Twenty Arguments for God – Eighteen – The Argument from Religious Experience

This post is one of a serious that picks apart the arguments for god that can be found at the link below. This post addresses number 18:

http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics-more/20_arguments-gods-existence.htm#18

If you don’t want to click over there to read it, the full argument goes like this:

18. The Argument from Religious Experience

Some sort of experience lies at the very core of most people’s religious faith. Most of our readers have very likely had such an experience. If so, you realize, in a way no one else can, its central importance in your life. That realization is not itself an argument for God’s existence; in fact, in the light of it you would probably say that there is no need for arguments. But there is in fact an argument for God’s existence constructed from the data of such experiences. It is not an argument which moves from your own personal experience to your own affirmation that God exists. As we said, you most probably have no need for such an argument. Instead, this argument moves in another direction: from the widespread fact of religious experience to the affirmation that only a divine reality can adequately explain it.
It is difficult to state this argument deductively. But it might fairly be put as follows.
Many people of different eras and of widely different cultures claim to have had an experience of the “divine.”
It is inconceivable that so many people could have been so utterly wrong about the nature and content of their own experience.
Therefore, there exists a “divine” reality which many people of different eras and of widely different cultures have experienced.
Does such experience prove that an intelligent Creator-God exists? On the face of it this seems unlikely. For such a God does not seem to be the object of all experiences called “religious.” But still, he is the object of many. That is, many people understand their experience that way; they are “united with” or “taken up into” a boundless and overwhelming Knowledge and Love, a Love that fills them with itself but infinitely exceeds their capacity to receive. Or so they claim. The question is: Are we to believe them?
There is an enormous number of such claims. Either they are true or not. In evaluating them, we should take into account:
the consistency of these claims (are they self-consistent as well as consistent with what we know otherwise to be true?);
the character of those who make these claims (do these persons seem honest, decent, trustworthy?); and
the effects these experiences have had in their own lives and the lives of others (have these persons become more loving as a result of what they experienced? More genuinely edifying? Or, alternatively, have they become vain and self-absorbed?).
Suppose someone says to you: “All these experiences are either the result of lesions in the temporal lobe or of neurotic repression. In no way do they verify the truth of some divine reality.” What might your reaction be? You might think back over that enormous documentation of accounts and ask yourself if that can be right. And you might conclude: “No. Given this vast number of claims, and the quality of life of those who made them, it seems incredible that those who made the claims could have been so wrong about them, or that insanity or brain disease could cause such profound goodness and beauty.”
It is impossible to lay down ahead of time how investigation into this record of claims and characters will affect all individuals. You cannot say ahead of time how it will affect you. But it is evidence; it has persuaded many; and it cannot be ignored. Sometimes—in fact, we believe, very often—that record is not so much faced as dismissed with vivid trendy labels.

It’s not new or surprising that people who are religious have expereinces that they interperet in support of that religion. Often these experiences are very important to them. In some cases you could even say that they treasure them. People with vastly different religious creeds will use similar experiences to support their own beliefs.

Can these experiences be explained in any other way? Well yes, the human mind is very good at seeing patterns, especially patterns that do not exist, it is so easy to do this that a great many illusions are based specifically on this attribute. In addition, the human mind will interperet things according to it’s own biases. That is, if something can’t be explained easilly, then the mind will jump to its default unexplained bias. This could be religious, conspiracy, aliens or any number of other imagined explanations. The sheer number of experiences that people are prepared to attribute to these isn’t an argument for the existence of any of them but a clear demonstration of how lazy our cognitive functions are. Investigating and testing for the actual explanation requires a darn sight more effort than assuming your superstition of choice is correct. Which is exactly why these kinds of experiences are seen by the religious as confirmation of their religion.

In my time I’ve had a fair number of experiences that were interpreted as religious. To be completely frank and honest, there is one very significant one which I have no explanation for, does that mean the Christian god is real? Of course not. Way back at the beginning of my journey away from Christianity I learnt about the scientific explanation for an experience that matched one of my own (Sleep Paralysis). It was this moment that caused me to seriously question my religiously interpreted experiences. It was only when I questioned them in this manner that I realised that I had been duped all along.

Religious experience, by it’s very nature, is a very subjective thing and when mixed with a spoonful of bias, it becomes highly unreliable. This is exactly why we should not trust religious experience and it should not be taken as confirmation of anyone’s preferred god.

