Monday, December 29, 2008

Would Anything Change Your Mind?

C. Daniel Batson, in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Rational Processing or Rationalization?: The Effect of Discontinuing Information on a Stated Religious Belief, 1975, 32:1, 176-184), conducted a study on religious belief and cognitive dissonance that reveals what many of us suspected about religious dogmatism.

Researchers used a questionnaire and a measurement scale to assign a value to the strength of religious belief for a group of test subjects. Then the subjects were asked to publicly declare (in front of the rest of the group) whether or not they answered “yes” to the question: Do you believe that Jesus was the Son of God? Next, they were all given an article to read and discuss. The article, they were told, was written anonymously and “denied publication in The New York Times at the request of the World Council of Churches because of the obvious crushing effect it would have on the entire Christian world":

Here is the text of the fake article:

-Geneva, Switzerland. It was learned today here in Geneva from a top source in the World Council of Churches offices that scholars in Jordan have conclusively proved that the major writings in what is today called the New Testament are fraudulent.

According to the information gained from the unnamed source within the headquarters of the World Council of Churches, Professor R. R. Lowry (author of The Zarondike Fragments and the Dead Sea Scrolls) assisted by other scholars, has been carefully analyzing a collection of papyrus scrolls discovered in a cave in the Jordanian desert near where the famous Dead Sea Scrolls were found. Contained within this collection of scrolls, Lowry and his associates have found letters, apparently written between the composers of various New Testament books, bluntly stating: "Since our great teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, was killed by the Romans, I am sure we were justified in stealing away his body and claiming that he rose from the dead. For, although his death clearly proves he was not the Son of God as we had hoped, if we did not claim that he was, both his great teaching and our lives as his disciples would be wasted!"

Though Lowry initially suspected the authenticity of these scrolls, he was later quoted as saying, "Through radiocarbon dating and careful study of the Aramaic dialect used in writing these letters, I have found it impossible to deny that the manuscripts are authentic. You can't imagine what a struggle this has been; I find no alternative but to renounce my former belief that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. I can no longer be a Christian."

When Dr. Ernest Carson Baker, the general secretary of the World Council of Churches, was confronted with Lowry's statement by this reporter, he at first denied that it was true. After a few minutes of questioning, however, he broke down and admitted, "This thing has got us so upset we're just not sure what to do. We just can't let this story get out!" Apparently the only avenue open to the Church in the twentieth century is the same avenue which it took in the first century— conceal the facts and proclaim Jesus as the divine Son of God, even though it knows such a claim is a lie.


After reading the article, 24% of the subjects indicated that they accepted the article as true. The rest of them were unsure or clearly rejected it.

Then researchers re-measured the strength of the subjects’ religious beliefs. The results are remarkable and familiar. The subjects who had identified themselves as non-believers at the outset had their level of religious belief drop after reading the article. The believers in the group who indicated that they doubted the belief-disconfirming story had their level of religious belief diminish. And the believers who also said that they accepted the story as true had their religious belief strengthened.

Batson says, “Those who had not committed themselves to a belief stance, even though generally skeptical about the veracity of the article, showed a significant drop in intensity of belief on the post test. Those who had publicly identified themselves as believers but doubted the veracity of the article showed no significant change in intensity of belief. Those who had publicly identified themselves as believers and accepted the article as true showed a significant increase in the expressed intensity of belief.”

That is, even when faced with outright disconfirming evidence that they accept as true, rather than come to doubt that Jesus is the Son of God, the believers indicated having an even stronger belief. Batson puts the result clearly: “Publicly committed to an apparently untenable belief, subjects seemed more concerned with defending and justifying themselves than with dispassionately reading off the logical implications of their statements.”

Then Batson comments, “It has been said, "You will know the Truth and the Truth will make you free [John 8:32]." The present research seems to question this assertion. The more one publicly proclaims one's conviction about personally significant truths, the more one seems bound to these truths. One is less free to modify one's position, to take account of new, discrepant information. But perhaps this is not what is meant by freedom in the above statement. If it means that one will be free from the rational process of taking account of all relevant information in the formulation of one's beliefs, than the present research seems clearly supportive.”

It is hard to conceive of a more clear, objective demonstration of outright irrationality.

