The confines of humanness.

Last night, I was sitting on my bed, meditating. For me, meditation can be a great way of making my grocery list for the week, or a form of prayer whereby I pull and poke at God trying to get some attention and validation, or an almost transcendent experience (I’ll let you decide which of these is my usual form).

So, I was mediating and miraculously not planning my meal list when a huge gust of wind hit the side of the house and scared the absolute willies out of me.

It was a case of: peace-bam-fear.

And the idea instantly struck me of how incredibly limited we are as humans. It’s just all emotions, all the time, isn’t it?

We are constricted by our humanness. So confined. Just aware enough to know that there is this amazing eminence surrounding us, just able to be glimpsed and to be understood a little and imperfectly, but only by our limited and finite selves, who are so easily knocked off course by fear or lust or anger or just that general low level irritation which is barely even a real emotion- enough to distract us but without even the commitment of a real, honest expression of feeling.

We know just enough to understand our own limitations.

“Paradox, physicist Neils Bohr tells us, explodes our everday linear concept of truth and falsehood by positing two qualities that exist on a single continuum…Paradox thus points us to the mysterious place where two or more profound truths pull against each other in a tension that cannot be resolved by the clever machinations of the rational mind”

…On the frontier where human reason shades off into divine unknowing, you may find a resolution to the paradox or at least a sense of acceptance that can help you assent to the apparent contradictions in your spiritual life. But if God remains inscrutable beyond the farthest reaches of the most brilliant human mind, sooner or later we can expect to stumble across paradoxes that simply cannot be resolved. These insoluble paradoxes are at the core of faith *

The paradox, perhaps, that we are limited and finite yet eternal and heavenly. The fact that we are stuck between knowing about God, and knowing God, and our fear/anger/lust/irritation selves are pulled back to striving to know about God, when our pure selves already know God.

But then, of course, there’s this;

‘If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I can have faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing”(1 Corinthians 13;2).

If we are going to have the chance to try and emulate the agape that we have all been given unconditionally and absolutely, by nurturing phileo, then we need all these emotions, don’t we? We need to be able to love despite our inner selves railing against it, despite anger and fear and misunderstandings and mistrusting ‘other’. We need to hone our ability to love, to forge it in the furnace of real life and real feelings because nothing good comes without work. Without roots. Maybe these emotions do constrict our ability to grasp the transcendent, but equally, maybe our very humanness is the only way we will ever be able to appreciate and understand the nature of this love. Pushing ourselves to love others through our limitations and our faults may be the way that, ultimately, we can connect with the divine.

Our very humanness is the way that we can access our god-selves, and rather than despairing at how far we have to go, we should rejoice in how close we really are.

*The Big Book of Christian Mysticism; the essential guide to contemplative spirituality; Carl McColman

57 thoughts on “The confines of humanness.

  1. This is pretty deep stuff, Eva, for me at any rate, and very encouraging. I do appreciate the way you transitioned via 1 Corinthians 13 from what we cannot fully know to what we can truly aim at doing – to begin to love others as he has first loved us.

  2. From the non believing point of view, it is extraordinary to me how convoluted the thinking must be to somehow maintain these beliefs without independent support for them. There is an alternative, namely, not assuming that some ‘god is’ but allowing reality to tell us if there are good reasons to believe there might be. Without those good reasons – and I have yet to come across anything independent of the personal a priori commitment that there really is – the notion itself – that some ‘god is’ – is without independent support.

    Calling this absence of independent evidence a ‘paradox’ seems to me to amount to a avoidance tactic of facing reality. The switch in terms from ‘absence of evidence’ to ‘a paradox’ doesn’t bring the dissonance between the belief and reality itself into alignment; all it does is allow the belief to continue in spite of an ongoing absence of good reasons to maintain it.

    Again, from the non believing point of view, the peace and contentment that comes from dismissing the notion for a lack of good reasons (until such a time as the reasons to change one’s opinion becomes compelling) and allowing one’s humanity to take center stage allows one then to come into alignment with reality… a reality where we own our morality, own our responsibility to ourselves and others for how we deal with our lives honestly and our reactions and coping skills for the events that take place within it. We non believers are autonomous individuals able to build lives on good reasons and take the reins of it. To assume we are somehow less human for doing so is exactly backwards, whereas those who hope and pray and submit and give over our lives to what appears to me to be a dysfunctional fiction seems a sure way to fail to align our individual humanity with the cosmos that gives us an extraordinary opportunity to live in it fully cognizant. To get this basic fact of existence wrong and think we are the property of some supernatural agency with intentions and purposes designed for us risks living an inauthentic life, one that comes equipped to be a guaranteed way to skew the very real point-edged opportunity life grants to us to live in the present, live in the moment, live honestly and openly and fully engaged with our owned lives in the reality in which we are immersed. To avoid this understanding by accepting what amounts to a needless ‘paradox’ I think is a guaranteed way to remain dysfunctional and confused in it.

    • Hi Tildeb, you and Eva have avoided argument and disagreement, and that is my wish as well. But since you have explained your position, I thought I would explain mine. I hope we can do that amicably.

      You said “how convoluted the thinking must be to somehow maintain these beliefs without independent support for them”. I would think that would be true, if your premise was true.

