Questioning the existence of a god.

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by Aeon117, Sep 11, 2010.

  1. glaucon tending tangentially Registered Senior Member


    Again, an entirely, massive topic in and of itself, but.....

    For our purposes here I would go with a simple operational definition.

    Something along the lines of: Reason describes a systematic methodology for the determination of knowledge given an incomplete environment.

    I can't recall saying such...
    (Though I will now...)

    While we have (and have had) many beliefs that have the appearance of contradicting rationality, typically, these beliefs are such simply due to a lack of investigation. Given sufficient analysis, such beliefs tend to disappear.

    However, there is a subset of such beliefs that, for ontological or epistemological reasons, may not lend themselves to investigation. I would say that 'god' is one such belief. As to handling this subset, it seems obvious to me that the members therefore must be deemed irrational.

    Note: this is not to make any judgment with respect to ontological status; I'm not saying "God does (can)not exist", but rather "It is not rational to behave such that God exists".

    I find that my position here is pretty much in accordance with most others'.

    Which is to say: the position of the religious (or, spiritual, etc.) person is one of faith, and (therefore) not one of reason.

    I have great respect and admiration for such people, though I do not understand them.
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2010
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  3. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Yes, which perfectly fits with my understanding of what theism/theology does.

    I have inferred it from your saying:

    Yes, they do.

    I agree, but with the qualification that some of these beliefs may not lend themselves to some particular kind of investigation.

    There are things which are per definition such that if one wanted to have absolute certainty about them, one would have to be omniscient and omnipotent (such as investigating the origin of the Universe on one's own accord).

    There are things on which we cannot remain undecided; things were "not deciding" is the same as deciding one way or another.

    For example, you cannot remain undecided on whether to go to work or not: you either go to work, or you don't, but you cannot remain undecided about it.

    Are you familiar with William James' ideas on the topic of the will to believe? I posted a thread once - You didn't participate there.

    I think he brought up all the usual arguments against belief and provided counterarguments. It would actually be easier to discuss this topic if everyone just read his essay and so have a collection of arguments handy to refer to.

    I do not see faith and reason as so exclusive at all.

    We act on faith (in one thing or another) all the time anyway.

    I think William James can help you understand them.
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  5. Doreen Valued Senior Member

    I am sure you will adjust this, in response to Signal, getting into the specifics of the methology.

    That said however, I think it is important to notice that Signal is quite correct. That does describe religion quite well, especially the practices of the more professional following: monks, devotees at an ashram, and so on. People who are living a methodology - generally in a very disciplined way - that is very much empirical - iow experiential and exploratory.

    One major difference between them and scientists, for example, is that they assume they themselves must change to gather this knowledge. This is implicit in the methodology. Further, that knowledge in an of itself is not enough -knowledge in the sense of having correct assertions about reality. Rather there is the sense that they want to live this knowledge and that propositional knowledge is not enough, other learning must take place.

    I am quite sure none of this will convince you to take a retreat at a religious institution, but perhaps the comparison can lower the respect threshold.

    Here we have people who have very specific kinds of knowledge (and experience that they are seeking). They have chosen a methodology that is purported to work on these issues - and does not require a graduate degree in physics and more (though likely at least as much dedication and discipline). Further a graduate degree in physics, only at the right juncture in the history of science, may perhaps come up with a ToE. But it will not give one the tools to live well knowing whatever propositions are correct.

    I think when Reasonists wonder at people's choice to be religious they tend to be thinking of religion as
    sitting in a pew on sunday and passively taking in 'the truth.'

    Rather than the rigorous methodology involved for other religious people.

    This would also include, for example, shamans and other kinds of non-Abrahamic religious practitioners.

    Further I think it misses the kind of knowledge these people are seeking.

    Last the outside perspective is hopelessly distant from what these people are doing, just as we are all hopelessly distant from experts in mundane fields we both agree people can be experts in....

    A dermatologist's immediate evaluation of a mole.
    An art critic's instant sense that a painting is incorrectly attributed.
    Dr. Paul Ekman's ability to spot liars without machinery.

    The skills involved here, perhaps based varying degrees of innate gifts and experience and training can seem magical and unfounded to an outsider.

