Tuesday, July 14, 2009

How Reliable Are Human Religious Claims?

Suppose you’re in an upper division math course and you’ve been assigned a lab partner who you are supposed to work on practice questions and homework assignments all semester. As the semester develops, a pattern emerges. He comes to you with the answers to problems that he has worked on. He’s earnest, hardworking, careful, and is highly motivated. But when you consider those problems and do some checking yourself, you find that his answers are quite often wrong. You check and double check and after many cases, it looks like he gets the right answer about 40% of the time. His reliability for doing math problems is only .4. That means that for any given problem that he’s better at getting the wrong answer than the right one. You might think that this track record would make him a very bad lab partner, but ironically you could conclude with a better than chance probability that for any answer he gets, that’s more than likely not the right one. So even being really bad at something makes him good for something.

Now consider the wide range of religious claims about the nature of reality that human beings have made over the eons. We could keep it simple and just reflect on the various gods that they have at one time or another asserted were real. Recall these 500 gods from an earlier post.


Aa, Aah, Abil Addu, Addu, Adeona, Adjassou-Linguetor, Adjinakou, Adya Houn'tò, Agassou, Agé, Agwé, Ahijah, Ahti, Aizen Myō-ō, Ajisukitakahikone, Ak Ana, Aken , Aker , Äkräs, Aku, Allatu, Altjira, Amano-Iwato, Ame-no-Koyane, Am-heh, Amihan, Amon-Re, Amun, Amurru, Anapel, Anath, Andjety, Anhur, Anit, Anu, Anubis, Anzambe, Apsu, Arianrod, Ash , Ashtoreth, Assur, Astarte, Aten, Atum, Ayida-Weddo, Ayizan, Azaka Medeh, Azaka-Tonnerre, Azumi-no-isora, Baal, Bacalou, Badessy, Bagadjimbiri, Bahloo, Baiame, Bakunawa, Bamapana, Banaitja, Ba-Pef, Baron Cimetière, Baron La Croix, Baron Samedi, Barraiya, Bata , Bathala, Bau, Beltis, Beltu, Belus, Bernardo Carpio, Bes, Biame, Biamie, Bilé, Bimbeal, Binbeal, Boli Shah, Bossou Ashadeh, Budai, Budai, Bugady Musun, Bugid Y Aiba, Bunjil, Bunjil, Cai Shen, Ceros, Chenti-cheti, Chi You, Chimata-No-Kami, Chun Kwan, Cihang Zhenren, City god, Clermeil, Congo (loa), Consus, Cronos, Cunina, Dagan, Dagda, Dagon, Daikokuten, Damballa, Dan Petro, Dan Wédo, Daramulum, Dauke, Dea Dia, Dhakhan, Diable Tonnere, Diana of Ephesus, Diejuste, Dimmer, Dinclinsin, Dragon King, Dragon King of the East Sea, Duamutef, Dumu-zi-abzu, Dzingbe, Ea, Ebisu, Edulia, Efile Mokulu, El, Elali, Elder Zhang Guo, Elum, Engurra, Enki, Enma, En-Mersi, Enurestu, Erlang Shen, Erzulie, Ezili Dantor, Fan Kuai, Fei Lian, Feng Bo, Four sons of Horus, Fu Lu Shou, Fu Xi, Fūjin, Fukurokuju, Furrina, Futsunushi, Gargomitch, Gasan lil, Gasan-abzu, Goibniu, Gong Gong, Govannon, Gran Maître, Grand Bois, Guan Yu, Guangchengzi, Gunfled, Gwydion, Hachiman, Hadad, Hakudo Maru, Han Xiang, Hapi, Hapy, Heka , Hemen, Hermanubis, Hermes , Heryshaf, Hoderi, Hongjun Laozu, Hoori, Horus, Houyi, Huang Feihu, Hung Shing, Iah, Ibong Adarna, Iho, Iku-Turso, Ilat, Ilmatar, Ilmatar, Imhotep, Imset, Iron-Crutch