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Jul 31 2013

That St Anselm’s proof…it’s the best proof there is

You can prove anything with the ontological argument.

67 comments

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  1. 1
    jose

    Nonsense. The best girlfriend ever would not exist and here’s why:

    In order to be the best, she should be a lot of things. Witty and daring and affiliated to the correct political beliefs, not to mention incredible at guitar and basketball. In order to achieve this she would have to train a lot. BUT HERE’S THE POINT. A woman who does all that without training would be even greater. If she’s great at everything without effort, that’s greater still. If she does all that without hands, that’s even more amazing. And what if she doesn’t need to breathe air? We go further down the line, the ultimately best girlfriend would be one that doesn’t even need to exist to do all that. So the best person ever necessarily doesn’t exist.

  2. 2
    John Morales

    jose:

    In order to be the best, she should be a lot of things.
    [...]
    So the best person ever necessarily doesn’t exist.

    There can be no best? Heh.

    (Then (by the converse) there can similarly be no worst… and by the squeeze theorem, that means there cannot be a girlfriend!)

  3. 3
    richardelguru

    John
    That about sums it up!

    :-(

  4. 4
    crocodoc

    Every time I hear or read about the ontological argument I only remember “that than which nothing greater can be conceived” and then cannot figure out how they get from an imagined perfect being to this being’s existence in reality. Then I look it up, see that I do not get it and regret wasting another 5 minutes of my lifetime. Probably I’m just too dumb.

  5. 5
    John Morales

    crocodoc, not dumb at all; the entire “argument” rests on the presuppositional conceit that what’s imagined cannot be more perfect than what exists.

    (‘Tis a very stupid presupposition, though it was held by extremely smart people. Which goes to show…)

  6. 6
    gshelley

    In order to be the best, she should be a lot of things. Witty and daring and affiliated to the correct political beliefs, not to mention incredible at guitar and basketball. In order to achieve this she would have to train a lot. BUT HERE’S THE POINT. A woman who does all that without training would be even greater. If she’s great at everything without effort, that’s greater still. If she does all that without hands, that’s even more amazing. And what if she doesn’t need to breathe air? We go further down the line, the ultimately best girlfriend would be one that doesn’t even need to exist to do all that. So the best person ever necessarily doesn’t exist.

    Which is why it also fails for God (one of many reasons)

  7. 7
    Howard Bannister

    crocodoc, not dumb at all; the entire “argument” rests on the presuppositional conceit that what’s imagined cannot be more perfect than what exists.

    Which, when you say something like ‘but I can imagine better PEOPLE than those that exist,’ for some reason the same rules that we’ve made up for god don’t apply to observable reality.

  8. 8
    Sastra

    The Ontological Argument is often used to beat atheists over the head because they claim that no, we don’t understand it. We’re attacking a Straw Man. As conceived, revised, and set forth by Sophisticated Modern Apologists, the Ontological Argument is incredibly strong — stronger than we can possibly imagine. Like God, I guess.

    I’ve glanced through the incredibly dense revisions of the OA and without a solid background in theology/philosophy/epistemology/logic I know I can’t hope to address the bright and new version which apparently proves God on such a basic level that only ignorance or perversity accounts for rejecting it. But from what I can tell it still stinks, relying on a scholastic view of essences which went out with the Enlightenment. Even dressed up in scholarship it looks like wanking. You get out what you put in — and ‘existence’ is not a predicate. Instead of starting from the world and thinking about it, they start out thinking about things and impose this on the world. Backwards.

    “Perfect.” Let’s all start out agreeing that “perfect” is real and then find out … Perfection (“which we call ‘God’”) is also real!

    I have known one atheist (an actual atheist, yes, who approached belief rationally and had written wisely on the topic) who changed his mind and became a theist after reading some very convincing new developments of the Ontological Argument. It was an intellectual path to God and thus one he could appreciate.

    But the intellectual nature of his conversion eventually lead to his de-conversion and back to atheism again. Because he did the honest thing: took his views to other atheists and asked “okay — can you show me where this goes wrong?” Turns out we could. Because it did.

