Theism is popular; what follows?

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Gareth McCaughan

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Feb 9, 2008, 10:04:19 PM2/9/08
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In another thread, Mark and I (and also, pretty much independently,
Mark and Michael D.) touched on the following question. (It wasn't
put quite like this.)

Most people believe in one or more gods. How much
evidence is that for the existence of one or more
gods?

If I've understood them right, then Mark says it's very good
evidence and Michael says it's very weak evidence. (I'm on
Michael's side.) Mark suggested we take it to a separate
thread, so here is one.

It certainly seems plausible that (1) the fact that someone
believes something is evidence in its favour, and (2) the
more people believe it, the stronger the evidence is. So why
don't I think the fact that -- I'm making up the actual
figures here, by the way -- 80% of people believe in some
sort of god or gods isn't really good evidence against
atheism?

It's tempting to respond with a "tu quoque" argument: if
popularity is strong evidence of truth then the fact that
most people aren't Christians is strong evidence that
Christianity is wrong, etc. But I'd rather understand
*why* it isn't, rather than just suggesting that Christians
might prefer it not to be :-). Here are some of what I think
are the relevant considerations.


1. If you read something in the newspaper, that's good
evidence of its truth. But reading it in 100 copies of
the same newspaper is scarcely any more evidence than
reading it in one copy. (It's slightly more -- your one
copy might have been tampered with.)

The general point here is that multiple pieces of evidence
only add up in so far as they're derived from independent
sources. (If you read the same story in a *different*
newspaper, that's extra evidence -- until you discover
that actually they're both relying on the same single
press release.)

If a billion Christians all say that Jesus rose from the
dead, how much more evidence is it than if one says it?
Well, if they all believe it mostly because their religion
says it's true, and that belief -- when you trace it back --
is ultimately dependent on a few purported witnesses, then
those billions of believers are no more evidence than those
few witnesses would have been.

(Of course it's possible that they have other reasons
too, which might be more independent. It's not clear
how many purported witnesses are really involved when
you trace the story back. And there's another way in
which multiple witnesses are more credible than one;
the more, and more varied, they are, the less likely
it is that they're just crazy. And of course there
are multiple somewhat-independent religious traditions
in the world. More on some of these things later.)


2. As I said in the other thread: There's no *direct* path
from something's being right to its being widely believed.
The causal path goes truth -> evidence -> belief. When we
use someone's belief as evidence of something, we're (maybe
implicitly) reconstructing what that causal path might be
like, and the strength of the evidence depends on what
causal paths are likely.

If you're going to make an argument like "Most of the world's
population believe in the existence of a god, so a god probably
exists", you're recruiting as evidence a bunch of people with
extremely disparate beliefs. The god(s) of Hinduism are quite
different from the god of Christianity, for instance. So, what's
the actual chain of causes you imagine that leads from the
existence of God-as-understood-by-Christianity to all those
Hindus?

It seems to me that however that comes about, it's not something
that makes people reliably believe the right thing (else they'd
be Christians, right?). So why trust them even on the question
of whether there are gods or not? It seems that you -- i.e.,
those like Mark who think that you can get from "most people
believe in gods" to "probably a god or gods exist" -- think
we should take those people's beliefs as strong evidence
right up to the point at which they diverge from Christianity,
and then stop doing so.


3. It's striking how much the world's religions *don't* have
in common. Judaism has, very emphatically, exactly one god;
Islam, too. Christianity has one, but is fuzzier about it in
various ways (the Trinity; the devil; saints). These are all
quite similar -- and, oddly enough, they all have a common
origin. Hinduism has lots and lots and lots of gods; they're
often all seen as manifestations of a single divine principle,
or something like that, but this is still very different from
the "Abrahamic" religions. Shinto has plenty of spirits, but
they're not exactly gods. Some versions of Buddhism have no
gods at all.

In fact, there's about as little in common between these beliefs
as there possibly could be. Monotheism is a majority view because
it happens that Christianity and Islam have, between them,
captured a majority of the market. (At least nominally.)

(So there might be a different sort of argument to be
made: most of the world's population, just about, is
Christian or Muslim; isn't *that* evidence for the
fairly substantial body of ideas that Christianity
and Islam share? Well ...)


4. Let's imagine that 80% of the world's population agrees
on some interesting religious idea. Heck, let's imagine that
80% of the world's population is Christian. What then? Would
that be good evidence for Christianity?

It would depend on how they got that way. Remember: there's
no direct causal path from truth to belief; so there's no
direct inferential path the other way. You have to look at
how the truth leads to the belief.

Well, we know a thing or two about how all those Christians
(and Muslims, and Hindus, etc., etc., etc.) got that way.
We know that religion is very reliably passed from parents
to children; we know that this happens for lots of religions,
and it seems to work about equally effectively for them all.
That seems to me to indicate that one of the main ways in
which people acquire religious belief is pretty much
insensitive to the truth or falsehood of that belief.

We know that Christianity and Islam have both been spread
by coercion (sometimes outright violence) on a pretty large
scale. That, again, seems like a mode of transmission that's
largely insensitive to the truth of the beliefs transmitted.
(Unless you think, e.g., that God gives victory in battle
to those who are trying to spread true beliefs about him,
but not to those who are trying to spread false beliefs
about him.)

We know that most people never give serious consideration
to more than a couple of religions (or irreligious positions)
in their life. You might start out a Christian and flirt a bit
with atheism and Judaism, say, but it's pretty rare for
anyone to look seriously into a much wider range than that.
So however all those Christians and Muslims got that way,
it mostly isn't a matter of having looked at all the options
and chosen the one that has the best evidence, or feels
best, or whatever.

We know -- well, maybe that's a bit strong, so let me be
more cautious. It doesn't seem that most Christians or Muslims
have had, or even claim to have had, a direct encounter with
God that was well-evidenced enough and specific enough to
justify them in choosing their religion rather than another.
(Religious experiences are quite common, but usually they
aren't very specific -- a feeling of peace and joy, or
oneness with the universe, or vast sorrow and penitence
for one's sins, doesn't say very much about what religion
if any is correct.)

And so on. It really doesn't look as if most people's
religious (or irreligious) beliefs are arrived at in ways
that actually give much evidence to anyone else.


5. Any claim that all those theists are evidence for theism
rests on some judgement like this: "If theism is right, then
we should expect most people to be theists. If theism is
wrong, then we should expect most people to be atheists.".

It seems to me that the first part of this rests on an
intuition about how a god might be expected to behave
that would equally justify "if theism is right, then
we should expect most people to be theists and agree
with one another about what God is like".

And it seems to me that the second part rests on the
assumption that natural explanations for god-belief are
hard to come by, which they clearly aren't. I've seen
lots and lots of suggestions that seem reasonably
plausible to me.


For all these reasons, I find it hard to see the prevalence
of religious belief as good evidence for the truth either of
any particular religion or of some more general claim like
theism.

I might, of course, be wrong. Mark Goodge says (implicitly)
that only an idiot could be as wrong as I am. I think that's
unreasonable.

--
Gareth McCaughan
.sig under construc

Gordon Hudson

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Feb 10, 2008, 5:33:47 AM2/10/08
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"Gareth McCaughan" <Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote in message
news:87y79tm...@g.mccaughan.org.uk...

> It certainly seems plausible that (1) the fact that someone
> believes something is evidence in its favour, and (2) the
> more people believe it, the stronger the evidence is.

Thats not necessarily true.

For example:

In Scotland during celtic times it was generally believed that Rowan trees
would ward off evil spirits.
Even until the 1970's most gardens had a Rowan tree and I can remember
people cultivating them.
We had one in our garden for superstitious reasons.

Yet, we know that this is clearly nonsense.
Did the fact that people believed it make it true?
Well, it made it true to them because they lived their lives according to
it, so I guess we are back to that age old question "what is truth?".

Kendall K. Down

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Feb 10, 2008, 5:45:24 AM2/10/08
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In message <87y79tm...@g.mccaughan.org.uk>
Gareth McCaughan <Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote:

> If a billion Christians all say that Jesus rose from the
> dead, how much more evidence is it than if one says it?
> Well, if they all believe it mostly because their religion
> says it's true, and that belief -- when you trace it back --
> is ultimately dependent on a few purported witnesses, then
> those billions of believers are no more evidence than those
> few witnesses would have been.

Very true, but as someone quoted (derisively, it is true) a day or so ago,
"You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart."

In other words, for many, if not all, of those Christians, the evidence that
Jesus rose from the dead is not the Gospel story but the personal
relationship that they have with Jesus.



> If you're going to make an argument like "Most of the world's
> population believe in the existence of a god, so a god probably
> exists", you're recruiting as evidence a bunch of people with
> extremely disparate beliefs. The god(s) of Hinduism are quite
> different from the god of Christianity, for instance. So, what's
> the actual chain of causes you imagine that leads from the
> existence of God-as-understood-by-Christianity to all those
> Hindus?

Some years ago I was involved in a door-to-door witnessing project in Kent
and naturally it happened from time to time that I encountered someone who
was quite definite that he (or she) did not believe in God. If the person
was willing to discuss things rationally (instead of just being abusive) I
asked, "Have you or anyone you trust ever had an experience that they could
not explain other than by invoking the supernatural?"

The people to whom I asked this question were both men and women, not all of
them white European, and ranged in age from fairly elderly to
early-twenties. With one single exception they all went silent for a moment
and then said, "Well, there was that time when ..." and regaled me with
tales of ghosts, coincidences that seemed to them sufficiently unusual to be
"spooky" and so on. The single exception stoutly maintained that nothing out
of the ordinary had ever happened to him, whereupon his girlfriend piped up,
"But what about Aunt Xxxx?" which effectively shut him up.

Of course that is very far from the Christian God - in some cases directly
contrary to what I understand to be Christian belief - but it does seem to
me as reasonable evidence for the existence of the supernatural.



> It seems to me that however that comes about, it's not something
> that makes people reliably believe the right thing (else they'd
> be Christians, right?). So why trust them even on the question
> of whether there are gods or not? It seems that you -- i.e.,
> those like Mark who think that you can get from "most people
> believe in gods" to "probably a god or gods exist" -- think
> we should take those people's beliefs as strong evidence
> right up to the point at which they diverge from Christianity,
> and then stop doing so.

Which brings us to the question of *which* version of the supernatural is
correct. That, however, I think is deserving of a separate thread.



> 3. It's striking how much the world's religions *don't* have
> in common.

Agreed. So?

> 4. Let's imagine that 80% of the world's population agrees
> on some interesting religious idea. Heck, let's imagine that
> 80% of the world's population is Christian. What then? Would
> that be good evidence for Christianity?

It might not be good evidence for the *truth* of Christianity, but it would
be good evidence that Christianity satisfied some human want/need.

However as I understand your argument, you are not worried about
Christianity per se, but about the idea that there is a god. I think it is
justifiable to say that the majority of people find that idea filling some
want/need.

> 5. Any claim that all those theists are evidence for theism
> rests on some judgement like this: "If theism is right, then
> we should expect most people to be theists. If theism is
> wrong, then we should expect most people to be atheists."

Even if you are right (in the part I snipped) and there is some good
explanation - I presume evolutionary - for the rise and popularity of
theism, that would seem to me to make theism even more attractive to
rationalists like you. After all, I have heard people - was it you? -
defending the eating of meat on the basis that we evolved canine teeth in
order to eat meat, therefore meat must be necessary to our physical health.

In the same way, if we evolved theism in order to meet some psychological
need, then those who follow the modern craze for atheism are putting their
psychological health at risk, just like those who try to do without sleep or
live in high-rise blocks of flats or anything else which we have not evolved
to cope with.

God bless,
Kendall K. Down

--
================ ARCHAEOLOGICAL DIGGINGS ===============
| Australia's premier archaeological magazine |
| http://www.diggingsonline.com |
========================================================

Gordon Hudson

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Feb 10, 2008, 7:41:11 AM2/10/08
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"Kendall K. Down" <webm...@diggingsonline.com> wrote in message
news:aceae46e4...@diggingsonline.com...

> In message <87y79tm...@g.mccaughan.org.uk>
> Gareth McCaughan <Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote:
>
>> If a billion Christians all say that Jesus rose from the
>> dead, how much more evidence is it than if one says it?
>> Well, if they all believe it mostly because their religion
>> says it's true, and that belief -- when you trace it back --
>> is ultimately dependent on a few purported witnesses, then
>> those billions of believers are no more evidence than those
>> few witnesses would have been.
>
> Very true, but as someone quoted (derisively, it is true) a day or so ago,
> "You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart."

Which is not evidence at all, its entirely subjective.
There is no observable objective evidence for the existence of God or
everyone would believe in God just as they believe the sky is blue and grass
is green.

Frederick Williams

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Feb 10, 2008, 9:26:42 AM2/10/08
to
"Kendall K. Down" wrote:

> Some years ago I was involved in a door-to-door witnessing project in Kent
> and naturally it happened from time to time that I encountered someone who
> was quite definite that he (or she) did not believe in God. If the person
> was willing to discuss things rationally (instead of just being abusive) I
> asked, "Have you or anyone you trust ever had an experience that they could
> not explain other than by invoking the supernatural?"
>
> The people to whom I asked this question were both men and women, not all of
> them white European, and ranged in age from fairly elderly to
> early-twenties. With one single exception they all went silent for a moment
> and then said, "Well, there was that time when ..." and regaled me with
> tales of ghosts, coincidences that seemed to them sufficiently unusual to be
> "spooky" and so on. The single exception stoutly maintained that nothing out
> of the ordinary had ever happened to him, whereupon his girlfriend piped up,
> "But what about Aunt Xxxx?" which effectively shut him up.
>
> Of course that is very far from the Christian God - in some cases directly
> contrary to what I understand to be Christian belief - but it does seem to
> me as reasonable evidence for the existence of the supernatural.

The supernatural being what? If it's just what scientists don't (or if
some prefer, don't yet) understand, then of course the supernatural
exists; but I see no valid inference from that to the tenets of
Christianity or any other religion.

The argument seems to be

We are ignorant about X (for a wide variety of Xs)
therefore God is the explanation for X.

which makes no sense to me.

If by the supernatural you mean some vague feeling held by some old
woman (of any age and either sex) then such things, though common, don't
give one much to go on.

--
Going forward at this moment in time a raft of measures
have been put in place on the ground to target and
claw back the growth of cliche usage 24/7.
Remove "antispam" and ".invalid" for e-mail address.

Richard Corfield

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Feb 10, 2008, 5:24:52 PM2/10/08
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On 2008-02-10, Kendall K. Down <webm...@diggingsonline.com> wrote:
>
> Some years ago I was involved in a door-to-door witnessing project in Kent
> and naturally it happened from time to time that I encountered someone who
> was quite definite that he (or she) did not believe in God. If the person
> was willing to discuss things rationally (instead of just being abusive) I
> asked, "Have you or anyone you trust ever had an experience that they could
> not explain other than by invoking the supernatural?"