Li, Isis, Istar, Isum, Iuno Lucina, Izanagi, Jade Emperor, Jar'Edo Wens, Ji Gong, Julana, Jumala, Jupiter, Juroujin, Kaawan, Kagu-tsuchi, Kalfu, Kalma, Kara Khan, Karakarook, Karei, Kari, Karora, Kerridwen, Khaltesh-Anki, Khepri, Khnum, Khonsu, Kidili, Kini'je, Kitchen God, Kmvum, Kneph, Kōjin, Ksitigarbha, Kui Xing, Kuk, Kumakatok, Kuski-banda, Kuu, Ku'urkil, Lagas, Lan Caihe, Lei Gong, Leizhenzi, Lempo, Ler, Leza, Li Jing , L'inglesou, Llaw Gyffes, Lleu, Loco (loa), Lü Dongbin, Lugal-Amarada, Maahes, Ma-banba-anna, Mademoiselle Charlotte, Maîtresse Délai, Maîtresse Hounon'gon, Maman Brigitte, Mamaragan, Mami, Mamlambo, Manawyddan, Mandulis, Mangar-kunjer-kunja, Marassa Jumeaux, Marduk, Maria Cacao, Maria Makiling, Maria Sinukuan, Marinette, Mars, Marzin, Matet boat, Mawu, Mayari, Mbaba Mwana Waresa, Meditrina, Mehen, Melek, Memetona, Menthu, Merodach, Mider, Mielikki, Min , Molech, Mombu, Morrigu, Mounanchou, Mulu-hursang, Mu-ul-lil, Muzha , Na Tuk Kong, Naam, Nana Buluku, Naunet, Ndyambi, Nebo, Nehebkau, Nergal, Nezha , Nga, Ngai, Nin, Ninib, Ninigi-no-Mikoto, Nin-lil-la, Nin-man, Nio, Nirig, Ni-zu, Njirana, Nogomain, Nuada Argetlam, Numakulla, Num-Torum, Nusku, Nu'tenut, Nyan Kupon, Nyyrikki, Nzambi, Nzame, Odin, Ogma, Ogoun, Ogoun, Ogyrvan, Ohoyamatsumi, Ōkuninushi, Olorun, Omoikane (Shinto), Ops, Osiris, Pa-cha, Pangu, Papa Legba, Peko, Perkele, Persephone, Petbe, Pie (loa), Ple, Pluto, Potina, Ptah, Pugu, Puluga, Pundjel, Pwyll, Qarradu, Qebehsenuef, Qin Shubao, Qingxu Daode Zhenjun, Ra, Raijin, Randeng Daoren, Rauni , Resheph, Rigantona, Robigus, Royal Uncle Cao, Ruwa, Ryūjin, Saa, Sahi, Samas, Sarutahiko, Saturn, Sebek, Seker, Serapis, Sesmu, Shakpana, Shalem, Shangdi, Shango, Sharrab, Shen , Shennong, Shezmu, Shina-Tsu-Hiko, Simbi, Sin, Sirtumu, Sobek, Sobkou, Sōjōbō, Sokk-mimi, Sopdu, Sousson-Pannan, Statilinus, Suijin, Suiren, Suqamunu, Susanoo, Ta Pedn, Tagd, Taiyi Zhenren, Tala, Tam Kung, Tammuz, Tapio, Temaukel, Tenenet, Tengu, Tenjin, Theban Triad, Thoth, Ti Jean Quinto, Ti Malice, Tian, Ti-Jean Petro, Tilmun, Tirawa Atius, Todote, Toko'yoto, Tomam, Tororut, Tu Di Gong, Tu Er Shen, Tuonetar, Tuoni, Ubargisi, Ubilulu, U-dimmer-an-kia, Ueras, Ugayafukiaezu, U-ki, Ukko, UKqili, Umai, U-Mersi, Umvelinqangi, Ungud, Unkulunkulu, Ura-gala, U-sab-sib, Usiququmadevu, U-Tin-dir-ki, U-urugal, Vaisravana, Vaticanus, Vediovis, Vellamo, Venus, Vesta, Wadj-wer, Wen Zhong , Weneg, Wenshu Guangfa Tianzun, Wepwawet, Werethekau, Wollunqua, Wong Tai Sin, Wuluwaid, Xargi, Xaya Iccita, Xevioso, Xuan Wu , Yama, Yau, Yemaja, Youchao, Yuanshi Tianzun, Yuchi Jingde, Yunzhongzi, Zagaga, Zaraqu, Zer-panitu, Zhang Guifang, Zheng Lun, Zhongli Quan, Zhu Rong , Zonget.

It’s possible that you think a few of these are real, depending on your background, but the chances are very good that if you were asked about each one: “Do you think that Tauumuz, a Babylonian sun god, is a real, existing being?” you would answer no. Likewise, you probably don’t think it is reasonable for you or someone with the beliefs, information, and background that you have to believe that such a being is real.

