Belief and social identity

Glenn, at “Say Hello to my Little Friend” has a very useful post on a Christian perspective of open-mindedness (Scepticism, Open Mindedness and Mistrust). I think this perspecitve is not just a Chrsitian one. It is one that I recognise also in those advancing dogmatic secular ideologies. For my generation his analysis applies equally well to Maoists, to the Red Guards of China’s so-called “Cultural Revolution.”

Here’s how Glenn justifies a closed mind to non-Christian viewpoints:

“So it is when a Christian is asked to consider atheism. It’s not true that the Christian should be as open minded to the possibility of atheism as he would like people to be to the possibility of Christianity, any more than I should be as open to the possibility of my wife’s unfaithfulness as I would like people to be to the possibility of her faithfulness. A person who is a Christian has what he or she takes to be a relationship of trust. They have a prior commitment (and in fact the relationship between Christ and the church is likeness, in the Bible, to a marriage e.g. Ephesians 5:31-33). When I talk about a prior commitment here, I do not just mean a prior belief, something that they affirmed before and don’t want to give up. I mean not a commitment to a proposition but to a person – to a relationship, call it what you will. It is a relationship of trust, and more than that, of worship.”

So, this religious conviction is not about primary beliefs. It’s about a “relationship of trust,” “a prior commitment,” even a relationship “of worship.”

Maoism as a religion

This describes very accurately the attitude of Maoists and “red guards” during the 1960s and early 1970s. For them it was not about the real ideas of Mao Zedong which could be accessed through his writings. Or even about the barstardised representation of them in “the Little Red Book” they used to wave high. It was about their “prior commitment” to Mao (and his opposition to the Chinese Communist Party or “capitalist roaders”). It was about a “relationship of trust” with Mao. Even a relationship “of worship” of Mao.

I imagine these prior commitments and relationships of trust (and worship) were also characteristic of earlier dogmatic secular ideologies (I almost said “religions” here) like Stalinism and Hitlerism.

The philosopher Adèle Mercier describes this dogmatic attitude in her article Religious Belief and Self Deception (in the book 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists). This attitude is more about “belief in belief” and identification with that rather than the beliefs themselves. “Most people who claim to have relgious beliefs have scarcely ever analysed the contents of their belief, and indeed are reluctant to do so even when prompted.” That was so true of the Maoists.

Religion and social identity

And “there is a good reason why most people refuse to examine the details of the religious propositions they profess. Let’s face it, most first-order religious beliefs are daft.” Well, perhaps politcal dogmatists like the Maoists had more credible primary beliefs but, as with relgionists, they very rarely examined the details.

No, the strength of a dogma (religious or otherwise) is not in commitment “to their first-order beliefs, but to their second-order beliefs about them (a point well made by Dennett). Religion is in more ways than the obvious like a country club: it is deeply about social identity, not one’s golf game.” Again this could be said of those committed to secular ideological and political dogmas.

If religion and other dogmas were just about primary beliefs these could be openly and dispassionately discussed. But that doesn’t happen. Because the secondary belief is a matter of social identity religious people (and Maoists) take “disproportionate offense” when their beliefs are questioned. As Mercier says “doubt the truth of any first order belief and you question only the veracity of its claim; doubt a religious belief and it’s the entire believer who feels called into question. Call any 50-year old Canaanite with sexual designs on an 9-year-old a lecherous pedophile, and from those who disagree with your assessment you’ll get a disagreement; say the same about Mahommed and you’ll get a death warrant.”

Dogma as a virus

This “belief in belief, ” “relationship of trust,” “prior commitment” and a relationship “of worship” provides a powerful mechanism for protecting and propagating dogma. Darrel Ray describes how this works in his book “The God Virus: How religion infects our lives and culture” (see Ideological infections). When people develop such relationship with a dogma it is as if they have been infected with a virus. This virus then works, not in the interests of the host,  but it the interests of its own survival and infection of others. “Anti-bodies” are developed to prevent the host properly inspecting the primary beliefs, or being open to other competing dogmas and idea (other virus). Hence Christians feel justified in being non-sceptical about their own religion and being closed minded about competing ideas like atheism. When you have dogma there is a sort of intellectual ghetto formed to protect the dogma (see The ghetto of apologetics “science”).

Glenn himself provided a beautiful example of this in his article by commenting:Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion, that well known, aggressive (and often lampooned as philosophically poorly constructed) case against religious belief.” A common reaction by religionists who have never read the book – and certainly have no intention of doing so.

So, thanks Glenn. Not only a great description of the real attraction of religion and other dogmas to the  “true believers.” But also a practical example of how this works to protect the host against other ideas.

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73 responses to “Belief and social identity

  1. I dunno. I was a child in the 60s and 70s, so I don’t have any personal experience of that time. However, I presently know a fair few people who self-describe as Maoists: they are about as open-minded as atheists, and their response is about as proportionate. Note that while I myself am a communist, I do not self-describe as a Maoist, and I disagree with Maoists on substantive points.

    Note that atheists are not all open-minded, and many take disproportionate offense when their own beliefs are challenged, so I’m not setting too high a bar for Maoists.

