Why I don’t believe in God

by on May 25, 2017 at 12:42 am in Philosophy, Religion, Uncategorized | Permalink

R., a Catholic and loyal MR reader, emails me:

I would be interested in a post explaining why you *don’t* believe in (some form of) God.

Not long ago I outlined what I considered to be the best argument for God, and how origin accounts inevitably seem strange to us; I also argued against some of the presumptive force behind scientific atheism.  Yet still I do not believe, so why not?  I have a few reasons:

1. We can distinguish between “strange and remain truly strange” possibilities for origins, and “strange and then somewhat anthropomorphized” origin stories.  Most religions fall into the latter category, all the more so for Western religions.  I see plenty of evidence that human beings anthropomorphize to an excessive degree, and also place too much weight on social information (just look at how worked up they get over social media), so I stick with the “strange and remain truly strange” options.  I don’t see those as ruling out theism, but at the end of the day it is more descriptively apt to say I do not believe, rather than asserting belief.

2. The true nature of reality is so strange, I’m not sure “God” or “theism” is well-defined, at least as can be discussed by human beings.  That fact should not lead you to militant atheism (I also can’t define subatomic particles), but still it pushes me toward an “I don’t believe” attitude more than belief.  I find it hard to say I believe in something that I feel in principle I cannot define, nor can anyone else.

2b. In general, I am opposed to the term “atheist.”  It suggests a direct rejection of some specific beliefs, whereas I simply would say I do not hold those beliefs.  I call myself a “non-believer,” to reference a kind of hovering, and uncertainty about what actually is being debated.  Increasingly I see atheism as another form of religion.

3. Religious belief has a significant heritable aspect, as does atheism.  That should make us all more skeptical about what we think we know about religious truth (the same is true for politics, by the way).  I am not sure this perspective favors “atheist” over “theist,” but I do think it favors “I don’t believe” over “I believe.”  At the very least, it whittles down the specificity of what I might say I believe in.

4. I am struck by the frequency with which people believe in the dominant religions of their society or the religion of their family upbringing, perhaps with some modification.  (If you meet a Wiccan, don’t you jump to the conclusion that they are strange?  Or how about a person who believes in an older religion that doesn’t have any modern cult presence at all?  How many such people are there?)

This narrows my confidence in the judgment of those who believe, since I see them as social conformists to a considerable extent.  Again, I am not sure this helps “atheism” either (contemporary atheists also slot into some pretty standard categories, and are not generally “free thinkers”), but it is yet another net nudge away from “I believe” and toward “I do not believe.”  I’m just not that swayed by a phenomenon based on social conformity so strongly.

That all said I do accept that religion has net practical benefits for both individuals and societies, albeit with some variance.  That is partly where the pressures for social conformity come from.  I am a strong Straussian when it comes to religion, and overall wish to stick up for the presence of religion in social debate, thus some of my affinities with say Ross Douthat and David Brooks on many issues.

5. I am frustrated by the lack of Bayesianism in most of the religious belief I observe.  I’ve never met a believer who asserted: “I’m really not sure here.  But I think Lutheranism is true with p = .018, and the next strongest contender comes in only at .014, so call me Lutheran.”  The religious people I’ve known rebel against that manner of framing, even though during times of conversion they may act on such a basis.

I don’t expect all or even most religious believers to present their views this way, but hardly any of them do.  That in turn inclines me to think they are using belief for psychological, self-support, and social functions.  Nothing wrong with that, says the strong Straussian!  But again, it won’t get me to belief.

6. I do take the William James arguments about personal experience of God seriously, and I recommend his The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature to everybody — it’s one of the best books period.  But these personal accounts contradict each other in many cases, we know at least some of them are wrong or delusional, and overall I think the capacity of human beings to believe things — some would call it self-deception but that term assumes a neutral, objective base more than is warranted here — is quite strong.  Presumably a Christian believes that pagan accounts of the gods are incorrect, and vice versa; I say they are probably both right in their criticisms of the other.

7. I see the entire matter of origins as so strange that the “transcendental argument” carries little weight with me — “if there is no God, then everything is permitted!”  We don’t have enough understanding of God, or the absence of God, to deal with such claims.  In any case, the existence of God is no guarantee that such problems are overcome, or if it were such a guarantee, you wouldn’t be able to know that.

Add all that up and I just don’t believe.  Furthermore, I find it easy not to believe.  It doesn’t stress me, and I don’t feel a resulting gap or absence in my life.  That I strongly suspect is for genetic reasons, not because of some intellectual argument I or others have come up with.  But there you go, the deconstruction of my own belief actually pushes me somewhat further into it.

To sum it all up, agnosticism is pretty easy to argue for, and it gets you a lot closer to “not believing” than “believing.”

1 Jonathan S May 25, 2017 at 12:53 am

A better question, then, might be: are you a materialist?

2 Heath Rushing May 25, 2017 at 1:26 am

I think he would use much of his same argument about theism and God as vague concepts. They are hard to define and nonmaterial/spiritual concepts are maybe even harder to define. I’m not Tyler so I don’t know, but that’s what I would guess.

3 2050 May 25, 2017 at 8:04 am

Base issue is whether one is rational or irrational.

Theism/Religion/Mysticism/Superstition are the direct rejection of reason and the embrace of emotional “belief” as factual reality. All religious sentiment ultimately rejects human reason, though many pose a facade of rationality.

When you understand why you reject all other Gods but your own — you will understand why I reject yours as well.

4 Daniel May 25, 2017 at 9:44 am

I don’t think anything said above supports the view that belief in something supernatural is “irrational” or entails the “direct rejection of reason.” It would be fair to call believing in something without sufficient evidence irrational only if we always had sufficient evidence for the decisions we have to make. But since we’re forced to make decisions without sufficient evidence all the time, I don’t think it’s irrational to do so in questions of religious faith. Atheists, like all of us, make many decisions without sufficient evidence and reject doing so only (or most vocally) in the very narrow category of religion. (Obviously there are some questions that we do have a great deal of evidence on that seem to contradict “factual” assertions embedded in religious faiths, but in most cases I don’t think those contradictions are very hard to reconcile and, in any event, I don’t consider them the essential parts of religious faith. Some may disagree, but I’m only trying to defend a narrow class of religious belief, since you say *all* of it rejects reason.)

That gets you as far as saying it’s possible rationally assert the existence of a supernatural being, but it doesn’t explain why you should accept a particular one (or more) and reject any number of others. But when people with religious faith reject another faith, they don’t do so because they think believing in a supernatural “god” is irrational, which is why you reject theirs. So I think your last sentence is misleading.

In my experience, at their best, people accept one conception of god over another because they find the stories crafted around the different conceptions and the implications arising from them more or less persuasive. Inasmuch as atheists reject the supernatural elements of the Christian faith, I think they underestimate aspects of its morality and description of the human condition that, when properly understood, are very persuasive (whether or not they come from “God”). Other religious stories reject some of the more persuasive moral truths embedded in Christianity, and others don’t even attempt to answer the same questions and are considered “religious” simply because, like Christianity, they entail something supernatural and traditional. So, accepting that it may be rational to believe to some degree in the supernatural, I think there are perfectly acceptable reasons to accept some stories involving the supernatural and to reject others.

5 Student May 25, 2017 at 11:00 am

+1. I’d that existence itself is very strange. As a result, any explanation is improbable and hard to believe.

IMO, in the spirit of Occam’s razor, belief in God is the most likely explanation.

Really there are two quite reasonable propositions.

1.) matter and energy always existed. They themselves are infinite.

2.) something immaterial that exists outside the bounds of material physics always existed and thought or spoke existence into being.

There is no evidence for 2. There is evidence against 1. Therefore 2 is left standing.

6 Peter Akuleyev May 25, 2017 at 11:43 am

Or, just as likely, “farted or shat existence into being”. Concepts like “thought” or “spoke” are anthroporphic projections and likely meaningless or at best misleading in relation to an extrauniversal force capable of creating existence ex nihilo.

7 Student May 25, 2017 at 11:50 am

Fair, then Created, however you want to convey that.

8 ttt May 25, 2017 at 2:15 pm

“1.) matter and energy always existed. They themselves are infinite.

There is evidence against 1”

are you referencing the big bang ? because there are theories that have
engery, matter, a universe before then

9 Elvis May 25, 2017 at 3:45 pm

Science is definitionally rational investigation. If you claim to believe something beyond the realm of science is that not the definition of irrational?

10 Anselm May 25, 2017 at 3:47 pm

@Daniel: ” I don’t think anything said above supports the view that belief in something supernatural is “irrational” …”

The term “supernatural” itself denotes something that is unexplainable in nature, science or rational analysis/reason. It is fundamentally erroneous then to insist that the ‘supernatural’ label merely reflects a temporal lack of sufficient natural evidence, human investigation and rational analysis.

The supernatural is non-falsifiable. What evidence, if presented, would convince a devout Christian/Moslem/Jew that their God and religion were phony, man-made concepts ?

Human conjecture about the supernatural is much different than religious acceptance/belief/action in such mystical concepts.

(What “narrow class of religious belief” are you “trying to defend” ?)

11 Elvis May 25, 2017 at 3:56 pm

Still wondering what some of these many irrational decisions I keep making might be.

12 Daniel May 25, 2017 at 4:21 pm

Elvis-
“Science is definitionally rational investigation. If you claim to believe something beyond the realm of science is that not the definition of irrational?”

Let’s say I’m put in a room and told to push one of two buttons, one of which will kill me, the other of which won’t, and if I don’t push any button I die. No amount of “rational investigation” will tell me which button to push, yet pushing one over the other isn’t “irrational.” The point is that when “rational investigation” (of which science is a particular type) can only get you so far and life forces you to go further, making decisions isn’t irrational as much as *non*-rational.

Now, if I knew one button was 40% likely to kill me and the other 60%, and I picked the latter, that would be irrational. So acting “irrationally” to me means to go *against* what reason tells you or to pick an option that reason rules out. To simply go *beyond* reason (or “the realm of science”) isn’t to go *against* it, so I’d rather call that non-rational or a-rational, but not irrational.

How does a hungry dog choose which of two equidistant, equally appetizing bowls of food to move towards? How do you decide whether to spend your money to buy your sister a gift or feed an African orphan or buy yourself a new golf club? Are these decisions rational? Irrational?

Anselm-
>The term “supernatural” itself denotes something that is unexplainable in nature, science or rational analysis/reason. It is fundamentally erroneous then to insist that the ‘supernatural’ label merely reflects a temporal lack of sufficient natural evidence, human investigation and rational analysis.

I didn’t insist that the ‘supernatural’ label merely reflects a temporal lack of sufficient natural evidence, human investigation and rational analysis. I’m not sure of your point, but perhaps if you consider the way I’m trying to use the terms rational (i.e., reason or proof gets you all the way to the answer), irrational (i.e., reason or proof gets you all the way to rejecting the answer), and non-rational (i.e., reason or proof can’t get you to either accept or reject an answer) that will make my point more clear to you (though I’m not convinced that framework isn’t without its flaws or imprecision).

>The supernatural is non-falsifiable. What evidence, if presented, would convince a devout Christian/Moslem/Jew that their God and religion were phony, man-made concepts ?

I don’t think the supernatural is non-falsifiable. For example, I could believe in a supernatural power that allows me to fly by holding a blue pen. I can test that and prove it’s false. There are other supernatural beliefs, however, that are not falsifiable, and I’d think certain interpretations of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are probably among them.

>Human conjecture about the supernatural is much different than religious acceptance/belief/action in such mystical concepts.

You’d have to explain that more for me to have a response. You’re drawing a distinction between “human conjecture” and “religious acceptance” I don’t follow.

>(What “narrow class of religious belief” are you “trying to defend” ?)

Modest ones that don’t ask you to believe things that are verifiably (or, I guess, as close as we can get to verifiably) false. For example, some versions of Christianity, but clearly not all, might ask you to believe that the sun revolves around the Earth or that the Earth as we know it was created over a seven-day period. I’m not trying to defend those in my post above.

13 Aretino May 25, 2017 at 10:30 am

Mysticism is not necessarily a rejection of reason, as there are systems of thought (Platonism, Catholicism) that embrace both mysticism and reason. And of course Catholicism has embraced reason since before the time of Aquinas.

14 Anselm May 25, 2017 at 4:04 pm

“claiming” to embrace both mysticism and reason is different than actually doing so, in fact it’s impossible to do so.

Mysticism is a variation of the concept of supernatural. The term ‘mysticism,’ comes from the Greek μυω, meaning “to conceal.” In the Hellenistic world, ‘mystical’ referred to “secret” religious rituals. In early Christianity the term came to refer to “hidden” allegorical interpretations of Scriptures and to hidden presences, such as that of Jesus at the Eucharist. Only later did the term begin to denote “mystical theology,” which included direct experience of the divine

15 Jim Birch May 25, 2017 at 1:29 am

Good point. If you’re a materialist I can’t imagine there could be much evidence for a god. If you are not a materialist, it becomes a lot harder (I’d guess.)

16 Elvis May 25, 2017 at 2:58 pm

Basically, “atheists are easily on the sensible side of every point, but being right all the time makes them annoying, so maybe the guys who keep on being wrong have a chance.” Smug agnostics really are the best.

I think the author misunderstands the scientific world view. The point is not that we have it all figured out. That we have missed something important that will flip over all the tables is the heart of every scientific revolution in history. There have been many and there will be more. That THIS point of view is somehow parallel with the the proposition that the Bible or Koran etc is the greatest physics text in history is insulting. Not believing in God is not a choice but a logical starting point, like assuming there are no subatomic particles that interact with nothing. The scientific point of view is that no theory of reality however comforting would be considered a plausible point of inquiry with the rationale of ESP, astrology, or religion. The scientist does not “believe” things so much as collects a plausibly set of ideas that can be considered true from which to work from, adding to or deleting from the list as evidence warrants. When even the religious admit to the lack of plausibility of God (hence the word “faith”) why should any logic based person include God in their list of plausibly true things?

There is a frequent misunderstanding in the use of the word “provisional” in describing what a scientist believes, which the religious and agnostic abuse much like Jim Carry in “Dumb and Dumber” when he says, “so you’re saying there’s a chance!” We believed Newton’s laws of motion provisionally until Einstein came along, which we will believe provisionally until the next better *scientific* theory comes along. “Provisional” is an opening for improvement, not for ghosts and fairies. Provisionally you believe your wife when she claims to have gone to work today. That means based on past experience you believe it until you are presented with a good reason not to. It is not a reason to give credence to the theory she is secretly running a child prostitution ring. We go through life with a severely pruned set of possibilities for what is true for 99% of what we think. The scientist finds it weird to suddenly abandon this logical pruning when it comes to so called religious experiences, where suddenly literally anything is to be considered plausible.

