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Ch. 1: The Case for Good Thinking ("Good Thinking" - by Guy P. Harrison) 
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 Ch. 1: The Case for Good Thinking ("Good Thinking" - by Guy P. Harrison)
Ch. 1: The Case for Good Thinking ("Good Thinking" - by Guy P. Harrison)

Please use this thread to discuss the above chapter.



Mon Sep 21, 2015 11:31 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1: The Case for Good Thinking ("Good Thinking" - by Guy P. Harrison)
Quote:
The results of our negligence to teach, encourage, and expect good thinking are clear to see. The world is a swirling, festering ball of deceptions and madness that all of us must wade through each day.



i can just imagine someone saying "there's serious money to be made from that swirling, festering ball of deceptions and madness"

it reminded me of Carlin

Quote:
"But I'll tell you what they don't want. They don't want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don't want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking. They're not interested in that. That doesn't help them. That's against their interests. They don't want people who are smart enough to sit around the kitchen table and figure out how badly they're getting fucked by a system that threw them overboard 30 fucking years ago.


enjoying the book already though.



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Post Re: Ch. 1: The Case for Good Thinking ("Good Thinking" - by Guy P. Harrison)
Quote:
"A good skeptic understands this and is necessarily humble as a result."


I think a lot of us fall short of humility.

I can see this book is going to make me read it a couple times.


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Post Re: Ch. 1: The Case for Good Thinking ("Good Thinking" - by Guy P. Harrison)
Guy Harrison wrote:
The problem of poor reasoning, lack of understanding and appreciation for the methods of science, and ignorance about the structure and function of our brains is the great, invisible crisis of our world. This might seem like hyperbole, but only because bad thinking is so common. It's everywhere, all the time, so we scarcely notice it. Nonsense is our normal, accepted and customary, as much a part of the human landscape as are language and music. We pay a steep price for this tolerance. Irrational thinking slows progress and harms everyone to varying degrees.


I recently read Susan Jacoby's The Age of American Unreason and this paragraph—actually the second paragraph in the introduction—really jumped out. It's not just that there is a lot of nonsense and "junk thought"—which is how Jacoby describes it. Turn on the TV and there's so much vapidity (and very good programs), along with the information explosion that is the world wide web. We can spend all of our days entertaining ourselves to the point that we stop growing intellectually. I think one aspect of critical thinking is learning to tune out the noise and focus on the good stuff. We are only on this earth for a short time.

(I'm tempted to link to a Cat Stevens song, but I think I'll refrain.) :-)


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Post Re: Ch. 1: The Case for Good Thinking ("Good Thinking" - by Guy P. Harrison)
While the first chapter in Good Thinking sets a basically sound baseline approach to critical thinking, there are points of detail in his analysis of ghosts, astrology and ancient aliens which deserve further discussion.

Harrison essentially endorses the modern rational consensus condemning these topics as beneath contempt. His view seems to be almost that anyone who fails to condemn these taboo topics thereby condemns themselves as an irrational crank. Harrison presents the perfectly sound scientific argument that these topics are the domain of cranks, and that the claims for them have not met scientific standards of evidence so should be approached with maximum suspicion. However the critical thinking challenge is to say what conclusions we can correctly draw from this starting point. I think he is too hasty in concluding that these factors justify his conclusions.

Some readers may detect a smug tone to Harrison’s comments on these topics. This superior attitude helps to illustrate why there is such a cultural gulf between religious believers and adherents of scientific method about valid criteria of truth.

Believers consider that personal intuition has some value, even where these intuitions cannot be verified through repeatable experiment and evidence. This question raises the problem of the status of evidence for critical thinking. I personally believe that evidence and logic should be the only criteria for confidence in assertions. However, and this is where I am not sure about Harrison's arguments, the converse is not also true. We can’t say that a lack of evidence is proof that a claim is untrue, especially where we have some reason to consider the claim as possible, such as widespread belief in it.

A big problem here is that cranks claim that their intuitions are evidence. They are not. But Harrison falls here into a fallacious argument that breaks one of his own main rules explained in this book – the avoidance of straw man thinking. Harrison’s form of logic is that some proponents of ideas about astrology, aliens and ghosts are crazy, and therefore all proponents of these claims are crazy. That is invalid straw man thinking. There could be reasons which Harrison and others are unaware of which could in future convert these pseudosciences to a scientific basis.