Let me offer some further speculations. When we engage with the non-believer in a discussion about the evidence, arguments for the existence of God, intelligent design in the cosmos, the origins of the human moral capacity, and all of the other contentious topics surrounding religious belief, the non-believer typically assumes that there is a point. That is, when we argue about religious matters, the (clearly idealistic) goal is to achieve some rational progress on what conclusions are epistemically responsible to believe. We are all concerned (or at least we should be) with having sensible beliefs that fit with the facts, as best as we can ascertain them. If not, then there’s really no point to the exchange of views other than vain pronouncements of dogmatism.

What the evidence in Batson’s study shows is something that we have all seen at work in the words and behaviors of many believers. There are a great many religious adherents who are simply and obviously unconcerned with the facts. They are resolved to maintain their views in the face of blatantly contradictory evidence, even more so in cases where they profess to accept the contradictory evidence as true.

It should be obvious how frightening this tendency among religious believers is to the rest of us who have not been seduced by the religious urge. It should be obvious how dangerous this tendency among religious believers is to all of us. It is also obvious, although Batson’s study doesn’t document it, how widespread this sort of dogmatic irrationalism is.

So the believer who wants to discuss the reasons for disbelief with us owes us an accounting. We have substantial grounds for suspecting that their commitment to their dogma will lead them to be unresponsive to reasoning or evidence. Even worse, we have evidence for thinking that as the counter evidence increases, so will their stubborn refusal to think clearly about it. And we have substantial grounds for suspecting that their attachment to their dogma has nothing to do with reasons or evidence, despite their assertions otherwise.

39 comments:

Brigitte said...

Hm, you circulate a false report and then you find people culpable for not believing it.

Eric Sotnak said...

Brigitte wrote:
"Hm, you circulate a false report and then you find people culpable for not believing it."

No, that's not it. Notice that the subjects DID believe the false report, but IN SPITE of that, they continued to hold to their religious belief; they held to a belief that was INCONSISTENT with the report that they said they believed.

By analogy, imagine a jury that had voted to find a defendent guilty on the basis of a taped confession. Then it is revealed to the jury that the confession was faked, and that there was a videotape showing the defendent was elsewhere at the time of the crime. In spite of this, suppose the jurors continue to maintain the defendent is guilty.

Matt McCormick said...

Read closely Brigitte. The point is that the subjects in question believed these two propositions at the same time:

1) Jesus was the son of God.

And

2) Jesus' body was stolen, proving that he was not the son of God.

And, shockingly, the subjects who expressed the most assurance that 2 was true were the ones who were measured to also have the most conviction that 1 was true.

I don't think Eric's analogy is exactly right. It would be more like having a jury member who said both that 1) all of the evidence indicates that the defendant is innocent, and 2) the defendant is guilty.

MM

Brigitte said...

I'll read it again, more closely.
I can barely get on the internet during the holidays. My server is overloaded.

Brigitte said...

This is a study from 1975? Can't you find something more recent?

Brigitte said...

There is something weird about this already:

"The article, they were told, was written anonymously and “denied publication in The New York Times at the request of the World Council of Churches because of the obvious crushing effect it would have on the entire Christian world"

Conservative Christians in 1975 did not trust the World Council of Churches, as it was deemed liberal and in denial of Christian teaching.

Brigitte said...

This is already utterly ridiculous:

"books, bluntly stating: "Since our great teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, was killed by the Romans, I am sure we were justified in stealing away his body and claiming that he rose from the dead. For, although his death clearly proves he was not the Son of God as we had hoped, if we did not claim that he was, both his great teaching and our lives as his disciples would be wasted!"

This is how a scientist might talk after his life's research has been ignored, stolen, etc. This is not how someone talks who has given his life to only gain something in the next life.

For example, Paul writes:

And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour: I die every day--I mean that, brothers--just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." (1. Cor. 15: 30)

Brigitte said...

Also Christians discount this sort of thing, as it gets tried all the time:

"Though Lowry initially suspected the authenticity of these scrolls, he was later quoted as saying, "Through radiocarbon dating and careful study of the Aramaic dialect used in writing these letters, I have found it impossible to deny that the manuscripts are authentic. You can't imagine what a struggle this has been; I find no alternative but to renounce my former belief that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. I can no longer be a Christian."

