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God, Religion and Humankind

By spaceghoti in Op-Ed
Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 10:22:37 AM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

I first posted this in my diary, and it was suggested I repost as Op-Ed. I thought about it and decided I would, but after the rash of knee-jerk reaction posts had died down.

Now we've got a new rash, and I figure now is a good a time as any. In previous discussions I probably gave people the impression that I'm an ungodly athiest. I suppose that's fair, but what I am is vehemently anti-religion.

There was a thread about Agnosticism versus Deism. Put simply an Agnostic doesn't know what to say on the subject of God or a Higher Power, one way or another. There might be a God or there might not; it's unknowable. A Deist is someone who believes there most certainly is a God or Higher Power, but that entity (or possibly plural) is unknowable and indefinable. This clarification is slight, but significant. It also tends to piss off highly religious individuals who hold their religion as infallible and sacrosanct. *shrug* Grow a skin.

I was in the habit of calling myself Agnostic because the definition assigned to Deist is what I assumed meant Agnostic. I'm highly amused by people who think Agnostic is the same as Atheist. It seems nobody can agree. However, for the record, I will go with Deist as a label for myself. For the sake of clarity and brevity I will refer to the Higher Power in the singular, but also for the record I honestly do not know or presume to assume. I think God is out there. I also think She's [gender is used as satire, not as an attempt to actually label Him/Her/It] laughing Her ass off at the idiocy we come up with.

As a Deist, I believe that a codified system of worship for God is ludicrous and laughable. The Being that created the Universe through whatever series of events (six days? Six eons? On a bet?) is so much more than our limited minds could possibly hope to grasp that to attempt to define Her is pointless. Saying that God is male, misogynist and favors any race over another is to pigeonhole the infinite. A camel through the eye of a needle is an appropriate phrase here. "God is Love" is another codification that really doesn't come close to the absolute. Sure, I believe that God is love. What creator doesn't fall in love with something he or she has built and nurtured into being? If you think I'm not in love with the fiction I've written or the games I've devised and run, try stealing one. Go ahead. I promise to pay the funeral expenses. The point is that restricting God to just "love" or any other one attribute is to again reduce the infinite to a very finite level, which is also a mistake.

The point is, no matter what description we can come up with for The Head Honcho above, it will always fall far short of the mark. Throughout human history, we haven't really appreciated or respected that fact. We've come up with all sorts of ways to try to define and understand God because the Unknown scares us. All of us. We don't like to think there's someone up there who might rain fire and brimstone on us in a moment of whimsy, or reward our enemies over us without some good reason. So we try to reduce the Unknowable to the Knowable, to set some tangible rules for worshiping the Unknowable to try to get a leg up on the competition. Something goes right, that means we pleased Him. Something goes wrong, we messed up somewhere and have to atone for it. It's very structured and logical; thus was organized religion born and we all felt better for it.

Then we run into the logical consequence: no two people can agree on the same thing. What you call purple, I call blue. What you call God, I might call the Devil. Enter the holy wars. You don't believe what I believe; you are therefore a blasphemer. You won't recant or repent, therefore you must die. Or even worse, you believe what I believe, but you have a different interpretation on it. You are therefore a heretic. You won't recant or repent, therefore you must die. Repeat ad nauseum.

We have more interpretations of God and worship than we actually have religions. Everyone is convinced they have a lock on the truth, and anyone who doesn't practice/believe the same way is doomed to everlasting torment. I can name five distinct flavors of Western Judeo worship off the top of my head, all of whom claim to be the "true Christians" and none of whom can agree on the proper way to worship and therefore be rewarded in the afterlife. All of them can point to religious passages from pretty much the same source and claim with perfect conviction that this is the Way, none other. In the past that was all it took to run someone out of town, if they weren't outright killed for their belief. Even if those religious sources aren't the same, everyone is convinced that their tome of wisdom is the true book of Divine Inspiration.

That was then, it's said. We've grown up since then; we're civilized now. Really. Tell that to my housemate, who was fired from her nursing position at a Lutheran hospital because she was accused of being a witch (we both have Wiccan friends and while neither of us practice, we know their rituals and beliefs). Tell that to our new US President who wants to decide what constitutes a religion and what doesn't (hint: if it doesn't have "Christ" in the name, it won't qualify). Tell that to the doctors, nurses and patients of bombing victims who participated in legally recognized abortions. Tell that to the homosexuals who are verbally and physically abused, legally discriminated against and harassed through "prayers" as a "cure." Tell that to the Moral Majority who want to pass laws to dictate what I can say, do or think. Civilized, you say? If not burning people at the stake anymore constitutes civilized, we're almost a utopia! Shame I don't appreciate this very much.

I grew up with a religious fanatic for a mother; this got worse year after year. Being the good little boy I was, I bought into it lock, stock and barrel. I parroted the correct words and opinions. I began to develop a smug, self-righteous bearing over all those condemned sinners around me who were stumbling around in spiritual darkness (you might point out this hasn't changed; I won't argue). I studied my Bible and became very familiar with it, to the degree that I was invited to begin leading my church in song and sermon. I studied various other religions in the light of my own, comparing how they fell so far short of the truth. Baptists, Northern or Southern, aren't terribly gracious people. For ALL have come short of the glory of God, you see.

The problem is that by studying and interpreting the Bible for these purposes, I started actually thinking about things. Men are admonished to keep their hair short, while women are supposed to keep their hair long. Why? I suppose there's some sort of hygiene involved, but why the separate standard for men and women? Obvious differences aside, human biology works the same for both genders: what makes one sick is likely to do the same to the other. We're supposed to separate from our parents to our mates to become one flesh, a new entity in matrimonial union. Why? Procreation is involved, obviously, and identifying lineage is of huge importance in the Bible. This has continued through today, where the parentage and lineage of various individuals is very important to them. You can't be a Son or Daughter of the Revolution in the US unless you can positively identify your ancestors back to people who fought in the Colonial Revolution. Likewise, you can't be accorded status as nobility in Europe unless you can prove your parents were both of noble blood. Just how relevant is that today? Why do I care whether or not I might be genetically linked to the Dauphin or the Earl of Sandwich? I am who I make of myself, not who I'm related to.

As I studied and thought about these things, I began to filter through much of what I was taught by rote. Prohibitions against lying, theft and murder make sense. It keeps us civilized, smooths the social gears so that we can interact honestly, efficiently and without fear of each other. The hair thing didn't stand up to scrutiny. My hair looks good long, and I get compliments on it. Neither does the prohibition against homosexuality. Naturally, homosexual lovers are not going to procreate without artificial assistance that was not available up to seventy years ago (I don't know when artificial insemination first became viable, and I don't care to look it up for the purposes of this article). Hygiene is again an issue, but I assume all individuals are responsible for the consequences of their own actions; we have the education and technology to maintain proper hygiene in homosexual relationships. Furthermore, I know I'm not going to catch something incurable because I shake hands or give a hug to my homosexual friends. Also after further self-examination, I realized I'm not likely to do more than that; guys don't turn me on.

Bit by bit in a process that is ongoing and continues to this day, I went through my values and beliefs one by one to weigh them against my own moral compass. Envy is a bad thing, so that stays. I work hard not to allow feelings of envy or jealousy affect my behavior. Monogamy doesn't stand up for me. Philosophically, I see no reason why we have to treat each other as property, and so long as we're educated and responsible the hygiene issue is again moot. Commitment is another issue, but monogamy and commitment are topics for another rant. And so on and so forth.

In the end, I realized that religion is a social convention at best, and a highly abused social convention at that. There are lots of people capable of embracing the tenants and principles of religion and using them toward self-improvement and altruistic goals. I applaud these individuals. There are far more who cling to religion as an anchor in an ocean of instability and ignorance; they believe in God not because they choose to seek enlightenment or moral guidelines, but because they're frightened and pitiful and want justification for the world that goes on around them. Then there are those who seek religion as a means to an end; they couldn't care less what the system is; they would be just as happy praying to Mecca as they are attending Church. It's the "get out of Hell free" card that allows them to go on with business as usual, paying lip service to the strictures laid upon them. Many of them do this because they've been taught that this is the way it is, and they're not willing to examine what they're taught and judge it for themselves. And quite a few people use religion as an excuse to raise themselves above others, to oppress those they disapprove of or disagree with, to dictate behavior they deem appropriate to everyone, regardless of what anyone else thinks. Racists, moralists, terrorists and fanatics all have one thing in common: they're going to purify the world and save you from yourself no matter what you want. They're doing it for your own good, and that justifies anything.

I believe God is out there. I believe God is watching and shaking Her head, counting the years and centuries until we grow up and grow out of our need to dictate belief, thought and behavior to everyone else. Once we do, we'll find that organized religion isn't necessary anymore; we'll behave with compassion and respect to each other regardless of our differences because we'll understand we are no better than anyone else. We have no lock on the truth, because reality is best defined as a matter of opinion. What is true for me isn't necessarily true for you; the only common good arises from mutual respect and tolerance. Maybe then we'll take the next step toward touching the Face of God.


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What do you believe?
o God is the only way. All others are doomed to everlasting torment. 7%
o God is Love and tolerates all. 5%
o Allah is great, and infidels must die. 2%
o Buddha knows the truth. 5%
o God is. 12%
o God is dead. 21%
o One God is too simplistic. The Gods are out there. 5%
o Other. 40%

Votes: 185
Results | Other Polls

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o Also by spaceghoti

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God, Religion and Humankind | 161 comments (145 topical, 16 editorial, 0 hidden)
An often overlooked perspective (4.77 / 9) (#2)
by Anonymous 242 on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 03:23:44 PM EST

The classic Eastern Orthodox view is that heaven and hell are the same external state and the only difference is the internal state of the individual. The afterlife, per classic Orthdox thought, is simply being in the presence of God. For those willing to accept this love, this experience is bliss. For those not willing to accept this love, this experience is torment.

So what makes a person decide to reject the love of God? Our choices. With each choice we make, we become more open to God or more closed to God. With each of our actions we either build our own egos up further which makes us less likely to be willing to submit to the Godhead or tear our own egos down which makes us more likely to be willing to submit to the Godhead.

If anyone wants a fresh depiction of Christianity, pick up a copy of the Philokalia which is a five volume collection of the writings of the desert Fathers of the Orthodox Church. The path of the Christian painted there is vastly different than what we Occidental Christians have been taught is the narrow path.

Conscience (3.00 / 1) (#54)
by jabber on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 07:03:51 PM EST

Doesn't that just boil down to the state of one's conscience at the end of life? Now, conscience is a vacuuous term. What is mean is the state of guilt, regret, resentment or otherwise dis-harmony with the world; an unfulfilled desire to control, subdue or otherwise alter Creation to our own ends.

So ultimatelly, all those who feel deserving of Heaven are already on the list. That sounds a lot harder than just following a Pastor, like a good sheep should.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"
[ Parent ]

The role of conscience in Orthodox Christianity (none / 0) (#94)
by Anonymous 242 on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 11:08:39 AM EST

Doesn't that just boil down to the state of one's conscience at the end of life?
By no means is this the case. The role of the conscience is to guide the individual in this life. The role of the conscience is not to be our judge on judgement day, but rather to prepare us for judgement day. Our conscience tells us right from wrong even if he have not been so schooled.
Now, conscience is a vacuuous term. What is mean is the state of guilt, regret, resentment or otherwise dis-harmony with the world; an unfulfilled desire to control, subdue or otherwise alter Creation to our own ends.
Conscience is only a vaccuous term when used in a pluralistic discussion with no attempts at disctinction. Clearly the definition of the conscience varies quite widely between Wicca, Zen Buddhism, Libertarianism, Orthodox Christianity, Calvinist Christianity, etc. If one is speaking of a specific set of beliefs, as I was about Eastern Orthodox Christianity, then the word conscience has a very specific meaning.
So ultimatelly, all those who feel deserving of Heaven are already on the list. That sounds a lot harder than just following a Pastor, like a good sheep should.
This is certainly not the case. Consider Jesus' parable of the sheep and the goats. This parable concerns two sets of people. One set is quite surprised to be going to heaven. The other set is quite surprised to go to hell. Jesus commended the sheep for clothing him while naked, feeding him when hungry, visiting him when in prison, caring for him when sick. Jesus condemned the goats for not doing any of those actions. Both the sheep and the goats questioned Jesus about when they ever saw him naked, hungry, imprisoned or sick. Jesus' answer was "Whenever you did this to the least of these. . ."

The conscience tells us what we ought to be doing. The more we empty ourselves, the more we'll be likely to accept the love of God. Accepting the love of God is not some cute, warm-fuzzy feeling with angels playing harps. The love of God is a terrible, wonderful thing full of awe and beyond anything we can imagine.

Think of the old adage: everyone wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die. Yet going to heaven does entail our death, both physical and spiritual. To the extent that we are not willing to let go of our own ego to accept penetration by the love of God, we will not be able to accept the love of God.

[ Parent ]

Conscience (5.00 / 1) (#98)
by jabber on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 12:29:14 PM EST

I fully agree that the conscience is a moral compass during life. My thinking was more along the lines of the sum total of the conscience upon death. But of course, this assumes that people who do 'wrong' know it. If the final state of the conscience can be thought of as representing a persons choices, actions and intentions throughout their life, then how can it not be that a clear conscience makes one deserving of Heaven?

The other interesting point you raise is that of emptying one's self and the total surrender to the love of God. This has always been a very interesting aspect of Christianity to me, despite the fact that I am not a practicing Catholic.

Most non-practicioners seem to write their faith off as a social convention holding little value, while I consider the ritual to be residual and excessive, but the moral philosophy to be important. Any morality is better than a greedy algorithm approach, IMO. The ritual of Catholicism, for it's own sake, is pointless and hypocritical, but when used as a reinforcement (a template of sorts) for the deeper meanings of the religion, it becomes a valuable mnemonic. But that's all a separate discussion.
The idea of 'free will' and the choice of surrendering this free-will as the condition of Salvation, is something that I've wrestled with for some time. There is something that seems missing from modern Christianity, and it is the idea that God wants to be questioned, challenged and argued with - God wants us to make an individual, personal, earnest effort at comprehension of Him - with the subsequent willfull, free and informed acceptance of Him.

What seems to take the place of this reasoning is the 'recipe worship' that I see every Sunday. People rush to Church, to make it before the bell, and rush out just as quickly after Communion - frequently honking and flipping the bird when the fellow worshiper in front of them isn't moving quickly enough.

They go to church, recite the Nicean Creed, offer each other the Sign of Peace and go through all the other motions because 'it is the right thing to do', but they are simply regurgitating what they were told decades ago. They are running a program, and worshiping by rote, and so I don't join them. I'm not ready, I haven't wrestled with God enough yet. I still have questions which I need to answer for myself.

Anyway.. Thanks for the education.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"
[ Parent ]

Orthodoxy and Apophatic Theology (4.00 / 1) (#102)
by hexmode on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 01:34:24 PM EST

I was going to mention the Orthodox Chritians here, but you beat me to it.

There is a bit of diversity in the Orthodox church, but one thing I've really noticed is the influence of Apophatic Theology. I noticed its influence even before I knew what it was.

Essentially, Apophatic Theology is a method of thinking about God in which, when a statement is made about God, you immediately qualify that statement or "un-say" it.

For example, we might say "God is Love", but immediatly qualify that by saying that his love does not always manifest itself in a way that we might want it to. Another example from The Orthodox Way is this quote: If we say that [God] exists, we must qualify this immediatly by adding that he is not one existent object among many.

Another interesting aspect of Orthodoxy is how much it does not say about those outside of the Orthodox faith. Much of Western Christianity (especially Protestants) says, for example, that non-Christians are hell-bound.

Orthodoxy stops short of this and says that we only know how Christians are commanded to live. We know what God has told us about how to pursue his kingdom, but God is free to grant mercy to whoever he wishes. God is a free agent, though, just as we are and no one can demand punishment or grace from him.

People interested in learning a bit more about how Orthodoxy is different than Protestant Christianity can get more of a taste of Orthodoxy from the portions The Spiritual Life online.

[ Parent ]
Apophatic theology (none / 0) (#118)
by Anonymous 242 on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 04:23:35 PM EST

I made a similiar post in space fish's diary entry that was promoted to this article. Being to lazy to make my same post again, I decided to post something a bit different.

I'm a relatively recent convert to Orthodoxy. It was just last Sunday that my wife and I were officially received as catechumens. That said, I've been reading up on Orthodoxy for about two years. I read too much.

[ Parent ]

Ahem. (3.33 / 3) (#4)
by Inoshiro on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 03:31:02 PM EST

"Monogamy doesn't stand up for me." -- sure it doesn't, because you've never been in a serious pair bombing situation. Rarely do pair bonds exist that can stand competition -- jealously always ends up happening.

Don't look at it just from your own perspective -- look at it as an elightened 3rd party. Read some sociology :-)

[ イノシロ ]
Pair bombing (4.00 / 1) (#8)
by spaceghoti on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 03:57:21 PM EST

If by pair bombing you mean polyamorous relationship that broke down due to pairs splitting off to be exclusive, you're right. I haven't been in that situation. However, I have been in polyamorous relationships that were able to overcome jealousy issues and accept non-monogamy through the length of those relationships. One lasted for two years, the other for six months.

In both cases, I ended my involvement in those relationships for non-jealousy reasons. In the first I really wanted/needed to get out of South Carolina and my partners weren't willing to leave with me. Life choices dictated we separate, though on good terms. In the second situation the relationships were not healthy to begin with. Monogamy (or its lack) was not an issue, maturity was.

