My email convo with Vel is using her publically available email (it’s on her blog) and my own (which is on mine) – I’m confident I’m not breaking any privacy concerns here and will let her – as Peter previously, know what I’m doing.
Good morning Vel,
It’s almost 11 am my time, but closer to 10 pm for you so no expectations for a quick response. I just thought it might be preferable to write here than on wordpress comments.
My first observation would be to agree with you that there is an external reality which doesn’t change just because of the believers’ belief (in general) though that is not a universal law. The best we can say is that in our own lived experience, our beliefs have not affected what we perceived to be real. There is a claim made to objectivity, but all of us are subjectively trapped by our own limited human reality, including frail and at times unreliable senses and mental faculties. I also want to address the ‘straw man’ approach you asserted of me, that I am a god of the gaps adherent or that ‘my god’ lives under a rock on Zeta Reticuli V – I love the name though as I too am a big fan of sci-fi and fantasy in books, movies and TV and I can tell you are simply from a cursory glance at your blog. Fundamentally and for further conversation to be productive, I want you to understand the following about me:
I am not a stupid and dogmatic Christian, in contrast to (according to you own characterisation, and with the acknowlegement that I have no reason to disbelieve it) people you’ve unfortunately grown up with. I actually have ‘read’ the bible (remembering that there are different versions and translations, so for as full a disclosure as possible, it is most accurate to say I’ve studied the bible texts since childhood, to a level far beyond the average layperson, I claim that if not a genuine expert, I am at least far beyond a novice with regards to interpreting the bible. You stated previously that you are comfortable with big words and terminology, do you already know what exegesis, hermeneutics and christology mean? To a Catholic like myself who has studied and read at the University level in theology, these terms are familiar but I recognise that not many lay people know them or are comfortable using them or similar concepts. I also note you hate links for links sake but I am citing these definitions (which I’ve taken the time to read: exegesishermeneuticchristology) I too have an NSRV Bible on my bookshelf behind this desk where my PC is situated and I read it periodically. I also have a ‘Catholic’ version from the Catholic Bishops conference of the Philippines which was given to me at the age of 20 or so when I was ‘Confirmed’ in the Catholic Church down the road from where I live, if you’re unfamiliar, it is a sacrament where a Bishop (who leads a local area known as the Archdiocese of Perth) personally agrees – delegated often to a local parish priest, that a person is demonstrably an adult Catholic, suitably formed in the faith to be considered mature enough to explain their beliefs to others when called upon to do so. I do not believe the bible to be ‘sola scriptura’ that is, all that is required for salvation by itself alone and with solely the activity of the Holy Spirit upon readers with no community involvement. I believe there is a tradition of instruction by others to come to an awareness of the faith, if you haven’t had that, then I’m sorry and I genuinely encourage you to not give up on Christianity, I believe that you’re actually not meant to ‘go it alone’ in life. As for the Zeta comment, know that my assertion is that God is not ‘in’ this reality hiding under any rock, anywhere (especially NOT Zeta Reticuli V ;p). I have faith, based on reason, in accordance with a biblical understanding and Catholic tradition, that God is a metaphysical reality not within the material universe but superior to it, outside it, beyond it. It is not possible to prove or observe God using purely the tools available to you in a materialistic sense via scientific methodology. If you will only believe in God if they prove themselves to you via these restrictions, you will not believe in God (as I agree that they have not proven themselves in such a manner, either to you, or to me). A corollary to this point would be that if you are demanding that a superior God submit to your will, then you are demanding that they allow themselves to be restricted by your demands, why should this be logically expected? If God is beyond you, superior to you, and you are a creature, do you feel justified in expecting them to behave as you require?
If you wish to engage further in respectful dialogue with me I am very open to it and I send this with goodwill.
Always fun to be on others sides of the planet. I’ve love to visit Australia, but I don’t if I can take the 23 hour flight to get there. Maybe when they get suborbital point to point passenger flights J
I’m a nerd in almost all ways. Science fiction and sword and sorcery fantasy are my favorites and I’m a tabletop RPG player. I’ve also gone to many conventions and have done cosplay. My husband even let me dress him up. The only think I really don’t’ do is computer gaming but with the VR devices, I may try that too.