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  2. Great post, but I think it goes much further than social labels and order of beliefs: I think the nature of belief itself – on a spectrum between justified and unjustified and the reasons we use to inform where the belief falls on this spectrum – determines whether or not we are dealing with the closed mind of dogmatic thinking or the open mind of honest critical inquiry regardless of topic.

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  3. TBB, what exactly are the beliefs of non belief?

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  4. “Here’s how Glenn justifies a closed mind to non-Christian viewpoints:”

    Ah, (dis)honest Ken strikes again…. nothing new here.

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  5. I mean not a commitment to a proposition but to a person – to a relationship, call it what you will.

    How can you have a “prior commitment” to a magical, invisible sky daddy?
    That’s more than a little creepy.

    “there is a good reason why most people refuse to examine the details of the religious propositions they profess. Let’s face it, most first-order religious beliefs are daft.”

    Yes, getting Christian to read the Bible can be wonderful fun.

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  6. It’s hard to take you seriously Ken when you persist in silly denunciation of religion as a virus, and your disingenuous portrayals of religious thought. You’re as hopeless and out of depth as Dawkins.

    I think it’s a mind virus called “intellectual arrogance” or “pride”.

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  7. You’re as hopeless and out of depth as Dawkins.

    That’s quite a compliment.

    I think it’s a mind virus called “intellectual arrogance” or “pride”.

    You “think”?
    That’s rich coming from a guy that pays $10+ for tap water.
    😉

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  8. Ropata – I think you are illustrating the problem. You are taking disproportionate offense at my post because of your secondary belief. Your belief in belief. You are seeing my description of the problem as a personal attack.

    The concept of a belief virus applies to any strong belief or dogma. That is why I compared it with Maoism.

    I guess Maoists will also be offended.

    I am not denouncing any religion or other dogma. I am merely describing the problem of secondary belief and social identification with a belief.

    To discredit a belief system or religion one would have to deal with the details of the primary beliefs. These vary tremendously even in one religion like Christianity.

    In essence they aren’t important to the person who holds them. Their social identity with the belief is important.

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  9. I know it’s not personal, but your thesis of memes or mind virus is fringe psychology and very poor philosophy. It does not engage substantively with religious thought, dismissing the whole lot in one disdainful sweep.

    Genius in one field does not automatically translate to having the faintest clue in another, this is Dawkins’ mistake and yours. He assumes he is an expert in everything. His debates with John Lennox were revealing.

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  10. Neither memes or mind virus’s are my theses.

    Nor do I have any desire to engage with religious thought. I actually have a pathological reaction to any -ism or -anity. Much prefer to be free from any dogma and to make up my own mind on each issue as it arises using evidence rather than faith/dogma/creed.

    I guess the appreciation of debaters is in the mind of the beholder. I always found Lennox to be pathetic in his debates with Dawkins. Typical flapdoodle characteristic of theologians.

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  11. Dawkins greatest crime as far as I can tell is holding truth to great esteem. I’ve noticed he is even willing to go so far as to change his position when the preponderance of evidence is against his prior opinion. The height of arrogance, I know.

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  12. By the way you’ve apparently misunderstood Glenn’s criticism of the perennial atheist calls for Christians to “be open-minded”. To change someone’s mind you need substantive evidence that their position is incorrect… and the argument you’ve supplied so far (portraying Christians as dogmatic) is just not convincing.

    I share your concerns about ideology becoming an idol, and the attributes of an open or closed mind but perhaps atheism suffers from its own delusions.

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  13. Don’t think so, Ropata; all you need to do is show why it’s unjustified. The response that possesses honest if rare intellectual integrity is to either justify it with a preponderance of evidence or alter one’s beliefs.

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  14. Ropata, have a careful read of my post. I did not discuss the correctness or otherwise of beliefs, Christian or Maoist.

    I took Glenn’s useful concepts and showed how they apply to any dogmatic ideology, and the consequences such as ideological ghettos and taking offense.

    Sent from my iPod

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  15. all you need to do is show why it’s unjustified
    So to show that is theism is “unjustified” requires less than a preponderance of evidence? Talk about uneven playing field.

    This thread is ungracious to people who have honestly examined the evidence and concluded that faith is indeed justified. Accusing the other side of dogma, lacking integrity, etc does not a substantive argument make.

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  16. @ropata. Have you actually read Glenn’s post? He is not supporting the use of evidence, quite the contrary.

    I think also, that perhaps you should re-read Ken’s post. He’s making quite a good argument about the reasons that people hold to and promote beliefs.

    Humans are very social animals (have a look at the research), and social groupings are probably right up the top in terms of importance to individuals. It is perhaps not surprising that people attempt to tighten the bonds of their social groupings by controlling the rationality of the members. This is really what Glenn’s post is saying: “Don’t examine your/our core beliefs. To do so will be the breaking of a trust relationship, and the rest of the group will think less of you for doing so”.

    Again, I would recommend having a read of some the research into the possible evolutionary explanations for religion and religious behavior.

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  17. Nick, I recommend you read some of the replies to Glenn’s original post; and re-examine your misconceptions. Of course beliefs are examined and tested, but a hostile, demanding and critical attitude is not a very polite way to approach your Maker.

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  18. To change someone’s mind you need substantive evidence that their position is incorrect…

    That’s silly.
    You believe that “X” exists.
    The burden of evidence is on YOU to provide it.

