Hello Bob, I wonder would you mind elucidating these points a little further which you made here:

Similarly, for me, God is a useful idea.  There are communities of people who study and talk about God.  Just like with energy, there's a whole, vast literature about God, some of it pretty firm, some of it more speculative, a lot of it hard for outsiders to understand without extensive study.

We had recently mentioned opening a separate discussion on what your understanding of God is. I am an ex-Catholic and having grown up in Ireland and lived here for over 40 years I thought I knew all about what a Catholic believed. However I have no understanding of what your definition of God is. I have no problem understanding what you mean when discussing Physics but I am lost when it comes to figuring out what you mean by “God”. Anytime we have asked you to explain you appear to avoid the question by the use of analogies as to how Science works. That might not be as you see it but it does appear that way to me.

 “God is a useful idea” is the same (to my ears) as saying “God is a concept”. An idea is abstract and subjective. The idea of God is an idea. The concept of God is a concept. To me, it does not seem that you belief in a “real” God but rather in the idea of one. This also seems strange to me as you have a very clear understanding of scientific concepts and I cannot “get” how you can and also maintain that “God” is still useful to answer the bigger questions.

I understand all the ontological arguments from Anselm to WL Craig on one hand and Big Bang Cosmology to Quantum Mechanics (which nobody understands :-)) on the other but I don’t want to go down the road of Science vs. Religion until we get to grips with what your actual beliefs are, if that's ok with you.

So would you mind defining what (or who) God is to you and what your basic beliefs are?

Note: anyone can join this discussion but let’s aim to stay focused on the nature of belief.

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Everybody has a different definition of god from benevolent sky daddy to Einstein's god which even I can believe in because there really isn't a "God" there.  As for me, I cannot define that which doesn't exist except in terms so broad as to be worthless.

He says the same things as most of the laymen of Catholicism I've encountered.

I never know what they believe either.

I wasn't raised catholic though and might have to use a foot to count the ones I've had "deeper" conversations with.

Can I ask what you believe as an atheist, @Joshua?   I find myself as a visitor here almost completely unable to fathom anything other than a sort of common delight in deconstructing fundamentalists.  

That's fine as far as it goes, and I will admit that they are easy pickings, but it seems to me that just deconstructing or ridiculing the beliefs of others doesn't offer anything of lasting value. 

So what do you believe in, as opposed to what beliefs do you reject?

Maybe Bob, if I explain it another way……

I regularly engage in debates with theists of different faiths. It is seldom that I can get anyone to explain to me what they actually believe. Most offer only an obscure notion of what or who their God is. They assume that I somehow know their God on a personal level and that I am refusing to acknowledge “His” existence, which to them is apparently self-evident. They think that I am being somehow disingenuous when I ask for an explanation or definition.

Usually I get to hear about how HE is omniscient or omnipotent. When I point out the various contradictions in those concepts and ask for something more concrete I get told that He is all-loving, all powerful, all forgiving and that if I only read the Koran or Bible that I would “come to know Him”. When I explain that I have read both those books (I often think atheists know more about them than your average theist) and start quoting them I get stared at as if I am “Satan”. “How could this Atheist know our book and not believe” to which I might quote from the Merchant of Venice:

“The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
An evil soul producing holy witness
Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,
A goodly apple rotten at the heart.
O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!”

Eventually……always eventually…….the Faith Card gets played. I am told that “my heart is not open” to hear the Lord’s words and often It is because I “lack humility”. Christians will have no problem knocking on my front door to tell me that I lack it. Not only do they know the Truth but they can show me the way to finding it myself. I tell them “I do not believe what you believe” and when I ask for evidence I am told that I should just read the Bible as it is all there is black and white for me.

I tell them that the Bible is not proof of anything; it is the claim. I ask for some evidence, a single shred, a morsel…anything. They all think that they can show me some. Never once has anyone ever shown me anything. Not a Jehovah Witness, not a Baptist, not a Muslim, nobody ever has. Everything and anything ever pandered as evidence is always (yes, always) just an argument as to the existence of their God. They see their subjective opinions as being objective evidence because others share the same opinions with the same enthusiasm.

However Bob, (if you read this) I believe that you understand the distinction that I am making when I ask for something more substantial than vague definitions or subjective opinions that are held only because of the emotional impact they have on the people that hold them.

So will you not define your God to me? Don’t assume I already “kind of know”. In a few bullet pointed sentences can you explain what God is to you and on what knowledge you base your faith upon?

Let’s use the term “Knowledge” in the philosophical sense where Knowledge is a belief that is justified and true.

When someone tells me that they are (say) a Christian the only thing I know about them is how they view the world. To me they have constructed a worldview that is based upon magical thinking. Its cornerstones are sunk into supernatural cement that never sets. The only way I can take their beliefs seriously is if they can show me that they are not just purely subjective.

If they cannot share that “knowledge” with me so I can evaluate it then I can only assume that they are unable to do so. This is because their beliefs are based upon faith alone. If they at least admit that they have no objective reasons we can move on. However to imply that the Atheist worldview is wrong because we don’t believe what you (any other theist) believes while refusing to explain yourself is bad manners, is it not?.

If you do not want you your beliefs to be criticized then you should not air them on an atheist website. If you don’t or won’t explain yourself then you lose your credibility and our respect.

The silence is hauntingly devastating.

For me the silence is deafening, but understandable. :)

When someone tells me that they are (say) a Christian the only thing I know about them is how they view the world. To me they have constructed a worldview that is based upon magical thinking. Its cornerstones are sunk into supernatural cement that never sets. 

This is exactly how I feel, and I only wish I had thought to put it this way myself. Bravo, sir.

Thanks Stutz, it's good to see an old face about :-)

I tell them that the Bible is not proof of anything; it is the claim.

No, of course not.  That notion is just silly.  You don't honestly believe that, do you?

The bible is a compiled set of tales that describe the emergence and development of a worldview. A sociocultural history of a sort.

So the Bible is not the word of God? It is just a collection of tales? You would not believe (is that a bad pun?) the number of Christians that have insisted that the Bible is the word of God, including dozens of Catholics or the number of Muslim that have told me the same about the Koran.

If God is just a concept to you and the Bible just a book of tales then why do you believe that the Christian God exists in reality? Is the story of the resurrection just a tale for you too?

Sure, I would say sacred scripture is the Word of God.   That's a term of art that only has meaning within a Catholic/Christian cultural framework, however. 

If you mean "Do you believe that God literally wrote it?", I'm pretty sure my copy came from Amazon.

Total obfuscation. I think if this chain continues it will take a 10,000 word question before we get an actual answer to what is really a clear question. What is the point of even bothering Reg?

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