The believer’s despair

Our friend AJ has tried a few times to respond to my post, though without much success, and has now begun resorting to just posting links to blog posts (authored by himself) that repeat the things he wants to hear. Since they’re largely tangential if not completely irrelevant, I’ve had to warn him that the comments aren’t for spam, link farms or other types of free publicity for Christian propaganda. But the first link he posted was rather inadvertently poignant, and I thought it might be worth a look just to see how much despair there is in conservative Christian denialism these days.

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Why revelation fails

One of the dogmas underlying Murk’s belief system is the idea that divine revelation is required in order for us to have any knowledge of the truth, as he himself has recently shared.

I have written that to know anything a person must either know everything or someone who does who is good and shares. I cannot make this any simpler.
You cannot have any knowledge unless you are God or trust what He has revealed.

This is a false statement, since I can and do know that I exist, and I cannot be mistaken in this knowledge—if I did not exist there would be no one to make the mistake. Every one of us possesses the ability to know at least some material truth, without any need for divine revelation. But more than this, there are at least three good reasons to conclude that divine revelation is not, in fact, a reliable means of knowing the truth about the real world.

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The agnostic believer

Those who sincerely attempt to reconcile Christianity with fact and reason eventually discover, if they persist, that the Gospel is not consistent with unbiased objective truth, as I can testify from personal experience. The unfortunate believer who encounters this problem has a couple of choices. One choice—the choice I made—would be to allow the true facts of reality to lead me out of the ignorant and superstitious traditions of Bible and Church. Call this the Truth Trumps Traditions choice.

The alternative would have been for me to turn my back on truth, closing my eyes to it and deciding that truth cannot (and should not) be known by man. My own search for truth led me only to the brink of apostasy, and what good is that, right? To stay faithful, I would have to decide that knowledge of the truth must be the enemy of faith, and would need to reject this knowledge as something that all faithful believers should oppose.

Believers who choose this latter path become the world’s most agnostic philosophers, denying that we can know even part of the truth. Faith turns into a kind of communal solipsism, where each believer has only his or her subjective beliefs to cling to, unsupported by any knowable truth, unverified and unverifiable. It’s a worldview founded on dogma, of which the cornerstone is the denial of the idea that real-world truth can be known by any mortal. It’s the ultimate in agnosticism.

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Ultimate authority

Whatever it may sell itself as to believers, presuppositionalism in practice usually boils down to a loose collection of contrived and superficial “gotcha” dialogs in which the entire skeptical worldview ends up “exposed” as self-contradictory and invalid. The catch is that creating this illusion requires that the unbeliever stick to some rigid and narrow constraints on what they’re supposed to say. It’s a schtick that works best with 1-dimensional bad guys, who oppose the hero only to make the hero look good.

Real skeptics don’t talk or think like cartoons, however, so when the presuppositionalist tries to interact with a real live skeptic, they end up floundering around trying to force the conversation back into the canned script. Sometimes they meet unbelievers who haven’t thought much about the topic, and are easily steered, but if the skeptic knows anything at all about philosophy, epistemology, and phenomenology, the result can be a series of exchanges so disjointed they border on the surreal. For example, here’s Murk trying to respond to my observation that religious beliefs are necessarily subjective perceptions rather than verifiable objective fact.

“you’d be walking by proof, not walking by faith.” not true- boils down to ultimate authority – we all have one – what is yours again?

His response seems only tangentially related, if not completely disconnected, from the observation he’s trying to respond to. But that’s because he’s trying to get back to a script in which rationalism is really the vain assumptions of a conceited heart. I didn’t say anything that would support such a conclusion, but that’s beside the point. He’s here to have the scripted conversation from his apologetics texts, no matter how the real-world conversation may be proceeding. [Read more…]

It’s better to believe

Some people will tell you that there’s a lot of good in religion, and even if it’s not really true, it’s a benign and harmless delusion.

Meet the evidence to the contrary.

A leap of faith that sent an Arizona family bound for the South Pacific in a sailboat has returned them in an airplane after a harrowing ordeal at sea that saw them adrift and nearly out of food in one of the remotest stretches of ocean on the planet.

