armed with a degree in theology, over the years i have come up with specific questions to ask of christians.
indeed i even attend "alpha courses" (introductory courses to becoming a christian) and put these questions to the hosts (usually under the guise of "well i'm thinking of becoming a christian but i have some questions...)
confrontation and causing offense gets you nowhere. also being impolite just reinforces their smug assertion that atheists are angry.
the question i have had most success with at putting people on the spot goes like this...
"a priest rapes a choirboy. the choirboy becomes depressed and traumatized, rejects jesus and the church (understandably), turns to drugs, dies young and spends an eternity in hell, unsaved and condemned by god.
the priest repents on his deathbed, embraces christ, is forgiven and spends forever in heaven.
by what measure can we consider this to be justice?"
i'm hoping that this question might one day become a meme, so that anyone who brings up the subject of christianity is immediately reminded of this question and has an answer demanded of them.
i have many other questions like this that cannot be simply swatted away with theology, mystery or dogma.
i'd be happy to share them with anyone who is interested.
thanks for reading, let me know if it has an impact on anyone you ask.
Spiritualality is, from what I can get from people I know who claim to be spiritual, is the delusion that you are greater than what is seen, and that you think everything is connected by some sort of central intelligence angency.
One showed me a "conclusive study" that purported to prove that if a lot of people meditate on world peace, that worldwide violence would go down...and it had charts and everything.
When I pointed out that I could take their world violence chart, and change the "and this is when we meditated" axis to "And this is when we ate peanut butter", it would be exactly as convincing.
Apparently spiritual people get angry when "closed minded people" look at their Grails, and see cups.
Why would god need to ask a question?
I confess that like your atheist colleagues and our evangelical Christian visitor Trevor I find @Simon's work to be somewhat hard to parse.
As close as I can tell, what @Simon is doing over time through a combination of study and personal experience is reconstruct Christian philosophy using different language. He seems to define some aspects of morality as discernible from nature as a product of evolution and reason... we'd call this "natural law". He also seems now to be adding spirituality and divine law, as "God's love".
Almost there :-) He rejects the existence of a God "being" which I imagine is similar to @Reg's conception of God that really should be rejected. He also rejects God judging people's sins which I think is also healthy.
The problem is the language is all a muddle from our various perspectives. He completely bungles the scientific version of natural selection and evolution, and uses a lot of vague spiritual terms that don't correspond to how any of us theists (or atheists) really use them.
So I'd say "carry on" @Simon. Despite what Trevor says, I don't think you're doomed as yet. Do try to unmuddle your terminology and thinking, though.
"what @Simon is doing over time through a combination of study and personal experience is reconstruct Christian philosophy using different language."
- kind of - what I'm really doing is studying morality, and as soon as I started doing that, all these similarities to religion popped straight out, and allowed me to understand religion based on them. I'm not just going to close my eyes, bang my head against the wall and hope they go away, I'm going to pursue them because they're interesting.
"spirituality and divine law, as "God's love"."
- absolutely, yes, versions of these come with the territory. I wouldn't call it divine law, although I suppose you could.
"He completely bungles the scientific version of natural selection and evolution,"
- then tell me exactly why my explanation is wrong. If you know enough to say this, you can tell me why I'm wrong. This idea, that all organisms are adapted by natural selection to maximise individual fitness, is a basic truism within evolutionary biology. I'll pre-empt you based on your previous objections: 1) evolution is a blind impersonal process. A) selection happens at the level of the individual and therefore, maximising fitness also happens at the individual level: all organisms seek their own fitness. 2) "seeking" is an anthropomorphisation of a human word. A) all organisms seek it in their own particular way appropriate to that species.
"vague spiritual terms that don't correspond to how any of us theists (or atheists) really use them."
- maybe, but when I started studying this subject, my ideas are stamped firmly all over the stuff about religion I was reading. They are all over it, everywhere throughout it. Every five minutes they're brought into play. I'll wait and see what answers I get to my previous question before taking this point seriously.
"I find @Simon's work to be somewhat hard to parse."
- I could set it out in three seconds if you like. It probably goes over people's heads, like Buddhism does when you first encounter it, because it's a completely unfamililar way of talking, however, on five minutes' reflection (yes, you, Trevor) the immense power and profundity of it should become apparent.
This idea, that all organisms are adapted by natural selection to maximise individual fitness, is a basic truism within evolutionary biology.
No, it isn't. Individual organisms can be remarkably unfit. They can die in infancy from genetic diseases, be sterile, be mentally retarded, etc. Natural selection is a statistical process that is realized only in populations.
selection happens at the level of the individual and therefore, maximising fitness also happens at the individual level: all organisms seek their own fitness.
