Hi all,

I wanted to start a discussion to listen to adherents and hear what they have to tell us based on some questions I'd like to pose to them. In other words, I want to sincerely play the role of a seeker and ask them how I would know that their god is The One, True God. The purpose is not to deconvert or convert, I just want to walk through a seeker conversation where I'm allowed to ask questions of adherents and see what they have to say ... to listen. I am willing to expand on what I mean by "The One, True God" if a reader asks for that, to the extent that I think the definition is sufficient for the discussion.

This is the adherent's golden opportunity to proselytize; to convert me.

In order to do this effectively I need to ask the adherent for their imprimatur on a rule by which I can do this without bogging it down so that I can never get my questions asked. So, here it is. I'll ask a question as a hypothetical. It may be that there are more assumptions to the hypothetical that one could add, but I'll ask for the sake of discussion that we allow only the assumptions of the hypothetical I offer. This way, I can at least get through a few questions. If someone thinks the assumptions are insufficient just state that with your answer and we'll accept that as your answer informed by the assumptions of the question.

So, here's my question. I'll ask it and see if I can get a useful answer, recalling that I am a lifelong atheist who has never believed and who is sincerely trying to sort out all the gods out there and figure out which one to follow:

How do I know that your god is The One, True God?

Tags: Evangelical, Socrates, adherents, atheism, atheists, conversion, debate, deconversion

Views: 1739

Replies to This Discussion

Forgive me, I've come in on the tail end of this, but I'm not convinced we have a straight (X or Y) choice here.  

Helios.  We know it wasn't Helios pulling the sun across the sky, because we now know that the reason why the sun moves across the sky is that the Earth rotates once every 24 hours.  So the reason why people thought it was Helios is that they were filling in the gaps in their knowledge with ideas of conscious agency - Helios.  Like we do - we always have to have some kind of answer.  We never like to say "I don't know".  This was Agenticity at work - seeing conscious agency where we now know there is none in the form the ancient Greeks plainly imagined.  

Now, is Helios the One, True God?  We know he doesn't pull the sun across the sky, but we don't know that he doesn't exist.  So... what.  We know nothing at all about any Helios, one way or the other - apart from that single piece of information. 

Kir, you said that the One, True God is the Creator God.  Again, no concrete knowledge of the existence of this God is possible at the moment.  

If the Creator God exists, is Helios part of Him?  Maybe, maybe not, but Helios doesn't pull the sun across the sky in a chariot.  Period. 

Hey Simon,

I think you and Zachary are making this way more complicated than you need to. Hold on and let me come up with an example to illustrate the point.

- kk

@Zachary and @Simon,

I think we can clear this up pretty easily. The question posed is really trivial and we're beating a dead horse. Take this example:

Suppose I live in a society in which a common story told is that when little children make straight "A"s in school a magical professor flies around the globe in a chariot going to each house where such a child resides and tosses candy down the chimney for that child as a reward for having done so well in school. Now, suppose I show you a study that clearly, and with a sound methodology and considerable replication of results, shows that children will tend to believe stories like this if they are sufficiently young and their parents and their community reinforce the tale. They call this phenom the “A” effect.

The question is:

Is it more likely that the children believe this story because of the A effect or because there is a magical professor that flies around in a chariot dropping candy down several million chimneys?

So, really, this objection is absurd, right? The absurdity of the objections both of you are making is now clear. You are only confused because of the very psychological mechanisms that have influenced your thinking and are causing you to not see this question clearly.

And of course, we can see that the only reason the question is ridiculous is because the idea of a magical professor is ridiculous.

- kk

@Zachary,

To formalize as you requested, lets frame it this way:

Let

S == the probability that belief in the story is because the magical professor really does these things

T == the probability that belief in the story is because of the "A" effect.

U == the probability that a magical professor really does these things

That is the question being framed and

P(T AND U) < P(T)

Which in your formulation doesn't even involve S. This is not what I'm asking.

So, you are "violating" the Conjunction Fallacy inasmuch as your argument merely ensures that P(T) is always greater than the odds of your proposition (T AND U), which is what I was attempting to show with my question.

Where in reality, the correct formulation is, if stated as a claim ensures that:

P(S) < P(T)

holds, which we can see trivially using the magical professor example.

- kk

S and T both sound extremely susceptible to the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallacy_of_the_single_cause.

Hi Zachary,

So, another concern that has been raised is over conjoint causes:

Let there be a set of causes Q where causes a, b, ... n element of Q.

and S NOT an element of Q where

S == the probability that belief in the story is because the magical professor really does these things

Let R be all elements in Q AND'd

And we see that

P(R) > P(S)

holds generally by the magical professor example.

