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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Hello Dr Bob :)
Me: These ideas of Christendom of which I assume being things like charity...

Dr Bob Incorrect assumption.  

Still, I'm a bit perplexed by your claim that charity, etc. are derived from evolution and sociobiology (whatever that is).  Can you explain that? 

Sociobiology is a field of science. (if you don't believe me....google! lol)....it is the study of basically how evolution and/or biology has shaped social behavior. It is fascinating. Behaviors like charity, emotions of empathy, the ways mothers care for their young, the way animals relate to one another can all be understood using the lense of sociobiological explanations. We are not charitable or empathetic, or loving towards one another because God made us that way, we are charitable, empathetic, and loving towards one another because we are pack animals. We are social creatures, and evolutionary circumstances allowed these qualities to arise out of adversity to the environment, famine, illness....So although you never defined for me what you meant by these qualities from "Christendom" you didn't have to. Take every single one of them, lay them up against evolutionary biology, and you WILL find a scientific explanation for each and every one of them, or at the very least a theory that is being investigated. There are sociobiological theories that explain everything, from mob behavior to homosexuality. And none of these explanations (that are all grounded in evidence - scientific evidence) NONE of them require or even hint at a God as the driving force behind them.

RE: Evolution does not support charity toward those (non-genetically related) with whom you are competing for resources.  

It depends. There are many instances where this is not true. For sake of space allow me to give one example. There is a new species (only about 30 years old) called the "Coywolf"....This is literally a coyote and a wolf breeding. They have been known to be enemies, (competing for resources) but due to a combination of human activities, such as urbanization, diminishing their habitat, this new species has begun infiltrating urban cities! There's many more examples of wild animals showing empathy and charity towards other animals. Even ones they are competing with. I could go on but....I gave you one example to chew on....

RE: Well no, actually.  New theories are a creative endeavor, not a process of experimentation...

Professor...I'm sure you know how this works. if you want to conduct a research study, you must get funded through a grant process. This must also be "peer reviewed," and I cannot fathom any reputable educational institution in the world permitting a college professor (tenure or not) to begin a "Theory of Everything" in the field of physics without some grounding in the scientific method....much less getting published. you can write a blog on tumblr about your "theory of everything,"‎ but it would never be called science. It would be your subjective opinion. 

...... and there's no such thing as "the scientific theory."  

YIKES!! I meant the scientific method. Sorry. 

 RE: I am a Roman Catholic because I believe.  

You believe......what exactly?

"Literally" I cannot parse because we Catholics are not fundamentalist, so I'm not sure what you mean by it.

Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God? Our Lord and Savior, who sacrificed himself on a cross, rose on the third day and is now seated at the right hand of the Father in Heaven, and Whomever "believe" in Him shall not perish but have Eternal life? 

Do you believe that literally?

RE: Now I'm really confused.  If it's bad for lawmakers to take away rights based on their beliefs, why do you want them to take away the rights of parents based on their beliefs?  

It is considered child abuse to neglect the basic needs of a child in this country. Children are to be fed, clothed, sheltered, and kept healthy to the best of our abilities. CPS takes children away from neglectful parents all the time if they are not doing these things. On what grounds should it be permissible to allow parents to neglect giving their child adequate medical care and instead opt for prayer to heal them?? It is child abuse to deny your child medical care that can save their life. Child abuse is against the law. 

RE: In my faith many give up all their possessions to join communities just to care for the poor, the sick, or the dying.  

Oh I know they do. I've been on mission trips. I've met people who have made it their life's work to help people and love them. But when it comes down to it, the Church does not help out of true selflessness. It is ALWAYS in hopes that the people they are serving will "see the Light of Jesus and come to be saved." it has a hidden agenda. 

RE: Can you point to an equivalent among atheists?

Absolutely. There is an Atheist on this site that saved my life. The church turned its back on me when I was the most vulnerable, the most needy, and scared for my life. All I got from church was "I'll pray for you." 

I think you have an odd notion that we religious folks are somehow spending our time thinking only about what we can get out of charity or some other silliness like that.  That's completely wrong.  That's not the teaching, nor the practice.

Of course it's not the teaching or the practice. But I promise you, it is a dynamic that even the believers you know are unaware of. They do not realize they have becomes puppets of the Catholic Church, to go an make believers of all Nations, to spread the gospel to those who have not heard or seen....it is a dynamic you cannot see clearly until you step far enough away from it. only then you realize that the acts of good deeds are driven to grow the church and thus the profits, and "save souls." Not to help people for the simple sake of it. It's much MUCH more profound an experience to be given love, friendship, and a helping hand when you know the person giving to you LITERALLY does not need or want anything in return. At all. It brings tears to my eyes.

