Hearing things

Blog332Pray

Don Camp has responded to my previous post, Voices In The Head, with a longish essay that he posted on Debunking Christianity. I want to use what he says to debunk the foolish notion that God speaks directly to people via their own  thoughts.

Those of us who do not believe in a God have, Don says, no ‘philosophical context’ for his speaking and are bound to ‘have trouble’ with the idea. I have to say, in fact, that I have no trouble at all with it. It’s easy: no God = no God speaking.

The rational thing to do, Don goes on, is for skeptics to fit those reports of God speaking into a context we do have, such as self-talk or schizophrenic delusions. This is another statement of the obvious; with no supernatural to account for such voices there can only be a rational explanation for this most irrational of phenomena.

Don then tries an analogy: ‘trying to explain God speaking to those who have no way to make sense of it is like explaining the color and beauty of a sunset to someone with no eyes.’ This is less than convincing. Those who are sceptical about God speaking (or doing anything) do have ‘eyes’: their rationality and critical faculties. A more accurate parallel for trying to persuade others the Almighty sends messages into his followers’ heads would be claiming that the events of a dream you had last night really happened in the world as we know it. ( I’ll have more to say about dreams later.)

‘I’ve said clearly,’ says Don, ‘what God speaking to people is not. It is not self-talk.’ Alas, Don does not tell us how he knows this.

‘Those who hear God speaking do not mistake it for self-talk,’ which is a pity because that’s what it is; Christians might choose to relabel it ‘God’ but that doesn’t mean it is. ‘It is also not schizophrenic delusions.’ It is a delusion though; I haven’t actually said that Don’s inner voice represents schizophrenia (he brought up the term) but I can’t see any difference between the voice he hears and those experienced, perhaps in more severe form, by schizophrenics.

‘Schizophrenic delusions, in which the sufferer either sees things that aren’t there or hears voices no one else hears, are characterized by self-isolation behavior, delusions, disorganized speech, bizarre behaviors, and flat affect. (see https://medical-dictionary…. )’ Whereas those hearing God’s voice gather together in self-contained enclaves separated, by choice, from ‘the World’. At other times they withdraw to talk to an imaginary super-being on their own and, according to Don, have him speak to them. If they’re really lucky, they’ll even get to see things that aren’t there. Obviously this kind of bizarre behaviour bears no resemblance to the true schizophrenic.

Don again: ‘Schizophrenic behaviors are very self-focused and their delusions are sometimes fearful or hateful and sometimes violent. It is the last that we see when people afflicted with schizophrenia pick up a gun and shoot up a school or a church or behead a girlfriend, as in the case you’ve noted in Mt. Vernon, Washington.’ Of course, schizophrenia is the same as most human behaviours; it exists on a spectrum. The Christian’s inner voice may not be as extreme or anti-social as that of the schizophrenic, but hearing it is on the same spectrum, perhaps at the safe end. Until it’s not, of course, as in the examples Don refers to.

‘But what about the person who hears God speak telling him that he should build a hospital in the Congo for AIDS patients or reach out to help the homeless? That is not the behavior of someone who suffers from mental illness. But that is the sort of thing that characterizes the lives of those ordinary Christians who report hearing God speak. So inner voices sometimes tell Christians to do good things. So what? This isn’t evidence they’re from God. What Don’s really arguing here, is that a ‘good’ message proves the Christian’s inner voice is God. And how do they know it’s God and not just self-talk? Because the message is ‘good’. This is circular and self-fulfilling, and doesn’t take into account all those instances when ‘God’ commands people to do bad things. According to the Old Testament it was the Lord himself who commanded Moses, Joshua and Samuel to massacre neighbouring tribes, the Lord who told Abraham to execute his own son in an especially cruel ‘test’. Doesn’t God do this any more? Has the unchanging God changed in this respect? Believers don’t just hear God telling them to do good things; the evidence is right there in the bible that (they imagine) he tells them to do wicked things too.

