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General*
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Mon 11th Dec '06 1:42PM
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The big questions has been a little bit quiet of late so I thought I'd open up the debate a bit.

There are a couple of things I wanted to discuss:

I was recently reading this article about a former vicar who decided that being agnostic was the way to go which I found quite interesting.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/6199716.stm

I always identify myself in such debates or similar as an Atheist (or as a Bright since defining myself by something which I don't believe in is a bit negative). Despite the fact that most people in this country don't go to church there seems to be a bit of a fear of actually coming out and saying that you are an Atheist and so Agnostic almost seems to be the de facto religion of the UK.
But is there any point in being an Agnostic?
It seems to me that there are millions of things I don't believe in, but could be proved wrong about. I don't say I don't need to say things like "I think that perpetual motion machines exist but I remain agnostic to the idea because one day some one could prove me wrong" I just say "I don't believe in perpetual motion machines" so what is different about the concept of god I wonder?

Bertrand Russel explains it very well with his celestial teapot http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell%27s_teapot (though I don't like the superfluous Dawkins quote at the bottom).

The second thing is I'm interested to know what peoples reasons are for their belief, or
otherwise. I'm always inclined to think when it comes down to it that our decision in this area always really comes down to Kierkegaard's leap of faith ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leap_of_faith )

The only argument I've come across which really enforces my Atheism is the problem of evil (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Problem_of_evil ) which generally goes:

"Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to. ... If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent. If he can, but does not want to, he is wicked. ... If, as they say, God can abolish evil, and God really wants to do it, why is there evil in the world?" (Epicurus, as quoted in 2000 Years of Disbelief)

I find answers to this tend to involve the phrase "mysterious ways" which I find deeply unsatisfying!

I would be really interested to get any thoughts on the subject from our believers and non believers on the forum.

p.s. I know the topic is huge so I want to explicitly exclude the discussion of if religion is a good, or bad thing, or which religion is the correct one. Though if you have a burning need I'll start another thread!
    

Demian*
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Mon 11th Dec '06 4:31PM
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General was bold enough to comment:

Despite the fact that most people in this country don't go to church there seems to be a bit of a fear of actually coming out and saying that you are an Atheist and so Agnostic almost seems to be the de facto religion of the UK.




An interesting link discussing this which I recently sent to Malcolm:

http://www.humanism.org.uk/site/cms/newsarticleview.asp?article=2288

Personally I count myself as a Bright too, but I have my doubts as to how well they're going to get the term established. It's modelled on the way the word 'gay' was co-opted from it's original meaning, but in that case there were many alternative words to use instead - 'happy', 'cheery' etc. If we co-opt the word 'bright', what are we going to use to describe a room featuring an excessive amount of illumination?

As to reasons for my atheism, I'd consider it a stance which doesn't require a reason - I'd need a reason to believe in something supernatural. I don't believe hedgehogs can build canoes, but don't really consider it necessary to explain why... whereas someone trying to convince me otherwise would need some evidence in order to be taken seriously! But then I suppose that's just a restatement of the celestial teapot argument.

I'm currently enjoying Dawkins' The God Delusion, although to be fair a lot of it is more common sense than actual insight.
  

Kelly*
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Mon 11th Dec '06 4:40PM
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Demian was bold enough to comment:

As to reasons for my atheism, I'd consider it a stance which doesn't require a reason - I'd need a reason to believe in something supernatural. I don't believe hedgehogs can build canoes, but don't really consider it necessary to explain why... whereas someone trying to convince me otherwise would need some evidence in order to be taken seriously! But then I suppose that's just a restatement of the celestial teapot argument.




I'd agree with this. Will look at the articles when I'm not meant to be working, but basically I'm a Bright, and don't feel that this is the stance than needs an explanation for all the reasons Demian has already stated. I'm not really bright (ha!) enough to enter in to serious debate on this matter or state all my reasons carefully, partly due to not finishing books on it out of laziness, but anyway. That's what I think.
   

Feign
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Mon 11th Dec '06 7:45PM
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I'm not sure how feasible a debate on the existence of God can be as both sides of the debate come from inherently different premises. e.g. "The existence of God does not need empirical verification to be true", those who believe will likely consider this statement true in and of itself, and those who do not believe will likely consider the statement false in and of itself.

Because each party's premise is a fundamental truth they then build their arguments on, neither side is going to win over the other, unless that fundamental truth is altered.
Altering a fundamental truth is very much subjective and often not changed by argument alone, there is often a very personal reason why a fundamental truth is established.

Some people need a sensory proof, some people don't. I know this sounds flippant given the hedgehog canoe builders example, but whereas hedgehogs and their activities are percived through empircal evidence, the concept of God precludes the need for empirical evidence.

So what does that say about the celestial teapot? If you accept the definition that this teapot's existence is not verifiable by empirical evidence then it is valid to argue that not accepting its existence is intolerable human presumption to doubt it, however we have prior knowledge of teapots and the inherent difficulty of getting them into orbit between Earth and Mars so we can have reasonable doubt of its existence, which is why it is reasonable to reject a celestial teapots' existence. As we don't, arguably can't, have prior experience of God it isn't therefore a logically reasonable comparison.

In a way it can be considered to be a logical fallacy to say "I won't believe in God unless you prove his existence to me through empirical evidence, and because God precludes empirical evidence he cannot exist" because you're using the definition itself to disprove the existence, but to use the definition in this way you have to accept it as true, therefore you can't say you need empirical evidence. I guess this where the leap of faith comes in, do you believe in the definition or not?

I'm not saying debating is not without its merits, in some cases you will persuade a change of fundamental belief (but this fundamental belief will likely already be being reconsidered) but where both sides accept their conflicting beliefs as correct it will end up a circular debate.

The problem of evil discounts the existence of God through deductive argument, but the reverse technique can be used to counter the argument:
1 God exists.
2 Evil exists
3 Therefore both God and evil exist and the existence of evil does not make it impossible or unlikely that God exists.

But again, it is down to the individual as to their belief in God and what that definition means as to whether the premises can be accepted and the conclusions therefore made.

You can even go one step further with deductive arguments as so:
1 - God is the most perfect of states
2 - Non-existence by definition is a null state
3 - Therefore existence is a perfect state (from premise 2)
4 - Therefore God exists (from premise 1, 2, and conclusion 3)

This won't convince someone to believe in God though, yet it follows all the same rules as the problem of evil that people accept as disproof. Why doesn't it convince people? I think its because belief is a personal issue and it needs a person to be at a stage where they're ready to accept the belief, logic and reason aren't mutually exclusive components of developing a belief. And I know I keep banging on about belief being personal, and maybe someone will disagree and prove me wrong, but that's how I view belief.
 

General*
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Mon 11th Dec '06 8:37PM
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Wow excellent post Feign!



Feign was bold enough to comment:
I'm not sure how feasible a debate on the existence of God can be as both sides of the debate come from inherently different premises. e.g. "The existence of God does not need empirical verification to be true".



That's the bit I find interesting. I don't expect anyone reading this to gain, or loose faith as a result of reading this, so I was wondering if it all just comes down to the leap of faith, or if logical considerations have any factor.



