10-30-06 9:11Certain Belief in God

Here's Rene's first thesis.

Rene: So my new thesis is this: No one can have certain belief in God.

Okay, we need to examine this reformulated thesis. These are the current shortcomings as I currently see them...

There are atheists (strong atheists) who claim to have certain belief about god (he does not/cannot exist). It is usually best to approach this by showing that while the weak atheist claim is supportable (the original posit by the theists is unreasonable and unsupported and thus must be denied out-of-hand), but going beyond the point of denying the "object" of the posit by claiming to know that it does not existence is making a counter claim which cannot be supported. I.e. To say god is undefined and therefore no claims can be made concerning god vs. to say I know enough about gods to determine god does not exist. Or, it is not true that a null set (god) does not exist even if it is true that it is empty/null.

There are certain theists who claim to have certain knowledge about god and they generally fall into three groups: those who claim revealed knowledge, those who claim mystical apprehension and those who claim rational knowledge.

You could attempt to show their errors one at a time by examining their claims and while ther errors of the ones who claim rational knowledge of god are well documented, I don't think you would be successful with the other two since they claim their knowledge is both special and private and therefore not subject to public consideration. Or, you could take the agnostic approach and show that the nature of certain belief precludes certain belief about supernatural deities. That is the most likely approach to my thinking, but again it is difficult to argue against the exercise of supernatural agency to circumvent the normal bonds of what is possible.

So we come down to people who believe they have certain belief about god who cannot be readily shown to be in definate error even though their claims are irrational or there seem to be more parsimonous explanations. Unfortunately, even though an alternative explanation maybe more reasonable, that is not a strong enough claim to dismiss their preferred claim.

Personally I feel such mystical/revealed experience is ineffable and therefore not possible for rational discourse and even deserving of a measure of respect. However, unsupportable conclusions drawn from those experiences are effable and subject to examination. Thus in the [following] example I do not doubt a "voice" was "heard" to "say:" Pay Attention. However the conclusion that this must have been god is definately in doubt unless a valid means of drawing this conclusion can be shown. Since most people lack extensive experience with deities, saying something like "I just know it was god" would be unpersuasive.

So in conclusion, unless you can bring arguments to bear that I'm not currently familiar with, I have to reluctantly dismiss your claim that "no one can have certain belief in god." (Oh FYI, I'm granting that you mean "correct certain belief" and am therefore discounting "incorrect certain belief.")

I would say that you might have better luck with "no one has rationally demonstrated certain belief in god" since that throws the burden of proof back where it belongs, on the claimant.

10-30-06 8:01Bi Christian

Marian: I am a Bisexual Christian, and I don't know what to do - I have to continuously deal with bigotry and this terrible Christian guilt.

So why to you think the myths, stories and customs originated by illiterate Jewish sheep herders from 3000 years ago give some special insight into god while the myths, stories and customs originated by other peoples like the Greeks, Egyptians or Norse are just quaint stories?

Why do you keep a faith that innately describes your way of life as inherantly sinful?

For what it is worth I don't think you are doing a thing wrong just being bi. Life is hard enough without adding xtian guilt about how you can love those you love.

If you think your god is such a poor craftsman that he made you sinful or anything less than totally perfect in every way, please get a new god.

Marian: I'm not sure what you mean about the quaint stories.

Do you sacrifice seven animals to Woden on His day? Have you consulted the priestesses of Aphrodite about your love issues? Do you pray to Cathulu that he will pass you by?

I can find absolutely nothing to distinguish your god from these gods. Why do you pass them by for the Jewish god? You are not one of the chosen of JHVH. Have you ever considered that Saul lied for personal gain or was just plain crazy when he said the god of the Jews would accept you and you could just ignore all the inconvenient parts of their religion?

Marian: I don't think God is a poor craftsman, though I don't personally believe that we were made perfect - we are created having both dark and light within us. As/if we mature we gradually shut the darkness out and replace it with the wisdom of love and selflessness.

I do not find the dark to be something to be done away or the light something to be exclusively coveted. Each is part of a whole that would be less without it. Wisdom and love are not about self-denial concerning your darkness. They are about accepting who you are and bringing all your resources to bear, light and dark.

Marian: You ask why I keep the faith - because I don't believe in throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

The baby was never in the bath. That was never even bath water. It is effluent. Xtianity is spiritual abuse, plain and simple.

Marian: In final analysis, I may always struggle over my being bi. Hell, I struggle with wanting a relationship at all; it's safer in many ways not to be involved with people.

I will give you the best advice that anyone is ever going to give you. Don't make your love about sexual organs. Don't be "bi" or "gay" or "lesbian" or "hetero." Love who you love because of who they are and who you are and forget about what bit of skin dangles below or doesn't. Love first and foremost and the sex will take care of itself.

