Aethelread’s alternative christmas message

I’m a big fan of Clive James.  He’s witty and charming, and he chooses to hide a very keen mind behind a self-deprecating facade.  Although he’s usually very funny (his recent piece about a writer’s desk is one of the funniest things I’ve read in years), there always seems to be an air of profound melancholy about him which, as a fellow melancholic, I definitely respond to.  But it has to be said that, very occasionally, he talks through his bottom, and this is one of those rare occasions.

He’s writing on the subject of christmas, and the ‘necessity’ of the christian faith, and he comes from a perspective that seems more agnostic than atheist, to me at least:

I know that my redeemer liveth? Well I doubt if he can redeem me. I wish he could. But I do have faith that he lives on, as an ideal.

This seems to me to be an expression of doubt, rather than certainty – it seems to allow for the possibility that christ exists, but that he lacks the capacity to save Clive James.  It looks more like an aspect of that melancholy I talked about, rather than any kind of reasoned intellectual position.

Now, agnosticism has, frankly, always annoyed me.  If you’re a rationalist (as I am, or at least would like to be), then, since there is no rational reason to accept the validity of the christian myth, you have to reject it.  If, on the other hand, you are a religionist, then you dismiss rational evidence as irrelevant, and in that case you can’t use it to partly undermine your own beliefs.  Either you accept that there is no evidence for the existence of god, and therefore disbelieve absolutely, or you dismiss the lack of evidence as wholly irrelevant, and believe absolutely.  There isn’t – and there never can be – any room to sit on the fence.  Fence-sitters (or agnostics) are either people in the process of changing their minds, or they’re cowards.  I suspect Clive James fits into the second category.  I know that sounds very harsh, but to me it does seem most likely that he doesn’t actually have any faith whatsoever, but he’s still vaguely worried about dying and waking up in hell, and so he tries to fudge the issue.

The main way that he fudges the issue is one that’s quite familiar – he allows his divine nature to fall into question, but insists instead on the remarkable nature of Jesus the man:

We can debate the difficult points of interpretation, hit each other over the head about the truth of what he said here and what he did there, but the essence of his personality still deserves to be cherished as a salvation, a redemption. It won’t, I think, redeem our sins or save our souls for heaven, but it will give us a measure for how we should lead our lives on earth, even if we are bound to fail.

From my perspective, this paragraph is massively disingenuous.  The disagreement between christianity and atheism isn’t a matter of ‘difficult points of interpretation’, or arguing ‘about the truth of what he said here and what he did there’, it’s about whether, on the one hand, you believe christ was the living incarnation of god on earth, or, on the other, you don’t.  These aren’t minor squabbles.  They’re absolutely irreconcilable differences.

Clive James also seems to have made the same mistake as a lot of agnostics, and assumed that the gospels are a true and accurate historical record, except for all the mystical stuff about miracles and resurrection.  They aren’t.  The gospels were written up to 110 years after the events they describe, by people who had no first-hand knowledge of what actually happened, and in languages that none of the participants would have understood.  The anonymous authors based their work on folklore and, in some cases, previously written versions of the story.  180 years after the presumed birth of christ, it was suddenly decided that each of the gospels should be attributed to a named disciple of Jesus – there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that any of the gospels have any connection whatsoever with their alleged authors.

Furthermore, the gospels were written and promoted by people who were intimately involved in the process of trying to convert a minor desert cult into an acceptable state religion for the roman empire, and the world more generally.  It was vital for them to portray christ as super-human, as the most charismatic, the most compassionate, the most incorruptible man who had ever lived.  They were trying to make him a hero, in exactly the same way that a Hollywood action flick tries to make its leading man a hero who can dodge all the bullets fired at him.  Neither portrayal is remotely plausible.  This is what invalidates all of Clive James’ attempts to talk about how remarkable Jesus was as a man.  We have no reliable evidence whatsoever to say what Jesus was like as a man, or even whether he ever actually existed at all – he might be nothing more than an amalgam of various desert mystics glued together with a large dollop of wishful thinking.

