making you with humanity and compassion and so you can trust your own instincts to resolve the problem in your context. But the problem then is, if you trust your own instincts, why do you need the religion at all?

The Quran is quite explicit about this: if you see a contradiction, the bit that arises later in the Quran succeeds the former passage. But this enters into problems as the Quran, like a Quentin Tarantino movie, becomes more violent as it progresses, to the point that most of the peaceful passages early in the Quran are overruled.

Doing this Biblically is even harder, still. Many people assume that Jesus overthrew the Old Testament, so any contradiction between the Old and New Testament is simply a case of taking from the New Testament. But this has the complete opposite problem of the Quran: there is nothing explicit in the Bible that says the Old Testament has been superseded, and there are passages that explicitly claim the old laws stand.

There are other methods, like understanding to whom the laws were given and what their application was. Perhaps a command only applies to the Israelites, or is only a ceremonial law. What’s the problem here? You need a method of understanding the dominion of these laws and who they are given to. You would need to be able to articulate a reason a law doesn’t apply now, or to you, or in this situation. So far as I have ever read or seen, this has been guesswork coming back to the idea that we can trust ourselves to solve the problems. We are, according to this method, the arbiters of what is right and wrong. And if that’s to be the bottom line, anyway, why not abandon the religion and embrace Humanism?

68 thoughts on “Questions for Theists.”

  1. 2) Who says sin does not have consequences? Take adultery. Marriage is not something you do as a lark before a fake Elvis in Vegas. It is the joining of 2 people into a single unit designed to be greater than the sum of its parts. If one part of that unit spends the unit’s resources (whether it be money, time and/or physical contact) on someone else, it damages the unit. It can have financial, health and definitely emotional impacts. It very often leads to the end of the marriage, or at least makes it ineffective. It usually has severe impact on any children from the marriage. And all these impacts not only affect the people involved, but very often the society in which they are living.

    No consequences from extramarital sex at all? Are you kidding? You’ve never heard of STDs? Unwanted pregnancies? Rape and rape accusations, warranted and not? Emotional stress? But say one ALWAYS takes adequate steps to prevent those, and the percentages ALWAYS fall in the person’s favor (there are no 100% solutions to any of these). Then there are not consequences? Consider that sex with someone you love and who loves you is the ultimate experience; if you engage in casual sex, you expose yourself to all the risks and costs of sex for only a fraction of the reward. And you reduce your chances of reaching that ultimate relationship. But what about unmarried sex with full emotional commitment? You have the risks AND the rewards. And it may be fine for a while. But you don’t have the stability to ensure it lasts. And you often don’t have the shared goals and resources. There will usually be emotional resentment on the part of one of the people. One or the other will eventually get dissatisfied, and without the “encouragement” of the marriage (or “discouragement” of divorce proceedings) there is a much greater chance of splitting apart.

    And blasphemy? That always has consequences. You just not might see them for a while. The consequences are to your relationship to God. At best, this prevents you from receiving some of the blessings and protection He wishes to provide you. At worst, this keeps you forever separated from Him.

    The consequences from sin may not be noticeable, at least not in an obvious cause and effect relationship, but they are there. And they may not be intolerable, but they are there.

  2. 4) You don’t IMPLEMENT faith. You HAVE faith. But not blind faith. Faith is a way to accept something without proof, but should not be a reason to reject proof against what you have faith about.

    You should always (attempt to) implement reason. If there is illness and you believe God heals illness, pray, and have others of your belief pray. AND visit a reliable doctor. And pray that God gives them the ability to help you.

  3. My views on religious freedoms are that one should be allowed to follow their beliefs to the extent they do not impact others. If you want to have sex with or even marry someone of the same sex, and such is legal, that is your business. If I believe that to be wrong, that is my problem and for me to force you not to is not acceptable. If you believe it to be right, that is your problem, and for you to force me to support that or even participate is not acceptable.

    It is not for Man to attempt to enforce God’s laws. All laws of Man should be for the benefit of Man. God is alleged to have all power, so any enforcement of His laws is up to Him.

    Does your religion actually teach religious tolerance? That’s hard to say. All other religions and non religions are “wrong”, of course :-). Should you tolerate other faiths? That is a little more straightforward. Tolerate the faith, not so much. Tolerate the people following them, yes.

    Should you convert other people? No, it is not within my power to convert anyone; that is done by the Holy Spirit. If anyone is interested, I am directed to provide them what information I can to help them if conversion is right for them.

  4. 1) Hard to imagine, as I came to my religion because it resonated with my morality. If it in future demands I do something I fell is wrong, or stop doing something I feel is right, that will be a troubling time. I’ll have to investigate the source to ensure it really comes from God and not some Man interpreting or misinterpreting God’s directive. And if I conclude it is from God, that will be really difficult. On the one hand, He is God; on the other hand, He made me the way I am and that would be in contradiction with Him, which would seem to be an “impossible” situation.

