2
Mar

Does the Atheistic Worldview Make Sense?

imagesBelievers see a “grounding” problem in the atheistic worldview. In that system of belief, life and intelligence are accidents of evolution. Things just happened to come together, to change slowly over time, until one day the first abstract thought appeared. But this thought wasn’t fundamentally different than what preceded it; it was simply the next step on the path of nature. Before it, no thoughts existed. No “truth” existed, because there were no minds to behold the truth. But eventually, more of these thoughts came into being, and the minds that beheld these thoughts became increasingly organized, until one day these minds invented religion – a creator God – to make sense of what evolution had done.

 Believers see a problem in this. Intelligence, in the skeptic’s worldview, along with logic and reason, are simply illusions. They appear to be a certain way, but only because evolution caused the minds presently in existence to happen to see things that way. Had conditions been slightly different, evolution would have followed a different track. Our brains and bodies might have developed differently, leading us to call good evil and evil good, for example.  In other words, without an outside anchor to ground reality – to ground truth and knowledge and intellect – our individual beliefs are no different than our individual tastes – preferences and opinions, nothing more.

But the modern skeptic seems pretty confident in his view. He says that science supports his claim, that science has put the lie to religion, or at the very least eliminated the need for it. But is this really the case? Does science presuppose a naturalistic worldview? Does it actually require one?

The first problem with such a conclusion is history. Science is based on certain presuppositions about the world, including: that orderly investigation of nature is possible through the use of our sense impressions; that these sense impressions provide reliable information about the way things really are; and that repeatability is possible. This means that some force that we cannot fully understand or explain is actually at work, guaranteeing uniformity of law, making sure that given the same conditions and actions, the same result should obtain. But why should this be so? Why should there be such uniformity? Why shouldn’t the same experiment under identical circumstances yield completely different results for no discernible reason? Why do our minds intuitively expect repeatability, that for instance every time I touch a hot stove, I will burn myself?

Indeed, the scientific method was formulated by people who were often deeply religious. They saw no conflict in believing in God. Quite the contrary, they made sense of the presuppositions of scientific experimentation through their understanding that an intelligent and personal Creator would want his creation to use their minds to understand him. Because he grounds reality, it makes sense to investigate, to learn more about him.

The skeptic insists that evolution can also ground the scientific enterprise. What difference, he asks, would it make whether mind evolved slowly over millennia or instantaneously as the work of a Creator? Isn’t the result the same either way?

As one skeptic put it:

“This has got to be one of the most common arguments from theists, but it is based on a simple misunderstanding. But evolution is not random. Part of evolution is random: mutations are accidents, and so are big asteroids striking the Earth. But natural selection is anything but random. And why this claim that something that evolves, such as our intelligence, is not worthy of belief? That’s like saying that the cheetah can’t “really” run fast if it “merely” evolved. This is part of the very general “top down” attitude of believers: that nothing can be real, or worthy of belief or respect or love, if it wasn’t ordained from on high, but “merely” built up over slow ages from below. But why should that be? I personally find the story of evolution very inspiring: it’s our parents, and their parents, going back through unimaginable time, with unimaginable amounts of love and strife and work and play, to some unknown beginning.”

The misunderstanding the skeptic points to involves evolution. In his view, evolution is not simply random. There is something called “natural selection” that inexorably moves living things to better and better states. Things that work, and are productive, get selected for, and things that don’t work as well, drop out of the gene pool, so that the end product is enhanced. Operating over countless ages, the result is the highly advanced products that we see around us today. This sounds so reasonable, in a way. What could be simpler?

