Paley's moral compass

As a follow-up to the Ecclesiastes book review post, it seems the construct for morality for Christians (or other religions) falls into Paley's watchmaker analogy. This is heard in Christianity as "But for the grace of God, there too go I". Christianity is rife with demeaning humanity as amoral and evil with the single exception of accepting Jesus as one's savior to both forgive transgressions and begin to live a more moral life as Jesus lives through him or her.

If this is true, then the Christian who believes in evolution has drawn a dangerous line. Obviously, behavior as well as physiology is under evolutionary pressures, but the religious moralist presumes high levels of morality can only be attained via divine providence. This is a dangerous line because behavior has a natural basis. As behavioral studies begin to show more genetic, cultural, and environmental forces at play, moral codes will also start to be teased out, and the Christian evolutionist will have to continually adjust his or her concept of the natural/supernatural boundary. (Check out this site for examples of biological altruism). The young earth creationist does not have this problem. They simply consider evolution bogus.

In short, this is another form of Intelligent Design, accepting the physiological components of evolution, but disregarding the behavioral as too complex to be completely natural.

I see two alternatives. 1) God is not necessary for morality or 2) God still uses evolution as His primary tool for mucking with the natural world.

Option 1 is easily accepted by atheists, but hard to swallow for the theist because it starts to beg the question "What good is God?"

Option 2 is something that I will be addressing in future posts as I read and become more familiar with proponents of this theory, including Richard Colling's Random Designer.

36 comments:

Cliff Martin said...

Tom,
I don't know whose Christian Theology you are basing this post upon, but I will say this about my own ...

I do not now believe, nor have ever believed, nor do I recall ever being taught that "God is necessary for morality." Therefore, I happily choose option #1. I've known moral, immoral, and amoral christians, and I've known moral, immoral, and amoral nonchristians. It has always been such, even in Jesus day (witness the story of the Rich Young Ruler in the gospels.)

The grace of God is more about forgiveness, and removal of shame. And I do find in my own life that when I receive forgiveness, and guilt and shame wash away (you may find purely natural explanations for this very real experience), I am able both to see, and walk more consistently on a higher moral plane. When I allow God to speak into my everyday life by his Spirit (which at times is a palpable experience) I am able to live on a plane that is more satisfying and fulfilling and joyful. But these differences would be hard to quantify in terms of morality. And I, as a believer, have proven over and over that my faith is no guarantee against immorality!

I'm not asking you to put even an ounce of stock in my personal experience. I just wanted to say that if your statement is true that "the religious moralist presumes high levels of morality can only be attained via divine providence", then I am no religious moralist.

psiloiordinary said...

Hi Cliff,

I have seen both extremes and most shades of grey in between - all of whom said they were Christians.

When you say you live on a plane more satisfying and fulfilling and joyful - how do you know?

More so than your own experience before you were a believer? More satisfying than someone else who is not a believer? Both? Something else?

How do you know?

Gordon J. Glover said...

I would have to agree with Cliff. In fact, if you really look at what Jesus was doing during the last few years leading up to his death, he did not really come to start a new religion (even though it unfortunately ended up that way), but he came to be the fulfillment of, and put an end to, all religions (by religion I mean man's attempt to reach God). In fact, religeous moralism had become so polluted and convoluted by the religious right, that it was impossilbe to determine simple right from wrong (hence his golden rule emphasis).

By putting on human flesh, living an exemplary moral life, and submitting himself to the popular religious sacrifical system devised for animals (which was powerless to remove shame and guilt) Chirst removed all barriers between man and God - so that all people can have direct access if they desire it.

And as far as religious morality (morality for the sake of moralism), Jesus spent most of His ministry railing against it, and correcting the rediculous moralism of the jewish religous right - who place numerous obstacles between God and the people. Over and over again, Jesus said things like, "you've heard it said... But I tell you..." In fact, His teaching on morality can be summed up by, "forget about all of these rigid rules and meaningless traditions, they are empty and hollow, just treat others the way you would want to be treated" - which is what your biologically transcendent moral code also seems to entail.

If you are interested, I recommend a book by Brian D. McClaren called, "The Secret Message of Jesus" - a very excellent read on what Chirst actually said and did. You will actually find it quite refreshing if your only view of Jesus is reflected in your post.

-GJG

Tom said...

Thanks for the testimony, Cliff. Like psiloiordinary requests, we'd like more clarification.

Does shame/remorse/guilt stem uniquely from you, the devil, or the Holy Spirit? In the atheist world, any such emotion would be from ourselves. In the theist world, however, I can see the Holy Spirit might be deemed initially responsible for such discomfort, prompting us to seek out God's (and whoever else we've wronged) forgiveness. Alternatively, the devil could keep us trapped there, not really allowing us to move on with our lives. In either case, our behavior is modified by the feelings we receive from a supernatural power. I would dub this "dynamic" or "temporary" Intelligent Design -- the higher (God) or lower (devil) moral ground being attained quicker, easier, or higher/lower than what would otherwise be achieved by natural means. You seem to fall in this camp.

Alternatively, if these emotions are completely a human, natural realization, then how does the Holy Spirit operate and what is His role? And what about the devil?

Cliff Martin said...

