Friday, December 21, 2007

Big picture? Small picture?

In response to this old post, someone called John said this in his comment:
The entire religion looks exactly as it would if no supreme interventionist being was behind it. It is obviously just another religion created by primitive man to explain the universe we inhabit.
I have a feeling I may already have made this point before, but I am kind of in agreement with that statement.

If you take the broad view and look at everything that calls itself Christianity, you cannot really see the hand of God in shaping this thing. It is fractured into more sects and denominations than I could name, bits of it more or less wage war on other bits of it. Looking back across the history of the religion, there are a great many unpleasant and certainly ungodly things there. That's the broad view.

But if you take the narrow view and look at individual people and groups of people, the opposite is true. Here you often see the hand of God at work. Prayers are answered, people are healed, people are transformed, worship works, amazing things happen.

Why is this?

8 comments:

MonoApe said...

Two other issues to consider in your hopeful (!) deconversion:

1. your religious belief has nothing whatsoever to do with truth or reality, it's simply an accident of time and geography. If you'd been born somewhere else on the planet or in another time you'd be a Hindu or a believer in Odin or Ra or [insert thousands of gods]

2. the Judeo Christian god is a plagiarism of many religions that preceded it. Every 'miracle' attributed to the Jesus character was recorded by earlier 'Messiahs' / religions.

These are Big Clues that it's all a fairy tale created by scared, superstitious men (always men!) to explain a natural world that they had little understanding of.

Good luck on the 'journey'. :)

Ricky Carvel said...

Hi Mono Ape,

(I do love it when commenters are non-anonymous!)

1. I don't have a religious belief. I dislike religion intensely. See my previous posts on the subject. All religions, including the one that calls itself 'Christianity', are man made constructs, aiming to put priests between people and God. But just because a religion is false doesn't mean that there isn't a God (or gods).

Yes, I do count myself lucky to have been born into a country where I was told about one God from an early age, taught about many gods at school, really discouraged from following any religion throught my teenage years and then encouraged to think for myself at university. It was then that I made up my own mind, weiged up the evidence and first experienced something spiritual.

2. IF there is only one true, eternal and timeless God, it really wouldn't surprise me if all other man made religions rip off aspects of the truth - even if this appears to have happened before the truth was revealed. I don't believe time is as inflexible as people (not Einstein, of course) believe.

But, yes, much of the nonsense of the Christian religion has been ripped off of other religions. 25th December? That was Mithras wasn't it?

Thanks for the comments though. Please comment on my other doubts... And if you're brave enough to question the same things yourself (rather than blindly believing in nothing) why not go along to your local church and ask the folk there to pray for you? If prayer has no effect, you've lost nothing, if it works... well, we'll see.

R.

Mono Ape said...

Hi Ricky,

(I'll ignore the lowest-form-of-wit jibe that I haven't provided you with all the personal detail you think that I should)

1. Ah, I apologise - I haven't read every post on this blog, and I've succumbed to the perennial problem when debating with theists / deists / whateverists - the cry of "that's not my god / religion / belief". It's very difficult to debate with the twisty-turny, a la carte god that so many subscribe to. However, if you call yourself 'Christian', as you do, and then deny you are religious, you appear to be redefining words for your own benefit!

You describe yourself as 'Christian'. I'll take you at your word. You've therefore settled on the Judeo-Christian god as The One, which makes it a little suspicious that you say you 'made up your own mind' given that you live in a society that is ostensibly a Judeo-Christian one. You've been surrounded by it from birth. So, you rejected the thousands of others on offer and chose the one you've been 'dipped in' since day 0?

You've also missed, or ignored, the crux of my statement, which I'll repeat - the god you believe in has nothing to do with truth or reality. If you'd been born in Denmark 2000 years ago, you'd be equally sure that Odin and Valhalla were The Real Deal, blissfully ignorant that you'd picked the 'wrong' deity, and by many Christian's assessment, you'd be heading for a fiery eternity for worshipping a false god! This seems like an oversight by the supposed omnipotent, omniscient super-being that created it all! Wouldn't you say?

It's nothing to do with lack of bravery (a weak course of attack by you, I must say) that I choose not to attend church (any more) - just as it's nothing to do with your (lack of) courage that you don't sign up for a fortnight with The Church of Scientology.

You've ended with the old, worn-out Pascal's Wager - an argument that has been dismantled time and time again. To save my typing: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/mathew/arguments.html#pascal

P.S. You're making an assumption that I 'blindly believe in nothing' - and you know what making assumptions does....

Ricky Carvel said...