If people can get over the inevitable 'Yuck factor' of their prejudice against these irrational beliefs, it is worth exploring why exactly people believe them, and what their epistemic status really is, without falling for the caricatures that Harrison accepts.

With ancient aliens, the main ground of belief is that the three great pyramids at Giza in Egypt lack the expected evolutionary continuity with preceding technology, and have features which support the alien construction hypothesis. The Great Pyramid has air vents which have no known purpose. These air vents apparently point to stars, and must have been immensely complex to build, very strange for any conceivable design plan. The pyramids are made of vast heavy rocks using unknown method on immense scale. The rocks are far far bigger than would be practical for human construction, and have a precision of placement which is utterly extraordinary, with joints thinner than a razor blade. The mathematical design locates the pyramids at the geographic centre of earth’s continents, and squares the circle with its angle of construction. The exactness of the alignment and construction has still not been matched by modern engineering. This is from a time dating thousands of years before the emergence of science in Greece. The previous bright appearance was vivid, until their white limestone casing was stolen to build Cairo in Islamic times.

Against this framework of mystery, compared to the three great pyramids of Giza the rest of the pyramids of Egypt look like feeble human copies of a vast unknown method. The tomb theory relating to Cheops lacks any confirming evidence. All these factors have led speculative minds to suggest that the pyramid complex was erected as a beacon system to illustrate that aliens had visited, involving inconceivable high technology.

I hasten to add that none of this constitutes evidence for alien involvement. I adduce it here just to show that the simple mockery which Harrison presents is just one side of a complex debate. The absence of positive evidence other than the stark existence of the pyramids themselves makes the alien hypothesis implausible. However, the points above constitute genuine mysteries. It is wrong to simply accept Harrison’s attitude of smug superiority to anyone who expresses perplexity at these questions. The debate here is cultural and political as much as rational and empirical.

On ghosts, again Harrison is perfectly correct that there is no scientific evidence. However, given the wide support for ghost belief, it is reasonable to ask if this situation is an indicator of the weakness of scientific method, rather than evidence for the non-existence of ghosts. The nature of human energy, identity and consciousness is a highly mysterious scientific topic which neuroscience cannot say it fully understands. There are traditions of spiritual practice, for example in the Indian Yoga theory of prana or spiritual energy, which have widespread subjective adherence but cannot be measured objectively. It is possible that human biology has evolved forms of energy which are real but are not measurable by current science.

The ghost hypothesis rests on the idea that this personal energy of the soul can survive after physical death. While highly implausible, and possibly better explained by wishful thinking, along the lines of Hume’s famous critique of belief in miracles, the ghost claim has not actually been refuted. It is important in a presentation of critical thinking that philosophy should not allow its cultural presuppositions, assumptions and prejudices to take the form of bigotry, mocking and reviling those who claim to have personal experiences that science cannot explain.

Ridicule has an important role in propaganda, simplifying and caricaturing an argument in order to divide society into camps, the chosen and the damned. For Harrison, the chosen elect are those who condemn all claims which have not been proven by scientific evidence. This modern rational elite can look down their noses at the benighted fools and damnable reprobates who accept primitive superstitions. There is obviously a seductive attraction in this social analysis. However, if we are honest and rigorous in critical thinking, we have to make sure we do not close our minds to potential areas of new knowledge by assuming they are impossible.

And so to astrology, which is a topic that has long fascinated me, in terms of its possible scientific justification and cultural history. Like most scientists who deign to discuss astrology, Harrison has an obvious peg on his nose to avoid the perceived stench of contaminating idiocy. As a result, it is hardly surprising that he advances several easily answered straw men, such as the argument from precession.

In a recent conversation with a physicist about astrology, I suggested that there is still room for design of statistical tests to investigate some simple big claims. His response was that the task of conducting such tests should not rest with science, because science considers astrology to be miserably ridiculous and obsolete. He considered that those who make claims have the entire burden of proof.

