The Ultimate Contention: Does God Change?

So the LORD changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people” (Exodus 32:14)

Also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind” (1 Samuel 15:29)

Two biblical stories – 2 different outcomes about the nature of God.

(a) God changes His mind about what he is going to do to the people of Israel in Exodus. Thanks Moses.

(b) Samuel, the prophet, relates to Saul that God will not change His mind.

What is to be made of this information? Does God change or is it us that changes and we reflect God in ‘our image’?

61 thoughts on “The Ultimate Contention: Does God Change?

  1. I don’t think God himself changes. I think our conception of Him has transformed over time. Early monotheistic believers perceived God as a superlative human being, and endowed God with typical human attributes. As we evolve as a species, we learn more about God and our image of God evolves as well, becoming less and less anthropomorphic and closer to the truth. In some ways, we still imagine God in human terms, even when we no longer see Him as that superlative human, because our minds cannot picture God as He really is. But the fact that we realize our image of God is imperfect and flawed is significant progress.

    In the case of those Bible verses, you are seeing two separate images of God, written by two different men living in different times and, quite possibly, different places. In the first verse, God is more anthropomorphic. He changes His mind just as a person might. In the second verse, you are seeing a more evolved image of God, closer to the truth, where God does not change His mind the way a person might.

    Of course, there are groups out there who continue to believe in an immature version of God. That is how I see the god of fundamentalist Christianity. Their god is obsessed with justice, revenge, and punishment. It is a schizophrenic god, who claims to be all-loving at one moment, but threatens to torture you eternally the next. He is illogical, inconsistent, and very human-like.

    I doubt we will ever fully understand God. Our minds cannot entirely comprehend an entity so vast and complex. However, we do have the ability to understand some of God’s characteristics, especially those which directly pertain to God’s relationship with ourselves. This is because we are made in God’s image. I do not take this literally like some belief systems. I see it more as God and humans share some key characteristics, especially with respect to our emotions.

    • Sammy writes However, we do have the ability to understand some of God’s characteristics, especially those which directly pertain to God’s relationship with ourselves.

      And you think this is true because… humanity has come up with tens of thousands of very different and some diametrically opposed ‘understandings’?

      Come on, Sammy. Your assertion is hollow in fact and the evidence would suggest that in fact that we do NOT have an iota of ability to understand god’s characteristics nor any understanding whatsoever of this supposed relationship with humanity. Imagining anything differently is based on… nothing except belief that conflicts directly with the evidence we have of what’s actually true.

  2. “I don’t think God himself changes. I think our conception of Him has transformed over time” (Sammy)

    I agree 100%. I think of my personal understanding of God, it changes as my mind becomes more knowledgable (for example). I can see how someone can see God as ‘changing His mind’ – because we do that. I can also see how someone can see God as ‘never changing His mind’ because its hard to believe God is as confused as us. I land on the side where God does not change His mind, we just become more aware of the possibilities – the limitations are in us and not God.

    “I doubt we will ever fully understand God. Our minds cannot entirely comprehend an entity so vast and complex. However, we do have the ability to understand some of God’s characteristics, especially those which directly pertain to God’s relationship with ourselves” (Sammy)

    Agreed, we are quite limited in what we can know. I also agree with you on this: “we do have the ability to understand some of God’s characteristics”. I think we can relate to a God that has created us in His image in the sense we share some of the same emotions and our perceptions and ability to manuever them is quite intriguing.

  3. I do not claim to know details concerning the “Ground of all Being”. However, I think the quotes show us that the compilation of widely diverse in subject and time books, is not without contradiction, contains errors, is not infallible. This does not reflect badly on the efficacy of the Bible, unless you do cling to it as an inerrant, infallible library of texts. I think that whatever connection we make with the ineffable divine is of a mystical nature which is not easily defined or characterized. Now, more than ever in my life, this is what draws me to the journey.

  4. If youre going to describe it from the Christian perspective then obviously it changes like a Schizophrenic. But if you chose not to define it so narrowly then you might be able to be drawn to the journey as Don so eloquently puts.

  5. i think what doesn’t change about God is God’s love for us doesn’t change. that is Tillich’s proposal in the Ground of Being. the ground of being is a panentheist view stating that existence and all of life are part of God and God is a part of everything out there, and yet there is more to God. to evidence this he talks about the resiliency of life and esp. of the human spirit. how those who don’t believe the facts, but believe in a vision they cast for themselves (being religiously motivated or not) live longer and have a better chance at survival. this is something that science has backed up time and time again… and stories like Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand and Night by Ellie Weasel among others.

    if you believe you have a purpose, if you believe that life will win out, you simply have a better chance at actually doing so, even when the ‘facts’ are stacked against you. i believe this and know that it is true.

    • To evidence this, meaning that existence and all of life are part of God and God is a part of everything out there, and yet there is more to God, with studies that show a correlation between certain religious practices/beliefs with increased health benefits?

      Umm, no. That’s dishonest on many levels.

      Correlation does not show causation. What needs to be done is for the variables to be isolated and tested against a double blind study to show efficacy. In other words, do married couple who are religious live longer than married couples who are not religious and is this evidence for the power of certain beliefs as Z1G suggests?

      The clear answer is no.

      When isolated, faith alone fails to be efficacious beyond placebo. This stands in contrast to the assertion that perhaps god is acting in ways that somehow confers favour on the faithful. While meta-studies do indeed show some positive correlation between long-time religious practitioners and various measurements on health, we need to look closer to see why this is so and not jump to the conclusion that the correlation is caused by the religiosity itself. For example, can the differences be attributed to lifestyle? Exercise? Diet? Community involvement? And so on. Unless and until all these variables are accounted for, the premature conclusion will be as Z1G hopes: that this is evidence of and for god interacting in this world. But when direct studies are in fact done, there is no causation shown that faith improves health.

    • Resiliency (is this of ‘spirit’?) against adverse environmental conditions for children (meaning being raised in households that are socially dysfunctional for the well-being of children) is correlated to a single trustworthy attachment to an outside caregiver. I have yet to come across a study that relates resiliency of children to the same adverse conditions related to religious faith but I have oodles of examples of adverse conditions promoted by religious parents.

      • i find it immensely ironic that the guy spouting off about “what is true” never seems to be able to read what is in front of him. let’s read again what i wrote:

        “how those who don’t believe the facts, but believe in a vision they cast for themselves (being religiously motivated or not) live longer and have a better chance at survival.”

        italics added for emphasis.

        Andrew wrote: “When faced with something you don’t know, don’t let your explanations dictate how you approach the unknown.” and i call bullshit. we are constantly doing this. you don’t know what the day will bring. in a moment your life can shatter due to all sorts of factors; death of a loved one, diagnosis, accident, change in job status, etc. we are relying on our explanations/assumptions/prejudices all the time. no getting around them.

    • You say that Tillich specifically claims that those who don’t believe the facts, but believe in a vision they cast for themselves (being religiously motivated or not) live longer and have a better chance at survival.

      That’s rubbish. The studies you reference about faith and health show some positive correlation but there are also negative ones. The latest one is about how religious people tend to be fatter. I’m not going to pretend based on this study that this means faith causes fatness – but I will recognize that the correlation is true. That’s why it is important to remember that correlation does not show causation. The difference between understanding the correlation/causation divide and selecting only positive correlations to use in support of beliefs is to better understand what the results from such studies actually mean in fact – we have found correlations so now let’s figure out what those links actually are (rather than assume) – and by no stretch of the imagination are they evidence for improved health by casting aside an acceptance of facts and substituting in their place a vision as you say Tillich argues.