No jibe intended MonoApe. I'm just fed up with people called 'Anonymous', mostly becuase you never know if its a new Anonymous or one who has commented before. I was actually appreciating the fact that you have a unique name.

Anyway, I'm not just doing Pascal's Wager. For a start, that old turkey is entirely based on the premise that religion/belief/whatever is exclusively for the purpose of attaining heaven rather than hell. If it can be proven that there is a heaven and a hell and that there is some god you need to appease in order to get to the good one, then Pascal's Wager works - even a one in a thousand chance of picking the right god is better than a zero chance.

But that's not how it is for me. For me, religion/belief/whatever you want to call it is pointless unless it can positively influence your quality of life before death.

All I can say is that I have experienced the presence of God. I have had this experience in 'Judeo-Christian' churches more than in other places, although I have to admit that I haven't tried out all the other religions.

When you're looking for something, you keep looking until you find it. Rarely do you keep looking in other places after you have found it. What's the point of that?

So, could a Danish person 2000 years ago have experienced 'the true god' through worship of Odin? Quite possibly. I believe that there is a true god. This is based on experience, not logical reasoning. I believe that most religions are imperfect attempts to reach the true god (some, like Scientology, appear to be simply made up nonsense with no attempt to find reality). I believe that Christianity works because it is a better attempt to reach God than most, largley because I do believe that Jesus was sent by God to show the way. However, I do believe that much of the Church has corrupted (to a greater or lesser degree) the message of Jesus so we only have an imperfect attempt once again.

You are treating this exchange as a debate. Debates rely entirely on clever reasoning. You can win a debate with a bunch of lies that sound convincing. I can't really be bothered with debate unless both parties are actually trying to reach the truth, something that rarely happens.

It would be possible to debate that the sunrise isn't beautiful. It might even be possible for the side in favour of the motion to win the deabte. But without going outside at sunrise and looking, the whole exercise is pointless.

No amount of clever reasoning can change my experiences. The best you could do is make me question my interpretation of those experiences (something that I actively do anyway), but for now my understanging of those experiences is more consistent with the existance of a god than with the premise that there is no god.

Sorry about that, but that's the way it is.

R.

Mono Ape said...

"I'm just fed up with people called 'Anonymous'"

Fair enough. Understood. My mistaken assumption. :)

"If it can be proven that there is a heaven and a hell and that there is some god you need to appease in order to get to the good one ..."

So why not take the default position - assume, with total lack of evidence, that there are no gods? Be a good person and hope that the possible god(s) are not insecure, vindictive beings, and that they value honesty and goodness over unquestioning belief? Purely by law of probability, you will choose a god

"... even a one in a thousand chance of picking the right god is better than a zero chance."

How about picking none of the (false) gods is better than getting lucky and picking one of the 'false' gods? Given the total lack of evidence for any of the superstitious beliefs / gods / pixies / fairies, why not live a life that benefits all those around you without recourse to deities?

"All I can say is that I have experienced the presence of God. I have had this experience in 'Judeo-Christian' churches more than in other places, although I have to admit that I haven't tried out all the other religions."

So, rhythmic, hypnotic chanting in the communal, local building has induced a state where you've (personally) experienced a god? It's not a compelling argument for those of us with a naturalistic view of the universe.

"When you're looking for something, you keep looking until you find it... What's the point of that?"

Truth, based on reality, observable fact, peer review, etc. I could, conceivably, create a reality where I am the Global Alpha Male. Reality and evidence might remove me from that assumption. I'm reminded of the old adage: if one person tells you you're drunk, they're wrong - if the entire party tells you you're drunk, it's time to leave the party.

"I believe that there is a true god. This is based on experience, not logical reasoning."

[sigh] So we've now left the realm of logic and reason? My 'experience' trumps all else? I guess that is end of argument and debate?

I experienced the Flying Spaghetti Monster - he touched me with his noodly appendage. End of debate?

"You are treating this exchange as a debate. Debates rely entirely on clever reasoning."

Is 'clever' reasoning different to 'ordinary' or 'logical' reasoning in some way?

I started reading your blog, 'Doubting Thomas', as someone who was genuinely questioing their choices, but I see that it's actually someone who is simply saying "I believe, everything that contradicts my belief is false".

Not really scientific for a self-proclaimed scientist?

"It would be possible to debate that the sunrise isn't beautiful."

There is no debate. It is beautiful. I just don't feel the need to ascribe supernatural cause. Why would I?

"No amount of clever reasoning can change my experiences."

It's not 'clever' (which you seem to use as a pejorative) reasoning, it's simply truth removed from belief (without evidence or reality).