  5. 8) I don’t know. Based on the discussion in a previous post, it seems likely that there is not much. But I don’t care. What does it matter if what is presented is not “new”. All that matters is that it is “correct”. THAT is a useful subject of debate.

    1. To me, the question relates to credibility. If the entire intellectual and moral content of Christianity had been established by pre-Christian cultures, why do some append so much credibility to a book that very much could have been the creation of man, picking only from already-existing ideas?

  6. 9) This is a good question, which has concerned me for quite a while. After all, God is alleged to have the power to make Himself provable, but He obviously has not. Why not? I don’t know. My theory is that as is stated in His scriptures, “faith” is important to Him. If He could be proven, there would not be any “faith” which He finds a situation worse than some people rejecting Him.

  7. Another absolutely stellar post, Allallt! You certainly know how to shamelessly exploiting your gift for getting a good discussion going.

    1. There isn’t any such thing as “my” morality. Such a thought means that right and wrong are simply a matter of personal opinion.

    And if that is the case, an objective, normative reality simply cannot exist.

    A most powerful and salutary property of the great religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Christianity) is to provide mankind with an objective, normative morality.

    I deliberately chose Christian morality after examining the others, because it is most consistent with human nature and because it provided the foundation for the greatest, most just, most prosperous, most technically advanced civilization in human history.

    6. God is defined as First Cause, or Creator. From that definition it follows logically that God is:
    a. All powerful, since he had to have the power to create all things.
    b. All knowing since to he had to know what he was doing in order to do it.

    8. That a religion be somehow “novel” is a straw man.

    The effectiveness and believability of a religion depends on how well it conforms to human nature.

    So the requirement that religion must present something novel is not logical (non sequitur).

    9. God does not remain hidden to our methods of knowledge.

    a. Modern science has proved his existence by the very standards that modern science has established for itself.
    b. The existence of God can be worked out through pure reason like a mathematical proof.

    1. Science has proven the existence of God? Why did I not get the memo? Please point me to that proof.

      Every attempt to prove God logically I’ve heard either has invalid premises or faulty logic.

      1. equippedcat,

        Multiple memos were given by Saint Paul in that gnarled old tome called the Bible.

        You may have heard of it.

        Modern science hadn’t been invented yet but the Jews and Christians taught that the existence of God was evident in the composition and order of the natural world.

        I saw that modern science had proven the existence of God on my first week of class in the university level, intro to molecular biology.

        Both the professor and students were stunned.

      2. Yes, the Bible (which I have heard of and even read) contains many letters from St. Paul. All of them can provide good guides for life and a relationship to God. None of them can be considered Science. None of them provide “proof” of God.

        Yes, Science has advanced to the point where it can show with a high degree of detail the “order” inherent in our universe, from the biggest galaxy to the smallest particle. And that is highly indicative that God made it or guided it. But again, not proof. No matter how unlikely, there is a chance that our environment happened without God, and so nothing we can say about our environment can be taken as proof of God.

        Science cannot and probably never will be able to detect the environment of God because it is outside of the environment in which Science exists, and because God’s environment does not obey the laws of our environment, and those laws are the foundation of Science.

        But don’t take this as an attack on God. If God wanted us to be able to prove Him by Science or Logic, He certainly could have made that happen. And in fact, DID make it happen to the early Israelites (and that did not turn out all that well 🙂 ) Since He has not made that possible today, He obviously does not WANT to be proven today. The conclusion I draw is that “faith” is of importance to Him, and proof is the enemy of faith.

      3. You said that you had not received “the memo.”

        A memo usually does not constitute proof, and therein lies the problem:

        Atheists assign their own meanings to words and then demand that the opposition argue against the redefinition.

        The Greeks, the Hebrews and the Christians were issuing memos about the natural world indicating the existence of God beginning millennia ago.

      4. Sorry, I was being facetious. The idea was to poke fun at the statement that God has been proven by Science, with the connotation that if it had occurred, I had not heard of it..

        As I stated in another response, Science helps us see indications of God, but I’m almost positive it has not can probably cannot ever provide proof of God.

      5. equippedcat,

        Science has indeed proven the existence of God.

        The proof is rock solid and they exist in various areas of science:

        1. Molecular biology
        2. Information Theory
        3. Cosmology

        But if you are going to be “facetious” in the face of hard prove, why should I waste my time?

        After all, atheism is only possible if one laughs at science.

      6. No SoM, Science has not “proven” God, and it can not prove God. Science is limited by its very nature to the “natural” realm. God exists in the supernatural range which Science cannot detect.

        If God had been proven by Science or any other reliable method, there would be far fewer atheists.

      7. equippedcat,

        Denial of science is not an argument. Denial of science is atheism.

        Aristotle’s proof of the existence of God that you conjured up via Google, has been proven experimentally in the laboratory.

        The proof works by the concept of good, better, best and the calculus concept of functions and their limits.