  6. Does God change or is it us that changes and we reflect God in ‘our image’?


    Of course it depends, somewhat, on your understanding of this character of God. But if you go biblical in any way, I’d hope the stories are clear enough in that God certainly does change, or at least acts like he is having changes of mind and plan. And if you go with a more panentheistic model, as z1g suggests above, then the whole thing is about change (for parts, at least…)

    And of course, we change. (Well, at least some of us do 🙂 )

    Hmm, something we are supposedly not supposed to ascribe our assumptions or conceptions to, and yet we do it anyway, and then we wonder about the changes…

    Your two options aren’t exclusive, I think, are they?

  7. No, just an idea to ruminate upon.

    That’s cool.
    Speaking of rumination, one of my first thoughts when I read this post was, “if something is absolute, how can it not participate in change?” 🙂

    @tildeb and z1g,

    Forgive me for being a “butt-in-ski”, but I want to offer something that I hope helps with your divide. I think there is some confusion between two things — perceiving the world as it is and how we respond or behave regarding what is. Reality can be thought of as a world of things and as a forum for action. How we approach both ‘views’ of reality is important.

    Tildeb’s point of “jumping to conclusions” is an incredibly good caution. Mythological thought was supposed to teach us something about how we face what we don’t understand. When faced with something you don’t know, don’t let your explanations dictate how you approach the unknown. If you don’t know something, let that unknown thing tell you how to approach your explanations.

    I don’t know Tillich’s mind in any disciplined way, but I want to reword this statement from above to try to gain more clarity:
    “those who don’t believe the facts, but believe in a vision they cast for themselves”

    There is a problem with understanding the use of the word ‘believe’ in this statement.

    How about this instead:
    those who accept the facts for what they are, but believe in a vision of how change could produce a (more) desirable future

    If we do not believe the facts, then we are not giving our assent to reality, a possible definition for madness or ignorance. But, if we do not believe we can produce change, then we do not participate in reality, maybe resulting in despair or nihilism or something.

    Does this help? We can make this stuff complicated, but it doesn’t mean we have to make it hard.

    • The problem of letting the facts speak to us first is a good one yet it stands in contrast to believing something must be true first and then looking to only those facts that support the assertion. In a nutshell, this is the divide between non believers and believers.

      Asking if god changes is like asking how many angels can stand on the head of a pin. The question presumes its premises are true in fact. If the existence of a fact called god is not true, then the question is meaningless. Yet the existence of a process called evolution is as much a fact as anything knowable can be yet look at how contrary belief assumed to be true first (that we come from divine creation) seems to be able to make people deaf, blind, and dumb to how these facts speak to us about our common ancestry. It’s not a small divide nor one easily overcome by pretending that there is a reasonable and compatible middle ground; either we value what is true and a reliable epistemology to reveal this, or we value that our beliefs in what we think is true and deny any need for an epistemology. As far as I can tell, there simply is no middle ground nor compatible method to arrive at combining these contrary and contrasting intellectual positions.

  8. Thank you both for your responses. I hope this comment won’t be seen as too long. Conversation can be constructive and that is my aim in offering my ideas.

    My first comment to svs was made in similar spirit to your angels dancing on the pin. I was being glib and really suggesting that if we start with a paradox it should not be a surprise that the result will be confusion.

    I was trying to speak more about the divide between what is and how we act amongst what is. If you were to ask z1g and svs, I do not think they would deny the fact of evolution or common ancestry. I’m not sure why you bring that up here. Such denial certainly seems to be happening in certain Christianities, but not here, unless I’m mistaken.

    So, if we accept the fact of evolution as an example of what is, then z1g’s mention of Tillich is (or at least should be, or better be) “grounded” not in trying to establish what is, but rather how we respond and participate in the evolution of the world. Thus, the role of belief resides in initiating behavior, and it cannot be authoritative or certain. Z1g and I have talked before about how Tillich suggested to the church that there should be a 100-year moratorium on using the word “God”. The church did not take Tillich up on that suggestion, and is now paying a price for it, in my opinion.

    To try and cage this with ideas from my earlier comment, the church has tried to use their old, trusted explanations in approaching this new territory they were ill-prepared for. What were the results? Dissension, distrust, debate, etc? Some denominations have accepted evolution, and many other things as well, and changed as a result. For example, they do not give weight to blind belief anymore. If the larger denominations had embraced and used that new information, they too would have been able to change much more gracefully. It would have solved some of their present problems…

    By calling ‘bullshit’ you demonstrate your point quite clearly. I agree that we are relying on our explanations/assumptions/prejudices all the time. “Rely” is a great word here. That’s culture. That’s trusted routine. In mythological terms, that is explored territory. However, it is not as simple as “no getting around them” because we inevitably must face unexplored territory. As you suggest, all that is needed is a moment and all can shatter. And yet, if we constantly rely on those old explanations that do not explain the new, unexplained territory (and cannot explain it by very definition) then we cannot resolve the conflict. Otherwise, we do not “get around them”, and we do not change.

    I did not ask you to suspend all you know or all you believe. I am talking about awareness. That is why I used the word “dictate”. If you wish, I could reword the statement:
    “Don’t let your expectations act as authority in approaching what you don’t know.”

    Would you agree?

    But it is still important to see that expectations are only partial authority over explored territory, what is known. They cannot have authority over unexplored territory, what is not known.

    Thus, the second part still stands:
    “Let the something you don’t know tell you how to approach your explanations.”

    Again, if rewording is needed, how about “adjust your explanations”? In this way, we can very well “get around them.” I would hope you believe we can “get around them”, that they are changeable, that we are capable of growth.

    • The reason why I brought up evolution as an example of what is true is to point out the absurdity of thinking old, trusted explanations have any merit whatsoever to be placed in any position to judge what is true! Yet vast swaths of people continue to support exactly this: they continue to offer respect to old, trusted explanations that is clearly ill-placed and often factually wrong. That’s a problem to be surmounted and overcome and not one to be accommodated.

      No one should seek god’s approval through the judgment of some sanctimonious clerical bloviate who pretends to be in a position to offer holy judgment and interpretation about what is true in fact. Nor should anyone pay any intellectual respect this windbag’s metaphysical opinion about how to incorporate honest knowledge derived from honest inquiry into policy and action. The cleric on the basis of theology’s contribution to what’s true offers us nothing of knowledge value. Zero. It’s simply a case of someone believing in made-up shit being allowed to sit in respectable judgment of what is true, which is exactly backwards if one is to honestly respect what’s true over and above made-up shit.

      And you will notice that it is science that mitigates ignorant religious beliefs to their more modern variants because it brings something valuable to the table of human knowledge from which religion continues to pick and choose as if it were its personal smorgasbord. This is a completely one way process. Religion offers nothing in return to that knowledge table but pious judgments according to its dainty theological palette yet insists that it has god-sanctioned rights to determine an appropriate menu for others.

  9. i would agree. however, it is good to point out that i was talking about engagement with the world. hence the whole “vision they cast for themselves.” the issue here is engagement with present circumstances.

    you are correct that we should let your experience speak to what we know, which is why the Wesleyan Quadrilateral is a great method. or as Buddha once said, “do not believe something because you were told it was true by a book, wise person, or great teacher, but because you have found that it was true” this is a gross paraphrase on my behalf.

    the fact of the matter is how you engage the world matters a great deal and affects how you live in it. if you grant that life is a gift and a sacramental and holy experience, then one would expect results from this. the problem is when tribalism and power-systems take hold and corrupt, which is a possibility in any belief system, not just religion but in any system of thought out there… you will always have the old guard vs. the avant guard and this is true in every time and place.