The problem with this attitude is that it illustrates the intense social polarisation preventing analysis. Astrologers consider their intuition is sufficient grounds for claims, while scientists use objective methods that have entirely failed to find any predictive content in astrology whatsoever. My view is that this situation could simply mean that the nature of astrological effects is too weak for the type of tests that have previously been conducted by scientists. It is conceivable that new more sensitive statistical tests could possibly reveal effects.

My experience is that this viewpoint is usually met with withering scorn and suspicions of insanity. Despite this difficult context, I would be very happy to cooperate with anyone interested to conduct objective statistical testing of astrological claims. I am yet to find anyone willing to take me up on that offer, illustrating how this topic is bedeviled by cultural prejudice. The takeout here is that claims such as those of Harrison about the utter vacuity of astrology claim far more than the evidence supports.

In conclusion, my assessment of Harrison’s analysis of critical thinking is that he falls prey to a tendency in popular atheism to assert that matters are simple, when in fact they are complex. Atheists say it is a simple and obvious point that God does not exist. I am happy to call myself an atheist, but this should be a start of a robust and respectful dialogue, not an assertion of intellectual superiority. In making this assertion some atheists such as Richard Dawkins polarise the conversation and fail to engage with the symbolic and psychological and mythical content in religion. I appreciate that many rational people have a big chip on their shoulder about the harmful effects of religion, but the task of critical thinking is not simply to vent our emotions, it is to conduct careful and dispassionate logical analysis of evidence, even where this challenges our own personal prejudices.


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Post Re: Ch. 1: The Case for Good Thinking ("Good Thinking" - by Guy P. Harrison)
I think he makes the case for humility fairly well, when he states that you need to question everything that isn't proven scientifically. I think that he makes a good case for all of his points, if Bigfoot existed, we would have one in a museum, or a zoo. This planet is fairly well explored now, especially in areas of human habitation, where the bigfoot sightings have happened. The same is true for lake or sea monsters. By now there would BE one somewhere.

1.2 billion Hindu and 1.5 billion Muslim and 2 billion Christians can't all be right, there can't be one god and many gods at the same time, and not one of these has proven their case with evidence that is incontrovertible. Never mind the hundreds of other religions and variations of religions out there.

I am taking a good hard look at my own beliefs for biases and lazy thinking, I am sure I will find areas for improvement.


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Post Re: Ch. 1: The Case for Good Thinking ("Good Thinking" - by Guy P. Harrison)
Robert Tulip, " It is important in a presentation of critical thinking that philosophy should not allow its cultural presuppositions, assumptions and prejudices to take the form of bigotry, mocking and reviling those who claim to have personal experiences that science cannot explain.

Ridicule has an important role in propaganda, simplifying and caricaturing an argument in order to divide society into camps, the chosen and the damned. For Harrison, the chosen elect are those who condemn all claims which have not been proven by scientific evidence. This modern rational elite can look down their noses at the benighted fools and damnable reprobates who accept primitive superstitions. There is obviously a seductive attraction in this social analysis. However, if we are honest and rigorous in critical thinking, we have to make sure we do not close our minds to potential areas of new knowledge by assuming they are impossible."

I thought that you had two very interesting statements. With this first statement you seem to frame what I think is a paramount problem to discuss matters of God. I noted you used very sharp words of bigotry, mocking, reviling, ridicule, propaganda, divide society and those damned. I do not note them as a great failure on your part, but it is part of the equation that rests between spiritual, agnostics or atheists. Both parties generally have too much disdain for one another. Why is this the case?

Men generally come to very concrete conclusions about their ideology. However, in my five year study of interviewing over 2,000 people with the intent of sharing my faith, I learned many traits about people. 1) People are generally wrong about God. 2) Men don't seek God unless in a state of desperation and/or with no alternative. 3) Men come to conclusions about God based on very few pieces of evidence. 4) Men are very unlikely to change their philosophy after 30 years old.

I pointed this out because BOTH spiritual and those opposing concepts of God have great misunderstandings about one another; spiritual people think ungodly people have made their "bed" and are very reluctant to talk about God; ungodly people think that spiritual people have not questioned the validity of their faith and determine their system is faulty due to the "rotten apples." This promotes a spirit of apprehension about encountering one another. Not only this, but the language that the two speak are so foreign to one another. Spiritual people fail to relate their faith in terms that ungodly people can easily understand.