... or a misunderstanding of statistics?

> Which brings us to the question of *which* version of the supernatural is
> correct. That, however, I think is deserving of a separate thread.

I thought that would be what this thread was going to be.

>> 4. Let's imagine that 80% of the world's population agrees
>> on some interesting religious idea. Heck, let's imagine that
>> 80% of the world's population is Christian. What then? Would
>> that be good evidence for Christianity?
>
> It might not be good evidence for the *truth* of Christianity, but it would
> be good evidence that Christianity satisfied some human want/need.
>
> However as I understand your argument, you are not worried about
> Christianity per se, but about the idea that there is a god. I think it is
> justifiable to say that the majority of people find that idea filling some
> want/need.

Something like the below?

"Who am I? Will I cease when I die? Has Aunty Marge ceased? Why am I
here? Can I have some structure to my life please?"

>> 5. Any claim that all those theists are evidence for theism
>> rests on some judgement like this: "If theism is right, then
>> we should expect most people to be theists. If theism is
>> wrong, then we should expect most people to be atheists."
>
> Even if you are right (in the part I snipped) and there is some good
> explanation - I presume evolutionary - for the rise and popularity of
> theism, that would seem to me to make theism even more attractive to
> rationalists like you. After all, I have heard people - was it you? -
> defending the eating of meat on the basis that we evolved canine teeth in
> order to eat meat, therefore meat must be necessary to our physical health.
>
> In the same way, if we evolved theism in order to meet some psychological
> need, then those who follow the modern craze for atheism are putting their
> psychological health at risk, just like those who try to do without sleep or
> live in high-rise blocks of flats or anything else which we have not evolved
> to cope with.

It has changed though over the years. Maybe it continues to evolve.
Karren Armstrong's book gives an interesting history in which she talks
about transition from appeasing spirits that represented the dangerous
world outside and ensured a good harvest through philosophies that are
more about selflessness and being what you could call a 'good person'.

If we take that, then religion started as a means to try to
control/appease the dangerous outside world. It passed through many
other things too. The world is tamed by technology now, so it must fit
in elsewhere.

- Richard

--
_/_/_/ _/_/_/ _/_/_/ Richard Corfield <Richard....@gmail.com>
_/ _/ _/ _/
_/_/ _/ _/ Time is a one way street,
_/ _/ _/_/ _/_/_/ except in the Twilight Zone

Gareth McCaughan

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Feb 10, 2008, 6:07:49 PM2/10/08
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Gordon Hudson wrote:

> "Gareth McCaughan" <Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote in message
> news:87y79tm...@g.mccaughan.org.uk...
>
>> It certainly seems plausible that (1) the fact that someone
>> believes something is evidence in its favour, and (2) the
>> more people believe it, the stronger the evidence is.
>
> Thats not necessarily true.

That was my point. :-) (Well, more precisely: I think #1 and #2
are both correct, but my point is that in #1 the evidence might
be very weak and in #2 the increase in strength from having lots
of people might be very small.)

> For example:
>
> In Scotland during celtic times it was generally believed that Rowan trees
> would ward off evil spirits.
> Even until the 1970's most gardens had a Rowan tree and I can remember
> people cultivating them.
> We had one in our garden for superstitious reasons.
>
> Yet, we know that this is clearly nonsense.
> Did the fact that people believed it make it true?

No, but the fact that they believed it is evidence -- very weak
evidence, for sure -- of its truth. Anyone who doesn't in fact
think that rowan trees ward off evil spirits presumably reckons
that the contrary evidence is stronger. (I am one such person.)

Gareth McCaughan

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Feb 10, 2008, 6:43:44 PM2/10/08
to
Ken Down wrote:

> In message <87y79tm...@g.mccaughan.org.uk>
> Gareth McCaughan <Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote:
>
>> If a billion Christians all say that Jesus rose from the
>> dead, how much more evidence is it than if one says it?
>> Well, if they all believe it mostly because their religion
>> says it's true, and that belief -- when you trace it back --
>> is ultimately dependent on a few purported witnesses, then
>> those billions of believers are no more evidence than those
>> few witnesses would have been.
>
> Very true, but as someone quoted (derisively, it is true) a day or so ago,
> "You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart."
>
> In other words, for many, if not all, of those Christians, the evidence that
> Jesus rose from the dead is not the Gospel story but the personal
> relationship that they have with Jesus.

Supposedly so. You'll observe the word "if" in what I wrote,
and you snipped the observation: "Of course it's possible that


they have other reasons too, which might be more independent".

A personalrelationshipwithjesus might indeed be such a
more independent other reason.

>> If you're going to make an argument like "Most of the world's
>> population believe in the existence of a god, so a god probably
>> exists", you're recruiting as evidence a bunch of people with
>> extremely disparate beliefs. The god(s) of Hinduism are quite
>> different from the god of Christianity, for instance. So, what's
>> the actual chain of causes you imagine that leads from the
>> existence of God-as-understood-by-Christianity to all those
>> Hindus?
>
> Some years ago I was involved in a door-to-door witnessing project in Kent
> and naturally it happened from time to time that I encountered someone who
> was quite definite that he (or she) did not believe in God. If the person
> was willing to discuss things rationally (instead of just being abusive) I
> asked, "Have you or anyone you trust ever had an experience that they could
> not explain other than by invoking the supernatural?"
>
> The people to whom I asked this question were both men and women, not all of
> them white European, and ranged in age from fairly elderly to
> early-twenties. With one single exception they all went silent for a moment
> and then said, "Well, there was that time when ..." and regaled me with
> tales of ghosts, coincidences that seemed to them sufficiently unusual to be
> "spooky" and so on. The single exception stoutly maintained that nothing out
> of the ordinary had ever happened to him, whereupon his girlfriend piped up,
> "But what about Aunt Xxxx?" which effectively shut him up.

It's well established that almost everyone overestimates the
improbability of coincidences, and that the bits of our brains
that identify half-seen things as people are overzealous. And
that stories grow in the telling (and even in the remembering).
So this is hardly surprising even if in fact nothing supernatural
ever happens.

> Of course that is very far from the Christian God - in some cases directly
> contrary to what I understand to be Christian belief - but it does seem to
> me as reasonable evidence for the existence of the supernatural.

Not to me. Especially not since when careful investigation of
spooky coincidences, ghosts, etc., is possible, it always seems
to turn out that nothing supernatural was going on. For me,
that makes it quite credible that all those people are wrong.

>> It seems to me that however that comes about, it's not something
>> that makes people reliably believe the right thing (else they'd
>> be Christians, right?). So why trust them even on the question
>> of whether there are gods or not? It seems that you -- i.e.,
>> those like Mark who think that you can get from "most people
>> believe in gods" to "probably a god or gods exist" -- think
>> we should take those people's beliefs as strong evidence
>> right up to the point at which they diverge from Christianity,
>> and then stop doing so.
>
> Which brings us to the question of *which* version of the supernatural
> is correct. That, however, I think is deserving of a separate thread.

This is *already* a separate thread. If it's not separate
enough for you, please feel free to start another. (But if
it's going to start from the premise that the prevalence
of "spooky coincidences", apparent encounters with ghosts,
etc., proves beyond reasonable doubt that some supernatural
goings-on are real, then count me out.)

>> 3. It's striking how much the world's religions *don't* have
>> in common.
>
> Agreed. So?

So there's something rather strange about saying "See, all
these people believe in gods, so there must be a god or gods".
Saying that means postulating some sort of causal process
that somehow transmits the fact that atheism is wrong to
all these people, *without reliably conveying any other
information*. It's hard to see what that process would be.

>> 4. Let's imagine that 80% of the world's population agrees
>> on some interesting religious idea. Heck, let's imagine that
>> 80% of the world's population is Christian. What then? Would
>> that be good evidence for Christianity?
>
> It might not be good evidence for the *truth* of Christianity, but it
> would be good evidence that Christianity satisfied some human want/need.
>
> However as I understand your argument, you are not worried about
> Christianity per se, but about the idea that there is a god. I think
> it is justifiable to say that the majority of people find that idea
> filling some want/need.

I think "this belief fills some want/need for many people"
and "this belief is true" are almost completely unrelated
propositions.

>> 5. Any claim that all those theists are evidence for theism
>> rests on some judgement like this: "If theism is right, then
>> we should expect most people to be theists. If theism is
>> wrong, then we should expect most people to be atheists."
>
> Even if you are right (in the part I snipped) and there is some good
> explanation - I presume evolutionary - for the rise and popularity of
> theism, that would seem to me to make theism even more attractive to
> rationalists like you. After all, I have heard people - was it you? -
> defending the eating of meat on the basis that we evolved canine teeth in
> order to eat meat, therefore meat must be necessary to our physical health.

I don't think it was me. It doesn't sound like something I'd say.

> In the same way, if we evolved theism in order to meet some psychological
> need, then those who follow the modern craze for atheism are putting their
> psychological health at risk, just like those who try to do without sleep or
> live in high-rise blocks of flats or anything else which we have not evolved
> to cope with.

If the explanation for the prevalence of religion is to be
found in evolutionary psychology then I think it's much more
likely to have the form "Such-and-such features of our minds
are useful because [...], and it turns out that they also
make us prone to religiosity because [...]". That is,
religion is more likely to be like music and masturbation
and higher mathematics and advertising than like hunger
and the ability to recognize faces quickly.

Gareth McCaughan

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Feb 10, 2008, 7:23:14 PM2/10/08
to
Gordon Hudson wrote:

[Ken:]


>> Very true, but as someone quoted (derisively, it is true) a day or so ago,
>> "You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart."

[Gordon:]


> Which is not evidence at all, its entirely subjective.
> There is no observable objective evidence for the existence of God or
> everyone would believe in God just as they believe the sky is blue and grass
> is green.

There might be subtle observable objective evidence.
(There's observable objective evidence for global warming,
but there are plenty of people who manage not to believe it.)

Gordon Hudson

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Feb 11, 2008, 3:08:02 AM2/11/08
to
"Gareth McCaughan" <Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote in message
news:874pcgm...@g.mccaughan.org.uk...

With global wrming I think everyone agrees the earth is heating up, its
mainly arguments about why this is happening.
It is a bit like the whole creation vs evolution debate.
Everyone knows we are here, its just a question of what the evidence will
support.

Paul Grieg

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Feb 10, 2008, 7:40:18 AM2/10/08
to
On Feb 10, 3:04 am, Gareth McCaughan <Gareth.McCaug...@pobox.com>
wrote:

> In another thread, Mark and I (and also, pretty much independently,
> Mark and Michael D.) touched on the following question. (It wasn't
> put quite like this.)
>
> Most people believe in one or more gods. How much
> evidence is that for the existence of one or more
> gods?

The statement is too general to be meaningful. For instance, which God
are we talking about? Einstein's God? Spinoza's God? The Christian
God? As Einstein's God and Spinoza's God are just metaphors for Nature
then it would be unusual to find *anyone* who did not believe in
either of these 'gods'.

Could it be that most people, at least in the modern UK, do not
believe in a Christian God but are using God as a metaphor for
'meaningful universe'? Hawking and Einstein do this, and they have had
a lot of influence. In summary, are most people who say they believe
in God actually atheists?

Paul Grieg

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Feb 10, 2008, 7:48:35 AM2/10/08
to
On Feb 10, 10:33 am, "Gordon Hudson" <hostro...@gmail.com> wrote:
> "Gareth McCaughan" <Gareth.McCaug...@pobox.com> wrote in message
belief

It worked -- "Well did you see an evil spirit after the Rowan tree was
planted? What, you didn't see one before? That doesn't undermine the
truth of my original observation."

This passes Popper's falsifiability test. The hypothesis "Rowan trees
ward off evil spirits" is a valid scientific theory until you see an
evil spirit cavorting in the garden.

Paul Grieg

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Feb 10, 2008, 8:35:47 AM2/10/08
to
On Feb 10, 10:45 am, "Kendall K. Down" <webmas...@diggingsonline.com>
wrote:
> In message <87y79tms0c....@g.mccaughan.org.uk>

Unless you were going door to door in a spiritualist enclave, or a mad
house, I don't believe you. Myself, and most pals I've talked to about
this, would have said "nothing ever happened". As I don't believe you,
why don't you get some double-blind experiments going and *really*
convince me. Then again, why haven't they been done? It's a pretty
important finding, if it was actually a true finding (which it isn't).

> Of course that is very far from the Christian God - in some cases directly
> contrary to what I understand to be Christian belief - but it does seem to
> me as reasonable evidence for the existence of the supernatural.

Maybe you think Christian belief is so important that your prepared to
make up stories about ghoulies and ghosties to get people believing.

Then again, you say that ghoulies and ghosties are evidence against!
So why bring them up in support of your beliefs? having your cake and
eating it?

> Which brings us to the question of *which* version of the supernatural is
> correct. That, however, I think is deserving of a separate thread.

There is no good evidence for anything supernatural.

> > 4. Let's imagine that 80% of the world's population agrees
> > on some interesting religious idea. Heck, let's imagine that
> > 80% of the world's population is Christian. What then? Would
> > that be good evidence for Christianity?
>
> It might not be good evidence for the *truth* of Christianity, but it would
> be good evidence that Christianity satisfied some human want/need.

Santa Claus satisfies a child's need to believe in a bringer of
presents. That doesn't mean he exists.

> However as I understand your argument, you are not worried about
> Christianity per se, but about the idea that there is a god. I think it is
> justifiable to say that the majority of people find that idea filling some
> want/need.

Miss Whiplash fills some wants, that doesn't mean they should be
filled.

> Even if you are right (in the part I snipped) and there is some good
> explanation - I presume evolutionary - for the rise and popularity of
> theism, that would seem to me to make theism even more attractive to
> rationalists like you.

Why do you think that evolutionists think all the products of
evolution are good? I certainly don't think that about the tiger in
the corner who is about to eat me...

> defending the eating of meat on the basis that we evolved canine teeth in
> order to eat meat, therefore meat must be necessary to our physical health.

That's a daft argument for an evolutionist, or anyone to make. Look at
all the healthy vegetarians! Also it's wrong to attribute such a daft
argument to Gareth with checking that he actually made the argument.

Twist and shout as much as you like, rational argument will always
defeat you.

> In the same way, if we evolved theism in order to meet some psychological

> need, then those who follow the modern craze for atheism...

Modern? What about Epicurus and countless other ancients?