Where is the evidence you have that belief changes reality? We do have some indication that observation influences quantum events but in the macroscale, no matter how much someone wishes something, it doesn’t’ come true. You seem to hold out hope that something somewhere can change reality with a thought with no evidence other than “well, it might happen”. This seems to be a common thing with theists, insisting that the teapot really could be in orbit.
It is also common for theists to huddle close to solipsism in order to find a gap for their god with the claims that we can’t know anything but ourselves and that must mean this god exists. Again, yep, humans are frail, and sometimes the brain goes on the fritz, but we have the scientific method to help with this and again, no god is to be found. I have no problem at all pointing out that you, like all theists, rely on gaps of human knowledge to try to claim that your god is hiding in them. What we don’t’ know “yet” is often used as a reason why belief should be held in some god.
Like all Christians you must be dogmatic about some parts of it. Catholicism is based on dogma, “a doctrine or body of doctrines concerning faith or morals formally stated and authoritatively proclaimed by a church”. I am also, if not a genuine expert, I am far beyond the average layperson. I do know what all of these words you have given mean: exegesis, hermeneutics and Christology. Exegesis, the interpretation of texts. Christians come up with many versions of what they want to claim a text “really” means. Hermeneutics: methods of interpretation. Christians also have many of those. Christology, the interpretation of what JC is about. When I was losing my faith, I looked into all of these for answers. What I found is that there is no one divine message, there are a lot of humans who want to claim that their version is the only truth, with no evidence. I do like Catholicism and think that its smart to not be sola scriptura, but it isn’t any more coherent than Presbyterianism. When I was in my teens, I went to Spain as a school trip and we were there over Holy Week. That was quite an eye opener for my little Calvinist self. J I even saw a bullfight on Easter Sunday where the bull got some revenge on the matador.
No, I hate links when someone takes the lazy way out and won’t explain what on the links is important or how they understand it. I do know what confirmation is. My best friend in high school was Catholic so she taught me a lot of things about it.
All sects of Christianity have a “community” where some people claim to know more than others and that their interpretations are the only right ones. I’ve looked at all sorts of versions of Christianity and their magic decoder rings that they claim tell them the “truth”. If I am to believe the bible, then all baptized believers in Christ should be able to heal people. It is very obvious that you can’t, so either the bible is making false claims or Christians aren’t getting something right.
I don’t go it alone at all. I have my husband, family, friends, experts in various fields, etc. No god needed. When I was a Christian, I certainly wasn’t alone, but that didn’t make the religion any more true.
Every theist has faith, and most claim that they came to the faith by “reason”. Many make the exact claim as you do, that this god is somewhere out side of the universe and beyond time, etc. However, we don’t get that from the bible, and the “meta” God was invented afterward. Per the supposed book that tells about this god, it stands on things, has to wait for events to happen, likes meat smoke, and is awfully dependent on humans. This god supposedly affects the material world.
Many Christians go for the more vague god since it is not so hard to excuse for its behavior. Peter Tillich came up with the “ground of being” or some such vague term to support this meta god and make it harder to show that it doesn’t exist. Karen Armstrong, a one time Roman Catholic nun, has made it more mainstream. It is indeed possible to show that this god has a rock bottom possibility of existence since we don’t find that physical evidence of its actions. Unless you want to claim that this god has done nothing in the material plane?
I would believe in a god if it can show itself to be and not need humans who claim to know what it wants, etc. I might not worship it since all gods worshipped by humans are just humans writ large and just as petty and vicious as any human. We have the god of the bible proving itself in exactly the restrictions I have given in to the characters in the bible. It is only now that this god is a no-show and theists must invent reasons why. If Thomas warrants a personal interview, and this god wants everyone to come to it, then why is the reason I don’t get one? JC gave Thomas a pretty gentle chiding for wanting evidence. Now Christians often tell me that how dare I ask for evidence and that this god just wants faith that it exists.
If it’s too arrogant to show itself, then exactly why should I care to worship it? There is nothing restricting to asking for evidence when that evidence has supposedly been given with no problem.
“If God is beyond you, superior to you, and you are a creature, do you feel justified in expecting them to behave as you require?”
Yep, I certainly do since per your religion, your god made me the way I am. If it made an honest atheist that wants evidence, and then refuses to provide that evidence to me. Hmmm, seems that this god is rather childish.
