Sunday, February 04, 2007

Are We Worthy to be Participating in this God vs No God Debate

No, I haven't lost my mind. I realize that if I win the point here, no one will ever have a reason to visit this blog again. However, any good debate must have worthy opponents. When I participated in debate in high school, we spent hundreds of hours preparing for a very limited issue. I feel confident that those who are so far giving their ideas, thoughts, and opinions in this forum, are very bright. It would also appear that each one has spent quite a bit of time researching and thinking through the issues. And, believe it or not, I don't raise the issue in this post to discourage young thinkers, or those who are new to the subject from commenting. I have been commonly amazed at the insightfulness that comes from those who are fresh to this or any subject.

No the issue here is more philosophical. I can't speak for you, but I see myself as one very small organism among 6 billion or so similar assemblages of matter, which taken together are a minor blip on this planet, much less the universe. To suggest that we, individually or together, have gotten it right more often than wrong would even be a stretch. In fact, one of my favorite retorts to an employee who is concerned that they screwed up is: "I've probably already screwed up something more costly today. Go, and screw up less."

So, if I'm a naturalist claiming that science (the folks who brought you "little boys and little girls are basically identical without society telling them how to act - Uh Huh) has so much wisdom that they know Darwin was right, and the big bang is fact, and string theory is going to explain it all, I have to really wonder if we are truly that smart. Then, should I really be turning to the believer in the lab next to me, and telling him with great assurance, "There is no God, and your Bible is just the greatest marketing tool in history."

On the other hand, if I'm a God follower, and think I have it all together because I have most of the population on my side, should I be getting all snooty and telling the naturalist that evolution is total bunk. After all, the pea brain that God gave me is not capable of figuring out how to get my 2 year-old to use the potty. But I claim to know how the Grand Canyon came about in 10,000 years?


Cordin said...

Everyone is worthy of asking the ultimate questions and participating if they are sincere, honest, and respectful. It should not be the purpose of anyone to personally rob anyone of a faith that is important and dear to them (If I have, than I have 'screwed up'). Those who have suffered at the hands of the cruelest people or circumstances have often made it through because of their hope. There is absolutely no way of proving or disproving the ultimate cause of existence, in my 'humble' opinion.

With that said, I worry about absolute faith. Recently, when speaking to an evangelical Christian, I was disturbed by their comment that they do not share in prayers for peace. Why? Because the world must get worse, and ultimately there must be a war in the Middle East before Jesus can come. That is very scary to a non-believer such as myself. The largest concentration of biblical literalists live in the country of this world with the most powerful weapons. When someone feels they are betraying God by trying to help bring peace to this world, it raises the hair on the back of my neck. (If I'm wrong on this, it would be a great comfort to know that most Christians do not accept this.)

When I here of people whose brother, mother, or wife, commits suicide and the torment they feel because they believe such a person will be seperated forever from God, should the burden of proof not be on the ones teaching such doctrines?

The comfort of believing for some is often the cause of pain to others (often to family members when parents are dogmatic.)

Some would seek to change the laws of our land to conform to their biblical ideals. When politics are motivated by religious ideals, when children are refused medical treatment, when scientific or medical research is pushed aside, when practice of religion endangers others psychologically or physically, or as far as it opens people to manipulation, it is necessary to take issue.

Jesus said his disciples were to be no part of this world (John 17:16; 18:36) and it behooves those of us that do not share the same faith to speak out against any mixture of church and state.

Again, it is not my purpose to destroy anyone’s faith about dead loved ones or in a hope for the future. With that said, I take exception to just ‘letting God sort things out’. For instance, those of us that do not share a certain belief in the Christian afterlife could never let children die because of what some holy book or ‘prophet’ may tell us. People should always have intellectual honesty by examining and reasoning on the things we are told. I fully endorse the virtue of doubting Thomas who was willing to believe if and when he had convincing evidence of Jesus resurrection. (John 20:25)"

If this blog's purpose is to debate the existence of a god, it may certainly turn out to be a moot point. If the eventual purpose of this blog is to ultimately prove beyond reasonable doubt that Jesus is the literal Son of God and all those that do not accept him will perish in the afterlife or at some future 'Armageddon' simply due to a lack of such faith, I find myself not so humble on the issue. Not with the intent of destroying another's hope, but rather to encourage toleration between people and understanding as to why we feel the way we do.