Leaving aside the question of whether it has ever been reasonable for someone to believe in each one of these beings (it probably was), we can ask these questions: When it comes to making supernatural claims about whether or not a divine being exists, how reliable are humans? In what proportion of the cases where they have asserted that some divine being is real did they get it right? Like our math lab partner, what is their general reliability rating? Do you think that when someone from a particular religious tradition claims that their god is real, they are more likely than not to be correct?

I think the only reasonable lesson to learn from the track record of human religious claims is that we are very prone to make assertions about gods being real that aren’t. When someone approaches me with a claim about about the reality of a particular magical being, there’s a substantial burden of proof facing them. History has proven that their reliability rating is very low, much lower than our very bad math student. It’s not that the failure of all of those gods proves that theirs must be false too. The Christian or Zoarastrian might have gotten the right answer. Every prisoner in the jail vigorously and passionately insists that he’s innocent. And some of them might be. But the track record here means that a very high threshold of proof needs to be met in order for the claim to be reasonable for an outsider.

30 comments:

Steve Martin said...

Human religious claims are not reliable at all.

That is why God sent Jesus Christ into the world, to effectively put an end to "religion".

Some believe...many do not.

What else is new?

Ketan said...

The problem's every one thinks 'their own' religion and God(s) to be special, and unfortunately through their lives they come to link their individual worth with their religion. So if they've to conclude something negative about 'their own' religion, it'd also mean concluding something negative about themselves, too.

I've discussed this concept in my post called--'Communalism' (<-- link). If you find time, would like to have your comments on the post. I'm not a philosopher/psychologist/sociologist/anthropologist, so you'll certainly find the post quite amateur. :)

But I think, to the extent I've been able to understand, what I mention above is a very strong reason why most of the theists can't give up on concept of God, and also some of the quirky attributes their Gods come to be associated with because they take pride in them.

So typical theists are unlikely to take your argument seriously because they can't take a detached view of their religion and/or God.

TC.

Steve Martin said...

I know exactly how you feel. Before Christ grabbed a hold of me, I felt the same way.

I was baptized as an infant. The Bible says that God gives people forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation in their baptisms.

When I was around 40 years old, faith came to me, and my baptism was complete.

How can this be?

I haven't got a clue.

I just know that it happened.

M. Tully said...

Ketan,

I think you make a good point with regard to the cultural-centrism that is prevalent in most societies (no better example than here in the US).

But then again, wouldn't the "argument from 500 gods" help a theist understand why the argument "from personal revelation" should be discounted.

We have no reason to believe the ancient Greeks and Romans were insincere about their feelings of revelation about Zeus or Athena. Likewise today, I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of an Indian who tells me she has faith in Vishnu because it is revealed in her feelings. But, the fact that she can discount (even though not doubting their sincerity) others' faith in Zeus as a reason to believe Zeus is real, grants warrant to others to discount her personal faith in Vishnu as a reason to believe it as a part of reality.

So to ask her, given the countless followers of 499 gods other than hers, is it reasonable to assume that personal revelation cannot be accepted as admissible evidence?

The only alternate rule of evidence I can see would be to accept all of the gods as part of reality. That would seem to me to be an argument to absurdity made in one statement.

Ketan said...

Thanks M. Tully for the response!

I absolutely understand the point you make about believers of 499 'other' Gods. But the problem with the argument (like so many that reject religious claims) is that it requirers objectivity and unprejudiced view of the argument.

What I've seen practically happen is the person in question will find some or the other (real or imaginary) reasons to hold other believers and their God(s) in contempt, so that she does not 'have' to value their opinion. And if someone were to similarly point out flaws in her God, she'd go in denial, try to anyhow defend her God (afterall, everything she'd know about 'her' God would be mythical), and continue to believe in her God with renewed strength. What this usually does is further her hatred towards people following other religions, and also the one pointing out flaws in her God.

Apart from the said believer wanting to preserve belief in her God, a strong factor that works here is the social conditioning that would have made scrutinizing one's God a taboo, and criticizing, a 'sin'.

In my previous comment I was referring to a 'typical' theist, which of course, I've not defined, but majority (in my experience) tend to respond to atheistic arguments in the way I pointed out above.

Those who're reasonable, anyway, either give up their religion (and turn atheists), or start believing in a more form-less God, who'd be easier to push beyond reproach. For instance, among the educated in India it has become very fashionable to say, "Gods of all are religion are one, and The Bible, The Quran and Geeta--a Hindu scripture, all teach the message of peace, universal love and brotherhood". So again for the latter kind of people, the above argument won't hold because they'd be ready to accept that all the prior generations were collectively wrong in considering their Gods so very anthropomorphic, but that they themselves are now 'broadminded' and 'mature' with regard to God's nature.