Twenty Arguments for God – Sixteen – The Argument from Desire

This post is one of a serious that picks apart the arguments for god that can be found at the link below. This post addresses number 16:

http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics-more/20_arguments-gods-existence.htm#16

If you don’t want to click over there to read it, the full argument goes like this:

16. The Argument from Desire

Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.
But there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can satisfy.
Therefore there must exist something more than time, earth and creatures, which can satisfy this desire.
This something is what people call “God” and “life with God forever.”
The first premise implies a distinction of desires into two kinds: innate and externally conditioned, or natural and artificial. We naturally desire things like food, drink, sex, sleep, knowledge, friendship and beauty; and we naturally shun things like starvation, loneliness, ignorance and ugliness. We also desire (but not innately or naturally) things like sports cars, political office, flying through the air like Superman, the land of Oz and a Red Sox world championship.
Now there are differences between these two kinds of desires. We do not, for example, for the most part, recognize corresponding states of deprivation for the second, the artificial, desires, as we do for the first. There is no word like “Ozlessness” parallel to “sleeplessness.” But more importantly, the natural desires come from within, from our nature, while the artificial ones come from without, from society, advertising or fiction. This second difference is the reason for a third difference: the natural desires are found in all of us, but the artificial ones vary from person to person.
The existence of the artificial desires does not necessarily mean that the desired objects exist. Some do; some don’t. Sports cars do; Oz does not. But the existence of natural desires does, in every discoverable case, mean that the objects desired exist. No one has ever found one case of an innate desire for a nonexistent object.
The second premise requires only honest introspection. If someone denies it and says, “I am perfectly happy playing with mud pies, or sports cars, or money, or sex, or power,” we can only ask, “Are you, really?” But we can only appeal, we cannot compel. And we can refer such a person to the nearly universal testimony of human history in all its great literature. Even the atheist Jean-Paul Sartre admitted that “there comes a time when one asks, even of Shakespeare, even of Beethoven, ‘Is that all there is?'”
The conclusion of the argument is not that everything the Bible tells us about God and life with God is really so. What it proves is an unknown X, but an unknown whose direction, so to speak, is known. This X is more: more beauty, more desirability, more awesomeness, more joy. This X is to great beauty as, for example, great beauty is to small beauty or to a mixture of beauty and ugliness. And the same is true of other perfections.
But the “more” is infinitely more, for we are not satisfied with the finite and partial. Thus the analogy (X is to great beauty as great beauty is to small beauty) is not proportionate. Twenty is to ten as ten is to five, but infinite is not to twenty as twenty is to ten. The argument points down an infinite corridor in a definite direction. Its conclusion is not “God” as already conceived or defined, but a moving and mysterious X which pulls us to itself and pulls all our images and concepts out of themselves.
In other words, the only concept of God in this argument is the concept of that which transcends concepts, something “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived” (1 Cor. 2:9). In other words, this is the real God.
C. S. Lewis, who uses this argument in a number of places, summarizes it succinctly:
Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A dolphin wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. (Mere Christianity, Bk. III, chap. 10, “Hope”)
Question 1: How can you know the major premise—that every natural desire has a real object—is universally true, without first knowing that this natural desire also has a real object? But that is the conclusion. Thus you beg the question. You must know the conclusion to be true before you can know the major premise.
Reply: This is really not an objection to the argument from desire only, but to every deductive argument whatsoever, every syllogism. It is the old saw of John Stuart Mill and the nominalists against the syllogism. It presupposes empiricism—that is, that the only way we can ever know anything is by sensing individual things and then generalizing, by induction. It excludes deduction because it excludes the knowledge of any universal truths (like our major premise). For nominalists do not believe in the existence of any universals—except one (that all universals are only names).
This is very easy to refute. We can and do come to a knowledge of universal truths, like “all humans are mortal,” not by sense experience alone (for we can never sense all humans) but through abstracting the common universal essence or nature of humanity from the few specimens we do experience by our senses. We know that all humans are mortal because humanity, as such, involves mortality, it is the nature of a human being to be mortal; mortality follows necessarily from its having an animal body. We can understand that. We have the power of understanding, or intellectual intuition, or insight, in addition to the mental powers of sensation and calculation, which are the only two the nominalist and empiricist give us. (We share sensation with animals and calculation with computers; where is the distinctively human way of knowing for the empiricist and nominalist?)
When there is no real connection between the nature of a proposition’s subject and the nature of the predicate, the only way we can know the truth of that proposition is by sense experience and induction. For instance, we can know that all the books on this shelf are red only by looking at each one and counting them. But when there is a real connection between the nature of the subject and the nature of the predicate, we can know the truth of that proposition by understanding and insight—for instance, “Whatever has color must have size,” or, “A Perfect Being would not be ignorant.”
Question 2: Suppose I simply deny the minor premise and say that I just don’t observe any hidden desire for God, or infinite joy, or some mysterious X that is more than earth can offer?
Reply: This denial may take two forms. First, one may say, “Although I am not perfectly happy now, I believe I would be if only I had ten million dollars, a Lear jet, and a new mistress every day.” The reply to this is, of course, “Try it. You won’t like it.” It’s been tried and has never satisfied. In fact, billions of people have performed and are even now performing trillions of such experiments, desperately seeking the ever-elusive satisfaction they crave. For even if they won the whole world, it would not be enough to fill one human heart.
Yet they keep trying, believing that “If only… Next time …” This is the stupidest gamble in the world, for it is the only one that consistently has never paid off. It is like the game of predicting the end of the world: every batter who has ever approached that plate has struck out. There is hardly reason to hope the present ones will fare any better. After trillions of failures and a one hundred percent failure rate, this is one experiment no one should keep trying.
A second form of denial of our premise is: “I am perfectly happy now.” This, we suggest, verges on idiocy or, worse, dishonesty. It requires something more like exorcism than refutation. This is Meursault in Camus’s The Stranger. This is subhuman, vegetation, pop psychology. Even the hedonist utilitarian John Stuart Mill, one of the shallowest (though cleverest) minds in the history of philosophy, said that “it is better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a pig satisfied.”
Question 3: This argument is just another version of Anselm’s ontological argument (13), which is invalid. You argue to an objective God from a mere subjective idea or desire in you.
Reply: No, we do not argue from the idea alone, as Anselm does. Rather, our argument first derives a major premise from the real world of nature: that nature makes no desire in vain. Then it discovers something real in human nature-namely, human desire for something more than nature-which nature cannot explain, because nature cannot satisfy it. Thus, the argument is based on observed facts in nature, both outer and inner. It has data.