As for relationships...they are tough. Finding even one person you can live with is the hardest thing a person ever does. Expect a lot of relationships to end and do your best to let them go gracefully. Know that love and relationships hurt as easily as they heal. They can give pain and pleasure. But as hard as it is, as much as it can hurt at times, creating your family and friends is the most impotant thing you will ever do. When you are dying, it is your friends and family that you will be comforted by. It is they who you will see coming for you.

If any one or any religion or any belief comes between you and those you love, know that you have found the real devil and send them packing.

You are stronger than you think, you don't need an age-old crutch or a ring in your nose.

10-30-06 8:01Felt God

Schirin: I know God exists. I have felt God.

I would say it is quite a presumption to believe what you felt was god.
How do you know that? What basis is there to draw that conclusion?
How many gods have you felt?
Can you distinguish between a god, an angel, a demon, a fairy, a deva, and a delusion?

Schirin: I have seen the works he has done in my life.

Again that is quite a presumption. How do you know?
What if those works were someone other than god's?

Schirin: God spoke to me once. Very clearly, in my spirit.

Again, how do you know it was god and not some other being?

Schirin: He said "Pay attention."

See, this could very easily be a disembodied zen master. Pay attention is the secret of enlightenment. When you can truly learn to pay attention, you will begin to understand.

Also, you might consider he did not say "worship me" or "be a xtian."

Schirin: Just because you were not in my body, hearing what I heard, does not mean that this is not completely 100% true, and not a delusion.

That you had the experience is true. The conclusion that you drew from it - "it was god" - is delusion. The message has no need of the conclusion. It could be the devil telling you to pay attention and it would not matter. Paying attention is virtuous in and of itself and irrespective of who told it to you.

Pay attention. This is it. Now.

The whole god bit is just more distraction.

Schirin: Haven't you ever looked at animals - how they are perfectly made and suited to their environments?

Actually they aren't. We, for example, suck at being suited for any environment. No fur, no claws, no teeth, weak, slow, bad senses, not resistant to disease, mild stomac acids for eating spoilage, sensitive to various toxins, we even get blisters and sunburn.

Humans are about the perfect example of totally unsuited to any environment, but we are hardly the only one.

Nope, life is definately not made. It evolved, and there is extensive evidence to back that up; yes, even for the IDT favorite - "eyes." There are many proto-eyes, eye buds, and photo-sensitive neurons to show how eyes evolved through intermediate steps.

Schirin: You can see there is a master plan, therefore, there is a master planner.

There is neither and IDT is full of ego-stroking hooey. Consider, even if there was a god, do you really think he would be stupid enough to make the universe so he has to nursemaid each and every step? That would totally suck.

Would he plan it all out ahead and then spend eternity already knowing what would happen? Talk about hell!

No, a god with half a brain would set up natural laws and let nature take its course. If there is a god worth the time xtians waste on worshipping him, evolution is how he works, because it is how reality actually is working. Pay attention and you can find birds alive today that still have their fingers from before they had wings and mammals that still lay eggs and sea scallops that only have eye buds and insanely inappropriate creatures that get by anyway.

Schirin: You say this, but atheists rarely have the wisdom to actually study the other's perspective.

I have studied it and I trained to study such things. It's religious hooey.

Schirin: There's no way you or I or anyone can know for sure so it is foolish to be adamant one way or the other.

Then why do you claim god talked to you? Or that god is some master planner?

Schirin: We will know all when we die.

Death, by definition is the end of both you and your knowing. Pay Attention Now. Don't wait for death as a "get out of doing your work in life" card.

10-30-06 7:65Chance

Schirin: For those who don't believe that there is a God, I wish you had seen this show on National Geographic "Naked Science: Birth of the Universe." It makes you realize how unlikely it is that we are even HERE to be talking about God.

This is perhaps my favorite misunderstanding about chance.

I will take a ten sided die and roll a very huge number:


Now how unlikely is it that the number is here? 1 in 10^100 maybe?

No, there is no unlikeliness at all. The number is already rolled and therefore no longer a matter of chance.

Likelihood only applies to what has not happened yet. It is about predicting the future. What has happened, is, no matter how unlikely it seemed before it happened.

It is entirely irrelevant how unlikely you find that we are here to discuss it because we actually are here discussing it.

Schirin: I also watched a show the other night about a man who had this really weird disease where his skin fell off. His entire life was terribly terribly painful and he died at age 36. But even in the midst of such misery, he knew without a shadow of a doubt that there was purpose to life, and he would be moving on into freedom when he died. How could anyone with a healthy body not have faith, when someone like that knows beyond a shadow of a doubt? It was very touching.