    It ‘s the ol’ “Oh yeah, prove to me that god doesn’t exist” dodge.
    Reality doesn’t work that way.

    Suppose you believed in Bigfoot.
    You truely, madly deeply believe in Bigfoot.
    Ok.
    Some people do.
    (shrug)
    In this case, Bigfoot is the “x” here.
    Now what “substantive evidence” can you provide on their position (that Bigfoot exists) to change their mind?
    How about Zeus and the rest of the pantheon of gods?
    Pop yourself into a time-machine, go to Athens, and have a chat with the Ancient Greeks at the height of their power and glory.
    Now what “substantive evidence” can you provide on their position (that Zeus exists) to change their mind?

    Don’t like Zeus as an example?
    We can do Krishna or Vishnu too.
    Plenty of Hindus around in the here and now.

    Or perhaps aliens?
    Imagine talking to an alien abductee.
    What “substantive evidence” can you provide on their position (that aliens exist) to change their mind?

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  19. Ropata “a hostile, demanding and critical attitude is not a very polite way to approach your Maker.”

    Tell that to those bigots who are attempting to protect their “maker’ with complaints about the NZ Bus ads.

    I think you portrayal of “a hostile, demanding and critical attitude” is simply the result of your social identity with your religion. Not with the primary beliefs (which you know are debated amongst your coreligionists) but your secondary belief. Your belief in belief.

    An objective rational analysis gets seen as hostile, demanding and critical. When amongst those involved in rational discourse these sorts of debates are normal, welcome and respected.

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  20. Just as a functioning adult doesn’t wake up every morning with a blank slate and question whether gravity will work today, so it is with a believer. Or think of Maxwell’s equations for example, they are a very robust description of how physical reality works, until Feynman & QED.

    Similarly, Christ and the Church have ministered spiritual truth to the heart of humanity for millennia, serve as a reasonable model of God’s will on Earth, which cannot not be superseded or easily dismissed by the shallow assertions of scientism.

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  21. Open mind test:
    Given that string theory posits the existence of extra dimensions to spacetime, is it not also possible that a supernatural force or being was responsible for creating the Universe? In fact Godels incompleteness theorem practically demands it! 🙂

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  22. Gödel’s incompleteness theorems (from Wikipedia):

    The first incompleteness theorem states that no consistent system of axioms whose theorems can be listed by an “effective procedure” (essentially, a computer program) is capable of proving all facts about the natural numbers. For any such system, there will always be statements about the natural numbers that are true, but that are unprovable within the system. The second incompleteness theorem shows that if such a system is also capable of proving certain basic facts about the natural numbers, then one particular arithmetic truth the system cannot prove is the consistency of the system itself.

    Ropata, which theorem is it that you belief practically demands that a supernatural force is responsible for creating the universe? And how did you come to that conclusion?

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  23. …Christ and the Church have ministered spiritual truth to the heart of humanity for millennia…

    Well, as religions go, Christianity has been around for only two thousand years.
    It’s a relative new-comer.
    The Hindu religion has been around for a lot longer “ministering spiritual truth”.
    I’d be very careful gushing about how old Christianity is when there are other religions that have seniority.
    There’s not even one single brand of “Christianity”.
    It’s all fragmented into separate groups.
    With many of those very separate groups pitying or even despising all the other “fake Christians.”

    God’s will on Earth, which cannot not be superseded or easily dismissed by the shallow assertions of scientism.

    Scientism?
    Oh dear.
    You really haven’t thought this through.
    What about the Hindus and all the other religions, past and present?
    They don’t rely upon “scientism”.
    Yet they happily dismiss your brand-name religion.
    Exactly like you dismiss theirs.

    …a functioning adult doesn’t wake up every morning with a blank slate and question whether gravity will work today, so it is with a believer.

    Yeah, but that would apply to ANY believer of ANY religion.
    Can’t you see that?

    As I said before…
    What “substantive evidence” can you provide on their position (that X exist) to change their mind?

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  24. From Stanley L. Jaki, “A Late Awakening to Gödel in Physics”:

    Gödel himself retained something of his childhood belief in God. He felt a thorough disdain for materialistic positivism and saw his theorem as a devastating weapon against it. Surely, the idea of a God who can freely create one particular universe out of an infinitely large number of possibilities, could not be alien to Gödel’s thinking. He could have therefore found an inner prompting to connect physics with his theorem. It is therefore somewhat puzzling that he did not see his theorem as a proof that one cannot turn physics into an argument against the contingency of the universe.

    Herein lies the ultimate bearing of Gödel’s theorem on physics. It does not mean at all the end of physics. It means only the death knell on endeavours that aim at a final theory according to which the physical world is what it is and cannot be anything else. Gödel’s theorem does not mean that physicists cannot come up with a theory of everything or TOE in short. They can hit upon a theory which at the moment of its formulation would give an explanation of all known physical phenomena. But in terms of Gödel’s theorem such a theory cannot be taken for something which is necessarily true.

    Father Jaki adds:

    Apart from Gödel’s theorem, such a theory [of everything] cannot be a guarantee that in the future nothing essentially new would be discovered in the physical universe which would then demand another final theory. . .

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  25. [oops, second para should be a blockquote too]

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  26. Cedric, Christianity has its roots in the Hebrew worship of Yahweh which is as old as human history (and prehistory, as Genesis and the rest of the Torah probably includes oral traditions).

