Why Belief?

Why not knowledge?

This is something that perplexes me about religion. We spend a lot of time here discussing the beliefs of theists, but very little time talking about the knowledge of theists in their religion.

Religion is always couched in terms of belief; rarely knowledge. Oh, there are some fundamentalists, and maybe even a few Catholics who claim that they “know god”, or will proselytize  people to get to “know god”, but when you dig down into their knowledge, you always, without exception, find that their knowledge is still just a belief. They can never point to a fact that you can confirm that enables you to know the same god they do. They certainly can’t introduce you to the god they know, they can only tell you why they believe in their god.

Knowledge, unlike beliefs, can be confirmed objectively. For instance, I know when I see a mountain that it is a mountain. I can climb it, take pictures of it, share my experiences with people who have also climbed it or photographed it, and they can confirm, exactly, my understanding of the fact that we call a mountain. It is there, right where I can see it, and where others can see it, and experience it exactly as I do. It is an objective fact, and that fact results in my knowledge of the mountain, a knowledge that is the same as everyone else’s, without exception.

Gods, on the other hand, are illusory. They cannot be seen (except, perhaps by the delusional). Even if someone claims they can be seen, that sensory experience cannot be shared by others, as my mountain example can be.  This suggests that a person’s claim that he sees his god, or talks to his god, is individually based in that person’s brain, which is where all beliefs reside.

Correlative of this is the phenomena of multiple descriptions of gods. It would be a rare thing for any two theists to describe their knowledge of the gods they believe in, exactly the same. If one delves into the details of any theist’s beliefs, one will always find some discrepancy between his description and the next man’s. And that’s just within the same religion. Compare the descriptions of gods of different religions, and you will find a wide variety of gods, the existence of which completely belies the term “knowledge”, but supports the term “belief” when talking about god.

So why don’t we have any knowledge of god? One would expect that something so prevalent, and so fundamental to the existence of the world, its past, present and future, would have some state of existence that we could know, rather than simply believe in. The Easter Bunny and Santa Claus are things to believe in. Leprechauns and Unicorns and the Mad Hatter are subjects of belief.  Presidents, kings, Einstein and Newton are the subjects of knowledge. History, science and economics are the subjects of knowledge. Why doesn’t god fit into the latter category? Why is he subject to the uncertainty of beliefs, and the vagaries of individual mentalities, when he is in charge of, and the alleged first cause of, all reality?

Does that make any sense to anyone?

Someone or something that important, that pervasive, that instrumental to our very existence should be known, not believed in; categorically, without any equivocation, and without any disagreement as to the nature and extent of its existence. We should not have wars or people tortured over theological issues, any more than we have wars or torture over issues involving our favorite football teams.

The fact that we have to believe in gods, as opposed to knowing them, says a lot about their existence.

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88 thoughts on “Why Belief?

  1. It is my understanding that they would retort that faith is a form of knowledge. For example, if you presuppose the existence of the god of the Bible, then your belief in the Trinity is in itself knowledge about the creator.

    Why doesn’t god fit into the latter category? Why is he subject to the uncertainty of beliefs, and the vagaries of individual mentalities, when he is in charge of, and the alleged first cause of, all reality?

    Again, trying to anticipate what they would say, the belief is certainty, not uncertainty. God exists because reality would not be possible without God. Thus, there is no reason to be uncertain about the existence of God. From that, for a Christian at least, it is not too much of a leap I suppose that if you accept that there is a god who is powerful and intelligent enough to create our universe, then that god could have impregnated a virgin Jewish teenage girl in the Galilee whose son preached, healed the sick, cast out demons and rose from the dead after being crucified.

    Of course, none of that does the trick for me.

  2. Someone or something that important, that pervasive, that instrumental to our very existence should be known, not believed in; categorically, without any equivocation, and without any disagreement as to the nature and extent of its existence.

    Careful, SI, or you’ll be called a “100%er.”

  3. SI,

    Does that make any sense to anyone?

    The mountain thing makes complete sense to me. What I don’t agree with is this whole, “God should be this or that, but isn’t, so probably isn’t there” idea. For example,

    Someone or something that important, that pervasive, that instrumental to our very existence should be known,

    Well, the problem is that you refuse to consider the best attempts of our ancestors as anything beyond mere fanciful rubbish. People have been documenting ostensibly spiritual or other-worldly phenomena since culture began. It could very well be that some or all of “mythology” reflects some crazy but “real” macro-phenomena that we moderns are completely blind to. There’s not much else that can be done if we just denounce it all as metaphor or superstition.

    In the closing of your post, you’re actually suggesting theological imperatives about God, and those are of course based on your own assumptions about “what you think” God should be or do at any given time. You’re assuming, “Someone or something that important should be known,” but you have to assume a certain importance of yourself in order to do that. What I mean is, it’s entirely possible that in this vast universe, God’s got plenty of more important things to do than jump through hoops for a race who has the tools they need to better their own world.

    What you’ve done is to offer a theological hypothesis about God (important, pervasive, etc.), make a prediction (should be known), then imply that the case being otherwise constitutes reasonable grounds for disbelief. That seems sort of out of place in a post about the importance of proclamations from knowledge, no?

    All in all though, not a bad post. The mountain analogy is useful and comparable to DD’s “sun” analogy (God’s presence should be as undeniable as the sun). Thing is, the Bible claims this sort of sun-like, “as undeniable as the mountain” divine presence will be a reality. It’s always seemed odd to me that so many atheists fault God for not manifesting an “unequivocal direct presence to everyone,” when that is exactly what’s purportedly going to occur.

