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God Doesn't; We Do 
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Post God Doesn't; We Do
Hello, full disclosure first:
I'm James Lindsay, and I wrote God Doesn't; We Do: Only Humans Can Solve Human Challenges, which I just published through a POD publisher (CreateSpace) last month. I joined BookTalk.org, in fact, with the intention of promoting my book at the top of my list, though to be honest, as I look through the forums, I am looking forward to getting engaged in many of the discussions I've seen going.

The book, to quickly summarize, is in the "new atheism" genre, as I hope the title conveys clearly enough, and lands somewhere between Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion and John W. Loftus's Why I Became an Atheist in tone, goal, and voice, not that I'm claiming the clout that either of these two men have. My background, which I bring to the book and which seems nearly unique in the atheism-book vein, is as a Ph.D.-holding mathematician, which I use to create the central premise of the middle portion of the text--that God is a poorly defined concept, that God is as abstract a concept as are numbers, that the probability that God exists as a real entity in the world is zero (in a philosophically defensible way), and that the standard philosophical arguments for God's existence fail utterly, the more abstract among them failing in powerful mathematical-logical ways. The rest of the book elaborates on the central theme that God doesn't do things (the middle section being that "God doesn't exist") in the world. Near the end, I make the case that God, or rather religion, doesn't even do spirituality well and that godless approaches to "spiritual" needs are better suited to the task.

I'd really love to share these ideas, and any interest people have in my contribution to the conversation would be incredible. I appreciate it.

I haven't posted a direct link to the book, since that feels a little spammy, but it is easily found on Amazon.com, where it is available, by searching for the title.


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Post Re: God Doesn't; We Do
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the more abstract among them failing in powerful mathematical-logical ways.


What does Kurt Gödel have to say about the above statement?



Mon Oct 08, 2012 10:47 am
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Post Re: God Doesn't; We Do
Since Gödel died in 1978, I expect he has nothing to say on it. If you're referring to his famous result, that's actually a bit more technical a point than needs to be made--that there are statements that arise from logical constructions (known as axiomatic systems) that cannot be proved to be true nor disproved as false--more clearly that there are true statements that cannot be proven from within the system and false statements that cannot be disproven within the system, i.e. that any axiomatic system is limited in that it cannot be simultaneously complete and consistent.

If you are referring to the famous example of such an undecidable notion that we cannot know how many different infinities there are (an extension of the continuum hypothesis), which would be appropriate here, I'm not exactly sure how you want to raise your case. The arguments that I use that employ infinity do not require us to know how many sizes of infinity there are (or whether or not there is a continuum of sizes) but merely that there are infinitely many sizes of infinity. The results of Cantor are more apropos than the result of Gödel for that argument (which applies to the ontological argument of St. Anselm).

It's possible that you're referring to Gödel's own ontological argument, which like all other ontological arguments has been thoroughly debunked, we can consider it more closely. Though I still think Richard Dawkins (following Hume, to be fair) did it with the best style when he pondered aloud how anyone could accept as valid a strong claim being made about the universe that fails to take into account a single datum from it, which applies to all a priori arguments.

Let's concede Gödel's ontological proof anyway and see what it gets us:
1. Since we've arrived at this notion from examining axioms, we get an axiomatic conception of God. So what? Who needs an abstract concept that they call God (other than Plato, maybe), and who actually believes in such a God? What does such a God DO (see book title)?

2. Since we've arrived at this notion of God from examining axioms, the (abstract) concept of God it extablishes is subject to those axioms. That means if those axioms are bad or don't match reality, then there's a problem. The first of Gödel's axioms is that there is a meaningful "moral aesthetic" positive. So this God is inherently subjective, not to mention abstract. We're wading dangerously close to "God is an imaginary friend" here. The rest of Gödel's axioms are pretty presumptive too. Axiom 2 depends on the rule of the excluded middle (wherein he defines his logical system, which may not actually represent reality, however useful it is), Axiom 3 implicitly assumes being "God-like" is a moral positive (which teeters awfully near begging the question), Axiom 4 asserts that positive in any hypothetical world implies positive in all hypothetical worlds (i.e. that in every possible world, the definitions of moral aesthetic positives need to be meta-universal)--why in the multiverse should we accept this at face value? Axiom 5 assumes that what he's wanting to show is a "positive" property. Look how close we are now to question begging!

