The Big Picture

We live in a world where it’s possible to question the very existence of God, even the supernatural altogether. Our world also contains many religions that, more often than not, tend to break out along ethnic and cultural boundaries. Most of these religions claim to be the one true way to win the “game” of life — whether that’s through reaching enlightenment, receiving salvation, etc.

So for the sake of argument, let’s say that there really is a God, and he’s given us one of these religions that we’re supposed to follow. As most of these religions teach, picking the wrong belief system will result in horrible punishment that is likely to last an eternity. I already see lots of problems with this scenario, but let’s ignore those for the moment.

How are we supposed to know which religion is the true one?

We’re not born with the luxury of knowing about all these religions from a young age. Instead, each of us is raised to believe that one of the options (or none of them) is the truth, so it’s not until we’re adults that we really begin to learn more about the wider world. And at that point, we have a lot of preconceived notions to overcome. But luckily, these religions usually teach that God is a benevolent being that wants every single one of us to find the path to him, so we can reasonably expect that he’ll help us find a way to him.

The most direct way to communicate something to someone is to speak to them directly. So God could choose that method to let us know what he expects of us. If you’re into video games, this is similar to the tutorial dialogs that pop up in your game to let you know the rules. It’s a helpful tool. You can still press whatever buttons you like, but at least you’ll know what’s expected.

Of course, God doesn’t do that for us. Fair enough — what’s another method he could use? Ah, he could send us some kind of “cosmic email” — writing in the sky, or something like that. You know, something that would be nigh impossible for another person to fake. The message would be accompanied by the kind of sign that would give us assurance we’re dealing with the divine. The burning bush, Gideon’s fleece, Paul’s episode on the road to Damascus, etc.

But if God does this kind of thing today, he’s not ubiquitous with it. I’ve never received a sign like that, nor have most people that I’ve ever known. I guess that’s his prerogative, but it does make one question the Bible’s passages that say God is impartial. But I’m starting to digress…

So maybe God could send us some trusted messenger. It would need to be someone that I know well, so I could really trust what they’re saying. But again, I’ve never gotten such a message, and I also know that even well meaning people can sometimes be delusional. I’m not sure I want to risk my soul on such a message delivery system.

So God could send a messenger imbued with divine powers, someone that could work miracles that could only come from God. I would listen to an individual who could do the kinds of miracles that the Bible describes, but I’ve never seen anyone do them.

However, the Bible is a religious text that claims God did use this method a long time ago. Isn’t that just as good as witnessing the miracles for myself? Not for me. Thomas Paine said that once you tell a divine revelation to someone else, it ceases to be revelation and becomes mere hearsay. I have to agree. For me to accept the word of a religious text, the text would have to be incredibly amazing. The writers would have to demonstrate knowledge of things that they couldn’t possibly have known about ahead of time. When events are recounted in multiple places within the text, they must be without error or contradiction. When science is recounted, it must be without error — not simply a regurgitation of what was already known at the time. Its morals must be without reproach. If it gives prophecies, they must be without error.

If those standards seem too high, then maybe you aren’t truly considering what’s at stake. The soul of everyone who has ever lived hinges on the judgments of this God. Each and every soul should be just as precious to him as the souls of your own children are to you. Would you leave the fate of their souls up to chance, or would you do everything within your power to save them from eternal torture (or punishment, or annihilation — whatever your particular flavor teaches)? If you saw a windowless van pull up to your child and watched the driver coax them to come closer, would you stand back to see how your child reacts, or would you run to them as fast as you could, calling them back all the while? You don’t have to answer, because I know what you would do — you’d do what any decent human would do. Why doesn’t God do the same for us? If I’m currently bound for Hell, and I’m influencing my innocent children to eventually follow in my footsteps, why doesn’t God intervene to help us?

And before you say he does just that through scripture, the Bible fails every one of the criteria I listed out. In fact, I’m not aware of any religious text that comes close to meeting those standards. If we accept that God is loving, merciful, and just, then it does not follow that he would be the author of the Bible. I’d be happy to cite specific examples of the Bible’s failings, but I’ve written way too much already. Luckily, I have links to those examples on my home page.

It’s God’s overwhelming hiddenness that sounds the death knell on religion for me. As Delos McKown has said:

The invisible and the non-existent look very much alike.

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292 thoughts on “The Big Picture

  1. Peter

    Well said Nate. If ‘God’ exists then ‘God’ could have made it easy but ‘God’ did not.

    Some say that nature and the universe is evidence, (which I dispute) but just suppose it it, this still does not help to know which ‘God’ is the creator.

    Since I have deconverted I have continued to study the Bible and now shake my head and wonder how I ever saw it as a divine creation. But in reality I know why I did, my presupposition told me it was a divine creation so I read it that way and made excuses for ‘God’ along the way.

    Liked by 6 people

  2. Hi Nate, interesting post.

    Basically, your thoughts here follow the pattern of: “I find these things inconsistent with theism, therefore theism is less likely to be true.” I think that is a reasonable argument as far as it goes. But if you are truly looking at “the big picture”, you need to look at both sides of the question. It may be that the facts make theism look unlikely to you, but perhaps the facts also make atheism look unlikely, perhaps even more unlikely.

    Your argument is based on your guess at what God is doing, and thus what you judge to be inappropriate. But by definition it is unlikely that we would be able to guess God’s motivations – an anaerobic bacterium might be less distant from us than we are from God, and therefore more able to understand us than we are able to understand God. So while your guesses are reasonable, they have a high degree of unlikelihood. I’m not trying to argue against your guesses, just pointing out their status.

    Compared to our understanding of God, our understanding of human beings and our universe is much better. So we can pose a group of questions about people and the universe that should also inform “the big picture”. Here are a few that come to mind (I may think of more):

    1. Why do you think so many people believe in God if there is none? It is still the majority in the world, and it includes many intelligent, well-educated, even expert and genius type people. Studies show that converts are more likely to be more educated than average, and the greatest growth in theistic belief is not in theistic countries (that is mathematically obvious when you think about it) but in previously non-theistic countries like China and some other Asian countries. Tradition, delusion, etc, don’t explain all that. So why do so many convert and others still believe?

    2. Why do neurological and psychological studies (ask me to reference them!) show consistently, though not of course totally, that religious believers’ brains are operating well, often better than non-believers, and their mental, emotional and physical health is, on average better? These results suggest that believers are not thinking and living worse, but at least as well and possibly better than non-believers, and thus more psychologically and neurologically likely to be getting right answers. If we are trying to explain religious belief, we need to factor these findings in.

    3. Why do literally hundreds of millions of people believe they have been healed after praying to the christian God? Are they all deluded, suffering wish fulfilment, or something? Do you think the stories are generally untrue, or do you think there is a natural explanation for them all?

    4. How did it happen that a universe exists without cause (if your belief is correct), yet is “finely-tuned” to an exceptional degree to exist for long enough and to be structured in such a way that it allows intelligent life to evolve? Your answer in the past (if I recall correctly) has been simply that you are comfortable with not knowing the answers to these questions. But if not knowing is an acceptable answer (I don’t think it is) then your whole post could similarly be answered that a believer is comfortable with not knowing!

    That’s enough for one comment! I hope you address all these questions in another post on “the big picture”, and then do a third post on how the two sides stack up. Doubtless we still won’t agree, but we would have a rounded discussion to consider. Thanks.

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  3. May I ask what it is that you mean when you say god? For instance, #4 is an apophatic argument. Those are strong only if they are necessary.
    The circumstance in # 3 is a positive characterization, even if we take divine interventions as brute facts one and all – they participate in an explanation in a standard way, occurring as they do at a time and place. That would place them in a ‘weird but natural’ category.

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  4. Hi unkleE,

    As always, thanks for chiming in!

    Your argument is based on your guess at what God is doing, and thus what you judge to be inappropriate. But by definition it is unlikely that we would be able to guess God’s motivations – an anaerobic bacterium might be less distant from us than we are from God, and therefore more able to understand us than we are able to understand God.

    I guess this depends on the god in question. For all I know, there might really be a god out there. My argument is really against the gods of revealed religions, Christianity in particular. The Bible makes many claims about this god, and to me, that makes it easier to weigh in on the likelihood of his existence.

    This god supposedly wants all people to believe in him. And since he supposedly created us, then my ability to believe in him doesn’t actually depend very much on my ability to understand him. It’s simple deduction: having created us, this god would know what’s necessary for us to believe in him, but he doesn’t seem to have done that. That’s irrational, and that makes him less believable to me. He’s not catering to the limitations that he gave us. It’s like expecting a lame person to climb a flight of stairs.

    1) There may be many reasons why most people believe in a god and/or the supernatural. I think culture does play a lot into it. The fact that we’re pattern-seeking creatures and that we crave explanations for things also factors in heavily, in my opinion. But even if there’s some more supernatural reason for this continued belief, it would take a lot of work to connect the dots from that to the god of Christianity.

    2) I’ve never said religious people are crazy or stupid. Far from it. I mean, I was very religious for a long time, myself, and I don’t think I’m either of those things! Often, I think religious people don’t apply the same critical thinking skills to their religious beliefs as they do to the other aspects of their lives. I’m sure you know a number of Christians who really haven’t put much time into exploring their faith, but continue to identify with it because it’s comfortable, because it fits with their family or culture, etc. Obviously not all religious people are that way, but in my experience, it seems to apply to a fairly large percentage.

    I know there are other factors at play too, but there’s nothing in this particular bullet point that gives me pause. And just like number 1, even if there’s something supernatural going on here, it doesn’t connect it to a specific god.

    3) Well, we know that belief and outlook factors heavily into health. Patients who believe they can beat an illness (for whatever reason) tend to fare better than those who think it’s going to be their undoing. Now if we take it a step further and talk about miraculous healings, I haven’t run across any that have seemed compelling to me. I haven’t studied it to the extent that you have, but I have studied it. So far, I’m not convinced. But once again, how would this connect us to a particular god?

    4) I disagree with your conclusion on this one. Unless we slide into solipsism, we know that we’re here in this existence. That’s sort of a starting point for getting our bearings. Christianity is not the same. It’s not a belief one needs in order to just survive here. So starting out, we know that we’re here, but we don’t know how or why (or if “why” is even relevant). So Christianity comes along and suggests a reason. Fair enough… but how do we go about testing that claim? I think there are lots of ways, like the ones I laid out in the post above as well as most of the other posts I’ve written on this blog. Christianity needs to be able to stand up against rigorous scrutiny, and a reasonable defense is not “I can’t explain these problems, but it’s just true anyway!”

    Existence is different. Again, barring something like solipsism, we can say “I don’t know how I got here, but I at least know I’m here.” Christianity doesn’t get the same pass. Existence is something almost all of us can agree on; Christianity is not.

    But once again, even if existence and fine-tuning were strong enough arguments to warrant belief in god, how do you get from generic god to specific god?

    I think that’s the real question. For the sake of argument, let’s suppose that a god really does exist. Now how do you move from that to the Christian god? [resurrection, I assume…?]

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  5. @ unkleE

    “1. Why do you think so many people believe in God if there is none?”
    There you go with numbers again. Majority does not always equal probability

    “2. Why do neurological and psychological studies (ask me to reference them!) show consistently, though not of course totally, that religious believers’ brains are operating well, often better than non-believers, and their mental, emotional and physical health is, on average better?”
    I can’t believe you’re still using this. People who belong to most social organizations also experience this. The Elk’s Club, Sertoma, JayCee’s , etc.

    “3. Why do literally hundreds of millions of people believe they have been healed after praying to the christian God?”
    What about the other half who don’t receive a miracle ???

    “4. How did it happen that a universe exists without cause (if your belief is correct), yet is “finely-tuned” to an exceptional degree to exist for long enough and to be structured in such a way that it allows intelligent life to evolve?”
    Because you and most religious people look at time in a tiny snapshot rather than the 13.8 billion years it took before humans entered the picture. The Sun is burning out. The Earth will burn up. Fine tuning ? In what time frame ?

    I look at religion as the inability and/or arrogance for man to come to grips with , “this is all there is” When religion teaches that you have a 2nd chance (afterlife) , I believe it takes away your desire to make this life the best you can. If I’m wrong ? Great ! Bonus Round ! 🙂

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  6. Sorry unkleE — I meant to say one more thing.

    But if not knowing is an acceptable answer (I don’t think it is)

    But sometimes it’s the only true answer. For instance, what’s the name of my cat?

    Liked by 4 people

  7. John 5:14* ¶ And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: 5:15* And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.
    Matthew 7:7* Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: Hebrews 11:6* But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. John 15:7* If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.

    I believe all these verses and love all these verses and therefore when I pray I get results. I have sought God, repented of my sins, been baptized in the name of Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit of God, and had many of my prayers answered because I know when to pray and what to pray for. How about you?

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  8. Yep, I did all that too, Charles. I spent time reaching out to my friends who were lost, trying to lead them to salvation. Even succeeded in several cases. I lived it.

    But then I hit a point where all the pieces didn’t seem to fit together as well as I had thought they did. And then I started to find out that the Bible wasn’t as accurate as I had always thought it was. And it started to make sense to me why some prayers seemed to be answered and some didn’t — and that in every one of those cases, nothing happened that couldn’t have happened naturally. It started to make more sense why thousands could be wiped out in natural disasters and why children can die from disease, starvation, and violence. And I started to understand why history, archaeology, and science sometimes made the Bible look so crazy. And before long, I came to understand that Christianity has one major thing in common with all other religions: it’s man-made.

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  9. If God doesn’t answer your prayers, what do you do about it? I fast until God gives me an answer. Many times His Answer is No. Many times His answer is Yes. But God answers all of my prayers.

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  10. You know that mankind has freewill, because without it nobody can love God and his son Jesus Christ, or any one else for that matter. And because mankind has freewill, and much pride and jealousy and hatred and lust and stupidity, that is why the world is so messed up. BTW praying for people to get saved, unless God specifically tells you to pray for someone, is a waste of time. Paul didn’t ask for God to save anybody that I know of, but asked to be given the chance to tell people how to get saved. God wants people to love him according to their own free will. I have two stepchildren, and three step grandchildren. I don’t pray that God would save them. I tell them how to get saved, and ask God to protect them so they can make the choice for themselves. I pray for them when they get sick and God heals them. I mean, I anoint them with oil and say, “Be healed in Jesus name. Jesus Christ maketh you whole.” And he always does. I have witnessed to probably over three thousand souls over the past 39 years and told the people to repent of their sins, get baptized in the name of Jesus for the remission of their sins and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost(spirit) and to live for God. About 50 did what I told them to do. Probably 5 are still living for God. I would say that not many people want to get saved these days, at least not around Sierra Vista, AZ. Of course many think the are saved and attend probably 150 churches in the area. Catholics, Mormons, Baptists, Methodists, Nazarenes, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Assembly of God, Church of God, Salvation Army, and so many more churches, I can’t name them all. But they are all lost. They think that if you believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord you will be saved. But Peter told us what to do on that first day of the church, the day of pentecost, in Jerusalem, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” Amen

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  11. Carmen

    Took me a minute to realize that ‘Charles’ isn’t the same fellow we are accustomed to, on this blog. 🙂
    To this Charles, I would suggest the following- your message, no matter how passionate you feel about it – is falling on deaf ears. If we wanted a sermon, we’d still all be attending church on Sundays. As someone more famous than me said, “You go ahead and pray for us – we’ll THINK for you”

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  12. nonsupernaturalist

    One of the big assumptions that Christians make is that the evidence for a Creator is evidence for Yahweh-Jesus. There is no good evidence for this assumption.

    I agree that the existence of inviolable natural laws is strong evidence for a Creator (or Creators) but whoever this Creator is, he/she/they/it seems to have ordained that our universe is a closed system in which the natural laws are not violated. Not one miracle has ever been confirmed and eyewitness testimony has proven to be very unreliable. People who want to see UFO’s often see them; and the same may very well be true for those praying for a miracle.

    Until Christians come up with better evidence for Yahweh-Jesus being the Creator, I say we all should allow for the possible existence of a Creator, but not assume the existence of a Creator. Let’s do more research before we start making assumptions and drawing conclusions.

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  13. Charles, I’ve got to echo Carmen’s sentiments. Right now, the bulk of your comments are really just evangelism. You’re preaching to us from a source that we don’t believe in or agree with. In other words, you’re skipping over the most important step: demonstrating why we should care what your source says. What evidence is there that the Bible is actually inspired by God?

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  14. 7:16-17 “Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” I tried it and found it to be true and of God. The just shall live by his faith. Why are you people still living. You must think I’m a fool. I’m not as foolish as the person who says “there is no God.” The Bible states that “The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”” psalm 14:1.

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  15. Sure, that’s what the Bible says. We disagree with it.

    I tried it and found it to be true and of God.

    We’ve tried it as well and found the opposite. Is there something more objective we can look at other than just our own personal experiences? After all, Muslims rely on their personal experiences to justify Islam. Mormons rely on their personal experiences to justify Mormonism. And the Methodists and Baptists that you think aren’t true Christians rely on their personal experiences, too. So who’s right, and how can you tell?

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  16. “But sometimes it’s the only true answer. For instance, what’s the name of my cat?”

    Haha Nate! I appreciated this answer, so I had to respond to it first!

    I’ll be radical and guess you don’t have a cat! So perhaps the required name is Schrodinger!

    Yes, of course we can always say “I don’t know”, and if we don’t, it is only right to say so. But I was speaking in the context of an argument (as in your post) that certain apparent facts are better explained by the view that God isn’t there, than that he is. In this sort of argument, we are saying that one explanation of the facts is better, i.e. it is more reasonable, than the other.

    In that context, anyanswer is better, i.e. more reasonable, than no answer!

    So if you are forced by the facts to say you have no answer for how the universe exists and is “fine-tuned”, then you are admitting that at that point your view that God doesn’t exist is less reasonable than the view that God does exist, because theism does provide an answer.

    So then it comes down to whether the number of things that theism struggles to explain exceeds the number of things atheism struggles to explain, or not. And that of course is the point I was making, and will come back to when I respond to your larger comment.

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  17. Hi keithnoback, I don’t think I’ve come across you before. Welcome to Nate’s blog if you are new, and hello anyway.

    I must admit I had to look up “apophatic” in the dictionary. But I don’t think that is what I think. I believe we can know some positive things about God, but that there is much we don’t know too, presumably much more. I suppose a vague analogy might be the study of a particular field of history – say the Roman Empire. A historian could be an expert in Roman history, and they would know a little about Jewish history, archaeology, Medieval history, carbon dating, etc, and know nearly nothing of Chinese history or the Syriac language. They know a lot about a few things, a little about a few more things and virtually nothing about a lot of other things.

    I think it is that way about us and God. And so I was suggesting to Nate that it wasn’t “the big picture” to build an argument on difficult questions about a possible God we can’t know every well and ignore a bunch of difficult questions about the human race and the universe which we have the potential to know so much better.

    So what would your answers be to my questions?

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  18. “there’s nothing in this particular bullet point that gives me pause”

    Hello again Nate, I wanted to respond to your larger comment, by commenting on this point.

    I have done some (not a lot of) reading on “alternative”, apparently “spiritual”, experiences – supernatural healing, visions, mysticism, NDEs, psi, etc. One of the books (“Visions of Jesus” by philosophy professor Phillip Wiebe) examines the experiences of 30+ people who report seeing visions of Jesus, which led to deeper faith, conversion, healing, solution of personal problems etc. He examines all the possible explanations, which fall into three categories – supernatural, psychological and neurological – and finds that no one explanation fits the facts.

    If I had asked atheists here and elsewhere about these visions, they would likely have said they were hallucinations caused by stress, delusions, or something of that nature. That would be an easy explanation to give and dismiss the experiences. But when looked at in more detail, those explanations don’t appear to stand up, for many of the reports at least.

    So my comment wasn’t so much trying to present an argument, but an attempt to stretch your thinking a little by asking you questions.

    You and I seem to think similarly in some ways, and I think we could easily be friends if we lived in the same town. But we conclude very differently about God and christianity and I find that an interesting topic to explore. My tentative conclusion is not that we think differently, but that you focus on different things to me.

    In this case you have focused on negative things (as you see them) about God, but not focused at all on the negative things about atheism. And when I raise a number of questions, you give an answer that I think doesn’t cut it because, as I have said about Phillip Wiebe, it is easy to give quick answers that don’t in fact stand the greater scrutiny that you give to the negative side.

    So rather than argue my four points, I’m interested to see if you’d be willing to do a full post, properly researched, on the questions I asked. Not quickly, but sometime. That’s up to you, of course, but I think it might be worthwhile. Thanks, and best wishes.

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  19. “how do you get from generic god to specific god?”

    I didn’t answer this before, because it is a quite different topic, and too large to answer in a comment. But briefly ….

    1. If the various questions, observations and arguments about the universe, humanity and human experience lead to a belief in God (as I think), they also lead to some conclusions about the characteristics of that God. These point to something like the christian God.

    2. Yes, we move from theism to christianity, or not, on the basis of the New Testament, based on what the historians tell us, and our response in faith (or not) to those facts.

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  20. Hi Ken,

    You misunderstood my comment slightly, I think. I was not presenting arguments but asking questions. And as I have just said to Nate, it is easy to come up with quick answers to those questions, but they don’t always fit the facts.

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  21. “What negative things???”

    The things it can’t explain. If you feel in the mood, you might like to answer the four questions I asked Nate.

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  22. Carmen

    Charles,

    Quoting scripture as if you are waving a magic wand is not an adult response. Put your thinking cap on and come up with a sensible rebuttal. Quit talking about your invisible friends – we know better.

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  23. Haha Nate! I appreciated this answer, so I had to respond to it first!

    I’ll be radical and guess you don’t have a cat! So perhaps the required name is Schrodinger!

    Actually, it’s Pontiac, but nice answer! 😉

    I see a little better what you meant now. Sometimes in my posts, I tend to get carried away thinking about the god of Christianity, and my statements seem to encompass the entire god concept. In this post, I’m really thinking of the gods of revealed religions. These are the gods that require things of people, so they should offer substantial evidence if they want us to believe in / worship / serve them. That’s why I don’t see the first cause or fine tuning arguments as being especially relevant to these specific gods.

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  24. You and I seem to think similarly in some ways, and I think we could easily be friends if we lived in the same town.

    I think so, too! 🙂

    But we conclude very differently about God and christianity and I find that an interesting topic to explore. My tentative conclusion is not that we think differently, but that you focus on different things to me.

    In this case you have focused on negative things (as you see them) about God, but not focused at all on the negative things about atheism. And when I raise a number of questions, you give an answer that I think doesn’t cut it because, as I have said about Phillip Wiebe, it is easy to give quick answers that don’t in fact stand the greater scrutiny that you give to the negative side.

    Perhaps. That’s definitely something I need to watch for. I think one of the differences between us is that I view non-belief as the default position. Not necessarily the position that there’s no god, but just an “I don’t know” position. So I’m not really trying to dismiss any issues that you bring up; I’m just okay not having a strong opinion about them. To me, the first 3 aren’t so outside the norm that they make me think it requires anything beyond the natural. And really, I feel that way about the 4th, too. I don’t know what preceded the Big Bang, but I strongly suspect it’s natural. I have a hard time envisioning a mind that doesn’t rely on physical processes.

    So rather than argue my four points, I’m interested to see if you’d be willing to do a full post, properly researched, on the questions I asked. Not quickly, but sometime. That’s up to you, of course, but I think it might be worthwhile. Thanks, and best wishes.

    I’ll consider that. I really will. Thanks, and best wishes to you, too!

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  25. unkleE, why do you think it’s “negative” when something can’t be explained? If you were to take that approach, everything about your god is negative because none of it can be explained — at least not to someone who doesn’t believe.

    Personally, I feel that answering the four questions accomplishes nothing, but I’ll do so to humor you.

    1. Why do you think so many people believe in God if there is none?
    Why do so many people believe in Santa Claus if there is none?

    2. Why do neurological and psychological studies show … etc., etc.?
    Neuronotes (Victoria) has posted (and can produce, I’m sure) numerous studies that contradict your sources.Who are we to believe?

    3. Why do literally hundreds of millions of people believe they have been healed after praying to the christian God?
    They “believe” because this is what they have been conditioned to do over years and years of church teaching. When push comes to shove, praying to the christian god for healing accomplishes nothing. Ask any amputee.

    How did it happen that a universe exists without cause …
    Who cares? I certainly don’t. I simply accept the way things are and enjoy them.

    You commented to Nate: “Your argument is based on your guess at what God is doing ….” What are YOU doing except guessing what “God” is doing in any given circumstance?

    To actually believe in a supernatural being that dwells somewhere in the great beyond is, to me, incomprehensible. Think about it. There is absolutely NOTHING to prove this entity exists EXCEPT though your own personal “faith” that it does.

    BTW, as a reminder … I’m not a full-blooded atheist. I do believe in something (explained in my book), but it is most definitely not a “being.”

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Hey Nate. When I read the title of the post I thought for sure this was going to be a plug for Sean Carroll’s new book, “The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself”. I’ve just started reading it.

    What you describe in your post is a big problem for any belief which claims there is a mind that exists and wants us all to somehow interact with it. As I’ve said many times, when I was a believer I truly believed an ultimate creator God existed that I could interact with, but prayer was completely like talking to a wall.

    I’ve never thought to question the existence of my family, friends, co-workers, or managers. There is no way on earth I would even dream of claiming that they didn’t exist, no matter how much they may annoy me. There are countless ways in which I know that these people exist and it is truly like night and day when compared to the idea of the existence of a God. In fact, I even love the idea of an omni-benevolent God who would be interested in me (one of the things that kept me going as a believer for 5 years), so my experience goes counter to my desires.

    If I was the only person on earth like this then I’d definitely question myself, but there are so many others who have the same experience. There are even entire cultures in the far east where millions of people live their lives without even the slightest thought of an ultimate God existing. And as you say, while many do claim belief in God, a lot of them do so in a very abstract way. My neighbor for instance puts it this way – “I think there probably is some kind of higher power, but I can see how people could doubt it”.

    I can’t argue with someone who has had some special experiences (I wouldn’t blame them for believing), but the monotheistic worldviews just seem so far from reality because of all this. I could see how some more liberal modifications (e.g. Spinoza’s) of these worldviews could make more sense, but the more traditional versions just seem broken.

    Liked by 2 people

  27. Hi Nate, is your cat named after a potato, a native American tribe, a car, or was it a fortuitous random selection of letters?? 🙂

    “These are the gods that require things of people, so they should offer substantial evidence if they want us to believe in / worship / serve them.”

    I think this is probably the key point for me in our discussions over the years. That sentence is a proposition, of the form If A then B. But I don’t think you have offered any reason to believe such a syllogism, nor do I think you have shown why you dismiss other options. Let me illustrate.

    Your implicit argument seems to be:

    1. God expects certain quite defined things of us – what we should do or believe.
    2. Our problem is that we lack knowledge of those things.
    3. Therefore if he exists, we should expect he would give us that knowledge quite clearly.

    Now I would be interested if you could correct or confirm that basic argument, then offer reasons to believe each premise. I offer a couple of comments.

    If God was as definite as you say, that would be very unfair. Some people don’t have access to the required knowledge, or don’t have the cognitive faculties to grasp it, or don’t have the time to pursue it. So they would miss out, which goes against justice and love. So it is a poor proposition to posit for a supposedly loving God. It makes it out as if life is some sort of science exam, and if we read the right textbooks, study hard, and pass the exam, we’re in!

    I recognise this may be the sort of christianity that you have observed, but it is also a belief you have rejected. So I think you might well consider other options.

    For example, perhaps God is interested in the sort of people we are, the sort of people who think or behave in certain ways, according to the light we have been given, without being threatened or directed and examined. This would fit with Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 25 that the sheep & goats are decided by behaviour towards those in need. I don’t personally think that is the whole story, but I think it is closer than the assumption you have made. And good-hearted people don’t need to be told what is right, they generally know it.

    Or perhaps God is just looking for people who will receive his love, people who are willing to open themselves to good and to him and his grace whole-heartedly. Perhaps he “judges” us according to very personal assessments, not some bunch of rules or criteria or commands. And so he doesn’t need to be nearly as specific as you say.

    I think both of these contain truth, and I think other options are possible within christian belief as well as outside it, but that is enough for now.

    So I disagree profoundly with your implied syllogism, but I wonder how your argument goes if you cannot justify this part of it. Thanks again.

    Like

  28. “I recognise this may be the sort of christianity that you have observed, but it is also a belief you have rejected. So I think you might well consider other options.”

    unkleE, the conversation between you and Nate appears to be about invention. Nate and people like him have stopped trying to invent things they now think logically don’t exist. You on the other hand appear to keep trying .

    I think this might well be an option to consider IMHO.

    Liked by 2 people

  29. Hi Nan, we have been at odds in the past, which I am sorry about, so I don’t want to say anything that will cause a problem this time. I will try to answer your questions, and leave it to you to decide if you want to take things further.

    “unkleE, why do you think it’s “negative” when something can’t be explained?”

    It’s negative in the context of deciding between two hypotheses. My job used to be managing water quality programs to determine the causes of water quality problems in rivers. We would have certain data indicating a problem, and certain identified possible sources. So we had several hypotheses and we would set up statistical analyses to see which hypothesis best explained the data. If a hypothesis couldn’t explain the data, then it was a poor hypothesis.

    It’s the same here. If the null hypothesis (there is no God) cannot explain a number of significant facts, then that is a negative hypothesis. I am saying that is the case, Nate is saying that it is not the case.

    “Personally, I feel that answering the four questions accomplishes nothing, but I’ll do so to humor you.”

    Thanks for wanting to humour me, but it didn’t work out, I’m sorry. I think you haven’t answered some questions, or answered them contrary to the data, or answered them so briefly that the truth of your answers cannot be tested. Here’s a brief comment on each.

    “Why do so many people believe in Santa Claus if there is none?”

    Obviously this is no answer at all. My question wasn’t rhetorical, or intended as an argument in itself. It was genuinely asking how you would explain these things. I am saying when looked at in detail, I don’t think non-believers have a satisfactory explanation – it only appears that way on a cursory look.

    “Neuronotes (Victoria) has posted (and can produce, I’m sure) numerous studies that contradict your sources.Who are we to believe?”

    Obviously we believe the sum of the evidence. But what is that? If you believe it, do you not have it at hand to share it? I am saying that the sum of evidence says what I have said, and I am willing to debate that. I’m NOT saying there is no contrary evidence. But I am saying that researchers in the science of religious belief say that many sceptics mis-state the evidence. So let’s see Victoria’s evidence, I’ll offer some of my own, and see what the truth is if we can.

    “They “believe” because this is what they have been conditioned to do over years and years of church teaching. When push comes to shove, praying to the christian god for healing accomplishes nothing.”

