Sunday, June 24, 2007

"The Jesus Light" - switched back on

Sebastian made an interest comment on my "The Jesus Light". I reproduce it here for discussion...

I think the bishop's argument was shortcircuited by the overly ambitious heading of the talk. Trying to prove "Jesus is our Saviour" in a philosphical discussion is impossible. However, making a strong - even winning - argument for the existence of God, even a personal God, is a different matter, and that talk about 'feeling an inner light' is a very strong argument indeed. We humans have something like a sex-drive towards God: If there were only male men on earth, and they had never seen a woman, they would still be yearning for women. They couldn't describe them. They wouldn't exactly know what it is they desire, but they could give you an idea: "Something gentle, beautiful, that you can take in your arms and in your bed, something you can talk to and sleep with.." etc.

Well, it's kind of the same with this other thing we yearn for, called 'GOD'. And for every yearning there is some kind of satisfaction - that's just an empirical fact: Hunger, Curiosity, Exhaustion. Every lock has its key. Of course, when I find that key, it might be very different from what I imagined, but I will immediately recognize it, because it quenches the exact thirst I was feeling. Only the dimmest Christians (or Muslims, Buddhists etc.) will fail to admit that when God finally reveals himself to them, they will not be surprised. And the 'tooth-fairy' argument would be quite out of place here: Nobody would fall into a state of lifelong depression because his childish fancy for this myth was disappointed. The yearning has to be fundamentally deeper in order to be taken earnestly. The yearning for God is of that nature.

What do we think?

68 comments:

potentilla said...

I agree with him, except that I would say that SOME humans have something like a sex-drive towards God; it there is individual variation. This what I was talking about here. There is plenty of scientific work going on now to work out why we (some of us) might have such a yearning, which might (IMHO) better be termed a susceptibility to God.

Paul Power said...

The words summed up by "Every lock has its key" are just question-begging. The whole passage is just rephrasing his claim without offering any support for it.

The Barefoot Bum said...

It's pretty much bullshit. The analogy is kind of dumb anyway: If there were only men on the earth, they wouldn't have evolved a desire for women.

It's just as much a non-starter, for exactly the same reason, to "argue" that this inner light is evidence for a God as it is to "argue" that it's evidence for Jesus.

The "feeling of inner light" is some sort of evidence, but construing it as evidence specifically of God or Jesus requires abandoning the fundamental principles of evidentiary arguments, especially Occam's razor.

One always has to ask: Why would any but the most juvenile, arbitrary and mess-with-our-heads deity choose to communicate in such an obtuse manner?

Geoff Coupe said...

I agree with potentilla - it seems to be a susceptability, that not everyone experiences. I'm quite willing to accept that it is a drive that remains from our evolutionary past, although whether it had a value in its own right, or whether it is a spandrell, I couldn't say.

I'm tempted, though, to equate it to a moth's innate ability to navigate by the light of the moon. In these days of artificial light, what was once a trait for survival is increasingly becoming an unwished-for death wish, as moths are driven to self-immolation in artificial light sources.

Wholeflaffer said...

I think there is some confusion related to the intentionality of emotion (emotions are, for the most part, ABOUT something; hunger for food, etc.). However, how is hunger EVIDENCE for an onotological stance? My hunger does not ontologically entail that food exists; mostly, it is a semantical point: 'Hunger' and 'food' go together semantically. This argument seems to make a Cartesian mistake.

potentilla said...

I should have been clearer, sorry; I do think that many humans have a susceptibility to God, but I don't think that is a good argument for the existence of God, because the existence of the susceptibility can be satisfactorily explained in other ways.

The satisfactory alternative explanations have only relatively recently started to emerge, btw; I was much more troubled by this line of argument 20 years ago.

geoff coupe - probably a spandrel if we consider 'belief in a god or gods' in a narrow sense, although the wider concept of 'religion' has so many facets that quite probably adaptive (currently or previously) traits are involved as well.

Timmo said...

I first encountered this argument when reading Nicholi's hypothetical debate between C.S. Lewis and Freud in The Question of God. There's something to it: the religious urge is a natural desire, and since there exist things which satisfy our other natural desires, it is reasonable to infer there exists an object which is the proper subject of religious attitudes and feelings. It is my understanding that psychologists have long moved away from understanding religiousness as a kind of neurosis like Freud supposed it was. I just picked up a book by Spilka, Hood, and Gorsuch, The Psychology of Religion: An Empirical Approach. The findings they describe show that religiousness enhances peoples lives, and that people who experience religious feelings feel happy and purposive. Quite an inversion of Freud!

Still, the argument is very speculative. Our need for spiritual fulfillment and the ability for religious faith to provide that fulfillment is very suggestive, but, who knows?

Sebastian said...

I believe it is obvious that even though there might be frigid individuals, a healthy sex-drive is the norm, and that all further arguments should refer to this general case, and not the handicapped exception. And the metaphore of a world without women was not supposed to suggest that this world evolved without women: Just that the women were removed all of a sudden, and that no living man had ever seen one (talking about falling from grace...). And yes, hunger is evidence for the existence of food. Maybe not existence of food now, here, and cheaply, but that somewhere there should be food...sure. (The unavailability of food in a particular case, e.g. the desert, would be like the unavailability of God for some particular individual, e.g. in hell.) The reasons why a God might choose to reveal himself in such a subtle -or call it obtuse- way is a different argument. I like the moth metaphore! Flying towards a fire and not towards the moon doesn't mean that the moon doesn't exist, though, just that you're making a bad mistake in your particular choice of 'God'. (St. Augustine would say that is the nature of sin...)

Fridgemonkey said...

"And for every yearning there is some kind of satisfaction " Really? Every yearning? Hmmmm.

Jeremy said...

And for every yearning there is some kind of satisfaction - that's just an empirical fact

Well, no. The statement "for every yearning there is some kind of potential satisfaction" is at least more defensible. As Sebastian's own 'womenless earth' argument shows, yearning for something does not establish its existence in the slightest. Imagine too a castaway on a desert island devoid of food: if only his hunger established the presence of food on the island!

So, perhaps the same is true of God - we may have a yearning towards him/her/it but in no way does this establish that there really is such a being. Perhaps it is all a ploy by the God of Eth to watch us suffer? ;)

More seriously, there are at least two further fundamental objections:

1) It is simply assumed that we all yearn for 'GOD'. This is rather a large assumption. It is not unreasonable, but seeing as the entire argument is premised on its being true, much more evidence is required.

2) Assuming (1) to be true (ignoring the highly contentious related point of whether religious belief is beneficial psychologically), AND assuming that we are able of reaping the psychological rewards (by 'finding' God), all this proves is that our yearnings can be satisfied by the idea of God. A delusion would satisfy us as much as the real thing, and so once again, the evidence lends absolutely no support to the question of God's reality.

Jeremy said...

And yes, hunger is evidence for the existence of food. Maybe not existence of food now, here, and cheaply, but that somewhere there should be food...sure.

Sebastian, I consider your imposed limitation of God's omnipotence a grave heresy. You seem to argue that it is impossible for God to make us hungry without him also making food. If this is not what you meant, then your soul may be saved, but you will at least have to conceded that hunger does not necessarily entail food.

(And if you wish to claim that a good god would not do this, then that is begging the question: we are trying to establish God's existence; we can't use him in the proof too!)

potentilla said...

I believe it is obvious that even though there might be frigid individuals, a healthy sex-drive is the norm, and that all further arguments should refer to this general case, and not the handicapped exception.

It's not even obvious (or true) were you actually talking about sex, and certainly not if you are (as I assume) talking about religion.

Sex is an interesting analogy in another way. You (presumably) have a "healthy sex-drive" (dreadful phrase) ie you spend some significant proprtion of your time thinking about sex and consider that to be a worthwhile use of your time, BECAUSE you are a member of a sexually-reproducing species in which the desire to seek out sex evolved because those with a higher sex-drive left more offspring in the next generation. That is, your desire for sex is nothing to do with sex being in any sense intrinsically good or an end in itself, even if it feels like that inside your head.

Sebastian said...

As you say, Potentilla, I have a sex-drive because I am part of a sexually reproducing species, i.e. there are opposite sex individuals out there - and I have a God-drive because there's a God out there. As you say yourself, evolution put the desire for a mate into my genes, so in a certain sense, although of course indirectly, there has been an information flow from an object of desire (females in my example) to the male gene pool. As the human species also has a desire for God, I can reasonably presume that there has been a flow of information from THAT object of desire into my gene pool as well. The object of that desire may or may not be an end in itself (in the sex example it is not, as you point out yourself), but that isn't really relevant here. Of course, the God drive could be the one big exception to the rule of coexistence of desire and object of desire, but it isn't reasonable to think so. And I do disagree with your inclination to assign no significance to a 'majority feeling'. In the womanless world, there might be a couple of frigid men, but they too should consider the existence of women very probable in the light of their fellow-men's strong feelings in this respect. The sexually driven men however can reasonably ignore the headshaking and looks of contempt bestowed upon them by their frigid contemporaries claiming women do not exit: They are, after all, an exception.

Steelman said...