      But the fact is, I believe there is ample independent support for my christian beliefs. I think it is unbelief that lacks independent support.

      Now I understand and respect that you disagree with me there. But it is important that you know that I think your opening premise is mistaken, and so the rest doesn’t apply. It is not that I and other believers are “dysfunctional and confused” as you suggest – we simply disagree.

      • What, you don’t think the paradox is convoluted thinking? Let’s revisit it:

        The fact that we are stuck between knowing about God, and knowing God, and our fear/anger/lust/irritation selves are pulled back to striving to know about God, when our pure selves already know God.

        What does any of this mean?

        Look at how often the derivative term from ‘knowledge’ is used. Do any of these references that supposedly comport to “conformity with fact; agreement with reality; accuracy, correctness, verity (of statement or thought) actually fit reality?

        No. They are imposed on it by sentiment and nothing independent of that sentiment supports any of these claims of ‘knowing’. The term ‘fact’ is used inappropriately.

        Do we find any fact here… something that has really occurred or is actually the case; something certainly known to be of this character; that exists in reality and ascertainable by evidence for any reasonable person to agree? Do we find “the apprehension of fact or truth with the mind; clear and certain perceptions of fact or truth; the state or condition of knowing fact or truth”?

        Again, no. It’s a convoluted statement that tries to find a home between knowing about god and knowing god. The God part is a necessary a priori assumption. How might she know if this necessary assumption is in fact wrong? I don’t think there is away… unless non belief is an option using reality independent of a priori faith-based belief.

        That’s a tall order for someone steeped in religious teachings that comes armed with a social cost to any sincere willingness to doubt.

        You assert there is “ample” evidence for your beliefs in the Christian God. There isn’t… or almost all of us would be Christians convinced by the evidence independent of Christian beliefs. If we were to remove all teachings about Christianity, would anyone come up with this religion based on this “ample” evidence alone? Well, we don’t find this to be the case. In fact, we find Christian belief closely correlates to geography and familial connection. And it’s not alone. Every religion suffers this same correlation, but why? Well, that correlation is a reasonable sign that such a belief hinges on being taught it and not on any “ample” evidence from reality that supports it. Because you have applied confirmation bias to bits and pieces of evidence that seem to support your beliefs, you have never to my knowledge ever sincerely addressed why and how the majority of the world’s population do not accept your beliefs as true. Are they all unreasonable? That lack of consensus demonstrates that your beliefs fail the outsider’s test… as do all the other religions claimed to reveal knowledge about some god. Unless and until you can pass the Outsider’s Test and demonstrate the veracity of your own independent of your a priori commitment to this belief, your “ample evidence” is simply not the case. And that demonstrates the a priori position of your faith… one first accepted as true and then presented as if adduced from reality. And that method of thinking – utilizing and acting on faith-based belief as if it really does describe reality and what we really can know about it – does produce “ample evidence” that demonstrates dysfunction and confusion.

    • You’re an excellent writer and a joy to read… even if I disagree. Hopefully my comment and explanation gives you (and other readers) something to think about… even if you disagree.

      • I genuinely appreciate when people take time to read, think about my words, then weigh in with their ideas – even if they disagree 🙂

  3. Can I just say that Jesus was a real person who walked the earth and told people that if you have seen him you have seen the father and other things attritributed to him. The writers of the gospels were flesh and blood people who had first hand knowledge. It is not all a made up story.

  4. Hi Tildeb,

    I have no wish to contest most of what you have written. They are your opinions and I don’t wish to contest them at this stage. But I will follow up on this comment:

    “You assert there is “ample” evidence for your beliefs in the Christian God. There isn’t”

    You say that as if it is a fact. I will suggest that the fact is that there is indeed much evidence, and that it is like I said before, you don’t accept that evidence. You are free to draw that conclusion, but I will share with you what that evidence is.

    1. Many millions of people have had experiences of God, of the numinous or some other name. These experiences include mystical, visionary or healing experiences. Many of these have been documented and investigated – e.g. the Religious Experience Research Unit, formerly at Oxford University, now at the University of Wales, has collected over 6000 accounts that are available for analysis.

    2. There is a significant interest in the scientific study of religious experience, and literally hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific papers on the subject. Researchers like Andrew Newberg, Justin Barrett, Ara Norenzayan and David Sloan Wilson have written and published much on the subject.

    3. Many of the reported experiences have been shown not to be the result of psychosis, in fact, studies show that people’s lives are generally enhanced, often in the long term, by these experiences, so they have better physical and mental health than average. Some people have visions which totally change their lives, and which cannot be readily explained by psychology or neurophysiology.

    4. Millions of people have apparently been healed quite remarkably, contrary to medical expectations, after prayer and many of these apparent miracles have been documented and reviewed by competent medical researchers.

    5. All this has been documented (I can give you references if you want them) and is prima facie evidence for God, in that people experienced something which has been documented, they attributed it to God or the supernatural, and the very beneficial effects are consistent with that. So there clearly IS evidence. The question is how should it be interpreted?

    6. Many of the researchers don’t address the question of whether this evidence points to God. Some are believers, most are not, but most agree that the data could be interpreted either way. They are mostly interested in the psychology and physiology. You are free to interpret the evidence how you like, but here is how I interpret it …..