    There are two things I can see that are wrong with this explanation. (1) Where’s your evidence? Where are the comprehensive studies that show this? (2) A large number of new converts globally are being made in non-christian cultures, e.g. in China. This explanation definitely doesn’t apply to most of them. This is what I meant – simple quick explanations often don’t cut it when examined.

    “Who cares? I certainly don’t. I simply accept the way things are and enjoy them.”

    You have demonstrated my point. Your hypothesis cannot, or at least does not, explain this important phenomenon. That means your hypothesis is less believable, until and if you can offer a better explanation.

    “You commented to Nate: “Your argument is based on your guess at what God is doing ….” What are YOU doing except guessing what “God” is doing in any given circumstance?”

    That isn’t the case. I am arguing that my hypothesis explain a lot more than the null hypothesis does. That makes it a better hypothesis, until and if you can explain these things according to your hypothesis.

    So that’s how I see things. I would really be interested t see you set out the hypothesis you are arguing for (you have done that in a few words, but it would be helpful to enlarge on that a little) then have another go at answering the four questions based on real scientific data.

    Thanks.

    Like

  30. Hi Ken, you and I are old “friends” and old sparring partners. I think that last comment of yours is avoiding the substantial questions and simply making irrelevant personal assertions that you have no way of knowing are true or not. I think you can do better than that, and I don’t think such comments are worthy of reply. Best wishes to you.

    Like

  31. See? We will never see eye-to-eye– “I don’t think non-believers have a satisfactory explanation”. Essentially what you’re saying is no matter what I or any “non-believer” offers, it will never be enough to change your outlook on “God.” Thus, from my perspective, it’s an effort in futility for me to spend the time and effort to further discuss these matters with you.

    Thus, I will leave it to Nate and others to grapple with you. Have fun!

    Liked by 4 people

  32. Hi Nan, as I said, I am happy for you to decide not to continue the conversation. But the reason you give isn’t fair. I think I am right (or I would change), you think you are right (or presumably you would change). So if it is futile to discuss with me, then it must be equally futile to discuss with you

    You challenged me to justify my view. I am willing to do that. All I was asking was that you do the same. But I am happy to not do that if you don’t wish to. But if that is the case, it may be better to stop challenging me. 🙂

    Like

  33. carmen

    Nan,
    I can’t figure out why unkleE uses the term ‘real scientific data’ when having a conversation about – to use Tildeb’s term – oogity boogity. In his mind, it’s as real as you and me. He really should be talking to Charles; they have far more in common.

    Liked by 3 people

  34. Haha Carmen! How are things in the slowly warming north? I’m sure you meant that as a challenge. So let’s call it the “oogity boogity challenge”, and I’ll offer a little of the science I am referring to.

    1. Connor Wood is studying for a PhD in the science of religion, and writes on the Science on Religion blog maintained by Boston University Graduate School’s doctoral program in Religion and Science. He is not a religious believer, and all his posts quote relevant scientific studies. Here are a couple of references from his posts:

    “properly scientific perspectives on religion do not support the claim that it’s “nonsense” with no benefits. They don’t support the truth of religious claims, either. But at this point, the data that religion has social and individual benefits is so overwhelming that saying that religion has no benefits is active science denial.” (Comments aren’t for atheist evangelism)

    “But religion did have an influence, and in contradiction to the claims made by writers such as Sam Harris, the influence was very reliably in the direction of protecting against criminality and antisocial behavior.” (Is religion good or bad for the world?)

    I could reference many more.

    2. The latter post by Wood references this study: Would the World Be Better Off Without Religion? A Skeptic’s Guide to the Debate in the Skeptical Inquirer. In it, two atheists do a comprehensive literature search of scientific papers on the effects of religion, and they conclude:

    “Contrary to the forceful assertions of some prominent atheist authors (e.g., Dawkins 2006; Dennett 2006), however, the data consistently point to a negative association between religiosity and criminal behavior and a positive association between religiosity and prosocial behavior. Both relations are modest in magnitude and ambiguous with respect to causation. At the same time, they cannot be ignored by partisans on either side of the discussion.”

    3. I have assembled as many papers as I can find that have studied the effects of religious faith or practice on wellbeing. It turns out there are about 35 studies there reporting the positive effects I am mentioning.

    4. The effects are so clear that neuroscientist Andrew Newberg (one of the leaders in the scientific study of religion, and, again, not a christian) can say:

    ” our brain-scan research, which we document in our new book, “How God Changes Your Brain,” led us to the conclusion that faith is the most important thing a person needs to maintain a neurologically healthy brain. Indeed, we believe that faith is more essential than exercise, especially in light of the cumulative research showing how doubt and pessimism can shorten your life by years.” (a href=”http://www.faithstreet.com/onfaith/2009/03/27/faith-is-essential-for-your-brain/1746″>Why your brain needs God

    Now it isn’t only religious faith that can have that effect, but religious faith is obviously one of the main things they are considering.

    So there’s a chunk of the evidence, there is much more. Two cautions:

    1. I am NOT saying that these studies prove God exists. They simply say that religious belief and practice more often than not has good effects on the person. Thus it is wrong to say otherwise without compelling evidence. So I have simply been asking for explanations of these facts from a sceptical viewpoint. I’m not saying there are not explanations, I am just asking for them.

    2. It will not be enough to quote a paper or two to the contrary. There is no doubt that some types of religious belief can lead to bad effects in some people. To counter this evidence requires the evidence of many, many papers.

    So that’s my first argument in the oogity boogity challenge. Now I await your response, to see who is really speaking oogity boogity and who is not. Thanks, and best wishes to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  35. Dear Theist,

    I have an amazing opportunity to share with you. I have been told of a kind, compassionate person who wants to be friends with you. His name is Tajik (pronounced Tah-Shzeek) and all those who know him speak very highly of him. He would be a great friend for life as he is a great listener and gives excellent advise. He has generously provided an email address that you can reach him at, tajik99@gmail.com. There’s just one oddity. He requires that any new friends must send him emails once a day for ten years before he will start to reply. After ten years he will not only start to reply, but will also come and meet with you in person and become a great friend for life. Do not hesitate to start emailing him right away, telling him everything and anything you can think of.

    Come again? You’d like to know if Tajik is a real person or not? No, no, that would spoil everything. Knowing whether he was real or not would rob you of the choice to become friends with him. Please don’t try to understand Tajik’s oddities, he is by far one of the most brilliant individuals on the planet and knows what he is doing.

    P.S. Pass this on to ten friends and Tajik will make contact one year sooner.

    — more serious tone —

    Dear Theist,

    This is not a question of how the universe came to exist or what lies beyond the event horizon. This is about a claim you make that a cosmic being is seeking to have a relationship with every single one of us. Hopefully you can understand our concerns, especially in light of the problem of divine hiddenness. It is not about our pride or our lack of understanding standing in the way of this relationship. It is simply a matter of doubt. Nobody wants to waste time talking to someone who may not exist and I’m fairly certain you are not going to run off and start typing out your first email to Tajik.

    P.S.S. This comment is not actually directed at anyone and I have not read all of the comments. I’m just having trouble sleeping and felt like commenting today – thanks!

    Liked by 3 people

  36. Well E, if you reject an apophatic approach, then I think you are stuck with what we have come to call natural phenomena. The causal analogy doesn’t help you – you are talking about actual causal events, which appear to be closed. In that case, god is standing in the circle, as it were. Fine tuning (an epistemologically unsound claim anyway), certainly does not help. If the universe were tuned for life and consciousness in particular, it was tuned in accord with something and a tuning process occurred. Once you have those real claims, you have bounded identities, time, relative locations – physical properties.
    That carries over to miracles and responses to prayers as well. As Nate points out in the post, if those things happen, then they happen, i.e. they are bound by the conditions of causal explanation, as there is a place and time in which they occur and a relative condition within which they occur. They are then simply bizarre/spectacular (as you point out).
    The argumentum ad populum, may simply be ignored ’cause: non-valid.

    Like

  37. carmen

    You know, UnkleE, you may just be onto something. I’m thinking of those subjects of the studies which found that people are happier with religion – I mean, look at some of those fundamentalists. Happy, happy, happy to march indignantly against rights for LGBTQ people and all for denying them equality; I wonder how many of them were ‘randomly selected’??
    Then there’s Bruce (Godsmanforever). I’m sure most of the people reading this thread are familiar with HIS happiness – I mean, he prays for everyone and is positively GIDDY in his newfound love and security, now that (his) god has ‘cured’ him of his porn addiction. Never mind the fact that, for quite some time, he participated in the abject denigration of women and girls to achieve sexual satisfaction; that doesn’t matter now ’cause a miracle happened! (I wonder if his will be mentioned in a book someday?)- he’s happy now; no one can deny it!
    Then there’s you, UnkleE. I take it you are a relatively happy person but you seem to be committed to visiting atheist’s blogs and arguing that yes, indeed, the imaginary IS real and that there’s a great deal to be gained – personally – by believing in 2000-yr-old myths/fairy tales. Indeed, you even argue from a scientific standpoint that there IS such a thing as magic.
    Like I said, you may just be onto something. .. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  38. Eric,
    I for one agree that religiousity often contributes to well-being but I would commend you to be a bit more thorough in your quotes. For example, the Newberg article subsequently states:

    By faith, we mean the ability to consciously and repetitively hold an optimistic vision of a positive future — about yourself, and about the world.


    It’s misleading to leave this out since I think you know as well as I do that this definition of faith does not accord with the definition that nearly everbody would infer in the context of a religious discussion. From this definition it’s clear that religion is a vehicle rather than a driver.

    Liked by 5 people

  39. unkleE, I don’t feel I “challenged” you to do anything. I simply asked why you believed it was “negative” when something can’t be explained. You then asked me if I wanted to respond to your 4 questions, which I did. The fact that you didn’t think my answers were comprehensive enough is, in my opinion, immaterial.

    Like I indicated in my previous comment, there is no point in continuing with you since you have clearly stated you “don’t think non-believers have a satisfactory explanation.” That pretty well says it all, doesn’t it?

    Liked by 4 people

  40. This has been a fun thread and it has raised a couple questions in my mind.

    1. I keep hearing about fine-tuning. Yes, I’m familiar with the argument’s details, like if the Weak Atomic Force were altered by like 0.01% (or some such) then life couldn’t exist, or the universe wouldn’t exist. Yep, the universe is fine-tuned…with, so far, 99% of it uninhabitable. I’m not just talking about oxygen-breathing carbon-based lifeforms; so far we haven’t found anything. I’m sure something is out there (seems mathematically probable considering the size of the universe), but most of what we have found is pretty bleak. The sun will swell up and burn this planet to a cinder before exploding a while later. Not ideal…even our planet is not entirely ideal, considering the intelligence and effort it takes for us to inhabit some areas of it, and the historically low population levels for humans until our tech could conquer those difficulties.

    2. Why do so many believe if there isn’t something really there to believe in? Why do people have personal visions of Jesus? Why do people claim healing from prayers directed toward the Christian God? Very good questions–they require an answer! I might have to answer with more questions, though. If there isn’t something really there, why were we all Polytheists for so long? Why did people have visions of Hermes or Nike? How was the Oracle at Delphi so powerful a priestess? She wasn’t Christian or Hebrew, so how could she pronounce prophecies? *Obviously* (wink, wink) she did, otherwise powerful people and nations wouldn’t have followed her if she was making up random false stories.

    3. This regards Charles, specifically, for he makes grand claims of answered prayer. How is it you are so much more righteous and in tune with Yahweh/Jesus than *Every Single Amputee* in the history of the Christian faith?

    Liked by 2 people

  41. Hi Keith, thanks for further comment. I think there is a little misunderstanding on both sides here, so maybe we can sort that out.

    “Well E, if you reject an apophatic approach, then I think you are stuck with what we have come to call natural phenomena. The causal analogy doesn’t help you – you are talking about actual causal events, which appear to be closed. In that case, god is standing in the circle, as it were.”

    I’m sorry, but I don’t understand what you are getting at here. Are you saying that physical events are all causal and thus predetermined, and that a God couldn’t sit outside physical creation and have an impact on it? Or have I missed your point?

    “Fine tuning (an epistemologically unsound claim anyway), certainly does not help. If the universe were tuned for life and consciousness in particular, it was tuned in accord with something and a tuning process occurred. Once you have those real claims, you have bounded identities, time, relative locations – physical properties.”

    I’m not sure what you mean here either. Yes, there is a fine-tuning argument. It is built on the consensus of science, based on published papers and the stated conclusions of cosmologists, and it uses a logically valid argument with strong premises. We could talk about that if you wanted.

    But I wasn’t making an argument, I was asking a question. Perhaps you would like to share your answer to the question?

    “That carries over to miracles and responses to prayers as well. As Nate points out in the post, if those things happen, then they happen, i.e. they are bound by the conditions of causal explanation, as there is a place and time in which they occur and a relative condition within which they occur. They are then simply bizarre/spectacular (as you point out).”

    So does this mean you have no explanation of these phenomena, or does it mean that you think they all have natural explanations (in which case, what is the natural explanation?), or something else?

    “The argumentum ad populum, may simply be ignored ’cause: non-valid.”

    Again, I wasn’t making an argument, but asking a question. (And if I was making an argument, I wouldn’t be making an argument that popularity = truth!) So again, what explanation do you think is right?

    Thanks.

    Like

  42. “You know, UnkleE, you may just be onto something. “

    Hi Carmen,

    Thanks for that response. I’m not a very discerning person, but sometimes, just sometimes, I can sniff out irony. And maybe I detected a faint smell of irony! 🙂

    But I guess it means you are not offering evidence against the papers I referenced. So perhaps I can ask you the same question, if you wish to discuss further: What do you think is the explanation for these apparent facts?

    Like

  43. “It’s misleading to leave this out since I think you know as well as I do that this definition of faith does not accord with the definition that nearly everbody would infer in the context of a religious discussion. From this definition it’s clear that religion is a vehicle rather than a driver.”

    Hi Travis. I must plead “not guilty”! You may have missed that I qualified my reference to Newberg with this statement: “Now it isn’t only religious faith that can have that effect, but religious faith is obviously one of the main things they are considering.”

    So I wasn’t misleading at all. What I said was quite factual. Religious faith WAS “one of the main things” they considered, as you can tell if you read more of their stuff.

    But moving past that accusation, you are at least offering an answer to my question, for you say “it’s clear that religion is a vehicle rather than a driver”.

    Can I then ask you to justify this statement please (from evidence)?

    It seems to me that there are several possibilities here: Are religious belief and a non-religious faith co-drivers? Does religious belief add more than non-religious faith does? Is non-religious faith the same as religious faith and practice? Does religious practice have no effect?

    I think there are answers in the literature to some of those questions. And I wonder if you may have jumped to a conclusion without considering those possibilities.

    This is the reason why I keep asking the questions – because I think it is easy to give quick apparently plausible answers that don’t actually stand up to the evidence. You usually have a thoughtful approach to these things, so I’m interested in your response. Thanks.

    Like

  44. “Like I indicated in my previous comment, there is no point in continuing with you since you have clearly stated you “don’t think non-believers have a satisfactory explanation.” That pretty well says it all, doesn’t it?”

    Hi Nan, this is a very strange comment to me. Are you saying that if someone expresses a view that makes it pointless to discuss with them?

    1. That’s what these comments are for. We each express views and reasons, and others express similar or differing views.

    2. You yourself have expressed equally strong opinions right on tis post, for example:

    “everything about your god is negative because none of it can be explained”

    “When push comes to shove, praying to the christian god for healing accomplishes nothing.”

    “There is absolutely NOTHING to prove this entity exists EXCEPT though your own personal “faith” that it does.”

    “Most definitely sounds like a cop-out to me.”

    But surely those statements don’t mean that there is no point in anyone discussing with you???

    3. I have been a regular visitor to Nate’s blog for years now. I recognise that many people here don’t like what I say and disagree with me. I don’t generally initiate conversations with anyone else but Nate (with occasional exceptions), but many people initiate conversation with me, either by addressing me personally or directly quoting, and disagreeing with, something I have written. You did that in this case.

    No-one forced you to do that. There is no requirement that either of us continue the discussion once you started it. But do you not see that to initiate discussion with me and then withdraw when I start referencing papers and asking questions may appear to some people that you are holding your opinions despite the evidence rather than because of the evidence? Especially since you and others criticised Charles for doing exactly that?

    I am being frank with you. I don’t enjoy the argument and the accusations and the tension that comes because I comment here. But as long as Nate allows me to comment and is interested in discussing with me, I will probably continue. I ignore quite a lot of nasty comments and don’t respond to much of what is said. It isn’t pleasant, but I try to always be courteous and avoid personal accusations. I don’t suppose I succeed always, but I genuinely try.

    I would like to be friends with everyone. I would like to be friends with you. But if you challenge me, I will often respond. But I generally won’t initiate that.

    So let’s by all means close this discussion. Let’s avoid discussion in the future if that is your wish. You actually suggested that to me once before, and I complied, but then you kept making comments about what I said.

    I’m writing all this to try to make peace and suggest a better way forwards. May I suggest you don’t write about what I have said unless you are willing to back it up? I think that would bring greater peace to both of us. What do you say?

    Like

  45. unkleE — One more time. You wrote that you “don’t think non-believers have a satisfactory explanation.” I’m a non-believer. Thus, you don’t think I have a satisfactory explanation. So why should I bother continuing any sort of discussion with you since you yourself have said that I don’t have a satisfactory explanation?

    It has nothing to do with evidence. It’s entirely based on the words you wrote.

    Nate, I’m really sorry to be taking up your blog space on this.

    Liked by 2 people

  46. Hi Nan, I’m sorry if I have distressed you in any way. Let me ask you one simple question.

    Do you think I have a satisfactory explanation for the matters we have been discussing?

    Liked by 2 people

  47. My, you must type fast. Me, not so much, so I’ll try to keep it concise.
    I did take your questions as rhetorical, simply because you have equivocated in that regard in your responses to others.
    Beliefs like the ones you ask about seem to arise from a combination of attribution of agency, and social pressure over time. The same, deep-seated psychological force which prompts a bird to shy away from a plate with eyes painted on it (sorry EAAN), plus the mental propensities which make the argument from popular assent effective (whether it is stated overtly or covertly).
    You do have me wrong. I’ll try another tack, but it may be difficult. My bad.
    When you propose things like miracles or fine tuning as arguments for something outside of the physical realm, I am proposing that you run into a problem akin to the interaction problem with substance dualism in the philosophy of mind. If I take Nate’s argument in the post correctly, it is quite similar.
    The properties directly attributed to the ostensible agent are physical properties. In fact, they are properties which constitute our notion of physicality – agency itself is one!
    When you say, “Yes, but I’m talking about the iceberg beneath the phenomenal surface,” what is that? How is it connected to the parts which are showing, while remaining a separate kind of stuff? (Those are rhetorical questions.)
    It would seem to require some non-phenomenal explanation – unless you are happy with gods like horus, who are big, strong, smart people running the show from afar.
    How do you formulate an entirely non-phenomenal explanation? (My turn on the interrogative/rhetorical combo) People have been trying since Descartes without much headway.
    As for fine tuning, if you have really read much about it, you should know that it is far from a closed case, Paul Davies’ declarations notwithstanding.
    Besides, it relies at base on a coherence theory of truth and a naïve realist interpretation of theoretical physics. Happy to talk about those problems if you wish.

    Like

  48. “It’s God’s overwhelming hiddenness that sounds the death knell on religion for me.”

    Nate, not sure if you’ve looked at some of the different formulations of the argument from non-belief, but this concise version from Theodore Drange is pretty solid in my opinion and also easy to grasp:

    1. God is omniscient.
    2. God is omnipotent.
    3. God wants everyone to believe in him.
    4. Since God is omniscient, he knows exactly what demonstration would convince any given person that he exists.
    5. Since God is omnipotent, he is capable of performing this demonstration.
    6. Since God wants everyone to believe in him, he wants to perform this demonstration.
    7. However, atheists manifestly exist.
    8. Therefore, the god described by the first three conditions does not exist.

    Since most Christians would not want to object to #1 or #2 that forces them to take up some kind of position which negates #3. They might say that #3 is of lower importance on God’s list of priorities and that something like free will takes precedence. The problem I see here is that they would have to show how knowledge of God’s existence would take away our free will. I don’t see why that would be the case. Not to mention that most Christians already believe that God has revealed himself to others in the past, like the disciples, and it was okay for them.

    I see this as a real problem for Christianity since there are several passages in the Bible that support #3.

    Liked by 2 people

  49. Peter

    Dave the Bible in places suggests that people can only come to ‘God’ if ‘God’ elects/chooses/draws them. It also says that everyone ‘God’ draws will come. Indeed it says that ‘God’ decided who to ‘elect’ before the foundation of the earth.

    Using this logic then it is ‘God’ who decides which people are saved and by derivation decides who will not be saved.

    Further if there is a Hell, then the same ‘God; decided before the foundation of the earth who would be tortured for all eternity for the sn of being born.

    Apologists try to explain this ugly piece of theology by suggesting that everyone deserves eternal torture and it is the love and mercy of ‘God’ that anyone is spared this.

    Seem pretty repugnant to me.

    It was only as I studied Christian theology in depth that I can to see it was riddled with logical inconsistency.

    Liked by 4 people

  50. I love all your responses. I fell like the apostle Paul listening to all the people of his time. I didn’t say Christ, because he was and is, the only begotten son of God. Peter’s traffic signal example as a response to God answering prayers was Hilariously Funny. I mean really funny. Thank you Peter. You know that about 50 years ago I was a scoffer. A real hard core atheist. I would deliberately ask people if they believed in God so I could start an argument with them. I was very scientific in all my thinking. I had a college teacher in freshman English ask us(the class) to make up a story about this or that and turn it in at the end of the week. I didn’t believe in fiction at that time and when she told us to write a paper about our lives, if we could change something about it so that it would come out better, I wrote something like “I don’t want to change anything about my life. I was pertly happy with the way I had turned out.” She sent me to the ASU psychiatric facility and I had a talk with a man about 45 years old (probably the same age as my english teacher) and told him that I was a behavioral psychologist and I didn’t want write any fictional stuff and he agreed with me.

    But the Bible states that “there is a way that seems right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” Proverbs 16:25. And Peter in the Bible stated 2Peter 3:3 ¶ “Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, 4 And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. 5 For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: 6 Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished:”

    People today don’t believe in Noah and the flood. But I live in Arizona, and back in the late 60s and early 70s I was a real mineral collector. And we would go up into mountains about 5.000 feet above sea level and find all kind of fossils of plants and animals that lived under the sea.

    And Jesus said in Matthew 22:14, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” I have much more to say but I will keep it for another time.

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  51. Shells on mountains are easily explained by uplift of the land. Although this process is slow, it is observed happening today, and it accounts not only for the seashells on mountains but also for the other geological and paleontological features of those mountains. The sea once did cover the areas where the fossils are found, but they were not mountains at the time; they were shallow seas.

    A flood cannot explain the presence of marine shells on mountains for the following reasons:
    Floods erode mountains and deposit their sediments in valleys.
    In many cases, the fossils are in the same positions as they grow in life, not scattered as if they were redeposited by a flood. This was noted as early as the sixteenth century by Leonardo da Vinci (Gould 1998).
    Other evidence, such as fossilized tracks and burrows of marine organisms, show that the region was once under the sea. Seashells are not found in sediments that were not formerly covered by sea.

    (talkorigins.org)

    Liked by 3 people

  52. BTW Peter, God “foreknew” our free choice and then decided to choose us to be saved. God doesn’t make anyone love him that doesn’t want to. God knows what he’s doing. We just don’t understand that he wants us to get saved but its our free choice. And if he had to show us every thing about himself, where would faith and hope come in?

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  53. God didn’t just say it rained of forty days, but that the depths of seas broke open. “Genesis 8:2 “The fountains also of the deep and the windows of heaven were stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained;” And the Bible states that every thing was under water at that time.

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  54. “Some of the details of the Noah story seem mythical, so many biblical scholars believe the story of Noah and the Ark was inspired by the legendary flood stories of nearby Mesopotamia, in particular “The Epic of Gilgamesh.” These ancient narratives were already being passed down from one generation to the next, centuries before Noah appeared in the Bible.

    The earlier Mesopotamian stories are very similar where the gods are sending a flood to wipe out humans,” said biblical archaeologist Eric Cline. “There’s one man they choose to survive. He builds a boat and brings on animals and lands on a mountain and lives happily ever after? I would argue that it’s the same story.”
    (http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/evidence-suggests-biblical-great-flood-noahs-time-happened/story?id=17884533)

    Liked by 1 person

  55. Have you ever seen a volcano erupting. Tons of hydrogen gas being released and burned by lightning and turning into water. And the flood just wasn’t a little shower but huge storms with gigantic amounts of water being poured out from the sky.

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  56. “My, you must type fast. Me, not so much, so I’ll try to keep it concise.”
    Hi Keith, no I’m a two-finger typist, but I am retired and it was a lazy Sunday morning.

    “Beliefs like the ones you ask about seem to arise from a combination of attribution of agency, and social pressure over time. The same, deep-seated psychological force which prompts a bird to shy away from a plate with eyes painted on it (sorry EAAN), plus the mental propensities which make the argument from popular assent effective (whether it is stated overtly or covertly).”
    I understand your point about attribution of agency – it is one of the reasons why researchers like Justin Barrett say belief in God is very natural to young children. But I don’t see how popular assent works when people convert against the tide, which happens a lot. So are you saying just those two causes are sufficient to explain sophisticated believers like CS Lewis, WL Craig, John Lennox, etc?

    “When you propose things like miracles or fine tuning as arguments for something outside of the physical realm, I am proposing that you run into a problem akin to the interaction problem with substance dualism in the philosophy of mind. ……
    How do you formulate an entirely non-phenomenal explanation? (My turn on the interrogative/rhetorical combo) People have been trying since Descartes without much headway.”

    But your formulation of the “problem” surely gives away the answer! There is a problem of explaining mind-body interactions but there is no problem that we have minds (consciousness, etc) separate from our brains (neurones, etc). Billions of people have lived their lives conscious, making choices, etc, without ever worrying about the “problem”. So the fact that you and I can’t explain scientifically HOW God interacts with the physical world doesn’t stop that being a quite reasonably possibility – in fact probability of the God of christianity exists. If we can’t explain the mind even though we experience it every day, how could we expect to explain God??

    “As for fine tuning, if you have really read much about it, you should know that it is far from a closed case, Paul Davies’ declarations notwithstanding.
    Besides, it relies at base on a coherence theory of truth and a naïve realist interpretation of theoretical physics.

    I don’t know anything about “a coherence theory of truth and a naïve realist interpretation of theoretical physics”, and I don’t suppose most cosmologists, or anyone else except a few philosophers do either – but it hasn’t stopped people discovering quantum physics, background microwave radiation, DNA, etc, or putting men on the moon, doing gene manipulation, etc, either. Or us having this discussion. So I think we can proceed without worrying too much about them, unless you want to explain how this case is different?

    Like I said, we must distinguish two aspects of fine-tuning. The science is pretty much decided – check out this peer-reviewed paper by a research cosmologist which gives the facts (skip the maths and just read the text unless you are a mathematician or cosmologist), based on references to about 200 papers, and quotes from about 20 of the world’s leading cosmologists.

    The arguments are about the explanation for those scientific facts, and philosophy that flows from them. So again, I’ll ask a question – what do you think is the explanation of the facts Barnes outlines?

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  57. There is a problem of explaining mind-body interactions but there is no problem that we have minds (consciousness, etc) separate from our brains.

    It is because of continuing to spout disingenuous statements like this – even after I spent thousands upon thousands of words explaining to you in detail why this claim is utter nonsense – that makes any honest exchanges with you impossible. You just wave away anything that doesn’t support your bias and go right on pretending your claims have ‘scientific’ validity. They don’t. UnkleE. The are failed hypotheses.

    Liked by 5 people

  58. “I see this as a real problem for Christianity since there are several passages in the Bible that support #3.”

    Hi Dave, I couldn’t resist responding to this, as it is something I think is fundamental, and have discussed several times with Nate. I think there are several glaring problems with that argument, so I can only think that you and Drange have a quite different view of christianity to me (and I think to most christians).

    I can best illustrate the problems, I think, with a hypothetical. There are two parents, both university mathematicians, and they have a son at high school who is also competent at maths, but lazy and unmotivated. He brings home an important assignment but has decided not to bother doing it. So let’s apply your and Drange’s argument ….

    1. The parents know plenty enough maths..
    2. The parents have the power to do the assignment for their son.
    3. The parents want their son to pass.
    4. Since they are knowledgable, they know exactly how to compete the assignment so their son passes.
    5. Since they have the ability, they are capable of performing this task.
    6. Since they want their son to pass, they want to perform this task.
    7. However, they don’t complete the assignment and their son fails.
    8. Therefore, the parents described by the first three conditions do not exist.

    Now it is not a perfect analogy (no analogy is), but it uses the same form of argument. And it arrives at a nonsensical conclusion. So what is wrong, and what does this point to in Drange’s argument that is wrong? I think there are several things.

    1. The parents don’t do the assignment because that would be cheating. Christians don’t all think the same about the role of moral behaviour in christianity, but Jesus’ parable of sheep & goats (Matthew 25:31-46) shows that it is important. But moral behaviour is by definition not forced, otherwise it is just behaviour that looks moral but proceeds out of compulsion, not ethics. And we know that the best way to learn what someone is like is to observe them when they don’t know they are being watched. This is the basis of fairy tales about the prince who disguises himself to see if the pretty but poor servant girl really loves him or just loves the idea of being a princess. So if God has some expectation about our ethical behaviour, the argument doesn’t account for this.

    2. The argument seems to assume that the issue is one of knowledge, and more knowledge would solve the problem. But the parents know that it isn’t knowledge that their son needs. Likewise in the christian context, I think that is manifestly untrue that knowledge is the key issue, and it is certainly not what christians generally think (most think it is will). The argument might apply to christians who think that specific knowledge of Jesus is required to be “saved”, and lack of knowledge damns people, but I don’t think that, and the Bible suggests differently. People will be judged according to the light they have been given, so knowledge is never going to be the key issue.

    3. The parents know that their son’s problem is motivation, or will. He has the ability, he just needs to make the right choice. Likewise christians (except for a few extreme Calvinists) believe human choice is the most important factor. God can do all he likes, but people make choices, and we are free to choose against him.

    So the real problem with the argument is not #3 as you suggest, but #6. God wants people to believe, but he wants them to believe when they are not being observed, he knows knowledge is only a secondary issue compared with the importance of will and choice. Now if you amend the argument to include these factors it falls to the ground as far as I can see.

    And it falls because it doesn’t account for the importance of choice & will, and an overemphasis on knowledge, all things that the majority of christians would agree with, I think.

