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Post 30 reasons people give... Reasons 1-10
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If a person believes something that has been proven to be impossible, such as the virgin birth, that belief corrupts their entire capacity to think critically, undermining their ability to base their opinions upon evidence. Once we throw away the requirement for evidence in one area we are on a slippery slope to irrationality.


Since the rules of logic generally are allowed to state that you can't prove a negative, there is no such thing as proving something is impossible. That last phrase sounds like a paradox, I know, but you have to admit it makes a nice koan. It also goes to show how even logic demands we start with some shared premises that will never be able to be made practically, absolutely demonstrated. You can demonstrate how unlikely something is statistically, but since most Christians are saying the Virgin Birth only happened the one time, that doesn't help. Moreover the assertion that one mistake in critical thinking means we can assume the whole thinking process of the person who made the mistake is irrational would really mean everyone is irrational since we all make mistakes. This is probably true, but hardly a basis to discount the whole of what someone says because we dislike their particular flavor of irrationality.

I am referring to this book as "30 Reasons" because Chris is allowed to say people who say they are Christians aren't allowed their definition unless it matches his definition, and if the author of the book is allowed to discount the kind of Christians who read C.S. Lewis or other intellectual Christian theologians because he thinks there are so few of them -- in history there have been many, many more and more diverse Christians than the kind people are considering here -- and if you are allowed to throw out the whole body of someone's thought because they make an assertion you believe has been "proven impossible" (when? how?) then I'm going to say "30 Reasons" instead of "50 Reasons" and we can all agree to act smaller than we are and talk about less than we could possbily be talking about and see who looks biggest in the end. Won't it be fun?



Thu Sep 18, 2008 11:19 am
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Post Re: 30 reasons people give... Reasons 1-10
GentleReader9 wrote:
... but hardly a basis to discount the whole of what someone says because we dislike their particular flavor of irrationality.

Now that's pithy. I could have used that a few minutes ago. In my post I said that belief in a seemingly impossible event, such as the ressurection, might incline someone to be less rational acrosss the board. The operative word was "might', but perhaps even that was giving too much credence to that idea of contamination. I will continue to think about it.
DWill



Thu Sep 18, 2008 11:31 am
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GentleReader9

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Since the rules of logic generally are allowed to state that you can't prove a negative, there is no such thing as proving something is impossible.


This is actually a common misconception about logic. You actually can prove a negative far beyond a reasonable doubt. Take the statement, "There are no elephants in this shoe box" as an example. All one has to do is open the shoe box and see that the shoebox contains no elephants and they have just proved a negative. Of course you could counter with, "Ahh...but maybe there is an invisible immaterial elephant in that shoebox that you could not sense with your sensory organs." If you did I would walk the other way, literally, because I'm not very good at having civil conversations with this sort of person.

Naturally, opening the shoebox and seeing there isn't an elephant in there is not mathematical proof, but it constitutes scientific proof and certainly the everyday sort of proof you and I utilize to navigate through the complexities of life. Could a philosopher argue me in circles with me stuttering and stammering unable to explain how I know the shoebox is elephant-free? I guess so. I've seen it happen here on BookTalk.org quite a few times. But in the end, for all intents and purposes, opening the shoebox, shaking it upside down for a few seconds, and noting that no elephants have fallen out into your lap, leaves a rational person under the impression and with the conclusion that the box didn't and doesn't contain an elephant. A negative has been proven.

I'm aware that we could go back and forth about this issue. My purpose was to show that it is indeed very possible to prove a negative. And with just as simple of an example it is possible to prove something is impossible. If I said, "It is impossible to put a real alive full-size elephant into this shoebox," I would be correct.

People abuse this rule of logic all the time. Yes, it is impossible to prove a claim is impossible if the claim is defined vaguely in an untestable manner. "God does not exist" is a negative statement that cannot be proven to be true. But this is because "God" has been left wide open for interpretation. Also, are we including the entire known universe? How about other universes? Theists have fun with the "you can't prove a negative" that same way they misuse the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics in debates. Clarification is essential, but clarity is not the objective with some debate participants. The objective is to trip their opponent.

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It also goes to show how even logic demands we start with some shared premises that will never be able to be made practically, absolutely demonstrated.


Very true.

Quote:
You can demonstrate how unlikely something is statistically, but since most Christians are saying the Virgin Birth only happened the one time, that doesn't help.


The virgin birth can be countered without resorting to statistics. Just al elementary understanding of animal reproduction, and specifically human reproduction, informs the educated and rational person that babies aren't born without sex (or artificial sex). The virgin birth didn't happen because it is impossible because an egg cell and sperm weren't united, blah, blah, blah. I shouldn't have to go on and I won't.

Quote:
Moreover the assertion that one mistake in critical thinking means we can assume the whole thinking process of the person who made the mistake is irrational would really mean everyone is irrational since we all make mistakes.