    7. I think the evidence suggests the hypothesis that God exists. When I look around at the world, I find other evidence that is better explained by God existing than by naturalism (the obvious alternative) – the origin of the universe (why is there something rather than nothing?), the fine-tuned design of the universe, consciousness and free will, objective ethics and true rationality, and the history of Jesus.

    So I find the external evidence supports the prima facie evidence of people’s experience. That makes the God hypothesis very well supported by the evidence and naturalism very much unsupported. If you see things differently, then I won’t argue with you. But I will insist that evidence is evidence. Thanks.

    • That’s because you don’t really understand or appreciate what evidence is. You’ve confused the exercise of your confirmation bias to be the means to balance what you think supports your case as if equivalent ‘evidence’ to all that does not. You then assume that you are making a reasonable choice in the matter without understanding that your finger – your a priori beliefs – has already been used to balance the scale regardless of what the evidence justifies.

      And you can test this claim for yourself by answering the simply question of what evidence would you accept that would make you change your mind? If the answer is ‘nothing’ then you don’t care about evidence as the justification for your beliefs. This is what faith-based believers do with evidence: use selected bits and pieces to present the facade of a reasonable justification post hoc. That’s what I suspect you have done here and it is fatal to gaining any insight into reality.

      • Hi Tildeb, thanks for your reply. There’s quite a few assertions there, and very little to support what you say (especially since we are discussing evidence), so do you mind if I ask you a few questions please?

        1. What exactly is it that I don’t understand or appreciate about evidence, and how does that effect the evidence I offered and which you haven’t even examined yet (for you haven’t asked for the references)?
        2. What evidence (not just assertion) do you have for my “confirmation bias”?
        3. If I have confirmation bias, what evidence do you have that you don’t have confirmation bias also?
        4. Why should anyone reading this prefer the view of someone with potential confirmation bias and no evidence (you) over the view someone with potential confirmation bias and heaps of evidence (me)?

        “you can test this claim for yourself by answering the simply question of what evidence would you accept that would make you change your mind?”

        That’s a good question, but an easy one. I would change my mind about God if the evidence was different.

        I gave you a summary of the evidence last comment. So to summarise even more briefly, I would not believe in God if there was no universe, and if it wasn’t fine-tuned to support life, and if humans had no consciousness or freewill, if there was no objective ethics, if people didn’t have visions of God, if people weren’t sometimes miraculously healed and if Jesus didn’t appear in documented history. Take away all those things and I wouldn’t believe.

        May I ask you the same question: what evidence would you accept that would make you change your mind?

        Thanks.

        • I’ve written something that I think pertains to your questions here that begins with “Many people have a very strange notion of what ‘science’ is. It is a method …”. IN it, I explain why your beliefs rest on certain assumptions you make that are fatal to ever knowing its truth value and that one of the recognizable aspects for those who use it is confirmation bias. I have no time to write more so that will have to do for now.

          • Hi Tildeb, I read your comment that you referenced, and it didn’t seem to answer any of the four questions I asked. May I ask them of you again?

            1. What exactly is it that I don’t understand or appreciate about evidence, and how does that effect the evidence I offered and which you haven’t even examined yet (for you haven’t asked for the references)?
            2. What evidence (not just assertion) do you have for my “confirmation bias”?
            3. If I have confirmation bias, what evidence do you have that you don’t have confirmation bias also?
            4. Why should anyone reading this prefer the view of someone with potential confirmation bias and no evidence (you) over the view someone with potential confirmation bias and heaps of evidence (me)?

            Thanks.

            • Many millions of people have had experiences of God… and yet millions fail to come to any cohesive description. In fact millions not only don’t agree but are <i.certain others have not interpreted the experiences correctly. So are any of these experiences actually linked to some divine external creative and causal agency? No. This is evidence of attribution. Are we surprised they are funded by Templeton money? No. We expect it.

              There is a significant interest in the scientific study of religious experience… Yes, so? Inquiry is good. Let’s do more. Let;s figure out why people attribute these experiences the way they do? Let’s dismantle religious experiences as we would any other and stop privileging it as we so often do from serious and critical analysis. Let’s find out why people seem so willing to believe in ideas contrary to our understanding of how reality operates. Let’s find out how a scientist can work six days a week using the scientific method exclusively and put it away on the seventh. This is evidence for curiosity being followed.

              Many of the reported experiences have been shown not to be the result of psychosis… I’m still chuckling over this one. The DSMV inserts a special exemption for religious experiences that otherwise fit identically to what medically defines delusion and psychosis. I wonder why this is? This is evidence of special pleading. Furthermore, that which cannot be readily explained by psychology or neurophysiology doesn’t mean we therefore can insert some supernatural explanation. This is evidence for ignorance.

              Millions of people have apparently been healed quite remarkably, contrary to medical expectations, after prayer and many of these apparent miracles have been documented and reviewed by competent medical researchers. The only well documented product of prayer is placebo, meaning that people self-report improvements for subjective evaluations like pain. This is evidence for the power of placebo (or nocebo as the case may be). Note: there has been no compelling evidence under rigorous conditions for any physical improvements and this has been studied up the whazoo. Faith healing doesn’t work when properly tested using blind studies. This is evidence for your willingness to be credulous.