I'm glad it was touching. I'm happy he found an escape from his very painful and short life. I sincerely hope he did not pass those genes on. But it is totally unconvincing.

10-30-06 6:54Very Significant Sutra

Io: The Sutra Satipatthana is of great significance! According to the text, it is 'the direct path to the attainment of purity, for the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, for the end of pain and grief...for the realization of nibbana'. Do you know it?

Is there any sutra, no matter how poor or silly or even profound, which fails to make at least this much claim or even still more grandiose claims than this?

I would like to find the sutra which says "Look, don't take this stuff too seriously. If this teaching doesn't make any sense to you don't sweat it, you'll do fine anyway."

BTW, overcoming sorrow and lamentation doesn't mean that you will not sorrow or lament. It means that when you sorrow and lament you know them for what they are - impermanent. The end of pain and grief doesn't mean that you are free from ever hurting or grieving. It means that you recognize that pain and grief is fundimentally empty of any inherant quality.

Nibbana is not an escape or "get out of life free" card. Nothing is left behind. You are a whole and that is just fine. Just stop picking and choosing what to like and dislike.

10-30-06 5:54Many Paths

James: Religions are all very different, but my Zen friend said of the differences, 'There are many paths to the same moon.' I would however be more interested at looking at all of the similarities of religion, as opposed to looking at their obvious differences.

That is a sure path to bias. Do your best to look at them as they are first and consider similarities and differences after you know the religion for what it is. Remember, same and similar, different and unique - all are just a matter of perspective. Take what you think is similar and then find the differences. Take the same and find its uniqueness. This will help stretch your understanding.

James: But 'many paths to the same moon' ...this is saying that although the various religions are different paths ... that they all lead to the same 'goal' or outcome...

Unfortunately, they don't. "Salvation" does not equate at all with "enlightenment." The end goal of Kali is not the end goal of the Quaker.

There are many paths to a particular goal, but there is not just one goal any more than there is just one moon in the universe.

Now it is possible that all states of enlightenment are similar. I've seen it argued both ways. But the only state of enlightenment which counts is yours and it is fully unique to you. Only you can get to it and no one else will ever know it.

But enlightenment doesn't mean that you are "saved," it just means that being saved is no longer relevant.

Saying "There many paths to the same moon" is like giving some one a bottle of medicine but not telling them how to open it.

When you see your friend tell him: For each there is only the path they actually take.

Katie: Swarm, you know I am interested in your daily life/morality/cosmology. Yet, I think that (Saying "There many paths to the same moon" is like giving some one a bottle of medicine but not telling them how to open it. ) is a terrible analogy.

They are all and always terrible analogies, but you cannot take half the reply and expect to arrive at the whole answer. The rest is: "When you see your friend tell him: For each there is only the path they actually take."

Think about how "There many paths to the same moon" and "For each there is only the path they actually take" relate to each other and to you, me, your friends, life, nature and everything. No one can give you the bottle, know it is medicine and tell you how to open it. Even the buddha couldn't do it, which is why we aren't all already enlightened. But sometimes diferent people can each give you a terrible analogy that adds up to enough.

This is not about the words or who said what. If you can grasp it, the moon is there at the end of your finger waiting for you to know that you were the one pointing to it all along.

You wanted to know about my daily life/morality/cosmology. Well there it is as plain as I can make it.

10-30-06 3:21No Sex Test

Shaku: I have an old saw called the "no sex test," and it goes like this:

If you meet a person and think you're falling in love with them, ask this question: If an angel came down from heaven and said, "The gods have decreed you will never get any physical attention from this person," would you still think of them as deeply compelling? Would you still be anxious to hang out with them for sheer value of their excellent conversation? Would you be moved by their deeply noble character and their vast intellectual curiosity?

I'd be jazzed just to see an angel and I'd figure I had a pretty special gal to merit such attention.

Say, do angels have sex? How about a little menage a' trois?

Of course my sweety actually is deeply compelling, has excellent conversations at least as good as sex and has a deeply noble character and a vast intellectual curiosity, and is hot in bed, so I'm in like flynn.

Shaku: The answer in 99% of the cases is no.

Great! 1 in 100 is fantastic odds! Get busy and you'll have the love of your life in no time.

Shaku: When the sex peters out, the person remaining is almost universally not a good friend...

So what are you crying about? You had some sex, found out they weren't the one, now suck it up and move on. If they don't make a good friend, that is probably the problem. Sex is great, but it is not what makes a relationship. Being a good friend is and my sweety is the bestest!