What I learned is that it's possible to overcome the social programming that's been instilled in most of us, which includes the bias toward monogamy. It isn't always easy and not everyone wants to. I don't think it should be forced, either way. All I can say is I learned what works for me. But again, I believe this is a topic for another rant.

"Humor. It is a difficult concept. It is not logical." -Saavik, ST: Wrath of Khan

[ Parent ]
Pear Bombing! (4.50 / 2) (#55)
by jabber on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 07:13:17 PM EST

Nothing as complicated as you think. What he really meant was getting a bunch of pears at the super-market, letting them get about a week and a half beyond 'ripe', and then running through the area "Make-out spot" throwing said fruit at the lip-locked attendees.

People always read so much into things. Sheesh!

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"
[ Parent ]

Ungod, Anti-religion and anykind (3.46 / 13) (#7)
by Defect on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 03:46:16 PM EST

As a Deist, I believe that a codified system of worship for God is ludicrous and laughable..

As an Atheist, I believe that any system of worship for a god is ludicrous and laughable.
defect - jso - joseth || a link
Atheism is a religion. (1.66 / 12) (#14)
by cbatt on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 04:17:23 PM EST

Your system of worship is your continued belief in and rejection of the existance of a god. The god of atheism is the belief in no god.

Agnosticism is taking a neutral stance. Basically, it demands that there is an equal weight of possibility for either the positive or negative position. Because there is no manner that we know of to evaluate and prove the answer, do not answer.

Atheism is simply choosing the opposite of Deism. It assumes that there is an answer, yes or no.

Atheism is as laughable as any other religion.

Before you can understand recursion
you must understand recursion.

[ Parent ]

Shades of Atheism (5.00 / 6) (#18)
by Anonymous 242 on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 04:45:30 PM EST

Some types of Atheism are a relgion and others are not. Formerly I held a view similiar to yours but I was corrected in a not-so-recent forum (the one about GWB's plan to subsidize faith based charities).

Atheism - There are two types of atheism: positive and negative.

The first is the belief that there is no God. Depending on the basis of this belief, this type of atheism can be a religion. Some athesists I know are atheists because if there was a God, he wouldn't have let certain events happen. This is basically a relgious stance. Other atheists I know are atheists because they believe that a preponderance of scientific evidence exists that God does not exist. This is not usually a religious stance.

The second type of athesim is lack of a belief in God. I used to confuse this stance with agnosticism, but it isn't. This type of atheism is a simple lack of belief and is not usually religious in nature.

Agnosticism - This is nearly always a religious belief.

Agnosticism is the belief that the question of the existence of God is meaningless. The agnostic believes that there is no way for us to answer the question of God's existence in any meaninful fashion. This is essentially a religious stance because it is entirely a statement of faith in a certain epistemological axiom that (according to agnostics) can not be proved or disproved.

[ Parent ]

Shades of agnosticism? (none / 0) (#31)
by whatnotever on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 05:37:33 PM EST

I consider myself an agnostic. I don't know if god exists, and I don't know if we can determine that or not. It's a simple "I dunno." So is that the "negative atheism" you mention, or something else?

[ Parent ]
Flavors of Belief (none / 0) (#109)
by MrAcheson on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 02:43:20 PM EST

The question is "Is there a god?"

If you answer "NO" then you are a positive athiest.

If you answer "I doubt it" then you are a negative athiest.

If you answer "I don't know" then you are agnostic.

These opinions do not represent those of the US Army, DoD, or US Government.

[ Parent ]
here's my position (1.00 / 1) (#38)
by cbatt on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 05:52:22 PM EST

Agnosticism is not a choice between god or no god. It is a choice between making the choice about god or no god, and saying: I'm not making that choice because both answers are unverifiable at the moment.

It does not hinge on science, nor does it hinge on faith because it is not trying to answer the god question. It is AVOIDING the god question altogether.

Atheism is deciding to decide on whether or not god exists. The answer for atheists is "god does not exist".

The minute you make the choice to choose yes or no, then you are committing yourself to faith. Faith in science, or faith in metaphysics. It does NOT matter because ultimately, it is a question about trying to evaluate something which cannot be evaluated.

You are also making a mistake when saying the agnosticism is religious because it hinges on "faith in a certain epistemological axiom that (according to agnostics) can not be proved or disproved". No it doesn't.

It is saying that either answer might be right, and either might be wrong. They cannot be evaluated right now. That does not mean that they cannot be in the future. That it the critical mistake in your reasoning.

If it so happends that it can be proven, then agnostics will make the choice.

Before you can understand recursion
you must understand recursion.

[ Parent ]

Classic agnosticism (4.66 / 3) (#62)
by Anonymous 242 on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 08:40:10 PM EST

The first generation of agnostics (Dr. Thomas H. Huxley and company) would disagree with your terminology. Classic agnosticism is indeed a faith and is much more than simply shrugging one's shoulders and saying "I don't know." Agnosticism is the belief that the very question of the existence of God is meaningless and impossible to answer. Note that Huxley states:
When I reached intellectual maturity and began to ask myself whether I was an atheist, a theist, or a pantheist; a materialist or an idealist; a Christian or a freethinker - I found that the more I learned and reflected, the less ready was the answer; until, at last, I came to the conclusion that I had neither art nor part with any of these denominations, except the last. The one thing in which most of these good people were agreed was the one thing in which I differed from them. They were quite sure they had attained a certain "gnosis" - had, more or less successfully, solved the problem of existence; while I was quite sure I had not, and had a pretty strong conviction that the problem was insoluble. And, with Hume and Kant on my side, I could not think myself presumptuous in holding fast by that opinion. Like Dante -
"Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
Mi ritrovai per una selva oscura," *

but, unlike Dante, I can not add -

"Che la diritta via era smarrita." **
* [In the midway of this our mortal life
I found me in a gloomy wood astray.]

** [Gone from the path direct.]

Many atheists would not agree to the statement "I believe that God does not exist." All atheists, however, would agree to the statement "I don't believe God exists." There is a large disctinction between not believing a proposition and believing the negation of a proposition.

Only the atheists make a positive statement of belief (beliveing that God does not exist) are in danger of aptly being tarnished with the brush of being religious. Take A.J. Ayer as an example. He made absolutely no bones about religiously adhering to atheism. A few other famous atheists (such as Madeleine Murray O'Hare) were also pretty open about the religious nature of their beliefs.

An interesting historical note is that the first few generations of Christians were repeatedly accused of being atheists. It seems that believing that the pantheon of Imperial Rome didn't actually exist qualified them to be atheists even though they obviously thought that God did exist.

[ Parent ]

okay (none / 0) (#92)
by cbatt on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 10:55:36 AM EST

Here's the deal, when faced with the question:

"Does god exist?"

What does an Atheist say?
My understanding is that they would say "No".

What does a theist say?
My understanding is that they would say "Yes".

Am I confused about this?

So what you are saying then, is that an Agnostic would say, "The question is unanswerable." ?

I can accept that. I have never formally studied this and my language usage is quite possibly incorrect.

So then, by simply shrugging my shoulder and saying "I don't know." What am I? That eliminates the above three, provided that my statement about each is correct.

It's not to say anything about the question itself. It's a matter of all answers that I've ever known of, being unsatisfactory.

As I said before: I cannot answer the question, right now. I accept that it might be answerable, or that it might not. But right now, it's not because all arguments for or against hang on postulates that hinge on assumption.

Obviously this is different from thedefinition of Agnosticism that you present, in that I do not claim that the answer can never be answered. A fine distinction.

Before you can understand recursion
you must understand recursion.

[ Parent ]

my response (5.00 / 2) (#95)
by Anonymous 242 on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 11:24:54 AM EST

Q: Do you believe that God exists?
Atheist 1: No.
Atheist 2: No.
Agnostic: No.

Q: Do you believe that God does not exist?
Atheist 1: Yes
Atheist 2: No.
Agnostic: No.

Q: Do you believe that the question of God's existence is answerable?
Atheist 1: Yes
Atheist 2: Yes.
Agnostic: No.

I left the theist and deist positions out because I think it's pretty self-evident what their answers would be.

The bottom line is that no matter how one divides up the classifications there is going to be someone who feels like their toes are being stepped on. I'm constantly surprised by the strength of some people's feelings in being termed an agnostic over being termed an atheist or vice versa. One should note that these definitions come from hard core philosophers. Their usage is not necessarily that of the common person.

And if one really wants to get pendantic we can add a third level of atheist, a person whose behavior is ungodly. But if we do this then we wind up with some people being atheistic theists. ;)

[ Parent ]

Faith in science (4.50 / 2) (#80)
by Khalad on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 05:43:22 AM EST

I think most people who disregard belief in science as mere "faith" are severely abusing the word. Faith is a strong belief in something without evidence. Science, on the other hand, is a giant hierarchy of inductive and deductive theories based strictly upon observational evidence. The only faith required to believe in science are the belief in causality and the belief that things will happen as they have happened before.

If you call these two beliefs mere faith you are adopting the ultra-skeptical view that we can know nothing. If you do not even accept causality or order you can accept nothing. What is more primitive than the belief that the universe exists and is not fundamentally chaotic? Yyou should be questioning the existence of the universe, of the mind, of everything. To take this skeptical point of view is to say that we can never know anything, that all belief is faith, and if this is how you use "faith" the word might as well be meaningless.

The question of God's existence can be evaluated, even if no absolute certainty is reached. It is impossible to prove a negative inductively, but in my mind Occham's Razor rules. When confronted, religious debaters tend to redefine "God" into an idea with no meaning. What is the point of a God who doesn't interact with us, provides no evidence of his existence, and cannot explain anything that science cannot? What use is such a God if He does nothing at all?

The only fallback is faith, an irrational (do not take offense at the word's negative connotation) belief in His existence. Faith is not an argument, and it will not convince anyone. If you wish to argue for the existence of God you should be ready to accept that perhaps there is no compelling argument. There is only faith. The atheist has a very compelling argument for his belief--Occham's Razor, the lack of scientific evidence. This is a solid argument, even if it proves nothing. It is not faith.

It is not faith.

You remind me why I still, deep in my bitter crusty broken heart, love K5. —rusty

[ Parent ]
No, you're assuming too much (none / 0) (#82)
by quantum pixie on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 07:09:43 AM EST

One of the huge assumptions you are making is that your memories accurately reflect past events. You have no way of proving or disproving this, but if it is false, then your "giant hierarchy of inductive and deductive theories" could be nothing more than your imagination. If your memory is not valid or if your perceptions do not reflect a reality external to yourself, science will not give you grounds to know anything.

If you find Occam's Razor compelling, consider a simpler explanation for what you perceive than the one you currently subscribe to. Perhaps there is nothing except for you, and all that you perceive as the world is contained within you and merely a product of your perception. This is probably the simplist explanation of reality that aligns with what you observe.

Anyway, adhering to Occum's Razor is absurd if you value rationality. The rule is, after all, a fabrication, and not grounded in anything except intuition.

Finally, when you deprecate irrational belief, you disparage almost all beliefs.

Only one thing can be known wholly rationally: I am

Free qpt!
[ Parent ]
OT: Ockham, please. (3.00 / 2) (#85)
by pwhysall on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 08:17:35 AM EST

Seen it spelt three different ways in two posts and felt I had to set the record straight :)
K5 Editors
I'm going to wager that the story keeps getting dumped because it is a steaming pile of badly formatted fool-meme.
[ Parent ]
Occam and Ockham are both widely used (none / 0) (#88)
by Anonymous 242 on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 09:56:12 AM EST

I'm not sure about Occum though. My guess is that the last variant is a typo.

[ Parent ]
actually (none / 0) (#90)
by Defect on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 10:23:03 AM EST

It's really spelled "law of parsimony"

defect - jso - joseth || a link
[ Parent ]
Faith, science, etc. (none / 0) (#113)
by MrAcheson on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 03:19:37 PM EST

It is a fallacy that you can, using purely natural scientific methods, detect the presense of a supernatural being. Supernatural means that this being is above the natural world and not bound by its laws. He is effectively undetectable unless he wishes to be detected. Since science cannot detect God, the logical conclusion is that we have no data so we can make no conclusions. Occums razor does not really support the athiest more than the theist.

Furthermore science, as a body of knowledge, is founded upon absolute naturalism. To use it to defeat supernaturalism is circular since science assumes no supernatural interaction in the first place.

As for faith being irrational, all rational arguments start on the basis of faith with postulates. I believe this is called epistemology (?). You have to start somewhere that you can't prove. The more theories you get the further back you start, but the initial foundation is always on an unproven assertion.

Faith is assumption of the unproven or unprovable. You can tell whether this faith is misplaced or not by what fruit it bears so to speak. If the initial assumption is good then it should fit what you observe. If not then it should not.

Finally if you wish to invoke Occum's razor, which is the simpler or better solution? We came to be here through mind-boggling huge coincidences across billions of years and light-years, creating order from disorder in what would, at least superficially, appear to be a violation of the laws of thermodynamics. We were created by something bigger than all this.

These opinions do not represent those of the US Army, DoD, or US Government.

[ Parent ]
My problem with agnosticism (4.50 / 2) (#87)
by zakalwe on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 09:31:09 AM EST

If it so happends that it can be proven, then agnostics will make the choice.
This can also be said for atheists and theists however. If sufficient evidence comes along, I will change my position from atheism to a belief in god. I'm sure if convincing evidence that no gods exist, then many theists would also change their position.

The issue of what we believe can only ever be evaluated on what we know now. Saying "I don't know yet" is fine, but few agnostics also apply this to other things with a similar degree of evidence. If I ask you "Do you believe in fairies?", I'd guess you'd say "No." Doubtless if I phrased it "Do you believe that fairies definitely do not exist" you may say there's a small probability. But answering the first question with "The answer can't be determined now, so I'm withholding judgement" seems ridiculous, and further false - you don't live your life considering the possibility of fairies existing equally likely.

[ Parent ]

two things (none / 0) (#89)
by cbatt on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 10:22:34 AM EST

You're right that theists and deists will also make the choice when faced with overwhelming evidence... but until that time, they are making choices based on faith alone and making a choice with zero ability to prove it's validity is laughable.

And to say that I don't answer questions about fairies with a "maybe" is to assume a lot about me.

One of the most frustrating things about me, at least according to my wife, is that I never commit one way or the other to anything that I do not feel significantly sure about.

She believe's in ghosts. Most would find that laughable. I simply find it boring. I really don't have an opinion on the matter and can't even talk to her about it because my position frustrates her. I never say that she's wrong or right or even hint that I think ghosts exist or don't... it's a matter of simply ignoring the question until further evidence is obtained.

In the case of fairies, I simply don't have an opinion. There are lots of people that claim they exist, and lots more that say "balderdash". I simply don't care one way or the other because neither side has a compelling argument and the answer really doesn't matter in the least.

Before you can understand recursion
you must understand recursion.

[ Parent ]

Atheism *in itself* is never a religion (none / 0) (#99)
by Per Abrahamsen on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 01:05:38 PM EST

Just like belief in god(s) *in itself* can never be a religion.

Both can be elements of a religion. Buddhism is (in some forms) an atheist religion, a religion without gods.

A religion to bo worthy of the name should contain more than a single belief, for example an ethic system and some meta-physical system. Preferably also some rituals and symbols to distinguish it from a mere ideology.

One could claim that secular humanism and marxism are religions, but even that would be stretching it.

[ Parent ]
the idea of atheism as a religion (5.00 / 1) (#105)
by jkominek on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 01:51:35 PM EST

your mental lexicon apparently has a bug. allow me to correct it by providing you with a correct definition of "religion", acquired from wordnet.
  1. a strong belief in a supernatural power or powers that control human destiny; "he lost his faith but not his morality" [syn: {faith}, {religious belief}]
  2. institution to express belief in a divine power; "he was raised in the Baptist religion"; "a member of his own faith contradicted him" [syn: {faith}]
there you go. with your lexicon fixed, you can realize that saying "atheism is a religion" is nonsensical. the word religion implies belief in something supernatural or divine. the non-existance of a fictional being is not supernatural, many fictional beings are non-existant, and something which does not exist cannot by divine.

while i am an atheist myself, the above phraseology is not meant to advance that viewpoint. it is simply reflecting the meanings of the words 'atheism' and 'religion'.

- jay kominek unix is all about covering up the fact that you can't type.
[ Parent ]

Athiesm (none / 0) (#107)
by MrAcheson on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 02:38:31 PM EST

Alright there are two kinds of athiests. The "there is no god" set and the "lock of belief" set. Or to put it more basically, if you ask an athiest if there is a god he will say either "No" or "I doubt it".

The first set is really close to being a religion since it essentially a belief or belief system built on faith (because you cannot prove there is no God) and focused on a supernatural being. By your definition it is not technically a religion but it is damn close. Granted it does not involve the worship of the supernatural but it does hinge on the existence or lack thereof of a supernatural being.

The second is not and is essentially agnosticism that is leaning towards the "no" side of the fence. In my experience the people espousing this view are either (1) really in the first set but know it is intellectually undefendable or (2) think its Gods problem to prove to them that he exists and until he does then they will continue to doubt him.

These opinions do not represent those of the US Army, DoD, or US Government.

[ Parent ]
little green men (5.00 / 1) (#128)
by jkominek on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 07:05:36 PM EST

I believe there are little green men who live on Pluto.


Prove me wrong.

