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Author Topic:   Identifying false religions.
Rahvin
Member
Posts: 4046
Joined: 07-01-2005


Message 8 of 479 (564131)
06-08-2010 12:33 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by killinghurts
06-06-2010 10:04 PM


How do you determine what is real?
One thing that really seems quite amazing to me is the number of religions/cults that claim to worship the one and only 'true' God. Surely they can't all be correct, according to the bible there is only one God (Exodus 20:1-6)
What steps would you take to identify a false religion?
Your scenario only accounts for Christian sects; other faiths claim the existence of multiple "true gods."
However, the method for testing the veracity of a religion is roughly the same regardless.
A set of religious beliefs is actually nothing more than a set of assertions about the real world. Those claims can be evaluated in the same way any other claim can be.
Like many claims, however, religious claims are often unfalsifiable. Claims such as the global Flood or 6-day Creationism are easily falsified or supported through observable evidence, but claims like "there exists and intelligent entity for whom the laws of physics are more like 'guidelines' than actual laws, who is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient" can never be falsified.
The easiest way to determine whether a claim is rational and logically consistent is to ask what set of circumstances would not be explained by the claim. For example, if I claim that my neighbor ran over my cat with his car and killed it, my claim would not explain circumstances like my cat still being alive, or my neighbor having been in a different city at the time in question, etc.
If, however, I claim that there is an invisible and intangible unicorn in my garage, my claim explains any scenario equally well. Normally you would ask to see the unicorn, but this one is invisible. You might ask to touch the unicorn, but this one is intangible.
If my claim equally supports any outcome of any test, then my claim is so vague as to be worthless for all practical purposes. By equally explaining anything and everything, I in fact effectively explain nothing at all. Further, by anticipating the results of any test as being identical to a scenario in which the unicorn does not exist, I in fact demonstrate that I don't actually believe that there is a unicorn in my garage either.
In any case where I am presented with a claim (religious or otherwise) that the claimant insists would be valid regardless of any possible observation or experimental outcome, I immediately dismiss the claim as irrational at best and possibly delusional (most religions) or even maliciously manipulative (Heaven's Gate or any televangelist faith healer, for example). This tends to rule out my belief in most concepts of "god" right off the bat as simply being too vague to evaluate. If I cannot determine the relative accuracy of a claim, then I cannot rationally think that the claim may be any more accurate than any other vague claim.
Other claims can be evaluated, even if not always conclusively. A global Flood claim, for example, would explain a global sediment layer and a universal genetic bottleneck for every species on Earth, but would not explain the lack of these things. Claiming that there is a pencil on my desk would explain my observation of a pencil resting on my desk, but would not explain my lack of such an observation or the lack of a desk in the first place. These are claims for which it is possible to evaluate accuracy relative to reality, and that's exactly what should be done, whether a claim is supposed to be "religious" in nature or otherwise. Positive proof is not always possible (my lack of observing a pen on my desk could simply be because I haven't looked under my keyboard, for example), but we can at least gather data which supports or contradicts the predictions of any set of hypotheses, and we can see which ones appear to be more likely to be accurate.
Gut instinct or "feelings" are irrelevant; they're frequently wrong, and so I don't trust them.
Claims made by a trusted individual can still be wrong, and still need to be evaluated according to evidence. The trusted individual should be able to support their claim, and if not, the trusted relationship should itself be re-evaluated.
Popular beliefs can be (and very, very often are) wrong, and still require evaluation of supporting evidence.
In any and all cases, where a belief or claim contradicts reality, reality always wins. It doesn't matter how much a belief or claim is "liked," or how long it's been considered to be true; reality is the ultimate arbiter of accuracy, and if a claim is directly contradicted by evidence, continued adherence to the claim is the very definition of delusion.
Adherence to a claim whose accuracy cannot be evaluated because it equally explains any and all possible data is simply a flight of fancy, a daydream, a fantasy. Such things are often harmless and emotionally pleasing, but ultimately they are childish self-delusions with no tie to reality. It may be emotionally soothing to think that I might see my grandfather again someday after death, but there is no reason to think that this will actually be the case beyond my own desire that it should be so, and while wishful thinking increases our instinctive sense of probability, it has no effect on reality (else I imagine we'd all be wealthy and disease, starvation, and all manner of suffering would cease to exist).
All claims should be evaluated against reality. The original question, "What steps would you take to identify a false religion?" is incorrect. The right question is "What steps would you take to identify a claim consistent with reality and evaluate its likelihood of accuracy against all possible mutually exclusive claims?"

This message is a reply to:
 Message 1 by killinghurts, posted 06-06-2010 10:04 PM killinghurts has not replied

Rahvin
Member
Posts: 4046
Joined: 07-01-2005


Message 11 of 479 (564158)
06-08-2010 4:33 PM
Reply to: Message 10 by Pauline
06-08-2010 4:17 PM


Hi Doc,
And you think the world we currently live is...in bad condition?
Just think what would happen if all of the 6 billion people in the world thought the same way you did....we would end up in a more moral and orderly world, right? Right!!
How can someone not seethe idiocy of such statements?
Not that I'm actually agreeing with AZ here, but I;d just like to point out that your statement here implies an appeal to consequence fallacy.
Any given claim (religious or otherwise) would be either true or false regardless of whether the population of the world is "more moral and orderly." If the Christian god (or any other god) exists, then we would not necessarily expect the world to be any more or less "moral and orderly" than if he did not. Beyond that, the accuracy of a claim is similarly independent of the desirability of its implications; the Christian god exists or does not exist, regardless of how nice the idea of eternal life is.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 10 by Pauline, posted 06-08-2010 4:17 PM Pauline has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 13 by Pauline, posted 06-08-2010 6:29 PM Rahvin has replied

Rahvin
Member
Posts: 4046
Joined: 07-01-2005


Message 14 of 479 (564175)
06-08-2010 7:39 PM
Reply to: Message 13 by Pauline
06-08-2010 6:29 PM


Hey Rahvin,
I know of no better way to evaluate the merits and demerits of a desire, wish, or claim than to assess its consequences.
Desires or indeed any suggested course of action should be evaluated according to their consequences. You will find no argument from me regarding that.
However, claims about reality are independent of whether the consequences are desirable. For example, if Bob shoots Dave, I may be unhappy, but my desire that Dave should spring back to life has no effect on reality; Dave remains dead. Whether I would prefer that the Sun rise in the West tomorrow or not has no effect or relevance to whether the Sun will, in fact, rise in the West.
The consequences of having my bank account suddenly multiply a thousand-fold would be extremely beneficial to me and as such is highly desireable...yet alas I remain middle class in reality.
Our hopes and desires and values can, should and do have a great effect on our own chosen courses of action. They do not, however, directly translate to reality - facts are facts, and truth is truth, regardless of whether we like it or not.
quote:
Any given claim (religious or otherwise) would be either true or false regardless of whether the population of the world is "more moral and orderly.Any given claim (religious or otherwise) would be either true or false regardless of whether the population of the world is "more moral and orderly." If the Christian god (or any other god) exists, then we would not necessarily expect the world to be any more or less "moral and orderly" than if he did not. Beyond that, the accuracy of a claim is similarly independent of the desirability of its implications; the Christian god exists or does not exist, regardless of how nice the idea of eternal life is.
I can't see how you can disconnect a claim form its consequences while assessing it and why you would do something like that.
The consequences of a claim are only useful when taken as predictions. For example, as a consequence of a round-Earth model, I can predict that if I fly West for long enough, I will eventually approach my starting location from the East. THis would be a useful test of a claim that the Earth is round.
However, the desirability of a round vs. a flat Earth has no bearing on whether the Earth is in fact round or flat or square or a pyramid.
An argument that appeals to the desireability of the consequences of a claim, such as "God must exist, because without Him there would be no Heaven," is logically fallacious. In this specific example, God and Heaven either exist or do not exist, regardless of whether the speaker's preference.
Does that help explain the Argument from Consequence fallacy?

This message is a reply to:
 Message 13 by Pauline, posted 06-08-2010 6:29 PM Pauline has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 15 by Pauline, posted 06-08-2010 8:03 PM Rahvin has replied

Rahvin
Member
Posts: 4046
Joined: 07-01-2005


Message 16 of 479 (564183)
06-08-2010 8:31 PM
Reply to: Message 15 by Pauline
06-08-2010 8:03 PM


You've used facts, Rahvin, to make your point clear to me. Facts about the earth, the sun etc. I fail to see how AZ's:
quote:
AZP3 writes:
Is it 'my' religion with 'my' conception of 'my' god?
If not then it is false.
is a fact rather than philosophy........or why you would make it out to be that way in order to facilitate a logical fallacy.
As I said, I'm not defending AZ's statements or agreeing with them in this case. I understand why he's making such a point, but I would never advocate believing that one;s own perspective is right, and that all other perspectives are wrong simply because they are not one's own perspective - and in fact I don;t think AZ would advocate it either, and he was simply being sarcastic because this seems to describe the behavior of some people (ie, "Religion X is wrong because I believe Religion Y," with no actual assessment of fact or evaluation of the accuracy of claims).
I was responding only to your response, where it seemed that you were appealing to the desirability consequence of a more "orderly and moral" world as support for the existence of a deity. The desirability of a more moral world has nothing to do with whether deities do or do not exist; they either do or do not, regardless of how much we like or dislike the consequences.
If you were not in fact trying to make any such statement, then we simply have misunderstood each other.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 15 by Pauline, posted 06-08-2010 8:03 PM Pauline has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 17 by Pauline, posted 06-08-2010 9:22 PM Rahvin has not replied

Rahvin
Member
Posts: 4046
Joined: 07-01-2005


(1)
Message 34 of 479 (564310)
06-09-2010 6:50 PM
Reply to: Message 20 by Buzsaw
06-08-2010 11:31 PM


Buzsaw, meet Bayes.
Corroborating evidence that it is supernatural.
1. Fulfilled prophecy - none in most.
2, Enough verifiable historical significance.
3. Culturablly benefits. Do the cultures under it's influencef fare relatively well?
4. How old is it? If it's true, it should have been around from the beginning of recorded human history having some established doctrine.
5. It should not be a Johnny come lately takeoff from an old established doctrine, contradictory to the original. Usually this originates from one self acclaimed prophet. Examples of this are Mormonism and Islam, both take - offs from the Biblical record, contradictory in some aspects from the original but having enough of it to draw adherrants.
These come to mind.
I'd like to draw attention to the "fulfilled prophesy" point that is frequently used, most often perhaps by Buz, as "evidence" supporting Chistianity.
The strength of any fact as evidence for or against any particular hypothesis is dictated by when we should not expect the predicted event to happen.
For example, let's imagine that I have purchased a lottery ticket using numbers I've chosen. If my ticket wins, then my prediction could be said to have been accurate...and since my prediction was not based on the extrapolation of an observed pattern or theoretical model, you could say that my winning number was in fact a "fulfilled prophoesy."
How can we explain my ability to win the lottery? Was there a supernatural agent involved? Blind luck?
There are innumerable potential hypotheses to explain my accurate prediction. To make an assessment of each hypothesis and how well my prediction supports each one, we must first establish how likely the event was to occur without any knowledge of the prediction. In other words, how likely would I be to win the lottery if I had simply gotten a randomly generated ticket rather than my chosen numbers?
The more likely the predicted event was to happen on its own, the less likely any given hypothesis surrounding my ability to predict lottery numers will be.
If we are to rationally examine any prophesy, we need to first look at how likely the event was to happen even without the prediction. If I predict that a disaster will befall the United States this year, I am almost absolutely going to be correct simply because my prophesy is so vague. The "predicted event" would include a tornado in the Midwest, a consequence of the recent Gulf oil spill, a terrorist attack, a hurricane, a poorly maintained bridge falling into a river, a earthquake, a particularly cold winter, a drought anywhere in the country, etc. Because the prophesy is so likely to be fulfilled, it is highly unlikely that any supernatural ability or entity is involved with my predictive ability.
Typically, Biblical prophesies are "interpreted" such that they are only made to apply to an event after the fact. This means that they weren't "predictions" at all - they're the result of human rationalization and apologetics, noting a pattern that fits if you simply "interpret" the text to say something it may or may not actually say. Such techniques allow phophesies to apply to nearly any significant event, and because of the typical lack of a specific timeframe, there are countless events to search for vaguely similar patterns to fit to the prophesy. Because prophesies interpreted in such a manner are almost certain to be fulfuilled by the looseness of interpretation allowed, they do not strongly support the hypothesis that the prophesies were the result of divine revalation.
What the hell am I talking about? Bayes.
P(H|D} = P(D|H) P(H) / P(D)
The probability of a hypothesis being true given data D = the probability of the data being observed if the hypothesis is assumed to be true * the probability that the hypothesis was true before the data was observed / the probability of the data being observed under all possible hypotheses.
In this case, the probability that Biblical prophesies are divinely inspired given a fulfilled prophesy = the probability that fulfilled prophesies will occur if they are divinely inspired * the probability of divine inspiration / the probability that the event specified in the prohpesy would happen anyway.
We should expect that P(D|H), the probability of a given prophesy being fulfilled given that the prophesies are divinely inspired, would be 100%.
P(H), though...The probability of Biblical prohpesy being divinely inspired before considering any fulfilled prophesy is difficult to estimate. I could easily say that the prior probability of Biblical divine inspiration is 1:infinity, simply becasue there are infinite conceivable "god concepts," including one or any number of gods or no gods, which can all be mutually exclusive. This should be further lowered because the hypothesis contradicts very well-supported models of causality - this is an event that requires freaking magic, and as such should be considered nearly infinitely improbable given our current understanding of the world; if precognition is possible, it will throw all of physics on its head while everyone scrambles to make sense of the mess. This corresponds directly to the mantra "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." The prior probability of me seeing a squirrel on a tree outside my home is relatively high compared to that of Godzilla attacking New York, for example (everybody knows Godzilla attacks Tokyo, not New York).
P(D) is the probability of the event specified in the prophesy occurring regardless of anything else. If I were to win the jackpot in the California Mega Millions lottery, for example, P(D) would be 1 in 175,711,536. This is where we see what i was discussing above - The less likely the observed data is to occur on its own across all possible hypotheses, the more strongly an observation of that data supports our hypothesis. Conversely, an event which is extremely likely to happen regardless of the hypothesis carries proportionally lower support for any specific hypothesis.
Let's carry this though my lottery example, since we have some known numbers there. Our hypothesis is that I can reliably predict lottery numbers, and out datum is that I have won the California Mega Millions jackpot. I'd say that the probability of me being solely able to predict lottery numbers out of all humanity would be extremely unlikely, particularly since it violates known laws of physics...but let's just call it 1:6,000,000,000 - one person out of the entire population of the world (this is an absurdly high probability for such a contradiction of other very well-supported hypotheses, but I just don't want to do that much math - you should probably drop the probability of this by at least several orders of magnitude, as causality-violating precognition would be very nearly infinitely improbable). I'm also assuming that I can predict the outcome every time, so P(D|H)=1 (to parallel a deity's expected perfect rate of prediction).
P(H|D) = 1 * 1.6e-10 / 5.7e-9
P(H|D) = 0.028
There is a 2.8% chance that my hypothesis is correct and that I am actually able to predict lottery numbers. Not very high. Even though the probability of my winning the lottery was very low, the prior probability of me being able to violate physics and predict lottery numbers was even worse - my singular rare event doesn't mean much.
However, if I can do it again, we'd have to use our previous results (2.8%) as our new P(H), and we'd come up with a much higher result given that my chance of choosing the right lottery numbers by pure chance would remain the same 1:175,711,536.
When we apply Bayesian reasoning to claims of fulfilled prophesy, we typically find that the probability of the event happening anyway (given the typically loose interpretation of the initial prediction, the fact that the prediction itself only becomes clear after the event in question has already happened, etc) was relatively high, and that combined with the low prior probability of literal-Bible Christianity being correct out of all possible competing hypotheses (not to mention the low probability of discovering an exception to very well-supported universal rules of causality) prior to the consideration of supposedly accurate prophesy, the probability for the Bible being divinely inspired even given a supposedly fulfilled prophesy comes out pretty low.
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, not simply the fulfillment of a prophesy interpreted so vaguely as to potentially apply to any number of similar events.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 20 by Buzsaw, posted 06-08-2010 11:31 PM Buzsaw has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 37 by Buzsaw, posted 06-09-2010 8:13 PM Rahvin has replied

Rahvin
Member
Posts: 4046
Joined: 07-01-2005


(1)
Message 40 of 479 (564330)
06-09-2010 9:40 PM
Reply to: Message 37 by Buzsaw
06-09-2010 8:13 PM