        It is eloquently expressed on page 2 of the university introductory microbiology course textbook, “Biology,” by Campbell et all.

        The topic is, “The Properties of Life.”

        And order is at the top of the list.

        Modern science has determined that when order or organization approaches infinity (lets say the level of DNA->RNA->Protein, Crick’s fundamental dogma of biochemistry), life happens.

        God exists when order equals infinity.

        Such conclusions are obtained using a type of scientific thought called inference.

      8. Agreed. Denial of Science is not argument; it is, in fact, a denial of reality bordering on insanity. It is, however, in no way, shape or form, atheism. Atheism is the lack of a belief in the existence of a God or gods. Period. By definition, and by the understanding of pretty near everybody in the world. So to be clear, I am not denying Science and I am not subscribing to atheism. And I am not even denying that Science has proven God. What I am saying is that as far as I have heard Science has not PROVED God. And based upon my knowledge of Science, perception of the natural world and my theories of the Supernatural world of God, I suspect Science will probably never be able to PROVE God unless God changes his modus operendi. Clear enough?

        Again, AQUINAS, not Aristotle. And of course I searched the internet (via Yahoo) to find that logical argument. In response to YOUR REQUEST. Is this NOT one of arguments of Aquinas’ you were thinking of? If so, please point me to his valid logical arguments so I can fulfill YOUR REQUEST and come to the realization you are right and I am wrong. Cause so far, that ain’t happening..

        Logical proof. Verified experimentally in the laboratory. At first glance this seems a ridiculous impossibility, but I assume that since you know of this experiment, you can point me to the records of it. The logical argument would still have the flaws I pointed out, but this WOULD be a case where Science proved God. Just out of curiosity, how did they create or define the hottest possible temperature? And what is that maximum possible temperature?

        The concept of good, better and best is flawed. Not only is the ranking often subjective, but “best” can only apply when you have a limited set to compare. As soon as you expand the set, the reigning “best” may be unseated.

        Inference is a valid technique to postulate theories. It does not, in itself, provide proof. You can infer that infinite order equals God, but you can’t prove it, or even prove infinite order is possible.

      9. equippedcat,

        I just gave you scientific proof that God exists and it went right over your head.

        That renders any argument you make on this topic, an argument from ignorance, which is a classical logical fallacy.

        Just because the atheist doesn’t understand something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

      10. No, you did not. You SAID it existed. Saying something exists does not convince someone else who is both sane and intelligent it exists. And I claim to be sane and intelligent, which is, of course, subject to debate.

        A person can only KNOW it exists, if you have seen it. Nobody else can know it exists unless they have seen it as well. If you do not SHOW it to me, then either you are deliberately hiding it from me, which would seem to make you an agent of Satan, or you can’t SHOW it to me and the only conclusion I can draw is that it does not really exist. Which would imply that you are basing your “knowledge” of this Scientific proof on something someone else SAID. Please refer to that first paragraph.

      11. Here is another, more easily understood scientific proof that God exists:

        1. We know from discoveries in molecular biology that there exists a huge family of molecules called proteins.

        2. We know that each protein has a specialized task and that a great many are actually tools that are used to bend, shape, assemble, break, etc., other substances.

        3. We call such items tools.

        4. Proteins then, are software specified, mass produced, precision-manufactured, precision tools.

        5. Tool-making, according to modern science, is a signature of intelligence.

        6. This proves the existence God since intelligence must result from being.

        I have more such proofs.

        But since they are based on science and scientific thought, the atheist always denies them.

      12. Thank you so much. That IS showing me a Scientific proof. There are some questions with it which I’ll need to research and some holes which prevent reaching the desired conclusion..

        First, I’ll need to convince myself the calling a protein a tool is accurate.

        Second, the Conclusion in 4) is invalid as written. It either needs elements to be removed, or to have valid premises added which validate those elements logically.

        – Software specified does not follow from the premises (Software is not mentioned at all. And is a concept of Man, not God, so would seem to weaken the argument).

        – Mass produced does not follow from the premises (No premises defining where proteins come from or how many there are. Note that a premise that they are produced by God would be circular reasoning – since God is not proven yet – which would be an invalid logical construct)

        . Precision, probably, but not shown in the proof, This would follow if there were a valid premise showing that proteins are precision.

        – Manufactured does not follow from the premises (Again, no premise validating the manufacture of proteins. Plus, manufacturing is a fairly specific process, which tends to be a concept of Man, not God. Which would seem to weaken the argument).

        – The follow on steps of this proof are based on “tool-making”. Either the “making” needs to be shown in this conclusion, or the following steps need to be modified to be based on what IS show here when the conclusion is modified to be valid.

        Third, certainly tool-making is A signature of intelligence. I will need to see if it is a GUARANTEE of intelligence. I seem to recall that various animals not considered intelligent and even insects USE tools, but do they “make” them?