If atheism has to prove that god does not exist, then you have to prove that the little green men don't live there. Logic, science, and the real world work on requiring people to prove things, not requiring people who disagree with you to prove you wrong.

Of course, if you just want to say, "god is more special than anything else, so the normal rules of discourse and debate don't apply", then thats fine and good, just say so.

As far as things being damn close... you can be asymptotically close to something if you want, but that doesn't matter because you're still not there.

Further, Atheism is not the opposite of Christianity, it does not hinge on the non-existance of the Christian god. Atheists disbelieve in your god and everyone else's too.

- jay kominek unix is all about covering up the fact that you can't type.
[ Parent ]

question to christians (3.00 / 7) (#11)
by alprazolam on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 04:08:49 PM EST

ok i'm an atheist. i don't really understand how you can believe in god. i can understand why you would want to believe in god. my girlfriend, an atheist too, thinks that most (ok lee non orthodox) christians don't really believe in god, they are just kind of going along with it, or they are deists but don't believe in heaven and hell, etc. i sort of think most christians really believe the whole thing (of whatever sect of christianity they are). which is it?

by the way i'm not questioning any belief anybody has, whatever you believe is fine, i just don't get to talk to a lot of thoughtful christians.

Happy to follow up on that... (3.33 / 6) (#15)
by seebs on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 04:20:04 PM EST

I keep planning to do a web page about this.

Why do I believe in God? Well, because it seems odd to me to not have an answer to the question "and where did that all come from". Why are the various physical constants where they are? Why, if I take an unlikely number between two and three, and raise it to a power which is the result of multiplying the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, times the square root of minus one, and add one, do I end up at zero again?

It fits my sense of structure to say "this is all on purpose". Why would you want to believe in God? Because it makes sense, and it makes for a pleasingly aesthetic worldview.

Why would you *want* to believe in imaginary numbers? Because it turns out that many interesting mathematical results require you to.

Why do I believe in God? Because it seems to be a correct evaluation.

You have to pick a few axioms eventually. Among mine are "the things I sense exist beyond my senses, most of the time", and "people have intrinsic value". One of them is "this was all made on purpose". It isn't a scientifically verifiable hypothesis. So what?

[ Parent ]
God is needed for nothing (3.83 / 6) (#22)
by hensema on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 04:53:11 PM EST

Not having an answer to a question, even the question "and where did that all come from" is no reason to believe in a God. It is just plain stupid (excuse me for trolling here, but I'm trying to make a point).

Saying: I don't understand this or that therefore a god must exist is just .... weak. Just say 'I don't know'.

Look around in the world. Is there anything happening there which would _require_ a god? Surely nothing out there outrules a god, so I cannot say a god doesn't exist, but I firmly believe nothing outthere requires the existence of a god.

BTW, I'm not a mathmetician, but AFIAK imaginary numbers only help you to simplify a problem, for instance algebra using complex powers of e is easier than trigoniometry. But that's besides the point.

Introducing a god in the world makes things suddenly far more complex. Why wouldn't everything obey to simple laws of physics but instead most things should appear to obey these laws but a god is controlling all or part of them? That's just weird.

Could you explain to me what parts of our history require a god? And no, I cannot tell you how the universe started and I'm happy to admit it.
- erik
[ Parent ]
Not needed, but... (2.00 / 3) (#33)
by /dev/null on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 05:46:26 PM EST

The fact that sentient beings exist provides a strong case for the existence of God. The universe had exactly one chance to form a set of laws that would allow life (unless you believe in the concept of a universe endlessly shrinking and expanding). The fact that these laws are well-organized and allow for life to form to me helps justify my belief in an omnipotent God. Also, although I don't understand much about the universe, I never attempt to fill in the unknown areas by marking them "God's buisiness, not mine" and sealing them off. I believe humanity is nothing if we do not attempt to understand the world we live in, and why we are here. Although there is and probably never will be any proof that God exists, I believe our existence makes a strong case for His/Her/Its existence.

[ Parent ]
I hate that argument (4.00 / 2) (#48)
by fluffy grue on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 06:28:08 PM EST

"The universe had exactly one chance..." Why is this particular universe, by definition, the only one which can support life? Just because you haven't seen life in other universes doesn't mean that it isn't possible. Absence of evidence != evidence of absence.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Fine then (1.00 / 1) (#50)
by /dev/null on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 06:36:01 PM EST

Show me all these other universes, please. The concept of multiple universes is a concept that is more or less on the fringe of science. That's not to say it's wrong, but the standard, probability-based explaination makes much more sense to me.

[ Parent ]
Um (4.00 / 1) (#68)
by fluffy grue on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 12:26:47 AM EST

You kinda missed part of my point. This was a hypothetical, subjunctive argument to a faith-based assertion (namely that there was a divine presence or at least a huge stroke of luck responsible for the universe being capable of sustaining life). I said "what if?" in response to an (IMO absurd) faith-based proposition.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Another take on it (4.00 / 2) (#49)
by fluffy grue on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 06:29:45 PM EST

Also, perhaps there are an infinite number of universes, each one with their own set of laws of physics. And say that this is the only one with sentient life. Well, of COURSE we'd only observe this universe with life in it - the others have no life to observe it with! Just because this universe is one in a googolplex doesn't mean that it's the only one.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Anthropic principle (5.00 / 2) (#86)
by zakalwe on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 09:07:39 AM EST

You can't base arguments based on the probability of events that have already happened. The probability of life evolving in the universe, giving that you are alive and discussing it is exactly 1.0, not some amazingly improbable coincidence.

Yes, you could say that before we were here that the probability was small, but you can't do that. Here's an experiment to demonstrate why - take a coin and flip it 100 times. Here's what I get (Actually with a script - but assume I did it for real):


The probability of this sequence of Heads/Tails in this order is 1/2^100 (about 7*10^-31.) Isn't it incredible that something so vastly improbable just occurred!

You can't say that the probability of life developing is proof of God anymore than saying that "before I flipped the coins, the probability of getting that sequence was tiny, therefore I must have cheated/divine intervention occurred." We can make no claims about the paths not taken. In many life did not develop, in some, perhaps sentience wildly different to our own did - but the only one we can consider is the one we are in, and we already know that life exists there.

[ Parent ]

quantum physics (2.00 / 1) (#51)
by spacejack on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 06:37:28 PM EST

Saying: I don't understand this or that therefore a god must exist is just .... weak. Just say 'I don't know'.

One could say that quantum physics is a faith-based science.. faith in the fact that we cannot know what a particle may be doing at certain times..

[ Parent ]
Necessity (4.00 / 2) (#79)
by hensema on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 05:34:10 AM EST

The quantum-principle is currently [1] necessary in the laws of physics. Based on observations and experiments scientists came to the conclusion that by measuring the speed of a particle, it would be impossible to determine its location and vise versa.

That's fine by me.

[1] please bear in mind that at this time science doesn't explain everything and hasn't got proof for all theories. This point may never be reached. So, yes, you'll probably allways have to have faith in science that their saying the right thing, while you know science doesn't explain all.
- erik
[ Parent ]
Good science != Faith (5.00 / 2) (#93)
by /dev/niall on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 11:07:17 AM EST

One could say that quantum physics is a faith-based science.. faith in the fact that we cannot know what a particle may be doing at certain times..

Quantum theory is just that: theory. Anyone who has "faith" in this case is missing the point. Faith implies certainty; if that's what you're looking for stick to Newtonion physics. ;)

"compared to the other apes, my genitals are gigantic" -- TheophileEscargot
[ Parent ]

Uncertainty (none / 0) (#160)
by synaesthesia on Fri Jan 11, 2002 at 02:48:34 PM EST

I'm not quite sure what you're trying to say here. Faith implies certainly in the mind of the faithful. Quantum Scientists are certain that their understanding of physics is better than one which does not involve uncertainty!

Sausages or cheese?
[ Parent ]
Re: Happy to follow up on that... (4.60 / 5) (#26)
by johnathan on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 05:26:25 PM EST

Why do I believe in God? Well, because it seems odd to me to not have an answer to the question "and where did that all come from".
I have always failed to understand how a supernatural being could be a satisfactory answer to this question. If a god created the universe, then what created the god? The god has always existed? That's a cop-out. Why not just assert that the universe has always been here? I don't see the difference.
Why, if I take an unlikely number between two and three, and raise it to a power which is the result of multiplying the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, times the square root of minus one, and add one, do I end up at zero again?
Why not? It's not as if e and circles are unrelated. e^x, sin x, and cos x have very similar Taylor polynomials, and, of course, the sine and cosine of pi are nice numbers like -1 and 0. So why do e^x and sin x and cos x have similar Taylor polynomials? Because of gods? Well, let's say they didn't. If the expansion of e^x weren't 1+x+x^2/2!..., then that would be the expansion of some other number, maybe called q. Then you'd be talking about how neat it is that q^pi*i = -1.
Why would you *want* to believe in imaginary numbers? Because it turns out that many interesting mathematical results require you to.
This is patently absurd. "Believing" in imaginary numbers is no different than "believing" in rational numbers, or any class of numbers (other than the naturals, which are called that for a good reason). There is nothing to believe in. They are all a construct of man; just because imaginary numbers might be a bit harder to get one's head around doesn't make them less real. (Yes, they are misnamed.)

Needless to say, I am not impressed by the argument from design.

Her profession's her religion; her sin: her lifelessness.
[ Parent ]

Good question. (3.75 / 4) (#17)
by spaceghoti on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 04:23:38 PM EST

My answer is I started believing in God because, frankly, I was taught to. But as I stated, I took that belief and held it under the microscope.

In the end I decided that there was no logical reason to not believe in God. This is because there's entirely too much about the Universe that we don't understand and doesn't fit in our present science. I've seen too much "coincidence" to believe it's all just the result of chaos theory. The end result was a belief in a Higher Power that wasn't exactly the God I was taught, but a driving force nonetheless. I try to keep an open mind about whether or not God exists and who or what that Entity might be, but I lean toward the assumption that God is out there, somewhere. I even accept that God might be a more highly evolved being or race observing us for their own benefit; blasphemy is not in my lexicon.

"Humor. It is a difficult concept. It is not logical." -Saavik, ST: Wrath of Khan

[ Parent ]
thats what i might expect (3.00 / 1) (#36)
by alprazolam on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 05:49:11 PM EST

but is it true of most christians do you think? i don't even know if its a christian belief but i guess it doesn't matter.

[ Parent ]
Most Christians (4.00 / 3) (#42)
by spaceghoti on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 06:04:53 PM EST

As I may have already expressed, I believe that most religious people don't even get so far as whether or not they believe in God. It isn't a valid question, it's a given. Of course God exists. I say this because that's the environment I grew up in. Questioning authority is not an option, and questioning God is pure heresy.

I allow that there are thoughtful, self-critical individuals who actually think about why they believe in God. Their reasons vary from person to person, and are generally unique. Most everyone else just answers with standardized forms: "Because He made me." "Because I feel His love." "Because Science can't explain God." They justify their beliefs without ever once thinking about it. This is also known as a "knee-jerk" reaction.

DISCLAIMER: Some of the above statements are also valid reasons given by people who have tested their beliefs. They're just most commonly used by those who haven't.

"Humor. It is a difficult concept. It is not logical." -Saavik, ST: Wrath of Khan

[ Parent ]
so then (2.00 / 1) (#45)
by alprazolam on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 06:17:54 PM EST

there are a lot of people who don't even think about thinking about whether god exists, yada yada? it just seems odd because i haven't really known a lot of people who just accept so much...flah ok /. yea. umm well thanks for your replies i've got to digest this.

[ Parent ]
Experience... (3.16 / 6) (#21)
by ana on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 04:53:06 PM EST

I had this, um, experience. What you'd call a religious experience. I can't really explain it (been trying for, oh, 30 years now), but it feels like I met Someone Important. So I believe.

I guess it's kind of like falling in love; if you haven't ever, no amount of explaining what it's like will do. If you have, no explaining is needed.

But it does seem kind of absurd, sometimes. Why would Someone Important do all those things (like getting killed) just for us? Love, again. I can't expect people who haven't had similar experiences to understand, or believe.


Years go by; will I still be waiting
for somebody else to understand?
--Tori Amos

[ Parent ]

more eenput (3.00 / 2) (#34)
by alprazolam on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 05:47:23 PM EST

ok i think i maybe understand.
  • something happened
  • it was spiritual
  • you relate spiritual thing to god
seems reasonable. now. is this feeling of god you have left over a feeling of like theres a higher power out there, or a connectedness lovey feeling, and if the first, were you religious before? is this higher being the puritanical brimstone flinging god or something maybe you define yourself? because i think its cool, but if so then you don't really fall into the people who just learn christianity, don't really question it, and seem to believe.

i hope you don't mind answering my questions. thanks ana

[ Parent ]
Alrighty, then. (5.00 / 1) (#39)
by ana on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 05:56:39 PM EST

is this feeling of god you have left over a feeling of like theres a higher power out there, or a connectedness lovey feeling,

Both, but it's much stronger than that.

...and if the first, were you religious before?

Not in the same way. Did the sunday school thing, kind of, as you put it, just learn christianity, don't really question it, and seem to believe. But since, I've studied it very carefully, with my mind as well as my heart. And, astonishingly enough, it does seem to all hang together.

is this higher being the puritanical brimstone flinging god or something maybe you define yourself?

He doesn't seem to care all that much how I define things; he just Is. As for the brimstone thing; that's a metaphor. I think Lee put it nicely when he said the afterlife (the present life, also, I'd add) is just being in God's presence. If you like that, it's paradise; if not, it's torment. Why torment? Quoting the liturgy...

Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid...
This can be uncomfortable if you have stuff on your conscience.


Years go by; will I still be waiting
for somebody else to understand?
--Tori Amos

[ Parent ]

thanks (4.00 / 1) (#46)
by alprazolam on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 06:22:25 PM EST

that was really insightful and interesting. i've never really seen such a good 'defense' (bad word, not what i meant) of christianity...such a good explanation of somebody's beliefs. what are your feelings towards non christians, wiccans, and atheists? live and let live, live and let rot eternally, or something more complicated?

[ Parent ]
Glad you found it useful. (none / 0) (#58)
by ana on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 08:02:03 PM EST

I find there are thoughtful people on most sides of most questions, if you look for them. They're not the loudest ones, though.

I don't speculate about other people's souls or their futures; I'm sure it'll all work out somehow, and they have to follow their own consciences. We're told there's no salvation except through Jesus, but that's a pretty vague statement; he can do precisely as he pleases, and I can't know what's in someone else's heart.

It seems to me sometimes that some people's beliefs are not all that carefully considered; but that's just my impression.


Years go by; will I still be waiting
for somebody else to understand?
--Tori Amos

[ Parent ]

You don't understand? (2.00 / 2) (#53)
by gblues on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 07:00:28 PM EST

I don't understand how one can /not/ believe in God. As another poster said, there are far too many things unexplained by science. Our world is too organized, too perfectly balanced (Man's interference notwithstanding) to have not been designed. Where there is a design, there is a Designer.

It is truly unfortunate that some people only believe because they were taught that way. Sure, I was raised Christian. I still am, because I questioned my faith and, like Ana, it held together on its own. It is now my faith, not my parents' faith. If my father were to backslide, I would be challenging him rather than backsliding along with him.

The whole point of Christianity is to have a personal relationship with God. In order for that to happen, you have to go through Jesus. Think of Jesus as the spiritual gateway between human networks and God's network. Part of the relationship is recognizing God as King, and serving God as a servant obeys his master. That serving part is uncomfortable to a lot of folks, but (to borrow a cliche) God never said it would be comfortable, just that it'd be worth it :)

... although in retrospect, having sex to the news was probably doomed to fail from the get-go. --squinky
[ Parent ]
I've heard this before... (5.00 / 2) (#57)
by Rhamadanth on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 07:42:05 PM EST

But I still don't buy it. Sorry. :)

In a universe as large as ours, I actually think that the chances of an 'accident' like Earth and life as we know it *not* happening are less than the chances of it happening as it did.

Take a coin. Flip it a hundred trillion times. What's the probability that you get a hundred trillion heads in a row? Ludicrously low. Now, perform the same experiment a hundred trillion times more. The chances of it happening just once start to get better. Do it enough times, and it's practically guaranteed to happen. Maybe only once, but that's enough.

I suppose, when you look at it, I believe in a God named Science. Adequate investigation will yield adequate explanation. I can't prove that it works any more than you can prove that God's hand is involved in the existence of all of us.

If you accept the existence of God, you would also have to accept things that are largely ridiculous notions. For instance, assume that you were created a picosecond before you read this line. Can you accept it? You have to, if you believe in a God. Everything that you've done up until the moment that you read that line could have been a memory implanted by God. All history, everything as everyone knows it didn't actually exist until a few seconds ago. I'd have a hard time coming to grips with that. (Of course, if God exists, and he *did* just create this whole situation, he created me with a skepticism of him. Clever guy, that God. :)

God has long been a way to explain the unexplainable. Where did we come from? What are these bones? Where is this plague coming from? Answers that can now be answered by Science used to be answered by the words, "It's God's will."

The bible was written a long time ago by people wandering about in the desert, where it was hot, and the sand beat down on their heads, and they hallucinated a lot. I'm hardly going to trust that thing.