  9. 9
    Raging Bee

    Yeah, I never bought that bit of word-salad either. “I can imagine something more wunnerful than anything anyone else can conceive?” Even when I was stoned I could never pretend that meant anything. It is, in fact, the most blatantly solipsistic and subjectivist argument I’ve ever heard; so it can’t possibly “prove” anything objectively.

    The best you can do with this argument, is to disprove someone else’s concept of God by saying “I can imagine something better than your God, therefore your God can’t possibly be the One True God.”

  10. 10
    keresthanatos...I am my Evil Twin

    @John Morales re. #2

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! For so long I have wondered why ” I don’t have a girlfriend “. Now; not only do I have a reason, I now have a wonderfully compelling logical aurgument to explain the reason.

    Truly sir you are a master (yes, yes, cheap flattery from the lips of fools, and all that).

    Best regards,

    Howard

    P.S. You always make me smile, and sometimes laugh out loud!

  11. 11
    boadinum

    “I can conceive of a god so perfect that s/he has the quality of non-existence, which your god obviously doesn’t have, and who therefore cannot be a god.”

    QED

    I can’t remember offhand the source of this argument, but it convinced me.

  12. 12
    borax

    The best possible me wouldn’t have a blown out knee, would be a little taller, be in great shape and have an intellect that makes Stephan hawking look like a chimp. I would also have super powers. Since it is better to exist than rather not exist, I am all of these things. Tomorrow I’m gonna take over the world.

  13. 13
    Sili

    As I recall it the ontological argument against the existence of God goes something like:

    We judge a creation on two marks: 1) The inherent grandness of the creation and 2) The ability of the creator.

    The less able the creator, the more impressed we are, hence the fascination with idiot savants.

    The greatest of all creations is of course the universe, but the Creator is all the more impressive the less able he is to create.

    The can be no lesser ability than non-existence.

    Therefore the greatest of all creators is the one who doesn’t exist.

    Shorter version: it’s trivial for an omnipotent being to create a world, so why should we be impressed by it?

  14. 14
    terrencekaye

    Sastra, exactly right. Millions of pages of theology are necessary to posit god and then backfit that notion to the experienced and observable world. No theology at all is required to experience and observe the world and come to the logical conclusion there isn’t a god.

  15. 15
    hyoid

    I keep Googling my Best Bank Account Number Ever and get nothing, even with my real name.

  16. 16
    Cerberus is working overtime at the outrage factory

    Howard @7

    Which, when you say something like ‘but I can imagine better PEOPLE than those that exist,’ for some reason the same rules that we’ve made up for god don’t apply to observable reality.

    So in essence, using the same logic as the “proof”, Batman proves that God doesn’t exist.

  17. 17
    UnknownEric the Apostate

    So in essence, using the same logic as the “proof”, Batman proves that God doesn’t exist.

    Batman could take down all religious apologists with enough prep time.

  18. 18
    Randomfactor

    I can imagine the Bestest God Evah.*

    Why Christians think their deity is even going to make it through the preliminary rounds is beyond me.

    *(For one thing, she’s black.)

  19. 19
    Randomfactor

    Wouldn’t the most perfect refutation of the Ontological Argument necessarily exist?

  20. 20
    David Marjanović

    So in essence, using the same logic as the “proof”, Batman proves that God doesn’t exist.

    I like that. :-)

    (Batman is also interesting in this respect because, unlike Superman, he doesn’t perform miracles. His only superpower is money.)

    Wouldn’t the most perfect refutation of the Ontological Argument necessarily exist?

    Oh snap. :-)

    Here’s one that was published in Anselm’s lifetime, and Anselm got to see it and reply to it. The reply, like Plantinga’s, is a fail whale.

    It goes on. Did you know that Thomas Aquinas completely rejected the ontological argument? I didn’t either!

  21. 21
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    @crocoduck #4

    Basically, God is perfect; totally without flaws. A thing that is real is better than a thing that is imaginary (for some reason; no idea why). Therefore, God must exist.

    It’s based on two faulty premises; a) that God must necessarily be perfect in order to be God, and b) that something that is real is better than something that is imaginary.

    Basically, it’s really fucking stupid argument. I’m willing to bet that you think you don’t get it because you look at it, go “Well that doesn’t make any sense”, and become confused. That’s not because you’re dumb, it’s because it really doesn’t make any sense. I would suggest that, far from being too stupid to get it, you are too smart to get it.

