John Loftus, probabilities and the Outsider Test of Faith

John Loftus is a former fundamentalist who has become an outspoken opponent of Christianity which he desires to debunk.

He has created what he calls the “Outsider Test of Faith” which he described as follows:

“This whole inside/outside perspective is quite a dilemma and prompts me to propose and argue on behalf of the OTF, the result of which makes the presumption of skepticism the preferred stance when approaching any religious faith, especially one’s own. The outsider test is simply a challenge to test one’s own religious faith with the presumption of skepticism, as an outsider. It calls upon believers to “Test or examine your religious beliefs as if you were outsiders with the same presumption of skepticism you use to test or examine other religious beliefs.” Its presumption is that when examining any set of religious beliefs skepticism is warranted, since the odds are good that the particular set of religious beliefs you have adopted is wrong.”

But why are the odds very low (instead of unknown) to begin with? His reasoning seems to be as follows:

1) Before we start our investigation, we should consider each religion to possess the same likelihood.

2) Thus if there are (say) N = 70000 religions, the prior probality of a religion being true is 1/70000 p(R), p(R) being the total probability of a religious worldview being true.

(I could not find a writing of Loftus explicitly saying that but it seems to be what he means. However I could find one of the supporters of the OST taking that line of reasoning).

 

Objective Bayesianism and the principle of indifference

 

This is actually a straightforward application of the principle of indifference followed by objective Bayesians:

In completely unknown situations, every rational agent should assign the same probability to all outcomes or theory he is aware of.

While this principle can seem pretty intuitive to many people, it is highly problematic.

In the prestigious Standford Encyclopedia of philosophy, one can read in the article about Bayesian epistemology :

“it is generally agreed by both objectivists and subjectivists that ignorance alone cannot be the basis for assigning prior probabilities.”

To illustrate the problem,  I concocted the following story.

Once upon a time, king Lothar of Lorraine had 1000 treasures he wanted to share with his people. He disposed of 50000 red balls and 50000 white balls.

Frederic the Knight (the hero of my trilingual Christmas tale) has to choose one of those in the hope he would get one of the“goldenen Wundern”.

On Monday, Lothar distributes his treasures in a perfectly random fashion.
Frederic knows that the probability of finding the treasure in a red or in a white ball is the same: p(r) = p(w) = 0.5

On Tuesday, the great king puts 10% of the treasure within red balls and 90% within white ones.

Frederic  knows that the probabilities are   p(r) = 0.10   and    p(w) = 0.90

On Wednesday, the sovereign lord of Lorraine puts 67% of the treasures in red balls and 33% in white ones.

Frederic knows that the probabilities are p(r) = 0.67 and p(w) = 0.33

On Thursday, Frederic does not know what the wise king did with his treasure. He could have distributed them in the same way he did during one of the previous days but also have chosen a completely different method.

Therefore Frederic does not know the probabilities;   p(r) = ?  and p(w) = ?

According to the principle of indifference, Fred would be irrational because he ought to believe that p(r) = 0.5 and p(w) = 0.5 on the grounds it is an unknown situation.

This is an extremely strong claim and I could not find in the literature any hint why Frederic would be irrational by accepting his ignorance of the probabilities.

Actually, I believe that quite the contrary is the case.

If the principle of indifference were true, Fred should reason like this:

“I know that on Monday my Lord mixed the treasures randomly so that p(r) = p(w) = 0.5
I know that on Tuesday He distributed 10% in the white ones and 90% in the red ones so that p(w) = 0.10 and p(r) = 0.90
I know that on Wednesday He distributed 67% in the white ones and 33% in the red ones so that p(w) = 0.67 and p(r) = 0.33
AND
I know absolutely nothing what He did on Thursday, therefore I know tthat the probabilities are p(r) = p(w) = 0.5 exactly like on Monday. “

Now I think that this seems intuitively silly and even absurd to many people. There seems to be just no way how one can transform an utter ignorance into a specific knowledge.

Degrees of belief of a rational agent

More moderate Bayesians will probably agree with me that it is misguided to speak of a knowledge of probabilities in the fourth case. Nevertheless they might insist he should have the same confidence that the treasure is in a white ball as in a red one.

I’m afraid this changes nothing to the problem. On Monday Fred has a perfect warrant for feeling the same confidence.
How can he have the same confidence on Thursday if he knows absolutely nothing about the distribution?

So Frederic would be perfectly rational in believing that he does not know the probabilities p(r) = ? and p(w) = ?

Likewise, an alien having just landed on earth would be perfectly rational not to know the initial likelihood of the religions:
p(Christianity) = ?     p(Islam) = ?     p(Mormonism) = ? and so on and so forth.

But there is an additional problem here.

The proposition “the religion x is true one” is not related to any event and it is doubted by non-Bayesian (and moderate Bayesian) philosophers that is warranted to speak of probabilities in such a situation.

Either x is true or false and this cannot be related to any kind of frequency.

The great science philosopher Elliot Sobert (who is sympathetic to Bayesian epistemology) wrote this about the probability of a theory BEFORE any data has been taken into account:

Newton’s universal law of gravitation, when suitably supplemented with plausible background assumptions, can be said to confer probabilities on observations. But what does it mean to say that the law has a probability in the light of those observations? More puzzling still is the idea that it has a probability before any observations are taken into account. If God chose the laws of nature by drawing slips of paper from an urn, it would make sense to say that Newton’s law has an objective prior. But no one believes this process model, and nothing similar seems remotely plausible.”

He rightly reminds us t the beginning of his article that “it is not inevitable that all propositions should have probabilities. That depends on what one means by probability, a point to which I’ll return. The claim that all propositions have probabilities is a philosophical doctrine, not a theorem of mathematics.” l

So, it would be perfectly warranted for the alien to either confess his ignorance of the prior likelihoods of the various religions or perhaps even consider that these prior probabilities do not exist, as Elliot Sober did with the theory of gravitation.

In future posts, I will lay out a non-Bayesian way to evaluate the goodness of theory which only depends on the set of all known facts and don’t assume the existence of a prior probability before any data has been considered.

As we shall see, many of the probabilistic challenges of Dr. Richard Carrier against Christianity kind of dissolves if one drops the assertion that all propositions have objective prior probabilities.

To conclude, I think I have shown in this post that the probabilistic defense of the Outsider Test of Faith is unsound and depends on very questionable assumptions.

I have not, however, showed at all that the OST is flawed for it might very well be successfully defended based on pragmatic grounds. This will be the topic of future conversations.

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115 thoughts on “John Loftus, probabilities and the Outsider Test of Faith

  1. Good post. On a side note, I think Loftus’ OTF–even if it were completely valid–would only apply to those with a very “all or nothing” fundamentalist mindset. That is to say, it would not hold much weight for those who are religious pluralists–not in the sense of most religions all being true, which is not possible, but regarding the ability of each religion to put us in communion with the divine. That is, I need not see any reason to reject Islam wholesale if I see that it still turns the hearts and minds of its adherents toward God almighty. Might Muslims have some incorrect theology? Sure, but with thousands of Christian denominations it’s hard not to conclude that some of our theology is invalid as well.

    With this mindset I see no need to utilize the OTF, since I view it as based on a purely adolescent religious mindset. Things aren’t as black and white as Loftus supposes.

    • @ Steven Jake

      “it’s hard not to conclude that some of our theology is invalid as well.”

      ok, great.

      may i ask then how do we determine which of your theology is invalid?

      and, how do we arrive at those validations?

      cheers

      • Well, I would argue that there is no objective method for determining such a thing. An individual can only look at the evidence and deduce the beliefs he feels are warranted. As Jesus said, we must judge for ourselves what is good.

        Moreover, one’s theology depends a large part on which authorities one adheres to. This is why, for example, protestants and catholics have such different doctrinal committments.

      • thanks for the answer SJ.

        ok, i am persuaded that perhaps we may not have an objective method, given that it appears that none of us may be objective about any thing. nonetheless, is there no method by which we may come to common understandings? is there no means available to us to evaluate claims about any thing made by any one person?

        if indeed we do not have a method, then perhaps we could sit, discuss, use our reason, try to see it from each others perspectives, and, agree on some method by which to come to common understandings. it may not be easy, but, it may be doable, no?

        after all, “a rule of law,” in some respects, is a method by which we agree to come to, accept, and be guided by common understandings, methinks.

      • Sorry for taking so long to answer, I’ve been extremely busy.

        To answer your question, I would say that in principle it would be ideal for us to come together and formulate some type of method. But whether this can be done in practice is another issue. Such a method would traverse areas such as epistemology, ontology, and a large part of disagreement would stem from one’s metaphysical presuppositions.

      • SJ,

        muchas gracias.

        i agree it may be an ideal, and as such, perhaps almost impossible. but, Arafat and Sharon eventually had a dialogue, right. so, it is possible that with all those hurdles you detail we could figure something out.

        may i reiterate that generally we live by a rule of law. and, in accepting the rule of law, i think in some respects we have something of a model of a possible option.

  2. Hi Lothar,

    I agree with the theorists’ first point that ‘Before we start our investigation, we should consider each religion to possess the same likelihood.’ But I don’t see the point of quantifying levels of likelihood; I think the odds are unknown, rather than very low, at the start.

    In determining whether to accept a religion as true (not the only truth), I think one should begin with a neutral approach and seek compelling reasons to embrace, or not embrace, that religion’s perspective. For additional research, one should investigate additional religious views in the same way and follow the ‘truth’ wherever it seems to go.

    Thanks for your post; your engagement of this issue is important since it is answers a challenge put forth against Christianity (or any specific religion).

    • @ jesuswithoutbaggage

      “In determining whether to accept a religion as true (not the only truth), I think one should begin with a neutral approach and seek compelling reasons to embrace, or not embrace, that religion’s perspective. For additional research, one should investigate additional religious views in the same way and follow the ‘truth’ wherever it seems to go.”

      i see you have more or less answered my query above. i think that’s a reasonable approach; though, i should prefer rather than seek reasons to embrace, perhaps just evaluate the claims as laid out.

      am curious as to why one may seek reasons to embrace? does one need to embrace a religion?

      • Xon, I think my words seek compelling reasons to embrace, or not embrace, that religion’s perspective and your words just evaluate the claims as laid out are really saying the same thing.

        I don’t think anyone NEEDS to embrace a religion, but the approach of seeking compelling reasons to embrace or not embrace applies to any system of thought, including agnosticism, atheism, or anti-theism. It also applies to political views, philosophical views, or any other views.

      • jwb, you might have observed that i ask questions a lot here. i mentioned to lotharson before, most if not all of us tend to assert things, make statements, and generally auume certain things that may or may not be understood similarly by one’s audience–i do too.

        eg. lotharson loves to use adverbs in front of his nouns, adjectives and verbs, i suppose, as a means to give them force?

        “If so, it seems to be based on a fallacy, for it is perfectly possible for a rational agent landing on earth to view these values as unknown.”

        and, as you wrote in your post to which i asked about needing a religion: from my reading, it appears that you take it for granted that one should seek to understand in order to embrace a religion. this is understood, since you state it from your perspective, whereby, perhaps for you a religion is needed–i’m not saying it is the case, ok. but, from my perspective, religion is neither here nor there; thus, i asked in order that you be aware that perhaps not all of us see religion as a necessity.

        and crude: “Where are you getting the idea that criticism of homosexual behavior – even discouragement of it, even oppression of homosexuals – is ‘Christian’, particularly in a historical sense?”

        i do not need to point it out here, do i?

        i hope i’m being clear on what i intend to communicate.

      • Xon,

        religion is neither here nor there; thus, i asked in order that you be aware that perhaps not all of us see religion as a necessity.

        It does not bother me that some people think religion is unimportant or necessary. I don’t blog to convince people to consider or accept my perspective on religion; I blog to provide support and assistance to those who are on a journey and have questions of me–especially those coming from controlling or legalistic backgrounds.

      • How can you say this, when you keep pointing out that a person’s relationship with Jesus isn’t what is meant by the English word ‘relationship’, because Jesus does not exist?

        I never said or implied this. I said that whether Jesus exists or not, you don´t have a relationship with him.

        And you know that Jesus doesn’t exist because if he did, you would at least have had the option to ‘meet’ him, where ‘meet’ means “encounter another mind such that the beginning of a relationship is possible”.

        I never said or implied this. I said that if you had a relationship with him, you could introduce me to him.

        How is this a response? Do you or do you not hold (2)?

        Not relevant for the subject, I´ll grant you that your God exists for the sake of the argument – you still don´t have a relationship with him.

        You believe something more than this, because you complained about the diversity of interpretations. We encounter plenty of sense-data which are ambiguous, but for some reason you want the experience of Jesus to be unambiguous; what do you mean by this and why do you hold that? You seem awfully close to the position that if Jesus existed, he would reveal himself in an unamibiguous way, ergo Jesus does not exist. Alternatively—and I see this as a largely irrelevant distinction: if Jesus [existed and] had relationships with human beings, then he would have those relationships in unambiguous ways, such that the resultant ‘interpretations’ (or reports of said relationship?) would be ‘unambiguous’. Let me try to be less clumsy: if people really had relationships with Jesus, their reports of said relationship would be much more coherent. Do you believe this?

        If Jesus would be imaginary, then people would simply cherry pick the stories about him that they like (if Jesus is imaginary, he obviously can´t correct them when they do that) and project whatever they believe anyway for other reasons on him. And that´s exactly what happens, people create god in their own image.

        I repeatedly run into complaints by atheists and skeptics that there are just too many ways to interpret the Bible. I don’t know why, but I often find it extraordinarily hard to tease out exactly what the true nature of the complaint is. There are many ways to interpret reality; why would we expect the ways we interpret God to be different?

        The Bible can be cherry picked to support every conceivable position and it´s negation and whatever Gods the Bible talks about, whether they exist or not, never interact with anyone to tell him or her which one, if any, of those interpretations is true, and you seem to believe that that is not a bug, it´s a feature.

        Surely you know that sometimes one person will very badly understand another, while simultaneously, said misunderstood person is well-understood by other people.

        You can ask me if you understood me correctly. You could ask Jesus as well, but he will not answer. The reason for that is the lack of something that starts with ‘r’ and ends with “ship”.

        Your claim is predicated upon the fact that I cannot “*demonstrate*” said relationship to you, and you have said that the only way I could “*demonstrate*” said relationship is to introduce Jesus to you such that you could have a chat with him. And you refuse to accept that perhaps you believe things and/or refuse to believe things that would impede your ability to have a chat with him. Hence the “on your terms”.

        You already admitted that you don´t have a relationship with Jesus for the english sense of the word “relationship” instead of the christianese one. And for the christianese meaning of the word, I do have a “relationship with Jesus” (as if it were possible not to have one) – we have the exact same “ability to have a chat with him”.
        You really should think about why you have been conditioned to insist adamantly on having a “relationship with Jesus” although you know perfectly well that you have nothing like that, and why your first reaction when someone points out the obvious fact that you don´t have one, is insinuating that there is something wrong with them. This is cult behavior.

        No, it really isn’t. Your epistemology isn’t the only one; your universal prior isn’t the only one; your plausibility framework isn’t the only one; the only one which allows people to successfully navigate reality, enjoying life and understanding how particles, fields, and minds work better and better. Observations aren’t data until they are filtered through an interpretive framework. Observations come from our extrospective senses as well as our introspective senses. We access all of our senses “through a glass, dimly”. But that access is good enough to better and better model, predict, and desirably alter our experiences.

        Good, then I have proven that I am a wizard, because I am able to eat burgers.

        There is no such thing as ‘evidence’ apart from an interpretive framework. Logical Positivism failed.

        Now you are reduced to using YEC arguments.
        If you are a defense lawyer and your client is accused of being a murderer, and the prosecution presents dozens of pieces of evidence – everything from the fingerprints of your clients on the murder weapon, tissue samples under the fingernails of the victim that can be DNA matched to your client, eye witnesses that claim to have seen your client leaving the crime scence in a hurry and so on and so forth ad nauseam – you COULD reply by saying “there is no such thing as evidence without an interpretive framework, and seen through my framework, all this evidence points at Santa being the murderer”. You *could* say that (and it would even have a kernel of truth!), it would still be rather silly, to put it at its mildest.

        I have demonstrated that Yahweh never wanted a subset of the Israelites to be prophets; he wanted every single person to be in relationship with him. Christianity holds that this state-change has happened. So I shall rephrase your question to what persons seem to have received new revelation about who God is or what he wants. In human-human relationships the human can misunderstand; I hold the same is the case with human-God relationships. Perfect communication is not required for increasing accuracy.

        Prove that your “communication” in your “relationship” with Jesus is more accurate than my “communication” in my “relationship” with Jesus.

        One of my friends is the closest to what you are asking for; he is someone who most Christians would consider to be ‘broken’ or ‘wrong’, if they would even consider him to be a Christian in the first place. If anyone has gone to the Bible with virtually no theological baggage, it is he. He has pointed out that the emotional conception of God in many theologies is outright toxic; if Christians are to become like God, those Christians become toxic. Perhaps what he most focuses on, though, is what is required for this kind of unity. I don’t think you’d let either of these qualify as divine revelation, though. After all, in a sense they are both ‘mundane’. My response is that this makes all of the problems in the world ‘mundane’, thereby devaluing the word.

        Well, if “divine revelations” actually means “getting some unorthodox ideas after reading a book”, then I guess I will become a “prophet” as well, seems to be very straightforward.

        There is no empirical way to determine whether the other being is imaginary or real.

        You could be institutionalized for saying stuff like this.

        All you can say is “If I assume the other being is real, I am better able to navigate reality.”

        Sure, you have no empirical evidence whatsoever that your wife is real – none whatsoever – you just “assume” that she is real because it allows you to “better navigate reality”. Tell her that. Or better – don´t (seriously, you could be institutionalized for saying stuff like this).

        I remain fascinated that you are so opposed to allowing that people might have relationships with Jesus according to the normal English word ‘relationship’,

        Every single time I inquire, the result is the same – christians first try to distract from the fact that they don´t have a relationship with Jesus by insinuating that there is something wrong with me (like you already did), then they admit that they don´t have a “relationship” with Jesus using the english meaning of the word (like you also already did) and then try to rationalize this admission away somehow (like you are doing right now).

        instead of merely asking for whether the typical results of English-word-relationships also manifest in Jesus-relationships. Instead of saying, “Jesus says that being in relationship with him will change you; where’s the change?”, you just want to deny that the relationship is evident

        Lets see… MLK, Gandhi, Vasili Arkhipov, Sophie Scholl, Gustav Heinemann – just five examples of dead people I have a “relationship” with (christianese meaning, not english one obviously).

        • I never said or implied this. I said that whether Jesus exists or not, you don´t have a relationship with him.

          Given that you’ve talked to me about the issue, I see little difference between what I said and what you’ve just said here. I’m not particularly interested in the game of “well God could exist and just not interact with people in any detectable way”; the difference between that and God not existing is utterly nil when it comes to how we should then act.

          And that´s exactly what happens, people create god in their own image.

          I do not debate that some people do this. I question the claim—if you’re making it—that all people who believe in a god do this.

          The Bible can be cherry picked to support every conceivable position and it´s negation and whatever Gods the Bible talks about, whether they exist or not, never interact with anyone to tell him or her which one, if any, of those interpretations is true, and you seem to believe that that is not a bug, it´s a feature.

          The same is probably true with Shakespeare; what’s the point? In statements like yours, there seem to be buried presuppositions, that say “God wouldn’t do it this way”—and why. For example: “An omni-god wouldn’t allow himself to be misinterpreted.” And yet such presuppositions are never defended. This is frustrating, because it’s often at the presuppositions that things are most interesting.

          You could ask Jesus as well, but he will not answer.

          And if I say I’ve had him correct me as I was going about my day, you’ll claim that I made it up, that it was just my brain processing the various input it’s receiving, or even mulling over previous experiences, trying to make sense of them. It’s a no-win scenario, unless I satisfy the requirement that I be able to introduce you to Jesus and you be able to chat with him, with all your current beliefs in-place as you do. That is, if Jesus existed according to any of the widely accepted conceptions of him, he would necessarily come to you on your own terms if I asked him to. This is a very stringent requirement. Plenty of normal people wouldn’t do it; plenty of people would only countenance a meet-up if they had some confidence that it would go somewhere in their interest.

          You already admitted that you don´t have a relationship with Jesus for the english sense of the word “relationship” instead of the christianese one.

          Where did I admit this? What I recall is that you concluded I did not have an English-relationship with Jesus because I cannot introduce him to you so you can have a chat with him.

          You really should think about why you have been conditioned to insist adamantly on having a “relationship with Jesus” although you know perfectly well that you have nothing like that, and why your first reaction when someone points out the obvious fact that you don´t have one, is insinuating that there is something wrong with them. This is cult behavior.

          Wrong? According to whom? Plenty of people wouldn’t want to even meet up with me and that doesn’t make them ‘wrong’.

          Now you are reduced to using YEC arguments.

          Seriously? You disagree with that? Do you think LP is still valid? Do you think that your beliefs don’t color what you observe in crucial ways? Take a read of Grossberg 1999 The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness; there is reason to believe that if we don’t have a concept that well-matches our observations, we don’t even become conscious of those observations.

          Your court room evidence example is facile; clearly not all interpretive frameworks allow one to navigate reality equally well. If you cannot manage to evaluate evidence in criminal cases sufficiently well, justice is impossible. Physicalism is not required in order to do this, nor is Logical Positivism.

          Prove that your “communication” in your “relationship” with Jesus is more accurate than my “communication” in my “relationship” with Jesus.

          You’d have to give me some data from your own experiences and what metric you want used for ‘more accurate’.

          You could be institutionalized for saying stuff like this.

          Seriously? Where, and by what regulations? It’s like you think the problem of other minds isn’t a serious philosophical issue.

      • Given that you’ve talked to me about the issue, I see little difference between what I said and what you’ve just said here. I’m not particularly interested in the game of “well God could exist and just not interact with people in any detectable way”; the difference between that and God not existing is utterly nil when it comes to how we should then act.

        Cool, but that´s your problem, not mine.

        I do not debate that some people do this. I question the claim—if you’re making it—that all people who believe in a god do this.

        You can question it but you cannot verify it for yourself or demonstrate it to others, for that, you´d need to have a relationship with such a god.

        The same is probably true with Shakespeare; what’s the point? In statements like yours, there seem to be buried presuppositions, that say “God wouldn’t do it this way”—and why. For example: “An omni-god wouldn’t allow himself to be misinterpreted.” And yet such presuppositions are never defended. This is frustrating, because it’s often at the presuppositions that things are most interesting.

        And I couldn´t care less about such presuppositions, making stuff up about gods gets boring.

        And if I say I’ve had him correct me as I was going about my day, you’ll claim that I made it up,

        No, I would ask you to clarify what “him correcting me” means. And then I would find out that “him correcting me” is again phrased in christianese and plenty of dead and imaginary people “corrected me” as well if one ignores the english meaning of these words and uses the christianese ones instead.

        It’s a no-win scenario, unless I satisfy the requirement that I be able to introduce you to Jesus and you be able to chat with him, with all your current beliefs in-place as you do. That is, if Jesus existed according to any of the widely accepted conceptions of him, he would necessarily come to you on your own terms if I asked him to.

        This “on your own terms” is the old “if you just open your heart to Jebus” game and we played it already. There is no such thing as “my own terms” in this context, I have just as much of an “ability to chat with Jesus” as you have and I have just as much of a “relationship” with Jesus as you have.

        Where did I admit this? What I recall is that you concluded I did not have an English-relationship with Jesus because I cannot introduce him to you so you can have a chat with him.

        You said:
        “If you are truly friends with someone, you literally give them some space in your brain. Now, you’re completely correct to say that I can give MLK brain-space, even to the point that I can simulate dialogs with him. You’ve been a bit of an ass in using insulting examples to show that I’ve posited a necessary but not sufficient condition, but I’ve probably annoyed you too, so whatever. As precisely as can be stated, what is it that makes my interaction with you a real ‘relationship’, whereas mere simulation isn’t? I think the problem of other minds should be taken quite seriously, here. Perhaps this is only another necessary condition, but a being other than me has to be able to modify that simulation. What else is required?”

        Wrong? According to whom? Plenty of people wouldn’t want to even meet up with me and that doesn’t make them ‘wrong’.

        You keep on pretending that the reason for why you can have a relationship with Jesus but I don´t, is that “I don´t share his desires” or “don´t want to become his disciple” or whatever. Which is bullshit – I have the exact same ability to “chat with Jesus” and “have a relationship with Jesus” as you have, there is no difference whatsoever.

        Your court room evidence example is facile; clearly not all interpretive frameworks allow one to navigate reality equally well. If you cannot manage to evaluate evidence in criminal cases sufficiently well, justice is impossible.

        Yeah, when it´s about real world examples like criminal justice – there is no epistemic anarchy and we suddenly all start agreeing on stuff. I like the real world.

        You’d have to give me some data from your own experiences and what metric you want used for ‘more accurate’.

        Based on my “relationship” with Jesus, I “simulate” Jesus as “saying” that he is sick and tired of people pretending to know him and even be his friends because they have imagined “conversations” with him. “Metric” for “more accurate” is “how likely is it that Jesus would say that if he were real”. Go.

        Seriously? Where, and by what regulations? It’s like you think the problem of other minds isn’t a serious philosophical issue.

        The next time you go to see a doctor, tell him that you have no empirical evidence that your wife is real but assuming that she is helps you to better navigate reality. You´ll see what I mean.

        • And I couldn´t care less about such presuppositions, making stuff up about gods gets boring.

          I know I know, it’s much more comfortable to not let them be questioned. I’m the one under examination after all, right?

          No, I would ask you to clarify what “him correcting me” means.

          A necessary condition would be me not just reading the Bible and re-thinking my simulation of Jesus, for you rightly pointed out that I could do the same thing for writings about MLK. Another necessary condition is it can’t just be me mulling over things and figuring out that I was wrong. It has to be actual thoughts which are inserted into my brain by Jesus and which change how I think of him, whether they be via reading or voice or telepathy or otherwise. But it would appear that I’d be in danger of being institutionalized at this point. Alas, I’m glad folks don’t listen to Boghossian on what he considers “public health issues”, at least for now.

          This “on your own terms” is the old “if you just open your heart to Jebus” game and we played it already. There is no such thing as “my own terms” in this context, I have just as much of an “ability to chat with Jesus” as you have and I have just as much of a “relationship” with Jesus as you have.

          You seem to define “have English-relationship” as being able to verbally spar more than being able to deeply understand. The former just requires sharing a language, an idea of what proper sparring is like, and enough conceptual overlap. The latter requires a lot more. You have to open your heart to anyone to have a deep relationship with him/her; Jebus ain’t special, here. I am somewhat amused by translating “if you just open your heart to Jebus” to “if you just mass-pretend along with the rest of us”.

          You said:

          That looks a lot more like me asking questions than admitting things.

          Yeah, when it´s about real world examples like criminal justice – there is no epistemic anarchy and we suddenly all start agreeing on stuff. I like the real world.