    • All in all though, not a bad post.

      Thank you.

      you’re actually suggesting theological imperatives about God…

      What you’ve done is…

      All I’ve done is assume many of those attributes of god that theists claim are true, and ask the question: If true, why does god still exist only in the realm of belief? If god is all theists say he’s cracked up to be, he should not be a mere belief, but a presence. A palpable, objectively confirmed presence.

      It’s always seemed odd to me that so many atheists fault God for not manifesting an “unequivocal direct presence to everyone,” when that is exactly what’s purportedly going to occur.

      Purportedly. Right.

      What’s so odd about it? It’s a perfectly rational posture. “Hey god, if you are what they say you are, prove it!”

      Personally, I find it very odd that god would create man, allow him to scape an existence out of the earth for millions of years, and then supposedly (if you believe that ancient texts of relatively ignorant people represent pure reality) give hints of his existence to a small number of isolated people in one small area of the globe, and then disappear again for 2000 years. What’s with that?

      • [..I’m afraid it’s the end of the road for you and I. Big loss, right? ..know that I won’t be responding to you anymore, unless of course it’s on my own blog.] cl, to ThatOtherGuy, 13 December 2009 at 5:59 AM

        SI,

        Personally, I find it very odd that god would create man, allow him to scape an existence out of the earth for millions of years, and then supposedly (if you believe that ancient texts of relatively ignorant people represent pure reality) give hints of his existence to a small number of isolated people in one small area of the globe, and then disappear again for 2000 years.

        What’s with that?

        Not much; it’s a textbook argument from personal incredulity. Kind of out-of-place in a post extolling the virtue of knowledge, no?

        • That was confusing.

          …it’s a textbook argument from personal incredulity.

          Ummm. It’s not an argument from incredulity. It a blog post in the form of a question. “Where is our knowledge of god?”

          If you can’t answer the question, just say so.

          Let’s call a spade a spade here, cl.

          God doesn’t exist. You have not been able to make a single convincing (and I’ll use your favorite adjective) cogent argument that he does.

          The fact that you and I and everyone else here, have to discuss his existence in terms of beliefs, is telling, no? He (I assume it’s a HE) could make the whole argument go away in an instant. But he doesn’t want to for reasons you’ve made clear; he’s too busy running the universe, he wants us to figure it out on our own, we’re insignificant to him, etc, but that all boils down to HE’S A FUCKIN’ WIMP. He doesn’t give a shit what we think. He doesn’t care if we know him or believe in him. He just doesn’t care.

          So why should we?

          Because there is no fuckkin’ god. And you can argue all your little semantic nonsense, and he’s still not going to show up and prove you right.

          Really, cl. You should apply for that job as William Lane Craig’s successor. He’s good at making an ass of himself with his really stupid, far fetched, unrealistic apologetics. But people pay him. It’s a good job. Pays better that editing skateboard magazines.

          • I made the point I wanted to make in this thread, which is that all your questions in the OP are just rhetorical devices that rely upon questionable presuppositions. What you’re doing here is taking an amalgamation or caricature of God, then making predictions about what you think that God should be doing right this second, then using “the fact otherwise” as support for your position. It’s kind of like the Fundy who says we should see humans evolving into new species right this second; a false argument from questionable presuppositions.

            Yet, you can’t justify your opinion that God should be here right this second, you can merely assert it.

            Ummm. It’s not an argument from incredulity. It a blog post in the form of a question.

            It’s an argument from personal incredulity, dressed up as a question.

            You have not been able to make a single convincing (and I’ll use your favorite adjective) cogent argument that he does.

            Well, it would help if you actually read them before you dismissed them, but as far as convincing, you’re quite correct that I’ve not been able to convince you that you’re mistaken. I’m not really trying to convince you though, that’s just thing. As far as cogent, you’re simply mistaken. I can point you to cogent arguments I’ve made for God, but that doesn’t mean they’re either convincing or true. Cogency is not a synonym for truth.

            God doesn’t exist.

            What is it with atheists who complain about naked assertion from believers, yet have no shame in using the same? No wonder you get along so well with Philly; you both offer opinions as truth-claims. How is that any different from the person who simply proclaims that “God exists?”

            ..people pay [WLC]. It’s a good job. Pays better that editing skateboard magazines.

            Do you think I’m some kind of broke guy or something? If so, what does any of that have to do with anything?

            • What you’re doing here is taking an amalgamation or caricature of God, then making predictions about what you think that God should be doing right this second, then using “the fact otherwise” as support for your position. It’s kind of like the Fundy who says we should see humans evolving into new species right this second; a false argument from questionable presuppositions.

              Why is it when Christians pontificate on the attributes of their god, it’s “the truth”, but when anyone else repeats it, it’s a caricature? Your analogy would be correct if I assume attributes for god that no Christian does, but I don’t.

              But your comment simply illustrates my point in the OP quite well, because those attributes are beliefs, not facts that we can know. Your understanding of the attributes of god differs from your next door neighbor’s. It’s very easy to deflect my questions with “You don’t know the god you’re talking about”. Circular reasoning alert!

              If my assumptions are caricatures, then it’s not my fault, but the fault of your god, who just won’t make his presence and existence clear. As I said before, he could do it, with ease, in a New York Minute.

              It’s an argument from personal incredulity, dressed up as a question.