This scenario is compounded by the following problems as to how men debate matters. 1) We always debate to win! Even if it takes being demeaning, insulting and condescending. 2) We don't view our adversary in the same thinking that changing their concepts will not take place in a 5 minute discussion. 3) We fail to discuss with the mindset to promote understanding, acceptance and further discussions. 4) We would rather burn bridges instead of promoting an air of acceptance and discussion.

Your second quote of "In making this assertion some atheists such as Richard Dawkins polarise the conversation and fail to engage with the symbolic and psychological and mythical content in religion. I appreciate that many rational people have a big chip on their shoulder about the harmful effects of religion, but the task of critical thinking is not simply to vent our emotions, it is to conduct careful and dispassionate logical analysis of evidence, even where this challenges our own personal prejudices." is very profound!!

My position is there are great atheists that are IGNORED by the spiritual thinkers of our time. My conclusion could be wrong because many spiritual people are tied down to one location of ministry. However, I do think there are great thinking minds as the Hitchens, Dawkins, Silverman, Harris and others that have been left almost unabated. What I mean by that statement is their question of "Why would a God sit in the heavens and bask in the understanding that he doesn't help man in time of war, rape, pestilence, famine."

Often this question is given a pandering answer that "God turns bad into good." This is not an answer, but an insult. It has skirted the question and tried to place a Band-Aid on the problem presented question. I have determined this needs to end!

My understanding of men is they need to see the workings of any faith system. I call men the "tinkerers" who like to know how matters work. Even taking things apart, put them back together, and even, improving on their workings.

If man is given the full workings of a spiritual system that is so synchronized to work perfectly, man is much more willing to accept it as a viable option of faith. Without this evidence men are just sitting on the "sidelines" and REALLY have no faith in God. This must be corrected.
Good thoughts! Thanks for your honesty!



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Post Re: Ch. 1: The Case for Good Thinking ("Good Thinking" - by Guy P. Harrison)
Robert, I'm sorry to say this, but I can't help but see special interest pleading in your post about making allowances for what we might not know. At other times you are quite dogmatic (properly so, in your view) about the certainties that science reveals. How can you have this both ways.

To expand a little on that, since I won't be around for a few days to make replies: in a book about the standards of good thinking, which will be based partly on scientific knowledge, it is almost mandatory that the subjects for which you ask tolerance be shunted to the side as negative examples.



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Post Re: Ch. 1: The Case for Good Thinking ("Good Thinking" - by Guy P. Harrison)
DWill wrote:
Robert, I'm sorry to say this, but I can't help but see special interest pleading in your post about making allowances for what we might not know. At other times you are quite dogmatic (properly so, in your view) about the certainties that science reveals. How can you have this both ways.

To expand a little on that, since I won't be around for a few days to make replies: in a book about the standards of good thinking, which will be based partly on scientific knowledge, it is almost mandatory that the subjects for which you ask tolerance be shunted to the side as negative examples.


It is about the specific language that Harrison uses, so I will dig up quotes. I agree that there is a lot of bad thinking defending belief in aliens, astrology and ghosts, but the question I am raising is whether that bad thinking really justifies Harrison's precise assessments on these topics. In a book on good thinking, he sets the bar high regarding standards of logical argument.

People should be dogmatic (ie absolute) in rejecting young earth creationism since there is abundant science which contradicts it. But that is simply not the case for the topics I mentioned, which instead have the status of unproven. It is too easy (and an uncritical fallacy) to drift from X is disproved therefore Y is wrong. On another topic of my personal interest, the historical existence of Jesus Christ, the challenges for good thinking are acute, and this is an area where precision is difficult.

I am not involved in special pleading; I am just pointing out that what Harrison likes to call critical thinking has a healthy dollop of cultural prejudice. He reinforces the rhetoric around his personal opinions by his assertion that they are good thinking, even where he has no evidence to support his opinions. In fact his reasoning for why astrology is wrong is a classic example of bad thinking, grounded in ignorance.


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Post Re: Ch. 1: The Case for Good Thinking ("Good Thinking" - by Guy P. Harrison)
Robert Tulip wrote:
However the critical thinking challenge is to say what conclusions we can correctly draw from this starting point. I think he is too hasty in concluding that these factors justify his conclusions.