        Ok, let us say that all the above is modified to be, or shown to be, valid. That still does not make the following conclusion valid. All that we could state with confidence is that the “makers” or “producers” of proteins are intelligent and since proteins exist, they exist (would require proof that only they could produce proteins and new proteins are still coming into existence) or did exist.

        There is not yet any logically valid step which takes us from the “maker” of proteins existing to that “maker” is God.

        And no, I’m not an atheist. Smart atheists would not reject a valid proof, and smart theists would not accept an invalid proof. The key for both is to know what makes a proof valid or invalid.

      13. Good, better, best works even given subjectivity.

        That subjectivity somehow nullifies the concept is a false claim.

        Good, better, best works because given our natural tendency toward bias (subjectivity), it is especially easy to understand.

      14. Good, better, always works if you allow for subjectivity. “Best” is a unreliable concept UNLESS you have a limited set to choose from. If the set is unlimited, then even if you can identify a best today, odds are there will be a new “best” tomorrow.

      15. equippedcat,

        Please present a logical proof of the existence of God either from Aristotle or Saint Thomas Aquinas and then point out what you think are invalid premises or faulty logic.

        I will make it apparent that any invalid premises or faulty logic do not exist in the proofs, but elsewhere.

      16. St. Aquinas listed 5 proofs of God’s existence

        “The fourth way is taken from the gradation to be found in things.”

        Premise: “Among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble and the like.”
        — Ignores equivalency, but that is a nit and does not affect the argument.
        — Also, does not specify the frame of reference for what is “good”, etc which weakens but does not invalidate the premise.

        Premise: “But ‘more’ and ‘less’ are predicated of different things, according as they resemble in their different ways something which is the maximum, as a thing is said to be hotter according as it more nearly resembles that which is hottest;”
        — Is there a maximum heat, or at any temperature can you always get “hotter”?
        — Heat is an example. Even if there is a maximum hotness, it does not follow that there there is a maximum for everything, particularly that which is not “measurable”.

        Conclusion: “so that there is something which is truest, something best, something noblest and, consequently, something which is uttermost being; for those things that are greatest in truth are greatest in being, as it is written in Metaph. ii.”
        — Does not follow. No step to show that there is a maximum for these qualities, and no frame of reference for the rating.
        — I could not find “Metaph” so could not evaluate its application to the argument.

        Premise: “Now the maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus; as fire, which is the maximum heat, is the cause of all hot things.”
        — Invalid premise. Where do we show that the maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus?
        — The example does not prove the premise. Is “fire” the “maximum” heat? Is “fire” the cause of all hot things?

        Conclusion: “Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God.”
        — Does not follow from an invalid premise and unsubstantiated previous conclusion.

      17. equippedcat,

        Aristotle’s frame of reference is common sense and the obvious.

        Again, staples that make atheism work out for its acolytes are the denial of the obvious and common sense.

        If you can’t connect good, better, best with what Aristotle is saying, you aren’t going to get anywhere.

        And what a great tactic it is to bog your opponent down in trying to explain the obvious.

      18. Terribly sorry. I thought you requested that I show a logical proof of God from Aristotle or St Aquinas and show how it was not logically valid, so that is what I did. For Aquinas, not Aristotle.

        Here is a thought. Common sense is not proof (and not nearly common enough). The obvious is not proof. They can show what might be, but they are not adequate to show what is.

        To be clear, I am NOT saying that God does not exist; I believe He does. What I am saying, is that PROOF of God does not exist. Not Scientific proof. Not Logical proof. And because God is all powerful, this must be BY HIS DESIGN. There are adequate INDICATIONS that He exists, but no collections of indications can be validly considered proof.

        You apparently believe that proof DOES exist. Let me suggest that the only way you will ever convince anyone over the age of 5 of that is to trot it out. I can claim that that I have a unicorn in my basement every day and twice on Tuesday, and nobody of note is going to believe it unless I can provide pictures.

      19. equippedcat,

        Effective argumentation requires common ground.

        Common sense is common ground in this case because nothing more is required.

        Otherwise we are left with your personal, arbitrary, standards which dictate that things be this way or that way or not at all.

      20. Yes, common ground can aid in resolving an argument. I believe the God of the Bible exists; do you? Would that be an aspect of common ground?

        Yes common sense would also be useful and aid in resolving an argument. I believe I have common sense, do you?

        I realize that common sense is not absolute truth, do you? I stand on the ground and try as I might, I can detect no curvature. Common sense indicates that the Earth is flat; by changing my point of view I can prove that not to be the case. Showing that common sense is a step to a fact, not a guarantee that the premise is a fact..

      21. equippedcat,

        The Bible is a religious book of faith and so, cannot be used as any part of a scientific proof.

        I mentioned the Saint Paul and Bible and the ancient Greeks and Hebrews to demonstrate that mankind, has understood clearly that the existence God is indicated in the natural.

        And today, modern science has progressed to the point of proving that very thing.