          I don’t know what you’re talking about wrt “epistemic anarchy”. Epistemic anarchy is not the sole alternative to epistemic tyranny. I object to epistemic tyranny, since it cannot be demonstrated that just that one epistemology is “the best”, by any measure other than its own a priori metrics. You can go ahead and claim that Christians abandon their faith when they do science, but you’d be insisting that you know what’s going on in their heads more than they do, which is a pretty arrogant thing to claim (if you were to claim it). I’m not sure how being a Christian will make you a worse CSI. This is like the reverse of “if you become an atheist you’ll have no morals”.

          Based on my “relationship” with Jesus, I “simulate” Jesus as “saying” that he is sick and tired of people pretending to know him and even be his friends because they have imagined “conversations” with him.

          Ahh, I agree. We must know the same person!

      • I know I know, it’s much more comfortable to not let them be questioned. I’m the one under examination after all, right?

        You come up with excuses, I take these excuses seriously and talk about what they would mean if they were true, and then you pretend that taking YOUR excuses seriously is equivalent to MY “presuppositions”.

        A necessary condition would be me not just reading the Bible and re-thinking my simulation of Jesus, for you rightly pointed out that I could do the same thing for writings about MLK. Another necessary condition is it can’t just be me mulling over things and figuring out that I was wrong. It has to be actual thoughts which are inserted into my brain by Jesus and which change how I think of him, whether they be via reading or voice or telepathy or otherwise.

        Yes, when you change your mind on something after reading about it, it is obviously “Jesus inserting thoughts in your brain”, but obviously only when you read about Jesus, because reasons. Again, if we apply this christianese definition of “relationship” to everything else, there are plenty of dead and imaginary beings that I have a “relationship” with.

        You seem to define “have English-relationship”…

        Not me, everyone. Including you. Unless it´s about Jesus, then we obviously have to apply a double standard.

        Ahh, I agree. We must know the same person!

        So you were just lying when you insisted that you have a relationship with Jesus?

        • You come up with excuses, I take these excuses seriously and talk about what they would mean if they were true, and then you pretend that taking YOUR excuses seriously is equivalent to MY “presuppositions”.

          What exactly do you mean by ‘excuse’? My current idea is an ad-hoc hypothesis, of the type which is generally looked down upon. I have yet to recognize a situation where your interpretation of my ‘excuse’ has entailed things which I did not think I entailed. I don’t see how I’m projecting any of my ‘excuses’ onto you as your won ‘presuppositions’, but I know I sometimes do this to other people, via thinking they were implying something which they weren’t.

          Yes, when you change your mind on something after reading about it, it is obviously “Jesus inserting thoughts in your brain”, but obviously only when you read about Jesus, because reasons.

          Did you miss the slightly awkwardly placed ‘not’?:

          A necessary condition would be me not just reading the Bible and re-thinking my simulation of Jesus

          (emphasis added)

          Not me, everyone. Including you.

          This may shock you, but I attribute my own lack of copious back-and-forth between me and Jesus to my own not-believing certain true things and believing certain false things. While I can point to something here and there which could plausibly be Jesus telepathically futzing with my brain, I will admit that it is (a) much less than in my deepest relationships; (b) explainable via other mechanisms which physicalists would vastly prefer.

          I do thank you for this discussion; I imagine it has been quite tedious for you. At this point I understand much more than I did going in. Before this discussion, a question I liked to ask people is whether the Bible can tell them they’re wrong. This does have linkage to whether one’s simulation of person X can be corrected. Too often, the answer is ‘no’, whether it’s Jesus or another human being. If your simulation of a person cannot be corrected, you’re not going to be able to have much of a relationship with the person, no matter how much ‘English-relationship’ is there.

          So you were just lying when you insisted that you have a relationship with Jesus?

          I was attempting a joke…

    • I basically agree.

      If I know nothing about the religions, I will consider their likelihood as unknown or undefined and start doing some research about them.

      Afterwards it is possible to compare the claims of the different religions with data of the real world and our moral intuitions.

      But it is obvious that at some point faith (which I define as hope in the face of insufficient evidence) has to come in.
      This is true for the Christian, Muslim and atheist alike.

      • @ lotharson

        “But it is obvious that at some point faith (which I define as hope in the face of insufficient evidence) has to come in.”

        by your definition of faith, i have to ask why shall anyone need to resort to this type of faith?

        if after research and the use of reason, perhaps one may not arrive at a conclusive understanding, how does this state obligate one to the faith as per your definition?

        are there no other options available?

        “This is true for the Christian, Muslim and atheist alike.”

        perhaps your atheist here is the atheist of your definition: one who claims there is no god, right. if it is this type of atheist, then perhaps.your assertion may be argued for.

        i do not claim that there is no god.

        how does one claim there is no thing?

        i do not have your faith.

      • Lothar, I would not use the word ‘faith’ because it is nebulous and also carries so much baggage. You have provided a definition of faith, but it doesn’t work for me (which doesn’t mean it isn’t valid).

        Even when one has investigated a truth-claim honestly and come to a conclusion, you are right that there is still some uncertainty, because if there were not then everyone would agree on the conclusion.

        We never have that level of certainly, but I think trusting the evidence after it is vetted (despite its insufficiency), and committing to it, is somewhat different than having ‘hope’ in the face of insufficiency. Hope is another word with a lot of baggage.

        In any case, I don’t think we ever come to the place where we can say, “Listen to me; I have the truth!’

      • “In any case, I don’t think we ever come to the place where we can say, ‘Listen to me; I have the truth!’”

        i was told a long time ago by a teacher–a pedagog–whom i respected a lot, that if anyone told you, “i have the truth,” then run away from that person as fast as you can.

        jwb, yes, the “baggage” that certain words carry is what i understand to leave those words to be “loaded.” being loaded, they tend to be not so precise, so we can stretch them a lot to mean what we say.

        you mentioned that “there is still some uncertainty, because if there were not then everyone would agree on the conclusion.”

        is there a means for us to work out this debacle, per se?

        • I think there are extremely many things which are uncertain.

          As we talked together, there is no way to prove it is unlikely we don’t live in a computer simulation without begging the question .

          This is why “faith” (as I defined it above) is warranted on purely pragmatic grounds.

          You and I will probably strongly disagree about the need for religious faith.

          But do you agree that “faith” (in general) is required for getting through life?

          Or can we live on the basis of things we know to be true beyond any reasonable doubt?

      • “I think there are extremely many things which are uncertain.”

        d’accord: even more than many.

        “As we talked together, there is no way to prove it is unlikely we don’t live in a computer simulation without begging the question.”

        d’accordo.

        “This is why “faith” (as I defined it above) is warranted on purely pragmatic grounds.”

        perhaps, perhaps not. up for discussion–based on your definition of faith.

        “You and I will probably strongly disagree about the need for religious faith.”

        perhaps. or, perhaps we need to figure out why should there be a need for religious faith firstly.

        “But do you agree that “faith” (in general) is required for getting through life?”

        your faith, perhaps not. for getting through life, i am ok with not knowing or not having certainty; i am fine with having reasonable expectations.

        raison d’etre: your faith has tended to make us minimise reason and maximise unreason.

        Luther:

        “Reason is a whore, the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but more frequently than not struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.”

        “Or can we live on the basis of things we know to be true beyond any reasonable doubt?”

        ok, i may prefer to state it: we have reasonable expectations that some things bear themselves out to observation by most if not all of us.

        know and true are loaded, IMHO.

        • @xon-xoff:

          Luther:

          “Reason is a whore, the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but more frequently than not struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.”

          It’s important to note that Luther wasn’t a systematic thinker, and was very prone to hyperbole. See the Martin Luther insult generator. “I think that if you were alone in the field, an angry cat would be enough to scare you away.” Recall that Luther believed in the Logos; I’d suggest reading up on that word; Wikipedia’s Logos article is a good start. 🙂

          Ironically, having faith in Jesus is having faith in reason… except much more than that. There is no single ‘reason’, but many, and many lead to bad places, as Luther well-knew.

      • btw lotharson, i like that you admit that at some point it takes faith. i dare submit that William would be proud of you 😉

      • Xon,

        you mentioned that “there is still some uncertainty, because if there were not then everyone would agree on the conclusion.” is there a means for us to work out this debacle, per se?

        I am not sure what you are requesting. If you are thinking of a method to resolve the uncertainty, I think we can only wait until the end to see if our conclusions proves accurate and then change our conclusion if it turns out to be mistaken.

        If you are thinking of method to investigate truth-claims, I think that depends on the individual and the truth claim being investigated. Do you have a specific example in mind?

      • jwb,

        “If you are thinking of method to investigate truth-claims, I think that depends on the individual and the truth claim being investigated. Do you have a specific example in mind?”

        ok, if investigating a claim–truth- or otherwise–depends on the individual doing the investigating and the claim, then am i to understand by this that it is up to the individual to make a determination on the claim? just to be clear.

        specific example: i claim the earth is flat.

      • labreuer

        “Ironically, having faith in Jesus is having faith in reason…”

        how is having faith in Jesus having faith in reason?

        “There is no single ‘reason’, but many, and many lead to bad places, as Luther well-knew.”

        not sure what you mean here. but when i speak of reason, i mean by it the use of the reasoning ability we seem to have.

        in the quote from Luther, it seems that he rails against reason–the use of our reasoning ability–as it, reason, offers no aid to, but rather, challenges his faith.

        if it is he meant, as it appears you suggest, that we should be careful with our use of reason, then i’m not so sure that calling reason a whore imparts that understanding.

        for Luther, faith alone is the thing: “That is why faith alone makes someone just and fulfills the law,”

        • @xon-xoff

          how is having faith in Jesus having faith in reason?

          Logos:

          Logos … is an important term in philosophy, psychology, rhetoric, and religion. Originally a word meaning “a ground”, “a plea”, “an opinion”, “an expectation”, “word”, “speech”, “account”, “reason”, it became a technical term in philosophy, beginning with Heraclitus (ca. 535–475 BC), who used the term for a principle of order and knowledge.

          Colossians 1:16 says that “by [Jesus] all things were created”. Consider an artist’s painting: he/she puts a lot of himself/herself into the painting. Christians believe that Jesus put much of himself into the very fabric of reality. Christians believe that there is therefore an extreme amount of lawfulness/order to reality. Having faith in Jesus means having faith in this lawfulness/order. It means having faith in a very particular form of ‘reason’. Note that reason is merely logic + some assumptions. Well, which assumptions was the world built on? In some mysterious way, I say that Jesus is those assumptions, or at the very least, they are an expression of his nature.

          in the quote from Luther, it seems that he rails against reason–the use of our reasoning ability–as it, reason, offers no aid to, but rather, challenges his faith.

          If we say that reason = {logic, assumptions}, then any reason which is founded on bad assumptions is also bad. But how can we know the right assumptions? Ultimately, I think faith must play a role. I surmise that Luther knew this (after all, how can you argue without using reason?), and that he knew that assumptions are often implicit in argumentation, with great edifices of rhetoric built on unspoken assumptions that the audience is supposed to swallow without question.

      • But it is obvious that at some point faith (which I define as hope in the face of insufficient evidence) has to come in.

        No, that is not obvious. It´s only obvious for Gods that prefer to stay hidden for some reason – you don´t need to “hope in the face of insufficient evidence” that your parents exist for example.

        This is true for the Christian, Muslim and atheist alike.

        For many, sure, but certainly not all – many christians that were raised in the denominations that emphasize experiences like the born-again experience / speaking in tongues etc. seem to genuinely believe that their God is real instead of just hoping that he exists. And re atheists, I can only speak from personal experience here, but I don´t “hope” for anything when it comes to claims about Gods / an afterlife and so on and so forth.

        • @Andy, re: divine hiddenness

          Plenty of people stay hidden when they are not wanted, or when they are only wanted so that they can be used. Consider Jesus’ promise that if we ask for something “in his name”, we’ll get it. What does “in his name” mean? It means “in accordance with his will”. But if you aren’t trying to understand what his will is, what are the chances that you’ll stumble upon it randomly? I think about as likely as you are to stumble upon scientific theories without paying in blood, sweat, and tears.

          Now let’s consider how proper scientific research is done. Take a look at Hubble’s original data. That’s what data look like on the bleeding edge of scientific research. Imagine if a skeptic were to come along and argue about how a linear fit with y-intercept of 0 couldn’t possibly be valid. I think the skeptic would have a lot to argue with. The key for Hubble was to do his best to ignore ‘noise’ and try to find some sort of pattern. Now, the word ‘noise’ is really just used to cover for experimental error. But Ockham noticed that you’ve gotta find the most basic pattern first, then a slightly more complex one, etc.

          When skeptics attack the Bible or the idea that God is acting in the world, they are immediately drawn to the noise (e.g. Jephthah’s sacrifice of his daughter), and point to the noise as irrefutable evidence that (a) the Bible can’t be the word of God; (b) God can’t possibly be acting in the world. If Hubble had tried to understand his data in the way that skeptics try and understand the religious person’s reasons for belief, it wouldn’t be called Hubble‘s law.

      • Plenty of people stay hidden when they are not wanted, or when they are only wanted so that they can be used. Consider Jesus’ promise that if we ask for something “in his name”, we’ll get it. What does “in his name” mean? It means “in accordance with his will”. But if you aren’t trying to understand what his will is, what are the chances that you’ll stumble upon it randomly? I think about as likely as you are to stumble upon scientific theories without paying in blood, sweat, and tears.

        You can make up excuses all day long, it will never be more than a testament to your creativity in making up excuses and will change nothing about the fact that if any deities exist, they prefer to stay hidden.

        Now let’s consider how proper scientific research is done. Take a look at Hubble’s original data. That’s what data look like on the bleeding edge of scientific research. Imagine if a skeptic were to come along and argue about how a linear fit with y-intercept of 0 couldn’t possibly be valid. I think the skeptic would have a lot to argue with. The key for Hubble was to do his best to ignore ‘noise’ and try to find some sort of pattern. Now, the word ‘noise’ is really just used to cover for experimental error. But Ockham noticed that you’ve gotta find the most basic pattern first, then a slightly more complex one, etc.

        Don´t show me Hubble´s data, show me your data – if you have any. If you don´t, this analogy is pointless.

        When skeptics attack the Bible or the idea that God is acting in the world, they are immediately drawn to the noise (e.g. Jephthah’s sacrifice of his daughter), and point to the noise as irrefutable evidence that

        This is a bluff. You have no method to distinguish signal from noise in this case. You don´t even have any evidence that there is a signal to begin with. You have nothing.

        • @Andy

          You can make up excuses all day long, it will never be more than a testament to your creativity in making up excuses and will change nothing about the fact that if any deities exist, they prefer to stay hidden.

          You’re leaving out your insistence that if God exists, he be observable by all people who can make “objective observations”—where ‘objective’ can be replaced with “sufficiently inter-subjective”. Very likely, you refuse to admit to the possibility that God is only really going to be knowable to those who share enough of his desires. To those who wanted what Jesus wanted, he seemed to be God. To those whom he threatened, he was a magical rebel to be destroyed. The ‘magical’ bit might even have been due to simple mass hallucinations.

          It is very standard for atheists to treat God as not a person, but a force. Forces are what can be repeatedly tested in the lab under controlled conditions. You simply cannot test the ‘person’ part of a person in the lab. All you can test is some habit, some static characteristic. And so, science could be seen as understanding “the habits of God”, but habits do not a person make. True personhood is only known by relationship, not by the test tube.

          Don´t show me Hubble´s data, show me your data – if you have any. If you don´t, this analogy is pointless.

          If I do, you will point to the noise and say that because the noise does not fit my fit, I cannot possibly have a fit. You’ve done this repeatedly in our discussions of the Bible over on Jonathan Pearce’s blog.

          This is a bluff. You have no method to distinguish signal from noise in this case. You don´t even have any evidence that there is a signal to begin with. You have nothing.

          Half a year ago, I had the privilege of helping a recent PhD graduate recover from terrible abuse in her lab. Let’s call her Megan. You see, while she was able to do science sufficiently well for a world-class institution, she was repeatedly told that the way she approached problems was wrong and the way she thought about them was wrong. After going through this, she wondered whether there was any place in the world that would make her happy, any job that would give her permanent satisfaction. Bear in mind that I had never met Megan.

          In my conversation with Megan, who is an atheist, I unwittingly employed something very close to 2 Cor 10:3-6. You see, she was infected with several thought-forms (memes) which threatened to plague her for life. One was that she was just built wrong as a human being. Another was that she’d never find satisfaction in life. There were several others, as well. I did my best to destroy those thought-forms from a distinctly Christian stance, a distinctly Christian theology. I told her that nobody is built wrong, but that society has a distinct tendency to try and force people into its mold; this is called control, and is quite prevalent. I also told her that she would never find something that would be ultimately fulfilling, because I believe only God is ultimately fulfilling. What this looks like is that we continually exert our creative energies on one thing after another, with the pattern being that we discover new aspects to reality (as well as better and better relationships with other minds) as we go through life, finding joy in doing so.

          The above is but a pale shadow of the conversation we actually had. Half a year later, a mutual friend of ours, who has been a professor at said institution for thirty years, said that I very likely reduced Megan’s recovery time by several months. I had enough understanding to contribute to the destruction of the thought-forms which were harming Megan’s very well-being. This understanding came from a distinctly Christian view of the world.

          You are welcome to say that the above does not constitute ‘evidence’. After all, you can present an alternate model for why I was successful, one which you think accounts for the evidence in a better fashion—perhaps a more parsimonious fashion. And this is how it will always go: what I present as evidence for my point of view, you will steal for your point of view, saying it never supported mine in the first place.

          I will maintain that the ability to bless another person and enhance his/her life is the most important thing that one can possibly do in life. If one’s definition of ‘truth’ cannot contribute to this past a certain point (e.g. provide food, shelter, safety), then one’s definition of ‘truth’ is provincial. If a Jesus-like god exists, surely he cares about human thriving above pretty much anything else. If a Jesus-like god exists, it seems like one of the first things he would do is equip people to do what I was able to do for Megan.

      • You’re leaving out your insistence that if God exists, he be observable by all people who can make “objective observations”—where ‘objective’ can be replaced with “sufficiently inter-subjective”. Very likely, you refuse to admit to the possibility that God is only really going to be knowable to those who share enough of his desires.

        Since you don´t have to define what “share enough of his desires” even means – this “possibility” can, conveniently, never be proven wrong.

        It is very standard for atheists to treat God as not a person, but a force. Forces are what can be repeatedly tested in the lab under controlled conditions. You simply cannot test the ‘person’ part of a person in the lab. All you can test is some habit, some static characteristic. And so, science could be seen as understanding “the habits of God”, but habits do not a person make. True personhood is only known by relationship, not by the test tube.

        Word have meanings. And for no commonly accepted meaning of the word “relationship” could it be said that you, or anyone else, has a relationship with any god.

        If I do, you will point to the noise

        Don´t pretend that you can distinguish signal from noise in this case. If you have a method to distinguish signal from noise, show it. If you have any evidence that there is a signal to begin with, show it.

        The above is but a pale shadow of the conversation we actually had. Half a year later, a mutual friend of ours, who has been a professor at said institution for thirty years, said that I very likely reduced Megan’s recovery time by several months. I had enough understanding to contribute to the destruction of the thought-forms which were harming Megan’s very well-being. This understanding came from a distinctly Christian view of the world.

        Coincidentally, one of my best friends had very similar problems at work and a very similar outlook on her future. We talked a lot about this and she told me that this helped her a lot. And my understanding of her situation was distinctly non-christian. Now, what does that demonstrate?

        If a Jesus-like god exists, surely he cares about human thriving above pretty much anything else. If a Jesus-like god exists, it seems like one of the first things he would do is equip people to do what I was able to do for Megan.

        Name one reason, just a single one, for why you would not expect that humans can help each other in such situations if there is no god at all, given that we happen to be social animals.

        • Since you don´t have to define what “share enough of his desires” even means – this “possibility” can, conveniently, never be proven wrong.

          What God desires is all over the Bible. Isaiah 58 is a beautiful example. Mt 5:43-48 draws an explicit contrast between the world’s way and God’s way. 1 Cor 12:12-26 talks about the folly that is pretending you don’t need your fellow human, or the folly that is thinking he/she is ‘less’ than you in any way. Mt 20:20-28 gets at the difference between serving others—Jesus’ way—and lording it over others—the world’s way. Eph 5:17 adjures believers to understand God’s will, with Eph 1:7-10 and Mt 12:30 hinting at what that looks like.

          A nice, compact way to think about this is: what is the best utopia you can think of, and how would we get there? The “kingdom of heaven/god” is essentially a utopia, with the fullest realized version being heaven. What kind of world are you trying to bring into existence? Is it one where there are haves and have-nots, or one where ‘the masses’ have their low-level pleasures, with only the elite really doing science, making art, etc.? I recently had dinner with an atheist who thought that maybe it’s good for his barber to struggle to make a living and enjoy watching professional football, vs. being given more opportunities in life and being paralyzed with them.

          Word have meanings. And for no commonly accepted meaning of the word “relationship” could it be said that you, or anyone else, has a relationship with any god.

          And what of the many Greek and Roman stories of the gods cavorting with humans? Those weren’t ‘relationships’? What of Jesus’ friendship with his disciples? Was being incarnated absolutely required? What of Moses’ talking to God face-to-face? Is the mere conception of that happening ludicrous?

          Don´t pretend that you can distinguish signal from noise in this case. If you have a method to distinguish signal from noise, show it. If you have any evidence that there is a signal to begin with, show it.

          We all have conceptions of (a) what ‘human thriving’ is; (b) how to get there. Much of the Bible can be considered commentary on both of these things. To the extent that it can help us come up with better (a) or (b), there is a real pattern.

          Coincidentally, one of my best friends had very similar problems at work and a very similar outlook on her future. We talked a lot about this and she told me that this helped her a lot. And my understanding of her situation was distinctly non-christian. Now, what does that demonstrate?

          It demonstrates that different metaphysics can often reach the same ends, at least for quite a while. But how to choose between two metaphysics? You seem to have very distinct ideas on how to choose.

          Name one reason, just a single one, for why you would not expect that humans can help each other in such situations if there is no god at all, given that we happen to be social animals.

          I never said I did not expect this. I do think there are more powerful and less powerful ways to bless people, to enhance them and allow them to better express their creativity in the world, to make the world a better place.

      • What God desires is all over the Bible. Isaiah 58 is a beautiful example. Mt 5:43-48 draws an explicit contrast between the world’s way and God’s way. 1 Cor 12:12-26 talks about the folly that is pretending you don’t need your fellow human, or the folly that is thinking he/she is ‘less’ than you in any way. Mt 20:20-28 gets at the difference between serving others—Jesus’ way—and lording it over others—the world’s way. Eph 5:17 adjures believers to understand God’s will, with Eph 1:7-10 and Mt 12:30 hinting at what that looks like.

        Then either there are no humans who do not want to “lord over others” and don´t believe that they are intrinsically better than others etc.pp. or your version of God doesn´t exist.

        And what of the many Greek and Roman stories of the gods cavorting with humans? Those weren’t ‘relationships’?

        So you believe that the greco-roman gods are real and people had relationships with them? What about babylonian, indian or african gods – those are all real as well? (the number of different Gods would be in the millions then (well, most of those millions would be Hindu deities, but still)).

        What of Jesus’ friendship with his disciples? Was being incarnated absolutely required? What of Moses’ talking to God face-to-face? Is the mere conception of that happening ludicrous?

        Yes, I do indeed find that ludicrous. You just gave a reason for why God stays hidden, which is that people do not share his desires of serving others, not lording over others etc.pp. Now, the Moses character is just as mythological as the Exodus is, but IF this character did exist as described in the Bible, and he did fulfill these “desires” sufficiently, so that God has an actual relationship with him, then the evidence for your God being imaginary literally could not be more overwhelming. Because Moses doesn´t exactly set a very high standard and millions of people (everyone who fulfills these desires at least to the degree that Moses did – which is not very hard according to how the Bible describes Moses) should thus also have an actual relationship with God. But they don´t. And it always boils down to that, Christians come up with an excuse for why God stays hidden and if they would take this excuse seriously, they would have to admit that it makes no sense that God allegedly had *actual* relationships with anyone in the past, because the excuse they came up with would apply to those people just as well.

        We all have conceptions of (a) what ‘human thriving’ is; (b) how to get there. Much of the Bible can be considered commentary on both of these things. To the extent that it can help us come up with better (a) or (b), there is a real pattern.

        There are many “real patterns” in the Bible. Calvinist doctrines are also based on “real patterns”. You say that some of that stuff is signal and the rest is noise, and I repeat – you do not know that. You cannot demonstrate that there is a signal to begin with and you have no method to distinguish signal from noise, If you have a method to show that what you deem to be a “signal” while the stuff that Calvinists (for example) base their doctrines on is noise, show it.

        I never said I did not expect this.

        Alright, but then your original comment could be rephrased to:
        “If a Jesus-like god exists, surely he cares about human thriving above pretty much anything else. If a Jesus-like god exists, it seems like one of the first things he would do is equip people to do what I was able to do for Megan [but if a Jesus-like God doesn´t exist, I wouldn´t expect anything to be different]”

        I do think there are more powerful and less powerful ways to bless people, to enhance them and allow them to better express their creativity in the world, to make the world a better place.

        That is trivially true. National socialism for example would be distinctly “less powerful” than pretty much every alternative.

        • Then either there are no humans who do not want to “lord over others” and don´t believe that they are intrinsically better than others etc.pp. or your version of God doesn´t exist.

          That seems to be downright bitterness. But sadly, I’ll bet it’s conditioned on being around lots of Christians. All I can say is that I’ve found Christians who believe in this version of God.

          So you believe that the greco-roman gods are real and people had relationships with them? What about babylonian, indian or african gods – those are all real as well?

          That’s not the point under discussion. You questioned my use of ‘relationship’ in this way, saying that the dictionary wouldn’t allow it. I questioned that with plenty of literature that does seem to allow it—to depend upon it.

          Because Moses doesn´t exactly set a very high standard

          On what do you base this?

          And it always boils down to that, Christians come up with an excuse for why God stays hidden and if they would take this excuse seriously, they would have to admit that it makes no sense that God allegedly had *actual* relationships with anyone in the past, because the excuse they came up with would apply to those people just as well.

          There is a bit of “derivative aspect” to friendship: if you are unable to affect your friends in any way, is it really friendship? If you don’t feel drawn into each other’s purposes, then that relationship isn’t much of a relationship. I suppose it looks like I’m moving the goalposts here, but you brought up a good point; my argument was not complete without this aspect.

          You say that some of that stuff is signal and the rest is noise, and I repeat – you do not know that.

          Actually, this is not what I said, precisely. I’m not sure that anything is truly noise; there were certainly good reasons for why many of the data points in Hubble’s original data were where they were. However, Hubble had to treat them as noisy in order to establish a baseline pattern. Astronomers went on to understand more and more about the data; they didn’t stop at the ~10x too large rate of inflation.

          You cannot demonstrate that there is a signal to begin with and you have no method to distinguish signal from noise, If you have a method to show that what you deem to be a “signal” while the stuff that Calvinists (for example) base their doctrines on is noise, show it.