Clive James gives two main examples as evidence for the remarkable character of Jesus the man – when he allegedly saved an adulteress from death by stoning, and when he apparently promised a place in heaven to a reformed prostitute.   He goes on to put an extremely modern, extremely liberal spin on these examples – he pretty much writes about Jesus as the first recorded champion of women’s rights.  Well, I’m sorry, but no.

Quite apart from anything else (and please bear in mind that I’m not anything approaching an expert on this – there are probably loads of better examples), Clive James is wrong on a purely historical basis.  We can assume that the Minoan civilization on Crete, which was in existence from somewhere around 3000 – 1000 BCE, was pretty keen on women’s rights, given that women filled many of the major administrative and ceremonial roles within it.  A specific, historical example of an individual championing women’s rights (and getting into trouble for it – she spent part of her life in exile) can be found in Sappho (c.630 – c.570 BCE).  It’s very stereotypically male to assume that poor defenceless women needed a big strong man to come along and be their champion before they could even think of doing anything for themselves.

I also think Clive James is way off the mark in terms of the way he interprets the stories he refers to.  The point of the stoning story isn’t to prove how committed Jesus was to gender equality – he doesn’t tell the crowd they shouldn’t punish the adulterous woman because they’re not also punishing the adulterous man.  I’d even question how much it has to do with showcasing christ’s compassion.  The main point of the story is to demonstrate that the existing religious establishment didn’t have the authority to punish or pardon ‘sinners’, and that only christ (and, by extension, his representatives on earth) could judge, and then punish or absolve.  In other words, the story is designed to reinforce the status of christianity as the ultimate arbiter of authority – exactly what you would expect a desert cult trying to establish itself as a world religion to want to reinforce.  Equally, the story of Mary Magdalene (the reformed prostitute) is not intended to demonstrate christ’s compassion, but rather that anyone can convert to christianity and be ‘saved.’  This is again exactly the kind of message you would expect from a movement dedicated to the wholesale expansion of its membership.

The fact of the matter is that the tremendous ‘personal force’ that Clive James detects in christ has absolutely nothing to do with Jesus the man.  What would happen if any of us were asked to write an inspirational account of the life and personal characteristics of a relatively obscure man (lets call him Mr Jesus Smith…) who was executed a hundred years ago, but who we now regarded as a living god?  Unlike the people who wrote the gospels, we could hope to have some documentary evidence from the time to base our account on – we’d expect to be able to find out the details of his birth, and whether or not he married, and the exact date of his death.  There might be other information as well – prison records, newspaper reports of his trial, perhaps even letters or a diary written by Jesus Smith himself.  Even with all these advantages, any account we gave of his personality would have very little to do with the man, and a whole lot to do with the kind of picture we wanted to paint.  In other words, the kind of man we made him out to be would be decided by what we wanted him to be like, not what he actually was like.  It is so transparently obvious to me that this is precisely what happened with christ.

Clive James writes about the way da Vinci or Michelangelo painted christ as a muscular athlete, and assumes that this is evidence of the personal force of christ, but I don’t see it like that.  Both artists were creating works that were based around a particular individual.  In order for the paintings to work, the central figure (whoever he is) has to dominate.  Both Michelangelo and da Vinci idealised the muscular male as the perfect version of the human form, and so this was the obvious and natural way for them to paint christ.  It’s important to bear in mind that the decisions to paint works depicting christ as a figure of supreme importance weren’t taken by the artists themselves.  They were commissioned by people who believed that christ was god, whatever the personal beliefs of the artists themselves (and James’ suggestion that they were atheists is pure speculation).  What Clive James sees as evidence of the personal force of christ is really just evidence for the fact that an artist commissioned to paint a religious subject will produce a painting that reinforces the beliefs of the person who commissioned it.  I would suggest that’s not a particularly surprising state of affairs – he who pays the piper calls the tune, and all that.

