Saturday, September 24, 2011

Talking To Friends About God

Since I don't have a new post for you yet, I thought I would update you on the conversation I am having over at The Smoldering Remnants with my friend Steve Perry. Steve tossed out the following questions and statements (paraphrased):

1) Couldn't a god that doesn't do miracles exist?
2) The 'god brain' is good evidence for the existence of god.
3) our personal experience should be considered when tallying evidence for the proposed existence of supernatural beings.

my answers:

re: miracles as a god killer: I can conceive of a god that doesn’t do miracles.

Re: the god brain: That religious feelings arise in our brains should be no surprise; it hardly indicates the existence of god. People experience all kinds of things; I have met people who experience a belief that they have had microchips put in their teeth by the CIA. I’ve met people who thought they were characters from the book of revelations. that they experience these beliefs–and that these beliefs can be traced to certain regions of the brain–does not validate the claim. No extravagant lengths need to be taken to demonstrate that you’re overreaching if you claim the ‘god brain’ to be proof of the existence of god. Religious belief seems to be programmed into many of us by evolution. We look for patterns in the world around us, and as you go back in time, you’ll see mankind attributing more and more agency to things that we now know to be natural phenomenon. The god brain could be an atavism in that regard. Religious belief has certainly been an aid to viability.

re: the validity of experience as evidence: Our experiences shape the way we interpret information for sure, but we need something more impartial to interpret phenomena than that, and we also need a way to remove more apparent conclusions before jumping to less apparent ones. If I get a chill up my spine when I pray, is it more likely that I am in communion with god, or that I have accessed an area of my brain that rewards me with a divine chill when I have certain kinds of thoughts or perform certain kinds of actions? Has the CIA really put a chip in my tooth, or is there a simpler explanation?

I wonder if there is any argument or evidence that would cast doubt on your god-belief, or your acceptance of christianity as the true expression of what that god wants from you. Is there something that someone could say to you that would make you say, ‘maybe there is no god’, or would the appearance of such an argument lead you to to believe that your truth detection device wasn’t ‘big’ enough, because it could no longer support god?

Regarding things like the supernatural, we have limited means of confirmation. Things like gods, ghosts, esp, extraterrestrials, etc. may exist, we just don’t have means to confirm them. I may know that extraterrestrials are real because I’ve been abducted, but I can’t expect you to accept that if I don’t have some kind evidence to show you. You may have all the respect in the world for me, and think that I’m generally very solid, but is it more likely that I was abducted, or that I had some kind of realistic dream or hallucination, or maybe an underlying mental health issue? Or maybe I’m just lying–possibly to myself as well as you–to validate some kind of wish or hope I have? Even when I was a christian, I knew that the only good argument for belief wasn’t really a good argument; it was the fideistic ‘I believe this crazy thing for some reason. Maybe I’m nuts, but I believe it’. Faith, with a shrug of the shoulders. It puts the believer in a very vulnerable spot, but It’s the argument for belief that I have the most respect for now. It eschews the obscurantism of modern theology, and it doesn’t take a PHD to make the statement. I think it’s wrong, sure, but I think it’s the most honest and humble approach to belief in god.

Cross posted at Daily Kos


Josh Worley said...

I generally agree with you regarding arguing the existence of God. At the center of any religion is FAITH in something intangible. There is no way to prove its existence. And even trying to convince someone that a God cannot exist by stating the existence of evolution, really won't convince any believer either...If there is a God, can he not create things that adapt to changing environments and evolve? I think sometimes, because this is an argument where ultimately no final conclusion can be reached, it serves more as a distraction than anything else; especially given that in western society, many modern Christians don't represent the teachings of Christ anyway, myself included.

Spencer Troxell said...

The guy I'm talking with believes in evolution.

I think I'm coming to agree with you about converting people away from religion. It wasn't proof that brought them into it, and maybe it won't be proof that brings them out of it. I think talking about it can be illuminating for everyone though.