Like several of the other arguments before it, this one opens with statements that are assumed to be true and are framed in such a way that the read is guided towards the already predetermined god answer. There is no attempt made to establish the accuracy of the opening statements first.

The explanatory section that follows makes a distinction between natural desires like sleep and hunger, I’ll call them needs since without them the body will function less efficiently, and desires that I’ll call wants, which are things that align to our preferences but are not requisites for body survival. Needs are things that we find hard or impossible to control and would include addiction. You can’t control your body’s need for food or sleep but your want to drive the latest supercar is entirely optional.

The description of needs and wants seems reasonable enough and I have no specific issue there. However, for reasons which are unclear and unexplained, the concept of infinity and proportionality is introduced and then the subject (predictably) turns to god. It’s almost as though the argument, as pasted above, is an incomplete edit.

What’s going on here is pretty obvious, the author is making the case that there is an innate desire to worship a deity, that deity is of course the Christian god. There is an attempt to justify this by suggesting that this desire is observed in nature. “It has data” apparently, yet no link to the study which supplies it!

Reference is made to John Stuart Mill, read more about him here: http://www.iep.utm.edu/milljs/

The three posed questions are odd, they are not phrased how I would put, it’s as though they are worded peculiarly on purpose so as to create some easy to bat away. The second part of the response to question two is especially disingenuous, it foregoes all subtlety and basically says that if you deny that you have an innate desire for god you are a liar. The author isn’t alone in abandoning all integrity when arguing for god; I have seen variations of that claim multiple times since I started engaging Christians from the atheist perspective.

Skipping to question three and the answer given, I like that it gives a clue as to how to dismantle the argument for no 13. The answer draws on the observation that “nature makes no desire in vain”, that part I’ll accept, it goes wrong when it assumes god applies to that and that everyone desires god. That assumption is by no means established and is certainly a subjective interpretation, despite the objections.

A Personal Update

It’s been a while since I gave a personal update, so for those who are interested, here it comes.

I continue to engage in discussion with theists, mostly on facebook in a closed group that exists for that purpose. My experience so far is that reasonable Christians who are prepared to engage with atheists who will directly challenge their beliefs are vastly outnumbered by those who prefer to throw insults and avoid addressing direct challenges. I think this is a feature of the medium being used rather than a true slice of the Christian demographic.

The interface theism and atheism continues to interest me and so I have booked myself to go to the following Christian conference in a week.

https://www.premierchristianradio.com/Features/Unbelievable-The-Conference-2017/Seminars-Topics

Unbelievable? is a weekly UK Christian radio show that focuses on that interface and is pretty much the only religious themed show I listen to. I download the podcast version each weekend.

I am disappointed that the conference based on the show does not have any atheist or non Christian speakers. I am looking forward to hearing what the Christian speakers have to say about atheism and atheists. I am expecting to hear them confidently state what it is that atheists think and believe and I am expecting these projections to not match my own thoughts and ideas. I am stating this up front because it is a common experience I have when Christian leaders talk on the subject. Let’s see how right I am!

I am considering tweeting my thoughts during the event, we shall see. I’m not a big twitter user, so it would likely increase my number of tweets ten fold!

Specifically, I am interested in hearing the talk by Justin Brierley; he is the host of the Unbelievable? radio show and he’s written a book titled “Why after ten years of talking with atheists I am still a Christian”. I am expecting to that I’ll be buying a copy since it’ll be launched at the event. I am also interested in hearing what John Lennox has to say about the case for god, he was on the Unbelievable? a month or so ago and his argument consisted of a list of assertions without evidence, I wonder if the talk will be any different.

Do any of those seminars pique your interest? Which, if any would you go to and what questions would you ask?

I took a big step on my facebook page over Easter last month. I got bored of seeing the same comment item from the UK’s Telegraph newspaper, I can’t find the item right now but it essentially gave a serious of arguments why we should believe the bible account of Jesus, his crucifixion and subsequent resurrection. So many of my Christian friends shared it that I put up a post linking to a counter list of arguments poking at all the holes and showing why it is valid to question the bible accounts of Jesus. It’s the first time I have been that blatant. I’m not aware that it’s lost me any friends, and I didn’t get as many bites as I expected, but there was some comment and one person in particular has said he wants to have a conversation on the subject. It’s someone I respect so we’ll see what results.