God is a sports fan, and sports competition is the proper way to worship him.
He has made the human body in such a way that physical fitness is a large factor in human well being. He has given us the rush of endorphins as an indicator that vigorous exercise is proper, and the blessing of health as a result of that exercise. The urge for sports competition, even the thrill of vicarious participation as a spectator, is built into us. From the ancient Greek Olympiad to the present day Olympic games, and various other sports engaged in worldwide, there is proof positive of human beings seeking to fill the "sports shaped hole" throughout the ages.

Note to the faithful of the Soccer Sect in the U.S.: God wants constant movement. Therefore European football, not the decadent and sacrilegiously named American counterpart with it's constant stopping and starting of the action, is the true religion (or perhaps we may also meet basketball fans in the Stadium in the Sky as well, I do not know). And baseball? Forget abut it! There will be no standing around idle (or spitting, or televised relieving of itches in private places, etc.) in His presence. Obey His law of motion; it is written on the Holy Collectors Cards.

I suppose you could concoct a theology out of practically any set of human desires.

Matt M said...

I have a God-drive because there's a God out there.

Is it really a "God-drive", or simply a desire to impose some kind of order onto life as a way of making it more understandable? It's fair to say that most of the world is religious, but the form that religion takes varies quite a bit - spirits, Gods, Tao, etc. My desire led me to science.

Paul Power said...

Sebastian:
You wrote: "the God drive could be the one big exception to the rule of coexistence of desire and object of desire"

What sort of rule is this ? Is it physics or chemistry or economics or what ?

The Barefoot Bum said...

Sigh... It is to beg the ontological question to call this desire specifically a "God" desire. The first task of an evidentiary argument is to describe the evidence in neutral terms that do not assume a particular theoretical explanation. This is the first way that religious arguments violate the canons of evidentiary argument.

The second task of an evidentiary argument is to form a hypothetical theories which logically entail the evidence. Religious arguments violate this canon: the existence of an omnipotent god is not an explanation at all. An omnipotent God does not entail any actual evidence; any logically possible evidence is compatible with the theory.

The third task to consider all possible alternative hypotheses. Yet again, religious thought violates this canon. The discussion stops at whatever handwaving is required to appear to satisfy the previous canon; little consideration is given to alternative theories (e.g. Freud's The Future of an Illusion) except as obvious straw men.

The whole theological endeavor has reeked of intellectual dishonesty and self-delusion for almost twenty centuries.

Sebastian said...

Nope, Mr. Power, it's a philosphical argument. And barefoot: I don't follow, you're flying a little too high for me, but, I'm not saying much about the God that inner desire points to: Yes, he's personal, eternal and more powerful than anything else, but that's about as much as the "inner light" argument gives. (I apologize for the male personal pronoun - the inner light doesn't tell me anything about that either). As a sidenote: Always suspecting the other side of intellectual dishonesty may, on the other hand, be a sign that one has some kind of baggage oneself. True atheists aren't emotional about the subject - there's nothing to be emotional about! ( However the closet-believer tends to get pretty emotional...)

potentilla said...

sebastian - you can't possibly be arguing that all human desires necessarily entail the existence of the object of desire. (For instance, I desire that there should be a cure for cancer).

So could you be more specific about what subset of human desires, in your view, DO necessarily entail the existence of the object of desire?

Sebastian said...

Ther is a cure for cancer - we haven't found it yet. If I am ill, then that's a sign that something like health exists, and that things aren't the way they should be. There are certain desires that ask for quantities that don't exist: Maybe somebody can't get enough real estate, and wouldn't even be happy owning the whole world. But the basic ingredient of his desire, Real Estate, does exist. And then there are certain desires that claim to be very concrete, but are really more abstract, and could be fulfilled by something else than what the person claims he wants: I would like a faster than light spacecraft. No, what you really want is knowledge of the stars beyond the milkyway, adventure etc. These latter are the real desires, and claiming to want an FTL spaceship is a superficial expression of that. So we have 'holes in our hearts', and reasons to believe that there are things that are meant to fill those holes. Mostly, we only desire things that we know to exist, and don't even think about the rest. But there are some rare things ingrained in human nature that we would yearn for even had we never seen them.

Timmo said...

Sebastian,

Are you sure that for every desire there exists an object which can satisfy that desire? Consider:

(P)I desire to see a dodo bird.

It does not follow, for example, that:

(C) There exist dodo birds.

The premise (P) is true but the conclusion (C) is false: the argument is invalid. So, it does not follow as a matter of logic.

But, even if you throw in an empirical premise to the effect that "If I desire to see dodo birds, then dodo birds exist", it wouldn't help; that conditional is not true!

So, I think Potentilla is right to ask for a subset of our desires, rather than all of them. As a part of my previous remark, I formulated the argument as pertaining to our natural desires (those which we have as a result of our biological/psychological makeup as human beings). I think that way the argument fares better, though it still seems very speculative to me.

Paul Power said...

Fine, Sebastian: "it's a philosphical argument".

What part of philosophy?

Paul Power said...

Actually, scrub my last comment.

Sebastian wrote:

" I would like a faster than light spacecraft. No, what you really want is knowledge of the stars beyond the milkyway, adventure etc. These latter are the real desires"

This shows Sebaastian does not understand a basic philosophical notion, that one cannot redefine terms to suit one's argument. It's sometimes called the "no true Scotsman" fallacy (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_true_Scotsman).

Any time he's faced with a desire that is impossible he can claim it is not "real" and then claim the desire is for something else which is possible. His definition of "real desire" is "desire that can, if only in prnciple, be satisfied" so his claim that "for every yearning there is some kind of satisfaction " must be true by definition.
This sort of manouevre is illegitimate anywhere, never mind in philosophy.

And BTW *I* want to travel faster than light for the experience of it, not to get anywhere or explore or any other reason.

Ron Murphy said...

Analogy - Helpful in the explanation of point A in terms of point B, where B is a more commonly understood point. But the use of an analogy, however effective, does not consist of proof of correctness of the original point A; or even evidence for it. Analogies can often sound good but can be way off the mark. In this particular case the whole God idea is so vague a notion almost any analogy could be concocted to explain God.

My personal analogy is that God is an invisible pet. I love my cats, I talk to them, communicate with them and can have quite complex conversations. I work from home, alone most of the day. My family are removed daily, though unlike Sebastian's women they reappear each evening, fortunately. But, I have an inner drive to talk to someone. It's often myself, but also my cats. I get great inner satisfaction from that. Some find solice in the company of machines - the Tamagotchi 'pets' of a few years ago. We have an inner yearning for companionship and communication, as do many animals. Along the evolutionary trail humans have picked up imagination. We've used that to invent God as a perfect companion, who listens without complaint, anywhere any time - the perfect Tamagotchi. We can even delude ourselves that our own answers to our own problems have been provided by Him. Inventing human companionship in anything is easy. Anthropomorphism rules - ok?

I have no evidence for this. I've based it, rather loosely, on what little I've read in popular books on psycology, evolution, biology, etc. I might even have read it somewhere explicitly, and using the great power of imagination convinced myself it's my own idea.

I could also be convinced by steelman's God. I'm a Manchester City supporter - I'm currently in purgatory, waiting to be saved by Thaiksin Shinawatra. I'm certainly having my faith challenged. I know there are very convincing arguments why I should watch Manchester United instead, but like any good theist, I'll listen, digest, ignore, and plod on regardless.

Sebastian, your rejection of the 'tooth-fairy' myth is rejected simply because it's not your myth. I may well have belived in fairies, Santa, God, The Lone Ranger, or any other myth, when I was a kid. But to suggest that anyone who discovers that they are myths would "fall into a state of lifelong depression" is a little presumptuous. I find it liberating to know that somewhere, sometime there could be an answer to anything, just waiting to be discovered. The fact that I don't and can't know everything isn't a problem. I'm happy to search for answers on the understanding that I won't necessarily find them. I have no need for God. Quite the opposite - I find God to be an unsatisfactory answer to anything, a cop-out.

Maybe in the past God and religion have provided apporpriate stop-gaps, until other ideas became more acceptable and the arguments clearer. Phlogiston provided a pretty good explanation for combustion, until oxidation supplanted it, but it's still a passable analogy if you don't know of or ignore evidence against it.

Despite all that's said about the scientific method, plenty of research begins with a hunch, or an unsubstantiated hypothesis. The scientific method comes into its own in evaluating evidence to support or reject the hypothesis. So far the God hypothesis has zero evidence in its favour. Plenty of imagination and analogy, but zero evidence. Cold fusion is an attractive idea that has had its proponents from time to time, but as yet no repeatable un-falsified evidence, so there aren't many supporters of it. Alien abduction is another unsubstantiated popular myth, that thankfully has been debunked pretty thoroughly - but that doesn't mean the evidence against it is conclusive, and so there are still people out there that believe in it. Similarly, the evidence against God is low - non-existent - we only have Ocham's Razor, but since we apply that to the tooth-fairy and other myths, why not to the God myth.