But there is a fatal problem in this view. Evolution can only begin to work on an already living creature. The highly complex life we see around us runs on billions of pieces of information contained in DNA. It is highly complex. The fact that DNA can replicate itself and combine with other strands to form new, distinct life forms is not proof of evolution as an explanatory method, any more than a computer program spitting out new information is evidence that the program self-assembled. The question is how did DNA arise in the first place? Just as the computer program needed a programmer for it to ever start running, DNA needed a designer of unimaginable intelligence to account for what it is capable of achieving.  Consequently, even if natural selection operates on living things that either overcome or succumb to environmental challenges, this tell us nothing about how the first inanimate strands of molecules assembled to form something greater than their individual parts. This is a hugely complex challenge and it is not sufficient to assert without proof that life simply emerged from inanimate objects. At the very least, the skeptic should be required to provide a theory as to how that could happen. Positing a poetic account of our “parents” in some unknown beginning is another way of saying, “you’re right; there is no way to rationally explain how the first life began, so I have to gloss over it with catchy lines.” But catchy phrases like “evolution” and “natural selection” don’t provide an explanation. Ironically, they cause the skeptic to engage in the very fallacy that he accuses the believer of – circular reasoning. By concluding that supernatural forces are not within the category of possible explanations, the skeptic is forced to conclude what he initially assumed – however implausible, life created itself. No other options are available.

The skeptic is right that believers hold to a top-down model, but not for the reasons the skeptic gives. It’s not because a “bottom up” approach isn’t “real or worthy of belief or respect or love.” It’s because the evidence does not support it.

Posted by Al Serrato

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19 Comments

  1. zilch says:

    I’m flattered that you’re taking so much time and effort with me, al. I’m afraid there isn’t much we haven’t covered already here. But I’ll see what I can do.

    Your first paragraph is a pretty fair statement of the naturalist position, except that you still insist on calling evolution an “accident”. I don’t believe any more than you do that humans, or cheetahs for that matter, are simply “accidents”. That would be like Hoyle’s famous image of a hurricane whipping through a junkyard and producing a jet aircraft. There’s obviously way too much complexity for that to happen in a kazillion years, and humans are much more complex than that. So we agree that there is a lot of design- of some kind- involved in both jets and people. We only differ about the agent of that design.

    Then you go on to say:

    “Believers see a problem in this. Intelligence, in the skeptic’s worldview, along with logic and reason, are simply illusions.”

    Where did you get that idea? Intelligence, logic, and reason are all highly useful tools: they didn’t evolve for no reason. By this line of reasoning, we skeptics would also say that a cheetah’s speed is also an “illusion”, because it’s not based on some kind of primordial God Speed or something. You are assuming, without arguing for it, that intelligence is some sort of essence which is only real if granted from on high. I thought that’s what you were attempting to prove here- you can’t simply smuggle it into your imagined mindset of an atheist and sell it without any evidence.

    “They appear to be a certain way, but only because evolution caused the minds presently in existence to happen to see things that way. Had conditions been slightly different, evolution would have followed a different track. Our brains and bodies might have developed differently, leading us to call good evil and evil good, for example. In other words, without an outside anchor to ground reality – to ground truth and knowledge and intellect – our individual beliefs are no different than our individual tastes – preferences and opinions, nothing more.”

    Luckily, we do have such an outside anchor. It’s called the real world. In the real world, it’s good to, say, drink water, and not good to drink boiling lava. You don’t need a God to tell you that, whether you’re a bacterium or a bishop. Any lineage that decided, because of some mutation, say, that drinking boiling lave was “good”, would not have propagated its kind very well, so it’s unlikely that good and bad could simply be flipped: they are not symmetrical.

    While we social animals have added other distinctions between “good” and “evil” that are less obviously grounded in basic physics and biology, and are thus more reasonably considered more in the nature of individual tastes or preferences, there’s still a wide range of agreement about the basics. But religion, including yours, doesn’t do away with personal preference either. For instance, you would probably consider slavery to be evil. If you do, that’s not from the Bible.