‘Does that kind of selfless compassion and determined service to mankind come from schizophrenic delusion or a disordered mind disconnected from reality? I do not think so. But that and many, many similar things are the result people having truly heard God speak.’ No, it’s the result of people interpreting an inner prompting as God. Interpreting it as such does not mean it is.

‘No physician would diagnose the many millions of ordinary Christians who report God speaking to them as schizophrenic.’ As I’ve already suggested, Don is creating a false dichotomy here: it isn’t necessary to be a diagnosed schizophrenic. It’s possible those hearing ‘helpful’ voices are much lower down on the delusional spectrum. They may never be schizophrenic in the medical sense, but this does not mean their voices are not self-generated.

‘But if God speaking is NOT self-talk or delusional, what is it?’ It is both of these things and Don hasn’t demonstrated otherwise. Still, let’s humour him and press on:

‘I think that J. Warner Wallace has as good an explanation as any. It is far more than voices in our heads. You can read his article here http://www.foxnews.com/opin…Fox News? Don really is in trouble.

‘What is significant for those who are convinced that there is no God out there to speak is that their conclusion contrasts with the experience (of) many billions of people over a very long time. It was the experience of those who wrote the Bible and many of those they wrote about. It has been the experience of billions since.’ Aah, now we’re playing the numbers game: ‘lots of people think this so it must be true.’ Well, okay, but many more billions dream while they’re asleep, and those dreams must come from somewhere; they can only be from God – there’s even biblical support for the idea that they are. So, if numbers of people demonstrate God’s involvement in our psyches then dreams are far more numerous than God merely speaking directly. However, God doesn’t create or speak through dreams, even though the bible suggests in places that he does. People may interpret them as God speaking but, as I’ve already said, interpretation is not evidence – and numbers prove nothing.

And now, having failed to present any sort of persuasive evidence that his inner voices are from God, Don leaps to this conclusion: ‘it is not really helpful for skeptics, who consider themselves in some way more grounded in reality than the rest of mankind, to Wave off this God speaking thing as delusional.’ Do we skeptics consider ourselves more grounded in reality – yes, I think perhaps we do. We look at evidence, not at what people believe they’re experiencing nor the numbers who believe, nor to the supernatural as an explanation for human phenomena. Voices in the head are generated by the brain; as Don concedes the mind commonly does this when we create a dialogue with ourselves. The nature of this dialogue is influenced and altered in those whose minds are saturated with religious ideas and mythology to the extent it is (mis)interpreted as the voice of God. This is the reality. I know, I’ve been there.

‘You need to consider,’ says Don in his coup de grace, ‘if there is not more to reality than you believe’? Do we? Do I? When a perfectly adequate explanation exists for voices in the head, why should any of us consider an alternative that relies on the supernatural? Actually though, I’ve done that too; for a long time I believed there must be ‘more to reality’ than we humans could conceive of or comprehend. So far, however, there is absolutely no evidence – zero, zilch – that what we don’t understand is Supernatural. Whether I ‘believe’ this or not is immaterial; it is a demonstrable fact. The Creator of everything-there-is cannot therefore be the source of voices in the head, dreams, visions or any other damn thing.

So, Don, a final point: if you stick, as I’m sure you will, with your belief that the voices you and other Christians hear are from God, then perhaps you could tell us why he says different things to different Christians – completely contradictory things (as I’ve written about here)? How do you account for God whispering one thing to you and the opposite to a fellow-believer? Do you dismiss as schizophrenic those who say God tells them not to commit massacres, but to shun gay people, control the weather, take possession of a new jet or prepare for the ‘great persecution‘ to come? Are these fellow Christians deluded? Maybe misinterpreting the voices in their head? If you dismiss them as deluded, muddle-headed or schizophrenic then you can perhaps see how we skeptics view you.

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Hearing Voices

Blog331Moses

I’ve been having a little exchange with the super-spiritual Don Camp over on Debunking Christianity. Don is convinced that the Holy Spirit speaks to him directly. He argues that all true Christians™ can hear the Spirit inside their heads, and seems to think this direct contact is as important as, possibly more important than, what it says in God’s Holy Word®.