              All this has been documented… yeah, so? None of it is evidence for the existence of some divine causal agency operating in the world. There. I’ve just documented that statement so it must be true on that basis!

              Many of the researchers don’t address the question of whether this evidence points to God. Some are believers, most are not, but most agree that the data could be interpreted either way. Pay me millions in Templeton money and I might just be willing to agree that the data could be interpreted either way, too. Remove that motivation and you’ll find that the rate of scientists who do not believe in any gods is quite different than the general population (about 5 times more likely in the States) and that among elite scientists, well over nine 9 in ten are non believers. So I don’t know how pertinent this point you make is, but I do know the evidence for some god is entirely lacking so far.

              I think the evidence suggests the hypothesis that God exists… Of course you do, because you are intepreting stuff that only appears to support your a priori belief. You’re not looking for compelling evidence that mitigates these claims to the point of irrelevancy because you are motivated to not think critically, to not allow reasonable and healthy skepticism to play a role. You’re not looking for independent evidence from which to adduce your beliefs; you know what you’re looking for and go out and try to find it to support your beliefs. That’s how faith-based beliefs work. You seek confirming data and have no interest in data that spectacularly fails to support your position, and yet that is exactly what is predominantly out there in the land of scholarly research. You avoid it by intention.

              This is why I claim you don’t understand what evidence is. It is the individual pieces added by summation of information that indicates a likelihood or probability. In all other areas of life, you will empower beliefs to various extents based on this summation but throw your hat over the fence when it comes to religious belief and not appreciate how your claims fail to connect you with the specific god you think is real and true and knowable. To get there, you convince yourself that this nebulous idea called ‘God’ is somehow a stand-in for the Christian god(s) when it come to the ‘maybes’ and ‘could bes’ and ‘possiblys’ you select (such as in the above list) in order to make it appear that your religious beliefs are from reality rather than imposed on it.

              I am always on guard for confirmation bias and I try my level best to avoid exercising beliefs this way. Because I do not believe there is compelling evidence for any god and because I know how easy it is to believe based on my desires and wishes, I try to exercise the best critical thinking I can before empowering an opinion. I am also always willing to change that opinion (and have done so on multiple occasions) if better reasons from compelling evidence becomes known to me. I have no vested interest to protect other than my deep and abiding respect for reality’s right to arbitrate my beliefs about it across the board. I also have an interest in not being credulous and gullible but intellectually disciplined. My little corner of reality is fascinating and challenging enough for me to try to understand without me trying to populate it further with fanciful and incompatible and nebulous supernatural notions I might try to impose on it.

  5. I also appreciate your writing and your sincere struggle to walk with God. Thank you. Being human can definitely get messy at times. Quite a lot actually. I must agree with you that it all comes back to love. For me, what matters is that we love. And for me that matters whether one believes or does not.

    • Really? If I could only read one book on Christianity for the rest of my life, it would be that book. You have a very insightful and wise friend!

      • He was one of the instructors at the Immersion Course for Columbia Seminary’s Certificate in Christian Spiritual Formation program that my wife and I are taking. I also spent a week with him on a Men’s Contemplative Retreat at St Bernard’s Abbey in Cullman, AL. Denise and I spent a day with he and his wife on the Gulf Coast in April. He is a very genuine and humble man. Also some good laughs together! His journey has played a role in my own going deeper in Spiritual Formation. As an AF Chaplain, I didn’t do a very good job of tending the interior fire… Carl and my dear wife have played a part in my reconnecting with that.

  6. This is like a debate between people who live in two dimensions and those who live in three dimensions – both are right and are logically consistent within what they personally experience.

    • The ‘personally experience’ is rather important when attributing the causes of those perceptions and experiences outwards and inserting them into reality. That’s where so many theists go wrong… where faith-based methodology fails – by imposing their beliefs from those experiences onto and into a reality that doesn’t comport to these ‘answers’ and ‘explanations’. Only the personal beliefs themselves support them and they simply aren’t trustworthy unless and until reality itself supports them.

  7. Hi Tildeb,

    Thanks for sharing a little more of your opinions and beliefs. I am happy to read them, even though you still haven’t offered any evidence. The strongest impression coming out of your latest comment is your loathing of the Templeton Foundation and slurs on the work of competent researchers, which isn’t evidence, and may even indicate bias.

    But I’m not contesting your beliefs. My main concern is the things you have said about my beliefs. You have made very strong statements about my beliefs which you haven’t backed up with any evidence at all, despite my twice asking you for it.

    So at the risk of sounding like a cracked record, can you please either answer these questions or agree that you haven’t evidence for what you have said. Here they are again:

    1. What exactly is it that I don’t understand or appreciate about evidence, and how does that effect the evidence I offered and which you haven’t even examined yet (for you haven’t asked for the references)?
    2. What evidence (not just assertion) do you have for my “confirmation bias”?
    3. If I have confirmation bias, what evidence do you have that you don’t have confirmation bias also?
    4. Why should anyone reading this prefer the view of someone with potential confirmation bias and no evidence (you) over the view someone with potential confirmation bias and heaps of evidence (me)?