    The obvious response from your side (I’m sure this is part of what Nate would say) is that you personally need more knowledge to make the choice. My answer to that is (1) perhaps you are looking for the wrong sort of knowledge using the wrong assumptions, and the reasons for that might be good or not, (2) we don’t know what opportunities and revelation God is willing to give you if you are willing, and (3) we don’t know how God will judge your intentions in the end.

    I think it is a good argument to discuss, for it brings out some interesting points. I’d be interested in your comments, especially if you think the argument can be renovated to fit in these things. Thanks.

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  59. Eric,
    I may have failed to fully appreciate your qualifier, but I think this actually highlights a problem: if the FaithStreet article is defining faith in a way that does not require religion then that quote is not an appropriate citation in defense of the proposition that religious faith uniquely produces neurological advantages (i.e., advantages which are otherwise unattainable). Perhaps that is not what you intended to propose, but I submit that it is the proposition which is most readily inferred from your application of that quote. Why else would you use it to explain an issue that you suggest needs to be addressed by unbelievers?

    This brings us to your request for justification of my statement that “it’s clear that religion is a vehicle rather than a driver”. First, note that my statement was intended only in relation to the FaithStreet article, but we can ignore that misunderstanding because I also suspect that it is generally true except where the religious “vehicle” cannot be duplicated within a non-religious worldview (e.g., benefits that might come from belief in an afterlife). I have read some of the research on the benefits of religious belief and practice – probably not as extensively as you have – and my recollection is that these often include an interpretation in which the advantage is theorized to obtain as a result of some attitude or practice that is not necessarily restricted to religion (except where it would be incompatible, as noted above). I am also unaware of any study which demonstrates advantages after explicitly controlling for religion separate from religiously motivated behaviors and attitudes. In fact, I’m not sure whether such a study is even practical due to the difficulty in reliably quantifying things like optimism and forgiveness. Regardless, this is what lies behind my suspicion that most of the benefits of religious belief and practice are otherwise attainable. Do you have evidence to the contrary?

    Lastly, if we go back to your original comment to Nate, you say that

    These results suggest that believers are not thinking and living worse, but at least as well and possibly better than non-believers, and thus more psychologically and neurologically likely to be getting right answers.

    I would be interested in seeing you defend the bolded statement. It’s one thing to observe that mindfulness / prayer / meditation improves cognition, but it’s a leap from there to the suggestion that believers are then more likely to get the right answers in general. It might be true that believers are more likely to engage in those activities, but there are then other biases which come into play that are diminished for the unbeliever (e.g., pressures toward in-group and doctrinal conformity). A general claim like you made would need to take everything into account.

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  60. Hi Travis,

    “I submit that it is the proposition which is most readily inferred from your application of that quote. Why else would you use it to explain an issue that you suggest needs to be addressed by unbelievers?”

    The context of my comments was Nate’s post, which suggested a bunch of questions and ideas that he felt theism couldn’t explain, and hence it was reasonable to doubt theism. So in response, I asked a few questions of my own, to see if he or others here could answer them based on reasonable evidence. So I didn’t use my observations to frame an argument, just ask some questions.

    Furthermore, I didn’t claim too much. As your blockquote shows, I simply said “at least as well and possibly better”. That seems like a pretty modest claim to me.

    “Do you have evidence to the contrary?”

    This seems to me to be avoiding the issue. You made a very certain statement (“it’s clear that religion is a vehicle rather than a driver”) and you haven’t offered a reason to believe it. I merely offered a “possibly” and yet you are asking me for evidence?

    In fact the evidence for “possibly” is quite clear. All sorts of studies show that all sorts of religious or spiritual beliefs or practices confer various benefits. In some cases the studies show that the benefits come from associated factors, such as social groups or a positive attitude, more often (I would say) they don’t define the how – because the studies weren’t designed to do that. (Obviously that would be a next step in research.)

    So “possibly” is the very right word, I think. The benefits are there, the causes may be one thing or another. Sometimes the benefits are available to non-believers, sometimes it isn’t clear. That’s “possibly” surely?

    And so I think it is reasonable for me to ask how atheists would explain these facts, based on evidence. I don’t think anyone has really done that yet, though at least you have had a go. And so my original point is made (I think). It is easy for Nate to find some difficulties, but just as easy for me to find some counter difficulties.

    “I would be interested in seeing you defend the bolded statement. “

    I would have thought this was a clear conclusion – if we are mentally healthier, we think better. Here is a quote from Andrew Newberg’s website:

    “Beliefs can have different effects on our mind and body. Some beliefs might be called “constructive” because they help us better adapt to our world, make us feel positive about ourselves, and result in overall better physical and mental health. Some beliefs are “destructive” because they induce stress within us, worsen our health, or create antagonism and violent feelings toward others. One of the most important aspects of why beliefs can be constructive or destructive depends on whether they are exclusionary of other perspectives and how strongly they are held. The data indicate that all beliefs have their limitations because the brain has limitations. Thus, constructive beliefs help provide a sense of compassion for everyone else, who are also relying on their own beliefs—beliefs that also have limitations.”

    And then there is this quote:

    “The main reason God won’t go away is because our brains won’t allow God to leave. Our brains are set up in such a way that God and religion become among the most powerful tools for helping the brain do its thing—self-maintenance and self-transcendence. Unless there is a fundamental change in how our brain works, God will be around for a very long time.”

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  61. @unkleE, “Now it is not a perfect analogy (no analogy is), but it uses the same form of argument.”

    No it is not a perfect analogy or even close with all due respect unkleE and here is why.

    “1. The parents know plenty enough maths..”
    Here the son knows his parents are real. The argument by the majority of people in this blog is that God is not real.

    “7. However, they don’t complete the assignment and their son fails.”
    What is the penalty for failing here ? The penalty for failing to accept a God you don’t believe in is eternity in a lake of fire or whatever unkleE believes in..

    This is why I don’t think your analogy is close enough to use as an argument. Where am I wrong ?

    Liked by 1 person

  62. Hi Ken, it isn’t up to me to say you are wrong, or right. I am mostly just asking questions which seem to make more difficult than I expected.

    But my thought for you to consider is this. No analogy is perfect, and my point isn’t in the analogy but in the points. But the only reasonable way to criticise an analogy is in the area where it seeks to be an analogy, not in the peripheral details. I think your point is peripheral to the analogy.

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  63. “No analogy is perfect, and my point isn’t in the analogy but in the points. But the only reasonable way to criticise an analogy is in the area where it seeks to be an analogy, not in the peripheral details.”

    This is why I don’t think your analogy is valid. You are not comparing apples to apples in its present context.

    Dave is using a hypothetical who you argue is real. You are using real characters who you argue under certain circumstances are no longer real.

    I will let others voice their opinions here .

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  64. Ken and Eric, I think you are both right. Ken is making a good point about the unknown existence of the being in question. But I think this point is missing from the argument so Eric’s criticism of the argument is valid. I had contemplated re-writing some of the points when I pasted them, but I also wanted to give credit for them. Now that credit has been given I am going to go ahead and re-write them. I’ll be back later with a new version.

    Liked by 1 person

  65. Unke E,

    Platonism regarding mathematical constructs is a form of attribution of agency, psychologically. That reflex is not superficial or unsophisticated, and it often leads us to take an extra step too far in our assessments.
    As in mind/brain, it isn’t that you lack for an explanation, but instead that you are stuck with an explanation.
    Finally, you are confusing validity and truth, and in that case, we are at an impasse.

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  66. God told the Israelites Hosea 4:6 “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.” Hosea 6:6 “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.”

    1. Proverbs 4:7* Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.”
    What is wisdom and what is understanding?
    2. Job 28:28 “And unto man he said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.
    We see that “to depart from evil is understanding.”
    What is fear of the Lord?
    3. Proverbs 8:13 “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.”
    What is evil? Pride, arrogance, and the froward mouth.
    Galatians 5:19-21 “Now the works of the flesh(evil) are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”

    So we see that “to hate evil” (wisdom) and “to depart from evil” (understanding) are very important things. I would say that knowledge about our lives is very important. As I once said to a college music class that I was teaching “A life not with examining is a life not with living” To quote Socrates. Paul wrote to the Galatians,
    Galatians 4:1-5. ¶ “From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?”
    and then Paul wrote,
    Galatians 4:6 “But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.”

    Since the word knowledge is mentioned 172 times in the Bible it would be safe to say that it is important to everybody.

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  67. carmen

    Charles,

    The bible also condones and encourages the rape of women. That must be a pretty important concept to project too, eh?

    In other words, the things that are written in the Bible are unimportant to many of us. I believe Nan already tried to point this out to you. Proselytizing doesn’t work on this crowd.

    Liked by 3 people

  68. carmen

    And Charles, you DO realize that the reason people don’t believe in the supernatural is because of acquiring information – (you know, KNOWLEDGE), do you?

    Liked by 1 person

  69. 1. God is omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent.
    2. God wants everyone to be aware of his existence so they can choose to love and follow him.
    3. It is impossible to love and follow someone if you are not aware that they exist.
    4. Since God is omniscient, he knows exactly what it would take for any given person to be aware of his existence.
    5. Since God is omnipotent, he is capable of giving everyone exactly what they need to be aware of his existence.
    6. Since God is omnibenevolent, he will make his existence known to all so they can choose to love and follow him (or not).
    7. However, there are people who are not aware of God’s existence.
    8. Therefore, God as described by the first two conditions does not exist.

    *You can replace the words “love and follow” with whatever your version of theism dictates, i.e. worship, serve, trust, repent, etc.

    Just to add to this, I think that being aware of a concept is not the same as being aware of something existing. For example, I am aware of the concept of Santa Claus, but I am not aware of an actual Santa Claus existing. On the other hand, I am aware that my wife exists and I have made the choice to love and care for her. What would it take to be aware of a cosmic being? I think Nate has given several examples in the opening post.

    Liked by 2 people

  70. Carmen, as is typical for bible-indoctrinated believers, they don’t understand plain English. Maybe I need to do some research and find a bible verse to get my point across. Nahhhh. That would be a waste of good time, I’d much rather spend my days enjoying life. 😉

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  71. @Travis R, I too have questioned , not the statements unkleE shared from some of these studies, but the additional statements he didn’t share. As an example, one study he shared on his own blog stated that people who are part of a social network in general receive these same benefits. Yes, they included people who affiliated themselves with religious organizations but not limited to these organizations. JayCees, Elks Clubs, Amvets Clubs to name a few also provided these positive benefits. He just didn’t see a need to list these non-religious organizations. 🙂

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  72. Jesus said. Mt 24:35 “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” That’s why this statement is true. “The main reason God won’t go away is because our brains won’t allow God to leave. Our brains are set up in such a way that God and religion become among the most powerful tools for helping the brain do its thing—self-maintenance and self-transcendence. Unless there is a fundamental change in how our brain works, God will be around for a very long time.”

    Like

  73. An examination of what the brain processes actually do – the order in which ‘things’ are done by the brain – is in direct contradiction of the claim that ‘god and religion’ (whatever that actually means) are “helping the brain do its thing.”

    Now, I realize it’s not important to you that actual and demonstrable brain processes can be shown to be so ordered and so I know that what’s actually the case also doesn’t matter to you… as long as you believe you already know what’s the case AND you can find bits and pieces of ‘science’ that appear to support your belief. That’s all that really matters to you: your belief. You know and I know that reality plays no part in any of this and so anything you have to say will always be mitigated first by your beliefs and not reality. As hard as it may be for you to accept, for anyone the least bit interested in finding out what is the case about reality, your bible-thumping beliefs are not the go-to source. Surprising only you, apparently, reality is.

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  74. “God wants people to believe, but he wants them to believe when they are not being observed, he knows knowledge is only a secondary issue compared with the importance of will and choice. Now if you amend the argument to include these factors it falls to the ground as far as I can see.”

    UnkleE,
    I still see knowledge of God’s existence as a paramount step in the process because without that we have no reason to try and “do his will” or “align our morals to his” or “surrender our will to him” or whatever you see as important. If we don’t know whether a divine creator being even exists, I really don’t see how we can possibly try and figure out anything about him or what he might want from us.

    Liked by 2 people

  75. “He just didn’t see a need to list these non-religious organizations. “

    Ken, I think this is untrue and unfair. I have consistently pointed out, both in previous discussion with you, and now here, that there are other factors involved other than religious belief and practice. While it is true technically that I didn’t mention those specific organisations, I have always made the broad qualifier. You statement is making an inference to dishonesty that is itself quite dishonest. I am honestly surprised and disappointed in you.

    The fact is that religious belief and practice is one of the most significant correlatives with happiness, mental health and prosociality.

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  76. unkleE, I take great displeasure you lecturing me like a little (sunday) school boy. You know what I say is true. It matters not what peer reviewed reports you use, your tendency is to quote only the parts that support your religious agenda. I make no apologies for pointing this out.

    “While it is true technically that I didn’t mention those specific organisations, I have always made the broad qualifier. ”

    The broad qualifier means nothing in the grand scheme of things. And then when you have been called out, you turn into a martyr.

    I stand by my statements. You can’t have it both ways.

    Liked by 3 people

  77. But your point, Unkle E, is that it is religion that bestows the benefit, when in fact it is the sense of belonging to a community. This sense of community is not what you advertise time and time again; it is the religious aspect you continue to assert provides the benefit and use the study as if that is what it concludes. That’s dishonest.

    Liked by 4 people

  78. Oh, but he thinks he does. That’s why in spite of this correction and many others I’ve made he’ll continue as he always has using this study and a mountain of others just like it to give his religious beliefs the facade of scientific respectability and bulldoze anyone who dares question him with a hundred links and hurt feelings that anyone could think poorly of this tactic because, hey, he’s such a nice guy. Ernest, too.

    That is UnkleE’s modus operandi and he uses it everywhere he goes on the web. Correcting him is a waste of time if you want effect on his continued dishonesty; the effect that is much more important is on other readers to beware for cause, and quite properly so. Equate the name UnkleE with scientific misrepresentation.

    Good job.

    Liked by 3 people

  79. From unkleE’s own blog,

    “Ken aka kcchief1 says
    22 March, 2015 at 11:14 am

    “Researchers, including Koenig, say there are limitations to the conclusions anyone should draw from these studies. It could be that people who attend religious services benefit from the social network they form.”

    I think you will find there are numerous studies which show the benefits that social networks provide including but not limited to attending Church.

    Here in the States they would include Masons, Shriners, Elks Club, Moose Club, American Legion, etc. etc.

    unkleE says
    22 March, 2015 at 9:57 pm

    Hi Ken, all true, but the results still stand – on average, religious believers have better wellbeing than average.”

    Like

  80. “I still see knowledge of God’s existence as a paramount step in the process because without that we have no reason to try and “do his will” or “align our morals to his” or “surrender our will to him” or whatever you see as important. If we don’t know whether a divine creator being even exists, I really don’t see how we can possibly try and figure out anything about him or what he might want from us.”

    Hi Dave, I’m going to respond to this first because I think it paves the way for my future comments on your revised argument.

    Human beings love to simplify. Generally it is a virtue – simplifying things down to their essentials helps us get things done. (I am an engineer, after all!) But Einstein said: “Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

    When talking of God, we are obviously struggling to understand, and it is understandable that christians would simplify – reduce God to simple slogans and statements of belief which can sometimes be over-simplifications. It is therefore understandable that non-believers would also over-simplify.

    So I think you are over-simplifying, in several ways.

    God doesn’t have to treat everyone the same as you seem to be assuming. Jesus gave different answers to every different person the gospels record as speaking to him, so why wouldn’t God be the same? So God’s requirements on people may differ.

    This should be obvious. The OT Jews didn’t know about Jesus but were “God’s chosen people”. Some people today have heard of Jesus, some haven’t. Some have good accurate knowledge of him, some don’t (some even deny he existed). Some want to know God, some don’t. Some live more moral lives than others. Teachers, parents, even the law, treat people differently depending on circumstances. Surely a loving God, if he exists, might require different things of all these different people?

    So I think the following might all be criteria God might use to “judge” people:

    1. Believe in Jesus and you’ll be saved.
    2. In as much as you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.
    3. Did you obey your conscience?
    4. Did you seek him and reach out for him?
    5. God will accept everyone in the end.

    Now the important thing for this discussion is that only #1 requires specific knowledge of God and Jesus. The only other one that mentions God at all is #4, and it doesn’t require knowledge of God, just hope or perhaps even desperation.

    Now I wonder what you are thinking right now? That #5 makes all the others nugatory? (I’ve been dying to get that word in!) That most of them are not what christians believe? Let me say I offer them as possibilities, not necessarily as all part of my belief system. But each one is based on a passage of scripture! So who knows?

    So I think you need to be more flexible in your thinking. How do you respond to this?

    Like

  81. Hi UnkleE,

    I wrote “If we don’t know whether a divine creator being even exists, I really don’t see how we can possibly try and figure out anything about him or what he might want from us.” and you replied by offering five possibilities of what your deity may want. I think this just furthers my point. And we don’t have to stop at what the authors of the NT wrote. I don’t consider what they wrote more special than any other text. We can throw in some ideas from the OT as well as the Talmud or the Quran. Be flexible 🙂

    We have know way of knowing what a deity wants unless they tell us. But we don’t even know if one exists! Maybe there is a deity that wants to see how well we can take care of a planet and it’s resources (uh-oh). Or maybe there is a deity that wants us to evolve into a more advanced species and humans were just another link in the chain. Or maybe there are no deities at all. Who knows…

    Liked by 2 people

  82. Eric,
    Rather than go on forever discussing quote etiquette, I’ll just summarize my point and leave it at that: any presentation of the Newberg ‘faith’ quote which does not also include the accompanying definition of faith is virtually certain to yield an inaccurate understanding of what the quote is actually saying because nobody is going to infer the correct definition of faith, especially in the context of a religious discussion. Qualifiers are marginally helpful at best. Moving on…

    This seems to me to be avoiding the issue. You made a very certain statement (“it’s clear that religion is a vehicle rather than a driver”) and you haven’t offered a reason to believe it. I merely offered a “possibly” and yet you are asking me for evidence?

    I casually mentioned in the previous comment that my response was directed specifically at your use of the quote in the FaithStreet article. In that context of that article “it’s clear” that religion is not the driver by virtue of the definition of faith that was employed. In general, I would say that it is not clear whether religion uniquely contributes to the advantages identified in the research – it is possibly true that religion uniquely contributes (as you propose) but it is also possibly false (as I propose). My request for evidence of a study which managed to control for religion as something separate from the attitudes and practices that are religiously motived was a genuine inquiry, not an indictment against you. That would be very useful data for mediating between our respective positions.

    I would have thought this was a clear conclusion – if we are mentally healthier, we think better.

    I think you missed my point. There are several studies which demonstrate the health benefits of eating walnuts, but as one who is allergic to them, the net effect of my eating walnuts is negative. The point was that your original statement was not presented as “all else being equal”, so I was essentially asking you to defend the absence of other factors (and offered one possible factor to consider). More likely, we can probably just agree that it isn’t actually that simple and that even if believers are more likely to realize the mental health benefits presented in the research, this does not entail that the cumulative effect of religion is an increased likelihood of getting right answers in general.

    Liked by 2 people

  83. For the record, I do not wish to be party to the claim that Eric is being intentionally deceitful. I don’t think there’s anything more going on here than the confirmation bias to which we are all subject – even as we critique the biases of others. I have no reason to believe that my confirmation bias is any less likely to be influencing my interpretation and message. Hopefully a cordial discussion between opposing parties can serve to minimize its impact, reveal opportunities for improvement and lead us all a little closer to truth.

    Liked by 2 people

  84. Confirmation bias is not deceitful in and of itself and, yes, we all exercise it from time to time without any motivation to be dishonest. What matters here is intention There is no intention to deceive, no intention of holding back known information damaging to the bias. That’s all fine and good.

    But…

    When the bias is pointed out and clarified and explained and demonstrated and then the person continues to present the same old bias as if it’s not, as if it’s actually ‘scientific’, as if the supporting claim has been arrived at by relatively non-biased and independent examination, as if this is what the ‘experts’ find is the case, as if it’s not UnkleE’s preference for the bias plays no part but that it is these ‘experts’ who are making Eric’s claim for him, as if UnkleE is simply agreeing with the independent assessment, while knowing full well that none of these are the case but still presenting it as if it were, then I think a boundary into intentional deceit, an intentional dishonest presentation of the science, is being intentionally crossed.

    And when this tactic is used time after time on blog after blog as if formulaic, then I think the only reasonable conclusion is that the intention is to misrepresent and misinform to support the biased belief position.

    Liked by 1 person

  85. Nate,

    Last year I became troubled by patriarchy in the Bible. I was discussing the matter with my wife who is an OB/GYN and knows sexism from firsthand experience. She asked, “Why do you think patriarchy is bad?” Wow that was unexpected! I had to go back to the basics. I had to unlearn the whole conversation. Does patriarchy equate with sexism, is it inherently evil? If not, why did I think so?

    It seems like an atheist dream come true that (1) God both cannot judge fairly and (2) the Bible is untrustworthy. If God is fair, that itself would take enough unlearning! So I pity the one who needs to unlearn more. It’s going to take a miracle.

    B

    Like

  86. “you replied by offering five possibilities of what your deity may want”

    Hi Dave, no I’m sorry, you have misunderstood me. I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear. I said “Surely a loving God, if he exists, might require different things of all these different people? …. So I think the following might all be criteria God might use” I was suggesting they might all be acceptable criteria (of course if #5 was true, the others would be superfluous). So I am suggesting, and have said already, that God (I think) judges according to the light we have been given. If that is so, you don’t need to worry about not knowing, you only have to worry if you have responded to the light you have been given. (Which of course, in your case, if christianity is true, is considerable.)

    “We have know way of knowing what a deity wants unless they tell us. …. Who knows…”

    This is true, but if what I have said is right, it is not decisive. You will be judged by what you do with what you know.

    If you get this, I wonder whether we can test a couple of points.

    1. Do you agree that your argument relies on God having a definite standard we all have to live up to (something like #1), and we are “lost” if we don’t know it?

    2. Would you agree that, if God judges something like I have said, the argument still needs significant modification?

    I’ll post as soon as I have time on your revised argument.

    Like

  87. Hi Dave, thanks for your response. I always appreciate the way you approach things, even if I disagree with your conclusions. (I already had something prepared, so I was quicker than I expected.)

    I think your reformulation of the argument is definitely an improvement, but I still think it doesn’t address the main problems I raised.

    The main problem is that it still doesn’t mention human choice. Do you believe humans make choices about what we believe, or do you believe we are determined? It seems to me that the argument only works if you believe we are determined.

    So I agree with the argument that God wants everyone to know him and to receive from him all the blessings that go with that. But here’s where the argument is too simplistic. For, if we human can have complex goals and motives, not just single minded ones, then surely God can too?

    So I also believe God chose to create autonomous, conscious, hybrid physical-emotional-spiritual-mental beings, a “higher” life form than robots or animals. Allowing choice allows the possibility of refusal. Hence these two goals are not totally compatible.

    So I think the argument fails at these points:

    P2 doesn’t allow for the fact that a person can choose godly values even if they don’t know God. And both Romans 2 and CS Lewis suggest that is how people who don’t know God will be judged.

    P3 ignores the same fact, plus it is possible to follow someone without absolute proof that they exist. It would be possible to follow someone on hope alone, but most of us would want reasonable evidence, which I believe we have.

    P5 doesn’t account for the christian teaching that the Holy Spirit will lead those to truth who are honestly looking. The issue is often not God’s willingness or ability, but people’s willingness.

    P6 ignores the fact that God can know and do whatever he chooses, but if he allows us choice then he cannot make us choose (that would be a contradiction).

    And a minor quibble with P7 – most atheists are quite aware of the idea and possibility of God, it is belief that is lacking, not knowledge.

    How do you feel about all of that? (I think this is a very helpful discussion, as I want to think more about this argument. So thanks.)

    Like

  88. @anaivethinker

    Don’t mind me jumping into this.

    “Why do you think patriarchy is bad?”

    I have heard Muslim women saying that it’s actually good that they wear veils and cover themselves and protect their purity. I can easily say:

    “Why do you think having women covering up is bad?”, and say I pity the one who needs to unlearn more. It’s going to take a miracle.

    What you said earlier explained nothing.

    Like

  89. It’s taken me a while to catch up on all these comments (there have been some great ones!), and I’ve gotten very interested in this discussion between Dave and unkleE. Not to speak for Dave, but I’d like to offer some of my own thoughts in response to unkleE’s most recent comment:

    Allowing choice allows the possibility of refusal. Hence these two goals are not totally compatible.

    But real choice requires knowledge of the available options.

    P5 doesn’t account for the christian teaching that the Holy Spirit will lead those to truth who are honestly looking. The issue is often not God’s willingness or ability, but people’s willingness.

    This is an easy accusation to make, but I don’t think it’s a very fair one. It’s that whole “you didn’t want it badly enough” excuse. I know that I’m sincere, and the Holy Spirit certainly hasn’t helped bring me to Christianity. But of course, since you’re not me, it’s easy to assume I’m either lying about that, or I’m somehow mistaken… “let God be true and every man a liar” in other words. The problem is that it’s begging the question of God’s existence.

    P6 ignores the fact that God can know and do whatever he chooses, but if he allows us choice then he cannot make us choose (that would be a contradiction).

    2 things here:

    1) The first premise lists God’s omnibenevolence. Sure, I suppose God could do whatever he wanted (as Job and Romans 9 argue), but if he’s truly omnibenevolent, then he’s limited to doing what’s best for people.

    2) Knowing God exists beyond a doubt doesn’t force people to serve him, unless you disbelieve most of the Bible’s stories, where God’s heroes sin against him over and over (Cain, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Balaam, David, Solomon, Jonah, etc, etc, etc).

    I’m getting sleepy, so I’m going to stop here and hope that what I’ve written is at least marginally coherent. 🙂

    Like

  90. Hi Travis,

    Firstly, I appreciate your comment about confirmation bias, and I agree with it.

    Secondly, I have read your latest comment, and am especially concerned about your comments about my use of Newberg and the conclusions of the studies.

    I have quoted from the studies, and no-one has shown that I quoted out of context. And these are the things I have said (bolded for emphasis):

    “Why do neurological and psychological studies (ask me to reference them!) show consistently, though not of course totally, that religious believers’ brains are operating well, often better than non-believers, and their mental, emotional and physical health is, on average better?”

    After my first reference to Newberg: “Now it isn’t only religious faith that can have that effect</b?, but religious faith is obviously one of the main things they are considering. …. I am NOT saying that these studies prove God exists. They simply say that religious belief and practice more often than not has good effects on the person.” That is what his research shows, and I made no further claim on top of that.

    Then I gave two more Newberg quotes in response to questions from you. They were taken from his website, from his summaries of his research, and they were the whole summary. How can that be selective or biased?

    Then we can look at my webpage that Ken referenced, and there you’ll find statements like these (bolded for emphasis): “Religious believers, overall and with many exceptions, have better health and wellbeing …..People who attend religious services …. say they generally feel healthier (though the reason for this isn’t clear) …. The causation and mechanisms are not always clear …. None of this “proves” God exists”.

    The only time I mentioned Newberg’s work I made a very factual statement: “Religious practices are generally beneficial for mental, physical, and spiritual health and improve how our brain functions, but fundamentalist beliefs can increase prejudice and damage our brain.”

    If you look at all the references there and quotes, I made no more claims than the papers themselves say. I never said these facts proved my beliefs to be true, in fact I clearly said the opposite. I did indeed say the equivalent to “all else being equal”, several times.

    So where have I been even inadvertently selective?

    In contrast, those who’ve chosen to argue with me (I only spoke initially to Nate, everyone else has started the discussion) have limited themselves to shooting the messenger, accusing me of bias and dishonest reporting, or being obdurate (when I have been no more firm in my opinions than they have), or they have simply laughed at the scientific data. No-one has shown any sign of having read the papers themselves, no-one seems willing to accept the clear evidence that religious belief and practice is beneficial regardless of the cause, and no-one has offered any evidence-based explanations of these facts.

    It is not me who is avoiding the facts!

    So I appreciate your comments before, but in the end my argument is that the so-called rational people are not showing concern for evidence, and I’ve still yet to see a worthwhile explanation.

    Finally, to sum up, it may be true that social interaction provided benefit A, and it was the mind’s version of “faith” that provided benefit B, and so on. But there are many, many studies that don’t show any subsidiary causes, there are many many conclusions that only identify religious or spiritual belief or practice as the common factor.

    How do you, or anyone else, explain this if the papers don’t?

    Thanks to you for being the recipient of this rave and to Nate for allowing me space on his blog. I appreciate both of you.

    Like

  91. Eric,
    I’m honestly a bit surprised by this response. I thought I had clearly identified the scope of my comments but you seem to think that I’m criticizing nearly everything you’ve ever written on the topic. I’m not. There were only two comments that I critiqued: the way that you quoted Newberg from the FaithStreet article in your response to Carmen and the ‘right answers’ line in your first comment to Nate. Everything I’ve said in relation to Newberg was directed at that quote and the “all else being equal” comment was directly specifically at the ‘right answers’ line. I stand by those critiques but they were not intended to imply a broad criticism of the entirety of your case.

    there are many many conclusions that only identify religious or spiritual belief or practice as the common factor. How do you, or anyone else, explain this if the papers don’t?

    These would have to be assessed on a case-by-case basis, but in general I agree with what you said earlier: “they don’t define the how – because the studies weren’t designed to do that.” My suspicion that independent factors are still at play is in part an extrapolation from the cases where those factors are identified. Thus the request for studies in which those factors are explicitly controlled against. It’s an honest inquiry.

    Liked by 1 person

  92. Hi Travis, I’m sorry if I over-reacted. I didn’t think anything other than that you’d questioned my use of Newberg. So I addressed that, but tried to sum up everything that had been said in that one response. I accept that you have an honest inquiry. My only problem is that so many people seem to want to question the findings that are there. I think I’ll leave it at that. Thanks again, I appreciate your responses.

    Like

  93. Hi Nate, it’s nice that you get to comment on your own blog! 🙂

    Like I said to Travis, I think I’m ready to take a rest from this thread, so I’ll try to be brief.

    But real choice requires knowledge of the available options.”
    Not always. Sometimes knowing the options forces your hand. And in present company, you all know the options as far as christianity is concerned. I think if someone can’t see that the historical Jesus is good and worth following, then I’m not sure what more knowledge would convince them.

    “This is an easy accusation to make, but I don’t think it’s a very fair one.”
    I tried to be very careful with my wording there not to make an accusation. I referenced christian teaching, not my own belief, and I said “often”. I certainly don’t stand in judgment on you or anyone, and I’m sorry if you thought I had. But it seems obvious to me that people believe and disbelieve for many reasons, some worthy, some less so.