Re: Buzsaw, meet Bayes.
Rahvin, your message, depicting a single prophecy, is a strawman, so far as my argument goes. I've never argued that one prophecy would be adequate grounds to believe the Biblical record.
I consistently apply corroborated evidence in debating the Biblical record. That includes the prophecies.
Jesus, the NT messiah/christ, meeting the corroborated conditions predicted in the OT Jewish scriptures, himself used some of those OT prophecies to proclaim his role. He also corroborated the OT prophets by his own Luke 21 prophecy that the city of Jerusalem would be occupied by the Gentiles until the end times when their occupation would cease.
Relative to the OP of this topic, religions which deny evidence like this supportive to the Biblical record, including some ultra-liberal Christian religions can be assumed to be false.
My post was not about a single prophesy - that was used as an example.
My post was about how we determine the relative strength of evidence pertaining to a given hypothesis.
In the case of Biblical prophesies as a whole, we would need to evaluate the probability of each one individually, and P(H) would be the P(H|D) of the previous result. Multiple successful prophesies would each successively increase P(H) and thus increase the probability of the hypothesis being accurate.
This doesn't only apply to prophesies, of course - it's how any and all evidence is evaluated in a rational context. It's called Bayes' Theorem, and it's a well-established method of determining probability.
To determine the likelihood that your hypothesis (Jesus is the prophesied messiah) given your observations (the conditions you say fulfilled various prophesies), you need to evaluate the likelihood of the conditions happening on their own, the likelihood of the conditions happening given that the prophesies are accurate, and the prior likelihood of the prophesies being accurate without considering the fulfillment conditions. Then you can calculate the probability that your hypothesis accurately reflects reality.
Bayes' Theorem, applied correctly, will help to eliminate personal bias (confirmation bias, false pattern recognition, etc) and establish an objective analysis of how strongly any particular bit of evidence supports a given hypothesis.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 37 by Buzsaw, posted 06-09-2010 8:13 PM Buzsaw has not replied

Rahvin
Member
Posts: 4046
Joined: 07-01-2005


(1)
Message 57 of 479 (565043)
06-14-2010 1:13 PM
Reply to: Message 53 by Pauline
06-13-2010 11:57 PM


quote:
Peg writes:
if a religion is 'invented' by man, it is false.
Huntard writes:
So, all are. Thanks Peg.
Sorry, Peg...but that was hilarious.
Indeed. But I'd like to tackle that seriously by simply stating that the method of delivery is irrelevent to the veracity of a claim. A broken clock is right twice a day. A human being could conceivably randomly stumble upon an accurate description of reality that we would identify as a "religion." Simply identifying a religion that was created by man in no way falsifies the claims of that religion - it's simply attacking the messengerratehr than the argument, a classic ad hominem fallacy.
Hatred of science? People who hate science have serious problems and need immediate help. THAT is a sickening disease.
Indeed, though it does happen with unfortunate frequency. The fear of some sort of "liberal white-tower intellectual establishment" is nearly palpable, at least here in the US. In many cases, the public has a greater appreciation for what a random guy in a bar says about an important issue than they do for the opinion of a recognized expert on the subject. I don't know about you, but I like to get myinformation from experts, for exactly the same reason that I trust a doctor more than I trust a random guy in a bar when it comes to prescribing medication or diagnosing a disease.
On topic,
If someone claims to have self-confessed hatred towards an object, then either their religion that they accurately follow is false or they inaccurately follow a inherently true religion...which makes THEM false believers in a true religion. No one can be a true Christian and also, hate willingly, willfully, and pleasurably. To put it bluntly, I would just make the assessment that something is wrong with Christians that hate as opposed to something is wrong with Christianity itself.
Why do you say that? Is it impossible that a religion could by factually correct and demand hatred of something? Is there some requirement that the veracity of the claims of a religion be beholden to the moral compass of believers? What if there really is a deity, and He demands that you hate...I don't know, squirrels. If I could, for the sake of argument, prove that the Squirrel-Hating God is objectively real, you can talk to Him directly and receive responses, He performs miracles in full view of people, and so on, would His requirement that you hate squirrels make Him disappear in a poof of logic because a religion that demands hatred is impossible? I realize I'm using a silly example to keep things light, but the question itself is serious.
quote:
And how would you determine this?
By observing the lives of my friends. This is why I mentioned that I'd make my observations on friends.
If a friend of mine who has problems with a notoriously bad temper confessed to have experienced a change in his temper for the better and attributes it to prayer, then I would talk to him about it. Ask him why he prayed. Ask him what exact happened when he prayed. Ask him why he thinks prayer has changed him etc.
Does your friend's opinion about how prayer caused a change in his attitude have a guarantee of accuracy? Would simply asking even a large number of people about their opinion of prayer carry statistical weight? After all, you're not exactly performing a double-blind investigation here - you'll easily be able to establish correlation, but not cvausality, and you have nothing uppon which to make a model of the mechanism that causes behaioral change. For all you know, you troubled friend could have also taken anger management classes, or could be on a new medication; perhaps the prayer did help, but was it through divine assistance, or would he have had the same result praying to any deity? Would he have seen the same results through non-religious meditation?
There's a reason that psychiatrists don't simply ask their patients if they have a specific disorder and then take their word on it. I have friends of a variety of religions as well as atheists, ranging from Mormons to Christians to Jews to new-agers and so on. If I were to ask any of them about the positive effects of their faith, they would be able to respons with a variety of effects that may or may not have anything to do with the veracity of their religious beliefs.
The emotional satisfaction or personal benefit of believing something to be true has nothign at all to do with whether the belief is actually true. Looking at my bank account doesn't tend to have a positive effect on me, yet I am assured by my bank that the balance is in fact accurate and I am not a millionaire. If I believe that when I die I will be reborn as a deity in my own Universe, I may find that personally comforting and I could perhaps use any moral instruction given by my new faith to improve my own behavior and life. That doesn;t mean I actually get to be a deity after I die.
THat's the thing about belief: false belief looks absolutely identical to accurate belief in any and all circumstances unless you're comparing those beliefs to reality, where you can use objective testing to determine the accuracy or inaccuracy of any belief.
quote:
Atheists and agnostics seem to be able to live by morals too. Why do you think this is?
Because we all define morality differently. What I think are moral you might think are immoral and vice versa.
Close. Morality tends to be defined socially\culturally more significantly than personally. More importantly, there are objective results to certain behaviors that cause a certain degree of commonality in moral standards even across cultures. Neither an atheist nor a Christian is likely to identify murder as a moral positive, and the reason is simply that the objective effects of homicide except in specifically dictated circumstances (self-defense, etc) are undesireable to the individual - the possibility of being murdered oneself or having one's family or friends murdered, and of course the potential breakdown of society if homicide were considered a moral net positive (I rather like the benefits of living in society, like computers, electricity, medical care, and grocery stores for instance).
quote:
So suicide bombers are paragons of virtue? That's kinda scary.
No. Okay, cross off the word merit and make that "deserve special attention"
I meant, when people give their lives for the sake of their religion with no earthly benefits to reap then they must seem to live for a higher purpose and I would try to give that purpose special attention in my analysis. That purpose might or might not be valid, but it certainly speaks out loud. If that purpose turns out to be highly invalid and immoral, like Jihad or whatever, then.....its time to wrap this one up and start probing a different religion to find the true one. But its turns out to be valid and beneficial to everyone, then I would delve deeper into that particular religion.
I'm curious as to why the zeal of a set of follwoers has anything to do with the accuracy of their beliefs, however. That the inividuals could be "living for (what they believe to be) a higher purpose" doesn't mean their higher purpose actually existsoutside of their own minds. Isn't it possible that the beliefs of a compeltely indifferent person who would immediately renounce them if threatened with violence could still be accurate?
Non-personal religions would not even qualify in my list of religions to probe.
Why?
I maintain that any religion's set of beliefs constitute a set of claims about reality: "Deity X exists," or "Y happens when you die," or "Z happened a long time ago." Contrary to what you seem to think, Doc, I don't believe for one moment that the way to tell whether a given set of beliefs is accurate will in any way be helped by asking the opinion of a friend, or by determining the moral or emotional satisfaction of the beliefs, or by examining the zeal of believers. Contrary to Peg, I don't care whether the beliefs come from the President of the United States, some drunk guy in a bar, or a Mysterious Voice in the Sky.
I think that the only way to determine whether any set of beliefs is accurate is to measure those beliefs against reality, regardless of their source, regardless of their consequences, and regardless of whether or not I personally like them.
So far as I can tell, every single other method one could use to determine whether a given religion is true or false involves one or more logical fallacies.
Further, a set of religious beliefs cannot be taken as an all-or-nothing set. Some claims of a religion could be inaccurate, and others could still be accurate. There having existed a religious leader named Mohommad, for example, in no way means that he was actually a prophet; each claim must be analyzed for veracity individually.
The only rational approach to religion or indeed any other set of claims is to approach each claim from the position of "I don't know," to then make predictions based on each claim, and to evaluate those predictions based on objective reality. It requires experimentation, double-blind studies, and an open mind. Above all, regardless of personal feelings, reality always wins the argument. If objective evidence falsifies a claim, that claim is false, regardless of how believing the claim to be accurate might positively affect the lives of believers. If objective evidence supports a claim, then we need to accept that, even if we would prefer different results.
A nice, relaxing, positive fantasy is still a fantasy. It might be harmless, but the question wasn't "how do we identify harmless beliefs," but rather "how do we identify false religions?"

This message is a reply to:
 Message 53 by Pauline, posted 06-13-2010 11:57 PM Pauline has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 58 by Pauline, posted 06-14-2010 9:23 PM Rahvin has replied

Rahvin
Member
Posts: 4046
Joined: 07-01-2005


Message 67 of 479 (565206)
06-15-2010 2:29 PM
Reply to: Message 58 by Pauline
06-14-2010 9:23 PM