              Gee. I guess all can can say to that is: That’s your opinion. Good luck with it.

              Well, it would help if you actually read them before you dismissed them,

              You’ll never get that job with WLC if you keep up with this whining.

              Do you think I’m some kind of broke guy or something? If so, what does any of that have to do with anything?

              I’m just trying to help you out here, cl. You clearly have a talent, and given the fact that people with your talent are raking in the bucks, I just thought you could use the encouragement.

            • SI,

              Your understanding of the attributes of god differs from your next door neighbor’s. It’s very easy to deflect my questions with “You don’t know the god you’re talking about”. Circular reasoning alert!

              That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying, “You’ve knocked down a God you built from your own presuppositions. Big deal.”

    • What I mean is, it’s entirely possible that in this vast universe, God’s got plenty of more important things to do than jump through hoops for a race who has the tools they need to better their own world.

      Now this is one little assertion that I could devote a whole post to. Maybe I will some day. 8)

      What exactly does god do all day, every day for 12 billion years?

      To hear Christians, at the very least of the major religions, god created the universe and then rested. And he seems to be resting ever since.

      He created the laws of physics, and chemistry and biology, and now they chug along according to his grand plan, occasionally requiring a little tweak here and there.

      So what is he doing in “this vast universe” that keeps him so preoccupied that he can’t stop the occasional tsunami, or do away with cancer, or {insert favorite defect in the universe he could correct}? He does seem to find the time to make sure that a tree planted 50 years ago now shows his image in the grain, or that his face shows up in equally odd places like grease stains, sandwiches and clouds. Is that what keeps him so preoccupied?

      No one is asking him to jump through hoops, cl. We just want something constructive, something, again according to his proponents, he’s perfectly capable of providing in an instant with little divine effort.

      IF trying to keep dark matter dark is a full time job requiring constant attention, couldn’t he send one of his minions to explain his predicament?

      When you write stuff like that, I immediately think “apologetics”. It’s classic apologetic stuff, parroting the theist line, supreme rationalization to the nth degree. Have you ever considered a job as understudy to William Lane Craig? (BTW, that’s a backhanded compliment. Good apologists pull down a lot more than chump change. I doubt WLC is hurting. You could be rolling in the dough.)

      • I understand that you’re critiquing the God you hear explained to you, but enough with the rhetorical questions already. Open up the floor for argumentation over God-concepts outside the little box you need for these canned questions. Each question you asked is founded on some presupposition that – of course – I’m going to challenge. For example,

        If true, why does god still exist only in the realm of belief? If god is all theists say he’s cracked up to be, he should not be a mere belief, but a presence. A palpable, objectively confirmed presence.

        That’s really, really poor argumentation, because, it’s just you saying what you think God should be doing right now. Even if God is all “theists” say, maybe we’re not the most important thing God’s going on right this second? You seem to want to reject God here on account of the typical human-centric religious worldview that predicts God being here coddling us. I don’t believe in a God so weak like that, but one that’s quite tough and willing to let a foolish race experience the inevitable consequences of their own poor choices.

        Or, for example,

        So what is he doing in “this vast universe” that keeps him so preoccupied that he can’t stop the occasional tsunami, or do away with cancer, or {insert favorite defect in the universe he could correct}? He does seem to find the time to make sure that a tree planted 50 years ago now shows his image in the grain, or that his face shows up in equally odd places like grease stains, sandwiches and clouds. Is that what keeps him so preoccupied?

        Again, you assume I believe in a God that’s obligated to maximize human comfort and longevity. Yet, the thoroughly depraved nature of our species suggests that such would merely expedite life’s extinction.

        Or, for example,

        IF trying to keep dark matter dark is a full time job requiring constant attention, couldn’t he send one of his minions to explain his predicament?

        I didn’t imply anything about dark matter requiring constant attention. Stick to what’s said for best results. Anyway, sure – and our ancestors went through great lengths to convey to us their beliefs that God has sent messengers. Yet, all you “rationalists” complain and fault God because you can’t push a little button to make it happen at your beckon call such that some priest in a white coat can approve it for you to believe. The truth is, even if every account of God or god(s) throughout human history *actually is* true, none of it is good enough for you. Yet, you maintain,

        No one is asking [God] to jump through hoops, cl.

        Yeah, right! “Grow an arm back God, then I’ll believe. Empty out a cancer ward. Heal only true believers. Manifest right now, unequivocally, then I’ll believe. Give repeatable, testable evidence.” Etc., etc., on down the line. This blog is like a hula-hoop factory!

        Though paraphrased and jumbled together for brevity, those each reflect actual criteria people here have offered regarding what it would take to get them to believe.

        When you write stuff like that, I immediately think “apologetics”.

        Hey, that’s fine. When you write a handful of rhetorical questions clearly inspired by a post I think little of, all I can think of is “how do intelligent people fall for this crap?”

        If the theist should rely on knowledge to justify their position, so should you.

        • You seem to want to reject God here on account of the typical human-centric religious worldview that predicts God being here coddling us.

          We’re not rejecting God. We’re rejecting a construct of God that some God believers expect us to believe. And, speaking only for myself, of course, I don’t see the God portrayed in the Bible as a being who coddles us. More like a being who selectively meddles with us.

          How many times does some prominent televangelist claim some natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina is a sign of god’s anger over abortion or gay marriage?