Psiloiordinary asks, “When you say you live on a plane more satisfying and fulfilling and joyful - how do you know? More so than your own experience before you were a believer? More satisfying than someone else who is not a believer? Both? Something else?” The answer would be “something else”. I mean more satisfying, fulfilling and joyful than I am myself when I am carrying around a load of shame, guilt, or both. My “test group” is me and my “control group” is me. It’s a dynamic, ever-changing walk of faith. This is, no doubt, way too subjective for you. It is something that a person must experience first hand. The Scripture which I think must haunt every skeptic is Psalm 34:8, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” If you don’t believe, you never find out.

Tom asks, “Does shame/remorse/guilt stem uniquely from you, the devil, or the Holy Spirit?” The Bible teaches, and my own experience would tend to verify, that the answer would be all three, but in different ways, with different effects. 1. The Holy Spirit never produces shame and guilt, per se. He is said to produce conviction, which simply means he convinces me (or tries to) of God’s point of view, and invites me to agree with him about the errors in my life, and change. The H.S. does not push shame, which is backward looking, onto me. Rather, the Spirit offers forgiveness and a forward looking prospect of a richer life in communication with him. 2. The devil is called the accuser. Your comment about being “trapped” is right on. Shame and guilt can immobilize a person. When we hear “you’re no good, blah blah blah,” that often comes from the devil, or 3) it could come from myself. Self-talk on the lines of my worthlessness or dwelling on my past stupidity and sin is not constructive, and does not bring life. In my experience, the only way to deal with my mistakes or sins is to take the forgiveness that God offers through Jesus. It is healthy, life-changing, freeing, and leads to an experience of purity that I cannot explain beyond saying that a deep joy comes of it, a joy that is among the most profound experiences of my life. It may sound like religious sentimentality. You can find natural explanations for it all, I’m sure. But it has been the very real experience of my life. (Even if I am completely deceived in all of this, I can’t imagine this kind of potential outside of my faith. So I will remain happily duped!) It was joy that converted the skeptic, C.S. Lewis, and it was joy that confirmed his faith, and it is joy that keeps my in the fold.

In all other respects, I consider myself a very skeptical person. In ways, I feel more affinity to you skeptics than to the average “group-think” Christian. I tend to doubt the supposed experiences of many Christians, I doubt many standard teachings of the church, etc. I am know among my fellow believers as one who questions everything. I annoy many of them to death with my skepticism. But I simply cannot deny the life-giving power of God’s grace and forgiveness in my life.

I’ll stop preaching now. Sorry.

Tom said...

I tasted those spiritual highs, Cliff. I had daily walks where the world seemed like it was some special gift. The air was so fresh! I remember altar calls with tears running down my cheeks, the gulp in my throat, and people resting their hands on my head supporting me, praising God, happy for me. It's a thrill that I do not get anymore, I think mostly because of maturity -- my hormones aren't quite raging like they used to. But also, after getting off the bandwagon, I don't have the lows I used to get either.

My life now is not so confusing. The atheist world makes sense. I am content and relaxed. As a Christian, whenever I attained relaxation, I assumed I was too Laodicean.

<Aaahhh> I've just exhaled a satisfactory breath to be off that roller coaster.

psiloiordinary said...

Interesting debate.

I feel a bit left out.

You see I wasn't brought up to feel shame and guilt for . . . well for just being.

I was taught to think for myself and work out right from wrong for myself and with the help of others using logic and feelings. The human experience thingy I suppose.

Does this mean I have always lived in your "high" but I will never be able to fully appreciate it because I don't have your "low" of shame and guilt to compare it to?

Don't get me wrong here - I am not claiming perfection, I have made mistakes and done wrong and so I do know what shame and guilt are. I just don't understand the logic of the whole "original sin" based implied innate worthlessness of humans bit, in Christianity.

I do get highs from love and friendship and learning new things. The universe is a pretty amazing place and you can easily amaze yourself everyday with the insights of astronomy, physics, mathematics, biology etc.

What do you think? Am I in the high but don't notice? Or something else?

7K said...

I am presently studying a book called "Hope Beyond Hell" that a friend gave me. The argument is not only compelling but overwhelmingly scriptural. It is like a huge segment of Christianity has had this claw in their brains, this big glitch in their thinking, and it seems to come down to us from Augustine's view of hell: hence, we get stuff like "Catholic guilt" and other Christian neuroses that don't come from Jesus, but from our interpretational grid handed to us by the icon Augustine.

Thus, you're going to get people who are ready to bail and become atheists or whatever. The good news is that, if this "blessed hope" is right (and I'm happy to say it looks like it is)even you folks who have opted for the higher moral plain of flatland atheism will ultimately be saved. Sorry. And you won't have to worry about whether creationism or evolution carries the day. It doesn't really matter.

Cliff Martin said...

Tom and Psiloiordinary,
Comparing each other’s subjective experiences is an knotty business, isn’t it. I cannot evaluate the legitimacy of yours, nor can you mine. I’m not trying to win you to my point of view by what amounts to a purely subjective argument. I am only trying to answer your honest questions honestly. I know what your minds seek is objective evidence, rational arguments. I understand that because my mind works much as yours does. And I try to provide that. I really do. In fact, a big part of my own webblog is aimed at providing more rational answers to the questions that challenge Christian faith ... questions that arise both from inside the house of faith, and outside.