The final thing that annoys me about Clive James’ piece is when he suggests that a knowledge of the details of christianity is essential even for non-believers:

I first heard about these things in bible class when I was very young, and I can’t think of how the same permanently necessary message about tolerance could have been transmitted in any other way. No matter how intolerant the churches got in all their years of power, not even when they were burning people by the thousand, they never managed to wipe out the impression of his understanding spirit. Those moments in the gospel would alone be enough to prove the importance of keeping alive all we can about his story.

This is so crassly stupid on so many levels that I find it very hard to believe that someone as intelligent as Clive James could have written it.  In the space of the same brief paragraph he argues that the christian myth contains a timeless message of tolerance that couldn’t be promoted in any other way – then goes on to give details of the way in which the most ardent believers in the myth have been, and continue to be, spectacularly intolerant.  Well, clearly this timeless message of tolerance isn’t being very well served by the christian trappings that surround it.  Certainly, the pope’s recent outburst on the subject of ‘gender-benders’ would seem to suggest that tolerance is not uppermost in the mind of most christians.

One of the major rhetorical devices used by the christ-figure in the gospels is the parable, which is essentially a story told to communicate a particular idea.  A good example is the story of the good Samaritan, which the christ-figure tells in order to communicate the idea that someone we may be used to thinking of as an enemy can turn out to be more capable of good deeds than people we are used to thinking of as friends.  Given that he has apparently dismissed the idea that the actions described in the gospels are literally depictions of the acts of god, it’s fairly obvious that Clive James is treating the accounts of Jesus’ life as parables – the story of the pardoning of the adulterous woman communicates the ideas of compassion, and so on.  This means that his assertion that there is no other way except religious indoctrination to teach children ‘the permanently necessary message about tolerance’ is patently nonsense.  Any other story designed to communicate the same idea would work just as well.  In fact, real-life stories taken from verifiable history would work a whole lot better.

Ethnically speaking, I’m part jewish, and my paternal grandmother (my dad’s mum) lost almost all of her family and childhood friends during the course of the nazi occupation of Europe (she had a lucky escape because she happened to be studying to become a translator, and was in the UK spending a year learning English at the fateful moment).  Even with that personal connection, I don’t hold to the idea that the nazi atrocities are the worst on record, or that they embody a particular level of horror that has never been reproduced before or since.  But I do think that the stories of the nazi atrocities should be told and re-told, precisely because they provide such a clear demonstration of the dangers of intolerance.  It seems to me it would be far more effective to teach children ‘permanently necessary’ tolerance by talking about Anne Frank, or someone like her, than about some shadowy figure who, if he ever existed at all, has been so wrapped around with myth and superstition that it’s impossible to ever know who he was, or what he stood for.

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15 Responses to Aethelread’s alternative christmas message

  1. Alex says:

    >>There isn’t – and there never can be – any room to sit on the fence. Fence-sitters (or agnostics) are either people in the process of changing their minds, or they’re cowards.

    That’s a rather dangerous line of thought, don’t you think? I mean, not to put too fine a point on it, a lot of religionists use that same argument.
    Anyway, other than that I agree with everything you’ve said. I do think James has a point about it being important for non-Christians to have a basic knowledge of Christianity, just not for the reason he thinks he does. Less for any moral lessons, and more because Christianity has been an immensely influential force in world history and culture. Equally, you could extend that to Islam, Judaism and so on.
    (PS: While I’d hesitate to call myself a writer, per se, I have the disorganised work-space thing down to a T. An observation team from Porton Down is assigned to my house to make sure I don’t unleash some Lovecraftian horror by messing with the debris.)

  2. NiroZ says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnosticism
    Please look up agnosticism before you trash it. I’m not sure if it is just your depression or not, but you’ve got a nice black and white view there (all X are Y). What is problematic about that statement is that not all agnostics are undecided between christianity and atheism. Personally I’m agnostic because god is an unprovable entity, thus I believe it is better to live life as if god doesn’t exist, regardless of it he does or doesn’t. I don’t follow Clive James’s uncertainty over christianity, in fact, I agree with everything you say execept that agnostics are cowards. There is room to sit of the fence. Your going for the old fallacy of ‘your either with us or against us’. Aren’t people allowed to be unsure? Or even certain in that there are some things that will forever be uncertain?

