A question for the believers

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bockedy
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A question for the believers

Post by bockedy » Wed May 13, 2009 9:37 am

To the believers on the forum: What would it take for you to lose your belief?
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UDS
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Re: A question for the believers

Post by UDS » Wed May 13, 2009 10:22 am

I may be mistaken, but I think there was a thread on this board a few months ago about what it would take to persuade contributors to become believers. Does any one else remember it? Maybe it was on a different board.

The general consensus – and I agree with it – was that the question was pretty meaningless. If Jesus and his Blessed Mother and all the Angels and Saints and Padre Pio appeared to me, people said, it would be a delusion, so I would not become a believer. Of course, if you had that experience and you didn’t experience it as a delusion, you might become a believer. But it could still, in fact, be a delusion, so where does that get you?

I think this question is equally meaningless. Lots of people do lose or abandon religious faith, and many of those later return to religious faith, usually a faith which is quite different from the one they left. Other people’s beliefs develop from one religious faith to another, or from atheism to agnosticism, or whatever. The permutations are endless.

The point is, changing beliefs are a normal part of the human conditions, for both theists and atheists and everyone in between. (The ones whose beliefs never change are the ones you want to worry about!) And beliefs can change for a whole host of reasons, many of them wholly subjective, and many of them the influences of culture or society.

I didn’t always believe what I believe now. I expect than in twenty years time my beliefs will be different again. What will it take to change my beliefs? Experience and reflection, probably, along with other factors that it would be foolish to predict. Could my beliefs develop into atheism? Certainly. Why not?
bockedy
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Re: A question for the believers

Post by bockedy » Wed May 13, 2009 3:56 pm

If this question has been posted before, I apologise. I'm fairly new around here, so I may have missed that thread.

In terms of a similar question posed to non-believers(i.e. "what would it take for you to believe?"), I have indeed seen threads here where atheists like myself have spelled out what it would take for us to believe in a god or gods, and for most (and apologies for others who have different rationale), the reply would be scientific evidence, so in fact it's a pretty clear cut and simple answer. My question is different though, so it would be a fallacy to posit that its opposite counterpart therefore has a meaningful answer, that I will admit.

However, to my own mind it is still a question well worth asking, especially to believers who regularly visit an Atheist board such as this, and I'm sure some would relish the chance to give it a proper answer. I don't think it's fair to characterise it as a question with no meaningful answer. For instance, is there some standard of evidence that would tip the balance? (e.g. a grand unified theory of physics finally explains the big bang)? Or some other personal/non-scientific rationale?

I'm not saying that all believers would have asked themselves this question, but for those who have, I think the answers would be very interesting.
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Ygern
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Re: A question for the believers

Post by Ygern » Wed May 13, 2009 4:04 pm

bockedy, the question hasn't been asked before. JH started a thread some weeks ago asking atheists what it would take to get them to believe; that's what UDS is referring to. And it's a perfectly legitimate question to ask of either camp.
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UDS
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Re: A question for the believers

Post by UDS » Thu May 14, 2009 3:28 am

I wasn’t meaning to suggest that you shouldn’t have asked the question; asking it can lead to a useful discussion, even if we don’t end up with neat answer.
bockedy wrote:For instance, is there some standard of evidence that would tip the balance? (e.g. a grand unified theory of physics finally explains the big bang)? Or some other personal/non-scientific rationale?
I’m quite happy to accept the big bang right now, and I’m entirely open to the formulation and substantiation of a grand unified theory of physics.

But why would any of that have any implication for religious faith? Religion is a piss-poor substitute for science and science, it follows, is a piss-poor substitute for religion. How do you leap from “we have succeeded in understanding and describing how the universe works” to “God does not exist”?
FXR
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Re: A question for the believers

Post by FXR » Thu May 14, 2009 9:25 am

UDS wrote: But why would any of that have any implication for religious faith? Religion is a piss-poor substitute for science and science, it follows, is a piss-poor substitute for religion.
Put another way superstitious ignorance that feeds on insecurity by indoctrination is no substitute for knowledge and rational.
Science is no more a substitute for religion than a vaccine is a substitute for the disease it cures.
Roman Catholicism is just piss poor bollocksology regardless of anything else.
UDS wrote:How do you leap from “we have succeeded in understanding and describing how the universe works” to “God does not exist”?
There is no leap involved but mentally you'd need a mind that puts more weight on reason and reality than on reversion to childhood brainwashing.