3. If we consider the ontological argument of St. Anselm, which we really shouldn't in general but since we're accepting at least one ontological argument, we might consider it, we have to conceive of God as "that than which nothing higher can exist." But Gödel's axiomatic God is subject to his axioms, so we can easily conceive in the mind a God that is higher, one that is limited by no such axioms. So St. Anselm's construction would reject Gödel's construction, and only intellectual contortionism allows us to face both.

In essence, any attempt to lay out axioms to prove God exists subjects God to a definition created by those axioms. So, if we want to define God as an arbitrary and abstract moral-aesthetic positive that if it exists in one possible world then it must exist in all possible worlds, then maybe Gödel's proof proves that God exists. Who cares, though? And why should anyone care? Who prays to that God or goes to church to sing "his" praises? It's even worse than Anselm's ontologically "proved" God as Platonic ideal of that which is good.

The problem left by such an a priori argument is that impossible chasms of non sequitur have to be leaped to get from that particular definition to the ones that are actually used by people, notably the Gods of faiths like Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, etc. If proofs like Gödel's above don't commit question begging, it begins in record amounts the very moment we try to extend his very weird definition of God to other completely incompatible meanings of that word.


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Or see my blog: God Doesn't; We Do--Blog
God doesn't exist, almost surely.


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Post Re: God Doesn't; We Do
more tea vicar? :lol:



Wed Oct 10, 2012 9:32 pm
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Post Re: God Doesn't; We Do
JamesALindsay wrote:
Since Gödel died in 1978, I expect he has nothing to say on it. If you're referring to his famous result, that's actually a bit more technical a point than needs to be made--that there are statements that arise from logical constructions (known as axiomatic systems) that cannot be proved to be true nor disproved as false--more clearly that there are true statements that cannot be proven from within the system and false statements that cannot be disproven within the system, i.e. that any axiomatic system is limited in that it cannot be simultaneously complete and consistent.

If you are referring to the famous example of such an undecidable notion that we cannot know how many different infinities there are (an extension of the continuum hypothesis), which would be appropriate here, I'm not exactly sure how you want to raise your case. The arguments that I use that employ infinity do not require us to know how many sizes of infinity there are (or whether or not there is a continuum of sizes) but merely that there are infinitely many sizes of infinity. The results of Cantor are more apropos than the result of Gödel for that argument (which applies to the ontological argument of St. Anselm).

It's possible that you're referring to Gödel's own ontological argument, which like all other ontological arguments has been thoroughly debunked, we can consider it more closely. Though I still think Richard Dawkins (following Hume, to be fair) did it with the best style when he pondered aloud how anyone could accept as valid a strong claim being made about the universe that fails to take into account a single datum from it, which applies to all a priori arguments.

Let's concede Gödel's ontological proof anyway and see what it gets us:
1. Since we've arrived at this notion from examining axioms, we get an axiomatic conception of God. So what? Who needs an abstract concept that they call God (other than Plato, maybe), and who actually believes in such a God? What does such a God DO (see book title)?

2. Since we've arrived at this notion of God from examining axioms, the (abstract) concept of God it extablishes is subject to those axioms. That means if those axioms are bad or don't match reality, then there's a problem. The first of Gödel's axioms is that there is a meaningful "moral aesthetic" positive. So this God is inherently subjective, not to mention abstract. We're wading dangerously close to "God is an imaginary friend" here. The rest of Gödel's axioms are pretty presumptive too. Axiom 2 depends on the rule of the excluded middle (wherein he defines his logical system, which may not actually represent reality, however useful it is), Axiom 3 implicitly assumes being "God-like" is a moral positive (which teeters awfully near begging the question), Axiom 4 asserts that positive in any hypothetical world implies positive in all hypothetical worlds (i.e. that in every possible world, the definitions of moral aesthetic positives need to be meta-universal)--why in the multiverse should we accept this at face value? Axiom 5 assumes that what he's wanting to show is a "positive" property. Look how close we are now to question begging!