    “Science is based on certain presuppositions about the world, including: that orderly investigation of nature is possible through the use of our sense impressions; that these sense impressions provide reliable information about the way things really are; and that repeatability is possible. This means that some force that we cannot fully understand or explain is actually at work, guaranteeing uniformity of law, making sure that given the same conditions and actions, the same result should obtain. But why should this be so? Why should there be such uniformity? Why shouldn’t the same experiment under identical circumstances yield completely different results for no discernible reason? Why do our minds intuitively expect repeatability, that for instance every time I touch a hot stove, I will burn myself?”

    Again, al, we’ve had this before. It’s the Problem of Induction, but as I’ve said, it’s fun to think about the possibility that the Sun might not rise tomorrow, but in practice, I don’t lose much sleep over it. It works to assume uniformity, does it not? How is this a real problem?

    You conclude with the argument that DNA must need a Creator, who just happened to have been around eternally and doesn’t need any further explanation. Again: special pleading. You demand an explanation for something you can only explain by resorting to magic, by positing an even bigger problem to be explained. If I were to take up that line of reasoning, I could just say that DNA has been around eternally. My explanation works just as well and is infinitely simpler than yours, so even if it’s entirely ad hoc, it’s still preferable.

    cheers from sunny Vienna, zilch

  2. Al says:

    Zilch,
    You’re welcome. Your comments are similar to other skeptics I’ve spoken with, so it makes sense to discuss them in these posts.
    I’m not sure why you can’t see that our arguments are not the same. For example, saying that DNA has been around eternally has no explanatory value, especially under your worldview, because there was a starting point before which DNA did not exist. A supernatural creator is not “magic.” He is the type of causative factor that can make sense to what we are learning.
    In any case, thanks again for the challenging comments. I too think its time to move on to other topics. Any suggestions?

  3. zilch says:

    Al- as I said, I don’t really entertain the hypothesis that DNA was around forever. And I’ve also admitted that we don’t know how DNA came into being. But I don’t see that as a defeater for naturalism. We may never know exactly how it happened, but it seems plausible that DNA was preceded by simpler forms of organization. As I’ve also mentioned, there are lots of hypotheses going around, and many of them are being investigated in the lab.

    It should also be mentioned that the Universe is a very big place. There are estimated to be from two to ten billion “earthlike” planets (planets with about the same size and distance from their suns as the Earth) in our galaxy alone. Multiply that by about fifty billion galaxies in the Universe, and you’re talking big numbers. Even if the chances are a quintillion to one, 1,000,000,000,000,000,000/1, against life evolving on any given earthlike planet, that still gives us a figure of a hundred to five hundred planets with life. These odds are hard for my small brain to conceptualize, but they do deflate theistic claims about the unlikelihood of life in our Universe, barring God.

    The same goes for the seeming unlikelihood of random mutations, most of which are deleterious or neutral at best, combined with natural selection, to produce, say, the eye. But as Dawkins points out (I don’t remember the exact quote), the fact that evolution of such features takes place in millions or billions or trillions of lineages evolving in parallel over millions and billions of years, is something human actuarial instincts simply can’t deal with. Even tiny chances for tiny improvements will be taken advantage of in such a system. It’s mindboggling, yes, but the numbers add up.

    As for future topics: how about slavery?

    cheers from sunny Vienna, zilch

  4. mcp says:

    @Al:

    You said: “…saying that DNA has been around eternally has no explanatory value, especially under your worldview, because there was a starting point before which DNA did not exist. A supernatural creator is not “magic.” He is the type of causative factor that can make sense to what we are learning.”

    But what is your hypothesis about how DNA first appeared on earth? How did a supernatural creator do it? Did he say “let there be DNA, and there was?” – which sounds very much like resorting to magic to me. Did he simply allow natural processes to occur? If natural processes, what were they?

    My point is, how does proposing a ‘God did it’ solution help in any way? It’s the same as saying “the ultimate cause of DNA caused DNA to appear”, without in any way explaining anything about that ultimate cause or the mechanism involved.