    Substantive evidence would include the resurrection of Christ I suppose.

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  27. Ropata, Gödel himself may have had a personal belief in a God but his theorems have nothing to say on the matter. Just as Newton’s personal conviction in alchemy was in no way boosted by his work on the laws of motion.

    I still fail to see how you get from Gödel’s theorems to a supernatural force responsible for creating the universe. Perhaps I’m being a bit slow and perhaps you can take some time out to explain. I’m interested.

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  28. Christianity has its roots in the Hebrew worship of Yahweh which is as old as human history…

    Old as human history?
    Wow.
    (…awkward silence…)
    Let’s not pick low hanging fruit.
    😉

    Christianity has its roots in the Hebrew worship of Yahweh…

    So…in terms of seniority, Judaism wins out over Christianity.
    You just prove my point that Christianity is indeed a late-comer.

    The Jews dismiss Christ completely.
    Don’t you know this?
    (Even the Muslims have a higher regard for him.)
    Judaism is not the same thing as Christianity at all.
    It’s not even close.
    The Torah and the Bible are not the same.
    The Jews feel no need for those extra book “sequels” by the Emperor Constantine.
    They like the Torah just the way it is.

    Substantive evidence would include the resurrection of Christ I suppose.

    I don’t follow.
    How is the story of the supposed resurrection of Christ “substantive evidence” of anything?

    I don’t think that word “substantive” means what you think it means.
    Even you sound a little doubtful with your “I suppose”.

    What “substantive evidence” can you provide on their position (that X exist) to change their mind?

    How does talking about a story from the Bible about some guy called Jesus and his resurrection supposed to be “substantive evidence” that, say, Zeus or Thor or Vishnu or Baal or any of the other thousands of gods do not exist?

    It can’t work.
    If somebody claims that something (ANYTHING) exists then…that person has to cough up evidence to support their belief.

    It not up to the other guy to to provide “substantive evidence” that this something does not exist.
    It just doesn’t work.

    You can’t provide evidence that a god (any god, your god, his gods, old gods, new gods) doesn’t exist any more that you can provide evidence that magic and pixies don’t exist.

    I find it very disturbing that this basic premise of critical thinking doesn’t register with you.
    We’re not even really talking about religions or your personal faith or anything like that.
    We’re just talking about basic logic.

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  29. Please excuse a lengthy quote, in response to Damian

    Long before black holes emerged on the horizon of physicists, physics had been heavily mathematical. In terms of Gödel’s paper, it was not possible to come up with an axiomatization of mathematics that would have its proof of consistency within itself. Therefore any theory of physics, which contained more than a trivial form of mathematics, was subject to the restriction of Gödel’s theorem.

    It should not be difficult to recognize that, to quote Hawking, “a physical theory is a mathematical model.” It should also be obvious that the more advanced is a physical theory the more mathematics it contains and the more advanced is the mathematics. From this the ground for connecting Gödel’s theorem with physics readily follows. For insofar as Gödel’s theorem states that no non-trivial system of arithmetic propositions can have its proof of consistency within itself, all systems of mathematics fall under this restriction, because all embody higher mathematics that ultimately rests on plain arithmetic. Then it follows that there can be no final physical theory which would be necessarily true at least in its mathematical part.

    In other words, a [final] theory excludes the possibility that the universe is contingent, that is, dependent for its existence on a factor external to it. Given the all-encompassing character of the universe, such a factor cannot be another universe, but only that being which is traditionally called God or the Creator.

    http://www.sljaki.com/JakiGodel.pdf

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  30. That logic in the last para just doesn’t follow – and is typical of theological bafflegab. A play on the word “final” I guess.

    The fact remains that humanity is investigating the origins of the universe, and the possibilities of what went before (and alongside). And we are using mathematics in the process.

    So far in this investigation there has not been a credible detailed hypothesis for consideration containing a supernatural being.

    All talk of gods remain social constructs – not scientific hypotheses.

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  31. Cedric, Jesus claimed to be the unique Son of God and verified his claim by his life and ministry, including conquering death — a fairly significant accomplishment I would suppose. The apostle Paul, in his speech to the pagan Athenians, felt no need to disprove every other religion, as Jesus is ‘the way’.

    I wonder how open minded you are to the possibility that Jesus really was who he claimed?

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  32. Ken, the paper is fairly tentative and the implications of Gödel’s theorem for the contingency of the universe is not forcefully asserted. Nonetheless I think it’s worth consideration.

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  33. Now it’s tentative. I thought that “Godels incompleteness theorem practically demands” a supernatural creator.

    I suspect that the “final theory” your mate is talking about has nothing to do with reality. A bit like the infinity concept. Certainly not the final theory or theory of everything that physicists sometimes refer to.

    Humanity goes on in its mission to understand reality. We don’t expect this will ever reach completion. Certainly not some time soon.

    And, as yet, supernatural creators have not been a useful hypothesis.

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  34. Sorry Ropata but that last bit is a massive non sequitur. Gödel’s theorems basically boil down to “if a description of a system is internally consistent and complete then that description must be inconsistent” (i.e. you’ll be needing an external description and so on and so on). This was hugely upsetting for mathematicians and physicists but it has nothing to do with God. You make a massive and unjustified leap from a theorem about number theory to the existence of a creator of the universe.