I put forth these counter-points only in my attempt to evolve the atheistic arguments further, so that they become more convincing to hardened theists, who usually lack objectivity when it comes to religion.

Take care.

Eric Sotnak said...

Steve Martin wrote:
'Human religious claims are not reliable at all. - That is why God sent Jesus Christ into the world...'

I'm still giggling about this one. Thanks, Steve Martin, even though I suspect that was only unintentionally funny.

M. Tully said...

Ketan,

"What I've seen practically happen is the person in question will find some or the other (real or imaginary) reasons to hold other believers and their God(s) in contempt, so that she does not 'have' to value their opinion."

Good point. It's almost like you need to keep a score card with each individual theist, isn't it?

"No, no, no, remember we already eliminated the personal experience, no contemporary evidence, doesn't match the historical record...fill in the blank argument because you used it to refute X god."

Oh, your point about renewed strength when faced with contrary evidence, perfectly inline with the studies. I have no intention of ever trying to convert a dyed in the wool theist. My mission is to present the evidence as it exists, refute bad arguments in the most effective way I know how, and to honestly answer the questions of the honestly curious.

If in the end a few of the honestly curious are swayed and a few of the dyed in the wool no longer speak as though their world view is the only rational one, and they become very cautious about arrogantly dismissing the great body of knowledge humanity has gathered to date to proclaim their dogma, I'll consider myself hugely successful!

Ketan said...

M. Tully,

Thanks for the clarification. Yes, you're right about trying to sway the more curious and the more objective.

Though I wish the social environment for such arguments were more open.

Also I worry about how the parents who come across atheistic arguments try to 'protect' their children from reason. Also where societies are much more orthodox, such utterances could easily lead to lawful or unlawful execution!

But of course, I value your attempt at making people think with greater rationality.

TC.

Carbon Based said...

Ya "Steve Martin" pegged my irony meter dang near broke it. LOL

Steve Martin said...

Glad you folks thought it was funny that God wanted to do away with religion (religion being that which humans do to try and ascend to the Divine).

But it is true. Jesus Christ came, was staked to wood, died, and was raised that mankind would be forgiven and by faith (not by anything that we say, do, feel, or think) be justified in the eyes of the Creator.

Laugh it up all you want.

I used to not think too much of Jesus, either, so I understand.

There may come a time (maybe on your deathbed, who knows?) when you will cry out to Him. And He will forgive you, and make you His own. No questions asked.

He will always be there for you.

ARISTIONO NUGROHO said...

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Your post very interesting.
If you willing visit my blog, and read my post at http://sosiologidakwah.blogspot.com
And... if you love books, read The Holy Qur'an please...

busterggi said...

Steve, Steve, Steve, substitute Cthulhu for Jesus in all your posts & you've got my experience almost perfectly.

ChrisAC said...

I feel that the spirit of this comic accurately conveys a 'debate' with Steve.

http://www.jesusandmo.net/2009/07/16/seal/

TheTheist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TheTheist said...

The sheer number of postulated Gods, while indeed indicative of confusion, is by no means synonymous with failure. Religion suffers under the same pressures of science and philosophy in so far as it must consistently evolve itself in the face of new realities.

All too often atheists attack religions of old as if this actually invalidates religion in and of itself. If I was to focus only on the science of past ages and then declare that the egregious number of failed theories made science extremely unreliable would I not be making a tremendous mistake? Phlogiston, aether, and other well intentioned but nonetheless erroneous concepts do not invalidate the approaches of science; they simply testify to the long struggle for mastery in the discipline.

Religion in this respect is no different. Many an attempt has been made to recognize, name, and define who God is and it is likewise true that the resultant religions have declared their presentation to be replete and infallible. This however is nothing other than user error. Automobiles are not guilty of crimes committed by drunk drivers; they are merely tools used in an inappropriate way. True religion will always stand apart from the misguided exhortations of its adherents.

Religion is an ever dynamic discipline that continues to change as our relation to the universe around us changes. Indeed some principles will remain but many will be abandoned. I’m sure with enough time we could compose a rather lengthy list of dead scientific theories and expired philosophical ideas but I imagine that these would be trumpeted as benchmarks of achievement: you see how far we’ve come! Your list of 500 dead gods is no more than just such an example; religion has, and always will, grow.

Ketan said...

The Theist,

You've drawn a good parallel between the evolution of science and religion in face of emerging information about the world around us.