I would suggest, though it's only my own crack-pot hypothesis with no statistics to back it up, that most religious people believe in God because they haven't thought about it enough, don't understand the arguments (re Sebastians response to the barefoot bum), or are persuaded by charismatic intelligent con-men; and many of those con-men do a pretty good job of convincing themselves. Many don't even believe in order to fill this internal desire that Sebastian speaks of. Most believe because they were indoctrinated, out of tradition, out of fear (see Law, Dwakins, etc). That's my understanding, based on the deplorably inadequate sample that consists of the few personal friends and relatives I've discussed it with, and on reading the ideas presented in print, in documentaries and on the internet by supporters of theist arguments. Statistics, for or against, anyone?

Sebastian said...

I'll try to define what I mean by 'true Scotsman' more clearly: What I called a 'true desire' or 'yearning' must be something archetypical, not learnt by culture or fashion. If you desire FTL, you've been seeing Star Wars, the idea of a Dodo-bird might have come from Alice-in-Wonderland. All these objects of desire are not inborn, archetypical. They might have aspects to them that are archetypical (adventure, the mysterious and unknown), though. Religion always has both of these aspects: An archetypical desire at its heart, and a concrete description of the object of desire: Jesus, Buddah, Zeus etc. Some or all of the concrete desires might have no real-world object, but the archetypical one will. These archetypical desires are pretty common. Steelman suggested sports, and it is a good example. If Aliens abducted a bunch of human infants and brought them up in a prison-lab where force fields prevented them from carrying out fast movements, they would ache for physical exercise. The same is true if they were deprived of food (let us presume the aliens have some life-sustaining technology, so the experiment can endure for some time). In each of these cases, the abducted individuals could give an abstract description of what they are missing, but could not define it completely, having never seen or tasted it. The argument I would like to hear from you is why you believe you would not fall into the error of being an asportist, afoodist or an awomenist in these scenarios, but that this criteria is not met in our godless world, and that you therefore have reason to be an atheist, although the archtetypical desire for God is there. The God-Desire is not so vague as not to give some qualities of what God is: He is a person (someone I can talk to), he is eternal. I'll leave it at that. Telling somebody filled with a yearning for God that cats, tamagotchis or science can fill this desire is akin to dropping off a load of sex toys on that womanless world: The inhabitants would find them very interesting, but insist that there is still something missing.

Paul Power said...

Sebastian:


Prove that desire for God is archetypal in your sense.

Timmo said...

Sebastian,

I do not understand what you mean by an 'archetypal' desire. It sounds like something from Jungian psychology (the archetypes are those inborn ideas which are a part of the collective unconscious...). Would you draw out the distinction more clearly?

Incidentally, the notion of a dodo bird did not come from "culture or fashion"; it came from observing real dodo birds in nature -- before they became extinct, of course.

Sebastian said...

Yes, I should have just said 'learnt'. I mean archetypal in the sense that I don't need to put the idea in my head, it's there from birth. A Dodo bird would be a concept I put in my head through observation of fossils or by reading a natural-history book. The kind of desire I am talking about is one that would be present even if you were completely deprived of any source of information of the object of your desire (except the 'inner light' we are talking about). I think it is obvious that the 'God desire' is of such nature, as it exists in all cultures, times, and places.

Sebastian said...

And thanks Timmo, reading through your previous posts once again, I see that you pointed out this line of argument earlier on. I was too focused on the archetypal desires at the heart of all desires - a different subject, that doesn't really matter in this discussion.

potentilla said...

sebastian - as I mentioned above (about the 6th comment somewhere), I agree that the (apparently) universal tendency to religion is a serious issue. However, there are now reasonable theories about why this might be so (ie why we might, on average, have a natural desire for or susceptibility to God) other than "it's true". Are you aware of these theories and if so why do you reject them?

One advantage that they have is that they allow for the people who don't have such a desire/susceptibility better than your theory does. And I think you underestimate the proportion of people that is. See p9 (p11 of the pdf) of this report. It shows that the EU average saying "I don't believe there is any sort of God, spirit or life force" is 18%, with a further 27% thinking there is some sort of spirit of life force and only 52% saying "I believe there is a God" (the remaining 3% said don't know).

Sebastian said...

Potentilla - do you mean "the tribe that prays together slays the better" argument, i.e. primitive man had an evolutionary headstart if he believed in a God? I never found that argument convincing. First of all, as liberal types like to point out, religion has brought on so much war, suffering and destruction, has let 'so many moths fly into the fire', that I presume one could equally well argue that believing in a God is an evolutionary handicap. I'm not making that argument, but the whole point is moot. But there is also the general theme that 'truth' is always a better strategy for evolution than 'illusion': A predator believing the shortest distance between two points is a curbed line would go pretty hungry when hunting for prey. Everything points towards nature respecting the rule: 'stick to the facts, don't bullshit.' As to the survey: That is just a snapshot, geographically and historically. You would have to average over different countries and times. The evidence would look different then. In Europe, we live in a relatively liberal and agnostic society, and this atmosphere tends to dim the 'God-drive'. Like a very Victorian society somewhat dims the sex drive. But I don't trust the survey: Put a bunch of European atheists on the Titanic, and then count those who start praying. That would be a more telling survey.

Paul Power said...

sebastian:

You argument is incorrect in its own terms. It is not belief in god that is archetypal but belief in the supernatural. People are naturally believers in animism/polytheism. Children assume everything that happens is down to "someone" doing it, which is why they say things like "Mr Train" and "Mr Car". From this comes animism. Animism/polytheism are natural, monotheism had to be invented which is why it came so late. Plenty of people and societies have managed very well without it.

potentilla said...

Sebastian - no, not tttptst; I agree that the family of vaguely adaptationist explanations are unsatisfying. No, I was referring to the growing body of theory that belief in God (or the supernatural, as PP points out) is a by-product of a range of other evolved human traits, including (but not limited to) agency-detection, tendency to attribute causation, and theory of mind. That is, is is not (primarily) an adaptation. There is not really space in this comments box for me to elaborate further; this post is interesting, and it links to an article in the NYT magazine which provides a high-level overview of the approach. If I find a beter on-line summary I will post it. The best book I know is Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell. (You may only have heard this book spoken of in the same breath as Dawkins and Hitchens, but it is a horse of a very different colour).

I agree that survey data is only so useful; but IMHO, people are more likely to answer in line with their society's convention, so I would bet that the large majorities for God in (say) Malta and Turkey actually include a lot of people who don't really believe. This would (at least) offset the people who you suggest will have death-bed conversions. On the latter, I can only say that I am closer to death than most at the moment and i'm not praying yet!

potentilla said...

Also 'truth' is always a better strategy for evolution than 'illusion'.

This is DEFINITELY incorrect as a general statement. The best "strategy" for evolution is the approximation to the truth, or in some case the downright falsehood, that leads to the organism doing things liely to propel its genes into the next generation. For instance, what we see (ie perceive as a result of data collected through our eyes), and what we notice, is a partial approximation to what's really there and happening, sometimes with quite large chunks omitted or made up. Also, there is lots of evidence that our views of our own personal abilities are way too optimistic. I am making claims about scientific evidence here, not expressing personal opinions.

There is no reason to think that susceptibility to supernatural explanations wouldn't be part of our evolved psychology just because it isn't true.

Sebastian said...

PP:
I said earlier in my post that the 'inner light' argument isn't very good at elucidating the exact nature of God. That he is a person is a strong statement though, and this is the position I want to defend. The 'inner light' could refer to several Gods, as in Greek mythology or tribal religions. I can't exclude that possibility. So you're hitting a straw man when you claim I am trying to defend a monotheistic God. I personally do believe in a monotheistic God, but the reasons here are theological, not philosphical, and beyond the scope of this discussion. In the 'womanless world', for example, certain men might claim that there is only one woman out there, not many. So they might be wrong about that detail, but they wouldn't be wrong about womanhood existing.
Potentilla:
I'll try to get ahold of book and article, my NYT free trial has expired long ago! I am sure there are many explanations why the God-Drive is something unsubstantiated, but I also think that Occam's razor can be used to put them aside. I am sure that in the womanless world, explanations abound explaining why the sex-drive came about although women don't exist, but the simplest solution still is that women do exist (or the one woman, PP...). As a personal note, I hope you make a recovery, in case you are ill, as your comment suggests. And prayer is something very rational, even for atheists. It's like the S.E.T.I. project: Even if we do not believe in Extra-Terrestrial life, it is worth the effort sending out and listening for signals. The worst that can happen is nothing, and even in that case we have learnt something. So everbody should pray, and keep on praying, even if he doesn't get an answer.

potentilla said...

You can use bugmenot to get access to the NYT. Another good book I just thought of is Justin L Barrett Why Would Anyone Believe in God which, despite its unfortunate title, is not a rant but a clear summary of the evidence from cognitive psychology.

I would use Occam's Razor in exactlky the opposite way. If we can explain the susceptibility to supernatural exaplanations using mechanisms (evolution) we know to exist for quite separate reasons, why would we want to invoke a whole new mechanism which brings all sorts of other problems and snags with it (like the problem of evil)?

Especially when the non-supernatural explanation fits the given facts better, such as the variation in the God-proclivity between individuals and between societies over time.

