15 August, 2006

When will I be allowed into the hive mind of Robo-Jesus?

You might want to check out this column in the Guardian lamenting a recent poll which found 30% of British school kids believe in Creationism or "intelligent" "design".* Personally, the response this evokes in me is a desire to run outside, find the nearest religious nut and sucker-punch him in the gut until he explains the workings of his mind to me.

The other day I met a born-again Christian who was willing to cop to the charge - but she refused to tell her audience why she became born-again, because she was afraid we would think it was hokey. This really blows my mind... if you, yourself find your beliefs hokey, why in the name of Christ do you hold them?

I'm also unable to appreciate the disconnect between the otherwise rational behavior of religious types, who as far as I am able to tell can operate can-openers, make their way through revolving doors and drive manual transmission automobiles, and their absurdist, counter-intuitive belief systems. I would honestly be much happier if the religious people in the world moved in constant trepidation, afraid that their dog might, without a moment's notice, change into a sofa (or vice-versa), that the fibers of their living room throw rug would spontaneously de-interlace and crawl worm-like into the corners of the room, or that the color of the sky is constantly cycling like someone is fiddling with its "hue" tuner. This, at least, would be consistent, and consistently crazy. As it is I have to believe one of two things:
  • They are all putting me on.

  • There is a "religious nuttery" mental faculty that I am missing that allows this dissonant state of mind to exist.
Perhaps it's better to gawk than to experience first-hand, but religious people seem to enjoy what seems to me to be an addled state. I can't help feeling I'm missing out.

* Yes, they're doing way, way, better than we are. I am crying in my soup as I write this.

I am not actually eating soup. I am eating chocolate s'mores!

No, not that either. But who wouldn't want to eat a nice chocolate s'more? Why, I remember in my youth, when I would go on camping outings with my Boy Scout troop§, we would roast s'mores over the campfire and enjoy their creamy, chocolatey goodness while we sang hymns in praise of Lord Baden-Powell. Ah, memory... tis enough to make a man cry into his soup.

§ Actually the only thing I remember being roasted at a Boy Scout outing was a live chipmunk some disgusting little puke had caught and thrown in the fire. What a travesty... I bet Lord Baden-Powell is looking down from Heaven right now, crying in his soups'mores.


My favorite explanation is rational irrationality ; it's not a bad strategy to not bother thinking carefully about things that don't really matter that much.

Except when they matter to other people: have you seen this video? It makes me wish that all this were just a game... 

Posted by aram harrow

Some people say fossils were laid down by God to test our faith. Bollocks. 

Posted by Minge

Sorry your acquaintance finds her beliefs "hokey", but glad you asked someone to explain why they believe this utterly fantastic and patently absurd story, to say nothing of going beyond belief and trying to model their lives on that of "The Messiah". Give me a break. And I'll give you my story. Or part of it. I won't type out the whole thing unless you are actually interested. Anyway, it starts like this.
I was raised an atheist in a left/progressive household that, to the best of my recollection, even lacked a token Bible. Religion was the opiate of the people, churches "outposts of ignorance", religious beliefs foolishness. You get the picture.
I spent my younger years mocking my religious contemporaries who, like your acquaintance, seldom had any idea of what they believed, to say nothing of why.
As an adult (I'm now sixty), the question of whether there was a God, or a Jesus continued to nag at me and I resolved to put it to rest by finding the definitive research (which must, by then, have been done) that disproved the whole lot and put the matter to rest.
The texts I found, however, pointed the other way. The evidence (I'm a lawyer) kept pointing me farther down the road toward the reality of Jesus as a historical person and the accuracy and reliability of the accounts of his life.
I finally, at around forty, found myself confronted with what appeared to be the facts of Jesus' life, death and resurrection. At that point you have to decide whether these facts matter. I decided they did.
That, believe it or not, is the short version. The long version has footnotes and citations.
Let me know if I have entirely extinguished your interest.

Posted by Jared Dreyfus

she was afraid we would think it was hokey. This really blows my mind... if you, yourself find your beliefs hokey, why in the name of Christ do you hold them?

It is not clear to me at all whether she finds her own beliefs to be hokey  OR is afraid that you find her beliefs hokey and doesn't want to deal with your perceptions. You seem to conflate the two states, and such conflation immediately suggests that if it is the latter, she was probably correct in her fear.

There is also the notion that someone can believe something because of a personal, non-objectively sharable experience which does not amount to a list of reasons and logical workings that you can be simply be let into. If people are humble enough to recognize that their beliefs are so built, and are therefore somewhat inexplicable, there's not a whole more you can ask of them.