One problem that I see is that irrefutable rational arguments, and/or empirical evidence are inconsistent with faith, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.” What a study that Biblical claim is. Substantial. Evidential. Hoped for. Unseen. There is substance and convincing evidence for faith from within its borders. But hardly can this be conveyed to those outside of faith. And the doorway in is all about faith. Jesus said of those who seek a sign (i.e. show me, prove it to me) will never receive one. And even once inside the house of faith, the substantial, evidential aspects of my belief came gradually, along with a consistent pursuit of God. George McDonald often says “Understanding is the reward of obedience.” That has been true in my life. The more I obey what he says (I’m not talking about religious adherence to legalistic lists, but rather a sensitivity to and responsiveness to his immediate leadings) the more the lights start coming on, the more it make sense, the more my rational “sign-seeking” mind is satisfied. And the more I look at his natural world, at evolution and entropy and quantum physics and cosmology, and the more I let these late unveilings of truth merge with the Bible, the more excited I get about new understandings that emerge. Questions that I’ve dealt with for a life time are starting to find rational, and meaningful answers.

I cannot evaluate your experience, Tom. It certainly sounds like it had all the right “trappings.” But I know from experience that all those feelings you had are fleeting. They, themselves, would never have sustained me through my personal crises of faith and skepticism. I guess my choice was unlike yours. When confronted with evidence that seemed contrary to the “biblical teaching” I had received, I kept searching within the house, while you simply exited the door. You profess to be glad you did. I assure you, I am glad I did not.

psiloiordinary said...

Hi Cliff,

Thanks for your openness and honesty. Speaking as someone who has never been inside your particular house of faith I might find your comments more convincing if your house wasn't just one in a whole town of thousands of such houses.

Each faith claiming the same type of "evidence" and most claiming mutually contradictory things about the world and their particular god or gods.

Where you born in your house of faith? The odds are overwhelming that your parents were.

If you were born in Pakistan do you think you would now be equally unshakeably convinced of the truth of Islam?

Isn't it more likely that what these faiths do have in common is that they are based upon the way the human mind works - either adaption or spandrel?

What are the odds you are in the right house?

The weather is lovely out here and I get a great view of not just the town but also the parks and fields and mountain beyond.

7K said...

With the printing press came the education of the masses. The Bible came out of the vaults and into the hands of commoners, who were now free to try to undestand the message sans the clergy. Thus the splits began ~ the Protestant protests ~ until we arrived at the hodge-podge we have today. The houses of faith you refer to.

You might say that a similar thing happened in the secular arena, with the freedom gained out from under the church-state, as Renaissance-men began to question everything.

Modernism bred reductionism, trying to reduce the surface appearances of things to absolutes. This trajectory toward flatland also affected the church. Spiritual scientism is fundamentalism, approaching the scriptures as literally as possible. But modernism is now dying. Fundamentalism is in the throes of its own death, and in a panic. Hence, 911. Extremists trying to claim the world for Islam.

Post-modernists still tend to live in flatland, but now understand that language itself
defines "realities." This is true of the church as well. We approach our faith with language constructs, building edifices that are actually crumbling as we speak.

The church only has one real absolute, Jesus Christ. Everything is built on him, good or bad. So in the post-modern dismantling of absolutes, only one thing will remain for the church, essential faith. That is what will endure after the dust settles.

Evolution and creationism are also interpretational grids. Creationism now seems fanciful, anachronistic, with most people chuckling at it. This means it will wind up as a historical curiosity. It isn't necessary to faith. God can just as easily be found as the Prime Mover of evolution as a 7-day cosmic makeover.

The evidence favors evolution, so relax, church. All that means is that early Genesis can be explained better as allegory. Don't sweat it. Let your kids excel at science. Evolution does not disprove God and it is not the sole property of atheism.

Religious Right, relax. You don't have to make your kids scared of science and you don't have to stage endless Scopes Monkey Trials. None of this affects faith in the least. Our faith is in what Christ has done, not logical or illogical constructs.

Cliff Martin said...

Psiloiordinary,

“I might find your comments more convincing if your house wasn't just one in a whole town of thousands of such houses.”

Yep. Pretty sad face Christinity has, I agree. When I speak of the “house of faith”, I intend a generous and inclusive house. I mean by that all who have genuine faith, which of course would be impossible to actually identify. In my thinking, there are many who call themselves Christians who try to relate to God in a religious way, not much different from Islam or any other of the world’s religions. I believe that when one understands the life and teachings of Jesus, and the grace of God he came to deliver to us, one can never again relate to God in servile, ritualistic, or legalistic ways. That kind of religious approach doesn’t interest God in the least, as I have come to know him.

I was born to Christian parents, and I am glad of that heritage. But I would quickly add two things: 1) The faith I now walk in is qualitatively different from that of my parents on many levels, and it has been fashioned out of my independent study of Scripture, and my personal experience of God, and 2) Many of my Christian friends were not raised as believers.

“If you were born in Pakistan do you think you would now be equally unshakeably convinced of the truth of Islam?”

Maybe. Probably. But knowing what I do about Islam, and knowing what I do about my own faith, if I were in that sea of darkness, I hope that someone with the light of Jesus would come and help me find my way out. (Incidentally, there is an interesting thing happening in many parts of the Islam world that doesn’t get much press. Moslems acknowledge Jesus as one of their prophets. But many Moslems are adopting a strong preference for Jesus, and are in fact practicing Christianity, packing New Testaments, without entirely leaving the mosque.)

“Isn't it more likely that what these faiths do have in common is that they are based upon the way the human mind works - either adaption or spandrel?”