          As for things like regrowing amputated limbs, the reason we atheists point it out is because believers are constantly claiming that God healed them of this or that disease or ailment, and yet we don’t see limbs growing back or say a person being cured of HIV. Let me be clear, I don’t expect some deity to cure anything. I just want believers to explain why they think their conception of God cures some things but not others.

          our ancestors went through great lengths to convey to us their beliefs that God has sent messengers.

          But why should we believe that certain people really are messengers of a universal creator? As I have stated before, we are talking about a supposedly omnipotent and omniscient being that theoretically should be able to communicate better than the best communication technologies possessed by us in the early 21st century, but who instead conveys its messages to handful of people over time who are incapable of reaching all of their contemporary humans. That’s like a person in NYC today, rather than sending an important document to Los Angeles by overnight express mail, using a bicycle messenger instead.

          I understand that you’re critiquing the God you hear explained to you

          Well, that is the only construct of God we can critique, one that believers claim as being an objective reality that we need to bow and scrape in fear of, or alternatively, love with all of our hearts.

          As for that human-centric religious worldview, but that’s what I get from reading the Bible. God creates the heaven and the Earth, with an emphasis on the separateness of one for the other, with everything but the Earth being part of the heavens. The stars in the sky are placed there, according to the Bible, to provide us with light in the night sky. That these stars are suns with planets of their own does not seem to have occurred to the author of that portion of Genesis who supposedly got the tale from God Himself.

          Genesis tells us that the creator of a universe filled with billions of galaxies made a pact with a man named Abraham on one small speck of a planet in one of those galaxies and promised that a particular patch of land would belong to his ancestors. Gee, a universal creator showing favoritism to one guy and his ancestors by mere virtue of blood relations? Sounds more like national myth than objective fact to me.

          • Tommykey,

            How many times does some prominent televangelist claim some natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina is a sign of god’s anger over abortion or gay marriage?

            I don’t know; does that relate to anything we’re discussing?

            As for things like regrowing amputated limbs, the reason we atheists point it out is because believers are constantly claiming that God healed them of this or that disease or ailment, and yet we don’t see limbs growing back or say a person being cured of HIV.

            The point was that contrary to his protestations otherwise, SI expects God to jump through hoops. As for me, I think you folks are crazy when you ask for such silly things. How would we know it was God? How do we know God already isn’t responsible for the countless thousands of baffling and bizarre cases that “spontaneously” cured? That whole “show me limb regrowth” line of reasoning is flawed for all the reasons atheists reject purported miracles. I wish more atheists could see it.

            I just want believers to explain why they think their conception of God cures some things but not others.

            Because the God I believe in is not a magic genie who does whatever human beings say, whenever they say it.

            But why should we believe that certain people really are messengers of a universal creator.

            Is there a point in even skewing the discussion with a suggestion? I can explain the reasons why I believe. I cannot provide those who do not want to believe with reasons. The point was that SI’s “Why didn’t God send a messenger” question is rhetorical. Even if every “spiritual experience” our ancestors recorded is genuine, it wouldn’t matter to SI, who claims documents like the Bible are unreliable.

            As I have stated before, we are talking about a supposedly omnipotent and omniscient being that theoretically should be able to communicate better than the best communication technologies possessed by us in the early 21st century, but who instead conveys its messages to handful of people over time who are incapable of reaching all of their contemporary humans. That’s like a person in NYC today, rather than sending an important document to Los Angeles by overnight express mail, using a bicycle messenger instead.

            Yeah, I get the point. I hear variations of this argument all the time: “I don’t understand why God would do things differently than the way I think God should, therefore, this is evidence God doesn’t exist.” It’s an argument from personal incredulity, in every variation.

            That these stars are suns with planets of their own does not seem to have occurred to the author of that portion of Genesis who supposedly got the tale from God Himself.

            Are you implying that Genesis is doubtworthy because it didn’t mention exoplanets?

            Sounds more like national myth than objective fact to me.

            I know; I’m familiar with your opinion. What I’m looking for in these discussions is some kind of knowledge.

        • You seem to want to reject God here on account of the typical human-centric religious worldview that predicts God being here coddling us.

          Coddling? No. To hear most Christians, god demands worship and belief, belief and worship. Many think that if we don’t do this in our lifetimes, the rest of eternity will be spent in hell. And that’s not a caricature.

          I just want to know who the fuck I’m supposed to be worshiping. Is that too much to ask?

        • “Yeah, right! ‘Grow an arm back God, then I’ll believe. Empty out a cancer ward. Heal only true believers. Manifest right now, unequivocally, then I’ll believe. Give repeatable, testable evidence.’ Etc., etc., on down the line. This blog is like a hula-hoop factory!”

          No, see, here’s the difference. “Jumping through hoops” implies pointless goofing-around for one’s amusement. Pointless things for a deity would be, oh, say, printing his face on a mundane object, or levitating a cracker.

          What SI is demanding of God here is anything but pointless; he’s saying that if this deity is all-good and all-powerful then he should start acting like it, and he’s completely correct.

      • “No one is asking him to jump through hoops, cl. We just want something constructive, something, again according to his proponents, he’s perfectly capable of providing in an instant with little divine effort.”

        LOL! There you go, again! It’s not about what you or any infidel WANTS, SI. It’s a matter of what mankind NEEDS. Right now, mankind needs to be focusing OUTSIDE of itself, just like you need to be focusing OUTSIDE of yourself. God isn’t running a dog and pony show for your entertainment, and He’s dealing with issues that totally escape your notice.