But with prose like this I think the answer is clearly not any time soon.

I certainly don't believe that Jesus Chris is our Lord and Savior, and you are possibly acquainted with my beliefs. I can explain some of them, but others I cannot--no more, really, then I can explain why I've fallen in love. And, it is, finally, worth more to me to go on and live my life then to plumb the depths of analysis and explication so that I can supply adaquate explanations to smores-eating chipmunk roasters.

--your friendly neighborhood Religious Evolutionist, as she goes home and prepares to celebrate the biggest holiday in her religious calendar.  

Posted by Saheli

Things that are not hokey: post scripts*

* especially when footnoted 

Posted by genderist

I luv ya blog mate. Rock on.  

Posted by Killerpussycat

Saheli is correct: it is the latter that my acquaintance feared, not the former; she held her faith quite firmly, having converted of her own volition and having, apparently, found peace and happiness thereby.

I can accept a good deal of religious sentiment as valid; I do accept the existence of mysteries and strong tides that pull at my consciousness. I can believe that others feel such currents more strongly than I do. But I refuse to believe that people can be wedded to particulars of fact merely  by such forces. I am far more willing to accept Jared's claim (although I personally doubt, having read at least a bit about the life of Jesus, its particulars, and the gaps and failings in its historical documentation) than I am those who pin their very specific belief on faith alone. E.g., biblical literalists, or to bring it closer to my home, those who insist that Sat Yuga, etc., really did take place over a span of 1.72 million years and that human history really goes back that far. Nuts to that; that's nuts, and I simply can't believe otherwise. This is not to say that any spiritual feeling is bunk, but it's not spiritual feeling I'm talking about. 

Posted by saurabh

the footnotes rock

even if they confused me for a bit

and i don't eat smores anymore after i got sick on them at camp.... 

Posted by xbunny


Rhino's can too dance! 

Posted by Sam Magee

I'm one of those creationists wandering around in an addled state. I don't know if creation happened 7000 or seventy billion years ago, but I just can't wrap my head around the idea that life just happened.

The way saurabh feels about creationists is kinda the way I think about atheistic evolutionists- I just don't get it. And I don't mean that disrespectfully. I sometimes wonder if we are working from two different data sets, or if there is a genetic flaw in one or the other of us, or if different environmental factors in our formative years trump eveything else rendering our convictions involuntary.

But this is not to say I'm open minded on the issue. I honestly don't know what would change my mind, a logically precarious place to be I know, but that's where I find myself.  

Posted by Daren

Daren - I can respect that position absolutely, and I think it's eminently rational to disbelieve that life just happened without convincing evidence to the contrary (which I agree doesn't exist, although this is a separate question from the evolution of life once it appeared). But I don't understand why you wouldn't then choose an agnostic stance - you simply don't know - rather than selecting a very particular one which is unfounded - e.g. that the Biblical account of creation is true. 

Posted by saurabh

Personally, the response this evokes in me is a desire to run outside, find the nearest religious nut and sucker-punch him in the gut until he explains the workings of his mind to me. 

Perhaps it is the fact that people say things like this (yes, I understand hyperbole, but the thought behind it still remains) that would make someone unwilling to share the reasons behind her belief. Even if you expressed no feelings of disrespect for her at that point, it wouldn't change that no matter where you look plenty of people are ready to call anyone who could possibly consider religion acceptable a fool. She might be afraid people would find her beliefs hokey, because people are willing to tell her that they are hokey.

(Of course, none of this changes the fact that your writing is quite amusing, but that's way off topic.) 

Posted by Craig

saurabh ! Hello !
Thank you for your post and general acceptance.

I think a closer examination of the historical record might be interesting for you.

I can recommend one that does not rely on biblical sources, yet reaches the conclusion of the fact of the Resurrection.

Called, oddly enough, "The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus" by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, Kregel Publications, 2004.

BTW, I also don't care either for strict creationism nor for strict evolutionism. It seems wildly unlikely that all the evidence of extreme age was created as some kind of test and equally improbable that life itself arose from nothing, never mind evolved into all known diversity from a single cell.
Thanks again. 

Posted by Jared Dreyfus

I think people are ready to mock the religious precisely because, like myself, they find it so far afield from their mental experience that they can only attribute it to profound irrationality. This is why I really would love to have someone explain to me why they have faith. I like Aram's quoted rational irrationality explanation - reasons of community, family, culture, etc., are certainly powerful motivating factors. But that's, in the end, unthinking refusal to confront the basis of your belief. I'd like to think that there are religious people who have made this confrontation and still retain their faith - and I want to know why. 