Away from religion I continue to try to write, I have a handful of fiction projects I want to work on, progress is too slow because time is hard to find. I am also looking forward to visiting the great Canadian state of Ontario later in the year. It’s been about 15 years since I saw Niagara Falls and I am looking forward to seeing them again.

Twenty Arguments for God – Eleven – The Argument from Truth

This post is one of a serious that picks apart the arguments for god that can be found at the link below. This post addresses number 11:

http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics-more/20_arguments-gods-existence.htm#11

If you don’t want to click over there to read it, the full argument goes like this:

11. The Argument from Truth

This argument is closely related to the argument from consciousness. It comes mainly from Augustine.
Our limited minds can discover eternal truths about being.
Truth properly resides in a mind.
But the human mind is not eternal.
Therefore there must exist an eternal mind in which these truths reside.
This proof might appeal to someone who shares a Platonic view of knowledge—who, for example, believes that there are Eternal Intelligible Forms which are present to the mind in every act of knowledge. Given that view, it is a very short step to see these Eternal Forms as properly existing within an Eternal Mind. And there is a good deal to be said for this. But that is just the problem. There is too much about the theory of knowledge that needs to be said before this could work as a persuasive demonstration.

Ah, the wonderful philosophical argument about the nature of truth. How does that show god? Apparently because our feeble earthly minds don’t last forever, but truth does, therefore the mind of god is the only place where these truths can be maintained. How can the one who makes this claim know it to be true? Where is this mind which is the only true source of truth? Does the truth that I edit this response on a computer screen require a god for it to be true? Can I demonstrate it to be true without cause to refer to a god? If there is no god, could anything be true? Is this need for a god for something to be true also true for things that are not true? Is god required for it to be true that something can be false?

This item opens with some rather bizarre and unsurprisingly unsupported assertions.

Our limited minds can discover eternal truths about being.
Truth properly resides in a mind.
But the human mind is not eternal.

What is truth? Can we discover eternal truths? Which such truths have we discovered already? How do they relate to ideas of god? What is an eternal truth and how does it differ from plain old regular truth? What truth is it that resides in a mind, eternal or regular? what does properly reside mean? If the human mind is not eternal, what is it that Christians believe ends up in heaven?

For the claim that truth requires an eternal mind to be true, that eternal mind needs to be shown and then the dependency link between the existence of that mind and truth also needs to be demonstrated. In the absence of the former, the latter can not be assumed.

By Plato’s Eternal Intelligible Forms, I assume the author is referring to this:

http://www.anselm.edu/homepage/dbanach/platform.htm

The issue with Plato’s argument is that it is all thought and no substance. By that I mean that the ideas that are proposed and suggested are not tested. I have no problem with ideas like this being presented, however it should be understood that presenting the idea does not make it true. Demonstrating the proposed ideas is what makes them true and the ideas proposed by Plato have not been demonstrated and so can not be accepted as true. They could be true, or they could be utter tosh, if one is to build an argument on them, it makes good sense to determine their truthfulness.

To summarise; humans call something ‘truth’, therefore there is a god. This is the argument, yet ironically it makes no effort to test or confirm the truth of the claim. It is another brazen assertion without support. Like the ideas of Plato, it’s an intriguing idea but it has not been demonstrated. I can agree on certain things being true but that does not pop any god into existence. I can agree with a Christian on something being true and yet no god becomes evident. This argument barely got started before it fell flat, no wonder so few words are used to present it.

Twenty Arguments for God – Ten – The Argument from Consciousness

This post is one of a serious that picks apart the arguments for god that can be found at the link below. This post addresses number 10:

http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics-more/20_arguments-gods-existence.htm#10
If you don’t want to click over there to read it, the full argument goes like this:

10. The Argument from Consciousness

When we experience the tremendous order and intelligibility in the universe, we are experiencing something intelligence can grasp. Intelligence is part of what we find in the world. But this universe is not itself intellectually aware. As great as the forces of nature are, they do not know themselves. Yet we know them and ourselves. These remarkable facts—the presence of intelligence amidst unconscious material processes, and the conformity of those processes to the structure of conscious intelligence—have given rise to a variation on the first argument for design.
We experience the universe as intelligible. This intelligibility means that the universe is graspable by intelligence.
Either this intelligible universe and the finite minds so well suited to grasp it are the products of intelligence, or both intelligibility and intelligence are the products of blind chance.
Not blind chance.
Therefore this intelligible universe and the finite minds so well suited to grasp it are the products of intelligence.
There are obvious similarities here to the design argument, and many of the things we said to defend that argument could be used to defend this one too. For now we want to focus our attention on step 3.
Readers familiar with C. S. Lewis’s Miracles will remember the powerful argument he made in chapter three against what he called “naturalism”: the view that everything—including our thinking and judging—belongs to one vast interlocking system of physical causes and effects. If naturalism is true, Lewis argued, then it seems to leave us with no reason for believing it to be true; for all judgments would equally and ultimately be the result of nonrational forces.
Now this line of reflection has an obvious bearing on step 3. What we mean by “blind chance” is the way physical nature must ultimately operate if “naturalism” is true—void of any rational plan or guiding purpose. So if Lewis’s argument is a good one, then step 3 stands: blind chance cannot be the source of our intelligence.
We were tempted, when preparing this section, to quote the entire third chapter of Miracles. This sort of argument is not original to Lewis, but we have never read a better statement of it than his, and we urge you to consult it. But we have found a compelling, and admirably succinct version (written almost twenty years before Miracles) in H. W. B. Joseph’s Some Problems in Ethics (Oxford University Press, 1931). Joseph was an Oxford don, senior to Lewis, with whose writings Lewis was certainly familiar. And undoubtedly this statement of the argument influenced Lewis’s later, more elaborate version.
If thought is laryngeal motion, how should any one think more truly than the wind blows? All movements of bodies are equally necessary, but they cannot be discriminated as true and false. It seems as nonsensical to call a movement true as a flavour purple or a sound avaricious. But what is obvious when thought is said to be a certain bodily movement seems equally to follow from its being the effect of one. Thought called knowledge and thought called error are both necessary results of states of brain. These states are necessary results of other bodily states. All the bodily states are equally real, and so are the different thoughts; but by what right can I hold that my thought is knowledge of what is real in bodies? For to hold so is but another thought, an effect of real bodily movements like the rest. . . These arguments, however, of mine, if the principles of scientific [naturalism]… are to stand unchallenged, are themselves no more than happenings in a mind, results of bodily movements; that you or I think them sound, or think them unsound, is but another such happening; that we think them no more than another such happening is itself but yet another such. And it may be said of any ground on which we may attempt to stand as true, Labitur et labetur in omne volubilis aevum [“It flows and will flow swirling on forever” (Horace, Epistles, I, 2, 43)]. (Some Problems in Ethics, pp. 14—15)

The opening sentences of this argument are the sort of pseudo profound stuff one would expect from a New Age guru. It expends much to say nothing at all.

What does the author even mean by the order and intelligibility of the universe? These words have been used in previous arguments but never explained. I guess it could be defined as intelligible in the sense that our intelligent minds can make some sense of it. Is it ordered? Well that depends on how order is defined, how the universe behaves is down to the laws of physics but when you look at the universe you see scattered stars and galaxies that are grouped and clumped, I would say they are more haphazard than ordered. Our humans brains like to pick out patterns so anything that is random will have some elements that our minds will see as having apparent order. It is an illusion of order though.

This argument, like many of the arguments in this series, asserts that there must be a greater intelligent being because of some property of the universe. Yet, also like the other arguments, doesn’t offer references to support the assertion or suggest tests that could confirm the hypothesis.

Either this intelligible universe and the finite minds so well suited to grasp it are the products of intelligence, or both intelligibility and intelligence are the products of blind chance.
Not blind chance.

The argument sets up two options, something intelligent made it all, or it’s all blind chance. Note how blind chance is not defined. Are these really the only options available? Note how the argument does not ask that question, let alone make an effort to discuss other options. Blind chance is dismissed out of hand, without even a discussion, nor a definition. It’s almost as though the intelligent originator has been pre concluded and this is just a box tick to dismiss any other option in a vain attempt to appear that other options have been considered. It’s dishonesty at it’s most brazen.

Therefore this intelligible universe and the finite minds so well suited to grasp it are the products of intelligence.

If our minds were so well suited to grasping it, how come we have so much difficulty doing so? It’s taken many years to gain the understanding we have now and many arguments and false avenues along the way. Geocentricism anyone? Our present understanding isn’t even complete, there is still much to learn and understand.

That we have minds that can make some sense of the world around us is an essential element of evolutionary survival. Without those minds we’d not be able to make the technological progress we have thus far. Without those minds we’d not be able to progress in our understanding of the universe or even have the kind of thinking that can imagine a god. Should any of this mean there is an intelligent mind behind the universe? If it was as obvious as this argument claims, there would be something more than assertions to back it up. Yet assertions is all that there is.

The Geocentric Argument

 

This head shaking story appeared in my news feed recently (http://phys.org/news/2014-02-americans-unaware-earth-circles-sun.html). Like some of the commentators, I would like to know more detail about the nature of the questions and who was asked. Given the small numbers involved (only 2,200) it is possible to create such a set of questions and pick a demographic that skews the result to create whatever headline you wish. I’m not saying that is what happened, just that there is far too little information and the sample size far too small for this to be truly something that can be extrapolated out to cover the whole population of the USA.

However, if you do decide to do a search on geocentrism (the belief that the earth is the centre of our solar system) then some properly head scratching pages do come up; http://www.genesis-creation-proof.com/geocentricity.html being a good example. The beauty of this one is that it shows you precisely why biblical literalism is a bad idea (even dangerous?). The site rings all the same alarms for me that many conspiracy sites ring, that is the lone enthuse with little or no backing from a wider organisation. In other words, a fringe whacko who does not represent the wider majority who are biblical literalists. Another such site is http://www.evidencechart.com/charts/10.