      22. You claim Science has proven God. In order for me to accept that as so, you must provide me with a pointer to such a proof. Otherwise I will continue to insist that Science is not capable of detecting God and so cannot prove Him (and cannot disprove Him either).

  8. “4. How should I know when to implement faith, and when to implement reason?”

    By writing “reason and critical thinking” ordinarily guides decision making, you’re implying irrationality and unanalysed processes inform or are workaday in people who believe in God while in the act of belief in God, meaning the faulty assumptions of many modern atheists are being written into the question before it’s ever been asked. The famous question “Have you stopped beating your wife lately?” comes irresistibly to mind (a yes or no answer to that question, please!) The question supposes reason as the opposite of faith, yet that’s factually incorrect, rather the opposite of reason would be irrationality, as for belief, distrust would be it’s opposite.

    Faith, as I can confess to being played out in my life, is something which is a natural occurrence insofar as people allow themselves to be led by the available evidence. Whereas when I speak to people about God in London, and they’re inclined to find an escape route (I normally corner them beforehand), that’s simply a hardening of the heart, something deserving of being called distrust. If after having everything they assume to be true (e.g Religious people are stupid, Jesus didn’t exist) cast into doubt by a conversation with myself or a JW or somebody else, it’s then their sovereign choice to either accept how they’ve just had their arguments flustered, meaning there’s more to the opposite viewpoint than they’d have believed earlier, or it’s their free choice to go into denial mode, to continue to scoff and enjoy the company of scoffers as opposed to giving into “blind faith”, which is of course not blind, but an occurrence of reason (even “founded” upon reason).

    An example of faith founded upon rational inquiry would be found in a message I originally intended to post in an earlier topic of yours, nevertheless, let’s move along with the tide of posts so as to not disturb the flow of discussion. Insofar as I have found, reason and evidence are to later adult converts into Christianity an essential happening before their conversion experience, that is unless they’re converting so to get married (e.g female converts to Islam) or trying to grease the wheels and get their kid into the “right” school (upper middle-class parents, for example).

    An example of the sorts of rational inquiry which would go towards naturally producing faith in the sincere believer would be being introduced to the historical nature of the New Testament. Or in different, more technical language, it’s how an event’s historicity is determined which would work towards causing faith in the soon to be believing person. In terms of ascertaining an event’s historicity (or lack thereof) modern scholarship employs several criteria whereby they can critically deconstruct a text, whether or not an event conforms to the various criteria would determine how accurately the manuscript’s original autographer (or the newly exposed interloper) caught (or corrupted) the particular record of the event.

    The criteria are of course applied equally to treasured religious manuscripts and non-religious material, which includes utilizing such benchmarks as dissimilarity, congruence, early attestation, multiple attestation, embarrassment, not to forget traces of first century Palestinian milieu (a less applicable criteria insofar as world literature is concerned, albeit excellent insofar as the Gospels are concerned). Biblical scholar Richard Bauckham in their Jesus and the Eyewitnesses book would be an excellent example of how criteria is employed and history properly defined.

    With regards to my claim, one made very recently, which loosely explained how Jesus’ baptism had been confirmed as an authentic event in the life of history’s greatest rabbi, my fault was only in that in citing embarrassment (embarrassment and only embarrassment) as an example of criteria by which Jesus’ baptism as Christ might be confirmed, I’d been overly modest. Rather the materials which report Jesus’ baptism conform to such criteria as: dissimilarity, congruence, early attestation, multiple attestation and embarrassment.

    Furthermore, to meet the famous baptism event and class it as it is (meaning an event in history), isn’t to commit the historian to anything readers in the infidel community would be offended by, they’re not by coming to a historic consensus attempting to supplant anything with the miraculous (Heaven forbid I hear atheists cry), rather it’s the encounter of the baptized Jesus and their in those days contemporary John which is being confirmed “in the natural” so to speak, with which we’re finally able to either withhold some degree of faith in the event, or if we’re reasonable people, will be (even for time) naturally inclined to give ground, admitting the truth of the event in some wise. It’s that continued accumulation of evidence in favour of a thing which either wins over an unbeliever, softening their views toward Christian belief in time, or it’ll have the opposite effect, transforming the hard-hearted listener into a raving clown even your everyday atheist has a hard time keeping company with, they of course become this thing to their own hurt.

    When some commentator, one whose name escapes me as of this moment, explained Martin Luther played John the Baptised to Adolf Hitler, our initial reaction may be to either become offended, or perhaps make it known that the point is factually in error, though the comment isn’t meant to be understood in the factually sense, rather it’s supposed to be relational, with which we would be less reactionary (indeed less deluded) to tackle their statement in vein of how it’s being presented. By knowing the claim is about how their lives related to one another we’re more easily primed to explain the depth of ignorance behind the claim. In a similar fashion, atheists who would rather be better than their gormless peers in the infidel community ought to take heed of the word faith, how the facts of faith arise and what the actual antithesis of faith truly is.