  3. Mariah says:

    Some people don’t really care whether a god exists or not. Either way, he/she/it’s not affecting their life a whole lot as they’re living now, so why make a decision if you don’t see a point?

    A man’s called a traitor; or liberator
    A rich man’s a thief or philanthropist
    Is one a crusader? A ruthless invader?
    It’s all in which label
    Is able to persist

  4. aethelreadtheunread says:

    Thanks for the comments, and sorry for the offence i seem to have caused. This is a subject i feel very strongly about, and that was reflected in what i wrote – i do have basically uncompromising views on this subject (it’s one of the very few on which i do), but i could and should have taken more care not to be offensive.

    Alex – That’s a rather dangerous line of thought, don’t you think? I mean, not to put too fine a point on it, a lot of religionists use that same argument.

    Indeed they do. The thing is, though, I really do think that logic is on my side. My argument at that point was that, in the light of the total absence of any evidence whatsoever for the existence of god, the only rational course of action is to disbelieve. It is, of course, entirely possible to reject rationality, but once someone has taken the decision to reject rationality, they have, by definition, rejected it all. It is impossible to put forward an intellectually defensible case for being only a bit rational. People who do so are either confused, in the process of changing their minds, or concerned about what the posthumous consequences of being wrong might be. I absolutely stand by that (reworded, and hopefully now less offensive) statement.

    Christianity has been an immensely influential force in world history and culture. Equally, you could extend that to Islam, Judaism and so on.

    I would have absolutely no problem with christianity, or any other religion, being taught in those terms. In fact, i find all mythological systems, including those that are given the priveliged title of ‘religion,’ fascinating. But, as you point out, that’s not what Clive James was arguing for.

    While I’d hesitate to call myself a writer

    I wouldn’t hesitate to call you a writer. You are a writer, and a very good one, too. :o)

    NiroZ – I’m afraid i haven’t read the wikipedia article on agnosticism, or, as it happens, the ones on atheism or christianity either. That said, i do think I know a little something about all three of those subjects. I’m always glad to be corrected where i’ve made a mistake, but i don’t think this is one of those occasions. I hope you won’t mind if i point out what seem to me to be difficulties in your own argument.

    Personally I’m agnostic because god is an unprovable entity, thus I believe it is better to live life as if god doesn’t exist, regardless of it he does or doesn’t.

    I’m sorry, but, for me, it doesn’t work like that. The non-existence of god is is only unprovable because religionists have said that it is. If i spilled water over my shirt, someone watching could say that the undetectable aliens from the undetectable planet Zarg had used their undetectable Spill-o-Matic ray on me, and that’s what had caused me to spill my drink. I could never prove that wasn’t the case (they, their planet, and their technology are all undetectable), and following your logic it would be neccesary to adopt an ‘agnostic’ position on the issue. But that would clearly be nonsense.

    This is, i would suggest, an exact analogy for religious faith – the only difference is that the clearly nonsensical stories and theories in most religions were written down in a big book a long time ago. There is, as far as I am concerned, no reason to give any more credence to religious belief than there is any other crackpot theory.

    The whole point of the scientific method is that one does not invent outlandish but unprovable explanations for things and then say, ‘Well, you can’t prove me wrong, so maybe i’m right.’ Instead one looks at the evidence, and draws whatever conclusions are possible from the data. Following this method, there is no evidence for the existence of god, therefore one cannot draw the conclusion that god exists. As far as i can see, there is no intellectually defensible scope for agnosticism here.

    Aren’t people allowed to be unsure? Or even certain in that there are some things that will forever be uncertain?

    Of course they are ‘allowed.’ I would never presume to tell anyone what they should think. Everyone is entitled to believe whatever they want – that there are fairies at the bottom of their garden, that the moon is made of green cheese, that Jesus died and then came back to life. But i am also allowed to point out why i think they are wrong, and to set out my reasons for thinking as i do. That is all i did in this post, after all. I think agnostics are as profoundly misguided as religionists, but I haven’t forbidden them from thinking as they do.