Humility involves allowing for the possibility that our thinking process may be wrong. It seems to me Harrison is all for such humility when it works hand in hand with science, but not so much when affirming scientific conclusions relative to non-scientific intuitions. Reminds me of the way believers in Biblical infallibility pick and choose which Biblical passages must be treated as literally true and are quite ready to explain away others. For Harrison, science has that kind of absolute authority.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Some readers may detect a smug tone to Harrison’s comments on these topics.

You mean some readers cannot detect it? Maybe they are not thinking critically enough.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Believers consider that personal intuition has some value, even where these intuitions cannot be verified through repeatable experiment and evidence.

This is a complex and emotionally charged issue. I will reserve comment on it for later chapters.
Robert Tulip wrote:
We can’t say that a lack of evidence is proof that a claim is untrue, especially where we have some reason to consider the claim as possible, such as widespread belief in it.

Okay, so here we get into the meat of the matter.

I want to raise two issues, which we may be able to carry on with as we go. The first is the "real time" issue of deciding issues without having anything like epistemological confidence.

A very simple example is "you should insure yourself against risks." Without having at my disposal the actuarial data that insurance companies use, this is a difficult proposition to assess. Some would say, buy as much insurance of every type as you can. Others would say insurance is a waste of money if you take proper precautions. The truth is undoubtedly somewhere in between, and depends on how you feel about medium levels of damages and about extremely unlikely catastrophes. Good thinking includes the fact that you are going to have to make a choice without access to complete information even though it exists.

The second issue is "competing principles". I just finished listening to more than an hour of TED talks on motivation theory in the workplace. Much of it was aimed at debunking the common observation that people work in response to the prospect of pay. There is extensive evidence that if you try to build a motivational system on efficiency and pay alone, you are likely to end up with a less productive workplace. But many of those questioning the received wisdom (pay is what motivates people) are responding to a few experiments or even anecdotes, which in most cases have never been subjected to a control case of trying to motivate people without pay.

The truth is that competing principles are at work, and even though the foundational investigation recognized this and spelled out how to apply it (payment and other extrinsic motivators are what is called "hygeinic" meaning that if you get them wrong, you can spoil motivation; while intrinsic motivators actually determine the effort and productivity of the workers otherwise), there is still a stream of studies continually emerging which claim to show that "money does not motivate people."

Robert Tulip wrote:
The nature of human energy, identity and consciousness is a highly mysterious scientific topic which neuroscience cannot say it fully understands. There are traditions of spiritual practice, for example in the Indian Yoga theory of prana or spiritual energy, which have widespread subjective adherence but cannot be measured objectively. It is possible that human biology has evolved forms of energy which are real but are not measurable by current science.
The ghost hypothesis rests on the idea that this personal energy of the soul can survive after physical death.

Or possibly that it survives in the form of the influence the person had on the minds of others. Shermer's position is that if people did not believe in ghosts, no ghosts would be seen, but we know this is simply not true. There are numerous reportings, with no ulterior motive, of unexpected experiences with them by people who did not previously believe in them.

There are a much larger number of cases in which ghosts are seen by people who believe in them and have the deceased on their mind. These can sometimes be seen by others who knew the deceased and not by those who don't believe in ghosts.

And of course the largest category of all seems to be people who report such things for ulterior motives, channel the dead's messages for a fee, etc.

There are competing principles at work.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Ridicule has an important role in propaganda, simplifying and caricaturing an argument in order to divide society into camps, the chosen and the damned. For Harrison, the chosen elect are those who condemn all claims which have not been proven by scientific evidence.

Robert Tulip wrote:
He considered that those who make claims have the entire burden of proof.

So, that means . . . there are mythological processes among atheists and skeptics! Which would imply that (gasp!) skepticism is a human social process subject to errors and weak thinking just like other -isms. And emotional reasons for attaching to skeptical prejudices! My god, is nothing sacred!
Robert Tulip wrote:
In conclusion, my assessment of Harrison’s analysis of critical thinking is that he falls prey to a tendency in popular atheism to assert that matters are simple, when in fact they are complex. Atheists say it is a simple and obvious point that God does not exist.
In making this assertion some atheists such as Richard Dawkins polarise the conversation and fail to engage with the symbolic and psychological and mythical content in religion. I appreciate that many rational people have a big chip on their shoulder about the harmful effects of religion, but the task of critical thinking is not simply to vent our emotions, it is to conduct careful and dispassionate logical analysis of evidence, even where this challenges our own personal prejudices.