    On an aside note, question 8, don’t do this to yourselves again guys, not to yourselves or anybody else, 🙂 even the use of “innovative” and “original” are awfully subjective in the mouths of the questioner, for which they refuse to define what’s being included either way. Not to mention being answered many times, so much so that “theological statements” and “promises” must be banned by atheists as a form of answer because it keeps undoing the silly question.

    1. Well, a little housekeeping first. This post was written 3 months ago (and there’s another 3 months of posts scheduled posts, coming out every Wednesday!). The positive of this is that is doesn’t tend to spread conversation too thinly when I have the idea for 2 or three posts on the same day (as has happened before), because they still get posted a week apart. The bad side of this is that posts aren’t rescheduled in terms of context, and I can’t offer a quick turn around on posts that come out of comments sections. (I even think there’s one more for xPrae coming.)

      That said, when I wrote question 8, months ago, I had moral messages or scientific facts in mind. So far as I can tell, the Bible is composed of an understanding of nature that already existed and moral messages that had already been authored. I see from the other thread that Zande is happy to cast a wider net, including story tropes and narratives. I’m not sure what benefit that serves, but I don’t think the question as I intended it (as I see that it’s a little ambiguous, especially in context) has been answered.

      Secondly, I did not assume that religion ultimately rests of faith. Even people who claim they have “reasonable faith” admit to resting on faith ultimately, if you drill the conversation down far enough. (And it happens at a point well before solipsism.) People who don’t attest to faith at bottom are people like Silence of Mind, who claims it’s all science and in the few years he has been commenting here has never given a peer-reviewed article or comprehensible account of how. EquippedCat, in this thread, who is a Christian, pulled SoM up on that. You may argue I’ve only ever encountered people unable to defend their religion without resting on faith, but that a full rational defence is available. To that I say two things: that’s not how religion is being practised or defended; and that doesn’t mean I’m making an unsupported statement when I say religion rests on faith for people. That is my experience of people willing to defend religion. (I even had a JW come to my door and then say “don’t talk to me about science, I’m an old lady”. Am I supposed to believe she had a rational defence up her sleeve, but just didn’t like the cut of my jib?)

      I also didn’t say, and will not say, that religious people are stupid. Some are (SoM comes to mind), but so are some atheists. Some are articulate and intelligent, praise I readily extend to you (and Francis Collins and many others — it would just be gushing to start listing them). But that doesn’t mean their intellect is being applied consistently to their religion and other domains (including their criticism of other religions).

      Lastly, there is an ‘ordinary claim/extraordinary claim’ evidence deficit to consider. It’s not just the fact that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence (a claim made very ambiguous by the pedestrian nature of, say, the evidence for gravitational waves) but that the extraordinary claims are the ones for which there is no evidence and accepting them, because the ordinary claims can be defended, appears to be faith.

      1. “and there’s another 3 months of posts scheduled posts, coming out every Wednesday!”

        Shameless, shameless self-promotion, sir! I’m looking forward to answering your replies in due time. 🙂

      2. In defence of my own mediocrity: I am often re-treading the same ground, in part due to the repetitive nature of the religious bloggers.

      3. I do the same; takes me forever. Too modest you are.

        Glossary page is an excellent idea, btw. Surprised that religious bloggers haven’t offered their thoughts on it yet.

      4. Yeah, that and ‘etiquette’ got less traction than I expected. Maybe people just don’t check pages.
        “Faith” is still a particularly interesting one. People seem to rest on the word “faith” after failing to make a reasoned defence, but then try to define faith as being a part of a reasoned defence.
        It read like this, when it happens:
        ‘I know I’ve failed in making a reasoned defence of my religion, but God respects faith, so it’s not a reasoned defence, it’s faith. But, remember, faith is a reasoned defence.’
        Ah, the magic ‘faith’ defence, where faith is defined as exactly what you need it to be, even if that is different in end of sentence as it is at the start.

      5. I know! I’ve been talking to a theist recently who says things like this:

        “The Bible does not intend to prove but to point. In doing so belief is forged in the fires of doubt, not evidence. God’s expectations, different from most of ours, is in faith.”

        And things like this:

        “That would be my first question to Jaco in his seeking? “Are you open-minded enough to consider a different perspective?” I am not referring to willful cognitive dissonance and the abandonment of logic and reason. In fact I am suggesting the opposite.”


        I recently wrote an essay on faith and why religions’ need for it serves as one of the reasons why I remain an atheist:

        I end up with the definition: faith is to believe with firm conviction and without good reason.

        Yours is a bit more snappy: pretending to know things you don’t know… Yes, that’s the right of it. One that our religious friends are bound to balk at. Where is their outrage?

        I suspect the dropoff for pages is very high. Especially, given that we use mobile devices. They get lost. Maybe make a post to point to your glossary page?