  5. al says:

    mcp
    The “God did it” solution does not help, if the question is “how” it was done. This is a science question, best left to observation, testing and the scientific method.
    The “God did it” solution makes all the difference in the world (and the world to come)if the question is, “is there someone out there to whom I may be accountable?”
    The evidence leads to that conclusion, but naturalists insist that only naturalisitic explanations can be considered. They insist on viewing the “God is there” view as a substitute of scientific inquiry, which it is not. It is addressing a different question.

  6. mcp says:

    I think you are saying “DNA exists” therefore “God exists because that’s the only possible explanation” therefore “there is someone out there to whom I may be accountable”.

    You can give “God exists because that’s the only possible explanation” answers to all sorts of questions, such as “why do stars exist?”, and many people have indeed done so in the past. But science has progressively given us answers to many of those questions that far better reflect the objective truth about the world around us. As Zilch mentioned, we do have hypotheses about the origin of DNA that are being investigated, but even if we don’t ever have a full detailed answer, that doesn’t mean it is legitimate to posit a supernatural one.

  7. zilch says:

    mcp: exactly.

    al: again, I agree with all you say, except that I don’t find the evidence leads to the necessity for God. As I’ve said, the evidence leads to the necessity for an orderly Universe with certain laws, in order for life to exist. But I don’t see any evidence for the necessity of a Creator beyond matter/energy and the natural laws we have to explain chemistry or life or art or love. I don’t have an explanation for the existence of our Universe. But you don’t have an explanation for the existence of God. My explanation is simpler.

    cheers from sunny Vienna, zilch

  8. Jordan says:

    Zilch,
    Sorry for my lack of responses; my time has been limited. I’m the one who brought up imaginary numbers in relation to God’s existence. I am no more saying “Imaginary numbers exist, therefore God exists,” than I’m saying “DNA exists, therefore God exists.” What I am saying is that we cannot reject that which may be labeled imaginary (or magical, or supernatural) simply because it is so labeled. We must follow the evidence even if it leads to something we previously thought impossible, unreasonable, or even foolish. Such was the case with imaginary numbers. Once rejected, it is now seen that they are fundamental to many fields of mathematics. Such was true of much of science (such as floating magnets, the possibility of flying machines, or changing one element to another as in nuclear reactions). Previous bias must be seen as detrimental to any reasoning. Here falls, I would say, a majority of theists as well.
    Let me also remind of the differences of that which is possible and that which is reasonable. It’s possible the building that I’m in will burn to the ground before I can get out. However, it is unreasonable for me to run out of the building screaming. No one here is saying that because God is possible, that you ought to break out your fire extinguisher. Let me also go further to say that just because something is reasonable doesn’t mean it’s true either. Just because a fire alarm sounds or arsonist’s plan to burn down a building today is found doesn’t mean the building will burn down. However, such evidence should lead to examination and action on our part. Both one staying in the building during the alarm and the fire department not taking seriously the arsonist are unwise.
    Now, let’s look at one piece of evidence. Let’s consider the origin of the universe. I see 3 possibilities (forgive some repetition Zilch, but I would like to hear what you think). Either (1) The universe (Matter, space, the laws of physics, information in DNA, apparent design etc.) always existed (Unreasonable as it denies any scientific explanation we’ve seen in the natural world. Einstein found this unreasonable although he hated the implication.), (2) they came from a source, but a source other than God (from which regression returns us to square one, as that source must have a source), or (3) their source is what seems to be logically necessary: something or someone eternally existent (eliminating the regression issue), really smart (the laws of the universe, design of dna, molecular machinery, fine-tuning, etc. point to this), really big (to have created the universe), and really powerful (to reference the thoughts of Scripture, the heavens declare the glory and power of God).
    Scientific reasoning not only allows for the possibility of God, but it points to a god not unlike the God of the Bible. Can I say, “Thus the building will burn down”? No. But denying the possibility of God and failure to further examine the evidence becomes foolish.
    mcp,
    This is why I think it legitimate to posit a supernatural explanation.
    Thanks again for listening.