    All of us have an investment in the viewpoint we hold – me, you, everyone here. It would be foolish to think otherwise. So the dilemma for all of us is that it is quite possible that, even with the best of intentions, our investment is stronger that our openness to new truth.

    So the possibility is there all the time. But just as I resent it when people make it about me as if they know it is true for me but not for them, so I would not want to say anything that you could similarly resent, because I couldn’t possibly know one way or the other.

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  94. Hi UnkleE,

    “Do you agree that your argument relies on God having a definite standard we all have to live up to (something like #1), and we are “lost” if we don’t know it?”

    I think the “love and follow” portion of the argument can be replaced by any requirements you desire and could even be different for different people. I still think that we would need to know what those requirements are before we could choose to follow them or not. Let me give an example.

    Let’s say, for a moment, that Allah is real and that he was expecting you to perform the five pillars of Islam. How could you possibly make a choice to perform them or not in your current situation? Wouldn’t you first need to know that Allah was real and expecting it of you?

    Like

  95. kcchief1 wrote, ” I too have questioned , not the statements unkleE shared from some of these studies, but the additional statements he didn’t share.”

    and from this unkleE says, “You statement is making an inference to dishonesty that is itself quite dishonest. I am honestly surprised and disappointed in you.”

    unkleE, you were neither surprised nor disappointed. 🙂 You had some new people in the audience and you thought you could use some of your old lines . Only problem was you had some of your old sparring partners present who were prepared to engage you.

    So you reverted to your rope-a-dope routine .
    1.)You acted insulted, “You statement is making an inference to dishonesty”
    2.) tried to be the victim ,”In contrast, those who’ve chosen to argue with me have limited themselves to shooting the messenger, accusing me of bias and dishonest reporting,”
    3.) decided to retreat ,”I think I’m ready to take a rest from this thread”

    But in reality you yourself said earlier, “Hi Ken, you and I are old “friends” and old sparring partners.” kcchief1 says, “unkleE, this is the reply I expected you to make. 🙂 We are getting to know each other too well. :-)” unkleE says, “I like to keep the customers satisfied!:)”

    I think this pretty well sums it up 🙂 , except don’t be surprised for unkleE to have “the last word” And for the newbies, if you provide 100 peer reviewed papers to support your view , unkleE will provide 101 to support his. Just sayin 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  96. A lot of good stuff here, some not so good. But it serves as an introduction to some of the nasty bits Christians like to pretend isn’t really there.

    Like

  97. To be saved you must know God the father of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.
    Isaiah 44;6-8 “Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God. And who, as I, shall call, and shall declare it, and set it in order for me, since I appointed the ancient people? and the things that are coming, and shall come, let them shew unto them. Fear ye not, neither be afraid: have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it? ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any.”
    John 14:6-11 “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life:
    👁no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.👁
    If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him. Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works’ sake.”

    Acts 17:29-33 “Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device. ✅And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:✅ Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead. And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter. So Paul departed from among them.”

    We cannot come to the God, the Father of us all, except through his Son Jesus Christ. God knows who you are but you don’t now him.

    We can tell what is wrong when somebody does it to us. If somebody lies to you, you don’t like it. When somebody steals from you, you don’t like it. When somebody hurts or even murders your children, you don’t like it. When somebody sleeps with your wife, you don’t like it. When somebody makes fun of what you believe in, you don’t like it. When somebody gets drunk and becomes a nuisance to everybody around him, you don’t like it. Even if you do all these things you know they are all wrong when somebody does them to you. Even you Carmen, are miffed at me for Quoting the Bible.

    We all know these thing are wrong if somebody does them to us. And if we decide we don’t want to do them to other people we find out that it is not that easy. Because, we are all born sinners. But thanks be to God, we can all be forgiven and saved through Jesus.

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  98. Carmen

    ….. Groan…. Not that ‘filthy sinner’ routine. 😦

    You going to be telling me I’m destined for hell soon too, Charles? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  99. UnkleE,

    P2 doesn’t allow for the fact that a person can choose godly values even if they don’t know God.
    So in this case you’re suggesting that the requirement for this person is to “choose godly values”, whatever those might be, and that some people might obtain those without knowing it? I would contend that an omnibenevolent God would not leave something like this to happenstance.

    P3 ignores the same fact, plus it is possible to follow someone without absolute proof that they exist. It would be possible to follow someone on hope alone, but most of us would want reasonable evidence, which I believe we have.
    Let’s change the word impossible to unreasonable. #3: It is unreasonable to expect someone to love and follow someone else without being aware that they exist.

    P5 doesn’t account for the christian teaching that the Holy Spirit will lead those to truth who are honestly looking. The issue is often not God’s willingness or ability, but people’s willingness.
    In this case you’re suggesting that the requirement is to “honestly search for truth”. Again, how would anyone know to do this and in which way would they go about doing it?

    P6 ignores the fact that God can know and do whatever he chooses, but if he allows us choice then he cannot make us choose (that would be a contradiction).
    Nate already pointed out the limits of being omnibenevolent. Also, no one is saying this God needs to force us to choose, he should just let us know that a choice exists (especially if we are expected to make a choice).

    And a minor quibble with P7 – most atheists are quite aware of the idea and possibility of God, it is belief that is lacking, not knowledge.
    I am not aware of a deity, named God, that actually exists. I am, however, aware of a plethora of man-made writings on the subject.

    Liked by 1 person

  100. Thanks Eric. I regret that my comments contributed to the more personal accusations levied against you, so I apologize in kind. I agree that some of the research is likely being dismissed and\or ignored without having been adequately engaged, but I hope that you can also see how some of the presentation may have contributed to that perception, even if it wasn’t deliberate. All sides have a learning opportunity here.

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  101. Powellpowers, good to hear from you.

    Hopefully this explanation will work. I used patriarchy as an example of self-relevance to the issue of creating problems that need not exist. I doubt we have the same definition for patriarchy based on your response.

    Consider a metaphor. Suppose I want to build a house. I rent a large excavator and dig a 30 foot hole and fill it in with concrete when I could have just used some 6 foot piers at load-bearing locations. I created a problem that did not need to exist! So I raise to everyone here, myself included, how many of these do we have in our worldviews? Because it seems to me convenient that anyone can have a royal flush in their worldview.

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  102. Charles,

    While you haven’t been commenting here long, the vast majority of what you’ve been saying is just preaching. You keep quoting long sections of the Bible and just asserting that what is says is true, as though that’s going to mean anything to atheists. Since you claim to have been one yourself for so long, I’d think you’d realize that your approach is worse than useless — it’s a waste of time.

    Notice the other comments here. They involve detailed questioning of the Bible’s claims and discussion about whether or not they can be trusted or are accurate. This is how we discover whether or not the Bible should be listened to.

    Instead, you’re simply quoting passages that tell us what Christianity wants us to do. Well, so what? Most of us here aren’t Christians. It would be like me quoting sections of the Girl Scouts of America’s handbook to you, as though that’s going to mean anything to you. Demonstrate why we should care what the Bible says. If you can get us on the same page, then we’ll gladly transition to discussing what the Christian god wants us to do. Until then, please stop proselytizing.

    Liked by 1 person

  103. @UnklE, Dave, and Charles

    Maybe some nomenclature would help. There seems to be 4 options:

    1) Exclusivism – only faithful Christians will be saved
    2) Inclusivism – faithful Christians plus “those who respond to what light they have” as CS Lewis expressed
    3) Pluralism – there are many paths of salvation, pick a religion and be faithful
    4) Universalism – in the end everyone will repent and be saved

    If we are talking about biblical, I think 1) and 2) are top contenders, 3) is outright rejected and 4) is highly improbable given teaching on hell. Erik seems to lean towards 2) if I understand him correctly. Charles seems to lean towards 1).

    Dave stated, “I would contend that an omnibenevolent God would not leave something like this to happenstance.”
    Supporters of exclusivism (option 1) agree. Here is their thinking: God knows exactly who will be evangelized and respond affirmatively in history. This is God’s foreknowledge. Not only this, God also knows who would have responded affirmatively in optimal circumstances in history. This is God’s “middle knowledge” aka Molinism. As such, individuals whom God knows would have rejected the gospel in optimal circumstances can be put anywhere and anytime in history.

    -Brandon

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  104. Hi Dave, I appreciate the opportunity to pursue this matter.

    Firstly, let me say that you have made an argument, so it is up to you to demonstrate that each premise is true, or at least probably true. My task isn’t to prove at least one is probably untrue (though I think that is the case), but to offer you questions that you need a strong response to, otherwise you haven’t demonstrated that the premises are probably true. I don’t think you have yet done that.

    “So in this case you’re suggesting that the requirement for this person is to “choose godly values”, whatever those might be, and that some people might obtain those without knowing it? I would contend that an omnibenevolent God would not leave something like this to happenstance.”

    I think you are still thinking in terms of knowledge and rational demonstration, but these aren’t the only way God might communicate with us. For example, most people have a conscience, and many of the moral values in our consciences are common around the world. That is one way God has given us his requirements. Christians believe the Holy Spirit does the same to everyone. Most people have heard of at least one religion with beliefs that reinforce these things. And studies show a surprising number of people have experienced something they believe was God, in a healing, a sense of peace, a vision, a mystical experience, etc. I have made a study of these things and can amplify if you want. Then these is the witness of the universe, summed up in the cosmological and teleological arguments. These all are hints and clues that cumulate to a strong case to anyone who considers them all.

    So I don’t think there is happenstance much – we all have enough light to respond or not, albeit differently.

    “Let’s change the word impossible to unreasonable. #3: It is unreasonable to expect someone to love and follow someone else without being aware that they exist.”

    Again, I think you are thinking too linearly and too much like a renaissance naturalist westerner. (Understandable, but there is other wisdom.) My exemplar is Jesus. You know the stories as well as I do. The historical evidence is accepted by almost all secular historians. I submit there is enough there for anyone to say “I like what this guy is about. If He is real, I’ll choose to follow him.”

    Now with the greatest respect to you and Travis and Nate, who I respect very much, you all, if I understand your history, have moved away from belief in Jesus. (I reckon your problems were probably the church or the Old Testament more than Jesus, but you can correct me on that.) My question to all of you would be – if you accepted the broad historical accuracy of the gospels (I’m not talking about inerrancy or anything), would you think Jesus was worth following as an exemplar? If you wouldn’t, then it isn’t primarily historical evidence that you need but to be convinced that Jesus is worth following.

    These comments are all tentative. depending on your histories which I don’t know well. But it seems to me that God could reasonably judge you as not responding to Jesus – certainly he said that to people at the time. I hope I don’t sound harsh, because it grieves me to write this, but that is how I see the answer to your question.

    “In this case you’re suggesting that the requirement is to “honestly search for truth”. Again, how would anyone know to do this and in which way would they go about doing it?”

    Fair question. I think we can leave it to God to know if we’ve done it or not, but the other part is trickier. I wonder whether we could answer if I asked how would anyone go about choosing a life partner? Most of us do it, more than half are successful at it, but there’s no rules, I don’t think. So I think here.

    I think intention is important, so you asking these questions is very positive. I think questioning assumptions, looking at evidence, etc are all important. But probably most of all is asking God, if he’s there, to show us.

    “Nate already pointed out the limits of being omnibenevolent. Also, no one is saying this God needs to force us to choose, he should just let us know that a choice exists (especially if we are expected to make a choice).”

    I think one way or another he does, but it may not be in ways we recognise. And like I said before, knowing about the choice in some ways alters the choice. Who exceeds the speed limit if they know there’s a police radar trap coming up? So I think we are given enough – certainly you and I know enough – though I agree that I have trouble understanding some things. Like, does a baby that dies 5 minutes after birth have any choice? I have no answers to that.

    “I am not aware of a deity, named God, that actually exists. I am, however, aware of a plethora of man-made writings on the subject.”

    I think this is technical. You know that a God is alleged to exist and you know about Jesus in history. I suggest God may judge you according to what you do with that info, how much you seek him, but I’m not trying to second guess how he would assess that.

    Finally, I must say, I am obviously not God, and I am just trying make sense of everything, the same as you. I’m not vain enough to think that everything I have written here is true. But I think (1) it seems to accord with scripture the universe, and (2) it throws your argument into doubt.

    So I’m not trying to prove God here, just indicate why I think the arguments you and Nate have put forward are not as convincing as you think, and that there are also counter arguments of a similar form. Thanks.

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  105. Hi Travis, I truly appreciate your generosity and thoughtfulness. Thanks. I don’t believe you contributed to anything bad, I think your contribution has been positive, but I appreciate your kind words. I can accept that my presentation may not have been the best. But I try to be brief and accurate. If it wasn’t said well enough, then I’m certainly sorry.

    I have gone back over Newberg’s writings, I have taken many quotes, and I don’t think I misrepresented anything. I can only summarise briefly here, but I intend to blog all this in more detail. So in this long comment, I want to cover three things, which are not only addressed to you:

    1. A summary of Newberg on these topics.
    2. A defence of the accuracy of my previous comments and a look at why they were misunderstood.
    3. A peace proposal.

    1. In How God changes your brain Newberg outlines some of his findings (all the quotes are taken from his own summary of the book):

    (a) Religions evolved to help humans resolve difficulties. They still work to do that. “Religion makes us more ‘human’ …. The old reptilian part of our brain selfishly fought for survival. while newer, more fragile parts struggled to form cooperative alliances with others.” (p18)

    (b) All sorts of religious and spiritual practices contribute very positively to how religion benefits us. Four stand out to me – meditation (or prayer or mindfulness), faith (in the general sense we have discussed as well as the religious sense), contemplation of God, and other religious rituals. “the brain has two primary functions that can be considered from either a biological or evolutionary perspective. These two functions are self-maintenance and self-transcendence. The brain performs both of these functions throughout our lives. It turns out that religion also performs these two same functions. So, from the brain’s perspective, religion is a wonderful tool because religion helps the brain perform its primary functions. Unless the human brain undergoes some fundamental change in its function, religion and God will be here for a very long time.+”
    Newberg’s website

    (c) Now other secular practices can be substituted for religious ones, and they still work. Meditation can be non-religious. Faith can be in science or human nature. Contemplation can be of the universe or science generally. Non-believers can participate in religious rituals. All of this is true. But it also remains true that religion is the main way these things occur in our world. “Spiritual practices, even when stripped of religious beliefs, enhance the neural functioning of the brain in ways that improve physical and emotional health. …. the health benefits associated with meditation and religious ritual cannot be denied.” (p6,8)

    (d) There are negative aspects to some religions, but they are not caused by religion per se, but by authoritarianism, which can equally affect non-religious people and groups. “The problem isn’t religion. The problem is authoritarianism, coupled with the desire to angrily impose one’s idealistic beliefs on others. One should also remember that during the twentieth century, tens of millions of people were killed by nonreligious and antireligious regimes, while far fewer have been killed in the name of an authoritarian God.” (p11)

    (e) All this tells us something about human beings. “We realize that we can’t just look at people as biological. That seems to be the prevailing perspective on the medicine side. And more and more people are realizing that we are not just biological beings, but we are psychological, and social, and spiritual.” (Newberg quote)

    2. So was I quoting fairly?

    I invite anyone who questions these quotes to check out the references. In particular, look up his book on Amazon, “Look Inside” and read the first chapter, which is his summary of the whole book.

    Then check out what I said previously, and you’ll find I covered all these points, even if only briefly – I made clear that secular practices worked well, but religion was the most common source of these practices. (For example, Ken referred to one page on my blog which shows I made the qualifications, but there is another page, Why your brain needs God where I gave the full quote on Faith, including the secular qualification, showing that I wasn’t trying to hide this.)

    So it is true that religious belief and practices, especially meditation and contemplation, are very beneficial to the brain. It is also true that secular equivalents can be found. But it is also true that the most common way these practices are used is in religion.

    I can’t see anything relevant that I didn’t at least mention. And remember, I didn’t make an argument based on all this, I just asked some questions.

    So why was I so easily misunderstood?

    I think there are several contributing causes.

    (a) The internet breeds wrong ideas as well as right ones. Most people, especially most non-believers, know the claims Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and others have made about the harm done by religion, and many people believe them. But Newberg several times points out that they based their views on no data, and that the scientific data shows they were wrong. “Recently there has been a spate of antireligious books …. that argue that religious beliefs are personally and societally dangerous. But the research …. strongly suggests otherwise. Nor do we believe that these authors represent the views of the vast majority of scientists or atheists. …. the lack of empirical evidence that these writers have cited that even mildly suggests that religion is hazardous to your health. The psychological, sociological and neuroscientific data simply disagree.” (p6) Of course there are exceptions, but they are not the majority. It is time for people who want to be scientific to give up this myth.

    (b) Once a viewpoint is held, it can be easy to resist changing. Newberg again: “The brain is a stubborn organ. Once its primary set of beliefs has been established, the brain finds it difficult to integrate opposing ideas and beliefs. This has profound consequences for individuals and society and helps to explain why some people cannot abandon destructive beliefs, be they religious, political or psychological.” (‘Born to believe’) So it is tempting to resist this new knowledge.

    (c) How many people went back to the data and looked at what Newberg has written? If non-believers criticise christians for not caring about evidence, shouldn’t they care about it themselves? Instead, the whole idea of scientific study of religion was mocked, and several people accused me of dishonesty without showing any indication they had read Newberg for themselves. Why was this? Why engage in a discussion if you refuse to look at the evidence?

    3. Having been very frank about all this, I want to now try to rebuild. And to make peace.

    I dislike confrontation. I would much rather discuss amicably, as I can with Nate (the reason I still comment here), Travis and Dave. I appreciate their courtesy and friendliness. I want to be friends with everyone, as I said to Nan.

    So why not? Confrontation does no-one any good. Newberg says that negative emotions, like in negative religion, but just as true about negative atheism, harm the brain, and leads to worse health and lower life expectancy. So it doesn’t do any of my critics any good. It also doesn’t do their “cause” any good either. Making insulting personal comments only shows those reading but not commenting that the person is speaking from emotion or dogma rather than facts.

    I would dearly love to start again. I would be very happy to leave all this stuff behind and all of us move to constructive a friendly discussion that benefits us all. How about it?

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  106. @naivethinker

    “I doubt we have the same definition for patriarchy based on your response.”

    Perhaps, and perhaps I am assuming that would agree with me that patriarchy (at least my definition) would be something you are against.

    Unfortunately I’m remain dim on your definition of patriarchy. I get your analogy about solving a problem that you yourself created, and I’m assuming that you are saying that there is nothing wrong with patriarchy and it’s just a matter of perspective.

    Sure, I can get by that if I do understand your meaning of the word patriarchy, and your rationale of upholding this sort of family system. At the risk of sounding like a male chauvinist, between my wife and myself, my wife looks to me to make the final decision in almost everything. This makes her comfortable relying on me (and perhaps blame me when things turn south, but it hasn’t really happened yet), and when it’s the other way round, when I’m unsure what to do and look to her for guidance, she is visibly distraught and uncomfortable being the person making the call.

    Is this patriarchy? Perhaps. Is this a result of her being indoctrinated that only men should make the decision? Perhaps (she is born in a rather conservative christian family. Her dad is an elder of a church that says drums are evil, so go figure. Oh and women should never teach men). But fact is she is comfortable with how we operate right now, and I have very little incentive to tell her to step up. Would she be better off if I so called “liberate her” from living under my decisions? I’m not sure to be honest.

    I would say the circumstances might be rather similar to the examples i quoted earlier: muslim women saying they are comfortable and they prefer to wear burqa and only expose their eyes. And they get really stressed and distraught when we tell them having freedom is “right way” to go.

    So yes, us telling muslim women that they are being oppressed. I would say there is some element of us creating a problem where there isn’t. But where do we draw the line? On the other extreme scale we have masochist that enjoy people torturing them, and they are distress when they are treated like normal human being. On the other femi-nazis are saying we need to liberate them, with good reasons too. What is the right thing to do?

    In any case, perhaps it’s my comprehension skill, I failed to grasp in your past 2 posts what is the version of patriarchy you adhere to. Perhaps it’s in a long past post that I have missed, and for that I apologize.

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  107. Hi UnkleE,

    “most people have a conscience, and many of the moral values in our consciences are common around the world. That is one way God has given us his requirements.”
    Once again, I am going to contend that we have no way of knowing this is a requirement without being made aware that it is a requirement. It appears to me that our “conscience” is largely a product of our culture, our ability to empathize and how we are raised. It also appears that some people are born without an ability to empathize which has a great effect on their “conscience”.

    Unless you object I am going to sidestep the Jesus topic for now since we’ve discussed that in the past. I’d like to try and narrow our conversation down to what I see as an important point: You think that knowledge of a choice will somehow affect the outcome of the choice and I think that knowledge of a choice is a prerequisite for being able to make the choice. In your speed limit example, we already have the knowledge of what speed limits are and how we are supposed to obey them. This was made clear to us from the proper authorities (the DMV here in the USA).

    Imagine if various speed limit signs were being posted in hand-writing by whomever felt like it and no one really agreed on which ones to use or whether they were even necessary. We could even imagine that some of the signs were posted by people who believe invisible speed demons will condemn your soul if you don’t obey their particular sign.

    I am curious what your response would be to this comment I made yesterday:

    “Let’s say, for a moment, that Allah is real and that he was expecting you to perform the five pillars of Islam. How could you possibly make a choice to perform them or not in your current situation? Wouldn’t you first need to know that Allah was real and expecting it of you?”

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  108. Eric,
    There’s an interesting topic for discussion here, but don’t think there’s much value in rehashing previous comments and continuing to discuss “quote etiquette” so, as you suggested, let’s start fresh and get down to brass tacks.

    I perceive that you asked question #2 in your original comment because you believe that the ‘benefits of religion’ research points to an aspect of the world that is more probable on theism than atheism. I’ll take a wild stab and guess that this is because you think it improbable (or at least significantly less probable) that an unguided evolutionary process would result in human brains which benefit from religiously motivated attitudes and behaviors, compared to what might be expected from theistically guided evolution.

    If this doesn’t align with your reasoning behind your original question, then please correct and clarify.

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  109. @Powellpowers

    Women in the Middle East do face oppression. An oft cited example is women cannot drive vehicles in Saudi Arabia. How this relates to patriarchy will depend on how we define patriarchy, so I’ll type up some of my thoughts here.

    I should mention there are multiple views on patriarchy in the Christian community. One view substantially agrees with feminists and sets patriarchy in opposition to egalitarianism as injustice to justice. Supporters include evangelical theologian John Stackhouse, Jr. Stackhouse argues that God tolerates and sometimes accommodates patriarchy but points us (especially in the New Testament) towards egalitarianism.

    My view is that patriarchy and egalitarianism are a false dichotomy. Instead, patriarchy is a description of how several ancient societies organized to face the challenges of survival, including existential threats, and to best reproduce. Think of it in terms of evolution like survival of the fittest. Matriarchal societies did not succeed. In this way, patriarchy is not inherently evil, rather it is a description. On a smaller level, I would say yes, your marriage based on what you said seems to be patriarchal by this definition, but I trust that you are not oppressive and selflessness guides your family decisions.

    Now suppose a hypothetical ancient society was patriarchal and also believed that women to be inferior and even legislated misogyny. I would classify this as an oppressive patriarchal society. In the Roman Empire men had the right to basically cheat on their wives and this was not reciprocated. Roman men had the right to order their wives to abort unborn children which was a very dangerous procedure. Female infanticide was rampant; we have unearthed ancient sewers clogged with female infant bones. Sociologist Rodney Stark proposes that the female surplus of ancient Christians is a major factor in their outgrowing the Pagans and eventually becoming the dominant religion.

    In contrast to an oppressive patriarchy, I think an ideal (covenant-abiding) ancient Israel would not be oppressive to women. Maybe the best counterargument would be the Levitical priesthood as restricted to men. However, it might have been given by God on the basis of some deeply held cultural convention. Perhaps it was like the situation with your wife where she wants delegate some responsibility to you, but on a societal level. Either way with the New Covenant, we know this divine law was not meant to be permanent. The point would argue that a convention like using male pronouns and genealogies is not inherently oppressive or evil.

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  110. @anaivethinker

    Thanks for the clarification.

    I think we are mostly on the same track, just that perhaps my justification would be using the innate difference between men and women via evolution, while yours would be based on god divined assignment (which could still be nature, just that it’s god’s given nature if we accept that god created us/nature).

    The only issue I have is, how then do we differentiate oppressiveness vs natural healthy patriarchy? I mean at the extreme ends it is easy to spot, but I do think that just like racism, moderate sexism is hard to detect and eliminate.

    Or perhaps there is no need to eliminate since it is not causing any problem just like you alluded to in your previous post.

    Oh well, just musing on my end haha. Thank you for humoring me.

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  111. Hi Dave,

    I think we are thinking in really different ways, so I want to focus most on describing those differences (less on arguing why I think the way I do).

    I think of God like he is a person, with all the mercurial qualities that real people have, plus of course, being way beyond my understanding. So I think he responds to different people differently, he behaves in ways that are consistent to him but may seem inconsistent to us. He is often surprising, just as real people are. And because he is so very much “above” us, we often can only speak of him by analogy.

    It seems to me that you are approaching these questions about God more like he is the subject of a philosophical syllogism or a science experiment to which these will be on understandable conclusion. (I am not being rude, just trying to define differences.)

    So I think my more fluid approach may be a little frustrating to you, and I’m sorry about that, but it must inevitably be that way.

    So when I suggested 5 possible ways God might reveal truth or himself to us, I didn’t mean them as alternatives, but as all possible in different situations. Likewise, when you ask about my view that “knowledge of a choice will somehow affect the outcome of the choice” vs your view that “knowledge of a choice is a prerequisite for being able to make the choice”, I think both of those statements are true in different circumstances.

    So it is not that I think knowledge isn’t good, it is that I think it will be necessary in some cases (e.g. for a person seeking the truth and very open-minded), helpful in some cases but not determinative (e.g. for a person not seeking truth and not open-minded), and not very necessary in others (e.g. for people in non-christian cultures who will be judged by their response to their conscience, as Romans 2 says).

    Now I can see from your perspective that what you write here is true, but I’m hoping you can see why I have maintained differently from my perspective. None of which determines which is actually true. But the point is that to make an argument, you need to be able to address all these different possibilities, not just assume your approach.

    “Let’s say, for a moment, that Allah is real and that he was expecting you to perform the five pillars of Islam. How could you possibly make a choice to perform them or not in your current situation? Wouldn’t you first need to know that Allah was real and expecting it of you?”

    Yes, of course. That would be the first case I outlined above. But what if Allah was merciful and knew I hadn’t had the opportunity to know those pillars, but had nevertheless lived a caring moral life that actually fulfilled several of those 5 pillars, and so accepted me anyway (which would be the third of my cases)?

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  112. “I perceive that you asked question #2 in your original comment because you believe that the ‘benefits of religion’ research points to an aspect of the world that is more probable on theism than atheism. ….. If this doesn’t align with your reasoning behind your original question, then please correct and clarify.”

    Hi Travis,

    I honestly don’t think I had thought it out quite that clearly. I don’t think I am clear myself about the implications of Newberg’s research yet. That was one reason why I asked the questions. I wanted to see how Nate explained those things.

    But you are right that I do think it is at least possible that the evidence might point this way, if considered in conjunction with other facts. At the very least, the evidence seems quite consistent with theism.

    I was reacting to Nate’s argument that facts he found difficult to explain if theism was true led to the conclusion that theism wasn’t true. Well I think atheism finds many facts about neuroscience and psychology difficult to explain, so I thought I’d try to show that difficulty works both ways.

    In a way I succeeded in an unexpected manner. I think most people here sensed an agenda greater than I had, and so few chose to engage with Newberg’s writings, which may have illustrated something different but still interesting.

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  113. few chose to engage with Newberg’s writings, which may have illustrated something different but still interesting.

    There are a few reasons why I didn’t engage with that point.

    1) This point primarily speaks to utility — it’s apparently beneficial to have faith. Well, that may be true, but the utility of a belief doesn’t necessarily have any bearing on the truth of that belief. Kids might behave better if they believe Santa is watching, but that doesn’t mean he is.

    2) As you said in your original comment, these findings didn’t depend solely on religious belief. People with positive outlooks or with strong convictions about a particular thing did well, too.

    3) If we still maintain that religious belief is useful and important based on findings like these, they still don’t point us to any particular god. As I understand it, it’s not like only adherents to a particular denomination did well — the results were good across sectarian divides. To me, this says much more about the power of positive thinking and belief in general — traits that don’t depend on a god at all. But even if there was a god behind it, it doesn’t seem to be the god of any particular religion.

    Personally, I don’t believe there are any gods at all. I believe we live in a naturalistic universe. However, I’m not dogmatic about that belief. I could easily be wrong — maybe some mysterious cosmic being is the root of all things. So I rarely argue for complete naturalism.

    On the other hand, I’m much more confident that the gods of religions (Yahweh, Allah, Krishna, etc) are all man-made. When we have these kinds of discussions, I feel like the arguments most theists turn to are arguments for the prime-mover kind of god. But that’s not the god they believe in. I’d rather see them explain why their particular god exists.

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  114. Eric,
    There was a typo in your comment, let me fix that for you:

    atheismevery worldview finds many facts about neuroscience and psychology difficult to explain

    …because it is an extremely complex, elusive, dynamic, immature and diverse area of study. Qualifiers aside, would you propose that the current state of neuroscience and psychology is probably more consistent with theism than atheism?

    In a way I succeeded in an unexpected manner. I think most people here sensed an agenda greater than I had, and so few chose to engage with Newberg’s writings, which may have illustrated something different but still interesting.

    I agree, but keep in mind that the perception of an agenda may not have been completely unjustified (but let’s not go there again). Regardless, it does seem a bit odd to me that these findings are sometimes uncritically dismissed as unscientific. From a naturalistic perspective, religion is a ubiquitous byproduct of the evolution of the human psyche. As such, it might be surprising if it wasn’t in some sense advantageous. The unwillingness to grant anything positive to religion conflicts to some degree with the view that religion has naturalistic origins. It reminds me a bit of a post I recently encountered which aimed to clarify the purpose behind Neitzsche’s famous “God is dead” passage. To quote the summary:

    His [Neitzsche’s] core message is that those who idly hope that the secularization thesis is true, without considering its consequences, are hopelessly naive. Religion, according to Nietzsche, is much too important [to] public life to pass away without impact. He begs, he pleads, he cajoles nonbelievers to consider the implications of their disbelief.

    The secular movement would do well to take heed of both Neitzsche and neurotheology.

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  115. Maybe religion had a great and significant purpose in human societal evolution and maybe that purpose is now gone. Maybe besides being gone, it is now the thing that is holding is back from further progression.

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  116. “From a naturalistic perspective, religion is a ubiquitous byproduct of the evolution of the human psyche. As such, it might be surprising if it wasn’t in some sense advantageous”

    A placebo for the mind possibly ?

