Why we believe.

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I’ve seen quite a few things lately* along the lines of this article, which describes how the author believes in god because of the glory of the night sky and the infinity of space (although the concept of a midnight cappuccino traumatised me and I had to have a lie down before finishing the article). He speaks to why he believes in god, and how looking out into space is, he believes, beautiful and amazing proof.

I love astronomy and one of my happiest memories is looking through a little telescope at Saturn when I was very young. I can still remember that sight so vividly, and the feel and the smell of that night. I have very few memories of my childhood, but many that I’ve held onto involve being outside at night, on my own, looking into space.

But you know what? Looking at the night sky doesn’t increase my belief in god in anyway at all. I find wonderful and majestic and still spend a lot of time outside at night but there’s nothing that I see that makes me think ‘this proves god’. But I would indignantly say (if anyone questioned me) that my appreciation isn’t limited at all by that fact. I feel the same way now that I’m a kind-of-believer than I did when I was a very-much-convinced atheist. Inexplicably moved and a little emotional and amazed.

The basis of my belief lies in other areas completely (I discussed that here so I won’t bore you again) but it seems to me that how we fall into belief varies enormously. Some people are brought up with it and don’t question (similar to the basis of my deep love of Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention, I suppose. Indoctrination) and others find their way there by other means. I’m getting much better at accepting (truly accepting, rather than just saying it) that everyone experiences things differently and their experience is valid even if I don’t understand it. Or like it.

That said, the circular logic of ‘I believe in god because the bible tells me so and god inspired the bible’ leaves me cold and perplexed but it works for some people so… OK, maybe I’m not that great and accepting everything.

*Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, anyone?

49 thoughts on “Why we believe.

  1. I believe in God because it makes more sense to me. This wonderful, intricate universe could not just be a big accidental happening. Then I believe in Jesus because of what is in the Bible and that men who wrote the New Testament actually knew him!

  2. Personally, I’m getting to a point of understanding more of a middle ground between belief and unbelief. There is an order to things in the universe, and who’s to say where that order originated. On the other hand, there is chaos out there as well. The universe isn’t a perfect creation, and evidence of the Big Bang continues to grow.

    People really need to wise up and realize that there is truth on both sides of the God argument, but that neither side is the full truth. Unfortunately, I think our tribal instincts may be partially to blame for that predicament.

    • I think that middle ground is the point at which you can have a huge degree of compassion and understanding so it’s a good place to be.

  3. Very thought-provoking article. I’m not sure I could say that the magnificence of the universe is “proof” of God’s existence. But it certainly offers evidence to be examined.
    We all tend to interpret evidence based on a predisposition to belief or disbelief. So I suppose my response would be that the awesomeness of astronomical marvels increases my appreciation and reverence for the God I already worship.

  4. Hi Eva, this is an interesting coincidence.

    I have just posted a link to that article myself. I read Benjamin’s blog regularly, but I was a little surprised to see you had discovered it too.

    I appreciated the article. While the night sky impresses him, I think his logic is that he can’t believe everything that exists arose out of nothing. So he has to believe that either the universe or God has always existed, and he thinks God makes more sense.

    I agree with that logic, though of course it has its critics too!

    • Although the fact that he was saying ‘this is how I’ve come to this and my atheist BFF doesn’t agree and that’s cool’ and the commenters feel the need to tell him why he is WRONG AND TOTALLY WRONG is irritating but typical. In understand that some atheists feel persecuted and misunderstood etc but they’re not addressing the actual people who are doing it, I think. Spend less time ranting at fairly moderate believers and more time making creationists cry, that’s what I’d like to see.

    • I tend to consider an option that seems to be often overlooked – that our universe may simply be a part of an even larger system of other universes and that there are even bigger things going on out there than we can even begin to comprehend.

      The Big Bang may just be a small blip in the greater scheme of things. We just seem to have a universe-centric view – much like our ancestors once had an Earth-centric view.

      • Jason that is actually a scientific hypothesis, as you may be aware, sometimes known as the multiverse. It is postulated (without any real evidence so far) that the multiverse consists of zillions of universes like ours.

        The thing is, the same argument applies to the multiverse as to the universe. Either something started out of nothing, or something has always existed. It is hard to believe the first, so it seems most likely it was the second. But if the second, then it’s not so likely to be the universe or the multiverse, because physical things tend to run down and in infinite time would run down infinitely. So more likely the eternal thing is non physical, which caused the physical. And you can see where that line of thinking is going.

        That’s the same argument, and it makes sense to me.

        • That argument applies to deities too, I hope you do realize. Either always been there or came out of nothing. I don’t see where there’s any difference, aside from that constantly larger systems tends to be a pattern in what we are able to observe.

          Where that pattern ends and how it came to be is anyone’s guess.

          • Hi Jason, I did consider that, when I said: “But if the second, then it’s not so likely to be the universe or the multiverse, because physical things tend to run down and in infinite time would run down infinitely. So more likely the eternal thing is non physical, which caused the physical.”

            So there is a good philosophical reason to prefer a non-physical being existing eternally and out of time than to think of a physical entity existing eternally within time. But obviously everyone makes their own choice at this point.