Do define what you consider “respectful”. I’ve had very many Christians make this demand, and it always ends up that they think “respectful” only means I won’t contest their claims.
My first reply:
Good to see your reply Vel,
I do hope you feel I’m being respectful to you thus far – I’m not trying to bend over backwards to be kind or conciliatory, it’s just that I genuinely do respect fellow intellectual people and can tell that you are genuinely interested in discussion and debate. Respect has nothing to do with blind compliance or acceptance of another’s view simply to avoid conflict. If anything I respect you more if you advocate for rational thought, are willing to consider your own and opposing viewpoints and demand the same from others. I really loved your comment “your god (in a qualified sense – as in I’m stating it, not you, don’t worry, not attempting to mischaracterise you) made me the way I am. If it made an honest atheist that wants evidence, and then refuses to provide that evidence to me. Hmmm, seems that this god is rather childish.”I think it’s insightful – assume for a moment that the Christian claim of God as creator of beings in their own image and likeness is accurate – what does this mean?To me it means, capable of creative endeavour, imagination, freedom of thought, in short what we call ‘human’. I also respect your evident desire for proof of god’s existence – if they are really there.I can only say that I respect your right not to worship my/the Christian God, I am commanded to love (even) my enemies (interpreting this as those who are not ‘for you’ as ‘against you’) I acknowledge this is problematic to some but I genuinely believe it to be instructive in regards to how I should approach dialogue with those who dispute God’s existence. I see you and other ‘new’ atheists as people first and foremost, worthy of respect and treating with dignity. I hope you do as well, but it’s not my place to demand that of you – it’s your free choice.I’d like to define ‘love’ as ‘willing the good of others’ for the purpose of discussion, ‘defining will as the earnest desire, with emotion and intellect/reason, to work towards with practical activity). Now full disclosure, I do believe the Christian message and value of evangelisation but you’ve heard the good news. It is a free choice to accept it or not. I truly respect that. If you don’t believe there is sufficient evidence for god for you, then fair enough. I am happy to explain why/how I derive confident belief in Jesus of Nazareth if you care, otherwise I am happy to leave it. It’s nice to speak to a fellow nerd/geek – I’ve never done cosplay (except dressing as Woody or the ‘purple wiggle’ for a few birthdays in my late teens and early 20’s but still I’m a big RPG fan and play the MMO – World of Warcraft pretty much daily. I also have a regular board game social group and we play the likes of Pandemic, Haunted House on the Hill, Lords of Waterdeep and the like.
Oh I forgot, the evidence that belief changes reality query was one I wanted to touch on too – in a secular sense I hope you’d agree with the psychological insight that perceptions due to mental state are important and do affect a persons’ lived experience. For example if you are focussed on how much you lack or want but don’t have you’re likely to be unhappy, whereas a shift in perspective towards gratitude for the fact that you have the basics of food, shelter, adequate sleep etc. might help you feel more positive/affect your mood in the same objective reality.I do also believe that miracles ‘may’ occur, it’d just be qualified by the reality that I’ve never experienced it, it’s a faith thing, not a science thing. I’m not claiming certainty that the miracles of the bible occured and I do question whether or not I have ‘faith equivalent to a mustard seed’ if I can’t just tell a mountain to go tumble into the sea. For me it’s not so much about miracles being the big showy stuff, as the fact there hasn’t been a nuclear holocaust despite the history of the arms race since WWII, I don’t think most humans are that responsible or ‘good’ so it’s to me improbable that we are still here despite the existential threat nukes represent. To me that’s ‘miraculous’, does that make any sense? The definition of a miracle is something that makes visible the invisible God. This is a highly subjective area. I think that may be why Atheists are unable to observe miracles. If you’re only going to accept inexplicable healings or walking on water or a man appearing in the clouds, well I just am not personally holding my breath, yet I still believe. Finally, yes at the quantum level I think the science is very reasonable in claiming that we can only know so much about a particle, either where it is or where it’s going but not both, leading to probabilistic models and the concept of ‘fundamental uncertainty’.
Vel’s 2nd reply:
I’m going to combine my reply to both of your posts here.
I do indeed agree with the idea that belief can change mood and that the belief that prayer works by the subject or others can make people feel subjectively better. It’s little different than a placebo and we know those work, weirdly enough.