Belief and faith are tenuous things, though. I can't convince you that what you believe isn't right. I won't try. (I hope that you extend the same politeness towards me...which I expect you would. :) If God lends you comfort, I'm happy for you. Between us, I hope he does exist. I think he'd be proud of me for challenging his existence. :)

-- The /bin/truth is out there.
[ Parent ]
Huh? (2.00 / 1) (#69)
by gblues on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 12:30:36 AM EST

<BLOCKQUOTE><I>If you accept the existence of God, you would also have to accept things that are largely ridiculous notions. For instance, assume that you were created a picosecond before you read this line. Can you accept it? You have to, if you believe in a God.</I></BLOCKQUOTE>

Well, you're right, that's a largely rediculous notion. We both know I wasn't created a picosecond ago, but I completely fail to see what that has to do with the existence of God.

And I suppose a whole nation was just hallucinating when the Red Sea parted for the Israelites, or it was a coincidental storm that just happened to start when Moses raised his staff and just happened to stop while the Egyptians were right in the middle.

Because an event can be explained scientifically doesn't mean that God played no role in it. The rest of God's creations still obey Him, even if Man chooses not to :) (that's what sets us apart from everything else.. we get to choose!) If you plant a tree, would you not be responsible for the fruit of that tree even if nature did 99% of the work?

... although in retrospect, having sex to the news was probably doomed to fail from the get-go. --squinky
[ Parent ]
It's a confusing point, I admit (5.00 / 1) (#108)
by Rhamadanth on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 02:42:58 PM EST

But I stand by it.

>> Well, you're right, that's a largely
>> rediculous notion. We both know I wasn't
>> created a picosecond ago, but I completely
>> fail to see what that has to do with the
>> existence of God.

No, we DON'T know that you weren't created a picosecond ago. If God exists, he very well could have created you at any time he wants. Anything you believe could have been planted there. Memories of things that have never happened. You just think they did. It's something of a question of perspective. If you remember something and think it happened, did it happen?

I think belief in the existence of God (as an all powerful creator that seems to have a ridiculous concern for every single one of us...) also requires that you believe things that are wildly improbable. To believe anything else is to claim that you know the mind of God. Forget what you've been taught by the Bible. You may have only started to experience existence....NOW!

Now, as for God's creations obeying him, I'd argue that they're obeying themselves. Obeying what evolution laid down for them. Trees bear fruit to pass their DNA on. It's something that evolution did to us a long time ago.

You're right. Just because an event can be exlpained scientifically doesn't mean that God didn't have a hand in it. By the same token, there's nothing to say that he *did* have a hand in it. If I were to believe in a God, He would have set off the big bang, and done nothing else. The only direct contact he would have had with the universe was its creation. Everything else would naturally happen from there...that's what a 'Grand Design' would be.
-- The /bin/truth is out there.
[ Parent ]
Circular arguments (5.00 / 1) (#115)
by gblues on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 03:45:57 PM EST

Wether I was created 10 seconds ago or 23 years ago, I still have a free will. If I wanted, I could walk away from God. But I don't want to :) God has to let go at some point, unless you want to argue that we're continually re-created, in which case we don't really exist and this discussion is pointless.

This argument reminds me of an old joke, which I will share with you below:

One day a group of scientists got together and decided that man had come a long way and no longer needed God. So they picked one scientist to go and tell Him that they were done with Him.

The scientist walked up to God and said, "God, we've decided that we no longer need you. We're to the point that we can clone people and do many miraculous things, so why don't you just go on and get lost."

God listened very patiently and kindly to the man and after the scientist was done talking, God said, "Very well, how about this, let's say we have a man making contest." To which the scientist replied, "OK, great!"

But God added, "Now, we're going to do this just like I did back in the old days with Adam."

The scientist said, "Sure, no problem" and bent down and grabbed himself a handful of dirt.

God just looked at him and said, "No, no, no. You go get your own dirt!"


... although in retrospect, having sex to the news was probably doomed to fail from the get-go. --squinky
[ Parent ]
Now you're getting it. :) (none / 0) (#135)
by Rhamadanth on Sat Mar 17, 2001 at 02:00:17 AM EST

More or less, anyway.

Really, what we're looking at is an existential sort of argument. How much can we argue that we actually exist beyond our perceptions? Given that we can't really confirm our own existence except through perceiving we exist, how can we go on to assert the existence of God? I mean, we don't even know if we exist or not. :)

My reasoning isn't actually circular, per se. It's just got a very odd premise.

Here's a less confusing way to look at it.

We can ask the question, "When did God create the Universe?"

We can answer as far back as science has discovered. Upteen billion years ago.

We could also say that God created the world, and the universe about 6000 years ago. Both things are possible, provided that you believe in God. There are some Christians that believe that the Earth is roughly 6000 years old, and arguing that it's any older is ludicrous, 'cause that's not what the bible says.

The bible also says that God created the world in just a few days. Now, we have to wonder how long the day was. 24 hours? Would God have the same length of day as us? Well, probably not. But we can probably assert that God's day is as long as he likes it to be. That has to be true...we're talking about God, after all.

I think that if you can believe that God created the Earth in a few days of indeterminate length, 6000+ years ago, it's not beyond the realm of possibility that God created the Earth in a few days, 100 years ago. If we can ignore the evidence for the birth of the Universe 13 billion years ago, surely we can believe that the first several thousand years of human history was something of a scam. Followed to it's ultimate (and admittedly silly) conclusion, we could start thinking that God created the world when we were born. That's when the Universe really started to matter, in our perception. Etc., etc. You're right, though. At some point, God does have to let go. You just have to decide when. And the question isn't of *re*-creation...it's of *initial* creation.

It's not really an argument that I expect many people to buy into. It's more of a thought game. Given the nature of God and the Universe, what can we do with those things? :)

Man, I love k5. Have you ever tried to have a discussion like this in real life? It usually ends up a lot less friendly than this.

-- The /bin/truth is out there.
[ Parent ]
"Far too many things unexplained by science&q (5.00 / 2) (#63)
by gbd on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 08:55:23 PM EST

Yes, you're right; there are lots of things that science has not explained thus far. What theists need to do, however, is explain how simply making up an answer (a la "God did it") and sticking to their guns is at all preferable to the eminently more honest "I don't know." Case in point: were you to walk up to a person in Western Europe 1000 years ago and ask them why the wind blows, chances are you would get some answer involving God. Of course, at that time, people did not understand much about what makes the weather "tick." (I guess after some of the recent flopped forecasts, you could make that same argument about meteorologists today!) Today, we know about things like barometric pressure, and we understand that areas of differing pressure cause large amounts of air to be displaced, resulting in the phenomenon known as wind.

There are tons of examples of this. Up until the 19th century, lightning was considered God's personal revenge device. For millenia mankind has been attributing things that it does not understand to the supernatural/paranormal. Yet it seems to me that the only honest thing to do is admit that there are things that we don't know. After all, just because we don't know the answer today doesn't mean we won't know the answer tomorrow (as the examples of wind and lightning demonstrate.)

There can be real problems introduced by attributing natural events to divine deity and considering the matter closed. Most obvious would be the sometimes vociferous opposition to anybody who would dare to inquire into certain fields of study. History is rich of examples of this, as well .. the most obvious being Galileo, Copernicus, and Darwin. For his "blasphemous" scientific studies, Galileo was brought before the Inquisition and spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

I want to be clear on something: people can and should believe whatever they want. If we don't have freedom of thought, there's not much left, after all. But when people claim that their personal beliefs about a subject preclude (and/or forbid) any scientific study or observation of that subject, then they have crossed a line that society would do well to defend. Unfortunately, we still see examples of this type of behavior today with regards to fields of study such as biology (evolution) and cosmology (the Big Bang and related theories.)

I am not bothered that there are some questions science has not answered. I actually quite revel in it, because it means that the best is yet to come! It would be a dreadfully boring universe indeed if there was nothing more for us to learn.

Gunter glieben glauchen globen.
[ Parent ]

Not what I meant. (2.00 / 1) (#67)
by gblues on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 12:14:54 AM EST

By no means am I advocating simply saying "God did it!" and refusing to accept a scientific explanation.

You gave the example of wind. We know that wind is caused by the air moving between a thermal high and a thermal low. No argument there.

Why does thermal energy want to be in equilibrium? Why does energy in general always move towards entropy? Who defined the second law of thermodynamics?

We know lightning is the result of what is essentially a static discharge on an immense scale. Why do negative charges move towards positive charges? What causes the attraction?

Who defined the laws of physics?

It's the same answer you would likely give a 2 year old that responds to everything you say with "why?"

Because God said so. :)
... although in retrospect, having sex to the news was probably doomed to fail from the get-go. --squinky
[ Parent ]
The fundamental laws of the universe (3.00 / 1) (#71)
by gbd on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 01:27:08 AM EST

I didn't mean to imply that you, personally, were suggesting that "God did it!" should be the ultimate answer to every one of mankind's unanswered questions. I only wanted to point out that this position has been held, for better or worse (mostly worse), by lots of people during the course of human history.

Have you ever read "A Brief History of Time" by Stephen Hawking? He discusses a lot of the things that you have brought up regarding the fundamental laws of the universe. For example, why do the thermodynamic and psychological "arrows of time" point in the directions that they do? If the universe was contracting rather than expanding, would the thermodynamic arrow point in the same direction?Hawking gives a pretty religion-neutral covering of the topics, primarily in the context of the anthropic principle (loosely stated: "if the fundamental laws of the universe were not suited for the formation of life, then we would not even be here to ask about them.")

Along the same vein, here's a gedankenexperiment for you. Suppose you were the creator of a universe, and you were free to establish the fundamental scientific and mathematical laws as you saw fit. Would you put a "signature" anywhere? In his book "Contact", Carl Sagan plays with this idea a little bit. At the end of the novel, he has some scientists examining the decimal expansion of pi, and arranging it in two-dimensional grids of tremendous sizes. Lo and behold, in the middle of the decimal expansion, it suddenly becomes a simple stream of zeroes and ones that when arranged in a grid look like this:


(This is a simplification; in the book, the grid is much, much larger and the ones form a perfect circle.) Of course, you could (correctly) argue that in a transcendental number, sooner or later any sequence, no matter how long, would eventually show itself. Personally, though I am an atheist, if we were to discover an obvious "signature" like this hidden within the fundamental laws of the universe, it would certainly cause me to rethink my position.

Anyway, it's still good reading. :)

Gunter glieben glauchen globen.
[ Parent ]

Hmm. (1.00 / 1) (#72)
by gblues on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 02:07:49 AM EST

All I will say is that if the incredibly complex design of even the most basic of life forms is not an adequate signature, then you truly cannot see the forest for the trees.

... although in retrospect, having sex to the news was probably doomed to fail from the get-go. --squinky
[ Parent ]
Knowledge vs. who knows (none / 0) (#138)
by Cyberrunner on Sat Mar 17, 2001 at 04:18:00 AM EST

The designs and illusions of what we see them as gets in the way far too offen in science and religion. The more complex you see it as the more you don't what to know how it works, or its easy to have ears and not hear. On the flip side, one can study for eons and understand the most complex systems thought to exist and be blinded by this knowledge of facts, theories, etc. to the truth that would describe the world in simple logic.

No matter what ever side your on, you have to remember there is no side when it comes down to the truth of the matter at hand; we're all in it together!

BTW, We're all in a heap big pile of shit and nobody is looking for root causes... but they love to find new names for and discuss that pile...

[ Parent ]

Bad choice of number (none / 0) (#152)
by roystgnr on Sun Mar 18, 2001 at 11:31:35 PM EST

Of course, you could (correctly) argue that in a transcendental number, sooner or later any sequence, no matter how long, would eventually show itself.


This number is transcendental. Show me a '2'. (Well, actually I can't prove it's not algebraic-but-irrational; but I can come up with provably transcendental numbers that leave out certain digits).

"But those aren't random digits!" you might protest. Neither is pi. AFAIK, "any arbitary finite sequence of digits appears in {pi, e}" are theorems which have not been proven or disproven.

In fact, pi is so not random, that I would argue that God could not create a universe where pi was 3.2 anymore than he could create one where 3^2 = 10. There might be a universe that was so much farther than our own from Euclidean that pi was less useful, but pi would still be pi. It's definition is based on man-made axioms that happen to match our observations of the universe; it is not based on those observations.

There are better numbers to pick than pi for this sort of thing; we just can't measure them as accurately as we can calculate pi. If you're looking for a divine signature, a more plausible place to hunt might be quark/electron mass ratios, gravitational/electromagnetic constant ratios, or one of the other such physical numbers with (as far as we know) no particular reason for being the value they are.

[ Parent ]

Oh Man, Can't take it anymore... (3.40 / 5) (#77)
by ti dave on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 04:28:13 AM EST

"The whole point of Christianity is to have a personal relationship with God. In order for that to happen, you have to go through Jesus."

I HAVE to ?!?
Says WHO Dude?

What if I want to go through Zippy the Pinhead?
What if I want to go through Agent Scully?
What if I want to go through the Ghost of Ferdinand Marcos?

You were on a roll until the 3rd paragraph, but then you blew it. Y'all constantly preachin' to the Man, gotta win some souls for Big Daddy in the Sky!

Hey, if we wanted to join your club, we'd let you know in advance.
"If you dial," Iran said, eyes open and watching, "for greater venom, then I'll dial the same."

[ Parent ]
Well... (none / 0) (#156)
by darthaggie on Tue Mar 20, 2001 at 02:38:30 PM EST

[about dealing with Jesus as the only route to G*d for a Christian]

Says WHO Dude?

Hmmm...maybe Jesus? to wit:

I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. (John 14:6)

I am BOFH. Resistance is futile. Your network will be assimilated.
[ Parent ]

Yes, but... (none / 0) (#157)
by spaceghoti on Tue Mar 20, 2001 at 04:05:28 PM EST

That assumes you accept that the source of the quote is accurate and reliable. To quote Al Pachino, "consider the source."

There's also the consideration that, "I am the way, the truth and the life" isn't all that descriptive on how it's supposed to work. Everybody has their own interpretation; some people think it involves tangible acts of faith, others require an intangible commitment. Telling us "let the Holy Spirit guide you" or "you'll know it when it happens" doesn't build credibility.

"Humor. It is a difficult concept. It is not logical." -Saavik, ST: Wrath of Khan

[ Parent ]
You make some execlent points (3.00 / 1) (#13)
by Zeram on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 04:16:41 PM EST

This is the kind of rare article that should hopefully generate some interesting, and most likely heated discussion.

I went through much the same transformative experience myself and I know how you feel.
Like Anime? In the Philly metro area? Welcome to the machine...
I agree. (none / 0) (#19)
by tiamat on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 04:45:58 PM EST

As an opnion piece it is excellent. Even some of the things that may or may not be factual errors (according to other editorial comments that I do not have the time to evaluate) forward the purpose of conversation by their presence.

+1 FP, because it'll cause a fight.
It's up to us to keep it civil. Not up to the author to avoid all controversy.

[ Parent ]
They are all religions (3.80 / 10) (#20)
by spacejack on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 04:46:37 PM EST

I take issue with this comment:

Put simply an Agnostic doesn't know what to say on the subject of God or a Higher Power, one way or another.

Athiest: Believes that there is no god.
Agnostic: Believes that the existance of a god is unprovable.
Religious (traditional sense): Has faith in the existance of a god.

None are provable. All are based in faith.

Guess we need another [thousand] word[s], then... (3.00 / 1) (#27)
by whatnotever on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 05:28:25 PM EST

You take issue, I assume, because that isn't *your* definition of "agnostic."

It fits others' definition, though. The three systems you listed are based in faith, but that doesn't mean all must be. When I say "I dunno" there isn't much faith involved.

[ Parent ]
grr (none / 0) (#29)
by spacejack on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 05:34:59 PM EST

That's exactly the kind of attitude that pisses me off. Read my other comment in this same thread.

[ Parent ]
more on agnostic (5.00 / 2) (#28)
by spacejack on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 05:31:35 PM EST

You can see how the definition of agnostic has mutated by looking up the dictionary.com entry. I guess we can thank Henry Kissinger for distorting it to mean "noncommittal". The difference from Huxley's original intent is subtle, however people using it in the Kissinger sense can spin it as to criticise agnostics for being weak or wishy-washy, when in fact they do commit themselves to a belief system.

[ Parent ]
Your atheist definition is wrong. (5.00 / 4) (#30)
by puzzlingevidence on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 05:35:25 PM EST

An atheist is someone who either believes in the non-existence of gods or lacks belief in gods. The former (the "strong atheist position") is what most people consider to be atheism; the truth is that few atheists hold this position.

The latter (the "weak atheeist position") is the default, skeptical position. By definition, we're all born atheists, because we're born lacking belief in gods and must learn the behaviour of belief in gods.

The weak atheist position, which is the most common form of atheism, is not based in faith at all; calling atheism a religion or a faith is much like calling bald a hair colour.

A man may build a throne of bayonets, but he can not sit on it. --Inge
[ Parent ]

so (none / 0) (#32)
by spacejack on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 05:42:45 PM EST

Can you give me a source for your definitions?

[ Parent ]
Several sources (5.00 / 4) (#40)
by puzzlingevidence on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 06:02:00 PM EST

I suppose the easiest source is the dictionary; different dictionaries give different definitions. For example, the Canadian Oxford Dictionary calls atheism "disbelief in the existence of God or gods" and defines disbelief as "lack of belief; failure to believe".

Webster's, however, defines atheism as "the doctrine or belief that there is no God."

Thus, we have two dictionaries defining atheism in two very different ways. The Canadian Oxford (which is based on Oxford, the most commonly-used dictionary of English in the world) and Webster's (the most popular dictionary of English in the US) have different definitions.