(Occam's Razor, btw, requires one to choose the explanation requiring the least number of assumptions, not the "simplest" exactly - I'm sure that if I have remembered this wrong, someone will correct me).

Yes, I have incurable cancer, and thank-you for the good wishes. I haven't taken Pascal's Wager because, in my situation, it is not worth the "effort" (the time out of the limited amount available, and the boredom). Pretty much the same reason I'm not doing the Gerson diet or any of the other quack "cures"!

Paul Power said...

sebastian:


You have been changing the nature of your claim from the beginning.

You are now very close to
rendering it empty.

You wrote originally:

"[T]alk about 'feeling an inner light' is a very strong argument indeed. We humans have something like a sex-drive towards God".

Now you are saying that the inner light is different to a drive towards God:
"The 'inner light' could refer to several Gods, as in Greek mythology or tribal religions".


You are constantly redefining your claim to avoid refutation, in other words cheating.

Anonymous said...

Can I add a quote from the literature?

"It is, indeed, surprising that popular defenders of religion so often argue that man has a natural, psychological, need for religious belief. For, in so far as this is so, it tells not for but against the truth of theism, by explaining why religious beliefs would arise and persist, and why they would be propagated and enforced and defended as vigorously as they are, even if there were no good reason to suppose them to be true."

MacKie, The Miracle of Theism, Ch.10

Sebastian said...

PP:
I think you are somewhat disappointed that I did not charge into battle with the banner of 'Jesus is our Saviour' held high. Demolishing that claim on the philosphical battlefield is taking candy from a child. That is the reason why the original 'Jesus light' approach failed. I am defending the existence of a personal God, i.e. a God that you can talk to and that understands you. That is still a strong claim, and not empty. I myself am unnerved by the supposed theists who say they believe in 'some higher power'. That would indeed be an empty statement. Of course I think there are good reasons against polytheism, but I will stick to the high ground of the "personal God", be he called Zeus, Apollo or Jahwe, and not defend anything else.

As to the MacKie quote: Replace 'God' with 'Woman', and apply it to the womanless world. Then one can see why it is very weak.

I also believe that the burden of proof at this point lies with the atheists:

Tell me:

(a) Why you would not be an awomanist in the womanless world.

(If you say you would be an awomanist, then you're making a mistake in that world, and I can then reasonably claim you're making the same mistake in our world with respect to God)

if you claim not to be an awomanist, then tell me:

(b) why your reasons for not being an awomanist in the womanless world cannot be used for not being an atheist in this world.

Potentilla:
If you permit, I will pray a little for you, and I have to admit that I myself have a very low 'God-drive', and understand your problem with the boredom!

potentilla said...

Oh Sebastian, I was about to complain at Paul Power for calling you a cheater, because the only way that one can be a cheater in a philosophical argument is to use a bad argument whilst knowing it to be bad (refining and restating and shock horror even conceding points is perfectly fine) . But your (a) has shaken my faith in your good faith a little. Surely you can't be advancing it seriously.

You only know that the awomanist in a womanless world is making a mistake because you set the problem up with the existence of women as an axiom, a starting assumption. The awomanist himself would not know that women actually existed.

You can't therefore use the analogy to say anything about the existence of God; you're using a circular argument.

You're welcome to pray for me if you like; many have, and I am grateful for the kind thought. If you have a very low God-drive, why are you a believer? If genuinely becasue of the arguments you have advanced here, then I certainly recommend reading Dennet and/or Barrett, and then maybe you will be able to free up some time to do something more interesting!

Sebastian said...

Potentilla:
I don't think the argument is circular. There's a pattern I'm trying to establish. We have archetypal desires. Make the object of desire unavailable to a group of infants abducted by aliens at birth. In each case, there would be a minority of unbelievers, and a large group of believers in the archetypal object of desire. We play it through for food, for exercise, for health, for sex etc. And in each case, the object of desire exists. Now we live in a world which seems to be set up like just such a perverse experiment: We have an archetypal need for a God, but none is available. So do we break the pattern we just learnt, and presume, in this one case, that the object of our desire does not exist? Or do we stick with the pattern and presume it is simply unavailable? I choose the latter. If you do not, it would be good to cite a few differences in this particular archetypal feeling of 'God-Drive', that break the established pattern of archteypal feeling, and justify your choice. That is the goal of my above post.

I realize this is an inductive argument, and not formal logic: I have seen several feathered animals lay eggs. Now I discover a new bird. I therefore presume that it will also lay eggs. (If it doesn't, I'd be surprised, but it isn't impossible.)
If however, you could point out to me: Look closely: What you took to be feathers is in reality very fluffy fur, then I would no longer be surprised.

Paul Power said...

sebastian:

The idea of *a* personal god is very much not the same as animism/polytheism. You want us to accept that our instinct is correct and incorrect at the same time. Correct in getting us to the idea of god and incorrect in leading us to animism in particular.

You have forgotten that you are claiming to prove the existence of this god, not provide a possible argument for its existnece that has large parts that depend on personal choice. In particular you claim that those like me with no need for god are like frigid people, that they are lacking. I can simply counterclaim that we are not suffering from hallucinations. You have offered no support of this part of your claim.


I have been forced to spend so much time getting you to clarify your claim (and "clarifying" is being charitable). You've restricted the concept of yearning and widened the definition of god.

So to get to the point: you claim still does not stand. You have to prove that there must be something corresponding to a yearning for god that is more than a belief in god. If you are suffering from hallucinations and believe that your car is god then you are as satisfied in that regard as anyone who disagrees with you about the car. However if you believe your car is food or drink then you will still be hungry/thirsty.

potentilla said...

OK, my differences are (a) that the God-drive is not (NOT; sorry) as universal as the desire for food and sex and (b) we have no independent evidence for the existence of the object of desire (whereas we do for food and sex).

So we should be more careful in checking out the possibility of very fluffy fur. Those books I receommended explain that vff is actually pretty likely. Justin Barrett is actually himslef a Christian, and also a psychologist. He explains very clearly why belief in God is natural in ways not requiring God actually to exist. He himself thinks that that's because God set it up the way to give humans a free choice about whether to believe. You can definitely acquit him of straining the explanatory power of his facts in order to produce a contrived fluffy fur explanation.

The least good bit of the book is when he is talking about atheists in the last chapter, because he doesn't really believe that they don't believe (see your comment about the Titanic); he seems to think it's just some sort of intellectual pose. He can't imagine what it's like to be inside their (our) heads. It's exactly the flipside of Hitchens and Dawkins and Harris, who can't really believe that believers believe, but think they have been brainwashed. Well, I: can't imagine what it's like to be inside the head of a believer, but I am perfectly willing to imagine that it feels just as obvious (that God exists) as it feels unlikely to me.

Since I don't have any emotional desire for God (really!) and I know plenty of people who are in the same boat (really!), and there is an intellectually satifying explanation for there being fluffy fur, I conclude that there is almost certainly no God.

Anonymous said...

Sebastian,

Why ‘Inner Light’? Why phrase the desire in such a way. (I’m not suggesting you were the first to use the term but we’re off to a bad start). Is there some intrinsic link between photons and God that the word light must so often be used in discussion of a deity? You are making the assumption that the unidentifiable desire that you feel is a God desire. The use of the term ‘inner light’ lends itself to this supposition and suggests all kinds of religious connotations. It certainly does not promote neutrality.

What you refer to as the God desire might simply be our minds trying desperately to deal with the fact that there are things we just don’t understand. It maybe a Knowledge-desire that people have, why must God come into it? Indeed, you argue that it is an archetypal desire but couldn’t the God concept be just a learned prejudice applied to our not knowing.

I find no evidence at all to support the assertion that most people feel a God desire. Don’t underestimate the amount of advertising and propaganda that religions engage in. God is an inescapable concept in society. Might you not be labeling a desire that most people may or may not have with a learned concept i.e. God-desire.

Sebastian said...

Potentilla:
I had a long drive down from Munich to Berlin, and did some thinking about the problem.

I do now see why you consider my argument about the absurdity of being an awomanist in a womanless world circular.

Reffering to your objection (a) about the God-drive not being as universal as that for sex and food – granted. However, I think it is strong and universal enough to be taken just as seriously. The sex drive is also not as strong and universal as the food drive, but we still take it for full. The same should go for the God-drive.

As you point out in (b), there is a big difference between food/sex and God: The former are more or less available, the latter not so.

Now, unavailability is, to a first approximation, an argument for non-existence. Russel’s teapot, the one supposedly circling between Earth and Mars, is an example of this argument. I believe, at the very least, that the womanless-world analogy does away with that line of reasoning.

‘Why,’ the awomanist would say to the womanist, ‘you might just as well believe in a small clay teapot orbiting the sun than in this woman-idea!’

‘No, I don’t feel any desire for teapots-in-orbit, I do for women.’

‘Your desire for something is not a reason to believe in its existence!’