However, belief does not change reality only its perception. No one gets a reality of their own.
Many theists want to believe that miracles occur; I sure did when I was a Christian and I was convinced that if I only prayed the “right” way, my prayers would be answered as promised. Even if miracles don’t happen to the theist directly, there is the hope that someone somewhere gets a miracle and this leads to the gullible belief in claims of miracles with no evidence. This also leads to victim shaming since theists often want to excuse their god by insisting that something the human did caused the god not to grant the miracle. I’ve seen Christians that another Christian wasn’t “sincere” enough or has sinned in some way and thus this god was punishing them or ignoring them. I find that to be no more than abuse.
It’s not only a “faith” thing. If miracles occur then we should have evidence for the vast majority of them, considering what is claimed as a miracle.
I do believe you are claiming certainty that the miracles of the bible occurred. Your religion depends on the certainty that they did, especially the raising of the dead. Per the bible the faith equivalent to a mustard seed is one of the smallest seeds known easily to the authors of the bible. The assumption that you don’t have enough seems to be only an excuse offered for you to continue to believe in your god.
If you can’t move a mountain in to the sea, then there is no reason to believe that anyone can just by “faith”.
There is no miraculous god needed for the reason that there hasn’t been a nuclear holocaust. Us humans are smart, not always all of the time. You want to attribute human caution and thought to some magic that you can’t show. We can indeed show that humans are smart enough, usually, not to kill themselves off.
Your religion depends on you accepting the false claim in the bible that humans aren’t good or responsible, that we are somehow dirty rags. That description certainly doesn’t speak well of the supposed creator who made those dirty rags and supposedly knew exactly what it was getting, being omniscient and omnipotent, etc. Happily, the nonsense that the bible claims about humans is largely wrong. That dirty rags nonsense is no more than a pastor/priest inventing a disease and selling the supposed cure for it.
Many religions make the claim of miracles and I think they would agree that those miracles are supposedly the hand of a god made visible. It should not be subjective at all, since again, many miracles should leave evidence. The claim that atheists can’t observe miracles because they don’t’ believe is a common excuse for other religions too. My wicca friends claim that their miracles can’t be done around unbelievers. And to attribute actions to a god only depends on willful ignorance and a desperate need for evidence for the god in question.
Let me ask you, do you accept the claims of miracles from other religions? Do you accept that there are other gods? In my experience, Christians do not, or they try to claim that those “miracles” are really from Satan/demons. So whether you hold your breath or not, miracles don’t happen.
Science does not claim that there is only so much we can know about a particle. It says that it appears that we currently can only know so much. Again, theists need to hope that science stops dead in order to preserve the gaps for their gods. It may lead only to probabilistic models but again no god needed at all.
I find you to be respectful enough. Honestly, I don’t particularly care. I can throw jabs back and forth with the best and don’t take things personally. I don’t hesitate to land a punch when I feel it’s merited. I will point out that atheist isn’t a proper noun, though some theists love to capitalize it for some reason, as if it were some religion or philosophy.
I rather liked my comment too about a god making atheists too. I often use something similar when a theist (I usually engage Christians, Muslims and the occasional Jew since they are the most prolific) claims that they would be praying for me to agree with them.
The idea of a creator god making humans in its “image” has always been a curious claim in the bible, and Christians are certainly all over the place on what they want to claim it “really” means. Since the bible has this god enjoying physical things, standing on blue stones, being literally seen by various people in the bible, wanting literally tons of gold/silver/jewels and finely dyed leathers, I have no reason to think that the original believers didn’t think this god as physical very much like the other gods invented in the Bronze/Iron ages. As a side note, I love to read other mythos, even the just-so stories Kipling wrote. My favorites are stories about trickster gods, like Loki, Raven, Anasi, etc.
I see nothing in the bible that says that this god is some vague numinous force. I can have an aesthetic sense with no god needed. Humans tend to have the same aesthetic sense since symmetry shows intact health and we are quite the animals to associate that with good. We see no creativity from the god in the bible. It is indeed presented as the creator, a baseless claim, but we have no idea if that is simply its nature. This god, as presented by theists, is nothing but dogma, no imagination, to paraphrase “It is what it is” and nothing more.