Absolutely. In so far as humans have an inborn inclination to access the transcendent, all kinds of religious manifestations are predictable. Ecclesiates (one of Tom’s favorite books!) puts it this way: “He has also set eternity in the hearts of men” (3:11). I suppose it would be fair to say that this dawning of eternity in the hearts of men came by means of an evolutionary spandrel. Or, as some Christian evolutionists believe, God may have breathed spirit life into early humanoids and this built-in God-quest began then. We’re in the realm of speculation here.

“What are the odds you are in the right house?”

That depends on the odds setter. You might set those odds pretty low. I would set them at or near 100% in that I would stake everything I am and everything I own upon the bet. A Las Vegas bookie? who knows?

“The weather is lovely out here and I get a great view of not just the town but also the parks and fields and mountain beyond.”

It’s rainy here. But I’m still looking forward to my soon-to-begin 75 minute commute through the Oregon Coast Range Mountains!

Tom said...

7K said,

Post-modernists still tend to live in flatland, but now understand that language itself
defines "realities." This is true of the church as well. We approach our faith with language constructs, building edifices that are actually crumbling as we speak.


Um, 7K, your language is crumbling. Draw from a single hermeneutical interpretation and tell me what the hell are you trying to say? What is "Spiritual scientism?"

If language is crumbling, why is it the primary mechanism used to promote God, to discuss His Word? Is there a better way to spread one's faith than through heartfelt, spoken and written words?

...Evolution does not disprove God...None of this affects faith in the least...

No, evolution does not disprove God. For me, it obviates God and that's how it threatens faith.

psiloiordinary said...

Hi Cliff,

Its refreahing that you do at least address the questions, most often these are ignored.

I sent in another comment last night - must have shut the MacBook before hitting send though - it went something like this;

What guitar is that?

I have looked at your blog and respect your journey away from the denial of the evidence for evolution.

BTW

Psiloi is the ancient worlds' equivalent of the "poor bloody infantry" ( One of my hobbies is tabletop wargames - DBM ) and the ordinary means the bog standard version of these troops. So no deep meaning - just a distinctive name.

Cliff Martin said...

The guitar is a Takamine electric/acoustic classical model C132SC (or EC132SC). I also have the non-electric version (C132S) which I play more often. It is older, the sound is richer, mellower. I play mostly at home, for my own enjoyment. Not sure why I chose this picture for my profile. I'm not that much into music (though maybe subconsciously I wish I were??)

7K said...

With "spiritual scientism" I was experimenting with words: sorry. I'm looking at fundamentalism as a modernist phenomenon. As science sort of seeks the absolute, the "theory of everything," through examining the surfaces of things, fundamentalism, as a spiritual exercise, reduces the Bible to an almost entirely literal document. Terrorist thinking is quite similar. They take Mohammed very literally. They are trying to figure out how to take over the world by force: kind of like Lenin or Hitler.

So Fundamentalism at this point tends to make the message of Christ sound like a militant march toward world dominion. I'm saying that in a post-modern world, that "Christian" grid is crumbling. Fundamentalism has had its day.

"No, evolution does not disprove God. For me, it obviates God and that's how it threatens faith."

As a former atheist, I understand this level of doubt about God. God is, after all, invisible. Why assume he even exists?

But I think atheists have perhaps taken heart that evolution was their baby. Even so, it does not necessarily obviate God. In fact, "Big Bang" was first proposed by a Catholic and opposed by whatever Einstein was. Big Bang sounded too much like "Let there be light," I guess.

I do think we need to abandon Creationism. I.D. may be another matter, it is more of a legal argument than a scientific one. So I'm leaning into Theistic Evolution. Then Theists and Atheists can meet at the old campground of evolution, and get somewhere with it.

Fundamentalists are spinning their wheels with their new creation museum and their literal approach to Genesis. Their grid, their construct, is "crumbling."

And if I'm not making great sense, its because I'm still processing all this. But I appreciate your predicament and crisis of faith.

PS ~ "Flatland" is something I borrowed from Ken Wilber, the philosopher, one of the early explorers of the post-modern shift.
He says that is where Modernism left us, in monological flatland. Atheism reminds me of this. It generally tends to see everything in terms of surfaces and the material. It also reminds me, in some ways, of pantheism. Pantheism tends to define the material world as "God." "Everything is God." Atheism says, "Nothing is God." Though that sounds diametrically opposed, to me, these ideas sound exactly alike.

We can only go so far with the material and natural world, before we find ourselves empty-handed. Wilber says we lost "Spirit" when we processed Modernism. So I'm saying atheism feels right at home in flatland. Thank you so much for responding to my rather strange analogies.

psiloiordinary said...

Hi 7k,

Speak for your old self when it comes to atheism.

As I have said before I see myself wandering around in the real 3D world roaming the countryside and seeing the sights and faith being in a house. Looking out through rose tinted windows?

What exactly is it that you get from your faith you didn't get from non faith.

Never having had faith I can't compare for myself but as I said earlier I recognise all your described feelings of awe, numinous, love, understanding etc.

How can you simply dismiss any of this because I don't recognise your particular invisible god amongst the thousands out there in human culture?

7K said...

Good questions, my friend. I think I was assuming you had some kind of faith and abandoned it in favor of the betterment of atheistic "freedom."