Hear, hear!



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Post Re: Ch. 1: The Case for Good Thinking ("Good Thinking" - by Guy P. Harrison)
geo wrote:
(I'm tempted to link to a Cat Stevens song, but I think I'll refrain.) :-)

You can't mean the jejune "Oh, very young" so you must be thinking of "Hard headed woman." 8)
(Kidding about jejune).



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Post Re: Ch. 1: The Case for Good Thinking ("Good Thinking" - by Guy P. Harrison)
froglipz wrote:
1.2 billion Hindu and 1.5 billion Muslim and 2 billion Christians can't all be right, there can't be one god and many gods at the same time,


Well, actually, depending on what we mean by "god" there can be. The Hindu tradition (I hesitate to characterize it as single faith or belief system) worked out, before Jesus was born, that it is possible for the many Hindu gods to be different manifestations of the same god, who is in turn either the ground of reality or the pervasive soul which is in all and comprehends reality, depending on whether you see Brahman or Atman. So you can choose 1, 3 or several hundred, depending on how "manifest" you want them to be. Many modern Christians believe along similar lines that God is not external to humans.

(Muslims still have some issues about such things, leading to active physical danger if you preach that sort of thing too openly, so my bet is that there are many Muslims who see the world that way but that you would have to have one as a trusting friend before you are going to hear about it.)

Or it is all the Tao, if you prefer.

froglipz wrote:
I am taking a good hard look at my own beliefs for biases and lazy thinking, I am sure I will find areas for improvement.


May I suggest that you start with the notion that "god" must mean an anthropomorphized intelligence who goes around doing supernatural things and never does anything else?

I hope to be inspired to do some self-examination as well, so really I am with you on this.



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Post Re: Ch. 1: The Case for Good Thinking ("Good Thinking" - by Guy P. Harrison)
froglipz "1.2 billion Hindu and 1.5 billion Muslim and 2 billion Christians can't all be right, there can't be one god and many gods at the same time,"

Mr. Marks, according to this quote, "Why can this not be true?" Cannot all ways lead to God (a physical being), or none of the major 5 religions lead to God, or ONE way leads to God?

What right have you to automatically discount that your way is right?

Why can't there be many gods, but one is pointed out in a different system?

My book will prove that God is a physical being? One that walked and talked with man? And shows how 3 can equal 1!



Sat Oct 10, 2015 12:58 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1: The Case for Good Thinking ("Good Thinking" - by Guy P. Harrison)
Brother bob -

Of course my way is right, speaking in all humility, of course. It's just that doesn't mean the others are wrong, including your somewhat weird-sounding version.

George Smiley, of spy novel fame, was fond of saying to his wayward wife, "the fact that I am wrong does not mean you are right." It is slightly harder to see the version that says, "the fact that I am right does not mean you are wrong."



Sat Oct 10, 2015 1:23 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1: The Case for Good Thinking ("Good Thinking" - by Guy P. Harrison)
Harry, to put it kindly, Men are almost always wrong about God! A sad fact that I have found out. Here are some of the reasons.

1) Men base fact on singular incidences - If God doesn't save their dying child in exchange for their soul, than God does not exist! This is faulty logic. Men can't ever dictate that a God must act in their accordance.

2) Men do little if anything to SEEK the truth about God. They have a preconceived notion or a faulty conclusion and STOP their effort to find if it is truth of not. Truth is formulated in an illogical and improper means.

3) Men demand that God exhibit certain traits - benevolence, protection, intervention and much more. How can man demand that God act according to their rules? The created always must adhere to the Creator!

4) Men have almost no desire to change even after being proven wrong. We believe that the laws of nature don't apply to us. We are too good to be ordered exiled from God. Punishment is always for the other guy. Time is on our side to change later.

I believe this can only be changed by a GREAT VOLUME of evidence for men to sort through and come to the truth formulated in their mind. Good day!

Your statement denies the concept of absolute truth! You would have to conclude that there is no such concept as absolute truth in our world.



Sat Oct 10, 2015 1:35 pm
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