Dr. Paul Maier wrote a book, a novel, called: "A skeleton in God's closet", which deals with complicated frauds possible in archeology. This is not mere fantasy.

Brigitte said...

"The believers in the group who indicated that they doubted the belief-disconfirming story had their level of religious belief diminish. And the believers who also said that they accepted the story as true had their religious belief strengthened."

Is there something about these two sentences, that make any sense, at all?

Brigitte said...

"Then Batson comments, “It has been said, "You will know the Truth and the Truth will make you free [John 8:32]." The present research seems to question this assertion. The more one publicly proclaims one's conviction about personally significant truths, the more one seems bound to these truths. One is less free to modify one's position, to take account of new, discrepant information. But perhaps this is not what is meant by freedom in the above statement. If it means that one will be free from the rational process of taking account of all relevant information in the formulation of one's beliefs, than the present research seems clearly supportive.”

It is hard to conceive of a more clear, objective demonstration of outright irrationality."


One: from Batson we have here nothing to show how and what he measured. Surely, his results seem contradictory.

Two: Batson seems from the outset to be hostile to the Christian religion, rather than a neutral researcher. This I gather from his use of the quote: "the truth shall set you free" and the facile, shallow, accusatory way it is thrown back at believers, treating them like complete idiots.

Three: As per usual, people do not bother to even read their quotes in any kind of context. "The truth shall set you free", is about examining yourself, which you guys and I, are equally enjoined to do:

"To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." They answered him, "We are Abraham's descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?"
Jesus replied, " I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to if forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."

This quote is about knowing yourself and about knowing about your sins, and about knowing your redemption. We have all sinned: Eric, Matt and Brigitte. This is the truth that will set us free and make us family in Christ.

Brigitte said...

"And we have substantial grounds for suspecting that their attachment to their dogma has nothing to do with reasons or evidence, despite their assertions otherwise. "

There is something in human nature, which makes this somewhat true, in different degrees of everybody alive, believers, non-believers, and atheists, or whatever. It takes decades even to change scientific beliefs (read the story about how much it took for the scientific community to accept that stomach ulcers were caused by a bacterium. The researcher ended up infecting himself, to demonstrate the research, I "believe".)

Luther said it quite nicely:

"Everyone knows that he is right: Because of sin everyone of us is, from the days of his youth, accustomed to think that he is right, that his head is the best, and to dislike giving way to another person."

Another way, I've heard it put is: we all think we are not beautiful enough; but we all think we are smart enough.

Matt McCormick said...

Arguing that the fake news story doesn't make sense or that you don't believe it, or that it doesn't fit with what Luther said, is utterly missing the point. The point, again, is that the subjects in the study said that they believed two glaringly contradictory things: 1) Jesus is the son of God, and 2) it has been proven that Jesus is not the son of God. And then instead of trying to rectify those contradictory beliefs by giving one of them up, it was found that their belief in Jesus became more intense. To believe a contradiction is irrational.
It is not relevant that you find the fake news story preposterous.

The point is that we have empirical evidence that many believers will persist in believing no matter what the evidence is.

So the question is: Hypothetically, if you were to discover some information that unequivocally refuted your belief in Jesus, would you modify that belief, or would you persist no matter what? (It does not matter that you don't think that any such evidence exists right now. Consider it hypothetically. If you think that it is not possible for there to be any such evidence, then you are just being dogmatic.)

Suppose a time machine gets invented and you could go back to the tomb of Jesus and you saw, with your own eyes, a couple of Roman teenagers stealing the body for a joke, or whatever, would that make you change your mind? If there is nothing that would lead you to modify your belief under any circumstances, then you are simply beyond all hope of being reasoned with or being rational. The rest of us only hope, for your sake and ours, that you are more responsive and responsible than that. If not, then a religious ideology has completely compromised your capacity to freely think for yourself.

MM

Eric Sotnak said...

A couple additional comments:
(1) This is, of course, only one study. I doubt it would get IRB approval if someone were to try to run a similar study today because of the deception involved. But it fits well with other cases. There have been NUMEROUS instances of people who were absolutely convinced that their religious beliefs would be confirmed by some predicted event (such as the Rapture, or a prayed for healing) and the event failed to occur as predicted. Did the adherents relinquish their belief? No. In general, the believers kept right on beliving, even though if you had asked beforehand how certain they were, they would have given a 100% rating of confidence to their belief.