  9. theGreatFuzzy says:

    If we grant the universe was created by a god it does not necessarily follow it was the god of the bible. She may have created it and then pissed off never to return.

    In fact it could be that this was her first attempt (she’d been thinking of doing one for an eternity) and, as we can see, it’s not turned out too good, what with all the sinning and immorality and people having sex willy nilly. So she’s moved on to created other universes, improving as she goes (there are scientific theories of parallel universes, so I’ve heard). Whether she’ll ever bother to get back to this one is unknown. The only problem with that is that it’s going to be awfully crowded in Limbo.

  10. zilch says:

    Jordan- I don’t think it’s unreasonable on the face of it to posit a supernatural explanation for anything. I just don’t see any evidence for the necessity of one, especially since all that does, as I’ve said many times here already, is raise the amount of explaining necessary by a large, perhaps infinite, factor- or simply sweep all final explanation under a very large rug. And I see, as I’ve also said many times here, that people make up gods all the time for very obvious reasons.

    As far as your three possibilities go: I think they’re all worth considering, but not exhaustive. I would put in a fourth: that it is probably not possible, given the state of our knowledge about the Universe, and possibly the limitation of our minds, to explain the origin of the Universe, or if the word “origin” or “beginning” even makes sense or is applicable. Thus, I think it’s premature (and may remain so- but who knows?) to say that yours are the only possibilities.

    And since (as I’ve also said) naturalistic explanations account for what we see, up until where our knowledge fails and we must simply say “I don’t know”, as well or better than the God hypothesis, since “Goddidit” is no more informative than “I don’t know”, then I will provisionally accept the natural world without any apparent supernatural beings.

    cheers from sunny Vienna, zilch

  11. Jordan says:

    Zilch and theGreatFuzzy, I agree with a lot of what both of you say here.

    -theGreatFuzzy
    “If we grant the universe was created by a god it does not necessarily follow it was the god of the bible.”
    -True. However, science and reason don’t rule out the God of the Bible though either. I find it remarkable that in an age where other nations had such wildly unbelievable stories for origins, that the old testament authors penned an origins explanation that seems to not only avoid contradiction with but perhaps even align itself even with the findings of modern scientific geniuses like Einsteins. Although many religions proclaim the veracity of the OT, and a few other gods also fit the mold required by the “god did it” explanation of origins, current reasoning and science in the area of origins show this set (gods eternally existent, all-wise, all-powerful, etc.) to be the most reasonable (here defined as being in accordance with current science and thought, given we have finite minds and incomplete information). Although this point is important to a reasonable belief in the God of the Bible, it is not an end-all, case-closed argument by any means. All here is simply to say a “god did it” explanation of origins is very reasonable. Building upon this foundation, other information not here presented could be used to show the God of the Bible to be the most reasonable of the set before mentioned.

    -zilch
    “I just don’t see any evidence for the necessity of a supernatural explanation.”
    -True. I haven’t given irrefutable proof. But using the fire illustration, when will head to the stairs from the 20th floor to leave the building? When the fire alarm sounds? Not until you smell smoke? Must you see the fire with your own eyes? Must it burn off a limb first before you believe it’s real? Obviously, I’m headed toward absurdity here. At present, I don’t feel I’ve given enough for you to have reached a point where you see the fire yet, but let me urge you not to set a “limb burning” requirement for considering the possibility of God. I feel you are in danger of putting this kind of requirement on evidence for God before believing in Him.

    An explanation that does not “raise the amount of explaining necessary by a large, perhaps infinite, factor” requires that you fully understand God. Can anyone claim to ever fully understand the God that I believe in? One beyond understanding?

    Would it be accurate to say your stance is
    “If God is not fully understandable, I will never consider Him a viable option”?

    If so, you better hope a God beyond understanding is not the source of all we know, because you’ve refused to even consider that a viable possibility.