3. If we consider the ontological argument of St. Anselm, which we really shouldn't in general but since we're accepting at least one ontological argument, we might consider it, we have to conceive of God as "that than which nothing higher can exist." But Gödel's axiomatic God is subject to his axioms, so we can easily conceive in the mind a God that is higher, one that is limited by no such axioms. So St. Anselm's construction would reject Gödel's construction, and only intellectual contortionism allows us to face both.

In essence, any attempt to lay out axioms to prove God exists subjects God to a definition created by those axioms. So, if we want to define God as an arbitrary and abstract moral-aesthetic positive that if it exists in one possible world then it must exist in all possible worlds, then maybe Gödel's proof proves that God exists. Who cares, though? And why should anyone care? Who prays to that God or goes to church to sing "his" praises? It's even worse than Anselm's ontologically "proved" God as Platonic ideal of that which is good.

The problem left by such an a priori argument is that impossible chasms of non sequitur have to be leaped to get from that particular definition to the ones that are actually used by people, notably the Gods of faiths like Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, etc. If proofs like Gödel's above don't commit question begging, it begins in record amounts the very moment we try to extend his very weird definition of God to other completely incompatible meanings of that word.



So you've proven mathematically god does not exist or is highly improbable
Brilliant.
How has this made you a better person?
Why are you happier because of it?
How does this make the world a better place?
How does this help people that suffer from anxiety and loneliness in the middle of the night?
How does your book help with usefulness and appropriateness in life?

I await your mathematical findings for the above.



Fri Nov 23, 2012 5:17 pm
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Post Re: God Doesn't; We Do
Those are very, um, odd questions, I think, Ant. I'll do what I can with them, though.

"How has this made you a better person?"

I'm not at all sure what this question has to do with anything. We might, for instance, wonder how developing his very useful diagrams made Richard Feynman a better person, but just because that question can be formulated grammatically does not imply that it carries any significant worth. Particularly, were I to give the answer "it hasn't" to this question, that answer would be entirely immaterial to the value and worth of the contents of the argument and the book I wrote containing it. In short, I guess, what are you trying to get at with this seemingly pointless (and likely to be a diversionary) question?

In this case, though, I'll do you a bit better and answer. I am a much more informed person on a topic that has proven exceedingly difficult to clarify over the last several centuries. I don't think that's trivial, but in the case that it is, see above about the irrelevance of my personal improvement due to formulating this argument and what follows from it. Particularly, though, it has allowed me to employ greater clarity while exploring other complicated questions more relevant to your connotation. Particularly, if I can proceed from a convincing argument that God doesn't exist, then I can proceed from a place where I'm a fair bit less likely to be confused about questions about morality (ahh... here's that "better person" bit).

In my experiences, the question of where morality comes from and what defines it is a very cloudy one for most people. Many, in fact, believe that morality is handed down directly from God as provided by revelation in some ancient texts written during the Bronze Age. Those texts contain a lot of ideas that are very difficult to square with any salient modern definition of morality, however, and thus contribute a lot of confusion that is in no way inconsequential, given that at least half of the world's population agrees that, at the least, those "holy" books are a source of moral inspiration and guidance.

Since I have been able to provide a careful bit of reasoning for myself (and any others that will read it) that God doesn't exist and thus doesn't offer this avenue to moral understanding, I have subsequently spent time carefully reasoning out what does define morality in a meaningful and salient way. By being vastly more attuned to this superior (in that it is not based on an obsolete, uninformed fiction) approach to moral reasoning, I am decidedly a better person. Furthermore, since I have taken the time to have carefully parsed this argument out, clearly formulated it, written it down, and published it, I have offered the same opportunities to other people as well, which is a pretty good thing to have done, I think.

Admittedly, I didn't need this particular argument to reach this particular conclusion, but since your question didn't really make any meaningful sense anyway, this is certainly a good enough reply.

"Why are you happier because of it?"

Again, this is irrelevant. Even if the argument made me miserable, it would do nothing to reduce the validity or worth of the argument itself. To believe that it would is an empty ad hominem.