Now for Luther:
"Everyone knows that he is right: Because of sin everyone of us is, from the days of his youth, accustomed to think that he is right, that his head is the best, and to dislike giving way to another person."

I like this quote, and even agree to a point with the general thought it expresses. But it is also true that people are capable of changing their minds. So to go back to Matt's original question, is there anything that would change your mind about your religious beliefs?

Bror Erickson said...

Of Course Matt,
One might ask what would change your mind also. Christians often notice something akin to faith in the atheist. The Atheist just does not want to believe, and will latch on to anything in order not to believe. In fact the unbelieving Atheist seems to be the most prone to believing in conspiracy theories, that cannot be substantiated at all, and certainly don't hold to any historical facts. the unbeliever is far more willing to accept shoddy scholarship involving the Bible than he is in any other arena. They often latch onto it, with out investigating it at all, only because it supports there unbelief.
We often also notice that they become more forceful in the objections just before conversion, going from cold to hot. This not only with the Atheist, but often with the people just switching positions within Christendom on some theological point. I believe it is a psychological phenomenon.

Matt McCormick said...

I'd love for some of this stuff to be true. Who doesn't want to live forever in a state of rapturous joy? And the idea of having a divine, powerful protector and comforter that provides answers is deeply appealing.

And it sure looks like there's evidence that being religious is good for us, so there's additional incentive:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/30/science/30tier.html?_r=1&ref=science

But wanting it to be true or benefiting from believing it don't make it true or rationally justify believing it. And leveling this ad hominem charge (again) instead of actually addressing the real question: do reasons or evidence make any different to what you think? is just another evasion, particularly when I've addressed the issue numerous times. Arguably, this whole blog is dedicated to outlining just what would make it reasonable to change my mind.

http://atheismblog.blogspot.com/2008/05/what-would-change-your-mind.html

http://atheismblog.blogspot.com/2008/03/reasonable-belief-proof-and-uncertainty.html

http://atheismblog.blogspot.com/2007/01/so-called-right-to-believe-confusing.html

http://atheismblog.blogspot.com/2008/05/sinking-raft-im-standing-on.html

And on and on. . . .

MM

http://atheismblog.blogspot.com/2007/09/coherence-and-atheism.html

Bror Erickson said...

What would change my mind?
The Bones of Christ.
You are correct wanting it to be true does not make it true. Believing doesn't even make it true. But I tend to think I have good reason to believe.
I wasn't dodging. I was asking. You make what I write out to be an ad hominem charge. It certainly wasn't meant to be. I was merely pointing out that that study cuts both ways. But I certainly would not be swayed after reading one article in the New York Times, they are hardly considered a reliable source of even current information these days.

paulv said...

How would this experiment work if it was run on commited atheists. With a false article on evidence of the supernatural? The point of cognitive dissonance is that people stick with a vested belief, regardless of new information. So people with a public declaration in atheism may belief simultaneous that the supernatural does not exist, and that there is more to life than the material (ie. the supernatural does exist). The research says much more about cognitive dissonance than it does about any particular choice of worldview, since no worldview is void of belief.

Eric Sotnak said...

Paulv wrote:
"How would this experiment work if it was run on commited atheists. With a false article on evidence of the supernatural? The point of cognitive dissonance is that people stick with a vested belief, regardless of new information."

That's a good point. I think in most cases, belief change doesn't happen immediately. There is a 'sinking in' period where one has to adapt to new information.

But I think there is an asymmetry between conversion to religious belief and conversion away from it. My observations have been that most people are converted TO religious belief because of emotionally powerful experiences. But people are seldom converted FROM religious belief in this way. Rather, they become increasingly uncomfortable with their intellectual doubts. They find their questions multiplying, and theistic answers to their questions increasingly unsatisfactory until they finally find themselves saying, 'Hey, I don't think I believe this stuff anymore."

Reginald Selkirk said...

Christians often notice something akin to faith in the atheist. The Atheist just does not want to believe, and will latch on to anything in order not to believe. In fact the unbelieving Atheist seems to be the most prone to believing in conspiracy theories, that cannot be substantiated at all, and certainly don't hold to any historical facts.