    @Tildeb: note how my past few posts have not mentioned religion specifically but belief systems. you seem to keep missing that point to keep singing the same ol’ song you always do. it’s more repetitive than a Ke$ha song and twice as annoying.

    • i think what doesn’t change about God is God’s love for us doesn’t change. that is Tillich’s proposal in the Ground of Being. the ground of being is a panentheist view stating that existence and all of life are part of God and God is a part of everything out there, and yet there is more to God.

      Yes, everything to do with belief systems and nothing to do with religion (Wesleyan Quadrilateral notwithstanding).

      Gotcha. Nothing whatsoever to do with religion (aka belief systems). You remain clear as a stirred up mud puddle and just as deep.

      • judging by your previous in depth analysis and demonstration of your excellent reading comprehension skills on this post, i would be inclined to disagree.

  10. @tildeb,
    Very impressive vocabulary!
    Now that you have had your moment of emotional expression, I ask you to please consider these ideas:

    Imagine what the world might be like today if the religious world did take Tillich’s suggestion, and stopped using the word ‘God’. I am not asking if it was possible. I’m asking you to imagine it, please.

    In z1g, we have a religious leader, a community leader, a person that can (maybe) influence the direction of religion in his corner of the world. We have someone concerned with collecting food for children and addressing social injustice more than winning over heathens. I think it’s his church that has called itself a “serving community”. I might be quite wrong, but I’m willing to bet that z1g is not going to the local college campus and calling the biology professors liars and Satanists. If he is, then I’m going to have a word or two with him. Again though, maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think he’s trying to be governor either. And z1g is paying attention to Tillich and looking at the future.

    Tillich has offered a course of direction in which the church could act, could get over its “made up shit”. And are you now saying he should not be given any respect simply because he is working within the frame of theology? No one should pay attention to him?

    If your goal is to change the minds of religious people, but then criticize people that are working within religions and producing change in religions, I think you are shooting yourself in the foot.

    My position is not one of accommodation. I agree that religion should not be considered a practice concerned with what is. That’s not its job. However, people have used religion and culture for a long time in figuring out what to do. And historically, change in religion has come from people within religion as much as without.

    I think it would be useful for you to get a better understanding of the spectrum within religious thought. There are many religious academics and leaders that have vocally denied any and all “god-sanctioned rights” of authority and power.

    I’d agree that how you engage the world does matter and affects how you live in it. I still think it’s madness to deny facts however, and so that is why I wished to distinguish between understanding what is and deciding on what to do.

    BTW, I’ve gone out on a limb in my assessment of you above, so you better hold up to my estimation of you. If I find you running for politics or becoming a lawyer or denying evolution, I’m going ape-shit crazy and might have to fire off a tirade or two!

    • Andrew you paint a lovely picture that i this pretty close to accurate and i’m honored by.

      i’m with you on the denying facts and understanding what is, but the what is is varied and the what to do biologically conflicted (see the discussion on ethics you’ve already commented on, great links on there). lots of pieces at play when we consider these subjects. at best we’re going in with approximations and leaving with the same. hopefully the more fluid and adaptable the approximation the better off the person is. yet even then, there must be some constants. as a theist and a Christian, you have my constants of loving God and your neighbor as yourself in it’s most basic form. how i understand those principles is what adapts and moves on any given subject.

    • Andrew G, if you scratch a religious believer like Z1G, you’ll soon get past his or her pretense at respecting what’s true when scientific push comes to theological shove .

      Z1G has already shown himself to be a believer in humanity’s special creation with his argument that so the assertion that “a creative designer that is both benevolent and powerful” still stands as life has won out over 4 or 5 mass extinctions and still continues in a largely lifeless quanity (sic) of space. what you argue for is that nothing comes from nothing, that there is no design, that life can just “happen” which is like asserting that a bomb goes off in a junkyard and magically forms a fully functional 747. that seems much more crazy than any assert i could possibly make, including “God is Good.”

      This reveals the scope and magnitude of his ignorance and arrogance based not on what’s knowable and true but what he simply believes is true even if it’s unknowable. He picks and choose bits of science here and there that may be beneficial to some immediate point but fails to grasp why it is important to remain consistent about ALL scientific inquiry. It’s my experience that the finest cherry pickers are those theologically trained. And, like most believers, Z1G simply omits and ignores whatever evidence stands in his belief’s way and glosses over vast realms of “I don’t know and neither do you” honesty and replaces it with promoting the world being in God and God being in the world. And what’s the necessary link between the two? Jesus, of course.

      Here’s the problem, Andrew. How can you say to a muslim why it’s bad reasoning easily rejected by any rational human being that the qu’ran and other islamic sources commands that muslims must fight and continue to fight against unbelievers, until the offence of false belief is expunged, and the unbelievers have to be either killed or become true muslim believers, and have submitted to allah? How can you argue successfully that it means that islam is to be at war until the whole world is subject to islam and that this is not tolerable in any civilized community of humanity? This is one expression of a religious morality. It requires constant struggle until everyone is subject to the “morality” of islam. Anyone who denies this is a heretic.

      Why is this reasoning, this appeal to religious authority for moral guidance for justified action, poor reasoning? If – like most accommodationists – you base your arguments merely on some local effect – from benign to malignant – you fail to address the cause of the bad reasoning that currently holds much of the world in a terrible grip. You will soon find that to deny this more extreme version of religious justification for action that causes malignant effects requires you (if you wish to remain intellectually honest) to deny the more moderate and even liberal versions – even the benign charity work you have mentioned. On the flip side of the same issue, if you are willing to grant respect for the benign effects like charity work means that you are required to grant the same respect to that which motivates the malignant effects (if you wish to remain intellectually honest). And this is why the religious moderate and those who support them are co-conspirators for the ongoing recruitment of the more malignant versions: they refuse to address the underlying cause of this bad reasoning, which is respecting what is believed to be true over and above what is true, what can be reasonably justified with good reasons.

      All of us have a choice to make when it comes to faith-based beliefs. We either agree to support poor reasoning for effects we think are beneficial or we support good reasoning and go after the cause for the effects we think are malignant. I honestly do not how we find a middle ground for third choice and I maintain that the benign effects we now attribute to religious communities can be just as easily obtained by rational and reasonable people who wish to do good for the sake of doing good, while the malignant effects can be held in contempt for unreasonable , unjustifiable claims to authority that is clearly unknowable.

    • Andrew g, you ask me to respect those who work towards change from the “framework of theology” as if this is a reasonable request. Is it?

      Is it reasonable to remain ignorant about, or indifferent to, the broad-based hatred that numerous large groups of people bear and express toward atheists? Atheists are by several measures the most hated minority in the United States. We are baited and insulted by public figures, lectured to by popes and other religious mainstream leaders, vilified for our secular philosophy of respecting human rights and freedoms over and above paying homage to imaginary beings, painted to be supporters of political leanings that lead to mass murder and holocausts, denigrated to be a force for evil by upholding respect for the dignity of people everywhere, reminded to STFU about sky fathers embossed on the currency in our pockets, our children bullied into reciting a god-soaked Pledge of Allegiance to be patriotic. Despite legislation that allegedly protects us, untold numbers of us have been subjected to employment and housing discrimination, and we are routinely denied custody of our children, in open court, on the grounds that we are not religious.