As I am an ape that derives a certain degree of satisfaction from having successfully done something, particularly something that could have pretty significant consequences for forces that I see as being good, I could argue that it has made me happier that way. As I would also prefer to be a writer over many other possible career options, and this publication helps open wider that door, I could say that it also has contributed to my happiness in that way.

"How does this make the world a better place?"

Clearly reasoned arguments that come from a position of carefully researched and well-thought-out reasoning often make the world a better place. I feel like there is a major problem in our world today that centers upon the inherent problems contained in ideological (including religious) thinking, and anything I can do to contribute to the increased secularization of our society and thought is, to me, a significant step toward making the world a better place. It's entirely possible that folks will find the book and its arguments enjoyable, worthwhile, interesting, refreshing, or any number of other positives, contributing positively to their experience of the world. Others will not like it, but it will push their comfort zones and thought processes and engage them in thinking about old ideas and new ways and some new ideas. As I see anything that encourages free thought and that challenges thinking as a positive, I've contributed that way as well.

"I await your mathematical findings for the above."

This, you know, is utter nonsense to the point where I'm likely to consider it a trolling, and thus inappropriate, comment. Why do you choose to engage in inflammatory rhetoric like this?


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Or see my blog: God Doesn't; We Do--Blog
God doesn't exist, almost surely.


Last edited by JamesALindsay on Fri Nov 23, 2012 5:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: God Doesn't; We Do
James
Thanks very much for posting. I particularly liked your comment that "Clearly reasoned arguments that come from a position of carefully researched and well-thought-out reasoning often make the world a better place." I completely agree.

Don't worry about Ant. He has a facility for drawing out interesting discussions by promoting an inflammatory mixture of logic and magic.

My view on religion is that religious ideas generally originated as metaphor (eg Jesus as the sun) but in explaining them to a broader ignorant audience, parables were used, including providing the metaphor with a biography, and these stories came to replace the original metaphor.

So, disproving literal claims only begins the mathematical approach to religion, although socially useful as a Wittgensteinian clearing of underbrush. There is a deeper and more subtle metaphorical imagination that is not so easily refuted. Unfortunately this metaphorical imagination is usually infected with the viral memes of literal faith. A radical bracketing of literal faith can help to find the logical arguments within theology.

Regarding axioms, my own approach to philosophy draws somewhat from Heidegger. So the basic axioms are existential statements about being in the world. For example, the universe exists, and rigorous observation that provides consistent, coherent and predictive explanations of reality is trustworthy. I also like Heidegger's moral axiom that care is the meaning of being.

Have you read Is God a Mathematician? by Mario Livio. I enjoyed it.

God Doesn't; We Do: Only Humans Can Solve Human Challenges - Amazon link to your book is here. I note your blurb states that you call for the public marginalization of religion. My own view is that religion needs to be reformed to make it compatible with reason, because faith is essential to community identity. So I would suggest we need faith in things that are true, rather than in things that are false. You seem to regard that as impossible.


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Post Re: God Doesn't; We Do
Cheers, Robert.

I have a lot of agreement with you, though maybe not total agreement, that the foundations of many religious ideas are in metaphors. It is my expectation (particularly after reading John W. Loftus and E.P. Sanders) that there is more there than mere metaphor, especially given how overwhelmingly superstitious we tend to be (and how much moreso we were before the invention of falsification and thus science). I have toyed with the idea of writing another piece titled "Bad Metaphors Called God," but I don't think I rest in my expertise strongly enough to do that book justice. It's a shame Joseph Campbell isn't alive to take up the charge.

So far as axioms go, I'm rather in agreement with you, except that I recognize that axioms have very little to do with the reality that I believe we both agree exists surrounding and including us (i.e. there is some objective, external reality, even if we only experience it subjectively). Indeed, axioms lay half of the foundation for axiomatic systems, which are logical constructions, not actual reflections of reality (the other half being provided by the actual logical framework being applied to the axioms). Of course, my understanding in this regard rests heavily on what I know of Gödel's work (per above), so there's some humor trapped in going there again this way.