          I have already demonstrated it, with my long-winded example, above. I have asserted that one of the most important things to Jesus is human thriving. I was able to argue from principles in the Bible, in a way that destroyed bad thought-forms in a friend and helped construct some good ones, with expert testimony to my having significant impact. Ultimately, what else could possibly be better evidence than making people’s lives better, from their future-perspectives?

          You are perhaps drawing too big a distinction between Calvinism and Arminianism. I do think Calvinists are in error, but not so much error that their interpretation of Christianity is without power to bless people. What I have been proposing for the last few months is moral research, the pursuit of how to bless people more and more effectively. It is in this pursuit that I believe the differences between e.g. Calvinism, Arminianism, and your world view will be made most clear.

          Alright, but then your original comment could be rephrased to:
          “If a Jesus-like god exists, surely he cares about human thriving above pretty much anything else. If a Jesus-like god exists, it seems like one of the first things he would do is equip people to do what I was able to do for Megan [but if a Jesus-like God doesn´t exist, I wouldn´t expect anything to be different]”

          I do worry about this. The average Christian doesn’t seem distinguishable from the average non-Christian, ceteris paribus. However, I (and others) have found enough differences between what the average Christian believes and what I think the Bible says, to suspect that maybe it is largely twisted to fit the current culture, rather than used to advance the current culture. I have lived and seen lived enough of these differences to suppose that if even more of them are lived, distinguishing characteristics would emerge. You can call this doing induction, you can call it faith, or something else, but I’m going to give it a shot.

          That is trivially true. National socialism for example would be distinctly “less powerful” than pretty much every alternative.

          Then let it be a competition to find ever-more-powerful ways to bless people. Oddly enough, while this might be the most important endeavor for humans to participate in, you will likely say that what works better and better doesn’t get closer to truth, except for truth about the particular quirks of human psychology. Oh well, I think I can accept that version of ‘truth’.

      • That’s not the point under discussion. You questioned my use of ‘relationship’ in this way, saying that the dictionary wouldn’t allow it. I questioned that with plenty of literature that does seem to allow it—to depend upon it.

        If that is supposed to mean that gods are fictional – I agree. If not, I cannot parse this in a way that wouldn´t turn this into a red herring.

        On what do you base this?

        Ordering mass rape and murder isn´t setting a very high standard in my book.

        Actually, this is not what I said, precisely. I’m not sure that anything is truly noise;

        Just like you cannot be sure that anything is signal, because you have no method.

        there were certainly good reasons for why many of the data points in Hubble’s original data were where they were. However, Hubble had to treat them as noisy in order to establish a baseline pattern. Astronomers went on to understand more and more about the data; they didn’t stop at the ~10x too large rate of inflation.

        Not relevant.

        I have already demonstrated it, with my long-winded example, above. I have asserted that one of the most important things to Jesus is human thriving. I was able to argue from principles in the Bible, in a way that destroyed bad thought-forms in a friend and helped construct some good ones, with expert testimony to my having significant impact. Ultimately, what else could possibly be better evidence than making people’s lives better, from their future-perspectives?

        And I can do and did do the exact same thing as a non-christian and you already admitted that you wouldn´t expect this to be any different if your God would not exist.

        You are perhaps drawing too big a distinction between Calvinism and Arminianism. I do think Calvinists are in error,

        But you cannot show this, because you have no method.

        I do worry about this. The average Christian doesn’t seem distinguishable from the average non-Christian, ceteris paribus. However, I (and others) have found enough differences between what the average Christian believes and what I think the Bible says, to suspect that maybe it is largely twisted to fit the current culture, rather than used to advance the current culture. I have lived and seen lived enough of these differences to suppose that if even more of them are lived, distinguishing characteristics would emerge. You can call this doing induction, you can call it faith, or something else, but I’m going to give it a shot.

        And you will not be the first one, thousands of christians subcommunities came and went based on exactly that idea, from the Hutterites to the Jehovah´s Witnesses.

        • If that is supposed to mean that gods are fictional – I agree. If not, I cannot parse this in a way that wouldn´t turn this into a red herring.

          If the word ‘relationship’ could not possibly include a god-human relationship, then every myth that has gods and humans in relationships is nonsensical. Being fiction is irrelevant; we still expect fiction to be logically possible.

          Ordering mass rape and murder isn´t setting a very high standard in my book.

          Are you comparing Moses to his immediate contemporaries, or to modern standards?

          Just like you cannot be sure that anything is signal, because you have no method.

          My method is to look for that which promotes human thriving. Are you calling this “not a method”?

          Not relevant.

          Yes, it is, as you demonstrate in your immediate focus on the worst thing you can associate with Moses. There’s no appreciation for trying to get Israel to accept a non-slave mentality, no appreciation for trying to get Israel to maintain faith in a deity who appeared to have their good in mind and was able to whoop the most powerful nation known to exist, no appreciation for the struggle to follow God and lead a people who really didn’t want to change. You just immediately jump to one of those data points below the x-axis, which if not treated as very noisy, would torpedo the discovery of an expanding universe. My point with Hubble’s data is extraordinarily relevant.

          And I can do and did do the exact same thing as a non-christian and you already admitted that you wouldn´t expect this to be any different if your God would not exist.

          Suppose that “the exact same thing” is true. Then why is your method better than mine?

          But you cannot show this, because you have no method.

          I can show Calvinists hindering human thriving. But perhaps this still means I have no method?

          And you will not be the first one, thousands of christians subcommunities came and went based on exactly that idea, from the Hutterites to the Jehovah´s Witnesses.

          So because they all failed, I will?

      • If the word ‘relationship’ could not possibly include a god-human relationship, then every myth that has gods and humans in relationships is nonsensical. Being fiction is irrelevant; we still expect fiction to be logically possible.

        1. The word “relationship” could possibly include relationshis between humans and Leprechauns, Centaurs, Ghosts, Gods and fairies, but it doesn´t in the real world. It only does in fiction. And that´s why I pointed out that you don´t have a “relationship” with any god – pointing out that there are *stories* that involve people having relationships with all kinds of imaginary entities doesn´t change that.
        2. Fiction doesn´t have to be logically possible – Harry Potter and the Garden of Eden story are full of plotholes for example and still count as fiction.

        Are you comparing Moses to his immediate contemporaries, or to modern standards?

        Irrelevant. Your excuse for why your God stays hidden was that people do not share his desires, if Moses is the standard for these desires, then your excuse does not work.

        My method is to look for that which promotes human thriving. Are you calling this “not a method”?

        That´s not how it comes across – after we talked about biblical slavery, I rather got the impression that your priority is defending christianity, and human suffering / thriving only comes after that.

        Yes, it is, as you demonstrate in your immediate focus on the worst thing you can associate with Moses.

        I can´t resist a little sarcasm here – Hitler was really nice to his dog, and he also encouraged a lot of people to quit smoking and become vegetarians, why do people always focus on the worst things they can associate with him?

        There’s no appreciation for trying to get Israel to accept a non-slave mentality

        Strange, people never appreciate that quality in Hitler as well.

        no appreciation for trying to get Israel to maintain faith in a deity who appeared to have their good in mind

        Cherry picking for the win.

        and was able to whoop the most powerful nation known to exist

        France surrendered to Hitler in just a few weeks and it took the combined power of the three most powerful nations to beat him – strange that no one appreciates that.

        no appreciation for the struggle to follow God and lead a people who really didn’t want to change.

        The comparison to Hitler is too easy if you use the word “lead” :-D.

        You just immediately jump to one of those data points below the x-axis, which if not treated as very noisy, would torpedo the discovery of an expanding universe.

        This is a red herring and I repeat what I said above: “Irrelevant. Your excuse for why your God stays hidden was that people do not share his desires, if Moses is the standard for these desires, then your excuse does not work.”

        Suppose that “the exact same thing” is true. Then why is your method better than mine?

        Another red herring. You presented that as evidence, but then admitted that you would expect to see the same evidence if your god would not exist – which means that it cannot possibly be evidence for your position.

        So because they all failed, I will?

        There is this famous Einstein quote: “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” (I obviously don´t mean to insinuate that you are insane, but you are wasting your time IMO).

        • To evaluate the morality of a historical person, you always have to compare him or her according to the Zeitgeist in which he or she lived.

          Aristotle defended slavery and female inferiority, but we don’t focus on that, do we?

          Moses lived in a very violent, atrocious time and was strongly influenced by his culture.

          What is more, there are good grounds for thinking that the genocidal commands attributed to him were written many centuries after his death.

          I believe that there was a small Exodus of a group of semitic slaves led by a very charismatic man and that they had a religious experience underway.

          But the large scale Exodus followed by a genocidal warfare (as described in the Bible) mośt likely NEVER occurred.

        • The word “relationship”

          I really don’t know what you’re after, here. Let’s say I create a simulated world of digital, sentient, sapient beings. I could communicate with them, even with me being flesh and them being digital. I could express sadness to them, and they to me. And so forth. I really, really don’t understand why you’re complaining about my use of the term ‘relationship’.

          Irrelevant. Your excuse for why your God stays hidden was that people do not share his desires, if Moses is the standard for these desires, then your excuse does not work.

          You skipped over this:

          There is a bit of “derivative aspect” to friendship: if you are unable to affect your friends in any way, is it really friendship? If you don’t feel drawn into each other’s purposes, then that relationship isn’t much of a relationship. I suppose it looks like I’m moving the goalposts here, but you brought up a good point; my argument was not complete without this aspect.

          That´s not how it comes across – after we talked about biblical slavery, I rather got the impression that your priority is defending christianity, and human suffering / thriving only comes after that.

          I think the two are one and the same. That’s a huge reason I believe in Christianity. Why follow a god who does not have your best interests in mind? In the OT, Yahweh continually reminds the Israelites of the good things he had done for them.

          Another red herring. You presented that as evidence, but then admitted that you would expect to see the same evidence if your god would not exist – which means that it cannot possibly be evidence for your position.

          This isn’t actually what I said. Here’s the discussion fragment:

          Coincidentally, one of my best friends had very similar problems at work and a very similar outlook on her future. We talked a lot about this and she told me that this helped her a lot. And my understanding of her situation was distinctly non-christian. Now, what does that demonstrate?

          It demonstrates that different metaphysics can often reach the same ends, at least for quite a while. But how to choose between two metaphysics? You seem to have very distinct ideas on how to choose.

          Name one reason, just a single one, for why you would not expect that humans can help each other in such situations if there is no god at all, given that we happen to be social animals.

          I never said I did not expect this. I do think there are more powerful and less powerful ways to bless people, to enhance them and allow them to better express their creativity in the world, to make the world a better place.

          What I expect to see is for Christians to have a statistical edge in blessing people, if the Holy Spirit thing has any truth to it. I noted that I worry about there being no such edge, but that I have reason to believe it might be there among a minority of Christians who try and shape themselves to the Bible and continuing information from the Holy Spirit, instead of vice versa.

          There is this famous Einstein quote: “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” (I obviously don´t mean to insinuate that you are insane, but you are wasting your time IMO).

          Yep, this is a concern. While I am likely treading at least some new ground, will that actually tread new territory, or just explore the old territory in a new, but inconsequential way? One reason for talking about such things is to establish standards for what would constitute a consequential way. As far as I can tell, this is an incredibly tricky thing to do.

      • To evaluate the morality of a historical person, you always have to compare him or her according to the Zeitgeist in which he or she lived.

        Aristotle defended slavery and female inferiority, but we don’t focus on that, do we?

        Moses lived in a very violent, atrocious time and was strongly influenced by his culture.

        Afaict, the consensus is that there was no historical Moses. But that was not the point – labreuer argued that God stays hidden because people do not share his desires, and if Moses (assuming that there was such a person) as described in the Bible is the standard for “sharing his desires” sufficiently, then the argument doesn´t work.

        • No, the consensus is that the Exodus as described in the Bible never happened.

          William Dever, for example, is quite open for the existence of this runaway slaves led by a Charismatic man, even if he vehemently denies the reality of the conquest of Canaan.

      • No, the consensus is that the Exodus as described in the Bible never happened.

        William Dever, for example, is quite open for the existence of this runaway slaves led by a Charismatic man

        All myths have at least a tiny kernel of truth. If a handful of hebrew slaves actually fled from egypt, this would make the Exodus as historical as the myths surrounding King Arthur, >99% mythology with the possibility of a tiny kernel of historical truth.

      • I am agnostic about the extent of the historicity of kind Arthur and Merlin.

        You are agnostic as to whether a water nymph enchanted a sword, which a young man pulled out of a rock and used it to fight against Dragons, Giants, Witches and cat-monsters, with the help of a wizard?

        • I don’t believe these particular entities exist.

          Nevertheless I am quite open to the existence of deceitful creatures coming from other dimensions and appearing to humans in various forms :
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interdimensional_hypothesis

          I agree that this is laughable for a materialist.
          But for someone who does not consider this possibility to be extremely unlikely to begin with there is normal (though not extraordinary) evidence for the existence of such beings, like reliable witnesses with a stable psychology seeing under daylight an UFO and its weird occupants leaving traces.

          As I said to you, if they had seen drug traffickers, nobody would assert the witnesses were having intense hallucinations.,

          I think that a honest skeptic will recognize we have normal evidence for the paranormal in general.
          His complain is that the evidence is not extraordinary, and he is entirely right about that.

          So I am open to the possibility that the legends about Arthus are based on a true stories of a king having had really extraordinary encounters.

          Now you are entirely free to call me a crank lunatic 🙂

      • @ lotharson

        “I think that a honest skeptic will recognize we have normal evidence for the paranormal in general.”

        and that normal evidence–whatever normal evidence means–is?

        “Now you are entirely free to call me a crank lunatic 🙂 ”

        ok 🙂

      • “King Arthur: The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water, signifying by divine providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. THAT is why I am your king.

        Dennis: [interrupting] Listen, strange women lyin’ in ponds distributin’ swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.

        Dennis: Oh, but you can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just because some watery tart threw a sword at you.

        Dennis: Oh but if I went ’round sayin’ I was Emperor, just because some moistened bint lobbed a scimitar at me, they’d put me away.”

      • I really don’t know what you’re after, here. Let’s say I create a simulated world of digital, sentient, sapient beings. I could communicate with them, even with me being flesh and them being digital. I could express sadness to them, and they to me. And so forth. I really, really don’t understand why you’re complaining about my use of the term ‘relationship’.

        You have a “relationship” to god in the same way as a Star Wars fan has a “relationship” to Master Yoda – and using the word “relationship” in that context is completely misleading, it has nothing to do with the actual meaning of the word.

        You skipped over this:

        There is a bit of “derivative aspect” to friendship: if you are unable to affect your friends in any way, is it really friendship? If you don’t feel drawn into each other’s purposes, then that relationship isn’t much of a relationship. I suppose it looks like I’m moving the goalposts here, but you brought up a good point; my argument was not complete without this aspect.

        Relevance?

        I think the two are one and the same. That’s a huge reason I believe in Christianity. Why follow a god who does not have your best interests in mind? In the OT, Yahweh continually reminds the Israelites of the good things he had done for them.

        Alright, you asked if I would consider that to be a “method” or not – I don´t, because you start with the conclusion, christianity is the solution for human thriving and if it doesn´t work, the problem must be humans and never christianity itself. That´s not a method, at least not an open-ended one, it´s apologism.

        What I expect to see is for Christians to have a statistical edge in blessing people, if the Holy Spirit thing has any truth to it. I noted that I worry about there being no such edge, but that I have reason to believe it might be there among a minority of Christians who try and shape themselves to the Bible and continuing information from the Holy Spirit, instead of vice versa.

        Again, not open-ended inquiry – thousands of christian subcommunities tried to do *exactly* that, and no matter what the outcome will be, christians will continue to insist that it didn´t work because of humans. That the Bible / Christianity is not the solution or even part of the problem is not even acknowledged as a possibility.

        Yep, this is a concern. While I am likely treading at least some new ground, will that actually tread new territory, or just explore the old territory in a new, but inconsequential way? One reason for talking about such things is to establish standards for what would constitute a consequential way. As far as I can tell, this is an incredibly tricky thing to do.

        Your goal is “Christians who try and shape themselves to the Bible and continuing information from the Holy Spirit, instead of vice versa” – and the way this train of thought goes, Christianity / the Bible is already presumed to be the solution, no matter what the outcome will be, Christianity cannot possibly fail. if the experiment doesn´t work, then because Christians didn´t “shape themselves enough to the Bible” or didn´t trust the holy spirit enough or whatever. Christianity cannot possibly fail in this setup.

        • You have a “relationship” to god in the same way as a Star Wars fan has a “relationship” to Master Yoda – and using the word “relationship” in that context is completely misleading, it has nothing to do with the actual meaning of the word.

          It really seems like you’re presupposing that God does not exist, for this whole discussion of the word ‘relationship’.

          Relevance?

          The important bit is whether a person not only shares God’s desires up to a point, but wants that point to move. I think God’s ‘desires’ are much more complex than a human will ever be able to fully share—kind of like how physical laws probably work—so it’s not so much ‘fully sharing’ God’s desires, but ‘further sharing’ God’s desires.

          I’m predicating this idea on the following: no matter where a society is, there exists a better form of that society. There is always a ‘better’. So, given some particular society, does a person want to make it better? If not, then it really doesn’t matter how moral that person is. Hopefully, you and I will seem like despicable barbarians, 500 years from now. But judging us by a standard 500 years into the future is silly. The relevant question is: did we help advance the state of the art?

          Moses was willing to work with God to advance the state of the art. This is what is laudable. This is [a big part of] what made his relationship with God a ‘relationship’. I could also point to where Moses complained to God about his speech impediment, such that God added Aaron to his diplomatic entourage as spokesman. There was give and take.

          Alright, you asked if I would consider that to be a “method” or not – I don´t, because you start with the conclusion, christianity is the solution for human thriving and if it doesn´t work, the problem must be humans and never christianity itself. That´s not a method, at least not an open-ended one, it´s apologism.

          I have routinely admitted that the problem might be “christianity itself”. What I have resisted is terrible ways to show this. Take for example, a peer-reviewed paper which claims will allow one to produce X via protocol P with reagents R. If at first a scientist attempting to reproduce the experiment doesn’t succeed, does she throw up his hands and declare the protocol false? Of course not! But after some number of varied attempts she fails, she grows increasingly confident that the paper contains errors. This same process can be done with Christianity, which has plenty of claims that if you do X, via method Y, Z will result.

          It’s really not difficult to show, if the practice of Christianity is producing pain and suffering in people who didn’t sign up for it. Christianity may even be unique in this respect, for many people throughout time have insisted that some amount of pain, suffering, and death is required “for the greater good”, whereby there is no requirement that one ‘sign up’ for said negative consequences. Christianity insists on voluntary self-sacrifice, to redeem evil. “Love does not insist on its own way.” When the rich young ruler declined to sell all he had and give it to the poor, Jesus both loved him and let him go his own way. Christianity, biblically lived, has a built-in self-destruct if it’s not doing the ‘human thriving’ thing well enough.

          Again, not open-ended inquiry – thousands of christian subcommunities tried to do *exactly* that, and no matter what the outcome will be, christians will continue to insist that it didn´t work because of humans.

          So? Thomas Kuhn described in his Structure of Scientific Revolutions how some famous and influential scientists have to die for scientific revolutions to take place. There will always be people who are thusly conservative. Fortunately, they have a tendency to lose in the long run, if only by their deaths and inability to gain enough followers.

          Christianity cannot possibly fail in this setup.

          Yes it can; it can lose adherents. It happens all the time. When it doesn’t deliver, plenty lose their faith.

      • It really seems like you’re presupposing that God does not exist, for this whole discussion of the word ‘relationship’.

        No. If there is a planet in some distant galaxy, where a being that is just like we imagine Master Yoda to be *actually* lives, it would change nothing whatsoever about the fact that a Star Wars doesn´t have a “relationship with Master Yoda” right now. It´s not different with gods, if there are gods, it would change nothing about the fact that people don´t have “relationships” with them.

        The important bit is whether a person not only shares God’s desires up to a point, but wants that point to move. I think God’s ‘desires’ are much more complex than a human will ever be able to fully share—kind of like how physical laws probably work—so it’s not so much ‘fully sharing’ God’s desires, but ‘further sharing’ God’s desires.

        I’m predicating this idea on the following: no matter where a society is, there exists a better form of that society. There is always a ‘better’. So, given some particular society, does a person want to make it better? If not, then it really doesn’t matter how moral that person is. Hopefully, you and I will seem like despicable barbarians, 500 years from now. But judging us by a standard 500 years into the future is silly. The relevant question is: did we help advance the state of the art?

        Moses was willing to work with God to advance the state of the art. This is what is laudable. This is [a big part of] what made his relationship with God a ‘relationship’. I could also point to where Moses complained to God about his speech impediment, such that God added Aaron to his diplomatic entourage as spokesman. There was give and take.

        Changes nothing – either people who want to make the world a better place don´t exist, or your version of god doesn´t exist.

        I have routinely admitted that the problem might be “christianity itself”. What I have resisted is terrible ways to show this. Take for example, a peer-reviewed paper which claims will allow one to produce X via protocol P with reagents R. If at first a scientist attempting to reproduce the experiment doesn’t succeed, does she throw up his hands and declare the protocol false? Of course not! But after some number of varied attempts she fails, she grows increasingly confident that the paper contains errors. This same process can be done with Christianity, which has plenty of claims that if you do X, via method Y, Z will result.

        If two millenia and billions of christians are not enough, nothing will be enough.

        Christianity, biblically lived, has a built-in self-destruct if it’s not doing the ‘human thriving’ thing well enough.

        That is empirically false.

        So? Thomas Kuhn described in his Structure of Scientific Revolutions how some famous and influential scientists have to die

        Two. Thousand. Years.

        Yes it can; it can lose adherents. It happens all the time. When it doesn’t deliver, plenty lose their faith.

        Also empirically false. Innumerable charlatans from “faith-healers” like Benny Hinn to “prophets” like Pat Robertson have been shown to be charlatans time and again – it makes little, if any, difference. If people would abandon their faith if it doesn´t deliver, there would be no faith left.

        • It´s not different with gods, if there are gods, it would change nothing about the fact that people don´t have “relationships” with them.

          Okay then. I have no idea why you think this, but you clearly think it very strongly. I maintain that in that digital world I presented, the programmer could be in relationship with the digital beings.

          Changes nothing – either people who want to make the world a better place don´t exist, or your version of god doesn´t exist.

          That seems like very black and white thinking.

          That is empirically false.

          I guarantee you that you’ll find compulsion and/or oppression—both expressly condemned by Jesus—in such falsifications.

          Two. Thousand. Years.

          Yep, I know that you are convinced of something along the lines that whatever Christians did in that time period, atheists could also have accomplished. I am not, but perhaps this is due to cherry-picking the bits of Christianity which did seem to result in excellent things; perhaps they were simply excellent people. I’m not yet convinced of this, largely because I still see plenty in the Bible that is set against what I see as terrible aspects of society, today. One thing I know for sure. Disbelief that a pattern exists is a fantastic way to guarantee that you won’t see any pattern that does exist.

          Also empirically false. Innumerable charlatans from “faith-healers” like Benny Hinn to “prophets” like Pat Robertson have been shown to be charlatans time and again – it makes little, if any, difference. If people would abandon their faith if it doesn´t deliver, there would be no faith left.

          So there hasn’t been a decline of religious belief over the years? Have I been lied to?

      • Okay then. I have no idea why you think this, but you clearly think it very strongly. I maintain that in that digital world I presented, the programmer could be in relationship with the digital beings.

        Yes. *COULD*
        Imagine that I say “I am a wizard”, but I have no demonstrable magic powers whatsoever. And when you say “that doesn´t make you a “wizard” for any commonly accepted definition of the word”, would it make sense for me to reply “I don´t understand your objection – haven´t you read Harry Potter? I COULD be a wizard.”?

        That seems like very black and white thinking.

        No, you are simply not taking your own explanations seriously. You tried two explanations for why your God choses to stay hidden, that people “don´t share his desires” (unlike people like Moses, who did) and that people don´t try to make the world a better place (unlike Moses) – if you would actually believe that, then you would have to conclude that there are no people who try to make the world a better place and that there are no people who “share Gods desires” OR that your god isn´t real.

        Disbelief that a pattern exists is a fantastic way to guarantee that you won’t see any pattern that does exist.

        This reminds me of debates about homeopathy. Homeopathy demonstrably doesn´t work (beyond a placebo effect), but since the potential ways to prepare and apply homeopathic “medicine” are for all intents and purposes infinite, as are intepertations of the the writings of people like Samuel Hahnemann, proponents of homeopathy can ALWAYS say “you didn´t test it the right way”- we could run billions of experiments that test homeopathy with varying parameters over thousands of years and proponents of homeopathy could keep saying that. And they could also say “if you don´t believe that it works, it´s obvious that you don´t find evidence to support it” – but that is ass-backwards, it´s not the case that we dismiss homeopathy a priori, we dismiss it AFTER testing it, and the proponents of homeopathy are the ones that fool themselves because they start with the conclusion and force-fit every conceivable observation to this conclusion.

        So there hasn’t been a decline of religious belief over the years? Have I been lied to?

        I think you interpreted my comment as meaning the exact opposite of what I intended it to mean.

        • Imagine that I say “I am a wizard”

          I tire of this game, and perhaps you do, too. Complaining about my use of the word ‘relationship’ was obfuscation, plain and simple.

          if you would actually believe that, then you would have to conclude that there are no people who try to make the world a better place and that there are no people who “share Gods desires”

          Why would I have to conclude these things? Your argument contains hidden premises; expose them please.

          This reminds me of debates about homeopathy.

          It’s almost as if you read the contrapositive of what I said: “Belief that a pattern exists is a fantastic way to guarantee that you will see that pattern existing.” This isn’t nearly as true as what I stated: “Disbelief that a pattern exists is a fantastic way to guarantee that you won’t see any pattern that does exist.” C’mon, you’ve seen me use the term “tentative belief”, whereby one holds out hope that there might be a pattern, but is willing to discard that hope with enough failure to find confirmation.

          You clearly think that there is enough evidence that Christianity is false. However, you seem deeply desirous that I come to the same conclusion. I wonder to myself: what would convince you that a pattern exists? So far, you’ve dismissed everything I’ve presented as “it can be done without Christianity”. I don’t know what would be good enough for you, that wouldn’t be along the lines of statistically significant prayer, where God is reduced to a force that can be manipulated to do what people want to be done.

          I think you interpreted my comment as meaning the exact opposite of what I intended it to mean.

          We both know that there are True Believers on both sides of all fences. Nevertheless, we have statements like “Over the last several decades, religious practice has been on the decline in a process of secularization.” So I’m actually not sure what you meant.

      • I tire of this game, and perhaps you do, too. Complaining about my use of the word ‘relationship’ was obfuscation, plain and simple.

        This all started with you saying “True personhood is only known by relationship, not by the test tube.” and me responding that you don´t have a relationship with any god. You can keep saying that you COULD have one in some alternative reality but that is irrelevant, you don´t have one now and neither does anyone else.