    Mariah – why make a decision if you don’t see a point?

    I guess i would argue that everyone should see the point. It’s a bit like asking why should anyone except a historian be interested in what happened in the past. I think intellectual curiosity is a good thing, and that everyone should be encouraged to have it. If they don’t, there’s a danger that they’ll end up sitting passively by while bad things happen. A bit like some agnostics or cultural relativists might when they hear about women being abducted and forced to marry against their will, because self-determination for women runs against established religious custom in some countries: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/7787648.stm

  5. werehorse says:

    What do you consider would constitute evidence for the existence of god?

  6. Alex says:

    I wouldn’t call it causing offence, A. At least not from my point of view, anyway. This here is a lively exchange of views and a centre of healthy debate. =D

  7. I’m an atheist. For some reason, Christians seem to think that can interrogate me about it in public at will, while taking offence at my asking them the same questions in return. (Irish ones that is). I have been given endless crap over my atheism over the years. So I have a major chip on my shoulder about it and can manage a nice line in verbal abuse for anyone who tells me Christianity is superior to, say, buddhism (buddhists at least don’t try to make others reach enlightenment, although they can be rather smug, the white variety at leat). So yeah, whenever anyone says “you can’t say for God’s sake if you’re an atheist” I tell them that I will substitute Richard Dawkins if they prefer and they usually shut up.
    I mean, I never have a go at Christians, or indeed anyone else, about their religious views, it’s always them that invite themselves on to my front lawn…

  8. One exception: when the Jehovah’s Witnesses come round or any such other bible bashing group. I lie and tell them we’re all practicing Roman Catholics in the household, because then they leave you alone.

  9. Sam Fountain says:

    Wow! Excellent thinking that omits some reality. As a writer of Christian thought, JESUS, A MAN FOR ALL TIME (www.eloquentbooks.com/JesusAManForAllTime.html), I completely agree with the idea that Jesus, the man, cannot be found amid the myth it is buried in. Of course, many Christian thinkers have believed this since the writing of Rudolf Bultmann (KERYGMA AND MYTH) during the early Twentieth Century. This is not new.

    However, you fail to acknowledge the flaw in rational thought. John Stuart Mills destroyed this concept in his essay, “Anti-Intellectualism.” Again, early in the Twentieth Century.

    Humans are not rational for we are filled with emotions that corrupt pure thought with anger, disdain, pain, joy, angst, egoism and just about any other human conceit.

    Faith, at its best, embraces our emotions and the human psychology behind the facade of rationality. To push faith, Christianity and all others, aside, you must first deal with the humanity behind or within the brain.

    Humans are not robotic automatons, but emotional people who sometime are rational thoughts.

  10. NiroZ says:

    aethelreadtheunread
    By suggesting that you read the wikipedia page, what I wanted to get across was that there are many different types of agnostics. To call them all cowards, when they range from practically (like me)atheism to practically religious, is like calling all christians irrational. Some people, particularly in the third world, may have perfectly rational reason to believe. Coincidence can often leave people with profoundly convincing evidence for that person to believe also.

    Can you point out exactly why I am a coward?

    “Following this method, there is no evidence for the existence of god, therefore one cannot draw the conclusion that god exists. As far as i can see, there is no intellectually defensible scope for agnosticism here.”
    I’m pretty damn sure that there are people who claim to find evidence of god all the time, even with the scientific method. There are plenty of theories and hypotheses which for a long time don’t have any scientific method backing them up. But every now and again, one of them is proven right (I can give you a specific example if you want). You can’t claim that because there is no evidence for something you should not believe in it. If I recall correctly, there is a function in maths (something to do with geometry) that nobody has been able to prove, but by large inferential evidence, they have come to assume it anyway.

    Sam Fountain.
    Then how come people are predictably irrational and emotional? You can rationalise it. Just because man is naturally irrational, doesn’t mean he can’t establish a rational system. Christianity enhances man’s irrationality in a good and a bad way. Just look at the child witch epidemic in africa. One of the reasons I stick to reason is that I have a chance of going into psychosis. The more reason I stick to, the better. In fact, the evidence is psychology is increasingly pointing to us being robotic automations.