        Besides, He HAS been trying to reach mankind for 6000 years. You keep getting so hung up over all of the different interpretations that are placed on scripture… citing these as proof that there really is no credence for believing it is truth. And who the hell cares if some goof sees God in his cornflakes… what does that have to do with anything? If I saw Charles Darwin in my stool, would that negate the significance of his writings to you?

        God also never implied that we’d have to endure the evils of this infidel-run world, forever, either. He did say that He would return to make things right, in His own time! He hasn’t taken any “12 billion years” to do this, either, those are your musings that have nothing to do with fact or even reality.

        Any misery on this planet is man-made, man-implemented. God’s allowed it to go on for as long as He has for the simple reason any controversy like this cannot be immediately nipped in the bud, and that is there would always be some asshole wanting to question what God was trying to hide by implementing an immediate retaliatory strike. Six thousand years of human rule, by your own admission, clearly shows that man isn’t capable of frying an egg without fucking things up. Trust has been the issue from the beginning. I can’t think of a better way to explain anything to a rebellious youth, rather than to let him do what he wants, for a time, and reap the consequences for it.

        God has been talking to humanity. Humanity isn’t listening.

  4. “Well, the problem is that you refuse to consider the best attempts of our ancestors as anything beyond mere fanciful rubbish.”

    Ideas put forth by the Bible are by no means our ancestors’ “best attempts.” Remember, the greek philosophers laughed Paul out of the room when they heard him preach.

    “What I mean is, it’s entirely possible that in this vast universe, God’s got plenty of more important things to do than jump through hoops for a race who has the tools they need to better their own world.”

    He didn’t have anything better to do two thousand years ago when he decided to dick around in human form for thirty years or so. And apparently he doesn’t have anything better to do when unbelievers die and it comes time to torture them.

    Besides, I thought, according your murky and muddled theology, that God was (at least, when it’s convenient for you) beyond the concept of time, in which case “better things to do” becomes meaningless.

    “It’s always seemed odd to me that so many atheists fault God for not manifesting an ‘unequivocal direct presence to everyone,’ when that is exactly what’s purportedly going to occur.”

    Right, and it’s been “purportedly going to occur” any day now for the past two thousand years. Which, for those of you who are curious, is seven-hundred thirty thousand four-hundred eighty-five days. How much further back are you— er, is God going to push back that date?

  5. And, of course, the fact of the matter is that they don’t “know” anymore than anyone else, really.

    Oh, they guess, they make statements from a “book” which is “inspired”, but when you pin them down it always comes down to “faith”.

    “The bible says so and I believe it” or substitute whatever ‘scripture’ or ‘ism’ you want.

  6. That’s right, Sarge, it’s all about faith. The same faith you exhibit when when you ‘believe’ in your humanist guru’s fanciful theories (like evolution) about origins and the natural world.

    “Darwin said it, and I believe it!”

    When was the last time you went out into the field and checked on some of this stuff for yourself, Sarge? How much of your ‘faith’ is actually based upon that which you’ve established for yourself, by trial and test?

    Maybe it’s just handier worshiping men than God, eh?

  7. What I don’t agree with is this whole, “God should be this or that, but isn’t, so probably isn’t there” idea.

    There are two points here. First, most of those examinations of whether it’s this way or that are based on the claims by believers that it’s this way or that. For instance, the Problem of Evil is one born from believer assertions for the character of their god. The other issue is one of accepting the claim for it’s existence in the first place. If you want acceptance from people in the way that they accept the existence of a mountain, then your god has to be such that it provides evidence of its existence like everything else does. Regardless of whether it exists or not, or whether it’s something different or not, if you want it accepted a certain way, it has to be capable of being accepted that way. If it can’t, then stop trying and settle with relying on faith and try to make your case that faith has any credibility.

    • Philly,

      If I say “food is cheap, especially meat,” does that mean that only meat is cheap? Or, does that mean that both food and meat are cheap?

          • Oh please. If we said “deflection noted” every time you deflected, we’d be out of both words.

            How about you address some of the points I’ve been making? Or is it easier for you to keep saying that I never make points if you ignore all the ones I put forth? Does it make you look cooler or smarter when you don’t answer?

          • Yes, you did attempt to deflect from my comment, didn’t you? And with something that was already addressed in another thread no less. Noted, and noted.

            Thanks for playing. 🙂

            • Philly,

              “Already addressed,” is not synonymous with “clearly and cogently answered.”

              Writing a bunch of funny-guy stuff about A Fish Called Wanda doesn’t get you off the hook. If you want to show the superiority of your position, quit dodging and either clearly answer, or point to your clear answer for this question:

              If I say “food is cheap, especially meat,” does that mean that only meat is cheap? Or, does that mean that both food and meat are cheap?

              Then, I will continue with you by addressing the new concerns you’ve raised here.

  8. If you have an imaginary friend in your dreams that pats you on the head and rubs your belly whenever you do something good but that kicks you across the floor and yells at you when you do something bad, well, who are we to judge whether that is an objective experience or a subjective one? Now imagine that it’s in a daydream instead of a night dream.

  9. “The same faith you exhibit when you ‘believe’ in your humanist guru’s fanciful theories (like evolution) about origins and the natural world.”

    Nope, still no religious faith there. Good try, though!

    “Maybe it’s just handier worshiping men than God, eh?”

    Ew. It’s the freakin’ twentieth century, who the hell worships anymore.

  10. ildi:

    Interesting how religious dogma changes to reflect political thinking… most liberal xians have “personal relationship” with their god now rather than a worshipful one.