        Why would I have to conclude these things? Your argument contains hidden premises; expose them please.

        No hidden premises, I simply take your excuses seriously, unlike you.

        You clearly think that there is enough evidence that Christianity is false.

        Plenty of versions of christianity, yes, your version included.

        However, you seem deeply desirous that I come to the same conclusion. I wonder to myself: what would convince you that a pattern exists? So far, you’ve dismissed everything I’ve presented as “it can be done without Christianity”. I don’t know what would be good enough for you,

        I couldn´t care less whether you abandon your beliefs or not, plenty of people waste their time with all kinds of things and I don´t find your particular beliefs any more harmful than someone wasting his time with playing World of Warcraft for example. And you don´t see me psychologizing your replies – when you wrote your first response,I didn´t say “ah, you disagree with me, which means that you must be “deeply desirous” for me to convert to your religion”, because that is just silly.
        Re “good enough” – you´ve presented evidence for which you admitted that you would still expect to see it if your god would not exist, and you seriously wonder why I don´t think that´s “good enough”? If you expect that observation if your god would, but also if he wouldn´t exist, then the observation is maximally useless as evidence in this context, not “not good enough” but rather “zero good”.

        We both know that there are True Believers on both sides of all fences. Nevertheless, we have statements like “Over the last several decades, religious practice has been on the decline in a process of secularization.” So I’m actually not sure what you meant.

        Same here.

        • This all started with you saying “True personhood is only known by relationship, not by the test tube.” and me responding that you don´t have a relationship with any god. You can keep saying that you COULD have one in some alternative reality but that is irrelevant, you don´t have one now and neither does anyone else.

          Yes, yes, because if I did, then I would be able to show you God in a test tube, and I can’t, so I don’t. It’s a convenient argument you’ve set up. Deny me the ability to even get off the ground by elevating science to the only epistemology.

          No hidden premises, I simply take your excuses seriously, unlike you.

          Alternatively, I’m interpreting them differently. So often in these discussions, disagreement is seen as willful disagreement, intentionally not taking things seriously, etc. Sometimes it’s communication that is broken down. So I’ll ask again, how did you conclude those things?

          And you don´t see me psychologizing your replies

          While I do see you doing other things (e.g. accusing me of not taking my own arguments seriously), I do apologize for “psychologizing your replies”, little though I have done it.

          you´ve presented evidence for which you admitted that you would still expect to see it if your god would not exist, and you seriously wonder why I don´t think that´s “good enough”?

          Again, that’s not actually what I said. Search the page for “This isn’t actually what I said.” I asked what would be “good enough”, and I have yet to hear an answer. Did my lone attempt to “psychologize your replies” distracted you from that bit?

          Same here.

          Wait a second. I’m the double-quoted person in the below:

          Yes it can; it can lose adherents. It happens all the time. When it doesn’t deliver, plenty lose their faith.

          Also empirically false. Innumerable charlatans from “faith-healers” like Benny Hinn to “prophets” like Pat Robertson have been shown to be charlatans time and again – it makes little, if any, difference. If people would abandon their faith if it doesn´t deliver, there would be no faith left.

          I pointed out to the decline of religious belief in Europe, which indicates that religions can and are losing adherents. Are you claiming that it doesn’t happen via faith not delivering—at least not in a statistically significant sense? If not, please explain what point you were trying to make.

      • Yes, yes, because if I did, then I would be able to show you God in a test tube

        That´s a weird thing to say. You do have relationships with plenty of people – family, friends, coworkers etc. – that doesn´t mean that you can “show me those people in a test tube”.

        and I can’t, so I don’t. It’s a convenient argument you’ve set up. Deny me the ability to even get off the ground by elevating science to the only epistemology.

        Strawman + red herring. You said “And so, science could be seen as understanding “the habits of God”, but habits do not a person make. True personhood is only known by relationship, not by the test tube.” – and as I pointed out time and again, even if this were true, it would still be irrelevant because you don´t have a relationship with any god.

        Alternatively, I’m interpreting them differently. So often in these discussions, disagreement is seen as willful disagreement, intentionally not taking things seriously, etc. Sometimes it’s communication that is broken down. So I’ll ask again, how did you conclude those things?

        Your excuse boils down to “God stays hidden because people are not x”, and what I say boils down to “so either people are actually not x or your God doesn´t exist”.

        Again, that’s not actually what I said. Search the page for “This isn’t actually what I said.” I asked what would be “good enough”,

        That depends on which particular god idea you are talking about. If the god idea involves said god having actual relationships with humans, then people actually having such relationships would be “good enough”.

        I pointed out to the decline of religious belief in Europe, which indicates that religions can and are losing adherents. Are you claiming that it doesn’t happen via faith not delivering—at least not in a statistically significant sense?

        Yup. That has nothing to do with people trying out religions and finding out that they “don´t deliver”. Take as examples the eastern and western part of Germany and Poland. All three regions are culturally western and industrialized and they are geographically right next to each other, and Poland is a Catholic stronghold while east germany has the highest density of atheists and agnostics of all regions in europe, and west germany is somewhere in between. It´s not hard to explain why that is – and it has nothing to do with people trying out religions and finding that they don´t deliver.

        • I’m going to focus on this:

          That depends on which particular god idea you are talking about. If the god idea involves said god having actual relationships with humans, then people actually having such relationships would be “good enough”.

          I don’t understand how you can say this, since in the very beginning, you said:

          Word have meanings. And for no commonly accepted meaning of the word “relationship” could it be said that you, or anyone else, has a relationship with any god.

          So, what would it look like for “people actually having such relationships”? What would suffice, in your view? Me being able to repeatedly call down fire in your presence? I doubt that would work, because it could be characterized as me learning how to channel a force of nature, and such a characterization would be more parsimonious. How could you be convinced of anything more than there existing a vastly advanced alien? It doesn’t seem that hard to imagine aliens telepathically communicating with humans.

          What’s the difference between communicating with a benevolent intelligence and simply having a really intelligent voice in my head which is just something akin to my superego? If I’m not even able to process concepts which aren’t pretty similar to my own (I think there is good reason to suppose this), then it seems perennially assertable that ideas I claim came from a different benevolent intelligence really just came from me. You could easily claim that ‘special’ knowledge that I might obtain—like what you said to your significant other last night in the privacy of your bedroom—is merely secretly gathered knowledge.

          It really seems to me that your way of thinking is doxastically (or is it ‘doxasticly’?) closed to there being a creator-god who can interact with the world. When I get to this point with an interlocutor, I wonder though to what extent this matters. Does following Jesus have to mean believing that he’s God, or just that what he says is trustworthy? There’s the whole is-ought gap which threatens to render the mere acknowledgment of a creator-god irrelevant. The demons believe, and tremble! I return to the idea that if a benevolent creator-god exists, a major thing he/she/it wants is human thriving, by any method which truly obtains it without stomping on people along the way.

          Perhaps the biggest claim of Jesus is that the way to a better world is through self-sacrifice and serving others, in contrast to sacrificing others and serving yourself. Believing that he is God might convince you that he’s really right in saying that this is the Way, but is that the only way to be justified in thinking that? In other words, suppose that you are indeed doxastically closed to the existence of a creator-god. I don’t think this means you would have to be doxastically closed to self-sacrifice and serving others being the Way.

          I have no idea whether this will go anywhere. I do think the is-ought gap makes this whole discussion a bit… complicated.

      • So, what would it look like for “people actually having such relationships”?

        I cannot parse this question. It makes about as much sense to me as asking “what does it mean for me to actually have a relationship with my mother?”.

        Me being able to repeatedly call down fire in your presence?

        No, you having a “relationship” with some god that is actually in any way comparable to your relationships with your family, friends, coworkers, aquaintances etc.pp.

        How could you be convinced of anything more than there existing a vastly advanced alien?

        Since a sufficiently advanced alien species would be for all intents and purposes indistinguishable from actual gods, this distinction has no practical consequences.

        What’s the difference between communicating with a benevolent intelligence and simply having a really intelligent voice in my head which is just something akin to my superego? If I’m not even able to process concepts which aren’t pretty similar to my own (I think there is good reason to suppose this), then it seems perennially assertable that ideas I claim came from a different benevolent intelligence really just came from me. You could easily claim that ‘special’ knowledge that I might obtain—like what you said to your significant other last night in the privacy of your bedroom—is merely secretly gathered knowledge.

        If you had an actual relationship with “God” and he / she / it told you something about my pillow talk, I would simply ask him / her / it if he / she / it actually told you that and if he / she / it admits it, then I would tell him / her / it to stop invading my privacy.
        If that sounds silly to you, then because your “relationship with god” has nothing, literally *nothing*, to do with what the word “relationship” actually means..

        It really seems to me that your way of thinking is doxastically (or is it ‘doxasticly’?) closed to there being a creator-god who can interact with the world.

        If you had some evidence that there is any god interacting with the world and I would ignore it – then I could understand this accusation, but I don´t do that. Again, you yourself admitted that the “evidence” you presented in this thread would also be expected if your god would not exist – which means that it cannot possibly be evidence FOR the existence of your god. Pointing that out is not a sign of doxastic closure, this is simply common sense – if an observation x is expected for A and ⌐A, then x cannot possibly be evidence for either A or ⌐A.

        • I cannot parse this question. It makes about as much sense to me as asking “what does it mean for me to actually have a relationship with my mother?”.

          That seems a very sensible question, especially given that relationships with one’s parents commonly range from “none” to “I call them every day”. Someone I know has parents who insist that he is who they imagine him to be from his childhood; they didn’t really let him grow up in their minds. Therefore, when they interact with him, they treat him as someone he is not, greatly hindering any kind of meaningful conversation. At times, it’s even iffy to call the exchange of words a ‘conversation’.

          A more meaningful relationship than the one I describe is one where conversation with one’s parent can help one understand oneself better. Suppose I voice my ideas of what would be good to accomplish in life and my parents both understand why I think it would be good, and then offer suggestions on how I probably have some wrong ideas and if I were to correct them, I would pursue a different course. I would rank this as one of the most meaningful conversations one can have with a person, for the results of it can have a sweeping impact on one’s life.

          But suppose that I come out of a time of Bible study, prayer, and contemplation as a changed person, as if I’d had a conversation like the above with my parents—except that I identify the other participant as ‘God’ instead of other humans. You immediately jump in and say that I was merely talking to myself, or my simulation of another person, or something like that. Surely there was no ‘God’ involved. At most, I was conversing with an imaginary friend. Or have I mischaracterized you?

          If you had some evidence that there is any god interacting with the world and I would ignore it – then I could understand this accusation, but I don´t do that.

          An extremely common tactic I find—whether you are using it I don’t know—is to speak as if the set of possible observations which would constitute ‘evidence’ contains elements, when in fact it is the null set. You have yet to tell me what would constitute ‘evidence’; why?

          Again, you yourself admitted that the “evidence” you presented in this thread would also be expected if your god would not exist

          No, no, no. You’re drawing this entirely from you supposing that my ability to help my newfound friend is possible without the Bible existing. You are the one who claimed that my example is possible without the Bible. I was very careful in what I said:

          1. “It demonstrates that different metaphysics can often reach the same ends, at least for quite a while.”

          2. “I do think there are more powerful and less powerful ways to bless people, to enhance them and allow them to better express their creativity in the world, to make the world a better place.”

          What specifically did I say I ‘expected’?

          Name one reason, just a single one, for why you would not expect that humans can help each other in such situations if there is no god at all, given that we happen to be social animals.

          I never said I did not expect this.

          Obviously people can comfort each other regardless of religious persuasion. That does not imply that all metaphysical views are equally effective. Indeed, a common complaint against religion is that it introduces delusions which are temporarily effective at quelling emotional discontent.

          Where is the room for there possibly being evidence of the person who holds Christian beliefs being different, such that one can justifiably believe that those beliefs are more likely to be true? Is there any room? I’m not sure. Suppose the Bible is full of psychological truths. Would that mean anything about God existing? I’m not so sure; I cannot simulate your viewpoint and end up at a definite ‘yes’.

          I actually have a very hard time simulating your viewpoint, Andy. For example, I have no idea what you think with respect to Daniel Miessler’s Meaning is an Illusion. I’m not sure how you construct morality, what you consider valuable in life, etc. This is a big deal, because the Bible culminates with the inner realm (of the mind), not the outer. The outer realm is merely the evidence of what the inner is truly like: out of the heart the mouth speaks.

      • But suppose that I come out of a time of Bible study, prayer, and contemplation as a changed person, as if I’d had a conversation like the above with my parents—except that I identify the other participant as ‘God’ instead of other humans.

        The problem is that there is no “other participant” – whether your god is real or not, you are not having a conversation with anyone in the scenario you describe. This experience of reading, reflecting, learning etc. is absolutely common, any random guy you ask would be able to come up with some books, quotes, movies etc. that inspired and changed him / her.
        And when you focus on one particular piece of literature and one particular character – the Bible and Jesus – this is no qualitatively different from someone who focusses on other literature and other characters. If someone spends years reading up on MLK (and maybe even writes a biography about him), he probably occassionally imagines what MLK would say / do in a given situation (analogous to the “what would Jesus do” idea), but he would never claim that he has a *relationship* with MLK – and even if he did, he would misuse the word, because this is simply not what “relationship” means.

        You immediately jump in and say that I was merely talking to myself, or my simulation of another person, or something like that. Surely there was no ‘God’ involved. At most, I was conversing with an imaginary friend. Or have I mischaracterized you?

        Again, you wouldn´t call that a “relationship” if you were reading / reflecting / learning writings by or about Gandhi (for example) – and rightfully so. And I wouldn´t call what you do “talking to an imaginary friend” – an imaginary friend could be physically present and actually have a conversation with you (no one else could see that since this imaginary friend would be just that, imaginary, but this would still have MUCH more in common with an actual relationship than what you describe).

        An extremely common tactic I find—whether you are using it I don’t know—is to speak as if the set of possible observations which would constitute ‘evidence’ contains elements, when in fact it is the null set. You have yet to tell me what would constitute ‘evidence’; why?

        I find it very telling that you even have to ask that question – because that questions makes no sense unless a god would have to be necessarily *hidden*. You would never ask me “what possible observations could convince you that your parents exist” and you probably immediatly see that this question is ridiculous on the face of it. If you substitute “your parents” by “god” however, it doesn´t seem to be ridiculous to ask that for you, but again, that means that you believe that if there is a god, this god is obviously (or even necessarily) hidden.
        And regarding observations that would constitute evidence, I already told you that if your version of god involves actual relationships with humans, then such actual relationships would be evidence. If your version of god doesn´t involve relationships with humans however and choses to stay hidden for some reason, then I doubt that there can be any evidence for the existence of such a god (that is somehow already implied by the label “hidden”). For such a version of God, you would have to explain first how the world would be any different if that God would not exist. If you cannot tell how the world would be different if this god were not real, then no evidence could possibly support the existence of this god, such a god, even IF it would exist, would be 100% indistinguishable from an imaginary one.

        Where is the room for there possibly being evidence of the person who holds Christian beliefs being different, such that one can justifiably believe that those beliefs are more likely to be true?

        I cannot parse this.

        I’m not sure. Suppose the Bible is full of psychological truths. Would that mean anything about God existing?.

        It´s very simple, if an observation O is less likely given ⌐A then it would be given A, then observing O makes A more likely – and “more likely” could, at least in theory, be precisely quantified. Observing O would make A exactly P(O|A) / P(O|⌐A) “more likely”.

        I actually have a very hard time simulating your viewpoint, Andy. For example, I have no idea what you think with respect to Daniel Miessler’s Meaning is an Illusion. I’m not sure how you construct morality, what you consider valuable in life, etc.

        I haven´t read “Meaning is an illusion” and re morals, I guess universal subjectivism comes closest to my position – I fail to see how that is of any relevance for the subject at hand however.

        This is a big deal, because the Bible culminates with the inner realm (of the mind), not the outer. The outer realm is merely the evidence of what the inner is truly like: out of the heart the mouth speaks.

        If by “inner / outer realm” you mean the difference between your actual personality – convictions, emotions, thoughts, desires etc. – on the one hand (“inner realm”) and the way you express this personality towards others (“outer realm”), then what you say here is a deepity. Because in some sense it would be true that the Bible “culminates with inner realm”, but that is trivial because it is impossible to process ANY information with this “outer realm” and EVERYTHING, from the Bible over Harry Potter to Star Trek, “culminates with the inner realm” in this sense.

        • The problem is that there is no “other participant” – whether your god is real or not, you are not having a conversation with anyone in the scenario you describe.

          That begs the very question. This is why I talked about imaginary friend/voice-in-the-head: it actually is possible to have conversations entirely within your head, and a big question is whether God can be one of the voices. You seem to very firmly believe, ‘No’.

          Again, you wouldn´t call that a “relationship” if you were reading / reflecting / learning writings by or about Gandhi (for example) – and rightfully so.

          I think that’s an excellent point; it has to be more than just reading, reflecting, and contemplating. But what is the ‘more’? I should think that ‘more’ would have actual impact on life, being capable of producing consequences that the mere reading, reflecting, and contemplating cannot. How well can we characterize that ‘more’?

          I find it very telling that you even have to ask that question – because that questions makes no sense unless a god would have to be necessarily *hidden*.

          I find it much less surprising, but perhaps that is because I had no real friends until I was 21. I was very used to people not treating me as a full person. I myself felt hidden in a pretty fundamental way. There didn’t seem to be any of the ‘more’ in the paragraph above. If there’s nobody who seems truly interested in what you want, it’s very tempting to withdraw, only dropping a hint here and there, should people care to actually try and get to know you. Add to this the unwillingness to force my will on others—I had had it done to me and I didn’t want to subject others to the same—and hiddenness is almost required, almost necessary.

          And regarding observations that would constitute evidence, I already told you that if your version of god involves actual relationships with humans, then such actual relationships would be evidence.

          And yet you keep denying that such relationships are possible. So tell me, what would you observe, that would convince you that someone was having a relationship with an incorporeal being? Can you conceive of any possible set of observations that would convince you that there is another participant?

          I cannot parse this.

          I told you a story of helping someone out by bringing Christian concepts into play. You said you’ve done something indistinguishable in… ‘power’, shall we say, and therefore my Christian concepts were no more effective than your non-Christian concepts. Well, what would constitute something which is distinguishing? What would be a situation where some set of Christian concepts seem distinctly more powerful than anything else known?

          It´s very simple, if an observation O is less likely given ⌐A then it would be given A, then observing O makes A more likely – and “more likely” could, at least in theory, be precisely quantified. Observing O would make A exactly P(O|A) / P(O|⌐A) “more likely”.

          You didn’t answer the question. I commonly run up against folks who say that the Bible being full of psychological truths would say nothing about God’s existence. The claim would be that humans could have discovered these things before. Or aliens could have presented them to humans. But the God-hypothesis is needlessly extravagant. I’m curious about what your stand is, on the matter. It relates directly to the paragraph above.

          I haven´t read “Meaning is an illusion” and re morals, I guess universal subjectivism comes closest to my position – I fail to see how that is of any relevance for the subject at hand however.

          I told you the relevance: I have trouble simulating your viewpoint, and gave you some examples whereby if I had some more insight into your thoughts on those issues, I might be able to better understand your arguments, by being able to simulate your perspective and generate them myself. This is really the best way to see if you understand another person’s viewpoint.

          If by “inner / outer realm” you mean the difference between your actual personality – convictions, emotions, thoughts, desires etc. – on the one hand (“inner realm”) and the way you express this personality towards others (“outer realm”), then what you say here is a deepity. Because in some sense it would be true that the Bible “culminates with inner realm”, but that is trivial because it is impossible to process ANY information with this “outer realm” and EVERYTHING, from the Bible over Harry Potter to Star Trek, “culminates with the inner realm” in this sense.

          There’s a lot of variation of belief out there about how much of an ‘inner life’ people have, whether this ‘inner life’ has discoverable structure, whether there are truths about this inner life, etc. BF Skinner is an easy example of someone who thinks there is very little in the way of an inner life. Absurdists seem to think that the inner life is 100% subjective, although I should be careful there, as I still don’t understand absurdism well.

      • That begs the very question. This is why I talked about imaginary friend/voice-in-the-head: it actually is possible to have conversations entirely within your head, and a big question is whether God can be one of the voices. You seem to very firmly believe, ‘No’.

        You hear voices in your head that are not your own and you can have a conversation with this voice? Seriously? If so, why are you talking to me? Ask this voice if it is god, and if it indeed does claim to be god, ask it if it could tell me that you were right and I was wrong.

        I think that’s an excellent point; it has to be more than just reading, reflecting, and contemplating. But what is the ‘more’? I should think that ‘more’ would have actual impact on life, being capable of producing consequences that the mere reading, reflecting, and contemplating cannot. How well can we characterize that ‘more’?

        This “more” is nothing but a sign that whatever you were reading / watching / hearing made you think. I would say that about pretty much every book and movie that I consider to be good (with the exception of my guilty pleasure – cheap horror movies).

        I find it much less surprising, but perhaps that is because I had no real friends until I was 21. I was very used to people not treating me as a full person. I myself felt hidden in a pretty fundamental way. There didn’t seem to be any of the ‘more’ in the paragraph above. If there’s nobody who seems truly interested in what you want, it’s very tempting to withdraw, only dropping a hint here and there, should people care to actually try and get to know you. Add to this the unwillingness to force my will on others—I had had it done to me and I didn’t want to subject others to the same—and hiddenness is almost required, almost necessary.

        If you would have been living in a hole with no interactions to the outside world whatsoever until you were 21, and no one on the outside knows where you live (or even if you are (still) alive), then this situation would indeed be comparable. And in this hypothetical scenario, it would be impossible to know and to demonstrate that you actually exist, unless you come out of your cave or someone finds your hiding place by accident.

        And yet you keep denying that such relationships are possible.

        I don´t say that they are impossible and never did. I say that you don´t have such a relationship. If you had one, there would be no need for the two of us to discuss this, we could simply talk to god instead. Your god might obviously still be real, but you do not have a “relationship” with it.

        So tell me, what would you observe, that would convince you that someone was having a relationship with an incorporeal being? Can you conceive of any possible set of observations that would convince you that there is another participant?

        The exact same evidence that would convince me of the existence of any other relationship – I don´t see why there should be a double standard for relationships with gods. If I would doubt that your wife is real, you could invite me over to dinner to meet her. You can´t do that with any god, because you don´t have a relationship with any god.

        I told you a story of helping someone out by bringing Christian concepts into play. You said you’ve done something indistinguishable in… ‘power’, shall we say, and therefore my Christian concepts were no more effective than your non-Christian concepts. Well, what would constitute something which is distinguishing? What would be a situation where some set of Christian concepts seem distinctly more powerful than anything else known?

        I doubt that this will lead you anywhere. All successful religions were extremely positive influences in some locations at some points in time and terrible influences in other circumstances. The islamic golden age was just that, a golden age where human wellbeing and knowledge improved drastically. That doesn´t mean that the Qu´ran is what it claims to be – the final and perfect revelation of God allmighty.

        You didn’t answer the question. I commonly run up against folks who say that the Bible being full of psychological truths would say nothing about God’s existence. The claim would be that humans could have discovered these things before. Or aliens could have presented them to humans. But the God-hypothesis is needlessly extravagant. I’m curious about what your stand is, on the matter. It relates directly to the paragraph above.

        If you can demonstrate that a) the Bible indeed is “full of psychological truths”, b) these “psychological truths” are original contributions of the bible authors and were not copied / modified from other sources and c) it is more likely to obtain this knowledge via revelation then discovering it via contemplation, then this would obviously constitute evidence.
        I don´t find the aliens / gods distinction relevant – any technology that would be sufficiently more advanced than what we are familiar with would be indistinguishable from magic for us, and any being that has control over such technology would be indistinguishable from a god for us. In practice, this would thus be a distinction without a difference.

        • You hear voices in your head that are not your own and you can have a conversation with this voice? Seriously? If so, why are you talking to me? Ask this voice if it is god, and if it indeed does claim to be god, ask it if it could tell me that you were right and I was wrong.

          I almost never have thoughts that don’t seem to come from me; I wouldn’t actually describe myself as having much of any relationship with God, to my chagrin. The closest I can come to said voices is when I try and simulate what someone else would say. I was taught this technique several years ago and it is quite powerful. The key is to hold a simulated conversation with someone in your head, but to not filter what you think the other person would say: just blurt it out. By doing this, I found that I understood other people a lot better than I thought.

          The above simulation technique generalizes to simulating what God might say. Whether or not one believes God actually exists, or whether one is trying to imagine what the greatest possible being would say, is not yet relevant. In your simulated discussion, are you judged? Are you condemned? Are you encouraged? The Bible provides a lot of guidance as to what God would say in such a conversation. But at this point, the conversation is solely a simulation; there is no other real participant.

          Now, the better you can simulate someone else, the more real they are to you. People who have been through something terrible together have significant common ground, and thus can better simulate the other person. A few words can suffice to communicate what is going on deep underneath the surface. The better you can simulate someone, the easier it is for that person to make tweaks to your understanding of them. “Given this situation, I see you saying A, B, C, and D.” “Close, but not quite; I would say A, C, and D, but not B, and here’s why.”

          If I were to attempt an answer to my ‘more’ in my previous comment, I would say that it consists in someone other than me, changing the simulations I have of others in my head. The sign that I’m actually in relationship with someone else is if they can change me. I think that occasionally, my simulation of God, in my head, is changed by something other than me, and something other than other people. Can I know this for sure? Nope. I can’t even know there are other minds, for sure. And this is deeply a question of there being another mind.

          My simulation of God is still quite poor. I also doubt that he would ever make it such that I never have a desire to talk to other people. That’s what controlling people like to do. I also doubt that God would just tell me all truth. That would deprive me of the joy of discovering things. I talk to you because you make me think and I value that.

          This “more” is nothing but a sign that whatever you were reading / watching / hearing made you think.

          I’m sorry; I meant for the ‘more’ to be the difference between interacting with a work of art and with a person.

          I say that you don´t have such a relationship.

          For some reason, I get the impression that you think a real relationship with God would mean he’d be the Oracle at Delphi, I would be a priest, and you could inquire of him through me. It’d be the type of relationship where he would be used, not interacted with. I’m reminded of this phenomenon:

          Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. (Jn 6:26)

          Furthermore, I get the sense—which might be entirely wrong—that you expect my relationship with God wouldn’t be enhanced by comparing my simulation of him with others’ simulations of him. What I actually believe is that the more people compare and contrast their simulations, the closer they’ll get to what God is really like. It’s almost as if God requires people to deeply associate with other people not like them, a la Mt 5:43-48. I’m not sure how this fits into your idea of what a relationship with God would be like, if it were a real relationship.

          The exact same evidence that would convince me of the existence of any other relationship – I don´t see why there should be a double standard for relationships with gods. If I would doubt that your wife is real, you could invite me over to dinner to meet her. You can´t do that with any god, because you don´t have a relationship with any god.