    Read Gödel, Escher, Bach if you ever get the chance. I’m only halfway through it myself but I guarantee you’ll enjoy it. It hurts the brain to read it but in a good way.

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  35. Jesus claimed…

    So now we’ve expanded out from the resurrection of Jesus on to the claims of Jesus?
    How did that happen?

    The apostle Paul, in his speech to the pagan Athenians, felt no need to disprove every other religion…

    Paul is not making the same mistake as you.

    You are shifting the burden of proof.
    It doesn’t work.
    If you want to claim that “x” exists then it’s up to YOU to provide the evidence.
    It’s up to you to support your claim.

    You can’t disprove the existence of a god any more than you can disprove the existence of Bigfoot.
    It doesn’t work.
    Do you understand this now?

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  36. Godel’s argument is pretty silly.

    Math expresses a relationship. By definition, a relationship cannot exist with only itself. Just because someone points out that the universe can be conceived is a whole is hardly a breakthrough to then state the obvious: that we cannot express the universe as a relationship.

    To then assert that there is a mathematical necessity for anything and everything to be described mathematically if it is to exist is a bit over the top, don’t you think?

    For example, what is your mathematical expression? If you can’t describe your entirety mathematically, do you exist?

    It’s a silly argument.

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  37. Cedric, you’re jumping around a lot, but if I follow your meaning correctly, you think I am closed-minded because I need a good reason to change my beliefs. I’m aware of strong arguments pro and contra theism, and I have concluded that theism is warranted. God is not a scientifically testable physical law but there are other forms of evidence.

    You talked about basic logic so perhaps this piece will interest you.

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  38. Tildeb, Mathematics is just a tool. The Universe is subject to physical laws which are described in the language of maths. Assume there exists a mathematical model describing the entire Universe. According to the implications of Godel, it cannot be completely described with a limited set of axioms, nor can it be shown to be consistent. But such a mathematical model of the Universe does exist — the Universe itself! Thus, it is contingent.

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  39. Damian, yeah I had a browse through that book recently but didn’t enjoy the verbiage, maybe I’ll have another stab at it.

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  40. Cedric, you’re jumping around a lot…

    Not at all.
    You are the one that keeps talking past me and throws out irrelevant nonsense as a distraction.
    I’m the one trying to keep “on track”.

    …you think I am closed-minded because I need a good reason to change my beliefs.

    No, no, no.
    I don’t give a toss about your beliefs.
    It’s your LOGIC that sucks.

    It’s not about your BELIEFS.
    It’s just your basic LOGIC.
    You have no critical thinking skills at all.

    You said…To change someone’s mind you need substantive evidence that their position is incorrect…

    This is not logical.
    It.
    Does.
    Not.
    Work.

    It makes no sense.
    It’s silly.

    This is not about your beliefs.
    This is not about your religion.

    This is about your lack of logic.
    Logic.
    Basic critical thinking skills.
    Not religion.
    Ok?

    You believe that “X” exists.
    With me so far?
    Good!
    The burden of evidence is on YOU to provide it.

    Suppose you believed in Bigfoot.
    You truely, madly deeply believe in Bigfoot.
    Ok.
    Some people do.
    (shrug)
    In this case, Bigfoot is the “x” here.
    Now what “substantive evidence” can you provide on their position (that Bigfoot exists) to change their mind?

    (…long thoughtful silence ensues…)

    How about aliens? What “substantive evidence” can you provide to UFO fans on their position (that aliens exist) to change their mind?

    Think about it.
    It can’t be done.
    Really.

    It’s not up to you or me to waste our time to provide evidence to disprove the existence of aliens or Bigfoot or whatever. That’s a fools errand.

    If somebody wants to make a claim then they provide the evidence.
    It’s really that simple.
    It just doesn’t work any other way.

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  41. So you didn’t read the link then.

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  42. So you didn’t read the link then.

    Yes I did.
    There’s nothing there that helps you at all.
    Why are you playing this stupid game?
    Why can’t you engage in the conversation like an adult?

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  43. Cedric, I’m not trying to play games I just find it difficult to parse your stream of consciousness style of writing. Do you think every morning when I wake up I should forget everything I have learned about God? Do you think I have never questioned or doubted or thrashed out my beliefs? Here are some relevant comments I made over at Glenn’s blog:

    An honest, open-minded search for meaning often ends up with God. Many Christians, myself included, can attest to trying to live without God but found themselves back in His house after long prodigal wanderings. Surely Truth is a unity, so doctrines and theologies should withstand open minded criticism, and indeed they do so and are strengthened.

    Faith in God is a philosophical conclusion that is reached after a long period of honest seeking. The atheist who demands “open mindedness” is not aware of this process, and usually misreads the situation as dogmatism. Hostile demands for open mindedness and scepticism are usually an attack mechanism to characterise religious people as unthinking; whereas the Christian has glimpsed a spiritual reality that isn’t amenable to glib dismissal by reductive materialists.

    I have previously described some evidence and signs of God’s existence. There is a cosmos full of evidence. How does a Universe arise from nothing?