Therefore, while both are clearly correct definitions, we must label these two definitions differently for clarity -- much as the word "set" has more than 150 correct definitions.

The "weak" and "strong" atheist positions have been assigned as names to these two positions; I don't know the original usage, but it has been in use in theological discussion for decades. How the two positions are named is essentially irrelevant; we could name them "orange" and "purple". What matters is that there is a distinction.

The alt.atheism FAQ can be found at www.infidels.org.

A man may build a throne of bayonets, but he can not sit on it. --Inge
[ Parent ]

interesting (5.00 / 2) (#44)
by spacejack on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 06:13:11 PM EST

If you look up the word agonstic, you find that Thomas Huxley invented it because there wasn't a term to describe his position on religion.

Perhaps the problem arises from the lack of a true antonym for belief. :) I wonder if we'd be having the same discussion if we were speaking a language other than English..

Thanks for the notes. (hehe, "infidels.org")

[ Parent ]
You misuse 'faith' (3.75 / 4) (#47)
by SIGFPE on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 06:23:40 PM EST

None are provable. All are based in faith.
Funny use of the word faith. When Xtians tell me about how they acquired 'faith' it usually involves some bizarre act like 'letting jesus into my life and feeling his presence' and a whole lot of stuff like that. This is hardly the same thing as not believing in God because you haven't found a shred of evidence for it.

It's trivially obvious that calling atheism 'faith' is just another propaganda ploy by Xtians along with calling 'creationism' by the name 'intelligent design theory' and so on. It's just a way to delude people into thinking that not being a Xtian is an act of religion.
[ Parent ]

Prove there isn't a god (4.00 / 2) (#70)
by enterfornone on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 12:39:26 AM EST

Sure there isn't a shread of evidence that there is a god, but there is just as much evidence that there is not a god. Debunking creationism does not prove that there is no god.

Hawking has claimed that there is no way of explaining the big bang without some sort of higher power (despite him being an atheist).

Atheism is just as much a faith as christianity or any other religion.

efn 26/m/syd
Will sponsor new accounts for porn.
[ Parent ]
Faith and provability (5.00 / 3) (#78)
by Khalad on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 05:20:56 AM EST

Your arguments have been made before, but instead of rolling my own rebuttals I'll just present some already well-polished ones.

"But isn't it impossible to prove the non-existence of something?"

...Assuming for the moment that the existence of a God is not provably impossible, there are still subtle reasons for assuming the non-existence of God. If we assume that something does not exist, it is always possible to show that this assumption is invalid by finding a single counter-example.

If on the other hand we assume that something does exist, and if the thing in question is not provably impossible, showing that the assumption is invalid may require an exhaustive search of all possible places where such a thing might be found, to show that it isn't there. Such an exhaustive search is often impractical or impossible.

Therefore it is generally accepted that we must assume things do not exist unless we have evidence that they do. Even theists follow this rule most of the time; they don't believe in unicorns, even though they can't conclusively prove that no unicorns exist anywhere.

To assume that God exists is to make an assumption which probably cannot be tested. We cannot make an exhaustive search of everywhere God might be to prove that he doesn't exist anywhere. So the skeptical atheist assumes by default that God does not exist, since that is an assumption we can test.

Those who profess strong atheism usually do not claim that no sort of God exists; instead, they generally restrict their claims so as to cover varieties of God described by followers of various religions. So whilst it may be impossible to prove conclusively that no God exists, it may be possible to prove that (say) a God as described by a particular religious book does not exist. It may even be possible to prove that no God described by any present-day religion exists.

In practice, believing that no God described by any religion exists is very close to believing that no God exists. However, it is sufficiently different that counter-arguments based on the impossibility of disproving every kind of God are not really applicable.

"OK, you may think there's a philosophical justification for atheism, but isn't it still a religious belief?"

...The answer to the question "Isn't atheism a religious belief?" depends crucially upon what is meant by "religious". "Religion" is generally characterized by belief in a superhuman controlling power -- especially in some sort of God -- and by faith and worship.


Atheism is certainly not a belief in any sort of superhuman power, nor is it categorized by worship in any meaningful sense. Widening the definition of "religious" to encompass atheism tends to result in many other aspects of human behavior suddenly becoming classed as "religious" as well -- such as science, politics, and watching TV.

"OK, maybe it's not a religion in the strict sense of the word. But surely belief in atheism (or science) is still just an act of faith, like religion is?"

Firstly, it's not entirely clear that skeptical atheism is something one actually believes in.

Secondly, it is necessary to adopt a number of core beliefs or assumptions to make some sort of sense out of the sensory data we experience. Most atheists try to adopt as few core beliefs as possible; and even those are subject to questioning if experience throws them into doubt.

Science has a number of core assumptions. For example, it is generally assumed that the laws of physics are the same for all observers (or at least, all observers in inertial frames). These are the sort of core assumptions atheists make. If such basic ideas are called "acts of faith", then almost everything we know must be said to be based on acts of faith, and the term loses its meaning.

Faith is more often used to refer to complete, certain belief in something. According to such a definition, atheism and science are certainly not acts of faith. Of course, individual atheists or scientists can be as dogmatic as religious followers when claiming that something is "certain". This is not a general tendency, however; there are many atheists who would be reluctant to state with certainty that the universe exists.

Faith is also used to refer to belief without supporting evidence or proof. Skeptical atheism certainly doesn't fit that definition, as skeptical atheism has no beliefs. Strong atheism is closer, but still doesn't really match, as even the most dogmatic atheist will tend to refer to experimental data (or the lack of it) when asserting that God does not exist.

I would add that your appeal to Hawking's expertise is a logical fallacy (appeal to authority) as well as a misunderstanding of his statement. I assure you that Stephen Hawking is no authority on the existence of God, and I do not see that "higher power" can be so readily equated with any meaningful definition of "God."

You remind me why I still, deep in my bitter crusty broken heart, love K5. —rusty

[ Parent ]
Great post! (4.33 / 3) (#100)
by SIGFPE on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 01:13:00 PM EST

If such basic ideas are called "acts of faith", then almost everything we know must be said to be based on acts of faith, and the term loses its meaning.
I've never seen this written by anyone else before and I've always considered this to be my own personal form of argument. Xtians like to have their cake and eat it...they claim we all have faith and yet they use the word 'faith' in a specialised sense in their own literature.

'Faith' means one thing or the other and confusing those two meanings is obfuscation and propaganda.
[ Parent ]

Faith and faith (none / 0) (#119)
by MrAcheson on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 04:28:02 PM EST

When Christians talk about faith there are two kinds. There is Faith which is essentially their belief in God, Christ, and specific religious stuff and there is faith in general (believing what you cannot prove).

In fact much of day to day life does involve faith. For instance you have faith in the repeatability of your experiences. You cannot prove the chair you are sitting on can hold you up until you sit on it, yet you sit on it based on past experience. Get it?

I agree that it is confusing but I think you should be able to tell the difference since one is specific and one is general.

These opinions do not represent those of the US Army, DoD, or US Government.

[ Parent ]
The issue of evidence (none / 0) (#120)
by MrAcheson on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 04:41:50 PM EST

The problem here is that you assert that there is no evidence for believing in a supernatural being. However since this being is supernatural there is no reason to believe he would have left natural evidence behind for us to find. It is therefore not logical to assume he does not exist. It is logical to believe you cannot tell. This is essentially what skeptical atheists do, I can't tell but I doubt it.

This is especially significant since most evidence used to disprove the existence of God is scientific. This is foolishness since the underlying assumption behind science is pure naturalism so such reasoning is obviously circular.

For instance, what about unicorns? I see no evidence and there should be evidence to be seen, therefore I am skeptical. Is there another universe beyond or parallel to our own? Possibly and possibly not but I really don't know and can't say. I have seen no evidence for or against and do not have enough information to make a judgement.

These opinions do not represent those of the US Army, DoD, or US Government.

[ Parent ]
God is a turnip (none / 0) (#122)
by mikael_j on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 05:22:34 PM EST

Sure there isn't a shread of evidence that there is a god, but there is just as much evidence that there is not a god.
In that case I hereby decide that god is a turnip, and since the christians/muslims/$DEITYists can't prove otherwise then it must be true, or am I not allowed to use the same kind of logic as them?

/Mikael Jacobson
We give a bad name to the internet in general. - Rusty
[ Parent ]
You may (none / 0) (#134)
by enterfornone on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 09:51:27 PM EST

You are entitled to believe whatever you like.

efn 26/m/syd
Will sponsor new accounts for porn.
[ Parent ]
Everyone has a different definition (4.00 / 1) (#91)
by /dev/niall on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 10:43:08 AM EST

Athiest: Believes that there is no god. Agnostic: Believes that the existance of a god is unprovable. Religious (traditional sense): Has faith in the existance of a god.

None are provable. All are based in faith.

Eh? My definition of agnostic is: I don't know if there is a god.

Furthermore, I don't really care. This has nothing to do with faith, I really don't know, and I really don't care.

When and if new experiences shed more light on the subject, I will re-evaluate my position. It wouldn't bother me in the slightest if there were substantive proof of god's existance/non-existance, and I still wouldn't care.

So you see, it has nothing to do with faith. ;)

"compared to the other apes, my genitals are gigantic" -- TheophileEscargot
[ Parent ]

Recommended reading (4.00 / 3) (#23)
by spacejack on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 04:58:47 PM EST

Particularly for athiests and agnostics, but also for anyone:

"Gospel - A Novel" by Wilton Barnhardt

It's fiction. But in the same way that Cryptonomicon mixes fact with fiction, this book contains a staggering amount of research, as well as some very interesting speculations about early Christianity.

I used to be a pointy-headed athiest. Religion is not so simple however, nor are those who are religious. This book will give you a lot to think about.

I bet (none / 0) (#97)
by Zeram on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 12:06:38 PM EST

that it doesn't mention the facts that there is some historical evidence that points to Jesus having studied gnostisism from an egyptian during the Bibles "missing time", or that the word Nasarene has it's roots in the old hebrew word for serpent.
Like Anime? In the Philly metro area? Welcome to the machine...
[ Parent ]
You'd be surprised (none / 0) (#129)
by spacejack on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 07:20:16 PM EST

It raises a lot of interesting questions. The plot revolves around the search for a lost 1st century gospel that (potentially) disputes many of the church's assertions about Jesus and those who would like to suppress such evidence (as well as the various motivations of those who would like to see it exposed). And yes, the trip does take them to Egypt, and no, I don't think the Vatican would approve. But that's all I will give away.

[ Parent ]
Differing definitions (3.00 / 4) (#24)
by Jagged on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 04:59:54 PM EST

Are there any concrete definitions for the different religious labels? It is hard enough for me to find a label for my beliefs without having the labels be vague.

    My Definitions
  • Agnosticism: The belief that a higher being or power may or may not exist due to the absence of proof for either result.
  • Atheism: The belief in the absence of a higher being(s) or power.
  • Deism: The belief in a higher being(s) or power that does not concern itself in the actions of the current state of humanity. In other words "it" does not wish or need to be worshiped and does not invoke miracles.
Now the hard part is finding where my beliefs fall into these three labels. I do not believe that there is a higher power, but I believe that if there were one it would not care about my belief or lack of belief in it.

The closest label I can pick is Atheist-Deist. However, by my definitions these two are exclusive of each other. Agnostic-Deist would be a better mesh but it does not "feel" right for me since it implies that I just need some casual proof to sway me. I would need the type of proof that would cause most of humanity to simultaneously convert to or from a religion.

Maybe I should just settle on calling myself an Atheist-Agnostic-Deist. That is sure to mess with someone's mind.

Definitions (4.25 / 4) (#59)
by plastik55 on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 08:06:09 PM EST

The categories differ depending on whom you're talking to, so the categories tend to overlap. I find that adding modifiers helps reconcile this overlap--My definitions:

  • Strong Atheism: I believe there is no god. This is an active statement of disbelief.
  • Weak Atheism: I do not believe there is a god. Corollary: I do not believe there is not a god. This is usually based on lack of convincing proof.
  • Weak Agnosticism: I do not believe there is a god; I have not seen evidence proving or disproving god's existence. In practice this is identical to Weak Atheism.
  • Strong Agnosticism: I believe the question "Is there a god?" is fundamentally unanswerable.
  • Deism: I believe there is a god, but he does not provide evidence of his existence. (The hand of god manifests itself through the laws of nature, etc. etc.)

[ Parent ]
Don't kid yourself (3.63 / 19) (#35)
by pmk on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 05:47:34 PM EST

You're a short-lived, accidentally intelligent primate in a meaningless universe. Deal with it head on. Don't waste the short time that you do have in cargo-cult monkey motion trying to appease an imaginary sky god.

It's easy (4.66 / 3) (#41)
by spacejack on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 06:02:06 PM EST

to be a rock; a random form assembled out of atoms, resigned to entropy. To be human, with questions; to fight for meaning in life is more difficult. You could be a rock if you prefer, but IMHO you're taking the easy way out.

[ Parent ]
My own meaning (4.00 / 4) (#43)
by puzzlingevidence on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 06:10:17 PM EST

No, what's difficult, challenging and rewarding is determining for myself what meaning my life has; the easy way out is taking someone else's word for it.

A man may build a throne of bayonets, but he can not sit on it. --Inge
[ Parent ]

What ? (4.00 / 1) (#65)
by Phage on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 10:38:36 PM EST

Just becuase I am the product of the life processes on Earth does not make me a rock.

Consciousness is not proof of the divine. Strikes me that it is not "pmk" who is taking the easy way out.

I don't find Heathens to be sexy, as a general rule.
[ Parent ]

Assumptions (none / 0) (#121)
by swr on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 04:49:45 PM EST

You're a short-lived, accidentally intelligent primate in a meaningless universe.

Everything you perceive is in your mind. That may sound like nonsense at first, but think about it: can you prove that you aren't dreaming (or something)? Your statement assumes that the reality you perceive is absolute, and that your existence is based within it. That is just an assumption.

Such assumptions are useful, of course. Whatever its nature, this is the world we perceive, so we may as well try to understand it.

But recognize that it is an assumption. It may be correct, or it may not. Recognize it as an assumption and you can begin to appreciate metaphysical discussions, which may be based on different, equally provable (as in, not at all :), assumptions.

[ Parent ]
The difference between physics and metaphysics... (4.00 / 1) (#123)
by pmk on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 05:37:04 PM EST

... is that to do physics, you need at least a pencil and an eraser, while to do metaphysics, you don't need the eraser.

I can conceive that all of my sensory input, including your comment, is simply a dream. I can imagine that there's a statue of Elvis on Mars. I can hypothesize that an ornery tribal war god named YHVH has it in for the losers that live over in the next valley. It all just reinforces my opinion that the imaginary world-modelling equipment in my over-large primate brain can work a little too actively.

[ Parent ]

Looks like somebody's having a bad day. (none / 0) (#124)
by marlowe on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 05:37:13 PM EST

I've had days like that.

-- The Americans are the Jews of the 21st century. Only we won't go as quietly to the gas chambers. --
[ Parent ]
Actually, ... (2.50 / 2) (#125)
by pmk on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 05:40:18 PM EST

... I'm having a wonderfully warm early spring day here in the real world. You're welcome to come visit it.

[ Parent ]
"Traditional agnosticism" is for wimps (4.75 / 8) (#60)
by DesiredUsername on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 08:09:25 PM EST

(Wait, hear me out on that)

I was raised in a quite religious family in a relatively conservative religion. This was the "Christian Reformed Church", AKA the CRC, AKA "Calvinism". It basically follows the work of John Calvin who lived around the same time as Martin Luther. It's a more-or-less normal Protestant off-shoot, but with some odd ideas. Example: Many Calvinists take Revelations seriously and say that only 144,000 will be saved at the Rapture.

Early on (say, starting in Junior High) I was skeptical but willing and able to argue from a religious point of view. That is, I could give "kosher" answers and arguments but didn't necessarily believe them (you could say the logic was OK but the assumptions were suspect). Even in college (*Calvin* College, I might add) I just called myself "agnostic" and avoided chapel and "bible study groups". I tended to argue against the religous types, but only by attacking the logic--never the assumptions. That is, when someone tried to argue that God created animals as-is, I countered with arguments about evolution--not with arguments showing that God didn't exist.

Now I'm out in the real world. I see that the CRC (which I thought EVERYBODY knew about) is actually very very small. There's a pocket in Southern California (mostly dairy farmers for some reason), several pockets in Iowa, a very small pocket in Lynden, WA and a lot in central Michigan (Grand Rapids has the CRC "Pentagon"). Pretty much anywhere you find Dutch people you find Calvinists.

As an agnostic, I used to say to myself something like this: "Either hypothesis can explain the facts, but there is no way to prove which is true. Therefore I am formally undecided." The trouble is, I later admitted, the hypotheses are NOT equally good at explaining things. Saying "God did it" explains nothing--where did God come from? Saying "He was always there" also explains nothing--always WHERE? The more powers ascribed to this entity, the more explanation required for it's existence. I had heard this argument early on, but it's power didn't hit me until AFTER I stopped associating with religious types. The daily affirmation of a belief, even by other people nearby, often clouds one's ability to reason rationally about the belief.