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  117. I’ve said this before, but I don’t think that an idea of god is inherent, but rather humans are inherently inquisitive and we want answers.

    I think it began with questions like, “where did we come from,” “where did the sun come from,” “what are the stars,” etc. with many of these questions not having readily available answers or the means to answer them, so “god(s)” became a quick answer that satisfied the questions well enough for mankind to move along.

    Making sense of god(s) led to religion.

    Some religions portrayed a benevolent father/mother god that wanted what was best for us, and this no doubt let to certain courage or positive outlooks while going through hardships and various trials. But like nate pointed out, a positive outlook by atheists also benefit from those positive, yet ungodly outlooks.

    Making sense of religion leads us to atheism… or at least out of religion.

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  118. A placebo for the mind possibly?

    Maybe, but it’s interesting to note that the placebo effect can be very real. Sometimes we treat placebo as a synonym for “self deception”, but that isn’t accurate. The placebo is usually a stimulus into a casual chain that produces real results. So religion may be meeting a real need. It will be key to the success of a secular society to (a) determine whether that’s true, and (b) if so, to accurately understand the niche that religion fills and identify how to successfully navigate that before uncritically ridding ourselves of a working solution. The work that Newberg and others are doing is a step in that direction.

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  119. it would be very interesting ig they could discover a meaningful difference between religions, denominations, and even belief vs non-belief in regard to these studies.

    Without that, it seems a bit pointless in the way of assigning any real significance to theism over atheism

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  120. ” if so, to accurately understand the niche that religion fills and identify how to successfully navigate that before uncritically ridding ourselves of a working solution”

    I get that and appreciate it. I’m not out to rid religion as a solution per se. I think it needs to be fine tuned however so that we don’t have people using their religious experience to do harm to others.

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  121. Hi UnkleE,

    Thanks for laying out the differences as you see them in both of our perspectives. For the record, I do not find you rude or frustrating.

    “Yes, of course. That would be the first case I outlined above. But what if Allah was merciful and knew I hadn’t had the opportunity to know those pillars, but had nevertheless lived a caring moral life that actually fulfilled several of those 5 pillars, and so accepted me anyway (which would be the third of my cases)?”

    I was assuming that you had come across these five pillars at some point in your life. In which case you were given some amount of “light” as you call it and might somehow be more culpable. Was that your implication when you wrote: “God (I think) judges according to the light we have been given. If that is so, you don’t need to worry about not knowing, you only have to worry if you have responded to the light you have been given. (Which of course, in your case, if christianity is true, is considerable.)”

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  122. Good grief, Travis.

    You state, ” From a naturalistic perspective, religion is a ubiquitous byproduct of the evolution of the human psyche. As such, it might be surprising if it wasn’t in some sense advantageous. The unwillingness to grant anything positive to religion conflicts to some degree with the view that religion has naturalistic origins.”

    Umm, no. No. NO!

    This kind of crap claim is what’s ubiquitous and it’s wrong. Factually wrong. It’s a gross distortion of our understanding of how and why the brain applies AGENCY. Not Oogity Boogity!. AGENCY. There’s a really important difference.

    Religion is not a ubiquitous byproduct of evolution. If it were, there would be one religion that emerges from our shared biology. There isn’t. That’s a clue…

    Spirituality is not a ubiquitous byproduct of evolution. If it were, there would be one spirituality that emerges from our shared biology. There isn’t. Another clue missed…

    So what does ‘religion’ mean in this neurological sense? Well, this is where honest neuroscientists move away from theology altogether (because it’s unhelpful and leads exactly nowhere) and leave it in its archaic and superstitious past where it properly belongs. What we’re talking about in neuroscience has nothing whatsoever to do with ‘religion’ or ‘spirituality’ and everything to do with brain function.

    What is often stolen from neurology and reclassified – as a mewling kowtow to the religious – is this distortion, as if ‘religion’ and/or ‘spirituality’ is really equivalent and synonymous with the biological impetus for our species to award AGENCY to unknown phenomena.

    It’s not. At all.

    This assumption for awarding AGENCY is not ‘religion’. It’s not ‘spirituality.’ By no stretch of the imagination can this award be considered either… unless you think it is a ‘religious or ‘spiritual’ encounter when your toast burns and you swear at it or your car doesn’t and you appeal to it to behave. You take it personally when this stuff happens, as if the machine possessed AGENCY. It’s why we talk to our computers and cell phones and other inanimate objects and urge them to do as we wish. We AWARD agency so that we have the biological means- the ability for our brain – to ‘put ourselves in the phenomena’s place’ and, by doing so, try to gain a first person understanding of INTENTION and MOTIVE from a third person perspective.

    That’s not religion. That’s not spirituality. That’s awarding AGENCY.

    We know perfectly well that the car’s engine isn’t filled with little malicious spirits and invisible magical critters. The awarding has nothing to do with the OBJECT being personified. It has nothing to do with believing in some divine and creative Oogity Boogity! exercising POOF!ism as if this were an evolutionary benefit as so many ill-informed people twist this data into suggesting. This is not the case. What is the case is the biological and shared brain function of awarding agency.

    This is the biological reward: assuming the rustling int he grass is an agency with intention to harm us. That assumption is not a religious one. It s not a spiritual encounter. It is strictly a fast way for us to assign an advantageous response in that we can be wrong 99 times out of 100 and live to reproduce compared to the person who assumes it’s only the purposeless and unguided wind and be right 99 times out 100 whose bones make a tasty treat for the stalking lion’s or tiger’s offspring.

    The ability to use our brains and imagine putting ourselves in the position of others has a HUGE evolutionary advantage in social function and mating. If you don;t know this, you probably haven’t successfully mated.

    Again, this is not about religion. It’s not about spirituality. It’s about reproduction. It’s about getting laid. Those who continue to claim this ability to award agency as if evidence for a biological basis for ‘religion’ and/or ‘spirituality’ are using such nebulous terms to disguise the paucity of knowledge behind it yet handy for appealing to believers that their superstitious beliefs are not just reasonable but natural. This is a tremendous distortion.

    The position that making superstitious claims about hidden causal agencies are somehow compatible with the method of science and equivalently comport to inquiring about reality is nothing more than osculating the rump of faith. The methods themselves are in constant conflict and the explanatory model each produces repeatedly and to ill-effect are unquestionably incompatible. When it comes to describing reality and how it operates, only one of these methods doesn’t belong here. Let me help: it’s the one that assumes Oogity Boogity! is a reasonable and equivalent explanatory model, that there really are malicious spirits inhabiting your coffee maker.

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  123. *sigh*

    Travis, you don’t understand what a placebo is. You say, “The placebo is usually a stimulus into a casual chain that produces real results.” This is not true. It is not efficacious. If it were it’s neither a placebo nor a nocebo. The placebo effect is what we cal SELF-REPORTED improvements. There are no empirical improvements. (“The concept of a placebo is that it is completely physiologically inert, therefore any response to the placebo is due to other factors (other than a physiological response to an active intervention))”. For a great deal of reading on the subject and everything you ever wanted to know about placebos and just how insidious is the misunderstanding you’ve used here, check this site out.

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  124. @tildeb, I am the first to admit I am not well versed on this subject. That’s why I asked the question about placebo.

    Your explanations on both awarding agency and placebo make sense . They are subjects I need to get up to speed on.

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  125. carmen

    I just wanted to throw out my support for the idea of reproduction versus spirituality. I’ve just begun a new Unit in Health with Gr. 9’s – the Sexuality Unit. If anyone wants confirmation for Tildeb’s suggestion, you might want to be a mouse in the corner of the room in the next few days; the boys would love to straighten you out on that . . . 🙂

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  126. Religion is not a ubiquitous byproduct of evolution. If it were, there would be one religion that emerges from our shared biology. There isn’t. That’s a clue…

    Spirituality is not a ubiquitous byproduct of evolution. If it were, there would be one spirituality that emerges from our shared biology. There isn’t. Another clue missed…

    Like kcchief, neurology is not something I’ve looked into very much, but I’m a bit skeptical of these statements. I think the only reason we’d expect different (and isolated) cultures to develop the exact same religions and ideas of spirituality would be if something supernatural was really behind it. I agree with you that agency is probably the main driver of the development of religion and spirituality, but I don’t think Travis was saying anything that contradicts that idea. Maybe I just misunderstood both of you…

    As a side note, maybe there are better ways to express these points? They came off kind of combative…

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  127. @kcchief1, well that’s a relief.

    I know I was very frustrated reading Travis’s comments and no doubt that seeped into my writing. Me and tone, donchaknow… not good allies. I get frustrated because good minds like yours and Travis’ shouldn’t be willing to go down the religious rabbit holes without first being armed by excellent critical thinking skills. It’s a warren down there and intentionally so.It’s easy to lose a sense of direction and want to look favourably of the person who invited you there. If the warren was in fact a benefit, it wouldn’t have to live in darkness but come with clarity and elegance and function, all of which is sadly lacking except by misrepresentation, distortion, and a certain amount of deceit. When this is supported under the guise of being friendly and polite and respectful to ideas that are contrary to all three rather than steadfastly and deservedly critical, I begin to get annoyed and feel a need to explain why we need to rip the lid off the warren and see just how serpentine and ill-formed it is.

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  128. tildeb,
    Ironically, I’m going to suggest that you’re being dogmatically religious about semantics. You’re welcome to favor your own definition of religion but if it defies conventional usage then you’ll have to excuse me if I don’t feel obliged to follow suit. And I agree with Nate’s comment – the “one religion” and “one spirituality” claim is a complete non sequitur.

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  129. @ Nate, You’re quite right; my tone was and is combative because people who use this kind of information warp it to fit ideas it does not support. That really irritates me when done by people who I think know better.

    Religion does not come from our biology; our biology projects agency into the world (hence the tens of thousands of conflicting religious tenets) and regularly and reliably targeted where we know perfectly well no independent agency exists. It is this vast number and thousands upon thousands of forms of spirituality that indicates these terms to be highly malleable if not contortionist… very handy for those who wish to warp reality to fit a belief, donchaknow. You can’t presume religion and spirituality are the kinds of nouns that actually describes anything accurately. So what is ‘it’ we’re really talking about that religion and spirituality produces from our biology?

    Religion, it seems rather obvious to me, comes from those who confuse reality with their projected beliefs about it. Furthermore, why should anyone respect a projected religious belief that is contrary to and in conflict with how we know reality to actually work, opposite to how we utilize it successfully, different from how we know it to operate consistently inside reality? Snakes and donkeys can’t talk because they don’t have cheeks. That’s the reality. Projecting that they do by magical means doesn’t fit this reality. How does pretending this to be reasonable if unlikely aid us in doing anything but coddling ignorance?

    The problem is the slipperiness and play-dough nature of the terms ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality’ as if designed to fit into any box that appears to be supportive. That’s what’s happened here and we should know better than to trust it. What we’re really talking about with both of these terms in their faith-based sense are explanatory models that don’t work. They don’t explain anything, and we know this because they don;t produce any application, therapy, or technology that works for everyone everywhere all the time. Science produces this constantly. Only in this sense do we utilize this agency projection – and remember, our brains project agency – into the cosmos to give us a sense of an ‘answer’ – very often to really poor questions we know have no answer independent of us – questions we know do not have objective ‘answers’ (like, Why am I here, What is the meaning of life, and so on). We project agency to satisfy a model that seems to work right now providing us at most with the appearance of an answer that really answers nothing (because it’s simply another claim masquerading as a conclusion) but helps us to feel better. Uncertainty is uncomfortable for many.

    Bump in the night? Ghosts. Strange behaviour? Possession. Will it rain? Call in the rain dancer. What’s in my future? Tarot cards, tea leaves, goat entrails, dropped bones, bird directions, and all kinds of stuff merely labeled as ‘omens’ that I’m going to pretend ‘reveal’ the future. And we’re to respect this because it’s a belief? That’s a really poor metric. Is ignorance really abated by offering a faux-respect for these ‘answers’?

    I know, I’ll sacrifice something valuable and ‘earn’ credit from the future and feel like I’m actually doing something efficacious. It’s all nonsense, of course, and we know it’s nonsense (because it’s not efficacious) but it makes us feel like we have a bit of control in a rather brutal and indifferent world. That’s what we’re chasing… the feeling. There’s our biology at work. It’s not religious or spiritual… it’s temporarily suppressing fear.

    The faith-based models don’t work to explain anything, solve anything, do anything beyond briefly satisfy our feelings right now (paid for by whatever we end up using… perhaps virgins, perhaps crops, perhaps livestock, perhaps a bit of genital mutilation of a loved one to show we really, really care, and so on)… no matter how much praying we do over a blocked toilet or during the set up for the game-winning field goal, we find out our belief efforts don’t have any efficacious properties. At all.

    I think Travis very much wants to offer a biological excuse for belief in Oogity Boogity! There is none. That’s brutal honesty not because I think so but because reality has arbitrated the method of faith that creates tens of thousands of such agencies to be a guaranteed method to fool the credulous and promote the gullible… a method, let us never forget that really does bring real harm to real people in real life each and every day, century after century. I think he very much wants to be able to coddle and make room for this confusion between faith-based and evidence-adduced beliefs as if equivalent, as if a matter of opinion, as if reasonable when it’s not because it makes him feel better. I think Travis wants to feel like the good guy and make it appear that reasonable people accept the incompatible faith-based claims to appear to be compatible with evidence-adduced beliefs for reasons other than respecting reality, other than respecting what’s the case, but not really respecting people enough to call them on accommodationist faith-addled claptrap.

    Just my opinion, of course, and yes it must be combative by necessity because people like UnkleE are never, ever going to change their methodology that supports their beliefs as long as they can count on people treating their confusion with privileged kid gloves and a measure of undeserved respect. That treatment, too, I think is a measure of intellectual dishonesty that is far too often ignored or left unsaid for fear of being seen as intolerant and combative. But it doesn’t make the observation any less true or any less worthy of some serious reflection.

    So what kind of mind confuses the obvious and nonsensical agency projection our biology provides us with for reproductive success with an adduced conclusion… as if talking snakes and donkeys without cheeks were reasonable? Well, only the religious kind, the kind that accepts projected faith-based beliefs to be virtue because, well, just because… rather than the vice (read, harm) such misplaced confidence inevitably produces (if we’re satisfied with non-answers and explanatory models that don’t work but willingly accept the costs others pay).

    I’m combating really bad ideas and questioning the motivation for sustaining and even supporting them. I think if more of us did this, (and in far fewer words, of course), we would do our collective part to leave the next generation a little less addled and a little better armed to hold reality in esteem more than the feelings of those willing to do harm in the name of piety and accommodationism. And I think we are not helping by coddling and soft-shoeing around delusional beliefs (because they are faith-based, you see, and… well… we have to be polite because, well because we just have to be) but by publicly and forcefully challenging them on merit as well as motivation. That includes faitheists of all stripes – atheist, theist, and agnostic.

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  130. First of all, I agree with you that religion and spirituality don’t actually answer anything about the world. They’re false, to put it simply.

    But I feel like many of your comments assume that the religious also know their beliefs are false:

    our biology projects agency into the world (hence the tens of thousands of conflicting religious tenets) and regularly and reliably targeted where we know perfectly well no independent agency exists.

    But that’s just it — the people who believe those things don’t know perfectly well that those things lack agency.

    Snakes and donkeys can’t talk because they don’t have cheeks. That’s the reality. Projecting that they do by magical means doesn’t fit this reality. How does pretending this to be reasonable if unlikely aid us in doing anything but coddling ignorance?

    “Reasonable” may not be the right word… but as someone who used to believe both of those things, I can tell you that dismissing it as absurd is apt to make the religious person think you’re ignorant. Sounds crazy, I know. But when I ran into people like that, I thought “don’t you understand that a God who spoke the universe into being isn’t held by the laws of nature?”

    and remember, our brains project agency – into the cosmos to give us a sense of an ‘answer’ – very often to really poor questions we know have no answer independent of us – questions we know do not have objective ‘answers’ (like, Why am I here, What is the meaning of life, and so on).

    Again, the people who believe in such things don’t know that those questions have no answer. They think they do have an answer.

    Also, the message you got from Travis’s comments is not at all the message I got. I don’t think he was saying religion is a good thing or that it’s accurate. I think he was saying that it would be silly and short-sighted for us to claim that religion is all bad, because there have been some decent things that have come from it. That doesn’t mean they couldn’t have come about in other ways (like the feeling of community, having hope that circumstances will improve, the importance of morality, etc), but in most cultures, religion played an important part in their development. It’s okay for us to acknowledge that without pretending that religion is true.

    And I think that when religious people see us display that kind of honesty, they’re more likely to be open to the other things we have to say. On the other hand, if they see us denigrate the positive parts of religion, they’ll think we’re unreasonable.

    Let me be clear — I tend to think that religion has done more harm than good (though that’s not something I’ve studied exhaustively). But I can’t pretend it has done no good.

    And I think we are not helping by coddling and soft-shoeing around delusional beliefs (because they are faith-based, you see, and… well… we have to be polite because, well because we just have to be) but by publicly and forcefully challenging them on merit as well as motivation.

    I don’t agree. First of all, I don’t think anyone’s arguing for being polite for no real reason. It’s that religious people are usually decent people who are well-meaning, even if they’re a bit ignorant of their own beliefs. They shouldn’t be ridiculed for that, anymore than a 5-yr old who’s been taught to believe in Santa Claus should be ridiculed for still believing. Be a friend to the person — an advocate who can help them learn more. Not a jerk who berates them for not being an expert in every conceivable field. Sometimes ridicule can be used to make a point, but it shouldn’t be the only tool in the shed, and it shouldn’t be the first one we grab.

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  131. @ Travis

    You’re suggesting that evolution has produced religion and so, in this naturalistic regard, it must contain some positive benefit.

    I disagree that evolution has produced religion and I’ve explained why; projecting agency is not the same as the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition I use for religion: “The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.” Religion in this sense is not a projection – which is what evolution has endowed us with, the projection and not the belief in gods. Because of this reversal, it is incorrect to assume religion is an expression of evolution.

    Labeling my explanation as ‘dogmatically religious’ does not serve to point out where my reasoning has gone astray. Calling my use of the term ‘religion’ my own is not correct. If our biology provided what you claimed it provides – religious belief – then we should be looking for a common expression of that belief and not the reversal of it expressed tens of thousands of different ways. This is not a non sequitur and I think you dismiss it too readily for the wrong reasons. The common feature is the PROJECTION OF AGENCY and not the ubiquitous belief IN the independent existence of such a divine agency.

    My comments are longer than most because I take the time and make the effort to explain my reasoning so that I can benefit by the critical assessment of others where and how I have gone astray. If you can do that, I would appreciate it.

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  132. This is always the concern about faith-based beliefs: differentiating the believer from the beliefs and being told all the time to be less harsh, use a gentler tone, slowly draw the believer into considerations they might otherwise wouldn’t face. I don’t think that approach works very well at all (going by hundreds of conversion stories I’ve read) but that’s not the issue here with Travis.

    The issue with Travis is the idea that religious belief is compatible with reality and the method we use to gain insight into its workings, that it is somewhat benign except towards the extreme, and that those who hold it have the ability to modify it into alignment with reality over time.

    This is faitheism and I think it is ineffective at challenging the method utilized for faith-based beliefs, fails to explain why, and offers cover and support for religious belief that really does produce ongoing pernicious harm primarily by the granting a faux-respect to the exercise of religious belief in the name of respecting the individuals who holds them.

    Now, I am a fan of Clifford’s argument, that ” “It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone to believe anything on insufficient evidence” and so I criticize claims that do just this, that utilize faith as a justification, and I do this in order to reveal this insufficient evidence.

    The method used for faith-based thinking pollutes our inquiry into reality many ways and always to pernicious effect. Religious belief is the mother ship that globally advertises it to be virtue but it’s identical to the method used to justify all manner of woo and denialism… all of which is the same vice: believing stuff on insufficient evidence AND still acting on it. I seriously think there is no excuse except ignorance to do this no matter how nicely the person may be who utilizes this broken methodology.

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  133. “There are a few reasons why I didn’t engage with that point.”

    Hi Nate, I wasn’t critical of you. You engage with me often enough, and I appreciate it.

    I read the rest of your comments and I understand where you’re coming from even though I think it is way short of an evidence-based explanation, but I don’t think I’ll pursue that further. Likewise I think there are good answers to your last point (“I’d rather see them explain why their particular god exists.”) but I don’t want move that far off-topic unless you really want me to! 🙂

    But I wonder if you could answer two questions, please, which are aimed at clarification.

    1. You said that you think “I tend to think that religion has done more harm than good”. On what do you base that – is it just an impression, your experience, hard evidence, or what? What do you think of Newberg’s evidence?

    2. What did you think I was claiming from Newberg’s evidence?

    If you are fearful of this prolonging a discussion you would prefer to end, I am happy not to comment again after you answer the questions (if you are willing). Thanks.

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  134. I think different people fall into different camps. For me, and for many of the theist-turned-atheists that I’ve met, we thought we held our beliefs for good reasons. We didn’t shed them because someone tried to make us feel stupid, but because we began to engage with ideas that differed from our own. We found out that the reasons we had for our beliefs, which we had thought were so solid, were really quite insubstantial.

    With this discussion you’re having with Travis, I’m not even sure that your criticisms are justified. But for the sake of argument, let’s say they are. Travis is someone who’s already shown he can be very reasonable, and if he’s shown evidence that indicates he’s wrong about something, he’ll consider it as honestly as possible. I don’t understand why an aggressive approach has to be used if one has truth and evidence on his side.

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  135. Hey unkleE, I didn’t think you were singling me out, but thanks for the clarification anyway! I had simply realized that I didn’t comment on that quote as much as I could have, and I didn’t want that to give any kind of unintended impression.

    1. You said that you think “I tend to think that religion has done more harm than good”. On what do you base that – is it just an impression, your experience, hard evidence, or what? What do you think of Newberg’s evidence?

    2. What did you think I was claiming from Newberg’s evidence?

    I’m really just speaking about my own impression of it — it’s not from any hard data. I’ll run through some of my reasons really quickly:

    • If no religions are true, then many people are making decisions that are at least partially based on fantasy. I think that’s probably not a good thing. If they weren’t saddled with those particular beliefs, they might make better decisions. Some would make worse ones, no doubt. But it makes sense to me that having more accurate information when making a decision tends to result in a better decision.
    • While many people are motivated to behave morally by their religious beliefs, it’s also resulted in some horrific immorality, too: human sacrifice, torture of heretics, abuse from clergy, religious wars, sectarian violence (including terrorism), isolation, genital mutilation, obstruction of scientific and cultural progress, etc.
    • I think many of religion’s positive aspects can be achieved through secular means as well.

    As I understood it, you were saying that Newberg’s research showed that faith had great utility. Is that a fair assessment?

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  136. “There was a typo in your comment, let me fix that for you:”

    Hi Travis, yes, I agree with you, as well as appreciating how you made that point. 🙂 But I think the difficulties for atheism may be slightly more fundamental.

    “would you propose that the current state of neuroscience and psychology is probably more consistent with theism than atheism?”

    I am not even a student of those subjects, so my knowledge is minimal. But I am thinking so. I think if we started with the presumption that there is no God, we wouldn’t expect any universe or any life, both would be impossibly long odds. But if life did appear, I don’t think we’d expect there to be choice (life would be determined by physics and biochemistry), consciousness, religion or true ethics (there’d only be pragmatic survival behaviour patterns built-in like homing pigeons’ instincts). But on the presumption of theism, all those things can be seen as fitting, even if hard to explain scientifically (your first point).

    Newberg’s work provides an example of this.

    The negative aspects of religion have been pressed by many non-believers, often based on things Dawkins, Harris & Hitchens have written. The interesting thing is that anthropologists, psychologists, sociologists and neuroscientists working in this area all say these writers are wrong and their views are not based on scientific data. Newberg is just one of many when he makes this point several times in his book. So if those eminent writers got it wrong, why did they? I’m guessing they had a few obvious anecdotal examples of nasty religion, and they just expected that religion would produce nasty effects. They didn’t expect the good effects of religion, but the data shows they are there.

    So I conclude that atheism doesn’t lead one to expect Newberg’s findings, and therefore the evidence slightly favours theism.

    “The unwillingness to grant anything positive to religion conflicts to some degree with the view that religion has naturalistic origins. “

    Obviously I agree with your latter comments. So I’d like to try to clarify, as I have with Nate, where you currently sit on this. I’m not trying to put words in your mouth, just hoping to understand where you’re at. Would you mind answering, please, these two questions:

    1. Do you accept Newberg’s findings as showing positive benefits of religion? (For my fuller summary of his findings, see Our brains and God, which I just finished this morning.) Do you have other science-based evidence of overall benefits or disbenefits?

    2. What did you think I was claiming based on Newberg?

    Thanks.

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  137. “I was assuming that you had come across these five pillars at some point in your life. In which case you were given some amount of “light” as you call it and might somehow be more culpable.”

    Hi Dave. Sorry, I misunderstood your question. I thought you were asking about a hypothetical person, but I see you were asking about me.

    Yes, it is an interesting question to ask how any of us would fare if some religion other than the one we hold turned out to be true. Obviously it depends on which version of Islam turns out to be true.

    If we play it straight and simply assume, as your question does, that Allah requires us to follow the five pillars, then (1) I’d score only 1 out of 5 if they are interpreted strictly, maybe 2 if interpreted liberally. But then we have to ask (2) how do Muslims believe Allah treats christians. I looked up a couple of Muslim websites, and I think the Qur’an says genuine christians who do good will gain Allah’s approval, which isn’t all that far from I have suggested for those of other religions.

    So my answer to your question would be the same. Allah would probably (if my understanding is correct) judge me according to what I had been taught and believed.

    I honestly find it hard to think a credible religion believing in a loving God could say any different. Of course many “fundamentalist” christians may not believe what I have said – you can draw your own conclusions!

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  138. Peter

    Nate, the comment you made about religion not being all bad is one that others should heed.

    It is interesting that you should say that as it echoes a comment made by Steve Shives in the latest video in his excellent series, ‘An Atheist Reads’. Steve observes that Christian Apologist David Bentley Heart has a case of sorts in finding fault with Sam Harris who paints Christianity as wholly bad. As Steve Shives observes it is clear that some good has been done in the name of religion, to deny this is disingenuous. Shives does not dispute that many terrible things have also been done in the name of religion, he is just pointing out that the good/bad equation is not quite so black and white as zealot on both sides of the debate like to claim.

    Incidentally I highly recommend Steve Shives videos in the Atheist Reads series:

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  139. As much as I disagree with unkleE on many issues , I will be the first to admit that he does provide many links to support his views. Sometimes I feel the need to read an entire report he has referenced in order to get , “The Rest of the Story” Paul Harvey he is not. 🙂

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  140. FYI Paul Harvey was a radio talk show host who was famous for sharing part of a story to lead you to a certain conclusion. Then at the end of his show he would tell you, “The rest of the story” which brought you to an entirely different conclusion. 🙂

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  141. tildeb,
    The definition you quoted is the public, stripped down version from oxforddictionaries.com. In the full OED it makes up 1/2 of the fifth definition (out of seven), with the rest of the content also referring to ritual, tradition, community, etc,.. These are all things that the average person considers to be part of religion and are often the relevant aspects of the research in question. I’m not interested in debating semantics, but perhaps this helps explain my comment.

    Definitions aside, I’m really not understanding this need to make a clear differentiation between agency projection and religion. Nate read you as saying the exact opposite – maybe that’s a clue. Do you really think that agency projection and religious belief are independent of each other? Do you really think that other psychological traits (e.g., moralizing, teleological inference, preference for order over chaos, etc..) have no bearing on the prominence of religion?

    Lastly, as a peace offering, let me offer a revised statement that to me says essentially the same thing as I said before but perhaps doesn’t make your skin crawl:
    From a naturalistic perspective, religion derives from, and thrives on, the scaffolding built by the evolution of the human psyche. As such, it might be surprising if religious practice was not in some sense advantageous.

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  142. For somebody who is so anti-oogity boogity, you sure do seem to think that you’re good at reading minds from a distance. I neither very much want to offer a biological excuse for religion, nor do I think religion offers a valid epistemology. In the interest of civility, I’ll resist the temptation to reciprocate by offering my attempt at reading your mind.

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  143. @ kcchief1

    Yes, UnkleE has a boatload of links to do what he needs them to do: offer the appearance of respectability to his beliefs. It’s a lot of work to go through them and find out what they actually say. Newberg’s article is a case in point. It does not support what UnkleE thinks it does, that religion and religious belief is good for the brain. Look at the mental and linguistic gymnastics needed to claim not that long term stress yields negative health results in comparison to low stress lifestyles and activities but that ‘faith’ produces positive effects in comparison. Take as look at how Newberg defines faith as he carefully carves by supposedly synonymous linguistics the square pegs of reality so that they just so happen to fit into his round hole of theology he desires. This is not good science; this study is apologetic nonsense because it has nothing to do with religion aka love aka meditation aka positive outlook, and so on and everything to do with stress that Newberg arbitrarily categorizes as not religion.

    Well, duh.

    This is the kind of link that UnkleE specializes in and it would take dozens of links to show just how bad this study actually is to claim faith is good for the brain. It’s good for supporting the sale of Newberg’s book. It’s good for confusing people with a patina of scientific respectability. It’s good for making people like UnkleE appear informed. But its content does not produce a demonstrable link that religion is both brain food and a quality of life enhancement.

    This is so patently false that it’s a marvel anyone could take it seriously. All one needs to do is look at aggregate population statistics. If the effect is positive as claimed for the individual, then the aggregate should easily demonstrate this compound effect. Oh wait… we find exactly the opposite. Not only does religious beliefs robustly correlate to poorer results in a veritable host of social dysfunction, the rate of religiosity correlates robustly with greater income inequality, lower rates of education, and lower ranking on national scales of happiness and contentment. How does Newberg’s thesis account for this huge discrepancy? Well, it doesn’t bother. Too inconvenient, I suppose.

    Go ahead and google all these claims I make if you want to find out just how contrarian is the Newberg article’s claim to the mainstream data. Faith, any more than science, is not good for the brain. The brain simply utilizes these different methods of inquiry. Which method produces what kinds of aggregate results is a little more germane. And that’s very bad news for anyone who assumes faith-based belief is an equivalent means to produce insight into reality and improve the quality of life. Unquestionably, faith does not produce these results but its opposite. And then go back and look at how Newberg alters the language just enough to produce the results he wants rather than the easily available results of all kinds of studies that are contrarian. It’s a sleight-of-mind trick as old as the hills. Con artists, magicians, and priests have known this bait-and switch method has worked on the credulous forever.