Hi again, Doc,
It struck me as humorous because Peg pretty assertively made a quite false judgment and Huntard followed it up with another false judgment leaving no room for further perusal of the claim made at the beginning.
In order to answer the question, we first need to define "man-made" and also its converse. After this, the people that dogmatically assert that God cannot be detected or understood by human efforts can happily withdraw from the debate. The people that do agree that God-made religion(s) are detectable now need to agree on a set of criteria that identify supernatural origins. And to my knowledge, there is no objective way to detect supernatural "footprints" like you would detect the presence of H2S gas in a chemical reaction. This is where faith comes in.
When you say "it's impossible to detect it, but I know it's there based on faith," you are anticipating as if the subject does not actually exist. It's a curious behavior in humans.
Imagine that I claim to have a unicorn in my garage. You'll immediately want to see it, right? Well, of course it's invisible. You could then suggest that you listen to the sound of its breathing, or throw flour in its general direction to covert it in something visible...but then I respond that of course the unicorn is intangible, as well. In this case, I am in every instance anticipating as if the unicorn does not exist. For every experiment you can devise, I have a rationalization as to why we should expect the result that would normally indicate that there is in fact no unicorn present.
This behavior typically means that the person making the claim does not actually believe the claim to be true themselves. They simply believe that it is "good" to believe the claim. For instance, it's "good" to believe the Bible...but in any and all cases where an objective test is possible, there is a rationalization for why a negative result would be observed (sometimes even going so far as to claim that the negative result is actually a positive one, much like the California governor in WWII who claimed that not having been attacked through sabotage was positive evidence that an insidious Fifth Column saboteur movement was present). I find this tendency to be both interesting and extremely disturbing.
I'm a rationalist. I cannot ever take a person's word for any extraordinary claim. If you claim that something is true I need you to show me why I should believe you. For me, "faith" never enters the picture at all.
Rahvin writes:
A broken clock is right twice a day. A human being could conceivably randomly stumble upon an accurate description of reality that we would identify as a "religion." Simply identifying a religion that was created by man in no way falsifies the claims of that religion - it's simply attacking the messenger rather than the argument, a classic ad hominem fallacy.
Exactly. To me, this disqualifies man-made or heaven-made as a criterion for identifying the true religion. I could tell someone that the Bible is straight from God's mouth....but again, couldn't a Hindu claim that the Bhagavad Gita is of divine origin or something like that? Faced with a situation where pretty much no religion confesses to be man-made, what do you do? Ultimately, it is what one chooses to believe in with faith, not evidence.
But that line of reasoning turns "identifying false religions" into "identifying religions I personally prefer." I find even the mere suggestion that one can "choose" to believe something to be absurd - I can no more "choose" to believe Christianity than I can "choose" to believe in that unicorn in my garage. How does personal preference have anything at all to do with whether the beliefs of a given religion accurately reflect reality?
It's like my ex-step-daughter when she was 13, claiming that regardless of facts, her opinion was completely valid because opinions are subjective and cannot be wrong. I really do wish I could make that argument to my bank - I'd immediately be of the "opinion" that my bank account contains a few orders of magnitude more money than it currently does. Or perhaps I could solve world hunger by being of the "opinion" that nobody starves.
The fact that human beings associate personal preference with a higher probability of accuracy is merely a demonstration that our instinctual cognitive processes are so deeply flawed as to be broken. And that's exactly what you're describing with "faith," if you can "choose" what to believe without relying on any form of objective evidence.
Indeed, though it does happen with unfortunate frequency. The fear of some sort of "liberal white-tower intellectual establishment" is nearly palpable, at least here in the US. In many cases, the public has a greater appreciation for what a random guy in a bar says about an important issue than they do for the opinion of a recognized expert on the subject. I don't know about you, but I like to get my information from experts, for exactly the same reason that I trust a doctor more than I trust a random guy in a bar when it comes to prescribing medication or diagnosing a disease.
True. But again, there's always two sides to a coin. Just like when the stethoscope was invented, medicine started to become more about the disease than the patient, so also as technology-through science-progresses, some people have made their lives become more about technology itself rather than using technology to make something out of their lives. Balance, is missing.
Most real dilemmas in life have even more than two side. But you'll find little argument from me on this statement. The same thing happens in all aspects of life - some people live to work instead of working to live, etc. But I'd still trust the workaholic physics professor's opinion on the age of stars significantly more than I'd trust what Joe down at the gas station thinks. Mostly because I'd expect the physics professor to be able to back up his opinion with evidence. To use an example in current events, I really, really hate it when an individual claims to know how to better resolve the Gulf oil spill than the "so-called experts" do. The experts have been dealing with oil rigs and deep-sea drilling for years. The average person claiming "they can do more!" or "they should just..." likely couldn't even describe the workings of the blowout preventer, or walk me through capping a well under normal circumstances. The illusion of self-competence by the incompetent is maddening - we all need to be able to admit when we don't know something, even when we feel powerless in the face of a disaster and feel that strong urge to act.
What I was thinking of when Kitsure mentioned theists hating science, is when people choose to ridicule science when one or more of its theories disagree with what their specific religion claims. Religion does very little to tell us about scientific laws or principles...science is where we get that type of information from. And we should respect that. The reason I do not agree with the ToE, however, is because it does not accurately depict reality, IMO. I may be considered a fool for thinking this, but this is the stance I'll take for now.
I will never call anyone a fool who adds "for now" when stating any position. It means that according to the evidence you're aware of, you've taken a position, but that you retain the ability to change your mind. That's true open-mindedness (as opposed to "believe anything anyone says ever, especially me," which is how some people use the term), and it's something we all need to remember. Yes, I include myself in that. Along with assigning a higher probability to personally preferable hypotheses, human beings also tend to vigorously defend established positions and very rarely change their minds regardless of evidence or argument. Remaining rational is exceedingly difficult.
Rahvin writes:
Why do you say that? Is it impossible that a religion could by factually correct and demand hatred of something? Is there some requirement that the veracity of the claims of a religion be beholden to the moral compass of believers?
Absolutely. There is a reason why every human being, in general, has a sense of right and wrong. Whether a kid has been taught the concept of murder or not, if he does it--then he's going to feel bad about it.
Do you have evidence to support that claim (that a child who is never taught that killing is wrong will automatically know that it's wrong)?
Because my experience with children shows me that they don't instinctively feel guilty for any number of "wrong" things, including stealing, hitting, etc, and that they only "feel bad" that they receive a negative response from an adult. Feelings of guilt without being caught come later. Children don't seem to be able to innately tell right from wrong - they need parental and cultural influences to develop a functional moral compass.
Constructive emotions such as love and kindness had a beneficial effect on the human society as a whole. When a religion teaches us otherwise, we are entitled to question--why? If the answer is based on plain dogma (well, because the reliigon says so), then somethings wrong. This said, if the religion in question--like you propose-- calls for squirrel hatred, then we are entitled to question the motive behind this. I wouldn't be impressed by a religion that does this because there is no point to it. (Or, I think there is no point...someone else may love the idea of squirrel-hatred, IDK)
And yet whether an emotion is constructive or destructive depends on circumstances. Anger and outrage, often identified as "negative" emotions, helped start and sustain the American Civil Rights movement. Hatred of injustice can be constructive.
Once again you're assigning probability of accuracy based on what is personally preferable to you, not any sort of objective test of claims. You don;t need to be "impressed" by the Squirrel-Hating God. You don't have to like Him. You can love squirrels (those fuzzy tails are rather cute). Your opinion of Him and your personal preference has nothing to do with whether the Squirrel-Hating God actually exists. If the Squirrel-Hating God walked up to you and said "hello, mortal," wouldn't you be obligated to believe that He exists? The "moral positivism," the "warm-fuzzies," your personal preference has absolutely nothing to do with whether the Squirrel-Hating God is real. How, then, can you use those things as tests to identify false religions?
Isn't it possible with such a line of reasoning for you to identify a true religion (one that accurately reflects reality, whose claims are all objectively verified) as a false one?
Rahvin writes:
If I could, for the sake of argument, prove that the Squirrel-Hating God is objectively real, you can talk to Him directly and receive responses, He performs miracles in full view of people, and so on, would His requirement that you hate squirrels make Him disappear in a poof of logic because a religion that demands hatred is impossible?
No, assuming you're giving me objective evidence, said god would still god, whether I admire his squirrel-hating ideas or not. The question is, should the squirrel-hating imply something about the god? Does it imply that he enjoys causing others pain? Does he ill-treat lower creatures? Etc. If all said and done, he turns to be a hate-loving god, then I really would be VERY hesitant to worship him. I would think about
But believing something to be true carries no obligation of worship. I believe you exist, but I don't feel the need to bow down. Even if you identified a religion that was objectively true, you'd carry no obligation to follow it if you disagreed on a moral level. During my deconversion from Christianity, one of the questions that ran through my head was "should I worship the God who felt that murdering the firstborn of Egypt or drowning the entire world's population was a morally righteous action? After all, that makes Him guilty of genocide." Note that I still believed that the Christian God existed, and that there was a global Flood, and that Exodus was an accurate representation of events. I no longer believe any of those things, but that's incidental - you can believe claims to be true without liking or approving of them.
Again, this thread asks the question, "how do you identify false religions?" not "how do you identify religions you would approve of?"
This particular idea of "religion bringing about a positive change in a believer's life" really stemmed from personal experience. Growing up, I was a pretty stubborn kid. I was great at academia and often used this as an excuse for being obstinate and not listening to my parents. "I know everything". Right around 10th grade, I started taking my religion seriously. Nothing about my parents' upbringing had changed. They have always been people of discipline. Nothing really in my surroundings changed much. I was still great at school. But I experienced a big change in the way I thought ever since I started practicing my religion with all my heart. To my best knowledge, the change was supernatural. I mention this at the risk of "exasperating" you, Rahvin (as you will remember our conversation from the Forum name change thread ), but I do think this is how religion is supposed to work. It’s supposed to change you and that change should, objectively, be attributable to religion and only religion. This would mean that I would first ask my friend if he took anger management classes, or started doing yoga, etc in order to rule out any alternate possibilities. It would be more methe outsidermaking an assessment as to whether or there exists supernatural work in a given person’s life, rather than just taking their word for it. This is what happens when I read missionary biographies. William Carey’s life, for example, bears distincy marks of supernatural intervention. Jim and Elisabeth Elliot’s does. You get the drift. Contrary to how subjective it may sound, I do think that assessment of supernatural working is not only distinguishable and appropriate, but also necessary in religion. Consider Christianity’s, The fruit of the Spirit, the point behind is was precisely this. Do people change for the better and is this because of their God? If you think otherwise, you will explain to me. And I would like to hear.
I'll counter with this: I have experienced a massive positive personal change since giving up Christianity.
The sentiment you express here is extremely common. The problem is that you're only looking for positive reinforcement of your hypothesis. You;re looking for what (in your opinion) seems to be "supernatural influence" in a person's life. So we actually have two issues:
1) What objective criteria do you base an assessment of "supernatural influence?" What distinguishes it from more mundane things like coincidence? Remember, in a world of 6-billion+ people, 1-in-a-million events happen over 6000 times every day.
2) Confirmation bias
Let's try an experiment. I'm going to give you a few sets of three numbers. See if you can identify the pattern. In fact, I'll open it up to everyone else who sees this post. If you think you see the pattern, feel free to send me a PM and ask if your own sets of three numbers follow the same pattern. Test your hypothesis. When you think you've figured it out, let me know, and I'll post the actual pattern. To make sure I'm not just changing the pattern after the fact, I'll send the real rule to Percy right after I post this message.
2-4-6
12-14-16
46-48-50
Hell, I might even post this challenge again in the Coffee House as its own thread.
DS writes:
Non-personal religions would not even qualify in my list of religions to probe.
Why?
Non-personal religions are ritualistic and that is a trademark of salvation by works, which IMO, is impossible, salvation by works that is. In Hinduism, for example, you earn your way into nirvana by accumulating good deeds throughout your lives.and who knows, you may or may not make it to moksha. It is strictly man-based. And therein lies a problem. In religion, you shouldn’t have to rely on yourself to achieve spirituality because spirituality thus gained is fallible.
Why should your opinion hold sway over reality? Isn't it possible that the claims of a religion, even if ritualistic and impersonal, could be accurate regardless of your own estimation of their value? If I could objectively prove that performing a magic ritual involving a snail, some human hair, and a laundry basket would immediately cure the common cold, would the ritualistic and impersonal nature of the belief cause you to deny the objective evidence of a 100% repeatable success rate of cured colds? Isn't it possible that Hinduism is actually accurate, that when you die you attain nirvana depending on your good works, despite the fact that this contradicts your view of what should be?
Once again - you are assigning probability of accuracy based on the personal preferability of the hypothesis. Whether you like or agree with the hypothesis has nothing to do with whether it accurately reflects reality.
Rahvin writes:
I think that the only way to determine whether any set of beliefs is accurate is to measure those beliefs against reality, regardless of their source, regardless of their consequences, and regardless of whether or not I personally like them.
How would you verify whether belief in Hanuman, a hindu god is accurate or not?
How would you, Jesus Christ?
How would you, Allah?
How exactly do you test beliefs against reality?
That's part of the point - not all claims can be tested. Most can, but not all, like the unicorn in my garage.
And therein lies the rub - how is Jesus, or Allah, or Yahweh, or Hanuman, different from my unicorn? If everyone including believers anticipates the result of any proposed test to be identical to what would normally be considered a negative result (unanswered prayers? "God works in mysterious ways." Bad things happen even to believers? "Sometimes God tests our faith." Etc.), then the claim is very likely to be false. An absence of evidence is evidence of absence (in every single case, objectively the failure to observe evidence supporting a hypothesis can only increase the probability that the hypothesis is false according to how often we would expect the supporting evidence to be observed, even if that means it's only slightly evidence of absence).
Moreover, if your hypothesis equally explains all possible outcomes of an experiment (Answered prayer? Explained by God. Unanswered prayer? Explained by God. Etc), you have no actual knowledge. If your claim is equally "accurate" regardless of result, then your claim is not accurate at all, or at least is no more accurate than any other untestable random guess.
Further, a set of religious beliefs cannot be taken as an all-or-nothing set. Some claims of a religion could be inaccurate, and others could still be accurate. There having existed a religious leader named Mohommad, for example, in no way means that he was actually a prophet; each claim must be analyzed for veracity individually.
What exactly is your conception of God, Rahvin? I ask this because what you just said begs the question, is a religion’s God incapable of making it a prefect religion? Is this because he is imperfect? You would think that the true God would create the true faith..true implying everything in it is true.
A valid question, and the answer is "I have no preconception, because every religious claim seems to have a different definition themselves." I see no reason to define God as omnipotent - that's typically part of the claim being tested, after all. If the Greek pantheon were to actually exist, would it matter if they didn't actually care enough to ensure that their believers had a completely accurate view of them or reality? Would that make them less real?
To have a predefined concept of "god" is to put the cart before the horse. I'm willing to evaluate any and all claims, those identified as gods and those not identified as gods, omnipotent or merely semi-phenomenal, almost-cosmic. If it's accurate, it's accurate, regardless of any preconception I may have.
It requires experimentation, double-blind studies, and an open mind. Above all, regardless of personal feelings, reality always wins the argument. If objective evidence falsifies a claim, that claim is false, regardless of how believing the claim to be accurate might positively affect the lives of believers. If objective evidence supports a claim, then we need to accept that, even if we would prefer different results.
Incorporating science into religion, aren’t you? Why?
What if we NEVER are able to identify the true religion in spite of there existing one? If science was as successful as you portray it to be in solving theological problems, then why are we here on this forum talking about true and false religions?
Science has thus far proven to be extremely good at solving problems in general, and I think you'd agree with that. It doesn't tend to solve moral questions, but then, that's outside of its scope and it doesn't claim to be able to solve those problems anyway.
It does, however, solve questions as to what does and does not exist and how the Universe does and does not work exceedingly well. In fact, I'm not even talking specifically about "science" here per se. I'm really talking about Bayesian Reasoning, whereby we can objectively evaluate the probability that a given hypothesis is accurate. Human thought instinctively leans towards confirmation bias, towards increasing the perceived probability of accuracy for hypotheses we find personally preferable, and a dozen other cognitive flaws. Bayesian Reasoning helps us to eliminate those influences and align our perception of probability of accuracy with evidence from reality instead.
The "true religion," after all, could simply be something that no human being ever conceives of and is never told about. Failure to discover the "true religion" is always a possibility - in fact, if we take "true religion" to mean "a completely 100% accurate comprehension of the real Universe and its workings," then I'd wager that finding the "true religion" is impossible.
And you know what? That's okay. I don't feel the need to be absolutely right about everything. I'm content with just trying to be less wrong today than I was yesterday. Grabbing on to a claim of perfect truth when I cannot possibly evaluate the claim sounds like a good way to pick the wrong one.
I'm curious as to why the zeal of a set of followers has anything to do with the accuracy of their beliefs, however.
It has nothing to do with the accuracy of their beliefs. I only said that my attention would be drawn to it and it would interest me because I think there must be something special about that religion that makes them behave so nobly. They might very well be behaving nobly for a ridiculously lousy cause...but still they draw attention. And that simply is my point.
Fair enough, but I'd still counter with the conceivable possibility of a person who's really not that convinced or simply isn't willing to die for their current beliefs, and yet whose beliefs nonetheless reflect reality with extreme accuracy. The flashier claims may draw the eye, but they aren't always right. Modern science's description of the Sun is significantly less interesting and flashy (and a whole lot more math-y) than Apollo driving a chariot across the sky, and it's a whole lot more subject to change than any religion, but it's by far the most demonstrably accurate description thus far.
I maintain that any religion's set of beliefs constitute a set of claims about reality: "Deity X exists," or "Y happens when you die," or "Z happened a long time ago."
Right. So walk me through on how you, as you claim, would dispel the myths and collect objective data?
Well, that would depend on the individual claim and the evidence observed, wouldn't it? Claims of past events in actual reality can be examined through archeology, geology, and other investigations of the past as relevant. Claims of how the Universe works (like the Greek conception of the Sun) can be tested as well.
But the real problems are the ones I'd wager you're really talking about - the completely untestable, unfalsifiable claims. And for those, I'll repeat my answer:
If your claim equally explains and any all results of any and all tests, your claim is functionally worthless and the hypothesis conveys zero knowledge. If I claim that there is a unicorn in my garage regardless of the results of any test you can carry out, it is more probable that there is not a unicorn in my garage. An absence of evidence can only ever be evidence of absence (relative to the likelihood that the evidence should be there if the hypothesis were assumed to be true), even if only slightly.
If I cannot objectively assess the probability of your claim as being more likely than the existence of a unicorn in my garage, I'll see no reason at all to believe that your claim is actually accurate.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 58 by Pauline, posted 06-14-2010 9:23 PM Pauline has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 69 by Pauline, posted 06-16-2010 4:53 PM Rahvin has replied

Rahvin
Member
Posts: 4046
Joined: 07-01-2005


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Message 70 of 479 (565503)
06-17-2010 1:38 PM
Reply to: Message 69 by Pauline
06-16-2010 4:53 PM