          I think you’re really flattening what a ‘relationship’ is. Suppose Jesus appears to someone who hates him and they have a chat. Would the person who hates Jesus come out of the conversation with any more knowledge than he would by reading the NT? Doubtful. And yet you seem to be saying that such a fleshmind-fleshmind interaction constitutes a ‘relationship’, while a fleshmind-spiritmind interaction, which results in a new concept appearing to the fleshmind, doesn’t constitute a ‘relationship’.

          You surely know something about Jesus. Would you ever consider becoming his disciple? If not, how on earth would you have anything remotely consisting of a ‘relationship’ with him? If you don’t want to become involved with what he cares about, any ‘relationship’ you have will be as flat as you reading a book, then putting it on your bookshelf and going about your life, approximately like it was before.

          I doubt that this will lead you anywhere. All successful religions were extremely positive influences in some locations at some points in time and terrible influences in other circumstances.

          I have the same doubt, but let’s try something. Do you think that in principle, it is possible to find that people in the locations of positive influence were being more true to the religion than the locations of negative influence? We’d have to avoid No True Scotsman. For example, we might find that the positive influences involved obedience to Mt 5:23-24, while the negative influences tended to disobey that.

          I don´t find the aliens / gods distinction relevant – any technology that would be sufficiently more advanced than what we are familiar with would be indistinguishable from magic for us, and any being that has control over such technology would be indistinguishable from a god for us. In practice, this would thus be a distinction without a difference.

          Curious; I’ve started heading in this direction as well. The claim that the author is an omni-god can be seen as shorthand for saying that the content is trustworthy. But this isn’t actually the reason Yahweh gives for Israel to trust him in the OT. For a long time, the refrain is “for I brought you out of Egypt”. In other words: “I’ve given evidence that I have your best interests at heart, so continue to trust and follow me!”

          There seems to be an enormous disconnect, though, between providing principles for better living and being in actual relationship with God. Unless acceptance of those principles somehow helps you hear God and communicate with him? It is well-known that projection can greatly hinder the communication of one person with another. And if you aren’t open to a person like God existing (“nobody would think that way!”), communication would be pretty iffy. In The Magician’s Nephew, CS Lewis has the magician uncle being unable to hear the Narnian animals’ voices, because he believed so strongly that animals cannot talk to humans. In a sense, I view Jesus’ appearance as a huge, “Hey, I’m not like what you were thinking, I’m like this!”

      • @labreuer

        I also doubt that he would ever make it such that I never have a desire to talk to other people. That’s what controlling people like to do. I also doubt that God would just tell me all truth. That would deprive me of the joy of discovering things.

        This somehow presumes two dichotomies:
        1. Either a God would totally monopolize your attention, to the degree that you are no longer interested in talking to anyone else, or it wouldn´t interact with you at all.
        2. Either a God would tell you everything that is true, or it would tell you nothing whatsoever.
        Both are false dichotomies.

        For some reason, I get the impression that you think a real relationship with God would mean he’d be the Oracle at Delphi, I would be a priest, and you could inquire of him through me.

        Nope. The very idea of a selected few – “prophets” – being able to communicate with a god while no one else is able to do this or even just able to listen to the alleged conversation with a deity,.is ridiculous on the face of it, the most obvious kind of fraud in the history of mankind.
        IF you had an actual relationship with a god, there would be no need for us to talk about this subject – you would simply introduce me to this god and I would talk with it instead of talking with you about it.

        Furthermore, I get the sense—which might be entirely wrong—that you expect my relationship with God wouldn’t be enhanced…

        Sorry to stop you at this point, but you do not have a relationship with any god – you cannot “enhance” something that you don´t have to begin with.

        I think you’re really flattening what a ‘relationship’ is. Suppose Jesus appears to someone who hates him and they have a chat. Would the person who hates Jesus come out of the conversation with any more knowledge than he would by reading the NT?

        I think that is a nonsensical question because if Jesus were real and would do that, you cannot possibly know what he would say and how the person he talks to would react – you´ve never met him, never talked to him, never seen him talk to someone else, you have nothing even remotely resembling a “relationship” with him, you just presume that he would be like the character you imagine him to be based on your personal interpretation of some literature about him.

        You surely know something about Jesus.

        No, I don´t. I know something about what christians think / used to think about Jesus and that´s it – I have no idea which of those people, if anyone, is right about what Jesus (if he existed) was like. Among the earliest christian movements was one that considered Yahweh to be evil and Jesus to be a savior who could save them *from* this evil god, that interpretation does make some sense to me given the obvious disconnects between the OT and the NT, but I have no idea if this characterization of Jesus is closer to what Jesus actually said about who he is compared more orthodox christian views. I also have no idea which scriptures those people were reading – they probably had a heavily modified version of Luke and some additional scriptures that we don´t have, we only know that these scriptures used to exist because some writings that tried to refute them still survive. And even if I could read those scriptures, without knowing what sources they are based on, this still wouldn´t tell me very much about who, if anyone, is right about what Jesus did and didn´t say.
        And even if I would assume that some of the surviving scriptures paint an at least somewhat accurate picture of what Jesus was like – which scriptures do I choose? The synoptic Jesus and the Jesus in John is quite different to mention just the most obvious problem. For some of those interpretations, Jesus comes across as a wise teacher and all around good guy (the Jesus in the Jefferson Bible for example), for others, not so much – the Calvinist Jesus is a complete dick for example.

        Would you ever consider becoming his disciple?

        I´ll tell you that after I had a chat with the guy.

        If not, how on earth would you have anything remotely consisting of a ‘relationship’ with him?

        That is an incredibly weird thing to say. So the two of us could never have any kind of “relationship” unless you become my disciple? We couldn´t be friends, rivals, aquaintances, enemies or have any other kind of relationship except for a teacher-student relationship? (How do we decide who gets to be the teacher?)
        This is also a red herring – no one has a “relationship with Jesus”, no matter whether they “want to be the disciple” of what they imagine Jesus to be like, or passionately hate him, or just don´t give a damn or anything in between.

        I have the same doubt, but let’s try something. Do you think that in principle, it is possible to find that people in the locations of positive influence were being more true to the religion than the locations of negative influence? We’d have to avoid No True Scotsman. For example, we might find that the positive influences involved obedience to Mt 5:23-24, while the negative influences tended to disobey that.

        I have no doubts that you could come up with an interpretation of christianity that would lead to the conclusion that all christians who were overall rather “negative influences” for their fellow human beings were not “true to christianity”, but so what? I could do the exact same with Karl Marx and Communism instead of Jesus and Christianity (and trust me, it wouldn´t be very hard) – but being able to come up with such interpretations doesn´t say very much about how those ideas would be received and translated into practice in a given cultural context. Something might sound great in theory but will be a total desaster in practice.

        It is well-known that projection can greatly hinder the communication of one person with another. And if you aren’t open to a person like God existing (“nobody would think that way!”), communication would be pretty iffy. In The Magician’s Nephew, CS Lewis has the magician uncle being unable to hear the Narnian animals’ voices, because he believed so strongly that animals cannot talk to humans.

        Irrelevant. The only people that hear God speaking are either in mental institutions or they are demonstrably lying, the rest of us, no matter how open to the idea of God speaking they are, and even if they are absolutely convinced that there is a God, won´t hear a thing.

        • This somehow presumes two dichotomies

          You asked “why are you talking to me?”; I answered. Supposing that I had the maximum possible relationship with God, in contrast to the tiny bit I do have, I think I would still want to talk to you. I wasn’t asserting false dichotomies in any way; I was saying that God would not go to one of the poles of each of the dichotomies. If he would, then that would be reason to not talk to you. But perhaps you implied something along the lines of, “why are you talking to me [about what having a relationship with God is/could be like]”?

          The very idea of a selected few – “prophets” – being able to communicate with a god while no one else is able to do this or even just able to listen to the alleged conversation with a deity,.is ridiculous on the face of it, the most obvious kind of fraud in the history of mankind.

          Why? The Bible describes people as wanting a human leader who, if he must, will talk with the gods. There are three aspects to this:

          1. In Deut 5 (the giving of the Decalogue), the people experience God booming and burning and bumping and plead for there to be intermediaries between themselves and him. Note that the New Covenant has people relating directly to God; the last verse in Jer 31:31-34 implies there will no longer be intermediaries.

          2. Israel demanded a king in 1 Sam 8, so that they could be like other nations. Verse 7 is relevant: “for [the Israelites] have not rejected [Samuel, the prophet], but they have rejected me from being king over them”. This pushes God even further from the picture, taking him out of the chain of command, as it were.

          3. The Israelites repeatedly slipped into idolatry; not that idols do not make any demands other than what people put in their mouths. Yahweh, on the other hand, made some quite stringent demands of the Israelites. False prophets repeatedly rose up in Israel, pretending to speak for God but not—like declaring “‘Peace, peace,’ … when there is no peace.””

          Now, I get that the above could be seen as some particular group of prophets complaining that other priests are in power and ought not be; it could all be seen as a power struggle for who gets to speak for God. But if taken as presented, the above represents a deep desire on the side of people to not be connected to a demanding God. “Just let me be!” We can understand that desire given priests like the Pharisees, but we also have Jesus being harsher on them than anyone else.

          Is the above unrealistic? Do people actually deeply want to be in relationship with someone like Jesus? Someone who is loving but also demanding? “If you love me you will obey my commandments[, which include cutting off your hand if it makes you sin, ‘hating’ your family in comparison to me, etc.].” I’ve found that people generally want responsibility to exist somewhere other than in themselves. They want someone to take care of them, someone who will tell them what to do (except in their bedroom), and someone [who is not they] to blame when things go wrong. The Third Wave and the Milgram experiment show this tendency.

          The last thing a nation wants to do is admit that the fault for some situation lies with the majority of the people in that nation. No, no, “Scapegoats wanted, and we’ll give you power as payment.”

          IF you had an actual relationship with a god, there would be no need for us to talk about this subject – you would simply introduce me to this god and I would talk with it instead of talking with you about it.

          This isn’t even how it works with people. Perhaps you will criticize this on the grounds of God’s omnipresence, but there are plenty of reasons for why people wouldn’t want to personally interact with you: a big one is if you have insufficient intention of getting to know them and what they want out of life. Imagine someone wanting to ask Obama all sorts of ultimately irrelevant questions to him: if Obama knew this happen ahead of time, he wouldn’t allocate time for that person. Tell me: do you have any intention of considering that God’s version of human thriving is better than your own? If so, how does this intention manifest?

          I think that is a nonsensical question because if Jesus were real and would do that, you cannot possibly know what he would say and how the person he talks to would react – you´ve never met him, never talked to him, never seen him talk to someone else, you have nothing even remotely resembling a “relationship” with him, you just presume that he would be like the character you imagine him to be based on your personal interpretation of some literature about him.

          You are entirely correct; I am hypothesizing based on a small amount of textual evidence. Then again, many of the Pharisees did hate Jesus, and he did have several interactions with them. Jesus interacted with the rich young ruler, who left (terminating the ‘relationship’, if you can even call it that) upon finding Jesus’ demands were too high. Jesus ends Mt 7:21-23 with “I never knew you”, to people who thought that they knew Jesus. We know it’s possible for someone to think he/she knows another person, and yet be entirely wrong except perhaps for the vocalization of the name and a few general habits.

          What did it benefit the Pharisees to know Jesus? He was a threat to their power structure; they did not want him in any shape or form. To those who wanted to destroy him, I doubt he was even a full person, let along God. I’ll bet he was just a threat to be neutralized. You seem to be claiming that it would be better for Jesus to physically appear to you, but I’m not sure it really would be ‘better’, if you aren’t prepared to seriously listen to him, to what he has to say. “If he exists he would have a relationship with me” just doesn’t seem like a sound argument!

          which scriptures do I choose?

          If all Jesus had to do, to get you to follow him, is to point out the correct scriptures and correct interpretation of them, I think he would. Suppose, for example, that you’re all set to “deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow Jesus”, if only you could get the right definition of all three verbs and nouns. If that were the case, you’d be like Thomas, who just needed to stick his finger in Jesus’ side, before he believed. I’m fairly certain that Jesus would somehow communicate to you the definitions of those three verbs and three nouns if my hypothetical situation obtained. But from our interactions to date, I don’t have any confidence whatsoever that it obtains in the slightest.

          The complaint that there are contradictory scriptures and contradictory interpretations loses a lot of force if there exists an external standard. The noisiness in Hubble’s original data was not a problem because guesses could be built upon and the results of those guesses, tested. Every time people point to goodness or badness in the actions of Christians, they are admitting an external standard.

          That is an incredibly weird thing to say. So the two of us could never have any kind of “relationship” unless you become my disciple? We couldn´t be friends, rivals, aquaintances, enemies or have any other kind of relationship except for a teacher-student relationship? (How do we decide who gets to be the teacher?)

          You are correct; I was using “Would you ever consider becoming his disciple?” as shorthand for “Would Jesus having a chat with you accomplish any of his purposes?” Passages like Is 6:8-11 indicate that clarifying what you are against (‘rivals’) can be useful. So I suppose this tangent ends with you believing that if Jesus exists as God, he would have, or have had, some sort of relationship with you, Andy Schueler—something which you would recognize as a relationship, or an attempt at a relationship, by another mind, another being. Is this accurate? You keep saying that I don’t have a relationship with Jesus, because if I did, you could—indeed, I’d send you Jesus’ # and you two would have a chat.

          This is also a red herring – no one has a “relationship with Jesus”, no matter whether they “want to be the disciple” of what they imagine Jesus to be like, or passionately hate him, or just don´t give a damn or anything in between.

          This seems like an incredibly arrogant thing to say. It reminds me of the person who wishes to vehemently deny that anyone has ever been abducted by aliens, even if admitting that as a distinct possibility wouldn’t change how that person has to act in the slightest.

          Something might sound great in theory but will be a total desaster in practice.

          Yep, hence why I repeatedly post Mt 5:43-48, Jn 13:34-35, and Jn 17:20-23. If Christianity is true, it necessarily must manifest in… ‘interesting’ ways. Those verses provide one of the better candidates I know: people existing in a unity (but not uniformity) that tends to be extremely hard to obtain in reality. I have a friend for which most flavors of Christianity do not work; he’d be rejected as un-Christian by them, even though e.g. eleven people have told him that he convinced them not to attempt suicide after talking to him. There is a lot of complexity to avoiding No True Scotsman and constructing something that is psychologically tenable. How do we make it so that the people who choose not to participate make that choice by will, and not by accident of birth/etc.? I’m not aware of any utopias without prisons; who will populate those prisons?

          The only people that hear God speaking

          I’ll give you a few examples of what I’d consider most likely to be communication from God. Let’s see how well your ‘insane or lying’ dichotomy fits.

          1. In struggling to understand how learning works, I suddenly got the insight that it is like “diagonalizing a matrix”. After some discussion with folks better at math than I, I transformed this to “discovering the eigenvectors/values of a matrix”.
          2. My wife and I were discussing Ja 1:2-4, and I got the sudden inspiration to ask her what helps her best experience joy in the midst of trials, instead of thinking I could objectively discover what ought to work best for her.
          3. While experiencing a bout of self-hatred (this is fairly common for me), I got the sense that if Jesus does not hate me, I ought not hate me. Furthermore, Jesus isn’t going to hate part of me to change me. He will hate something not-me, like a hurtful thought-form I cling to, but he will not hate me.

          Feel free to explain how the above aren’t actually Jesus talking to me, but I can probably simulate such explanations myself—I’ve talked to atheists and skeptics enough to be pretty good at it. But I don’t think the above fits cleanly into your ‘insane or lying’ dichotomy. It strikes me that Jesus would want me to know #1-3. Suppose that what I’m doing is thinking about how a perfect being would view the situation. Suppose Jesus well-represents what a perfect being would be like. Then my ‘lie’ would be saying that Jesus is real, but it wouldn’t be anything else. You’re welcome to cite the naturalistic fallacy or something else to question the concept of a ‘perfect being’, but I suspect we’ll disagree metaphysically, which is very different from lying.

          Perhaps us disagreeing metaphysically constitutes me being insane from your metaphysics, but that still doesn’t qualify me for being locked up in a mental institution, unless perhaps you agree with Boghossian—that “public health policies [ought to be] designed to contain and ultimately eradicate faith”, and that locking people like me up in mental institutions is a good way to accomplish this.

          P.S. I suggest getting in the habit of referring to things with ‘that’ and ‘which’, and referring to beings with ‘who’ and ‘whom’.

      • I wasn’t asserting false dichotomies in any way; I was saying that God would not go to one of the poles of each of the dichotomies.

        If a god exists, it is at one pole of those dichotomies – at the one where it doesn´t talk with anyone about anything.

        Now, I get that the above could be seen as some particular group of prophets complaining that other priests are in power and ought not be; it could all be seen as a power struggle for who gets to speak for God. But if taken as presented, the above represents a deep desire on the side of people to not be connected to a demanding God. “Just let me be!” We can understand that desire given priests like the Pharisees, but we also have Jesus being harsher on them than anyone else.

        Unless you can present some evidence that “prophets” a few thousand years ago were any different from prophets today – liars and lunatics, every single one of them – I really don´t care what the Bible has to say about this.

        Is the above unrealistic? Do people actually deeply want to be in relationship with someone like Jesus? Someone who is loving but also demanding? “If you love me you will obey my commandments[, which include cutting off your hand if it makes you sin, ‘hating’ your family in comparison to me, etc.].” I’ve found that people generally want responsibility to exist somewhere other than in themselves. They want someone to take care of them, someone who will tell them what to do (except in their bedroom), and someone [who is not they] to blame when things go wrong. The Third Wave and the Milgram experiment show this tendency.

        What you do here is like discussing what the optimal defense strategy against an Adava Kedavra curse is – it might be interesting for nerds who like the source material, but it has exactly zero practical consequences as long as no one presents evidence that witchcraft is actually real.

        This isn’t even how it works with people. Perhaps you will criticize this on the grounds of God’s omnipresence, but there are plenty of reasons for why people wouldn’t want to personally interact with you: a big one is if you have insufficient intention of getting to know them and what they want out of life.

        I´m not aware of any evidence that indicates that there might be a person who has never met me personally, but despises me so incredibly much that (s)he would go out of his / her way to prevent me from even becoming aware of his / her existence and to make sure that s(he) will never ever be near me or have to interact with me in any way. But your god apparently feels that about every human being on this planet.

        Imagine someone wanting to ask Obama all sorts of ultimately irrelevant questions to him: if Obama knew this happen ahead of time, he wouldn’t allocate time for that person. Tell me: do you have any intention of considering that God’s version of human thriving is better than your own? If so, how does this intention manifest?

        I don´t have the foggiest clue what “God’s version of human thriving” IS if there is any such thing. If there would be such a thing, of course I´d consider it.

        What did it benefit the Pharisees to know Jesus? He was a threat to their power structure; they did not want him in any shape or form. To those who wanted to destroy him, I doubt he was even a full person, let along God. I’ll bet he was just a threat to be neutralized. You seem to be claiming that it would be better for Jesus to physically appear to you, but I’m not sure it really would be ‘better’, if you aren’t prepared to seriously listen to him, to what he has to say. “If he exists he would have a relationship with me” just doesn’t seem like a sound argument!

        So not a single human being is “prepared to seriously listen to Jesus” but this was completely different two thousand years ago, where plenty of people where “prepared to seriously listen to Jesus”, and for some magical reason, every single one of those lived in palestine – but back then, Jesus actually didn´t give a fuck about whether someone is “prepared to seriously listen to him” or not, he just talked to anyone who was willing to listen. but stopped doing that and instead chose to talk to no one ever again for reasons unknown.
        This is comically absurd. YEC level absurd. Mormon magic underwear absurd.

        If all Jesus had to do, to get you to follow him, is to point out the correct scriptures and correct interpretation of them, I think he would. Suppose, for example, that you’re all set to “deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow Jesus”, if only you could get the right definition of all three verbs and nouns. If that were the case, you’d be like Thomas, who just needed to stick his finger in Jesus’ side, before he believed. I’m fairly certain that Jesus would somehow communicate to you the definitions of those three verbs and three nouns if my hypothetical situation obtained. But from our interactions to date, I don’t have any confidence whatsoever that it obtains in the slightest.

        So you have evidence that there is a “correct” christology, not in the sense that it accurately reflects what christians thought about Jesus but rather what is actually *true* about Jesus and you have further evidence to demonstrate that there ever was even just a single person who talked to Jesus to find out which correct interpretation this is?
        If you have this evidence, present it, if you don´t – this is 100% a red herring.

        The complaint that there are contradictory scriptures and contradictory interpretations loses a lot of force if there exists an external standard.

        No, it doesn´t.

        The noisiness in Hubble’s original data was not a problem because guesses could be built upon and the results of those guesses, tested.

        Has nothing to do with christianity.

        Every time people point to goodness or badness in the actions of Christians, they are admitting an external standard.

        No, they don´t.

        You are correct; I was using “Would you ever consider becoming his disciple?” as shorthand for “Would Jesus having a chat with you accomplish any of his purposes?” Passages like Is 6:8-11 indicate that clarifying what you are against (‘rivals’) can be useful. So I suppose this tangent ends with you believing that if Jesus exists as God, he would have, or have had, some sort of relationship with you, Andy Schueler—something which you would recognize as a relationship, or an attempt at a relationship, by another mind, another being. Is this accurate? You keep saying that I don’t have a relationship with Jesus, because if I did, you could—indeed, I’d send you Jesus’ # and you two would have a chat.

        It´s not what I “believe” – this is what the word “relationship” means.

        This seems like an incredibly arrogant thing to say. It reminds me of the person who wishes to vehemently deny that anyone has ever been abducted by aliens, even if admitting that as a distinct possibility wouldn’t change how that person has to act in the slightest.

        Possibilities are not interesting per se – everything that is not logically self-refuting is automatically “possible”, it is “possible” that Santa is real, it´s “possible” that witchcraft is real and it is “possible” that fairies are real. If you want an “admission”, here is one: EVERYTHING is “possible”.
        Doesn´t change the fact that there is exactly as much evidence for people having relationships with Jesus as there is evidence for people having relationships with Santa.

        Yep, hence why I repeatedly post Mt 5:43-48, Jn 13:34-35, and Jn 17:20-23. If Christianity is true, it necessarily must manifest in… ‘interesting’ ways.

        Scientology manifests itself in “interesting” ways as well, doesn´t make it true.

        I’ll give you a few examples of what I’d consider most likely to be communication from God. Let’s see how well your ‘insane or lying’ dichotomy fits.

        1. In struggling to understand how learning works, I suddenly got the insight that it is like “diagonalizing a matrix”. After some discussion with folks better at math than I, I transformed this to “discovering the eigenvectors/values of a matrix”.
        2. My wife and I were discussing Ja 1:2-4, and I got the sudden inspiration to ask her what helps her best experience joy in the midst of trials, instead of thinking I could objectively discover what ought to work best for her.
        3. While experiencing a bout of self-hatred (this is fairly common for me), I got the sense that if Jesus does not hate me, I ought not hate me. Furthermore, Jesus isn’t going to hate part of me to change me. He will hate something not-me, like a hurtful thought-form I cling to, but he will not hate me.

        Feel free to explain how the above aren’t actually Jesus talking to me, but I can probably simulate such explanations myself—I’ve talked to atheists and skeptics enough to be pretty good at it.

        No, I can´t explain this. I don´t even begin to understand where you see any connection whatsoever between those examples and “talking to Jesus”. I know that “don´t even begin to understand” is an overused phrase, but I mean it quite literally here.

        • If a god exists, it is at one pole of those dichotomies – at the one where it doesn´t talk with anyone about anything.

          False. Your presumptions of how a deity would interact with the universe causes you to conclude this. Maybe these presumptions only ‘come alive’ when talking about issues like this, but they’re there, in your brain.

          Unless you can present some evidence that “prophets” a few thousand years ago were any different from prophets today – liars and lunatics, every single one of them – I really don´t care what the Bible has to say about this.

          I know several pastors of congregations who want the well-being of members and approach this purpose the best they can. They aren’t prophets per se, but they’re the closest I can find. Claiming that none of them is sanely pursuing the truth is a pretty awful accusation. If there are such people today, I think there were such people a few thousand years ago. Not all of them and perhaps not most of them, but some of them.

          What you do here is like discussing what the optimal defense strategy against an Adava Kedavra curse is – it might be interesting for nerds who like the source material, but it has exactly zero practical consequences as long as no one presents evidence that witchcraft is actually real.

          It’s Avada Kedavra. :-p Anyhow, you haven’t addressed the OT ‘claim’ that people don’t want to have a Yahweh-like character make demands on them, and that the same tendency to reject personal responsibility exists all over the place today, at least in America. You claimed the following:

          The very idea of a selected few – “prophets” – being able to communicate with a god while no one else is able to do this or even just able to listen to the alleged conversation with a deity,.is ridiculous on the face of it, the most obvious kind of fraud in the history of mankind.

          I gave an explanation for why this would be the case, and you just didn’t respond to it. You have ideas on how a deity would interact with people and I don’t think they are well-founded on knowledge of psychology. Are you willing to explain why you said the above—upon what assumptions it relies?

          I´m not aware of any evidence that indicates that there might be a person who has never met me personally, but despises me so incredibly much that (s)he would go out of his / her way to prevent me from even becoming aware of his / her existence and to make sure that s(he) will never ever be near me or have to interact with me in any way. But your god apparently feels that about every human being on this planet.

          If the plethora of religion throughout space and time is dotted with real interactions with the divine, according to people’s non-perfect powers of observation and interpretation, then there is plenty of evidence, even if there is much quackery to add noise to the system and corrupt present signals. The idea that a Yahweh-like deity is utterly absent is at odds with the holy texts present. I know your plausibility framework says that they are all 100% human-concocted, with extremely high confidence. But to deny that the existence of the holy texts and all religion, plus all religious experiences, can possibly be evidence of the divine is really quite iffy. The correct claim seems to be that you think the evidence better supports your position.

          I don´t have the foggiest clue what “God’s version of human thriving” IS if there is any such thing. If there would be such a thing, of course I´d consider it.

          So you’ve never read the NT, or if you have, you’ve never come across the presence of a concept of human thriving therein?

          So not a single human being is “prepared to seriously listen to Jesus”

          False. There are plenty of Christians who claim to have a personal relationship with Jesus. You are, of course, calling them deluded or liars. But they’re there; your “no single human being” claim is not as strong as you’d like to believe.

          but back then, Jesus actually didn´t give a fuck about whether someone is “prepared to seriously listen to him” or not, he just talked to anyone who was willing to listen.

          Maybe he had his fill of those who had no intention of following him. I’d think it would get boring after a while. Maybe that’s sacrilegious of me to say or maybe Jesus wouldn’t act in so human a manner.

          So you have evidence that there is a “correct” christology, not in the sense that it accurately reflects what christians thought about Jesus but rather what is actually *true* about Jesus and you have further evidence to demonstrate that there ever was even just a single person who talked to Jesus to find out which correct interpretation this is?
          If you have this evidence, present it, if you don´t – this is 100% a red herring.