            • Ah, like a multidimensional sort of view. I’m not too familiar with much of that line of thought. It’s beyond anything I am able to connect with. But I guess the possibilities are really as endless as our imagination – and reality could even be beyond that.

  5. The path to believing in some god through wonder and awe is fine and dandy… people have always filled in the unknown to be ‘evidence’ of divine causal agency (Don’t know? Godidit. Maybe spirits, demons, muses, etc…). People then associate these feelings to be an access point through which we come into ‘contact’ with the divine (the feelings we call love are used as ‘evidence’ in exactly the same way).

    The problem arises when this self-created association between feelings and ‘evidence for the divine’ is applied outwards and held to be accurate by fiat. This assumption causes harm when acted upon. The assumption is that if someone doesn’t believe in some divine causal agency, then that person doesn’t experience awe and wonder (and probably love)! This is a remarkably common yet ridiculously stupid assumption that continues to empower the false belief that the non believer is lacking or denying something rather important: a common humanity or a dullness towards experiencing a full and meaningful life.

    What’s fascinating to me is how common it is for people to do this – associate feelings they have with an exterior causal agency (as Bill Cosby’s childhood character so often exclaimed as an excuse, “The Devil made me do it!”). We know the source of all our feelings is a chemical change in our brains. We know chemical changes are caused by neural firings. We know we can manipulate these firings (and even induce feelings). We know we can respond to these feelings in different ways – from complete inaction to behaviours we might not otherwise ever condone. We may not understand why encountering another person, for example, causes massive chemical cascades that evoke incredible levels of emotional responses but the answers to how and why this happens is not furthered by assuming some external agency is manipulating our brains in order to puppet our behaviours towards some unknown goal. That’s how you get inquisitions and witch trials (“Since she looked askance at me cow – and used her dark powers – she caused its milk to sour. We’d best burn her to death and rid her of her demonic possession.”)

    Assuming causal effect by an external agency for our internal feelings and desires (how handy that these ‘agencies’ just so happen to be not just invisible but without any physical properties whatsoever… suspiciously like something that is wholly imaginative) means that to then act on them is a guaranteed way to shift personal responsibility for our behaviours from ourselves to this agency.. and thus excuse our role in causing effects by our behaviours to others. (It wasn’t me that chopped off your head, you see… I was acting as an agent of Allah and imposing His divine justice, you see). This is the kind of result we should expect to find if we actually believe in a demon haunted world. Such a belief reduces us from being independent moral agents responsible for our personal behaviours and turns us – with a willing heart filled with piety and loyalty to our chosen Dear Leader – into automatons ready to do the bidding of those who claim to give voice to the desires of this ‘divine agency’.

    The same giving up of personal autonomy is as responsible for producing the same kind of automaton behaviour wherever we find it used… from Jonestown to the Vatican, from Tienanmen Square to Auschwitz, from the Kremlin to ISIS. Cult behaviour requires the belief that we are not our own masters and therefore not responsible for our own behaviours.

    Because some of us do not fall into this honey-laden trap (it’s hard being a responsible and moral person and acting accordingly), we are distrusted not for anything we do but because we raise the specter that maybe, just maybe, some of our ‘pious’ assumptions are really disguised levels of gullibility and credulity that should make us blush with shame at our foolish and childish notions… notions such as the one that assumes feelings of awe and wonder are the domain of some god.

    • This assumption causes harm when acted upon. The assumption is that if someone doesn’t believe in some divine causal agency, then that person doesn’t experience awe and wonder (and probably love)! This is a remarkably common yet ridiculously stupid assumption that continues to empower the false belief that the non believer is lacking or denying something rather important: a common humanity or a dullness towards experiencing a full and meaningful life.

      The idea that a believer simply “assumes” the existence of God based on feelings is a misunderstanding.
      And the statement that this leads to an assumption (by believers) that non-believers are incapable of awe and wonder (or feelings of affection) is not accurate. However, we do recognize your refusal to attribute the existence of such breathtaking imagery to the work of a divine Architect.

      Cult behaviour requires the belief that we are not our own masters and therefore not responsible for our own behaviours.
      Belief that we are not our own masters might predispose some to cultic indoctrination…but it isn’t true for everyone.
      If you wish to assume that Christians are brainwashed cultists, it is your prerogative. However, responsibility for one’s behavior does not require a disbelief in God. Nowhere in the Bible are people exempted from the consequences of our choices.

    • Yeah, but since neither the author of the article or I or indeed anyone I actually know seem I feel the distrust towards non believers that you say you experience, then maybe you should hang out with us more. But then again I ( or, again, people I know) wouldn’t say that you make ridiculously stupid assumptions and assume superiority so maybe that wouldn’t work out that well after all.

      • Eva, you write I find wonderful and majestic and still spend a lot of time outside at night but there’s nothing that I see that makes me think ‘this proves god’.

        Granted.

        But to what are you referring, then? Well, you’re referring (generally) to the idea that such wonder and majesty in nature indicates to many people evidence for a creator god. I’m unpacking that idea, clarifying first that the meaning of such terms as ‘wonder’ and ‘majesty’ is in fact a biological response… a powerful emotional response. That’s the source of wonder: our biology. That’s the source of our awe: our biology. Yet it is this emotional response that indicates to many people that it isn’t us causing the feeling of wonder and majesty but ‘evidence’ that some powerful causal agency is responsible for it.