  11. aethelreadtheunread says:

    Thanks for the extra comments.

    werehorse – i would consider as evidence for the existence of god verifiable, repeatable evidence of things being done that could only be done by god, and cannot be explained in any other way. So, for example, the bringing back to life, under laboratory conditions, of people who’ve been dead for, let’s say, 20 years. No human could achieve that, but it would be simplicity itself for god. It’s a notable feature of most of the ‘miracles’ that get hailed by some as proof of the existence of god that they’re either not at all miraculous, or they fail to materialise when they’re put under scientific observation.

    Alex – Thank you! Healthy debate is good, but i was concerned that i had moved beyond that into causing offence. In fact, it looks as though i still have a little fence-mending to do on that score with NiroZ, which i’ll be getting to in due course.

    DD R – for some reason, i never seem to be plagued by missionaries. I think it’s because i’ve trained myself to not observe the social nicities in any way with them – i just tell them to fuck off as agressively as i can and walk away/ shut the door. But i must also have been lucky, because some famously don’t take no for an answer. I was told by somebody once that threatening them with a private prosecution for breach of the peace is a good way of making them stop, but i’m not sure he was speaking from experience.

    Sam Fountain – thanks for saying nice things about my thinking. My reply to you is basically going to cover the same ground as MiroZ does above, so i’ll try to keep this brief, if that’s ok. Human beings certainly are irrational, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t struggle towards rationality. In most fields (pretty much all of them, except personal relationships), rationality represents the best of us. For example, our justice system is designed to achieve a balanced appraisal of the evidence and the handing down of an appropriate punishment, not just to satisfy the irrational (and so very human) desire of the victim for revenge. As somebody (i’m afraid i can’t remember who) said, we are all of us lost in the darkness – but some of us are looking for the lightswitch.

    NiroZ – I wouldn’t call you a coward. In my last comment, i reworded that statement (although not in the part that was directly addressed to you, so i don’t know if you read it) to say that i would describe agnostics as being in the process of changing their minds, confused, or concerned about the posthumous consequences of being wrong. I don’t know you, so i can’t say which category you fall into, or even whether you fall into any of them at all, but i do think almost all agnostics would fall into one of them.

    I’m pretty damn sure that there are people who claim to find evidence of god all the time, even with the scientific method.

    There certainly are. The key word in your sentence is, for me, ‘claim.’ The evidence they claim to find is either entirely invented, or unreliably obtained, or misinterpreted. They find no actual proof, or at least, they haven’t done so far.

    There are plenty of theories and hypotheses which for a long time don’t have any scientific method backing them up. But every now and again, one of them is proven right (I can give you a specific example if you want).

    I’m sure there are. Co-incidences happen all the time. In the same way that thinking about someone just before they phone me out of the blue doesn’t convince me i’m psychic, the fact that a long-held idea is occasionally proved right doesn’t convince me that it’s the correct way to approach thinking about the world.

    Can i also ask, are you absolutely sure that the specific example you allude to wasn’t actually a first attempt at a rational hypothesis, albeit one based on incomplete data? That’s a very different thing to inventing a wholly irrational idea and then finding that it turns out to be true. Obviously i can’t be sure what geometrical operation you’re referring to later in your paragraph, but i would very strongly suspect that it’s an example of exactly that – i.e., it’s a best guess based on the currently available evidence (even if that evidence is only indirect), and not a completely wild stab in the dark.

    Even if some of them are, coincidentally, proved to be correct, the overwhelming majority of ‘wild stab in the dark’ hypotheses will be proved wrong. For me, that means that the only rational way to proceed is to look at the available evidence and draw conclusions from it. None of the evidence yet encountered leads to religious faith (the existence of god has never been the most likely explanation for anything), and that’s why, personally, i see no intellectually defensible grounds for agnosticism – there’s no reason to say god exists, but there’s also no reason to say god might exist.

