Friday, May 09, 2008

Why believe god exists?

A quick excerpt from a civil debate on the existence of god -- between two learned men...
It does seem that we have come to an impasse. We agree that God’s existence cannot be proven or disproven, and that those who think it can are the dogmatic extremists on both sides. Maybe God steps into our space-time, maybe he doesn't. Who knows? An invisible God is indistinguishable from a nonexistent God. How can we tell the difference? One answer comes to mind from a bumper sticker I once saw: Militant Agnostic: I don’t know and you don't either.

So I have one final question for you: why believe in God at all? Why not just be an agnostic, in the original sense that Thomas Huxley meant when he coined the word in 1869: "one who holds that the existence of anything beyond and behind material phenomena is unknown and so far as can be judged unknowable, and especially that a First Cause and an unseen world are subjects of which we know nothing." Here I am reminded of Sir Peter Medawar's description of science as the "art of the soluble." If science is the art of the soluble, then belief in God is the art of the insoluble. So why believe?
Give it a read...

9 comments:

Intellectual Insurgent said...

So why believe?

When you ask a stupid question, the answer generally will be stupid too. And, this, as par for the course for the dumb dumb atheist debaters, is a stupid question.

Religion is not belief. Those who take it as such, whether atheist or pious, miss the point.

No one listens to the story of the Little Boy Who Cried Wolf and worries themselves over whether they should "believe" it to be literally true. They UNDERSTAND the moral of the story, without concern as to whether there existed, in fact, at one point in time, a little boy who cried wolf three times and was ignored the last time.

That is where institutionalized religion went wrong. Taking mythology literally instead of looking to the wisdom of the ancients for suggestions on how to live today.

But atheists and allegedly pious people follow the same flawed approach. Each takes religion literally - one just accepts and the other rejects. Presented this way, it's an argument of uh huh, nu uh, for days and days, with no one getting anywhere - which I suppose is probably the point. To keep dingleberries distracted why our dollars are devalued and rights are infringed.

If you took it no more literally than you take the Star Wars series, you would enjoy it a lot more.

RR said...

Well - you are partly correct.

First, there are religious people who look to ancient stories for guidance and morals (as you say). They seem to be in the minority (given my anecdotal experience). But then I ask, "why look to iron and bronze age tribesmen for answers to moral questions? These people were barbaric in almost every sense: from the way the treated women, to the genocides they committed and celebrated (in the name of god) to the slaves they kept, etc. etc. etc. There is precious little to be learned from them. Take the ten commandments - purported by many christians to be the pinnacle of moral teaching. Only 3 or so of them have ANY moral implication, and those are simply laws societies figured out on their own 100's if not 1000's of years before Moses supposedly told the people "thou shalt not kill". You really think such a teaching was an epiphany? How did society survive so long without them... (notice the sarcasm) ...

Don't you think we can have a 21st century discussion of these topics (e.g. - what is moral, what is ethical) without coloring it with iron age barbarism?

It's like saying we should look to alchemists to help us understand chemistry...

Secondly -- many - if not most - of the religious people I actually spend time talking to actually BELIEVE that Jesus was resurrected... and will return to earth one day. They believe he's "up there" listening to prayers. This belief influences their behavior... informs their opinions... etc. In short, it has consequences for not only them, but our society (e.g. - the election of politicians).

Given that there is no evidence for any of it, I find it an exercise in self-deception and wishful thinking... that is mostly a negative influence.

RR said...

In short "No one listens ... and "believe" it to be literally true" ... is incorrect.

Many many believe these stories to be literally true. Maybe not your friends, but several of mine do -- and they are educated engineering working on satellites. (One has a picture of the Pope up in his cube and believes him to be the infallible vicar of god on earth... despite all the stuff you read about Catholics in the news these days).

Intellectual Insurgent said...

Just because misguided people out there take religion literally doesn't mean religion is the problem. It means people are the problem.

Just because not everyone in the world can't get straight A's doesn't mean we should throw grading guidelines out the window.