      You ask me to consider going hat in hand and be nicer and offer respect to those moderates who wish to change these discriminations slowly and from within, as if they have any pressing motivation to do so. I sincerely doubt they do and I’m not going sit idly by and wait for this magical transformation to someday occur by the grace of those who stand to gain little by rocking the theological boat.

      No sir. I will not offer my respect to the beliefs that are esteemed by many people whose continued support for these beliefs are part and parcel of the problem that such fealty to faith-based beliefs imposes on the rest of us in real life. The next generation needs to be shown one critical sentence at a time that the beliefs held dear by many of their elders are silly and degrading and cause far more harm than good. And it’s working, thank you very much. Atheism is the fastest growing category to describe religious adherence in those 29 years of age and younger and has risen to nearly 50% in Canada and almost a quarter in the US… about double the general rate. Without the hard push by gnu atheists, I doubt meaningful change would be on its way after a millennia-old theological history of abuse and injustice, deceit and willful ignorance. If you honestly think the major impediment to necessary change that now grants religious favouritism to christians is a couple of years of atheists being too disrespectful to the more moderate and liberal elements of this privileged segment, then I think you have your priorities backwards and are misguided in your quest to be seen as tolerant in the face of that which by its very nature is intolerance deified.

  11. sounds like a person who knows what is right, will not compromise, will not hear from any other source, their mind is made up and don’t confuse me with the facts. sounds like a fundamentalists to me on all accounts.

    note that i have a high respect for science, the book The Eerie Silence by Paul Davies states that life is not a matter of random assemblies, you could put all the elements of life in a jar and wait a trillion years and it will still just be there. life has occured, i think this signifies a creator just as a house signifies a builder. a prime mover. haven’t bought into any logical argument against this, it simply is. the only argument i heard against this is “poppycock” and that doesn’t satisfy.

    now how that creator interacts and still is creating i’m rather agnostic about. i see patterns and synchronisms in my own life and patterns in the meta-narrative of humanity that i can’t ignore. so my answer is inherently “I don’t know and neither do you but i have some theories on that” is pretty much the only true and honest reply on about anything.

    what i do know is how we engage that matters. how we are changed from our experience matters. how we live together matters. as i stated before ” as a theist and a Christian, you have my constants of loving God and your neighbor as yourself in it’s most basic form. how i understand those principles is what adapts and moves on any given subject.” that is the backbone of christian history. in it’s best forms and best moments Christianity is a servant based faith-in-action and at it’s worst is a power-obsessed vehicle for empire. i strive for the good.

  12. “Andrew G, if you scratch a religious believer like Z1G, you’ll soon get past his or her pretense at respecting what’s true when scientific push comes to theological shove.” (Tildeb)

    This is almost laughable in its logic, especially after reading all the comments by Z1G and Andrew…which are really quite ‘tolerant’.

    The part thats funny is the ‘whats true’ part of that sentence. Again, we have tildeb defining ‘whats true’ as something that is only proven scientifically – and I am hard-pressed to find any other person besides tildeb that actually lives their life by this idea of ‘whats true’…his talk actually seems like the anomaly as compared with Z1G or Andrews perceptions about ‘reality’.

    Why? Because it seems to me tildeb thinks he has the ‘truest’ form of viewing the world. Of course were all going to disagree with him, because we also view and thrive in the world as well aside from holding his form of ‘whats true’. Which makes me think, is what he is proposing as ‘true’ really that ‘true’?

    Fine evolution is true, really changes little about the way I live my day to day life and morally is of no concern to me – and likely for some other billion people on this planet. Pretty sure the people in Japan are not worried in a time of crisis if any scientific facts can help alleviate their pain and suffering? Am I off base with that assumption?

    So even though science is getting at ‘whats true’ about the universe around us – its such a non factor in the talk of morality and ethics within a society or within communities I am at a loss of words of exactly where scientific facts fit in there?

    Again, because tildeb refuses to believe many things around him effect many of his viewpoints – including politics, media, psychology, economics, and movements in women and gender studies, etc – and not one of these has a defineable ‘truest form’ of what our reality has to be.

    Sure scientific fact and stats enter the equation of those debates, agreed. However, none of them can tell any of us ‘which is the correct way to live’?

    And in the same manner, tildebs rhetoric stammers on that level – about ‘whats real’ and ‘whats not real’…and I am convinced he believes himself when he rants sentences like this for people with their choice of a religious background:

    “This reveals the scope and magnitude of his ignorance and arrogance”

    “No sir. I will not offer my respect to the beliefs that are esteemed by many people whose continued support for these beliefs are part and parcel of the problem that such fealty to faith-based beliefs imposes on the rest of us in real life”

    I am no psychologist but I can offer this tidbit of advice – what we are reading from tildeb are issues he is dealing with on some level and are not actually what is happening – it’s a perception of a reality he see’s and feels as happening.

    He just refuses, and always will I think, he is using a faith based system of some sort – cause I know it takes faith to believe 1/2 of what he does say is actually ‘reality’.

  13. SVS, i think you’re right on. tildeb uses “truth” and “what is true” as some vague amorphous notion, almost a short-hand for this rigid empirical philosophical structure. much the same way i use “God” as some vague amorphous notion, almost a short-hand for my open theological tradition and philosophy. hey, part of being Christian is acknowledging where you fall short.

  14. “You ask me to consider going hat in hand and be nicer and offer respect to those moderates who wish to change these discriminations slowly and from within, as if they have any pressing motivation to do so” (tildeb)

    Logic again here is in serious question – kind of ‘over-reaching’ in my personal opinion.

    The blame that tildeb is passing around in his comments seems to be that a religious moderate is just as guilty as a religious extremist – all in all – they are both religious and part of the problem. That’s interesting.

    Can we say that if you vote in elections in Canada or America that you participate in the atrocities of what that party does and has done in the past?

    Can we say if you use and trust the economic system in Canada or America that you are to blame for some of the economic collapse that occured?

    Can we say if you have sex that you are as well to blame for the population boom across this planet?

    I think its fairly ludicrous to lay blame at the feet of someone religious for being simply that. religious.

    The moderate argument, from Sam Harris, is whitewash garbage – pieces of it make sense – like we should take responsibility for our ends and responses and they will not go un-noticed. But to blame a religious person for what extremist Muslims do or what Fred Phelps does is a waste of time to logically argue.

    The problem is gnu atheism is looking for a proverbial ‘whipping boy’ to lay blame upon for the problems in society around them…and religion is part of that problem (granted). However, realistically, they are over-blowing the trumpet to make religion look like the causal agent of ‘all’ the problems in society – not just now – past as well.

    The problem here is exageration of their claim about religion. I seem to think they view at as unneccesary ‘evil’ that of eradicated the world would somehow be a better more peaceful place…and all the kids would sing in harmony and every world problem would ‘poof’ – evaporate. Now I am exagerating – but you can see how illogical it really is.

    My question for tildeb is this: at what would end would athiests stop at to eradicate religious systems? If you had the power tomorrow to change the whole planet and could make any policy to do away with religious thought – what exactly would you do? Inquiring minds need to know.

    See the problem with ideas is they can become reality – which is where one’s beliefs become an actual reality (whether true or not). The proverbial ‘whipping boy’ eventually becomes the actual ‘whipping boy’ when someone believes their claims strongly enough – lesson from WW2.

  15. @tildeb,

    If z1g is the author of that quotation then I do take issue with it and will disagree with him. That is a conversation I have had with him and will likely have again. I would return to my comment from above and try to persuade him that it would be better if he stopped using his explanations to act as authority over something he doesn’t know. I would also try to persuade him that it is better to start from a place like “I don’t know and maybe shouldn’t use my assumptions as authority.” Would you agree that this is a good starting position, tildeb?