    “Naturalistic explanations account for what we see (up until where our knowledge fails and we must simply say ‘I don’t know’) as well or better than the God hypothesis, since ‘Goddidit’ is no more informative than ‘I don’t know.’”

    Here’s my perceived difference in our worldviews:

    When asked, “What is the ultimate source of everything?”
    Your one word answer: Nature (or whatever word you’d use to descibe that scientifically operable natural phenomenon)
    My one word answer: God

    When asked, “How do explain how (insert here some aspect of ether wolrdview currently without a specific answer)?”
    Your answer: I don’t know, but I believe nature is capable.
    My answer: I don’t know, but I believe God is capable.

    Our views truly balance the scales at this point. I could say with as much accuracy as your statement, “Theist explanations account for what we see (up until where our knowledge of God’s workings fail, and we must simply say ‘I don’t know how He did it’) as well or better than the Naturalistic explanation, since ‘Naturedidit’ is no more informative than ‘I don’t know.’

    Thus, I feel we’ve reached a stalemate and can go no further. An honest look at things requires me to respect your view as being as rational as my own given what we’ve talked about so far. I simply prefer my gaps in knowledge of origin (where I must have faith) to fall into the category of “I just don’t understand God well enough,” rather than your faith, “I just don’t understand nature enough.”

    I feel as well that a topic change is in order. Perhaps we could discuss the Bible? Here we could examine things like slavery as you mentioned. My faith truly rests entirely on the Word of God, as only limited knowledge of who God is can be obtained from study of nature and of conscience. Our views of the truth value of the Bible either restrict of enable us to believe what we do about origins.

    Sorry for all the repetition I required of you in your last response. I truly have enjoyed better understanding your worldview thus far.

    (and here’s something we can agree on I think: mountains are amazing!)
    Good day to all from sunny (at least till Saturday when the snow hits!) Colorado

  12. zilch says:

    Hey Jordan. Yes, mountains are amazing. You’ve got some pretty good ones in Colorado. I well remember visiting a friend in Golden, up in the foothills of the Rockies, in April, and we got snowed in for three days! There are some nice mountains here in Austria too, and I try to hike in them as often as I can.

    You ask:

    “Would it be accurate to say your stance is
    “If God is not fully understandable, I will never consider Him a viable option”?”

    My answer: no. After all, I don’t claim to fully understand nature either. But I don’t see how positing an infinitely complex God that one does not understand for a probably finitely complex nature that one does not understand is reasonable, especially given the fact that those parts of nature we do understand can be described so successfully without recourse to any gods or supernatural realms. This is why your description of our stalemate here, while correct, is nonetheless asymmetrical:

    “Our views truly balance the scales at this point. I could say with as much accuracy as your statement, “Theist explanations account for what we see (up until where our knowledge of God’s workings fail, and we must simply say ‘I don’t know how He did it’) as well or better than the Naturalistic explanation, since ‘Naturedidit’ is no more informative than ‘I don’t know.’”

    True, “Naturedidit”, as applied to what we don’t (yet) understand, is no more informative than “Goddidit”. But as applied to what we do understand, “Naturedidit” works: it enables us to make predictions and understand phenomena. “Goddidit” does not. Thus, since “Naturedidit” has a great track record in explaining the world, and “Goddidit” has no track record at all in explaining the world that is not either wrong or covered better by “Naturedidit”, I will continue to provisionally endorse “Naturedidit” as the more parsimonious and accurate picture of the world.

  13. theGreatFuzzy says:

    You seem to be saying we have a set of gods and that the god of the bible is the one in that set which best fits with modern science (I’m sure others would argue their god is the best fit). But then there’s, more or less, bound to be a best fit. As our scientific knowledge changes the best fit may well change too. Will you change to another god if it becomes a better fit?

    Anyway, at least we might be able to start answering the question “What evidence would you require in order to change your mind about the god of the bible?”. What if it were shown that the universe was not created? Would that put doubt in your mind?