Tony Gillam

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Feb 11, 2008, 3:19:27 AM2/11/08
to
Richard Corfield <Richard....@gmail.com> wrote:
> If we take that, then religion started as a means to try to
> control/appease the dangerous outside world. It passed through many
> other things too. The world is tamed by technology now, so it must fit
> in elsewhere.
>
Tell that to the Master of the Irish ferry on Blackpool beach.
--
Tony Gillam
tony....@lineone.net
http://www.bookourvilla.co.uk/spain
Sun, sand and sangria

Kendall K. Down

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Feb 10, 2008, 2:22:27 PM2/10/08
to
In message <47AF0A10...@antispamhotmail.co.uk.invalid>

Frederick Williams <"Frederick Williams"@antispamhotmail.co.uk.invalid> wrote:

> > Of course that is very far from the Christian God - in some cases directly
> > contrary to what I understand to be Christian belief - but it does seem to
> > me as reasonable evidence for the existence of the supernatural.

> The supernatural being what? If it's just what scientists don't (or if
> some prefer, don't yet) understand, then of course the supernatural
> exists; but I see no valid inference from that to the tenets of
> Christianity or any other religion.

Which, you can see in my first line above, I agree with.

By "the supernatural" I mean things which are not explained by science and
which are not amenable to scientific explanation[1], but for which various
religions propose a variety of solutions[2].

God bless,
Kendall K. Down

Note 1: at least, at present.

Note 2: and there are various physical processes or events for which
scientists propose a variety of explanations.

Kendall K. Down

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Feb 10, 2008, 2:18:30 PM2/10/08
to
In message <6189n2F...@mid.individual.net>
"Gordon Hudson" <host...@gmail.com> wrote:

> > Very true, but as someone quoted (derisively, it is true) a day or so ago,
> > "You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart."

> Which is not evidence at all, its entirely subjective.
> There is no observable objective evidence for the existence of God or
> everyone would believe in God just as they believe the sky is blue and grass
> is green.

1. It is also entirely subjective that my wife loves me.

2. And, of course, it is your subjective view that the sky is blue. Please
prove to me that the sky is the same colour for you as it is for me. (And
proving that the colour temperature of the sky is so many degrees kelvin is
not enough. I want to know that your eyes and brain perceive exactly the
same shade of blue as mine do.)

Gareth McCaughan

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Feb 11, 2008, 4:24:28 AM2/11/08
to
Paul Grieg wrote:

> This passes Popper's falsifiability test. The hypothesis "Rowan trees
> ward off evil spirits" is a valid scientific theory until you see an
> evil spirit cavorting in the garden.

The hypothesis that Rowans ward off stupid journalists has,
however, been decisively refuted.

Popperian falsification is an approximation to Bayesian
inference. Every time a hypothesis is falsified it becomes
much less probable. Every time a hypothesis is verified
it becomes a little more probable. The sizes of "much less"
and "a little more" depend greatly on what the test was
and how dramatically the hypothesis passed or failed.
A hypothesis as complicated as "rowan trees ward off
evil spirits", with no initial evidence in its favour
and no plausible mechanism, starts off with very low
probability. Every time we don't see actual evidence
of rowan trees warding off evil spirits, the probability
of the claim goes down a tiny bit more. It's not looking
good.

Of course, it depends a bit on exactly how you interpret
"rowan trees ward off evil spirits". If you take it to mean
"for every evil spirit E, rowan trees are effective in
keeping E away" then it's probably true (but vacuous),
and in fact every time you see a house with a rowan tree
not being attacked by evil spirits you have some confirmation
of it. If you take it to mean "there are evil spirits, and
[insert previous version here]" then seeing houses with
rowans not being attacked is evidence for only the second
bit, and you might notice after a while that it's only
that bit that you ever see good evidence for.

Gareth McCaughan

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Feb 11, 2008, 4:26:59 AM2/11/08
to
Gordon Hudson wrote:

> "Gareth McCaughan" <Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote in message
> news:874pcgm...@g.mccaughan.org.uk...
>> Gordon Hudson wrote:
>>
>> [Ken:]
>>>> Very true, but as someone quoted (derisively, it is true) a day or so
>>>> ago,
>>>> "You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart."
>>
>> [Gordon:]
>>> Which is not evidence at all, its entirely subjective.
>>> There is no observable objective evidence for the existence of God or
>>> everyone would believe in God just as they believe the sky is blue and
>>> grass
>>> is green.
>>
>> There might be subtle observable objective evidence.
>> (There's observable objective evidence for global warming,
>> but there are plenty of people who manage not to believe it.)
>
> With global wrming I think everyone agrees the earth is heating up, its
> mainly arguments about why this is happening.

Maybe that's true now. I don't think it was a year or two ago.
Denialists are quite good at denial.

> It is a bit like the whole creation vs evolution debate.
> Everyone knows we are here, its just a question of what the evidence will
> support.

But, again, there are lots of people who reject evolution
despite the (excellent) observable objective evidence. That's
partly because the evidence is indirect; the same could be
true if there were evidence for God. And it's partly because
of stubbornness and preconceived ideas; the same could again
be true of evidence for God.

(For the avoidance of doubt: I don't in fact think that the
main reason why people like me see little evidence of God's
existence is stubbornness and prejudice. Surprise, surprise.)

Gareth McCaughan

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Feb 11, 2008, 4:46:01 AM2/11/08
to
Paul Grieg wrote:

> On Feb 10, 3:04 am, Gareth McCaughan <Gareth.McCaug...@pobox.com>
> wrote:
>> In another thread, Mark and I (and also, pretty much independently,
>> Mark and Michael D.) touched on the following question. (It wasn't
>> put quite like this.)
>>
>> Most people believe in one or more gods. How much
>> evidence is that for the existence of one or more
>> gods?
>
> The statement is too general to be meaningful.

The trouble is that any much more specific statement is so
obviously false that I wouldn't want to ascribe it to Mark
for fear of embarrassing him :-).

Anyway, I don't think it's quite so general as to be meaningless.

> For instance, which God
> are we talking about? Einstein's God? Spinoza's God? The Christian
> God? As Einstein's God and Spinoza's God are just metaphors for Nature
> then it would be unusual to find *anyone* who did not believe in
> either of these 'gods'.

For which reason I wouldn't in fact describe either Einstein
or Spinoza as believing in a god or gods; merely as using theistic
language to express something else. (It's possible that either
or both of them believed different things on different occasions,
or half-believed in an actual god, or whatever. I'm assuming for
the sake of argument that there really wasn't anything more to
their theistic language than a metaphor for the universe, or for
whatever order there is to be found therein.)

> Could it be that most people, at least in the modern UK, do not
> believe in a Christian God but are using God as a metaphor for
> 'meaningful universe'? Hawking and Einstein do this, and they have had
> a lot of influence. In summary, are most people who say they believe
> in God actually atheists?

I think relatively few people have a taste for that sort of
metaphorical usage. But there are probably quite a few who
talk as if they believe in God but don't really have any
belief much more concrete than Einstein's or Spinoza's.

Gareth McCaughan

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Feb 11, 2008, 4:35:06 AM2/11/08
to
Ken Down wrote:

>>> Very true, but as someone quoted (derisively, it is true) a day or so ago,
>>> "You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart."
>
>> Which is not evidence at all, its entirely subjective.
>> There is no observable objective evidence for the existence of God or
>> everyone would believe in God just as they believe the sky is blue and grass
>> is green.
>
> 1. It is also entirely subjective that my wife loves me.

It isn't, you know. Much of the evidence you (I assume) have
for that is usable by others, or would be if it weren't private
for various reasons.

> 2. And, of course, it is your subjective view that the sky is blue. Please
> prove to me that the sky is the same colour for you as it is for me. (And
> proving that the colour temperature of the sky is so many degrees kelvin is
> not enough. I want to know that your eyes and brain perceive exactly the
> same shade of blue as mine do.)

Probably a meaningless question. And since no one's claimed that
you *do* perceive the exact same subjective shade of blue as Gordon,
an irrelevant one too.

I find it amusing the way that many Christians rush to embrace
postmodern all-is-relative nonsense -- which, more consistently,
Christians generally used to despise -- when questions of evidence
come up. It happens in discussions like this one; it happens in
discussions of creationism. I suppose that when the evidence is
solidly against you, the best you can do is to try to undermine
the whole idea of evidence.

Richard Corfield

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Feb 11, 2008, 4:58:40 AM2/11/08
to
On 2008-02-10, Kendall K. Down <webm...@diggingsonline.com> wrote:
> 2. And, of course, it is your subjective view that the sky is blue. Please
> prove to me that the sky is the same colour for you as it is for me. (And
> proving that the colour temperature of the sky is so many degrees kelvin is
> not enough. I want to know that your eyes and brain perceive exactly the
> same shade of blue as mine do.)

Does that one actually matter? Even if our internal perception differs
we can both recognise what is called blue when other things are blue
and we can, given a set of crayons, both output the right colour.

Ask people of different religions to draw/symbolise God and we get
different outputs. We could say it's like the difference between Blue and
Bleu, Red and Rouge. Green and Vert. Though there are many similarities,
some of the differences when you get into the details can be quite stark.

Richard Corfield

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Feb 11, 2008, 5:07:30 AM2/11/08
to
On 2008-02-10, Paul Grieg <pgr...@yahoo.com> wrote:
> Could it be that most people, at least in the modern UK, do not
> believe in a Christian God but are using God as a metaphor for
> 'meaningful universe'? Hawking and Einstein do this, and they have had
> a lot of influence. In summary, are most people who say they believe
> in God actually atheists?

Unlikely I'd have thought. In the western culture we're used to the word
God referring to an external intelligent "bearded man in the sky" type
of entity, which I'd have thought would be the default interpretation
used by someone who hadn't thought much about it - even if Christians
tell us that it's not strictly correct either as in no beard and not in
the sky.

Mark Goodge

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Feb 11, 2008, 5:29:41 AM2/11/08
to
On Sun, 10 Feb 2008 03:04:19 +0000, Gareth McCaughan put finger to
keyboard and typed:

It's stronger if you read it in 100 different newspapers, though. And
it becomes stronger again if those 100 different newspapers have
different sources.

[snip]


>If you're going to make an argument like "Most of the world's
>population believe in the existence of a god, so a god probably
>exists", you're recruiting as evidence a bunch of people with
>extremely disparate beliefs. The god(s) of Hinduism are quite
>different from the god of Christianity, for instance. So, what's
>the actual chain of causes you imagine that leads from the
>existence of God-as-understood-by-Christianity to all those
>Hindus?

I'm going to snip the rest of the post I'm responding to, because I
think this is a good point to try and explain how I see it, which is
different to what I think is being responded to in the stuff that I've
snipped!

My main point is that religious belief, of some sort, has been
overwhelmingly predominant in human society from at least the dawn of
history. Not all religious beliefs are the same, or have been the
same, but the concept of some kind of "god" or "spirit world" is
pretty much ubiquitous. And there are very few other aspects of human
society of which the same could be said, and all of those relate to
things which are in some way a reflection of obvious physical/social
factors (for example, all cultures have some concept of leadership,
and have some concept of sexual morality even where that morality
widely differs from ours). The most obvious conclusion from the
preponderance of relious/spiritual belief, therefore, is that
religious/spiritual belief is itself based on an underlying reality
that is common to all cultures.

If that is so, then there are a couple of possibilities which follow
from it. Either the underlying reality on which these beliefs are
based is, on the whole, clear and easy to discover, or it isn't. In
the former case, we should expect that most, if not all, cultures will
develop religious beliefs which are essentially similar. If the
latter, then they will develop religious beliefs which diverge
considerably. As it happens, the latter is what do, indeed, observe.

So, if it is true that all religious beliefs are based on an
underlying reality, and that underlying reality is far from clear or
obvious, then God-as-understood-by-Christianity leads to all those
Hindus (and everyone else) because all those Hindus are doing their
best to make sense of a reality (that there is some form of
god/spirit) without the necessary information to reach any reliable
conclusions about it. And this, oddly enough, is precisely what
Christian doctrine says is the case: that the existence of the
"supernatural" is visible to humans, but that without direct
revelation from God as to its nature we are unable to understand it.

Mark
--
Blog: http://Mark.Goodge.co.uk Photos: http://www.goodge.co.uk
"Here we are now, entertain us"

Nick Milton

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Feb 11, 2008, 7:47:26 AM2/11/08
to
On Sun, 10 Feb 2008 04:40:18 -0800 (PST), Paul Grieg
<pgr...@yahoo.com> wrote:

>On Feb 10, 3:04 am, Gareth McCaughan <Gareth.McCaug...@pobox.com>
>wrote:
>> In another thread, Mark and I (and also, pretty much independently,
>> Mark and Michael D.) touched on the following question. (It wasn't
>> put quite like this.)
>>
>> Most people believe in one or more gods. How much
>> evidence is that for the existence of one or more
>> gods?
>
>The statement is too general to be meaningful. For instance, which God
>are we talking about? Einstein's God? Spinoza's God? The Christian
>God? As Einstein's God and Spinoza's God are just metaphors for Nature
>then it would be unusual to find *anyone* who did not believe in
>either of these 'gods'.
>
>Could it be that most people, at least in the modern UK, do not
>believe in a Christian God but are using God as a metaphor for
>'meaningful universe'?

Which universe are we talking about? Newtons universe? Einsteins
universe? The universe that is one in a multiverse?

Richard Corfield

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Feb 11, 2008, 9:01:15 AM2/11/08
to
On 2008-02-11, Mark Goodge <use...@listmail.good-stuff.co.uk> wrote:
>
> So, if it is true that all religious beliefs are based on an
> underlying reality, and that underlying reality is far from clear or
> obvious, then God-as-understood-by-Christianity leads to all those
> Hindus (and everyone else) because all those Hindus are doing their
> best to make sense of a reality (that there is some form of
> god/spirit) without the necessary information to reach any reliable
> conclusions about it. And this, oddly enough, is precisely what
> Christian doctrine says is the case: that the existence of the
> "supernatural" is visible to humans, but that without direct
> revelation from God as to its nature we are unable to understand it.

Though the Hindus also claim direct revelation on the part of the
Rishis. The Muslims claim Mohammed as prophet. Sikhs have Guru Nanak who
apparently showed signs of divinity, and so forth. The Buddha reached
enlightenment which I suppose is semantically similar, especially if
you're a non-dualist.

All of these groups claim their revelations as fact. Christians claim
that Christ was risen, Muslims that Mohammed was carried off by angels,
the Buddha did miracles amongst other things and so forth. As someone said
here that the historicity of the Christian New Testament supports it,
I've heard no-one really deny the Buddha's existence and I know of some
people who are out there finding the same kind of evidence for Krishna or
someone called Krishna at the right time as Christians quote for Christ,
or someone called Jesus at the right time.