But the problem is when you talk of 'growth' of religion, you're talking of numbers. And when talking of numbers, I'm not sure how many theists actually want their religion to be twisted beyond recognition. Rather, a lot of effort is expended in 'preserving' culture and 'saving' religions. So not everyone seems that ready to allow their religion to evolve. Moreover, religion did not evolve on its own; science made it to, and not the other way round.

And just because religion will continue to grow doesn't necessarily imply anything about its actual value to improvement of mankind. I'm sure, the same could be also said of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus that causes AIDS (that it will continue to grow), and mind you absolutely because of volitional acts by men and despite efforts by scientists to stop its exponential growth. That doesn't necessarily make HIV a good thing for us, does it?

Second, science fulfills certain basic needs--like when you must have had breakfast in the morning or your first meal, it was a product of agriculture--a science. Like the computer which you used to post your reply--it's science. The electricity used to run that computer--yes, you must have guessed it right, it's science. What such role does religion fulfill?

Anonymous said...

Religion growing means its falsifiable. But that would mean God's word is falsifiable. Or its not based on God's word. These are both good reasons to not believe.

M. Tully said...

"Phlogiston, aether, and other well intentioned but nonetheless erroneous concepts do not invalidate the approaches of science"

Perfectly true. Except you left out the important part; how they were shown to be erroneous. They were falsified by the process of science testing and retesting its own theories, always trying to take them to edge and make them break.

Theologians on the other hand, have bent and changed only when science and public sentiment have forced them.

So, how many religions today are actually rigorously testing their own god hypotheses to see if they will break?

Over the last four hundred years science has consistently improved our understanding of the universe as it exists and has enabled us to make ever more accurate predictions about the future. Religion however can make no such claim.

To conflate the methodologies of science and religion simply because they both have been wrong before is, quite frankly, a thoroughly refuted, erroneous conclusion.

M. Tully said...

"The sheer number of postulated Gods, while indeed indicative of confusion, is by no means synonymous with failure."

Again, it's not the fact that were 499 other gods that most people don't believe in any more, it's the methodology. Personal revelation or non-independently verified nor repeatable reports.

Science faced the same challenge; for centuries the scientific consensus was an object dropped from the mast of moving ship would land aft of the drop point (likewise for a heavy object falling faster than a light one). The idea made sense, the boat moves under the object as it falls. But then empirical methods were tried (of course the answer is obvious, but let's just test it anyway).

And the common consensus was falsified. Over time the observational data method proved itself again and again, to the point that today it is just plain irrational to ignore it.

In the case of the 499 gods, we never see that transition. Theologians today use the same (although the language has been updated) methodology the ancient Greeks did.

Where exactly does one train to become a experimental theologian?

TheTheist said...

Ketan,

It seems there has been a misinterpretation regarding my idea of growth. Numerical increase was not what I had in mind at all. When I speak of religious growth I mean growth of concept, elevation of ideal, release from ritualistic slavery, and so on and so forth. The fact that the size of the religious population has grown is of little importance here.

Also, as regards the majority of theists who do not wish their religion “twisted” and vehemently work to “preserve” such theologies I have only to say: so much the worse for them. Theists do not shape theism, theism shapes theists. Just as the scientist must abandon old theories in light of new discoveries so must the theist abandon old theologies in light of new revelation. This effort to “save” religions is exactly the problem at hand; for too long theism has been hijacked by those who, while well intentioned, inevitably choke the very life out of it.

In regards to science providing the impetus for religious change you are correct, concerning approximately the last 500 years anyways. Against the backdrop of the entire human history however religion has very much grown on its own. Object worship to polytheism to monotheism are just a few of the developments that took place long before evolutionary science, telescopes, and germ analysis. Nonetheless, pressure from the pursuits of science is a welcome development as it ever pushes religion into its respective sphere.

The value of religion is in no way easily explained within the confines of such a short space. Indeed even attempting to write it out in some sense dilutes its potency for religion is more than codes and creeds; it is a living experience. However, it will forever remain the case that religion is the liberator of the human condition. Where science explains the seemingly cold machinations of the material universe religion will imbue it with purpose. Where science declares you a cosmic accident religion will proclaim you a true child of promise. Where science destines you to an inevitable extinction religion will guarantee you an eternal pursuit of ever expanding realities. Where science gives facts, religion gives motivation; motivation born not out of slavish subservience but in conscious recognition of who you truly are. Religion is that ever persistent decree: fear not for you are not alone.