I can understand that you respect my right not to worship your god, and I appreciate it but it is not the common Catholic thing throughout history. Your god has no such respect and will happily murder me and all of mine without a thought per your bible. Christians don’t agree on predestination or free will, but the bible says that this god intentionally prevents some people from being able to accept it, and thus damns them for no fault of their own, as object lessons to the believers (Matthew 13, John 15 and Romans 9).
One of the better things in the bible is the “love your enemies” part but I personally was surprised when I actually read the bible and it says not to resist evil at all in that bit of the bible. Funny how pastors/priests choose not to mention those bits. I’m too much of a disciple of Captain America and Captain Kirk to ever consider doing that.
The idea of “new atheists” seem to be something that Christians like to claim. Have you read Robert Ingersoll? He was no less aggressive than Hitchens, Dawkins, etc. And oh, Mark Twain was blunt about religion. Atheists have finally become less afraid for our lives and our livelihoods and we are indeed coming out and proudly. I do object to you saying that we should be treated with dignity as if we don’t actually deserve it. If you don’t mean that, then I apologize for the assumption.
I agree, love is wanting or willing the good of others. So, love doesn’t come into what most Christians want for non-christians. It is the paternal assumption that what Christians have is good and is good for others. Per the bible, it is not a free choice to accept the “good news”, since again, there are plenty of verses that support predestination, far more than there are for free will, even in the “church fathers”. Is it free will if I have a sword, a pistol or the threat or eternal torture to my head?
I would question the value of evangelization. Per the bible, it seems to say that without being told the supposed “truth”, then those who don’t know are not held accountable for it and thus aren’t sinning. So, the actions of evangelists/missionaries are damning lots of people. And I see Catholics evangelizing to Protestants, and vice versa, I just have to roll my eyes in ridicule. My Presbyterian church sent missionaries to Australia back in the 70s. Now, I’m pretty sure you are sure that you have had Christians there for a while. J
I know why people are certain their god exists; it’s very intoxicating to think you have some knowledge of the universe. This is why I looked and looked and looked for the “truth” and why I’m a scientist. And, again, if you kept it to yourselves and didn’t harm others with your religion, I wouldn’t care less. But I see people being harmed again and again from the baseless claims about what a magical being demands. This creates a reason why I vociferously stand up against religious claims and actions.
Currently, my husband is running an Alternity game, a science fiction rpg game system put out by TSR/Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro, via video chat. We used to play D&D in the Forgotten Realms for a long time. I enjoyed running clerics. It’s quite a different world where the gods respond and this world where there are believers and the god/gods do nothing.
Cosplay and our adventures at GenCon What the Boss Likes – Gen Con 2016 and our adventures in cosplay – part 2 – Club Schadenfreude
What the Boss Likes – vacation in Indianapolis for Gen Con 2016, part 1 – Club Schadenfreude
(I’ve read her blog posts, sounds really fun and interesting 🙂
My latest responses here (2nd reply from me))
Hi again Vel,
First off, I just wanted to let you know that just as with Peter – of the ‘Reality not fantasy’ FB page, I am intending to place our convo into my blog over time as posts, I do hope we can continue to have a constructive conversation into the future. I am truly curious if you are currently working as a scientist? In what field or area? Do you work in research? I want to touch on the comments you’ve made that are intriguing in the order you made them as best I can. Firstly, I am very curious how belief in any context can change the perception of reality without changing ‘reality’ itself? To me, what you’re saying from a mechanistic standpoint is that the brain of an individual who believes has the capacity to affect their physiology in distinct ways that contrast with the ‘hypothesised’ or possibly imaginary alternative person who is physically the same in all relevant respects but belief in the particular case in question. We tend to work in generalities but in the specific case of an individual like me. If I on a given day could be happy or unhappy with my life, I claim it would affect the reality of my life due to my choices and behaviour. I hope that makes sense, it’s in the context of the ‘shared’ reality with others than all interactions external to ourselves obtain meaning/significance. One of the best, most helpful insights of Catholic Christianity is that God = relationship and the ‘made in the image’ idea at a metaphorical level is that we are social beings, that we are meant to interact with one another (as I am seeking to do out of goodwill