    The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
    Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.
    (Psalm 19)

    Open mindedness requires only that you need to rethink your starting assumptions if and when evidence to the contrary is forthcoming. You haven’t given evidence to the contrary, just expressed your doubts and misconceptions about faith and Christians. Try being more open minded ! 🙂

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  44. Do you think every morning when I wake up I should forget everything I have learned about God?

    Huh?
    What part of me saying “This is not about your belief or your religion” did you not understand?

    An honest, open-minded search for meaning often ends up with God.

    What part of me saying “This is NOT about your belief or your religion” did you not understand?

    Faith in God is a blah, blah, blah…

    What part of me saying “This is not about your BELIEF or your RELIGION” did you not understand?

    I have previously described some evidence and signs of God’s existence.

    (Stunned silence)

    Wow.
    Krazy-Monkey-Jumping-Up-And-Down-On-A-Stick.
    Wow.

    (…scratches head in bemusement…)

    I just don’t know how to make it any simpler for you to follow.
    I’ve tried not using big words.
    I’ve tried using short sentences.
    I’ve deliberately kept it really, really simple.
    Nothing seems to work.
    You just completely ignore everything I write in favour of your own personal fantasy version of what you perhaps want me to write.
    Wierd.

    It’s very intellectually dishonest of you.

    Try reading it slowly.
    Again.
    Focus.

    Take special note of the total absence of mention of your faith or belief or whatnot.

    You said…To change someone’s mind you need substantive evidence that their position is incorrect…

    This is not logical.
    It.
    Does.
    Not.
    Work.

    It makes no sense.
    It’s silly.

    This is not about your beliefs.
    This is not about your religion.

    This is about your lack of logic.
    LOGIC.
    Basic critical thinking skills.
    Not religion.
    Ok?

    For example: Aliens.

    To change someone’s mind you need substantive evidence that their position is incorrect…

    Okey-dokey.
    Lets take it at face value and work with it.
    Apply it to the subject of aliens.
    Take your “pearl of wisdom” and apply it to the UFO hunters.

    If you think about it even for a little bit, it falls apart very, very quickly.

    If somebody makes a claim “X” then the onus is on that person to back up their claim with evidence.

    Like

  45. In response to ropata,

    You wrote, “An honest, open-minded search for meaning often ends up with God.” Similarly, honest, open-minded search for meaning often ends up without a god, and very commonly ends with a god that does not resemble the Christian God. But you conclude, later, that this conclusion cannot result from honest searching.

    You make an assumption that is frankly pathetic. Are you saying that because you concluded that because of some sort of inadequecy or angst in your life when you were less devoted to your religious beliefs, that this was enough to reasonably conclude the problem resulted from of separation from your god? It seems this is what you are implying here:
    “Many Christians, myself included, can attest to trying to live without God but found themselves back in His house after long prodigal wanderings.”

    You are simply wrong when you wrote, “Surely Truth is a unity, so doctrines and theologies should withstand open minded criticism, and indeed they do so and are strengthened. Faith in God is a philosophical conclusion that is reached after a long period of honest seeking.”

    I know you are wrong because my honest seeking as an Evangelical Christian led me farther and farther away from the false claims made by my Christian mentors and the Bible. To be sure, I have heard all too often that I must not have been an honest seeker, or I would be a believer. But here is the deal. If your beliefs are predicated on you explaining away the claims of others, as if you know their thoughts and motives better than they do themselves, then too bad for your beliefs. They are incorrect, and dead wrong–at least in this one instance.

    See. Here is an example. You wrote “The atheist who demands “open mindedness” is not aware of this process, and usually misreads the situation as dogmatism.”

    We both know that you have no idea, whatsoever, what others are “aware of.” Are you claiming to be a mind reader? It seems your beliefs are, at least in part, predicated on knowing the thoughts of others in order to remain hinged.

    Here is an argument that in my opinion gives many Christians unreasonable solace. You wrote,
    “I have previously described some evidence and signs of God’s existence. There is a cosmos full of evidence. How does a Universe arise from nothing?”

    And why should we care about this? It is way off track. Because even if we knew with certainty that a god existed, that would only the tiniest step forward in proving this god is the Christian god. There is more than enough evidence to reasonably conclude the Christian god doesn’t exist. Are you open minded to that possibility?

    Billy Wheaton

    Like

  46. Cedric, The evidence/logic I have written is admittedly not PHD level, this is just a blog after all. But you can’t keep complaining about evidence after I have given several links and a couple of examples. Please read what I actually wrote. I’m trying to respond as directly as I can.

    Stuart at Thinking Matters has neatly refuted your objections with his posts explaining why “the absence of evidence is NOT evidence of absence“;

    The evidence for God is vast. There are two broad categories each with a diverse variety: philosophical evidence and experiential evidence. The philosophical evidence is listed above, and frequently discussed here at the Thinking Matters website. The experiential evidence can be everything from a full-blown Christophany[3] to the quiet witness of the Holy Spirit to the believer. Other experiential evidence might include miracles of healing, signs and wonders, deliverance from demonic activity, the functioning of spiritual gifts such as prophecy or words of knowledge and wisdom.