Because each party's premise is a fundamental truth they then build their arguments on, neither side is going to win over the other, unless that fundamental truth is altered.


I'm not sure I understand the use of the term fundamental truth in this context. I think this is what I would refer to as the leap of faith in either direction (Are we on the same wavelength here?).
I'm more interested in why people believe what they believe in than having a debate about who's right cos thousands of years of philosophy haven't got very far so what chance do we have!



but whereas hedgehogs and their activities are perceived through empirical evidence, the concept of God precludes the need for empirical evidence.


I've never understood why god is the only exception to empirical evidence. Anything else I believe in I like to have reasons for so why not god?

Point taken about the flying teapot but what about the Flying Spaghetti Monster Invisible Pink Unicorn I resisted using this examples in my earlier post as they seem a little bit disrespectful to religion, but the point that there are an infinite number of unknowable and unprovable things which go beyond logic.



but where both sides accept their conflicting beliefs as correct it will end up a circular debate.


Agreed I think it is best to stick with discussing why people believe what they do rather than who is right which is of course unknowable.



The problem of evil discounts the existence of God through deductive argument, but the reverse technique can be used to counter the argument:
1 God exists.
2 Evil exists
3 Therefore both God and evil exist and the existence of evil does not make it impossible or unlikely that God exists.


That is one of the deductions from the Epicurus. In his thought experiment god can exist at the same time as evil, but by the Epicurean logic has to be either impotent (wants to stop evil, but can't), or god must be evil (Could stop evil, but doesn't want to).
I'm interested in knowing if anyone has heard a good refutation to this reasoning that doesn't basically equate to "Mysterious Ways" (i.e. There is a reason, but it's too complicated for humans to ever understand)



You can even go one step further with deductive arguments as so:
1 - God is the most perfect of states
2 - Non-existence by definition is a null state
3 - Therefore existence is a perfect state (from premise 2)
4 - Therefore God exists (from premise 1, 2, and conclusion 3)


I don't really follow this logic could you explain it a bit more?

I get points 1 & 2 and that 4 follows from 3, but not how 3 follows from 2.
    

Malcolm*
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Mon 11th Dec '06 9:08PM
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Feign was bold enough to comment:
I'm not sure how feasible a debate on the existence of God can be as both sides of the debate come from inherently different premises. e.g. "The existence of God does not need empirical verification to be true", those who believe will likely consider this statement true in and of itself, and those who do not believe will likely consider the statement false in and of itself.

Because each party's premise is a fundamental truth they then build their arguments on, neither side is going to win over the other, unless that fundamental truth is altered.



One answer to this, I think, is to take that statement, and its contrary statement, and consider their underlying implications. In this case, the key error is the assumption that both share the same definition of "true". This is where the problem arises - for a rationalist/Bright/naturalist/secularist/scientist/sceptic/humanist (you get the idea...!), the statement "The existence of a god needs empirical verification to be true" is a tautology - because when we say "true" we specifically mean "empirically verified" - i.e. corresponding to the facts of the world as we observe them. So, anything being true is exactly the same as that thing being empirically verified.

So, somebody who says "The existence of a god does not need empirical verification to be true" must either
  1. share the scientific/naturalistic notion of "truth" but deliberately ignore or are inconsistent with it in this case - essentially deceiving themselves and others; or

  2. interpret the notion of "truth" in a generally different sense, which allows them to draw different conclusions about what things are, aren't, can be and cannot be true.


So while it's true that people will differ on whether they agree with the god/verification/truth sentence above, it's not the case that their agreement or disagreement with it is a fundamental unalterable. It depends on their thoughts on other issues - and as such is still worth debating, rather than assuming there can be no discussion between the two points.



So what does that say about the celestial teapot? If you accept the definition that this teapot's existence is not verifiable by empirical evidence then it is valid to argue that not accepting its existence is intolerable human presumption to doubt it, however we have prior knowledge of teapots and the inherent difficulty of getting them into orbit between Earth and Mars so we can have reasonable doubt of its existence, which is why it is reasonable to reject a celestial teapots' existence. As we don't, arguably can't, have prior experience of God it isn't therefore a logically reasonable comparison.



I can see two problems with this - firstly, the fact that we don't have prior experience of a god is, I'd say, a perfectly reasonable basis for concluding (or at least considering the idea) that one doesn't appear to exist. (Of course, there are many people who consider all sorts of things to be examples of their experiencing a god, but that's a different issue.)

Secondly, to go back to


we have prior knowledge of teapots and the inherent difficulty of getting them into orbit between Earth and Mars so we can have reasonable doubt of its existence, which is why it is reasonable to reject a celestial teapots' existence.


the response to this is that we also have prior knowledge of, for example:
  • the way organisms evolve, develop, die, decay and then have their molecules converted into other organisms

  • the way that objects, substances and entities in the world move, behave and react - predictably, and according to the physical forces applied to them

  • the properties of substances, and whether or matter can suddenly be caused to exist

  • the enormous variety of spiritualist beliefs that exist and have existed across the world, most of which are mutually incompatible in some way

  • the inherent contradiction between omniscience (knowing everything that is, and everything that will be in the future, without exception) and omnipotence (having the power to do anything) (if the future is known, then it is already true, so it can't be possible to change it, unless that future wasn't definitely true in the first place - in which case you didn't definitely know it)


and thousands of other things which I don't have the brain power to express at the moment. All of these are prior knowledge of the way things are, and they militate against the reasonableness of believing that a supernatural entity is responsible for creating everything, when nothing existed before except itself (so therefore it didn't create itself anyway, so we're stuck in a paradox, but I digress), and is simultaneously in all places, knows everything and can affect anything in any way, at will. So no, not absolute proof that there aren't any gods, but a case for concluding that there aren't that is just as convincing as the case for concluding that there isn't a celestial teapot floating around the world.



In a way it can be considered to be a logical fallacy to say "I won't believe in God unless you prove his existence to me through empirical evidence, and because God precludes empirical evidence he cannot exist" because you're using the definition itself to disprove the existence, but to use the definition in this way you have to accept it as true, therefore you can't say you need empirical evidence. I guess this where the leap of faith comes in, do you believe in the definition or not?



But this isn't (or shouldn't be used as) evidence that there isn't a god. All it is is a demonstration that the claim that a god "precludes empirical evicence" is logically insupportable.



The problem of evil discounts the existence of God through deductive argument, but the reverse technique can be used to counter the argument:
1 God exists.
2 Evil exists
3 Therefore both God and evil exist and the existence of evil does not make it impossible or unlikely that God exists.
But again, it is down to the individual as to their belief in God and what that definition means as to whether the premises can be accepted and the conclusions therefore made.


You could only use this reasoning if both 1 and 2 were accepted premises. Since I reject both, the conclusion is irrelevant to me.



You can even go one step further with deductive arguments as so:
1 - God is the most perfect of states
2 - Non-existence by definition is a null state
3 - Therefore existence is a perfect state (from premise 2)
4 - Therefore God exists (from premise 1, 2, and conclusion 3)
This won't convince someone to believe in God though, yet it follows all the same rules as the problem of evil that people accept as disproof. Why doesn't it convince people? I think its because belief is a personal issue and it needs a person to be at a stage where they're ready to accept the belief, logic and reason aren't mutually exclusive components of developing a belief. And I know I keep banging on about belief being personal, and maybe someone will disagree and prove me wrong, but that's how I view belief.