Again, very true. But when a mistake in thinking is pointed out to this same person and they refuse to change their beliefs....? Are they still a clear thinker? When human reproduction is explained to a believer in the virgin birth and the believer brushes it aside should we assume this person is rational?

When a person makes an error in thinking and this error has been pointed out repeatedly and in depth, yet the person clings to the erroneous belief, they are now showing that they might not be such a clear thinker after all. Theists that get into debates are presented with clear scientific facts that challenge their beliefs, yet do not change their beliefs based on the introduction of clear scientific facts. These people are not acting rationally.

I'm aware that theists that believe in the virgin birth are not, by default, morons. They could possible excel in a critical thinking class and in everyday life. But with regards to their religious beliefs they are clearly suspending their critical thinking skills. In these cases the rewards for belief in the impossible or irrational exceed the rewards for disbelief. For their own personal reasons they have opted to ignore the rules of logic and principles of clear thinking, if only for this one issue.

Personally, I find it strange and troubling and a little sad that people are comfortable behaving rationally and reasonably in most areas of life, but when it comes to religion they allow the rational part of their brain to be disengaged. This scares me, quite frankly. But I'm not throwing this people away as irrational nutcases. Religion or religious belief is extremely powerful and I liken it to brainwashing. As much as I'd like to not admit it I think the faithful are almost helpless against the forces of indoctrination. I fault them only when they are bright enough to understand the arguments for and against theism, are exposed to the arguments; yet still cling to religious belief. And when I say I fault them I don't mean I hate or dislike them, but I do believe in personal accountability. When you've been taught about the errors in your thinking and you keep committing those errors at some point you are to blame.

Quote:
This is probably true, but hardly a basis to discount the whole of what someone says because we dislike their particular flavor of irrationality.


I agree and have never argued this.

Quote:
I am referring to this book as "30 Reasons" because Chris is allowed to say people who say they are Christians aren't allowed their definition unless it matches his definition,


I don't make such childish arguments. You're taking my words out of context, purposely.

Quote:
and if the author of the book is allowed to discount the kind of Christians who read C.S. Lewis or other intellectual Christian theologians because he thinks there are so few of them


Again, you're not being fair. The author doesn't discount them at all. He is addressing an audience he chose to address. Not addressing each and every religion or cult on this planet is absolutely essential if the author wants to write a book that will have value to a large audience. Maybe Guy Harrison doesn't devote 4 chapters to Wiccan beliefs because such a book wouldn't sell. There aren't enough Wiccans or people interested in Wicca for such a book. Or maybe Guy Harrison just isn't interested in Wicca enough to write about it. Look at the title of the book. This should be a hint. The book is about "50 reasons." Maybe you're reason or reasons for believing in a god aren't in the 50 he discusses. Read the Intro and you see that he is addressing the 50 reasons most commonly given to him by believers.



Thu Sep 18, 2008 12:47 pm
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Chris OConnor wrote:
Personally, I find it strange and troubling and a little sad that people are comfortable behaving rationally and reasonably in most areas of life, but when it comes to religion they allow the rational part of their brain to be disengaged.

Chris, I'm interested and glad to hear that you don't doubt the ability of religious people to behave rationally in daily life. I know you might have stated this many times, but could you say just briefly what you do see to be the problem with what these people believe? I mean not just that you feel disappointed or that you pity them. I'm assuming that there are larger stakes involved for you. Thanks.
DWill



Thu Sep 18, 2008 1:44 pm
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Answering your question briefly is the hard part. Which people are you referring to? And what are their beliefs? Would you like me to just bullet-point the dangerous and destructive nature of the major world religions?



Thu Sep 18, 2008 5:46 pm
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Post Apology and clarification (I hope).
I want to apologize for taking a tone that was not appropriate to use with people who don't know me well, by email. I'm just getting used to this and meant my last two very lightly. I admit that I was being kind of flippant and "not fair" in refusing to take charitably the choices the author makes in narrowing the focus. St. Augustine, a great Christian thinker, writes about the value of reading charitably in "On Christian Doctrine," and while he does not mean by it what I might mean by it if I chose to revise the idea for use today, it's a worthy goal to try to read to get something I can value out of a text rather than to pick it apart.

Allow me to explain that I am not a Christian, nor is there any sense in which I would disagree with your concerns (Chris and other people who fear the evils of unexamined and stubborn belief in systems that have already been shown to be at least somewhat inaccurate in the literal sense that they are being taken popularly and used in the service of oppression). I do think that there is some unexamined framing of the debate going on in this string, however, which is then denied by the "rational" participants framing it when they are confronted by the less literal, more symbolic and intuitive thinkers. This is not fair either, and I don't think it serves to "educate" or change what is really damaging in the social climate. I want to go get a couple of quotes and paste them to show what I mean.
Quote:
If a person believes something that has been proven to be impossible, such as the virgin birth, that belief corrupts their entire capacity to think critically, undermining their ability to base their opinions upon evidence.