There are, of course, many Christians who disagree with him, who think hearing voices in your head is flirting with demonic deception and apostasy (Yes, we’re in pot and kettle territory, but isn’t this what internecine squabbling is all about?) Don says he knows it’s the Spirit who talks to him, however, because what it has to say is in keeping with ‘the tenor’ of the New Testament. Here’s how the discussion went, with my contribution in italics:

Don’s opening salvo: Actually, if you ask people who do have God speak or if you look through the Bible and read the experiences of those to whom God spoke, it is rarely that the Spirit speaks what we want to hear. Do you think Paul want to hear that Jesus was lord? Do you think Abraham wanted to hear God tell him to sacrifice his son? Do you think Moses wanted to hear God tell him to return to Egypt? Do you think Jeremiah wanted to hear God’s message of destruction for Jerusalem? Or Jonah that he was to go to Nineveh? Or Isaiah that he musty preach, but no one would listen?

That in fact is one of the tests. If the “voice” tells you what you want to hear, be careful.

Me: Just reading over on Friendly Atheist of the guy who said the Lord told him to behead his partner because she didn’t repent. It doesn’t say whether he ‘wanted’ to hear this or not, but he went ahead anyway. Luckily for him (though not his partner) there were some bible verses that confirmed what the Lord had told him direct.

This the kind of thing you’re talking about, Don?

Don (below): Nope (a good solid argument! John Loftus threatened at this point to ban Don from Debunking Christianity as he’s had enough of his proselytising and lack of argument. Consequently, after another question from me, Don answered more fully.)

Me: Why not? Why is the voice in your head the real deal while this other nutjob’s isn’t? How can you possibly distinguish? He had bible verses to support what he thought the Lord was telling him, just like you do.

You see, Don, there is no way to distinguish between the two because, like yours, the Lord whispering in this guy’s cerebral cortex is exactly the same as the one whispering in yours. They’re both the product of brains suffering from a surfeit of religiosity.

Don:How can you possibly distinguish?’

Pretty much everyone can identify self-talk. No Christian mistakes the Spirit speaking with self-talk.

‘He had bible verses to support what he thought the Lord was telling him, just like you do.’

It is not simply a matter of finding a verse somewhere and yanking it out of context so that it can mean whatever you wish. That is superstitious and dishonest to the Bible. The question is whether what you feel the Spirit saying to you is is in conformity to the general tenor and tone of Scripture and in particular with the general tenor and tone of the New Testament. I say that because the general tone and tenor is incomplete until we come to the New Testament.

In the case you refer to, I cannot find anything in the New Testament that would allow beheading anyone for any reason. Rather I find a lot that tells us to love our enemy and to love the sinner, repentance or not.

Find me one place where Jesus said anything that would allow one of his followers to take another person’s life. What he said was love others, love the sinner, treat with kindness those who disrespect and even purposefully misuse you.

Find me one place where Paul said anything that would allow a Christian apart from acting under the authority of the state to take another’s life.

Both he and Jesus allow that an unrepentant person who claims to be a follower of Jesus might be excluded from the fellowship of Christians. But nowhere is there any warrant for beheading anyone anywhere.

The person who finds such warrant is misreading and misusing the Scripture

Me: ‘Pretty much everyone can identify self-talk. No Christian mistakes the Spirit speaking with self-talk.’ Though not, apparently, the guy who decapitated his partner. How about the preacher (Steven Anderson) who says the Spirit tells him LGBT people should be executed? Or those who say this self-same Spirit tells them to welcome gay people? Why does the same ‘Spirit of Truth’ provide such contradictory messages?

I feel the Spirit telling me right now, Don, that the voices in your head are nothing more than self-generated delusions.