Posted by saurabh

You're asking a lot of questions all at once, Saurabh. Step back for a seond, and try to consider the dilemma from another's shoes.

First of all my understanding is the poll that's got you weeping into smores cited creationism, period. Nothing Biblical or specific. So take a heartfelt spiritual belief OR strong societal pressue (i.e. phenomena cited by me and Aram), toss in that evolution is subtle and confusing, and of course some people would rather have a nice vague notion of ID. Evolution is hard. I don't think I grokked or believed it till high school, and I had an unusually good teacher who had made a much sharper transition.

Re: specificity. We all have some large # of bits of iinformation to deal with and cohere into something approaching a sold vision of life---based upon which we can make decisions and get through our day. If someone's lifeview--inclusive of those special me-only experiences I mentioned---coheres best in a way that makes them, say, rely on the Torah ten times a day, the easiest thing to discount would be an abstract body of facts and kknowledge that they have no visceral experience of

You can mock them or nutpunch them, and I'd hazard a guess that the vast majority of the instances really derive from intellectual laziness, peer pressure, and inertia. But I also wouldn't discount the possibily that some people have simply arrived at their local optimum of balancing objective rationality with personal sanity. 

Posted by Saheli

Thanks for the feedback saurabh. The reason I have not moved into an agnostic position is because the creation issue is simply one of many. Jared referenced the resurrection. For me, and I suspect many others, that is the cornerstone. I am convinced of the resurrection for reasons I won't get into here. This allows me to give Christ's words great weight, and he gives explicit and implicit endorsement to a worldview that includes, among other things, creation.

This is a highly compressed explanation, but what it means is that the ressurrection of Jesus Christ is the base upon which the whole house of cards, or pillar of truth- depending on your view- is built.  

Posted by Daren

Ah. Well, I think the story of the resurrection of Jesus is about as compelling as the story of Mohammed's receiving the Koran. Both have a similar base in historical record, anecdotal evidence gathered from disciples, etc. If I believe one, I ought to believe the other - are Christians not Muslims merely because they haven't been exposed to this tale? The same is true of a number of revelations - Mormonism, for example, has three witnesses to the angel Moroni and eight to the Golden Plates that the Book of Mormon was inscribed upon. All of these rely on human testimony, which experience suggests is notoriously unreliable.

I read a summary of Jared's recommended book - seems reasonable, but I think it's the kind of thing one would only accept if you were willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. As a skeptic I couldn't let something so tenuous form the basis for my faith. 

Posted by saurabh

I am a Christian, born and raised in a wonderful christian home. I have reasons for my faith including a personal crisis of faith at the age of 12. In my teens I used to believe that pursuit of intelligence would lead to better choices, a better life, etc. That country saying, they didn't know any better, when they knew better, they did better, made sense to me. I first began to rethink that when my best friend attended Princeton. These kids who were pursuing education from a top school were just as foolish and irresponsible as any other bunch of folk.
My point is that intelligence, logic, education is not the dividing line between what makes a good person. It is also not the dividing line between people of faith and their "smarter" counterparts. Some of the most brilliant people who ever lived have been believers in God and others have been confirmed atheists. As a christian I believe that I am saved not by what I know but by what I believe. 

Posted by Nancy at home

I don't want to ruin this dialogue by being preachy, so I'm going to pack it in after this.

The best book I have found on the resurrection issue is Strobel's "The Case for Christ." Whether you agree or disagree with his conclusions, it's an entertaining read.

Great blog. See ya around. 

Posted by Daren

Today in a public library, I purposefully dropped a copy of the Koran on the ground. Does that make me a infedel or a crusader? An asshole? Yup.  

Posted by fox, the

To be fair, I should mention that atheism and science are mostly believed in for the same "irrational" reasons that people believe in religion. Both have their own ideologies, their own loose communities of like-minded supporters, their own social pressures, their own internally-consistent narratives, etc...

More to the point, we believe them w/o examining them in detail . How many people believe that Fermat's last theorem or the Poincaré conjecture have been proved? These aren't historical controversies, but basic mathematical statements with purported proofs that can be verified step by step. And yet, only a handful of people in the world have the time and background to convince themselves that they are true. Everyone else believes this handful of scientists---our high priests---because we believe in science in general. We believe in science/the university system I would say not so much because they've made successful predictions about the magnetic moment of the muon, but also because we associate universities/science with prosperity, both in the sense that they advance society overall and because education will help individual people get well-paying and socially-respectable jobs.