I’ve avoided using “atheist” since it is possible to get over one’s skis and claim a religious like certainty. I haven’t found any atheist who would have a problem with the above “scientific view” and suspect if you’ve encountered a “religious atheist” it is most likely an artifact from arguing too long with people who have weak regard for facts, logic, etc.

17 Daniel May 25, 2017 at 3:09 pm

That’s all well and good as long as you can get through life never having to make a decision on a question to which the scientific method hasn’t yet (or, Science forbid, can’t) be applied.

18 Elvis May 25, 2017 at 3:41 pm

What were the last 3 decisions you made that were not based on some logical reason or were random (like trying a new movie you know nothing about)?

19 Daniel May 25, 2017 at 3:57 pm

The only “random” decisions I can think of are deciding who would serve first in a tennis match. I don’t think I make random decisions and don’t consider deciding to see a movie without much knowledge about the movie “random.” If I knew what you were getting at, I could probably answer the question more helpfully, but as it is I’m stuck using what’s possibly an overly rigorous notion of “random.”

I’d say there’s probably also a “logical reason” underlying most of my decisions. Of course, if an insane person is convinced aliens are after him, it’s “logical” for him to hide from them, though the belief the aliens are out to get him may be illogical. Are the relative values I assign to things like friendship, comfort, esteem, affection, charity, beauty, etc., “logical”? I’m not sure, but if you accept those values as a starting point, I make logical decisions on how to achieve these values and balance among them when the compete. I certainly haven’t used the scientific method to assign those values in any direct way, nor is it readily apparent to me how that would be possible.

I’m very wary of people muddling the concepts of science and logic.

20 Lawrence Kesteloot May 25, 2017 at 12:54 am

> I don’t feel a resulting gap or absence in my life. That I strongly suspect is for genetic reasons…

Can you elaborate on this? (The genetic part specifically.)

21 Zach May 25, 2017 at 7:13 am

He’s probably referring to the fact that he doesn’t feel a deep emptiness without belief in a diety. He seems to imply that he believes such feelings or lack are genetic and heritable.

22 Henry May 25, 2017 at 9:36 am

There appears to be some evidence that very spiritually religious have some variant of the schizoid gene. See Sapolsky
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WwAQqWUkpI

23 Nick May 25, 2017 at 11:13 pm
24 UncleMartyPants May 25, 2017 at 12:57 am

Do you believe in love, Tyler? I find the answer to this question from non-believers more interesting than why they don’t believe in God.

25 Jeju May 25, 2017 at 1:05 am

Great follow up question. Please, pick this one up, Tyler! But could you maybe specify how you define love? Or is that already part of the question?

26 WFreeland May 25, 2017 at 1:42 am

***Bump***

I’d also be interested in Tyler’s thoughts on love, though really just in a general sense, rather than in reference to his characteristicaly interesting thoughts on theism.

27 Cpt Obvious May 25, 2017 at 7:29 am

Love is the opposite of capitalism (aka, satanism).

28 Minister of Love May 25, 2017 at 8:38 am

I can confirm this.

29 Scott Mauldin May 25, 2017 at 9:48 am

I am a non-believer, and believe that love is a phenomenon of biochemistry and physiology with perfectly material causes and effects. That said, I believe that said phenomenon is potent and capable of motivating both the individual and large groups to engage in herculean endeavors. So I believe in love and the immense power thereof, but I don’t see any reason to think it transcends physical explanation.

30 Elvis May 25, 2017 at 3:09 pm

This seems kind of obvious. What else is love supposed to be, a magical fluid? A good movie will produce strong emotional reactions even while we are fully aware this is a 100% artificial construct. Is that more magical fluid? Just because love is a physical and not supernatural phenomenon does not make it any less enjoyable. Eating chocolate or laughing at a joke is not made less pleasant because deep down you know it has nothing to do with Jesus.

31 UncleMartyPants May 25, 2017 at 3:46 pm

Is love, then, and evolutionary mistake? Especially when it hurts one’s self interests. Now that humans have evolved to understand that love is simply a product of biochemistry, shouldn’t we just ignore it? And has the natural evolutionary development of love run its course and no longer needed?

32 Elvis May 26, 2017 at 12:54 am

This is weird. Why would you imagine such a basic and common human biochemical activity was a mistake? Human infants are a tremendous burden relative to other mammals, taking years to become independent. If there were some biochemical reaction that kept the father around this would certainly be advantageous to perpetuating the species.

When ducks take aggressive interest in the welfare of their young we would smirk at calling this “love”, calling this anthropomorphizing. But perhaps the problem here is not humanizing ducks but deifying humans, imagining we are something magical beyond animals. Genetically we are 99% the same as apes and have the same ancestors, yet somehow this particular instinctive behavior is something exalted and magical relative to our cousins.

Human love is still a vastly more glorious experience but it is not because we are magical but because we can think. Consider eating. Nobody would say that duck hunger is fundamentally different from human hunger, but because we can think our experience in reacting to it has become vastly more complex.

33 Mengsk May 25, 2017 at 11:33 am

I’m not sure why this would be interesting. Love to be about as real as any other emotion that has an object, like affection, fear, or hatred.

Also, obligatory:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tKjZuykKY1I

34 Nick May 25, 2017 at 11:15 pm

I believe in the episode of the Ezra Klein podcast he did, he talks about love.

35 Larry Siegel May 26, 2017 at 12:25 am

The hypothesis “love doesn’t exist” can be falsified by one observation, mine. The hypothesis “God doesn’t exist” could be falsified by one convincing observation but that has not (yet) taken place.

36 Elvis May 26, 2017 at 1:11 am

Do you believe the universe of full of a kind of matter that does not interact with normal mater in any way? Your position is nonsensical. You construct something that cannot be observed and dare us to prove it doesn’t exist. Sorry, I’ve got better things to do.

Maybe you can tell us if God can create a rock so large he can’t lift it.

37 Elvis May 26, 2017 at 1:17 am

Your position is nonsensical. You construct something that cannot be observed and dare us to prove it doesn’t exist. Do you believe the universe of full of a kind of matter that does not interact with normal mater in any way? Sorry, I’ve got better things to do.

Maybe you can tell us if God can create a rock so large he can’t lift it.

38 Brian May 25, 2017 at 12:57 am

I think seeing the “net benefits” of religion for individuals and society might be close to describing the feelings of many “believers” anyway. What is belief? It is acknowledgment of doubt, but with a hope.

39 Daniel May 25, 2017 at 9:50 am

I agree with your last sentiment and find that many believers and non-believers get this wrong. To say you “believe” something is different than saying you “know” it. Any sophisticated experience of “faith” has as much to do with doubt as it does with belief.

40 BOb4 May 25, 2017 at 7:03 pm

Conventional religions do not express any “doubt” about their tenets.

Belief is a denial of doubt.

But since belief in things supernatural is irrational, such believers have no method to sort or analyze those thoughts & doubts. They take comfort in their muddled confusion, wishfully believing they have somehow now understood a segment of the imagined supernatural.

41 Daniel May 25, 2017 at 9:59 pm

To say conventional religions don’t express doubt about their tenets is to miss a fundamental part of religious belief. Can you conceive of a distinction between belief and knowledge? You can say you believe something if you think it’s 51% likely to be true, whereas to say you know something would imply you think something approaching 100% likely to be true. So a religious *belief*, in contrast to knowledge, leaves room for as much as 49% doubt, even assuming you always “believe” your religion’s tenets.

Faith is an aspiration, much like the commandment to love God with all your heart, soul, strength, etc. Christianity is as much or more about coping with the inability to fulfill the commandments and the imperative of faithfulness as it is about actually fulfilling them. So I think you’re wrong to suggest that doubt isn’t a fundamental part of religious belief, just as sin/fallen-ness is even though religions don’t actually expose doubt or sin.

Do you mind explaining to me why any belief in something supernatural is irrational? Can you conceive of a scenario in which you’d have to make a decision without any evidence or logic to point you in either direction? How would you do it? Would either decision be irrational (i.e., against rationality) or would it simply be non-rational (i.e., neither against nor grounded in rationality)?

Finally, it doesn’t seem true to me that believers have no method to sort or analyze supernatural beliefs. Some beliefs in supernatural things are irrational, not merely non-rational. If I told you I had a rock that gave me a supernatural ability to fly or gain financial prosperity or raise the dead, we could test those supernatural claims, couldn’t we? But if I said there is an intelligence that precedes time and space, that’s much harder to test. Competing supernatural beliefs might also be embedded in moral claims that we find more or less persuasive. So, for example, you may be less inclined to believe in a god that claims to be good but commands things you consider evil. Or you may think loving others as you love yourself is nonsensical. So this is another type of analysis by which you could sort supernatural beliefs, even when they go beyond the sorts of claims you can test scientifically. Last, imagine I ask you to press one of two buttons, one of which will kill you and one of which won’t, and you have no evidence on which to decide which is which. Now say one is up ten flights of stairs and the other is right beside you. Even though the stairs have no rational relationship to whether the close button is the right one, wouldn’t it be sensible for you to pick that one rather than the less convenient one, since you have to make a decision, and you don’t have any evidentiary or logical basis on which to decide which will kill you? (I don’t think you can actually decide to have the belief that the close button is truly correct, but this is at least a sensible way to sort competing supernatural beliefs.)

42 Student May 25, 2017 at 10:50 am

I’all second this comment. It’s a Bayesian viewpoint too albeit one with little data. Reasoning about a hypothesis whose truth or falsified is unknown… yet the individual has a strong prior based on hope.

43 Justin May 25, 2017 at 11:26 am

I agree with the above. I often find in common use, the phrase “I believe” is equivalent to “I know”. Very interesting conversations can be had breaking the two apart, especially if the person is struggling with “doubt”.

44 Elvis May 25, 2017 at 3:22 pm

Belief is an acknowledgement that when convenient you are willing to abandon logic, evidence, and the importance of repeatability.

One can never be sure that your wife isn’t secretly a serial killer, but that “doubt” is rarely granted some mystical status.

Coming up with reasons sentient beings aware of their mortality might exalt this “doubt with hope” are easy enough to come by without forcing false meaning onto it.

45 Nick May 25, 2017 at 11:22 pm

Clearly you did not grow up in a Baptist tradition, or I think an Evangelical tradition more generally.

They do not talk about religion as a Bayesian probability calculation, they talk about a PERSONAL relationship with Jesus, an ABSOLUTE knowledge that *this is how the world is*, about knowing you’ve been SAVED.

There is no doubt, because who could doubt the Word of God? It’s the Word of God, after all.

46 Thanatos Savehn May 25, 2017 at 1:06 am

Define “God” and we’ll have something worth talking about. Otherwise we’ll just talk past each other, acccomplishing nothing.

47 dearieme May 25, 2017 at 5:24 am

Quite. It’s gods I disbelieve in, not some vague “God”. Every god I’ve heard of is rubbish, tosh, baloney, twaddle, and usually a nasty piece of work into the bargain. Maybe one will come along that I find plausible and decent but that’s not the way to bet. I’m happy to call myself an atheist: anything else seems too limp-wristed for the firmness of my rejection of Odin, Zeus, Jehovah, and company.

48 Melmoth May 25, 2017 at 7:26 am

Crom

49 bellisaurius May 25, 2017 at 8:49 am

I think this is really the key question.

Personally, it was one of the more enlightening questions in my adolescence. I ended up discovering Thales’ answer to the question “God is that which has no beginning or end”, and went from there. It took me somewhere in the deism/pantheism portion of things, but it’s kept me intellectually satisfied which I’ve appreciated.

50 chris May 25, 2017 at 10:46 am

the main tenet of “God” is that whatever God is, even if nonexistent, it is undefinable. It is indeed worth talking about but not in a deductive way; instead the concept of God can be approached by pushing the frontiers of human thought (e.g. through science, or even just a keen observation of the experience of living), which can help understand the outlines of the undefinable.

51 Dabe May 25, 2017 at 1:11 am

Vis-a-vis “Militant Atheism”… I’ve taken to using the term, “Atheologist” — I’m not Anti-GOD, /per se/; I’m Anti-*RELIGION*.

Or as I heard it explained to a child: “Yes, there *IS* a[t least one] ‘God’… But anybody who tells you what ‘He’ is, is lying.”

52 dan1111 May 25, 2017 at 7:45 am

They probably didn’t even notice the irony in their confident rejection of everyone else’s claims of certainty.

53 Henry May 25, 2017 at 9:37 am

@Dabe. I like that! Atheologist. You’ve rewritten my narrative

54 Will May 25, 2017 at 1:13 am

Stopped reading at point 2b. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Sam Harris follower and I think the new atheists are making a bad name of atheism, and I’m inclined to call myself a “non-believer” for that reason. But that ol’ chestnut about “atheism is just another religion” has always been, and still is, cringeworthy.

55 2050 May 25, 2017 at 8:19 am

“Atheism” (i.e., without theism) is a quite satisfactory term in itself, but has accumulated so much social stigma that it is often unhelpful in communication. “Non-Theist” seems a better term.

[ theism (noun)
from 1670s, “belief in a deity or deities,” (as opposed to atheism); by 1711 as “belief in one god” (as opposed to polytheism); by 1714 as “belief in the existence of God as creator and ruler of the universe” (as opposed to deism), the usual modern sense; see theist + -ism.

Theism assumes a living relation of God to his creatures, but does not define it. It differs from deism in that the latter is negative and involves a denial of revelation, while the former is affirmative, and underlies Christianity. One may be a theist and not be a Christian, but he cannot be a Christian and not be a theist.]

56 derek May 25, 2017 at 9:29 am

Religious is as religious does. I was amazed listening to Dawkins give a talk at how similar it was to a religious sermon; from the cadence, the appeal to mystery, the inside language, to the satisfied self righteousness of the crowd. A mixture between Catholicism and Southern Baptist.

Many belief systems essentially come down to a way to explain why what I want to do is righteous. But they also are communities of mutual support; sometimes tribal in the extreme. The rigorously secular viewpoints and communities have many parallels to religious communities.

The Manchester situation is an interesting example of two religious manifestations; one which provides a moral justification for murder, a reward for giving one’s life. The other is an equally rigid desire to fit the events into a worldview, a faith. Neither make sense, both end up doing enormous harm. Both use any power at their disposal to force the unfaithful onto the desired path.

Who has the ‘truth’, who is right, wrong, objective etc. is essentially meaningless. Who would have imagined two generations ago as secularism and unbelief became the benchmark that Obama’s campaign would model itself on the examples of vigorous evangelism of religious groups?