If you were an intelligent god, and you had a diverse set of people
with different frames of reference, then firstly how come you let it
get so diverse, but mainly having allowed it to get so diverse (maybe
you were watching to see what happened before stepping in) would you
go for the big bang wollop approach or gently steering each group in
the right direction? If going for the big bang wollop approach which
Christianity indicates wouldn't you do it on a larger scale such that
many more can benefit?

Isn't there a bit of old testament where God says through some prophet
that the Israelites shouldn't assume that they are the only ones he
cares for?

Frederick Williams

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Feb 11, 2008, 10:44:56 AM2/11/08
to
Paul Grieg wrote:

> Could it be that most people, at least in the modern UK, do not
> believe in a Christian God but are using God as a metaphor for
> 'meaningful universe'? Hawking and Einstein do this, and they have had
> a lot of influence.

What do Hawking and Einstein mean by 'meaningful' in 'meaningful
universe'? What's the point in using 'God' as a metaphor for a
something senseless? Just stop using the senseless phrase and you've
got a spare metaphor if you ever need one.

Kendall K. Down

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Feb 11, 2008, 5:10:26 AM2/11/08
to
In message <87d4r4m...@g.mccaughan.org.uk>
Gareth McCaughan <Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote:

> This is *already* a separate thread. If it's not separate
> enough for you, please feel free to start another. (But if
> it's going to start from the premise that the prevalence
> of "spooky coincidences", apparent encounters with ghosts,
> etc., proves beyond reasonable doubt that some supernatural
> goings-on are real, then count me out.)

Gladly - but there are an awful lot of people for whom such things do
provide an unshakeable reason for their belief in God/gods.



> So there's something rather strange about saying "See, all
> these people believe in gods, so there must be a god or gods".
> Saying that means postulating some sort of causal process
> that somehow transmits the fact that atheism is wrong to
> all these people, *without reliably conveying any other
> information*. It's hard to see what that process would be.

Experience? After all, some sort of causal process transmitted the idea that
jumping off cliffs was a bad idea *without reliably conveying any
understanding of gravity*.



> > It might not be good evidence for the *truth* of Christianity, but it
> > would be good evidence that Christianity satisfied some human want/need.
> > However as I understand your argument, you are not worried about
> > Christianity per se, but about the idea that there is a god. I think
> > it is justifiable to say that the majority of people find that idea
> > filling some want/need.

> I think "this belief fills some want/need for many people"
> and "this belief is true" are almost completely unrelated
> propositions.

You will notice that I drew that distinction in the first line of my
paragraph.



> > In the same way, if we evolved theism in order to meet some psychological
> > need, then those who follow the modern craze for atheism are putting their
> > psychological health at risk, just like those who try to do without sleep or
> > live in high-rise blocks of flats or anything else which we have not evolved
> > to cope with.

> If the explanation for the prevalence of religion is to be
> found in evolutionary psychology then I think it's much more
> likely to have the form "Such-and-such features of our minds
> are useful because [...], and it turns out that they also
> make us prone to religiosity because [...]". That is,
> religion is more likely to be like music and masturbation
> and higher mathematics and advertising than like hunger
> and the ability to recognize faces quickly.

Whatever; it still fulfils a need. More to the point, it fulfils a need
which atheism cannot fulfil.

Gareth McCaughan

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Feb 11, 2008, 9:35:02 PM2/11/08
to
Ken Down wrote:

[me:]


>> This is *already* a separate thread. If it's not separate
>> enough for you, please feel free to start another. (But if
>> it's going to start from the premise that the prevalence
>> of "spooky coincidences", apparent encounters with ghosts,
>> etc., proves beyond reasonable doubt that some supernatural
>> goings-on are real, then count me out.)

[Ken:]


> Gladly - but there are an awful lot of people for whom such things
> do provide an unshakeable reason for their belief in God/gods.

Perhaps so. It seems to me that they are clearly wrong to
be unshakable as a result of such experiences. Especially
if what they believe unshakably is something specific like
Christianity rather than "supernatural things happen
sometimes".

>> So there's something rather strange about saying "See, all
>> these people believe in gods, so there must be a god or gods".
>> Saying that means postulating some sort of causal process
>> that somehow transmits the fact that atheism is wrong to
>> all these people, *without reliably conveying any other
>> information*. It's hard to see what that process would be.
>
> Experience? After all, some sort of causal process transmitted the idea
> that jumping off cliffs was a bad idea *without reliably conveying any
> understanding of gravity*.

Anyone who has learned from experience (presumably other
people's experience) that jumping off cliffs is a bad idea
*does* have an understanding of gravity, and one that goes
beyond "there's a thing called gravity that makes jumping
off cliffs a bad idea".

>>> It might not be good evidence for the *truth* of Christianity, but it
>>> would be good evidence that Christianity satisfied some human want/need.
>>> However as I understand your argument, you are not worried about
>>> Christianity per se, but about the idea that there is a god. I think
>>> it is justifiable to say that the majority of people find that idea
>>> filling some want/need.
>
>> I think "this belief fills some want/need for many people"
>> and "this belief is true" are almost completely unrelated
>> propositions.
>
> You will notice that I drew that distinction in the first line of my
> paragraph.

Sure. I just don't understand why, given that distinction,
the possibility that Christianity fills a want or need that
some people feel is relevant. It seems to be a total change
of subject, as if I were to say "but, but, but, the Crusades!
and Northern Ireland! and the Inquisition!".

> Whatever; it still fulfils a need. More to the point, it fulfils a need
> which atheism cannot fulfil.

It isn't atheism's job to fulfil needs. (I don't think mere
theism, as such, fulfils those alleged needs either.)

If what you're claiming is that there is a real need -- not
just a perception of a need -- that (some) religion fulfills,
and that no non-theistic worldview can fulfil, then I submit
that you've given absolutely no evidence for that claim, and
that the facts that (1) there are plenty of atheists around
and (2) we aren't notably more messed up psychologically than
everyone else constitute evidence against it.

And it's *still* a total digression from what the rest of
this thread is about.

Gareth McCaughan

unread,
Feb 11, 2008, 9:36:03 PM2/11/08
to
Frederick Williams wrote:

> Paul Grieg wrote:
>
>> Could it be that most people, at least in the modern UK, do not
>> believe in a Christian God but are using God as a metaphor for
>> 'meaningful universe'? Hawking and Einstein do this, and they have had
>> a lot of influence.
>
> What do Hawking and Einstein mean by 'meaningful' in 'meaningful
> universe'?

So far as I'm aware, the introduction of "meaningful" is entirely
Paul's; I think Einstein and Hawking use God-language mostly as a
shorthand for talking about *elegance* rather than *meaning*.

Gareth McCaughan

unread,
Feb 11, 2008, 10:11:27 PM2/11/08
to
Richard Corfield wrote:

> Though the Hindus also claim direct revelation on the part of the
> Rishis.

Oo, etymological light goes on. Maharishi (as in Mahesh Yogi)
= maha + rishi, with "maha" (I'm guessing) being as in "Taj Mahal"
and presumably connoting greatness or something and "rishi"
meaning something like "sage", yes?

> All of these groups claim their revelations as fact. Christians claim
> that Christ was risen, Muslims that Mohammed was carried off by angels,
> the Buddha did miracles amongst other things and so forth.

I think there are varieties of Buddhism according to which
the Buddha was merely a person who achieved enlightenment;
no miracles or anything.

> Isn't there a bit of old testament where God says through some prophet
> that the Israelites shouldn't assume that they are the only ones he
> cares for?

You might be thinking of Jonah.

Gareth McCaughan

unread,
Feb 11, 2008, 10:08:33 PM2/11/08
to
Mark Goodge wrote:

[me:]


>> 1. If you read something in the newspaper, that's good
>> evidence of its truth. But reading it in 100 copies of
>> the same newspaper is scarcely any more evidence than
>> reading it in one copy. (It's slightly more -- your one
>> copy might have been tampered with.)

[Mark:]


> It's stronger if you read it in 100 different newspapers, though.
> And it becomes stronger again if those 100 different newspapers
> have different sources.

The following paragraph of what I wrote says:

| (If you read the same story in a *different*
| newspaper, that's extra evidence -- until you discover
| that actually they're both relying on the same single
| press release.)

so it shouldn't surprise you that I'm aware of the
points you make :-). Maybe I wasn't clear enough:
one reason why I think "the fact that billions of
people are religious is evidence that some sort of
religion is right" is a poor argument is that
those people's beliefs are largely derived from
a small number of different sources; there isn't
nearly as much independent corroboration there
as the numbers would suggest.

> I'm going to snip the rest of the post I'm responding to, because I
> think this is a good point to try and explain how I see it, which is
> different to what I think is being responded to in the stuff that I've
> snipped!

OK. (Though it doesn't in fact look to me as if what
you're saying is very different to what I was commenting
on. So at least one of us is being either unclear or
obtuse. My apologies if it's me.)

> My main point is that religious belief, of some sort, has been
> overwhelmingly predominant in human society from at least the dawn of
> history.

With you so far, with the minor proviso that if you go
right back to the dawn of history our information isn't
really enough to distinguish between (e.g.) "almost
everyone believed in the gods" and "almost no one believed
in the gods, but formal belief in the gods was part of
how the state functioned". The former seems much more
likely to me, which is why this is only a minor proviso.

> Not all religious beliefs are the same, or have been the
> same, but the concept of some kind of "god" or "spirit world" is
> pretty much ubiquitous.

Still with you, with the more major[1] proviso that 'some
kind of "god" or "spirit world"' is extremely vague, and
that this sort of statement feels like that chess/checkers/Teeko
thing.

[1] "Major" etymologically means "bigger", so it always
feels odd to me to say "more major". :-)

> And there are very few other aspects of human
> society of which the same could be said,

OK, so here we part company. There are lots and lots of
other aspects of human society about which you could say
the same. Almost all humans have believed in a physical
world. Almost all humans have had some sort of morals.
Almost all societies have had laws. Almost all humans
have had a sense of beauty. Almost all humans have told,
or listened to, stories. Almost all humans have had a
sense of humour. (Of course all these need qualifying
with "so far as we can tell, as far back as we're able
to tell".)

> and all of those relate to
> things which are in some way a reflection of obvious physical/social
> factors (for example, all cultures have some concept of leadership,
> and have some concept of sexual morality even where that morality
> widely differs from ours).

See above for some other examples of things that seem to be
near-universals that aren't obviously required for individual
or group survival. (They might be consequences, in some subtle
way, of things that are. Likewise, religion might be a
consequence of features of the human psyche that are useful
for other reasons.)

> The most obvious conclusion from the
> preponderance of relious/spiritual belief, therefore, is that
> religious/spiritual belief is itself based on an underlying reality
> that is common to all cultures.

And this is where I think the "most obvious conclusion"
is much less well supported than it's apt to appear, for
the reasons I set out in, er, the material you snipped.

> If that is so, then there are a couple of possibilities which follow
> from it. Either the underlying reality on which these beliefs are
> based is, on the whole, clear and easy to discover, or it isn't. In
> the former case, we should expect that most, if not all, cultures will
> develop religious beliefs which are essentially similar. If the
> latter, then they will develop religious beliefs which diverge
> considerably. As it happens, the latter is what do, indeed, observe.

Clearly we're in the latter situation, if either. But here's
the point. You're proposing that there's an underlying reality,
and some way in which we perceive that reality, which produces
*reliable* answers to the question "do there exist one or more
things that are in some vague woolly sense godlike?" and
*completely unreliable* answers to all more specific questions,
such as "one, or more than one?" and "omni-everything or
nearly so, or just very powerful, or actually not much
better or more powerful than us?" and "profoundly interested
in our welfare, or mostly concerned with interests of their
own?" and "located in some particular part of the world, or
entirely outside space and time?" and "creator(s) of the world,
or parts/consequences of it?" and so on and so forth.

Which leads, I think, to two problems for you. Firstly,
given that whatever this reality-plus-perception thing is
our ability to get reliable information from it is very
limited indeed, why should we have much trust even in
the weak "something vaguely godlike exists" conclusion?

Secondly, and to my mind quite interestingly, what might
it actually be? If Christianity or something like it is
more or less right, then presumably the underlying reality
is God, or maybe some more broadly conceived spirit world
(angels, demons, and who-knows-what-else, as well as God
himself). But then how do all these people perceive that
reality? Some kind of god-detecting sense? Divine intervention?
In either case it seems really really weird that just barely
enough information would leak through to let people perceive
that there's Something Out There, but no more.

I'm not saying it's *impossible*, mind. Just that it's a
pretty strange hypothesis, without any obvious advantage
over one that says that what's responsible for this
near-universal phenomenon (range of phenomena, really)
is a bunch of near-universal features of how our brains
work. (Perhaps some combination like this: Overzealous
attribution of agency, to get the idea started. Confirmation
bias, to make it persist in individuals' minds. Children's
rather uncritical acceptance of what they're told early
in life by their parents, to make it persist society-wide.)

> So, if it is true that all religious beliefs are based on an
> underlying reality, and that underlying reality is far from clear or
> obvious, then God-as-understood-by-Christianity leads to all those
> Hindus (and everyone else) because all those Hindus are doing their
> best to make sense of a reality (that there is some form of
> god/spirit) without the necessary information to reach any reliable
> conclusions about it.

Forgive me if I repeat myself: there isn't a *direct* path
from truth to belief, and I'm still in the dark about how
you propose that (say) Hindus are getting very partial hold
of this reality as you say they are.

> And this, oddly enough, is precisely what
> Christian doctrine says is the case: that the existence of the
> "supernatural" is visible to humans, but that without direct
> revelation from God as to its nature we are unable to understand it.

Christian doctrine says that since the creation of the world
God's eternal power and deity have been clearly perceived in
the things he has made, and that what can be known about God
(which, in context, is clearly far from negligible) is plain
to everyone.

Which seems to me to be quite a long way from saying that
people have some sort of dim apprehension of "the supernatural"
but lack the detailed revelation that would enable them to
distinguish, say, between one god and many, or between a god
properly worshipped by means of idols and one who isn't.

Or perhaps you aren't thinking of Romans 1 but of something
else, in which case please enlighten me. I'm not aware of
anything else common to all (or anything like all) Christians
that says that everyone has some sort of perception of the
supernatural.

Kendall K. Down

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Feb 11, 2008, 5:53:03 PM2/11/08
to
In message <87abm7l...@g.mccaughan.org.uk>
Gareth McCaughan <Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote:

> > 1. It is also entirely subjective that my wife loves me.

> It isn't, you know. Much of the evidence you (I assume) have
> for that is usable by others, or would be if it weren't private
> for various reasons.

You mean that she submits to my caresses and more? Actually, I'm
blackmailing her ... she's terrified of me ... I'm paying her large sums of
money ...