          When I say ‘correct’ in such contexts, I mean ‘correct’ in the same way that current scientific theory is ‘correct’. I believe the true Christology is infinite in description, just like I think the true nature of how reality works is infinite in description. Some approximations are much better than others, and there are ways to know this—to measure the wrongness, as it were.

          Most of the ‘evidence’ is textual, in the form of disciples who continually didn’t get what Jesus was here to do. Far be it that Jesus would have to suffer at the hands of the chief priests and scribes! Far be it that Jesus would wash the feet of his disciples! Far be it that it is harder for rich people to go to heaven! Be this as it may, Jesus dropped plenty of clues about what outward behavior was evidence of inward health and purity. Instead of being metaphysical tyrants, we could actually understand which beliefs do go bad places, and which ones don’t, in people of what mental constitution.

          Other than this, I don’t know what you’re getting at. It kind of seems like you skirted my original comment. “Evidence I’ll appreciate or I won’t even consider it!”

          No, it doesn´t.

          If there were no way for Hubble to test his linear fit with y-intercept = 0, then the noise in his data points would have screwed him over. But he did, and thus the noise was tolerable. I am equating the variety of interpretations out there with ‘noise’.

          No, they don´t.

          Then I have no idea what folks are trying to claim when they point to Christianity leading to badness. These claims have nothing to do with truth? It certainly baffles me why they’re made so often, because they are never properly sampled. But I suspect that if the weight of the evidence showed that Christians are better on average than non-Christians, most atheists and skeptics wouldn’t care a whit. So I guess what I was objecting to was intellectual dishonesty on their part (not on yours). Moving on…

          It´s not what I “believe” – this is what the word “relationship” means.

          No, it isn’t. There’s nothing problematic with me having a relationship with a non-corporeal being who can mind-speak. Your problem is that if I have such a relationship, you ought to, as well. And because you can’t (or won’t), I don’t, either.

          Doesn´t change the fact that there is exactly as much evidence for people having relationships with Jesus as there is evidence for people having relationships with Santa.

          It’s a little low to dismiss claims of personal religious experience thusly.

          Scientology manifests itself in “interesting” ways as well, doesn´t make it true.

          If your use of ‘true’ here is in the scientific sense, I will agree.

          No, I can´t explain this. I don´t even begin to understand where you see any connection whatsoever between those examples and “talking to Jesus”. I know that “don´t even begin to understand” is an overused phrase, but I mean it quite literally here.

          The examples I gave are things that I learned which one would very much expect to learn in relationship with another person.

      • False. Your presumptions of how a deity would interact with the universe causes you to conclude this. Maybe these presumptions only ‘come alive’ when talking about issues like this, but they’re there, in your brain.
        And these presumptions would be what?

        I know several pastors of congregations who want the well-being of members and approach this purpose the best they can. They aren’t prophets per se, but they’re the closest I can find.

        Erm… cool. And I can´t find any wizards but I know some really nice people.

        Claiming that none of them is sanely pursuing the truth is a pretty awful accusation.

        You said one sentence before this “They aren’t prophets…”, I´ll leave you to find out why that means that I didn´t accuse them of anything.

        If there are such people today, I think there were such people a few thousand years ago.

        You said two sentences before this “They aren’t prophets…”

        Not all of them and perhaps not most of them, but some of them.

        You said three sentences before this “They aren’t prophets…”

        I gave an explanation for why this would be the case

        And if you would take that explanation seriously, you would not believe that Yahweh or Jesus ever interacted with anyone at anytime in any way – because it applies to bronze and iron age goat herders just as much as it does to modern people.

        You have ideas on how a deity would interact with people and I don’t think they are well-founded on knowledge of psychology. Are you willing to explain why you said the above—upon what assumptions it relies?

        Yes, my assumption is that “no interaction at all” is not an “interaction”.

        So you’ve never read the NT, or if you have, you’ve never come across the presence of a concept of human thriving therein?

        So if there is a God, it´s obviously a God how you imagine it to be based on your personal interpretation of your favourite “holy” book and could not possibly be one of the gazillion of other god ideas.
        Present evidence that this is true, if you can´t do that, then whether I´ve read the NT or not is utterly irrelevant.

        False. There are plenty of Christians who claim to have a personal relationship with Jesus. You are, of course, calling them deluded or liars.

        No. For most of them I point out the obvious fact that what they call a “relationship” has literally nothing to do with what the word actually means and that they for some reason insist on misusing the word in the context of christianity, but would never ever misuse the word like that in any other context, by for example claiming to havé a personal relationship with MLK after reading about him and being really moved by his life and thoughts. Although this is not in any substantial way different from their so-called “relationship” with Jesus.
        For those christians who claim to have a “relationship” with Jesus and mean the english word “relationship” instead of the christianese one, I claim that they are frauds and lunatics without exception, yes.

        When I say ‘correct’ in such contexts, I mean ‘correct’ in the same way that current scientific theory is ‘correct’.I believe the true Christology is infinite in description, just like I think the true nature of how reality works is infinite in description. Some approximations are much better than others, and there are ways to know this—to measure the wrongness, as it were.

        Most of the ‘evidence’ is textual,

        Thanks for putting the scare-quotes around “evidence”. I don´t have anything to reply to this – I really don´t care about your personal Bible interpretations, all christian fanboys and -girls have one and all have the exact same “evidence”: it seems obvious to them when they read the Bible.

        No, it isn’t. There’s nothing problematic with me having a relationship with a non-corporeal being who can mind-speak.

        And if I inquire what “a non-corporeal being who can mind-speak” means, I presume I will get more examples along the line of the three examples at the end of your last comment. Examples that don´t have anything to do with you “speaking” or “mind-speaking” with any god and that have nothing whatsoever in common with a “relationship”.
        Which means that you simply move on from misusing the word “relationship” to misusing the word “speak”, you think that just using a prefix like “mind-” magically turns something that doesn´t have anything in common with speech into speech.

        Your problem is that if I have such a relationship, you ought to, as well. And because you can’t (or won’t), I don’t, either.

        Based on your examples of what “talking to Jesus” means at the end of your last comment, I am “talking to Jesus” all the time, and so is everyone else. So for the christianese word “relationship”, yeah, I guess I have a “relationship” with Jesus, I would even go as far as saying that it is literally impossible to not have a “relationship” with Jesus. But I actually meant the english word, not the christianese one.

        The examples I gave are things that I learned which one would very much expect to learn in relationship with another person.

        Yup, as I said, that means that for the christianese phrase “relationship with Jesus”, I have such a “relationship” as well, and it is literally (yes, literally) impossible to not have such a “relationship with Jesus”.
        But again, I had the english meaning of those words in mind, not the christianese one.

        • Well boo to not being able to edit WP comments.

          And these presumptions would be what?

          One central to this discussion is that you, Andy, would be able to have a personal relationship with Jesus if Jesus exists. Because you find that you can’t, he must certainly not exist.

          Erm… cool. And I can´t find any wizards but I know some really nice people.

          Then you have given me an a priori impossible task, under the façade of it being an evidential one.

          So if there is a God, it´s obviously a God how you imagine it to be based on your personal interpretation of your favourite “holy” book and could not possibly be one of the gazillion of other god ideas.
          Present evidence that this is true, if you can´t do that, then whether I´ve read the NT or not is utterly irrelevant.

          No, it’s not obviously how I imagine him/her/it to be. Clearly I think so, but that’s a function of my experiences and thoughts in life. I don’t know what you think would constitute ‘evidence’, here. The Bible isn’t going to help you build a better rocket.

          For those christians who claim to have a “relationship” with Jesus and mean the english word “relationship” instead of the christianese one, I claim that they are frauds and lunatics without exception, yes.

          Let me verify something: for them to mean “the english word “relationship””, they would have to introduce you to Jesus and let you talk to him, right? Is that both a sufficient and a necessary condition?

          Which means that you simply move on from misusing the word “relationship” to misusing the word “speak”, you think that just using a prefix like “mind-” magically turns something that doesn´t have anything in common with speech into speech.

          You cannot countenance telepathic communication?

      • One central to this discussion is that you, Andy, would be able to have a personal relationship with Jesus if Jesus exists. Because you find that you can’t, he must certainly not exist.

        No, I say that if someone had an actual relationship with Jesus, then everyone would in principle be able to also have such a relationship.

        Then you have given me an a priori impossible task, under the façade of it being an evidential one.

        😀
        Amazing… If we would talk about sorcery instead of of Jesus, the conversation would presumably go like this:
        Me: If you bellieve magic is real, then show me a wizard.
        You: I don´t know any wizards per se, but I have met some really nice people.
        Me: Erm, cool, that has nothing to do with sorcery though.
        You: Then you have given me an a priori impossible task, under the façade of it being an evidential one.

        Let me verify something: for them to mean “the english word “relationship””, they would have to introduce you to Jesus and let you talk to him, right? Is that both a sufficient and a necessary condition?

        No, that would be required for them to *demonstrate* to me that they indeed have such a relationship. To merely “mean” that they have an actual relationship instead of a christian “relationship”, they would simply have to use the word correctly, in the same way as they would use it in ANY other context. If we use the meaning of the english word “relationship”, then I have never met anyone who would claim to have a “relationship with Jesus”, if we use your christianese version of “relationship”, and count your three examples as instances of such a “relationship”, then I have never met anyone who does NOT have a “relationship with Jesus” and it would be completely impossible to not have one.

        You cannot countenance telepathic communication?

        I could ask what specifically you mean by “telepathic communication” but I already know, you´ve already provided examples – it´s not “mind-speak”, it´s also not “telepathic communication” and it has nothing whatsoever to do with a “relationship”. You simply point to things that are completely mundane aspects of the human experience – like figuring out that it just might be a good idea to ask your wife about her opinion – and claim that this is you “mind-speaking / telepathically communicating / having a relationship with Jesus”. It isn´t.

        • No, I say that if someone had an actual relationship with Jesus, then everyone would in principle be able to also have such a relationship.

          What would keep people from having such a relationship, assuming Jesus exists? You seem to have some ideas, here. You’ve clearly rejected mine, even though they’re valid for human-human interaction. I’ve come across autistic kids with whom you literally cannot have a relationship unless you go about it the right way. This isn’t a made-up idea. It is reasonable for someone to not want to expose himself to people who just want to use him. It is reasonable for someone to not want to expose herself to people who just want to spectate.

          Amazing… If we would talk about sorcery instead of of Jesus, the conversation would presumably go like this:
          Me: If you bellieve magic is real, then show me a wizard.
          You: I don´t know any wizards per se, but I have met some really nice people.
          Me: Erm, cool, that has nothing to do with sorcery though.
          You: Then you have given me an a priori impossible task, under the façade of it being an evidential one.

          Perhaps I gave up too easily on the evidence issue. Let’s try going back and examining the prophets who proclaimed doom to Israel if it didn’t turn away, with the result being that the prophets got exiled, jailed, and murdered? Does your explanation for why they did what they did work? I can see how it works when the prophets are in power and able to get the people to do what they want, but surely this reasoning breaks down when more prophecy ⇒ more hardship?

          No, that would be required for them to *demonstrate* to me that they indeed have such a relationship.

          Point taken; I did mean “*demonstrate* to [you]”. I personally dislike the Christianese version of the word. The closest I can come to describing what a true relationship would be like is one where I learn to simulate what Jesus would say to me (such that I can simulate dialogs), sufficiently well enough or with sufficiently pure motive that Jesus then magically steps in and fixes my simulation from time to time, thus helping me know him more (the simulation is the deepest kind of knowledge), and making his commentary to me more and more insightful. From your point of view, at worst this would be a voice in one’s head and at best an imaginary friend.

          your three examples as instances of such a “relationship”

          Those three instances were measurable output of the kind that one would expect from a relationship. Jesus would want me to learn more about reality, more about how to interact with other people, more about how to think properly about myself, etc.

          I could ask what specifically you mean by “telepathic communication” but I already know, you´ve already provided examples – it´s not “mind-speak”, it´s also not “telepathic communication” and it has nothing whatsoever to do with a “relationship”. You simply point to things that are completely mundane aspects of the human experience – like figuring out that it just might be a good idea to ask your wife about her opinion – and claim that this is you “mind-speaking / telepathically communicating / having a relationship with Jesus”. It isn´t.

          I just love that you call this stuff ‘mundane’—as if Jesus being there will take one to a different plane of existence or something. I can understand you saying that what I’ve described is indistinguishable from me coming up with those ideas myself, but you want to go farther. You want to categorically say that it wasn’t anything but my brain operating on its own. I find this very interesting. Why do you insist in this way?

          P.S. In case you missed it, this guy wanted to talk to you.

      • What would keep people from having such a relationship, assuming Jesus exists? You seem to have some ideas, here. You’ve clearly rejected mine, even though they’re valid for human-human interaction.

        I addressed all of your explanations, they all fail to address why the given explanation applies to every single human being living now, but to no human being living in bronze and iron age palestine.

        I’ve come across autistic kids with whom you literally cannot have a relationship unless you go about it the right way. This isn’t a made-up idea. It is reasonable for someone to not want to expose himself to people who just want to use him. It is reasonable for someone to not want to expose herself to people who just want to spectate.

        So every single human being living today would be a big meanie towards god which is why he is too shy to come out to play, but this was completely different a few thousand years ago because reasons.

        Perhaps I gave up too easily on the evidence issue. Let’s try going back and examining the prophets who proclaimed doom to Israel if it didn’t turn away, with the result being that the prophets got exiled, jailed, and murdered? Does your explanation for why they did what they did work? I can see how it works when the prophets are in power and able to get the people to do what they want, but surely this reasoning breaks down when more prophecy ⇒ more hardship?

        1. I said “liars or lunatics”.
        2. Self-proclaimed prophets lie about impending doom all the time, which means that they will inevitably be right with one of their lies sooner or later because shit actually will happen sooner or later, and then they say “see, told ya!” Why should the “prophets” back then have been ANY different from the liars and lunatics we have today?
        3. For the lying “prophets”, it´s a risk-benefit analysis, if the rubes find out that you are just talking out of your ass, they will probably want to kill you, but as long as they don´t, you´re golden.

        Point taken; I did mean “*demonstrate* to [you]“. I personally dislike the Christianese version of the word. The closest I can come to describing what a true relationship would be like is one where I learn to simulate what Jesus would say to me (such that I can simulate dialogs), sufficiently well enough or with sufficiently pure motive that Jesus then magically steps in and fixes my simulation from time to time, thus helping me know him more (the simulation is the deepest kind of knowledge), and making his commentary to me more and more insightful. From your point of view, at worst this would be a voice in one’s head and at best an imaginary friend.

        Nope, it wouldn´t be a voice in your head because you are not hearing voices and it also wouldn´t be an imaginary friend because you could have an actual relationship with one – it would be based on delusions, but it would be a relationship.

        Those three instances were measurable output of the kind that one would expect from a relationship. Jesus would want me to learn more about reality, more about how to interact with other people, more about how to think properly about myself, etc.

        My dead grandmother would want me to learn more about reality, more about how to interact with other people and more about how to think properly about myself. I do actually learn such things (as if it were possible to live a life without learning such things…), demonstrating that I have a relationship with my dead grandmother.
        It´s not one iota less ridiculous if you substitute “Yoda” or “Jesus” for “dead grandmother”.

        I just love that you call this stuff ‘mundane’—as if Jesus being there will take one to a different plane of existence or something. I can understand you saying that what I’ve described is indistinguishable from me coming up with those ideas myself, but you want to go farther. You want to categorically say that it wasn’t anything but my brain operating on its own. I find this very interesting. Why do you insist in this way?

        Ok, let me prove to you that I am a wizard. Yesterday, I ate a burger. You might argue that this is something completely mundane that has literally nothing to do with magic. But why do you categorically say that me eating a burger could not possibly be magic?

        • I addressed all of your explanations, they all fail to address why the given explanation applies to every single human being living now, but to no human being living in bronze and iron age palestine.

          All of your explanations seem predicated upon [at least] these three presuppositions:

          (1) If an omni-god existed, he (because ‘/she/it’ is tedious) would have made himself known to you and at least attempted a relationship with you, such that you would have realized it as such. In other words, this omni-god would come to you on your terms; because he did not do this, he does not exist (a non-omni god could exist, but we can ignore that).

          (2) If an omni-god acted in history, history would look differently than it does.

          (3) The diversity of interpretations of Jesus is evidence that he is not an omni-god; if he were, he would not allow this diversity.

          Please correct me if I got them wrong. We’re likely at a stalemate with (1); I think it’s ludicrous to think that an omni-god would have to make himself clear to you on your terms, but apparently you don’t think this. (2) hasn’t got as much airtime; it entails that if an omni-god is acting in spacetime, he is undetectable unless he works through flashy, non-mundane ways. If his influence on humans is too subtle, we are never justified in picking it out and identifying it as such. I’m least confident that I got (3) correct, but I think I’ll have to let you correct it. You did seem to be trying to make some kind of point with respect to the diversity of interpretations, but I haven’t quite grokked it.

          So every single human being living today would be a big meanie towards god which is why he is too shy to come out to play, but this was completely different a few thousand years ago because reasons.

          Predicated upon at least (1).

          1. I said “liars or lunatics”.

          Predicated upon at least (2).

          Why should the “prophets” back then have been ANY different from the liars and lunatics we have today?

          What I would expect is this: “Just as we have liars and lunatics today, there would have been liars and lunatics back then.” I have no problem with that claim. But what you’re saying is that all of the prophets back then were liars or lunatics. This is what I question. What would falsify this conclusion of yours? (I hope it’s a conclusion and not a presupposition.)

          3. For the lying “prophets”, it´s a risk-benefit analysis, if the rubes find out that you are just talking out of your ass, they will probably want to kill you, but as long as they don´t, you´re golden.

          Calling e.g. the prophet Jeremiah ‘golden’ is pretty hilarious, unless you posit that he was a crazy masochist or something. But I guess you have the ‘crazy’ explained, don’t you? It’s Lewis’ trilemma without the God part.

          Nope, it wouldn´t be a voice in your head because you are not hearing voices and it also wouldn´t be an imaginary friend because you could have an actual relationship with one – it would be based on delusions, but it would be a relationship.

          I still find this fascinating. In my view, the most real part of a relationship with someone is the integrity with which you can simulate each other. This is the only true guarantee that you understand the other person: can you accurately predict? The accuracy isn’t perfect of course; this is what keeps him/her a person and not a force. Like in science, it’s exciting when you find out that your current simulation (or ‘model’) is wrong and in need of enhancement—at least when you have enough observations to make said enhancement. People love to be understood, but in ways that let them grow.

          If you are truly friends with someone, you literally give them some space in your brain. Now, you’re completely correct to say that I can give MLK brain-space, even to the point that I can simulate dialogs with him. You’ve been a bit of an ass in using insulting examples to show that I’ve posited a necessary but not sufficient condition, but I’ve probably annoyed you too, so whatever. As precisely as can be stated, what is it that makes my interaction with you a real ‘relationship’, whereas mere simulation isn’t? I think the problem of other minds should be taken quite seriously, here. Perhaps this is only another necessary condition, but a being other than me has to be able to modify that simulation. What else is required?

      • All of your explanations seem predicated upon [at least] these three presuppositions:

        (1) If an omni-god existed, he (because ‘/she/it’ is tedious) would have made himself known to you and at least attempted a relationship with you, such that you would have realized it as such. In other words, this omni-god would come to you on your terms; because he did not do this, he does not exist (a non-omni god could exist, but we can ignore that).

        Nope. I pointed out repeatedly that this has nothing to do with whether a god exists or not. It was about “relationship”, not “existence”.

        (2) If an omni-god acted in history, history would look differently than it does.

        Again, “relationships”…

        (3) The diversity of interpretations of Jesus is evidence that he is not an omni-god; if he were, he would not allow this diversity.

        I don´t care about any omni status or lack thereof, what I would say is that Jesus, if he is real, was either unwilling or unable to reveal himself in an unambigious way. And that is not a presupposition, that is a conclusion and demonstrably true.

        (1); I think it’s ludicrous to think that an omni-god would have to make himself clear to you on your terms, but apparently you don’t think this.

        I don´t care about what an omni-god would or wouldn´t do, and this was not the subject of the conversation. I pointed out that whether any god exists or not, you don´t have a relationship with one.

        (2) hasn’t got as much airtime; it entails that if an omni-god is acting in spacetime, he is undetectable unless he works through flashy, non-mundane ways.

        Well, that is close to being true by definition…

        (3) correct, but I think I’ll have to let you correct it. You did seem to be trying to make some kind of point with respect to the diversity of interpretations, but I haven’t quite grokked it.

        My point was very simple, you said “surely you know something about Jesus” and my reply was that I don´t know anything about Jesus, all I know is what people think or used to think about him,

        Predicated upon at least (1).

        It´s not based on my presuppositions, it´s based on YOUR explanation, which I, unlike you, took seriously for the sake of the argument.

        Predicated upon at least (2).

        Nope. Based on empirical evidence.

        What I would expect is this: “Just as we have liars and lunatics today, there would have been liars and lunatics back then.” I have no problem with that claim.

        I have to interrupt you here. This means that some, but not all, “prophets” that live now are liars and lunatics. Which in turn means that others are NOT liars or lunatics. Which contemporary “prophet” would not be a liar or a lunatic in your opinion? And I mean “prophet”, don´t tell me about some nice pastor you´ve met – “prophet – an individual who is claimed to have been contacted by the supernatural or the divine, and to speak for them, serving as an intermediary with humanity, delivering this newfound knowledge from the supernatural entity to other people”

        If you are truly friends with someone, you literally give them some space in your brain. Now, you’re completely correct to say that I can give MLK brain-space, even to the point that I can simulate dialogs with him. You’ve been a bit of an ass in using insulting examples to show that I’ve posited a necessary but not sufficient condition, but I’ve probably annoyed you too, so whatever. As precisely as can be stated, what is it that makes my interaction with you a real ‘relationship’, whereas mere simulation isn’t? I think the problem of other minds should be taken quite seriously, here. Perhaps this is only another necessary condition, but a being other than me has to be able to modify that simulation. What else is required?

        A “relationship” requires two beings (at least) and both of them have to actually DO something, they have to interact. The christianese version of “relationship” removes the interaction part, but only for “relationships” with Jesus – it´s a complete double standard. For the christianese definition of “relationship”, I would have a “relationship” with every being that I ever thought of – which includes living beings I have met, living beings I have never met (but rather only seen in TV for example), dead beings and imaginary beings. I cannot have a “relationship” with the latter three using the english sense of the word, thinking about them can change me, sure, but they don´t interact with me, and the latter two cannot interact with me in principle. And yes, this is somewhat annoying because it is completely trivial – you know that, every christian knows that, and christians use the word like everyone else does in every single context except for one. It´s a colossal double standard.

        • Nope. I pointed out repeatedly that this has nothing to do with whether a god exists or not. It was about “relationship”, not “existence”.

          How can you say this, when you keep pointing out that a person’s relationship with Jesus isn’t what is meant by the English word ‘relationship’, because Jesus does not exist? And you know that Jesus doesn’t exist because if he did, you would at least have had the option to ‘meet’ him, where ‘meet’ means “encounter another mind such that the beginning of a relationship is possible”.

          Again, “relationships”…

          How is this a response? Do you or do you not hold (2)?

          I don´t care about any omni status or lack thereof, what I would say is that Jesus, if he is real, was either unwilling or unable to reveal himself in an unambigious way. And that is not a presupposition, that is a conclusion and demonstrably true.

          You believe something more than this, because you complained about the diversity of interpretations. We encounter plenty of sense-data which are ambiguous, but for some reason you want the experience of Jesus to be unambiguous; what do you mean by this and why do you hold that? You seem awfully close to the position that if Jesus existed, he would reveal himself in an unamibiguous way, ergo Jesus does not exist. Alternatively—and I see this as a largely irrelevant distinction: if Jesus [existed and] had relationships with human beings, then he would have those relationships in unambiguous ways, such that the resultant ‘interpretations’ (or reports of said relationship?) would be ‘unambiguous’. Let me try to be less clumsy: if people really had relationships with Jesus, their reports of said relationship would be much more coherent. Do you believe this?

          I repeatedly run into complaints by atheists and skeptics that there are just too many ways to interpret the Bible. I don’t know why, but I often find it extraordinarily hard to tease out exactly what the true nature of the complaint is. There are many ways to interpret reality; why would we expect the ways we interpret God to be different? Surely you know that sometimes one person will very badly understand another, while simultaneously, said misunderstood person is well-understood by other people.

          I don´t care about what an omni-god would or wouldn´t do, and this was not the subject of the conversation. I pointed out that whether any god exists or not, you don´t have a relationship with one.

          Your claim is predicated upon the fact that I cannot “*demonstrate*” said relationship to you, and you have said that the only way I could “*demonstrate*” said relationship is to introduce Jesus to you such that you could have a chat with him. And you refuse to accept that perhaps you believe things and/or refuse to believe things that would impede your ability to have a chat with him. Hence the “on your terms”.

          Well, that is close to being true by definition…

          No, it really isn’t. Your epistemology isn’t the only one; your universal prior isn’t the only one; your plausibility framework isn’t the only one; the only one which allows people to successfully navigate reality, enjoying life and understanding how particles, fields, and minds work better and better. Observations aren’t data until they are filtered through an interpretive framework. Observations come from our extrospective senses as well as our introspective senses. We access all of our senses “through a glass, dimly”. But that access is good enough to better and better model, predict, and desirably alter our experiences.

          Nope. Based on empirical evidence.

          There is no such thing as ‘evidence’ apart from an interpretive framework. Logical Positivism failed.

          Which contemporary “prophet” would not be a liar or a lunatic in your opinion? And I mean “prophet”, don´t tell me about some nice pastor you´ve met – “prophet – an individual who is claimed to have been contacted by the supernatural or the divine, and to speak for them, serving as an intermediary with humanity, delivering this newfound knowledge from the supernatural entity to other people”

          I have demonstrated that Yahweh never wanted a subset of the Israelites to be prophets; he wanted every single person to be in relationship with him. Christianity holds that this state-change has happened. So I shall rephrase your question to what persons seem to have received new revelation about who God is or what he wants. In human-human relationships the human can misunderstand; I hold the same is the case with human-God relationships. Perfect communication is not required for increasing accuracy.

          One of my friends is the closest to what you are asking for; he is someone who most Christians would consider to be ‘broken’ or ‘wrong’, if they would even consider him to be a Christian in the first place. If anyone has gone to the Bible with virtually no theological baggage, it is he. He has pointed out that the emotional conception of God in many theologies is outright toxic; if Christians are to become like God, those Christians become toxic. Perhaps what he most focuses on, though, is what is required for this kind of unity. I don’t think you’d let either of these qualify as divine revelation, though. After all, in a sense they are both ‘mundane’. My response is that this makes all of the problems in the world ‘mundane’, thereby devaluing the word.

          A “relationship” requires two beings (at least) and both of them have to actually DO something, they have to interact.