Hi again, Doc,
Hey Rahvin,
When you say "it's impossible to detect it, but I know it's there based on faith," you are anticipating as if the subject does not actually exist. It's a curious behavior in humans.
Imagine that I claim to have a unicorn in my garage. You'll immediately want to see it, right? Well, of course it's invisible. You could then suggest that you listen to the sound of its breathing, or throw flour in its general direction to covert it in something visible...but then I respond that of course the unicorn is intangible, as well. In this case, I am in every instance anticipating as if the unicorn does not exist. For every experiment you can devise, I have a rationalization as to why we should expect the result that would normally indicate that there is in fact no unicorn present.
I find this analogy inappropriate. Here, you claim to have a unicorn...with certain qualities. You mentioned no evidence of there actually existing such a unicorn. Whereas, Christianity (I'll speak for it, since I am one) has a structured network of evidence, though not all of it is tangible evidence. Certainly, God is not tangible--but this doesn't mean that He isn't real. There a lot of other things that are real but not tangible...emotions, intelligence, ideas etc. We can see manifestations of these intangible entities but not the entities themselves. Your unicorn doesn't seem to have any effects attributable as evidence of its existence. The only "evidence" that I gather from your post, is you yourself. First-hand eye witness testimony....and I really can't go by that small amount of evidence. I need more. In Christianity, you have data and you also need faith because you don't have all the required data. The difference is, some people treat this data as evidence and other people who are more tuned into accuracy and science tend not to treat it as evidence.
This illustrates perhaps the largest problem with human cognition: affirmation bias.
The problem is not that one has insufficient data. The problem is that one can have insufficient data to establish a high probability of accuracy, while simultaneously having a high degree of confindence that the hypothesis is accurate.
Human beigns tend to "search for truth." We look for the "right" answers. But it's completely impossible for us to ever be absolutely certain about anything. You can never be right. Neither can I, or anyone else.
The best we can do is strive to be lwess wrong.
The method of thinking you describe involves searching for confirmation for an existing hypothesis.
It's backwards.
The strength of any hypothesis, of any explanatory model, is what it cannot explain. The modern model of the solar system could not explain the Sun rising in the West,for example.
What can my unicorn hypothesis not explain? It can explain both the observationa nd the lack of observation of a unicorn. It can explain flour exposing the surface of the unicorn, or flour falling to the ground. Because it can equally explain all possible observations, it is useless as a hypothesis.
What if I were to list a variety of reasons to beleive that the unicorn is present? Perhaps I could claim that the unicorn tells me things - that the unicorn told me that I should accept that promotion at work, for example. Perhaps I could claim that the unicorn told me that a great disaster would befall the United States, a few months prior to the Gulf oil spill. Perhaps I could claim that when I pray to the unicorn, my prayers are answered, even if sometimes the answer is "no."
All of that sounds very convincing, doesn't it? Or rather it would if we didn't already know that I'm talking about an imaginary unicorn. Surely the observation that the unicorn has conveyed messages to me, has predicted future events, and answers my prayers is evidence supporting the hypothesis that the unicorn exists, even if you can't see it, or touch it, or hear it? Surely the evidence available is sufficient to take the rest on faith?
But I haven't even examined what the unicorn hypothesis cannot explain.
If the unicorn answers my prayers, surely that means that I can perform a test where many people pray to the unicorn and many people do not and we statistically analyze the results of the prayers in a double-blind study? Wouldn't the hypothesis be unable to explain a statistically identical rate of the prayed-for event happening to both the group who prayed and the group who did not? Yet an unswered prayer is simply taken as a "no." Perhaps the prayed for event was not "part of the plan." If the hypothesis equally explains all possible outcomes of the test, the hypothesis conveys no knowledge. If an observation supports a hypothesis to the same degree that its opposite also supports the hypothesis, the evidence does not actually support the hypothesis at all.
If the unicorn predicted a geat disaster, under what likely circumstance would the prediction have not come true? What would the hypothesis be unable to explain? A United States that lived happily ever after with no more disasters, military, natural, ethical, political, etc ever again? How likely it that? If the hypothesis equally explains all possible outcomes of the test, the hypothesis conveys no knowledge. If an observation supports a hypothesis to the same degree that its opposite also supports the hypothesis, the evidence does not actually support the hypothesis at all.
I have tried specifically to not address Christianity individually, since the topic of the thread was "identifying false religions," not "is Christianity a false religion?" I will say (I don't know if I;ve mentioned it to you) that I am a former Christian myself, and am well aware of the beliefs of a variety of different denominations. My own background included Congregational, Presbyterian, and Christian Reformed churches, though I have been exposed to many other denominations as well. I have read most of the Bible, my grandfather was an educator at a private Christian school, and before my deconversion I was extremely confident in my beliefs. I had a great deal of faith. If you would like to discuss Christianity specifically, I'd be happy to oblige, simply because it's something I think we're both very familiar with. But for the purposes of this thread, I'm going to try to be a but more general and speak about all religions (indeed, all claims about the real world, including religion but not limited to it).
Let me illustrate. Let's suppose an accident occurred on a interstate and a bunch of people witnessed it. You were not there at the moment but heard about the accident and became curious about how it occurred. You come to me, who happened to be there when the accident occurred, and ask me what exactly happened there...whose fault did I think it was etc. Well, I tell you that a dark demon with black and white feathers, green claws and big feet came from the sky and collided with a particular car on purpose and immediately after the collision, it disappeared.<--That's an eye-witness testimony. Being the rationalist you are, you immediately dismiss my testimony as...a pathetically foolish cooked-up story.
Stop right there. No, that's not what I do. I will evaluate any claim as objectively as I can. Yes, I often fail to meet my own standards, particularly inthe moment - objectivity requires struggling against natural human instincts towards confirmation bias, false pattern recognition, etc. But most of all I struggle to maintain an open mind to any hypothesis regardless of any pre-existing opinion on the matter.
Eyewitness testimony is evidence. How strongly that evidence supports the hypothesis that a demon actually caused the accident depends on the prior probability of a demon existing before the eyewitness came forward (relatively low given demons are not thought to exist in the matieral world), the likelihood of the witness observing the demon if it caused the accident (possibly relatively high if the witness was in a good viewing position, or lower if not), and the probability of the witness observing the demon if the demon had not caused the accident (in other words, a hallucination or trick of the eyes, which I wouldn't call "very probable," but certainly higher than the prior probability of the demon existing).
The probability of a demon having caused the accident given the eyewitness testimony is equivalent to the probability of the witness seeing the demon assuming that a demon really did cause the accident (call it 90%, we'll assume the witness was in a good position) multiplied by the prior probability that a demon caused the accident before hearing the witnesses testimony (this one depends on a lot of other factors,including what other evidence has been evaluated previously, but I'd call this one pretty low...let's say 1%), divided by the probability that the witness would come forward with their testimony if a demon had not caused the accident (a trick of the eyes with a bird, "swamp gas" like they used to say in UFO sightings, plain old hallucination, etc - certainly not a very high probability, but definitely within the realm of possibility. Let's say 10%).
P(H|D)=P(D|H)*P(H)/P(D)
P(H|D)=.9 * .01 / .1
P(H|D)=.09
Given those fudged numbers, I would place the probability that a demon did in fact cause the accident at 9%. Certainly not enough to inspire any confidence.
You then find someone else and ask them for their testimony---and they say exactly the same thing I did.
In which case we'd ruin teh numbers again - except this time the prior probability is the result from our last analysis, since all evidence is cumulative. Let's say this witness was in a similar position and so still would have had a 90% chance to see the demon if it did in fact cause the accident.
P(H|D)=.9 * .09 / .1
P(H|D)=.81
With two eyewitnesses in excellent locations to view the accident as it happened and no further data, I would have to say that it is not 81% likely that a demon caused the accident. Now that is a numbe tha might inspire some confidence that the hypothesis is correct.
Under the impression that every eye-witness you met is a fool, you set out to the accident site to find "evidence". You find some black and white feather.......a green claw.....and a giant footprint.
Wow. How do I model this? Obviously our prior probability is now 81%, but how do I model the probability that the feather, the claw, AND the footprint would be found, both if a demon didn't cause the accident (pretty darned low) and assuming it did (all three? not as high as any given one, since probability of concurrent events is multiplicative, but we'd still have to give it a decent number)? The first (P(D)) would be low but not zero, simply because it's still possible that the feather, claw, and large footprint were unrelated - perhaps the feather is from a bird, etc. Let's call it 30%. The second (P(D|H)) should be relatively high, as we would expect a creature involved in a car accident to leave bits behind, though it wouldn't be absolutely certain. Further, all three bits of evidence are multiplicative. Let's call the probability of each item being left behind assuming a demon caused the accident 90%. .9 * .9 * .9 gives us about 73% for finding all three.
So:
P(H|D) = .73 * .81 (our previous cumulative result from toehr evidence) / .3
P(H|D) = 197%
Holy crap, We might have a demon.
But do you see the problem yet? It should be obvious given my previous comments. In fact, there are two.
1) we have established evidence that a large creature with white/black feathers, green claws, and very large feet caused an accident. We have not established evidence that the creature was "a demon," or in fact given any definition for what a "demon" is. A very large bird would seemingly fit the same description. The indentification of teh observed creature as a demon is a conclusion, not an observation - support for the hypothesis that a large feathered and clawed creature caused a car accident is not necessarily evidence that it was a demon.
2) we've selectively looked at positive evidence only...once again exposing confirmation bias for what it is: a natural but utterly flawed process for thinking. We could come up with similarly ludicrous probabilities for the hypothesis that I can accurately predict what cards will be drawn from a deck if we exclusively look at my positive results and completely ignore the negative results. Remember, the strength of any hypothesis lies in what it cannot explain.
Now, this is the xrux of the matter. Do YOU, Rahvin, believe in demons? No. You don't. So what do you do? Dismiss the data as non-evidence or, interpret the data as evidence of something else (some weird animal or something....but not a demon) Supposing another guy--who believes in supernaturalism--hears my testimony, he is likely to believe what I said. And to him--my eye-witness testimony and the data from the accident site, all translate as evidence.
When people approach the same data with different worldviews, differences in opinion are bound to arise. The reality of the matter in question is not affected by opinions. However, individual interpretations are.
You'll note that this is not my thought process at all. Rationality means examining all evidence, regardless of whether that evidence increases or decreases the probability that your pet hypothesis is correct. An accurate hypothesis will always come out with a higher probability than inaccurate hypotheses regardless, and why would you ever want to remain confident in an inaccurate hypothesis? To a true rationalist, worldview is irrelevant - only evidence matters. Inaccurate hypothesis, regardless of your prior confidence that they were accurate, must always be forsaken. One can never grow stronger by retaining the same beliefs - only by changing beliefs by discarding inaccurate hypotheses in favor of more accurate hypotheses, by becoming less wrong, can we become stronger.
I don't pretend to be a perfect rationalist, any more than you would claim to be a perfect Christian. But like you, that's the ideal I strive for.
This behavior typically means that the person making the claim does not actually believe the claim to be true themselves. They simply believe that it is "good" to believe the claim. For instance, it's "good" to believe the Bible...but in any and all cases where an objective test is possible, there is a rationalization for why a negative result would be observed (sometimes even going so far as to claim that the negative result is actually a positive one, much like the California governor in WWII who claimed that not having been attacked through sabotage was positive evidence that an insidious Fifth Column saboteur movement was present). I find this tendency to be both interesting and extremely disturbing.
Christians don't have a pre-conceived idea of God. We take what we read in the Bible as the description of God, about whom we otherwise would never have known or discovered. So, the rationalization accusation is not the fault of believer.s The fact that the God of the Bible is intangible is what is causing our dilemma. If God was tangible, I would be the first person to fly down with Him to wherever you live, Rahvin, and show Him to you. (if I found Him before you did, that is) I would have no need to rationalize the intangibilities because there are none. When He claims to be intangible, in His word, then Christians have to accept that and move on. Its not like we cooked up this image, and named it--God--, assigned certain qualifiers to it one of which is intangibility and try to rationalize the irrational. No, we take what we get form the Bible and just present it as it is. The data given in the Bible is your problem, not the believer who presents it to you himself.
The preconception doesn;t have to be your own, Doc. The preconception lies in defining a subject before making observations; drawing conclusions before examining evidence. You read about your deity and establish your idea of god from there, and seek confirming evidence, when you should be making observations in the real world and establishing your concept of what god (if any) may exist from reality. If I read that dragons are two-legged, winged lizards that breathe fire, I;ve already established a preconception that completely discounts the possibility of Asian dragons that typically fly with no wings and look completely different from Western ones.
The problem is in takingthe data in the Bible to the exclusion of all other data. How can you ever claim that the definition in the Bible is accurate when you cannot test its accuracy? How can you claim that it's more accurate than the Greek definition, or the Roman, or the Egyptian, or the Hindu definition when you can't test the relative accuracy of those definitions either?
I'm a rationalist. I cannot ever take a person's word for any extraordinary claim. If you claim that something is true I need you to show me why I should believe you. For me, "faith" never enters the picture at all.
Exactly. Well, I can't present you with any more tangible evidence than is already present before you. I've explained that, in religion, faith is inevitable. In fact, a lack of faith is the criterion for damnation in Christianity. I say this not to threaten or offend you, only to present you with the truth that I believe. Ultimately, Rahvin, all said and done, faith is unavoidable. Its like Lycra--you either have it or you don't. There's nothing more I can present to you that will instill faith in you....apart from all that you already see, but do not accept as good enough evidence.
If it were evidence, Doc, you wouldn't need faith at all. Faith is the source of confidence when you don't have evidence. You don't need to be shown, you simply know anyway. "The evidence of things unseen, the confidence of things hoped for," isn't that an accurate paraphrase from the Bible's description of faith? I think it sums up the largest flaw in human gognition quite nicely - we have a tendency to estimate the probability that desireable hypotheses are accurate much more highly than an objective analysis of the probability would dictate based on the actual evidence. To be more concise, we have a tendency to be extremely confident that we're right even when we have little or no reason for such confidence.
But that line of reasoning turns "identifying false religions" into "identifying religions I personally prefer." I find even the mere suggestion that one can "choose" to believe something to be absurd - I can no more "choose" to believe Christianity than I can "choose" to believe in that unicorn in my garage. How does personal preference have anything at all to do with whether the beliefs of a given religion accurately reflect reality?
It's like my ex-step-daughter when she was 13, claiming that regardless of facts, her opinion was completely valid because opinions are subjective and cannot be wrong. I really do wish I could make that argument to my bank - I'd immediately be of the "opinion" that my bank account contains a few orders of magnitude more money than it currently does. Or perhaps I could solve world hunger by being of the "opinion" that nobody starves.
The fact that human beings associate personal preference with a higher probability of accuracy is merely a demonstration that our instinctual cognitive processes are so deeply flawed as to be broken. And that's exactly what you're describing with "faith," if you can "choose" what to believe without relying on any form of objective evidence.
So there's zero evidence for Jesus' existence, the Bible veracity etc. There's zero evidence for historical evidence presented in it. The evidence for God stand on the same level as the evidence for your unicorn.
I didn't say any of that. Doc, there is evidence supporting certain aspects of the Bible. The Jews actually exist; the nations and monarchs and various other verifiable historical figures check out. The problem is twofold:
1) Each individual claim in the Bible is separate. The fact that Jerusalem exists as claimed in the Bible does nto provide evidence that the Earth was Created in six days, any more than the discovery of the city of Troy is evidence supporting all of the claims from the Illiad, like a man who was invulnerable except for a spot on his heel.
2) Evidence is not binary. Evidence that fits with the claims of the Bible can also fit with other hypotheses, and the strength of the support can vary from one hypothesis to the next; if I find a pen on my desk, that observation supports both the hypothesis that I put it there and that a space alien sent by Emperor Xenu put it there - but it supports one of those hypotheses more strongly than the other.
I think the Jesus described in teh Bible was based on one or more real individuals. I think that personal testimony is evidence for the existence of the Christian God - it's simply not convincing evidence because it equally supports a variety of hypotheses.