Now, of course, axioms come in a variety of flavors of worth--those that reflect reality rather well are generally considered of higher value than those that do not. I make the case in God Doesn't that the existence of God is also an axiom, meaning particularly that it lies as part of the foundation of a particular reasoning structure that defines our understanding of the world, but that this axiom is not well-supported by observations in nature and thus mostly (if not totally) unnecessary. Indeed, even if some philosopher's God, defined by axiom, were convincingly argued to "exist" (whatever that means for abstractions anyway), the concept that this God does things in the world is still ridiculous--and dangerous.

I have not read Is God a Mathematician? by Mario Livio, but it's on my reading list for my next writing project, if I decide to undertake it. It seems that surprisingly many intellectual people hold the idea that the very existence of mathematics (and logic) imply that there must be a God, an idea I find patently ridiculous, and my next project will center upon that theme, I think, if I decide to take it on.

Finally, I do call for the public marginalization of religion, but I also repeatedly make the call in the book for religious believers to take upon themselves the charge of reforming their religions to make them compatible with reason, science, observation, and humanity. I would disagree with you that faith, meaning religious faith, is essential to community identity, although I do recognize the two-edged sword that is the distrust-override function of shared religious beliefs (probably it's main contribution to community). I think humanism (a faith in humanity) is entirely sufficient for that, and on the down-to-earth scale, fraternal-type organizations could easily replace the social functions that churches serve (even philosophical fraternities that meet once a week in churches). I.e., I think all of this can be done--and done better--without any belief in God than with it.

Certainly we need faith in things that are true rather than in things that are false. Since the religions themselves are based upon claims in scriptures that are patently and demonstrably untrue (or philosophically unnecessary), mostly in order to paper over a widespread fear of death and a couple of other uncomfortable realities, I do regard it as impossible to reform the religions without radically overturning almost everything that makes them what they are. I suppose Christological philosophies, if you will, could be hashed out and serve as a basis for a new sort of faith, but what would emerge would bear so little resemblance to Christianity that it defies sense to call it by that name. Furthermore, there is the problem of scripture--the Bronze Age scriptures that define the Christian religion will not (and should not be) all destroyed just because the religion undergoes a radical redefinition. Serious-minded adherents, then, will eventually turn back to those scriptures, see what is there, and recreate much of the confused, damaging nonsense that characterizes the religions. That is what I actually call for the marginalization of, and if a bunch of believers of the Jack Spong ilk want to hold dear some ideas that are very unlike the scriptures though distantly inspired by the more pleasant among them, I don't think I (or almost anyone else) would raise much fuss about it.


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Or see my blog: God Doesn't; We Do--Blog
God doesn't exist, almost surely.


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Post Re: God Doesn't; We Do
James,

Welcome to booktalk!

I don't think intends to be a Troll, but alas...

I find it does help to generate discussion, because after all if everybody just said reasonable things we might end up agreeing well before bedtime and there goes the party.

I look forward to hearing more from you.


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Have you tried that? Looking for answers?
Or have you been content to be terrified of a thing you know nothing about?

Are you pushing your own short comings on us and safely hating them from a distance?

Is this the virtue of faith? To never change your mind: especially when you should?

Young Earth Creationists take offense at the idea that we have a common heritage with other animals. Why is being the descendant of a mud golem any better?

Confidence being an expectation built on past experience, evidence and extrapolation to the future. Faith being an expectation held in defiance of past experience and evidence.


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Post Re: God Doesn't; We Do
Quote:
Ant:

So you've proven mathematically god does not exist or is highly improbable
Brilliant.
How has this made you a better person?
Why are you happier because of it?
How does this make the world a better place?
How does this help people that suffer from anxiety and loneliness in the middle of the night?
How does your book help with usefulness and appropriateness in life?

I await your mathematical findings for the above.



Nonsense, of course.

Revealing the truth of a situation is an excellent thing to do with one's time, all the more so if it is the root of a lie that literally billions of people are wasting time and energy upon.

How does his book help with anxiety and lonliness?
Great question.

James, what will your book do for people who suffer from low self worth? Will it help wall-flowers get out there and dance?

What about flab? If your book doesn't help people do sit-ups, it has clearly been a singular waste of time. also, what about "usefulness and appropriateness in life"?

Good words.

Good words.


_________________
In the absence of God, I found Man.
-Guillermo Del Torro

Have you tried that? Looking for answers?
Or have you been content to be terrified of a thing you know nothing about?