    Some people, particularly in the third world, may have perfectly rational reason to believe. Coincidence can often leave people with profoundly convincing evidence for that person to believe also.

    For me, rationalism is an absolute. Something is either rational, or it isn’t. So, something may seem to be a rational reason to believe in god, but the operative word there is ‘seem.’ I would say it’s simillar to the way that, standing on the surface of the earth, the sun appears to orbit the earth. To the people making the claim, the idea that the sun orbits the earth might seem wholly rational – it’s based on direct observation – but it isn’t correct, and the appearance of rationality is false.

    This is, i would say, exactly the situation that applies with coincidence. To anyone experiencing one, a coincidence seems to offer powerful evidence that something weird is going on. Actually, of course, it would be the total absence of coincidence that would mean something weird was happening. For my money, a coincidence offers rational evidence for a coincidence having occurred, but can’t be used as evidence for anything else.

    One of the reasons I stick to reason is that I have a chance of going into psychosis. The more reason I stick to, the better.

    This is pretty much what lies behind my insistence on rationality, too (although i’ve been lucky enough to avoid full-on psychosis, so far, at any rate). It’s also what can make me a little short-tempered with what seems to me to be irrationality in others. I try to train myself out of it, but i don’t always succeed, and i’m genuinely sorry that i didn’t manage it in this case. (I hope i’ve been doing better in these comments.)

  12. NiroZ says:

    Ok, now I think I’m supposed to be confused. But the definition I think you want to use is that you think they they haven’t fully explored everything.

    Hmm. Ok, your making a very subjective claim when it comes to the evidence concerning god. And the bar you raise for the proof of god is very high. however, my bar is higher and lower. Nothing short of the appearance of god himself would convince me he definately existed. But all it would take to convince me of the supernatural would be a skeptic approved experiment showing it as such.

    But we still have the problem of interpretation when it comes to the evidence of a god. For some, the inablity to explain something is the proof of god, as I’ve no doubt you’ve seen in a million creationist arguments. Your standard of having god be the most rational explanation is a bit open to interpretation, as I don’t know what such a case would be for you.

    “For me, rationalism is an absolute”
    Ok, black and white thinking again.
    There is no definate way things are, only the way we experience things. For me, it is perfectly rational for a caveman to think the sun orbits the earth, and perfectly irrational for a modern day scientist to believe the same thing.

    I’ve never had full on psychosis either. But I have had half psychosis many times. I find that it is particularly useful when you start hearing sounds which aren’t actually there. Someone needs to make a study one of these days and see if criticial thinking helps against psychosis.

    “co-incidences”
    Well, i’ll explain the study, since it is rather interesting anyway. A while ago, someone hypothesised that signs of law-breaking encourage larger, more serious law breaking. For example, griffiti on a wall making it more likely that someone might be mugged in the area. People were inspired by the idea, and thus decided to organise huge cleanups of rubbish, griffiti, and taking more seriously petty crime. As far as I know, there was no evidence to support this claim, until this year when someone tested out conformity with some petty rules, when other petty rules appeared broken.

    So just because it is rare, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. For all I know, the theory that there is a god of some discription may be right, may be wrong, and if there is no god, then nothing would change for me.

    Yeah, your doing far better in the comments. The way you talked in your post left me wondering if I should check back on your reply to my comments.

  13. aethelreadtheunread says:

    Thanks for the comment, NiroZ.

    But the definition I think you want to use is that you think they they haven’t fully explored everything.

    Strangely enough, i wanted to use precisely the definition that i did use. We will get on rather better if you avoid putting words into my mouth.

    People who ‘haven’t fully explored everything’ i would describe as being in the process of changing their minds. Confused people are people who have misunderstood or misinterpreted the evidence, possibly though no fault of their own (they may have been misled by others, for example). You are not ‘supposed to be confused’ as far as i’m concerned. I repeat: i don’t know you, so i can’t say which category – if any of them – you fit into. I hope i’ve managed to make that clear this time around – i wouldn’t want you to feel offended on the basis that you think i’ve said something about you that i haven’t.

    the bar you raise for the proof of god is very high.