RE: People are endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights and all the rest.   In fact, in atheistic lands like the old Soviet Union and Communist China, people are not endowed with inalienable rights at all.  Absent the counterweight of religion, the State becomes all-powerful. 

Communism is not Atheism. And when you talk about our "inalienable rights" to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, those rights were stated that way to get AWAY from an oppressive religious tyranny. The freedom to have whatever beliefs you wanted, without opposing those beliefs on others. The bedrock of separation between church and state. Funny that those beliefs were born out of a desperation to escape religious indoctrination. Although a different religion took its place as the majority, it is at the most basic level what our country is founded on: Freedom. Not religion. 

As per the state becoming all powerful...that is not a uniquely secular or religious problem. That happens in theocracies and secular totalitarian governments equally (though note that in it's extreme form secular totalitarian governments adopt a mythology which takes on a demagogic or near religious tone). It is actually secular political philosophy which has inspired ideas such as the social contract and Poppers "open society". The idea that the best form of government is one in which bad governments can easily be disposed. Religious political philosophy actively discourages the concept of political society being one that can be easily changed. Churches generally clutch onto their influence over political processes to the point of either forcing change on open societies or keeping change in open societies and  governments need to be deposed. The social contract and the open society are absolutely extremely secular non religious ideas. Someone else’s superstition has no place in dictating in any way what system informs democratic consensus based politics and the form we use to be able to easily dispose of bad governments.

I think most groups clutch on to their influence over political processes.

There are two problems you have to contend with, I think.  In order to resist (or remove) "bad" governments, you have to create alternate groups with the power and interest in doing that - in influencing government to not become "bad", and in acting against government when it does.   That means thinks like an active and independent press, but it also means something like the Church/the churches which offer broad community and an alternative set of ideas. 

In establishing atheist regimes, the norm has been to destroy or neuter these alternative power bases.  Whether it's the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, or the Chinese Revolution they moved to suppress the Church, and then the press.   Inevitably they ended in dictatorship and repression of the populace.  The economic ideas and ideals of Marxism were nowhere near strong enough to resist that. 

By contrast, where religion persists, whether it's the Philippines' People Power revolution or the Dalai Lama's Tibet, there is resistance and sometimes successful resistance.   Religion was necessary for the birth of the ideology of human rights, and from all evidence is necessary to maintain it.

If you studied European history, the enlightenment, Renaissance humanism, the history of human rights, secularism, secular humanism and the history of religious rule a little more thoroughly...it would be near impossible to defend this argument.

Dr. Bob...I think we are all capable of admitting that some ideas which we care about have been born by thinkers who were Christian. There is no doubt. And it is also true that some of those ideas born by Christian thinkers were absolutely deeply connected to their faith. So...thank you Christian thinkers for your ideas and even to a small extent your faith for giving birth to these ideas. Thank you.

That being said...no one owns any idea. And the ideas born from someone who has a faith or a creed are not always due to the positive influence of that creed but rather a reaction to destructive qualities of that creed or idea. The majority of progressive human rights and some of the principles of rational enquiry...are...in fact...a direct result of fighting against essential qualities of a faith which fight to keep it's own norms as standard in that community.

There is much to be thankful to the Greeks for, especially a lot of their political philosophy and those ideas are valuable. But the Greek's do not own those ideas and those ideas are not so embedded in Greek culture and Greek religion that we have to pay any attention to Greek mythology beyond historical/cultural enjoyment. We can also reject anything that came with those ideas that we find rationally and morally repugnant (mistreatment of women, slavery, pederasty). We need no personal relationship with Zeus nor take any stalk about what their religion and even what their philosophy says about what is moral or not unless we rationally agree with it through debate and consensus.

Could any of these ideas have come about without religion? Nothing could have come about during the last 50,000 year history of modern human civilization without religion because it is only a recent phenomena that we have rationally rejected religious ideas. So of course 99% of what we are is a direct result of religion. Does that mean that modern Western ideas must have been born from Christian and Greek pagan ideas? No. Your explanation as to how some special quality of Christian doctrine resulted in empirical rational science is a very bad one, just as the idea that only Greek pagan mythology could have created the ideas of democracy. That is nonsense.

So thank you religion for being around while men were inspired with ideas that we consider important, but we do not have to thank the religion that were popular at the time for being completely responsible for those ideas, we do not have to embrace religion in the hope that new ideas will be generated (we are quite capable of coming up with our own ideas without superstitious nonsense) and we have no obligation to accept any religious nonsense that accompanied the ideas born from a time when that religion was predominant.