I was an atheist in my teenage years, and very influenced by my brilliant, bi-polar, excommunicated, atheist stepfather. You are really going to disconnect when I tell you I came to Christ while on LSD. :) But it's true. The first prayer I ever prayed was while I was ascending on orange sunshine. I asked God, if he were real, to "take this out of me." And, voila, I was as sober as Carey Nation, instantly. So, I thought, "Miracle." I was 19 and now I'm 58.

And it's been a long, strange journey as my wonderful wife says. So, you could say I had an "LSD conversion", and I would laugh with you. But I no longer base my faith on an experience; just on what Jesus did for us all at Calvary.

You have already mentioned that faith is not rational. If I believe what I cannot see, I run a great risk of wasting my life. And I could tell you stories, dude.

Also, many if not all atheists are truth-seekers: and many Christians resist truth. So it sets up an interesting dichotomy. I salute you in that.

I have no rational reason, I suppose (although some can make the rational defense), to believe in a supernal God: one greater than the myriad others. It isn't really about warm-fuzzies and all that. For me it is more like a close encounter of the third kind, as I mentioned above. I have made contact through faith. But you might argue that's BS. Purely subjective drivel. As questionable as if I claimed to have seen a UFO.
Thus, in that sense, faith is the only means of contact I know of. It's too simple, and it sounds simple-minded, I know.

If we are just into comparative religion studies, you win. That pursuit is a huge labyrinth. But I can say that religion exists, not as a panacea or opiate of the people, because of a problem atheism cannot address for most people: the mystery of death.

I was actually a nihilist, an atheist on steroids. And I hated religious folk. I really felt they had mucked-up the world (substitute "f" for "m", if you like). And, in many ways, religion actually has done much harm (is doing).

But Jesus transcends religion, really. He actually made religion passe, although you wouldn't necessarily realize that from the study of Christian history. For one thing, he ended the law, which is "religion", and which actually screws all of us up.

Finally, you have this Augustinian myth of "eternal punishment" that the church has been punishing people with for aye. Augustine was great, but he really handed down a spiritual a-bomb on that one. Totally wrong and unscriptural and influencing perhaps billions in a dreadful way. If you think Christ was about hellfire and brimstone, scrap it. It's a mass delusion. Take another look.

psiloiordinary said...

Elsewhere in blog land I have had the "miracle of finding my wallet" quoted as proof of god, but this is the first "miracle of the Coming down from LSD".

Can you think of any other possible explanation for your experience?

Have you had any other miracles?

What about the fact that god never heals amputees, but will find wallets and sober up drug takers? What does this tell us about your god?

Another thought - if that was all this god did - i.e. he/she didn't identify themselves to you - how do you know which one it was? After all, God's are by reputation all powerful which means that they can listen to prayers even when directed at the wrong deity.

psiloiordinary said...

Cliff,

I am interested in your claims about muslims turning to Christianity;

But many Moslems are adopting a strong preference for Jesus, and are in fact practicing Christianity, packing New Testaments, without entirely leaving the mosque.

You seem to imply that the numbers doing this outweigh those converting from Christianity to Islam - do you have any evidence for this?

Are there even any statistics for either phenomenon?

How do we know that the overall trend isn't the other way around?

7K said...

I don't wish to attribute any conversion to Christ to miraculous interventions. That's why I see the humor in my own experience.

William James delved into religious experiences and found them wanting. They do not yield easily to scientific investigation. And even the priests of Jesus' day considered him a demonic magician.

Yet multiplied millions have reported these phenomena, and even Oprah has presented them from time to time. I simply have to, in terms of my own personal history, attribute my conversion to that moment. That was the paradigm shift in my thinking. The discovery of who Jesus is, for me, was a development from that point on.

Concerning Muslims: To Muslims, Christians and Jews are "people of the book." Muslims recognize the monotheistic sources as valid. Personally, I see Mohammed as a fairly inept theologian, borrowing from other sources and erecting his own peculiar, violent approach to God. Today's extremism arises from Mohammed's strategy to expand by military conquest. The other strategy is to have many babies. And it seems to work.

Jesus claimed, however, to be the only true gateway to God. This has contributed to all subsequent Christian exclusivism, but I don't think that's how he meant it. Basically, if you don't adhere to some kind of exclusivity you don't have a religion, do you?

Jesus is what he is, regardless of anyone's take on him. He is the savior of ALL mankind, whether you currently have faith in him or not.
But if we are constructing religious approaches to God that are not based on him as sovereign, we are just wasting time. Further, if we are building lousy religious creations upon his foundation, we are simply spreading confusion and, again, wasting time.

The church, at present, is under fire, as your blogs attest. I feel such criticism comes from God. Still, with all her flaws, I see the grand beauty of the church and the incredible potential. I love her in spite of herself. So I defend her existence if not her present circumstance. I see the church as organism not organization.

psiloiordinary said...

Hi 7k,

Thanks for this.

Although you haven't answered my questions ;-(

- - -

But you have given me my quote of the week;

Yet multiplied millions have reported these phenomena, and even Oprah has presented them from time to time.

You've got me now, where do I sign up?

If lots of people think it and Oprah presents is as well then it must be true!

Oh wait hang on . . . are you back on the LSD (intended as light hearted jovial comment) . . . that's not true at all.

- - -

When you interpret people asking questions as being "under fire" then I cringe.

Cliff Martin said...