57 Elvis May 26, 2017 at 1:45 am

The problem with people like Dawkins is that they insist on a life centered on logic and evidence. This has the unfortunate side effect of making people living lives centered on something else looking like apes trying to figure out carbonated water.

58 Daniel May 25, 2017 at 12:28 pm

Care to elaborate? Perhaps TC paints with too broad a brush, but you seem to concede that, for some atheists, what TC said is true. If atheism means only “not theism,” then it’s not fair to characterize it as another religion. If, however, it means “the opposite of theism,” then I do think you could call it a religion because it’s asking people to form affirmative beliefs on questions that are, by definition, beyond our ability to prove either with sufficient evidence or through pure reason. And surely that applies to at least some atheists.

59 Elvis May 26, 2017 at 1:33 am

What annoys me are people who base their ideas on the nature of the universe on whether they find a particular proponent annoying. Harris can be a bit of a nut when he gets away from his area of expertise, but on religion he seems extremely well read and sensible. What people find annoying about this I can’t imagine.

60 efim polenov May 25, 2017 at 1:20 am

I thought you believed 5 percent in God? Which is actually more than most of my co-religionists, probably ….

61 Ryan May 25, 2017 at 1:29 am

Your thoughts ring true to me, as someone who was raised in a Catholic family and now identifies as an atheist (more fitting your description of “non-believer”).

I first started doubting Catholicism in high school for a few reasons. 1) There were logical inconsistencies in the dogma. For example, if a Pope is infallible, how can a later Pope ever say something different? 2) Since my parents were divorced and I had a lot of gay friends in high school, I couldn’t reconcile the Church’s condemnation of these people with my respect for them. 3) I went to a national conference, and the whole fair atmosphere with monks handing out decks of cards with there monastery’s name, etc., felt incongruent.

I spent a few years after that looking into other religions, but found nothing satisfying. Every major religion has some core belief that seems utterly false to me. They all make claims that are supposed to be universal and incontrovertible, but none explain the variety of human experience. The human-centric aspect of most people’s religious beliefs also seems at odds with humanity’s relatively small role in the universe, both in terms of time and space.

Deciding that I didn’t believe felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders. This may be more of a Catholic thing, but it was freeing to be able to shake off those apparently arbitrary principles, rituals, etc., and to decide for myself what was right and wrong.

I’m also perfectly content with the fact that people don’t know certain things. Religious apologists often argue that, since scientific endeavors haven’t given us an explanation for why we exist, why we’re often nice to each other, or why we have conscious thoughts, there must be something greater orchestrating this that we cannot know. This is not a proof of God, it’s a proof of ignorance. If people recognized their own ignorance more often, that would certainly have a net benefit to society.

62 Mike C. May 25, 2017 at 6:16 am

I had a similar experience where I rejected Catholicism and could find nothing else satisfying. You can imagine my surprise when 17 years later I experienced a revelation of sorts, started looking back into things, and found that explanations do exist for all of the issues that were causing me trouble. Now I feel a weight has been added back to my shoulders, the mission to enlighten others. I’m still just learning how, but I’m fairly motivated by the whole experience, which has brought increased levels of joy to my life, which was already pretty good to begin with. I hope you can remain open to the same thing.

63 Student May 25, 2017 at 10:21 am

I had a very similar experience(s).

64 Daniel May 25, 2017 at 9:56 am

It’s not surprising that in your high school years you’d be more troubled by the logical inconsistencies, incongruities, etc. imposed on your religious beliefs than you’d be drawn to the potential of religious belief to answer deeper questions about meaning. I wonder if, as you age, you’ll be drawn back to religious (more specifically Christian) bases for evaluating your life’s meaning and will have less trouble discarding interpretations and traditions that have been grafted onto Christianity but are clearly not essential to it.

65 John May 25, 2017 at 10:38 am

1. A later pope would not be able to contradict the infallible statements of a previous pope. Catholics would argue that it has never happened. As a dead pope’s words can be parsed any number of ways, it’s possible to logically hold to that belief. At any rate, papal infallibility along with contraception, are two of the most disregarded teachings of the Church among Catholics.
2a. Divorce is not condemned by the Catholic Church so much as it’s not recognized. Remarriage is condemned for the reason that it’s a breach of the marital vow of fidelity. It’s entirely reasonable in any ethical framework to condemn such breaches. Other religions and even Pope Francis would like to tamp down on the penalties of the breach or recognize that vows may not always been taken with the seriousness of purpose demanded but few, even non-theists, would attack the idea of some wrongness to breaking vows in principle.
2b. The Catholic Church does not condemn gay attraction but condemns sex not open to the possibility of procreation. That includes straight contraceptive sex. Unfortunately for Catholics, this broader condemnation based on an Aristotelian view of the purpose of sex, is often lumped together with Evangelical condemnation of homosexuality based on divine revelation through scripture alone.

66 Student May 25, 2017 at 10:47 am

+1.

I’d also like to reiterate your point on homosexual orientation because this issue is one of the parts that most troubles me. I feel for a person in this situation. To be made basically a “eunuch” at birth would be tough. However, the church doesn’t see a homosexual any differently than a heterosexual using artificial contraception or a person who is remarried and copulating. It is the judgemental types that would rather point out the speck in someone else’s eye rather than focus on the plank their own that elevates this issue above all others.

67 asdf May 25, 2017 at 11:06 am

Are there any heterosexual fornicator pride parades where Catholic clergy give speeches about how brave and just such behavior is?

It seems that fornication and divorce are considered bad in Catholic teaching, but like anything else its a practical decision of what to do about it. People need to get married and have families so that humans exist, try to get a billion people to do that and you’ve have some failures.

By contrast, gay sex doesn’t serve any purpose to society. It amuses the participants themselves I suppose, but it creates no children and it leads to STDs and other social problems at very high rates. To the extent heterosexuals perceive such gay norms and proper or even high status it brings pain to the heterosexual community as well.

Anyway, I think the Catholic church is VERY familiar is gays. 1/3 of its priests are gay and its a complete scandal what that has led to.

68 Student May 25, 2017 at 11:42 am

Oy vey

69 P Burgos May 25, 2017 at 11:11 am

While it may be true that the church doesn’t make any real distinction made between the sinfulness of homosexual sex versus extra-marital heterosexual sex, is it really true that church-goers don’t make this kind of a distinction, in contradiction to church teaching? And if church goers and diocesan priests do make this kind of distinction, does the Church’s official teaching even matter?

70 Student May 25, 2017 at 11:28 am

If a student of mathematics doesn’t multiply or divide correctly, does that mean teaching mathematics doesn’t matter?

71 P Burgos May 25, 2017 at 12:48 pm

Following your analogy, the question is more what we think of the mathematics teacher whose students don’t know how to multiply or divide? This isn’t to say that the Church’s teachings or wrong or right, but more to say that to many people, if the pews are filled with homophobes, what the curia teaches and believes doesn’t really change the hostility that a gay person would feel walking into a church, and hence the Church’s teachings don’t matter. I mean, if the Church’s teachings don’t even matter to churchgoers, why should anyone outside of the church take them seriously (granted that churchgoers and the faithful should take them seriously but don’t)?

72 8 May 25, 2017 at 5:39 pm

Have you heard of Hobby Lobby? Society decides the issue of the day, not the Church. If it were up to the Church, homosexuality wouldn’t be much of an issue because discussing sexuality in public, of any kind, would be taboo. Also, the sin of homosexuality is celebrated to an extent that maybe only abortion and pornography are celebrated, and the Church appears very vocal on those two as well.

But sure, if you want we can go all hellfire and brimstone on things like missing Mass on Sunday, but I don’t think you’ll like how that adjusts the Overton Window.

73 Student May 25, 2017 at 6:23 pm

Clearly you haven’t been to a Catholic Church in a while. Discussing sex is taboo? Guess you have never been to an Natural Family Planning info session or noticed many Catholics have a half a dozen kids even now.

74 Dan May 25, 2017 at 1:42 am

There appears to be a tension between points 2 and 5. How do you translate “non-believer” into probabilities? Or “it won’t get me to belief”? How does a Bayesian distinguish between “direct rejection of some specific beliefs” and “I do not hold those beliefs”?

75 Anon May 25, 2017 at 7:40 am

I would interpret a bayesian saying “I don’t belive in god” as “I put so low probability on god existing that its’ effect on my decision making is negligible.” A true bayesian, of course, never believes or disbelieves anything with hundred percent probability, but when one needs to communicate with other (mostly non-bayesian) people, just “I don’t believe in god” is good enough approximation.

76 Thursday May 25, 2017 at 1:52 am

I hope you take up Edward Feser’s Five Proofs of the Existence of God when it comes out, perhaps in tandem with David Bentley Hart’s The Experience of God. I might throw in Jonathan Lear’s book on Aristotle too. The best arguments for the existence of God are metaphysical.

77 Thursday May 25, 2017 at 1:54 am
78 Judy Jones May 25, 2017 at 1:56 am

Recently, thanks to politics, rather than religion. I have realised how fond we humans are of ignoring information we don’t like. Even to the point of distorting our perception of reality to the point of absurdity, to maintain our own beliefs. Therefore I no longer believe there is such a thing as a totally rational human. We have all created our own personal realities. All of us, even me!

Religions are community activities, when they are used to control our own behaviour, in a virtuous way, they have use, when they are used to control other people’s behaviour they become a lot more dangerous. But the same goes for many other methods of controlling society, including politics. But societies need to have some form of organisation, because otherwise there is chaos, and no one thrives.

Given the endless capacity of human to deny what we don’t want to know, there is just no way a human could ever know whether or not there is some ultimate being, or energy force, as I like to think of it. You can destroy religion if you want, and there are some religions, especially those that want to control others, that need sorting out. But on the whole believing in a benign god, and controlling our own behaviour to fit in with what we think that god wants, is a fairly harmless activity, and may even be beneficial. Because it allows us to create a set of guidelines to live by, and given the complexity of the world, and our inability to understand it, can create an opportunity to utilise a form of prayer, and consultation with out intuition, that has advantages over relying on more materialistic values to guide us. So I’m of the view that if God didn’t exist we’d try to invent it.

There is a risk in abandoning a reasonably benign christian god with a less benign belief system. The desire to create a utopian society, one with open borders where everyone loves each other, is an example of a desire to replace the old god with a new god. But this utopian vision is flawed, it’s easy to believe in, but cannot cope with real life problems. Which leads to the Nietzsche type argument that once you replace the more flexible god, who can speak to our intuition, and who responds to day to day issues, with an inflexible theory, you create an ugly mix of piety and nihilism.

So if you don’t mind I’ll stick to a benign christian god who allows people to manage their own behaviour. Does he exist? well, who knows, we have no idea, at this point in the existence of humanity, how much we don’t know. We are going through a stage in science of thinking we have found out enough to argue that some form of god doesn’t exist. But that might just be wishful thinking, and vanity, as we don’t know what else we don’t know.

79 Anonymous May 25, 2017 at 1:58 am

When I first heard the phrase “the brain is not a truth engine, it is a survival engine” I was offended. I thought that since adolescence I had been working on my “truth engine.” Maybe I still do.

But I think that sometimes “useful truths” can be “valid” even when not definitely true. That is why as an agnostic I try not to undermine anyone’s comforting faith. (And of course, as an agnostic, they might be right.)

Still, I think it is something to consider. You might think some question of truth is a gray area, but the personal and social benefit of one belief might be more clear. Why not believe the beneficial thing?

Why not go to Lutheran Church on Sunday? Why not believe people are people no matter their color?

Some will suggest that we mere mortals can decide the truth, damn the consequences, but that is a great gamble, not just for ourselves but all around us.

80 Anonymous May 25, 2017 at 2:02 am

On a bit of a vibe with Judy, above.

81 kim May 25, 2017 at 2:58 am

Got one question for non believers……..Where do animals come from? Who created them? We all was created through someone

82 Miguel Madeira May 25, 2017 at 5:30 am

An “animal” is little more than a chemical crystal with the propriety of, reacting with the external world, create more molecules with the same chemical composition. These kind of substance could occur by chance (specially in a scale of millions of years), and, after occur, they perpetuate and replicate (by definition)

83 Cpt Obvious May 25, 2017 at 7:35 am

If you really think thats what an animal is, well what can I say…The thing that you forget completely is that our science is still very very limited, and what we know is much less than what we don’t know…

84 Brian Donohue May 25, 2017 at 8:47 am

“little more than”? Compared to what, FFS?

Life (animal and other) blows away everything else in the known universe.

“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

85 Anonymous May 25, 2017 at 7:20 am

Kim, the animals were created by the computer that runs the simulation we live in.

86 ttt May 25, 2017 at 2:23 pm

Evolution.. check it out

87 Joe Carter May 25, 2017 at 3:18 am

***I am frustrated by the lack of Bayesianism in most of the religious belief I observe. ***

Here’s a Bayesian take on the probability of the existence of God: https://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2010/08/the-probability-of-god

88 Jacob May 25, 2017 at 9:49 am

“Unwin begins with a 50 percent probability that God exists.”

…this needs more justification.

At any rate, this is a better approach to thinking in a Bayesian way about god: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ew_cNONhhKI See, circa 34:00 in particular.

89 Jacob May 25, 2017 at 9:50 am

And, yes, I did read his responses to that very objection. But he still did not justify it.

90 Jacob May 25, 2017 at 10:00 am

For example, he states, “One problem that I see with this approach is that if I start from a 50-50 prior probability, I should state which god am I talking about. If I’m going to be totally “neutral” with respect to the triune God of the Bible, I should also be “neutral” with respect Allah, Zeus, Loki, Baal, and every other god I can think of. … The short answer: Yes.”

But Allah and the triune god of the Bible are inconsistent. One claims you go to hell if you don’t believe Jesus was crucified and resurrected, the other claims you go to hell if you do. Thus if they are both 50/50, it’s one or the other, as there can’t be overlap. If they were independent it’d be 25% chance of both. This is an incoherent stance. There are loads of problems with this approach…

91 JCC May 25, 2017 at 3:23 am

Being an African man, raised by a religious mother and a pastor father while surrounded by all sorts of African deities I couldn’t help but believe in the “other world” but when I was a teenager I stopped going to the church and started to read the bible and religious texts more and more and it inserted more doubt in me and now I don’t really believe in extraterrestrial powers (celestial powers if you prefer) influencing our lives and my relationship with religion is merely cultural.