When institutions with a history of force feeding humanity, by every bloody coercion possible, various claims that they have a definitive and positively un-contradictable explanation for certain things, (for example, how humans were formed or how the known universe came into existence) and they are show to be completely false and especially when they belatedly readjust their parameters backwards by a few billion years then you don't need any leap to see those institutions are based on no more than invented self serving lies.

A good example of a leap would be:
How did A, B, or C happen?
Eh We don't know....hold on... obviously it must have been a huge gigantic godee thing of such immense and complicated capacity that it could manufacture billions of planets, stars, matter, chemical reactions in a so far limitless space which of course it made itself.
Some yokeeebob that could live for billions and billions of years while controlling mega trillions of actions by the millions of species it made on one particular space rock and all the while operating a cosmic answering service dealing with trillions of requests ranging from I'd like a nice after death placement to can you get me a new gas cooker (after it's underlings developed speech and imagination* that is).
Then the thing or being or whatever must have got distracted and lost track of things because it decided to split itself into three parts (while not being three parts) and send one third of itself (as the son of itself after knocking up a teenage female mammal) to demonstrate to a small section of the species involved mainly in goat herding how they should admire the manufacture of absolutely everything for billions of trillions of miles in any direction for coming on a personal visit and getting himself voluntarily nailed to two planks etc etc.

The gawd thing is so huge, complicated, old, present in everything and requires so many megatons of energy that ........... eh......ahem......we can't actually see it or provide any evidence whatsoever for it!

For someone to believe that childish drivel they have to make a mental leap the equivalent of traversing the Grand Canyon on the power of a fart.
Human communication is a very rickety rope bridge between minds. Its too narrow to allow but a few thoughts to cross at a time. Many are lost in the chasms of noise, suspicion, misinterpretation and shooting the message through dislike of the messenger.
Ygern
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Re: A question for the believers

Post by Ygern » Thu May 14, 2009 11:08 am

UDS wrote: How do you leap from “we have succeeded in understanding and describing how the universe works” to “God does not exist”?
That's not a leap... why would anyone feel the need to insert a god into the equation in the first place?

I don't disagree with anything that you wrote there, just - I think you have the causal link backwards. There may or may not be a Supernatural UberPerson out there; but if the universe works perfectly well without one, why posit one?

It's another version of the Invisible Pink Unicorn or the Celestial Teapot argument. Being able to explain the Big Bang through physics does not disprove the existance of a God. But well, whatever made you think that there were other Special Beings to begin with?
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bockedy
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Re: A question for the believers

Post by bockedy » Thu May 14, 2009 11:11 pm

UDS wrote:I’m quite happy to accept the big bang right now, and I’m entirely open to the formulation and substantiation of a grand unified theory of physics.

But why would any of that have any implication for religious faith? Religion is a piss-poor substitute for science and science, it follows, is a piss-poor substitute for religion.
No doubt some believers would agree with what you said, but there are many rationales for belief as we've seen expressed on this forum. Some believers have said that science can't or won't explain X, Y, or Z. I mentioned the Big Bang, because it's what some believers point to as being seemingly inherently unexplainable. Pope Pius XII concluded that the scientific evidence pointing towards an event known as the Big Bang was proof of the existence of God. And Pope John Paul II allegedly told Stephen Hawking that physicists should not investigate into the subject as it was God's realm.

Other believers, and I hope I do not overstep the mark when I suggest you might be in this category - please feel free to correct me - say that science and religion are separate and have no explanatory power in each other's domain. Most religious scientists would no doubt fall into this category.

So, to get back to the original question, what would it take to lose belief:

(1) for the first category of believers, progress in scientific inquiry or new evidence might cause them to lose belief. Take for instance the cargo cultists ... when presented with evidence that the cargo was not delivered by their gods, but by a more technologically advanced population of humans, their belief would dissipate.
(2) not so for those who believe science and religion are separate. Progress could continue in science but would not interfere with the cornerstones of their belief.

There might be other categories of believer too - for instance those who have had some sort of powerful personal experience. And no doubt there are believers who primarily cling to (1), but who would in the event of (1) no longer being adequate, would fall back to (2).