        I’m pointing out a darker side to that assumption, namely, that people who do not believe are then subject to suspicion by those who hold the assumption that feelings of wonder and majesty evoked by encounter nature indicate god. These are the folk who suspect that atheists do not not believe because they have not encountered (or may not be capable of experiencing) such powerful emotional responses (the assumption being that if they had such experiences, then they too would come to believe in some god). I’m pointing out that this is both a common occurrence and a ridiculously stupid assumption.

        I think this needs saying. I think people who assume feelings of wonder and majesty indicate god need to be told straight up that those who do not believe are in no way retarded from sharing exactly those same feelings.

        You equate my point here – beware the darker side of assuming that nature’s beauty is an indication of god (surely we can agree this a common enough meme) – to be an accusation against you about distrusting atheists. No. My point remains that we need to be aware that the nature’s-power-to-evoke-feelings-of-awe-and-wonder is neither evidence for any god’s existence nor – it’s flip side- an indication that atheists do not experience exactly the same amount of awe and wonder.

        • But I don’t think that it’s ‘dark’ and a bad experience for you when people don’t think you’re capable of experiencing the majesty and glory of god or what ever the hell it is. It’s a bit patronising but I can assure you I feel far more patronised by getting schooled by people who think I’m now misguided and assume things about me than I ever did when I was atheist. I just said that the fact that I experience the same amount of awe at night now as then proves nothing to me.

          Sure, some people may find you undeveloped or whatever because you don’t believe in god but not me. Don’t believe, do believe, knock yourself out. But I don’t think that it’s a dark and terrible thing just because people don’t think that you have all of the feelings all of the time. Although, I don’t know your personal life circumstances so maybe you are persecuted. Remember, I was once essentially you only with a slightly more refined ability to précis. And for gods sake, don’t take that statement as meaning ‘now I have seen the light and one day you will too’. I’ve just made different choices. You’ve made it abundantly clear that you think those are misguided and stupid, I’ve never said similar about your beliefs.

  6. I think people who assume feelings of wonder and majesty indicate god need to be told straight up that those who do not believe are in no way retarded from sharing exactly those same feelings.

    Thus far, you are the only one on this thread who has suggested that believers would think this way.

      • Tildeb, I think your comments miss two things:

        1. As Heather said, no-one here has said the things you suggest. I don’t think anyone doubts that non-believers and believers alike can wonder at the heavens – it is the conclusions we each draw that are different.

        2. Eva focused on one part of the article, and said a sense of wonder didn’t lead her to believe in God. The article actually said the same – Benjamin said that it was logic that convinced him. Here’s a quote:

        “You see, when looking at the universe, the atheist and theist face the same dilemma of two choices: either matter spontaneously came to exist (nothing created something) or, something has eternally existed (either God or matter itself). These are simple options, yet deeply complex at the same time. For me, I am just unable to believe that at some point nothing existed and at a later point everything existed- without a creator who caused things to come to exist at a starting point.”

        That is a succinct summary of a logical argument with two millennia of history challenging those who attempt to prove it or refute it. You presumably believe you can refute it, but it is surely fair to at least recognise that it is a logical argument and not able to be explained away by a psychological explanation alone.

        • Perhaps I should also add this quote:

          “For me, the option that nothing existed (no matter) then everything existed (all matter) without there being a creator to cause it all into existence, makes as little sense to me as a God belief makes to them. That leaves me with the option that something must have eternally existed (matter or God), and when it comes to that option, believing a creator eternally existed just seems to make more sense (though both options are bit mind boggling.)”

        • If you wish to find out about the cosmos, religion is not the way to do it.
          If you wish to find out about the cosmos, philosophy is not the way to do it.
          If you wish to find out about the cosmos, metaphysics is not the way to do it.

          None of these approaches looks to the cosmos to provide answers. All get caught up in their own framework of axioms and conclusions derived thereof.

          If you wish to find out about the cosmos, look to the cosmos. Study cosmology and the fields it contains that really does produce knowledge about the cosmos (that’s why the conversation has switched to physics and quantum mechanics). As for origins, I don’t know and neither do you. We don’t have the knowledge. You can’t slip god into our ignorance and claim the belief is an equivalently sufficient answer. It’s a non-answer, a pseudo-answer that opens the gate to all kinds of beliefs contingent on the core belief about some creative divine agency being true. That’s not how you gain knowledge but a guaranteed method to fool yourself into believing your beliefs describe the cosmos when, in fact, they are imposed on it and then assumed to be true.

          Look, I understand that the OP did not accuse atheists of not being able to wonder and experience awe at the majesty of the cosmos. I was simply pointing out that for those who do link the grandeur of nature as evidence for some god has a very dark side that atheists pay for. I thought of this when I read Eva’s self-description as “a very-much-convinced atheist”. Non belief is not a convincing argument in and of itself (anymore than one is ‘convinced’ faeries don;t live in the garden or the Easter Bunny isn’t a real bunny). one either empowers belief for justified reasons or one does not (usually due to a lack of compelling reasons for the belief). then thought to better explain the emotion of amazement encountered that she termed ‘inexplicable’ when it’s not inexplicable at all but very much part of our biology.