          There is no empirical way to determine whether the other being is imaginary or real. All you can say is “If I assume the other being is real, I am better able to navigate reality.” This still leaves plenty of good questions to ask the Christian. For example, to what extent is he/she creating Jesus in his/her image? We know that in good friendships, participants adopt behavior and even mental features of the other; is there any pattern of change discernible in those claiming to be in relationship with Jesus? He is recorded as valuing some things (like being a servant instead of lording it over others); does this show up in people? Instead of asking for one, unambiguous interpretation of Jesus, we could just create clusters for the various different manifestations and make observations based on those clusters.

          I remain fascinated that you are so opposed to allowing that people might have relationships with Jesus according to the normal English word ‘relationship’, instead of merely asking for whether the typical results of English-word-relationships also manifest in Jesus-relationships. Instead of saying, “Jesus says that being in relationship with him will change you; where’s the change?”, you just want to deny that the relationship is evident unless the other person can “*demonstrate*” Jesus to you, on your terms. I cannot yet see this in any way other than you being arrogant. Recall this:

          A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13:34-35)

          “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (Jn 17:20-23)

          Jesus didn’t expect people to be convinced by the claim, “I am Jesus’ disciple” or “I am in relationship with Jesus”. No, it’s only if people are becoming like him that is evidence, and becoming like him means wanting what he wants and doing what he does. If you just love people who are like you, that’s an epic fail and Jesus will say “I never knew you”. Only the emergence of a certain kind of utopia is truly evidence. I’m not even sure ‘utopia’ is the right word, as usually utopias aren’t thought of as suffering to help out members not in the utopia. I’m not sure how else to describe a group of people who have unity of purpose but do not insist on metaphysical uniformity.

    • @labreuer:

      What exactly do you mean by ‘excuse’? My current idea is an ad-hoc hypothesis, of the type which is generally looked down upon.
      I have yet to recognize a situation where your interpretation of my ‘excuse’ has entailed things which I did not think I entailed.

      Look, you say things like:
      “What did it benefit the Pharisees to know Jesus? He was a threat to their power structure; they did not want him in any shape or form. To those who wanted to destroy him, I doubt he was even a full person, let along God. I’ll bet he was just a threat to be neutralized. You seem to be claiming that it would be better for Jesus to physically appear to you, but I’m not sure it
      really would be ‘better’, if you aren’t prepared to seriously listen to him, to what he has to say. “
      => and you came up with plenty of such explanations along the line “God doesn´t do x because people do / are y”. What I do is take these
      excuses seriously for the sake of the argument, and point out the consequences – if god never does x, but used to do x in bronze
      age palestine, and you say that the reason for why God doesn´t do x is that people do / are y, then that logically entails that ALL people NOW do / are y, but that this was COMPLETELY different in bronze age palestine. This is not my presupposition, that is where your explanation would logically lead to. And if you point out the consequences of your “God doesn´t do x because people do / are y” explanations,it becomes apparent that they simply don´t work – they lead to absurdities.

      Did you miss the slightly awkwardly placed ‘not’?:

      A necessary condition would be me not just reading the Bible and re-thinking my simulation of Jesus

      (emphasis added)

      Maybe I parsed what you said wrongly, you proceeded to say “It has to be actual thoughts which are inserted into my brain by Jesus and which change how I think of him, whether they be via reading or voice or telepathy or otherwise” – if you drop “reading” from that list, I would agree.

      This may shock you, but I attribute my own lack of copious back-and-forth between me and Jesus…

      Well, you can drop the “copious” here, there is no back-and-forth, not copious or otherwise.

      …to my own not-believing certain true things and believing certain false things.

      If you were right about this, it is not something that would affect only you, it also wouldn´t be something that only affects some christians, or most christians, or the overwhelming majority of christians – it would affect every single one. If you ask your fellow believers, you will find that they have the same kind of “relationship” with Jesus as you have, it´s not as if there would be anyone who is actually able to *INTER*act with Jesus in any way.
      If you were right about this, then there is no one who believes these true things and doesn´t believe these false things. Not a single person – almost two millenia after Jesus died, and still nobody who does believe these true things and doesn´t believe these false things.

      While I can point to something here and there which could plausibly be Jesus telepathically futzing with my brain, I will admit that it is (a) much less than in my deepest relationships; (b) explainable via other
      mechanisms which physicalists would vastly prefer.

      This implies that this would involve some kind of metaphysical disagreement where your metaphysical views make it plausible that Jesus was somehow involved in this process, while my views make it less plausible. And I don´t really think that that is the case here. For any context other than Jesus, we would probably agree 100% on which mechanisms are plausible and which are not (would you doubt that?), despite these metaphysical differences we have. And that, to me, indicates that there is some double standard going on. I do believe you that you try to avoid such double standards, but try to figure if this “something here and there” is something that is unique about the way you (or christians in general) think about Jesus. Something that is
      categorically different from how people think about the life, works and teachings of people they admire other than Jesus. If you can´t
      find that, then metaphysical differences are actually irrelevant for this point, you and I consider the same mechanisms to be plausible or not plausible
      despite our metaphysical disagreements, but you add exceptions for Jesus.
      Based on my personal experiences, I don´t see anything in this context that would be categorically different between christians and non-christians.
      I was never active in any christian community, but I have heard plenty of people talk about their “relationship with Jesus”, “how Jesus changed their life” and so on and so forth, and I always immediatly see analogs to that in my own thoughts. The only difference seems to be that very devout christians and muslims tend to be “specialists” who focus a lot of their thoughts on the life, works and teachings of a single person while others are “generalists”, but there doesn´t seem to be any *qualitative* difference
      whatsoever in the thought processes that go on and the kind of consequences they lead to.

      I do thank you for this discussion; I imagine it has been quite tedious for you. At this point I understand
      much more than I did going in.

      Cool. And I´m sorry for having been kind of an ass in this exchange, it is a fine line between being blunt and being an ass, I aimed for the former but it seems to me that it ended up being the latter ;-).

      • => and you came up with plenty of such explanations along the line “God doesn´t do x because people do / are y”. What I do is take these excuses seriously for the sake of the argument, and point out the consequences – if god never does x, but used to do x in bronze age palestine, and you say that the reason for why God doesn´t do x is that people do / are y, then that logically entails that ALL people NOW do / are y, but that this was COMPLETELY different in bronze age palestine.

        I’m not sure you got my argument right; I would say “God doesn’t do X if/when people do/are Y.” The Pharisees were largely Y. They weren’t all Y; Paul is a counterexample. Not all were Y back then, and not all are Y now. But it seems that you would disagree with that?

        if you drop “reading” from that list, I would agree.

        I’m pretty sure I’m currently in relationship with you, solely via ‘reading’. :-p

        Well, you can drop the “copious” here, there is no back-and-forth, not copious or otherwise.

        I get that you’re saying I don’t have sufficient reason to think that any of the thoughts which have popped into my mind were put there by Jesus, vs. by myself or other humans, alive or dead. What I don’t understand is why you insist that there is not a shred of evidence that could possibly be interpreted to support my position. Your black-and-white way of discussing makes things tedious. Why not say something like this, instead?: “While you might have a few experiences consonant with an English-relationship with Jesus, they are better explained in other ways.” If I routinely experienced insights which are not known to arise in such quantity in normal people, and in all other ways I’m observed to be normal, it would be entirely sensible to think that those insights are coming from an outside source. As it is, I have nowhere near enough such insights.

        If you were right about this, it is not something that would affect only you, it also wouldn´t be something that only affects some christians, or most christians, or the overwhelming majority of christians – it would affect every single one. If you ask your fellow believers, you will find that they have the same kind of “relationship” with Jesus as you have, it´s not as if there would be anyone who is actually able to *INTER*act with Jesus in any way.
        If you were right about this, then there is no one who believes these true things and doesn´t believe these false things. Not a single person – almost two millenia after Jesus died, and still nobody who does believe these true things and doesn´t believe these false things.

        So here’s an example of “everyone is/does Y”. I don’t know why you think that, other than starting with the conclusion (or observation?) that nobody has had a relationship with Jesus other than those alive when he was alive. And yet how do you know this? Or to rephrase: you have no reason to believe this, given that no Christian you’ve run into so far has introduced Jesus to you for a chat, today.

        And yet, I have discerned differences in people depending on how well they appear to understand Jesus as recorded in the Bible, according to my interpretation of him (which seems fairly orthodox). Can any of these differences be counted as evidence that they have more experiences than I have which would be evidence of an English-relationship with Jesus? I think so. You are still welcome to say that, because they cannot introduce Jesus to you, there isn’t enough evidence. The other explanations are better supported by the evidence than the English-relationship explanation. Your black-and-white approach to this issue made it quite difficult for me to arrive at this paragraph.

        I’m going to suggest a different way that you might actually be convinced that people are having an English-relationship with Jesus. Let’s return to Mt 5:43-48, Jn 13:34-35, and Jn 17:20-23. Surely you know that getting diverse people to work together is difficult; getting them to live in a society together is even more difficult. If a group of diverse people were to suddenly be able to do this ‘together’ thing much better than any other group, would you allow “unusual access to some superhuman power” to be an explanation? I offer this in intentional contrast to the standard “restore an amputated limb”-type example.

        Have you read The Grand Inquisitor scene in The Brothers Karamazov? If not, I would highly suggest watching this 26m adaptation. The scene is between a RCC Grand Inquisitor and Jesus, where the Inquisitor explains to Jesus why he made the wrong choices on all three of Satan’s temptations, and generally rants about how terrible of an example Jesus set. Jesus is silent throughout the whole thing, and merely kisses the Inquisitor at the end. The kiss is of course open to interpretation; mine would be “I love you despite your hatred of me”. I think the idea is that is all Jesus could say to a man who so thoroughly and violently rejected Jesus. Did the Inquisitor have an English-relationship with Jesus?

        This implies that this would involve some kind of metaphysical disagreement where your metaphysical views make it plausible that Jesus was somehow involved in this process, while my views make it less plausible. And I don´t really think that that is the case here. For any context other than Jesus, we would probably agree 100% on which mechanisms are plausible and which are not (would you doubt that?), despite these metaphysical differences we have.

        Given that my metaphysical views commit me to there being one, Trinitarian deity, there is inherent special-casing that goes on (only one person gets to do the telepathy thing—Jesus). Although, what would my response be if someone were to claim to be in personal contact with Napoleon? I don’t think it would be to immediately deny that claim. At least, I hope I wouldn’t; I probably would have some years ago, but in order for me to not hold double-standards, I ought not deny the claim. Instead, I can simply ask, “Ok, what then?” The same goes for religious experiences, which have experienced a renewed discussion in the philosophy of religion literature: they probably can serve as evidence for the one experiencing them, but not so much, if at all, for anyone else. So I could merely hold to the principle that private evidence ought not be used like public evidence. For example: I can avoid some medicine if I get divine revelation about its badness, but I ought not deprive others of access to it.

        I have no doubt that this tendency is not unique to skeptics and atheists, but I have observed that they are quick to deny that anything happens or exists which they cannot access, at least in principle. The skeptic believes that the Higgs Boson exists because he/she could learn the science and follow the evidence. The skeptic disbelieves my religious experience was anything objective because as of yet, mind-reading is not possible. I get that this is a kind of defense mechanism against being forced to act in accordance with someone else’s private experiences, but it seems that the response was totally out-of-proportion. Instead, I suggest challenging people to make sense of their experiences in life such that they can learn new things which bless other people. These new things can be scientific, medical, meaning-of-life, etc. The characteristics of just-so stories can be taught: they make us feel good by giving the illusion that we understand a thing, but they are so likely to be wrong that the long-term result is almost always a barricade to further understanding.

        Cool. And I´m sorry for having been kind of an ass in this exchange, it is a fine line between being blunt and being an ass, I aimed for the former but it seems to me that it ended up being the latter ;-).

        One thing that was extremely helpful was the splitting of ‘relationship’ into ‘Christianese-relationship’ and ‘English-relationship’. I hope that by now I have demonstrated how the latter two do share some important aspects. Something I have found very helpful to do in conversations is to try and make the other person’s sentences make sense by futzing with the denotations and/or connotations of the words they use, replacing words if that helps or altering them, e.g. ‘relationship’ → ‘Christianese-relationship’. Then I will repeat back my version of their sentences, explaining why I saw it necessary to make the modifications I did. This, I find, is much more useful than just complaining that some word they used doesn’t belong. It advances the conversation more quickly, with much lower emotional (I like my term ‘frustration energy’) cost.

        Another thing that is helpful is to admit that observations/evidence can support multiple viewpoints, even though I will often think that they best fit some particular viewpoint. Why I think they best fit some particular viewpoint will depend on, to use Randal’s term, my ‘plausibility framework’. For example, I need a significantly higher prior for belief that Jesus is talking to me over me just talking to myself, in order to interpret events like my three above as possibly coming from him. Honestly, at this point a good chunk of the reason I believe that Jesus might be talking to me from time to time comes from hope. Hope that a drastically better world is possible and reachable. Feel free to call this ‘wish fulfillment’, but I have yet to see evidence that all forms of ‘wish fulfillment’ lead to e.g. lower ability to do science. Clearly some do, but I find that the skeptic often leaps from ‘some’ → ‘all’.

      • I’m not sure you got my argument right; I would say “God doesn’t do X if/when people do/are Y.” The Pharisees were largely Y. They weren’t all Y; Paul is a counterexample. Not all were Y back then, and not all are Y now. But it seems that you would disagree with that?

        All of your explanations involve something x that God never does now, but allegedly did in bronze and iron age palestine. And you say that God doesn´t do it now because people are / do y. If this were true, this means that no one today does NOT / is NOT y, while people were / did y in bronze age and iron age palestine. And for everything you substituted for y so far, this is completely absurd, whether you say that everyone or only some people did / were y in bronze and iron age palestine doesn´t change that.

        I’m pretty sure I’m currently in relationship with you, solely via ‘reading’. :-p

        Good, then drop us when a note when you think that some god is starting to send you emails ;-).

        I get that you’re saying I don’t have sufficient reason to think that any of the thoughts which have popped into my mind were put there by Jesus, vs. by myself or other humans, alive or dead. What I don’t understand is why you insist that there is not a shred of evidence that could possibly be interpreted to support my position.
        Your black-and-white way of discussing makes things tedious. Why not say something like this, instead?: “While you might have a few experiences consonant with an English-relationship with Jesus, they are better explained in other ways.” If I routinely experienced insights which are not known to arise in such quantity in normal people, and in all other ways I’m observed to be normal, it would be entirely sensible to think that those insights are coming from an outside source. As it is, I have nowhere near enough such insights.

        There are plenty of people that get much more insights than the average person does. There is even a word for that – “insightful”.
        James Clerk Maxwell and Isaac Newton were *extremely* devout christians and their insights went so incredibly far beyond the insights of “normal people” that both of them were able to almost single-handedly revolutionize our understanding of how the world works. I can´t find the exact quote right now but one famous physicist who was a contemporary of Maxwell wrote something along the line of “was it a God that wrote those lines?” after reading Maxwell´s treatise on electricity and magnetism. If there is anything that comes close to being “superhuman”, something that goes far beyond what humans should be able to accomplish, the works of those two guys would be good candidates. Does that mean that it is likely that a God actually put thoughts into their heads without them noticing? Is this evidence that it is likely that some entity messed with their thoughts in any way? There is a simple reason for why this would not convince me that “Jesus inserted thoughts into your head” – outliers happen. You could be absolutely extraordinarily wise and insightful and I wouldn´t consider it to be even one iota more likely that “Jesus inserted thoughts into your head”. And I think that this is the only rational position to take here. If your sample size is large enough, outliers will occur, if your sample size is extremely large, then *extremely* curious outliers will occur, this is statistically inevitable. As long as there is no pattern whatsoever to be seen where a christian faith makes it significantly more likely, or would even be a necessary condition, for becoming such an outlier, then you being such an outlier could in no way, shape or form be rationally be considered to be evidence for “Jesus inserting thoughts into your head”.

        So here’s an example of “everyone is/does Y”. I don’t know why you think that, other than starting with the conclusion (or observation?)
        that nobody has had a relationship with Jesus other than those alive when he was alive. And yet how do you know this?
        Or to rephrase: you have no reason to believe this, given that no Christian you’ve run into so far has introduced Jesus
        to you for a chat, today.

        My personal experience is the following, for every single person that claims to have a “relationship with Jesus” that I have ever spoken to, or heard about from others, one of the following is true:
        a) they mean the christianese word “relationship”, not the english one (people like you)
        b) they are liars and demonstrably so (people like Pat Robertson)
        c) they are clinically insane or pretend to be insane in order to get a milder sentence in a court of law.
        If I go beyond my personal experience to see if my experiences are intersubjectively verifiable, I find that they indeed are – no one,
        no matter if they are devout christians or something else, can point to any exception to this pattern.
        So, I have verified that this is true to the best of my abilities.

        And yet, I have discerned differences in people depending on how well they appear to understand Jesus as recorded in the Bible, according to my interpretation of him (which seems fairly orthodox).
        Can any of these differences be counted as evidence that they have more experiences than I have which would be evidence of an English-relationship with Jesus? I think so. You are still welcome to say that, because they cannot introduce Jesus to you, there isn’t enough evidence. The other explanations are better supported by the evidence than the English-relationship explanation. Your black-and-white approach to this issue made it quite difficult for me to arrive at this paragraph.

        Again, substitute “Jesus” by any other famous person that happens to be dead (e.g. MLK) or imaginary (e.g. Atticus Finch). If you do that, you´ll see that it would still be true that there are people who appear to understand the respective famous person better than others, based on what was written / said by or about the respective person. And just like there is an entire academic discipline devoted to understanding the person Jesus, there are corresponding academic disciplines to theology for other famous dead or imaginary people in the fields of literary and social sciences. I have read most of what MLK has published and a lot that was written about him, and Atticus Finch is one of my favourite book / movie characters (and absolutely deserves the #1 spot in the list of greatest Movie villains & heroes of the American Film Institute IMHO), I thought about both a lot, I learned from both (for the better I hope) and so on and so forth, and yet it would be completely ridiculous for me to say that I have a relationship with either one of them – one died before I was born and the other is imaginary. I think there is exactly zero evidence, none whatsoever, for me having a “relationship” with one or both of those two and I find the very idea beyond ridiculous. Do you find that irrational? And if not, why should I think any different about your
        thoughts wrt character of Jesus of Nazareth?

        I’m going to suggest a different way that you might actually be convinced that people are having an English-relationship with Jesus. Let’s return to Mt 5:43-48, Jn 13:34-35, and Jn 17:20-23. Surely you know that getting diverse people to work together is difficult; getting them to live in a society together is even more difficult. If a group of diverse people were to suddenly be able to do this ‘together’ thing much better than any other group, would you allow “unusual access to some superhuman power” to be an explanation? I offer this in intentional contrast to the standard “restore an amputated limb”-type example.

        I´ll reply with some questions:
        1. If x increases the likelihood of y being true, then, by definition, ¬x decreases the likelihood of y being true by the same degree.
        The “experiment” you suggest has been attempted many times, two prominent examples are the Jehovah´s Witnesses (who claim to have actually succeeded in creating such a community, but they are demonstrably lying about that or fooling themselves) and denominations derived from the anabaptists (e.g. the Amish or the Hutterites). In some ways, these experiments actually worked – the committment to pacifism in these denominations is absolutely extraordinary and almost unheard of in other communities (only almost though, there are comparable
        sects with an extreme committment to pacifism in eastern religions as well). Overall however, these experiments did not produce the
        desired results (no matter how much the JWs wish it were so). Given the status quo, you should consider this to be evidence against your faith being true, evidence with the same strength as your hypothetical community actually being created at some point in the future,
        only pointing at the oppossite conclusion. If you don´t do that, then you are applying a double standard – so do you consider the status quo to be evidence against your position?
        Btw, one curious observation in this context is, that what is extraordinary about communities like the Hutterites (e.g. extreme ingroup cohesion and mutual support), only works as long as the communities stay small, homogeneous and detached from the rest of the world. They can´t handle the complexity and diversity of the “world outside”. To me, that is entirely unsurprising.
        2. Improving the average wellbeing of people in a community and drastically advancing our understanding of the world is also extraordinarily hard. Yet communities with a non-christian background had absolutely amazing successes in this respect. Do you consider the islamic golden age to be evidence for an “unusual access to some superhuman power” (the thoughts of God allmighty via his final prophet Muhammad) or do you not?

        Have you read The Grand Inquisitor scene in The Brothers Karamazov? If not, I would highly suggest watching this 26m adaptation. The scene is between a RCC Grand Inquisitor and Jesus, where the Inquisitor explains to Jesus why he made the wrong choices on all three of Satan’s temptations, and generally rants about how terrible of an example Jesus set. Jesus is silent throughout the whole thing, and merely kisses the Inquisitor at the end. The kiss is of course open to interpretation; mine would be “I love you despite your hatred of me”. I think the idea is that is all Jesus could say to a man who so thoroughly and violently rejected Jesus. Did the Inquisitor have an English-relationship with Jesus?

        Haven´t watched the scene yet but the way you describe it, they certainly did interact beyond the trivial (trivial = saying hello to a stranger on the street and move along, for example), which means that they had a “relationship”.

        Given that my metaphysical views commit me to there being one, Trinitarian deity, there is inherent special-casing that goes on (only one person gets to do the telepathy thing—Jesus). Although, what would my response be if someone were to claim to be in personal contact with Napoleon? I don’t think it would be to immediately deny
        that claim. At least, I hope I wouldn’t; I probably would have some years ago, but in order for me to not hold double-standards, I ought not deny the claim.

        That is one of the reasons for why many atheists consider religion to have some intrinsically harmful aspects. I don´t find your particular
        religious views to be problematic per se, but they do lead to bad epistemologies – they lead people to *casually* suspend *warranted* beliefs, like dead people no longer being able to talk to the living, just because someone says so. Even if your religious views were correct, this is simply a bad epistemology. And one that cannot possibly be consistently applied – such an approach as you describe here entails suspending your background knowledge as soon as someone *merely asserts* something that contradicts it, consistently applied, this is equivalent to not having background knowledge because there is an endless supply of crackpots out there.
        There is a reason for why scientists don´t do that – a crackpot theory *might* be correct, but for every crackpot theory that turns out to be correct, there are thousands that are Bullshit. Taking every crackpot theory seriously and testing it simply because someone merely asserts it would mean that scientists would end up spending >99,9% of their time debunking Bullshit. There is a much simpler and infinitely more productive way – ignore crackpots until they are able to present evidence, if they can do that, apologize for calling them crackpots and give them their nobel prize. This works, there are countless examples of this method working (Stanley Prusiner for example was laughed at for suggesting the existence of prions – then he worked extremely hard to prove that he is right and got his Nobel prize).

        So I could merely hold to the principle that private evidence ought not be used like public evidence. For example: I can avoid some medicine if I get divine revelation about its badness, but I ought not deprive others of access to it.

        Slightly off-topic, but what you describe here – avoiding medical treatment for religious reasons – demonstrably hurts and kills people. If we can agree that it is the right thing to do to try to stop a person who is about to commit suicide and force him / her to undergo medical treatment, then it is completely arbitrary to just let people kill themselves because they have religious reasons instead of secular ones for doing so.

        I have no doubt that this tendency is not unique to skeptics and atheists, but I have observed that they are quick to deny that anything happens or exists which they cannot access, at least in principle. The skeptic believes that the Higgs Boson exists because he/she could learn the science and follow the evidence. The skeptic disbelieves my religious experience was anything objective because as of yet, mind-reading is not possible. I get that this is a kind of defense mechanism against being forced to act in accordance with someone else’s private experiences, but it seems that the response was totally
        out-of-proportion. Instead, I suggest challenging people to make sense of their experiences in life such that they can learn new things which bless other people.

        I agree with that last sentence 100%. From my vantage point, religious faith is overall detrimental for actualizing as much as possible of your potential and helping others to do the same – and that´s why I think it is worthwhile to challenge religious beliefs. And if I were wrong abo ut that, it would still consider it to be something meaningful to challenge religious beliefs because I think that all beliefs should be challenged occassionally, the absence of challenges to your beliefs makes you intellectually lazy.

      • @labreuer
        One quick addendum to my last comment:
        The example of Atticus Finch is even better than I initially thought. Here is an excerpt from the wiki article about him:
        “Claudia Durst Johnson noted about available critique of the novel that, “a greater volume of critical readings has been amassed by two legal scholars in law journals than by all the literary scholars in literary journals.”[5] Alice Petry remarked that “Atticus has become something of a folk hero in legal circles and is treated almost as if he were an actual person.”[6] Examples of Atticus Finch’s impact on the legal profession are plentiful. Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center notes Finch as the reason he became a lawyer, and Richard Matsch, the federal judge who presided over the Timothy McVeigh trial, counts Atticus as a major judicial influence.[7] One law professor at the University of Notre Dame stated that the most influential textbook he taught from was To Kill a Mockingbird, and an article in the Michigan Law Review, “No real-life lawyer has done more for the self-image or public perception of the legal profession,” before questioning whether, “Atticus Finch is a paragon of honor or an especially slick hired gun.”[8]

        In 1992, Monroe Freedman, a legal ethics expert, published two articles in the national legal newspaper Legal Times calling for the legal profession to set aside Atticus Finch as a role model.[9] Freedman argued that Atticus still worked within a system of institutionalized racism and sexism and should not be revered. Freedman’s article sparked a flurry of responses from attorneys who entered the profession holding Atticus Finch as a hero, and the reason they became lawyers.[10] Critics of Atticus such as Freedman maintain that Atticus Finch is morally ambiguous and does not use his legal skills to challenge the racist status quo in Maycomb.[11] Freedman’s article sparked furious controversy. Further, in 1997, the Alabama State Bar erected a monument dedicated to Atticus in Monroeville marking his existence as the “first commemorative milestone in the state’s judicial history.”[12]”

        What does that demonstrate? Keep in mind that Atticus Finch is *fictional* (although based in many ways on a real person – Harper Lee´s father). Yet, for many, he is almost like a real person – an inspiration and a role model to live up to (and a controversial figure for others (who are obviously hopeless contrarians… 😀 )). Thinking about him had life-changing consequences for many. Where do you see a *qualitative* difference in the way that stories about Jesus impacted the lives of people compared to how the story of Atticus Finch impacted the lives of people. All I see is a difference in degree – more people think / thought about Jesus and consider him to be a role modle – but nothing even remotely resembling a difference in kind. So I repeat my question – I´m one of those that do consider Atticus Finch to be an inspiration and a role model, yet I would never even think about saying that I have a relationship with him and find the very thought to be absolutely ridiculous. Why should I think differently about Jesus? (and if you find the comparison to a fictional character misleading, just substitute MLK for Atticus Finch).