Let me ask you this, do you even believe that there might exist a supernatural realm in this universe? If you don't, then chapter closed, right? It's like you dismissing me when I tell you that a dark demon caused the accident on the road. You don't even believe in demons. However, if you allow for the possibility of the existence of demons, you might after all be able to interpret the data as evidence.
I think "supernatural realm" is a poor term from the start. I think there are things that we understand and have knowledge of, and things we do not. If a deity like the Christian god exists, then he and his abilities are simply something we don't currently understand. I don't claim to know everything about the Universe - far from it. I simply try to objectively evaluate the probability of any hypothesis given the data available. The data currently does not support a high probability for most of the claims of the Bible, including basically all of Genesis and Exodus. Modern Christian argument for the existence of a deity typically bear strong resemblance to my unicorn - their hypotheses equally explain all possible data, and so convey no knowledge.
To use an example in current events, I really, really hate it when an individual claims to know how to better resolve the Gulf oil spill than the "so-called experts" do. The experts have been dealing with oil rigs and deep-sea drilling for years. The average person claiming "they can do more!" or "they should just..." likely couldn't even describe the workings of the blowout preventer, or walk me through capping a well under normal circumstances. The illusion of self-competence by the incompetent is maddening - we all need to be able to admit when we don't know something, even when we feel powerless in the face of a disaster and feel that strong urge to act.
I'm with you. You will find no disagreement from me here.
Are you actually a doctor as implied in your name? I'm sure amateur physicians diagnosimg themselves frustrates you to no end
I will never call anyone a fool who adds "for now" when stating any position. It means that according to the evidence you're aware of, you've taken a position, but that you retain the ability to change your mind. That's true open-mindedness (as opposed to "believe anything anyone says ever, especially me," which is how some people use the term), and it's something we all need to remember. Yes, I include myself in that. Along with assigning a higher probability to personally preferable hypotheses, human beings also tend to vigorously defend established positions and very rarely change their minds regardless of evidence or argument. Remaining rational is exceedingly difficult.
All said and done, it will take some massive explanation to convert me to atheism. I'm a dreamer, you're a rationalist. I love philosophical thinking. Physical evidence is great, but it also needs to agree with my logic and cognition. If the physical "evidence" disagrees with what reason and logic tell me, then I'm not trusting my eyes on that one. Just to illustrate one example, let's take the huge cognitive gap between humans and other animals. How does evolution explain it? I also have a big problem with abiogenesis (though ToE doesn't incorporate it, it sure relies on it).....apart form copious other matters of interest.
Here's the thing, Doc - if an observation fails to support your current hypothesis, or in fact seems to contradict it, that doesn;t necessarily mean that your hypothesis should be discarded. Remember, you already know that you're not "right." The best you can hope for is to be less wrong. Evidence and conclusions are not all-or-nothing affairs. If your hypothesis is based on very strong evidence, a single observation of contrary evidence will only slightly decrease the probability that your hypothesis is accurate. Remember your car-crashing demon? Given the evidence you already stated, if a third witness came forward who was in a poor position to see much of anything and contradicted the stories of the first two witnesses, the new testimony would lower the probability that our winged-and-clawed creature caused the accident, but not by much, because the new testimony only weakly contradicts the large amount of supporting evidence. Now, if fifty people came forward, and the feather proved to be from a local bird while the claw was actually broken off of a child's toy...
Do you have evidence to support that claim (that a child who is never taught that killing is wrong will automatically know that it's wrong)?
Because my experience with children shows me that they don't instinctively feel guilty for any number of "wrong" things, including stealing, hitting, etc, and that they only "feel bad" that they receive a negative response from an adult. Feelings of guilt without being caught come later. Children don't seem to be able to innately tell right from wrong - they need parental and cultural influences to develop a functional moral compass.
Evidence as in like a scientific journal paper? No. I'm presenting evidence from experience.
My parents work with abused people and abusive people. Often, people who come from poor economical and morally backward backgrounds, will confess sensing a feeling of fear and guilt after doing something wrong....like beating up a spouse, or killing. It is when people do such things over and over and over again that their conscience gets de-sensitized to the feelings of guilt. People who come form morally poor backgrounds do not always turn out to be bad people. In fact, an exposure to more evil would awaken people's sense of morality.
Adults are poor test subjects - even coming from "morally backward backgrounds," an adult has still been exposed to social pressures. Children, on teh other hand, start as blank slates - they don't know much of anything unless someone teaches it to them. The observed behavior of children is that they tend to be selfish, what little sense of property they have is dictated more by their own desire than by who owns what (hence everything is "mine!"), and more importantly, typically have absolutely no concept of "death" or "murder." They do empathise - when they see someone who is sad, they will feel sad; when they see someone who is happy, they will feel happy. It's a basic instinct of any social animal (part of the reason dogs make great pets), but there is no real inherent sense of "right" and "wrong."
And yet whether an emotion is constructive or destructive depends on circumstances. Anger and outrage, often identified as "negative" emotions, helped start and sustain the American Civil Rights movement. Hatred of injustice can be constructive.
Once again you're assigning probability of accuracy based on what is personally preferable to you, not any sort of objective test of claims. You don;t need to be "impressed" by the Squirrel-Hating God. You don't have to like Him. You can love squirrels (those fuzzy tails are rather cute). Your opinion of Him and your personal preference has nothing to do with whether the Squirrel-Hating God actually exists. If the Squirrel-Hating God walked up to you and said "hello, mortal," wouldn't you be obligated to believe that He exists? The "moral positivism," the "warm-fuzzies," your personal preference has absolutely nothing to do with whether the Squirrel-Hating God is real. How, then, can you use those things as tests to identify false religions?
Isn't it possible with such a line of reasoning for you to identify a true religion (one that accurately reflects reality, whose claims are all objectively verified) as a false one?
I agreed with you, for arguments' sake, that the squirrel-hating god exists. Then I posed a question, is he a moral god? According to what my inner instincts told me, I judged him as slightly immoral. Based on this, I told you that I would not be impressed with him or feel encouraged to worship him. Let's apply this to real life. I do not appreciate Sati. This does nothing to the existence or lack thereof to the hindu god who calls for it. So, yes, I agree with you that my moral compass is only a guide----not an authority. Nevetheless, if I have it, I will make use of it.
But your moral compass is not a guide at all when determining whether something exists or not. You made the argument that your moral compass should be able to guide you towards "true religions" and away from "false religions," but you have already admitted that that is not really the case. Your moral compass guides you towards beliefs you personally approve of, which has nothing to do with whether those beliefs accurately reflect reality. The ethical ramifications of a hypothesis are totally irrelevant to whether the hypothesis is accurate. Whether you personally approve or not, whether you would worship or not, is independant of whether the Squirrel-Hating God actually exists.
But believing something to be true carries no obligation of worship. I believe you exist, but I don't feel the need to bow down. Even if you identified a religion that was objectively true, you'd carry no obligation to follow it if you disagreed on a moral level. During my deconversion from Christianity, one of the questions that ran through my head was "should I worship the God who felt that murdering the firstborn of Egypt or drowning the entire world's population was a morally righteous action? After all, that makes Him guilty of genocide." Note that I still believed that the Christian God existed, and that there was a global Flood, and that Exodus was an accurate representation of events. I no longer believe any of those things, but that's incidental - you can believe claims to be true without liking or approving of them.
So you not only find zero evidence to back up Christianity's claims but also strongly disagree with the Bible moral content? May I ask you, which factor plays stronger in your opinion of Christianity?
My "opinion of Christianity" encompasses multiple questions. My assessment of how likely Christianity is to accurately reflect reality is driven solely by evidence - the moral aspect doesn't even come into it. As I have said multiple times, whether I thing the Christian god is ethical has nothign whatsoever to do with whether or not he exists. Currently I woudl estimate the probability of the Christian god's existence to be pretty low - certainly not likely enough for me to have any amount of confidence that he actually exists.
Morally, Chrsitianity is a mixed bag. There's some pretty nasty stuff in teh Old Testament, ranging from genocide to rape to slavery to "ripping up" pregnant women. Not to mention stoning rebellious children, putting homosexuals to death, punishing the children for the sins of the parents, and so on. Jesus, on the other hand, seemed like a mostly decent guy - he claimed to not be trying to get rid of the old laws or antyhing, but he definitely focused more on the whole "love thy neighbor" moral lessons than the ridiculous nonsense of the Old Testament. Only in Paul's writings (particularly when they deal with women) and Revelations do I again start to have moral opposition to the New Testament.
I'll counter with this: I have experienced a massive positive personal change since giving up Christianity.
Why should I believe that this happened only because you left Christianity? Couldn't something else in your life have changed?
Yes! That's the point! Personal change in a person's life often has very little to do with what we attribute it to...and even when it does, the mechanism we attribute is often not correct. My positive changes involved shifting to a rationalist outlook on life, revaluing life as a single chance and where death and suffering are not counterbalanced by any sort of heavenly afterlife, and being able to critically examine my own beliefs better than I could previously. I also happened to get much better jobs, and my lifestyle is now significantly improved over when I was a Christian. Some of that resulted from my deconversion, but some of it was the driving force behind my deconversion. My statement was misleading - it appears to state that giving up Christianity directly caused positive changes in my life, and yet giving up Christianity would more accurately be described as a side effect of those positive changes, not the cause. The job part was in fact coincidental, and would have been likely to happen regardless of whether I remained a Christian or not. Once again we see that human thought is instinctively very poor at differentiating correlation from causality.
When a person expressesthat they have experienced positive changes which they attribute to divine providence since adopting a given religion, those positive changes are correlated with the religion, but the religion (and specifically the mechanism of divine providence) is not necessarily the cause of the positive change.
Let's try an experiment. I'm going to give you a few sets of three numbers. See if you can identify the pattern. In fact, I'll open it up to everyone else who sees this post. If you think you see the pattern, feel free to send me a PM and ask if your own sets of three numbers follow the same pattern. Test your hypothesis.
Okay, so I identify the pattern behind your three series and make up my three and PM them to you?
Any set of three numbers. You send them to me, and I'll tell you if they follow the rule. Use my responses and your guesses to figure out what the rule actually is.
Isn't it possible that Hinduism is actually accurate, that when you die you attain nirvana depending on your good works, despite the fact that this contradicts your view of what should be?
Once again - you are assigning probability of accuracy based on the personal preferability of the hypothesis. Whether you like or agree with the hypothesis has nothing to do with whether it accurately reflects reality.
Well, my reasoning is based on the idea that heaven is a perfect place. I have not, till date, met a single person who conceives of a imperfect heaven. Tell me then, Rahvin, would we expect to also find imperfect people in heaven? If you attained nirvana, that means either 1. nirvana (hindu heaven) is a imperfect place, or 2. you have achieved ultimate perfection. I think hinduism encourages pursuit of the latter...hence the whole idea of accumulate good works. But I see neither option as a reasonably possibility, philosophically speaking. An imperfect heaven, is paradoxical....at the same time, human perfection is....impossible.
How is the perfection or nonperfection of a conceivable afterlife a determining factor in whether that afterlife exists or not? Many cultures (the Greeks come to mind, as do the Norse people) had concepts of an afterlife that you would never describe as "heaven," and would have been far from "perfect." Why does an afterlife need to meet your ideal in order to be considered likely to exist?
Once again you're assigning probability of accuracy based on the personal preferability of the hypothesis. Whether you like or agree with the hypothesis has nothing to do with whether it accurately reflects reality. That's not objective or even rational - quite literally, it's wishful thinking.
And therein lies the rub - how is Jesus, or Allah, or Yahweh, or Hanuman, different from my unicorn? If everyone including believers anticipates the result of any proposed test to be identical to what would normally be considered a negative result (unanswered prayers? "God works in mysterious ways." Bad things happen even to believers? "Sometimes God tests our faith." Etc.), then the claim is very likely to be false. An absence of evidence is evidence of absence (in every single case, objectively the failure to observe evidence supporting a hypothesis can only increase the probability that the hypothesis is false according to how often we would expect the supporting evidence to be observed, even if that means it's only slightly evidence of absence).
Barring scientific testing, do you allow other methods of testing at all? You know, testimony...history etc? I agree that the concept of gods is not subject to science simply because god is often defined as intangible. But how other claims?
Any observation, including personal testimony, is data. Whether that data is evidence depends on whether it supports any hypothesis over any others (whether a flipped coin comes up heads or tails would be an observation, but it equally "supports" all possible hypotheses regarding whether deities exist or not, and so cannot be called "evidence" for or against any of them). How strongly evidence supports some hypotheses over others is another factor as well. The Christian God appearing int he sky and yelling "Im here, you blind nitwits, now everybody get in a church and pray to me for your souls" would be extremely strong evidence for the existence of the Christian God, while a person's individual testimony by itself is pretty weak. Multiple individuals testifying that the Christian god exists becomes significantly stronger, yet at the same time every person who testifies to a mutually exclusive deity or belief is similarly cumulative evidence that the Christian god does not exist.
Do you see how this works? Any observation that supports or contradicts some hypotheses over others is evidence for or against, the strength of that evidence can vary from very very weak to extremely strong, and is cumulative with all other evidence both positive and negative. "Neutral "evidence" is simply an observation that equally supports or equally does not support all possible relevant hypotheses, and would be more accurately called "irrelevant data."
To have a predefined concept of "god" is to put the cart before the horse. I'm willing to evaluate any and all claims, those identified as gods and those not identified as gods, omnipotent or merely semi-phenomenal, almost-cosmic. If it's accurate, it's accurate, regardless of any preconception I may have.
What are some observations of yours which you interpret to be not in line with religion in general?
The question is too vague - "religion in general" is too large a topic to be "in line" or "not in line" with. I evaluate the claims of every religion individually with teh evidence I have available. I haven't evaluated all religions, simply becasue I'm not specifically aware of all of them. Further, lack of observation in specific cases where an observation would be expected is also relevant. So far I have encountered no set of claims that self-identifies as a "religion" that also carries a high probability of being accurate.
The "true religion," after all, could simply be something that no human being ever conceives of and is never told about. Failure to discover the "true religion" is always a possibility - in fact, if we take "true religion" to mean "a completely 100% accurate comprehension of the real Universe and its workings," then I'd wager that finding the "true religion" is impossible.
Okay, So youre not one of those people who thinks scinece is the answer to all our questions.
I am a person who thinks that rational, objective analysis of fact is the only way to answer any question about reality with any hope of accuracy. Other questions, like "do you prefer blue or red," don't fit that definition. Questions like "does this particular deity exist" do.
But the real problems are the ones I'd wager you're really talking about - the completely untestable, unfalsifiable claims. And for those, I'll repeat my answer:
Like what claims?
There are many made by various religions. SOme of the more common ones:
"There exist two afterlives - one is called heaven and it's a paradisical reward for people who live good lives/worship this deity. The other is called hell and is a place of eternal torment for people who didn't obey the rules/worshipped the wrong deity."
"There exists an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent intelligent entity who dictates every aspect of the Universe from subatomic interactions to whether the Lakers will win their next game, and who treats the laws of physics as more like guidelines than actual laws."
"There exists a unicorn in my garage. It happens to be both invisible and intangible."
Obviously I'm being somewhat lighthearted here. But the point is that none of these can be objectively evaluated - any observation you could ever make would equally support all possible relevant hypotheses. There's simply no way to test the accuracy of any claim like these. Remember, the strength of a hypothesis lies in what it cannot explain; if the hypothesis can equally explain any conceivable observation, the hypothesis conveys no knowledge. What observation would not be explained by the existence of an afterlife? What observation would not be explained by the existence of a deity? What observation would not be explained by my unicorn? If there are none, how can you ever claim your hypothesis to be less wrong than any other mutually exclusive hypothesis?