There are different connotations for "atheist" and "agnostic". One of the most wide-spread for "atheist" is "actively and militantly believing that God does not exist". The most wide-spread for "agnostic" is "not sure". But neither of those (connotations, I admit) is scientific. There is no evidence that God exists and, worse, the hypothesis itself is faulty. Therefore, until further information arrives I don't believe it simply because it's a non-starter. In a sense then, I'm an atheist: I'm decided. But I'm also an agnostic: I'm willing to entertain the notion of God.

I prefer Pascal's response when asked by Napoleon what he thought of God: "I have no need of that hypothesis."

PS: I shouldn't let my rejection of "atheistic militancy" give the impression that when other people use the "God Hypothesis" I just allow them to do it. On the contrary, I attack. But I attack on the basis of logic, not on the basis of "God exists. No he doesn't. Yes he does. Nuh-uh. I'm telling Mom." Instead I beat the person back, step by step until we are back at the basic question "Where did God come from?" (either in reality or in terms of this hypothesis). The answer always boils down to "faith". Fine, have all the faith you want--but that's not how science works and therefore I have no obligation to believe any "scientific" theory you come up with based on it.

PPS: I also shouldn't give the impression that Calvinists are a bunch of wackos. Calvinists (especially *Dutch* Calvinists) are very very sincere, moral, ethical and hard-working people. They have a VERY strong work-ethic and Calvin College (at least when I attended) gave an excellent education per dollar spent. The line from "The Music Man" applies exactly: "They'll give you a shirt--and a back to go with it!--if your crop should happen to fail."

Play 囲碁
PPPS (1.00 / 1) (#117)
by MrAcheson on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 04:17:35 PM EST

Where does God come from? God is. God created time and space so trying use those references of where and when doesn't work in regards to him. This is a box into which he cannot possibly fit.

As for the hypothesis being bad, I don't follow your reasoning. There is also no data proving God does not exist. In fact there can't be scientific data proving God exists since such data would violate the basic scientific assumption of naturalism. I'll agree that "God did it" is bad science since it is not purely natural but this does not mean that its not true. Keep in mind that if God were to actually reach out and do something through direct divine intervention, science would not be able to make that conclusion despite that it is the truth.

As for your Blaze Pascal quote, you do realize he is one of the most famous Christians ever don't you? Pascal's Wager? Why not be a Christian if the price of being wrong is so high?

These opinions do not represent those of the US Army, DoD, or US Government.

[ Parent ]
*sigh* here we go again (4.00 / 1) (#130)
by DesiredUsername on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 07:31:50 PM EST

"God created time and space so trying use those references of where and when doesn't work in regards to him."

1) Your claim doesn't even have the minor authority of being Biblical.
2) You are moving the goalposts. Until around 1850 AD, people DID use time and space references for God--but when that became unworkable, suddenly He's "beyond logic".

"There is also no data proving God does not exist."

If "having no conflicting data" is sufficient to support a hypothesis, let me introduce you to MY hypothesis: You beat your wife and children. I have no data to the contrary, which apparently provides proof that the assertion is true.

The rest of that paragraph seems to reveal a "God of the gaps" attitude in your mind. God "works behind the scenes" to do all the stuff "inexplicable to science". That's the same stuff God used to do--only way back then it was creating lightning, moving the planets, and creating life. Now we have scientific explanations for those things and God is relegated further back to the areas still unexplained.

"Why not be a Christian if the price of being wrong is so high?"

Being a "Christian" as a result of a wager about the existence of Hell is not valid according to what I was taught. Pascal had no faith in God, all he had was a probability assignment to the existence of the punishment.

Play 囲碁
[ Parent ]
Reply (none / 0) (#143)
by MrAcheson on Sat Mar 17, 2001 at 01:33:25 PM EST

Scientifically, the world including the Christians thought in basically Newtonian terms up until about the time you mention. Then we realized, or started to at least, what creation meant. Before we thought that if all God created was physical stuff we would still have time and empty space so God must have lived in time and empty space. With the coming of relativity we realized that if you remove the stuff you remove the time and space too. Therefore the conclusion that applying time and space to God is a bad idea is a logical outgrowth of a change in humanity's understanding of the universe. You cannot blame us for that.

As for this being biblical, I never stated that I was arguing anything about a Judeo-Christian God did I? This would be true of any Creator God who made the universe so the Bible doesn't come into it. However the usual attributes ascribed to the Judeo-Christian God (all-knowing, all-present, unchanging) come from this assumption quite easily where as they must be somehow forced without it. The truth is the bible doesn't say what the universe was like before creation so you can only use suppositions like this one to try to figure it out. In short the change does not in any way contradict the bible and in fact enhances the understanding of many passages.

As for me beating my non-existant wife and children. You do not know I beat my wife nor do you know this. You have no data so quite frankly the logical thing to do is say "I can't tell" or "I am not able to make this judgement" (the agnostic view). However you could gather evidence easily should you want to. Gathering scientific evidence of the existence of a supernatural being is a much trickier thing.

As for the God of the gaps attitude, I am not saying this at all. I am saying, hypothetically, what if God did something through direct divine intervention. Would science be able to say "God did this through direct divine intervention" even if this was the TRUTH? The answer is no. Science is not allowed to attribute any action to God so using science to argue against the existence of God (based on lack of scientific proof) is circular. This is bad logic as your initial assumptions are essentially the same as your conclusion.

As for Pascal, I understand he was quite a strong Christian. I think your pointing out the lack of faith in his wager however which I agree is a problem. All I was saying was that I got a giggle out of a Pascal quote from an athiest, nothing more.

BTW moderating me down to 1 and then responding to my post is uncalled for isn't it? After all I gave you a 4. :)

These opinions do not represent those of the US Army, DoD, or US Government.

[ Parent ]
A re-reply (none / 0) (#144)
by DesiredUsername on Sat Mar 17, 2001 at 08:27:41 PM EST

"...the conclusion that applying time and space to God is a bad idea is a logical outgrowth of a change in humanity's understanding of the universe. You cannot blame us for that."

Ah, but I can--because the "change in humanity's understanding" was a result of a process external to religion. The way science works is that a hypothesis is advanced that covers all or most of the data known to date. As new data arrive, theories are adjusted. Science is self-correcting, in other words.

But that's not what the church did. It decreed a theory based only on "spiritual" grounds and ignored (or worse) evidence to the contrary. Only when their position became completely untenable was the viewpoint abandoned. But even now the church holds positions on scientific matters without actually doing any science to confirm the validity of those positions.

I often hear people trying to equate science and religion by saying both are "trying to make sense of the world"--that would be great, except it's not true. Religion isn't doing any trying at all. There are no research projects into the nature of God; there is no consistent body of knowledge that's been gained over the years and stored in the church. The church only changes views when forced by an external entity not as a result of it's own inspection of reality.

"Gathering scientific evidence of the existence of a supernatural being is a much trickier thing."

Why? Every believer I've ever talked to said things like "I can feel God in my life", "He helped me through this", etc. If the effect of "God's Hand" isn't measurable, then what do statements like the preceding even mean?

"Science is not allowed to attribute any action to God..."

Why not? Science can attribute actions to "my neighbor Joe" (as in "my neighbor Joe hit a baseball through my window"). So why not to another entity? The only reason science hasn't attributed anything to God is that there hasn't been any "need for that hypothesis". That is, if someone could show that some "baseballs coming through the window" could only be attributable to an entity with Godlike powers, science would then have used the answer "God" to some question. Trouble is, there are no such examples that stand still for more than 20 years. We are right back to a God of the gaps.

"BTW moderating me down to 1 and then responding to my post is uncalled for isn't it? After all I gave you a 4. :)"

I make it a policy to not moderate people I'm having a discussion with. In other words, it wasn't me.

Play 囲碁
[ Parent ]
Re-times-infinity-plus-one Reply :) (none / 0) (#149)
by MrAcheson on Sun Mar 18, 2001 at 06:45:12 PM EST

Science only changes its views when it is confronted with evidence to the contrary. Likewise the church changes its views when confronted with evidence to the contrary. You can expect no less. For thousands of years humanity viewed space, matter, and time as independent. A reasonable conclusion given day to day experience. Einstein reveals them to be parts of the same thing. You can hardly blame christianity for being wrong just like everyone else was for thousands of years, especially on an issue not specifically mentioned in the Bible. Note however that the passages in the bible describing God actually fit better into this new definition though. Interesting for something written by people with no idea of Relativity.

Science has a history of having to be corrected by mavericks outside of the scientific establishment. Aristotle was corrected by Newton was corrected by Einstein was correct by whoever came up with Quantum Mechanics. Science as a community is wrong a lot too and on issues its supposed to know about. Scientists are corrected by scientists and priests are corrected by priests. If they stray from their field of view I expect the scientists to correct the priests and vice versa. I do expect the priests to put up a fight though and the scientists likewise. It is only reasonable to stand up for what you believe in.

I think it misguided to try to equate religion with science in any way. Why? Because the questions these two groups are really dedicated to answering are different. Religion is supposed to tell us why things happen. Science is supposed to tell us how things happen. The two get muddled sometimes. When science gets interpreted spiritually and socially it is almost always bad, like social darwinism. When religion gets the same treatment it is an equally bad idea. The purpose of the Bible was not to help humanity understand how things work. It is there to show who God is and why some things happen. It is not a scientific document, it is a religious document and I will admit that to interpret it otherwise is going to be prone to problems.

Science is methodologically natural, it discovers natural reasons for natural occurances. Science upon seeing something it can't explain can only say "I don't know how this happened." Attributing something unexplained to God is on principle a bad idea for reasons we all grasp, so science does not attribute things to God. Period. Even if God might actually have done it. For instance, abiogenesis or the creation of life from non-life has been a scientific problem for over a century. Science has no idea of the specifics of how this happened (they have some concepts but no proof of any of them occuring) only that it was almost certainly an act of startling improbability. Science simply says "we don't know" not "God did it."

Lets take another major theory that science backs fully. Macroevolution. Christians hate it. Why? Because not only does it violate the bible but it also has failed all Darwins major falsifiers while nobody noticed. The fossil record evidence isn't there. No continuous curve of species development. Not even broken curve fragments as you would expect from an incomplete record. The fossil record shows fully formed discrete species. Now the scientific explanation is punctuated equilibrium, but that is really a theory which is unfalsifiable and whose whole purpose is remove the fossil record as a falsifier. Worse yet the whole trend of the fossil record is wrong. The fossil record shows rapid species creation at the Cambrian Explosion and then a slow gradual declining trend in number of species, not increased speciation as Darwin predicted. Likewise Darwin said that if any natural structures could be shown to be irreducibly complex (in other words not able to come about through a continuously improving series of small steps) then evolution cannot be true. Biochemist Michael Behe showed that irreducibly complex systems abound in single-celled life forms and are not uncommon in multi-celled life. A short list includes cilia, flagella, light sensitivity, and blood clotting.

As for measuring the effect of Gods hand, for it to be scientific it would have to quantitative and objective. "Feeling God" directly is purely subjective and unquantifiable. For instance it has been shown through a double-blind study that injured people who are prayed for even without them knowing it are more likely to recover from serious injury. Likewise the religious also tend to live longer than the non-religious. Also take into account that something large, boatlike, and made of very old wood is sitting on Mount Ararat in Turkey. However are any of these things the work of God? Would any of them show direct causation to God if true? In short, you may be able to show correlation but it is damn near impossible to show divine causation.

Let me try to use an illustration. You are blindfolded and have your ears plugged so as to be effectively deaf and blind. You enter a room you have never been in before. You have no measuring instruments of any kind and no means to make any. Prove that there is not another person in the room with you. Tough isn't it? Well if things start moving around this might give you a hint. Of course this just proves the room has moving things in it or that your not standing in quite the same place as before. What about a man-shaped object standing still with a measurable pulse? Is that someone or a CPR dummy? What if something grabs you? Was that someone or something? The fact is it should be hard to prove the existence of a being who we can't see or hear, but only feel subjectively.

Let me use another illustration. Measure the stress in a uniaxial tension bar directly. Simple right? We know what stress is. However we measure it is by measuring strain of the test piece and a calibrated load cell. You can't measure stress directly, but you do not doubt its existence.

BTW I was incorrect, you did not moderate me down I sincerely apologize.

These opinions do not represent those of the US Army, DoD, or US Government.

[ Parent ]
Jeesh, long reply (none / 0) (#150)
by DesiredUsername on Sun Mar 18, 2001 at 07:50:57 PM EST

"Science only changes its views when it is confronted with evidence to the contrary. Likewise the church changes its views when confronted with evidence to the contrary."

These statements are true, but are only the tip of the iceberg. Here's the 9/10's that's under the water:

Science starts with data, creates a hypothesis, then actively tries to falsify the hypothesis by gathering more data. Now append your statement: And the hypothesis only changes if it was falsified.

Religion starts with a hypothesis (aka a "revelation" or "vision" or "mission" or whatever), finds data to match, then defends both the hypothesis and the "supporting" data tooth and nail. Now append your statement: When, eventually, even hand-picked data can't be found to support the hypothesis OR the contrary scientific theory is so overwhelming it can't be ignored THEN religion reluctantly abandons it's old hypothesis--often for one equally absurd.

Consider: The ancient Greeks knew the earth was a sphere that travelled around the Sun. All the actual evidence (eclipses, retrograde motion of the planets, etc) pointed to it. But the Bible refers to "four corners" and the Church wanted to have Man be the center of all--so they suppressed real science in favor of pseudo-science more to their liking.

"The purpose of the Bible was not to help humanity understand how things work."

Yes, I made the religion-doesn't-answer-scientific-questions argument myself several times, when I was an apologist. The trouble with it is threefold:

1) That's not what they used to say. It used to be that the Bible held ALL the answers, and they were all literal. Seven literal days of creation. Four literal corners of the Earth. Etc. This has only changed recently because religion has been proved wrong so often they can do naught else but retreat into the "unanswerable mysteries of life".

2) That's not what everyone says even NOW. As bizarre as it may seem, there exist people who have had the benefit of 12 years of education who STILL believe the Earth is flat because the Bible says so. Or that evolution is false because the Bible says so. These people are among the best educated in history, yet they appear to lack even basic critical thinking skills.

3) But the most problematic feature of the "religion and science don't mix" argument is: Why not? Religion purports to answer questions that impact people's lives. Why CAN'T we investigate these claims scientifically? You might be tempted to say that it's because science deals with weights and measures whereas religion deals with philosophical issues. But what about science like psychology or coginitive science? It deals with "motivations", "concepts", "internal models", etc. All of this stuff was just smoke and mirrors 200 years ago. Now it's (relatively) hard science.

"... science does not attribute things to God. Period. Even if God might actually have done it."

The more I try to reply to this, the less I understand what it actually means. What does it MEAN for something to have been "actually done" by an entity but NOT be "attributable" to that entity? Reality isn't a court case where the defendant (God) can be found innocent on a technicality when we all know He's actually guilty. Either He did it or He didn't. Consider a case with a non-mysterious entity like a farm boy. What exactly would it mean for the farm boy to have ACTUALLY broken my window but for me to not be able in principle to attribute it to him?

'"Feeling God" directly is purely subjective and unquantifiable. For instance it has been shown through a double-blind study that injured people who are prayed for even without them knowing it are more likely to recover from serious injury.'

No it hasn't. This study (or these studies?) has been roundly debunked. I don't have a link, but I found it via an issue of The Skeptical Inquirer that I got last year. www.csicop.org

Your other examples are specious: 1) The religious and non-religous differ in ways other than belief in God (and, for that matter, "the religious" may not believe in The One True God). 2) And no one is arguing that the Bible doesn't depict HISTORICAL events, just that it doesn't reflect a DIVINE revelation.

This last example is worth following up on. Which of these things proves the existence of God:

1) Finding a boat on the same mountain as a Biblical boat.
2) Finding a boat as in #1 that says "This boat was built and sailed by Noah and his three sons."
3) Finding a boat as in #2 that ALSO says "...because God told us to."

Answer: None of them. Just because the Bible (or Noah) is OLD doesn't mean they are any more reliable than Joe Schmoe from last week who claimed to have a picture of Jesus in his peanut butter.

"The fact is it should be hard to prove the existence of a being who we can't see or hear, but only feel subjectively."

What do you mean, "only feel subjectively"? It bumped into me and grabbed me. Those are measurable (and the intensity, duration and frequency are all quantifiable).

Play 囲碁
[ Parent ]
I would have a very different reply... (none / 0) (#153)
by caracal on Mon Mar 19, 2001 at 02:26:11 AM EST

"Feeling God" directly is purely subjective and unquantifiable. For instance it has been shown through a double-blind study that injured people who are prayed for even without them knowing it are more likely to recover from serious injury.'

No it hasn't. This study (or these studies?) has been roundly debunked. I don't have a link, but I found it via an issue of The Skeptical Inquirer that I got last year. www.csicop.org

"Feeling God" directly can be just the result of temporal lobe epilepsy.
This does not mean that it is not a *truly* spiritual experience.
But you may not infer absolute statements about the state of the world from the deep feelings yout get from from such an experience, because this is just what temporal lobe epilepsy is about!!!