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  144. Yes, many dictionaries contain all kinds of further definitions of ‘religion’ which only goes to support my claim that its a weasel word to which all kinds of claims can be attached by association. Spirituality is not better. I prefer to think of these terms as thieves in the night… absconding with anything of value and claiming it for its own.

    As long as we have the right order, that religion comes from us, as do all the agencies we assign to it, then we’ve made progress.

    Religious belief in this sense assigning agency to supernatural beings that then cause effect in reality is simply one offshoot of the ability to project agency. This doesn’t mean it is advantageous at all unless it can be shown to increase reproductive rates; it simply means these particular kinds of projections (taught to children as if real, as if existing independent from us, as if possessing natures and properties and powers that cause real effect in reality and that we can come to ‘know’ about these by accepting on faith that our projection is actually real) are as much a byproduct of this ability as our bowel movements are part of the digestive ability. I think it’s a bad argument to assume bowel movements themselves promote reproductive fitness, that religious beliefs themselves promote reproductive fitness. I think this is what you are suggesting and I think you’re quite wrong to do so. Religious belief is not a ‘natural’ product of our brains but a very unfortunate byproduct of some of them borne from confusion and fear and ignorance and satisfied with Just So stories.

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  145. Eric,
    Your answer about neuroscience and psychology went into directions that we’ve discussed many times before and we know well our disagreements, so I’ll just leave it alone. To your questions…
    1. Interestingly, this is where tildeb’s semantic quibbles become relevant. As far as I can tell, the findings do point toward some positive effects from religion in the broad sense but it isn’t clear to me that they show positive effects from religion when it is controlled for as independent of religiously motivated attitudes and behaviors (which I wager is a very difficult task).
    I have encountered quite a few other studies over the years that show correlations between religion and various factors but I’m not in a position right now try and present anything. Newberg is really just the tip of the iceberg.
    2. I think your latest article does a decent job but I could not help but laugh at the introductory paragraph. I still think it’s poor form to use that quote without the “faith” definition in its immediate context but I appreciate that you at least recognize that it is provocative to do so and that you clarify later on in the article. Gotta’ have a hook, right?

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  146. tildeb,
    Lest you think your ranting has had some effect, note that any progress “we’ve” made here is in my opinion due to you finally starting to understand what I’ve been saying all along.

    that religious beliefs themselves promote reproductive fitness. I think this is what you are suggesting

    Oops. Nevermind. I guess you still don’t understand my position. If you go back and read my earlier interactions with Eric, and my most recent comment to him, you’ll see that this is precisely the notion that I’ve challenged – whether any research identifies a benefit to religion when taken independent of religiously motivated attitudes and behaviors.

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  147. Travis, you said, “From a naturalistic perspective, religion is a ubiquitous byproduct of the evolution of the human psyche. As such, it might be surprising if it wasn’t in some sense advantageous. The unwillingness to grant anything positive to religion conflicts to some degree with the view that religion has naturalistic origins.”

    Religion is not a ubiquitous byproduct of evolution in action.

    You also claim that because religion has this ‘naturalistic origins’ it must therefore have some positive – read evolutionary, which means having some fitness, meaning reproductive advantage – benefit.

    No, this is not a reasonable conclusion even if your original claim were true (which it is not). As strange as it sounds, some ability or behaviour of evolutionary benefit may not be positive for the individual at all, but that’s another discussion.

    So you’re diversion away from these very specific criticisms of your claim – that it my semantic misunderstanding of everything that constitutes the OED’s definition of ‘religion’ is the problem, that it is my combative tone that is the problem, that it is my zealotry that is the problem, that it is my understanding of your claim – isn’t a problem at all, you think.

    Well, I disagree. I think you’re offering some measure of support to religion it does not deserve – that it is ubiquitous because it has an evolutionary and naturalistic basis. Your presenting these claims as if they derive from a naturalistic and scientific perspective. The problem I see is that they don’t. This support derives from your misunderstanding of what evolutionary benefit is as well as assuming that an evolutionary explanation somehow explains the supposed ubiquity. Both of these claims I think are factually wrong and in need of challenge: religion is neither a byproduct of evolution nor ubiquitous. How dare I explain in detail why.

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  148. Hi Tildeb,

    It’s tempting to ignore your comments about me and Andrew Newberg, because I dislike confrontation and argument, but I suppose I have to. But I will try, like Travis did, to avoid making any personal comments and stick to facts. And I have numbered and bolded my questions to you to make it easier for you to respond.

    “This is not good science; this study is apologetic nonsense …. look at how Newberg alters the language just enough to produce the results he wants rather than the easily available results of all kinds of studies that are contrarian. It’s a sleight-of-mind trick as old as the hills. Con artists, magicians, and priests have known this bait-and switch method has worked on the credulous forever.”

    Let’s start with this dismissal of Dr Andrew Newberg’s work. These are very strong, almost libellous, claims, so they would need some pretty strong evidence.

    In science, as in other academic disciplines, reputation and credibility are earned and good science established via qualifications, good research, publications, and peer review and acceptance. Dr Newberg meets all these requirements.

    He has a MD degree from the University of Pennsylvania. He is the director of research at the Jefferson Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine and a physician at Jefferson University Hospital. His website lists 64 journal articles he has published over the past 23 years. He has also written 8 books, most in collaboration with Mark Waldman.

    So the questions seem obvious. (1) What are your qualifications? What publications have you written on this topic? Why should people believe you rather than his peer-reviewed conclusions?

    (2) Secondly, what evidence you have that Newberg is an apologist? And what do you think Newberg is an apologist for?

    “It’s a lot of work to go through them and find out what they actually say”

    It is indeed, but presumably you have done that? (3) So what do you think Newberg “actually” says? Can you quote some of his specific conclusions, and show where they are wrong by referencing other peer-reviewed publications?

    If you believe in evidence as you say you do, perhaps you could give us the evidence, with references, as I have done on this thread, and in greater detail in Our brains and God.

    (4) I also invite you to point out anywhere that I have misquoted or misrepresented Newberg.

    You make a number of statements about the effects of religion on health, then you say:

    “Go ahead and google all these claims I make if you want to find out just how contrarian is the Newberg article’s claim to the mainstream data. “

    Well I HAVE Googled these matters, and have read many papers and a few books on them, and I found exactly the opposite to what you say. I have reported my findings here: Faith and wellbeing, Studies of medicine and religion, and Do religious believers have better health and wellbeing, like, really?

    So (5) Could you please list maybe half a dozen of these studies you are referencing?

    I think if you answered those questions and provided references, you would help everyone see the merit of what you say, or otherwise. Thanks.

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  149. Hi Travis,

    “I still think it’s poor form to use that quote without the “faith” definition in its immediate context but I appreciate that you at least recognize that it is provocative to do so and that you clarify later on in the article. Gotta’ have a hook, right?”

    Yeah, hooks are good, but I had a more serious reason. I’m still think people misunderstand when I reference Newberg’s stuff. I am still working this out, but I think I’m getting closer.

    If I quote cases of apparently miraculous healings, I’m suggesting a possible supernatural intervention by God. But I have not suggested this about Newberg, though I wonder if some have thought I was. So I think it worth exploring the implications of Newberg’s findings a little more.

    1. Newberg is reporting natural, measurable effects – changes in brain structure, release of stress, strengthening of cognitive and emotional processes, etc. Even if these results can be achieved by secular meditation, we can still say that religious contemplation has achieved a good result. This cannot be denied unless Newberg and the rest of them are frauds. Yet some people seem to want to deny it.

    2. Newberg also suggests (and I haven’t yet determined the full background to this statement) that when religious practices (which can be done secularly) are combined with religious belief (which is more difficult to do secularly), an even better result is obtained. Here’s the quote, from Why your brain needs God.

    “when meditation is religious and strengthens your spiritual beliefs, then there is a synergistic effect that can be even better.”

    Now I’m not sure, I think maybe he thinks even this synergistic effect can be achieved in a totally secular way, but it isn’t clear. So perhaps religion can do it better than the secular alternatives.

    3. Whatever the truth of that, religion in fact does at the present moment do it better. He reports that highly beneficial meditation/contemplation requires discipline, and it seems the religious people are more motivated to accept this self-discipline.

    So at the very least, the situation is complex. Those who want to dismiss religion as harmful are quite wrong when it comes to Newberg’s research. It is certainly helpful. And there is a possibility that it is a better approach than secular ones.

    So, where do we go with this? I have not gone very far yet, for I am still reading and thinking. But I think your previous question to me helped. Dawkins, Harris & Hitchens, among others, expected religion to be harmful to our minds. They were wrong. So this must surely point to Newberg’s results, while not “supernatural” in any way, being a little less likely if naturalism was true.

    That’s as far as I have got so far, and I think it has mostly come about because of the discussion and challenges here. Thanks again.

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  150. UnkleE, the fact that you’ve selected Newberg in this thread is a dead giveaway that the paper you reference is going to support your beliefs. This is the way you work. You have absolutely no intention of addressing all the contrary datum. That’s why I included the aggregate to demonstrate quickly and easily why Newberg’s thesis is apologetic nonsense that fails to address faith-based belief in action and substitutes stress-by-association: low stress = ‘faith’, high stress = lack of faith. This is so patently contrived that even a modicum of critical thinking reveals the goal: religious faith good, lack of religious faith not so good. This simply doesn’t translate into aggregate population statistics. We therefore know something is badly out of alignment here. That’s why I already said to go back and look at the false synonyms by which Newberg transcribes stress into his faith thesis. He’s not demonstrating faith of the religious kind is good for the brain yet that is the message you’re going to take away from it because it serves your confirmation bias.

    Is Newberg a respectable neuroscientist? He most certainly is… when dealing with his stress studies. But he’s not when it comes to promoting faith-based belief to be a virtue for the brain. How can we know?

    Look at mission statement for the The Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Jefferson.

    “Our physicians are guided by the science of medicine and are experts in the art of incorporating complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies into the healing approach.”

    Thar she blows! Apologetics for profit!

    Very sciency sounding, n’est pas? Clearly, belief in CAM and its magical additional efficacy through homeopathy and reiki and chiropracty and therapeutic touch must therefore be ‘good science established via qualifications, good research, publications, and peer review and acceptance.’ Oh… and a pinch of rhino horn for good boners and bear gallbladders for hair growth. We can’t forget the Chinese contribution to woo, can we?.

    Except… it’s not good science. Well, to be fair we’re to believe it is an art after all… with some ‘experts’ helping us make sense of it all… but added to the sciencey bits for that wholesome integrative wingnuttery delivered in lab coats.

    Newberg has no problems with CAM, does he? It’s a rich vein to tap into… regardless of the paucity of efficacy and all the harm done its name. One could be forgiven if one saw this as more faith-based belief in action, an area where his artistry apparently exceeds his grasp on what constitutes evidence-based medicine: trivial concerns, really, like linking effects he claims to the cause he suggests…. without hiding behind placebo, woo, mysticism, spirituality, religion,… you know, the hard sciences. He and Deepak and Doctor Oz have a great deal in common: belief in woo and selling via therapies and institutes and books and products to a gullible population that mistakes it for insight backed by the method of science.

    Newton spent more time on the magic of alchemy than he ever did on all the rest of his real contributions combined. That he believed so strongly in alchemy is not advanced when one links to his other contributions any more than Newberg’s stress studies advance his faith-based claims.

    Sure, he has done interesting scans and has quite a few published papers on these. But let’s not forget that neuroscience is still in its infancy and our lack of knowledge about the brain has lots of room for the insertion for this kind of woo-laden belief… as well as a moneyed and credulous clientele ready, willing, and able to enrich those who provide it.

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  151. So Tildeb, no answers to the questions, no references, just smearing of a respected peer-reviewed scientist. I guess I don’t have to say any more do I?

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  152. religion is neither a byproduct of evolution nor ubiquitous. How dare I explain in detail why.
    Sorry, I must have missed it when you explained these things in detail. All I saw was a repeated claim that agency projection does not count as a source of religion and that if religion had any evolutionary basis it would look the same everywhere. That second point is actually very close to being a key element of the discussion. If we cannot identify some consistent commonalitities in religious psychology then this defeats the idea that evolution is a source. So please explain why Atran, Boyer and others are wrong in this regard and why projection of agency doesn’t count as a commonality.

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  153. You may have read my comments, Travis, but you don’t comprehend them. In effect, you’re claiming the ubiquity of religion – meaning belief in external divine causal agency – is a product of evolution. I have disagreed and explained why. I have stated that the evolutionary component is the ability to project agency similar to ourselves into the world and all it contains in order to experience a first person account of a third person encounter. This does not make the OBJECT of that belief a product of evolution, nor does it accurately define what these projections look like. Those are steps too far and yet I find repeated all the time. The problem is, it’s not true. Evolution doesn’t produce all these tens if not hundreds of thousands of religious variants. Nor does it produce religion pers e. All evolution has done (but it’s a lot) is increase the fitness of those who project agency no matter what form it takes. Evolution is not responsible for you yelling at your car when it doesn’t function properly; that falls on you using the ability to personify inanimate objects… one of a myriad of ways we assign agency once endowed with the ability.

    That’s why I said – and keep on saying – the order is so important to understand: that religion in all its forms is a projection of each of us who projects it and not a PRODUCT of evolution. You see the difference? The ability itself no more creates a divine interactive creative agency as ‘natural’ byproduct than does claiming cars are a ‘natural byproduct’ of evolution because of our ability to transport ourselves. These byproducts are not ‘natural’ extensions of evolution; they are fully the product of human intervention, human ingenuity, human creations for human solutions to human problems and not expressions of a biological ability.

    Why does this understanding that religion is fully a human creation and not an evolutionary byproduct matter?

    Consider Taylor’s commentary (emphasis mine):

    “…the validity of the entire Abrahamic enterprise rests on God’s factual existence, if for no other reason than He had to exist to issue the “revelations” providing the sole basis for regarding the Tanakh, the Bible, and the Quran as anything more than oversize compendia of lurid, often cruel fairy tales, and not the inerrant, irrevocable Word of God. Absent divine authorship, these tomes would merit no more respect than The Epic of Gilgamesh (from which the Flood legend surely derives) and certainly less esteem than, say, Homer’s magnificent, far more imaginative oeuvre.”

    When we grasp that our projections of agency are simply one expression of an ability to project – and not a reliable guide to describing reality as it really is independent of us nor endowed with anything more than our superstitious urge to personify everything (ironically, considering the use of Newberg in this thread, when our stress levels are elevated)- we can then better understand how so many contrasting and even conflicting religious beliefs have come about and why we are as so incredibly foolish importing confidence in any of their their independent existence. Blaming evolution for our willingness to believe in ghosts and spooks and other ‘things’ that go bump in the night is a diversion from where responsibility truly lies: with anyone who confuses a projection with a product.

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  154. carmen

    Hi all,

    I just read this on Noseybook –
    “My life is a constant battle between wanting to refute pseudo-scientific bullshit and wanting to have (in this case,cyber-) friends.

    It seemed fitting. 🙂

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  155. “Evolution is not responsible for you yelling at your car when it doesn’t function properly; that falls on you using the ability to personify inanimate objects… one of a myriad of ways we assign agency once endowed with the ability.

    I’m starting to pick up what you’re puttin down, tildeb. 🙂 It did take a few tries on your part but today the light bulb came on. Thanks for being persistent . 🙂

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  156. tildeb,
    You’re right, I don’t comprehend your comments and I’m sure we each think that the other person is at fault for that. As far as I can tell, you say that the projection of agency is a product of evolution, and that religion is a result of that projection, but that religion is not a byproduct of evolution. Our friend the OED says that a byproduct is “an incidental or secondary product made in the manufacture or synthesis of something else”, so this distinction you’re making does not compute for me. Furthermore, I follow Atran, Boyer, et al in suggesting that there are other evolutionarily sourced psychological factors that feed into religion (in the broader sense). The dominant evolutionary views of the origins of religion are summarized by the opening pages of this paper. I have endorsed the proposition that one, or possibly both, of those views are correct. Both views identify religion as a consequence of evolutionary adaptations. If religion, whether directly or indirectly, is building on those adaptations then it would not be surprising if aspects of religion could induce some degree of benefit, regardless of whether religion is on the whole beneficial or harmful.

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  157. “My life is a constant battle between wanting to refute pseudo-scientific bullshit and wanting to have (in this case,cyber-) friends.”

    Hi Carmen,

    What are the chances the pendulum swing might take us back to being friends who disagree?

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  158. Then you can appreciate why claiming religion is a product of evolution perfectly fits the description of a just so story. This is not a mark in its favour.

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  159. Not sure what this is supposed to be saying about my previous comment. Yes, all of evolutionary psychology is speculative. It’s a best guess. Do we withhold judgment until we understand all the genetic correlates of psychology? Or maybe I’ve completely misunderstood your point here?

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  160. The danger of using evolutionary psychology to support claims about today’s function of some behaviour is to tread on quicksand… like the level of scientific merit of the paper you use.

    It’s philosophy, not evolutionary biology. That should raise a red flag about using it as a source for evolutionary claims.

    To establish an evolutionary benefit by philosophical argument without first establishing a biological link to specific and well defined behaviours is to in effect wax poetically using words rather than physical evidence and then use the poetry as if that has biological rather than poetic merit. This is what I think these authors have done.

    For example, what is the ‘religion’ in our ancestry that is being selected by natural fitness? See the problem? The terminology doesn’t help us because we supply the definition of what it is ‘religion’ means today and not what it may have been 75,000 years ago. That’s why the assumption that because many people are religious, it must be an evolutionary benefit, fits the description of a just so story. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong necessarily but it isn’t the evolutionary biology from neuroscience.

    What can be clearly established by neuroscience is the physical brain processes through various scanning technologies demonstrating various brain functions and chemical changes that projecting agency entails. These are the same areas stimulated by religious activities like praying but, interestingly, also areas of higher cognition suppressed. It’s also the same areas activated and related suppressed areas during meditation, the same areas stimulated and related areas suppressed by intentional magnetic fields that produce first person accounts of religious experiences, the same areas that when damaged produces strange and wonderful and bizarre agency attributions, the same areas often stimulated during REM, activities producing the same wave electric wave patterns, and so on. We have to work backwards from what we have… and what we have is brain function and the effects from this. Over-reaching and claiming evolutionary benefit because it’s a function today is a shortcut that is not reliable. That’s why claims of evolutionary psychology keeps instigating so much push-back from evolutionary biologists, and relying on such studies as if they justified evolutionary claims requires a fair bit of elevated skepticism. There is no evidence (as far as I know) that can withstand scientific scrutiny to link religion to be an evolutionary product without veering away from the method of science and entering the warren of philosophy and metaphysics.

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  161. tildeb,
    I never suggested that a religion in our ancestry was selected for, or that the ubiquity of religion implies that it is beneficial in and of itself. I always directly stated, or implied, that religion is a byproduct or is built upon other structures. I proposed that the benefits are a consequence of religions employment of those structures, not of religion itself. As far as I can tell this is the fundamental misunderstanding underlying our interaction, but perhaps you still disagree even with this.

    Second, it seems to me that you want to deny any causal link between evolution and religion while at the same time arguing, as you did in the prior comment, that agency detection is closely linked with the origins of religion. I may sound like a broken record, but I still don’t understand this distinction and I’m thinking I should just give up on that pursuit. Maybe there’s one more clarification you can offer to explain that one.

    Finally, while I agree with the importance of agency detection, I’m skeptical that it is the only universally recognized trait for which there is evidence of a link to religion. I don’t have the time and resources to pursue that suspicion in the short term, but perhaps I will take it up separately and invite you to discuss after further review.

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  162. Travis, the problem I had with your earlier claim (that religion has naturalistic origins because it is a byproduct of the human psyche) is that it rationalizes and to some degree excuses belief in Oogity Boogity! as if this is natural, as if this is the reasonable result of evolution.

    I have tried to point out why this is so problematic, that religion is no more natural a byproduct of the human psyche than cars are. It’s the ‘natural’ part of your claim I’m trying to reveal as the problem because it shifts the the result of the agency projection (or development of mechanized transportation) away from people who created and continue to use them and tries to get ‘nature’ to be the causal factor… because a lot of people do the activity.

    I mean, you could make the same claim about tennis or shooting critters from helicopters or searching for ghosts – expand the activity itself to represent a part of the human psyche (like tennis as a ‘natural’ byproduct of play, shooting critters from helicopters as ‘natural’ byproduct of hunting, searching for ghosts as ‘natural’ byproduct of curiosity) in some over-reaching way (religion as a ‘natural’ byproduct of the human psyche) and then pretending they must have some positive benefit because they are repackaged as ‘natural’ and use ‘natural’ structures and therefore are ‘natural’ byproducts from the structures of our evolutionary past.

    This is not true. This is another more modernized version of ‘natural law’ theology advanced by faitheists who are trying to pretend that religion is not fully a human projection but a ‘natural’ byproduct of evolution.

    As I keep saying, this reasoning about associating a byproduct with its ‘natural’ founding structures gets the order wrong. These activities are simply human activities and responsibility for carrying them out today falls squarely on human and not evolutionary shoulders. It is not ‘religion’ that is ubiquitous, any more than it is tennis, is helicopter shooting, or is ghost hunting; it is agency projection. This is a very important understanding because it cuts off at the knees any pretense that the activity itself is somehow ‘natural’, that the activity itself is a selected byproduct because it lays claim to ‘natural’ origins – and therefore must possess an inherent evolutionary benefit because it has been selected not by the individuals but by evolution – as an excuse or rationalization for the object of the activity.

    I know the difference seems to be rather opaque but its understanding is essential for people to take responsibility and full ownership for their actions and beliefs seriously. This is not enabled by philosophical arguments that continue to divest people of their personal responsibility and shift it towards an evolutionary one.

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  163. carmen

    Now that made sense.

    To add to that idea, I have found the video I’ve been looking for. Andy Thomson’s psychological reasons people have for believing in a god – they’re powerful. (It would address UnkleE’s question #2 – why do so many people believe?)

    There might be a few who haven’t seen it (it’s an hour long)

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  164. Thank you tildeb. That was helpful. While I don’t fully agree with the depth and breadth of the line in the sand that you’ve drawn (e.g., I would equate religion more with play and Catholicism with tennis), I at least feel like I can now make sense of your previous comments.

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  165. One of he most continually annoying aspects of Unklee’s presentation of god-belief is that he always loads his argument – see his repeated fawning over Newberg – to imply that, apparent worldwide god-belief somehow supports his god. And when I say his god I am not referring to the meglomaniacal, egocentric son-of-a-bitch, man-made Canaanite deity, Yahweh, but his son (sic), the biblical character, Jesus of Nazareth.

    When someone like Unklee takes on-board a study(ies) of god-belief it is for the sole purpose of justifying Christianity . To demonstrate the disingenuous nature that’s at work here he sides with the view that Christianity is THE religion and others are not true representations of the creator of the universe(sic), as they reject Jesus as a saviour, or he simply does not feature in their religion.

    And let’s remember, he also considers the Old Testament has little hold over his belief, even when it is pointed out that the Pentateuch is regarded by most scholars and archaeologists as Historical Fiction.
    Couple this with the findings of the Human Genome Project and the over riding premise of Christianity Sin- Salvation- Saviour – is rendered moot.

    This might seem obvious, but it needs to be pointed out time and time again as his arguments inevitably wander all over the place and the over riding elements of his prepositional ”revealed religion” tend to get lost among the other diatribe he puts forth to challenge simple common sense.

    As for his claims of the ”positive benefits of god belief”, no matter who he cites, he is in effect metaphorically slapping every deconvert on this blog and elsewhere in the face, and as much calling you all misguided at best and liars at worst.

    Ark.

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  166. “Andrew (Newberg) and therapist Mark Robert Waldman, and their research team, have concluded that active and positive spiritual belief changes the human brain for the better. What’s more, actual faith isn’t always necessary: atheists who meditate on positive imagery can obtain similar neurological benefits.” (http://www.andrewnewberg.com/books/how-god-changes-your-brain-breakthrough-findings-from-a-leading-neuroscientist)

    Let me quote this part again, “What’s more, actual faith isn’t always necessary: atheists who meditate on positive imagery can obtain similar neurological benefits.”

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  167. Hi Ken, it is good to find someone else interested in this book. I have been fortunate enough to find it in my local library, so I can read more than the 2 chapters available online. I am not far into it yet, but a few conclusions are clear.

    1. Religious & spiritual beliefs and practices really are beneficial in many ways. They reference many other researcher on this so it isn’t just them, and they list a range of activities that are beneficial in different ways. I have already given several quotes on this.

    2. Secular versions of these practices can also give benefits. Your quote shows this, as do several quotes I have given.

    3. Some of their statements suggest that religious/spiritual practices are sometimes more beneficial than secular. Here are a few quotes:

    “when meditation is religious and strengthens your spiritual beliefs, then there is a synergistic effect that can be even better”

    “Contemplating God will change your brain, but …. meditating on other grand themes will also change your brain. If you contemplate the Big Bang ….. But religious and spiritual contemplation changes your brain in a profoundly different way because it strengthens a unique neural circuit that specifically enhances social awareness and empathy while subduing destructive feelings and emotions.”

    4. Negative religion, as well as negative secular thoughts, can damage our brains.

    That much seems to be factual. I’m still trying to understand the balance between religious and secular, and here’s where I’ve got so far.

    5. There are some activities that religious or non-religious people can do with equal benefit – meditation, faith (in their definition of a positive view of the future), smiling, exercise, relaxation, constructive dialogue, etc.

    6. But there are some activities that “work” better for religious people:

    * It is not the religious belief itself that is beneficial (because belief alone doesn’t stimulate the brain) but rather the synergistic effect of a whole range of practices and attitudes: “because religion is often a combination of social dialogue, intellectual stimulation, and faith, it can be a powerful mechanism for exercising your brain and optimising the brain’s functions.”
    * It is probably easier for a christian who believes in God’s guidance now and heaven after this life to have a positive hope for the future than it is for an atheist who doesn’t have either of those things.
    * Contemplating God may be better than contemplating the Big Bang, and christians may be more likely to do it.
    * Religious people tend to have rituals and activities that help them practically do the beneficial activities, whereas most non-believers don’t.
    * A wide range of activities are beneficial in different ways, and not all can be secularised. They say (my emphasis): “you can transform nearly any religious ideology from one spiritual practice to another and still receive the same neurological benefits from the experience.”
    * In the end, religious people just do these beneficial things more than non-believers do.

    So that is where I have got so far. But I can certainly thank this discussion for pushing me to read more about this stuff, which has in turn strengthened my view that these discoveries are a pointer to the existence of God – I think it is clearly more likely that these things would be true in a theistic universe than in a naturalistic universe. Which of course is where this discussion started.

    I think you should find the book and read it too! Thanks.

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  168. unkleE, I never said that I disagreed with your findings. I don’t remember seeing where you have shared where the “Secular versions” have also produced these benefits. And if you have , what’s the point of referencing a study which shows both religious and secular practices can provide benefits ?

    “2. Secular versions of these practices can also give benefits. Your quote shows this, as do several quotes I have given.”

    Would you mind showing me where you have quoted this ? There have been many comments to view so I may have missed them.

    I don’t mind reading the book but I have read several studies that show both religious and secular practices are beneficial so what’s the point ?

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  169. “… strengthened my view that these discoveries are a pointer to the existence of God – I think it is clearly more likely that these things would be true in a theistic universe than in a naturalistic universe.”

    “… strengthened my view that these discoveries (higher stress leads to more negative results… whodathunk?) are a pointer to the existence of God (no, they’re not… and it’s hardly a ‘discovery’; in fact, the support for the stress thesis has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with strengthening or weakening the reality of the object of a faith-based belief) ) – I think it is clearly more likely that these things (what ‘things’?) would be true in a theistic universe than in a naturalistic universe (there’s only the universe we know anything about, which may or may not contain divine agencies… but if it did, then you have absolutely nothing to relate such an agency to Jesus… and Newberg gives us nothing new to work with in this regard).”

    Now compare this thesis about stress and its side effects with something like, say, prayer to a particular god for independent interventionist effects which can be shown to lead to statistically significant favourable results. That would indicate something. Transitioning stress studies to religious relaxation practices and then pretending its the ‘spiritual’ (read religious) aspect that is of statistical note (kind of, sort of, maybe-ish, depending…) is a rather underwhelming way to reach a conclusion about a divine causal and creative agency that just so happens to be the one you believe in. Faith in this sense is not ‘good for the brain’; practicing stress reduction is. In fact, the faith claim is a reach of exceptional distance that only the converted might find believable.

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  170. Hi Ken,

    “I don’t remember seeing where you have shared where the “Secular versions” have also produced these benefits. … Would you mind showing me where you have quoted this ?”

    I have said it many times over and I’m surprised you missed it. A quick trawl through this thread yielded these 8 examples:

    “I’m NOT saying there is no contrary evidence.”
    MAY 20, 2016 AT 10:19 PM

    “Now it isn’t only religious faith that can have that effect, but religious faith is obviously one of the main things they are considering. …. I am NOT saying that these studies prove God exists. They simply say that religious belief and practice more often than not has good effects on the person. “
    MAY 21, 2016 AT 2:24 AM The first time I mentioned Newberg I think.

    “You may have missed that I qualified my reference to Newberg with this statement: “Now it isn’t only religious faith that can have that effect, but religious faith is obviously one of the main things they are considering.””
    MAY 21, 2016 AT 6:08 PM

    “I have consistently pointed out, both in previous discussion with you, and now here, that there are other factors involved other than religious belief and practice.”
    MAY 23, 2016 AT 5:29 PM

    “The results are not black and white, but the overall conclusions are very clear. …. Often religion is found to be a significant cause. …. and with many exceptions”
    This is from my blog which you linked to here: MAY 23, 2016 AT 6:42 PM

    “though not of course totally, …. it isn’t only religious faith that can have that effect …. and with many exceptions …. the reason for this isn’t clear) …. The causation and mechanisms are not always clear”
    MAY 23, 2016 AT 11:34 PM

    “Now other secular practices can be substituted for religious ones, and they still work. Meditation can be non-religious. Faith can be in science or human nature. Contemplation can be of the universe or science generally. Non-believers can participate in religious rituals. All of this is true. But it also remains true that religion is the main way these things occur in our world. “Spiritual practices, even when stripped of religious beliefs, enhance the neural functioning of the brain in ways that improve physical and emotional health. …. the health benefits associated with meditation and religious ritual cannot be denied.” (p6,8)”
    MAY 25, 2016 AT 2:00 AM

    “when meditation is religious and strengthens your spiritual beliefs, then there is a synergistic effect that can be even better.” …Now I’m not sure, I think maybe he thinks even this synergistic effect can be achieved in a totally secular way, but it isn’t clear. So perhaps religion can do it better than the secular alternatives.”
    MAY 27, 2016 AT 9:33 PM

    I don’t mind reading the book but I have read several studies that show both religious and secular practices are beneficial so what’s the point ?