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In the woo zone

Everybody get out your patented Gullibility Boots, you’ll want them buckled up to about mid-thigh for this one:

“Every cell in my body tingled with pure joy,” that is a common statement made by anyone who just entered “The Zone” state of consciousness. The euphoria reflects the fact that anti-aging and stress hormones are surging through our body, a signature of “The Zone” experience. Faith-based athletes are more likely to experience this elevated state of consciousness, simply because they have streamlined their thoughts and emotions to be focused on the highest vibration frequencies.

Mmm, faith-based higher vibration frequencies, oozing into your bloodstream and cleansing away all those icky, stinky toxins. But wait, I left off the last sentence of that paragraph.

We see this focus, each time they do the “Heart Pump” and point to the Heaven’s, a gesture birthed from my book.

OMG, this article is written by the guy who invented fist pumps? Wow! Like, I mean, wow, man.

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Trust vs trust

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, I think it’s also worth mentioning that their are two kinds of trust. Our friend murk seems to think that only believers acknowledge that their beliefs are based on trust, and that skeptics are mistakenly assuming they don’t need to trust. He seems to think that this is because only God is trustworthy, and skeptics don’t want to trust God.

What he’s overlooking is the fact that there are two kinds of trust: there’s reality-based trust, which skeptics have, and then there’s the kind of trust where you believe what someone tells you, even though it isn’t really consistent with what we find in material reality. That latter form of trust has acquired a bad name: gullibility. But why is gullibility a bad thing? Because we’ve learned through experience that gullibility deceives you and makes you more likely to be wrong. Yet among believers, believing what you’re told, despite the evidence, is considered a spiritual virtue. It’s called “faith,” and it’s seen as a sign of closeness to God and as a source of spiritual insights. Small wonder, then, that this kind of “faith” leads to so many different kinds of belief.

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It’s all about who you trust

For a while now I’ve been having a rather hit-or miss conversation with a Christian commenter who goes by “murk” and who wants me to put my trust in “the only one who can uphold these things.” Unfortunately, no such person shows up in the real world, so murk’s invitation is actually urging me, in practice, to put my trust in murk. And that highlights an unfortunate flaw in the Christian faith, if not in all theistic religions. When it comes right down to it, you can either put your trust in material reality, and be a skeptic, or you can put your trust in the words and superstitions of men, and be a believer. Faith in any actual god is simply not an option.

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The cost of religion

Sometimes people will ask, “What’s so bad about believing in God? Even if it’s just a myth, it still gives people hope and a sense of purpose. What harm does that do?” If it were simply a matter of motivating people to live good lives and hope for the best, we might say it does no real harm at all. But that’s not all there is to it. There’s a cost to religion. Consider this argument, made by Heather Hughes on the Knoxville News Sentinal web site.

The main comment I seem to hear from atheists regarding Christianity is, “Prove it.” The truth is I can’t. But isn’t that sort of the point? If I could provide solid, undisputed scientific evidence of God’s existence, there would be no need for faith. That trust is an essential part of following Christ.

Faith, in other words, is when you put forth the effort to make yourself believe something for which there is no evidence. As a matter of fact, faith is when you drive yourself to believe things that are actually contrary to the evidence:

Often atheists, and at times even Christians, struggle to believe based on valid questions, many of which I can’t answer. I don’t know why there are natural disasters or why some lives are cut short due to sickness or violence. Even something as simple as why skunks and gnats exist is something I find myself asking occasionally.

But I have to return to that trust that I mentioned and just accept that God’s ways and thoughts really are higher than our own.

Faith, in other words, turns out to be ordinary gullibility—believing things that are contrary to fact and reason, just because “you’re supposed to.” Gullibility has a deservedly bad reputation, because gullible people deceive themselves and open themselves up to exploitation and abuse (and sometimes even self-inflicted abuse). And yet, when you take this same approach to believing things, and call it “faith” instead of gullibility, suddenly it becomes virtuous. People actually admire you for your ability to confront the evidence, and deny it. And that’s the cost of religion: it makes a serious handicap sound like an admirable virtue.

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