Psiloiordinary,

Re. Muslims relating to Christ:
I only have second-hand, anecdotal information on this. There would be no statistics on a trend like this, because the entire movement would be, by its very nature, clandestine and immeasurable. It is fair that you ask, and reasonable that you would doubt. However, because of my acquaintance who shared first-hand knowledge, I do believe that this is happening. The person who reported it to me is an American who lives in South Africa and travels the world extensively, particularly in Moslem nations. He believes that this trend is common. I shared it more as a matter of interest.

psiloiordinary said...

Hi Cliff,

Thanks for the clarification.

I was going to wax lyrical about the logical fallacy "ad popularum" but don't see the need in the face of your "supporting evidence".

- - -

I am not suggesting for a second that your fiend is lying, the usual mode of operation of the human mind would be enough to convince him of something whether or not it is true. Have you heard of "confirmation bias" for example?

- - -

Just for a second let us grant that your friends claims are absolutely true.

We are both ignorant of the reverse "conversion rate".

Being unable to compare the one with the other we have no idea which invisible man in the sky is winning this battle for "souls".

- - -

"The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it."

- George Bernard Shaw, author (1856-1950)

7K said...

"Can you think of any other possible explanation for your experience?"

Perhaps a physiological response to an intense desire not to spend another 12 hours in outer space? A kind of mind-over-matter thingy. Then the prayer would be secondary, just coincidental to what took place, and I,like Rocky Raccoon, trumped up my own faith response.

Again, though, I really don't put that much stock in subjective experience. Let's just say, at the very least, it triggered a conversion that benefited me. I got off the road that killed so many, and thank God for it regardless of the means.

"Have you had any other miracles?"

The experience, I think, developed in me a possible unhealthy taste for miracles and I wandered for a time into Pentecostalism, where miracles are often pursued with vigor. I think, then, there is a certain psychological readiness in some of those circles to fabricate the miraculous and to ignore contrary evidence.

Some people seek dramatic miracles as a proof of faith, when it really isn't, and it produces anomalies like snake-handling. I think, though, it is common in the Christian experience to see prayers answered. We think of that as a more subtle kind of miracle, I suppose. I could probably produce a long list of those.

"What about the fact that god never heals amputees, but will find wallets and sober up drug takers? What does this tell us about your god?"

Duplicity, imbalance, impotence come to mind. The scriptures say he dwells in the thick darkness and his ways are inscrutable. So the object of faith is not to produce these results, but to trust even when it seems a violation of reason. It is the Job response.

It is interesting, though, that, to my knowledge, there are no instances of limbs being restored. But I am more impressed by such individuals retaining faith in the face of their compromised situation. And, in fact, are we not all handicapped in some way? Do we not all need healing in some way, over something?

So God leaves us in this existential dilemma: like the recent publicity surrounding Mother Teresa's lifetime of agonizing doubt. I wonder two things: was she slightly cracked (as was true of some Christian mystics), or was her faith actually more profound?

"Another thought - if that was all this god did - i.e. he/she didn't identify themselves to you - how do you know which one it was? After all, God's are by reputation all powerful which means that they can listen to prayers even when directed at the wrong deity."

At the time, I had backslidden from solid, true-believer atheism into a kind of open-minded agnosticism, and I was reading the Apocalypse while stoned as per the recommendations of another stoner.
The "God" I was approaching, then, was presumably whichever one was represented by the Bible. Also, I was a bit desperate since recently, around me, a number of kids had died of barbiturate poisoning and 13 kids had been hospitalized due to someone spiking a punch-bowl at a prom with LSD. To say I was disillusioned with the hippy fantasy would be an understatement.

So I suppose disillusionment could set up a certain psychological predisposition to faith, although I did not really know much about this God I was praying to, nor had I developed any kind of faith, since I essentially hated Christianity. But the connection was there for me: it determined my trajectory with regard to which god.

Faith itself is something that develops. Many of the more odious practices we see in Christianity are performed at stages of more immature faith. The ultimate goal is really love. If I ever get there, I will consider myself a success.

"What exactly is it that you get from your faith you didn't get from non faith."

As I recall, my nihilism was kind of fun. Ten years later I would have been a punk-rocker. So mine was a reckless, teenage atheism. There were no restraints: no god telling me what to do. I thought I was "free." But that freedom came with its own pitfalls, which is predicted by the law. You have probably developed a kind of self-disciplined atheism that shields you from self-destruction.

In my early faith, then, I needed discipline and sought out some rather legalistic teachings. Legalism also turned out to be a trap. You are reaching for something you can't achieve.

Ultimately, I'm not sure faith is something I needed as much as developed. And the Bible calls it a "gift." Sometimes a gift is something you get that you don't realize you need. It is mysterious.

I will say that my belief in Christ is absolutely marvellous, and now, as far as I can tell, completely free of strings from my end. I don't care if God gives me anything. I am astounded at who he is and what he is. I am utterly devastated that I know him. Faith is enough.

I don't know if that answers your questions, but it is the best I can do. I'm not trying to convert you. I actually consider you a brother even though our "faiths" don't interface. You have confidence in the facts and I have confidence in Christ. It's just that now the end of my conversation is that Christ is all in all: he sums it all up.

In other words, I don't live for the Christian numbers game, proselytizing everybody: to what? My own version of Jesus? I am confident though that he is who he said he was and that all things will return to him, regardless of what I do.

So is faith comforting to me? Maybe I'm beyond that. Maybe that's back there somewhere. I live in contentment, though, that he is good and just even if he is beyond my full comprehension.

psiloiordinary said...