This message is a reply to:
 Message 69 by Pauline, posted 06-16-2010 4:53 PM Pauline has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 72 by Pauline, posted 06-19-2010 1:39 AM Rahvin has not replied
 Message 74 by Pauline, posted 06-19-2010 1:42 PM Rahvin has replied

Rahvin
Member
Posts: 4046
Joined: 07-01-2005


(1)
Message 78 of 479 (566075)
06-22-2010 8:11 PM
Reply to: Message 74 by Pauline
06-19-2010 1:42 PM


Hi again Doc,
Hi Rahvin,
Pretty long post. I'll take it in pieces....so I might not address all points in one post.
We're getting close to novel length No rush though, it's not like we're on a deadline.
This illustrates perhaps the largest problem with human cognition: affirmation bias.
The problem is not that one has insufficient data. The problem is that one can have insufficient data to establish a high probability of accuracy, while simultaneously having a high degree of confindence that the hypothesis is accurate.
Human beigns tend to "search for truth." We look for the "right" answers. But it's completely impossible for us to ever be absolutely certain about anything. You can never be right. Neither can I, or anyone else.
The best we can do is strive to be less wrong.
This is an interesting point. I think a lot of people who are lovers of objectivity, science, and accuracy tend to fleer the generic religious worldview since it often incorporates absolutes and dogmatic affirmatives. This tends to "get the missionary in trouble" with the more educated, and analytical "proselytes" since they perceive the religious message conveyed to them as a threat to their worldview (how can you be so sure that I will go to hell, or even if there's a hell???), or simply irrelevant to their worldview (who cares, I'm going to have fun when I'm alive...we'll cross the bridge when we get there)--the more indifferent people tend to take this stance. As much the rationalists or naturalists, or whatever you like to call them, disdain the moral imperatives/absoultes of religion, note that the religious also view the lack of a religious moral framework (meaning, one that is based on God and His statues) as a pathetic...almost foolish attempt at living morally. So,you've got one group of people who believe we can't be 100% sure of or right about anything....and another group who believes, unless we are right about some things, we are doomed. This is something the Christian worldview incorporates. Absolutes like "God is always good", "The Universe is in God's control both under good and bad circumstances", "God will never leave nor forsake you", "God rewards evil with evil and good with good" are all examples of things we are called to be sure of 100%, in Christianity. For those of us who are of the religious worldview, this take a lot of faith to consistently believe such things (and proclaim them). Not because they are inconceivable, but because we are inconsistent in our cognition and are easily swayed from our principles by momentary negative feeling or emotion. I'm not sure why different worldviews perceive absolutes differently. But this generally seems to be the case.
The main difference here is that, as you just stated, faith invovles making an effort to be more credulous regarding certain claims than any evidence actually supports. For practical matters, most of this is a distinction with no difference. The realm of 100% certainty is impossile to ever reach, but you can get damned close - I can't say that I'm 100% certain that if I throw a pen up in the air that gravity will pull it right back down, but that's still exactly what I expect to happen, every time, simply because the probability of our current model of gravity being not just a little inaccurate but actuallyso wrong that the pen wouldn't fall at all is so infinitismally low that no consideration need be given to such a scenario.
But the entire line of reasoning that includes faith is irrational and easily leads to false conclusions - and that fact should be obvious. When you maintain a conscious effort to increase your own estimation of the probability that a particular hypothesis is accurate beyond what is actually supported by available evidence, you will be convincing yourself that the hypothesis is accurate when in fact it is not proportionally to the difference between the actual probability supported by the evidence and your own personally inflated probability. When dealing with something that's relatively likely to be accurate, this won't matter much - shifting a 90% probability up to an internally inflated 100% will only be wrong 10% of the time over someone who assesses the evidence rationally. But when inflating the probability far more than the evidence allows, say, going from a 5% chance of accuracy to 100% certainty through faith, you'll be 95% more likely to be wrong than someone who assessed the evidence rationally. Yes, there will be times where the person inflating their own estimation of accuracy will be right and the rationalist wrong - but this will happen far less often than the reverse.
The method of thinking you describe involves searching for confirmation for an existing hypothesis.
It's backwards.
The strength of any hypothesis, of any explanatory model, is what it cannot explain. The modern model of the solar system could not explain the Sun rising in the West,for example.
What can my unicorn hypothesis not explain? It can explain both the observationa nd the lack of observation of a unicorn. It can explain flour exposing the surface of the unicorn, or flour falling to the ground. Because it can equally explain all possible observations, it is useless as a hypothesis.
What if I were to list a variety of reasons to beleive that the unicorn is present? Perhaps I could claim that the unicorn tells me things - that the unicorn told me that I should accept that promotion at work, for example. Perhaps I could claim that the unicorn told me that a great disaster would befall the United States, a few months prior to the Gulf oil spill. Perhaps I could claim that when I pray to the unicorn, my prayers are answered, even if sometimes the answer is "no."
All of that sounds very convincing, doesn't it? Or rather it would if we didn't already know that I'm talking about an imaginary unicorn. Surely the observation that the unicorn has conveyed messages to me, has predicted future events, and answers my prayers is evidence supporting the hypothesis that the unicorn exists, even if you can't see it, or touch it, or hear it? Surely the evidence available is sufficient to take the rest on faith?
You seem to count "answered/unanswered prayers" and "fulfilled/unfulfilled prophesy" as evidence, be it confirmatory or contradictory to the hypothesis in question. Whether you yourself have this view or whether you think theists have this view is still unclear to me. I understand that the gist of this section of your post is, treating "answered/unanswered prayers" and "fulfilled/unfulfilled prophesy" as evidence for a deity's existence is a flawed thought process because it incorporates affirmation bias.
Affirmation bias is one form. But really the problem I was describing is where all possible observations are counted as evidence of the same hypothesis.
In WWII, California governor Earl Warren believed that there was a 5th Column Japanese-American saboteur network operating in his state. He testified the following before a Congressional hearing in 1942:
quote:
"I take the view that this lack [of subversive activity] is the most ominous sign in our whole situation. It convinces me more than perhaps any other factor that the sabotage we are to get, the Fifth Column activities are to get, are timed just like Pearl Harbor was timed... I believe we are just being lulled into a false sense of security."
In other words, the asence of evidence that a Fifth Column-type conspiracy was planning sabotage on California infrastructure was actually evidence supporting the existence of a Fifth Column.
Surely we can all see how irrational this is. Yes, it was possible that there was a secret Japanese Fifth Column working in California, and that due to their covert nature, their activities remained undetected. However, the absence of a predicted observation (sabotage in California, apprehended conspiracy members, etc) could only possibly be evidence that no such organization existed. The governor's line of reasoning applied to my unicorn would involve suggesting that because the unicorn is invisible, not seeing the unicorn is actually evidence that the unicorn does exist.
Yet this is the same line of reasoning used by many theists. Under the hypothesis that God answers prayers, one would predict a given prayer to be answered. Yet unanswered prayers are not seen as evidence against god - rather, they are seen as negative responses from god,a nd further evidence that he actually exists.
So, I'm leangin more towards---you think this how theists think. However, I disagree with theists that think that way.
I was a theist. And theists are not a uniform group. I know how at least some of them think because I was exposed to them for many years, and used the same lines of reasoning myself.
All the times when I prayed and prayed and prayed in anticipation of my Cell Biology tests (gah!) during College and still got a B or a C+ and all those days when I didn't bother to pray much about my General Chemistry (pretty easy) tests and still got A's, are not evidence (either confirmatory or contradictory) for the existence of my God. Christians who stake their faith on the criterion of "answered/unanswered prayers" are clearly flawed in their thinking.
Indeed they are - even if that's not the basis of their faith, but simply another post-hoc rationalization to justify their predetermined conclusion.
Yet answered and unanswered prayers are evidence for and agaisnt the existence of a prayer-answering god - they just aren't very strong evidence. Remember, evidence and contra-evidence for a given hypothesis very rarely takes the form of "absolute proof" vs "compelte falsification." Usually we're talking about small cumulative adjustments in the total tupport for a given hypothesis. In the case of prayer, we wouldn;t expect every single prayer to be answered, and the probability of each individual prayed-for event happening without divine intervention is usually relatively high (praying for a sports team to win or praying for a loved one in the hospital are not exactly one-in-a-trillion events). Remember Bayes' Theorem?
P(H|D)=P(D|H)*P(H)/P(D)
In the case of prayers being answered, most of the time P(D|H) is going to reflect the possibility that prayers may not be answered even if a prayer-answering god exists, and P(D) is going to be relatively high because the prayed-foreven has a reasonable chance of happening anyway. That means that the probability of a prayer-answering deity actually existing given the observation of an answered or unanswered prayer is not often significantly different from the prior probability (P(H)) - in other words, each individual prayer regardless of whether it is or is not answered does very little to change the support for the hypothesis.
Furthermore, it cannot be objectively determined whether a answered prayer or a fulfilled prophesy is exclusively attributable to a deity's intervention or not. (Theists base such matters on faith) Yet, we see Christians saying "God healed my daughter of cancer", or "God protected me from a car accident yesterday".....and this is not because they like attributing seemingly fantastic occurrences to God, they simply are agreeing with what the Bible says. IOW, when God says in the Bible that He will never leave you or forsake you (Heb 13:5) or His angels camp around the ones that fear Him (Ps 32:8), Christians believe those words and agree with them. Unfortunately, some of us do it backwards. We think answered prayers point to "God's goodness"....and voila! His existence. That's plain wrong. I can see how the latter thought process is affirmation bias, but not the former Rahvin.
There is no difference. Agreeing with what the Bible says still requires attributing the observed event to divine providence. There is no actual difference between saying "God healed my daughter" because the Bible says god will take care of you and saying "God healed my daughter" because you personally believe that god will take care of you. A distinction that makes no differenceis not a distinction at all.
In either case, attributing such events to a deity does indeed involve faith, but there's another word for it: non sequitur. It's a compeltely unfounded logical leap, attributing causality when correlation hasn't even been established. Such applications of faith are not to be lauded - they;re logical fallacies, perfect examples of flawed thinking.
If my bother promised his son ice cream after dinner, then my nephew is being fair when he tells me the next day that Dad was supernice and kept his promise (something he expected anyway). If, OTOH, my nephew comes and tells me, Dad took me out for ice cream, therefore he is a good dad (I doubted it, but he did it)---then, I would be lead to believe that this little guy needs to change his way of thinking. (whats going to happen when dad forbids him certain things?) God's existence is not contingent on whether or not our prayers are answered. God's credibility certainly is contingent on whether or not predicted premises come true and whether or not promises are kept up, but again isn't this thought likely to be floating around in a believer's mind? So, until a person shows faith, he ideally need not be talking in terms of answered or unanswered prayers.
The existence of a deity is not contingent on anything. However, a prayer-answering deity should in fact answer prayers, else it's not actually a prayer-answering deity. If prayers are in fact answered with a statistically significant margin over a double-blind control group, that would be evidence supporting the hypothesis of a prayer-answering deity (and a few other hypotheses that don't necessarily involve deities, but it would at least establish a correlation between prayer and the prayed-for event happening; the next step would be to control for the specific deity prayed to, to eliminate the non-deity hypotheses as well as eliminating false deities).
Further, the "goodness" of the prayed-for event is irrelevant as well. There is no requirement that any actually existing deity be good. The ultimate arbiter of objective truth is not our internal sense of morality, but rather direct observation. If evil prayers to a specific evil deity are observed to be answered far beyond what would be expected without prayer, that would still be evidence for the evil deity regardless of whether that fact is pleasing to us or not.
I have tried specifically to not address Christianity individually, since the topic of the thread was "identifying false religions," not "is Christianity a false religion?" I will say (I don't know if I;ve mentioned it to you) that I am a former Christian myself, and am well aware of the beliefs of a variety of different denominations. My own background included Congregational, Presbyterian, and Christian Reformed churches, though I have been exposed to many other denominations as well. I have read most of the Bible, my grandfather was an educator at a private Christian school, and before my deconversion I was extremely confident in my beliefs. I had a great deal of faith. If you would like to discuss Christianity specifically, I'd be happy to oblige, simply because it's something I think we're both very familiar with. But for the purposes of this thread, I'm going to try to be a but more general and speak about all religions (indeed, all claims about the real world, including religion but not limited to it).
I think you did mention it to me, in the Forum name change thread. And I agree, a different thread would be more appropriate for a Christianity-specific conversation, something I would be interested in. I will try to make my responses as general as possible. I might illustrate my general points using Christian examples though, just to make my case.
Perfectly reasonable - we both likely know Christianity better than basically any other religion. I just don't want to hyjack the topic into some sort of "prove/disprove Christianity specifically" thread.
Eyewitness testimony is evidence.
Topic for a different thread but......and yet, the 4 Gospels are treated as fairy-tales by some skeptics. They don't even consider them as viable evidence, let alone whether they support the hypothesis or not.
They are evidence. They just aren't very strong evidence, because the existence of the gospels equally supports the hypothesis that they are works of fiction or a dozen other hypotheses. Not to mention the fact that there is serious dispute as to whether the authors of the gospels were actual eye-witnesses, as the earliest and best individual copies of the texts we have available tend to post-date the events by a significant margin. And of course the fact that we have so many different versions of the texts that, to paraphrase Bart Ehrman, author of Misquoting Jesus, there are more errors and mistranslations in the New Testament than there are words. The gospels themselves aren't quite the same as your typical eyewitness account given in a court of law or on the nightly news.
-snip-
In which case we'd run teh numbers again - except this time the prior probability is the result from our last analysis, since all evidence is cumulative. Let's say this witness was in a similar position and so still would have had a 90% chance to see the demon if it did in fact cause the accident.
P(H|D)=.9 * .09 / .1
P(H|D)=.81
With two eyewitnesses in excellent locations to view the accident as it happened and no further data, I would have to say that it is not 81% likely that a demon caused the accident. Now that is a numbe tha might inspire some confidence that the hypothesis is correct.
Okay, I'm with you so far.
Welcome to Bayesian reasoning. Does it look like it makes sense?
Rahvin writes:
DS writes:
Under the impression that every eye-witness you met is a fool, you set out to the accident site to find "evidence". You find some black and white feather.......a green claw.....and a giant footprint.
Wow. How do I model this? Obviously our prior probability is now 81%, but how do I model the probability that the feather, the claw, AND the footprint would be found, both if a demon didn't cause the accident (pretty darned low) and assuming it did (all three? not as high as any given one, since probability of concurrent events is multiplicative, but we'd still have to give it a decent number)? The first (P(D)) would be low but not zero, simply because it's still possible that the feather, claw, and large footprint were unrelated - perhaps the feather is from a bird, etc. Let's call it 30%. The second (P(D|H)) should be relatively high, as we would expect a creature involved in a car accident to leave bits behind, though it wouldn't be absolutely certain. Further, all three bits of evidence are multiplicative. Let's call the probability of each item being left behind assuming a demon caused the accident 90%. .9 * .9 * .9 gives us about 73% for finding all three.
So:
P(H|D) = .73 * .81 (our previous cumulative result from toehr evidence) / .3
P(H|D) = 197%
Holy crap, We might have a demon.
But do you see the problem yet? It should be obvious given my previous comments. In fact, there are two.
1) we have established evidence that a large creature with white/black feathers, green claws, and very large feet caused an accident. We have not established evidence that the creature was "a demon," or in fact given any definition for what a "demon" is. A very large bird would seemingly fit the same description. The indentification of teh observed creature as a demon is a conclusion, not an observation - support for the hypothesis that a large feathered and clawed creature caused a car accident is not necessarily evidence that it was a demon.
You showed me the beauty of rationalism, Rahvin. Now let me show you the beauty of imagination (well, you might not like it, but....I listened to you so, )
Assume with me that both the testimonial and material data found from your analysis fits no known creature. Assume also that it was proven that no toys with white/black feathers and green claws were found within the vicinity of the accident site. You are unable to reconcile you data with your hypothesis (large bird or toy) and also my hypothesis (demon). What do you do?
I would conclude that the accident was caused by a previously unknown creature, which posesses claws and black/white feathered wings. I don't have any evidence supporting "demon" over "feathered dragon" or much else.
The evidence so far is very similar to seeing an object fr off in the distance. With limited means for observation I might only be able to tell that the object is a building, but be unable to tell whether it's a house, or a barn, or a store, etc. As I'm able to uncover more details that support some hypotheses and eliminate others, I'll be able to make more andmore specific descriptions until I can actually identify the object.
To draw an extremely precise conclusion based on very imprecise data is like recording the length of a pen in millimeters when your only measurement tool is a ruler whose smallest unit is inches - it requires an unfounded logical leap from the evidence to support such a conclusion, even if that conclusion later turns out to be correct.
You'll note that this is not my thought process at all. Rationality means examining all evidence, regardless of whether that evidence increases or decreases the probability that your pet hypothesis is correct. An accurate hypothesis will always come out with a higher probability than inaccurate hypotheses regardless, and why would you ever want to remain confident in an inaccurate hypothesis? To a true rationalist, worldview is irrelevant - only evidence matters. Inaccurate hypothesis, regardless of your prior confidence that they were accurate, must always be forsaken. One can never grow stronger by retaining the same beliefs - only by changing beliefs by discarding inaccurate hypotheses in favor of more accurate hypotheses, by becoming less wrong, can we become stronger.
I don't pretend to be a perfect rationalist, any more than you would claim to be a perfect Christian. But like you, that's the ideal I strive for.
As you admitted in you previous post, we might NEVER be able to "find the true religion." (OR, I propose, we might be able to find it if we work with available data.) But here's my question, in such a situation, why are you not comfortable enough to wager you faith? What holds you back? After all, faith in God is not a question of being less or more wrong...it is matter of "you know it or don't know it"...Why would you not place you faith on something based on available evidence (though not comprehensive) if its a all or none situation?
Everything is a question of less or more wrong, and faith is never useful in being less wrong. I don't "Wager." I analyze and conclude. My conclusions are never absolutely precise, but my method gives me the most important advantage of all:
the ability to recognize when I'm wrong, and change my mind accordingly.
The rewards and consequences of belief in Christianity specifically are certainly all-or-nothing. The problem is that Pascal's Wager is stupidity of the highest order: it's not a binary choice of "believe in God and maybe go to heaven" or "don't beleive in God and maybe go to Hell." The real wager is every conceivable religion vs. every other conceiveable religion - perhaps if I belive in the Christian god, Odin won't let me into Valhalla; we all know what the Christian god would do if I worship Zeus.
Further, the Wager is effectively an argument from consequence: whether I personally would like the consequences of a given hypothesis being accurate has no bearing on the actual probability that the hypothesis is accurate.
Suggesting that one should "wager faith," in effect making an unsupported logical leap given the most basic evidence and to conclude that a set of beleifs is likely to be accurate when a rational analysis of the evidence suggests a low probability of accuracy is the very height of irrational and flawed thinking.
The preconception doesn;t have to be your own, Doc.
When I said pre-conceived ideas, I meant ones that people make up. "God should be like this...or that" But the Bible is hardly a pre-conceived notion? It is a historical document. Sure, it contains abstract people like...the Holy Spirit, but it also contains history....like Jesus Christ.
How much is history? How much is made up by people? How do you tell the difference from one to the next? Regardless, the preconception lies in the fact that the Bible effectively lists the qualities of god and sets up your definition of what a god is and is not - the descriprion of what a god is is not a conclusion carefulyl derived from experimentation and evidence, but is rather a preconception based on an appeal to the authority of the various Biblical authors. The fact that the source is the Biblical authors rather than your own mind is irrelevant - you're still increasing your support of one definition of god and decreasing your support in all other definitions, not based on evidence, but because of a preconception.
You're writing yuor conclusion ("God has these attributes...") before determining why you should think so.
The preconception lies in defining a subject before making observations; drawing conclusions before examining evidence.
I don't know about other religions, but I propose that Christianity doesn't think that way. I won't go into illustrating my point by comparing religions because that would stray from the general tone of this thread.