As for New Testament verses (why you suddenly excluding the blood-soaked Old Testament?) that advocate violence, how about Matthew 10.34-36 where Jesus says he came to bring not peace but a sword? Or Matt 3.10-12 where he says that those who bear bad fruit will be ‘cut down’ and burned ‘with unquenchable fire.’? Or Matt 5.25-30 where he advocates cutting off hands and gouging out eyes when they ‘offend’? There are many more such verses attributed to Jesus; violence is easily justified with the words of your ‘peace-loving’ fraud, Don.

As for Paul, how about Romans 1.31-32 or 1 Thessalonians 1.10? Do you ever read this damnable book for yourself, Don, or do you just rely on hearing voices in your head telling you what you want to hear?

Don:How about the preacher (Steven Anderson) who says the Spirit tells him LGBT people should be executed?’

He is wrong. And everyone I know

‘how about Matthew 10.34-36 where Jesus says he came to bring not peace but a sword?’

The sword would be that which would be directed against them – as it was of Jesus.

‘Or Matt 3.10-12 where he says that those who bear bad fruit will be ‘cut down’ and burned ‘with unquenchable fire.’?’

It is not Christians who will do this. This is God’s final judgment. The King who has that authority will judge.

‘Or Matt 5.25-30 where he advocates cutting off hands and gouging out eyes when they ‘offend’?’

This is a metaphor. It is neither your hands or eye that offends. Evil comes from the heart (the inner person).

As for Paul, how about Romans 1.31-32′

It is not Christians who will judge the sins listed here. This is God’s judgment.

‘or 1 Thessalonians 1.10?’

This also is God’s judgment.

I said, if you recall, that Christians are never called to behead anyone anywhere, that they are to love their enemies and to do good to them rather than harm. There will be no “voice in the head” from God that tells a Christian to do harm – except as the agent of a government, which does have the God-given right to enforce justice.

Christians are called to follow Jesus. And he picked up no stone or sword to do violence to anyone.

But I did not say that God would not judge evil. That is his right and prerogative. He will certainly do so.

Me: All neatly side-stepped with the usual ‘he didn’t really mean what he clearly says.’ (Your response to the sword quote is particularly ludicrous: Jesus has just told the disciples to bring their swords to the garden in anticipation of his arrest; Peter actually uses his!)

I guess this kind of self-deception – you’re fooling no-one else – is why you can suggest Steven Anderson ‘and everyone I know’ is wrong. Only you are right, Don; the voice in your head says so.

Don:You can suggest Steven Anderson ‘and everyone I know’ is wrong. Only you are right, Don’;

Sorry. The failure to complete the sentence was a fault of not proof reading. It should read “everyone I know” agrees. (I knew this really.)

So let me say this carefully. I personally know of no Christian who condones Anderson’s act of beheading his partner. We all find it totally out of step with the words and character of Jesus. In a word, Anderson is a nut job on the order of a terrorist or atheist who walked into a Texas church and shot 20 plus people. They are all carried along by some passion that the rest of us would find far over the edge.

Me: Well, as you say it carefully that you and your buddies know personally that these other guys are wrong, I guess I’m convinced.

Unfortunately, the other fruitloops I’ve mentioned are as convinced as you are that the Lord (of Murder and Genocide) is really speaking to them. You see how subjective it all is, Don?

Btw, Steven Anderson isn’t the Christian who decapitated his partner; Anderson is your brother in the Lord – a preacher no less – who says the Holy Spirit has told him that gay people deserve death (because the bible says so.)

Don: ‘the other fruitloops I’ve mentioned are as convinced as you are that the Lord (of Murder and Genocide) is really speaking to them. You see how subjective it all is, Don?’

Self-talk, whether positive or negative, is subjective. No one else hears your internal talking to yourself. BTW there is nothing wrong with self-talk. We all do it.

Schizophrenia delusions (see https://www.aristada.com/wh… are also subjective. In this case almost everyone who is not schizophrenic can identify the unreality of the messages and hallucinations of a schizophrenic.