    God is much more laid back now than he was a century, or even a half-century, ago. Back then, formality was the ticket to getting his attention. Now, being BFF with Jesus is the way to go. The fact that casual, personal relationship approaches to the deity occurred at the same time that general Western disapproval of authoritarianism and formality grew is merely coincidental.

    To bring this back to the OP, how did Christians living 100 years ago know that God expected to be approached with great formality, including wearing one’s Sunday Best to church? How do Christians these days know that he doesn’t mind them wearing torn jeans and dirty sweatshirts to church? They don’t know any of these things, but,they do believe them.

    • To bring this back to the OP, how did Christians living 100 years ago know that God expected to be approached with great formality, including wearing one’s Sunday Best to church? How do Christians these days know that he doesn’t mind them wearing torn jeans and dirty sweatshirts to church? They don’t know any of these things, but,they do believe them.

      Thank you for your attempt to stick to the line of thinking in the OP, but, I proprietate (is that a word?) a real loosey-goosey blog here, so it’s not really necessary.

      The mere fact that society’s understanding of god changes with the times, the culture, and individual thinking is all a part of the argument that GOD DOESN’T EXIST. If he did, our knowledge of him wouldn’t change with the current fad.

      • SI,

        The mere fact that society’s understanding of god changes with the times, the culture, and individual thinking is all a part of the argument that GOD DOESN’T EXIST. If he did, our knowledge of him wouldn’t change with the current fad.

        So then, let me ask: are you saying that if something exists in actuality, our knowledge of it shouldn’t change over time and culture? If not, can you clarify the argument that you’re actually making?

        • Give me a different example. I’m talking about GOD. You know, the supreme being, the omnipotent, omnipresent being. The Creator of the universe. The source of all morality. That god.

          It would seem to me that our understanding of something like that would not and should not change with culture. The fact that human understanding of something like that in fact, does change, indicates that such a being is not what he seems to be, but rather a creation of the human mind.

          • SI,

            It would seem to me that our understanding of something like [God] would not and should not change with culture.

            Why?

            PhillyChief,

            If I say, “food is cheap, especially meat,” does that mean only meat is cheap? Or does that sentence permit the conclusion that both food and meat are cheap?

            • Why?

              I already told you. “I’m talking about GOD. You know, the supreme being, the omnipotent, omnipresent being. The Creator of the universe. The source of all morality.”

              Something that perfect, that well formed, that indestructible, that immutable, cannot change with cultural change.

              A tree is a tree is a tree, regardless of the culture viewing it. Same with the god you worship. If he changes, the change is in your mind, not in the god.

      • It would probably be better to say “society’s opinions or beliefs about their god change with the times”. Understanding presumes knowledge of a god, and no one has such a thing. They believe they do, they have faith that they do, but have nothing to present which differs in any way from mere imagination.

        Now of course one could understand their god in the way one can understand Sherlock Holmes, and that understanding can change over time (look at the new film with Robert Downey Jr. and compare that to the old B&W ones), but that’s pure creative license based on one’s imagination since the subject is imaginative. That’s a far cry from say understanding of birds changed after examining archaeopteryx.

        I question the intent of asking, “are you saying that if something exists in actuality, our knowledge of it shouldn’t change over time and culture?” Far from seeking clarity, it appears more likely an attempt to trip up the person he’s asking. If one may be permitted to include the questioners references to discussions with others as “battles” as well as a litany of prior unscrupulous comments, I think the intent becomes most clear.

        • SI,

          I already told you. “I’m talking about GOD. You know, the supreme being, the omnipotent, omnipresent being. The Creator of the universe. The source of all morality.” Something that perfect, that well formed, that indestructible, that immutable, cannot change with cultural change.

          I agree.

          A tree is a tree is a tree, regardless of the culture viewing it.

          I agree. That’s why I think your logic here is so poor: the fact that people’s views of things change is a horribly ill-formed argument against those things’ existence.

            • I hesitate to plunge into these waters, but here I go.

              I think what CL may be getting at is that some things exist regardless of whether people are aware of them. That much is true. For example, the fact that I don’t know about particular deep-sea organisms in the Pacific Ocean doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. Similarly, it may be that some entity or entities that created the cosmos exist(s). It’s entirely possible that there is something that we would consider godlike out there, somewhere – which is why few atheists take a 100% certainty position on the issue. Most of us say we don’t believe in gods, not that we know there are no gods or beings that might appear godlike to us.

              Where I take issue with religious believers is the notion that some people have somehow gained insight into the nature, character, identity, desires, plans, etc., of such beings. Given the myriad contradictory accounts of such beings, it’s clear to me that none of these people actually know what they are talking about when they discuss their deities, they simply believe what they’re saying. I have no good reasons for sharing their beliefs and plenty of reasons to be skeptical about their claims.

              Check out CL’s comments. He consistently refers to the god in which he believes. I’m not criticizing him for that, I’m just noting that he fits the pattern you described in the OP – religious people usually talk about their beliefs, not their knowledge.

              CL – please understand that I’m not taking a swipe at you here, but this is the way I see it: you are one more believer who has a particular spin on god-beliefs. You have your reasons for those beliefs and that spin. As far as I can tell, you share some common ground with other believers, and you also diverge from them on some points. From where I sit, I have no reason to believe that your claims to insights about god(s) are any better grounded than anyone else’s claims. To me, you look like one more believer in a crowded field, with neither more nor less credibility, in general, than all the others.