No, they don't "seek" anything. They survive to reproduce or not. They develop a transmissible mutation or not. Many very fit individual organisms may not survive to reproduce. Some unfit individuals (ex. sickle cell anemics) may result from a successful adaptation for the general population.
all organisms seek it in their own particular way appropriate to that species.
No, they really don't. First, "seeking" implies cognition and most organisms have no cognition. Second, within humanity we see lots and lots of folks who as individual organisms don't seek their own fitness. Obese Americans. Smokers. Addicts. Soldiers going off to combat.
I could set it out in three seconds if you like.
I'm skeptical that anything of value can be "set out" in three seconds, but I'm willing to be open-minded. I'm all ears.
Buddhism actually has remarkable parallels in Christian monasticism (read Merton). It's Hinduism that I find hard to fathom.
Thank you for making some good points, and it seems that in some ways, I need to refine my understanding of basic evolutionary biology, lol :-(
However, my basic premise remains completely 100% unchanged. Let me ask you the question another way. Let's say you go up to a tree and slash the trunk with a sharp knife. For many typical trees (I don't know about all tree speces), if you go back the next day, the wound will be covered over with a long blob of dried tree sap, to protect the tree from infection presumably. Can you explain how this is NOT the result of natural selection and evolution? In its own tree-like, non-cognitive way, the tree is responding to circumstances in order to maximise its own fitness.
"Individual organisms can be remarkably unfit. They can die in infancy from genetic diseases, be sterile, be mentally retarded, etc."
- of course, that's true, however, each of these organisms will have its own separate healing mechanism (and other similar mechanisms) that operates even though the organism is "genetically defective" (not a very good term).
"Natural selection is a statistical process that is realized only in populations."
- this may well be true, however, this statistical process is the result of many individuals surviving and reproducing better or worse than those around them, so it also happens at the individual level.
"They survive to reproduce or not."
- but they don't survive by accident: just by hanging around and hoping to stay alive. Each organism takes positive steps every day to maintain its fitness and survival - whether or not they have sickle cell anaemia, whether or not they reproduce, whether or not they're genetically doomed. This taking of positive steps is a collection of biological processes, which I'm trying to find a name to lump under, that is independent of whatever else is going on in the organism's world.
"First, "seeking" implies cognition and most organisms have no cognition."
- you've just repeated word for word the exact same mistake I asked you not to make, so instead of answering this, I'll refer you back to my post.
"Second, within humanity we see lots and lots of folks who as individual organisms don't seek their own fitness. Obese Americans. Smokers. Addicts."
- I think this is a good and relevant point, that illustrates the situation. Humans are more complicated than trees or crickets or whatever, so rather than only seeking fitness on a biological level, damnit, they want to feel good all the time, which is a high-level manifestation of the same underlying biological drive. But "feeling good", in the way of many biological processes, can become disconnected from its original usefulness to become an end in itself. The long and short of it is, we can divide "beneficial" actions (those that make us feel good - I can't think of a better definition) into those that benefit us in the short term, and those that benefit us in the long term. Obviously, the short term is right now, so there's a lot of temptation to smoke or eat burgers or take drugs, since the bad consequences are a long way in the future. It often happens that short term gains are made at the expense of long term happiness, but this does not have to be the case by any means.
"Soldiers going off to combat."
- another relevant point. It is currently thought by many people in the field, that the soldier is exhibiting group-serving instincts, and these instincts are a part of human nature. They evolved for the very good reason that to protect your group was to protect yourself - it would sometimes have been necessary to take deadly risks. This instinct appears to be alive and well today.
"I could set it out in three seconds if you like."
- thanks for your offer - I'll come back to it a bit later.
@Dr Bob -
"Natural selection is a statistical process that is realized only in populations."
- yes, but that population is made up of individuals, and 100% of individual organisms possess the property of trying to stay alive and healthy. So your argument is not a counter-argument to my own.
"Soldiers going off to combat."
- you're right, this needs to be tackled explicitly and head-on as it's always been a sticking point in secular moral theory. People who help others without getting anything back. The current thinking is that they are following instincts rather than strict "rationality" (i.e. self-interest). People help others either conditionally (most forms of reciprocity) or unconditionally (interdependent reciprocity, or the Golden Rule or similar). The instinct to help unconditionally is thought to be a product of early humans cooperating and living closely and interdependently together, when help was given freely to the people one relied upon for survival. These instincts are alive and well and strong, and as someone observed, without them the human race couldn't function.
That, and deep cognitive bias and dissonance on both sides, which is to be expected.