Shaku: Truly, I find, most people get more sympathy from a sneering stranger on the bus who's trying to avoid them, then they get from their lovers.

Dude! You really need to pick up the quality of your lovers. Mine have always been top-notch people.

10-30-06 12:02Believe in God

Rene: Does anyone really believe in God? I mean, one can believe in the sun, as you can feel its heat, watch it rise...

No, one knows the sun from its direct prima facie evidence. One only believes what one lacks the evidence to know outright.

Rene: I propose that no one actually believes in God.

I agree that the belief is unfounded and even countrary to what is known, but no matter how incredulous you are about the absurdity of the claims...no matter how ridiculous and insane it may all seem...to doubt another on their sworn word about the certainty they have that they believe it would be as grave an error their holding those beliefs in the first place.

The evidence strongly suggests they do believe as they claim they do and one must go with the evidence and let not one's feelings about the quality of the beliefs influence the evaluation of the evidence for their existence.

Rene: Thanks, Swarm, and congratulations for being the first one to present a reasonable argument against my claim.

WooWoo! How do I contact the prize dept.? :)

Rene: No doubt, there are some people who really believe - those would be the ones that are truly crazy.

Nice emotional appeal, but we lack precision as to what you mean by "crazy."

For myself, I would say at least part of crazy is insisting on a belief in what is blatantly not actual. I would say that determining if they "really" believe it is superfluous. The assertion of belief is sufficient. And for those who care, yes I know belief in "god" is officially ignored by the APA, but I go by the Frosty the Snowman rule: If an average Joe would think your beliefs crazy if you just substituted "Frosty the Snowman" for every use of the word "Jesus," "Abraham," "Moses," "God," "Mohammad," "Buddha," "Bullaha," or whoever, then those uses are tenatively "crazy" until shown to conform to reality.

Rene: My claim is really aimed at the vast majority of believers.

"Vast majority?" That is a whole new can of worms. I suggest your argument is aimed at those who don't really believe and their actual numbers are irrelevant.

Rene: It seems highly unlikely they are all insane.

Claiming to be a real believer when you aren't is either insane (delusional) in its own right or duplicious enough where one might argue it insane (psychotic) any way. But I think this is a moot point. "Insane" in this case is not a matter of disease necessarily, rather it is a functional result of acting on certain poor assumptions and getting caught up in a disfunctional mindset. Just like every one in a mob can be "insane" until they break free of the mindset which has ahold of them, likewise every one in a religion can be equally "insane" without being technically insane when you look at them outside the religious mindset.

Ok you are introducing some new claims here:

Rene: As Daniel Dennett [yeah Dennett] says, they do not necessarily *really* believe in God...

I sense semantic hair splitting with the word "really." I start getting uneasy any time some one claims they really know better than the person whose head it is what said person really does or doesn't believe when they really believe something. I mean Really!

Rene: [skipping to the main point] My claim is you cannot *really* believe in something you cannot describe and define.

Ok I see at least two issues here.

First is the knowledge vs. faith issue. I would totally agree the ones who claim they "know" god are just talking a load of the brown stuff if they cannot describe and define what they claim to know, and yes, I have noticed a total lack of working definition of god. However, the agnostic theists are a tougher nut to crack. They admit up front that they cannot describe and define god and that they are working on blind faith and/or are working based on the implications they feel are present in the nature or even mere fact of reality. I would say that they seem to legitimately "really" believe in something they cannot describe or define.

The second is that existence preceeds understanding which preceeds accurate description and definition. Thus for any researcher, belief must preceed full description and definition.

I think you are trying to push ordinary belief into to certain belief (aka knowledge). Ordinary belief is a far weaker claim and I would say most of the faithful use the term in a reasonable manner even if the belief they hold is rationally unfounded and unreasonable. My bone with them is not that they don't really believe, though I would agree there are a fair number of fakers who mimic belief unchallenged for the easy power it brings. My complaint is that they use invalid means to arrive at their belief such as trusting the authority and claims of a work of historical fiction and propaganda or trusting the claims and authority of the unscrupulous power hungry or the fearful and delusional or even the outright insane. My other bone with them is the complete lack of actual evidence for claims and verification of claims against reality.

Of course invalid means which lack evidence and verification inevitably result in the totally whack fantasies paraded about as beliefs which we all know and love as religion.

10-30-06 11:01What You Believe

Madhu: I really need to know, there are so many religious/spiritual beliefs out there, so does it really matter what you believe, so long as you very sincere about its practices/teachings?

So what you are saying is the actual religion is inconsequential as long as you are sincere in what you practice?

I think this is on the verge of being a workable philosophy.

You might consider something like: It does not matter why you are good. It only matters that you are good.

Read more in the Archives.