and desire for connection with you and others online). To be fair to you, I do not believe that God doesn’t answer your prayers because you aren’t good enough. My wife often suffers from that delusion and I frequently tell her the same thing I say here (my interpretation of the utility of prayer): God is not in the business of fulfilling all human desire, we are actually harmed by getting everything we want (as we often want that which is not a ‘need’ or in a longer term context is harmful e.g. cigarette smoking or alcohol or overeating etc.), I pray as you ((my wife) in the context of how I explain it regularly to her) should, for the grace to accept what comes as God’s will for my life, for the grace (defined as the supernatural assistance to do something beyond human capacity alone) to trust in God and believe that whatever happens, God will make good come from it for believers united with Christ and His Church. I actually think it very unhelpful for a person who is sick with cancer for example, to obsess over prayers to be healed, though it is understandable and I am in no way advocating they just ‘roll over and die’ – they definitely should seek help and treatment to the extent reason allows – for example a 40 year old mother with a child under 3 would be justified in spending more resources to survive than a 75 y/o woman with adult children and grandchildren. I suspect and believe that God (being genuinely omniscient) takes ‘everything’ into account and processing it ‘perfectly’ arrives at the ‘best possible’ outcome willing this into being at all times – as a believer in the resurrection, I’m not afraid of my own death/mortality, and trust that I will have an eternity with God in heaven. I do not ascribe ‘omnipotence’ to God as traditionally interpreted: that God can do anything. God is perfect but still limited, that is, God is perfectly good so is limited to only doing that which accords with ‘good’. In that sense I believe Catholics and Muslims differ, I’ve heard it said that Muslims believe Allah could tomorrow command murder as ‘good’ and it would be good, wheras for Catholics, murder is evil and God is limited to never command that which is intrinsically evil ‘become’ good.
I’m not in a rush to explain everything all in one go but I’m unsure if I’ve mentioned to you previously my intent to write a book on Catholic Christian apologetics this year, the purpose of my ongoing communication with atheists being to get my thoughts in order, begin writing seriously and keep motivated and inspired for the creative endeavour to come.
You asked a direct question so in brief (I’m really bad at brief): yes I do believe there are beings and things that are ‘supernatural’ other than God alone – e.g. angels, demons, a ‘place’ though non-physical (it’s not under the lithosphere somewhere in the mantle ;p) called hell, gehenna or hades where evil beings reside due to a rebellion against heaven which ‘failed’. I also suspect that humans have creative power – I know you know Neil Gaiman: the Anasi https://www.britannica.com/topic/Ananse reference was a giveaway and I love tricksters too, it also comes up as an idea in Supernatural (with the Winchesters) that perhaps human belief ‘creates’ gods (lower case/lesser than God) beings with power in certain domains and places. I do not believe God needs our belief or derives extra power from us, being perfect and thus is entirely self-sufficient. I also don’t believe true angels (including lucifer/satan/ the ‘devil’) require disbelief in God to have power, they are what they are as God is what God is, as we are what we are. I don’t think any of us get more power from belief and get weakened by others unbelief in us. However, I’ve often attributed human creative power to ‘group psychology’ for example belief in astrology or numerology might make it ‘true’ or perhaps more accurately give it the capacity to affect the perception of reality for subsequent people who hold it to be so. That doesn’t mean that the explanatory framework is correct e.g. that a constellation affected the nature of the being born at that time/space when the ‘sign’ was dominant. If many Africans in sub-saharan Africa 1000 years ago believed in spirits, perhaps their beliefs manifested in ‘reality’ somehow. Equally if many asians and moderns alike believe that 8 is lucky, perhaps it ‘makes’ the number more lucky (for them). Food for thought…
PS I do not believe you don’t deserve respect fundamentally or that I’m somehow ‘giving you a bone’ by being respectful – indeed, I am commanded by Catholic Christianity to consider all as worthy of dignity and respect as we are all one human family, made in the image and likeness of God. It’s a very useful (socially) idea, whether or not it comes from a divine inspiration or not. It’s also a very inconvenient idea (short term) as it requires far more deliberate care, effort and conscious consideration to be respectful than to be flippant, disrespectful or callous. I see all those as morally inferior as well of course, but even if they are morally ambiguous, I still choose to take the effort to try to be good to others in the hope of being an example others can then choose to imitate 🙂