My own experience with schizophrenics is that they rarely if ever act in positive ways. They are fearful and troubled and riven people. Far more often their delusions cause them to act in anti-social and even violent ways. I would say that the person who beheaded his partner seems schizophrenic. I wonder if many of the mass shooters are not schizophrenic. We certainly know that some have been.

Schizophrenics can mix religious talk into their delusions. But we should not imagine that these are meaningful any more than the delusions they see.

Neither self-talk nor schizophrenic delusions describe the kind of God-speaking believers experience. They are different in kind not merely in degree.

‘Anderson . . . says the Holy Spirit has told him that gay people deserve death (because the bible says so.)’

The Bible says that we all deserve death. I deserve death. You deserve death. Romans 6:23 “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.”

But that fact is not a mandate for any follower of Jesus to kill another person.

I do not know what Anderson did with his word from the Lord. If he organized a lynch mob, he is violating the word and tenor of the New Testament. If he argued that gay people should be denied their civil rights or in any way treated as enemies of Christians (yes, this what Anderson advocates, as well as the state execution of gay people), he is violating the word and tenor of the New Testament. If I remember right, Jesus was a friend of sinners not their executioner. And I do not know of any instance in which Jesus made a distinction between me as a heterosexual sinner and any homosexual sinner. We are all the same.

Jesus message to every sinner – and that was everyone he met – was repent and and seek the kingdom of God.

Me: This is the last time I’m going to respond to this nonsense. I have a godless life to be getting on with.

So, let me see if I’ve got this right: anyone who hears a different voice from yours, or receives a message from the Lord that’s at odds with your highly selective, rose-colored perspective of the bible, is schizophrenic.

You sure you’re not in two minds about this, Don?

Which all just goes to show how pointless it is arguing with someone in whom the Delusion is very strong.

I want to return to Jesus’ advocacy of violence and self-harm soon. These parts of his  inspirational teaching are so overlooked, don’t you think?

 

Atheists and Agnostics

Child

This is how a god-botherer managed to make a fool of himself recently in the i, a national UK newspaper.

Agnostics and Atheists

It is misleading for Gwilyn Hughes to put atheism and agnosticism together as if they are the same two varieties of the same genre: they are worlds apart.

‘The fool has said in his heart, there is no God’ – the old psalm is right, for the atheist is a fool.

He ignores the thousands of centuries of human thought and experience to put all his trust in the tiny fragment of the present, embracing the myth of inevitable human progress.

The agnostic, on the other contrary, is wise: he considers everything including the present and concludes that, with the believer, its existence is unproven as its non-existence.

John Toy,

Scarborough

I sent the following reply:

As an atheist, I was interested to read that, according to Mr Toy, I ignore ‘all the thousands of centuries of human thought’ and embrace ‘the myth of inevitable human progress.’ Clearly, I’m failing as an atheist as I do neither and nor do most other atheists. Nonetheless, I’m grateful to be set on the right track by Mr Toy, who, I’m guessing from his quoting one of the bible’s most ignorant verses (oh, what choice there is!) is a Christian.

In fact, I regard myself as both an atheist, which means I see no evidence of a personal loving god and therefore ‘believe’ accordingly, and an agnostic. I do not know if there is some sort of deity ‘out there’ that gets on with his/her/its life with neither interest in, nor involvement with, the inhabitants of this planet. I doubt it, but as the possibility exists, I can only be agnostic on the subject.

I have to say I’m surprised that a national newspaper in a largely secular country allows those promoting belief in a god, however tenuously, to do so in its pages. I do hope it won’t happen again.

Theology: Much Ado About Nothing

Toothfairy2

I heard Richard Dawkins speak at the Edinburgh Book Festival recently. He suggested that the best way to understand views that are the opposite of one’s own is to study them for oneself. He was then asked by a smart-alec in the audience, that if this was so, how many works of theology he had read. Dawkins responded by saying he wouldn’t waste his time reading ‘pure theology’ because, in discussing the nature of God or the Trinity or the mechanics of the Resurrection, theology presupposes that the supernatural is real. As there is no evidence it is, there is no point in reading books the sole purpose of which is to discuss the nuances of the non-existent.