    I would agree with you that the description of the Muslim belief system you describe is one expression of a religious morality. I could argue with such Muslims that they are using bad reasoning. I could argue that the appeal to authority for moral guidance is poor reasoning. However, simply holding contempt for this poor reasoning does not inherently bring about better reasoning from them. As you likely know, they can feel all the more justified from that.

    Their motivation for bad reasoning is not rationality, obviously. It is emotional.

    Do you feel you can successfully argue someone out of their emotional investments by telling them to be reasonable, or by challenging them with contempt? Can you stop someone from feeling love, for example, by telling them that their love makes no sense or is inaccurate? In my experience, people become more unreasonable. The prejudice towards atheists and agnostics you describe illustrates that perfectly. I would much rather provide faith-based believers with voluntary, progressive, exploratory steps rather than force them to jump their (self-created) chasm between irrationality and rationality.

    The choice you present does not have to be so polarized. And there is no need for a ‘middle ground’ either. I agree with you that the benign effects we now attribute to religious communities can be obtained by rational and reasonable people who wish to do good for the sake of doing good. However, I think it is valuable to make a distinction between a person’s justification for action and the action itself. I would argue that (1) those benign effects can be symptoms of the desire of those particular religious communities to be rational and reasonable, and (2) there is a lot of evidence in psychology that suggests adoption of a behavior precedes the justification or explanation for it, thus making it all the more important to encourage those benign effects.

    If they are doing good actions already, then that tells me things are already moving in the right direction and ‘explanations’ will follow. From my experience, many of these types of communities have dropped the appeals for authority and the faith-based requirements. That’s a good thing, right? I have z1g on record saying that if he had to choose, he would put serving the community over serving his God. (Sorry z1g, but this is important, and I will hold you to it.)

    This is about recognizing how things are, how people are and how to motivate people to change. I think I understand you better now due to your last comments. I can empathize with you and have experienced similar reactionary intolerance. Religious authority does need to be erased. I do not think you should go “hat in hand” or sit idly by, and would never suggest that. I never asked you to submit. I ask you to be aware of your methods. I ask you to celebrate the changes that are in your favour rather than scoff at the glacial pace.

    Please correct me if I am wrong, but it appears your goal is to win, or to be right. If that’s your goal, then fine. Between you and me, I think you put your money on the right horse. If your goal is to isolate potential allies because their thinking is flawed and their emotional investments are irrational, then I question your methods but I do not stand in your way. You have my blessing, as it were. If your goal is to produce change, then I encourage you to explore how people make irrational, emotional investments, and the psychology on how people change. I can think of several good sources. It would give your efforts another advantage.

  16. @societyvs,

    “Sure scientific fact and stats enter the equation of those debates, agreed. However, none of them can tell any of us ‘which is the correct way to live’”

    I would please ask you to suspend your judgement on this.

    An obvious example of science being used to tell us the correct way to live is happening in Canada right now with cigarettes. Science has ‘convinced’ politicians that smoking is economically and medically bad for the country. In some respects, it could be argued the politicians see it as a morally correct course of behaviour to regulate smoking and diminish that habit from our society. Religious or literary or psychological information need not be involved.

  17. @Andrew: funny how things get misused so readily. i was using his own phrase against him in that context. my own belief is that there is indeed a creator, but wouldn’t say a designer in the tense of the word and ideology of “intelligent design.” i’m a theist, of course i believe that God is the creator but i’m of the free will model and process theology field.

    and your tactic that you spoke of would be the better route to go.

  18. “Science has ‘convinced’ politicians that smoking is economically and medically bad for the country” (Andrew)

    Agreed, but science cannot make someone actually ‘quit’ smoking. This is more the point I am getting at – the facts of the effects of smoking are on the packages of cigaretted themselves and still millions of people smoke. Something more than the effects of ‘science’ is at work in the process.

    As for the legitimacy of science to actually promote the ‘truth’ – smoking is a great example. Wasn’t it the companies that first introduced smoking that hid these facts up until the 70’s and 80’s about the harmful effects of the cigarettes people were smoking? Heck, they even targeted teens in their ads. Where was science when all this went down? The power of the human being outweighed the facts science had to present…again we’re acting as if scientists are all angels in this scenario and weren’t on the covertness of this action for profitable gains.

    The same thing can be said about many chemicals used in daily society, certain medication pills, plastics, and pollution. All of these areas and their after-effects are played down by companies and gov’ts all the time in collusion with people from the scientific field who were not forthcoming on the effects on people this would have. Why? Because the tests were inconclusive and in some cases, would take years of study to prove the ill effects…and time doesn’t wait for products.

    I know the scientific field is in a quest for the truth – but like all other human endeavors it’s just as cloudy with a chance of meatballs.

  19. Before anyone fails to realize the connection between science and religion, the above mentioned problems are perfect examples as to the need for a moral guideline outside the realm of just the science field. Let me state – I am not against scientific inquiry – I am all for it – but I am also for it’s responsibilities as part of the process (which are sometimes painstakingly lacking).

    So religion’s role is still vital as something that asks the big moral questions and it need not be connected to the scientific inquiry to stand as something of relevance. In fact, it’s better its an outside agent in these cases so it’s a fair critic of the what can be seen as problems in the process.

  20. Okay. There are many criticisms here that I think can best be responded to not line by line but by a general response. So, with your indulgence, here is my long answer.

    Any time someone makes a cause and effect truth claim but is either unwilling or unable to provide us with a mechanism to explain how this happens, then I think we should hold that explanation as lacking something important and significant. Furthermore, when the argument is put forth that some special exemption is required to allow the explanation to stand unchallenged and unchallengeable, I think we should hold the method used to justify this explanation as entirely insufficient to make any claims to knowledge.

    In a nutshell, this what theological claims do; they utilize our biological preference to assign agency and pretend such causal claims are authoritative and produce knowledge.

    I don’t think this is true. But I can’t show why without some suitable explanation. Again, sorry for the length.

    When I add heat to liquid water, it will change to a gaseous state at 100 degrees Celsius (factoring in pressure). When I remove heat from liquid water, it will change to a solid state at 0 degrees Celsius. No matter what I may believe about other agencies causing these effects, no matter what attributed morality or purposes of the various states of H2O I may assert, these repeatable and demonstrative brute facts clearly describe how temperature and not the vagaries of my beliefs in other agencies (and any assigned values I may claim come from those agencies) determines which state water will take.

    If I value knowledge about what is true regarding the states of water and compare and contrast what we know about the states of water with what we know of my beliefs about the states of water, then I think it is reasonable to recognize that my beliefs in outside agencies rank lower in trustworthiness about – and are subservient to – the facts about what we actually know about these states. My beliefs about other agencies are not equivalent ‘truths’ to the knowable effects of temperature, nor are my beliefs subject to equivalent independent and testable verification we have revealing the direct relationship between water and its temperature to cause changes in state.

    What we can ‘know’ of the veracity of my beliefs in regards to the states of water is likewise not an equivalent method of inquiry, nor a trustworthy one, nor a method that produces knowledge independently verifiable. My beliefs in other agencies proffer no knowledge in comparison to how temperature can be shown by anyone anywhere at any time to determines water’s state. Causal claims made on behalf of my beliefs in other agencies have no equivalent merit than an explanation that links cause with effect by a mechanism that is always trustworthy. More importantly, the state of water is not in any way determined by my beliefs. My beliefs about any other causes that affect the states of water are, in fact, irrelevant. If I attempt to justify my beliefs in other agencies based on the states of water without taking into account this direct causation of temperature, then how does the state of water in any form provide evidence for the truth value for my beliefs? It doesn’t. Without an independently verifiable mechanism that links the cause inserted by my beliefs to the effect of the state of water, I am still left with my irrelevant beliefs merely masquerading as knowledge.