Thanks once again for your honesty.

You seem to acknowledge the weaknesses of your position from an evidence and reason point of view and even seem to take more faith from that very fact.

Good luck to you in your quest for peace and happiness.

I will stick with evidence, reason and the human experience.

7K said...

Thanks for your generosity and responding to my rather strange admission of a wierd set of circumstances surrounding a conversion. But it was really rather common at that time for these sudden "deliverances" from drugs. Many boomers forsook drugs without religious experiences.

Anyway, I'll be checking out your blogs if not responding just to respond. Keep up the good, rational work, dude.

Cliff Martin said...

Psiloiordinary,

You write "I will stick with evidence, reason and the human experience” and you quote Shaw “'The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it.’” (btw, when I did those quotes in quotes, I wondered why you don’t use British quotation notation. Are the Brits acquiescing? I hope not, because British is way superior to American English, I'll readily concede. Or is it just you, accommodating us backwater Americans? Just curious.)

You must know that I am constantly being accused within the church of leaning too far in my favoring of evidence, reason, and human experience. And I too get accused of cynicism for simply practicing the art of observation. I suppose that is why, as I noted earlier, I feel more at home at time reasoning and thinking with you than I do with some of my fellow believers.

I would not be one to knowingly advance an ad popularum argument. One of my favorite quotes is Anatole France, “If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.” Jesus was, frankly, not very popular in his day. Many more people abandoned him than not. Popularity, in the arena of ideas, is often a reverse indicator of truth, in my experience. Jesus put it this way: “Woe to you when all men speak well of you.”

I only mentioned the suppose trend as a matter of interest in passing because you had chosen to set these two religions into a sort of competitive stance. I do not conceive of my faith as be some kind of numbers race. And one way in which I illustrate that is by mentioning that, from my frame of reference, many Moslems may be finding the light of Christ without actually moving away from Islam. And I care not into which “world religion” you tally them.

But I don’t mind you holding my feet to the fire.

Tom said...

Cliff said, "...But I don’t mind you holding my feet to the fire."

So far these have been fruitful discussions, most probably entrenching us deeper in our own opinions as they are likely to do, but certainly giving us better arguments and food for thought.

psiloiordinary said...

Hi Cliff,

Sorry but you have lost me with the quotes quotes.

- - -

I mentioned Islam only as an example of the reasons why I think you have your faith i.e. it's from your parents and not any kind of "decision" or choice.

But I can see why you would not want think that and therefore why your friend and now you would prefer to think you have made a choice that others would make if only they could.

- - -

My worries are all around the fact that as soon as we step away from reason, we might end up doing some pretty bad things.

I have covered JW's kids being allowed to die without blood on my blog and I am looking into dis-fellowship currently and it is pretty hideously evil imo.

The chaps who flew the planes into the towers, the 7/7 bombers (who lived a mile and a half from me) were all "middle class" educated people who had their anchor in reality and reason chopped away by faith.

This disconnection from reality led them to genuinely "know" that their deeds were the best things they had ever done and would be rewarded with heaven.

- - -

Blaise Pascal:
"Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction."

- - -

I am not sure I completely agree with this quote for the following reasons;

The Nazi's were also divorced from reason and evidence - their claims about jews, gypsies and homosexuals were irrational fantasy.

Imo it is this irrational foundation for their "world view" which led to them doing some hideously bad things.

Hopefully you can see that in my view it is unreason which is at the heart of this issue for me.

That is what I have against religion, and dictators alike - atheist or not.

Of course, I can differentiate between say some JW practices and the Nazi's, but I can also vigourously disagree with both.

Embracing unreason can lead to evil - discuss.

Cliff Martin said...

Psi, you write, "Embracing unreason can lead to evil." Agreed! totally.

While faith may appear to you as an abandonment of reason, I see my faith as reasonable. At least, I am attempting to be reasonable and rational in what I beleive. I try to ground my world-view understandings in science and reason. It is why I freely interact with you, and ask you to hold my feet to the fire.

I could argue that the fundamentalist excesses of Islam outweigh those found in Christianity, but 1) I'm not sure that is true, and 2) It wouldn't matter if it were true. It would only be a quantitative difference, not qualitative.

But haven't you hit upon the real issue yourself? Is not the abandonment of reason an issue separate from faith, per se? We can find many examples of evil flowing from the abandonment of reason, some encouraged by distorted religious belief, some not. But we can also find remarkable humanitarian good inspired by faith, and some unrelated to faith.

Here is my challenge to you if you wish to contend that our world-view should be driven by reason alone. I have always thought that Earnest Hemmingway showed us where that leads. Atheistic rationalism > Existentialism > Disillusionment > Despair > Suicide. Was Hemmingway wise and courageous, or just plain foolish? And is it not true that he was an intellectually honest atheist, looking to reason alone for his guideposts?

psiloiordinary said...

Hi Cliff,

Yes indeed, my concern is with reason not with faith per se.

Oops.

We had better define faith.

For the purpose of this discussion can you guess what I would like to do?

Yes - you got it - lets focus on the element of faith that means "without reason" or "despite the evidence".

In that case then faith is a subset of unreason.

- - -

You said;

Here is my challenge to you if you wish to contend that our world-view should be driven by reason alone. I have always thought that Earnest Hemmingway showed us where that leads. Atheistic rationalism > Existentialism > Disillusionment > Despair > Suicide. Was Hemmingway wise and courageous, or just plain foolish? And is it not true that he was an intellectually honest atheist, looking to reason alone for his guideposts?