It was a good answer. There is no such thing as intellectual Christianity (or Judaism or Islam, or any religion.) No matter how complex the arguments become, they are essentially ones about nothing. Debates about theological matters, within and between the many versions of Christianity, are, as I’ve said before, as relevant as arguments about the colour of the tooth fairy’s dress.*

*Actually she wears a white dress to symbolise healthy teeth. I know this because of my deeply held faith and personal experience of tooth fairies.

Why I Can’t Believe in the ‘Lord Jesus Christ’: 2. Demons, demons everywhere

Demon2

They tell you all you need to do is accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. But it’s not true. You also have to accept on faith all sorts of peripheral nonsense. Nonsense like demons. And the ever-present malevolent Force that will pressurise you into misbehaving and compromising your commitment to the Lord. This Force is ‘The Enemy’, a.k.a. Satan or the Devil, and leading Christians astray is its/his principal occupation. The Enemy and his minions, the demons, are everywhere! All over the internet for a start, mainly on Christian sites. While the Church of Lucifer has an online presence, it’s Christians who love the bad guys the most.

According to some, Satan and his demons are in charge of this reality (though it could be God who’s got the whole world in his hands.) When they’re not attacking true believers, demons are doing their damnedest to bring America to its knees, mainly through ‘The Homosexual Agenda‘™ and abortion rights.

Perhaps it’s possible to ignore this aspect of the faith and still be a Christian, but to do so is to disregard the significant presence the devil and his demons have in the New Testament. Jesus himself has a cosy chat with Satan during his time in the wilderness, or so Matthew 4.1-11 would have us believe. Throughout the synoptic gospels, Jesus speaks very much as if he believes Satan to be an actual being, not merely a metaphorical personification of evil (eg: Luke 11:14-26). He also exorcises a significant number of individuals possessed by demons.

Steve Hayes on Triablogue blithely suggests that ‘when friends and relatives brought people to Jesus to be exorcized, that reflects their diagnosis, not his. They think the individual is possessed – which doesn’t imply that Jesus always shared their suspicions.’ But of course it does; to imply he was God and therefore would have known better is to impose a perspective that had yet to develop when the synoptic gospels were written – that, and a modern sensibility onto a first-century conditioned mind. If Jesus didn’t regard those brought to him to be possessed by demons, he would have said so. He is quick enough to correct his disciples elsewhere when they ascribe the wrong reasons to the causes of illness (John 9.1-3). Inventing ways to excuse Jesus’ ignorance is to avoid what the text clearly indicates; Jesus believed in demons. When he diagnoses a disturbed mind himself he doesn’t hesitate to conclude they are involved; he even engages in conversation with them (Luke 8.30-35).

We know now, and have known for some time, that illness and mental conditions are not caused by demons. We know too that same-sex relationships are not Satanic. There are no supernatural forces trying to debase America. There are no supernatural forces, full stop. It follows that Jesus’ mission couldn’t have been to magically defeat the devil by dying on the cross (Hebrew 2.14); his supposed sacrifice couldn’t have been the beginning of the end of the devil’s reign (Romans 16.20). Neither can there be any of the spiritual warfare against ‘powers and principalities’ of the air that dimwitted Christians imagine themselves to be engaged in (Ephesians 6.12).

Christianity is nothing without its imagined adversaries. With them it is nothing more than a superstition, which its founders ignorantly subscribed to and worked hard to perpetuate. Christians are about the same business today.

As for me, I cannot believe in a ‘Lord Jesus Christ’ who was so primitive, so uneducated and so ignorant he regarded Satan and his demonic forces to be real.

 

Abandon Reason all ye who enter the Faith

Descartes

The question of whether religious believers are less intelligent than non-believers surfaces every now and again. The atheist blogs I read are usually courteous enough to say that of course believers are not less intelligent, and there are no studies that I can find that have considered the matter.