    If I end my inquiry at this point because I’m satisfied that my beliefs in other agencies – their intentions, their meanings, their purposes – account for the states of water, do I really know anything about these states at all in truth? If so, how can I know? As importantly, should I offer my intellectual respect for the integrity of these beliefs that fail to link cause with effect by any knowable mechanism? Should I award this belief explanation with equivalent respect to one that does link cause with effect by a knowable, repeatable, testable, consistent and reliable method?

    If we are presented with large numbers of people who, and many institutions that, insist that those who believe the state of water is determined by temperature is equivalent to others who believe supernatural agents are responsible for any changes – and that these two beliefs are similar enough to be held in equal respect because both are based on different kinds but equivalent knowledge – then I think we have a rather significant problem.

    If we shift the example away from water – away from materialism – and apply it to abstract concepts, then does the same epistemology hold?

    If I claim that I love my child, then that simply states a word – love – used to describe a deep emotional attachment. It’s not a cause and effect statement. If I claim that my biology causes me to love my child, then we have claim we can work with. We have a legitimate avenue for further inquiry and can come up with all kinds of evidence that this deep emotional attachment does seem to be directly affected by biological factors by means of chemical changes to that biology. We can even explore how we hold these biological feelings for inanimate object, fictitious characters, imagined agencies, and so on. And the inquiry can continue.

    If I claim that I love my child because god has bestowed the gift of love to me, what do I have to work with? How can I inquire into this claim that god causes love? I have an asserted cause (god) beyond my ability to examine (an unidentifiable agency) and an unknown mechanism by which some kind of transfer takes place, and I have a feeling of a deep emotional attachment. If I believe this claim is true, then I have no means at my disposal to explain anything any further. The inquiry stops. This explanation is empowered only by the belief it is true without any means available to us to further our inquiry to link cause with effect by a known mechanism. We have nothing here we can legitimately call knowledge. We have assertion. We have agencies presumed to exist in some kind of form exempt from our ability to describe in meaningful terms. We have no avenue available to further our inquiries to improve this lack of knowledge. Calling this belief ‘true’ is an act of faith in the religious sense that carries with it a willingness to cease pursuing knowledge about its veracity because we simply have no means at our disposal to do so. One must move outside of faith-based belief to pick up the pursuit of knowledge, not because one is against the faith-based belief itself but because such beliefs start as thee explanation, which is completely inadequate for gaining knowledge about the components that make up that causal belief.

    No matter what the human concept may be – morality, justice, rights, beauty, god, whatever – once we introduce faith-based belief as a component of our inquiry about what these concepts mean, we have left behind our ability to pursue causal knowledge. And causal claims about any human concept that include faith-based belief as a necessary component has abandoned the pursuit of knowledge as a starting position; it is already fully formed as the explanation that is true.

    Yet we must have human reference points to discuss such concepts in order for them to maintain any knowable meaning, which is why we reveal these concepts in and through human action. Once we abandon the necessary human component on the grounds that the source of these concepts must be outside of human origin in agencies we cannot describe, we have ejected the very possibility of furthering our inquiries about their materialistic source.

    Materialistic source? For love? Who am I trying to fool?

    This may sound strange to those who assume abstraction cannot exist in material form, but we must remember that these concepts describe relationships that cause material effects in action. What does love look like outside of human action? No one can know. But everyone can have an opinion about what it looks like in human action. What does justice look like outside of human action? No one can know. But everyone can have an opinion about what it looks like in human action.

    These sorts of opinions of causal effects by the demonstrative action to which we apply the terms require justification for merit. Someone who argues that he or she shows love, for example, to a child by beating them has some explaining to do to justify why such an action of beating fits with the concept of the action that shows deep affection we call love. Claiming to carry out god’s will as a reason for beating a child in no way helps us to inform how the action is justified as showing deep affection. But perhaps it is justifiable to punish a behaviour deemed immoral. We need some help to do this, however.

    What does help is to describe abstract terms like morality in terms of achieving human goals, and this is where science can indeed play an essential and knowledge-informed role in principle to overcome the is/ought divide on what Harris calls the moral landscape.

    Ought we create a sterile field to perform a desired surgery? Assuming in human terms that surgery is required to achieve a human result of increased well-being through improved health offered by surgery, one can see easily how causal science informs the ‘ought’ without having to establish in exacting materialistic detail what ‘health’ means in terms of an absolute definition. All we need is to do is agree that the goal of improving health is more desirable than reducing it, in which case causal science can offer us a multitude of efficacious means towards this goal that are materialistically measurable in practice. This is not to say that science is attempting to define morality but that morality as a human action to achieve a specific and materialistic goal can be informed by science, which offers us the means to create knowledge that works independently of the practitioner. The alternative is to inform human action by belief, which we know is fully informed only by the practitioner’s prior decision to do make it so, which offers us no means to gain independent knowledge and establish it’s causal truth claim.

    When we have a materialistic and abstract explanation like evolution that competes directly with beliefs held to be true like creationism, how are we to navigate between them? Can they both be true? Many think so… if the belief is re-crafted to account for the increasing knowledge we have about common ancestry. Many think not… that one must choose between scriptural ‘truths’ and scientific challenges to those ‘truths’. My question is: Where does knowledge lie in this minefield, and my answer is that it lies with that which is demonstrably knowable, that which provides us with causal effects by means of a mechanism that can be tested and verified in multiple ways. As soon as a faith-based belief component of some unknowable agency, something beyond what is demonstrably knowable, is brought into the explanation, we have moved past what is knowable and into assumption and assertion based strictly and solely on faith, which we know to be untrustworthy.

    Why is it untrustworthy?

    Well, I respect knowledge more than I respect faith-based beliefs because I recognize my own intellectual shortcomings: my preference to take the easy way out and simply believe something to be so, the ease with which my senses can be fooled, my inclination to trust authority, my natural tendency to think my attributions are true in fact and that my perspectives have no filters unbiased by my assumptions of emotive agencies that my biology predisposes me to. But at least I’m smart enough to know that I’m no different than anyone else in these regards and that all of us suffer from these same intellectual shortcomings – both inherent and learned. But many people do not appreciate that we can, if not overcome then, mitigated them to a remarkable degree if we are willing to do the work necessary, to utilize the critical thinking that empowers healthy scepticism, and offer our preferred respect to the most productive epistemology the world has ever seen, namely methodological naturalism, over and above our inclinations to substitute our favoured beliefs.

    If any of us wish to make a causal claim, then we must be prepared for this task. And the task to supply merit to a causal claim is not by inserting faith-based beliefs that short-circuit it but by demonstrably showing how cause produces effect and by what knowable mechanism this occurs. Without this information, causal claims are irrelevant no matter how heartfelt they may be nor how benign their intention is.

    • Oh, how I wish Davey lived in modern times! Access to modern biology would have propelled his works to new heights of insight and usefulness. But, alas. The best he had to work with was the notion of ‘properties’ and, still… look what he did with it!

      ‘Properties’ is a name he assigned to an object’s components, that without the necessary components in total we have no singular object. Remember, what he was arguing against was the metaphysical notion of ‘natures’. He wanted to show by reasoning that all things in nature had to be made up of things in and of themselves and not infused with some… I’ll call it ‘magical’ but it could just as easily be called ‘divine’… ethereal substance to power objects into motion and change.