          If one wishes to find out about our emotional response to amazement, religion is not the way to do it.
          If one wishes to find out about our emotional response to amazement, philosophy is not the way to do it.
          If one wishes to find out about our emotional response to amazement, metaphysics is not the way to do it.

          None of these approaches looks to the neurological basis of what we call our emotional response to provide answers. All get caught up in their own framework of axioms and conclusions derived thereof.

          See a trend here?

          Logic is not a knowledge producing method. It is a tool we use and is only as good as the premises we select. When we use the wrong subjects to harvest our premises (as I’ve pointed out here in cosmology and neuroscience), the conclusions reached are not descriptive of what it is we are trying to describe, namely, reality. They are only descriptive of our beliefs we have imported into this discussion and then falsely advertised as a discussion about these areas of reality. They’re not. They are about beliefs and produce zero knowledge.

          • Tildeb,

            Perhaps you don’t realize that not everyone is preoccupied with the accumulation of knowledge.

            Some people actually enjoy the process of learning. And, for Christians, at least, the journey will often reveal evidence which brings joy over the care God took with the intricacy of cell design or amazement at the revelation of His power in the vastness of the cosmos.
            It is a personal interaction with a personal Creator.

            I’m sorry this is not your experience but that does not mean others are imagining it or that we should abandon our faith.

            • Heather, I’m not preoccupied with the accumulation of knowledge. But I recognize a knowledge claim when I see it. When there is no knowledge to inform it – the very definition of what constitutes a faith-based claim – we should not make such claims as if they were. And if we dress up a faith-based claim as if it were a knowledge based claim, then we should reasonably expect to be criticized for mixing them up. The mix up matters a very great deal when its use – when faith-based claims are used to inform public policies and procedures – effects others.

              The notion of creationism, for example, continues to present an incompatibility of claims with understanding why evolution is true. This mix up between a faith-based claim about a divine causal agency poofing stuff into existence and the knowledge-based claim describing the mechanics of how change actually occurs to life over time is the root problem when in conflict. Each of us, regardless of any beliefs we may hold, are indeed related to pre-Cambrian blood worms through our shared ancestry. But you will never, ever, understand why this is a knowledge claim backed up by multiple lines of inquiry demonstrated to be an accurate model of how life on earth has changed over time (and whose mechanics are used to inform technologies, therapies, and applications that work for everyone everywhere all the time) when you elevate your belief about a creator god to be an equivalently informed claim. It isn’t. It’s a belief claim empty of knowledge (that therefore and demonstrably answers nothing) that when exercised by people confused between the types of claims imposes on real people in real life a mis- and distrust of knowledge (and how we accumulate it) and provides an impetus to promote anti-intellectual superstitious notions on young people in the form of piety. Confusing belief with knowledge causes harm through confusing ignorance with knowledge.

              And we see this same harm caused by imposing beliefs (based on faith claims contrary to knowledge claims) on people every day. Each of us – if we wish to see ourselves as respectful and compassionate people – has a responsibility to not harm others when we become aware of causing this harm. Confusing faith-based belief claims with knowledge-based claims is a problem each of us has to overcome if we wish to not harm others.

          • ” I thought of this when I read Eva’s self-description as “a very-much-convinced atheist”

            I was very much convinced that I was right and everyone else is wrong. You know, the kind of mind set that causes division and antagonism and the phenomenon of trying to foist your opinion on anyone else who is unenlightened enough not to share your views.

            ‘…explain the emotion of amazement encountered that she termed ‘inexplicable’ when it’s not inexplicable at all but very much part of our biology.’

            You know, your ability to create arguments out of one throw away word probably written by me at 3am is reaching a kind of Zapruda-esque level of analysis.

          • Hi Tildeb, I do see a trend here.

            “If you wish to find out about the cosmos, religion is not the way to do it.”

            If I want to find out scientific facts about the cosmos (which I do), I trust science (which I do – I love cosmology!). But if I want to find out about how the cosmos got here, and so “finely tuned”, science can’t tell me, and I have to look elsewhere.

            ” As for origins, I don’t know and neither do you.”

            Well it depends on the meaning you give to “know”, but if used in the philosophical sense of justified belief then I do indeed “know”. You agree that you don’t “know” and I am suggesting to you that is because you close yourself off from the required means of knowing.

            “None of these approaches looks to the neurological basis of what we call our emotional response to provide answers. “

            I am also a fan of the science of religion, as we have discussed before, so “my religion” does look to neuroscience for the things neuroscience can tell us, but not to the things that neuroscience cannot tell us.

            So I think you are mistaken about my beliefs. But that is all by the by, I want to look at another trend here, and see if we can make peace.

            Heather, Eva and I all have different beliefs – I am a christian who accepts big bang cosmology, evolution, etc; as I understand it, Heather is a christian who has a different view; while Eva is an “aspirational agnostic” whose belief may be developing and changing. But do you notice that we don’t argue with each other and we don’t tell each other “you are wrong”. Rather we share our views and take an interest in the other person’s views.