            • Pluto exists whether we call it a planet or a Kuiper belt object. However, no additional knowledge about Pluto and the solar system will ever make it a sun.

            • I think what CL may be getting at is that some things exist regardless of whether people are aware of them.

              Well, sure. But if that’s the case, he’s misreading my comment and OP. With him, sometimes I can’t tell if it’s intentional, or he’s just thick. Or we have different brain chemistry.

              At the risk of repeating myself (some risk, eh? I’m going to do it anyway) my point is not that humans may have different perceptions of the same god. My point is that when were talking about something that is supposed to be so obvious, so immutable, so great, the fact that we do have different perceptions is a good indication that god is a creation of the place where those perceptions reside – the mind. So, despite his objections, that fact that “people’s views of things change is [not] a horribly ill-formed argument against those things’ existence”. To the contrary, it is a very good argument that those things don’t exist, when were talking about something that should be so obvious as god.

              The Pacific Ocean is a pretty obvious fact. Not much disagreement on it’s existence. But if different cultures saw the Pacific ocean as a bubbling brook, while others saw it as a mere puddle, and others saw it as a man made swimming pool, coupled with the fact that we could not objectively pinpoint it, map it, photograph it or measure it, I’d say that was a good indication that the Pacific Ocean didn’t exist. At least not with the attributes we presently assign to it as the largest of all oceans.

  11. SI:

    The mere fact that society’s understanding of god changes with the times, the culture, and individual thinking is all a part of the argument that GOD DOESN’T EXIST. If he did, our knowledge of him wouldn’t change with the current fad.

    I agree. A standard Christian apologetic answer to the “changing understandings of God” argument is that it’s only human understanding of God that’s changed as he has continually revealed, bit by bit, his true nature through a process of “progressive revelation.” God hasn’t changed, we have. I don’t buy it anymore, but plenty of people still do.

  12. “A standard Christian apologetic answer to the “changing understandings of God” argument is that it’s only human understanding of God that’s changed as he has continually revealed, bit by bit, his true nature through a process of “progressive revelation.”

    Culture inexorably changes, and there stands religion- taking credit for the newly beneficial cultural norms aka ‘leading from behind’. You watch: with the world’s population growing like it is, how long before the New-New-Double-New-King-Reagan’s-Post-Authorized New Testament includes the saying by Jesus at the last supper, “Soylent Green is People…Allelujah!”

    Let the people rejoice.

  13. Does that apply to interpreting their bible, too?

    For Protestants, yes. They’re taught to view the Bible as a component of God’s progressive revelation of himself. His initial revelation of himself came through nature. Next, he gave his inspired scriptures, a bit at a time; the Old Testament laid the groundwork for the New. Then, when the time was right, he gave his most complete revelation of himself though his son, Jesus. Some would add that the indwelling presence/ongoing guidance of the Holy Spirit is yet another step in the progression. Each step supposedly adds more information to humanity’s stockpile of ideas and enables people to understand him more fully. He allegedly had to give it in pieces because people wouldn’t have been able to grok the whole thing at once. The Holy Spirit is a clever concoction that, along with progressive revelation, explains how Christians can change their minds over time about what God really is like, what he really wants, etc.

    An example of how this works: I was taught that the reason God didn’t speak out against slavery in the Bible is because people weren’t ready to deal with that idea 2,000 years ago. Their cultures were just too primitive, etc. But, when people were ready to handle the idea (correlation to the Enlightenment era was completely coincidental; in fact, the Enlightenment was influenced by growing Christian sensibilities – that’s evangelical Protestant thought, not mine), then Christians got on board with abolition and even – according to some – led the way in that cause.

    As for Catholics, SI and Tommy can probably address that better than I. One of the Protestant gripes against Catholicism is that Catholics supposedly put more stock in their traditional teachings than in what the Bible actually says. Of course, getting Protestants to agree on what the Bible actually says is a whole other issue.

  14. “One of the Protestant gripes against Catholicism is that Catholics supposedly put more stock in their traditional teachings than in what the Bible actually says.”

    What’s really amusing about this is the artificial distinction between the bible’s authority and so-called ‘church’ authority, even of the Papal variety. It’s ALL church tradition. It was very interesting in my post-Protestant Christian days to hear debates between proponents of sola scriptura and Catholic scholars. The Catholic position was far better supported; by history, as well as, ironically, by much the same logic Protestants use to justify their allegiance to scripture. Retaining some leftover Protestant mindset that Catholicism was simply an additional overlay of mythos, I found myself surprising impressed by their arguments.

    The irony doubles when one considers that the founder of this religious ‘New Deal’ found justification in his new vision for burning Jews out of their homes. I guess that’s the problem with progressive revelation. God was so busy working out the exegetical nightmare of Mary’s ascension and semi-divinity, that he really didn’t have time to say “Now, Martin, don’t you go burnin’ them Jews, y’hear!” What a way to run an airline!

  15. …the artificial distinction between the bible’s authority and so-called ‘church’ authority, even of the Papal variety. It’s ALL church tradition.

    Well said.

  16. I know who he is, I just didn’t know that’s what was being referred to. I thought it was a company. I tend to just glance over (ok, ignore) long cl comments and lengthy responses to those comments. Sorry, but they’re distracting and stupid and I feel it’s ok for me to say so since I’ve actually been a part of some of those before.