Our belief in the proof of these theorems is tied up in all of this. A lone crackpot won't be believed, but once tenured professors at Harvard validate the proof, we agree. Similarly, if some random peasant claims to have seen the Virgin Mary, it doesn't count until the Vatican gives the thumbs up.

But I think this is ok. I think we can defend science as a socially more useful philosophy than religion. Most religious people concede this and claim loyalty to both science and religion. This is I think leading to a lot of confusion. Some people have responded to it by rejecting religion in favor of science. Others have tried to scientifically validate religion by establishing the literal truth of stories from the Bible. In general, I think people only run into problems when they try to reconcile these two modes of thinking.

Posted by aram harrow

Well, I'm essentially demanding the same thing from religion that I know I can get from science - barring the fact of mental ability, I can, if I wish, learn about elliptic curves and such and verify for myself that Fermat's last Theorem has been proved. The same is not necessarily the case for religion. Religious transformative experiences are often claimed to be unique and private, untranslatable - qualia, maybe. This seems fundamentally different to me, though you're right about the day-to-day assumption of faith. 

Posted by saurabh

This dialogue is branching all over the place in very interesting ways. A few more comments.
I keep seeing references to beliefs not "examined in detail". I demur. Absent a stint in a monastery I think I have examined my beliefs (and continue to) to a considerable depth.

Next, to dismiss the documentary evidence of the life of Jesus as "anecdotal" is to dispense with all of ancient history. The new testament story is better documented than any other history of comparable vintage by orders of magnitude.

My point is that Jesus will withstand critical scrutiny, including his resurrection.

Give him a serious look. 

Posted by Jared Dreyfus

While I was sitting eating s'mores today I stumbled over your blog and was impressed beyond measure. (Well, I liked it anyway.) I agree with your view here, so much so in fact that several years ago some mates and I just decided we would start our own religion. To hell with Christianity, send Judaism off on it's ark, and Islam can pound sand. Give me The Church of the Seven Day Recreationalist! Our holy drink is not wine but good ol' beer! We are a liberal-fundamentalist organization that believes with all our heart that some one might actually be right, but we're not going to worry about it. We are an off shoot of the Reformed Druidic Movement in that we worship good food, good drink, the female form (This is actually flexible depending on the member.), and recreation in all it's guises. Work is right out unless you need to pay the rent and other such garbage. If the world would just follow our shinning example, think of how little would get done.  

Posted by Michael

It would take me perhaps three years of dedicated study to be able to understand the proof of Fermat's last theorem; probably longer for most people. Why would I embark on this without being convinced it would work in the end? In practice we never verify all the proofs; we trust institutions like peer review and university reputations and hiring committees.

What if someone told you that you'd discover Jesus if you'd embark on three years of meditation? Would you do it? Of course not; you won't even read that "Case for Christ" book. 

Posted by aram harrow

Actually, I used to own "The Case for Christ", and I have read it. I just was wholly unconvinced by it. I've also read other works which are in a more critical historical scholarship tradition, willing to treat the New Testament more textually, examine its authorship, etc., and these put the claims of the synoptic gospels in a much dimmer light in terms of historical authenticity. Taking the gospels at face value as historical documents (which is what "The Case for Christ" does) is akin to swallowing Stalinist hagiography - one should at least have contemporary critical sources supporting one's historical accounts. This just doesn't exist for Jesus. Sorry to belabor the whole historicity of Jesus issue, but it's something I -have- given due diligence to. 

Posted by saurabh

Saurabh wrote:

"Taking the gospels at face value as historical documents (which is what "The Case for Christ" does) is akin to swallowing Stalinist hagiography - one should at least have contemporary critical sources supporting one's historical accounts."

The problem with such logic is that the alternative view, employed by many if not most of the "textual" critics is to automatically discount the Synoptic Gospels' historical veracity without any significant contradictory contemporary critical sources, because there is no critical mass of such sources.

Which leaves us with a quite startling question for the "textualists": How does a little-known relgious sect of Jews grasp the attention of the Western world in a few hundred years, without military conquest?

The so-called rationalism in the post itself is just another ham-fisted attempt to wish the philosophic, historical, and rational explanations of theism and in particular Christianity away by focusing on creation-science. This gets extended to "intelligent design" which is an alternate concept that does not even require theistic belief to incorporate nor in actuality the absence of many evolutionary processes. Just as an aside, intelligent design is already present in society and science. It's referred to as "animal breeding" in many circles.