> > 2. And, of course, it is your subjective view that the sky is blue. Please
> > prove to me that the sky is the same colour for you as it is for me. (And
> > proving that the colour temperature of the sky is so many degrees kelvin is
> > not enough. I want to know that your eyes and brain perceive exactly the
> > same shade of blue as mine do.)

> Probably a meaningless question. And since no one's claimed that
> you *do* perceive the exact same subjective shade of blue as Gordon,
> an irrelevant one too.

As meaningless as Gordon's original question.



> I find it amusing the way that many Christians rush to embrace
> postmodern all-is-relative nonsense -- which, more consistently,
> Christians generally used to despise -- when questions of evidence
> come up. It happens in discussions like this one; it happens in
> discussions of creationism. I suppose that when the evidence is
> solidly against you, the best you can do is to try to undermine
> the whole idea of evidence.

You have a problem with us using your arguments?

Richard Corfield

unread,
Feb 12, 2008, 2:25:15 AM2/12/08
to
On 2008-02-12, Gareth McCaughan <Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote:
>
>> Though the Hindus also claim direct revelation on the part of the
>> Rishis.
>
> Oo, etymological light goes on. Maharishi (as in Mahesh Yogi)
>= maha + rishi, with "maha" (I'm guessing) being as in "Taj Mahal"
> and presumably connoting greatness or something and "rishi"
> meaning something like "sage", yes?

The Rishis are the original sages. Some sects believe that only they got
the revelation and the only way of sorting things out is to get it
passed down to you, so you can only progress with the help of a guru. I
disagree, though that's the naturalist tendencies showing. I could see
that a good guru, as a good teacher in anything, could be expedient.

I'd not thought of the etymology of Maharishi but the idea of Maha being
greatness or connected sounds about right. Some said that the name
implied someone who'd gone off like a monk I suppose and been a great
teacher.

>> All of these groups claim their revelations as fact. Christians claim
>> that Christ was risen, Muslims that Mohammed was carried off by angels,
>> the Buddha did miracles amongst other things and so forth.
>
> I think there are varieties of Buddhism according to which
> the Buddha was merely a person who achieved enlightenment;
> no miracles or anything.

Sounds good. I wonder if I were to actually go find such a group how I'd
get on. The on-line lectures from one of the monasteries of this kind are
quite interesting. They talk about things like reincarnation still, but
in a more agnostic way.

>> Isn't there a bit of old testament where God says through some prophet
>> that the Israelites shouldn't assume that they are the only ones he
>> cares for?
>
> You might be thinking of Jonah.

Maybe

Mark Goodge

unread,
Feb 12, 2008, 7:52:14 AM2/12/08
to
On Tue, 12 Feb 2008 03:08:33 +0000, Gareth McCaughan put finger to
keyboard and typed:

>Mark Goodge wrote:


>
>[me:]
>>> 1. If you read something in the newspaper, that's good
>>> evidence of its truth. But reading it in 100 copies of
>>> the same newspaper is scarcely any more evidence than
>>> reading it in one copy. (It's slightly more -- your one
>>> copy might have been tampered with.)
>
>[Mark:]
>> It's stronger if you read it in 100 different newspapers, though.
>> And it becomes stronger again if those 100 different newspapers
>> have different sources.
>
>The following paragraph of what I wrote says:
>
> | (If you read the same story in a *different*
> | newspaper, that's extra evidence -- until you discover
> | that actually they're both relying on the same single
> | press release.)
>
>so it shouldn't surprise you that I'm aware of the
>points you make :-).

I did read it, but I wanted to state my position in my own words rther
than quoting yours.

>Maybe I wasn't clear enough:
>one reason why I think "the fact that billions of
>people are religious is evidence that some sort of
>religion is right" is a poor argument is that
>those people's beliefs are largely derived from
>a small number of different sources; there isn't
>nearly as much independent corroboration there
>as the numbers would suggest.

Why do you think that? It seems to me that if all the current and past
variations on religious beliefs had the same (human) sources then they
would be more similar than they are.

>> My main point is that religious belief, of some sort, has been
>> overwhelmingly predominant in human society from at least the dawn of
>> history.
>
>With you so far, with the minor proviso that if you go
>right back to the dawn of history our information isn't
>really enough to distinguish between (e.g.) "almost
>everyone believed in the gods" and "almost no one believed
>in the gods, but formal belief in the gods was part of
>how the state functioned". The former seems much more
>likely to me, which is why this is only a minor proviso.
>
>> Not all religious beliefs are the same, or have been the
>> same, but the concept of some kind of "god" or "spirit world" is
>> pretty much ubiquitous.
>
>Still with you, with the more major[1] proviso that 'some
>kind of "god" or "spirit world"' is extremely vague, and
>that this sort of statement feels like that chess/checkers/Teeko
>thing.

It's intended to be vague, though.

Maybe another small digression is in order here. There are two
separate questions in this situation: "Does the supernatural (in any
meaningful sense) exist?" and "What form does the supernatural take?".
The second question is only worth asking if the answer to the first is
"yes", so it would make sense to try to investigate these sequentially
- to try and resolve the matter of the existance of the supernatural
first, before (if necesssary) going on the the second question. To
reword it slightly, the question "Is there a God?" does not imply a
Christian God - we need to ask that question separately, once we have
answered the first in the affirmatory.

The difficulty with that is that some evidence which can help answer
the second question (for example, the historicity of the New
Testament) also has some bearing on the first. This causes problems
when responding to books such as TGD, as Dawkins is specifically
opposing theism in general rather than any one expression of it
(since, obviously, he thinks they're equally wrong), but those who
disagree are, usually, starting from a position where not only the
first but the second question has been answered (and, for most of
Dawkins' readers, the Christian God is their answer). So, going back
to the question thich led to this split-off thread, the way in which
"the truth of Christianity causes people to be Hindus" isn't directly
causative - people aren't Hindus because Christians are right, but
people can be Hindus because only a universe in which Christianity can
be right would make Hinduism possible. I would say that Hinduism is a
false view of the supernatural, but it only exists as a false view of
the supernatural because it contains enough of the truth to be
supernatural in the first place.

> [1] "Major" etymologically means "bigger", so it always
> feels odd to me to say "more major". :-)

Majorer?

>> And there are very few other aspects of human
>> society of which the same could be said,
>
>OK, so here we part company. There are lots and lots of
>other aspects of human society about which you could say
>the same. Almost all humans have believed in a physical
>world. Almost all humans have had some sort of morals.
>Almost all societies have had laws. Almost all humans
>have had a sense of beauty. Almost all humans have told,
>or listened to, stories. Almost all humans have had a
>sense of humour. (Of course all these need qualifying
>with "so far as we can tell, as far back as we're able
>to tell".)

I didn't say there were no others, and the ones you've listed were the
sort of thing I had in mind when I said "very few".

>> and all of those relate to
>> things which are in some way a reflection of obvious physical/social
>> factors (for example, all cultures have some concept of leadership,
>> and have some concept of sexual morality even where that morality
>> widely differs from ours).
>
>See above for some other examples of things that seem to be
>near-universals that aren't obviously required for individual
>or group survival. (They might be consequences, in some subtle
>way, of things that are. Likewise, religion might be a
>consequence of features of the human psyche that are useful
>for other reasons.)

What sort of things do you think it could be useful for? And do you
think it could still be useful for them?

I can offer one plausible answer to that myself: It's possible that
religion is useful in the sense that it's the precursor to science.
That is, it's an attempt to answer questions about unknowns by
positing a hypothesis and then using that hypothesis as a practical
guide for life in an attempt to see if it actually works. If, in the
process, something genuinely beneficial is discovered more or less
by random intuition (such as, for example, the Jewish dietary laws
which are excellent practice in a hot climate with restricted
ability to manipulate the storage conditions for food), then this
not only has a survival benefit for society but also reinforces the
(false) belief that such knowledge has been divinely inspired. These
days, we don't need religion any more as our science has advanced to
the level where we can genuinely control and investigate our
environment with far less reliance on luck and random sparks of
intuition, so we no longer need to ascribe any sociological or
technological advances to God.

I think I've partly addressed this problem with my comments above,
about the difference between the question "Is there a God?" and "What
is God like?". Since I'm not, at the moment, trying to argue
specifically for any particluar answer to the second question, I don't
think this is as big a difficulty as you suggest.

>Which leads, I think, to two problems for you. Firstly,
>given that whatever this reality-plus-perception thing is
>our ability to get reliable information from it is very
>limited indeed, why should we have much trust even in
>the weak "something vaguely godlike exists" conclusion?

I really don't see that as being a major problem. Demonstrating the
existance of something and determining its nature are separate issues,
and the difficulty of the latter doesn't necessarily have any bearing
on the former. People knew about the existance of the sun, the moon
and the stars for millenia before we had any method of even partly
determining what they were made of and how they worked.

>Secondly, and to my mind quite interestingly, what might
>it actually be? If Christianity or something like it is
>more or less right, then presumably the underlying reality
>is God, or maybe some more broadly conceived spirit world
>(angels, demons, and who-knows-what-else, as well as God
>himself). But then how do all these people perceive that
>reality? Some kind of god-detecting sense? Divine intervention?
>In either case it seems really really weird that just barely
>enough information would leak through to let people perceive
>that there's Something Out There, but no more.

If the Christian worldview is right, then there are supernatural
entities capable of interacting with humanity. Such interaction is
mentioned in the Bible (see, for example, the first few verses of
Genesis 6[1]) So the results of that interaction are what leads to
various different views of the nature of God.

>I'm not saying it's *impossible*, mind. Just that it's a
>pretty strange hypothesis, without any obvious advantage
>over one that says that what's responsible for this
>near-universal phenomenon (range of phenomena, really)
>is a bunch of near-universal features of how our brains
>work. (Perhaps some combination like this: Overzealous
>attribution of agency, to get the idea started. Confirmation
>bias, to make it persist in individuals' minds. Children's
>rather uncritical acceptance of what they're told early
>in life by their parents, to make it persist society-wide.)

I think that would work in any individual society. I don't think it
can account for religion having multiple different origins in many
different societies.

>> So, if it is true that all religious beliefs are based on an
>> underlying reality, and that underlying reality is far from clear or
>> obvious, then God-as-understood-by-Christianity leads to all those
>> Hindus (and everyone else) because all those Hindus are doing their
>> best to make sense of a reality (that there is some form of
>> god/spirit) without the necessary information to reach any reliable
>> conclusions about it.
>
>Forgive me if I repeat myself: there isn't a *direct* path
>from truth to belief, and I'm still in the dark about how
>you propose that (say) Hindus are getting very partial hold
>of this reality as you say they are.

I think I've explained that, above.

>
>> And this, oddly enough, is precisely what
>> Christian doctrine says is the case: that the existence of the
>> "supernatural" is visible to humans, but that without direct
>> revelation from God as to its nature we are unable to understand it.
>
>Christian doctrine says that since the creation of the world
>God's eternal power and deity have been clearly perceived in
>the things he has made, and that what can be known about God
>(which, in context, is clearly far from negligible) is plain
>to everyone.

That's not entirely the case. Christian doctrine certainly says that
the existance of God ought to be plain to everyone, yes, but it also
specifically says that without divine revelation, detailed knowledge
about God cannot be obtained by human thought.

>Which seems to me to be quite a long way from saying that
>people have some sort of dim apprehension of "the supernatural"
>but lack the detailed revelation that would enable them to
>distinguish, say, between one god and many, or between a god
>properly worshipped by means of idols and one who isn't.

I think that's precisely what Christianity does teach.

>Or perhaps you aren't thinking of Romans 1 but of something
>else, in which case please enlighten me. I'm not aware of
>anything else common to all (or anything like all) Christians
>that says that everyone has some sort of perception of the
>supernatural.

Romans 1 is a part of it, yes. But there are several passages where
knowledge of God or truth is explicitly described as having been
revealed only to some people[2]. The idea that most people can't have
detailed knowledge of God (and, more importantly, can't know God)
without specific revelation (which most Christians consider to be
contained in the Bible, Jesus and/or the Church, depending on position
on the theological spectrum). The Bible does not, on the whole,
support the idea that everyone would be a Christian if only they took
a moment to think about it. Rather, it supports the idea that everyone
is a theist unless they deliberately deny the existance of God, and
that it is the duty of every theist to seek the truth - which will
then be revealed to them as Christ.

[1] I'm aware that that rather Von Daniken-ish passage can be a bit
problematic for Christianity, but it very conveniently supports my
hypothesis here :-)

[2] For example, Matthew 11:25, Romans 16:25-26, 1 Corinthians 2:7-16

Mark
--
http://www.MotorwayServices.info - read and share comments and opinons
"Come on you target for faraway laughter, come on you stranger, you legend, you martyr, and shine!"

Kendall K. Down

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Feb 12, 2008, 2:43:38 AM2/12/08
to
In message <87lk5qj...@g.mccaughan.org.uk>
Gareth McCaughan <Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote:

> > Gladly - but there are an awful lot of people for whom such things
> > do provide an unshakeable reason for their belief in God/gods.

> Perhaps so. It seems to me that they are clearly wrong to
> be unshakable as a result of such experiences. Especially
> if what they believe unshakably is something specific like
> Christianity rather than "supernatural things happen
> sometimes".

Hmmmm. I am unshakeably convinced that Gareth McCaughan exists because I met
him at the Shrewsbury meet. That is how I know that he isn't really a
63-year old woman on the prowl for a toy boy.

Now compare that with a woman I knew who lost her husband in a tragic
accident. A month or so later while standing at the sink doing the washing
up, she heard the front door open and recognised his footsteps coming down
the hall. She turned and saw him standing in the kitchen doorway. He smiled
warmly at her. She gasped, looked around for the towel to dry her hands and
run to him and when she looked up again he was no longer there. She is/was
unshakeably convinced that there is existence after death.

I don't see how you can draw a line between the two experiences. I was wide
awake when I met you, she was wide awake when she saw her husband; neither
she nor I were on drugs at the time, we were not in the grip of strong
emotion whipped up by some charlatan practitioner, and so on.

Of course there are all sorts of questions that can be asked about her
experience - for example, my personal belief is that what she saw was an
evil spirit masquerading as her husband - but it seems to me that you can
either say that she is a liar who made the whole thing up or you have to
accept that she truly saw what she claims to have seen.



> > Experience? After all, some sort of causal process transmitted the idea
> > that jumping off cliffs was a bad idea *without reliably conveying any
> > understanding of gravity*.
>
> Anyone who has learned from experience (presumably other
> people's experience) that jumping off cliffs is a bad idea
> *does* have an understanding of gravity, and one that goes
> beyond "there's a thing called gravity that makes jumping
> off cliffs a bad idea".

Well, if you mean "understanding" as nothing more than "realising that
such-and-such happens", your statement is certainly true. It is also
essentially meaningless.