      • Cephus,

        I pretty much ignore all cl comments,

        Hey, no skin off my back. I can’t help but notice though, Cephus, that you’re also usually one of the first to play the, “oh, these stupid theists won’t back up their beliefs” card. Or, I’ll hear you clowning something like the video game incident on some other blog, yet, you don’t offer any sort of rational explanation that makes sense.

        Personally, I think people who don’t have any explanations for anything are distracting. They’re like those people who complain about everything at some place of employment, yet never attend the meetings. But that’s just my opinion.

        • Maybe because your ‘sense’ meter is utterly broken, you’ve been believing in imaginary friends and miraculous happenings for so long, you don’t recognize ‘sense’ anymore.

          Seems a whole lot more reasonable to me.

  17. Pluto exists whether we call it a planet or a Kuiper belt object. However, no additional knowledge about Pluto and the solar system will ever make it a sun.

    Unless you creatively stretch the definition of “sun” to encompass Pluto, which is what some try to do with words like “faith” or “supernatural”.

    • The difference between Pluto and gods is that we actually know that Pluto exists and we know it’s not a sun. We don’t have to believe anything about it. Moreover, since we know stuff about planets, suns, etc., we neither need nor want to stretch their definitions. The thing with gods is that we don’t know anything about them. They can’t reliably be defined, described, etc., until something is known about them. They can be the objects of belief, but not of knowledge (at this point, and probably never).

      • Well, we have to believe that when we look through a telescope we’re actually seeing Pluto 2.66 billion miles away…

        /snark

    • Unless you creatively stretch the definition of “sun” to encompass Pluto, which is what some try to do with words like “faith” or “supernatural”.

      Yes, Philly – that’s almost exactly what *you* did – only you tried to limit the definition of supernatural to refer only to those parts of the definition which you disbelieve.

      You tried to call me out using Merriam-Webster’s definition, and when it became undeniable that employed physicists think supernatural hypotheses *are* warranted, instead of just admitting you were incorrect like John Evo suggested, you tried to force supernatural to refer only to the “God(s) and spirits” part of Merriam-Webster’s definition, when that is *not* the definition they gave.

      I can prove my point by asking a simple question for the seventh time: if I say “food is cheap, especially meat,” does that mean only meat is cheap? Or, does that mean both meat and food are cheap?

      If you’re so sure of yourself, why not answer clearly and directly?

      • wikipedia:

        The term supernatural or supranatural (Latin: super, supra “above” + natura “nature”) pertains of being above or beyond what is natural; unexplainable by natural law or phenomena. [1]

        1.^ Merriam-Webster.com Merriam-Webster Dictionary

        employed physicists think supernatural hypotheses *are* warranted

        … and they think both food and meat are expensive, but meat in general more expensive than food, ’cause they’re employed at the local carryout. (Have you priced the beef sticks lately?)

        Case closed!

        • Come’on ildi, show some effort and just try to be impartial if you can. Pretend you’re talking to somebody besides cl, then go find the definition Philly and I originally agreed to, and hold us accountable to that. Don’t go muddying up the waters by introducing a third definition from Wikipedia besides the two already discussed – which were NAL’s, and Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary as cited by PhillyChief and myself.

          You say you’re all about science, well, I hate to break it to ya, but the best science is impartial and objective, so why don’t you show some actual respect for science and knowledge by providing a clear and direct answer: if I say, “food is cheap, especially meat,” does that mean only meat is cheap? Or that both food and meat are cheap?

          • …if I say, “food is cheap, especially meat,” does that mean only meat is cheap? Or that both food and meat are cheap?

            You should know by now that when you go on and on about a question you want answered, no one here is going to answer you. You’ve lost our trust in that regard, because of your general dishonesty and approach.

            So, if you think an answer is so important, why don’t you answer the question with what you think is the correct answer, and then tells us what your point is?

            • why don’t you show some actual respect for science and knowledge

              SI, I have one of those military-issue irony meters you can only buy on the black market, so it takes a lot to blow the circuits.

            • It’s not only that he demands he answer all his quibbling, nitpicking questions; it’s that he refuses to provide answers himself no matter how many times he’s questioned. That’s what bothers people, I think. Bothers me, at least.

        • (I must confess to a tad bit of curiosity as to what possible connection there can be between the definition of the supernatural and the price of comestibles…)

  18. My point is that when were talking about something that is supposed to be so obvious, so immutable, so great, the fact that we do have different perceptions is a good indication that god is a creation of the place where those perceptions reside – the mind.

    I agree with you. CL thinks that I expect too high a degree of certainty on the matter. I shouldn’t have to believe this or that about a god. I should be able to know this or that about a god, just as I know, along with 6.79 billion other people on planet earth, that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. That fact is not a matter of contention, it’s something that humankind has learned through observation and experience. We’ve all experienced the same phenomenon and we’ve all reached the same conclusion about it (to state it very simply): due to the earth’s rotation, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. If god is all that he’s cracked up to be, I don’t see why my position that god should be at least that amenable to observation and experience (he is, after all, GOD, not just a sun) is unreasonable, but CL thinks it is.

  19. Lie is also the word you get using every third letter of ‘hoLy bIblE’. Is the universe trying to tell us something? LOLOL!

    • Oh crap, Bible code!

      Quick, let’s figure out the significance of the fact that the only anagrams of ‘bible’ are ‘bleb I’ and ‘be lib’. The fate of the world no doubt depends on deciphering those two things.

  20. Pingback: Barbara McBeath On Ghosts « The Warfare Is Mental

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