Evidently there have been intelligent Christians; C. S. Lewis comes to mind, Francis Collins of the Human Genome project and William Lane Craig are evidently intelligent men. (I can’t think of any obviously intelligent women who subscribe to religion; I suspect intelligent women are intelligent enough to avoid superstition altogether.) It seems to me though that what those who profess religious belief are prepared to do, is sublimate whatever intelligence they have and sacrifice intellect in the service of faith. They suppress their critical faculties, usually through a form of cognitive dissonance, and press rationality into the servitude of beliefs that have been arrived at irrationally. I might be wrong of course, but this what the evidence suggests to me.

A recent commenter on this blog by name of tides99, does seem to support to this hypothesis. tides99 originally wrote to say how his chosen superstition, Catholicism, is the one true way (aren’t they all) and that while I’m right to criticise Protestantism, I really should investigate Catholicism for myself. When I declined his very generous offer, tides99 responded – you’ll find his comments in ‘the author’ section above – with a number of points about the limits of human reason. It is these I take apart respond to here.

tides99: I have a PhD in philosophy, so I certainly would not believe in anything that goes against reason or requires one to repress or contradict one’s critical faculties.
For one who professes a PhD in philosophy, tides99, there is some very sloppy reasoning here and throughout your argument. Already in this first sentence we see the contradiction between belief and reason; they are not the same and can’t ever be; belief doesn’t require reason. That is why it is often called ‘faith’.

Criticsl (sic) reason is only one way of encountering and assessing reality… You’re right, tides99, but not for the reason you think. Critical reasoning is one way of assessing reality, but is insufficient on its own. It needs the support of evidence. Evidence is supplied by science and the methods used in scientific enquiry that seek to eliminate, as far as possible, human bias and presupposed conclusions.

and there are aspects of reality that reason cannot adjudicate because it cannot access them. If there are aspects of reality that reason cannot ‘adjudicate’ (whatever that means) and that science cannot access, then how do you know these supernatural aspects exist? You feel them? Your church says they do? You’d like them to? Maybe so, but none of these mean that these mysterious ‘aspects’ really do exist. You’re sneaking supernaturalism in through the back door here, tides.

Rationalism is itself based Upon faith, of faith… Oh dear, this old chestnut.

in the ultimate intelligibility of the universe, and its perfect transparency to human reason. Is rationality really based on these things? Scientists concede there may be aspects of the universe which, while we might observe them or extrapolate mathematically, we might never properly understand or be able to explain. This doesn’t, to my knowledge, prevent the exercise of rationality.

This of course cannot be proven, yet you believe it anyway. Scientists and free-thinkers rarely go in for ‘proof’. Your use of the word makes me suspicious of your claims about your credentials. Things can be proven mathematically, it’s true, as can matters in a court of law (beyond reasonable doubt) but by and large science is more interested in theories, working models and demonstration. So, no-one is looking to ‘prove’ that the universe is ultimately intelligible and no-one ‘believes’ it is perfectly transparent to human reason. This is a strawman argument, tides.

It’s quite superstitious to have such faith, but yet have nothing really to ground it on. Whatever reason and rationality are based on, it is not faith in the universe’s intleligibility or transparency. The use of reason and the application of the scientific method are nothing like ‘faith’. Both are tools, and they are the best we have.

The truth is that the reason why reason exists is because the universe is ordered… Beware any statement that starts ‘the truth is’! Reasoning is a manifestation of the human brain. It is not something that has discreet, independent existence. It has not been floating around for aeons, out there somewhere, waiting for advanced apes finally to discover it and make it their own. The only reason reason exists is because the human brain evolved to the extent it became capable of reasoning. All the same, the brain did not leave behind its capacity for irrationality, unreasonableness and disorderly impulse. Might we not then claim, this being an equally viable proposition, that because these are human traits of even longer standing than our capacity for reason, that the universe must therefore also be irrational, unreasonable and disordered? Of course not, because the universe’s characteristics are not a reflection of the human brain’s abilities, and vice versa. The inclination to project human behaviour onto an impersonal, indifferent environment – to anthropomorphise the universe – exemplifies our irrationality, not rationality.