The point that these sites help to make is that for those who wish to base their scientific claims on bible verses is that there will always be problem verses that simply cannot be taken as scientific fact but, equally so, there will also be some enthusiastic individuals who wish to make that claim and fly in the face of hard proof. Thus the blurry line between interpretation and literalism will always exist.

Geocentrism did seem obvious for a while. There was always a problem though; the retrograde motion of the visible planets (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Retrograde_and_prograde_motion) throws a hefty spanner into the mix and to stick with a geocentric model of the solar system means one has to come up with some impressive adjustments and gymnastics to account. Seasons also cause a problem because it requires the path of the sun around the earth have a significant wobble; this needs an explanation. These two pieces of evidence are what I would have replied to this blog post had I known about it at the time (http://thonyc.wordpress.com/2012/08/11/we-live-in-a-geocentric-world/).

The kicker for geocentrism, of course, was the telescope. This earth changing invention allowed man to gaze at the stars and see so much more. The planets were shown to have moons of their own, something that clearly didn’t revolve around the earth. Even more amazing, Venus and Mercury showed changing crescents while Mars, Jupiter and Saturn were always full. That needed a very good explanation and really should be the last nail in the geocentric coffin for anyone who would stop and think and just five minutes.

Geocentrism Therefore Creationism.

Anyway, the news at the top of this post prompted me to dig a blog post out of my saved archives, http://thenewcreationism.wordpress.com/2014/01/15/well-evidenced-theories-can-be-wrong-poorly-evidenced-theories-can-be-right/. It is one I saved specifically because I consider it nonsense and wanted to keep it for when I felt the need to comment, that need is now.

The post above is short so won’t take much time to read, but makes an intriguing claim. Essentially it says that geocentrism was logical because that what the available evidence implied at the time. No matter how much the people believed it and wanted it to be true, it was always wrong and later, better evidence revealed that. The author then makes an analogy with evolution and attempts to put evolution in the place of geocentrism by admitting that it looks obvious. That doesn’t make it true aparently. He then goes a step too further and implies that the heroes of creationism are the Galileos of today. What an insult!

He’s wrong of course, very wrong.

Geocentrism wasn’t easy to overturn; there was an established worldview that required the earth to be the centre of everything and that philosophy would not be challenged. It was evidential weight that forced it into a minority view, one that really should be history by now. No one would ever seriously suggest that there is a controversy between geocentrism and heliocentrism and certainly no one would want both ideas to be taught in the classroom for students to make up their mind which one they want to adopt.

The true analogy with geocentrism is creationism; they are both idea born out religion and appear to make logical sense when looked at superficially. However, go deeper and the there is greater complexity that a simplistic worldview simply cannot explain and both idea crumble under evidence that is crushing.

No, the creationists of today are not Galilean heroes bravely fighting an established order trying to tell the world the truth; they are religious literalists cornered into a philosophy that has an ever shrinking platform and their worldview is so narrow they simply won’t accept what the evidence says because the consequences and cost are potentially enormous.

Book Review – Creation or Evolution: Do We Have To Choose?

Cover of "Creation or Evolution: Do We Ha...

Cover via Amazon

More than a year ago I was lent this book by the pastor and I have eventually finished it (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Creation-Evolution-Do-Have-Choose/dp/1854247468). The book is held up by some as a refreshing view on the relationship between Christianity and Evolution.

I found the book mixed and ultimately disappointing, but there are some good bits in it.

On first handling the book it is clear that the intent is going to be to show how acceptance of evolution does not have to be at the expense of religious belief, specifically Christianity. This aspect interested me, given my journey, so I started the book specifically looking for how it would answer that specific challenge.

Evolution

Most of the book is devoted to explanations of various bits of evolution. By necessity they have to contain a certain amount of technical language. However, I found on the whole that the passages on evolution are lay friendly and do a good job of explaining why evolution is not only a valid theory, but an accurate description of observed fact as best we know it.

The book explains well how evolution is a naturalised process and our knowledge of it has no pre-requisite of any god. The processes we understand are fully explained and there are no missing bits that require the invocation of the supernatural.

Creationism and ID

Creationism and ID are also dealt with effectively, albeit with far fewer pages. They are accurately shown to be scientifically deficient and their need to have a god directly be involved to ‘push the process along’ is shown to be a limiting factor for which there is nothing to show.

One good point that is made in the book is the argument for beauty. Many creationists will look at the world we see now and argue that the beauty there can only have been put there directly by god. I once made precisely those arguments. The book counters by saying that the processes that made us and all we see around us are no less beautiful and they too came from god. When a creationist views the world and sees beauty and says it must come from god, they are by implication saying that the long processes that made the beauty they see can not be beautiful because they don’t believe god did it that way.

This is a dangerous way of thinking because it creates a closed mind and stops that believer from fully appreciating the glory of their god’s creation.

The book explains well why creationism and ID are not valid.