    Whilst it is true that you cannot prove God’s existence to a degree of 100% certainty, as in mathematical proofs and the laws of logic, it is possible to prove God’s existence to a degree of certainty such as in a court of law – beyond reasonable doubt. This is so because a premise need not be proven to be true; it need only to be more probable than its contradictory. In this sense the arguments for God’s existence are *good* arguments, for if you can accept each premise the conclusion is necessary and inescapable

    Is this thread turning into a “sort of intellectual ghetto formed to protect the dogma” of atheism?! 😛

    Like

  47. Billy, I respect your experience with religion and the conclusion you reached. Perhaps you rejected only a particular definition of God?

    Of course my beliefs are not predicated on “explaining away the claims of others, as if you know their thoughts and motives”, that’s a misrepresentation. I’m not “trying to read others minds” at all, merely summarizing my experience with these sort of arguments.

    I try to keep an open mind about a lot of things. I find many Christian conventions questionable (legalism, anti-intellectualism, hell, original sin, prosperity teachings, …)

    Like

  48. But you can’t keep complaining about evidence…

    Huh?
    What are you talking about?
    I haven’t complained about evidence at all.
    Read what I wrote.
    I’ve complained about your piss-poor logic.
    Logic.

    The evidence for God blah, blah, blah…

    What part of me saying “This is not about your belief or your religion” did you not understand?

    Stuart at Thinking Matters… is a tool.
    If brains were dynamite, he wouldn’t have enough to blow his nose.

    The absence of evidence is not evidence of absense.

    Gee. Ya think?
    Duh.
    😦
    I’m not saying that.

    Why can’t you just read what I wrote rather than running down rabbit burrows all by yourself?

    Like

  49. (Correction.)

    The absence of evidence is not evidence of absense.

    Gee. Ya think?
    Duh.
    😦
    I’m not saying that’s not the case.

    Bigfoot, remember?
    Aliens?

    Can’t see Bigfoot in your backyard?
    Doesn’t mean that Bigfoot doesn’t exist.

    Can’t find aliens after 30 years of passionate investigation?
    Doesn’t mean that aliens don’t exist.

    Zeus doesn’t answer your prayers?
    Doesn’t mean Zeus doesn’t exist.

    This is basic stuff.
    How come you don’t get it?

    Like

  50. Some people’s minds are open, some are closed, others are just bloody-minded! Your comments seem increasingly desperate and lacking substance, so I’ll mercifully stop now. May The Force be with you. :S

    Like

  51. Your comments seem increasingly desperate…

    No.
    My comments have just become repetitive.
    An unfortunate by-product of you being deliberately stupid.

    I tried keeping it simple.
    I tried to be very, very clear.

    Yet you just couldn’t maintain focus on a civil discourse. You had to go off and play silly buggers over the internet.
    Shame on you.

    (walks off in disgust)

    Like

  52. Cedric,
    I’m shocked that you found your conversation such a waste of time – you’re always such a understanding and constructive dialogue partner, always patiently willing to reexplain yourself and clarify misunderstandings…

    (don’t bother rebuking my – rather obvious – sarcasm, I won’t comment on this thread again)

    Like

  53. Tsk, tsk, Dale. I know what you are doing.

    Like

  54. Wow , Dale.
    I expected better from someone like yourself.

    Like

  55. Ropata,
    Fair enough. Based on reading your posts, you remind me somewhat of F. Schleiermacher. Are you familiar with his work?

    Like

  56. Dale, yes it’s ironic that the person accusing me of poor logic is barely capable of stringing two sentences together coherently! And he did moan about evidence quite a lot, but changed his tune pretty quick..

    Like

  57. Billy, nope but the wiki page for Schleiermacher looks interesting, cheers. But I have read some of Slavoj Žižek and John Ralston Saul, two provocative modern thinkers.

    Like

  58. Ropata & Dale. I think this silly sniping is another example of how religion is a matter of social identity, second order belief, rather than first order beliefs about the real world.

    If it were the later it would be possible to discuss evidence and hypotheses. People wouldn’t feel offended. It would be like the normal discussions of real things and events.

    Instead with religion real things don’t get discussed, people feel persoanllly offended or threatened, and it descends to sniping like this.

    I think to prove existence of one’s gods Is pointless because religion is not about objective reality. Rather social identiy and social pressures.

    I would rather we kept away from silly attempts to prove existence or otherwise of invisible friends. It’s a pity my point about social identiy and religious ir secular ideologies is not being discussed or challenged.

    Then, perhaps, everyone accepts my idea?

    Sent from my iPod

    Like

  59. Ken, I was entertained and interested.. not offended or anything. Sorry bout the theology stuff, I will try and stick to the topic at hand but in my defence, I was provoked your honour!! 😛

    Like

  60. I would rather we kept away from silly attempts to prove existence or otherwise of invisible friends.

    That would be nice.

    Like

  61. Ropata – I am pleased that you haven’t found the discussion offensive. That’s a step up from your initial comment: “It’s hard to take you seriously Ken when you persist in silly denunciation of religion as a virus, and your disingenuous portrayals of religious thought. You’re as hopeless and out of depth as Dawkins.”

    Anyway, I do find it worrisome that people get so easily diverted in these sorts of disuccsions. After all the post had nothing to do with the existence of gods or not.

    Like

  62. For Cedric — The evidence and arguments for the Christian God are of a completely different quality and far greater than Bigfoot/Zeus/Alien claims, so I naturally didn’t think much of your supposed “point”

    Like

  63. But you wouldn’t Ropata – because you see your religion as part of your social identity. If Bigfootism, etc. were part of your social identity you would think of them the same way.