As far as origins go though, the scientific view is abut as clear as, say, the origins of RNA and DNA. Which is to say that the "rationalists" don't seem to have an answer for critical points of difference. 

Posted by CB


Regarding the resurrection, there is a major difference in the resurrection story of Christ and the "revelations" to Mohammed, Joseph Smith, etc.

The followers of Mohammed and Joseph Smith responded directly to the charismatic witness of the individuals who claims to have truth revealed to them. The followers of Jesus saw their leader murdered and then come to life and lived their lives based on that witness. They were not told something they did not see themselves.

Admittedly, some people are willing to die on the basis of things that someone they trusted told them. The Apostles died on the basis of something they witnessed with their own eyes. They also died alone in most cases, apart from followers and supporters. They were left with their beliefs and their experience and this led them to maintain the resurrection story, when denial of it (were it untrue) would have greatly eased their burdens in life and would have freed them from the awful deaths most of them faced.

The comparison with Islam and Mormonism is simply not a valid one.

CB - I didn't really want to get into a debate about the historicity of Jesus, here, although your and other comments are at least helpful in resolving my initial question - why people believe. As for your proposal, which I infer to mean that the rapid spread of Christianity, the martyrdom of the apostles, and so on, is taken to be evidence of the influence of the Holy Ghost - well, I can't accept the last. Christianity was obviously a charismatic religion in its early days - of devoted ideologues, humble, selfless, zealous and absolutely firm in their belief. Its spread in a fairly decadent age is not that mystifying. This is more the product of Saint Paul and his like, who had the genius to reshape what would otherwise have been an obscure Jewish sect into a Hellenistic religion with broad appeal (which appeal was broadened over time by loosening some of Jesus and the apostles stricter proscriptions). But the holy ghost, which the apostles claim guided them, is hardly in evidence. If so, how shall we explain the events of history? The often evil nature of the Church? The Great Schism and the Protestant Reformation? If the Holy Ghost really was present, why did the church go so badly awry? Finally, let's not forget that the principle reason Christianity is still around, and not forgotten like other once wildly-popular but now extinct religions, is that the Emperor Constantine was converted and made it the official religion of the Roman Empire.

Also, as regards the apostles and their witness - I see no qualitative difference between them and Joseph Smith and his friends. The "followers of Jesus" were also a handful in number, and the rest of the early Christians (like Saint Paul) had to rely on their witness for evidence of the resurrection. 

Posted by saurabh

You can believe what you like, makes no difference to me, but personally I'd rather not believe that I'm related to a monkey that sniffs other monkey's backsides.... ;-) 

Posted by K

Hello Saurabh, faith is belief in the absence of things unseen or unproved. I can go through the complexity of life, the beauty of a flower, how the universe moves from order to disorder, and all that crap to make my point about God, but why? You won't be swayed. I have no scientific proof to back my faith. I only have what appears to be an irrational attachement to a God who may or may not exist. I believe in Christ and I believe that in the history of man, Christanity has been used to cause as many problems for humanity as it has cured. Is it logical? No, not really. Can I defend it? No. Will I? Yes. I believe. Logic be damned. By the way, if we should ever meet and you sucker punch me in the gut I may need a lot of divine forgiveness. 

Posted by Mike

Prove Darwin was right even once? Or do you just belive.

Why, Mike, why? Not what is the reason behind your belief, but what is the impetus? What makes you want to believe what you acknowledge is not reasonable? 

Posted by saurabh

Here in Georgia, we required a sticker be placed on textbooks clarifying that "evolution is just a theory."

I have started a campaign to place stickers on physical science texts that states, "gravity is just a theory." 

Posted by Mist 1

The impetus you seek to understand, dear saurabh, probably arises from our inborn desire to believe. If you were God and wanted to be worshipped, would you not build that desire into the stuff you made?

We can't shed this urge any more readily than we can quit pooping without getting really fat. That is what makes you fat, right? Not pooping, I mean.

The fact that you don't feel this pull is why I'm here: to talk you into blind acceptance. And if I fail to do so, I'll go to Hell. Now is that really what you want?

Seriously, though--you may well begin to feel this urge at a later time. But until such time, you will be completely frustrated in your desire to understand it. Speaking of which, why do you have such a desire to understand it? 