But, just a minute, we have another contradiction here, tides99. You have already speculated that there are aspects of reality beyond our grasp – and yet here you are telling us that, along with the rest of the universe, these supernatural aspects are ordered. How do you know this? How do you know anything about parts of reality which reason cannot ‘adjudicate’ and science cannot access?

and the reason why it’s ordered is, of course, because there is an orderer, namely God. And there we have it. It’s God. Of course it is. Far from demonstrating that the universe is ordered, you now conjecture that the order you claim for it has an orderer behind it. Yes, it’s another leap of faith, reason be damned. Anthropomorphising the universe leads inevitably to deities and, ultimately, the Christian god, who is merely ourselves writ large.

Speaking for myself, anyway, I can say this much. When I was an undergrad I came across the saying that learning a little philosophy leads you away from God, but learning a lot of philosophy leads you back. As a young man who had learned a little philosophy, I scoffed. But in later years and at least in my own case, I would come to see that it’s true.

It’s no good blaming a surfeit of philosophy, tides99. If what you say were true, all philosophers with PhDs would have reached conclusions similar to your own. The majority haven’t.

To summarise your argument, you claim – without evidence – that there are supernatural aspects to the universe/reality which reason and science can’t detect. You assert that nevertheless the universe as a whole is ordered and it follows therefore that there must be an orderer. This orderer, you then go on to assume, is the very God you’ve chosen, for entirely irrational reasons, to worship.

Science and reason tell us that every one of these assertions is wrong. You are projecting your beliefs onto the universe as you perceive it, tides99. Project away, by all means, but remember, these beliefs and your version of reality are only in your head. The real universe as science, and, I’d venture to say, reason demonstrate, is busy doing something else entirely.

 

What A Dream I Had

Resurrection3

Last night.

I dreamt I was troubled and anxious about something or other, even though I’m not aware of being this way in reality.

In the dream, a couple of people drop by to console me. One of those people is my dad. He asks what’s wrong, listens and offers advice. He’s concerned and wise, positive and supportive. I have no doubt this is my father; he looks and sounds like him, but he’s an idealised version of him. I’m dimly aware in the dream that he’s behaving differently from the way he would in life – we rarely had heart-to-heart talks – but I’m so grateful for the help he’s offering, and it’s good to feel close to him.

In reality, my father died over ten years ago. I’m not sure I was aware of this in the dream or perhaps I just ignored it. I certainly ignored the way he was acting slightly out of character; I just was glad to see him again. I woke this morning feeling invigorated by the time spent with him (or the illusion of time spent with him) and with other friends who appeared in the dream to offer support.

I don’t for minute believe that the father I experienced in my dream was really my dad, returned from wherever he’s been these last ten years to offer words of comfort. My real dad has been nowhere for the past decade. He ceased to be in 2007. The version of him in my dream was a construct of my own mind, made from memories, wishful thinking and – okay, I admit it – a glass or two of wine. He was an image of how I’d like my dad to have been, perhaps – not that I give that much conscious thought. Nevertheless, this version of him is evidently buried somewhere in my head, waiting to be resurrected when the dream circumstances are right.

This is what it must surely have been like for those few individuals who, in visions and dreams, experienced Jesus after his death. In their grief and turmoil, the need to embrace the dream version of their friend must have been overwhelming. They would have persuaded themselves it really was him, communicating with them from beyond the grave. The fact one or two others had a similar experience can only have reinforced the compulsion to believe: ‘You saw him too? Then it must really have been him.’

It wasn’t, of course. What those who witnessed the risen lord experienced was, as Paul suggests in Galatians 1.16, a creation of their own minds, constructed from religious fervour, wishful thinking and a powerful need to believe.

From this, all else followed.