    Like

  64. The evidence and arguments for the Christian God…

    ropata, this whole dialogue thing between you and me is not working.
    You don’t engage.
    You just write what you want to write, even though it is totally at odds with the flow of conversation.
    It’s amazingly frustrating.
    It’s why I abandoned the conversation with you.

    For example, you are now talking about your god.
    This is…NOT the topic of conversation.
    So why do you bring it up?
    (shrug)
    You mention evidence for your god.
    Once again, this is NOT the topic of conversation.
    It’s got nothing to do with anything.

    Even when I carefully spell out that I’m not talking about your god,….you go ahead and talk about your god!
    Even when I carefully mention that I am not talking about “evidence” for your god, you just keep going on about it.

    I told you that your statement was bad logic.
    Which statement?

    This one: To change someone’s mind you need substantive evidence that their position is incorrect…

    See? Right there!
    That’s the topic I’m addressing.
    Just that.
    Nothing else.

    But…

    Following your standard formula, you will now proceed to ignore your own comment, just like you have the other dozen or so times that I have posted it.

    This is not about your god nor is it about your “evidence”.
    This is about the poor logic inherent in your statement.
    Without the use of a chalkboard and neon signs, I don’t think I can make it any clearer.

    Like

  65. To argue statement A requires evidence and logic.
    Are you saying that “not A” does not require the same?

    Like

  66. Ken,
    Or maybe his points were just not very good.
    Yes religion is a part of my identity but so are many other things. There is indeed a regrettable tendency in a few churches to propagate dogma and charismatic leaders, but God’s love is a powerful blessing to many. A healthy religion is open to criticism and questions. Responses in defence of faith may actually be sincere and not the result of dogmatism or brainwashing as you like to imply.

    Like

  67. Are you saying that “not A” does not require the same?

    No.
    I’m saying that your statement…To change someone’s mind you need substantive evidence that their position is incorrect…
    is not logical.
    It does not work.

    It doesn’t matter what is the actual topic.

    This is not about your religon.
    This is not about your beliefs.

    This is about your logic.

    This is why I used the example of Bigfoot or aliens.
    It could be anything at all.
    It doesn’t really matter.

    Your statement is logically flawed.
    That’s it.

    Like

  68. Cedric, what about people who have disavowed belief in Young Earth Creationism, Islam, Bigfoot or whatever? Did evidence have nothing to do with it?

    Like

  69. I would say – more lack of evidence!

    Like

  70. I would say – more lack of evidence!

    Yep.
    🙂
    ropata, it’s good of you to at least make a second stab at this.
    I really am NOT talking about your god.
    Nor am I talking about any specific “evidence”.
    Nor am I cunningly asking you (in a roundabout way) to present any specific “evidence”.
    This is ONLY about the logic of your statement in question.
    Nothing else.

    (I’ll use Bigfoot as an example to deliberately steer clear of religion. Ok?)

    Following your statement…I simply cannot provide substantive evidence that somebody’s postion on Bigfoot is incorrect.

    I cannot produce a polaroid photo of a “not-Bigfoot”.
    That’s…impossible.
    It’s never going to happen.

    I cannot produce a tape recording of forest sounds with the distinct lack of a Bigfoot mating call and then say gleefully “See? No noise from Bigfoot. Therefore Bigfoot does not exist.”

    It’s not logical.

    There’s any number of reasons why there is no Bigfoot mating call on my tape recorder.

    Carl Sagan tells a story of an invisible dragon living in a garage.
    It’s from his book “The Demon-haunted world”.

    If you and I are going to lock horns over logic and evidence and science-based issues then getting that book might save us both a lot of grief and frustration.

    It’s an enjoyable read. It’s possibly the best book on critical thinking and understanding of the scientific method for the layman. I bought the book about four years ago and have been recommending it to my friends ever since.
    Pick up a copy.
    Please.

    Like

  71. Sagan’s a gifted writer, I read TDHW 10 years ago, really enjoyed it and it did make me think. I’ll look out for it again.

    I’d say the reason people change from YE creationism, Bigfoot or UFO claims, is because their mental model of “how things are” is superseded by a better model… by education and rethinking their assumptions. There is some level of “evidence” for those phenomena, but Ockham’s Razor or other critical approaches often give a more prosaic explanation.

    I’m still fascinated by far out claims, read Pinchbeck’s “2012 the return of Quetzcoatl” and blow your mind 🙂

    Like

  72. There is some level of “evidence” for those phenomena, but Ockham’s Razor or other critical approaches often give a more prosaic explanation.

    Somebody makes a claim that “X” exists.
    The onus is on them (nobody else) to support such a claim.
    They have to do the legwork.
    Nobody else.
    Just the person making the claim.
    No matter what is the actual claim.

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.-Carl Sagan.
    Link.

    Like

  73. I’m still fascinated by far out claims…

    Speaking of far-out claims, I notice that Pinchbeck is into crop circles.
    I honestly don’t know what his stance on it is but crop circles are a good test case of how a far-out claim can capture the public imagination and how the media can just “go with the flow” for the sake of infotainment.

    Personally, I find the history of how crop circles became popular very interesting.
    The skeptical investigation into it all has been very fair and thorough.
    Link.

    Like

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