Are you pushing your own short comings on us and safely hating them from a distance?

Is this the virtue of faith? To never change your mind: especially when you should?

Young Earth Creationists take offense at the idea that we have a common heritage with other animals. Why is being the descendant of a mud golem any better?

Confidence being an expectation built on past experience, evidence and extrapolation to the future. Faith being an expectation held in defiance of past experience and evidence.


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Post Re: God Doesn't; We Do
I should add a brief addendum to the idea of "Christological philosophies," were those to be developed in place of religions like Christianity now.

Why Christological? Why not Zarathustran? Why not Herculean? Why not Harry-Potteran? Why not Eldaran? Why does this particular historical/legendary entity, Christ (rather Jesus), deserve the first bit more attention than any other? Certainly the moral depth of the Harry Potter series is greater than what is contained in the New Testament, and certainly the metaphor contained in The Silmarillion outstrips what exists in the Bible. To accept that we should build a philosophy off of Jesus or his purported teachings still serves to bolster the myth that there was something particularly special about this character (instead of the most likely reality that he was a strongly socially conservative reactionary that also happened to have believed in the popular, though psychotic, notion that the end of the world was coming in short order--with the delusion of grandeur that it was likely that he would take his own place as rightful ruler of the newly made world!). Why not Koreshian philosophy, then?

These are hard questions for would-be Christian reformers to answer, and only by begging the question and tacitly accepting the assumption that there really was something profoundly transformational and timeless about this Jesus character can they get around the problem. Since you agree that we should have faith in the true rather than in the false, this is a major (I'd say catastrophic) issue for the "reform" path. Though as I said, I wouldn't begrudge serious attempts to take on that challenge as a stepping-stone to letting go of mythology.


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Post Re: God Doesn't; We Do
Hey James,

Check out this little break down i have about the use of the word faith.

post109846.html

Tenth post in this page.

Earlier in this thread you were using the word faith in the context of things about which we can have confidence. Take a look at this post. I think it's helpful.


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In the absence of God, I found Man.
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Have you tried that? Looking for answers?
Or have you been content to be terrified of a thing you know nothing about?

Are you pushing your own short comings on us and safely hating them from a distance?

Is this the virtue of faith? To never change your mind: especially when you should?

Young Earth Creationists take offense at the idea that we have a common heritage with other animals. Why is being the descendant of a mud golem any better?

Confidence being an expectation built on past experience, evidence and extrapolation to the future. Faith being an expectation held in defiance of past experience and evidence.


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Post Re: God Doesn't; We Do
Yes Johnson, I agree. The word "faith" is difficult to use accurately, and I did use the word "faith" to mean "confidence" earlier in the thread. Thanks for sharing that; it is helpful.


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Post Re: God Doesn't; We Do
Yeah, for a long time i knew there was something wrong with people saying it takes as much faith to believe science as it does religion, i just had to sit down and sort some thought for a bit.

I think there's a real distinction there and it something we can point out to people who try to hobble us with their own chains.


_________________
In the absence of God, I found Man.
-Guillermo Del Torro

Have you tried that? Looking for answers?
Or have you been content to be terrified of a thing you know nothing about?

Are you pushing your own short comings on us and safely hating them from a distance?

Is this the virtue of faith? To never change your mind: especially when you should?

Young Earth Creationists take offense at the idea that we have a common heritage with other animals. Why is being the descendant of a mud golem any better?

Confidence being an expectation built on past experience, evidence and extrapolation to the future. Faith being an expectation held in defiance of past experience and evidence.


Sat Nov 24, 2012 12:10 pm
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Post Re: God Doesn't; We Do
Absolutely. I chose to use the word "faith" in the above to echo the language given to me, but in the future now I'll be likely to pause to clarify the language and then use the more accurate term "confidence." Definitely appreciated!


_________________
Writer, mathematician, Southerner, atheist.
Author of God Doesn't; We Do: Only Humans Can Solve Human Challenges
Or see my blog: God Doesn't; We Do--Blog
God doesn't exist, almost surely.


Sat Nov 24, 2012 12:50 pm
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