> Sure. I just don't understand why, given that distinction,
> the possibility that Christianity fills a want or need that
> some people feel is relevant. It seems to be a total change
> of subject, as if I were to say "but, but, but, the Crusades!
> and Northern Ireland! and the Inquisition!".

1. It is a universal need, just as much as the "need" to be loved and
valued.

2. Whether you think that we were created with that need or evolved with it,
it seems strange if we have such a need and no way of filling it.

> If what you're claiming is that there is a real need -- not
> just a perception of a need -- that (some) religion fulfills,
> and that no non-theistic worldview can fulfil, then I submit
> that you've given absolutely no evidence for that claim, and
> that the facts that (1) there are plenty of atheists around
> and (2) we aren't notably more messed up psychologically than
> everyone else constitute evidence against it.

Only because you fill the need with something else - militant atheism,
belief that 11 men kicking a ball is vital to the continued existence of the
universe, whatever.

Kendall K. Down

unread,
Feb 12, 2008, 2:48:27 AM2/12/08
to
In message <slrnfr0l9b.ar7....@gateway.internal.littondale.dyndns.org>
Richard Corfield <Richard....@gmail.com> wrote:

> All of these groups claim their revelations as fact. Christians claim
> that Christ was risen, Muslims that Mohammed was carried off by angels,

nobody can clarify, but I think you have a garbled version of the Night
Journey to paradise. Mohammed is buried in Medina.

> the Buddha did miracles amongst other things and so forth. As someone said
> here that the historicity of the Christian New Testament supports it,
> I've heard no-one really deny the Buddha's existence and I know of some
> people who are out there finding the same kind of evidence for Krishna or
> someone called Krishna at the right time as Christians quote for Christ,
> or someone called Jesus at the right time.

I have not heard of that. The most that ISCON claims (in the few books I
have read) is that a weapon or weapons have been found on the place where
the Gita says a battle was fought. To the best of my knowledge no formal
excavation has taken place.

Kendall K. Down

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Feb 12, 2008, 2:49:40 AM2/12/08
to
In message <878x1qj...@g.mccaughan.org.uk>
Gareth McCaughan <Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote:

> Oo, etymological light goes on. Maharishi (as in Mahesh Yogi)
> = maha + rishi, with "maha" (I'm guessing) being as in "Taj Mahal"
> and presumably connoting greatness or something and "rishi"
> meaning something like "sage", yes?

Yes, "maha" means "great" as in "rajah" and "maharajah". It is roughly
equivalent to "arch-".

Gareth McCaughan

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Feb 12, 2008, 5:17:17 PM2/12/08
to
Ken Down wrote:

>>> Gladly - but there are an awful lot of people for whom such things
>>> do provide an unshakeable reason for their belief in God/gods.
>
>> Perhaps so. It seems to me that they are clearly wrong to
>> be unshakable as a result of such experiences. Especially
>> if what they believe unshakably is something specific like
>> Christianity rather than "supernatural things happen
>> sometimes".
>
> Hmmmm. I am unshakeably convinced that Gareth McCaughan exists because
> I met him at the Shrewsbury meet. That is how I know that he isn't really
> a 63-year old woman on the prowl for a toy boy.

You don't, really. The person you met at the meet might have
been a third party sent by me to keep up the illusion. Or you
might be the victim of a really convincing hallucination.

Not very likely, of course -- for all sorts of reasons that
don't apply to most Christians' (alleged) interactions with
God, or to most people's (alleged) experiences of the
supernatural.

> Now compare that with a woman I knew who lost her husband in a tragic
> accident. A month or so later while standing at the sink doing the washing
> up, she heard the front door open and recognised his footsteps coming down
> the hall. She turned and saw him standing in the kitchen doorway. He smiled
> warmly at her. She gasped, looked around for the towel to dry her hands and
> run to him and when she looked up again he was no longer there. She is/was
> unshakeably convinced that there is existence after death.

Because of course people never imagine that sort of thing.

> I don't see how you can draw a line between the two experiences. I was wide
> awake when I met you, she was wide awake when she saw her husband; neither
> she nor I were on drugs at the time, we were not in the grip of strong
> emotion whipped up by some charlatan practitioner, and so on.

Two things can be very distant without there being a sharp
dividing line between the two. You and I walked and talked
together for a period of at least several minutes. There were
lots of witnesses. You had already had ample evidence of my
real existence. There's nothing out of the ordinary about a
person you've interacted with on the internet turning out to
be a real person. I didn't mysteriously disappear when approached
closely enough for real interaction. Since our meeting-in-person
in Shrewsbury, we have continued to interact less directly, in
ways that are obviously best explained by my real existence.
And so forth.

> Of course there are all sorts of questions that can be asked about her
> experience - for example, my personal belief is that what she saw was an
> evil spirit masquerading as her husband - but it seems to me that you can
> either say that she is a liar who made the whole thing up or you have to
> accept that she truly saw what she claims to have seen.

I'm sure she thought she did. I think she was (in a manner
of speaking) fooling herself. You think she was being fooled
by a vastly powerful evil intelligence who goes out of his
way to fool people. And yet I'm sure you consider that I am
the skeptic here.

>> Anyone who has learned from experience (presumably other
>> people's experience) that jumping off cliffs is a bad idea
>> *does* have an understanding of gravity, and one that goes
>> beyond "there's a thing called gravity that makes jumping
>> off cliffs a bad idea".
>
> Well, if you mean "understanding" as nothing more than "realising that
> such-and-such happens", your statement is certainly true. It is also
> essentially meaningless.

So how about considering the possibility that I didn't mean
something vacuous and meaningless?

If you've seen someone plummet to their death after stepping
off a cliff, and had the ordinary experiences of gravity that
we all have, you understand (for instance) that gravity pulls
people and things downwards towards the earth, that it acts
even at a distance (as when someone steps off a cliff), that
it results in an accelerating downward motion that can get
really quite fast; you have a pretty good idea of how strong
the force is. That's a long way from the beautiful and precise
quantitative theory of Newton, still less that of Einstein,
but I think it's clear that it involves some understanding
of gravity.

(Perhaps you would prefer the word "knowledge" rather than
"understanding". It makes no difference to my argument.)

Whereas, supposedly, something about the world makes it
possible for people to come to the firm, reliable conclusion
that there's Something Supernatural, but every detail on top
of that is totally unreliable.

>> Sure. I just don't understand why, given that distinction,
>> the possibility that Christianity fills a want or need that
>> some people feel is relevant. It seems to be a total change
>> of subject, as if I were to say "but, but, but, the Crusades!
>> and Northern Ireland! and the Inquisition!".
>
> 1. It is a universal need, just as much as the "need" to be loved and
> valued.
>
> 2. Whether you think that we were created with that need or evolved with it,
> it seems strange if we have such a need and no way of filling it.

And it's still entirely irrelevant and digressive.

But: (1a) you keep saying it's a universal need, but you haven't
given any evidence for that; (1b) you haven't even said what you
mean by calling it a universal need (food is a universal need
in that without it we die; love is a universal need in the weaker
sense that without it most of us are unhappy; stronger and weaker
senses than these are possible; which do you have in mind?);
(2) I don't see that there's anything at all odd about there
being things that feel like needs but which we are unable to
fill.

>> If what you're claiming is that there is a real need -- not
>> just a perception of a need -- that (some) religion fulfills,
>> and that no non-theistic worldview can fulfil, then I submit
>> that you've given absolutely no evidence for that claim, and
>> that the facts that (1) there are plenty of atheists around
>> and (2) we aren't notably more messed up psychologically than
>> everyone else constitute evidence against it.
>
> Only because you fill the need with something else - militant atheism,
> belief that 11 men kicking a ball is vital to the continued existence
> of the universe, whatever.

If the alleged need can in fact be fulfilled by something else
then it isn't a need for what you say it's a need for.

The only person whose inner mental workings I know much about
is myself. I am not aware of a "God-shaped hole" in myself,
or a need to believe in God, or anything much like one; and
I don't see anything in my life that can plausibly be regarded
as a substitute for it. Of course, I could be fooling myself,
but I don't see why I should take that possibility seriously
until you deign to provide me with some actual evidence.

Gareth McCaughan

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Feb 12, 2008, 5:20:26 PM2/12/08
to
Ken Down wrote:

>>> 1. It is also entirely subjective that my wife loves me.
>
>> It isn't, you know. Much of the evidence you (I assume) have
>> for that is usable by others, or would be if it weren't private
>> for various reasons.
>
> You mean that she submits to my caresses and more? Actually, I'm
> blackmailing her ... she's terrified of me ... I'm paying her large sums

> money ...

I didn't only mean that, but (assuming it's true, which I see
no reason to doubt) it's part of the evidence. As is the fact
(assuming it to be a fact, which I also see no reason to doubt)
that in fact you aren't blackmailing or bribing or intimidating
her.

>>> 2. And, of course, it is your subjective view that the sky is blue. Please
>>> prove to me that the sky is the same colour for you as it is for me. (And
>>> proving that the colour temperature of the sky is so many degrees kelvin is
>>> not enough. I want to know that your eyes and brain perceive exactly the
>>> same shade of blue as mine do.)
>
>> Probably a meaningless question. And since no one's claimed that
>> you *do* perceive the exact same subjective shade of blue as Gordon,
>> an irrelevant one too.
>
> As meaningless as Gordon's original question.

How so?

>> I find it amusing the way that many Christians rush to embrace
>> postmodern all-is-relative nonsense -- which, more consistently,
>> Christians generally used to despise -- when questions of evidence
>> come up. It happens in discussions like this one; it happens in
>> discussions of creationism. I suppose that when the evidence is
>> solidly against you, the best you can do is to try to undermine
>> the whole idea of evidence.
>
> You have a problem with us using your arguments?

They aren't my arguments. I have a problem with you using stupid
arguments, and I have a problem with you using arguments that
undermine your own position. (Well, "problem" is a silly term,
but that's your fault.)

Gareth McCaughan

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Feb 12, 2008, 6:03:39 PM2/12/08
to
Mark Goodge wrote:

[me:]


>> Maybe I wasn't clear enough:
>> one reason why I think "the fact that billions of
>> people are religious is evidence that some sort of
>> religion is right" is a poor argument is that
>> those people's beliefs are largely derived from
>> a small number of different sources; there isn't
>> nearly as much independent corroboration there
>> as the numbers would suggest.
>
> Why do you think that?

Because (e.g.) it seems clear that a lot of people have the
religious position they do largely because they absorbed it
from their parents or other people around them. When one person
makes two converts or two children, that shouldn't double the
weight I attach to their testimony.

> It seems to me that if all the current and past
> variations on religious beliefs had the same (human) sources then they
> would be more similar than they are.

Why would having the same human sources do more to homogenize
them than having the same divine sources?

>> Still with you, with the more major[1] proviso that 'some
>> kind of "god" or "spirit world"' is extremely vague, and
>> that this sort of statement feels like that chess/checkers/Teeko
>> thing.
>
> It's intended to be vague, though.

Yes, I realise that :-).

> Maybe another small digression is in order here. There are two
> separate questions in this situation: "Does the supernatural (in any
> meaningful sense) exist?" and "What form does the supernatural take?".

Yes, but I think any good evidence for the former will have to
go via some sort of idea about the latter, and if you have
multiple bits of evidence for "the supernatural" that are all
dependent on *incompatible* answers to the second question
then they can't be very good evidence.

> The second question is only worth asking if the answer to the first is
> "yes", so it would make sense to try to investigate these sequentially
> - to try and resolve the matter of the existance of the supernatural
> first, before (if necesssary) going on the the second question.

Precisely because "the supernatural" is so vague a notion, it's
difficult to get good evidence for it that isn't really evidence
for a more specific notion of "the supernatural" -- and evidence
against some other specific notions.

> To
> reword it slightly, the question "Is there a God?" does not imply a
> Christian God - we need to ask that question separately, once we have
> answered the first in the affirmatory.

But, again, a lot of the evidence proffered in favour of answering
"yes" to the first question is really evidence for some particular
god, and it's usually also evidence against other gods.

When you add up a mound of evidence of that sort, you can't
(or at least shouldn't) just take all the positive bits and
ignore the negative. But I think it's only by doing that
that you can make the fact that most people believe in some
sort of supernatural woo or other look like strong evidence
for theism.

> The difficulty with that is that some evidence which can help answer
> the second question (for example, the historicity of the New
> Testament) also has some bearing on the first. This causes problems
> when responding to books such as TGD, as Dawkins is specifically
> opposing theism in general rather than any one expression of it
> (since, obviously, he thinks they're equally wrong), but those who
> disagree are, usually, starting from a position where not only the
> first but the second question has been answered (and, for most of
> Dawkins' readers, the Christian God is their answer).

Yes. (I regard it as a flaw in almost all the more intellectually
serious explorations of whether there's a God that they deal
almost entirely with a sort of Generic Philosophical Theism;
it means that they ignore many of the strongest arguments for
and against almost all actually-occurring forms of theism.)

> So, going back
> to the question thich led to this split-off thread, the way in which
> "the truth of Christianity causes people to be Hindus" isn't directly
> causative - people aren't Hindus because Christians are right, but
> people can be Hindus because only a universe in which Christianity can
> be right would make Hinduism possible. I would say that Hinduism is a
> false view of the supernatural, but it only exists as a false view of
> the supernatural because it contains enough of the truth to be
> supernatural in the first place.

I'm still pushing you for a more detailed idea of how that
might actually work.

>> [1] "Major" etymologically means "bigger", so it always
>> feels odd to me to say "more major". :-)
>
> Majorer?

Same problem -- it's still a comparative of a comparative,
like "betterer".

>
>>> And there are very few other aspects of human
>>> society of which the same could be said,
>>
>> OK, so here we part company. There are lots and lots of
>> other aspects of human society about which you could say
>> the same. Almost all humans have believed in a physical
>> world. Almost all humans have had some sort of morals.
>> Almost all societies have had laws. Almost all humans
>> have had a sense of beauty. Almost all humans have told,
>> or listened to, stories. Almost all humans have had a
>> sense of humour. (Of course all these need qualifying
>> with "so far as we can tell, as far back as we're able
>> to tell".)
>
> I didn't say there were no others, and the ones you've listed were the
> sort of thing I had in mind when I said "very few".

Well, what you call "very few" I call "lots", and if you
had things like those in mind then I am baffled by your
claim that:

>>> and all of those relate to
>>> things which are in some way a reflection of obvious physical/social
>>> factors (for example, all cultures have some concept of leadership,
>>> and have some concept of sexual morality even where that morality
>>> widely differs from ours).

because I think several of them don't fall under that description.