I can agree with all or most of that.

If we're going to propose new ideas, that's a fine and good thing.  Recognizing of course that most new ideas are temporary fads and fail, still every now and again they bring new insights and they at least keep us thinking.

I think new ideas, however, need to adhere to a sort of Correspondence Principle, in that for most cases they should correspond to the ideas that are already successful.  The more they diverge, the more we should be suspicious and exercise greater skepticism and scrutiny.

I think new ideas also have to be more useful in order to merit adoption.  It's fine to play with them, but we wouldn't want to teach them to novices until that has happened... and maybe not even then.   We don't teach novices in physics Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity, after all.  We teach them 400 year old Classical Mechanics and Newtonian Gravitation.   Those things may be wrong, but they're still the best ways to get most of the population to think about and understand the basics, because those were the ideas that gave birth to our modern notions.

I don't see any difference between that and religion.  Until a better/more useful idea comes along that meets the Correspondence Principle test, it would be foolish to abandon society-wide the understandings that got us to where we are.  That would be conducting a large, uncontrolled experiment with civilization.  Even if we came up with a demonstrably more useful idea that meets the CP test, it still may be necessary to continue to teach religion to most people in order to build up an understanding of the underlying principles and ways of thinking before moving on.

RE: I think new ideas, however, need to adhere to a sort of Correspondence Principle, in that for most cases they should correspond to the ideas that are already successful.  The more they diverge, the more we should be suspicious and exercise greater skepticism and scrutiny.

When you say "successful"....that must be defined. What do you consider a successful outcome of organized religion that you think could not be possible without adherence to Catholic doctrine?

RE: I think new ideas also have to be more useful in order to merit adoption

Careful with this one..."usefullness" does not automatically equate truth, it does not automatically remove bias, and it does not substitute in for proof (aka evidence.)

RE: I don't see any difference between that and religion.  Until a better/more useful idea comes along that meets the Correspondence Principle test, it would be foolish to abandon society-wide the understandings that got us to where we are. 

So do you hold strong to label yourself as a Catholic because you have not found an alternative that meets your definition of the Correspondence Principle test? Or because you find Catholicism "useful?" In both cases you cannot derive a meaningful reason to "believe" based on usefulness or tradition. Culture and Literature does not equal Truth. It is only a reflection of a people's values and and social norms.

Hi @Belle,

When you say "Truth" (with a capital "T" no less), what do you mean by it?   On what basis can any human idea ever be True?

I "believe" in energy not because there is any evidence of energy, nor because the human idea of energy is likely to be existentially True. 

I "believe" in energy, which is to say I'm willing to make decisions based on the ideas of energy and energy conservation, because I find those ideas to be useful for certain kinds of questions. 

"Energy" however is just a human word, describing a human idea or explanation which originated in a human culture and literature, and is pretty much perpetuated only by that particular culture and literature.

Is it "True?"

Will someone please setup a debate between Bob and Lawrence Krauss that would be a hoot I'd even pay to see it.

I am a Roman Catholic because I believe.

Ok….but what is it that you believe Bob?

@Bob

32 pages of semantics, when the only real question seems to be this...

Bob, what makes you convinced there's a God, and what persuades you that you've got hold of the right set of guidelines (religion)?

Is that a difficult question?

I don't think all the discussion has been "semantics"; in fact I think that undervalues the thoughtful contributions of many people here.

This is a shared discussion (The Doctor AND the Farmer), so I think there's also more than one "real" question and the questions flow both ways.  Some of that is indeed semantics, in that it's necessary to understand the way other people use words and what the thought is behind them.

To answer your question, I'm not "convinced" there's a God, nor am I "persuaded" that any human ideas are existentially "right".  I "believe" there is a God because that assumption forms the foundation of an elaborate, complex, highly nuanced system of human thought which has been profoundly successful, and socially and personally useful as a framework for growth, understanding and decision-making.  

I am largely uninterested in atheism because it is none of those things.  I find it shallow, bordering on naive fundamental positivism, and not useful as a framework for anything (other than as the basis of a community to ridicule theists).

So @Strega, what makes you convinced there's not a God?  For that matter, what does "God" mean to you?

And what persuades you that you've got hold of the right set of "guidelines".  What are your own "guidelines" or worldview?   Atheism? Except everyone says atheism does not offer guidelines? Do you indeed have any rational "guidelines" for looking at the world at all, beyond those picked up ad hoc from your own social circle?

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