Posted by daleband

Perhaps I'm nitpicking a bit here, but Fermat's last theorem is mathematics, not science -- and yes, there is a difference. As for accepting science "unexamined," I really don't think people do that in the same way they do religion. If a scientist claims to defy gravity, for example, our education and our knowledge from everyday experience will lead most of us to demand proof. When prominent religious figures tell stories of men with unusual command of water, however, billions of people just nod and accept it. In other words, people tend to examine science more closely when its conclusions disagree with their own daily experiences, but readily accept extraordinary feats that can never be proven as articles of faith. Furthermore, I would argue that people unconsciously examine science on a regular basis. How many people have noticed they have fewer flies in the house when they take out the garbage? That their wounds heal faster when they're cleaned properly? That their cars accelerate more slowly when full of people? After all, at its root, science is nothing more than a formal study of the observable world. But as recently as a few hundred years ago, these ideas were controversial and/or not well understood.

With religious beliefs, it is not so. We believe them as articles of faith simply because we've been told they are true by people we (presumably) trust. If had grown up never having been told about Jesus I could still observe the acceleration of gravity and measure it, but I doubt that I would come to the conclusion that the son of God died for my sins.

Despite what TV and movies may have you believe, the scientist sitting on high making pronuncements that the world unquestioningly believes is a myth. The vast majority of science is fiercely debated for decades, even centuries, before it is accepted by the scientific community. Quantum physics, tectonic plate theory, electromagnetics, and thermodynamics all followed this path. Global warming is only now winning wide acceptance after a 50+ year debate. What little science is accepted quickly is stuff that has a simple physical proof -- the discovery of a new species, for example.

Finally, those who would have creationism taught in science classes need to explain how it is testable  -- otherwise, it isn't science and therefore has no business in a science classroom. They should also realize that scientists do not hold evolution to be scientific theory, they have accepted it as scientific fact. It is the mechanisms by which it occurs that scientists still regard as theory. It's an important distinction, and lest it be lost on anybody consider that birds flew long before the advent of powered flight -- that is, heavier-than-air flight was and is an incontrovertible fact -- yet the mechanism by which flight occurs was purely theoretical until about 100 years ago (and certain aspects of it still are). If scientists had all the answers, there would no longer be a need for scientists.

Faith is just that -- faith. I don't have a problem with anybody's faith, but it irritates me to no end when people try to impose their personal faiths on me and present them as fact. I have no problem whatsoever with the idea that Jesus was a real person, but to agree he existed is not to agree that he was the son of God. There's plenty of evidence that he was an apocalypic Jew who believed the Rapture would occur in his lifetime. I don't have a problem with that. It would have been nice if Renaissance painters had painted him with the wooly hair the Bible describes, though.... 

Posted by Anonymous

faith is a euphemism for ignorance. surely you wouldn't grant the same logicless worship to your government...or maybe you would. but you shoudn't.

look bitches, no one's saying there's no god. none of us have all the answers to this crazy universe, to think so would make you a jackass. but we're getting there. slowly. and we should do so hitchhiking on the vehicle of truth - not the biblical scribbles of some guy who thought he met god in some neurotic wet dream. 

Posted by kris

"Perhaps I'm nitpicking a bit here, but Fermat's last theorem is mathematics, not science -- and yes, there is a difference."

For one thing, mathematics can be proven, but science can't.

"I have no problem whatsoever with the idea that Jesus was a real person, but to agree he existed is not to agree that he was the son of God."

Indeed. Just ask any Muslim, for whom Jesus is a prophet but not accepted as the son of God.

"Prove Darwin was right even once? Or do you just belive."

That statement reveals a rather poor understanding of science. Science can't "prove" anything, only rule out alternative explanations (provided they are scientific -- that is, testable -- alternatives) and demonstrate predictive or explanatory power. Nothing in science has ever been "proven," but enough poor explanations have been ruled out to explain the world around us rather well -- well enough to develop modern medicine and sanitation, not to mention technology like engines, microprocessors, and airplanes. 

Posted by Anonymous

I am not sure how or why I bumped into your blog, but I find it interesting. I find it very interesting why a Christian or anyone of any belief or faith cannot explain why they believe what they do. I also HIGHLY expect people to respect my beliefs as I do theirs.

I am a "born again" Christian. Why do I believe in Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit? I believe by faith. I don't think many people really understand what true faith it. Faith is knowing that the sun will rise in the morning and that the earth rotates, that babies will be born, that people will die because it is a natural thing to do. My faith gives me hope, my hope lifts my spirits. I do have a very personal relationship with MY God. We talk often - it is a two way street. I can't imagine my life without MY God.