92 Ari T May 25, 2017 at 5:00 am

Here’re few discussions about the same matter with Tyler and Rober Wright:

http://bloggingheads.tv/videos/2138

Bob’s new book, “The Evolution of God” 9:34
On being a bad secular Buddhist 3:28
The God Bob believes in 3:17
Why agnostic Tyler loves the Hebrew Bible 3:26
How Bob and Tyler came to their personal theologies 6:49
Quantum physics and king-sized video games as paths to God 7:42

93 prior_test2 May 25, 2017 at 5:36 am

A Catholic would be aware that faith is a gift from God (let’s just avoid that whole trinity thing, ok?), and not something under any person’s control.

For the cynical, it may look like the Catholic Church is just covering its bases as far as possible, however.

94 Dick the Butcher May 25, 2017 at 11:11 am

I am trying to be a Catholic.

Today (a holy day of obligation, i.e., mandatory Mass) the Gospel reading says that the disciples went to the mountain, as Jesus ordered, and worshiped Him there, even though they doubted – exhibiting their humanity. I can doubt and still have faith.

Faith is a gift. Also, free will is a gift. Maybe God doesn’t desire to force Himself on humanity. We can accept or decline the gift of faith.

The Trinity is a mystery that cannot be comprehended or explained by rationality.

On God, in general, if one cannot believe that an eternal supreme being exists, i.e., that there cannot exist a being that has no beginning and no end. Then, how can one explain the Universe? Either the Universe always was or the eternal God created everything out of nothing. Again, little of this can be comprehended or explained by human reason.

However, I cannot comprehend how people can deny that God exists, and concomitantly cling to rank mythologies/superstitions, e.g., the government can solve our problems.

The Rosary, in addition to saying many prayers (Aves, Pater Nosters, Glorias, etc.) is filled with meditations on the Mysteries/treasures of grace of our Redemption. The First Glorious Mystery is The Resurrection; we desire a strong faith; we meditate on Christ’s Resurrection when three days after His death, He rose from the tomb and for 40 days appeared to Mary and the disciples. The Second is the Ascension: desire the virtue of hope. We meditate on the ascension of Jesus 40 days after His Glorious Resurrection, in the presence of Mary and the disciples.

95 prior_test2 May 25, 2017 at 5:42 am

Nice way to slide around Buddhism, where faith is essentially required, but not faith in god/s.

96 avolokiteshvara May 25, 2017 at 9:10 am

faith in what, precisely? and which style of Buddhism do you mean? it isn’t a monolithic like the Catholic Church.

the most distinctive feature of Buddhism is that it is based on experience derived from individuals practices, of which meditation is the most prominent.

97 prior_test2 May 25, 2017 at 9:53 am

‘faith in what, precisely’

Existence of a soul, plus the broad idea of reincarnation. Not every Buddhist believes this, nor needs to of course, but in the main, the major schools do, to a greater or lesser extent.

None of it is mandatory, of course.

‘it isn’t a monolithic like the Catholic Church.’

It isn’t even as monolithic as the Abrahamic religions, all of which share the same god.

The main reason for bringing up Buddhism is that a belief or unbelief or disbelief of god/gods is a question of no import at all to Buddhist beliefs.

98 Intensive Purposes May 25, 2017 at 10:47 am

Buddhism without the idea of an endless cycle of birth, death, re-birth, etc. is basically Stoicism. Most American Buddhists westernize Buddhism by dropping the uncomfortable bits (to Western ears) of Buddhism like reincarnation and karma.

99 prior_test2 May 25, 2017 at 11:13 am

Sure – but to believe in reincarnation pretty much implies a soul, and to believe in either pretty much requires faith.God/s, however, are not required at all.

The Dalai Lama has actually complained about this – ‘Most American Buddhists westernize Buddhism’ – though he was talking about younger Westerners in general when noting that reincarnation is not about being able to party over multiple life times.

100 Jaldhar May 25, 2017 at 10:54 am

[Disclaimer: apart from a couple of popular books by e.g. the Dalai Lama, most of my knowledge of Buddhism comes from Sanskrit polemics by Hindu philosophers.]

> Existence of a soul

The Buddhist denial of a permanent self (atma which more or less maps to the western concept of soul) is the major bone of contention between them and astikas (“Hindus”) How then does reincarnation occur? There is the motif of the alata (firebrand.) When whirled round and round it gives an observer the illusion of a circle of flame but there is actually only one flame which momentarily occupies a particular position. The whirling is karma (volitional action whether “religious” or “secular”) and the flame is the effects of those actions. As effects can outlast their cause, it is possible for the bundle of actions to known as a person to take on another form after the current form is ended. Only enlightenment through cessation of action can end this cycle.

> a belief or unbelief or disbelief of god/gods is a question of no import at all to Buddhist beliefs.

All historical Buddhist cultures have believed in Gods and a wide variety of other supernatural beings. The earliest archeological monuments we have are replete with representations of them. The earliest sutras mention them. The first Buddhist emperor Ashoka referred to himself as Devanampriya (“beloved of the Gods.”) and so on. One could argue that this is just the cultural context Buddhism found itself in and its not essential (e.g. in China and Japan Buddhism embedded itself in Taoism, Shinto etc. instead of Hinduism) and “true” Buddhism can exist without such things but this strikes me as just special pleading on behalf of the California school.

And that’s not even going into Tantric Buddhism such as found in Tibet. While still paying lip service to the idea of void. Tantra definitely believes in Gods.

101 prior_test2 May 25, 2017 at 11:19 am

I am not a Buddhist either, but the Tibetan Buddhists tend to be at a certain extreme in many matters, apparently.

‘All historical Buddhist cultures have believed in Gods and a wide variety of other supernatural beings.’

Absolutely – but it has nothing to do with Buddhism itself. I definitely go with the cultural aspect, as the examples show.

‘but this strikes me as just special pleading on behalf of the California school’

California school? I’m not finding anything by this name, but your examples seem to make the point that it is not special pleading.

102 Jan May 25, 2017 at 5:48 am

Good explanation. For me, I find #s 1, 3 and 5 most relevant. But I also agree with the sentiment that religion in general can be good for society (though there are exceptions and terrorism in the name of religion has cost this country many lives and trillions of dollars.)

103 Sam M May 25, 2017 at 5:50 am

From my teenage years I was a committed atheist and thought I would always be so. However in my early 40’s I had a defining spiritual experience after a long period of psychodynamic psychotherapy, independent of any religious influence, and in the absence of drug use. I now see spirituality and the acceptance of god as a form of psychological openness and capacity to regress in order to access the experience. In our current form we can only perceive god to a degree. My view is a much greater conception of god awaits us all once we are dead and live purely symbolically. My view of atheists now is they are often intelligent, and as a consequence have a number of intellectual defences which renders them less able to access spiritual aspects of themselves.

104 Mike C. May 25, 2017 at 6:20 am

Congratulations! How would you recommend attaining a similar experience, or passing it on, say to my children?

105 Alan May 25, 2017 at 7:02 am

Taoist meditative practice will allow you to induce an experience very similar to a near death experience. I’ve done it. I make no claims about how “real” it might have been. Nor do I rule out a psychotic event as cause. But for me it remains meaningful in my life.

106 Student May 25, 2017 at 10:31 am

It’s hard to respond to these types of things in brevity but…

IMO, listening in silence.

I guess one could say something much like meditation. It could also be an extended periods of meditatio and contemplatio (in something akin to lectio devina) but I also find it helpful to simply express a question, problem, thought, or feeling about some given thing and then just do nothing whatsoever but wait and listen. If nothing comes, move along and come back later.

One might check out works like: the cloud of unknowing, spiritual canticle, ascent of mount Carmel, dark night of the soul, the spiritual excersizes, etc.

107 mycologist May 25, 2017 at 1:08 pm

the genus Psilocybe

108 Sam M May 25, 2017 at 8:38 pm

I think there are two way to achieve this. One is through psychoanalytic/psychodynamic psychotherapy and the other through meditation. You could even combine the two. It may take some time. I live in Australia and psychotherapy is subsidised by our national health care provider but such care is very expensive in the United States. They both can induce a psychological regression by stripping away psychological defences including intellectual defences. Religious experiences are not often talked about as an outcome of psychotherapy. Some clinicians try to avoid it because psychotic experiences can be dangerous to the patient (and possibly others).

I would warn you that the experience was for a time quite terrifying so it is not to be entered into lightly. However I now see the world from a new perspective. I believe that there is a god who has had a gradual hand in the development of the earth and formation of the oceans, life and finally human consciousness. I think there is form of re-incarnation in plants/animals until human consciousness is achieved. When we die we no longer need to eat or sleep, and in fact suffering (and for atheists fear of death) is a preparation for having to sustain permanent consciousness after death. Ultimately after eons of understanding god we then take on the role of being gods ourselves and become the custodians of another group of humans. Given that you are open to the possibility that god exists you are halfway there.

109 L-word May 25, 2017 at 10:37 pm

Thank you for the candid response.

I am wondering whether you have any insight into why the knowledge about god and the world that you derived from your religious experience is not more readily accessible to human beings.

110 Sam M May 26, 2017 at 12:25 am

You’re welcome. I’ll try to answer you as best as I can. Firstly, these are just my beliefs and thoughts now. I’ve told a couple of friends who were open to the ideas and I got some positive responses. In some ways they are not too dissimilar from traditional religions and other ideas of reincarnation so I don’t think I have found anything new.

From a wider perspective, I think that god only reveals itself to us to only a very small degree, otherwise we would be overwhelmed and would all psychologically disintegrate into psychosis. I think we are all spiritual beings but there is a spectrum on how this is managed. At one end people can become overwhelmed by their spirituality and descend into a psychotic illness like schizophrenia. At the other end you have often very intelligent people who manage their spirituality through denial *(usually unconsciously) and use rational arguments as to why god does not exist.

A great example I think is Prof. Richard Dawkins. He in many ways is an evangelist for atheism. I suspect however that deep down he is quite a spiritual person but cannot accept that part of himself. This group often make terrific contributions to our society and in some ways I think they find meaning in being atheists, so I have no desire to try to convince them of my views of god. The rest of us sit somewhere in the middle, and under the right circumstances, drugs, therapy, meditation, can experience brief periods of psychosis of a religious nature and then re-integrate. This process, while temporarily uncomfortable, can be very meaningful. For those of us who do not gain this experience, the fear of death can be meaningful and will help prepare oneself for the afterlife.

So why is it not readily accessible? Well the mind is very good at avoiding psychotic regression through a number of psychological defences as it is both terrifying and potentially risky. If it wasn’t this way we would all be regressed and society would literally breakdown.

111 Chris May 25, 2017 at 5:52 am

I recommend the Word on Fire podcast for a rational case for God and Catholicism.

https://www.wordonfire.org/

112 Mike C. May 25, 2017 at 6:02 am

As far as recent personal experiences, I find Louis Zamperini’s as described in Lauren Hillenbrand’s book Unbroken:
(https://www.amazon.com/Unbroken-World-Survival-Resilience-Redemption/dp/0812974492) or the documentary film Louis Zamperini: Captured by Grace (https://billygraham.org/video/louis-zamperini-captured-by-grace-trailer/), which he produced with the Billy Graham association, to be very powerful. I’ve heard the film Unbroken doesn’t fully cover the role God/religion play in this incredible story.

Thank you for your post on this, and I would also appreciate one with your thoughts on love.

113 rayward May 25, 2017 at 6:05 am

Here’s a review of a recent book of essays by scientists on the search for extraterrestrial life: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/24/books/review-aliens-search-for-extraterrestrial-life-edited-jim-al-khalili.html? The reviewer suggests that a good title for the book is “Where is Everybody?” Where, indeed. How does this relate to Cowen’s view about God? Well, read the review, and the book. My take-away from the review is that we may have it all wrong. What wrong? The meaning of life. From the review: “But the best of these essays are far out in more ways than one. The very first, by the cosmologist Martin Rees, notes that our best hope for interstellar travel isn’t as humans, who don’t live very long and require far too much fuel to get very far, but as post-humans, who will have made the Kurzweilian transition from organic to inorganic, from decaying mortals to silicon-based, eminently portable machines. He adds that alien intelligence, if we ever detect it, will also be in this form.” AI lives!

114 dearieme May 25, 2017 at 6:22 am

Rees is the Great Mind who managed simultaneously to believe that (i) catastrophic global warming would kill us all, and (ii) the atmosphere would become deadly as a result of the accumulation in it of particulates.

115 Cpt Obvious May 25, 2017 at 8:55 am

Nope. Stargate?

116 Tom G May 25, 2017 at 6:12 am

“It doesn’t stress me, and I don’t feel a resulting gap or absence in my life.” << For a huge number of people, including me, there is (Pascal, Augustine, Jesus) "a God shaped hole in the heart".

More importantly, your non-belief is socially negative and destructive. Perhaps you are among the 1% or so for whom another G.K. Chesterton quote is key:
"When people cease to believe in God, they do not believe in nothing; they believe in anything!"

In your case, Tyler, this might not be so. As you note: "That all said I do accept that religion has net practical benefits for both individuals and societies, albeit with some variance."

I claim that the laws and norms of a successful civilization will help lead the below average intelligent people to avoid making big decisions that are negative for their lives. Your own non-belief helps destroy the culture of belief, and it is belief that stops the less intelligent from choosing so poorly. With less belief, more poor choices.

117 ChrisA May 25, 2017 at 6:22 am

This is silly, you can’t just decide to believe in things or not,. I can’t just decide that I believe in Santa it doesn’t work that way. Maybe you mean that Tyler should be a hypocrite and say he believes even when he doesn’t for the sake of the greater good. Personally I think that strategy would have worse consequences in the long run through than any benefit it might have in the short term.

118 Anon May 25, 2017 at 7:55 am

You might have a point, but what can I (or someone else who doesn’t believe) do? I can’t simply make myself believe. My brains don’t work that way.

119 Daniel May 25, 2017 at 10:23 am

That is a very good question. I’ve thought a lot about how beliefs form at the limits of pure reason or sufficient evidence. I think the first thing to do is to think very seriously about whether the belief we’re talking about is irrational. If it’s irrational, it’s fair to say you probably can’t have a meaningful belief in it. If it’s simply a-rational or non-rational (which is how the post makes it sound), then belief is possible, and you have to think about how you form beliefs that aren’t dictated by rationality. (I believe all of us, theist, atheist, agnostic, etc., have many beliefs that aren’t dictated by our rationality.)

For one thing, I think most non-rational beliefs are formed under some level of duress, i.e., there needs to be some reason for forming them or else we’re content with having no belief at all. For most people, I think that’s that “gap or absence” or “God-shaped hole” mentioned above, which I think is more simply referred to as a need for meaning. As finite beings with a universal ability to contemplate the infinite, it seems inevitable to me than any introspective person will feel this absence at some point in their lives, an existential crisis.