    Thanks.

    • I have answered these several times by pointing out that the methods you use don’t reflect reality but your personal beliefs. And we can determine this by how well reality comports to them. For example, there is no evidence that faith healing works to cause effect BEYOND self reporting. That’s why there are no artificial limbs or glass eyes outside of Lourdes. That’s why parents praying over diabetic children allow them to die excruciating deaths. That’s why measles raged through Principia College unchecked and caused all kinds of long term damage to those who were infected but not treated with anything but prayer. That’s why those who have suffered total cell death don’t come back to life: because dead cells CANNOT reanimate. The evidence is absolutely overwhelming and there are literally thousands of such studies including massive longitudinal studies of nuns and heart patients to properly test the efficacy of prayer. Praying for health improvements doesn’t translate into causal effects (actual and physical health improvements) independent of those who simply say they feel better. But using your method of faith-based inquiry, you cherry pick only that trivial so-called ‘research’ that appears to agree with your beliefs without granting to body of evidence the almost complete negation of this claim you make. That demonstrates my claim that you use confirmation bias. That’s your evidence you keep assuming I haven’t provided. You have provided it.

      You have tried to equate our beliefs about reality and what it contains as if equivalent. They are not. My beliefs are variable based on the strength of evidence for them. Yours in regards to some divine intervening causal and creative agency are not. They are fixed. They are immutable. They are immune from reality’s arbitration of them. That’s why you continue to hold and defend them from legitimate criticism that should reduce your confidence and trust in their veracity. But you have been inoculated by your own brain to use whatever means you can to keep these beliefs from honest inquiry. This tactic is diametrically opposite to my own and that’s why our beliefs are diametrically opposite. Yours require subjective and personal belief in order to maintain you religious beliefs; mine require reality itself… independent of anything I may think. I adduce my beliefs; you impose them. My conclusions are tentative and open to new information, better modeling, alteration should they be legitimately criticized for some weakness or bias; yours are fixed. My confidence in my beliefs reflect this changing state of advancing knowledge; yours have been established and unconcerned with knowledge becasue you already believe you have the final answers, the ultimate explanations. that produce exactly zero insight into how reality does, in fact, operate, by what mechanisms that link cause to effect and propel our understanding further and into different areas.

      You keep asking for evidence that is right there in front of you and try to pretend that I suffer from the same broken methodology… as if the tu quoque approach makes your beliefs as reasonable, as justified, as legitimate as my own… as if that even if true, magically adds evidence to your religious claims about this divine critter. That’s reality’s job and, so far, it’s not doing what religious believers would like it to do: provide compelling evidence that the claim is reasonable… even if we human come to hundreds of thousands of different ‘answers’ and ‘explanations’.

      • Hi Tildeb,

        Thanks for a long reply. Like Eva, you write fluently. But I can”t glean from what you write any answer to my questions or any evidential justification to your assertions about christian thinking.

        I won’t pursue this matter any more, it would be tedious. I will just assume that you are unable to point out any definite problem with my understanding of evidence. I will assume what should have been obvious from the beginning – we both know what evidence is, we just disagree about what the evidence tells us.

        Likewise, I wil assume that you can’t really demonstrate that I have a problem with confirmation bias – after all, how could you from half a word away? – and any general statement about confirmation bias could just as easily apply to you, which would negate your point also. In fact, your diatribe about the Templeton Foundation might suggest that you may have a problem with bias more than I do, but I’m not really interested in pursuing that so I’ll call it a draw.

        You have said a lot of other interesting stuff, and I’ll come back to that shortly. Thanks.

  8. Reality, for me, requires both the objective and the subjective to exist. Monet’s “Water Lilies” paintings are objectively canvas and oil paint but subjectively they are beautiful.
    For me, God is everywhere, especially in the “spirit” which I define as love, beauty, justice and beauty.
    Love is highly subjective but is very “real” to me. If love is “real” then God also is “real,” unless God is limited to a material being (tildeb’s “divine critter”).
    Perhaps tildeb is convinced that subjectivity is irrelevant to reality – whereas I believe that it is at the heart of reality.
    Einstein and Tagore had some interesting discussions about this.

    • @DM… All I’m saying is that the subjective exists in the objective. See how much pleasure you derive from a Monet while you’re on fire. The pleasure does not exist independent of you any more than some divine critter does. Slapping godspeak lipstick on aesthetics doesn’t this fact.

  9. Hi Tildeb, just a couple more questions on what you have written.

    ” there is no evidence that faith healing works to cause effect BEYOND self reporting”
    Are you sure about this? Would you be interested if I could show you some evidence that is way beyond self reporting?

    “The evidence is absolutely overwhelming and there are literally thousands of such studies including massive longitudinal studies of nuns and heart patients to properly test the efficacy of prayer. “
    I am very interested i this, because I have done a fair bit of investigation and I haven’t come across nearly this many studies. Can you give me a few references to these thousands of studies please?

    “you cherry pick only that trivial so-called ‘research’ that appears to agree with your beliefs without granting to body of evidence the almost complete negation of this claim you make”
    How do you know this? Have you asked me for evidence? Have you read my website? Or have you just assumed? Can you please tell me your basis for this statement?