    Only by immersion can one begin to understand what is actually going on.
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2010
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  7. Kernl Sandrs Registered Senior Member

  8. Aeon117 Registered Member

    You say that you would rather choose the belief that has a better consequence, but that is not what i want. I want to know the truth, no matter the consequences. It is a sad thought, but if i were to die sincerely believing that it is the end of me, believing that there is no afterlife, i would still take comfort in knowing that i had peace of mind choosing to believe in atheism and that i have not lied to myself. I would not say that my atheistic perspective made a complete waste of my life, even if the opposite were true. Now, i'm not saying that's how it will end for me, but that's how it would be if i later chose to be an atheist. Who knows? Maybe someday i'll be convinced that there is a god. I just cannot force myself to believe in a god just because it comes with the belief in the afterlife. It would just be like i'm lying to myself.
  9. Aeon117 Registered Member

    Don't assume that i have not participated in any theistic practice. I was brought up a seventh-day adventist christian. I have been baptised praising god, i have had numerous instances where i felt connected to god. I have felt spiritual before, but the one thing that made me different from the other church members was that i allowed myself to keep an open mind; i allowed my beliefs to be challenged. I thought, to challenge my mind would make it stronger, and if christians truly believed in god, they wouldn't be afraid to challenge their beliefs because if it were true, everything should point back to christianity. I did all of this not knowing that my faith would actually fall. I thought it'd be for the greater glory of god to open my mind to new experiences.

    Now that i have found many possible ways that my faith could be false, i started to question it. If it is possible that my spiritual experiences can all be explained as perceptions that my mind could have just made up, it is worth looking into; it is worth questioning. From that point, i've delved deeply within my mind to question whether these experiences were real or fake. I started to search for answers and THIS THREAD i started is just one of the many ways i've been looking.
  10. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    I think wanting to know the truth, no matter the consequences, is normal.

    However, the question is - how do you think that truth can be arrived at?
  11. arfa brane call me arf Valued Senior Member

    I think it's a lot more rational to behave as if you exist instead.

    In this manner, the existence of God can be seen as (ir)relevant. In particular the existence of a God that corresponds to a formula (has a white beard, talks in a loud voice, shoots bolts of lightning from their eyes, etc) becomes irrelevant.

    I think this is more or less the atheist position. The only counterargument to someone who claims that God doesn't exist, is to point out that they exist, and this existence is really what they should explain, not defer to some formula that may or may not 'yield' the answer, or defer to a position that holds "there is no question".
  12. glaucon tending tangentially Registered Senior Member


    I can't possibly conceive of that being so.
    Any theist position is, by definition, axiomatic, depending as it does on the a priori nature of its deity. That being the case, although it may attempt to generate knowledge, it certainly doesn't follow any systematic approach, nor does it have a means of self-correction, nor does it take into account its context.

    Precisely my point. But does this mean that there's a problem with the methodology, or with the subject?

    Ah but my definition of Reason made no mention of "certain".
    While I agree that what you say above is correct, I would say that it's correct for all things. Thus...

    I agree with what you say, but don't see the relevance.

    I'll need to reread to refresh. From memory though, I have to admit I had a hard time with James. I mean, right from the start 'will to believe' is a contradiction....

    But they are, by definition.

    True, but not exclusively so.
  13. glaucon tending tangentially Registered Senior Member


    Sorry, I can't agree.
    Having a methodology is not enough. What is required is a methodology that pays dividends, is self-correcting, and contextual. All religious ideologies are bereft of these three requirements.

    I don't see the relevance here...

    Which moves us another step backwards in the analysis: what kind of knowledge is being sought?
  14. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    That something "pays dividens", is "self-correcting" and is "contextual" implies an ethical system.
    Utility, notions of improvement and notions of relevance only make sense when embedded in a value system that has been accepted apriori.

    Just the opposite.

    What makes religious ideologies different than the scientific ones is that the religious ones clearly and apriori state what their goals and values are, and that those goals and values contextualize all human pursuits.

    Scientific ideologies limit themselves to only a select few of human pursuits.
    This selectivity has to make us stop and wonder though - what is it based on?

    Basically, knowledge of who we are, where we come from, where we are going, what makes life worth living.
  15. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Any atheist position is, by definition, axiomatic, depending as it does on the a priori nature of the mind and subjective and interpersonal experience.