    Well I can see three advantages. (1) You might learn some practices that will make the rest of your life better. (2) I have shown that they seem to be saying that religious practices, at least sometimes, may be more effective, so you may learn if that’s so. (3) You may even learn something about God.

    What’s not to like? 🙂

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  171. Hi Tildeb,

    I would really like to have a thoughtful and courteous conversation with you, I really would. But to be thoughtful, we need some facts to base the discussion on. And you continue to make claims, sometimes quite outrageous and scurrilous claims, while virtually never offering any evidence at all for them. In my comment of MAY 27, 2016 AT 8:25 PM, I asked you to supply references for your claims, including one that you said was easily googled, but you were either unwilling or unable to do so.

    Now if you choose to keep offering opinions without evidence, that is your right, but I will have little option but not to take any notice of them. I won’t be so rude as to name them oogity boogity (BTW, the urban dictionary describes “oogity boogity as “a tactic to scare someone”, which sounds a fair description of your use of the term – that is when it isn’t given a more downmarket meaning!). 🙂

    So if you want to have a thoughtful conversation, can you please provide some references to the matters you raise here and the questions I raised in the previous comment. Otherwise I will have to make the working assumption that you are not interested in evidence.

    I’m still hoping you will come to the party.

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  172. (1) You might learn some practices that will make the rest of your life better
    Which religion do you suggest ?
    (2) I have shown that they seem to be saying that religious practices, at least sometimes, may be more effective, so you may learn if that’s so.
    Again I ask which one ?
    (3) You may even learn something about God
    I was a Christian for over 50 years. I think I already know a little something about God 🙂

    Maybe I need to meditate like a Mormon?
    This study, written with Professor James E. Enstrom of the University of California, Los Angeles, showed that the life expectancy of Mormon men was almost ten years longer than that of the general population of white American males.

    What religion do you most closely associate yourself with unkleE? Mormon ? Jehovah’s Witness ? Catholic ? Protestant ?

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  173. Again, compelling evidence that faith is good for the brain. here’s how this works: longevity is good for the brain! Polygamy is good for the brain! Magical underwear is good for the brain! Discriminating against those with the mark of Cain is good for the brain! Believing in magical plates is good for the brain! Why, it’s a spiritual fountain of youth!

    So much goodness, so little time to amass contrary studies… it must be a good indication that Mormonism is revelatory of the One True God or the universe wouldn’t favour a Mormonistic approach to life.

    Liked by 2 people

  174. “Which religion do you suggest ?”
    I was actually talking about his 8 helpful practices.

    “Again I ask which one ?”
    Your choice.

    “I was a Christian for over 50 years. I think I already know a little something about God:-)”
    I’m sure you are still capable of learning something new! 🙂

    “What religion do you most closely associate yourself with unkleE? Mormon ? Jehovah’s Witness ? Catholic ? Protestant ?”
    Following Jesus.

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  175. UnkleE concludes about the claim faith is good for the brain:

    “Well I can see three advantages. (1) You might learn some practices that will make the rest of your life better. (2) I have shown that they seem to be saying that religious practices, at least sometimes, may be more effective, so you may learn if that’s so. (3) You may even learn something about God.

    What’s not to like? :)”

    Regrading:

    1) those practices are relaxation and community building practices,
    2) only those religious practices that are positive, optimistic, and relaxing correlate with lower stress (I mean, the notion of Hell and eternal damnation and fear of the Lord and ongoing judgement by a divine Thought Police really are quite positive messages of love to take to heart, I’m almost sure. These basic tenets are really a means to promote and sustain a very optimistic and rosy outlook for the ‘craven and fallen’ who accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. And who can seriously doubt that not quite knowing if a slow roast is in one’s everlasting future will be in the cards is really quite relaxing, Many children raised in such environments could almost wax poetically about the tranquility, serenity, and peace such ‘faith’ brings to their little minds every night before bed. This is nearly the perfect model for relation and lowering stress.).
    3) You may even learn something about the god UnkleE believes in but good luck relating that projection – and all the associated claims about it – to this plethora of accommodationist and apologetic studies about the benefits of ‘faith’… a term in this case supposedly synonymous through a twisted and contorted linguistic path to mean ‘long term practices and views that are positive, optimistic, and relaxing enough to lower the release of stress hormones’. Yeah, that’s a good definition of religious faith. Oh, wait…

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  176. @Tildeb.

    This is why Christianity and every minion of its spurious nonsense is disingenuous and unkleE the perfect exponent of this trait. A true poster-boy for the sycophantic drivel as espoused by every god botherer.
    As mentioned before, it is most telling that Newberg’s study apparently does not include any data about what happens to those traumatized by religion, by the very things included in christianity just waiting to snare the unfortunate backslider. ( And apostates of the other Abrahamic faiths)

    And and we know of numerous people, many of whom comment right here on Nate’s blog who have gone through – and please forgive me for writing this – Hell, because of the indoctrinated superstitious shit that cannot be separated from the oh-so-marvelous spiritual highs gleaned from contemplating on a smelly little semi-literate Jewish rabbi suffering in excruciating agony and humiliation as he slowly suffocates to death while nailed to a fucking cross.

    Liked by 1 person

  177. What Ark… you don’t find gazing at the agony of the Savior on a cross relaxing? It’s a ubiquitous symbol… I even see it on neck chains of children all the time.

    What’s not peaceful about a hanging corpse? I know my stress hormones decrease rapidly when I think on His supposedly Very Real and Historical suffering and on my behalf, no less… days of it. How could I possibly feel any guilt at all?

    In fact, it’s a kumbaya kind of faith, donchaknow… butterflies and rainbows and unicorns abound. It makes me smile serenely wrapped in loving optimism about my approaching time of suffering and dying that this death cult faith naturally endows me with.

    I’ve got a study to back this up…. now, where did I put that one? Let me see….

    Liked by 2 people

  178. Thank you! Should we ask unkleE to talk with Charity, Victoria, Zoe, Ladysighs, Siriusbizness, Lukelively,Violet or any number of deconverts, at least a couple of who are currently in therapy because of the wonderful spiritual enlightenment of christianity?
    I suspect each and every one would give dear old unkleE and Newberg for that matter very short shrift indeed.
    Perhaps they were just doing it wrong?
    Hell is all Butterflies and Candy floss really.

    Liked by 1 person

  179. And non-apologetic neuroscience shows us how and why… not that UnkleE cares; it doesn’t fit his religious model, after all, and so why should he bother? He already knows the truth and he’s sifted a lot of material to find bits and pieces that appear to support what he already knows… revealed to him by a god, no less.

    Confirmation bias, thy name is UnkleE, which is why he is in a position to reject out of hand whatever doesn’t pass through his religious filter.

    Of course, he’ll squeal that no links are provided here and so the contrary claims must be only opinion. God forbid (and perhaps UnkleE thinks He has) he actually go to Victoria’s site and read the hundreds of studies she provides that reveal the how and why.

    Speaking of increased stress that ‘faith’ supposedly can reduce, that religious belief killed Victoria’s husband in no way diminishes his absolute certainty that his faith cannot possibly be the case because he already knows the Truth (TM).

    Liked by 2 people

  180. Willful ignorance is thoroughly appropriate is unkleE’s case, and I am being very generous in my terminology.
    He is like a thinking(sic) Colorstorm, and that has the potential to be worse than some of the outright nutters christianity produces because he thrives on an air of false intellectual respectability, which is little different from the likes of Licona and Craig.

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  181. I would have responded to unkleE in more detail today but had to take a last minute flight to visit my dear 97 yr old Mother who is in the hospital and not doing well.

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  182. Hi Tildeb,

    “1) those practices are relaxation and community building practices,”

    Actually, this statement is almost totally wrong. Newberg names 8 practices that will greatly improve neurological health, and community building isn’t one of them. Relaxation is one (only sixth most important), and there are seven others. Some have several different aspects, some are predictable, some are surprising.

    There’s a little lesson in here too. It is very easy for people to speak most confidently but still be quite wrong.

    You have made other statements that conform to this pattern, i.e. which you spoke with confidence but haven’t offered any evidence by way of references to good science, and which I believe are also wrong, .

    You will recall you made these claims:

    this study is apologetic nonsense …. it would take dozens of links to show just how bad this study actually is to claim faith is good for the brain. It’s good for supporting the sale of Newberg’s book. It’s good for confusing people with a patina of scientific respectability. …. This is so patently false that it’s a marvel anyone could take it seriously. ….. It’s a sleight-of-mind trick as old as the hills. Con artists, magicians, and priests have known this bait-and switch method has worked on the credulous forever.

    Those are strong statements to make against a respected scholar with scores of peer-reviewed papers published. I invited you to offer some tangible evidence for those claims, but so far you’ve haven’t offered any. Just a few papers by other peer-reviewed scholars backing up your claims of him being a “con artist” would be a start.

    You also said that religious belief correlates with social dysfunction and thus is not beneficial, and then said: “Go ahead and google all these claims I make if you want to find out just how contrarian is the Newberg article’s claim to the mainstream data.”

    Again, I invited you to give just half a dozen of those references – not many to go against the hundreds that I could point you to that say the opposite, and again you have provided none. I am familiar with a couple of studies that may be what you are basing this statement on, but they are misleading. They compare statistics between US states, or between countries, but there are so many factors in play that no conclusion can be drawn until one controls for the other factors. When that is done, it seems that religious belief correlates with poverty (poorer people are more religious) and crime and other dysfunction also correlate with poverty. And so religion and dysfunction do sometimes correlate, but the common cause is poverty. When religion is considered on its own, it generally yields positive results, as hundreds of studies show. Newberg and others point out that some forms of religion have negative outcomes, but overall it has positive ones.

    So can I request again that you offer your evidence, so we can see it and discuss.

    “non-apologetic neuroscience shows us how and why… not that UnkleE cares; it doesn’t fit his religious model”

    So how does one judge who is right here, if not by references to peer-reviewed studies? So at the moment, it is clearly you who is rejecting evidence, by refusing to accept the evidence not just of Newberg, but of scores of other researchers and hundreds of other papers. Could it be that you have an “anti-religious model” that prevents you from accepting the evidence? So there’s the challenge for you.

    One more thing. I have been trying to build bridges and make discussion less adversarial. Again I will suggest you think about that. Instead of sniggering and making insulting personal attacks, you could offer evidence and we could have a sensible discussion, just as I have with Nate, Dave and Travis.

    Further, as I will comment shortly, Newberg shows that his brain exercises can benefit people. I think they can benefit me. I think you could benefit too. It would be a pity if you missed out because of an anti-religious bias and an unwillingness to fact facts. Why don’t you wait and see my next comment and form a sensible judgment? Thanks.

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  183. nonsupernaturalist

    Imagine a child who for whatever reasons is fearful of the world in which she lives. To make herself feel better, she invents an imaginary friend who has amazing magical powers to protect her. She speaks to her friend multiple times throughout the day and believes that her invisible friend speaks to her in a voice that only she can hear. She believes that her friend guides her in making everyday decisions. With her new “friend” constantly at her side, she is happier, more self-confidant, and less anxious.

    Question: Once this child becomes an adult, is it healthy for her to maintain this belief system if it continues to give her peace and a sense of security and comfort?

    I say, no. Once she is no longer a child, she needs to deal with life as an adult. Her belief in an imaginary friend with magical powers is unhealthy and most mental health professionals would consider her mentally ill.

    I’m not saying that all religious persons are mentally ill, but if you are talking to an invisible friend multiple times a day and you believe that this invisible friend “guides” you in your daily decision-making, I think the comparison with the child above is valid.

    Liked by 2 people

  184. I have been reading more of the Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman book, and I think there is some interesting and worthwhile things to report. I hope people will be interested and not rufuse to learn because it is me reporting.

    I have read about 9 neuroscience books in the last decade, but this is probably the most interesting, and not just for the reasons some of you will think. Not only can I learn about cutting edge neuroscience, but there are practical applications.

    To grossly oversimplify, some parts of our brains process reasoning and other parts process emotions. Then there are parts that balance between the two, process memory & learning, etc. People are spread along a bell curve on reason and emotion, and this helps explain how we respond to spiritual ideas – more reasoning people tend to be either uninterested in God or believe in God in a rational way, people who are stronger on the emotional end tend to have experiential faith, or be interested in the paranormal, and most people tend to be somewhere in the middle. It is probably best to be in the middle, as we need both intuitive and analytical thinking to function best.

    It turns out that different mind-body practices, especially spiritual (in the widest sense) practices, exercise and strengthen different of these parts, and weaken other parts. So by choosing different brain exercises (they list 8, from less important to most important – smile, stay intellectually active, consciously relax, yawn, meditate, aerobic exercise, dialogue, faith) we can target different parts of our brains and strengthen them.

    So we can improve memory or thinking, we can become more sensitive to others, or soften our emotions and become more peaceful. All of these things can lengthen our productive lives and help us be more effective and at peace.

    Newberg and Waldman say that most of these practices have arisen through religion of one form or another, because contemplation of God achieves a lot of good results – provided it is a loving God. Religious believers, or non-believers too, can focus on negative ideas (about God or about other subjects) and do themselves harm, or on positive qualities and do themselves good.

    “Contemplative practices stimulate activity in the anterior cingulate, thus helping a person to become more sensitive to the feelings of others. Indeed, meditating on any form of love, including God’s love, appears to strengthen the same neurological circuits that allow us to feel compassion towards others. …. We believe that meditation …. appears to make us more sensitive to the suffering of others, which may explain why those traditions that emphasise meditation are often involved in community charities and peacekeeping ventures.” (p 53,4)

    They have found that non-religious equivalents can be used too (not surprising since Newberg is an agnostic and Waldman is a naturalist and presumably an atheist), and I think we can finally settle the discussion on whether the effects are all due to non-religious causes:

    “This evidence confirmed our hypothesis that the benefits gleaned from prayer and meditation may have less to do with a specific theology than with the ritual techniques of breathing, staying relaxed and focusing one’s attention upon a concept that evokes comfort, compassion, or a spiritual sense of peace. Of course, the more you believe in what you are meditating or praying about, the stronger the response will be.” And “when meditation is religious and strengthens your spiritual beliefs, then there is a synergistic effect that can be even better.” p48 + from an interview.

    I find the idea that we can improve our physical and emotional health, memory, thinking and aging to be very exciting, and one that we could all benefit from regardless of belief.

    That much seems to be scientific fact. Now a brief personal comment.

    1. Discussion here and elsewhere often becomes acrimonious and nasty. I try to be polite at all times (and have even been criticised for it!) and ignore the negative stuff (I mostly don’t read it), despite the fact that my natural state was once to be more pushy. I think I can probably do better if I apply some of these insights, and I am reinforced in taking that stance. Those who feel or act angry towards others, including those who do that on the internet, are actually harming themselves more than the person they criticise. I find it encouraging that “old fashioned virtues” are actually good for us.

    2. I still think it would be surprising for these facts to be true and religion be so positive if we were in a naturalistic universe, and thus these ideas strengthen my belief in God. That will enrage some and others will simply quietly disagree, and the debate will go on. But it would be a pity if disagreement on this conclusion prevented people from learning something useful, or from learning how to improve their lives.

    I think that is enough of a book review. Best wishes to all of you.

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  185. @UnkleE

    You see, unkleE te reason you are such a disingenuous pain-in-the arse is simply because the religion you punt is Christianity, a disgusting doctrine for which there is no evidence for the foundational tenets that are crucialfor supposed redemption.
    Everything pertaining to your worldview hinges on this unsubstantiated waffle.

    And, of course, failure to genuflect to your god will result in annihilation at best and eternal torture at worst, at the hands of the god your religion claims is love personified who came back from the dead and, just by the by, is the creator of the entire Universe.

    Furthermore, you have scant regard for the claims of any other medium of god-bothering, often, even within your own religion, and you write off every other region as per your specs of salvation as none include the biblical character, Jesus of Nazareth.

    Your continued attempts to intellectualize your faith are nothing but a slap in the face for every deconvert and especially those that you attempt to belittle with your condescending sycophantic drivel. You are no better than Craig or Licona and at the root of all you are pushing, your ulterior motives, is nothing but rank apologetics and comparable to every snake oil salesman there ever was.

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  186. Since Victoria supposedly has all these studies that stand in direct contradiction to the studies UnklE has posted, can someone, you know, actually link to some of the particular studies (or even the page on Victoria’s site with the studies) that they have in mind?

    Liked by 1 person

  187. @Consolereadar.

    Your tone sounds skeptical? Especially with your word usage – ”supposedly”.
    Not very charitable, now is it?

    Have you considered praying for the links?

    Just a thought.

    However, if you don’t get an answer via the ether, here’s a link to her blog.
    I’m sure you can manage the rest, yes?

    https://victorianeuronotes.wordpress.com/

    God bless you! ( As a bonus, you get to choose which ever one you like)

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  188. Yes, I’ve been to Victoria’s blog before. It sounds to me that people have particular studies in mind that directly contradict UnkleE’s study. So I’d like to know what particular studies said people have in mind. Asking for the exact study they have in mind seems like a reasonable enough request.

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  189. Reasonable? Of course!
    It was just that your particular tone conveyed less than genuine enthusiastic inquiry.
    Personally, I would have asked using words/phrases such as ”fascinating”, or ”that sounds interesting, ” especially as you have visited her blog before and must know her bona fides are genuine.

    Or perhaps I am just a tad sensitive after engaging with dicks who reek of religious hypocrisy for so long?

    Don’t mind me ….

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  190. This is why ‘dialogue’ with you is so very frustrating:

    “… the benefits gleaned from prayer and meditation may have less to do with a specific theology than with the ritual techniques of breathing, staying relaxed and focusing one’s attention upon a concept that evokes comfort, compassion, or a spiritual sense of peace

    These are stress reducing practices, UnkleE. It is the stress reduction that is of benefit to the brain. Stress effects on the brain is Newberg’s area of expertise. Stress. Let me say that again: Stress. What rae these practices related to in Newberg’s many, many papers? Stress. Again, stress. It’s about stress, UnkleE.

    Now, the problem here is that Newberg et al expand this this to be synonymous with the ‘positive’ practices of ‘faith’. Not the negative ones, UnkleE… the positive ones. Which ones are the positive ones? Come on, you can answer this one: those that reduce stress.

    Now, let’s look at the list Newberg offers and see how its content aligns with the idea of ‘faith’ being good for the brain. smile, stay intellectually active, consciously relax, yawn, meditate, aerobic exercise, dialogue, faith

    Is smiling an act of religious ‘faith’?
    Is being intellectually active and act of religious faith?
    Is consciously relaxing an act of religious faith?
    Is yawning an act of religious faith?
    Is meditating an act of religious faith?
    Is aerobic exercising an act of religious faith?
    Is the honest exchange of ideas – dialogue – an act of religious faith?
    Is faith an act of religious faith?

    You see the problem here, UnkleE? Religious faith has nothing to do with stress reduction and positive effects unless the religious practices themselves are stress reducers, in which case adding the religious faith claim component as if central to the effect has some other purpose.

    Now, you conclude your appeal to being nice and putting forth a considerate tone as if promoting all religious faiths (because of their benefits to the brain, of course), and attempting to do so by covering your conclusion with a patina of supporting scientific respectability. What is that conclusion?

    “I still think it would be surprising for these facts to be true and religion be so positive if we were in a naturalistic universe, and thus these ideas strengthen my belief in God.”

    See what you’ve done? You confirmed your bias. Your bias is that religion in your mind equals good-for-the-brain. The truth is that stress reduction activities is good for the brain. You are not clarifying in your repeated conclusion that only stress reducing activities – some of which are promoted in some innocuous religious practices – are related to the benefits Newberg has found; instead, you continue – and frustratingly continue – to expand Newberg’s work and what ever other studies you can find to confirm to your a priori belief about religion-as-a-positive rather than what’s actually the case – activities-that-reduce-stress-are-a-benefit conclusion that Newberg’s work actually supports.

    And no matter how often this problem of collecting studies that appear to support your conclusions is pointed out to you by many other commentators than just me, you maintain your conclusion as is and falsely associate religious belief itself to be a net benefit, to be a positive source of health and welfare, to be an indication of a ‘theistic’ universe.

    You abuse Newberg’s and many other’s actual research – in this case about stress reduction and its benefits to be synonymous with a natural byproduct of religious belief – and no amount of clarification and correction sways you from continuing to promote this belief of yours. When challenged on this continued assertion that religion is good for one’s health and welfare, for example, you put up barriers like Newberg’s work and force any criticism of your over-reaching conclusions to first wind its way through only these filters that you yourself are misunderstanding, misappropriating, and misusing… studies, to be clear, that are all in service to promote your religious assumptions and not relate what they actually show with scientific rigor.

    The goal for you is to maintain these assumptions you start with and your method is to use whatever research appears to help you to do this. What isn’t important – obviously – is for you to mitigate your religious beliefs and the claims you make on its behalf in order to align with both contrary and compatible research, That is something I have never seen you demonstrate.

    So your claims about wishing to have a meaningful and respectful ‘dialogue’ is entirely unidirectional with you in the driver’s seat, using a repeated method that has no objective other than to maintain and promote your a priori religious conclusions… regardless of what any and all research may indicate. That’s why you earn from others a tone of disrespect; not because others fail to provide you with compelling contrary links that all of us know perfectly well from experience has exactly zero effect on you but because you show over and over again that you don’t really care about what is or even may be the case. It never has been.

    That dedication you demonstrate to claim research says what you want it to say and your intransigence to altering what you believe by one iota is not my problem. That is not my failure. It’s not my lack of trying. It’s not my tone. This problem belongs entirely to you and this is why your commentary is so often held in contempt by those who are concerned with respecting what’s true, who are curious and want to find out more, who can alter opinions based on better reasons when offered.

    The Good News! is that you can join our ranks. The Bad News is that you’re going to have to give up the certainty you currently hold that your religious beliefs are true. I don’t think you are willing but I would love to be proven wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

  191. In this case, it’s not Newberg’s actual data that is in need of refutation by another; it’s the conclusion that UnkleE draws that is contradiction with the actual data used by Newberg.

    What I pointed out – and should be obvious to any thinking person – that if faith itself is of such benefit to the brain – then aggregate studies should reveal this effect. Higher rates of religiosity should correlate with all kinds of brain-related goodness and benefit. Do they?

    Liked by 1 person

  192. Newberg and Waldman say that most of these practices have arisen through religion of one form or another, because contemplation of God achieves a lot of good results – provided it is a loving God.

    A loving god? Oh dear, oh dear! Well that just kicked the Christian god, Yahweh in the metaphysical nuts then didn’t it?
    Everyone knows he s rather a nasty piece of work.

    Any other deity you suggest?
    How about Himeros?

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  193. NATE! If you’re reading this, PLEASE start a new page. It’s taking forever to load on my tablet — which is all I have since I’m out of town. Thanks!

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  194. nonsupernaturalist

    I believe that hyper-religiosity is a form of mental illness. Whether it is the Roman Catholic who spends a good part of every day chanting and re-chanting the Rosary or the evangelical Protestant who spends hours every day talking to an invisible Jesus asking him to make every life decision for him. These habits may bring the hyper-religious peace and comfort but at a great price: avoidance of reality.

    And there is an even greater danger to society at large: People who obey an inner voice of an invisible friend sometimes do really scary things like drown their children or fly an airplane into a skyscraper.

    I say, dump the invisible friend and deal with reality…no matter how uncomfortable and scary that may be at times.

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  195. I thought I would delve a little deeper into Newberg,and try to see if he is as impartial as he is being portrayed
    While I don’t necessarily believe he is openly disingenuous from the video I watched and the little read, he doesn’t seem quite as neutral as some might want us to believe.

    I watched a 9 minutes video and hopped onto Amazon briefly to checkout one of his books,

    Here’s what I found:
    These two paragraphs were lifted from Newberg’s book: How God Changes Your Brain.

    It is important to note that, although in the spiel, Newberg states he is not particularly religious, he does say he is open to the possibility of God, thus attempting to establish some sort of neutral position for his bona fides.

    However, he uses the term ‘’God’’ as a proper noun, thus already tacitly hinting at the deity found in the Bible, and Koran which becomes more apparent a little later.

    Furthermore, all physical studies appear to have been conducted with Americans and in his opening salvo he starts.
    ‘’God. In America ….’’ Thus immediately alienating me for a kickoff as I am not American and we all know how religious Americans are in general.
    A little further on he writes:

    ‘’If belief in God provides you with a sense of comfort and security, then God will enhance your life. But if you see God as a vindictive deity who gives you justification for inflicting harm on others, such a belief can actually damage your brain as it motivates you to act in socially destructive ways.’’

    But Yahweh IS vindictive and has been cited for justification of many heinous acts even to this day. Or is he alluding to Allah perhaps and interpretation of the Koran?

    And then this, which I consider the real kicker.

    ‘’We will also explain how God culturally evolved from an authoritarian, punitive deity to become a force that is filled with compassion and love.’’

    Not so subtle allusion of Yahweh to Jesus without a single overt ‘name-dropping’. How very clever of him.
    One does not have to be a rocket scientist to see which way the reader is being nudged/lead with all these statements and careful phrasing.

    Impartial studies? Maybe.
    Impartial terminology? I don’t think so at all.

    Personally, I wouldn’t give him five bob for his impartiality.

    But that’s me. You be the judge.

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  196. I understand. You think the beneficial effects that Newberg talks about are mostly the product of general relaxation techniques such as meditation. There is some mention in the faith street article that having “faith” or belief in God increases the beneficial effect such practices confer, which I would be interested in knowing more and just how exactly he measured that separate from just the relaxation practice itself, but otherwise I agree with your conclusion about what Newberg’s data does and doesn’t demonstrate based on what one can glean from the article (and not having actually read the study and thus not being able to view the methodology and data directly).

    Did you have particular aggregate studies about correlations between religiosity and poor brain-related function or good brain-related goodness you wanted to share?

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  197. @consioledreader

    Yes, you’ve understood my point about Newberg’s area of expertise and how it has been used for those practices of religious belief that reduce stress.

    As for your last question, not specifically for brain function but there is a strong correlation between higher education attainment for example and lower rates of belief (especially in the hard sciences) as well as higher rates of religiosity with lower income and higher rates of many kinds of social dysfunction (correlation is all I’m pointing at and not suggesting causal). My point in this thread is that these aggregate rates shouldn’t be this way if higher rates of religiosity ‘naturally’ conferred the kind of benefit UnkleE is talking about (not Newberg); the rates – if UnkleE’s conclusion had merit – should at least show a correlation the other way around.

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  198. Hi Tildeb,

    I think this might be a good time to draw this discussion to a close.

    This is why ‘dialogue’ with you is so very frustrating:

    I saw what YOU did there! You quoted the part of the Newberg reference that you liked, and ignored the part you didn’t like. And then you blamed me for being frustrating!

    Of course some of the benefits of religious belief and practices are simple things that anyone can do – I think this is the tenth time I have said that on this thread – but there are other effects as well. The part of the quote you ignored said: “the more you believe in what you are meditating or praying about, the stronger the response will be.” And “when meditation is religious and strengthens your spiritual beliefs, then there is a synergistic effect that can be even better.”

    I wonder why you left that part out?

    It seems to me that you have employed several classic means of avoiding evidence you don’t want to face up to. In this, by selectively quoting in a way that misrepresents the person. In contrast, did you see what I have done right through? I have quoted both sides of Newberg’s comments.

    Another classic avoidance strategy was when you labelled Newberg an apologist – though you never said what he is an apologist for. After all, his co-author is an atheist and Newberg is an agnostic. One of the most important things in critiquing a book is to actually read it, and if you had read it, you would know that all the way through, Newberg makes it clear he is not a theist but an agnostic – and there is even an Appendix to make that totally clear. He uses “god” in a metaphorical way, and even says: “I like to think of God as a metaphor for each person’s search for ultimate meaning and truth. …. I don’t know what the ultimate reality or truth may be”.

    But I think I can see what happened. Newberg’s books uses the word God in the title, so instant reaction, he must be a theist and he must be bad. It was a pity you didn’t believe me when I explained that wasn’t so, or checked out the book to see for yourself.

    So the fact remains that his peer-reviewed finding show that (1) religious belief and practice have strong neurological benefits except when religion is too negative, (2) secular practices can achieve similar results, and have similar bad effects if negative, and (3) but there are synergistic effects where practices are allied with faith in God that give even better results.

    See what you’ve done? You confirmed your bias.

    Actually I see what you have done, again. You say there are studies showing the it is not religion that does good, it actually does people bad, but again, for the third time, you haven’t offered any evidence to support this statement. I was a little surprised at first, because there ARE studies which show negative effects – Newberg discusses how negative attitudes, whether by religious or non-religious people, can be harmful.

    But I can understand why you didn’t mention any of these, because I think you know as well as I do that they are vastly outnumbered by the evidence of positive effects. So I will finish by offering those interested a quick summary of the evidence for this statement.

    1. Newberg says (p 42): “We know that religious involvement is correlated with health and longevity, but it is difficult to figure out why.” He offers a link to Duke University website but unfortunately the page has been changed. But Duke does offer these lists:

    Summary of recent research and Research publications. In addition, Newberg & Waldman’s book has 546 footnotes, many with multiple references and many of them to papers supporting the positive link between religious belief and practice. So there are scores of references supporting this conclusion right there. One example. And another, which says nothing about stress reduction, but concludes: “Higher levels of spirituality and private religious practices, but not quality of life, are associated with slower progression of Alzheimer disease.”

    2. I presume two atheists writing for Skeptical Inquirer are not apologists for the pro-religion side? Yet this article reports on an investigation of many studies on the social effects of religious belief and practice, and concludes: “the data consistently point to a negative association between religiosity and criminal behavior and a positive association between religiosity and prosocial behavior. Both relations are modest in magnitude and ambiguous with respect to causation. At the same time, they cannot be ignored by partisans on either side of the discussion.”

    3. Connor Wood, a PhD student studying the science of religion (a discipline which you mocked, but which involves neuroscientists, psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists, etc, and is important precisely because of the health and wellbeing benefits of religion – something every doctor should be aware of for the good of their patients) has referenced scores of academic papers on his website, and made this summary of the data (my emphasis): “the data that religion has social and individual benefits is so overwhelming that saying that religion has no benefits is active science denial.” I hope you don’t want to be an active science denier.

    4. In Studies of medicine and religion I list more than 30 studies that show the beneficial effects of religious belief and practice on physical and mental health. This post lists a few more, including one that assesses the monetary value of prayer to health – even the economists are getting in on it!

    Are all these academics apologists? Note that there are probably more than a hundred references in all that, so finding one or two in the opposite direction will only show what we already know – there can be exceptions. But if you want to contest those findings, you need a hundred references yourself.