The same response applies. This only works if you accept all the premises. Statement 1 on its own has 3 inescapable presuppositions - firstly that there is a god, secondly that there is such a thing as the most perfect of states, and thirdly that the god is the most perfect of states. For someone who doesn't accept any of these states (or even if there's just one that they don't accept) then it's impossible to go any further. If you're trying to prove that a god exists, you can't use the notion that a god exists as a part of your evidence.

Also, I don't see how premise 2 leads to premise 3?

edit: Drat! I spent so long writing this that General beat me to it! Curse you, General! (that's "curse" in an entirely non-supernatural way, obviously)
   

Feign
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General was bold enough to comment:



That's the bit I find interesting. I don't expect anyone reading this to gain, or loose faith as a result of reading this, so I was wondering if it all just comes down to the leap of faith, or if logical considerations have any factor.




I'm not sure I can really answer this, I think you need more than just logical considerations and I'd say the leap of faith is the starting point that logical considerations build upon, but for people who have always had faith I'm not sure a leap of faith is an applicable term - the belief has always been there.






I'm not sure I understand the use of the term fundamental truth in this context. I think this is what I would refer to as the leap of faith in either direction (Are we on the same wavelength here?).
I'm more interested in why people believe what they believe in than having a debate about who's right cos thousands of years of philosophy haven't got very far so what chance do we have!




Yep, I'd say we're about the same wavelength here, I mean fundamental truth as the premise you work from, without a fundamental truth you don't really have a starting point, which can be the leap of faith, or the rejection of faith, or a point in between (Brights for example).






I've never understood why god is the only exception to empirical evidence. Anything else I believe in I like to have reasons for so why not god?




Again, I'm not sure I'm in an authority to explain this, it's part of the leap of faith and I can appreciate some people won't accept that, and others will.



Quoting from Brian Davies:
"From the Bible 'To whom will you liken me and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be alike?' and 'You thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you, and lay the charge before you.' This has been interpreted as saying that God is not a being but the source of being, or Being Itself. We also find it said that God is a 'necessary being' or a being whose nature and existence cannot be distinguished."



As I understand it, as part of the belief in God you accept that he is Being Itself - something above and beyond empirically existing objects and in being so cannot be verified by that which verifies empirically existing objects.





Point taken about the flying teapot but what about the Flying Spaghetti Monster Invisible Pink Unicorn I resisted using this examples in my earlier post as they seem a little bit disrespectful to religion, but the point that there are an infinite number of unknowable and unprovable things which go beyond logic.




Hehe, I knew someone would bring those up. Again using Mr. Davies:



"One might reply that authors such as Phillips and Plantinga have no way of ruling out the wildest beliefs...Phillips is not denying that people can make mistakes and believe what is false. He is not committed to saying that anything goes...An objector might say that, if Plantinga is right, any belief must be deemed to be rational unless we have criterion to determine what can properly be believed without further evidence or grounds. But Plantinga can reply that one need not have any such criterion to be entitled to say that certain beliefs are false-just as one need not have a criterion of meaningfulness to be entitled to reject as meaningless some such utterance as 'Twas brillig; and the slithy toves did gyre and gamble in the wabe.' "



I know this reads like a "have your cake and eat it" response, I think he's saying that because you accept God as above empirical proof doesn't mean you have to accept any posited concept that is claimed to be above empirical proof such as the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but it doesn't act as argument to prove God exists without an element of belief.



In a way it is still appealing to faith to quote St Paul "From the creation of the world His invisible nature, namely his eternal power and deity, are clearly perceived in the things that have been made...God, the source and end of all things, can be known with certainty from the consideration of created things, by the natural power of human reason." Whilst there is not empirical evidence of God as in the entity, there are things in the world that are evidence of his actions. This will likely lead into the Ontological Argument and the Argument from Design





That is one of the deductions from the Epicurus. In his thought experiment god can exist at the same time as evil, but by the Epicurean logic has to be either impotent (wants to stop evil, but can't), or god must be evil (Could stop evil, but doesn't want to).


I'm interested in knowing if anyone has heard a good refutation to this reasoning that doesn't basically equate to "Mysterious Ways" (i.e. There is a reason, but it's too complicated for humans to ever understand)




How much time do you have?



There's the argument that evil has to exist for good to be recognised
Swinburne: "If men are to have knowledge of the evil which will result from their actions or negligence, laws of nature must operate regularly; and that means that there will be what I may call 'victims of the system'...if men are to have the opportunity to bring about serious evils for themselves or others by actions or negligence, or to prevent their occurrence, and if all knowledge of the future is obtained by normal induction, that is by induction from patterns and similar events in the past-then there must be serious natural evils occurring to man or animals."



There's arguments from the free-will of man that by giving us the freedom to choose to be morally good we need to have experience and capacity to do evil. A world without evil would be morally static (Hick) "For moral and spiritual growth comes through response to challenges; and in a paradise there would be no challenges."



Arguments against this can be that the price for this moral challenge is too great, that what we gain from the evil is not a just result due to the scope of the evil. This is where the mysterious ways is applicable - we don't and can't know what the end result is, that we can't say the end will justify the means, but this doesn't mean its wrong - we don't know that the pain of amputating an infected limb will be a lesser evil than the pain of leaving the limb attached, but it is considered the correct course of action, but really is only able to be judged once its completed. Can we truly say the evil being done is not lesser than the evil of not having good? No because we've not seen the end, and so it's not really fair to say allowing evil to exist is the act of an evil God.



There's quite a few of them, I'm pretty sure the Wiki article you quoted has some links for counter-arguments.





I don't really follow this logic could you explain it a bit more?


I get points 1 & 2 and that 4 follows from 3, but not how 3 follows from 2.




I'll try - For something to be perfect something has to have a state, because non-existence has no state by definition it is impossible for something that doesn't exist to be perfect, therefore existence is a more perfect state than non-existence.




Malcolm was bold enough to comment:


edit: Drat! I spent so long writing this that General beat me to it! Curse you, General! (that's "curse" in an entirely non-supernatural way, obviously)



edit: Likewise with the drat, and its aimed at General too as I spent so long replying to him that I didn't see yours.
 

Amanshu*
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I think I'm going to skip all of the long healthy debate and try to explain what I believe. Unfortunately for most of you what I believe is open, weird, contradictory and makes little to no sense unless you grab the one string of logic. In other words I'm sure there are a number of counter arguments against, I just see no reason to refute what works for me.

Let's start with the simple idea that God exists, but that that belief has no bearing on my life. I can't remember if I've stated it before, but the true definition of optimism is different to what most people believe.