            Contrast that with your approach here. I recognise that it is sometimes difficult to be the one atheist on a generally “spiritual” blog (I have been in the same but opposite position many times!), but your approach is in marked contrast – you feel free to tell us where we are undoubtedly wrong and impute motives and attitudes to us that we don’t necessarily hold. Look at these very definite statements from this last post of yours (I have highlighted a few words):

            “If you wish to find out about the cosmos, religion is not the way to do it.”
            “I don’t know and neither do you.”
            “It’s a non-answer, a pseudo-answer that opens the gate to all kinds of beliefs contingent on the core belief about some creative divine agency being true.That’s not how you gain knowledge but a guaranteed method to fool yourself into believing your beliefs describe the cosmos when, in fact, they are imposed on it and then assumed to be true.”
            “beliefs we have imported into this discussion and then falsely advertised as a discussion about these areas of reality. They’re not. They are about beliefs and produce zero knowledge.”

            I am reminded of Billy Chrystal in “The Princess Bride” – “Look who knows so much!” If you don’t know, why are you being so definite? If neurology explains belief, it explains your unbelief as much as it explain my belief, making definite statements self-contradictory. Worse, such definite and derogatory statements are rude and get other people offside, divert the discussion and almost force other people to reply – I doubt you behave this way in real life (at least I hope you don’t!).

            So I want to offer you an olive branch. Why don’t you go to the “Introduce yourself” page and tell us who you are and what you’d like us to know about you? Then join this little community as an equal and welcome member who respects other people even while disagreeing with them? Eva and I are Aussies and most of our friends, relatives and workmates are not christians, so we are quite used to talking with non-believers, and if you take a different attitude, there need be no hassles. I would really like to be friends rather than semi-enemies.

            What do you say?

            • I think bad ideas deserve criticism. Masquerading faith-based beliefs to be ‘another way of knowing’ as knowledge claims is a really bad idea, unkleE. Now revisit those bold-faced snippets you have highlighted and look at them. These are not personal attacks; these are legitimate criticisms of effect from using a broken method.

              I can’t help it if people invest emotional content into their faith-beliefs and I can’t help it if people are offended when these bad ideas are exposed to be empty of knowledge value. There is no difference in method between religious faith-based claims purporting to be knowledge and those that supposedly inform all kinds of alternative medicines, global conspiracies, climate change denialism, anti-evolution, anti-intellectual, anti-vaccination, anti-pharmaceutical, anti-fluoridation, anti-wifi, and so on that similarly purport to be based on some (usually) arcane ‘knowledge’. Reiki, homeopathy, tea leaves, dowsing, palm reading, ghost hunting, exorcism – the list is very, very long – all utilize exactly the same method of masquerading faith-based beliefs as ‘another kind of knowledge’ and then excusing all these beliefs from the same standard of knowledge we use to find out misplaced house keys. All of these faith-based ideas are protected by those claiming the emotional investment in the belief that they are true, that they accurately model a reality we share, means that in polite society we must then exempt them from legitimate criticism.

              Bollocks. That’s apologetics and misguided accommodationism hard at work… to pernicious effect when too many people go along to get along and these ideas are allowed to go uncriticized.

              Bad ideas deserve criticism… especially when they cause pernicious effect when acted upon..And the grandfather of bad ideas is believing that belief invested with emotion can accurately describe the reality we share and somehow produce an equivalent kind of knowledge compared with and contrasted to a method that does model reality accurately and allows us to find those misplaced house keys: by allowing reality to arbitrate the beliefs for their justification (and the confidence that has been earned). Using the method of investing hope and confidence in faith-based belief to (supposedly) investigate reality and (supposedly) find answers to questions ‘science’ can’t answer is a broken method. It doesn’t work. It does not produce a model that can be used to further our knowledge about anything. This claim I’ve just made is testable. Simply produce one piece of knowledge obtained by the use of this ‘other way of knowing’ to demonstrate its power to accurately model reality.

              Go ahead. Try. Knock yourself out.

              This is a pretty powerful clue that maybe – just maybe – the emotional investment in the faith-based method has not paid dividends. It certainly hasn’t paid any knowledge dividends. It hasn’t done so because it’s not a knowledge method… of any kind.

              This means that when a faith-based claim is presented as a knowledge claim, it deserves – every time – to be criticized for false advertising. It deserves to be exposed for the fraud it is and let the emotional investments people make in these frauds be at the very least privatized but, hopefully, better applied to the method that does work as advertized.

              The hostility you want to apply to me is only directed at these bad ideas in the form of legitimate and valuable criticism. It’s not personal; it’s epistemological. The faith-based belief method doesn’t work to produce knowledge – ever – and that’s a brute fact that seems to anger many people when it’s pointed out that this faith-based Emperor wears no clothes. Well, I’m angry when my team loses but the score is still the score no matter how much emotional investment I make in wishing it were otherwise. I don’t get angry at the other team for playing a better game and I don’t take the loss as a personal affront that must be put aside by polite society so that I can continue to believe my team is a winner when it is not. My team needs to improve when the evidence from reality shows them to be unable to win. The trust and confidence placed in the play of faith-based beliefs versus the play of evidence-adduced beliefs needs to be reassigned because that faith-based team cannot improve. Once reality is put aside to make room for the faith-based method there is no longer any means to do so. This is the final nail in the faith-based method’s coffin: a fatal methodological failure.