Christians often notice things that are not true. Bror Erickson has no convincing evidence to present, and wishes to read into this a reluctance by atheists to accept convincing evidence. And the irony overwhelms of his admonishing others about "conspiracy theories" when he himself admits to believing in witchcraft, a superstitious belief encouraged by his acceptance of the Bible.

the unbeliever is far more willing to accept shoddy scholarship involving the Bible than he is in any other arena. They often latch onto it, with out investigating it at all, only because it supports there unbelief.

What an utterly ironic utterance from someone who dismisses the best available textual scholarship and cleaves only to what reinforces his pre-existing belief, as demonstrated repeatedly on this blog.

Reginald Selkirk said...

Oh, and Happy Darwin Year to all.

Brigitte said...

"Arguing that the fake news story doesn't make sense or that you don't believe it, or that it doesn't fit with what Luther said, is utterly missing the point. The point, again, is that the subjects in the study said that they believed two glaringly contradictory things: 1) Jesus is the son of God, and 2) it has been proven that Jesus is not the son of God."

Why on earth would someone have their belief strengthened when they have just come to believe that their belief is wrong? What kind of a belief is believing what you don't believe. That's schizophrenic. What would be the point? They should go on medication.

Bror is right to ask: what would change Your mind? What would you need to see? Is nature not beautiful enough? Is man not sinful enough? Is God's solution not radical enough? What do you want? (Your hyperlinks did not work for me)

Eric says:
"So to go back to Matt's original question, is there anything that would change your mind about your religious beliefs?"

I've already changed my beliefs and keep adjusting them. I grew up in Catholic school and a Pietist family. Maybe it wasn't a far stretch to become an orthodox Lutheran, but I have changed, and that in adulthood. There is always discussion going on, learning and sharing, disagreeing and agreeing, refining.

There was a time growing up, where you ask yourself deeply disturbing questions about why would I be a Christian rather than anything else and you work through your questions. Now I know why I believe what I do and not something else.

The challenges to faith are much different than what you imagine: they have more to do with our own failures, with great disappointments, with our own laxness, with our own fears.

When I went to the University of Alberta, the anti-Christian environment was something of a slap in the face that made a person question. The dogmatics of the Darwinist lab instructors was at first difficult. (I was not allowed to write a sentence that said: “If evolution is true and fishes made the transition to land in this manner…” I was hauled on the carpet for that.) But after some time, the doctrinaire attitudes of some just made them look silly, and cell biology clinched for me: nature is just too marvellous to have no Maker, however he made it. It is unassailable to me.

Brigitte said...

"the unbeliever is far more willing to accept shoddy scholarship involving the Bible than he is in any other arena. They often latch onto it, with out investigating it at all, only because it supports there unbelief." (Bror)

What an utterly ironic utterance from someone who dismisses the best available textual scholarship and cleaves only to what reinforces his pre-existing belief, as demonstrated repeatedly on this blog." (Reginald)

Reginald, think again. Biblical scholarship is a huge subject. It has filled huge libraries for millenia. But Reginald, the micro-biologist, knows what the best textual scholarship is. No doubt, you get your info from our other Bible experts like Dawkins and Hitchens and so on, and what they think reliable biblical scholarship is. Tell me, what would change your belief that their opinion is the best on the subject?

Bror, will obviously be the much better authority on the subject, having more than one degree (as all our ministers have) in the relevant specialty. But no: "he dismisses the best available textual scholarship... " Blabla. Bror is your best available textual scholarship at this point but you are not going to have it, don't want to have it. Is it possible to change your mind?

Brigitte said...

In terms of Biblical scholarship, you might want to have a look at Ben Witherington's work. We don't agree with all of his theology and so on. (There is always stuff to keep discussing). But there are different methodologies for textual criticism and some are clearly outdated and thrown out, were fads. Witherington's work uses the socio-rhethorical method. He took his training in Durham, Great Britain, I think, where the theological school is well known for earlier dating of the texts.

Personally, I think the earlier dating is completely plausible, mostly because the destruction of Jerusalem is nowhere mentioned. I think the gospels all pre-date this event.

Player Piano said...

Brigitte, it doesn't really impress me that you call your lab instructors "Darwinist": I don't know that much about biology, but I do know that what we know about biology has greatly improved and changed over time - what Darwin knew is by no means the extent of what we know now.