Basically optimism states that the universe is deterministic. As such the entire course of history can be stated simply by knowing the exact current state of the universe and predicting forward. As such you can also back-track to the very first state of the universe, whatever that may be. Different initial states will lead to very different universes (the parallel dimension theory). However the initial state must be one of them and somehow that state must of come to be. Since there is no reasonable way for me to discover whae that way was I choose to decide that it was picked by God. God, being inherently good, wishes to make things as good for the universe as possible, and so all things being equal the initial state was selected to optimism the goodness in the universe overall. In this universe badness (which is defined as lack of good rather than being opposed to good) is an inherent result of the inability to make it all good all the time.

Contradiction: Although God has selected the initial state to optimise goodness, God does not know what is going to happen.

In this view of events, God's omniscience is limited to only knowing everything that has happened so far. As such the more that happens the more that God knows. There is a direct feedback between our actions and Gods. As we learn, God learns and that knowledge is feeded back into the universe to make things better. Since there is the interplay some stuff will start happening and will need to be rectified. Bad things happen to stop even worse things happening.

Also in this view of events free will has to exist in order for people to learn. We have to have the opportunity to make bad decisions so we can learn how the consequence of events effect the world (or more accurately God can learn). Since free will exists then the possibility of Evil exists - someone choosing, whether through decision or ignorance, to go against what God believes to be right.

The only way I can reconcile the contradiction is that God has picked the initial state with no knowledge of the outcome. This would imply that God had no understanding of the universe when that initial state was picked. No knowledge implies no learning which would suggest that this is the first time a universe was chosen.

Obviously this refutes the optimistic viewpoint, unless of course there were two Gods, one that picked the universe and one that is learning from it. The only other option would be that God didn't choose the universe until after time has ended. God then went back to the start to pick the initial state to learn from. The choice of the initial state is now based on the optimum for good and the best learning experience for God.

In other words the universe is a really big game, and we are all just counters on the board

I could continue with this logic (full of holes as it is), but I imagine that might be enough for one setting whilst people get their heads around it.
   

Malcolm*
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Amanshu was bold enough to comment:

...whilst people get their heads around it.



Crikey! I'm trying, I really am...
   

Amanshu*
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Malcolm was bold enough to comment:

Crikey! I'm trying, I really am...



Told you it made little to no sense

It might help to think of time as a huge circle. One point on that circle can be considered to be the 'start'. The point where the end of the big crunch and the start of the big bang meet. This can also be considered to be the point where both the universe and God 'die' and are 'born' (phoenix like). As such all the knowledge of the time is funnelled into that one spot to make sure that the situation everything starts from is the very best one that it can be.

You'll also notice that the most obvious thing here is that God is the universe. Or more accurately the universe is Gods body, and we are all just cells of the infinite.

Sorry, I was trying to not add to the confusion... I'll stop now.
   

General*
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Amanshu was bold enough to comment:

lots of fancy stuff



Hmm that is a rather novel theory.

The things that spring to mind as a result of that theory are as follows.

It gets arround the Epicurus problem of evil because god exists, is not evil, but cannot stop evil and therefore is not omnipotent. So though you believe in a god it is not an omnipotent one.

Also if you belive in a universe where one state can determine the next then you can't have free will which I think you state later.

And if you believe in a non interventionist, non omnipotent god in a deterministic universe why not swap the word god for non supernatural causal factor and call yourself an atheist?
    

Amanshu*
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Sorry, I didn't fully explain since I was trying to keep the full explanation simple to understand. I'm not actually an optimist, although what I believe does overlap with it in many ways. I don't believe that the universe is fully deterministic, it is just close to it. Chaos theory states that minute changes to small variables can have a huge effect. God's intervention is limited to changing these small variables, thus the universe ceases to be deterministic. It all really started with my attempt to reconcile the Epicurus problem and steam rolled from there!



General was bold enough to comment:

It gets arround the Epicurus problem of evil because god exists, is not evil, but cannot stop evil and therefore is not omnipotent. So though you believe in a god it is not an omnipotent one.

Also if you belive in a universe where one state can determine the next then you can't have free will which I think you state later.



Not quite. The trick is in the fact that God is omnipotent, but not (strictly speaking) omniscienct. God has the power to do anything, but not necessarily the knowledge of whether God should. As we learn, God learns and can apply that knowledge back to us by changing the deterministic state. The so called butterfly effect if you will. Equally we're not fully deterministic (and I choose to call the part of us that isn't the soul). It is this non-determinism that allows us free will, although it is to some extent limited free will. A large number of our actions are already decided for us based on who we are. We do still however have some leyway - and these generally come out in moral decisions. There's more there, but it links into ideas of heaven, hell and reincarnation, so I'll leave it for now (unless people would like more headaches?).



And if you believe in a non interventionist, non omnipotent god in a deterministic universe why not swap the word god for non supernatural causal factor and call yourself an atheist?



Hopefully you can see why now, if not I'll try again.

Sorry if this all seems a little weird and unwieldy, this is the first time that I've properly tried to put it all into words. It's also mostly only partially formed. I know the vague outline of all of it, and some parts of it I've spent some time considering, but I've never really tried to tie it all together before!
   

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Also as a strict aside, I thought I might try and remember my christianity for long enough to explain the counter argument to the Epicurus problem.

Basically there is a world where there is no such thing as evil, it's whats commonly known as Heaven. Since we have free will we can choose to act evilly. But in order for Heaven to work there can either be no free will or else there can be nobody in it that chooses to act for evil. Since God chose to give us free will (and being omniscient he must have had a reason) we can assume that it will continue into the next life.

Reality is then a testing ground for us to prove that we are worthy of going to Heaven. As such Evil has to exist here so that people have the chance to refute it. Those who do go to Heaven, those that don't go to Hell.

I think that's how it goes, but I could be wrong...
   

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[EDIT] Edited for clarity and readibility



Amanshu was bold enough to comment:

Reality is then a testing ground for us to prove that we are worthy of going to Heaven. As such Evil has to exist here so that people have the chance to refute it. Those who do go to Heaven, those that don't go to Hell.



This still doesn't make any sense to me.
If this was the case:
* Why isn't there any natural justice in the world (Why invent cancer and earthquakes)?
* Why when you are omnipotent do you create people you know are good, or evil (Because you created them and you know everything) and them test them anyway?
* What is the point of testing things when you are perfect?
* Why not when you can do anything only create good people?
* Why create bad people and then punish them, when you created them bad in the first place? that seems a bit sick

The only solution I can reconcile is that god exists, but is a bit like a kid playing the Sims. God monkeys arround with peoples lives for his own amusement in an amoral fashion (We don't feel guilty about mistreating our Sims because we created them.) but in which case I think I would be inclined to be terrified of god rather than praise him (I know I'm naughtily referring to god as him).
    

Feign
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Malcolm was bold enough to comment:

So while it's true that people will differ on whether they agree with the god/verification/truth sentence above, it's not the case that their agreement or disagreement with it is a fundamental unalterable. It depends on their thoughts on other issues - and as such is still worth debating, rather than assuming there can be no discussion between the two points.