              You want to blame the messenger. i understand. I have thick skin. But do yourself a favour and understand how a Ponzi scheme works… and then revisit why you wish to continue to invest your confidence in a known fraudster called Faith-Based Belief.

                • I will tell you that I have been stalked, my home vandalized, and my family subjected to threats of violence for me enunciating my opinions about public issues and been forced to move. I take my anonymity seriously not to spite anyone, not to say spiteful things and avoid responsibility for saying them, nor hide my ideas and opinions from the criticism of others but to respect the privacy my family deserves.

                  I will also tell you I am Canadian, a parent, a professional, and attended a year of elementary school in Sydney. The parallels between the two countries and the issues we face – especially the challenge of geography – are significant. I also think almost the entire skying staff at Whistler are Aussies – with few Kiwis and South Africans thrown into the mix just to keep the rest of guessing which accent belongs to which home country.

  7. Hey Eva, I remember the Baader-Meinhof Gang, but I don’t get your reference to the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. Care to enlighten my feeble brain???

    • it’s when you hear about something or see something for the first time and then see that same thing again and again. You know, you buy a pea-green car and then all you see are pea-green cars. Or you read an article about how order in nature proves God and then everyone seems to be blogging about it. Which you and I then promptly did, so that’s a lovely synchronicity (why is spell check telling me that’s wrong??).

  8. Tildeb
    But I recognize a knowledge claim when I see it. When there is no knowledge to inform it – the very definition of what constitutes a faith-based claim – we should not make such claims as if they were

    This is perhaps true if all evidence pointed strictly to a naturalistic existence. Simply being disconnected from (or in denial of) spiritual reality does not mean this realm is non-existent.

    Each of us, regardless of any beliefs we may hold, are indeed related to pre-Cambrian blood worms through our shared ancestry.

    Or, the similarities between human life and that of animals can simply be evidence of a common Creator.

    And we see this same harm caused by imposing beliefs (based on faith claims contrary to knowledge claims) on people every day. Each of us – if we wish to see ourselves as respectful and compassionate people – has a responsibility to not harm others when we become aware of causing this harm

    Harm can most certainly occur from imposing any belief (including atheistic enlightenment principles) on those who do not agree with its claims to authority. That is why I am willing to engage your concerns from my perspective without forcibly shoving my Christian faith down your throat.

    • Two points.

      You say in response to the blood worms ancestry Or, the similarities between human life and that of animals can simply be evidence of a common Creator.

      This does nothing to ‘answer’ why DNA of different species contains the identical genetic changes in non functional DNA altered by ancient viruses. It makes no sense to suggest any ‘creator’ would include this feature to make it look just like compelling evidence for a shared ancestry!

      You also say in response to causing harm that it can most certainly occur from imposing any belief (including atheistic enlightenment principles) on those who do not agree with its claims to authority.

      No. There is no harm caused enacting enlightenment principles because these are shared by all equally. Why you assume these principles (such as legal equality) are ‘atheistic’ is quite bizarre; they are secular, meaning religiously neutral. Atheists endorse secular values because they are neutral and not an imposition of non belief on a public that has every right to individually believe whatever they wish to believe (that secular enlightenment principle grounds freedom of religion for all).

      Heather, I suspect you have a very distorted view of what the many central issues really are when it comes to the problems inserted by religious privilege in the public domain. I also suspect that your sense of fairness and dignity would cause you a fair bit of dissonance if you understood the ramifications of such privilege. That’s why the vast majority of atheists that I know are ex-religios…. because they’ve finally encountered the heart of the problem and have decided to drop the beliefs that cause these unnecessary and harming problems.

      • It makes no sense to suggest any ‘creator’ would include this feature to make it look just like compelling evidence for a shared ancestry!

        I don’t presume to “know” why God would have done it. But there is a possible explanation. As it is derived from the biblical text, and you don’t recognize that as authoritative, I won’t waste space on it.

        Why you assume these principles (such as legal equality) are ‘atheistic’ is quite bizarre; they are secular, meaning religiously neutral.

        Secularism, as a political concept, assumes neutrality. I modified with “atheistic” as this is your religious inclination–and the position which you apparently believe to be the most objective implementer of the attendant fair and equal principles.
        However, atheism is most certainly antagonistic toward those of a religious bent. Therefore, secularist principles, when interpreted and applied through an atheistic worldview can definitely result in harm for those of faith who refuse to adopt, say, Big-Bang initiated evolutionary theory as irrefutable fact.

        To be quite honest, I see secularism as an attempt to plagiarize biblical teaching by borrowing from Christ’s kingdom principles and then chucking Him out of the picture.

        Heather, I suspect you have a very distorted view of what the many central issues really are when it comes to the problems inserted by religious privilege in the public domain.

        Well, people have made less flattering assumptions about me 🙂

        The central problem with injustice and bigotry actually lies in the immaterial facet of human nature (the soul, or spirit) which enigmatically influences our physical being. And it is this aspect of the human creature which naturalistic theory bars atheists from exploring as a valid explanation for why a deeply religious, creation-affirming cult member and an atheistic, Darwinistic moralist are equally capable of appreciating the untamed majesty of the cosmos, engaging in heroic feats of humanitarianism or brutally murdering an unsuspecting neighbor without any apparent provocation.