Without trying to be to much of a smart arse (a bit is always fine in my book) can I say that I think this is a daft challenge.

Let me try to explain why by turning it back to you as follows;

Here is my challenge to you if you wish to contend that our world-view should be driven by faith alone. I have always thought that the suicide bombers on the planes on 9/11 showed us where that leads. Faith > irrationalism > fundamentalism > fanaticism > Suicide > Mass Murder.

Were the suicide bombers wise and courageous, or just plain foolish? And is it not true that they were totally faithful to their beliefs, looking to religion alone for their guideposts?


Now all the many reasons why you think this is a silly and prejudiced challenge from me to you (and I agree it is) also apply to why it is a silly and prejudiced challenge from you to me.

We can list them together if you like.

After you . . .

Cliff Martin said...

Psiloiordinary,

With all respect, I do not see how your tongue-in-cheek questions about the suicide bombers mirrors my questions about Hemmingway.

You are saying that faith without reason generates fools. I agree with you.

I’m saying that reason devoid of faith, if followed to its ultimate, honest conclusion, leads to Hemmingway. If you disagree, I need something more than the counter you offered.

I am contending that my own approach to life is reason + faith. My contention is that my faith safe-guards me from the honest despair of Hemmingway. And my reason safe-guards me from the irrational behavior of religious fanatics.

I really do want to know. What is it that keeps you from following atheism to what seems to me to be its inevitable end? Sure, Hemmingway lived as an apparently well-adjusted atheist for years before he came to the realization that his life had no meaning worth preserving. I am thinking his conclusions were consistent, rational and right. Where did he go wrong? or did he?

psiloiordinary said...

Hi Cliff,

Why do you think the suicide bombers response does not apply to you?

Please tell me - I have a feeling (hope?) that your answer will also answer your challenge to me.

Please humour me and tell me why it is a daft challenge to you.

Its more fun that just reeling them off.

;-)

- - -

Hint - it is all to do with the assumptions.

- - -

PS if I am wrong then of course I will stop mucking about and give you a decent answer - but humour me for now please.

Cliff Martin said...

Psiloiordinary,

Okay, I’ll play along. Be patient with me ... I’m not following your illusive line of thought here.

Suicide bombers: Faith without Reason leading to irrational and detestable behavior.

Atheistic Materialists: Reason without Faith leading to what seems to me the inevitable ultimate conclusion that Hemmingway, the thoughtful intellectually honest atheist, came to: Life is not worth preserving in view of its inherent purposelessness.

Reasonable Believer: Reason + Faith leading away from both the irrational end of the suicide bomber that the faithless end of the atheist.

Where did Hemmingway go wrong? I content he was perfectly consistent with his own world-view and simply chose to stop practicing denial. Please correct my analysis.

psiloiordinary said...

Hi Cliff,

Before I answer your points a quick apology for not posting yesterday. I went out to a concert -Damien Rice - wonderful stuff - gives meaning to life.

Oh dear - I seem to have answered your questions ;-)

- - -

Cliff I have obviously not made myself clear - sorry about that - my challenge to you was to explain why the suicide bombers are not a fair analogy to you.

Nevermind - I will comment on your comments anyway;

Psiloiordinary,

Okay, I’ll play along. Be patient with me ... I’m not following your illusive line of thought here.

Suicide bombers: Faith without Reason leading to irrational and detestable behavior.

The suicide bombers were well educated and intelligent, qualified people. What they did made perfect sense to their distorted world view.

Intelligent people are good at coming up with intelligent and logical reasons why they believe silly things.

Michael Shermer makes a good case for this in 'Why people believe weird things' - have you read it - I would recommend it to anyone studying epistemology.


Atheistic Materialists: Reason without Faith leading to what seems to me the inevitable ultimate conclusion that Hemmingway, the thoughtful intellectually honest atheist, came to: Life is not worth preserving in view of its inherent purposelessness.


See my opening comments. Faith/reason is only one axis or metric to use to measure people.

But there are lots more. A life of 'reason only' seems like hell to me - or being a computer. I am happy to discuss that metric - and I firmly support using reason in all things - but I have not said and do not claim that there is nothing else to life.

My previous posts here and elsewhere in discussion with you are heavy on the "enjoyment of life, wonders of the universe topics" so it seems odd you have forgotten this in your challenge to me.

Love, emotion, challenge, intellect, awe and beauty are what makes life worth living. Reason helps you achieve this and helps to avoid the fate of the suicide bombers and the fate of Hemmingway.

Reasonable Believer: Reason + Faith leading away from both the irrational end of the suicide bomber that the faithless end of the atheist.


So what is different from this and the first example you list - the suicide bombers.


Where did Hemmingway go wrong? I content he was perfectly consistent with his own world-view and simply chose to stop practicing denial. Please correct my analysis.


You don't know that is why he killed himself. Or at least you give no evidence.

You also ignore everything else that goes with being a human being as a possible cause.

So I am saying that for you to pick just one 'metric' (i.e. the degree of religious faith) and assign causality to this metric in terms of "leads to suicide' by citing one case, when that case does not in fact support the assertion anyway, makes your question meaningless in its current form.

In a more general form? I don't know - can you put it in a more general form?

PS sorry again for buggering about