I'm not sure I follow. If I have a different concept of truth to you, how can we argue about who's truth is correct? Say we're the only two people in existence floating in the ether with only an apple for company. I say the apple is red, you say it is green. How can we have a meaningful debate over the actual colour of the apple as our truths are different?
For all physical things I fully agree, we can rely on empircal evidence. But god is not a physical entity, he is metaphysical and you'll need a different "truth" to accept that. If you don't accept metaphysical things can exist, that's fine I'd think it kind of kills the debate. What allows someone to accept the metaphysical as truth? Belief, and I know this is wholly unsatisfactory an explanation to someone who doesn't have that belief, but by its very nature that's what belief is.




I can see two problems with this - firstly, the fact that we don't have prior experience of a god is, I'd say, a perfectly reasonable basis for concluding (or at least considering the idea) that one doesn't appear to exist. (Of course, there are many people who consider all sorts of things to be examples of their experiencing a god, but that's a different issue.)


Yes it is, if you don't have belief that god exists despite us not having prior experience of god. You reject the premise on empirical grounds, another accepts it without empirical grounds. This is why I'm not sure a debate is entirely feasible.




the way organisms evolve, develop, die, decay and then have their molecules converted into other organisms


god is not an organism like we have experienced so the compairson isn't strictly fair. Ok you can say an organism we haven't experienced is illogical and I can appeal to belief again.




the way that objects, substances and entities in the world move, behave and react - predictably, and according to the physical forces applied to them


almost like there's a pattern governing them... but anyway again god is not an object, substance, or entity of this world and isn't therefore logically obliged to follow those patterns.




the properties of substances, and whether or matter can suddenly be caused to exist


there's theories about this, but there isn't definitive proof - big bang theory at least that's what I gathered from the wiki, irrespective though as the matter that makes up god, assuming there is matter that makes up god does not have to logically comply with physical matter.




the enormous variety of spiritualist beliefs that exist and have existed across the world, most of which are mutually incompatible in some way


but if a spiritual belief excludes other spiritual beliefs as existing, other spiritual beliefs can't be used as a refuting argument.




the inherent contradiction between omniscience (knowing everything that is, and everything that will be in the future, without exception) and omnipotence (having the power to do anything) (if the future is known, then it is already true, so it can't be possible to change it, unless that future wasn't definitely true in the first place - in which case you didn't definitely know it)


on a linear concept of the future yes. God has omniscience, knowledge of all possible futures that result from all possible actions. God therefore has the power to enact any action as any possible future that results from that action is still known to him.




and thousands of other things which I don't have the brain power to express at the moment. All of these are prior knowledge of the way things are, and they militate against the reasonableness of believing that a supernatural entity is responsible for creating everything, when nothing existed before except itself (so therefore it didn't create itself anyway, so we're stuck in a paradox, but I digress), and is simultaneously in all places, knows everything and can affect anything in any way, at will. So no, not absolute proof that there aren't any gods, but a case for concluding that there aren't that is just as convincing as the case for concluding that there isn't a celestial teapot floating around the world.


agreed, if you accept that god is a physical entity, not a metaphysical entity.




But this isn't (or shouldn't be used as) evidence that there isn't a god. All it is is a demonstration that the claim that a god "precludes empirical evicence" is logically insupportable.


logically insupportable using concepts that require empircal evidence.




You could only use this reasoning if both 1 and 2 were accepted premises. Since I reject both, the conclusion is irrelevant to me.


Well yes, if you don't accept the premises then yes the conclusion doesn't follow. The argument is a counter argument to the problem of evil, if you're not accepting god or evil then there's no need for the counter-arguement as your not positing the problem of evil as an argument. This however does not reject the argument as an argument, it just rejects it as an argument for you. It only works if you're rejecting god on the grounds of evil alone (and therefore are accepting the existing of god, i.e. premise 1).




The same response applies. This only works if you accept all the premises. Statement 1 on its own has 3 inescapable presuppositions


What makes people accept the presuppositions? Belief. A leap of faith, call it what you will it is something that does not apply to the truth as you outlined at the start of your post (1). For person A the notion of accepting something on faith is anathema, for person B its valid and acceptable.


When it comes down to dictating negative behaviour for other people, e.g. causing harm to others, you bring in a whole host of issues that make debating this truth very necessary, but if someone chooses to believe something so they can live their life according to a system of morals that promotes the acting of positive ways to other people, why should they be forced to account for it with systems that cannot account for it by definition? If I prefer the colour orange to yellow why do I need to prove orange is better than yellow for you to accept it as a truth to me?


Let's look at moral absolutism - let's agree murder is wrong. By definition it is a wrongful killing. What evidential truth does it appeal to? It cannot be verified with empircal evidence, therefore it cannot accept it as true if truth relies on empirical evidence. Why then can we say murder is wrong? Why can anyone be offended if I start mudering people? Is it the act of taking something away from someone? Fine then, what is it that gives them the right to have that thing I'm taking away? The concept of ownership? Fine then, show me "ownership". Is it that everyone has a right to life? Then show me with empircal evidence the object "right".

Moral absolutism is no more supernatural than belief in god, and yet people who don't believe in god don't go around butchering each other, though hold that because there's no empirical evidence for something it isn't true. What empirical object are we then referring to when we say murder is wrong?


Of course they don't have to accept moral absolutism, maths could be used as a truth - arguably 0 of something is worse than 1 of something. 0 life is worse than 1 life. But then, 0 pain is better than 1 pain. 0 knives in my chest is better than 10 knives in my chest.

Sorry got a little side-tracked there.




If you're trying to prove that a god exists, you can't use the notion that a god exists as a part of your evidence.


Ok, it was a clunky half-remembered version of the Ontological argument. Here is Plantinga's


1. There is a possible world containing a being with maximal greatness
2. Any being with maximal greatness has the property of maximal excellence in every possible world
3. Any being with maximal excellence is omniscient, omnipotent, and morally perfect in every world
4. Therefore in our world there is a being who has omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection.

And yes you can argue against the concept of possible worlds, but our world is a possible world, as such it is a world in which a being with maximal greatness can exist. If A actually exists, then it is possible for A to exist, we can argue that as our world exists it is a possible world.

One of the main things about this, and its something General asked right at the start, is about needing belief. It's not going to be possible to prove the existence of god with empircal evidence. If you want to reject the existence of god on those grounds then fine, go ahead. If you have belief though, you accept the existence of god without the need for empircal evidence.

However, just because you don't hold the belief, doesn't mean a believer has to reject said belief on your grounds and vice versa the believer can't make you accept the belief that god exists on his grounds. For me, what makes people accept a belief is for them to decide for themselves.
 

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Like I said, all of this is half remembered christianity, and I haven't been one of them since I was a child. Still, since I started this aside then I guess I better try and maintain it. I should however say that this isn't something I personally believe.



General was bold enough to comment:
This is annother mysterious ways thing.

This still doesn't make any sense. If this was the case:
Why isn't there any natural justice in the world (Why invent cancer and earthquakes)?
Why when you are omnipotent do you create people you know are good, or evil (Because you created them and you know everything) and them test them anyway? What is the point of testing things when you are perfect?
Why not when you can do anything only create good people.
Why create bad people and then punish them, when you created them bad in the first place, that's just sick!



Ah, I think I see the problem here, you're presupposing that the universe is deterministic and there is no concept of free will. Under the free will idea then nobody is created evil, they are just created. What they choose to do with that life is entirely up to them. If as an omnipotent being you were to create them good or evil then there is no free will and all of your arguments are valid.