        The dark side which we ought to fear is not an immovable belief in accountability to a righteous Maker to whom we all must render account…or the principles which shape biblically-aligned Christian ethics and carry over into secular social theory.
        Rather, it is the terrifying destructiveness of an unrestrained inclination of the human soul to act on evil impulses.
        Thankfully, God has provided a solution to that problem

  9. HI Tildeb,

    Let me start by saying I’m sorry about the harassment you have received in the past and I fully understand why you would prefer to remain more anonymous. My suggestion about sharing a little was just a suggestion, and in the circumstances I support you’re not doing so.

    But the more important part of my “olive branch” was the suggestion that you try to change your posting style to avoid making too strong statements about others that (1) you can’t really know and (2) you probably wouldn’t say face to face. It was a suggestion that we (both you and the rest of us) try to avoid a polemical adversarial style even while disagreeing, and make this blog a more pleasant place. What do you think about that?

    Now to some of your points …..

    “These are not personal attacks”

    My main point was that these bolded comments were “very definite statements” about where we are “undoubtedly wrong”, in contrast to the way the other three of us treat each other. My secondary point was that some of these statements impute motives to us (and psychological processes) that are either wrong (because we know ourselves and you don’t) or are highly problematic. I was concerned about style more than substance. I still hope you may be willing to treat us in a different way.

    “Masquerading faith-based beliefs to be ‘another way of knowing’ as knowledge claims is a really bad idea”

    This is an example. You can call my beliefs faith-based, but that is just pejorative words. When we last crossed swords (about the good or bad effects of religiosity) I referenced many, many more academic papers than you did – and that was for a relatively minor matter. If you prod me on some major matter, I will do the same. I think you know that faith, rationality, evidence, assumption, personal experience, etc, are part of all our belief systems, yours and mine included, and trying to characterise yourself as fully evidence based and me as faith based is itself an unjustified assumption and a community killer. I think you can do better than that, and possibly would do better if you felt more at ease here. I suggest it is more accurate to simply recognise that we disagree with each other.

    Almost everything you say is built around this idea that you can dismiss my beliefs as “faith-based”, so I won’t bother to engage with that until you interact with what I actually think.

    “Simply produce one piece of knowledge obtained by the use of this ‘other way of knowing’ to demonstrate its power to accurately model reality.

    Go ahead. Try. Knock yourself out.”

    This is another example. But I’ll accept the challenge. Firstly, note that I’m not suggesting anything new in principle – it is the same old idea of forming belief in accordance with the evidence and logic. It’s just that science address questions in the physical world, and doesn’t deal well with things it can’t readily measure. So there are many situations where science is a poor instrument, and this is just one of them.

    1. Science cannot explain what it is like to be a human being – to be conscious, make choices, love, appreciate beauty, know some things are really right or wrong, etc. All it seems to be able to do is reduce everything human to an illusion. For millennia religions, and specifically the religion I believe in, have been able to explain what science cannot explain, that humans are true living rational ethical conscious choosing beings made in the glorious image of God, but unfortunately corrupted in places.

    2. Science concerns itself with the natural world – time, space, matter and energy. How the world came to be, why it is so finely-tuned in its design and what its purpose if any, are all beyond the purview of science. Most atheists I have met agree that they cannot explain how the universe exists without a cause, but say they are fine with that. But religions, specifically christianity, explain all these questions quite well – the world was designed and created by God for purposes we know a little about. This is important knowledge = justified belief.

    3. It has been estimated that 300 million people believe they have experienced or witnessed a healing miracles by the christian God. Some have been investigated quite thoroughly and the causes baffle medical science. Spontaneous remission? Fake? Or just ignore? But christianity can explain exactly what happened – God answered a prayer for healing, which he sometimes does and sometimes doesn’t. This knowledge is very practically useful, because believing God answers prayers leads me and my wife to pray for each other’s health and safety every day, including one day when it appears that God saved me from serious accident – very useful knowledge!

    4. Historians tell us that the stories of Jesus have a reliable historical basis, even though they disagree about many of the details. Historical knowledge can only take us so far, but christianity tells me that this historical Jesus was more than a man. That knowledge has changed the lives of billions of people, including some who have credibly seen visions of him that turned their lives around. Others have received divine guidance (like my example above). I have lived with that reality for more than 50 years, prodded it and tested it, and have found it rings true. It leads me to try to love my “enemies” (e.g. offering an olive branch to you), to care about the environment, the poor, and the disadvantaged, to seek forgiveness when I wrong someone and offer forgiveness to others. It has led others to establish hospitals, schools and food and water schemes in poor countries, and (as studies show clearly) to do more community work in our own countries than non-believers. This belief has given knowledge that makes a wonderful difference to living.

    So those are my thoughts on your challenge. Thanks for the opportunity.

    “The hostility you want to apply to me”

    Let me finish on this. I do not feel any hostility towards you and if your have perceived any I fully apologise. I have no problems with your questioning me, and I have shown time and time again I have detailed answers to your questions. On the contrary, I feel sorry that you seem to be unable or unwilling to break out of a behaviour pattern that leads you to call those you disagree with you as being irrational, and to express those ideas in insensitive ways that get other people’s backs up.