      6. I’ve been trying to read that exchange. MilitantChristianBlog has a lot of words not saying much.
        Does raise the question: a mind that is open to what? My mind is open to evidence, reasoned arguments and compelling philosophy. My mind is not open to: if you just believe, then you’ll believe!

      7. Fake it till you make it. Screw intellectual integrity.

        I thought a discussion with The Militant Christian (Ben) would be interesting because I’ve never had a chat with a believer who admitted that the Bible is ambiguous and contradictory. Initially, it looked like he was pretty good with science too–he accepts evolution, for example–but it turns out he holds a few really wooey beliefs. Responding to him is tough and time consuming, because as you say, he says a lot but not much.

        To be fair, I’m not known for brevity.

      8. That’s the other way to pump 1 out a week and be 3 months in credit: brevity.

        I like your arguments, though. I can’t think how you’d shorten them.

      9. There seems to be some degree of repetition in atheistic bloggers as well… In either case, eventually a wall is run into, and the only options are to go over the same ground again or give up. Or descend to name calling.

      10. Sorry, an American chain which delivers sandwiches “freaky fast”. In the ads, someone calls and before they can say what there order is, it is at the door. I’m hoping to cash in on their future predicting technology.

      1. I’ve gone through at some length to try to avoid the idea there is some trickery here. I’ve given an explanation as to why I think questions are important to the discussion and written that nothing is meant to close down a question; I’m not trying to make then multiple choice questions.
        That said, there are standards as to what counts as an answer. Yours, Paul, largely, do not.
        And, I think think Oldschool is even alluding to the accusation of plurium interrogationum. He’s accusing me of suggesting religious people are stupid, which I did not say. He’s accusing me of saying religious people are not rational, which I did not say. But not of asking too many questions. Perhaps I’m being accused of hiding a presupposition, but that is not plurium interrogationum, and if Oldschool is making that accusation it’s been tip-toed around to the point it’s hard to see.

        If anything, I’d ask Oldschool again to explain more clearly why he rejects the premise of the question.

      2. To explain, I’m saying you have presuppositions of the definition and operations of faith built into the question which believers do not share. You then ask the question as if your ideas are shared by yourself and the theist, which they’re not. So, to ask a theist the sort of question you have asked wouldn’t be appropriate, you’re not interacting with faith faith, but a caricature. It’s like me asking a homosexual how they’re coping with their ongoing medical condition, it’s an accusation of mental illness as much as it is a question.

      3. To briefly make another point, the definition of plurium interrogationum, insofar as I’ve found it, reads like so:

        A complex question, trick question, multiple question or plurium interrogationum (Latin, “of many questions”) is a question that has a presupposition that is complex. The presupposition is a proposition that is presumed to be acceptable to the respondent when the question is asked.

        The portion which reads “The presupposition is a proposition that is presumed to be acceptable to the respondent when the question is asked.” does appear to be what question four does, as it’s containing a complex presupposition assumed true on the believer’s behalf. Although I’m not personally saying this was done in a malicious or calculated way, in that it’s not a “trick question” as the name suggests, and for me to say it was would be speculative. I’d sooner speculate as to it being more of a mental hiccup on the part of the questioner if the above definition rightly describes the question.

      4. I’ve tried reading your initial comment, where you attempt to define faith in a different way. I’ve not been able to draw from that anything meaningful. Could you attempt it again.

      5. By meaningful do you mean to write “something which differentiates one definition of faith from the other”? Because by your definition of faith, you then proceed to explains faith’s opposite number, even explaining “In general, you visit a doctor who you trust will implement a scientific system. The trust is not unfounded, either.” Which would again imply faith as an unfounded act of volition. My example of how a yet unconvinced person could have faith brought about as a consequence of their rational faculties would mean the faith to which I’m referring isn’t “unfounded”, rather it would be nurtured and increase by way of the evidence, meaning totally founded, even founded upon reason and evidence.

        Is it fair to say Paul rightly identified hidden assumptions not shared by the believers reading which have been built into your question?

      6. So, how does ‘founded faith’ differ from other rational enquiry? That’s the meaningful bit I can’t see. You seem to be talking about faith as evidence based reasoning, which I would say is not faith at all. But you still use the word.
        Because it seems what you’re saying is that you don’t implement faith at all. Which is a fine answer, but you are still using the word “faith”.

      7. Reasoning is the process (not faith), whereas faith/trust/confidence would be the substance of said process barring an individual actively withholding their trust.
        Faith is synonym with trust. That’s why if you were to ask anybody “When do you implement trust?” they’d either reply “When I’m feeling safe” (as in no axe murderers please), or they’d reply “Trust isn’t implemented, it’s just something which occurs naturally.” Faith likewise is naturally occurring based upon various circumstances (freedom of the will included). The above circumstances in which an individual would encounter historic methods of verification would be faith affirming, with which they now have an assurance of something (namely that Jesus’ was baptized) without outright proof. Confidence would also be an excellent substitute. “O ye of little faith” isn’t to say “Why aren’t you pretending to know things you don’t know?” (your definition in the glossary), rather it’s to say “You’re an individual who withholds confidence when you ought not to.”