Faith is in NO WAY "a euphemism" for ignorance. I am a very highly educated person who has studied many faiths, religions, philosophies, etc. What I find ignorant is anyone or any religion or belief system who assumes that their beliefs, their way is the only right way.

I love My God's saying that he "uses the foolish things of this world to confound the wise". It seems those that call themselves the most wise are often the most pathetic and ignorant of all.  

Posted by Kathleen Marie

Being somewhat of a religious bent in mentality (i.e. I have that functionality that you're missing or vice versa), i've pondered this question before. My best guess was that, at least among certain kinds of people, the propensity to ask questions and questions and questions eventually leads to answerless questions given the absence of full knowledge of any situation about things that might deeply affect you.

For example, in prescientic times, why does lighting strike (note heavy nature god use in multiple cultures)? Even now, why does my grandfather pass away? Whether you deal wtih things on an emotional or intellectual basis (or other), you will need a way to deal with the anxiety of not knowing and--this is key--believing it's possible you might never be able to know --and some people need this way (as opposed to others, who, for reasons I can't understand, are simply comfortable not knowing. All of the trappings are simply instrumental in providing this ultimately beneficial need. Unfortuantely, they also allow people to justify destroying each other on occasion and at the mercy of certain not-so-benevolent theologians cum "leaders".

Finally, I believe i could make a fair argument that Marxism is approached as a religion by many people, that Capital is a holy writ (that they most likely don't understand, given how long and in depth it is), and that capitalism serves as sort of an amorphous malevolent force. You can probably fill in the rest as you go along. It's sort of like irrational rationality ;)

On one final note, I would add that ever act of perception ultimately boils down to an act of faith (usually conducted unknowingly) that what you "see with your own eyes" actually corresponds to what's out there--i.e. you have to have faith in your own systems of perception in order to justify a correlation between the empirical reality outside your mind and what you believe it to be. Or, at minimum, to dismiss the extremely low probability that the countercase--that it doesn't correlate at all--is dismissable. 

Posted by saurav

Dude, it all comes down to this: Some will believe and others won't.  All these big words and intellectual conversations change absolutely nothing about that one little fact. You can do all the reading and research you want, but if you aren't chosen to believe, you aren't gonna do it. Christians, we need to stop trying to convince people. It's not our job. Atheists, it would be good for you to quit trying to convince people too. It looks just as loopy when you rant and rave as it does when believers do. But don't stop asking good, probing questions. If a Christian or any person subscribing to a religion can't answer questions you propose, provided you do it respectfully, then they need to do some serious study. 

Posted by Kim

Your original post ticked me off, quite frankly. I thought you were just bashing people of faith, and to me that's just as bad as people of so-called faith bashing people who disagree with them. Both types of bashing show a mean-spirited intolerance, and both types are usually done in the name of "truth," as the basher sees it.

But as I read these comments, I see that you are all discussing the questions at hand with civility and respect (for the most part), even when you disagree. That gives me hope.

I would reveal my position on faith, but that might take away from the main point I am trying to make, which is HOORAY for people who discuss this with open minds. Let's just call me an anti-Bashite. hee hee.


a few things people said:

Faith is knowing that the sun will rise in the morning and that the earth rotates, that babies will be born, that people will die because it is a natural thing to do. 

this makes it sound like we have a problem with worrying about the predictability (and inevitability) of arriving safely at a destination, and faith is the name of the feeling of safety we get when we identify landmarks and become assured that we aren't lost.

it seems really easy to convince human beings that we are lost. or maybe we always think we are. seriously if there weren't roads and signs and regularly scheduled airplanes, how many of us would be able to make our individual ways to las vegas from wherever we are now? but we're not lost that way because other people have a fix and we can trust them. "lost" then maybe means "nobody knows where i am." faith in a very high power extends that security very deeply into one's own thinking.

also, "that the earth rotates" is a relatively recent article of faith.

If you were God and wanted to be worshipped, would you not build that desire into the stuff you made?

and if i were a creative animal that had a strong inner desire not to feel lonely, i would make an omnipotent, omnipresent friend to keep me company.

it could be that people never outgrow the need for bedtime stories. what we outgrow is simple stories because our nightmares can become real when we are out on our own with dreams in our hands.