Randy Kirk said...

I want to respond to other specifics of your comments later, leaving some time for others to speak first. However, I have stated the purpose of the blog elsewhere. Shedding light, letting the chips fall where they may. Opening up communication, real honest communication, between opposing sides. Furthering understanding at the same time.

bernardo said...

Hey Randy. Sorry I didn't make it to the SuperBowl party! We'll have to meet up some other time.

Your post shows (provocatively, possibly not sincerely) a strong misconception of what naturalism and science are about. They are ways of generating models about the universe. They are not the models themselves. The models themselves are almost EXPECTED to be wrong, to always need improvement. But the PURSUIT of better models through observation and persistent attempts at clearer understanding is what makes the models improve over time. So yes, scientists are the folks who gave you "The sun revolves around the earth" and other very wrong things, but they eventually came up with better ideas. Science allows for understanding to always dig deeper. Nothing is "fact", nothing "explains it all", but if something explains more than the other models, then that something is "the best we have come up with so far", which is as far as science ever goes. Given that this has put us on the moon and allowed for amazing computers, cars, and medicines to be made, I'd say it's pretty good. Science is never certain, and it can always be improved, and it used to be pretty crappy, but it's made a lot of progress.

Science and naturalism can't say "there is no God". But they aim to say "See this phenomenon here? You don't need God to explain how it is a consequence of previous physical conditions".

There is no "getting it right" or "getting it wrong". There is just "coming up with a model" and "coming up with a better model". No models are perfect, but few models are useless.

This is an idea that could be applied to spiritual questions as well, as far as I can tell. Have a question about the nature of God? Make a guess, and go by it if it's the best guess you can come up with, and if later you come across a better idea, replace the guess by the better idea. You're never completely wrong, and you're never completely right, but for all effects and purposes (as far as you can tell) you're making progress.

Of course, spirituality is fairly personal, and each person can go their own way, while science aims to model a physical universe we all share using rules we all agree to. So it's easier (but not always guaranteed) that scientists as a group will agree to one or two theories being best, while religious people as a group will have at least a handful of ideas to address any single question.

But nonetheless, we have to keep analyzing, criticizing, and replacing our models. An environment of ideas that allows for natural (intellectual/experimental/spiritual) selection - a marketplace of ideas - is the only way we as a civilization will become better, smarter, happier, and more just. One might go as far as to say that anyone who is NOT helping to keep the marketplace of ideas active is slowing humanity down from making progress in the numerous intellectual, social, scientific, and spiritual fronts that need attention.

But it's 1:30 in the morning, so don't pay too much attention to what I say... ;]

bernardo said...

I guess what I wanted to say - and I didn't make this super clear - is that us naturalists do not claim to have any absolute answers.

Us naturalists just have a certain way of looking for answers, and they're a different kind of answer than the ones that answer spiritual questions, and they require different assumptions about the universe than the ones that are often made when spiritual questions are pursued. Given those assumptions, though, and the kinds of explanations we like, you have to understand that it looks overwhelmingly likely to us that the world is billions of years old, that modern species evolved from common ancestors, and that the brain does what it does with no supernatural help. I don't say these things hoping to persuade you of their "truth", I just want to show that (given my not-unreasonable initial assumptions, made for asking certain kinds of questions) they are reasonable. At least right now I feel that that is my goal on this blog.

Randy Kirk said...