    “I adduce my beliefs; you impose them. My conclusions are tentative and open to new information, better modeling, alteration should they be legitimately criticized for some weakness or bias; yours are fixed.”
    Again, may I ask how you know this? Have you ever looked at investigations I have done? But more importantly, if you are open to new information, are you interested in looking at the information I actually have rather than what you imagine I have? I am happy to share it with you if you are interested.

    Thanks again.

      • G’day Tildeb, thanks for that response. I think I’m coming to an understanding that should help us have a more productive conversation from here on.

        You have made a number of statements about the motives of christians, including me – we don’t understand evidence, we suffer from confirmation bias and you don’t, I cherry pick research that agrees with me and ignore the research that doesn’t, etc. Yet despite repeated requests for evidence of this, you haven’t been able to show any. I have come to the tentative conclusion that this is your way of dealing with ideas that you don’t like. And I also feel I don’t want to keep wasting time and Eva’s blog asking you for substantiation that you are unable to give.

        So I want to ask you if you will agree to a deal so we can talk more productively. Let’s agree that you will try to stop making unsubstantiated personal accusations and stick the the topic, and if you slip up, I will abstain from asking you for evidence, but will just point it out and then ignore it. How do you feel about that?

        So in the spirit of cooperation and learning, let’s move on.

        I was interested in your two references thanks. The first was slightly off-topic (it is about people brought up with “religious motivated medical neglect”, something I certainly don’t advocate, and only marginally relevant to people adding prayer to medical procedures to aid recovery).

        The other paper is directly relevant and a good study. Just two things here. Did you know this study was funded by the Templeton Foundation? Just after you accuse the Foundation of biasing results, you reference one of their studies that gives a negative result, direct proof that your accusations are at least sometimes false!

        The second issue is this. You said you could point to thousands of studies proving that prayer didn’t work and you referenced only one! Yet the same publication has published many more. I have found so far 21 individual studies on the topic of distant therapies (as prayer for healing is often called) and 5 meta studies, which reference a total of 154 individual studies. Some of these are doubtless repeated, so a total of about a hundred studies would be about right (not quite thousands, but I’m still interested in any other studies you can reference). I have listed the studies and described the methodology and outcomes. I want to draw your attention to the following points:

        1. I have researched the evidence as well as I can (I’m not sure if you have) and am continuing.
        2. The studies came out about 2:1 in favour of small benefits for prayer (not no benefit as you suggested).
        3. I have listed both the positive and negative results, contrary to your claim that I only looked at positive evidence.

        Finally, it was you who raised these distant prayer studies. You seemed to assume that they were evidence that I was using for the effectiveness of prayer. They were not. I have other evidence, which I will get to if you are interested.

        But I am interested in your response to this information and my suggestions. Thanks.

        • unkleE, you say You have made a number of statements about the motives of christians, including me – we don’t understand evidence, we suffer from confirmation bias and you don’t, I cherry pick research that agrees with me and ignore the research that doesn’t, etc. Yet despite repeated requests for evidence of this, you haven’t been able to show any.

          Firstly, I – like every human being – am susceptible to confirmation bias, which is why I do my level best to guard against it. You don’t. You use it all the time.

          Secondly, I have demonstrated repeatedly how you do not understand how to use evidence to inform your religious beliefs.

          Thirdly, I have demonstrated repeatedly how you cherry pick data that appears to agree with your religious beliefs.

          Fourthly, I have demonstrated repeatedly how you ignore data that is in conflict with and contrary to your religious beliefs.

          Fifthly, your response to these demonstarttions is to wave it away and pretend I have done none of these demonstrations.

          Sixthly, you repeatedly tell me contrary to compelling evidence that I have been unable to show you – unable to demonstrate – examples of these tactics you use. You are wrong.

          The problem here isn’t me and it isn’t any confirmation bias I am exercising. The problem here is you and your refusal to recognize and address the validity of my demonstrations.

          So when you ask Let’s agree that you will try to stop making unsubstantiated personal accusations and stick the the topic, and if you slip up, I will abstain from asking you for evidence, but will just point it out and then ignore it. How do you feel about that? you are categorizing my responses as “unsubstantiated personal accusations” that “do not stick to the topic.” This is the southern product of a defecating north-facing bovine.

          What this tells me is that you don;t want to have a reasonable exchange because you exempt your views from the standards you want me to follow. This tells me that you are a waste of my time because you don’t care to deal openly and honestly with any honest critique of your religious ideas nor wish to recognize the quality of the tactics you use to defend them. You wish to use these exchanges to promote what you think are the reasonable elements of your religious beliefs and couldn’t care less why or how they are so intellectually problematic at getting to what’s actually the case, that your religious beliefs are your own creation substantiated only by your belief in them. I have nothing to offer you other than criticism and you refuse to have anything to do with.

          I qualified the Templeton problem with understanding the need for “properly” done research studies, meaning double blind protocols and randomized groups. That Templeton helped fund the NIH cardiac study doesn’t affect it’s quality, whereas in many other ‘research’ papers that appear to support your religious views – like faith healing – it is improperly done. Because Templeton’s goal is to align religious belief with science, much of the very shoddy ‘research’ is funded by Templeton. This well done cardiac study reveals no such alignment. And that’s powerful evidence against your beliefs you maintain anyway.