  22. 22
    Rasmus

    I suspect it’s assumed, but usually unstated, that god is a savior god and that having a god that gives eternal life after death to the faithful is a good thing.

    I don’t think you can have something like the god of Christianity come leaping off of the blackboard unless you inject the idea of him somewhere in your premises.

  23. 23
    David Marjanović

    It’s based on two faulty premises; a) that God must necessarily be perfect in order to be God, and b) that something that is real is better than something that is imaginary.

    In short, it’s a stupid reification of such words as “good” and “perfect”, not noticing that they have several different meanings and equating them all.

  24. 24
    crocodoc

    @21 Thumper; Atheist mate

    It’s based on two faulty premises; a) that God must necessarily be perfect in order to be God, and b) that something that is real is better than something that is imaginary.

    Even if these assumptions were true, it would still only account for the difference between a being you imagine while not caring if it exists and a being that you imagine to be real. How do they get from “imagined real” to “really real”? That’s what I never understood.

  25. 25
    Mooser42001 .

    The worst boyfriend in the world does exist, and I know that because my girlfriend says it about me, all the time. Of course, that was before we got married.

  26. 26
    Mooser42001 .

    If God didn’t exist, as well you know, He would have to be invented. And I’ve searched the patent lists exhaustively. Nobody has. Frankly, it might help if more money was devoted to the basic research which would advance the relevant technology to the point where God could indeed be invented, in a practical, user-friendly, commercially-viable and portable form.

  27. 27
    Mooser42001 .

    “ontological argument”

    I didn’t know what that was, so I looked it up. An “ontological argument” is a line of reasoning which can be supported until somebody gets on to you. Once that happens, you’re pretty much done.

  28. 28
    hjhornbeck

    Ah, the Ontological argument! I know it well, as it occupies a chapter in my in-progress book. All of variations I’ve encountered fall victim to at least one of these issues:

    1. They assume existence is superior to non-existence. This is false: in your head, pi is an exact value, whereas in real life it can never be.

    2. Existence is a contingent property. In order for something to exist, it has to also have some influence on the universe, and yet nearly all Ontological proofs treat existence like an arbitrary label they can slap on things.

    3. Infinite regresses and contradictions. If being “god-like” is to have maximal amounts of all non-contradictory attributes, and “god-like” itself is another attribute, then in order to be considered “god-like” you must first be “god-like,” which is impossible. Alternatively, we can define “god-god-like” to be “maximal amounts of all non-contradictory attributes, plus the god-like attribute,” and so on.

    4. Word play. There’s a difference between “existence as a concept” and “existence as a physical entity,” at least in practical terms. No matter how hard they try, Ontological proofs cannot show physical existence from conceptual existence alone, but by tossing around big words they can make it look that way.

  29. 29
    unclefrogy

    better or best or perfect are completely subjective qualities and are as variable as the number of people using them maybe by of factor 2 at least. They are almost meaningless. The idea of something being perfect and the idea of flawless are not connected. I am reminded of something I heard long ago, that in Japanese calligraphy some times perfect examples are illegible.

    uncle frogy

  30. 30
    fmcp

    This whole discussion makes me feel like a complete failure as an intellectual. Not because I can’t follow it, but because my whole reaction to the comic was “tee hee – Americans have fake Canadian girlfriends!” When you’re in Ontario, your fake girl/boyfriend is inevitably from either Niagara Falls or Buffalo.

  31. 31
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    crocodoc, not dumb at all; the entire “argument” rests on the presuppositional conceit that what’s imagined cannot be more perfect than what exists.

    It rests on the more fundamental conceits that one can simply DEFINE things into existence, and that reality is constrained to correspond to formalizations of human intuitive notions and semantics.

  32. 32
    craigmolstad

    Yet, deep in meditation, or prayer, there is a sense of … something. Most people, literally according to global polls and surveys, have had a “spiritual” experience. An experience that seems to them to be both supernatural (beyond their comprehension of possibility in a rational universe) and exterior to themselves – a part of the “other.” Why? I don’t know anyone of belief that gets there through this OA business. Most of them are making a pretty rational decision to go with a truth that has been laid on them in a wordless moment of wonder. Its pretty earth-shaking, paradigm shifting stuff. Defeat the OA or any other logical argument you like, most believers come by their beliefs through personal revelation not through anyone’s slick oratory or snarky tweets.