This is where the awomanist is making a mistake. Abduct a bunch of humans, nobody will ever yearn for that teapot. But they will yearn for the women. Rightly so. So let us suppose the awomanist concedes the point:

‘Well, okay. You’re right. Women are more likely to exist than that teapot, but they’re still very unlikely to exist. For all our other desires, the objects of that desire are available. Not so for women! This must be the one case where our desires are mistaken. Where are the women, I ask you?’

‘Well, maybe we were abducted from another planet at birth. Women exist there, but they don’t here!’

‘I find that abduction theory very hard to believe. Prove the abduction theory to me, and I’ll believe in women!’

The awomanist has a point. In the womanless world, the abduction explains why woman are unavailable, but without proof of that abduction, he will remain an awomanist. If, on the other hand, U.F.O.s were constantly hovering around, with the occasional alien shouting down taunts at the poor abductees, then the awomanist would probably give in: Everything points towards abduction. Woman do probably exist.

In our godless world, now, the thing I would still need to prove is that ‘abduction is very likely’, i.e. that a God would be a ‘hidden God’, and not a ‘manifest God’. Then, the unavailability of God would no longer be an argument for his non-existence, and our desire for God would be sufficient proof for his existence.

Now, I find it highly likely that an all powerful, all good God would not manifest himself: His presence would stifle all freedom on earth. Even if he decided not to throw lightning-bolts at all evil-doers, his constant presence would so remind them that they were going to hell for their misdeeds, that they wouldn’t do them in the first place! You might find that world a paradise, but it sounds like the ultimate totalitarian state to me.

Another metaphore would be the rich man who wants to know whether the girl he loves wants him for himself or for his money: The way to go would be to pretend to be a beggar, and then woo her.

I would find a world with a manifestly present God trivial. I am convinced God would find it trivial as well. So there are good reasons to believe in the ‘abduction theory’.

To PP:

You’re quite the taxonomist! But honestly, Zeus, Apollo, Jahwe: They’re all Gods, they’re all persons. So they are all personal Gods! (And nobody is forcing you to do anything…)

My yearning for God is not at all satisfied by my belief in God. The existence of God would satisfy it, nothing else. I’m sure the abducted men aren’t satisfied by their fireside chats about their ‘belief in women’. No. They want the real thing.

To Anonymous:

‘Inner Light’, ‘God-Drive’, we have been using quite a few terms. I think by now they have been stripped of any bias they might have had.

And claiming that religious propaganda is responsible for the God-Drive is like claiming that pornography and sexy-advertising are responsible for the sex-drive – it’s the other way around!

potentilla said...

The problem throughout with your awomanist analogy is that the awomanist feels a desire for women. So, he not only needs to explain why other people (apparently) yearn for women, he needs to explain why he does. He can "feel their pain".

But an atheist does not feel a yearning for God. I know you are doubtful about this, but I beseech ye in the bowels of Christ, consider that 20% of the adult population of Europe may know more about its own inner states than you do. So what an atheist needs to explain is why a whole load of other people do act in ways which she can find no reason for, either rational or emotional.

Many atheists deal with this by dealing only with the rational, and ignoring the emotional; they do not take account of the fact that a majority of the world's population has a series of unconscious things going on in their minds which makes them predisposed to believe in God. So the atheists write more or less bad-tempered rants appealing to reason, whilst ignoring the subconscious, which is a pretty illogical position to take because we know for all sorts of other reasons that it is very hard consciously to overcome what your unconscious is telling you is the case. (It wouldn't be illogical if the atheist was ignorant of the subconscious reasons that people are open to belief in God, and assumed that religion was purely a cultural phenomenon, but that position has always been implausible because of the universality of religion, and is now just indicative of having done insufficient research).

In our godless world, now, the thing I would still need to prove is that ‘abduction is very likely’, i.e. that a God would be a ‘hidden God’, and not a ‘manifest God’ Not quite right. In our godless world, the thing you still have to prove is that there is a God and only secondly that there is some good reason that he would be a hidden god. The reason for him being a hidden god just removes one obstacle to there being a god at all.

There are two facts that are central to this discussion (i) is there really a plausible reason that mechanisms that evolved for "non-God reasons" could produce widespread belief in God and (ii) is non-belief actually relatively common.

On (i) I can do no better than point you to Barrett (only 17 euros!).

On (ii), I'm not sure whether there is more convincing evidence than the Euro-survey, as to the "background" level of atheism in a society with no strong pressure to be religious, no strong pressure to be a-religious (as was present in the old Soviet Union say) and with a modern knowledge of evolution and cosmology available. As I said, my own guess is that it understates the background level if anything.

I think it is strong and universal enough to be taken just as seriously. The sex drive is also not as strong and universal as the food drive, but we still take it for full. The same should go for the God-drive. IS there any evidence you could imagine which would convince you that the God-drive is NOT felt by 20% plus of the population?

Anonymous said...

Sebastian,

I think you missunderstood what I was saying. I was not claiming that the desire you feel for Something(GOD)is caused by the prevalence of religion in society. I was asking if you think it possible that you have taken a desire which had no focus or at least an unknown focus and applied to it the learned concept of GOD?

If you had never in your life encountered the concept of God, perhaps you would not have a desire for God, you might have identitified some other concept as the food for that particular hunger. You claim that the GOD-desire is archytpal. How can we possibly know when most members of most societies are constantly exposed to the concept of GOD?

Paul Power said...

sebastian:

Briefly: the plural of "assertion" is not "proof".


You claim that "My yearning for God is not at all satisfied by my belief in God. " So what ? How can you PROVE that this is not because there is something wrong with you ?
Worse, this statement of yours is nonsense. If you have this yearning then by your own claim god must exist and you must *know* god exists. In which case you have no grounds to believe in god's existence because you are in the happy position to not needing belief. So why did you write of your "belief in god" ?

Which brings up the question: have you even begun to think all this through?

Anonymous said...

Sebastian,

You wrote:
I find it highly likely that an all powerful, all good God would not manifest himself: His presence would stifle all freedom on earth. Even if he decided not to throw lightning-bolts at all evil-doers, his constant presence would so remind them that they were going to hell for their misdeeds, that they wouldn’t do them in the first place!

In a universe created by an all-good God why would there exist such a horrible (evil) concept as eternal damnation, particularly as God is responsible for us having the desires that lead us to do evil in the first place. Seems more like evidence for an All-Evil God to me.

Sebastian said...

Potentilla:

I don't have to assume that the awomanist has a yearning for women. He might be homosexual, for example. The reasoning remains the same.
I do believe - or at least find it possible- that there are rare individuals who honestly do not feel a yearning for God. Maybe you are one of them. But these individuals should see themselves for what they are: Exceptions.
And there are also many individuals who are atheists and have a very strong God-drive (e.g. Nietzsche). So the group of those that might be used to support the thesis that the God-Drive is not a universal phenomenon would have to be reduced by those atheists who openly admit to having a God-drive, and those who secretly have a God-drive. That would probably leave only you, Potentilla!
I don't understand why you insist that I first prove that God exist, before proving that - in case he exists - he would be a 'hidden God'. That's an arbitrary limitation you're imposing.

Anonymous1:
It would be an interesting, although very cruel experiment, to abduct a group of humans and not teach them anything about the concept of God, and see if they come up with it by themselves. The fact that the God concept is existent in every culture and society is an excellent indication that indeed they would. Otherwise, we would find at least some cultures in which the 'God-Desire' would give birth to some other worship, having nothing to do with God.

PP:
My remark about not being satisfied by the mere belief in God, but only by his existence was an answer to your claim that the yearning for God could be satiated by belief alone. (That's how I understood your car-food metaphore) So...that's what.

My yearning for God is the norm, so it's normal, so I'm normal. So there's nothing wrong with me. (However, maybe there's something wrong with you...)

And my belief in God is just that: A belief, not a knowledge. My whole argument aims to show that the existance of God is much more plausible than his non-existence, thereby justifying faith and showing atheism to be unreasonable.

Anonymous2:
I don't actually think that eternal damnation is such an evil concept, because hell is probably the best place - maybe even a great place - for evil people. They couldn't find this out, however, if God's manifest presence so hypnotized them as to not let their true natures unfold. Hell is 'self-realization' for evil people. However, this is a very different subject matter from the one we are dealing with here.

Paul Power said...

sebastian:

Are you ever going to produce something to back up your claims?

"My yearning for God is the norm, so it's normal, so I'm normal. So there's nothing wrong with me. (However, maybe there's something wrong with you...)". PROVE IT! All you are still doing is piling unsubstantiated claim upon unfounded assertion.

"My remark about not being satisfied by the mere belief in God, but only by his existence was an answer to your claim that the yearning for God could be satiated by belief alone." Indeed, but it is up to you to do more than state this, you have to PROVE it.


Get on with it - how many times have you to be asked ? You wrote that yours is a philosophical argument. In fact it is no argument at all.

Anonymous said...

Sebastian,

That statement about hell being possibly a great place for evil people seems a little dubious to me from any point of view. As far as I understood it hell is a punishment. I doubt too many evil people like the idea of spending eternity being tortured.
God gave them the desire to do evil and being all-powerful and all-knowing, he knew in advance they would do evil....and they are still going to burn for it. That really doesn't sound very nice to me.