You intentionally use a word like "Darwinist" to act as if there haven't been any advances or changes to biology since Darwin's day when in fact much of what Darwin said about things has been updated and in some cases shown to be utterly incorrect. Biology has changed over time. Ironic isn't it, that "change over time" is also the definition of evolution, yes?

You have this alternate viewpoint that biology is some kind of dogma like Christianity or Islam, but that just isn't accurate. If there is evidence that a theory is wrong in biology, scientists change the theory. If there is evidence that any particular interpretation of the Bible or another holy book conflicts with science or reality or common sense, religious people just change their interpretation. It's getting to be that there are so many different interpretations that some forms of religion are almost meaningless. Christianity is practically bleeding from the wounds of a thousand paper cuts, every time some small part of it is re-interpreted differently. Science and religion have both changed over time: but science encourages revision for the sake of knowledge and religion tends to shun it for the sake of a faith which many do not particularly like to witness being questioned.

I know very little about biblical scholarship and some other things, but I do know that an "unassailable" belief is usually not a good thing. You accuse biologists of being dogmatic, and yet there you go again.

Reginald Selkirk said...

Bror, will obviously be the much better authority on the subject, having more than one degree (as all our ministers have) in the relevant specialty.

Is this from the same Brigitte who recently (December 13, 2008) wrote, "It matters not whom you cite. One can always cite someone." The irony is strong with this one.

No doubt, you get your info from our other Bible experts like Dawkins and Hitchens and so on, and what they think reliable biblical scholarship is. Tell me, what would change your belief that their opinion is the best on the subject?

You could use more doubt, especially since you are so often wrong. And I was thinking more along the lines of Bart Ehrman.

Brigitte said...

Piano Player: My experience with my lab instructors is my experience and you don't need to give me one more of these worn out rebuttals. It seems people take these rebuttals right out of a cook book and apply them where ever their fancy strikes them, without ever hearing the other person. Fishes going on land, is not science to me, forgive me. I know it is to some. It is not to me.

Last night I watched all the clips of David Berlinski on You-Tube. (Can you believe never heard of him, watched Expelled, or watched his clips.) Let him explain to you about real hard science, quantification, calculations, reasonableness and all kinds of good unanswered questions. Just because Science wants to have an open mind, does not mean everything is possible. There is some hopeful monster stuff out there that is not reasonable, and will never be reasonable, and equally is a faith proposition.

There are things in real serious science that are proven, quantifiable, and, yes, Unassailable, such as, for example Gravity, as Berlinski explains the difference between anecdotal "evidence" in evolutionary "science", vs. "serious science".

Is it unassailable to you that you are here, and your hand is in front of you and work in this complicated way to type on your computer? Or is everything an illusion, relative, debatable? Maybe it's a mirage? Maybe you're not there? Maybe you really are in another universe, and you are just a projection, illusion, antimatter... Whatever. You have to be able to hold some views and some truths.

"Christianity is bleeding from a thousand paper cuts" sounds like another cookbook rebuttal.

If people don't want to get involved in biblical, textual scholarship stay out of it, but also refrain from uninformed accusations and deconstruction and try to find a balanced authority to lean on when you need to.

Brigitte said...

"Is this from the same Brigitte who recently (December 13, 2008) wrote, "It matters not whom you cite. One can always cite someone." The irony is strong with this one."

I am not citing him or any point or any info, as you will notice. I am recommending him, as you have him available as a living, breathing, thinking authority to talk to, not an organization or Magesterium. There is this thing that is alive and active, the spoken word, LOGOS. Talk and listen, throw out the cookbook rebuttals, as I just asked Piano Player.

Player Piano said...

Brigitte, my pseudonym's Player Piano, not Piano Player.

If only you had read Kurt Vonnegut, you'd know that by now.

That's one recommendation I do feel comfortable making to you.

Brigitte, you accuse me of using a "cookbook" and yet I am hearing absolutely nothing new from you, either. If the conversation keeps going like this, we may just end up talking past each other. I don't want that to happen here.

You just said that "fishes going on land" is not science to you. How am I going to change your mind about what constitutes science? You have already predetermined what is and what is not science. How do you expect me to un-determine that distinction for you?

My accusations may be relatively uninformed, but my questions are also relatively unanswered! I don't have extensive knowledge of biblical scholarship - but my own personal reading of the Bible has brought up a series of questions which remain unanswered to my satisfaction.