  33. 33
    chigau (違う)

    craigmolstad

    Most people, literally according to global polls and surveys, have had a “spiritual” experience.

    Really? Were these polls online?

  34. 34
    Sastra

    craigmolstad #32 wrote:

    Defeat the OA or any other logical argument you like, most believers come by their beliefs through personal revelation not through anyone’s slick oratory or snarky tweets.

    ‘Personal revelation’ is itself a type of logical argument. The assertion is that IF you have “an experience that seems to them to be both supernatural (beyond their comprehension of possibility in a rational universe) and exterior to themselves – a part of the “other”) THEN you should interpret this experience to be just as it seems. It is solid, legitimate, convincing evidence to the person who has it because the person having such an experience is in the best possible position to know whether it’s valid or not.

    Not necessarily. And that can be explored.

    There are good counterarguments to what’s called the Argument from Revelation (or the Argument from Mystical Experiences) — alternatives which are more plausible and which undermine the pedestal of certainty. Appeals to revelations sensed in meditation and prayers do not really go beyond the bounds of reason, science, evidence, and logic. If someone is genuinely honest about discovering truth as opposed to finding something satisfying (or if they want to believe they are), then they’re still in the debate.

  35. 35
    screechymonkey

    craigmolstad@32:

    Defeat the OA or any other logical argument you like, most believers come by their beliefs through personal revelation not through anyone’s slick oratory or snarky tweets.

    And yet, any atheist who writes on the subject of whether god exists or not immediately gets chastised for neglecting all the supposed “sophisticated, intellectual arguments” like the OA.

    Damned if you do…

  36. 36
    Nightjar

    Yet, deep in meditation, or prayer,

    … or, let me add, under the effect of psychedelic substances.

    Which I think is a good indicator that the kind of experiences you mention are just weird chemistry going on in the brain, not evidence of the “supernatural” and not a “truth that has been laid on” anyone.

    As someone who has had what can be called a “spiritual” experience (an out-of-body experience through meditation, if that matters, it freaked me out and I’m still not sure how I did that), I eventually made what I think was a pretty rational decision to go with the most parsimonious explanation: unusual brain chemistry. And I’m having a hard time accepting “oh, therefore magic!” as pretty rational.

  37. 37
  38. 38
    John Morales

    craigmolstad:

    Most of them are making a pretty rational decision to go with a truth that has been laid on them in a wordless moment of wonder. Its pretty earth-shaking, paradigm shifting stuff.

    Um, you mean paradigm-affirming stuff.

    (Bias confirmation)

  39. 39
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    Wait…

    I totally met this hot Canadian woman on the internet. None of you have met her. And we do it all the time.

    If she doesn’t exist, whose laundry & dishes am I doing?

    If she does exist, does this mean she’s god, since the best girlfriend ever would be able to snap her fingers and change the universe to fit our whims?

    And if she is god, why do the kids keep fighting all the damn time?

    I am confuse.

  40. 40
    mnb0

    I like the devil’s version best. I can imagine an omni-everything, including perfectly evil being. An existing evil being is more perfect than a non-existing one.
    Hence we have two omni-everything beings – an omnibenevolent one and an omnimalevolent one.

  41. 41
    John Morales

    mnb0, that’s Manichaeism.

  42. 42
    Weedless Monkey

    What does OA mean?

  43. 43
    John Morales

    Weed, Ontological Argument.

    (All ontological niches must be filled!)

  44. 44
    anteprepro

    Most people, literally according to global polls and surveys, have had a “spiritual” experience. An experience that seems to them to be both supernatural (beyond their comprehension of possibility in a rational universe) and exterior to themselves – a part of the “other.”