    I do not see the theistic position as generating knowledge; it is also not about accumulating knowledge.

    The theistic idea is, generally, that we are, by nature, knowledgeable already, except that in our present state, our nature is covered by illusion - "we can't see clearly".
    What we "learn" in theistic practice is not about gaining knowledge; it is about undoing the illusion.

    I take it you have never undergone any spiritual practice and discipline?

    Such a question presumes that there exists a neutral, objective methodology suitable for discovering the truth about anything.

    While such a methodology may exist, I do not see how humans (who constitutionally cannot be objective or neutral) could employ it.

    If we omit the issue of certainty here, we are back at competing ethical systems.
    IOW, what good is "temporarily useful knowledge".

    See below -

    I think he made a good job, and he addressed the problems with the notion of "will to believe" as well.

    It's not like people can will themselves to believe just anything; James lists some criteria for what an idea needs to be like for a person to consider it.

    You yourself are also acting out of a will to believe; just that the things you do not want to remain undecided about may be quite different from another person's.

    I contend that only an omniscient and omnipotent entity is in the position to act on certainty.

    (And perhaps robots, but I am not sure we can rightfully say that robots "act".)
  16. Otto9210 Registered Senior Member

    Aeon117 have you considered the Deist argument? Deists believe that since nature and our universe has laws and since some things are perfect or else we would all die (the earth our bodies) that there must be a being that made the laws and created things so that humans can live on earth. It is basically what the englightenment philosophers believed about the subject of god and creation (Voltaire, Descartes, Rousseau, Ben Franklin) Its based on reason not faith
  17. glaucon tending tangentially Registered Senior Member



    I think we're at fundamental loggerheads here Signal.
    I utterly disagree with you here.

    Two levels of distinction are required here:

    First, although I would grant that some ethical systems could be described as such (though none that are actually practiced), they are fundamentally defined by the fact that they're axiomatic: ethical systems are stipulative and prescriptive. As such, they are not amenable to revisability (if revised [by tossing out the required a priori] the entire system itself changes into an entirely new one).

    Second (and more importantly), we weren't talking about ethical systems here; we were talking about theistic positions. If you're equating the two, I don't buy it.


    Totally disagree.

    I would argue that such values de-contextualize, make abstract, our pursuits.

    In any case, my point about context seems to have been misinterpreted.

    What I meant by that was that Rationality operates in, and necessarily takes in to account the environment in which we behave. (In other words, Rationality is necessarily contingent upon our world, our reality, as opposed to some unseen, mystical, mythologized 'context'(sic).

    I wasn't restricting myself specifically to scientific pursuits (one can rationally play a game, carve wood, etc..) but regardless of that, I think its hyperbole to say science is restricted to "only a select few". I can't think of a human sphere of interest that science hasn't been applied to.....

    Ah, but that's an entirely different question.
    An intriguing one no doubt, but I don't see the relevance of such teleological, meta-analysis within this context.

    OK, but that's you.

    I don't think those kinds of questions are legitimate (personally.. at all.. but...) herein.
    Certainly, I'd be happy to admit that these kinds of questions (goals... values...) are not amenable to any Rational analysis if that would make you happy, but then, the OP wasn't looking for metaphysical methodologies. The OP specifically mentioned "evidence" and "science".

    I don't mean to come off as a jerk, but I think you're being really evasive here..
  18. glaucon tending tangentially Registered Senior Member

    Ah, but granting that, then the theist one is doubly so (if not also contradictorily so...).


    Thus, my last comment in my post previous to this one: this isn't therefore relevant.

    I have indeed (admittedly, predominantly Eastern practice).
    You're correct to point out that those three elements do function in the practice of the members of the faith, but not in the system of faith itself (see: dogma, ideology, etc.).

    Not necessarily.
    This is contingent upon how we choose (my word) to define "truth", "knowledge", "objective".

    And yet since the Renaissance (at least..) we have, and continue to do so; witness roads, medicine, space travel, this medium we're using to communicate with....

    Again, I think we're at fundamental loggerheads.

    It seems to be your position that, when one cannot identify an 'objective' standard, we're immediately forced into the realm of aesthetics. Sorry, I don't buy that (IMO) artificial dichotomy. You're arguing that 'truth' and 'subjective' are mutually exclusive, and I don't think so.