Confusing human frailty with religion is illogical. People are people and will always look for things to cling to with faith. Whether it is "democracy", which they will fight military crusades to spread, or fanatical secularism where they ban discussion of religion in the name of tolerance (what an oxymoron), people need ideology.

You suggest that modern ideology is somehow superior to ancient wisdom, but that's a matter of preference. But if you take the time and put down your sword, you may find the great wisdom you're looking for in the books. IF YOU STOP TAKING THEM LITERALLY.

For example, friends of mine do "cleanses" as a means of improving their health. Modern doctors sell this plan and that plan, eat nothing but fruits for 30 days, or whatever. Last time I spoke to a friend of mine about a cleanse, I had to chuckle. My response - Catholics have been doing cleanses for centuries. It's called lent. Muslims have been doing cleanses for centuries. It's called Ramadan.

But they threw the baby out with the bath water and are now getting suckered into paying for a cleanse plan that our ancestors figured out long ago.

Same with lots of other stuff.

But like I said. If you keep asking stupid questions, like "Why Believe?", then you will get stupid answers. Which is exactly what Sam Harris and his ilk do.

RR said...

You completely miss the point... surprisingly you actually make it yourself.

Sam and his "ilk" simply say that you should have good reasons for believing something ... Take your purging example.

If the practice is demonstrably beneficial, then do it. They key is that there are logical, demostable reasons to do it... not because some imaginary god (or minister) says to.

Maybe the Muslims and Christians hit on fasting 1400 years ago, but what of it? They also practice other (stupid) things like not mixing fibers in clothing (hasidic Jews) -- Catholics proselytize in Africa and teach people that using a condom is a sin while AIDS runs rampant.

Do you think it "wise" to circumcise babies (of either sex) in the name of religion? Or is that a decision the person should make for themselves when they are old enough? Their may be good reasons to do it, but it doesn't validate the 2000 year old practice.

The simple fact remains: MOST of what these books say is simply bad advice.

Whatever "wisdom" you find in these ancient books is gleaned thru the lens of reason and the scientific method. YOU are using reason and your 21st century knowledge to decide what is "good" and what's a waste.

The fast majority of crap you find in these books is just that... and just because you can find a few pearls doesn't mean you should actually give this stuff some kind of special credence. It was written down at a time when people didn't know about the germ theory of disease and when people thought comets were portents of coming disaster...

Yea - they hit on a few good ideas here and there: but lets be honest and realize that it's enlightenment reasoning that lets your separate the wheat from the chaff. Without THAT, you'd be running in terror to the shaman during the next solar eclipse.

Intellectual Insurgent said...

Anything is crap if you take it literally. Shoot, Christmas is crap if you think about the absurdity of a fat guy on a sleigh of reindeer coming down your chimney. Yet, it is the happiest time of the year.

PEOPLE NEED MYTHOLOGY.

The choice isn't between religion and no religion. It is a matter of which mythology you choose.

So some choose the Bible or Quran and you choose some nonsense about pilgrims eating turkey with the people they slaughtered and about some guy who chopped down a cherry tree and fessed up to it. Same b.s.

Or, even better, you say nothing about laws that criminalize asking questions about the Holocaust and fight a war based on some absurdly laughable myth that some guy getting kidney dialysis in a cave in Afghanistan led an attack on America.

People who believe in UFO's have a lot of nerve poo poo'ing people who believe in ghosts.

skip sievert said...

god is dog spelled backward.. which is a son of a bitch.. and thats what we are.. sons of bitches.

Cassie Wallender said...

Why believe? Pascal's wager?

RR said...

Really Cassie? Really?
Let me point out the obvious: Pascal's wager is always presented as if both outcomes (god or no-god) are equally likely propositions. Simply put, they are not.

To illustrate do you purchase 'volcano' insurance or just fire and flood? You realize that having your home destroyed by a volcano is a very low-probably event and hence don't worry about it ... The same goes for pascal: there is simply NO evidence that this ancient mythology is true -- and if it is there are so many competing claims about the nature of god no matter which one you pick you are bound (statistically) to be WRONG.

The entire enterprise is hucksterism contrived to control the minds of men.