Q.E.D. ;-)

In other words, taking this fallacy into account and recasting, we still get the same result.

- kk

I'm willing to play the Q&A game if and only if I can clearly delineate what answers I'm giving to what questions. What I don't want to do is reach a point down the road where you say, "Now you have to accept this conclusion as a logical result of these premises", and I say, "But I never agreed to that premise," and you say, "Oh, but you did," and I say, "Is that how you were interpreting that question? I was interpreting it in an entirely different way," and you say, "No, now you are just making excuses to avoid such and such conclusion." I don't want to write a check of endorsement to some idea if there is a blank space left open to be filled in later. So here is my sufficiently precise answer to your questions:

X=a particular psych. phenom given by KK

Y=a particular religious belief given by KK

Let Z(X,Y)="X was at least one factor influencing people to believe in Y".

Based on the (X,Y) given, my answer to your question is the following:

  I would consider P(Z(X,Y)=T) > P(Y=T).

So you can proceed as far as I'm concerned.

Hey Zachary,

I'm willing to play the Q&A game if and only if I can clearly delineate what answers I'm giving to what questions. What I don't want to do is reach a point down the road where you say, "No you have to accept this conclusion as a logical result of these premises", and I say, "But I never agreed to that premise," and you say, "Oh, but you did," and I say, "Is that how you were interpreting that question; I was interpreting it in an entirely different way," and you say, "No, now you are just making excuses to avoid such and such conclusion." I don't want to write a check of endorsement to some idea if there is a blank space left open to be filled in later.

Right, I don't blame you. First, as I stated in the intro, these are hypotheitcals which means that the answers are informed by the assumptions made in the question, so you're off the hook in that sense right off the bat.

And secondly, I'm not going to try to steer anyone to a conclusion about anything. There is no debate as far as I'm concerned. My only goal here is to illustrate, for myself and possibly for others, what is more likely to be true. Whether one agrees or not is up to them. There will be no proof, only odds subjectively assessed.

So, I think we're in agreement on this point. There are no traps here.

So here is my answer to your questions:

X=KK gives a particular psych. phenom

Y=KK gives a particular religious belief

Let Z(X,Y)="X was at least one factor influencing people to believe in Y".

Based on the (X,Y) given, my answer to your question is the following:

I would consider P(Z(X,Y)) > P(Y=T).

And that is an interesting form for the answer, but I would still point out that it isn't exactly what I'm asking. The  odds that a psychologoical phenom played a role in belief being greater than the odds that the odds that the belief is due to the supernatural explanation equals the odds that the belief is due to that psychological phenom is very different than what i've framed again at the end.

I'm willing to play the Q&A game if and only if I can clearly delineate what answers I'm giving to what questions.

So, the response to your condition to play is of the form:

Question: Is it more likely that the children believe this story because of the A effect or because there is a magical professor that flies around in a chariot dropping candy down several million chimneys?

Answer: Either the former or the latter.

So, all one needs to do is state their answer in the form of the first or second part of the question. That's  it, right?

- kk

BTW, my attempts to clarify the discussion much more precisely are not a mere distraction. I have specific issues which I would like to address in some of the examples you have already given so far, and getting the wording clear is crucially important. I have been holding my tongue wanting to give you a chance to finish wherever you are going, rather then responding to where I think you might be going. But at the same time I didn't want to wait to the very end to say that there are important issues way back at the beginning.

Hey,

I understand, that's fine with me. But I honestly believe the religiosity of the question is clouding just how simple and perfectly reasonable the question really is. When we make it secular no one has an issue with it.

You can go ahead now if you like, but please also keep in mind that in the introduction I asked that we take these questions as hypotheticals. That means that the questions have assumptions built into them, they are known and they inform the answer. I said that for the very reason you mentioned: at some point I have to get through all the questions and one could literally spend a lifetime studying all this.

- kk

All,

We've gone down a long bunny trail and fallen in a rabbit hole called Wonderland. But coming out of that we have a better illustration of why these questions are not ridiculous at all, its just that the proposition they contain is ridiculous.

So, we can style our questions in the following form:

Suppose I live in a society in which a common story told is that when little children make straight "A"s in school a magical professor flies around the globe in a chariot going to each house where such a child resides and tosses candy down the chimney for that child as a reward for having done so well in school. Now, suppose I show you a study that clearly, and with a sound methodology and considerable replication of results, shows that children will tend to believe stories like this if they are sufficiently young and their parents and their community reinforce the tale. They call this phenom the “A” effect.

The question is:

Is it more likely that the children believe this story because of the A effect or because there is a magical professor that flies around in a chariot dropping candy down several million chimneys?