    No it isn’t. The bar is set at the absolute minimum level – something occuring which could only occur through the action of god. Everything is possible for god, so no ‘impossible’ task is any more difficult to achieve than any other. It’s exactly the same standard of proof set by the gospels – that’s why there’s all that talk of miracles. The only difference is that i would insist on the miracles occuring under laboratory conditions, so that we could be certain things hadn’t been faked. That would actually mean that they were taking place in a ‘sceptic approved experiment,’ which for some reason you seem to think is a lower standard of proof than i have set.

    There is no definate way things are, only the way we experience things.

    No. I profoundly disagree with you here, to the extent that i will actually insist that you are wrong. The whole point of the conclusions reached by science (which is the rational system par excellence) is that they are a series of statements about the the universe that are verifiably true. (There’s also a secondary set of hypotheses that are, on the basis of the avilable evidence, likely to be true, but are not currently certain). The whole thing exists precisely in order to do away with the problem of subjective perception (which is what i think you mean by ‘how we experience things’).

    If i step outside and say, ‘Oh, it’s cold,’ that’s subjective. If i use a correctly calibrated thermometer and say its -6 degrees celsius, that’s not subjective – i could use an infinite number of correctly calibrated thermometers and they would all record the same result. My personal experience of the temperature (which is subjective) has been rendered obsolete by using a mechanical device that is not subject to the vagaries of perception. Science approaches (or should approach) everything – from the temperature outside, to the question of whether it is neccesary to hypothesise the existence of god – in the same way. My temperature example is very simplistic, but the same principles apply to everything (except concepts like beauty, which have no existence outside subjective perception).

    For me, it is perfectly rational for a caveman to think the sun orbits the earth, and perfectly irrational for a modern day scientist to believe the same thing.

    It’s perfectly understandable for the caveman to think as he does, certainly, but he is only being rational in his own eyes. From the more complete vantage point of the 21st century scientist, he’s reaching a false conclusion on the basis of incomplete data. No blame attaches to the caveman for thinking as he does, but his conclusion is still irrational, in the sense that it only appears to him that it flows rationally from the data. What looks like rationality to him is actually only an artefact of perception.

    Someone needs to make a study one of these days and see if criticial thinking helps against psychosis.

    Yes. I have a sneaking feeling that it may just make me bad-tempered and irritable – and still psychotic… ;o)

    So just because it is rare, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. For all I know, the theory that there is a god of some discription may be right, may be wrong

    We’re actually in agreement here (hooray!). Coincidences unquestionably do happen. We only start to disagree because i would go on to say that it’s nonsensical to treat every irrational statement as potentially true on the grounds that it might turn out to be one of those rare occasions when it coincidentally happens to be. For me, the only rational approach is to treat as false everything that cannot be proven; as hypothetical everything which can be part-proven; and as true anything which can be entirely proven. The existence of god cannot be wholly or partly proven, so, for me, it goes in the false category. Like everything else, it can potentially move out of its category at any time – but only when the evidence changes.

    Yeah, your doing far better in the comments. The way you talked in your post left me wondering if I should check back on your reply to my comments.

    I’m glad if i’m doing better, and, again, i’m sorry about the times when i was doing less well.

  14. NiroZ says:

    One of the way’s I understand people is by putting words in their mouth and seeing how accurate they are. But I can understand your objection to it.

    Yes, you could say that it’s -6 degrees celsius. But you could also argue that it’s 21.2 degrees Fahrenheit. And regardless, -6 degrees in england is means different things to you to -6 degrees in australia, or -6 degrees in antartica. Sure, there is an objective status to everything, but our own subjective experiences derive off that and mean different things.

    (hooray!)
    I guess your right regarding god, although thats something I ought to lookup for myself. I still prefer to call myself agnostic, however, as there are atheists who I don’t feel comfortable associating with (not famous ones, just people that I know). It also makes me more moderate and open minded. I think, anyway.

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