The other thing I’ve noticed in my life is that when I experience profound beauty, it’s harder for me to rule out the infinite dimension most religious beliefs inhabit. Put another way, when I encounter beauty, I have a deeper sense that the perfect/infinite/eternal could be real and that it could somehow involve me. And this makes me more faithful. I admit that this isn’t rational. A beautiful sunset or song or poem isn’t sufficient evidence for the existence of God in any sense. But I don’t think it’s irrational, either, because I’ve already admitted I’m in the realm of things that can’t be proved or known.

In any event, I think it’s too simplistic to say, “Belief in X is useful, so just decide to believe in X,” but I also think it’s too simplistic to leave it at that. If X is at least possible (i.e., not completely ruled out by reason, like “God” or a flying spaghetti monster), I think it’s worthwhile to think the things that might affect belief in X beyond sufficient proof or disproof.

120 Ricardo May 25, 2017 at 8:01 am

Tyler has Straussian sympathies. Religion is a socially useful Noble Lie but, perhaps, Tyler assumes his own views are unlikely to be read by many people who are likely to be swayed away from religion. It is interesting that the Noble Lie argument is the “more important” one in your view.

121 Tom G May 25, 2017 at 9:54 am

Does “God” exist is just like the question: does “Evil” exists? If there is no God, then there is no anti-God which is Evil.
[somewhat like #1]
Most folk do believe that Hitler was Evil — even atheists, which betrays them for having some form of belief.

Anthropologically, it seems likely to me that the clear existence of “evil actions” is one of the key causes for the development of religion,
and the attempt to explain what is evil and what should not be done. Plus to describe what is good.
“human beings anthropomorphize to an excessive degree,” << if there is some God that is not understandable to humans, yet is real,
some simplification / analogy is needed to be used. A simplified model of God is the best any human religion would then be able to be.

All religions do claim that they are "true", and this is needed for the belief. They also all claim to be Good.

God is great, God is good. (…Let us thank him for this food.) I believe that Evil exists, and is against God, who embodies Good — I believe in Goodness.
Tyler, do you believe that Evil exists?

#7 "We don’t have enough understanding of God, or the absence of God, to deal with such claims."
I think we do:
Is the Truth Good? (Is "reality" Good?) Thanks to all religions, including atheism, all asserting or presuming that the Truth is Good, there is too little thinking about a possible Truth that is not Good.

Only if there is a God who is good, is the Truth Good.

What if the Truth is not Good? Which is better, Truth or Good?
By definition, Good is better than Truth, if the Truth is not Good.

It is better to believe in Good then in not-good Truth.
From being a similar to Tyler agnostic, once I recognized that Good is better than Truth, I began to look for Goodness.
Now I'm a fairly happy Christian "believer", tho there are Christian dogmas asserted which I suspect did not happen in history as now reported.

Thus I don't claim it as Noble Lie, tho it might be: http://www.socialmatter.net/2015/07/13/noble-lies/
"The point of the “noble lie” is to distinguish the society from those around it, to encourage the people to live together relatively peacefully, and to inspire them to resist attacks by outsiders. Any society that fails to do at least these three things is doomed to perish and quickly. If a lie of some kind does the job, then it is indeed noble."

122 Thomas Taylor May 25, 2017 at 2:25 pm

“From being a similar to Tyler agnostic, once I recognized that Good is better than Truth”
“I just don’t care about truth, I prefer a nice lice” would be a much shorter sentence.

123 asdf May 25, 2017 at 10:34 am

“The Noble Lie” is a quickly decaying edifice though. There are any number of potential “socially useful noble lies”, but either people:

Don’t really believe in them (in which case everyone ends up playing “defect” over time).
Do believe them, but if they aren’t actually true, they end up in some kind of social failure spiral.

Belief in human equality is a “noble lie”, but either you actually believe it (in which case you might as well become an SJW) or you don’t (in which case why not become a eugenicist, and if that seems far fetched realize we abort millions of dysgenic babies every year).

You can come up with lots of pragmatic midway points in-between, but its all very intuitional and not backed by “truth”, and nobody wants to go to the barricades for pragmatism. Most moderates end up playing “defect” over time, especially when confronted with the pragmatic personal costs of taking on true believers.

Whenever I hear the socially useful Noble Lie I think of empty Mason lodges or Episcopal churches all around DC. They were socially useful social clubs where most of its adherents thought its beliefs “noble lies”, until they all decided to just stop bothering altogethor.

124 P Burgos May 25, 2017 at 11:25 am

I’d bet that there aren’t many rhetors in Greece these days going around reciting Homer, or too many sacrifices made at the Parthenon. I would not be surprised to learn that we are living in a second Axial age, and we just don’t know who the new Buddhas, Messiahs, or Confucians are yet.

125 anon May 25, 2017 at 1:10 pm

that’s awfully paternalistic. this is like something from a Dostoevsky novel.

126 Thomas Taylor May 25, 2017 at 2:19 pm

I really love the reasoning that all but concedes God does not exist, but says we should pretend it does (all of them, Allah, Jesus?) for stupid people’s sake.

“When people cease to believe in God, they do not believe in nothing; they believe in anything!”
Like witches or Limbo.

127 ttt May 25, 2017 at 2:30 pm

Religiosity vs teen birth rate doesn’t support your conclusion

https://reproductive-health-journal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1742-4755-6-14

128 prior_test2 May 25, 2017 at 6:24 am

‘to avoid making big decisions that are negative for their lives’

So, for or against Catholic teaching when it comes to procreation never being interfered with through the use of artifical birth control methods? And since it was a Catholic that posed the question to Prof. Cowen, there is at least some connection concerning a concrete example,

129 ChrisA May 25, 2017 at 6:26 am

My lack of belief in god or gods is that there is no need of this hypothesis. Everything we see and experience can be more simply explained without any supernatural requirement. As an example lightening maybe the result of gods fighting or static electricity, absolute proof of one versus the other cannot be provided, but I know which way I would bet.

130 Steven wolf May 25, 2017 at 6:28 am

Tyler, it sounds like you basically just don’t care! But how is that possible from a guy who studies such a broad array of subjects? If you don’t see someone else doing the Bayesian analysis you crave, why not do it yourself? Perhaps you have emotions stopping you?

131 Cpt Obvious May 25, 2017 at 8:51 am

Perhaps he is … complacent 😉

132 P Burgos May 25, 2017 at 11:26 am

Isn’t the post more or less the Bayesian analysis?

133 Jacob May 25, 2017 at 3:22 pm

Indeed, you are correct.

134 Edm May 25, 2017 at 6:41 am

I recommend Yuval Noah Harari’s book Sapiens to anybody who would like more insight into the role of mythology in human affairs. Harari would probably classify Tyler as a believer in the Capitalist religion.

135 Evans_KY May 25, 2017 at 6:51 am

“The is under no obligation to make sense to you.” Neil DeGrasse Tyson, fellow agnostic.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=fnHY1cC9a4A

136 Rich G May 25, 2017 at 6:53 am

Next question! Do you believe in free will?

Unlike with religion, there seems to be a widespread tacit assumption that free will not only exists but is presumed by almost everyone to exist. And yet free will is founded not (like religion) on a mere improbability but on a logical impossibility – a logical contradiction which is mitigated by neither the existence nor the absence of any religion, except to the extent that one believes in a world quite beyond logic (a fallback which is irrefutable but philosophically insane).

Free will is at the heart of so many assumptions about ethics and meaning. Whereas debate about religion and the existence of god is widespread if not ubiquitous, few people even remark on the paradox of free will, let alone seek to reconcile their assumptions with the contradiction of humans as agents of themselves. I find this mass blind spot puzzling and disturbing.

137 Brian Donohue May 25, 2017 at 8:52 am

I struggle with this too. I think most people realize that if you throw in the towel on free will, you’re just a short hop from nihilism, and don’t you feel silly posting on message boards?

There is no doubt we all have the subjective feeling of choice, so I think it comes down to the nature of reality, which I think we are learning is way weirder than 19th century materialists thought.

138 Anonymous May 25, 2017 at 10:05 am

Does godless determinism make sense?

Determinism comes down to assumptions beyond human ability. We need to assume an answer that requires much more knowledge and intelligence,
omniscience to answer correctly.

“If we were only smart enough, we’d know what happens next, and next, and next.”

Don’t do that. Just take our experience of deciding, which is within our ability, as what there really is. No need to pretend an answer we can’t get to honestly.

Now of course if your parents taught you about an omniscient God, you might think about it differently.

139 Daniel May 25, 2017 at 10:32 am

It’s easy for me to see the logical impossibility in free will, but I’m not sure what logical impossibility you equate that to in religion (i.e, every religion). Do you think that everything that’s true can be proved logically and that the inability to prove something logically is equivalent to the thing being logically impossible?

I agree with you about the problems free will and its near-universal presumption present. I think I’ve ended up somewhere in the realm of semi-compatibilism.

I’m particularly surprised more Christians I meet don’t grapple with free will more seriously given their belief in God’s sovereignty, which seems to dictate a form of determinism.

The last thing that occurs to me is that while I’ve not seen any nexus between quantum indeterminacy and the types of “free choices” people claim to make, it is interesting to think that we apparently have evidence of non-determined event, meaning that such things must at least be logically possible. Is that right?

140 Anonymous May 25, 2017 at 11:11 am

Your closing question is pretty much what I’m talking about. Determinism does not address quantum indeterminacy, or chaos theory, it assumes an answer is always possible. An answer which by definition is beyond our own ability.

141 Rich G May 25, 2017 at 11:16 am

> It’s easy for me to see the logical impossibility in free will, but I’m not sure what logical impossibility you equate that to in religion (i.e, every religion). Do you think that everything that’s true can be proved logically and that the inability to prove something logically is equivalent to the thing being logically impossible?

On the contrary, I (as a non-believer) readily concede that religions are not necessarily logically impossible: each one may be more or less plausible without being demonstrably self-contradictory.

The strange thing about free will is that it seems such a simple concept and yet one which is, on even a cursory examination, self-contradictory. But somehow the popular assumption is that belief in free will is a more modest act of faith than belief in religion.

People can/must agree to disagree about religion – there is enough complexity to make it typically impossible to disprove – but the core concept of free will is so simple and so rigid that, for all its counterintuitivness, its falseness ought to be obvious to anyone contemplative. And yet, evidently, intelligent and contemplative people throughout history are able to overlook this while debating much more abstruse issues of belief.

> The last thing that occurs to me is that while I’ve not seen any nexus between quantum indeterminacy and the types of “free choices” people claim to make, it is interesting to think that we apparently have evidence of non-determined event, meaning that such things must at least be logically possible. Is that right?

Frustratingly, randomness (whether of arbitrary paths or diverging multiverses) is not freedom of will in any meaningful sense. A ball is free to roll down hill; an atom is free to undergo random radioactive decay; but neither determinism nor randomness begins to offer any mechanism for justifying our naively intuitive sense of independent self-determination. Quantum uncertainty remains an important empirical puzzle, but not one that promises to square this philosophical circle.

142 Anonymous May 25, 2017 at 11:50 am

Parable: Jim was asked for a mathematical proof that Y = Z. He said, “I may not be able to make the proof, but I’m sure that an entity of sufficient complexity, knowing the speed and location of every particle in the universe, would be able to make the proof. So I believe Y = Z.”

143 Daniel May 25, 2017 at 12:02 pm

I think you’re making a good point, but I don’t think it’s entirely fair. The qualitative difference between something that’s knowable and unknowable (i.e., determined or contingent) is meaningful even for things that are theoretically knowable but never practically knowable. It’s not as though, particularly in conversations about religion, the concept of omniscience doesn’t ever come up.

I agree with you that, in practice, lots of concerns about determinism might be solved by the practical impossibility of actually computing every outcome, but doesn’t it still fundamentally change the way you have to think about things like culpability, the problem of evil, etc. (if you think about such things)?

144 Anonymous May 25, 2017 at 1:11 pm

I think determinism in the big sense, that my decision to have spicy soup for breakfast was ordained at the dawn on the universe, is unreasonable.

On the other hand, there are softer determinisms I can get behind. I think genetics will lead to a soft determanism of tendencies and risks. I think those very much will intersect with old philosophies of culpability, the problem of evil.

145 Daniel May 25, 2017 at 1:46 pm

>I think determinism in the big sense, that my decision to have spicy soup for breakfast was ordained at the dawn on the universe, is unreasonable.

If you don’t mind, what’s unreasonable about it? In other words, what determined your decision to have spicy soup for breakfast that wasn’t set in motion at the beginning of time? What sorts of things aren’t fully explained/predicted/caused by other prior things?

If soft-determinism simply means there are some things that cause or make other things more likely, I don’t think it’s a particularly controversial view.

146 Anonymous May 25, 2017 at 4:30 pm

There are many things we don’t know, but one we do know is that in nature the transition is from order, to structured disorder like turbulence, then chaos, then randomness. Entropy.

I don’t think nature ever undoes randomness. Life, and order, scrape by on much narrower terms. Order is established temporarily. We don’t live to be 10,000. We jettison a few good cells and let them begin again, something like 400 generations, to span 10,000 years.

To say my spicy soup was ordained is to say that some kind of order was preserved .. for 13.82 billion years. That’s too much for me to believe. YMMV.

147 Daniel May 25, 2017 at 11:51 am

I agree with your observations re religion versus free will. I have a much easier time justifying faith in Christianity than faith in free will, contra popular views on these topics. Have you gotten anywhere trying to resolve the problems the nonexistence of free will is commonly thought to present?

I’ve offered very similar points on randomness as it relates to free will, but I don’t want to be too dismissive. While I’d take no more comfort in the thought that I do things for no reason at all (i.e., randomness) than the thought that I do them for reasons set in stone at the beginning of time (i.e., determinism), I can no longer say, as I once did, that belief that things could happen for no reason at all is utterly illogical. It happens. Of course, even as you talk about quantum randomness, people (believers in free will, no less) are already retreating back into determinism and considering what they can accomplish by imagining this or that secret reason for the “random” quantum event (e.g., does God control it, is it somehow determined by this immaterial thing called a “will,” etc.). Anyway, you’re right that, at best, I can say quantum uncertainty is an important puzzle, and I haven’t quite worked out any direct bearing on the questions you’re raising, even if it seems like there should be some connection. “Frustrating” is a good word here.

148 Rich G May 25, 2017 at 12:55 pm

Thanks for the affirmation!

> Have you gotten anywhere trying to resolve the problems the nonexistence of free will is commonly thought to present?