This is the passage I was referring to by DWill. I don't see the operative word "might" in it and I don't see "seemingly" near "impossible." Yet the following is what you said about my take on the above:

Quote:
GentleReader9 wrote:
... but hardly a basis to discount the whole of what someone says because we dislike their particular flavor of irrationality.

Now that's pithy. I could have used that a few minutes ago. In my post I said that belief in a seemingly impossible event, such as the ressurection, might incline someone to be less rational acrosss the board. The operative word was "might', but perhaps even that was giving too much credence to that idea of contamination. I will continue to think about it.
DWill


You may be talking about another post I didn't see, but it looks as if you would really like to change what you said without admitting it's a change. Isn't it okay to admit something is a little less absolute that what a person first said here? I admit that I didn't mean what it sounded like I meant. And I admit that's what I made it sound like; you didn't misread. I mis-spoke. I took too aggressive a postion for what I believe because I overreact when I think people are being unfair to others, whether I agree with the latter or not.

I also think the problem with the "evils of organized religion" are not due at all to the belief in something mystical, spiritual, wonderful outside of and beyond our understanding. People who really believe in a Greater Power than themselves without imaginging they know what it is and look with an open and sincere heart for it are generally kind to others and slow to judge or hurt them. Like Jesus or Buddha. The trouble is with people who are being insincere in their manipulation of power at other people's expense and this can be done even by atheists. Just look at the totalitarian Communist government of Stalin. It's another example of the manipulative use of an idea which when sincerely used to try to be fair and rectify previous evils in the world could look differently. It's the spirit in which we interact that matters. Not the fact that we believe when we reach the end of what we know. Everyone does this and it's impossible not to. It is possible not to wish other people ill or try to succeed at their expense or undervalue their worth.



Thu Sep 18, 2008 8:29 pm
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Post Re: Apology and clarification (I hope).
GentleReader9 wrote:

... but hardly a basis to discount the whole of what someone says because we dislike their particular flavor of irrationality.

DWill wrote:
Now that's pithy. I could have used that a few minutes ago. In my post I said that belief in a seemingly impossible event, such as the ressurection, might incline someone to be less rational acrosss the board. The operative word was "might', but perhaps even that was giving too much credence to that idea of contamination. I will continue to think about it.

Hello GentleReader9,
I seem to be hearing that you read my comment as critical of you, when it was just the opposite. You can try to go back to my earlier post f you want to try to figure the matter out. I apologize for sending you off on the wrong track with the above, which apparently wasn't clear.

DWill



Thu Sep 18, 2008 8:53 pm
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Post 
Chris OConnor wrote:
Answering your question briefly is the hard part. Which people are you referring to? And what are their beliefs? Would you like me to just bullet-point the dangerous and destructive nature of the major world religions?

No, not necessary to detail, as you've already been working on this topic quite a lot, and I have some idea of the shape of your response. It seemed that you had previously allowed that religious people generally acted reasonably in our society. That made me wonder why you might still see religion as problematic. Your reply above indicates that you might not see it that way in a general sense. Is it for you then simply a matter of specific abuses committed, past and present? They certainly have been numerous. Are you inclined to leave alone the majority who do not offend?
DWill



Thu Sep 18, 2008 9:19 pm
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Saint Augustine is a good example of a so-called religious thinker who has seriously corrupted people's ability to examine evidence, while also establishing pathological errors which are a main factor in clerical abuse. Augustine's fifth century doctrine of original sin remains Catholic dogma. He argued, with complete insanity, that sin is transmitted by semen at conception, but that Jesus, born of a virgin without semen, was uniquely without sin. This flatly contradicts the church creed that Jesus was fully human, but is explained by the capacity of the church to believe contradictions. The truly baleful influence of this 'teaching' is the way it supported the Christian attack on classical learning, the burning of the great ancient library at Alexandria by a fanatical Christian mob, and the establishment of the dark ages. Fundamentalists seek to return the world to the dark ages. They should repent of this evil sin of promoting false beliefs if they hope to get any forgiveness.



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Quote:
RT
Fundamentalists seek to return the world to the dark ages. They should repent of this evil sin of promoting false beliefs if they hope to get any forgiveness.


Well said! :clap2:

Later


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That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.


Thu Sep 18, 2008 9:44 pm
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Robert Tulip wrote:
The truly baleful influence of this 'teaching' is the way it supported the Christian attack on classical learning, the burning of the great ancient library at Alexandria by a fanatical Christian mob, and the establishment of the dark ages. Fundamentalists seek to return the world to the dark ages. They should repent of this evil sin of promoting false beliefs if they hope to get any forgiveness.