Which motivates a general defense:

Let there be a set of causes Q where causes a, b, ... n element of Q.

and S NOT an element of Q where

S == the probability that belief in the story is because the magical professor really does these things

Let R be all elements in Q AND'd

And we see that

P(R) > P(S)

holds generally by the magical professor example.

Q.E.D.

The only thing we are doing differently in my questions is in one case the magical professor is secular and in another he happens to be part of a religious tradition; that is, there is no material difference.

But, to be clear, I want to pose this question to the reader and see if anyone can agree:

Is it more likely that the children believe this story because of the A effect or because there is a magical professor that flies around in a chariot dropping candy down several million chimneys?

Which I think will serve to inform the discussion from hereon very well

- kk

Here is a very relevant personal anecdote related to my own journey of conversion from atheism to Christianity, which is very much tied to KK's Question 3 in particular. This may be more interesting and more helpful than other stuff I've said as far as any followers of this thread who are not so excited about probability theory are concerned.

One day in high school AP Biology, at the height of my atheism, our teacher allowed a creationist couple to come in and speak to the class. (Based on his interaction with them, I'm quite sure my teacher thought their creationism was as ridiculous as I did, but in the spirit of open intellectual exploration, etc., he wanted to let them have their chance to speak.) Their slides were mostly colorful drawings, and I considered their presentation to be pretty lame and unconvincing. As a young evangelical atheist, after class I stayed to try to see if I might be able to provoke a little bit of sense into them. One thing that they had naturally talked about in their presentation was a great flood in ancient times. Since I was also taking a Mythology class at the time, I was eager to point out to them that numerous cultures around the world have flood stories, but instead of Noah and YWHW/Elohim, they have other guys building boats at the instruction of other gods, etc. In my mind this demonstrated that the Bible stories were just as silly and ridiculous as any other ancient myths. But the creationist guy caught me off guard when he said, "So... which is more likely, that an actual flood occurred and various cultures derived modified accounts of it, or that without any common basis in historical fact several of these cultures nevertheless came up with rather similar sounding stories?"

Dang. Even though I knew I could gripe over some of the details, and come up with some ad hoc arguments to fight back, I had to admit that at a deep level he might just possibly be on to something worth considering there. And not just on to something about the flood itself. Although I felt unease about where it might lead, in my drive to explore truth at any cost, I started expanding upon the potential for where else this line of reasoning might lead, even beyond the creationist guy's statement about a flood. Indeed, what if the ubiquity of religion and myth in human cultures, although a lot of it seems ridiculous at face value as it stands, is actually pointing to some unseen realities beyond the awkward stories?

Switching to a parallel track for a moment, as someone who believes in absolute truth, nevertheless one of my favorite religion analogies is the one I hear most often from my relativistic-oriented friends: the blind men and the elephant. I'll assume you are familiar with it (and if not, a Google search can quickly resolve that). For my relativistic friends, the fact that all these different blind men are getting a different "picture" of the elephant is illustrative of how all religions have just some aspect or perspective on the truth. Fine, I say. But don't miss the fact that there IS an elephant! What allows these different perspectives to arise is that there is a real, absolute elephant that the different men are feeling a different part of. (So what would happen if a sighted man comes along?)

So, back to KK's Q3. Is it more likely that the belief in Utnapishtim was due to Agenticity or is it more likely that Utnapishtim is The One, True God? Well, if I wasn't being artificially forced to choose one of KK's precanned options, I would prefer another explanation altogether. I think it is most likely that the Epic of Gilgamesh derived from a genuine event which occurred in history involving a man, God, a boat, a flood, etc., etc. Just like any story gets messed up as it gets told by more people over time, so this ancient flood story took on more and more incorrect, and even ridiculous, elements as it evolved over time among different societies.

So here's the question which I consider to be more important: Is it more likely that psychological and other factors have led cultures into modified and corrupted accounts of what are nevertheless genuine historical events from the early days of our species and genuine spiritual realities behind those accounts, or that the psychological influences alone have auto-generating these stories apart from any basis in a transcendent spiritual reality whatsoever? Now, if THAT was the question, I would be ready to unhesitatingly declare my confident position that the first option is more likely than the second. The reason that the human psyche goes grasping, ever so desperately sometimes, for stories of greater meaning and divine reality, is because in fact there IS a greater meaning and purpose behind this universe than merely the laws of physics and there IS a divine reality which brings forth the itch that the human psyche is (however awkwardly) trying to scratch. So of the stories end up sounding as ridiculous as blind men describing an elephant, but that is due to the blindness of the men, not to the absence of any elephant.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. - Ecclesiastes 3:11

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