>> See above for some other examples of things that seem to be
>> near-universals that aren't obviously required for individual
>> or group survival. (They might be consequences, in some subtle
>> way, of things that are. Likewise, religion might be a
>> consequence of features of the human psyche that are useful
>> for other reasons.)
>
> What sort of things do you think it could be useful for? And do you
> think it could still be useful for them?

I think you've misread what I wrote, which was saying not that
religion might be useful but that it might be a consequence of
things that are useful. (Though, as it happens, I think it's
clear that religion itself can be useful too. Not so clear
how that stacks up against its equally clear anti-usefulnesses.)

> I can offer one plausible answer to that myself: It's possible that
> religion is useful in the sense that it's the precursor to science.

Possible, I guess, but clearly not the sort of usefulness that
could offer an explanation for the prevalence of religion. So
it's interesting but (I think) beside the point.

(I think there's at least some truth in the rest of that
paragraph, but I've snipped it because I don't think it's
directly relevant to the rest of our discussion.)

>> You're proposing that there's an underlying reality,
>> and some way in which we perceive that reality, which produces
>> *reliable* answers to the question "do there exist one or more
>> things that are in some vague woolly sense godlike?" and
>> *completely unreliable* answers to all more specific questions,
>> such as "one, or more than one?" and "omni-everything or
>> nearly so, or just very powerful, or actually not much
>> better or more powerful than us?" and "profoundly interested
>> in our welfare, or mostly concerned with interests of their
>> own?" and "located in some particular part of the world, or
>> entirely outside space and time?" and "creator(s) of the world,
>> or parts/consequences of it?" and so on and so forth.
>
> I think I've partly addressed this problem with my comments above,
> about the difference between the question "Is there a God?" and
> "What is God like?". Since I'm not, at the moment, trying to argue
> specifically for any particluar answer to the second question,
> I don't think this is as big a difficulty as you suggest.

My reasons for suggesting it's a difficulty don't (so far
as I can see) involve assuming that you're trying to answer
the second question.

>> Which leads, I think, to two problems for you. Firstly,
>> given that whatever this reality-plus-perception thing is
>> our ability to get reliable information from it is very
>> limited indeed, why should we have much trust even in
>> the weak "something vaguely godlike exists" conclusion?
>
> I really don't see that as being a major problem. Demonstrating the
> existance of something and determining its nature are separate issues,
> and the difficulty of the latter doesn't necessarily have any bearing
> on the former. People knew about the existance of the sun, the moon
> and the stars for millenia before we had any method of even partly
> determining what they were made of and how they worked.

OK, fine, but now imagine that we live on the surface of
Venus (perpetually wreathed in thick cloud, so that we
can't directly see anything off-planet), and that most
people believe that "there's something beyond the clouds".
They can't agree on *what* there is -- some people say
there is a huge and very distant object emitting light
and heat, some that beyond the clouds is an infinite
expanse of water, some that the planet is surrounded
by a huge number of spherical glass shells studded with
little metal balls, and so on. And no one's ever found
a really convincing way of testing any of these theories,
and it's not quite clear how any of them got started or
how they connect with whatever reality there might be
out there.

You and I know that in fact our hypothetical Venusians
are right that there's *something* beyond the clouds,
and that the first sect is nearer the truth than the
others. But it seems to me that the Venusians would be
foolish to put much weight on any of these opposing
claims, because the sort of thing that would actually
give strong enough evidence to any of them would also
give evidence against the others.

(There might be some sort of general-principles argument
to be made, of course, but in that case the evidence
would come from that argument and not from the widespread
agreement with its conclusions. Unless all those people
actually believe that there's Something Out There as a
result of having considered the general-principles
argument carefully enough for their opinion to be worth
anything.)

>> Secondly, and to my mind quite interestingly, what might
>> it actually be? If Christianity or something like it is
>> more or less right, then presumably the underlying reality
>> is God, or maybe some more broadly conceived spirit world
>> (angels, demons, and who-knows-what-else, as well as God
>> himself). But then how do all these people perceive that
>> reality? Some kind of god-detecting sense? Divine intervention?
>> In either case it seems really really weird that just barely
>> enough information would leak through to let people perceive
>> that there's Something Out There, but no more.
>
> If the Christian worldview is right, then there are supernatural
> entities capable of interacting with humanity. Such interaction is
> mentioned in the Bible (see, for example, the first few verses of
> Genesis 6[1]) So the results of that interaction are what leads to
> various different views of the nature of God.

And you find it plausible that the Christian picture of
the supernatural realm, if correct, would lead to the sort
of beliefs about the supernatural that we actually see?

It seems pretty odd to me. Wouldn't we expect to have
(1) God and his entourage, trying to get the truth out,
and (2) the devil and *his* entourage, trying to get
people to believe the most damaging things possible?
Leaving aside the fact that God's supposed to be infinitely
more powerful than the devil -- that gets us into the
general vicinity of the problem of evil, which is a bit
too far afield right now -- most of the world's religions
don't seem to me to be at all the sort of thing that
either side would be angling for, and it's hard to see
how they might result from compromise or standoff between
the opponents either.

>> I'm not saying it's *impossible*, mind. Just that it's a
>> pretty strange hypothesis, without any obvious advantage
>> over one that says that what's responsible for this
>> near-universal phenomenon (range of phenomena, really)
>> is a bunch of near-universal features of how our brains
>> work. (Perhaps some combination like this: Overzealous
>> attribution of agency, to get the idea started. Confirmation
>> bias, to make it persist in individuals' minds. Children's
>> rather uncritical acceptance of what they're told early
>> in life by their parents, to make it persist society-wide.)
>
> I think that would work in any individual society. I don't think it
> can account for religion having multiple different origins in many
> different societies.

I don't understand why not.

>> Forgive me if I repeat myself: there isn't a *direct* path
>> from truth to belief, and I'm still in the dark about how
>> you propose that (say) Hindus are getting very partial hold
>> of this reality as you say they are.
>
> I think I've explained that, above.

Not really, I'm afraid. You've said that there are assorted
supernatural entities and that people interact with them,
but this seems to me a bit like Greek-era four-element
physics: somehow, by some unspecified means, the interaction
between these various ill-understood beings produces the
varied results we see. Well, OK, but if I'm supposed to find
this plausible -- in particular, if I'm supposed to find it
so much more plausible than the rival naturalistic theories
as to amount to good evidence for theism -- I could do with
something a bit more specific.

(Of course I'm not suggesting that if you're right then you
ought to *know* how it all happens. Only that your alleged
evidence has to factor through some sort of idea of what
chains of cause and effect are probable, and that you haven't
given me any clear enough idea of the ones that would work
if your supernaturalist hypothesis is right, or of why they
do a better job of explaining the widespread belief in
supernatural stuff than a naturalist hypothesis would, to
make your argument into an actual *argument*.)

>>> And this, oddly enough, is precisely what
>>> Christian doctrine says is the case: that the existence of the
>>> "supernatural" is visible to humans, but that without direct
>>> revelation from God as to its nature we are unable to understand it.
>>
>> Christian doctrine says that since the creation of the world
>> God's eternal power and deity have been clearly perceived in
>> the things he has made, and that what can be known about God
>> (which, in context, is clearly far from negligible) is plain
>> to everyone.
>
> That's not entirely the case. Christian doctrine certainly says that
> the existance of God ought to be plain to everyone, yes, but it also
> specifically says that without divine revelation, detailed knowledge
> about God cannot be obtained by human thought.

If it says that then it contradicts itself. Which wouldn't be
a huge surprise, actually :-).

>> Which seems to me to be quite a long way from saying that
>> people have some sort of dim apprehension of "the supernatural"
>> but lack the detailed revelation that would enable them to
>> distinguish, say, between one god and many, or between a god
>> properly worshipped by means of idols and one who isn't.
>
> I think that's precisely what Christianity does teach.

Noted.

>> Or perhaps you aren't thinking of Romans 1 but of something
>> else, in which case please enlighten me. I'm not aware of
>> anything else common to all (or anything like all) Christians
>> that says that everyone has some sort of perception of the
>> supernatural.
>
> Romans 1 is a part of it, yes. But there are several passages where
> knowledge of God or truth is explicitly described as having been
> revealed only to some people[2].

Well, sure. But what that says is that there are *some*
things not known to everyone, not that *almost everything*
about God is unavailable except to those specially favoured
(or particularly good, or particularly clever, or willing
to ask nicely, or whatever).

> The idea that most people can't have
> detailed knowledge of God (and, more importantly, can't know God)
> without specific revelation (which most Christians consider to be
> contained in the Bible, Jesus and/or the Church, depending on position
> on the theological spectrum).

(You didn't actually finish that sentence, but I think I know
what you mean.) But, again, what needs to be true if Christian
doctrine is to match up nicely with the actual state of the
world isn't merely that the details are only available to
the elect; it's that almost nothing should be available to
anyone else. Not even enough to distinguish "exactly one god,
supremely powerful and good, who loves us personally" from
"lots and lots of ancestor-spirits, not all that much more
powerful than us or especially good" or "some kind of impersonal
spiritual Thing that somehow permeates the universe".

That doesn't seem to me to be compatible with Romans 1, and
I'm not aware of any reason to consider it part of "Christian
doctrine". I dare say a lot of Christians believe it, for
the simple reason that it's clearly true -- we can all see
that the world is full of people who don't appear to be crazy
or stupid but whose beliefs about the supernatural are
radically different from Christianity's. But the fact that
a lot of Christians believe something doesn't make it a
matter of Christian doctrine. "Things in the vicinity of
the earth tend to fall down to the ground if left unsupported"
isn't Christian doctrine.

> The Bible does not, on the whole,
> support the idea that everyone would be a Christian if only they took
> a moment to think about it. Rather, it supports the idea that everyone
> is a theist unless they deliberately deny the existance of God, and
> that it is the duty of every theist to seek the truth - which will
> then be revealed to them as Christ.

All of which is, to put it mildly, pretty hard to square with
reality. At least, it is unless you adopt the conspiracy-theory-ish
idea that most of the world's people are frantically engaged in
suppressing their knowledge of the truth. Which, of course, is
what many Christians believe.

> [1] I'm aware that that rather Von Daniken-ish passage can be a bit
> problematic for Christianity, but it very conveniently supports my
> hypothesis here :-)

A nice example of one of my main points in this thread: you take
this as overall evidence in favour of Christianity even though it's
"a bit problematic for Christianity". It's as if you went to a
mental hospital, met ten people who all claim to be God, and
concluded that you had good evidence that at least one of them
was God. In fact, quite apart from the fact that the testimony
of crazy people is of limited value, the evidence against each
one's claim (from the others) seems to me to be stronger than
the evidence of each one's claim (for himself).

Richard Corfield

unread,
Feb 13, 2008, 4:17:06 AM2/13/08
to
On 2008-02-12, Kendall K. Down <webm...@diggingsonline.com> wrote:
>
>> the Buddha did miracles amongst other things and so forth. As someone said
>> here that the historicity of the Christian New Testament supports it,
>> I've heard no-one really deny the Buddha's existence and I know of some
>> people who are out there finding the same kind of evidence for Krishna or
>> someone called Krishna at the right time as Christians quote for Christ,
>> or someone called Jesus at the right time.
>
> I have not heard of that. The most that ISCON claims (in the few books I
> have read) is that a weapon or weapons have been found on the place where
> the Gita says a battle was fought. To the best of my knowledge no formal
> excavation has taken place.

I think it's a case of what you find if you talk to the right groups,
and with religion it all matters which group you talk to. That's why I
take only what I know to have now and the rest is just stories.

You'd be amazed at what some people report. Apparently Shiva Linghams
are/were pretty widespread. It would sound as if early Hinduism was very
wide spread, or practices similar to it. It doesn't seem as if it had to
worry about apostasy or similar, either because it sees others as just
forms of itself or it just didn't have competition back then. Google
enough and you'll find interesting ideas. Those things about wise men,
hmmmm, but then again to me no stronger or weaker than any other story
concerning three wise men.

I thought it an amusing coincidence to see a picture advertising a BBC
documentary about a tribe who'd not seen civilisation but used the red
string as a mark of initiation. You could argue that a lot of these
practices are little removed from basic/'primitive' religious ideas,
but then we're getting into that other thread.

Most if not all Hindus I know just get on with it though and don't seem
to worry about it. I've not spent any time with ISCON only met them
in passing.

Mark Goodge

unread,
Feb 13, 2008, 5:34:16 AM2/13/08
to
On Tue, 12 Feb 2008 23:03:39 +0000, Gareth McCaughan put finger to
keyboard and typed:

>Mark Goodge wrote:


>
>[me:]
>>> Maybe I wasn't clear enough:
>>> one reason why I think "the fact that billions of
>>> people are religious is evidence that some sort of
>>> religion is right" is a poor argument is that
>>> those people's beliefs are largely derived from
>>> a small number of different sources; there isn't
>>> nearly as much independent corroboration there
>>> as the numbers would suggest.
>>
>> Why do you think that?
>
>Because (e.g.) it seems clear that a lot of people have the
>religious position they do largely because they absorbed it
>from their parents or other people around them. When one person
>makes two converts or two children, that shouldn't double the
>weight I attach to their testimony.

Yes, but that presupposes that all human culture derives from a single
source (or very small number of sources). Now, that might be true if
you think we all descended from Adam and Eve within the last few
thousand years, but evolutionary theory (at least as I understand it)
suggests that homo sapiens was pretty well dispersed before anything
like the beginning of what we would recognise as human culture began
to emerge.

>> It seems to me that if all the current and past
>> variations on religious beliefs had the same (human) sources then they
>> would be more similar than they are.
>
>Why would having the same human sources do more to homogenize
>them than having the same divine sources?

It wouldn't, necessarily. But if the Christian idea of requiring
revelation for full knowledge is correct, then the part of the
knowledge that is unrevealed is insufficient to give any degree of
consensus as to its nature.

>> Maybe another small digression is in order here. There are two
>> separate questions in this situation: "Does the supernatural (in any
>> meaningful sense) exist?" and "What form does the supernatural take?".
>
>Yes, but I think any good evidence for the former will have to
>go via some sort of idea about the latter, and if you have
>multiple bits of evidence for "the supernatural" that are all
>dependent on *incompatible* answers to the second question
>then they can't be very good evidence.

They aren't necessarily good evidence for a confident answer to the
second question, no. But they are good evidence for an answer to the
first.

>> The second question is only worth asking if the answer to the first is
>> "yes", so it would make sense to try to investigate these sequentially
>> - to try and resolve the matter of the existance of the supernatural
>> first, before (if necesssary) going on the the second question.
>
>Precisely because "the supernatural" is so vague a notion, it's
>difficult to get good evidence for it that isn't really evidence
>for a more specific notion of "the supernatural" -- and evidence
>against some other specific notions.