There will no doubt be those who are wont to disregard such as mere wishful thinking. This however is of little consequence. You will never be able to remove the human longing for purpose, for value, for life. Your attempts to supplant the divine message with materialistic sophistries will be in vain. Such hollow philosophies will never, I repeat never, touch humanity with as much force and certainty as the message from within. Just as a child will return to its parent for assurance so will the fundamental religious impulse of humanity ever seek to return to its source.

And now Tully. Tully, Tully, Tully. Once again your response betrays your hasty misappropriation of the matter at hand. Methodology was not the issue under consideration. It was not mentioned in the original posting and hence received no attention in my reply. What was discussed was how antecedent reliability should influence consequent believability. True, methodology and reliability do have an intimate relationship, just not one discussed here. Now before you respond (which I know you will) I want you to do me a favor. Are you ready? First, don’t get your panties in a wad, angry people rarely speak intelligently…now take a deep breath…now take another…one more…now focus…read between the lines…and speak accordingly.

Matt McCormick said...

Interesting discussion. Theist has misunderstood my position. But M Tully has straightened out the confusion mostly. The comparison between science and religion here is a gross distortion. In general, unaided human judgment is bad. One should not trust an individual's half baked ideas for medical advice, or car repairs either. But once they've had the benefit of a broad based, empirically tested, aggressively critiqued education that has imparted reliably information to them, then they can be trusted more. What's missing in religion, as Tully points out, is any deliberate attempt to escape the foibles and fancy of human fantasy and restrict belief to those claims that have been vetted, tested, empirically confirmed. Religion makes no such deliberate attempt to transcend the highly unreliable judgment of subjective ideas. Appealing to revelation, or theological navel gazing as Theist does won't help the problem.


But here's another way to come at the problem raised in Theist's posts. Question: If there were a God, would he have the power to reveal his nature and provide us with a reasonable level of justification such that we could believe while being intellectually responsible? If the answer is no, then such a being doesn't have enough power to be worthy of the name God and doesn't deserve the sort of slavish, life consuming attention we're giving him. If the answer is yes, then where is that justification? The vast majority of people, even the devoutly religious, do not think that God's existence is obvious to the extent that people who don't believe or who believe differently are guilty of some obvious, flagrant irrationality. Disbelief and different belief are clearly justifiable given our situation. But if there were the sort of God that many believers insist upon, he'd make belief justifiable and disbelief irrational. So the only reasonable conclusion is that such a being doesn't exist. We can say that it's humanity's conception of God that is growing as he is slowly being revealed to us, as Theist has done. But at some point, it starts sounding like Bigfoot nuts insisting that our conception of Bigfoot is growing and changing in response to criticisms or objections to their claims.

MM

M. Tully said...

"First, don’t get your panties in a wad, angry people rarely speak intelligently…now take a deep breath…now take another…one more…now focus…read between the lines…and speak accordingly."

Oh, I'm not angry. Terse is how I respond to poorly thought out analogies.

"However, it will forever remain the case that religion is the liberator of the human condition."

Ever hear of the medieval period? It was only a thousand years long, I could see how you could miss it. So how about yesterday? Muslims conducting "honor" killings of young women. Mothers denying medical treatment to their children in the name of faith. Christians discouraging condom use in areas ravaged by Aids.

For goodness sakes, please don't liberate me!

M. Tully said...

"...religion will GUARANTEE [emphasis mine] you an eternal pursuit of ever expanding realities."

"There will no doubt be those who are wont to disregard such as mere wishful thinking."

I almost can't do this (I have tears coming out of my eyes) but, can you define guarantee?

TheTheist said...

I will readily accept misinterpreting your intention but it seems that I am guilty of such (at least in part) by way of misrepresentation. It is still my contention that your post outlined a reliability to believability relationship and spoke of no issues regarding methodology. Nonetheless I appreciate your clarification and shall end with the quibbling.

The discrepancy between the methodologies of science and religion is nothing new. This however is to be completely expected. It always amazes me when materialists clamor for proof regarding spiritual realities in no other than material form. It would be like me asking a physicist for the introspective insight that proves gravity; a plainly ridiculous request. "Spiritual" reality is no misnomer; it is called such precisely because it is spiritual, not material. The distinction here is very real. The means to acquire material knowledge of the cosmos is not the same as one employs to discover spiritual truth. You will never receive a handful of spirit to examine under a microscope, gaze at God through a telescope, or discover a soul on an operating table. The path to spiritual insight will never be found on the outside; it is and will always remain an inner discovery.