The fact that most cultures have some kind of God concept is, you say, evidence that the God-desire is prevelant if not universal. I can understand your point of view, it could certainly be interpreted that way.
I'm not convinced of that though. There is no great difference in how humans of different cultures process information and they, for the most part, share the same desires like happiness, security etc. People have imaginations and as such are capable of the 'wouldn't it be great if' train of thought. Is it surprising that people imagine and yearn for a great and powerful protector who has their personal interests at heart? Such a desire is likely to be universal.

potentilla said...

Not an arbitrary limitation, no - it's another point of logic, like the circular argument one. The analogy with "abduction" that you have to prove is very likely is "God exists", or perhaps" a hidden God exists", but not "that a God would be a ‘hidden God’".

Apart from that, what Paul Power said. Your argument rests on the assertion that atheism is extremely rare. I have given you some evidence (the Euro-survey) that absent cultural pressures, this is not the case. You choose to dismiss the evidence purely by asseveration. You can't, at that point, be surprised if no-one takes you seriously as a person who is able to propose philosophical arguments; particularly since you are at the same time apparently telling all the other atheists in this comments thread - and by implication the blog proprietor - that they are just wrong about whether they personally have a "yearning for God". (Why on earth exempt me, btw? just to be polite?).

Steelman said...

Sebastian responded to Anonymous: "It would be an interesting, although very cruel experiment, to abduct a group of humans and not teach them anything about the concept of God, and see if they come up with it by themselves. The fact that the God concept is existent in every culture and society is an excellent indication that indeed they would. Otherwise, we would find at least some cultures in which the 'God-Desire' would give birth to some other worship, having nothing to do with God."

Slightly rephrased:
It would be an interesting, although very cruel experiment, to abduct a group of humans and not teach them anything about false religious beliefs, and see if they come up with them by themselves. The fact that false religious beliefs are existent in every culture and society is an excellent indication that indeed they would. Otherwise, we would find at least some cultures in which false beliefs would give birth to some other worship, having nothing to do with God.

Fundamentalist Christians would say there is great evidence for this throughout the world, as exemplified by all the false religions that those poor, unsaved souls have been misled into practicing by their ignorant ancestors. Atheists would agree that the beliefs were born out of ignorance...and instinct.

Earlier, Sebastian said: "Religion always has both of these aspects: An archetypical desire at its heart, and a concrete description of the object of desire: Jesus, Buddah, Zeus etc. Some or all of the concrete desires might have no real-world object, but the archetypical one will."

I don't see how you've shown "archetypical" desires to be an indication of anything supernatural there. And I don't buy your comparison of a teacher who claimed to be God; a teacher who wouldn't really discuss the God question; and a capricious, anthropomorphic deity as all being on the same conceptual plane. What about the "archetype" of John Frum? This is just the tip of the iceberg in the "argument from disagreement," and indicates, among other needs I think, a desire for a feeling of control and safety in an uncertain world, not God. The more examples you give of a supposedly archetypical desire for God, the more dilute the concept must become. Until that concept is reduced to the vaguely deistic, general feeling that there "must be something bigger out there." That last is something we can all accept; there's a great big universe out there to be explored. In my naturalist worldview, I just don't see the need to invoke supernatural causes (vague or specific, divisive or inclusive) for human behavior and the rest of the universe, when the natural ones have yet to be fully explored.

Sebastian also said earlier: "These archetypical desires are pretty common. Steelman suggested sports, and it is a good example. If Aliens abducted a bunch of human infants and brought them up in a prison-lab where force fields prevented them from carrying out fast movements, they would ache for physical exercise."

I think you missed my point about God being a sports enthusiast. I was taking a man-made activity, throwing on a few facts about human nature (while ignoring all others that could've been used to emphasize some other concept), and then proclaiming that worldwide human interest in sports proves the existence of God. I think you're doing the same kind of thing with your God-drive. It really seems like you've been saying nothing more than people made up wildly divergent, supernatural stories about their natural desires for natural things, and then claiming those desires indicate something supernatural.

I think people have the evolved natural abilities to make sense out of their environment, experience emotions, engage in reflective thought, and to make up stories about all of those things in order to provide themselves with explanations about the world. These explanations, these stories based on the limited knowledge of whatever epoch they were invented, are passed on to future generations. Future generations can maintain scientifically baseless beliefs due to adherence to tradition, emotional attachment, and confirmation bias. I don't think human beings have a God-drive; they have a Meaning-drive which can be satisfied by a God-belief, even if that belief must be cognitively compartmentalized in order for it to exist alongside their knowledge of the modern world and the existence of other religions' concepts of God. That's how people can understand evolution, and still believe in the Christian version of God.

For the record, I don't know if the supernatural (or God, or the Force, or your favorite concept of divinity) exists or not. I choose not to believe in any version of it since I've studied the cultural origins and perpetuation of those types of beliefs and find them to be based on ignorance and wishful thinking. Science and non-religious philosophy may never provide all the answers to life's questions. Nevertheless, as Carl Sagan once said, "I don't want to believe. I want to know."

Paul Power said...

steelman:

Regarding your point about god beign a sportsman: sebastian writes about our "archetypal" yearnings but I can't see why his argument also does not apply to our archetypal fears. In particular we all have one such fear of death which means that there can be no afterlife.

Sebastian said...

Potentilla:

Even your survey supports my claim that belief in a personal God is a widespread phenomenon: 80% in Europe say they do. I still think that number is too low, and gave you my reasons, but to use your survey to support the claim that atheism is 'normal' seems quite a stretch. It is a rare phenomenon, probably even very rare. But let's not discuss the 'rare' or 'very rare' point, that would go on forever. The reason I singled you out as a person without God-Drive is that you are not emotional about the subject. If people get all upset and personal in a discussion, that's normally a sign that the issue is close to their hearts, and not only their minds. Paul and Barefoot are examples for this, and you, although in a very dramatic situation, have kept your calm. BTW, I hope you are open to emotions, and don't shut them out if they come, they are also a source of knowledge.
I guess my 'womanless-world' analogy is not communicating my point very well, so I'll have to discuss in the abstract. The 'abduction' in my analogy corresponds to the 'hiden-ness' of God in the real world, but if this isn't obvious to you, I'll try to explain it without that metaphore.
I'm trying to make the existence of God plausible. The strongest argument against God is his unavailability. Unavailability, prima facie, is evidence of non-existence. However, ff I can show that unavailability is a necessary attribute of the object whose existence I'm trying to prove, than unavailability is no longer an argument against existence. After that, I can proceed with proof of existence, without having to deal with the objection of unavailability. To prove unavailability, or hiden-ness, I appealed to the necessity of a good God giving his subjects the freedom to do evil. To show existence, I then pointed to the universal 'God-Desire'. You have to let me show the hiden-ness of a putative God before I show his existence. Limiting me in this would be arbitrary.

Anonymous:

The idea of hell as a place of punishment and heaven as a place of reward is a somewhat naive concept, that doesn't really hold up to modern theology. There's a short prayer by C.S. Lewis that I always found very enlightening: "Though there may be pleasures in hell, Lord God shield me from them. Though there may be something not unlike pains in heaven, Lord God grant that I may one day taste them." I really believe that evil people would find heaven unbearable. But as I said, this is a vast discussion in its own right.

As to the "wouldn't it be great.." train of thought being trivially universal and therefore the concept of God being trivially universal: That train of thought could lead to all kinds of wishful thinking that should solve our material problems, but the astounding fact is that it always ends in the idea of a personal God. This is not trivial, and this is the main point of my argument.

Paul:

To see that belief in God is a universal fact ("a norm") you can consult Potentilla's survey (sorry, Potentilla, for abusing your evidence in such a way..). Now it may be a hallucination, but even if everybody at this party is stoned and you're the only sober one, it's still your job to prove to the rest that those white mice don't really exist. (And maybe, just maybe, the mice really are there, and you just can't see them!)
As to the fact that a belief in something doesn't satisfy me, but only its existence - that's evident, and doesn't need any proof. Very rare is the believer who doesn't have a constant hunger for God. I don't know any serious 'satiated' believers.

The objection that fear of death means there can be no afterlife is noted. I don't think the direct evidence of afterlife is as strong as that for a personal God. However, fear of hunger doesn't mean that food doesn't exist. Quite the contrary.

Steelman:
John Frum is not an archetype, but the concrete concept some religious founder made up (and an extremely unlikely candidate to win the truth prize) As I said earlier, I find the concept of "something bigger out there" extremely boring and vague as well. The archetype consists in a "personal God". That isn't too vague to be interesting though, and that's the concept I'm defending.
Beyond statistics, I would also like to cite my own, admittedly weak, but still existant, God-Drive as evidence. This is an argument from personal experience, and I can't make it understood if you are not feeling the same thing : It is something stronger than tradition, very basic and deep, like my sex-drive. Introspection can make you understand what it is. Of course, this is mushy, so I prefer to point to history and numbers!

As a general remark:

I also think we are moving in circles at this point. Applying my common sense to the evidence gives me very different results from those you reach, and restating the evidence - and that is all you have been doing as well - isn't helping. The "Hell" discussion is interesting, but off topic, and this thread is getting very long. I'll wait what happens, but won't post if I would be repeating myself!