      So the bundle theory really belongs to those times and not today’s. We understand the practical value of seeking cause and effect by a known mechanism with our explosion of technologies over the past few hundred years. And we owe Hume a great deal of thanks for his clarity of thought. It is handy to be reminded what this clarity yielded: a methodology, an approach, a way to come at the world anew and see it for the first time, an ontology that is trustworthy and a method of inquiry that has brought about a revolution in discovery and application. Hume was the forefathers of what we call methodological naturalism. Lerner’s definition is handy:

      Methodological naturalism is not a “doctrine” but an essential aspect of the methodology of science, the study of the natural universe. If one believes that natural laws and theories based on them will not suffice to solve the problems attacked by scientists – that supernatural and thus nonscientific principles must be invoked from time to time – then one cannot have the confidence in scientific methodology that is prerequisite to doing science. The spectacular successes over four centuries of science based on methodological naturalism cannot be gainsaid. On the other hand, a scientist who, when stumped, invokes a supernatural cause for a phenomenon he or she is investigating is guaranteed that no scientific understanding of the problem will ensue.

      Hume did not have this backdrop. He was working from the front end and still saw why materialism is an essential plank to understand what is. It’s not just a single concept like bundle theory that he offers us but an essential aspect of honest inquiry into what is.

      • i too would be interested in what Hume would come up with. interesting fellow with some cool thoughts.

        when it comes to science, i think MN is a great way to go. MN is innocent with respect to conclusions regarding the supernatural. it speaks neither for nor against them: it simply insists that science is for discovering natural causes for natural effects. i would agree with MN to a degree (as i can’t see it doing too well in quantum or chaos arenas) but not philosophical naturalism. i am wondering if you will make that step as i think you have.

  21. what i hear you advocating for is the stance of materialism. it’s a reasonable stance and realistically, most people adopt this stance much of the time. however, at times everyone does recognize the value of altruistic and creative purposes, which this stance rejects. moreover, materialism is an endless treadmill: the enjoyment of new goodies wears off quickly, and then you are left craving the next, better thing. it is a throughly western mindset that lends itself to consumerism and leaves creative pursuits high and dry. nothing has intrinsic value in and of itself, everything is treated as means not ends. not a fan of this stance at all, but i see the appeal.

    • Are you hearing me? Or someone else in this thread? If you are responding to me, then how does this stance reject altruism? Creativity?

      If not from the human expression of it, where do we find altruism? If not from the human expression of it, where do we find creativity?

      What you’re suggesting is that these descriptive words have some other source as if they are somehow divided or separated from the human condition. I think that’s not true because such expression are species wide. Nor do I have any reason to think you have good reasons to link it altruism and creativity in some way to what causes these expressions in people nor any means available to you to show the mechanism by which these foreign expressions are delivered. If we’re just born with them, then I think the avenue to pursue is our biology.

      I fail to grasp how this stance is somehow a driving force for consumerism. Nor do I see how this stance in any way leaves creative pursuits high and dry nor that it treats everything as a means.

  22. let’s take this slow so that we’re not talking past one another:

    are you or are you not advocating for philosophical materialism? to be super clear and define what i mean: philosophical materialism means that the only reality is matter, that there is no reality beyond the material world. is that right?

    • No, I am not advocating for philosophical naturalism. I am advocating for methodological naturalism, in that only what exists in the universe is knowable. What exists elsewhere I have no idea and I do not come equipped to know or pretend to know anything about what may or may not be there.

      • yet you take that step. Do these anti-theistic, anti-supernatural conclusions follow logically from MN? Certainly not. it ignores them. yet you seem obsessed with them. with what is presented here, and in your reasoning, how can this be without the switch to PN?

      • I don’t think I do except in the sense that if someone is claiming something from outside the natural universe is causing effect inside the natural universe then it is wide open to examination by the process of methodological naturalism, meaning we need to show the causal link and the mechanism by which this is accomplished to show knowledge about the ‘something’. Lacking any knowledge means the claim is asserted without any means to show why that assertion has enough merit to be called ‘knowledge’. I don’t think such claims do not because there isn’t any evidence this time or under those conditions but because after so many years of being told that there is, none has ever been forthcoming. The reasonable conclusion is that such faith-based beliefs have no substantiation in fact. Yet this lack of support seem to be of little concern to those who continue to respect such causal claims as being somehow valuable in knowledge. I disagree. I think such causal claims are without truth value and, moreso, a root cause of what I call a broken epistemology – a way of knowing that really knows nothing – that pops up where faith-based beliefs are not only accepted but promoted. I am thinking specifically about such claims that drive pseudo-science like alternative and complimentary therapies, superstitions, anti-vaccine movements, and so on. What all these share is an inability to show causal effect between their claims about the efficacy of their products and good evidence to support them. I think it is the same problem with many religious causal claims: an inability to show causal effects between their claims about the efficacy of their beliefs and good evidence to support them.

  23. “don’t think I do except in the sense that if someone is claiming something from outside the natural universe is causing effect inside the natural universe then it is wide open to examination” (tildeb)

    Okay, what about something like intuition? The following of the gut instinct to make the final top step of an important decision? That time when we make a decision based on the all the facts but still need that something more to confirm which decision is best? I hear this a lot in human resources, buying homes, and even in choosing someone to propose to?

    • Sure… a terrific example. It looks pretty spooky when it’s accurate, doesn’t it? So what’s going on?

      I don’t have all the answers but I know enough about cold reading to know that many people can read me by slight actions and responses I make even when I’m completely unaware I’m making them. Do all of us have the wherewithal to read others without knowing that we are doing so? A lot of good salespeople I know tell me it’s easier than we think.

      What about successful decisions made on events rather than people, decisions and choices that match what Jung called serendipity or what some people call sagacity? It’s difficult to compare and contrast claims of serendipity against a benchmark that has none because there is no way to differentiate except by negative results. The method we have is chance permutations to see if the reported occurrence falls well beyond statistical probabilities. But again, I don’t know how to measure: does a plane crash that kills three hundred people count against the one person who didn’t get on that plane? Does the lottery winner count as just one against the ten million who lost? I honestly don’t know. But I do know that some terrible things happen to really great people and some very good things happen to some really awful people. I’m in no position to account for how that all comes out regarding serendipity. I think we try to do the best we can given the available information we have and live with the consequences… whatever they may be. But I think we make a mistake attributing these events to agencies that may or may not be true or even knowable.

  24. “But I think we make a mistake attributing these events to agencies that may or may not be true or even knowable” (tildeb)

    I think that’s a fair way to look at it. However, I am not over and above someone attributing some of this to their ‘faith’. Faith is quite unseeable and untouchable, kind of like serendipity or sagacity – maybe even falls within some of the same category?

    • Of course you can – and many do – attribute all kinds of effect to faith and rely on some element of change to try to support the assertion. But understanding the placebo effect helps to show why these changes may not be causal to faith at all. The point here is that such causal claims are untrustworthy even if believed honestly and openly and with humility to be true. Faith does not inform fact; for that you need corroborating evidence and – so far – there is none to support the claim that faith alone causes whatever effect attributed to it.

      • But if we’re talking about motivation for actions that cause effect, well that’s a whole other ball of paraffin. Faith can and does motivate all kinds of human behaviours across the spectrum… none of which supports the claim that faith alone causes anything.