Tying Evolution and Christianity

So the big question I wanted to book to answer was, given the above, how does the author, who professes his faith at several points throughout the book, demonstrate that belief in god is consistent with evolution and, more specifically, show that there is a logical reason to hold that view. Sadly, the answer just doesn’t come.

No matter how much I wanted to see an argument for god, it just didn’t happen.

Conclusion

The book successfully argues for the science of evolution and against the god of creationism. As a result it has confirmed my position as an atheist and done nothing at all to tempt me back to faith. I suspect the author would be disappointed, but he should not be surprised.

Conspiracy Against Creationism and Ken Ham’s Intollerance

The BBC have been running a series called Conspiracy Files. The basic premise is that half dozen people who subscribe to a conspiracy idea are taken on a bus trip across America to visit various experts who can counter the conspiracy claim. At the end of the programme each person gets a piece to camera to see if they have changed their views.

Its not an especially great programme to be honest, you can tell that there is an element of manufactured conflict in that the people picked to the bus trip often have conflicting views themselves.

I watch it because I have in interest in conspiracies, not because I believe them, quite the opposite. Its because I don’t believe them, but I am interested in the arguments that conspiracists use so that I can better understand the argument and how to counter it. Classic conspiracies like 9/11 and UFOs have been covered.

Creationism as a Conspiracy

I very intrigued when I saw there was to be a programme on Creationism. Not just because I wanted to see what the people believed and who would be rolled out against them, but because I wanted to see what came up as compared with my previously held version of Christianity and Creationism. I was also puzzled by the inclusion of Creationism in the series; I don’t especially object to its inclusion but I’m not actually convinced that Creationism is a conspiracy theory in the way that 9/11 and the existence of crashed alien craft are.

A conspiracy theory requires agents actively working against the idea in an effort to hide the truth. I don’t think this is really the case. I certainly never believed that people were trying to hide the truth of a literal Creation from the wider public. I believed that evolutionary theory was a misreading of the evidence. Surely if scientists knew of a literal creation they’d become Christians and there would be no need to hide the fact of creation from the rest of the world.

The idea of the government and scientists actively trying to teach evolution and hide the truth of a literal creation just doesn’t make sense to me. I also don’t think I’ve ever read of anyone claiming this to be the case.

On to the Trip

Conspiracy or not, the programme rolled out a handful of folks from Ol’ Blighty. One hardened Christian Creationist, one hardened Muslim Creationist and some other people who, as far as I could tell, were a bit more ‘woolly’ in their faith, one I suspected was more spiritual than religious. Their creationist credentials did seem more suspect, though if they had filled the bus with identical Christian Creationists its wouldn’t have been a very interesting programme because the same arguments would have rotated round everyone so I can see why diversity was desired.

Predictably, the Christian Creationist sounded very much like I must have in my early argumentative years. It was interesting see those arguments come out in the way that I would likely have put them. Hearing them made me laugh. They sounded weak, and when countered with the detail of the science from the relevant expert in the field, the creationist arguments really had no foundation. It was clear as day.

Towards the end of the programme, one of the girls did appear to show a softening towards evolution and I did have hope that she would continue that journey.

The biggest giggle came from the ending comments from the two hardened creationists. The Christian claiming that his beliefs were shown to have held up and that the Muslim was shown to be false. The Muslim claimed the reverse. It was a classic case of preconceived bias leading one to interpret an experience to their own advantage, ignoring what actually occurred. Despite it providing me entertainment, I did genuinely feel sadness for them both as they were clearly unable to see beyond their beliefs.

Ken Ham’s Intollerance

I see that Ken Ham has made a comment on the programme (http://blogs.answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2012/10/22/more-intolerance/).  He headlines it as intolerance against creationism, which is frankly baloney. There was no intolerance shown, simply evidence and argument. If evolutionists are intolerant because they attempt to explain to Creationists why they are wrong, then Ken Ham’s comments are equally intolerant for declaring evolutionists wrong.

That aside, Ken Ham makes a basic Creationist error, one that I have seen made many times.

 

His determination to deal only with “natural forces” eliminates God automatically. In other words, he started with the assumption that God and His Word have nothing to do with explaining reality. He started with a bias against anything to do with the God of the Bible. He did not start by looking objectively at the evidence.

 

This is a basic understanding failure. The fact that its made by a leading Creationist apologetic is damning and pathetic. He really should know better. Scientists who claim there is no god do so because of the evidence they see. Its this evidence that has lead them to the conclusion of evolution and its this evidence that falsifies the Biblical accounts of Adam and Eve and The Flood. Its not then unreasonable to conclude there is no god. Science looks at natural processes because that is all that we can see and gather evidence from. That evidence is explained by those natural processes only and therefore its an easy conclusion to make that no god was involved. There is no predetermining the non-existence of any god and then building a theory which excludes it, as Ken Ham would have people believe.

Scientists reach their conclusions from the evidence and if the evidence does not fit a hypothesis, then its abandoned and a new one is formed. The evidence always dictates the conclusion, not the other way round. It is the Creationist who starts from the end result and looks for the evidence that matches the result or comes up with a hypothesis for fitting the evidence into the end result. Ken Ham wrongly asserts that because his idea of science is all arse over tits, so must the scientists’.