          And this is the point you’re missing: if there were compelling evidence in favour of intercessory prayer having a positive effect, it should withstand double blind studies and, at an absolute minimum, reveal a very strong correlation. Clearly it doesn’t. That’s why you have seek out highly questionable ‘meta-studies’ without understanding why and how false positives are such a problem in these reporting findings.

          But again, you don’t care about what’s true, what is actually the case: you just want to keep applying the lipstick to this religious pig… assuming as you demonstrate over and over that with enough make-up this pig will become whatever you want it to be. Your method is broken.

          As for the scholarly work about faith healing, my last piece of unsolicited advice is to do your own work and google it. Only this time, pretend you are on the the critical review board and see if you can figure out why so many claimed positives are indeed false. Asking me to do this work for you is just a waste of my time because you’re going to wave it away. You know it and I know it.

          • Hi Tildeb, that is a long reply. Let me try to get to the essentials.

            1. You have made statements about the psychology of christians. You haven’t posted a single reference supporting that part of the discussion. This time you have made 6 points expressing your opinions on the matter.

            You said previously that we might have different views of evidence. I didn’t think so then, but I think maybe you were right after all. So I would like to test this by asking you a couple of questions please.

            1.1. Do you think personal opinions are evidence?

            I will share my view as a start. I think my views are evidence when I am talking about myself. If I say I feel pain in my face, that is evidence. I may be lying or mistaken but a doctor or dentist will try to treat me based on that evidence. But for everything external to me, my opinions remain just that until and if I provide some objective evidence to support that opinion – e.g. a photo or an expert opinion or a scientific study, etc.

            So what do you think? Do you agree?

            1.2. If you agree with me that personal opinions are not evidence for things external to oneself, can you please point to one, just one, piece of objective evidence you have offered to justify your claims about my psychology? Or even offer one piece of evidence now that clearly applies to me but not to you. Just one.

            2. Studies on the effectiveness of prayer as a distant therapy.

            You said there were thousands of studies showing there was no evidence for the effectiveness of prayer as a distant therapy, or for any other form of healing. You offered one study of those thousands in support. I have offered 21 studies plus 5 meta studies which link to over a hundred studies, which show 2:1 approximately that prayer was mildly effective. So there isn’t “compelling evidence” of great effectiveness,, but there is statistically significant evidence of a variable and mild beneficial effect.

            2.1 So, can you give references to the thousands of studies that demonstrate what you said, or are you willing to accept the hundred or so studies I referenced?

            There are three simple questions there. It would clarify your views if you would answer them please. Thanks.

  10. In the end,God will be God and it doesn’t matter what we do or don’t believe while here on this earth. We will each discover the truth or untruth of our faith when we die! That is why it is faith ,simply because it can’t be proven. I am glad that it is simple because I am very confused by all the previous argy-bargy that has gone on. I do really hope that the two of you have been stimulated and have enjoyed your discourse. My mind has not been changed. Probably due to my confirmation bias.

      • Have read it Eva because I like to try and understand how and what people think. But I must admit that having read it all it lost me. I have gained nothing other than to realise how confusing to me other people’s thoughts can be. And to decide that to heck with it all it doesn’t matter in the scheme of things. There are much bigger problems in life. We have the privilege of arguing back and forth about esoteric matters while many people are getting their heads cut off because of their beliefs. And others have lost their homes, and livelihoods. I am pleased that all this “discussion” has gone on with each keeping their cool and not losing their manners.

        • Yes, that’s right. Disagreement while maintaining a degree of decorum. This is why I dont have to moderate comments and haven’t needed to block anyone from my blog.

        • Yes, people are losing their heads and being thrown off buildings and beaten to death and imprisoned and denied public services and actively discriminated against… in the name of upholding and imposing on others certain faith-based beliefs.

          I think that if we are to find solutions to such problems, we must first identify what the problem is. And when we find the identical justification for beating a blogger to death as we do for shooting a young woman in the head, burning a pilot to death as we do for throwing accused gays off of buildings, refusing to allow medical intervention for a treatable disease or infection for yet another young American or forcing a ten year old girl to die in child birth, and all because people believe that doing these actions honours their god, we find a common root: faith-based belief. None of these actions are mitigated by the suggestion that certain kindnesses are also carried out for the same reason. We can be rid of the god-reasons entirely and still be left with these kindnesses as Oxfam and Doctors Without Borders testifies. But we will always be left with the ongoing and pernicious harm done solely in the name of religious belief if we continue to tolerate it as if reasonable. It isn’t reasonable or it wouldn’t be a faith-based but merit-based idea. Lana fools herself into thinking it is reasonable and far too many religious supporters go along with this charade for purely selfish and irrational reasons.

          • Thank god youre talking about Lana fooling herself rather than me. I would be offended if you were directing that attitude at me.

            • Sorry, Eva, I’ve done it again and called you Lana. My bad and I am sorry.