However free will only ever works if the world isn't non-evil. If the best course of action at any given choice is only the good one, then why would anyone choose to be evil? Or to do anything at all other than the best option.

I'm also curious to know: if you accept the premise that an omnipotent and omniscient God exists, and all of your counter arguments do even though I know that you yourself don't, why are you so dead set against the mysterious ways argument? Surely as a non-omniscient person you would be willing to accept that God knows a hell of a lot more about what's going on than you do and there would be some things you don't understand?

As for the idea of eternal punishment - well the very concept of a kind of loving God that dishes out eternal punishment is illogical. But then you'll notice that I very specifically only refered to Hell as the alternative to Heaven rather than a punishment. It could be considered that Hell is just a world like this without any of the good people in it. Maybe the people who do go there enjoy it, who knows?

It's not exactly logical, but then the very basis of this thread is belief rather than logic.
   

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Amanshu was bold enough to comment:

Ah, I think I see the problem here, you're presupposing that the universe is deterministic and there is no concept of free will. Under the free will idea then nobody is created evil, they are just created. What they choose to do with that life is entirely up to them. If as an omnipotent being you were to create them good or evil then there is no free will and all of your arguments are valid.



I was thinking if god knows everything then you don't need to be tested because god knows how you are going to turn out and if god doesn't know this then again god looses the omniesence. I must admit I don't understand how god being all knowing and free will are compatable. That said I don't really understand free will as a concept that actually means anything (But yet again that's a different thread)




I'm also curious to know: if you accept the premise that an omnipotent and omniscient God exists, and all of your counter arguments do even though I know that you yourself don't, why are you so dead set against the mysterious ways argument? Surely as a non-omniscient person you would be willing to accept that God knows a hell of a lot more about what's going on than you do and there would be some things you don't understand?



I accept that there are some things I don't understand and there are lots of smarter people than me, but to me "mysterious ways" is a tag which basicly says "This makes no sense, but because I hold it to be true because of faith there must be a reason for it though I don't know what it is". I'm absolutely fine with it , but I think it supports my position (And I think Feigns) that belief in god is everything to do with a leap of faith and nothing to do with logic and empirical reasoning.

I think that "mysterious ways" cannot be used in any kind of logical reasoning as they are essentially a get out of jail free card for things that don't make empirical sense.

I think a lot of my stand point comes down to the fact that I am a moral relativist, utilitarian and a materialist and as sutch don't belive in Evil. Feigns point about moral absolutism vs relativism is very interesting, but I won't discuss it here as it needs to be a new thread!
    

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General was bold enough to comment:
I think a lot of my stand point comes down to the fact that I am a moral relativist, utilitarian and a materialist and as sutch don't belive in Evil.



Interestingly enough, most of my beliefs come down to the fact that I am also a moral relativist, utilitarian and a materialist and yet for some reason I cannot shake the belief that God exists. Mainly, I think, because I find the idea that God does not exist a rather bleak one. If there is no God then there's no point, and if there's no point then, well I mean really, what's the point?

Although I have half-heartedly searched for a faith that mirrors my thinking I have yet to find one that truly felt right, even on a superficial level. The only option that was really left to me at that point was to create a belief system that fitted my thinking.




And if you believe in a non interventionist, non omnipotent god in a deterministic universe why not swap the word god for non supernatural causal factor and call yourself an atheist?



If nothing else shouting "oh non-supernatural-causal-factor" when I stub my toe really doesn't work for me
   

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Amanshu was bold enough to comment:

Interestingly enough, most of my beliefs come down to the fact that I am also a moral relativist, utilitarian and a materialist and yet for some reason I cannot shake the belief that God exists. Mainly, I think, because I find the idea that God does not exist a rather bleak one. If there is no God then there's no point, and if there's no point then, well I mean really, what's the point?



I agree that coming to the conclusion that you are alone in a godless universe is a pretty unwelcoming conclusion to come to. I would like it not to be true so that life could continue after death (And so that I could see people that I'd lost again), but my mind steeped in logic and science as it is won't allow me to believe in somthing that my rational mind deems absurd.

I suppose the fact that I can't reconsile the problem of evil in my mind also means that even if I believed in god I would probably be pretty angry with him for letting horrible things happen to inocent people and that would most probably make me loose my marbles.

When it comes to what is the point of it all then I don't see that god really helps in this. If heaven and hell, or reincarnation are real then life is just a pointless sorting exercise based on some abitrary moral code and if Darwin is true and god is false then life is just a struggle to mate, spawn and die. Alternatively if you are an extitentialist then as the only source of free will in the universe then the point of the unierse is what ever you decide it to be which is actually quite exciting!
For myself I think there is no point to existance, but I don't think this is a bad thing.
There isn't really any point in going on a rollercoaster, or listening to music, or recreational sex or lots of other silly things like that, which we all enjoy, but then they are all experiences that are just fun because they are and if life is just a meaningless joyride to enjoy while it lasts then I'm fine with that.
    

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Slightly off-topic, but:

If we accepted a deterministic view of the universe, i.e. that if we knew it's current state we could predict any future state, we would have no free will. However, the law of indeterminacy states that we can never know the state of the universe. The law of indeterminacy is therefore the one thing that grants us free will. Could this therefore, in a sense, be said to be God?

Well, no, as the thing granting us free will would actually be the thing governed by the law of indeterminacy rather than the law itself. In my limited understanding this is pretty much the idea that to measure a 'piece' of light, whatever that may be, you have to bounce another piece off it - like trying to measure the speed of a flying tennis ball by chucking another tennis ball at it. You can draw certain conclusions by what happens to the ball you threw after it bounces off it's target, but you can't know both where the collision occurred and what speed and direction the target ball was moving at.

Additionally, of course, once the target ball has been struck you've just changed the exact quantities you were trying to measure in the first place! In other words, to know the state of every itoa of the universe we'd have to alter every iota of it. There really is no way for us to take a complete stock of events, nor does it seem that there ever could be., counterintuitive as this sounds.

Additionally, other effects at the quantum level, despite being repeatedly proven in many different experiments, are counterintuitive to the point of sheer ludicrousness. They may as well be magic, because they certainly aren't possible according to our ways of thinking about reality.

I suppose what I'm trying to say that maybe there is something deeply supernatural about the world going on in every cell of our beings, every millisecond of every day. It's either that or what we assume to be basic laws of the universe are so completely wrong that we're akin to a caveman trying to catch the moon with a wombat on a stick.

If I was the religious type, I'd probably choose to see this as the manifestation of 'God' in our everyday lives, but I'd prefer to think that maybe one day humanity will get a long enough stick and a really sticky wombat I'm joking, of course - I'd hope that one day we would realise a whole different approach to understanding the situation was needed. Unfortunately, for the time being, it really doesn't look like the actual situation is graspable by our puny human minds.

I think I ought to give up using analogies for New Year
  

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Demian was bold enough to comment:

Stuff about determinism



I don't think I could answer this post without going so far off topic it would be crazy so I'm going to resurect the old Materialism and Free will thread and reply in there.
    