Thousands of years have been expended attempting to answer some of the basic questions I have and no real answers have been forthcoming.

Is the Bible inerrant? I do not believe that it is. Is the Bible metaphorical? I believe that it could be, but I also believe that some parts of it were clearly intended not to be metaphorical. However, if some parts of it are metaphorical and some parts are not metaphorical, how can I trust its contents? It doesn't make sense to me. How do I trust what it's saying? There's no reliable standard. The book itself gives much more evidence of human origins than divine origins.

This is not an uninformed deconstruction: it is an honest criticism - how does this book, and this belief system, make sense? How is this even possible?

Science is trying to answer these questions: religion isn't. There are knowledgable scientists who can help you with your understanding of evolution. I would highly recommend the talkorigins site to you, as a starting point.

Maybe there are knowledgable people who can answer my questions about religion, but people have been trying for thousands of years, and still there are not convincing answers. I have an open mind, but I have not been convinced that this religion is true or accurate or divine in origin. All the evidence, to me, points to humanity as the source of this belief system. You can evaluate the scientific evidence of biology for yourself.

Maybe we can quit talking past each other. I'll curtail my rhetoric if you have a problem with it - it's part of how I express myself in writing. I want this to be as productive as possible for both of us.

As you suggested, I'm talking, and now I'm listening. Answer my questions about the Bible, or have your friend answer them for me. Maybe you will have your questions answered about science.

I may be naive, but I am also stubborn.

Reginald Selkirk said...

Last night I watched all the clips of David Berlinski on You-Tube. (Can you believe never heard of him, watched Expelled, or watched his clips.) Let him explain to you about real hard science, quantification, calculations, reasonableness and all kinds of good unanswered questions.

Why do you put that crap into your brain?

David Berlinski, King Of Poseurs

Von Neumann, Berlinski, and evolution: Who’s the hooter?

Berlinski and the windmill

Berlinski and his astonishing “cows to whales” argument

Berlinski responds: A Digested Debate

Reginald Selkirk said...

Bror, will obviously be the much better authority on the subject, having more than one degree (as all our ministers have) in the relevant specialty.

I am not citing him or any point or any info, as you will notice. I am recommending him, as you have him available as a living, breathing, thinking authority to talk to, not an organization or Magesterium.


First of all, I have no use for authority on such a subject. I am more interested in expertise. And B.E. has proven himself not to be a reliable expert. He dismisses any view of Biblical texts which runs counter to his pre-drawn conclusions; if any highly respected scholar is willing to accept the possibility that God does not exist, that Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead, or that the Bible is not the word of God, B.E. dismisses them as a "liberal." He even insists on claims for the Gospels that they do not make for themselves, e.g. that they were written by the persons whose names were tacked onto them by the early church, and that they are eyewitness accounts. He has adequately demonstrated his lack of scholarship to my satisfaction.

Reginald Selkirk said...

Fishes going on land, is not science to me, forgive me. I know it is to some. It is not to me.

How odd that science should be considered a subjective experience; that is pretty much the exact opposite of the objective hypothesis testing which is at the very heart of science.

What is your view of the recently published (2005) fossils of Tiktaalik roseae? Do you hold that these fossils do not exist? That their interpretation in context of other fossils in the fish-tetrapod transition (Acanthostega, Hynerpeton, Ichthyostega, Panderichthys, and others) has somehow been botched? That such fossils are attempts to mislead placed in the earth by Satan, or by God himself?

I strongly recommend the book Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin, one of the discoverers of the Tiktaalik fossils. Shubin does a good job of relating his study of fossils to human anatomy.

Shubin also explains how the Tiktaalik fossils would never have been found if basic assumptions about geological formations and dating techniques were not accurate. They wanted to find fossils of a certain age and from a certain environment, and evolutionary science told them where to look.

Player Piano said...

Brigitte,

Both Reginald Selkirk and I have attempted to reply to your satisfaction. While obviously he presents a more concrete response, I am just trying to reach out to you in the spirit of an open discussion. I think both of our replies merit a response, especially Reginald Selkirk's. My words may still be from a "cookbook" inadvertantly, but I tried to be honest as I could. Reginald is definitely lighter than usual on the rhetoric - he has examples which I would like to see you consider objectively.