 

Would you like to Operate the Projector?

Oh dear. I’ve been wondering when this question would come, and unfortunately it has come much sooner than I would have liked.

First Some Background

Like many churches in the UK, our current church and our last church have joined the revolution and now project the words to songs on a screen using a computer and digital projector. This has a distinct advantage over using acetate in that presentations, images and videos can also be projected using the same equipment.

In our last church I was one of the regular projector operators and being computer literate I had an advantage over the other people on the OHP rota in that the technology didn’t intimidate me and I knew exactly what I was doing and couldn’t (or wouldn’t) mess things up by guessing or doing random stuff for the sake of it. It also helped that my wife leads worship occasionally and so I have an understanding of the needs of the worship leader and what the projector operator should or shouldn’t do to make the worship leader’s life easier.

So with these two advantages, it is safe to say that I was pretty much the favoured projector operator in our last church. It wasn’t unusual for the pastor to beam widely when he saw that it was me on duty.

Back to the Present

I dropped off the rota several months before we moved because I didn’t want to do it anymore. With our move I am very happy not having the responsibility and still don’t want it. With our new church duly informed (by our last church as part of membership transfer) that my wife and I make a good worship leading and projector operating combo; I knew that the inevitable question would be asked. I just hoped it would not be this soon.

The reasons for me being asked are legitimate, two people have dropped off the rota in the last week. One because he turned 80 and had always said he would stop at that age, another due to a much more conservative stance and simply not liking some of the worship changes. Apparently a hymn should be sung as it is written and thou shalt not change it about. Who said that a hymn had the same importance as the biblical word? Anyway, that’s not the point of this post, so best not get distracted.

How can I say No?

I don’t think I can really. The church has a need and I am very much one of the best qualified people to do it. Its my gift if you like. The pastor knows my faith position (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/12/12/the-coming-out-begins/) and so he obviously has no issue with me doing the job, so he asked me if I would consider it.

I did tell him that in all honesty I was hoping not to have to get involved, but that I would think about it.

In discussing it with my wife later she suggested that I might like doing it because it would mean I could legitimately hide away from the rest of the congregation (the operator sits alone up in the balcony at the back of the church) and not have to worry about pretending anything or being uncomfortable. That was a genuinely thoughtful suggestion and I hadn’t considered it, however I didn’t really like that as a motive for doing it. It feels false an insincere to use that as a motive for operating the projector.

However, given my state of faith, how could any motive be pure and Christian? That’s probably a question best left alone I think.

So I think I’m going to have to do it.

I don’t see any way round it, the church has a need, and I am a very good fit. My doing it will have a positive impact on the worship in the church and since my wife is now getting involved in worship leading I will be directly helping her. Atheist objections aside, I just don’t see how I can refuse and saying “I really don’t want to” seems to be somehow weak and petty, even though I know I won’t be viewed negatively for not doing it.

Coming Out – part 2

Having started to admit that Christianity no longer meant anything to me (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/12/12/the-coming-out-begins/). I decided that I should be open with those who know me differently. That is the internet form of people I have known for most of the last decade and who view me as the tolerant Christian. I do my best to avoid discussions on religion with this group because it never goes especially well, and quite frankly, they have always been my world away from my religion (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/06/01/when-friends-are-unkind/).

So, about a week after the discussion with my wife detailed above I put a short post up that basically said it was official, there is no god. They all would know what I meant and if anyone wanted to know more they could ask.

The first responses were a mixture of surprise (the majority obviously did not expect it), interest in why and congratulations.

A few, who admitted to having been brought up in some form of Christian faith, wanted to know how I felt; was my world view shaken? Did I need someone to talk to? I was touched by this obvious care and concern, but it wasn’t needed. This was not a new thing to me; it was just new to them.

It was far easier to be fully open and honest with them than it was in my conversations earlier with my wife. Deep down I feel I am a cowardly let-down for not having been fully honest much earlier. I have tried to put into words my feelings and justifications for that but I have failed. I am simply unable to properly explain why.

Some of the friends asked for a reason for my apparent turnabout. I was succinct in my response, just saying that it was because of greater scientific understanding which removed the foundation of my faith. I hinted there was a fuller version of my story available but that I was not sure about making it open to them. No one objected to that, in fact they were very supportive of that stance and no one pushed further. It was enough for them to know, a debrief was not necessary.

So, for the moment this blog’s readership remains as those who are outside of the circle of those who know me. However, there is more than enough here for anyone who knows me to recognise me. If that happens and I am questioned that I shall admit it but I am currently holding off from actually telling anyone about it.

Actually, not quite true, I have told my brother it exists and he is interested in reading it, I’ve just not sent him the link yet. That aside, I have pondered on letting my atheist forum friends know about it, maybe I’ll let a couple of them know about it first. My hesitation is that doing so feels a bit like the boy trying to plug the leaking dyke with his finger. Once the water starts to seep through there is no stopping it.