Only to the unsatisfying position that there is no real volition, but that we get by on our customary principles. Is that existentialism? Some will be lucky to have lives that bring happiness, others not; and it is mistaken or self-deceiving to believe that one can control one’s very self. But still, creatures of our own evolution, we strive.

Over the years I have noticed a few public figures mention that they do not believe in free will; their ethics seem more-or-less conventional all the same. It is some consolation to observe that happiness is associated with doing more than with philosophising. “The Tree of Knowledge is not that of Life.” Given the choice, I’d choose knowledge.

149 rayward May 25, 2017 at 6:58 am

Economics and religion are alike in that everyone is an expert. I don’t doubt that Cowen is often amused (or is it bemused) by comments (mine included) that evince a lack of understanding of the principles of economics. Maybe he has the same experience with his students in the classroom. Bart Ehrman, a New Testament scholar at a leading university in the South, begins his class on the New Testament by giving the students a pop quiz. The questions are simple and would not challenge anyone who has studied the New Testament, which should be the case with his students since it’s the Bible Belt and most come from an evangelical Christian background. Ehrman gives the quiz not so much for him to learn what his students don’t know but for the students to learn what they don’t know. And the students don’t know much. Of course, ignorance of believers is to be expected. After all, how many believers actually read the New Testament from an historical perspective rather than a theological perspective? Indeed, how many believers have even read the New Testament? Economics is like that. How many believers have read The Wealth of Nations or A General Theory? Believers know what they know, they don’t know what they don’t know. I know it.

150 JC May 25, 2017 at 11:53 am

Do you have a list of these questions?

151 Tyler R May 25, 2017 at 7:09 am

I think most practicing Mormons would say “Mormonism is true with p >= .95” and I have heard many Mormons actually frame it in that way.

152 Bill May 25, 2017 at 7:12 am

The Best Evidence of the existence of God

Is to see His Messengers here on earth to deliver the message

Like

Betsy DeVos.

153 Bill May 25, 2017 at 7:13 am

And, New Gingrich.

154 rob May 25, 2017 at 10:00 am

Thanks for the New Gingrich, God. The old one was looking pretty shopworn.

155 Bill May 25, 2017 at 10:30 am

God Bless you for your observation.

156 Laughing out loud May 25, 2017 at 12:17 pm

+1000

157 Sean May 25, 2017 at 7:26 am

5. I am frustrated by the lack of Bayesianism in most of the religious belief I observe. I’ve never met a believer who asserted: “I’m really not sure here. But I think Lutheranism is true with p = .018, and the next strongest contender comes in only at .014, so call me Lutheran.” The religious people I’ve known rebel against that manner of framing, even though during times of conversion they may act on such a basis.

This is exactly why I converted to Catholicism.

158 Sure May 25, 2017 at 7:40 am

I find the Bayesian argument strange. Assume that humans are weak detectors of reality. Assume that historical records are faulty records of previous detections of those detectors. Well over 90% of all human detections of “God” (broadly defined) have been positive. Conformity bias, heritable concerns, etc. would then just be noise in the detection channel.

How much better at detecting reality are we willing to say the 10% of humans who do not believe? The statistical power of N = a few billion means we need to say that the non-believers are vastly better at detecting reality (several orders of magnitude I think).

If we believe humans are so poor at discerning reality as a general rule, then why are we doing science, holding policy debates, etc.? It seems a mighty fine Bayesian stand to believe that humans are poor at discerning this one aspect of reality (that there exists something transcendental) but perfectly good at detecting so many other things that our best system of government is democracy.

159 Ricardo May 25, 2017 at 8:30 am

“Detecting reality” is a vague phrase. Even smart guys like Aristotle made basic errors in physics and astronomy and these errors were accepted for centuries until people came up with scientific instruments and experiments that allow one to audit and double-check one’s experience of the world. Newton’s Third Law is so counterintuitive and surprising compared to our everyday experience that the New York Times once wrote a hilarious denunciation of Goddard’s experiments with rockets based on the idea that rockets could never travel in the vacuum of space since they have nothing to push against in order to accelerate.

In short, our senses and rational faculties are somewhat reliable in limited domains and the process of doing science is based on augmenting and almost constantly auditing our own fallible senses.

160 Sure May 25, 2017 at 9:51 am

““Detecting reality” is a vague phrase. Even smart guys like Aristotle made basic errors in physics and astronomy and these errors were accepted for centuries until people came up with scientific instruments and experiments that allow one to audit and double-check one’s experience of the world. Newton’s Third Law is so counterintuitive and surprising compared to our everyday experience that the New York Times once wrote a hilarious denunciation of Goddard’s experiments with rockets based on the idea that rockets could never travel in the vacuum of space since they have nothing to push against in order to accelerate.”

So what experiments would we use to apply Bayesian reasoning to the God/supernatural question? As far as I know Tyler and everyone else acknowledges that we have no such experiments.

Experiments are wonderful for giving us an independent probability that is NOT dependent on each subjective experimenter. I just do not see what such experiment could be postulated regarding God.

“In short, our senses and rational faculties are somewhat reliable in limited domains and the process of doing science is based on augmenting and almost constantly auditing our own fallible senses.”
Granted, so how are these fallible and unreliable senses and faculties different in non-believers? How many orders of magnitude better should we say that the sense or rational faculties of non-believers are compared to believers? The whole point of Bayesian analysis is using repeated fallible measurements that have some (often high) probability of being incorrect to arrive at ever more constrained measures of likelihood. With a N in the billions and easily 90% being some degree of believer, the reliability of the non-believers would have to be spectacularly higher than that of the majority.

I see only three options here:
1. Bayesian analysis is not applicable to the question of God.
2. Non-believers are vastly (orders of magnitude) more reliable at perceiving the state of God’s existence (either positive or negative).
3. A good Bayesian should hold that God is more probable than not.

Am I missing something or do you hold to one of these three options?

161 Ricardo May 25, 2017 at 10:18 am

My point is that humans — believers and non-believers alike — are relatively poor at detecting reality and we really only do a good job at it when we have the tools of math and science available to provide a check on our limitations. The non-existence of a deity cannot be proven through experimentation but those positive hits you mention coming from believers don’t come from a process that can be audited or double-checked. It is called faith for that reason.

162 Sure May 25, 2017 at 12:48 pm

“Relatively poor” is utterly immaterial to a Bayesian analysis.

Suppose we have a detector for a state that measure two possibilities, G and not G. The detector sucks so it is only .1% accurate. If we measure G then there is a 50.1% chance we are correct and 49.9% chance we are wrong. With a million measurements we would expect a 10,000 excess of G over not G. Poor detecting just means you need a higher N to have sufficient statistical power. Billions is an awfully high number.

Double checking is a specious argument; how do you double check a meter stick? By using a light interferometer. Which is double checked by frequency guide which is double checked by a large chain which eventually comes right back to … human perceptions. After all, if we doubt human ability to perceive reality at some level we cannot trust the humans reading the gauges or computer screens.

Now you can make the argument that humans have NO ability to detect the reality of the supernatural, but if this is the case then why are we are looking at a failure of Bayesian analysis which again points me back to the three possible outcomes of a simple Bayesian analysis.

163 Ricardo May 25, 2017 at 1:19 pm

“Poor detecting just means you need a higher N to have sufficient statistical power.”

Not at all. If our detection methods are biased or useless, high N won’t do anything for us.

164 Sure May 25, 2017 at 9:38 pm

Then your point would be that Bayesian analysis is not applicable to this question. If human perception, reasoning, intuition, etc. are systematically biased in a manner that gives correlated error that is exactly the sort of problem where Bayesian analysis is not applicable.

Again I can understand that point of view; what I cannot understand is why we would then bemoan a lack of Bayesian analysis. If this of correlate bias exists merely for the question of perceiving God (or the lack thereof), why would there be any less systematic bias for perceiving the nature of God? If we cannot do a Bayesian analysis of the fundamentals, then we should not expect to be able to do a Bayesian analysis of the particulars.

165 NIk_the_Heratik May 26, 2017 at 2:06 am

>How much better at detecting reality are we willing to say the 10% of humans who do not believe? The statistical power of N = a few billion means we need to say that the non-believers are vastly better at detecting reality (several orders of magnitude I think).

This argument itself is kind of flawed. The reason statistics works as a model for the real world is because they work on the basis of measurement that turns something in the “real world” into a number that can be worked with. There is nothing in the detection of the believers, or the non-believers, that produces anything measurable to begin with, so it doesn’t matter how many “detections” are made. What we are left with is more of an anthropological question: is there something about humanity that predisposes them towards belief in a higher power when they come across something that they can’t explain using their everyday experience?

166 Anon May 25, 2017 at 7:47 am

I’m always struck by the logical leap many believers take by going from “there must be something that started the universe” (or some similar argument) to “the God, as described by the Bible, exists.”

Even if all of the most common arguments that strong believers present for the existence of God were true, the anthromorphized god of any particular religion still wouldn’t be the most likely scenario.

That said, I sometimes wish that I believed in God myself. I can see that it can bring some emotional safety and stability and a sense of belonging to people and I would like to have that. Still, I’m unable to believe in anything just because the belief would make me feel good.

167 Daniel May 25, 2017 at 1:29 pm

I agree that it’s odd that so much of the conversation is about allowing for the existence of *a* God and very little of it is about *which* God. Probably that has a lot to do with the types of arguments people most commonly make against religion and the discomfort many feel about actually discussing reasons one religion may be “superior” to another. That said, once you start that conversation, it’s not inevitable that it’ll always end up with a “logical leap.” If we both agree that some “first mover” god could (or must) exist, there are some attributes we’d both agree it should and shouldn’t have. For example, it would stand to reason that it would eternal and powerful, which might rule out some conceptions, and, of course, not every religion proposes a God as the first mover. Probably most religions concede there are important attributes of God that we will never understand in mortal life, which takes some of the pressure off of narrowing God’s identity down too much.

Anyway, I think there are some good reasons why the Christian conception of God could be found more persuasive that other conceptions, such as aspects of the Christian philosophy that resonate more with people’s experiences of the human condition and questions Christianity seems to answers that others don’t or don’t answer as well. For example, the one might find persuasive the Christian conception of man as having come from God and therefore having a conception of the good but being fallen and therefore inevitably falling short of this standard, yet perpetually yearning to be reconciled to it. Perhaps in the end this is like an aesthetic judgment, but I don’t rule that out as a potentially rational way to make this sort of decision.

168 Jeremy Lynch May 25, 2017 at 8:17 am

I also put myself in the non-believer camp, and also see the Straussian argument for religion. What then is the optimal strategy for a non-believer to confer the benefits of religion on one’s children?

169 P Burgos May 25, 2017 at 11:31 am

Judaism? That is to say find some religion where tribe and church overlap in a way that it ceases to matter too much whether someone believes, because even if you don’t believe you are still a member of the tribe and there is still a great deal of social pressure to conform with your peers, some fraction of whom are believers.

170 KJ May 25, 2017 at 8:22 am

“If you are not a theist, are you a materialist?”

“As Kaitlyn Jenner says, “I am a material girl, living in a material world.” “

171 KJ May 25, 2017 at 8:25 am

The world is made up of materials, like gravity fields, electromagnetic fields, etc.

172 josh May 25, 2017 at 1:24 pm

Cats?

173 joel rich May 25, 2017 at 8:22 am

Could you share the organizing principles of your life? For example, I imagine an evolutionary psychologist might say I know I feel good taking care of my kin because evolution favored my ancestors who did so, thus I am wired to do so and will feel good doing so. A believer might say I do it because God commanded me so. thanks

174 Dogma vs. Catma May 25, 2017 at 8:51 am

“Listen, smile, agree, and then do whatever the fuck you were gonna do anyway.” -Robert Downey Jr.

175 Brian Donohue May 25, 2017 at 8:35 am

Tyler,

What do you think of determinism? I have had a hard time shaking this notion since first becoming aware of it in high school 35 years ago, and it’s always lurking around in the background of any conversation on ethics. It seems to me that anyone who thinks in scientific terms has to reckon with this.

Anyway, I’ve recently come across this odd fellow Jordan Peterson, a Canadian who has caused quite a stir on an unrelated matter. His musings on the subjective/objective nature of reality and the “truth” embedded in religious traditions is pretty fascinating. Self-recommending, I think.

176 Dogma vs. Catma May 25, 2017 at 8:48 am

“No matter how indifferent the universe may be to our choices and decisions, these choices and decisions are ours to make.”
-Michael Michalko, Thinkertoys

177 megamike May 25, 2017 at 8:44 am

The gods did not reveal, from the beginning,
All things to us, but in the course of time
Through seeking we may learn and know things better.
But as for certain truth, no man has known it,
Nor shall he know it,neither of the gods
Nor yet of all the things of which I speak.
For even if by chance he were to utter
The final truth, he would himself not know it:
For all is but a woven web of guesses
Xenophanes

178 Joshua May 25, 2017 at 8:46 am

I’d just like to say that Tyler’s opinions on this topic match my own almost exactly. It’s a shame that the terms “strong” and “weak” atheism are no longer in common use because they describe the difference between modern active (aggressive?) atheist and your “non-believer” term exactly.

I’ve actually taken to calling myself a “secular humanist” for the past several years, because while I do believe nearly exactly what Tyler does, I also have a strong belief that their is something special and non-materially valuable in humanity being sentient (i.e. the difference between ourselves and non-sentient animals is not just a difference in degree but a difference in kind) I would also feel that way about other sentient creatures if we ever meet or create them. (Also, just to clarify, I do not believe that sentient is in any way supernatural.)

179 Nicholas May 25, 2017 at 8:54 am

Tyler, have you read David Bentley Hart’s “The Experience of God”? He very much takes the “strangeness” of reality head-on.

180 5chan May 25, 2017 at 9:05 am

Would you rather live next to someone who agreed with you 100% on religion or 100% on politics? I think I’d rather be free than have everyone attend my church.

181 Thiago Ribeiro May 25, 2017 at 9:09 am

There is good reason to believe God revelead the key of History to Prophet Bandarra ( https://pt.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gonçalo_Annes_Bandarra#/media/Ficheiro%3AEst%C3%A1tua_do_profeta_Bandarra_-_Trancoso_(Portugal).jpg ). Others, however, contend that his enlightenment was a purely intellectual one (he was an expert on the Old Testment, specially Daniel’s prophecies – some people say he was from Jewish srock, some say he was not).

182 rayward May 25, 2017 at 9:21 am

For those not familiar with Daniel, he was an apocalyptic prophet, not unlike Jesus of Nazareth.

183 Hadur May 25, 2017 at 10:06 am

Remarkable – I too am a “non-believer”, and I find this list of reasons extremely non-convincing.