    Most people will say they have had a “spiritual experience”. But luckily no-one does their due diligence and gets them to define what the fuck they mean by “spiritual”. “Spiritual” is a nigh nonsensical word. It is more connotation than definition. There are a handful of vague, nebulous ideas at its core, and a fucking ton of other traits, ideas, etc. associated with that. People consider morality, emotion, awe, and wonder to be forms of spirituality (the former two as aspects of a “spirit” or “soul”, and the latter two as appreciation of the “divine” or “transcendent”). People claiming to have had a “spiritual” experience doesn’t mean shit when the term “spiritual” has so much baggage that it means everything and nothing simultaneously.

    Defeat the OA or any other logical argument you like, most believers come by their beliefs through personal revelation not through anyone’s slick oratory or snarky tweets.

    Bullshit. It’s cultural all the way down.

    (Or, more seriously, it seems to have way more to do with social and cultural factors than either logic or mystical experiences)

  45. 45
    hotshoe, now with more boltcutters

    Yet, deep in meditation, or prayer, there is a sense of … something. Most people, literally according to global polls and surveys, have had a “spiritual” experience. An experience that seems to them to be both supernatural (beyond their comprehension of possibility in a rational universe) and exterior to themselves – a part of the “other.” Why? I don’t know anyone of belief that gets there through this OA business. Most of them are making a pretty rational decision to go with a truth that has been laid on them in a wordless moment of wonder. Its pretty earth-shaking, paradigm shifting stuff.

    So what.

    I’ve had more than a mere “spiritual” experience. I’ve heard god speak to me, out loud, in actual language – and I mean LOUD. No doubt what it wanted me to do. No doubt it was a message for me from heaven.

    Not merely a sense of … something … that could be … anything …

    So what.

    I know better. I know there’s actually not some manly entity in some heavenly realm shouting at me. I’d be a fool to believe on that one account when it contradicts everything else humans have found out about reality.

    I’d be doubly a fool if I were to believe in some god based on the ridiculous “evidence” assumed by one’s sense of “something” during meditation or prayer. Yes, those believers are fools. Yes, we should call them fools. Sometimes, that takes the form of easy snark; sometimes of dissecting their supposedly-sophisticated theological arguments; sometimes of personally contradicting their interpretation of their “spiritual experience”.

    Kids see the empty cookie plate and empty milk glass and interpret it as Santa Claus having visited. We know better. We don’t meanly attempt to spoil children’s beliefs.

    But adults know better.

  46. 46
    Marcus Ranum

    Just to think … the faithful have had thousands of years to explain clearly and compellingly why they believe, and why they are right: and that’s the best that they can do!?

    It’s funny how often they trot out weak arguments that have been refuted over and over again (in the case of Epicurus’ question, christianity’s god of love was refuted before he was even invented) they have made zero progress, and their “efforts” look Plantinga-esque. This is the best they can do? If they actually had a good reason to believe, wouldn’t they lead with that as their opening argument, instead of these absurdities?

  47. 47
    Owen

    I too have had a “spiritual experience”. In my defense, I was young, and I got better. It happened within a Christian context, therefore rationally it must have been the Christian God. If it was any god at all, which of course it wasn’t.

  48. 48
    rayndeonx

    Oh, the ontological argument is a pretty fun argument. I think my current favorite one goes like this:

    Define a maximally great being as a necessarily existent omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect creator of everything apart from itself. Now,

    1. The existence of a maximally great being does not entail that the world should be filled with horrific suffering.

    2. Therefore, the existence of a maximally great being is possible.

    3. Therefore, a maximally great being exists.

    Of course, there’s the reverse OA:

    1*. The nonexistence of a maximally great being does not entail that the world should be filled with unsurpassable good.

    2*. Therefore, the nonexistence of a maximally great being is possible.

    3*. Therefore, a maximally great being does not exist.

  49. 49
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    @crocoduck #23

    Sorry I was away so long :)

    They get to him being real via premise b) that something that is real is better than something that is imaginary. Therefore, if God is perfect, He must be real because if He was only imaginary, He would not be perfect.

    Like I said, it is a really, really fucking stupid argument.

  50. 50
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    @craigmolstad

    I used to get stoned a lot. It felt very much like what you seem to be describing.

    I think what I’m trying to say is… what’s your point?

  51. 51
    Howard Bannister

    I had spiritual experiences.