Then how do Christians think? I'm giving what I remember as the thought process from when I was a Christian, so it certainly stands to reason that at least some do think this way. I've never encountered a CHristian who honestly made observations about the Universe, tested various hypotheses, and then concluded that Christianity was correct. I have met Christians who were raised in the faith and so never analyzed anything, as well as Christian converts who were convinced by emotional appeals, but I have never once met a Christian whose religious beleifs proceeded forward from observation to hypothesis to conclusion. The entire matter of faith eliminates any desire to test or observe; one need only create the desire for the beliefs to be true, and irrational inflation of support for unfounded conclusions (ie, faith) takes over the rest.
You read about your deity and establish your idea of god from there, and seek confirming evidence, when you should be making observations in the real world and establishing your concept of what god (if any) may exist from reality.
There's a reason. You might not think its valid, but there is one.
There are reasons for everything we do. We jsut arent always aware of our real reasons, and we often use reasons that don;t actually jsutify our choices.
And I'm pretty confident that it is generally common to most major religions. And the reason is, people believe God cannot be detected by naturalistic observations and analysis. In Hinduism, you meditate...and "know" or "feel" god, In Buddhism also, you give up earthly possession-become an ascetic and meditate UNTIL you "know" or "feel" god, In Islam, Allah is God because the Quran says so period. In Christianity, we know who God is only through the Bible. Don't you think that such a idea might infact be true? You know, that fact that God cannot be detected through scientific analysis.....establishing, that true religion is something that we might never discover through scientific and naturalistic analysis? Do you see the common thread that holds the beads together?
It is possible that this is true. It is not likely. It is roughly as possible as the existence of my unicorn. You can't touch it or see it or ever make any observation of it directly or indirectly, but it could still be there.
The question is simply whether there is an adequate probability that any of these faiths accurately reflect reality to justify confidence in them? If they have a 5% or lower probability of being accurate, should one believe that they actually are accurate?
"The evidence of things unseen, the confidence of things hoped for," isn't that an accurate paraphrase from the Bible's description of faith? I think it sums up the largest flaw in human gognition quite nicely
Or it is the most beautiful manifestation of human imagination. Faith. I have faith that you will read this message, Rahvin.
No. You do not have faith that I will read the message. You have prior experience that I have read your previous messages and have expressed an interest inconcinuing to communicate. That I will ready this message as well is a reasonable conclusion with a high probability of accuracy based on easily available observations.
You might or might not, in reality. I live in SC, I don't know where you live. There's no physical way I could predict if you will read this message with 100% accuracy. BUT, I have 100% faith you will.
As I said earlier, the distinction between a highly probable hypothesis and a certainty is so small as makes no difference. I cannot be absolutely certain that if I throw a pen in the air it will fall abck down, but I will still anticipate the pen falling back to Earth every single time I throw it - not based on faith, but based on the fact that we have a well-tested model for how gravity works, and that model predicts that it will in fact fall every time.
And when you have read this post and responded to it, my faith will have been proven to be valid.
No, your highly probable expectation based on prior experience will have been vindicated.
I imagine that you interested in furthering this conversation based on the level of interest and time you put into your previous couple posts. I imagine that you will respond pretty soon, since you have been doing so. I imagine that you will indeed further our conversation. I do not assertively say you will, only that I believe you will. That's faith, the evidence of things unseen...being sure of things hoped for.
But you have seen. That's the difference. If you and I had never spokem previously, then you would require faith to believe that I would read your message. But you already have an established track record of me responding to your messages - much like repeated observations that thrown pens fall back down. That's not faith, Doc, that's a perfectly rational conclusion based on available evidence.
I didn't say any of that. Doc, there is evidence supporting certain aspects of the Bible. The Jews actually exist; the nations and monarchs and various other verifiable historical figures check out. The problem is twofold:
1) Each individual claim in the Bible is separate. The fact that Jerusalem exists as claimed in the Bible does nto provide evidence that the Earth was Created in six days, any more than the discovery of the city of Troy is evidence supporting all of the claims from the Illiad, like a man who was invulnerable except for a spot on his heel.
The Doctrine of Inerrancy rests on the single premise that God's Word is inerrant and the Bible is God's word, therefore the Bible is inerrant. Facts that stand on the same level do not lend each other credence, i'm with you on that part. But, that's hardly how inerrancy works.
The problem is that inerrentists are forced by believing the entire Bible to be inerrent to evaluate the whole rather than the parts - if any part fails, the whole is false as well because it cannot be inerrent.
The larger problem is when a direct observation contradicts a specific claim in the Bible, and the inerrentist ignores or rationalizes the observation rather than altering their own beliefs in accordance with the new data. Observation is always the final arbiter - if the Bible or anything esle says x is true while objective observations in reality emphatically show that x is false, then x is false, plain and simple.
2) Evidence is not binary. Evidence that fits with the claims of the Bible can also fit with other hypotheses, and the strength of the support can vary from one hypothesis to the next; if I find a pen on my desk, that observation supports both the hypothesis that I put it there and that a space alien sent by Emperor Xenu put it there - but it supports one of those hypotheses more strongly than the other.
I think the Jesus described in teh Bible was based on one or more real individuals. I think that personal testimony is evidence for the existence of the Christian God - it's simply not convincing evidence because it equally supports a variety of hypotheses
I have never come accorss the particular view you hold of Jesus. It is quite intriguing. How about his claims? Are they also from a mix-up of different people's claims?
It's difficult to establish the historical accuracy of an individual person given 2000 years when our only real source materials are the gospels, the earliest copies we have available dating to long after Jesus supposed death. He wasn't an emperor or a king well-established in historical literature. He was one of many people claiming to be the messiah of the Jews during the Roman occupation, his group one of many Jewish sects predicting the end times, his followers represented both Jews and later Greeks and Romans and so crossed multiple cultures from which to draw additional material, and the documentation of the time surrounding him may as well have been word-of-mouth for all of the additions and subtractions and changes we see from one copy of the gospels to the next. Jesus may have been one person. The Biblical Jesus could also have been an amalgamation of multiple similar individuals. The Biblical Jesus is almost certainly mythologized beyond the real, historical Jesus, regardless of the number of actual source individuals. Note the similarities between Jesus and earlier stories of divinity from other neighboring cultures.
The data currently does not support a high probability for most of the claims of the Bible, including basically all of Genesis and Exodus. Modern Christian argument for the existence of a deity typically bear strong resemblance to my unicorn - their hypotheses equally explain all possible data, and so convey no knowledge.
Most of Genesis, we can't say prove or disprove. Creation? It is a historical event.
We can make observations that support or do not support the hypotheses that the Earth was Created in 6 days, that all living things were specially Created, etc. The fact that the origins of the Earth and life happened a long time ago don't bar us from testing the claims of Genesis. All evidence currently available (and there is a lot from multiple independant sources) shows that the Earth is in fact billions of years old, was not Created in 6 days, that life once formed diversified into the variety we see today not through magical individual Creation but via slow incremental evolution through mutation guided by natural selection, etc.
Flood? The data is controversial.
Not even a little bit. Ask a geologist how well the evidence supports a global flood having happened when humans were around and they'll tell you that my pen has about the same chance of not falling down. Ask a geneticist if every living thing was reduced in population to the degree described in the flood story and they'll tell you that the chances of such a thing having happened given the observations we continue to make have about the same chance as the Sun rising in the West tomorrow.
Noah;s Ark? It is most likely that we will not find it (atleast not in recognizable shape or form) because it provided Noah's family with ready resources in a land of zero natural resources and would have been dismantled.
Not to mention the natural process of decay for an unmaintained wooden vessel. Even if teh flood actually happened, I wouldn't expect to find the Ark either.
We can't go around dealing with each every piece of data...that would take forever.
Curiously, there are a finite number of claims made in teh Bible, and we have spent several hundred years investigating many of them. The results for some have been positive (Jericho actually existed), while others have not (Exodus never happened).
Furthermore, isn't it curious that the Bible never addresses matters of history when it calls for faith? This is why theistic evolutionists exist. The rest of the Bible is great, but creation is a fairy-tale. Well, doesn't that also explode the ballon that hold God's credibility? Since God says He created the world.....
It does, if you're basing your faith entirely on an appeal to the authority of your supposed deity. Not all theists do so. Many simply find emotional solace in the claims of a given faith, or find the "basics" to be personally credulous even if the details are allegorical, etc.
Adults are poor test subjects - even coming from "morally backward backgrounds," an adult has still been exposed to social pressures. Children, on teh other hand, start as blank slates - they don't know much of anything unless someone teaches it to them. The observed behavior of children is that they tend to be selfish, what little sense of property they have is dictated more by their own desire than by who owns what (hence everything is "mine!"), and more importantly, typically have absolutely no concept of "death" or "murder." They do empathise - when they see someone who is sad, they will feel sad; when they see someone who is happy, they will feel happy. It's a basic instinct of any social animal (part of the reason dogs make great pets), but there is no real inherent sense of "right" and "wrong.
No, I am not talking only about adults. Take a look at a recent study conducted by Yale University on Morality in babies. The research was well formulated and the results prove to be decisive. Children are indeed born with a innate sense of right and wrong. Whether we term this as morality, in the more adult connotation of the word, is a secondary question. The objective of this research. was to explore the presence/absence of a innate sense of right and wrong in babies.
You can read about the experimental setup for yourself, but I'll highlight the main conclusions of the study and a few afterthoughts.
-snip-
This stuck me as interesting...
Bloom writes:
...The morality of contemporary humans really does outstrip what evolution could possibly have endowed us with.
That sentence is a giant red flag if I've ever heard one.
That study certainly is interesting. However, that was actually a NYTimes article, and so I have to take it with a grain of salt - reporters are not scientists, and they tend to sensationalize. Most of the misconceptions we have today about things like cosmology and evolution are because of sensationalism in reporting science and journalists trying to convey ideas they don't understand themselves.
Rahvin writes:
But your moral compass is not a guide at all when determining whether something exists or not. You made the argument that your moral compass should be able to guide you towards "true religions" and away from "false religions," but you have already admitted that that is not really the case. Your moral compass guides you towards beliefs you personally approve of, which has nothing to do with whether those beliefs accurately reflect reality. The ethical ramifications of a hypothesis are totally irrelevant to whether the hypothesis is accurate. Whether you personally approve or not, whether you would worship or not, is independant of whether the Squirrel-Hating God actually exists.
No, I said I will use it as a guide in trying to find the true religion. For there to exist a true religion, there must also necessarily exist a few or more false religions. My moral compass doesn't tell me "false religions don't exist", it only tells me "this might be the true religion."
No, it doesn't Your moral compass tells you only that "this religion is ethical, and this one not." It has absolutely nothign to do with whether they accurately reflect reality. Immoral religions are not impossible, Doc. Satan could exist; Satanists could be absolutely correct in their beliefs, and the morality of their deity is irrelevant to whether that deity exists. You moral compass is not at all a guide ever when determinign what does and does not exist, what is true and what is false. Reality doesn't care whether it is morally acceptable to you or not.
This is what I meant when I said, my disliking Sati does nothing to the existence or lack thereof of the hindu god, but tells me that the hindu religion is more prone to be a false one.
...your dislike means that its claims are more liekly to be false. You're claiming that you're not using that line of reasoning, and then using that line of reasoning. The desireability of the claims of a religion, be that due to ethics, possible reward, or anything else, are irrelevant to whether those claims are actually true.
Irrelevant, Doc, mean's "totally separate from; does not matter; the truth or falsehood of a has no connection or influence over the truth or falsehood of b." What your moral compass says about the claims of a religion has no conenction or influence over whether those claims are accurate.
This is very typical human thinking, though. We tend to estimate the probability of hypotheses we find more desireable to be much higher than available evidence dictates. We're optimists, not realists.
Now, there is personal preference in evaluations that involve a innate moral compass. No doubt. But you can't discard the compass altogether since it does help to evaluate the moral integrity of various religions. It doesn't help to resolve the existence/non-existence issue, but that's hardly a reason to throw it away from the general search.
The existence/nonexistence issue is the only one of any relevance. Or would you continue to worship your deity even knowing it didn't exist, simply because you agree with it's imagined ethics?
I think I have switched my thinking more along the lines of "will the true religion ever condone x activity according to what my innate moral compass says" and you are tuned into "why does it matter what my compass says to the existence or non-existence of a religion". So we might both be addressing different questions. Remember, the true religion is not identifiable by objective, scientific analysis. You often refer to it as "a 100% accurate depiction of reality." We can only hope to find such a description, we never will. Now, can we have faith that we have found it? Some do.
We can, however, be less wrong today than we were yesterday, and we can get very close to that 100% certainty on individual mechanisms. Your moral compass will never ever help you be less wrong about the Universe - it's only useful for dealing with other people.
My "opinion of Christianity" encompasses multiple questions. My assessment of how likely Christianity is to accurately reflect reality is driven solely by evidence - the moral aspect doesn't even come into it.
Meaning, you completely exclude the claims God makes in the Bible when evaluating Christianity's accuracy? That's absurd, Rahvin. Why would you do that?
Either the claims made in the Bible are verified by observations in reality or they are not. I don't exclude anything. My determination of whether Christianity's various claims about the real world (Genesis, etc) is independant of whether I morally approve of the content - as it should be. Anything else is absurd. When you ask whether the Moon exists, or what it's made of, does your sense of morality have anything to do with the answers, or are the solely determined by observation? When you observe the behavior of spiders and you observe that hatchlings tend to cannibalize their siblings for their first meal, does your moral compass play into whether you believe that spiders are cannibals?
I exclude nothing. The claims made in the Bible (supposedly made on god's behalf by the human authors) are no exception. Whether I approve of the genocide described in teh flood myth is completely independent of whether I think the flood actually happened.
You yourself have admitted defining the true religion as "100% accurate depiction of reality" that we might never get around to finding it. In such a situation, don't you have to resort to other means? Means such as .....faith?
Faith is never not ever a logically valid means for determining the probability of the accuracy of a hypothesis. Faith in its strictest sense is the arbitrary inflation of one's assessment of the probability of the accuracy of a hypothesis beyond what is dictated by any available evidence. It is confidence when none should be had. It's taking a position when you don't even have the facts straight yet - or any facts at all. It's letting wishful thinking dominate your decision-making process. It's believing that there is a monster under the bed, even if you can't see it.
Faith does not help one become less wrong today than one was yesterday. Faith leads us to confidently support even false conclusions. Faith gives us an excuse to stop investigating conclusions we think we know with absolute certainty. Faith embodies the stagnation of the mind, fixing a belief in place and making it utterly impossible that we should ever grow stronger- because growth requires change, and changing our beliefs requires that we admit when we're wrong and make an honest and objective effort to discover when we're wrong - something that faith, the confident proclamation that we have an answer that we don't really have, expressly forbids.
I'm perfectly content, Doc, to say "I don't know" when I don;t really know. But faith is anathema to reason, logic, and progress.
Currently I woudl estimate the probability of the Christian god's existence to be pretty low - certainly not likely enough for me to have any amount of confidence that he actually exists
This is too vague to answer. By christian God, do you mean the OT God, or Jesus? Or both?
I mean any omnipotent omniscient deity that Created the Earth in 6 days, rested on the 7th, made woman from the rib of a man made from dust, dorwned the entire Earth except for a menagerie and an incestuous family aboard a boat made of gopher wood, saved the Jews from Egyptian slavery by killing every firstborn child in the nation, gave the Ten Commandments, twice, and later sacrificed himself to himself for a debt he claimed we owed him.
There may have been a man (or men) named Jesus of Nazareth who wandered around the region of Jerusalem and founded a splinter sect of Judaism that proclaimed him to be the messiah of Jewish myth. That man may have been executed by the Romans, so on and so forth. But I find it spectacularly unlikely that Jesus was actually of "supernatural" origin - that he was the son of a deity, or the deity incarnated into human form, or some combination of the two; that he performed physics-breaking "miracles;" that he rose from the dead. I find these things to be unlikely because other than religion these things would better occupy the pages of a Harry potter novel than a history or science textbook; in every case these themes have belonged to works of fiction and have never been observed to happen in the real world. They bear all the hallmarks of flase belief - an unfalsifiable, untestable set of beliefs that are objectively impossible to differenciate from fantasy except that this particular fantasty is widely accepted as true by a large segment of the population.
Morally, Chrsitianity is a mixed bag. There's some pretty nasty stuff in teh Old Testament, ranging from genocide to rape to slavery to "ripping up" pregnant women. Not to mention stoning rebellious children, putting homosexuals to death, punishing the children for the sins of the parents, and so on. Jesus, on the other hand, seemed like a mostly decent guy - he claimed to not be trying to get rid of the old laws or antyhing, but he definitely focused more on the whole "love thy neighbor" moral lessons than the ridiculous nonsense of the Old Testament. Only in Paul's writings (particularly when they deal with women) and Revelations do I again start to have moral opposition to the New Testament.
See, even you are using your innate moral compass and acquired view of morality to evaluate Christianity's moral integrity (or lack thereof). This certainly does nothing to prove its existence or non-existence, but again can we ever PROVE anything?
I can support or fail to support a hypothesis sufficiently to have enough confidence to proclaim belief and possess internal credulity without absolute proof. My moral compass, however, is irrelevant to that process.
We can hope to be fully assured about something, and that's exactly what faith is. You disdain Biblical moral content, so you tend not to think of Christianity as a canditate for the true religion. (Now, I do think your view of the Bible is based on misconceptions. You might have excellent book knowledge. You might be able to spit out the numbers, people, places, and facts much better than I could. But what does it matter if your knowledge is based on misconceptions?)
I was a Christian for over 20 years, Doc. I know what it is that Christians believe very well, as I was formerly a very devout one of them. I don't think it's very likely that I have serious misconceptions about the Christian religion. However, I do now have an outsider's view - where as a child I read the story of Exodus and didn;t think twice about the killing of every firstborn child in Egypt right down to the cattle, I now recognize mass child murder when I read that part of the story. Where once I read about the Great Flood and the magic Ark with two of every animal, I now see genocide that makes the Holocaust look like civil unrest. Where once I read and accepted without questioning, I now see the holes present in virtually every testable claim in the entire colelction of texts.
I do not disdain Christianity as the potential "true religion" because of my moral disapproval. I wouldn't worship the Christian god even if he did exist because of my moral issues with his behavior, but that has nothing at all to do with whether I think Christianity accurately describes the real world, whether god actually exists and so on. Christianity is just as much a candidate for "true religion" to me as if I compeltely approved of everything it said - I evaluate Chrsitianity as being unlinely to be accurate simply because of the evidence providecd by the real world and the lack of compelling evidence supporting Christianity's claims.
I read once that the gullible ask, "does x allow me to believe y?" and the rational ask "does x compel me to believe y?"
Yes! That's the point! Personal change in a person's life often has very little to do with what we attribute it to...and even when it does, the mechanism we attribute is often not correct.
What mechanism? I don't use any mechanism to say that I've changed for the better since being a true Christian. Neither does anyone else. It is simply a confession.
You imply the mechanism behind the positive change to be from the actual influence of Christianity. Some people actually claim that god directly intervenes in their lives once they accept him, and thus divine intervention is the mechanism behind the change.
Holy crap I hit the length limit! More to come.
Edited by Rahvin, : Post got cut off by character limit!