Evidence "against" other notions of the supernatural, though, is not
evidence that the supernatural does not exist, it's evidence that
other notions of how it works are at least partly incorrect.

>> To
>> reword it slightly, the question "Is there a God?" does not imply a
>> Christian God - we need to ask that question separately, once we have
>> answered the first in the affirmatory.
>
>But, again, a lot of the evidence proffered in favour of answering
>"yes" to the first question is really evidence for some particular
>god, and it's usually also evidence against other gods.

It's evidence against other notions of how God is, yes. But this is a
subject that's often debated internally between theists: can we be
said to be worshipping the same God, or do we worship different Gods?
The answer to that depends as much on your definition of "God" as well
as the extent to which your theology allows for multiple supernatural
beings.

>When you add up a mound of evidence of that sort, you can't
>(or at least shouldn't) just take all the positive bits and
>ignore the negative. But I think it's only by doing that
>that you can make the fact that most people believe in some
>sort of supernatural woo or other look like strong evidence
>for theism.

In this case, though, the negative bits aren't evidence against the
supernatural, they're evidence against a particular understanding of
it.

>
>> So, going back
>> to the question thich led to this split-off thread, the way in which
>> "the truth of Christianity causes people to be Hindus" isn't directly
>> causative - people aren't Hindus because Christians are right, but
>> people can be Hindus because only a universe in which Christianity can
>> be right would make Hinduism possible. I would say that Hinduism is a
>> false view of the supernatural, but it only exists as a false view of
>> the supernatural because it contains enough of the truth to be
>> supernatural in the first place.
>
>I'm still pushing you for a more detailed idea of how that
>might actually work.

I'm not quite sure how much more detailed I can be. I don't think I
can give a detailed answer, it's not something for which I have any
detail. My point is simply that we would not have any concept of the
supernatural if the supernatural did not, in fact, exist.

>>> [1] "Major" etymologically means "bigger", so it always
>>> feels odd to me to say "more major". :-)
>>
>> Majorer?
>
>Same problem -- it's still a comparative of a comparative,
>like "betterer".

"Magis major", maybe?

>>> See above for some other examples of things that seem to be
>>> near-universals that aren't obviously required for individual
>>> or group survival. (They might be consequences, in some subtle
>>> way, of things that are. Likewise, religion might be a
>>> consequence of features of the human psyche that are useful
>>> for other reasons.)
>>
>> What sort of things do you think it could be useful for? And do you
>> think it could still be useful for them?
>
>I think you've misread what I wrote, which was saying not that
>religion might be useful but that it might be a consequence of
>things that are useful. (Though, as it happens, I think it's
>clear that religion itself can be useful too. Not so clear
>how that stacks up against its equally clear anti-usefulnesses.)

What sort of useful things do you think it might be a consequence of,
then?

>>> Secondly, and to my mind quite interestingly, what might
>>> it actually be? If Christianity or something like it is
>>> more or less right, then presumably the underlying reality
>>> is God, or maybe some more broadly conceived spirit world
>>> (angels, demons, and who-knows-what-else, as well as God
>>> himself). But then how do all these people perceive that
>>> reality? Some kind of god-detecting sense? Divine intervention?
>>> In either case it seems really really weird that just barely
>>> enough information would leak through to let people perceive
>>> that there's Something Out There, but no more.
>>
>> If the Christian worldview is right, then there are supernatural
>> entities capable of interacting with humanity. Such interaction is
>> mentioned in the Bible (see, for example, the first few verses of
>> Genesis 6[1]) So the results of that interaction are what leads to
>> various different views of the nature of God.
>
>And you find it plausible that the Christian picture of
>the supernatural realm, if correct, would lead to the sort
>of beliefs about the supernatural that we actually see?

Yes. I think it's very plausible indeed; it's one of the things that
seems to me to be a very reasonable consequence of the fact that
revelation is not universal.

>It seems pretty odd to me. Wouldn't we expect to have
>(1) God and his entourage, trying to get the truth out,
>and (2) the devil and *his* entourage, trying to get
>people to believe the most damaging things possible?

I don't think so. For a start, I don't think that God is "trying" to
get the truth out - I think he has got the truth out, but not everyone
is aware of it (yet). And I don't think that all non-Christian
religions are necessarily inspired by the devil (I know that some
Christian think this. I disagree with them). I think that most
non-Christian religion is the understandable result of humans trying
to make sense of the supernatural without having all the necessary
information to be able to do so reliably.

>
>>> I'm not saying it's *impossible*, mind. Just that it's a
>>> pretty strange hypothesis, without any obvious advantage
>>> over one that says that what's responsible for this
>>> near-universal phenomenon (range of phenomena, really)
>>> is a bunch of near-universal features of how our brains
>>> work. (Perhaps some combination like this: Overzealous
>>> attribution of agency, to get the idea started. Confirmation
>>> bias, to make it persist in individuals' minds. Children's
>>> rather uncritical acceptance of what they're told early
>>> in life by their parents, to make it persist society-wide.)
>>
>> I think that would work in any individual society. I don't think it
>> can account for religion having multiple different origins in many
>> different societies.
>
>I don't understand why not.

It doesn't explain why religion started in the first place in multiple
different societies.



>> That's not entirely the case. Christian doctrine certainly says that
>> the existance of God ought to be plain to everyone, yes, but it also
>> specifically says that without divine revelation, detailed knowledge
>> about God cannot be obtained by human thought.
>
>If it says that then it contradicts itself. Which wouldn't be
>a huge surprise, actually :-).

Well, you would say that, wouldn't you :-)


>
>> The idea that most people can't have
>> detailed knowledge of God (and, more importantly, can't know God)
>> without specific revelation (which most Christians consider to be
>> contained in the Bible, Jesus and/or the Church, depending on position
>> on the theological spectrum).
>
>(You didn't actually finish that sentence, but I think I know
>what you mean.)

"...is common to nearly every strand of Christianity" :-)

>
>> The Bible does not, on the whole,
>> support the idea that everyone would be a Christian if only they took
>> a moment to think about it. Rather, it supports the idea that everyone
>> is a theist unless they deliberately deny the existance of God, and
>> that it is the duty of every theist to seek the truth - which will
>> then be revealed to them as Christ.
>
>All of which is, to put it mildly, pretty hard to square with
>reality. At least, it is unless you adopt the conspiracy-theory-ish
>idea that most of the world's people are frantically engaged in
>suppressing their knowledge of the truth. Which, of course, is
>what many Christians believe.

I don't think that's the case at all. For a start, the overwhelming
majority of the world's population isn't atheist, so most of them are
not suppressing their knowledge of the truth even if that is a
necessary consequence (or cause) of atheism. And I'm not even saying
that atheists are deliberately suppressing their knowledge of the
truth - I think some are, certainly, but not all.

>> [1] I'm aware that that rather Von Daniken-ish passage can be a bit
>> problematic for Christianity, but it very conveniently supports my
>> hypothesis here :-)
>
>A nice example of one of my main points in this thread: you take
>this as overall evidence in favour of Christianity even though it's
>"a bit problematic for Christianity".

But that's partly the point I'm making: I'm not considering only the
evidence for a Christian God but all the evidence for any kind of God.

>It's as if you went to a
>mental hospital, met ten people who all claim to be God, and
>concluded that you had good evidence that at least one of them
>was God. In fact, quite apart from the fact that the testimony
>of crazy people is of limited value, the evidence against each
>one's claim (from the others) seems to me to be stronger than
>the evidence of each one's claim (for himself).

That sounds a little bit like Sam Harris's comment that every believer
is an atheist with respect to all other gods. But I think your
argument is flawed in that if there were only ten people in the world
who claimed to have any knowledge of God, and they all claimed
different things, then that would indeed be greater evidence for their
craziness than the existence of God. But the claims made by the
billions of religious believers are not like that, either in quantity
or quality. A claim to *be* God can only be right or wrong, it's hard
to see how it can be partially right. But a claim to know *about* God
can be partly right; it's entirely possible that someone could have
some correct knowledge mixed in with a lot of incorrect knowledge. My
argument is that all these disparate claims about the nature of God
all contain at least some grain of truth, however small.

"I believe in the kingdom come, then all the colours will bleed into one"

Alec Brady

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Feb 13, 2008, 6:26:14 AM2/13/08
to
On Tue, 12 Feb 2008 03:11:27 +0000, Gareth McCaughan
<Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote:

>Richard Corfield wrote:
>
>> Though the Hindus also claim direct revelation on the part of the
>> Rishis.
>
>Oo, etymological light goes on. Maharishi (as in Mahesh Yogi)
>= maha + rishi, with "maha" (I'm guessing) being as in "Taj Mahal"
>and presumably connoting greatness or something

As in 'Mahatma'=maha+atma 'great soul' (atma being cognate with German
'atmen'='to breathe'); or 'maha rajah'='high king'.

Richard Corfield

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Feb 13, 2008, 7:18:26 AM2/13/08
to
On 2008-02-12, Gareth McCaughan <Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote:
>> So, going back
>> to the question thich led to this split-off thread, the way in which
>> "the truth of Christianity causes people to be Hindus" isn't directly
>> causative - people aren't Hindus because Christians are right, but
>> people can be Hindus because only a universe in which Christianity can
>> be right would make Hinduism possible. I would say that Hinduism is a
>> false view of the supernatural, but it only exists as a false view of
>> the supernatural because it contains enough of the truth to be
>> supernatural in the first place.
>
> I'm still pushing you for a more detailed idea of how that
> might actually work.
>

I'm also completely lost. Ken seems to be arguing that Hinduism is only
possible because Christianity is correct!

Hinduism's different sects seem pretty consistent when they posit that
whatever your particular sect thinks God/Para-Brahman is he/she/it is
accessible to all in whatever form is appropriate for that person. If we
have an all powerful loving entity or a fuzzy underlying divinity that
we find within us all, then it's only decent that divinity will meet us
where we are.

From that point of view, Christians are right in many ways, and Christ
can be right to follow, but an understanding of Christ that takes so
much of what we discuss here as later misunderstanding. Add in an idea
from Buddhism that clinging to dogma is negative. It's so easy to see
how many/all organised religion including Hindu sects goes that way. (I
remember something on those lines too in the Bhakti Sutras.)

It is hoped that as the Christian develops in their practice, moving
through the various stages of development (cf Bhagavad Gita, somewhere
near the end) they come to realise that the other paths also lead to the
same place.

Something like that anyway.

Mark Goodge

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Feb 13, 2008, 7:43:18 AM2/13/08
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On Wed, 13 Feb 2008 12:18:26 +0000 (UTC), Richard Corfield put finger
to keyboard and typed:

>On 2008-02-12, Gareth McCaughan <Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote:


>>> So, going back
>>> to the question thich led to this split-off thread, the way in which
>>> "the truth of Christianity causes people to be Hindus" isn't directly
>>> causative - people aren't Hindus because Christians are right, but
>>> people can be Hindus because only a universe in which Christianity can
>>> be right would make Hinduism possible. I would say that Hinduism is a
>>> false view of the supernatural, but it only exists as a false view of
>>> the supernatural because it contains enough of the truth to be
>>> supernatural in the first place.
>>
>> I'm still pushing you for a more detailed idea of how that
>> might actually work.
>>
>
>I'm also completely lost. Ken seems to be arguing that Hinduism is only
>possible because Christianity is correct!

Hinduism and Christianity both rely on the concept of the
supernatural. If there is no supernatural, neither Hinduism nor
Christianity can exist.But Christianity is correct, therefore the
supernatural must exist. Therefore, Hinduism is also possible.

(That's the short summary, anyway).

"I feel these four walls closing in"

Richard Corfield

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Feb 13, 2008, 7:59:50 AM2/13/08
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On 2008-02-13, Mark Goodge <use...@listmail.good-stuff.co.uk> wrote:
> Yes, but that presupposes that all human culture derives from a single
> source (or very small number of sources). Now, that might be true if
> you think we all descended from Adam and Eve within the last few
> thousand years, but evolutionary theory (at least as I understand it)
> suggests that homo sapiens was pretty well dispersed before anything
> like the beginning of what we would recognise as human culture began
> to emerge.

That's something that would have to be addressed. We've had a lot of
intermingling before, and leading into, our current set of religions,
but if we can look back to a time before this how similar or dissimilar
were the various belief systems? Ideas such as Confucianism seem very
different, yet these ideas once, maybe still, fill a large area where
presumably the people had their chance to see the supernatural too.

>
>>> It seems to me that if all the current and past
>>> variations on religious beliefs had the same (human) sources then they
>>> would be more similar than they are.
>>
>>Why would having the same human sources do more to homogenize
>>them than having the same divine sources?
>
> It wouldn't, necessarily. But if the Christian idea of requiring
> revelation for full knowledge is correct, then the part of the
> knowledge that is unrevealed is insufficient to give any degree of
> consensus as to its nature.

That revelation must end up passing through human minds and tends to
come via a small number of humans. As well as the question of trusting
those humans - Christians believe that the evidence that many people
witnessed the resurrection is strong - you're going to have some
narrowing and some question of interpretation.

> I'm not quite sure how much more detailed I can be. I don't think I
> can give a detailed answer, it's not something for which I have any
> detail. My point is simply that we would not have any concept of the
> supernatural if the supernatural did not, in fact, exist.

There are many things we can't explain. There's also the tendency to
associate an external agent, the tendency to wish for the dead relative
not to be dead and so forth. These seem things that will occur in human
life regardless of where. "Supernatural" seems one of those obvious,
even if wrong, answers.

Astrology seems wide spread in cultures, the idea that the relative
position of the stars and planets effects our lives. I think different
systems use different symbols and am not sure whether they all have
roughly the same number (lunar cycles per solar cycle?). Do you support
Astrology on the evidence that many people believe it?

Richard Corfield

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Feb 13, 2008, 11:25:54 AM2/13/08
to
On 2008-02-13, Mark Goodge <use...@listmail.good-stuff.co.uk> wrote:
>
> Hinduism and Christianity both rely on the concept of the
> supernatural. If there is no supernatural, neither Hinduism nor
> Christianity can exist.But Christianity is correct, therefore the
> supernatural must exist. Therefore, Hinduism is also possible.
>
> (That's the short summary, anyway).

I'm too used to software design from which experience I'd say you'd got
your dependencies backwards.

Christianity ----depends----> Supernatural
Hinduism ----depends----> Supernatural

You can only navigate one way and we don't have

Supernatural ----depends----> Christianity

so we can't deduce

Hinduism ----depends----> Christianity

Unless you are equating Supernatural and ChristianGod or something,
which would require "Humans cannot imagine the supernatural
independently".

Of course Christianity as we know it is a human representation of
something that a lot of religions including I think bits of Christianity
describe as indescribable in human terms.

michaeld

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Feb 13, 2008, 11:46:51 AM2/13/08