    • Jordan says:

      I have to be very careful with my wording here.

      “You seem to be saying we have a set of gods and that the god of the bible is the one in that set which best fits with modern science (I’m sure others would argue their god is the best fit).”

      It is true that a set of gods do fit {the evidence we have *thus far* talked about}. In no way am I saying, “Any god in this set is just as good as another.” An imperfect illustration, but I guess we could compare it the the “Guess Who” board game. Our origins study leaves us with a god with the characteristics of “eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing, etc.” More evidence is required to narrow down further the possibilities (However if the Bible has the truth value it claims, this list becomes very short). Also, we must be careful. As you say, Modern science changes. Although science is useful in determining truth, it is incorrect to say something is absolutely true just because “modern science says so.” Otherwise, it would be true that the world is flat and at the center of the universe. Thus…

      “As our scientific knowledge changes the best fit may well change too. Will you change to another god if it becomes a better fit?”
      I diversify my stock in one sense. If science finds a previously believe statement to be incorrect. One who trusts in science alone is in trouble and may need to change his worldview. One who holds the Bible to be true, and science as a reflection of that truth is ok, for the Bible is unchanging in what it claims true. Where science (used here to mean ANY scientific thought, thus including those scientific thoughts now known to be false) disagrees with the Bible, it is the Bible that says what parts of science may or may not be considered true, and not science that says what parts of the Bible may or may not be true. If my worldview is correct, TRUTH (not science) will never find fault with the Bible. Thus if TRUTH ever exempted a pillar of my worldview (creation, the resurrection of Christ, the truth value of the Bible, etc.) I would be required to not only doubt my worldview, but change it and throw out the Bible.

      Hope that clarifies where I stand.

      Now for you, what would it take for you to believe in God?

    • Chief1989 says:

      The only definitive proof that any of us will ever have is when we die. We’ll know for certain then whether the belief systems we chose here on earth were wise or foolish.

      To Jordan’s point, the historical, archaelogical, and eyewitness evidence that we have strongly supports that the Creator is the God of the Bible and not Zeus, Dagon, Vishnu, Brahma, the Buddha, Ba’al, or any other entity you wish to name. But belief is the key; Jesus said, “that whosoever believes in me will not perish but have eternal life.” And again, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” That means there is an element to our faith that requires us to trust in something that cannot be “proven” or verified via the scientific method of observable, repeatable experimentation.

      In Mark 6, Jesus left His hometown marvelling at their unbelief. When He sent out His disciples to preach, heal, and drive out demons, He told them that if “any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” He was very much aware of and accepted the fact that people would reject Him.

      Unbelief then isn’t that you CAN’T believe, but you are UNWILLING to believe, based on the evidence. And that evidence speaks to us every day through the realm of nature:
      The heavens declare the glory of God;
      the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
      Day after day they pour forth speech;
      night after night they reveal knowledge.
      They have no speech, they use no words;
      no sound is heard from them.
      Yet their voice[b] goes out into all the earth,
      their words to the ends of the world.
      In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
      It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
      like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
      It rises at one end of the heavens
      and makes its circuit to the other.
      The evidence speaks every day – the question is, who is listening?

  14. theGreatFuzzy says:

    @Jordan “Now for you, what would it take for you to believe in God?”

    Which one?
    The one in the bible would probably require a miracle, or judgement day to arrive in my lifetime. D C Dennet gives a great talk[1] on how religious beliefs can come about, and how they are perpetuated via memes (ironic?). What is spouted from the pulpit changes over time to suit the audience. Those sermons that grip the flock survive, those that don’t soon fall by the wayside. You don’t hear much about burning in hell for all eternity, nowadays. Here’s my favourite quote from his book “Breaking the Spell”…

    “If anybody ever raises questions or objections about our religion that you cannot answer, that person is almost certainly Satan. In fact, the more reasonable the person is, the more eager to engage you in open-minded and congenial discussion, the more sure you can be that you’re talking to Satan in disguise! Turn away! Do not listen! It’s a trap!”