"This study (or these studies?) has been roundly debunked." The Skeptical Inquirer is as stubborn as fundamentalists with respect to religious/paranormal questions, they are just taking the exactly opposite stance.
From *personal* shamanic practices I can tell you that strange *results* (not just beliefs...) can be obtained.
So, I do believe that praying people can get some results (in the 20 to 30 % success range, and it has to be done right, praying is not just mumbling).
But the point is that it does NOT matter whether they pray Christ, Allah, Buddah, Shiva, Tunkashila or whatever...
To me it looks like if we have some capacities to interact with reality that are not accounted for by the current scientific theories.
However I do not ascribe such a capability to the interaction with some "entity", because I do not believe in any such thing and my practice still works.
The ancient Greeks believed that Zeus used to throw lightning and thunder probably because this was so terrifying and mysterious that *someone* had to be in charge with whom you could negotiate.
I feel the same thing is going on today, people are so scared by the unknown that they *must* comfort themselves in thinking that even if they don't know how to deal with it, *someone* more knowledgeable can do the job for them.
Unfortunately this leads to many problems, due to the very different and conflicting theories about such a *someone*, leading to actual fight between people no matter well meaning they intend to be.
If something mysterious and good happens it must be my God doing it, if something mysterious happens, that is not even bad but does not fit with my beliefs, it must be the Devil.
I am pretty sure that's what MrAcheson thinks about shamanic pratices. This is just paranoid thinking and borders to mental illness.

[ Parent ]
why I am not a Christian (3.33 / 3) (#61)
by danny on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 08:29:48 PM EST

I've written a brief account of Why I am not a Christian - it involves pumpkins and colouring-in books.

[900 book reviews and other stuff]

more reading on the subject (4.66 / 3) (#66)
by Speare on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 12:13:39 AM EST

I make these links to illustrate the wide range of beliefs; I am not related to any of these organizations personally. All have fascinating reading, whether you agree with the opinions expressed, or not.

Please reply, and add your own links to comparative-religion or religion-analysis sites, I'll be interested to incorporate them in my growing collection of diversity bookmarks.

Put simply, I believe it is only through knowing each other's way of thinking that we can all come to live in peace together on this Earth.

[ e d @ h a l l e y . c c ]
Arrogance vs. Tolerance (4.87 / 8) (#73)
by Delirium on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 02:14:36 AM EST

I think it's a mite arrogant to argue that your position is the only logical one. You may find organized systems of religion "laughable," but an atheist might find your clinging to the belief that a God exists in some mystical unquantifiable Deist sense to be equally laughable, and a traditional theist might find your claim that God exists but nonetheless does not make himself known to you to be equally laughable.

There are centuries of philosophical writings on this subjects from all sides, and you have taken none of these into account, instead decreeing that your current personal beliefs are the One True Way of God and that everyone else follows ludicrous and laughable beliefs.

I personally respect very highly a great number of religions. I do not consider the adherents of those I do not follow to be imbeciles or idiots for that reason, or simply because their religious beliefs differ from mine.

In short, your essay can be summarized as "Here is what I believe; some other people believe different things, such as [blah blah blah], but those people are wrong and their beliefs are ludicrous. Mine make sense." Of course no philosophically sound arguments are offered for any of the claims.

So before you spread your intolerance for organized religion further, please think through your beliefs and attempt to actually formulate arguments rather than mere dogma. Why should I believe your view of the nature of God rather than one of the many other religions? Why should I not be atheist instead? Why not agnostic? Either offer a justification of some sort for your position, or if it is based completely on faith, be honest and admit that. Intolerant name-calling of other religions does not come close to reasoned debate.

Full disclosure: I'm an atheist who is a member of the Greek Orthodox Church (one of the Eastern Orthodox churches, an old branch of Christianity), because I happen to like their traditions and their continuation of Greek culture; I just don't adhere to their religious beliefs.

Tolerance is an issue (5.00 / 1) (#76)
by spaceghoti on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 03:50:07 AM EST

You've brought up some good points, many of which have been addressed (with varying degrees of civility) earlier. So I'll take this opportunity to answer everyone at once.

This is an opinion piece. That's why I followed a suggestion and posted to Op-Ed. I do not require you to agree with my opinion. But if the activity is any clue, the topic is a hot one. I will not apologize for either the subject matter or presentation. I wrote what I think, nothing more.

I have no doubt that the Great Philosophers of History have addressed this subject, dissected it and come up with better answers than anything anyone here (myself included) could possibly hope to match. I also confess that my research on religious philosophy with regard to Socrates, Kant and the rest is woefully inadequate. I don't claim to be perfect or have the answers to save humanity. What I have are answers that, for the moment, allow me to sleep at night. As the process of life continues I will continue to re-evaluate the questions and answers to see what I come up with. Who knows what will change by tomorrow? I'm open to the possibility.

My problem with bringing up additional research is that my observations are based on what's happened in Western society along with what I see happening right now. If my interpretations are correct (also subject to debate; you don't have to agree with me), we've got thousands of years of philosophical history to fall back on answering these and many more questions that plague us today and we've learned practically nothing from it. We're still a race of close-minded, intolerant and selfish creatures who all believe that we know the Truth and everyone else is deluded. I include myself in this category. I am arrogant and it's on my list of personality flaws to address. But I believe my intolerance is less than you might think.

I am not intolerant of religious beliefs. I'm not intolerant of religious freedom. On the contrary, I believe that everyone's beliefs and freedoms should be respected equally, no matter how many or how few people support them. If it makes you happy then you have my blessing. That doesn't mean I have to agree with you. It doesn't mean I have to approve of how you came by your beliefs. Most importantly, I draw the line when your happiness infringes on someone else's beliefs and freedoms.

I know how to agree to disagree. I know how to accept that you don't necessarily agree with me, and that doesn't make you any more wrong than I am. If I fail to be convinced by your arguments then I reserve the right to stick by my opinions, just as you reserve the right to keep yours. Yet, I find posts under this topic that refer to other topics, digging up old grudges that people appear unwilling to let go. I have very deliberately not responded those those messages because I've already finished my part of the discussion with "this is how I believe, your mileage may vary." And you call me intolerant?

I do not apologize for my anti-religion stance. It's what I believe, and I've given you a lengthy explanation for why. At no time do I directly say "you should believe this too, or you're an idiot." Having said my piece, I'm going to let you formulate your own opinions. Perhaps my arrogance makes it sound like I thumb my nose at anyone who disagrees with me, and if that's the case then I honestly apologize. I respect and honor any opinion or belief that can be backed by thoughtful discussion; flames will be forwarded to /dev/null per standard operating procedures.

"Humor. It is a difficult concept. It is not logical." -Saavik, ST: Wrath of Khan

[ Parent ]
Thoughtfulness (4.00 / 1) (#136)
by khaladan on Sat Mar 17, 2001 at 02:34:17 AM EST

"I respect and honor any opinion or belief that can be backed by thoughtful discussion..." But do you also think that those opinions could be "laughable"? How should we consider your opinions if we don't think they are thoughtful enough? Does this being an op-ed piece make it somehow allowed to be less than thoughtful?

[ Parent ]
Laughable (none / 0) (#142)
by spaceghoti on Sat Mar 17, 2001 at 12:50:43 PM EST

I make two claims addressed here. First, I claim that attempts to define God are laughable. Second, I claim that I will respect any thoughtful opinion, that is, opinion that has had some (original) thought behind it. For example, if all you can do is recite Bible verses it demonstrates you haven't actually thought about what you believe, you're going off what you've been told. That isn't a thoughtful opinion.

So how can I respect you if I'm laughing at you? The answer is: I'm not laughing at you. I think it's sheer hubris to assume that you can know the unknowable, to force God into a box where you claim to concretely understand what God is or isn't, and what God wants or doesn't want. To use a different anology, you're trying to tell me you know what the highest number in the Universe is. Forgive me if I'm tempted to snicker; irony is one of my favorite forms of humor.

I have rated up religious comments as well as non-religious in this discussion because there are people who really have thought about what they believe, and they stand by their convictions. Belief is highly personal, and rarely shared identically between two people. Formalizing belief and setting down strict laws of worship is a social construct, and a highly abused one at that. It provides a moral foundation for people to follow which means society can function smoothly as a group. This is a good thing, and I won't deny it. Once that begins to creep into thought control (Father, forgive me: I had five lustful thoughts) is when I believe religion crosses the line.

I try to maintain a sense of humor about life and thought. We're funny people, we really are. Trying to pigeonhole God is hilarious to me. That doesn't mean I'm going to ridicule you for believing in your religion: it's your belief and it belongs to you. I have no right to judge you for it (even if I contradict myself and do it anyway, that's MY shortcoming), but I don't have to agree with it.

"Humor. It is a difficult concept. It is not logical." -Saavik, ST: Wrath of Khan

[ Parent ]
food for thought. (3.66 / 6) (#74)
by dr3 on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 03:20:01 AM EST

kinda weird idea and this is what i get for drinking 6 redbulls on no sleep in the last 24 hours.

every think that maybe god is nothing more then the sum of all our parts? Meaning that god is all of us, sort of a distributed network of remote nodes tied together for once purpose (crunching date maybe, or some coudl argue destruction of hte planet)). Maybe humans are just simply a biological version of Seti@home gone wrong? lol haha sorry i had to but it is kind of interesting all thought it is a definate tangent to the article. You could almost construe the whole religion debate to fit that picture thought. Our goal for the distributed project is to find the goal or its orginal purpose (why we were created, who created us, etc etc.). God ok need to get sleep now im sure ill be regretting this once i read this in the morning.
As Confused as a toddler in a topless bar.
Overminds (4.00 / 1) (#110)
by yogger on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 02:57:36 PM EST

I've seen and thought something similiar to that myself, but others have summed it up better. One fiction book I read (not that great a book, but one interesting passing thought) titled Wyrm had the mention of the idea of a "Group Overmind Daemon". Another one is from Isaac Bonewitz (sp?) in a book called real magic. He had the idea of a 'switchboard' type thing made up of all the people on earth. The idea was that in passing someone you store a pattern of them (they're electric impulses, so are you) and vice versa. The longer you are in contact, the stronger the pattern. He used this to explain a number of things like spirits, afterlife concepts, group conscience, etc.

The is only a test .sig
If it were a real .sig it would contain useful and/or funny information
[ Parent ]
42? (3.00 / 1) (#114)
by MrAcheson on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 03:43:21 PM EST

Yeah its like we're all organic units in some vast computer trying to compute the answer to the meaning of life... or maybe simply the question... :)

These opinions do not represent those of the US Army, DoD, or US Government.

[ Parent ]
PanENtheism (4.00 / 1) (#137)
by khaladan on Sat Mar 17, 2001 at 02:38:12 AM EST

Maybe God is MORE than the sum of the parts of the universe. Like how a movie is more than the sum of the slides. Gestalt stuff.

With a definition like that, it says that God is pervasive in everything, but also transcendant. Allows evil, but the greater system is good.

[ Parent ]
The appropriate Lazarus Long quote: (4.00 / 1) (#151)
by roystgnr on Sun Mar 18, 2001 at 11:04:53 PM EST

(which probably means it's a Heinlein quote too, but I don't think he was hesitant about cribbing aphorisms for L.Long's mouth)

"God split himself into a myriad parts that he might have friends." This may not be true, but it sounds good - and is no sillier than any other theology.

[ Parent ]

Few religions claim to have patent on Truth (4.25 / 4) (#83)
by Per Abrahamsen on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 07:12:51 AM EST

It is very easy for a person who have grown up in a Christian culture to assume that all religions claim to have a monopoly on Truth. This is far from the case.

If a Viking meet an ancient Greek, he would have no problem believing that Zeus and Athena was just as real as Odin and Thor. As a religious person, he would have sworn his faith to one of the later, most likely Thor (Odin wasn't very popular), but he would not be in any doubt that the rest existed. With regard to Zeus, he would be unsure whether this was another name for Odin (the father of the goods), Thor (of the thunderbolts) or a separate god, but that is all.

People who subscribe to polytheist religions rarely have problems accepting other gods. This has also been what often meet Christian missionaries, the natives were willing to accept Jesus as another God, but couldn't see why that meant they had to give up their old gods.

Buddhism, a mostly atheist religion, rarely have trouble co-existing with other religions. In Japan, most people subscribe to both buddhism and the old Japanese gods. They simply covers different aspects of life.

It is mostly the monotheist religions, in particular Christianity and Islam, which have given religion a repution of intolerance.

Just the facts please (4.00 / 2) (#84)
by timefactor on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 07:29:35 AM EST

My signature is a quote from an interview with Jorge Luis Borges in the NY Times from around 1985.

- I cannot believe in the existence of God, despite all the statistics. - Borges
Implied definition of religion (4.00 / 1) (#96)
by error 404 on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 11:32:18 AM EST

The article seems to define religion as a set of specific practices and ideas that a person performs and thinks in order to attain a favorable afterlife. The practices and ideas vary from one religion to another, but all religions consider their own practices and ideas to be correct, and all others in need of correction.

That definition may describe some particular religions but it does not describe all of them. In particular, it does not describe Catholicism as I live it.

For some of us, religion is an ongoing quest for a state of grace, which may be completed in an afterlife, but which is experienced to a greater or lesser extent in every moment of life. Questions like the origin of species are very interesting, but not particuarly relevant to that quest. Even the question of the existance of God (and after studying Metaphysics in college, that question turns out not to be a simple True/False) is less that vital. As a matter of faith, I beleive that God exists and there is an afterlife. But if I've lived an honorable life in the quest of grace and it turns out that I was wrong, well, I've lived an honorable life and made the world a slightly better place and probably had more good days than I would have otherwise. Grace feels good.

Painting the entire range of religious experience and practice with one brush is absurd. In particular, the certainty that leads some faiths to intolerance is far from universal.

Electrical banana is bound to be the very next phase
- Donovan

Remarkable (none / 0) (#101)
by spaceghoti on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 01:24:00 PM EST

That definition may describe some particular religions but it does not describe all of them. In particular, it does not describe Catholicism as I live it.

I take my hat off to you. What you have is a foundation for personal faith and religion that apparently avoids imposing precepts on others who don't share your beliefs. It's a shame more religions and religious followers can't follow your example. If I had a nickel for every Catholic, Baptist, Mormon, Jehovah's Witness, ad nauseum "missionary" who tried to corner me, explain how I was living in spiritual darkness and doomed to hell but "promised to pray for me," I'd be set for life.

I really don't mind when people are able to practice their religion quietly and keept it on a personal level. It's when they push it in my face and condemn me for not agreeing with them (or worse, try to block others for practicing their form of worship) that I start getting unpleasant. I do not need someone else telling me that doing this or watching that is wrong and immoral, and they're going to save my soul for my own good.

"Humor. It is a difficult concept. It is not logical." -Saavik, ST: Wrath of Khan

[ Parent ]
Just following Fr. Frank's instructions... (none / 0) (#155)
by error 404 on Mon Mar 19, 2001 at 09:27:03 AM EST

Well, actualy, I was doing the same thing before I moved to his parish, but I don't think there is anything remarkable about my personal faith. It's just that if a hundred people on quiet personal quests talk to you you won't notice because they mostly won't even say anything that's obviously religious, but one missionary will spoil your whole day.

People who think they have The Answer are annoying at best, dangerous at worst. They worship an idol carved in their own mind.
Electrical banana is bound to be the very next phase
- Donovan

[ Parent ]

Ammo Fairies (4.11 / 9) (#103)
by pornking on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 01:38:28 PM EST

Ammo Fairies are small invisible creatures which which reload your weapon when you are not looking. This behavior has led to a very important gun safety rule. Whenever you pick up a gun, you check to see if it is loaded. Whenever you hand a gun to someone else, you check to see if it is loaded. You never point a gun, even one you are sure is empty at someone you don't intend to kill. Whenever someone hands you a gun, you check to see if it is loaded.

Many people would argue that such a creature cannot possibly exist. Such people miss something very important. It doesn't actually matter whether they exist; what matters is that people who believe in them tend to live longer.

How may actual, no other explanation possible miracles have you witnessed in your lifetime? Whether or not God exists is not nearly as important as the effect that belief has on your life and your community.


my.god.net (4.55 / 9) (#106)
by hexmode on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 02:01:52 PM EST

Great. Another person has discovered that the religious upbringing of their childhood was unhealthy and has decided to let the world know.

Typically, this was some generic Baptist religion. Baptists do tend to go overboard on some things and some of them can be intolerant. In the rural areas that I grew up in (outside a city of 25,000, in a county of 40,000), it is quite common to have a lot of tolerance for the intolerance of Baptists, because, most likely if you go to church, you are one of them.

But, after reading for the umpteen-jillionth time on kuro5hin how someone discovered that god is "laughing his/her ass off" and, just you wait, humanity will develop as far as the poster has and realize that we don't need religion, I'm a little skeptical of it.

It seems that the people who post these messages haven't left the arrogance and intolerance of the old religion behind -- they've just redirected it towards all religion.

To be fair, I've gone through the process of examining childhood religious beliefs, so I am sypathetic. I just get tired of people assuming that humanity progresses the same way as an American adolescent.

Progress (5.00 / 3) (#111)
by spaceghoti on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 03:14:23 PM EST

But, after reading for the umpteen-jillionth time on kuro5hin how someone discovered that god is "laughing his/her ass off" and, just you wait, humanity will develop as far as the poster has and realize that we don't need religion, I'm a little skeptical of it.

Okay, fair enough. But let me ask you this: when you look at current events about today and pay attention to the news about X religious group condemning Y religious rivals or D nation founded on religious principles oppressing F people, can you honestly say we've grown out of our religious childhood? When you read about the Taliban destroying cultural artifacts or Israel sniping with their neighbors or the rivalries between India and Pakistan and say the world is ready to take the next step? Can you listen to the Reverand Jessie Jackson without the word "hypocrite" coming to mind? Can you really take the Catholic Church seriously when they tell you that using contraception is a sin?