  25. wow! tildeb, you sound almost human! see what happens when you take the time to explain where you’re coming from! no wonder we disagree, i’m a pomo existentialist. i simply don’t think we can know everything. like your response to intuition. you start with what we know, which is verbal cues and largely from Malcom Gladwell’s Blink. great book love it. but there are times where humans can click into ‘the higher math’ so to speak and predict things before they happen.

    plus i really agree that this is the best method for inquiry, yet i haven’t seen a suitable view of how this would play out sociologically without running towards a PM view. plus some people simply don’t have the ability for this method. and what i meant was “moreover, materialism is an endless treadmill” is that there is no room to simply just be. there is no intrinsic value to anything nor is there any realm for symbols (in the Jungian sense) and thus would rule out art in all forms which has no evidence, thesis, or purpose many times.

    “pseudo-science like alternative and complimentary therapies, superstitions, anti-vaccine movements, and so on. ”

    i never get a full answer from this… where does accupuncture land in this? it’s the only thing that works for my allergies. my cousin is a big anti-vaccine advocate and i think she’s bonkers. yet she also states that ADHD is caused by the dyes in our foods and sodas… there is some evidence to that and a feature was on the news. it seems the science is cloudy with corporate interests… so my question then becomes, how does MN fend off being co-opted by corporations?

    • Regarding acupuncture: acupuncture does not actually work. It is not based upon any legitimate principles of physiology or anatomy, its underlying theories are mostly pre-scientific superstitions, and proponents cannot demonstrate in controlled clinical trials that it is more effective than placebo. This excellent article explains in greater detail why it may seem to.

      • and the placebo effect is pretty darn powerful. as stated before, it’s the only thing that seems to work for my allergies. also, sometimes the belief and action precede the science, like the ADHD connection to food dyes.

        you also skipped this question: so my question then becomes, how does MN fend off being co-opted by corporations?

  26. Hey again,

    sorry for missing a few rounds here. I really like where the conversation is starting to go at this point, so I will restrict my comment to what I hope will add to the constructive direction here.

    tildeb has made some excellent clarifications. It sounds like we are coming to agreement on how we are using words like ‘knowledge’ and ‘know’ in this discussion. Can we restrict the use of these words to the sense used when tildeb says:

    “only what exists in the universe is knowable.”

    There can be belief-statements and other things, but I want to distinguish how we use the words at this point.

    Now, instead of trying to make statements like “reality is the natural and the supernatural” (which is problematic and does not help this discussion, in my opinion), I would like to propose, once again, this idea:

    Reality is made up of what is and what we do

    Or in other words, reality is a place where things are (the universe) and a place where behavior happens (what we do in the universe).

    We can make truth claims about what is, and as well we can make truth claims about behavior and its consequences, through proper study. I am not saying anything about how the two relate but I think this clarification can put us on grounds that we can actually discuss, and it removes the trouble generated by supernaturalism.

    Tildeb, I’m glad you brought up Sam Harris. One of the most important things Harris said in his latest book is that the world of measurement and the world of meaning have to be reconciled. I think I see it happening more and more. It’s a good direction for the world. Sam Harris has also, in a sense, endorsed Jainism, even though it is clear Jains believe improbable and unverifiable things. By no means does he think we should all be Jains, but he does measure the morality of Jains as higher than say, fundamentalist Muslims.

    “Fundamentalist Jainism and fundamentalist Islam do not have the same consequences, neither logically nor behaviorally.”

    Now, if we can understand reality as what is and what we do, we can measure the benign effects of religious behavior regardless of their justifications or explanations, yes? Sam Harris certainly seems to be doing so. We can even later isolate those justification and explanations through further study, and likely find more refined justifications and explanations, as you suggest regarding salespeople and other matters. Once again, in no way does this end the discussion. It simply propels it further on better grounds.

    I agree entirely with this last statement of yours, and think it holds the key to both my point about emotional investments from before and the direction in which we can now move:

    “I think we try to do the best we can given the available information we have and live with the consequences… whatever they may be. But I think we make a mistake attributing these events to agencies that may or may not be true or even knowable.”

    • I’m not sure I fully appreciate why you find it necessary to categorize ‘what we do’ separately from ‘what is’. I find it problematic. For example, I very much like how Steven Pinker addresses the mind/body divide with his very astute quip that “The mind is what the brain does.”

      I think our language is filled with such words like ‘mind’ which is often confused to be separate ‘things’ and considered to come from some other source than ‘what is’ rather than understood to be a term used to describe the act or action or the relationship defined by it.

      For example, ‘faith’ is a term often coined to be a thing in and of itself in a religious sense rather than an act of submission to a particular set of tenets accepted to be true without any other justification needed. This helps us to understand why Z1G insists on faith to be an action rather than a philosophy and explains why he can then bring up actions motivated by belief in this set of tenets to be considered as an affirmation about their usefulness to bringing about change. But if we use Pinker’s definition to better get a handle on what effects should be attributed to the motivated actions of the faithful, faith is what the religious do. And doesn’t this understanding open up a can worms for those who argue faith is a positive net benefit!

  27. “Faith does not inform fact; for that you need corroborating evidence and – so far – there is none to support the claim that faith alone causes whatever effect attributed to it” (tildeb)

    No problems there – no one really asserts that having faith (ie: verb) would inform fact; I suggest the use of measurement of some sort usually. All I really ever assert is faith (ie: a noun) helps to impact the development of a worldview (paradigm) – just like politics and philosophy do as well.

    If one paradigm is wrong, which is based on measurable outcomes, then I have to think the others should fall under the same scrutiny from you. But I am all about fairness and equity.

    • Okay, you caught me.

      I’m wrong again.

      Let’s just start there, shall we?

      Even though I am unequivocally wrong, you describe that in it’s best forms and best moments Christianity is a servant based faith-in-action, and you claim to be speaking as a christian. It seems to me – and my poor comprehension skills that are obvious to you – to be a assertion that to you christianity’s best form is as an action.

      In addition, in your response to Sabio’s criticism at your blog you tell him that the route you decided to take in your conversation with an atheist was to tell him that belief and being are the same, belief and actions are the same, it’s a holistic “belief-in-action.

      I write that understanding faith to be not just a set of beliefs but a set of beliefs one submits to and acts accordingly helps to explain why you call faith an action.

      Wow. How could I have been so wrong? Maybe not surprising to you, but certainly surprising to me.

      So I give up, Z1G. You’re very fast to tell me I’m wrong, that I’ve not comprehended what you have written, that I need to keep on trying, offer me no guidance or clarification, yet it seems to me that you play a pretty important role in what appears to me to be misleading me on purpose, as if I’m to correctly guess which interpretation of your words you alone mean for them to be interpreted correctly.

      What am I so obviously missing?

      • it’s not only an action. believing (philosophy) causes doing (action). pragmatist. to say that faith is only belief is half right and to say that it’s action is half right. one informs the other, but solely one or sole the other does not faith make. you are obviously missing nuance.

      • No, I’m not missing the nuance: something – anything – said to be in action requires the noun to be doing something. When I said it is a problem to consider faith to be a noun alone when responding to Andrew G’s proposal that there is this dividing line between what is and what is being done, I reveal my understanding of your ‘nuance’ by saying to him that faith alone is – as you say – only half right, that it requires action to be whole. Further, I say that this helps us to understand your position that faith is not a philosophy – a set of beliefs simply held in an esoteric way – but a call to faith-in-action.

        I fail to see how I ‘missed it again’ or how re-reading and trying again will further improve my comprehension of what you mean. But what might make a difference is your commenting to be a little less militant and strident in its blanket condemnations of my comprehending abilities and a bit more explanatory and descriptive of your reasons for the comment.

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