What you are saying, Bernardo, is very cool, and it has given me an idea for a completely new thread. Natural consequences of naturalistic thinking vs and/or coicidental with spiritual thinking. Hmmmm. Maybe still time on lunch hour, but maybe not 'till tonight.

bernardo said...

"Natural consequences of naturalistic thinking vs and/or coicidental with spiritual thinking."

I'm not sure what you mean... other than "The two sides arrive at different conclusions and start debating" ;] but I look forward to finding out.

Randy Kirk said...


I don't know one Christian who isn't praying for peace. It is totally incorrrect to desire death and distruction for anyone other than possibly those who are so antisocial that they are gunning for me or my family.

It is not part of any branch of Christianity to help God bring about the end times.

But, and I hope I can state this clearly. Christians do pray for the soon coming of Christ, which will usher in, NOT the end of the world, but the end of the world as we know it. It will usher in a time much closer to to the "garden," where the lion will lay down with the sheep, both metaphorically and literally. This is a great hope for all of humanity who choose to worship God.

You may be right, and it may never happen. Interestingly, as a naturalist, there is absolutely nothing in your understanding of how things work that would keep the extinction of humans from happening tomorrow by human means or natural means.

Randy Kirk said...


I have stated the purpose of the blog up above. However, as to my position relative to the debate, and the thing which caused me to start the debate:

It occured to me that naturalists were not taking various evidences which would be appropriate in any other forum as having weight.

It likewise occured to me that Christians commonly view science through a pretty hazy lens. And I'm concerned that due to the derisive tone that seems to be coming into the debate, Christians and naturalists may become more and more beligerent and likely to use the power of courts and ballot boxes to restrict freedoms. I see this already happening on the campus's where my daughter experienced open hostility from the rostrum against Christians by her professors.

bernardo said...

"... likely to use the power of courts and ballot boxes to restrict freedoms".

I am fairly relativist on the Atheist/Christian debate, and I think I usually do an ok job at trying to empathize with the other side, to see where they're coming from and why they believe what they believe. But there is one issue I will not budge on: The separation between church and state. I could spend pages explaining why it hurts me and worries me to see "In God We Trust" on the money and on government buildings, to hear politicians emphasize their faith, to have to take oaths that end with "so help me God", etc. That's a topic for later, because it's very rich with arguments, history, analogies, etc. But we should address it sometime, if this site is to be a thorough exploration of the Atheist/Christian debate. I'd be happy to write a blog post about it if you want.

"my daughter experienced open hostility from the rostrum against Christians by her professors".

I'd be curious to hear about that. If your daughter wants to share, of course.

I must admit that my initial reaction to this is "Some things taught in college may contradict, or appear to contradict, Christian teachings, and this can be seen by Christians as hostility towards Christianity, especially when the Christian argues for their belief using Christian reasoning and is told that their reasoning may not be valid in the context of the classroom discussion". But I have to be open-minded about the possibility that your daughter has actually encountered people who went out of their way to be hostile towards her faith. Again, I'd be curious to learn more, although I realize this curiosity may go unfulfilled, in this specific instance.

Randy Kirk said...

Here is one example. In a post grad class (MSW), a family and marriage prof said: "like those Christians who spank their children." There were so many instances of this type and worse that my daughter went to the head of the department to complain. There are entire books on this subject, and audio tapes of actual classes. It is not an isolated situation.

bernardo said...

Yes, those crazy and extremely vocal evangelical fundamentalist Christians have earned all Christians a reputation for being self-righteous preaching moralists who can justify just about anything with a Bible verse and who never criticize their own beliefs. You gotta hate stereotypes. But as understandable (and occasionally useful) as stereotypes are, it's not right for a teacher (or a figure of authority) to make use of them while making a point. Seriously.

And speaking of audio tapes, have you heard about this one? It's almost unbelievable. And the reaction to it is pretty bad too...

Anonymous said...

At least you are aware of your brain size...

There may be hope for you and your ego yet.

bernardo said...

Ooooh, an ad hominem argument. How lovely.