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In the interests of balance, I thought this thread could do with a post from an out-and-proud religious person. So here I am, Christian and trainee lay preacher. Philosophy makes my head hurt though, so you'll have to forgive me if I fail to engage in all the arguments that have been discussed (also, that would take me a week). I thought I'd just write down, as simply as possible, why I believe in God.

I believe in a loving God, with whom we can be in relationship, and I believe that Jesus came to earth, died to redeem our sins (which we've committed because we have free will), and then rose again and ascended into heaven. I was brought up in a Christian family (a slightly wacky liberal one, my Mum's into all kinds of hippie stuff ), but it was never forced on us, and I stopped going to church for a long time when I was a teenager, until I decided for myself that I wanted to be a Christian.

I believe in God, mainly because of very powerful personal experiences. Now, this is going to sound completely bonkers, but bear with me here.

When I pray (by which I mean both a) talk to God in a kind of 'hello God, this is what's going on, this is what I'd like you to do about it, this is what I've done wrong today, and thank you for being God' way, and b) spend time being quiet and still - meditating, basically) I feel like I'm heard. I feel like there's a response. I've had experiences that I can't explain which I can only ascribe to God. Yes, I know this is like believing that there's a thunder god because you don't know why storms happen, but it's tended to be more subtle than that: feeling hands on my shoulders when I pray and there's no-one else there; finding guidance in my life when I've been really lost; experiencing healing. And seeing a sceptic healed - that was highly entertaining (sorry, Gran, but it was).

I'm a bit baffled by why we can't believe in science and God, I believe that God's more than capable of creating a world far more complex than we can understand. I think that there is evil in the world because we have free will, and sometimes that goes badly wrong, but my explanations run out when it comes to things like natural disasters. I'm fantastically frustrated by arguments over things like whether you can be gay and Christian, or believe in abortion and be Christian, or believe in evolution and be Christian. The important bit is believing that Christ died, rose, and will come again. The rest is all peripheral. Interesting, and important, but peripheral. Mind you, a lot of Christians probably think I'm a dangerous heathen. I also can't get my head around the idea that the God I believe in sends good people (or almost any peole, come to that) to hell because they're not Christian. If that's the case I don't want to go heaven, I'm not interested in a god who's that narrow (are you seeing why I get called a heathen?).

I realise that most of my arguments are heavily based on personal experience, and you could write them off as the product of mental illness, crowd theory, coincidence, an inability to deal with life's randomness, the need of a crutch etc. Well, maybe. Believe me, I haven't come to believe what I do without considering those possibilities! But even if there turns out not to be a God, which there might (I have faith, but as I see it part of that is accepting the possibility that you might be wrong), I don't feel like my faith will have done me any harm. It provides me with a structure, a community, a space in which to be still, and a set of morals by which to live my life. Oh, and a career. Of course you can have all of those things without religion, but I think my life would be very empty without God, and my aim is to have God at the centre of my life.

Well, there you go, an entirely unscientific and unphilosophical explanation of my choice to be Christian.
 

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Thank you Gertrude. It was lovely to read that, honestly, really lovely.

As an ex-Christian, I decided about five years ago that I rationally could not accept the existence of God.

My head is now very much like General's (whatever a General's head looks like!) - steeped in science. I also have quite a heavy dose of psychoanalysis influencing me, which is ultimately a working towards a deterministic view of how the mind processes experiences into behaviour and feelings.

But, get this... at a time in my life that has never been more stressful and in some ways more lonely, I still find it an amazing comfort to pray. Weird, I know. There's me praying, but not knowing what I'm praying to, due to the fact I don't believe in God. Yet it still helps.

The conclusion I've come to about this is vague. I have decided that the feeling may come from prayer being a security blanket I relied heavily on as a child and that psychologically there is some benefit to consciously stating behaviour and feelings - in that it better helps the mind to understand and deal with them.

Ultimately though, I have to admit that there is something obtained from having a strong faith that is then missing when you lose it. I agree with Gertrude that it is more than an emotional crutch or a set of morals to hide behind. It is something more integral to the human psyche.

My belief is that there is still a scientific explanation behind it all and prayer is, as much of religion is, a symbolic act representing something we do not yet understand. Still, funny, eh?

I'm starting to ramble... I'll end there.

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Gertrude was bold enough to comment:
I also can't get my head around the idea that the God I believe in sends good people (or almost any peole, come to that) to hell because they're not Christian. If that's the case I don't want to go heaven, I'm not interested in a god who's that narrow


I quite agree, this has always been one of my big issues with the hard line Christian ethic, equally scary evil murdery pillagery people go to heaven simply if they believe and repent on their death bed.
I worked with a few Free Presbyterians in Belfast who actually believed that only they got to go to heaven because even other Christian traditions don't believe strongly enough. Admittedly they also believe that the Earth's atmosphere used to be super dense with water which made everyone live for hundreds of years and then God created the flood by condensing it and formed the oceans in the same strike. They never gave me anything other than an awkward silence when I asked where the ocean creatures came from when according to their tradition all the animals were created on the same day a long time previously.
In another thread Malcolm mentioned Richard Dawkins describing the Creationist idea that there are things in the world that are too complicated to have evolved as 'the argument from personal incredulity', I also think a lot of my arguments to such bizarre notions come from a similar point of view - I can provide scientific rationality if I must but my initial counter is always something along the lines of 'Well clearly that's completely ridiculous you strange person'.

Personally I have no problem with the 'third way' idea that yeah clearly evolution happens and the universe has been around for a chuffing long time but the big fella kicked off the big bang. Since science can't even explain how all that happenned yet an 'overlord' theory is at least an ethos.
I'm also fine with there having been a fella called Jesus who did some good teachings and became a martyr for his cause. However I've never really understood how him dying (although not actually dying apparently) was to redeem our sins...
I'm really not cool with creationism being taught as a true alternative to evolution. There is physical evidence of evolution, they even found the 'missing link' a couple of years back. Anything without physical evidence is more than welcome to take its place in a religious studies or philosophy classroom but never in a science classroom. America is already receding into the dark ages in this area (thanks to Bush completely disregarding the first amendment) and we're looking dangerously like we're heading that way.

I can't come up with a sufficient argument against a deterministic reality (although I don't know much about quantum physics and chaos theory that may provide the loophole) yet no-one will ever convince me that I don't have free will. To me that means that I have some belief in the supernatural because there are forces within me that can twist the laws of physics to leave me in control of my actions. Call it the soul of you will. However I don't have any belief that this part of me was created by an intelligent entity (unless you count my parents ) or that my life would be any more fulfilling if I had conviction that it was.
Sure an afterlife would be nice but how about this for an idea of immortality - having children, raising them with good values to have kindness, honesty and integrity and doing your best to leave the world in a good state for the future generations

Sure I can have my cake and eat it - I just need two cakes :)
    

Mrsham
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5th Jan '07
I really love this thread. Respectful, thought-provoking, great stuff. It's made me go away and look at the Bright position long and hard - I've been a fan of Mr Dawkins since reading Selfish Gene at uni. He hasn't converted me yet though

I don't feel like I've made a leap of faith in the sense of suspending disbelief; there is an undercurrent in some Christian circles that doubt is bad - that belief should be certainty, or it's somehow inferior. I'm quite prepared to accept that (in the words of an Anglican priest) "we might be backing the wrong horse". For me, the leap of faith is more to do with committing oneself to a God-centred life despite the risk that it's all a heap of baloney. I'm a pretty cautious person however, and I do feel that I have decent personal reasons for doing so. Like the 'trude, these reasons are very much bound up with my life as it has been lived thus far, and are convincing from my point of view, but possibly a little too personal for a public forum If anyone is interested I'm generally happy to share on a more private level - it's nothing too traumatic or earth-shaking, I'm just quite English about these things.