Category 2 - where science and religion are deemed forever separate, is quite interesting. It's also known as the "Non-Overlapping Magisteria" view. New scientific evidence is not likely to cause a loss of belief here. But to my mind, this view can be thoroughly undermined and that might lead to a re-evaluation of belief. To borrow Dawkins' argument on the topic, religions make various hard claims - for example, the various biblical miracles that are supposed to have happened ... in theory, science could test these propositions (although finding evidence 2000 years later might be a problem). And going the other way, if science actually found evidence for the existence of god, there would be few adherents to this view who would discount the evidence because of their view that scientific evidence is separate from religion.
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UDS
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Re: A question for the believers

Post by UDS » Fri May 15, 2009 3:28 am

FXR, Ygern – in different ways I think you are both assuming the same thing – that the only significance of God is as an explanation for things we cannot understand. Once we come to understand them, our reason for positing God in the first place disappears.

And, in fact, the concept of God you are working from is even more limited that this; you are assuming that the only significance of God is as an explanation for aspects of the material universe that we cannot understand – hence the emphasis on science as refuting God.

But neither of you make any attempt to say why this has to be everyone’s understanding of God, or why it has some kind of authenticity over other concepts of God. This is not my concept of God, nor the concept of many millions of believers who already accept, or at least do not find any challenge to their beliefs in, the Theory of Evolution, the Big Bang, or any other scientific theory or observation.

You are up against the challenge pointed to by the (agnostic) philosopher Anthony Kenny, who argues that atheism is a much more extreme and audacious claim than theistic belief. His argument is essentially that there are many, many concepts of God, and the atheist asserts that none of them are real, while a theist asserts only that there is a concept of God which is real.

You can’t arrive at a general proof that there is no God by showing that one kind of God does not exist. In many ways, the exercise is a bit of an intellectual wank. If there are many concepts of God, often inconsistent, the majority of them necessarily do not exist. So you can always find a disprovable concept of God and disprove it. It’s fun, but where does it get you? And, in particular, if you take a childish concept of God and disprove it, all that you have shown is that you are not a child (unless you treat your proof as a proof for atheism, in which case you may actually be showing the opposite).

The assumptions about what God means that, it seems to me, your arguments are starting from mean that they are a challenge to one particular form of theistic belief. They are of no relevance to me, since I don’t happen to subscribe to that form of belief. And, it follows, they do not tend towards atheism any more than they tend towards different forms of theism.

Bockedy makes the point that different forms of religious belief require different refutations, but doesn’t follow through on it. On the one hand, she (He? My apologies, bockedy, for whichever one of these is wrong) concedes that “new scientific evidence is not likely to cause a loss of belief here”, but immediately goes on to say that the view “can be thoroughly undermined” and talks about hypothetical scientific proof that apparently miraculous events described in the New Testament were not in fact miraculous. Sorry, but I think you were right the first time, bockedy. It’s unimportant to me whether the events described were miraculous or not and, in fact, I have no opinion on that question. Proof that they were not miraculous might interest me, and might shape and focus my beliefs, but I don’t think it would fundamentally disturb me.

My reasons for belief are philosophical rather than scientific. I honestly can’t think of anything susceptible of scientific proof which would weigh with me in this regard.

Why this persistent faith in science as having the potential to refute belief?
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Re: A question for the believers

Post by adamd164 » Fri May 15, 2009 8:57 am

UDS wrote:You are up against the challenge pointed to by the (agnostic) philosopher Anthony Kenny, who argues that atheism is a much more extreme and audacious claim than theistic belief. His argument is essentially that there are many, many concepts of God, and the atheist asserts that none of them are real, while a theist asserts only that there is a concept of God which is real.
Is that for real!? Surely one of the weakest arguments for theism that I've ever heard.

Whatever about its watered-down deistic relations, theism is a flat-out scientifically-relevant claim: if a benevolent god not only set the wheels in motion, but strives to play an active part in its progression (or regression, as the second law of thermodynamics would strongly suggest), then what we learn about the world through science ought to be the benchmark for judgements on the likelihood of this statement.

What science has taught us is that we live on a modestly-sized planet among billions upon billions, many of which are statistically likely to also contain life if theoretical chemists have got their homework right regarding to the origin of life on this planet (the evidence is that they have); that the Universe itself is slowly but certainly tending towards absolute disorder, a sterile frozen wasteland; and that our own Sun is about midway through its life cycle and will, in under 5 billion years, decrease rapidly in temperature before expanding to engulf this planet and all others in our unremarkable solar system, presumably entailing a horrible and inescapable death for any creatures which might be alive on its surface at the time (if this benevolent creator's short-sighted antecedents haven't destroyed it for just about every other species long before).

All this that we have learned, you suggest, has absolutely no consequences for theism? The pantheist can laugh, the deist can shrug his shoulders, but the THEIST?! :? And all you can say in response is effectively "well, at least I believe in something!"

Pathetic.
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