        • All of your explanations involve something x that God never does now

          Huh? It seems more correct to say that based on your epistemology, there is not enough evidence to conclude that God “does [any of this stuff] now”. There seem to be three general categories of “God acting in reality” that Christians say occur these days:

          1. Miraculous physical healings that aren’t repeatable: God heals, but according to his own purposes, which means we cannot just go from bed to bed in a hospital, pray for each person, and have them all get healed. Other kinds of miracles can be included, here.
          2. Miraculous psychological healing (or revelation; see ‘religious experience’), which also isn’t repeatable and perhaps more importantly, is extremely hard to measure these days.
          3. Subtle shaping of reality and thought, which can often be explained in other terms, even if the appeal has to largely be randomness and thus the person “seeing a pattern that isn’t there/wasn’t caused by a mind”.

          Again, we have you wanting to say that none of #1-3 actually is God doing anything, which is fine, but I think you go too far. There are ways of attributing #1-3 to God that lead to bad consequences, but it’s not at all clear to me that all such ways lead to bad consequences (Loftus wants me to believe that all ‘faith’ is bad, but he never empirically demonstrates this). There are two bad results from stating things like you do:

          I. Many will just reject what you say out-of-hand.
          II. You don’t encourage people to be better evidence-gatherers.

          I claim that it is possible to do science-like investigations of one’s own personal experiences, via recording observations, hypothesizing models, and testing predictions, even with one’s introspective senses. There are plenty of wrong ways to categorize data that nonetheless, when used systematically, can lead to new insights. By the way you speak though, you essentially disallow this.

          As long as there is no pattern whatsoever to be seen where a christian faith makes it significantly more likely

          I meant to include this. There would be danger of No True Scotsman due to there being many people who claim to be Christian but rarely even attend church (to mention one noisy measure), but I don’t think it would be impossible to discern. This is one of the things that bothers me most about Christianity: I’m not sure there is such a pattern. There are a few glimmers of hope, one from a Christian who is in general “despised and rejected by men” and one is an atheist who has crazy “metaphysical experiences” and is extremely devoted to blessing other people’s lives. So I’m largely in the category of hoping there is more to Christianity than what one generally sees if one stands up and looks around. The people I know could just be statistical outliers, or they could demonstrate that if you take certain Christian doctrines seriously, life really gets better. (I will stop here.)

          So, I have verified that this is true to the best of my abilities.

          I believe you. Sometimes I think you get a big dogmatic in how you state things, where you apply inductive thinking without being explicit about it; the result of my criticism of that is to make it more clear where people could find evidence and present it to you to change your mind. Many atheists have pretty unrealistic requirements in terms of what evidence would convince them; while I might call you unreasonable here or there, you’re a lot more reasonable than most I’ve talked to online!

          Where do you see a *qualitative* difference in the way that stories about Jesus impacted the lives of people compared to how the story of Atticus Finch impacted the lives of people. All I see is a difference in degree – more people think / thought about Jesus and consider him to be a role modle – but nothing even remotely resembling a difference in kind.

          WP: Atticus Finch has “Atticus has become something of a folk hero in legal circles and is treated almost as if he were an actual person.” This reminded me of Albert Schweitzer, who seemed to view Jesus like you view Atticus Finch; Schweitzer said:

          The Jesus of Nazareth who came forward publicly as the Messiah, who preached the ethic of the kingdom of God, who founded the kingdom of heaven upon earth and died to give his work its final consecration never existed. He is a figure designed by rationalism, endowed with life by liberalism, and clothed by modern theology in a historical garb. This image has not been destroyed from outside; it has fallen to pieces …

          So in talking about English-relationship vs. Christianese-relationship, views like Schweitzer’s would seem quite helpful. It would be interesting to see how the actions of those who take Schweitzer’s view differ from the actions of those who think Jesus was and is God. This would seem to be the most controlled version way to do your “significantly more likely” test. I don’t actually know much about liberal/progressive Christianity; I’ve heard rumors that the mainline churches in America which went liberal tended to die out, but I haven’t looked into that.

          I wrote a comment about whether or not Jesus’ actual existence is important and whether he needed to atone for our sins for it to be fully effective, in case you’re interested. Stuff like the is-ought gap and Absurdism-type philosophies introduce a lot of uncertainty, here.

          I think there is exactly zero evidence, none whatsoever, for me having a “relationship” with one or both of those two and I find the very idea beyond ridiculous. Do you find that irrational? And if not, why should I think any different about your
          thoughts wrt character of Jesus of Nazareth?

          I disagree with your “exactly zero evidence”, but I am not aware of more than an extremely small amount of evidence. Evidence is nothing until it is fit into a model. Overall, I don’t find your viewpoint irrational. I just think you do a lot of “rounding to zero”. I said earlier that we have different plausibility frameworks; because of that, I’m not sure you should “think any different”.

          Overall however, these experiments did not produce the desired results (no matter how much the JWs wish it were so). Given the status quo, you should consider this to be evidence against your faith being true, evidence with the same strength as your hypothetical community actually being created at some point in the future,
          only pointing at the oppossite conclusion.

          Agreed, except for “the same strength” bit. There is detail that you seem to be ignoring: can we discern why the [partial] successes and [outright] failures worked out as they did? Is there any progression of increasing successes which can be investigated and learned from? I don’t expect Christians to create a utopia in a day or in a month, but if Jesus is really there and actively working, they should be making more progress than non-Christians. I haven’t done the required analysis; it seems pretty daunting. What I do have some experience with is relational sin and how it impacts church health. If there’s anything that a relationship with Jesus should be able to do, it is help people get along with other people who also claim to have a relationship with Jesus. This in and of itself doesn’t get us from Christianese-relationship to English-relationship, but I think it’s a necessary step in that direction.

          I do get the sense that I won’t be willing to keep trying with no progress for the rest of my life. One reason I participate in discussions like this one is to establish meaningful milestones for measuring progress or lack thereof.

          Btw, one curious observation in this context is, that what is extraordinary about communities like the Hutterites (e.g. extreme ingroup cohesion and mutual support), only works as long as the communities stay small, homogeneous and detached from the rest of the world.

          Your use of “homogeneous” reminds me of Mt 5:43-48 “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” I haven’t made enough observations to support this “homogeneous”, but it makes sense. I have noticed the detachment from the rest of the world. Christians are ostensibly called to sacrifice for the rest of the world, and thereby engage it vigorously. I think there is a reason that Jesus said a heterogeneous community which is tight-knit but can help out the rest of the world would constitute evidence!

          2. Improving the average wellbeing of people in a community and drastically advancing our understanding of the world is also extraordinarily hard. Yet communities with a non-christian background had absolutely amazing successes in this respect. Do you consider the islamic golden age to be evidence for an “unusual access to some superhuman power” (the thoughts of God allmighty via his final prophet Muhammad) or do you not?

          They could have had access to divine power; I have no need to say that they didn’t. What I will say is that they didn’t continue, and that is important. Build on a bad foundation or add bad structural components or use weak materials and the amount you can build will be limited. This is where my claim that objective reality and objective morality are both “infinite in description”: the healthiest society is one that is forever doing research on both. If there’s anything a Yahweh-like god would be interested in doing, I should think it would be helping create such a society. This reminds me of Star Trek TNG’s The Hunted, with an ostensibly advanced society which ended up not being so advanced when all the factors were revealed.

          Haven´t watched the scene yet but the way you describe it, they certainly did interact beyond the trivial (trivial = saying hello to a stranger on the street and move along, for example), which means that they had a “relationship”.

          One reason I found the scene particularly compelling is because the succinctness and yet potency of that kiss is eerily similar to John Eldredge’s Walking with God, where he claims Jesus speaks one or two words to him at multiple points which radically changed his life. Clearly “one or two words” is very little to go on, but if they’re sufficiently potent, I kind of want to say, “Who cares?” Eldredge gives you the sense that Jesus sometimes has to correct us on some major misconceptions (often due to hurts we’ve experienced, he claims) before he can really hold much of a conversation. Just consider all the Christianese statements which are made all over the place, statements which are devoid of any power to help. I can see that making communication harder.

          such an approach as you describe here entails suspending your background knowledge as soon as someone *merely asserts* something that contradicts it

          I’m just not convinced that this is true. If someone claims to have been abducted by aliens, I can (a) accept what he says; (b) not change how I act in the slightest. The only result of (a) is that aliens exist in ways which cannot be detected except on their extremely rare terms. I don’t see how I would change my behavior. The vast majority of time aliens are completely absent, so I’m going to act as if they don’t exist. That doesn’t mean I have to disbelieve the claimant. It just doesn’t.

          There is a reason for why scientists don´t do that – a crackpot theory *might* be correct, but for every crackpot theory that turns out to be correct, there are thousands that are Bullshit.

          I can do what I describe above and yet do excellent science. Even if Jesus were to walk among us and tell us things, we would still do science. The problem arises when someone says “I was abducted by aliens, therefore you should _____”. It is then that I would ask for ways to verify that he was abducted. But I don’t need to call him a liar or deluded. I can say, “I don’t know”. I don’t need to be a metaphysical tyrant.

          (Stanley Prusiner for example was laughed at for suggesting the existence of prions – then he worked extremely hard to prove that he is right and got his Nobel prize).

          It just seems to me that laughing at people in this way happens purely because people need to feel better than others who think differently from them. I get that maybe Prusiner was indistinguishable from crackpot theorists until he had confirmatory data, but this tells me that laughing at people based on ‘the probabilities’ is a shitty way to treat human beings.

          Slightly off-topic, but what you describe here – avoiding medical treatment for religious reasons – demonstrably hurts and kills people.

          Yes, and so do certain sexual practices. The key is consenting adults. How to deal with children is a sticky issue that I’d rather not get into. As to suicide, I do think we ought to try and convince people otherwise, including using force at least the first time, because many people are happy that was done for them after the fact.

          I agree with that last sentence 100%. From my vantage point, religious faith is overall detrimental for actualizing as much as possible of your potential and helping others to do the same – and that´s why I think it is worthwhile to challenge religious beliefs.

          Heh, Christians would claim the opposite, that apart from a relationship (and I think English-relationship) with God, you will forever fall short of actualizing as much of your potential as possible. One of my big complaints about Christians is that they often fail to give evidence that they believe the following:

          “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. (1 Cor 10:23-24)

          It is so much easier to tear down than to build up. It is so much easier to point the finger than helpfully criticize and then join the person in overcoming the bad thing. “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” That passage is just extraordinary and so ill-followed. On the one hand it’s mundane, but there are plenty of ‘mundane’ things that if actually believed and acted on, would make the world incredibly better.

          Why should I think differently about Jesus? (and if you find the comparison to a fictional character misleading, just substitute MLK for Atticus Finch).

          I’ve been zeroing in on this response for some years now. I think you should only be convinced if there is continuing divine revelation. One way this could be demonstrated to you is if people from various cultures in various parts of the globe, who did not interact until some meeting, all got together and offered their experiences of Jesus, with plenty of agreement but also some uniqueness, all with the unifying theme of a person who cares deeply for them and wants them to “actualize as much as possible of their potential”. This partly comes from the observation that quite a few math and science discoveries were made simultaneously by people who were not in communication. I’m not sure if this would be sufficient evidence for an English-relationship, but it certainly would be evidence of something. 🙂

  3. There is a way to talk about the probability that Newton’s universal law of gravitation is true. Take a look at Solomonoff induction, or LessWrong’s version, for those not acquainted with enough basics in theory of computation. SI is all about coming up with the ‘simplest’ algorithm which will generate a set of observations. If we have an objective measure of ‘simplest’ (this has difficulties but hopefully we can ignore them), then we can, in theory, talk about how likely it is that a given algorithm is the simplest one which accounts for the observations to within some error.

    We could also point to the fact that people often get convinced in increments when it comes to big ideas—they often don’t just swallow new ideas whole. So there does seem to be some mechanism of increasing belief, which seems like it could be modeled in a Bayesian fashion.

    There are two bigger problems I see, having read through 1/2 to 2/3 of OTF, as well as talked to members on Debunking Christianity in the blog comments section.

    1. The statement that only scientific truth is truth is (a) not scientific; (b) not tenable. My wife can tell you much more about who I am as a person than can scientists who must use objective data-gathering methods, ensure repeatability of experiment, etc. etc. Why we should not expect this disparity in relating to God—another person—is something that baffles me. Keith Ward talks about this in his The Case for Religion; I can provide some choice quotations if anyone desires.

    2. The idea that all e.g. 70000 religions are completely contradictory and must be considered as completely distinct is facile. There are a tremendous number of similarities between Islam and Christianity, for example. Imagine what Loftus would say if I turned the tables on him, by pointing out the large number of interpretations of quantum mechanics, and said that this diversity means none of them is likely to be correct and all ought to be dropped. That is silly; philosophy has often aided scientific research. Those with varying interpretations still agree on many fundamentals, and so we should be very careful when counting those differences. John does not do this.

    • @ labreuer

      “Why we should not expect this disparity in relating to God—another person—is something that baffles me.”

      you assume, i surmise, that all of us accept that your god exists, and, that s/he/it is a person, right.

      • @xon-xoff

        you assume, i surmise, that all of us accept that your god exists, and, that s/he/it is a person, right.

        What I say can be easily turned into a discussion of logically possible worlds, and which ones a given epistemology is unable to ever accurately come to know. In my one and only blog post, Intersubjectivity is Key, I mention GK Chesterton’s discussion about how insane people often cannot be convinced that their idea of the world is wrong and small; after all, they can explain any observation in terms of their idea of what the world is like.

        This comment of mine is relevant:

        Observation and evidence come before definition.

        It is not at all clear that this is true. See Grossberg 1999, The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness. Grossberg offers a neurological model for consciousness that, as a byproduct, explains confirmation bias. When we make observations, he says, our brains try and match them up to various models (what he calls ‘long-term memories’) that we have stored away. If the observations (what he calls ‘short-term memories’) match up to any models sufficiently well, then those ‘connections’ rise to the conscious level. So, it is not at all clear that we first observe and then come up with models (definitions) for what we’ve observed. The model might come first, at least when it comes to conscious experience!

        Back to my blog post, all I really ask of you is that you do your best to simulate my point of view, just as I try to do the same for you. This means doing so as precisely as possible, not in the sense that we can all satirically mock another person by roughly approximating what they would say, often making them seem stupid in the process. I don’t mean to say you’ve been mocking, but I do mean to say that much such simulation takes the form of mocking—at least in my experience, participating in and watching the exchange between theists and atheists.

      • @ labreuer

        just so you know, i neither have an intent to, nor do I mock what you say; in fact, i want to understand what you say as much as i may.

        i pointed out in my post that your assertion may not be understood by me as you asserted, given that, from my perspective, your assertion comes somewhat loaded with a few presuppositions/assumptions. presuppositions/assumptions that i may not share with you.

        you may assert whatever you may; this is your prerogative. all i wanted to communicate to you is that your assertion may not be “simulated” by me as you may have thought it may be.

        we’re in dialogue here, thanks to our gracious host.

        i want to learn from these exchanges.

        • @xon-xoff: I meant to be pointed and clear, not to criticize. If I speak as if God exists, that is because I believe he does. I don’t assume that you think similarly, but I do assert that unless you try and simulate what I say in your own mind, you will be unlikely to understand what I say. In this simulation, you would need to assume that a God like the one I believe exists. Similarly, I try and simulate a way of looking at the world where no personal deity exists, when I try to understand atheists’ points of view.

      • @ labreuer

        “In this simulation, you would need to assume that a God like the one I believe exists.”

        and therein lies the problem, methinks.

        i do not know of which god you believe. there are many gods, as offered by believers.

        again, i was sincere when i said that you assert something that you may believe but i may not. thus, if that assertion is meant to answer or support some particular view, it may not have the effect you intend.

        in your post you were making a case–a bold one too, perhaps:

        “1. The statement that only scientific truth is truth is (a) not scientific; (b) not tenable. My wife can tell you much more about who I am as a person than can scientists who must use objective data-gathering methods, ensure repeatability of experiment, etc. etc. Why we should not expect this disparity in relating to God—another person—is something that baffles me. Keith Ward talks about this in his The Case for Religion; I can provide some choice quotations if anyone desires.”

        in making that case, you brought in other assertions that these also need to be buttressed.

        so, i could have asked, as i often do: which god, and how did you arrive at this god being a person?

        but, instead, i pointed out that your assumptions that the god you mentioned is a given and a person may not be understood to be so by me.

        no mal intent.

        • @xon-xoff

          i do not know of which god you believe. there are many gods, as offered by believers.

          I believe in the trinitarian God of Christianity. There is variation of how this God is viewed, but it is much, much narrower than all gods ever believed in by people across time and space. To the extent that further clarification is required, I think we can work on that as conversation continues?

          so, i could have asked, as i often do: which god, and how did you arrive at this god being a person?

          Having started an answer to ‘which’, I’ll explain ‘how’: the God I believe in desires a relationship with his created, image-bearing beings, and would reveal information about himself somehow—I believe the Bible contains significant revelation about him. As to the ‘person’ bit, that is merely one of many logical possibilities. The way to test a logical possibility is to run with it for a while and see if it helps make sense of reality better than anything else tried. To be very technical, the Bible could be said to contain ‘gold codes’, which I explain over here in the context of how GPS works.

          but, instead, i pointed out that your assumptions that the god you mentioned is a given and a person may not be understood to be so by me.

          I’m not sure I can parse this. It certainly seems that you interpret reality through a different grid of presuppositions than I do. One of the results of conversation is that I can try to look through your grid and you can try to look through my grid. Perhaps we’ll both agree that one is better. Perhaps we’ll both agree that both grids need tweaking.

      • @ labreuer

        thanks for the details. i’ll have a look at the link tomorrow. it’s dinner time.

        so, with all that you have posited, you see why i said that these belief claims, which were the assumptions in the argument from your previous post, now need to be evaluated.

        if i was a catholic believer, then your previous post would be understood probably de facto. but, i’m not a believer.

        “Perhaps we’ll both agree that one is better. Perhaps we’ll both agree that both grids need tweaking.”

        ok. but, perhaps we have other options/combinations, right.

        both grids could be bad.

        cheers

        • @xon-xoff

          If, instead of saying:

          you assume, i surmise, that all of us accept that your god exists, and, that s/he/it is a person, right.

          you had said something like:

          You assume, I surmise, that all of us understand which god you are talking about, right?

          , then there would have been less confusion on my end. 🙂

          Now, you’re right that “both grids could be bad.”, but will we find this out if we only compare and contrast our own grids? I’m guessing not. We’d probably need to be presented with a third. :-p

    • specific example: i claim the earth is flat.

      Xon,

      This is an interesting choice of example!

      I used to believe the earth was flat; someone in my church taught me that. It was perhaps among the earliest truth-claims I rejected after further consideration.

      When investigating a truth-claim, it IS up the individual to make a determination on the claim. Otherwise one depends on authority alone.

      Authorities are often useful in investigation, but blind dependence on authority is no investigation at all. Neither does it produce reasoned conclusions, because when one accepts a conclusion based on an authority the conclusion is not that of the person but of the authority.

      Two people can, of course, reach the same conclusion, even if one informs the other, but the vetting process must occur for the conclusion of the second person to be their own.

      That being said, there is no guarantee that any conclusion is absolutely correct.

      Since I was a flat-earther in my younger days, I continued to be interested in flat-earthers and their thinking process. My opinion is that flat-earthers begin with a presupposition of a flat earth based on the authority of 19th century flat-earther Samuel Rowbotham (1816–1885). Counter-explanations have developed over time in the face of growing scientific evidence, but they are merely defenses of a presupposition of a flat earth rather than fresh thinking on the issues.

      I don’t think there is any investigation of truth-claims among convinced flat-earthers today, though some questioning must be happening in the movement because it is shrinking to almost nothing.

      But back to your question: I think it is up to the investigator to make the determination in truth-claims, but this does not mean their determination is correct.

      • jwb,

        agreed: it’s up to the individual to make a determination on any claim. and, blind dependence is probably not a reasoned approach.

        now, i claimed the earth is flat for the sake of argument. i think it’s a good claim with which one may discuss its merit. there are arguments to support the claim and many arguments to refute it thus.

        i’m interested in how does one go about evaluating a claim.

        i’d be interested in what considerations made you reject the claim.

        lastly, if the investigator makes a determination on a claim, and we accept that it may/may not be correct, what recourse do we have to determine the correctness of our determinations? can we have, do we have a recourse?

        • There are philosophers who argue that the claim “the earth is flat” becomes meaningless if ones is living in a simulation.

          That is to say it is neither false nor true.

          So before starting evaluating evidence, some unprovable presuppositions have to be made.

      • if the investigator makes a determination on a claim, and we accept that it may/may not be correct, what recourse do we have to determine the correctness of our determinations? can we have, do we have a recourse?

        Xon, I think the best we can do is the best we can do.

  4. Firstly, wow – I’m lucky to get 3 comments on one of my blog posts, and you already have 53 – I’m impressed (and envious)!

    I actually like the idea of the Outsider’s Test of Faith – I think that we *should* all subject our own beliefs and assumptions to the same rigorous questioning and scepticism that we would apply to other people’s truth claims. It’s difficult to do in practice, but it’s something to aspire to.

    However, like many here I’m not satisfied with John Loftus’ approach, which seems overly simplistic and itself based on some unquestioned assumptions. It seems he may not have entirely left his old fundamentalist / binary way of thinking behind with his theology…

    So it’s possible, as others have noted, that many ‘rival’ belief systems may have some validity in them. I certainly would never claim that (say) Christianity is 100% correct nor that all other belief systems 100% wrong.

    Part of the issue is that all belief systems (whether religious or otherwise) are highly complex and diverse phenomena. It’s practically impossible to pin down a ‘correct’ or ‘official’ version of any particular religion; the closest we can come are the historical creeds and perhaps the foundational texts/scriptures (but these are all subject to a wide variety of interpretations).

    So it’s hard to know exactly what we’re evaluating when it comes to assessing the various truth claims of any particular belief system. And we’d also need to agree a common standard for evaluation.

    I’d suggest that we can make some provisional evaluations based on things like reasonableness and plausibility, internal coherency, commonsense, ability to accurately explain human experience, etc. I’d also add in the tendency of the belief system to promote emotional health and human flourishing. And on pretty much all counts, I would assess Scientology as being unmitigated garbage (to be polite)…

    • Hello Harvey.

      Thank you very much for your thoughtful comment!

      Your blog is extremely encouraging and edifying and I advise all my fellow progressive Christians to comment there regularly 🙂

      You clearly deserve it.

      As for the OTF, I do agree with many aspects of it.

      What I don’t agree is this initial improbability of all religions, as I tried to make clear, we should rather consider the probabilities as unknown or undefined .

      Even if it is controversial, I do believe that NO worldview can be conclusively shown to be true,

      You always need “faith” (hope in something beyond the evidence) before committing yourself to a “Weltanschauung”.

      This is true of Christianity, Islam and secular humanism denying God.
      None of the proponents of these worldviews have compelling grounds for thinking he or she has the truth.
      Thus they need faith.

      Lovely greetings from the partially sunny Lancashire.

      • Ahh, thank you. You’re lovely. 🙂

        Yes, I do completely take your point about the probabilities being unknown/undefined – that makes perfect sense to me. It may even be that they’re inherently unknowable/undefinable?

        I agree that no worldview can be conclusively shown to be true, and that you always need an element (however small) of ‘faith’. Though it seems to me that some worldviews require considerably more faith than others!

        Lovely greetings from rainy Greenwich (and equally rainy Croydon).

    • @ TEL

      “And we’d also need to agree a common standard for evaluation.”

      praise the lord: music to my ears.

      and, you even provide talking points.

      been on this blog for months waiting for a believer to mouth these words.

      cheers

      • @xon-xoff – thank you. 🙂

        I have a dream, albeit less grand than MLK’s… a dream that we will one day subject our own worldviews and their underlying assumptions to the same rigorous scrutiny that we apply to those we disagree with… or at least be open in admitting that we don’t, and that our assumptions may be flawed or unprovable.

        I also have a dream that one day atheists and Christians will conduct conversations about our differing views in a friendly, mutually-respectful and even mutually-caring manner, without descending to point-scoring or name-calling. This blog gives me some hope that one day that may be a reality (though there’s a bit of a way to go yet).

        I have a dream that we will practice the ‘hospitality of ideas’, welcoming each other’s different perspectives and seeking to understand and appreciate each other’s reasons (intellectual, emotional, historical) for our worldviews, rather than merely seeking to run down or refute those views. That we will be prepared to truly listen, rather than merely waiting to jump in with our criticisms and clinching arguments.

        I have a dream that one day we will value other people more than we value our ideas. That we will care more about treating our ‘opponents’ well than we care about proving ourselves right and them wrong.

        And when we do that, I don’t think it will matter tuppence whether we’re atheists or Christians or whatever, because we’ll be human.

        And here endeth the irritatingly self-righteous preach. Amen. 😉

    • @TheEvangelicalLiberal

      However, like many here I’m not satisfied with John Loftus’ approach, which seems overly simplistic and itself based on some unquestioned assumptions. It seems he may not have entirely left his old fundamentalist / binary way of thinking behind with his theology…

      This seems to be fairly well-accepted, the more I see Christians describe Loftus’ personality. I saw some of this when I commented on Loftus’ blog, but his debate with Randal Rauser was more clear. If you watch it, look for how quickly Loftus labels people as “science deniers”. The need to label, to put people in boxes, is definitely a fundamentalist trait.

  5. @Andy Schueler, I’ve no wish to incur the sharp end of your tongue/pen/keyboard, but I’ve decided to wade in incautiously on the issue of God’s silence and hiddenness…

    On a practical level, the silence/hiddenness of God does present believers with something of a problem. We want to hear from the God we believe in, partly for guidance and instruction, and partly because we want a (ahem) relationship.

    (Coincidentally I blogged about all this recently here: http://evangelicaliberal.wordpress.com/2014/01/24/listening-to-the-silent-god/ – though it’s aimed at Christians so will do little but confirm the idea that we’re delusional wishful-thinkers wasting our time on an imaginary friend! 😉 )

    Of course, many Christians do report the sense of being guided at key moments, or indeed of receiving communication or input which seems to them to be divine in origin – though it may come through secondary, natural agents. I’m not saying that to try and convince you of its truth, just to say that for Christians there are ways round the immediate practical problem.

    However, on a more philosophical level, I don’t see that God’s apparent silence or hiddenness present any particular problem to believers. For sure, it’s inconvenient if we want to try and ‘prove’ God’s reality (which I don’t). But I don’t see any compelling reason why God must or should make him/her/itself directly visible, audible, tangible or otherwise obvious to us. And I can think of various reasons why God wouldn’t (though none of them might be correct).

    For example, take the standard analogy of a play, say ‘Romeo & Juliet’. The characters in the play have no awareness of Shakespeare and nor do they need to (okay, they’re fictional and have no awareness of anything, but this is just an analogy). They get on with their parts, unaware that anything or anyone lies behind their world, forming and directing it.

    However, in the Christian worldview, God *has* in fact written himself into the cosmic play in the form of Jesus, and therefore has come out of hiding; has even spoken.

    But why then does God remain apparently silent and hidden to us now? Perhaps because he’s already said all he needed to in Christ. Perhaps because he wants us to grow up and work things out for ourselves. Perhaps just because he’s shy 😉

    NB please don’t shoot me down if you think I’m talking rubbish. I probably am, but I do have feelings…

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