    I was the Best Christian Ever. Other Christians had no idea how deep the religion truly was, or the truths I had found from searching soooo deeply!

    Now I’m an atheist.

    So, tell me more about these spiritual experiences other people report having. :D

  52. 52
    John Phillips, FCD

    Thumper; Atheist mate. pretty much covers it. Being a teen in the 60s I have tried just about every mood enhancing substance out there, synthetic and natural, and have had some amazing experiences. I have also had similar experiences through physical and mental exhaustion, oxygen deprivation, too much oxygen, meditation and so on. For anyone what hasn’t experienced a change in brain chemistry due to purely natural means it is far too easy to ascribe it to mystical or supernatural causes.

    Craigmolstad, you need to live and experience a bit more and then you won’t mistake a naturally caused change in brain chemistry to some supernatural experience. If all people mean when they talk about a spiritual experience is a change in brain state that they find difficult to understand or explain, well then, I have had many. But, they have all been the result of natural processes.

  53. 53
    craigmolstad

    Of course I never said that spiritual revelation was anything, I never defined it as reality, brain chemicals, delusions, whatever. Its just that in order to understand belief and people that fervently do believe, you have to understand how they come by it. To say, “its all cultural” is worthless, right now in the US you can be any religion under the sun, and most people that do hew to a faith do so regardless of their parents and their “culture.” Very, very few people follow a faith simply because they were told to by their parents or “society.” Most people make a conscious decision to believe based on the evidence that they have weighed in their way in their life. Its pretty personal and unique. My point was that things like the OA are not a part of their discussion. Most Lutherans could not tell you one thing that Luther wrote, it just doesn’t matter to them. They don’t feel a pressing need to define their beliefs into a coherent system, or to find some logical or scientific explanation to bolster that faith. They just believe because they have chose to. No amount of education or explanation or logical deduction is going to change that. In fact, if you find a person whose personal framework is based completely on logic and scientific deduction, you have probably found an atheist.

  54. 54
    John Phillips, FCD

    craigmolstad, bullshit, the vast majority of believers believe exactly what their parents and peers believe and what they have been indoctrinated into. The number of xians who have read their Bibles, let alone truly questioned why they believe, is miniscule. As you see any time they start showing their ignorance about their own holy book. By the way, I was a Xian, admittedly a Xian lite, until I started to really examine my beliefs and also compare them to the other world religions. They couldn’t all be right, but I concluded they could all be wrong. That is something very few xians do to any real depth, for those that do either become non-believers or just rely on authority, i.e. someone like their priest to ‘guide’ them ‘back to the path’.

  55. 55
    Azuma Hazuki

    @51/Howard

    I’ve always been curious as to what those experience are like, never having had one in a Christian milieu. Would you mind telling us what you experienced?

  56. 56
    vaiyt

    Its just that in order to understand belief and people that fervently do believe, you have to understand how they come by it.

    Many people here used to be believers themselves.

  57. 57
    chigau (違う)

    What about the people who have a waterfall-induced paradigm-shaking experience then sober-up and get on with reality?
    How did they fail?

  58. 58
    cicely

    Most people, literally according to global polls and surveys, have had a “spiritual” experience.

    Had one. It involved playing music with about a dozen other people. There was dancing. It met all my requirements to be “transcendent”, and I got incredibly buzzed by it, and no recreational (or prescription) chemicals were involved.
     
    I didn’t mistake it for “god”.
     
    Meanwhile, in what way do individual “spiritual” experiences not count as “anecdotes”?
    -

  59. 59
    Anri

    cicely:

    Meanwhile, in what way do individual “spiritual” experiences not count as “anecdotes”?

    Most anecdotes are at least plausible.

    . . .

    craigmolstad:

    To say, “its all cultural” is worthless, right now in the US you can be any religion under the sun, and most people that do hew to a faith do so regardless of their parents and their “culture.” Very, very few people follow a faith simply because they were told to by their parents or “society.”

    No, sorry, that’s not supported by the evidence. In almost every society, the correlation between the faith a parent professes and the faith their child grows up to profess is something above 80%. That’s one hell of a coincidence if there’s no causation, know what I mean?
    (In situations in which the parents have differing faiths, the mother’s faith is more strongly correlated with the kid’s. Just so you know.)