I want to know if you are really interested in responding to us - are you really interested in having a discussion about this, or are you just pretending?

Brigitte said...

I am sorry Player Piano: my son died on January 2, 09 in a motor vehicle accident. We just had his funeral on Thursday with 600 attending and constant phone calls and people coming to the door.

I am interested in proper dialogue. I will try to get to Reginald's reading list.

Calling Berlinski's stuff "crap" is not helping you make a point; he just makes common sense points that recommend themselves and also need answering. I will try to get to your links.

I would love to read Kurt Vonnegut. One time, there was a long interview with him on CBC radio, that I found absorbing. What an interesting person. Rather bleak, however. What would you recommend?

Reginald Selkirk said...

Calling Berlinski's stuff "crap" is not helping you make a point; he just makes common sense points that recommend themselves and also need answering.

I don't see much common sense in Berlinski's writing, but rather a lot fo strawman fallacy. I don't consider fallacious argumentation to be common sense. By the by, a word that seems to come up frequently in discussion of Berlinski is "supercilious."

Brigitte said...

You may be more familiar with Berlinski than I am, but "supercilious" is an ad hominem and means nothing and is not an argument, so it does not need to be said. Arguing in this way always screams to me: he does not have a decent answer. You'd be better off not saying it.

I find the stuff about RNA and DNA very interesting and I perhaps could accommodate myself to the idea that God's used all the processes that science discovers and make it harmonize. But at present I don't think we have anything in science that supports macroevolution such as fishes to land, and mammal to sea via, of all things, random genetic mutations. Maybe we will find a different, more credible mechanism (though we've looked for a while already).

What then? I am starting to care less and less. Even Behe sees evidence for common descent. Though, I have to say, I don't like it at all (yes, very "unscientific" of me.)

Just for interest sake, my husband is the chair of the board of regents for a christian college. I've taken my religion courses there, but my science at the UofA. I am told that the christian college teaches evolution the same way as the UofA.

Reginald Selkirk said...

You may be more familiar with Berlinski than I am, but "supercilious" is an ad hominem and means nothing and is not an argument, so it does not need to be said. Arguing in this way always screams to me: he does not have a decent answer. You'd be better off not saying it.

No decent answer? And what was the question?

But at present I don't think we have anything in science that supports macroevolution such as fishes to land, and mammal to sea via, of all things, random genetic mutations. Maybe we will find a different, more credible mechanism (though we've looked for a while already).

And now it is my turn to express dissatisfaction with your answer, although my question was quite specific and detailed. Do you deny that the Tiktaalik fossils exist, do you think they have been misinterpreted, or do you think they are a trick by Satan or some other supernatural? You may be suggesting that the fossil transitions are accurate enough, but that the mechanism was not evolution, but I would hate to be accused of over-interpreting your response.

Player Piano said...

Brigitte,

I am very sorry about your loss.

If you'd like to read Vonnegut, I can recommend "Slaughterhouse Five" to you: I thought it was excellent. It is absurd, but I found this to be a strength rather than a weakness. I've only read a few of his books, but the ones I read I enjoyed thoroughly.

Anonymous said...

There is no contradiction between "Jesus rose from the dead" and "Jesus body was stolen".
Jesus cold of

A) rose in spirit form

b) was able to bilocate

c) is a god and thus can take other forms

...........

So your presentation professor of those two propositions is a false dichotomy

Nathan Duffy said...

“Publicly committed to an apparently untenable belief" - lol. 'Apparently untenable'? I wonder if a 4 paragraph obviously fake article saying evidence had been discovered that conclusively disproves evolution -- a bunny skeleton in the precambrian layer or whatever the famous example Dawkins sometimes cites that would count as disconfirming evidence against evolution -- would dissuade a group of biologists from believing in it. If they were logical, rational biologists, their belief in it should remain completely unchanged until they actually examine the evidence themselves, confirmed that the results had gone through peer review process, ruled out a hoax etc etc. And even before doing so, they could be pretty well certain that it was fake based on the wealth of evidence to the contrary. Exactly the same here. Glad only 24% of this group were blatantly irrational.

And yet the article: "It is hard to conceive of a more clear, objective demonstration of outright irrationality. " -- No, you've got it backwards, fella.