My best guess was that, at least among certain kinds of people, the propensity to ask questions and questions and questions eventually leads to answerless questions given the absence of full knowledge of any situation about things that might deeply affect you.

i read a thing a year ago that really shifted me on this. the author (a neurologist, i think) found it insulting that people might be assumed to reach for the supernatural only when stumped. he thought our storytelling bent was too much part of ourselves to be a magic box people opened in case of logical emergency. this is too sensible for words.

but it also didn't work because a lot of stories do come out of crisis feelings. so what i came up with was a situation where every question was simultaneously answered and unanswerable and every decision is a crisis no matter how certain the outcome. in that case religion is the brain's way of taking a deep breath before diving under the water. 

Posted by hibiscus

i.e., DON'T PANIC! 

Posted by hibiscus

Strange, I'm reading Douglas Adams now. How plate of shrimp.

About religious sentiment: I think the senses of mystery and eternity and revelation are as human as the senses of falling in love and longing to understand and dreaming about treacle. We are, I believe, born prone to certain feelings. I don't know, but I assume it's related to the buildup of neuropeptides in certain dendrites, the circumstantial arrangement of our neurons, the way in which we grow and learn. If I'm right that religious awe is endemic to the brain, and not the result of an external all-powerful being, that would imply that it evolved to be there. For some reason, people may be more fit if they have the capacity for religious wonder. While I figured this out on my own sometime in the 1990s, I am unsurprised that a much smarter and more patient person have already examined the idea in great detail . 

Posted by hedgehog

He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. (published in Ecclesiates 3:11) 

Posted by Solomon

i'm impressed that old documents describe similar ideas, but less than i used to be. first because it's not surprising that we would fail over centuries to really come up with new ideas that weren't related to tool innovations.

second, unless we reject the evolutionary timeline, there are tens of thousands of years between the time when religious feelings maybe began to show in human societies and the supposed time of publication/compilation of our major inherited texts. what we knew or thought before we could put it to record is something we can only speculate now but it was probably pretty similar to what we can come up with now. seriously i'd be surprised if there were secret behaviors that have been discovered through modern empirical study that weren't noticed and used 10,000 years ago. not that they would be used the same ways. 

Posted by hibiscus

you know i think i should clear this up. there are really two issues in the debate about how the world began. evolutionary theory is not the same thing as geology, archaeology, paleontology, and so on. evidence from one field of study may back or refute evidence from another, but not wanting to be a simian should be carefully separated in the mind from believing in old rocks or ice ages and so on. 

Posted by hibiscus

How bout this one; I don't think I know...I just know I'm thinking.
100's of Millions of years pass between Genesis 1 & 2.
Adam wasn't the first man ever made, only the first one who turned his back on GOD and pointed the finger at his wife.(BINGO---"Original SIN"="NOT Listening")

Religions were created by the guys who didn't understand what the spiritual dudes were talking about otherwise there'd just be a whole bunch of spiritual dudes walking around.

"EVIL" is just
'Live Backwards'
"LOVE" is the beginning of

Yo 'big bang' people...give your heads a shake...harder...learn anything?
let me help you out...to begin with "Coincidence" is the lazy one's way of explaining events so he doesn't have to think about it any further.

To get to the END* of a cricle you must go to the BEGINNING* and step out or rise above it.

*If we CAIN stop killing, we'll never be ABEL to survive what's coming.

Just because I say it doesn't mean it's true and just because you don't believe me doesn't mean it's not.
I invite you to visit and explore "Ancient's History".
your humble servant,
Ancient Clown 

Posted by Ancient Clown

p.s. I recognize there are about as many real christians are there are Jesus's, but most people(especially if they went to church)don't realize that Jesus wasn't here to glorify himself, but GOD. He wasn't here to lead you off on some dreamers parade, but give you a solid path to follow should you EVER want to find out for your SELF what's goin on.
They say words of wisdom are for the wise, but not because they are shared in secrecy but because ONLY the wise LISTEN to them.
Hearing and listening are not the same thing...Listening implies ACTION.
I can say;
The journey begins within.
your humble servant,
Ancient Clown

CB> [M]any if not most of the "textual" critics ... automatically discount the Synoptic Gospels' historical veracity without any significant contradictory contemporary critical sources ... 

=v= I'm not sure what "contradictory contemporary critical sources" you mean, but I disagree that textual analysis "discounts" these writings. Without that analysis, you've got three books that contradict each other for no apparent reason. With that analysis, the contradictions mesh with historical context, and you end up seeing the writings from different perspectives, as if through a prism.

Anon> Prove Darwin was right even once? Or do you just beli[e]ve[?]

We have copious evidence that things evolve to adapt to changed environments. That means Darwin was right, even once. 

Posted by Jym Dyer

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