184 JK Brown May 25, 2017 at 10:23 am

“No new-born babe or full-grown idiot has any religion, but every normally developed human being has. Whenever a man knows enough to distinguish the outside world from himself, and tries to act in accordance with this knowledge, he begins to be religious.

“The first element, therefore, in religion is the recognition of the existence of a power not ourselves pervading the universe. And another is the endeavor to put ourselves in harmonious relation with this power. Of course the feeling or affective element is presupposed as coming in between the other two. For without it the endeavor would lack a motive, and could therefore have no existence whatsoever. Every sane man believes, at least, that he is only a fraction of the sum-total of things. He also feels some dependence upon this sum-total, and he is obliged to put himself in some sort of accord with it. This is what Caird has condensed into the statement, “A man’s religion is the expression of his ultimate attitude to the universe” (“Evolution of Religion,” Vol. I, p.30).”

What Is Religion?
Author(s): Frank Sargent Hoffman
Source: The North American Review, Vol. 187, No. 627 (Feb., 1908), pp. 231-239
Published by: University of Northern Iowa
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25106079

To make any headway upon this topic, we must strive to separate religion from the narrow definition of belief in a supreme being (God or gods) to its more general philosophy of the greater universe, the dogmatic liturgical from the mystical/emotional revelation pietistic, “all according to God’s will” from the free will to accept God’s guidance, etc. Until such happens, most discussions of belief in God rarely are talking about the same thing. Take for instance that there are two types of atheists that can be identified, those who do not believe in God, or gods, and those whose actions reveal they they seem to fear that God may believe in them, or exists for others, and that they cannot abide.

185 Student May 25, 2017 at 10:38 am

I find it interesting that TC considers something like Catholicism as conformist. Surely there are many Catholics, which would seem to support that positon and surely there were periods when it was certainly conformist…

But it certainly wasn’t at the beginning… to the point of torture and death. It also certainly seems not to be today.

IMO authentic Catholicism (that is Catholicism beyond cultural identification… that is an authentic practioner) is very counter cultural these days.

Consider Catholics are to reject worldliness to the extend possible. They are not to use artificial contraception. They are to confess their innermost vulnerabilities and most embarassing or shameful things they have done out loud to another person (much like an alcoholic at AA). They are to submit to a higher authority even if they don’t want to. This is very nonconformist actually.

186 Student May 25, 2017 at 10:40 am

One more example. They are to reject divorce under all be very limited circumstances and supposing those circumstances come about, they are to live as celibate.

One can reject these things a silly, but they are certainly not conformist.

187 Moo cow May 25, 2017 at 11:25 am

I went to a Catholic university the second time around, even though I was raised in a Protestant tradition and was (am) a non-believer. I would agree with you. Now there are weirdly political or power-motivated archbishops, but aside from that true Catholicism is radical.

188 Ian Fellows May 25, 2017 at 10:59 am

I feel very differently about atheism than you do. Perhaps you just don’t like the argumentative style of some proponents. You use the term militant atheism as if that is how people describe themselves, whereas it is primarily used as a derogatory term by christian conservatives. It’d be like using the terms bible thumper or fundie as synonyms for christianity.

If you are a non-believer, then you are an atheist. If you are a non-believer that could be convinced if some more evidence of God showed up, then you are an atheist. This is just the fundamental definition of the word. It has just been sullied by attacks and used as a derogatory word for so long (see also: feminism), that people shy away from personal ownership of the term, even when it plainly applies to them (as I believe it does to you).

189 L-word May 25, 2017 at 5:29 pm

@ Ian: AMEN

And I find Tyler’s statement that “atheism is just another religion” particularly irksome coming from someone as intellectually sophisticated as himself. In my own experience, this is an argument that I often hear from un-sophisticated believers (i.e., the kind that did not come to religion on their own sweat and tears, but rather were indoctrinated by those proximate to them). Maybe (sadly) a glossary of terms might be needed here? Atheism is a lack of belief, and religion is the belief in a particular god or gods accompanied by a system of dogma, rituals, etc. The system is closed, there is no modifying or adding to it, the closest to this would be a discussion in trying to divine the true meaning of the religion’s sacred writings (like playing Scalia). Can anyone explain how is atheism a religion?

As a (non-militant, apparently) atheist, I do not find the belief in god abhorrent, necessarily. I accept it is possible, even likely, but only in the sense of a creative force. Every atheist I know (and yes this is anecdotal evidence) feels pretty indifferent to the existence of a universe-creating power, we simply have no evidence to actively believe in it. Dogma however, we loathe. It might have been useful during tougher, more ignorant times, but it has long become stifling and damaging to many individuals. In fact, this brings me to my biggest disagreement with Tyler’s original post. Are we reasonably confident that religion has had a NET POSITIVE effect on society? I’m not advocating abolishing religion (wouldn’t want to be a militant atheist, god forbid), but this seems like an extremely powerful assertion to make. I get the overwhelming comfort it has brought to many individuals and the order it has help keep in tougher, more ignorant times, but what about the intense pain and oppression experienced by so many, unbearable feelings of guilt for having sinned, terrifying fear of damnation, etc. (let’s not even weigh in the myriad wars, past and present, waged in the name of religion–let’s say those would have happened anyway due to underlying geopolitical disturbances). Are we measuring the utility lost to those individuals when calculating net benefits here? I’d bet that it outweighs the utility gained by the pious.

190 NIk_the_Heratik May 26, 2017 at 2:12 am

I disagree simply because I feel that atheism is a positive belief that we know enough about the nature of the universe to show that there cannot be any higher power, or any space for mysticism or other beliefs, and that people who do hold these beliefs are either ignorant or delusional. Agnosticism is maybe more cautious about both our own ignorance and about the role of religion in society.

191 John May 25, 2017 at 11:18 am

It’s curious that many atheists would argue against the existence of god based on the fact that conflicting religions exist. It seems more like a rhetorical tool to say, “I just reject one more god than you do.” One religion may be completely, mostly, or partial right or they may all be wrong but that has no bearing on the question of whether an intelligent prime mover exists. An intellectually honest atheist has to reject the claims of the non-religious theist.

As for the fact that religion has a strong cultural influence is not necessarily an argument against a god, especially if you believe, as the Jews do, that the god favors a particular people. It may be a distasteful belief but if a god exists, there’s no logical necessity that it be a cultural egalitarian.

Then there’s the Sam Harris argument that religious experiences are real but psychological. That too is not necessarily a refutation of religion. I’m not aware of any religion that claims that only its adherents can has religious experiences. Nor is a psychological explanation for it or anything a rebuttal of the idea that it is divine in origin. If a a god exists, it’s entirely logical to believe that rain has both a scientific explanation and simultaneously a religious one with no contradiction between them.

Even the more modest argument that there is no logical need for a god is not a direct attack on the claim that a god exists. In short, it seems to me that atheism requires one to believe that it is significantly more likely than not an intelligent prime mover does not exist. That’s a higher bar than many atheists seem to set for themselves. If you make it to the vicinity of 50/50, you’re more properly an agnostic. Tip the scales significantly in the other direction and you’re more properly a theist.

192 Daniel May 25, 2017 at 11:29 am

Couldn’t someone call themselves an atheist if they think it’s 51-49 in favor of non-existence and are committed to never adopting beliefs on insufficient evidence? In practice, I think most atheists take on more than they should by claiming God doesn’t exist rather than simply saying there’s not sufficient evidence to justify belief in God, but I think I’ve heard more sensible atheists assert only the latter.

193 John May 25, 2017 at 11:48 am

I would agree if the only choices were between being labeled an atheist and a theist. But we also have “agnostic.” Sure, there’s a fuzzy line between atheist and agnostic but 51% certainty would be solidly in the agnostic camp.

194 nigel May 25, 2017 at 11:25 am

7.

I’m not convinced, Tyler. “If there is no God, then everything is permitted” is true no matter what that God is like. If material is all that there is, or even simply amoral transcendence, then we can do whatever we want. The fact that one doesn’t just means that person isn’t taking full advantage of the death of God and isn’t of great enough soul to be a Nietszchean ubermensch. The fact is you *do* have a moral sense, a conscience, and know to the core of your being that some things are just rotten and you shouldn’t do them, is evidence that everything is really not permitted.

I think “strangeness” is a cop out. Far as I can tell, it doesn’t stand for anything other than the unremarkable fact that we don’t understand or even perceive most of reality. Fine; nothing extraordinary about that claim. Tyler’s recent appeals to “strangeness” are just a way of saying because there are some things I don’t know, perhaps many or most things, then I can’t make statements about a given subject. But that can’t be, because there’s really no domain of human knowledge complete enough that it wouldn’t be subject to the same criticism. I would take “strangeness” even further — *everything* is strange, and we know next to nothing about any part of reality. Most of what we do “know” is only a very incomplete mental model that at best roughly corresponds to the underlying reality and can only be evaluated by reference to whether or not it reliably guides human action. Humans are acting creatures, not knowing creatures. The fundamental fact of human life is human action — morality, conscience, teleology. The “strangeness of origins” is identical to the “strangeness” of everything else. We should not hold human knowledge in such high regard. It is all just as flimsy. But that’s ok. All to say, “strangeness” is not an objection to the argument from transcendence.

I’m not sure I’ve ever quite grasped the “mood affiliation” concept but I suspect “strangeness” is mood affiliation in favor of agnosticism.

195 A. S. Grass May 25, 2017 at 11:27 am

Tyler, your dalliance with religious belief sounds very like what Kierkegaard describes as living in a “parenthesis.”

That is, you may in your life so far been turning the entire question of faith into an intellectual problem that you just circle around and never permit to become a matter of personal decision. For what it’s worth, in my own experience religious faith is not a leap and certainly not “irrational.” It is more like a decision to trust someone. Such decisions involve both reasoning and emotion.

I’m into my fifth decade of life and not naive, but I’m also not easily cowed by materialism. I find the reality of congenital disease and children suffering almost unbearable were it not for trust that God, in Jesus, fully shared that suffering and thereby disclosed, through resurrection, that such suffering is not the final word.

If you subject any religious belief to standards of proof derived from scientific experimentation, you’ve already defined it as out of bounds. The universe is not only stranger than we see, and probably stranger than we can imagine, it has also come into existence by means of existence itself. (Being cannot come from non-being, which by definition has nothing to contribute to the process.) From an intuition of sheer existence we might start to feel something for creativity, which might lead us to beauty, and love, etc.

But these personal impulses toward or away from belief do not *bracket away* religious faith, but are in fact constitutive of what it means to *live* in faith.

196 Daniel May 25, 2017 at 11:35 am

Is faith “a matter of personal decision”? Ordinarily we don’t think of beliefs as something we can decide to have or not have. But I agree with you if what you’re saying is something like suggesting that TC is intellectualizing a problem that can’t be solved with traditional intellectual tools (e.g., proof, pure reason, etc.).

I’m also confused by the dichotomy people set up between reason and emotion. It seems to me emotions change the values we assign to things as we reason about them, but it doesn’t take the place of reason.

Much of the rest of this I agree with. I think we’re on the same page about the limits of proof and pure reason, and perhaps I just have a different way of describing the place beyond those things.

197 A B May 25, 2017 at 12:19 pm

Most people definitely do not distinguish between belief and faith. I like this definition of faith, which I believe is from Cardinal Ratzinger: Acting as if something is true.

It becomes immediately apparent that faith can only truly manifest itself when belief is not total.

198 JC May 25, 2017 at 11:33 am

Please write more on this Tyler

199 john May 25, 2017 at 11:55 am

I cannot but help but wonder if the idea that one, us humans at least, can undertan a god or God in the same sense we thing we understand subatomic particles or the law or another person even makes sense. I also wonder, regardless of the number of people who seem to need to, if the existing organized religions shed much light on understand God –I suspect the formal belif systems and doctrines hide and shadow as much as they eluminate.

Similarly, I do think the personal experience is probably the only way anyone actually gets to some belief but I see no reason to think that one experience contridicting another seem beside the point. What would stop a god from presenting a completly different experience to each of us; it is a god right?

Last, seems like any concerns about origins is more about human limitation rather than any issue with a god creating things so would not try relying on the stories we tell (whether we think them religous or scientific) about the origins of our existance and any belief in god I might have.

200 Edward Burke May 25, 2017 at 11:57 am

TC: in the circumstance of the second decade of the present century, how much would you say “belief in God” is a metaphor or a kind of stand-in for “orientation to temporality”?

“Progress” has been the temporal myth sponsored by modernity (the Western calculation thereof, events since 1500 CE), so pervasive a belief today that contemporary generations are tempted to discard History altogether in order all the more quickly to embrace a future deemed already to’ve occurred and merely in the process of being received and manipulated.

If global pasts are deemed irrelevant altogether, if accounts thereof and therefrom are to be dismissed for what are today deemed “faulty premises” when today’s working premises are conveniently exempt from whatever criteria will (or might) be globally dominant in, say, 4034 CE (much less 40,000 CE), what value can be said to reside in contemporaneity’s so-called “rational categories”? Is privileging the present OR the future legitimate, especially if or when it means wholesale discarding and discrediting of human pasts?

201 john May 25, 2017 at 12:08 pm

I’ve always take that agnostism is a position that is neither believe or nonbelief. Might mean it’s more wishy-washing that any but in the end TC seems to be saying he’s agnostic but then tries to fit that into an atheist (don’t believe) mold.

202 Bjartur May 25, 2017 at 12:09 pm

I don’t get #3, heritability. What type of belief doesn’t have “a significant heritable aspect”? Belief in science? Logic? Hygiene practices? Empathy? Self-control? Atoms? Perseverance? Honesty? Altruism? Dark matter? Chi? The value of jazz? Belief in all of these things have a significant heritable aspect.

203 shrikanthk May 25, 2017 at 12:11 pm

Is it possible to be moral without being religious?

If there is no governing rule of law for the universe, why can’t we just eat each other up? Is it purely reprisal that keeps us from doing that? Is there no such thing called “innate” right or wrong?

These uncomfortable questions force us to believe in God. And in a good God.

204 TMunice May 25, 2017 at 12:36 pm

What about Pascal’s wager?

205 GoodWages May 25, 2017 at 5:39 pm

Pascal’s minimum wager?

206 Ashby Manson May 25, 2017 at 12:40 pm

Religion is a bunch of stuff and nonsense. I lost belief so long ago I find I have no interest in the discussion any more.

What I do think about from time to time is 1) how much of our civilized moral framework may depend (at some level) on the perpetuation of these myths and 2) some people apparently need these beliefs & hopes & fears, they may even help them be better people with them. Would it be a net benefit to remove the beliefs?