I primarily encounter God (or believe I encounter God) in other people; for me God is relational and is best understood in terms of relationship. Faith is thus not an abstract checkbox type thing - I believe x,y,z, so I'm saved - but a trust type thing. I'm not particularly interested in the afterlife - I know I probably should be - my concept of heaven/hell is quite an earthy thing. When i read the gospels, it seems it's all about heaven breaking in to hellish situations in the here and now. ("oooooh, heaven is a place on earth"...) Theories of what happens when we die are by definition pure speculation, although I'm willing to take this one on trust. If what I believe about God is the case, we'll all be fine (he says glibly). I don't believe God's in the business of eternally separating families and friends, or maintaining (or allowing to exist) an everlasting torture dungeon.

I absolutely believe in an interventionist God (I couldn't really be a Christian if I didn't at least to some degree) although I have difficulty with omnipotence as it's usually expressed . I don't really believe that God is all powerful (good grief, did I just write that?), or at least, I don't see how that attribute helps me understand God. What I find very much more interesting is that God - as I understand God - displays weakness and vulnerability.

I know much of this leaves me open to the pick'n'mix accusation - pick the nice bits, chuck out the crap bits - which is a fair point. Seat of the pants theology suits me fine though (isn't it just doublethink to believe in something you think is a load of rubbish?) - and I hope I'm guided a bit by my brain and my experience of life and God therein.

As for the problem of evil/suffering, well, it's a pisser and no mistake, notwithstanding that I've just kicked omnipotency into touch... It's the biggest challenge to my having faith. The only answer I can give is in terms of my particular faith, and centres on a God who suffers with us; it's not really an answer in the sense of "ah, that's alright then", and begs a whole lot more difficult questions. Maybe that's doublethink too, but I choose not to believe so
 

Gertrude
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Fri 13th Apr '07 6:58PM
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Just to add to what Mrsham said: I believe that even if I do turn out to be wrong about Christianity, I think I can live with that (or die with it), because following the principles it sets out for me helps me to live my life in a way that feels moral and responsible. Of course I know that you don't need a religion to allow you to do that, but what I'm trying to say is that I'll never regret being part of something that's given my life a structure and purpose and landed me in various wonderful communities. I suppose you could argue that it's a crutch, but I don't go along with that, because there are (very) hard bits to it as well. Being in community with people I don't like, loving my neighbour when I'd really rather poke her in the eye (not blessed with joy, our neighbour), getting up at stupid times on a Sunday morning to go to Church (I'm deeply lazy), forgiving people when I really really don't want to (that's the big one for me). But I believe that doing all of this makes me a better person and the world a better place, and as a byproduct of all that, there are times when it makes me amazingly, amazingly happy. So even if it doesn't win me eternal life, I think it helps my earthly one.
 

Spanners*
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Fri 20th Apr '07 4:36PM
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Gertrude was bold enough to comment:
I believe that doing all of this makes me a better person and the world a better place, and as a byproduct of all that, there are times when it makes me amazingly, amazingly happy. So even if it doesn't win me eternal life, I think it helps my earthly one.


That's fantastically well put and illustrates by far the best feature of (a fair proportion of) religious thinking. I in no way believe that person can't be equally kind, caring, forgiving and charitable without religion in their lives but if it directly leads some people to a better way of life then fair play.
    

Mrsham
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Fri 11th May '07 1:52PM
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5th Jan '07
I'm finally nearing the end of "The God Delusion" so I've been thinking about this a bit more. I think my last post here inadvertantly brought us into the "is religion good/bad" debate that General was specifically trying to avoid - sorry! - so I'll try again.



General was bold enough to comment way up the thread:
belief in god is everything to do with a leap of faith and nothing to do with logic and empirical reasoning



I think empirical reasoning has played a part in my acceptance of the existence of God, depending on what you're prepared to accept as empirical evidence! It's personal experience and thus not part of the scientific corpus; but it is sensory evidence. Because it's personal to me, it's not necessarily going to be convincing to anyone else; as I've said earlier there's room for doubt. (Although I find corroborating evidence in other people's stories and experiences.) On the other hand, and I'm now being contentious, I suspect almost everyone holds some sort of belief based on a similar sort of evidence. And I expect to get a response to that statement

Of course, since I haven't told you what this evidence is its a little hard for anyone reading this to make a judgment as to whether my interpretation of it (that God is involved) is any good. But my point is simply that for me - and I know for others too - a belief in God isn't a leap out of nowhere, but is based on reasoning based on a sort of evidence. The reasoning may be flawed, but that's another question!

Why God if he/she exists isn't more evident than he/she is is too big a question for me to contemplate on a lunch break without getting indigestion so I'll stop here!
 

General*
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Fri 11th May '07 2:32PM
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I'm glad this thread is still ticking along it's always a source of interest to me



Mrsham was bold enough to comment:
I'm finally nearing the end of "The God Delusion" so I've been thinking about this a bit more.



I haven't read The God Delusion in its entirety yet, but I must say I'm not a big fan of it. I love Dawkins and his books on evolutionary biology, but he isn't a theologist and I think his agressive "Darwins Rotweiler" style gives Atheists like myself a bit of a bad name amongst believers.
Personaly I find John Gribbin to be the author that makes me proud to be an Atheist. "Deep Simplicity" a book which explains how order can spring from chaos is a close to perfect as a popular science book can be.



General was bold enough to comment way up the thread:
belief in god is everything to do with a leap of faith and nothing to do with logic and empirical reasoning





Mrsham was bold enough to comment
I think empirical reasoning has played a part in my acceptance of the existence of God, depending on what you're prepared to accept as empirical evidence! It's personal experience and thus not part of the scientific corpus; but it is sensory evidence. Because it's personal to me.



Could you elaborate on that?
I don't think that is what I would really call Empirical evidence as I tend to think of any thing Empirical as somthing you could reproducably test with some kind of experiment.
    

Spanners*
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Sat 12th May '07 8:11AM
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General was bold enough to comment:
I love Dawkins and his books on evolutionary biology, but he isn't a theologist and I think his agressive "Darwins Rotweiler" style gives Atheists like myself a bit of a bad name amongst believers.



I very much agree with this. He's a very clever chap but he puts so much aggression into his work that he really takes the power away from what he's saying. I particularly saw this in 'The Root of All Evil?', the two part series he did on Channel 4 last year. He just seemed so angry all the time that, were I not familiar with his intelligent and more reasonable work, I would have turned off.
    

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