    It could be so much more pleasant. Is it too much to invite you again to speak to us as friends who disagree, and to discuss that disagreement without being disagreeable? I hope you are willing to respond in that way?

    Best wishes (and I mean that!).

    • unkleE, describing the method you use as a faith-based belief’ is not pejorative but accurate. That you wish to take offense is not my concern. It’s yours. My tone and style was to accurately point out that epistemology means the method used to investigate reality, a method that distinguishes justified belief from opinion by its results to accurately describe how reality operates. I am telling you straight up that relying on a method that elevates one’s opinions to be equivalent to knowledge doesn’t accurately describe ‘another way of knowing’ because it has no means to test itself. I’ve pointed out that this method you rely on for your faith-based beliefs (for that is what they are) is not uncommon but always contraindicated by reality’s arbitration of its accuracy. Your beliefs are not sufficient to accurately describe reality. And I make that bold statement because it’s true and I care very much about what’s true. We – not just I – can test that statement by asking of any knowledge claim “How do I know that to be so?” Look at your points you raise in defense of the broken methodology you use and see if there is a way to differentiate between opinion and justified belief. You ask “What it is like to be a human being?” Is that a knowledge question? No. “How (did) the world come to be?” No. “Why it is so finely-tuned in its design.” No, tautology. “What (is) its purpose?” No. These are not knowledge questions and the ‘answers’ you produce from them adds no knowledge independent of your beliefs, which means they fail to establish that all-import distinguishing true belief from opinion.

      Look, until you understand how the questions you ask determines whether or not we are talking about a knowledge claim or a faith-based belief, you will continue to conflate your faith-based beliefs to be equivalent to knowledge claims… but without any means to justify them as such independent of your faith-based beliefs! And this is due to a deep confusion about the role epistemology as a method plays in determining the difference.

      If this style and tone offend you, then so what? Neither my tone nor style alters one iota the accuracy of this criticism about your confusion. And you demonstrate this confusion time and again, confusing faith-based claims to be some other kind of knowledge when they simply aren’t. And you can make of that criticism whatever you wish. I’ve done my part. And that part is not to make you feel good but to make you uncomfortable enough to arouse your consideration.

      • I’ve done my part. And that part is not to make you feel good but to make you uncomfortable enough to arouse your consideration. Why do you assume that you have the right to make others feel uncomfortable? Who gave you that responsibility? Is this how you relate to strangers from behind the cloak of anonymity?

        I deplore the behaviour of those who have victimised you in the past. Their actions are indefensible and abhorrent. However, that does not give you the right to behave in such a boorish manner. Others are trying to relate to you in a civilised manner; you, on the other hand, are failing to act like a reasonable member of a civilised society.

  10. Hi Tildeb,

    You say at the start: “That you wish to take offense is not my concern.” But I said: “I do not feel any hostility towards you …. I have no problems with your questioning me, and I have shown time and time again I have detailed answers to your questions.” I said clearly it was style, not content, that I was hoping you might change. Did you not understand what I said?

    I have checked through other people’s response to you, both here and on kingstonjack’s blog, and it seems that I am not the only one who finds your style abrasive and adversarial. At the very least, I thought you might want to communicate your ideas better and in a more friendly manner.

    You challenged me to provide one example of how my beliefs provided knowledge, and I provided four. You disparage them with some words about knowledge and opinion that honestly mean nothing to me because I can only see vague and dogmatic assertions, no coherent argument and certainly no evidence. And in at least one place you appear to misunderstand science.

    For you dismiss cosmological fine-tuning as “tautology”, but research cosmologist Luke Barnes, in this peer reviewed paper, references about 200 papers about the science of fine-tuning and names over 20 of the world’s most eminent cosmologists who conclude the universe is “finely-tuned”.

    So I see nothing that in any way challenges that I have justified belief = knowledge about those 4 matters I raised – not perfect knowledge, but some knowledge.

    You continue to call my beliefs “faith-based”, without offering any evidence for that. And how could you, because you don’t know me? So the only reason you could offer would be a general one applying to all humanity, and so would be true of you as much as me. In response, I outlined how my beliefs in four areas were indeed based on things other than faith: human experience and introspection (#1), cosmological science and logic (#2), human experience and medical science (#3) and history (#4). You seem to have ignored that.

    You say at the end that “I’ve done my part. And that part is not to make you feel good but to make you uncomfortable enough to arouse your consideration.” You seem to feel some noble purpose, and I respect that, but you haven’t done any real part at all, for you merely offer dogmatic assertion of an unclear viewpoint and without evidence. You haven’t made me feel uncomfortable because you haven’t said anything that threatens my belief. Rather, I feel sorry that you think that rudeness and alienating people can be a form of effective communication and dogma can justify saying things about other people that you can’t possibly know.

    So I have tried to offer the olive branch of friendship and a less adversarial approach, but for whatever reason you have misrepresented that approach. I am truly sorry about that, especially as you don’t seem to even understand what I am trying to do. The invitation remains, should you wish to take it up, but I won’t press you any further on that.

    I haven’t enjoyed writing such an adversarial and negative comment (I would much rather approach you as a human being than as an argument), and I delayed it so I could try to make it as kind as I could. I won’t be writing another like it. But I live in hope you too may prefer to treat me as a human rather than as an argument.

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