Crying foul will do no good. Your incessant requests for something you can grasp with your physical senses are misguided. Does this make religion a subjective enterprise? Well yes, for the most part it does. But what is not a subjective enterprise? Every discipline is burdened by the fact that its proclamations are always uttered from a confined viewpoint. We are not masters of the universe created with perfect means of discerning that ever illusive absolute truth. What we are is evolutionary beings a mere step up from our animal brethren; conditioned by natural limitations and confined to a finite perspective which renders to us not an understanding of the whole but only that which is partial. Just as a dog will never be able to understand certain aspects of the world around him so will we always remain handicapped by the certain fact that we are limited in our capacities. Do you really believe that science will solve all the mysteries of the universe? Do you really think that a thousand years from now scientists will look back and consider you knowledgeable? The materialist’s elevation of their own understanding betrays a rather pitiful arrogance.

Nevertheless it is true that science utilizes sound empirical methods to reveal the nature of material realities whereas religion uses introspective ones; but this only due to the fact that the material pursuits of scientists have to utilize the causality of materialistic functioning as a means of explanation. That is, material inquiries require material explanations. Demanding that the theologian abide by such rules is so misguided as to be laughable.

TheTheist said...

Despite this difference, theism is by no means “unaided” as you so confidently presume. It is literally true that the spirit of God resides within. Just as you have a heart that pumps you have a spirit that ministers. The mere fact that you cannot detect this presence via empirical means in no way negates its presence unless you presuppose all reality to be material. This however is an irreducible principle that in and of itself has no direct evidential support; it is strictly inferential. How does one exactly conclude evidentially that empiricism describes reality in its entirety?

Now it will be readily admitted that religionists have often confused what the true nature of religion should consist in ever embarrassing themselves with claims to questions of an unreligious nature. The arenas of science, philosophy, sociology, politics, and others have been sadly invaded many times by unwise theists. However, just as we are apt to misinterpret another’s words or gaze so are we apt to misinterpret the voice of God. Personal prejudice, fears, desires, cultural conditioning, level of education, and so on all interfere in the reception of spiritual insight. But religion is no different than any other discipline or skill in that there is always a range from the genius to the utterly inept; variance in ability is an evolutionary product that cannot be avoided. Atheists continually pick on the weak fully unaware that it is to one advantage only, ours. Far from destroying religion materialism will free it from it chains. Where you break religionists down I will pick them up. You may continue to regard me as a “navel gazer” but I must ask: why should I take advice from a star worshiper?

When it comes to the evolutionary nature of religion, this will ever stand true. The process of revelation may seem long relationally but against the backdrop of infinity it is but a fleeting second. Comparing this with “Bigfoot nuts” revising their conceptions is so flawed I have to imagine you wrote it in haste. I mean come now MM, you are a philosophy professor are you not? Surely you can smell the stench of straw emanating from such a comparison. Conceptions of God are predicated on providing answers to truly perplexing issues: first causes, the desire to live, free will, etc. Conceptions of Bigfoot are predicated on…predicated on…well, not much. God as proposed by theists is an active integral part of the universe; Bigfoot is a hairy man beast. God is an inner reality; Bigfoot is supposed to wander the Pacific Northwest. The two are not equivalent. Religion, as I will continue to state, is a growing discipline and will continue to evolve alongside science and philosophy, all temporary setbacks aside.

Religion has long suffered under a cloud of misconception due to the institutional tendencies of its converts. But doubt not, our revolution is very much on the horizon. Garner your strength, for you will need it. Even now walk theists of such a superb character that they will initiate a transformation of this planet the likes of which has never been known. These theists are on the rise; theists who relish the pursuits of science, ardently pursue philosophy, and ever seek religious revelation. Enjoy your days, for they are numbered.

A few concluding remarks. First, M Tully, I am sorry I did not get to you but honestly, I prefer to engage the herders, not the sheep, no offense. Seriously, I mean it. It’s only a metaphor. No offense. Secondly, I have to leave town for some business and hence will not be able to respond to any replies until next week. I will however monitor the blog via my phone. Until next time, the court is yours.

M. Tully said...

"First, M Tully, I am sorry I did not get to you but honestly, I prefer to engage the herders, not the sheep, no offense. Seriously, I mean it. It’s only a metaphor. No offense."

No offense taken. I initially attributed your poor argumentation to deception and not a lack of basic understanding. My apologies.

So, let me ask you a straight forward question. You wrote that, "The means to acquire material knowledge of the cosmos is not the same as one employs to discover spiritual truth."