Paul Power said...

sebastian:
Your comments on normality are not enough. You have to prove there is nothing wrong with normality: "..I'm normal. So there's nothing wrong with me" is what you wrote. You are still assuming things that are open to question.

And you have now admitted that there is a major difference between the yearning for god and that for food etc: the latter is satisfied but the former is never satisfied (in this existence at least and that is the only one we can discuss). You are (1) claiming that the yearning for god is like all the other archetypal yearnings in having a real object while (2) admitting it is unlike the others in being unsatisfied. As you have yet to produce any positive reason for (1), point (2) is very damning.


"The objection that fear of death means there can be no afterlife is noted. I don't think the direct evidence of afterlife is as strong as that for a personal God. However, fear of hunger doesn't mean that food doesn't exist. Quite the contrary." Fear of hunger is not archetypal - it has to be learned . Fear of death and injury do not and so are archetypal. Fear of particular threats, such as disease epidemics, are learned and therefore do not prove the existence of those epidemics. I am just playing your game wth your rules.

Anonymous said...

Sebastian,

I think you have missed my point.
In simple terms this is what I am suggesting:

All people everywhere, or at least the vast majority, share the same desires and insecurities. Most people want to be happy. Most people fear pain, death etc. Most people have the ability to imagine things which are not real. The idea of a personal all-powerful guardian would be appealing to almost everyone. Such an entity is also a convienient explanation to why everything exists. I don't find it strange in the least that poeple would invent this concept.

The God-desire you are refering to might be nothing more than people wishing to be protected from thier fears and uncertainties. The God concept also makes people feel important by deeming themselves worthy of the personal attention of the most powerful entity imaginable.

You may be labelling your desire to be free of insecurity and uncertainty and your desire to be happy and important as God-desire.
One all encompassing answer.
If God did not exist would people not still like to think he did. Would they not still get great comfort from the idea.

As to the Heaven - Hell argument.
God created everything. Therefore God created Evil. Why would a Good God allow evil to exist. Why give people the abilty to Hate or feel jealousy an so on?

Steelman said...

Sebastian replied to me: "John Frum is not an archetype, but the concrete concept some religious founder made up (and an extremely unlikely candidate to win the truth prize)"

Like my God of Sports (and I think your God-drive), people's ability to invent, and fervently believe in and worship, a description of a solution that meets all of their needs and desires is no indication of that concept's actual existence. I realize the distinction, I think, between your "archetype" and "concrete" description. However, you still seem to be trying to use one to prove the other. You say the God-drive indicates the existence of a personal God. The islanders say their need for more cargo indicates the existence of John Frum. My point is that the natives of Tanna may be as wrong about Frum as you are about some amorphous, traditionless concept of a personal God.

Sebastion said: "As I said earlier, I find the concept of "something bigger out there" extremely boring and vague as well. The archetype consists in a "personal God". That isn't too vague to be interesting though, and that's the concept I'm defending."

You also said that this archetypical drive for a personal God is normal among the European population, and that you're normal for having it as well. Where do the millions of Asian Buddhists fit in here (or those of any ethnicity)? They have a drive for transcendence rather than a personal God, yes? Nirvana is definitely not a personal God. Are they are as "abnormal", albeit in some different way, as you claim the atheists to be?

Sebastion said: "Beyond statistics, I would also like to cite my own, admittedly weak, but still existant, God-Drive as evidence. This is an argument from personal experience, and I can't make it understood if you are not feeling the same thing : It is something stronger than tradition, very basic and deep, like my sex-drive. Introspection can make you understand what it is."

I'll make it easy for you to understand you've conveyed the feeling of a God-drive to me. I used to be a Christian. An on my knees, Bible believing, hands raised in His presence, seeking after my first love, Jesus worshiping, sinner who can do nothing without His grace, vessel of the Lord. Until I took a college class on comparative religion. Then I became more an all paths lead to the center, the sacred is all around us, defender of the universal urge for the divine. See, I used to be "normal" too! But then I had to go and read up on psychology, sociology, evolution, and neuroscience. At that point I felt that I'd sort of taken a peak behind the scenery of the God-drive show. My sense of awe when looking at nature and the universe is still there, along with feelings of altruism and, occasionally, the joy of some sort of transcendent feeling of connectedness with the universe that ultimately produced my consciousness (harder to experience when my fellow beings are trying to run me down in commute time traffic, of course). I don't know if there's really some personal force hiding out somewhere that might have something to do those feelings I mentioned, but, knowing what science has revealed about how human beings can fool themselves, I doubt it.

I think there are many "believers" who do not experience the God-drive as you explained your personal experience above. They are the ones who stand next to the fervent worshipers in church, feeling guilty because they aren't having the same wonderful spiritual experience. Sometimes these folks just play along and mimic what the others are doing, so they'll seem just as "normal" as "everyone" else. I know for certain that there were people, in the pentecostal church I used to attend, consciously faking the experience, especially the speaking in tongues and being slain in the spirit (i.e., getting knocked on your butt by the Holy Spirit). So, enjoy your God-drive if it serves as the impetus to make you want to be a better person, and to have compassion for others. Maybe you're right about God; or maybe you and I both experience the same feelings, but merely interpret them differently.

Sebastian said...

Paul:

I'm not so sure about the fear of hunger not being archetypal. And fear of disease is archetypal, although not the fear of a concrete disease, e.g. the plague, but just disease in general, e.g. your urge to stay away from excrements and cadavers, so as not to infect yourself.

Anonymous:
The desire for safety and security, which is universal, would only justify fantasies about power and magic, endless tables filled with food, a godless paradise maybe etc. These fantasies do indeed exist, but can be explained as you do them. (All these fantasies spring from other archetypal ideas: Food, health, power etc.) However, the desire for a personal God goes beyond that, because he is not needed as such to fulfill these material desires. But the idea still comes up in all cultures and times.

The question of evil is even vaster than the one about the nature of heaven and hell. However, a world without evil would be no fun at all, a completely totalitarian state of no-free will. Maybe you find there's too much evil around, but capping evil would result in a toy world - boring.

Steelman:

I might as well out myself here and say that I do not believe in a traditionless archetypal God, but am a Catholic. However, the reasons for that are historic, personal, theological, comparative etc. I also might be mistaken. Maybe the Jews are right. Or Homer. God is bound to be very concrete. However, all we can say about him with philosophical certainty is very abstract. I'm restricting my defense here to this abstract concept, but am in no way claiming that God will be so abstract. In the womanless world analogy, people might discuss whether women have two or three breasts, or none at all, whether they have male sex organs etc. The abstract concept of 'woman' they have does not tell them much, so they will make guesses. But certain gueses will turn out to be wrong, others right, so God is not abstract, and most likely not traditionless, as one of the existing traditions will probably be the true one (I like to think the Catholic one...)
Both I and the Tanna-native believe in a personal God. We agree on that. I have placed my bet on Jesus, the native on James Frum, the wheel is spinning, and soon the roulette ball will fall into a slot. We both archetypally know that some personal God will pop up, i.e. some number on the roulette-board will come, but we don't know which one.

I don't know much about Buddhism, but I always see these fat statues sitting around, and people kneeling, praying and burning incense in front of them. Doesn't look like too impersonal a God to me!

You're most definetly right about many people faking the God-drive much of the time. But it's the quality and not the quantity that counts, and I do believe that God is the most important concept in most people's lives in the moments that count. Sex is another good analogy here: We might only spend 0.1% of our life time doing it, but that doesn't mean its importance is only 0.1%.

Steelman said...

Sebastian said: "And fear of disease is archetypal, although not the fear of a concrete disease, e.g. the plague, but just disease in general, e.g. your urge to stay away from excrements and cadavers, so as not to infect yourself."

Most animals stay away form cadavers of their kin due to instincts developed through natural selection (those that played with dead things died themselves, and didn't pass on their genes). Scavengers, such as the vulture, are an exception to this. People may have initially stayed away from their dead due to instinct, then had reason to do so based on the facts of cause and effect. Now they have scientific explanations of disease.

You explained above why people stay away from those things: "so as not to infect yourself." How is this aversion an archetype when there's a culturally communicated explanation? I've read news stories of toddlers in the care of an adult who died. They didn't stay away from granny for the three days they were surviving on crackers and ketchup from the pantry. They were right there by her side, still hoping she'd wake up, when the authorities finally arrived. The excrement aversion is also null and void here; dead bodies have a way of "letting go", and I've known too many children who've amused themselves with the contents of their diapers. As for adults, there's a cultural reason why certain folks won't touch food, or the Koran, with their left hand. There's less of an excrement aversion for those individuals who live without toilet paper.

Sebastian said: "The desire for safety and security, which is universal, would only justify fantasies about power and magic, endless tables filled with food, a godless paradise maybe etc."