Ultimately, I prefer reality to hope (without reason).

Vive la difference.

Mono Ape said...

Apologies - portions of the previous reply were rushed and not proof read (obviously?!). I won't attempt to correct - the core message is still intact.

Belated happy solstice / Yuletide.

Ricky Carvel said...

"So, rhythmic, hypnotic chanting in the communal, local building has induced a state where you've (personally) experienced a god? It's not a compelling argument for those of us with a naturalistic view of the universe."

I'm not actually trying to make a compelling arguement for anyone other than me here. The whole point of this blog is just me thinking out loud, letting other folk suggest contraditions, etc., so that I get to properly question my own beliefs. If I manage to get others to question their beliefs (even if they don't ultimately change them) then that is a bonus.

But I think you're over stating your case here. Sweeping generalisations don't make for a compelling argument. While I have been in churches where there is 'rhythmic hypnotic chanting', this is a minority and certainly doesn't correlate with my experiences of God. Indeed, the church I currently attend seems to be quite careful to avoid that sort of thing.

"Truth, based on reality, observable fact, peer review, etc. I could, conceivably, create a reality where I am the Global Alpha Male. Reality and evidence might remove me from that assumption. I'm reminded of the old adage: if one person tells you you're drunk, they're wrong - if the entire party tells you you're drunk, it's time to leave the party."

So if one person tells you they've experienced God then you can ignore them? I could introduce you to hundreds of people who could give you their stories of their experiences... But you'd think they were all deluded, wouldn't you?

"[sigh] So we've now left the realm of logic and reason? My 'experience' trumps all else? I guess that is end of argument and debate?"

No, we've not left the realm of logic and reason. But experience does count. There is no point in sitting in your house with the curtains closed trying to deduce - from first principles - whether it is raining or not. Just open the door and let your experience inform you.

Many years ago, when he was president of the USSR, I met Mikhail Gorbachev. I was a student, working in Edinburgh. Its pretty unlikely that I would meet someone like him, I'm sure you could come up with loads of reasons why I shouldn't have met him. The probabilities are probably vanishingly small, but I still met him. Logical reasoning couldn't lead you to that conclusion, but I remember the experience.

I've experienced Jesus too :o)

"Is 'clever' reasoning different to 'ordinary' or 'logical' reasoning in some way?"

No, but it sounds compelling.

"I see that it's actually someone who is simply saying "I believe, everything that contradicts my belief is false"."

No. Some of the exchanges on this blog have actually changed my opinions and beliefs on things. See some of my previous posts on the subject of hell, for example. Somewhere in there my beliefs on that subject changed.

"Not really scientific for a self-proclaimed scientist?"

Nothing self-proclaimed about it. I have two degrees in pure science and a PhD in a very 'scientific' bit of engineering. The universities of Wales, Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh have all been sufficiently convinced of my scientific credentials to employ me.

But I fundamentally believe that it does come down to experience. Given that you clearly have a different set of experiences from me, it is hard for me to convey the reality of what I have experienced (I am deliberately shying away from using the word 'know' as I still freely admit that my understanding of those experiences could be flawed).

For the time being (at least), my beliefs in God are consistent with my understanding of my experiences, while the assumption that there is no God is less consistent with them.

But I still do doubt, sometimes. Maybe I am wrong. I might be. But then again, you could be wrong too.

Here's hoping that we both get a little bit closer to reality (whatever that might be) in 2008.

Happy new year!

R.

Ricky Carvel said...

Dear Mono Ape, you said:

"So, rhythmic, hypnotic chanting in the communal, local building has induced a state where you've (personally) experienced a god? It's not a compelling argument for those of us with a naturalistic view of the universe."

I forgot to say, I don't necessarily not have a naturalistic view of the universe. This is one of the points where I slip into extreme heresy, but I'm not prepared to dogmatically hold to the belief that God is the creator of the universe. All my experience can tell me is that the universe is here, nothing in my current experience can tell me how it came into being many, many years before my experience began.

The bible says God created 'the world' (Genesis 1) or even 'the worlds' (Hebrews 1, I think), but it also says that two of every form of animal can fit into a small boat, so I can't take everything it says at face value and simply believe it.

So I am agnostic with regard to the creation. It might have been entirely naturalistic or it might have been created, but I have no way of knowing which it was.

God could be entirely part of the universe for all I know, not trancending it - I really have no way of testing this.

But even if God is not the transcendant creator, that doesn't mean he doesn't exist. Indeed, I suspect that makes him more likely to exist in your worldview...

R.