              But yes, I do think you’re fooling yourself into believing something is reasonable when you have no means to demonstrate that this method works to produce this. It only appears to be reasonable when redressed as philosophy and metaphysics. But what you’re making room for are ideas that are incompatible with how we understand reality to work, incompatible with how we build stuff on those regularities in nature, incompatible with how we mitigate reality’s effects. It is this incompatibility that is being disguised as something reasonable in philosophical and metaphysical iterations but what is lacking is respect for reality’s input and judgement. And reality tells us in no uncertain terms that it is quite regular and we can know of these regularities to such an extent that we can and do rely on it every day with our very lives. A reality that has room for such incompatibilities would not look like the one we inhabit and this fact should hold at least some sway over those who say they believe in the incompatible model because it’s ‘reasonable’. I don;t think that argument can be successfully defended.

              • I know you think Im delusional. I know you think im misguided and that im fooling myself. You’ve spent nearly 40,000 words so far on my blog arguing your case and your passion is obvious. But when it comes down to it, I don’t know that much about you (a bit- my google searching is reasonably competant) so your opinions dont hurt my feelings or impact on me in a huge way. I have a respect for you although I don’t believe that it reciprocated, and that’s ok.

                • This is a point many religious believers simply don’t get, that to criticize bad ideas is a personal attack on the person holding them. I respect you as a real person and your real abilities greatly… as I do almost all religious believers. What I don’t respect is faith-based thinking. I don’t see faith-based thinking as part of person’s basic identity, an immutable part of their character. I see it as a broken method used to create and justify pernicious effects for what the believer assumes are good reasons. Change the method, change the effects. You’re still you… but I think a more responsible one.

                  Faith-based thinking is what empowers alternative medicine and complimentary therapies that have no basis in knowledge and harms real people. It is what empowers all kinds of denialism… from anti-vaxers to anti-climate change where no amount of knowledge based on compelling evidence can shake the fundamental contrary belief and this harms all of us. It is used to protect conspiracy thinking from reality’s arbitration of them. Faith-based belief empowers bias and prejudice in law and this harms real people in real life. Much of this bias and discrimination can be traced to believing stuff from various authorities that have no merit for that authority and none as widespread as the religious impetus to privilege piety over and above knowledge.

                  None of us need to do this harm to others (we are free to harm ourselves if we so choose) if we utilize good reasons that must stand on their own demonstrated merit. And that’s what I am trying to promote: changes by believers of all stripes, of all denominations, of all woo and superstitious nonsense, to stop privileging their beliefs in matters of public concern and get rid of a thinking method used to justify them… a method we know doesn’t produce knowledge but causes widespread harm.

              • Curious tildeb, how do you prove you love or dislike any family you may have. Love is not a concrete feeling.

          • But wrong religious beliefs surely shouldn’t make all religious beliefs wrong. I believe that there is a God of the Judeo-Christian world and he is not the god of the Islamic world. Anyway I am past all this because you can tie me knots . I am a simple 72 year old widow who has a faith in God and I really don’t want you trying to destabilise and rob me of my foundations at this time in my life. I will soon know the truth and whether or not I have been a fool for God all my life.
            There is a premise that Christian influence in the world for generations is the foundation for the good that Doctors without Borders and other n g o’s. do in the world.
            I wonder if you can find anything from this link and by following it to others?Seems they have done documented studies. http://globalawakening.com/news-general/401-dr-randy-clark-and-dr-tom-jones-graduate-from-united-theological-seminary

            • But wrong religious beliefs surely shouldn’t make all religious beliefs wrong.

              And you which one(s) is wrong how?

              By belief alone.

              And the cost for many people utilizing that method and respecting and privileging its claims (especially in law) reliably and consistently and predictably harms real people in real life.

              So it’s really important that those people who empower faith-based thinking – no matter what their age or need for religion’s ‘comforting’ do so only in their private lives and never use it as reasons for acting in matters of public concern.

  11. I am now off to church to share my unreasonable and incompatible beliefs with other delusional folk!!!! Eva, you are a LADY. and to me that is a compliment worth attaining to.

  12. I just read the following this morning and it made me think of all these comments. Might be relevant.

    MEDICAL STUDIES SHOW THAT PRAYER WORKS

    “Atheists can sneer at faith all they like, but they can’t assume science is on their side.” Researcher Tom Knox, who abandoned his atheist beliefs after discovering first-hand the power of prayer. Ask most Christians and they’ll tell you “absolutely” God honours prayers for healing. Not every time, of course, but enough to combat the notion that He doesn’t. And, these same Christians will tell you that not only does God heal, but He brings joy, grace and favour into the lives of those who trust in Him, often extending their lifespan as well. More than 1,500 “reputable” medical studies now back up these claims.

    Dr. Harold G. Koenig of Duke University says results from the huge number of studies on the subject “indicates people who are more religious and pray more have better mental and physical health.” “There’s a lot of evidence out there,” he adds. Researcher Tom Knox, a former atheist who became a Christian after studying the medical benefits of prayer, agrees. “Over the past 30 years,” he says, “a growing and largely unnoticed body of scientific work shows religious belief is medically, socially, and psychologically beneficial. Religious attendance is associated with adult mortality in a graded fashion. There is a seven-year difference in life expectancy between those who never attend church and those who attend weekly.”

    Source: Newsmax

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