    But ok, maybe you have an alternate theory. If, in fact, people are making their faith choices independently of their parents, how do you explain the massively strong correlation?

  60. 60
    Iain Walker

    craigmolstad (#53):

    Its just that in order to understand belief and people that fervently do believe, you have to understand how they come by it.

    Your implication that religious experiences are a common, even a primary, motivator of religious belief seems … contentious. What is your evidence for this? Your claim that “Most people, literally according to global polls and surveys, have had a ‘spiritual’ experience” is a fairly useless assertion, given that “spiritual” is a term which is vague to the point of meaninglessness.

    Very, very few people follow a faith simply because they were told to by their parents or “society.”

    Again, where is your evidence for this? Because if you pick someone of a given religion at random, the overwhelming odds are that they were brought up in that religion. Upbringing has always been the primary vector of transmission of religious belief. Also, the majority of religious experiences are experienced by people who already believe (whether by upbringing or conversion), and are so primed to have such experiences and to interpret them in religious terms. So it’s actually more true to say that people have religious experiences because they are believers than it is to say that they are believers because they have had religious experiences.

    Most people make a conscious decision to believe based on the evidence that they have weighed in their way in their life. Its pretty personal and unique.

    And there you have one of the key flaws in the Argument from Religious Experience, at last as it is used by philosophically naive apologists. The so-called evidence is “personal and unique”, and so only the experiencer is entitled to evaluated it. Well, evidence doesn’t work that way. The experience may be personal (although hardly unique – the content of religious experiences is usually pretty predictable given the experiencer’s cultural background and our shared human neurology). The evaluation of the experience, to determine what it counts as evidence for or against, is not personal but public, because evidential judgements are based on shared, public rules of inference. You don’t get to say “My experience is evidence of X and you can’t gainsay me”, because I can. I can point out the role of cognitive bias in the interpretation of experience, I can point out how easily so-called “transcendent” experiences can be induced by mundane means, I can point out that the experience massively underdetermines the hypothesis it is meant to support (an omniscient, omnipotent, disembodied entity that created the universe exists because you once heard voices in your head? Really?), and I can point out the other problems with the hypothesis that render it a priori a low probability explanation for the experience.

    In short, if the religious experience is claimed to consitute evidence for the experiencer’s beliefs, then its status as evidence is open to rational criticism and evaluation by others. If it is not open to such criticism and evaluation, then it is not evidence – and cannot be regarded as evidence even “for” the experiencer.

  61. 61
    drbunsen, le savant fous

    I was astonished, nay, flabbergasted, to discover that the OA was even a thing. It’s really fucking dumb on the face of it, and yet, the closer and deeper you examine it – still really fucking dumb. Fractally dumb; it is dumb at every level of resolution.

    They don’t feel a pressing need to define their beliefs into a coherent system

    Indeed. Therein lies the problem.

    No amount of education or explanation or logical deduction is going to change that.

    This queer assertion has been disproved in practice millions of times, and is disproved yet again daily. Many of us posting here are living disproof.

    In fact, if you find a person whose personal framework is based completely on logic and scientific deduction, you have probably found an atheist.

    And yet, you assert (without evidence) that the latter came prior to the former, rather that the other way round. That’s … interesting.

    Just in case you are lost here, I will repeat: many of us right here went through precisely the process you claim is impossible.

  62. 62
    boadinum

    #61 drbunsen, le savant fous

    Your term “fractally dumb” is fucking brilliant! Do you mind if I use it? Not on the Intertubes, of course, you own it now, but when discussing St Anselm with real live people…which doesn’t happen often enough.

    Fractally dumb! Bwahahaha!

  63. 63
    Amphiox

    Your term “fractally dumb” is fucking brilliant! Do you mind if I use it?

    The term and its variants (“fractally wrong” is the most common that I am aware of) are pretty much public domain at this point….

  64. 64
    chigau (違う)

    Hi drbunsen!

  65. 65
    anteprepro

    To say, “its all cultural” is worthless, right now in the US you can be any religion under the sun, and most people that do hew to a faith do so regardless of their parents and their “culture.” Very, very few people follow a faith simply because they were told to by their parents or “society.”