This message is a reply to:
 Message 74 by Pauline, posted 06-19-2010 1:42 PM Pauline has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 79 by Rahvin, posted 06-22-2010 8:14 PM Rahvin has not replied
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Rahvin
Member
Posts: 4046
Joined: 07-01-2005


(1)
Message 79 of 479 (566076)
06-22-2010 8:14 PM
Reply to: Message 78 by Rahvin
06-22-2010 8:11 PM


Part II..
My positive changes involved shifting to a rationalist outlook on life,
...not giving up Christianity.
revaluing life as a single chance and where death and suffering are not counterbalanced by any sort of heavenly afterlife
...simply a change in viewpoint
and being able to critically examine my own beliefs better than I could previously. I also happened to get much better jobs, and my lifestyle is now significantly improved over when I was a Christian. Some of that resulted from my deconversion, but some of it was the driving force behind my deconversion.
Should I take the latter result as a ramification of the former cause, and the former result as a ramification of the latter cause ("driving force behind my deconversion")? This is a strange mix-up. I don't see any supernatural intervention. You simply claim to have left Christianity because rationalism appealed more to you. You claim to have lived a better life as a non-Christian than a Christian, but yourself do not attribute any supernatural cause to it. You are the driving force behind these changes.
Of course I am, as are the people around me who support me in my daily life - friends, family, etc.
I'm not claiming supernatural intervention. I'm simply drawing the parallel - when people claim their lives were positively altered by Chrsitianity and attribute those changes to divinity, they are typically misattributing the mechanism behind their positive changes. Joining a religion can have a variety of personal benefits, including social acceptance and networking, a more defined moral framework, and emotional sense of peace and assuredness, etc, and those are all independant of whether the religion has anything to do with reality or not.
When a person expressesthat they have experienced positive changes which they attribute to divine providence since adopting a given religion, those positive changes are correlated with the religion, but the religion (and specifically the mechanism of divine providence) is not necessarily the cause of the positive change.
No, there are effects attributable to religion only. The thousands of missionary lives lived in jungles serving the barbaric are evidence of this. The strong supernatural invention in the preservation of their lives is evidence of this. When observers are able to distinguish a remarkable positive change in a believer discarding all other alternatives in a valid way, that is evidence. The negative effects that come from leaving a religion though are simply a ramification of human freewill. God does not force people.
Supernatural intervention in the preservation of their lives? DO you have some way to support that? Do you have a control gtroup from other faiths who tried the exact same thing but were killed? Are you counting not only the successful missionaries, but also the ones who did die, and seeing whether the statistical distribution is different for one religion beyond others?
Or are you simply reading individual amazing accounts of people who claim divine intervention but can give no evidence beyond their own faith for such a thing?
Uncommon events can very easily be seen as common in the age of information, where you can be presented with a hundred individual thousand-to-one stories with a simpyl Google search and not see a single one of the millions who died. By the way, in a world of 6 billion people, 6 million thousand-to-one stories happened today. 0ver 400 of them happened within a 20-mile radius of where I sit.
So far I have encountered no set of claims that self-identifies as a "religion" that also carries a high probability of being accurate.
Some of your atheist counterparts might disagree with you. Some of the more non-stringent people tend to lean towards lending credence to religions like hinduism and buddhism.
Disagreement is irrelevant. Only the strength of the evidence and a rational anaysis matter. I don't care if I'm the odd man out - in a nation of a few hundred million Christians, my own family among them, I'm rather used to it. What matters to me is the rational analysis of evidence and the objective probability that a hypothesis is accurate. If any of my counterparts disagree with anything I say, they're welcome to debate me on it - let the strength of our arguments and evidence determine who is right. After all, that;s part of why I'm here, on a debate board - to be proven wrong so that I can change my beliefs in favor of a more accurate view of reality.
"There exist two afterlives - one is called heaven and it's a paradisical reward for people who live good lives/worship this deity. The other is called hell and is a place of eternal torment for people who didn't obey the rules/worshipped the wrong deity."
Thats why Pascal came up with a wager.I don't understnad why some people are willing to wager and some other people are not at all.
Because some people are too ignorant of statistics to realize that Pascal's Wager is bunk, and some are not. As I explained above, Pascal's Wager depends on a binary choice between an unlikely positive reward and an unlikely horrible punishment, with "nothing happens" occupying the vast majority of the probable results. Pascal unfortunately only considered Chrsitianity vs. Not Christianity. To put it in simple terms:
Let's say you have a 6-sided dice. Christianity is represented by the 1. The others are all alternative religions. Pascal's wager involves choosing either 1 or everything else - he's treating it like a coin toss ratehr than a roll of the die. In actuality, there are countless competing mutually exclusive religions, with Chrisitanity being only one. Rather than "nothing happens" occupying most of the probability space, "you wind up in somebody else's afterlife" is far more probable.
In other words, what if I bet on Christianity, but the Muslims or the Hindus or the Norse or the Egyptians or the Inca or the Aztec or the Greeks or the Iroquois or the Druids or somebody else was actually right? I just wind up in somebody else's Hell.
Beyond that, it treats the probability of a hypothesis being accurate as pure random chance, rather than a rational conclusion based on evidence. It's utterly absurd. The only reason Pascal's Wager ever works is because both fear and the hope for a reward are powerful motivating factors and frequently override our decision-making process. In other words, Pascal's Wager works on people who listen to their hearts instead of their heads, and somehow manage to establish credulity because they find something preferable and something else scary.
Obviously I'm being somewhat lighthearted here. But the point is that none of these can be objectively evaluated - any observation you could ever make would equally support all possible relevant hypotheses. There's simply no way to test the accuracy of any claim like these. Remember, the strength of a hypothesis lies in what it cannot explain; if the hypothesis can equally explain any conceivable observation, the hypothesis conveys no knowledge. What observation would not be explained by the existence of an afterlife? What observation would not be explained by the existence of a deity? What observation would not be explained by my unicorn? If there are none, how can you ever claim your hypothesis to be less wrong than any other mutually exclusive hypothesis?
Hypothesis and observations are great for evaluating and understand tangible and natural things. Whereas claims like the ones you mentioned, rely on faith or doubt.
I doubt everything, including myself. I knwo that I'm wrong. I know that you are wrong. I know that every person on Earth is wrong.
But I also know that I'm less wrong today than I was a year ago. Next year I hope to be even less wrong. And I know that faith will never ever get me there, not ever.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 78 by Rahvin, posted 06-22-2010 8:11 PM Rahvin has not replied

Rahvin
Member
Posts: 4046
Joined: 07-01-2005


(1)
Message 96 of 479 (566461)
06-24-2010 6:40 PM
Reply to: Message 93 by New Cat's Eye
06-24-2010 5:23 PM


"Supernatural"
This reply is really to you and to Phage.
I think you saying that since every past supernatural explanation has been replaced by a natural one, then that means that we can conclude that the supernatural does not exist, so therefore an honest examination of the Bible would be without anything supernatural, right?
The term "supernatural" denotes a completely undefined set of phenomenon. The term is functionally useless.
"Supernatural" really means "something we don;t currently understand." As our understanding grows, it stops being supernatural. Cars, light bulbs, and blessed air conditioning would all have been considered "supernatural."
It's just like the word "magic," it means nothing, explains nothing, and serves only to cause these silly debates on whether the "supernatural" exists or not, as if the "supernatural" were an easily defined set of phenomenon. There is no such thing as the "supernatural" in terms of "that which does not obey nature's laws." If gods exist, they do not supersede nature's laws - nature's laws are simply different from our current limited conception of them, and the real laws allow deities.
There is no "supernatural" vs. "natural."
There is only "well-understood" vs. "not well-understood."
That may take some of the sense of awe and majesty out of some people's beliefs, but it's still the truth. Saying that something is simply an exception to the way the Universe works for absolutely everything else ("Goddidit," "it's magic," "it's supernatural") is absolutely nothing more than an intellectual dead end for the mentally lazy, because these things offer no explanations and are instead excuses to stop thinking, to retain a model even after it's been proven to be inaccurate, and so on.
A few thousand years ago, if you showed someone a hot air balloon rising into the air, it would seem to be an exception to the natural law that things in the air fall down. Imagine what would have happened if we simply said "oh, it's magic; gravity still says that everything falls down, but this balloon thing is a magic exception, driven by some supernatural force." We understand today that the balloon rises because of a lower density than the surrounding air - knowledge that was only attained through continuing to investigate the mysterious observation that hot air rises.
Every single thing ever discovered was once a mysterious observation, a puzzle, "supernatural," until someone worked out the answer.
This blade cuts the believer and the skeptic, because the end result is that the mysterious question is never investigated and an explanation is never found.
The reason no "supernatural" claim has ever been verified to exist is twofold:
1) there are plenty of frauds
and
2) once we understand it, we stop calling it "supernatural."
There's no point to this useless arguing over whether the "supernatural" exists or not. "Supernatural" is just another way of saying "something not explained by my current model of reality." The real debate is whether our model of reality is accurate, or whether so-called "supernatural" phenomenon require us to change our model to include the new data.
Each claim, in the Bible or elsewhere, should be individually investigated, regardless of whether the claim seems to violate current theories, regardless of whether they're labeled as "supernatural." The only arbiter of what is and is not real is reality. Either you have observations that support your hypothesis sufficiently above competing hypotheses to believe that it may be the most accurate, or you do not.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 93 by New Cat's Eye, posted 06-24-2010 5:23 PM New Cat's Eye has not replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 100 by Phage0070, posted 06-24-2010 7:04 PM Rahvin has replied
 Message 138 by Hyroglyphx, posted 07-01-2010 12:49 PM Rahvin has replied

Rahvin
Member
Posts: 4046
Joined: 07-01-2005


(1)
Message 101 of 479 (566472)
06-24-2010 7:25 PM
Reply to: Message 100 by Phage0070
06-24-2010 7:04 PM


Re: "Supernatural"
Unless the religious view is true, and the god or gods actually exist and operate outside of reality. In that case it is the terms "natural" and "reality" which are lacking, or referencing a subset that we previously thought was the whole.
Which is an absurd position, and says something about the believer and their lack of understanding how to go about increasing knowledge of the Unvierse, but says absolutely nothing with regards to gods existing or not existing.
There is no "outside reality." If something exists, then it is real, that's part of the definition of what it means to exist as opposed to being a figment of imagination. If something which exists happens to appear to bypass what we understand to be the rules that govern nature, our understanding of the rules is flawed; the real rules obviously do allow whatever exceptions were observed, and we simply don;t understand it yet.
I take your meaning, but I think the distinction (vague as it is) is helpful to the discussion. Simple terms aid in the conveyance of simple ideas, such as assessing basic credulity.
And I think it's bait for skeptics to respond with incredulity as soon as they see "supernatural." The moment you see that word, your conclusion becomes "because everyone knows there's no such thing as the supernatural," and you fill in the reasons afterward as post-hoc rationalization. The line of reasoning is false even when the conclusion is correct, and it traps the skeptic into discounting even those very few phenomenon that do exist through shear personal incredulity.
From the other side, the believer just stops thinking and answers a mysterious question with a mysterious answer - in other words, an explanation with nil explanatory power, a predictive model that makes no predictions, a conveyance of zero knowledge.
I think the term and the debate around it are actually worse than useless - they stop debate about the actual phenomenon and any relevant observations, hypotheses, tests and so forth, and focuses it instead on a red herring of personal credulity and emotionally satisfying but informationally vapid "answers."

This message is a reply to:
 Message 100 by Phage0070, posted 06-24-2010 7:04 PM Phage0070 has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 102 by Phage0070, posted 06-24-2010 8:27 PM Rahvin has not replied

Rahvin
Member
Posts: 4046
Joined: 07-01-2005


(1)
Message 110 of 479 (566574)
06-25-2010 12:20 PM
Reply to: Message 106 by Phage0070
06-24-2010 11:47 PM


Re: false beliefs - do they add up to false religion?
This argument with RAZD can continue forever. Beware the fate of Straggler, who beat his head on this wall for a very, very long time.
RAZD makes a fundamental mistake regarding rationality, and doesn;t see it as in error at all. He thinks that "logically valid" means "rational to believe" so long as it hasn't ben absolutely falsified, but you and I know this isn't the case - else any logically consistent but completely baseless claim is counted as "rational" to believe in, and it holds a very special weakness for unfalsifiable nonsense.
The key, I think, is that RAZD is forgetting (or purposefully ignoring) the fact that "I believe x to be true" is a shortened way of saying "I estimate the probability that hypothesis x is accurate to be sufficiently high that I consider it to be likely."
RAZD isn't even performing a rational analysis of the probability that his pet hypothesis is accurate - he makes perfectly clear that he holds his beliefs primarily because they are personally preferable to him, and he considers this to be perfectly rational because his beliefs have not been falsified (easy to do when you refuse to even define those beliefs).
It's silly.
Rational decisions of what to believe and what not to believe involve an analysis of the probability that the hypothesis is accurate given various observations.
Of course, this first requires a cohesive hypothesis - and RAZD won;t ever provide that. He'll never define his deity in terms that could be used to make any prediction, ever - his beliefs are so general that they encompass all possible observations, and so they convey no knowledge.
But even examining the probability that the hypothesis "deity x exists given the very few observations we can make, we see that RAZD's belief is nothing more than an unfounded subjective increase in his personal estimation that his hypothesis is accurate simply because he likes the idea - a perfect example of irrationality.
Let's look at the probability that deity x exists given the observation that RAZD finds that hypothesis to be personally preferable.
P(H|D)=P(D|H)*P(H)/P(D)
The probability that RAZD would be emotionally satisfied given the veracity of his hypothesis is likely 100%. The prior probability that deity x exists before observing that RAZD finds it personally satisfying is extremely low - one deity in an infinite set of mutually exclusive deities. The probability that RAZD would find the hypothesis preferable regardless of whether the hypothesis is accurate is also likely 100%.
Would you look at that - both P(H|H) and P(D) are 1...meaning P(H|D) = P(H), or one chance in an infinite set. Our prior probability has not changed at all by observing that RAZD finds the hypothesis to be personally satisfying. Would you say that a single chance in an infinite set has a high probability of being accurate, and thus is worth saying you believe the hypothesis to be true? What if I simply used the number of currently extant religions rather than infinity - then we'd have something on the order of some thousands rather than an infinite set. Would you judge a 1/1000 chance to be "likely?" I certainly wouldn't.
What about the observation that lots of people believe in deities? Given observed human nature and our tendency to believe outrageous claims even when they're false (given that most religions are mutually exclusive, the vast majority must be false even if one is really true; see also cults, Scientology, etc), wouldn't we expect with nearly 100% certainty that "lots of people" would believe in gods even if the hypothesis that gods exist is false? Once again, our prior estimation of probability is unchanged because both the probability that people would believe in gods if they do exist and the probability that people would believe in gods regardless of whether they exist are 100%.
What observation possibly leads RAZD to increase the probability that his hypothesis is correct to a sufficient level to even consider that it might be accurate?
Let's make another analogy, without any unicorns, because RAZD seems to have an allergy, especially to the invisible and immaterial varieties.
Imagine that we have a city with a population in the millions. Each person represents an individual "god concept." Many people, the vast majority of the city, believe that there has been a murder. The killer and the victim represent various sets of beliefs, including both organized and personal religions. There's no body, nobody knows who the victim is, there's no weapon, and while there are signs of struggles in various parts of the city including blood, there's nothing that ties them all together or even points to one as a murder scene.
Some people in the city have read various newspapers which each claim a different victim and murderer. They believe they have identified both simply because they read it in the paper. They find that this satisfies their curiosity, and after all, the newspaper says that it prints the truth, so why shouldn't they believe it?
RAZD thinks he knows the identity of the victim and the killer...but he won't tell any of us who it is, or why he thinks so. All he'll say is that his hypothesis hasn't been falsified and it's logically self-consistent, and he's chosen to believe it over other unfalsified and logically self-consistent possible victims and murderers because he really didn't like either the victim or the killer (perhaps he owed the victim money and the killer was a real asshole anyway), and so he finds his hypothesis to be very emotionally satisfying.
Personally, I don't think there was a murder, because there's no body, no murder weapon, no confession, no signs of a struggle that aren't easily and better explained by other hypotheses (some kids got in a fight, but everybody's fine, etc).
Is it rational in these circumstances to believe that any hypothesis including a victim and a killer are likely to be true? Is it rational to believe that a murder ever happened at all?
After all, if we define "valid" as "logically consistent and not falsified," then RAZD's hypothesis is completely valid...

This message is a reply to:
 Message 106 by Phage0070, posted 06-24-2010 11:47 PM Phage0070 has not replied

Rahvin
Member
Posts: 4046
Joined: 07-01-2005


Message 121 of 479 (567033)
06-29-2010 11:38 AM
Reply to: Message 119 by RAZD
06-29-2010 7:05 AM


Re: Another opportunity?
Hi RAZD,
The truly rational position, of course is that we don't know, we can't know because we don't have enough information to know, and therefore cannot decide the truth or falseness of the notion/s ... and thus any decision made must necessarily be opinion, and must be held as a tentative possibility at best.
Assuming an actual vacuum of evidence (while I don't think any such thing exists, I can debate a hypothetical...), what reason could you have for pulling one or even several ceonceivable hypotheses and estimating their probability to be higher than any other conceivable hypothesis?
Let me illustrate with an analogy. I promise, no unicorns.
Many people suggest that a murder has occurred. However, there is no evidence of a murder to be found - no bloody knife, no discharged firearm, no body, no signs of a struggle, etc. Assume that we have some hundreds of thousands of people without solid alibis; the hypotheses that each (or several) could have committed the murder have not been falsified.
Is it then down to personal opinion to even suggest the possible identity of the murderer? Perhaps John Baker once ran over your dog, and you really don't like him - is it rational due to your personal feelings that you should consider John to be the most likely murderer?
When you say "I believe..." you are actually saying "I estimate this particular hypothesis to have a higher probability of accuracy than all competing hypotheses; I think this one is the most likely." How is it possible to claim rationality or even logical consistency when estimating one possible hypothesis to be more likely than other competing hypotheses in a dearth of evidence?
Let's try another exercise. I have a 6-sided die. It is conceivable that any side could come up on top when the die is rolled, and no possible result is falsified. Is it rational to say, "I think that the die will most likely come up as 6; I believe 6 will be the result"? If all of the hypotheses are equally possible, are all logically consistent, none have been falsified, and there is no evidence to differentiate one from the other, is it rational to estimate one possible result as more likely?
If an actual probability analysis shows that all of the competing hypotheses are equally probable (regardless of how likely or unlikely they are), what reason do you have for then inflating the probability of one of those equally likely hypotheses in your own mind?

This message is a reply to:
 Message 119 by RAZD, posted 06-29-2010 7:05 AM RAZD has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 122 by Straggler, posted 06-29-2010 7:48 PM Rahvin has replied
 Message 125 by RAZD, posted 06-29-2010 9:28 PM Rahvin has replied

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