The reason there's never, to my knowledge, been a godless religion that involved "endless tables filled with food" is because I think these ideas of endless provision grew out of the believer's childhood experiences. There was a parent that provided everything the child needed, and rewarded good behavior. So maybe there's a big mommy or daddy (abba father, king of the gods, tribal elder in the sky, or ancestors now on a spiritual plane) up there somewhere who will provide for adults the way they were provided for by their own parents, if they please that entity.

Sebastian said: "These fantasies do indeed exist, but can be explained as you do them. (All these fantasies spring from other archetypal ideas: Food, health, power etc.) However, the desire for a personal God goes beyond that, because he is not needed as such to fulfill these material desires. But the idea still comes up in all cultures and times."

I think you're dead wrong in those last two sentences. You are constantly saying the idea of a personal God permeates "all cultures and times." I don't think you're right about that. The pleasing of a supernatural entity by a believer, which I mentioned above, will involve an interaction of some kind, but it isn't necessarily a personal relationship is it? More like the formal relationship of a subject paying taxes to the king. Do you think every ancient Greek who made a sacrifice to Zeus felt the God-drive for a personal relationship with that particular Olympian? I think they were only appeasing him, hoping he'd treat them well. Perhaps you have a source that indicates that the ancient Greeks felt some transcendent, mystical relationship with the gods was necessarily part of their religious beliefs? I think they left that sort of thing to the priests.

I think there may be a bias going on here that is motivating you to claim that the religions of the world, past and present, all have to do with the desire for a personal God. Part of it is that I think you have been influenced by the knowledge of mystical traditions within the Abrahamic religions (Kabala, Sufism, Catholic mysticism, etc.), and doctrines surrounding the Holy Spirit. Another influence is the recent (past 200 years) Christian idea of a "personal relationship with Jesus."

Sebastian said: "But certain gueses will turn out to be wrong, others right, so God is not abstract, and most likely not traditionless, as one of the existing traditions will probably be the true one (I like to think the Catholic one...)"

As you probably know, the "argument from disagreement" says that religious beliefs vary and conflict, and are often exclusive (only their guess is right). Therefore, they can't all be right. So, at least some or many must be wrong, or perhaps all of them are wrong.

Sebastian said: "Both I and the Tanna-native believe in a personal God. We agree on that. I have placed my bet on Jesus, the native on James Frum, the wheel is spinning, and soon the roulette ball will fall into a slot. We both archetypally know that some personal God will pop up, i.e. some number on the roulette-board will come, but we don't know which one."

No, we don't agree. I don't think the people of Tanna have a personal relationship with Frum. They don't feel that he is ever-present or that there is any personal exchange between them. He's like a messiah who may fly over their island once a year, so they spend time on preparations for his visit, they don't have an ongoing, transcendent relationship with him. As for your roulette-board, they beat you to it. Jesus hasn't shown up, but their latest cargo deity, Prince Philip, paid them a personal visit in 1974. =)

Sebastian said: "I don't know much about Buddhism, but I always see these fat statues sitting around, and people kneeling, praying and burning incense in front of them. Doesn't look like too impersonal a God to me!"

Your casual dismissal of the counter-example I gave of Buddhism, won't do. You're correct that there are traditions which basically practice much the opposite of what the Buddha taught by worshiping him as a deity. Tibetan Buddhism, for instance, contains an obvious mix of an earlier animistic tradition (Bon) that has culturally molded that version of the religion. However, in Zen Buddhism the deities are used as archetypes for mental focus, and don't actually exist outside of the practitioner's mind (all is Maya - illusion - even the imagined concreteness of the gods and goddesses).

Sebastian said: "You're most definetly right about many people faking the God-drive much of the time. But it's the quality and not the quantity that counts, and I do believe that God is the most important concept in most people's lives in the moments that count. Sex is another good analogy here: We might only spend 0.1% of our life time doing it, but that doesn't mean its importance is only 0.1%."

The fakers I mentioned are faking it all the time. They're the ones that think they ought to believe in god because that's where morals supposedly come from, and they wish they had that special relationship that the others in the congregation seem to have. But they don't have this God-drive, they have a desire to behave ethically and a desire for acceptance (as do those more fervent practitioners in the next pew). The differences between them, I think, are psychological and genetic (i.e., the personal predilections born of biochemistry).

As for the 0.1% sex analogy, I guess Catholic priests shouldn't even be doing it that often. They believe it's wrong behavior for them, so they concentrate on their God concept and wait for those feelings to pass. Sex is important for them, but not in a good way. Maybe that's a good analogy for me, too. I have normal desires and psychological propensities that Sebastian rolls together and says is the God-drive. But believing that would be wrong for me, so I'll concentrate on science and reason until those silly, distracting emotions pass. =)

Paul Power said...

To everyone except sebastian:

It is very difficult to do what sebastian is attempting, namely carry on separate debates (albeit on the same topic) with different people. It is so easy to miss what the other person is saying even if the person is expressing himself or herself perfectly.

Paul Power said...

sebastian:

At this point you have offered no compelling reason to accept that every archetypal yearning is for a real object. Nor have you given us compelling reason not to accept that the same is true of archetypal fears.

At a higher level, you can't. The universe, we have discovered, does not work that way. Your argument is like this one: http://www.mwscomp.com/movies/grail/grail-05.htm

Sebastian said...

Well, it's going to be my last post in this thread, because we really are going around in circles.

The objections to my argument that keep cropping up are:

(I) The God-Drive isn't really universal.

My answer:

I disagree. Look around.

(II) Even if it is universal, it's very different from other 'drives' in that its object of desire is nowhere to be seen. That means God doesn't exist.

My answer:

Yes, it is different in that respect, but the object of desire, God, must hide, so unavailability doesn't mean non-existence.

(III)

The 'God-Desire' is a misdirected desire of a desire actually meant for something else.

My answer:

If you are capable, look inside yourself, and see that this is not so. (A little mushy, I agree, but this is not ridiculous or silly.)

If you can't look inside yourself, realize that this objection would ALWAYS crop up if the object of an archetypal desire were removed from the world (women,food,exercise). So it's kind of a trivial objection.

One last concrete objection to Steelman, who I believe singled out the most likely candidate for 'misdirected archetypal desire', claiming that the archetypal desire for a 'big, strong daddy' was really at work in the 'God-Desire':

Why then, do children, who have this archetypal desire satisfied in their own parents, show a very marked God-Drive (this has been my experience)?
And why do grown-ups, who hopefully have shed the daddy-desire like their milk teeth, still prove to be so universally religious?

However, I will stop here. It was fun, thanks everybody!

PP: I'll rent that movie, never saw it, but I always loved Monty Python!

cagliost said...

"The objections to my argument that keep cropping up are:

(I) The God-Drive isn't really universal.
(II) Even if it is universal, it's very different from other 'drives' in that its object of desire is nowhere to be seen. That means God doesn't exist.
(III)
The 'God-Desire' is a misdirected desire of a desire actually meant for something else."

You don't seem to have recognised everyone's main objection to your argument, even though Paul Power expressed it very clearly:

"you have offered no compelling reason to accept that every archetypal yearning is for a real object"

Just because you have a yearning for god to exist, this doesn't mean god exists. No matter how "archetypal" your yearning is.

cagliost said...

(This is the same missing-the-point error many make when reviewing, say, Dawkins. I've read lots of reviews that take Dawkins to task on whether the world would be a better place without religion, but don't say a word about his real main point: no evidence. It seems to me that they just haven't noticed what his main point really is.)

potentilla said...

cagliost, to be fair, I think sebastian agreed somewhere up above that his point was inductive, not deductive; he wasn't saying that the existence of a (supposedly) universal god-drive logically required that a god exist, merely that by analogy with other drives, it was reasonable to suppose that one did.

That's the reason he has to keep insisting, against the evidence (indeed with no attempt to address the evidence), that a "god-drive" is universal.

He also consistently refused to address the counter-evidence to his (iii), which admittedly would have required him to read a book.

Interestingly, his response to (ii) shifted in his last post. Before, he was saying that there would be a good reason for God to hide (I forget what the reason was) so the invisibility of god is not by itself a reason to think he doesn't exist. Now, he is claiming that god must hide.

His whole position requires the most extraordinary amount of belief that his intuitions about the inner states of other people are more accurate than their intuitions. Other people being some half of the population of Europe.....it's a position of quite breath-taking arrogance.

Anonymous said...

Is it not inherent in man to seek that which is beyond the boundaries
of his known world. We create, therefore we are. The greener field whether of a dream or a real place is desirous. To exist in a place of divine consciousness, engulfed in the sublime beauty of a rarefied mind is as much a magnet as any object of earthly desire. How increasingly evident that some are more genetically wired with an ability to experience that part of the human brain as a matter of fact. Systems geared toward achieving certain states through prayer or breathing techniques have common ground. The human brain is a bio electrical system capable of linking the entity with any other outpost of frequency and wavelength that exists in the universe. The human brain is so underutilized that it is amazing that anyone would doubt that we exist as both transmitters and receivers with an ability to actually experience and discern far beyond this earthly realm amid multiple dimensions. Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is Inside of us. Did he not say as well that we are also the Sons of God. Philosophical bantering seems to exist only to exalt the hypothetical, searching for a reality that can not be found.