    Dennet points out it can be used by other than religions, e.g. a Communist cell to warn that any criticism they encounter is almost sure to be the work of the FBI. BTW, the above is a meme that traps many. A possible antidote is this what I’m writing now! 😉

    Also, the god of the bible is not very credible. I mean, why did he feel the need to create the universe, and so mankind? Also, all this stuff about having to send his son down to be sacrificed on a cross (human sacrifice was common in a lot of old religions) really doesn’t make sense if god’s supposed to be all powerful. I mean, who was making up these rules?

    Here’s a god that’s more credible, and that I might believe in, only it’s best not to. I assume this god wants some sort of companion, just like the god of the bible, but I have no idea why. This god’s created this universe in such a way that anyone using their powers of reason will come to the conclusion there most likely is no god. This god ensures his existence cannot be deduced. Religions will pop up as the beings in this universe evolve, but that’s all part of the ‘test’. This god’s not interested in those that adhere to religions. As for the non believers, some will lead bad lives, grabbing what they can for themselves. Others will think things through, and conclude that the best way to gain a pleasant a life is to help others gain a pleasant life too. It’s the latter that this god favours, as they have used their powers of reason to the full. Not sure it’s us though, maybe some other beings on some other planet are performing better!

    BTW, I’m not sure I agree with your view on what science is about (it’s not about truth, that’s for philosophers, isn’t it?), but it’s late, so maybe another time.

    [1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5WhQ8bSvcHQ

    ==============================
    @Chief1989 ” We’ll know for certain then whether the belief systems we chose here on earth were wise or foolish.”

    Not if we cease to exist when we die.

    • philwynk says:

      Yeah, I’ve heard Dennett holding forth on this subject. Dennett’s entire talk fits within a category that CS Lewis labeled “Bulverism.” Bulver was an advocate for some political position or other during Lewis’ lifetime who engaged in the sort of nonsense Dennett is engaging in here — which is actually an elaborate version of the ad hominem fallacy.

      You see, rather than demonstrate logically that his opponent’s position is in error, he simply presupposes that it’s in error, and spends his entire talk explaining the psychology that leads his opponent to make the error. Of course, the claim that his opponent’s position is in error goes completely unsupported.

      I seriously doubt that either you or Daniel Dennett has done enough listening to pulpit preaching, let alone studying it systematically, to speak with any authority regarding what gets said, let alone how it influences its audiences. Basically, then, you’re making things up out of the blue to explain things about which you know just about nothing. And while I do not know your qualifications, I know that Dennett, for all his work in philosophy, lacks the qualifications to assess the psychology of anybody.

  15. zilch says:

    Chief- I must disagree with your claim that we will know whether or not we’ve chosen wisely when we die. In my worldview, I will know nothing at all when I die.

    About that eternal life stuff: I understand how tempting that is. One of the only completely honest fundamentalist Christians I know admitted it: he said that if he ever were to not believe in God, he would weep for three days and nights about not having an afterlife. I suspect that this motivation, to live forever, while obvious and pointed out since ancient times, is still often underestimated as a major reason that people want to believe in Jesus, or Mohammad, or whatever.

    cheers from grey Vienna, zilch

  16. philwynk says:

    The author wrote:

    ‘No “truth” existed, because there were no minds to behold the truth.’

    This is unsound. Truth exists whether our minds observe it or not.

    The issue here is not whether or not truth exists, but rather whether there exists any sound reason to infer that what our brains produce should ever correspond to it.

    Ultimately, if there were no God, there would not exist any concept of meaning, truth, justice, compassion, or morality apart from mere utility. Such ideas would never have occurred. Just as in a world without light there would be no eyes and no concept of darkness, in a world without universal morality or meaning there would be no concept of such things.

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