If only history were less ambiguous and confused; if only we really could with confidence say which thoughts and ideas "caused" particular events. The burning of the library at Alexandria (second burning?) is an event about which there is much basic disagreement. To say that St. Augustine caused it oversimplifies in the extreme.
DWill



Fri Sep 19, 2008 7:44 am
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Post Now we're onto something.
First of all, DWill you are officially the first recipient of the Safe Person to Talk to Award, bestowed by me at this site. Because you are cool, I give you the guy with the glasses 8) and my promise to read more carefully and less paranoid-ly in future.

The burning of the Library at Alexandria is a perfect example of what is going on when people discuss which ideas cause evil in the world. When we don't know, we project. The answer of course is always Other People's Ideas. It is always easier to see what's wrong with them. I want to learn to understand Other People's Ideas and be willing to use that to make less wrong with mine. Thanks to everyone here for helping.

I agree that St. Augustine caused a whole lot of trouble, epecially with the fear and guilt ridden notion of Orignal Sin, but he couldn't have done it without the help of readers who decided which of his ideas were important and how to take them. The idea of reading with Charity (totally distorted into a principle of cultural appropriation of everything good that came before Christianity by Christianity) could be adapted and used to better purpose. If he could do it to the Classical cultures that came before him and revise what they meant for his use, why shouldn't we be able to do that with him, and with all Christianity, for that matter? I mean, it's what we have to do anyway when we fill in the blanks. Why not make it a nicer, more constructive thing in future than it was in the past? A "kinder, gentler Christianity?" :twisted: (I wish there was a devil with a nicer smile to choose from. I always cause trouble in the very sweetest way I can.)



Fri Sep 19, 2008 11:12 am
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Post Re: Now we're onto something.
GentleReader9 wrote:
A "kinder, gentler Christianity?" :twisted: (I wish there was a devil with a nicer smile to choose from. I always cause trouble in the very sweetest way I can.)

We who are not Christians or do not belong to any faith, should also not hesitate to recognize the many who NOW practice a kinder, gentler Christianity.

(I misread something from Chris just a while ago. It happens. Keep up the kind of trouble you're making; I'm enjoying it.)
DWill



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Post I been thinking
Chris, I been thinking about why you and I may not be connecting. It occurs to me you may believe that there is an ANSWER OUT THERE. That would account for your being criitical in evaluating beliefs. You may have forgotten my opening premise statement is: "The answer is there is no answer, only belief, the individual, unique and personal belief of each person who answers the question is there life after earth."

I had a friend who did not realize his belief in Kant's Catagorical Imperative was functioning for him as a god who is yet to be defined. By hearing my thoughts at least now he knows he was substituting Kant's belief for a god. He hasn't come to a belief in a Divine being but at least he knows he is limited to what he believes - as is every other human.

What do you think. Are we getting closer to simpatico?



Last edited by Lawrence on Wed Sep 24, 2008 8:13 am, edited 1 time in total.



Sat Sep 20, 2008 10:29 pm
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Post Re: I been thinking
Lawrence wrote:
Chris, I been thinking about why you and I may not be connecting. It occurs to me you may believe that there is an ANSWER OUT THERE. That would account for your being criitical in evaluating beliefs. You may have forgotten my opening premise statement is: "The answer is there is no answer, only belief, the individual, unique and personal belief of each person who answers the question is there life after earth." I had a friend who did not realize his belief in Kant's Catagorical Imperative was functioning for him as a god who is yet to be defined. By hearing my thoughts at least now he knows he was substituting Kant's belief for a god. He hasn't come to a belief in a Divine being but at least he knows he is limited to what he believes - as is every other human. What do you think. Are we getting closer to simpatico?

Lawrence, your theme here is one that runs through a lot of the recent discussions, especially the new Burton book On Being Certain. Your argument could be read as implying that knowledge is impossible, because any claim we make may be untrue so cannot be known with certainty. Burton seems to also support this view, taking the observation that people are often wrong when claiming to be certain to the conclusion that no knowledge is certain. Frankly, I think this sort of epistemological relativism is complete rubbish, but I am not sure if you are going that far. We do in fact know an enormous amount from scientific investigation, and to suggest that scientific knowledge is on the same level as subjective beliefs is just wrong. It is also slightly dangerous, because it breeds doubt about any strategy to increase knowledge and reduce error. However, the basis for this postmodern turn ("all beliefs are equally valid") is the observation that scientists have build a 'worldview' on the basis of their great discoveries, by invalidly claiming their beliefs have the same epistemic status as their knowledge. This just shows how essential it is to distinguish belief from knowledge. No beliefs can be claimed to be absolutely certain, except when they are knowledge.



Sun Sep 21, 2008 6:40 am
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