Can you give anyone a good reason to believe that human knowledge - of any kind - occurs without a material brain?

Even the non-evidential intuitive thoughts that we in humanity have, can you demonstrate them without the use of the human brain?

And that is where the apologists for all 500 gods hit the wall. You can only take intuition so far. In the end, you either must argue from the position of reason generated in the human brain, or must concede to not arguing from a position of reason.

To be specific, the materialist can argue that a reasonable person would want to be able to consistently explain the events that have happened in the past and accurately predict events that will happen in the future. It is a very powerful tool to accomplish one's end (whatever that end might be). Human intuition has proven to be quite inferior in that respect. So whether or not there is a supernatural realm, if I want to have the highest probably of answering that question, I would adopt a materialist methodology to determine it.

I believe you now must make a reasonable argument that there are compelling reasons to abandon the most effective method of knowing for another one. Or, alternately defend why being unreasonable is the reasonable way to approach a problem. By the way, an argument from wishful thinking which you were quick to dissociate yourself from, has some merit (I believe it fails but I also I believe I have a burden to demonstrate that one).

Now, the above statements address issues directly related to the topic at hand, so they are a little lengthy. I would however, like to quickly touch on a recurring theme in your replies (it's off topic so I'll be brief).

Your comments about the cold harshness of the material world reveal a deep lack of understanding about the natural universe we live in. It is a big, wondrous, awe inspiring place. It simultaneously gives great feelings of understanding, child-like anticipation of what knowledge we will acquire next and frustration and drive from what we still don't understand. True, the naturalist doesn't then pile on some additional baggage to make it better fit her own wants to be special, but why should she?

Why gild the rose? It doesn't improve its beauty and just adds unnecessary weight.

Finally, I really hope you didn't take offense to my comments about your poor argumentation skills and lack of basic understanding of the universe. Seriously, I mean it. It's only what the evidence demanded that I state. No offense.

Anonymous said...

Wow "the theist" poster seemed to easily refute the OP's argument. Yes, religous views have changed much like scientific views. But does any of this really have an impact on their credibility?

On another note, human testimony must have some validity. After all, it takes human observations in the lab to confirm or deny a causal event. And if anyone has sat around discussing such events they know it can be a debated process as to exactly went on.

I have a hunch that atheist on this board like to compare the physical laws of science with religious claims - alluding that the former is firmly more grounded then the latter. But wouldnt psychological findings be a more appropriate comparison?

Anonymous said...

I've got one word for our religious friends: Irony.

Anonymous said...

"The discrepancy between the methodologies of science and religion is nothing new. This however is to be completely expected. It always amazes me when materialists clamor for proof regarding spiritual realities in no other than material form. It would be like me asking a physicist for the introspective insight that proves gravity; a plainly ridiculous request. "Spiritual" reality is no misnomer; it is called such precisely because it is spiritual, not material. The distinction here is very real. The means to acquire material knowledge of the cosmos is not the same as one employs to discover spiritual truth. You will never receive a handful of spirit to examine under a microscope, gaze at God through a telescope, or discover a soul on an operating table. The path to spiritual insight will never be found on the outside; it is and will always remain an inner discovery."

Your statement is based on the assumption that "spiritual reality" is indeed real. And you have to prove that.

Humans misinterpret all kinds of things, even "spiritual" events to be sure. The fact that you go to such great lengths to avoid material scrutiny is understandable.

Matt McCormick said...

Thanks for pulling this bit out, anonymous. It brings out a very interesting point. I'm not committed or confining myself to material or empirical methods for acquiring knowledge. But the other extreme is have a gullibility about these subjective, internal feelings and apply no criteria to them to separate the legitimate from the bogus. If there is another method here at all that is being used "internally" to discriminate between reality and fantasy, then by all means I want to know what it is. The problem is that the homeless guy who digs in my trash has lots of powerful, seemingly metaphysical significant ideas springing up in his mind too. The internalist theist has to admit that there needs to be some way to distinguish authentic epiphanies of God and reality from delusions, fantasies, and ideologically driven mistakes. If they have no way to separate them, and just insist that they have some really, really powerful feelings that God is there, what makes their claims any more acceptable to the rest of us than the homeless guy's?

Atheists and non-believers should refuse to accept this changing of the topic from "what are the reasons we have for thinking that there is a supernatural being that exists?" to "science and empiricism aren't the only paths to knowledge." A person is not justified in taking a claim as true merely because it feels like it is to them. Justification requires some way to separate reliable means of access to the truth from the unreliable, especially when we are all inundated with so many unreliable ones.