    I’m sure you’ll say that it wasn’t religion that did the trick but something else, and doubtless sometime that’s true – but not always. Many of the studies mention prayer, faith, going to church, etc. But the mechanism doesn’t matter, it remains true that religion seems to do the trick. If your hypothesis was true, why aren’t there scores of papers showing the benefits of atheism for health and prosociality?

    I see little value in continuing this conversation. I have offered many references, you haven’t. That is clear now, and there’s no point in me continuing to ask you for evidence. Someone has to finish this up, so this will be my last comment on this thread. Thanks for the opportunity to demonstrate all this. Best wishes to you.

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  199. None of the books and accredited papers wil ever take the place of those who have PERSONALLY experienced the negative effects of religion, i.e., Christianity and all it entails.

    Liked by 2 people

  200. nonsupernaturalist

    I believe that UnkleE has effectively demonstrated that studies confirm the many health benefits of believing in an all-powerful, invisible friend; a friend who is always at your side to comfort you; a friend who promises that everything that happens in life is ultimately for your good; a friend who promises eternal bliss and great riches in the afterlife.

    So the question is not, is this belief good for the individual? The question is, is this belief good for society as a whole? If every individual is listening to and obeying their personal invisible friend, is that healthy for society?

    I say, no.

    Invisible friends are dangerous. Society is better off without them.

    Liked by 2 people

  201. nonsupernaturalist

    One only has to look at the levels of violence, racism, and economic disparities in very religious countries compared to non-religious countries to see the ill effects on society as a whole of invisible friend belief. Compare the United States to northern Europe. Compare Uganda with Japan and Australia. While Christians in very religious countries enjoy the personal health benefits of invisible friend belief, their societies are wracked with violence and discrimination.

    And history demonstrates the same phenomenon. While white European Christians were enjoying the health benefits of invisible friend belief, Jews, Muslims, and free-thinkers paid a heavy price for their non-belief and non-conformity to the dictates of the invisible friend. And in the New World, while the descendants of white European Christians enjoyed the health benefits of invisible friend belief, Native Americans, Mexicans, and other mixed-race peoples paid a heavy price under the banner of “Manifest Destiny”, all in the name of the invisible friend.

    Belief in invisible friends may have health benefits for the individuals who believe in them, but that belief has proven DEADLY time and time again for society as a whole.

    Liked by 3 people

  202. UnkleE, you write Of course some of the benefits of religious belief and practices are simple things that anyone can do – I think this is the tenth time I have said that on this thread – but there are other effects as well. The part of the quote you ignored said:the more you believe in what you are meditating or praying about, the stronger the response will be.” And “when meditation is religious and strengthens your spiritual beliefs, then there is a synergistic effect that can be even better.”

    The criticism offered is regarding the the bold part that you recognize but never incorporate into mitigating your over-reaching conclusion.

    You then ask, I wonder why you left that part out?

    For two related reasons: the first is that the same positive effect is achieved by dedicated habits – including religious habits. Again, belief in the religious sense plays no causal part but is included in the correlation part. Again, you never incorporate this into your over-reaching conclusion.

    The second reason is the idea of ‘synergistic effect’ assumes the conclusion, that the greater benefit is related to religious belief only and not in the long term dedication to the relaxing practice. You continue to fail to include this in your over-reaching conclusion. But these reasons are more of a quibble. My counter point to your over-reaching conclusion based on the over-reaching by Newberg to connect ‘faith’ to these effect was to raise the specter that aggregate effects this thesis claims to be (somewhat) causal are not found in population studies. This is a damning problem… for both Newberg’s thesis as well as your over-reaching conclusion.

    Newberg is an apologist in this sense of a lack of rigor by not making it crystal clear that stress reduction practices are the source of the benefit and not religion or faith of the religious kind. Because he associates simple things like smiling to be included in his ‘faith is good for the brain’ thesis demonstrates a willingness to include advantageous data and not the non-advantageous data… like the chopping off heads kind of data or the bigotry kind of data, or the discriminatory data, or any of the accounts of terror from children imagining a very literal Hell for their trivial misdeeds and thoughts… data that is just as much a direct link with religious practices as data he does use… like dedicated praying. My point is that perhaps the aggregate of religious belief includes far more negative than positive evidence for the effects of ‘faith’ than Newberg is willing to entertain and promote for his apologetic thesis.

    Liked by 1 person

  203. Tildeb’s comprehensive reaming of the ”Newberg / positive benefits” argument and Nan’s pointed remark about experience yet again highlight the fact Newberg and unkleE seem steadfast in not engaging those deconverts who were ( and many still are) traumatized by religion. This smacks of serious bias and maybe a little disingenuous behaviour?

    Finally, nonsupenaturalist’s absolutely delightful slap-down of the, ”Let’s-All-Get-On The-Jesus-is-Good-For-Your-health-Bus” demonstrate that, when the approach to investigating religious claims is completely open and all evidence is viewed it is glaringly apparent that, once again, at the root of god-belief is a somewhat Machiavellian and odious foundation.

    And, as per usual, when confronted with such evidence, unkleE runs away like a scolded cur.

    Though why he felt the need to ramble on for several hundred words after announcing: I think this might be a good time to draw this discussion to a close.
    is quite beyond me.

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  204. @Ark

    I imagine UnkleE feels there is no more point engaging in the discussion because everyone made the points they wanted to make and are now in repeat mode and no one seems to be changing their minds.

    As to your point that Newberg doesn’t address the experience of deconverts with negative experiences. I’m not so sure that is true. Newberg writes:

    “By contrast, negative thoughts, feelings, and speech — which includes angry rhetoric and fearful proclamations — cause the primitive parts of your brain to release a cascade of stress-evoking neurochemicals that damage your heart and brain, especially those circuits responsible for suppressing destructive emotions and thoughts. This is what we all have to watch out for. Our research reveals that many people have negative views on religion. We can track this when people relate a limited openness to other belief systems.

    This corresponds with an authoritarian view of God.” (emphasis mine).

    It’s pretty clear in the article he does address that negative fear-oriented thoughts, especially related to an authoritarian view of God, and dogmatism/fundamentalism (he doesn’t use these terms, but he implies them in the part that states, “when people relate a limited openness to other belief systems”).

    This suggests in Newberg’s view as expressed in that particular article the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Religious “faith” can be beneficial for health in its stress-relieving practices and if the larger worldview and view of God is positive (the deity is rainbows and butterflies and love sort of thing) and bad for your health when its authoritarian, dogmatic, and fear-oriented.

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  205. nonsupernaturalist

    “the deity is rainbows and butterflies and love sort of thing”

    The only deity who meets that definition is a universalist. Therefore belief in things like Virgin Births and Resurrections are unnecessary. In the above belief system, one simply loves “God”, whoever he, she, it, or they are, and loves everyone around you regardless of what they believe. I seriously doubt that UnkleE would be willing to go that far. Therefore, UnkleE’s deity and belief system, no matter how rosy he tries to describe it, is still based on fear and discrimination.

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  206. nonsupernaturalist

    To finish my comment above: UnkleE’s belief system may provide health benefits for him personally, but for society as a whole, it is very unhealthy. I suggest that UnkleE consider placing the health benefits of others before those of himself. For his own health, I would suggest meditation, long walks, and secular humanism.

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  207. As to your point that Newberg doesn’t address the experience of deconverts with negative experiences. I’m not so sure that is true. Newberg writes:As to your point that Newberg doesn’t address the experience of deconverts with negative experiences. I’m not so sure that is true. Newberg writes:

    “By contrast, negative thoughts, feelings, and speech — which includes angry rhetoric and fearful proclamations — cause the primitive parts of your brain to release a cascade of stress-evoking neurochemicals that damage your heart and brain, especially those circuits responsible for suppressing destructive emotions and thoughts. This is what we all have to watch out for. Our research reveals that many people have negative views on religion. We can track this when people relate a limited openness to other belief systems.

    The problem is quite simply this:

    Newberg ( and to an extent unkleE) is being subtly disingenuous or a least quite slippery because he is suggesting that the god, God is not like that and the problem seems to lie with the person who has such negative thoughts about the god, God, when in reality the god God is nothing more than a fucking monster.

    And not once do we hear from a deconvert about how traumatic their experience of being indoctrinated with Hell was and how this carried through to adulthood and how awful it was to deconvert and how they were ostracized, vilified and how they lost family friends and often driven out of the community.
    Neither do we hear about the abject fear of apostates in the Muslim community.
    Or the emotional trauma and potential major financal problems for deconverting members of the clergy.
    Neither are there any testimonies from professional therapists who have had to deal with those people who have’still are suffering because of religious indoctrination.

    None of this you brought t the table I notice and I am beginning to wonder if your own subtle attempts at rainbow and butterflies suggest a sympathetic belief about the god God?

    I am a flat out unapologetic atheist. At least let me know if you are a Christian. Thanks.

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  208. @nonsupernaturalist

    I can’t comment on UnkleE’s personal beliefs because I’ve never asked him what he personally believes and I’m not inclined to go slogging through his blog. Do you feel UnkleE as a Christian is being discriminatory against someone?

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  209. @Ark

    Well, if the god God doesn’t exist any positive or negative thoughts would lie with the person and how they conceptualize said being, wouldn’t it? Of course how they conceptualize it is a matter of culture, upbringing, and individual traits as well. Likewise, not every study needs to address every possible variable and potential human experience. Indeed, that would be impossible and is an unreasonable expectation. So that there are studies that find positive correlations with religion doesn’t invalidate an individuals’ negative experiences, and vice-versa negative correlations with religion don’t invalidate individuals’ positive experiences. The only point I am making is that Newberg does address such experiences in the article (albeit briefly).

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  210. And it raises no red flag to you, consoledreader, that ‘bad’ faith – the negative kind that is at least as prevalent as the ‘good’ kind – isn’t factored into what defines real faith… you know, the kind of faith that is so beneficial to one’s brain?

    Now, where have I heard this kind of reasoning before?

    Oh right, deconverted Christians could never have been real Christians because, hey, otherwise they would never have deconverted! Real faith in UnkleE’s mind (and apparently Newberg’s if he had anything to do with that title) suffers the same treatment; it is only of the beneficial kind we will cherrypick for our link between ‘faith-is-good-for-the-brain, which is why his over-reaching conclusions are, by this kind of carefully selected definition, confirmation bias in practice.

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  211. @ cosoledreader

    Yes, it might be helpful. For example, UnkleE lists the 8 components that have provided data of the positive effects – the <synergistic effects let us remember – that supports the thesis that ‘faith-is-good-for-the-brain’ for us, so the questions then become:

    Is smiling an act of religious ‘faith’?
    Is being intellectually active and act of religious faith?
    Is consciously relaxing an act of religious faith?
    Is yawning an act of religious faith?
    Is meditating an act of religious faith?
    Is aerobic exercising an act of religious faith?
    Is the honest exchange of ideas – dialogue – an act of religious faith?
    Is faith an act of religious faith?Did you know that

    Remember, this the source of the data being used.

    When one defines ‘faith’ to be so open to positive data and yet closed to negative, then the very least we should do is raise a red flag in our minds that the conclusion needs further support. This is why I pointed out that if the thesis were true, that religious faith was indeed good for the brain as UnkleE wants us to believe is supported by good neuroscience, then would should f- or, at least, it’s would be reasonable to – find compelling evidence for this in the aggregate, that populations with higher levels of religiosity should project this benefit and reveal a correlate. This is not the case. In fact, in many significant ways the opposite (not including smiling and yawning, for example) seems to indicate the thesis doesn’t work outside of the narrow band of cherrypicked data used to create it in the first place.

    Liked by 1 person

  212. @Consoledreader.

    Perhaps. I would want to see his actual methodology and why he used those definitions first in the actual study itself.

    Really? Well, if you feel this is what it would take for you to make a more honest assessment then one has to wonder why you are behaving like a Dick and commenting on what you now seem to consider is insufficient data?

    Tildeb is the gentleman among us. His continued willingness to offer reasoned, well-presented rebuttals in the face of such blatant, willful ignorance, that is fast becoming overt stupidity, is truly commendable.

    I, on the other hand, have no such scruples, especially when it comes to calling out apparent disingenuous Sunbeams for Jesus

    Newberg and by extension, unkleE come across as sanctimonious arse-hats, and you are now skating close to this line as well.

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  213. I don’t believe I am behaving in a negative way towards anyone. I haven’t called anyone names, insulted anyone’s intelligence. As far as I can tell all I am doing is not agreeing with you 100% because I want to view said studies and the details for myself. If that’s what constitutes being a dick in your mind then so be it. To answer your question in a straight-forward way:

    I neither agree or disagree with Newberg or UncleE or Tildeb. I remain undecided, until I see more evidence one way or the other on where Newberg derives the claim about positive versus negative faith conceptions (how did they measure it). Up to this point all I have done is paraphrased what I believe Newberg is saying to clarify some of the points you’re claiming he never mentions, which he does mention. This is not the same thing as declaring that I agree or disagree with those points. I even agreed and still agree with Tildeb on his points about stress-relieving practices, although some of these do clearly have “faith” overtones (such as prayer).

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  214. nonsupernaturalist

    Consoledreader;

    UnkleE’s need to defend the supernatural claims accredited to Jesus tell me he is not a universalist. A universalist wouldn’t care.

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  215. Peter

    Came accross an interesting article that argued religion must have some benefits to survival of societies or it would have died out:
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/2016/06/dispassionately-dissecting-religion.html
    I will quote part of it here where it references Jared Diamond:

    Diamond lists six benefits of religion:
    Explaining the natural world, absent scientific understanding of the universe.
    Diffusing anxiety over dangers beyond human control.
    Providing comfort in the face of pain, suffering and mortality.
    Teaching obedience toward political leaders.
    Teaching peaceful behavior toward strangers within one’s own society.
    Justifying killing enemies from other societies.

    There are indeed two different questions to ask, one is whether religion is beneficial? Another whether religion is true?

    The problem tends to be that once someone concludes it is not true then any benefit to that person will evaporate.

    Liked by 1 person

  216. I neither agree or disagree with Newberg or UncleE or Tildeb. I remain undecided, until I see more evidence one way or the other on where Newberg derives the claim about positive versus negative faith conceptions (how did they measure it). Up to this point all I have done is paraphrased what I believe Newberg is saying to clarify some of the points you’re claiming he never mentions, which he does mention. This is not the same thing as declaring that I agree or disagree with those points. I even agreed and still agree with Tildeb on his points about stress-relieving practices, although some of these do clearly have “faith” overtones (such as prayer).

    Yes, I agree, there seems to be an awful lot of agreeing and to a lessor degree disagreeing from you.
    However, it doesn’t change the fact that unkleE invariably comes across as a sanctimonious, and oft times conniving arse-hat in the manner of his presentation of ”… the facts, maa’m, just the facts”, and most of those who have interacted with him over the past couple of years would agree.

    In fact, at time he comes across as a most disagreeable fellow indeed, and I would remind you of the fact..just the facts, that most people on Nate’s blog are deconverts who experienced considerable trauma during their days as god-botherers and often more so during and after deconversion.
    So, for anyone … including you, to come here and start suggesting how farking wonderful Yahweh is, no matter hoow subtle that suggestion may be, in whichever disguise he is presented is little more than a ”Slap in the face with a wet fish”, which is rude and most disagreeable, wouldn’t you agree?

    Furthermore, It really would be agreeable if you laid you cards on the table and stopped pussy-footing around the issue and stated whether you are in fact a believer or not?

    This would allow those you are currently agreeing with, and disagreeing with to have a better perspective on how to approach your agreeable /disagreeable arguments. Surely this cant be too disagreeable, don’t you agree?

    Thanks. The highly agreeable
    Ark

    Except when he is disagreeing.

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  217. Furthermore, irrespective of Newberg’s claims concerning positive and negative views of the god, God, it is a fact of the bible that the god, God, or Yahweh is a megalomaniacal, egotistical, genocidal son of a bitch. And we all know the punishment for not worshiping Yahweh, don’t we?

    This suggests that Newberg, and by association unkleE, and pretty much every Christian is either, delusional, thick as pig muck or disingenuous.

    And for you to require ”more data” suggests that you may have never actually read the bible.
    In which case, you probably have no grounds to offer a Sitting On The Fence opinion in the first place.

    However, if you have read the bible you would have encountered Yahweh and in that case, maybe you need your head examined?

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  218. @Ark

    I’ve already answered your questions about whether I have read the Bible in a past conversation with you and I’ve answered my “religious” background in the comments on one of the posts on your blog. If you can’t be bothered to remember my answers or to have looked at them, then why should I answer them again?

    I am also NOT trying to diminish the experiences of those who have suffered trauma from religion.

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  219. Well consider my memory is failing. Couple this with the fact that I regularly ”clean house” as it were, and delete lots of posts, simply refresh my memory, for my bnefit as well as other readers.

    I am also NOT trying to diminish the experiences of those who have suffered trauma from religion.

    Well, that really is super to know. I am sure all the deconverts here will now relax and stop grinding their teeth.

    So, are you a Christian, yes or no? ( And I will make a note for future reference, how’s that?)

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  220. @Consoledreader.
    Okay, I went back to my comments. On one post in conversation with KIA you made mention you were Jewish.
    So now I am back up to speed we can dispense with the xian angle.
    But Yahweh becomes more relevant in this case and especially as he is simply a Canaanite deity adopted by the Israelites.
    Furthermore, the Pentateuch is historical fiction so please explain how praying to the god, God can be anything but an act of a delusional or indoctrinated mind, and any peddler of such tripe anything other than a charlatan or equally delusional?

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  221. Good thing 45% of U.S. Jews seldom or never pray then! And why would God become more relevant? In fact, it seems to me this entire side conversation is irrelevant to the question about whether some scientific studies have found that religion can be beneficial or not.

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  222. Ah well, you see, it isn’t just religion is it? It is the religion of the god , God.
    And as the Pentateuch is historical fiction, then Yahweh is not real.
    So, considering the ‘downside’ of not accepting god belief we are back to whether Newberg is a charlatan?

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  223. nonsupernaturalist

    Are we still bickering over the issue of whether or not belief in an invisible friend (religion) has health benefits?

    Can’t we all agree that, yes, belief in an all-powerful, ever-present, always-benevolent, invisible friend does have health benefits for the individual, but, history has shown that such a belief has frequently been deadly to society as a whole, in particular, to persons who do not believe in the same invisible friend and to those who do not believe in invisible friends?

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  224. Can’t we all agree that, yes, belief in an all-powerful, ever-present, always-benevolent, invisible friend does have health benefits for the individual?

    No. This is absolutely and unequivocally false.

    This is the central point: belief itself is not the source of the benefit being described. This is simply not the case. It shouldn’t be sold as if the case because it’s not. It is a sales job, a sleight of mind to fool the credulous, a means to paint this faith-based belief pig in all its forms with lipstick.

    The benefits described come from reducing stress and this does not require any faith-based belief which, as you say, is well known for being the source of much harm. When one is willing to believe supernatural causal agencies for real world effects on insufficient evidence and consider this kind of unnatural belief a virtue in itself – which is what faith of the religious kind is sold to be – then one is always on the brink of disastrous consequences immune from reason, from common decency, from honest compassion, from real world contrary evidence. That’s why the real product from respecting faith-based belief is a willingness to tolerate and respect ignorance and gullibility.

    Religion is the Mother Ship for faith but the same idea – preferred and empowered belief without sufficient real world evidence – is what fuels all kinds of crazy, saddles what may appear to be innocuous belief or benign denialism with all kinds of real world pernicious effects accrued by acting on it, and forever being justified for at the very best very poor reasons. The core of that justification is inevitably the faith-based belief itself. This is a clue why it never has does not and probably never shall produce any new knowledge. Ever.

    Faith-based belief is EXACTLY the problem underlying much suffering in the world today and pretending it somehow – dare I even say magically – contains a natural benefit IN itself IS itself a highly pernicious – even if popular – false belief.

    Liked by 2 people

  225. “Can’t we all agree that, yes, belief in an all-powerful, ever-present, always-benevolent, invisible friend does have health benefits for the individual?”

    Maybe, maybe not, but if an individual feels a benefit, then they’ll think, regardless of what anyone says, that there’s a benefit, so maybe arguing over whether there is or isn’t, should or shouldn’t be a benefit, the time may be better spent showing how a perceived benefit or detriment doesn’t argue “truth.”

    A medic’s bag doesn’t help anyone, it’s just the vessel that all the helpful stuff is carried around and organized in, so I wont bother correcting anyone who’d say, “thank goodness for that medic’s bag…”

    Whether there’s benefits or not, if the religion is false or fiction, it’s false or fiction, just as much as any other falsehood or fiction.

    Like

  226. nonsupernaturalist

    The argument was not over whether or not the belief is true, only whether it provides health benefits. Emotionally traumatized children obtain health benefits (reduced anxiety) from inventing an invisible friend, but that doesn’t mean that the invisible friend is real (true).

    Let UnkleE proclaim to the world the health benefits of invisible friend belief but let’s make sure everyone is well aware of the off-setting detriment to society of his irrational belief.

    Liked by 1 person

  227. nonsupernaturalist

    What I am getting at is this: Strip away the respectability of “religion” by calling it what it really is—belief in invisible, imaginary friends—and this will negate any claims by invisible-friend believers in the positive benefits of invisible friend belief (religion).

    Point out to people that no one would condone an adult who continues to believe in his childhood imaginary friend, so why should we condone adults believing in religious invisible friends? Why is there a difference? Answer: There isn’t! Both are irrational beliefs.

    Liked by 1 person

  228. The problem of course is they have been indoctrinated to accept the invisible friend (IF) is real. And you are a miserable non believer and are assuredly going to Hell, dontcha know?

    How does one deal with this?

    Like

  229. nonsupernaturalist

    How does one deal with pushy, proselytizing Invisible Friend (IF) believers?

    Ask the IF believer why you should believe in the existence of his invisible friend any more than you should believe in the existence of the invisible friend of a psychologically traumatized child. If he tries to use the “I have evidence for MY invisible friend” line, acknowledge that the existence of an invisible friend as the Creator of the universe is certainly a possible explanation (allowing for all possibilities), but science tells us that there are other possible explanations, so why assume that the Creator must be an invisible friend? The existence of the universe and the laws of nature are NOT evidence of an invisible friend, only evidence of something that we humans have not yet figured out.

    I suggest that we not accept the existence of invisible friends unless we have much better proof of their existence.

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  230. I will allow you to tell unkleE. I expect it may come as a shock to him, although I should imagine he will try to find a consensus among scholars … Licona, Geisler, Dear Bart, etc. And if he can break through or find a medium, Maurice Casey.

    😉

    Liked by 1 person

  231. nonsupernaturalist

    UnkleE, the Christians on Theology Web Forum, and all theists need to understand the following regarding “scholars”:

    -there is no such thing as a “scholar of the supernatural”.
    -there is no such thing as an “invisible-friend scholar”.

    Scholars can tell us what ancient people believed and did. That’s it. They cannot tell us whether or not an invisible friend named Zeus lives on Mt. Olympus or whether or not an invisible friend named Yahweh sits on a golden throne on the edge of the Cosmos. There are no scholars for these concepts.

    These are make-believe concepts involving make-believe, invisible god-friends. Invisible god-friends, like all invisible friends, are imaginary. They do not belong to adult reality. Theists need to grow up, and leave their belief in invisible friends in the dust bin of fantasies and superstitions.

    Liked by 2 people

  232. nonsupernaturalist

    I had a Jehovah’s Witness gentleman come to my door a couple of weeks ago. After saying “hello” he tried to hand me some of his literature. I politely declined and said, “We don’t believe in ghosts and other supernatural beings.”

    He was at a loss for words.

    He finally said, “So when you die, that’s it?”

    “Yes.” I replied.

    That was the end of the conversation.

    Liked by 2 people

  233. nonsupernaturalist

    I believe that the sooner we non-theists stop giving religion the respectability that it craves the sooner it’s inevitable demise will occur. We can be polite and respectful to the religious while expressing our disdain for their religion (Invisible Friend Belief).

    Liked by 1 person

  234. As one of the fastest growing religions, JWs can often be found canvassing the neighbourhood. I tell them about the 144,000 selected out of the approximately 8 million JW members and then ask how many souls do they need to save to become one of the select? While they ponder that for a moment, I tell them they’ll find none here but they have a lot of work before them and not waste their limited time on my doorstep. Strangely enough, I’ve never had the same pair twice. Go figure.

    Like

  235. nonsupernaturalist

    The next time that a group of JW’s show up at my door accompanied by their children (which they frequently do) I fully intend to scold the parents for teaching their children to believe in ghosts and ghouls. I will continue to scold them until they pack up their bibles and Watchtowers and leave.

    Religious belief is superstition. It is not something respectable. Educated adults should be ashamed to believe this stuff, just as an older child should be ashamed to admit that he still believes in the Boogeyman.

    Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism are NOT about “scholarship”, they are about ancient superstitions. Let’s all do our part to pull back the curtain and expose religion for what it is: a con job of the masses.

    Liked by 2 people

  236. @Ark
    Ah well, you see, it isn’t just religion is it?

    Well, actually, no it’s not just a religion. For the majority of Jews it’s more about their culture and ancestry (link) Despite being the religion of the god, God, 68% of Jews feel it is perfectly compatible to be Jewish and NOT believe in God.

    Like

  237. @Consoledreader

    And are you part of the 68% or the 32%?

    Either or, why the Gehenna are you so interested in the shite Newberg is espousing and unkleE is championing?
    Especially when you are perfectly aware of the ‘Downside’ to Christianity – and one cannot even marginally ”benefit” from the ”good stuff”(sic) of appealing to a make-believe deity UNLESS one has taken on board the Dark Side: Hell.

    It is THIS that is patently hand-waved away with barely an allusion to by both of our esteemed, delusional god-bothers.
    And it is because of this that I cannot fathom why you would need to see, in any shape or form, Newberg’ s methodology?

    As Hell is an integral part of the pantomime of Praying to Yahweh then what sort of Frakking Dickhead would consider it beneficial?

    Just asking.

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  238. nonsupernaturalist

    I mentioned above how Religion craves respectability, as demonstrated by its adherents need to extoll its virtues, such as claiming alleged health benefits. We non-supernaturalists/non-theists need to be at the forefront of demasking Religion; of ripping off the respectable façade of Religion to expose it as the silly superstitious nonsense that it is.

    One method to deprive Religion of its respectability is to refuse to address the practitioners of Religion (the clergy) by their lofty religious titles: “Father”, “Pastor”, “Reverend”, or worse, “The Most Reverend”, “His Imminence”, and the daddy of them all “His Holiness”. Refuse to use these labels. Tell those offended that it would be a violation of your conscience to do so. Address these persons simply by their first and last names or use this alternative: Instead of “Reverend” John Doe, use PS John Doe. When asked what “PS” stands for, you can explain: “Practitioner of the Supernatural”.

    Liked by 2 people

  239. @Consoledrader.

    Does every Christian believe in hell?

    Every True Christian ™acknowledges that with a crime there must be punishment. This is justice.

    Otherwise what happens to those people – like me and probably you – as you are a Jew- ( 68% or 32%?) the Traditional Christ- Killers dontcha know and without doubt sanctimonious dithering half-wits like unkleE?

    What’s left, annihilation? And if not annihilation remain on earth and come back and haunt the grand-kids? FTS!

    No, Hell it has to be. Otherwise there is no Heaven and then we would seriously have to ask – What is the frakking point? Why did Jesus come? ( Mary Magdalene always claimed he never did)

    Have we been conned all this time? Are the Priests, Pastors, Naughty Nuns, dinosaur hugging Creationists, white-suited evangelical faith healers, Officially Sanctioned Witch hunters, Intellectually-consenusified god-botherers liars or are they simply all off their bloody rockers?

    What next? Scientific studies refuting almost scientists who claim the efficacy of prayer?

    Good grief!

    No Hell is real. It must be. Just like the Triune god, God and the awesomely God-inspired bible and gospels, replete with genocide, slavery, incest murder and mayhem.

    Like a fine-tuned universe and pseud cannibalistic behavior praying over crackers and wine is really the body and blood of Jesus so help me god.

    Seriously? What next? No Santa?

    I can’t take it. Reality is just to difficult don’t you see?

    Please pray for me…. I am so confused. I think Satan is whispering in my ear telling me
    Newberg is a demon.

    Hell not real! Ha! Will you listen to the man.

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  240. While most Christians in the U.S. believe in Hell, not all Christians do. (link)

    Who most Christians in the U.S. think will end up there versus heaven is also complicated. With small majorities of Christians believing other religions can lead to eternal life besides their own faith. link

    As far as my interest in Newberg’s book/research, I’m interested in the topic of religion, particularly the science of religion. That’s all.

    Like

  241. Presuming that the science of religion is not an oxymoron and that what we’re really looking at is a study of the <i.effects of religious belief, the Gregory Paul’s work is one of the few that actually investigates, collates, and publishes statistical comparative data on this subject.

    Consider:

    “Only the least godly democracies enjoy the best overall socioeconomic conditions – as measured by the uniquely comprehensive Successful Societies Scale – in history, the much more Christian US is the most dysfunctional 1st world nation according to major indicators. The primary factor driving the strong correlation between high rates of popular secularism and better societal conditions is the tendency of high levels of economic prosperity and low levels of income disparity and poverty that are created by secular progressive policies to accidentally but consistently suppresses mass religiosity. The religious right tends to oppose effective progressive socioeconomic policies in favor of the socioeconomically Darwinistic dysfunctional policies that favor popular religiosity. No socioeconomically successful and highly religious nation has ever existed, and the antagonistic relationship between benign conditions and the popularity of religion probably make it impossible for one to come into being.” (a href=”http://www.gspaulscienceofreligion.com/”>source)

    Of course, actual metadata doesn’t fit with the model that faith is good for the brain; in fact, the data is quite clear in its contrariness to this assertion: higher rates of religiosity correlates to higher rates of social dysfunction… which is the .aggregate of all these functioning brains on the various drugs known as religion.

    Like

  242. @unkleE

    Something for you …. and Newberg, perhaps.

    Charity says:
    June 9, 2016 at 07:31 Edit
    Shit happens. I just got to keep on working on me so that my kids don’t have to suffer. I’d rather be the one to go through all of this intense therapy than them. Maybe they won’t have to in the future because I’m going through it now.

    Liked by 1 person
    Reply
    … Zoe ~ says:
    June 9, 2016 at 12:10 Edit
    I read this
    I just got to keep on working on me so that my kids don’t have to suffer.
    and tears started flowing. Like possible flood gates if i don’t turn the tap off now.

    I wonder what you and Newberg would have to say to these two former Christian women who made the comments?

    Personally, unkleE, If it were me, I would suggest that you take your disgusting, immoral Christianity and once and for all stick it where the sun doesn’t shine.
    Perhaps the two ladies in question might be a little more tolerant?. Though God(sic) knows why.

    Like

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