Most people don’t need a set of rules from deity Z &/or prophet X to tell them the basics of being a decent person (e.g. don’t lie, cheat, steal, murder, etc.), but some people apparently do. Is there benefit to destroying the illusion? Does the benefit outweigh the unknown potential costs? Can we accurately weigh the potential costs? Are we, perhaps, better off with the irrational among us being swept into some form of organized religion that will channel their inclinations into traditional or predefined moral norms? The dangers of religious and political fanaticism are on ready display on a near daily basis, but I sometimes wonder whether fresh masses of unmoored fanatics might be even worse. Perhaps they would spontaneously generate some fresh new hell by consensus if we were to convince them the old ones were nonsense. (Maybe that explains a lot about the Twentieth century.)

207 Daniel May 25, 2017 at 1:36 pm

I apologizing for broaching a topic you’ve apparently lost interest in, but I think conceiving of religion as primarily “a set of rules from deity Z &/or prophet X to tell them the basics of being a decent person” deeply misses the point. The primary function of religion, in my mind, isn’t to teach or compel us to behave. To me, the essential part of religion is its attempt to answer the search for meaning.

With or without religion, the “masses” will always cause problems. Religion is neither the cure for nor the cause of the horrors brought about by the masses.

208 Ashby May 26, 2017 at 5:03 pm

In the absence of belief, what sort of meaning do you get from religion? What satisfying meaning do you get from tales of hippopotamus and ibex headed gods?

209 Daniel May 26, 2017 at 11:37 pm

Belief is an essential part of religious experience. Without belief (which leaves plenty of room for a lot of doubt, as well), religion won’t impart the kind of meaning I’m talking about.

210 The Other Jim May 25, 2017 at 12:48 pm

> I don’t feel a resulting gap or absence in my life.

This sums it all up right here.

“I am content in my bubble. I have everything I need. So who cares?”

211 Thomas Taylor May 25, 2017 at 1:15 pm

In other words, he doesn’t want to buy what you want to sell. Tragic.

212 The Other Jim May 25, 2017 at 3:31 pm

I am selling nothing.

You are selling a deep bitterness, and you’ll not find a buyer here.

213 Thomas Taylor May 25, 2017 at 4:14 pm

You already all bitterness you need. So who cares?

214 Brett Alder May 25, 2017 at 1:07 pm

Of course we all love and appreciate Tyler’s candor and dispassionate take on things. I also agree with him that genetic predisposition and cultural context have a lot to do with how we approach the subject. However, I would argue that people aren’t so much genetically predisposed toward disbelief as they are toward a lack of concern on the subject beyond mere curiosity. I am predisposed toward being quite concerned about the topic (nature of the universe and existence of a higher power) and to me it all boils down to one question:

QUESTION: Do we live in a real or a virtual (i.e. created) universe?

This question is difficult to address objectively because the whole astrophysics/scientific community embraces the dogma of us living in a real universe — and people (physics students) unwittingly defer to their inculcation as Tyler also pointed out. But if you really look at the nature of our universe, from relativity (that says time, distance, and mass are malleable with respect to the constancy of the speed of light) to quantum mechanics (that says particles and quanta have dual wave/particle characteristics, spooky action at a distance, etc.), you would be hard pressed to maintain a firm faith that we live in a real universe.

It gets even worse if you know anything about computer science. The field of physics simply describes the quantum world as “non-intuitive”. Photons (electrons, etc.) have this wave-particle duality where they act like waves under certain circumstances, and particles in others, which means these darned photons are smart enough to comprehend their circumstances (one slit, two slit, three slit, four!). Physicists are currently doubling down on the real universe dogma leading to increasing hilarious and unscientific explanations. You can explain the randomness of quantum wavefunction collapse by spawning a new universe with every decision tree collapse (many worlds!) You can explain the “fine tuned rules and constants to produce life” with the multiverse theory that says, “with an infinite number of universes, one is likely to have our set of extremely unlikely rules”.

As a computer scientist, photons are actually very intuitive. They’re just conditional functions – like the ones you program in CS 101. Quantum entanglement is not a problem because distances are a virtual construct. You experience time lag as you approach the speed of light because of the finite processing power of our virtual universe – where the speed of light (plank length/plank time) represents a clock cycle. The universe is quantized and blurry (uncertainty principles) because finer divisions require more processing resources, so you optimize by pixelating. In my view, the multiverse hypothesis is like saying, “This game of Minecraft we’re in seems very highly tuned, it must be just one of an infinite number of mostly non-working Minecraft instances.” Just, wow.

Now the scary part is the fact that if we live in a virtual universe (which everyone must admit has a non-zero likelihood), then some intelligent something is expending resources to keep us alive. Why? To what end? What is expected of us? Humans usually look for a return on their investments or at least a desired outcome. Why would the simulators be any different? So now we have an irrefutable-non-zero likelihood of living in a virtual universe with expectations placed on us. What I mean by irrefutable, is that you cannot prove with 100% certainty the opposite.

So when I read that Jesus said, “Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest” ( Matthew 25:17), I think “D@mn, there is non-zero chance that these kind of intentions are tied to this virtual universe experience and I should probably figure out what kind of a return the simulator is looking for.”

And look, I’m not saying we should all cower in fear of our inevitable rendez-vous with the great simulator, but I would suggest getting educated on the topic of the universe and forming your very own opinion on the different likelihoods (virtual vs. real) — but maybe that’s just because I’m pre-disposed toward concern.

215 Thiago Ribeiro May 25, 2017 at 1:19 pm

Hahaha. It is funny that so many crazies here have no self-awareness at all.

216 Down-Easter May 25, 2017 at 1:30 pm

I appreciate Tyler’s careful and cogent discussion, thoughts that confirm my own non-belief, my interest in and support of organized faiths for the salutary effects they have on many people’s lives, and my tendency to view atheists, particularly those who proselytize, as essentially religionists of another stripe (John Gray wrote an essay on this topic). We will continue to have these discussions because at the end of the day there is this eternal haunt: Existence exists. You can’t get over it, around it, under it, or, outside it.

217 More on Strauss May 25, 2017 at 1:37 pm

It would be helpful to see Tyler write a “Turing test” style post on what he takes to be the Straussian stance on religion. The “noble lie” considerations seem to me to be wholly secondary. Strauss’s various articulations of the fundamental question of reason and revelation make the reasons for unbelief supplied in this post seem quite…complacent. E.g. Isn’t looking at religion through a Bayesian lens begging the question?

218 Daniel May 25, 2017 at 1:40 pm

> I don’t feel a resulting gap or absence in my life.

Until you do, your “neither here nor there” approach to religion will probably be sufficient. I conceive of that “gap or absence” as the desire for meaning, and I’ve had a hard time of conceiving of meaning without religion or some concept of the eternal. Have you resolved the search for meaning without religion, or are you simply putting that question off until a more convenient time? (I ask in this presumptuous way because I consider the question pretty inevitable for any contemplative person.)

219 The Other Jim May 25, 2017 at 3:37 pm

>I conceive of that “gap or absence” as the desire for meaning

It certainly can be, but it’s also indicative of failing to realize there is a world outside of your own brain, and outside the manufactured comfort of your immediate bubble.

Tyler rarely exits his own head. He’s the anti-Bhudda.

220 Evan May 25, 2017 at 4:36 pm

Great read, I would fall into a similar general point of view.
As I have said to my son; no one has the intellect required to prove there is no god, and if one exists I do not think our society has properly defined it. That said I tend toward not believing.

An unrelated note. I have heard Tyler so many times on Econ Talk interviews that I could hear both his meter and voice in my mind as I read. Lol!

221 Edgar May 25, 2017 at 5:12 pm

“‘strange and then somewhat anthropomorphized’ origin stories. Most religions fall into the latter category, all the more so for Western religions.”

Not sure if this is really accurate. In the Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas summed up the common view of the Fathers and Doctors that: “In the works of nature, creation does not enter, but is presupposed to the work of nature.” (ST, I q. 45, a. 8.). My understanding of Roman Catholicism is that the only really infallible teaching on the matter is the notion “God created the universe out of nothing.” So really, just another way of saying the Church teaches the big bang theory. But, more fundamentally, why are origin stories so relevant to our notion of what a “God” is or should be? Seeing “God” as merely a creator, or as a being with the capability to create a universe as a defining feature of a “God” seems needlessly petty and limiting. Why let monotheists have the defining say? I suppose Tyler is equally agnostic about “gods” as he is “God” but having reasons for choosing non-belief in the latter does not explain why, or why not, one might choose to pursue belief in alternate conceptions. There is a book out entitled Alternative Concepts of God (https://global.oup.com/academic/product/alternative-concepts-of-god-9780198722250?cc=us&lang=en&amp; ) that might be worth reading if one wanted to go off on this tangent.

222 Robert Gressis May 25, 2017 at 7:46 pm

I was surprised by this statement:

“5. I am frustrated by the lack of Bayesianism in most of the religious belief I observe. I’ve never met a believer who asserted: “I’m really not sure here. But I think Lutheranism is true with p = .018, and the next strongest contender comes in only at .014, so call me Lutheran.” The religious people I’ve known rebel against that manner of framing, even though during times of conversion they may act on such a basis.”

Richard Swinburne is one of the three leading Anglo-American philosophers of religion of the 20th century (the other two being Alvin Plantinga and John Hick), and he’s thoroughly Bayesian. There are a number of them in contemporary analytic philosophy of religion. They’re not common among the folk, but I figured Tyler travels in rarefied enough circles to have met them.

223 Dan Lavatan May 25, 2017 at 9:28 pm

From winning elected office to drinking wine in prison, there are a lot of things only a person of faith can do. It is in your rational self interest to tell people you are a believer, and if you are going to tell people that it might as well be true. Anyone who claims to be agnostic is at best inefficient.

224 Lupus Yonderboy May 25, 2017 at 10:03 pm

I have been censored by the smartest people in the universe #TheEconomist. Payback is going to be hell for you guys.

225 rayward went to yale because he got waitlisted at brown May 25, 2017 at 10:56 pm
226 rayward went to yale because he got waitlisted at brown May 25, 2017 at 10:57 pm
227 rayward went to yale because he got waitlisted at brown May 25, 2017 at 10:57 pm
228 Kevin S. Van Horn May 25, 2017 at 11:23 pm

I used to be a died-in-the-wool true believer, having grown up in a strongly religious family. That changed, ironically, because my strongly religious father taught me that to be honorable a man must be strictly honest in all things. To my mind that included intellectual honesty. I eventually had to admit to myself that, judging by the same evidential standards I would use for any other claim, there was no good reason to believe in a god.

More details: Why I Am Not A Believer http://kevinsvanhorn.com/2014/08/31/why-i-am-not-a-believer/ .

229 david foster wallace May 25, 2017 at 11:51 pm

And that it’s all a delusion (social media) and you’re so much better than everybody ’cause you can see how this is just a delusion (the algorithm which chooses for you the flow of information), and you’re so much worse because you can’t fucking function.
It becomes more convenient and more and more pleasurable… to sit alone with images on a screen… given to us by people who do not love us but want our money. And that’s fine in low doses, but if it’s the basic main staple of your diet, you’re gonna die.

There’s a thing in the book about how when somebody leaps from a burning skyscraper, it’s not that they’re not afraid of falling anymore, it’s that the alternative is so awful. And so then you’re invited to consider what could be so awful that leaping to your death would seem like an escape from it. I don’t know if you have any experience with this kind of thing. But it’s worse than any kind of physical injury.

“You’re going to die one day. And that’s fine, because that’s what reincarnation is all about. When two cars intersect and you are standing in the middle of the intersection but on the sidewalk but you see that moment, and you understand its salience, then you have died. And you get to be another incarnation of yourself.”

Living in Ohio, I know many people who have had deeply adverse side effects from religious parents. It’s ok to take pride in the work, but it’s bad to want to glory to reflect back on you.

230 Mike C. May 25, 2017 at 11:32 pm

I like the quote by Rabbi Rami Shapiro, “theology tells us more about the theologian than about God.” The implication that you don’t believe very strongly in yourself rings true as you are so voracious for external information.

Maybe God calls people through their genes, in which case you may well not be called. Another option, though, is that you don’t feel a gap or absence because you have not yet tasted how fulfilling belief can be, as are exercise, investments, and many other areas that require some initial discomfort for an eventual payoff.

You seem to live quite a good life without being a believer, so I wonder what the tradeoffs would be if you developed a belief. Thank you for what you do.

231 RafaelR May 26, 2017 at 12:21 am

The concept of God is not well defined. Therefore I cannot hold opinion regarding belief or disbelief.

232 MBMHR May 26, 2017 at 9:45 am
233 Willitts May 26, 2017 at 11:08 am

Wouldn’t you agree that almost all knowledge – including some scientific knowledge – is heritable and dominant in our society and upbringing?

I’m often irritated when religious beliefs are denigrated because they are religious when equally speculative social philosophies receive no such scrutiny or criticism. For example, I’m often criticized for “imposing my religion” on others in my political choices, but my critics don’t hesitate to impose their philosophy on me with impunity.

Why is the philosophy of a 19th century German Jewish economist a more valid basis for beliefs than the philosophy of a 1st century Israeli Jewish carpenter?

234 JG May 26, 2017 at 1:21 pm

Hi tyler, I’ll make it simpler for you. just say you don’t want to believe. Even if Christ came and touched you and performed miracles, you would still require faith. Why? One would still require faith to believe what He says about the afterlife, and the afterlife is the goal.

235 JG May 26, 2017 at 1:22 pm

I should say afterlife in heaven.

236 Troll Me May 26, 2017 at 5:47 pm

Believingness in God can be modulated by pulsed magnetic stimulation: https://academic.oup.com/scan/article/11/3/387/2375059/Neuromodulation-of-group-prejudice-and-religious

Cray stuff. The result means a lot of other things too, all of which militate towards more thoroughly considered anti-tyranny risk mitigation.

It’s also not evidence against the existence of a God. But it IS evidence that someone could fake it.

237 Muddlehead May 26, 2017 at 6:42 pm

Did Reverend Thomas Bayes take a Bayesian approach to religious belief?

238 jorod May 26, 2017 at 10:27 pm

I expect a lot of people in academe feel this way. They think they are supermen or women.

239 Rick Zhang May 29, 2017 at 12:19 am

Tyler’s posts repeatedly ascribe negativity towards the concepts of conformity and virtue signaling. Maybe he just underappreciates the blunt utilitarianism of that approach. If I were running for office, it would be a lot easier to do a pretend conversion to a “Christmas and Easter” Catholic, going through the motions (like Putin does) to show some connection to the masses. This deception may be the ultimate form of libertarian selfishness.

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