Human beings are fallible, always. When dealing with people or looking at the human equation, you always have to factor for human frailty. What's scary is when someone (I'll include myself) presents you with the Truth, the answer to all of our problems, and condemns you for not believing it. Furthermore, a lot of people feel justified in acting on that condemnation.

Some people use religion for an anchor or a crutch. They're incapable of facing the world without that emotional support. Some people use religion as a means to an end. And some people use religion for personal enlightenment. Of the three, I support the last wholeheartedly: religion as a focus for self-improvement is admirable. The first I pity, because religion as a crutch is literally to invite someone else to do your thinking for you. Using religion as a means to an end, either for personal gain or oppression of people or ideas you dislike is as close to evil as I can think of. Put the first two examples together (which is not all that uncommon in the modern world) and you've got the makings of a self-sustaining tyranny.

I do not have a lock on the Truth. I have said it before and I'll say it again. I am anti-religion because I object to the ways that religion gets abused. I am not proposing alternatives for modifying or removing religion, I'm looking forward to the day when we no longer need it.

"Humor. It is a difficult concept. It is not logical." -Saavik, ST: Wrath of Khan

[ Parent ]
What progress? (none / 0) (#126)
by hexmode on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 06:06:31 PM EST

Human beings are fallible, always.

I'm looking forward to the day when we no longer need [religion].

And what makes you think that we will get to that point? What makes you think that point is possible? Surely you don't believe that humanity, being always fallible, are going to improve soceity much?

Look at the past 4000 years of history and tell me that we are better off now than we were 2000BC.

In fact, an argument could be made that despite technological progress, we've not made much spiritual, emotional or societal progress over that period.

So humans are failable, as you say, always. I'm not about to agree with you, but assuming you are right, how can you possibly have any hope that we're going to get better?

You are, I'm sure, familiar with the story of the Tower of Babal. What this story illustrates very well is that try as we might, humans trying to achieve peace through technology does no good -- we always self destruct.

Look at the Chinese. They had a very sophisticated civilisation, but over the past fifty to 100 years, it has gone to pot.

The same for the Egyptians or Ethiopians. These were great countries 4000 years ago, but now they are almost nowhere.

Point being: if this is 4000 years of civilisation building, how come we're still in our "childhood"?

Maybe, just maybe, we really do need God.

[ Parent ]
Optimism (none / 0) (#131)
by spaceghoti on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 07:52:40 PM EST

History teaches that events on earth happen in cycles. My interpretation of this may be incorrect, but it teaches that these aren't perfect circles but gradual progressions. Life struggles forward, falls back, then surges forward again stronger than before. In human history, cities and nations have risen and fallen countless times. The only people we know to have come back from the dead (figuratively speaking) is the Israeli nation.

One of the results of this cyclical progression of history is that we seem to teeter between periods of education and ignorance. Eventually, notable individuals such as Hammurabi hammered out codified systems of law for his people. Draco did the same later on in Greece. Socrates and his students began to outline the reason for law and explored the nature of existence. Unfortunately, this learning and enlightenment were the purview of the rich and noble who had the time and energy to pursue such things. Then war comes along again and people forget about enlightenment as they struggle to defend against or conquer someone else.

Human history has vacillated between peace and war, ignorance and education. We learn something, then we forget it again for a while. Then we come back and try to learn some more. We've been more successful in some areas than others; technology is a good example for our day. We've increased our knowledge of the world around us and practical applications for our discoveries to an unparalleled extent. At the same time, we struggle against barbaric principles such as war and bigotry, intolerance and greed.

The rise of global communications (from which the Internet was born) adds an unusual element to the equation: not only are we learning new things, but we're able to share that information to anyone who cares to hear it. We now have a new dilemma: we can broadcast our message to the entire world, but should we force it on them or let people make their own decisions? This is test I feel religion has failed miserably: religious fanatics don't know how to keep their hands (and their beliefs) to themselves.

I believe we are capable of pulling ourselves out of our racial infancy. Our frailties are not going to go away; I believe we will always be imperfect beings. Science fiction aside, there is no such thing as a "perfect state" or "perfect race" or even "perfect" anything. But that doesn't mean we're stagnant, incapable of growth and improvement. Just because we haven't learned from the past doesn't mean we can't learn from it. We have a remarkable opportunity presented to us with the Internet and other communication tools, and if we utilize it correctly, we can create a society of tolerance and exchange. We could create a society where all ideas and beliefs are considered equal and oppression of opposing views is discouraged. Thus, everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and religions, but we don't have to need them. This is not a utopia, this is just an improvement over what we have now.

Looking around, we're not there yet. Even in the United States, supposedly the bastion of free speech and expression, there's a very strong push for censorship and behavioral control. Not all of it is geared toward making sure our rights are preserved equally; some are quite the opposite. Much of the censorship and restrictions are geared toward taking away freedoms because they offend certain "moral" sensibilities. Others are designed to discourage alternate religions and beliefs.

So close, and yet so far.

"Humor. It is a difficult concept. It is not logical." -Saavik, ST: Wrath of Khan

[ Parent ]
poll (4.00 / 5) (#112)
by CodeBhikkhu on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 03:16:44 PM EST

An interesting thing about the poll is that 60% of the buddhist's who see the selections will pick "other." Another 20% will pick the "buddha" selection knowing it's only part of the answer, yet the same response as "other". The other 20% will probably pick the "buddha" answer not knowing what the buddha said about himself knowing the truth before he died.

A hint: "Next time you see the buddha, kill him."

"A week long Dalai Lama Fantasy Camp where you get to run around in red robes and eat rice and chant mantras with the Twelfth son of the Lama himself wont teach you what zen is." -- skyhook
more (none / 0) (#116)
by CodeBhikkhu on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 03:46:30 PM EST

I should probably add that the first 80% would be hesitant to vote at all.
"A week long Dalai Lama Fantasy Camp where you get to run around in red robes and eat rice and chant mantras with the Twelfth son of the Lama himself wont teach you what zen is." -- skyhook
[ Parent ]
Deist? (4.00 / 1) (#127)
by MrSpey on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 06:50:59 PM EST

At the beginning of the article, spaceghoti says that being a deist means that you believe that there is a god, but that god is completely indefinable. Then he (she?) goes on for the rest of the article to define the same god he believes in. Specifically:

I also think She's laughing Her ass off at the idiocy we come up with.

The Being that created the Universe through whatever series of events (six days? Six eons? On a bet?) is so much more than our limited minds could possibly hope to grasp that to attempt to define Her is pointless.

Sure, I believe that God is love. What creator doesn't fall in love with something he or she has built and nurtured into being?

I believe God is watching and shaking Her head, counting the years and centuries until we grow up and grow out of our need to dictate belief, thought and behavior to everyone else.

By saying these things then spaceghoti is defining an almighty being. Sure, it's somewhat vague, but I can get some idea of what spaceghoti's thinking of. God loves me, since She created me. God hopes that I will follow some sort of moral system that will make her happy, since she's obviously unhappy with how people are acting now. I'm pretty sure these morals involve being tolerant towards others. These are all good things to have in one's deity (at least, the deity I believe in has these traits). However it doesn't sound like a deist. For all we know, the almighty is actually a mean son of a bitch who put us all here to suffer and kill each other.

Mr. Spey
Cover your butt. Bernard is watching.

Definitions (4.00 / 1) (#132)
by spaceghoti on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 08:01:16 PM EST

Obviously, my description of God is a bit tongue-in-cheek. Both my brain and the language programmed into it are incapable of grasping the infinite, so I'm forced to personify God, turn Her into an anthropomorphic image to convey what I mean. The image is far from perfect.

Yes, I impose my own values and opinions on God. We all create God in our own image, to some extent. I recognize and acknowledge that this image is far from accurate. God could be a celestial hippy, wandering the cosmos smelling pretty flowers and staring at shifting nebulae while encouraging everyone to live in peace and harmony. God could be an angry, raging thundercloud of resentment and retribution, punishing anyone who doesn't live up to exacting standards. God could be an energy wave that gives us the spark of life and lets us decide what to do with it. God could be the sum of all life and all consciousness, so that we LITERALLY create God in our own image, or at least our fragment of it.

The possibilities are infinite. I believe in God, simply because my mind works that way. I just don't know who or what God is. Attempts to explain necessarily fall short.

"Humor. It is a difficult concept. It is not logical." -Saavik, ST: Wrath of Khan

[ Parent ]
Re: Definitions (none / 0) (#133)
by MrSpey on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 08:51:59 PM EST

I think you and I have pretty similiar beliefs. I say a lot of same things about the God I believe in that you say about yours, except that I do it in an attempt to describe as much of an infinite being as I can comprehend while you do it almost as a crutch in your attempt to comprehend something that is 100% incomprehensible. I consider it progress when I do it while you consider it an unavoidable error. The net result is we both have at least somewhat similiar mental pictures of a being that we both admit can't be fully defined. Our opinions on how God should be considered are almost polar opposites.

Mr. Spey
Cover your butt. Bernard is watching.

[ Parent ]
Exuse me but, WHAT are you talking about? (4.00 / 1) (#139)
by caracal on Sat Mar 17, 2001 at 04:22:24 AM EST

I wonder which caterory I fall into:
  • Religious - might be (I have some shamanic experiences)
  • Theist - probably not
  • Atheist - could be
  • Agnostic - could be
The point I want to make is the very question " do you believe in God ?"
does not make any sense to me because to answer, be it Yes, No or Undecidable (is this agnostic?)
would require that you *define* the meaning of the word God.
So where do you start???
Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.

select your religion (none / 0) (#140)
by mwa on Sat Mar 17, 2001 at 10:49:36 AM EST

Just curious. Have you tried SelectSmart Belief Systems Selector? FWIW, my chosen religion came up third for me, but the list produced some surprises for investigation...

Belief Systems Selector (none / 0) (#141)
by spaceghoti on Sat Mar 17, 2001 at 12:28:35 PM EST

Yup, apparently I'm somewhere between a Buddhist and a Sikh. I'm so relieved, now that a computer program has told me what I believe!

"Humor. It is a difficult concept. It is not logical." -Saavik, ST: Wrath of Khan

[ Parent ]
Better the second time (4.00 / 1) (#145)
by pistols on Sat Mar 17, 2001 at 10:25:55 PM EST

I must say, after reading several of the comments I believe (sic) that this article has resulted in much more interesting debate than the previous. I congratulate you on a well written article... even though I don't agree with all of it. From my observations of my own spiritual wanderings, I see 'religion' and 'belief' and 'spirituality' as being something of a mobious strip or klien bottle: It has no borders and you can keep going forward forever. In all my time on this earth, how many times have a passed through the same belief? And each time, coming from a different direction and headed a different way.

I guess I'm just a pacifist at heart. I note that you proclaim your beliefs to be True, but others have told me that there beliefs are True. That doesn't mean I don't agree with you, or disagree with you. It just means that I respect your belief you are right as much as I respect my beliefs.

And now for the annoying recursive part: If you are right, how am I to know? or how am I to know if I should know, or perhaps I do know and don't know it, or perhaps I do... Maybe I'm wrong, and this isn't recursive at all and there are no maybes, including this one.

Maybe I should just be a taoist and stop trying to explain myself.

Truth (none / 0) (#146)
by spaceghoti on Sun Mar 18, 2001 at 02:14:12 AM EST

If I'm right, does that have to make you wrong? And the same, in reverse? I believe it doesn't have to be that way.

I've been proven wrong in deed as well as conversation. I will again many more times. It's a learning experience, one I hope doesn't stop until my body expires. In the end, I believe it all comes down to this: does your belief bring you peace? Can you sleep at night with what you have? If so, why? Is it because it satisfies your inner balance, or is it because you've surrendered your conscience to a Higher Power as dictated by someone else?

Any way you look at it, we all have different ways of living with ourselves. Religion has been one of the big ones throughout history. While I don't approve of why people turn to religion or many of the ways religion has been used and abused, I accept it as a social function that allows people to cooperate. I feel that it's time to move on, to leave our childhood behind us and step into a new era of consciousness. That's what I believe. You don't have to agree, and I'd be amazed if most people did. I don't expect to convince anyone of the validity of my beliefs. All I can do is point out the alternative and let people come to their own decisions.

"Humor. It is a difficult concept. It is not logical." -Saavik, ST: Wrath of Khan

[ Parent ]
That's it! (none / 0) (#147)
by mwa on Sun Mar 18, 2001 at 10:49:16 AM EST

This is, I think, the fundamental issue in your article. If the followers of all religions had the same attitude of acceptance, there wouldn't be any problem with "religion"

[ Parent ]
Great analysis! (none / 0) (#148)
by madgeo on Sun Mar 18, 2001 at 02:33:02 PM EST

I sure hope this doesn't sound preachy, cause I hate that. But its hard not to with this topic.

I too have had similar experiences with a stiff codified religion, similar to yourself from the sounds of it. And I recently came back to it in MY way, not "theirs". I found a bunch of people that happened to attend a church that I could relate to (a "liberal" church in the minds of the "righteous"). And the funny thing is, by relating to like-minded people, I relate to God better.

I find their version of organized religion to be palatable, because they are so very inclusive (including gays) and respect differences of opinion. The others can take their codes, rules, and read them, analyze them, codify them, canonize them, and worship them (as they often do).

As for me and mine, this is about the enjoyment of a relationship with God that those others probably have no concept of.

I respect your deistic approach, because you recognize something is out there.

What you do with that recognition, is up to you. I respectfully recommend finding a group of like-minded people that have a relatable God, because if those "others" actually read their bible, they would know that it is about the relationship with God, not the RULES.

Maybe your like-minded beleivers are here on K5!

Skepticism in Star Trek? (5.00 / 4) (#154)
by kitten on Mon Mar 19, 2001 at 02:48:08 AM EST

I realize that this is something of a stretch, but when I hear religious types declare that a diety is responsible for something, without offering any evidence to support themselves, I'm often reminded of the following bit of dialogue from The Undiscovered Country, with the boldface being the most important line here:

Valeris: A Bird Of Prey?
Spock: A Bird Of Prey.
Chekov: Cloaked? A Bird Of Prey cannot fire while cloaked!
Spock: All things being equal, I'd agree with you. However, things are not equal.. this one can.
Valeris: We must inform Starfleet!
Scotty: Inform them of what? A new weapon that is invisible? Raving lunatics, that's what they'll call us! They'll say that we're so desperate to exonerate the captain that we'll say anything!
Spock: And they would be correct; we have no evidence. Only a hypothesis which happens to fit the facts.

I realize that it's rather dorky to extrapolate ST dialogue to this matter. Regardless, Spock is entirely correct: A hypothesis without evidence is worthless.

I've used the Magic Elf example before, in an earlier discussion, but I believe it holds some weight here as well. If I claim that there are magic elves that cause, say, rain, I will be regarded as a nutcase unless I can provide some sort of tangible evidence to support my claim.

In my estimation, it is always up to the postulant of a claim to support that claim. It is not for the listener to disprove the claim. (Salem witch trials are springing to mind..)
So far I've yet to see any diety-worshipping religion perform this (one would assume) simple trick. Rather, they beg listeners to prove them wrong. Why should an atheist have to come up with reasons to not believe in God? He's not the one making any bizarre claims about supernatural beings.

mirrorshades radio - darkwave, synthpop, industrial, futurepop.
who says you don't (none / 0) (#159)
by alprazolam on Tue Mar 27, 2001 at 05:40:59 PM EST

Everything you said is really interesting and agreeable to me. But why do you think an atheist has to come up with reasons to not believe in God? If it makes sense to you, that's good enough, right? It makes sense to me anyhow, and I am pretty happy with that.

[ Parent ]
God (none / 0) (#158)
by lavaforge on Fri Mar 23, 2001 at 12:12:37 AM EST

The first agnostic walked into a medieval village. He didn't look like the others, and he certainly didn't act like them.
When Sunday arrived, he didn't go to church, and the townspeople were quite vexed. They said: "Are you not a loyal servent of God?"
The man answered: "I am an agnostic, and I make no decisions on such matters." To which the peasants replied; "But do you worship Satan or our Lord Above?"
The man answered: "I do not dwell on such things, and I cannot answer you as such."
The peasants ran off screaming amongst themselves: "He does serve the Devil! He is a demon."
At this point the man shrugged and left town, leaving the medieval serfs to found the beginning of Microsoft.
"In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But, in practice, there is." -- Jan L.A. van de Snepscheut
God and such (none / 0) (#161)
by phontocules on Mon Sep 09, 2002 at 07:15:00 PM EST

I agree with some of the comments in part. I once heard a great remark, "I'd rather believe in God in this life. If I die and there is no such thing, I believe I've lost nothing. But if I don't believe and the end comes, I'd hate to be wrong."
I don't believe God is however we define him/her. I believe there is a God in a real definable being, despite the fact we might not know the words for that definition. However, belief is key word. No person should be condemned for their belief. Nor should a person PUSH their belief on others. For me, I have found a religion that feels good to me. That gives me hope, encourages me to live a life free from consequences of "bad" decisions, and brings me joy and happiness I have found in nothing else. I invite others to learn about it and if they feel it is right for them, to join. If they don't feel it is right, I can do nothing but continue to be their friend. Religion should not be the great divider. It should be like hobbies. You do not discriminate against someone who likes to garden, or sculpt.
In the end we will all know who was right, if anyone at all.

God, Religion and Humankind | 161 comments (145 topical, 16 editorial, 0 hidden)
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