    Are you fucking drunk? Or are you really this fucking ignorant? The majority of people who actually adhere to a religion are Christians. The majority of Christians either wind up the exact flavor of Christian their parents were, or adopt the Christian flavor of their spouse. Yes, you can be any religion under the sun, and yet 75% of the population is still Christian. But I’m sure culture has nothing at all to do with that. I’m sure they all independently came to the conclusion that Jesus is Lord through out of body experiences, fantastic visions, and intense meditation.

    My point was that things like the OA are not a part of their discussion. Most Lutherans could not tell you one thing that Luther wrote, it just doesn’t matter to them. They don’t feel a pressing need to define their beliefs into a coherent system, or to find some logical or scientific explanation to bolster that faith. They just believe because they have chose to.

    Yes, we are well aware that religious people are often ignorant about the actual dogma they associate themselves with. We are well aware that their decisions are not rational or logical. You are the one who is actually denying that, believing that the vast majority of people decide to arbitrarily affiliate themselves as Baptists, Lutherans, Catholics, etc. on the basis of spiritual experiences, instead of based on the social milieu they are in. Seriously, you claim that Lutherans decide to become Lutherans due to spiritual experiences while not actually knowing what makes a Lutheran a Lutheran? How the fuck does that even work!?

    In fact, if you find a person whose personal framework is based completely on logic and scientific deduction, you have probably found an atheist.

    Thanks for the compliment, but I doubt that many religious people would comfortably agree with your sentiments. Some might wholeheartedly agree, but I think most would call it a strawman. The number of religious people obsessed with the Reasonableness of their faith is not insignificant. It’s why apologetics is even a thing. It’s why Christians insist on calling their beliefs Truth. They really do want to be right, and will use science and logic to pretend that they are. Chastising us for confronting those people is incredibly disingenuous.

  66. 66
    anteprepro

    “You know, dude, I know there’s a spiritual realm, like, out there, man”
    “No shit?”
    “No shit. Like, I didn’t want to just follow my parents religion, man, and I didn’t want to be influenced by Society and The Man to become the same religion as everyone else. But then, one night, in a puff of a smoke, I stepped out of my body and walked up to the clouds!”
    “Holy shit dude.”
    “I know, man. And I was literally fucking high, man! And I walked through the clouds, and saw some golden gates, and mansions made out of gold and silver, and fucking winged people waving at me. It was like, whoa. And then I saw a bearded white guy in robes! I was, like, dude!”
    “Dude!”
    “I know! And this guy was like, obviously White Jesus! I saw him in all those pictures that must have obviously been accurate snapshots of a guy who was alive 2000 years ago in the Middle East! And White Jesus told me that I should be a Lutheran and then vanished!”
    “Wow. So that’s why you are Lutheran now?”
    “Totally dude.”
    “And you still don’t even know what a Lutheran is? What makes them different from every other kind of Christian?”
    “Nah dude, I barely even know what Christianity is, man. But I had to weigh the evidence, and the evidence was that White Jesus told me to join a specific sect I know nothing about of a religion I don’t fully understand, that just happens to be the largest and most influential religion in the country that I live in. Because that’s just what feels right, ya know?”
    “Yeah, I get you dude. You are such a free spirit.”
    “Totally. Now, sorry, but I gotta get off to church. The sermon today is going to be important, since it is supposed to inform us about how good Lutherans are supposed to vote in the upcoming elections! I wonder if it is going to conveniently line up with Republican positions again this time!”
    “Well, have fun with that. I’m gonna take an afternoon nap. Maybe I will have a dream that tells me to become a Muslim!”
    “Shut your fucking dirty mouth, you fucking heathen. Your spiritual experiences are invalid, wrong, and demonic!”
    “I meant Catholic.”
    “Slightly more acceptable”

  67. 67
    anteprepro

    If religious people really do join the specific congregation that they decide on joining entirely due to spiritual experiences, isn’t it awfully convenient that they so frequently happen to be compelled to join a specific sect that just happens to have a meeting place available within a few miles? And isn’t rather strange, since culture and society have absolutely nothing to do with any of this at all, that there are geographic differences in the prevalence of certain religions and denominations? By country and by regions within countries?

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