    I am going to refresh. Seriously; he came up in an interesting article I read recently, and put him back on my hotlist... (James was brought up several times in the last Issue of Philosophy Now magazine. I'd shoot you a link but you have to be a subscriber..)

    See, now this is interesting (even out of context here..).

    To me, when I hear "will to believe", it sounds as if I'm constantly having to 'check' on my beliefs, and reinforce when required. I don't get that. My beliefs don't need support, they just are. Some, given new info, graduate to 'knowledge', or are discarded. But supported? Nah.

    I would, in principle, agree with this.
    (Though of course I would then move on to say: therefore, acting on certainty is impossible...).

    What I was getting at was (this motif keeps coming up...) it all depends on how you define "certain" ("true", "knowledge", "objective", et. al.)
  19. -ND- Human Prototype Registered Senior Member

    Not the belief with the better consequence. The belief with a better end with the things that matter, the truth. The truth is only found in the end of a person I am afraid. Which brings me back to my point. It is not whether or not God exists, it is what you have planned to do with this time on earth. There is no other way.
  20. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Only if we posit that the atheist position is the default one for all humans.

    Of course it is relevant: because all theistic religions operate with some version of the above-mentioned idea of purity and illusion.

    The OP is indeed inquiring about science and evidence - but seems to be missing the point that science (as we usually know it in the West) does not actually approach theism at all. The definitions of theological terms that science tends to operate on are such that no theist actually holds them; as such, they are extraneous to theism.
    The (Western) scientific pursuit of the truth about God and belief in God and related issues is like trying to study and understand Chinese without understanding a word of it and acknowledging only English.
    I think this bears saying.

    That level of meta-criticism applies to all faiths/sciences/pursuits/ideologies/philosophies/outlooks/lifestyles.

    I do not see technology as the product of objective or neutral methodology; merely one of relative utility.

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    When we cannot take the position of omnimax, we are forced into the realm of ethics.

    I am not arguing that, though.
    My position is that a person can come to superior knowledge, but one cannot take credit for it.
    Superior knowledge being the one revealed by God Himself.

    I am looking forward to it!

    That is strange.
    I have always thought that "love of wisdom" implied that in the name of that love of wisdom, one be willing to change one's beliefs, to generally be very flexible with them, to take responsibility for them every step of the way, in every circumstance.
    As such this seems directly pertinent to the OP.

    In college, I knew some people who majored in philosophy. I was puzzled that they seemed to be pretty much the same in the first year as in the fourth, as if all that study of philosophy had left no trace in how their mind works ...

    Yes, and I addressed a question about that to the OP poster.
  21. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    I agree with ND.

    People are rational, they do things for a reason (sic!), they try to see things rationally - in the sense of "Rationality operates in, and necessarily takes in to account the environment in which we behave. (In other words, Rationality is necessarily contingent upon our world, our reality)".

    Part of this reality are several theistic traditions with the claims they make, their establishments, their members, their practices, their experiences, the power they have in the world.
    Part of this reality is our desire for a higher purpose in life.
    Part of this reality is our dissatisfaction with uncertainty, ignorance and confusion, dissatisfaction with "life as it is usually lived".

    You are of course free to dismiss the above as "some unseen, mystical, mythologized 'context'" - and ignore a large portion of reality ...
  22. Aeon117 Registered Member

    The Deist argument is just another way of explaining the mysteries of this universe. It is certainly worth being considered, but for someone to believe it strongly, faith is required.
  23. Aeon117 Registered Member

    The belief with a better end? isn't that basically the belief with the better consequence? the better ultimate consequence? I understand what you're saying. if i chose to believe in god and it ends up being true, then i'm saved; i'm brought to the afterlife. If it's not true then nothing happens. but if i believe atheism then i'm gone no matter which is true.

    Whatever the end might be, i cannot lie to myself. If i am to believe something, i want to be convinced. I can't just choose god so i can have the chance to be saved. I don't want to say i believe when i have no reason to. If i am convinced about god, then i'll live my life for god, just like if i were convinced about athiesm, i'd live for myself and for the progression of humanity. I do not, however, want to live for god if i am not even convinced that he's real.

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