      8. Man, Paul, you’re some kind of word wizard, thank goodness I have a search engine to look these terms up! I actually came across an example of “plurium interrogationum” the day before yesterday, a co-worker jokingly asked me to hand over my money, to which I replied “You’re assuming I have money when you ask that question.” Nonetheless, my faith is yet to be disturbed by question number four.

  9. 1. Hasn’t happened.

    2. Sin carries the most natural consequence of all: Death. Incorrect.

    3. One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church

    4. I don’t know. I don’t exactly “implement faith” based off arguments for God’s existence in the way you’re suggesting.

    5. There is some lackluster historical air-brushing here (it’s fine; I’m no historian and not qualified to get into it) and four rather hard questions:

    “Given that your religion probably does present itself as a non-rational meme that actively excludes other religions, what are your views on religious freedoms?”

    I try very hard not to have views on religious freedoms. I think “religious freedom” is, all told, kind of a joke, in my opinion. I find it increasingly comical to watch people carry out certain tried and tired tropes.

    “Does your religion actually teach religious tolerance?”

    Yes, I believe so. Thomas Merton is an excellent example.

    “Should you convert other people?”

    I don’t. Convert other people. The concept is juvenille. I can only testify and confess.

    “Should you tolerate other faiths?”

    Depends on the faith.

    6. One God in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All other “definitions” really pale in comparison to this truth.

    7. Women. (And to clarify: God did not fall short in the first place.)

    8. Loads. I seem to remember something about “molds” from the Pentateuch….

    But in all seriousness, the heart of the gospel is really all the life-saving knowledge there is. That God became Man so that Man might become God, partaking of the Divine nature.

    9. “Take up your cross and follow me” is actually a flawless method of knowledge. Infinitely superior to the scientific method.

    Now I’m going to turn this question around: If it turns out that we’re right and you’re wrong, that Jesus Christ is the Incarnate Logos and only begotten (before all words) Son of God and three days after his crucifixion God raised Him from the Dead and you discover this is absolutely and totally true, will you have any grounds to claim you didn’t know?

    10. Well, I actually don’t expect some 27+ different authors writing under different times and cultural circumstances not to eventually contradict each other at some point or time. Some of them are even quite biased. I would actually worry if they didn’t superficially contradict each other here and there; like somebody went in later and fooled with the editing to corroborate stories, tidying up loose ends. There is no tidying up in the Scriptures. And the universal strand uniting them altogether, on a far deeper level, doesn’t contradict itself.

    In short: I avoid for Literalists and people who have too disturbing a fetish for Textual Criticism.

    Finally, because Humanism has nothing whatsoever to offer me except another inspirational speaker in a hotel auditorium. Fuck them.

    1. 1. That is hasn’t happened isn’t the point.

      2. I’ve been sinning for days straight. Still alive. The point remains nature seems more interested in my not sticking my hand in fire than coveting wives or working on weekends. Try again.

      3. Perfectly meaningless. Thank you.

      4. You’re saying that, at bottom, you have evidence based reasons for God? I bet you don’t. I bet if you actually hung around for a discussion we’d find that you rely on faith at quite a shallow level.

      5. Err… okay.

      6. Perfectly meaningless. Thank you.

      7. Yay for women. But, how do you recognise design?

      8. In this thread and the one on my immediately previous post, Christians concede there is nothing novel on the Bible — and then argue that’s not the point.
      But, as you say there’s loads, what is that novel stuff?
      That God became man and that man can become God is Buddhist. (And I’d need a chapter and verse for where it is in your religious book.)

      9. Yes. Because ‘fake it until you make it’ err… I mean “Take up your cross and follow me” is not a method of knowledge. It’s a fallacy called question begging. And devout sincere followers of Christ who become atheists show that doesn’t work. (And I’m not convinced they weren’t ‘real Christians’, I’m convinced the slogan that you just paraded as a method of knowledge is wrong.)
      In fact, brilliantly, it’s a show of faith. I thought you didn’t need faith…

      10. So, you’re happy some of the authors are wrong, but the magic all still actually happened. And that’s something you’ll put your name to?

      Thanks for your input.

      1. You’re welcome, plurium interrogator.

        “Nothing is intended as a ‘gotcha’ question.” Heh, liar.

  10. in your article on God is a sciopath I have only read the first couple paragraphs, so far I think you may be spot on, however not sure what you mean by legal conformist, please explain, as it seems to me that conforming to a amoral government ie america qualifies a citizens to be amoral also I am thinking you might agree

    1. That’s another post on a different blog…
      And it describes the symptom as “not conforming to social norms or laws.”
      * in an undemocratic society where the laws do not reflect societal interest or the will of the people, not even closely, (America, so far as I know, is not an example of that.)
      * Following the law simply because it is the law is amoral

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